After dust settles on assassination attempt, nothing will change in U.S.

0 Comments 19 July 2017

No one in the United States is really willing to tackle the single biggest killer of Americans—their own guns.


First published on Monday, June 19, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—A baseball shootout in the United States will rally all Americans behind their government.

The one thing that won’t happen is any amendment to laws that seem destined to promote a national gun epidemic.

By all accounts, the alleged shooter had political opinions. He despised both U.S. President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He supported left-wing Democrat Bernie Sanders, who was quick to dissociate himself from the shooter by decrying violence in any form.

After the dust has settled on this assassination attempt, nothing will change.

No one in the United States is really willing to tackle the single biggest killer of Americans—their own guns.

It is politically correct to focus on foreign enemies, from ISIL to Iran, to the Syrian government. But the single most significant reason for death in America is unfettered access to firepower by any person under any circumstance.

Rarely has this open access hit so close to political home. The attack upon Democrat Gabrielle Giffords generated a similar visceral response back in January, 2011, when the congresswoman was shot at a public town hall meeting in her constituency.

Six other people at the meeting were killed but Giffords survived, with extensive brain damage. She resigned her seat a year later, with the intention of focussing on her own recovery.

In January 2013, Giffords and her spouse, retired astronaut Mark Kelly cofounded Americans for Responsible Solutions. The organization is working with elected officials and the general public to promote gun control legislation. Their movement supports “keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.”

Giffords’ family effort follows in the wake of work by other victims of similar politically-motivated assassination attempts. The fallout of a gun attack on president Ronald Reagan back in 1981 left his press secretary James Brady, paralyzed and with permanent brain damage.

Brady’s wife Sara, then devoted her family’s efforts to lobbying for gun legislation. Ultimately, the Brady Bill, placing a five-day wait time on pistol purchase, was proposed in 1987 and passed into law by president Bill Clinton in 1993.

Even this small step was concurrently undermined by contradictory legislation called the Firearm Owners Protection Act. That counter law was designed to ensure that any details on gun ownership would not provided to any police authorities, supposedly to protect firearm owners.

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Meilleur could be best official languages commissioner we never had

0 Comments 12 July 2017

Madeleine Meilleur was bullied out of the job last week simply because she recently stepped down as a member of the Liberal cabinet of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.


First published on Monday, June 12, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Former Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield is called the best prime minister we never had.

Madeleine Meilleur could follow his lead as the best official languages commissioner we never had.

Meilleur was bullied out of the job last week simply because she recently stepped down as a member of the Liberal cabinet of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon went right from government to an ambassadorial position, as did former New Democratic Premier Gary Doer. Both nominees served with distinction, and were able to set aside their partisan histories in the interest of the country.

Meilleur, a respected francophone, would have been a fantastic official languages commissioner.

The commissioner’s job is not as high profile as that of ambassador, but it requires a devotion far beyond any diplomatic posting.

I was approached about the same appointment by prime minister Stephen Harper many years ago, when a mutual friend got in touch to test my interest.

I replied that I would rather stick pins in my eyes than assume responsibility for official language laws across the country. It is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

Most people understand the role of ambassador. Few Canadians have a clue as to what the official languages commissioner even does.

It involves devoting all your energy to fighting an uphill battle against federally-regulated bodies that regularly flaunt official bilingualism.

Meilleur is a diehard minority defender. She would definitely have put the survival of her people ahead of any political loyalty.

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Trump’s backward move on climate change disadvantages U.S.

0 Comments 05 July 2017

Trump is closing off his country and making the U.S. a less attractive destination for innovation and investment.


First published on Monday, June 5, 2017 in The Hill Times.


U.S. President Donald Trump just hammered another nail in the American coffin.

In his petulant conversations about pulling out of the global climate change consensus, he is labouring under the misimpression that his withdrawal would influence the agreement.

Instead, he is reinforcing the impression that his leadership is leading the United States down the wrong road.

At a time when other potential global players are emerging to challenge American hegemony, the president seems bound on taking his country backwards.

It all started with his slogan, “Make America great again.”

In reality, old America may have welcomed a certain demographic, but not everyone. Equality for women and minorities, still more myth than reality, is much closer today than it was in the last century.

Income inequality and racial tension prompted the civil rights and women’s liberation movements.

Times were pretty good for white men who headed traditional families with no pesky questions about who ruled the roost.

Ask a gay or transgender person how happy things were in the good old days and their response will be different. Today’s equality, with all the ensuing challenges of integration, is far preferable to going back to the good old days.

