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Doug’s Columns 2000 « Douglas Fisher



Doug’s Columns 2000

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, December 31, 2000
ID: 12000057
TAG: 200012310474
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


Federal politics in Canada this year was very busy but not distinguished by either grand issues or land-mark legislation.
There was much about party leaders, and considerable partisan viciousness emerged in the general election which summed up the year. The incumbent prime minister gained a smashing victory – holding Ontario, edging the BQ in Quebec, regaining seats in the Atlantic provinces, even holding small representation in the four western provinces.
Oh, it was a famous victory. Willy-nilly, more credit than usual for such a splendid, third-time majority must go to the Liberal leader. Jean Chretien, his wife, Aline, and the small staff of those in his close circle chose an early election date, although many others were dubious. From the start they set the engagement in terms that seemed risky. For example, in casting the Canadian Alliance party as a dark shadow threatening so much of what the country had achieved through medicare, welfare and women’s rights.
No one has an accurate figure on the number of Liberal MPs who would have preferred an election in 2001 and to fight it under a new leader, Finance Minister Paul Martin. One could guess there were at least 50 such “nervous Nellies.” As the campaign developed, their nervousness seemed justified. Several Liberal MPs told me they figured one in three citizens with whom they chatted at their doorsteps wanted either Martin as Liberal leader or the retirement of Chretien – or both.
My experience in trying to get a handle on the campaign’s trends matched this high level of support for Martin and a consensus that Chretien had had his day. Such opinions had nothing much to do with what Stockwell Day, Gilles Duceppe, Alexa McDonough and Joe Clark were saying about the prime minister.
Early, it became clear that of this quartet, Tory Leader Joe Clark, the one in the least enviable position, had the experience and arguments to more than hold his own. Bloc Quebecois Leader Duceppe was very busy in his own province, seemingly having a good campaign, but not affecting the race outside Quebec. NDP Leader McDonough plodded on, a one-note Charlie, insisting the overriding issue was saving Canada’s health system.
And Stockwell Day?
Week by week as the campaign developed, the Canadian Alliance leader revealed how ready he was for plucking, so defenceless, so dependent on getting by on newness, niceness and decency. Chretien had him figured well: too green and unprepared, and as yet without either a solid appreciation of the strength in his own ranks or enough grasp of recent political history to wing it as crises developed and the scrum pack closed in on him.
We had seen something like the Day collapse in what happened to Conservative Leader Kim Campbell in 1993. Much of her dilemma came from blame heaped up through her predecessor’s actions but she was most unready as a campaigner, so unaware how rough and tough a campaign gets to be.
Day didn’t have the excuse which Brian Mulroney’s heritage provided Campbell after the 1993 election debacle. In losing the leadership of the new Alliance – which had been his idea! – former Reform party head Preston Manning left behind for the winner a quite capable caucus, a well-funded national organization, and what seemed a fairly stable program.
Who could imagine the leader would soon be stumbling, mired in the age-old debate over creation? Or distancing himself as a threat to a woman’s right to an abortion? Or retreating quickly away from any intentions to limit homosexual rights?
In my summation of federal politics in 2000, the outstanding matter we seem to have passed on for 2001 and the first session in Jean Chretien’s third mandate is simply the leadership of the parties.
Joe Clark is already at work on plans for his succession because he recognizes what a temporary mainstay he is for the Progressive Conservative party. The chore ahead for his successor will be brutal, particularly in the west and in Quebec, though less so in Ontario.
Alexa McDonough shares personal attributes like earnestness, sincerity and hard work with Day, but she didn’t blow the NDP’s chances for substantial gains because these haven’t been there since a national obsession developed in the mid-1990s for an end to annual deficits. What she might do now as the NDP leader is stuff the harsh criticism given the NDP by such union geniuses as Buzz Hargrove.
How? By advocating the separation of the party from formal links with trade unions. Given how union members vote in federal elections, this is a debate and a decision that has been too long delayed.
The BQ in Parliament under Gilles Duceppe has been a presence and a voice in the House for more than Quebec or sovereignty issues. The Bloc’s general outlook on issues has been that of a social democratic party. The fate of the party in Ottawa in the next three to four years really rests more on what develops in its parent, the Parti Quebecois, and its leader, Premier Lucien Bouchard. But the gains which the federal Liberals made last month in Quebec indicate that tough love, implicit in Chretien’s Clarity Act, has been working and the forces of separatism are somewhat receding.
Again, something to the credit of Jean Chretien, and a possibility so many of us discounted because everybody knew he was unpopular in Quebec.
And this brings me to the two leadership matters that will likely dominate the next two to four years in federal politics.
Will Jean Chretien choose to leave politics riding high, choosing his own exit time, and giving his often vaunted successor, Paul Martin, the opening to lead the Liberals through the next federal election? This seems possible, even probable. But all the haywire speculation this year about Chretien’s future reminds us that he makes up his own mind.
Will Stockwell Day recover, shaking off a pathetic start as a national leader on the campaign trail, to gradually become an able parliamentarian and a leader who knows the country and its problems? My guess is that Day has a very hard time ahead of him, and long before the next election the Alliance will be anxious to go into it with an abler leader.
You will have noticed no mention of program or policy in this reprise. When he called the election, Prime Minister Chretien said he needed a mandate so the government could go ahead in assigning where to spend the surpluses which are rolling in as a result of good Liberal management.
And yet nothing emerged in the campaign as a top priority, indicating that the contest was not over specific policies unless one takes the Alliance and “the dark shadow” it was allegedly casting over Canada as a policy.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, December 27, 2000
ID: 11999000
TAG: 200012270626
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Both national feeling and religious beliefs may be potent in politics, creating animosities within a society, even within a political party.
See Premier Lucien Bouchard’s dilemma in objecting to the candidacy by one Yves Michaud for the Parti Quebecois nomination in a byelection.
It’s hard not to feel some some sympathy for the premier as he deals with the contretemps created for the PQ, one might say in the western world, by Michaud.
As a witness before a commission on language, Michaud raised the failure of the sovereignists to get even token backing from voters in the non-French ethnic groups, mentioning Jews in particular. And here he got into a sensitive issue in the world for more than 50 years – the Holocaust.
Yves Michaud’s fervour for Quebec independence has firmed into something of a demand that minority groups which have come in since the Conquest have an obligation to join with the Quebecois in their progress toward independence. He is not one who denies the Holocaust happened but he made the point that the Jews were not the only people to be victims of genocide. This is not a lie, but it does deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
Michaud’s fix on the ethnics, close to that of Jacques Parizeau (which brought his resignation as premier after the PQ narrowly lost the 1995 referendum), almost ensures the PQ will bear for a long time, and far beyond Quebec, the unsavoury labels of being anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic, even though the PQ as an organization may back their premier and refuse to sanction a Michaud candidacy.
My sensitivity about anti-Semitism began during World War II through first-hand experience with the Holocaust in the spring of 1945 as a soldier in a unit pushing into the Reich. Of course, this was some years before the name Holocaust was given to the Nazis’ “final solution” – the extermination of European Jews. They murdered almost six million of them.
As our unit got further into Germany the more we realized the brutality of the Nazi regime with its subjected peoples, most notably and thoroughly with the Jews. Canadian and American Jews in our regiment had made us aware of what we would encounter, but none of this prepared us for the smells and sights we had just in passing one of the concentration camps, Bergen-Belsen.
Since the early 1950s a flow of memoirs began to appear from survivors of the Holocaust. I’ve read scores of them; indeed, I was reading a most vivid, newly published memoir when the Michaud story broke. At once the wish surged in me that it become a Canadian best-seller.
It is a wondrous story of the survival against all odds of a young lad who, now in his 70s, lives among us, well-to-do, and an active citizen. It is not so much for the harrowing of this teenager and his astonishing recovery as a near-skeleton after Bergen-Belsen was liberated in April, 1945, as for his insights into the menace every Jew in Hitler’s Europe faced. And the tale of Michel Mielnicki, 12 when the war began, approaching 18 when it ended, goes beyond that rescue to what he lives with every day in his mind.
Why did he survive? Like Job of the Bible he seems to ask “Why me, Lord?” He explains this reasonably enough but the bitterness remains at the vicious prejudices against Jews which ran, and in places still run.
The book is Bialystok to Birkenau: The Holocaust Journey of Michel Mielnicki, as told to John Munro; introduction by Sir Martin Gilbert (Ronsdale Press & Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre).
This paragraph shook me:
“What I remember most is not the crowding, but the chimneys at Birkenau. The five towering cremation-oven chimneys. Their oily smoke. You could always tell when they were burning a transport of Jews from the cities in the west. Flames shot high from the top of the chimneys, and the billowing smoke hung longer over our heads, because they had more body fat than the half-starved Jews from the Polish ghettos. My people only produced a flat yellow smoke. Not even sparks. I’ve never been able to get these images out of my mind. Nor have I got out of my nose the particular odour of burning human flesh that permeated the air for miles around. Sometimes, if my wife and I are having a barbecue in the backyard and I smell the chicken skin as it begins to curl and blacken over the coals, I feel dizzy and nauseous. To me, those chimneys are the sign and symbol of every vile and unspeakable thing I have ever experienced or witnessed in my life.”
Not to hector Yves Michaud for de-emphasizing the Holocaust with equations, but horrors such as this recollection by Michel Mielnicki explain why many who are not Jewish believe the Holocaust was unique. A ruthless event of huge scope, it stemmed from a nationalist leader who based so much of his appeal to his people on hatred unto death for the Jews.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, December 20, 2000
ID: 11997446
TAG: 200012200446
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Do you still need an idea for a Christmas gift for someone who reads books and is deep into Canadian politics? Try either or both of two new books I have found rewarding above others.
First, Memoirs of a Very Civil Servant: Mackenzie King to Pierre Trudeau, by Gordon Robertson (U of T Press). Its 407 pages have much shrewd weighing from up close of four Liberal prime ministers – W.L. Mackenzie King, Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau – and some glimpses of Tory prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney.
Second, The Sound of One Voice: Eugene Forsey and his Letters to the Press, by J.E. Hodgetts (also U of T Press). Its 266 pages reveal a character in our political story who both annoyed and amused several generations of politicians, professors and journalists by skewering their views or propositions.
Gordon Robertson held high posts at the heart of the federal bureaucracy for 38 years. Coming home early in World War II from a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford to join External Affairs, he almost immediately found work in the small circle around Mackenzie King. Then he continued close to King’s successor, St. Laurent, from 1948-53, and was made deputy-minister of a new department, Northern Affairs and National Resources, a position he was to hold through the Diefenbaker years.
This work in the development and management of the huge northern reaches was not lost on politicians and mandarins in Ottawa. At least no one seemed surprised in 1963 when Robertson was made Clerk of the Privy Council, the top bureaucrat. This came as the Liberals under new PM Pearson were making a sorry mess of their heralded “60 Days of Decision.”
Our memoirist kept this elephantine task until 1975, after which he took up a creation of Trudeau, as cabinet secretary for federal-provincial relations. He vacated this when the short-lived Joe Clark government came in 1979 and went in 1980 and became the first head of the Institute for Research in Public Policy. This think-tank focused on the constitutional dilemmas rising from Quebecois aspirations. Robertson himself was to become a strong, open advocate of the Meech Lake accord, and for me, the most lucid, convincing section in the memoir is a harsh critique of Trudeau for destroying the accord’s chances for acceptance in English Canada.
Of the prime ministers he knew so well, Robertson measures St. Laurent as being almost flawless – as both politician and human being – whereas he found Mackenzie King hard to stomach as a personality but, though demanding, underhanded, and devious, a most capable PM. While rather kind to Pearson as man and prime minister, he is frank on how he floundered, frustrated over his failure to handle his rival, Diefenbaker, effectively – either in the House or on the hustings.
The qualities of plain talk, frankness, and clear analysis I find in these memoirs reflect the author. He has always reminded me of Jimmy Stewart, the movie actor – tall, lean, relaxed, laconic, unassuming, plain-speaking, and very intelligent. His memoir is an education.
My enthusiasm for the Robertson book has left too little room for explaining why and how the arguments of Eugene Forsey, fired into the least appraised of our political forum (i.e., letters to the editor, columns of papers) are engaging. In their sum they reveal both the often phony forms and routines of our partisan politics and much about our timeless issues like Quebec’s scope within Canada under the Constitution, bilingualism and the role of the Senate.
An odd, uplifting aspect of Forsey’s life (1904-91) was how he slowly, at first so scorned or ignored, set about creating a reputation as the federalist authority on the Constitution. He did this almost entirely through letters to the press, a few, erudite essays in academic journals and an early, small book on the Crown and its prerogatives. Certainly, he did not do it through the work by which he earned his living.
He was 53 when I first met him in 1957. As a trade union economist, he was adviser to the CCF House caucus I had joined. I recall he was regarded then as an irreverent gadfly by politicians and academics, whom he needled, but quite relished by journalists for his bite and wit. Also, he was slowly shedding an unfair tag as a socialist agitator, slapped on him for his CCF rants during the Great Depression.
After Trudeau put Forsey into the Senate in 1970 (for a term ending in 1979) he gained wide notice, even fame, as the top Anglo authority on the Constitution. He was decked with more than a dozen honourary doctorates and the highest of the Order of Canada’s three awards. He had become a national treasure, and so he should remain for those who come to enjoy him through this fine text, assembled and shaped by Ted Hodgetts of Queen’s University.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, December 17, 2000
ID: 11996799
TAG: 200012170311
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


The Canadian Alliance has received a lot of unsolicited advice of late, much of it in the form of media triumphalism. This we-told-you-so chorus made much of the party’s “taint” from its social conservatism.
The Globe and Mail, in its editorials and analysis, has even gone so far as to argue that Alliance Leader Stockwell Day’s religious views make him unelectable in Ontario and, therefore, unsuitable as a national leader.
Last weekend, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, joined the refrain. While admitting some sort of union between the Tories and Alliance is needed if the Liberals are to be effectively challenged, Mulroney insisted: “You can’t have a political party with social conservatism … it doesn’t work in Ontario, it doesn’t work in Quebec and in Eastern Canada.”
Is social conservatism really anathema to Canadians – and a danger to the body politic – as some claim?
Those who posit Canada as a fundamentally liberal nation invariably point to the United States as the counterpoint, noting that American politics has contained a strong note of religiosity since that republic was founded “under God” 224 years ago. True, perhaps, but irrelevant. What matters to us are Canada’s roots, and as is so often the case, these folks have a better grasp of American history than their own.
Until the 1960s Canada was at least as socially conservative as the U.S., if not more so. Can anyone seriously argue for a “liberal” interpretation of Quebec’s Duplessis years? As for Ontario, well, “Toronto the Good” was not so named because of its welcoming attitude toward libertine ways and alternative lifestyles. On the other hand, America’s large urban centres (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco) provided something of a haven to those fleeing social convention.
And don’t forget that much of the impetus for social change in English Canada during the ’60s came from the U.S. via its music, TV, movies and politics (the White House as Camelot).
Nevertheless, social liberalism with its view that an individual’s problems are usually the result of broader societal failings which collective action can resolve, and that there is a moral imperative for such action, has been the guiding force behind Canadian politics for the past 40 years. Universal pensions, medicare and regional transfers to make living standards balanced across the land are offered as proof of Canadians’ essentially compassionate, collectivist nature.
As an aside, the development of Canada’s welfare state was largely funded through borrowing, particularly after 1975, and borrowed monies have maintained it until recently. The costs are still with us in the interest paid annually on the huge federal debt. How compassionate was it for one generation to force future generations to pay for its “generosity” to itself?
When Canada started down the road to Big Government, compassion was not the sole argument offered in its favour. Proponents insisted that targeted state spending, based on the recommendations of expert bureaucrats, would generate a strong economy so such programs would pay for themselves. The idea that individuals and regions might become dependent on the assistance being provided was dismissed.
Things didn’t quite work out as planned.
Despite 16 years of austerity, we still haven’t had a national debate on how we got into this mess. Now, with massive (and likely fleeting) surpluses offering hope of a return to the glory days of social spending, debate is the last thing some people want. Hence, the insistence that conservative social values have no place in Canadian politics.
Proponents of this view are guilty of a glaring double standard, for they have never hesitated from citing “fundamental values” and religious teachings to support their views, even bringing into their loop the social aims of Catholic bishops. And some on the left have had deeper religious roots than Day. The CCF’s first leader, J.S. Woods-worth, was a Methodist preacher; Tommy Douglas, first leader of the NDP, a Baptist minister; and the CCF-NDP parliamentary anchor for four decades was Stanley Knowles, a United Church minister.
Often other liberal or social democratic protagonists who were very secular have invited like-minded men and women of the cloth to join them in announcing policy papers or initiatives they believed touched on the fundamental moral values they claim Canadians share. Their joint efforts have given these values concrete expression through myriad laws and programs. And there’s the rub: if one group can put its values into law (feminists, re: abortions) so that all must recognize and embrace them, or at least accept and help pay for them, then those with different values might try to do the same thing.
The claim that social conservatism has no place in Canadian politics is only valid if you believe Canadians’ fundamental values are immutable. They weren’t in the past, so why assume so now? (Those over 50 will recall a Canada in which conservative notions of morality held considerable sway over politics.) Moreover, despite its supposedly extreme views, the Alliance managed to secure one of every four votes, including those of almost a million Ontarians. Doesn’t this suggest it is unrealistic to believe such views have no political life left in them?
If those who insist social conservatism in Canada is politically dead are as certain as they claim, why the shrill tone of their commentary? Perhaps they fear a real debate on the fundamental issues of individual responsibility and the role of the state (as opposed to name-calling and hidden agenda charges) might lead Canadians to question the allegedly consensual status quo on political and social values which has evolved since the 1960s.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, December 13, 2000
ID: 11995713
TAG: 200012130527
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


First, let us discount the prospect that Jean Chretien, in this third generous mandate given him by the people, will earn a high place in history by establishing a national, guaranteed annual income (GAI) for every Canadian.
This would be an accomplishment ranking in magnitude with the Charter (Pierre Trudeau) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (Brian Mulroney). But the idea of a GAI is not new. Officials of several federal governments have scouted a plan with analyses and rough drafts. It could be done, but not without enthusiasm for it by essential provincial participants, in particular Alberta, Ontario and B.C., whose taxpayers contribute so much of federal revenue, and by Quebec, whose taxpayers do not but whose governing party would never take part in such a program.
Remember that the first two Chretien governments never got their intentions for a national child-care program off the ground. Not enough of the provinces with deeper pockets would go for it and Quebec considered it an intrusion on its constitutional rights. Also remember a national GAI was neither advanced in the election campaign by Chretien nor has it ever been a program widely discussed and popularized.
On another issue, it’s a good guess that the Hill Times, a weekly tabloid devoted to covering Parliament, is the serial publication most read by federal politicians and their staffs – even more than Frank magazine. The paper continues to push a campaign issue which never took off: the imperative of reforms to provide more responsible participation by backbenchers, and is certain to cover in great detail a story which links to such reforms – the election by secret ballot of a new House Speaker.
A Speaker cool to reform or against it bodes ill for change. This election should show if many Liberal MPs really want reform enough to vote with the opposition for someone not the cabinet’s preference. The latter is likely to be Peter Milliken, 54, the MP for Kingston since 1988 and deputy speaker of the last Parliament.
In the chair, Milliken was rather embarrassingly quicker in maintaining order and more learned in decisions than Speaker Gilbert Parent (who chose not to run again). But Milliken is a very circumspect and wry man, hard to fathom on reforms that might sharpen the faded interest on the Hill and across the country in what goes on in House debates.
The first candidate off the mark is Dan McTeague, 38, the Liberal MP for Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge since 1993. He is one of a dozen or so Liberal MPs who has sometimes talked and acted out of step with the wishes of the government House leader and his whip.
The prospect of his energy, independence, bravery and gift of gab in such a high profile role in shaping debate and deciding the merits of opposition bids, almost guarantees a discreet but massive pressure by the PM and his ministers for Milliken or some other veteran Liberal MP. Perhaps the incumbent whip, Bob Kilger.
This race to be Speaker will be even more interesting than the last one in which Parent squeaked through over John Nunziata, a Liberal MP gone renegade and “independent.”
Finally, what should one make of Joe Clark’s outrage that the prime minister will not assemble the new Parliament before February? The Tory leader emphasized both the many legislative intentions interrupted by the election call and the need for regular House scrutinizing of “this” government. A good point it would seem, though one appreciates Clark is good in the House and that an opposition leader is without his most useful forum when the House is away.
Yes, there have been proponents of fixed election dates (the preference seems to be every four years) which would hedge the House sitting with some regularity.
Yes, in the past three decades, some order has been set on Parliament’s annual schedule with times for recesses, holiday breaks and presentation of the annual budget.
But the reality about the House, which few address, particularly MPs, is the indifference of MPs of all parties, and of citizens generally, to what happens in it, aside from the partisan racket of question period for 45 minutes, four days a week. More and more the ministry limits debating time on bills. Even the matters covered on so-called opposition days by a thin scatter of MPs are rarely noticed. Much of what MPs do in the chamber, or are supposed to do, is archaic.
Not long ago a few MPs asked for an end to Friday sittings, arguing no one of importance was present and they’d be better off home in their ridings, conscience-free. This well may happen, but when it does, why not drop to three, even two, sitting days a week?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, December 10, 2000
ID: 12377160
TAG: 200012100590
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


An unusual treat a week after the election – a phone chat with the prime minister.
Our topics ranged from our first conversation 37 years ago to joking over who will retire first. (I took no notes, so quotes are out, and my paraphrasing, to be fair, has to be very general.)
Chretien was at Harrington Lake, just in from the Carolinas. While he waited for supper, his wife handed him a file of clippings about his leadership. The top one was a column of mine, written in 1998, on how he had realized the lack of enthusiasm in Canada for more big initiatives after several decades of grand ventures like the Charter of Rights, ever more boards and agencies, and a sky-pushing debt. Seeing the piece reminded him he had just passed our place on the Meech Lake road, and he thought he’d call and chat about the election.
At my opening reference to his health, he reacted with some ginger when I tagged him as a fitness phenomenon. Why wouldn’t he be fit? The Chretiens are energetic, so are his wife’s people. And the two of them take care of themselves: no addictions, lots of exercise and sleep, a quiet home life, little socializing beyond family, and as regular a routine as possible.
I told him I’d been amused the day after the election when he recalled for reporters busy times in the House after his first election, and the “tricks” he had learned – for example a ruse that got a bill of his own through, changing Trans-Canada Airlines to Air Canada. As a fellow MP then, I’d helped his ruse.
As he reminisced about those “exciting times,” I spoke about the lack of excitement around Parliament today.
Chretien is not sold on any reforms, seeing lots of unexploited ways for MPs to show what they can do. Some have, and he named a clutch of his backbenchers who’ve been to the fore in committees, using their own research resources and those of the House – so much more, as he put it, “than what we had” when we were both MPs.
The PM said he had drawn two conclusions when an early fall canvass of Liberal MPs showed a huge majority would run again. This told him they were confident about holding their riding. It signalled a victory. It also told him the fuss of the media and political scientists about a boring House and lack of opportunities for MPs was overblown.
Few people appreciated how determined his ministers were to stay as ministers or how so many MPs yearned to be ministers and were sure they would be fine ones.
Perhaps I understood what many do not. It is very hard for a PM to drop a minister. And in making and shifting a cabinet, factors of language, gender, ethnicity, religion, region, and provincial availability limit his scope. The press has made it harder, always suggesting a departure is disgrace. Also, the press rarely credits the excellent work many MPs do in pushing issues – and the PM rattled off the contributions of several such Liberal stalwarts.
Chretien insists the work done by such MPs, notably in committee, is very valuable to him and the essence of the parliamentary system. He relishes repeating there have been more “free votes” in the House in his mandates than in any previous one. As for those MPs who complain, he does his best to talk with any who have criticisms or suggestions.
He spoke carefully after I sketched departments where I believe more aggressive and able ministers were needed, and I suggested some MPs whom I thought should fill this bill. He then showed a thorough, up-to-date familiarity with his ministers, indeed with the whole cast beside and around him. He’s not just the “coach” of the Liberal team, he’s its chief scout.
He made it clear that journalists see cabinet factors far more simply than he is able to do. In particular, they over-rate ministers on the smartness they show in scrums or question period rather than on their grasp of the aims and services of their ministry – and he extolled one of his “best” ministers who is not much for show and rarely pumped up by the press but a true leader of his department and a force in the cabinet.
Chretien also had somewhat of a romp over the political media and its shortcomings, not just in campaigns but in covering and interpreting parliament and government.
Is it more competition between newspapers and between networks which is generating the growing nastiness of reporters with politicians? They blow out of all proportion quite innocuous remarks, often ones made with humorous or ironical intent. And so many questions by reporters and TV interviewers are ethical judgments, not inquiries for facts or an appreciation of a situation. Put succinctly, despite his splendid victory in a third run which many saw as called too early by a man whom just as many thought felt should be retiring, the man himself is proud but not surprised by the achievement.
He knows he’s good at reading Canada. If he relishes one aspect more than any other, it is the gains in Quebec. In what he spoke about with me, there were no heralds of any big change in either his operators or his government’s aims, although he almost radiated pleasure over the time before him and the resources at hand.
As for retirement, this is likely to continue as a feature in Chretien humour and self-spoofing, along the lines of our conversation: How old are you, Doug? Past 81! So – 15 years older than me and still going …

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, December 06, 2000
ID: 12376032
TAG: 200012060442
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


The post-election media, notably on the print side, seem determined not to let go of Paul Martin as the prime minister Canada ought to have.
Before the vote, this bent brought the thinkers at the Globe and Mail to advocating the Liberals, not to sustain Jean Chretien but to ensure we would soon get Martin in his place.
The upbeat stress on Martin goes on, despite Chretien’s almost total triumph and the near guarantee of an obedient caucus for another three to four years.
The Globe seems to have turned expectations toward March, 2002, when the constitution of the Liberal party ordains a leadership review. This could be the climactic chance for Jean Chretien to outline his intentions for a gracious departure with high honour or, perhaps, the next focus for the many Liberals who seem to prefer Martin as their prime minister.
Meanwhile, Sean Durkan of Sun Media has found voices in Martin’s “inner circle” who insist he isn’t unhappy and who say there are signs the PM will announce his decision to step down some time between the leadership review and 2003.
Reporters for both the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post have been emphasizing what a “good election” Martin had as the visiting lion most sought by Liberal candidates throughout the campaign. Such opinions underline the almost solid esteem for the minister of finance in the media crew, an esteem which most reporters seem sure has its parallel in both the Liberal caucus and the country.
On the other hand, several columnists (e.g. Chantal Hebert of the Toronto Star or Jeffery Simpson of the Globe) think Chretien’s success so complete that his retirement will ensue on his wishes and terms and may not come in the next four years. It is certainly hard to conceive how such a victor can be levered out by the enthusiasm which reporters are still finding for Paul Martin.
It is possible the North American economy is tailing towards a recession. It is possible there may be more so-called scandals of federal largesse for Chretien’s constituents. Both could erode the PM’s high ride in the next two years or so. On the other hand, surely a sharp, fast-developing recession would damage the public’s high regard for Martin as much as it would affect Chretien.
Think on where Jean Chretien stands. No prime minister ever had such blanketing success in the most seat-rich province. Three times in a row! He has salvaged representation in each western province while restoring the Liberal lead in Atlantic seats. Notice how thoroughly he has revelled in scrum talk over his sagacity as “coach” of the team, including the talents so ready to succeed him. He mentions the quartet of aspirants – Martin, Allan Rock, John Manley and Brian Tobin – even comments that Martin is not so old that he should stop aiming higher.
The biggest boost for the PM from the election as it relates to Martin as a successor surely came from Quebec electors who gave the Liberals more votes than they gave the Bloc. This rebuke to the sovereignists more than justified the bold risks the PM took in pushing through the Clarity Act despite some open, and even more murmured, objections from “nervous Nellie” Liberals in Quebec. Chretien has rarely lacked self-confidence but surely no other aspect of his third triumph has buttressed him more than these gains where he has been least honoured through more than three decades.
So where does this take us?
The situation of the Liberal succession suggests to me that Martin would enhance, not harm his prospect by shortly retiring from the House to take a corporate post or one in international finance, explaining the move in terms of a fresh challenge and new perspectives as against staying too long in one role. Surely such a recess from Parliament would make him more attractive to the Liberals when the leadership convention is called. Meanwhile, Tobin, Rock and maybe Manley would keep competing from their respective ministries.
The breakaways of John Turner and Jean Chretien from the House to wait for their chances turned out well. Martin might even recall that from outside the House both Chretien and Brian Mulroney built up force, even within the caucus, which eventually brought down both Turner and Joe Clark.
The alternatives to such an outside interval for Martin are plain: a) continuing on as minister of finance or some other portfolio (say, Industry) while genially marking time and hoping the wait will be shorter than three or four years, all the while suspected on the Hill as disloyal; or b) doing what Jean Chretien does so well – play hardball – using ministerial status to cover open political analysis and the advancement of one or two national choices, forcing them forward to where the PM either accepts them or rejects them at his peril.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, December 03, 2000
ID: 12375562
TAG: 200012040600
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


This post-election outlook focuses on the low turnout (for Canada) of voters and on the very close match in the faces in the new House of Commons with those in the last House.
Low turnout: Prime Minister Jean Chretien showed just casual concern about this. His reasons why just over 60% of possible electors voted – the lowest percentage since 1896 – began with the grim weather of late November; then he added a wry twist: that many stayed away because they knew the Liberals had it cinched. He didn’t dally at all with the leading reasons of many political scientists and journalists that: (a) a goodly percentage of voters recoiled from the nastiness of the campaign; (b) the times have been exceptionally good in terms of jobs and economic growth.
My hunch is we are in line with (though well behind) the trends in the U.S., and we won’t have turnouts again as in the 1988 campaign fought over the free trade deal until a matching divisive matter of great import is in play.
So my explanation would suggest federal electors here have had too many choices, and these have been made so obvious and boring by what has really been over-coverage by the media – especially by television – of leaders and partisan strategies and tactics, and with short shrift for hard issues of gravity like the national debt, environmental slippage, and our aboriginal calamity.
Further, the prime, fresh element in the campaign was Stockwell Day as the possible alternative to Chretien and he was too callow and disturbing, particularly for women, to generate a strong urge to vote.
The trend to fewer voters owes something to the continuing demographic shifts to big cities where representation and association with politics has become so impersonal. We have had a long, steady decline in renewed party memberships and genuine participation in year-round activities, including local fund-raising and development of program ideas. If we had a thorough analysis by age groups of those taking part in votes in the last three elections, it is likely we’d find the biggest decline among those living in bigger cities, between 18 and 40. This must have some consequential tie to the lesser time given in school to civics and political history.
The new House of Commons: Have you realized how close this House will be to the last one (which was most unconstructive and back-biting)? And what this ensures for more of the same?
The House has a large cast of 301 MPs, split as was the last one into five “official parties.” There are now some 230 MPs who were either in the last House or in previous ones.
This is a joke as a turnover, compared to that from the Liberal win in 1993 which brought in some 200 new MPs.
Just two members of the Chretien ministry were defeated: Raymond Chan (Richmond, B.C.) and Bernie Boudreau, the senator who tried to win a seat in Nova Scotia. Chan was a very slight presence in Ottawa and Boudreau an unproven asset. So a very fresh cabinet is most unlikely, although Jean Chretien’s big margin means he can be generous in sending some of his present ministers to glories like the Senate and the higher courts or Crown corporations or foreign posts.
The last House had few orators or inquisitors of high quality, and no real star in the institution was knocked off. In those terms, the NDP did the worst in losing good House performers like Nelson Riis, Peter Mancini, and John Solomon, and the Bloc lost in Daniel Turp one of its few constitutional experts. None of the lost Tories was a big player in the last caucus and the MPs with the most promise as successors to Joe Clark – Nova Scotians Peter MacKay and Scott Brison – are back.
The PM must find a new cabinet member from his five winners in Nova Scotia – perhaps Jeff Regan, who regained the seat he lost in ’97 – and one assumes the PM will pull into his cabinet his two special selections: economist John McCallum (Markham) and arbitrator Stephen Owen (Vancouver Quadra).
Yes, familiarity often breeds contempt and there’s much familiarity in this re-elected mob and its five groupings for the next three to four to five years.
Will this be a more courtly and constructive Parliament? No, no, no. Will this mean many new faces, not just chair-shuffling of the cabinet? Twenty-six of the cabinet are back, and Chretien would shock us if he didn’t keep at least a score for these giants: from Herb Gray to Elinor Caplan through David Collenette and Art Eggleton to Ralph Goodale to Alfonso Gagliano to Jane Stewart. Ah, yes, Jane and her grants again.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, November 29, 2000
ID: 12374291
TAG: 200011290355
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Those would-be experts who forecast elections and go wrong – in my case by 25 seats – deserve neither sympathy nor any excuses.
Many of us within the circle of politics have discounted Jean Chretien for a long time. As example, until the votes were counted Monday night we were defining his leadership as nastily negative and his agenda as too vague. Now he becomes a memorable legend: in the Canadian political pantheon on the highest level with King, Laurier and Macdonald.
The Chretien total of 173 MPs cannot be threatened with defeat in the House. The opposition, totalling 128 MPs, is split in four uncohesive groups. This wide margin ruins any prospect for organized dissidence inside the Liberal whale – i.e., by those after more backbench initiatives in policy and scrutiny.
In a small, neat way it is symbolic that the last uncowed rebel against the firm grip of Chretien on the Liberal caucus -John Nunziata – is gone from the House, beaten by a hand- picked candidate.
Another choice from on high, John McCallum, the banker- economist, swept Markham riding. Shortly he may find himself minister of Finance. If the reputable McCallum’s advent to cabinet is not enough to snuff any ambition for leadership left in Paul Martin, think of the stature now of Brian Tobin. He answered the PM’s call, giving up the premiership of a rising province to resurrect Liberal representation in the Atlantic region.
It seems likely we will have a period of at least two years, even three, without open murmurs of “Martin for prime minister” unless Chretien himself looses speculation about his retirement or the succession to him when it returns to the top of Hill talk – as it is bound to. When it does, it won’t be so much because of Martin but because of Tobin and Allan Rock, the two certain aspirants so much younger than him. Of course, it would not be surprising if Martin took a post abroad in the next year, much as Chretien did on Bay Street rather than back up John Turner in the House.
One has to wonder about the prescience of Jean Chretien and his close advisers in going early. Had they realized Stockwell Day was such an empty political vessel? Or did they think to strike before he learned his way around the federal apparatus and its issues?
The strategy against the Alliance was brilliant. Go for Day’s throat, again and again. The “dark shadow over Canada,” the “hidden agenda,” “two-tier medicare,” the plebiscites ahead – on capital punishment, on abortion, on immigration levels. Such negative spectres pervaded the campaign because Day and his staff could neither cope with them nor counter effectively with the strong evidence of Liberal sleaze and incompetence.
Chretien has had his breaks in facing the threat from the West.
Through two Parliaments Preston Manning, a much more knowledgeable person than Stockwell Day, couldn’t recognize the House of Commons, and persistent performances there, as the main means in taking down a government.
In the next Parliament, Day will have to suffer unflattering comparisons with Joe Clark, the only hero of the opposition parties in this campaign, and a most capable man in the House. Now, with the surge in respect for Clark as courageous and tough, the House will be a grand forum in which he may well be able to resurrect the Tories and groom an able successor, say a youngish MP with talent like Peter MacKay.
Is Day capable of a steep learning curve? He has the strength and energy for leadership, but has he the intelligence, mental agility and wit for it? There were few suggestions of such in his kiddish “show and tell” antics of the campaign or in his soppy preface, “In all sincerity … ”
In Chretien’s third mandate the official Opposition opens with a graver leadership dilemma than the Liberals faced last Parliament with Paul Martin ready for the succession. Observers of the Alliance caucus will be comparing Day and his work in the House with that of some excellent MPs beside him – Deborah Grey, Chuck Strahl, and even Preston Manning when he puts his will to it.
For weeks those of us who expected a minority government will try to figure out how the Chretien triumph developed and became so total, despite the 60-odd Alliance MPs from west of Ontario.
Chretien’s timing was perfection itself. Now he has absolute control of the federal government. He has dished the nigglers of his own caucus and in the media, even unto those who have scorned him in his home province, and he can shape his own succession as he chooses.
This time a striking aspect of the Chretien achievement is that it did not stem from mass cherishing of “the little guy from Shawinigan,” circa the time when Straight from the Heart was a best-seller. It was no common guy or underdog who put the boots to Stock and his hidden agenda.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 26, 2000
ID: 12373441
TAG: 200011260394
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Here’s my last forecast for this election: Liberals, 148; Alliance, 77; Bloc, 48; Tories, 18; NDP, 10. Never before, through 14 federal elections, has there been so little change in a campaign from my first to last estimate.
The most negative campaign in modern times has almost stalled all the parties, certainly the two leading ones.
Some matters are clear before the results are official, and they do not bode well for national politics.
First, the nastiness of the campaign will poison the next Parliament so much that not even an early retirement by Jean Chretien will clear it away.
The dashing of Canadian Alliance hopes for major gains, if not victory, will frustrate its MPs and supporters, particularly across the West. Yet, however heated recriminations become in the CA camp about the performance of Stockwell Day and his advisers, they will take second place to a deep collective bitterness over the nature of the attacks on the party and the ready welcome these received from so many in the media and the eastern electorate. It’s one thing to be beaten; it’s another to feel victimized by bigoted hypocrites who speak piously of tolerance and fair play.
Forgive and forget won’t go far with the next Alliance caucus. (And if the sorry history of using another’s religious beliefs as grounds for accusations of hidden agendas tells us anything, it is that when such attacks succeed – as they have for the Grits – they won’t stop.)
The failure of Day and company to foresee the willingness of their opponents to stoop to conquer is hard to fathom, given the treatment meted out to the CA’s predecessor, Reform. But the CA’s failure to develop, much less implement, a strategy to finish off the Tories is even more bewildering. A stake through the heart of the PC party ought to have been the CA’s top priority, given that its continued existence splits the right in Ontario, with seats thus going to the Liberals. In underestimating both the Liberals and the Tories, the Alliance let wishful optimism blot out common sense.
The failure to finish off Joe Clark guarantees another pizza Parliament, similar to the last – only worse. The last House was split among five parties, each effectively regionally based. Liberal claims of providing national representation – they had MPs from all regions – were undercut because they only possessed a majority of the seats in one region, Ontario.
This election should virtually eliminate our “governing party” in Western Canada. Those who remember the second and third Trudeau governments know how rough such skewed geographical representation is on the national fabric.
The party tasked with governing via this fractured Parliament is hobbled by its leader, who is resented in his own caucus. The credibility problems of Jean Chretien are certain to fester, and, going by his pre-election machinations, he seems intent on keeping Paul Martin from replacing him, regardless of what party members, or Canadians think.
But most depressing of all, none of the parties saw fit to make Canadians face up to certain unpleasant realities, which will only get worse if not addressed.
Despite talk of surpluses and tax cuts, Canada remains mired in debt ($565 billion). None of the parties’ debt reduction schemes offered any prospect of significant, near term reductions in the $40 billion a year debt servicing charges. (The U.S. plans to retire its relatively smaller debt over little more than a decade.) When the economy slows in the next mandate, as it must, Martin’s glorious five-year projections will be revealed as the chimera they are. And what happens to the debt then? Yet none of the other leaders challenged Martin’s numbers.
Prior to the election Brian Mulroney spoke of the need to maximize the benefits of our proximity and guaranteed access to the world’s biggest economy by improving the physical infrastructure connecting Canada to the U.S., and by working with the Americans to make the border as transparent as possible. He was right, but did you hear any discussion of it? The last Liberal “infrastructure program” brought us lawn bowling courts and golf courses.
Increasingly, it has become accepted that Parliament is no longer a genuine national forum or the politicians’ central workplace. But did you hear any leader raising parliamentary reform and sticking at it?
Chretien is fond of saying, “What you see is what you get” – and with him that is the status quo.
The NDP was simply fighting for survival. As the only unreformed socialist party in the western world it had little option but to cite the medicare mantra and rail against tax cuts.
Joe Clark did what he had to do – put some spark back in the PC party. While not as vicious as the Grits, he too cashed in on the “hidden agenda” innuendo regarding Day. Like the New Democrats, the Tories benefitted from their platform not being closely scrutinized by rivals or the media. It’s possible Clark has saved his party from disappearing, at least for another federal election.
As the party headed by a former Alberta treasurer, the Alliance should have made the case Canadians have been conned in the debate over health care, noting that Europe has always had private medical clinics and this has not led to American-style corporate medicine.
Alas, the Alliance failed miserably. Did they even try?
Put baldly, in this campaign three of the parties (and their leaders) were most undistinguished. Of the other two, Joe Clark and the Tories had too far to come without enough backing, and Gilles Duceppe, arguably the most achieving leader, and his Bloc, are really only relevant outside Quebec by keeping the Liberals from the sweeps they had there before 1984.
Ah, well, consider the disastrous prospect from which poor performances seem to have saved us: either Chretien with 170 plus seats or Day trying to kick-start a minority Alliance government.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, November 22, 2000
ID: 12372222
TAG: 200011220314
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16


In the election campaign, those taking the opinion polls on party preferences say a return of the prime minister with a goodly majority seems certain.
Despite my residual skepticism about such assurances, one must concede these forecasts have a good chance of being right. Let’s accept the proposition without citing some indications against a third majority for Jean Chretien. Rather, let us consider two longshot, but not impossible, scenarios on what may ensue in 2001 within the Liberal caucus and the governing party as a whole. Oddly enough, each of these scenarios was somewhat foreshadowed not long ago in two of my columns.
One piece developed a supposition drawn about Chretien’s overmastering of Paul Martin. This was evident in the “near” budget, which the finance minister whipped up on quick order to give the PM the skyhook for this early election. Martin’s known ambitions faced stifling, or at best a long postponement, if Chretien coasted to a majority win. This grim turn for Martin was emphasized when Chretien recruited so obvious a successor in Brian Tobin of Newfoundland renown.
The second scenario was on the likelihood of a Trojan Horse operation in the next Parliament. From within the Liberal caucus there would emerge 10-12 MPs of quality and much experience insisting on parliamentary reform. These are MPs fed up with the arbitrariness of the PM and his veteran handlers.
These Liberals want genuine opportunities as MPs to contribute to policy-making and particularly to scrutinize legislation, estimates and Crown agencies.
These dreamers, or agitators, or reformers – choose a tag to suit your biases – are fed up with their obscurity after their totals on election night have determined who shall be prime minister. They want to be more than live scenery and desk- pounders during question period. Either more responsibilities or else. Or else what? Or else the PM and his House leader cannot count absolutely on their votes to defeat every “want of confidence” motion.
Now let us turn to several happenings of the past fortnight regarding Jean Chretien. Some concerns surfaced among Liberal candidates, particularly in Toronto, on encountering voters’ opinions about their leader being “over the hill.”
Suddenly, the leader came away from arrogance and self-regard and began to talk about “my great team.” There was his superb cabinet, an industrious pack of backbenchers, and – far from least – the excellence of Paul Martin. The team had whipped deficits and opened an era of federal surpluses.
Viewers saw video snips of Martin and Chretien together, each full of praise for the other. Further snips had Martin alone, oozing admiration for his chief and ridiculing criticism by Joe Clark and Stockwell Day of Chretien’s earnest efforts for his constituents. And then there were bites about a Chretien retirement before serving a full term, first from a B.C. federal minister, then from the leader himself.
Chretien and the Liberals, when (and where) they smelled trouble, had to turn to Martin – the Liberal with the most public repute – for help. This despite the fact Chretien had knocked his finance minister back with his determination to ensure his own continuance.
In short, Chretien, even with what seems to be a third majority mandate, has not disposed of Martin as the overwhelming choice as his successor and the necessary prop for himself.
Within our political parties there are always melodramas under way, matters of loyalty and disloyalty, and of undercutting, real or just feared. But rarely do parties provide such graphic cameos as the Liberal reactions to the obvious perception in the country of Chretien as aged, worn, slowing, and now, worse, as not having been as honest as they thought.
Remember this about both the Martin and the Trojan Horse scenarios. If the Liberals get 160-plus seats it means a handy majority of the MPs who fill them continue to prefer Martin to Chretien as leader.
Second, a substantial minority within that majority will have had from from 7-12 years on the backbenches, and many will be impatient for more responsibilities and influence, and at this stage they know very well both their master and what he has kept them from.
Now, to close with a doubter of any Trojan Horse prospect. An e-mail is in from A. Barbetta, a voter from Scarborough-Agincourt. A Liberal candidate, Jim Karygiannis, who first won that riding 12 years ago is favoured to take it a fourth time.
Ms. Barbetta asked me if he was one of the MPs in prospect for the Trojan Horse. She judges him as a pathetic MP – lazy, of little use in debates or committees.
Aren’t there a lot of MPs in the Liberal caucus as useless as hers, she asked? I had to reply: “Some, but far from all. You and your fellow constituents touch bottom with him. Just to mention him does deflate my hope of reforms from within the Liberal caucus.”

