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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Canadians want Trudeau to offset Trump on welcoming refugees

No Comments 27 September 2017

The recent influx of asylum seekers in manageable.


First published on Monday, August 28, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

Such is the dilemma facing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the increase in ambulatory migrants arriving from the United States in the wake of American removal rumblings.

News reports say that more than 7,500 people have streamed across the Canada-United States border in the past three months. If that continues, it will mean an additional 30,000 potential refugees annually added to the numbers Canada has already accepted from Syria and elsewhere.

But before we start ringing the alarm bells, let’s draw a small comparison with refugee numbers in major European destinations.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 2015 figures reveal about one million migrants arrived on European shores by sea and an additional 34,900 by land. The European border patrol authorities estimate a higher figure of 1.8 million during the same period.

According to a BBC documentary, Germany received the highest number of refugees in that year. Hungary actually had the largest number relative to population, absorbing nearly 1,800 refugees per 100,000 people.

That figure underscores the relative absorption capacity by population, which is likely the best indicator of how easily newcomers will be able to settle in.

The second highest absorption rate was actually Sweden with 1,667 refugees per 100,000 people.

Germany, with the highest rate of refugees in sheer numbers, received 587 people per 100,000. After all the Brexit fuss, the United Kingdom actually only welcomed 60 refugees per 100,000. The average for the whole of Europe was 260 per 100,000.

Compare those numbers to this summer’s Haitian influx, and you can draw your own conclusions.

If arrivals continue at the current pace, the country will receive 30,000 people in a year, in addition to other refugee applicants. That represents an absorption rate of 111 refugees per 100,000 population, less than half of the European average. Compare that with nearly 1,800 for Hungary and you can see that Canada’s commitment is not as robust as we like to think.

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Is the alt-right movement dead in Canada, or merely sleeping?

No Comments 20 September 2017

Conservatives are backing away from The Rebel, after its coverage of Charlottesville, but anti-Muslim and anti-immigration protests continue to happen in Canada.


First published on Monday, August 21, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—The northward drift of the American alt-right may have been stopped in its tracks in the aftermath of Charlottesville last week. Or it may actually be energized by the post-Charlottesville fallout.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced Thursday that he would no longer give interviews to self-stylized right-wing online presence, Rebel Media, after it provided positive coverage and streamed live images of neo-fascist, Nazi-chanting Virginia marchers.

In normal times, a quarter of the Conservative caucus has been interviewed by The Rebel, with a YouTube audience of 400,000. Scheer was a regular until his disavowal last week.

Rebel’s troubles began when a contributor, covering the event in Charlottesville, retweeted insinuations that the murderous white supremacist driver who is alleged to have killed one person with his car, may have been provoked because anti-racism protesters who hit the speeding vehicle before it ploughed into the crowd.

Rebel co-founder and former Sun Media journalist Brian Lilley exited the online news organization days before Scheer’s declaration, claiming the outlet suffers from a “lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it.”

With the departure of Lilley, and the Charlottesville fallout, Scheer had no choice but to publicly cut ties with The Rebel.

Lilley posted his leave-taking notice on Facebook, linking co-founder Ezra Levant with the alt-right movement in his comments.

“I was never enamoured by the ‘alt-right,’ never saw the appeal but I take Ezra at his word when he describes his evolution. But just as he has evolved, just as The Rebel has evolved, so have I and the uncomfortable dance that I have been doing for some time now must come to an end. … As a serious journalist with nearly 20 years’ experience at the highest levels in this country, and abroad, I cannot be a part of this.”

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Canada’s effort to include climate change in NAFTA worth a shot

No Comments 13 September 2017

But it is likely to get the same kind of reaction from American President Donald Trump that he levels to all climate comers.


First published on Monday, August 14, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Canada’s effort to include climate change in the North American Free Trade negotiations is worth a try.

But it is likely to get the same kind of reaction from American President Donald Trump that he levels to all climate comers.

In Trump world, climate change is in the same category as the real media world of fake news. It is part of a hidden agenda by political elites to ignore the wishes of ordinary people and Trump will have none of it.

A 700-page report on climate change, co-authored by 17 United States government agencies that have been tasked with writing the National Climate Assessment for the past quarter century, will have no influence on the president.

Their scientific analysis, prepared for presidential review, is unequivocal.

