Media

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.

By SHEILA COPPS

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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Media

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.

By SHEILA COPPS

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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Media

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.

By SHEILA COPPS

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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Media

New security package positive, but storm clouds on horizon between House and Senate

No Comments 26 July 2017

However, there were storm clouds gathering on the Liberal horizon last week, in relation to the showdown between the House of Commons and the Senate on who actually controls public spending powers.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, June 26, 2017 in The Hill Times.

 

OTTAWA—The great thing about the first two years of a new government is that people are willing to cut the team a lot of slack.

The challenging thing about the last two years of the same mandate is that patience has worn thin and people want results.

The months leading up to the midpoint are crucial in sketching out a direction that can stand the test of time, and the next election.

The Liberal rollout last week of a new security package sets the stage for a positive midterm review.

The massive, 139-page legislative package, championed by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, was widely praised as striking a balance between the individual right to privacy and collective right to security.

C-59 was also seen as curbing the overarching unchecked powers that C-51 had awarded to police and spy agencies including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment.

Conservative critics attacked the new bill for tying the hands of police, and New Democrats said the proposed changes did not go far enough.

Legal experts on both sides of the security/freedom spectrum were cautiously positive. In particular, they praised the tone of ministers in support of the proposals.

Former Public Safety minister Steven Blaney was all bombast in defence of the police and security right to avoid scrutiny in pursuit of terrorists. Goodale, an old hand at the political balance game, was more circumspect in his position. He emphasized the right of citizens to be free from intrusive police powers, while affording police the law enforcement tools to keep the country safe.

By all accounts, the legislation will clean up serious anomalies in existing no-fly zone listing disclosures while continuing some secretive powers awarded in the previous legislation.

The creation of a super review agency to oversee all security measures infringing on citizen rights was widely lauded as an effective way to harness police powers.

As a backdrop for a midterm agenda, the legislation on safety and security is a potential start.

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Media

After dust settles on assassination attempt, nothing will change in U.S.

No Comments 19 July 2017

No one in the United States is really willing to tackle the single biggest killer of Americans—their own guns.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, June 19, 2017 in The Hill Times.

 

OTTAWA—A baseball shootout in the United States will rally all Americans behind their government.

The one thing that won’t happen is any amendment to laws that seem destined to promote a national gun epidemic.

By all accounts, the alleged shooter had political opinions. He despised both U.S. President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He supported left-wing Democrat Bernie Sanders, who was quick to dissociate himself from the shooter by decrying violence in any form.

After the dust has settled on this assassination attempt, nothing will change.

No one in the United States is really willing to tackle the single biggest killer of Americans—their own guns.

It is politically correct to focus on foreign enemies, from ISIL to Iran, to the Syrian government. But the single most significant reason for death in America is unfettered access to firepower by any person under any circumstance.

Rarely has this open access hit so close to political home. The attack upon Democrat Gabrielle Giffords generated a similar visceral response back in January, 2011, when the congresswoman was shot at a public town hall meeting in her constituency.

Six other people at the meeting were killed but Giffords survived, with extensive brain damage. She resigned her seat a year later, with the intention of focussing on her own recovery.

In January 2013, Giffords and her spouse, retired astronaut Mark Kelly cofounded Americans for Responsible Solutions. The organization is working with elected officials and the general public to promote gun control legislation. Their movement supports “keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.”

Giffords’ family effort follows in the wake of work by other victims of similar politically-motivated assassination attempts. The fallout of a gun attack on president Ronald Reagan back in 1981 left his press secretary James Brady, paralyzed and with permanent brain damage.

Brady’s wife Sara, then devoted her family’s efforts to lobbying for gun legislation. Ultimately, the Brady Bill, placing a five-day wait time on pistol purchase, was proposed in 1987 and passed into law by president Bill Clinton in 1993.

Even this small step was concurrently undermined by contradictory legislation called the Firearm Owners Protection Act. That counter law was designed to ensure that any details on gun ownership would not provided to any police authorities, supposedly to protect firearm owners.

