Stephen Harper back in 2005.
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.
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.”
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.
Or, to keep it in driving terms, the Liberals have been simply taking leaders out for a spin since Chrétien made his exit, and then trading them in for a newer model.
At the moment, Justin Trudeau, the MP for Papineau, seems to be looming in a lot of Liberals’ eyes as next year’s model — at least until something else comes along.
This disposable-leader culture may tell us something deeper about why the Liberals are mired in third place — a sign of their inability to commit, or to tolerate anything except victory. That may not be the ideal quality to transmit to voters.
Within other parties, including the one in power in Canada at the moment, leadership comes with second chances.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper failed to win the 2004 election, even after uniting the right-wing parties. He almost resigned and consigned himself to history’s dustbin, according to subsequent stories by insiders.
But Harper ultimately decided to hang in and landed the prime minister’s job in 2006, where he remains today.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty didn’t win on his first try as provincial Liberal leader in the 1999 election, but he endured and led his party to victory in 2003. Nor did Mike Harris do well in the 1990 election, but by 1995, he earned the job of Ontario premier.
Perhaps with those McGuinty or Harris examples in mind, the provincial Progressive Conservatives in Ontario are sticking with leader Tim Hudak, even though he didn’t deliver an expected victory last fall.
The federal New Democrats also endured with Jack Layton through four elections from 2003 to 2011, their eyes fixed on long-term growth. The investment paid off with the reward of official Opposition status after the last election.
Liberals, though, don’t seem to have cultivated that kind of patience.
Martin struggled for 13 years to become prime minister, got the job for two, and walked away the night of his election defeat in 2006.
Some Liberals have since wondered whether this was the right decision — whether Martin, with his record as a finance minister, would have been seen by Canadians as the right man to steer through the 2008 economic downtown and the election that year.
She ends with this.
If history is a guide, anyone running for the Liberal-leader job —including Trudeau — should have two career plans.
Plan A should be focused on winning power in the 2015 election.
Plan B should be something out of politics, because Liberals haven’t been in a second-chance kind of mood since Chrétien began his exit 10 years ago.
Ministers are there to front for policy originating in the PMO, and to take the fall when it fails or changes. In a real crisis, a prime minister may choose among several dozen scapegoats.
As in Britain, to some degree, the finance minister (chancellor of the exchequer, in their more elegant style) enjoys some slight independence and prestige. He, alone, cannot be sacked casually.
But that is a function of the national debt, not of any constitutional tradition or other nicety. The country’s credit rating and even consumer confidence require the appearance of a steady hand on the fiscal tiller. A prime minister who exchanged his finance minister every few months for someone a little more plausible and charming would pay for his whimsicality. So would we.
Yet the overall budgetary policy is set from the start, and political adjustments to it (such as stimulus runs) are dictated, from the PMO. It was Jean Chrétien, and not Paul Martin, who decided that something must be done about the deficits, even if it might involve some pain; that in the larger political scheme of things, it would pay off. It was Stephen Harper, and not Jim Flaherty, who decided to resume the “middle course.”
It was Chrétien who cleverly used Martin as his straight man: implicitly allowing him to take the blame for any cuts. That’s how things are done in a PMO-centric universe.
Party discipline in the Commons in turn assures that the prime minister’s decisions stick. A government with a majority and a half-competent chief whip is not going to entertain deviant proposals from its own backbenches, any more than from the opposition’s. That government — i.e. the prime minister and his office staff — will certainly listen, behind closed doors, to political advice from these little people who come from the boondocks. It needs eyes and ears. But they are not there to be negotiated with.
For each of them, in turn, needs the prime minister’s signature on his nomination papers, if he wants to be the party’s candidate again, before an electorate trained to vote party labels. This innovation, designed at minimum to protect the party from the embarrassment of shipping nutjobs aboard, effectively stifled the power of constituency associations. Likewise, party membership meetings can extract from their leader only what he wants to give. Their manifestos mean little during an election campaign, and nothing after.
It is against this background that we view the claims of a member of Parliament to democratic significance. As Pierre Trudeau once said, arrogantly but accurately, “When they are 50 yards from Parliament Hill they are not honourable members, they are just nobodies.” (That’s 45 metres.)