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 19, 2000
ID: 12371508
TAG: 200011190241
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


It’s clear in the federal election a lot of citizens share a dilemma. They want Jean Chretien and the Liberals chastened or ousted, but they have been spooked by the alleged “hidden agenda” of Stockwell Day and the Alliance and they have discounted major resurrections of the Tories or the New Democrats.
Neither of the latter parties has a serious hope of becoming the official opposition. Of course, those ridings that do send a Tory or NDP MP to Ottawa have good prospects for a hard-working MP in a diligent caucus on the opposition side of the House.
Critics of the Alliance are savaging the party for its conservatively minded economic and social programs (which seems fair politics). But worse for Alliance hopes, critics have been ripping at its new leader for his fundamentalist Christian beliefs (which to me seems unfair). Who ever seriously questioned the implications for Canadian politics of prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney and Chretien – all Roman Catholics – and the influence on them of the theological or social or economic doctrines directed to true believers by Popes in Rome?
Chretien, Clark and others keep disparaging Day’s party as the “Reform Alliance,” but the substance in such coupling has a point. Aside from reminding us how the Conservative party phased into the Progressive Conservative party and the CCF into the NDP, the term underlines the continuity in the Alliance.
Although Preston Manning made for a more thoughtful leader than Stockwell Day, the “Reform Alliance” is really not a new scarecrow. It includes a substantial group of capable MPs from the last two Houses. It has existed for a dozen years during which its candidates and membership adopted economic and social policies and subsequently adjusted or dropped particular aspects of them to meet perceived public wants.
The Reform-cum-Alliance has twice taken the majority of Western Canada’s 88 seats and for most of its existence has had by far the largest number of paid-up members of any Canadian party. Surely Western Canadians of any federal party are no more scary than, say, demagogues like Brian Tobin from Newfoundland or a maestro of partisan patronage like Alfonso Gagliano, the Chretien minister of public works.
Through two Parliaments under Preston Manning the Reformers gained experience, lost considerable naivete, lowered their faith in miracles to come from Senate reform while developing more practical ideas for rescuing the parliamentary system and returning to government by cabinet, rather than government by the PMO.
In its program Alliance by and large repeats the Reform propositions for smaller, more frugal government, lower taxes, paying down the federal debt, tougher, more certain criminal justice, an end to partisan patronage, less government intervention in the market economy, more devolution of programs and services to provincial governments, a firm rejection of separation by Quebec and use of national referendums for guidance to Parliament on what the people prefer regarding contentious issues.
It is hard for me to divine any dark, devilish prospect in the Alliance as led by Day. Much the same was trumpeted about Reform when led by Manning. Of course, both Day and Manning are Christian fundamentalists, and both are social and economic conservatives. Also, both are proud Albertans and undoubtedly somewhat influenced by the post-World War II wealth of the province and its voters’ penchant for largely one-party legislatures.
To reiterate the obvious: Day and the Alliance do signify a conservatively minded political party. The gulf between the economic views of the Alliance and those of the Chretien-Martin Liberals and the Clark Tories is not hard to delineate, but it is not extreme. On social issues, however, the gulf is wider, and the differences bother far more voters, notably women voters. Let me try to illuminate this aspect of the Alliance and its leader.
First, Stockwell Day is less knowledgeable and historically aware than I would like a major party’s leader to be, but in a comparison, he is readier and more informed by administrative experience than Joe Clark when he won the 1979 election or Pierre Trudeau when he won the 1968 election.
Day is quick, bright, energetic, strong, industrious and confident – indeed, much like the Jean Chretien we have known through over 30 years as an MP.
One should also credit Day with a quality which so many cannot accept that he has. He is flexible, not inflexible. He compromises. He senses and reads the nation now, and he adjusts.
Think again about the intense examination Day’s career has had in the past year by partisan enemies and liberally minded journalists. Such digging has tossed up positions once stated by Day on such dicey issues as homosexual rights, abortion, capital punishment and Indianism. In my reading of this record, however, one finds Day’s readiness to suspend or moderate his judgmentalism as his role has changed and widened.
Any sensible advice on choices before voters has to underline that practically it is impossible for the Alliance, or any other party but the Liberals, to win a majority of the House seats this time. But … if one is conservatively minded and wants to have the Liberals chastened and, in short order, to see Chretien replaced, vote for the Alliance.
At this time my anticipation of the post-election House standings is: Liberals, 145; Alliance, 85; BQ, 50; Tories, 13; NDP, 7; independent, 1.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, November 15, 2000
ID: 12370391
TAG: 200011150545
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


My last column argued that the second Jean Chretien government has been a poor one. Its concluding advice was: don’t vote Liberal!
This advice is negative, and some will think it unfair, in particular because the preceding argument did not deal with the question millions of voters are asking: is there a reasonable alternative to Chretien and the Liberals? In part, such voters mull and fret because only the Liberal party has roots and loyal backing across the land.
Surely it is now apparent a large number of citizens recognize the Chretien Liberals as often sleazy, arrogant fudgers. They are not reassured, however, by the other choices, in particular the Canadian Alliance and Stockwell Day.
Opening up this topic of choosing the Alliance helps us scout the likely makeup of the next House of Commons.
Beyond a fairly sure Alliance harvest of 80 of the 88 seats in the West, Quebecois voters seem certain to return Gilles Duceppe and at least 40 other Bloc MPs to Ottawa. Voters outside Quebec with worries over unity should factor that prospect in their reckoning.
The Bloc is a Quebec phenomenon, whereas those of us beyond Quebec have four other parties to weigh simply because they have full or close to full slates for the 301 ridings.
It’s now obvious (at least to me) that neither the Progressive Conservatives led by Joe Clark nor the New Democrats led by Alexa McDonough will be wiped out in this election. But having said that, it’s almost as clear that neither party can win more than a score of seats.
If the Alliance garners 80 seats in the West, the Bloc 40 in Quebec, and the NDP and the PC parties as many as 15 each, this would still mean about half the MPs would be Liberals. The House would hover on the border of majority-minority status. This would likely push Chretien to get assurance from another caucus – probably the NDP’s – to gain and keep the confidence of the House for any workable length of time (as Pierre Trudeau did between 1972 and 1974).
Most of us have noticed the Liberals’ slow slide of 10 points in opinion polling in the first three weeks of the campaign. If this slippage continues, as is probable, and the Liberals run at 36-37 points on election day, the Alliance is almost sure of some breakthrough in Ontario, say with anywhere from five to 15 seats. Such Alliance gains would almost guarantee a parliamentary arrangement between the Liberals and NDP.
Of course, it would take what seems impossible – a breakthrough to 45 or more Ontario seats – for the Alliance to attain the most MPs and the right to try to form a government and gain the confidence of the House. And that impossibility may be fortunate for both the Alliance and the country.
Why so? Think about how briefly a Day government without a majority could function with four opposition parties attacking it because each one detests the main Alliance proposals as wrong, and even evil.
Rather late in the day Chretien and his handlers have faced up to a revealed riddle in the campaign: many citizens are jaded with the prime minister, doubting his aims, disturbed by his vanity, suspecting dishonesty in his party’s fundraisers.
So suddenly Chretien is talking “team.” It is not his team as we’ve known it for seven years – the small crew in his PMO which directs the government, and has been able to take the ministry and the House for granted using the Liberal dogmas on loyalty and a tight discipline in the caucus.
Abruptly, the image of a cherished, nationally popular prime minister has widened to circle him with a grand crowd of eager backbenchers and a forceful cabinet.
Paul Martin, the genius in Finance, is in ascension, again! Allan Rock continues firm as the guardian of national health. John Manley, promoter of our high-tech tomorrow, has turned his genius to global affairs. Add to them the bonus of returnee Brian Tobin, set to redeem seats in the Atlantic region.
Naturally, Chretien scoffs at the dearth of both experience and talent in Alliance ranks and the reactionary views of Day and any team he would lead into the next House.
With just a dozen days to the vote, what do such reactions by the PM signify to electors who want to cast a sensible vote? They might remember that: a) Jean Chretien left behind a handy majority; b) the Liberal caucus preferred an election next year; c) the cabinet has been more studded with mediocre MPs than any in modern memory; d) a government caucus has never been so tightly reined, not even in Trudeau’s salad days.
And this brings me back to the prime alternative to Chretien and the Liberals. Sunday’s column will review the pros and cons of voting for Day and the Alliance. Yes, there are cons – quite a few of them.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 12, 2000
ID: 12369557
TAG: 200011120309
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Thus far in the election campaign, most prognosticators have focused on one imperative: the need for the opposition leaders to articulate why Jean Chretien and the Liberals should not be granted another mandate.
This reflects their sense that voters – especially in Ontario – are content with the status quo and tuning out the campaign. As this scenario is likely to mean four years or more of bad government, here’s my take on why voters should choose change.
Before giving the Grits another blank cheque, consider what they did with the last two. The fairest word to describe the legislative record of the Chretien governments is timid. Since 1993 there has been a paucity of bills, few of which were of substantial or of positive consequence. No wonder the Canadian Parliament sits fewer days than the legislatures in other advanced democracies. But it gets worse.
Much of the legislation the last Parliament did consider died on the order paper with the dropping of the election writ. If Chretien is so unimpressed with his own efforts that he flushes them away, why should Canadians give him another chance to underwhelm?
The Chretien inertia would be less troubling were there not a host of things needing attention. We desperately need to replace our navy’s ancient Sea King helicopters, which endanger the safety of their crews. In 1993 Chretien proudly cancelled the Mulroney government’s order for EH-101s – at a cost of almost $500 million in penalties. Since then his government has been incapable of choosing a replacement. Leaked defence department communications make the reason for this clear – the government is obsessed with preventing the military from choosing the same machines the PM cancelled (raising the risk of legal action by the builders of the EH-101).
There is the continuing immigration mess. Our security service and the U.S. government make it clear that Canada risks becoming a base for terrorist groups from around the world. The arrival of shiploads of economic migrants claiming refugee status highlighted the fiasco our refugee determination system has become. Meanwhile, Canada’s high-tech barons worry America is beating us in recruiting the highly skilled immigrants they need. Despite all this, the government has chosen to ignore most of the recommendations of its own immigration policy review.
Inertia exacts a price in native affairs too. As aboriginal demands escalate, so does the spending to satisfy them. The long-term fallout from the Nisga’a treaty is becoming clearer, yet it remains the preferred model for both natives and the government in dealing with land claims. This summer’s Burnt Church fiasco humiliated not only the fisheries minister, but also the two dozen chiefs who’d negotiated agreements with his department, only to see the radicals and their illegal fishery capture media headlines and the hearts of disgruntled natives. While some in the media have begun to grasp how pervasive and corrosive corruption on reserves has become, the government says little and does less about this betrayal of natives in need – and of Canada’s taxpayers.
Where the Liberals claim to have acted boldly, the bills are also mounting up. Consider gun control. The government, insisting it knew what it was doing, introduced regulations, then withdrew them. A year later it tried again. Now, with costs in the stratosphere ($400 million?), with registrations lagging far behind projections and the program’s administration in a mess, it announces fee cuts in a final effort to secure compliance from millions of gun owners who know the system’s a crock. Meanwhile, police fret over the program’s impact on their national computer database. Brilliant.
Then there’s the crass opportunism of the election itself. Its timing has nothing to do with the country’s needs, and everything to those of the man who called it. With almost two years left in his mandate and a comfortable majority behind him, Chretien could have immediately introduced a new budget to put into place all of the goodies offered in last month’s so-called economic statement. If cuts to personal and capital gains taxes are as important to our economic future as he claims, then the election call, which guarantees a significant delay in their implementation, was not in the national interest.
Calling an election was preferable to continuing to govern. It forced Chretien’s troops, including Paul Martin, into line behind him. It offered a chance to duck the question period fallout from recent reports by the the information commissioner and auditor general. The former condemned the concerted efforts of the government in general, and Chretien’s personal minions in particular, for stifling the release of requested information, while the auditor general reiterated that gross financial misconduct had occurred in various HRDC jobs programs.
Perhaps most significant of all for baring bad government, the election call pre-empted a real assessment by the opposition and the media of the ethics counsellor’s investigation into the role played by Liberal party brass in the latter scandal.
This recently exposed three-year-old report apparently names names – although these have been blacked out – and details how Liberal party apparatchiks were intimately involved in efforts to stuff job moneys into Liberal ridings – including the PM’s. With one former aide to the PM already convicted of influence peddling, and four police investigations into grants to his riding under way, this report seems the strongest indictment yet of how sleazy his government has become. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be six months or more before citizens get a sense of how far and deep the rot goes.
Vote Liberal? No thanks.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, November 08, 2000
ID: 13033869
TAG: 200011080580
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


It’s possible a nation may remember too much of wars and their feats and disasters. In some countries this has meant vengeful recall. Not so in Canada. We have hardly been devotees of our past.
Recently, however, say in the last 12 years, there has been more memorializing here and more appreciation of the way wars shaped Canada. Of course, those who most notice this are of my generation, which came of age to take part in the last world war (1939-45).
A surge in examining our course in WW II came slowly and belatedly in Canada. There were some 12 million of us 55 years ago. Just over a million were volunteers for the fighting services, and millions of others produced and transported prodigious supplies of food, metals, vehicles and munitions for the war effort.
The median age of WW II veterans is 80. Well over half are gone. The remnant is about 1.3% of the population and declining quickly.
Postwar, most of those uprooted by it from their places and prospects were anxious to get on with families and gainful work or education. The provisions for those returning were diverse and fairly generous. However, a strong wish to put the war’s hard years behind them was noticeable. Peace was great!
Although Canada played a part in the creation of the UN and then the formation of NATO as ward against the USSR, such involvement hardly excited Canadians. They largely forgot how desperate matters were from mid-1940 to late 1943 when an Axis victory seemed probable, then possible.
After the war our political parties were anxious to forget the tensions of the “reinforcement crisis” of 1944-45 caused by a grievous shortfall in infantry soldiers. Why so? Largely because the crisis had revealed again how tender our unity is, given Canada’s duality. To dwell on the unevenness in war service was politically divisive.
Some of the recent interest in a wartime past worth memorializing has come from the reviews of the 20th century. Some of such recall seized on what was the grandest endeavour in it by Canadians. Many air force and army veterans were spurred to open reappraisals of their war in anger at several films like CBC-TV’s truth-twisting The Valour and the Horror and a journalistic penchant for focusing on disasters like Hong Kong and the Dieppe raid, and not the accomplishments and sacrifices of our navy, army, and air force.
Much of the informed recall has come from our historians and political scientists – i.e., Jack Granatstein, David Bercuson, Desmond Morton, Terry Copp, Marc Milner and S.F. Wise. Some of it has come from veterans’ organizations – i.e., vivid TV items sponsored by the War Amps and its major activist, Cliff Chadderton, 81 years old and still lobbying.
Politically, proof of the renaissance in remembrance can be seen in Ottawa’s recent decision to fund the building of a new structure of worth for the Canadian War Museum, so long housed in cribbed dinginess and in the award – at last – of money to merchant sailor veterans after a diligent lobby through the ’90s.
In tune with the reawakening of a more informed remembrance implicit in “Veterans’ Week,” let me make a suggestion to those who like to read. In my canvass of those who’ve honored their generation with outstanding accounts, none has done better than the married team of Denis and Shelagh Whitaker.
Before WW II Denis had graduated from RMC and been a football star. Denis is a rarity: an infantry officer who made it back to England from Dieppe in August, 1942. He got the DSO for his combat deeds that sad day and later added a bar to it while leading the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in northwest Europe. Shelagh comes from a military family (the Dunwoodys). Her writing is crisp and fluent, complementing her husband’s prodigious research, particularly in graphic accounts of action from those on both sides of it.
Denis, now 85 and in a wheelchair, and Shelagh continue their studies of Canadian soldiers in battle. Their fourth major book has just been published – on closing the Falaise Gap in Normandy – and their Toronto publisher, Stoddart, has reissued two previous works by the Whitakers, each in a supplemented second edition.
I find their Dieppe story the most vivid of the many books on the raid, and their Falaise story is persuasive in explaining the quite unfair judgments of Canadian units fighting in Normandy.
Here is the Whitakers’ quartet … Tug of War: The Allied Victory that Opened Antwerp (Stoddart); Rhineland: The Battle to End the War (Stoddart); Dieppe: Tragedy to Triumph (Pen & Sword Books); Victory at Falaise: The Soldiers’ Story (Harper Collins).

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 05, 2000
ID: 13033540
TAG: 200011050566
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


This is a hint, perhaps even a possibility: the next Chretien mandate may face something akin to the Trojan horse of Greek history.
In this scenario a thrice incumbent prime minister will not be brought to bay by opposition MPs but by a small, tough- minded crew of veteran Liberals – as many as a score, as few as a dozen. They would do this to achieve more significant and open roles for MPs in scrutinizing legislation and spending programs.
For these unusual militants, parliamentary reform means: a) asserting and attaining a useful, respected role for backbench MPs, notably, but not only on the government side; b) narrowing the dominating reach over cabinet, caucus, and Parliament of a wilful prime minister and his unelected cadre of advisers/handlers.
To appraise such a prospect let us backtrack to the indications something has been brewing or brooding in the Liberal ranks since the last election, most markedly among the some two-thirds of the government’s majority coming from Ontario ridings. There has been open grieving over their boring, unchallenging lot by some Liberal MPs who are neither ministers nor appointees like the Speaker and Whip.
Such dissatisfaction has been common in the last year of most majority Houses but my memory tells me there has been more lately than ever before, particularly from MPs with an earned reputation for diligence and industry.
There was so much of such talk, for example, from sterling Liberal veterans like Clifford Lincoln (Lac Saint-Louis, Que.) and Reg Alcock (Winnipeg South) that it generated a score of news stories this year, many of them in the weekly Hill Times, which is much read in political Ottawa.
Last May, in a university address, one cabinet minister, Finance Minister Paul Martin, responded openly to grievances of MPs and to stories about “Parliament slipping into obscurity.” His theme was that backbench MPs are crucial in the guardianship of our liberty.
Not long ago both Patrick Boyer and Gordon Gibson wrote cogent articles, each insisting where the counter should be to a prime minister and coterie with too much power. Both critics accept that our system of “parliamentary government” or of “cabinet government” has slipped away toward total domination by a prime minister with a majority, an override which has been boosted by the media’s fixation on party leaders.
Boyer is a respected former MP who has published a batch of books on our federal system. Gibson, once an aide to Pierre Trudeau, later a provincial Liberal in B.C., has become an argumentative essayist and pamphleteer on politics. I link the two writers only because each has made the same point forcefully, as has the NDP’s Bill Blaikie (Winnipeg Transcona) the most experienced of all MPs in advocacy of parliamentary reform.
In short, the point is this: those Liberal backbenchers who complain and decry their small, often infantile, roles have the remedy in their own hands (or votes). Parliament, including all MPs, particularly cabinet ministers, has let prime ministers extend their power to a magisterial extent. And Parliament can trim such power.
So … it is past time for a claw-back, and the force for change has to come from out of the chairs behind the prime minister. There sit the votes which give him his margin and authority.
Gibson accepts that the wide imperatives wielded by prime ministers have almost eclipsed Parliament. MPs do need more freedom to examine legislation critically and thoroughly, and to carry out close inquiries into spending conundrums or issues on the rise.
But after surveying the complainants and their intentions Gibson asks: “Will the chickens challenge the Colonel? No. They will turn out to be the same turkeys we have always known. A turkey is – well, you know – sort of a big chicken.”
Jean Chretien has been blunt about the recent flutter over parliamentary reform, attributing much of it to frustration at not being promoted. Boyer had a similar explanation in a piece headlined “Backbenchers at the Gate,” in the Ottawa Citizen.
“The central dilemma of MPs,” writes Boyer, “is that they do not see themselves so much as legislators and parliamentarians as governors-in-waiting. Most every MP is keen to be on a committee, then to chair a committee. Most committee chairs are preening to become parliamentary secretaries … and a secretary is longing to step into the cabinet … Personal ambition is the glue that upholds this hierarchy of career dreams together.”
Thus Boyer and Gibson join Blaikie in thinking that backbench MPs, particularly Liberal MPs, keep themselves neutered and will continue so because of entwined Liberal traditions of loyalty and advancement.
As an advocate of resuscitating the House of Commons, I have been just as skeptical about any reform under the Liberal mantle (as worn by Chretien, or even by Martin). Nonetheless, separately, several Liberal MPs have snapped at my doubts. They assure me that given a Liberal return to office with a modest majority or even a slight minority status there will be a small group of MPs determined to use their coherence to get the prime minister to accept a short program of parliamentary reform or face the certainty that his control of the House is no longer certain.
The grievers quantify this way. A very high proportion of almost 160 incumbent Liberals are running again, two-thirds of them in Ontario. Of some 90 veteran candidates in Ontario, over a score came into the House in 1984 or 1988, another 50 in 1993, and the rest in 1997. If the government survives on Nov. 27 its backbone, as in 1993 and ’97, has to come from Ontario’s 103 seats.
In the next House the really determined grievers will be veterans of from two to four Parliaments, and most but not all will represent Ontario ridings. The Ontario veterans appreciate that the prime minister has “promoted” over 40 Ontario MPs – a dozen to his ministry, a score as parliamentary secretaries, even a dozen as chairs of House committees. But they also recognize how relatively empty such roles have become, even in cabinet, so long as the House itself has become not much more than the charade of the daily question period.
At my doubts about such coming audacity, such un-Liberal antics, some names were put to me, each of an MP who has seemed more than a cipher or a sycophant.
I was told a large group of MPs for reform purposes was unwieldy and unnecessary. This small band in waiting is not a clutch of disgruntled Martin supporters or disappointed aspirants who would be fractured by a few cabinet posts.
Gosh, this is stuff for dreams: to imagine a Trojan horse disgorging dedicated parliamentarians into the post-election caucuses of the third Chretien mandate. Let us pray.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, November 01, 2000
ID: 13032990
TAG: 200011010422
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


The trials and tribulations of the Man who would be King make me recall an apt sentence from a past federal campaign: “You, sir, had a choice!”
The shock effects of Paul Martin’s “economic statement,” and the election call which was its justification, have diverted most of us from the best political soap opera in Ottawa in the past two years – Martin’s quest for the Liberal leadership.
In the swishing wake of the finance minister’s statement, some have pondered whether the opera is over, given the quick transference of Brian Tobin from leading Newfoundland and the rather quick ascension from the Royal Bank’s economic department of glib, bilingual financier John McCallum to a sanctioned Grit candidacy and the tag of finance minister-in-waiting.
So … Tobin as the heir-apparent; McCallum as the compelling choice when the PM decides Martin should shift to a ministry less pivotal in the government.
Today let’s take another look at the run-up to the election, and how things might have happened differently, indeed, might have left us without an election this year.
I believe Paul Martin had a choice. When he got that fateful call from Jean Chretien informing him that he wished to go to the people, and wanted Paul to put together a package of sweetmeats for the campaign trail, the finance minister could have demurred. In line with his past positions, Martin might have said:
“Prime Minister, our economic success to date as a government has been built on the following principles:
– That sound management of the nation’s finances requires careful budget preparation, including extensive consultations with corporate Canada, the small business community, labour, and social policy advocacy groups.
– That multi-year projections of the nation’s finances are a snare and a delusion. Experience shows such projections are more likely to be wrong than right, and their use by Brian Mulroney’s government helped to destroy that government’s credibility. Our own refusal to offer projections beyond a year has been both economically sound and politically rewarding.
– That caution in promises, as well as projections, is key to establishing a reputation for sound fiscal management.
“By deliberately low-balling our deficit and then surplus projections we have been able to keep expectations down, and create a climate where the key economic decisions can be made without undue pressure being brought to bear from those who would act rashly.
“Your request that Finance officials create – in splendid isolation over a mere few weeks – what is a effectively a maxi-budget (as more than one financial commentator dubbed the economic statement) violates all three of these cornerstones of good economic – and, dare I say, political management – which you yourself have so often touted. The projections you want me to make are as dubious as any made by Michael Wilson, and the tax cuts over five years you want to offer are equally ephemeral. Such haste and dishonesty is unseemly, and puts at risk all our hard-won success. This is no way to run a 21st century economy, and I will not be party to it.”
What could Prime Minister Chretien have done in response?
Yes, he could have fired Martin, put in place some other cipher, then gone to the polls. But it’s hard to believe that even a famous risk taker like Chretien would dare call an election in such circumstances. More than any other factor – or so it seems to me – Martin’s performance as finance minister has been the bedrock of the Chretien government’s reputation.
Yes, the PM could have dismissed Martin and then tried to continue in office until the fuss blew over. But he’d have faced a nation not only tired of his leadership, but alarmed at the loss of a respected finance minister. And behind him the PM would have a caucus panicked by the loss of their ace in the hole. And if Martin had the pluck he would have been free to mount a solid, principle-based challenge to Chretien’s leadership.
The PM could have backed down, although it’s hard to imagine someone with his pride and temper ever doing such a thing. And it wouldn’t have done him any good anyway, for backing down in the face of such a challenge would have effectively ended his own leadership.
Given the above – and Chretien’s apparent determination to keep Martin from leadership – why didn’t the Finance Minister balk at signing what may turn out to be his own political death warrant? Because Martin was acting in character – cautious to a fault!
Paul Martin seems to believe the leadership of the Liberal party, and so of the nation, will come to him. All he has to do is wait a few more years and endure a few more indignities. And then there always is the famous Grit loyalty. What would the troops think if Martin had cut and run?
Of course, if it turns out that Chretien, abetted by Martin, is leading the Liberals over a buffalo jump, they will surely be looking well beyond their current stars for new leadership, won’t they?
As it developed, Chretien knew his finance minister. He knew Martin has no taste for the jugular, as he showed this summer when he hushed his supporters after the attempted putsch at the Liberal convention crumbled.
Chretien may be right. If Paul Martin hasn’t the nerve to unseat him, if he hasn’t the courage to stand upon the principles of sound economic management he claims to believe in, then Jean Chretien is the better man to lead the Liberals.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 29, 2000
ID: 13032656
TAG: 200010290228
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Here are impressions from the first week of the federal campaign.
Leadership is the prime focus this time, way ahead of particular issues, and across the board the leaders had a week that ranged from fine (Gilles Duceppe, Joe Clark) to good (Jean Chretien, Alexa McDonough) to barely fair (Stockwell Day).
Within the Quebec circumstances, Duceppe was very effective, persistingly aiming at Chretien’s dubious dispensing of largesse and patronage and at his government’s lack of leadership in health, welfare, and social matters. In brisk, clear shows for the media the Bloc leader was a model Stockwell Day might try, in particular in working eager, incumbent MPs into the performances.
To the homebody prowling the campaign through the Internet and the traditional media, Day seemed to have the poorest week, even with the late polls that showed the Alliance steadily gaining ground on the Liberals.
The early surge doesn’t change my view that, often, Day should have either Preston Manning or Deborah Grey (or both of them) with him and given openings to complement his remarks. He has chosen to give Jason Kenney a deputy sort of role, and the young man is glib and very smart, but also very smug. The Grits are not endangered by radiating superiority, and Grey with her good-natured gift for enraging Liberals and Manning with his thoughtfulness on major issues would enhance Day as a leader, compensating for him being so green and so obviously marketed. To be fair to Day, two reporters from different papers, along with thorough presentations of his gaffes, also added that all in all he had met and spoken to large, enthusiastic audiences.
After a floundering take-off a week ago, Alexa McDonough got her voice level down and her modulation up, and this shifts her from the whining harangues we know from Question Period to being more droll and less preachy. As yet, she and her party’s themes and program have not had the coverage given Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservatives. Oddly, given the mix in both the electorate and political journalism of pity and impatience with Clark since his return to leadership, he seems the leader most likely to get good press through the next four weeks. It is not because of pity, but because he has become more sage, lucid, and neat with his homilies and knowing assessments of the Prime Minister.
Early, very early, Chretien has demonstrated one real edge he has on Day. He readily makes fun of the Alliance leader’s foibles – occasionally with sharp wit, more often with broad folksiness. He seems topped up with his normal, boisterous energy, and a world away from the cracked, hollow man who ghosted around for months after the referendum squeaker of October, 1995. If he gives witness of anything which might be ominous for him, it is his repetitious determination to make Day the chief issue of his campaign.
The enlargement of Day into THE national menace means the Liberals deliberately ignore the NDP, and the Tories, even the Bloc to a lesser degree. Is this smart politics? Surely not many Canadians agree with Chretien (and Dalton Camp) that Day is such a dreaded bogeyman or New Democrats and Tories such ciphers.
Chretien’s strategy may seem shrewd but it does reinforce the very thesis the Alliance advances: It is the only alternative. If Chretien cruises home with the big majority the early polls projected, the Liberals may soon be wishing they hadn’t done so much to reduce the New Democrats and Tories in the House. Our system began with two parties – the old parties, Tory and Grit – but the Grits far more than the Tories have profited at election time from the diverse splits in many ridings created by candidates of third, fourth, and fifth parties.
The week gave proof that as yet Day is too earnest and serious to be a deft performer, flexible and funny. He is unable to defuse the public amusement from his goofs (like Lake Erie draining south) with self-mockery. In the cameo of the week, Brian Mulroney used self-joshing as an asset in introducing Joe Clark at a big fundraiser.
He linked several anecdotes that hung on his post-PM demonization to chuckle himself and an eager crowd into vindications of his administration and Clark. And his clincher: the great ride Jean Chretien has enjoyed on Tory initiatives like the GST, NAFTA, and the decommissioning of Crown corporations.
It may be premature and it may be a vapid assessment, but at this point, media-wise, to use a coining of the late Gordon Sinclair, this campaign is on its way to providing the fairest coverage and the most probing analysis of persons and programs in my memory.
I tie it mostly, but not entirely, to the effects which flowed from Conrad Black’s ownership of Southam papers and his launch and continued backing for the National Post, a daily so pre-occupied with politics and politicians that other dailies and the TV networks have had to widen the dimensions of their coverage. This time even CBC TV news is straining to be more informative than didactic, and it seemed impossible, but this week as I read the Star, our national monument of Liberal twist, I kept thinking … how balanced … how fair!

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, October 25, 2000
ID: 13032080
TAG: 200010250560
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


In our politics the primacy of party leaders is almost absolute. Through television we are getting more than most can take of Jean Chretien, Stockwell Day, Gilles Duceppe, Alexa McDonough and Joe Clark. Only half a week into the election and the leaders seem almost all this election is about. Their coverage subsumes policies, past performances, cabinet and the five arrays of candidates.
There’s no surprise in this leadership fetish. Its domination in our parliamentary system is now taken for granted, but an election campaign hammers home how much more important leaders are than any other issue.
Only the most idealistic of democrats expects that his fellow electors will select the ablest, best prepared local candidate, whatever the leader or party adherence. Sometimes this happens, but in most ridings in most elections, more voters decide on the leader they want, and then put their X by his or her candidate in their riding.
There are many examples of the insignificance within a party of an MP vis-a-vis his or her leader. Think of the additions which Chretien made to his cabinet during his two mandates, going outside his majority caucus for stars like Brian Tobin, Stephane Dion, and Pierre Pettigrew. A few weeks ago he explained away dissent within the caucus and criticism during its in-camera sessions as coming from “nervous Nellie” backbenchers, many disgruntled because he had had to pass them over as ministers.
The most exasperating aspect of domination by leaders is that it tightens rather than loosens as the House of Commons goes about its work between elections. Each leader is the prime news focus in a parliamentary session. Each is sustained by his or her own cadre or inner circle. Rarely do plain MPs play any part in such brain trusts; neither do the volunteers who become presidents and directors of the councils of the parties.
Everyone knows that Chretien aide Eddie Goldenberg and David Smith, the Liberal campaign boss, are far closer to Chretien and more influential on such matters as personnel choices and legislative priorities than cabinet ministers – yes, even Paul Martin.
It might be heartening if one could look at the alternatives to Chretien in this election for a widely different presentation, particularly to Day, who, of the four would-be prime ministers, seems to have some chance. Unfortunately, the image projected by the Canadian Alliance leader is similar to that of Chretien, beginning with his reliance on guides who are not elected partisans. Day seems as dependent for his strategy and tactics on his unelected chief of staff, Rod Love, as Preston Manning became on another unelected apparatchik, Rick Anderson.
In the decades Chretien has been before citizens as a politician, his pitches have never been complicated. He keeps things simple. Not only has he stayed with the same handlers, he has kept to a quick, rough, direct style and to blunt arguments without high gloss. He bounces around energetically through scores of settings but with few shifts in either content or tempo. He can be epitomized (and satirized, if you want) by the title of his bestseller Straight from the Heart, which he and Ron Graham crafted.
Compare the Chretien we’ve known with the Day we are coming to know so quickly. Forget the differences in their diction and phrasing, or even that both are determinedly athletic, fit, fast, lean and seemingly eager to get on with matters and hungry for notice.
Each radiates confidence that he in himself is the answer to Canada’s needs. Each speaks like a populist, that is, as though he thinks and acts with the public always in his thoughts – and of course this public is composed of plain, deserving taxpayers. Neither leader shows a smidgen of the intellectualism which Pierre Trudeau seemed to radiate, nor is either of them openly historical, as Manning was.
Despite a more on-the-surface polish to his talk than Chretien, Day is much like him in never over-estimating the understanding of those who view and hear him. It’s true that Chretien makes more of the venue he is in, and those present, than Day does, just as Day is more given to “show and tell” displays than the PM. And Chretien’s patriotism is more palpable than that of his top rival, but the latter has an edge in palpable sincerity.
The voters’ chances of measuring Day and Chretien and their programs through televised debate are scant, especially if contrasted with the Gore-Bush debates to our south. Two leaders, rather than five. Two encounters instead of three, and most of us will have to savour one of these through analysts who know French well.
My hunch on the leaders thus far is that by the campaign’s close, the Tories’ Joe Clark will be the most liked leader. Why? He is less artificial, less patronizing, and less scripted than the others.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 22, 2000
ID: 13031764
TAG: 200010220368
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


A general election crystallizes more ideas and determines more political futures than any other happening in politics, even more than a leadership convention of a party in power.
In effect, the election Jean Chretien is planning for Nov. 27 is a referendum on his leadership. As election night closes, it will be vital for him that he have a workable margin – say, 160 of the 301 seats in the House. If he has less than 150, he will be history in a hurry, if one assumes – as one must – that Paul Martin retains his seat.
On the other hand, if Stockwell Day flops in the election, coming back with only a few more MPs than the 60 garnered by Preston Manning in 1997, he will face a slower but almost as sure an eclipse as Chretien.
Largely because I’ve voted in 18 federal elections, the question is put to me about past parallels to the one coming next month. Could this mimic a scenario in the past in which a party long in office, headed by a popular leader, and with a wide point lead in opinion polling, was faced with a brand new leader of the official opposition?
Memory recalls just one possible case – 1957!
Then, a heavily-favoured Liberal government, showing a lead in the polls of almost 20 points, and headed by a seemingly beloved Louis St. Laurent, lost office and more than 60 seats, with John Diefenbaker, the fresh Tory leader from the West, becoming prime minister of a minority government (which he translated into one with a huge majority in less than a year).
And in 1957 most political journalists were somewhat like today’s, disbelieving the end was at hand for the long Liberal reign of 22 years.
A closer examination of 1957 vis-a-vis 2000 reveals some major differences, beyond such factors as the campaign being three weeks shorter now and having its course covered so much more thoroughly by television, and that for far more viewers than there were in 1957. Also, in this campaign an active fifth party means more clutter for the voters than the mere four contenders of 1957, and, if one considers the Bloc Quebecois as the fifth party, its presence and the near certainty it will hold many if not most of its 40-odd seats, symbolizes a divisiveness which was a quite minor element in the ’57 contest.
One significant difference is that the ’57 call did not come after only three years of a possible mandate of five – instead, it was the fourth time in a row a Liberal PM had gone to the people from a Parliament which had had a life of four years.
Secondly, the St. Laurent government went to the people after several years of fair-sized surpluses, but Walter Harris, its minister of finance, had brought in a pre-election budget which raised the old age pension of $40 by only $6 a month and gave nothing near the big personal and corporate income tax cuts which Paul Martin has just promised us if we re-elect the Chretien government.
Thirdly, the prime issue of the Opposition as the ’57 campaign opened was concerning the Liberal government’s highhandedness with Parliament – indeed, its abuse by an arrogant minister who had demanded and got quick legislation of a bill enabling a trans-Canada gas pipeline.
Oddly, in 2000, as many or more Liberal MPs than Opposition MPs have been expressing concern about the towering domination of Parliament by the Prime Minister’s Office and the mandarins.
There was much less emphasis before and during the ’57 campaign on either tax cuts or the gross mismanagement and partisan pork-barrelling of the sort that have become hallmarks of the Chretien regime.
In 1957, what became the major altering factor in the eight-week campaign was simply not perceived by the Liberals as the campaign opened, nor was it much heralded by political journalists. This factor was the huge appeal on the hustings of the new opposition leader, John Diefenbaker.
Why, Jimmy Gardiner, longtime Liberal overlord on the Prairies, had jeered the Tory leader as “Diefenbunker” – and Jack Pickersgill, the PM’s crafty handler, had dismissed the MP from Prince Albert as “a charlatan.”
Of course, such a surprising development might have a repetition next month – Jean Chretien, Brian Tobin and Paul Martin have all scoffed at any merit in Stockwell Day and emphasize how he menaces cherished Canadian values. Essentially, the characterization of the former Alberta treasurer by Liberals, New Democrats, and Tories is of a reactionary who has brought the bigotries of religious fundamentalism into national politics. In 1957, no one was heralding John Diefenbaker as a neo-fascist because of a reputation he had won as a lawyer-tribune for ordinary people.
Two other contrasts to 1957 are obvious in this election. As it opens, we know many Liberal MPs – I’d hazard a majority of them – would have preferred an election next spring, and that they be led by Paul Martin, not Jean Chretien.
If there were such currents undermining St. Laurent and favouring another man as leader in his day, they were not obvious. The obvious target of dissent, in the ruling party, and in the public, was not St. Laurent, but his most substantial minister, C.D. Howe. Of course, Howe was even bigger in the Liberal scheme of things in ’57 than Martin is now, but as a debit, not a credit like Martin, the biggest tax-cutter in our history.
The result of the 1957 election is not worth recalling for its parallels to today, but for its unexpected rejection of an entrenched leader and party that were riding high in the polls and supremely confident. Could there be something like a repeat? It is possible.
As usual, several times in the campaign I’ll project my shot-in-the-blue guess on the result.
As the electoral writ is dropped, my projection is: Liberals – 142 seats; Canadian Alliance – 90 seats; Bloc – 43 seats; NDP – 15 seats; Progressive Conservatives – 11 seats.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, October 18, 2000
ID: 13031219
TAG: 200010180483
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Stifle it, I chided myself, don’t groan. This is our prime minister. This energetic senior citizen established and has maintained full control over a dutiful ministry and an admiring caucus for seven years. It is common news he has been rated as the most popular prime minister Canada has had since polling of public opinion on such matters came into fashion almost seven decades ago.
Chretien has decided we need him through another mandate and so he is sending voters to the polls in five weeks and a few days. Given his rating, his record, his strong backing, who am I to choke on what seems arrogant and another mockery of those already in his parliamentary caucus?
Well, this awkward musing on my part developed yesterday in watching a 9 a.m. TV show from Rideau Hall.
The Governor General put her imprimatur on Monday’s premier of Newfoundland, Brian Tobin, as minister of Industry, on John Manley as successor to Lloyd Axworthy as foreign affairs minister, and on switching Manitoban Ron Duhamel from mere minister of not much to cabinet member, replacing George Baker as minister of Veterans Affairs.
Baker, only 58, had worked strenuously from a backbench seat for 25 years. Then last year he was brought in the cabinet. Now he’s gone, maybe to the backbench, maybe to the Senate, maybe to the pension board, maybe to be our diplomatic representative in Ireland.
Good old, good for a laugh George, so many of us liked him and will miss him, but he was taken to be a likely distraction from the more famous Newfoundlander, Tobin, first of Rat-Pack fame. Surely it was heartening to George that in the post-Clarkson scrum the PM spoke so well of him. It seems he is one of Jean Chretien’s “best friends” and, as the PM put it, “a loyal Grit” ready to do what the good of the party calls for.
When men answer the call to a higher service – in this case saving Canada from the disastrous potential looming with the Canadian Alliance and Stockwell Day – they shouldn’t be mocked or even doubted.
In short, when Brian Tobin and John McCallum, the chief economist of the biggest Canadian bank, leave splendid responsibilities to get on Jean Chretien’s team, accept their merits and believe their explanations.
As a premier, Tobin has jousted with reactionary premiers like Ralph Klein and Mike Harris, friends of Stockwell Day and proponents of a weak federal government. In this crucial election he gets to warn all Canadians about the dangers to their way of life in the referendums which Stockwell Day would hold on capital punishment and abortion.
As an authority on commerce and taxation, the Royal Bank’s McCallum has come forth voluntarily to join the Liberal party. Most responsibly, he would avert with his own campaign messages the economic tragedy in store for Canada if the Alliance attains power and installs a “single tax.” The Liberal recruiters must have had assurances from McCallum, heralded as Chretien’s next minister of finance, that as a minister he will not pursue the mergers of the biggest banks that Paul Martin blocked a few years ago.
Yesterday, hours after the making of new ministers, two other printed matters of real import got the attention of the TV cameras and the MPs in session.
First, the annual report of John Reid, the federal information commissioner and a former Liberal cabinet minister. Second, the fall report of the auditor general, with chapter after chapter of information sustaining strong criticisms of the Chretien government’s management of literally billions of dollars in spending.
Reid has fingered Chretien himself as the first minister ever refusing to co-operate with formal requests for information, with his advisers threatening the future careers of Reid’s staff, refusing needed resources, and letting legal officers acting for the PMO block the legal procedures open to the commissioner.
Denis Desautels, the auditor general, is nearing the end of his term, and often the reports he makes to MPs have cited mismanagement and malfeasances in the awarding of contracts, etc., but none has been more damning than the one released yesterday. It opens many leads to familiar political chicanery such as toll-gating and rewarding donors to the governing party.
Grist from the two reports was hurled at Chretien and company in the House question period, to little avail. Or put another way, it raised no obvious concern among our governors.
They know, prompted by their leader, they are on their way to the hustings and a huge, deserved majority. See the opinion polls!

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 15, 2000
ID: 13030878
TAG: 200010150332
SECTION: Comment


The quite premature demise of this Parliament – predicted at the end of next week – will not trigger widespread regret in the land.
Whatever the government has achieved it did not develop or sustain an exciting, informative House of Commons. If Jean Chretien merits a third mandate it is not for a stimulating Parliament. And without doubt, if he comes back with a handy majority the next Parliament means more of the same.
There are several ironies about this rush for an historic, third straight majority mandate, beginning with the main reason Chretien is calling an election: to squelch any chance that Finance Minister Paul Martin might rally enough backing within the Liberal party to push him into retirement.
The greatest achievement of the government in this bobbed three-year term has been replacing over 20 years of big annual deficits with very substantial surpluses. It has been a major feat. But Martin, who engineered most of this financial trick, is not to get the post his legerdemain would seem to have earned.
Not only is Chretien refusing to clear the way for this much perceived successor – some say because of jealousy, others because of Martin’s disloyalty – he has been pressuring Brian Tobin, his younger kindred spirit in playing the role of Captain Canada, to return to the Liberal election team from his successes as premier of Newfoundland.
Unless there is a fiasco next month similar to that of 1984, when Liberal criticism of John Turner exploded in mid-campaign, we are unlikely to find out why Chretien chose to run again and set future blocks to Martin’s aspirations.
Any true explanation by Chretien would almost certainly mention the exaggerated credit taken by Martin for mastery over the deficits and his over-eagerness for the top post. Rather, what we will hear from the PM is his determination to keep the Liberal party “truly liberal” and in line with the values of its late, great leader, Pierre Trudeau.
There is irony for Grit-watchers in such a self-placement by Chretien, much like the wry amusement one gets in Martin’s repeated resurrection of the inspiration which he draws from his father’s role as the social conscience of the Liberal party through four parliamentary decades.
When Jean Chretien first came to Parliament whom did he choose as his exemplar? Neither Walter Gordon, the most radically minded minister in the new Lester Pearson administration, nor Paul Martin, Sr., so long the harbinger of the welfare state. No. Jean Chretien became Mitchell Sharp’s disciple and to some degree remains so, 37 years later. And where did Sharp stand in the array from left to right of both Pearson and Trudeau cabinets? From centre to centre right, or, put another way, cautious and pragmatic.
Of course, in his recent physical antics and relentless self- exposure Chretien is no Mitchell Sharp. But neither is he the “populist” he often says he is.
What Chretien is presenting once again is the image of himself as just a plain guy, dedicated to ordinary Canadians and wisely heading a government under which unprecedented good times have unfolded. But rather suddenly a threat has emerged, a quite un-Canadian one. And who better to save us from this menace closing in from the far right but the incumbent leader. Chretien will be presented as the obvious, common sense choice to repulse the dangerous economics and the social and cultural bigotry of the Canadian Alliance, led by fundamentalist Stockwell Day and bankrolled by big business.
Oh, such blessed images for the campaign Chretien will launch a week from today.
On the “yeas” side stand the legendary legions of Liberal little people, behind a leader who always does his best for the many, mindful of the disadvantaged people and regions.
On the “nays” side, poised against the incumbent and the party with the earned trust of voters, is the flashy Day and the callous, economic individualism of the Alliance. His is a party which touts more devolution of powers to the provinces and more cuts in federal services. It backslides on rights for gays and feminists. Its tax policy means more wealth for the wealthy. It would risk constitutional deals with Quebec separatists.
Such is the electoral scenario Chretien and crew will develop over the six weeks leading to the vote.
Is one failing in a citizen’s responsibility if one prays, of course without any real hope, for a major insurrection by the voters, leaving both the Liberals and the Alliance, the parties most tipped to win, well short of a majority? Then, to attain a government which the new House would support, either Chretien or Day would have to negotiate a parliamentary concord with the remnant MPs of at least one, or even two, of the caucuses of other parties.
A minority Parliament, or, more exactly, a House of Commons in which the party with the most seats, but not a majority of them, makes a government and keeps it going with backing from MPs of other parties could bring uncommon benefits. At least it did during the two Parliaments between 1963 and 1968 and the Parliament of 1972-74. Not only was excitement high and national attention fixed on the Hill, some memorable bills became law. Even the most unassuming of MPs knew they were more than “nobodies.” Most of all, no party leader in such a House could risk vaingloriousness.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, October 11, 2000
ID: 13091641
TAG: 200010110487
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


On the lip of an election, those of us who consider such contests for a living rake over recent opinion polling on preferences for parties. We also look more closely at press releases and news clips for the substance in the program each party will have for the campaign.
But most of all we prime ourselves by vetting recent ventures of the party leaders and how their relative assets and debits will play through six weeks of hype, claims and counter-claims.
At this point we’re almost sure most stuff in the media, whether news, commentary or advertisement, will be about the prime minister and the leader of the official Opposition. The one as a federal politician has a public familiarity (1963-200?) rivalling any other major politician since W.L. Mackenzie King (1908-1948); his key rival has really had national notice for barely half a year and a place in Parliament for just a month.
Already, however, we can see Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day is both exceptionally fit and remarkably glib. When I glimpse him moving and talking my mind conjures up Elmer Gantry, the fictional evangelist, as played by a lithe, articulate Burt Lancaster in the 1950 movie based on the Sinclair Lewis novel.
Day’s newness need be no more of a handicap for him than Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s reputation as the Gordie Howe of federal politics.
At least twice in recent times, new to newish leaders of the opposition vaulted into power on their first crack. John Diefenbaker, made PC leader late in 1956, took office in June, 1957, and Brian Mulroney, made PC leader in mid-1983, won office in September, 1984, after just one session in the House.
In my previous column (Sunday Sun, Oct. 8) about the leadership competition which Day faces, I noted the strong pull on both Joe Clark (PC) and Alexa McDonough (NDP) to attack the Alliance leader more than the PM. Imagine a wrestling ring with the tag team of Chretien, McDonough and Clark daily mauling Day while off in a corner Gilles Duceppe flexes scorn. And such a gang-up could be Day’s gain if he keeps his temper and smiles through it all.
Day seems to have nothing close to Preston Manning’s knowledge of our political and economic history, but at least he seems as fully his own person and persona as his predecessor. Before his own initiatives brought his ouster, Manning may have been too susceptible to the counsel of one of his advisers for strategy and tactics, much as some Liberals feel Chretien has been too ready to listen to his veteran handlers, Eddie Goldenberg and Jean Pelletier. But the Reform leader was never a composite figure or a puppet of unelected masterminds.
So far, Day seems to me as unique (though in quite different ways) as his predecessor, and he has plunged into parliamentary politics with higher skills than Manning displayed in partisan gamesmanship and the homey bites so handy for TV.
My hunch is that one-on-one with Chretien in a televised campaign debate of 60 to 90 minutes, Day would clean up. His pleasant, quick adroitness fits with the masterful way he radiates Christian forbearance. Such an encounter is unlikely, but if we get the previous formats that put the leaders side by side, we will have Day as the pole star of conservative views and the other four as advocates of liberal social democracy.
In the campaign ,will it matter that Day seems to have so much less depth in both his information base and policy proposals than Manning put forth in two campaigns? No, not unless he makes a couple of huge goofs in fact or interpretation.
One tone Day may set – at least he has the mix of pleasantry and diction control for it – is of gracious chiding and gentle spoofing of Jean Chretien. For example, accept that the prime minister has a grand appreciation of his own achievements. Praise how single-handedly he has cut deficits and cleaned away the unethical boondoggling of his predecessor. Mark for voters the witness about good management in government raised again and again by the auditor general. And all done by Chretien and his close team, without much need to push Parliament and Liberal ministers and MPs … except, on occasion, Paul Martin.
Day may be too earnest for spoofing but I think not. He may be too thin-skinned to endure vicious criticism without snarling and countering with some of his own. He may be bombed out of serious contention for the PMO by an exploding mine field of campaign miscues by some of his more radically minded candidates. He may even dither and wither away, done in by triteness and vagueness of intentions.
Nonetheless, next month Day seems sure to be “the cynosure of all eyes,” as the old phrase goes. And if the polling preference on election eve has the Liberals a point or two below 44, we’ll know the chances of a minority Parliament are high, and a Day government at least a possibility.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 08, 2000
ID: 13091339
TAG: 200010080339
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


So it appears a fall federal election may be in store after all. It will be a campaign heavily canted to leadership rather than platforms.
First, however, one must note the small chance – now about one in 10 – there won’t be a general election next month. If Prime Minister Jean Chretien doesn’t call one, odds are he will imitate Lester Pearson (in 1967) with a pre-Christmas message of retirement, setting up a late winter convention to choose a new prime minister and party chief.
The strategy crews of both the Liberals and the Alliance will try to polarize the campaign around quality or lack of it in leaders, however much propaganda the Liberals spew about “values” and the Alliance about tax cuts, debt reduction and leaner government.
The leaders of two of the three other parties in the race – Alexa McDonough and Joe Clark – will strive desperately for media attention and enough impact on voters to stave off even tinier caucuses than they now have.
Here are thumbnail reviews of the leadership scenarios in four of the five parties likely to be electioneering next month.
The Bloc Quebecois will hit the election trail with 44 of the province’s 75 federal seats. Duceppe’s campaign will be confined almost wholly to Quebec, and will be almost irrelevant to voters elsewhere, most notably west of Ontario.
Duceppe, 53, a former labour organizer, has had 10 years in the House. He has the backing of Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, the BQ’s original leader. He is neither a dolt nor a sparkling leader and he heads a caucus which, by and large, is ideologically left of centre.
On the Hill, the 44 BQ MPs concentrate mostly on matters in or affecting Quebec. They do not dodge work at hand in the House or on its committees, but most have been thoroughly busy and popular in their ridings – proof of which lies in the frustration of Jean Chretien and his counsellors because so many BQ MPs have “safe” seats.
The most interesting Quebec question during the campaign will be whether Premier Bouchard decides to play a significant role, as he well may if polls indicate the Liberals taking more than the 30 seats they now hold.
McDonough, 56, has been leader of the NDP for five years and an MP for three years, after 14 years in the Nova Scotia Legislature. She leads a caucus of 19 MPs, scattered in five provinces and the Yukon. Six of the MPs represent Nova Scotia ridings, more than the party has in its usual bases in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and B.C.
This election will be a mean survival test for McDonough, in part because she follows a previous woman leader who did badly on the hustings. She seems to buck the regrettable reality of mass Canadian resistance to female party leaders.
In the campaign, McDonough may succumb to the paramount factor in current partisanship: to focus on Stockwell Day, whose ideas are far more alien to New Democrats than those of Jean Chretien. As NDP leader in 1974, David Lewis tore apart Tory Robert Stanfield, leader of the official Opposition, far more than Pierre Trudeau, the leader in power. Lewis lost both his own seat and the leadership.
It has been hard not to notice the spate of newspaper stories and TV items predicting the near – even total – eclipse of the NDP in this election. Aside from Alberta, the NDP has too much stubbornly held allegiance in pockets west of Quebec for total disaster. Also remember that CCF-NDP candidates have done relatively better in number of seats after campaigns in which the battle waged by the larger parties has been fierce and tight. If this campaign fight becomes one of two titans, circled at a distance by several gadflies, McDonough could come back with a dozen or so followers.
Clark, 61, has had much experience in terms of years in the House (21), in cabinet (nine) and as leader of a party (10) – which the media mob that sees disaster ahead for him ought to remember. He is a better debater than his present rivals, and he’s a survivor – a gutty survivor.
This campaign may seem a “last gasp” exercise for him, and, like McDonough, he has the hard choice of either gunning for Stockwell Day and the Alliance (which most threatens his oldest of parties) or firing the works at Jean Chretien. He could do better than merely survive with a few fellow MPs if the media, particularly day-to-day TV news, give him a fair share of leadership sound bites and if Chretien accepts the networks’ proposal for debates among all the leaders.
Now let me leave Stockwell Day for my next column, on Wednesday, and consider the Liberal leader.
The most perverse and potentially explosive element in this election received some notice and then was downplayed by Liberals. It does seem improbable, given the bonds of Liberal loyalty. Let me explain.
This will be an election which most Liberal MPs do not want.
I’d say that’s true for two-thirds of them. It’s not just that they’d prefer it come next spring, a majority wants to go into the next election with a new leader. Not Jean Chetien. Not Allan Rock. Not Brian Tobin. They want to fight the next campaign led by Paul Martin, the only truly outstanding cabinet minister through the past seven years.
In my time, on the rim of a general election no government caucus of Liberals since 1979 has choked so much in frustration with its leader and his handlers and their domination of cabinet, caucus and party. And what they’ve come to feel in close quarters behind Chretien through seven years, always seized by the Liberal fetish for loyalty, has been reinforced this past summer as they cruised their ridings.
From backers, from neutrals, from constituents, here, colloquially, is the stuff the MPs have been hearing …
“When is he going to quit?”
“Why doesn’t he leave? He’s had a long run.”
“What more does he want?”
“Will Martin keep waiting?”
A rational weighing of Liberal likelihoods gives the party 30 to 40 more seats if it is led by Martin. The party would not need to fear a whiteout in the West. It could expect gains in Quebec and to retain all but a smidgin of Ontario’s 103 ridings.
Think about it! In this run by Jean Chretien at a third mandate there are portents of a minority Liberal government and, maybe, an even worse result.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, October 04, 2000
ID: 13090831
TAG: 200010040565
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


