Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published October 25, 2019
Updated October 26, 2019
André Pratte was an independent senator from 2016 to 2019, and is currently a consultant in media, politics and writing.
As soon as the CBC announced my resignation, right in the middle of election night, a senator friend sent me a brief e-mail expressing surprise: “Why?”
In my letter of resignation, which I sent to the Governor-General on Oct. 10, I wrote: “In any professional career, there can come a time when we don’t have the skills or the motivation needed to carry out the job entrusted to us. After my three-and-a-half years in the Senate of Canada, that’s the conclusion I have arrived at.”
I thought this was clear, but the passage raised further questions. “Does that mean you’re fed up?” a popular Quebec radio host asked me. Well, yes … and no. I wasn’t “fed up” with working alongside high-calibre senators from all parts of the country – hard-working, dedicated people who have only the public good in mind. But yes, I was “fed up” with partisanship in all its forms, which continues to derail debates in the Upper Chamber, even if most of the senators appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are “independent.”
Special qualities are needed – thick skin being chief among them – to navigate the partisan waters without sinking. The Opposition has only one objective, and for some among them, it’s an obsession: to embarrass the government and hinder the legislative process.
The government, meanwhile, just wants to get its bills passed as quickly as possible most of the time, regardless of any improvements that may be suggested by the senators that the prime minister himself appointed, supposedly because of their competence.
In politics, both approaches – fanatical opposition, and executive branch arrogance – are understandable, and perhaps even inevitable. For my part, however, I was resolute in my decision to be completely independent of the political parties, meaning both the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition. More often than not, I found myself stuck between the two camps, unable to present my case to either side, since reason doesn’t count for much when partisan interests are at stake.
Here’s one example: After the Liberals killed the House of Commons committee’s investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair, Conservative senators tried to relaunch it in the Senate. In my opinion, it was definitely desirable for such an investigation to take place, as long as the approach was rigorous and non-partisan; however, the Tory senators’ efforts reeked of partisanship.
I, together with some of my colleagues, worked out an alternative motion, with our only concern being the public benefit. The result? Criticism from both sides. I was accused by the government of being “selfish” and by the Conservatives of “playing into the government’s hands.” Our motion died on the order paper, a victim of partisan bickering – the same fate was in store for several legislative proposals and motions.
In the next few months, independent senators are going to work hard to advance legal and regulatory changes aimed at freeing the Senate from party discipline and making it more effective – so much time lost to partisan procedural wrangling – but these changes are absolutely essential. I wholeheartedly support my former colleagues in their efforts, and I have great admiration for them. It takes a lot of courage to wage such a battle.
But it’s courage that I don’t have – or at any rate, that I don’t have any more.
I’m not a career politician who snaps a lot of selfies and pats all kinds of people on the back in order to win voters and allies. I am resolutely non-partisan and, most of the time, a loner. I study problems and work toward finding reasonable solutions that I believe to be in the public interest, considering the country as a whole. It may be that I am simply naive, but I have come to the conclusion that there is no real place for this type of approach in the Senate – not yet, anyway. It is less the Senate’s failure than mine.
This is, above all, a personal decision. I am 62. Unlike several senators, I didn’t have a cause that I wanted to bring to the Senate. If I wish to attempt a career change, and invest my efforts in areas where the qualities that I do have are useful, I must seize the opportunity now.
I have learned a lot: about Canada, about politics, and above all, about myself. It’s because I learned all this that I made this decision.
A week ago, I left Parliament Hill with a lump in my throat, filled with a deep sense of failure. I will get over this; I have done it before. But it seems to me that this time, my legs are less sturdy.
Like father, like son: Can Justin Trudeau remake himself, as his father did?
If he is like his father, he will listen to old hands, issue fewer apologies and honour more promises
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED 3 DAYS AGO
UPDATED OCTOBER 25, 2019
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RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS; JOHN MCNEIL/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Andrew Cohen is a journalist and professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism whose books include Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.
On the morning of Oct. 31, 1972, Canadians awoke to a Halloween surprise: After an achingly close national election, they did not know who would form the next government. The election returns the night before suggested that Robert Stanfield’s Conservatives would win one more seat than Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Liberals.
Eventually, due in part to a recount in a riding near Toronto, the Liberals would emerge with a plurality of two seats. As Wellington said of Waterloo, “It was a close-run thing.” That it was, and the election could well have been Mr. Trudeau’s undoing. Instead, it was his remaking.
Mr. Trudeau collaborated with the New Democratic Party, which had 31 of the 264 seats in the House of Commons. He tacked left, talked tough and took advice as he had not before. Between Jan. 4, 1973, and May 9, 1974, he assembled a floating bridge – at once flimsy, sturdy and temporary – and traversed it gingerly, from the safety of his last majority government to his next one.
Canada’s 29th Parliament turned out to be effective, productive and, for Mr. Trudeau, personally instructive. Instead of his Waterloo, he made minority government his Austerlitz, he said, learning from Napoleon how to win when outnumbered.
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The Globe and Mail’s front page on Oct. 31, 1972, notes Canadians’ uncertainty about whether the Liberals or Conservatives would form government in a hung Parliament.
Justin Trudeau’s margin of victory on Oct. 21 – three days after the 100th anniversary of the birth of his father – was 36 seats. The Liberals won 157 of 338 seats in Parliament. The Conservatives, their closest rivals, won 121 seats. There might seem few parallels between the situations of father and son a generation apart. Yet there are – and some lessons, too.
