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Doug’s Columns 2005 « Douglas Fisher



Doug’s Columns 2005

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, December 18, 2005
ID: 13101422
TAG: 200512180583
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


The best reasons for electors to rid us of the Liberal government are its poor quality and arrogance, a blend of incompetence, wastefulness and amorality.
It starts with Prime Minister Paul Martin, who depends far too much on his personal coterie of advisors and handlers and counts little on the mandarins (deputy ministers) and his own elected cabinet and caucus. In consequence, the prime minister’s office absolutely dominates cabinet and the House of Commons.
But the problems go back to 1993 — and Martin bears considerable responsibility for the many stupid initiatives and glaring inefficiencies in governance since then. After all, in his lengthy stint as Jean Chretien’s minister of finance, he played a prime and integral role through three successive Liberal governments. Any fair retrospective of the Liberals’ nearly 12 years in office suggests too much credit was given to Martin for leading us from big annual deficits to robust surpluses. To a large extent it was a sleight of hand, based on overestimating deficits and underestimating revenues.
Midway through the Brian Mulroney years, as the number of what seemed ministerial screw-ups grew, Hill reporters compiled and publicly added to the list of resignations by cabinet ministers. It became almost a chant, a slur on the regime’s ethics and management. Oddly, the recent and current media crew haven’t developed an equivalent litany for the Chretien-Martin years, although these four consecutive Liberal governments have made more goofs and wasted more billions than the Tories did.
Remember the first Chretien-Martin regime’s costly disaster in airport planning at Toronto? The expensive cancelation of a major contract for badly needed helicopters? The creation of an ineffective gun registry whose costs ballooned from a forecast of $40 million to well over $1 billion?
Then consider the most brazen, running screw-up of the past 10 years — the one least scrutinized by parliament. Indian Affairs spending has zoomed from about $6 billion a year to more than $8 billion. A lot of it flows straight down the drain.
Consider the notoriously bad conditions on many reserves. Several billion dollars a year has been going to improve things, whether on building or upgrading housing or on community infrastructure. Unfortunately, the new housing is often trashed and the infrastructure damaged. The central problem is never addressed — of bringing the people now living in several hundred of these forlorn communities into closer engagement with our mainstream society and economy.
Remember that disastrous Innu village in Labrador where the people lived in squalor, many adults boozing and kids sniffing gasoline? Television took us there and horrified us. And so the government acted and at huge cost built elsewhere a brand new model village. But the problems persist. Such bootless extravaganzas dwarf the Mulroney bungles.
It’s been so recent one need not stress the most ballyhooed cheating and theft by the Liberals from the public purse which is conjured by the words “AdScam” or “Gomery.”
And who can help but notice that Martin, who claims to know almost nothing about AdScam, had a personal, long-running gambit in play to serve his own personal ambitions as a politician — levering Jean Chretien out of office.
The Liberals have become artists at using public money for narrow partisan aims. Even post-Gomery, we don’t know where some $40 million of AdScam money has gone.
Bluntly put, the return of any Martin government — but especially a majority — will mean that voters have once again sanctioned Liberal skullduggery and incompetence in Ottawa.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, December 11, 2005
ID: 13100156
TAG: 200512111408
SECTION: Comment
End of Canada?
2. photo of GILLES DUCEPPE
Starry course
COLUMN: The Hill


Unless this week’s first round of televised debates explode in rancour or one of the party leaders slip up in a big way, a big lull should prevail in the federal election campaign until the second set of debates in January.
The electorate’s mood now ranges from low-key interest to relaxed indifference. Three of the four leaders have made neither major impact with their policy stuff nor been caught goofing badly. The Bloc Quebecois’ Gilles Duceppe, on the other hand seems to be ablaze where it counts for him, in Quebec. His starry course seems far brighter there than that of Liberal PM Paul Martin, his only rival of note.
Even primitive electoral arithmetic tells us that the Liberals will not return as a majority government if they do not claw back a dozen or so Quebec seats from the Bloc. If, as seems possible, the Duceppe crew takes a half dozen more seats than they already have, the Martinites will need to win back most of the score of Ontario seats lost to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last year.
To stay in office, the Liberals need above all to play on the keen, traditional concerns of Ontario voters about Quebec secession. It could be dangerous to do so, but going to town on the “unity” theme will be tempting.
By mid-January, there is a good chance the Liberals will be hammering home in the rest of Canada how imperative it is to turn back Duceppe by voting Liberal. They will surely make this the prime issue across Canada and stress it where it resonates most, in Ontario.
Fear of Quebec secession is a likelier winner than mauling Harper again as a political Dracula, or once more trumpeting Martin as a staunch defender of medicare.
And Liberals will point not just to the Bloc, but to the Parti Quebecois’ swelling prospects under their new, young leader, Andre Boisclair. If he defeats Liberal premier Jean Charest at the next provincial vote, as now seems likely, Boisclair has promised that there will be a third sovereignty referendum — right away. Woe to the rest of Canada, the Martinites will warn, if voters turn to Harper and the Conservatives, so ill-equipped to deal with Quebec and the sovereignty file.
Boisclair has already declared that as premier he would ignore Jean Chretien’s legacy, the Clarity Act, which sets out the process to be followed if any province moves to put the proposition of separation to its voters.
So, this election does risk a result that sets up a highly dangerous end-of-Canada drama. Will Paul Martin and his veteran handlers turn to a “Canada forever” campaign? Almost certainly — if opinion polling by the first week in January continues to foreshadow another minority parliament.
– – –
Reviewing the past half-dozen campaigns, one is struck by how stilted and leader-centred they are. All parties play exactly the same game. They all pretend to be visiting with Canadians from town to town, as Laurier and Mackenzie King did — except today’s crowds are nearly always party partisans.
The parties make almost no use of prominent candidates. Martin has few great communicators in his ministry but it is mind-boggling that so far, the most exposed and quoted one seems to be Belinda Stronach, the least educated “star” politician since Stockwell Day.
Some, like me, who are scornful of Martin’s dependence on being “very, very very concerned” and of Harper’s steely determination not to be steely, would delight in hearing from a larger cast — from Liberals like Michael Ignatieff, John Godfrey and Scott Brison, or Conservatives like Monte Solberg, Jim Prentice and Rona Ambrose.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, December 04, 2005
ID: 12888931
TAG: 200512040374
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


My hunch is that right now, although polling doesn’t show it, most Canadians would kick the Liberal rascals out.
But then I reflect on the unusual length of this campaign and the already heavy coverage of it by the news media — and I conclude that voter fatigue is going to reduce a sure Conservative victory to a saw-off, likely to leave the Liberals in power!
The TV networks have already outdone their previous first-week coverage of campaigns. So too have the daily papers. Soon they will be fat with election news and paid political advertising piled on top of ads for Christmas and post-Christmas sales.
The Conservatives face an additional problem — the apparent animus against Stephen Harper by most big-city political reporters and columnists, and by the editorial bureaus of the major TV networks and most daily newspapers. Already it seems more negative than during the last campaign, and more concentrated in the keystone voting province of Ontario.
To my mind, this pro-Liberal, anti-Conservative bent has been strong and obvious during the first days of the campaign. Martin’s most public handler, Scott Reid, and the Liberal war room, are taking advantage of it, serving up their “spin” on Harper’s alleged failings and Conservative ineptitude.
Watch CBC-TV reporters Susan Bonner and Julie Van Dusen, covering Martin and Harper respectively. In my view, Bonner seems sunny and rather impressed to be with Martin; Van Dusen, befitting her “gotcha” zeal, excels at highlighting the grievances of dissident Tories and cleverly, repetitiously pointing up Harper’s shortcomings.
Change channels and over at CTV, husky-voiced Lisa LaFlamme may again be chortling about a topical line deriding the Conservatives, just given her by a Liberal caller.
The two biggest anglo TV networks have remarkably experienced comperes in Mike Duffy (CTV), and Don Newman (CBC). They tend to match each other in leadership doings and the use of familiar party surrogates for the leaders.
While Duffy’s is the faster-paced program, with racier opinions, both he and Newman have long memories that give their recall and opinions credibility. I would argue, though, that long familiarity with the Ottawa scene has other effects, not least an apparent over-respect for the governors.
Most of the Hill years of these two sages have been Liberal ones. Both are pillars of the federal Ottawa establishment and, as I read their stances, not so much Liberal or Martin promoters as dubious about Harper’s judgment and personality, and about the old-fashioned social outlook of the Conservatives’ rank and file.
I take no joy in my view that the Globe and Mail has become Canada’s top political opinion maker, influencing both journalists and the public, especially in Ontario (but still only just ahead of the Toronto Star as a home base in print for the truly liberally and Liberally-minded).
Globe editorialists and most of its political columnists chide Harper for failing to produce a kinder, gentler vision for Canada — more like, well, like that of the Liberal Party.
When the Liberals reversed themselves and said they would not proceed with the same-sex marriage bill, the Globe responded with a hellfire-and-damnation editorial. Chastened, the Liberals reversed themselves again and the Globe sang their praises. It calls to mind the symbiosis through the Depression and almost to 1960 between theWinnipeg Free Press (John Dafoe et al.) and Liberal PM Mackenzie King.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 27, 2005
ID: 12887598
TAG: 200511270511
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Final Say


Last week the stark reality of Canada’s Indian reserves was finally served up in print.
A neophyte school teacher who fled in alarm some years ago from the now notorious Kashechewan reserve vividly described the bad diet, the lack of hygiene, the hopeless youths, the undisciplined children — and the utter absence of able leadership and constructive, shared communal values.
Laurie Gough’s story in the National Post provoked some predictable “blame the white man” letters, but also brought her compliments for having revealed uncomfortable truths about people living in scabious conditions beyond the fringe of mainstream Canada.
Support for telling these truths, unspeakable till now because they are politically incorrect, portends at last a fuller debate that may one day permit real progress on the plight of aboriginal peoples.
For at least four decades, Canadians have been on a collective guilt trip over reserve Indians’ generally low living standards but have denied or remained ignorant of the desperate boredom, the alcoholism, the lack of jobs on reserves, all sustained by a costly system of welfare entitlements.
A wall of politically correct silence, particularly among politicians, has blocked a fuller discussion of the problems on Canada’s Indian reserves. Instead we have had an explosion in what I call “brief case” Indianism. By the end of the 1960s, it was close to being a billion-dollar federal growth enterprise. No one challenged Indian leaders who said that their peoples’ plight was caused by government abuse and victimization. During this “blame game” period, which may now, blessedly, be coming to an end, Indian bands became “First Nations,” and a major national institution emerged, the Assembly of First Nations, led by a Grand Chief selected by chiefs of member nations.
For decades now, with few rebuffs from non-native politicians, these leaders have promoted constitutional recognition of the AFN as the basis for a new, fourth level of government in Canada — presiding over a vast area of the Canadian land mass and governed by the few modern-day treaties already made and the many more to come.
This utopia would be funded in part by cash grants from claim settlements but sustained in perpetuity by revenues from Indian management of the resources in their territories — the timber, gold, oil, diamonds, base metals.
The assertion is that prosperity will follow once Indian peoples are masters of some of the land which was once all theirs.
I think it’s a pipe dream. Canada is already over-governed. Indians have full recourse to the system as it is — to vote, to get involved, to elect their own politicians into the Canadian system. Besides, the belief that self-government will bring prosperity strikes me as wishful thinking for most reserve communities. They are too shattered by despair and welfare-ism, and lacking in the skills needed to manage their way to prosperity.
It is easy to blame whites and their “hypocritical politicians” for Indians’ generally low standards of living, and poor education and employment prospects. The blame game is effective. Witness the panicky reactions this month by Paul Martin and Dalton McGuinty to the water crisis at Kashechewan. Hundreds from Kashechewan were airlifted south. Yet, within a week, it became clear that the “bad water” was an empty crisis. Once the community was virtually emptied, it turned out that the federal government wasn’t to blame for the bad water. The Kashechewan band had all the modern equipment necessary for treating its water. Unfortunately, no one was capable enough to run it or repair it properly.
The present system, clearly, does not and will not work. A big fix is needed — but it won’t come unless the blame game is stopped and everyone, Indian and white, honestly appraises the full situation. This is imperative. Why? The number of registered Indians has grown mightily, from fewer than 200,000 in 1960 to more than 700,000 today. Many more want to claim registered status.
The Metis, too, are making major demands. “Status” it is argued — and practice seems to confirm this — means entitlement to free health care, free education, freedom from most taxation, and a fair share to each from his or her band’s share of federal funding.
But why pour billions more into remote, welfare-based communities when the billions already spent have achieved so little? New thinking is badly needed, and not just by whites.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 20, 2005
ID: 12886189
TAG: 200511200275
SECTION: Comment
2. photo of FRANK MCKENNA
COLUMN: The Hill


Today I want to have a go at the future repeatedly predicted for Paul Martin by pollsters and columnists. In the months since the Gomery inquiry’s revelations triggered a huge surge in support for the Bloc Quebecois, the conventional wisdom is that the best the Liberals can secure in the imminent election is another minority. (Pundits also say a minority government is Stephen Harper’s best hope, although less likely than Mr. Martin’s re-emergence as prime minister.)
The corollary to this accepted wisdom is that a second Martin minority government won’t be acceptable to the party’s movers — particularly those who remember Jean Chretien’s easy romps to majorities. According to this wisdom, Mr. Martin will be dropped with dispatch and another leader chosen as soon as possible — say a proven politician such as Frank McKenna or John Manley, or even a “quality” outsider like Michael Ignatieff. Further, if the Liberals should lose office, Martin would be dumped even more quickly.
Let’s look at that latter scenario more closely. If Harper’s hold on the House should prove as rickety as Martin’s there would be a practical argument that Martin ought to stay as leader of the opposition until it is clear the Harper government will survive for a year or longer. Or, he might be persuaded by the Liberals’ power-brokers to keep his seat but to stand down for another interim leader chosen by the caucus — Anne McLellan comes to mind, arguably the ablest current minister.
At this moment it is hard to read how dissatisfied current Liberal MPs are with Paul Martin’s leadership. My guess is they are more lukewarm than hostile. As yet there is no movement within the caucus working for his departure.
More significantly, no one in politics or journalism has divined any emergence within the caucus of an alternative leader. Chretien, in torpedoing John Turner, and Paul Martin in sinking Chretien, may have put an end to that most hallowed of Liberal virtues, “Loyalty to the Leader.” If so, you wouldn’t know it today. There are no signs of disloyalty to Martin.
There are other cracks in any likelihood of an early or voluntary Martin departure. There’s his money. He has plenty — and it has already talked. He is also likely to live a long and healthy life, an inheritance from both parents. Although Junior is nearing 70, remember his father was politically active to his 80s. And a lot of prime ministers were “seniors” when they left office: Mackenzie King at 74, Louis St. Laurent at 75; Mike Pearson at 71; John Diefenbaker at 68; Jean Chretien at 71.
Reflect on how Martin Jr. rose to the top. He used both his own money and shrewd outside-government contracts to establish and sustain a tight group of advisers — the so-called “Earnscliffe Gang” which is still largely in place. One finds it hard to imagine the Earnscliffers, who have served Paul Martin so absolutely for so long, letting him disappear quietly from the PMO.
To close my doubts about a quick Liberal replacement of their leader in the next year or two I’ve run through a list of prospective leaders, as speculated on in the press. Beginning with the four “most rumoured” aspirants: Frank McKenna, ambassador to the U.S. and former premier of New Brunswick; John Manley, former minister of finance and of industry; speed-talker Irving Cotler, the present minister of justice; and Michael Ignatieff, a Pierre Trudeau type, i.e., an intellectually gifted would-be politician.
Then come some Chretien ministers, once aspirants: Sheila Copps, Allan Rock, Brian Tobin and Martin Cauchon. Joe Volpe, presently minister of immigration, is thought to be bound for a leadership bid.
Ken Dryden and David Emerson, recruited as “star” candidates, were seen early on as leadership hopefuls but have since made similar, dull impacts in both caucus and the House.
Two Tories recruited by Martin, Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach, are seen as aspirants. Brison has excelled in the House and he is shrewd and gay, a strong combination. Stronach has money, but has yet to create her own “Earnscliffe” cabal.
A review of these people taken to aspire to the Liberal leadership tells me there isn’t an exceptional prime ministerial candidate in the lot. My point in running through the list is this: Doesn’t Paul the Ditherer now seem less wanting?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 13, 2005
ID: 11910705
TAG: 200511130282
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Anyone who has spent a long time in federal Ottawa will recall periods when an election call loomed for too long, caused by much flim-flam and pious jockeying. Today, the most obnoxious effect of such has been the swelling “persona” of the fourth party leader — Jack Layton.
So much partisan righteousness dominating political news has also affected the media swarm surging around the leaders’ election blather. They are jeering all the spinners and increasingly zeroing in on the opposition leaders, bearing down hardest on their least favourite, Stephen Harper (and taking it easiest on Prime Minister Paul Martin).
It seems clear that two NDP veterans, Ed Broadbent (a former leader) and Bill Blaikie (a would-be one), got to smilin’ Jack last week. They convinced him and his brain trust that he had over-puffed himself about the good things for plain folk which he had levered into the last Martin budget.
Layton should have been told of the exceedingly high hopes for big gains expected by two previous leaders of pivotal minor parties in minority parliament — Bob Thompson, head of Social Credit in the 1962-63 House, and David Lewis, head of the NDP in the 1972-74 House. Both had intense, often favourable media coverage from day one of their parliaments and were rather kindly treated by the respective prime ministers.
After the House votes which killed the last Diefenbaker government and the second Trudeau government, both Thompson and Lewis expected to be a top daily story in the campaign which ensued. This never happened.
They were hardly a factor. The media focused on the leaders of the two older and bigger parties, the ones with the obvious chance of winning. Both Thompson and Lewis told me they expected to win many more seats, given their recent “great press.” Such never shaped up; indeed, Lewis was defeated in his Toronto riding and his electoral career was over.
Now Layton, waving the flag of Tommy Douglas’ great part in achieving national medicare, has set before us the complex issue of absolutely outlawing private-sector medicine, and he’s been rebuffed by a prime minister who seems braver now than last spring, and no longer so needful of NDP backing.
The sages at Jack’s side, Broadbent and Blaikie, surely pointed out the urgency of putting behind them the appearance that they support this “corrupt” government.
Layton listened, and in concert they dreamed up a high-minded evasion of an election over the Christmas season.
They envisage the two other opposition caucuses joining behind an NDP motion and vote in the House later this month which sets an end of parliamentary sittings at Dec. 8, but no dissolution until early January, which would trigger an election to be held before mid-February.
Surely no prime minister of recent times, not even Kim Campbell, would swallow such a proposition. What this scheme is more likely to do is embolden Martin to move resolutely to pull the pin — prorogue Parliament before Christmas, after first proudly emphasizing the good tidings for electors in the financial statement to be unveiled tomorrow by Ralph Goodale, finance minister.
The MPs would go home, work for their re-elections while awaiting parliament’s dissolution — which Mr. Martin could do on his lonesome sometime in mid-January. He could then choose an election date late in February, well after Justice John Gomery’s second report is published. You can imagine the Liberal theme in the campaign ahead. Give us a constructive majority, free from the turmoil of minority government.
There is scant evidence of any change in the media pack’s attitudes since the last election. Then they were by and large antagonistic to Harper — particularly the women reporters. This was a problem the Conservative leader handled badly. Now, at least, he has had lots of time to plan mastering such a bias with wit and good humour.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, November 06, 2005
ID: 11908402
TAG: 200511060377
SECTION: Comment
Wrong for job
2. photo of PAUL MARTIN
Knew nothing?
COLUMN: The Hill


