Tag Archives: NDP

I am endorsing…

Since the editor of the site is the same as the publisher, I am given tremendous latitude in who I endorse around here.

In Saskatoon West where I live, I have a choice between:

  • Randy Donauer: Conservative
  • Lisa Abbott: Liberal
  • Sheri Benson: NDP

Of the three, the NDP were the only ones that knocked on my door.  A gaggle of Conservatives walked by my door, looked at the address, checked their database and kept walking.  Apparently they were not interested in either Wendy or my vote in this election.  I wasn’t even robo-called called by the Conservatives or the Liberals.  So yeah, thanks for the effort teams.

For me the decision comes down to the Liberals and the NDP, both parties are outside of my federal comfort levels.  I have serious problems with both of their platforms but nothing compared to the problems I had with the Conservative campaign. 

I also have been poorly served by Kelly Block’s office.  When I used to contact Carol Skelton’s office, I always got a personal follow up from Skelton, even when she was a minister.   The one time I contacted Kelly Block’s about a serious issue, I was sent Conservative Party talking points by an assistant. 

I have watched Randy Donauer as a city councillor and I was greatly disappointed in the change I saw from the time he announced his candidacy until now.  He was always a fiscal conservative which is needed but to see him pander that almost exclusively in council meetings was frustrating.  From the time that he announced his candidacy, I called on him to resign his seat on council (just as I did when Councillors Paulsen and Hill did when the ran for the Liberals) which is the same as other some other cities require.

As for the Conservative record. 

  • Bill C-51 when the United States has proven that local police will abuse powers.
  • Elimination of the Mandatory Long Form Census
  • Botched military procurement (which to be honest, isn’t all their fault)
  • Seeing military procurement as a job builder rather than equipping the Canadian Forces with the best gear possible.
  • The Mike Duffy debacle
  • The Pamela Wallin debacle
  • The decision to shut down the senate without making a serious effort at reforming it.
  • Lack of participation with the Premiers
  • Cutting funding to the Homelessness Partnering Program
  • The feud with the Supreme Court of Canada
  • The lack of desire to fix unsafe water conditions on Canadian reserves.
  • Muzzling of scientists then lying about it.

I grew up in a Conservative household.  I was part of PC Youth.  I still defend Grant Divine when push comes to shove but I can’t defend this record.  Part of me thinks that if another Conservative government had acted like this, Stephen Harper would start his own party… oh right, that is exactly what he did do.

I thought Lisa Abbott has run a great campaign.  So great that it may cause an unfavourable vote split between the Liberals and the NDP but that it the first past the post system.  She has run the best Liberal campaign I have ever seen in Saskatoon West since I moved here in 1984.   Her candidacy (and the Justin Trudeau campaign) have made Liberals relevant in Saskatoon West for the first time ever.  I can’t speak highly enough of how she carries herself in this campaign.

As for Sheri Benson, she has been working on issues that political parties ignored during this campaign.  Poverty and homelessness for years through the Saskatoon United Way.  She has brought different social agencies together (it’s like herding cats but harder) and brought focus to issues that few care about.  If Lisa Abbott has been helped by the Trudeau campaign, Benson has probably been hurt by the mediocre NDP campaign (the phrase “You NDP’d that up” for when you should win but don’t is now entering our lexicon).

If I lived in Saskatoon Grasswords, I would vote for Tracy Muggli and in Saskatoon University I’d vote for Cynthia Block.  Both are excellent candidates that deserve to be in Ottawa.

Living in Saskatoon West, I am going to endorse Sheri Benson.  She has shown the ability to move local issues that few cared about forward and that is what we will need in Ottawa.  In a minority government, all parties will need people who can bring people together.  Sheri will do that for the NDP. 

That being said, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lisa Abbott for her campaign.  She would also make a great MP from what I have seen and if either one of them are unsuccessful, I hope they run again either provincially or federally.

Mulcair to resign after election?

Chantal Hebert is suggesting this in her latest column.

