Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Harrison Lowman: When the going gets tough on the world stage, Canada gets going

Commentary

In 2015, newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada was finally “back” on the world stage. But many argue that in the last decade, Canada’s international voice has only continued to weaken, and today is little more than a whisper. We do not wield the same authority or command the same respect as we did generations ago.

After countless trips abroad, Matthew Fisher, Canada’s longest-serving foreign correspondent admitted, “There is no country in the world that does less and says more than Canada.” Was he on to something, or exaggerating? What’s happened? Who’s to blame? And what’s a multilateral-minded middle power to do?

This past Tuesday, The Hub’s Managing Editor Harrison Lowman was invited to speak at Toronto’s Royal Canadian Military Institute on the subject of Canada’s waning international influence.

Below is an excerpt from his speech, entitled, “Has Canada Lost Its Place on the World Stage?”

Hub readers can watch the entire speech, along with its lively QandA here:

On August 15, 2021, Taliban fighters stunned the world, streaming into Kabul, Afghanistan like a swarm of locusts. They spread through the city on dusty pick-up trucks, stormed into government buildings, past streets NATO forces had died defending. They occupied the capital at lightning speed. Barely a shot was fired. 

In mere hours, Kabul was draped with their black flags. They had returned to power 20 years after being banished.

A humanitarian who worked in women’s health care in the country was texting me from inside a bunker. I asked if she was okay. She told me, “I am safe. Afghans are not…It’s insane.”

An Afghan journalist who grew up in Kabul and who had been covering the war for two decades was gathering his family to flee. He told me he had just witnessed “the massacre of [his] dreams.” He told me he and his children ran for their lives.

Western ambassadors had been preparing for this day, but they could not have imagined it would come so soon. They were scrambling. The British ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow sounded like he was going down with the ship:

“We’ll put everything we can on this for the next few days, trying to get out everyone who we need to get to safety as soon as we can,” he assured those listening. He would go on to evacuate thousands.

The Americans stayed. The French ambassador stayed too. France sent commandos to gather French nationals and Afghan families and get them to military planes.

The Ukrainians, who were on the verge of their own invasion, chartered a bus, which drove through live firefights to get their people, along with Afghans who had helped Canada, out of harm’s way.

Where was Canada? 

Gone. Missing in action. We were reportedly one of, if not the first major embassy to evacuate. 

Within no time, long-bearded guerilla fighters were happily traipsing through our abandoned embassy. Past piles of empty wine bottles, and our painting of an Afghan girl learning to read, beneath a red maple leaf. It was a bad look for our supposed feminist foreign policy.

Where was the Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, Reid Sirrs? 

He had apparently boarded a half-empty RCAF military plane and taken off to safety…one of only two Canadian military aircraft to flee the city. 

If Mr. Sirrs had looked down as he left Kabul airspace, he may have been able to make out the more than 1,000 Canadian citizens and interpreters who helped our armed forces during our 13-year mission.

“We all saw on TV, it was two planes after ours that the people were hanging off the airplane when people fell off it,” said Sirrs later on, reported by Blacklock’s Reporter. “So, it was quite close for us.” 

For us. Mr. Sirrs? 

Thousands of terrified people were stranded. What notice did our citizens and allies get who had been left behind? It turns out that all they initially received were text messages from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. They were instructed—in English only—to travel on their own with no escorts (our soldiers, military advisors, and diplomats were gone, you see) and sneak past Taliban fighters, through a churning, muddy and bloody sea of desperate civilians, to the airport. They were later told that, if they made it to the airport gates, they should be wearing something red and shout out “Canada” and hope a soldier heard them. In the coming weeks, it would become clear that it was really up to Canadian veterans to volunteer to get translators and their families out of the country. Not our government.

This was a complete abdication of duty. We betrayed these people. And we should be ashamed of our country. 

Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan Reid Sirrs would be quietly reassigned to a posting in Argentina. He and his staff would be honoured with a ceremony and a $10,000 plaque that now sits outside Global Affairs Canada. It commemorates what our federal government claims was our amazing evacuation of Afghans and embassy staff. Astonishingly, it reads, “This plaque pays tribute to all the government of Canada employees who contributed to this heroic effort.” Sirrs’ LinkedIn profile currently reads that he has skills when it comes to “managing during times of crisis.” 

In Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 12, 2022, 12 whole days before Russian troops fired a shot, Canada would again be one of the first to leave. We allegedly hold the title of being the only G7 country to immediately suspend our diplomatic presence in Kyiv at the time. It then took almost 90 days for us to then only partially re-open Canada’s embassy.

In Israel, this past October, as Hamas terrorists burst into Israeli kibbutzim slaughtering men, women and children, Canadian citizens on the ground who attempted to contact the Canadian embassy there were met by a voicemail advising them the embassy was closed for the Thanksgiving long weekend. As reported by Matt Gurney, they were initially directed to an emergency hotline…in Ottawa.

It seems when the going gets tough, Canada gets going. 

An international reputation running on fumes

All of these examples are symptoms of a disease this country has been suffering from for decades. And believe me, we are sick and in need of a cure. 

It is now 2024. And we are still relying on the Pearsonian reputation of Canada built in the 1960s. 

Can you guess how many Canadians we currently have taking part in UN peacekeeping operations? The present government, which insisted in 2015 that Canada “is back,” would have you believe there are hundreds of Canadian blue berets currently stationed across the globe. 

The real answer is 57. In 1992 it was 3,285.

In 2024, Canada’s reputation is running on fumes. And the world it was built on? That world no longer exists. No matter how much we pretend it still exists. It doesn’t.

“Free riders.” “Not pulling its weight.” “Risk-averse.” “Unreliable.” “Not fit for purpose.” 

These are the words we increasingly see attached to our country’s name; whispered in the corners of international conferences.

Not only that, you now hear that we are, “Preachy” or “Act like we are morally superior.”

Former Liberal deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister John Manley recently had this to say:

“We seem to have decided that we would rather carry a soapbox with us and get up on it and tell people how they need to do things differently, rather than finding ways to insinuate ourselves into these many complex and difficult situations…”

You have all heard the expression, walk softly and carry a big stick. Canadian academic Denis Stairs says Canadian foreign policy is more akin to “speak loudly and carry a bent twig.”

Before he passed, Matthew Fisher, Canada’s longest-serving foreign affairs correspondent used to tell me, “There is no country in the world that does less and says more than Canada.”

It all begs the question: on the world stage, are we a serious country, or not a serious country?

A frayed rules-based international order

In an interview with the Toronto Star last month, Prime Minister Trudeau stressed that one of his biggest priorities was “standing up for the international rules-based order.”

A few weeks later Donald Trump, possibly the next U.S. president, spouted off at a rally, quoting an unnamed world leader who asked him about NATO spending and collective defence saying, “Well sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?”.

What did Trump say his response to this world leader was?: 

“You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent? No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay.” 

Today, the rules-based international order that has sustained us for 75 years is on life support. It is hanging on a thread. And it cannot be wished back into being.

“The foundations of the world order are being shaken to their core,” admitted U.K. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps at the beginning of this year. 

In its place we see authoritarian leaders emerging, and the multilateral institutions (the UN, WTO..etc) where Canada’s soft voice was once amplified becoming increasingly irrelevant.

As Ben Rowswell, a convener at the Network for Democratic Solidarity, and a former Canadian ambassador and diplomat recently told me, these organizations are now not much more than “paper exercises.”

Meanwhile, strong illiberal authoritarian leaders of powerful countries (Russia, China, Iran) have formed their old boys’ clubs of bullies on a parallel plane, outside multilateral institutions. And they don’t care about the rules.

Putin has started a European war. China is building artificial islands in the contested South China Sea and eyeing Taiwan. Iran is fomenting unrest across the Middle East.

It’s “a knife fight,” says Rowswell. 

“The world has suddenly become stranger, more dangerous, more complicated, and we’re beginning to feel those reverberations in Canada to a much greater extent,” David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China told me recently. “But the government has simply not responded to that.”

It has now come to the point where even our traditional allies are overlooking us as they assemble alliances. The world no longer immediately says, “We want more Canada.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a plenary session at the NATO Summit in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
A neglected Canadian military

Canada’s armed forces are neglected, ill-equipped, and fed up. 

“We are an irrelevant military force,” summarized retired Lieut. Gen. Mike Day, a former Canadian special forces commander and chief strategic planner for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Other former high-ranking members of the forces are furiously writing opinion editorials claiming our military is on the brink of collapse.

Meanwhile, almost without precedent, we are seeing soldiers who are still actively serving, taking risks by voicing their major concerns publicly. 

Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, published a video on YouTube explaining the dire state of our navy. He said his team “faces some very serious challenges” that could mean they “fail to meet” their commitments. He bemoaned the fact that only one of the Canadian Navy’s new offshore patrol vessels could be deployed at a time because of staff shortages. 

Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, also publicly expressed how soldiers are increasingly being relied on to respond to Canadian natural disasters which are not in their job descriptions. 

The current defence minister is working off a mandate letter penned three years ago. There was supposed to be what’s referred to as a “defence update” (which names the military’s long-term goals and the equipment needed) delivered in fall 2022. But it’s AWOL and still hasn’t happened. We haven’t had an update since 2017. Consider for a moment how much the world has changed since 2017.

We are arming men and women, who we are sending into harm’s way, with obsolete equipment.

“Their equipment has been relegated to sort of broken equipment parked by the fence,” says former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier. “Our fighting ships are on limitations to the speed that they can sail or the waves that they can sail in…And so, I feel sorry for the men and women who are serving there right now.”

Last year, I reported on some of Canada’s most egregious military equipment mishaps. A selection of what I found:

  • Our soldiers have been using WW2-era Browning 9mm handguns as their standard-issue sidearm. We have been trying to replace them for more than a decade. 
  • We only retired the 114-year-old Lee Enfield rifle from frontline service a few years ago. We were the last national military in the world to do so. We were using a version of this rifle in the Boer War!
  • Canada’s Victoria-class submarines were already second-hand when we purchased them in the 1990s. They have been breaking down and barely making it out to sea ever since. And we apparently need to use them into the 2030s.
  • The notorious Sea King helicopters were flying for 55 years before they were replaced.
  • The process of replacing our ancient fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft took 12 years. They’re approaching 40 years old. The grandfathers of the people flying our fighter jets could have flown the same planes. My own grandfather, a journalist covering the forces, flew in the first one delivered to Canada. We are now apparently going to re-equip Canadian squadrons with the F-35. Who knows when?

Others disagree with all this. They assure me our military is not on the verge of collapse. That we should take the advice of retired generals calling for billions more in spending with a big grain of salt, as they are often working as consultants for defence companies. These critics will also tell you that calls for much more defence spending (which they often say comes at the expense of social services) are really just fear-mongering. 

“It’s a bottomless pit. There’s never enough money for the defence establishment,” Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs and a former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the UN, told me. “And yet DND cannot even spend all the money it gets now—to the tune of $1-2 billion per year.”

“The Department of National Defence will always say it needs more money. And there’s a lot of hype that accompanies that,” veteran Ottawa Citizen defence reporter David Pugliese added.

NATO spending

Our current NATO contributions sit at about 1.38 percent of our GDP, a far cry from our two percent promise. Ignoring that, Prime Minister Trudeau reportedly privately told NATO officials Canada would never hit our spending target.

Rowswell characterized the prime minister’s admission as an example of his “utter incompetence on international security matters.”

We would need to spend around 30-40 percent more to reach the two percent commitment and then figure out a way for DND to even be able to absorb and allocate what would be a whopping $20 billion.

We currently rank 25th out of 30 NATO members when it comes to defence spending. But we’re around the sixth largest spender in terms of absolute dollars.

All this, and DND has apparently been told to cut $1 billion in funding by 2026. 

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre says if he wins office his government would “work toward” increasing military spending to two percent of our GDP.

He says he’ll do it by slashing “back-office bureaucracy,” stopping corruption in procurement, and cutting foreign aid.

But, our contributions to official development assistance (aid to developing countries) have “collapsed” already says Rowswell. Under this government it’s reached historically low levels.

And no government seems to be immune from ballooning procurement costs.

From left, General Steve Graham, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Colonel Ben Schmidt, MP Bill Blair and MP Randy Boissonnault meet with members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Edmonton on Monday, May 15, 2023. Jason Franson/The Canadian Press.
Recruitment, retention, and diversity

If all this were not enough, there are critical recruitment and retention issues. The armed forces are currently staring down a shortage of 16,000 troops. Among those we need most urgently are medical officers, naval operators, aviation specialists, communications experts, and technical tradespeople.

We have all heard of the raft of sexual misconduct scandals, some involving more than a dozen of Canada’s military top brass. 

And a December 2023 report from Statistics Canada suggests the problem only appears to be getting worse.

In 2018, 1.6 percent of CAF personnel said they were sexually assaulted by another service member. Today it’s 3.5 percent.