I am disappointed by Justice John Gomery’s report on AdScam.
Why? Because he takes little account of the role senior mandarins play in the federal government and no account of either the federal political realities surrounding the governing Liberal party of Canada, nor of ministerial responsibility.
My conclusion is that Gomery, particularly because of his Quebec anglophone background, was the wrong man for this job.
First, the mandarins. Gomery writes next to nothing about our senior bureaucrats, headed by the Clerk of the Privy Council. Each of some half a hundred worthies — the deputy ministers — owes his or her appointment to the prime minister of the day. Aside from references to one DM — Ranald Quail in Public Works — and to the warning given to Jean Chretien by his privy council clerk, Jocelyne Bourgon, Gomery takes no interest in why no one in this elite blew the whistle on the “unity” file’s wildcat operation.
A lot of them certainly knew it was underway, branded as “urgent” after the thin federal victory in the 1995 Quebec referendum. Forget what the mandarins will tell you — that they are non-partisan. They know who governs Canada most of the time — Liberals! They know who makes or breaks their careers. In the case of AdScam, they stayed mum.
Why did Gomery seemingly back away from telling it like it was — and is — regarding the Liberal party, given its chronic misuse in office of public funds and patronage? The political realities of Liberal partisan power simply escape attention.
Then there is the theory of ministerial responsibility — gutted, in my opinion, by Gomery. Paul Martin was finance minister through the years as AdScam unfolded. He sat on Treasury Board, the cabinet committee which oversees government spending. He is a Liberal MP from Quebec. Everyone knew he wanted to succeed Jean Chretien as prime minister.
Indeed, through the AdScam years, Martin and his Earnscliffe counsellors worked on gaining control of Liberal constitutency organizations in Quebec. How could they have missed AdScam? Finally, Martin grew up in the bosom of the Liberal party, at the knee of a prominent cabinet minister and former federal public servant — his father, Paul Martin Sr.
Gomery’s whitewash of Martin is both thorough and repetitious. Do not tell me that Paul Martin knew nothing, that he bears no responsibility for AdScam’s activities. I have disbelieved this line since 1999, when a veteran Liberal MP from Ontario, more in sorrow than anger, sketched for me the modus operandi of the boondoggle, and how those in caucus who fretted about it were told to look the other way. This program, directed by the boss, Chretien, was imperative.
This leads me to Gomery himself. He is that disappearing rarity in Quebec, an English-Canadian of high attainment. Before accepting this inquiry assignment, Gomery spent 23 years on the Quebec Superior Court bench, to which a previous Liberal government appointed him in 1982.
My supposition is that as an anglo Quebecer, Gomery almost certainly shared the conventional political wisdom which emerged in the 1970s and still holds sway — that in the face of a separatist political movement there, the best, indeed the only available remedy, was the Liberal Party of Canada. No federalist Quebecer with an ounce of concern about separatism would have bet on the Conservatives to carry the day in a referendum (except perhaps Brian Mulroney’s Tories).
Judges in Canada are hallowed as independent and apolitical beings, but they are in reality no different from you and me. It is hard for me to imagine even Gomery’s considerable judicial experience detaching him from the anglo Quebecer’s belief that the federal Liberals were and are the answer to Quebec’s future in Canada.
AdScam badly hurt the Liberals’ electoral chances in Quebec. To blame an ex-PM is one thing. To blame Paul Martin too would have been, according to this theory, fatal to the one party capable of keeping Quebec in Canada.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 30, 2005
ID: 11905653
TAG: 200510300383
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


What a botch-up!
Ottawa and Queen’s Park are trading potshots over the fouled water supply of the Kashechewan Cree Indian reserve on the western shore of James Bay. A medical adviser has counselled abandoning the community and moving its roughly 1,000 people elsewhere. Spurred by Premier Dalton McGuinty, planes have been lifting the most physically-affected Kashechewans to southerly facilities.
However far this exodus goes, it, and the health and water problems intrinsic to so many reserves, should raise a question for all Canadians: Is it not time we collectively faced the reality that confronts isolated Indian villages, far from economic activity, opportunities for work and amenities?
Why not bring such natives closer to most other Canadians and their all-purpose communities?
Two boreal forest towns, the Pas in Manitoba and Sioux Lookout in northwestern Ontario, could be models. In these two communities, natives who are a sizeable minority seem self-reliant, functioning with confidence with their own leaders and agencies yet with interaction with non-Indians. The vitality in these two towns is such a contrast to the dozing pall of lethargy one finds in the all-Indian reserves, most of which lie far from mainstream Canada.
More and more young aboriginals vote with their feet for town or city living, for the Pas or Winnipeg or Kenora or Thunder Bay. Nearly half the Indians with “status” in a reserve-based band now no longer live there. Also, many reserves have grave housing and health problems, plus the blights of gas sniffing, alcohol addiction, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Working in the band office is the only constant source of work. Most suffer from isolation, a lack of things kids want to do, a high birth rate, domestic violence, and the quick rundown to ruin of new housing provided by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
Aboriginals as recently as WW II were sustained by hunting, trapping and fishing — now closed by a lack of game and fish.
A large-scale effort has gone into improving schooling. Band councillors are responsible for a curriculum which fits their culture and beliefs. Unfortunately, students find it difficult to achieve provincial scholastic standards, making it hard to go far in secondary schools.
It’s rare to find well-founded, well-managed aboriginal communities in the boreal forest regions. Housing, hygienic standards and sanitary facilities are scrappy; house and garden pride random. Most reserves reflect the sorry consequences of common ownership of property (mandated by the Indian Act).
In any debate on “the Indian problem” there should be discussion of “status.” There are adults who look “white” but who have “status” and are official Indians, entitled to medical care, education and welfare. One also meets those who look like Indians, but no longer have or never had “status.”
Those who speak for Indians and Metis claim there are 1.3 to 1.5 million aboriginals. The actual registered total, meaning those with “status,” is between 700,000 and 800,000.
When I first came to Ottawa 50 years ago, there were only 200,000 status Indians. It’s time our politicians and demographers got the numbers straightened out, if there is a huge gap between those who have “status” and those who haven’t. Fairness dictates we deal with it.
In 1957 the annual Indian Affairs budget ran to some $60 million ($437 million in today’s dollars). Now it is well over $7 billion a year — a 16-fold increase.
Let’s use the tainted water mess as a way into re-thinking the worth of reserves in the isolation of the deep bush.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 23, 2005
ID: 12206861
TAG: 200510230693
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Our health system and the worrying state of political ethics were tied last week at the top of opinion polling by GPC Research. The pollsters had sought to know the national issues which federal electors are most concerned about.
For many years, the health system has repeatedly been a top priority of citizens, whereas the strong electoral resentment at the lack of integrity in politics is a relatively fresh antagonism. At present, like health, it bothers 16% of those queried. This concern was highest in Ontario and much less active in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.
If this result is solidly based, one thinks of its possible significance to Paul Martin’s Liberals, whom other polling this week revealed had raised their margin over Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to 15 points.
The Martinites must be desperately appraising what might be done to alter the grim attitude Quebec voters seem to have settled on in rejecting them so firmly. The Bloc Quebecoi lead is now such that if it were to hold until a spring election, the Liberals could lose a dozen or so Quebec seats.
In Ontario, if the high ethical concern of voters in Ontario persists — as it may, given the upcoming reports from the Gomery inquiry — the Conservatives seem likely to hold most of the Ontario seats they have (25) and even win a few more in rural and hinterland Ontario, where there is little fervour for same-sex marriage.
One can conclude that another minority government is a near certainty, with as strong and probably a stronger force of both Conservatives and New Democrats.
Ontario voters have in the past wanted to back the federalist party which is strongest in the constitutionally keystone province next door. So, if the Grits cannot provide a sizeable caucus of MPs from Quebec, why not vote in Ontario for a candidate of another party — the Conservatives or the New Democrats? At least neither of these carries the stench of the many ethical abuses and bureaucratic incompetence of the Liberals’ 12 years in office.
One of the scant bits of political wisdom I have come to accept from decades of following parliament and federal elections is this: Voter anger, even rage, may be formidable when election campaigns start but often dies because voters tire of extremely righteous, repetitious attacks on the governing villains. Far more effective against the allegedly corrupt is to mock them with humour and irony, more with pity than anger.
Back in 1965, Richard Gwyn wrote a splendid “quick” book called The Shape of Scandal. Before covering Lester Pearson’s hectic, lurching years as prime minister, from 1963 to the close of his first mandate with the 1965 election, Gwyn backtracked almost to Confederation to note that our electoral politicking had only centered on five great federal scandals in which substantial moneys and favours were involved.
As I recall Pearson’s years in power and compare his swatch of scandals with those we’ve had in the last years of Jean Chretien and now Martin, it seems there was more genuine outrage then than is loose against against the Liberals today. And the public’s attitude to scandal then was more earnest in the mid-1960s, whereas today it seems more cynical.
Early in the 1965 election, opposition parties seethed at Liberal corruption and the misadventures of a handful of cabinet ministers. Nevertheless, the emphasis on scandals in government soon faded, supplanted before election day by issues like the new flag, a national pension plan, official bilingualism, and Quebec’s place in Confederation. It was almost as though condemning the incumbents’ misdeeds by and large backfired on those who mongered scandal on the hustings.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 16, 2005
ID: 12204257
TAG: 200510160264
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Final Say


Last year he was “the ditherer.” This year Paul Martin is more “the panderer,” pandering profusely to an array of interests.
There have been surprising suggestions from the Martinites — for example, to begin the practice of reserving one of the Supreme Court’s nine seats for an aboriginal; or to forge a crash program doubling our immigration intake to 500,000 a year.
Both are stupid propositions.
Even on days the House sits in Ottawa, the PM has often been away, pandering in “photo-ops” near and far. We’ve seen a benign prime minister, shadowed by his loftiest minister, Ken Dryden, announcing major sums to provinces for “national child development daycare,” intended to complete Canada’s public education system from infancy through university.
We’ve seen many mayors, sometimes with a premier in sight, beaming alongside the PM and his municipal minister, John Godfrey, as praise is lavished on the newest frontier for federal spending, i.e., sharing a proportion of Ottawa’s gasoline tax take with the cities for infrastructure maintenance.
We also have witnessed Liberal devotion to the private sector, including a beaming Martin shoveling dirt, symbolically, to indicate another big grant to a Toyota plant in Ontario.
And far from dithering, we have had a daring Martin manoeuvre in New York a week ago that may prove as historic in Canada-U.S. relations as the shrewd, rude refusal by his predecessor Jean Chretien to order Canadian forces into Iraq.
Since Martin returned from his tough speech, he has not softened his suggestive linking of a switch from the U.S. to China and India as the major market for our oil and natural gas exports. This shift — to retaliate for American wooden-headedness about our softwood lumber exports — seems to me improbable if not impracticable, but it does match the anti-American mood of Canadians.
The New York speech was far bolder than I expected. It might be soon fudged and forgotten, or it could be the first giant move in a lengthy Liberal project to reclaim our economic sovereignty. What a keystone that would be for a Martin campaign!
Naturally, the public outside Alberta would initially back Martin’s tit-for-tat strategy of switching to other buyers for such a major, lucrative export trade. After all, the key opponents of the switch, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and federal Conserv ative leader Stephen Harper, do not have many fans east of Manitoba, where the seats surely will make up most of a Liberal majority.
In contrast to a benevolent Martin, smiling and awarding funds and projects along a trail of election-cocked deeds, we have a seemingly reticent Harper again being found churlish, this time about the future of his No. 2, Peter MacKay.
Somehow the Liberals and the main chorus of reporters on the federal beat are in sync on Harper’s failure this past summer to make any gains despite barnstorming and picnicking.
As part of the accumulating evidence that Harper should go for the good of his party, the Liberals and reporters point to the failure his Conservatives to much improve their standing in opinion polls. Martin has even been bold enough on the American issue to criticize both Klein and Harper for failing to back him on American discrimination against our exports.
Martin, however, should heed the warning given to those who live in glass houses. His own popularity figures have not much improved despite his boldness with the Yanks and the largesse he and Ralph Goodale, his finance minister, have been strewing so generously, asserting as they go that Canadians want more and better services, not tax cuts.
My hunch is the panderer has gone too far, both on the American front and in over-committing and overspending. He risks finding that many voters would prefer income tax cuts to his multitudinous new spending. And corporate Canada will be leery of confronting the Yanks for long.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 09, 2005
ID: 12201803
TAG: 200510090300
SECTION: Comment
ILLUSTRATION: photo by Tom Hanson, CP
Svend Robinson addressing a point in the House of Commons in 2002.
COLUMN: The Hill


Svend Robinson, now 53, is thinking of running as the NDP candidate for Vancouver Centre in the next federal election, the seat now held by veteran Liberal, Hedy Fry. Svend was the MP for a suburban Vancouver riding from 1979 to 2004 but withdrew from politics after he was convicted for stealing an expensive diamond (a gift for his male partner).
B.C., and Vancouver in particular, have a long history of embracing zealots and mavericks as political heroes — Svend among them. He seems to be held in high regard in the Lower Mainland as the first openly gay MP and for his strong anti-American criticisms and his crusade for human rights and redress for aboriginals. Should he run, he could well defeat Fry.
Svend explained that one factor in thinking about a return to politics had been his discovery that his crime had been influenced by mental difficulties associated with a “bipolar disorder.” In short, this disorder explains to some degree why he did something so stupid as to lift a ring on open display and why he had what used to be called a nervous breakdown on being caught.
Should any of us, in or out of politics, be judging his possible candidacy in light of his theft? Or, has he suffered enough for that mistake and does he now deserve redemption, in particular for the past leadership he gave to a much misunderstood and abused segment of our country and its communities — i.e., homosexuals? After all, his good work on behalf of the cause helped win passage of the recent “same sex” legislation. Besides, politically speaking, Svend is still young, and we are warned from his past performances that he is brash and aggressive. It would make for a more sensible and intelligent parliament if he chose to return and perhaps become a House procedural expert and NDP justice critic. However, before I declare him elected, the point needs to be made that Svend has a legacy on the Hill itself which he needs to bury before that can happen.
Let me go back to Svend’s years as an MP, from 1979 to 2004 and assess how he stood in the seven NDP caucuses during that stretch. Not so well. He was distrusted and feared by most of his fellow NDP MPs as a “showboat,” a “loner,” an unpredictable publicity hog.
Here was a caucus colleague who was more a debit than an asset to them in their ridings. Yes, Svend worked prodigiously hard. But he was also superb at developing scenarios for his particular issues that led to embarrassment for others — just recall his oft-televised appearances on picket lines and forest roads, or from foreign sites like Iraq and Israel. Or shouting at U.S. president Ronald Reagan during his visit to the House of Commons. For many New Democrats, Svend really was the dubious member in the NDP parliamentary team.
Svend was a candidate at the NDP’s leadership convention in 1995 that chose Alexa McDonough. He ran well and seemed to have a chance on what would have been the last ballot — but withdrew his name. There were two explanations for this decision I heard from his fellow MPs; neither was that he knew he couldn’t beat Alexa. One line was he had realized his much promoted sexuality would keep him from ever having a country-wide appeal to blue-collar voters as the NDP leader; the other was that he had really run to show the flag for gays but knew that as leader he couldn’t possibly handle the deep doubts about his judgments and behaviour among his House colleagues.
Svend has one advantage if he undertakes a second run. Compared to past Houses, this one has a number of openly lesbian and gay members. Each party caucus has at least one, the governing party a handful. One of them, Public Works Minister Scott Brison, who is only 38 but has been an MP for eight years, has so far been the only oratorical star in the entire Martin cabinet, so much so that some Liberals think he would make a good leader and prime minister.
Here is another topical sign that being homosexual is not a drawback with voters. Opinion polling in Quebec for the Parti Quebecois leadership contest now underway shows a gay candidate ahead by a good margin.
Yes, like it or lump it (as the saying goes) there’s been significant social-political change since Svend Robinson declared himself “out of the closet” late in the last century.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, October 02, 2005
ID: 12706149
TAG: 200510020373
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


