Alberta Politics
Happy Canada Day! (Photo: vtgard, Flickr, Creative Commons).

Happy Canada Day! In a troubled world, Canada stands out as a genuine triumph of bureaucracy

Posted on July 01, 2019, 2:15 am
9 mins

Happy Canada Day!

One way or another, our Canada always seems to end up on every list of the world’s Top Ten economies.

Granted, we are almost inevitably No. 10 of 10, which may leave the intensely competitive dissatisfied. But, realistically, this also means we’re No. 10 of 193, if you go by the membership of the United Nations, which is a moving target in a perpetually unhappy and fractious world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Now, a large economy is no guarantee of national happiness, and money, as my mama used to say, isn’t everything. Still, in this world it is a measure of success, and, managed properly, of potential. Being a citizen of a rich country, therefore, isn’t a bad place to be, which is why so many people dream of coming here.

As a country, it gives us the financial, technical and educational resilience to successfully meet an economic, political or environmental crisis – leastways, if we have the collective wisdom to recognize such crises as they come along.

It’s interesting that we Canadians tend to see our country as smaller and less influential than it really is – doubtless the result of living next door to a cacophonous colossus.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Andrew Scheer, Flickr).

And though our history turns out to be darker than many of us imagined, certainly that generation, mine, that went to public school in the 1950s and 1960s, we still have not done badly in the great scheme of things – struggling to set things right over time and all without a bloody revolution or a civil war.

If you’re looking for a universal lesson in Canada, then, it’s that those who say governments never do anything right are full of baloney.

Governments can – and, indeed, must – pick winners and losers, and the Imperial Government in London picked a winner in 1867 when it pushed the disparate parts of still-British North America for geo-strategic and budgetary reasons into a national union that was not entirely comfortable at the time. Canada.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This was achieved despite political uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic, with John A. Macdonald – “the ablest politician in Upper Canada,” said Lord Carnarvon – working hand in glove with the Colonial Office.

Canada doubtless benefitted from London’s perceived needs to save money on defence and to get things done in a hurry, before our next-door neighbour turned its attention northward in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. (It certainly took us a long time to clean up the details after the basics were laid out in the British North America Act, and then thanks to Pierre Trudeau.)

The late NDP Opposition leader Jack Layton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The history of northern migration by those loyal to the British Crown who fled the depredations of the American Revolution likely also gentled the worst ethnocentric instincts of colonialism that later created such catastrophes in post-colonial Asia and Africa.

Yet it is more than a lucky accident that our country grew up to be the place it is.

Canada must be seen as a genuine triumph of bureaucracy, a successful creation of a professional civil service, that prospers still.

Further meditations on the national holiday, which marks the start of Campaign 2019

Canada Day 2019 marks the beginning of the official campaign period leading up to this fall’s federal election, and the rhetoric, excitement, and limitations on spending and donations that go with that season.

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien (Photo: Michael Ignatieff, Flickr).

If there is a lesson to be drawn from this fact, it is that grafting American innovations like fixed election dates onto our Westminster Parliamentary system is usually a bad idea, especially from the governing party’s point of view.

The three major national parties that have been in a position to form government in recent years all suffer from vacuous leadership that is both weak and flawed. A Jean Chrétien, a Brian Mulroney, or a Jack Layton could be expected to win at a canter.

Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney (Photo: Miller Center, Flickr).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faltered badly in recent months, which should have made it easy for an Opposition party leader to make a compelling case for change. But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s pitch is for more Harperism with its roughest edges lightly burnished.

Canadians have been there, seen that done and would really prefer not to have it happen again. This makes the Conservative base furious, and therefore furiously accident-prone. Perhaps Mr. Scheer will put out a meme claiming that if he were PM, he’d make Canada’s GDP No. 8! One wonders how many Conservatives are seriously contemplating voting for Maxime Bernier and his batty far-right People’s Party just to overcome the nagging sensation of Scheer indifference?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is as yet unclear about what he stands for, if anything. This leaves NDP supporters dispirited, awash with ennui, and casting lingering, longing glances at Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, whose party lacks an infrastructure that can form a national government.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This, in turn, makes many New Democrats, appalled at the prospect of a return to Conservative Government, vulnerable to the attractions of strategic voting, Mr. Trudeau’s obvious limitations notwithstanding.

Here in Alberta, meanwhile, the avatars of our fake national unity crisis – presumably ginned up to frighten Canadian voters into holding their noses and betting on the dubious attractions of Mr. Scheer – are scruffy men in ancient rust-holed and bumper-stickered pickups who want us to believe we can all be as rich as Croesus if only we’ll take their financial advice. Two months ago they were telling us that sustainable energy was a UN plot to land-lock Alberta’s resources. Now they say the UN will guarantee an independent Alberta’s bitumen access to tidewater!

