Justin Trudeau had no need to apologize for his comments about Alberta politicians
Late last night on CBC, I watched a repeat of Peter Mansbridge's At Issue panel, in which the three pundits sent a unified message that Justin Trudeau had made a serious error in two-year-old comments about Alberta politicians.
In 2010, Trudeau said in a French-language interview that Canada wasn't doing well because Albertan politicians control the agenda in the country, and this doesn't work. He also said that the great prime ministers of last century came from Quebec.
When the three At Issue panelists—Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hébert, and tar-sands industry consultant Bruce Anderson—come together like this, politicians hop to attention. It's not an issue that none of them has distinguished themselves by having any serious passion for addressing climate change, unlike other central Canadian journalists like William Marsden and Jeffrey Simpson.
Sure enough in response to the At Issue panel's chiding, Trudeau issued the requisite grovelling apology in Vancouver the following morning.
Earlier in the week, Liberal MP David McGuinty also apologized and stepped down as the party's energy critic after lambasting Alberta MPs for focusing too much attention on fossil fuels and not enough on renewables.
The Conservatives are making a big deal out of these Liberals' statements because they're scared about losing Calgary Centre in tomorrow's by-election.
Not all Alberta politicians are knuckle-dragging troglodytes. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Stratchcona NDP MP Linda Duncan are proof that Albertans are very capable of electing progressive, broad-minded politicians. Former premier Peter Lougheed had statesman-like qualities.
But let's not kid ourselves. They're in the minority. Anyone who has read Calgary writer Andrew Nikiforuk's book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent knows how contemptuous the Alberta provincial government has been about environmental issues. Face facts, folks: it's a petrostate, with all that this entails.
Premier Alison Redford's refusal to share a penny of the financial bonanza with B.C. over the Enbridge pipeline is further proof of this shortsighted thinking.
And the bulk of the federal Conservative caucus in Ottawa is a national embarrassment. So I would argue that Trudeau was accurate in declaring in 2010 that Canada wasn't doing well because Albertan politicians control the agenda in the country. I also agree with him when he said that the great prime ministers of last century came from Quebec.
Let's start with the prime ministers
Does anyone honestly believe that R.B. Bennett, John Diefenbaker or Robert Borden could match Pierre Trudeau's record of accomplishment in bringing in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? This cleared the way for greater equality for gays and lesbians (even though they weren't specifically mentioned in the equality-rights section), the disabled, First Nations, women, refugee claimants, and other disadvantaged groups.
North Vancouver historian Daniel Francis conclusively demonstrated in his book Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada's First War on Terror that Borden had perhaps the least regard of all prime ministers for civil liberties. This made Trudeau's ruthless handling of the FLQ crisis look quaint by comparison.
Toronto-born Lester B. Pearson is widely hailed as a great prime minister, but anyone who read Yves Engler's devastating book about the Nobel laureate would dispense with that notion. Engler reveals how Pearson facilitated the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, making him, in the eyes of Noam Chomsky, a war criminal.
Long-time Liberal prime minister Mackenzie King, who was born in Kitchener (then known as Berlin), Ontario, locked up Japanese Canadians and stymied efforts to bring in reforms proposed by the CCF.
His successor, Louis St. Laurent—who was from Quebec—was the one who introduced hospital insurance, universal old-age pensions, and the Canada Council. Sure, St. Laurent let his powerful industry minister C.D. Howe and his industrialist friends run amok over the economy, but St. Laurent still stacks up pretty well against the others.
One of the finest prime ministers in Canadian history was Quebec's Sir Wilfred Laurier, who worked tirelessly to bring French and English Canada together. I'm not a fan of another Quebec prime minister of the 20th century, Brian Mulroney, but he was ahead of his time on environmental issues. And I give Jean Chrétien credit for slaying the deficit, even if this was on the backs of the provinces and resulted in the elimination of national standards for welfare. And keep in mind that Chrétien didn't send Canadian troops to get slaughtered in Iraq as part of George W. Bush's coalition of the willing.
The other 20th-century prime ministers—Kim Campbell, John Turner, Joe Clark, Arthur Meighen—were mere asterisks, not serving long enough to warrant comparison with the others.
