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Failing the Test

Through out the whole SNC/PMO scandal, anonymous voices were coming out of the woodwork to smear former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and over time, those attempts failed miserably. That failure didn’t stop them, and even after she was removed from the Liberal caucus, it continued. But for the past weeks those smears have revolved around a decision that she took before she was shuffled, a significant directive for Indigenous peoples across the country:

This move by Wilson-Raybould was bold and much needed on the path to reconciliation. The directive she gave instructed the government to take a “rights-recognition-based” litigation strategy, which would take an approach to litigation that promotes resolution and settlement and seeks opportunities to narrow or avoid potential litigation. In short, it’s an approach to reach solutions through discussion, negotiation and in the true spirt of a Nation to Nation relationship and to stop the government practices of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars every year fighting Indigenous rights in court, only to lose over 95% of the time.

As a Métis person, I’ve seen this first hand in the Daniels case. That case started in 1999, as the plaintiffs in the case were trying to get an answer to a simple question: Who is legally responsible for the Métis? The Federal governments or the Provinces. That case was finally decided in 2016, 17 years later, to answer that simple question. Yet the Federal government fought this case tooth and nail for that whole time and think of the millions spend and lawyers time wasted on a case that they lost every step of the way. Why do that unless you’re trying to outspend and bankrupt your “adversaries”? It’s far from honourable behaviour, that’s for sure.

So, in making this decision, one that many of those smearers have been trying to put into question, Wilson-Raybould was trying to put the Liberal governments own promises into act. It was supposed to be a sign of true reconciliation and acting better. But as I said, it was supposed to. Today the intrepid reporter for CBC Jorge Barrera put out a report that seems to be another example of a broken promise from this government:

Okay folks, you should read this whole story because there are many things in there that are just damning to me for a few reasons. For starters, the judge in this case made his displeasure at the government and their approach very clear; you don’t openly ask questions like “Is it its intention to grind these 105 bands into poverty and bankruptcy before this matter ever proceeds to trial?” if you approve of the governments actions. He also points out that many of these plaintiffs are dying, so these are elderly survivors that the government is running through the ringer here.

On top of that disgusting  piece comes the actual legal arguments that the government is using in their defence in this case. The government is arguing before the court that they still deny “there was a uniform residential school policy” and they are arguing that the feds are only liable for things that the churches aren’t already liable. Yes folks, they are saying before a court of law that Canada had no policy on this, despite the fact that Canada apologized 11 years ago for having exactly that policy. And to add to that indignity, they are basically using the “hey, it’s the contractors’ fault, not mine” argument. To me, this is just repugnant and this is exactly the kind of way the government has acted towards Indigenous peoples in the courts for decades now.

This was exactly that kind of behaviour and approach that Wilson-Raybould’s directive was supposed to stop. This defence screams of an attempt to wait the plaintiffs and their families out, again. This is nothing new when it comes to how Canada acts towards Indigenous peoples in these cases. Remember the Daniels Case I mentioned above? I forgot to mention that Harry Daniels, one of the plaintiffs in the case, died in 2004, 12 years before the decision would come. And sadly Mr. Daniels isn’t the only Indigenous person who we can say the same about, having passed away before the Government of Canada dealt with their case.

And folks, if you thought this couldn’t be any worse, it is. I’m just going to share this quote with you from the story and let it speak for itself:

“Ottawa also denies in its statement of defence that it breached the Aboriginal rights outlined in section 35 of the Constitution of any of the plaintiffs to speak their traditional languages, engage in traditional customs or follow their traditional governance.
“What Canada is throwing back at the Aboriginal people of Canada is … that you have to tell us what your culture was, you have to specifically define the parameters … and why language was important,” said Phillips.
“As if those aren’t self evident.”

Yes folks, part of the lawsuit from the plaintiffs revolves around the loss of language and culture, something that is well documented and clear. Yet the lawyers for the Government of Canada are denying this to be the case and basically saying to the plaintiffs “prove it”. Nothing says “reconciliation” like telling residential school survivors to prove that the loss of language and culture.