In 1945, the first novel I read after coming home from the war against Germany was a new one by Montrealer Hugh MacLennan, titled Two Solitudes. Yes, the one Madame Jean, our new Governor General, alluded to last week when, in her first remarks as Her Excellency, she said:
“The time of the two solitudes that for too long described the character of the country is past.”
Two Solitudes, the novel, has had much impact on Canadian opinion, because its plot updated the core Canadian dilemma going back to 1760.
Indeed, this dilemma of duality was summarized famously more than 100 years before MacLennan’s novel when, after the 1837 rebellions in the Canadas, Lord Durham reported to London of “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state — a struggle not of principles but of races.”
Anyone in our military in northwest Europe through the fall of 1944 and into spring of 1945 knew how desperately depleted our infantry ranks had become. This crisis at the front became a crisis in Ottawa over whether to send “the zombies” over. The latter were several thousand well-trained conscripts, most of them French-Canadians, who refused under great pressure “to go active” and be posted overseas.
Thankfully, the crisis in Canadian politics slowly eased as the Germans retreated. Eventually the “zombies” were sent and a few did fight in the last weeks of the war. The racial aspects of the crisis chilled political parties and (I believe) most thoughtful citizens. Lester Pearson retained his concern for the “two nations” issue. When he became PM in 1963, he launched a royal commission on bilingualism and biculturalism.
By the time of Pierre Trudeau’s succession in 1968, federal promotion of bilingualism had become a national goal, whatever the costs. Many federal officials would have to meet high bilingual standards. Grants from Ottawa helped promote “French immersion” in schools in every province.
There was, of course — and continues to be — a buzz of protest from those who felt the programs flouted the “merit” principle and gave an unfair advantage to French Canadians. But there was also — and continues to be — a rather astonishing high-mindedness and optimism that Canada was on its way to a genuine French-English bilingualism.
Nonetheless, a lot has happened to alter this vision of bringing the “two solitudes” together. Quebec has held two vivid referendum campaigns on sovereignty in which federalists won but separatists showed their movement strong and durable.
Clearly, one of the “solitudes” had an element that enjoyed the idea of solitude. What was happening in the other?
Well, the steady prate for bilingualism (i.e., French) began to give way to multiculturalism, which took its cues from the changed immigration policies under Trudeau. The number of immigrants coming, in particular from Asia, rose quickly while European immigration slid. With them and other immigrant groups came the promotion of multiculturalism, a policy which emphasized that immigrants could retain their ethnic and religious values; no need to drop them to adopt the majority’s values, whose roots go back to the two mother countries, Britain and France.
My hunch is that multiculturalism has weakened the anglo “solitude” in Canada — which has been further weakened by our deep absorption in American culture. The franco “solitude,” meantime, has retained its solidarity.
Consequently, it seems to me that only one of the heralded “solitudes” of old remains — the Quebecois in Quebec.
The other and more populous one is confused and in a dither, not much interested in Quebec and thinking grandly, yet vaguely, like our prime minister.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 25, 2005
ID: 12704826
TAG: 200509250355
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Tomorrow the MPs of a fractious minority House of Commons reconvene. How long will it last?
I think the odds are one in four that it will still be there in January. In short, before the Christmas break there is unlikely to be either a successful non-confidence vote or a dissolution before the prime minister seeks one.
Yes, MPs would like to get the election out of the way, but not so badly that they want to trigger one which will produce either more of the same or a Liberal majority.
The torture of uncertainty is on the minds of MPs of all parties more than most will ever let on. And so the House is likely to remain rife with alarms until the first Gomery report is published. The second and final report will of course be, as PM Paul Martin has promised, the 30-day warning for an election call.
Is there anything that might change the odds against a pre-holiday defeat of the government in the House? Yes — opinion polling which shows the Liberals regaining strength in Quebec, making gains in B.C., and holding strong in Ontario. Martin could alienate the NDP, recently his saviours, or turn Bloc Quebecois MPs into destroyers of his government. He could then argue the House must be packed in because it has become impossible to make progress on his agenda.
The much longer shot is that another scandal will emerge to plague the Liberals. I say this because Ottawa gossip this past week or so is laced with rumours of a patronage scandal about to break concerning the Ontario operations of a federal department. It is hard to imagine that this House could endure weeks of uproar over more allegations of fraud.
Another factor sure to sharpen the nastiness of this House is the continuing animosity, particularly in the media, to Stephen Harper. It has been easy to foment among former Progressive Conservatives from Ontario eastwards who joined the new Conservative Party but dislike and want rid of Harper.
One supposes he and the substantial body of western MPs who strongly support him will make the case that he is an intelligent, diligent leader. But you can be sure that neither the Liberals nor the press gang will leave this Conservative boil to heal. The torment might reach the stage that the Conservative caucus prefers a quick election before “get rid of Harper” becomes a nationwide refrain.
The key man, however, in whatever unfolds will be Martin. To be fair to Harper, why not consider how safe Martin is as leader of the Liberals? In the short run, i.e., to and through an election, he’s okay. In the longer run, there has been open talk speculating on the talents of two splendid, considerably younger prospects as his successor: Michael Ignatieff, a highly-respected, international “egghead,” and Frank McKenna, now barking back next door as our man in Washington.
Even among the many media women and men keen on ejecting Harper from politics, there is an awareness that Martin has not earned genuine plaudits as a prime minister. Within the party, not all appreciate him nor cherish a long stay.
Last week, Martin gave a very long speech in Ottawa to several hundred of his government’s top officials. To anyone who has followed Martin speeches closely, this one was high-flown.
Given the apparent disfavour in which so many Canadians hold Harper, polling continues to show the Liberals have no guarantees of a majority parliament. Surely this signifies Martin’s failure to capture broad approval. And this in turn comes from so many years of his very big talk, especially of reforming politics and government, while providing little of substance and a governance too like that of his predecessors.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 18, 2005
ID: 12703641
TAG: 200509180300
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Peter Newman’s new book, The Secret Mulroney Tapes, is basically a grab bag of comments by others, mostly criticizing Brian Mulroney, abetted by Mulroney’s own profanities and enormous self-praise (e.g., as Canada’s second greatest prime minister since Sir John A. Macdonald).
I think this is the poorest book yet in a score Newman has produced about Canadian politics, politicians, tycoons and companies. Poor, because it is so unfair. Neither man originally expected that this kind of use would be made of the tapes.
The greatest irony in the long relationship between the two men is that they are so alike as to be Siamese twins, bound together by high self-regard and hypersensitivity to criticism. Both are so thin-skinned!
I first met Brian Mulroney in 1958. He was 19 and I was a recently elected CCF MP from northwestern Ontario. Two years later I came to know Peter Newman. Then 31 and a writer-editor for Macleans, he was fairly new in Ottawa.
I’ve had on-again off-again relationships with both until recent times. In 1960, it wasn’t hard to figure that career-wise, the two would make it big. Each shared the other’s fascination with and great expectations of tycoons and “power.”
Since my first encounters with both men, I have had considerable to do with them, in part because of my quickly-given regard for their immense talents and ambitions. Nonetheless, Newman has several times sent me to “Siberia” for less than favourable mentions of one of his productions.
It wasn’t that I’d decided he was no longer the ablest, most interesting political writer of my years in Ottawa; simply that I disagreed with a lot of his judgments, especially his fascination with and reverence for corporate heroes like Conrad Black and Paul Desmarais.
Once, in 1962, Newman and I were walking together through a restaurant. We passed a group of Conservatives gathered around a Tory cabinet minister who asked me in a loud voice why I was with a “Jew-boy.” I was dismayed. Peter was very hurt. I advised him to toughen up. He couldn’t do his kind of political analysis without arousing the ire of politicians.
He seemed to agree, but his skin never seemed to get thicker. I recall that the late Dalton Camp told me once that he’d given similar advice to both Newman and Mulroney.
As for Mulroney, I was more constantly but less intimately connected with him than with Newman. From well before he entered electoral politics in 1976 to the end of his parliamentary days in 1993, Mulroney helped me several times as I tried to advance reforms in forestry practices, Indian programs, and Canadian participation in world-class sport.
I was fascinated by how he kept on growing in public performance, demonstrating an oratory more commanding even than that of the polysyllabic wonder, Stephen Lewis.
Unfortunately, Mulroney has never been able to let go of the public’s view of him, insisting that Canadians really did not hate or distrust him and that his achievements as prime minister have been ruinously downgraded by a hostile media and an academe mesmerized by Pierre Trudeau.
The puffing up in Newman’s book of these so-called “secret tapes” combined with almost random opinions about Mulroney from rivals and some party colleagues, is engaging at times, but historically the book is of marginal import. Far less import, say, than Mackenzie King’s once-secret diaries.
Yet today fewer than two in 10 would know who King was, and far fewer would have any inkling of his diary’s contents. Sic transit gloria!

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 11, 2005
ID: 12925239
TAG: 200509110246
SECTION: Comment
ILLUSTRATION: photo by David J. Phillip, Reuters
A man walks through flood damaged streets in New Orleans two days after Hurricane Katrina.
COLUMN: The Hill


My family and I once had a marvelous time in New Orleans, welcoming the year in 1966. Ah, the French Quarter, the jazz in Preservation Hall, a “Bananas Foster” breakfast at Brennan’s, a paddlewheel tour of the Mississippi Delta.
Is the city’s celebrated ambience now forever lost to the Hurricne Katrina disaster? I’m sure not — but oh, the mess!
All of American officialdom knew such a catastrophe was inevitable, but never built dykes and pump stations that would be up to the task. This makes me increasingly morbid about humanity’s future — given our now-disastrous use and abuse of the Earth.
There have forever been floods, tsunamis, wildfires, earthquakes and storms. As our numbers grow and industrialization spreads, we have added to the list of terrors facing us by depleting the oceans of fish, destroying species everywhere, cutting great swaths through the world’s forests, and spewing enough pollutants into the sky that most researchers are now sure we are changing this planet’s climate in ominous ways.
We’ve gotten good at forecasting disasters. But our technical and theoretical capabilities generally outstrip our human ability to co-ordinate, undertake and ultimately to want to pay for solutions. Instead, we bumble and grumble when it comes to doing anything or even agreeing about what should be done.
Canada, with a comparatively small population, holds a major fraction of the Earth, rich in renewable and exhaustible resources. In spite of our small numbers, we have a lot of government, so it is often hard to get political decisions made in Canada. Yet in world terms, our governments are well-organized, moderately competent, and comparatively honest.
The solution might be to give a supranational regime — the UN perhaps — unparalleled powers to force nations to do the right things. But aside from the extreme unlikeliness of this ever happening, would we be ready to heed a global regime — guided by scientists and engineers, headed by outstanding politicians — responsible for supervising the use of the Earth’s and resources and stopping and remedying their misuse where possible?
Suppose the orders were to reforest large tracts in Canada or Brazil. Suppose they were for mass population shifts from dangerous flood plains, away from the lower U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts or the Ganges River. Not a chance! Consider how Canada has dithered on the Kyoto Accord and the U.S. has ignored it.
One recalls the Trudeau government’s National Energy Program of the 1970s. It is still unforgotten and unforgiven in the West. So today Albertans bridle at suggestions they share with other provinces the oil wealth resulting from record world oil prices.
And if co-operation for the sake of the Earth is made difficult by provincial and parochial opinions in Canada, think of the difficulties involved at the level of the UN, UNESCO et al.
Canadians are not unaware of the UN’s many frailties; its administration much befouled by the patronage and graft which mirror the political ethics of most third-world countries. Of course the UN and the other global agencies embody the political ambitions and enmities of their members. You can imagine the tensions there would be for Canada, a country endowed with thousands of lakes and rivers, if a survey of the globe’s water resources and humanity’s needs declared water-rich Canada should be a reservoir for water-poor nations.
So, regrettably, I despair of a good outcome in relations between humankind and the Earth.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, September 04, 2005
ID: 12924150
TAG: 200509040596
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Post-Labour Day, politics quicken. But for now, let me take advantage of the long weekend to reflect briefly on:
– The significance of Paul Cellucci’s new book on his years as U.S. President George Bush’s man in Ottawa;
– The death last week of Jim Jerome, whom I believe MPs liked best of all the post-war Speakers of the House;
– The request by Justice Minister Irwin Cotler for citizens’ advice in picking a new Supreme Court justice;
– The search by AdScam inquiry Justice John Gomery for public recommendations to shape his final report.

Former ambassador Cellucci’s book, Unquiet Diplomacy (Key Porter), is welcome in its harsh criticisms of PM Paul Martin’s government, and of Canadians’ recent bent to be holy and superior in their judgments of the U.S. and its president.
I believe the Martin government, and Canadians in general, have gone too far. Given Canada’s own wimpish shortcomings, why are we so censorious of America and its international stances? I am sure others take satisfaction, as do I, from Canada’s own version of Cellucci — Frank McKenna, our new ambassador in Washington. Unlike our PM, McKenna has at least been candid when criticizing the U.S.
The most pathetic anecdote in the Cellucci book depicts Martin ducking away from directly telling Bush that Canada would not join in America’s “missile defence” scheme. Timid, at the least! But fairer words might be “cowardly” or “deceitful.”

Jim Jerome’s House speakership, 1974-79, was a success by almost any scoring, and Jerome was rewarded for it by then-PM Joe Clark with an appointment as associate chief justice of the Federal Court of Canada. A boffo Speaker, he became an intermittent and slow case judge.
Chosen by Pierre Trudeau to preside over the longish parliament which preceded Trudeau’s loss in the 1979 election, Jerome’s was largely a happy House, with lots of partying on nights there were sittings.
It’s fair to say that after Jerome, the parliament buildings’ lights dimmed at night, abetted by the ending of night sittings and tightening curbs on services. One might even say that in Jerome’s absence they are unlikely ever to come back on.

Justice Minister Cotler seems to edge out Ann McLellan as the mouthiest of Martin’s ministers. Cotler is always flogging something positive like the permanent posting of an aboriginal to our Supreme Court, or even more explicit human rights, or a truly open (well, almost open) system of choosing judges.
But his ploy of advertising for citizens to recommend a lawyer able and ready to sit on the Supreme Court is a ridiculous exercise, a fraudulent waste of money and time.
Prime ministers cherish appointing judges more than they do senators. Consider the last two appointments to the big court — two left-wing feminists, arguably as promising as Bertha Wilson became in writing decisions which cost taxpayers millions.

Judge Gomery is going semi-public at stops across the land, canvassing people knowledgeable about government and politics. He mainly wants to know why cabinet ministers and their minions are so little held to account for their screwups.
What reforms might correct this? The problem is clear: Ministers and mandarins are rarely dismissed or demoted for bad leadership. It is blatantly obvious that “ministerial responsibility and accountability” rarely work. I can count on fewer than 10 fingers ministers or deputy-ministers fired for cause since I started to watch the Hill in 1957. Many more should have been.
Why waste time, money and hope on a principle that hasn’t worked and won’t work, given the partisan system and its traditions in Canada?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, August 28, 2005
ID: 12922977
TAG: 200508280653
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Are Paul Martin’s Liberals a cinch to win in the winter campaign ahead?
Since the end of Justice Gomery’s hearings, most of us in or covering politics have come to believe they are, although some think they may not come back with a workable majority of 160 or more MPs. Still, a clear four-year Liberal run seems a strong possibility.
David Herle remains the Liberals’ national campaign chief. Herle was key in fashioning Paul Martin’s so-called “juggernaut” which both ousted Jean Chretien and, in the late days of the last election, saved at least a minority government victory from going to Stephen Harper and the new Conservative party.
Last week in Regina, before the Liberal caucus of MPs and senators, Herle and his campaign team reported on the way to and through the election, which is nigh certain by midwinter.
One MP present said Herle had indicated “we could snatch a majority government without Quebec,” through big gains in B.C. and Ontario.
Herle’s most significant evidence for the gathering was based on repeated opinion polling showing Canadians again want the predictable quiet and stability of a majority government. As well, Jack Layton’s big blip, earned when the New Democrats’ busy, upbeat leader pushed added value into the last budget, has collapsed, as has the NDP’s share of electoral favour.
Herle was candid enough to warn Liberal MPs about the two most serious problems they will face: The stink of corruption and thievery lingering after the Gomery inquiry; and the curse of “time for a change” talk, given that the Liberals are looking for their fifth straight mandate. He also stressed that Martin will be a strong vote-getter for them, a judgment which some political voyeurs would challenge.
I would argue that the “Liberal brand” rates ahead of the leader in this go-around, as it did in the 1960s when Lester Pearson headed the party. Canadians in majority numbers never cottoned strongly to Pearson. My hunch is the same goes now for Martin.
Given repeated budget surpluses, remarkably low unemployment and general prosperity for most, the Liberals can argue with some credibility that Canada has rarely had it so good.
Further, since Chretien’s refusal to send our troops to Iraq, the federal government’s open criticism of U.S. global and trade practices continues to build momentum. Our several major problems with lumber and farm exports add to the ongoing distancing from the U.S.
These have deepened Canada-U.S. misunderstandings and have likely hurt Harper’s Conservatives, who are believed to back George Bush.
In addition, a majority of the political press have belittled Harper. Given his intelligence, rational opinions and ability to argue, he has been torn apart more fiercely than any official opposition leader in decades. (Yes, even more than Joe Clark or John Turner!) As Herle told his MPs, the Liberals will continue their campaign to keep Harper “marginalized” on the right. That is, there will be Liberal self-praise for legalizing same-sex marriages and evidence resurrected of anti-abortionists in Harper’s ranks.
So, few are likely to bet on a Harper-led win or a Martin-led loss. As one who regrets such a situation — largely because Martin seems such a lightweight — I remind myself that the Canadian electorate occasionally, very occasionally, surprises us.
The Liberals’ weakness in leadership is complemented by a huge, drab cabinet. There is also the fact that so many in the cabinet, caucus and bureaucracy knew about the various scams and schemes now coming to light. Simply put, the Liberal governments in this run of 12 years have been crooked ones.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, August 21, 2005
ID: 12921799
TAG: 200508210570
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


Last week a poll for CTV by The Strategic Counsel asked 1,000 Canadians what they thought was the most important issue facing Canadians today.
Health care topped a list of 11 concerns, chosen by 16% of those polled. Next, at 12%, came “other” social issues — presumably same-sex marriage, abortion, etc.
At the low end, only 2% of those polled thought either educational issues or the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal had top importance.
My own top issue did not even make the list. It happens to be one which Paul Martin himself gave priority to two years ago: The “democratic deficit.”
Why should Canadians care about this? Because most of the MPs they now elect do little of significance in shaping and evaluating either legislation or intelligent, consistent scrutiny of government spending.
A new report published by the Canada School of Public Service talks about creating a new regime of accountability. Authors Peter Aucoin and Mark Jarvis are blunt: MPs themselves are the major weakness in accountability of the public service. Theirs is not a robust scrutiny but a blame-and-call-names game, of rank partisan offence or defence.
Was there ever a golden age when each MP tried to be a watchdog of the public purse? Certainly not in my half-century watching the House. Take an example in Liberal budgets since the mid-1990s: Each has underestimated budget surpluses. It’s so consistent it has to be deliberate, despite calls by some MPs and business people that the taxes we pay should bear a closer relation to the amounts of money to be spent.
To go back to the CTV poll, it is disappointing that just 3% of those canvassed thought high taxes was the top issue and a mere 5% named government spending.
Canadians rarely are in a joint mood of respecting MPs. Most times, electors seem derisively unhappy about those they elect, seeing them as self-serving, rowdy, and given to juvenile antics. Such opinions are easy to draw from snippets of Question Period in the House. This display, so beloved by reporters, is a thoroughly stage-managed affair and has been a sham for a long time.
This is at the core of what has become a “haywire” Parliament, gone way too far in ingrained, mean, petty partisanship. True, MPs collectively represent their parties, but codes of party caucus do not give most of them free rein to concentrate on holding government to account.
The party system grew on Parliament Hill to giving over-ruling power to the leaders — not just the one who is PM, but all of them.
Cabinet government as practiced by Mackenzie King is gone. We have cabinets now of from 35 to 40 persons, but we no longer think of them as the executive council where decisions are made. What is still intact, however, from King’s day are the public service mandarins — anonymous men and women of deputy minister rank, who still function as close advisers to ministers and the prime minister.
But long ago they were supposed to be held responsible for lapses in good government in their domains. No more! They no longer are taken to be responsible for corruption and inefficiencies in their departments or agencies.
It is unfortunate that the democratic deficit became such a fun-making element in Martin’s idea files. He will want to forget it. There seems too much docility among the backbenchers of his caucus for any real reform of the House to begin there. And nor can we expect, given the iron rule of their respective caucuses by opposition leaders Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, and Jack Layton, any real curbing from them of the partisanship which blocks quality work at either legislating or scrutinizing.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, August 14, 2005
ID: 12630671
TAG: 200508140374
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: The Hill


The appointment of Michaelle Jean as governor general strikes me as putting an unnecessary strain on the longest, most dangerous fault line through our history, still unstable 17 decades after Lord Durham reported that in Canada, “I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state: I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races — deadly animosity … the hostile divisions of French and English.”
Madame Jean and her husband have been at the fore of political and cultural matters in Quebec for a couple of decades, to the extent that some sovereignists in Quebec are disappointed she will represent the Crown. They thought the couple favoured separatism. Whether they did or not, Jean is much more likely to be a focus of tensions in Quebec-Canada relations than Adrienne Clarkson ever was during her tenure.
One gets the impression that Jean has fire in her and will respond vividly to public criticism. I think that however undeserved it is, she will get much of it from outside Quebec, especially from the West, which believes Quebec has for generations been pampered by the federal government.
Meantime, separatists know a lush target when they see it as they continue their campaign for an independent Quebec.

The late Fred Tilston, VC, of the Essex Scottish Regiment, was the wisest World War II veteran I have known. During a trip through Holland’s war cemeteries, we talked about the discomfort he felt at times when being lauded for great bravery. In explaining this, he wished he could be like his fellow Victoria Cross winner, Ernest (Smokey) Smith, the gist being that Smokey was the easiest-going VC he knew.
Then he laughed and said Smokey of course was a private when he won the VC — and although he was afterward made a sergeant, he retained a private’s almost rollicking freedom of mind and behaviour. This included joshing about his bravery and his new, exalted rank.
Privates rarely win VCs and from my own WWII soldiering I cannot ever recall any of my fellow privates speculating they might win a “gong.” Smokey Smith was in this tradition.
I think WW II vets still on hand were pleased to see the fuss being made over Smokey’s passing last week — and he surely would be chortling at the all the fuss over him.

