LIAR, weasel, tyrant, despot. The outrage directed at two particular Canadian political leaders is as varied as the individuals themselves. But Justin Trudeau is so far a victim of faux excess while Doug Ford has lately shown himself to be capable of something other than hare-brained ideas.
Premier Ford can be prematurely decisive, as in cancelling the basic income project before it could be assessed to reduce poverty, ignoring positive independent analysis and hurting participants.
He sees nothing wrong in appointing friends unsuited to high places, as in naming an old pal cop without the credentials to head the provincial police, then firing the job’s next in line for pointing out the obvious political interference.
Ford has broken his election promise to save all civil service jobs by announcing a major health care overhaul that he now admits will reduce employment in the sector. He can be abrasive, unreasonable, a buffoon at times, and perhaps it was time for a re-set. And so we have two seemingly sound initiatives in as many days. Has Ford located his common sense or is this the work of advisers who, for once, prevailed?
On Tuesday, Ontario announced it is considering a ban on plastic straws and other single-use plastic utensils that are common in fast-food restaurants. Plastics are choking landfills, costing taxpayers millions to replace them. An estimated 10,000 tonnes of plastic enters the Great Lakes each year.
Two men walked into a Thunder Bay restaurant Wednesday. This happened. Each ordered a burger, fries, salad and a drink. The burgers came wrapped in tin foil, the salads were in plastic tubs with plastic forks and the soft drinks were in plastic bottles. At least the fries were in paper bags.
Imagine instead if the Thunder Bay restaurant industry collectively ordered large shipments of recyclable or compostable utensils and take-out containers which are more costly than plastic when purchased by individual businesses.
Ontario is also considering a deposit system on all drink containers similar to that now in place for wine and beer bottles and cans. Decades ago, the soft drink industry talked Ontario out of the former deposit system on pop bottles by talking it into the blue box program. While that works to a degree, the amount of glass alone that enters landfills is staggering. Thunder Bay’s landfill diverts and uses some of it for its roadbeds but rural landfills don’t accept glass in recycling. Recycling only captures about 28 per cent of plastics. Isn’t it time we got serious about our hurry-up lifestyle’s impact on the environment?
A day later, Ontario said it will ban cellphones from classrooms beginning next fall to “help students focus on their learning.” Sensibly, students will not be allowed to use their phones except for learning purposes. A study by the London School of Economics found that student performance “significantly increases” when attention isn’t distracted by phones.
Enforcement will be a problem to be sorted out by schools and while 97 per cent of respondents in a government survey supported the ban you can bet there will be howls of protest. Some observers criticize the move as premature without study and as one put it, “Telling post-millennials to get rid of their cellphones is almost like telling them not to breathe.”
For every Ford government detractor there are many more, and more vitriolic, targeting Justin Trudeau. The PM is under sustained pressure over attempts to get his former justice minister to support an alternative to criminal bribery proceedings against the giant engineering employer SNC-Lavalin.
Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet rather than accept what some saw as a demotion after she refused to hear arguments for a legal deferment by the prime minister’s office. This led to hours of testimony by the minister and government officials at the Commons justice committee where it became clear that she-said-they-said wouldn’t settle anything.
Without a definitive finding of guilt on the part of the government (because there was nothing illegal), the opposition went into overdrive calling for a judicial inquiry, an RCMP investigation and, in the case of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, the prime minister’s resignation because he is “disgraced” and “up to something sinister.” Whoa! Back up.
The deferred prosecution agreement the opposition parties say is an example of Liberal skullduggery to help their friends at SNC-Lavalin was supported by the Conservatives when it was introduced. Scheer met with SNC-Lavalin officials last year to discuss deferment; so did NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Neither will say whether they’d support use of this legal instrument.
As detailed in a tremendous analysis of opposition hypocrisy on the CBC website this week, opinion writer Neil Macdonald recalls they weren’t always so enamoured of Wilson-Raybould who they now put on a footing with Joan of Arc.
Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt accused Wilson-Raybould in 2016 of “spewing lies” while just last Christmas, NDP inquisitor-in-chief Charlie Angus called for Trudeau fire her for “failure to show any leadership or direction on Indigenous justice.”
When Trudeau had to shuffle cabinet due to Scott Brison’s departure, he offered Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman, Indigenous Services which she refused because she’d have to enforce the Indian Act she deplores, ignoring the opportunity to carry out Trudeau’s intention to dispense with it.
So, having accepted her decision not to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin affair, he moved her to Veterans Affairs. ‘Outrageous!’ cried the opposition. ‘Cruel demotion!’ For her part, Wilson-Raybould asserted the PM’s prerogative to assign ministers and added, “I would say that I can think of no world in which I would consider working for our veterans in Canada as a demotion.” And yet, she quit that job entirely, but will continue to sit as a Liberal MP with Jane Philpott who surprised everyone by resigning Treasury Board in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould.
This week, opposition members on the justice committee are having conniptions because at an “emergency” session they called to debate whether to call Wilson-Raybould back to expand on her four hours of testimony already, the Liberal majority voted to instead discuss it, as planned, at the next scheduled committee meeting on Tuesday. Horrors!
The job of the opposition is to oppose; that is the bedrock of democracy. But can we please dispense with the theatrics? If you’ve got a case to make, make it. Don’t resort to huffy-puffery, it doesn’t do your case any good. For that matter, if you’re the government, just answer the question when it is asked. We’ll all be better off and in the know.
(Originally published March 16, 2019)
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.