Talking Canada/US Tensions in the Age of Covid-19 with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Katlyn Harrison and Lindsay Maskell on the “Political Heat” panel. We talked about the latest developments on Covid-19, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson being admitted to ICU and the moves by the Trump Administration to deny vital medical equipment to Canada. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 14:00 minute mark. Enjoy!

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Talking Canada/US Tensions in the Age of Covid-19 on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. We spoke about the moves by the Trump Administration to deny vital medical equipment to Canada, about how different politicians are responding to this new crisis in the age of Covid-19 & the Prime Minister’s announcements this morning on the global pandemic. You can listen to it all below. Enjoy!

Shirley Douglas – April 2, 1934 – April 5, 2020

In every party, union or movement, there are names and people who loom large in it. They leave a huge imprint on the memories and souls of those who are a part of it, becoming synonymous with the movements themselves. It can be hard for anyone to follow in those footsteps, let alone to be born into them.

Being the child of such legendary people can be a burden onto itself, depending on how they view it. Inheriting not just the name of your legendary parent but also their political legacy can understandably be viewed that way too by those who inherited it. For some, that inheritance can be too much or nothing they want to be a part of. But for others, it becomes not just a point of familial pride, but becomes their own crusade to build upon, to continue to move forward and improve upon, not just for themselves but for all of society. Today we lost someone who viewed their political inheritance as a life’s crusade of her own, and in the process made an indelible mark all her own, beyond the name of her famous father:

Shirley Douglas made a career of distinction of her own beyond the life of her father Tommy. She became a renowned actress, at home and aboard, and let her art speak for itself. But the values that she was raised with never left her nor were tarnished when she left for Hollywood. The values her parents raised her with, of helping one another and being thy brothers keep her, stayed ever present in her life. Sometimes that lead to controversy, like the ones involving breakfast programs in Los Angeles. But even in those moments where that could have made some parents cringe, you could see just how proud her father was of her work. It even led to famous moments like these, that stick in the mind:

Beyond that work though Shirley dedicated so much of her life’s mission to the protection and growth of the program her father brought to our country, Universal Medicare. Between her advocacy with the party her father first lead, the NDP, and the Canadian Healthcare Coalition, she led with the determination and fire that was the equal of her father. To hear her speak, you could see the passion in her demeanor, hear the fire in her voice and feel the dedication that she felt towards her fellow people. While she spoke with a voice all her own, her words echoed the voice of her father. Rather than feel tied down by her father’s history, you could see not only her pride in his work but her duty towards her fellow Canadians to keep fighting. You could really hear that in this speech that she gave to the Canadian Auto Workers back in 1999:

For me personally, I only met Shirley twice in my time with the NDP, briefly having shaken her hand. I’ve heard her speak at NDP conventions and found myself hanging on her words and passion. My only other odd connection to Shirley was the old CBC show “Wind at my Back”, of all things. She played one of the main characters in the show, while the school I taught at for three years, Central Public School in Bowmanville, ON, as one of the scenes for it. Small world, right?

Maybe one of thing that we can say about Shirley with pride is something that many have been able to say about her own parents; that not only that she followed the good example set by them, but has made sure to pass along the same values, qualities and passion into her own children. We have seen that time and again in her son Kiefer Sutherland, not just pride in the legacy that his grandfather Tommy left us, but the legacy that his own mother added to it. She clearly succeeded in passing along the same lessons and values that her parents passed along to her, and we are all better off for it. But for now, Shirley, rest well and thank you for your strong voice that spoke up for all of us. Rest in Peace.

A Constructive Proposal for the Moment

As our country and provinces respond to Covid-19, we’ve seen a heartening coming together by people from across party lines to tackle the problems that are coming each day. We’ve seen all parties put ideas out there, good ones that governments have then acted upon for the betterment of everyone. Unlike some of the petty infighting we’re seeing in the United States right now, here our politicians are rising to the moment for the most part.

But maybe the most notable thing that I’ve taken from this moment is the willingness and ability of our governments to react quickly and change course on announced initiatives when it’s been clear that there were issues. When we’ve seen cracks form, governments have been pretty good about moving to fill them. In a time when moving with speed is needed instead of moving with perfection, it’s necessary for governments to reach just as fast as they originally acted.

