January 22, 2015 | No Comments
I’m currently reading Brent Rathgeber’s excellent book Irresponsible Government: the Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada, which describes the methods that Canadian prime ministers have used to consolidate power in the Prime Minister’s Office, and force their Members of Parliament to follow all of their directions. MPs are now expected to only obey the prime minister, instead of keeping him and his Cabinet accountable the way Canada’s system of responsible government has traditionally required.
Many Canadians have been increasingly turned off by this system of top-down control. Samara, an organization dedicated to strengthening Canadian democracy, has noted that many Canadians believe that Canadian politicians and parties only want their votes, and don’t care about listening to their concerns. MPs are only seen as representing the views of their parties, instead of their constituents. Samara also found that even many MPs themselves came to feel that their efforts to represent their constituents were hampered by the dictates of their political parties. Many citizens told Samara that they had become disengaged from politics because they didn’t feel that it was really addressing their needs, and made them feel like outsiders. Significantly, many MPs also came to feel as though they became outsiders in their own parties.
Stephen Harper is not the first prime minister to increasingly centralize control in the Prime Minister’s Office. However, it’s been said that he has continued this trend because of the experiences of the Reform Party in the 1990s, when some of its candidates made statements that were later used by its opponents to smear the Reformers as bigoted and intolerant. These types of “bozo eruptions” can be a major political hazard, such as in the 2012 Alberta election. The statements made by Wildrose Alliance candidate Alan Hunsperger about gay people dying in a “lake of fire” are widely seen as a major factor in the Wildrose’s defeat.
The Reform party and the Wildrose both prided themselves on engaging their grassroots, and enabling members to speak their minds freely. This can make people feel like they’re being listened to, and their views are being taken into account by the party leadership. However, it also brings the risk that those views can be used by the party’s electoral opponents to make them look bad and turn voters off.
The challenge for political leaders, then, becomes how to listen to citizens’ views and make them feel as though they’re being listened to, while also determining which ideas are the best ones to act on and how they will be perceived by the public.
This would require a complicated balancing act, and not everyone would be happy with the results. However, it would still be better the current trend of centralizing power at the top of the party leadership, which then dictates how Members of Parliament vote and exercises top-down control on them. That trend has only turned countless Canadians off of politics, and weakened our democracy as a whole.
-This article was published in the St. Albert Gazette on January 14, 2015 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20150114/SAG0903/301149997/0/sag.
January 13, 2015 | No Comments
January 11, 2015 marked the 200th anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday. Given that we haven’t really commemorated it yet on this forum, I thought that this would be a worthwhile occasion to reflect on Macdonald’s legacy, the good and the bad, and how it has impacted us all as Canadians. As historian Will Ferguson has pointed out, without Macdonald there would be no Canada to begin with at all. His influence on Canada, for both the good and the bad, cannot be understated-Richard Gwyn aptly describes him as “the man that made us”.
Macdonald’s influence can most readily be seen in Confederation itself and the British North America Act, and how well it fits into the pattern of Canadian compromise and accommodation that marks our best tendencies in history. Trying to solve the political gridlock that had paralyzed the United Province of Canada was one of the main reasons for Confederation, and Macdonald’s political enemy George Brown was a major advocate of “representation by population” to resolve it. Macdonald and Brown despised one another, and their political feud was one of the main reasons for the United Province’s gridlock, but Macdonald agreed to call a truce with Brown while they worked on a new constitutional arrangement, putting aside their feuds for the greater overall good of the country.
The political gridlock wasn’t the only area in which Macdonald was willing to compromise, though. He, Brown and many other Anglophones wanted the new constitution to be a plain union of all the British North American colonies, erasing all their borders and treating everyone the same. But Macdonald knew that George-Etienne Cartier and the rest of the Francophones who lived in Lower Canada, as well as quite a few of the Maritime Fathers of Confederation, insisted that any new Canadian union had to be a federal one. Macdonald agreed to this because in working with Cartier he had gotten to know the Franco-Quebecois perspective quite well, and correctly observed that if you treat them as a nation, they will respond generously. If you call them a faction however, they will become factious. This led early Quebec nationalist Henri Bourassa to praise Macdonald as being the man who best understood the spirit of Confederation. Confederation contained many subtle but clear references to the distinct and unique place Quebec occupies in Canada, as noted by political scientists like Peter Russell and Samuel LaSelva.
