The Star lines up for Rae

The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest paper by circulation, thinks Liberals ought to elect former Ontario premier Bob Rae as their next leader:

Ignatieff, Dion and Kennedy each embody many of the qualities that Canadians expect in a Liberal leader and potential prime minister. Their ideals and energy have enriched the party. That bodes well for its future.

But, in the Star's view, Rae is the person who should lead a revitalized Liberal team into the next election. He offers the best prospect of renewing the party, moving it boldly forward in a socially progressive direction and giving Canadians the government they deserve. [Read the whole thing…]

The Hon. Michael Chong: In His Own Words

Michael Chong, (left) the Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Wellington-Halton Hills quit cabinet today — he was minister for intergovernmental affairs, for sport, and was president of the Queen's Privy Council — because he couldn't vote in favour of Harper's motion on Quebec. Chong held a news conference this afternoon. Here's an edited version of what was said:

Hon. Michael Chong: Let me first say that I have faith in the Prime Minister and in the government's agenda. I believe that our government is on the right track with its accountability package, with its environmental initiatives, with its crime and justice legislation and with its economic plan. And I believe that Canadians do as well. I also believe in our party. I have been a lifelong conservative and will remain so.
The reason why I got involved in politics is my belief in this nation we call Canada. I believe in this great country of ours and I believe in one nation undivided called Canada. This is a fundamental principle for me, not something on which I can or will compromise – not now, not ever. While I'm loyal to my party and to my leader, my first loyalty is to my country.
It is for this fundamental principle that I cannot support the motion recognizing the Québécois as a nation. Pour moi, reconnaître les Québécois comme une nation, même à l'intérieur d'un Canada uni, implique la reconnaissance d'un nationalisme ethnique que je ne peux appuyer. Une telle reconnaissance ne peut être interprétée comme impliquant un nationalisme territorial parce qu'elle ne se réfère pas à une entité géographique mais plutôt à un groupe de personnes.
I believe that recognizing the Québécois as a nation even within a united Canada is nothing else than the recognition of an ethnic nationalism and that I cannot support. It cannot be interpreted as the recognition of a territorial nationalism for it does not refer to a geographic entity but to a group of people.
I also believe that recognizing the Québécois as a nation will provide the sovereigntists with an argument they will use to confuse Quebecers in any future debate on sovereignty. They will argue that if the Québécois are a nation within Canada then they are certainly a nation without Canada.
I believe in one nation undivided called Canada based on civic and not ethnic nationalism. For hundreds of years almost every Canadian was of either British or French descent and we had two ethnic nationalisms reflective of that – one a British ethnic nationalism and one a French ethnic nationalism. But by the 1960s Canada was no longer made up of entirely people of French and British stock and we decided to reject those dual ethnic nationalisms for a new tripartite approach. This approach adopted civic nationalism, bilingualism and official multiculturalism as a basis of a new vision of citizenship. The civic nationalism recognized that all citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin or their birth, regardless of whether or not they had been here for four or 400 years, regardless of whether or not they were of French or English origin or of African or Asian origin, that all these groups were recognized through the official policies.
The duality of our country, the English and French fact, were recognized with the policy of bilingualism. And official multiculturalism ensured that all groups were to be treated equally.
Je veux insister sur ma conviction dans l'unique nature du fait français au Canada. Je crois aussi que nous devons non seulement assurer sa survie mais aussi son épanouissement et je crois aussi que la meilleure façon d'accomplir ces résultats est par le billet de nos politiques sur le bilingualisme et le multiculturalisme. Par-dessous tout je pense que nous pouvons atteindre des buts en reculant dans nos solitudes mais plutôt à nos engagements, engageant dans un nationalisme civique commun.
I want to emphasize that I believe in the uniqueness of the French fact, the uniqueness of the French fact in Canada. I also believe that we must not only ensure its survival but also its flourishing. But I believe that this is best done through the policies of official bilingualism and multiculturalism and above all that it is not done by retreating into our solitudes but rather by engaging each other through our common civic nationalism.
