I know that I may just be a grumpy old white guy, but I am having increasing difficulty understanding (and feeling sympathy for) the extreme positions staked out by the various sides in the conflict underlying the rail blockades across Canada.
Most news today is unrelentingly depressing and angst-ridden. An increasingly authoritarian ruler is happily stamping out the last remnants of American democracy. Angry workers vow to shut down Ontario. Angry people of all sorts are actively seeking to shut down Canada over Native rights, climate change, or whatever. As an antidote to all this doom and gloom, I offer these two recent reports.
The world has watched with growing dismay as the rule of law is increasingly ignored under the onslaught of Trump totalitarianism. But Canadians have no cause for complacency given what is happening to the rule of law in this country.
A flu epidemic is spreading and there are concerns about the growing number of casualties.
This is the theme of countless news items in recent days, but it also describes the situation in Canadian cities just over 100 years ago. Flu and typhoid epidemics back then caused more deaths than World War One. The causes were largely as a result of overcrowding in cites, inadequate and inferior housing, and water quality issues.
It must be tough to be a political satirist. How could you come up with something foolish and outrageous when politicians (and those who cover them) are constantly carving out new extremes. Consider these examples from the past week or so.
#1. The British Are Coming
The cry is not from Paul Revere this time, who – in any event – apparently did not utter this warning on his famous ride. Rather, we refer to the news that Prince Harry, Meghan, and baby Archie may be residing in Canada (probably in Victoria) for part of each year. This is the result of their decision to relinquish royal duties, pursue financial independence, and try to live a “normal” life. The response has been wide-ranging, largely ill-informed, and mean-spirited.
The gutter press in Britain, whose nasty coverage of Meghan doubtless helped to drive them out, deplore their dereliction of duty and want them barred from taxpayer funding, some in Canada have been quick to insist that we shouldn’t pay any support for their time here, and there have even been some commentaries about the potential complications for the role of the monarchy in the Canadian system of government. Since Prince Harry is far back on the list of successors to the throne, he is not needed in that regard, and I would have thought people might admire him for planning to reduce his financial demands on the British taxpayer and understand his desire to lead a more private life.
#2. Poor Little Dears Just Can’t Help Themselves
Another study from the Samara Centre for Democracy and yet another finding that MPs regret the partisanship that they exhibit during exchanges in the House of Commons. They claim to find such behaviour inappropriate yet somehow get caught up in the partisan dynamics and succumb. Sadly, it appears that a “take no prisoners” approach to politics is becoming the dominant culture surrounding the operations of government. As discussed in an earlier blog, politics was once a noble calling. If it is ever to be so again, elected members need to do their part and stop acting like school children.
#3. Hyper Partisan and Toxic
Discouraging as it is, the bad behaviour of Canadian politicians pales in comparison to the pathetic situation in the U.S. The fierce partisanship intensified with the election of Obama in 2008, whereupon the Republicans in Congress vowed to oppose every measure initiated or supported by the President – and did so for the eight years he held office (regardless of the merits of his initiatives).
If possible, things have become even worse since Trump became President, given that he tries to increase divisiveness and fan the flames of anger whenever possible. The Senate is now conducting a trial to determine whether Trump should be impeached. Before the process began, the Senate Republican leader (Mitch McConnell) emphasized that he was not neutral on this subject and would be coordinating his activities with the President. To understand this outrageous and entirely inappropriate behaviour, imagine a trial in which the foreman/foreperson of the jury announces in advance – “I don’t care what evidence or arguments are presented, I am going to find the accused innocent and I am coordinating my activities closely with the accused.”
#4. Much Adough About Nothing
And finally, we come to the shocking Canadian scandal that may become known as Donutgate. When the federal Liberals held a Cabinet retreat in Winnipeg recently, the Prime Minister was photographed carrying out several boxes of donuts from a local shop. Inevitably, some folks complained about Trudeau’s failure to shop at Tim Horton’s, that iconic Canadian symbol – now owned by a Brazilian Billionaire, the one with many unhappy franchisees. There were also complaints about the extravagance of $47 for a dozen donuts, which were, (according to the owner of the donut shop) the price for speciality donuts which the Prime Minister did NOT purchase.
Get a grip people! The fact that Cabinet members were fed with fresh donuts from a local shop rather than pre-made frozen donuts at a Horton’s outlet is not a matter worthy of discussion. Nor is the negligible cost of a few boxes of these donuts. We have lots of serious issues that merit our attention. This isn’t one of them!
A recent paper by Professor Kristin Good contends that municipalities have, or can be given, legal status within provincial constitutions. It attempts to make the case for downplaying the constitutional division of federal and provincial powers (centred on sections 91 and 92 of the B.N.A. Act) and giving greater significance to the provincial-municipal division of powers. Such an approach, the paper suggests, is more in line with common sense logic about how governments elected by citizens ought to be treated in law and reflects the rising importance of municipal government in various areas of public policy.