Reviews of William Johnson’s recent book, Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada, published by McLelland & Stewart, have tended to ask why Johnson bothered to go to such lengths about such a dull fellow. This shortchanges Johnson’s serious appraisal, which effectively makes the case from Harper’s written and spoken record that he “rates better than any other leader on the federal scene since Pierre Trudeau.”
Johnson is a journalist who has never hidden his opposition to Quebec separatism. He invariably supported Trudeau’s tough line against separatists and sovereignists.
Johnson makes the case that Trudeau’s and Harper’s studied analyzes of the Quebec situation are closely similar and logical.
Both have been consistently opposed to the federal government flying by the seat of its pants on what to do when the next referendum happens. It is hard to imagine a clearer exposition of the separation scenario and the mayhem it would cause without an agreed constitutional process.
The book is overwhelmingly weighted with this fundamental Canadian problem.
But Johnson, despite his high rating of Harper as an honest, able and open politician, does not hang back from setting out the now-familiar criticisms of Harper’s obvious shortcomings, including his detachment from and contempt for the press, his coldness and lack of flair as a public performer, and the overly bitter criticisms he makes of his partisan rivals.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, August 07, 2005
ID: 12628281
TAG: 200508070290
PAGE: 16
ALAN EAGLESON: The pivotal character


The 1972 Canada-Russia hockey summit still stirs passions. Patrick Kryczka, for example, has been working to have his late father Joe made a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, for his role in making the hockey summit happen.
In a recent news story, Kryczka said he wanted people to know that “it wasn’t just Alan Eagleson. There was a team, and Charlie Hay and Joe Kryczka were the lead negotiators.”
Another recent news story had Eagleson remarking that mentions of his role in the series have being disappearing, undoubtedly because of the shadow cast by his court convictions two decades later and the recall of his Order of Canada.
The events of ’72 interest me because I represented the Trudeau government on the board of Hockey Canada and the elder Kryczka was then president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), and Canada’s representative to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
In 1969, Hockey Canada had been created by the feds to supplement the CAHA in international hockey — to ice the best Canadian players (i.e., NHLers) and challenge the Soviet team, perennial champions in the IIHF’s annual world championship.
The IIHF prohibited professionals from playing on national teams. Canada’s national teams kept losing their best players to the NHL, and therefore repeatedly lost world championships while Russians won them, to the festering chagrin of Canadian fans. The Russians had great pride in their teams and wanted to play the professionals, but not if this cost them Olympic entry.
The NHL owners and managers — with the exception of Stafford Smythe, then co-owner with Harold Ballard of the Toronto Maple Leafs — had little enthusiasm for playing the Russians. Nor was the CAHA enthusiastic to represent such a plan at the IIHF. The NHL bigwigs figured any NHL team could wallop the Russians, as did lots of their players.
Trudeau had no particular interest in hockey but he had assured his sport minister, John Munro, of financial and diplomatic backing. As the government’s man on Hockey Canada’s board, I was involved in connecting and following the bargainers in this negotiation, working closely with a superb federal official, Lou Lefaive. We brokered the efforts and put out the fires of competing contempts and jealousies among the disparate cast in this populist play-the-Russians scenario.
The most useful, and also the most difficult, character was Alan Eagleson, leader of his own creation, the NHL Players Association (NHLPA). It was clear to me and Munro that Eagleson was the best bet for access to the best players, particularly in convincing the American owners of NHL teams not to blackball the effort. Eagleson had his own “union” reasons for a new track of play between national teams but as I came to know him, his motive was mostly sheer nationalism; he was outraged the USSR should be known as hockey’s champion.
Charlie Hay, a retired petroleum CEO, was Hockey Canada’s chairman. He concentrated on the NHL owners. The CAHA was represented at the Hockey Canada table by Joe Kryczka and secretary Gordon Juckes. The latter was shrewd and fair-minded whereas Kryczka was flamboyant, effusive, often belligerent. These were also traits of Eagleson, a fellow lawyer. It was noisy, often riotous when the two were at the same table.
Although Eagleson had done his own, indeterminate soundings with the Russians, Hay chose Kryczka and Juckes as his negotiating cohorts. Kryczka got along well with the Russians because he could speak their language.
After almost two years of preliminaries involving scores of hockey officials, in April 1972, the Hay-Kryczka-Juckes trio got an agreement with the Russians for a September series of eight games — four in Canada, four in the USSR. Once the agreement was signed, any public focus shifted from getting the series (which was Kryczka’s part in the event) and turned to the series itself.
Where would the games be played; how should tickets be sold; what referees would be used; who would manage, coach, and select the team, etc.? This is when Eagleson shot to the fore, fast becoming the leader and public face for all plans.
It’s forgotten that he bought the TV rights for $750,000, plus a big share of any profits beyond that — when it was far from certain there would be any profit. Post-victory, we had more than broken even. It was clear the games had roused Canadians as never before.
Eagleson came with a lot of harsh talk and hyperbole, but by and large he delivered. It beats me why the Hockey Hall of Fame has not chosen the late Joe Kryczka as a “builder,” but whatever Eagleson’s subsequent transgressions, any fair dramatization of the ’72 series is fictional if he isn’t the most pivotal character in a large and bristly cast.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 31, 2005
ID: 12626348
TAG: 200507310285
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion


IT SEEMS unfair that in her last month or so as governor general, Adrienne Clarkson had the unpleasant task of accepting the recommendation of an Order of Canada committee to revoke David Ahenakew’s membership in the Order.
Clarkson has been so positive and graceful in office. What a contrast to Ahenakew’s vicious remarks against Jews and the incredible credence these statements gave to Nazi oppression.
Long before this cause celebre in this governor general’s term, my opinion had hardened on the point that Canadians by and large are still awkward about honorific appointments.
Likewise, they are uneasy about public positions of high rank going to citizens chosen by the prime minister or a premier, rather than by voters.
Few of us know anything about the post of governor general, there at the top of our official precedence (when the royal monarch isn’t with us). And we are also uneasy — I think, democratically, rather then jealously — about selecting citizens for national recognition. If we were a bit easier, say in the British fashion, about ranks, titles, and honours set within the national hierarchies of endeavors, only a few Canadians would have been sounding off against Clarkson for allegedly excessive spending during her term. Judging by letters to editors and opinion polling, a mighty legion of frugality worshipers dots the nation.
From the start, the governor general and her husband/consort, author John Ralston Saul, set out to enlarge the agenda of the Queen’s representative in Canada, with a strong emphasis on history and continuity. Her literate and careful critiques reflected much personal time and effort. Further, her arguments on such occasions were often complemented by Saul.
Adrienne Clarkson shaped gradually as a national personality, largely while becoming the preferred “presenter” of CBC television cultural programs. Such grace and pacing hasn’t been what we are used to from our governors general.
Personally, I had never imagined, before she got into the job, that Clarkson could offer so much engagement and vitality.
There are two requirements for her successor which are going to be hard to meet. The prime minister will find it difficult to find a French Canadian interested in the task (which is what we hear he wants) with the energy and engagement of the Clarkson-Saul team. It seems fair to say Quebecers are less interested in the royal representative than English Canadians, who are unlikely to be familiar with any Quebecer who might be chosen, unless he or she comes from federal Liberal ranks.
The blitz of criticism over the high costs of the post under Clarkson may mirror Canadians’ love of frugality, more than a criticism of the office itself. Remarkably few Canadians have any understanding of the office. The vital deeds the governor general carries out are few. Her or his signature signs legislation into law. And a new Parliament doesn’t really begin until a ceremonial reading of the “speech from the throne” by the governor general, even though its authors are officials of the prime minister.
It outlines the government’s program and intentions.
One cannot linger long over the few important things a governor general does without wondering why we have had so little discussion in Canada (so unlike Australia) about doing away with the monarchy, given the remarkable decline of Canadian interest in the British connection.
Now, to close on the Ahenakew controversy, the second expulsion from the ranks of the Order of Canada. The first was that of Allan Eagleson — not for hateful words but for a criminal conviction. It’s possible a third demand for expulsion could be along soon, given court cases in both Canada and the U.S. against Lord Black of Crossharbour. Of course, he long ago renounced his Canadian citizenship so his membership in the Order may simply fall away. But so far as I know, he is still a member of the Canadian Privy Council, an honour given by Brian Mulroney in 1992.
There is a risk in giving eternal honour awards to people before their record is rounded off. Ahenakew was young (45) and not a very experienced man when he was invested.
From my own experience with him when he headed the Saskatchewan chiefs in the late 1970s, he was given to rants and aggressive superlatives. I hope the bureaucrats in the late 1970s who “fast-tracked” him into the Order are ashamed.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 24, 2005
ID: 12520039
TAG: 200507240599
SECTION: Comment
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


CHIEF OF Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier’s comments a week ago after the first wave of London bombings — that al-Qaida members were “detestable murderers and scumbags,” and that our military’s role in its new mission to Afghanistan is “to be able to kill people” — have ruffled feathers in Ottawa.
The Toronto Star’s Jim Travers, in a column entitled “Hillier invades political terrain,” wrote that “the spectre of a general expanding his commentary from a mission to the underlying politics, foreign policy and core values is at least unusual … (and) downright unsettling when the reasoning behind the words is, to be charitable, suspect.”
Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, also apparently believing that Canadian generals should be seen and not heard, found Hillier’s comments “very aggressive.”
How typically Canadian. Travers’ comments are striking for both ignorance and arrogance. Hillier is not simply a general — he is Canada’s chief of defence staff, the government’s chief military advisor. As such, it is his job to speak to such issues, not only within the cloisters of government, but also to the public.
In other western capitals — Washington, London, Paris, or even Oslo or Stockholm — there is nothing extraordinary seen in senior officers speaking about their nations’ military plans.
That Travers and Co. were taken aback, shows it is not Hillier, but our media and political establishment who are out of step.
It should be noted that the general did have Ottawa boosters. While support from Tory defence critic Gordon O’Connor was to be expected, that from NDP leader Jack Layton was less so.
Smiling Jack found such “controlled anger, given what has happened” to be “an appropriate response … We have a very committed, level-headed head of our armed forces who isn’t afraid to express the passion that underlies the mission that front-line personnel are going to be taking on.”
Far more important than the General’s adjectives, however, were the cautions he offered regarding Canada’s new Afghanistan mission. Military, RCMP and Canadian International Development Agency personnel will form a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which will work around the southern city of Kandahar (the Taliban’s former heartland) to stabilize the area in advance of general elections planned for next September.
Lead elements of the mission have already departed and the general acknowledged that casualties are likely.
Canada’s politicians and media have paid little heed to recent developments in Afghanistan, where things are going badly.
The United States, which provides the bulk of the intervention forces in the country, is preoccupied with the war in Iraq.
While other NATO nations have rotated forces through the country, they have not been able to extend the central government’s writ much beyond the capital of Kabul (where Canadians previously operated). Afghani warlords continue to run amok, opium production is at record levels and the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies are seen to be strengthening their position in the countryside. The border with Pakistan remains a sieve.
Canada actively sought leadership of a PRT, seeing this as being much more in keeping with its self-proclaimed status of international do-gooder than its previous missions to Afghanistan, which involved joint combat operations with U.S. forces to hunt down al-Qaida and Taliban forces. Yet if anything, the new mission is likely to generate more bloodshed than its predecessors.
In Iraq, al-Qaida and local opposition forces routinely attack aid projects and workers. There is every reason to believe that al-Qaida and the Taliban will respond in the same way to Canada’s PRT efforts. Unlike Kabul, Canadians in Kandahar are likely to be much more exposed and less well protected.
General Hillier’s comments will wear well with the troops. He has been right and succinct on the nature of the enemy and the likelihood there will be killing. Further, our military is not in good shape for a heightened effort, if this becomes necessary and our troops are moving from a stability operation in Kabul to a peace-making role in Kandahar, where there is a shooting war.
The opening lesson from this Afghanistan engagement is stark: There really aren’t any easy, bloodless missions left for a truly internationalist Canada to take on.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, July 10, 2005
ID: 12514781
TAG: 200507100517
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 28
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


Two questions disturb me in my midsummer lull.
First, how was the coup of legalized same-sex marriage achieved? Who shaped it, who co-ordinated it from a long-shot prospect a few years ago to a clinched deal last month?
Second, how might Canada’s “natural opposition party,” the Conservatives, now led by Stephen Harper, respond to the fresh leadership contest shaping up within the federal Liberal party, now that we know of Michael Ignatieff’s bold determination to win a seat in the next election — on his way to becoming Liberal leader and prime minister?
Does the Ignatieff bid within the Liberals suggest an opportunity of comparable import for the Conservatives? Is there a conservative contestant who could compete in his league?
On the first issue, my theory is that to a remarkable degree, same-sex marriage was an “inside job” carried out within the federal Department of Justice, among the law clerks of Canada’s courts, and lawyers (largely women) in tune with the aims of gay organizations such as EGALE Canada. When the time came for crucial decisions supporting same-sex marriage, the senior courts were ready.
Indeed, by the time the House of Commons finally dealt with the matter, the issue was already a “fait accompli.”
Unless a provincial legislature or the House of Commons was willing to to use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution — and none were — it was the courts’ decisions that effectively became the law of the land (witness the flood of same-sex weddings, well before the new legislation passed in the Commons).
Long before even the court stage was reached, the single most important promoter of gay rights in Canada was Svend Robinson, the now-retired NDP MP from Burnaby.
The first elected federal politician to come out of the closet with a combination of social gall, bravery and stamina, Robinson rarely let a chance pass to advance the cause of homosexual rights. He was later joined by a gay member of the Bloc caucus, Real Menard.
It was apparent to me that this duo had the approval of most of the several hundred reporters, producers, and researchers who cover federal politics.
This media gang had become favourable to homosexual rights, just as they had become favourable to the end of capital punishment and a generally open abortion policy long before these matters were decided in the political arena.
This journalistic support showed up most particularly during the last election, especially in the hostility of reporters (again, largely women) towards Stephen Harper over his allegedly backward stance on same-sex marriage.
Much of this pro-gay edge in the media was blazoned after 1989 by one newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and its editor-in-chief in the 1990s, William Thorsell.
Rarely a week went by that the Globe did not advocate for homosexual rights in features, editorials, and news stories, all making the vigorous case for fair play and full citizenship for this too-long-persecuted minority.
CBC-TV news and public affairs also shifted into this attitude, seeing the homosexual “status quo” as an undeserved injustice, with the French side (Radio-Canada) leading the way long years before their English cousins took up the cause.
I have no conspiracy theory of a single mind or team which executed the legislative coup of same sex-marriage. But I am sure when the history is written in the next decade or so, it will have, aside from the media and two prominent gay politicians, women lawyers at its core.
Now let us look briefly at a Tory alternative to put up against the brilliant and sophisticated Michael Ignatieff.
I suggest David Frum. Like Ignatieff, he is a star in the United States. Like Ignatieff, he is from one of Canada’s best-known families, his late mother Barbara a heroine to a generation of Canadians through CBC radio and TV in the 1970s and ’80s.
Frum is a formidable debater and every bit as much a global analyst as Ignatieff, and one who has spent even more time examining and advocating conservatively minded political programs for Canadians.
Could he be the Conservative answer to the Liberal challenge posed by Ignatieff?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, June 19, 2005
ID: 12975475
TAG: 200506190500
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 26
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


Despite 17 years of so-called “access to information,” the culture of government secrecy still rules Ottawa and warps the way our democracy works.
Senior bureaucrats and cabinet ministers continue to resist having files pried from their hands. Their message — despite PM Paul Martin’s hypocritical talk about “transparency” — still is that government information belongs to us, not to taxpayers nor to their proxies in journalism.
How do they get away with it? Because Canadians by and large don’t care. We take it for granted that government information doesn’t really belong to the people.
Thank goodness, then, that we have a federal information commissioner whose job is to care on our behalf.
Consider John Reid, the current information commissioner, a former Liberal MP and cabinet minister. The parliamentary committee for information privacy and ethics last week recommended his seven-year term be extended by one year, pending legislation of a revamped Access to Information Act.
Martin, however, and senior bureaucrats are so displeased with Reid that they want rid of him.
I first met John Reid in 1959 when he was in his early 20s and aide to the Liberal MP from Kenora-Rainy River riding, Bill Benidickson. When Benidickson was elevated to the Senate in 1965, Reid won the riding and held the seat until 1984.
I was always partial to Reid because his huge constituency included my home town and I knew he was an effective MP.
When the information commissioner’s office came open in 1997, several of my acquaintances interested in parliamentary reform asked me who we might recommend.
Reid seemed like the right man to us, but we discovered that people in high places felt he was too independently-minded and persistent for their taste. Nevertheless, someone in government took a chance and Reid got the job.
I imagine the risk-taker was Jean Chretien himself, who later undoubtedly cursed the appointment when Reid insisted the then-PM’s daily agendas should be open to the public. Chretien said “no,” it landed in the courts, and is still not settled.
Most of the time the courts have backed Reid against government challenges, supporting his dogged determination that under the access-to-information law, all federal files, reports or correspondence ought to be available to any curious citizen.
But it is hard to be hopeful of more openness. Secrecy remains a fetish of the bureaucracy, the PMO and even the party caucuses.
For instance, several times a year the Auditor-General releases reports criticizing aspects of government operations. Parliamentarians then want answers from deputy ministers about the faults found by Parliament’s spending watchdog. But in order to ask good questions, MPs need good information — and that is routinely blocked or delayed by bureaucrats..
Ponder, too, the daily farce of question period in the House of Commons. Thanks to the secrecy fetish, we instead have a great waste of time and money masquerading as debate. Everyone is in on this fraud — government, opposition and the press gallery.
Question period is literally a show, scripted behind the scenes by well-paid writers, resulting in an often adolescent belittling of partisan enemies. And yet the whole schedule and agenda of parliamentary news is tied to this nonsense.
A lot that needs to be plumbed on behalf of taxpayers doesn’t get plumbed, while outside the House, the senior bureaucracy, led by the PMO-PCO, continues to curb any straightforward flow of information requested under access laws.
The sponsorship scandal is a case in point. It has taken an inquiry by Justice Gomery to begin getting at the truth. Now we have the spectacle of the Martin government last week asking Justice Gomery to declare before writing his report that both Martin and Chretien be cleared of any personal connection to the scandal. What secrecy there must be when the most powerful politicians in the land knew nothing of such a monstrous, long-running misuse of public funds!
In sum, the Access to Information law has done considerably less than hoped. There is certainly not going to be any country-wide chorus that Reid, a splendid agent for openness, be kept on for much longer.
Even more discouraging is the prospect of Belinda Stronach being responsible for the Martin government’s charge toward more transparency and less secrecy. Farewell, John Reid?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, June 12, 2005
ID: 12048346
TAG: 200506120511
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 29
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


This column is about government compensation being paid to two groups of citizens who say they’ve been wronged.
The smaller amount — $150-200 million — is for Canadian Indian veterans of World War II who allege they did not receive their just entitlements upon discharge after the war.
The other, much grander amount is the $4-10 billion expected to go to some 86,000 former students of Indian residential schools, which were run largely under church auspices and abandoned several decades ago. The idea now is to compensate all who attended, not just the minority who say they were abused.
Prime Minister Paul Martin has assigned Frank Iacobucci, a left-leaning ex-member of the Supreme Court of Canada, to study and answer the questions of how much and to whom.
In Canada, public guilt has been one of the best levers for prying loose big gobs of money from governments. Our greatest guilt, of course, is about the way Canada has mistreated its aboriginal people. It has been widely accepted for decades that they have the lowest standards of living, the poorest health, and the slightest economic chances of any group of Canadians.
This guilt began to flourish in the 1960s and ’70s, and federal spending on native programs has been growing ever since.
In 1958, when there were about 220,000 “status” Indians, the total federal budget for them was just under $200 million a year (about $1.4 billion in today’s dollars, according to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator). Today we have some 700,000 “status” Indians and total spending for them is close to $8 billion annually. As the prime minister said the other day, the only departmental budget that increased every year in the 1990s was that for Indian and Northern Affairs.
It’s been my thesis for many years that much of this money is unwisely spent. So, too, says the auditor general’s office; for two decades, no government department’s accounts have been more criticized than Indian and Northern Affairs.
I have a long experience with aboriginal people — I grew up among them in the northern Ontario bush, served with them in a regiment overseas in WW II, and was eight years the MP for a riding that stretched from Lake Superior to Hudson Bay and 400 miles east to west.
I’m bothered about the arguments that Indian soldiers deserve a bonus for unused and allegedly unoffered entitlements, because it doesn’t fit with the brains and capabilities of those with whom I served. They were half a dozen of the finest soldiers in our regiment — smart, tough, and brave — and not the kind who would have been suckers at discharge time.
What’s more, the army worked hard at making sure we all knew what our choices were: Free post-secondary education; apprenticeships in trades; a half-acre lot and a house; help in buying a farm; or a cash lump sum in lieu of other benefits.
One of my native comrades, Sgt. J.R. Spence, won the Military Medal for a wonderful act of courage. I laugh to think any official could ever have euchred him out of his veterans’ benefits.
I know that on the prairies, some Indian ex-soldiers were unable to get a farm of their own because regulations prohibited individual ownership of reserve land — and they didn’t want to have to leave their reserve communities. But there was nothing to keep them from pursuing education or apprenticeship benefits.
I’ve known a number of Indian men who went to residential schools, in particular near Sioux Lookout, where I grew up. Most said they appreciated what they’d been taught, although the discipline was irksome and there was too much religiosity.
My sister held a senior position at an Indian Affairs health unit. She always believed that the greatest contribution made by residential schools and Indian Affairs hospitals was providing positive interludes in healthy surroundings to kids who otherwise lived semi-nomadically in tents and cabins in the bush.
My summation would be that the residential schools and their staffs did a lot of good. Those who attended them were better ready to function in the bush, on a reserve, or in an urban setting. Thus, I think a blanket payment to every former student is generosity and guilt run wild.
By all means, compensate those who were demonstrably mistreated or sexually abused, but it’s nonsense to pay the rest “compensation” for getting a very basic Canadian education.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, June 05, 2005
ID: 12046015
TAG: 200506050529
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 32