I've reflected much on these things over the last five days trying if I could see if I could reconcile what I've been thinking with the motion. I cannot. I also want to add that the prime minister was presented with a very difficult dilemma by the Bloc Québécois and I do not fault him for what he felt he had to do. As I mentioned before, I have faith in this Prime Minister, in this government. I believe that the government is on the right track in its environmental agenda, its economic agenda, its accountability agenda and its crime and justice initiatives. I also believe in our party. I have been a lifelong Conservative and I remain so. Thank you very much.
Q: What are you doing? Are you resigning as minister? What is your decision and how did you present this decision to
the prime minister?
Chong: I'm resigning as minister so that I can abstain from the vote tonight.
Q: What did the prime minister say?
Chong: The prime minister was very gracious in his acceptance of my resignation. I indicated to him why I was making this decision. We had a discussion about it. And we ended it on that.
Q: Why would you abstain? Why would have to leave cabinet if you were abstaining and why did you decide to abstain?
Chong: I don't support this motion and I made the reasons for that very clear. Clearly the motion is one which is — you know,
doesn't allow me to vote as I see fit and remain in the party. But that's I think secondary. I think the primary reason is I quite clearly indicate where I stand on this issue and I've quite clearly indicated why I'm not supporting this mission.
Q: Are you voting against it or not? Like is it a whipped vote?
Q: Why don't you just vote no I guess tonight?
Chong: As I indicated, I was presented with a dilemma that I either had to vote for this motion or not and I have indicated that I'm not supporting the motion.
Q: Can we clarify this then? Are you voting against it? Are you standing up and voting against the motion?
Chong: I will be abstaining from the motion because it is a three-line whip on the motion.
Q: What does that mean?
Q: But you are resigning as minister.
Chong: I am resigning.
Q: You're telling us that they told you if you vote against it you can't be an MP anymore?
Chong: Well, they indicated to the entire caucus that it is a fully whipped vote. That's clear to everybody. Backbenchers had the option of not voting with the government by abstaining and that's the path I've chosen to take.
Q: What happens if you vote against, you would have to resign as an MP? Is that what it means? You would have to exit the
caucus if you voted against it?
Chong: Not at all, obviously, you know, the decision as to whether or not I remain a Member of Parliament is mine and mine alone.
Q: No, but I'm wondering why not just vote against it? You said there was only two options either I vote for or I abstain. Why didn't you vote against it? What's the consequences of voting against it?
Chong: I indicated that it's a three-line whip.
Q: What's that mean?
Chong: That means that members of parliament, members of the cabinet and parliamentary secretaries are obligated to be present for the vote and vote in favour. It means that, you know, as I understand it, that members of the backbench if they choose not to vote in favour of this, you know, will suffer no repercussions.
Q: What would that be? What would that be that repercussion?
Chong: Well, various options are available to the Whip but, you know, you're going to have to ask him.
Q: Michael, you said you sort of laboured over this decision for five days. When and how did you come to the decision? Was it a conversation with the prime minister that made you come to the decision you had to resign your post or was it — can you take us through the process?
Chong: Well, clearly there's a motion on the floor of the Canadian House of Commons and, you know, I as a Member of Parliament have to decide how I'm voting on this and I took my decision this morning.
Q: Were you consulted by Mr. Harper before he decided to introduce his own motion?
Chong: I was not consulted.
Q: You're the key point guy, intergovernmental affairs. You would think that somebody would have told you what was going on.
Chong: I think you'll understand —
Q: And what is the consequence of you leaving because you are the person who's supposed to deal with all the provinces?
Chong: Well, I think you'll understand that this motion from the Bloc Québécois came as a surprise to all of us so it's not
surprising that the Prime Minister had to take some very rapid decisions as to how he was going to deal with this problem and, you know, I don't envy him for having to take those decisions.
Q: Monsieur Chong, en français, expliquez-nous qu'est-ce que le nationalisme ethnique.
Chong: Comme j'ai dit, c'est un nationalisme qui — ce n'est pas un nationalisme civique. Un nationalisme civique c'est un
nationalisme qui n'est pas pour — seulement pour un groupe de personnes. C'est pour toutes les personnes qui sont des citoyens du Canada.
Q: Vous pensez que ça va déchirer le pays? Est-ce que c'est ce que vous pensez?
Chong: Je pense que — je crois dans un nationalisme civique, pas dans un nationalisme ethnique.
Q: What makes you say that this is ethnic nationalism? Is it the use of the word Québécois and if that's so what's your definition of the term Québécois used in that context?
Chong: Look, you know, I believe in a common civic nationalism for all Canadians. Any nationalism that refers — any reference
to a nation, to a subgroup of Canadians with respect to a nation is a recognition of an ethnic nationalism and I don't support that. And that's clearly — my position has been clearly stated.