Like his father, the Prime Minister lacks a majority, and faces eerily similar problems now as then: nationalism in Quebec, alienation in the West and a President of the United States under threat of impeachment. Pierre was 24 seats short; Justin is 13 seats short. But a minority is a minority.
Like his father, Justin will need help to govern, which will come largely from the New Democrats, with their 24 seats.
Pierre had few allies (the conservative Créditistes from Quebec had 15 seats) for a progressive agenda. His son, on the other hand, can appeal to the Bloc Québécois (32 seats) and, on some issues, the Conservatives.
Mathematically, the three Greens and the lone Independent are irrelevant; Jody Wilson-Raybould will be so inconsequential in this Parliament that she will envy her defeated soulmate, Jane Philpott, who is now free to return to medicine.
Mr. Trudeau has vowed he will not form a coalition (as the NDP and the Greens have in British Columbia) or make a deal with the New Democrats (as David Peterson’s Liberals did with Bob Rae’s New Democrats in Ontario between 1985 and 1987). That may be unnecessary. Mr. Trudeau has the advantage of leading a broadly progressive Parliament, reflecting almost two-thirds of the population: The Liberals (33.1 per cent), the NDP (15.9 per cent), the Greens (6.5 per cent) and the BQ (7.7 per cent).
Yes, they disagree on issues such as middle-class tax cuts and more powers for Quebec over taxation and immigration. But there is a monumental – and understated – lesson in Monday’s results. The Liberals were re-elected in a country that has unseated seven provincial governments since 2015. To the dismay of the Conservatives, the centre-left vote did not divide cleanly between the Liberals and New Democrats this time, as progressives feared it would in 2015 before the Liberals surged to a majority (184 seats) late in that long campaign.
Here’s the thing: Whether it was through guile or luck, voting strategically or voting not at all, progressives found a way to keep the Liberals in, the New Democrats down and the Conservatives out. The election of the Greens, New Democrats and Bloquistes implicitly gives the Liberals licence to take risks. Long known as “Canada’s Natural Governing Party,” the Liberals were famously said to campaign from the left and govern from the right. Now, they can govern from the left.
This is particularly true on climate change, which Mr. Trudeau says no government can ignore. Catherine McKenna, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, who won sweet re-election amid a cloud of calumny and threats so great that she needed a security detail, says she hears critics to her left who want to do more.
For the Liberals, that suggests addressing climate change even beyond their platform commitments of establishing net-zero emissions by 2050, banning harmful single-use plastics by 2021 and conserving 30 per cent of the country’s lands and oceans by 2030. In this, presumably, the Liberals will find allies. For their part, the New Democrats will relish their new influence. A party with little money and 15 fewer seats will be reluctant to force an early election.
But the Liberals have other partners, too. If the Trans Mountain pipeline comes to a vote in Parliament, the Liberals would probably lose the New Democrats and the Greens on the left but gain the Conservatives on the right. Such are the shifting loyalties and faithless alliances of a hung Parliament.
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The party leaders in 2019, above, and their 1972 counterparts, below: Justin Trudeau and Pierre Trudeau of the Liberals, Andrew Scheer and Robert Stanfield of the Conservatives (still the Progressive Conservatives in 1972), and Jagmeet Singh and David Lewis of the New Democrats.
THE CANADIAN PRESS
From his father, Justin Trudeau could learn much about tactics and strategy. Pierre’s most important appointee was Allan MacEachen as House leader. MacEachen was elected first in 1953 and knew parliamentary rules intimately. A brilliant, wily son of Cape Breton Island, he would negotiate each piece of legislation with the New Democrats. This included the establishment of Petro-Canada, the creation of the Foreign Investment Review Agency and an Office of Native Claims, as well as more money to fight unemployment.
Years later, as prime minister, Stephen Harper said “all [Trudeau’s] government then did was spend money,” fuelling inflation and piling up debt. He rode the threat of another Liberal minority to a majority in 2011.
Pierre Trudeau did something else in 1972. Having ignored party insiders in 1968, he now turned to senator Keith Davey. Mr. Davey was shrewd, charming and proudly progressive, the dapper éminence grise of his generation. As he said in his memoir, The Rainmaker: “I learned that it is when the Liberal Party shifts to the right that we lose elections. The Liberal Party wins when it is most liberal. Whenever the Tories outflank us on our left, we inevitably lose.”
When Mr. Trudeau met Parliament, he faced Mr. Stanfield, the former premier of Nova Scotia, who was genteel, intelligent and dull. He also faced David Lewis, leader of the NDP, who was fiery, witty and erudite. Both respected each other, and convention, too.
Today, Justin Trudeau faces Jagmeet Singh and Andrew Scheer. Both are shallow careerists, emblems of the political class. After their election disappointments, both worry about keeping their jobs, particularly Mr. Scheer, who disdains Mr. Trudeau as a masked phony. On election night, all flaunted protocol. Mr. Singh talked too long and too late in Vancouver; as he spoke, Mr. Scheer went on stage in Regina and interrupted him; then Mr. Trudeau, no doubt annoyed with Mr. Scheer’s deeply personal attacks, began speaking in Montreal, pre-empting Mr. Scheer on television. It was a dismal spectacle, and a harbinger of bitterness to come.