All this being tolled, it shouldn’t be surprising that the judge questioned the governments dedication to reconciliation, especially when he said “I hope that Canada will not simply continue to talk the talk, but will now walk the walk”. With her directive, Jody Wilson-Raybould was trying to hold Canada to that commitment and ensure that the Liberal government that she was a part of was “walking the walk” on reconciliation. And not only does it appear that the directive in question is being ignored, it’s also being used to smear her anonymously in the public. This all smells like a serious fail on the part of the Liberal government, one that I hope that they correct quickly. Decency demands it and reconciliation requires it.


Spring Election on the Rock

Spring is finally arriving in earnest; the weather has gotten nice and warm, the snow is melting away and it seems that our long winter is finally done (knock on wood). But it seems that spring 2019 could also be dubbed another thing: election season. With the Alberta Election now in the book, the vote in Prince Edward Island happening next week and rumours of a potential early election in Manitoba, there is a lot out there already to digest. But last night we got more to add to our plate, as this news became official:

Yes folks, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are off to the polls with election day falling on May 16th, although the timing is very interesting. You see it was just a couple of days ago that the Liberal Government of Dwight Ball introduced their budget. It was a budget that was balanced, by some creative accounting, that it seems generally agreed will be unbalanced by default by the time the next budget is introduced. As for the issues of this campaign? That remains to be seen. As for the state of play, the most recent CRA poll for the province puts it here:

According to this polling from early March, the Ball Liberals were in a 7% lead ahead of the PC’s, lead by Ches Crosbie. If that name sounds familiar to you, it should. Ches is the son of none-other than famous Newfoundland politician John Crosbie. The provinces New Democrats sit at 16%, but they have been in turmoil of their own, with leader Gerry Rogers resigning recently. She was replaced just last month by economist Allison Coffin, who rose to the leadership by default by virtue of being the only person to seek the leadership. Not exactly the best footing to be entering a campaign. And to add to the mix there will be a new party in this campaign; the NL Alliance, which is led by former PC president Graydon Pelley, because an official party less than a week ago but will be fighting this election. They only have four candidates nominated so far and we’ll see if that changes as the campaign goes along. In order to have an impact on this race, they’ll surely need more.

So, what should we expect from this campaign? On the issues, it doesn’t seem to be as hot as the race in Alberta was, but there is a month to see if that remains true. The Liberal government did just manage to get an update to the Atlantic Accord with Ottawa, which will result in an extra $2.5 billion flowing to the province over 38 years from revenues raised by offshore oil and gas development. This is a feather in the cap of the Ball government, but it will remain to be seen if that is enough to keep his government in power.

Overall the timing of this writ drop makes it feel like it will very much be a two-way race between the Liberals and PC’s, as the NDP is caught at a weaker moment due to leadership changes. Could the New Democrats increase their two seats in the House of Assembly? Maybe but that’s harder to picture with the current state of the party. As for the front runners, we’ll see where it all leads but after a heated race in Alberta, this election feels like it will be run at a lower temperature, which isn’t a bad thing given what we will probably see in the Fall.

But for the Liberal Party nationally, the end result of this race could be a bad omen. As for writing this today, there are only three Liberal provincial governments left, all on the East Coast. After the votes are counted in PEI next week, if you believe the polls there would only be two Liberal provincial governments in Canada. If the Ball Liberals were to fall, that would leave just the Nova Scotia Liberal government of Stephen McNeil, who just happens to be the least popular provincial premier in the country. That is a big change from when the Trudeau Liberals won in 2015, when they had seven Liberal provincial governments (although BC is always a sketchy one to add here). That’s a lot of allies to lose over an election cycle. So, for the Federal Liberals, this race will have big importance for their future.