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Myron Thompson's struggle with national unity

Myron ThompsonAmid the hurly burly of the House of Commons foyer after Question Period, it’s usually easy to spot the Stetson of Myron Thompson (left), the Conservative MP from Wild Rose, Alberta. Reporters can usually count on him for some straight talk. And on Friday, as he prepared to fly back to Calgary for the weekend, we tried to pin him down on how he will vote tomorrow night. We didn’t have much success — but it sure was fun talkin’ to him:

Question: Can you tell me in terms of all this debate going on about the Quebec nation, what do your constituents say?

Myron Thompson:            You know, I haven’t heard a thing yet.

Question:  What does it mean to you then, this whole notion of …

Thompson: I don’t have any comment because I haven’t figured that out just yet.

Question: You mean?

Thompson: I haven’t figured out exactly what it means.

Question: What do you think it means?

Thompson: I don’t have any comment because I don’t know yet. I don’t even know what to think.

Question: How are you going to vote?

Thompson: I don’t know that.

Question: Are you struggling with the idea?

Thompson: I don’t struggle with anything. When you get to be my age, it is a struggle to get down here to work, you know, so I don’t struggle with these issues, so…

Question: What about your constituents, what do they think?

Thompson: I haven’t heard a thing yet, nothing yet. I’m waiting for the emails and the phone calls and so far, zero.

Question:   But you don’t have much time to think about this!

Thompson: Honey, I don’t have much time to live probably. I’m getting pretty old you know.

Duceppe: Harper's motion a gift for separatists

MPs will begin voting on Stephen Harper’s “Quebec motion” shortly after 8 pm Monday night. Today on CTV’s Question Period, Bloc Quebecois Gilles Duceppe explained why his party will vote in favour:

BQ Leader GILLES DUCEPPE: The most important thing, I’ve been in Ottawa for quite a few years and I've been fighting in Ottawa to have the House of Commons recognize that Quebecers form a nation. For the first time in history, now the House of Commons is recognizing that … Canada is the first country to recognize the Quebec nation, that Quebecers form a nation and in the near future other countries will do so.

Question Period host CRAIG OLIVER: It has no impact in law, in jurisdiction or anything else. It's
just an opinion of the House of Commons. I mean you're trying to make it
far more than it really is, are you not?

DUCEPPE: I mean now we will ask questions to the government? Will they respond to those demands? If not, then they're proving that means nothing. Quebeckers will take note that they tried to fool them with just a word without any consequences. That will be part of the debate. They have the burden of the proof now to say, well, we recognize that Quebecers form a nation, and that because of that, we're answering that to that demand.

OLIVER: So what are you going to do now? I know what you're going to do. You're going to make, as usual, demands which will be unacceptable  to federalists and then you'll be able to say Canada failed us again because you're going to say put this in the constitution, are you not?

DUCEPPE: Not in the constitution, but why Quebec shouldn't have the right to speak at Nairobi last week instead of speaking in the corridor?
We have as a nation the right to speak and to say, taking 45 seconds, is that too much for someone representing a nation? We'll have a debate on that. And we'll have debates on many demands made unanimously by the national assembly in Quebec. And the other countries, when we were
talking about distinct society, I remember having a debate in Toronto back in 1992. I said Quebec is not a distinct society, it's a distinct nation. The other countries, they don't know what distinct society was, what that means, but nation they know pretty well.


