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.
Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.
Continue Reading


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.”

Continue Reading


It’s time for a national portrait gallery

0 Comments 09 May 2017

If one picture is worth a thousand words, a national portrait gallery trumps a television script any day.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, April 10, 2017.


OTTAWA—If one picture is worth a thousand words, a national portrait gallery trumps a television script any day.

As Canada moves through the celebration of our 150th birthday, the government is swamped with ideas for the celebration of our shared story.

History is seen through different eyes by different regions of the country. Throw in language polemics, and you have a potentially incendiary mix.

Such was the reaction to the first couple of episodes of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s television series entitled: The Story of Us.

The first episode provoked a quick response from Atlantic Canada, disputing the show’s claim that the first French settlement on the continent was in Quebec City in 1608.

The Acadians, who established a permanent presence at Port-Royal three years earlier, were particularly aggrieved, and Nova Scotia’s premier is demanding a rewrite of the miniseries.

In response to critics, CBC said that 75 historians were consulted on the project.

Producers also endured the challenge of trying to engage a modern audience, which necessitates some poetic licence.

The narrative of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was recounted by none other than world-famous extreme fighter Georges St-Pierre.

After all, history has to be interesting enough for the millennial viewer to watch.

That might mean some liberties are taken with literal interpretation of the facts surrounding the formation of Canada.

Which leads me to the question of pictures.
Another “Big Picture” proposal which has been under consideration for the 150th birthday party is the National Portrait Gallery.

Much work on the concept started two decades ago, when then Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein spearheaded a unique transformation for the soon-to-be-vacated American Embassy directly across from Parliament Hill.

U.S. president Bill Clinton opened the new American Embassy on Sussex Drive back in 1999. That relocation offered the possibility of a new vocation for the beautiful, Beaux-Arts edifice ideally located steps from the Parliamentary Precinct.

The portrait gallery project took the capital by storm and had unanimous support from all sides.
Continue Reading


Odd, but Brexit debate offered up a sexism wakeup call last week

0 Comments 05 May 2017

Why is it considered fair game to make light of women’s body parts, especially in the context of a political negotiation?


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, April 3, 2017.

OTTAWA—If ever the world needed a sexism wake-up call, the Brexit debate offered it up last week.

Just as two leaders were meeting to tackle the thorny issue of the United Kingdom’s divorce from the European Union, the best a British tabloid could do was serve up a piece on the shape of the leaders’ legs. “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!,” the headline read, “Sarah Vine’s light-hearted verdict on the big showdown.”

Worse than even committing the sexist sin was The Daily Mail’s defence of its piece, admonishing upset readers to “get a life.”

One cannot imagine a “light-hearted piece” comparing the size of U.S. President Donald Trump’s butt cheeks with those of Vladimir Putin.

So why is it considered fair game to make light of women’s body parts, especially in the context of a political negotiation?

The Daily Mail’s piece served its purpose, reducing the seriousness of the conversation to a seduction attempt using women’s best weapons, sexy legs. In so doing, it trivialized the gravitas required to successfully negotiate the extraction of the United Kingdom from the rest of Europe.

The Brexit opening salvo last week involved British Prime Minister Theresa May triggering clause 50, in a six-page letter stating her intentions for a proposed departure from the EU within two years.
Continue Reading


Two budget measures can actually unite Canada

0 Comments 25 April 2017

The re-establishment of a federal role for housing makes sense and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is the right vehicle to affirm national leadership. The same holds true for training investment.


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

OTTAWA—Everything old is new again. Two major new investments in last week’s federal budget involve housing and training.

The re-establishment of a federal role for housing makes sense and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is the right vehicle to affirm national leadership.

The same holds true for training investment. In a highly mobile world, the need for national training investment and strategy should be self-evident. But Canada has lost two decades of valuable time because of wrongheaded former federal decisions to get out of housing and training.

Does anyone remember the constitutional wrangles that almost led to the breakup of Canada? One of the core provincial demands was that the federal government vacate the fields of housing and apprenticeship training as they were deemed to be areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
Back in 1992, the federal government exited most social housing investment, making an exception for cooperative and urban aboriginal projects. That decision reflected a mistaken national consensus that provincial governments were better positioned to deliver housing at the local level, as they bear responsibility for the management of municipal governments.

During the 1990s, pressure mounted for the federal government to hand over all labour market planning and responsibility to provincial governments via individual bilateral agreements.

That move succeeded in fragmenting an existing national workforce strategy designed to analyze, forecast, and implement national labour market modernizations.

While the rest of the world moved to homogenize and synthesize in an effort to anticipate the needs of emerging global workforces, Canada’s national housing and training policies were replaced with provincial programs that differed in scope and application from province to province.  

So distorted is our national labour market that in some cases, federally funded programs designed to help students can actually attach a provincial residency requirement, blocking applicants from other jurisdictions.

The country also abandoned the development of national assessment tools designed to measure educational and training performance in different provincial jurisdictions.

According to the most recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report on Canadian education, there is only one area where standardized testing applies. That involves Grade 8 students participating in the Pan Canadian Assessment program which includes testing skill levels in reading, math, and science.

Otherwise, a review of most education curricula reveals a hodgepodge of trial-and-error methods designed individually by 13 different jurisdictions.

The Council of Ministers of Education Canada, headquartered in Toronto, manages inter-provincial liaison among Canada’s 13 ministers, who meet once a year to discuss issues of cooperation.

The formation of the CMEC occurred during Canada’s 100th birthday, when it was agreed that even though education is a provincial responsibility, there is a need for inter-provincial sharing.

That being said, there is no national mandate guiding the council, so every resolution and decision is referred back to 13 provincial and territorial ministries for implementation.

In this highly decentralized system, it is no wonder that skills training and employment mobility are often sacrificed to the holy grail of Canadian constitutional division of powers.

The same can be said for housing. It is impossible to ignore the mounting evidence that home ownership is increasingly beyond the grasp of urban millenials in most of Canada’s major cities.

Yet, because of the decision made a quarter century ago, the country’s national housing corporation was stripped to the bare bones, with little more influence than underwriting some higher risk mortgages for potential homeowners.

A national vision to tackle problems of homelessness and under housing, are no longer on the national radar, relegated to largely provincial issues. More money is generally spent on local task forces to study the problem than on concrete solutions to secure different housing solutions for changing demographics.

The major financial commitments included in the budget were welcome. The provinces need federal financial support, and these investments will get the national government back into housing and skills training.

With border turmoil engulfing the United States and the United Kingdom, Canada’s open approach can actually become a huge boost for our economy.

But we have to be smart enough to mobilize at home first.

At the moment, it is easier for many Europeans to move between countries in some industries than it is for Canadian workers to move to new jobs in different provinces.

The time is ripe for a “back to the future” look at housing and training. The issues need to be tackled through a national lens.

In a world where borders are breaking the world up, these two budget measures can actually unite Canada.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.


Appel de propositions du Sommet mondial du design

0 Comments 20 April 2017

Quelles sont vos idées?


© 2017 Sheila Copps.