I guess because I have always assumed that Mulcair would not win this election and that the Orange Wave was a one off election result, that he would hold on.  Then again, I am not a partisan New Democrat and kind of missed this.

If — as the polls are suggesting — he leads the NDP back to third place, Mulcair is unlikely to get another kick at the election can.

The New Democrats have a long and unbroken record of federal defeats and almost as long a history of giving their leaders a second or even a third chance. But a defeat this time would feel different to many party loyalists for they were asked to put quite a bit of water in their ideological wine on the way to their latest bid for government.

To make matters worse, if the NDP ends up back in third place, it will not be because it stood against the Conservative anti-terrorism act or opposed Canada’s military role in its mission against Islamic extremists in the Middle East, or even because it stood against a niqab ban.

From the New Democrat perspective, those would all be good hills to die on.

What has really ailed the Mulcair campaign has been an excess of prudence and a failure to cast the party as a compelling, convincing agent of change. On that score, the Liberals did not steal the ground from under the feet of the New Democrats. The latter left it vacant for Trudeau to occupy.

Whether Mulcair himself would want to stay on for very long if he is defeated in the election is an open question.

Over the campaign, the NDP leader has sometimes been hard-pressed to conceal his contempt for the skills of his Liberal rival. It is hardly a given that he would want to play second fiddle to Trudeau in opposition to another Conservative government or that he could be a happy camper propping up a minority Liberal government.

Also, if you are Harper or Mulcair, columns like these are the worst thing you want to read anytime but especially this close to the election.

After one week of the campaign, here is what I think I know.

As I am at most times early in a campaign, I am struggling with who to vote for.  Here are my thoughts so far after watching the Maclean’s Leader’s Debate and the first week of the campaign.

Conservative Party

  • Stephen HarperStephen Harper lies a lot.  An incredible amount.  I actually can’t think of a Prime Minister that lies has much as he does about his record.  My only comparison might be Tony Blair (who lied over crazy things).  Is what they mean by “absolute power corrupts absolutely”?
  • C-51 really bothers me.  I don’t believe it makes Canadians even safer and it takes away important oversight over our CSIS and the RCMP.  It also creates silos which is the kind of organizational mess that allowed the attacks of 9-11 to begin.  What is even worse, is that this isn’t just my thoughts on security but have been written about extensively but top US intelligence leaders.  Harper could have learned from others but chose not to.
  • The shenanigans over the campaign stops.  I need to be invited to a campaign event to attend?  It’s weird.  I like to take the kids out to see leaders as they pass through town but now I have to be a committed Conservative supporter to see the Prime Minister in an election campaign?  And I can’t post photos on social media?  What kind of thinking leads to that.
  • Stephen Harper’s big promise today?  A travel ban on travelling to tourist areas!  So what happens if I want to do humanitarian work there (I had friends working in Afghanistan long before 9/11 and they were doing good work with local farmers).  What happens if I have friends and family there that are not terrorists?  Since when has any Canadian government told it’s citizens where they can travel.  How does that make Canada safer?  Also since when does where I travel decide if I am innocent or guilty.  This is going down a dark path.
  • Whoever gave Harper the advice that he could just not appoint senators is an idiot.  Again, is he being serious or is he going after uneducated voters that this appeals to.  I just don’t know.
  • Okay, I’ll just call this now, Stephen Harper is a deeply paranoid Prime Minister.
  • Of course his promise to never have a Netflix tax.  Also, anyone else find it a little weird that a law and order Prime Minister likes Breaking Bad.  Anyone think that he actually watches or knows what Breaking Bad is?  I thought so. 

