By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 0 Comments
In the beginning, there was disagreement.
The first session of the first Parliament of the Dominion of Canada was called for the “despatch of business” at 3pm on the November 6, 1867. Specifically, the duly elected members convened that day for the purposes of choosing a speaker. John A. Macdonald spoke first that Wednesday, nominating James Cockburn. George Etienne Cartier stood to second the motion. And it was then, on this necessary first bit of business, that the House encountered its first dispute—Conservative MP Joseph Dufresne of Montcalm, Quebec, rising to lament that Mr. Cockburn could not speak French. “He thought it was to be regretted that, at the inauguration of a new system, greater respect was not shown to Lower Canada in this matter,” the journals report. “He looked upon this as a matter of national feeling.”
Nonetheless, after Mr. Cartier assured the House that Mr. Cockburn could at least understand French, the House unanimously elected its first Speaker. The House then adjourned until the next afternoon when the Governor General was scheduled to deliver the Speech from the Throne.
Debate on the address began on Friday at 3pm. But after just two interventions, business was interrupted so that Prime Minister Macdonald might explain why the minister of finance and the secretary of state for the provinces had just resigned. The ensuing discussion took up most of the afternoon, so it was only after dinner that Joseph Howe was given time to explain his objections to confederation. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 5:24 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. And so the House returned to the drama, intrigue and tragedy of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Oh if only the Marquess of Lorne—John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll and fourth governor general of Canada—had known what he had wrought when he signed into law “an Act respecting Bridges over the navigable waters, constructed under the authority of Provincial Acts” on May 17, 1882. One wonders if he would have hesitated to put his signature on the bill if he’d known that one day its reform would be used to mercilessly mock the president of the Treasury Board.
“Mr. Speaker, members opposite must be getting dizzy from all the spin around their talking points on the Navigable Waters Protection Act,” the NDP’s Megan Leslie sighed this afternoon. “First, they claimed that the changes had nothing to do with environment. They were just reducing red tape for cottagers. However, even Conservatives knew that this law actually did have a role in environmental protection, although they did try to deny it by rewriting websites, and history.”
It is to the Macdonald government’s eternal shame that it did not enact a proper FAQ when it passed the act in 1882. So much of this month’s confusion might’ve been avoided.
“Yesterday, the finance minister changed his tune again and he said that these changes were actually about austerity,” Ms. Leslie claimed, feigning confusion. “So, what is the real answer here? Why is the government gutting environmental protection from the bill?”
Transport Minister Denis Lebel stood and, in his deliberate English, lamented for the great blight that the old bill had become over the last 130 years. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 24, 2012 at 5:11 PM - 0 Comments
Macdonald’s actions can be judged by comparing his words and deeds to those of his contemporaries. While Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier urged understanding in dealing with the so-called rebels, Macdonald showed no compassion. He wanted them to hang, “to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.” And hang they did. Métis leader Louis Riel and eight aboriginal men went to the gallows…
Gwyn tells us that Macdonald’s head tax of $50 on each Chinese immigrant was “an act of comparative moderation” when judged beside the actions of the U.S. government, which had prohibited all immigration from China. Gwyn neglects to say that the number of Chinese immigrants dropped from 2,762 in 1884, the year before the head tax was imposed, to 212 in 1886, and to 124 in 1887. So, yes, Canada admitted more Chinese than the United States, but the difference was negligible and does not demonstrate Macdonald’s moderation.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 5:50 PM - 0 Comments
History professor Timothy Stanley says our first prime minister was a white supremacist.
In 1885, John A. Macdonald told the House of Commons that, if the Chinese were not excluded from Canada, “the Aryan character of the future of British America should be destroyed …” This was the precise moment in the histories of Canada and the British Dominions when Macdonald personally introduced race as a defining legal principle of the state…
Macdonald’s comments came as he justified an amendment taking the vote away from anyone “of Mongolian or Chinese race.” He warned that, if the Chinese (who had been in British Columbia as long as Europeans) were allowed to vote, “they might control the vote of that whole Province” and their “Chinese representatives” would foist “Asiatic principles,” “immoralities,” and “eccentricities” on the House “which are abhorrent to the Aryan race and Aryan principles.” He further claimed that “the Aryan races will not wholesomely amalgamate with the Africans or the Asiatics” and that “the cross of those races, like the cross of the dog and the fox, is not successful; it cannot be, and never will be.” For Macdonald, Canada was to be the country that restored a pure Aryan race to its past glory, and the Chinese threatened this purity.