This is not how Parliament was supposed to work, or did work in the ancient past. As recently as 1968, cabinet ministers were often heavy regional warlords. They were selected by prime ministers who had no choice, and could be removed or transferred only with their own co-operation. And before the days of party leadership conventions, a prime minister had to face a cabinet which, if it took a sudden dislike, could turn him out on the street by morning.
We should pine for those days. Read Bagehot to understand what went wrong.
Over the years, I have advised many native bands. I have worked in communities almost as bad as Attawapiskat found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I have advised successive governments — Jean Chretien’s, Paul Martin’s and Stephen Harper’s — about dealing with problems which are quite similar to Attawapiskat.
As the father to an aboriginal daughter, I was so proud to do that work, but I cannot tell you that I ever succeeded in what I tried to do.
I was a failure.
Now, in respect of our ongoing struggle to assist our aboriginal peoples, every federal government has had moments of which they can be proud. Chretien was, by all accounts, the finest Indian Affairs minister this country has ever seen.
Martin devoted himself to the Kelowna Accord, which would have assisted many native Canadians. Harper’s finest moment — the act which I believe history will always regard as his greatest success — was his apology to, and reparations for, those native children whose lives were destroyed in hellish residential schools.
But all of those governments, too, have ultimately been failures, as they have grappled with the issue that is Canada’s enduring shame — our relationship with those who were here first, the First Nations.
All those prime ministers have tried to prevent future Attawapiskats, and all have been unable to do so.
The blame — because that is what these sad situations typically become, exercises in blame-shifting — does not rest with governments alone. Aboriginal leaders, too, bear much of the responsibility for the ongoing crises faced by some (but by no means all) native communities.
Too often, I have been in reserves where black mould covered every surface, and the house had been condemned, but scores of children could be found living in it, peeking out at me through cracked windows and filthy curtains. While rumours circulated within the reserve about a band member who recently bought a big boat, or a big car.
Reading the paper, trying to understand the Attawapiskat situation, we shake our heads. The federal government only this week put the band in “third party management” — akin to trusteeship in a bankruptcy. But what took them so long?
Why did they pour millions into Attawapiskat for years, and only now decide that there was a problem? It defies sense.
Reading about Attawapiskat, we are reminded that such stories seem to come up all the time.
Two, three, four times a year, someone at a reserve calls up a reporter, and the terrible tales get told.
There is sameness to the stories — and there is sameness to the response.
Fingers get pointed across the aisle, the media write columns like this one, money gets spent, reports get written, and then everyone moves on.
Everyone forgets, until the next Attawapiskat happens.
There’s a understandable temptation, in the midst of stories like this one, to simply throw up our hands and call the problem one without a solution. To give up.
We cannot, cannot, do that. Right now, somewhere not far from where you live, there is a native child who is living in conditions to which you would not subject your dog.
Until we change that, all of us, this is not a country.
60 Minutes had a feature on the budget crisis’ that are happening at the state level. Stay with me on this one.
"The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency," Meredith Whitney, one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street and one of the most influential women in American business, told correspondent Steve Kroft
Whitney made her reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2008 collapse. Now, she’s warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments.
"It has tentacles as wide as anything I’ve seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy," she told Kroft.
Asked why people aren’t paying attention, Whitney said, "’Cause they don’t pay attention until they have to."
Whitney says it’s time to start.
California, which faces a $19 billion budget deficit next year, has a credit rating approaching junk status. It now spends more money on public employee pensions than it does on the state university system, which had to increase its tuition by 32 percent.
Arizona is so desperate it sold off the state capitol, Supreme Court building and legislative chambers to a group of investors and now leases the buildings from their new owner. The state also eliminated Medicaid funding for most organ transplants.
Then there’s New Jersey. It has the highest taxes in the country, a $10 billion deficit and a depressed economy when first-year Governor Chris Christie took office. But after looking at the books, he decided to walk away from a long-planned and much-needed project with New York and the federal government to build a rail tunnel into Manhattan. It would have helped the economy and given employment to 6,000 construction workers.