Macdonald played an important role in bridging the gap between what reformers like Brown wanted and what Francophones like Cartier wanted, skilfully integrating all of their concerns into what would become the final Confederation settlement. Historian Peter B. Waite remarks on how the Confederation debates were marked far less with concerns about ideological or theoretical purity than they were about pragmatically balancing the different goals and ideas of the population, adapting federalism and its principles to fit Canada, rather than trying to force the country to rigidly adhere to a particular ideology or dogma.
That compromise, balance and pragmatism is an important part of Macdonald’s legacy. But he demonstrated other essential Canadian traits, such as his marshalling of government power to complement the efforts of the private sector and individual effort. It was the government that built the Canadian Pacific Railway that truly linked Western and Eastern Canada together, and enabled mass settlement to begin. The settlers had to rely on their own gumption and effort to survive, but it was the railway that enabled them to actually get there in the first place. He also established the Northwest Mounted Police as a means of keeping a lid on any lawlessness and violence that might spring up, in the hopes of avoiding much of the chaos from the “Wild West” happening south of the border.
Macdonald’s use of government power and his pragmatism come together neatly with his “National Policy” of tariffs to shield Canadian industry from foreign competition. While he initially supported free trade, he switched to protectionism when he decided that this was what was necessary at the time, rather than continuing to slavishly follow any particular ideology or set of plans when it was clear they weren’t working. Some politicians today do this not because they want to, but because they have to, but if anything Macdonald demonstrated himself to be less dogmatically bound than some of his successors have shown themselves to be, not to mention setting the pattern in the first place.
In some respects, he was also remarkably ahead of his time. In one of his last major acts before his death in office, he legalized the formation of trade unions, and also argued that it was inevitable that women would one day be allowed to vote and that the rights of Francophones should be respected outside Quebec. Remarkably, he also supported giving Aboriginal people who had been assimilated receive the federal right to vote, showing that his views towards Aboriginal peoples, for all its warts, is more complicated than most people give him credit for.
Unfortunately, while he was ahead of his time in some ways, he was also still of his time in others. He viewed the Aboriginal peoples as inferior savages who needed to be properly “civilized” and taught the “correct” way to live, which in turn led to the ghastly legacy of the residential schools, which directly led to many of the social problems Aboriginal peoples have today…and also showed how Canadian racism could often be more subtle than its American counterpart. He also imposed the appalling “head tax” on Chinese immigrants, and didn’t care at all for their welfare in building the CPR-I remember one Heritage Minute citing the story that one Chinese man died for every mile of track building the CPR. All that can be said in Macdonald’s defence is that such bigotry was the standard of the day…and it should be noted that many citizens were far worse than he personally was, whether the virulent reactions against the Chinese in B.C. or the hysterics of some radical Orange Protestants in Ontario in calling for Louis Riel to be hanged after the Riel Resistance.
Nor was he always sensitive to the regional needs of different parts of the country, given the difficulties that the National Policy caused for residents of the Prairies and led to what political scientist Donald Smiley said was Western Canada becoming almost an “economic colony” of the central provinces, or the fights he continually picked with provincial premiers like Oliver Mowat, using federal power to disallow provincial legislation, which often caused needless frustration and grief for different provinces and regions.
Some might call Macdonald a wealthy bourgeois with no real problems in his life…but if you look at his family troubles, you’ll see what a load of bunk such claims are. His daughter suffered from hydrocephaly, his first son died at birth, and his first wife Isabella died a slow, painful death, problems which were the cause of Macdonald’s heavy drinking in the first place. Historian Donald Creighton also notes how Macdonald often dangerously overworked himself, which meant that both his personal and professional lives could be grueling and painful. If anything, Macdonald is an example of how tragedy and misfortune can strike anyone of any social class…and how it can eventually be overcome, as later in his life Macdonald managed to beat the bottle and proved his remarkable inner strength.
So it is that for better and for worse, Sir John A. Macdonald either built upon or established so many of the tendencies and characteristics that have defined Canada. His successes reflect many of our successes, and his flaws reflect many of our flaws. Much like his country, he was a complex, multifaceted man whose impact is often overlooked in favour of more outgoing individuals like Abraham Lincoln or Otto Von Bismarck and the countries they led.
And yet, just as Canada’s contributions to the world are often overlooked, so too are Macdonald’s contributions to Canada…and the world by extension.
Vive le Canada uni!
December 14, 2014 | No Comments
2014 was a year of change in Quebec, as Philippe Couillard led the provincial Liberals to victory over the Parti Quebecois government of Pauline Marois. The Marois government spent a lot of time outlining its vision of the province’s social values, as well as outlining its vision of how an independent Quebec would relate to Canada. Couillard spent a lot of time criticizing Marois’s actions, accusing her of having an “Alice In Wonderland” vision that ignored Quebecers’ bigger concerns about issues like the economy and healthcare.