Not to mention struggles diversifying the force, which is overwhelmingly white and male. 71 percent of our military are white males. For comparison, the civilian workforce is about 39 percent. Sixteen percent of CAF members are female. That number is supposed to be 25 percent by 2026. But one must wonder how realistic this is and whether there is a natural ceiling.

The military is facing real internal threats here that run the risk of becoming existential. 

A professional Canadian military cannot function if its leaders and servicepeople are complicit in preying on the few female soldiers in its ranks. 

A professional Canadian military is not sustainable if it can’t attract people who are not white when the Canadian population is increasingly not white.

We must think of solutions.

Soldiers fighting in the culture war

The current government thinks much of the solution involves deploying an arsenal of left-wing identity politics weaponry. Today, soldiers aren’t just fighting in actual wars, they are increasingly fighting in the culture wars.

The Canadian Military Journal, the official peer-reviewed academic journal of the Canadian Armed Forces, tasked with improving the development of soldiers, recently ran an issue highlighting what it described as a “feminist intersectional trauma-informed approach to reimagine and transform CAF culture.” 

The general thrust was that the military is inherently racist, colonialist, patriarchal, and oppressive and needed to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. 

“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system. Colonialism and intersecting systems such as patriarchy, heteronormativity and ableism constitute the root causes of inequality within Canada,” wrote one contributor.

Another called out the military’s “violence and aggression, institutional unity and hierarchy.”

Violence. A formal collective comradery. Ranks. Is this not quite literally the point of all armies since we assembled in groups of cavemen to throw rocks at one another? Is the ultimate purpose of soldiers not to practice violence and aggression in defence of their country, and when necessary, kill other people?

An anonymous senior member of the Forces told the National Post that the Trudeau government’s intense focus on “fulfilling social policy objectives” has come at the expense of battle readiness.

When she entered the role, the previous minister of national defence, Anita Anand, said her “top priority was to make sure everyone in the Forces feels safe and protected.” It raises an important question. Should the military’s top priority be to create soldiers who feel safe and protected? Or rather, is the paramount priority to create a highly trained military? One that is battle-ready. Ready to be put in harm’s way. Can both be our top objectives simultaneously?

The new inclusive approach has meant the introduction of anti-racism tool kits, gender-neutral uniforms, relaxing bans on face tattoos, lengthy beards, long hair, and bright hair dye. 

But, I can assure you that those changes did not result in a stampede to recruitment centres of hordes of people with goatees and spider face tattoos.

While clearly not the main reason enlistment is so low, just pause for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of an 18-year-old Canadian young man who is considering enlisting.

Since he was around eight, he has been told by his own government that his country is a settler-colonial state, guilty of countless historical misdeeds, and complicit in various forms of genocide. He has been told by his department of defence that the military is a bastion of white supremacy and male supremacy.

Ask yourself if this would make you want to join that military and potentially sacrifice your life for that country.

The Weekly Wrap: Brian Mulroney’s place in history

Commentary

This week‘s edition of The Hub’s Weekly Wrap reflects on some of the past week’s biggest stories, including the death and legacy of Brian Mulroney, the plight of the Israeli hostages, the government’s new pharmacare legislation, and Jamil Jivani’s prospects as a major player in the Conservative Party.

Mulroney should be remembered as a major conservative reformer

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney shared with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a common assessment of the need to roll back the state and free up the market in domestic policy and pursue an ultimate victory in the Cold War in foreign and defence policy. Yet while history cites him as their key contemporary—and a major partner along with Germany’s Helmet Kohl—he’s rarely been canonized by conservatives as their peer in an ideological movement that ultimately reshaped Anglo-American politics in a rightward direction. 

One possible explanation is that Mulroney spoke less in conservative first principles than Reagan or Thatcher. His conservatism was more instinctive—rooted in the practical lessons of a childhood in Baie Comeau—than it was the product of studying the texts of Friedrich Hayek. His speeches therefore tended to be less about freedom and liberty and other high-minded conservative ideals and more about the real-life needs and challenges of Canadians growing up in communities like his own. 

Yet there’s a case that notwithstanding Mulroney’s pragmatic presentation, his economic policy reforms—including a major privatization programme, collapsing the number of personal income tax brackets from 10 to three, and securing a historic free trade deal with the United States—actually matched or even exceeded the policy ambition of the Reagan Administration or the Thatcher government. His policy record must be properly understood as a major conservative reformer. 