Dion gets it from all over

Jason Cherniak, who is Liberal leadership candidate Stephane Dion’s point man in the blogosphere, makes a neat observation: Dion has managed to win endorsements for the top Liberal spot from left-of-centre Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui; the right-of-centre establishment voice that is the Globe and Mail’s editorial board; and from the further right-of-centre blue-collar editorial writers at the Toronto Sun.


“Dion is Captain Canada. As the author of the Clarity Act, he showed conviction and courage amid much abuse in his home province. Canadians owe him a deep gratitude for tethering the separatists to the rule of law, Canadian law.”

The Globe:

“What he lacks in charisma he makes up for in common sense. He possesses a remarkably clear-eyed view of the possibilities. That he has been the most lucid on the crucial unity file is unsurprising, but he has also presented a compelling vision of a 21st-century environmental economy. If a leader is going to exercise mastery over any files, those are among the most important.
But Mr. Dion has mastered more than that. Through the campaign, he has shown that he has mastered the art of politics. He has gained a love of the game, perhaps from watching the likes of Mr. Chrétien close up. While he has been burdened with an image as a stiff academic, he has added humour, passion and humility to his defining attributes of intelligence and principle.
There is no perfect choice for Liberal delegates, but Stéphane Dion comes the closest to deserving their support for leader.”

Here’s the Sun:

“Stephane Dion [is] our choice for leader because he was willing to fight for Canadian unity when it counted, despite the fact most of his academic peers in Quebec were separatists, who made his life hell. That took courage. While we think he's out to lunch in his support of the pie-in-the-sky Kyoto accord, we also think he's smart enough and tough enough to be a leader. “




Harper in Montreal

As many of you know, the Prime Minister long ago swore off doing press conferences in Ottawa. But he does them fairly regularly whenever he travels. What his office has never done, though, until yesterday, is provide us Ottawa reporters with a transcript of Q & A session with reporters. So, here it is and, there’s just a couple of things to point out: The transcript is prepared by the PMO not by us and so it includes some things we or other journalism organizations would not normally include such as notes where individuals applauded. I also note that all  the speakers do not seem to hem and haw, that their remarks come out fully formed and are almost grammatically perfect. We tend not actually speak that way and most journalists I know at press conference do a lot of hemming and hawing when asking a question so I’d guess that the PMO has done some editing here to make everyone read perhaps better than they actually sounded. Also, as Harper spoke mostly in French, the PMO — not me or CTV — did the translation. I have no reason to believe the translation is inaccurate but I think it’s important you know who’s doing the translating. And while I would normally edit these things before blogging them (mostly for presentation), I have left this one pretty much alone.

So, with that, here it is: Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Montreal answering reporters' questions mostly about the motions before the House of Commons on Quebec and Quebeckers:



JOURNALIST: Mr. Harper, on the question of recognition of the Quebec nation, we learned this morning that the Bloc québécois is going to support your motion.  I’d like to know how you feel and how comfortable you are knowing that you’ll be entering the House with the support of the Bloc but that in several other parts of Canada, people are displeased with your motion.

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, it’s interesting. This is the third position by the Bloc in three days.  (LAUGHTER) They proposed a motion. They made an amendment to their motion, and now they’re supporting our motion, but I must tell you that the responsibility of the Prime Minister of Canada, the primary responsibility is Canadian unity. If I can have the support of even the Bloc when it comes to Canada’s unity, I’m pleased.  (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) But I have…I have to say that this motion, this motion is important. It talks not only about the Quebec nation but about the entire reality of this Quebec nation, as I said when I addressed the House of Commons. That includes the Canadian identity. For over 40 years, two referenda, the Bloc and their Parti québécois allies have been trying to convince les Québécois to be a nation outside Canada, and les Québécois have rejected this because they are proud of their language, of their culture, of the nation, but they are also proud of their historic, current and future role in the development of this country, Canada.  And I think that this motion reflects both these realities, and it’s now up to the Bloc to explain their position and their reason for being in Ottawa.  (APPLAUSE) 

JOURNALIST: In the same vein, Mr. Prime Minister, everyone agrees that your motion has thrown Quebec’s sovereignty movement for a loop. Everyone is saying it – even Jean Lapierre said it – that’s quite a political coup. What is your sense at this point, beyond the symbolic value, that this resolution will now be adopted, and (inaudible)?

