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“Nothing to See Here”

Looking around Canada this week at the Federal and Provincial levels, you’d be hard pressed to find any leader having a good week. It’s just been a lot of bad, all over the place. But despite that standard being set across the country, one provincial government some how has managed to stand out from the pack of badness this week. This week the Ontario Ford Government returned to Queen’s Park with the legislature returning, amid province-wide teachers strikes and rail blockades. With all that going on, one would be hard pressed to somehow make this group look even worse. But oh my friends, where most people see an impossibility, others see a challenge, and in this case it seems that the PC’s of Doug Ford saw the latter:

That three-and-a-half-minute piece of live TV was stunning and amazing to watch, now only it what happened but in the tone deafness of it. Live on national TV, you end up with a security guard being paid by the Ford PC’s trying to keep the national public broadcaster from simply telling us the news. If you were trying to show that the stereotypes about your party and government were wrong and misinformed, what you saw there was precisely the opposite of what you’d do.

In fact, that whole display was exactly the kind of crap we’ve come to except from this government. It was very true to form for a government that believes you don’t need to see their license plates at night, that goes to court to keep the public from seeing their ministers mandate letters and puts out complete mistruths week after week when talking about the labour dispute with the provinces teachers. It’s embarrassing stuff and would be laughable if it wasn’t so bloody serious.

What adds another layer of insanity or stupidity to that display outside the Ontario PC Convention in Niagara Falls is that fact that just a few days ago, policy chair and third vice-president of the party Bola Otaraki said the convention violates the party’s rules, that “they are choosing to violate the constitution with this event” and called it nothing more than a glorified pep rally. When that’s how your convention is making the news just a few days before it starts, you’d think that you might have an interest in proving those accusations wrong and deliver a certain level of transparency to the event. And I guess in theory you could call that whole episode on “Power & Politics” transparent in its own way; it was transparently saying that this government feels that people don’t have the right to know what’s going on. Acting everyday as if your governments motto is “Nothing to See Here” is a transparent act, but that’s not the kind of transparency folks expect.

Either way, with everything that’s been going on in Ottawa you’d think that these past two weeks would be an easy chance for the Ford Conservatives to lay relatively low, look statesman like and let someone else spend a period of time under pressure. But between real big issues that this government created, like the negotiations with teachers, and the embarrassing screw ups of their own creation, like the license plate diabolical, these guys have managed to steal a good-sized part of the spotlight in this environment. And that whole episode last night just grabbed more of it, to shine a light on plain stupidity on their part.

Now the Ford PC’s did do something they rare do shortly after that aired, which was apologize, but the damage was beyond done. That piece of video has had hundreds of thousands of views already and it is speaking much louder than any statement of apology in a press release ever could. This crew has an uncanny ability to put themselves in these positions constantly, seemingly with no conscious thought or reflection on what it says about them or makes them look. I’d say it’s amateurish but that would be an insult to amateurs in all walks of life. Maybe the only upside to this situation is that we are closing in on the half-way mark of this government and getting closer to the chance to vote these people out. That’s something to look forward to, but in the meantime, just imagine how many situations like this we’ll see play out before then. The only guarantee here is that this won’t be the last one and the next one is just a matter of “when”, not “if”.


Buffalo Leap

This has been a crazy couple of weeks in our politics and let’s face it, we’re in a very fraught time. There are lots of tensions out there, lots of angry words being shared and many fault lines coming back to the surface. Many of the responses to that haven’t been constructive, and really our political leaders own a lot of that at the moment. This hasn’t been our brightest moment, that’s for sure.

In the past we’ve seen documents come out that express the frustrations that some are feeling, declarations that start conversations. Sometimes they are constructive, other times not. We can point to older examples like the Firewall Letter or one of the most recent ones on the progressive side of the fence, the Leap Manifesto. Yesterday we saw another document come out that falls in that historic vein from Alberta, one that has gotten some people talking at least:

I know that many people on social media are having a good chuckle at this document, those who are proposing it and alike. I get that, I do. Some of the comments in this document are over the top and really this is much more of a political statement than a workable path forward. There are some ideological inconsistencies of note that jumped out at me, the big one of those being their suggestions around the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The four Conservative MPs who are moving this forward have spent the better part of the last year attacking the Trudeau Liberals for trying to save the national media, saying they are meddling in an independent press. Yet now they are suggesting, directly, meddling in the independent press. There are threads of that kind of logic running through out this.