Many other Canadians were likely reassured by Couillard’s statements. However, what most outside observers likely didn’t notice is the fact that Couillard himself also supported recognizing Quebec as a distinct society in the Constitution. In October, six months after the provincial election, Quebec’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, said the very same thing. In a speech at the Canada 2020 conference, Fournier built on this, saying that the “distinct society” clause that had scuttled the Meech Lake Accord was a “fait accompli” even as Quebec contributed to Canada’s efforts to deal with issues like climate change. However, Couillard was careful to say that he would only pursue constitutional negotiations if Quebec was approached on the issue, and that his primary focus as Premier would be on the economy.
Couillard was right to be cautious, given that polls show how much Francophone Quebecers’ views on the Constitution continue to differ from those of other Canadians. The federal Conservative government has indicated that it is not interested in reopening the Constitution, and in a meeting between Couillard and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne it became clear that Ontario saw no interest in constitutional talks either.
In their comments and speeches, Couillard and Fournier have spoken about the need to recognize Quebec’s distinctiveness in Confederation. However, they’ve also talked about the benefits to Quebec of being part of Canada, and the positive role Quebec can play in the country. This might seem contradictory at first glance-if they want to be part of Canada, why are they insisting that Quebec be so separate and distinct from the rest of the country?
What most people don’t realize, however, is that Couillard and Fournier’s words and actions are quite similar to those of George-Étienne Cartier, Quebec’s leading Father of Confederation. Cartier’s own words and actions during the original Confederation debates in 1864 had a powerful influence not only on how the British North America Act as a whole was shaped, but also how it recognized subtle but important differences between Quebec and the other Canadian provinces.
2014 is the 200th anniversary of Cartier’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of the Confederation debates in Quebec City. This makes it an ideal time to study Cartier’s influence on Confederation, and on modern Quebec federalism.
Cartier, Federalism And The French Canadians
In the debates to join the United Province of Canada with Newfoundland and the Maritimes into a larger country, some of the Anglophone Fathers of Confederation, like the Upper Canadian George Brown, insisted that the new country’s legislature should have “representation by population”, which would distribute seats to different parts of the country according to how many people lived there. Many of the Anglophone Fathers, like John A. Macdonald, also wanted Canada to be a plain “legislative union” that simply joined all the British North American colonies together, erasing all the provincial borders.
However, this was unacceptable to Cartier and the other Francophone Fathers from Lower Canada. As noted by historian A.I. Silver, many Lower Canadians were concerned about losing the provincial autonomy necessary for their cultural survival to an Anglophone majority. Cartier himself was quoted in the La Minerve newspaper, one of his strongest sources of support, as stating that Francophones felt that guaranteeing their nationality’s autonomy was the most important element of Confederation.(1)
Cartier played a leading role in breaking the impasse between the Francophones who sought to ensure their province’s local autonomy and the Anglophones who wanted a strong central government by proposing that Confederation be a federal system. As noted by Samuel LaSelva, Cartier used federalism to provide an important middle ground between the desires of Francophone and Anglophone Canadians that would provide the benefits of unity while also respecting Francophones’ local identities rather than assimilating them.(2)
Cartier and his supporters built support for Confederation in Lower Canada based on the very fact. Silver notes that the agreement was presented as providing a distinct, separate legislature for Quebec, one that would address all of the main questions of the province’s Francophone nationality and would not be touched on by the federal government. Cartier and his supporters pointed out in newspapers like La Minerve that Francophone Quebecers would be a “distinct and separate nationality”, and that the issues dealt with in Ottawa would provide “no more danger to the rights and privileges of the French Canadians” than to any other nationality. Quebec’s autonomy was presented as one of Confederation’s main strengths.(3)
Historian P.B. Waite notes that Lower Canadian support for Confederation depended on Cartier and its other Lower Canadian supporters of Confederation showing that it wouldn’t concede the powers necessary for Francophones’ cultural survival to the federal government. La Minerve continued to insist that Lower Canada would continue to govern its own social and cultural life under Confederation. Every province of the new country would continue to be responsible for governing the issues that affected their survival.(4)
Cartier And The Shape Of Confederation
Macdonald knew that Cartier and his supporters would only agree to Confederation if it were federal in nature, and that a plain union was never possible.(5) However, Cartier’s influence didn’t end there. The British North America Act was to recognize Quebec’s distinct nature in several different ways, most notably in Sections 22, 93, 94, 98 and 133.