I confess I was previously unaware of Macdonald’s comments, but they have been previously noted—see here, here, here and here (click on “did you know?”). Some of Macdonald’s comments were also mentioned, four years ago, in an essay Christopher Anderson wrote for the Canadian Parliamentary Review about the Chinese Immigration Act. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 4:41 PM - 0 Comments
Welcome to live coverage of tonight’s C-38 votes. It was expected that voting would begin around 5:30pm, but some procedural fussing about by the Liberals seems to have delayed those votes by a few hours. Stay tuned throughout the evening (and morning?) as we follow the parliamentary festivities.
4:43pm. If you’re only now tuning in, you just missed a fascinating series of points of order, during which Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux twice asked the Speaker to clarify the rules of the House (Speaker Devolin invited Mr. Lamoureux to read the standing orders) and Bob Rae objected to the Defence Minister’s earlier use of the word “mendaciousness” (Peter MacKay duly stood and withdrew the remark). The House is now at the time reserved each day for the presenting of petitions and will soon move to the final period of report stage debate on C-38.
4:51pm. The New Democrats held a photo op this afternoon to demonstrate how they were preparing for tonight’s votes. Mostly this seems to have involved Nathan Cullen removing his jacket and writing “C-38″ on a giant white pad of paper.
5:04pm. The Liberals have chosen now to discuss Mr. Cullen’s point of privilege. And now there is some discussion between the Speaker, Elizabeth May and Denis Coderre about how long one can speak when responding to a question of privilege.
5:15pm. With Mr. Lamoureux still responding to Mr. Cullen’s point of privilege, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer rises on a point of order to question Mr. Lamoureux’s point of privilege. The Speaker stands and reads the rules pertaining to questions of privilege, specifically that such interventions should be “brief and concise” and that the Speaker has the right to “terminate” the discussion. Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti rises on a point of order to object to Mr. Zimmer’s point of order. Mr. Lamoureux attempts a point of order to respond to Mr. Zimmer, but the Speaker suggests he carry on with his point of privilege, but then Mr. Coderre rises on a point of order to complain about the Speaker’s desire to move things along. The Speaker asserts his impartiality and attempts to straighten this all out, but Mr. Coderre rises on another point of order to clarify his respect for the Speaker, but also to express his desire that Mr. Lamoureux be allowed to give a full response to Mr. Cullen’s point of privilege. Mr. Pacetti rises on a point of order to add his concern that Mr. Lamoureux be allowed to speak fully. The Speaker says he was merely reminding everyone of the rules and gives Mr. Lamoureux five minutes to finish and, finally, we’re now back to Mr. Lamoruex’s point of privilege.
5:30pm. The Speaker stands and calls an end to Mr. Lamoureux’s remarks and attempts to move to the last hour of report stage debate on C-38, but now Mauril Belanger is up on a separate point of privilege.
5:32pm. The Speaker cuts off Mr. Belanger to move to deferred votes on two opposition motions and one private member’s bill. MPs have 30 minutes to report to the chamber.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 4:45 PM - 12 Comments
The prepared text of a speech—an interesting, perhaps even charming, and apparently quite personal speech—delivered today by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to students at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business.
I am happy to be here. This is a room full of important people. You are the people our country needs in the highly competitive and challenging global marketplace of today and tomorrow.
Our future success depends on you.
You are the leaders of tomorrow.
I want to talk about tomorrow. But first I want to spend a few moments on yesterday.
By Josh Dehaas - Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 8 Comments
Why are Canadian schools teaching so little about the pre-Confederation era?
Recent history grads may be forgiven for not knowing the significance of the 1st Baron of Dorchester, or that his 1744 Quebec Act was once known as Canada’s Magna Carta. They don’t teach much pre-Confederation history in school. “In high school, we had to take one history course and all I learned about was World War One, World War Two—maybe we touched on the Depression,” says Amy Legate-Wolfe, the 22-year-old co-president of the University of Toronto’s History Students’ Association. She didn’t choose any Canadian history courses in university either, preferring to learn about British monarchs and the origins of Hong Kong.
But considering that the Quebec Act was the first piece of legislation to enshrine minority rights for French Catholics in the British Empire, more Canadians should have studied it, says Chris Champion, one of the five editors of a new journal, the Dorchester Review. The Review’s first issue is modest in circulation (500 copies), but it has attracted some big-name contributors, including Conrad Black. They’re united by the belief that Canadian history teachers are overlooking many key moments. “[Professors] emphasize the notion that the really important things happened after John A. MacDonald, that World War One was Canada’s war of independence, that we didn’t really become a country until we had our own flag and that our rights and freedoms began in 1982 with the Charter,” says Champion. “There’s a lot more to it than that.”