I’m baffled about the state of things in Ottawa these days.
Even the most loyal of longtime Liberals seem uneasy about federal politics, the ministry, and the House. So are many Conservatives, New Democrats — and yes, so are most of those who report and comment about the state of the nation, particularly the veterans of political journalism.
To support this last point, just go onto the Internet to see the unhappy, often discouraging appraisals of it all over the past few months by such stalwarts as the Globe trio, John Ibbitson, Jeffrey Simpson, and Hugh Winsor (recently complemented by federal stuff from Christie Blatchford and Margaret Wente).
Canvass the recent unease of the Star’s Jim Travers, Richard Gwyn, Susan Delacourt, and Chantal Hebert about the behaviour and ethics of both politicians and mandarins.
Or turn to the nearly apocalyptic moralists of the Post, Andrew Coyne and Bruce Garvey, or to the emphasis on the Liberals’ spending spree, taken by the Sun’s journalists in Ottawa, led by Greg Weston.
The most widely-shared consensus among the lot is that we have an ill-functioning, inordinately mean House of Commons and two inadequate party leaders in Paul Martin and Stephen Harper — particularly Harper!
Only our Crown corporation, the CBC — the biggest supplier of Ottawa news and commentary, still seems largely respectful of the government (except for Rex Murphy’s occasional doomsday cameo).
One of the oddest things in it all, for me, is the fixation on Harper’s purported shortcomings. Harper’s bad reviews are many and so full of his “anger” and “coldness” and fretting about his “hidden agenda” that it’s easy to see why he frightens millions of voters. I think this “terror” view of Harper is basically irrational, but I’ve come to accept that it has taken hold.
What’s unfair about it is the lack of comparable disrespect for Paul Martin. This puzzles me. Here we have a prime minister who, while proclaiming wondrous opportunities and grand achievements, temporizes and stalls — rather like another prime minister, John Diefenbaker. But Diefenbaker was never considered dishonest in using and abusing the perquisites of power, nor given to suborning recruits from other parties with cabinet posts.
The sponsorship scandal has been somewhat exaggerated as “the worst” in Canadian history, but it is certainly most serious. What’s more, because the Gomery inquiry is televised daily, vast numbers of Canadians are vividly aware of it. And yet, except in Quebec, neither Martin nor the Liberal party he has dominated for several years seem to have fallen into disfavour.
Instead, Canadians, anglo ones in particular, are more scared about the prospect of a Harper-led Conservative government than of more of Martin. So they are ready to accept and keep the government they have, villainous and thuggish though it seems to be.
In this, the public seems not to have responded to some journalistic analysis of a largely unknown Ottawa crisis — i.e., its huge, demoralized federal public service. For example, both Travers and Winsor have recently detailed the unreadiness of mandarins, the top federal bureaucrats, to challenge unethical behaviour approved by their political masters. Indeed, what might well be the biggest tale of woe and gloom in Ottawa, 2005, is the parlous confusion and inadequacy of the senior bureaucracy, radiating down and throughout, from the prime minister’s office and privy council office (PMO-PCO) to each of the half a hundred departments, ministries and agencies. What used to be described as the finest public service in the world isn’t any more, although it still leads the Western world in salaries.
The emptiness of the mandarinate is nowhere more apparent than in the most pathetic decision Martin has made: Giving Belinda Stronach responsibility for “democractic reform.” Okay, her defection to the Liberals did save the government from House defeat and an election. Nevertheless, the decision is still unbelievable, such a huge and complicated responsibility for so callow a politician.
And note this: Not a single Liberal MP has howled over such a laughable mismatch between a great national problem and the person assigned to solve it. That to me seems most scandalous of all. And few really give a damn.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 29, 2005
ID: 12044002
TAG: 200505290195
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 33
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


Canada’s most famous ex-generals, Lew Mac-Kenzie and Romeo Dallaire, recently exchanged fire — in print — over the government’s planned military mission to Darfur in Sudan.
The dispute arose out of the vote of confidence in the House. Former Liberal MP David Kilgour let it be known that his vote might be swayed by a commitment to send Canadian troops to Darfur to help halt attacks by Arab militias on black farmers there. The Martin government offered up 60 military advisers to assist African Union peacekeepers. Unimpressed, Kilgour insisted a larger, combat-capable force be sent.
Dallaire, newly-minted Liberal senator, defended the government, insisting the commitment was sufficient because the situation is now stabilized and African troops can handle things. (He had previously called for a force of 44,000 to stop the killing.)
In response, MacKenzie fired his salvo. One could not depend on the “peace” lasting, and African troops were not up to the job of protecting it, he wrote in the National Post. Canada should offer 1,000 men plus a headquarters unit, and use this commitment to press NATO allies for more troops.
MacKenzie also challenged Dallaire’s expertise, noting he had only once commanded a peacekeeping force, during the Rwandan disaster. Adding insult to injury, MacKenzie said he had previously refrained from criticizing Dallaire out of concern for his “fragile state of mind” — but if Dallaire was going to be so partisan as to defend the government’s mission, he had to reply.
Dallaire responded that MacKenzie had his own political bias (he ran for the federal Tories in 1997), and came close to accusing him of racism — “Anybody who says that the era of the white man going into Africa to sort out their problems is what should still remain is someone who’s totally disconnected from the reality of Africa.” He noted that MacKenzie, saviour of Sarajevo, had had “battalions of NATO-trained troops” to help him, while Dallaire had no such support for his mission in Rwanda.
Dallaire’s arguments are confusing and contradictory. To note that MacKenzie’s Sarajevo mission enjoyed the support of western militaries, while his own mission failed because he had little such support, seems at odds with his rejection of a major western force for Darfur.
His comments ignore the ugly reality that numerous African peacekeeping efforts by African armies have not only been dismal failures, but have ended up with the “peacekeepers” abusing the civilians they were sent to protect.
That MacKenzie specifically notes his own previous silence about Dallaire is intriguing. (It is not, however, the first time he has questioned Dallaire — in the Toronto Sun on Feb. 13, MacKenzie wrote a column stating: “Unfortunately, Dallaire’s conclusion regarding the cause of the world’s indifference to Rwanda, while emotionally compelling and abrasive to our collective conscience, is wrong.”)
There has been too much silence regarding Rwanda. Our politicians and media have gloried in Dallaire’s martyrdom, ignoring the harsh reality that Canada sought command of a mission that failed badly, and that over half a million people perished.
Contrast this to the failure of Dutch peacekeepers to protect innocents at Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia. The Dutch government established an independent inquiry which found that the government was in part responsible for the massacre because it had not sent a properly trained or equipped force. The Dutch cabinet resigned.
Since then, the Dutch have built up a formidable, heli-borne force, which includes Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters — ironically purchased as surplus from Canada (we were downsizing at the time).
Dallaire has said, since becoming a senator, that in his own mind he had for a long time been a Liberal. Indeed, he has already been well-used by Paul Martin, standing by his side as a totem of military sagacity and sacrifice, most recently last week in Ethiopia, as part of the government delegation on Darfur.
If the PM wanted to enhance the Senate’s contribution to defence issues, he might balance the “soft” approach which Dallaire symbolizes by asking MacKenzie, with his “hard” views, to join the Senate.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 22, 2005
ID: 12041752
TAG: 200505220279
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 25


Decades spent around Parliament Hill have not helped me sort out the rabid over-reaction to Belinda Stronach’s defection by too many conservatively minded people.
Calling her a “whore” and “prostitute” for defecting to the Liberals is awfully cheap, mean stuff — but not unsurprising given Conservatives’ enormous anger and frustration at her betrayal.
There is some basis to this frustration, although it is hard to talk about for fear of being called “anti-woman.” It is this: Over the 16 months since she walked onto the public stage, Belinda Stronach has shown no improvement as a prospect for great work in the highest places.
Almost all of her political impact is owed to her wealth and to the well-known acumen of her father, corporate builder Frank Stronach. And yet this wealth and the brainy backing, together with her attractive appearance and demeanour, have proved inadequate. Despite her associations with an American ex-president (Bill Clinton), ex-PM Brian Mulroney, and Ontario ex-premiers Mike Harris, Bill Davis and David Peterson, Belinda Stronach is still a mostly empty political vessel.
Why? Because she isn’t cut out for the game of politics. She’s just not a “natural” — unlike women such as the late Judy LaMarsh, or Deborah Grey and Sheila Copps.
More than a year of generous exposure by the news media demonstrates that she is barely an adequate speaker, let alone a good one. She cannot think on her feet and has a relentless devotion to cliches and chamber of commerce platitudes.
This does not mean she’s stupid or slow or short on energy. But she is unready — and probably never will be — for able, heavy, cabinet-level responsibility and leadership.
In my rating, at least four Conservative women MPs have a real margin over her on almost every requirement in political talent. The same may be said for half a dozen backbench women on the Liberal side.
Therefore I was astonished last Thursday by Stronach’s revelation that she would not have accepted a major cabinet post (Human Resources) had it not included responsibility for addressing the Martin determination that there be a “democratic renewal,” to repair what he calls Canada’s “democratic deficit.”
This “renewal,” as I understand it, has two poles. One is reform of the mandarinate — revealed as unimaginative and inefficient by the Gomery inquiry. The other is reform of parliament (including cabinet) to give government and opposition MPs more to do in the choice and preparation of legislation, and more effective scrutiny of federal spending programs.
Putting Stronach in charge of such grand, challenging enterprises is extraordinary, even mad.
The task is herculean and very complex. It would be a challenge to the finest and most experienced minds of the western world — and she is not one of them. She is still politically naive, and neither well-educated nor long on knowledge or experience, not just of Canadian governance but necessary knowledge of government and politics in the U.K. and U.S.
The Privy Council last week issued a fresh listing of the Canadian ministry in order of precedence. So far as I know this is the longest list ever — 39 ministers. The breadth of the ministry mirrors the Martin enthusiasm for almost everything. He’s inserted Stronach in 27th place, right after the minister of Industry, David Emerson, a recent “star” candidate.
But in terms of power, the Stronach role at Human Resources and Skills Development would put her in fifth or sixth place, say somewhere near the minister of Justice (Irwin Cotler) and the minister for Treasury Board (Reg Alcock). Add the big task of democratic renewal and she would be the No. 3 “power” in the cabinet, behind the PM and the finance minister, providing she could hold Martin’s bobbing attention.
In short, my advice to Conservatives: Think about Martin and Stronach side-by-side as politicians. They’re two of a kind — he a ditherer and she rather empty. Yes, both are millionaires.
And yes, well-used bags of money are a great aid to reaching high political office. But once money gets you there, it is largely irrelevant, and certainly so in filling a sinkhole such as our democratic deficit.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 15, 2005
ID: 12833092
TAG: 200505150524
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 32
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


SUPPOSE THAT this Thursday, Prime Minister Paul Martin’s government holds its promised vote of confidence — and wins it (a clear possibility).
Will a workable minority parliament then ensue?
Not a chance. There will be repeated want-of-confidence motions as the government tries to follow its agenda. Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois will oppose almost every bill.
About the only sure way Martin can surmount this is to move in quick time to use the confirmed confidence of the House to recess Parliament for three to four months. Using the recess gambit shrewdly, he might even keep the House alive until Justice John Gomery’s report on AdScam is done.
As for the electoral omens for Jack Layton and the NDP, the past augurs caution.
New Democrats co-operated with Liberal minority prime ministers twice in the past — once informally; once in an open deal.
In two successive minority Houses in the 1960s, Tommy Douglas pushed items in his NDP platform on the Liberals’ Lester Pearson — including what became the Canada Pension Plan. But the NDP picked up just four more seats in the 1968 election; the Liberals swept to a majority.
Then, between 1972 and 1974, David Lewis’ NDP and Pierre Trudeau made a deal to “top up” the welfare state’s services and benefits. It went well for about 16 months. Then the budget in ’74 had items obnoxious to the NDP. Lewis voted against it and Trudeau rode from the consequent House defeat to the polls: The NDP lost 15 seats while the Liberals swung to a strong majority.
Today, Layton clearly thinks voters will thank him for getting more “people spending” from Martin. I doubt it.
History shows that in a fractious campaign, electors tend to shift away from third or fourth choices to the top two. This election this means voting for the Bloc or the Liberals in Quebec and for the Liberals or Conservatives in the rest of Canada.
Meantime, let me challenge the stock media line that today’s “vicious” partisanship in the House is unparalleled.
Not so. I recall that once in 1957, and again in 1965, a Liberal and a Conservative MP came to blows on the rim of the chamber — the first a wrestling match broken up by bystanders, the second a one-punch knockout of the Grit MP.
The Pearson minority years were studded with scandal and savage question periods — much of it fuelled by allegations of scandal made by Conservative MP Erik Nielsen.
How the Liberals hated him! So bitter were feelings that he remained the Liberals’ most-hated Tory throughout his years in the Brian Mulroney cabinet.
In 1982, tensions and bitterness over the monster Energy Security Bill reached the point an estranged Conservative opposition refused to attend the House and the bell calling MPs to vote rang day and night for two weeks.
And who can forget the long heyday in the mid-’80s of John Turner’s Liberal “Rat Pack” — Sheila Copps, Don Boudria, Brian Tobin and John Nunziata? Nothing done by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives nor Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc can match the vitriol of that quartet’s oral assaults on Mulroney.
My hunch is that Speaker Peter Milliken has been deliberately soft about enforcing the rules in Question Period lately. He came to Parliament in 1988 having wanted to be Speaker of the House since boyhood. Once chosen by his peers five years ago, he chose not to rock the boat or be a killjoy.
Under the rules, he could, but doesn’t, cut off questions whose preambles are condemnatory and so given to closing with inane questions. He could — but he won’t — prevent a question being repeated, as it somethimes is three and four and more times.
He could — but doesn’t — enforce the rule to encourage spontaneous and ad-libbed questions and responses, not long, ponderous affairs read off cue cards written and concerted by staff.
Thus we often get 40 minutes or so of malicious snowball fighting, not the oft-praised but rarely seen “cut and thrust of debate.”
It’s a sound wager: Whatever the election result, Question Period will continue as it is — a farce which makes useful its partisan producers and arrangers.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 08, 2005
ID: 12831835
TAG: 200505080923
PAGE: 45
MEMO: Victory in Europe: 60 Years After … The World Remembers


Word that our war was over reached us around noon on May 4, 1945 — a raw day of high winds, sunshine and rain squalls.
Our regiment, the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, was in action at the front in northwest Germany — west of Oldenburg, heading toward Emden on the North Sea.
As radio operator for the A Squadron commander, I was the first to get the order from brigade headquarters.
The message was brief. “Shut down forward operations. Find a safe harbour. Ceasefire begins at 0800 hours tomorrow.”
I passed the message to Maj. Ken Farmer, A Squadron’s commanding officer, who was with me in the turret of our Staghound armoured car.
We were parked at a crossroads a kilometre or so back from the front, directing three of our troops pushing north along three country roads in concert with 4th Canadian Division infantry and engineers.
My CO said, “Call in the troops.” I sent the message to those forward, “Come on back, the war is over.” No one believed me.
“This isn’t April Fool’s Day,” crackled one cynic’s voice on the radio. Others were skeptical too — even though the BBC had already told us Hitler was dead and the Russians had taken Berlin.
When I insisted, “This is not a joke!” I sensed their relief.
Within an hour or so, the squadron — about 120 men — was parked, encircling the courtyard of a big German dairy farm.
There were a dozen or so slave workers at the farm, mostly Ukrainian and Polish. We let them know they were free, which stunned them. Then, while the farm family hid somewhere on the property, our celebration began.
Our feeling was joyous, our relief enormous. Not only were we freed from the threat of death and injury, but I had it in my head that the war’s ending on this day would save Maj. Farmer from a court martial. Just before the ceasefire, he had threatened, via radio, to beat up our regiment’s commanding officer.
Often, our squadron had been operating apart from the regiment. On this day, as our forward groups pressed north, ahead of them the Germans were retreating slowly, doggedly, leaving behind barricades of felled trees and nests of mines.
Suddenly — wham! A hidden German antitank gun had knocked out one of our cars. Incredibly, although the car was wrecked, just one of its crew was wounded.
The radio call from the scene to Farmer mentioned that “Chief Sunray” was present. (This was the code name of our regiment’s commanding officer, a Lt.-Col. Black.) When the major heard this, he told me to get the colonel on “the blower.”
He was angry because that day our squadron was not under the colonel’s command and we had not been told he was coming.
Our squadron had spent more fighting time away from the regiment than with it, largely because Farmer’s high profile in Canadian hockey made him a favourite of some brigadiers and major-generals when they needed reconnaissance work.
For weeks Farmer had been hammering home one message to us: “Be careful! This war’s almost over. We must do our best to see that we all get the chance to go home.”
This message found ready listeners after one of the most lovable guys in our squadron was killed by a sniper on April 17, and five comrades from a sister squadron were blown to bits a few days later by a huge tank mine.
Ken Farmer was not preaching passivity; he just wanted us to take no risks.
After I raised the colonel on the “net,” I was shocked by what happened next. Farmer demanded to know what the hell the colonel was doing at the front with his squadron without letting him know that he was there. Black’s explanation seemed lame to me, and Farmer “blew a gasket.”
He told Black that if any of his men had been badly hurt in what had just happened, he would take it out physically on the colonel.
The handful of us who heard Farmer immediately assumed he would be fired, probably court-martialed. I wondered whether I would be called as a witness. Then, suddenly, the war was over. This overshadowed our major’s rage as we assembled in a circle in that farm courtyard, eating, cheering and singing around a big fire until half the night was gone.
Quite late, the demand reached a roar for a “speech, speech, speech,” by our much-admired Maj. Farmer.
He spoke for about five minutes and told us that as he understood it, the priority for getting back to Canada was that the first to have gone overseas would be first to go home.
He ended by telling us that in about 48 hours, the provosts would be around and there would be make-work marches and parades — the usual nonsense to keep soldiers busy when they are not fighting.
We had, he said, about two days to get out and find souvenirs and mementoes to take home. But do it carefully, he warned, and let your troop sergeant know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
As it turned out, we had about 72 hours before “spit and polish” was enforced, after which we began, as individuals, the game of getting oneself home as soon as possible. And if not home, at least to England, where most of us had friends.
As the party cooled off, it struck me that I faced a vexing question.
The war over, what was I — a boy from the Northern Ontario bush — going to do in civilian life? Go back to mining? Work in forestry? The railroad? Or should I do as Maj. Farmer and two of my crewmates had urged: go to university. (As it turned out I took the major’s advice and have never once regretted it.)
As the war closed 60 years ago this week, we in A Squadron, 12th Manitoba Dragoons, were a brotherhood, bonded by Kenny Farmer’s positive personality and charm. He was a good judge of men and a man we implicitly trusted.
Before the war, as a hockey player, he had captained Canada’s Olympic team at the 1936 Winter Games in Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitler’s lair. After the war he became head of the Canadian Olympic Committee and the first chairman of the Canadian Sport and Fitness Council.
Ken Farmer died on Jan. 12, this year, in his hometown of Montreal. A fine mind, generous and modest, he loved his fellow man. He was 92.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, May 01, 2005
ID: 12830532
TAG: 200505010204
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
PAGE: 24