Given the demands of contemporary politics, it is easy to see relations deteriorate, but tone in this Parliament will matter less than substance. Mr. Trudeau will deal with Mr. Singh more than Mr. Scheer, who, if Conservatives revert to type, will face dissent in his caucus. Pierre Trudeau dealt successfully with Mr. Lewis, who had denounced “corporate welfare bums” in the campaign. In the spring of 1974, high in the polls and encouraged by Mr. Davey, Mr. Trudeau engineered his own government’s defeat on a motion of no-confidence. In July, after a pitch-perfect campaign, largely against wage and price controls, he won a second majority government. The next year, the Liberals introduced wage and price controls.
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The Globe’s front page the day after the 1974 election notes early returns from Atlantic Canada. Later results from Ontario and Quebec would clinch the Liberals’ majority win.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Minority government – which accounted for fewer than two of his nearly 16 years in office – was Mr. Trudeau’s crucible. It was there that the philosopher king became the lone warrior, understanding what was needed to govern amid a demanding Alberta (Peter Lougheed) and a difficult United States (Richard Nixon). All the while, the prime minister kept his eye on the prize – keeping Quebec in Canada, and, later, bringing home the British North America Act from Britain and entrenching a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the single greatest act of nation-building in the history of Canada.
Only Pierre Trudeau, against the opposition, the provinces and the chattering class, could have done it. Had he lost in 1972, or mishandled the minority government that followed, none of it would have happened.
Can Justin Trudeau use minority government to remake himself, as his father did? After a series of personal missteps that cost him his majority, can he recover? Can he find the right advisers, win back public opinion and act boldly on the environment, income inequity, Indigenous reconciliation and pharmacare? If he is like his father, he will listen to old hands, issue fewer apologies and honour more promises.
Ultimately, he will have to do these things to find his way out of purgatory. Why? Because his name is Trudeau. And because it’s 1972.
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Pierre Trudeau cradles a young Justin Trudeau under his arm in Ottawa.
What is Brexit but a clash of stories, or narratives. In the first, UK is a part of a collaborative European Union that arose out of the ashes of the World Wars to establish an island of peace and commerce that is a beacon to the rest of the world. In the second, UK frees itself from the tyranny of an overseeing and threatening superstate, and goes forth free again to trade on its own terms with the world, as in some mythical past times.
These two stories are so completely incompatible that the country is now riven. We are in the midst of a narrative war. Of course, we always are. The conventional left-right prism in politics is a characterisation of two stories – we are all in it together, or we are self driving and independent individuals that owe nothing to anyone.
I was raised as a Quaker, but around the age of 20 my faith faded. It would be easiest to say that this was because I took up philosophy – my lifelong occupation as a teacher and scholar. This is not true. More accurately, I joke that having had one headmaster in this life, I’ll be damned if I want another in the next. I was convinced back then that, by the age of 70, I would be getting back onside with the Powers That Be. But faith did not then return and, as I approach 80, is nowhere on the horizon. I feel more at peace with myself than ever before. It’s not that I don’t care about the meaning or purpose of life – I am a philosopher! Nor does my sense of peace mean that I am complacent or that I have delusions about my achievements and successes. Rather, I feel that deep contentment that religious people tell us is the gift or reward for proper living.
I come to my present state for two separate reasons. As a student of Charles Darwin, I am totally convinced – God or no God – that we are (as the 19th-century biologist Thomas Henry Huxley used to say) modified monkeys rather than modified mud. Culture is hugely important, but to ignore our biology is just wrong. Second, I am drawn, philosophically, to existentialism. A century after Darwin, Jean-Paul Sartre said that we are condemned to freedom, and I think he is right. Even if God does exist, He or She is irrelevant. The choices are ours.
Sartre denied such a thing as human nature. From this quintessential Frenchman, I take that with a pinch of salt: we are free, within the context of our Darwinian-created human nature. What am I talking about? A lot of philosophers today are uncomfortable even raising the idea of ‘human nature’. They feel that, too quickly, it is used against minorities – gay people, the disabled, and others – to suggest that they are not really human. This is a challenge not a refutation. If a definition of human nature cannot take account of the fact that up to 10 per cent of us have same-sex orientation, then the problem is not with human nature but with the definition.
What, then, is human nature? In the middle of the 20th century, it was popular to suggest that we are killer apes: we can and do make weapons, and we use them. But modern primatologists have little time for this. Their findings suggest that most apes would far rather fornicate than fight. In making war we are really not doing what comes naturally. I don’t deny that humans are violent, however our essence goes the other way. It is one of sociability. We are not that fast, we are not that strong, we are hopeless in bad weather; but we succeed because we work together. Indeed, our lack of natural weapons points that way. We cannot get all we want through violence. We must cooperate.
Darwinians did not discover this fact about our nature. Listen to the metaphysical poet John Donne in 1624:
No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
Darwinian evolutionary theory shows how this all came about, historically, through the forces of nature. It suggests that there is no eternal future or, if there is, it is not relevant for the here and now. Rather, we must live life to the full, within the context of – liberated by – our Darwinian-created human nature. I see three basic ways in which this occurs.
First, family. Humans are not like male orangutans whose home life is made up mainly of one-night stands. A male turns up, does his business, and then, sexually sated, vanishes. The impregnated female births and raises the children by herself. This is possible simply because she can. If she couldn’t then, biologically it would be in the interests of the males to lend a hand. Male birds help at the nest because, exposed as they are up trees, the chicks need to grow as quickly as possible. Humans face different challenges, but with the same end. We have big brains that need time to develop. Our young cannot fend for themselves within weeks or days. Therefore humans need lots of parental care, and our biology fits us for home life, as it were: spouses, offspring, parents, and more. Men don’t push the pram just by chance. Nor boast to their co-workers about their kid getting into Harvard.