This may not make much difference to the solid Conservative vote within Alberta’s borders, but somehow I don’t think these people constitute much of a threat to Confederation whether or not Mr. Trudeau and his Liberals manage to get re-elected.

Perhaps this explains why Stephen Harper himself seems to have turned his attention away from reforming Canada in his sinister image to another project, helping England finally stage its Brexit gong show, not just extracting itself from a united Europe but probably unintentionally from the United Kingdom in the process.

14 Comments to: Happy Canada Day! In a troubled world, Canada stands out as a genuine triumph of bureaucracy

  1. ronmac

    July 1st, 2019

    I always liked the opening line of Anna karenina, the great Leo Tolstoy epic on love and lust. “All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    In a similar vein: “All happy countries are alike: each unhappy country is unhappy in its own way.”

    This Canada Day we can celebrate the triumph of our accomplishments like equality and universal access to health care which is the core foundation for any society, but goddammit we pay too much for wifi and beer.

    Reply
  2. Farmer Brian

    July 1st, 2019

    David you have certainly made my day referring to our 3 major party leaders as “vacuous”, personally I would exclude Andrew Scheer and include Elizabeth May but that simply comes down to ideology. As for Justin Trudeau, I remember saying many times before Alberta’s last election that Alberta could survive another 4 years of Rachel Notley but we can’t survive another 4 of Justin Trudeau! And just for the record David I try to keep my goatee well trimmed and I don’t have a single bumper sticker on any of my vehicles but I would vote for a separate western Canada in a heartbeat! Enjoy your day!

    Reply
    • John T

      July 1st, 2019

      Separation is a fool’s game. The nation(s) would be weaker apart than together.

      Reply
    • July 1st, 2019

      Hello Farmer Brian

      You may keep your beard tidy and your truck free of bumper stickers, but that makes you a credit to your ideology. It goes not give your ideology credit.
      There are two ‘separate’ ideas here. David is talking about the Alberta independence movement. You are advocating for a separate Western Canada. In the Western Canada version, Alberta and BC should be on the same side. How do you square that given the current relationship between these provinces? And, the Western Canada concept will generally have more support here if we are on bad terms with the people in Ontario, but they just elected a fantastic premier, if one judges by conservative ideology. Are you pro-Ford or anti-Ford?
      But your comment resonated with me because I have been thinking recently about the futility of debate. You post regularly on this site, but your arguments are not persuasive ( ie: Andrew Scheer *is* a stuffed shirt ), and you are certainly not persuaded by what you read here. And, on Canada Day, you declare you long for Canada’s dismemberment. The plan you promote is pretty unrealistic; is *anything – anything at all* better than having to work with people living all across the continent? You post here, knowing, I think, that it will make no difference. You want to not have to ever talk with folks east of Manitoba, presumably because it’s pointless to try. Lately I have begun to feel the same way, from the other side of that ideological wall. Why even look for compromise where there is no mutual understanding, no common ground?
      Maybe I’m just getting old. Well, enjoy your day, too.

      Doug B in Edmonton

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        July 3rd, 2019

        Doug, how many years have western politicians attempted to influence more positive outcomes from Ottawa. Peter Lougheed battled with Ottawa, Ralph Klien the same. It is all very simple math, the federal government receives roughly $20 billion more in revenue from Alberta than it sends back in programming. As such you would think that the federal government would want Alberta to have continued success but we only have roughly 10% of the seats in the House of Commons so we have very little clout. You can easily win a majority government without a single seat in Alberta. Doug I am 55 years old, born and raised Albertan, I have watched this my whole life and it certainly gets worse when there is a Trudeau in power! At some point you have to say enough is enough.

        You ask me about Doug Ford, not a fan in any sense of the word.

        You also feel there is no mutual understanding or common ground. I think if you and I sat down and had a coffee you would be quite surprised. I think the majority of people want sensible middle of the road financially responsible government. Myself, I am certainly interested in a government that attracts business and supports our health and education at the same time. Pro business pro people. Enjoy your day.

        Reply
        • PIGL

          July 3rd, 2019

          You assert that over a cup of coffee, most people would agree with your definition of “sensible middle of the road financially responsible government” such that they would then conclude along with you that Alberta could not survive four more years of a Liberal government.

          And you pretend to wonder why people like me think you are completely full of shit.