There are also some rhetorical statements in here that are not much more than recycled Conservative talking points, like the statement about acknowledging “in the House of Commons, the devastation the National Energy Program caused to the people of Alberta.” That is a bit of histrionics there for sure, but more to the point, that isn’t a serious suggestion or request. It’s just not, period.

Frankly, it’s hyperbolic statements like that one that actually undercut what are some actual, serious points for discussion that are suggested in this document. While this declaration is dripping in partisanship, there are issues raised in there that are worthy of discussion, some which have been around for a long time. The longest standing of those would be the Senate and its structure. I agree the idea that this chamber is so heavily weighted towards one region of the country over another is not workable in 2020, that’s a legitimate point of debate. I would argue the solution is just to do away with it, if we’re going to be dabbling in constitutional matters anyway, but the point does stand and is worthy of serious discussion.

There are other points in there too that are valid. The point about the location of the civil service, and how Ottawa-centric it is, is a very valid one. In this age of the internet and virtual workplaces, why can’t more government departments be spread out across the country? Why can’t some of these people who make these decisions be closer to the communities they serve or the industries they oversee? That is another legitimate point of discussion. The current structure of the Equalization program is another, and the current government is looking at that and acting on that very idea.

But while there are ideas worthy of discussion in that document, they are drowned out by the partisan hyperbole in its language and tenor. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising in this day and age, but it is what it is. I would also argue that this document is hurt by another of its features; while it is about western concerns & wants understanding for western issues, it shows no sympathy or understanding for those in the rest of the country. I’m not saying I don’t understand why that would happen, but I’m saying that if you’re wanting to have a conversation about the very structure of our democracy and government, it can’t simply be a discussion about meeting the needs of only one region. I would argue that a greater discussion should take place about our structures across the board.

While I agree that concerns about the concentration of political power around two provinces is legitimate, I would also argue that within those provinces power is very concentrated too. I know many people in Northwestern Ontario who would describe Ontario in the same way that this group describes Canada, and I’ve met some in Northern Quebec who make the same arguments about their province. If we’re going to start a conversation about what our country looks like, why not have a bigger discussion? Think of this fact; Canada is geographically bigger and more diverse than our American neighours, but while they are divided into 50 states, we are divided into 10 provinces and 3 territories. Are some of our provinces chopped up too big? Maybe we don’t need 50 provinces, but would our country work better if the provinces were smaller and better able to respond to their regional needs? Would the Greater Toronto Area be better off as its own province? As this declaration points out, the lines that make up our provincial borders were not drawn to suit the demands of the locals but the needs of others, so if we’re going to go into this discussion, why not put that on the table too?

Now I’m not arguing for or against any of those things, but that just makes the point about where I believe this declaration leaves things short. Yes the declaration is about their specific regional demands, but if you want to have a conversation about structural changes & aren’t willing to talk about the whole, I would argue it doesn’t really address the issues, or at least not in the most effective ways.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t expect the Buffalo Declaration to go anywhere. Really, I expect it to become more like the Conservative version of the “Leap Manifesto”, which I don’t think is a comparison those moving it would want. I make it because like Leap, while there are some worthy ideas worth discussing and looking at, the hyperbolic statements, strong language and lack of wider vision makes it so very hard for the wider public to take it as seriously as they would like. As it is written right now, this is more of a venting declaration than a constructive document that could offer solutions, which I think is sad. There are some concepts and ideas in there that are worth discussing as a nation, but those are taking a back seat to the political language of the moment. And because of that, it’s likely not going to get the result that they want.

An Historic Coalition in the Making?

It’s interesting how life can be at times. Lately it seems that everyday I go to drive home from work, something big happens during the two hours it takes me to get from door to door. It seems that whenever I pull into my driveway lately and check my phone to see if I’ve gotten any emails or check my social media, I come home to find a bit story that surprises or comes out of the blue.