Is it too much to hope that we might take advantage of a new decade by turning away from the increasingly divisive and hateful tone of recent years and embracing moderation and civility. I can best illustrate the urgency of the situation by repeating a blog of three years back. It contained a poem from over half a century ago (variously attributed to James Patrick Kinney or Douglas Corlett) that provides a stark and very timely warning of the risks when we let biases and anger rule. I can think of no better resolution than for us to resolve not to think and behave this way in the new decade.
The situation in the U.S. goes from bad to worse. The House has approved two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. The case now goes to the Senate for a trial, but the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, is opposed to having any witnesses called, and wants the matter resolved quickly. If that isn’t disturbing enough – a trial in which no witnesses can be called – we now learn that some Republicans have already pledged to impeach the next Democratic President, just for payback. The extreme political polarization borders on mass insanity and fears grow about the future of American democracy.
But wait – as they say in all those annoying TV commercials – there is an even greater threat to the U.S., as reported recently in the Globe and Mail. Montana faces a possible invasion of feral pigs from Canada, which have been spotted just a few miles from the border. Apparently the pigs can be difficult to monitor from the air because they bury themselves in mud and also burrow into the snow to make “pigloos.” I am not making this up. Who could? See https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-montana-seeks-to-keep-feral-hogs-from-canada-at-bay/.
So while those in and around Washington ham it up about the impeachment drama and the northwest goes hog wild, swine flu may be the biggest health risk this winter.
Finding a topic on which to blog is never an issue. To the contrary, on any given day there are so many items that catch my eye and call for a response that I usually end up doing nothing.
By way of penance, or as something of a catch-up mechanism, I offer in this blog comments on a variety of recent political issues – ranging from the silly to mendacious to downright dangerous.
In many countries, democracy is under threat because of the rise of extreme populist parties and the increased support for the notion of a single strong leader who will take over and make things better. In addition, the ongoing impeachment hearings in the U.S. provide almost daily examples of a broken democracy in which blindly partisan Republicans and their supporters continue to back a President who essentially bribed a foreign power to dig up dirt on a political rival. Canadians have no cause for complacency however, given the various ways in which democratic practices in this country are being undermined. Consider these two recent examples.
Stifling Debate in Ontario
Central to the exercise of democracy in Canada is the notion that those elected are accountable to their citizens. At the federal and provincial levels, much of this accountability is enforced by the requirement for the governing party to submit its proposals for examination, debate, and approval by a majority of members of the House of Commons or a provincial Legislative Assembly. There are rules (Standing Orders) that dictate how these matters proceed and they need to strike a balance between the rights of the government and of the opposition parties. Unfortunately over the past several decades all three political parties in Ontario have used their time in power to change these rules to restrict opposition parties from carrying out their legitimate role.
The latest assault has been mounted by Doug Ford’s Conservative Government, which has proposed amendments (which it has the numerical majority to pass) that will allow the government to push legislation through multiple stages in one day and to schedule up to 50% more night sittings than currently allowed. These amendments will also prevent anyone from introducing an “adjournment of the House” motion during debates being conducted under time allocations (restrictions). When in opposition, the Conservative Party found this a useful tool, but now that they are in power, they no longer see the value of something that can be used to delay proceedings.
Frontier Justice in Alberta
I vaguely recall, from old Western movies, that if someone was poking around making a nuisance of himself, the common solution was to shoot him, or at least drive him out of town. It appears that this is still the preferred approach by the new sheriff in town, Premier Jason Kenney. His government has just dismissed an independent parliamentary watchdog known as the Election Commissioner who was in the midst of an investigation into alleged irregularities during the leadership race in 2017 that resulted in the selection of Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party. These investigations involve another candidate in that leadership campaign who may have been in the race for the purpose of attacking Kenney’s main rival for leader, before dropping out to throw his support behind Kenney.
These are serious charges, but their continued investigation is now uncertain, with the firing of person in charge of the investigation. The Alberta Government’s pathetically laughable explanation is that this watchdog’s responsibilities are being moved into Elections Alberta, which can continue the investigation if it wishes and can even hire back the dismissed watchdog if it wishes. The only reason for this move, we are asked to believe, is to save hard working taxpayers some $200,000 a year. But if Elections Alberta is going to hire a new watchdog, as the government tries to reassure us, could happen – then even this miniscule savings in a provincial budget of some $50 billion will not materialize.
This is, or should be, a deeply disturbing development for anyone concerned about the survival of democracy in Canada. A Premier whose past conduct is under investigation arranges to pass legislation – in just three days by imposing closure (termination of debate) three times – to fire the person conducting the investigation.
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.