Last week, the Globe and Mail published the following headline and newstory:
“Fear of retaliation stops native women from filing rights complaints, commissioner warns”
According to the story:
“What we learned,” wrote Mr. Langtry in his annual report released Tuesday, “is that for many of them, particularly in remote communities, the Canadian Human Rights Act is meaningless. They are unlikely to seek its protections, they say, for a number of reasons, including fear of retaliation.”
But lawyers working in the area of aboriginal justice said the Canadian human-rights regime can be somewhat ineffective on reserves where chiefs and council members don’t view themselves as being accountable to outside legal regimes.
Some aboriginal women told the human-rights commission they fear that the mere act of lodging a complaint against the police or powerful members of their communities will leave them without access to important health and social services or could lead to intimidation and acts of violence.
“Truth be told, some leaders are offenders of violence against women,” one of the native women told the commission. “It’s so entrenched, many women live in fear. That is our sad reality, and it’s tough.”
One of the big conundrums for students of Aboriginal policy in this country is what should the role of the state be with respect to Indigenous communities. A popular position among Indigenous scholars is that the Canadian state should have little to no role and there are good reasons why they have taken this position. You don’t need to be a scholar to come to this conclusion! All you have to do is look at the Indian Act, residential schools, Canada’s history of treaty-making and implementation, to understand why some Indigenous people would be suspicious and wary of the Canadian state.
On the other hand, it is stories like these ones that convince me that sometimes there is a role for the Canadian state. In the ideal world, Indigenous communities are able to manage and solve these problems themselves. Indeed, many Indigenous cultures, traditionally speaking, were led by women, or at least had very strong gender equality and/or equity. But, due to a variety of factors, including colonialism, that tradition has been lost and replaced with something much more sinister and violent. In those situations, I wonder whether the ends justify the means? In other words, it may be that the only option available in the short term is protection from the Canadian state, either in the form of legal mechanisms or legal actors.
Forbes magazine reports that the Lakota Nation has created its own cryptocurrency called, MazaCoin, which is now the official currency of the Lakota Nation. According to the report:
“Standing on the banks of the Little Bighorn River last year, a son of the once-mighty Oglala Lakota Tribe made a promise to continue his ancestors’ fight against the United States. Only this time the war wouldn’t be fought with arrows or bullets, but with QR codes and cryptography.”
It’s an interesting idea on a a whole number of fronts. For those Indigenous communities interested in capitalism, but also increasing Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, the cryptocurrency may be a useful tool, especially if a large number of Indigenous groups adopts one common cryptocurrency as their main currency.
It would mean economically freeing itself from the confines of the Canadian/American economy, and generating all sorts of investment revenue to engage in economic development.
The idea has a lot of merit and there has to be an article to be written here somewhere! I better get on it!
Published Mar. 3, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.
The Prime Minister’s chief spokesman went into high dudgeon when reporters asked why opposition leaders and MPs were excluded from a reception for Aga Khan at Massey Hall in Toronto last week – an event hosted by Stephen Harper and paid for by the taxpayers of Canada.
“Those trying to cheapen the event by flinging baseless partisan accusations should be ashamed of themselves,” Jason MacDonald wrote in an e-mail. “We won’t dignify these partisan attacks with a response.”
Come, come, Mr. MacDonald. It’s your boss who has mastered the mechanics of petty partisanship and raised it to an art, at least in the eyes of the Conservative faithful. It’s your government that barred opposition representatives from Foreign Minister John Baird’s mission to Ukraine. It was one of your MPs who refused to allow Liberal MP Irwin Cottler, a former justice minister, to attend an Israeli charity event during Harper’s visit to that country.
It’s your government that is using the cynically misnamed “Fair Elections Act” to strip Canada’s chief electoral officer of the power to investigate election cheating – because whenever he has found cheaters they have happened to be Conservatives. And it’s your party that is trying to squeeze the last drop of electoral advantage by exploiting divisions among minority-group Canadians.