Well that happened again tonight, this time coming from St. John’s. It was just Monday evening that Liberal Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador announced that he was stepping aside as Liberal leader, kicking off a race to replace him. Some in the media pointed to a forthcoming leadership review vote that he seemed unlike to succeed in as the reason for leaving now, but regardless of the reason, the decision was taken. And in the shadow of that announcement a big story has come out that puts that choice in a whole new light, and that could turn politics in the province right on its head:

A coalition government?!?!?! Ooohh, now that’s a twist straight out of 2008. It turns out that the provinces Progressive Conservatives, New Democrats, a small group of Liberals and Independent MHA Paul Lane have been having talks about forming a coalition government to replace the Ball (for now) Liberals. That would put the Liberals in an amazing position of having gone from having to replace a Premier to having to replace a Leader of the Official Opposition, with a diminished caucus to boot. That would be an amazing change of fortune in less than two weeks.

The details added by CBC’s David Cochrane are quite fascinating too. He says that there’s broad agreement on sharing cabinet posts but a big part of all this rides on what the at least four Liberals might do. According to Cochrane, that all depends on who might run to replace Ball. Cochrane also points out that “there is a sense that the endless cycle of patronage controversies, the House of Assembly bullying scandal, the Gerry Byrne versus the world controversies have crippled the house’s ability to do meaningful work.” That’s quite something when you think about it, that the work of the whole Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly has been so hurt to the point that it would require taking such a step.

But there is another interesting quirk in this story, that all poli-geeks out there will love. Under the provinces electoral law, whenever a Premier resigns as party leader and their party needs to replace them, the province must have an election within a year of that new leader rising to the Premier’s office. But according to another tweet from Cochrane, “there would only need to be an election within a year of Ball’s replacement being picked if it comes from the same party.” He goes onto say that he doesn’t think “that law applies to a coalition replacing a minority. The hypothetical coalition would govern as long as it could survive.” He doesn’t think…. Folks, that’s an interesting use of language on his party because that’s one way of saying if this all came to pass, the province would be heading into unknown territory when it came to what this would mean.

Cochrane’s interpretation could be what rules the day, but what if there is disagreement on what it means? Does it go to the courts? Does it go to the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador Judy Foote to decide? You know, the same Judy Foote who as a Liberal MP for nearly a decade, a Minister in Justin Trudeau’s government, and the mother of Carla Foote, the subject of the patronage scandal that has dogged the Ball Liberals, leading us to this situation? Yeah, it could all lead to that point, which would lead to all kinds of issues of its own. But of course, before any of that can happen, Mrs. Foote would need to give this coalition government a chance to govern. Although I doubt that she would stand in the way of giving them a chance and avoiding an election, it’s still an interesting dynamic.

Regardless this story has gotten that much more fascinating. Formal coalition governments in Canada, Federally or Provincially, are extremely rare to see. Even in this age of seeing so many minority governments across the country, there is only one government operating on as much as a Supply Vote Agreement. Thanks to what happened in 2008, forming formal coalitions has been given a dirty taint in the eyes of some. But even before that, you hadn’t seen them very often in Canada at all. So if this motley political crew did band together to form a formal coalition government, it would be the first of its kind that Canada has probably seen since the Conscription Crisis of 1917. Yes folks, over 100 years and even in that case it was only members of two parties coming together. In this case, if it all comes to be, it would involve members of at least three, very different parties. Not only would it be fascinating to see the kind of program they would cobble together with such divergent backgrounds, it would be amazing to watch how it would work. That coalition would become a great case study for generations of students of politics to come, and its success or failure could have a big impact well beyond the borders of the province. So yeah, no pressure folks.

With everything going on in Ottawa right now, political observers will also need to keep an eye on St. John’s for a piece of potential political history playing out. Or at the very least, high political drama. This news tonight surely came right out of the blue and if this does come to pass, wow, it will be something to behold with ripple effects that we’ll feel for a while.