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: It’s important to understand the nature of this motion. In a way I have to give the credit to the Bloc québécois, which asked Canada’s Parliament to take a position on les Québécois. They asked for recognition, and now there will be recognition. It’s simple.  This isn’t a constitutional amendment. This isn’t a legal text. It’s simply a statement of recognition, and a gesture of reconciliation.  And I think it’s important, I think it’s important to recognize reality. I know it’s not easy for everyone in Canada, but I think that when you talk about a nation, les Québécois and Québécoises are a group of peoples with an identity, a history, a language, a culture, and all that that means in the vocabulary and the nation. At the same time, I feel it’s important for the rest of the country to correct the unfortunate impression given during the past two decades that people were rejecting the definition of les Québécois, and rejecting les Québécois. This is not true, and it’s important, as I said, for recognition and for reconciliation, and now if the Bloc wants to keep calling for Quebec’s independence, they have to admit that it’s not a question of recognition in Canada.  It’s only a question of independence, and it’s only a question of tearing Canada apart and creating an independent country. And les Québécois have rejected this, even when the sovereignists tried to…appeal to federalists and appeal to the Canadian identity with ideas of partnership association; even then, les Québécois have recognized their Canadian identity.  (APPLAUSE)

JOURNALIST: Mr. Harper, question of the international implications (inaudible) of the motion (inaudible).

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: As I’ve just said, this is not a constitutional amendment or a legal text. It’s an important expression of recognition and national reconciliation.  At the same time, I can tell you that my government has already indicated our capacity and our willingness to recognize this reality in a more specific way when Quebec’s distinctiveness is a real issue, like at UNESCO.  At UNESCO, an international organization that deals with issues of language and culture, this government gave a formal and historic voice to Quebec within the Canadian delegation.  And I think that it’s recognition, this motion, but at the same time this government has indicated and other governments in the past have indicated their intention to…to do more than recognition, but have a flexible federalism that can truly reflect these realities.

JOURNALIST: How do you plan on selling your nationhood project in English Canada, because I don’t know if you’ve been listening to the call-in shows, but there’s anger in English Canada.  They’re accusing you of having given Quebec a gift, a treat.

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: I understand that there are people who will have difficulty with this. But I can see that they’re referring to les Québécois, a group of people. It’s a definition, a group of people with an identity, a culture, a language. That makes a nation.  The Fathers of Confederation spoke in those terms way back when. But this is for national unity. And it’s important.  It’s important to change this impression that the rest of Canada rejects the nature of les Québécois.  And it’s essential because the Bloc québécois asked the House of Commons that the Parliament of Canada take a position on the subject, and I’ve done what I must do as Prime Minister for national unity, for national reconciliation.  At the same time, I can tell the rest of Canada and in particular my friends, my supporters in Western Canada, that I’m not abandoning the things that are important to them, for example Senate reform, more seats for Western Canada in the House of Commons. They remain important priorities for our government.

REPORTER: Prime Minister Harper, on your nation resolution, is this purely a symbolic gesture of is this going to have any legal or constitutional consequences?  Will it open up the round of constitutional debate?   

TEPHEN HARPER: Sure.  Well, I think what's important here, you know my view.  I wasn’t secretive about this in the last, in particular in the last year, since I became Prime Minister.  I mean, my preference was the definition of les Québécois be left to the National Assembly, to the Quebec legislature.  But it was the Bloc québécois that ultimately insisted that the Parliament of Canada make this decision, and it was the Bloc québécois that came forward with a resolution that, while flawed, had some important elements to it.  First of all, it didn’t ask for anything for Quebec, which is a legal jurisdiction. 