Section 94 excludes Quebec from the federal government’s authority to transfer responsibility for property and civil rights from the provinces to the federal government. According to Samuel LaSelva, Section 94 is a recognition of Quebec’s distinctiveness in Canada, enabling the other provinces to transfer power over property and civil rights to the federal government while enabling Quebec to maintain the control over its basic law that it saw itself as having based on the “racial” agreement implied in the BNA Act.(6) Constitutional expert Peter Russell also notes that Sections 22 and 98 of the BNA Act also had special provisions for appointing Quebec judges and senators.
Section 93 of the BNA Act provides for the recognition of Protestant schools in Ontario and Catholic schools outside it, while Section 133 provides for the recognition of both English and French in the Quebec legislature. Historians Claude Couture and Jean-François Cardin cite these articles as proof of the “compact theory” and the “two-nations” theory, which posited that Canada was created by an agreement between the Anglophone and Francophone nations that founded it.(8) Paul Romney notes that this view became widespread among the Franco-Quebec elite, who considered Confederation as the latest in a series of agreements between themselves and the Anglophones ever since the Conquest.(9)
Cartier’s participation in the Confederation debates provides some fascinating insights into his personal views on the subject. When discussing what the provincial legislatures of Ontario and Quebec would look like, Cartier justified Quebec’s legislature being different on the grounds that its citizens had different interests and beliefs from those of Ontario’s. P.B. Waite suggests that the different forms of the Ontario and Quebec legislatures reflected the different views of many of the Ontario and Quebec Fathers of Confederation of how Confederation should be formed.(10) Notably, Cartier and Macdonald also presented the BNA Act as a “treaty” and promised that it would be presented to the British as such.(11)
Cartier’s comments, in addition to the various clauses in the BNA Act itself, illustrate his commitment to ensuring that Quebec’s distinctiveness was recognized in Confederation, and his concerns with ensuring that Francophone Canadians would not be assimilated. However, this is only one part of Cartier’s views on Canadian federalism. The other part involves Cartier’s advocating of a new “political nationality”, one in which Francophone Quebecers would continue to maintain their local identities, but they would also participate in a larger common cause with other Canadians.
Cartier And The Political Nationality
In a speech given in Montreal on October 20, 1866, Cartier glowingly described Confederation as a “glorious era” that Francophones didn’t need to be afraid of. He added that they had no reason to be afraid of their Anglophone neighbours, either, but rather that they could benefit from combining the best qualities of Anglophone Canadians with their own greatest strengths as Francophones. In doing so, they would bring together all of the lands discovered by French explorer Jacques Cartier, and extend their influence beyond Lower Canada.(12)
In this speech, Cartier built on the idea of a new “political nationality” that encompassed multiple identities, which he had first discussed in 1865. This political nationality did not replace local and provincial identities like the Francophone Quebec one, but rather it built on them.
Although they all had their own unique local identities, the people of the British North American colonies had similar interests and sympathies, including a desire to all live under the British Crown. Having a diversity of races was a benefit, not a problem, because they could all come together through the political nationality and contribute to their common good. The common interests of the political nationality would be addressed by the federal government, while the interests of peoples’ local and provincial identities would be addressed by the local, provincial governments. The rights of linguistic minorities, whether the rights of the Anglophone minority in Quebec or the Francophone minorities elsewhere in Canada, could also be guaranteed by constitutional remedies, and a sense of fair treatment throughout Canada.(13)
Cartier built on this theory as a federal Cabinet minister after Confederation. He played an important role in negotiating the entries of Manitoba and B.C. into Confederation, beginning the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian militia, and negotiating the purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Notably, he also acted as the de facto Prime Minister whenever Macdonald was incapacitated during the difficult early years of Confederation.(14) While Cartier had shown concerns for Quebec’s place in Confederation and its ability to maintain its distinctiveness, he also proved himself an able leader for the growth of Canada as a whole.
Cartier, Couillard And Fournier
Philippe Couillard and Jean-Marc Fournier have shown themselves to be interested in contributing to Canada. However, they are also strongly devoted to ensuring that Quebec’s distinctiveness is recognized in the Constitution. Couillard and Fournier have made clear that, while there is nothing necessarily wrong with federalism in its current form, a formal constitutional recognition of Quebec’s distinct status would make federalism all the stronger. Other Quebec federalists have said similar things, such as former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion(15) and former provincial Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoit Pelletier.