Second, society. Co-workers, shop attendants, teachers, doctors, hotel clerks – the list is endless. Our evolutionary strength is that we work together, helping and expecting help. I am a teacher, not just of my children, but of yours (and others) too. You are a doctor: you give medical care not just to your children, but to mine (and others) too. In this way, we all benefit. As Adam Smith pointed out in 1776, none of this happens by chance or because nature has suddenly become soft: ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.’ Smith invoked the ‘invisible hand’. The Darwinian puts it down to evolution through natural selection.
Though life can be a drag sometimes, biology ensures that we generally get on with the job, and do it as part of our fulfilled lives. John Stuart Mill had it exactly right in 1863: ‘When people who are fairly fortunate in their material circumstances don’t ﬁnd sufﬁcient enjoyment to make life valuable to them, this is usually because they care for nobody but themselves.’
Third, culture. Works of art and entertainment, TV, movies, plays, novels, paintings and sport. Note how social it all is. Romeo and Juliet, about two kids in ill-fated love. The Sopranos, about a mob family. A Roy Lichtenstein faux-comic painting; a girl on the phone: ‘Oh, Jeff… I love you, too… but…’ England beating Australia at cricket. There are evolutionists who doubt that culture is so tightly bound to biology, and who are inclined to see it as a side-product of evolution, what Stephen Jay Gould in 1982 called an ‘exaptation’. This is surely true in part. But probably only in part. Darwin thought that culture might have something to do with sexual selection: protohumans using songs and melodies, say, to attract mates. Sherlock Holmes agreed; in A Study in Scarlet (1887), he tells Watson that musical ability predates speech, according to Darwin: ‘Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.’
Draw it together. I have had a full family life, a loving spouse and children. I even liked teenagers. I have been a college professor for 55 years. I have not always done the job as well as I could, but I am not lying when I say that Monday morning is my favourite time of the week. I’m not much of a creative artist, and I’m hopeless at sports. But I have done my scholarship and shared with others. Why else am I writing this? And I have enjoyed the work of fellow humans. A great performance of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro is heaven. I speak literally.
This is my meaning to life. When I meet my nonexistent God, I shall say to Him: ‘God, you gave me talents and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun using them. Thank you.’ I need no more. As George Meredith wrote in his poem ‘In the Woods’ (1870):
The lover of life knows his labour divine, And therein is at peace.
A Meaning to Life (2019) by Michael Ruse is published via Princeton University Press.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
There is likely no one in Canada more upset about the result of the federal election than Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. He staked a lot on the outcome.
Mr. Kenney spent many months leading up to the vote – and indeed well before that, too – demonizing Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government at every opportunity. Sometimes, the language was personal and downright nasty. It was also highly inflammatory, raising the spectre of western separatism if Mr. Trudeau’s government were re-elected.
But it went beyond that.
In his rise to the top political job in Alberta, Mr. Kenney became one of the loudest and most influential conservative voices in the country. He counted Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer as a friend. Mr. Scheer considered Mr. Kenney a mentor.
When it came time to unveil the Conservative Party platform, it was little surprise that the environmental strategy effectively riffed off the one Mr. Kenney was instituting in his province: no carbon tax. No meaningful measures to reduce emissions. Hope technology saves the day. It was a scorched-earth climate plan.
And it was the biggest strategic blunder of the campaign.
The Conservatives and Mr. Scheer need to own their loss, but so does Mr. Kenney. The fact is, the vast majority of the country voted for parties with strong climate policies. Even if Mr. Scheer and his party had managed to eke out a small victory, got a few more seats than the Liberals and tried to govern, you must ask yourself how that would have looked.
How would Mr. Scheer have pushed forward his signature plans for more pipelines, east and west, with absolutely no support among the other parties for such measures? If the Conservatives continue to listen to voices in their party advocating for policies so fundamentally misaligned with 21st-century realities, they are destined for the dustbin of history.
Which brings us back to Mr. Kenney.
He announced this week that he is convening a panel that will travel the province to hear from the public on how Alberta can get a fairer deal in Confederation. He conceded that the meetings could turn into town halls for separatism. But the Premier believes people need to be heard, and to vent. (He was quick to add that he doesn’t believe separatism is the answer.)
My suspicion is these hearings are more about making sure the rest of Canada gets a taste of the anger in the province than it is about mining for new ideas. One can already imagine the cameras rolling as speaker after speaker talks (or rages) about how much better off Alberta would be if it went it alone. There will also be plenty of opportunities for Trudeau bashing – a favourite sport.
It will all make dramatic fodder for national newscasts. One can only guess how much investment it will scare off.
At the end of it all will be a report that, I suspect, offers few worthwhile thoughts about how Alberta can get a better deal. Rather, the entire exercise may best be remembered for the troubling image of the province it portrayed.
Mr. Kenney can continue to foment separatist sentiment in Alberta for cheap partisan gain, but that would be a stunning lack of leadership on his part. I’m not sure what he hopes to gain by continually denouncing a Prime Minister who is actually trying to build a pipeline he so desperately wants. The Liberals, let’s not forget, spent $4.5-billion to buy the Trans-Mountain pipeline and the rights to its expansion. Barring a purchase by some other entity, it will cost Ottawa an additional $10-billion (at least) to finance that expansion.
That’s a hell of an investment in a province.