Proof of his success is that the subsequent Liberal government led by Jean Chrétien not only accepted but even deepened his reforms. The 1995 budget’s major fiscal reforms that eventually achieved Ottawa’s first balanced budget in decades and the 2000 Fall Economic Statement that enacted sweeping tax reductions on businesses, capital and individuals were built on the intellectual foundation established during the Mulroney era. His market-oriented impulses animated Canadian policy and politics for the subsequent two decades or more. We lived in the policymaking world that he created. 

There are few paradigmatic prime ministers in Canadian history. Sir John A. Macdonald, William Mackenzie King, arguably Pierre Trudeau, and Brian Mulroney. Many of the others have had great accomplishments but they’ve by and large operated in an ideological and political framework set by someone else. 

Mulroney should therefore be viewed as a highly consequential prime minister and a conservative reformer who contributed to an ideas revolution around the Western world. He was a “true champion of freedom and democracy” as Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation noted in a statement upon his passing. Not bad for a boy from Baie Comeau. 

We cannot forget the Israeli hostages

The biggest (and most regrettable) international news this week is that Hamas has reportedly rejected an agreement to release more Israeli hostages in exchange for a six-week ceasefire in the ongoing war. At the time of writing, it’s unclear whether this is merely a negotiating tactic or represents a major setback in efforts to free the outstanding hostages. 

The apparent breakdown in talks comes in advance of next week’s five-month anniversary of Hamas’s terrorist attacks against Israel which left 1,200 dead and more than 240 hostages taken into captivity. Just over 105 hostages have since been released. Israel believes that there are 130 others remaining—though there are estimates that as many as 30 or 50 may no longer be alive. 

The hostages are central to Israel’s domestic politics and ceasefire negotiations. Pressure is mounting within the country to bring the remaining hostages home. According to reports, the Israeli government is even prepared to release Palestinian prisoners on a ten-to-one basis. 

Yet the plight of hostages has been diminished in the public consciousness in Canada, the United States, and other Western countries. Their voices have been drowned out by loud protests and stripped out of a lot of media reporting altogether. As The Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz noted in a recent episode of Hub Dialogues, many Western news stories about the Israel-Hamas conflict these days don’t even bother to reference the October 7 attacks anymore. 

I encountered this trend at The Hub this week. We received an otherwise thoughtful submission about Canadian policy regarding the conflict that called on the Trudeau government to take various actions (including calling for the war’s end) but left the demand that Hamas return the hostages unsaid. The authors subsequently told me that they assumed it was implicit. But it shouldn’t be implicit. It must be explicit. 

We cannot lose sight of the fact that Hamas is holding as many as 130 hostages including Kfir Babas, the youngest Israeli held in captivity, who celebrated his first birthday in January and whose welfare remains unknown. Our moral outrage shouldn’t subside or be redirected elsewhere. Hamas took this baby, his family, and hundreds of others (including dozens with foreign passports) and refuses to free the remaining hostages even if it comes at the expense of Palestinian civilians. It tells you that they hate Jews more than they care about the well-being of their own people. 

As my former boss Stephen Harper wrote in a recent op-ed, it’s not reasonable to demand that Israel cease its military campaign before its people are returned home and Hamas is defeated. Virtually any other outcome amounts to a victory for Hamas and those who support its goal of terrorizing and ultimately destroying the State of Israel. 

Sometimes we can overstate the complexity of geopolitical issues. We can be too self-conscious to assert that something that others claim is complex is actually rather simple. The Israel-Hamas war is a prime example. 

Hamas terrorists entered Israel in the morning hours of October 7 with the intent to rape, brutalize, murder, and ultimately take captive its civilians. Nearly 150 days later, they are prepared to tolerate the ongoing devastation of Gaza rather than free Kfir Babas and his family. You don’t need a PhD (and evidently having one may even be an impediment) to see with moral clarity that the West’s position should be unequivocal: free Kfir and the other hostages now.  

Families of hostages and former hostages taken on October 7 hold images on a podium at a protest near the International Crime Court at The Hague during a protest in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. Martin Meissner/AP Photo.
An alternative to the government’s new pharmacare legislation

The biggest domestic political development in Canada this week is the tabling of new pharmacare legislation that fulfills a major part of the Trudeau government’s parliamentary agreement with the New Democrats and should therefore prolong the current Parliament until the fixed election date in 2025. This has obvious political implications for the government, which polls tell us would quite likely suffer a significant defeat if an election were held today. An additional 19 months may provide the prime minister the time to improve his political fortunes. 