So on balance, Justin Trudeau was correct when he stated that the best prime ministers of the last century were from Quebec. Nothing to apologize for there.
What about Alberta's politicians?
Trudeau suggested that Canada wasn't doing well because the country is led by Albertans. Let's look at some of them on an individual basis.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper He has overseen the largest budget deficits in history, refused to pay serious attention to climate change, lost Canada a position on the UN Security Council, headed a party that runs unethical and dishonest attack ads, overseen a government that muzzles scientists, slashed aid to Africa, claimed the F-35 fighter contract was $15 billion when the parliamentary budget officer put the cost at $29 billion, and gone to court to try to shut down Vancouver's supervised-injection site.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney He has overseen "reforms" that jacked up deportations, made it easier to deport people to countries where they face a likelihood of being killed, tried to refuse to offer public health care to refugee claimants, made it more difficult for family-class immigrants to come to Canada, and sharply increased the importation of temporary foreign workers. On the upside, he has spoken in favour of welcoming gay and lesbian refugees.
Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose Long considered one of the least effective cabinet ministers, she oversaw the Harper's government's dreadful response to climate change during its first term. The public-works ministry came under scathing criticism from the auditor general for lowballing the cost of F-35 fighter jets. As the minister for the status of women, Ambrose voted in favour of a motion that would have reopened the national debate on abortion.
Tim Uppal (Minister of State for Democratic Reform) What can you say about someone whose job is to promote democratic reform who has had nothing critical to say about the robocall scandal, in which Conservative campaign operatives appear to have sent voters to the wrong polling stations on election day?
Diane Ablonczy (Minister of State for Foreign Affairs [Americas and Consular Affairs]) The Harper government's foreign policy in Latin America largely consists of seeking trade deals and promoting the Canadian mining industry, often against the interests of indigenous populations. She approved funding for Toronto Pride Week, which resulted in Harper taking this responsibility away from her—and she didn't resign on principle, preferring to remain a member of the Conservative team. The "Marquee Tourism Events" program, which she oversaw, shortchanged B.C. and shuffled money to such dubious causes as the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos football teams. She's left a rather light footprint in Ottawa after two decades in Parliament.
Ted Menzies (Minister of State for Finance) As I mentioned earlier, Canada is running up the largest budget deficits in history, and Menzies is the lieutenant to the finance minister. If Menzies would take the time to read former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich's latest book, Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong With Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It, he might see the light. But it's not likely to occur, given that Menzies opposed allowing parents to deduct contributions to their registered education savings plans for their kids' postsecondary schooling.
Michelle Rempel (Parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment) This rookie MP can be relied on to go on TV to defend the Conservative government's appalling record on climate change. I wish one of those CBC or CTV broadcasters will ask her if she feels that the government's policies have any connection to Superstorm Sandy. Or they could ask how she might feel in 15 or 20 years if a major city like New York has to be evacuated due to safety concerns, because these 1,000-a-year storms would then be happening two or three times a year, thanks to climate change. At what point do politicians like Rempel and her boss, Harper, have to start taking responsibility in this area?
Rob Anders (Calgary West MP) Anders is notorious for being the only MP to vote against honorary citizenship for Nelson Mandela, claiming he was a communist and a terrorist. The most Republican member of the House of Commons, Anders can be relied on for making stupid statements about same-sex marriage and Canadian physician Norman Bethune, and for comparing the Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Games in Berlin. He's also a big supporter of the Wildrose Alliance, which is the most right-wing Opposition party in the country.
I could go through the rest of the Alberta caucus, but you're getting the picture. They're not all stupid. James Rajotte in Edmonton-Leduc has demonstrated some common sense in trying to address identity theft, Alzheimer's disease, and the extent of financial illiteracy in Canada. But for the most part, the MPs coming from Alberta are a fairly sorry lot.
From my vantage point as a born-and-raised western Canadian, I see no reason for Justin Trudeau to apologize for saying the country's in bad shape because of Alberta politicians.
I'm sorry that Trudeau said he was sorry. His father probably would have just given those CBC pundits the finger.