AS THE Gomery inquiry unfolds, so too have stories of other skullduggery — much of it falling outside the inquiry’s frame of reference (AdScam), but hinting of equally wrong and wasteful doings. Some examples?
Take the most whopping of Liberal extravaganzas in costs and dismal results — the gun registry. It desperately needs open examination to detail the mismanagement and applied venality which created such a colossal waste of money.
Or consider the most insidious of all Liberal boondoggling — what Star columnist Chantal Hebert has called “the culture of entitlement.” This culture infuses the whole realm of politics, although its major carrier is our so-called governing party.
Hebert described it as “the private club mentality that has apparently permeated the upper levels of the government and the devil-may-care attitude that stems from it.”
It leads ex-ministers or former senior aides to expect and get grand appointments, where they seem to spend regally and appoint at will. Consider the appointments of former ministers like David Dingwall to the Mint, Andre Ouellet to Canada Post or Alfonso Gagliano to become our ambassador to Denmark — or ponder the roles given top-level Grit aides like Jean Pelletier (Via Rail), Michel Vennat (Federal Business Development Bank) or George Radwanski (privacy commissioner).
As well, the Gomery inquiry has heard of a clutch of lawyers — “volunteer” campaign workers for the Liberals in Quebec — who were allegedly rewarded with posts as judges.
It is past time that the unique relationship between those three professions — law, advertising, public relations — and political parties be examined by a federal public inquiry. It is most imperative for the lawyers. Why? Because the sensible selection and appointment of able judges is vital.
Then there are the mandarins. Recall the boondoggling of federal human resources programs, revealed to then minister Jane Stewart’s discomfort just a few years ago.
Ah, what respect there once was for Canda’s public service, as recently as four decades ago — when Gordon Robertson headed the mandarinate! The cloak of excellence and modesty ran from the clerk of the Privy Council to deputy ministers, and on down the bureaucracy. Clearly this is now a matter of once upon a time, not today.
Where were the resignations or the protests of any mandarins over the shenanigans at HRDC or over the gun registry or the Unity Fund? Recently, many journalists have remarked how rare even “brown envelope” leaks have become in Ottawa.
Clearly, the mandarinate is no longer the citizenry’s shield against the venal politicians or the ones who spend stupidly and wastefully. Of course, the plain MPs themselves on either government or opposition benches have not risen consistently or well to scrutinize spending or remedy bad practices.
The tawdry state of morale in the mandarinate is a companion scenario to the Liberals’ culture of entitlement, even in the widespread copycatting of remunerative “long goodbye” contracts for retiring mandarins, icing on the cake of their pensions. What a challenge it will be to get the mandarinate functioning as it is said to have done through its “Golden Age” — 1939-1957.
In November, 2000, another columnist, Andrew Coyne of the National Post, described what he referred to as “a parallel, private government.” This was in relation to the federal ethics counsellor’s report on the Liberals’ Transitional Jobs Fund — which was essentially found to be a patronage program largely directed by Liberal party persons, not federal officials. Contrary to assurances from such as Jean Chretien, this program as run apparently violated the law which set it up.
As Coyne put it then, the Liberal party had become a second, unofficial apparatus where the power really resided — institutionalized cronyism typical of one-party states.
As yet, this state of affairs is not seen by enough Canadians as a crisis to be faced — now.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, April 24, 2005
ID: 13065836
TAG: 200504240538
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 33


MANY OF us in the media owe readers some analysis of the disaster that has overtaken the Paul Martin “juggernaut.”
We hailed Martin as the best and brightest political messiah at hand after he closed out decades of grim federal deficits as our minister of finance. Now, some 16 months and a squeaky election victory later, we’re asked: “What happened to all the charisma, the vision, the genius which you said he had?”
As an old-timer at unearthing coming political messiahs, I acknowledge a deep, early interest in this one — because I knew his father well and admired him.
Paul Martin Sr. and I talked often through almost 30 years. He insisted his son get into business and stay out of politics until he had earned the wealth that would enable him to pay his own way in pursuing the leadership of the Liberal party.
I agreed with the elder Martin that he himself never quite cut it as a successor to Mackenzie King or Louis St. Laurent or Lester Pearson, although he’d worked incessantly to master so many aspects of politics. He made himself a national caricature of the total politician — durable, smooth, even slick, well-spoken and well-briefed for any occasion.
Martin Sr. had a droll sense of humour, and he once said something like this to me: “You’ve surely noted mine is wry, dry humour — but within the equable, smiling Martin is a sad man.”
Beyond such key skills for politics, Senior had a much better education than his son, one always being updated through heavy reading.
It was after a discussion I had around 1997 with Paul Jr., who was then finance minister, about “must reading” for politicians that I began to wonder how well-prepared he was for leading the country. He seemed to have a skimmer’s hold on our legislative and constitutional history, and his enthusiasm for “ideas” was not matched by familiarity with much content.
While leaving the minister’s office that day, we passed a familiar figure. I asked what the man was doing and learned he was a consultant, working for an outfit called Earnscliffe on strategies in preparing the budget which Martin would present. I thought back to Walter Gordon, Pearson’s first minister of finance. He launched a major conflict-of-interest crisis when it was revealed he had had outside advisers during the budget’s preparations.
Tales of Paul Jr.’s diligence at lining up control of the Liberal Party’s organization across the country were rife long before Jean Chretien announced his long goodbye. Martin’s father would have applauded such preparedness, but surely he’d have warned his son to keep his party crew as far from his ministerial crew as possible. At the time I thought Martin was paying for the Earnscliffe consultancy. I later learned taxpayers footed the bill.
What has this, or the contrasts in skills with his father, got to do with the tottering ministry PM Paul Martin now leads?
Although the Earnscliffe man I noticed did not become a news item, the same cannot be said about two other Earnscliffe worthies prominent by Martin’s side before and since he won the prime ministership. It’s hard to recall a close guide or handler of any prime minister (not even Bill Fox with Brian Mulroney or Warren Kinsella with Jean Chretien) who radiates as much arrogance and partisanship as Martin’s David Herle and Scott Reid, as we’ve come to know them on CBC Newsworld.
Martin without a script is an aimless, tedious talker. He cannot take and hold a briefing for long. He widely overvalues his own enthusiasm for Canada and its future under his leadership. He is literally slow. Think of all the decisions delayed or put off. Even more discouraging, he has a bent to give in to pressures he had previously refused — see provincial relations!
He promised a truly democratic parliament. Yet he and his gang created their own hard dilemma: They took over (usurped?) the hold Chretien had on the Liberal organization. Now they pose as unwitting victims like the rest of us as the gross chicanery of federal advertising follies unfolds.
Long ago, the Liberal government of Mackenzie King was caught in a bad scandal over dredging contracts for the St. Lawrence River. When pressed on it, King conceded that he and his colleagues were in “The Valley of Humiliation.” We await such recognition from both Martin and Chretien.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, April 17, 2005
ID: 13064487
TAG: 200504170560
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 32
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


BY FRIDAY’S end of the Commons sitting on Parliament Hill it was clear to me that an early general election is imperative.
Constructive proceedings, good legislation, and useful scrutiny of spending have become impossible in this Parliament.
Why has this happened? On the one hand, we’ve had a slow-moving, clumsy, somewhat arrogant and over-confident prime minister and his cocky, underperforming caucus, seemingly not fully aware they are without enough MPs to control the House.
On the other, three rejuvenated opposition caucuses, each with a leadership which may not be brilliant, but is keen, impatient, shrewd, and backed by a knot of very able MPs.
Add to this the Gomery factor. The long-in-surfacing scandal over advertising contracts in Quebec (which followed several early scandals in the Chretien years) has begun to build up shocking details. It points to a truly major, long-running, program of tollgating and influence-peddling, centred in the federal Liberal party of Quebec during the Chretien mandates.
The opposition in the House could not resist following and using the public grist manufactured in the Gomery hearings. When scandals pile up over systematic graft, patronage, and wasteful spending, voters do turn off.
Surely it was such news which caused the once-heralded Paul Martin “juggernaut” to lose seats in Quebec and Ontario last year. Just the fact that Martin didn’t wait for Gomery to do his chore suggests to his opposition that he was evading an even worse array of skullduggeries.
My opinion is that forcing an early election, say this June, will save everybody wasted weeks of rank partisan charges. This goes against the grain of considerable opinion polling and many oracles on politics, including the editorial sanctums of the The Globe and Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Sun.
Will the electorate punish the parties of Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe if they force Martin to get a dissolution of Parliament? My thesis, based on watching general elections since 1935, says NO! Several times I’ve heard such a prospect mooted — for example, in 1958 when the Liberals insisted John Diefenbaker would lose votes because the public expected the parliament which had run for just a few months to continue.
The bleats and alarms at that election call disappeared within a few days. Once a general election is under way, there isn’t time to linger over whether or not it should have been called. The dominant and plain issue becomes: Who is winning, followed by where, and then by how or why?
The Liberals in the campaign at hand will soon discover, as will their media backers, that voters are not swayed much by tales of the great legislative slate that Harper, Duceppe, and Jack Layton have deprived them of in their crass hurry — in particular, same-sex marriages, a national child care scheme, Kyoto, and federal cash for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
In the 24 federal elections which have engaged my close attention, there was never continued raging against the election call itself. The only two elections in which I thought there was evidence to support a thesis that criticisms of an “unnecessary” election call were effective with voters were provincial ones:
In 1975, premier David Barrett, with a majority and past his third year, called an election in B.C., and lost. In 1990, premier David Peterson in Ontario, with a huge majority and just three years into his mandate, called an election and lost, badly.
A June election this year may well mimic many of the scenarios from last year’s election, given the four leaders are the same.
But each election is distinct. Each opens a fresh drama.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, April 10, 2005
ID: 13063304
TAG: 200504100389
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 25
MEMO: Political payoffs are nothing new in Canada, writes Douglas Fisher, but willthe Liberal party resort to playing the ‘unity card’ to maintain their support?


ARE THE Martin Liberals done for, given the latest tawdry evidence of large-scale corrupt practices in Quebec?
Maybe! But my hindsight tells me that the Liberals could still come out of this one with a majority government.
How, you ask? By playing again the card they’ve flashed so often — the unity card! Most Quebecers won’t swallow this; voters in Ontario may.
Despite much incompetence and far-from-honest politics over the past 12 years in office, our governing party continues to be indispensable for many.
And familiar as I am with this, it has bothered me — and never more so since Paul Martin maundered into the highest office and began adding to a string of dozy failures which he (as finance minister) and Jean Chretien racked up.
For examples, see the costly shambles of the national gun registry, the relic helicopters, the used submarines, the government’s cocked-up response to the Kyoto Accord or the frustrations all round from Chretien’s “long goodbye.”
Twice during my half-century of following federal and Ontario politics, it seemed public opinion had caught up to and rejected our governing party. See the elections of 1958 and 1984, in which the Conservatives ran up over 200 seats. Both times, there were wide assumptions the Liberal party was cooked. Yet the Liberals came booming back, the first time within six years; the second time within nine.
These recuperative powers of the Liberals have often led me to ask citizens, randomly, why. Their opinions run like this: “They know how to run the system.” Or, “They’re not extreme.” Or, “The other guy is so scary,” or more specifically, “They can handle Quebec.” Or, “Their leaders have been the strongest.”
Surely, many readers will say such views of Liberal virtues will crumble when the full scope and sleaziness now being revealed at Justice John Gomery’s AdScam inquiry is laid out before them.
Since Confederation, tollgating has been practiced at all levels of government — a much-ignored, seldom-punished crime. It’s nothing more or less than a well-organized skimming back by the party in office of a percentage of what individuals and companies servicing government departments and agencies receive for such work.
From my knowledge of tollgating, it is often practised by people who are supporters but not employees of the party in power. These so-called “bagmen” are provided with lists of individuals or companies who’ve served the government and been paid, and they inform their target of such a link as they ask for financial support.
Sometimes politicians take part. For example, almost 50 years ago a top executive of Domtar told me how Maurice Duplessis, then premier of Quebec, tollgated the pulp and paper company, each year inviting him for a visit, then handing him a summary of provincial lands harvested by Domtar and below it a sum of money — the annual toll — for which the exec had a signed cheque ready.
We know that the wide prevalence of tolling exasperated Rene Levesque, Quebec’s premier from 1976-85. His Parti Quebecois legislated what it thought would end tollgating and other practices under the broad heading of political patronage. There was a greater emphasis on external audits, tighter rules on partisan disclosure, and changes to electoral laws which limited party spending and reimbursed a portion of candidates’ costs.
Such reforms caught on across the country, and ever since the stock line has been that the PQ made politics in Quebec, at all levels, as above-board as one gets in Canada. But new evidence at the Gomery inquiry (of ad agency workers paying kickbacks to the PQ) would seem to indicate otherwise.
Opinion polling will soon let us know whether a majority of Canadians are going to judge the Liberals for their massive boondoggling in Quebec, and so trigger their subsequent slaughter in a general election. But — as the Liberals will tell us — who else can keep the provinces together?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, April 03, 2005
ID: 12448570
TAG: 200504030448
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 26
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


FOR EARNEST federalists, last week’s Supreme Court decisions regarding school access in Quebec were great.
The court validated the part of Quebec’s famous Bill 101 which denies access by children of francophones to English-language schools. There had been apprehension that a decision declaring such access a right under the Charter would cause an uproar, ending a period of relative peace about constitutional affairs between Quebec and Ottawa.
It’s my impression that we in “the rest of Canada” have been coasting on that peace — in the wake of the 1980 and 1995 referendum victories over the separatists — without much worry that all our eggs have been in the federal Liberals’ basket.
Certainly, light coverage in the anglophone media has been the norm for the Bloc Quebecois and its 54 MPs’ work on Parliament Hill. When the Bloc was still new and led by magnetic Lucien Bouchard, the rest of Canada was anxious about the fundamental Canadian problem. This gloomy prospect eased after the separatists narrowly lost the 1995 referendum.
The Bloc MPs rallied after losing Bouchard, who briefly became Quebec premier. The Bloc’s Gilles Duceppe became a serious leader of a caucus as much or more assiduous than the other opposition caucuses. His MPs’ message to Quebec has been: “We are doing our best for you within a system by and large indifferent to the needs of the Quebecois.”
The Bloc caucus stays away from English usage in the House and in parliamentary committees. Their MPs concentrate on issues and programs of significance in Quebec.
Their viewpoint is the most consistent ideologically of the four parties in the House — a moderate socialist or “social democratic” outlook, so popular in western Europe.
They believe in strong government in central interests and needs of the people, from employment insurance to pensions to health and culture, to grants for major employers — like Bombardier. (For example, the Martin government is touting a national daycare program because of the vaunted popularity and quality of the one Quebec’s last Parti Quebecois government introduced.)
It is paradoxical that such a focused, busy group of MPs should be the least given to angry or nasty partisanship. Mostly they are low-key propagandists for separatism, rarely given to raging denunciations. They make few harsh comments about those in their fellow parties in opposition, although they sometimes sketch harsher images of the Liberals.
It is my hunch that in those early months as PM when Martin was first revealing he was more dodo than messiah, the Bloc and Duceppe were getting through very well to the Quebecois through the French-language media. They have clinched respect at home as fair and competent representatives, and possibly forerunners of an independent Quebec — preferable, at least, to crooked and deceitful Liberal ministers and MPs from Quebec.
It is probable that those of us in “the rest of Canada” have been taking both the Bloc and the revelations from the Gomery inquiry far too lightly.
Think a bit: Suppose we soon get a federal election. The Bloc could well take 10 more seats, breaking well into Montreal, and this could be complemented by serious Liberal losses in Ontario. Who or what will be the safety insurance for anglo Canadians with the Liberal party out of power?
The Liberals are no longer a sound force to contain separatism. So far the Conservatives are an unknown in that regard, but somewhat more a hope than the New Democrats. The Bloc MPs are potentially both a Trojan horse for advancing separatism on Parliamemt Hill and a major electoral aid — even perhaps providing a leader in Duceppe — for the PQ in the next Quebec election and the inevitable subsequent referendum.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 27, 2005
ID: 12446294
TAG: 200503270318
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 29
ILLUSTRATION: photo by Reuters
GEN. ROMEO Dallaire, seen here reviewing troops in August 1998, is one of nine new senators.


WHEN PAUL Martin, after months of agonizing, announced the latest crew of nine Senate appointments last week, I shrugged.
So what? The Senate isn’t central. It’s just there, the best patronage gift in a prime minister’s hands, but a minor ancillary (like the human appendix) to Parliament and government.
I decided half a century ago the Canadian Senate was unnecessary and should be abolished forthwith. Nothing since has changed this opinion, although as a would-be abolisher I now concede we are stuck with the Senate in perpetuity, largely because it is literally impossible, given our constitution and the vast imbalance of our provinces (from Ontario to P.E.I.), to plot a successful process to either abolish the Senate or reform it into a second elected chamber.
Eight of the nine fresh senators are neither obviously bad nor exceptionally impressive. The exception is Romeo Dallaire.
He has earned a high status at home and abroad for his conduct in enlightening the world after the worst scenario imaginable developed with the UN’s intervention in Rwanda, exploding into a monstrous tribal massacre of innocents.
The retired general talks and writes well, and his glints of wisdom in the Senate chamber should resound far beyond it. He’s a rare one.
Otherwise, by and large the other new appointments are solid citizens, most of them past or current partisan activitists. Two will represent the old Progressive Conservative party (one from Alberta, one from Ontario), one the New Democratic Party (from Saskatchewan) and five the Liberal party, including former Toronto mayor Art Eggleton, an undistinguished minister under Jean Chretien.
One needs care in prejudging what a new senator will contribute. Back in the 1980s, I mocked two senators after their first year in office for not having made any contributions. Well, they slowly but steadily came to be among the top dozen senators of the past decade: Senators Anne Cools and Colin Kenny.
In the past decade or so, more and more of the hundred-odd senators have done serious work. In a column in the early ’90s, my estimate was that some 40% of them had good attendance and respectable participation records; indeed, that about 10% were genuine assets to Parliament and public debate across the country. Some of the improvement came from the increase in female senators which Brian Mulroney began and Chretien continued.
Beyond Gen. Dallaire, the media’s attention for this Senate intake is likely to fix on two of the female additions. First, Dr. Lillian Dyck, a professor of neuropsychiatry, who will be the first New Democrat ever in the Senate (although three previous Liberal senators, Therese Casgrain, Eugene Forsey, and Laurier Lapierre, had formerly been candidates for the CCF-NDP). Second, Nancy Ruth, a Torontonian who will join the tiny Senate caucus of the old PC party, has been an active feminist, pursuing rights for women, for example through LEAF, the most successful feminist lobby group in Canada. She is unlikely to be an asset for the official Opposition led by Stephen Harper.

