Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Katlyn Harrison & Lindsay Maskell on the “Political Heat” panel. We talked about the latest developments in Ontario’s re-opening from COVID-19, if it’s time for Ontario to make mask wearing in public mandatory, how mask wearing somehow became “political”, the debate around the funding of police services & how improving from the status quo might mean changes in it. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 14:00 minute mark.
Leadership races are a test of many things within a party. They test the strength of their organization, the strength of the various bases within them and can test the patience of even more. But for some one of the biggest tests that a leadership race can bring is to test the very unity of the party itself. This isn’t true of all leadership campaigns, but some come down to some very basic tenants and conflicts that can’t help but put the unity of party into question.
For the Conservatives, this was the case in their last leadership campaign, the first after Stephen Harper left. That was the campaign to replace the first leader of that newly re-unified party and many wondered if the coalition that Harper had helped to cobble together could hold under a new leader, or if it would just splinter apart. At the end of the Summer of 2018, that unity was a bit more in doubt after campaign runner-up Maxime Bernier bolted to start his own party, one that held the potential to pull Conservative voters in a new direction. Today we know how that turned out and even though Bernier’s PPC is still alive, it’s hardly the threat to the Conservatives that some thought it could be.
Yet here we are again in 2020, with another Conservative leadership race and the question about the ability to hold the Harper party together remains a live one. And two stories from the past week show us the real threats that could make things different this time. The first came from the Hill Times today, with some interesting quotes from a Conservative MP:
Ahhh, it looks like Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie went there. She says that if Peter MacKay were to win, “it is a threat to the unity of the party.” Of course she is supporting MacKay’s main rival Erin O’Toole, so take those declarations with more than a few grains of salt. Also Kusie is known in the House for her rhetorical flourishes and penchant for hyperbolic language, so again add a few more grains of salt to those declarations. But regardless of how much salt to put aside for these statements, they still shouldn’t be put out of mind. These aren’t the words of a campaign simply trying to use another rhetorical tool to win a race, there is more under the surface here.
Let’s face it, MacKay is viewed as the relatively more social progressive figure in that party and he’s being viewed as a threat to the more hardcore right wing of the party, along with the social conservatives that hold a lot of sway. Add to that the idea that some of his opponents want to paint him as being of “the East”, therefore to be viewed with a suspicious eye, it adds layers of potential danger here if he were to win and unable to bring everyone on board.
Of course, that’s assuming that anyone could keep that coalition together and still be able to challenge for government, which is a seriously open question. There are many potential obstacles to keeping that voter block together, and it’s the second story that came out late last week, pointing to another ominous cloud on the horizon for the Blue Team going forward:
Now let me be clear when talking about this, I don’t see Wexit Canada being a threat in the next election, nor in the future. I don’t see them winning seats nor being a political force beyond anything that the PPC was in the last campaign. But this new of Jay Hill taking on the role of Interim Leader is nothing to sneeze at. Seeing Stephen Harper’s former Government House Leader talking about Canada as a failure is striking. Seeing a guy who used to get elected in his old Reform days saying “The West Wants In” to now say “The West Wants Out” is noteworthy to say the least.
As Hill made the media rounds over the week to talked about how seeing Justin Trudeau become Prime Minister again was the straw that broke his back, basically turning his argument into “if I don’t like who wins, I want out”. It’s an argument that doesn’t serve their cause well because there are structural issues with Canada that are legitimate and that need addressing, which is what a party that was truly about making their region better would be pushing for. Instead his argument seems to come back to how his party wasn’t in power and boo-hoo to the rest.
Ironically, that has been part of the tone of the Conservatives since the campaign too, essentially equating their policies with “the West” and the Liberals policies as from somewhere else. We saw the same thing when the Buffalo Declaration came out, which was heavy on the “boo the Liberals won” while being very light on dealing the real, legitimate structural issues. But putting that aside for the moment, Hill going to Wexit Canada, along with some of the sovereigntist noises made by some Conservative MPs every now and again, speaks to the potential danger here in this moment for the Conservative Party. If the “Easterner” from Nova Scotia Peter MacKay wins, do many of those social conservatives or western Conservatives throw in the towel on this party and join up with Wexit instead? Furthermore, if the “Westerner” from Bowmanville, Ontario Erin O’Toole wins, will that keep those people in the tent and if so, for how long?
In the end the threat to the Conservative Party here isn’t that Wexit Canada takes a lot of seats away from them, at least not in the short or medium term. Similar to the challenge that the PPC posed in 2019, the threat right now is that Wexit Canada will siphon away enough votes to see the Conservatives lose seats in the West where they shouldn’t drop them. If any MPs decide to jump ship from the post-Leadership campaign Conservatives to Hill’s new venture, then that challenge gets even worse and the problem gets even bigger. That was something that didn’t happen when Bernier left, but I think is more likely in this scenario because Wexit is more about a movement and idea than about one man. Where the PPC was all about Bernier, Wexit has more to it to motivate potential Conservative MPs to join that team.
If that were to actually happen, the consequences would be big for the Canadian political landscape. If the Conservative Party seriously splintered in its heartland, that would render them completely unelectable nationwide. That would also help the Liberals and NDP hold onto or gain new seats in the West, thanks to the division of votes. And ironically if you believe Ms. Kusie, it could be the election of the guy who helped to create the current Conservative Party with Stephen Harper that could tear that creation apart.
