Category Archives: Canadian Politics

No laughing matter; CBC political pundit’s wardrobe malfunction

In the midst of tension  between Canada’s federal government and the resolve of #idlenomore to address and redress the treaty rights of First Nations, there is this story in the Toronto Star (01/30/13/ – Tom Flanagan wears huge bison coat on CBC: Top 10 jokes.

It’s no joke that this was reported as a joke.

Even Flanagan is joking about it. Despite striking the wrong pose – politically, socially, and culturally – Bullfax,com reports Flanagan is unfazed by the uproar his stunt caused, saying, “… it makes me an icon of Canadian history.” Hardly an icon; more narcissistic.

Some people – particularly First Nations people – might not think of Flanagan as much of an icon, either, and that this is such a laughing matter.

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The coat is a troubling symbol of the Canadian governments systemic, terrible treatment of First Nations people – the near extermination of the plains bison by colonial fur traders.The government’s desolation of Indian culture; Indian life. But here’s Flanagan – conservative pundit,  author, educator and former adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper – appearing on the CBC’s political program Power and Politics – with his incredibly shrunken head poking out of the neck of his incredibly over sized buffalo coat. (Get this man a stylist.)

Flanagan yaks about the conservative slant on the day’s political cycle and he’s taken seriously in certain circles. But he doesn’t seem to be displaying any seriousness or sensitivity to #idlenomore; to what David Eaves sees as an “existential threat to what we believed Canada was.”

Flanagan is a regular pundit at a round table debate about serious political issues – in this case, trying to make clear the ominously named Clarity Act. (It legislates how the federal government would handle the question of succession by any province.) I watched the segment and was unable to pay attention to anything that he said, seriously. So distracting is the coat and  so insightful its meaning, is it any wonder that none of what he had to say about the Clarity Act was reported or remembered?

Flanagan explains that he was wearing the coat because it was cold in the CBC Calgary studios on the day he appeared for the show’s segment. As a former CBC news anchor, I sat in that same studio under similar studio lights and I can tell you that it never gets cold enough to warrant wearing a great, woolly, fur coat. If you’re cold – and even more so if you’re conservative – put on a sweater vest, for heaven’s sake, not a beast.

Could there be another reason? The American-born Flanagan, according to his Wikipedia entry,

“… has focused on challenging Native and Metis rights. In connection with his multi-year research and publications on Louis Riel, Flanagan published a reinterpretation of the North-West Rebellion, defending the federal government’s response to Métis land claims.

At least we know where he stands and what he wears. Perhaps he should interpret this:

“Fools… wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily — weak people, in other words…” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Time runs out

First Nations Warrior flag

First Nations Warrior flag

Some observations on the First Nations pow-wow showdown with Canada’s federal government:

Bewildered reporters have been chasing around Ottawa all day breathlessly saying how the situation is changing by the second. Toting their cameras and notebooks, they haven’t been able to keep up. It would be comical (if they weren’t all white) if it wasn’t so critically uncertain.

This isn’t unusual for anyone familiar with the expressssion “Indian time” and that includes aboriginals  I am not being insensitive. I am simply repeating the reality of what a friend, and prominent Metis leader and businessman, taught me years ago one summer afternoon outside of the Treaty 4 Governance Centre in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley, and within a few miles of the former Lebret Indian Residential School that his mother had been forced to attend. He taught me a lot more than that, too, including how the Bands are really run.

Natives don’t run on the same colonial clock as the rest of us. To see them forced to the tipping point so quickly is surprising and unsettling for them and us. The Chiefs take time to talk, sometimes at great length, and are not held to deadlines.

But, did they have a choice? They were forced into action by circumstances, in part, beyond their control. Up to this moment, they have been held frustrated and in anguish over the inexcusable state of their people and their living conditions, health, education: the list is lengthy.

When a centre isn’t coalescent it fractures. There was a centre in all of this, once. Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence was the rallying point but has now been shoved to the sidelines and uninvited to some of the meetings that came out her demands in the first place. She seems irrelevant in any discussions between the the two nations – Canada and aboriginal. Spence, once a Chief of peace, started it all by going rogue with her hunger strike. That resulted in the grassroots Idle No More movement. That has forced the Chiefs hands to take a militant stand with talk of warriors bringing Canada to it’s economic knees.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Sean Atleo is no Phil Fontaine. Fontaine, who was National Chief of the AFN for three terms (1997-2000), held much more sway with the Chiefs during the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin Liberal terms than Atleo has today. Atleo is cerebral and, up until today with his display of uncharacteristic outburst, a moderate. Fontaine, although a graduate of the University of Manitoba, was from the gut. Most of the Chiefs today are of that character. The truth of that is in some of the militant statements made by the Chiefs throughout the day.

There is only one person in Ottawa tonight more angry than the Chiefs. That man is Prime Minister Stephen Harper and he’s sure to be fuming in a painted corner; in a tizzy because he’s not in control. But then, nobody is in control right now.

The Montreal Gazette says it’s Harper’s biggest challenge yet. It is historical fact that Canada’s First Nations have not been involved in Canadian politics, proportionate to their population and grievances. They are now, and they just might break Harper’s vice-like grip on this country, especially with parliament about to sit in a few days. Harper’s government can no longer continue in it’s flawed and incremental native rights policies.

