Tag Archives: Stephen Haper

The year of living gob-smacked

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I can think of only one other year when circumstances conspired to render “yours truly” utterly speechless.

1995 saw me accidentally sever all the tendons in my right hand, deliberately dismiss my business partner of four years, and unwittingly lose my wherewithal in a reversal inspired (if not actually engineered) by the Halifax-based cadre of one-per-centers for which I worked.

Still, all things properly considered, 2015 was also a tongue-numbing moment in time for most of us on the East Coast.

To begin with, no one imagined that a Christmas holiday in late December 2014, when the temperatures hovered around the 15-degree Celsius mark, would transform into this:

“If you’re feeling like this winter is one of the worst you can remember, you’re probably right,” a CTV report confirmed last February. “A ‘misery index’ released by U.S. National Weather Service meteorologists shows the winter of 2014-15 is one of the most miserable on record. The Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index puts the ‘badness’ or ‘goodness’ of winter in context by looking at daily temperature, snowfall, snow depth or precipitation records to show the season’s severity compared to other years.”

Then again, no one thought to check the science around climate change and how a new phenomenon, the “polar vortex”, might be related to trending warmer temperatures in the Arctic and lower ones in the south.

Oh well, we believe in our political leaders who seem to know exactly what we’re thinking until, of course, they don’t.

When former Prime Minister Stephen Harper told us all to relax and relish the fact that he would balance the federal budget, we assumed he was as good as his word. We assumed, in other words, that oil prices would persist and that most Canadians would, as a result, return him to his perch at 24 Sussex Drive. Most Canadians didn’t.

Now, a scion of political history, Justin Trudeau, is charged with restoring the nation’s international reputation for fairness, environmental responsibility, justice, law, and the rest well in time for his state visit to the White House on March 10, before the cherry blossoms open; before the price of a barrel of oil drops down below thirty bucks.

So, then, what do we do with this economic calculus in New Brunswick? 2015 showed us that a very young premier, only 33 years old, can move in the polls from 45 per cent approval, to 24, and back to 45 within the span of 15 months. He showed us that youth does not beggar age or wisdom.

But where now is that wisdom in a place that needs to reinvent itself in the Canadian context on its own terms?

New Brunswick’s past year has been nothing short of miraculous, if miracles are built on faith, alone. Life, unfortunately, is built on hard, cold reality. And this province has become a place where too many believe in the big, rock candy mountains of government and not enough in the granite and grit that originally made this province and this nation from coast to coast.

What was 2015?

It was the year of living astonished by the climate of our attitudes in New Brunswick; by the weather report that our economy would never improve; by the signs of storm clouds, blizzards and downpours that just never seem to disappear.

A $500-million annual deficit should curb our fat tongues; a $12-billion debt should render us utterly speechless.

Unless, of course, we decide to speak, and do, and make, and build, and create, and turn to conspire to succeed together.

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The great ‘Lib-Dem’ divide

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Political polls, timely and alluring, always, somehow, manage to say it all even as they point so clearly to our splendid isolation.

Where once the young Justin Trudeau seemed destined to reconstitute his father’s party – shoving Thomas Mulcair into a neo-Liberal corner not even Jack Layton’s ghost would haunt, and relegating the reformer Stephen Harper to a chapter of history where John Diefenbaker takes tea with Ward Cleaver – the telegenic politico is suddenly falling flat on his lovely, red face.

Naturally, the sharks are now circling the inland waterways that surround Parliament Hill, smelling political chum at its very best.

According to an EKOS Politics public opinion survey, released not long ago, “For five of our last six polls, the NDP has improved its standing with Canadian voters and the party now stands at 33.6 per cent, a 16-point improvement over its modern low just four months ago.”

Indeed, “The NDP have nearly double the support that they did this time out from the 2011 election. Support for the Conservatives and the Liberals, meanwhile, continues to languish with the two parties standing at 27 points and 23 points, respectively.

This suggests that had the brass, responsible for the fortunes of Canada’s two opposition parties, managed to pull their noses out of their respective navels four years ago they might now be looking at a “Liberal-Democrat” hegemony come October.

As things stand, they can expect another Tory win right up the middle of the Main Street they have managed to pave and split on their own dime.

Of course, none of this prevents either Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Mulcair from pretending to disagree about issues on which they obviously concur. Perversely, electoral politics in this nation encourage it.