As we’re seeing new programs get announced, we’re seeing some needs crop up. We’ve seen a few come up around the announced Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) and the 75% wage subsidy. One of those issues involves an important subset of people in our society who are uniquely affected by this pandemic and the timing of it hitting. I’m talking about students, particularly post-secondary students, and the concerns facing them came up in today’s daily press conference with the Prime Minister:

For students either finishing high school or in post-secondary programs, there are unique and big problems they face. Most were getting ready to try to find summer work to help pay for their education. Given everything we’re hearing about how long shutdowns, and such may last, it’s reasonable to assume that this summer will be a write off for student hiring this summer. Even if things start to open up at the start of the Summer months, it’s easy to assume that our behaviours in the immediate term will change which will have big effects on industries that tend to employ a lot of people in the summer months.

Think of the tourism sector, summer camps and childcare and other kinds of special programing that tends to come in the summer months. It’s easy to see how many of those jobs either won’t be there this summer or even if they were, most post-secondary students will have lost at least a couple months of potential income. On top of that, those same students do not quality for any of the benefits announced to date, as was raised in the press conference today. The Prime Minister replied by saying that they’re working on this, and that’s good. But hearing this situation brought an idea back to my mind about an idea that might help in this case. It’s an idea I first heard raised by then NDP MP Olivia Chow, which she went into it during a House of Commons committee meeting back in June of 2009, then later again in another tragic circumstance in the House of Commons in February of 2013:

The Canada Summer Jobs program has been a successful federal initiative that’s help subsidize the salaries for summer students for a very long time. It’s helped not-for-profits and community groups offer programs they might not be able to otherwise, it’s helped municipalities bring on extra help in the summer months to offer needed programs and it’s helped many small businesses create good jobs in their communities. All the while, it’s also given Canadian youth great work experience that’s helped to further their future careers while earning a good wage to help pay for their schooling. It’s a win-win program, one that I got to work on directly and help administer during my three years that I spent working for HRSDC in Ontario.

But one of the drawbacks of the program has been that it only funds jobs during the summer months, from May to August. Ms. Chow’s idea way back then was to simply make Canada Summer Jobs a year-round program, allowing for those kinds of jobs and experiences to be available to any student in school to continue through out the year. In the meantime, many of those groups and municipalities that offer kids camps and other kinds of important programing could offer similar things going forward. It could offer students an easier chance to get practical experience in their areas of study during the school year, with the backing of the federal government.

And it’s a program that could be adapted to not only the situation we find ourselves in now, where social distancing measures are changing the ways that we are working, it could help many of those groups that receive money, and the students they hire, make an easier transition after we get past this phase and life goes a bit more back to normal. The only change that would need to be made to the rules of the program would be to simply eliminate the firm date parametres that exist for it now and because under the terms and conditions of the program students must be paid at least minimum wage, the salary earned by students under this program would at least be as good as what the CERB is offering.

Now this proposal doesn’t resolve the immediate situation of income for all students in this position, but right now we have government offering to pay 75% of wages up to $58,000 (which is about $43,000 by the way). So to my mind it seems totally reasonable for the Federal government to tweak and use this program, which funds up to 100% of a minimum wage position for not-for-profits, charity groups and alike to hire a student, and up to 50% of that same minimum wage for private businesses and municipalities (although this could easily be bumped up to 75% too for the sake of consistency).

In a time when we’re looking for existing programs to build off to help get money out the door, this could be a tool to help now, but also to keep in place after this horrible period passes. It’s not perfect, but I believe it takes a solid program that’s employed hundreds of thousands of Canadian students and with the right tweaks, can help us get through this period and the fall out from it. I hope that the Federal government is considering ideas like this, because in this moment all good ideas are on the table and this strikes me as one that could very well fit the moment.

With Allies Like These: An Ugly Watershed Moment

Okay everyone, we’re in dangerous times right now, that’s very clear to everyone. We’re seeing the number of cases of Covid-19 and deaths from it continue to grow. We’re seeing more and more communities get struck by this pandemic, and more and more strain being put on our institutions as they try to respond. These are the times when we pull together and count on our friends and neighbours to help us all get through.

Or at least that’s normally the case, and right now normal seems to be in increasingly shorter supply. The episode of the past 48 hours, where we’ve seen the President of our neighbours, biggest trading partner and most important ally, throwing us aside as he tries to save himself. It’s been so striking that in this most important moment, when our alliances matter most, Donald Trump showed us just how far he believes “America First” goes.

The news has had an amazing galvanizing effect on Canadian politics, with leaders from across the political spectrum, from Justin Trudeau, to Doug Ford, to Jason Kenney, BC Health Minister Adrian Dix and Scott Moe. Words like “betrayal” have been thrown around with passion at this news, as everyone understands the importance of this moment.