The Mi’kmaq of New Brunswick’s Burnt Church band have stopped lobster-trapping in Miramachi Bay for a few months. So the fears of violence between natives, federal officials and non-native fishermen diminishes.
The differences between this band and the federal government may yield to more negotiations, but don’t bet on it. Remember the temper and scale of the challenges by native leaders across Canada to federal attempts to control the trapping and sale of lobsters by the Burnt Church band.
The pious phrase, “negotiation in good faith,” has been much used by Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal ever since the Supreme Court decision a year ago created a huge problem in managing resources by backing the right of natives to fish along the Atlantic Coast.
The new grand chief of all the first nations, Matthew Coon Come and his brother in spirit, former grand chief Ovide Mercredi, are pushing an interpretation of the Marshall decision by the Supreme Court to the ultimate in terms of the rights of sovereignty and self-government for natives. Their assertions suggest aboriginal people in Canada constitute a coherent, separate level of both government and population. The chiefs foresee an aboriginal governance which parallels and is not subsidiary to the federal and provincial orders of government.
These are mighty aims. How have the native leaders come to them? The probable turning point came in the early Trudeau years. A federal “bronze paper” was produced which planned to free natives from the Indian Act, abolish the register which listed all those who had official native status and give all natives (with or without status) both the rights and the responsibilities of all citizens.
Such a phasing out of Indian status and reserve enclaves brought a storm of protest from natives. Many living on reserves balked at the prospect of their eventual dissolution.
This conservative reaction was not the only one. Others responded radically. Their fuel was the deep blame they heaped on whites – individually, and on their governments and churches – for shameful, dishonest treatment of natives over generations. Guilt was piled upon guilt, and by and large has been accepted by those accused.
The militant natives were backed by many social scientists and historians. In concert they demanded – and got – officially funded studies of treaty rights and land claims, and, shortly, a process for dealing with both specific and general claims.
An idea shaped among the militants of a native federation within the state of Canada, its population made up of those carrying and continuing a blood right from ancestors who enjoyed the lands of Canada before Jacques Cartier landed. These native champions, backed by many academics, began to make much of a rich aboriginal heritage in languages, oral history, law, custom, techniques and unique cultures.
And so the Trudeau government reversed itself. It would encourage the pursuit of native land claims. It spent ever larger sums yearly on any imaginable way to raise natives’ living standards, health and education. It undertook more self-administration by native bands.
Federal spending on native affairs went steadily up, from a few hundred million in the mid-1960s to some $7 billion this year, and the number of those with “status” has doubled to almost 600,000.
In short, long before the Charter of Rights and the court decisions which have defined and broadened native rights and claims – especially the Nisga’a land claim in B.C. and the Marshall case on fishing in the Maritimes – Ottawa, often in concert with provincial governments, has assuaged the guilt it has accepted with generous funding, including much for legal aid and the regional and national interplay of band leaders.
The achievements on the native side stemming from such generous support and the roused ambitions of their leaders have reached a stage, evident in their enthusiasm for the Marshal decision, which will force our politicians to face the consequences if they keep dodging open debate about the implications of the native intentions that have crystallized.
The chiefs have been working up widespread backing for the defiance by the Burnt Church band to the federal fisheries’ regime. They are determined on a favourable resolution of aboriginal access to, and exploitation of, natural resources throughout the land, not just for eels and shellfish.
These are colossal ambitions but they no longer seem impossible, given the approval by Supreme Court justices to native aspirations and past retreats by Ottawa when faced with native intransigence. Burnt Church means more and more negotiations, studies and concessions, and more high court decisions are in the works.
It seems clear the Prime Minister’s Office, not the fisheries minister or Bob Nault, the minister of Indian Affairs, is handling the Burnt Church file. Some think Nault was called off because he electrified natives by the thousands in asserting the Marshall decision presaged their rights throughout Canada to use and sell fish, game, trees and water.
The chiefs’ goals, encouraged by governmental generosity and legal processes, are enormous but no longer ridiculous. The affair at Burnt Church is becoming a more significant native victory within our history than the Sioux massacre of George Custer and his 7th Cavalry has been in the U.S.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 01, 2000
ID: 13090521
TAG: 200010010354
SECTION: Comment


What is Jean Chretien’s rush? Often behaving in the past month like a brazen adolescent, Chretien has been hassling and hustling his caucus and party toward a general election next month.
We understand, of course, that in our system of government the election call is made by the prime minister, with or without any formal steps of approval by his cabinet or his parliamentary caucus.
We understand that in any federal election there is the risk a governing party will be unseated or come back to Parliament without a clear majority, and thus we understand why it is vital to the interest of the reigning party that the prime minister makes the call at the most propitious time.
But why this coming contest this year when: 1) so much time is available; 2) a goodly amount of significant legislation is still before Parliament; 3) the prospect of the most attractive budget in decades is just four months ahead?
We have no open polls on opinion within the Liberal party, but I believe a secret ballot of all its MPs last week would have shown a handy majority of them want no election before next spring, and almost as many would prefer it be called by a new leader, Paul Martin, for seven years the minister of Finance, not by Jean Chretien.
As one who has followed Chretien’s activities closely for 37 years, I think he and his wife have been galled and angered by the primacy Martin has attained both in the party and with the public. This is what has spurred him to hassle and hustle his crew into an election.
The PM has chosen to secure his post while he still has enough backing in caucus to prevent an internal resurrection and snuff out the growing wish among his own that he be replaced through the ultimate call to party loyalty: winning again!
Chretien can read the public rather well. He knows the Liberal MPs who have this growing wish for a fresh leader have been getting it from their constituents. The enthusiasm of the citizenry for Jean Chretien has been slowly eroding across the land. As yet he is not hated much by many but he has become over-familiar, dated and too rackety about not very much.
Aside from his Finance minister, and to a far lesser extent, his Foreign Affairs minister, not a single one of Chretien’s ministers has fluttered the hearts or engaged the minds of many Canadians. And so within the ranks of active Liberals the opinion has been firming up that in electoral terms Martin will be the more effective leader, and also more democratic and less dictatorial within the caucus and the party.
It’s hard to disagree with Chretien when he publicly gives himself kudos for two electoral majorities in a row. Even Pierre Trudeau, the alleged star among modern Liberal leaders, didn’t manage it. But such a feat doesn’t guarantee three in a row; at least it doesn’t given the recent and current state of partisan fortunes in the regions of Canada.
Obviously, the Chretien victories in 1993 and 1997 depended hugely on the sweep of 100 or more seats in Ontario. Must it be again in 2000?
Putting consideration of Ontario aside for a moment, what seems certain at this time in the West – from Manitoba through Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia? The Liberals now hold 17 seats in Western Canada and many of them are precarious, particularly the two in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the seven in B.C.
Consider Quebec’s 75 seats, of which the Liberals now hold 28. Led by Chretien, they should hold at least that many, but not many more. (Here is where Martin would do much better.)
Consider the 32 seats in the Atlantic provinces. The Liberals now hold 12 and might well win 8-10 more, given Chretien’s intention to increase immediately the access of seasonal workers to Employment Insurance.
Roughly check these Liberal probabilities: almost certain losses of seats in the West that are likely to be countered by matching gains in Quebec and the Atlantic region.
So back to Ontario where the Liberals hold 101 of the 103 seats. Both in 1993 and ’97 the Liberals almost swept the province. Given the electoral likelihoods in the other regions it is plain that for a majority government this year Chretien will need a repeat sweep of Ontario, or within a dozen seats of a sweep.
Is a third sweep possible? Yes. But is it likely? Well, it won’t come readily or easily. In the 17 elections since 1945 the Liberals have taken the majority of Ontario seats 11 times – an impressive record – but only in the last two have the opposition parties been virtually shut out. In particular, the Progressive Conservative party has tended to take a goodly minor fraction of the total vote in the province. And when one adds the PC share of votes to those of Reform and the NDP in the last two elections they overmatch the Liberal totals.
In a nutshell, the electoral system’s results in seats highly inflates the scale of the two Liberal sweeps in Ontario. The potential this year for a sharp drop in Liberal seats depends so much on the splits of votes among the opposition parties, and particularly on swings within each vote total to other parties. If the swing, say of Tories, is toward the Liberals, Chretien is home free. He romps back to the PMO. If the Tory swing, however, is substantial – say 10-15 points – to Stockwell Day and the Alliance party, clear the track for a minority Parliament.
In the developing scenario the PM, carrying a rather reluctant party and caucus with him, while needing to hold almost all of Ontario, has the prospect of opposition parties representing almost all the West. In several ways this is a dangerous prospect, created by hubris in the Chretien household which cannot accept a smooth transition to a more attractive prime minister.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, September 27, 2000
ID: 13089929
TAG: 200009270628
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


How to explain the sparse medal count of Canadians at the Sydney Olympic Games? Quite unfairly, much blame for this poor showing is being heaped on the federal government, notably for alleged cheapness in funding for really top-flight athletes, coaches and teams.
This is too simple. Any sensible analysis of the small Canadian bag of medals at Sydney has to note many other factors.
The analysis might well begin with the plain point that the education systems in Canada, from kindergarten to graduate school, have never strongly emphasized athletics and competitive games. Even what emphasis there once was on school sport has been sliding in recent decades, in part because of diversifying childhood interests and the decline in the readiness of teachers to lead and coach school athletes and teams.
It’s not that Canadians are failing to put a lot of money and time into some sports, particularly hockey, skiing and golf – all relatively expensive activities. Few countries will spend per capita as much on any sport as Canadians – as both parents and taxpayers – do on hockey. The equipment and ice time for the national obsession are expensive.
In our system, the federal government has responsibility for national and international representation in sport but not for the provincial and municipal governments which have the key responsibility for sport, recreation, and facilities for families, schools and neighbourhoods.
In all the years since the early 1970s there has been much joint association between Ottawa and the provinces through the Canada Games and parallel links with national and provincial associations of various sports, but never an on-going plan for the early identification and promotion of exceptionally promising athletes at the school and neighbourhood level.
Recall that in 1969 the Trudeau government accepted responsibility for developing a national support system for amateur sport which would focus on international competition. It established a federal sports bureaucracy. It undertook to support participation by athletes and teams in the four-year cycle of major games: the Olympics, Canada Games, Pan-Am Games and Commonwealth Games. It also promised to help finance both the hosting of world championships in specific sports like hockey, wrestling, rowing, etc.
Almost immediately the bigger provinces copied Ottawa in sport bureaucracies. Much of their endeavours tied in with Ottawa’s aim of using the Canada Games as a means of creating quality sport facilities in our cities, and in backing bids by Montreal, Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, etc. for the Olympics, etc. And so we have an array of tracks, pools, ski-jumps and arenas across Canada, as good or better than those of other countries.
By my rough count, since 1969 the federal government has spent about $1.2 billion in support of athletes, teams, coaches and their bureaucracies, whereas in concert with spending by provincial and city governments the three levels together have spent about $8 billion over three decades in aid of sport facilities and the hosting of major games and championships. The latter figure includes about $3 billion in capital spending and interest payments by governments just for the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
In brief, taxpayers have provided more than six times as much funding for sport facilities and major competitions as for the development and nurture of our athletes, teams, coaches, training and competition. Take a current example of funding. Governments at the three levels are putting up over $50 million just to prepare and pursue a long-shot Toronto bid for the 2008 Olympics, a sum which slightly exceeds total federal spending this year for the national sport system.
The most remarkable failure of the system which emerged after 1969 has been at finding and nurturing athletically promising youth through to world-class standards.
The part played by the U.S. education system in the production of many Olympic medallists is in contrast to our situation. Competitive athletics and team games in the U.S. are prominent from grade school to universities with scads of scholarships and well-paid coaches. A comparable, basic strength in many European countries has been the profusion of local and regional sport “clubs” sometimes specific, but more often general purpose, embracing many activities.
In contrast, strong encouragement of competitive sport has been diminishing in our schools and colleges. Although the “club” concept has functioned fairly well here in golf, curling, swimming and rowing we have few if any great sport clubs left that promote a clutch of activities aimed at world class excellence in performance or in coaching.
We should not castigate our politicians or our athletes or ourselves for the continuing Canadian eclipse in so many aspects of sport competition, even in the galling drop-off in producing top hockey players. The eclipse is a dilemma that reflects us as a people and Canada as it is organized and functions.
As for the Olympics, we could somewhat mitigate embarrassment by concentrating more on the winter sports and dropping any entries in the Summer Games in which our hopes are zero.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 24, 2000
ID: 13089550
TAG: 200009240582
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


It is uncomfortable to unfold a column on a looming election – yes, on the possibility of a federal election before Christmas.
My discomfort is not so much because my forecast regarding the next election has been knocked for a loop. (Months ago I predicted that the election would be in the late spring of 2001.) What bothers me is less embarrassment over that than disbelief Prime Minister Jean Chretien would risk an election so soon.
My previous divination on the electoral timing included an expectation that Chretien would not be one to make the call. That would be left up to his successor, shortly after winning the Liberal leadership in a grand, old-style convention in late March or April.
Such a speculation had an inductive process, a review which ranged over 10 factors:
1) The length or brevity of the current mandate;
2) The pride, confidence and impatience of the prime minister;
3) The state of the economy;
4) The polling data trends (in particular on party preferences);
5) The electoral readiness of the governing party’s machinery and finances;
6) The solidarity of the cabinet and caucus;
7) Continued strength in the governing party’s heartland (Ontario) and real hope in regions that were hostile in 1997 (Maritimes, Alberta, Saskatchewan);
8) Many prideful “talking” points (like the new health deal and improved Employment Insurance for seasonal workers);
9) The Liberals’ advantages implicit in the split of public support between four rival parties.
10) The potential danger of any leader of a rival party racking up very positive appreciations in the electorate.
Those 10 factors may seem confusing to many readers. Nonetheless, each of them was scouted before I twice wrote that the likely date for an election was in, or close to, June, 2001, and the one making the call would likely be Paul Martin.
Now, rather suddenly, and just as Stockwell Day and Joe Clark, two fresh opposition leaders, have taken their places in the House of Commons, both the open evidence of high-level cockiness and tips from Liberal sources indicate that Jean Chretien, urged by both wife Aline and adviser Eddie Goldenberg (but not Jean Pelletier), is impatient for a rare, third majority mandate and will seek dissolution of Parliament just after Thanksgiving (Oct. 9).
Let me use my present estimate of each of the 10 factors given above to explain my view that an election now is an unwise move for the Liberals. It could be disastrous to the high placing Chretien wants in the score of prime ministers we have had since 1867.
First, there’s the brevity of a mandate ending this fall. Again and again voters have been chilly toward leaders with a good working majority who return to them well before four years of governing. Chretien’s four years aren’t up until next June.
So why the rush? What’s the big deal? Squelching the Martin men? Or fear of the head of steam Stockwell Day may build through months of high parliamentary profile?
Second, the PM is certainly confident, proud and impatient. He was that way before his second bid in 1997. And then he came back from the hustings with 22 fewer MPs and a percentage of the vote lower than predicted in the pre-election polls.
Third, it’s true the state of the economy seems very good and is likely to stay that way well into 2001. But the high roll has missed some regions and voter gratitude for tax cuts made thus far seems meagre.
Fourth, the polling trends are neither bleak nor very heartening for the Liberals. They are dismal in the West, not really positive in Quebec and quite equivocal for Ontario, given more sliding of Tory support.
Fifth, the Liberals’ readiness in terms of finances and candidates will run from fair to splendid. Certainly they’re ready in Ontario, but even there it’s possible the Alliance will outraise and outspend the governing party.
Sixth, both cabinet and caucus solidarity are passable and, given the party’s fine history of loyalty, probably durable enough for a campaign. But both the PM and the cabinet have recently seemed disconnected from caucus concerns or dissent.
The cabinet is a triumph of mediocrity but Chretien has rebuffed the ambitious and unpromoted in caucus by insisting this is a gathering of his best. It also seems apparent the PM has lost some of the high affection and admiration in his backbenches since he began the third mandate game.
Seventh, hopes of holding almost every seat in Ontario are fair, and thus far from certain, but certainly better than the hope of recouping seats in the four western provinces. I would anticipate Liberals taking five or less seats in the West, say one in B.C., four in Manitoba, and none in Alberta or Saskatchewan. Such losses might – just might – be balanced by small gains in the Atlantic region.
Eighth, there will be a substantial number of fair to good Liberal “talking points,” but a lot of them will have to play very well with the electors if the media concentrate on the head-to-head butting of a fresh, young leader with conservative ideas and faith in the free market against an older leader who typifies the status quo.
Ninth, through its life, this Parliament has been dominated by expectations of a Liberal romp because of the four-way split in opposition strength. At this moment, given that Preston Manning’s realignment of Reform into the Alliance has both worked and tossed up a cool, confident, glib and physically tough leader in Stockwell Day, the split remains. But the Alliance share has been inching up in the polls, assuring a near sweep in the West and probable gains in Ontario. The Tories may have it grim; so may the New Democrats.
Tenth, and finally, after a single week on Parliament Hill Stockwell Day is clearly a bona fide threat to begin an almost immediate campaign strongly and hang tough.
Surely the Liberals, even Jean Chretien, should see the imperative in a leadership change and a longer period for examining and taking apart Day and the Alliance before they go to the people.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, September 20, 2000
ID: 13088907
TAG: 200009200523
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


Lloyd Axworthy’s exit from the House and the Foreign Affairs ministry for a West Coast think-tank opens up talk about his replacement.
The Winnipegger has had Foreign Affairs since 1996 when Andre Ouellet left for a haven at Canada Post. He has made more than Ouellet did of the ministry through his promotion of “soft power” and his bid for Nobel fame through an international accord against the use of land mines. Nonetheless, Axworthy’s significance in politics has been less his portfolios than his standing in the Liberal caucus as: a) the durable “liberal leftie” of the Trudeau and Chretien governments; and b) as a great prospector for federal grants and spending programs which help his home city and province (and to quite an extent the Prairies as a whole).
A further sign of Axworthy’s influence is the fact that although his party only holds six of Manitoba’s 14 seats, two of the six MPs have been ministers and two are parliamentary secretaries. The other two have been secretaries. Lloyd both gets and spreads political rewards.
Of the four Manitoba MPs not yet ministers all are serious workers, and two of them, Reg Alcock and Rey Pagtakhan, are outstanding MPs. In short, if Manitoba is to get a replacement minister for Axworthy, talents for a good one are on site.
Of course, in looking beyond Axworthy Jean Chretien will first be scanning his cabinet seniority list for a replacement. Foreign Affairs is still that prominent. He will think about filling with a francophone. Or a woman! Or even with one of the open contenders to succeed him.
I think the PM, going down his list, will pause first at the ultimate in loyalty behind him: David Collenette, minister of Transport. Far from brilliant, but probably safe and certainly appreciative.
There will be a briefer pause at David Anderson, minister of the Environment. But with a previous career in diplomacy the PM may think him in good use where he is.
Chretien will whistle past both John Manley and Paul Martin, Jr. Both these ambitious fellows prefer where they are – Industry and Finance – to Foreign Affairs.
There’ll be a big pause at Anne McLellan (Justice). She could be the end of Chretien’s search. Why? She needs a miracle to survive the next election in the Alliance province, and in Justice she’s really under the gun. In Alberta, Foreign Affairs is a less contentious field but hardly a big plus for McLellan, nor has she ever seemed to relish speaking performances as Axworthy certainly does.
Next pause, another long one for the PM, will be over Allan Rock (Health). No doubt of it: he is a fine example of ambition; a smooth talker with a quick mind and somewhat of a match for Martin at the head of the ministerial pack. Foreign Affairs would boost him a bit as a rival leadership candidate to Martin – and he defers so openly to his prime minister.
On down the list to the Quebec pair of Pierre Pettigrew and Stephane Dion, each of whom the PM will consider. Pettigrew wants the post and wouldn’t disgrace it. Dion deserves the post if he really wants it, given what he’s done in pushing federalism hard, then harder, in Quebec.
The PM may think briefly about female prospects other than McLellan, perhaps Maria Minna, still fresh at International Co-operation, or Elinor Caplan, also new at Citizenship and Immigration. Both are very long shots. Switching Lucienne Robillard (Treasury Board) to Foreign Affairs would hit both the franco and the female angles but not much please the constituency gathered around international matters.
Of course, the most deserving and most promising possible minister of Foreign Affairs is not even in the cabinet but is a mere chair of the House committee on foreign affairs and international trade. Bill Graham, 61, a former professor of law, has held the seat of Toronto Centre-Rosedale since 1993 and led the foreign affairs committee since 1995.
Plainly put, Graham has been a superb MP, and the time is now for both his general skills and specific knowledge to have a ministerial role. Foreign Affairs is a perfect fit.
Clifford Lincoln and Edward McWhinney are two other Liberal MPs much respected for their judgment, experience and grace on their feet. Lincoln is 72, McWhinney 76, and both may be thought too old for a long haul, but either man would grace Foreign Affairs for the rest of this parliamentary mandate.
A wager on any of these names is a long shot, but I think the best odds are with Reg Alcock as a new Manitoba minister and for Anne McLellan as the next minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 17, 2000
ID: 13088521
TAG: 200009170355
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Was there much significance in the remarks Stockwell Day made about Parliament to those in Kelowna celebrating his byelection victory last Monday?
Not likely … well, maybe.
Day sketched the glory time coming with the Canadian Alliance in power. It would mean, he said, an MP, any MP, could stand up and speak and vote as he or she believes, freed from the tight grip long enforced by House leaders and caucus whips.
Day conjures up the next Parliament, the 37th, unlike any since the last minority House.
None of the world’s genuine democracies have governing and legislating institutions which are so deeply and, yes, as bitterly partisan as Canada has – and this despite quite the rather modest differences in partisan ideology. Our partisanship is closely held, firm and strong, gripping through custom and the use of rewards and penalties.
Is it possible that with Day as prime minister there would be many MPs, even of the Liberal party, who would not be robotically partisan? A Parliament in which many would behave as John Nunziata has done? (He has been an independent MP since Prime Minister Jean Chretien expelled him from the Liberal caucus for open dissidence.)
Day’s forecast intrigues anyone who has argued and prompted for parliamentary reforms addressed to the role of the MPs who are just MPs. What reforms there have been for them have come slowly and in small bites, conceded grudgingly by the cabinet and the bureaucracy’s senior mandarins.
Any gigantic leap in scope for what MPs do in the House and its committees simply must have the determined leadership of a prime minister and the backing of opposition leaders and their caucuses.
There has often been lip service by the mighty in politics during campaigns about the vital role and good work of backbenchers, but post-election, once the ministerial and secretarial posts are filled, such recognition fades. And then disgruntlement surges later in a majority House as various dogsbody MPs grouse about their roles, most noticeably ones from the government caucus.
All this is a long prelude to some parliamentary changes which will be discussed tomorrow in Ottawa not far from the resuming House of Commons.
A group concerned about our Parliament – hopeful but cautious – is convening, helped by two veteran think-tanks: the Institute for Research in Public Policy and the Parliamentary Centre for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. The agenda for this invited group of MPs, mandarins, academics and journalists is based on five brief papers, developed from responses last spring by some 60 MPs to a canvassing questionnaire.
The initial questions that spurred the responses were direct:
– Should MPs be able to play a larger role?
– Would you like to see changes in the 37th Parliament?
In general, the MPs who responded were positive. Most of them saw the handiest way to enlarge their role was in having more responsibility in committees for policy development, amendments of bills and changes to estimates. This explains the titles and affirming tone of the papers now set before the mixed bag of people who will debate the papers tomorrow.
The first paper sketches the changing process and substance of House affairs over recent decades. These have emphasized question period and de-emphasized debates, speech-making, and attendance in the House, particularly that of ministers and party leaders. Much of the work once done in the House has been hived away to committees.
The second paper answers the proposition: Should committee membership be more stable? It has not been so, even for those MPs who are made chairs of a committee. Little continuity means less cumulative effects.
The third paper answers the question: Should the chairs of some committees come from opposition parties? Only one of our House committees, that on Public Accounts, is led by an opposition member.
The fourth paper deals with the question: Should committee chairs be compensated? At present they are not, although they are in most provincial legislatures.
The last paper asks: Should ways be found to televise more committee meetings? Such coverage happens at times but it is far from common. Usually it is provided by CPAC because the networks find such programming lengthy and costly.
There is nothing grandiose or very radical in these positively posed assessments, in large part the limited intent coming from sponsors grown pragmatic from experiencing the counter views in high offices where tightly guarded partisanship is treasured and enforced.
Take the present scenario. Why would the core cadre around the majority party’s leader, blessed with a thriving economy and good ratings in the polls, develop a mind-set for changes in a system they control? Big shifts in the functions within Parliament might well bring a diminution to the power of the Prime Minister’s Office vis-a-vis opposition critics and critiques.
The changes being suggested, though limited and not to come into play until the next Parliament, would certainly strengthen the part which assiduous MPs could play. They fit in with a study last June by the House Finance Committee (chaired by a Liberal) that advocated more range and power for committees. One of the study’s arguments was that MPs, not bureaucrats, should investigate, scrutinize and ultimately approve such matters as user fees charged to taxpayers.
The only minister in the present Chretien cabinet who has ever openly favoured bigger roles for MPs and parliamentary committees is Paul Martin.
Maybe Stockwell Day is really serious about reforming Parliament. Perhaps he has more to advance than prophecies of freedom for MPs and a cut in House sittings from five to four days a week. If so, as a combination Martin and Day might get underway the work of rescuing the House from public contempt or indifference.
Improbable? Yes. But progress sometimes comes from odd companions.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, September 13, 2000
ID: 13087907
TAG: 200009130527
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Within a week, Jean Chretien, 66 years old, 33 of them as an MP, will share the intense media spotlight of the House question period with Joe Clark, 61 years old, 21 of them as an MP, and Stockwell Day, the new leader in our Parliament.
Day is a mere 50 years old, but he has spent 14 of them as a member of the Alberta Legislature, eight as a cabinet minister, including four years as Premier Ralph Klein’s house leader.
Those figures on age and legislative time are not as significant as they seem to some people. Yes, Day may be a decade to a decade and a half younger than these rival veterans. Yes, he has spent much less time on his feet facing partisan fire in an assembly that convenes for very short sessions.
Nevertheless, while it’s obvious he may be at risk, it is most unlikely he’ll be torn apart during the daily 45 minutes of question period in the House of Commons. Simply put, he is too glib, and he not only likes the limelight, he revels in it.
This is not a slow-speaking, slow-thinking Bob Stanfield, or a squeaky-voiced Preston Manning. No, Day’s potential problem may take a few months to crystallize: like the widespread public take on Brian Mulroney, he may be seen as too adroit, too slick.
Beyond this risk that Day’s wholesome sunniness will be downgraded as nothing but smooth blarney, one can already divine a linked problem of timing and emphasis.
Timing? Emphasis? Well, he may be overdoing the insistence implicit in his talk that the general election is already under way. Since he topped Preston Manning, through the weeks spent campaigning for his B.C. seat, and in his televised victory speech Monday night, he has hyped election, election, election.
However, it’s a good bet the election won’t come for seven or eight months – not until after 80-100 days of House sittings, diverse legislation and a scatter of issues and incidents, scares and concerns raised not only by the Bloc, NDP and Tories but by premiers, grand chiefs and militant unions.
Remember the book Alberta academic Tom Flanagan wrote on the Reform party and Preston Manning’s fixation on “the wave” – on ever-organizing constituencies and regions and membership participation for the next go as soon as the last wave is past. The leader takes issues and key terms for the next wave (or election) out across the land. This approach deifies power and office. Not only does it suborn the legislative process and close scrutinizing of governmental performance, it accepts and sustains the huge priority in our politics of the leader. It ignores or subverts the worth of a hard-working parliamentary team which diligently contests and improves bills and reveals governmental weaknesses or skulduggery through the years of a parliamentary mandate.
No doubt the current mandate is coming to a close. Usually at such times electoral stuff is much to the fore, but I question whether the simple, perky pastiche of platitudes and truisms which Day keeps unfolding for Canadians as an alternative to what he asserts is a leader without vision and a party out of touch with the people will stand up all the way to the election call, let alone election day.
Once before we had a sparkling preacher as a federal party leader and a star in Parliament. Older New Democrats will choke as I mention the late Tommy Douglas in the same context as Stockwell Day, even as an exemplar to him.
It’s true that even before he steps into the House, Day is heading a much larger contingent than Douglas ever did. It’s also a fair judgment that Tommy was more gifted in telling wit and anecdotes to serve his arguments than Stockwell has been serving up so far. Nonetheless, there are similarities.
They both emphasized human values, and in the pervasive, partisan war of words no rivals made a fool of Douglas nor will anyone of Day. The key difference noticeable at this point is in depth of content.
What a freight of political history, economic analysis and idealistic argument the entertaining speeches of Tommy Douglas carried. As yet the like has not showed much in performances by the Alliance leader. Of course, there is no room for them in question period with its smart-ass jibes and adolescent barracking. Day will hold his own in QP, but will he have intelligent, humorous expositions at length on specifics in the House?
Sunny sermonettes of noble intent and democratic verities stale rather quickly. So does an ever-running mess of electoral news and speculation. It’s arguable the Liberals’ slide in the polls mirrors boredom phasing into distaste for a prime minister who has made so much through the past year of his determination to achieve the third mandate he justly deserves – or so he believes.
Next spring the electorate will have before it Jean Chretien vs. Stockwell Day. By then, many voters may not be enthusiastic about either man.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 10, 2000
ID: 12301602
TAG: 200009100424
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Today, short notes on these topics: 1) the crisis for politicians arising over native matters; 2) the federal Liberals’ recruitment of star candidates; 3) a new book challenging the myth of incompetence of Canadians in the Normandy campaign of 1944.
First, the recent ridicule by John Clarke, Anglican bishop of Athabaska, for self-flagellation by our churches for their past work in running native residential schools set me checking for patterns in news items on Indian affairs in my clipping files.
This particular comment by Bishop Clarke grabbed my attention and approval: “There’s a whole pile of upper middle-class guilt here that’s running the show, not much common sense.”
Amen, I’d say to that. Since 1969 and the withdrawal of Pierre Trudeau’s “bronze” policy paper aimed at providing natives the same rights and opportunities as other Canadians, court and rights commission decisions, plus the twinned emotions of sympathy and guilt, have made it dangerous to criticize either the expensive programs for natives or the flourishing of first nation aims for self-government by a cast based in perpetuity on blood ties and on lands presently held or demanded by hundreds of native bands.
These crystallizing aspirations, now costing governments over $7 billion a year, have been institutionalizing two distinct citizenships and portend political conflict for generations.
My files reveal that open incidents of critical resistance to our native policies, like Bishop Clarke’s, are becoming as numerous as guilt-ridden “mea culpas” and the whining promotion of ever more redress in funding and lands. More and more harsh opinions are being voiced over decisions like that written by Justice Binnie of the Supreme Court (which has led to the lobster war along the Atlantic Coast).
At first the wide-open criticisms were mostly in B.C., sparked in the past two years by the move to settle Nisga’a land claims through federal and provincial legislation. The main impetus to push through the bills came after a Supreme Court decision favourable to the band. Now, increasingly, historians, political scientists and constitutional lawyers are producing books, learned articles and newspaper columns that attack federal native policies and native aims and actions. Such dissent will grow as the first nations, urged by Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and former grand chief Ovide Mercredi, preach solidarity and praise their “warriors.”
Native affairs have never been a major issue across Canada in a federal election. Don’t bet on that next time.
– – –
In all political parties, their planners of electoral readiness encourage riding associations to get “star” candidates, well-known at least in their regions, even better in their provinces, and best of all throughout Canada. The party’s goal is a provisional slate of able, potential ministers. The lure is an undertaking of a ministry, given victory.
This form of operation is now under way, most noticeably by the Liberal Party of Canada. (See recent media stuff on the wooing of Frank McKenna and Roy Romanow.)
Past prominent recruitments include three successful candidates who emerged later as Liberal prime ministers: Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau.
Anyone who has chatted much with today’s Liberal backbenchers knows their unhappiness over the sudden appearance of these sure-fire ministers. What a slur on their own abilities!
Prime Minister Jean Chretien has bothered them most in recruiting between elections, using byelections to get “instant” ministers into cabinet.
Before the 1993 election, Chretien was out of office, which perhaps explains why he made (and then fulfilled) big promises to these “star” candidates: Marcel Masse, Michel Dupuy, Art Eggleton, Anne McLellan, Allan Rock and Jane Stewart. And then, after some months in power, Chretien used three byelections to supply himself with three ministers from Quebec: Lucienne Robillard, Stephane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew. In 1997 he only made and fulfilled one promise of a cabinet post, that to Torontonian Elinor Caplan, a former provincial minister at Queen’s Park.
A lot of Liberal backbenchers, especially those from Ontario who were MPs before 1993, fulminate – quietly, of course – about the post-election edge given such luminaries.
Aside from Lloyd Axworthy, who’s retiring, it appears at least 25 of Chretien’s 36 ministers will run again. Given the fresh promises to new stars and assuming incumbents have electoral success, there won’t be many new slots in a third Chretien ministry.
Of course, our lively PM could pre-empt such a forecast with a ministerial massacre this fall or winter or his own decision to call a leadership convention for early spring.
– – –
As a team, Denis and Sheilagh Whitaker have written several solid books about Canadian troops in World War II: at Dieppe and opening Antwerp Harbour while conquering the lower Rhineland. Denis was an infantry officer in those battles and Sheilagh’s a military historian. Their latest book is the most argumentative so far, and their analysis is buttressed by an overview chapter from Terry Copp.
The book’s title is Victory at Falaise: The Soldiers’ Story. Copp’s contribution is titled “A Historian’s Review of the Debate.”
The “debate” is why the Canadian Army, filled out by British divisions, took so long to plough through Caen and south to Falaise to link with Gen. George Patton’s Yanks and seal off the German retreat from the Normandy trap.
The “debate” has been running in memoirs and histories since the end of World War II, pushed not just by American and British analysts but by some Canadians. And it has gone beyond taking apart the Canadian generalship and allegedly poor performances by Canadian tank crews to unfavourable contrasts of our troops’ training, elan and persistence in action with the grand reputation of the Canadian Corps as the ablest of all Allied formations in World War I.
The Whitakers relate the battle of Falaise from both the records and a host of interviews with those who took part in the fighting. The wonder of a reader grows. The Canadians bested and killed or captured thousands of Germans. In closing the gap they took casualties at a higher relative rate per month than those suffered by the Canadian Corps in the Great War. Copp roused my spirits with the best, brief defence I’ve yet read of the high quality and courageous performance of our troops. They were not “ineffective and cautious … outfought by resolute and skilled panzergrenadiers.”
May the debate continue. It will take much to destroy the myth.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, September 06, 2000
ID: 12300497
TAG: 200009060314
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16


So Lloyd Axworthy at 60, five years younger than Jean Chretien, is to leave Parliament soon for twilight time at a B.C. think-tank. He will depart with some very conflicting reviews.
Axworthy has had a rather high-profile run of well over four years as Foreign Affairs minister, the cap on 34 years of politicking.
His entry into politics was as a losing candidate for the Manitoba Liberals in the 1966 provincial election. A boyish, chunky and mobile fellow, he had come back to Winnipeg that year to teach, bearing a Princeton PhD (based on a study of Canadian housing policy).
The loss didn’t quench Axworthy’s preference for politics over teaching, and the next year the 28-year-old was off to Ottawa to join the staff of John Turner, an ambitious Liberal minister, as a policy aide. The year after that he became a noticeable person in Ottawa, arranging a task force on national housing for Paul Hellyer, another ambitious minister.
Even in busy 1967 there was Hill gossip about this confident Winnipegger. Yes, a potential prime minister at work for a likely prime minister.
The talk was to be heard again and again, even in the ’70s when he had only made his way into a seat in the Manitoba Legislature. The anticipation swelled when Axworthy, winner of a federal opposition seat in 1979, was made minister of Employment and Immigration in 1980 after Pierre Trudeau’s miraculous second coming. In fact, the gossip on Axworthy for the top job kept up until he ended it in 1990 with the sad news he’d been unable to raise enough money for a serious bid in the Liberal leadership race (in which Jean Chretien was to defeat Paul Martin, Sheila Copps and John Nunziata).
Axworthy has been bold and drawn far more media attention than most Liberal ministers through his stays at Employment and Immigration (1980-83), Transport (1983-84), Human Resources (1993-96) and Foreign Affairs (1996-200?). He marshalled large, legislative items through in all four roles.
One could never say that either in general, or as the head of a particular department, Axworthy was much disliked or beloved in his first three portfolios. Of course, to Winnipeg and Manitoba the minister brought much in rewards through projects and grants and the sense of having a newsworthy figure who had gained and retained a high standing in Ottawa.
Often two aspects of Axworthy’s ministerial behaviour have seemed to contradict what is readily granted by even his harshest critics – that he is an idealistic Liberal, almost always openly on the left or “really liberal” side of the party.
The first aspect has been his relentless levering of patronage and money into his home territory. The second has been the huge, expensive staffs he has collected as a minister, not really as a personal court or sounding-board, but to further his academic need to swarm knowledgeably and dialectically into every policy, program or prospective issue in his domain.
He sees no irony or contradiction of his ideals in generous exploitation of the public purse. He once gave his viewpoint in this defining sentence: “If you have high curiosity and a high tolerance for ambiguity, then politics is your calling.”
In short, Lloyd Axworthy is very pragmatic despite the idealism, despite a readiness to run federal power into the market place and to redistribute from richer to poorer regions and despite his pacifistic uneasiness so edged with distrust of America as both world power and our neighbour.
He does not wail openly or bitch within the caucus and the party when policy decisions go against him. A Liberal MP from Toronto, who is not an Axworthy disciple, summed him up for me not long ago: “At least Lloyd’s not a weather-vane spinning with every breeze from the PMO.”
More latitudinarian Liberals and some journalists have remarked that Lloyd’s chosen party should have been the NDP or its antecedent CCF, always strong in his part of Winnipeg. He rejected the openly leftist party while a politically keen undergraduate at the University of Manitoba. He balked at the NDP-CCF’s “excessive moralizing.” It was too dogmatic, too righteous. And yet, isn’t that the going critique of Lloyd’s pious high-mindedness in his last ministerial mission through “soft power” and “human security?”
The most flattering comment about him I have heard is that there’s never any doubt he is truly in charge of his department, not some mandarin or consultant. I put my meanest appreciation in the form of a question: why did this ambitious, bright politician slug so hard for so long without addressing and correcting his boring, inept performances in public?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 03, 2000
ID: 12299879
TAG: 200009030313
SECTION: Comment


As the summer doldrums of politics close, I am ranting over a simple question: must the partisanship of our politicians be so repetitiously juvenile?
My frustrated answer is “yes” – it seems inescapable.
My question rose from the federal Liberals’ caucus “retreat” in Winnipeg even though the antics there have been mimicked by other parties, even the Alliance. But the Liberal party is model to all others because of its success. And it stages the most of these windy occasions.
At such prominent caucuses the star should be the party leader; in this case Jean Chretien, brimful of bravado in the midst of vociferous MPs parroting “Four more years!”
An eve-of-caucus interview by Chretien set the theme of supreme confidence through his mockery of backbenchers fearful of Alliance Leader Stockwell Day. A sidebar to this from Quebec featured a backbencher asking Paul Martin to get loyal, to stop taking the credit which Jean Chretien deserves for surpluses and the booming economy.
At and around the caucus scene in Winnipeg the Liberals’ pollster and the PMO’s twisters shaped and focused the elongated pep rally for the media posse.
The design was simple.
Here is the party which will repulse reaction and provincialism. Plain folk of modest means who love Canada and cherish its social programs may be sure good times shall roll on under this busy and just prime minister.
Of course, the media in Winnipeg searched diligently for divisiveness, and found a few to talk out of the line in MPs Diane Marleau and Stan Keyes, but they could not burst Jean Chretien’s balloon of loyalty and control.
He both symbolizes and exemplifies a caucus/party/government with the country in his hands.
I like Jean Chretien, and I know him fairly well. I first wrote of him as a possible PM in 1973 and again in 1976 (arousing some derision each time). He is late in the list of major party leaders who have created the model of beloved master whose cabinet and caucus are secondary in the exercise of power.
The emphasis on a presidential bond with the people which the Winnipeg scenario conveyed was first noticeable to me in John Diefenbaker’s heyday (1957-60). The bond shredded long before Lester Pearson replaced the Chief, in part because the latter found his stage and cast in the House, not in the PMO.
Pearson hated playing the all-powerful leader. His was very much “cabinet government” and this in front of a strenuous caucus that was both sparked and riven by ambitious MPs. Pierre Trudeau, his successor, began with a wave of chatter about charisma and in his mind-set a much firmer line on cabinet and caucus discipline. This he generally exercised through 15 years of office and several dicey periods of adversity. To be fair, although Trudeau was as set as Chretien on cabinet solidarity he was not so insistent on caucus obedience.
Neither Joe Clark, John Turner, nor Kim Campbell was prime minister long enough to set or shift the pattern in the relation of the leader to the cabinet and the caucus, although Turner was dedicated to restoring cabinet government and giving MPs heavier roles.
Brian Mulroney had nine tumultuous years in office. Despite many showboating occasions similar to those of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, he “worked” his caucus diligently, micro-managing its eccentrics and rivalries. His government faced hard opposition in Parliament again and again over the GST, the FTA and both the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. Twice he went to the people on large matters: first a general election on the trade agreement with the U.S., then a national referendum on the massive constitutional changes in the second accord (which were rejected). Meantime, as in the Trudeau years, the PMO grew and grew.
Chretien inherited and furthered a regime centred largely on the PMO, with a fairly prominent auxiliary in fiscal and monetary affairs vested in the Ministry of Finance. The dominating role of the Chretien PMO has its mirror image in the repetitious banalities at the Winnipeg caucus.
The pity is that many in the mob chanting “Four more years” are not fools or ciphers, ridiculous as they seemed.
Most of those leering touts know about and regret the mistakes and boondoggles of their master’s government.
Some of them know much about the too numerous roles and obsolete equipment and weaponry of our military.
Some know chapter and verse why our air transport system has been foundering.
Many are fearful native policies and programs are pushing Canada toward a profusion of high cost, hived-off welfare states.
Others have strong views on ending the incessant wrangling over health care financing and standards.
Many are shamed by the persistence of both gross and petty patronage, and the bland denials of it by the ministers.
A few offer, and even more dream of, reforms to give them the dignity of a real part in both legislation and scrutiny.
Nonetheless, what has jelled hard across the face of politics is obvious through TV and the House question period: over- simple challenges and responses and an obsession with leaders and loyalty.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, August 30, 2000
ID: 12298891
TAG: 200008300492
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


Do you wager on politics? Say on when the next federal election will be, and who will call it?
If so, think of what’s become clear. Despite muscular displays and his contempt for “Blockwell Day,” Jean Chretien has backed away from calling a fall election. Probably he was more influenced by past misfortunes of those who returned to the electors after less than four years of their mandate than advice that Day would lose his freshness and appeal through fall and winter days in Parliament.
The PM may still be keen on a third mandate, but by next spring there will be much more pressure on him to leave. It will come as it already has, from across the land, not really sparked by either anti-Liberals or the Martinites. Many citizens just want a leadership change – a new face, fresh expositions.
Never bet that a Liberal caucus or a Liberal cabinet would force Chretien’s resignation, but what a squeeze there will be on him to call a leadership convention if Day hasn’t made a fool of himself by the next budget debate. And so the odds have been shortening that someone other than Chretien will call the election. Now it seems at least even money he won’t.
– – –
Phil Fontaine once narrowly lost the election to be grand chief of the First Nations to Ovide Mercredi, a fellow Manitoban, because of accusations he was a covert Liberal.
Then Fontaine won that role, unseating Mercredi, in part by emphasizing Mercredi’s frigid relations with federal ministers.
This year Fontaine lost the post to Matthew Coon Come by a surprisingly wide margin, in part because the winner identified Fontaine as being too close to the Liberals and compromising too much.
Now Fontaine is openly pondering a Liberal candidacy in Manitoba. His home riding is Selkirk-Interlake, won by just 51 votes in 1997 by the Reform party.
The former grand chief is a far abler man than Elijah Harper, a protege of his who once won fame for side-tracking the Meech accord in the Manitoba Legislature. Later, in 1993, Harper took the federal riding of Churchill but lost it in 1997. His few performances in the House fixed on whining about mistreatment of natives.
Fontaine’s open caution about seeking a Liberal candidacy may be just prologue for a promise of a cabinet post. But if the ministry were Indian and Northern Affairs, he would be very vulnerable to two-sided criticism. On the one hand those, notably in the Alliance, who say natives are spoiled, wasteful and overplay the “guilt” card, would jab him for selling the store, whereas militants like Coon Come, who’ve already marked him as a “vendu,” would be vicious unless he brought them much more in lands, money and sovereignty.
– – –
There is irony in the abrupt flouncing Monday by Bob Nault, the Indian Affairs minister, from a public meeting set up for him by the Burnt Church band which is defying regulations enforced by fisheries officials on its lobster-trapping in New Brunswick.
Nault, 45, MP for Kenora-Rainy River since 1988, has more natives in his riding than any MP outside the territories.
From his first day in Ottawa, Nault pursued promotion. He often projected himself as a good fit for the Indian Affairs portfolio. No minister had done really well with it since Chretien’s long, glorious run (1968-74). And none of Nault’s predecessors began with such familiarity with native issues.
Alas, in the House Nault has been curt and dismissive with opposition critics; outside it he has projected much in policy or programs. Worst of all, he set himself back by over-interpreting the “Marshall” decision last year. He openly drew the conclusion the decision had confirmed natives’ priority rights for fish and game, even for logging, across all of Canada.
Chretien quickly scotched Nault’s assumption and the court issued an addendum to its decision which underlined the federal responsibility for regulating fisheries. Led by the Burnt Church band, the natives have focused on their right to harvest and sell, ignoring the regulatory provision. Nault was drawn into their belligerent scenario by demands from chiefs far and wide that he speak for natives. He found an open, public meeting ready, media and all, with even the touchy Ovide Mercredi on hand as band adviser.
By nature Bob Nault is not a sunny, compromising sort like our minister of fisheries, Herb Dhaliwal. Nault had expected closed discussions with the band’s leaders, not open grilling with the networks and Mercredi on hand. He bolted. It is plain he needs redemption? How? With something very difficult – a policy that defines natives’ unique rights to use natural resources in all provinces.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, August 27, 2000
ID: 12298280
TAG: 200008270522
SECTION: Comment


Let me comment on recent points by other journalists about Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance leader.
First, Michel C. Auger of Le Journal de Montreal, writing in the Sun, has argued that the pleasant reception given Day during his first substantial visit to Quebec should not be overblown. He theorizes it will take a long time, likely even an end to the current separatist-federalist polarities before federalists stop voting Liberal and separatists stop voting Bloc Quebecois.
“Breaking the mould,” says Auger, “will take a few more years.”
However, since there will be a federal election next spring, if not this fall, let me recall some previous federal campaigns when there were surprising shifts of party allegiance in the province.
Consider when the Tories bounced from one seat in Quebec (1980) to 58 seats in 1984 after a change of leadership.
Remember the portent in 1957 that became a breakthrough in 1958. That is, in 1953 the Liberals took 66 Quebec seats, the Tories 4; in 1957 the Liberals took 63 seats, the Tories 9; in 1958 the Liberals took 25 seats, the Tories 50.
Recall the shift from 1988 in 1993: the Tories went from 63 seats to one, the Liberals from 12 to 19 and the BQ from none to 54.
I also recall vividly the shock in 1963 when Social Credit went from zero Quebec seats to 26 and then held on to 20 of them in 1965.
I suggest after scanning this past electoral trail that Day and the Alliance might well get a minor Quebec breakthrough in the coming election, say five to 10 seats. Not much, to be sure, but should the Alliance mop up the West and get small breakthroughs in Ontario as well as Quebec, a minority government would be likely.
Columnist Chantal Hebert of the Toronto Star has raised the likelihood that in many western ridings now held by Alliance MPs, zealous anti-abortionists are aiming to replace the incumbents with more socially conservative candidates. Day has already said he would not interfere in riding affairs to guarantee anybody’s nomination, even for proven parliamentary performers like Keith Martin and Val Meredith.
Without doubt, through the months until most Alliance nominations are completed in the ridings it now holds, or in very promising ones, this will be a primary media theme: the takeover of the Alliance by the single-issue “nuts of the far right.” Well, that’s both a vulnerability of the Alliance and the source of much of its drive. An avowedly populist party which from day one has stressed the right of constituents who belong to the party to instruct, even “recall,” their elected representatives, could hardly approve a nomination process which guarantees the chance for re-election to an Alliance MP.
Although touting an infusion of reactionaries to the Alliance caucus is great grist for rival parties, Day and his aides might do research on: a) “single interest” zealots who have won nominations, then seats, in other parties and then pushed their line in Parliament; b) the incumbent MPs of other parties who have lost their nominations at meetings stuffed with hundreds of sudden party members. (Yes, there are some Liberals in both such groups.)
David Jones, once with the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, now a freelance journalist, has asked me four questions about Stockwell Day. Here they are, with answers:
Q. How much will Day be implicitly handicapped by not having a university degree?
A. Very little, I believe, in either the esteem or the critical appraisals of citizens generally, unless it becomes obvious from his performances that his cupboard of general knowledge has little in it.
Q. Are Canadians really conscious of this point yet and will it matter to them?
A. No, to both parts of the query.
Q. Is it just too snobbish even to ask the question?
A. No, but I think two to three decades ago there would have been many snobs on the matter. Since then, university degrees have been much discounted as an achievement.
(On this matter, several times between 1963 and 1972 I pushed at aides to prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau for reasons why their boss did not make Gene Whelan minister of agriculture, given the dearth of farmers among Liberal MPs. Again and again I was told it was Whelan’s lack of higher education. After 1967 I argued the cabinet had prominent ministers without degrees in Bryce Mackasey and Robert Andras, but the refrain was that Whelan’s lack was glaring, theirs was not. This is ironical, given our hindsight of Jean Chretien as an inveterate language-buster. After Trudeau finally elevated Whelan in 1972 he became captivated by Whelan’s folksy gall and let him talk more often and longer than any other minister. Brian Mulroney had a handful of ministers without degrees, including Don Mazankowski, arguably the ablest of them all.)
Q. How long has it been since there was a Canadian PM without a university degree?
A. 104 years!
The fifth of our 20 prime ministers, Mackenzie Bowell (1894-96), was a former newspaperman who had scant schooling. Charles Tupper, his successor (for 10 weeks in 1896), had trained for medicine at Edinburgh and came home as an MD.
Our first PM, Sir John A. Macdonald (1867-74; 1878-92) was a lawyer schooled by practice, not in a university. The second one, Alexander Mackenzie, was a stonemason who had just six years of schooling. The third and fourth PMs, John Abbott and John Thompson, were both well-educated lawyers.
After Tupper, all the prime ministers have earned degrees from Canadian universities: Wilfrid Laurier, Robert Borden, Arthur Meighen, W.L. Mackenzie King, R.B. Bennett, Louis St. Laurent, John Diefenbaker, Pearson, Trudeau, Joe Clark, John Turner, Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Chretien.
Stockwell Day’s entry in the Parliamentary Guide does note “Ed. at University of Victoria.” Further, by this time next year he is almost certain to have an honorary doctorate.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, August 23, 2000
ID: 12297288
TAG: 200008230444
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