But Mr. Kenney wants everything his way. He wants the carbon tax dropped. He wants tougher new environmental rules for resource development ripped up. He wants the government to renege on a tanker ban it campaigned on in 2015. He wants it all. And if he doesn’t get it, well, don’t blame him if separatist tensions continue to rise. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
The Alberta Premier invoked the name of a predecessor in discussing the province’s dilemma: Peter Lougheed. Oh, if only he were around today to advise Mr. Kenney.
Mr. Lougheed was a fierce defender of his province’s interests, but never in a small-minded or malicious way. And he would never have put his own partisan interests ahead of those of his province.
John Ibbitson is a writer-at-large at The Globe and Mail. His latest book is Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, co-authored with Darrell Bricker.
Election campaigns sometimes open our eyes to realities we’d rather not see. The current campaign, which wraps up this weekend, has revealed a Canada fractured along lines of geography and generations.
Quebeckers reject English Canada’s multicultural consensus. The West is angry and estranged from the Centre. And younger, more progressive voters resent the baby boomers’ entitlements.
A hung Parliament could deepen these divides. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives appear able to win over more than a third of Canadians.
There has never been a time when both of the two major parties were so deeply and equally unpopular on the eve of a federal election.
Putting together a government that can obtain a majority of votes in the House on confidence measures could mean concessions to the resurgent Bloc Québécois or New Democratic Party that would leave some Canadians feeling even more estranged.
“I really believe that this election campaign, results notwithstanding, has deepened the cleavages, broadened the gap, between regions of the country,” warns Brad Wall, the former premier of Saskatchewan.
“[Liberal Leader Justin] Trudeau is playing with dynamite, and he doesn’t even know it,” says Eric Montigny, a political scientist at Laval University.
“Young people care about climate change, they care about issues of social justice and inequality,” says Sara Asalya, who established the Newcomer Students’ Association at Ryerson University. “These are issues that really impact them as young people, while older people care about affordability and incomes and tax cuts and those things.”
It’s a mess.
Four years ago, Mr. Trudeau arrived in office as Liberal Prime Minister with, in retrospect, unreasonably high expectations. Finally, his supporters believed, Canada would join the fight against global warming. Finally, Ottawa would renew and expand social programs after a decade of Conservative drift. The Liberals would repair the frayed bonds of democratic governance and, for the first time since Confederation, treat Indigenous Canadians with the true nation-to-nation respect that was their right.
Except no one knows what nation-to-nation truly means, and a lack of progress on other fronts has soured relations between the Liberals and many First Nations.
And while the Liberals talked a good game on climate change, they accepted the modest targets adopted by Stephen Harper’s government. During the campaign, when Mr. Trudeau promised that a re-elected Liberal government would do even more to fight global warming, the NDP replied in a news release: “You. Bought. A. Pipeline.”
On the questions of pension reform, improving health care and, most controversially, adopting a carbon tax to reduce emissions, the federal Liberals treated the premiers the way Liberals so often do: as junior partners in the federation, subject to punishment if they refused to go along with Ottawa’s latest nation-building exercise.
Voters noticed. Provincial Liberal governments went down to defeat in New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. Today, there isn’t a Liberal government in power provincially west of Nova Scotia. Five premiers are at war with Ottawa over the carbon tax.
Mr. Trudeau noticed, too. On Tuesday, in Fredericton, he reflected: “Everything I tried to do in the last four years has been focused on bringing the country together. Yet we find ourselves now in a more polarized, more divisive election than even the 2015 one.”
Meanwhile, the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois, which had been written off as a political force, has risen miraculously in recent weeks, threatening to displace the Liberals as the most popular federal party among francophone Quebeckers, especially outside Montreal.
Prof. Montigny points out that, while most Quebeckers no longer support outright sovereignty, they remain what he calls “autonomists” – determined to see Quebec exercise the greatest possible control over its affairs.
From 1993 until the past election, they generally preferred to be represented in Ottawa by a political party that had a strong mandate to speak on their behalf, but that was not part of the government – first the Bloc, and then the NDP. Only in 2015 did most ridings send Liberals to Ottawa as part of the government.
Quebeckers may now regret the decision. Liberal interventions in areas of provincial jurisdiction have alienated many Quebec voters.
And now, Mr. Trudeau is saying that, if re-elected, the Liberals may intervene to support a legal challenge to Bill 21, which bans the wearing of religious symbols such as turbans and hijabs for some Quebec public servants.
In protest, Prof. Montigny says, Quebec voters are increasingly turning to the Bloc. “The message from the Bloc is ‘Don’t mess with us. Let us decide what is good for us within our jurisdiction.’” However nativist and discriminatory Bill 21 may appear to English Canadians, in Quebec it remains a highly popular assertion of secular principles in the public square.
In the Prairies four years ago, Albertans elected four Liberal MPs, and the Liberals won a plurality of seats in Manitoba.
In this election, the Conservatives could take every seat in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and most in Manitoba. They are also strong in British Columbia, once you get outside downtown Vancouver and the southern half of Vancouver Island.
Many Western voters interpret the Liberal determination to reduce carbon emissions as an attack on their economy. Yes, the Liberals approved the Trans Mountain pipeline, even purchasing it when the previous owners balked in the face of environmental and Indigenous opposition.
But the pipeline hasn’t been built, and other Liberal measures, such as the carbon tax and the ban on tanker traffic off of B.C.’s northern coast, speak to Liberal indifference toward Western priorities.
Mr. Wall invites voters in Central Canada to perform this thought experiment: Imagine if the federal government, in order to meet Canada’s commitment to the Paris targets on global warming, decided to tax and regulate the manufacturing sector out of existence. Ontario’s automotive and auto-parts industry would be restricted and then phased out. The same with aviation in Quebec. Too bad about the hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and the crippled economy, but don’t you know there’s a climate emergency?
