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“Managing the Problem”

The House of Commons is currently on it’s last big break before they rise for the Summer. After that, when the Fall comes, the writ will drop and the 43rd General Election will start. So many MPs are making good use of this time, getting to events and being out there. So when an MP or two is scheduled to give a keynote speech at a major regional event on a week like this, it really shouldn’t jump out at anyone. Yet today there was such a speech given at such an event that was given by two MPs, one that rightfully drew a lot of attention and spoke volumes beyond the words that they spoke:

The scene that took place in Richmond, at the meeting of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council, was something to behold. It was full of respect, full of sacred ceremony and also full of strong messages of truth, truths that the Government of Canada probably didn’t want to hear, let alone be heard by a gaggle of journalists taking it all in. Taking this in the proper order, the event started with salutary comments about the two honoured guest speakers to come. The Chair of the Council, Doug White, stated that both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott represented “the right approach to embracing principle, with clarity, without any hesitation.” During his introduction of the former cabinet ministers, B.C. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip described their actions as an “incredible stand… against the absolute injustices that were perpetrated against these very strong, principled women in regards to the shenanigans that were going on in Ottawa.” Those are strong words coming from strong Indigenous leaders, the kinds of words that used to be directed at Stephen Harper and his crew.

Before they spoke, both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott were honoured in a blanketing ceremony, something that at least one reporting in the room noted made them both visibly emotional. It is words like the ones above, and the actions in that ceremony, that give you a window into why so many Indigenous leaders were upset and dismayed by this whole fiasco, what happened with Jody Wilson-Raybould and the moving on Jane Philpott. Both of these MPs got it, they understood the relationship, what it could be, what that would take and they built the lasting relationships with Indigenous leaders, government and peoples all over.

And this was all before the keynote address, one that was sharp, insightful and unsparing in it’s truth telling. Entitled “From denial to recognition: the challenges of Indigenous justice”, this keynote address didn’t pull any punches and made many things clear. Wilson-Raybould criticized the current Liberal government for their approach to Indigenous peoples, and the lack of urgency to move to resolve these issues. Or as she put it, it was “not fast enough, nor as well co-ordinated as it should be”. While many of her words would sting in the ears of the current government, there was one line that leapt out at me for many reasons:

“My fear and disappointment is that despite sounding the alarm, providing the advice, pushing and challenging, sharing perspectives of lived Indigenous experience… the federal government has fallen back once again into a pattern of trying to ‘manage the problem’ with Indigenous peoples and make incremental shifts rather than transforming the status quo,”

“Managing the problem”, wow, that’s far from the relationship that the Prime Minister promised when he was on the campaign trail in 2015. I still remember Justin Trudeau’s speech at the Assembly of First Nations General Assembly in July of 2015. I was there with Tom Mulcair and my boss at the time, as Tom spoke before Justin. In that speech we heard Justin Trudeau say things that the he had never said before and started to use language that he simply refused to before this, things that the NDP had been saying for many years. He spoke of a true “Nation to Nation” relationship, as Indigenous peoples had told us they wanted, as the NDP had pledged to (and still do). As he went further and further into the speech the cynic in me wondered if he really understood what he was pledging to, if he was making a cynical play for votes or if he was being sincere.

I didn’t leave that ballroom that day with a firm judgement but after the election and in the first months of their government, I believed the sincerity. Many Indigenous peoples did, and given the choice the people had made, many of us decided to put disbelief aside and give this a chance. And that lasted for a bit, but over time, that eroded and wore away. When you hear what Jody Wilson-Raybould said today, you got the feeling she had a similar feeling, except she had a front row seat for the entire episode. The party that promised transformational change and claimed they had learned from mistakes of the past during an election, was then trying to “manage the problem”, just like Red and Blue Team governments have done for generations. That’s hard to watch up close, with your name and reputation attached to it.

In her part of the speech, Jane Philpott gave a perspective and comments that I think that many more people around Canada need to hear. She pointed out that while progress has been made, it’s not nearly enough. She said that “we have a long way to go to convince all Canadians of the urgent need for reconciliation”, which I would argue this episode has shown. It’s reflections like these that show how Philpott “got it” and why Indigenous peoples were so dismayed to see her shuffle in January.

Philpott also made another comment, about one things she’s learned from the whole SNC/PMO scandal; “Ottawa is not entirely ready for people who approach leadership and responsibility from different world views.” She also said of their critics that they have “failed to realize that the way things have always been done may not meet the standard for what Canadians expect from their political leaders.” Having spent time working on Parliament Hill as a Métis person for nine years, I can heartily agree with these statements. And the thing is, I would not argue these problems come from malice; I honestly think that political Ottawa and the workings of government haven’t gotten their collective heads around dealing with new people coming into the system from such different backgrounds and perspectives. That’s one of the reasons why the whole concept of doing things the way that they’ve always been done or “business as usual” really doesn’t work in this environment in 2019. It takes time, understanding and patience, and just like in any workplace, some people are better at that then others.

