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Robert Asselin: Who will speak for Canada?

Commentary

Every now and then, in moments when as a country we try to engage in some form of national conversation such as a federal election, we are reminded it is easy to replay the last refrain of our collective misunderstandings and fault lines.

In a sobering article published last week in the Hub, Howard Anglin made the case that the results of the federal election are yet another manifestation that our country is one made of many solitudes.

“At the extremes, in parts of the Prairies and Quebec, the differences are so great that one is tempted to conclude that it is not so much a matter of misunderstanding each other as no longer being interested in understanding each other,” wrote Anglin.

It’s tough to argue with him when you look at the numbers. Four out of five Canadians eligible to vote chose not to vote for the winning party in last week’s federal election.

In the end, 32.6 percent of 62.2 percent of Canadians who went to the polls voted for the Liberal Party of Canada, which comes down to less than 20 percent of eligible voters.

The distribution of seats shows a stunning regional/rural/urban divide. The Conservatives didn’t win a single seat in Canada’s three biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Similarly, the Liberals were not competitive in roughly one-third of the ridings, most of those west of Ontario.

It is often said that Canada is an unachieved experiment. At best, our diversity, exemplified by our federalism, brings some healthy tension and allows for reasoned and pragmatic governance. At worst, Canada is a never-ending family dispute.

Like siblings who don’t get along, we sit at the dinner table silently and eat as fast as we can so that we can go back separately to our rooms. Our vast geography makes it easy to ignore each other.

As someone born and raised in Québec, I’ve watched federalist Quebecers running for federal seats only to advocate more “powers” to the government of Québec and caring very little about what the federal government can do well within its own jurisdiction. They are so consumed by delivering on new “Quebec demands” that one wonders why they wouldn’t just make the choice to run for a seat at the National Assembly.

It has always made little sense to me to see a federalist wanting to represent Quebecers in the Parliament of Canada arguing that the federal government has no or little relevance and value in their fellow citizens’ lives. It is also hard to explain to Canadians from other provinces why they should have less influence on Quebecers lives than Quebecers have on theirs.

For all the money that was spent and committed at the federal level over the last 18 months, one wonders why we are still nowhere near meeting our international obligations on defence and international aid and are left out of strategic agreements such as the one the Biden administration just signed with the U.K. and Australia.

On national unity, a lot of people think the answer resides somewhere on the nexus between decentralization and centralization of our federation. If only we could “decentralize” and give more money and powers to provinces, or if only the federal government could be more assertive in provincial areas like health care and child care, all would be fine.

It’s a legitimate debate but I think it misses the point on our lack of national unity. What is needed now is a mix of ambition and resolve and an understanding that the path forward will be difficult. I bet an ambitious agenda rooted in federal powers that transcends parochialism would go a long way with Canadians.

When President John F. Kennedy challenged his fellow citizens to send a man on the moon in September 1962, it was relevant to all Americans. He also acknowledged that this challenge was worthwhile not because it was easy, but because it was hard. At one point someone needs to speak for the idea of what Canada can do. Constantly arguing that we have less and less in common will lead to a heap of ruins.

It turns out there are no shortage of big undertakings for our country to consider. A renewed sense of purpose for our country would give Canadians a change of scenery from federal-provincial battlefields and existing regional tensions.

We could set a long-term ambitious economic growth agenda to ensure Canadian living standards are not declining over time. Harvard Economist Benjamin Friedman wrote in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth: “Economic growth — meaning a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens — more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy.”

On world affairs, the time has come to transition from our Pearsonian idealism nostalgia and pivot to define and act on our national interests in this new era of geo-economics. The end of the Washington consensus is surely one of the most formidable challenges Canada has faced in the last half century on the world stage. As we celebrate the return of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, we must learn the hard lessons of this new chacun pour soi world order.

We could also make Canada one of the most innovative economies on earth by embracing science and technology. We have an opportunity to tackle significant challenges such as climate change and create wealth for millions of Canadians. Despite its small size and dense population, the Netherlands makes far more food than it can eat. This is how a nation that was once starving under the Nazis has now become a world leader in farming techniques and agriculture technologies. There is no reason Canada cannot leverage its private sector ingenuity and become a world leader in the three techs: clean tech, ag-tech and life and bio science tech.

Let’s choose to turn our attention to big, ambitious challenges over bitter recriminations and self-fulfilling prophecies of regional and identity grievances. It’s time to speak to the idea of what Canada can achieve.

Karen Restoule: The first priority for Indigenous services is to secure clean drinking water

Commentary

Over the coming days, The Hub will publish mandate letters for the incoming cabinet ministers that set out a series of bold policy prescriptions that would cumulatively tilt Canadian politics towards a different and better future.

The best antidote to anger and frustration is aspiration and purpose. The campaign has demonstrated how urgently Canada’s body politic needs such a remedy. There’s no time to waste. It’s time to get to work.

Dear Minister of Indigenous Services

Thank you for continuing to serve the Canadians as Minister of Indigenous Services.

As you know, the country continues to navigate through the most serious public health crisis of our time. The pandemic has had serious impacts on the lives and livelihoods of all and revealed inequities in our society. The circumstances call for a new approach.