The first performances in our House of Commons by any leader of Her Majesty’s official Opposition are always much anticipated and closely appraised. And so it will be for Stockwell Day in late September, when he puts his first questions and makes his first speech in the House.
In a colloquial phrase, Day will be “loaded for bear” as will be his competitors. And not just Jean Chretien; also gunning for the Alliance leader will be Gilles Duceppe of the BQ, Alexa McDonough of the NDP and Joe Clark, the most noticed participant in this coming scenario of partisan welcome if he does win the byelection in Kings-Hants.
Rather than raise expectations of a coming High Noon in the House, let me sketch those who have served as leader of the official Opposition since the end of World War II.
If nothing else, Day is both glib and adroit in argument. While he may not star when the House reassembles, he is most unlikely to be massacred. In fluidity and poise he reminds me of Brian Mulroney and Lucien Bouchard, two other former leaders of the official Opposition, rather than those predecessors in the role who had less cogency and quickness of mind when on their feet – Lester Pearson, Robert Stanfield, Jean Chretien and Preston Manning.
Before the following 10 men became leaders of the official Opposition they had been members of the House of Commons for at least several years: John Diefenbaker (1956, and again in 1963); Lester Pearson (1958); Joe Clark (1975, and again in 1980); Pierre Trudeau (1979); John Turner (1984); Jean Chretien (1990); Lucien Bouchard (1993); Michel Gauthier (1996); Gilles Duceppe (1997); and Preston Manning (1997).
Day is one of only five post-World War II Opposition leaders who came to the job without any previous time in the House. The others were John Bracken (1945), George Drew (1949), Robert Stanfield (1967), and Brian Mulroney (1983). Of course Bracken, Drew, and Stanfield had been provincial premiers, Day has had 14 years in the Alberta Legislature, eight of them as a cabinet minister.
Mulroney is the only leader of the Opposition who assumed the role without any experience in any legislative body. The Liberals planned to cut him to pieces in the House, not only through malicious sarcasm from Trudeau for his first oral questions but in setting immediate traps for him – in particular a sudden debate on official bilingualism, at that time a subject dividing the Tory caucus.
In 1983 it was clear within a fortnight that parliamentary gamesmanship in daily duels with someone as fluent as Mulroney would not much profit the Liberals. The rawest of all rookie party leaders was not outmatched, at least for long, by Trudeau’s toughest performers, Allan MacEachen and Marc Lalonde. Trudeau was rarely a captivating House performer, either in attack or on defence, despite his occasional nastiness in the oral question period.
If Mulroney as Opposition leader is an example which Day seems likely to match in gaining standing rather than losing it through early work in the House, the example of Bob Stanfield in 1967 is one he would do well to examine and avoid.
Stanfield entered a House in which the prime minister, Lester Pearson, was just short of a majority but unable to go to the people to get one after twice failing to do so (in 1963 and 1965).
The Tory leadership convention had rocketed Stanfield and the party in the opinion polls, and the Liberals were desperate to rip away the aura of common sense and good manners which Stanfield radiated. So they played to the ego of John Diefenbaker, the displaced Tory leader. They harped on rivalries still roiling the Tory caucus. Unwisely, at least in the short run, Stanfield chose to concentrate on rebuilding caucus and party unity and co-operation rather than on aggressive, attention-getting questions and opinions for the House. His speeches were spare and skeletal, rarely with graphic metaphors or either visions of a grand future or compelling recitals of Liberal bungling.
What happened was nigh tragedy. As a design, Stanfield as the quiet, firm parliamentarian, a reasonable and friendly leader out to create trust, failed within less than half a year. Briefly, late in 1967, this mattered little. After all, his chief rival, Pearson, was not a barn-burner, in or out of the House. But just before Christmas, Pearson decided to retire, thus launching the dynamic free-for-all contest which chose the charismatic Trudeau. The new PM immediately called an election. Stanfield’s Tories lost 25 seats.
Yes, such bits of political history prompt thought of possible parallels: say, Day fighting a general election within a half-year against Paul Martin or Brian Tobin, not Chretien; or Day, like Stanfield, concentrating less on the House and more on unifying his caucus and wooing Tory voters in eastern Canada.
Day has a model for the latter course in Preston Manning. As a party leader he preferred focusing beyond the House, even when he was leader of the official Opposition. Indeed, that’s how he did himself in. On the other hand, if Joe Clark makes it to the House next month it is a solid bet he will be strenuous and as busy there as possible. Why not? Once, he was a very able parliamentarian.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, August 20, 2000
ID: 12296640
TAG: 200008200456
SECTION: Comment


One needs an arcane word like polymath to encompass Conrad Black – i.e., a person of great and varied learning.
Most polymaths fascinate those who are not, and often the fascination has elements of foreboding and even hatred, as we have witnessed in the joy of many in journalism and politics at the apparent end of Black as the dominant press proprietor in Canada.
My first encounter with a polymath came at university – taking five courses from the late Northrop Frye. Later I met several polymaths on Parliament Hill, men such as the late Eugene Forsey, the late Jack Davis, a minister from B.C. in the Pearson and Trudeau cabinets, and Stanley Hartt, the legal and financial genius Brian Mulroney engaged as deputy minister of finance in 1985.
So often polymaths are uncomfortable for less endowed people. Arrogance can come when erudition and a superb memory are linked to skill at talking and writing.
The recent sale by Black of the Southam newspaper chain to Israel Asper’s CanWest Corp. has been a huge shock, bouncing beyond journalistic circles, and a lot of us are still wondering why it came about. There seems more interest in what follows for Conrad Black than what will come from the Aspers’ hold on so much news space.
What will be the further aspirations in journalism or in influencing Canadian politics of Black and his wife, Barbara Amiel?
Can their retention of the National Post and an influence on its course stand up for the five years, or is it back to Britain and the baronetcy or an endeavour to become a truly major figure in American communications and politics?
In my opinion it will be regrettable if Canadians lose the force and vitality which Black has pushed into our media world, checking the domination of a conventional wisdom built up by the liberally-minded, in particular their preference for direction and control by governments and their conceit about the role of Canada as conscience and exemplar for the globe.
The Aspers, whatever their smarts at turning profits from TV franchises into a great empire, are not in the Black league as polarizers of political values and contentious issues.
My time in close quarters to Conrad Black has been minute: listening to his table conversation at a banquet to promote St. Francis Xavier University two decades ago. Someone asked another guest, Roly Michener, what constituency he had had when he was Speaker of the House of Commons in the Diefenbaker years. He said St. Paul’s in Toronto. Then Black interjected that it must have been grim, losing in the 1962 election by just 123 votes.
Roly said he had forgotten the actual margin. How did Conrad know it? Conrad shrugged and said he had a memory for election data. Another at the table asked him if he recalled what margin Doug Fisher had had in the 1957 election which first made him an MP. Yes, he did: “1,415 votes!”
Then Black, prompted by questions tinged at first with disbelief, went on to recall results in a range of elections of riding results and party standings. It was extraordinary. I tucked it away in my memory as evidence of the huge edge Conrad Black had over most mortals.
One other aspect of the man was already in my memory from a chat I had had in the early 1970s with Betty Black, Conrad’s mother. I interviewed her for a cameo essay about her father, Conrad Riley, a self-made businessman of substance in Manitoba who had been an all-round athlete of distinction and a world-class rower and rowing coach before and after the Great War (in which he had fought heroically).
Mrs. Black stressed her father’s thoroughness in training. She mentioned how he encouraged his children to play sports, and they had. She had enjoyed tennis and golf. So I asked whether her children had the Riley penchant for sport.
She chuckled immediately, saying “Not very much.”
She told me she had two sons. One had some talent but a minor interest in sports; the other had none, even scoffed at it as a waste of time. And she said: “He’s the one named after his grandfather Riley.”
I asked if this son was physically weak or if he disliked competition. The chuckle became a hearty laugh. “Oh no.” Son Conrad was husky and a fierce competitor, but not in sport. His arena was history, his obsession was prevailing in arguments.
Well, there have been many big shifts in the entrepreneurial career of Conrad Black since that chat I had with his mother, but not in the basic Conrad Black she described. What shift could he make now which keeps him engaged in Canadian affairs? The toughest of all challenges for him is obvious, his life thus far a preparation for it: a seat in the House of Commons here, not in the House of Lords.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, August 16, 2000
ID: 12295651
TAG: 200008161463
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


The federal capital is quiet – a good time for figuring who’s up or down or out of it. This is my reading based largely on a westerly run the past fortnight through Ontario, talking and listening to a swatch of people.
I was rather surprised at the shape of political opinion, beginning with the far higher priority the talkers gave to leaders over issues. They were ready, very ready, to say what they thought about Jean Chretien and Paul Martin in relation to each other, or about the respective status of Stockwell Day, Preston Manning and Joe Clark or about Alexa McDonough, the NDP leader, and the dilemmas created for her by union bosses like Buzz Hargrove. No one, however, spoke until prompted about Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc leader, and then vaguely and with shrugs – an indication Quebec isn’t a high concern this summertime.
There was often reference to provincial politics. On what I heard, Premier Harris divides Ontario voters more sharply than any of the federal party leaders, and he seems to have more staunch backers than one might take from the tilt of media coverage against him. Neither Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty nor the NDP’s Howard Hampton seems to have anything like the profile, pro or con, of Mike Harris.
As one who has been a long time on the political watch, I was rather pleased to find so much relative generosity to two old political hands, Chretien and Clark.
No one I encountered hated or detested Chretien. There was almost a complete absence of the animus which I recall was put vividly by so many toward Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson or John Diefenbaker at a similar stage in their mandates.
The sum of viewpoints I elicited was that “Chretien’s done all right.” But most who said this went on to express the judgment that “It’s time the other guy has his chance; he’s done a good job.”
Often those who wanted a new prime minister would mention how long Chretien has been around or note that “his cabinet’s nothing much.” Other than Martin, the only minister much mentioned was Jane Stewart – and usually with scoffs about her stupidity in stonewalling the House. TV snips from question period have done Stewart in.
The only significant policy factor much referred to by those who talked about Chretien as a “good guy” and Martin as “ready and waiting” had to do with government spending. They were sure Martin, as prime minister, would spend less than Chretien. All in all, I found much respect for Paul Martin out there, untainted it seems by the now considerable record of incompetence and chicanery of the Chretien government.
Proportionately more of the Liberals I talked to, while wishing Chretien well, seemed to want Martin. Neither Liberals nor anyone else remarked favourably on other prospects like Allan Rock or Brian Tobin. Also, it was mostly capital “L” Liberals who seemed to fear the threat Day embodies, and thought Martin a surer guarantor of a majority victory than Chretien.
The women who spoke to me about the Chretien-Martin equation usually mentioned how embarrassed they had been by the PM’s recent, desperate playfulness. One said she found the photo-ops with scooters, bikes, skates and stairways as pathetic as the indomitable mind-set of Joe Clark as he dismisses the Alliance as unworthy of his co-operation or a serious threat to the federal Progressive Conservative party.
The generosity toward Clark was often awkward. People were often embarrassed for him. Such a serious man. So dedicated. “A straight arrow,” said one, “but so out of it.”
Oddly, though not so often as with Clark, I heard more kindly references to Manning than I ever did when he was Reform leader. One woman made the point: “He handled defeat well … like Joe Clark after he lost the Tory leadership.”
The opinions I most looked for in my travels were on Stockwell Day, and they amount to this: he has made a positive impression, most notably on younger people.
Day was described as sunny, boyish, fresh, pleasant, energetic, poised, confident, reasonable, clear, straightforward, smooth, glib and likeable.
He seems most welcome because of his freshness and physical vigour and grace. It was mostly dedicated New Democrats worried about medicare and those to whom no issue is more important than a woman’s right to an abortion whom I found already on the attack against Day and the Alliance.
In sum, I would say Stockwell Day has had a good launch. A Day vs. Martin campaign could be exciting.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 30, 2000
ID: 12732886
TAG: 200007301441
SECTION: Comment
SERIES: Part 2 of 2


Where does Parliament stand with the people? Answer: not very high.
Another public opinion poll has just emphasized that cynicism about our politics and its system is high, and rising.
The pollsters found people feel their politicians ignore them in favour of interest groups. They also don’t believe national issues are too complex for discussion and decisions at the grassroots level.
The results confirm the wide recognition that political decisions are made by remarkably few people in power, or with influence, and do not extend to most of those who have won House of Commons seats in elections.
The House is the body whose membership makeup decides which party leader forms the government; then it arrays an organized opposition to challenge that government on its legislation, spending, etc. This is deliberately adversarial – or should be.
At least ideally the House should be a well-reported and vital forum where decisions come after much examination. The House should engage, use and challenge the best talent in it to make trenchant arguments and sensible compromises. This is rarely the case. It has not been so for decades, perhaps since the minority Parliament which functioned, rife with excitement, from 1972-74.
In each of the six majority Parliaments since 1974, a lot of dissatisfaction bubbled up among MPs, usually late in each mandate and mostly among backbenchers – of all parties.
Certainly only very stupid MPs do not know about their remarkable insignificance in the direction and operation of government after election night. Many MPs do flinch over the irony in their slack attendance in the chamber, aside from their large turnout for the daily 45-minute farce of question period. Yet it’s the posturing of QP which shapes and supplies so much media coverage of national politics (only, of course, when the House is sitting, which at most is 135 days a year).
Much of the pervasive cynicism about MPs centres on their perqs, pensions and patronage – the MPs as freeloaders! Such public scorn has helped bolster the widespread view of MPs as obedient creatures of their leader and party.
And such certainty explains why across the land the most advocated parliamentary reform is for many more “free votes” on motions and bills. Often tied to this demand is one for far fewer “confidence” motions, which presume that loss of the vote requires a government resign.
Recently, Financial Post columnist Diane Francis did a series on parliamentary reform. Much of what she advocates about the Senate and representation requires constitutional change that would be hard to achieve. Her propositions come from her bias against much of what governments do. For example, she would both downsize government and reduce its role, including big cuts in MPs and their sittings.
Such views seem widely held, most notably in private sector business. By and large Francis is a “small government” advocate whose ideas on Parliament and government are close to those of Stockwell Day, Ralph Klein and Mike Harris.
Clearly, such advocacy for fewer MPs and sitting days reflects an opinion that MPs have been generally useless, expensive and unneeded.
Within a Parliament whose members are aware of such contempt what are the reforms they themselves would like?
Whatever the party, backbenchers seem to have similar wants, perhaps most of all for more free votes in the House, i.e., much less leadership control of an MP’s views.
Some MPs want more involvement of permanent House committees in the development of legislation and in carrying out inquiries. Some want definitive responses by the executive to committees’ recommendations.
Many would like more discussion and votes on proposals advanced in the public bills of plain MPs. Some would force lobbyists to make known their views and bids to them rather than with ministers and mandarins.
Others would like to raise the quorum of the House to 50 or 60 MPs, including at least three cabinet ministers. In short, raise both the participant count and and its credibility for the debating hours. Some would like question period to be extended. Many want the Speaker to use rules now ignored which forbid repetitious questions and prefaces to questions which are laced with assertions of incompetence, dishonesty, etc. Others would like the stabilizing effect of a fixed parliamentary mandate, say four years. This, of course, would take a formidable power away from the prime minister.
I’ve always believed the key to real parliamentary reform is in the hands of government backbenchers. Despite their many murmurs, the current gang is unlikely to turn the key, and they are the ones most neutered by an overweening PMO and the Liberal custom of obeying those on high.
Genuine change in the temper, conduct, and worth of the House will only come when its backbenchers stop craning upwards to their big bird. Spurred by the ignominy of their days, they have to demand respect for the House and its work from the prime minister, his mandarins, and the other party leaders and their hired hands.
This, however, seems improbable under Jean Chretien’s aegis. He “loves” the House as it is.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, July 26, 2000
ID: 12732402
TAG: 200007261521
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill
SERIES: Part 1 of 2


Stockwell Day would reform Parliament, as would his predecessor, Preston Manning. As populists they would make talk populism. They would make Parliament more “democratic” by regularly linking it with the people through national referendums on top issues, ways for electors to “recall” their MPs, and using “free votes” in the House so MPs who jump party lines do not face retribution enforced by party whips.
The No. 2 Liberal, Finance Minister Paul Martin, recently said “Parliament must remain front and centre stage in the modern global village.” He added that “MPs are the linchpin of democracy.” They fill “the need for a national forum of debate.”
Such platitudes were in an address emphasizing the need for parliamentary changes. If MPs are such a linchpin, what needs changing? The would-be prime minister was light on particulars but it was taken in Ottawa he was cueing a host of unhappy Liberal backbenchers, such as Dennis Mills and Roger Gallaway, that a Martin administration would involve much more in the development of legislation and programs.
Joe Clark would also reform Parliament, particularly in freeing government MPs from the iron control which is now exercised by a prime minister and his coterie. Clark’s Senate leader, John Lynch-Staunton, has set out a radical, seven-point program to meet “the urgent need for parliamentary reform.” Its first point is a blockbuster: the election of the prime minister by all the voters.
Those in power in Ottawa are rarely so daring in saving Parliament. Witness Paul Martin’s timid signals. It also needs emphasis that the topicality of reforming the House is far higher in the third to fourth years of a majority mandate. Inside and out, dissatisfaction grows, but rarely does it bring more than procedural tinkering. Certainly, saving Parliament has never been a top issue in federal election campaigns.
Bill Blaikie, an NDP MP, has worked assiduously through 21 years and six Parliaments to make the House more pivotal in legislating and more relevant to the public. He has seen almost no progress toward a more dynamic House as the true talk-shop for the nation. He thinks the shift has almost been completed in his House years from government by cabinet to government by the prime minister and staff.
Before more on saving Parliament in both this and my next column let me underline three aspects of the parliamentary scenario.
First, truly major reforms in parliamentary affairs are hard to achieve because most of them – such as abolishing the Senate or big cuts in the number of House seats – require constitutional change, a process that is long and difficult. Such a weight of provinces has to support such changes.
Second, the longest-running discussion in our politics since its start in 1867 has been about the Senate. Abolish it? Keep it, but reform it? Make it elective, not appointed? Far more fervour has gone into reform of the Senate than the House. In particular, Western Canadians have been testy. They suffer a quantity of senators below their proportion to the population and their region’s importance in the economy.
Westerners keep saying an elected Senate would strengthen provincial interests against domination by a tax-rich central government. Such a defence cannot be provided by those Western MPs who support the federal government because they toe the line enforced by a party in power, largely backed by Eastern MPs. And opposition MPs are rarely able to influence, let alone block, the legislation and spending pushed through by the majority, given that all the parties in the House exert caucus discipline based on loyalty to the party leader, particularly the one who is prime minister.
This obsession with fixing the Senate has deflected attention from what may be or is wrong with the House. And this brings up the third prevailing aspect in our reform scenario. It is the refusal of those within the parliamentary system to face up to an emptiness and lack of vitality in the House that goes far beyond slack attendance.
The dominant feature of the House in session is the daily charade of the oral question period, sandwiched in between several hours of badly attended, rarely reported “debates.”
Most MPs, in particular the 30-odd ministers and the party leaders, do not talk about the sea of empty seats. Most MPs can no longer bear listening to debates. Rarely are more than 30 of the 300 MPs in their places. In short, MPs show the unimportance of the House by staying out of it.
Despite national TV coverage of the House at work, despite 300-odd members of the parliamentary press, the news and commentary on the oft-touted “cut and thrust” of House debate is scanty. The unwillingness of MPs to listen to each other is overlooked.
An emerging consequence of this disinterest in the House of Commons, both inside and out, and the widespread discounting of MPs, is criticism which advocates far fewer MPs and parliamentary sittings.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 23, 2000
ID: 12732103
TAG: 200007231454
SECTION: Comment


It’s hard to believe what seems obvious: that Paul Martin has sanctioned the repeated leaks by his coterie over recent weeks which portray him as torn between resigning from Parliament and carrying on as minister of Finance until Jean Chretien calls a general election for his third mandate.
The leaks come with suggestions the PM has treated his No. 1 minister and obvious successor quite shabbily, even jabbing openly how Chretien and Martin are in the same age range. The Martin group posits that another run with Chretien as Liberal leader means a high risk of a minority victory against a reorganized official Opposition with a fresh, personable leader. In contrast, Martin as Liberal leader would guarantee a handy majority and a grievous rebuff to Stockwell Day and the Canadian Alliance.
If these leaks have been a considered tactic by the Martin group, one wonders what consideration, if any, these thinkers gave to the history of Liberal behaviour as a party, a ministry, and a caucus when in office since Lester Pearson won its leadership in 1958 by defeating Martin’s father.
Loyalty! Loyalty to party, and among Liberals more than members of any other parties, party equates with leader.
At this time I believe that close to a majority of Liberal MPs would prefer to go into the next election under Martin. Such substantial support has been sparked by widespread frustration over the tight domination of cabinet and caucus by Chretien’s PMO.
Along with this there are views widely held in the caucus that Chretien has played out his program aims and by and large is simply revelling in being prime minister because he knows he is good at it. How does he know? Because the polls tell him so; so does his experience over almost four decades on or near the Hill.
Yes, there is a sizeable appreciation among Liberals, as elsewhere, particularly in the business sector, that Martin really has been more the key dynamic in ending Canada’s gruesome string of annual deficits than Chretien.
Yes, many Liberals also prize Martin because he is both a smoother public person and less maladroit in speech and argument than the PM.
Yes, most members of caucus realize that really major ministerial promotions and departures are far more likely with Martin as leader.
Yes, the more analytical Liberals appreciate that beyond Paul Martin there isn’t an interesting, attractive alternative to Jean Chretien at hand if Martin quits. Ministers such as Allan Rock, John Manley, Sheila Copps, Anne McLellan and Lloyd Axworthy have had chances to strut their stuff the past seven years and none of them has come on as an obvious candidate for the top job.
But all the substance in arguments favouring Martin over Chretien, or anyone else, doesn’t outweigh the conscience in most Liberals that it is wrong – a sacrilege which profanes their party’s mansion – to threaten the incumbent prime minister with the choice: “If you won’t leave politics, I will.”
As an addendum on the Liberals, the party has almost always conducted its own opinion polls while closely following public ones. So party activists know the government and the prime minister continue to rate well with voters – after 37 months of Jean Chretien’s second majority mandate.
It is beyond experience or imagination that the Martin backers’ repetitious intimation of his departure from electoral politics will convince Chretien not to run again. Already he is confidently relishing the partisan game ahead this fall in which he will take apart Stockwell Day. The stage he’ll choose for this is more likely to be the fall and winter sittings of the House than the electoral hustings.
It would seem sensible for Paul Martin to put an end to the will-he-or-won’t-he leaks, be the loyalist and carry on as the solid, tidy minister of finance, waiting to see how Jean Chretien fares against the vigorous, fresh fellow from the West.
Already one can sense the Liberals – joining with vociferous and anxious feminists, homosexuals, unionists, aboriginals, and social democrats – are likely to go too far in demonizing Stockwell Day.
An American who has been a close observer of our politics told me last week that too much of such scary invective against a political leader backfires because of television’s effect. And it’s through television that most voters measure their politicians.
The Stockwell Day whom he has seen and heard on television in recent weeks is believable and likeable. He thinks Day may have the presence and the arguments to profit rather than suffer from the flood of semi-hysterical charges of racism, homophobia, religiosity, and anti-everything being thrown at him. The public has a sense of fairness.
This speculation makes sense to me. If Stockwell Day endures a hatcheting from Jean Chretien in good temper for a few months, this may well become his advantage. If it does, the Liberals might well turn for leadership to a loyal and still available Paul Martin.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, July 19, 2000
ID: 12731621
TAG: 200007191550
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


In his bid for to lead the aboriginals of Canada, a Cree leader, Matthew Coon Come, the new grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations (ANF) promised the 600-odd chiefs he would be far tougher in confronting the Liberal government than the incumbent chief, Phil Fontaine.
More open confrontation, less quiet negotiation – that’s Coon Come, and he upset Fontaine in the election.
The Cree’s public reputation fits his promise to hit hard, although it’s ironic that Fontaine himself gained the high post three years ago by arguing that Ovide Mercredi, the chief he ousted, had been so confrontational the ministers wouldn’t talk with him.
Coon Come, as a chief of the Cree in northern Quebec, successfully carried the fight against a second huge hydro-electric project (James Bay II) by going to the media and the politicians in New York and several New England states in the early 1990s, emphasizing its destruction of the environment and the natives’ way of life. So James Bay II went on Quebec’s back burner because it couldn’t get long-range contracts to buy the power it would generate.
Chief Coon Come also made a large impact and won many friends among environmentalists everywhere with statements on the respect of the Cree nation for nature. As he put it: “We have hunted and fished, in balance with nature, for more than 300 years.”
At this moment, the Cree of Quebec have another challenge to the Quebec government: a major, continuing lobby of the mighty American retailer Home Depot. They seek a boycott of Quebec lumber because it comes through destructive clear-cutting of forests.
Another of Coon Come’s projects created much interest and approval in “the Rest of Canada” because it bedevilled the likes of Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard. This was the sponsorship of a referendum for the aboriginals in Quebec on the Parti Quebecois’ aim of sovereignty for Quebec.
The Cree are determined to remain Canadian. If Canada is divisible through the right of the Quebecois to self-determination, then so is Quebec. Not only have Coon Come’s people the right to stay in Canada, along with them will be the vast territory in which they are the largest population group.
Anyone who has so vigorously checkmated the PQ and the BQ has pleased a lot of Canadians. It may be safer, however, if Canadians realized that appreciation of the grand chief may not be what they feel by the end of this three-year term.
He is a bold, sharp, articulate leader. He has played confidently on the North American stage, even the UN stage. He will likely make Phil Fontaine seem almost neutral and Ovide Mercredi too angry and maladroit. He also knows more practical stuff than almost anyone else in Canada about the creation, acceptance, progress and troubles of the only huge aboriginal land settlement agreement there has been for a lengthy period – the James Bay and Northern Quebec pact of 1975.
In passing, anyone who is fascinated by partisan politics must note that the tag which Coon Come hung on Fontaine during the leadership race was the same one which Mercredi used against Fontaine in 1991 when he edged him out of the grand chief’s job.
You may recall that the very smooth Dene chief, George Erasmus, had headed the AFN from 1985-91. He chose to give it up in expectation of co-chairing a royal commission on aboriginal peoples (which he did). Fontaine was thought to be a cinch to replace Erasmus until Mercredi hammered him with being a capital “L” Liberal, backed by the Liberal “machine.”
This helped Mercredi win, but six years later his own aggressiveness had earned him isolation from Ron Irwin, then Jean Chretien’s Indian Affairs minister. Thus, Fontaine defeated Mercredi by promising the chiefs a regime of patient negotiation and co-operation with the government. Certainly in Jane Stewart’s long honeymoon as minister of Indian Affairs (1997-99) she and Fontaine seemed to have an open, positive rapport, and this appearance was what Coon Come exploited as Liberal partisanship.
So we must expect harsher exchanges on a range of aboriginal demands by Coon Come, speaking for the First Nations, with the PM and Bob Nault, the Indian Affairs minister.
But on the other hand, among politicians and as a factor in public attitudes, there has been a notable increase recently in criticism of the programs and high costs of federal aboriginal policy. Credit or blame for this could go to Reform/Alliance native policy or to reiterated horror stories by the auditor general about skulduggery and waste in the annual $5 billion-plus spent on native affairs. Quick, generous responses to Coon Come’s demands on government will not be useful stuff for the Liberals in the next election.
White guilt is going out of style, or so it seems to me. A nation-wide concern is shaping over the 3% – or less – of Canadians who have an exceptional status based on an inherited blood right in perpetuity, a right which portends scores of self-governing enclaves within Canada, most of them welfare states sustained by perpetual government funding.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 16, 2000
ID: 12731306
TAG: 200007161305
SECTION: Comment


No sooner was Stockwell Day confirmed as the newest leader of a federal party of substance than some were noticing parallels with John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau, two party leaders who swept rather quickly from relative obscurity to the leadership and then to power.
The Trudeau-Day comparison emphasized the immediacy of the physical and social impression of each man on people at large, each appearing youthful and brimming with purpose.
The Dief-Day comparison stressed that once again a new man from the West was striding onto the national scene, talking about change and ousting a gang of time-servers without vision.
It seemed interesting, perhaps sensible, to scan through the leaders chosen by federal parties, renewing memories of their variety and consequences.
The first party convention to choose a leader came in 1919 when the Liberals picked W.L. Mackenzie King through delegates assembled from ridings across the country. King led the Grits until 1948, and have only had five leaders since then: Louis St. Laurent (1948-58), Lester Pearson (1958-68), Trudeau (1968-84), John Turner (1984-90), and Jean Chretien (1990-?).
Only Turner had western ties, including education at the University of British Columbia, and represented a Vancouver seat while party leader. However his halcyon days as the PM-in-waiting were spent on Bay Street.
Of their leaders from King to Chretien, only King and Trudeau were seen as fresh and markedly different than past leaders. St. Laurent, Pearson, and Chretien each had long, open apprenticeships in major ministries through several mandates before they won their leadership titles.
The Conservatives have had 11 leaders since 1919, with two of them, Arthur Meighen and Joe Clark, getting second terms after long interludes.
Here are the Tory leaders in order: Meighen (1919-27), R.B. Bennett (1927-35), Bob Manion (1938-40), Meighen (1941-42), John Bracken (1942-48), George Drew (1948-56), Diefenbaker (1956-67), Bob Stanfield (1967-76), Clark (1976-83), Brian Mulroney (1983-93), Kim Campbell (1993), Jean Charest (1993-98), and Clark again, (1999-?).
Seven of the 11 have been westerners (if one defines Manion as one, given he represented a Lakehead riding very much in the western orbit.) Five of these westerners became prime ministers – Meighen, Bennett, Diefenbaker, Clark, and Campbell, although ruling was brief for Clark and Campbell.
Bracken, a long-time premier in Manitoba, wouldn’t accept the Tory leadership during World War II until its membership embraced a new name – the Progressive Conservative party – linking the Tories with their heritage and role since Confederation to the populist ideas of the Progressive party, which sent 63 MPs to Parliament in 1921.
Given the similarities in locale and populist principles, the Progressives who surged into the House in 1921 remind one of the Reform host under Preston Manning, which rolled in from the 1993 election and which their leader has now turned into the Canadian Alliance – a broader alternative (much as Bracken sought) with a fresh leader. In politics, there is rarely anything new under the sun.
These data on the leaders of the two “old-line” parties indicate there’s nothing rare on the conservative side of our politics about choosing a westerner like Stockwell Day.
As one who has heard and seen political performances by all but Arthur Meighen of the federal party leaders named here, I would generalize that at the moment of their choosing there were positive expectations even for the quickly buffeted and downsized choices like Bob Manion or Kim Campbell.
My second generalization is more apropos today: the Liberals are invariably masterful at castigation which rubs away the prestige and the wider backing which new leaders of rival parties usually have. They did it quicker with George Drew than with either Bennett, Diefenbaker or Mulroney, but all four departed the Tory leadership blackened by public anathema. That wasn’t necessary with Bob Stanfield. He was too nice, too slow, and matched against Trudeau too soon.
Trudeau was one of the two federal leaders – Diefenbaker the other – in my time who really wrought magic by presence, not just on the hustings but as public personalities.
As yet, Day as the Alliance’s new leader cannot be classified as leading an old traditional party, although it could come to that after the next election. It is very early stages for him, but of all the lot from King and Meighen to Chretien and Clark, et al., he is most remindful of Diefenbaker and Trudeau in a unique, magnetic presence which excites people. At the moment it seems likely to be more than a regional phenomenon.
Oh, his is a fragile asset. But before it is broken or worn away, it could cause an electoral shakeup as memorable as those of 1958 and 1968.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, July 12, 2000
ID: 12730788
TAG: 200007121587
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Stockwell Day is getting much advice, a lot of it on what not to do or not to emphasize. For example, he shouldn’t be seen too much and, when he is, he should skirt the several controversial social issues which rival parties see as his Achilles’ heel.
The freshness of celebrity stales with day-to-day exposure. Some mystery lengthens celebrity, and mystery burgeons when there is an insistence on privacy and aloofness (see Pierre Trudeau, 1967-68, as fame came to him). When Jean Chretien opens up a byelection for the new leader of the Canadian Alliance, aside from making Day’s schedule more complex, it will demand much time in the public eye, even if the contest does not include Tory leader Joe Clark.
Day has recognized that the federal election campaign is already under way, but it could be next May before it’s over. Well before then, the Liberal party he aims to defeat may have changed its leader. And so he should begin pacing himself, distinguishing between open engagements and the profusion of closed ones he needs for colloquy on policy and priorities. Discussion, most of it private, is also the key to forging a coherent caucus, as it is with recruiting candidates, particularly in Quebec and Ontario, and installing fundraising and advertising programs.
Day should appreciate that under Preston Manning there was hardly a thorough use of the abilities in a quite talented caucus.
What are the most apparent flaws or shortfalls in Day as a candidate for our top office? All too easily he may be tagged as a lightweight because he is so smoothly glib. Distrust of such skill is strong in Canada (see Brian Mulroney or Stephen Lewis).
Some will say Day couples a lack of experience with a formal education of indifferent quality. As a performer on stage or playing to a camera he is pleasant, positive, and slick. Mercifully, however, he seems to have no inclination to be taken as profound; on the other hand, he has not yet shown he has much mastery of our political and economic story (as Manning has) or much lucid content at hand to sustain his major policy intentions, like a national “flat tax” or the use of referendum questions to determine public approval or rejection of legislative intentions on contentious matters.
Day seems to be promising a smaller, less omniscient and pervasive federal government with more devolution of responsibilities and tax points to the provinces. Obviously, this will have the best chance for favourable responses in Quebec, B.C. and Alberta. But it suggests (though he hasn’t phrased it this way as yet) that Day’s party does not foresee much of a federal role in leading and shaping either national economic policies or our social and welfare programs.
Being against big government rings bells with a lot of electors, but critics can easily twist this into advocating the end of national leadership, leaving most governance to the provinces and national economic development to the magic of the global marketplace.
Consider just two propositions which Day has advanced recently, each of which could bring him crowns of thorns.
He favours some federal funding for religious and ethnic schools. When asked how this squared with education as the constitutional responsibility of the provinces, he agreed it would be difficult to get them to co-operate with such a program. Nonetheless, he would try. And if joint federal-provincial agreements could not be attained, then he would consider federal tax credits for parents with children in such schools.
Ponder that venture for a moment. What would such federal largesse do to undercut the public school systems of the provinces? What about their reductions in pupils and staff or their usual role of maintaining standards of achievement?
Another Day proposition has attracted many of us who see our Armed Forces as undermanned, badly-equipped, over-tasked, and poorly led on both the civilian and military sides. He would provide much more backing for equipment and supply, but so far has produced no “defence” paper.
There has been much Canadian confusion about peacekeeping, peacemaking, defending sovereignty, aid to civil authorities, the role of the militia and whether the capacity to kill in defence or on attack should be the core aim of military training and readiness.
There is more to revivifying an able military than better guns, tanks, boats, subs and helicopters. Above all, we need an intelligent context for the military based on the probable international scenarios and a working relationship with our neighbour and necessary ally which gives us some pride and some say. That context has to be explained by Day fairly soon in terms of what Chretien, Lloyd Axworthy, Art Eggleton, etc. have done and failed to do with or about the military.
Ah, advice is so easy when we have a relatively empty slate before us. To reduce mine to a sentence: Day should bring his priorities before us in a measured way, always contrasting or comparing his particulars with those of the Chretien regime.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 09, 2000
ID: 12730486
TAG: 200007091483
SECTION: Comment


Opposition parties rarely focus for long on bad administration in the federal government. Oh, they demand the heads of vapid ministers like Jane Stewart and lament “billion-dollar boondoggles,” but rarely do they dig deeply or widely into the incompetence and waste in our largest bureaucracy.
The auditor general’s reports list and detail cases of bad management and incompetent services. For example, the sum of his tales of waste and lost controls in the billions spent annually by Indian Affairs would make a huge tome on shameful yet shameless waste.
Most of the AG’s cases and crocked programs like the new long gun registry or helicopters unsafe to fly get brief splashes in the media, then fade away. Meanwhile, the PM, his ministers and deputy ministers keep reiterating Ottawa’s most banal, eternal platitude: “Canada has one of the finest, if not the finest, public service in the world.”
Yes, this column is settling into a jeremiad about our costliest, perpetuating fiasco, and not about the latest in haywire administration. We are learning how the Chretien government is responding to changes demanded years ago by a court resolving the complex, politically correct requirement of pay equity for women in the public service.
The latest response, allegedly costing over $500 million to create, is called the Universal Classification System (UCS). Its roots lie in Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights. Subsequent rulings by human rights commissions, confirmed by judges, required redress in dollar terms for federal workers who were paid less than others doing work of “equal value.”
The court rulings not only led to huge awards, sawed off last year at a cost to the federal treasury of over $3 billion, they gave the federal government notice that by 2000 it should have worked up a fair, complete system of job classification.
Unfortunately, the Chretien government refused to extend its generosity to the mostly female secretaries and clerical staff who work for federal agencies which have been moved from the core public service in the last decade. The cabinet says these agencies are now “separate” employers.
On and on and on pay equity goes, and where it ends nobody knows.
Aside from equity for women, the government also requires that a share of its jobs and promotions must go to aboriginals, disabled persons, and visible minorities, and of course bilingual qualifications win recognition and a higher pay range. All this makes for a maze, almost defying workable classification.
The first analyses of this new UCS have been leaked, and indicate it largely ignores the private sector/marketplace as a standard-setter for federal job rates.
The leaks have coincided with several studies critical of federal pay scales and job evaluations, largely because they ignore the real world of the open market for highly subjective comparisons of widely different tasks. Senior bureaucrats have already indicated that despite the UCS they would handle the problem of greater rewards in the private sector for “knowledge” workers by offering them annual bonuses.
A topical report from the Canadian Policy Research Networks says Ottawa is a generous employer, its average pay 8% higher on average than comparable private sector work. Unfortunately for a service which needs more so-called “knowledge” workers, it is its clerical and service workers, the majority of whom are women, who bulk up the pay average. Of course, their edge comes largely from the requirements of pay equity.
The auditor general’s last report said this:
“Knowledge workers now constitute 55% of public servants (up from about 33% 15 years ago). They are bringing new expectations to the workplace, heightening the need for change.”
He also emphasized how skewed the age profile of federal employees has become: “The percentage aged 45 to 54 has doubled over the last 14 years, and 70% of executive could retire within 10 years … meanwhile, the percentage of public servants under 35 years of age is roughly half that in the Canadian work force.”
So colloquially put, our largest bureaucracy is “rusting out.” It needs infusions of our best and brightest young people. It needs more skilled workers and fresh, able managers. And what’s the prime thing on hand for it under the Chretien administration? A job classification system that compounds what’s already wrong or will further weaken administrative competence.
The most obvious idiocy in the new job and pay system for federal departments is that it does not address the scenario of knowledge workers and managers being paid less than their parallels in the private sector. This is stupid, given that employment from the surge of high-tech ventures in the capital region has now edged past that in the federal government.
Who’s to blame for all this shoddy governance? Firstly, people in high places, and not just in the PMO or cabinet.
The present chief bureaucrat, the Clerk of the Privy Council, and his immediate predecessor, share the blame. So should the judges who demanded the impossible. Those deputy ministers who were to have the system demanded by the courts in place by the new millennium are not blameless, nor are the opposition leaders and MPs who have never consistently exposed bad administration and demanded proof of sound, frugal administration.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, July 05, 2000
ID: 12729978
TAG: 200007051517
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Let us assume Stockwell Day holds the lead he has over Preston Manning. After Saturday’s vote, what will or should he do to settle into the Alliance leadership and aim for a majority from the next federal election?
To ask is to remember a prime minister with a majority may call an election any time within five years of the vote that put his or her party into office.
In short, the call could come any time from next week until the fall of 2002. Day must assume it could be as early as next month, with election day set for mid-October.
Much of the uncertainty is not with the Alliance but on the Liberal side. As chief opponent to the Liberal leader (whether or not it is Jean Chretien) Day presents different problems than Manning would have in his third run for the PMO.
Probably the very first question about Day that is before Chretien and his PMO minders is whether it would be shrewd to go to the people quickly, before Day has a chance to show his leadership qualities in the House of Commons, or if they should give him the chance to reveal he has nothing much but a youthful facade of energy.
It is almost practice that a prime minister will quickly call a byelection to give a new leader of the Official Opposition a chance to get into the House, providing an incumbent MP opens the prospect. Clearly, several winnable seats are at hand for Day, and Chretien could not be so duplicitous as to call a byelection before the end of July and then dissolve this Parliament before Day could join it.
My hunch is that the Liberal masterminds have been somewhat shocked, maybe even shaken, by the membership data of the Alliance in Ontario – the bedrock source of 101 of the Liberals’ 155 MPs. That over 60,000 Ontario citizens bought Alliance memberships is striking. So is the fact the largest share of the 34,000 votes cast in Ontario went to Day, just ahead of Tom Long and far ahead of Preston Manning.
According to data from G.P. Murray Research Ltd., in 35 Ontario ridings over 400 Alliance members voted, and in 16 of these the count was over 500. Sure, you can doubt the durability of such memberships but they are a rollicking campaign augury for the Alliance – and Day – if Chretien opts for a fall election. And if Day continues to attract attention and pick up fans as he has since early spring, it presages a deuces-wild election scenario.
My less certain hunch is double-barrelled: firstly, that there won’t be an election in 2000, and that before Christmas Chretien will imitate Lester Pearson in 1967 and call for a leadership convention. This would shift the nation’s attention from Day to the likes of Paul Martin, Allan Rock and Brian Tobin. Some may recall that the race which ended in an exciting, narrow victory for Pierre Trudeau wrung out the big lead in opinion polling attained by Bob Stanfield, the fresh leader of the Tory Opposition.
Whatever Chretien may decide in the next two or three months, Stockwell Day has to aim to get in the House, preferably before it resumes sitting on Sept. 18. Immediately he must more than commiserate with Messrs. Manning and Long. He needs to get the latter hooked on a candidacy in the next election, perhaps with the responsibility as chief organizer or planner for the selection of candidates and campaign themes in Ontario.
As for Manning, Day needs him “inside the tent” and active in the caucus as it works on the Hill, not as a semi-retired wanderer through his western heartland. One suggestion is to give Manning the responsibility for making the case to voters about the incompetence of the Chretien cabinet and the waste and patronage sleaze in the administration. Of course, the new leader would be wise to see that Rick Anderson, Manning’s so-called chief strategist, is no longer the surrogate with the media for the party leadership and to do without such a guru.
Day has to figure on this Parliament continuing until he knows differently, and so he needs to be warm with his 50-odd caucus mates without indulging in drastic changes in assignments. Many of the most active Alliance MPs in the House, like Deborah Grey, Chuck Strahl, Diane Ablonczy and Monte Solberg, supported Manning and are able enough to merit prominent use rather than being set back in favour of the new leader’s own disciples.
One reason the Reform caucus was less effective than it could have been stemmed from Manning’s preference for proselytizing across the country over being at his seat – speech-making, questioning, and giving the House more significance.
Until the call comes, an opposition party on the rise needs to be led in the House itself – and from Ottawa as a media platform rather than from Calgary or Red Deer.
Thinking back, however much awkward baggage he brings to his task, thus far Stockwell Day looks much more promising electorally than, say, Joe Clark or Kim Campbell, and almost as promising as Brian Mulroney in 1983.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 02, 2000
ID: 12248201
TAG: 200007021452
SECTION: Comment


Despite the impression a foreigner might take from our highly-organized interest groups with their grievances and remedies, Canadians have much to appreciate. It is sensible to give details for such a cheerful judgment about our dominion as its citizens mark its first birthday in the new century. How best to do this? By a quick review of the matters which have most concerned Canadians through our history.
It struck me when formally studying history in the late 1940s that the most consistent worries of Canadians fell under three broad concerns: First came unemployment and the threat or burdens of economic recession; second came the apprehensions over our basic division of anglos and francos; third, the need for close economic ties with the United States as against the prospect this made of losing either our identity or independence or both.
These are still sizeable concerns, although each is somewhat in abeyance at this time. Of course, other matters have worried us or sparked political actions, particularly since World War II, the most transforming collective effort in our 133 years as a nation.
My shortlist of continuing or recurring matters of wide concern goes on from unemployment, our basic division, and the dilemmas for us in American power. In a topical sense, a prime subject, now unsettled by skyrocketing costs, is our country-wide system of universal medicare.
Then beyond the French-English divisiveness, still edgy despite federalism’s victories in the referendums on sovereignty, there remain problems in federal-provincial relations, at this time most obvious in financing the health system.
An extra-parliamentary form of political consultation and decisions, much of it behind closed doors, has been regularized by repeated federal-provincial conferences and meetings of federal and provincial ministers responsible for specific matters such as justice or the environment or agriculture or fisheries. On the whole, the balance of influence, particularly in a negative sense, has been tilting to the provinces and away from Ottawa.
In the past two decades, the three economic topics beyond unemployment which have most created debate and demands for political leadership are: (a) fears of inflation and how to control it; (b) the huge public debt and when and how it should be paid down; (c) the burden of taxation, particularly on income and on goods, and its effect on national competitiveness and in dampening spending on goods and services.
Another concern of much import and recent emergence is environmental.
Beyond saving the planet, and saving our waters and forests from pollution and regaining human harmony with the enormous natural endowments which Canada has, environment practices threaten jobs and trade in the natural resource industries, still vital in so many of our regional economies.
Immigration continues to be another substantial concern, in particular the quantity and nature of the immigrants. But really strident and emotional debate and divisiveness have been muted for years – as have the programs and policies for aboriginal people – in large part because of the devastating effects in politics of the charge of being racist.
Perhaps the most creative of all fields of concern in recent years can be measured by its big share of news and commentary. Credit must go to the widespread use of the use of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on behalf of the downtrodden or of those who are seen by many good citizens to be underdogs. It has far from run its course in the courts. Who have Charter decisions helped? Women! Homosexuals! The disabled! “Visible” minorities! And aboriginal people!
There is no justification for being congratulatory or soppy about Canada as wonderful and Canadians as ripe for comparisons with people of other countries. But consider the following:
– The lowest unemployment in decades; inflation down; governmental deficits gone or going; debt being reduced, at least marginally, and most political parties talking tax cuts;
– Quebec separatism alive but far from threatening, and little, apparent animosity between French and English Canadians, and as yet no premier in sight to lead a gang-up of premiers to reduce sharply the federal powers;
– Almost all well in relations with the U.S., and certainly far from a crisis;
– The existence and the vigilance of a strong majority for keeping a universal health plan in operation, and of a devoted minority dedicated to environmental reform;
– And the rights industry – victims, lawyers, and judges – humming along.
Yes, seriously, this is one of our better birthday times.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, June 28, 2000
ID: 12247159
TAG: 200006281268
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Let me comment about the eclipse of Preston Manning before turning to Stockwell Day whom so many in political journalism, aghast at his religiosity, see as a threat to a sensible Canada.
If you compare Reform with previous political parties born in the West which had much influence in Parliament or a time without attaining power – i.e., the Progressives, the CCF, and Social Credit – this creation of Preston Manning has had more success in a shorter time, particularly at framing public debate on economic policy and federal-provincial relations, and to a lesser degree in fashioning an able opposition caucus.
But Manning has been in a rush, driven by Reform’s failure to take seats in 1997 in eastern Canada. So out of and beyond Reform he conjured a new party for the eastern purpose. Now it has jelled but without the high role for him as its leader, nor, one imagines, any place for Rick Anderson, Manning’s eminence grise and top strategist.
Although Manning is industrious as well as very bright, in his seven years as an MP he never took much to assiduous work in the House itself. He is very much a populist. Contact and exchanges with plain citizens are more rewarding and important to him than working within the procedures and detailed content inherent in both legislation and financial scrutiny.
At best, in the House Manning was a Tuesday-Thursday or less MP. He preferred organizing tours beyond Ottawa. If he is not the Alliance leader, could he find satisfaction and do well in this House or the next one as a secondary figure? Not in my opinion. And he is too decent to be a negative or divisive personality within either the Alliance or a House caucus led by Stockwell Day.
Our prime ministers call elections, and last month Jean Chretien promised one within a year. It’s a good bet that he or Paul Martin will deliver on the promise. Day may choose to “Joe Clark” it, rather than take up a safe seat one of his Alberta MPs could open for him. If Day does concentrate on the country rather than a role in the present House, he will have to decide whether Deborah Grey carries on as leader of the official opposition for the rest of this mandate or direct the chore be returned to Manning.
The choice should be easy: Grey’s a “natural” as a humorous, thick-skinned Opposition needler. Manning is not. Day could use either of his proud rivals’ strengths as an organizer or as a drafter of cogent policy proposals for use in the coming campaign.
One dictionary I have defines religiosity as being excessively or morbidly religious.
Politicians such as Chretien, Joe Clark, Alexa McDonough and, surprisingly and suddenly, Manning, are most concerned at what they limn as the dangerous, retrograde influences on current attitudes and present policies in Canada regarding abortion, capital punishment, homosexuality, multiculturalism, and racism which they presume will follow from Day’s trumpeted religiosity.
Of course, much of this critique of Day gets its venom far more from taking partisan advantage than from any prescriptions issued by him since he chose to run for the Alliance leadership. No doubt about it, Day is openly a devout, church-going Christian and a family man, as is Manning. Not really a shock, given that regular censuses always show a goodly majority of Canadians identify themselves as Christians.
And, if one has in mind something tagged as “family values,” just this week the Vanier Institute on the Family reported the same percentage of Canadians are members of families today as was the case a century ago.
From the 1940s to the late 1960s, when I myself was active politically, I thought of myself as Christian. Certainly the political party with which I first identified, the CCF, was often nicknamed “the parsons’ party.”
Many of those revered in the CCF (and its successor, the NDP) were clergymen, such as the founding “saint” J.S. Woodsworth; the hero of medicare, Tommy Douglas; and the master organizer, Sandy Nicholson. Bill Blaikie, the best orator in the current House, is a Protestant pastor and just a week ago he was calling for political leaders with religious beliefs. Why, the NDP has even had two Roman Catholic priests as MPs, the late Andy Hogan and Bob Ogle.
But the political left has had no monopoly on sturdy Christians in Parliament. The current Chretien caucus has scores of practicing Roman Catholics, i.e., devotees of a Christian denomination which does not condone abortion.
There have always been those who insisted clergy and religious beliefs should not have roles in electoral politics and Parliament, even that it is wrong to entwine Christian faith and principles with particular policies. Today such secularism is far stronger than before Pierre Trudeau led the installation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the ultimate screed on determining what is righteous legislation.
Those who fret so much over Stockwell Day’s religious zeal should have more faith in the Charter and the courts. First, Day and the Alliance will have to be stupid enough to fight the next election on their intention to ban abortions and execute murderers, then they will have to win a clear majority. In short, relax!

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, June 25, 2000
ID: 12246296
TAG: 200006251563
SECTION: Comment


At hand are three new books on national matters, each useful to those who study politics. Two of them I tag as “keepers” – one a brisk work on immigration, the other a candid account of a term in Parliament by a learned economist.
Charles M. Campbell, 87, of Vancouver, is author of Betrayal and Deceit: The Politics of Canadian Immigration, published by Jasmine Books, West Vancouver, a paperback of 231 pages. This blunt critique takes apart our immigration policies and programs since WWII and closes with sensible alternatives.
After a fine career as a mining engineer, Campbell spent a decade on the old Immigration Appeal Board, leaving it at age 70 in 1983. Since then he has written, spoken, and lobbied widely on immigration. He knows that Canadians by and large are uninformed or misinformed about immigration and that critics must buck political veneration for multiculturalism, “the ethnic vote” and “family reunification.”
Of course Campbell has been scorned as racist or bigoted. Why? One example is his quote from a former Canadian ambassador who says of the massive shifting to Asia of our intake over the past decade that “we may well be looking at a national disaster happening in slow motion.”
Campbell takes apart the five interrelated “myths” or “fictions” fostered by federal ministers.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” he writes, “(1) that the politically favoured folk tale of immigration at 1% of the population is deceitful propaganda; (2) that Canada’s alleged low birthrate is not one that puts our future at risk; (3) that a larger population will not benefit Canada’s existing citizens; (4) that today’s immigrants, on average, contribute more to the Canadian economy than do native-born Canadians; (5) that the government’s own studies can find no evidence that immigrants create more jobs than they take.”
Campbell is pungent and convincing about the bureaucratic farces of “our refugee back door” and “the fraud of consultation in setting immigration levels.” He concludes with a cogent summary of “what we must do.”
Herbert G. Grubel, 66, was born German and eventually became an immigrant to Canada in 1971 via higher education and teaching in the U.S. He has written and published A Professor in Parliament: Experiencing a Turbulent Parliament and Reform Party Caucus, 1993-97. This is a paperback of 300 pages, obtainable for $25 from Grubel at #1202–125 West Second St., North Vancouver, B.C. , V7M 1C5.
By my rough count, less than a dozen MPs of the past half-century have written a book about their parliamentary careers. Despite its deliberate pacing and a Grubel penchant for reprising his career choice, this is the most insightful and the least self-deceiving of all narratives on the harsh partisanship of the Hill and the relations of MPs with their leaders, ministers, mandarins and, not least, reporters.
Grubel, a clever, studious boy who came to America from post-war Germany, reached a level at universities such as Yale, Chicago and Stanford where he worked with luminaries in economics such as Milton Friedman. After Grubel joined Simon Fraser University as a teaching and research economist three decades ago, he found himself as an anti-Keynesian in a country dominated by Keynes’ ideas, particularly in Ottawa. And so he developed direct critiques of federal economic policies. One consequence was a successful candidacy for the Reform party in a Vancouver riding in the 1993 election.
Over his first three years as a Reform MP he was busy and much battered, being limned by the media and the Liberals as a doctrinaire zealot on the marvels of market forces. Also, his leader and some colleagues saw him as foot-in-the-mouth prone. His experiences – on which he is most candid – led him to announce well before the ’97 election that he wouldn’t run again but would go back to teaching and research.
A Professor in Parliament provides the most intelligent, honest and fair account I’ve read on behaviour, attitudes and roles in our parliamentary parties.
One other book you might appreciate is a biography; an “instant” paperback written by journalist Claire Hoy, published by Stoddart, titled Stockwell Day: His Life and Times.
It is not a eulogy of the would-be Canadian Alliance leader, but it leans towards this far more than one expects from the usually ferocious Hoy, whose views on family and Christian values match with Day’s.
The epilogue to the compressed but readable run-through of Day’s life and deeds has this admission: “If I were a voting member of the Alliance … I would vote for Stockwell Day.” Then Hoy concedes he may be “disappointed in the end.”
Why? Well, Hoy has a very low opinion of politicians. As he says “Day is, after all, a politician. But in nearly 40 years of writing about politicians, I’ve never seen one as open and transparent as he is. Yes, he sometimes says dumb things, but then what politician doesn’t?”