In the past four years of living next to the Presidency of Donald Trump, we’ve become sadly accustomed to the cycle of Trump spouting insanity off the cuff, to be walked back by others, followed by more insanity and continue. But it’s been rare that we’ve seen the follow through on some of the most insane or craven things that Trump has threatened to send out way. Since last night, that seems to have changed at the worst possible time. The first clue came from a piece in the New York Times, with some quotes that blew my mind:

In this piece, we saw the usual bureaucracy try to walk back Trump’s words from earlier, putting language of exceptions that you could drive a dump truck through. Normally that’s where this story would have ended, but then Trump Trade Advisor Peter Navarro stepped up and blew that exception out of the water. Navarro went right after 3M, all but accusing them of disloyalty to their country. He went onto say “while hundreds of other large American multinationals are stepping up with pride and patriotism, 3M remains an outlier and its propaganda war must stop.” Propaganda war? What the fresh Hell? Is that what he calls calling out the Trump Administration on their B.S.?

Mr. Navarro didn’t stop there adding that the company was “operating like a sovereign profit-maximizing nation internationally.” Think of how crazy that is folks, seriously. This is a senior, hand-picked Trump Administration official trying to call 3M a war profiteer and propagandists that are disloyal to their country, all for daring to point out that they have commercial obligations to countries that are some of the US’s biggest allies. The way Navarro was speaking, you’d think that we were in the 1970’s and 3M was trying to sell nukes to the U.S.S.R.

Of course, Navarro is the same guy who threw cheap shots at Justin Trudeau a couple years ago for daring to not agree with them. But even if we put those cheap theatrics aside, we could reasonably say that we’ve still not reached a watershed moment in this yet. In that past incident with Navarro, an apology of sorts eventually came, and life went on, so surely that could happen here again right? Well that assumption took a very serious hit just this afternoon, at the latest Trump press conference, where he had this to say:

“We need the masks, we don’t want other people getting it”. “You could call it retaliations. Because that’s what it is. It’s a retaliation.” All of that coming from the mouth of the supposed Leader of the Free World, our biggest and closest ally, our biggest trading partner and all of that, in the span of a minute. With those short words, Trump made it clear that he does want us to get the equipment we need. It’s not just that, no, it’s “retaliation”. “Retaliation for what?” you might be asking yourself. Retaliation for constantly giving them more access to our market in trade deals, like the new NAFTA 2.0? Retaliation of constantly shipping millions upon millions upon millions of barrels of oil to fuel their economy, at a discount no less.

Is it retaliation for sharing air defences with them? Is it retaliation for giving them access natural resources like our minerals and forests? Is it retaliation for all the clean hydro electricity we ship to them? Or for all our medical professionals that work in their hospitals every day of the week, especially during this global pandemic? I could go on and on, but Christ “retaliation”? We haven’t done a damn thing to the United States of America that would ever come close to deserving any kind of retaliatory measures from them.

We’ve been there for them time and again in their times of need. On 9/11, we took in thousands of Americans, seeking safe harbour as their country was under terrorist attack. We had emergency responders who went to New York to help search through the rubble of the World Trade Centre. When the US invoked article 5 of NATO for the very first time, we didn’t flinch, question or whine about it. No, we were there.

And when the time came to take the fight back to those responsible for the attack on them in Afghanistan, damn it, we were there too. Our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, went to that place, on a mission where we were never directly attacked by this enemy and fought alongside our American neighbours. And many of those who went there died in that fight, serving their country and supporting our ally, who always told us would be there for us when we needed them. When I worked on Parliament Hill, I saw the monuments to the fallen in Afghanistan there in the Centre Block, a reminder of the sacrifice that they made not just for our country, but for our allies as well. They died for them just as much for us, in the knowledge that if the time came that we needed them, the US said they would be there for us.

And that’s why the awful press conference we saw this Saturday afternoon feels like the ugliest watershed moment that we’ve seen in Lord knows how long. Today, we saw the President of the United States, that ally who has said they would always be there for us, tells us with venom and spite “we need the masks, we don’t want other people getting it.” With that statement, Trump was telling us “yeah, we’ll get back to you on that whole “being there for you in your time of need” thing”. That was Trump telling us that to him “America First” really means “America Only” and to Hell with the rest of us. Because what Trump made clear today was that he doesn’t see us as friends, neighbours or allies. No, he sees us as “other people”, with everything that means in this moment. I’ve been saying for a while that we allies will not forget this once this is all over. But if Trump keeps going down this road, he may find just how lonely “America First” can be after he’s actively tried to keep deny nations like ours access to life saving materials in a global pandemic. After getting his cold shoulder today, next time he might find that Canadians won’t be as willing to lend their helping hands.