Media

Two budget measures can actually unite Canada

No Comments 25 April 2017

The re-establishment of a federal role for housing makes sense and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is the right vehicle to affirm national leadership. The same holds true for training investment.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, March 27, 2017.

OTTAWA—Everything old is new again. Two major new investments in last week’s federal budget involve housing and training.

The re-establishment of a federal role for housing makes sense and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is the right vehicle to affirm national leadership.

The same holds true for training investment. In a highly mobile world, the need for national training investment and strategy should be self-evident. But Canada has lost two decades of valuable time because of wrongheaded former federal decisions to get out of housing and training.

Does anyone remember the constitutional wrangles that almost led to the breakup of Canada? One of the core provincial demands was that the federal government vacate the fields of housing and apprenticeship training as they were deemed to be areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
 
Back in 1992, the federal government exited most social housing investment, making an exception for cooperative and urban aboriginal projects. That decision reflected a mistaken national consensus that provincial governments were better positioned to deliver housing at the local level, as they bear responsibility for the management of municipal governments.

During the 1990s, pressure mounted for the federal government to hand over all labour market planning and responsibility to provincial governments via individual bilateral agreements.

That move succeeded in fragmenting an existing national workforce strategy designed to analyze, forecast, and implement national labour market modernizations.

While the rest of the world moved to homogenize and synthesize in an effort to anticipate the needs of emerging global workforces, Canada’s national housing and training policies were replaced with provincial programs that differed in scope and application from province to province.  

So distorted is our national labour market that in some cases, federally funded programs designed to help students can actually attach a provincial residency requirement, blocking applicants from other jurisdictions.

The country also abandoned the development of national assessment tools designed to measure educational and training performance in different provincial jurisdictions.

According to the most recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report on Canadian education, there is only one area where standardized testing applies. That involves Grade 8 students participating in the Pan Canadian Assessment program which includes testing skill levels in reading, math, and science.

Otherwise, a review of most education curricula reveals a hodgepodge of trial-and-error methods designed individually by 13 different jurisdictions.

The Council of Ministers of Education Canada, headquartered in Toronto, manages inter-provincial liaison among Canada’s 13 ministers, who meet once a year to discuss issues of cooperation.

The formation of the CMEC occurred during Canada’s 100th birthday, when it was agreed that even though education is a provincial responsibility, there is a need for inter-provincial sharing.

That being said, there is no national mandate guiding the council, so every resolution and decision is referred back to 13 provincial and territorial ministries for implementation.

In this highly decentralized system, it is no wonder that skills training and employment mobility are often sacrificed to the holy grail of Canadian constitutional division of powers.

The same can be said for housing. It is impossible to ignore the mounting evidence that home ownership is increasingly beyond the grasp of urban millenials in most of Canada’s major cities.

Yet, because of the decision made a quarter century ago, the country’s national housing corporation was stripped to the bare bones, with little more influence than underwriting some higher risk mortgages for potential homeowners.

A national vision to tackle problems of homelessness and under housing, are no longer on the national radar, relegated to largely provincial issues. More money is generally spent on local task forces to study the problem than on concrete solutions to secure different housing solutions for changing demographics.

The major financial commitments included in the budget were welcome. The provinces need federal financial support, and these investments will get the national government back into housing and skills training.

With border turmoil engulfing the United States and the United Kingdom, Canada’s open approach can actually become a huge boost for our economy.

But we have to be smart enough to mobilize at home first.

At the moment, it is easier for many Europeans to move between countries in some industries than it is for Canadian workers to move to new jobs in different provinces.

The time is ripe for a “back to the future” look at housing and training. The issues need to be tackled through a national lens.

In a world where borders are breaking the world up, these two budget measures can actually unite Canada.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.

Media

Politics at its worst in political parties

No Comments 18 April 2017

Retroactive cutoffs, and green light committees with no public transparency or accountability, turn voters off. More important, they turn party members off. As a volunteer, if you are not allowed to participate in a nomination, you may just take a pass on an election too.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, March 20, 2017.

OTTAWA—Politics is at its worst in political parties.

Internal decisions are usually made in secret with little recourse to the rules of due process that apply to normal business decisions.

That may change, as a disgruntled New Democrat took his case to the courts last week after his party would not allow him to run for the leadership.

Court documents filed last Wednesday say it is the first time in history that the NDP has prevented someone from running for the leadership.

Brian Graff, a former Liberal who joined the party last August, was informed in late December that he could not be a candidate. He was given 48 hours to appeal the decision.

His appeal was dismissed without any “reasons, explanation or basis for their decision” according to court documents. Graff’s lawyer, Nader Hasan, applied for a judicial review, complaining that the internal appeal process was flawed.