Failures of Leadership

As someone who has long been a big believer in the role of our Parliament & the responsibilities that those who serve there have to everyone in this country, this week has been tough to take. It’s been so because it’s been hard to watch an institution that I so believe in fail so miserably to rise to the needs of the moment. I pointed to this on Tuesday, as all of the parties in the House spoke to the protests that are happening across the country. But instead of getting better, things have just gotten worse as we’ve seen this happen from the Opposition:

We’ve got the soon-to-be former Conservative leader stirring up emotions, saying he wants to direct the police to move in, which is counter to law and practice. We have someone who wants to replace him, doing the same thing more forcefully and trying to use this issue to advance his own political career. And then we have the NDP Leader offering some constructive ideas (like suggesting Sen. Murray Sinclair be a mediator), but then completely undermining them by doing the same thing as the Conservatives except from the other side, wanting to direct the police to back down. I’d point out that all of these suggestions around directly police surely aren’t the actions of anyone who ever thinks they’ll be Prime Minister because if they were thinking about that, they’d take the separation between police and politics seriously. Then if things weren’t crappy enough, the Conservatives decided to bring this as an opposition day motion:

Well crap on a biscuit, this is about the last thing that is need. I say about, because that would have been a confidence motion, like the one the Conservatives did table but backed off on when they were called out on that garbage. But next in the line of “real bad ideas in a national crisis” would be this torqued, hyper-partisan Opposition Day motion that will do absolutely nothing at all to resolve this situation. In fact, it will likely make it all worse, as we’ll see a full day of MPs giving televised speeches that will likely tap dance all over every sore spot in this entire episode, while completely exposing the total lack of knowledge, empathy or both of many MPS in the process. This has the potential to be Parliament at it’s absolute worst and if the Conservatives were serious about trying to resolve this situation, this is something they wouldn’t do. But if you were looking to score the cheapest of political points out there, this would be it. I’ll leave it to you do decide which this is.

But outside the uselessness coming out of the West Block on this matter this week, we’ve gotten an injection of clarity, sanity and facts to this discussion, one that many MPs seem to be hellbent on ignoring. The source of these sage words? Former Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police Chris Lewis, who wrote an insightful piece for on why police are acting the way they are now which everyone should read. But I’ll quote a couple important pieces here for everyone:

“Mass arrests of this sort, knowing that there is often “some” bad people among the protesters, some with access to firearms, police have to be prepared to take lives, lose lives and bring the entire nation to a complete standstill for months or years to come. These are difficult enough decisions for police commanders that had no part in creating this situation to begin with. They don’t need opposition members in parliament of any political stripe demanding that police make arrests or chiding the sitting government to order same. No elected politician can direct a police leader when to make arrests or when not to – at least not in Canada.

“It’s not that police “AREN’T doing their job” in Tyendinaga or in cities and other remote sites across Canada. Police ARE doing their job, but they are doing it in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily jeopardize lives. Marching tactical officers onto a piece of disputed land to evict Indigenous protesters and taking a life in 1995 didn’t work so well. It would be a complete disaster in 2020.

The federal government must negotiate a political solution if this situation is ever going to end, not the police. The police are simply the meat in a no-win sandwich. I certainly don’t know the answer, but I do know that it’s so much bigger than law enforcement and it’s far from simple.”

I’d like to think that it wouldn’t take someone of the stature of former Commissioner Lewis to have to come out and state such simple, direct and plain things, yet thanks to the total failure of our political leaders it’s needed. Lewis is completely right when he says we “don’t need opposition members in parliament of any political stripe demanding that police make arrests or chiding the sitting government to order same.” We don’t, it’s that’s simple. Any suggestions, demands or whatever that involve giving a direction to any police force isn’t helping a bloody thing. Period. The fact is that we’re starting to see movement from the RCMP on this matter, of their own accord. Having politicians trying to give orders doesn’t help their efforts and i’d hope that they’d understand that.

