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The millennials are taking over: The Hub’s writers weigh in on the federal byelections

Commentary

A slate of four federal byelections turned out roughly according to expectations on Monday, although the Conservatives got a mild scare in a riding that has traditionally been a stronghold for the party.

Arpan Khanna won in Oxford, which the party has held for 20 years, and Branden Leslie won in Portage-Lisgar for the Conservatives. Ben Carr won in Winnipeg South Centre and Anna Gainey won in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount for the Liberals.

That means there will be no change in the party seat count in the House of Commons when four new MPs take their seats.

Here at The Hub, we’ve assembled a few of our contributors for their instant reactions to the byelections and to explain what lessons, if any, we can learn from them.

Millennials are starting to change the conversation

By Sean Speer

One topic that I’ve written a bit about in the past couple of years is the growing signs of generational change in Canadian politics in general and Conservative politics in particular. This week’s byelections in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec point firmly in this direction.

The four winning candidates are aged 43 years old and younger. Conservatives Arpan Khanna and Branden Leslie and Liberal Ben Carr, the winners in Oxford, Portage-Lisgar and Winnipeg South Centre, respectively, are actually younger than me.

It may be evidence that generational change is durable and increasingly multi-partisan. The implications for our policy and politics shouldn’t be underestimated.

They reflect a broader demographic change in which millennials are now the fastest-growing generation and are projected to be the largest by the end of the decade. That should in theory grant them greater influence over our politics. Their growing place in elected life is proof that they’re indeed starting to translate their demographic clout into political power.

One consequence is we should see greater attention paid to the issues besetting younger Canadians including housing affordability and delayed family formation. That would be a positive development.

We may also however get greater political polarization rooted in debates about identity, gender and sexuality, and race. Younger generations are far more steeped in today’s identity politics on campus and within companies and its attendant backlash. The result could therefore be a subordination of the issues that have previously dominated our politics (such as national unity or public finances) in favour of these more fundamental yet divisive questions.

The key point for now though is if one is concerned about the threat of generational fault lines in Canadian society, then the byelection results and the broader trend of generational change in our politics should be viewed positively.

Whether the long-term consequences for Canadian policy and politics are ultimately positive will be partly determined by the four new members of Parliament elected this week.

A crushing loss for the People’s Party of Canada

By Royce Koop

In Portage-Lisgar, PPC leader Maxime Bernier framed the by-election as a struggle for the heart and soul of the right in Canada. Unfortunately for him, the Conservatives agreed and mobilized to meet the challenge, as Tory campaigners from Winnipeg and beyond journeyed to southern Manitoba to help bury the PPC leader.

Ultimately, Bernier received only 17 percent of the vote to Conservative Branden Leslie’s 65 percent. This is a crushing result that Bernier nevertheless valiantly tried to spin as a moral victory.

Bernier undoubtedly earned some media attention and likely some fundraising dollars from his run. But at what cost? Small parties and independent candidates, in general, perform better in byelections than in general elections. But Bernier ended up scoring substantially fewer votes than his local candidate in the last election, Solomon Wiebe. If the PPC loses votes in a byelection when its own leader is running, what hope does it have in a general election?

We know the PPC benefitted enormously in the 2021 election from resistance to COVID restrictions and lockdowns. But, with lockdowns now in the rearview mirror, the disappointing byelection result in southern Manitoba suggests the party’s support likely crested in 2021.

With every disappointing election, a ballot cast for the PPC looks more and more like a wasted vote.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier speaks Saskatoon on Sept. 20, 2021. Liam Richards/The Canadian Press.

The rise of the staffers

By Stuart Thomson

In the wake of the four federal byelections, Carleton professor Jennifer Robson pointed out that all four winners, two Liberals and two Conservatives, are former political staffers.

Ben Carr is the son of the late former MP Jim Carr and was the director of parliamentary affairs for Melanie Joly. Anna Gainey, who won her race in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount, is not only the daughter of former NHL great Bob Gainey but also a member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s inner circle and a former president of the Liberal Party.

Branden Leslie, who will be the new MP for Portage-Lisgar ran Candice Bergen’s 2019 in the riding and worked previously as a legislative assistant. Arpan Khanna, Oxford’s new MP, previously worked for Jason Kenney, doing outreach to ethnic communities.

What this tells us about Canadian politics is an open question. Is politics a priesthood, only open to a select few that are already part of the exclusive club?

Or are staffers, who are generally obsessed with politics to an unhealthy degree, the only type of people who aspire to be members of Parliament anymore?

Local effects prevail, even as Liberal scandals dominate headlines

By Rahim Mohamed

Liberal insiders could have been forgiven for feeling a sense of foreboding heading into Monday’s federal byelections with the party’s numbers sliding amidst a seemingly unending series of scandals. Instead, the four (very different) races were a clear reflection of the old adage: “All politics is local”.