What it asked was our recognition of les Québécois, which are a group of people, a sociological, a cultural group.  And obviously, you know, that made it much easier to deal with.  But you know, we insist if we are going to have a recognition of a Quebec nation, and I say again, and I know that some people in the rest of Canada will have some difficulty with this but I repeat that, you know, les Québécois are a group of people with a language, a culture, a history and identity, and according to the dictionary definition, that’s, you know, that constitutes in cultural, sociological term a nation.  And our Fathers of Confederation used this kind of terminology quite regularly.  If you look back at what John A. MacDonald said, Georges-Etienne Cartier, they said similar things at the time. 

So I think the motion we put forward, that obviously recognizes the full reality of the Quebec nationhood, not just that Quebec is a nation but it’s a nation within Canada, inextricably linked through its history, through its role in the country today and through the future that we share together, inextricably linked to this country, we believe this is important act, both an act of recognition and an act of reconciliation.  And you know, les Québécois, I think wrongly but nevertheless really, often got the impression in the past generation that the rest of the country was not prepared to recognize who they were.  And this has given us an opportunity to clarify that, and I believe ultimately to reconcile the debate we’ve had in this country, where we can say that we recognize les Québécois for who they are, not just for who they are but for the important role they play in this country.

You know we should never forget, because English is the language of the majority, we often forget that it was French-speaking Canadians that founded Canada.  It was French-speaking Canadians who were the first people to call themselves Canadians; the first group of people who had a vision of a country from coast to coast.  And so as I say, this is an important opportunity, an important opportunity to reconcile ourselves to that reality.  And I think les Québécois will respond to it and I think what it does, you know as I say it's important for national unity.  What it does is it forces the Bloc and the Parti québécois to admit that what they are arguing for is not a recognition or acceptance of Quebec or what Quebec is. 

Far from it; it’s simply a question of independence, of creating an independent country and les Qébécois have said repeatedly, when given a choice between Canada or breaking up Canada, they don’t want to break up Canada.  That's why the separatists have to keep throwing in words like association and partnership to convince people they are not really voting for a break-up because that is not what les Québécois want.  And so I think this is, when Canadians reflect on it, when they see the reaction in Quebec, I think there'll be a comfort level with it.

This is not, as I said before in French, not a constitutional amendment, not a legal text; this is merely a declaration of recognition and an act of reconciliation. And I think it's important for the country and it’s apparently so good for the country that the Bloc québécois wants to jump on the bandwagon now. This is their, as I said earlier, their third position in three days on the issue and I think now they have to explain what their raison d’être is in Ottawa, if they're going to pass a resolution put forward by the Prime Minister that endorses the unity of Canada. (APPLAUSE)

REPORTER: Mr. Prime Minister, André Boisclair, the PQ leader, said yesterday that this will be a tool to basically fuel the fire of sovereignty.  Do you think that's a valid point?

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: No, I don't.  As I said, this government has already shown, independent of this motion, that this government is willing to take the practical governance steps to recognize Quebec's differences and Quebec's specific needs.  That's why, for example, when we dealt with UNESCO, which is an international cultural organization, we gave Quebec an unprecedented role in the Canadian delegation.  So we're already prepared to work, we're working productively with the current government of Quebec, with Mr. Charest. 

We don't need Mr. Boisclair to work productively with the current government of Quebec.  We're able to accommodate Quebec's needs within this country.  I think what this does is precisely the opposite.  It puts out the door once and for all the notion that the rest of the country doesn't accept Quebec for what it is, a French-speaking society.  Well, we do.  We do, we're proud of it.  It's inextricably linked to our history, to our status as a bilingual and a great country.  And so now it's up to Mr. Boisclair and Mr. Duceppe to admit that they're not looking for recognition or for some kind of appreciation.  What they're simply looking for is to break up the best country in the world.  (APPLAUSE)

That, as I say, les Québécois of all parties from Cartier and Laurier to Muroney and Trudeau have worked to build and lead and done so with millions others like them.  And so I think now…sure! They can push for more powers, for more money.  I'm going to bet that every province is going to do that.  (LAUGHTER) I've been in this job long enough to figure out that's what Premiers do.  But they have to explain why they actually have to break up the country, why Quebec's nationhood needs a separate country, because it doesn't.  Because it always has been and will be expressed fully in this country and as part of the Canadian identity les Québécois share, that les Québécois develop, that les Québécois have developed and frankly, if I can say this as well, you know, I understand.