And the same is true for climate change.

The world has collectively come to the conclusion that Mother Nature needs help.

From floods to fires, from extreme weather to desertification, the environment around us in changing in a way that needs a global response.

That means changing the way we live, including weaning ourselves off our dependence on non-renewable fuels.

That train has left the station, and while it is possible for the United States to bolt, it will be that country, not the world, that is left behind.

China, battling a pollution problem of epic proportions in its’ own major cities, is tackling national environmental challenges with gusto. It has rolled out a 10-year green plan and is currently in the process of electrifying its complete transportation system.

Its government’s edicts have also spawned a thriving alternative-energy industry, with almost every neighbourhood in the country sporting solar panels on the rooftops of most households.

China is also working actively in countries around the world promoting sustainable infrastructure with its Silk Road investment fund.

Meanwhile, Trump is closing off his country and making the United States a less attractive destination for innovation and investment.

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Wilson-Raybould must move quickly to reverse what’s becoming a public embarrassment for the government

0 Comments 28 June 2017

But she also needs to tread carefully because once launched, any public inquiry is an independent body designed to be master of its own affairs.

First published on Monday, May 29, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Father knows best.

In 2017, that statement may be an anachronism, but Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould received some sage parental advice last week.

Hereditary chief Bill Wilson was blunt, calling for the resignation of the head of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Characterizing the glacial pace of the inquiry as “disgusting” and a “bloody farce,” he added in a blunt CBC television interview: “It’s almost as if they have scraped scabs off open wounds and then have done nothing to heal them.”

Wilson-Raybould will be under tremendous pressure to ignore her father’s advice but if she does so, she will pay a huge political price.

Only a few days earlier, commission chief Marion Buller defended the apparent disorganization and lack of communication by claiming she was taking a victim-centred approach to the inquiry process.

Public complaints keep piling up. Basic organizational tools to carry out simple tasks like manning hotline phones and enlisting witnesses do not seem to be in place more than five months after the inquiry launch.

And given that the promise of an open, transparent forum was one of the key Liberal election centrepieces, it is imperative to get the inquiry right.

One of the challenges the minister faces is that once a commission of inquiry is called, it becomes master of its own destiny.
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It’s back to the future on free trade

0 Comments 21 June 2017

The reality for both countries is that a seamless North American border is a sine quae non to confront the onslaught of Asia-Pacific competition. From China to India, the world economic poles of influence are changing. Like it or not, Europe and North America are no longer privileged players.


First published on Monday, May 22, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Like it or not, we are back in the free trade debate.

But chances are, it won’t be as divisive as the one we experienced in the election of 1988.

This time, there will be a fair bit of unanimity around the big issues. But be prepared for a few Canadian sacred cows to be sacrificed in the process. When I speak of sacred cows, I am of course not referring to the beasts themselves, but rather what they produce.

U.S. President Donald Trump has his sights squarely set on the abolition of the supply-managed Canadian dairy system.

Trump believes that Wisconsin carried him to the White House, and in so doing, it brokered a favour and secured a champion to open northern borders to state milk.

Canada can trot out all the data it wants to prove that the United States is getting as good as it gives in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The figures prove it.

But in the alternative Trump truth, what matters is politics. And he has supply management in his crosshairs.

It is also true that support for this unique made-in-Canada solution to dairy productions has been facing mixed reviews at home for years.
The latest politician to line up against the dairy farmers is none other that the likely future leader of the Conservative Party, Beauce Member of Parliament Maxime Bernier.

The strongest political support for the existing system comes from Quebec, but the loudest voice to kill it belongs to Bernier.

Ontario dairy farmers are not as vocal but they are equally political, with strong lobbying efforts in Ottawa, and direct contact with every Member of Parliament in rural Canada.

Those members punch above their weight. But given the vocal opposition of Bernier, if the government is forced to sacrifice supply management, it will be less politically damaging.
Most Canadians are too young to remember when supply management was introduced into Parliament. The system was the brainchild of a former minister in the Pierre Trudeau government, colourful Windsor-area Eugene Whelan, whose signature green Stetson was recognizable across the country.
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Political skills of premier secured re-election for B.C. Liberals

0 Comments 14 June 2017

Christy Clark’s minority government, which could turn into razor-thin majority, will set the stage for some political chess played by all three parties.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, May 15, 2017.

OTTAWA—The minority victory of the Liberal Party in British Columbia will shortly become a majority.

