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What Not to Do When Governing in a Minority

It’s been a tense week in Canadian politics and with all the proper attention being paid to the Wet’suwet’en protests around the country, other big news has happened with far less notice than normally would be the case. One of those stories revolves around minority government, something that Ottawa is just getting re-acquainted with again. But many seem to forget that Ottawa isn’t the only capital to house a minority Parliament these days. In fact we’ve got three others, in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, with each of those parliaments dealing with unique and historic situations about their formations.

In BC we have the NDP in a supply agreement with the Greens, which has seemed to work well to date but we’ll see if the events of this week have any effect on that. On PEI, it’s the Progressive Conservatives leading with the Official Opposition Greens and third place Liberals, an order that is a first in the history of that province. But it’s the situation in New Brunswick that is especially historic, not only for it’s make up but for the math. It’s the Progressive Conservatives of Blaine Higgs who lead there, basically holding on by a single seat, with the Official Opposition Liberals a seat behind & both the Greens and right-wing People’s Alliance with three seats a piece. In a province that’s rarely seen more than one single third-party MLA in a single legislature, they’ve got six between two parties this time and all their votes crucial.

Needless to say that the               situation in New Brunswick is really complicated when it comes to how much longer that thing may last but for everyone worried about what might happen with the relatively stable minority in Ottawa, this weeks news from out east should be a primer on what not to do as government in a minority and on how a single policy misstep can have big consequences. What is that misstep you might be asking? This here:

In an attempted budget cutting move, the NB PC’s decided they would reduce the hours of emergency departments in six rural hospitals, basically ensuring they wouldn’t take patients between 10 pm and 8 am, a time of day when everything else is closed and you’d think you’d need emergency rooms. That would force people living in these areas to go further to get emergency care, at that very moment that every single minute counts the most. As you can imagine, this has gone over like a lead balloon with the public and brought this reaction from the Legislature itself:

Okay, that’s par for the course so far, right? All the other Opposition parties are against this and are threatening to take the whole thing down at the first opportunity. It should be noted that these changes won’t require a vote of the legislature to make happen, so that opportunity will be something else. The Liberals are talking about a non-confidence motion, but we’ll see what will come there. But that’s not the full extent of the opposition to this move, and this is where this story really starts to jump off:

Not just two members of the government opposing this and won’t support it, but the Deputy Premier of the province just resigned as a result of it. And in the video of his press conference there, he talks about being intimidated by Premier Higgs and about how he was going to be punished for representing his constituents. Unsurprisingly, Gauvin is being looked upon quite favourably right now as he’s taken a position of principle, but this leave this government in a historically bad position. Firstly, as CBC’s Jacques Poitras points out, this seems to be the first time in at least a century there has been no francophone minister in a New Brunswick cabinet. That, in Canada’s only officially bilingual province, a place where the issues between English and French are especially sharp and important. That’s bad by itself. But add to that the other angle of watching this government self-destruct around something that was completely of their own doing. Imagine the NB PC’s going into a campaign fought around this issue, weakened as a caucus and facing the full wrath of the electorate. That’s a recipe for a big loss.

And for me the most amazing thing about this is that it’s happened at all. The rule of thumb of working in a minority Parliament is that you don’t do big moves in policy, moves that are clearly going to be unpopular with the public, unless you’ve got the votes and support to back it up. In this case, that starts with your own caucus but that also involves at least one other party. From everything that’s come out this week, it seems that Premier Higgs and the team around him didn’t do that at all and as a result, he’s walked himself into the kind of peril that could easily involve him being out of the Premier’s office in a matter of weeks and months, having triggered an election and far from being on his own terms.

Simply put, this should be example A of how not to govern in a minority and something tells me that the defections and consequences aren’t done yet. The reaction of the public to a move like this was predictable as Hell, as was the pressure that would put on the MLA’s of all parties. That should have been clear to this Premier before he did yes, yet given everything that’s happened this week, that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’ll see what comes of this and what the ultimate price that is paid for this bad gaffe of a decision by Premier Blaine Higgs. But this episode should serve as a lesson to everyone else working through a minority Parliament and serve as a prime example of what not to do when governing in a minority.