New Democratic Party

  • Thomas MulcairThe Sherbrook Declaration which says that the country can be broken up with a vote of 50% plus one goes against my core beliefs and the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • The NDP plan to abolish the senate sounds great (well actually it sounds stupid) when said on a campaign trail but why are we making, “re-opening the constitution” a campaign platform.  Did we have so much fun at Meech Lake, Charlottetown and the subsequent Quebec referendum that we want to do this again?
  • I am not impressed with the $15 an hour national wage.  I think it is poorly thought out policy.  Actually it was the kind of poorly thought out but populist policies that the NDP were known for and I had hoped they had left behind.
  • Tom Mulcair talking about climate change is a little like hearing Stephen Harper talk about the economy.  A lot of bravado but not much of a plan.
  • I have always been disgusted that the NDP opened those satellite offices across the country in clear violation of the rules and won’t pay back the money.  Apparently the Liberal Party and the Conservatives aren’t the only one that feel entitled to imaginary entitlements.
  • Linda McQuaig’s comments on the oilsands.  Really the NDP are going to shut down the oilsands and plunge Alberta and probably Saskatchewan into a depression for years?  This is why it is hard to take the NDP seriously most elections.  I don’t trust them to manage the economy.  Of course it’s hard to beat Harper’s economic record but the NDP seem to be trying.
  • I hate the NDP stance of deferring to the United Nations on military actions.  In theory that sounds great but in practice it gives Russia a veto on whether or not you act.  In case the NDP haven’t noticed, there is a madman in charge of Russia and that seat on the UN Security Council.

Liberal Park

  • Justin TrudeauHate that Trudeau voted for C-51.  Just hate it.  Either Liberal Party advisors are playing politics with an important issue or are idiots.  Or both.
  • I know I am the outlier on this but I thought Trudeau was poor in the debates.  I thought it was weird he didn’t tell me what he believed, only what the Liberal Party believed.  It’s not a big thing but I thought it was strange.  According to the polls, I was wrong about this anyways, most thought he won.
  • Trudeau’s faith in the ability of the senate to be restored is noble.  For all of the NDP and the Conservatives rhetoric that it can not, in truth, no one has ever tried.   At least Trudeau is going to try.
  • Trudeau’s foreign policy isn’t so much a thought out foreign policy but just plain naïve.  While Harper’s doesn’t make sense, doing the opposite of craziness doesn’t make it sane.  It is just stupid in another direction.  His views on Syria and ISIS are naïve and goes against any form of common sense.  Of course the US and Harper’s plan aren’t that effective right now either. 

This is separate from all three parties but in the U.S. in both the GOP and the Democratic party, they have adults who spend their lives on making careful and well thought out policy decisions.  In Canada, we seem to leave those decisions to political hacks which is why we get these half baked policy ideas that make no sense to anyone other than pollsters.  When talking about foreign policy, defense, or the economy, those wise voices creating policy, tend to be important and we really lack that here.

I don’t know how  I am going to vote but none of the three campaigns get me that excited and to be honest, seem to be doing what Allan Gregg said after the 1988 campaign.  The Tories went after the really stupid voters.  Sadly that worked and it seems like all three parties are targeting that demographic right now.

Election 2015: Saskatoon

Hey, I am pretty much sitting out this campaign.  I’ll wait to see how the campaign platforms come together to decide if I will write a local endorsement but until then, it won’t be that political around here.  I have friends who are candidates for different parties and I respect them for making the effort of going to Ottawa to do what the PMO tells them what to do and when to do it.

I did great a quick election guide for all candidates in Saskatoon.  You can find it here.  It lists all of the campaign contact information for all of the campaigns, except for Kevin Waugh (and I can’t find his yet).  So if you want to check out a campaign in Saskatoon, it’s all there for you.

Saskatchewan lessons from Alberta’s Election

After watching the carnage from the PC Party crashing and burning last night, everyone in Saskatchewan seemed to have opinions on what the Alberta election meant for Saskatchewan.

For those on the right, they predicted a wave of people from Alberta moving from the business hating Alberta to the business friendly Saskatchewan.  They seem to expect that when Notley does the unthinkable and raise oil royalties, Alberta companies will flee for Saskatchewan (despite the fact that Peter Lougheed did the exact same thing decades ago.  They ignore the fact that the oil is in Alberta and therefore so are the jobs.  Also as Ontario proved during the Rae years, business will just stay put and vote in a new government before they move to another province.  Roots are important to people, they just don’t get up and leave.   So let’s cool down and ignore those idiots who have actually prediction an influx of a million people to Saskatchewan over the next couple of years and relax.   No one chooses a province based on partisan politics.  It is based on jobs and work.

