Language politics return to Canada

No Comments 24 February 2017

Justin Trudeau not speaking English during a town hall in Quebec is less of a political problem than Conservative leadership candidate O’Leary not being able to speak French.


Published first on Monday, January 23, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The politics of language and the language of politics are as Canadian as hockey.

Last week, the Liberals and Conservatives were both facing heat on Quebec’s hot-button language issue.  

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in trouble for speaking too much French, and Conservative candidate Kevin O’Leary for not speaking enough.

Both were defending their language choices for different reasons. Both faced the wrath that can only be unleashed by the politics of language in Canada.
Trudeau, in Sherbrooke, Que., on his cross-country tour, waded into the language issue, by answering all questions during the town hall debate in French, even those that were asked in English.

He prefaced his language switch with a comment in English that “since we’re in Quebec, I’ll respond in French.” Trudeau had obviously decided in advance to stick to the preferred language in every province.  

He spoke mostly English in provinces that are designated as unilingual English, and vice versa in Quebec. The only Canadian province designated bilingual is New Brunswick.

But federal language policy guarantees every Canadian the right to receive federal services in the language of their choice, regardless of where they live.

In pursuit of that right, at least two people have taken the prime minister to task by filing complaints with the official languages commissioner. Those complaints guarantee that this issue is not going to go away any time soon.

It also puts the prime minister in the enviable position of defending his use of the French language in Quebec. This politics of language may actually reinforce support amongst francophones who criticize Trudeau for not being French enough. With a francophone father and an anglophone mother, Trudeau is truly comfortable in both languages but has been denigrated publicly for thinking in English and being less  fluent in his father’s mother tongue.

Holding any political event in Quebec always puts the language issue under the spotlight. Had Trudeau simply responded in the language of the questioner, he might actually have spent more time speaking English, which could have caused a different kind of political flak.

His team obviously calculated that, in the long term, risking the ire of Quebec anglophones was less dangerous than appearing too English in Quebec. He does, however, run the risk of falling short on his avowed support for bilingualism.

If that ever-present language dilemma is all too complicated for politics, Trudeau has a less intractable problem than that of Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary.

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Cabinet changes in both countries speak louder than words

No Comments 17 February 2017

Justin Trudeau will make sure he is not caught in the crossfire in potential trade disputes. He has nothing to gain by accenting Yankee-Canuck differences.


Published on Monday, January 16, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The new year cabinet changes in Canada and the United States are a keen study in just how different our two countries really are.

With the departure of Stéphane Dion and John McCallum, the face of the Liberal government is even younger and more diverse.

Dion and McCallum had decades of experience in government. Their departures deplete the experiential depth and breadth of the cabinet.

Most ministers don’t only manage their own departments and responsibilities. They may weigh in on major national issues, which impact on the government and the whole country.
Prime minister Jean Chrétien’s decision not to join the war on Iraq, was seen as seminal. Chrétien’s four decades in Parliament played a role in that decision, but he also consulted multiple cabinet members, especially those with lengthy political experience.

Youth has the benefit of energy and drive, but with age comes wisdom. History often repeats itself, which is why some wizened faces in cabinet are a good thing.

The deeper Trudeau goes into his mandate, the more he will need to count on colleagues with experience to weather difficult storms.

The youthfulness of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself has been key in attracting a whole new generation of engaged young people. His commitment on issues like marijuana managed to engage a new generation, one that previously had no interest in government.

That intergenerational change has served the Liberals well but it also has limitations.

Maryam Monsef came to cabinet with high expectations but had no political experience. She inherited a treacherous portfolio which could have used a veteran’s touch. Her successor is also a newbie. Karina Gould has impressive international organizational experience which could be a useful training ground for this tricky portfolio.

In his first wave of American appointments, the cabinet of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump is getting older and whiter.

Neither change should surprise us. Politicians promote those with whom they feel the closest connection.

Young leaders generally encourage younger faces, while older leaders can be more comfortable with those of their own age, gender, and race.

