AFN throws wrinkle into rollout of legalizing pot

0 Comments 10 January 2018

Last week, the AFN announced the formation of a committee to study how aboriginal territories will implement their own regulations.


First published on Monday, December 11, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—As the date for legal pot nears, the Assembly of First Nations has thrown a new wrinkle into the rollout.

Last week, the AFN announced the formation of a committee to study how aboriginal territories will implement their own regulations. Regional chiefs from Quebec and Ontario share committee duties, and are expected to report on all aspects of their own proposals for legalization of cannabis.

Ontario chief Isadore Day suggested the committee may want to raise the age for legal consumption on their own territories, based on studies that show young brains are still being formed into the early twenties.

As with the provinces, there is no unanimity on how the new laws will apply. But there is unanimity on one issue, First Nations say that they will determine the rules around the use and sale of marijuana on reserves and will not be governed by any federal or provincial laws.

Many of the points raised at the AFN annual meeting last week are certainly worthy of consideration.

If the Government of Canada is committed to a nation-to-nation approach, then any move which has a direct impact on Indigenous communities needs to be based on some form of agreement.

But when push comes to shove, just which government will take precedence?

Another sticking point, which has also been the main bone of contention with the provinces, is around revenue sharing.

Currently, cigarettes manufactured and sold on multiple reserves across Canada are free of tax, ostensibly to be available to those on the territory who enjoy tax-free status. In reality, many points of sale are adjacent to large urban areas, and cigarettes are also sold to those who come to the reserve to avoid the hefty “sin” taxes currently levied on tobacco by all governments.

Presumably, on-reserve marijuana dispensaries would enjoy similar tax treatment, and the temptation to sell the product to neighbouring residents who do not enjoy tax-exempt status would be huge.

The current proposed patchwork of provincial regulations appears seamless in relation to the multiple regulatory changes that could be involved when laws are developed by more than 600 First Nations and 3,000 reserves across the country.

It seems unlikely that the outcome of any AFN committee findings will be implemented before the July 1 deadline set for legal pot.

But aboriginal business leaders are already moving in to take advantage of the potential pot of gold expected to materialize with legalization.

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Blue-blood finance minister merely adds to class struggle theme consuming Parliament

0 Comments 03 January 2018

As long as Bill Morneau is holding the reins at finance, the questions about his personal wealth and (now divested) family earnings will keep coming. The minister is a moving target for the Conservatives and the NDP.


Published on Monday, December 4, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The Conservative Party may have gone too far in fanning finance disclosure flames last week.

But the Tories certainly threw the government off-message on the messy issue of Morneau money.

By calling for the resignation of Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was vaulted to the front of the news cycle during a time when the Liberals were hoping for potential positive coverage.

By suggesting that Morneau benefitted from insider knowledge when he sold family shares, finance critic Pierre Poilievre ventured dangerously close to libel territory.

He must have been betting that Morneau would be loathe to proceed with legal action when a suit would simply spawn more negative media.

Poilievre, an expert in precisely worded prevarication, was careful not to repeat his allegations outside the House. But he did manage to keep the questions coming about the personal financial situation of the minister.

These interventions achieved precisely what the Conservative Party was seeking, an opportunity to keep the Morneau money story from going away.

The New Democratic Party moved away from personal attacks on the minister’s family wealth, but it is still pursuing the potential for conflict in financial decision-making.

No one, not even the Conservatives, really believe that Morneau got into politics in order to fatten his own wallet.

If anything, the revelations of family wealth on both sides make it patently clear that the minister actually stands to lose significantly by choosing public service over private gain.

Morneau was informed by the conflict of interest commissioner of the actions to take to when he became a minister. He followed her advice, and when that changed, he followed it again. He donated $5-million of his own money to assuage any notion of benefit from family share increases during his time in office.

We cannot set the bar so high for public life that no one in their right mind would accept the challenge.

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Wynne may have governed her way to victory last week

0 Comments 27 December 2017

With passage of a labour bill hiking the hourly minimum wage to $15, Kathleen Wynne set the stage for an election showdown with the Conservatives.


First published on Monday, November 27, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne may have just governed her way to victory last week.

With passage of a labour bill hiking the hourly minimum wage to $15, Wynne set the stage for an election showdown with the Conservatives.

The Tories, who voted against the bill, are banking on the fact that business owners oppose the hike. The government says the changes will affect more than one-quarter of the workforce, including part-time workers. The legislation also provides for long-term statutory cost-of-living increases.

But politics is a numbers game. And one-quarter of the workforce adds up to a lot of votes.

This minimum wage fight provides a platform for the Liberals to campaign from the left, effectively neutering the New Democratic Party.

For the Liberals to win, they need to attract left-leaning voters to ensure the race becomes a split between the left and the right.