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Media

Meilleur could be best official languages commissioner we never had

No Comments 12 July 2017

Madeleine Meilleur was bullied out of the job last week simply because she recently stepped down as a member of the Liberal cabinet of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, June 12, 2017 in The Hill Times.

 

OTTAWA—Former Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield is called the best prime minister we never had.

Madeleine Meilleur could follow his lead as the best official languages commissioner we never had.

Meilleur was bullied out of the job last week simply because she recently stepped down as a member of the Liberal cabinet of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon went right from government to an ambassadorial position, as did former New Democratic Premier Gary Doer. Both nominees served with distinction, and were able to set aside their partisan histories in the interest of the country.

Meilleur, a respected francophone, would have been a fantastic official languages commissioner.

The commissioner’s job is not as high profile as that of ambassador, but it requires a devotion far beyond any diplomatic posting.

I was approached about the same appointment by prime minister Stephen Harper many years ago, when a mutual friend got in touch to test my interest.

I replied that I would rather stick pins in my eyes than assume responsibility for official language laws across the country. It is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

Most people understand the role of ambassador. Few Canadians have a clue as to what the official languages commissioner even does.

It involves devoting all your energy to fighting an uphill battle against federally-regulated bodies that regularly flaunt official bilingualism.

Meilleur is a diehard minority defender. She would definitely have put the survival of her people ahead of any political loyalty.

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Media

Trump’s backward move on climate change disadvantages U.S.

No Comments 05 July 2017

Trump is closing off his country and making the U.S. a less attractive destination for innovation and investment.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, June 5, 2017 in The Hill Times.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump just hammered another nail in the American coffin.

In his petulant conversations about pulling out of the global climate change consensus, he is labouring under the misimpression that his withdrawal would influence the agreement.

Instead, he is reinforcing the impression that his leadership is leading the United States down the wrong road.

At a time when other potential global players are emerging to challenge American hegemony, the president seems bound on taking his country backwards.

It all started with his slogan, “Make America great again.”

In reality, old America may have welcomed a certain demographic, but not everyone. Equality for women and minorities, still more myth than reality, is much closer today than it was in the last century.

Income inequality and racial tension prompted the civil rights and women’s liberation movements.

Times were pretty good for white men who headed traditional families with no pesky questions about who ruled the roost.

Ask a gay or transgender person how happy things were in the good old days and their response will be different. Today’s equality, with all the ensuing challenges of integration, is far preferable to going back to the good old days.

And the same is true for climate change.

The world has collectively come to the conclusion that Mother Nature needs help.

From floods to fires, from extreme weather to desertification, the environment around us in changing in a way that needs a global response.

That means changing the way we live, including weaning ourselves off our dependence on non-renewable fuels.

That train has left the station, and while it is possible for the United States to bolt, it will be that country, not the world, that is left behind.

China, battling a pollution problem of epic proportions in its’ own major cities, is tackling national environmental challenges with gusto. It has rolled out a 10-year green plan and is currently in the process of electrifying its complete transportation system.

Its government’s edicts have also spawned a thriving alternative-energy industry, with almost every neighbourhood in the country sporting solar panels on the rooftops of most households.

China is also working actively in countries around the world promoting sustainable infrastructure with its Silk Road investment fund.

Meanwhile, Trump is closing off his country and making the United States a less attractive destination for innovation and investment.

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Media

Wilson-Raybould must move quickly to reverse what’s becoming a public embarrassment for the government

No Comments 28 June 2017

But she also needs to tread carefully because once launched, any public inquiry is an independent body designed to be master of its own affairs.

By SHEILA COPPS
First published on Monday, May 29, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Father knows best.

In 2017, that statement may be an anachronism, but Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould received some sage parental advice last week.

Hereditary chief Bill Wilson was blunt, calling for the resignation of the head of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Characterizing the glacial pace of the inquiry as “disgusting” and a “bloody farce,” he added in a blunt CBC television interview: “It’s almost as if they have scraped scabs off open wounds and then have done nothing to heal them.”