Gov. Christie acknowledged that’s a lot of jobs. "I cancelled it. I mean, listen, the bottom line is I don’t have the money. And you know what? I can’t pay people for those jobs if I don’t have the money to pay them. Where am I getting the money? I don’t have it. I literally don’t have it."
Asked if this is going on all over the country, Christie told Kroft, "Yes. Of course it is. It’s not like you can avoid it forever, ’cause it’s here now. And we all know it’s here. And the federal government doesn’t have the money to paper over it anymore, either, for the states. The day of reckoning has arrived. That’s it. And it’s gonna arrive everywhere. Timing will vary a little bit, depending upon which state you’re in, but it’s comin’."
And nowhere has the reckoning been as bad as it is in Illinois, a state that spends twice much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills.
"This is the state of affairs in Illinois. Is not pretty," Illinois state Comptroller Dan Hynes told Kroft.
Hynes is the state’s paymaster. He currently has about $5 billion in outstanding bills in his office and not enough money in the state’s coffers to pay them. He says they’re six months behind.
"How many people do you have clamoring for money?" Kroft asked.
"It’s fair to say that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people waiting to be paid by the state," Hynes said.
Asked how these people are getting by considering they’re not getting paid by the state, Hynes said, "Well, that’s the tragedy. People borrow money. They borrow in order to get by until the state pays them."
"They’re subsidizing the state. They’re giving the state a float," Kroft remarked.
"Exactly," Hynes agreed.
"And who do you owe that money to?" Kroft asked.
"Pretty much anybody who has any interaction with state government, we owe money to," Hynes said.
That would include everyone from the University of Illinois, which is owed $400 million, to small businessmen like Mayur Shah, who owns a pharmacy in Chicago and has been waiting months for $200,000 in Medicaid payments. Then there are the 2,000 not-for-profit organizations that are owed a billion dollars by the state.
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois has been around since 1867 and provides critical services to 70,000 people, mostly the elderly, the disabled, and the mentally ill. The state owed them $9 million just before Thanksgiving, and they nearly had to close up shop.
Asked how long his organization can go on like this, Rev. Denver Bitner, the president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, told Kroft, "Well, we wonder that too because we really don’t know."
He says they were forced to tap their entire line of credit and all their cash reserves before the state would finally pay them as a hardship case.
"It has to be that you’ve sold off all your assets, you have borrowed from everybody that you can borrow from, and then, we’ll think about it," Rev. Bitner explained.
And according to Bitner, that’s even though the state owes his organization the money.
"The first words out of my mouth are usually an apology, because they have been you know put in this situation, that is really unacceptable. And you know there is very little I can do or say other than apologize," Comptroller Dan Hynes said.
It’s not just the social safety net that Hynes has to worry about: there have been Illinois legislators that have been evicted from their offices because the state didn’t pay their rent, and stories about state troopers being turned away from gas stations because the owners refused to take their state credit cards.
"The state’s a deadbeat," Kroft remarked.
"Yeah. I mean, the state of Illinois is known as a deadbeat state. This is a reputation that has taken us years to earn and we’ve reached, you know, the heights of, I think, becoming the worst in the country," Hynes said.
In the early 1990s, Saskatchewan was on the verge of bankruptcy because the Grant Devine governments of 1982-1991 would not curb government spending and the deficit for a province under a million people grew to over one billion dollars. The incoming NDP government of Roy Romanow was more pragmatist than idealistic and spent almost a decade trying to get the province on solid financial footings. That journey was documented in the book Minding the Public Purse by the Hon. Janice MacKinnon, who was the Finance Minister during the most of the cuts. Like I said, it was a decade of austerity. There was funding cuts to healthcare, almost no building on the University of Saskatchewan or University of Regina campuses, a higher number of students in classrooms, longer waiting lists, rural hospitals closing, decaying highways, and it was really a lost decade. Yes Saskatchewan did grow a bit during this time but with our financial house in disarray, growth was hard.
MacKinnon talks about how close Saskatchewan was to defaulting on it’s loans. With the precarious state of the Canadian economy (pre-Chretien and Martin), there was some legitimate concerns that this could lead to an IMF bailout and intervention. Luckily it never came to that but it did mean higher tuitions, higher taxes, more fees, a lot of lost opportunities that we are just now seeing as a province.