In voting against the bill last week, Conservative leader Patrick Brown played right into Wynne’s plan. That was a surprise because right up until the vote, Brown had managed to eschew the right-wing mantra that destroyed his predecessor Tim Hudak.

Hudak, who was on the conservative wing of the Progressive Conservative Party, sunk his own election chances by announcing a crazy plan to revive the economy by firing 100,000 civil servants.

That promise killed him, and should have been a harbinger to Brown’s team that campaigning from the right will not work in Ontario.

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Talk about draining the swamp, not

0 Comments 20 December 2017

By all accounts, an Alabama senatorial candidate facing multiple harassment allegations, is successfully staring down opponents, even within his own party.


First published on Monday, November 20, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The swamp runneth over. By all accounts, an Alabama senatorial candidate facing multiple harassment allegations, is successfully staring down opponents, even within his own party.

Judge Roy Moore is casting the fight as one of hometown supporters versus the Washington elite, including Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has asked him to step aside.

In the midst of multiple reports of sexual harassment of a minor, polls have the judge running 10 points ahead of his Democratic opponent. Thirty-seven per cent of Christian evangelicals said they were more likely to vote for him because of the scandal.

The fact that Moore could even be considered a viable candidate is astonishing. His history as a conspiracy theorist and promoter of the far right is widely known. Moore was removed from office twice as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. His first dismissal was prompted after he ignored a Federal Court order to remove a Ten Commandments’ religious monument he commissioned for the Alabama Judicial Building.

He was re-elected again as chief justice in 2013 and then suspended for enforcing an unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The judge, with ties to white supremacy and neo-Confederate groups, was a key proponent of the birther conspiracy, a bizarre claim that former president Barack Obama was born outside the United States.

Moore is anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and pro-Christianity, believing that his religion should order public policy.

He founded an organization known as the Foundation for Moral Law, and weathered another controversy for refusing to declare $1-million it paid to family members.

None of these facts seem to influence local Alabamian supporters who truly believe their candidate is the victim of a Washington conspiracy headed by their own party.

The Hollywood harassment snare that started with Harvey Weinstein continues to widen its reach into politics.

Democratic Senator Al Franken is now being accused of sexual harassment for taking inappropriate photos and forcing a kiss on a fellow performer while he was on an Armed Forces comedy tour before his election to the Senate.

When the story broke Thursday, Franken acknowledged his actions, apologized and called for an ethics committee investigation into his own behaviour. Time will tell whether this proactive approach will staunch his political bloodletting. State legislatures have not been immune to similar claims.

On Capitol Hill, an unnamed Republican has been cited. Some legislators are proposing mandatory sexual harassment training for all staff and lawmakers.

But at the end of the day, the multiple allegations at different levels of government do not seem to have much effect on American voter intentions.

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Paradise Papers, Morneau mess weighing heavily on the government

0 Comments 13 December 2017

At the end of the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to stop this Conservative storyline in its tracks. And he may have to sacrifice a few friends along the way.


First published on Monday, November 13, 2017 in The HIll Times.

OTTAWA—The Paradise Papers may just mean Paradise Lost in Canada and around the world.

They are generating tax reverberations in capitals around the world about the extent to which the super-rich legally avoid taxes while we ordinary schmucks just can’t.

The names bedazzle, from queens, to prime ministers to rock stars to senior presidential advisers. The latest information shows how even tax officials assist in mapping out the complex rules that permit companies like Apple to park billions in profits by way of offshore tax-free accounts.

Most Canadians don’t follow the details of tax reform, and the complexity of financial peregrinations outlined in the Paradise document dump, would normally leave most of us with a mathematical hangover.

But the timing of the global investigative journalistic exposé, on the heels of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s painful tax troubles and personal financial revelations, made a bad story worse.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never claimed to be ordinary folk. But his political messaging has been sharply focussed on support for the middle class, and a commitment to improve their financial situation.

But the mid-term summer tax messaging, characterizing farmers and doctors as cheats parking dead money in fake corporations, cut deeply into the viability of that message.

When Morneau neglected to include a villa in France in required financial declarations, the opposition rightfully pounced. Was he advised not to declare the villa, as it was an offshore asset, or did he simply have so much money that he had forgotten about it?

Either way, Morneau tried his best to extricate himself from the whole mess by selling everything and promising to forego five million dollars in personal revenue from sale of all shares that post-dated his time in office. That generous gesture reinforced the almost universal view that Morneau is a decent, honest person who got into politics for the right reasons.

But is also focussed attention on the fact that he could give away five million dollars and probably not miss it. Hence, the middle-class narrative that Team Trudeau was trying to promote suffered a second hit. The image of two trust fund babies managing the public purse created a huge opening for new Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and he pounced.