That’s how Prairie voters feel, when progressives in Central Canada blithely talk about “winding down” the oil and gas sector that powers their economy.
As Mr. Wall points out, the International Energy Agency predicts continued global demand for fossil fuels for many years to come.
“We don’t understand why the rest of the country wouldn’t say, ‘Well, the world needs oil, better that it come from Canada, where we are trying harder and with more success to be environmentally responsible,’” than from other, heavier polluting countries, he said in an interview. “But that’s not what we’re hearing.”
The former leader of the Saskatchewan Party is no Western separatist. But “I hear from people all the time who are questioning the relation the West has with the rest of the federation.”
And if a hung Parliament leaves the NDP, and possibly the Green Party, demanding even greater restrictions on petroleum production in exchange for their support, anger in Alberta and Saskatchewan could combust.
The third divide is not regional, but generational. Young voters turned out en masse in 2015 in support of Justin Trudeau’s message of hope and change, driving turnout to levels not seen since the early 1990s.
But purchasing a pipeline, backtracking on promises of electoral reform, making little progress on Indigenous issues, forcing two powerful women, one of them Indigenous, out of the caucus over the SNC-Lavalin affair, has shaken the confidence of younger voters in this government. The revelation at the beginning of the campaign that Mr. Trudeau once liked to dress up in blackface only made things worse, says Ms. Asalya, of the Newcomer Students’ Association at Ryerson. “I think many of them are very disappointed.”
Jagmeet Singh’s NDP has profited from their disaffection. But Paul Kershaw says he believes the national political parties still underinvest in priorities for younger voters, privileging older voters more in policy choices. “That’s because millennials may have the numbers, but their turnout rates are still not as high as that of the aging population,” says the political scientist at the University of British Columbia and founder of Generation Squeeze, which promotes youth participation in politics.
A political party that truly embraced the concerns of younger voters, he says, would tax property more heavily, reflecting the good fortune of older voters who got into the housing market when homes were more affordable. A government with intergenerational consciousness would not accumulate debt that younger voters must one day pay off in order to improve services for older voters, while underinvesting in child care, parental leave and other policies that matter to the generation raising young children.
The Liberals, NDP and the Greens all propose to provide increased income security for an aging population, including some form of pharmacare, a social service disproportionately used by older voters, to be paid for from young workers’ taxes.
But the Conservatives are no better, Prof. Kershaw adds, with their reluctance to confront global warming, “which young people see as an existential crisis.”
One solution to the problem of intergenerational inequity would be moving to proportional representation, since progressives outnumber conservatives among younger voters, but their vote is split among the Greens, NDP and Liberals. Mr. Trudeau’s broken promise to end the first-past-the-post voting system especially rankles.
But PR could also lead to the rise of anti-immigrant MPs. Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party appears to have fizzled, but another leader and another party might do better. Some polls now suggest that a majority of Canadians would like to see fewer immigrants coming into Canada.
So what happens after Oct. 21? Unless voters shift decisively in the coming days, no party is expected to win a majority of seats, leaving both the Liberals and the Conservatives scrambling to find the votes needed to survive a Throne Speech.
That may mean, in exchange for Bloc support, promising even greater autonomy for Quebec in the spheres of immigration, taxation and culture, along with a promise to drop any thought of joining the Bill 21 court challenge.
It might also mean abandoning the Trans Mountain pipeline as a condition for NDP or Green support. If that happens, Mr. Wall fears for the future of the West inside Canada.
And the NDP and Greens may well compel the Liberals to introduce PR legislation as a condition for their support.
Canada remains a far more stable, open, tolerant and outward-looking country than America under Donald Trump or Europe in an era of rising nativism. Unemployment here is low, the economy and population are both growing. Most Western nations would give anything for the social stability Canadians enjoy.
But regional tensions are on the rise. And now the generational divide threatens to estrange older Canadians from younger.
Which party is more likely to unite Canadians, and which to divide? That’s something to keep in mind when you vote.
CONTRIBUTED TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Riley Yesno is a Toronto-based student from Eabametoong First Nation and a former member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council.
For years, political parties in Canada have failed to take young voters seriously.
Instead of putting effort into engaging with voters under 30, parties have focused on mobilizing the people who most reliably show up to vote – that is, older Canadians. During the 2011 federal election, Statistics Canada found that only 39 per cent of youth aged 18 to 24 who were eligible to vote actually made it to the polls, which has only fuelled our notorious reputation – that we don’t vote. We’re not alone: If all non-voters were a party unto themselves, they would have won the popular vote every year since 1993. But the image of young people as an apathetic bloc has hardened.
In the 2015 federal election, however, things changed. Young people showed up to voting booths in unprecedented numbers. Youth-voter turnout jumped 18.3 percentage points, to 57 per cent of registered electors – its highest point in a generation. The Liberals – who effectively won a majority, as Maclean’s reported, by turning a significant number of non-voters red, even in ridings that weren’t typical Liberal strongholds – were able to mobilize young people in a powerful way.
That’s important to keep in mind heading into election day on Oct. 21, when people born between 1980 and 2000 will make up the majority of all eligible voters in Canada. Our potential to significantly influence which party takes this election is greater than ever before. A new government will need our numbers and support to win and survive.