Women often support other women. Leaders hailing from minority communities work hard to recruit those from diverse cultures and races. U.S. President Barack Obama’s cabinet was a reflection of his own personal life experience.

Hillary Clinton surrounded herself with strong women and her team reflected a real gender change that, had she won, would have radically changed the face of the American administration.

Trump is a white, 70-year-old business man. It should surprise no one that most of those whom he has elevated to his cabinet are white businessmen.

For those Americans witnessing the changing face of Washington, it must be tough to see so few minority appointees at the table. It is as though the last 30 years of civil rights progress has been erased and Jim Crow is back to rule the roost.

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Raitt needs O’Leary to split Blue Tory vote

No Comments 16 February 2017

Lisa Raitt is banking on social media technology and new recruitment techniques, to swell Red Tory, anti-O’Leary ranks within the party with online recruitment. In so doing, she is well-positioned to become everyone’s second choice.


Published first on Monday, January 9, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Lisa Raitt’s campaign to stop Kevin O’Leary was brilliant.

It vaulted her to the front of the news cycle during a January political lull. It also set her up as a foil to the Trump-like tendencies of some of the Blue Tories who are already in the race or thinking of joining.

It would be folly to assume that Raitt does not want O’Leary in the race.

A good part of her message last week targeted Kellie Leitch, and the controversial proposed citizenship test of Canadian values.

Raitt needs O’Leary in the race to split the Blue Tory vote.

If that sounds complicated, two voting rules guarantee a campaign roller coaster ride in the months leading up to the May vote.

First, the Tories have adopted preferential balloting, which means that voters will actually rank their preferred candidates.

Ironically, that same system was one of the options proposed to replace the first-past-the-post general election vote, without much support from the Conservative Party.

The new system means the winner may not be the first choice of the greatest number of voters, but rather the second choice of the majority.

If this sounds complicated, it is one of the reasons that most people exit the conversation when the subject of electoral reform is broached.

But the peregrinations are compelling for political animals who follow leadership conventions with the same passion the rest of us reserve for hockey championships.

The greater the number of leadership candidates, the more Raitt needs to divide the vote in order to come up the middle. 

In other words, she needs the blunt force trauma that O’Leary’s candidacy would ignite to limit the potential migration of Blue Con votes to Leitch.

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The Walrus Talks National Tour: We Desire a Better Country

No Comments 06 February 2017

Walrus Talks National Tour (cartoon graphic)The Order of Canada and the Walrus Foundation are jointly presenting The Walrus Talks Conversations About Canada: We Desire a Better Country, a national tour featuring 50 members of the Order and 50 youth leaders to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

“This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Order of Canada, one of our country’s highest honours,” said Governor General David Johnston. “Its motto, Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam (They desire a better country), is the source of inspiration for this one-of-a-kind speakers’ series. The diverse and compelling examples of excellence that it will showcase will inspire Canadians and invite them to imagine the Canada of tomorrow.”
The tour runs from March 1 to June 1, 2017 in 13 provinces and territories in just 13 weeks. The tour will connect members of the Order of Canada and Canada’s next generation of young leaders with communities across Canada on what our future as a country could and should be.

All of the events will be streamed live online and rebroadcast by CBC Radio and CPAC.

For tour dates and ticket information, visit


Book Launch: They Desire A Better Country

No Comments 01 February 2017

They Desire a Better Country (book cover)Who belongs to the Order of Canada?

The Governor-General’s office and the publisher, Figure.1, have brought together 50 stories of those who proudly wear the snowflake insignia in one book, They Desire A Better Country: The Order of Canada in 50 Stories.

This anniversary collection tells the stories of just 50 of the nearly 7,000 remarkable individuals who collectively hold Canada’s highest civilian honours.

Written by Lawrence Scanlan and translated by Daniel Poliquin, O.C., this book is about Canadians of every age, from coast to coast to coast, and celebrates the breathtaking diversity of Canadian achievements, all of which have made a lasting impact on our country.

This book will be available for purchase in February 2017. Every living member of the Order will receive a copy as will every high school and library system in the country.

© 2018 Sheila Copps.