The kind of things one might have learned if studying in the 1960s. The University of Toronto’s 1960-61 course calendar shows 27 of 33 history classes focused on Canada, Britain or America. Queen’s University only offered two courses on anything outside of North America or Western Europe that year.
By Norman Hillmer and Stephen Azzi - Friday, June 10, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 62 Comments
Maclean’s second survey of our greatest leaders shows a new number one, and some big surprises.
Stephen Harper has his majority government. The Liberal party is in tatters, and the Bloc Québécois is devastated. The NDP, inexperienced in the limelight and leaning to the left, is a reliable target. No one now doubts the Prime Minister’s capacity for raw politics, or his staying power.
Harper is one of a select few Canadian leaders to have won three consecutive federal elections. When his current term ends, he will have been in office longer than many past titans, including Brian Mulroney, John Diefenbaker, and Lester Pearson.
All that remains, and it is a great deal, is to discover what Harper will make of his new lease on parliamentary life, and what history will make of him. To set a benchmark, we’ve undertaken Maclean’s second rankings survey on Canadian prime ministers, to determine the greats, near greats, and also-rans, as well as the ingredients of success and the reasons for failure.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 4:47 PM - 24 Comments
From a speech delivered by Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie in 1877.
I know it is the tactics of those by whom we are opposed – I know it was their tactics twenty years ago, and thirty-five years ago-to drive their opponents out of public life by the grossest slanders, in order that they may have the field left clear for themselves. I say to them, “Gentlemen, you can’t do it. (hear, hear, and cheers) Your slanders shall fall harmlessly against us, your tactics shall prove a failure, because you have not the people with you.” Sir John Macdonald never did have the people of Ontario with him; he never commanded a majority of the people of this Province, and he never will (cheers) He represented a retrograde policy from first to last.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Even John A. Macdonald would admit that these two guys are the ones who started it all
It is on page three that John Ralston Saul’s new book might first shock its readers. There, in the midst of describing a riot that clogged the streets of Montreal on an April afternoon in 1849, Ralston Saul describes Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine as “the first real prime minister of a democratic Canada.” John A. Macdonald does not turn up for another 178 pages.
With all due respect to John A., the story of LaFontaine and his kindred spirit Robert Baldwin—set out in the latest instalment of the Penguin Extraordinary Canadians series edited by Ralston Saul—is about how we got to 1867. It is about how two complicated and burdened men brought Canada to responsible government. “If you got [George-Étienne] Cartier and Macdonald on the phone and said, ‘Okay, how do you explain Canada?,’ they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s really, really easy, LaFontaine and Baldwin.’ Their idea was LaFontaine and Baldwin’s idea,” says Ralston Saul. “It’s a technical, constitutional, boring detail as to how many votes and how you get a majority. Of course, in politics, you have to worry about these things. But that’s not what it was about. It was actually about a different kind of relationship between peoples, between religions, between languages. A different approach toward the public good, non-violence and so on.”
Indeed, in lavish detail, Ralston Saul revives not only Canada and Canadian life at the moment of this new beginning, but these two men as they found their respective ways as individuals and allies. It is a dramatic time, but it is amid the tumult that much of what has come to define Canada—much of how we define ourselves—was established. As Ralston Saul writes, “The ongoing dramas of Canada—positive and negative—were shaped and energized as if in perpetuity by these two men and their great friendship.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 5:02 PM - 0 Comments
Rob Silver has some questions about Maxime Bernier’s preferred reference point.
Of course you can’t pick and choose from the sacred Constitution Act, 1867 so I’m sure Bernier will have no problem with the Governor-General once again using his powers of disallowance and reservation. I mean, Sir John A. Macdonald routinely struck down provincial legislation he disagreed with, it was part of the pact that was struck back in 1867 so surely once we start “respecting the constitution,” future PM’s can pass judgment on any provincial bill he or she chooses per Bernier.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 12:16 PM - 0 Comments
Maxime Bernier calls for a return to original intent (or at least original intent as he sees it).
Clearly, our goal should be to bring back the balanced federalism envisioned by the Founders. It should be to restore our federal union, as Wilfrid Laurier and most people understood it back then.
This would be done by putting an end to all federal intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction. Instead of sending money to the provinces, Ottawa would cut its taxes and let them use the fiscal room that has been vacated. Such a transfer of tax points to the provinces would allow them to fully assume their responsibilities, without federal control.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 19, 2010 at 11:53 AM - 0 Comments
From the official government lines distributed over the weekend.