Excerpts of the unanimous report were published in The New York Times last week.

At first, the newspaper was claiming the scoop of a leaked document, but two days later, a correction clarified that the material had been publicly available since last January. The White House jumped on the false claim, as the president correctly identified an opening for his ongoing allegations about fake news, including claims about climate change.

But the global warming report was not a media product. It was the result of scientific research by multiple American government agencies that concluded the long-term link between climate change and human activities is “unambiguous.”

“There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate,” the report says, drawing its conclusions from thousands of studies. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.”

Trump will respond to the substance of the report next week, but it is unlikely that he will embrace any conclusions.

The Canada government’s plan to replicate the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement inclusion of climate change in the NAFTA is ambitious, popular and likely doomed to failure.

Unlike the United States, the European Union has been leading the charge on greenhouse gas reductions for years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel authored the precursor to the Kyoto Accord when she served as Germany’s environment minister and chaired the first United Nations Climate Conference in Berlin in 1995.

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Liberal voice missing from Freeland’s NAFTA advisory council

No Comments 07 September 2017

With two high-profile Tories and a New Democrat on the 13-member group, ordinary Liberals will be miffed to have missed their opportunity to influence the council.


First published on Monday, August 7, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Hopefully NAFTA’s ark won’t spring a leak.

The ship of state that will be guiding the country through the treacherous Trumpian waters of North American free trade is anything if not inclusive.

The 13-member advisory council announced last week by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland crosses party lines, regional divisions and market divides.

From Quebec farmers to the labour movement, from auto parts makers to aboriginal leaders, the NAFTA advisory council is broadly representative of the sectors that stand to be affected by the negotiations.

One missing voice is that of the Liberal Party. That statement may seem counterintuitive, given the leader of the country and the lead minister on the file are both Liberals. At the end of the day, the chief negotiator for the deal also reports to the prime minister so the government will definitely have the final say.

But in the delicate world of trade, the cabinet is there to knit together a broad national consensus while ordinary caucus members have a duty to identify specific constituency pitfalls.

It would be folly to think that former Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, former minister James Moore, or former New Democratic leadership candidate Brian Topp would act as party mouthpieces in these negotiations. All nominees are capable, independent thinkers in their own right and they are definitely not there to toe the party line.

But just as the Union of Agricultural Producers can be counted on to protect Quebec farmers’ interest, which do not always coincide with those of Ontario or Albertan farmers, neither Topp nor Ambrose will throw their respective former parties under the bus. They can also be expected to reflect their lifetime political perspective and to keep party friends in the loop.

The absence of a specific Liberal appointee would not have been missed if the advisory group had been limited to sectoral experts. But with two high-profile Tories and a New Democrat on the 13-member group, ordinary Liberals will be miffed to have missed their opportunity to influence the council.

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Dr. Hook was right about the cover of the Rolling Stone

No Comments 30 August 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must have purchased five copies of last week’s mag for his mother.


First published on Monday, July 31, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Dr. Hook put it best. You haven’t made it until you appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

So, just like the eponymous song said, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must have purchased five copies of last week’s mag for his mother.

One picture is always worth a thousand words. And the full-page photo of the prime minister is a great one.

The 7,000 words of copy were equally effusive. Some would say obsequious.

Toronto Star columnist Vinay Menon complained that “the Rolling Stone profile of Trudeau that landed on Wednesday is so glowingly submissive, so blindingly quixotic, that even if you tool around in a T-shirt that reads ‘Sunny Ways,’ you might be wise to put on shades while skimming to avoid damaging your retinas.”

The former director of communications for Stephen Harper wrote an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail bluntly stating that “Trudeau’s celebrity helps Trudeau, not Canada.”

Andrew MacDougall’s lengthy analysis, intended to throw cold water on the prime minister’s international photo shoot, actually reinforced it. He went so far as to say that his former boss would never have deigned to give an interview to Rolling Stone because Harper considered the magazine irrelevant to his political agenda.

Of course it is irrelevant to a political agenda. But it is relevant to an electability agenda.

As MacDougall noted in his piece, the magazine is “not the journal of record on Capitol Hill.”

However, Rolling Stone is the journal of record for a generation of young people who know little, and care less, about what is happening on Capitol Hill or Parliament Hill.