But in the end, I found this speech and these comments to be very insightful, timely and full of messages that go beyond the words that they spoke. They are words that show the greater problem the Liberal government faces today, and not just when it comes to getting re-elected. Today gave you a good glimpse into the scope of the damage the SNC/PMO scandal has done to the Liberals and their standing with the coalition that elected them in 2015. It also shows who really is seen to have the credibility in this story, and it’s not the Prime Minister.

Finally, with their cutting comments about the governments approach to Indigenous peoples and reconciliation, the PM has been further laid bare on this issue. These are two MPs who were the governments point people on leading these issues, and they told the tale of how they were held back from fulfilling the promises they made. They didn’t accept their cabinet roles to simply “manage the problem”; they knew their job was to deliver much more than that. In the end, the irony is that today it looks like the greater problem in need of management might have been in the PMO all along. I’m sure that they have a third party manager on speed dial to help them with that.


The Morning After: PEI Election Edition

Yesterdays election on Prince Edward Island ended up delivering on the drama that many of us expected, even if the result wasn’t what many had anticipated. The result of the 27-seat election took  much longer to decide then it did just the week before in the 87 seat Alberta election, which was called within 40 minutes. But on the Island, they’re heading into uncharted waters in more ways than one:

Islanders have elected a Minority Government, with the Progressive Conservatives winning the most seats at 12, exactly one seat shy of a majority. The PEI Greens will form the Official Opposition, after ending up with 8 seats, a record result for any Green Party in North America. The former governing Liberals have been relegated to third place, holding onto 6 seats, with Leader and outgoing Premier Wade MacLauchlan losing his seat. The New Democrats faced a wipe out, not wining a single seat, while losing about 60% of their vote share from the previous election, where they had over 10%.

But in a twist to this story, the election is not officially over yet. Due to the tragedy of the passing of the Green candidate Josh Underhay in Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park and his young, the vote was not held in that riding yesterday. It will now be held as a separate by-election, one where the fate of the PCs will be front and centre. PEI just had a re-drawing of their ridings, so this is actually a brand-new riding for this election made up of parts of the former ridings of Tracadie-Hillsborough Park and York-Oyster Bed. Both of those ridings were strong Liberal ridings last time, with the PCs pretty far behind. Given the PCs weaker performance in Charlottetown in this campaign, and the Greens strength there, it may not be very likely that this seat will make number 13 for the PCs and put them into majority territory, but that’s why we have elections. When this by-election is called, it will be one of the likes that the Island has never seen before.

Looking at each of the parties from last nights vote, there is some good news for some while band news for other. Starting with the outgoing government, last nights result is a historic loss, but not unexpected. I would argue that thanks to their organizational strength and full campaign warchest, they avoided what could have been a much worse fate. Falling to six seats is hard, but it could have been worse (and was for most of the night). For the Federal Liberals, this result is probably as close to the worst-case scenario as they could have expected. The worst would be a PC majority, and that’s still in play. Another Liberal Premier is gone, putting the total of Liberal governments down to two in the whole country. And to make it worse, it went PC, putting another ally of Andrew Scheer into government, assuming PC Leader Dennis King can find enough votes to get things done. And to add to the pain is the fact that according to all reports, the Trudeau Liberal brand was a drag on the Island Liberals. Some local new reports laid this out very well, and it doesn’t bode will for the federal Liberals going forward.

For the Conservatives and their federal cousins, tonight was good for the Blue Team, as they now look to have another government. Similar to the Liberals, it was the ground game, organization and money that helped to push the PCs over the finish line, showing that these things matter in close campaigns. But the good news for the federal Conservatives seems to end with having a mostly like-minded ally in Charlottetown. In this race, the PCs ran mostly a more low-key campaign, trying to be seen as the co-operator and someone who can work with anyone. There was no hard-right turn in this party, no railing against carbon pricing, no threats of lawsuits against NGOs or activists. They ran a very moderate campaign for the most part, one that doesn’t match up to the bluster of Andrew Scheer and his other provincial cohorts. Will that remain the same? Maybe, but without a natural or a right of centre ally in their legislature, I don’t think the Island PCs can afford to follow the path of their federal cousins too far.