Within days, the Conservative Party was on television through paid advertising, reinforcing Scheer’s message that he is the only leader who truly represents the middle class. The ads contrasted him to a Liberal leadership that has no idea what is it like to struggle with making ends meet. Finance critic Pierre Poilievre piled in behind to reinforce the contrast between the aw-shucks Tories and the high-flying Grits.

Then came the Paradise Papers.

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Monday marks 150th anniversary of first meeting of Canadian parliamentarians

0 Comments 06 December 2017

The real story of these 150 years is best expressed in how we govern ourselves.


First published on Monday, November 6, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of Canadian parliamentarians.

Celebrations include the usual fanfare, with a declaration in the House of Commons, and a commemorative plaque unveiling.

But the real story of these 150 years is best expressed in how we govern ourselves.

Americans live by the credo of exceptionalism. They (falsely) believe that the country of opportunity shaped by the American Revolution is unique in the world. Their Congressional Pledge of Allegiance is overarching, laying claim to one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In Canada, we would cringe at the notion of one nation. Our Parliament recognizes Quebec as a nation, stemming from the unique linguistic origins of one of our initial founding partners.

At last count, there are also 617 First Nations across the country, all party to the reconciliation discussions so high on agenda of the Liberal government.

The most common adverb in the Canadian vocabulary is ‘sorry’. It is an expression that defines us around the world. Along with our Scottish-purloined pronunciation of out and about (oot and aboot), the “sorry” status of Canadians is fodder for many late-night comedians.

This constant state of apologia is not accidental.

It stems from the origins of Parliament, when the founding fathers (and there were only fathers) created a Parliament based on the “Great Coalition” of two languages.

The stark difference between Canadians’ love for diversity and Americans’ belief in exceptionalism stems from very different political choices in the beginning.

Just last week, the Canadian government announced plans to increase its annual immigration level to one per cent.

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Duncan drags universities kicking and screaming into 21st century

0 Comments 29 November 2017

Universities with more than five research chairs will have funding withheld if they fail to meet equity targets in hiring of women, aboriginal and visible minorities and the disabled.


First published on Monday, October 30, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Show me the money and I will show you the path to equality.

Just last week, the university sector announced groundbreaking news about a new nation-wide plan to collect and publish data on how each institution is doing when it comes to diversity.

The Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence, a five-year strategy unveiled Thursday by a group representing all Canadian universities, made positive headlines across the country.

The plan includes self-monitoring, and publication of demographic data on faculty, students, and staff. On first blush, it appears to be a robust attempt to tackle the gross financial and tenure discrepancies in the treatment of white men and everyone else in the university sector.

But the further you dig, the more you realize that the universities are being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

The unheralded hero of this announcement is actually federal minister Kirsty Duncan.

Last spring, Science Minister Duncan announced a government initiative, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion plan, which requires universities who want to access Canada Research Chair funding to revamp the way they recruit chair holders. The plan seeks the elimination of unconscious bias, active recruitment of diverse candidates, and continual monitoring for diversity in every step of the selection process.

Duncan gave a Dec. 15 deadline for universities to implement their own plans to improve transparency and diversity objectives, including public posting of their progress. Universities with more than five research chairs will have funding withheld if they fail to meet equity targets in hiring of women, aboriginal and visible minorities and the disabled.

Last week’s announcement was an attempt to collectively meet the challenge that Duncan has placed before the universities.

And given that $265-million in Research Chair money is at stake, the universities had no choice but to tackle the inequities.

Duncan knows first-hand the challenges faced by women and minorities in the university world. Prior to her surprise win in the riding of Etobicoke North, Ont., in 2008, Duncan taught meteorology, climatology and climate change at the University of Windsor and she still serves as an adjunct professor teaching both medical geography at the University of Toronto and global environmental processes at Royal Roads University. Duncan was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

Having spent a lifetime as a woman in science, she experienced first-hand the sexism in the Canadian university sector.

Last June, she penned an op-ed piece for The Globe and Mail which served as a stark reminder of the rampant sexism in the university world. Excerpts included this stunning revelation: “When I was teaching at a university, a fellow faculty member shot a question at me during a staff meeting: When did I plan on getting pregnant? On other occasions, I was asked how I wanted to be treated: as a woman or as a scientist. Later, when I asked a university official why I was being paid in the bottom 10th percentile, I was told it was because I was ‘a woman’.”

Move over Harvey Weinstein. The depth and breadth of sexism is not exclusive to Hollywood.

Congratulations to the minister of science for putting the issue squarely on the table. As for the universities, statements on the launch of the diversity plan prompted a few questions.

University of Lethbridge president Mike Mahon, speaking on behalf of the Universities Canada board which he chairs, said the initiative involved “public self-monitoring” which he said would provoke change.

The new initiative involves developing a public national data base which will upload individual university information on race, gender, and ethnicity. Universities already keep individual databases but in most cases, the information collected is neither cross-referenced nor public.