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, June 21, 2000
ID: 12245218
TAG: 200006211575
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


The House of Commons is up until mid-September, its MPs without debates or the focus of the daily question period. But the Senate is still in, not up, and may not holiday for a few more days.
A Churchillian sort might say the Senate has had its finest hours in a special committee on Bill C-20, the Clarity Act, sent to it after approval by the House and reported back to the Senate yesterday for 3rd reading and passage.
The MPs could be recalled long before September if the Senate is bold enough to reject the bill on 3rd reading.
As one who welcomed the Clarity bill last winter I now think its critics in the Senate – like Serge Joyal, Jerry Grafstein, and Michael Pitfield – have made the case for several changes in it.
The bill is the prime purpose of Jean Chretien this mandate. It would frame a Quebec government bent on separation with requirements for (a) clarity in its referendum question on separation, and (b) the process of negotiation to ensue if the vote be “yes.” The PM wants it this month, not later.
A case has been well made by critical senators and witnesses like former justice Willard Estey and political scientist David Smith, that the bill has several serious faults. It bears a high risk of being found unconstitutional because of how it sidetracks the Senate itself. On secession matters the usual parliamentary role the Senate has in considering and approving legislation is gone.
On this Smith says: “To abandon bicameralism at the moment the Canadian federation faces its greatest test is to abandon the principle that made Canada possible as a plural society in the first place.”
Stephane Dion, the sponsoring minister of the bill, says the by-pass meets the urgency of quick, executive responses to moves by the PQ. Further, Dion emphasizes that MPs are elected by, and answerable, to voters, whereas senators are appointed and do not contest elections.
But a court challenge to the Clarity Act as unconstitutional because it bypasses the Senate would surely rouse those Quebecois who dislike Jean Chretien for his determination to keep them down. Most senators who want the bill amended are Liberals, aware that some ministers from Quebec in the federal cabinet have meagre enthusiasm for it and the Liberals’ provincial counterparts, led by Jean Charest, are against it.
Smith believes the bill is unacceptable because it would exclude the Senate from the deliberations and assigns them to the House of Commons alone.
“I say unacceptable,” says Smith, “because I believe that debate following upon a secession referendum in a province will be conducted in an atmosphere of agitation, pressure and rancour. This is exactly the sort of situation where a second chamber may make a substantive difference in the quality and, perhaps, in the outcome of the debate.”
Aside from the by-pass of the Senate, the other major criticism of the bill, developed thoroughly by senators Joyal and Grafstein, pivots on the thesis that the Confederation of Canada created in 1867 was “indivisible” and remains so. The makers of Confederation had the lesson at hand of the United States, just done keeping their “union as one and indivisible” through a long, bloody, repulse of secessionist states.
This matter of indivisibility is more than nit-picking based on a conception of a nation which was abandoned after WWII when Canada signed the UN Charter, which declared the right of “a people” to self-determination.
Even if the divisibility of Canada is accepted as possible, and even though nothing in the Constitution as we have it mentions this or anticipates it, who has the right to decide this?
Is it just “the people” within the federation who choose to secede? Or should it be all the people within the federation?
Senator Joyal argues all Canadians must have a vote on dividing or sustaining Canada. The Clarity bill does not provide this. He thinks it should. Nor does it require an alternative such as a national mandate from a general election for the governing party which is to negotiate secession with a Quebec government. Joyal thinks it should.
Mr. Chretien should slow down. Before the bill gets to 3rd and final reading, he should see a few sensible amendments are made – first, to remove the likelihood of unconstitutionality; second, to allow a mandate be given by the national electorate to those in the federal cabinet who have to negotiate with a secessionist triumph in a Quebec referendum. It may mean not having the bill until late in the year, but better late than useless.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, June 18, 2000
ID: 12244583
TAG: 200006181337
SECTION: Comment


Headlines about our military – usually negative – have become routine in Jean Chretien’s Canada. Relatively few citizens seem to care, even about a defence minister and a foreign affairs minister who posture on different planets.
My reluctance to follow the rueful unrolling of botches and scandals, however inviting they are to commentary, comes from a deep fatalism about any progress in sorting out our military’s woes, plus a wish to not sound like a broken record, although on this topic it’s hard to sound otherwise. However, one can bite one’s tongue only for so long …
My starting place is our foreign minister’s assessment of the ignominious capture of hundreds of UN peacekeepers by a rag-tag rebel army in Sierra Leone. Axworthy was scathing in his criticism:
If you are going to do these jobs, you have to do them right … It means the proper resources, proper equipment, proper mandate, and proper support from the international community …
This was not a ministerial mea culpa because Canada is not a player in the Sierra Leone mission.
One might wonder if Axworthy was self-spoofing the many haywire Canadian operations under the UN banner, but he is too serious for such irony. Perhaps he forgets very readily. For example, Canada’s disastrous, broken role in the UN’s Rwandan peacekeeping mission. That operation suffered from the same problems as the Sierra Leone mission – but it included a large Canadian contingent, a Canadian commander on the ground (Gen. Romeo Dallaire, recently retired), and a Canadian military expert advising the UN in New York (Gen. Maurice Baril, now chief of defence staff).
The Canadian government has steadfastly refused to hold an impartial inquiry into what transpired in Rwanda (where 500,000 civilians were murdered), even though many of the other countries with troops involved have held inquiries, as has the UN itself. In fact, Canada refused to allow Canadian officers to testify before the inquiries of other nations.
On Rwanda, as in Sierra Leone, Axworthy and the Canadian government choose to blame others (i.e., the major powers) for the failures, especially for the moral failure of being unwilling to commit large forces. The latter is rather cute given that our own tight-fisted defence spending ensures we won’t be faced with the unpleasant prospect of sending large forces into likely combat situations.
The minister’s comments look even more like the pot calling the kettle black, given the recent Defence Department analysis of how Canadian forces performed in the Kosovo war. It found that our fighter aircraft suffered from a lack of effective jamming equipment to protect them from Serbian air defences, and suitable global positioning navigation equipment. Our land forces, who went into Kosovo after the air campaign, also had equipment problems due to a shortage of spares for their new high-tech Coyote surveillance vehicles.
Consider the response of Defence Minister Art Eggleton to the harsh findings of his own department: he downplayed them. He preferred to talk of recent high-tech purchases which the budget has allowed for.
Then there was the recent news that the number of those in uniform will drop – has already dropped – from 60,000 to 59,000. The reduction is not due to a reassessment of manpower needs, or to any trimming of the tasks assigned to the forces. It merely acknowledges the larger number cannot be sustained. People are leaving the forces faster than they can be recruited. Such departures were entirely predictable and stem from this government’s early choice to give Canadians a massive post- Cold War dividend in terms of reduced defence spending (down 23%), but at the same time playing big-hitter on the world stage by increasing the number of tasks assigned to the military.
Every time there is an international crisis, the same question arises: will Canada participate? And Prime Minister Jean Chretien cannot resist a noble mission. He almost always offers our weary troops, even though Eggleton, a former Toronto mayor, has openly warned several times in his three years at the post that the forces are stretched to their limit.
For years our servicemen and women, especially those at the sharp end (i.e., the infantry, combat support and flying operations) have complained of being on a treadmill of foreign tours. Something had to give, and it has. Too many well-trained troops are resigning, taking opportunities in the private sector where their skills are appreciated, and where overtasking, micro management and political correctness won’t dominate their lives.
Canada is not the only NATO country having difficulty maintaining troop strength in the face of a strong economy, but the tiny size of our forces magnifies the impact of such losses.
Chretien refuses to face reality and reassess our military’s roles and mandate. Instead, now when he commits troops overseas, a rider is attached – we cannot be and will not be there for long, because we cannot sustain the effort.
All of this means we now rely more than ever on our reserves to help fill the gaps. Yet as the recent report on the future of the militia noted, the future of Canada’s reserve forces, particularly the army reserves, is in crisis. Their strength is less than 60% of that set by the government, and reservists are alienated from the military’s high command.
Have we left anything out? Ah, yes. The navy is going to have its new high-tech ships spend more time in port to save money on operating costs. And there is still no word on new anti-submarine helicopters seven years after the prime minister cancelled the contract for EH-101s ordered by Brian Mulroney’s government.
Rumours of election are rife as the summer recess begins. One wishes electors in large numbers would begin to shout for the defence policy plans of the contending parties, in particular how these would fit with their foreign policy priorities. The match which the trio of Chretien-Axworthy-Eggleton made in the two endeavours of defence and foreign policy is embarrassing, and the electorate should be jarred about it.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, June 14, 2000
ID: 12243489
TAG: 200006141558
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


Last week, words with some overlap like brave, insightful, even effrontery, came to my mind for the arguments made by three well-known politicians, two retired.
– Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin spoke forthrightly on the destructive drunkenness of some native leaders in his province.
– Brian Mulroney spoke on Preston Manning’s responsibility for the eclipse of conservatism in Canada.
– John Turner told friends at his 71st birthday party that Parliament must be rescued from inaction.
First, Brian Tobin. His words were no sooner abroad than Phil Fontaine, the grand chief of the First Nations, dubbed them “racist.” For one seen as an aspirant to lead Canada, this seems risky. I hope Tobin is not cowed. We need a national leader to stand for new, different “native” policies such as ending their official apartheid and collective ownership in perpetuity of bands’ resources and the dual citizenship which “status” Indians have, but “non-status” do not.
The annual billions of waste and graft in aboriginal programs is a largely masked but almost unrelieved scandal. Of course there is more in our aboriginal debacle than alcoholism. But alcoholism and rip-offs pervade the affairs in many of the 500 bands with reserves across the land. Alcoholism frames the lifestyle of many of the several hundred thousand aborigines now living in the bleaker parts of our cities.
Last week, before the Tobin statement, a Liberal MP with many reserves in his riding told me: “It can’t go on.”
He was citing the persistent chorus about wrongs, the incessant demands for more land, full access to fishing and hunting rights, casino licenses and for payments as redress for abuse in residential schools, now in the hands of an industry of lawyers.
This MP has found little evidence the billions in federal and provincial spending are creating responsibility, pride, industriousness among the Indians he knows or in their communities.
Had he ever raised such critiques openly? No. He could not.
Why not? Because instantly he would be a non-person in the caucus and the party. Brian Tobin has given this MP and scores of others a sky-hook for their own truth-saying.
The auditor general has already done his part – repeatedly! Most MPs and members of provincial legislatures know of the immense waste and profligacy in Indian Affairs.
Second, Brian Mulroney. His speech in aid of Joe Clark and the Tories brought our prime minister from 1984-93 out of a largely unpartisan period (aside from his Airbus libel suit victory). He was witty, sometimes mock-modest but his heaviest impress was in charging Manning with conservatism’s debacle in 1993 and in noting that Jean Chretien had confirmed his own claims on fame by continuing the GST, free trade, the dissolution or sale of most commercial Crown corporations and the privatization of many federal services.
The attention the speech drew is unlikely to harm Mulroney’s aim to contradict the trumpeted hatred and scorn accorded him by Canadians. But this gifted politician surely knows this bad repute came neither from his policies nor Manning’s scorn for his government’s integrity nor Liberal hammering at either his policies or the scandals involving his ministers.
It was largely a consequence of lost trust and distaste. Why? Because he seemed to revel in the lushness of high office, in consorting with the great of the world, and always using what seemed pretentious “con” language to many citizens.
Mulroney’s best strategy would be modest, repeated and open penitence for losing touch with plain folk.
Third, John Turner. In his remarks to friends, Turner reiterated a line he’s had for years. Oh, how he loves the House of Commons and its fabled “cut and thrust.” He’s often said this. Mulroney, Chretien, and Paul Martin have said the same.
Unfortunately, none proved it with much participation or presence in the House aside from question period. The ugliest era in modern times in the House was 1984-88.
Remember the Grits’ Rat Pack – Sheila Copps, Brian Tobin, John Nunziata, Don Boudria. Their leader? John Turner! Even then as the institution reeled from their antics, he would say, almost sotto voce, that question period had become a charade.
But Turner never unveiled a program to rescue Parliament and give MPs, whatever their party, more input into shaping laws or so-called “free” votes and “independent” committees.
Nevertheless, at 71 John Turner is hale enough to run again. Once an MP he could surely win the House speakership. From that throne he could lead a recapture of Parliament’s significance. True, this is the stuff for dreams, but a former prime minister who would save Parliament should be in it.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, June 11, 2000
ID: 12242830
TAG: 200006111315
SECTION: Comment


Bless the Canadian Alliance. From its birth throes we are getting a fresh shading in political correctness, pushed by liberals, social democrats and, it seems, by most in political journalism.
You must have noted the growing usage in political talk of the rather synonymous phrases “social conservatism” and “moral conservatism.” Of course, the front-end adjectives are to distinguish them from “economic conservatism.” An economic conservative may well be very laissez-faire in terms of social ethics and cultural preferences.
This emergent division of categories on the right side of our political spectrum brings to mind past labels like “Red” and “Blue” Tories or the ones of the Great Depression used to differentiate between “Manchester School liberals” and “reform liberals.”
Since the Alliance leadership race got under way the welter of assumptions expressed by both partisan rivals of the new party and by critical reporters, columnists and academics has been dominated by a group view that not enough Ontario electors will ever go for a leader like, say, religious fundamentalist Stockwell Day to put the Alliance in power.
These assumptions see the incumbent Liberals as too widely based in the public’s appreciation as broad-minded and libertarian – too in line with Canadian mores to be ousted by narrow zealots whose ideas and motives are throwbacks to simpler, less cosmopolitan communities. In short, the broad-minded will rout the narrow-minded in a nation whose credo is “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
Few of us in or around politics go for too long without having to check ourselves on where we stand or for what we would speak. With the passing years my own emphases have gradually reversed, going from a belief in the need for radical institutional change – notably in politics, law and education, but cautious about collectivism in the economy – to something almost simple-minded and represented by such watchwords as fairness, honesty, competence and frugality for both good government and sound economics.
Anyone steeped in the political period when Social Credit and the CCF, parent to the NDP, arose, flowered, but never came close to power in Ottawa has pondered over the creation of a new party by Preston Manning. In less than a decade Reform moved from a grassroots protest movement to the role of Official Opposition in Parliament. Sensational, really. But why didn’t Preston and company win any seats in Ontario, the Liberals taking almost all of them?
In part, Manning himself explains his sponsorship of the Alliance endeavour as a bid to make gains in Ontario; conversely, his critics emphasize how hard he has worked to shed the redneck image and the reactionary views on social issues held by so many Reform members in the West.
So some in the Alliance and many against it are near harmony in believing Ontario electors in large numbers are too sophisticated and broad-minded to support a party with issues tied to moral, social judgments.
Those in the media who write or talk about politics have been even more certain than Liberals or Progressive Conservatives that moral and/or social conservatism is a loser, at least in Ontario.
A shibboleth has firmed up that en masse Ontario citizens reject any party which would settle issues like capital punishment and abortion by national referendums, or which would discard equity quotas for employment of women, the disabled, aborigines and visible minorities, tighten and reduce immigration, eliminate gun registration and reduce, not extend, further legal recognition and government benefits to homosexual pairings.
A parallel shibboleth has not emerged that a clear program of economic conservatism advocated by the Alliance would be a negative force in Ontario and eastward. That is, there is less scorn and more respect for the Alliance themes of substantial personal and corporate tax cuts, debt reduction, lower employment insurance payments and fewer government employees.
Therefore, the conventional wisdom posits that the sensible Alliance course, particularly if its members choose Stockwell Day, is for its leader and program to abjure openly any legislative aims based on moral or religious imperatives. Instead, it should campaign as though conservatism in Canada has only one prime element: economics.
Let me evaluate this common belief that the Alliance would assure a third mandate for Jean Chretien if it emphasizes moral or social conservative issues. It is a flimsy thesis.
To contradict it, I would point to the factors in play in the 1993 and 1997 elections which rolled up Liberal seats in Ontario: the Quebec threat posed by the Parti Quebecois and Lucien Bouchard, for which a PM from Quebec seemed the best choice; the recovery of control over deficits; the attractions of federal belt-tightening and reduction in staff; and a widespread sense that the federal ministry, typified by Paul Martin in Finance, was competent and frugal.
Three years into the Liberals’ second mandate those factors have shifted. Both Jean Chretien himself and his government have been exposed as practising the same shoddy patronage of yore, of being grossly incompetent and extravagant as managers, of crassly spreading money to recoup seats in Quebec and the Atlantic region, and of fielding the most undistinguished ministerial roster in modern memory.
Beyond the schmozzle in Jane Stewart’s bloated Human Resources ministry, signs multiply of a Chretien-Martin schism and that the Liberal caucus itself wants a leadership change and a greater role for itself and the House as a whole in forming legislation, examining programs and generally bonding the country.
From the opinions which reach me from across Ontario, I sense conservative attitudes are still in a majority – not just economic attitudes but social ones.
I sense a less generous acceptance of unbridled behaviour and a widespread desire for sterner, judgmental procedures and stricter manning in educational and security services.
A Stockwell Day should not be out of tune.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, June 07, 2000
ID: 12241795
TAG: 200006071286
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16


Is Jean Chretien leaving before the next election?
A cranky reader has taken from recent columns that this is my surmise. He says it’s a silly one, given recent belligerence and chest-thumping by the PM, both at home and abroad.
He’s right on my appreciation of the PM’s intention. It does seem silly, given the electoral drum Chretien has been beating, even touting a campaign fought between ideologies. He has a named base for his campaign – “the radical centre!” (It recalls the Kennedy-era phrase “the vital centre” with which Lester Pearson’s Liberals dallied in the mid-1960s.)
My surmise on Chretien’s intentions hangs on the shrewdness he has shown since he hit the Hill unheralded and with no glaring graces in 1963. Four years later he was into the cabinet after terms as parliamentary secretary, first to the prime minister (Pearson), then to the minister of Finance (Mitchell Sharp, still his mentor 34 years later).
There were lots of MPs besides Chretien aspiring to the top post in the Pearson caucuses from 1962-68. Remember the likes of Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Donald Macdonald, Allan MacEachen, Bryce Mackasey, Maurice Sauve, Joe Greene, Gene Whelan, Jean Luc Pepin and Don Jamieson? But in the 1960s, even well into the 1970s, no one but Jean Chretien and his relatives were thinking he was a possible successor to Pearson and, later, Trudeau.
In attaining the party leadership in 1990 and the PMO in 1993 Jean Chretien had some luck, but his success was also hard earned. He had and has a quickness of mind that his speech often conceals, combined with great stamina and persistence.
A hustler, he is always pushing, making and developing contacts, learning by listening and doing rather than studying. He achieved a superb understanding of how the ministries and cabinet function and the power points of the system. He mastered what rewards there are to allocate or deny, and, probably most important, how to be ruthless.
No other prime minister ever had such a gruelling, varied apprenticeship for the top task. And very few were ever taken less seriously for so long as Jean Chretien.
It is with these attributes, skills, and accomplishments in mind that I believe one should approach the matter of Chretien’s intentions and possible choices, including his recent harping on an election “in 12 months,” and strong hints of one this fall, barely three years into this mandate.
It has been my opinion that a politician so shrewd would not call an election this year, and be most hesitant about staying to contest one next year. Why? Because early or late it could well be a shaky mandate, or even none at all.
First, the PM knows he has successor waiting in Paul Martin who is very promising as a campaign leader across Canada, particularly in Quebec and in the West. He surely realizes Martin is more awaited by the Liberal party membership, the caucus of MPs and senators, even by this ministry, than is a third run by him.
Second, the PM knows of the deep antagonism within his caucus toward his key aides and the rough discipline which he and they have exercised, not just on backbenchers but on ministers. Complimentary to this point, he knows the frustrations with the way Parliament has functioned under his regime is as rife on his side of the House as over in the opposition.
Third, the PM has seen too many senior and starry colleagues come and go in his 37 years of electoral politics not to know that the public tires if they see too much for too long of a leader – his mannerisms, language and arguments. Yes, even of a Captain Canada sort like him.
Fourth, the PM is too experienced not to appreciate that the good prospect for the Liberals indicated by regular opinion polling on party preference is deceiving. His hopes of coming back with a workable majority continue to be in the base of his present edge, i.e., the near sweep of Ontario seats, plus the anglo-influenced Quebec seats. He knows with him as leader the Liberals can neither knock down the BQ roster from Quebec nor much reduce the Alliance on the Prairies.
Fifth, because there’ve been few, highly significant programs with which the PM has been identified, it’s hard to imagine what could issue from his “radical centre” beyond some warmed-over intentions on national programs for child care or highway infrastructure or environmental improvement. He has continued his predecessor’s big initiatives – see NAFTA, the GST, and the phasing out of Crown corporations – except for what he shares with Martin, i.e., the great credit in ending a quarter century of federal deficits.
Jean Chretien has had a grand run. By closing it with a sensible decision late this fall on his retirement, following a convention to choose his successor as party leader and prime minister, he gives his Liberals a surer chance for victory – and leaves as a winner.
He is not stupid.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, June 04, 2000
ID: 12241157
TAG: 200006041379
SECTION: Comment


Jean Chretien has rewarded more women MPs than any previous prime minister. Nine of the 35 females in his caucus of 156 are ministers, five are parliamentary secretaries, and six head committees or sub-committees of the House. The current scenario suggests it’s timely to appraise what he has given and gets in return.
Let’s begin with the continuing attacks by the opposition on Jane Stewart, the minister of Human Resources Development. It’s hard to recall any parallel in the virulence, substance and length in such criticism, but the minister remains in place. So far as one can see, the PM and her caucus colleagues are staunchly behind her, whatever her problems with a diverse portfolio she has yet to master.
Now consider a very affectionate biography of the late Shaughnessy Cohen (1948-98) by Susan Delacourt and published by Macfarlane Walter & Ross. It strikes me as a demonstration that the feminine component in the Liberal caucus has been vital to both its spirit, and the backing given its boss. Much of this unusual account is focused on a sizable clutch of super-partisan women MPs who were both bonded and sparked by the aggressive Cohen in her five years as member for Windsor-St. Clair.
Delacourt has been a newspaper journalist covering federal politics from Ottawa for over a decade, and it is obvious from The Passionate Politics of Shaughnessy Cohen she has been an observant, boon companion of many Grits. She tracks with warmth and intimacy the flowering of a rarity on the government side of the House: a celebrity backbencher! Cohen merited such a tag before her sudden death on Parliament Hill, earned with a rollicking zest for life, inordinate gall and ambition, and aggressiveness with the press.
Delacourt’s tale underlines what was first noticeable on the Hill years ago, symbolized by both the late Judy LaMarsh and by Sheila Copps. Women MPs tend to be both more partisan as parliamentarians and more loyal to the party and its hierarchy than male MPs. Indeed, both the relentless chivvying of Jane Stewart and the rousing backing which she has had from the Liberal benches emphasize how involved and combative our women MPs are, almost as a rule. There are colourful or noisy examples in all four party caucuses.
The opposition has ducked any charges of males bullying dear Jane by letting their women MPs front the critical chorus (Deborah Grey, Diane Ablonczy, Val Meredith and Libby Davies) The sharpest counters to such detractors have been Stewart’s female colleagues. It would be a good bet that the attendance records of MPs kept by the Liberal whip would show his 35 female MPs are more assiduous in being in either the House or in the sessions of their respective committees than his 121 male MPs.
The Liberal ratio of male to female in the caucus is just below 1:5 whereas the ratio of female to male ministers is just below 1:4. Over his mandates thus far the PM has taken the resignations of three female ministers (Sheila Finestone, Diane Marleau and Christine Stewart) but he’s also taken the resignations of half a dozen male ministers.
I know Chretien’s own view of his cabinet is of strength and competence, as against a broad consensus in political Ottawa that it has been, and is, a lacklustre group, with the notable exception of Paul Martin in Finance. Have the female ministers created much of this negative assessment?
Certainly, since late last year, Stewart has become the pole star for both parliamentary and media scorn and derision, so much in trouble while pretending she is not that more notice is now being taken of the ministry, to a conclusion there is a dearth of drive in it. Like the government caucus and the higher mandarinate, it is micro-managed by the PMO.
Such tight control by the PM and his aides, with its consequent lack of bold initiatives by ministers, can hardly be blamed on the female component. Not that the nine female ministers contrast much in either brio or public adroitness with their male colleagues. As yet there’s not a star amongst them, although the three most senior women – Copps, Anne McLellan and Lucienne Robillard – know their portfolios well.
Copps is neither as strident nor as reckless as she was before her penance over her brag about the GST’s demise, and she has noticeably fewer disciples, but more friends in the caucus, than a few years ago.
Robillard, although cautious, always seems superbly briefed.
McLellan was sometimes seen short years ago as a bet for the highest role. She is shrewd defensively but a real bust at the positive. Those chilled by her voice can choke on her legalese.
Of the three much newer women in the cabinet, Claudette Bradshaw (Labour), Maria Minna (International Co-operation) and Elinor Caplan (Citizenship and Immigration), the folksy and warm Bradshaw seems a moderate asset and Minna could become one if she gets some more time in and larger responsibilities. At this point Caplan gives promise to be another of the PM’s tigers from Toronto, assured by colleagues David Collenette and Art Eggleton at such truths as 1+1=2.
Neither of the two women ministers without portfolios, Hedy Fry and Ethel Blondin-Andrew, has been either an obvious asset or debit for the PM, at least in the House.
Several times during her long House travail Jane Stewart was absent and her parliamentary secretary, Bonnie Brown (Oakville), subbed. She has been more mature, succinct and pungent, suggesting how detrimental Stewart’s head-tossing scorn has been to the Liberal defence of its HRDC mess.
Brown’s example, plus similar gifts and graces shown by other female Liberal MPs as parliamentary secretaries and as resolute activists in committees, indicates Chretien could bolster his cabinet with more, and abler, women ministers. Whether he does or not, he has pushed up the ratio of elected women in higher office, and been rewarded by his portion of women MPs with their persistent participation and stout partisanship and loyalty.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, May 31, 2000
ID: 12678800
TAG: 200005311503
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 17
COLUMN: The Hill


Both the federal Liberals, and many in the media, brush past doubts about the present condition and electoral prospects of the Chretien government with scornful references to its fragmented opposition.
To sustain such confidence they point to the steadiness of party ratings in opinion polling: Liberals high, the rest pathetic. Polling also shows Jean Chretien is still cock of the walk. And there seems little grave concern over what’s doing in Ottawa. We have a limpid Parliament, which the public in general finds a bore, and good economic times favour individual pursuits over collective interests. Parliament itself hardly seems the central forum, and certainly not one in which Chretien is seen as being mauled and demeaned.
Right! Right?
No. That’s too simplistic. The first five months of 2000 AD have not been kind to Chretien and his government. Maybe not much better to those who oppose him, but for him, definitely sour. With the summer recess just over a fortnight away, consider some of the signs of a PM in trouble – a shaky cabinet, an anxious caucus and a hard-won reputation for efficiency and frugality sabotaged by the incompetence and patronage excesses in Jane Stewart’s Human Resources Department.
Human Resources has even fallen back on the supervision of its badly needed repairs by the auditor general of Canada. Believe me, this is a rare acknowledgment in the history of relations between the A-G, the PCO and the Ottawa mandarinate.
And there’s more. Just this week the PMO caved in on two matters, in both cases apparently moved as much by caucus protests as by public criticism.
First, the massive base of data on citizens which has been building in the Human Resources department is being closed down. In being forced to announce this, minister Stewart had to deny herself. She had vehemently supported this data gathering operation when the privacy commissioner blew the whistle on it a few weeks ago.
Second, there’s been a drastic revision of the plans launched by the newish head of the CBC to centralize news and commentary on the English TV network and wipe out regional and local early evening news programs, so saving millions and reducing staff. This was more than a reversal directed by the CBC board. It had promptings from “guess who” in the PMO, including an undertaking of a later, bolstered contribution of government funds to match savings forsaken through this surrender to protests from so many Liberal MPs.
And as federal politicos get ready for a long summer recess, we have Chretien’s bill of bills to ponder. His Clarity Act would set procedures subsequent to any referendum decision by Quebec to separate from Canada.
The bill is being savaged in a Senate where the Liberals have a modest majority. True, every few years senators balk at some piece of government legislation, but this courtly insurrection has snuck up on everyone.
The critiques of “clarity” come as tellingly from such worthies in the Trudeau pantheon as Jerry Grafstein, Serge Joyal and Michael Pitfield as from the Tory senators marshalled by John Lynch-Staunton, their leader. This week Chretien even said that if necessary he would imitate the dreadful Brian Mulroney, using his constitutional powers to name extra senators to get his act through the upper house and into law.
After the “clarity” initiative was unveiled late last year not much was made of evidence that many federalists of significance in Quebec, including Chretien’s own ministers, Pierre Pettigrew and Paul Martin, were very uneasy about it. Now there’s even a chance it won’t be law this summer. It isn’t hard to imagine how fruitful the senatorial contretemps over Chretien’s bill will be for Lucien Bouchard as the framer of the next referendum in Quebec.
There seems to be a range among Liberal MPs from impatient enthusiasm to grave doubts about a second election call after less than four years of a majority mandate.
What seems even clearer, at least to me, is that a majority of Liberal MPs, including ministers, would prefer to meet the people led by Paul Martin rather than Jean Chretien.
They think Martin would be better: 1) if the Alliance does become more of a threat after its new leader emerges; 2) for gaining seats in Quebec; 3) because they very much want a new gang in the PMO and in control of the party apparatus.
I think the Globe’s Jeffrey Simpson has been acute in recent pieces on the distance in association and purpose that now exists between Chretien and Martin. The columnist projects a Minister of Finance ready for retirement this year, unwilling to prepare and sponsor another budget while stacked behind a leader set on a third mandate.
If Paul Martin goes … ? Oh, there would be a grand bluff of confidence and rallying ’round Chretien – and also an excellent prospect of a minority Parliament.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 28, 2000
ID: 12678470
TAG: 200005281325
SECTION: Comment


Some personal notes on the recent deaths of Davie Fulton, 84, politician and judge; Dick Brown, 76, football player and coach; and Alan Klass, 92, surgeon and medical corps officer.
I much admired Davie Fulton from seeing him up close as a fellow MP when he was justice minister (1957-62). His skills were so various that I and many others saw him as the next prime minister. A distrustful incumbent – John Diefenbaker – and Davie’s own bent to hard drink helped kibosh that.
After my last column a friend of Davie called. Why did my obit omit Davie’s rowing “blue,” earned at Oxford in his Rhodes scholar years? And I’d not mentioned his superb fly- casting. Did I know that as Davie fished the pools of New Brunswick streams for salmon, the guides marvelled at his deftness?
I’d also had to leave out the delight Fulton created as a piano player. Long ago, one night after the House rose, Davie began beating out ragtime in his big office. Quickly, he drew a crowd of MPs. He played on, and then led the singing of songs, ribald and sentimental. He was a man of many splendours.
On the same press page last week as Fulton’s death notice was one for a Hamiltonian, Dick Brown, an acquaintance in the mid-1940s at the University of Toronto through football. The notice sketched Dick’s sporting careers, notably with the Tiger-Cats, Argonauts, and Alouettes of the CFL (the last CFL player to play without a face guard), and as coach of teams at Oakville, Burlington, and the University of Guelph.
At Varsity it was easy to notice Dick in the early practice scrimmages, first, because he was the only black in a large tryout squad, and obviously he was a hard tackler and he punted well. His long, high stride as a running back made him rough to bring down. Although I doubted (rightly) I’d make the team, I thought he would.
One day, dressing after practice, I noticed he was putting on thick-soled black boots. I had a pair like them. I asked him if his boots were “army issue.” Yes! What army? Answer: the Canadian army. What outfit? Answer: the Argyles! So I said: “Our outfit often worked with 4th Div. and the Argyles, particularly near the Rhine.” Answer: “Yeah. Well, I was there.”
Thus I got to know more about Dick Brown, a teenager who’d come north from Cleveland to go to war. By early ’45 he was a reinforcement to the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders. The Argyles, like all our infantry units, were much depleted from high casualties in Normandy and opening the Scheldt – a scenario which created the serious conscription crisis back in Canada.
Dick neither knocked nor boosted things Canadian. He was out to seize the chance for a college education but even more he wanted to play football. When we’d cross paths on campus he’d needle me about my “safe” war. And so, for years I was interested as he went on to stardom in the CFL, and then into coaching. A very good citizen.
A recent National Post obituary on Alan Klass, born in Czarist Russia, schooled in Winnipeg, a surgeon and businessman, emphasized: (i) his experiences at an internment camp for Nazis at Red Rock with one Putzi Hanfstaengl, an early companion of Adolf Hitler; (ii) his surgical prowess in the Normandy beachhead.
My brief brush with Dr. Klass came at a military hospital in Brandon to which he came as CO in the fall of 1941. That summer I’d enlisted in the medical corps after rejections for combat roles because of poor sight. Sent to the hospital as an untrained private, I was put in the office because I could type. Then two odd happenings came together to change my future.
First, a sleeping sickness epidemic struck troops on the Prairies. Suddenly our hospital was jammed with very ill men needing close care. I was rousted from the office to sub with convalescing patients for trained orderlies caring for the very sick. As the epidemic crisis was easing in the fall, enter Capt. Alan Klass as the hospital’s new commander – heralded by an old-hand orderly as “the fastest knife in Manitoba.”
A first initiative by Dr. Klass was to ensure all ward staff knew operating-room procedures. So, out of the blue I was told to report to the operating room one morning with another private who was doing ward chores. We were garbed, masked, and put against a wall parallel to the operating table.
The patient, an obese corporal, had chronic appendicitis. He was on the table, obviously in dreamland, midriff exposed.
Before Klass began to work he told the two of us to watch closely but not to get in his nurses’ way. Some day we’d have to give such help. He took up a long instrument and adroitly drew it along the patient’s abdomen.
For a moment or so nothing happened. I was taut, staring. Suddenly the flesh parted along the cut. I could see a thickish layer of yellow, very lightly pebbled with red. I leaned closer, saw a splurge of internal colours. That did it. I fainted, falling heavily, it seems.
I came to on a corridor floor. “How could you?” barked our staff-sergeant. Later, a penitent, I was escorted to the CO’s office. Surprisingly, he was nonchalant, but without sympathy.
“A hospital is not for you. Where could we send you?”
Within five weeks, and 10 days after Pearl Harbour a transfer warrant to the Manitoba Dragoons came for me. The regiment had just begun patrols around Vancouver Island.
So befell the best move I ever had; and for decades after the war old comrades from Winnipeg would confirm Alan Klass was still a top surgeon. Bless his memory, and Davie Fulton and Dick Brown.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, May 24, 2000
ID: 12677937
TAG: 200005241492
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
ILLUSTRATION: photo from Sun file
TOP PARLIAMENTARIAN … The late Davie Fulton was always sharp, poised and prepared. Here, he addresses delegates at the PC leadership convention in 1967, which he lost.
COLUMN: The Hill


After 84 years of living, many of them star-crossed, Davie Fulton is gone. Those of us who respected him as an MP (1945-62) and as a cabinet minister (1957-62) have pondered the question for years: why did such a superb career, seemingly destined for political leadership and probably for Canada’s top office, falter and shake down?
What made Fulton seem assured of very high places?
First, family. His father had been a B.C. provincial cabinet minister in the early 1900s and, late in World War I, an MP for the Cariboo. One grandfather and a great uncle were B.C. premiers.
Second, appearance and performance. He was tall, lean and handsome, with an open, pleasing face and a graceful posture. He had a John Gielgud kind of voice and diction, often sounding like a trained actor. He was all-round at speech – chatting or orating or debating. And he radiated a blend of courtesy, learnedness and acuity.
Third, education and military career. A brilliant graduate from UBC, in 1937 Davie Fulton won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He ended his studies there in 1939 as World War II threatened, returning to Vancouver to enter the bar, and then join the Seaforth Highlanders, then with the 1st Canadian Division in the U.K. He went overseas in 1940 and served with the Seaforths and as a staff officer with 1st Div. in the Italian campaign. He came back to Canada to contest and win the riding of Kamloops as a Progressive Conservative in the general election of 1945. He was then 29.
His older brother, John, a distinguished, much publicized RCAF commander, had been killed in 1942 while leading the famous “Moose” squadron, one of the first all-Canadian bomber squadrons.
A year after entering the House, Davie married a woman who matched him in dedication to the Roman Catholic Church. She was to become prominent in the family institute sponsored by the Vaniers. As an MP in opposition to Liberal cabinets led by W.L. Mackenzie King and then Louis St. Laurent, Fulton was always a top parliamentarian – sharp, poised, prepared, industrious. He also was a match for Stanley Knowles, the CCF-NDP icon and the only other MP as clever in using parliamentary rules.
In 1948 Davie thought himself too young and green for the open Tory leadership. George Drew won it (over John Diefenbaker). When ill health brought Drew’s retirement in 1956 Fulton went after the succession. His campaign promised better than the vote he got, as he finished behind Diefenbaker and Donald Fleming. A post-convention commonplace of the press was: “Next time it’s Davie’s.”
Before the St. Laurent government was upset in the 1957 election, Fulton had made a name as a superb debater, masterful with legal and social issues. He starred for his caucus in the acrimonious “pipeline” debate which did so much to scupper the Liberals in ’57.
Davie was not a favourite of Diefenbaker, his prime minister. My hunch was this reflected an older lawyer’s jealousy of a younger one who was very able but far more precise and not so jury-oriented and jury-bent as he was. The Chief, however, did make Davie the minister of Justice but he was never comfortable with him, disagreeing sharply on putting the RCMP into a Newfoundland loggers’ strike. They didn’t see eye to eye on what to do with minister Pierre Sevigny over his secret romance with Gerda Munsinger, alleged by security officials to be a spy for the U.S.S.R.
By late 1962, the Diefenbaker cabinet and caucus was riven into factions, largely about defence policy issues and loyalty to the leader. The Chief reorganized his cabinet. Fulton became minister of Public Works, not quite a booby prize but a shock, not just to him but to those who had foreseen him as the next Tory leader.
Somehow Fulton had failed to build a discipleship in the caucus or in the party beyond the Hill. He decided to go home to B.C. late in 1962, leaving Ottawa to lead a far from flourishing provincial Tory party. At the time W.A.C. Bennett, a populist Social Crediter, had been premier since 1952 – a post he held until 1972. Under Fulton the Tories ran fourth. He had not won a seat and his party got just 11% of the vote.
Fulton came back into federal politics once – in 1967. He sought the Tory succession to the Chief with a strong campaign, running a fair third on a big slate, trailing only the veteran premiers Bob Stanfield and Duff Roblin.
If Fulton had not built a big following as a federal minister neither had his ambitious colleagues, Donald Fleming, George Hees, Alvin Hamilton and Mike Starr. Clearly they and Fulton had been tarred by the years of wrangling as Tory MPs. The party’s members and the public generally wanted a fresh leader, not a former Diefenbaker minister.
So Davie Fulton, now 51, went back to B.C. in 1967 to practice law again, done with electoral politics. Shortly he was made head of the Law Reform Commission of B.C. and in 1973 he was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court, a position he held until 1981. Then some well-publicized impaired driving charges struck a terrible blow to his pride and to his family. Afterward, he and his wife pulled their shattered lives together and Davie recovered to do good work with the International Joint Commission.
A close friend of his told me last year how serene Davie was, and without bitterness. I think of him as being in the top half-dozen MPs I’ve observed.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 21, 2000
ID: 12677646
TAG: 200005211526
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


In mid-week a veteran senator flagged me down on the Hill to say, “We’ve got something going in our place on the constitutional front. Watch it.”
I asked if he meant the trenchant constitutional view that Canada is one and indivisible, advanced by Serge Joyal, a busy, bright Liberal senator, about Jean Chretien’s cherished Bill C-20.
(This proposal, crafted by the prime minister, follows directly from the counsel provided from a reference to the Supreme Court on a process for the secession of a province from Canada. It “clarifies” the requirements in terms of the question to be put on the referendum ballot and the majority necessary for negotiations to begin following a winning Yes vote.)
The senator said the appraisal of the bill (which had been speeded to the Senate by the use of time-allocation in the House) was sure to be thorough simply because the procedures set out in C-20 leave just a secondary role for the upper chamber, bypassing its hitherto fundamental part in parliamentary decisions.
But he believes what is in prospect will go far beyond senatorial noses being out of joint, shaped by the arguments which Joyal made on C-20’s shortcomings in a speech on May 10. He titled his speech “Canada is Indivisible,” and he ranged far higher and wider than ignored Senate prerogatives.
My senatorial tipster thinks C-20, after thorough examination in committee, will be substantially amended and sent back to the House for its response.
Joyal’s thesis is unusually intriguing to any long-time Liberal watcher.
First, Serge Joyal has been considered a disciple of Pierre Trudeau from the time he came to Ottawa in 1974 as a Liberal MP from Montreal. In 1980 Trudeau made him co-chairman of the important special parliamentary committee on the Constitution.
I was only a few pages into his speech before I noted how Trudeau-like it was in content and reasoning.
Second, Joyal’s address was preceded by a statement from Sen. Michael Pitfield, a long-time aide, counsellor and friend of Trudeau’s. He would soon be contributing to the debate, but meantime he supports Sen. Joyal, “whose scholarship on these matters is internationally distinguished … ”
Pitfield emphasized that the case Joyal makes “is very broad and well documented. It presents powerful arguments that the government must deal with.”
Trudeau still casts a long shadow, if not in Quebec, in the rest of Canada and particularly in the federal Liberal party. It would mean a loss of public respect for Chretien’s “clarity” act if the man identified with the Constitution of 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms supports Joyal’s critique of it.
Certainly Joyal’s damnation of the bill must have Chretien frothing – and regretting he put Joyal in the Senate two years ago.
Joyal began his speech with five arguments he wanted to develop. Succinctly these were:
1) Canada is indivisible;
2) The Crown has the inescapable duty to protect the sovereignty of the state, the territorial integrity of the country, and the rights and freedoms of its citizens;
3) The inseparable bond between the Crown (or the state) and its citizens cannot be severed without the authorization of the whole of Canada;
4) The sovereignty of the state lies in the people of Canada and the Constitution belongs to them;
5) The Senate has the essential duty to protect the regions and the minority interests in any process leading to secession.
The senator emphasized that “It is wrong in my opinion to maintain that the executive government has a prerogative or capacity to negotiate the dismantling of the sovereign will of Canadians to live under the rule of law and to enjoy the protection of their rights and freedoms under the Constitution throughout the whole of the Canadian territory.
“I sustain that no prerogative exists for the cabinet of the day to initiate the termination of Canada.
” … It is simply not possible to give the House of Commons a statutory veto over the use of a prerogative that does not exist.
“In my opinion, there is no such thing as a prerogative to commit the executive government to participate in negotiations leading to secession. The Crown could only engage in such negotiations after obtaining a formal mandate from Parliament, but only after the Canadian citizens and the provincial legislatures have formally expressed their authorization.
” … The logical conclusion we are forced to draw is that there is no need for Bill C-20 because the unavoidable result is that Bill C-20 delegates to the House of Commons a power to restrain the use of prerogative, a power the House of Commons already has.”
The following sentences reiterate the core of Joyal’s thesis.
“No government – not the Crown’s ministers in any province, nor the Crown’s ministers in Ottawa – must be able to take steps to terminate the sovereign will of the people to enjoy common rights and freedoms within a common territory. Only with the full participation and consent of its citizens expressed directly in a national referendum and through the provincial legislatures and, finally, through the whole of Parliament, can the stewardship of that sovereignty be surrendered.”
Joyal believes the Senate must put a formal set of governing principles into C-20, “to recognize the direct involvement of all our citizens in a national referendum, and to guarantee the proper role of Parliament.”
He hammers on his point about involvement. For example: “Before the Crown can take an initiative to extinguish in perpetuity the rights and freedoms of every Canadian in any part of the territory, the Crown will have to seek the support and approval of all Canadians in the whole of the country.”
He recalls that Prime Minister Chretien said Bill C-20 deals with “the most fundamental subject that our Parliament and legislative assemblies would have to decide.”
Joyal believes he has to recommend amendments on the involvement of all our citizens in a national referendum, beginning with a new Clause 1 for Bill C-20:
“1. Subject to this act, the government of Canada must act at all times in accordance with the principle that Canada is one and indivisible.”
At the least, Sen. Joyal’s arguments imply the federal government has gone too far in taking the Supreme Court’s advice that “negotiations” would be necessary with a provincial government that has been successful in attaining a majority for secession. Before this stage is ever reached, the people of Canada as a whole must have their chance to vote on whether or not Canada is divisible.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, May 17, 2000
ID: 12677094
TAG: 200005171537
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 17
COLUMN: The Hill


Few parliamentarians are willing to boldly depart from the party line on a piece of legislation, particularly Liberals behind Prime Minister Jean Chretien. So let us revel in the independence this week of two men in the Liberal caucus and sketch their causes.
First, Sen. Serge Joyal, 55, has been dissecting and argumentatively amplifying the prime minister’s major move on the Constitution – Bill C-20, the so-called Clarity Act.
Joyal’s arguments pivot on something dear to this columnist: that Canada, after it became a “dominion” in 1867 through the passage of the British North America Act, was one nation, indivisible.
Second, Andrew Telegdi, 54, MP for Kitchener-Waterloo since 1993 and a parliamentary secretary to Elinor Caplan, minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has been doing the unthinkable (for a Grit) by asking openly, again and again, for significant changes to deportation procedures as presented in C-16, a bill to amend the Citizenship Act now before the House.
Why? Because the present act and the amendments being proposed to it by the minister give second-class treatment to those who acquire their citizenship after immigrating to Canada (rather than through birth here).
How? By denying that anyone who has been judged by the federal court as meriting revocation of his or her citizenship for fraud, false information, etc. in attaining it has any right of appeal to another court.
Telegdi is a citizen by choice, having come to Canada from Hungary as a boy. He has gained backing in his quest for amendments to make appeals possible from some of his fellow Liberals, some opposition MPs and some ethnic and religious associations. So far, Caplan and her partner in this particular bill, Justice Minister Anne McLellan, have firmly rejected his arguments. As yet Telegdi has not been threatened with the loss of approval by the PM for his nomination for re-election.
Of course, Sen. Joyal no longer needs a prime minister’s electoral sanction. Nonetheless, his present stand on the Clarity Bill comes just two years after Chretien, a former ministerial colleague, put him in the Senate. Joyal, holding a Montreal riding from 1974-84, was a high profile MP and minister (for his last three years in the House).
After his defeat in ’84, Joyal continued to have a public profile in Quebec, not only in politics as a sophisticated federalist champion and chairman of the Liberals’ policy committee, but as a recognized authority on art and design. In the Senate he has been more involved in its debates and committee work than most of his colleagues.
He tells me he has put in “hundreds of hours” reappraising the core issue of Canada: the threat of Quebec’s secession. He has consolidated his reasoning into a lengthy paper (which he intends to circulate publicly) which he condensed into an 8,000-word speech, titled “Canada is Indivisible,” and which he gave during second reading of Bill C-20 in the Senate on May 10.
In my opinion, his arguments are useful for all serious citizens, so my next column (Sunday) will be a digest of his speech. Joyal’s central emphasis has not been put in depth or at length through almost 40 years of constitutional debate, reports, books, etc. Its consideration during this lull in the clash between federalists and separatists might possibly sharpen discussion among plain citizens of the issues and, in particular, give them a keener appreciation of the Clarity Act. (This bill was time-allocated through the House of Commons but it’s clear the Senate is in no such rush and the “indivisible” argument may be popularized there before the Clarity Act is either passed or amended and sent back to the House.)
In support of the braveries of Telegdi and Joyal, let me recall my own experience 36 years ago as an opposition MP when I approached the prime minister (Lester Pearson) on the subject of unity. Avowed Quebec nationalists, including some federal employees, had gained prominence advocating Quebec’s secession from Canada. In part their clamour had led the PM to launch the royal commission on bilingualism and biculturalism.
I asked Pearson: “Why not turn to Abraham Lincoln’s example?”
As a new U.S. president facing Southern politicians advocating secession, Lincoln declared the union “indivisible” and his determination to keep it so with the force of arms.
Pearson said such certainty was not open to him as prime minister. The Parliament of Canada had adopted the United Nations Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which declared the right of “a people to self-determination.” Who had the temerity to tell French Canadians they were not a distinct people? He believed the French Canadians’ thrust for more autonomy would be better accommodated by policies and goodwill than by asserting the indivisibility of Canada, adding that Lincoln had had to fight a long, bitter civil war.
I asked Sen. Joyal about Pearson’s refusal to stand for “one Canada, indivisible.” He said that since Confederation Quebecers have not been colonials or mistreated or denied democratic access and control of their politics, and he regrets the overwhelming case for Canada as indivisible has been so delayed.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 14, 2000
ID: 12676791
TAG: 200005141515
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