He told The Globe and Mail that while political parties have the right to choose their nominees “We’re saying that, if they want to vet out people, they at least have to respect basic principles of procedural fairness in a transparent and open way.”

If the courts rule in Graff’s favour, it could have wide-ranging implications for all political parties in Canada.

We saw from afar, via leaked Democratic National Committee emails, to what lengths party officials were willing to go to tilt the process in favour of the preferred choice of the establishment.

The dubiousness of the DNC decision to marginalize Bernie Sanders played out in the election. The insider rebuff of Sanders played into the hands of Donald Trump, who won the election, in part, because of Democratic hubris.

Similar warning signs surfaced in recent Liberal Party decisions involving byelection nominations.

Decisions were made which served to tilt the nomination process in the races to replace outgoing ministers, John McCallum and Stéphane Dion. Notwithstanding public protestations to the contrary, non-transparent internal steps were taken that served to benefit party-preferred candidates, facing tough nomination battles.

In one case, the meddling backfired. The popular mayor of St. Laurent, Alan DeSousa, was deemed ineligible to run by the party’s vetting committee. That move ostensibly paving the way for party favourite and former provincial minister Yolande James. Instead, DeSousa’s 26-year-old assistant, Emmanuella Lambropoulos, whose candidacy was green lighted, surprised everyone by winning the nomination.

By any standards, former PMO staffer Mary Ng, and former Quebec provincial minister Yolande James would both have been excellent candidates. They are young, articulate and reflect the diversity of Canada’s population.

But party meddling handed them a poisoned chalice.

In Ng’s case, the party approved a retroactive voting process resulting in the disallowance of 1,500 memberships sold by her chief opponent.

Ng’s obvious talents may help her overcome the rocky beginning of a controversial nomination victory two weeks ago. But party actions in both nominations have soured volunteers.

The moves provoked a hot debate among Liberals. Jack Siegel, former co-chair of the Liberal constitutional and legal affairs committee, defended the party on his Facebook page. He claimed “the Liberal Party has had retroactive blind cut-offs for close to 25 years,” using it as a means to prevent “dumping thousands of forms at the deadline, keeping their signups secret and overloading the party’s membership systems with the flood of forms, all in urgent need of inputting.”

Siegel was deeply involved in the nomination which prompted my departure from politics. He oversaw a decision to count 500 unsigned ballots that had not been initialed by the returning officer. The membership system in the party offices was so ‘overloaded’ that, just before midnight, an official deleted 378 eligible Liberals from the voting list. Party officials wanted to ensure the nomination of my opponent, who was the leader’s choice.

I was not the only one who exited Parliament under a cloud. Rigged nominations across the country ultimately poisoned the volunteer base. Many diehard Liberals dropped out of the party and two million of them stayed home when Prime Minister Paul Martin lost the election to Conservative Stephen Harper.

Thanks to the NDP complaint, the courts may ultimately decide that political parties need to establish rigorous, transparent processes so their decisions are not just seen to be arbitrary or biased.

Retroactive cutoffs, and green light committees with no public transparency or accountability, turn voters off.

More important, they turn party members off. As a volunteer, if you are not allowed to participate in a nomination, you may just take a pass on an election.

 

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.

Media

Trump effect is sweeping across Europe

No Comments 13 April 2017

All eyes on the first round of the French elections next month.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, March 13, 2017.

OTTAWA—The Trump effect is sweeping across Europe, with all eyes on the first round of the French elections next month.

National polls have the anti-immigration party of Marine Le Pen hovering around 30 per cent, with some even suggesting her numbers might climb as high as 40.

Few are predicting a Le Pen win, with opponents working in tandem to undermine her momentum.

But no one is taking anything for granted.
 
Travelling in Paris last week, I got an earful about how the American phenom was moving east.

Everywhere I went, people were talking about Le Pen’s anti-globalization message and platform planks mirroring those of U.S. President Donald Trump.

It is not the first time the Le Pen family has caught the attention of the French political class.

Marine’s father led the National Front for almost 40 years, before Marine assumed his mantle six years ago, becoming only the second president of the party her family founded. In 2012, she placed third, behind François Hollande and Nicholas Sarkozy, in the presidential election.

Her second presidential bid for the election culminating on May 7 was launched in February.

The Le Pen brand has been around for almost a half-century, but never managed to garner support from more than one in five French voters.

But the winds of change that carried Brexit and Trump seem to be leaving their mark in France too.

Le Pen herself has campaigned to soften the image of the National Front. She went so far as to expel her father-founder from the party almost two years ago for characterizing the Holocaust as a “mere detail” of history.

Le Pen’s political manifesto is eerily similar to Trump’s. Much of her political fire has been reserved for immigrants and Islam. She has also promised to put an end to a financial system that she says is wreaking havoc with blue-collar workers.