In closing, a note about Michael Ignatieff, the keynote speaker at the recent Liberal convention.
In Britain and the U.S., Ignatieff has a high reputation in serious journalism and as an author of readable analysis of global affairs. Now he’s being hailed as a possible successor to Martin.
Columnist Peter C. Newman recently wrote, “Ignatieff could be just the man for our time.” He has a point.
There is a strong likelihood the Liberals will choose a new leader within the next two to five years. It is also apparent there continues a legacy of feuding in the party from the bitter, long tussle of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.
Prospects like John Manley and Brian Tobin carry this baggage. Ignatieff does not, and he is a well-spoken, handsome, and poised man with an exceptional reputation. In short, an unusually gifted prospect for the party, particularly as one in the intelligentsia vein, a la Pierre Trudeau.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 20, 2005
ID: 12443935
TAG: 200503200322
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 21
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


THROUGH OUR own media and the overflow from the neighbour next door, we can keep a good watch and have opinions on the policies and personal merits of “the most important leader in the world.”
At this time, however, there is such an astonishingly wide gulf between Canadians and Americans on the worth of President Bush, that we should spend time seeking explanations.
And that requires us to look at how we have been measuring our own leaders such as Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Jean Chretien, etc.
Lord knows we have not been easy on them.
As a veteran voyeur of U.S. politics, I know we usually develop staunchly held opinions about each president.
Recall high ones of FDR, Ike or JFK, or low ones of Gerry Ford or Richard Nixon. Judging public attitudes of Canadians about the past 13 presidents, none has put them off more than George W. Bush. My reaction has been like the Canadian norm — flummoxed that Americans in great numbers could be captivated by such a “Simple Simon” — twice — at the polls.
But after almost three weeks in Georgia and Florida — listening to radio, viewing TV, reading papers, going to church, and listening to Americans in conversation — there is no mystery in what the majority of Americans recognize about Bush.
He is in a remarkably strong position in the backing he has from tens of millions of plain Americans. Why? Because so many see in him what their country and the world needs: A strong, clear, straight-talking leader, one who offers plain, understandable conceptions of democracy, human liberty, and a free economy. And one who does, or tries to do, what he has openly undertaken.
At home, George Bush is now a leader who has proven himself by bold use of American military force and social and economic aid abroad in routing and replacing tyrannical regimes that also harboured and exported terrorists. In pursuing an idealized, working democracy for all nations, the Bush presidency seeks allies but does not wait and stall and plead, either one-on-one or at the United Nations.
This is clearly the popular mind-set in the U.S. since the recent defeat of the Democrats’ choice for president, John Kerry, and the successful holding of a national election in Iraq. Bush and his American warriors have gotten rid of evil regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and have set in motion the difficult and costly building of workable economies and democratic institutions and processes there. Almost as icing on this Bush-made cake has come the best opening moves in several decades to settle peacefully the wretched dilemma of the Palestinians.
At present, and not surprisingly given huge federal spending, the American economy seems so strong, and more obvious than I can recall. The day-to-day life of America races along richly in its chasing of today, tomorrow and next week through the common obsessions with glory and infamy in sport, politics, television, the Internet, entertainment and crime. Even anti-terrorist items are as commonplace as concerns over the weather.
But there is not an incessant drumbeat of patriotism every day, nor much carping over casualties in Iraq. Indeed, there is little public outcry as there was during Vietnam.
Of course, it’s taken for granted in Bush’s America that God blesses it. Such assurance is the essence in his twinkling grin.
What’s also a shocker to many Canadians about Bush, if they scan widely enough to take in his immense exposure, is the vigorous simplicity of his public presentation. He’s fast at getting into what he is doing, or intends to do, abroad or domestically.
Bush doesn’t just play a role as an ordinary, talkative Joe, he is one, and proud of it. As such, he’s bonded with what is a solid working majority of Americans. Surely, he should keep this bond for the rest of his term if there isn’t a sharp, serious recession in the U.S. before next year’s congressional elections.
Most Canadians should know by now that Bush has reasons to be annoyed with our government. Canada has serious economic problems affected by the White House and Congress.
Is there any model for our leaders in the Bush brand of politicking? Yes. Use the national pulpits they have to speak to Canadians in simple language as often as possible on why and how they and their team will do something, and in what time-frame.
They might practise with preparing and giving an open appraisal of the possibilities, good and bad, in the side-by-side destinies of Canada and the U.S.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 13, 2005
ID: 12441608
TAG: 200503130331
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 33


“War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.”
— General William Tecumseh Sherman

THE MARTIN government has proclaimed 2005, the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory of World War II, to be a year of honouring Canada’s warriors. I write as one of some 250,000 out of 1.3 million vets of WW II still perking.
I was an unranked “other rank” in an armoured car squadron (12th Manitoba Dragoons). We did “recce” and linkage chores for II Canadian Corps from the Normandy bridgehead to the end of our war in Germany on May 4, 1945.
Such duty in action was not nearly as riven with deaths and wounds as our infantry guys suffered.
However, we saw and heard a lot along or close to the front. For example, by war’s end we’d escorted literally thousands of German prisoners to “cages” in the rear, and also spent many days attached to British, American, and Polish troops.
There have already been some sour public notes this year in books regarding Canadian soldiers in WWII.
We learn from one big one, Armageddon, that the Canadian Army in northwest Europe was never a great one, and particularly weak after so many of its longest-trained men were knocked out in the 15 weeks of battling Germans in Normandy.
There are also allegations in two newish books about Canadians on some occasions murdering German PoWs.
Apparently we also looted a lot, black-marketeered as we went, and were such feckless fornicators, we had the highest incidence of VD in Eisenhower’s armies. These two books emphasizing misbehaviour are Saints, Sinners and Soldiers, by Jeffrey Keshen, a historian at the University of Ottawa; and To the Victors the Spoils, by Sean Longden, a British historian.
The blockbuster book, Armageddon, canvasses thoroughly why the war in Europe didn’t end in September, 1944, when the German forces in the West seemed broken. It is by Max Hastings, an able British journalist and a dyed-in-the-wool denigrator of Canadian soldiers — see his books on the Normandy campaign and on Bomber Command.
Here’s his take in Armageddon on our army’s quality:
“Collectively, the Canadian Army was a weak and flawed instrument because of the chronic manning problems imposed by its nation’s politics. Canada’s soldiers paid the price of their prime minister’s pusillanimity …”
There has been a ringing rebuttal of such generalized condemnations of Canadian ineffectiveness in Normandy and Holland.
See a Canadian book, Fields of Fire, by military historian Terry Copp, published by the U of T Press (2003). Part of his argument lies in the casualties and the days “in battle” of Canadian units. These numbers were mostly higher than those of comparable British and American units. However inadequate the Canadians, it was not because of a dearth of dying.
The misdeeds described by authors Keshen and Longden seem serious, and like any other soldier who was there, I would say, a lot of them occurred, particularly the looting.
My experience convinced me, however, that we killed few prisoners, far less than the Germans did. If such murders were widespread and commonplace, we’d have known.
On looting of property and goods, yes, there was a lot of it, particularly in Germany, little in Holland and Belgium. But not as much looting by the high-casualty infantry at the front as by service troops up from the rear echelons.
As for sexual licentiousness I once witnessed its consequences. Sick with pneumonia, I was left behind and largely ignored in a big barn of a Canadian hospital in Brabant treating 2,500 soldiers (who slept on stretchers on bare floors) for venereal disease.They were on a five-day course of cure, getting penicillin injections in the butt every six hours.
Ours was an army of volunteers, not conscripts. Few of us had much military experience when we joined. Killing in battle or becoming professional at it did develop. It also tightened the main bond that kept men together — comradeship, burnished in battle.
So much was grim and uncertain in so many of their days for the riflemen, tankers, and gunners who carried the battle.
Our enemy was able, well led, and had excellent weapons and armour. Yet the task of defeating them got done.
On the ground, in the air and on the seas, Canadians were there. And sometimes we were not the kindly, caring, cherishing symbols of true Canadianism now revered.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, March 06, 2005
ID: 12503394
TAG: 200503060293
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 21
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


SUPPOSEDLY THE Armed Forces were the big winners in the federal budget. Wow — $12.8 billion in new funding promised for the next five years. Finance Minister Goodale boasted how this represents “the largest such increase in the last 20 years.”
So one asks: Has Liberal thinking on defence changed? Does the budget represent a new era for our tattered military?
Well … my warning — don’t go sending your kids to join Her Majesty’s Canadian Armed Forces just yet.
New thinking on defence? Ask yourself: What other nation doesn’t provide a separate chapter in its budget for defence? In our 400-page document this bold, new era for our forces got five, buried in a 25-page chapter entitled “Meeting our Global Responsibilities.” Our military was lumped in with — and symbolically followed — tsunami relief and other foreign aid.
And then there is the language used. The budget speaks of “conflict situations” not wars. Our allies may be “fighting a war on terrorism” in Afghanistan but we are there to re-establish “peace and security.” If anything, this budget strengthens the notion that our military’s true role is to be an alternate delivery mechanism for foreign aid.
The notion the military is receiving an immediate and desperately needed infusion of cash is a joke. Fully $10.2 billion of the $12.8 billion “promised” won’t arrive until 2008-10, which is budgetary never-never land. The minority Liberal government is preening over a promise to deliver cash relief to the forces after its own re-election, and this with the proviso that only if the country is still posting enormous surpluses at that time. This is an empty, despicable boast, given the military’s plight.
That Stephen Harper would actually claim credit for securing such a “commitment” from the Grits is, well … pathetic. If Martin dithers, Harper fudges.
Only the first two years of this budget’s promises can be considered in any way credible, and the cash promised is rather modest – $1.1 billion. And $920 million of this is for “operational sustainability,” a euphemism for keeping our military from further cannibalization. This two-year time frame happens to match the electoral horizons of the government. No accident, of course.
What about the remaining $180 million in new money over the next two years? It is to pay for recruiting 5,000 new peacekeepers and 3,000 new reservists. Two points here: The estimated cost to fully recruit, train and equip a new brigade (i.e. 5,000 soldiers) runs to around $250 million, so even for their favourite military role (peacekeeping) the Liberals are being chintzy.
Second, this cash is to fulfil a Martin promise from the last election that was neither sought by nor discussed with the military brass. So again, the money provides political cover and does not help the military with its priorities.
Perhaps most stunning of all in this budget is its lack of any new money over the next two years for new equipment.
The excuse for not committing cash up front when it is actually available? The government has not yet completed its foreign policy review and with it, the new defence policy, which, taken together, are to guide such purchases.
Such prevarication is typical, and ludicrous. The Liberals have been “reviewing” both policies for years. Much of the equipment our military needs is unlikely to be affected by a new policy.
We need new transport aircraft, review or not, and we need them urgently because half our fleet of Hercules aircraft are non-effective while the rest are rapidly using up their remaining flight hours. Will Canada continue to need to defend its airspace from hostile or unknown aircraft? The Liberals insist Canada will continue to be a party to the NORAD, so one assumes we will need a continuing fighter capability. Our CF-18s are old, and a replacement program should be underway.
The reason why it isn’t is that Canadians, the Liberally-minded believe, see wars and fighting as beyond the pale for an enlightened population such as ours. Better to field a force only capable of building schools and digging wells abroad.
One wishes that the party would come clean, and elaborate on Canada’s post-military future. Let it even revel in our unique aptness, so well expressed by Lloyd Axworthy, at cherishing, sharing and caring for those hurt or threatened in the troubled places.
If that’s what we have become, primarily pacifistic, why not cast off the guns and bombs and treaties with the U.S. powerhouse and make our way totally as peace-keeping social workers?

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 27, 2005
ID: 12501010
TAG: 200502270347
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 32


LAST WEEK’S federal budget may ensure the Liberal minority government survival for a quarter, even two. Given an unlikely rise in the polls in Quebec, PM Paul Martin might even choose an election before midsummer.
This is a resurrection budget, and even a skeptic can see it being such for the Liberals if Quebec should turn to it a bit.
Paul Martin, three years short of 70, is almost another matter. He’s far from the magic man he was two years ago, and he’s been scrambled enough in 15 months as prime minister to win recognition in the western world as indecisive (see The Economist’s tag on him as Mr. Dithers).
Despite such low rating in the short run, and certainly until the next election is handily won, the PM is not going to get an adverse response in the leadership review at next week’s Liberal convention. Indeed, his weakness guarantees strong backing.
For sensible Grits, these are not the days for sending “resign” messages to Mr. Dithers or for open activities by would-be successors. Dozy as Martin often seems, at this stage Conservative Leader Stephen Harper rates worse with neutral voters.
Why rush Martin off the scene given the opposition’s frailties? The Liberals’ mocassin telepathy will influence delegates to laud Martin, not bury him. The argument for patience on the grounds of past leaders jumps forth from the minority governments of Lester Pearson (1963-65 and 1965-68), and the second Trudeau government, 1972-74.
Immediately after the election of these minority Houses, there was grim foreboding among Liberals, the Tory opposition and the media that they would not be long in office.
After a mere six months as PM, Pearson seemed to have made a hash of it all, shaken by the disasters during his ballyhooed “Days of Decision.” Then scandals tarred several of his Quebec ministers, and Walter Gordon, his finance minister and the key arranger of Liberal revival after their electoral massacre in 1958, quickly became anathema to the business and industry.
Nonetheless, the Liberals lurched along. There was bitter contention over such stuff as flags and bilingualism. Pearson had a fractious time through two minority mandates before he gave notice of leaving. It took a generation for an appreciation to jell that his minority governments had made major advances.
As for Trudeau, as a minority PM, almost losing his first re-election in 1972 (his caucus only edged Bob Stanfield’s Tory caucus by two seats), lots of Liberals were turned off after four years of his loftiness, and his retention of most Quebec seats saved him.
How did he handle the minority scenario? At once we saw much of the recently wedded PM and his wife on the Hill, often with baby Justin. He turned over strategy and tactics for his minority dilemmas to clever men — canny Allan MacEachen in Parliament; “Rainmaker” Keith Davey for the party.
For about 16 months, the Liberals kept the eager Tories out with bills and spending advocated by the NDP. The “understanding” lasted until polling showed a Grit resurgence. Then Trudeau “won” a loss of confidence with budget items the NDP disliked, got an election and romped to a majority that he kept for five years before losing it (but just for a year).
For today’s Grits, the moral hindsight to take from all this is surely to stick with a leader who’s just had one poor campaign and has bobbled at even commonplace governance.
Except for John Manley, Martin seems short of a handy successor. So far, however, he seems to lack what Pearson and Trudeau had — a keen, able, honest, modest personal staff. This lack is made worse because Pearson and Trudeau also had a fairly solid, capable, collegial mandarinate with good morale.
For a major recovery, Martin must accept he’s been a dud as prime minister. He needs to talk, travel, and spend less, get rid of his close advisers, put issues he keeps circling to his cabinet for decisions. In particular, postpone his vision of himself as a global leader: Do Canada first.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 20, 2005
ID: 12498535
TAG: 200502200335
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 32
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


FOR MOST Canadians, the failure of the National Hockey League to make a deal with its players’ association overwhelmed political news last week.
This tragedy within our national sport so shifted our frets away from national politics that many big items of recent days were overshadowed.
Here, then, is a synopsis of the political puffs and plots in the partisan parliamentary world:
– Last Wednesday, the thunder over same-sex marriage began its roll in the House. The issue has more MPs and journalists on edge than any since the long-ago debate before ending capital punishment. Then, the media were largely for ending executions, much as today they are for same-sex marriage.
In his speech, PM Paul Martin, despite almost desperate rhetorical emphases, was not cogent, belabouring his chief theme that our sacred Charter of Rights will be put in doubt by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s ruthless use of the notwithstanding clause.
Few Canadians will know through hearing or reading the leaders’ speeches that Harper, however one takes him, did not insult one’s intelligence as he took apart the Martin case, with apt use of past remarks on the Charter and the courts made by Martin and his deputy, Anne McLellan — both of whom formerly opposed same-sex marriage.
– Also last Wednesday, Martin and his government joined in as the UN’s Kyoto accord took effect. The bravura in their enthusiasm was mocked by the governing party’s failure in the past five years to complete a slate of environmental projects and set forth the funding to execute them.
What well could be most agonizing about the Kyoto file is its current ministerial sponsor, Stephane Dion. Surely he’s the most open, candid member in the cabinet. He cannot bluff a strong program which isn’t there.
– Earlier in the week, Sheila Fraser, clearly still an unblunted auditor general, issued another report critical of particularly wasteful and incompetent federal administration. She did not emphasize crooked conduct this time, but she was rigorous about the holding and use of billions by federal foundations set up by Martin. And she anticipates a growing vulnerable insecurity of computer-stored data on citizens gathered and held by federal agencies.
– Hockey great Ken Dryden — as the ministerial sponsor of a new national child care and education program — was harshly attacked over his mocking of parental zeal in his rationale for the program.
He responded angrily. His honeymoon has been short. It is most unlikely Dryden will still be in politics when (if ever) Canada installs a nationwide child care sysem.
– Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, spurred by the billions pried from Martin by the premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland last week, also jumped into this swirl of political action. At last Ontario has forsaken its usual role as Confederation’s milch cow. Ontario must get a fairer deal from federal equalization funds. The premier mentioned $5 billion as his initial target.
– Much as with Kyoto, we learned last week the Martin government does not yet have a new defence program ready. Therefore, in this Wednesday’s budget, the spending estimates for defence will not have added billions for expansion of the armed forces or truly major re-equipping, or for taking part in the joint arrangement the U.S. seeks for continental anti-missile defence.
As for the NHL debacle, it is surprising that through its development there was little reverberation of it in the House in questions by MPs.
Several sports writers a few weeks ago argued that Paul Martin ought to offer his services as interlocutor to shape a new agreement between the owners and the players. It’s a mercy, admittedly small, that the PM didn’t bite. There was no role in that muddle for a ditherer.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 13, 2005
ID: 12985537
TAG: 200502130288
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 20


BY THE END of last week, there were firm impressions among Parliament Hill people — including the media and the mandarinate — that the Gomery inquiry is no longer a big deal. The prediction now is that it will peter away in tedium at its coming Montreal hearings.
Many believe the likelihood of a stunning report indicting people in high places is over. What develops in Montreal will be confusing detail, and as an issue, at least in Ottawa and most of anglo Canada, AdScam will fade away.
I think they’re misreading both the public impact of last week’s tandem performances of two prime ministers and the near certainty the Montreal hearings will hear much explosive evidence.
I believe this scandal has legs until it is either confirmed or wiped away by the result of the next federal election. It has always has been more significant in Quebec than in Ottawa — as the seat of the executive and the mammoth federal bureaucracy.
Yes, the senior bureaucrats have been badly shocked at what the scandal has done to their self-promoted reputation for competence and integrity. Yes, the lobbyists, reporters and pundits have been intrigued thus far by the scandal scenario, but they are certainly not gleeful at the prospect of a non-Liberal government. The recent lamentable showing of Paul “The Ditherer” Martin has raised their fears.
Given this scandal’s effects on Quebecois and the unpopularity of Martin’s same-sex marriage legislation in the boondocks, his party is in danger of a bleak electoral consequence which would bring on a new Conservative government led by the humourless Stephen Harper, and — almost worse — a Bloc Quebecois caucus composed of MPs from more than 60 Quebec seats.
By the time the PM left the inquiry Thursday afternoon, my rather stunted imagination told me that hundreds of Liberals were happier. They relaxed a lot after his mild but confident presentation of himself as a successful minister of finance.
His exposition on his economic course from a $42-billion deficit in 1993 to a surplus in the last eight years was cogently stated. Almost for the first time since he became prime minister, he came through as a truly knowledgeable achiever.
The other fair news for the federal Liberals has been the continuing failure of Stephen Harper to identify and ride the currents of Canadian reactions — which would almost guarantee him the highest office if he showed some verve and wit.
Harper’s failings are serious for a citizen concerned, say, about whether his party’s same-sex marriage stance gives absolute primacy to marriage as between a man and a woman. If it does, how would the Conservatives organize the new institution of civil union?
Harper has read polling and had enough contacts to know that a goodly majority of Canadians believe a marriage is a pact between a man and a woman. But he’s not been effective in hammering this home.
My estimate is that a referendum held tomorrow on THAT definition of marriage would carry 60% to 65% of the vote. As for the civil union proposition — which would not have the name “marriage” — my estimate is that it would be close to a 50-50 proposition. What Harper and the Conservatives need to focus most on is the definition of marriage.
The likelihood of such figure splits on a referendum we are not going to have does frighten many Liberal MPs. That’s the main reason the Liberals want to hurry this legislation.
We’ve also had so much romantic mush from Martin on the wonders and the sacredness of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Martin is bracing Harper for evil intentions to use the notwithstanding clause to blunt a Charter decision. Harper’s overdue for some advocacy that the clause, not the Charter, is the monument to Canadian common sense.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, February 06, 2005
ID: 12984309
TAG: 200502060547
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 24