A lawyer friend dropped off an 87-page text of a recent court judgment on a case of defamation, suggesting a reading of it would be “useful” to one who put opinions before the public.
He was right. “The reasons for judgment” given by Justice J.D. Cunningham are clear, gripping and a caution that open critics of others ought to be fair.
The case was an action for defamation by plaintiff Dr. Frans Leenen, an Ottawa cardiologist, against the defendants, the CBC and Trish Wood, Nicholas Regush, Paul Webster, David Studer and Gary Akenhead of the TV program the fifth estate.
The alleged offence was in what was presented of Dr. Leenen himself or about him in an hour-long documentary titled The Heart of the Matter, shown on Feb. 27, 1996.
The show focused on an alleged controversy over the work of the federal Health Protection Branch (HPB) and the usage guidelines to doctors for the drug nifedipine (which in one formulation had been on the market in Canada since 1981).
In the early 1990s Pfizer, a developer and manufacturer of nifedipine, had gotten a longer acting, slow-release formulation of the drug approved and into medical use.
In March 1995, an American medical professor published an abstract of a case control study which suggested the first formulation of nifedipine may have been endangering patients’ lives rather than saving them. The HPB called a meeting of an ad hoc committee of experts for September to review the nifedipine situation and asked Dr. Leenen (because he had drafted the Canadian guidelines for its use) to chair it, and a long, thoroughly recorded discussion took place.
Dr. Leenen, a specialist on hypertension at the Ottawa Heart Institute, had been a member of the advisory board of Pfizer Canada for some years.
The storyline for the documentary came from Nicholas Regush, an investigative reporter of note on drug manufacturers and prescription drugs. He had titled it “Canada’s Worst Drug Disaster.” As Justice Cunningham put it: “Mr. Regush had long believed that the HPB was in the pocket of the multinational drug companies and was more concerned with saving company profits than the regulation of drugs coming onto the market in Canada.”
Regush got a contract to undertake this heart-shivering documentary from the executive producer of the fifth estate. He was abetted in shaping his thesis of many lives at risk, and some lost, through the use of nifedipine by a drug reviewer who worked in the HPB, Dr. Michelle Brill-Edwards. She was critical of the original review and licensing of nifedipine and what she saw as the overriding influence of the drug manufacturers on the HPB and the “conflict of interest” apparent in Dr. Leenen’s links with Pfizer Canada. Eventually, she was to take her criticisms up the chain of authority to the deputy minister of health before resigning from her post early in 1996.
The defamation case was tried by Justice J.D. Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court. His findings in favour of the plaintiff were announced last month. They included both costs and $950,000 in damages for the plaintiff. Portions of the sum are to be contributed by: 1) Trish Wood, the presenter of the program; 2) Nicholas Regush, its producer; and 3) Paul Webster, a researcher, as punitive damages for conduct – as a citation states – “so malicious, oppressive and high-handed that it offends the court’s sense of decency.”
The CBC is going to appeal the case to a higher court.
Justice Cunningham has a playwright’s sense of storyline and a pungent expressiveness. His judgment itself could make a crackling, true-life drama for TV. Most of what follows are segments from the judgment which illuminate what defamation is, and what it does.
“Context, of course, is crucial in determining the defamatory sense of words and an alleged defamatory statement cannot be considered apart from the circumstances in which it is made. I have not analyzed the words as though I were carefully considering a written contract. Rather, I have taken the broadcast as a whole in determining whether it is defamatory and it is upon that basis that I have reached the conclusion that this broadcast was indeed devastatingly defamatory of the plaintiff. Within that context, the reasonable viewer would conclude that Dr. Leenen supported the prescribing of killer drugs, that he was in conflict of interest, that he was receiving a payoff from Pfizer, and at the very least, as chair of the committee, that he was negligent and more likely dishonest. The words, within the context of the entire broadcast, certainly are capable of bearing the meaning that the plaintiff was guilty of misconduct. The words suggest a lack of integrity on the part of the plaintiff, something which strikes at the very heart of his professional stature,” Justice Cunningham wrote.
“Television, a very powerful medium, provides widespread and instantaneous dissemination of information. Programs such as the fifth estate have remarkable potential and capacity to cause damage. A program such as this one, by the sensationalized manner in which it was produced, is far more likely to cause damage than other less respected publications or broadcasts. Thus there is a greater responsibility upon those who produce such programs to ensure that the content is factually correct.”
Over many pages the justice examines and dismisses almost all the near score of “true facts” with which the defendants justified the presentation of Dr. Leenen as shown or scripted. He is most severe on the malice in Regush’s “significant disregard for truth.”
Under the heading, “Failure to present a fair portrayal of the plaintiff” comes this startling paragraph.
“In an outtake exchange between Mr. Regush and Ms Wood, he tells her to ask her question with her ‘famous sneering feeling.’ I don’t know how famous it was, but it certainly was sneering. Its purpose appears to be nothing more than to embellish the disdain the defendants want the viewers to have towards Dr. Leenen.
“This program failed to present a fair portrayal of Dr. Leenen … and characterized his views dishonestly and misrepresented his long held views on many important subjects. In order to portray him in the role of ‘bad guy’ and in order to disparage his views, the CBC took an eminent research scientist, whom they knew to be a person of high integrity and reputation, and presented him as a devious, dishonest, bumbling fool in order to advance a story line.
“The defendants’ suggestion that the public interest was somehow served is nonsensical. This ‘important story’ involving the deaths of tens of thousands of patients, of tainted files within the bureaucracy, of the influence of drug manufacturers upon the regulatory process was not even important enough to make the CBC evening news. Although the program itself was rebroadcast on CBC’s Newsworld, the only other media outlet to pick up the story was the Montreal Gazette, for whom Mr. Regush had previously worked as a medical writer. This wasn’t an important story at all. This was sensational journalism of the worst sort and should serve as an embarrassment to this so-called ‘flagship’ investigative program.”
The most haunting pages in the judgment cover the effects of the telecast on both Dr. Leenen’s status and repute in the medical community and on him and his family, avoided by friends and neighbours “who formerly were proud of him and their association with him.”
Justice Cunningham concludes with a message for the CBC and the fifth estate: “Parasitic sensationalists should not be allowed to prey upon society’s obsession with scandal and to reap personal benefits from their irresponsible actions. The malicious, offensive, cruel and insensitive conduct on the part of the defendants from the very beginning was such that I have little hesitation, on the facts of this case, in concluding that punitive damages are warranted.”
Amen! Now has the CBC the resources to pay the awards or to undertake the costs implicit in an appeal of this forthright decision?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, May 10, 2000
ID: 12676238
TAG: 200005101211
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16


A summer which is likely to be more turbulent than most for politicians also augurs the same for those of us who work in news and commentary.
Some, but not all the latter restiveness stems from Conrad Black’s recent decision to sell most of the newspapers owned by his Hollinger Corp.
This was an even bigger blockbuster than the previous, similar news from Ken Thomson that he was selling all Thomson papers in Canada but the Globe and Mail. Suddenly so many dailies are up for grabs that many who consider Black a deadly enemy of all that’s fair and liberal seemed aggrieved their right-wing “bully” is forsaking most of his news empire.
However, there do not seem to be enough good, possible purchasers around to take up most of the papers now on offer.
Work for journalists in news gathering, commentary and distribution is most weighted to the daily press but television is not far behind. Now, rather suddenly, major changes in journalistic employment also seem certain for the largest of all the news and commentary systems, CBC-TV and Radio, and for the second largest, CTV.
BCE, our telecommunications giant, has bought CTV, planning to fit its capabilities into its services on the Internet – in particular, using CTV news and commentary services, perhaps expanded with more reporters and locales.
On the other hand, the CBC is planning drastic cuts, in particular the elimination of local news reporting and newscasts in most cities it now serves in order to have more resources for national and international coverage of news and public affairs. It may also mean cuts in news reporting in English by the CBC in Quebec. These pending cuts have many MPs, particularly Liberals, strongly objecting in caucus and the House.
Several other aspects of political news and commentary have been rousing many politicians and journalists, even a call for another federal inquiry on press ownership by Tom Kent, a former head of such a commission.
More than Tories are disturbed by the partisan implications sharpened by angry Tory MPs accusing National Post reporters of fabricating stories about the troubles in their caucus.
Such finger-pointing has had its complement in acidulous comments about Black and the Post, for example, from columnists Jeffrey Simpson (Globe) and Tom Walkom (Toronto Star). As Walkom puts it, the National Post has “been using its news coverage as a club” to advance the Reform-Alliance as the means of ridding Canada of Jean Chretien’s government.
A few days ago, Peter Mansbridge, on CBC’s One on One, chatted with Bill Fox, a former Tory press aide, about the deadly intent of Black’s papers toward Chretien and the ruckus during the PM’s recent Middle East visit between the attendant press and his handlers.
As I synopsize their opinions:
a) Black’s purpose, most obvious in the Post, has markedly hardened criticism of the Chretien government and backed the Alliance as the emerging means of ousting it;
b) At long last the press corps in Ottawa has crystallized an attitude that before them is an unimpressive government, so portending trouble for the Chretien team.
Certainly, the hubbub on the Hill over schmozzles in grants and loans made by Jane Stewart’s Human Resources ministry was largely sparked by Post exposes. This bursting of the Liberals’ vaunted competence and purity has brought a palpable concert in rising disrespect among reporters for the PM and his ministry.
Another media issue of much import emerged recently as Heritage Minister Sheila Copps responded to the divestitures announced by Black. Don’t worry, she declared. She had a group in her department studying media ownership and concentration. She would soon have at hand recommendations on future policies.
It was immediately widely presumed that this study has to address the problem of evaluation created by tough, federal limits on the foreign ownership of our newspapers, television stations and networks. Changes in such limitations could have vital consequences for sales of Thomson and Hollinger papers. If provisions to enable more foreign ownership in such enterprises are a governmental intention, it would boost the sale price prospect of most of the papers, individually or as mini-chains. They would also make it more unlikely local entrepreneurs would be eager to buy.
But if the Liberals make it clear they will never open up the ownership of such intrinsic, national services fully to foreigners, this would keep the sale prices down and local ownership and control more likely. Of course, such an undertaking might bring forward advocacy of such foreign ownership by another party, i.e., the Alliance.
There are such confident expectations abroad in the world and in Canada on the “convergence” of the Internet, with its almost certain domination by interlocked organizations with capabilities in news, commentary, forums, entertainment, music, TV, radio, etc., and in marketing goods and services.
Here we have been witnessing corporations like BCE, Thomson, Hollinger, Rogers, CanWest Global, Quebecor and TorStar making moves which anticipate having an effective, ultimately remunerative, base on the Internet.
On the other hand, in political Canada there is neither certainty about what governmental reach is best or even possible over what is developing on the Internet nor is there widespread cynicism among politicians about the ballyhooed possibilities of the developing global miracles of telecommunication. Even so, however, it is hard to believe many editors, reporters, columnists, producers, etc. in Canada are unconcerned about the duration of their present employment or who their employers may be.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 07, 2000
ID: 12675889
TAG: 200005071367
SECTION: Comment


Probably not many Canadians care about him, but surely Joe Clark has done enough in public life to merit our sympathy in his bleak situation.
True, the reason he’s in this pickle is old hat to veteran Clark watchers. Once again he’s become a victim of his own dithering, as befell him in late 1979 when his government went down in a House vote. He resigned, an election was called, and back came Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals.
Today, many months after Clark regained leadership of the federal Tories, he still leads from outside the House. Now the initiatives launched by Preston Manning are shaking loyalties of those who are Progressive Conservatives, making it even more crucial the party have a leader in the House for the time left in this Parliament. The only way is through a byelection, and this means the resignation of one of the 17 remaining PC MPs.
Only two of the 17 Tory ridings seem to offer even a 50-50 chance for Clark to win, and neither of the two – Fundy-Royal held by John Herron, 36, and New Brunswick Southwest held by Greg Thompson, 53 – is the “sure shot” a Liberal MP’s resignation from a New Brunswick seat gave Jean Chretien in 1990 or a Tory MP’s in Nova Scotia opened for Brian Mulroney in 1983. Of course, byelection candidates Chretien and Mulroney were then leaders of the official Opposition, with 83 and 103 MPs respectively, not a scant and shaky 17.
It’s possible one of the MPs whose ridings offer Clark the best chance would be willing to resign, but either or both should have been asked months ago. It’s almost too late now.
What happens to Clark’s prospects if he chooses to ride out his leadership from outside the House until he contests his chosen riding of Calgary Centre at the next election?
Clark has few good options but several prospects, though unlikely, are not impossible, and paradoxically they could come from the groups most harmful to Tory fortunes.
The first would occur if there’s a bitter aftermath within the Canadian Alliance after it chooses its new leader. If that leader is Tom Long from Ontario, some dedicated Reformers could be openly divisive and rancorous about this eastern “usurper” and scupper him electorally across the west.
Or, this could happen: Preston Manning wins the Alliance leadership handily. Would not most of the PCs who rallied to Long desert the Alliance, some fading away but many turning back to their old party – and Joe Clark – for one last stand against the Grits?
Then again, Clark might get a break from his age-old enemy, the Liberals, not from the Alliance. All is not well in the reigning party or, more specifically, in its parliamentary caucus and cabinet. The issue is plain: Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and whether he chooses to resign before winter or persists in pushing on to a third mandate.
If he persists in seeking a third term, particularly through the summer and deep into the fall, he aids the Alliance and what seems likely to be strengthening support for it as the best vehicle for ridding Canada of Jean Chretien as prime minister. But if Chretien’s intentions alter as he realizes so many of his MPs and ministers want him to depart, we could have by late fall the diversion of attention from rival parties, including the PCs, to the choice of Chretien’s successor. Most likely it would be Finance Minister Paul Martin, and he, wanting an electoral mandate of his own, would be as swift as Trudeau was in 1968 in getting it.
At this time, Martin seems not only more likely to win big than Chretien, he also seems more likely to attract a lot of those already behind the Alliance or readying to vote for it. And in the so-called split votes in so many ridings where there will be four, five or more serious candidates, the breakage should be more to the advantage of Tory candidates than Alliance candidates, particularly in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
Nevertheless, nothing one conjures up which might help Joe Clark before and into the next election campaign can sustain much hope that he may end it as leader of a strong official Opposition. Plainly, he is an interim leader, or a token head of a party still being judged, firstly by the public’s still livid image of the Brian Mulroney years and, secondly, by its failure to present itself since then as truly conservative in both economic and social affairs.
Given the grim box the Tories and Clark are in, one wonders if it wouldn’t be best for him to resign now, to say he misjudged what he could offer, that a better leader – at least until the next election is called – would be the one the present caucus chooses from within its ranks.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Tuesday, May 02, 2000
ID: 12675151
TAG: 200005021515
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


There has been little in this space on the recent antics of our so-called political right – i.e. on either Reform-cum-Alliance or its would-be leaders, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Keith Martin and Tom Long. Why not?
It’s not from being supportive of Joe Clark: such a decent man who did cap a bumpy 35 years in federal politics with a diligent, useful stint as Brian Mulroney’s Foreign Affairs minister, and so somewhat atoned for his naivete and poor judgment that let Pierre Trudeau escape from his resignation to a second whirl in power in which he further loaded the economy with federal debt and made high court judges more decisive than our legislatures.
No, Clark merits little sympathy. When Jean Charest hied to Quebec, the Tories should have chosen MP Peter MacKay, 35, arguably the most talented MP in opposition and holder of a far safer seat than Clark seeks in Calgary. At the least, Clark should have gone for a seat of an incumbent follower as soon as he got the leadership, particularly because it was clear to anyone following Parliament that Preston Manning, the leader of the Official Opposition, preferred organizing and fashioning “a wave” across the country to steady work in the Commons.
At least Clark respects Parliament and has been a capable parliamentarian. Manning gave him and the other two opposition leaders a break when he failed to divine, even after four years as an MP, that the prime stage for defeating a majority government is providing a resolute regular alternative in the House and its committees.
In the Commons day after day the Reform leader could have sharpened his party’s policies and shaped an alternative ministry from quite an industrious caucus through persistent scrutiny of Jean Chretien and his ministers. Instead, he didn’t even provide a steady Tuesday-to-Thursday presence. After haring around for months to get a new (?) party launched from within Reform, a party to be more acceptable to Ontario voters, Manning crowned his disregard for Parliament by somehow devolving the “official” role in the House as leader of the Opposition to Deborah Grey, an excellent MP, but not the person who led the party before the electorate in 1997.
Such an undemocratic, high-handed transfer frustrates a would-be populist who recognizes, as I do, that Manning is a superb analyst of policy trends and their roots in history and, like Clark, is a kind, decent person. Another disheartening factor in this furor to unite the right which Manning initiated is his guide and strategist, Rick Anderson, a former Liberal insider.
Imagine in a “populist” party, this unabashed example of a broadening trend in which unelected spin doctors handle party leaders and party strategy. Haven’t we had enough of inner sanctum powers like Anderson, Eddie Goldenberg, Gerry Caplan, Hugh Segal – and Tom Long?
Forget the ethics of such political ventriloquism. As voters, do we want our party leaders guided and hedged by such “experts” rather than by their elected colleagues, or, if they have office, by the permanent officials of their governments? It’s enough of a challenge to common sense that a party of such late emergence in this electoral mandate may choose Stockwell Day, bright and sure on lower taxes and smaller government but whose ministerial experience has been in a province given to electing one-sided majorities which, as governments, have had a casual high-and-mightiness toward the legislature rather like that of the Chretien government.
It is wry stuff for a populist that Manning’s hopes of rolling into the PMO through the Alliance are not threatened by the ultimate neo-conservative insider, one Tom Long. Now we all know Long’s exemplars are Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, not Mike Harris, whose two mandates – we keep hearing – Long seems to have orchestrated, not least by “shaking the money trees” whose greenery now fund his late, lightning bid for the Alliance crown. And this inside wonder worker gets backing from a Tory millionaire, Hal Jackman, and an ex-front-row Liberal millionaire, Doug Young.
So we have these travesties: on the one hand a time-warped Joe Clark with a bleak chance of winning his choice for a seat at the next election; on the other hand for the next eight weeks we get many meetings of Alliance candidates undertaking to save us from the high-spending, heavy-taxing, not-very-honest Liberals at the same time their organizers, most notably Long’s, are buying memberships for thousands of instant Alliance members.
You can see this would-be populist has been bothered, but also amused, by this long season of right-winging. And noting the high ratio of Liberal electoral victories the past century suggests the successes come from more than able leaders and use of totem phrases like “Liberals care!” Isn’t there a factor that the Liberals in power become more right than left?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, April 30, 2000
ID: 12942400
TAG: 200004301562
SECTION: Comment


At this point in our history it takes more than one cogent book to alter our course on aboriginal affairs. Tom Flanagan, a political scientist in Alberta, has given it a try in First Nations? Second Thoughts (from McGill-Queen’s Press).
Flanagan describes the expanding futility, gross waste, nepotism and folly of our Indian and Northern Affairs program, and then emphasizes how hard it will be to turn it around. He has written much on native matters, including a fine work on Louis Riel, and he lives where there is far more news and public awareness of Indians.
First Nations explains how the early development of policies regarding natives was based on treaties made by the colonial governments with various bands and the provision of reserves for their members. The first truly major intention to shift away from such policies came in 1969 – and collapsed by the end of 1970. Then, within a dozen years in moves sponsored by the Trudeau government, aboriginal rights, notably of “self-government” were enshrined in the Charter and the Constitution. This shift was the reverse of the ’69 plan to give aboriginal people no less and no more rights and privileges of citizenship than other Canadians have. This plan presaged an end to reserves, the category of “status” Indians and the Indian Act.
Are saner, fairer resolutions of present aboriginal dilemmas possible? Not unless they end the reserves, the perpetuation of “status” Indians, and the multitude of land claim settlements (most still to come).
Flanagan “doubts” changes are in sight. He writes:
“Various schemes of allotting reserve land and enfranchising individual Indians have been tried before in both the U.S. and Canada, with little success. There is no sign that contemporary residents want their reserves to be dissolved; and Canada, through the treaty and reserve system, has encouraged the survival of aboriginal communities as collective entities for more than a century. The movement toward self-government will continue because it has been accepted by most of the Canadian political elite and represents the unanimous demand of the aboriginal political class.
The best hope for change has to come from the “status” Indians themselves as more and more realize their day-to-day lives on the reserves and the prospects for their children are neither enhanced nor stabilized by this third level of government within Canada.
Flanagan notes there’s hope in the rash of protests on many reserves over mismanagement, nepotism and the extravagance of chiefs and band councillors. This democratic sort of outrage emphasizes that “self-government” in such enclaves replicates the worst features on many reserves when they were dominated by federal agents rather than chiefs.
Such grass-roots protests on reserves will not bring serious appraisal for a titanic policy change in Indian affairs until a complementary appreciation takes hold among Canadians generally that in assuaging guilt over past mistreatment of Indians their politicians have given bands, as collectives, mostly small and far from mainstream life, a perpetuity as dismal, demoralizing, welfare mini-states.
Such collectives originated in a culture and economy of subsistence, with people living close to nature. A low-level, subsistence standard of living is no longer acceptable even if there were the game, fowl, fish, etc. at hand there used to be. These collectives based on blood and kin isolate “status” Indians from the ongoing endeavours of Canadians and they are sustained by fiscal transfers from other governments, land-claim settlements, rents of natural resources and casino profits.
Demographically, this system rooted in and perpetuated by blood lines is unfair. Only about half the 1.2 million or so people who at the last census bespoke full or some native origin have “status” and thus entitlement to regular fiscal transfers, grants, etc. Many of Metis or Indian ethnicity do not have “status.”
Some are now demanding their share in what flows to those who are registered Indians. (See the recent suit by Metis for a profit share from Casino Rama in Ontario.)
The various bands now number over 600, each descriptively accorded the grand title of “First Nation.” The reserves speckle the provinces. Many have less than 1,000 “status” members; most have less than a dozen square miles of territory.
Many Indians, particularly the young, have been voting with their feet, leaving for Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, etc. Almost half of all “status” natives do not live on their reserves.
Neither the legendary “wisdom of the elders” nor band control over schools nor the renaissance in Indian cultural activities has stemmed this flight to the bright lights and to attractive job chances for young natives getting higher education.
This rather creeping but inexorable integration of Indians into Canadian society underlines the long-run impracticality of segregation by blood of what is now at best a widely dispersed 3% of our population.
Coast to coast, aboriginals do not have the common bond of distinctive (and written) language or of religion.
Tom Flanagan’s conclusion seems sensible, but is not very heartening to me. He writes:
“The true progress of aboriginal people will depend upon emancipation from political control, whether exercised by federal bureaucrats or their own politicians.”

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, April 26, 2000
ID: 12941765
TAG: 200004261549
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Some minor dramas heralding a dissolution of the reigning regime are unfolding on Parliament Hill. Consider the following …
First, one of the most unlikely of Liberal MPs vaulted into a noisy prominence a few weeks ago when Diane Marleau, a former minister, sounded off. Cameras caught her being repeatedly strident against the government’s handling of health policy, perhaps the diciest current issue in politics.
Second, near the close of Jean Chretien’s recent odyssey through Middle East countries, Jean Pelletier, the prime minister’s closest official adviser, sashayed into the working space of the reporters’ entourage in Damascus, Syria, after an official briefing. There he vented strong disapproval of the coverage Chretien’s performances had been given. He singled out for scathing phrases one of the most unlikely “problem” persons in the entire parliamentary media corps: to wit, Craig Oliver, a long-time reporter and CTV’s bureau chief in Ottawa since the late 1980s.
The grave difficulties within Chretien’s circle are emphasized when one of the meekest public performers in his caucus revolts so vociferously, and when his top fixer/spinner unloads on the most consistently pleasant and optimistic reporter during all my years on Parliament Hill.
What would Pelletier have done, I wondered, with someone like Bruce Phillips, Oliver’s dour, sharp-tongued predecessor as CTV bureau chief?
Marleau, MP for Sudbury since 1988, was Chretien’s first minister of Health and Welfare (late 1993-early 1996). Then the PM switched her to a less exposed post, minister of Public Works and government services; and then, about a year later, to the wispiest of portfolios, the Ministry for International Co-operation and Francophonie. He left her there until mid-1999 when he made Sergio Marchi a trade ambassador and moved Marleau and two other ministers, Christine Stewart and Fred Mifflin, to the backbenches.
Amusingly enough, at least to me, I learned from a chance chat months ago with Chretien that he’d had a trying time excising ministers.
He asked how I like his “clarity bill.” I said it was all right but I was more bothered by his weak cabinet.
He demurred: Look at Paul Martin and John Manley and Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock.
I countered with some notable drones or drudges and named some unpromoted talent behind him.
He interrupted, affirmatively. Yes, he might have a stronger cabinet but, “There are problems.” And the first one was that it’s hard asking a minister to resign. “They don’t want to leave!”
The PM also said that last year he was disturbed when one of his first appointments was furious with him.
This I never expected to hear. Almost nothing in Marleau’s limpid remarks and lack of edge as a minister in the House indicated a split Jekyll-Hyde persona. However vapid she seemed, she rarely was belligerent nor could one say she seemed to have an over-weening appreciation of herself as a top-flight politician.
As Health minister, it was apparent she was neither an articulate master of diverse, oft-debated policies nor one with a very positive impact on provincial premiers for whom health is a huge federal-provincial issue.
Further, the most severe, though necessarily rather sotto voce judgments a journalist gets on ministerial relations develop among backbench MPs. The two ministers in the first Chretien cabinet who annoyed the plain MPs most for muddleheadedness or dithering when on their feet were Marleau and Michel Dupuy (the Heritage minister the PM dropped in 1996).
So what made Marleau, a figurative ministerial mouse for six years in three portfolios, suddenly burst out in criticism of the government’s inadequate defence of national health care?
Granted, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s legislative intentions gave her a handy sky-hook, but why would one who contained her criticism of health policy for four years and repressed her anger over dismissal for six months suddenly become brazen? And not just in one rude outburst but repetitiously?
In her crackling scorn for her government’s weakness, Marleau even surpassed brassy Judy Rebick, CBC-TV’s current social policy authority, when the latter egged her on. Of course, her out-of-closet histrionics both mock and defy the most marked attribute of Chretien’s leadership – tough discipline, quickly enforced (see John Nunziata, Warren Allmand, Dennis Mills, Joe Comuzzi, etc.).
Few pocket melodramas more effectively symbolize an end is at hand for the Chretien regime than Marleau’s revolt, but Pelletier, the PM’s veteran chief of staff, provided one when he castigated CTV’s Oliver before his peers over his reports from the Middle East. What a twofold misjudgment of reality!
Oliver’s reports, which I viewed at home, were earnest and fair, not at all vindictive. Oliver’s record in covering Parliament through several PMs has not been dotted with meanness or destructiveness. Indeed, I’ve heard some journalists lament Craig’s impartiality.
Colloquially put, Pelletier has to be losing it. And given the tightness and continuity in the PM’s innermost circle, Chretien too must be losing it. May he ponder that third mandate. He does have successors in waiting.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, April 23, 2000
ID: 12941360
TAG: 200004231352
SECTION: Comment


Are language issues bubbling again in Canada? Probably! And perhaps we who are unilingual anglos should work up some sympathy for our francophone countrymen.
Why so? Because their long-term future as a distinct language group remains bleak, despite almost 40 years of well-subsidized official bilingualism across Canada, their overwhelming control of the Quebec government and their strong influence within the federal government. Strong enough to ensure politicians from the Rest of Canada rarely open discussions about the the dilemmas of the French language, especially in Quebec.
Ever since 1867 and Confederation there have been recurring political crises – most minor, but a few major – arising in large part from shifts in language usage, traceable through census returns.
Concern surges in both official language groups, particularly among educators, when such shifts are publicized. More often than not they trigger bristling defensive moves by the less numerous group – the bulk of Quebec citizens.
This month, language usage in Quebec has been making news again. Remember that in the 1991 census almost 85% of some 6.8 million people there had French as their “home” language and just over 10% had English.
A fortnight ago the Crown in Quebec won an appeal of a lower court opinion which was based on the judge’s perception that the usage of French in the province is no longer threatened, and so is in less need of the law passed years ago when Robert Bourassa was premier which subordinates English to French in public signage.
The two anglo Quebecers who lost the appeal, elderly owners of a small antique shop, immediately said they would appeal to an even higher court.
In the meantime, an old bilingual nemesis, which last rocked Canada in Pierre Trudeau’s third mandate, re-emerged when several PQ ministers heaped ridicule on the aviation authorities in France for giving a pragmatic priority to English over French in air traffic control for commercial airliners.
The French seemed to have ignored or were unaware of the hullabaloo created by commercial pilots’ associations here in 1975-76 when Trudeau’s francophone ministers fought for – and got – bilingual air control for planes using airports in Quebec and Ottawa-Hull.
After news of the air control decision in the motherland of French broke here, the arguments against bilingual service were resuscitated, with some allegations of recent near mishaps in eastern Canadian air space. The private company, Nav Canada, which now handles air traffic control in this country, immediately responded that the record of two decades of bilingualism in Quebec air space has been impeccable. Praise be for that, but this particular issue may rise again.
Flashbacks to the divided Trudeau cabinet scare federal politicians away from speculation about air safety. They will also avoid as long as they can the agonizing language issue arising from changing demographics on the island of Montreal. These will surely mean an action program to master matters from Lucien Bouchard’s government, and it will likely be both complex and authoritarian.
The demographic danger is a slow, inexorable trend to the dominance of English on the island.
Seems preposterous, right, given the protection French has been given by Canadian laws and the continuing prime concern for it in francophone Canada?
The Montreal language evolution pivots, however, more on what its francophones have been doing than on the island’s anglophones and allophones. (Allophones are those of ethnic stocks with a mother tongue other than English or French; and most of them in Montreal take up English as their second language.)
A serious demographic forecast of English as the majority language on the island in 25 years has triggered Premier Bouchard to get a committee going on weighing and dealing with such a brutal challenge.
Despite baby bonus legislation in the province, the Quebecois continue to have the lowest birth rate in Canada. Their so-called “revenge of the cradles” faded away over a half-century ago during the years when Canada was getting surges of immigrants who did not speak French.
Despite Quebec’s direct control over its immigrants, it has had difficulty attracting a high volume of French-speaking people. For a long time this has meant more allophones settling in Montreal than francophones, often putting their ethnic marks on particular neighbourhoods, much as the anglos did in Westmount and Verdun. Meanwhile, more and more francophones have been moving to the suburbs beyond the island.
Further, despite recent protective legislation and both federal and provincial subsidies that support computer software programs and Internet providers in French, it is apparent that the expansion of English as the global language in telecommunications has undermined French, not least in Quebec.
It is my assumption that it’s too late – even if Quebec becomes totally independent and a unilingual French state – to do more than slow the inevitable trend to more anglicization.
And independence, once achieved, would likely turn Quebec into an inward-looking economic and social ghetto unless – and this would be ironic – it made state-wide, official bilingualism a dedicated priority.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, April 19, 2000
ID: 12940750
TAG: 200004191612
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 17
ILLUSTRATION: photo from Sun file
COLLEGE MAN … Former Labour minister Mike Starr, shown celebrating his 1962 election victory, leaves as his legacy an act that built the foundation for Canada’s community college system.
COLUMN: The Hill


A month ago, at age 89, Mike Starr died in his home town of Oshawa. He had brought a handsome and sturdy presence – and considerable competence – to local and federal politics through the 1950s and ’60s, notably as John Diefenbaker’s minister of labour.
For several decades most commentary about Starr goes little beyond the facts that he was the first Ukrainian in a federal cabinet and a Diefenbaker loyalist to the very end. He was a kitchen-table sort of talker, not an orator.
I was an MP for the seven years Mike held the labour portfolio. In 1960 he sponsored into law the one truly great bill among the scores for which I voted; and four decades of hindsight confirms its huge consequences as a catalyst for national changes in secondary and post-secondary education.
Now, you are thinking I am drawing a very long bow.
And my praise may seem even more odd when I name the bill: the Technical Assistance and Vocational Training Act.
The act’s twinned intrinsics were plain. It raised Ottawa’s contribution to provincial retraining programs from 50% to 75%. More important, it instituted a federal subsidy of 75% of the capital costs to a province in building training facilities.
In the early 1960s there were just two post-secondary technical institutes of quality in Canada: a small one in Calgary and Ryerson in Ontario. Nor were there any “community” colleges.
During the bill’s passage Starr was diverted from talk emphasizing the jobs to come from erecting the schools to rather vague estimates of federal spending under the act. Over a decade the federal share might total $1 billion. What an under-shot! As every provincial government raced for the money pot the commitment Canada-wide went over $4 billion in the first five years.
Privately, the Tory ministry hadn’t expected Quebec to accept federal money for such open educational purposes, not realizing the new broom of Premier Jean Lesage meant much zeal for modernizing education, using as much of the federal money it could get under the act.
Further, Ottawa had not anticipated a new minister of education in Ontario, John Robarts, would develop the so-called Robarts’ Plan, which grafted a vocational stream into the secondary school curricula, opening the way for Ottawa meeting 75% of the capital costs for some 200 vocational high schools and a speckling of Ontario with new “community” colleges and technical institutes.
The ensuing construction boom across the country meant thousands of jobs, and Lester Pearson’s government continued this shared-cost program after it took office in 1963.
Without doubt the act was a job-maker but its astounding contribution was the creation within a decade of a whole new level of educational opportunity, usually with a connecting prospect to university education for those high school drop- outs who tried community colleges or CEGPs in Quebec.
The genesis of the TA&VT Act was simple, developed over morning coffee by mid-level officials of the department of Labour. When minister Starr called in a staff group, asking them for sensible ideas for winter works programs, the one he most liked was from the coffee klatchers: a big jump in subsidizing retraining costs and a 75% share in new buildings for technical education. Starr took this to the PM and he backed it at once, ordering an immediate legislative proposition.
Robarts succeeded Leslie Frost as Ontario premier in 1961, his win over keen rivals owing much to his reforms in education. Although Lesage’s Quebec ministers rarely praised federal largesse, the sheer scale of money available helped them shift a clerically-dominated school system, set in a hierarchical learning mode to one with technical and business training centres throughout the province in new buildings.
Mike Starr got other “plus” marks as Labour minister, deftly handling walkout threats on the railways and cooling out a divisive strike by Radio Canada producers, led by Rene Levesque. He lost his seat in opposition in the 1968 election by just 15 votes to a neophyte socialist, Ed Broadbent, and missed regaining it in 1972 by a small margin.
Mike was genial, frank, and modest to a fault. Twice I met him after he left the House and I asked why he and his party made so little of what the TA&VT act had done in shaping and sustaining Canadian progress. Each time he grinned and gave me a favourite line of Tommy Douglas: “Electors want to know what you’re going to do for them, not what you say you’ve done.”
And each time he said: “I was lucky. There were some very smart people in my department.”
Even so, because I know what a community college did in my former city, Thunder Bay, in opening more choices and skills to young people, I think the politician who was its first cause should be saluted for it once and while.


The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, April 16, 2000
ID: 12940346
TAG: 200004161366
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


In literal authority, the Speaker of the House of Commons may be the prime servant of Parliament but such primacy has been shifting to the auditor general of Canada, at this point, Denis Desautels, and his office. Why so, and how?
Largely because the A-G’s bundle of reports on government operations, now being issued semi-annually, are almost relentlessly harsh on bureaucratic incompetence and lax political oversight of the sprawling federal administration, and the government meekly accepts this.
One focus of the A-G continues to be “value for money.” This principle was established by Desautels’ predecessors, J.J. Macdonnell (1973-81) and Ken Dye (1981-91) over objections of cabinet ministers, senior mandarins and some political scientists concerned it was an intrusion against judgments of elected politicians by an outside official.
Desautels has gone beyond tough critiques of inefficiency and incompetence to snappy advocacy of remedies and beyond into foreseeing future problems for frugal management and operations that ought to be anticipated by politicians in power and their bureaucrats.
A year or so away from the end of his 10-year term as A-G, Desautels and his officials loom large over this Jean Chretien mandate, and his chances of a third one, even though he’s far less known as a public personality across the country than Dye, Macdonnell and Max Henderson, his more vivid, media-playing predecessors.
You may have missed a stark example of the respect accorded the unobtrusive Desautels by the PM and his cabinet.
In repetitious answers to snarky opposition questions in the House, Chretien, Herb Gray and the much harried Jane Stewart have emphasized that the government has had the advice and approval of Desautels for its famous “six-point” program of reform in the huge Human Resources ministry.
“He is working with us,” says Stewart.
In short, the ultimate “bona fide” of the Liberals’ plans for recovery and reform from their scandalous lack of grip on hundreds of HRDC contracts and awards comes from this servant of the House of Commons.
Will such a lofty status last? Let me point out a quirky parallel to it which suggests it might not. I refer to the public debate now raging over the “political” role of the Supreme Court in negating and sometimes dictating political decisions made by Parliament, especially in interpreting the Charter of Rights.
Despite much revealed anger, ministers in both the Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney cabinets backed away from making a major issue of the extended critical range the “value for money” principle was giving the auditor general.
As one dour critic saw it: “The auditor general would become the arbiter of opinion as to the probity and wisdom of the cabinet … displacing the PCO and Treasury Board as the bureaucratic interpreters of the cabinet’s wishes.”
Surely, the arguments ran, no appointed official should have powers of criticism and advocacy that go beyond indicating whether public money had been properly allocated and spent. After all, in the parliamentary system the “political” government is supposed to be fully responsible for the “bureaucratic” government. It is sustained so long as it keeps control of the House of Commons. Of course, it also knows it faces the judgment of citizens in the next general election.
Why did this rational protest against a grander, extended role for the auditor general fade out in the Mulroney years? Arguably, because the press had made politicians in power suspect and government bureaucracies unpopular, and so they were ready to turn the most informed, close-in analyst at hand into a necessary, continuing public asset.
Denis Desautels’ smooth restraint, combined with his distaste for nasty language or much public repetition of the caustic stuff in so many A-G appraisals of federal departments and agencies, have put him almost above criticism. And there we have a major contrast to the effect from public opinions of our recent chief justice and some of the other justices of the Supreme Court. Often their reasons for striking down or re-interpreting legislative intentions have seemed obscure or hare-brained and irresponsible. And their responses have been feeble to charges of being over-influenced by highly politicized minority interest groups.
It seems unlikely there’ll be legislative responses to judicial decisions by the Chretien government (like using the “notwithstanding clause” in the Charter) as Preston Manning is advocating. We may anticipate, however, fewer Supreme Court decisions which block legislative intentions or direct legislators to other remedies. The new chief justice, speaking outside the court, has emphasized the imperative of thorough consideration of the costs and dislocation while reaching decisions.
Now, back to last week’s report by the A-G. You can divine the magnitude of bad or inefficient government in our seventh year under Jean Chretien from a few of its cases.
– In immigration, our health and safety is jeopardized by a weak department, unable to check undesirables and fraud while failing to bring us mostly “quality” immigrants.
– A program of massive credits to corporations for doing research that has given $11 billion to some 11,000 corporations over three years has been poorly administered and brought slight economic benefits.
– Vital responsibilities of the RCMP – like DNA testing and the national police information centre – are underfunded and incapable of prompt results.
– In general, the public service system “is rule-bound and inefficient.” Transfers and promotions are bogged down by 70,000 rules and 840 rates of pay and benefits.
Though over $1 billion a year is spent on educating aboriginal children, the majority on reserves, the quality of such education is far behind that for non-aboriginal children.
– The scale of overpayments in Employment Insurance has been rising, the rate of service response sliding and HRDC, the responsible department, lacks information about its own performance.
Yes, thank Chretien and Finance Minister Paul Martin for an end to the string of big federal deficits, but when you read the gist of such criticism marshalled by Desautels, you know we cannot thank them for able, frugal governance.


The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, April 12, 2000
ID: 12939676
TAG: 200004121601
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Some holidayers forget their work scene; some miss it. I do whenever I’m out of the country. However, this time my Hill-bound speculations were eased in a Sarasota coffee house with five Canadian dailies at hand, a day late of course. There were the two would-be “national” English dailies, plus the Toronto Star and Montreal’s Gazette and La Presse.
Scanning these papers with the detachment distance gives brought me to the obvious: rather suddenly, party politics are in flux, and so are the biases and the smidgins of neutrality in those who cover politics.
None of the five federal parties is without doubts, mostly but not completely, over leadership concerns. And the ills or the promise of would-be leaders have the journalists and their editors on the prod.
In the news stories, columns and editorials I read while away there were two important certainties in federal politics.
First, it’s time for Jean Chretien to do “the far, far better thing” for his party and country by departing political life, thus opening accession of Paul Martin to the PMO and a cinch electoral victory. The reasoned basis for Chretien’s leaving has been shifting from the good run he’s had, his general lack of vision and his point-to-point attitude to the spreading scandals and associated incompetence in the federal bureaucracy.
Some scandals tar the PM himself, adding to the dissidence about his leadership that surfaced in his caucus before the Liberal convention last month. It’s undercutting any grand enthusiasm there for his run at a third mandate.
The “scandals” are well past being a prerogative of the National Post’s reporters, who led in their revelation. Further, not even the generally capital “L” Liberal Toronto Star, either editorially or through its columnists and features, is treating the government as highly ethical and competent.
Second, any chance of success for fundamentalist Christian Stockwell Day in the Alliance leadership race simply had to be scotched by the press. His values and ideas, perhaps palatable in Alberta, are out of date and out of sync with the common social modernity which prevails so absolutely in sophisticated and vote-heavy Ontario. Why, even Preston Manning, since 1993 the bane of politically correct or centre-left journalists, is now far less an affront to the moderns since Day came east seeking a leader’s role. I cannot recall a more hostile media routing of a leadership candidate.
And now, back on the Hill, I find the press both fascinated and apprehensive at the late entry of Tom Long in the Alliance race – fascinated with him as the guru who handled Mike Harris, such an ordinary politician, into two terms in power in Ontario, apprehensive because his aims, in both economic and social spheres, are so hard-rock conservative.
Radiating from Ottawa are the open hopes that Martin will soon replace Chretien, and a preference for Manning, the devil they know, to Day, the religiously motivated zealot, or Long, the neo-conservative mastermind of the Harris government.
In the swirl around Liberal and Alliance doings there has been much less attention or space given to the other three leaders and parties: Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservatives, Alexa McDonough and the NDP and Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois. I cannot remember reading any substantial item in English Canadian dailies in the past month about the situation in the present Parliament, or in the next election, of Duceppe and his party, other than a repetitious reference accepted for many months that even with Martin as Liberal leader the Bloc will have many MPs in the next House.
Clark has drawn commentary as critical and demeaning as Day, but it’s been over many months. Even press veterans who respect him as decent and honest take him as an awkward anachronism. His own derision for Reform and the Alliance no longer gets much play. Until a general election proves differently – as it may – a supposition has set in that Joe will be hard put to win a seat for himself in the next House.
As for McDonough and the NDP, from my reading in Sarasota the interest they’ve been generating is in line with an old NDP slogan: “Touched by Tommy.” They’re harassing the Liberals for letting down the Douglas heritage of medicare by opening health care to corporate enterprise. Arguable? Yes. A winning theme? Hardly. But better than railing against tax cuts.
All in all, I came home more aware that we have partisan confusion which could last another year if Chretien doesn’t open the way for Paul Martin.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 26, 2000
ID: 13082587
TAG: 200003261700
SECTION: Comment


The MP critics who daily batter Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart have emphasized the dubious integrity of the government far more than the fuller context of incompetence. They rather overlook an emphasis on both integrity and competence in Jean Chretien’s Red Book of 1993.
Oh, what changes were coming! Bright times after the dark Mulroney years of sleaze; and beyond an end to venality and waste, the Liberals were set on “getting government right” even as they shortened the payroll and improved services for the public.
Oh, what efficiencies were coming within the Ottawa leviathan! There would be “program reviews” and reorg after reorg.
The young and brilliant in the mandarinate would be “fast-tracked.” There would be “results reporting.” And the path to competence would be led by a super crew – Treasury Board’s “evaluation, audit and review group.”
Naturally, there’d be no sordid ‘conflicts of interest’ like those of Mulroney minister Sinclair Stevens.
No more insider deals set up by lobbyists with influence such as those of Frank Moores.
The sleazy practices of partisan patronage would end, even the filling of the roll of federal legal agents with lawyers loyal to the governing party.
Some dozy optimists in academe foresaw the Liberals using open bidding for contracts to handle opinion polling and federal advertising.
The Red Book promised election law changes that would enforce “tough spending rules” and both expose and limit money contributions to the parties. Certainly, there would be no more toll-gating. (This is the quite illegal practice in which a political party gets a kickback, say of 10%, from payments to those who get federal grants or contracts.)
Oh, how pure and effective the Chretien government was to be! And in the Ottawa region, brimming with federal employees, the voters went overboard, Liberal candidates winning everywhere.
How has purity fared?
Well, Frank Moores has certainly had his mimics. As examples, consider two ex-Chretien ministers, both defeated in 1997, David Dingwall and Doug Young.
Grit lawyers still dominate the list of federal legal agents.
Recently, a Liberal lawyer, Deborah Coyne, won appointment to the Immigration Refugee Board in Toronto; then she quit it because she wanted to live and work in Ottawa.
Shortly afterward she was appointed again – to the board’s Ottawa office. Now that’s bold as brass patronage, even if Coyne is a well-known single mom.
A Liberal party employee in Quebec was convicted after being caught toll-gating. He’d had close links with the office of the minister for Treasury Board, the financial watchdog of federal grants and contracts.
Now the head of the Liberals’ purity gambit, the prime minister, while “looking after his riding” has, the opposition charges, abused the regulations for grants, some of which benefitted those politically close to him. And, in his riding and many others, some individuals and companies receiving federal money skimmed a portion for Liberal coffers. Prompted or not, that’s toll-gating.
Now to what seems to me an even more serious failure … the failure in competence.
Ironically, John Reid, a Chretien appointee as ombudsman for access to information, gave explicit warnings to the government and the public last year of a mounting crisis in governmental record-keeping. Many files were incomplete or not at hand; the institutional memory in too many departments and agencies was gone. It didn’t matter whether this parlous scenario arose from staff downsizing or botched transitions from old methods of record making and filing to computer-based ones. For Reid, too many files were incomplete.
In the last two months the Reid analysis has been confirmed by media study of opened or leaked audits and reviews of Jane Stewart’s big bailiwick, the department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and the Canadian International Development Agency. These are three major dispensers of billions to thousands. It is past time for schmozzles in records and dubious grants to be blamed on long-gone Brian Mulroney. These are Chretien-Paul Martin schmozzles.
At the Liberal convention last week, Stewart, fed up with the tag of “liar,” nailed Reformers as duplicitous. The gathering gave her ovations; however a woman delegate from B.C.’s lower mainland had a sobering comment for Chretien as he emceed the accountability session: “The transitional job fund … which is central in the opposition critique, is a problem. It’s a question, and something people are not happy about in my riding.”
The PM’s reply began with his pride in the fund’s purposes. Ah, “the dignity of work” such grants give to the unemployed. This, of course, only concerns true Liberals – not Reformers or Tories.
Chretien was firm and brief in his assurance that those “who abuse this program will be punished” but he left it to Stewart to praise the reforms she has under way which will wipe away the glitches. It’s as though the PM and his minister think revealed, systemic incompetence is a small matter.
In my book, gross incompetence in a government is worse than sleazy governors.
The failings in integrity unfolding in the capital mock the Red Book’s prate of integrity in government. But as citizens we should be even more concerned with the now abundant evidence that Jean Chretien may be master of a malleable caucus and party but he floats above a big bureaucracy without full, clear records of its many expensive programs, or their results.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, March 22, 2000
ID: 13082010
TAG: 200003221319
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


The strain on Jean Chretien’s face as he addressed the Liberal convention last Sunday said more than his own fractured syntax ever could about the cost to him of the previous week. His face revealed the sour truth.
It seemed to me he finally understood his party wants Paul Martin to lead it into the next election.
Chretien’s reaction to rejection has always been to soldier on, and his speech closing the conference seemed to indicate he intends to do just that. His situation, however, is far more problematic that any he has faced in the past, even tougher than when he waited and worked to bring John Turner down.
Up to now, the ‘tit gars’ has always been able to tell himself that it was just the party’s elite – the Montreal intellectuals and Bay Street suits – who’d rejected him. Others often seemed to share this belief, witness the words of then-party president Iona Campagnolo when Chretien lost the party leadership to John Turner in 1984: “You may have come second in the vote, Jean, but you come first in our hearts.” The sense that ordinary Liberals were with him helped sustain Chretien in the testing years that followed as he courted Bay Street, amassed a small personal fortune, and organized the overthrow of the unloved and – more important – twice-losing Turner.
Events surrounding the recent convention confirm that Paul Martin seems to command the hearts of the party faithful.
How else to explain the quick and easy victory his supporters enjoyed in their bid to stack the party executive, despite their embarrassingly ham-fisted efforts to stir up caucus dissidents against the Prime Minister just prior to the convention? Even more striking was Martin’s continued refusal to call off his dogs without a peep from the convention floor. (Chretien’s staff did complain – off the record.)
Some see the rank and file’s reluctance to openly chastise Martin’s presumption as merely another demonstration of the natural governing party’s famous discipline. (Can you imagine a Tory, Reform or NDP convention letting all this pass?) But if Chretien still had the hearts of the majority, there would have been at least a few angry outbursts, especially given the dangerous combination of free booze, big parties, and nosey media. No! Chretien has lost his magic with ordinary Liberals, and the repeated standing ovations and American-style chants of “Four More Years” reinforced an impression the troops were really trying to say goodbye.
Chretien’s current dilemma differs from previous ones in another way. Before he’d always been fighting for the chance to prove himself. After two majorities, surely he’s had his chance – and what does he have left to prove? While possessing a great passion for power, he’s shown limited ambition regarding its use. Brian Mulroney used his two terms to bring forward three major initiatives – the Meech Lake Accord, Free Trade, and the GST. Chretien’s legacy? Aside from a reasonably healthy economy (courtesy of the U.S.) and balanced books (due as much to Tory tax increases as Liberal cuts), even he seems unsure what it is. He once talked about it being his children’s agenda, pointing to the Millennium Scholarship Fund. Unfortunately, most Canadians seem unaware of its existence. Last weekend his Clarity Bill, setting the terms for any negotiations between Quebec and Canada on sovereignty, got a roar of approval. Alas, the withering of the sovereignist dream means he could end up as just a footnote in histories.
Chretien’s desire to hold on to power remains rooted in his quest to prove himself to his party, and his country. Unfortunately, neither seems to care anymore.
But the prime minister is no tragic figure. He’s had a great run, twice beating a weak and divided opposition – a fact his party appreciates more than he does. He’s enjoyed his powers, taking care of his friends (and his riding), while punishing his enemies. Having treated much of his caucus as if they were the latter, however, he should not be surprised that many of them look forward to his departure. (Recall his dismissal of all the parliamentary secretaries he appointed in 1993, and his refusal to sign the nomination papers of those he felt had crossed him, a threat trotted out again at the recent convention. Mulroney, in contrast, is fondly remembered by most of his troops.)
Finally, having shown no loyalty to the man who defeated him in 1984, he is in no position to demand it from those who seek to replace him.
He will carry on, if he can, perhaps building up Brian Tobin as his most worthy successor. His suggestion of an early election should be taken seriously only because it provides the best chance to block Martin, aside from catching the Reform/Alliance unprepared. Significantly, a number of major crown corporations (e.g. Export Development Corporation, Western Diversification Office) have launched advertising campaigns reminding Canadians just how caring/helping their government is. Such ads have long been used by the governing party to toot their own horn – at taxpayers’ expense – prior to an election call. And the porkbarrel of billions at Human Resources was well topped up by the recent budget. March came and has almost gone, and our Caesar still lives. But his pride and effectiveness have been much shaken. Unless it’s sooner rather than later, I doubt he shall campaign again.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 19, 2000
ID: 13081677
TAG: 200003191425
SECTION: Comment
ILLUSTRATION: photo from SUN files
MONTREAL MELEE … Police protect NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell from irate Montreal Canadiens fasn in 1955 after Campbell suspended Maurice “Rocket” Richard, causing riots in Montreal. The riots are the subject of a new film by Brian McKenna, one of the makers of the controversial The Valour and the Horror.