Their commitments and comments are strikingly similar to those demonstrated by Georges-Étienne Cartier during and after the Confederation debates. Addressing Cartier’s concerns and incorporating them into the British North America Act proved to be a tremendous success not just for Quebec, but for Canada as a whole. Cartier demonstrated that there was no conflict between a commitment to Quebec’s distinctiveness in Canada and a concern for the country as a whole.
P.B. Waite notes that, in addressing Cartier’s concerns in the BNA Act, Macdonald made Confederation an “elastic blueprint” that would be further developed by practical experience. Many Anglophones wanted a plain union, but Francophones like Cartier, and other supporters in the Maritimes, had powerful attachments to their local identities and provinces. Confederation was thus an attempt to find a middle way between these desires.(16)
George-Étienne Cartier, with his concerns for the distinct status of Francophones and Quebec in Confederation, his insistence that Confederation be a federal union and his support of a “political nationality” that complemented but did not assimilate other identities, played an essential role in finding that middle way. By incorporating his concerns and ideas into Confederation and synthesizing them with the goals of other Fathers like Macdonald and Brown, Canada was made all the stronger.
Many modern Quebec federalists, such as Couillard, Fournier, Dion and Pelletier, continue to follow the same spirit as Cartier by expressing their pride in the larger Canadian nationality, while also insisting that Quebec is a distinct and unique part of Confederation.
Incorporating their concerns into Confederation, as Macdonald did with Cartier, would not only strengthen the Canadian federation, but it would also be a fitting tribute to the wonderful legacy Cartier and his colleagues have bequeathed us.
1. A.I. Silver, The French Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Pages 34-36. Originally published by the University of Toronto Press, 1982. Cartier’s quote from La Minerve, September 14, 1864.
2. Samuel LaSelva, The Moral Foundations of Canadian Federalism: Paradoxes, Achievements and Tragedies of Nationhood. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996. Pages 48 and 159.
3. Quotes from La Minerve, July 17 1866 and July 1-2, 1867. Cartier quoted in Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces (Ottawa, 1865), page 368. Quoted in Silver, pages 40-42 and 50.
4. P.B. Waite, The Life And Times Of Confederation, 1865-1867: Politics, Newspapers and the Union of British North America. Toronto, Ontario: Robin Bass Studio, 2001. Pages 152-155. Originally published by University of Toronto Press, 1962. Quotes from La Minerve published July 16 and August 30, 1864. See also Silver, pages 40-42.
5. Waite, page 140.
6. LaSelva, page 60.
7. Peter Russell, Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Become A Sovereign People? 3rd Edition. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2004. Pages 26 and 306.
8. Jean-François Cardin and Claude Couture, in conjunction with Gratien Allaire. Histoire du Canada: Espaces et differences. Saint-Nicolas, Quebec : Les presses de l’Université Laval, 1996. Page 64.
9. Paul Romney, Getting It Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past And Imperilled Confederation. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 1999. Page 238.
10. Waite, pages 307-308. Cartier quoted in the Toronto Leader, July 14, 1866.
11. Romney, page 148.
12. Quoted in Who Speaks For Canada? Words That Shape A Country, edited by Desmond Morton and Morton Weinfeld. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1998. Pages 36-38.
13. The preceding two paragraphs are summarized from LaSelva, pages 37-42.
14. “George-Étienne Cartier”, [i]The Canadian Encyclopedia[/i], available online at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sir-george-etienne-cartier/.
15. Stéphane Dion, Straight Talk: Speeches And Writings On Canadian Unity. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. Pages 138-150.
16. Waite, pages 350-351.
December 14, 2014 | 1 Comment
In its November 5 edition, the St. Albert Gazette published an article discussing the perception that’s arisen in some circles that our City Council is divided into camps that consistently vote on different sides of various issues. These camps, and the Council members that form them, could also be seen as representing different groups of residents that have different priorities for spending tax dollars. According to this perception, some members of Council and their supporters want to see a cap placed on tax increases, and for City spending to be directed away from things like arts, heritage and recreation and focused mainly on established infrastructure and support for lower-income residents. Other members of Council, and their supporters in the community, are seen as wanting to spend large amounts of money money on civic projects like the Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan.
Similar polarizations also arguably exist at the federal level. The Conservative party and many of its supporters largely deny that income inequality is a problem, and support the construction of new pipelines to get oil and gas to market. Many members of the Liberal party and the NDP, and their supporters, believe that income inequality is a serious problem, and that the proposed pipelines will cause serious damage to the environment.