The time is now for our government to lay a new and clear the path forward to recovery and prosperity for Canadian families and businesses. The priorities that will pave our road forward to a brighter future: strong body, strong economy, strong mind, strong country. Ensuring vaccinations are secured for every citizen across the country will allow businesses to re-open, resulting in renewed job satisfaction thereby strengthening mental health and boosting our collective economic strength. These priorities will be essential to ensuring that we are fully equipped to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

We are not only required to govern to meet the challenges of every day, but we must also work in a way that prepares us to overcome 20th century realities including climate change, shifting labour market, an aging demographic, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, among others. These will only be overcome if we continue by working in an open and collaborative way with all levels of government and most importantly, with the Canadian people.

During these times, we are reminded of our strength that is rooted deep into who we are as citizens of the North — hearty, resilient, strong. These, along with our adaptability and agility, will be key to overcoming the challenges ahead of us.

I know that I can count on you to fulfill the important responsibilities in your role as Minister, and that you will do so in a way that upholds the integrity of government ensuring that you are guided by the values of openness, efficiency, and accountability.

As the Minister of Indigenous Services, I ask that you work with your colleagues to deliver on the following:

  • Secure clean drinking water for all Indigenous communities by eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories and supporting partnerships with regional governments to develop sustainable water systems.
  • Address the mental health crisis among Indigenous peoples as a result of intergenerational trauma by supporting the implementation of Indigenous mental health and wellness strategies, led by Indigenous communities and Indigenous mental health and wellness organizations in both rural and urban settings.
  • Tackle the rental housing and home ownership crisis within both Indigenous rural and urban communities by partnering with Indigenous communities and housing organizations to develop and implement a housing strategy.
  • End hunger and support Indigenous food sovereignty by partnering with Indigenous communities to develop a sustainability strategy that ensures access to affordable, nutrient-dense, and culturally-appropriate foods.
  • Work with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations to redesign the fiscal relationship so it ensures that Indigenous communities are afforded the same standard services (ie. water, health, housing, education, etc.) enjoyed by non-Indigenous communities and citizens across the country – and – allows for these funds to be managed and distributed by Indigenous governments.

I am counting on you to fulfill these responsibilities and help to build the path to a stronger and more prosperous future for all Canadians.


Dear Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

Thank you for continuing to serve the Canadians as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

As you know, the country continues to navigate through the most serious public health crisis of our time. The pandemic has had serious impacts on the lives and livelihoods of all and revealed inequities in our society. The circumstances call for a new approach.

The time is now for our government to lay a new and clear the path forward to recovery and prosperity for Canadian families and businesses. The priorities that will pave our road forward to a brighter future: strong body, strong economy, strong mind, strong country. Ensuring vaccinations are secured for every citizen across the country will allow businesses to re-open, resulting in renewed job satisfaction thereby strengthening mental health and boosting our collective economic strength. These priorities will be essential to ensuring that we are fully equipped to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

We are not only required to govern to meet the challenges of every day, but we must also work in a way that prepares us to overcome 20th century realities including climate change, shifting labour market, an aging demographic, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, among others. These will only be overcome if we continue by working in an open and collaborative way with all levels of government and most importantly, with the Canadian people.

During these times, we are reminded of our strength that is rooted deep into who we are as citizens of the North – hearty, resilient, strong. These, along with our adaptability and agility, will be key to overcoming the challenges ahead of us.

I know that I can count on you to fulfill the important responsibilities in your role as Minister, and that you will do so in a way that upholds the integrity of government ensuring that you are guided by the values of openness, efficiency, and accountability.

As the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, I ask that you work with your colleagues to deliver on the following:

  • Take immediate action to reconcile past injustices perpetrated by the government of Canada against Indigenous children and families by working with Indigenous survivors, families of the children who never returned home, and communities to develop a strategy to implement the TRC Calls-to-Action #71 through #76, and provide the funding required to support this plan.
  • Support a non-partisan approach to addressing inequities experienced by Indigenous peoples and ensure government accountability for reconciling the Crown-Indigenous relationship by implementing TRC Calls-to-Action #53 through #56, which includes the establishment of the National Council for Reconciliation with the mandate to monitor, evaluate, and report annually to Parliament and the citizens of Canada on the government’s progress on reconciliation.
  • Honour Indigenous autonomy and self-government by working with Indigenous communities to develop a mechanism by which signatories to Treaties that are deemed “historic” (before 1975, roughly) can engage in negotiations with government with the goal to uphold the modern applicability of the Treaty. Explore the possibility of building on the mandate of the Specific Claims Tribunal and/or creating a new body that adopts a more culturally appropriate dispute resolution system, like New Zealand’s Waitangi Tribunal, to support these efforts.
  • Work with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Indigenous Services to redesign the fiscal relationship with those Indigenous communities who are not signatory to modern Treaties in a way that ensures Indigenous communities are afforded the same standard services (ie. water, health, housing, education, etc.) enjoyed by non-Indigenous communities and citizens across the country – and – allows for these funds to be managed and distributed by Indigenous governments.
  • Support Indigenous prosperity and independence by creating the Canadian Indigenous Opportunities Corporation to guarantee loans to Indigenous communities and groups to make investments and participate in resource and energy sector projects.

I am counting on you to fulfill these responsibilities and help to build the path to a stronger and more prosperous future for all Canadians.