You could have missed several items of federal news last week because of the Chretien melodrama that climaxed when he faced down the agents of his timid Brutus, Paul Martin.
My story today is on an odd “cause and effect” scenario that helps explain some very tardy generosity by Ottawa 55 years after the event.
The main cause? Remember the grand fuss over The Valour and the Horror, a three-part, government-funded dramatized documentary about Canadians in World War II?
First shown on TV in 1992, it slowly but surely generated a storm of objections. It was produced by brothers, Brian and Terence McKenna, who as one droll academic phrased it, ” … were determined to be fair to the Nazis.”
The Valour was harsh about the performances and superior about the motives of Canadian airmen and soldiers. Figuratively-speaking, The Valour woke up those of the war-time generation still living.
Although the McKennas were strongly backed by media colleagues, zealous for artistic freedom and creativity, the rebuttals mounted. One example is the fine video series No Price too High, produced by Dick Nielsen, and sponsored by veterans led by Barney Danson, a former Liberal defence minister, himself an infantry casualty in Normandy.
Not by intention, The Valour triggered a more positive interest in Canadians at war. One notes it in the surge of those at reunions and commemorations, in much larger attendance at remembrance ceremonies, and in a major spate of both academic books about the war and memoirs in profusion by soldiers, RCN sailors, RCAF men and women, and by some leaders at home in production and supply.
Some impetus for recall in Canada was created by the flow here of productions by Americans and Britons, cued in particular by the patriotic emphases of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The challenges and feats of the World War II generation became a popular topic through the ’90s and a genuine curiosity is abroad in the land about Canadians in “the big war.” Most politicians were very chary of The Valour. Indeed, the Tory minister of communications warned the Tory caucus to ignore criticism of the series because it raised the dicey issue of creative licence. But some politicians, notably in the Senate, would not be quiet. More and more veterans’ groups fired up. In particular, RCAF survivors were furious at their depiction as simple-minded sheep, directed to their useless slaughter by “Bomber” Harris.
Eventually, all hesitation to take on the moralistic denigrators of our military disappeared. Despite claims of The Valour’s epic worthiness, it now largely symbolizes an unfair, crude manipulation of events and people.
The domination in post-war presentations of our wartime debacles or badly-handled policies has given way to a larger, more positive context. You may recall the “debacle” items: the mean refusal of entry to Jewish victims of the Nazis; the relocation of Japanese ethnics living on the West coast; the two regiments sacrificed at Hong Kong; the literally terrible casualties of the Dieppe raid; and the divisive crisis at home about reinforcements created by the high scale of infantry casualties in Normandy and Italy.
No post-war item of anti-war propaganda has sparked such a turnaround in public interest as The Valour.
Out of this reaction comes the recent federal undertaking to give wartime merchant seamen full veterans’ benefits and a modest lump sum for benefits missed. And last week the Chretien government set aside some $70 million for the following: (i) Building a new war museum on a fine site in the capital next to the Air Museum, a project led by Barney Danson; (ii) Full “veterans’ benefits” to those still living who served as civilian pilots and mechanics in “the air bridge” over the Atlantic, moving planes like the Mosquito to the UK, and for the remnant of 1,500-plus Newfoundland woodworkers who logged and sawed in the forests of Scotland through much of the war, and for a thousand or so Red Cross volunteers who served overseas, mostly as hospital workers.
My obvious prejudice comes from being one of the million (out of some 11 million) who volunteered for the military and one who believes Canadians did truly great things together – such as laying the basics for an industrial economy and a fairer social system. Devil take those who were not there or who came later, who slight the contribution and discount the sacrifices in a great cause.
The McKennas symbolize the debunkers, the belittlers of a generation. And wouldn’t you know, Brian McKenna is still at his mission of cruising our history for authoritarians to put down and their victims to eulogize. His vehicle of this moment is a film (which aired last week on Global TV) about the Richard riots of 1955 in Montreal that shocked the country. Some say they presaged the Quiet Revolution and separatism. A mob exploded from the Forum and beat up downtown Montreal. It was raging over the suspension for the season of the Canadiens’ superstar Maurice Richard by Clarence Campbell, the NHL president. The Rocket had punched an official who got in the way of his stick-swinging attack on a Boston player.
It is truism that the Honorable Maurice Richard, now ailing, is a folk hero in Quebec, even a member of the privy council, courtesy of Brian Mulroney.
Yes, the late Clarence Campbell was an Anglo, a Rhodes scholar from Alberta, and a former investigating officer in World War II for the Judge Advocate-General of the army overseas.
For those who swallow the McKenna line whole, the resurrected Campbell is a prime symbol for Anglo misreading and patronizing of Quebecois nationalism.
It happens I worked closely on hockey affairs with Clarence Campbell in the 1970s. Few men I’ve known relished talking more about great teams and players, and over time I became impatient with his insistent and rather encyclopedic recognition of Richard as the wonder player of his lifetime and “Canadien” teams as the best, best, best.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, March 15, 2000
ID: 13081112
TAG: 200003151546
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


What would be the differences between a Liberal government led by Paul Martin and one led by Jean Chretien, aside from the change at the front?
Very little, more likely than not.
Why say this? Their personalities and public demeanours are not similar. The PM’s record in partisan politics is that of a tough, ruthless, often mean man. The Finance minister is more genial, somewhat more thoughtful and relaxed. He also functions more within organized views, expressed in print and files, whereas the PM, quicker and more impatient, relies on a huge, handy memory and apt use of succinct oral briefings. And he keeps his desk clear of case files or any other reading. Such contrasts, however, do not have their parallels in policies.
A Martin government would bring a shift in style but hardly in content or priorities. Both men are in a fairly wide centre of the political spectrum. Both hymn unity, love of Canada and of balanced budgets.
Can you think of a truly major emphasis in our economic, social, and constitutional affairs where they differ sharply?
Or take Chretien’s PMO-centred modus operandi. It has subsumed the old cabinet system of government, or putting up with just one other in-government centre in setting priorities – Finance! The PMO crew doesn’t even make cliches about parliamentary democracy as it dominates cabinet, caucus and the work and pace of the House and its committees.
There isn’t one MP in Chretien’s core crew. It’s made up of longtime aides Jean Pelletier, chief of staff, and Eddie Goldenberg, senior policy adviser, with John Rae in Montreal and David Smith in Toronto as loyal, cherished Solomons on strategy and tactics.
Do you think Martin as successor would engineer a parliamentary renaissance or create a cabinet larger in talent than obedience? There isn’t a clue such matters have ever been on his mind. He already has his own cabal of powerful surrogates. So Pelletier, Goldenberg and Rae might be out, but Mike Robinson, Terrie O’Leary and Elie Alboim would be in.
Surely it’s the sensing of public boredom with Chretien rather than sleazy misdeeds or internal incompetence which fuels the rise in Liberal MPs who wish he would make way for his so obvious successor.
As yet not much media attention to the Liberal leadership has focused on process and timing. A party so large, successful, and traditional needs at least four months, better five, to carry out a change in leadership.
The expectations of a contest and a subsequent Martin victory have overshadowed consideration of the government he would head if it comes before the next federal election.
Without an election, a Martin triumph at a convention would mean a change of guard only in the PMO. By and large there’d have to be the “same old gang” in cabinet and caucus. In this mandate the Liberals’ small margin and its uneven provincial representation rule out drastic elevations, demotions and departures, in particular because ham-handedness in dealing with the disparate opposition groups has united them on a joint goal – getting rid of this government.
A government led by Paul Martin, say some time in the first seven months of 2001, would have to go to the people at once, much as Pierre Trudeau did in April, 1968, and almost surely with a platform of intentions which Martin would have set out in his leadership campaign.
This week we have had assurances of their continuance into a third mandate by both Chretien and Martin, vouchsafes that will be reiterated ad nauseam by Liberal delegates this weekend. Such absolutism means we cannot reckon that either man will change their stance this year, or before another budget 11 months from now. And if Martin stays in Finance (which he says “I love”) he’ll largely author Chretien’s next “election” budget, reminding me of a view given me this week by a Grit acquaintance. “You know,” he said, we’ve had a de facto Martin-Chretien administration through seven budgets.”
The PM is about to announce the party’s campaign planners and managers for the next election. This triggers a process which expands inexorably and gradually sets the priorities for all in the party, from local poll clerks to the prime minister. Search begins for candidates. The staging of riding nominations is orchestrated, notably in ridings not now held or where Liberal incumbents are packing it in. The total number of incumbent Liberals who will choose not to run if Chretien stays could be as high as 40, but there’ll be no dearth of aspirants.
It’s possible though unlikely that factors beyond the Liberal party might intercept the roll to a third mandate for the Chretien-Martin team. If evidence keeps leaking from the federal leviathan of incompetence and sleazy toll-gating of federal contracts or grants Liberal ratings in the Gallups could slip and slide with critical momentum shifting to the opposition.
If this coincides with a conservatively based realignment around the Canadian Alliance and a fresh leader, Chretien could retire quite abruptly. Martin would get his chance, but by then, say a year from now, he’d not have an electoral certainty. Not impossible but unlikely.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 12, 2000
ID: 13080760
TAG: 200003121704
SECTION: Comment


Criticism, they say, is good for one’s soul.
Steven Mahoney (Mississauga West) has written in anger to me. He is 52, has been an MP since 1997, and before that was an MPP from 1987-95, serving as opposition whip in his second term. Before reaching Queen’s Park he was a municipal councillor for nine years. In short, he has been around rather more than most first-term backbenchers.
Mahoney did not mark “personal” or “confidential” on his letter to me, so quoting him is fair ball.
He objects to a comparative reference I made to him in a pre-budget piece, March 27. Let me give what roused him to write, then his reply and my assessment of it.
FISHER: “At the very least, there is not much mystery left about Paul Martin as the prime minister-in-waiting. A backbench Liberal MP was cruel and insightful recently when he characterized Martin’s set political style as ‘very much a ministerial Steve Mahoney.’
“Mahoney, an assertive Liberal MP from Toronto and a thorough, brassy, partisan blowhard, radiates few nuances in ideas or arguments, but his voice is loud and his gestures flamboyant.”
MAHONEY: “Everyone has told me to ignore your remarks … I’ve tried – I can’t. Frankly, I’ve never been so personally insulted in over 20 years of public life. It’s not your quote of a colleague, but rather your description of me and my work that is upsetting. Especially from a former member.
“To my knowledge, we’ve never even met. Obviously, my speaking style and aggressive nature upset some. It’s probably due to being raised in a family of 10 kids with Bill Mahoney at the head.
“To suggest, however, that I’m nothing more than a blowhard with no ideas, etc. to contribute is truly a cheap, personal attack by someone I have always thought of as a professional.
“You know nothing of my work – and I work damned hard.”
Certainly, I’ve never met Steven Mahoney, though rather ironically I did know his dad. Bill Mahoney was prominent in public affairs as national director of the Steelworkers Union from 1956-77, pushing up and out from a mill job in Sault Ste. Marie. Under him, the Steelworkers grew from coast to coast, with the most members, most staff and the most money of any union, plus a policy of political action.
Thus, Bill Mahoney became a founding father of the NDP. He was forceful and often most strident.
I regularly skim through the House of Commons’ Hansard and most sitting days I follow C-PAC’s cable coverage of the House, before, during, and after the question period.
That is how I know Steven Mahoney as an MP. Admittedly, this hasn’t enlightened me on his work in his constituency or his relationships in the Liberal caucus.
Early last year I began to read Mahoney’s speeches in Hansard.
Why? Because he was on his feet a lot in the House, and because he is LOUD and very partisan – to a Rat Pack degree. Often he elicits exasperated responses.
Indeed, “the hon. wind-bag” was the phrase for him used by the young, very able Reformer, Jason Kenney. He wasn’t asked to withdraw it by the Speaker.
Another tag – “blockhead” – was applied to the MP for Mississauga West by a Bloc member. It also passed muster, with Mahoney denying he is a “squarehead.”
Before using the reference to Mahoney I had read some of his speeches of length – e.g., on the clarity bill, on the public pension bill, on railway safety, on Onex-Air Canada, on the Nisga’a treaty, on youth crime, on modernization of benefits, on the Elections Act and on small business.
In my opinion, none of the speeches was outstanding, although the one on railway safety hung together well and showed familiarity with railway practices in a huge, urban area. In many speeches, or in his interventions after others speak, Mahoney scorns or belittles one or more of the opposition groups – Reformers as dinosaurs, the BQ as losers and self-centered, the NDP as spendthrift dreamers and the Tories as Mulroney fans.
Why did I refer to Mahoney’s reputation in the House when noting how Martin has developed a noisy, attacking mode for raking the opposition? Because it was so apt.
In Martin such a style is incongruous, not just a contradiction to his father’s sophistication but to his own easy, social, conversational manners. He explained it to me once as exciting because “my colleagues love it” and because he was tired of opposition carping. Fair points to make, but rants and roars fit poorly for a would-be first minister who wants respect.
I don’t doubt Mahoney works hard if he’s as busy elsewhere as he’s been in the House but it hardly seems to have been in crafting coherent analysis for telling speeches.
Whether he can accept it or not, he fits a far from rare typecast among backbench MPs at any time. Almost every caucus has a Mahoney, an enforcer, a “rough ’em up” guy.
They tweak the partisan verve of colleagues. They annoy and frustrate rival MPs and, arguably – at least I’d argue – they lower the quality of debate in any exchange of views.
Mahoney seems to believe that both genes and environmental factors have made him tough and (to use his word) “aggressive.” Such qualities may win a backbencher attention, even notoriety, but not a respectful audience or positive influence in high places.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, March 08, 2000
ID: 13080161
TAG: 200003081510
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Any leader-in-waiting has an uneasy lot, as does a longtime leader with a popular alternative at hand and marking time, his patience strained.
Yes, the “Paul Martin is going if …. ” story has flowered again, and may be rather timely in a news sense for both him and Jean Chretien with the Liberals’ biennial convention coming up next week.
At the convention, the PM can make explicit his intentions on a third term. Most delegates are sure to be more keen on Chretien staying than is the parliamentary caucus.
What Chretien radiates to the gathering could make a good sky-hook on which Martin might hang his exit with some grace as he considers service in global management.
Recall when John Turner was Pierre Trudeau’s Finance minister. He chose exile on Bay Street in 1975, resigning from the cabinet, then the House. Two points were clear when he left: a) he was not fully in tune with the prime minister; b) he was not ending his leadership aspirations. He had decided to wait outside, not inside.
Only weeks after Turner beat Chretien for the Liberal leadership in 1984 he called and lost an election – and his office. Soon after, Chretien resigned from his fresh opposition seat, also to go to Bay Street. It was obvious he too would be back at a mete opportunity. He also preferred to wait outside, rather than inside, although, unlike Turner, he did abet the Liberal leader’s unseating through work by his disciples in caucus.
Since 1998 and the grand achievement implicit in attaining a balanced budget, the conventional wisdom on the Hill has been that Martin had earned the next turn, although there are the problems of Chretien’s ambitions and his own age.
Martin was born in 1938, Chretien in 1934. Not a big gap, but if Martin must wait till 2002 or 2003 for the top job to open, he will be a senior citizen. He will recall, if others do not, that in December, 1967, his distinguished father, a cabinet minister, was the pollsters’ choice to succeed Lester Pearson for over a month after the PM announced his resignation. But three months later, when the convention gathered, his dad, then 65, had become deemed “too old” compared to Trudeau (49) and Paul Hellyer (44). In the vote, Paul Martin Sr. fared badly.
Another shadow which some think lies over Martin comes from the premium the Finance ministry has in responsibility and prestige over all cabinet roles but that of the prime minister. To take another ministry while waiting out Chretien would probably mean both eclipse in public notice and a personal downer. Yet to exit – to wait outside as Turner and Chretien did – is risky. Martin would leave behind in high profile jobs younger ministers like Allan Rock, John Manley (surely his successor at Finance) and Brian Tobin, the Newfoundland premier.
Yesterday’s suggestion of Martin’s pending exit comes from two columnists in different dailies, one of whom is very experienced. Both mention a lofty international post (International Monetary Fund) which might be possible for Martin, once he knows for sure Chretien is bound to seek a third term.
Several sidebars to Paul Martin and his prospects seem worth filling in.
First, there are marked personal differences – of which he should be aware – between his father’s situation back in 1968 and his own. He is not much like his father, physically or in political style. He looks much fitter and younger than his father did at the same time in life. By 1968, at 65, Martin, Sr., had 10 riding victories, 33 years in the House, and 17 years in cabinet. He was so slick and adroit he had become much lampooned as the professional politician. In the 1960s only John Diefenbaker was more satirizable. And despite his successes, notably as health minister, he’d earned nothing near the acclaim his son has for ending the hideous spiral of deficits and heavier debt.
Second, Martin, Jr. will be recalling the vigorous, able competition which overpowered his father when his moment seemed at hand. Nothing like such a strong cadre of leadership prospects is in sight in Ottawa or across the country today. The Chretien cabinet has a surfeit of political midgets.
I’d suggest to Paul Martin, and generally warn the Liberals forging on with Chretien, that a Martin exit from electoral politics later this year would put in genuine doubt the chances the party can get a majority in the next election.
Martin does shore up the Liberals with so many voters who are either bored with Chretien or fed up with his rough ways. Martin may go, and then find in a year or so a messed-up party to rebuild – even one out of power.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 05, 2000
ID: 13079822
TAG: 200003051371
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


A viewer sensed ripples of high confidence along the Liberal benches in the House of Commons last week as Paul Martin hammered home his “best news” budget so far.
At the occasion, and for several days after as the Finance minister made a fine fist through a swarm of televised interviews, it seemed the Liberals had a lock on further government. A stock reference of commentators was that this budget, and its predicated tax cuts, had set up a Liberal electoral sweep 14 to 15 months ahead and it mattered little whether the PM carried on or Paul Martin assumed his place.
All right, let’s concede the Liberals will be big favourites at the next go-round. No rival looks to be a close or certain threat.
Now, let’s move higher and look more broadly at the federal scenario. Begin by remembering an old Canadian axiom: that our governments defeat themselves.
By my count, when a party in power federally has been ousted, four times out of five it’s because it has angered too many voters, not because too many voters have fallen for an alternative. Often the causes of anger and rejection vary from region to region. Changes of government come less often than most of us think from a huge burst of enthusiasm for another party led by a magnetic man or woman.
Using the “defeats-itself” maxim let’s take a snap overview on where our Gallup-leading, surplus-spreading Liberals might be come election time next year.
(One specifies 2001 because the Liberals’ electoral zeal is curbed by harsh precedents. Governments rarely do well when they call an election either before getting into the fourth year of the five-year mandate or late in the fifth year.)
The handiest avenues into our topic are regional and ideological. On the first one consider it almost province by province. On the other, consider general opposites like a business vs. a social point of view or, put in other words, liberal vs. conservative, or left vs. right.
In the last election the Chretien team was cleaned out in Nova Scotia, lost much ground in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, lost somewhat in Alberta and B.C. – and, yes, it rolled to a second, almost total, win in Ontario which, subsequently, reinstalled the right-of-centre, business proud Mike Harris Tory team at Queen’s Park.
Some of the Liberal slippage in the west followed from hostile reaction to its gun control legislation; today the antagonism throughout the region to this extravagant and rather bootless bureaucratic sinkhole is stronger than ever. Further, the grain farmers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are more worked up against the Chretien government than they were in 1993.
As for British Columbia, the deal with the Nis’ga Indians which the Liberals made with the NDP under former premier Glen Clark is a disorganizing, super-costly model for land settlements ahead and is a loser in most of the ridings beyond Vancouver.
Also, the PM’s decision to dodge Commissioner Ted Hughes’ invitation to appear before his inquiry into RCMP behaviour at the APEC summit will dim rather than brighten enthusiasm for the Liberals next time in B.C.
In the Atlantic provinces, minus P.E.I., what hurt the Grits most in 1993 was the major reduction they made in those workers eligible for Employment Insurance. One major response of the Liberals after the losses was to build their Atlantic comeback on much generosity in grants for projects and jobs – using the programs that figure so large in Jean Chretien’s and Jane Stewart’s nightmare, “the billion dollar boondoggle” and its unfolding revelations of patronage and incompetence.
Stewart is a casualty more readily foregone than Chretien. His partisan enemies in both Quebec and elsewhere have the stuff now to paint him as heading a regime of dubious ethics and bureaucratic bungling. It appears, of course, that so far such sleaze and mismanagement hasn’t registered as much in Ontario as in Quebec or in the west, but this disregard may be ended in the Liberals’ key province before the next campaign.
Now, to consider a likely ideological frame for the next election.
The Liberals, particularly Martin, and backed by Chretien, have done so well in spreading left and right from the centre of “values” politics. What seems readable, however, in the politicized electorate at this time, is a conservatively minded, business-oriented component which still has strength and purpose, and more media approval or notice than ever. In short, mass public favour for more initiatives and spending by Ottawa is not yet strong and demanding.
The prominent case which gives the best chance to the left-leaners, Liberal or not, who advocate more social and cultural leadership by Ottawa, is that of the national health system. But what a quagmire it could be for Liberals. It’s hard to see how they can dominate the governments of three of the four most populous provinces on this issue and turn their ideas and spending for the system into a substantial advantage before the next election.
These questions jump out at us just six days after Martin’s seventh budget.
What relation should there be between federal financing and federal requirements for reform of the national health system?
How may Ottawa tone down the premiers, some distraught, others very angry, over what they believe is an inadequate contribution from federal tax revenues to the system?
Is Health Minister Allan Rock, even if purposefully backed by Martin, capable of negotiating either a durable settlement of health care’s contretemps or of putting it into the political freezer for several years, say through a quickie commission to produce terms and costs for reforming the system?
The Liberal line is already clear: to emphasize Harris and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein as the Judas goats for privatizers and money-hungry doctors.
But that’s a dicey campaign theme because it means total political war in the province whose backing at elections has become the Liberals’ sine qua non.
The last factor worth mentioning in any prospectus on the Chretien government defeating itself is more a sense of feeling than of knowing.
Can you feel a widespread, collective boredom with Chretien and his current crew? A boredom laced with a rising impatience that his is just another of the same old gangs?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Tuesday, February 29, 2000
ID: 12319693
TAG: 200002291238
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 17
COLUMN: The Hill


We tend to get fed up with the boasting of politicians, especially from those in power. But occasionally a politician brags and is entitled to do so.
Yesterday, Finance Minister Paul Martin was rolling, if not so much in his actual budget speech (which was loud and chest-beating), then certainly so in his long, detailed “Budget Plan 2000.” Proof of his confidence and certitude lay in phrases he used again and again in his script: “Make no mistake … ” and “Let there be no doubt that … ”
To this personal note about the Finance minister let me add a personal perspective. I have been to some 36 pre-budget media lockups since Mitchell Sharp’s first budget in 1966. Usually, instant tags were given the budget and usually these were critical, often derisive. A fair portion of prior budgets were optimistic, sometimes ridiculously so. Some were loaded with “challenges” to citizens and sophistry on the scale of the deficit and the pious hopes about lower ones ahead.
One might say such ministers and governments were often whistling past the graveyard.
Think of such beleaguered Liberal finance ministers as Jean Chretien in 1977 and Allan Mac-Eachen in 1980, or Tory Michael Wilson in the last five of his seven budgets.
Well, Paul Martin isn’t whistling in the dark, he’s bellowing in the light, and he has an array of evidence on prosperity to justify his noise.
He and his government know where they were seven years ago – in a debt-ridden, deficit-haunted condition. Today they are free from deficits, with debt receding (although very slowly), unemployment at its lowest in several decades, interest rates under control at a low level and the loonie inching up in relation to the U.S. dollar.
The fruits of the frugality and competence outlined in Martin’s seventh budget are many and were much underlined – in particular the unexpected reintroduction of full indexing to the personal income tax.
It’s true the actual cuts in income tax rates will be welcomed by many citizens, but they’re being phased in over five years and as yet do not signify large relief for those households with incomes above $70,000 a year. One might also say that thanks for the indexing move should go to the heavy emphasis which the Reform party has given to it.
One hesitates to tag as either sound and fair or tight-fisted some of the items which Martin emphasized to loud applause from his Liberal colleagues in the House, but the extra funds for the military – some $2.3 billion in the next four years – won’t go far in speeding re-equipment like new helicopters and up-to-date weaponry, let alone increase the number of service personnel who are badly needed to fill adequately the foreign assignments which Prime Minister Chretien keeps accepting for Canada.
And despite Martin’s strong line that “environmental protection is an opportunity we cannot forego” it won’t be broadly and deeply addressed with his investment of $700 million in environmental technologies and practices.
As for the ballyhooed “strengthening of the basic physical infrastructure” which Martin says “underpins so much of the economic activity of both rural and urban Canada” it amounts to only $450 million over the next two years. Relatively, a pittance. Hardly a good start.
I wager most of us in the lockup searched closely for any references, direct or indirect, to the bureaucratic incompetence, partisan sleaziness and wasteful spending (by the tens of millions) in the Human Resources Department and in Indian Affairs. I could find nothing of the kind, although within a short reference to HRDC there was some minor self-congratulation over the response of parents to the individual registered education savings plan and a mention that HRDC would have $432 million to administer to help Canada’s homeless persons.
In his House speech Martin departed from the script near the apogee of good news stuff for an impromptu burst of praise for Jane Stewart, HRDC’s much questioned minister. This extravagance brought such a long, hearty, standing ovation from the Liberal mob one had to realize just how bothered the ruling party has been by this revelation of incompetence and gross waste of money.
When it came his turn at last week’s Liberal caucus meeting, Chretien quickly adjourned the gathering after referring to how “leaky” it had been about supposedly private caucus discussion. Before he did this, he said the leakers could tell their media friends he was going to call the next election in 14 months.
A shocker!
Well, it would have been if the PM had been serious. Liberals assure me he wasn’t. Indeed, some of them have taken his ploy as prime evidence he won’t run again and Paul Martin certainly shall get his chance to be prime minister.
Whatever … this budget makes a grand platform start for a leadership candidate.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 27, 2000
ID: 12319214
TAG: 200002271329
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


The federal budget has usually been the most celebrated circus day of the Ottawa year, but going by the surprisingly slight sense of excited anticipation over tomorrow’s budget, the seventh from Paul Martin, it is not to be a blockbuster.
In part, the slighter buzz can be explained most immediately by the bloom blown off Liberal achievement, symbolized in Jane Stewart’s serial agonies from a boggling scale of incompetence in handling public funds and by the preceding, lengthy flap over the seeming collusion of a federal minister with a major backer of the Liberal party to aid a hostile takeover of Air Canada.
Another factor in suborning this budget’s paramountcy has been the uncertainty over many months on whether or not Prime Minister Jean Chretien goes for a third mandate. This will-he/won’t-he has enervated the Liberal caucus, and it has become both boring and somewhat mindful of the John Turner saga.
Recall how Turner’s lustre as a political prince with a splendid array of talents slowly faded as he waited and waited, and, when his chance did come, rather suddenly nothing much seemed to be there.
At the very least, there is not much mystery left about Finance Minister Martin as the prime-minister-in-waiting. A backbench Grit was cruel but insightful recently when he characterized Martin’s set political style as “very much a ministerial Steve Mahoney.”
(Mahoney, an assertive Liberal MP from Toronto, and a thorough, brassy, partisan blowhard, radiates few nuances in ideas or argument but his voice is loud and his gestures flamboyant.)
As for great expectations of budget surprises, spinners for both the Finance department and the PMO have been rather busy letting reporters know what will be or won’t be in tomorrow’s speech. As examples of this, we know there will be a modest boost in defence spending but not any major moves toward a thorough national child care system. As the PM said this week, not enough provinces want to take part. And last Thursday he scooped the budget again at a televised love-in with NDP premiers Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan and Gary Doer of Manitoba by announcing more federal dollars for beleaguered Prairie farmers.
After the fifth Martin budget (February, 1998) there was much certainty among the politically keen that there would be a tussle within the Liberal cabinet and caucus between “social” Liberals and “business” Liberals. That heart-raising budget, the first of the second Chretien mandate, marked the close of a deficit string almost a quarter-century long. It heralded substantial surpluses, with Martin guaranteeing at least three in a row.
A running public discussion has ensued over the priorities in dispensing the bonus from frugal Liberal management. Should it go largely to business-type priorities of tax cuts and debt reduction? Or should the priorities be for much mooted needs and wants in social and natural resource matters?
Many demands have been pressed on the government. As an ex-MP, now a full-time Ottawa lobbyist, said the other day: “For months NGOs have been swarming around the federal honey cone.” (That is, representatives of non-government organizations.)
Here are a few of the “wants” most pressed on federal ears by such interests.
– Bolster the weakening public and national health system.
– Create a truly national child care program.
– Resuscitate a now decrepit, over-extended military.
– Repair and extend Canada’s transcontinental highway infrastructure.
– Fulfil the global environmental obligations which Ottawa accepted and has dodged.
– Boost our now pathetic contribution to Third World assistance.
– Push much harder on education, training and research in cybernetics and a global economy geared to the Internet.
– Get back to federal leadership in housing programs, particularly for the homeless and low income families.
So what if anything has become clear since the budget a year ago in the quite substantial swirl of discussion about best allocation of the splendid surpluses?
Nothing decisive!
Tomorrow’s budget won’t set out a truly major swing of initiatives either towards cutting taxes and debt reduction or to bigger or new social programs or to an emphasis on infrastructure or environmental improvement.
In short, there’ll be a bit but not a lot for most of the many seekers.
It seems to me that most citizens who take time to examine issues of taxes and debt and governmental spending programs react to budget provisions in two, not necessarily complementary, ways. Certainly, like a lot of others, I have a short, self-centered “hope” list for tomorrow’s budget.
Prime among them would be a really major jump, say $1 billion a year for three years, to improve the equipment and expand the numbers of our combat-ready military.
Next I would hail a plan to reduce sharply year by year the many billions of dollars going into Indian Affairs that are much wasted.
Next would be a choice of more money assigned to debt reduction than to tax reduction.
And, finally, a petty point – that Martin realizes his actual budget speech last year was almost unforgivable: far too long; over-boastful; padded with cliches of vision and challenge; and bogged down with too much detail (e.g., some 3,500 words on health details).
Seventh time we could be lucky, with Martin sticking to his role as a generally successful Minister of Finance and not a garrulous surrogate for Allan Rock, say, or John Manley. Or, Lord help us, Jane Stewart or Jean Chretien.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, February 23, 2000
ID: 12318134
TAG: 200002231565
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


A handful of side issues not central to the “billion-dollar boondoggle” or “Shovelgate” have emerged in the past week. Let me address them after setting them out:
1) That the way Speaker Gilbert Parent manages the oral question period has been of help to a Liberal cabinet under heavy fire from the opposition;
2) That the affair has crystallized a coherent antagonism toward Jean Chretien among reporters and commentators which has been very long in coming;
3) That Preston Manning, by barnstorming through the west the last fortnight to ensure Reform becomes the Canadian Alliance has added to his reputation for parliamentary absenteeism, and partisans will revel with it;
4) That the scandal’s revelation of bad record-keeping will both “re-bureaucratize the government” (as a former mandarin has put it) and close out reforms to cut red tape.
First, Gib Parent comes well down any list of modern day Speakers for competence, particularly in chairing the key minutes of the Commons each day – question period. He’s very slow, in getting off the mark and while talking. And when on his feet his responses are rarely lucid and reasoned. On the other hand, he isn’t nasty or slick, and he hesitates to hurt feelings. There is disrespect for him, rather than hatred.
Although he is fierce over unparliamentary words like “lies,” for over six years he has let MPs preface questions or interstice answers with windy, slanderous opinions. Jean Chretien’s Liberals do exploit his slowness and maundering; witness their recent use of numerous voices, clapping hands, standing ovations and derisive chants which muffle and stall those trying to dismantle Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart.
Thus far Reform, the official opposition, hasn’t thought out means of using Parent to counter Liberal tactics, although Bill Blaikie (NDP) and Peter MacKay (PC) have come close by emphasizing how Parent’s wishy-washiness compounds the Liberals’ arrogant disregard of fairness in Parliament.
Second, the emergent media mind-set in Ottawa against Chretien is not absolute in the parliamentary press gallery but it has been taking shape, rather slowly. It first became noticeable after the jolt to political journalism after the National Post was launched. The shift to being more caustic and irreverent became quite clear late last summer (as the Onex-Air Canada fight exploded). The primacy of the media obsession with a divided, ineffective opposition began to give way to a swelling distaste over bad decisions, an indifferent cabinet, and a mean, cocky PM who was signalling a third mandate.
In my opinion, the media are more focused on an end to Chretien’s rule than to rousting the Liberals from power. But in Canada voters seem to eject governments more for cause than for a great alternative choice in leader and party. If Liberal incompetence and sleaze become given, popular themes in Ontario, a minority government next time becomes likely.
Third, the parliamentary absenteeism of Preston Manning has been ill-conceived and will mar his electoral prospects.
It’s obvious Manning has far more relish for speaking to gatherings of citizens than taking much part in the long hours of the House. But we do have a parliamentary system which is centered by a government that is in Parliament, not separated from it as in the U.S. It is a system which specifically recognizes and honours the role of the opposition in Parliament between elections, and this fits badly with Manning’s notion of “building the wave.” That is, between elections concentrate on more party members and campaign workers.
Expanding the party is more important to Manning than his role in parliamentary legislation and scrutiny. Rival partisans are already comparing Manning’s absenteeism to the preference Andy Thompson, a Liberal senator, had for Mexico over Ottawa.
It’s to be hoped that if a real challenger to Manning for the Alliance leadership emerges he will make it clear that Parliament, not perpetual campaigning, is his priority, whether in power or in opposition.
Fourth, are two sure consequences of the grants scandal a return to more red tape and an even more intimidated public service?
Any citizen who thinks his or her taxes are high and then scans a few hundred of the thousands of federal grants being given in the name of youth, charity, small business, deprived aborigines, etc. will likely decide the more red tape the better. Choke off the largesse. As the waste, patronage and toll-gating decline so will the demeaning of public servants through expediting such “political” spending of taxpayers’ money.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 20, 2000
ID: 12317601
TAG: 200002201323
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


We’re deep in the third year of the second Chretien administration, a period when electoral matters are to the fore in partisan obsessions.
A current difficulty with such analysis is a sudden dip in the certainty of an immense electoral factor. Will the prime minister run again?
Before Christmas most Hill bystanders were sure he would. I was, convinced by the joyous delight he expressed to me in Bill C-20, his “clarity” or “break-up of Canada” bill.
It was easy to read a third campaign in his bounce.
One also tied Jean Chretien’s joy at his toughness over Quebec independence, the most basic of our national problems, with the continuing good news regarding unemployment, our second traditional dilemma.
The continuing surge in our economy’s strength fitted with the opinion polling which has shown Chretien running ahead of his Liberal party and that party far ahead of any of its four rivals.
The relative docility of Finance Minister Paul Martin in matters of policy over the past year has helped enlarge the public image of Chretien as the lively Liberal lion, standing out before his seemingly patient alternative and would-be successor.
Certainly, Martin has not been openly insinuating either his distinctive aims or his impatience, nor have Allan Rock and Brian Tobin, the only other credible prospects as the next Liberal leader.
Also, the tussles within the cabinet and the caucus over the use of the burgeoning federal surplus has not become vicious, the arguments not deeply dividing the governing party. Instead, Liberals have repeated their familiar undertaking to split the kitty 50-50 – on the one hand for new or improved programs, on the other for tax breaks and debt reduction.
Now, and rather quickly, this acceptance of a plausible majority mandate for Chretien late this year or early in 2001 is becoming more and more implausible.
The wonder in Chretien’s first six years in office was the closing out of deficits and the emergence above budget balance of surpluses – probably surpluses for years.
Who among us, even the most cynical, didn’t think: What determination! Such competence!
And the cast to which we gave such acclaim was very small.
Chretien and Martin, or Martin and Chretien. None of the other ministers had (or has) emerged as either a regional baron of power and high repute or as noteworthy for charm and achievement in his portfolio, with two real but modest exceptions: Lloyd Axworthy, sporting the Canadian halo pridefully in Foreign Affairs, and Stephane Dion, an indefatigable hounder of Quebec’s separatists.
In my watch on the previous eight prime ministers, the matters which undermined substantial public confidence in them and their administrations have been cumulative, rather than sudden. (Yes, John Turner and Kim Campbell were done in by the detritus inherited, respectively, from Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney.)
It seems to me that the exceptional, rather unexpected success of Chretien-Martin in going from monster deficits to surplus cornucopias gave the Liberals a fine image of competence and frugality which dwarfed or masked much evidence of their incompetence, waste and familiar partisan sleaze. Further, the triumph over deficits made the arrogance implicit in Jean Chretien’s combativeness more obvious, particularly as he revelled more and more in “tough guy” ridicule, knocking down the opposition in the House.
It hasn’t been hard the past six months or so to find Liberal MPs who wished (privately) that Chretien would soon indicate retirement plans, giving Martin his sure shot. But even the few MPs most critical of their leader discounted any waning in his mastery of the caucus and cabinet or felt he would find it hard to get a third mandate.
Remarkably – even though it is now being much remarked – the virtual certainty of more Prime Minister Chretien has faded in the past month. In terms of immediate realization, bill this to the huge, messy incompetence in Jane Stewart’s Human Resources department and the abortive “coverup.” But other factors have been in play.
Go back to the governmental confusion and ministerial stupidity during the long, high-profile bid for Air Canada by party stalwart Gerry Schwartz.
Remember the long pursuit, led by National Post reporters, which kept exposing much questionable largesse in Chretien’s own riding.
And note the relatively slight and mild backing there has been in Quebec for Parti Quebecois and Bloc Quebecois outrage over Bill C-20, and its unexpected corollary for the PM: a lessening of the bill’s urgency and significance.
Recall the running sore (for Chretien) of the long inquiry into RCMP use of pepper spray at the APEC conference “riot” in Vancouver in 1998.
Think of the post-harvest gloom on the Prairies and the widespread view in Saskatchewan and Manitoba that the Chretien government has helped them much less than it should as they plan their planting for this year.
Consider the deep unease throughout B.C. over the costly and unpredictable course ahead on Indian land claims, given the generosity and powers given the N’Isga’a Indians.
Appreciate that Progressive Conservative governments are now strongly installed in Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick and Ontario, and that the Mike Harris government, in particular, is both hostile to the Chretien government and patently out to aid those who would defeat it.
In sum, the anticipated romping return of the Liberals is becoming questionable and along with it much more doubt is being raised among Liberals (where it matters most!) about Chretien for a third term.
Does the PM know this?
Bet on it. He and his wife have a joint, sensitive political antenna, and it’s not in disrepair. So if you’re interested in the “will he/won’t he” questions of federal leadership, watch two happenings ahead.
See whether the Martin budget on Feb. 28 is received with a repetitious roll of noisy, standing ovations by Liberal MPs for its presenter. Then watch the spins from the PMO about the leader’s policy aims before and during the Liberals’ policy conference next month.
At the least, the bureaucratic and managerial debacle of grants in the Human Resources department has much shaken the certainty of both a third Chretien bid for power or its success if it is made.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, February 16, 2000
ID: 12316492
TAG: 200002161446
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 17
COLUMN: The Hill


Let’s take off from this opinion: that as a cabinet minister Jane Stewart now seems nowhere near as respected nor as competent as she was generally taken to be a fortnight ago. Neither among her parliamentary peers nor the political reporters, some of whom saw her as a possible successor to Jean Chretien.
One factor in abetting Stewart’s slide was significant, although it didn’t come from any deliberate design in the parliamentary opposition. By and large she has been belled or gonged in the House or in committee, not by male MPs but by female ones: Reform’s Diane Ablonczy in particular, and Deborah Grey and Libby Davies of the NDP. It’s certain that if the badgering questions had largely come from male MPs a sympathy factor would have flowered. In addition, the PM’s over-confident interventions to take questioners off her back didn’t rouse any sympathy for Stewart. It emphasized her awkward, over-simple defensiveness.
This particular women vs. woman scenario led me to reflect on: a) the calibre of the 13 female ministers Chretien has appointed, given the choices he has had in his caucus;
and b) the overall quality of performance of the 31 female ministers we’ve had since the first one, Ellen Fairclough, was appointed by John Diefenbaker in 1957.
After Ellen came the first Judy (LaMarsh ), Lester Pearson’s choice. Then Pierre Trudeau chose Jeanne Sauve, Monique Begin and Iona Campagnolo. Next, Joe Clark picked Flora MacDonald and Trudeau, back in power, chose Judy Erola and Celine Hervieux-Payette.
Then Brian Mulroney elevated MPs Suzanne Blais-Grenier, Andree Champagne, Barbara McDougall, Monique Vezina, Monique Landry, Shirley Martin, Mary Collins, Kim Campbell, Pauline Browes and Barbara Sparrow.
Jean Chretien has topped Mulroney in numbers, appointing Joyce Fairbairn, Sheila Copps, Diane Marleau, Anne McLellan, Christine Stewart, Sheila Finestone, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Lucienne Robillard, Elinor Caplan, Hedy Fry, Claudette Bradshaw, Maria Minna and Jane Stewart.
Chretien has been the only PM to bounce any female ministers back to being plain MPs: Marleau, Christine Stewart, Finestone and, in the Senate, Fairbairn. Jeanne Sauve was made Speaker of the House, then Governor General.
In doing your own retrospective on those 31 ministers, remember that compared to the last four Parliaments there were few female MPs in the House in the years of Dief, Pearson and Trudeau. Maybe that’s why Fairclough, LaMarsh, Sauve, Begin, Campagnolo and MacDonald seem rather more memorable than the present and recent casts. Each one had flairs of some sort in performance and as personalities. So much so, only three or four of the latter day women – say Tories McDougall and Campbell, perhaps Liberals Copps and McLellan – seem as significant, tough or able.
I’ve posited before how Chretien has an abler potential ministry on his backbenches than the one he has beside him. Of course, this critique is not confined to his female ministers. At least half his male ministers, most of them quite unaware of it, give Jane Stewart or Caplan or Fry a hard run at blithering. The PM did turf the inarticulate and slow Marleau, the unconfident Christine Stewart, and nice, aimless Sheila Finestone. But how in the name of good talent could he turn to Minna and Caplan when he has on hand such bright, articulate, experienced women as Bonnie Brown, Susan Whelan, and Albina Guarnieri or the aggressive, clever Eleni Bakopanos?
As performers on their feet in this House the females on the opposition side are generally doing as well, and sometimes better than their male colleagues. In truth, the only three women Reform has – Deborah Grey, Val Meredith and Diane Ablonczy – rate 1-2-3 as Manning’s strongest MPs in questioning and speech-making.
As for the Bloc Quebecois, its 14 female MPs include half a dozen partisan warriors whose attendance and participation is high, their criticisms well worked up and cogent. They’re symbolized by the belligerent Suzanne Tremblay and Francine Lalonde, a rather egghead teacher-trade unionist.
The NDP has seven women in its caucus, and at least four have come on well behind leader Alexa McDonough (who has not become a star), notably Libby Davies from Vancouver, the two Manitobans, Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Bev Dejarlais, and playwright Wendy Lill from Dartmouth.
All three female MPs of the Tory caucus are active in the House, and Elsie Wayne, the veteran ex-mayor of Saint John has become a lively, mock-cantankerous mascot for the institution, savoured by both rivals and reporters.
The basic message here is that fine choices are present, but leaders need to elevate talent – not cronies or symbols.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 13, 2000
ID: 12315808
TAG: 200002131338
SECTION: Comment


A reader has called, berating me for “cynicism” and “detachment” from the hullabaloo over “a problem” – as Jean Chretien calls it – in the federal Human Resources Department (HRDC).
“Why,” said the man, “can’t you define the so-called scandal? Tell us its scale? Is it just poor bookkeeping?”
I found myself talking in circles, mostly trying to tell him the scandal was an unusual one. In my decades in Ottawa no government document before the internal audit in HRDC released in January ever revealed such widespread incompetence in any department – with one exception: Indian Affairs and Northern Development (IAND).
In the IAND case, it’s been politically incorrect for either journalists or opposition MPs to ask searching questions about financial waste and lack of accountability in its spending. That’s why no one in high places, including the PMO, has ever felt the need to respond openly to a series of damning reports from the auditor general in the past six years. They revealed much reckless and unmonitored spending in an IAND budget of well over $4 billion a year.
Certainly Jane Stewart, Indian Affairs minister for two years before she rose to a ministry with a far greater budget, often scorned any serious questioners of loony spending and incompetent controls in IAND as “racists.”
So … I begin by saying the HRDC “problem” is major only if you demand a frugal, competent government. From the beginning, Chretien has insisted this problem is on the way to solution, with little chance much skulduggery will be uncovered.
The PM gets angry at those who call this scandal a scandal, and tag it with ignoble words like boondoggle, pork-barrelling, coverup, toll-gating and log-rolling.
Southam papers have pushed this scandal as “Shovelgate,” apt enough in its image of money being shovelled out the federal gates to thousands of grant claimants. It’s hard to quarrel with the symbol of busy shovels, but the scandal is not really over the actual transactions but with what is supposed to go on before and after them. It’s about bureaucratic incompetence.
By and large, this seems to be a bureaucratic problem and a bureaucratic scandal. Of course, in the parliamentary system (unlike the American one) bureaucrats have anonymity because political ministers, elected by the people, are supposed to be responsible for them and what they do. We know the heads of bureaucrats roll when a big scandal breaks in Washington. Not in Ottawa! It’s still politically incorrect here to attack the competence or honesty of federal mandarins.
Let me pause, trying to be fair to the PM and cabinet and caucus he controls so absolutely. This particular problem is really not about pork-barrelling or about toll-gating, although undoubtedly in some communities, notably in the ridings of cabinet ministers, and most notably in Chretien’s, the pork-barrel effect has been obvious because he’s bragged about it.
As for toll-gating – garnering a kickback from a federal grant or contract to the governing party’s funds – it’s an engrained practice of our older parties. Particularly in Quebec and eastwards many beneficiaries readily go along with a toll.
In this scandal, however, the beneficiaries are too many and too diverse to be organized effectively for tolling, in particular when records of them are so sparse.
Historically, pork-barrelling has been a preface to tolling. A term developed in the U.S., it is broadly defined as an overt spreading of largesse in roads, bridges, facilities and contracts to a community or region by the governing party rather than to specific individuals or to particular businesses.
In appraising the HRDC problem, discount criminality or partisan graft and fraud, either by elected politicians and their aides or by devious dirty work by some officials inside the system who angle for their own skim from this huge gushing of money from the federal trough.
“Coverup” is the key word, much shouted by opposition MPs in the House, frustrated by the secrecy implicit in the parliamentary system in Canada.
Essentially this is a coverup. It’s been managed by a parliamentary old hand, out to screen both the enormous scale of bureaucratic incompetence (however caused) and the shocking ineffectiveness of his ministers and top officials in scrutiny and control of their responsibilities.
I admitted my cynical doubt to the critical caller that anything substantial would be learned about this scandal or that much would come from it. Chretien is too set in power with a clear majority and a near guarantee of a third mandate.
He’s sustained by a strong economy, a worshipful cabinet, a compliant caucus and a general public which is not unhappy with his tactics, however vulgar and arrogant they may be.
Yes, cynicism destroys hope. Neither in myself nor in most others who appraise Ottawa closely do I find any confidence the parliamentary system, dominated here by a PM and his chosen advisers, assures a frugal, competent, vigilant government.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, February 09, 2000
ID: 12314729
TAG: 200002091516
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


Why demand Jane Stewart resign from cabinet? Why not the man who appointed her? The answer may be because many factors make him invulnerable.
The first two oral question periods of the reassembled House of Commons confirmed both the iron control of Prime Minister Jean Chretien over his ministry and caucus and his proud, crass scorn for an exaggerating opposition which demands a ministerial resignation. He insists a too competitive press has also played a part in distorting some accounting problems in a worthy grant program into a so-called “billion-dollar boondoggle.” He emphasized he would not accept minister Jane Stewart’s resignation even if she offered it.
Well … Jean Chretien is what he is, and has been through 37 years within federal politics. He rides hard, he is tough, mean, and almost always very partisan. The longer he goes as prime minister the greater his arrogance.
In essence, Chretien sees politics as a never-ending war and he considers any concessions to criticism directed at his leadership as a defeat. To survive and surmount parliamentary battles, and then win elections, a leader does not apologize or make concessions however dubious and criticizable his actions or those of his underlings have been.
It is droll that yesterday the editors of the Toronto Star asked the prime minister to apologize to the Canadian people for the bureaucratic chaos and incompetence in the federal Human Resources Department revealed by an auditor. At least the Star was after the most responsible person in the government, not his over-promoted girl scout. But the Star might have been more effective in influencing public opinion if it had argued that it’s time for Chretien to resign because he has failed at a prime democratic imperative – competent use of public money.
It’s probable that some Liberals in the caucus, perhaps even several ministers, are shamed or at least very concerned at the negligence in managing grants by the thousands, but none has stood forth and asked for an open inquiry into the causes and effects of the incompetence and some remedial recommendations.
At this time Chretien has a cowed ministry and a muffled caucus. It makes so understandable his determination to go for a third mandate. Opinion polls have him rated higher than his party, although such polls continue to predicate a Liberal waltz to another majority government. It has also become noticeable that since the federal budgets came into balance two years ago the PM has managed to move out from the shadow of Paul Martin as a “genius” as Finance minister and his obvious successor-in-waiting.
It may generate some public cynicism, knowing the citizens of Canada in majority numbers are still supportive of Chretien and his Liberal party after seven full years of power, but such support likely owes much to the fairly general prosperity, lower unemployment and the recent end of annual deficits.
It would be shocking, given the highly partisan nature and history of Parliament, if Chretien didn’t take credit for the more comfortable economy since he gained power. Indeed, he has so much public credit – if he could rise above his arrogance – that he would lose nothing in stature or respect if he handily acknowledged there have been serious, major “snafus” in the grant programs of the HRDC. He could even move to find, demote or excise the senior bureaucrats directly responsible for the huge incompetence if he wanted, even to demoting “for cause” mandarins such as Mel Cappe, his present chief advisor as Clerk of the Privy Council and for several years the deputy minister of HRDC (until last summer).
After all, Jane Stewart, for all her waffling the past few weeks, has emphasized again and again that the infamous audit revealed a “mess.” Since then the publishing of many details from the audit’s sampling confirms the almost extent and pervasiveness of the mess.
Where is this kerfuffle over Stewart’s department leading? Not very far.
It seems likely to become one more item in a long list of errors, contradictions and broken undertakings by Chretien and his government which most Canadians will shrug off. After all, he won his second mandate after reneging on two of the largest undertakings he gave the electorate in 1993, i.e., doing away with or drastically changing Brian Mulroney’s grandest achievements of his last mandate – the GST and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Meanwhile, as Chretien struts in the question periods ahead, adolescently gleeful at reciting items on grants to ridings held by opposition MPs, Preston Manning, the man the parliamentary system has given the prime responsibility for opposing the government, is already beating across the land to convince members of the Reform party to approve its disappearance within a new “conservative” party and to make him its leader.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and his caucus are focused on blocking the Clarity Bill. And Tory Leader Joe Clark sits in the gallery, not on the floor of the House, before he goes trolling for a TV camera in the foyer.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 06, 2000
ID: 12314025
TAG: 200002061425
SECTION: Comment