In both federal and municipal politics, the politicians in each of the parties and camps have shown that they all have a lot of public support. While the Councillors seen as wanting to spend money on many new civic projects are a majority on Council, the Council members seen as wanting to cap tax and spending increases got some of the highest vote totals in the 2013 election. Similarly, none of the federal political parties currently look as though they would have enough support from Canadians to form a majority government. As a result, especially at the federal level, none of the political parties or camps can necessarily muster enough support to make major progress on various issues. Besides the political leaders not addressing these problems, there’s also the serious risk of normal political differences turning into vicious personal feuds and attacks, as we’ve seen in places like Toronto and the U.S.
As a result, the leaders who may be best suited to taking St. Albert and Canada forward may end up being the ones who can actively bring people from the different camps together and address the issues each of them raise at the same time. The decisions political leaders make will always be criticized by some citizens, but if the differences between citizens become too entrenched and too personal, then the community runs the risk of leaving major issues to fester and becoming much bigger problems than they would have been if they were dealt with sooner.
The idea may be seen as naïve and unrealistic to some, but politics has always been the art of the possible, particularly when the political acrimony itself is a major reason for so much of the public’s cynicism.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on December 13, 2014 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141213/SAG0903/312139962.
November 6, 2014 | No Comments
The First World War began 100 years ago, in 1914, and the Second World War began in 1939, 75 years ago. Given these anniversaries, it’s worthwhile to compare the origins of these wars, and what they mean for putting the lives of our soldiers on the line, and risking that they may have to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
World War One was, to put it bluntly, a colossal and largely senseless waste of life that came about because of the arrogance of a few European empires. Britain, France, Germany and the other great powers of Europe had been competing with one another for glory and prestige in building up their military power, their colonial empires and their alliances with one another. All of these factors contributed to a cycle of tensions that built on each other until they were ready to explode. Europe was already a powderkeg by the time Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, and his murder was just the spark that lit the flame. As a result, millions of men were sent to war, fighting and dying because their leaders were so obsessed with trying to outdo each other.
Canadian troops were no exception, entering into the war in support of Britain. The Canadian soldiers fought with tremendous courage and loyalty, doing anything and everything they could have ever been reasonably asked, and then some. However, even staunch supporters of the British war effort like Prime Minister Robert Borden began angrily complaining about how the British command treated many of its soldiers like disposable toys. The experiences of the war were an important step in Canada moving towards independence from Britain.
World War Two, on the other hand, was a war for freedom against the insanity of Hitler’s Third Reich and its allies, who enslaved and murdered millions of innocent people. Once again, Canada’s soldiers fought with honour and valour, distinguishing themselves time and again in battle. Millions of people were freed from the evil of the Nazis, in no small part because of the courage of Canada’s soldiers.
World War One came about largely because of imperial arrogance and pride, and all of the major powers of Europe bear some responsibility for the misery and horror that followed. World War Two came about because of the need to fight Hitler’s evil, and the end result was a long era of peace and prosperity for much of the Western world.
The World Wars show that political leaders need to be very careful about why they send the troops they command to risk their lives. The soldiers themselves can always be counted on to serve faithfully, doing the country proud with how well they serve. However, the political leadership is not always so wise-sometimes soldiers are sent into conflicts for the right reasons, and much good can come of it. However, when they are sent into conflicts for the wrong reasons, such as base pride or a hunger for power, their leaders do them a disservice.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on November 4, 2014 and can be found online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141105/SAG0902/311059989.
October 16, 2014 | 1 Comment
Income inequality, the income gap that is said to be increasing between the wealthiest people in society and the lower and middle classes, has become a hot topic in Canadian politics. Commentators like journalist Linda McQuaig, economists Armine Yalniziyan and Miles Corak, and think tanks like Canada 2020, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Broadbent Institute have all warned about the dangers that inequality has for Canada. These dangers include it being harder for lower-income people to get ahead in life, slower economic growth overall as people who don’t make as much money can’t afford to spend as much, growing resentment of the wealthiest “1%” of people who make the most money, and decreasing support for economic and political systems that are seen as making inequality worse.
Politically, all of these sources are left-leaning and progressive. Many of the solutions they propose to address the problem involve further government support for lower-income Canadians, and changing the tax system to take more money from sources like financial transactions and corporations. This isn’t too surprising-progressive commentators and organizations have been criticizing our current economic course for a while now.