What’s scary is that the deficit numbers coming out of the U.S. states are worse and for all intents and purposes, the US economy is soon going to be in as bad or as worse shape as the Canadian economy was in the early 1990s. I keep looking at the debt crisis that is swamping the EU economies and I can’t help but wonder until how long it is that you see places like Michigan, Illinois, and California needing massive financial bailouts. Good grief, California has even looked at dissolving as a state and becoming a territory again (I don’t think it was a serious option).
How many lost decade will the United States go through to pay for wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greed of the banks? It took over a decade to recover from Vietnam and the state and cities economies weren’t in such tough shape. This could either take decades or it could be the start of the long decline of the United States as a economic power.
The good news is that from Saskatchewan and Alberta’s experience is that as voters, we understood that it had to be done. Whether it was the right wing Ralph Klein in Alberta or the centre-left Roy Romanow in Saskatchewan, we knew it had to be done and as a whole, we stood by them as they did the heavy lifting and hard cutting. The bad news for many states is that Saskatchewan has a natural inclination to support the NDP and Alberta has a natural inclination to vote Progressive Conservative which means that during the tough times, the provinces returned (or in Alberta’s case, they only ever elect Conservatives) what they knew and trusted during rough times. If you don’t have you could have a series of one term administrations that moved from spend to cut to spend to cut for short term partisan advantage which could derail or destroy the entire process. Too make spending cuts that are needed, you need a really strong majority which is not a strength of the American system which features a lot more checks and balances.
I can’t see many states turning themselves around.
Angelo Persichilli’s Toronto Star column is a scathing attack on the leadership of Michael Ignatieff (and a shot at the political instincts of Justin Trudeau).
What’s more, Pierre Trudeau was surrounded by skilled and intelligent individuals, like Mitchell Sharp, Marc Lalonde, Keith Davey, Jim Coutts, Dennis Mills, Patrick Gossage and others who had a lot of respect for the process and for people. The present leader is surrounded only by leftovers of the past whose incompetence is rivalled only by their arrogance.
They have betrayed loyalties with their MPs and everyone who has laboured for the party over the years. But when they’re in trouble, which has been just about always in the last seven years, they believe they can snap their fingers and order the old crew back to work sailing a ship that has no captain and no destination.
I agree with Angelo’s point but it is an overstatement. Paul Martin wanted to do too much (and in the end did little), Stephane Dion steered a clear course but not many believed in his green shift (pdf), and as for Michael Ignatieff, I still don’t know what he believes in as leader of the Liberal Party.
As for Justin Trudeau, Persichilli has some advice
First, you don’t risk your life if you know that the person you want to save is “seriously dead.”
Second, stick to creating a career for yourself based not on your last name but on personal merit.
Unfortunately, in its desperation, the present Liberal leadership is asking Trudeau to do for them what he has refused to do for himself. It is getting him to exploit and squander his father’s political capital to fill the vacuum of a brain-dead Liberal leadership that, since the forced retirement of Jean Chrétien, is sailing the Canadian political sea without a compass or map.
Jason Kottke is writing about how the new Whitehouse.gov website doesn’t archive old Presidential websites. As I have written about before, the Canadian Prime Minister’s website does just as poor job of preserving the archives of Canadian Prime Ministers.
While I was looking around online to see if I could find the archives of the website, I found some of the websites of some former prime ministers online. The Rt. Hon. Paul Martin and Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney both have websites. The Rt. Hon. Joe Clark has a website but he uses his wives domain name (insert tired old joke here). I can’t find a website for Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell, Rt. Hon. John Turner or most alarmingly for three term Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien. Now Library and Archives Canada has a pretty good website but it doesn’t have the electronic archives of the website. In addition to the removal from public circulation of a lot of photos, speeches, and history, it turns Wikipedia entries into the more of less the keeper of Canadian history.
As I have said before, how hard can it be to keep chretien.pm.gc.ca, martin.pm.gc.ca, or even diefenbaker.pm.gc.ca with their own archives being released to Flickr’s Common project? When you look at the coverage and excitement over the National Film Board opening up their archives, I think the creation of a permanent historical archives of the men and women that led Canada would add something to Canada’s story as well.