Poor Jane Stewart! Such a trying time she’s having, hounded by a press suddenly gone savage against the Chretien regime.
But sympathetic citizens shouldn’t fret for her. She’ll survive as a minister. Jean Chretien, in the Liberal tradition, looks after his own. Bouncing her would be worse than an admission of her ministerial inadequacy, it would underline his faulty judgment in pushing one so ungifted so high.
Of course, as a media matter this revel over ministerial and bureaucratic incompetence reminds me of the many scandals orchestrated on the Hill in the Mulroney days, and how little we’ve had of that through six years-plus of Chretien as prime minister. In less than a fortnight one of the golden figures of a self-proud cabinet is exposed as politically gauche and incapable of a clear answer about her responsibilities.
The PM has chosen to keep Stewart in place, insisting there is no scandal of any serious scale in the grant programs of the human resources department, and also suggesting the muddle has much to do with an undermanned bureaucracy that put quick delivery of needed cash to applicants ahead of time-consuming red tape.
The finest aspect of the parliamentary system of government for the executive in office – here Chretien and his cabinet – is its penchant for systemic secrecy.
This remains so despite the critical prowling by auditors general and their staffs since the mid-1960s through the operational record and achievements of government programs, and finding examples by the score, year after year, of weak controls and failure in reaching stated goals.
What have been the consequences of such auditing of the federal bureaucracy and such assays of government documents in terms of resigned or fired or demoted mandarins?
Zilch! Yes, mandarins have been shifted and figuratively buried in pigeon-holes, quietly. But fired or asked to leave the service? No! And who can recall a mandarin of high rank – say a deputy minister or assistant deputy minister – who has resigned on an issue of principle or with a frank admission of personal shortcomings on the job?
It’s true, we’ve had ministers who openly tendered their resignations after some incident, but never in my recall in shame for incompetence or knavery in his or her department.
Several times we’ve had ministers resign for talking to judges when they shouldn’t. One once resigned when found out for clandestinely aiding a “friend” attain an abortion. Another resigned for not being truthful about his remarks overheard on a plane. In a case in 1969, an honest minister, Paul Hellyer, resigned because he realized a program he pushed had been turned down and he left, admitting he hadn’t really understood his prime minister (Pierre Trudeau). And Sheila Copps, of course, fashioned a brief exit from office when called to public account for a brash assurance to electors that she’d quit if the Liberals in power didn’t kill the GST.
So ministers occasionally do resign for some cause, but the cause is almost never for revelations of either ministerial or bureaucratic incompetence.
True, political theory on parliamentary government sets out that ministerial responsibility does rest on an anonymous bureaucracy whose best advice and ablest performances come because they are not subjected to partisan examination.
The parliamentary writ says the minister speaks for his ministry or agencies and, of course, the prime minister speaks for the government as a whole. The assumption in such responsibility has grandeur but it is taken as impractical and goes unobserved. “Clarity” at the moment may be Chretien’s top theme in constitutional affairs but clarity is not a principle he or previous prime ministers have demanded in letting the public know what goes on in their government’s operations.
Consider the main targets in this topical brouhaha which is likely to dominate the word war of the daily question period of the House until Finance Minister Paul Martin raises a target of more substance with his budget.
The incumbent heading the ministerial mess is Jane Stewart. She hasn’t been there long and obviously she’s not a master at defensive tactics but she is relatively an innocent. This mess had to develop its scale and tawdriness under her predecessor, Pierre Pettigrew – and even more to the point, under his former deputy minister, Mel Cappe, now the PM’s top mandarin as clerk of the Privy Council.
It’s inconceivable that Chretien would fire or demote either Pettigrew or Cappe. The most he might do to Stewart if the hubbub over Human Resources takes weeks to subside is rescue her by a move to a smaller ministry, replacing her with a muffler like Ralph Goodale (as he switched Doug Young to DND in 1997 to replace his troubled friend, David Collenette).
Nevertheless, in electoral terms this cornucopia of incompetence is shaking the Chretien assurance of an easily won third mandate. A stonewalling denouement for serious, administrative incompetence won’t be forgotten. It’s indelible now. Millions are aware there is fraud in the joint Chretien-Martin brag of managerial competence, fiscal prudence and sound government.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, February 02, 2000
ID: 11823676
TAG: 200002021502
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
ILLUSTRATION: photo by Stan Behal, Sun Files
BLEAK HISTORY … Kingston Penitentiary has been in operation for 165 years. Columnist Fisher and author Peter Hennessey believe it’s time to close the aging facility.
COLUMN: The Hill


For today, let’s bypass the most topical innovation, Preston Manning’s Alliance, for appraisals of two far older enterprises launched by Canadian politicians: 1) Kingston Penitentiary; 2) Air Canada.
The initial cells of the Big House were built in 1835; Trans-Canada Airlines (later Air Canada) was a federal Crown corporation launched in 1937 by cabinet minister C.D. Howe. Today, as a private enterprise, it is once again what its political creator intended – the one and only “national” air carrier.
Peter Hennessey, a retired history teacher and for some years a volunteer with the Citizens’ Advisory Committee of Kingston Pen, has written Canada’s Big House: The Dark History of the Kingston Penitentiary (Dundurn Group). He’s openly an author with a cause. The “dark history” leads to his sharp conclusion that the Pen’s present role should end: close out its bleak, shameful history, the cost of which, in dollars and suffering, has been huge. After 165 years in operation, the Pen continues as a grim symbol to inmates and custodians of the still basic contretemps in our “corrections” system between punishment and reformation.
One finds this contradiction in an early quote which the author takes from the argument made by the original Kingston committee in 1833 on the the need for a penitentiary. It “would be a place by every means not cruel and not affecting the health of the offender, but shall be rendered so irksome and so terrible that during the convict’s afterlife he should dread nothing so much as a repetition of the punishment.”
In his conclusion, author Hennessey asserts he has “repeatedly demonstrated the heartlessness of ‘Canada’s Big House.'” I agree. After 165 years, many wardens, numerous inquiries, total spending of over $1 billion, and much effort by some exceptional people “to bring the healing power of mutual respect into the jail, the prevailing climate is hostile.”
Hennessey insists, “It cannot be otherwise, given the weight of history and the power of peer pressure.”
Raze it! None of the scores of newer penal institutions has such a miserable history or so menacing an effect.
In Double Cross, Shirley Render, a Winnipeg flyer and aviation historian, contributes to the archetypal myth of western Canadians: their betrayal by eastern interests, particularly when Parliament is the base of a capital “L” Liberal cabinet.
The subtitle gives the book’s focus: “The Inside Story of James A. Richardson and Canadian Airways” and a sentence in a note from publisher Douglas & McIntyre sums Render’s line: “Full of intrigue and the betrayal of the west by C.D. Howe and his Liberal colleagues, here is how Canada lost its chance to become a world leader in aviation.”
I found it hard to be neutral about either of these books. Long ago, as a CCF candidate in federal elections, Peter Hennessey was my official agent. For years I’ve heard something of research into Kingston’s most widely known institution. Although I’d met Render only as a reader of her history of women in aviation, Western Canada Airways, the original air enterprise of James Richardson, began with one plane in 1926 at Sioux Lookout, my birthplace.
As a young airplane fan around the Sioux base on the shore of Pelican Lake in the early 1930s my first flip was in Richardson’s plane, a Junkers. I cherished its identifying symbol, a Canada Goose in flight. My heroes were Richardson’s pilots and mechanics. In 1930 the company, by then flying 51 aircraft, was renamed Canadian Airways to represent its creator’s ambition to develop a nation-wide carrier with international routes. In effect, Winnipeg’s progressive grain magnate was saying to Ottawa, as Preston Manning did a few years ago: “The west wants in!”
In his lifetime, Richardson was respected and admired as a good citizen in the west. As the sponsor of by far the largest, best run air enterprise of the 1930s in Canada it seemed only fair his Canadian Airways get first whack from Ottawa as our first “national” carrier. And he did get strong signals that his outfit would be the licensed instrument from the new Mackenzie King government of 1935 from talks with its minister of transport, C.D. Howe.
Nonetheless, Howe reneged on what seemed a firm promise. Richardson was not to get a licence as the national air carrier; instead Canada got what Howe later referred to with pride as “my airline.”
In 1937 Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) was a wholly new endeavour, financed by the government directly or through its railway, the CNR. TCA was renamed Air Canada by a bill sponsored by a young Jean Chretien in the mid-1960s and only a few months ago Air Canada, now a private enterprise, after absorbing Canadian Airlines, was re-established as Canada’s single national and international airline.
Render believes Howe and his top federal mandarins did double cross James Richardson. Their lies and equivocations escaped without a national uproar because the Manitoban was “a political neophyte” who “never understood the real power of lobbying – a fatal mistake. He was also entirely without sham and acted with utter integrity, and he expected the same of others … he was a gentleman to the end – another major mistake.”
Double Cross is more than just the tale of a visionary with deep pockets being bilked by a power-hungry politician. It clearly sketches the rise in Canadian aerial commerce and its attendant governmental oversight between the big wars.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 30, 2000
ID: 11823005
TAG: 200001301641
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Backgrounder


A decade or so ago a reporter was acute about Preston Manning. After an interview he said the Reformer reminded him of Clark Kent, the ordinary guise of Superman. The day-to-day mien of plainness and common sense masked much vigour and boldness.
Here we have a daring risk-taker in our politics. He’s ready to meld a federal party, which was by and large his creation just a dozen years ago, into a new one. And his creation has been a most successful one electorally compared to an earlier product of the West, the CCF cum NDP. Manning has emphasized his prime reason for this new endeavour, the United Alternative, is not a policy or program matter but to make certain the Liberals will be ejected from power at the next election, not in some distant year.
By tomorrow the drama of a fresh party for conservatively minded Canadians emerging from a party just three elections old may be collapsing, even dead, because Manning has been so bold. He’s deliberately staked his political career and the status and attention given to a leader of the Official Opposition in our parliamentary system of government. Whether this shall have a career-closing denouement may not be known until March when the Reform party’s members will vote on the proposition. Failing its passage by a two-thirds vote, Manning goes.
Reaching that majority will not be a breeze. Without it, Manning must resign from the leadership and the House of Commons and he will have failed in the aim which he shared for decades with his late father, Ernest Manning, premier of Alberta from 1943-68. Their dream was to return Canada to a two- party system, one clearly conservative, on the right of the political spectrum, the other liberal, on the left of it.
The Manning initiative intrigues me for two rather personal reasons, much more, say, than does Paul Martin’s determination to be prime minister or the self-driven redemption of Joe Clark.
First, the move comes from a person I rate very highly for ideas, shrewdness, learning and integrity, and yet I think he has been too impatient, his initiative premature and unnecessary.
Second, I have to recall the founding of a “new” party in the early 1960s – now the NDP – based on the CCF, a so-called third party which was then three decades old. As a CCF MP in those days I was not an enthusiast for the “new” party, trumpeted by its proponents in the higher cadre of the CCF as the creation of a party that would embrace the labour movement and “liberally minded” Canadians and be a party capable of taking on and ousting John Diefenbaker’s Conservatives, who had won a titanic majority in 1958 and reduced the Liberals to a rump.
I was told again and again by persuasive colleagues that I had read too much into the influence on government policy provided over many years by a small crew of CCF MPs in the House of Commons, most of them from the West. Before us was a major party role, the election of more MPs in Ontario and Quebec and, inevitably, power and office. Gee! On to a social democratic heaven in Canada.
In retrospect, the New Democratic Party did only marginally better at elections than the CCF – certainly not nearly as well as Reform did in taking 52 seats in 1993 and 60 in 1997. Despite an apogee of NDP influence on Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government in its minority interlude (1972-74), this was illusory and brief. No matter its obvious newness and its pitch to gain a wider spread in the electorate, for almost a dozen years the NDP was rocked with controversy, expulsions and policy-tightening from the emergence within it of the radical Waffle, led by contentious academics Mel Watkins and James Laxer.
You may say the CCF-NDP example is irrelevant to the Manning initiative because the United Alternative (or whatever it may be named) is not a party of the left. But it is relevant, and I’m astonished Preston Manning, the most historically minded party leader in all my federal experience, has ignored the NDP record.
He knows the CCF was born in the West with the populist idea of a party grounded: a) in paid members of constituency associations and “club” memberships; b) on fixed policy conventions where resolutions put forward from the constituencies, etc. were discussed, and accepted or tabled. If accepted, the resolutions’ intentions became the policies those elected to legislatures should advance.
Much like Reform, the CCF-NDP association in the riding I represented in Northern Ontario had a constitutional provision that an elected MP could be summoned for examination and even expulsion by members dissatisfied with any of his or her actions.
In the recent past I’ve had many critical letters from Reform backers, insisting I’ve been unfair to Manning in repeatedly noting how much he prefers beating back and forth across the country to regular, steady performance in the House of Commons; in short that he values popularizing the party and building it outside Ottawa, rather than focusing in Parliament on the government for its poor leadership, bad policies and incompetence and also forfeiting a media coverage which wears away the popularity of a prime minister.
It seems stupid that a man with the advantage of leading the official parliamentary opposition should so discount it in favour of work outside the parliamentary circle, and in particular to concentrate on the dicey proposition of fashioning his second new party and discarding the first which, itself, is barely adolescent in age terms and whose moderate electoral success gave him a considerable and quite talented caucus.
Here it seems sensible to mention a penchant of Manning noted in the book Waiting for the Wave (1995) by a Reform member, Tom Flanagan, a political scientist who was briefly a paid director of policy in the party. It matches what one notes about most politicians who’ve had some electoral success. They prefer using the same strategy and tactics again and again.
As Flanagan put it: “In Manning’s conception of the populist party, the leader’s direct relationship with members and public audiences is crucial. Although he is an introverted person, he is a master rhetorician who thrives on the performance aspect of speaking … Manning visualizes the rhetorical situation as speaking to the audience in the room, not to the much larger audience one reaches through the media.”
There’s also another thought about Manning one may draw from his relative indifference to performance in the House and his enthusiasm for continuous campaigning beyond it for a stronger bid in the next election. He mirrors the huge priority in Alberta politics given to those who govern. The results of federal and provincial elections show that more than any other province Alberta has most tended to elect to its Legislature and its seats in the House of Commons candidates from one party.
In 17 provincial elections since 1935 Alberta has never been close to a minority government situation. Most of Ernest Manning’s wins were near absolute. And only tiny P.E.I. has had fewer legislative sittings than Alberta. In a partisan sense Alberta is our most homogeneous province, its voters more fixed on stable government than a democratic process rife with discussion and opposition set in a legislature. This was a mind-set the CCF-NDP never developed, even in Saskatchewan. Instead, it worked up a fetish for parliamentary performance – e.g., the late, great Stanley Knowles – one which the Waffle movement ridiculed, wanting more emphasis on attaining power or defying it.
The short shrift of Albertans and Preston Manning for the Legislature and Parliament is a miserable portent if he and the United Alternative should boom and oust the Liberals from office this year or next. Who wants another, dreary parliamentary mandate dominated by a PM, backed by spinners such as Rick Anderson rather than Eddie Goldenberg and a docile caucus like Jean Chretien’s largely Ontario mob?


The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, January 26, 2000
ID: 11821961
TAG: 200001261347
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 17
COLUMN: The Hill


In most years, the month of the federal budget generates the most political excitement across the country. But this February there may be much more to jolt citizens than what may come from Finance Minister Paul Martin’s seventh masterpiece.
Such a rousing prospect seems most likely to the few of us among Hill observers who’ve sensed a major slide in public support over the past three months for the Liberals and Jean Chretien. This, despite the popularity in English Canada of the PM’s “clarity” bill and the fact it didn’t trigger a separatist explosion in Quebec.
We also know that three of the four opposition parties – Reform, the Progressive Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois – will be in the news and closely scrutinized because each has major problems in leadership and party organization.
The Reform party caucus is caught in the topical wrack of party conventions, the launch of a new conservatively minded party, the United Alternative, even the possible loss of its leader. So it hardly seems ready for daily marauding in the House over the details of incompetence, patronage and toll-gating opening up from the recently revealed audit of large spending programs in the Human Resources Department. Yet in the budget prelude that is almost certain to be the biggest story.
Although Reform was on to this sleaze and bureaucratic fumbling through much of 1999 it was stonewalled by both Pierre Pettigrew, then Human Resources minister, and by Chretien (“Just doing good for my constituents”). Left holding the bag is the new minister, Jane Stewart, a Chretien favourite, but far from one of his most effective. On her feet in the House Stewart is as awkward, repetitious and as unconvincing as her more notorious colleague, David Collenette.
Even though Reform in the House will not be getting intense leadership from Preston Manning (who’ll continue putting much of his time and mind to the United Alternative), its MPs have to hit hard on the Human Resources debacle or forfeit their priority to the other opposition parties. Most MPs have certainly noted the persistence of public querulousness over this apparently uncontrolled dispersal of a $3-billion cornucopia in often bizarre grants.
It may even be that Chretien’s “Teflon” years are over, and with them his right to continue proclaiming how competent, soundly managed and without graft his government has been – such a contrast to his bumbling, big-spending predecessor.
The news of the diversity and often silly and impractical items in the largesse spewed from Human Resources also sits most uneasily with those who believe in generous federal social policies. These idealists have become increasingly restive over the long debate, both among interest groups and within the Liberal party and its caucus, over what’s to be done with surpluses. This discussion has been going full-bore since the end to those annual federal deficits almost two years ago.
More money for medicare? For a major child care program? For better pensions for the elderly? For a better-equipped, more mobile armed forces? For honestly fulfilling our international undertakings to counter environmental pollution? For a fresh, national highways infrastructure? For giving better funding to the arts – or sport, or the universities, or youth, or the family farmer, or science? For big, income tax cuts to abet consumer spending, create more jobs, improve productivity, and keep our best and brightest? Or to make more haste in paying down the huge public debt?
Despite all the discussions, especially the much remarked ones in the Chretien ministry and caucus, nothing big has emerged. Indeed, the most hullaballoed by the PM, the Millennium Scholarship Program, is already screwed up by the most obvious of constitutional provisions: that education is the jurisdiction of the provinces.
Has Chretien marked time too long? If so, has it been his own hesitation, or his respect for a most successful finance minister? Perhaps a minister dubious of big spending commitments to new or much improved social and health programs?
Where is that Martin vision for the Canadian future which we know he and his confidants were working up back in 1997?
Let me speculate on the Martin-Chretien scenario and the way ahead for the Liberals.
I was reminded of Paul Martin’s “vision” a few weeks ago when one of his fans, James Deacey, known to me for over two decades as a “Liberal” lobbyist and some time party organizer, wrote – obviously for public consumption – that the PM “has been unable to articulate a vision for the country and he is constantly criticized for being a caretaker leader.”
Was this a goof? A stupid excess of disloyalty in a party sustained so often by blind loyalty to its leader?
James Deacey is no boob. Paul Martin’s no greenhorn politician. So … any suppositions? Yes, several.
First, Martin wanted to get what he thinks about the present administration’s course out in the open, not so much to shake up the Canadian public but capital “L” Liberals. Martin is tired of sitting on his “vision.” He’s realized there won’t be the scope for it if what’s needed is pieced away in all directions in several more years of Chretien leadership.
Martin wants to call both the big spending and tax cut shots in next month’s budget, and beyond that to let the party know it has a problem with Jean Chretien, not so much as its leader today, but as its leader in the future.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 23, 2000
ID: 11821223
TAG: 200001231565
SECTION: Comment


In the light of the past, which is the true phrase: the noble Indian or the ignoble Indian?
According to Shepard Krech, an American anthropologist, the answer is neither – at least regarding the environment. His book, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, published by W.W. Norton, is soundly based and well expressed.
This study’s broad conclusions square with my own experiences with the Indians of Northern Ontario. They knock down a prevalent, politically correct myth that since before Columbus the native people of North America, despite the wasteful spoliation by white exemplars, have been dedicated culturally and in practical life to conserving and preserving the land, waters and wildlife.
The Ecological Indian shows they have been neither better nor worse, in either environmental philosophy or practice, than those migrants who flowed into the continent from Europe after 1492.
A New Yorker reviewer believes (as I do) that Krech demonstrates that “concepts like ecology, waste, preservation and even the natural – as distinct from the human – world are entirely anachronistic when applied to Indians in the days before the European settlement of North America.”
To an unscholarly reader like me the worth of Krech’s clearly presented analysis is sustained by some 80 pages of “notes” in fine print that include hundreds of references to books and essays concerned with the Indians of Canada, and in particular with the beaver trade and the decline of the buffalo. The author has had several study projects in northwestern Canada.
Aside from shattering the “noble” Indian myth, Krech’s book is rich in particular analysis, including much on: a) Indian demography and the history of population estimates before 1492 and since; b) the widespread use of fire by Indians to abet both hunting and agriculture; c) the use of, and near extinction of the white-tail deer, the buffalo and beaver; d) various tribal practices in assigning rights to hunting grounds; and e) attempts by fur traders, notably of the Hudson Bay Company, to persuade native trappers to leave a strong breeding stock of beaver, fox, lynx, etc.
Krech quotes astute reflections on Indians made in 1811 by Henry Brackenridge after a trip up the broad Missouri.
“How mistaken,” he said, “are those who look for primitive innocence and simplicity in what they call the state of nature … They have among them their poor, their envious, their slanderers, their mean and crouching, their haughty and over-bearing, their unfeeling and cruel, their weak and vulgar, their dissipated and wicked; and they also have their brave and wise, their generous and magnanimous, their rich and hospitable, their pious and virtuous, their frank, kind, and affectionate and, in fact, all the diversity of characters that exists among the most refined people.”
What political relevance in Canada is there in jettisoning the myth of the ecological Indian?
First, it means Canadian Indians should not be accorded the superior sanction of high-minded environmentalism in negotiations of land settlements and their claims to the right to take game and fish where and when they choose. It should also mean much more balance in responding to native demands and needs simply because discussion of them no longer should be burdened with the guilt piled on the whites for devastating a noble people whose societies once lived – and might do so again – in perfect harmony with nature. Indians are neither more noble nor ignoble than other people – in their blood, or in their history.

In closing, I want to suggest books by two former colleagues of the parliamentary press. First, a collection of 39 commentaries written over three decades, has the ultra-confident title Zolf. It’s by Larry Zolf, a newish old-age pensioner, and a long-time writer, researcher, and on-air performer for the CBC, and also far from a fan of all things Israeli.
Published in paperback by Exile Editions of Toronto, Zolf is uneven and often excessive (like its author). By and large, however, his capital-L Liberal positioning is clear – Larry’s magnetized by winners – but with enough entertaining twists and judgments (such as idolizing Dalton Camp) to beguile any political buff. Who can resist a comic whose essay on Barbara Amiel and Conrad Black is titled: “The Beatrice and Sidney Webb of Canadian capitalism”?
There’s vivid stuff in Zolf on Falk Zolf, Larry’s dad, self-exiled from the land of the czars. He settled in Winnipeg and taught generations of children at a Jewish school. A Norman Jewison sort could make a rollicking movie on Falk Zolf as a multicultural phenomenon. But he might do just as well with the man at the centre of the second book I’m touting.
Duncan Fisher McGregor (1907-95) was a woodsman with many skills who worked in and around Algonquin Park for over six decades. Although a more archetypal Canadian in his fixes on fishing, baseball, the bush and novels than Falk Zolf, each father left a puzzled and reflective son to take his measure.
A Life in the Bush – Lessons from my Father, published by Viking, was written by novelist and political columnist Roy McGregor. It is a very quiet, honest, common sense story about a real family that somehow worked – despite of, or because of, inarticulate feelings and the humanity so often found in bush communities.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, January 19, 2000
ID: 11820048
TAG: 200001191410
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


What’s sounding in the Ottawa winds? Several intentions which suggest the minds who shape affairs on Parliament Hill have yet to appreciate the institution of Parliament itself is threatened by its own meaninglessness most of the time.
A huge rebuilding and refurbishing program is under way for the Hill as a whole. Most of it pivots on or around the Centre Block (with the Peace Tower) but it encompasses all the six big buildings of the so-called parliamentary precinct and its grounds and routes. The chief aims in a new report sponsored by the House Speaker, Gilbert Parent, focus on tightening access and improving security in the parliamentary precinct, for example, to end vehicular traffic by the public on the Hill central, and to make more private for MPs and their staffs most of the buildings’ interiors, including definitive limits on where visitors or media reporters and technicians may go.
To complement these intentions to better segregate the politicians and their aides from the press and the public in the name of better security and less confusion and crowding, we have been hearing fresh talk from some MPs that their House affairs committee intends to recommend the end of Friday sittings when the House is in session. As it is, one of the four other days – Wednesday – has always been a short one for time in the chamber because it is “caucus” day for each party.
Skipping Friday sittings has had proponents for over 20 years, mostly on the government side and among ministers.
In the early 1980s the idea was strongly sponsored by then government House leader, Liberal Yvon Pinard. He was determined to: a) shorten MPs’ time each day on the Hill by ending evening sittings; b) reduce the week by one sitting day; c) cut the maximum time of speeches by all MPs but party leaders. He was proud to advance this as a concerned father with a young family. Whatever his high motives, after he got night work killed and speeches shortened he went happily off the Hill to a patronage job as a judge.
The argument for excising Fridays emphasizes how poor attendance is on the day, allegedly because so many MPs have far to go and want an early exit so as to have a decent weekend for both constituent and family affairs. Further, on Friday question period (QP) is almost always flat, rousing little media attention because the PM and the other party leaders are usually elsewhere.
Of course, the quasi-farce (my term for it) of QP has become more and more the raison d’etre for each parliamentary day, not least because it gives the covering media a handy and topical agenda.
If Friday’s QP is hollow, why bother with sitting that day? And without it MPs from the distant west, north, and east, will have more time in their ridings. And those perpetual-motion men and women, the cabinet ministers, always relish fewer appearances in the House. As for opposition leaders, and Preston Manning in particular, Friday is their favorite day to be away on the road, making speeches and giving interviews.
The Hill buildings – which are getting such costly improvements – are ghostly shells for more weeks of the year than they are an open, bustling complex in which vigilant MPs daily do the nation’s business. Most of the time Parliament as a fail-safe is far from immediate.
Few MPs want to talk about the wearing down of the House of Commons’ importance once its composition from an election has determined who is prime minister. The PM and the PMO have become more and more dominant in our parliamentary system, notably since Pierre Trudeau’s advent to power.
Somewhere that fits with the impatience most MPs now have with listening to each other. Certainly, they know reportage of speeches is sketchy enough to be largely irrelevant. Speech-making has declined as an art and almost bottomed out as a significant, political attribute. Rarely are there more than 50 MPs (out of 300) present in so-called debating time unless a caucus whip has drummed up a claque for a performance by the party leader.
Those who make criticisms of scarce MPs in the chamber are always fobbed off with grand references to “the real work” of MPs going on in the various parliamentary committees. Yes, and these proceedings get just as little attention from the media or the public as speeches in the House.
As for curbing access through the parliamentary perimeter in the name of security and improved parliamentary efficiency, to me the images of more barriers, checkpoints, detection devices and guards suggests Parliament as a mausoleum, a tomb which speaks to a past, not to bustling, open representatives of the people.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 16, 2000
ID: 11819358
TAG: 200001161535
SECTION: Comment


Is there no way, or no political leader, to rescue the Canadian community from a stupid, expensive, destructive decision of the Supreme Court?
It’s a topical time to ask the question (which here pivots on the R. vs. Singh decision of 1985, written by then justice Bertha Wilson).
Topical not only because of the serial farce of a porous border and its attendant bureaucratic choke-holes which further arrivals of smuggled Chinese migrants keep extending. The Supreme Court has a new chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, and she and others of our higher courts have been maundering openly about public responses (mostly criticisms by the unlearned) to many decisions, particularly those based on interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For example, a few days ago in an interview Chief Justice McLachlin said: “I think it is increasingly acknowledged that judges have to be aware of how their decisions are going to play in the real world … so there is not some isolated role that somehow is imposed regardless of conditions in the real world.”
It may be “increasingly acknowledged” but where is the politician who has openly declared that a decision written for the Supreme Court by Bertha Wilson in 1985 was and is outrageously wrong-headed and costly, and should be quashed?
Last week another of the high court nobility, Roy McMurtry, the chief justice of Ontario’s appeal court, was more defensive. “It troubles me,” he said, “that elected politicians would be perhaps unreasonably critical of the role of the courts in interpreting the Charter when the invitation and the responsibility … was deliberately given to the justice system.”
Some, but clearly not yet enough Canadians, have become critical of the courts in their use of the Charter, despite the repeated departure of judges from “the real world.”
The two outstanding examples of such reckless foolishness are arguably R. vs. Singh (which led to the vast bureaucracy of the refugee appeal boards) and R. vs. Askov (1991) which led to tens of thousands of cases (many based on serious criminal charges) being chopped from the court lists because their processing had been too long delayed.
Bertha Wilson’s R. vs. Singh has had rough consequences in costs, confusion, and frustration since it was made almost 15 years ago. One of its worst, though less recognized consequence, is its wrecking of genuine Canadian idealism. There was a widely held belief that Canada ought to offer haven, when possible, to those made desperate in other lands by repression and fear of death.
Through the federal government’s responses to the Singh decision “the real world” Madame McLachlin speaks about has laboured us with a huge, costly system for determining refugee status that hinders or overlooks those refugees most in need of succour. And the outrageousness of it all is creating disrespect among us for all immigration.
In the Singh case the judges make these assumptions.
First, the word “everyone” in Section 7 of the Charter (the so-called fundamental justice section) means everyone who arrives at or into Canada and claims to be a refugee. Just reach Canada, shout “refugee” and the Charter blankets you with the legal rights and perquisites available to a Canadian citizen.
Second, “avoiding administrative inconvenience” should not be a factor in determining whether the procedures then in use were those of “a free and democratic society.”
Third, the Constitution requires that none of those awaiting hearings on their refugee status should be deported, even if he or she had been convicted of a crime, until he or she has had hearings, even unto an appeal of a negative decision by the Federal Court.
What passes understanding is the abject failure of elected politicians at all three levels to demand an end to the costs and confusions from the Singh decision. The readiest way to do this is remarkably handy, and yet it seems to freeze the politicians with fear. They seem to believe the Charter is such a sacred covenant to Canadians, they will suffer rejection if they invoke through parliamentary action the “notwithstanding” clause which was inserted in the Constitution of 1982 at the insistence of some sensible premiers. It allows Parliament, or a legislature, to reconfirm an act and operations based on it, whatever the courts have done in rejecting or limiting the act.
Remember that the troubles and expenses, now well into billions, of our tattered, ridiculous immigration system are jointly carried by Ottawa, the provincial governments and municipal governments (most notably in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal).
It’s as though cabinets and MPs and MPPs are scared by the now vigorous immigration industry, featuring on the one side vociferous lawyers standing proud for their erstwhile “refugee” clients and on the other side, pious clergymen, oozing idealism and rejecting serious reflection on either the high dollar costs or the hypocrisy and incompetence of a system which neither catches up to its backlog nor knows much about the “where” or the conduct of thousands of claimants.
Lord knows this huge refugee boondoggle is unlikely to be relieved soon through the intentions revealed last week by Elinor Caplan, Jean Chretien’s newish minister of citizenship and immigration.
Imagine this! Caplan’s going to go to China. There she shall tell the authorities and reach the billion or so Chinese through the magic of Chinese communications there must be no more illicit landings in Canada of young “economic” migrants from China. Why, it’s not only illegal, it’s dangerous, and it’s a racket sponsored by criminals. Can you imagine the Caplan dictum will become a Chinese news scoop? At least Canadians are the only ones likely to know that we’ve let judges, lawyers and cowardly ministers make a sick joke of our immigration and refugee programs.
In closing, I mention that the leader of the official Opposition, Preston Manning, spoke in the House last fall on “the roles of the executive, the Parliament, and the courts.” The very first case he cited was “the impact of the Singh decision on the government’s ability to halt people smuggling.” He followed with references to another dozen or so decisions which illustrate judicial activism at the expense of both the executive and decisions supported by members of Parliament.
Even though Manning spoke of “urgency” and of “immediate issues” such as the refugee debacle, his remedial suggestions for clarity in court and political roles seemed pitched to future aberrations by the justices, not to ending the continuing foul-ups stemming from previous thoughtlessness of the Supreme Court justices.
Is it unthinkable to ask him to declare that a Reform party government would put an end to the obvious stupidity and unfairness of R. vs. Singh?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Thursday, January 13, 2000
ID: 11818804
TAG: 200001131304
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 16
COLUMN: The Hill


It puzzles me why some critics, in particular those within the Reform Party, clamour that it was unfair of Preston Manning to announce before the pending Reform convention that he would step down from the party leadership if the membership rejected moving ahead to becoming a part of a reconstituted party of the right (i.e., the United Alternative).
The UA seemed a “lame-brain” proposition to me from the start. It bounced up from both western Canada and some of the most vigorous so-called neo-conservatives in the Harris machine in Ontario, sponsors without much understanding of traditional conservatism’s abiding strength in Ontario.
It couldn’t have reached the organizational form and strength it has without Preston Manning as its prime sponsor. What else should a leader do whose biggest partisan proposition since he reached Parliament is found unacceptable by his followers but resign? It will be neither noble nor deceitful. It’s common sense, given such a repudiation.
(As a footnote opinion, if the resignation should happen, the best alternative would be Deborah Grey, 47, simply because she’s the most effective Reform MP at handling Jean Chretien and Paul Martin in rough going in the House.)

Mr. Manning’s contretemps may be serious but no more so than Joe Clark’s, caught away in English Canada from his party’s loyalists by his earnest set against Jean Chretien’s “clarity act” initiative. As for Alexa McDonough, leader of the NDP, she’s in no danger of being ousted or bounced by her party but only a relatively sudden and thorough crash of the economy before the next election would give her any chance of catching the widespread interest of electors in more governmental spending and miniscule taxation.
Given the dilemma of this trio of opposition leaders, plus the certainty that the fourth one, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc, doesn’t register in English Canada, Jean Chretien apparently has a waltz into his third mandate.
What might be illusory in the current Chretien scenario could develop from within his parliamentary caucus. At this stage it is nicely in line behind him and should stay that way until the clarity bill is enacted by the summer recess. He’s convinced me he wants the third mandate and he’s right in believing there isn’t a large or rapidly growing enmity to him in the electorate.
What’s lacking, badly lacking for someone so constantly sensitive about his standing, is real enthusiasm and deep affection for him across his caucus. Gratitude has gradually been suborned by boredom with his agenda and exasperation at the highhandedness of his PMO crew. This couples with frustration among the abler, experienced backbenchers over the dreariness and lack of imagination of the cabinet.
If a score or so of them decided by fall that this would be their last Parliament it would really shake up the Liberal party and Jean Chretien’s romp into a second decade in office.

In most cases of public contention between the regulator and the regulated, opinion usually favors those objecting to the decisions or demands set by the authority. And that’s the way public opinion seems to have broken in the hassle between the CRTC, symbolized by its chair, Francoise Bertrand, and Robert Rabinovitch, the CBC’s new president.
At least in English Canada this unsurprising bias has been strengthened by Rabinovitch’s direct and telling portrayal of management issues and by Bertrand’s skirting of them, using English that is too elegant in style and too circular and academic in content and vocabulary.
If Rabinovitch remains intransigent and the cabinet backs Bertrand to the full, he could become a martyr far more popular than his actual cause. That is, what this hassle is demonstrating is less a widespread concern about the CBC’s future course than exasperation at external dictation of it.
What’s rather amazing, at least until now, is the lack of expressed opinion by members of Parliament. Their silence on this regulator/-regulated matter is a fair indication the CBC as a national, cultural utility is no longer well-beloved and deeply appreciated in most of our 301 federal constituencies. The data reflecting this is in the low fraction of total viewership CBC-TV now holds in cabled Canada.
As one who continues to use CBC a lot, particularly its radio, I wish Rabinovitch well but to achieve much he needs more enthusiasm and financing from Jean Chretien and company.
Apropos of the CBC’s mission, it’s a pleasant surprise to know that CBC’s Newsworld will give extensive coverage this Sunday to the musical performances at “A Tribute to the Family Farm” at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, linking this with programming from gatherings of farm people out west.
The prime mover in launching this celebration for a little-appreciated, very strained sector of our collective well-being was Dennis Mills, the veteran Liberal MP for Broadview-Greenwood. Determined to get urban Canada concerned about our farmers’ shaky economics, Mills decided a major role of the CBC in its radio heyday should be resurrected. The broad popularity which the CBC once enjoyed owed much to the participation by tens of thousands of citizens in “Farm Radio Forums” which debated public issues and to such wonderful drama series as Jake and the Kid.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 09, 2000
ID: 11818163
TAG: 200001101584
SECTION: Comment


There’s nothing immediately large on the Ottawa horizon. In a fortnight or so we’ll again be into Paul Martin’s weeks of the year with much on pre-budget arguments over spending choices, surplus figures, tax reduction formulas, federal-provincial finances, etc.
Otherwise, there will be considerable maundering, none in a crisis mode, first over the biggest Chretien initiative so far – the Clarity Bill to frame future referendums in Quebec – and, second, about the two consequential gatherings in Ottawa as January closes of the so-called United Alternative and its initial sponsor, the Reform party, designed to unify the “right” and end the Liberal domination of Canada.
In short, for most of us these are not critical weeks and surprises are unlikely. There are few hints in current political seismology of either an astounding budget, a huge surge in Quebec nationalism, or the birth of a sturdy, right-thinking party to replace Reform and the federal Progressive Conservatives. And for the moment there’s no talk of Jean Chretien’s departure from office.
The only intimation on the leadership secession worth noting, beyond Martin, now 62, as a cinch to get it, is that the stock of two prospects – Brian Tobin, 46, and John Manley, 50 – has risen a smidgin.
With Premier Tobin this comes from so much positive stuff about the Newfoundland and Labrador economy. For Industry Minister Manley it’s simpler and less tangible: he’s becoming more and more respected by the prime minister as a tough, determined force within cabinet.
As for the most open aspirant alongside Martin, Allan Rock, 53, continues to plug along, in almost a person-to-person struggle to warm up caucus colleagues left unimpressed by his stint as justice minister. He is a blip on the leadership radar, but rather a small one, unable so far to turn a national uneasiness over the future of medicare to his advantage as its determined saviour.
Last week it seemed worth remarking that none of the federal parties had made an extra effort to produce a blockbuster sort of program or plan for 21st-century Canada. One reader jeered me on two linked counts. How could I imagine from the quality of their performances that: 1) any of the parties was capable of doing this intelligibly and succinctly; 2) given the stock negativism of Canadian politics why would any set of politicians present a plan of challenging content for the scorn of media wise-guys and partisan rivals?
Those are cogent arguments, but what I had in mind would or could have been presented as an overview of major matters for the country as a whole, rather than bundles of specifics, say for urban needs and the hinterlands’ requirements.
Such a plan should and could have begun with demography and then to geography in environmental terms: that is, with where we are and whence we came in the 20th century in terms of population and its makeup in age, education, mobility and location, and of its significance for what we have been using in terms of arable land, forests, waters and renewable resources.
From 1900-2000 we went from 5.3 to 30 million people, from an overwhelmingly rural society to a mostly urbanized one, from a considerable diversity in ethnicity, religion, language and country of birth to a quite astounding (yet still workable) diversity, almost unique in the global sense of such variety with such huge space within national boundaries.
Quite aside from the need to deal with the obvious external pressure in the 2000s by would-be immigrants to Canada, most of us surely accept that for balance in the economy and a stable society which doesn’t stagnate we need substantially more people over the next century than our birth rate will provide, however much it might be raised by governmental bonuses.
We can encourage but we cannot dictate where new arrivals settle, but we can certainly do much more than we have to ensure we get entrants not just in general for their talents and potential but from countries which provided us with good citizens over the last century. Past political choices have made Canada a so-called “rainbow” country. A policy imperative in the century ahead is keeping balance along the rainbow, and not just in the components but in their geographic locales.
The policy dilemma in the 2000s for Canada along its own environmental front (aside from the prominence our huge area gives us in global terms) has been prefigured substantially in our political discourse since the 1960s. It may be characterized as between conservationist prophets of disaster and economic leaders with a host of pragmatic followers who scoff at talk of human doom from ongoing deforestation, soil exhaustion, chemical pollution, induced climate change, water shortages, etc. The dilemma is more than compounded by the sometimes parallel and often overlapping jurisdictions in this field – federal and provincial – and so much emphasis on it being the whole world’s problem.
Long term in politics means the next election; in environmental affairs, long term means for generations. Politicians in Canada should get going on short-term goals for renewable resources.
Remedy the withering of streams and lakes, for example, by restoring vegetation of promise on the huge, growing residue of cutover lands once used for farming.
Develop an expanding interaction of the youth and idealism which pervades environmentalism as a movement with the can-do capacities of organized industry and labour. By mid-century the subsequent achievement of a green and clean Canada would be monumental and, of course, productive in dollars and cents.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Wednesday, January 05, 2000
ID: 11816637
TAG: 200001051390
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 15
COLUMN: The Hill


Maybe this is reaching too far for interpretation, but several things about politicians seemed notable from the circus coverage by television and newspapers of the transition from 1999 to 2000, from one millennium to another.
First, so little attention was paid to major politicians, either here or across the globe. Second, how empty the stages seemed of politicians, particularly in Canada, a country which has an embarrassment of them. None of them, however, really tied into, and exploited, the idea of new policies for Canada’s third century.
May I suggest the lack of prominence given national political leaders is not a gloomy omen, at least for the near future. Clearly there is no obvious human colossus! No world figure who is worth intense concern as either the global saviour or as a Hitlerian sort of menace.
Did our prime minister address us and the occasion? Yes, lustily, and he told us in Ottawa that past generations “have handed down to us an inspiring dream and an awesome responsibility – that of living up to their tireless efforts, and being worthy, in our time, of this extraordinarily successful nation.”
It isn’t being mean, however, to suggest almost no one was listening closely to Jean Chretien. If they were, at least on Parliament Hill, any impression he made would have been quickly erased in the consequent confusion and discord of the quite mysterious acts on the half-dozen Hill stages which his government had arranged.
If big-time politicians were not pivotal in the extended celebrations who or what was? Simply put, this was coverage of or response to a transit to a new century and the next millennium in a positive way, sustaining almost a global sense – certainly a North American one – that good times and the pursuit of happiness, individually and collectively, will roll along.
In the past month fears had faded of cataclysmic glitches in the communications technology which orchestrates so much of our economy and its bureaucratic institutions. Anticipations of an end-to-the-world sort never took hold. Some once substantial apprehensions of troubles had collapsed long before the countdown to midnight had begun on New Year’s Eve.
The excitements revealed by the coverage never became perilous or frantic. I had the sense of tens of millions being on the same page or following the same line of time as it moved around the globe. It was neither an openly religious nor markedly philosophical happening despite the grandeur and bulk in so many of the venues and performances opened for us. Certainly, it was a rather laughable anti-climax the day after New Year’s to hear from Treasury Board minister Lucienne Robillard, how competently our government had ensured there would be no computer-based disasters here.
Into this event, by and large a once-in-a-lifetime matter which ran over many hours and through so many jammed, illuminated scenarios from Gaza to Times Square, no one even bothered to draw attention to or anxiety from the resignation and retirement of the Russian president. Throughout the televised hours our neighbours’ producers ignored their presidential election drama under way and already featuring Bush-McCain: Gore-Bradley. As for our own producers and commentators (thankfully!) they never really got into our basic dilemma: what about Quebec?
We’d had for several weeks an uncommon splurge of popularized history in televised retrospects and in our daily papers. The latter kept padding out with scores of lists and ratings of “greats” and various assessments of lesser sorts or kinds. I cannot recall in my lifetime such extended reprises being offered daily to a huge public about wars, natural disasters, sporting competitions and technological miracles of the closing century and the closing millennium. As a viewer/reader I sensed that such unusual, diverse expansiveness sprang from minds who were certain this centennial-millennial occasion was above all historical. And was it so?
Well … my hunch is that it may have been for those who assiduously read the thousands of words and followed the hours of documentaries and reports, but relatively they must have constituted a very small proportion of the tens of thousands who had such generosity put before them.
More and more we Canadians seem an unhistorical lot. One must lump the Quebecois into this, despite their familiar motto of “Je me souviens.” Consider one topical piece of opinion polling. By far the most votes across the land for the outstanding Canadian leader of the century went to Pierre Elliott Trudeau. It’s true the debt burden he ran up from 1974-84 is memorable … likely large enough to last through the 21st century.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 02, 2000
ID: 11816042
TAG: 200001021563
SECTION: Comment
ILLUSTRATION: drawing by Sue Dewar
COLUMN: Backgrounder


The 20th century is a horrible catalogue of “man’s inhumanity to man.” A Canadian, prone to caution, tries to muffle the positives about the century past and that ahead, but it is hard. It was such a good century for so many of us in opportunities and good living.
One’s range of opinion about the last century begins with one’s own experience. My father’s working life began in 1900 when he bolted from an Ontario farm to a nearby town and got a job wiping engines on the Grand Trunk Railway. It ended in 1951 as a locomotive engineer. That was the year when employment on railways, and both passenger and freight traffic reached their peak. After that, railroading in Canada declined steadily as transport services by trucks, buses and airlines expanded.
I was born in 1919, just after the slaughterhouse of the war to end all wars, and as a deadly flu epidemic was ending. As this century ends I’m winding down my occupation, so between us, father and son, we spanned it in work, with the same good luck of finding it when we needed it. I mention this because for long stretches in the 20th century jobs here have been hard to come by, and no curse was greater in the first half of the century than widespread unemployment. Its prevalence was the prime reason why Parliament and provincial legislatures put together – roughly, somewhat patchwork – a country-wide system of social security, beginning in the ’20s with the Old Age Pension and largely completed in the late ’60s with the Canada Pension Plan and medicare for all.
These manifestations of political responses to people’s needs twigs a paradoxical question about Canadians in their regard (or lack of it) for politicians. We typecast them as self-serving, greedy, wasteful, incompetent and dedicated to delay and divisiveness; promising and not delivering.
Such characterization seems to contradict my positive vibrations about the past century. How could Canada have developed a milieu of excellence under such widely detested prime ministers as Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson, John Diefenbaker, even our longest-serving one, W.L. Mackenzie King? The answer is that most of our politicians have tried to serve us. For proof of this, consider our continuing high interest in political affairs, the good proportion of electors who actually vote, and the huge variety in interest groups dedicated to informing and influencing political decisions.
Looking back, my childhood awareness of topical matters at home and in our town, deep in the bush of northwestern Ontario, included politics. In a push for a government-sponsored hydro-electric power system, for example, or in the bitter grievances over the Bennett “road-camps” where men earned $5 a month in the Depression.
In 1920 our town was a place just reaching for indoor conveniences. Decades later, one of my sons suggested to my mother that it must have been exciting “pioneering” on the frontier. She scoffed. Civilization and an enjoyable life for a mother with a family only came with new tools for household use. Between 1920 and the Great Depression of the ’30s they came into our house in this order: indoor plumbing, then a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, radio, and refrigerator – all powered by electricity – and the first family car, a 1932 Plymouth.
In hindsight I know my parents’ aims and values were very commonplace, and archetypal for hundreds of thousands of families.
My father was a lifelong fan of progress, but this did not focus on human beings or of human nature itself improving. No, it was a thorough confidence in technological change, most noticeable in transport, communications, and what we call durable goods. Inventors, scientists, engineers, architects and builders were his heroes, and I recall his enthusiasm after one of his last runs as an engineer about the magnificent power and easy handling of the CNR’s new diesel locomotives.
He and my mother were of a generation which still felt a deep need for church meetings and activities. Perhaps no other shift in Canada in the century – not even the emergence of multiculturalism in the 1960s out of an immigration program with a global reach – has been greater than the shift away from church-centred neighbourhoods and family life.
This change bothered my late parents and at least set me asking why, whereas my children and grandchildren are unaware anything is missing. Some attribute it to the pervasiveness of entertainment or Sunday sports or blanket TV programming and the recreational hours taken up with tapes and discs.
For my parents, the most important persons for a community after the pastors and the doctors were the schoolteachers. And schooling, vocational training, getting a skill or a trade, were just as emphasized in Canada before World War II brought this all forward with great intensity as several million men and women trained for war or for industry. After the war the federal government’s program for veterans burst open the colleges and universities for tens of thousands more students than ever before, and this fillip to higher education was crowned by the emergence in the 1960s of vocational institutes and CGEPs, largely built with federal money and offering more technical and pragmatic courses than universities.
Again, what is noticeable looking back is the widening of opportunities and the diversifying of occupations for new prospects for the labour force. Despite all the gripes about education in Canada we largely retain our interest in its capacities and availability, even as we fret over what computer-based information and the Internet portends for jobs, commerce and education in the 2000s.
What I recall as the main matters under way in the first half of the 20th century in Canada, continue by and large today. That is, we have communities – whether local or regional or national – in which appreciation and expectation of change remains strong. Really, without much wailing, an overwhelmingly rural, farm-based society in 1900 is a hugely urban-centred one in 2000, and throughout the 10 decades there was the belief among most Canadians that conditions and opportunities would improve or should improve in their land.
Although there was never that much brag about it, there was always a Canadian sensibility that we were good at doing a number of vital things, including rapid adjustment to innovations as witnessed in the line through the century from railways to cars and trucks to aircraft to pipelines to microwave towers to “wired” cities to computers to the Internet. It’s no accident that two of the world’s finest, synoptic thinkers on “communications and change” have been Canadians – Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan.
In an appraisal of Canada through the 20th century one must note the significance of our country’s roles and achievements in the 1939-45 world war. Canadians did great things together, say in opening up the west, defining our Arctic, taking in five separate waves of immigrants and putting together a system in which stronger economic provinces help weaker ones for the good of the whole.
In World War II, however, Canadians built on a confidence in themselves created by its troops in the Great War of 1914-18. Canadians fought on the ground, at sea, and in the air on many fronts. Behind them in the farms, forests, and factories of Canada millions worked producing food, lumber, minerals and a wide array of weapons, vessels, aircraft, trucks, tanks, munitions, etc. And so in a hurry we got the core factors together for economic growth and an advanced industrialized state to match a much inspired people with far more talents.
Perhaps most fortunate, although few like to talk about it, our basic Canadian problem of two nations in one caused huge difficulties over conscription but somehow we skated out of them.
Almost as satisfying as what we did together during World War II was what was accomplished afterwards for, and by, those returning to civilian life. And even now, belatedly in some cases, we’re still trying to remember and honour those who gave the most.
One has to say the 20th century belonged to the Americans. The basis for this is sheer global reach and impress. But looking at ourselves, back, around and ahead, we did well, we’re doing well and even better days should be ahead.
The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2000, SunMedia Corp.