For the Greens, they made history last night, just not the history that they thought they would. Despite falling short of government for now, they are still the first ever Green Party in North America to find itself in a position like this, as the lead Opposition party. Electing eight Green MLAs is a breakthrough to be proud of, and winning seats not just in Charlottetown, but sweeping Summerside and grabbing a couple rural seats showed good growth to be proud of. But in my view their downfall in the end was the lack of ground game, and this was going to be the interesting test of this campaign. If the Greens were going to win it all, it was going to have to come with people walking themselves through the doors to vote, because the Greens simply didn’t have the resources and peoplepower to help push them there. You can probably pick out a few seats that went either Liberal or PC that they might have won had they had those resources. This election showed why organization matters and while sometimes lightning will strike and it will all fall into place without it, that is the rarest of occasions. And in retrospect, this might turn out to be the best result for the Greens in the end. Their six new caucus members will have a chance to learn more, grow and be in a much better position to potentially govern later than if they had just been thrown into ministries with very little to no elected experience. Having this time as the Official Opposition can help the Greens on the Island build the impression in the minds of Islanders that they are ready next time.

For the Federal Greens, while this result will not hurt their prospects federally, it won’t help them greatly either. The party won’t be winning seats on PEI in the next Federal Election and having eight Green MLA’s on PEI won’t elect MPs in Toronto, Quebec or BC. But what this will do is put the Greens on more similar footing to other parties in the sense that they are now building an elected track record, for better or worse. You now have three provincial Green parties with significant potentially power in provincial legislatures, but as all the other parties know, that can be a double edge sword. Yes, the Federal Greens can point to the good decisions, but will they be able to defend the bad ones when they are made and are used against them? We will see but, in that sense, you can say that Greens have finally arrived.

And for the Orange Teams, both on PEI and Federally, this result should bring about some serious reflection about the future. The PEI NDP went harder left than before and lost over 60% of their vote. They didn’t win a seat last time, but they had over 10% of the vote. This time? Less than 4%, with Dr. Herb Dickieson in the end being the lone competitive candidate, finishing second in a tight race. Leader Joe Byrne came a distant fourth in his riding, which also said a lot. This was a watershed campaign on PEI, as it was ripe for a breakthrough for third parties. A wave came in, and while the Green rode it to the Official Opposition, the NDP was wiped out by it and found itself on the rocks, without a seat. This is the same thing that we saw in New Brunswick last year, when the party took a hard left and ended up in a similar position in a similar environment. This should be noted by the Federal NDP folks, as we have now seen two provincial elections where voters looking for change and something new looked right past the New Democrats and looked at Greens instead. I’m not saying that will be the trend federally, but I think they need to take a critical look at why that happened in those provinces and what lessons they can take away from.

As mentioned at the start, while last nights results were historic, the race is still not over. We’ll keep an eye on that by-election when it’s called but regardless of what happens in it, PEI has entered a new era of provincial politics. There are interesting times ahead, and we’ll see where it all leads.

Magpie Brûlé PEI Election Night Live Blog

Tonight promises to be an interesting night in Canada’s smallest province, as Islanders go to the polls to elect their next government. Will the governing Liberals win another term? Will the Green make Canadian history and form Government or the Official Opposition for the first time ever? Will we see a majority or will it be a minority? Lots is up for grabs tonight and we’ll be taking it all in. So join us here for tonights election Live Blog. It will be below for you to take part, starting at 6 pm EST/ 7 pm AST.

A Modest Proposal

I know it’s a bit of a cliché for some to say, but honestly it’s an amazing time that we live in. Thanks to the technologies at our fingertips and everything that’s flowed from them, it’s really changed how we life, how we share and how we go about just about everything. One of those things that flowed is blogging and social media. When I started blogging for the first time back in 2007, I never imagined where it would lead me and where it would take me. I’ve gotten to experience some cool things and lived out some big dreams thanks to that first blog.

So after my time on Parliament Hill, I wanted to get back to writing and blogging. What can I say, I love it? It’s a chance to share, to give opinions and be a part of the greater conversation out there. For people exiting the political world, having these tools at our fingertips allows us the chance to keep those conversations going, impart our experience and knowledge and participate in a new way.

Over twenty years ago you’d need a friendly newspaper publisher out there to give you some column space every week, and there is only so much of that going around. But thanks to blogging, all we need to do is set up our own virtual shingle and off we go. So it is with that in mind I always like to read the views of people who have also worked on the Hill, had that political experience and to see what their take is. It was with that in mind that I saw a blog post yesterday that really piqued my interest. It makes a modest proposal of sorts, one that provoked a few thoughts from me. But being the Easter weekend, I decided to let it marinate a bit and hold off on replying to it tonight. So what is the piece in question? This one right here:

This piece was written by Jamie Carroll, who worked on Parliament Hill for many years and also spent some time as the national director of the Liberal Party of Canada. He’s someone whose opinions I don’t always agree with, but they are opinions that I respect. In this piece that he wrote, he has a simple thesis: The road to victory for the Trudeau Liberals involves killing the TransMountain Pipeline Expansion. You can read the piece for yourself but boiled down, the idea comes down to no longer having the allies to get the pipeline done with proper social licence (i.e.: no Carbon pricing from the provinces) and the Liberals major road to re-election going through Quebec and British Columbia, where the sentiment on the progressive side is strongly anti-TMX or new pipelines. So the proposal is to say “no new pipeline without carbon pricing”, trying to turn the tables back on the Conservatives.