Reflections – The Wet’suwet’en Protests

The past week plus in Canadian politics has been dominated by one issue and one story above all else; the protests by the hereditary chiefs in Wet’suwet’en territory in Northwest British Columbia and the protests that have some since in other parts of the country in response to it. I haven’t had much to say about this situation (thought you can hear comments of mine about this from earlier in the week here and here) and that’s simply been because I’m torn on this. This is a complicated case that’s far from being straightforward and involves much more nuance that, frankly, most of the Canadian political scene can handle.

I’ve stayed relatively quiet because my view might seem has incongruent to some and honestly doesn’t fit perfectly into anyone’s narrative. On the specific case that started this, the CGL LNG pipeline, here is my view. The hereditary chiefs are legally reasoned and legitimate in their assertions in this case. The elected band councils, all twenty that supported this project and held votes and referendums on their decision, they are also legally reasoned and legitimate too. And the proponent in this case, they have acted in good faith and have not acted in a way that we’ve seen other corporate actors in the past act, ways that epitomize bad faith. While some in the media are trying to say it’s the fault of any of these three, or any combination there of, I don’t believe that is the case, a view that does not fit that kind of neat narrative. It simply doesn’t.

As I have alluded to in the two posts I linked to above, this is a clusterbleep of a situation that has been created by political inertia, blindness and complete laziness when it comes to dealing with what underlies everything here; title and land. All parties share this blame, federally and in BC, and they all share the shame that has been created by this. The history and law here are simple:

  • the Royal Proclamation of 1763 made it clear that the British Crown recognized that Indigenous Nations in North America had the title to their lands and the rights attached to it. This was so clear that this proclamation became on of the “Intolerable Acts” that lead to the American Revolution, because they couldn’t accept the idea that Indigenous peoples were actually people who had rights.
  • If that wasn’t enough, in December of 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada, in the Delgamuukw decision, made it clear that the Wet’suwet’en had never had their rights and title extinguished.

So for everyone who has been trying to say that the Wet’suwet’en have no title to this land because a court has never said “you have it”, let’s be clear; a foundational document of Canada states that Indigenous peoples have title (which lead to two centuries of the Crown signing treaties all over Canada to deal with that fact) and the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that the Wet’suwet’en never gave it up. To argue that those facts don’t mean they have title is like arguing the following: All Canadian citizens have the right to vote, and a Canadian citizen named John Smith went all the way to the Supreme Court and got a decision saying that “Canadians have not extinguished their right to vote”. But then someone, trying to deny John Smith that right, says “well, you don’t have a court decision that specifically says “You, John Smith, have the right to vote.”” Most Canadians would never accept such an argument to be used to deny their rights, yet that is exactly what some are arguing out there today. I would point out that no one directly involved in this case (the elected chiefs, the hereditary chiefs or the project proponent) argue against the rights here. They are just dealing with a project, but I digress.

Back to the history, after Delgamuukw and what it meant what needed to happen here was very clear; the Crown needed to deal with the title issue, the rights issue and negotiate treaty. Regardless of the specifics of the treaty that would come or how you feel about what other nations have negotiated for in their treaties, negotiations should have happened. Basically, that’s what the Supreme Court of Canada was saying to the Crown; “get off your rears and do the hard work”. And in what has been the historical approach in Canada to issues like these, the governments of Canada and British Columbia simply didn’t do it. And as a result, we get to a case like today.

