Archive for : July, 2017

Canada’s Head of State should be Canadian.

Recently, the Globe and Mail published an editorial recommending that the British Monarch remain Head of State in Canada, after the current Queen croaks.  I sent the following letter in response.  It was not published, but I still think the point needs to be made.


There are many reasons to praise our constitutional system of government, but tolerating a foreign monarch is not one of them. Regardless of the Globe’s cute “monarch extra-light” rationale, for the moment the titular Head of State of Canada is a foreign national, a person whose heritage and history represents neither our indigenous peoples, nor all of our ‘founding nations’, nor the myriad ethnicities of the immigrants who have enriched our nation. The Head of State should embody our national heritage, values and aspirations; this is something a foreign non-resident monarch cannot possibly do and something an appointed surrogate can only do by proxy. We do not need a ‘fake’ Head of State, cloaked in abstractions and noble lies. Our Head of State should be Canadian.


There is scope for discussion on how Canadians would select a Head of State, and for how long that individual would serve.  I would favour a term limit for the office holder, something like five, seven or ten years.  On balance, I don’t think the Prime Minister should select the Head of State.  Perhaps the Privy Council Office could prepare a vetted short list, and some body of august individuals – perhaps companions of the Order of Canada – could make the final choice.

Little Trumpets in Short Pants

From the Globe and Mail, Friday July 14:


The Fall of Governments in Canada

Here’s a thesis to consider and debate. Perhaps it is already well known, and I am merely stating the obvious. But judging from the comments of press and politicians, it doesn’t seem to be obvious to them.


It occurs to me that governments are rarely defeated because of their policies, but because of the way in which they govern: their arrogance, their disdain, their scandals or their incompetence. If this is a reasonable assessment, political administrations should have less fear of bold policies, and more fear of the impact of living in the ‘Ottawa bubble’.


Although the Harper Government implemented many wrong-headed policies, I suggest that its defeat was more due to Canadians’ assessment of the ‘personality’ of the government. “Darth” Harper was perceived as cold and uncaring, with disdain for the average Canadian. Justin Trudeau offered “sunny ways” in return. Perhaps some Canadians voted for the Liberals because of their policies, despite the manifest impracticality of many of them (as we have since found out), but I believe for the most part they voted for a leader who seemed open and transparent.


Darth Harper’s predecessor, Paul Martin, sank into the mire of the sponsorship scandal in 2004, and had no alternative narrative by 2006. Mr. Martin had a respectable inventory of policies, and some significant potential progress to offer with health care and first nations. But the lust for power of Martin and his people prompted them to force out the sitting Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. Had Mr. Chrétien stayed in power for a few more months, there was a reasonable probability that most of the responsibility for sponsorship scandal would have been his problem, not Mr. Martin’s. Mr. Martin’s efforts to be open and transparent were unavailing.


One should point out, as well, that no policy issues forced out Mr. Chrétien. His weaknesses were more to do with political scandals and his own increasingly paranoid behaviour.


Kim Campbell faced a similar situation in following the regime of Brian Mulroney. That latter government was known for its ministerial resignations, mostly due to some sort of scandal: 17 in 9 years (contrast with 8 resignations in 9 years with Harper). It was up to Ms. Campbell to create a new narrative for her government, but it seemed she had little to offer that was different from her predecessor’s regime. Hence, the accumulated scandals tended to stick with the government.


Alas, it was another similar situation for John Turner. He was following on from Pierre Trudeau, who had quite exhausted – after 15 (briefly interrupted) years – the patience of the people. John Turner, who had distanced himself from Trudeau, nonetheless was made to wear the mantle of Trudeau arrogance. There had been a feud between Trudeau and Turner, perhaps dating back to 1968 when Trudeau squashed Turner in a leadership convention, flaring up again when Turner resigned from Trudeau’s government. When Mr. Turner won a leadership convention, Mr. Trudeau engaged in an orgy of patronage appointments, which Mr. Turner could have cancelled but accepted fearing a threat of defeat in Parliament. And so, despite the distancing, Turner was made to wear the mantle of Trudeau’s patronage orgy.