In commenting on the plan, Mahon said the university strategy would also include broadening the pool of diverse students by starting at junior high school. That comment caused some alarm bells to ring, as it suggests that the current diversity deficit is caused by too few applicants from the underrepresented groups.

The minister’s own experience as a scientist clearly demonstrated the solutions are caused by biased university processes, not the paucity of applicants.

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, added the action plan would be transparent “but I don’t think you will see us doing rankings and report cards.”

The minister should push back hard on that one.

Report cards and rankings are exactly how student performance is evaluated. Why shouldn’t universities be subject to similar testing?


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


Canadian fallout from Weinstein effect has hit hardest in Quebec’s glitterati world

0 Comments 22 November 2017

But expect the ripple effect to result in more allegations and more charges. That is a good thing.


First published on Monday, October 23, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—When does the punishment outweigh the crime?

The Harvey Weinstein debacle continues to spill over into other sectors. Just last week, two iconic Quebec entertainment moguls suffered similar fates, losing public support, contracts and credibility after two separate journalistic exposés of predatory proportions.

First, a La Presse article cited 11 different individuals alleging sexual harassment by television star and producer Eric Salvail. Most spoke out on condition of anonymity and only one went public, with claims that the star made several direct advances, and fired him when they were spurned.

The second string of allegations involved the commissioner of the Montreal 375th anniversary celebrations, and founder of Just for Laughs. Gilbert Rozon resigned from both posts after a Le Devoir story, citing complaints of inappropriate behaviour from nine women. It was subsequently broadcast that Rozon is facing police investigation for an incident alleged to have occurred in Paris 23 years ago.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre issued his own twitter statement on the allegations, distancing himself and his administration from Rozon and reinforcing his support for all victims. He minced no words, saying he was shocked about the allegations and he would not “defend the indefensible.” Coderre, who is facing an election is less than two weeks, underscored the fact that Rozon was actually appointed to the post by previous mayor Gerald Tremblay.

Rozon also stepped down as vice-chair of the Metropolitan Montreal Chamber of Commerce.

Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet tweeted an invitation to all victims to come forward, retweeting a police force tweet that “we are listening.”

To date, the Canadian fallout from the Weinstein effect has hit hardest in the Quebec glitterati world. But expect the ripple effect to result in more allegations and more charges.

That is a good thing.

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Weinstein story needs to move beyond egregious acts of a single predator

0 Comments 15 November 2017

The Weinstein story was flavour of the week. Institutionalized inequality is not.


First Published on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The ignominious end to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has all of us in agreement.

This predator got what he deserved.

But the larger question remains. How did he get away with it for so long? How was he able to assault so many women with so much impunity? Why did so many people say nothing for so long?

Tut tut, we say. What a shame that the entertainment field is so full of these types of characters. Would that the problem were so isolated.

This is not a casting couch problem. This is not even an American problem. It is a power imbalance as old as the story of Adam and Eve.

Even in biblical terms that parable casts Eve as the seductress while innocent Adam is the guileless guy who can’t resist the allure of a snake and a strumpet.

Men have often been excused for assaulting women while women have been portrayed as simply getting what they were asking for. Society confers upon the male of the species a power to attack without owning the consequences.

We shudder at the comments of American President Donald Trump, who publicly justified groping, leering, and unwanted sexual advances because his star status placed him in the untouchable stratosphere.

Notwithstanding all the misogynistic comments taped and replayed in broadcast interviews, Trump was elected president of the United States. In the end, his bald admission of sexual harassment did not really matter to the American voters.

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Death of Energy East direct legacy of Harper’s decade in office

0 Comments 09 November 2017

Not only did the prime minister systematically refuse to bring premiers together, he had no interest in a new national project.


First published on Monday, October 9, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The death of Energy East is a direct legacy of the Stephen Harper decade in office. Not only did the prime minister systematically refuse to bring premiers together, he had no interest in a new national project.

Harper was Canada’s energy superhero, and oil companies didn’t even have to leave Calgary to get support for their mega-projects.

With an oil patch superstar in the prime minister’s chair, National Energy Board approvals were a sure thing. There was talk that the existing weakened process would be limited in order to secure pipeline approval.

But that approach overlooked that fact that the pipeline crossed six provinces in the 4,500-kilometre journey from Alberta to New Brunswick. Each of those provinces might have something to contribute to the debate.

Energy East should have been a great national project. But if TransCanada Corporation wants someone to blame for last week’s cancellation, it need only look in the mirror. With billions of investment dollars at stake, the company should have started building broad pan-Canadian public support years ago.

It is not rocket science. It is straight politics.

Instead of believing the Harperites’ spin, the company should have been working the country, gaining political, labour and business support that crossed party and provincial boundaries. Instead, the company largely sat on its hands and its wallet, waiting for the federal government to move.

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© 2018 Sheila Copps.