Whatever the outcome, new leader’s first job will be to heal internal divisions

No Comments 25 October 2017

If Jagmeet Singh wins, the haemorrhage of Quebec support for the party will continue. If he loses, the damage done from the NDP turban wars will be felt by the party in other key parts of the country. Whatever the outcome, this will likely be the last NDP leadership vote where a single constituency can override a province.


First published on Monday, September 25, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The New Democratic Party turban wars were officially launched last weekend.

The first toxic, anti-turban bomb dropped was dropped by Quebec NDP MP Pierre Nantel on the eve of a leadership pre-vote launch in Hamilton.

Nantel characterized candidate Jagmeet Singh’s religious garb as “ostentatious” and “not compatible with power.”

Party officials and candidates moved immediately to distance themselves from his inflammatory pronouncement.

But the salvo served to highlight the schism between Quebec New Democrats and the rest of their membership across Canada.

Singh’s biggest challenge will not be getting a seat in the House of Commons. It will be getting elected as New Democratic party leader.

Unless he wins the lengthy first-round vote that began last Monday, the Ontario NDP deputy leader will be swiftly returned to Queen’s Park.

Front-runner status is never a good thing in a race that has more than two candidates.

For better or for worse, there is an “anybody but,” phenomenon that comes into play when supporters of other candidates have to make a second choice.

Singh also appears to be the sole candidate to speak out strongly against proposed Quebec legislation limiting certain visible religious symbols in public service dealings.

While Singh has come out squarely against the bill, Quebec-based candidate Guy Caron has taken the opposite position. He says the Sherbrooke Declaration makes it clear this has nothing to do with the federal NDP.

Leadership candidates Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton were left scrambling in the middle when trying to explain their perspectives during media scrums at the largely English-speaking Hamilton vote launch.

Experienced Parliamentarians, they both clearly understood that more than one-third of the current NDP parliamentary caucus hails from Quebec. Most are supporters of the Sherbrooke Declaration, affirming the right to separate from the country by a simple majority vote.

It was that declaration that encouraged disaffected Quebec separatists to join the NDP during the heyday of the Jack Layton Orange Crush.

If Singh breaks with that dogma, he will definitely face opposition from Quebec delegates. Nantel, who threatened to quit the party last week, has already been the subject of media speculation that he will quit the party to run provincially for the Parti Québécois.

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Montreal Design Declaration signed

No Comments 25 October 2017

For more information about the Summit of International Organizations.


World Design Summit Opens Today!

No Comments 23 October 2017


Bureaucrats should not choose public art

No Comments 18 October 2017

Unlike Calgary, there is absolutely no disagreement in Dunhuang about the right of artists to protect and preserve their creations.


Published on Monday, September 18, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Imagine a public arts policy where bureaucrats choose the art.

No, we are not talking China. The City of Calgary has recently been debating a motion to freeze public art investment, because some councillors are not happy with controversial art installations.

Calgary councillor Shane Keating recently spoke to the media about the motion to freeze the public art policy until changes are made.

His comments in explaining the freeze left arts supporters shaking their heads.

“I think we need to move away from the concept the artist gets to decide what it looks like,” Keating told the media.

“The taxpayers are actually commissioning the artwork and they should have a very large say in what the final piece should actually look like rather than the artist’s interpretation.”

On the contrary, the concept of artistic freedom is designed to ensure that creative interpretation is not ruined by bureaucratic meddling.

On this political discussion, Calgary could actually learn something from China.

I have just returned from the 5th Canada-China Cultural Dialogue held in Dunhuang, on the edge of the Silk Road.

The dialogue focused on ‘Innovation and Ingenuity,’ and included professional presentations from museum and gallery leaders from both countries.

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Morneau’s handling of tax reform will be a make or break issue for government

No Comments 11 October 2017

The Finance Department can win any battle when there is a broad split in public opinion on a tax measure.

At this point, there do not seem to be many voices siding with the Department of Finance. So Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s handling of the issue will be a make or break issue for the government.

During the GST fight, the finance minister’s viewpoint eventually carried the day. This time, Finance is strongly in favour of a position that has the potential to create an electoral problem for the government.


First published on Monday, September 11, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Summer caucuses are always hot. And when you combine heated politics with a sunny West Coast location, the temperature often rises.

After more than two months away from the Ottawa cocoon, Members of Parliament are eager to repeat the views they have heard in their ridings. Sad to say, most people don’t make appointments with Parliamentarians simply to tell them what a great job they are doing. On the contrary, riding office hours are usually a continuum of complaints about government policies, directions, and future plans.

The roughest critics tend to be party members. That may seem counterintuitive, as most political activists are usually committed to defending their party of choice. But inside the party, local supporters see themselves as a mirror of their community. They relish the role of the canary in the mine, warning their party if it appears to be taking a wrong turn that has raised the ire of the electorate.

No government can expect the support of all of the people all of the time. But a measure of success is achieved when there are complainants on both sides of any issue. Political equilibrium is in balance when no single issue takes precedence over all the others.

Both factors for a happy electorate were missing from the discussion of proposed tax changes that took centre stage at the recent Liberal caucus meeting in Kelowna.

The last time a tax measure was a key topic at a British Columbia Grit caucus meeting, was in the lead up to the 1993 election, when members revolted against a plan to keep the hated Tory goods and services tax.

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Indigenous leaders have role to play in modernizing First Nations

No Comments 05 October 2017

When the Indian Act was amended back in 1985 to conform with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the biggest opponents of abolishing institutionalized sexism were Aboriginal chiefs.



First published on Monday, September 4, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Last week’s cabinet remake will prompt a much-needed reboot of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

By splitting it in two, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is legally acknowledging what many have realized for years.

The promised delivery of territorial services in remote Indigenous communities is a huge undertaking that will take more than an election promise to deliver.

Trudeau has announced a five-year timeline to abolish all boil-water advisories on territorial lands.

For most of us, comfortably ensconced in homes with ample access to running water, a day’s shutoff is a catastrophe.

But for hundreds of Aboriginal communities, the idea of daily access to clean drinking water is literally a pipe dream.

At the end of 2016, more than 150 communities across the country had to boil their tap water before use.

In some cases, like Shoal Lake in northwestern Ontario, and Kitigan Zibi in Quebec, the local population has not accessed safe drinking water for up to two decades.

By splitting Indigenous Affairs into two separate departments, the prime minister is fleshing out the specifics of his promise to reconcile historic divisions with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit.

As he said in support of the shuffle, “There’s a sense that we’ve pushed the creaky old structures at INAC as far as they can go”.

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© 2018 Sheila Copps.