Perhaps instead of accusing others of “flinging baseless partisan accusations,” Mr. MacDonald, you might come clean with the public. Try being candid. Why don’t try saying something along the following lines:
The Harper government is sorry if we seem sleazy, petty or vindictive. But the truth is, we are worried, very worried. Our Tory universe is not unfolding the way we want. We’re starting to get frightened.
We thought we could bury the Senate expenses scandal in a black hole somewhere, but Thomas Mulcair and his media lickspittles wouldn’t let us. We thought we could demolish Justin Trudeau with attack ads exposing him as all hair and no substance, but that didn’t work either. Not only are the Liberals outgunning us in the polls, Canadians tell us they like this Trudeau kid better than our great leader, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper. Increasing numbers of you are telling pollsters that you even think the Liberals could do a better job than we do when it comes to running the economy. Can you believe that?
We are not asking for pity, but did you see the poll that the Manning Centre in Ottawa put out the other day? That’s “Manning” as in Preston, the founder of the Reform party, from which we Harperites sprang. So these Manning Centre people are our people and every year they have Carleton University’s André Turcotte measure the state of conservatism in Canada. The numbers this year are not pretty. They are gruesome. As Prof. Turcotte put it in his presentation, they are heading in the wrong direction.
The number of Canadians who call themselves Conservative is shrinking. In British Columbia, 33 per cent of respondents identified themselves as Conservatives in 2012; today, that number is down to 20 per cent. In Ontario, the decline in the same period is from 35 per cent to 25.
What’s worse, the people are not embracing our toolkit of enlightened policies. Prof. Turcotte found the Liberals are tied with us on the question of ability to deal with the economy; both the Liberals and NDP are ahead of us on questions of managing health care and unemployment; and even the Green party leads us on ability to deal with poverty and the environment.
What’s more, 93 per cent favour increasing (not reducing) the investigative powers of Elections Canada while 92 per cent think party leaders should be made more accountable to their caucuses. Our prime minister may not be amused by that.
As the professor says, the numbers are heading in the wrong direction. If it continues, we could all find ourselves unemployed in October 2015. Is it any wonder we seem frazzled these days?
As Quebec raises the volume on talk of another referendum on sovereignty, now is a good time to look at how the rest of Canada might respond to the revival of this possible constitutional conflict. Is there a willingness to fight for a unified Canada, or has that appetite faded with Canadians more prepared to see Quebec go?
It’s a valid question as the prospects look favourable for a sovereignist victory in a possible near-future referendum. CROP reported in December that about 44 per cent of Quebecers support sovereignty, the same level as during the 1994 election campaign that brought the Parti Québécois back into power, a year before the razor-thin result of the 1995 referendum. Given what we’ve been witnessing from Quebec, the signs are quite present that we are now in a “pre-campaign” period of that future referendum.
To look forward, let’s look back a bit. During the May 2, 2011, general election, Ipsos Reid administered an online poll of approximately 40,000 Canadian voters. All were asked whether they “want Quebec to become sovereign, that is, no longer part of the Canadian federation.”
There’s a theory that political junkies and sports fanatics are products of the same gene pool. As a broad generality, serious political fans are often serious sports fans, as well. It’s something about the game, the thrill of competition, the risk of failure and success, and the uncertainty of the outcome until the last second ticks away or the last ballot is counted.
For all I know, there may be some learned academic treatises on this sports/politics relationship, but if there are, I haven’t seen them. All I know, after too many years misspent while hanging around politicians and their gatherings, is that when they are not talking politics, they are frequently talking sports. (“Did you see that overtime goal?” “Why can’t the Jays land a starting pitcher?”)
So today let’s try a quick quiz to see if we can separate the sports nuts from the political groupies. How many of you got up early (very early west of Ontario) to watch the gold medal hockey game between Sweden and Canada in Sochi on Sunday? And how many of you remained glued to the final proceedings of the biennial convention in Montreal of the Liberal party of Canada? (That’s the party that, after disappointing with bronze in the 2011 electoral contest, is an early favourite for gold next time, in 2015.)