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Provincial ministers’ summer gabfest hands Trudeau a gift he could not refuse

No Comments 23 August 2017

A political pot fight is just what Justin Trudeau needs to shore up his left flank.


First published on Monday, July 24, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—The pot thickens.

The provincial ministers annual summer gabfest handed the prime minister a gift he could not refuse.

A political pot fight is just what Justin Trudeau needs to shore up his left flank.

Traditional New Democratic voters across the country fled their party to support the Liberals in the last election.

Some simply could not stomach the possibility of another term of Conservative government under Stephen Harper. They voted Liberal to block the Tories.

Others liked Liberal promises, including the pot legalization proposal and the claim that the current electoral system had run its course and would be replaced before the next election.

Promise No. 2 has been shelved indefinitely. When the parliamentary committee, chaired by the opposition, delivered a split decision on the matter, the governing Liberals abandoned any changes.

It was an open secret that the prime minister did not favour proportional voting, and would have preferred a change to a ranked ballot electoral change. When the committee excluded that option, the Liberals decided to make an early break from the well-publicized promise that, “We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post.”

The Trudeau team was banking on the fact that the electoral reform promise really only appealed to a narrow group of voters, mostly those who were already committed to their party of choice and unlikely to switch allegiance.

The pot promise, on the other hand, taps into a broad swathe of millennial voters whose recreational vice of choice is marijuana.

That younger voting cohort is spread across the country, and very motivated to punish any party that stands in the way of the legalization timetable.

It was not surprising that the proposal by the government of Manitoba to delay implementation was met with little support from most of the premiers.

The premiers’ framing of unresolved issues was also fairly revealing. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, usually the most Conservative of premiers, appeared more concerned about revenue stream details than the safety issues emphasized by his only Conservative counterpart, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

“Labelling, public health, who’s selling it, what’s the split, road safety—there is a great deal of issues here,” Wall said.

Despite public claims of fear for safety, the real issues seem to revolve around what jurisdictions will manage distribution and who benefits financially.

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Canada Games have stood the test of time, so happy birthday to that

No Comments 16 August 2017

Next weekend, more than 20,000 Canadians are expected to converge at the centre of Canada as Winnipeg hosts the Games. The prime minister is planning to make an appearance along with many national politicians and provincial premiers.


First published on Monday, July 17, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Birthdays have a way of spawning new ideas. Whether it is a resolution to lose weight, a decision to do more good, or a plan to simply stop sweating the small stuff, milestone moments can be catalysts.

That holds true for a country as well as a person.

So many good ideas have been generated during Canada’s 150th that it is hard to know where to start. Whether it is a street party, a community festival or a cross-country relay, people reach out during our celebration in a way that makes all of us reconnect with community.

Some of the events will be ephemeral, fleeting opportunities to meet. Others will stand the test of time.

The Canada Games event is one of those birthday presents that has stood the test of time. The largest, multiple sporting event in the country, it was launched 50 years ago on Canada’s 100th birthday.

Next weekend, more than 20,000 Canadians are expected to converge at the centre of Canada as Winnipeg hosts the Games. The prime minister is planning to make an appearance along with many national politicians and provincial premiers.

The Canada Games are a must-attend event on the summer political barbecue circuit.

The organization is even stronger today than when it started as a centennial project.

Held in a different Canadian community every two years, with alternating winter and summer versions, the sporting theme replicates the Olympic Games model. It even features a Canada Games torch relay, named after an iconic supporter, New Brunswicker Roly McLenahan.

This year’s torch was lit from the Parliament Hill eternal flame on June 6 and has been wending its way through Manitoba for the past several weeks in preparation for the July 28 opening ceremony.

The Winnipeg gathering marks only the second time in history that two First Nations will co-host the event.

Featuring 16 sports, more than 250 events, and a major cultural festival, the 2017 Canada Games will welcome more than 4,000 athletes and coaches.

The Canada Games have also become a major cultural draw, offering the host city a chance to showcase musical talent, while welcoming artists from across Canada. This year’s opening ceremonies include Serena Ryder from Ontario, Quebec’s Coeur de Pirate and Winnipeg’s own Juno award-winning Brothers’ Landreth.

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Birthday hangover still has Ottawa buzzing

No Comments 09 August 2017

All in all, it was a great celebration. We reflected on successes and the many mistakes Canada made in the first 150 years. Learning from both, we are all the better for it.