          Reply
        • July 4th, 2019

          Well, thank you for sharing a bit about yourself. I am a little longer in the tooth, was born and raised in Toronto (you may have heard of it), moved to Edmonton as a young man looking for work, and my first month in Alberta was greeted by the then mayor of Calgary complaining about those bums and creeps from the east. Never went back.
          To my earlier point that debate is futile, your ‘very simple math’ explanation doesn’t sway me at all. I like it here. I think I’m lucky to be here. I chose to make this place my home and to raise a family here. I could tell you a dozen short-sighted stupid things I have watched conservative Alberta governments do over the years. But, I think my whining would be no more persuasive to you than yours was for me. Of course we could sit together and have coffee without coming to fisticuffs. But we both have complaints, and we each have incompatibly different ideas about the solutions. So, let me try this for why and see where we get: I am frustrated with my fellow Albertans. But you suffer under a foreign yoke. My problem is hard to resolve; yours is easy.

          cheers, DB

          Reply
    • David Bridger

      July 2nd, 2019

      Brian, I am from Saskatchewan where our economy is much like yours in Alberta. Are things getting better economically now that Jason Kenny is premier?

      Do you believe that selling more oil will improve the price it fetches. Historically more goods for sale lowers the price whereas more demand for fewer goods raises the price.

      I hope that things do get better for Alberta, but doubt that will happen before the province diversifies its economy. Alberta has prospered since the early forties when oil was discovered in plentiful supply. This happened with a conservative government (social credit) and continued until 2014 under the Progressive Conservatives of Lougheed and his successors, but when the price of oil collapsed due to too much supply created by fracking largely in the US and Canada.

      Likely the only reason the NDP won in 2015 was the collapse of the oil price and the Prentice government blaming the public for wanting government services like health care and education coupled with his austerity approach to correcting the revenue shortfall the province had.

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        July 3rd, 2019

        David there is this belief that Alberta’s economy isn’t diversified. Let’s be realistic, we have a strong tourist industry, farming industry, lumber industry, construction industry, our economy is just as diversified as any province in Canada. The problem in Alberta is that our government revenue is too dependant on the oil industry. When the price of oil drops, government revenue drops disproportionately because we lose royalties and corporate taxes. Every province in Canada except Alberta has a sales tax, Jim Prentice was right, we need to look in the mirror, we have no one to blame but ourselves and until we implement a sales tax in Alberta the roller coaster ride in government revenues will never end. Enjoy your day.

        Reply
  3. Bill Malcolm

    July 1st, 2019

    A thoughtful column. Happy Canada Day.

    On another apparently upbeat note, the ranchers of Alberta are raising cattle whose hitherto unchecked flatulence is now 15% less, according to a McDonalds TV ad. This is indeed a revelation which on the surface of it might allow the continuation of mediocre factory-burger-munching forever, although the cattle arrayed behind the gravelly-voiced grandpaw spokesman looked rather dubious. The subliminal message? Keep away from those knitted plant Beyond Meat saltcakes A&W are peddling, ya hear?

    However, was MickyD’s forthcoming enough to let us know whether that’s 15% less methane per head, or in the grand total, which would seem more likely? Because, to steal a quote from The Western Producer: “The number of beef cows fell .8 percent to 3.9 million head as of Jan. 1, following a downward trend that began in 2006.” So amazingly enough, fewer cows mean less methane eruption. Who knew? Who could possibly have guessed? Talk about creative manipulation. Give ’em half the story. A Farmer Brian type of statistic, then. Correct but not qualified in context, the Con game in full swing.

    Yes, no programmed carbon tax refunds to the taxpayer are ever mentioned because the Con publicity machine is officially blind to facts, and anti-any-tax as self-professed market fundamentalists often are, so they squawk, whine, profess unmitigated outrage, and deny climate change while looking like prehistoric dunces. Scheer seems as weak an aw shucks brainwashed Con dolt as ever, while claiming he’d give that Chinese Commie leader a verbal dressing down and get him to release those Canadians and buy our canola again, because Andy is big, bad and mean, recently having smashed his way out of a wet paper bag in no uncertain terms. His fantasy is about as likely as a Grade 1 kid beating up the local Grade 12 bully, but words are cheap.

    Can we withstand the earthy prognostications of an Alberta crowd officially dedicated to the uncontained growth of a 1950’s social existence in a time of climate change? Personally, whenever a Con opens its mouth, I wait to hear the latest fib some petro-corporatist-funded think tank has issued as “talking point for the day”. Ethics and honesty are thrown to the winds as not worth the trouble. Why confuse people with truthful knowledge? Whip ’em up into a seething froth of resentment instead, it’s easier.