So, where does all of this make me feel so torn? When I look at the history here, what’s happened in the past and what needs to be done, that’s not it. What’s been tearing at me has been everything else that has gone on around this. Let me be clear, for me this whole case comes back to one very simple principle; Indigenous Nations need to be able to decide for themselves what projects they do in their territory. For me, that is one of the keys of self-governance and self-determination. And obviously in a difficult case, arriving at that decision is not easy. It’s damn hard stuff. If there is one thing I have fought for in my time in politics it is for that very principle, regardless of what the decision that nation may take. And I say that because if it’s not my nation, it’s not my place to tell them what to do, if I agree with it or not.

In my view, not only is that the principle that this whole situation should be about, it’s in that principle where the solution to this case and for the Wet’suwet’en lays. This case isn’t happening in a vacuum and isn’t happening without history. Part of the history of Canada was the attempt to remove Indigenous peoples and nations from the map, destroy our cultures, eliminate our languages and all of that. That included our governance structures, whatever they were. Some nations were able to hold onto those structures, including the Wet’suwet’en. But at the same time we did see these colonial structures put in their place, like band councils. And over time every nation has taken different approaches to how they govern themselves in this context, as messed up as it is.

I started off by saying that both the hereditary chiefs and band councils are legitimate, and that might seem incongruent to some but to me they are not for one simple reason; legitimacy comes from how those who are governed by them view it. From everything I’ve seen so far, most people in that territory see legitimacy of both. Forget how the Crown or others may see them, put that aside. What matters is how the people view them and they are doing their best to make the best of this crap history. Many other nations have faced the same situations, and treaty negotiations have helped sort a lot of that out and helped put other nations on a path going forward, on a path of their own choosing. But as I mentioned above, that hasn’t happened here.

I also view them both as legitimate because of what they have backing them. The hereditary chiefs do have case law and government inertia on their side, while the elected band councils have receipts in the form of votes, referendums and consultations. Both hold legitimacy, period, and need to be respected. And this is where I start to get very torn by all this. We’ve seen some media, politicians, activists, NGO’s, the entire alphabet soup of the fight around energy, pipeline and climate change politics making judgments about who is and who isn’t legitimate. We’ve seen some trying to call the hereditary chiefs royalty-like figures acting fully on their own whims, and we’ve seen others trying to call the band councils sellouts, colonial pawns and corporate shills, all of these slurs in an attempt to bolster their own part of this other conflict and such.

That tearing has continued as we’ve seemed more and more piling on from across the board, outside groups trying to use this case to bolster their own goals and doing nothing to actually help find a solution to the actual problem at hand. I’ve said that they are treating this case as a proxy for the bigger fights happening across the country and that to me is something I’m not cool with because of one very simple fact; that other fight, that other war that those people are trying to use this as a proxy for, those taking part in it don’t give a flying fig about if the Wet’suwet’en will have the right to make their own choice. They don’t because I’ve yet to hear many of these groups say “I will respect whatever choice they make”. They aren’t doing that. Period.

And folks, this is on all sides that I am seeing this. We’re seeing this from Conservative politicians like Jason Kenney saying this will happen elsewhere, Erin O’Toole trying to win leadership votes by wanting to direct the police, Andrew Scheer doing the same trying to remain relevant and Brian Pallister trying to use his “action” on blockades to raise money. Those people are being craven and showing no interest in finding a solution, to the point where the OPP of all groups had to come out to tell them to stop.

But on the other side we’re seeing Green politicians trying to use this to say that nothing should ever get build, we’ve seen NDP leader Jagmeet Singh make comments that left me seriously wondering if he understands the nuances here and minor-league politicians like Victoria City Councillor Ben Isitt trying to get his 15 minutes by crap-talking the Victoria Police caught in the middle of this. From none of these politicians have I heard a word about that underlying principle. No it seems like they are only cool with it when they back their specific point of view. And we can extend that same observation to some environmental NGO’s and other activists out there because I’ve seen the same from a lot of them.