OH, THE belligerence last week on Parliament Hill, most noticeable in the antipathies of Paul Martin and Stephen Harper!
The Conservative leader seems determined to slag his rival and his party for ethical breaches and gross incompetence far more than focusing on his own party’s aims.
And Martin, far from radiating a readiness to co-operate with the opposition on legislative and spending intentions, went out of his way to be combative.
With relish and bravado, the PM painted his rival as seeking to deprive minority groups of their Charter rights; a reactionary, set against gays and lesbians having the right to marry.
These days the open partisan attitudes of each of the four caucuses in the House are laced with bluffing. Uncertainty reigns. Even in a majority parliament, the next election is always ahead and never far from the minds of MPs. But now, in this parliament more so than in any minority House since that of 1963, the ruling party is a score short to win votes of confidence. It makes for fretting all round.
Neither the PM nor his House leader, Tony Valeri, seems to have even tried to get any deals set up with any of the three rival leaders and their caucuses, which would guarantee backing on confidence votes, say, for the Feb. 23 budget.
This past week, when the PM returned from another international tour, he came back snarling at the Tories.
Each leader has clearly “souped up” the electoral juices of his pack and their contest is centred on negatives about each other as leaders or about their parties as unethical and fraudulent.
Why is Martin behaving in a way which torpedoes his need to survive enough confidence votes so he can take to the electorate something it would welcome far more than same-sex marriage — say his national daycare program?
His behaviour is also a contradiction to his first positive undertaking as a leadership aspirant — to get rid of the parliamentary deficit, a condition that has meant scant opportunities for real contributions from both government and opposition MPs.
On the other hand, why is Harper so caustic about Martin’s probity and purposes? He appears physically a young man in his prime, but cynical and humourless, rather than exciting and excited about his team, its aims and chances.
Already, in less than 50 days of sitting, the House has become a noisy theatre of adolescent behaviour during question period and a sterile, bare roost the rest of its hours. The pity on both sides — the government and the opposition — is the personality and talent in abundance that will not get a chance to make this minority parliament something to watch and wonder over.
There are moments in the clashes between the PM and Harper reminiscent of the decade of bitter rivalry between John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson, which was such a drag from 1958 to 1968. It seems to me neither leader sees possibilities of real achievement for the general good in this parliament.
On the PM’s part, it seems he has lost patience with any brokering of co-operation. He’s over-pugnacious. One assumes this is to rouse and sustain unity and loyalty to him within his Liberal ranks — so weakened when he set the Gomery inquiry up and further stretched by his decision to change his own mind and expand the definition of marriage beyond one man and one woman.
On Harper’s part in this “daggers drawn” drama of warring leaders, one begins to wonder what avail there is to his followers in his narrow focus on the Liberals as they are and as they were, rather than on advancing what the Conservative Party has primed and ready for us.
One wishes new leadership were at hand for both parties.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 30, 2005
ID: 12983108
TAG: 200501300206
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 32


BY MEANS of CPAC’s telecasts of the Gomery inquiry, those at home have been able to judge its merits. After several hundred hours of such viewing, I have a high opinion of Justice John Gomery’s competence and intrinsic fairness, complemented by sensible questioning of witnesses by the legal team of the inquiry.
It seems to me the so-called “AdScam” inquiry is a forum of decency which has elicited much information significant for an understanding of why it was called by PM Paul Martin.
So it seems regrettable to me that the objections of Jean Chretien, the former prime minister, as put by his lawyers, might bring Judge Gomery to either resign in mid-inquiry or be directed later to withdraw by the Federal Court, because of the Chretien team’s allegations of possible bias.
Late last year, Gomery made what seemed to be “off the cuff” references about the hearings in interviews with several reporters.
As one who’d found witness Chuck Guite droll, I was fascinated by Gomery’s description of him as “a charming scamp.” As soon as I heard it I thought of Jean Chretien. The phrase was also apt for him.
Chretien first introduced himself to me in front of the Peace Tower early on a cold, spring day in 1963. He asked in bumpy colloquial English if I, as a veteran MP, would guide him, a Liberal rookie, around the Commons chamber.
Where did the prime minister sit? I showed him. Then he asked the moves he could make to speed himself from the back to the centre of the front row. He was to try most of these gambits, and he had a fast rise from a mere MP to cabinet minister.
Always he seemed to be on the run. We’d often bandy opinions. He was irreverent but pleased when I wrote of him as a possible party leader in the mid-1970s.
As I recall, in 1966 Chretien gave a weekend speech in Quebec in which he observed that French-Canadians had too much common sense not to know there was more butter for their bread in Canada than outside it. This tagged him as an enemy to the separatists. When I asked him about such reaction, he waved it away. Why pussyfoot around what he believed?
Looking backwards, it seems clear his successes were more than a string of excessive luck or the inadequacy of his rivals.
From our start, through four decades of familiarity to his leaving the House, I felt somewhat proprietorial of Chretien, although I seldom agreed with his major measures or fancied what I saw increasingly to be a bullying streak in his domination of caucus and cabinet.
Another journalist who felt similarly, or so it seemed to me, was Lawrence Martin. A few days ago, Martin wrote in the Globe that Chretien is on course to discredit the Gomery inquiry — and not just on grounds of seeming bias in Gomery’s comments about Guite.
Martin also raised the Chretien team’s criticism of the choice of Bernard Roy — a longtime friend and sometime aide to a notorious Chretien enemy, Brian Mulroney — as Gomery’s lead counsel.
“To know history is to know that Jean Chretien almost always gets his man,” Martin wrote. “The Gomery commission is badly wounded, and you can imagine the frozen glare in the eyes of the little guy from Bullyville right now. They see a kill.”
To this Chretien fan (of sorts), Martin’s prediction of Gomery’s discreditation is possible, given the personality, tactics, and successes of Chretien when in adverse circumstances.
This time, however, I don’t think it will work out that way.
Rather, I think his tough response, even if it should remove Judge Gomery, will stain, particularly in Quebec, his reputation.
Paul Martin can hardly ask the Federal Court to reject the motion to remove Judge Gomery, but if the judge is discredited, then the PM and his government will surely face a harsh electoral prospect, notably in Quebec.
Of course, this might not dismay Jean Chretien.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 23, 2005
ID: 12753409
TAG: 200501230303
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 24
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


THREE MATTERS current in federal politics indicate messy parliamentary days ahead:
First, the same-sex marriage initiative, which Paul Martin has undertaken without creating too wicked a legacy of ill-feeling all round; second, how the coming federal budget will deal with the lengthy failure of progress in our living standards and productivity; and third, the wrestling ahead for all four parties with the effects from the Gomery inquiry.
Each of these matters seems straightforward but isn’t. Each one strikes such differing responses.
The first involves religion and deep human biases held for generations. It may burst into crisis proportions in Parliament as serious as those over the flag, capital punishment, and abortion.
The second issue unveils what has been more overlooked about our economy than concealed. We have failed to take umbrage over our stagnation as against its relative decline against such countries as Ireland, Holland, and France (let alone China and India), because we have been so happy over the end to big federal deficits.
The obvious pushers for remedies are the banks and corporate financial interests, who call each year for tax cuts and less spending and regulation by Ottawa. But this time the demands seem to be striking a chord with the massive layer of taxpayers in the $50,000-$100,000 range. They want tax cut benefits now, along with other measures to get Canada back on the track of substantial economic progress.
It is surely a better than even bet that if Ralph Goodale’s upcoming budget is a bust at providing lower personal taxes for upper-middle earners, plus some sensible remedies for our steady productivity deficit, Paul Martin courts defeat in the House and in the election.
As for the Gomery drama, it has become an historically unique, open revelation of Liberals exploiting federal spending of the highest urgency (on unity!) for the benefit of outside contractors who support the party. The senior mandarins of the public service are very worried and are thinking of ways and means to suborn Gomery’s ultimate AdScam report.
Remember, they achieved a somewhat comparable goal, convincing Sheila Fraser, the auditor general, to tone down her last report on bureaucratic inadequacies. Remember too, that so many of those who planned and managed such sinkholes as the gun registry, refugee claims, buying helicopters, or selling unity in Quebec had to have been either incompetent or cowards who blinked and turned away from ministerial wrongdoing in the highest of all federal offices!
In the past fortnight on the same-sex front, there have been some moves, in part by Catholic leaders, in part by the Conservative party (with an ad campaign) and also through the unexpected surfacing of a diabolically dicey probability: The likelihood there will be strong, embarrassing claims for marriage rights for those who support polygamy.
Same-sex marriage a few weeks ago seemed to have been rolling home, backed strongly by most of the media I read or watch — reporters, editors, TV producers, and entertainers. Before Christmas, polling MPs had reached the determination the Liberal bill would pass handily, backed by most Grits and almost all of the NDP and BQ MPs.
But something contradictory to such certainty has been getting through to MPs at home. It’s brute simple: A handy majority of their adult constituents are not supporters of a same-sex marriage law. Further, the organizations out to stop the bill are showing amazing fervour and a longer reach.
On the one hand, the man-woman core in marriage has the pull of Christian history, Catholic tenets, and the traditions of generations of families which honoured and treasured marriage as a sacrament and a covenant.
On the other hand, there are considerations blooming from the antithesis to this hoary definition of marriage: Partner-swapping, group sex; sex relationships of every imaginable sort, including junctures with animals. Given modernity’s pace and daring, it is not improbable that those given to such associations may well take to the courts to get their sanction for permanence.
There are some stiff hurdles ahead for the Liberals, and they cannot keep having their leader so often out of the country.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 16, 2005
ID: 12752229
TAG: 200501160307
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 29
Marred himself
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


WITHIN A few days of writing about the court case which cleared Sinclair Stevens, once a Mulroney minister, of conflict of interest charges from 18 years ago, I noticed a familiar name in the news.
The chief counsel to the Stevens inquiry — one David Scott — is back in the news with a bang. And it seems he’s dominating another inquiry!
Last week, he was attacking Justice John Gomery, commissioner of the AdScam inquiry, for statements the judge made to reporters outside the inquiry — in which he described key witness Chuck Guite as “a charming scamp” and labelled the management of the federal “unity” program as “catastrophic.”
These, argued Scott, were “ominous messages” about the fairness of the inquiry for those who will be called before it — such as Scott’s client, Jean Chretien, recent prime minister of Canada.
My appreciation of this criticism of Gomery — which the worthy justice dismissed without apology or contrition — has mostly come from commentary by Jeffrey Simpson, a senior Globe and Mail columnist. His take is blunt: Gomery’s remarks were “completely unacceptable public comments.”
On Scott’s intervention itself, Simpson wrote: “Quite properly yesterday, lawyers for former prime minister Jean Chretien and his chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, objected to these comments. They hinted that they might ask the Federal Court to order Judge Gomery’s removal from the inquiry. Whether or not an appeal is launched (and it probably won’t be), the judge has already damaged his inquiry’s credibility.”
Until I heard this, I hadn’t realized how very seriously Chretien was taking the inquiry, and therefore how much it must also mean to Paul Martin, his successor.
I’ve always thought of Simpson as the archetypal Queen’s University don, empirically rooted and consequently approving of political pragmatism and its minions — the mandarins of federal Ottawa.
His take on Gomery as self-spoiled in his current role by his loose lips is surely the one extant now in high, official Ottawa.
The judge has simply marred himself by being unfair and glib. He should go. If this doesn’t happen, his eventual report will not be respected, particularly if it is harsh with both top mandarins and recent leaders of the prime minister’s office.
Opinion polls have shown senior public servants have lost public respect as a consequence of Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s critical tales of federal waste, incompetence, and skullduggery. Such disrespect has grown week by week through tales from the Gomery inquiry.
The worrying reaction of the mandarins has even led Fraser herself to soft-soap them somewhat on the occasion of her last report. She’s been unusually banal of late, reminding us that we do have many capable, honest federal officials.
Official Ottawa and Liberal Ottawa are now, as so often, the same thing. Official Ottawa is clearly fighting for a return to the old “status quo” when almost all politicians, even those in opposition, readily referred to Canada having “the finest public service in the world.”
Obviously that’s gone, perhaps for a generation. If you think such an assessment is unfair, try your library for a skim over several years of the reports from the auditor general. Just scanning the items on aboriginals or defence or the gun registry should set back your respect for federal managers.
Meanwhile, consider this. We’ve now been tipped off that the Ottawa of management and power is deeply concerned at its current disrepute. It is determined to stem the slide. An attempted resurrection is incipient — or already under way — of what used to be obvious, and that is how really able they are, almost all the time.
And so they will undercut the Gomery report well before it is issued, just as last year they orchestrated the House committee examining AdScam to spend so much time in partisan hijinks it earned jeers and got little done.
In short, the impact of AdScam’s denouement is as vital to the anonymous high officials of the government as it is to Chretien or Martin.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 09, 2005
ID: 12751095
TAG: 200501090320
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 29
END OF ONE ERA … Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna is shown removing the nameplate from his office door after leaving office in 1997. Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to appoint McKenna as Canada’s new ambassador to the United States.


I HAVE long been skeptical about all the puffery — through some 17 years — surrounding the wondrous political and business acumen of Frank McKenna, New Brunswick’s famous ex-premier, now about to become Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.
Of course, with so many major Canada-U.S. issues in play, such a high-profile task will augment, not snuff, McKenna’s prospects to become prime minister — something reporters were touting well before he left N.B. politics in 1997, 10 years after he’d swept into power with a Liberal in every seat of the legislature.
To begin with basics, I’ve never heard McKenna make an interesting, let alone a fascinating, speech. He’s yet to master the 30-second video clip. He plods as ponderously through a text or speaking to scrums as Paul Martin himself.
A few weeks ago I read a speech McKenna gave last year as chairman of CanWest, the Asper media conglomerate. It was dull boosterism and far from babbitry at its best. As a wordsmith he’s a dud, say, compared to such provincial Grits of renown as Brian Tobin and Jean Charest.
But my main doubts regarding McKenna began with his first major ploy as a young premier without a single Tory across from him. What did he do?
He was the first premier of a province to forsake the earnest effort given by his predecessor Richard Hatfield, along with nine other premiers, and then-PM Brian Mulroney, in approving the so-called Meech Lake constitutional accord and avowing it would be passed in their assemblies.
In time, McKenna backed away from intransigence, but his ploy encouraged further inroads on the unanimity. The last premier to push further than the McKenna gambit — i.e., Newfoundland’s Clyde Wells — finished off the Meech accord.
What had McKenna hoped to achieve? Essentially, the freshman premier did a Danny Williams/Brian Tobin/Brian Peckford routine. He demanded more “quid pro quos” for New Brunswick from the Mulroney government before his province’s approval would be forthcoming.
In short, he sabotaged a united front in support of a constitutional reform that had had the agreement of all the first ministers. A great Canadian?

Do you like the ironies of politics? Try this one.
Sinclair Stevens, who resigned as minister in the Mulroney government in 1986, has been cleared by a judge of the federal court of conflicts of interest because the accusations did not accord with procedural fairness.
The conflicts had been specified by a commission of inquiry headed by an Ontario superior court judge, one William Parker. Brian Mulroney had called the inquiry into Stevens’ ministerial conduct in large part to have an end to strident attacks on Stevens and the integrity of the government by Liberal MPs, in particular by the Rat Pack of Sheila Copps et al.
The hearings at the Parker inquiry were quite adversarial, and sympathy was scant for Stevens, whose own party later rejected him as a candidate.
I’m able to vouch for the venomous impatience in the media with Stevens, as one of the few who felt and wrote that Justice Parker had gone overboard in the harshness and scale of his conclusions, bringing me sneers about my “objectivity.”
Stevens had the tenacity and a pocket deep enough to pursue justice for himself in the courts for years. The inquiry and his case became a forgotten political scandal. He wanted and got a clearing of his name in relation to conflicts of interest but it has not become a national celebration of justice at last.
As for the irony: In commenting about the decision recently to the Globe and Mail, Copps expressed sympathy for the man her pack used for “gotcha” so long ago. Indeed, Copps suggested “perhaps the federal court ruling will provide insight into commissions of inquiry — there may be something in having some sort of standardized approach for a commission so there is at least the same rule of law and rights for the accused that exist in the regular court.”

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.

DATE: Sunday, January 02, 2005
ID: 12749986
TAG: 200501020191
SECTION: Comment
PAGE: 29
COLUMN: Parliament Hill


THIS YEAR is likely to be a null year for Canada when it comes to grand deeds and fascinating leaders — but not necessarily a dull year in partisan affairs.
Coming into 2004 most of us saw a new prime minister who was sure to seek and gain a mighty mandate from the electorate. Instead he eked into office.
Another election in 2005 is less likely to be called than it seemed a few months ago. Indeed, my hazard is that an election is twice as likely not to happen in 2005.
It’s not that either the Liberal or Conservative caucuses have relaxed, cooling their election bent. They both know that neither their leaders nor their parties are in high favour. Opinion polls and the political winds that MPs measure in their ridings suggest a majority victory for either party will not come easy until a substantial slice of the electorate forgives the Liberals — or chooses to put some trust in the Conservatives.
The general “take” of the press analysts is this: on the Liberal side there’s Paul Martin, a hesitant bumbler handled by a tough, personal pack of roughnecks, backed by an unexciting ministry, a discouraged, ill-functioning mandarinate, and without a fascinating slate of urgent, popular legislation. On the Conservative side, Stephen Harper is just beginning two touchy shifts — one to move his party into the ideological centre on social and cultural matters, the other to arouse interest in Quebec.
There are advantages for the Bloc Quebecois in a parliament fragmented like this one. As for the NDP MPs, they seem to be acting out the old allegation of being “Liberals in a hurry.” And, as in so many Canadian parliaments since the time of the Vietnam war, their most distinctive issue is damning America’s imperial foreign policy rather than domestic bread-and-butter stuff.
The BQ use their domination of Quebec representation in the House for hell-raising about Quebec’s needs (see Bombardier) and they keep unfolding examples of the federal Liberals’ crookedness. The irony is that they are now even better at House work than the NDP. In truth, it’s the Bloc MPs who are reducing the “democratic deficit” which Paul Martin promised to rid us of when he became PM.
The Liberals are presently unable to make a strong case that Quebec needs lots of Liberal seats. This is unlikely to change soon, so why on his own volition would Martin go to the people with so many Quebecers still chilly about him and his party?
Of the four party leaders, only Duceppe is presently well-set in that role. So far neither Harper nor the NDP’s Jack Layton is being dogged by public poking about alternatives, say, like Peter McKay or Bill Blaikie. Each seems set for at least the next election. So should Martin, but his is a quirky case, in part because of his elderliness (at 66), in part because of the widening gulf of animosity of those mindful of his predecessor and those who gave him loyalty.
Perhaps most troubling for the PM is the disillusion of Liberals with his dithery year in power. Around his caucus the following are mentioned as possible successors: John Manley, Pierre Pettigrew, Brian Tobin, Allan Rock, Reg Alcock, David Emerson, Joe Volpe, Ken Dryden, Scott Brison, Tony Valeri and Martin Cauchon.
Of course, if one or a few of those have begun to forge a team and raise money for a leadership run, as Martin himself did well before Jean Chretien spoke of retiring, he could decide to go on his own to the people once he has Ralph Goodale present a popular budget in February or March.
Surely a sounder response by Martin would be to throw himself and half a dozen of his ministers into introducing top intentions, such as funding both national daycare and a workable scheme of infrastructure improvements in major municipalities. Seeing such into effect will be very complicated, but a good chance to recoup the reputation he won as the national deficit-killer. (In his first year as PM, Lester Pearson had a minority government and a dreadful time — far worse than Martin’s — but he rallied and sponsored some grand laws in the next four, minority years.)
Beyond Martin’s ineptitude, what most put his Liberals on a downward slope to minority status were revelations of crooked behaviour with public moneys, i.e., AdScam. It seems another two-to-one prospect that more examples will surface in 2005.
The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2005, SunMedia Corp.