I don't want to belittle Mr. Boisclair, Mr. Duceppe.  You know, I know Mr. Duceppe well.  I've always said I respect Mr. Duceppe.  And I know, I understand, you know, why some people are sovereigntists.  But this world doesn't need more countries.  This world needs more countries like Canada that can reconcile different nationalities and can live peacefully and harmoniously together.


RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: And perhaps I should repeat this because it’s important.  I respect…I recognize that this is a difficult position for Mr. Duceppe.  I respect Mr. Duceppe.  I’ve known Mr. Duceppe for a long time. I know why some Québécois want an independent country. But they have to be frank about their objective. Independent country, not recognition of the Quebec nation within Canada.  We will recognize it clearly. In my opinion, in my opinion, the world doesn’t need more countries. The world needs more countries like Canada, a progressive country that…a progressive country that can unite and that can live in harmony with all the nations of the world, and that, that is important.  (APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR: So this is all the time we have for questions.  The questi
on period is now over. Thank you very much and have a nice day.  Have a good day.  (APPLAUSE)

Canada to compensate WWII chemical warfare test subjects

A couple of days ago, I received a document through an Access to Information request that was a briefing note written by Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier to the Minister of National Defence Gordon O’Connor. From that, we have this story:

OTTAWA — The Canadian government will provide compensation to Second World War veterans who volunteered to undergo chemical warfare agent testing done by the British Army.

Documents obtained by CTV News last week under Access to Information laws indicate that the Department of Defence believes that 200 Canadian soldiers volunteered to have mustard gas sprayed on their arms that had been coated with “barrier creams,” concoctions the British Army was trying to develop to protect troops in the field from mustard gas attacks.

The tests took place at the British military facility in Porton Down, England between 1941 and 1945 … [read the rest of the story]

For those who want some more background, I’ve uploaded an electronic version of the briefing note we obtained under which provides some more background on this issue. (You’ll need a PDF viewer like Adobe’s Acrobat Reader to read this document)

A North American common currency?

Once a week on our national newscast, we do a segment called “Ask Us”. It is usually the last item that airs on Friday night’s newscast. The idea is pretty simple — viewers send in their questions, on any topic at all, and we assign the question to a reporter or to a member of our crack research staff. It was my turn last week and I was assigned the following question, put to us by a viewer in Montreal.  He wrote:

I have been living for a while in Europe and personally, I had a very good experience of the unified European money Euro. I observe that there’s a very tight commercial liaison between Canada and US. Why don’t the governments of these two countries attempt to combine their currencies as well, in order to have for example the “North American Dollar NAD” instead of USD & CAD? What would be the consequence of this change?

As it turned out, I had the answer to this one close at hand. Earlier this year, I had filed an “Access to Information” request to get the “House Cards” for the Minister of Finance. “House Cards” are daily documents prepared by most government departments for their ministers. They’re often used by ministers in the House of Commons during Question Period. Ministry staff take a look at the day’s news headlines and prepare a few of these “House Cards” on whatever seems to be the hot topic of the day. The “House Cards” typically contain some background on a given issue and then give a minister a few talking points on a particular issue.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had just such a “House Card” prepared for him last spring that addressed the issue of a North American Common Currency. I used much of the information in that document to prepare my answer in last night’s newscast. Here, though, for those wishing a more fulsome answer, is the entire “House Card” Flaherty would have seen on the issue of a North American Common Currency. The author is Department of Finance employee:



Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe thinks Canadians should be talking about adopting a common currency in the Americas as a means of protecting vulnerable, export-oriented companies. What is your position on this issue?