It will take our scrutineers a few minutes to tally the votes, so let’s press ahead on the hypothesis that more Canadians are seized with the political games than the Olympic Games. You do agree, don’t you?
That said, it must also be said that the Montreal convention will not go down as one of the more stimulating political gatherings in history. I’ve never experienced a national political gathering when the moving expenses of a candidate for Parliament (retired General Andrew Leslie) was seen as a burning issue. Montreal was a singularly quiet convention. Even the Conservatives’ plans to disrupt the convention (if that was their intention) came to naught.
A quiet convention suited the Liberals just fine. Delegates had an opportunity to see, hear and evaluate their new leader, Justin Trudeau. Most seemed to like what they saw. His big speech on Saturday was warm and fuzzy. Although he invoked the memory of his father, Justin is no Pierre. I couldn’t help but think back to his father’s electrifying speech in April 1968 to the Liberal leadership convention in Ottawa.
But where Trudeau the Elder promised Canadians a “Just Society,” Trudeau the Younger settled for a more modest rhetoric. He promised all Canadians “a fair shot at success.” As poetry, it may fall short, but times change. When Pierre spoke in 1968, the Liberals were in power and were looking for a new leader to give it a shot of adrenalin to keep them there. Pierre did that. In 2014, Justin’s Liberals, although performing well in recent polls, are still a third-place party.
He has to overcome not one, but two, formidable opponents. In Stephen Harper, the Conservatives have a leader who has all the advantages and levers of power. He is resourceful, well-financed and determined, with a mean streak a yard wide (as his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, might attest). To get to Harper and the Tories, Justin Trudeau has to climb over Thomas Mulcair and the NDP. Opposition leader Mulcair is determined, too, and absolutely relentless, as he demonstrated in Parliament when he dismantled government evasions in the Senate expense scandal. While the Conservatives may have grown tired in government, Mulcair’s NDP is still vigorous in opposition.
There won’t be many easy seats for any party in October 2015. It shapes up as a riding-by-riding, take-no-prisoners battle where small mistakes can cause big very damage. It will be particularly difficult for the Liberals as they try to move from third to first, from bronze to gold. But, like Canada’s women’s and men’s hockey teams in Sochi, they can already smell the podium.
With the sovereignty flames being fanned up again in Quebec, it is not premature to contemplate the rest of Canada’s posture on the national unity front. In particular, is there a willingness to fight for a unified Canada, or has that appetite long faded with Canadians more prepared to see Quebec go?
It’s a valid question as the prospects look favourable for a sovereignist victory in a possible near-future referendum. CROP reported back in December that about 44 percent of Quebecers support sovereignty, the same level as during the 1994 election campaign that brought the Parti Québécois back into power, a year before the razor-thin result of the 1995 referendum. Given what we’ve been witnessing from Quebec, the signs are quite present that we are now in a “pre-campaign” period of that future referendum.
Analysis presented here is based on the 2011 Federal Election online exit poll administered by Ipsos Reid (and donated to Wilfrid Laurier University). The survey has a sample of nearly 40,000 Canadian voters from the 2011 federal election. All of them were asked whether they “want Quebec to become sovereign, that is, no longer part of the Canadian federation.”
While the vast majority of Canadians outside Quebec certainly do not want Quebec to leave, a sizable proportion has no problem with that scenario. Among the approximately 28,000 respondents from outside of Quebec, nearly 5000 (18 percent) want to see Quebec separate from Canada.
Who are these people? Are they randomly distributed, or are there some common attributes to them? In particular, are they more likely to support any particular federal party? Do they reside mainly in certain regions? Are they of any particular ideological persuasion? These will be looked at here with the available data.
A future Quebec referendum on sovereignty will naturally animate the main federal party leaders, particularly whichever one controls the government. It is worthwhile, then, to see if there is any partisan pattern among those who in the rest of Canada support Quebec sovereignty.