But the pharmacare deal isn’t noteworthy merely because of its politics. It also potentially has huge policy consequences for how Canadians access pharmaceutical drugs. 

Start with the legislation itself. The pharmacare bill represents an incremental nod to a more ambitious single-payer model for public drug coverage. It begins with a small number of drugs (including diabetes medication and contraception) but envisions expanding the formulary over time in cooperation with the provinces. 

Health Minister Mark Holland affirmed that the government is committed to pursuing “full coverage so everybody can afford their medication.” The Council of Canadians, a progressive organization in favour of full single-payer public insurance, similarly called the legislation “the foundation for universal, single-payer coverage…to expand in order to fully meet the needs of people in Canada and realize the full cost-saving potential of bulk-buying medications.” 

The principal case for a single-payer pharmcare model is that there’s a share of the population estimated to be roughly 20 percent that doesn’t have some form of public and private insurance and must therefore pay for drugs with out-of-pocket dollars. Roughly 55 percent of Canadians have employer-provided drug coverage. Another 20 percent or so are eligible for public insurance programs based on income level or age. Something approaching 10 percent has associational or individual insurance plans. 

The key point here is that although the vast majority of Canadians tell pollsters that they’re satisfied with their drug coverage in terms of affordability and access, there is a share of the population that’s unserved by the status quo.  

Numbers aren’t enough however to assess the case for (or against) pharmacare. It’s useful to drill down deeper to understand who these people are. The population without public or private insurance is, generally speaking, composed of working-age Canadians who don’t have employer-provided plans but whose incomes exceed the means-test threshold for public plans. This cohort can range from those in “gig work” (think for instance Uber drivers) to professional contract workers to management executives. 

The problem of uninsured Canadians, in other words, is a nuanced one that’s presumably different than most people conceive of it. Most of them are generally not young, old, or poor. Many in fact may be making a rational decision to pay out-of-pocket rather than carry the cost of a private drug plan because of their age and income. 

These considerations ought to be fundamental to the pharmacare debate. There’s risk otherwise that the goal of single-payer coverage (which by definition involves replacing the current hybrid system of public and private coverage) disrupts a satisfactory status quo for millions of Canadians to solve a perceived problem that may not actually be much of a problem. It seems odd to disrupt a system that’s working for roughly 80 percent of Canadians to extend coverage to relatively high-income workers like me. 

A better alternative to a mandatory, single-payer pharmacare program is more surgical and targeted solutions that could better support low-income Canadians who may be falling through the cracks to obtain drug coverage.

One option is to transfer funding to the provinces to expand their means-tested and age-based programs. Another is to reform the federal Medical Expense Tax Credit to make it refundable, more generous, and means-tested to help those who aren’t covered by pre-existing public and private plans purchase their own insurance. These options would not only be cheaper and expand individual choice, but they’d leave in place the status quo for the millions of Canadians for whom it’s currently working. 

Jamil Jivani: rising Conservative star?

Permit me one more item in this week’s Weekly Wrap. 

This upcoming Monday (March 6) is the federal byelection in the riding of Durham which former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole previously held and Conservative candidate Jamil Jivani is expected to hold. 

Jivani (who I should disclose is a friend) has the potential to be a significant player in Conservative politics. He’s a Yale law graduate, a movement conservative who previously headed the Canada Strong and Free Network, and an outspoken critic of the immense social pressure that Black Canadians face to conform to progressive stereotypes.

But he’s not only a critic of left-wing shibboleths. He’s also been prepared to challenge conservatism to the extent that it can be unrooted from the people and communities for whom he’s dedicated his activism. His own conservatism is solidly working-class. As he put it in a past episode of Hub Dialogues:

 …being a conservative, doesn’t, at least from my point of view, mean necessarily the sort of Ronald Reagan definition of conservatism; the neoliberal sort of definition of conservatism that I think a lot of people have been accustomed, whether it’s culture or politics, to believe is the only way conservatives can address these sorts of issues.

Jivani comes to these views earnestly. He grew up in a working-class neighbourhood without his father which he has characterized as a formative part of his identity. He wrote a book about the challenges facing young men and has spent hours mentoring boys and men who’ve grown up in similar circumstances as his own. He’s faced off with large corporations and earned a reputation for being tough and uncompromising on matters of principle.

If Jivani wins on Monday, he’ll definitely be someone to watch in Ottawa. His unique voice and perspective will position him to make a significant contribution to Conservative politics in the short- and long-term.