So the thesis is that policies matter less in election decisions than the conduct and attitudes of political administrations. On the way to this thesis I note, as a corollary, that Prime Ministers often poison the well for their successors, sometimes intentionally.


Let us consider an alternative path, presented by the father of the current Prime Minister. Pierre Trudeau was a part of the chaotic (but mostly successful) Pearson government, but when he became leader, he was perceived as completely different from the previous Pearson administration, though of the same political affiliation. Pierre Trudeau ‘re-branded’ (before the term was used) the Liberal Party, and so was able to create a fresh liberal image.


In a wonderful irony, I offer the observation that politicians are often remembered – years after active political lives – for their policies rather than their foibles. Pierre Trudeau is remembered for the Charter of Rights, Brian Mulroney for free trade with the US. Both policy initiatives were contentious at the time of their implementation, considered a high political risk.


The Progressive Conservative Government of Joe Clark was defeated in Parliament on a policy matter (18¢/gallon gas tax), and this was a major issue in the campaign. That said, Mr. Clark’s opponent, Pierre Trudeau, made much in the campaign of the dithering and confusion of the new Clark government.


The character and style of the government may be more important than its policies. If the thesis I offer has some relevance to current circumstances, Justin Trudeau is wise to continue his sunny ways, but needs to be careful about: obfuscation in his answers (e.g., sniper killing is not combat); hypocrisy in explaining policy reversals (e.g., the omnibus ‘budget’ bill); dismissal of critics (e.g., those against the $10 million payment to Kadhr), etc. Those bad habits tend to arise when one spends too long in the ‘Ottawa Bubble’, where the only voices you are those of politicians, press and public servants. Real Canadian life is not in the bubble, but in the parks and community centres and the Timmy’s. Trudeau’s visits to communities for informal consultations is a good antidote to ‘Bubble-itis’.

Who Owns Canada?

I often hear a phrase like this at the beginning of an event:

This performance is taking place on land never ceded by the (Indigenous Nation name).


What does this mean?  What is it intended to mean?


Strictly speaking it means no more than it says.  That the land on which the event takes place once belonged to the Indigenous Nation.


However, the statement seems to have the intent to suggest that the current occupants of the land do not have the moral right to occupy the land – that somehow their occupancy of the land is illegitimate and should be a source of guilt and apology.


Frankly, I find that implication to be absurd and offensive.


Lately, there have been arguments which extend further to suggest that the moral legitimacy of the Canadian political system should be in doubt.  For example, it has been argued that the current Prime Minister is morally responsible for past deaths of aboriginal peoples, the theft of their ancestral lands, damage to their cultures: these are the historical responsibilities of the Government of Canada.  It has been further argued that this moral responsibility extends to all the citizens of this country.


This is the same moral responsibility of all conquerors and colonizers.  It has been such for millennia: the Huns in Eastern Europe, the Romans and Saxons in Britain, various Goths in Italy, the English in Scotland and Wales, the French in Indochina, the Japanese in Korea, etc.   The colonization of Canada is not an unprecedented experience in world history; neither are the objections of those colonized.


Indigenous peoples may forever have moral rights to their ancestral lands and cultures, but the fact is that the lands have been conquered and colonized.  It’s done.  Eminent domain applies.  Our Supreme Court has recognized that holders of traditional rights to land have certain contemporary legal rights, but these rights exist within the context of the Constitution of Canada and the Charter of Rights.


The Constitution, Rights and Laws of Canada are supreme within Canada.  That fact may overlay an historical moral injustice, but it is a fact, nonetheless.


Lands within Canada belong to those to whom the laws and the courts say that they belong.  If you wish to feel guilty about that, go ahead, beat yourself up.


“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”