The nine-vote New Democratic Party margin in Courtenay-Comox will flip when the results of the military and absentee vote are counted. As the Liberal candidate was formerly the base commander in that riding before the election, he will surely lap the NDP to deliver a razor-thin majority to the Grits.

After 16 years in government, it is a credit to Premier Christy Clark’s campaign skills that the Liberals are even there at all.

And while the focus has been on her tenuous hold on government, the real story is the split vote on the left.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will be poring over these results, looking for clues as to how the Ontario Liberals can trump their hat trick in an election next June.

But the real power grab in the British Columbia election is that of the Green Party. With three new players in the legislature, their clear agenda on financing reform is a no-brainer.

Less clear is where the province goes on resource development. The Liberals were able to carve out a new base in rural British Columbia by promoting the link between jobs and energy.

The New Democrats, if they are ever to form the government, need to square that circle. But with the Greens nipping at their environmental heels, the path to government is less clear.

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Prince Charles deserves turn on throne

0 Comments 07 June 2017

Take it from one who met him on multiple occasions, Prince Charles is the real deal.


Published first in The Hill Times on Monday, May 8, 2017 12:00 AM


OTTAWA—The royal retirement of Prince Philip announced by Buckingham Palace last week begs the perennial question: who will replace the reigning monarch in the royal succession plan?

The world may be rooting for grandchildren, but I for one, would like to cast my vote for the most underappreciated member of the royal family, Prince Charles.

I was never much of a monarchist growing up. As my mother’s family hailed from working-class England, her political bent was more on the Labour side.

As children, we inherited her mistrust of hereditary lines of authority, and my older sister Mary went so far as to enter a regional speech contest sponsored by the Canadian Legion with the chosen topic, “Why we should abolish the monarchy.” Needless to say, despite her excellent content and perfect delivery, she scored last in the Legion declamation ranking.

But as we all know, views soften with age. As minister of Canadian Heritage, I had no problem defending the monarchy because I was of the firm view that in order to move forward as a country, we must embrace and understand our history. A rupture with royalty would also mean severing the unique connection that links Canada directly to 51 other countries on five continents around the world.

From a purely domestic perspective of self-interest, those connections are often very useful when global decisions are being made on issues like membership on the United Nations Security Council, or site selection for Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Networks matter. And the Commonwealth group of like-minded countries is a modern economic and social network that adds value to the Canadian body politic.

In addition, the Queen and her descendants come with a pedigree that makes Hollywood pale in comparison.

The opportunity to invite members of the royal family to celebrate with Canada when we achieve milestones like our 150th birthday is worth the price of admission.

The robust schedules of both the Prince and Queen Elizabeth have been truly amazing. The Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen have visited Canada more than 20 times.

The fact that both have retained relatively good health well into their ninth decades is statistically surprising.

Back in her 70s, the Queen enjoyed a travel schedule and stamina that would be the envy of people half her age.

Whenever she and the Prince would visit Canada, they would literally cover two or three provinces with an average of six or seven public appearances a day, involving handshakes and conversation with literally hundreds of people.

And through it all, in thick or thin, they followed the British motto of “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Prince Charles carried on in his own inimitable fashion. He was never as deft of tongue as his father, nor did he inherit the regal bearing of his mother. But take it from one who met him on multiple occasions, Prince Charles is the real deal.

He is thoughtful, visionary, and extremely grounded.

He fought in favour of the environment long before it was fashionable. He understood the importance of local farmers years before anyone had written a word about the 100-mile eating craze. He was concerned about the plight of indigenous peoples long before the rest of us caught on.

Just after he had completed his education and the requisite naval tour of duty, he founded the Prince’s Trust. In 40 years, it has helped more than 825,000 youth by investing in local job creation and business start-ups.

He explained the name of his initiative as an attempt to offer young Brits the trust they need to move ahead.

His efforts garnered little attention as the world focused on his personal life.

But anyone who has seen the man up close knows that he is the real deal. He is a genuine thinker and doer, who levers his royal family credentials to assist those in genuine need.

Prince Charles may not be as photogenic as some of his progeny, but in terms of understanding how to exercise the delicate balance of royal responsibilities with real influence, he is best suited to ascend to the throne.

As his father retreats from public life, now is Prince Charles’ time to shine. He and the Duchess of Cornwall will be the official royal family representatives at the birthday bash on Parliament Hill.

It will be his 18th visit to Canada and, hopefully, all Canadians will get a chance to witness the human side of the prince.

He would make a great monarch for all.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.


O’Leary is all about return on investment

0 Comments 31 May 2017

And Kevin O’Leary discovered that political life is really a lot more difficult than most business people realize.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, May 1, 2017.