As it turns out, some interesting patterns do emerge. Table 1 reports how this breaks down across party lines. Among the 4674 respondents outside Quebec who favour Quebec sovereignty, nearly 2700 of them, 60 percent, voted Conservative in 2011. The NDP is in second place at 27 percent. The Liberals and Greens drew the fewest number of pro-Quebec sovereignty supports outside Quebec, but this may simply reflect the fact that the Liberal vote in 2011 was historically low, and the Green party typically captures a small percentage of voters.
When looked at a different perspective, the Conservative party still seems to hold a higher proportion of voters who wish to see Quebec leave the federation. The far-right column of Table 1 reverses the axes to illustrate how voters for the various parties distribute across the sovereignty question. Here, we see 22 percent of Conservative voters favours Quebec sovereignty. This is nearly three times that of Liberal voters. NDP and Green Party voters occupy a middle ground, with 16 and 17 percent of its voters favouring Quebec sovereignty.
It should be noted that the Quebec sovereignty question offered four possible answers: Strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, and strongly disagree. As shown in Table 2, the parties distinguish themselves here, too. For instance, 12 percent of Conservative voters “strongly agree” with the idea of Quebec separating from Canada. This is nine percentage points above that for the Liberals (3%), and four to five percentage points above that of the NDP and Green Party. At the other extreme, nearly 70 percent of Conservative voters are strongly opposed to the idea of Quebec separating, which is 14 percentage points below that of the Liberals, and about five points below that of the other two parties.
Relatively high level of support for Quebec independence within Conservative ranks is not a big surprise. The contemporary Conservative party has roots in the Reform party, which drew voters known for their anti-Quebec stances. There may remain some lingering and durable anti-Quebec sentiments among a sizable proportion of Conservative supporters.
As shown in Table 3, there is some evidence that shows support for sovereignty is higher within in regions that typically vote Conservative. Almost 30 percent of voters in Alberta favour Quebec sovereignty. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are not too far behind, at 20 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
However, “second place” here is given to Newfoundland and Labrador, with nearly a quarter of respondents from this province favouring Quebec sovereignty. It should be noted that while Newfoundland and Labrador is not normally friendly to the federal Conservative party, the province has had strained relations with Quebec over hydro-electricity development. Strong feelings get aroused at the mere mention of “Churchill Falls.” Apart from Newfoundland and Labrador, the remaining three Atlantic provinces show the lowest level of support for Quebec sovereignty, along with Ontario and Manitoba.
One question in the survey simply asks respondents whether they consider themselves to be “left, right or centre.” Most, nearly 56 percent, reported being in the “centre,” while 23 percent were on the “left,” and 22 percent on the “right.” Within each of these three general ideological groups, the highest proportion of pro-Quebec sovereignists is found in the “right,” with 23 percent of them showing support for Quebec independence. This, too, is not totally surprising as Quebec has acted as a proponent for progressive discourse in Canada, and thus, those on the right are also likely to reject not only the ideas of the “left,” but the social democratic model that Quebec sovereignists try to project. Those on the “left” show the smallest level of support, 10 percent, for Quebec sovereignty, while those in the centre are, as it turns out appropriately enough, in the middle, at 15 percent.
Anyone who harbours the delusion that politicians lead a soft existence might take a look at the dilemmas that some leading political figures are facing.
Let’s start with Quebec where Premier Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois, clinging to a weak minority since September 2012 — and having procrastinated as long as possible — will bring down a budget on Thursday. The budget is widely expected to open the door to a general election this spring. That would be a real gamble. When Marois won in 2012, she did so with just 32 per cent of the popular vote, down three per cent from the previous election, when the PQ lost to the Liberals. But the way the vote split in 2012, she actually gained seven seats, to 54 in the 125-seat National Assembly.
While recent polls suggest Marois is within reach of a majority, if she falls short — if she loses or returns with a second minority — her leadership days would surely be over. But if she gets her majority, life will not be so comfortable in Ottawa. Quebec would be back on the national agenda.