    So we have two miserable choices for PM this fall, one each from the Liberals and Conservatives. One helter-skelter whippet who proclaims he loves Canada and jobs no matter how retained, and one stolid unimaginative clod with only one thought — free markets solve everything, I read it in a book. Gee, what standout choices! The NDP are useless, adrift at sea, so I really couldn’t vote for any party but Green. Don’t care if they aren’t “ready”, it’s no more outre than voting for the established idiots in any sane intellectual sense. And much more likely to get something done about climate change than the put-it-on-the- shelf-forever main parties, who need a major shaking up.

    What a time to be alive!

    Reply
  4. Scotty on Denman

    July 1st, 2019

    “One wonders how many Conservatives are seriously contemplating voting for Maxime Bernier and his batty far-right People’s Party just to overcome the nagging sensation of Scheer indifference.” They key take-away is “how many,” not “if.” Voters everywhere are in the mood to throw the proverbial wrench into their political traditions, the result presumed incapable of being worse than what is assumed nadir-bad at present, with the hope of something even marginally better —anything, doesn’t matter what—outweighing the prayer mumbled on the half-wing.

    The Greens are the only party that can possibly benefit from this pervasive political malaise of ours—but, as you point out, they’re too small yet to take full advantage.

    Did Osama bin Laden win? Is the cacophonous colossus of the West about to meet its historian, with China, having patiently awaited its revenge for the Opium War and Boxer Rebellion, flooding the Streets of the Laredo with deadly cheap fentanyl, and the Russians availing the economies of social-media scale to interfere with democracy on the cyber cheap? The Great Bogey Man theory of history is tempting, there being so many that one or another can be found and erected a milestone for nearly any bracketed epoch. Suffice to say that the beginning of this malaise coincided with the attack on the Twin Towers lo these nineteen years ago, but that myriad factors like climate change, social impoverishment and Neoliberal play for all the marbles, all related, have been important, too.

    Still, the correlation between the kind of democratic risk-taking we see now and palpable geopolitical unrest is fairly weak. During the infamous inter World War period, for example, political strain was rather expressed by partisan diversity, whereas today, post-911, the expression has not so much inspired new parties but, rather, amplified wishful attempts to return to better times—even ones that never really existed, or at least only in very particular ways generally unattainable today. All sorts of charlatans have ascended the ladder, lately, disguised as politicians of the past. Only when even that faint hope has expired have voters been ready to risk a tRump, a Brexit, a Trudeau Two-Point-Oh-Oh or a Rachel Notley. We shall duly note the effect of social media—where everybody’s been talking about climate change lately. Somebody once said it doesn’t matter what they say about [climate change], just so long’s they talkin about [whether it’s weather or not].

    The pseudoCons have really conned themselves on this phenomenon by embracing the perennially dissatisfied instead of the newly disaffected: there’ll always be pissed-off rednecks who’ll defend their pickup trucks and who dislike “foreigners” (even Canadian ones) but it’s not apparent there are any more of them than there is a quickly growing number of voters disturbed by political inaction on issues affecting them right now, like income disparity and environmental degradation. Nothing exposes the neo-rightists as charlatans more than the fact they have nothing to return to of their own—since they never were conservative in any way except name, anyhow. “Make Canada Great Again” for Scheer means “Make Canada Harper’s Again.” Anybody who’s paid attention knows that era was a retrogressive bust that never would have happened if Harper had been a real Tory and not a neoliberal usurper and saboteur of Canadian democratic sovereignty.

    Too bad for Andrew because there’s plenty of disappointed voters out there he might have appealed to instead of recklessly inviting neo-Nazis and religious whackos into the party. These are the representatives, I guess, of the good ole days he’d like to “return” to. While many dissatisfied voters truly do want a return to more equitable, healthier times, Scheer incredibly produced a climate action plan, ostensibly prescriptive, that completely ignores the causes of climate change because, presumably, he’s become too far committed to the snarling extremists already recruited to make up for his party’s natural attrition and abandonment by moderate conservatives—counterintuitively, slogans, for all their simplicity, are extremely difficult for extremists to exchange. A real leader would have focused on building a more ethically stable base—even if it required forfeiting a mandate or two.

