Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jul 29 2015, Page 7

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - July 29, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE A7 A CENTURY- AND- A- HALF ago, during one of the pre- Confederation meetings that established Canada’s system of government, a Prince Edward Island delegate proposed that the Senate should be “ more representative of the smaller provinces” and become “ the guardian of their rights and privileges.” Andrew Macdonald’s motion at the Quebec Conference of 1864, which would have given each province the same number of senators regardless of population, was rejected. And while his name is forgotten today, Macdonald’s idea that the Senate could be more than a retirement home for political cronies — protecting smaller provinces from being steamrollered by larger ones and the federal government — has endured. That’s why Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement on Friday that he will no longer fill Senate vacancies — in effect, abolishing the red chamber by attrition — is getting short shrift in Atlantic Canada. P. E. I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan quickly issued a statement reiterating his province’s position, which remains unchanged after 150 years: “ The Senate contributes regional balance and voice in our national institutions.” Nova Scotia’s premier is sticking to his guns as well. Stephen McNeil said Friday he’s open to discussing Senate reform, but the interests of smaller provinces must be protected. He has already suggested Nova Scotia be given more seats in the House of Commons if the Senate is abolished. Minister of Energy and Mines Donald Arsenault fielded New Brunswick’s response to Harper’s announcement and reminded the prime minister the provinces must be consulted on Senate reform. Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis, meanwhile, continues to call for “ a comprehensive review and discussion on Senate reform.” There’s an element of partisanship at work here. Three of the four Atlantic premiers are Liberals, the Harper government has little support in the region and Davis’s Progressive Conservative government is upholding the Newfoundland tradition of clashing with the federal Conservatives whenever possible. But there is also a gritty demographic reality behind this support for the Senate’s survival — population growth on the East Coast is a fraction of the national average, and fewer people means less political clout. This fall’s election will offer stark evidence of the region’s waning influence in Ottawa. Atlantic Canada has 32 seats in the House of Commons but redistribution will add almost that many in other regions — Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta will gain a total of 30 seats in an expanded, 338- seat Commons. The Senate is the only federal forum where smaller provinces can punch above their weight, which is what the Fathers of Confederation intended. The constitutional framework hammered out at the Quebec Conference and implemented in 1867 struck a regional balance. The Maritime provinces were granted a third of the Senate’s 72 seats, equal to the 24 seats allotted to each of the other founding provinces, Ontario and Quebec. When P. E. I. joined Confederation in 1873 it claimed four of the Maritime seats, leaving Nova Scotia and New Brunswick their current entitlement of 10 each ( Manitoba, in contrast, with a population almost 300,000 larger than Nova Scotia’s, has only six senators). Newfoundland received six senators when it joined Canada in 1949, boosting the Atlantic region’s share of seats to 30 in today’s 105- member Senate. This is why Atlantic premiers want to see the Senate reformed — or abolished, if it comes to that — through negotiation, not killed off through neglect. No matter how ineffectual the Senate may be, and regardless of how unpopular and scandalridden it has become, their provinces have something to lose if it disappears. Understandably, they want something in return. Last year’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling, requiring unanimous provincial approval to abolish the Senate, strengthens their hand. Many of the larger provinces also oppose Harper’s unilateral — and likely unconstitutional — attempt to abolish the Senate by other means. But there’s much more at stake for Atlantic Canada if the Senate is allowed to fade away, taking with it the idea that small provinces matter. Dean Jobb, an associate professor of journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, is the author of Empire of Deception, the true story of a 1920s Chicago swindler who escaped to a new life in Nova Scotia. IDEAS œ ISSUES œ INSIGHTS THINK- TANK A 7 Winnipeg Free Press Wednesday, July 29, 2015 I N the fall of 2011, a local indie theatre company staged a play called Generous by Michael Healey, one of the country’s most controversial writers. In it, a Calgary oil exec gleefully scorns the environment then seduces a reporter while the heritage minister stabs an opposition MP to stave off a non- confidence