First published on Monday, July 10, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Thank goodness the sesquicentennial only happens every 150 years.

Nobody can pronounce it anyway, and the birthday hangover still has Ottawa buzzing.

A half million people descended on the capital to join in the Canada Day party and it was a blast. Contrary to media reports about the downsized crowd, there were about 100,000 waiting in line at the two entrance points one had to pass to get on to Parliament Hill.

I know, because I was one of them.

Given my advanced age, (64), I briefly contemplated watching the noon-day celebration from the comfort of my own living room. But I could not resist the lure of the real thing.

During my eight years as Heritage minister, July 1 was a heavy workday. With speechmaking, artistic programming and multiple important visitors, the team was always on high alert to make sure nothing went wrong. Inevitably, something always did.

One year, we festooned the VIP seats with paper flags sponsored by a national organization representing Canadian chicken farmers. We did not realize that the ink of Canada’s ruby red flag stamped on cheap paper had not set. So when every diplomat rose sing O Canada, I watched in horror as a ragged red flag outline was permanently imprinted on all bespoke diplomatic garb.

One year, Queen Elizabeth looked curiously bemused as two well-hung male circus performers wrapped in nothing but swaddling cloth, performed gyro technics that required the head of one to perch comfortably on the butt of the other. On the same occasion, Her Majesty was introduced to Inuit throat singing, which requires two singers to literally pass the music from one throat to another, again requiring unusual human contact.

Most Canada Days pass without too many hitches, as did our 150th.

Of course, the naysayers could probably point out that when the prime minister did a shout out to all parts of the country, he forgot, of all places, Alberta.

It certainly was not Freudian, as Justin Trudeau has made a special effort during his time in office to reach out to a province that has not always been so friendly to the Liberals.

Luckily, the program was long enough that Trudeau was able to recant his error and proclaim his undying love for the forgotten province in time for the closing song.

There were a couple of other snafus. In one instance, the king of Canadian broadcasting got a more fulsome intro than the real future King, The Prince of Wales, ever the diplomat, took it in stride, delivering a beautifully bilingual speech which sought to underscore the wonderful benefits of being Canadian.

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The creation of Canada was at core of diversity

No Comments 03 August 2017

And 150 years later, it is time for all of us to celebrate.


First published on Monday, July 3, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—In Canada, the 150th birthday bash seems to have taken on a double meaning.

Bash connotes a happy time when everyone joins together in an unforgettable party.

Bash can also mean a chance to take a dump on the very birthday celebration that drew hundreds of thousands of Canadians to Parliament Hill.

Some of the worst birthday bashers were the aboriginal naysayers who erected a protest teepee on Parliament Hill to protest ‘our home on native land.’

They achieved their goal, garnering headlines about legitimate aboriginal grievances that have not been rectified during the lifetime of Canada’s existence.

In so doing, they missed a huge opportunity to build a bridge instead of burning it.

How easy would it have been for the original fathers of Confederation to walk away from the agreement to create Canada because of differences of language and different religion? To welcome those differences into one political construct took courage, and a willingness to reach out.

Real leaders know how to step beyond divides and bring people together.

U.S. President Donald Trump has shown how easy it is to build walls. He nurtured a political base founded on racial and religious resentment.

That strategy was politically profitable in the short term. Demagogues and despots have always understood how easy it is to divide people on the basis of race, religion and colour.

It should be our collective responsibility to support bridge building and decry division.

That is why the decision of aboriginal protesters to try to undermine the nation’s celebratory mood on Canada’s birthday was a mistake. That is why the recent ban on police participation in the Toronto Pride parade was also a mistake.

The Black Lives Matter movement, that spearheaded the police ban, has legitimate beefs related to racial profiling, discrimination and biased treatment by police. So does the gay community.

Some of us are old enough to remember the horror of the Toronto bathhouse raids.

But to go from that unhappy period to a situation when gay supporters from the police join in celebration of diversity can only be viewed a huge step forward.

What does blocking police accomplish in the effort to eliminate bias and discrimination?

If anything, the Black Lives Matter movement is simply reinforcing reverse discrimination. Just like police should not be stopping people on the streets and randomly asking for proof of identity just because of their colour, so parade goers should not ban all police on the basis that some have been, and continue to be homophobic and/or racist.

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© 2017 Sheila Copps.