Let’s move on to Ontario, skipping lightly over Toronto, where Mayor Rob Ford will continue to be a national embarrassment until the people throw him out next fall. At Queen’s Park, Premier Kathleen Wynne and her minority Liberals are in trouble as all signs point to an Ontario election this spring.
Unable to shed the baggage of the Dalton McGuinty years, she has lost whatever momentum she enjoyed in the early months of her leadership. She has failed to demonstrate that she leads a party with new ideas and new priorities. Her government has become almost indistinguishable from the McGuinty Liberals who led the province for a decade, growing old and tired (and careless) in the process.
No one expected Wynne to win two byelections last week, in Niagara Falls and Thornhill, and the Liberals did run poorly in both, including Niagara Falls, a former Liberal seat. Tory leader Tim Hudak saved a bit of face by hanging onto Thornhill in suburban Toronto, but NDP leader Andrea Horwath emerged as the only winner by capturing blue-collar Niagara Falls.
Now — lest anyone think it is only politicians in power who confront dilemmas — Horwath, the leader of the third party, has to decide whether she will continue to prop up the minority Liberals or to force an election that she almost certainly can’t win. Another Liberal minority would be one outcome — so no change. A second outcome, even worse from the NDP perspective (but possible, the polls say) would be the election of a right-wing Conservative government headed by Hudak, a mini-Mike Harris. Howarth will be stewing over that dilemma until the Queen’s Park budget comes down.
In Ottawa, Stephen Harper doesn’t have to fret about an election just now, but he does have worries. After 20 years in politics, 10 as Conservative leader and eight as prime minister, he finds himself leading a government that has grown old, tired and increasingly arrogant. It is going the way of the Pierre Trudeau Liberal government of three decades ago. And it seems at times unable to cope, incapable of making decisions on such practical issues as the ordering of military hardware — search-and-rescue aircraft, new fighter jets, Arctic patrol ships, an icebreaker, naval resupply ships and maritime helicopters.
It tabled a budget last week that landed with a dull thump, destined to be remembered only for the rift it exposed within the cabinet and caucus over family income-splitting for tax purposes.
Worse, a new poll last week had some terrible numbers for the Tories. Nanos Research reported that 55 per cent of Canadians would not consider voting Conservative. The 36 per cent who said, yes, they would consider voting Tory, left the Harper party well behind the leading Liberals and the NDP, although still ahead of the Green party’s 27 per cent.
Last week, the Toronto Star had a story on the trials and tribulations that Oshawa Councillor Amy England has been facing since having her child and being elected as a councillor. There were a number of surprising and unsurprising things in the story.
Surprising: that the Ontario Municipal Act has no provision for elected municipal officials to take parental leave. Is that true? If so, I’m quite surprised, but also confident that the provincial government will eventually correct this oversight.
Unsurprising: that her political opponents are using her gender and maternal role to go after her because of her politics.
The barriers facing women in politics are huge. The best general book on this subject, in my view, is Sylvia Bashevkin’s book, Women, Power, Politics.
I’m clearly naive, but I’m always amazed at how people are so quick to attack the character of people rather than their ideas, when it’s their ideas that they are so against. The CAS complaint, and the breastfeeding complaints, are clearly more about her politics than her parenting (at least based on the details from the story), so why not go after her ideas instead?
Because it’s too hard. The lazy (and perhaps more effective?!) approach is to attack from the bushes, as my old comparative politics professor would say. But it still rubs me the wrong way.
Latest poll by Ipsos Reid suggests Justin Trudeau is acquiring more support from Canadian voters. Should the conservative party be worried? LISPOP Associate Dr. Christopher Cochrane appears to discuss why Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party is ‘gaining ground’. You can watch the video by clicking here.
The problem (or one of them) with the Harper government is that it is tone deaf. It listens to people, or claims to listen, but it does not hear. It does not hear those people who support or vote for parties other than the Conservatives. That’s not particularly surprising. What is surprising is that on occasion the government is also deaf to members of its own Tory universe, people who have voted for Harper in the past and whose votes will be absolutely crucial in the 2015 election.