Now do I believe that will actually happen? I’m skeptical to say the least and I’m firmly in the camp of “I’ll believe it when I see it”. But that being said, I do feel safe in saying that the odds of this scenario playing out are better than they were when Max Bernier bolted. We’ve seen this similar story before, when a group of former Conservative MPs from Quebec, including Lucien Bouchard, created the Bloc Quebecois. Could we see a bit of history repeating here? We’re not there yet but the events of the past week surely to raise the possibilities here and truly do leave open questions about if the Big Blue Tent can continue to stand.
I have to admit that for me personally, this past week in Canadian politics has been hard to stomach. To have seen what happened to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh last week, and the sadly predictable fall out from it, has been hard for me to take. As someone who has long believed in the potential of our Parliamentary Democracy to fix the wrongs of our past, those beliefs have seriously been put to the test.
If I said that I’m not questioning a lot of them I’d be lying to you because what we’ve seen in this episode has been the worst of our Parliament and how it is proving to be as much of a problem in seriously addressing these problems than anything else. In this moment when people are seized with this matter of tackling racism, in thought and structures, there are many ways that our institutions could show that they get the message. But then I saw a story come out late last night that brought another old matter to the surface, at the worst possible time, with an even worse prescription:
If someone was looking to find the answer to the question “What would be the worst thing you could do right now to send a bad message to Indigenous Peoples in this country?”, letting Senator Lynn Beyak back into the Senate would be right near the top of that list. Yet that is exactly what the Senate’s ethics committee is recommending, that her suspension be lifted because “she has taken anti-racism training and apologized for posting derogatory letters about Indigenous Peoples on her website.” In short, the committee says that she met the conditions the Senate set out for returning to the Red Chamber and that’s that.
But that’s not that, not even close. The idea that Beyak should be allowed back into the Senate at all after everything she did, everything she put everyone through, years of attacking Indigenous peoples, denying the basics of our rights, of the Residential Schools, of racism and all of that, that’s not okay at all. She apologized, after more than a year of refusing to do so and in an insulting way to Indigenous peoples, which cannot be forgotten and honestly will make many question it’s sincerity. After years upon years of racist behaviour, you don’t get to wipe the slate clean with one apology, especially one that’s prompted by the suspension of your six-figure salary.
And really that’s the key thing here that makes this potential development all the worse. If the full Senate actually approves her re-instatement, which I would sincerely hope they would not, this will send all the wrong signals about what that suspension was all about. The fact is that it’s not up to the Senate of Canada to decide if Beyak has properly “apologized” for her constant transgressions against Indigenous peoples. It’s not for the Parliament of Canada to decide that either. It’s for we Indigenous Peoples to decide if we are satisfied because in the end Beyak didn’t commit those acts against the Senate as an institution. She did that to us. We are the ones who she attacked, demeaned, discounted, and diminished with her words and the Senate of Canada is not in a position to speak for us in any way, shape, or form.
The only way that Beyak can prove that she has truly changed, if that’s true, is through her actions and that will take years to prove. You simply can’t undo a lifetime of acts with one apology forced under financial duress. And in my mind, that can’t happen from the lofty, honoured perch of a seat in the Senate. She went too far, persisted for too long and insisted on inflicting too much damage on the Indigenous peoples of this land to merit the chance to atone for her actions while remaining in the Senate. If Beyak is truly sincere in her apologies and if she’s truly seen the light, she needs to prove that from outside the Red Chamber. She needs to go back to her home community and start to prove her growth there, without the support of a large Senate salary that most Canadians will never see.
In the end, this has gone too far and it’s not up to the Senate to determine if her apology is enough. If the Senate re-instates her, it will send the message that all anyone needs to do, after all that denial and damage, is give a meek apology and all will be forgiven. It will also send the message that while the first party leader of colour can be ejected from the House of Commons for pointing out ignorant acts when he sees it, the Senate will embrace someone who has continually committed those ignorant acts for decades, all because she said “I’m sorry”.
In this moment, that would be the worst message of all they could send and would just drive home to Indigenous peoples that Canada’s democratic institutions are not a part of the solution. If the same body that used procedural tricks and underhanded crap to drown Romeo Saganash’s UNDRIP bill also gives Beyak their approval to come back, it will be more than a slap in the face to Indigenous peoples. It will prove that when push comes to shove, the Senate of Canada is truly not the least bit concerned about our plight. I pray that they will prove me wrong & do the right thing, but if past actions are any guide, I’m not that hopeful. It will just be another kick in the teeth to add to the long list of others delivered from Canada’s democratic institutions to Indigenous peoples.
Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Katlyn Harrison & Lindsay Maskell on the “Political Heat” panel. We talked about the latest developments in Ontario’s re-opening from COVID-19, Toronto moving into Phase 2, how people are reacting to the changes, the outbreaks of COVID-19 in parts of the agriculture sector among migrant workers & how years of policy regarding how migrant workers are treated by some is coming home to roost in this pandemic. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 14:00 minute mark.
This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. Today we discussed the politics of COVID-19, the examples of how some have turned issues of public health into partisan matters, last weeks Conservative leadership debates & how underwhelming the race itself has been. You can listen to it all below.