What is surprising, though, is the number of commentators and organizations that would be more typically seen as right-leaning and conservative who are also worried about increased income inequality. The Conference Board of Canada, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the Economist magazine, American bank CEO Lloyd Blankfein and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney are not known for their Marxist street cred, but all of them have expressed similar concerns about inequality. Carney, especially, was critical of those politicians and economists who stubbornly clung to the ideology of what he referred to as “market fundamentalism”. More than that, many of them have also expressed support for some of the same solutions that the progressive commentators and organizations have advocated, even if they do not always agree about how far to take them.
This is not a left-versus-right issue. There’s a remarkably high level of agreement, both in Canada and elsewhere in the world, that something is clearly off with our current economic model. People and organizations who can be associated with the political left and the political right are saying many of the same things about the dangers of inequality and ways to address it.
All of this points to a need for change that incorporates the perspectives of both left- and right-leaning Canadians alike. If you listen to political discourse in Canada, it often sounds as though we can only choose to have the government or the marketplace handle things, and that choosing one means we can’t have the benefits of the other. But who says we can’t have the best of both worlds when it comes to progressive and conservative ideas, and government action and market solutions, complementing each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses?
That may prove to be the best solution to inequality in the long run.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on October 11, 2014 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141011/SAG0903/310119990.
September 4, 2014 | 1 Comment
In August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attacked the “liberal media and academic elites” who supposedly supported Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. He took pains to portray himself as standing up for the little guy against these supposed elites, who are supposedly out to get him.
On one level, this is nonsense. With the exception of the Toronto Star, pretty much every major media outlet in the country endorsed the Harper Conservatives in the 2011 election, and Harper himself enjoys the support of media and academic elites like Ezra Levant, John Ibbitson and Barry Cooper. The country’s media and academic elites can be just as apt to support the Conservatives as any other party, just as ordinary, hardworking Canadians who play hockey in the streets and drink Tim Hortons coffee are just as likely to support the Liberals, the NDP or the Green party as they are the Tories.
However, that perception of an arrogant, self-serving progressive elite comes from a very real source-one that represents a very real danger to progressive goals.
In her seminal book Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, reporter Robyn Doolittle talked about the “bubble” that many downtown Toronto residents lived in, and that was burst when Rob Ford was elected. Doolittle mentions how these downtowners came across as convinced of their own superiority, and looked down their noses at more suburban types who were more inclined to drive cars than take public transit, considering the latter backwards and inferior while congratulating themselves on their open-mindedness and superior, “progressive” values. Twenty years ago, in Nationalism Without Walls: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Canadian, Richard Gwyn described various activists and the movements for equality that they spoke for (whether based on gender, culture, sexual orientation, etc.) and their attacks on the “privileged majority” that was said to be responsible for this oppression. These activists ranged from judges to academics to various political leaders. Gwyn notes how critics of these movements could easily be denounced as bigots or oppressors, which in turn triggered a vicious backlash against the activists and their movements.
The problem is not necessarily the actual goals these movements were striving for. Indeed, in many cases the goals might have been quite worthwhile. However, the problem is the way they risk coming across-that anyone who dares to criticize them is not a fellow citizen with a legitimate point of view, but an enemy to be hated and destroyed, who are inherently discriminatory. In one notable example, a young university student asked longtime activist Naomi Klein why, if it was alright to be proud of being a woman or a person of colour, why he couldn’t also be proud of being white and male. Klein later confessed that she couldn’t think of a response.
This is what has fed the narrative of an activist elite determined to impose its own agenda, even as it demonizes anyone who dares to disagree with it. Many of the Human Rights Commissions and their excesses were textbook examples, such as a woman who sued for discrimination because her employer complained about the smell of the food she cooked for lunch, claiming that the employer was enforcing a discriminatory use of the company microwave policy against her. This type of absurdity is one of the main reasons why Ezra Levant’s activism against the HRCs has been so successful over the past several years.
These types of excesses run the serious risk of alienating people outside the movement who end up feeling as though they’re accused of being stupid, bigoted, inferior or even un-Canadian for their views, and are otherwise looked down on by the advocates of various policies. Progressive columnist Frances Russell provides a classic example:
Ekos’ polling shows that the current political landscape has shifted dramatically since the Harper majority victory of 2011 and could well be an aberration. Canada has been a blend of Red Tory/Progressive Conservative/Social Liberal/Social Gospel political culture since its birth under Red Tory Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. With its core in highly Americanized Alberta and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan, Stephen Harper’s government is an outlier, the Canadian branch plant of U.S. Republicanism.