I cannot think of a better example than the disrespect the Harper government has demonstrated for Canada’s veterans. Veterans are part of that Tory universe. They are older. They have served their country loyally. They have earned the nation’s admiration. Their military experience inclines them, perhaps more than many other Canadians, to respect authority and to value law and order in society. The Conservative party should adore veterans.
So what happens? A group of veterans comes to Ottawa to protest to their minister the closure of eight regional veterans’ affairs offices. This is a small deal for government bean counters (a projected annual saving of $3.78-million) but it’s a very big deal to those veterans who relied on these convenient offices for advice and assistance on such matters as pensions and medical and post-service mental-health issues.
Their minister, Julian Fantino, keeps them awaiting for 70 minutes, does not bother to apologize, refuses to address their concerns, accuses them in effect of being stooges of a union (the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which paid some of their travel expenses to Ottawa), and sends the veterans away angry and frustrated, some of them in tears.
Under opposition attack, Fantino did apologize the next day for his thuggish behaviour, but the apology begs the real question: why didn’t Harper fire him on the spot? Ministers who belittle and abuse the people they are paid to serve — and make then cry! — have no place in the cabinet (or in Parliament, for that matter).
Another example is the standoff over the Canada Pension Plan. The CPP is exceptionally well run, but it is time for revisions. Most of the provinces feel the CPP no longer provides an adequate income for retirees. They want Ottawa to increase the payout by raising the contribution level for workers and employers alike.
That’s a reasonable request. It would not add to the federal deficit. What’s more, it would benefit all those baby boomers who are in, or entering, their retirement years — a large pool of potential Tory voters. But voices of reason are not always heard in Ottawa. The premiers met a stone wall in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. An increase in CPP contributions by employers might be called a payroll tax, and the Conservatives (unlike those tax-and-spend Liberals, wastrel New Democrats and irresponsible premiers) are not about to increase taxes. No, sir. Talk of pension reform will have to wait until the deficit has been eliminated.
Ontario and some other provinces will probably introduce their own measures to supplement the CPP, but they shouldn’t have to go it alone. The CPP is a national plan and has been for a half-century. All Flaherty had to do was to welcome the premiers’ representations, say he agreed with their concern that an aging population be well cared for, and invite provincial finance ministers to join him in planning CPP amendments, to be brought into effect when the federal budget is balanced.
But that didn’t, and won’t, happen for two reasons. First, ideological purity dictates that Flaherty reject any thought of anything that can be construed as a tax increase. Second, these Harper Tories have an inbred resistance to hearing, or heeding, anything provincial governments propose.
When I was a kid, adults would talk about people cutting off their nose to spite their face. That’s what the Harper people are doing these days by insulting veterans and ignoring pensioners.
During Peter Kulchyski’s talk two weeks ago, he talked about his work with Indigenous groups in northern Manitoba who were negotiating with Manitoba Hydro to come to a fair development deal for a dam on their lands. One of the stories he told was about the contrast between the riches of the Hydro companies offices in downtown Winnipeg and the poverty among the many Indigenous groups who had signed supposedly beneficial agreements with the Hydro company.
It reminded me of the time I visited the offices of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Ontario several years ago. The office was beautiful, with expensive pieces of Aboriginal art and yards and yards of marble and rich wood everywhere. Very impressive! Several months later, the news was filled with pictures of poverty among northern Aboriginal communities in Ontario.
Which brings me to the title of this post. I’m sure the department didn’t decorate their offices in this way purposely. But anyone who has spent time in Indigenous communities in northern Canada would have felt as uncomfortable as I did when I visited those offices that day.
The core argument of the book is that human rights are problematic because they are eurocentric and more importantly, they are universalizing. As such, they can be used by governments as “totalizing” tools to eradicate Indigenous difference.
In many ways, I agree with this argument. Aboriginal rights are a form of collective right specific to Aboriginal peoples whereas human rights tend to be thought of in terms of individual rights (e.g. we are all humans and therefore we are all equal and should be treated equally) and so there is a real danger that the Canadian state could use human rights to eradicate Indigenous rights.