Wilson-Raybould will be under tremendous pressure to ignore her father’s advice but if she does so, she will pay a huge political price.

Only a few days earlier, commission chief Marion Buller defended the apparent disorganization and lack of communication by claiming she was taking a victim-centred approach to the inquiry process.

Public complaints keep piling up. Basic organizational tools to carry out simple tasks like manning hotline phones and enlisting witnesses do not seem to be in place more than five months after the inquiry launch.

And given that the promise of an open, transparent forum was one of the key Liberal election centrepieces, it is imperative to get the inquiry right.

One of the challenges the minister faces is that once a commission of inquiry is called, it becomes master of its own destiny.
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Media

It’s back to the future on free trade

No Comments 21 June 2017

The reality for both countries is that a seamless North American border is a sine quae non to confront the onslaught of Asia-Pacific competition. From China to India, the world economic poles of influence are changing. Like it or not, Europe and North America are no longer privileged players.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, May 22, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Like it or not, we are back in the free trade debate.

But chances are, it won’t be as divisive as the one we experienced in the election of 1988.

This time, there will be a fair bit of unanimity around the big issues. But be prepared for a few Canadian sacred cows to be sacrificed in the process. When I speak of sacred cows, I am of course not referring to the beasts themselves, but rather what they produce.

U.S. President Donald Trump has his sights squarely set on the abolition of the supply-managed Canadian dairy system.

Trump believes that Wisconsin carried him to the White House, and in so doing, it brokered a favour and secured a champion to open northern borders to state milk.

Canada can trot out all the data it wants to prove that the United States is getting as good as it gives in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The figures prove it.

But in the alternative Trump truth, what matters is politics. And he has supply management in his crosshairs.

It is also true that support for this unique made-in-Canada solution to dairy productions has been facing mixed reviews at home for years.
 
The latest politician to line up against the dairy farmers is none other that the likely future leader of the Conservative Party, Beauce Member of Parliament Maxime Bernier.

The strongest political support for the existing system comes from Quebec, but the loudest voice to kill it belongs to Bernier.

Ontario dairy farmers are not as vocal but they are equally political, with strong lobbying efforts in Ottawa, and direct contact with every Member of Parliament in rural Canada.

Those members punch above their weight. But given the vocal opposition of Bernier, if the government is forced to sacrifice supply management, it will be less politically damaging.
 
Most Canadians are too young to remember when supply management was introduced into Parliament. The system was the brainchild of a former minister in the Pierre Trudeau government, colourful Windsor-area Eugene Whelan, whose signature green Stetson was recognizable across the country.
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Political skills of premier secured re-election for B.C. Liberals

No Comments 14 June 2017

Christy Clark’s minority government, which could turn into razor-thin majority, will set the stage for some political chess played by all three parties.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Monday, May 15, 2017.

OTTAWA—The minority victory of the Liberal Party in British Columbia will shortly become a majority.

The nine-vote New Democratic Party margin in Courtenay-Comox will flip when the results of the military and absentee vote are counted. As the Liberal candidate was formerly the base commander in that riding before the election, he will surely lap the NDP to deliver a razor-thin majority to the Grits.

After 16 years in government, it is a credit to Premier Christy Clark’s campaign skills that the Liberals are even there at all.

And while the focus has been on her tenuous hold on government, the real story is the split vote on the left.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will be poring over these results, looking for clues as to how the Ontario Liberals can trump their hat trick in an election next June.

But the real power grab in the British Columbia election is that of the Green Party. With three new players in the legislature, their clear agenda on financing reform is a no-brainer.

Less clear is where the province goes on resource development. The Liberals were able to carve out a new base in rural British Columbia by promoting the link between jobs and energy.

The New Democrats, if they are ever to form the government, need to square that circle. But with the Greens nipping at their environmental heels, the path to government is less clear.

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