On the eve of what will or will not be the critical meeting – between all of the Chiefs or some of the Chiefs or none of the Chiefs and the Prime Minister and the Governor General… or not – we do know one thing, other than nothing at all, and that is no one is idle any more.

A vote for Adam

(A blog from before that I like and updated, first published on 4/27/11.)

Adam, his dadnand younger brother, Greg.

Adam, his dad and younger brother, Greg.

A year ago, cousin Gordon and I – he, the country boy, and me, from the city – talked about his oldest son, before a birthday milestone that the boy would reach..

“Adam turns 18,” Gordon said. “He’ll be able to vote.” Not that his son was eligible for the hockey draft, his plans and pride that he would attend his alma mater, or that he could now look forward to his son moving out of the house. That Adam will be able to vote is all Gordon needed to say about his aspirations for his son.

Later, I said to Adam – an intelligent, talented, musical, athletic, good-looking and well-liked teenager – “Eighteen, huh? You’ll be able to vote.”

“Yes!” He pumped his fist like he’d just scored the winning shot in a church league basketball game. In our family, political roots grow deep in the rich, dark soil around Moosomin, Saskatchewan. It is in our genes, like the dirt ground into our jeans. Adam, and his younger brother, Greg, were taught by their father, who learned from my Uncle, who was raised by our pioneer grandfather whose father was a plains settler, that it is more important to defend democracy than your own end.

I wouldn’t hazard a guess that my young cousin will cast his ballot for the NDP – although, it’s likely. It did seem he wanted to rid the country of the Harper government. But, alas, that must wait for another day. I would never attempt to influence his or another’s vote, but really. Harper? (I do, however, insist that he, and everyone in our family, be a Yankees fan.)

Adam’s father and mother raised him to make good decisions. The freedom to choose. A choice that traces its origins, in part, to the United Church of our grandparents. But he, like any teenager, sometimes takes a few swings and misses before hitting the right one. Sure, Gordon would prefer his son to vote Liberal, but he’d readily admit that decision is out of his hands. After all, his father, my uncle Fred, was a staunch Liberal until he moved to spend his retirement years in Alberta. Go figure.

I also know – as a native of the province that gave rise to the party of the revered Tommy Douglas – that the NDP can govern, and govern well. And, unlike the other federal parties and their provincial counterparts, the NDP is Canada’s one, true national party – born and raised in Saskatchewan.

Douglas’s CCF was formed by common Canadians who believed the Liberals and Conservatives weren’t ideologically equipped for relieving the real hardship that thousands suffered during the Great Depression. My dad, who road the rails during the Dirty 30s, was a “Douglas man.”

Under Douglas’s leadership and, later, Woodrow Lloyd, the CCF governed for twenty years. During their 20 years of leadership, Saskatchewan was enlightened, innovative, fiscally sound, and broke through social barriers.

With the brilliant Alan Blakeney as leader, the party (now the NDP) was just as bold in governing the province for 11 years – investing in it’s natural resources through new Crown Corporations including Saskatchewan Potash and SaskOil. The Blakeney government was also instrumental in the repatriation of the Canadian constitution and the development of the Charter of Rights.

When Roy Romanow’s NDP beat the ironically named Devine Conservatives in 1991. Under Premier Grant Devine, Saskatchewan’s government was rife with corruption and near bankrupt. Romanow balanced the budget and restored the province’s fiscal health through tough choices and unNDP-like choices as spending cuts and higher taxes. By 1995 the budget was balanced and the government focused on many social justice issues.

The values and beliefs of the federal NDP are framed within Saskatchewan’s neat borders and they inform anyone who calls the province home. Whether grudgingly or not, everyone from Saskatchewan has some socialism in their veins. The numbers are vast and spread across this country. If you want proof, go a Canadian Football League game when the Riders are the visiting team.

I remember being 18 and a member of the Saskatchewan Young New Democrats. I shared a dilapidated old house with former Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quenell. It was a flop-house within a few short blocks of the legislature where young social democrats from all over the province and Canada found a piece of floor, a plate of spaghetti, political arguments and all night parties. The NDP, not the house, was then and remains, the anti-establishment party. It speaks to common Canadians. And, if I were to hazard a guess, there are more of us common folk than have been willing to admit.

Not so, young Canadians. They’re fearless. They seem willing to take a risk that will shake this country out of its lethargy. To put it simply, for most Canadian young people, the NDP is not their parent’s party. And the late Jack Layton is seen as more like the cool teacher who they would invite to a party than their dorky dad. Layton was, for most part, fearless. What else do you call a leader who campaigned full-out after prostrate cancer and hip surgery, and was willing to re-open the constitution?

The kid world is the social network and their numbers are great. Why would it be any surprise that the majority of them are drawn to the social democrats. They call social media open source. They call it and protect it as democratic. It’s socialism, online or off, and its clicking.

So Adam, take seriously this responsibility because your family fought for it. You come from a family and a place that has always talked politics around the supper table and has always voted. You come from a province that grows good things and great ideas. You’re cutting your political teeth in a time of great importance in Canadian political history. And Adam, remember to tell your son or daughter the story, and make sure they’re Yankees fans.