Those on the left see this as another evidence of an orange wave.  I don’t think it was a move to the NDP as much as it was a total rejection of the PC Party of Alberta.  There will be some vote analysis done but I would suspect Alberta was a really frustrated electorate.  If Notley governs well, then great but if she doesn’t, then she will be done.   Also keep in mind that Alberta is a very progressive big government province.  It is just paid for by oil royalties.  It has lead the way in some of the most innovative housing, homeless, poverty reduction and education strategies in North America and do you know what, no one has cared.  In fact the Wildrose Party has pushed for more of those kind of programs, especially with seniors care.

I was musing online the other night that if I was in Alberta, I may vote for the Wildrose Party because even I don’t think Alberta’s big government social contract works in the long run.  They may be social conservatives in Alberta but they love to spend money. 

For all of the talk of the Klein cuts, let’s put that in context, the neo-Conservative NDP under Roy Romanow made even deeper cuts to fight our deficit.  Alberta may be the biggest spending government not lead by Bob Rae in history.

The big lesson from last night is that elections matter and polls this early out don’t.  That doesn’t mean that Brad Wall will lose and Cam Broten (or whoever the Liberal leader is will win) but it does mean that we have no idea what will happen a year out.  What looked like a political masterstroke to the chattering class five months ago didn’t survive last night.  Now it is the PC Party of Alberta who could be the weaker party in a merger with the Wildrose Party and the Liberal Party may not exist by next election in Alberta.

I heard a bunch of ridiculous talk that Brad Wall is still unbeatable but at different points so was Jim Prentice or Paul Martin.   I remember vote predictions saying that Martin would win over 200 seats and could challenge Brian Mulroney for the largest majority ever.  How did that turn out? Back in 1994, the Liberals lead by Linda Haverstock were well ahead in the polls in Saskatchewan.

In Alberta, Notley was at 10% not that long ago.  There was a feeling that the NDP would be reduced in seat count and only hold their base in Edmonton.

Last weekend I was out with some politicos.  We made some arguments that Brad Wall could win some more seats from the NDP or just as likely the NDP could gain a couple of seats in Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert and end up with like 17 – 19 seats.  That is a fearless prediction folks, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party will either win some more seats or lose some more seats in the next election.  Take that prediction to the bank! (of course now that I have said that, things will remain the exact same)

In the end, the average voter doesn’t read this blog, doesn’t follow you and I on Twitter, doesn’t read Murray Mandryk or Andrew Coyne and is focused on getting by in their life and job.  They have things like hockey games to get their kids to and they worry about the noise their car is making far more than whatever stunt has just been played in the legislature.  Politicos may live and die on what is happening (and for that we have Andrew Coyne, Kady O’Malley, and Murray Mandryk) but the rest of the world doesn’t.

Before you scoff at me, in the last city election there were candidates out every night door knocking from now until the election.  All of them, winner or loser told me at one point in that cycle that it didn’t really make any difference this far out from the election, people weren’t engaged.

They pay attention when the writ is dropped and the lawn signs come up.  Right now the vast majority of people are going, “What happened in Alberta and how did the NDP win there? I thought that Prentice guy seemed all right.”  That is the end of it.  I actually read one detailed vote analysis in the United States that showed a surprising amount of people (enough to turn electoral votes) voted on how much rain they got that year and the year before.  If you are a politician and you just read that last part, you need a hug right now.

So the lessons to take from the Alberta vote.  Elections matter.  You never know what can happen and probably never say, “look in the mirror” to someone that you need their vote in a couple of weeks. Other than that, there isn’t a lot to take away from it.

A new attack ad from your Saskatchewan NDP

Hey there is a new ad by the Saskatchewan New Democrats out.   I’ll leave my comments at this.  As an attack ad, it tries to do too much.  It should have been two ads.   The discussion as to where the money went, can be left for another day.