Still, both leaders want Canada to cradle a degree of social justice it hasn’t enjoyed in more than a decade. Both want a demonstrably democratic, proportional system of representation in Ottawa. Both want to see a Senate, corrupted by its own rules, either radically reformed or abolished. Both endorse a system of long-term, early childhood education, supported and subsidized by the federal state as a means to a proper end for mums, dads, teachers and, most importantly, kids.

As the Grit and NDP policy platforms are so evidently compliant with one another – in fact, nearly identical in every important way – does their fiction of friction make any sense at all?

If recent opinion polls show one thing, they show this: Canadians are not evenly split between the right and the left; they are confused and confounded by their traditional loyalties to political parties that no longer represent their values, interests, secular beliefs, and actual circumstances.

Can we be fiscal conservatives and still recognize the importance of public investment in municipal and community infrastructure?

Can we be social progressives and still acknowledge the need to live within our economic means?

How do we balance ourselves on this thin beam that traverses between the gravity of our reality and the flight of our fondest fantasies?

Inevitably, we meet ourselves in the middle – at work, at home, in politics, and in life. If we are true to ourselves, we demand the same of those whom we send into public office.

Messrs. Trudeau and Mulcair are clearly missing the point in this election cycle. Together, they own 57 per cent of the popular vote; alone they fail.

The polls say it all: We, all of us, are stronger, smarter and kinder standing together than when we perch at the periphery of our society in splendid isolation.

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Still life in the old chamber

August bodies in abeyance

August bodies in abeyance

The Senate, many Canadians seem to believe, is entitled, corrupt and well past its best before date. And given the roiling expense scandals now underway, who can really blame them?

“One could say it’s a great soap opera,” Marilyn Trenholm Counsell, a former senator, herself, told CBC Radio’s New Brunswick rolling home show last week. “Of course, it isn’t a soap opera. It’s real and it’s hurtful.”

She’s right, of course.

Deriding the Upper Chamber has become everyone’s favorite parlor game. “On a daily basis evidence piles up that reveals our upper house to be neither useful nor necessary. An incessant string of scandals and disgraceful behaviour by senators has turned the red chamber into a national embarrassment,” Macleans magazine opined earlier this year. “Its functionality has been eroded to nothing with little prospect for change, despite claims from the Harper government to champion Senate reform.”

To others, however, this conclusion, while not entirely unjustified, seems conveniently rash.

Most of the Senate’s business is in committee. It’s here where, in the words of Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson, the chamber’s “heart and soul” rests. According to an information circular posted to the CBC’s website a couple of years ago, “committees discuss important social, economic and political issues and this forum is where senators hear from interested citizens.”

Indeed, “Most bills, prior to third reading, are referred to committees where they are examined closely. In the Senate committee stage, public hearings are held, the bills are studied clauses by clause, and a report on the bill is prepared and presented to the Senate. Committees, which function as study groups, include 12 to 15 senators.”

Ms. Trenholm Counsell, who also served for a time as New Brunswick’s Lieutenant-Governor, elaborated on this to good effect in her recent radio interview.

“I worked as hard in the Senate as I did anywhere else. Wonderful work is done; the committee work,” she said. “I worked on. . .studies. I worked on a study on early childhood development. I burned the midnight oil quite often.”

In fact, she observed, “It is so interesting historically. Some bills have had upward of 100 amendments. The history and the tradition has been that those amendments have been accepted. . .I think we need the studies that come out of the Senate.

“In the House of Commons, they may bring in two or three people at the committee stage to speak to a bill. In some of the great bills that have come to the Senate, we might have had as many as 100 witnesses right across this country come in and speak to the substance of the bill. From there we made amendments which, by and large, were accepted. So, the legislation was better, much better. And that is because you had the great people. . .I am worried that this greatness is going out of the thing.”

She’s not aone.

Expense scandals, aside, the Senate’s growing partisanship, its evolution into a rubber stamp for the sitting government is contributing to its compromised stature. If its historical utility was related to its function as a check on the excesses of the Commons, to its role as what John A. Macdonald famously termed a chamber of “sober second thought”, the politics of modern times might easily render these expectations both quaint and antiquated.

Still, some signs are encouraging. As the Globe and Mail reported last week, “Senators pressed the government about why a federal spy agency has been probing telecommunications in Brazil, seeking clear answers about the activities of Communications Security Establishment Canada. Asking whether the spy agency has sufficient oversight, both Liberals and Conservatives in the Red Chamber demanded more information on Thursday about CSEC and its interest in Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy.”

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, for one, appeared untroubled by his party affiliations when he pointedly commented, “Canada is the only country not to have any legislative oversight of any kind for its national-security services.”

All of which is to ask: Is there yet life in the Upper Chamber?

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