On top of that, you can add another layer here that has probably torn at me more than anything else. I’ve seen and heard comments from many people in the Indigenous community out there that I respect so highly, some who I consider friends, on all sides of this issue. I’ve stayed quiet as a result because I have feared what some of those people might think, that’s the truth. It’s all been too much and I’ve felt the need to stay away from social media and the flood of everything in this because of those fears.

When talking about this yesterday with a friend someone brought up “Idle No More” and tried to compare what is happening today with those days back then. And honestly, it was that conversation that finally pushed me to write this because that chat gave me a slight moment of clarity when I’ve felt nothing but an emotional haze for the past week plus. When that friend compared this to that, I couldn’t help but disagree. “Idle No More” was an energizing experience and brought thousands out to get involved for the first time, waking many Indigenous peoples, but that experience felt much more unifying and uniting. INM unified so many of us and pushed us in a direction with our action. INM was positively reinforcing our culture and using that to make a political point. During INM we had non-Indigenous allies come out and support us, but they supported us and our concerns. Those allies didn’t make INM about their issues or use INM to advance their goals. They supported us and pushed Indigenous peoples to the front.

In this past week I haven’t felt that or seen that same spirit. We need to be honest, we Indigenous peoples are not united on the underlying issue of resource development, we’re just not and you’re seeing that in the protests and comments out there. It shouldn’t be expected or demanded of us that we all agree on this, that’s not fair, but we have to acknowledge the fact that we have a divide here. We’ve seen groups on either side of that divide start to peel Indigenous peoples to their sides, advancing their goals and not those of our nations. We’ve also seen some of these “allies”, like certain politicians and NGOs, push their goals to the front and are using this as a platform to advance their well being. We don’t see them advancing that fundamental principle that I mentioned at the very start; Indigenous Nations need to be able to decide for themselves what projects they do in their territory. A true ally would be putting that in the forefront above all, and we haven’t seen that.

So what do we do going forward? Do I have any optimism? Honestly, I don’t know what will come and I always try to do my best to remain optimistic. The fact that sides are now talking and we’re seeing discussions taking place is good and I hope to see that continue. That does give some hope, but my biggest hope is that the temperature is brought down and that people within spitting distance of microphones or a Twitter account decide to be more responsible when they are. The fact is that the situation that’s happening in Northwest BC is something that has been over 150 years in the making. We’ve inherited the result of past governments trying to kick this can down the road and no amount of bluster and loud threats will change that. Reconciliation, as alive or dead as you may think it is, is not an easy job. It’s a damn hard one, one that involves a lot of pain and hard work. My sincere hopes and prayers are that now is the time that work starts. That may be too optimistic on my part but even though I feel very torn, I need some hope to look ahead to. That is why I’m clinging to, that something good will eventually come from the tumult and pain of these past days.

#Cdnpolicast – Protests & Canada’s Campaign for the UN Security Council

The newest episode of “Cdnpolicast” is now up. In this episode Alyson Fair, Neil Brodie and I talk about the protests happening across the country, the history behind the current events, and the events that have taken place. We also talk about the Trudeau governments pursuit of a seat at the United Nations Security Council, the importance of it & how the events of this past week interact with his campaign. We recorded this in the afternoon of Thursday February 13th, so the events and comments of the past 24 hours aren’t reflected in this. You can download and subscribe to “#Cdnpolicast” everywhere you can get your finest podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify. You can also listen below. Enjoy!

Talking Via Rail Blockade and Protests with Rob Snow

Today I had the chance to joined Rob Snow on 1310 News’ “Rob Snow Show”, along with Ashton Arsenault. We had a long talk the protests and blockades taking place around the country, what is at the root of them, what needs to happen and who needs to step up. It was a hard discussion but I hope it helped to bring some background and help to not only what’s happening out there, but to hopefully finding a path forward. You can listen at the link below. Enjoy!