vote. It was a riot, a hot mess of complicated morality and improbable politics and outrageous characters. It tapped into the moment, especially for a city just finished with a federal election and smack in the middle of a provincial one. It was, pretty nearly, the last overtly political play I’ve seen in Winnipeg. Just three days after the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, where experimental theatre and edgy ideas are meant to collide, my beer tent lament is about the almost total lack of politics on stage. In an election year, in a year when Winnipeg began to talk about our racial divide, in a year of Vladimir Putin and IS and four million Syrian refugees, this was the least political fringe I can remember. Instead, as it has been for several years, the fringe was dominated by personal storytelling, which often told us a lot about the performer — their daddy issues, their brother in jail, their cross- Canada road trip — but not much about our world and how it’s run. There was lots of sketch and stand- up comedy, much of it hilarious, almost none of it political, even though the best social commentary, the most eviscerating political criticism often comes from comedians. In one review, I gave fringe- favourite God is a Scottish Drag Queen a hassle for hauling out a cheap Harper joke but it ended up being the only Harper joke I heard in the 25 shows I saw. Forget Parliament and the Senate scandal and elections and Justin Trudeau. Where were the shows about small- P political issues — poverty, immigration, climate change, rape culture? Roughly half of the 180- odd fringe shows are produced locally. Did any tackle Winnipeg’s biggest issue — our relationship with indigenous people? I spent nearly every day last week at the fringe and I didn’t hear of one. A show by a bunch of kids was one exception that merits a mention. Siloam Mission, working with Aboriginal Youth Opportunities and the Louis Riel School Division, put on Blink’s Garden , a fun caper with a deeper message about income inequality. In past years, the odd political show stood out so much as to be among my most memorable, including local raconteur Bill Pats’s look at capital punishment or indigenous actor Cliff Cardinal’s ambitious and shattering look at life on the reserve. In their imperfect ways, those did what theatre, at its best, is meant to do, illuminate complicated issues, using characters we care about to help us grapple with an issue, a point of view, an experience, a problem. The theatre can help us understand political and social problems better than almost anything, better than an attack ad, better than a policy paper, better than an editorial. It can make an argument for change that’s more potent than any a politician or a protester might deliver. Instead, much of the theatre I see now, at the fringe and on the city’s professional stages, feels neutered, like we have nothing better to talk about than ourselves. Maybe there’s a chill, a fear that overtly political plays will run afoul of overly- sensitive government funders. That’s what many fear happened to Toronto’s SummerWorks festival, which lost $ 50,000 in grant money after it mounted a play about the Toronto- 18 terrorist plot. Healey’s Proud , which featured a surprisingly nuanced and sympathetic Stephen Harper, was rejected by a major Toronto theatre company for fear Harper himself might sue. I’m not sure such a chill really exists — Theatre Projects Manitoba mounted a wicked production of Proud last year. If the chill does exist, surely it shouldn’t filter down to the fringe, where the ambitious, experimental, anything- goes ethos seems to be waning. Maybe playwrights and producers worry that if we can barely get citizens out to vote there’s no way we can get them to pony up for a night of political agitation disguised as entertainment. Maybe everyone figures there’s just not much of a market for a play about climate change. Except there is. One of the most- talked about plays in London last year was 2071 , co- written by a British playwright and a climate scientist. Along with a hit show about a meddling King Charles III, one about the Occupy movement and another about illegal migrants, it prompted Guardian theatre critic Micheal Billington to laud the revival of political theatre in the U. K. recently. A new generation has inherited the “ conviction that theatre has a moral duty to address the state of society,” he wrote. Where is that conviction in Canada? maryagnes. welch@ freepress. mb. ca Has fringe been politically neutered? PHOTO CREDIT Ray Strachan checks out the Fringe Festival signs on Market Avenue last week. Around 180 shows were part of the annual 12- day event. DEAN JOBB MARY AGNES WELCH Senate gives regions a voice I N recent months, much airtime has been given to the Liberal party’s decline behind the NDP in the polls. Interest in the Liberal slump is understandable. The party was in power for so long, having won 18 of the 28 federal elections held since the expansion of the franchise in 1918, that it was referred to as Canada’s “ natural