The last election’s voter turnout spike can certainly be credited, in part, to get-out-the-vote initiatives that put in considerable efforts to engage younger voters. According to the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, more than 42,000 students across the country pledged to vote through those campaigns in 2015.
But what I think brought youth out last election, more than anything, was a desire for change after nearly a decade of Conservative government under Stephen Harper – and the belief that we had found that change-making vehicle in Justin Trudeau. In the last election, Mr. Trudeau sold himself as an energizing leader who, among many promises, insisted that his government would seriously combat climate change, create more employment opportunities for youth, strengthen relationships with Indigenous peoples and reform the electoral system. According to a 2016 survey published by Abacus Data, these were among the highest priority issues for youth aged 18-25.
Four years later, however, we can see that the Trudeau government has clearly failed to live up to its word. Canada is not on track to meet the emissions-reduction targets inherited from the Harper government. The purchase of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline was proof to many – youth and Indigenous folks especially – that the Liberals’ commitments to the environment and reconciliation are conditional on their discretion. We will all be voting with the first-past-the-post system in this election, a system which were were assured we would never see again.
On other major 2015 commitments, too, such as feminism and addressing racial discrimination, the Liberal Leader has lost considerable credibility after his removal of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from caucus, his alleged treatment of former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes and the surfaced images of blackface and brownface.
And even though Mr. Trudeau appointed himself the Minister of Youth, promising to listen to voices of young people, my demographic is perhaps the most disillusioned bloc of all.
I saw it firsthand as a former member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council. Often, we would attend these meetings full of expertise and advice to bring forward about what we care about and what we feel needs to be done, only to receive a party line to justify inaction or a disagreeable policy decision.
Still, credit where it’s due: No party before the Liberals has even thought to create an initiative like the youth council. But what good is a voice at the table when your words fall on deaf ears?
It reflects the big question of this election: Youth may have huge voting power, but will they want to return to the voting booths when the leader who galvanized us has proven to be so wanting, and made us question if he deserves our vote?
If youth fail to uphold or grow the turnout from the previous election, the accusation of apathy will be levied against us. But that charge will be unfair when you consider how greatly young people have been failed by political parties, even those who seemed to represent us better than any other.
If parties hope to win the youth vote this election, and restore the diminished faith of many young voters, they are going to have to make concerted efforts to not only talk about the issues we’re passionate about, but also commit to actually getting the job done. Young people are tired of the strategic vote and vague promises; we are here for something that is meaningful.
Whether or not any party can accomplish this task, what is certain about young people in 2019 is that our desire for change hasn’t lessened over the four years. If anything, it’s become fiercer.
Since 2015, we’ve been on the front lines of human rights and environmental movements, leading climate strikes across the country. Postsecondary students in every province are addressing important issues such as affordable education and sexual harassment and assault. Young people, who are fluent in digital tools, now have significant power and presence in the political conversations taking place online. We are some of the most politically engaged and active people in this country, and a political force to be reckoned with – here to be taken seriously.
I hope voter turnout rates will mirror this truth, and young people will turn up to vote. But if it doesn’t, I hope it leads to a debate about the deeper problem this signals. It’s not useful to call young people apathetic; instead, we should ask why our system doesn’t make young people feel like our democracy – which has historically ignored them, and delivered broken promises – is worth our participation.
Youth aren’t the ones who should be caring more about politics. We do. Politicians should start caring more about youth. Earn our vote.
CONTRIBUTED TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 18, 2019
Jean-Pierre Kingsley was Canada’s chief electoral officer from 1990 to 2007.
In 1991, I was in Hungary, taking part in an important project that Canadians don’t often think about when they think about Elections Canada’s work: assisting a country in establishing its nascent democracy.
It’s a job that the agency has performed in countries all over the world; in my term as chief electoral officer, we offered expertise to various nations in Eastern Europe and Africa, as well as to Mexico. And in Hungary – a socialist republic for four decades before the fall of the Soviet Union – people were eager for the representative, empowering change that a new age of democracy, birthed correctly, could bring.
When I was there, I met a woman who was part of the group that had sought out our expertise. She reflected the broader movement that had peacefully achieved democracy: young, energetic and brimming with hope. I ran into her again in 2007, at a summit in Washington, D.C.; by that point, Hungary had held five general elections.
I asked her how things were going. Her response has stayed with me ever since.
“You know, Jean-Pierre,” she replied, “I wake up every morning and listen to the radio.”
“What for?” I asked.
“I listen to see if they’ve come back.”
They. More than a decade after the Communists left, in one of the smoothest transitions to democracy among any of the countries in the former Soviet bloc, she was still uncertain about whether it could all fall apart.
It was a moving reminder that democracy is fragile and needs time to set in – a fact that’s easy to forget here. Canada is hurtling to the end of its 43rd federal election campaign, and while there are worthy conversations to be had over how it has played out, how the processes can be improved and how elections should be fought, we are bearing witness again to a strong, much-admired system that allows the public to consider and select the people that represent them. We don’t tune into the CBC to see if tanks are rolling through Ottawa. Democracy has set in here.
But it is not perfect. If we lose sight of that, bad things can happen to one of our most precious resources – from interference by foreign actors to a loss of faith among the electorate in the very foundations of our society and institutions.
So what can serve as our democracy’s best shield? Firm knowledge of our history, a commitment to reason, and a constant scrutiny over a truly accessible and equitable franchise. In short, we must make every effort to ensure the legitimacy of our elections.