Now I can’t say that this isn’t theoretically a bad idea; it’s true that after the Alberta Election the Trudeau government lost a lynch pin of support in Rachel Notley; Alberta’s by in on carbon pricing was extremely important. And after losing Quebec and possibility losing PEI tomorrow and depending on their election, losing Newfoundland and Labrador in May, the Liberals would only have one provincial government left in Nova Scotia; That’s a huge change from 2015 when there were seven Liberal governments at the provincial level.

And it’s also true that when it comes to the approval of TMX, it’s all in the Federal governments hands; that’s how our federation works, and this is their power to wield. Justin Trudeau could go to Jason Kenney and say “no pipeline without carbon pricing” and take that to the electorate in October. And yes maybe Kenney and crew blink and back down after losses in court, giving the PM a win. That could all work.

But I see major flaws with this as an electoral strategy and honestly just a strategy for governing. For starters, some have pointed out that this whole situation feels like 1972 over again, when Pierre Trudeau lost his majority, being reduced to a minority. Others have pointed out that Pierre wasn’t afraid to get into a good fight, especially if he felt it could be turned to his electoral advantage. Some have pointed to the repatriation of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as such an example, in an approving way. And while I am glad we have the constitution and charter that we have today, I would just gently remind everyone that partially because of that political fight that constitution still only has the signature of nine provinces on it. In those fights the elder Trudeau may have won the day, but you could easily argue those fights made the “war” of governing the country all the harder in the long run.

Also I would point out that trying to play a game of chicken with this issue is seriously explosive if it all goes wrong or if even parts of it does. Sometimes in a family you need to just have it out like that, and the same is true with federations, but sometimes those fights can have very serious unintended consequences. Quebec’s signature not being on the Constitution is one such consequence, one that’s remained a fact for close to forty years now. So what might become the similar example for Alberta or Saskatchewan in this case? We won’t know until it comes but it’s good to keep history in mind.

And finally, there is one major sticky-wicket for this suggestion to work; it involves progressive Canadians, NDP and Green supporters, to forget about the Prime Ministers record over the past few years. It requires them to forget about the broken promises around electoral reform, around the purchase of said pipeline, all the political capital that this Liberal government has sunk into this project and yeah, then they also need to forget about the whole SNC/PMO scandal. That is a whole lot to over look based on what would amount to a single gesture and promise, right on the eve of an election when the Liberals need their votes the most.

It is a suggestion that would scream of cynicism and the politics of convenience at a time when the Liberals have themselves getting pulled down in the polls by the SNC/PMO scandal, a scandal that’s been all about old school cynicism. political convince and winning re-election over all else. Mr. Carroll correctly writes that this is far from the “Sunny ways” that the Liberals ran on last time, but I would rebut that by pointing out it was the sunny ways that set them apart last time. Those ways may be gone, but I would suggest that the solution to that problem isn’t doubling down on the same wedges you made your bones raging against.

So as a New Democrat, I would cheer the Liberals on to take this approach; not only do I believe that this approach simple won’t work, that the voters they would try to win with it will not be wooed by these siren calls and would end with giving massive amounts of oxygen and momentum to the New Democrats, who have been saying most of this all along. For the Orange Team the pitch would become much easier: vote for the real thing, rather than the “Johnny -Come-Latelies” pretenders. That would be a great position for the NDP to fight this campaign on.

But as a Canadian, with all due respect to Jamie (and I actually do have a lot of respect for him and his past work), I hope that the Liberals don’t take this advice or path. This might be a more politically expedient path, but it’s the wrong one for the country. Right now we have some serious issues to face, ones that will require creative solutions and outside the box thinking. They will require time and very hard work to arrive at them, and sadly those solutions don’t revolve around an electoral cycle. Going to political war with Alberta (and I would assume all Conservative Premiers in the country as a result) won’t bring any solutions, will not result in tackling the problem and could create unintended consequences that far outlive this Prime Minister and his government.

For me this all comes back to the quote that I keep at the top of this blog: “The greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work.” Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and right now that is the head of Justin Trudeau. While I appreciate the pressures of having to get re-elected, I believe there are limits to how far we bend to that pressure. In this case, I don’t think this proposal will practically work and I believe to try it could end with serious unintended consequences that could be any worse. Here’s to hoping that this advice goes unheeded, no matter how well respected the source is.

Magpie Brûlé Podcast: Alberta & PEI Elections

Today I took the chance to record and post the next episode of the Magpie Brûlé podcast. In this episode I gets provincial. I talk about the results of the Alberta Election, the fallout and how it will affect the federal scene. I also go into the potentially historic vote happening on Prince Edward Island. You can download the episode on iTunes or just listen to it below. Enjoy!