governing party.” Liberal revival will therefore signal a return to a federal politics that is very familiar. But continued Liberal decline will indicate Canadian politics has fundamentally transformed, and that we have as a country entered uncharted electoral territory. I have substantial doubt about the Liberal party’s ability to bounce back from the shellacking it received in the 2011 election. There are several reasons for this. First, the 2011 defeat is unlike previous Liberal defeats. The Liberals have been in power for so long in Canadian history that their defeats ( notably the 1911, 1930, 1957, 1984 elections) have been momentous, remarkable occasions. But 2011 produced a far worse result for the party — just 19 per cent of the popular vote, below even John Turner’s share of 28 per cent in the 1984 debacle. As well, in the past, the pattern was for the Liberals to lose but then quickly return to power within one or two elections. To use the same example, the party lost badly in 1984 but, two elections later, was back in power with a majority government. In contrast, the pattern for the present- day Liberals is the opposite. Since their defeat in the 2006 election, the Liberals have consistently moved further from, rather than closer to, being back in power. In part, this departure from the historical norm reflects the party’s response to its defeat in the 2006 election. Following past defeats, Liberals quickly mobilized to address organizational problems that existed in the party. Re- election followed shortly thereafter. My impression of the party after 2006, however, was that Liberals dawdled, sure that Canadians would soon return home to the party once they found the magical leader who would solve all their problems. It was only after 2011 that the party seriously engaged with the question of organizational reform. It may now be too late for those reforms to make much of a difference. Perhaps more damagingly, the 2011 result is not an aberration, but rather the culmination of a very long- term decline in Liberal support in Canada. To demonstrate this, one only need look at the average vote shares received by the great Liberal leaders while they were in government. Under Wilfrid Laurier, the party won an average of 50 per cent of the vote in its winning elections. Under Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent, that average had declined to 46 per cent. Trudeau’s time in office saw that average fall further to 43 per cent. Under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, the Liberal party average fell to 39 per cent. From 2006 onward, the party has averaged 25 per cent of the popular vote. Against this historical backdrop of decline, Chrétien’s three majority governments seem less like a triumph and more like the party’s last gasp. Chrétien relied in part on vote- splitting between the right- of- centre parties to win. But once the right- of- centre parties got their act together, the Liberals’ hold on power quickly crumbled. Furthermore, by losing so badly in 2011, and with their ability to form government seriously in doubt, the Liberal party seems to have lost much of its reason to exist. The Liberal party has always been a pragmatic party, its priority being to both win and govern rather than have a strictly coherent set of policies that were vigorously implemented once in office. The Liberals may not have given their supporters much in the way of policy rewards. But they made up for this by winning so often, providing supporters with access to power in a way the Conservative party and NDP never could. But with its reputation for inevitable power seemingly gone, what can the party now offer potential supporters? In addition, the Liberal party is caught in a spiral in which continued electoral failure makes it more and more difficult for the party to revitalize. This is because the party has always attracted its most talented elites explicitly because it was seen as the ideal vehicle in which to ride directly into government. It is doubtful Pierre Trudeau, for example, would ever have thrown his lot in with the party in its current state. There is, however, one silver lining here. Despite its losses, the Liberal party still seems able to attract well- known or even star candidates. These include, for example, former general Andrew Leslie, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair and, in Winnipeg, former councillor Dan Vandal and mayoral candidate Robert Falcon- Oullette. The presence of strong candidates suggests that, despite its failures, not everyone has given up hope the party can return to power. The Liberal brand still has draw. But if this talent pool dries up in the near future, it may indicate history has indeed turned the page on the Liberal party’s days as a party of government in Canada. Royce Koop is an associate professor in the department of political studies at the University of Manitoba. Hopes for a Liberal revival are fading ROYCE KOOP A_ 07_ Jul- 2 9- 15_ FP_ 01. indd A7 7/ 28/ 15 7: 49: 55 PM

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