Indeed, our commitment to a full-fledged democracy premised on truly equal rights remains a somewhat novel concept. After Confederation, elections were a Wild West affair: Canadians outside of New Brunswick, which adopted the secret ballot in 1855, voted orally, making them particularly susceptible to intimidation; different ridings held elections on different dates, allowing for chicanery. By the time the courts got involved, it was clear there was plenty of work to do in building this fledgling democracy; between 1874 and 1878, 75 per cent of contested elections were rendered void, and nearly one third of MPs were forced to resign as a result.
Even the Greeks – often held up as the ultimate democrats – only really experimented with the idea of truly representative people power. A small percentage of the Greeks could actually vote, and they were the only ones that were considered to be people in the first place. Unknowingly or not, we too have denied the vote to myriad groups on racial or religious grounds, or because they did not have the required income level. Women, for instance, could not vote federally until 1918; it took until 1960 for Status Indians to be granted the unconditional right to vote. The Doukhobors – Russian Christians accused of “disgusting indecency” – were disenfranchised, on-and-off, until 1955.
And in one of our democracy’s blackest marks, the 1920 Dominion Elections Act allowed the federal government to strip the vote from those who lost their provincial franchise “for reasons of race.” So when B.C. took away the vote from people of Japanese and Chinese origin, as well as “Hindus” – which at the time referred to any non-white person from India – they lost their federal rights, too. When a delegation of Japanese Canadians asked the House of Commons to recognize their franchise in 1936, they were rejected, amid fears stoked by the Second World War that they were spies. Their efforts were even dismissed by MPs as “sob stuff” and “claptrap.” The rights were not fully restored until 1948.
How our representative democracy got to where it is now, though, is through the hard, careful work of constructing sturdy institutions. We established the role of the auditor-general in 1880, and in 1920, we became the first country to have a chief electoral officer. We have established faith in our Supreme Court, in the freedom of our press to denounce problems that they see, and in ensuring a functioning Parliament that has a loyal official opposition. And we have strengthened democracy by making it easier for its lifeblood – voter turnout – to flow, having safely liberated the vote through mail-in votes and advance polls. These have measurably improved turnout.
But it’s still up to individual Canadians to understand what you get by voting: a buy-in to the results, a re-commitment to participating in a broader society, a progressive regime of rights and freedoms, and at its core, the right to self-actualize under optimal conditions. In places such as Russia or China, where authority has wide-ranging repressive powers and is not accountable, people are ultimately prevented from freely achieving their full potential. These things are so much more vital than a scrap of paper might otherwise seem, and individuals must communicate them just as much as they must use them.
Through these core pillars, and a free, fair and well-run process, we’re able to achieve something elemental: that our electoral process and our democracy are legitimate, and so is the government that results. It allows us to consent and buy into whatever happens, ensuring the fabric of our country persists.
But things can easily tear away. One way is through declining voter turnout. After all, if you don’t vote, you don’t fundamentally understand that you’re part of a society. You become a bit of a leech: You get all the attractive benefits of a democracy, but do none of the work required to maintain the institutions that support them. Right now, we simply have too many people not voting; in the 2015 federal election, turnout among eligible voters was 66.1 per cent.
We also slip if we see our representation become limited. I was a lowly Treasury Board secretariat official during Lester B. Pearson’s time as prime minister, and he would struggle with ministers suddenly announcing bills without his office’s foreknowledge. So when Pierre Elliott Trudeau succeeded him as PM, he took aim at the discord, ensuring everything ran through his office so he knew what was going on. This was born from noble intentions. But those who gain power are not eager to voluntarily give it up, nor do they tend to resist the temptation to acquire more. It was one small step from knowing what’s going on to controlling what’s going on, and ever since, federal MPs and their provincial counterparts have been defanged across party lines, told to toe the leaders’ line or risk not having their nomination papers signed in the next election. These local representatives become bound by the position of the party. Our MPs must be further empowered.
Technology and social media have also made it easier for foreign countries to interfere with our elections – an issue since time immemorial. But if social-media companies insist on disrupting or circumventing laws that are on the books, we cannot allow them to run roughshod. These companies must be subject to the law, no matter the pain. Corporations exist to serve our purposes, not the other way around; we invented them and they cannot invent us.
Unaddressed, these three issues threaten our democracy and make it easier to forget how quickly it can fall apart. They can make us forget that, fundamentally, democracy must be based in the reasonableness of people.
I remember that, when Elections Canada would return to a country to assist with an election, diplomats worldwide, even from established democracies, would wonder why that was necessary. By helping with the first election, hadn’t we already finished the job?
The answer lies in what the woman I met in Hungary knew in her bones: Democracy requires a few generations to take root, so that the supporting pillars can become sturdy and turn a golden idea into a standing temple. Tragically, Hungary didn’t get the time it needed. Viktor Orban – a prominent pro-democracy advocate from that 1989 revolution – has been Prime Minister for nearly a decade, and has turned the country toward authoritarianism using propagandist state-run outlets, legislation that undermines opposition parties, and attacks on the rule of law. In 2018, the Orban government overturned Hungary’s Supreme Court so it could get the judgments it wanted. The tanks may not be rolling in, but brick-by-brick, the institutions supporting Hungary’s once-optimistic democracy have crumbled.
Even well-mortared brick can succumb to attacks, especially when we remember that a full right to vote is less than a century old here. So when you vote on Oct. 21, remind yourself – and others – that every trip to the ballot box is a necessary repair to the walls we have in place, and a powerful testament to what we’re defending.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said that Jean-Pierre Kingsley served as chief electoral officer from 1990 to 2016. He served from 1990 to 2007.
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