We’ll see what the results in Newfoundland and Labrador will bring in mid-May, but it’s another election on the go in a Canadian province. And thankfully for those candidates and volunteers out there in this campaign, the warmer weather is hear and should make for a better time. Enjoy the spring air as you’re knocking on those doors.

The Morning After: Alberta Election Edition

Yesterday was a watershed day in our politics for this year, without a doubt. And now here we are, on the morning after, picking through the bones of the result, trying to divine what it all means for the country as we move ahead. But before I get to that, let me start with the result itself.

Later today we’ll get a full accounting of the full result after the advance vote comes in, which was massive. That could swing a couple more seats or at least close the popular vote margin. But even with that, it won’t change some of the underlying facts here. In this case, adding one conservative party with another conservative party equalled two. Rarely do you see the merger of any party result in a nearly total transposition of vote from both sides to the new entity, so yesterday was remarkable in that sense. That was the whole match right there in the end when it came to the end result.

For the Alberta New Democrats, while the result is disheartening, there are signs of hope to build on. There wasn’t a large erosion of vote share for them, so this wasn’t so much an outright rejection of them as it was that conservative math I mentioned above. And when you add to that math the fact that the UCP ran up the vote in many rural ridings, that made for a lot of competitive races. If this becomes the low point for the ANDP, that’s not a bad place to be for the future. And unlike what happened to their federal counterparts in 2015, the ANDP did manage to hold onto many of their leaders and higher profile MLA’s, like Joe Ceci in Calgary-Buffalo and Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West. The bench strength that this opposition will have in the Alberta legislature will be impressive and a big asset going into the future.

But for the rest of progressives in Canada, it’s time to see this election as a moment for reflection and serious introspection. While some can point to this as “Alberta being Alberta”, the most conservative province in the country going back to normal patterns, there are deeper problems at play that progressives of all stripes need to tackle and take seriously, so they are not repeated on the Federal scene.

I’ll start with my own party, the New Democrats. I openly admit that I come from a more traditional NDP bent; I was drawn to the NDP by the likes of Tommy Douglas, Roy Romanow and Gary Dewar, politicians who made positive change but also were pragmatic about how it could get done and kept down to earth. Rachel Notley fit that mold and I would argue is the natural successor to that proud tradition. And if there is one quote from her that I believe typifies that fact, it was this one from last year:

“I am a New Democrat that comes from the part of the party that understands that you don’t bring about equality and fairness without focusing on jobs for regular working people… To forget that and to throw them under the bus as collateral damage in pursuit of some other high-level policy objective is a recipe for failure and it’s also very elitist.”

When Rachel made that comment, I was still working in the NDP caucus and I couldn’t help but agree with it. She was absolutely right and that is even more true today. For the NDP to be the true party of the people, it can’t be dictating policy from upon high in an ivory tower, and when it comes to the pipeline issue, that’s exactly what they have done recently. The NDP, under the current leadership, has gone from being the party of proposal and ideas to “the party of No” on this issue, and it doesn’t need to be that way. Yes, it’s harder to try to find solutions that bridge the needs of a huge industry in this country and doing it in an environmentally proper way, while respecting Indigenous rights. But that does not make it impossible, it just makes it harder. And folks, that’s what Rachel Notley was trying to do for the past four years. And while she was doing that, she was having supposedly “better progressives” from elsewhere in the country looking down their noses at her and her party, which did nothing to help the issue.

So, for the NDP, this is the problem they now face today, one that the Alberta NDP was trying to tackle without Ottawa’s help. The fact is that most people who work in the oil and gas sector care about the environment, they know there is a finite lifespan to the use of oil and gas for energy and yes, they want to do something about it. They are not these evil, planet destroying super villains that some like to comically paint them as. They are every day, middle class, hard working people. But despite all of that something else remains very true; if you’re asking me to choose between my livelihood and feeding my family versus all those other things they care about, they are going to choose the first one. That doesn’t make them bad people, that makes them practical, as being unemployed and seeing their communities crippled as a sacrifice to the greater good does not help them either. What Notley was trying to say is that you need to bring these workers along, help make them a part of the solution and ensure that their economies and jobs can transition, a transition which will take decades by the way. But that’s not what the federal NDP is offering today, and that’s something that I hope they seriously address sooner than later.