  • The adoption of a common North American currency is not desirable for Canada.
  • Significant differences in the industrial structure of Canada and the U.S. make the added flexibility of a floating exchange rate for the Canadian dollar very valuable from an economic standpoint.
  • A North American common currency would undoubtedly mean for Canada the adoption of the U.S. dollar and U.S. monetary policy. Canada would have to give up its control on domestic inflation and interest rates.
  • Alternatives that Canada could achieve on its own, such as a fixed exchange rate or dollarization, are inferior to both a common currency and our current floating exchange rate.



    • Proponents argue that this would:
      • Eliminate foreign exchange transaction costs.
      • Eliminate uncertainty about the exchange rate and its possible effect on international trade and investment flows.
      • Eliminate the currency risk premium on domestic debt instruments
      • Some analysts have suggested a system where all three North American national central banks are retained, but join in a cooperative agreement to pursue a common set of goals with respect to inflation and financial stability, consistent with a common currency zone. Under this agreement all the central banks would keep their share of seigniorage revenue and would still have the lender-of-last resort responsibilities.
    • However detractors argue:
      • Canada would no longer have an independent monetary policy, as it does with a floating exchange rate (although Canada might still have a voice in monetary policy decisions, proportional to its economic size).
      • Exchange rate adjustments could no longer buffer the Canadian economy from shocks with differential impacts on Canada and the US., such as an increase in commodity prices.
      • Lengthy and costly negotiations would be required to reach agreement on a wide range of difficult and complex issues (such as lender of last resort facilities and sharing the seignorage revenues). The feasibility of this option depends on the willingness of Canada to cede monetary independence, and an assessment by the U.S. that such an arrangement would be
        beneficial to them.
      • The absence of a North American political framework currently blocks implementation of a common currency. Without such institutions, the transfer of national sovereignty to a single, supranational central bank lacks political legitimacy.
    • Would be implemented unilaterally by Canada. Detractors note the additional drawbacks:
      • Canada would have no influence on monetary policy.
      • The Bank of Canada would lose its lender of last resort facilities.
      • The Canadian government would lose seignorage revenue (about $1.5 billion annually).
    • Detractors note an additional drawback: A Central Bank would be vulnerable to a speculative attack, if the domestic economic costs of maintaining the currency board are perceived as becoming too high.
    • Detractors note an additional drawback: This involves less of a commitment by the authorities than a currency board. As such, a fixed rate is less credible and more vulnerable to speculative attacks.

Canadian Forces recruitment roaring

Gen. Rick HillierRick Hillier, the Chief of Defence Staff, (left) gave a speech today in Ottawa to a conference for federal government communications staff. About 500 were in the crowd at the Ottawa Congress Centre. Hillier was speaking to them about some of the communications successes he and the Canadian  Forces have had since he ascended to the top military job in the country. As I’m a panelist for this particular conference — I’m yakking about blogging, natch — I dropped in to listen to Hillier’s speech. (He was supposed to speak for 45 minutes, including the Q & A, but, in true Newfoundland tradition, he spoke without notes for an hour-plus and the crowd could have heard from him even longer but he’s got a bit of a cold…)

One neat factoid from this speech: Hillier says they’re lining up at recruiting offices across the country to get into the Canadian Forces. Hillier chalks that up to the new gritty recruitment ads and some effective and consistent communications and media strategies over the last couple of years. That’s not necessarily new news. We’ve had lots of anecdotal evidence that recruitment right now is very strong. But Hillier said recruitment is just as strong, if not stronger, in the province of Quebec — usually seen as among  the most dovish of provinces.  Not so, Hillier said — Quebec men and women seem to be as keen as any to get into the Forces. That’s kinda new news.

Hillier said the goal of CF recruiters was to add 1,600 net new troops this year but things are going well enough that he now believes that the CF will grow by 2,100 net new (regular, I assume) troops by March 31, 2007. And that, to me at least, is new news, too.