The Ignatieff Liberals promise to force all Canadians to answer personal and intrusive questions about their private lives under threat of jail, fine, or both.
Though the threat of imprisonment is included in the Statistics Act of 1970, no one has ever apparently been sent to prison for refusing to answer the census. The threat of a fine appears in both the Statistics Act and the Census Act of 1870. Until 1951, the census was conducted every 10 years, afterwards every five years.
The following prime ministers then—assuming the threat of a fine was not momentarily suspended between 1870 and 1970—would seem to have forced Canadians to answer personal and intrusive questions about their private lives under threat of jail or fine: John A. Macdonald (thrice), Wilfrid Laurier (twice), Arthur Meighen, RB Bennett, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Louis St. Laurent (twice), John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Trudeau (thrice), Brian Mulroney (twice), Jean Chretien (twice) and Stephen Harper.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 8:45 AM - 99 Comments
The government’s attempt to improvise a new limit on the Westminster system will have its first test this morning when the Prime Minister’s director of communications is scheduled to testify at the ethics committee. Once again, as in the matter of Parliament’s demand to see documents related to Afghan detainees, there is the small matter of the actual laws of this land.
If you should be so curious, the power of Parliament to “send for persons” is explained in chapter 20 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. A committee of Parliament can issue a summons to any individual, ordering their attendance at a specific time and place. Only the Queen, the Governor-General, provincial lieutenant-governors, members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures and individuals not residing in Canada are, in practice, granted immunity from such a summons.
Those who are rightfully summoned, but fail to appear can be disciplined by the House—Parliament’s powers in this regard explained in chapter 3 of second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Chapter 3 includes a subsection entitled “taking individuals into custody and imprisonment,” which reads, rather seriously, as follows. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 1:23 PM - 96 Comments
The Mark convenes a number of political actors and observers to discuss the best leaders of Canadian history and, amid the expected salutes to Macdonald, Pearson, Douglas and the like, pollster Frank Graves speculates on what will define the next great prime minister.
Gen X and Gen Y see little of relevance to them in the federal government. They are less interested in ethics, crime, security, and health care, and more interested in climate change and a post-carbon economy, knowledge and skills, human rights and internationalism. In order to build a federal state that is focused on both the future and the present (and less the past), our next leader should be drawn from the half of Canadians under the median age of 41…
It might also be appropriate to find someone who reflects the growing diversity of Canada, and perhaps it isn’t too much to expect that as over half of Canadians are women we might eventually get around to electing a woman PM.
Ladies and gentlemen, Canada’s next great prime minister.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 8:30 AM - 57 Comments
Some thoughts now on Mark Kingwell’s recent essay, not necessarily in response, but at least inspired by. Andrew Potter has posted some of his thoughts here. Both Andrew and Mark are exceptionally smart and have offered valuable perspective and insight. I apologize for the complete lack of references to Aristotle in what follows. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 18, 2010 at 9:30 AM - 85 Comments
Richard Foot reports that in no other similar democracy has a prime minister prorogued Parliament to avoid trouble.
It turns out, no other English-speaking nation with a system of government like ours — not Britain, Australia or New Zealand — has ever had its parliament prorogued in modern times, so that its ruling party could avoid an investigation, or a vote of confidence, by other elected legislators.
Only three times has this happened, all in Canada — first in 1873, when Sir John A. Macdonald asked the governor general to prorogue Parliament in order to halt a House of Commons probe into the Pacific Scandal. Lord Dufferin gave in to the demand, but when Parliament reconvened Macdonald was forced to resign. No prime minister dared use prorogation to such effect again, until Stephen Harper convinced Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean to suspend Parliament in 2008, so the Conservative party could evade a confidence vote. A little more than a year later, he did it again.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 13, 2009 at 9:01 AM - 49 Comments
The word ‘multiculturalism’—perhaps the most coveted and controversial word in the Canadian lexicon—appears twice in the new guide to citizenship. It fares better than the word ‘lumberjack,’ which does not appear at all.
After the jump, an entirely unscientific index of words and how often each is mentioned. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 1:59 PM - 0 Comments
The Star’s Matthew Hart reports from Glasgow on efforts to save, or at least commemorate, John A. Macdonald’s birthplace.
Part of the problem with remembering Macdonald in Glasgow is deciding where to do it. It is not certain that he was born in Brunswick Lane. Records show his father worked there, at two addresses, and families often lived in rooms attached to the breadwinner’s business.