    JT is retro to begin with; that’s the main reason he won: people longed for a time before the HarperCons ruined so much of our political decorum, and JT’s name reminded of a certain pirouetted irreverence that outraged the Cons of the day (because they were real Conservatives who believed in decorum). Nationalistic tinkering with Alberta’s petroleum resource is what got JT’s father so hated in the West. At least it’s a real past, regardless its dubious attainability by way of nationalized pipelines today. Score one for the Kid? His attempt at looking forward at least pays lip service to voters’ concerns—and it sounded great until proved hollow in the four years following his landmark victory. He can say at least he tried, but it’s been, for all that, another example of risk-taking by a frustrated electorate.

    Dippers got so mad at their leader for taking the neo-right globe into account (Mulcair had the unforgivable audacity to propose a balanced budget), and for not unfurling the red flag, that they fired him despite having won the second highest number of seats in their party’s history under his leadership and, amazingly, retaining many of the Quebec seats they’d first won by mere default during the same Liberal collapse that gave us Harper. Frustrated risk-talking? How’s about electing a leader who would not be allowed to perform public service in the province that supplies over a third of his caucus?—and who definitely will not be unfurling his Sikh turban anytime soon! It’s hard to discern whether the move is progressive or merely progressively frustrated.

    It is dangerous times when the anti-politician is so advantaged by widespread voter frustration. It may be that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger but, having survived Harper and (for me here in BC) the BC Liberals, I’m not sure we’re in such strong condition right now—at least not yet. I look at progressive moves in such an environment as hopeful if not yet entirely helpful. It wouldn’t surprise me if it takes all of nineteen years from the ouster’s of Harper and Christy Clark just to get back to zero. That is, if we have that much time before being forced to wake up to an evacuation order.

    Happy Dominion Day and GSTQ.

    Reply
  5. Political Ranger

    July 1st, 2019

    Until recently, perhaps around the time of harper, it seemed clear that whatever party led in Parliament, whatever side an MP came down on, it was always for the greater good of Canada, that they always fought for a better, more perfect liberal democracy.
    Conservatives today are nothing more than shills for big business, they are corporatists not conservatives. And Liberals, by not aggressively pushing back the conservative nonsense and standing for liberal values, risk becoming corporatist-lite.
    Every leader today has to consider the implications of their current position over the next decade on issues of petro-development and the next-generation of livability and success factors. More of the same will expose that leader to criminal culpability.
    There is little wonder why Elizabeth May is seen as the only credible alternative.

    Reply
  6. David

    July 1st, 2019

    As Yogi Berra said, nostalgia aint what it used to be. I have this feeling some of the strong current anxieties of our country are because we are between a seemingly certain and comfortable past and an very uncertain and unknown future.

    It is true we don’t have an obvious great leader right now, but then Chretien – “yesterday’s man”, Mulroney – who was never elected to anything before becoming PC leader and Layton who was a fairly unknown city councilor before becoming NDP leader, were not obviously great either in advance of them taking on their respective leaderships. In fact, I would argue it was only towards the end of their respective times and after that we really took stock of all their accomplishments and abilities.

    Right now we have three potential leaders Federally – one who hasn’t lived up to all his hype, but still has some achievements and abilities, one who hasn’t seemed to even connect at all yet, despite the brief initial hype and another who remains quite a bit of a mystery. I suppose given all that Canadians are understandably feeling underwhelmed now. I am hopeful that the actual election campaign will help us to better focus on which is best to lead us forward in the current world and the uncertain future. Maybe we don’t actually need a great leader, Canada is as you state a pretty good country with I think with a fairly good ability to muddle through things somehow. We just need to avoid picking the wrong leader for the times and I think we need a leader that can for the most part be competent.

    To paraphrase from what I think are other countries recent mistakes, maybe we need to avoid picking a leader on the basis of making Canada great again. We are and remain one of the best countries in the world and unlike some other countries are relatively unburdened by memories of supposed past greatness. The future will always be uncertain, technology and all the current chaos in the world is adding to that and our anxieties. However, nostalgia is best saved for TV shows and movies.

    Reply
  7. David Bridger

    July 2nd, 2019

    The Canada I would like to see is one where Liberals stick to being liberal, the NDP sticks to being progressive and the Conservatives stick to being financially conservative.

    Liberals should stick to being liberal but cautious instead of copying the Democrats in the US who are no different from Republicans when in government and not at all for working people any more. Leave that stuff for conservatives.

    The NDP (now that Mulcair is out of the picture) must realize that there are no votes for them in being centre right. Stick to tried and true progressive ideas that make our society more equal.

    The Greens should stick to being environmentally responsible so future generations will have a chance at a life as good as we have had in the last fifty years.

    Oh Canada we love you for being liberal progressive. (at least when you are).

    Reply

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