More Lessons for Progressives

Late last year I wrote a piece here on the lessons that Progressives could and should learn from the events of 2019 and the elections that took place. A big part of that piece for me came from some folks on the further left constantly saying, “Oh if we only had a Jeremy Corbyn in Canada” or “We need a Bernie Sanders in Canada”. Heck recently someone even put that idea down in a piece that I believe totally misses the mark, mostly because Bernie Sanders would not be very radical in the Canadian context at all. Most of what he’s calling for are things we already have and have come from policies from both the NDP and eventually the Liberals when they got popular enough. But yeah, I’m sure that point won’t go over well.

Regardless, many on the far left in Canada point to these examples as the way forward and the way that the NDP should be. Forget the fact that neither of them won a major election and that Corbyn just had the worst Labour defeat in decades, that doesn’t matter we keep getting told. And yes, while right now Bernie Sanders is riding high and will most likely win in New Hampshire today, I wouldn’t count my chickens until after Super Tuesday at the earliest. My point is that there is a long way from now to the Democratic Convention this summer and while Bernie is a front runner right now, he’s not running away from the field and if the more moderate wing of the Democrats ever coalesce around someone, Bernie’s got big problems. But hey, that’s a fun debate for another day and time.

In the meantime, I feel that it’s always important to look at empirical data and information that can tell us a lot about what happened in past campaigns. That helps us learn from what happened before, in order not to repeat mistakes from the past. It was in that spirit that I came across an interesting piece from British pollster and Conservative Lord Ashcroft. And while yes, he’s a Tory and put the usual caveats on everything, he did focus groups and polling of Labour voters, those who left Labour in this campaign and why. The results are interesting and some good lessons to learn from:

While Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are whistling past the graveyard and refusing to place any blame at their own feet, Ashcroft’s findings show something quite different. I pulled three graphs from the report and put them above because they show just how starkly Labour was out to lunch and just how disconnected they’ve become from those who have voted for them for so long. While Brexit played a role in this campaign, it’s clear from reading this that it wasn’t the determining factor. You can see from those who left Labour to vote elsewhere large numbers point to Corbyn himself as a big problem, pointed to Labour “no longer really representing its traditional voters” and to “Labour’s election promises not being believable”.

In other polling information you see it again and again, a theme being repeated; I didn’t want Corbyn, Labour no longer represents me and I don’t believe they could deliver on their promises. But it’s the last graph there that really drove home the point about how much of a factor Brexit actually was when it came to those who abandoned Labour. 52% of those who left Labour this time said they would have done it anyway, Brexit or no Brexit. Only 18% said they would have voted another way if Brexit wasn’t on the table. Think about that for a moment; of all the voters Labour lost, less than 20% said they wouldn’t have switched if Brexit hadn’t been a feature of this race. That’s it. More than half of those past Labour voters were gone, regardless of Brexit. That lays at the feet of Corbyn and his team and they need to answer for it.

There is a lot to pick over in that report and a lot of data that’s very interesting, but for me the big takeaway from this is that Labour under Corbyn’s leadership had their fingers nowhere near the pulse of their supporters and stood no chance of winning with Corbyn as leader. Brexit was just the coup de grace, not the main cause. And folks, for those pining for a “Canadian Corbyn”, that’s exactly where that kind of leader would lead the NDP; to historic losses and ruin.

The fact is that Labour under Corbyn has lost its bearings and lost its connection with those who they have traditionally supported. As many of those former Labour supporters said (people who said they could support Labour again it should be noted) is that they feel like they are being spoken at and down to, not being represented. The NDP needs to be cautious to not go down that path and in some cases, some could say that already happened. Repeating that example fully and forcefully here in Canada would not deliver the utopia that some claim it will because Canadians are skeptical of people offering the moon and stars and their ability to deliver on it. I would hope that people would look at the content of what that report says and the results of those panels, and not the name of the author. There is a big lesson to be taken from that report and the only question that remains is “Will we learn from it?” or “Will we ignore the fact because they might prove us wrong?”. Time will tell which will happen, but it can’t be said that no one isn’t trying to get it right.