Whether she intends to or not, Russell comes across as implying that people who support Harper, and indeed people in general who live in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as somehow un-Canadian in their views. That ties into the narrative painting Russell as an elitist who looks down on Albertans and doesn’t see them as truly Canadian, or otherwise consider them inferior. Never mind that many people voted for Harper for perfectly legitimate reasons, simply because they felt he was the best choice to manage the country out of all the options available.
These types of attitudes risk alienating Canadians who might otherwise be sympathetic to what the people expressing these attitudes might have to say. They also feed into narratives like Harper’s, that everyone with such views consider those who dare to disagree with them to be not just people with different opinions, but bigoted, misogynistic, not caring about the environment, or not even truly Canadian.
In that way, progressive goals of equality and sustainability risk being endangered by many of their very own advocates.
August 10, 2014 | 1 Comment
I recently wrote an article in my local newspaper about the serious-and disturbing-questions raised by the Harper government’s audits of various charities who have been criticizing their agenda.
Comments are both welcome and encouraged.
July 10, 2014 | 1 Comment
As part of my annual Reflections On Canada Day, I have written a new article at Vive Le Canada about Canadian history and how it has shaped, and continues to shape, Canadian issues today.
I have also written an article in my local newspaper discussing how the fallout over the Northern Gateway pipeline shows that a new approach is needed in engaging people on natural resource development.
Comments on both articles are welcome and encouraged.
June 4, 2014 | No Comments
It is a bit of an inside joke in Canadian politics, the idea of the “progressive conservative”. Seemingly a paradox, its existence is more an accident of history than actual political philosophy. Few today would accuse the Ontario conservatives of having a progressive streak, but surprising as it may be, there currently exist progressive conservatives in Ontario politics. However, they do not wear Tory blue; they wear Green. Whether it comes to lowering payroll taxes, a sane energy program or even beer, the Green Party offers a platform that any progressive conservative should love.
The Green Party have trumpeted their desire to “liberate local beer”. Currently, 90% of Ontario beer sales are processed through a government-backed foreign cartel, The Beer Store, with the government-owned Liquor Store making up the bulk of the remainder of the market. Before the election, the Tories floated the idea of privatizing alcohol sales, but quickly backed off once the campaign kicked in. In this vacuum, the Green Party has proposed to open up the distribution and sale of local craft breweries.
They nabbed a principled conservative policy just as the “Progressive Conservatives” abandoned it (and, perhaps, their principles).
While this policy helps to introduce a tiny bit of the free market into the beer industry, it is measured and focused exclusively on local craft breweries. The policy walks the fine balance of conservatism (liberating the market) and progressivism (focusing on empowering small local businesses against multinational corporations).
When it comes to education, the Green blend of progressivism and conservatism shines through. The party promises to merge all local public school boards, French and English, secular and Roman Catholic. The policy undoubtedly addresses quintessential progressive issues—inequality and egalitarianism—but this progressivism is neatly balanced by the ability to achieve two major conservative aims. First, it eliminates public funding of certain private, personal choices, thus playing no favourites. In addition, the Green Party is promoting the amalgamation of the various school boards as a way to eliminate waste and duplication within the provision of public education. The promotion of the cost efficiencies is pure fiscal conservatism.
Even when it comes to the Green Party’s defining issue, the environment, the progressive conservative nature of the party emerges. The conservatives, along with the other parties, seek to buy our votes with subsidized hydro. The conservatives claim this interference in the hydro market will create 40,000 new jobs. Such a claim is up for debate, but we can be certain that there is no conservative principle that supports meddling in the market in such a way. It’s a giveaway, a bribe.
Compounding the issue, this government largesse isn’t even means-tested—traditionally, a prerequisite for any conservative assistance program—it is a gift to each resident of the province, regardless of how wealthy he or she may be. But as the Tories promise government handouts and market interference, the Green Party preaches the wisdom of markets and the value of price signals. As Ottawa Centre Green Party candidate Kevin O’Donnell tweeted in response to promises of subsidized hydro:
… then you can afford it. Meanwhile, I personally will pay full price because I have a job and PRICE SIGNALS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT.— Kevin O'Donnell (@ODonnell_K) May 22, 2014
This is what we have been waiting for. Ontario’s Green Party is a progressive movement that has grown up. They have eschewed dogmatism for growth, and ideology for understanding. Merely a fringe party a few elections ago, the party has expanded their policies, developed a necessary understanding of markets and economics, and developed a platform that should appeal to a wide swath of voters.
Especially progressive conservatives.