Disclaimer: I generally hate all political ads. I liked the Daisy ad but that’s it.  I like long policy discussions with nuance.  I don’t think that has ever happened in a political ad so I am always disappointed in them.

Employees raising concerns about Regina nursing home

Part of a government’s job is looking out for the most vulnerable in society.

Three employees at a Regina nursing home that was at the centre of a recent controversy are speaking out today, describing Santa Maria Senior Citizens Home as a troubled place with bad food that has failed to make needed improvements.

At the Legislature Monday, the Saskatchewan New Democrats were again discussing conditions at Santa Maria, the home where Margaret Warholm lived until her transfer to hospital last fall and death three days later.

Three care home aides, who have requested that their names not be published out of fear they might be fired, disputed claims that Santa Maria staff have had some retraining and that things have changed for the better in the year since Warholm died.

They said there has been no change in policies or procedures since Warholm’s death.

They say short-staffing means residents get a bath roughly once every two weeks and sometimes have to wear soiled bandages for extended periods.

“We’ve always been overworked I feel,” Sue (not her real name) said. 

“Working short — probably in the last year — before that it was never, ever heard of,” Sue said. “We never, ever worked short. Lately it’s just an everyday occurrence.”

As a consequence, elderly residents don’t get cared for properly, she said.

Another worker, Anna (not her real name), said the quality of the food being served to residents is also a major concern.

“The food is like leftover food on a daily basis,” she said. “What they have for breakfast, they’re going to have it for lunch. And when they have something for lunch, the left over is for supper. Residents don’t eat that, there is lots of waste.”

The women also said the inability to spend time with each patient is an ongoing problem.

“We can’t even spend 10 minutes with the residents, like one-on-one,” Jenny (not her real name) said. “They need to do something, not just sitting in a chair all day or looking at the walls.”

The case of Warholm, 74, who died Oct. 6, 2013, was raised by the NDP in the legislature last week.

Her children believe she died prematurely at least in part because of the treatment she received in the home.

The NDP has produced a letter from 49 Santa Maria staff members expressing concerns.

In other words, the left won’t be uniting soon

This got ugly quickly

"That Justin Trudeau would use Jack Layton’s dying words as a political tool says everything that needs to be said about Justin Trudeau’s judgment and character," Mulcair said.

New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, Layton’s widow, focused her reaction on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I’m quite surprised that the leader of the Liberals used my late husband’s words, but at the end of the day Stephen Harper is the prime minister," Chow said.

"If we are to have a better country, and certainly Canadians deserve a lot better, we need to focus on Stephen Harper. Yes, we are the party of love, hope and optimism and let’s be hopeful. Let’s not be fearful of each other, but let’s train our eyes on the real problem, which is Stephen Harper’s government."

Trudeau, however, was unapologetic, accusing the NDP of being nasty and divisive in the hard-fought campaigns, which saw all three major parties use aggressive tactics.

In other words, it is okay for the NDP to use Layton’s dying words as a political tool but not Justin Trudeau.  I am glad we got that straight.

NDP Miffed At Justin Trudeau for Stealing Headlines

Doesn’t this mean that the Liberals are doing a better job than the NDP?

OTTAWA – The NDP is steamed about media attention lathered on Justin Trudeau and a party that fell out of public favour over the sponsorship scandal while the official opposition struggles to get ink.

The Liberal leader puts a bong in the window and stumps to tax pot and he’s suddenly prime ministerial after the last guy behind the wheel drove the party into the history books with the worst electoral showing ever, they say.

New Democrats can point to a summer tweet by Trudeau about his wife’s pregnancy that made the front page as another example of adoration.

The Liberals are betting the farm on their leader’s popularity.

Privately, New Democrats grumble about the media love-in and why news outlets don’t press the third-place party and expose its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

The NDP spent the summer often being the only opposition party to challenge the Conservatives – its news releases flooding media inboxes and its critics standing before microphones.

Thomas Mulcair spent the better part of the House recess rolling out ideas and initiatives and teeing off on Senate spending abuses.