We need to remember that historically we’ve seen far right governments rise in this same way, preying on working people’s economic anxieties about the future. I would like to think that Canadian progressives will have learned from that, but it seems like we haven’t. Carbon pricing is setting up to be the perfect wedge issue for those anxieties, as we saw in Alberta and Ontario. We are also seeing it the world over, where right wing populist governments and parties are taking advantage of these debates to further their causes. I read a piece in the New York Times earlier this week that spoke to how the far right in Finland has used their opposition to carbon pricing to vault party and issues forward. In fact, in that country, it looks like carbon pricing has become overtaken the immigration debate as the new frontier for that side of the spectrum.

And if you don’t want to look at those examples, look at the one from the last American presidential election; this is where I want to talk to my Liberal friends. The Clinton campaign made many spectacular mistakes and missteps in 2016 involving middle America, and right now it feels like the Liberals are doing their best to repeat them. One of those mistakes was the “Deplorables” speech that Clinton gave, where she tried to paint everyone who supported Trump as intolerant. That backfired spectacularly, as it not only showed a major disconnection from their campaign and the issues of those voters, it was a blatant insult. The fact is that yes, there are some “deplorables” that gravitated to Trump, but there were far many more formerly middle-class Americans who were watching their communities die as factory jobs and other industries withered away and died. Many of them were registered Democrats before that election. They were feeling hopeless, as they were being left behind in this economy; Trump spoke to that and while he didn’t offer any real tangible solutions to actually help them, he identified their pain and spoke to it. To paraphrase the words of Bill Clinton, he felt their pain. The Clinton campaign though simply didn’t and didn’t even acknowledge their circumstances. That pushed people in normally reliable Democratic counties and states into the arms of Trump, and all that he represents.

There is a parallel to be drawn here to today in Canada and what we are now seeing. We just saw two Conservative leaders elected in Canada’s two most economically important provinces by speaking to anxieties like that, while offering nothing more loud words signifying nothing that felt good as solutions. Mark my words, Jason Kenney will not have any more luck getting a pipeline built to tidewater with his approach of attacking and screaming at others, and Doug Ford will not succeed in killing a carbon tax with his combination of cheap personal attacks and stickers. But for all their faults, at least those two can say they are recognizing the problem, even if they are only offering snake oil as a solution.

And this is where the current Liberal approach is missing the mark. They are not offering up a solution that speaks to the concern, and now that the polls have turned against them, they are pointing to the Conservatives past associations with the likes of Faith Goldy in an attempt to reverse the trend, to try to shame people into turning away from the Blue Team. And while those associations are horrendous, they are not going to have the effect they are hoping to have because of what I said above. To their credit the Liberals have tried to get a pipeline built, but they have botched the process by trying to take shortcuts. They’ve refused to take the time to do it the right way, and that’s lead to more legal roadblocks as people rightly assert their rights. So just trying to do it isn’t enough folks, it has to done right, right from the start.

So, my takeaway from all of this is a simple one; governing is hard and so is finding solutions. It’s tempting to scream “no”, take shortcuts or point fingers; those approaches are surely much easier, that’s for sure. For progressive parties, we simply need to do better and step up. Right now, we’re missing the mark and while it may feel a bit self satisfying, it just puts us further in the hole. Last night we lost a major ally in government, who was felled partially thanks to some “progressives” cheering their failure on from the sideline. It’s time for us to step up our games, do the hard work and come up with the pragmatic solutions that are going to help us in this dark moment of conservative ascendency. Are we up to it, or are we going to repeat the mistakes of the past years? I guess we’ll have a better idea in the near future.