In a black-and-white documentary shot in a crowded pub in Brunswick Lane 40 years ago, Saskatchewan’s Hugh Gainsford, who claims to be Macdonald’s only living descendant, says his great-grandfather was born on the top floor. A commemorative tablet put up by the Ontario government on a church wall two blocks away asserts that Macdonald was born in the local parish.
But some believe Macdonald was born on the other side of the River Clyde, where the birth was registered. An early Macdonald biography also puts the birthplace there, “in a row of stone tenement houses near the ferry landing,” an area razed long ago. Wherever he was born, the only address in Glasgow incontestably connected to him is the shabby street now waiting for the wrecker.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 28, 2009 at 5:01 PM - 31 Comments
On those notes, some math. Namely, the mandates of each government in our history, expressed not as a percentage of seats won or votes cast, but as the percentage of possible votes. In other words, what percentage of eligible voters actually chose to support the government that governs them. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 11:52 AM - 16 Comments
On the 142nd anniversary of our country’s birth, the Toronto Star asks an important question: why don’t the kids want to play with John A. Macdonald?
They’re giants who saved Canada, so why aren’t their action figures taking the country by storm?
Andrew and Sonia Nafekh have made it a crusade to educate Canadians with the action figures of Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Isaac Brock and Sir Wilfrid Laurier they design and sell. But their company, Nafekh Technologies Inc., has yet to turn a profit on the venture, after years of trying.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 11:51 AM - 1 Comment
Thomas Axworthy preaches better knowledge through gaming.
To that end, the Centre for the Study of Democracy, in partnership with Bitcasters Inc. of Toronto, is developing the History Game Canada. Through gaming, we intend to challenge students to see if they can be as successful as Sir John A. Macdonald in creating a new country. Our goal is to distribute 100,000 free copies of the game to students, teachers and communities across Canada.
In the meantime, there’s always Democracy.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 5:36 PM - 116 Comments
The Scene. In a curious and startling display of brinksmanship, Stephane Dion opened Question Period with a pop quiz.
“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “let me read the following statement: ‘The whole principle of our democracy is the government is supposed to be able to face the House of Commons any day on a vote. This government now has the deliberate policy of avoiding a vote. This is a violation of the fundamental constitutional principles of our democracy.’ Can the Prime Minister inform the House who said these words?”
Stephen Harper could not. Or at least would not.
“Mr. Speaker, the highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if one wants to be Prime Minister one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people and not from Quebec separatists,” he yelled.
Apparently having read his reviews, the Prime Minister was fevered this day. Apparently having noticed the press gallery noticing them, the Conservative caucus snapped immediately to attention, cheering loud.
“This deal that the leader of the Liberal Party has made with the separatists,” Mr. Harper continued, “is a betrayal of the voters of this country, a betrayal of the best interests of our economy, a betrayal of the best interests of our country and we will fight it with every means that we have.”
Back the government members sprang up. Watching from above, the Prime Minister’s aides cheered and pumped their fists. This earned a quick rebuke from Hill security, no such expressions of enthusiasm permitted in the galleries.
Without similar law enforcement, all was soon lost in the arena below. What followed was equally captivating, stunning, dispiriting and horrid. Democracy thrown to the hyenas. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 1:40 AM - 867 Comments
Back, for a moment, to David Foster Wallace’s take on John McCain.
Near the end of that little book Foster Wallace arrives at his definitive division of political leadership—laying out a distinction between “leaders” and “salesmen.”
“A real leader,” he writes, “isn’t just somebody who has ideas you agree with, nor is it just somebody you happen to believe is a good guy. A real leader is somebody who, because of his own particular power and charisma and example, is able to inspire people, with ‘inspire’ being used here in a serious and non-cliche way. A real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down we think we are good and want to be able to do but usually can’t get ourselves to do on our own … In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own…
“There is a difference,” he continues later, “between a great leader and a great salesman. There are similarities, of course. A great salesman is usually charismatic and likable, and he can often get us to do things (buy things, agree to things that we might not go for on our own, and to feel good about it. Plus a lot of salesmen are basically decent people with plenty about them to admire. But even a truly great salesman isn’t a leader. This is because a salesman’s ultimate, overriding motivation is self-interest—if you buy what he’s selling, the salesman profits. So even though the salesman may have a very powerful, charismatic, admirable personality, and might even persuade you that buying is in your interests (and it really might be)—still, a little part of you always knows that what the salesman’s ultimately after is something for himself.”
This leads to a consideration of whether John McCain (circa 2000) could quite literally sell himself as a real leader, without, in the process, becoming a salesman. (see also, Barack Obama circa 2008).
But, for the moment, let’s consider something else. Namely, when was the last time Canada had a real leader? Continue…