On the other hand, I wonder whether sometimes you need these “eurocentric” human rights to protect Indigenous rights?
In some communities, traditional Indigenous cultures reflected matriarchy, or at least gender equality in which each gender is supreme in their distinct spheres of life. Yet, as a result of history and the actions of the Canadian state, Aboriginal women are sometimes living in communities that are dominated by Aboriginal men.
What to do in these situations? Ideally, these Indigenous communities find a way to restore their traditional Indigenous cultures in which gender equality (or equity) is the norm. But sometimes, Indigenous (and non-Indigenous!) communities are so messed up that it’s impossible for communities to achieve internal change.
In these situations, I wonder if human rights (e.g. gender rights) are necessary and helpful for achieving cultural restoration? In other words, doesn’t the end justify the means sometimes?
The answer from Dr. Kulchyski and some audience members at the event seemed to be no. The Canadian State should just get out of the way and let the communities do it themselves. Presto chango, gender equality will occur.
Ideally yes. That would be nice! But people who make this and other similar decolonizing arguments fail to realize how difficult change is. They seem to think that if the Canadian state disappeared tomorrow, that everything would be ok the next day. Ta-da!
I’m much more skeptical. Those of us who study institutional change, public policy, and public administration know that most types of institutional, policy and cultural change are hard. Sometimes, you have to use existing tools to pursue incremental change for meaningful change to occur. You have to play the long game sometimes!
I always say that the colonization process was a 500 year odyssey and so decolonization will probably take a similar amount of time, or maybe longer.
UPDATE: My colleague, Dr. Howard-Hassman, has posted some comments about Peter’s new book. They are worth a read. You can find her blog post here.
Justin Trudeau made a bold — and, I think, smart move last week when he cut loose the 32 Liberals in the Senate. He did not cast them into outer darkness, as Stephen Harper did with his defrocked Conservative senators, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. The 32 remain members in good standing of the Senate. They will continue to draw a salary and be able to claim expenses when on Senate business. They will still be able to call themselves Liberals if they wish (and if they pay the party membership fee).
But they will no longer be members of the Liberal caucus on Parliament Hill. They will no longer speak for the party or be involved in its parliamentary strategy. They will no longer be expected to vote the way the leader dictates.
Unlike their 57 Conservative senate-mates, the Trudeau 32 will be free. Free of the party whip. Free to speak as they wish. Free to put partisanship aside. Free to consider legislation on its merits and to improve it as required. Free to follow the dictates of their conscience and the wishes of their constituents.
And isn’t that what the Senate is supposed to be all about — an upper chamber of sober second thought, where lower-house errors and oversights can be corrected, where the regional interests of the country can be heard in the capital, unfiltered by petty partisanship?
None of this is going to happen overnight. There is absolutely no indication that the prime minister has the slightest interest in unshackling his 57 Tory senators; the thought of a small army of independent senators loose on Parliament Hill makes the blood run cold in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Trudeau’s initiative, however, does two things. It raises Senate reform an important notch or two on the public agenda. And it holds the prime minister’s feet to the fire. Harper began promising Senate reform even before he became prime minister. In eight years as PM, he has delivered diddly-squat. There is always an excuse. The constitution is an impediment. The Supreme Court won’t allow it. The provinces won’t agree.
The latest excuse is the need to wait for the Supreme Court to rule on last year’s reference in which the Harper government asked for advice as to what degree(s) of provincial support would be required, constitutionally, to make various hypothetical changes to the Senate. The court reference is a stalling tactic. Deep down, the Conservatives want to keep the Senate just the way it is — as a cesspool of party patronage. If they really wanted answers, they wouldn’t have to ask the court; the government employs, or has on call, legions of constitutional experts who could provide answers overnight.
They know from experience with the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords in the Mulroney era that the serious obstacles to reform are more political than constitutional. Ottawa will never be able to effect important changes to the Senate — to its membership, or its powers, or to establish direct elections of senators — unless it can persuade most or all of the provinces to come on side. That would not be easy. It might be impossible, even for a federal government with the best intentions in the world.