Alberta Election Night Live Blog

Today is election day in Alberta, one of the biggest provincial elections that we’ve seen in a very long time. So tonight here at Magpie Brûlé, always with an eye towards trying new things, we’ve decided to run a live blog of the night. We’ll be starting at 9 pm EST/7 pm MST and will go until we have a result or until I pass out needing to get some sleep. So please join us for the evening and for the discussion as we witness a major electoral event for 2019. You can join in on the live blog here below or by going to Thanks

Sticking it to the Pump

In last weeks Ontario budget, there were lots of things in there that poked and prodded at the perceived enemies of the Ford Conservatives. There were also lots of cuts and while assumed it would be worse, I say “just wait, that time will come”. But one of the measures put into this is one that crossed a line for many people, from simple policy disagreement to a prime example of government overreach, one done for purely partisan reasons. What was that proposal you might ask?

Yes folks, the Ford Conservatives, the same people who are saying their all about free speech, are going to force gas stations across Ontario to put stickers on their pumps that give a torqued message about carbon pricing. The sticker (and you’re free to make your own sticker jokes at this point) will not speak about the Federal governments carbon pricing plan in full, just a selected part to get people pissed as they pump up.

Now some might ask “What is the big deal here? We already have stickers on pumps talking about taxes” and you know what, we do. Many gas stations have little stickers on them showing how much you spend on HST, excise tax and provincial gas tax on pumps. But here is the thing folks, not every station has those. This morning I stopped to fill up my tank at a Costco in the south end of Ottawa and you know what I didn’t see there? That sticker talking about taxes. Why not? Because those stickers aren’t mandated by law.

Remember, those stickers on your pumps were created by the gas companies to help explain why the price of gas would go up, or at least try to divert attention from them when prices got higher. It was as much a PR move as one of transparency, but the reason why I bring that it up is that it was their choice. They chose to make those stickers, chose what to put on them and then chose to place them on their pumps across the country. They even put this information on their websites. That’s a privately-owned business making a choice, free speech in action.

But folks that’s not what Doug Ford and his Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford are up to here, oh no, no, no. They are actually mandating by law that all gas stations must place this sticker here on their pumps:

See the problem with it? It doesn’t actually tell you the details about carbon pricing, it doesn’t tell you about the rebates that you get in your taxes (which for the majority of Canadians is greater than the tax they’ll actually pay) and at the bottom, they share a link to a website that is pure spin for this government and their message on this policy. What makes this even more galling is that when you visit the website, you’ll see the Ford Conservatives crowing and trying to take credit for all of the actions that the past government did, the very same moves that they opposed and fought tooth and nail, the policies they have started to undo.

And if the sticker itself wasn’t bad enough for you, the Ford government has found a way to take this up another notch and a few more steps too far; in the proposed law for this change, the province will fine any gas station who refused to go along with this sticker program $10,000 a day until they comply. $10,000 a day folks, for a $0.04 per litre tax? That’s crazy, that’s overkill and that’s quite counter to upholding free speech. I don’t know how you get to call yourself a defender of free speech when you want to force small business owners across Ontario ten grand a day for refusing to parrot your partisan messages.

Needless to say, this proposal is sure to be challenged in the courts on a few grounds. The violations here to free speech protections are very straight forward and are a clear case onto itself. But also, Canada has laws and standards on this under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which states “Advertisements must not omit relevant information if the omission results in an advertisement that is deceptive or misleading”. And that also seems like a very clear-cut case here; the whole point of these stickers is to deceive the public on a public policy decision and has no pretense of trying to be honest.

This is the Ford Conservatives trying to force private businesses to be conscripted into their political fight with Ottawa, one that moved into the courts yesterday and one that, according to most legal experts, Ontario is going to lose spectacularly. All told, this policy smack of petty politics, torqued language and dishonesty all over; but I guess that makes sense, given that petty politics, torque and dishonesty is Doug Ford’s stock and trade.