OTTAWA—Kevin O’Leary is not the first business person to stare politics in the face, and back away.

And he most certainly won’t be the last.

The annals of history are littered with the remains of high rollers lured from business or academia for a short-lived political flirtation.

In some cases, defeat was inflicted by the electorate. Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had all the credentials of a winner.  

Bright, articulate, and photogenic, he was convinced to leave a prestigious job at Harvard University because political operatives convinced him he could be the next prime minister.

Like Ignatieff, O’Leary was living in the United States when he fell victim to the lure of politics.

He, too, had deep Canadian roots, and was convinced that his business background and pedigree as an outsider was enough to put him in the running to become the next prime minister of Canada.

Unlike Ignatieff, O’Leary had zero command of the French language, but he naively insisted this would have no effect on his leadership bid.
But after little more than three months on the hustings, O’Leary took a second look at his political standing and bowed out. In doing so, he left behind thousands of new Conservative members who had signed up on line with the expressed purpose of making him their next leader.

O’Leary was widely touted as the Donald Trump of the North. In Trump’s case, he parlayed his outsider status into a plus, surprising the pundits and the world by winning the American electoral college, and thus securing the presidency of the United States.

In O’Leary’s exit statement, he claimed that his reason for stepping down was that he could not see a clear path to victory against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

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Canadian babies cry because they can

0 Comments 22 May 2017

My take on Canadian baby whiners is that, in a single generation, we have turned children into the centre of our universe, instead of encouraging them to become a part of ours.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, April 24, 2017.

OTTAWA—‘Boo hoo: Canadian babies cry more.’

That intriguing headline in The Globe and Mail caught my eye the other day, and necessitated a more in-depth review.

The article by Wency Leung published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics. examined a British study of world meta-data comparing 8,700 babies in the first month of life.

It claimed that 34 per cent of Canadian babies cried more than three hours a day at least three days a week.

That level of discomfort, medically characterized as colic, puts Canada on the top of the heap when it comes to baby whiners.

Even other northern countries were not close, with only 5.5 per of Danish babies and 6.7 per cent of German newborns suffering the same discomfort.

What followed was a compelling analysis of some potential, and inconclusive scientific reasons behind the high level of colic amongst Canuck babies.

I am no scientist, but after a quarter century in active politics, I consider myself a student of the social sciences. So what follows, is a political take on why Canadian babies cry.

Because they can.

From the moment they are born, modern Canadian babies become the centre of their parents’ universe.

In many instances, that means the condition for getting kids to sleep involves the selfless rocking of upset babies until they finally collapse exhausted into their parents’ arms.

Sleep issues continue for many Canadian children well into adolescence. The self-help sections of most bookstores are replete with tomes on how to conquer the sleep problem when children simply won’t.
My take on Canadian baby whiners is that, in a single generation, we have turned children into the centre of our universe, instead of encouraging them to become a part of ours.
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Power of one young woman’s voice rocked the world last week

0 Comments 17 May 2017

When Malala Yousafzai received her honorary citizenship, the diminutive speaker did not mince words. She even dared to use the ‘f’ word, calling on all Canadians to become feminists.


Published first in The Hill Times on April 17, 2017.

OTTAWA—The power of one young woman’s voice rocked the world last week.

When Malala Yousafzai received her honorary citizenship, the diminutive speaker did not mince words. She even dared to use the “f” word, calling on all Canadians to become feminists.

Her delivery was gentle, but the content was carefully crafted to make the ultimate point. And it did.

She underscored that if all girls around the world went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add $92-billion to their economies.

She also made the link between education and peace. “When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half.”

Yousafzai also had gentle digs for Canada and the United States. She emphasized that “the world needs leadership based on serving humanity, not based on how many weapons you have.” That contradicted the decision by American President Donald Trump to cut foreign aid and increase the military budget by 10 per cent increase.

Canada, while praised for the prime minister’s decision to invoke cabinet parity, did not escape comment for promises not kept.

The country has endorsed sustainable development goals which set our percentage of support for international aid at 0.7 per cent. But last year, funding contributions dropped as a percentage of our gross domestic product. Malala acknowledged that politicians make some promises that cannot be kept, but warned “this is one you must honour.”

She called on the prime minister to make 12-year education of girls a top priority during his 2018 tenure at the helm of the G7. She also linked education to the world security agenda, insisting that “extremism grows alongside inequality – in places where people feel they have no opportunity, no voice and no hope.”

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