In the meantime, there are changes that can be made without provincial blessing. Justin Trudeau’s initiative is a beginning. The second step, as he proposed last week, would be to take the selection of senators out of the hands of the prime minister and turn it over to a non-political body, in much the way members of the Order of Canada are selected — the idea being to choose senators who are distinguished Canadians rather than party loyalists.
That may also take some time. In the near term, Trudeau can present himself as an agent for change, the leader who would take patronage and partisanship out of the Senate, while Harper comes across as an apologist for a shabby status quo.
So reads the headline of a CBC news report on Trudeau’s “stunning” decision to remove Liberal Senators from his caucus.
As a political strategy, the move has both its costs and benefits. As a colleague of mine recently pointed out, the decision keeps the Senate on the political agenda, which has been a problematic file for the Harper government. On the other hand, Trudeau has seriously ticked off a large portion of the Liberal Party elite!
I’m still processing the implications of this announcement but here are two initial reactions.
First, has Trudeau in fact removed partisanship from the Senate, thereby turning it into a non-partisan chamber of sober second thought? At least in the short term, and probably the medium term as well, the answer is no. As long as the Prime Minister continues to dictate who gets appointed, then we should continue to see partisan individuals appointed to the Senate. If the process changes in a meaningful way, will partisanship disappear? Maybe in the long term, if the government can come up with an appointment process that can approximate what goes on for the Supreme Court (although attitudinal studies of SCC decision making may provide evidence to the contrary!). But in the short and medium terms, we are likely to get what exists in most municipalities, where formal parties are not recognized, but in practice, councillors vote consistently along partisan (or at least ideological) lines.
Second, what happens if Trudeau wins a minority or majority government in the next election? Will these newly independent Senators seek revenge and work with Conservative senators to block legislation? Will they simply continue to vote as a bloc? Or will they exercise their independence? I’m not sure.
There’s been some recent discussion on this blog about the importance of knowledge mobilization. Dr. Erin Tolley, for instance, provided some excellent advice several days ago based on her own experiences in government and academia. But recently I’ve been wondering: what can us academics do to better share our research findings with regular citizens?
My usual strategy has been to write op eds in regional or national newspapers. I have no idea whether this is an effective strategy. I have a hunch that op eds rarely persuade but instead simply reinforce people’s existing opinions on the issue (one day I’d like to run an experimental study to test this proposition. I just need to convince my colleague, Jason Roy, to do it!) Sometimes, I receive emails from interested citizens or former politicians. In one op ed, published in the Toronto Star, I briefly mentioned the Kelowna Accord, dismissing it as a failure. The day after the op ed was published, former Prime Minister Paul Martin called me up in my office to tell me why my analysis of the Accord was wrong. That was quite the experience!
But on the issue of communicating research results to interested citizens, I wonder if there is more that I can do? At least once every six months, I receive an email from a random First Nation citizen asking for advice. Usually, the questions they send me focus on the rights of individual band members against the actions of the band council. One email I received, for instance, asked about potential legal avenues that were available to members for holding band council members accountable, because somehow they saw my paper in Canadian Public Administration on accountability and transparency regimes. Just last week, I received an email from a band member who was fielding questions from fellow band members about the rights of CP holders (e.g. certificates of possession) against a band council that wanted to expropriate their lands for economic development. Apparently, this individual tried to look up my work online but all of the articles I’ve written on this topic are gated (with the exception of one).
So, what to do?
Well, one easy and obvious solution is to purchase open access rights for these articles, which is something SSHRC is moving towards anyway. That way, anyone can download and read the articles.
But what else can we do? Taking a page from Dr. Tolley’s post, maybe I need to start writing one page summaries of my findings in plain language and post them on my website?
Another thing I want to try is to put together some short animated videos that explain my findings. This is what I hope to do with my SSHRC project on First Nation-municipal relations, if Jen and I can ever get this project finished!