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Media

Parliament Hill will be overrun by women this week

No Comments 07 April 2017

This time, 338 young women will be taking seats in the House of Commons. Daughters of the Vote, a major national gathering spearheaded by the multi-partisan Equal Voice, will be debating key issues facing Canada in the next 150 years.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, March 6, 2017.

OTTAWA—This week, Parliament Hill will be overrun by women. Normally, that is not so unusual, as the majority of political and bureaucratic support staffers are women.

But this time, 338 young women will be taking seats in the House of Commons.

Daughters of the Vote, a major national gathering spearheaded by the multi-partisan Equal Voice, will be debating key issues facing Canada in the next 150 years.

Future leaders include 70 indigenous representatives, and women from as far away as the Arctic Circle. Twenty-five speakers will make 90-second statements in the Chamber, on issues ranging from equality for girls and women to humans rights, to immigrant, refugee and resettlement issues.
Daughters of the Vote is a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, and the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in Canada.

It took 50 years for Canadian women to actually secure the right to vote. One hundred years later, we are still far from achieving equality in the House of Commons.

The appointed Senate is much closer, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it a point to seek equality while changing the way Senators are nominated.

In our highest elected Chamber, the country still has a long way to go.

This week, Canadians will get a chance to see exactly what a Chamber of women would look like.

Kicking off the parliamentary session will be Canada’s only female prime minister, Kim Campbell. She occupied the office in 1993 after being chosen by her party to replace Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney.

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Media

Five byelections will be first real test for Liberal government

No Comments 28 March 2017

Ottawa-Vanier has never voted anything but Grit. However, large margins have a way of evaporating in by-elections where voters can register dissatisfaction without turfing a government. That is what makes byelections so tricky.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, February 27, 2017.

OTTAWA—Five byelections across three provinces will be the first real test for the Liberal government.

With vacancies in former Liberal ridings, the pressure will be on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grow his majority.

Whatever happens, the outcome will likely result in a rise in diversity, as all ridings were formerly held by white men and several byelection frontrunners are women.

At the moment, the Liberal nominee in the riding of Ottawa-Vanier, appears to have the edge. Mona Fortier served as an assistant to Mauril Bélanger, who lost his battle against ALS last August.

Fortier was endorsed by Bélanger’s widow in a hotly contested nomination which recruited 6,500 new members into what has been described as Canada’s safest Liberal riding.

Ottawa-Vanier has never voted anything but Grit. However, large margins have a way of evaporating in by-elections where voters can register dissatisfaction without turfing a government.

That is what makes byelections so tricky. In the case of Ottawa-Vanier, the ruling party does not seem to be in any real danger.

In the heart of the nation’s capital, the riding includes many public servants who are still breathing a sigh of relief that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are no longer in power. By comparison, the Liberals are supportive of the role played by the bureaucracy in developing evidence-based policies.

The population is highly diverse, and supportive of the government’s strong stand in favour of refugee resettlement.

Controversy surrounding identity questions could loom large in the Quebec by-election called to replace former leader and foreign minister Stéphane Dion.

Star Liberal candidate and former Quebec immigration minister Yolande James has changed her position on the niqab, and her nomination opponents are zeroing in on this discrepancy.

While Quebec minister of immigration, James refused to allow a niqab-wearing woman to take French language classes.

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Media

Ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour

No Comments 20 March 2017

While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington praising up Trump on the art of the deal, Trudeau was actually getting a bigger deal done.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, February 20, 2017.

OTTAWA—It was Canada’s hour in the European Parliament last week.

Even those parties who voted against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement were compelled to proclaim their affection for our country with hand-held signs that said, “Yes to Canada. No to CETA.”

In the end, the vote was not even close, even though parties on the left and the right were opposed.

Some 58 per cent of European parliamentarians endorsed the deal, which sets the stage for speedy implementation.

In one sense, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has U.S. President Donald Trump to thank for the solid show of support.

Since the new American president’s inauguration a month ago, the United States administration has been systemically threatening to close borders, round up refugees and cancel international commercial agreements.

Even though American courts have slowed down some of the initiatives, the obvious message of closed America borders has not been lost on the rest of the world.

Contrary to the core group of Trump supporters, most other jurisdictions feel alienated and confused by the administration’s early direction.

European support for the free trade deal with Canada actually grew because the agreement became synonymous with an anti-Trump approach. One European parliamentarian, Artis Pabriks from the European People’s Party made an oblique reference to the plan to wall off Mexico. “Together we can build bridges, instead of a wall, for the prosperity of our citizens. CETA will be a lighthouse for future trade deals all over the world.”