“When you go into a scrum and look at the body language of the reporters there, they act like groupies. It’s fascinating to watch,” a party official said about Trudeau’s extended honeymoon since his anointment in April.

Other New Democrats are optimistic that interest in Trudeau is waning and that next week’s resumption of Parliament after a month-long prorogation will remind Canadians why the Grits sit in a corner in the Commons.

Pro tip: Winning political parties also don’t allow process stories like this to be written.

The missed opportunity

Why Harper’s foes need to get off the pot by Paul Wells

Liberals, you see, are quite sure every Canadian is a Liberal whose vote was stolen by Conservative skullduggery in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011. Canadians, in this view, think marijuana use is harmless fun, and they will blame politicians who want to harsh the national buzz. So a Liberal friend of mine was genuinely surprised when she plunked herself down behind the Liberal party table at a local community event and got her ear bent by voters, many of them from immigrant communities, asking why Trudeau was soft on drugs.Ja

The realization that many Canadians believe illegal drugs should stay illegal is one surprise awaiting the Liberals. Another is that a lot more Canadians have complex, conflicting or frankly hypocritical views on drug policy— but that it’s not drug policy that will determine their next vote. Millions will vote based on their best guess about which party will best ensure a strong economy whose bounties improve their own life and their family’s. And Justin Trudeau just spent a month talking about something else.

This is something else that Liberals cannot understand: the notion that most Canadians are no longer properly grateful for the work Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin did to clean up deficits in the 1990s. In fact, a growing number of Canadians, even the ones who don’t smoke a lot of pot, have dim memories of the 1990s or none at all.

This helps explain a Harris-Decima poll from the end of August that inquired about respondents’ opinions of the national political parties. Trudeau’s net favourable impression is way higher than Harper’s and a fair bit higher than NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s. Respondents were likelier to believe Trudeau “shares your values.” He’s having a strong year in the polls. But Harper still has a slight edge over both Trudeau and Mulcair on “judgment,” and on “economic management” it was a blowout: 39 per cent prefer Harper to only 20 per cent for Trudeau and 15 per cent for Mulcair.

Trudeau hasn’t the faintest intention of campaigning in the 2015 election with pot legalization as his main plank. But changing deep-seated attitudes toward a party takes time. And because the Liberals took two years to pick a leader after the 2011 elections, Trudeau only has three summers to define himself before facing voters, and he pretty much just blew one.

For much the same reason, I’m not sure Tom Mulcair picked the right issue when he used part of his summer to travel coast-to-coast campaigning for Senate abolition. For reasons explained elsewhere in this issue, Canadians are angry at the Senate right now. That’s not the same as believing any party has the ability, once in power, to do much about it. His Senate tour illustrates a little-noticed difference between Mulcair and his predecessor Jack Layton. Layton came from Toronto city politics. He hadn’t the faintest interest in constitutional tinkering. The NDP stood for abolishing the Senate, as it always had, and Layton never talked about it. Mulcair comes from Quebec provincial politics, where a generation grew up believing that if you have no constitutional scheme to peddle you cannot be serious.

Layton’s prosaic fascination with voters’ kitchen-table preoccupations helped him supplant the Liberals as the first choice for voters eager to block the Conservatives. Next time around that vote will be up for grabs again. Mulcair and Trudeau both plan to try to take Harper’s economic credibility away from him. They haven’t gotten around to it yet, but they believe they have time. Harper’s opponents always believe they have plenty of time.

Does it matter who we vote for federally?

Michael Den Tendt doesn’t think so

Which leads us back to this: Be it resolved, there is now a single homogeneous Canadian political culture, expressed via the three main party shadings. How long until platforms themselves become irrelevant? Partisans will argue their own beloved expression of Canadian liberal democracy is not only best, but distinct – as the Tories, Grits and NDP were a generation or two ago, when they disagreed about country-changing issues such as North American free trade, in 1988, or membership in NATO, in 1968.