The evening’s tightest race, in Oxford, was overshadowed by a messy Conservative nomination battle. (Retiring incumbent MP Dave MacKenzie, a Conservative, said publicly that he’d be voting for Liberal David Hilderley). Conservative candidate Arpan Khanna (a close ally of party leader Pierre Poilievre) nevertheless cruised to a relatively comfortable seven-point victory over Hilderley. (MacKenzie blew out his Liberal challenger by more than 25 points in 2021). Meanwhile, PPC leader Maxime Bernier fell to defeat in Portage-Lisgar, one of Canada’s most conservative ridings (three-quarters of voters went for right-leaning Candidates in 2021). Bernier and victorious Conservative candidate Brandon Leslie traded barbs over the World Economic Forum and LGBT+ Pride in a heated campaign that, at times, resembled a Republican primary—Leslie promised to never attend the WEF heading into Monday’s vote.

It was a family affair in Winnipeg South Centre, where Liberal Ben Carr inherited the seat of his departed father Jim Carr (Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security before his death in late 2022). Liberal Anna Gainey took party stronghold Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount in the evening’s snooziest race.

Monday’s byelections tell us little about the general mood of Canadian voters as each of the races turned on local dynamics independent from national politics. It was a rather uneventful evening, but one that nevertheless reinforced the importance of local campaigns.

Opinion: Here’s how the government could have kept Paul Bernardo in maximum security

Commentary

Over the past two weeks significant controversy has arisen over the transfer of inmate Paul Bernardo from Millhaven maximum-security institution to a medium security facility at La Macaza, QC. The government has insisted that, due to the independence of the correctional services, there was nothing it could do to reverse the transfer.

But, as we will show, the government had options that may have kept Bernardo in a maximum security facility.

In the early 1990s, Bernardo was convicted of multiple murders and a series of rapes. He was handed a life sentence as well as a dangerous offender designation.

Section 30 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act mandates that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) assign a security classification of maximum, medium, or minimum to each inmate. That assignment is determined by CSC in accordance with the factors set out in s. 17 of the CCRA Regulations. Those factors are:

(a) the seriousness of the offence committed by the inmate;

(b) any outstanding charges against the inmate;

(c) the inmate’s performance and behaviour while under sentence;

(d) the inmate’s social, criminal and, if available, young-offender history and any dangerous offender designation under the Criminal Code;

(e) any physical or mental illness or disorder suffered by the inmate;

(f) the inmate’s potential for violent behaviour; and

(g) the inmate’s continued involvement in criminal activities.

The government confirms that in March 2023, the Public Safety Minister’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Office received from CSC notice of the intended change in Bernardo’s classification. Despite having received ample notice of the transfer, neither the minister’s office nor PMO appeared to request further information regarding the basis of the change and no action was taken in respect of the proposed re-classification.

It is clear from the CCRA and related regulations that the Minister of Public Safety does not have the authority to give direction regarding the classification of individual inmates or the administration of the sentence of that inmate. However, that does not mean the minister and government had no options in this case.

The first and easiest option was for the minister to direct CSC to review the matter at that time and be prepared to provide detailed reasons regarding its assessment of Bernardo’s security classification. The minister could have determined that the public interest exception to the Privacy Act [s. 8(2)(m)] applied and directed that the review and reasons be provided to the families of Bernardo’s victims and made more generally available. This process alone would have generated a significant amount of reflection within CSC.

Further critical steps were available to the minister and government: rapidly amend the CCRA regulations to establish a rank order of the factors to be considered by CSC in assigning security classification. The government could have added two factors immediately after seriousness of the offence committed by the inmate. These would have been:

(a1) whether the inmate has been designated by the Court as a dangerous offender; and

(a2) the risk to the security and safety of the inmate, other inmates, or the institution;

Item (d) (above) would be amended so that it referred only to the “inmate’s social, criminal and, if available, young offender history.”

Amending regulations need not be a complicated exercise. Amendments to regulations are approved by the governor-in-council. This is usually done by the Treasury Board sitting as a sub-committee of cabinet. In the normal course, an amendment is submitted to Treasury Board twenty-three days prior to its consideration. However, on an urgent basis, amendments have been approved by any three cabinet ministers in a “walk-around” approach.

The PMO and minister’s office received notice of Bernardo’s proposed transfer at least two months prior to it happening. They had ample time to amend the regulations to allow CSC to assess the transfer under an enhanced set of criteria.

By requiring CSC to explicitly consider the factors in order of precedence and also consider the dangerous offender designation as the second factor, the approach outlined above would have acknowledged and respected the Court’s finding of fact that Bernardo’s personal characteristics and circumstances made him a danger to society.