While Trump vows to close borders and keep foreigners out, the Canadian prime minister is welcoming refugees and signing trade deals with Europe and beyond.

Perhaps the ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour.

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Media

There’s considerable risk attached to Trudeau’s meeting with Trump in Washington

No Comments 16 March 2017

If Justin Trudeau is too aggressive, he could become another high-profile target in Donald Trump’s world tweet war. If Trudeau is too accommodating, he risks facing the ire of a considerable number of citizens back home who want the prime minister to fight back. The Monday meeting requires a delicate balance.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, February 13, 2017 with The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Canada shares the longest open border in the world with the United States. Canadians would obviously like to keep it that way.

The Monday meeting between the prime minister and U.S. President Donald Trump will be key to that outcome.

At first blush, the two leaders are very different. Not only are they separated by age. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political values are very different to Trump’s.

But Trudeau grew up with considerable family wealth and notoriety, in circumstances similar to Trump. Trudeau also spent much of his life in the public eye.

The Trudeau brand has been widely known around the world, rivalling that of the Trump brand.

Pierre Trudeau made a name for himself as a leader willing to break with tradition. He built new alliances, from early recognition of the People’s Republic of China to north-south political emphasis on Cuba and Latin America.

Political leaders still positively remember the influence of Pierre Trudeau on international public policy and will be watching this meeting closely.

As for Trump, his first weeks in office have not been well-received internationally. First came Trump’s fight with Mexico, then his disdain for China and two weeks ago was dominated by reports of a nasty telephone call with the prime minister of Australia.

To date, Trump’s strongest relationships appear to be with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Thus far, Canada has not been on Trump’s radar. Trudeau’s visit will be an exercise in keeping it that way.

There is considerable risk attached to the outcome of the meeting.

Most of the risk is on Canadian shoulders. With our small population and integrated economy, Canada stands to lose the most in a trade war with Trump. Much of our interconnection, from the beginnings of the auto pact, to bilateral steel and lumber agreements, is dependent on stable political relationships between the two leaders.

Prime ministers and presidents do not have to like each other, but they need to be able to work together for the benefit of both countries.

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Media

Sometimes ambiguity can be a blueprint for survival

No Comments 07 March 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed no such ambiguity when he launched a plan for electoral reform during the last election, boldly proclaiming that 2015 would be the last vote under the current system.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, February 6, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—In politics, ambiguity is usually considered a sign of weak leadership. But it can sometimes be a blueprint for survival.

When the Government of France weighed in on the question of an independent Quebec back in 1977, they coined a phrase that epitomizes political ambiguity. The “non-indifference” policy was their explanation to support but not to interfere in the move for Quebec separation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed no such ambiguity when he launched a plan for electoral reform during the last election, boldly proclaiming that 2015 would be the last vote under the current system.

Today, he probably wishes that he had been a little less categorical. In the heat of a campaign, certainty is a lot more attractive than ambiguity.

Explaining his about-face in the House of Commons last week, the prime minister appeared uncomfortably resolute. Without consensus on electoral change, it would be folly to change the system.

Predictably, the New Democrats attacked Trudeau viciously. NDP spokesperson Nathan Cullen admonished himself publicly to choose his words carefully. He then proceeded to call the prime minister a “liar” and “the most cynical variety of politician” who “spit in the face” of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Cullen’s response was angry, because his party stands to lose the most without proportional representation.

His party is also to blame for the impasse. They chaired the parliamentary committee which effectively set up the Liberal exit strategy.

By endorsing only one alternative system, that of proportional representation, committee members effectively signed the death warrant for electoral reform. The Conservatives said little last week, because they oppose reform. Their insistence on a national referendum on the matter was intended to scuttle any change.

By recommending only one system, and then agreeing to a national referendum, the NDP killed its own goose.

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Media

Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust

No Comments 02 March 2017

Donald Trump is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

Published on Monday, January 30, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Donald Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust.

So it stands to reason that one of his first acts as president could be to cut all funding to the only two federal agencies with a mandate for arts and culture. Last week The Hill, a congressional news source, reported on a plan to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

The NEA, established by an Act of Congress back in 1964, currently receives only $150-million in federal government funds. That represents a pittance of the $10.5-trillion in cuts proposed by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization providing the blueprint for administration budget direction. As for the CPB, its total annual funding from public coffers is less than $450-million.

Both sums are chump change. By contrast, the Canada Council for the Arts is currently funded at a rate of $220-million Canadian dollars annually, almost $20-million more than the congressional allocation for the NEA, in a country with one-tenth the population. The last federal budget boosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation budget by $675-million over five years.
 
But it is obvious that Trump’s political agenda is not about simply balancing the country’s books. He is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

It may also be payback time for ancient grievances.

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Media

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.

By SHEILA COPPS

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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