But tick through the list of assumptions at the heart of the state today – from socialized health care to capital punishment, abortion or free trade, deficits or tax rates – and you find unanimity. The Conservatives must be for gay rights, or be written off as reactionary by the majority. The New Democrats must be for industry and thrift, or be written off as loopy dreamers by that same majority.

This convergence can create a mash-up, as political parties struggle to create differentiation amid their essential drab sameness. Thus, John Baird’s defence of gay rights in Russia doesn’t go far enough, says the NDP’s Paul Dewar. He must crank it up to 11, like the guitar amplifier in Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap. The Liberals, meantime, are beginning a two-year effort to implant the idea, by every means other than saying it, that they can be more conservative than the Conservatives when it comes to economics, and more new and democratic than the New Democrats when it comes to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. “Tough on crime” is still exclusive Conservative territory – but only because it’s one of the few old planks they haven’t ditched in the hunt for centrist votes. And, to be frank, it’s not popular enough for the other parties to bother to steal.

Taken together, this still-unfolding spectrum collapse sets up a contest of almost pure personality in 2015. Through the next 24 months, Harper will seek to recast himself as more constructive; Mulcair, happier; and Trudeau, more solid. The ad war will be personal as never before, culminating in televised debates understood by all to be winner-take-all. And the pollsters, perhaps as never before, will be flying blind. Interesting times.

Paul Martin accuses residential schools of ‘cultural genocide’

‘Call a spade a spade,’ former prime minister says

Residential schools engaged in “cultural genocide,” former prime minister Paul Martin said Friday at the hearings of the federal Truth And Reconciliation Commission, adding that aboriginal Canadians must now be offered the best educational system.

“Let us understand that what happened at the residential schools was the use of education for cultural genocide, and that the fact of the matter is — yes it was. Call a spade a spade,” Martin said to cheers from the audience at the Montreal hearings.

“And what that really means is that we’ve got to offer aboriginal Canadians, without any shadow of a doubt, the best education system that is possible to have.”

The residential school system existed from the 1870s until the 1990s and saw about 150,000 native youth taken from their families and sent to church-run schools under a deliberate policy of “civilizing” First Nations.

Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide or died fleeing their schools. Mortality rates reached 50 per cent at some schools.

In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the Canadian government as well as churches that ran the schools. The $1.9-billion settlement of that suit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the creation of the commission.

But the government has clashed with the commission and recently had to be ordered by an Ontario court to find and turn over documents from Library and Archives Canada.

“Every document is relevant,” Martin said. “We have hid this for 50 years. It’s existed for 150. Surely to God, Canadians are entitled … aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians, to know the truth. And so let the documents be released.”

Romeo Saganash has also testified of this time in residential schools

After the panel, Saganash took to the main stage at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel and officially gave his statement to the TRC about his time at the La Tuque residential school in the late 1970s.

He tearfully spoke about his brother Johnny who died under mysterious circumstances when he was just 6 years old. Johnny was buried in an unmarked grave near the residential school in Moose Factory, Ont. There was no explanation given to his parents, no death certificate, no physical record that the little Cree boy had ever existed under the care of the federal government.

It took 40 years for the Saganash family to find Johnny’s grave and they did so not with the help of authorities but rather through the work of Saganash’s journalist sister Emma. When his mother finally saw footage of the burial site, Saganash said she wept like he had never seen her weep before.

The NDP MP has also struggled with the legacy of pain from his stolen childhood. The struggle caused Saganash to seek treatment for his alcoholism last December after he was kicked off an Air Canada flight for being heavily intoxicated.

But Saganash spent little time focusing on the past, choosing rather to divert the attention to the private members bill he tabled before the House of Commons in January. The bill would force the federal government to ensure all its laws are consistent with the UN’s declaration of indigenous rights — a document the Cree politician helped draft before being elected to public office.

He concluded his emotional address on a hopeful note, quoting a passage from a speech South African leader Nelson Mandela gave after his 27-year stint as a political prisoner.

“It was during those long and lonely years that the hunger for freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people — white and black. I knew, as I knew anything, that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. For all have been robbed of their humanity.