It may feel great to say, make for a “strong” clip on social media or raise you lots of money for the party coffers, but it doesn’t less than nothing to help actually solve the problem. If your focus isn’t on solving the bloody problem like a serious adult, if you are focused on fundraising numbers and “energizing the base” instead, then you’re not a part of the solution. You’re a part of the problem. We elect MPs and parties to help solve the problems of our nation, not to create more or exploit the ones that have been there for centuries. In moments like these, there is one basic test of leadership that we should expect all leaders to follow; put your partisan interest aside and do what’s best for the country. In this case that would mean cutting the rhetoric, lowering the temperature and trying to offer actual solutions. While the Prime Minister may not have the solutions here and may not find them, that is not an excuse for how these other party leaders are responding. These are the moments when leaders have a chance to show what kinds of states people they can be and if they should ever be given the chance to be Prime Minister. On that measure, all the Opposition leaders, current or wannabe, who claim to want to be Prime Minister someday, have failed miserably on that count. Yes, a pox on all their houses until they grow up and get real. If a tense, fraught and difficult moment like this can’t sober them up enough to rise to this challenge, then they can’t do it. I pray and hope that they finally do step up but as this week comes to an end, I don’t think I’ve ever had as little faith that they will. And that is as stark a comment as any I can offer today.

The Dishonourable Senator from Northwestern Ontario: Municipal Leaders Push Back

With the way that things have been moving in Canadian politics in the past week, it feels like it’s been ages since I last wrote about the disgraceful Senator Lynn Beyak. But in truth, it’s only been a few weeks since I last used space here to call out her refusal to accept responsibility for her actions and words. At that time, she was also called out for trying to claim she was Métis while at the same time say there is no racism in her community. Of course, the truth is far from her words, which is one thing that’s been consistent through all of this.

But since the Senate has been forced to deal with Beyak again, voices have been calling for the Senate to take a stronger stand against her, arguing that suspension is simply not enough this time. Well this morning we have a development on that front from Beyak’s own back yard, the region that she claims to represent and speak for. This development comes in the form of a statement, one that this observer is very happy to see:

This morning we saw seven young municipal councilors from all over Northwestern Ontario speak out in a brave and principled way. Douglas Judson of Fort Frances, Kirsi Ralko of Kenora, Cody Fraser & Shelby Ch’ng of Thunder Bay, Andrew Nisly of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, Joe Cassidy of Sioux Lookout and Daniel Sutton of Ear Falls came together to make a simple but strong statement; Mrs. Beyak is setting back the representation of Northwestern Ontario by her very presence in the Red Chamber and that the Senate needs to step up now.

What’s striking about this statement is not only the clear thought in it but the way it comes from across the political spectrum and different community realities. You have reps from the biggest city in the region, to the smallest, most spread out municipalities. You have various political backgrounds represented here. You also see a clear call, focused call for tackling the issues that Northwestern Ontario faces every day.

They directly attack Beyak’s claims; they point to the fact that yes, there is racism in their communities and yes, reconciliation is needed for all people who live in the region to be able to move forward together. They also point out that in this day and age when rural and northern communities are in need of leadership to deal with the issues they face, Beyak is spending her time trying to sow more division and, as they put it “it’s no longer acceptable for Senator Beyak to squander her office and its resources to cast aspersions on Indigenous people, obscure the reality of racism and those who face it, and bring disrepute to our region.”

For this group of municipal councilors, the ask is very simple: remove Beyak for good “so that the privilege of serving in the Red Chamber may be extended to an individual who is capable of standing with the people of our region, advancing their priorities and honourably representing Northwestern Ontario in Parliament.” The fact that we find ourselves in a spot where such a reasoned, obvious thing must be stated says a lot about the current situation.

Now as you can see above here, it’s still a long way from when Mrs. Beyak must leave the Senate due to age, but as I’ve said here before, that’s simply not acceptable. I hope that by taking this brave step and speaking out like this, more political leaders will get behind these young municipal leaders who are speaking for the future of their communities and homes. They are putting forward a vision of a region that comes together, works to make a better future and doesn’t want to repeat the ignorance of the past and present. They are putting their names on it, standing behind it and doing what is right, despite the fact that someday there could be an electoral price to pay for doing so. Given that, I’d hope that those who occupy the Red Chamber, those who never have to face the electorate or face that peril, will show as much bravery and principle as these seven leaders are. Canadians are watching and hopefully those in the Senate will heed this call, much sooner than later.