Tuesday, February 19, 2019

HIstory of Prime Ministers and Cabinets WITH COMMENTS

Less minister of justice, more Puglaas

As this slow-motion political crisis over SNC-Lavalin and ex-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould soaks in, I find myself with two longer-perspective thoughts.

The first is the extraordinary non-accountability of Canadian prime ministers.  Sure, Trudeau's future election prospects are taking a hit, but other than that, who is there to talk to him, to say, JT, you are screwing up, you have to change, and if you don't we are going to take steps.

Cabinet no longer holds anything like that role, it seems.  Caucus has accepted it is responsible to the leader, not the reverse. The party at large is for fundraising and election readiness, not for anything political. And the key people surrounding the leader are his hired hands, their jobs and careers and reputation entirely dependent on their unwavering commitment to his interests alone. The Butts resignation will not change that.  There's likely to be another would-be Gerald Butts waiting in the wings.

It's not, shall we say, the classical model of parliamentary democracy, with the executive holding collective responsibility to both the majority caucus and the legislature at large.  Might work better if it was.....  But n our present political culture, it's barely a fixable problem.

The second takeaway is that maybe SNC-Lavalin was never at the heart of this matter.  Perhaps the deeper problem in the cabinet relationships was that when they invited Jody Wilson-Raybould to be Justice Minister, the PMO team thought that was Reconciliation:  see, an indigenous woman can hold an important cabinet post.  But look at her career path, and it seems that she took the job in order to be able to work on the big legal changes that would lead toward real Reconciliation: respect for treaties and title to land, of real First Nations governments and the secure revenue base that would enable them to succeed.

The clash of expectations over that seems to have been far greater than any matter of nuance over how to deal with SNC-Lavalin's criminal culture.  And that is not very fixable either.  Wilson-Raybould is part of a generation of First Nations leaders who are not interested in tokenism and have very clear ideas of what real reconciliation has to be based on.

And it's not just that the Trudeau team is not ready to take those kinds of initiatives. It's that, given what Canada is willing to accept in matters of First Nations rights, it's probable that no Canadian government could presently commit to what Wilson-Raybould would take as a minimum -- and survive.

Reconciliation is going to be very hard and involve a big change in understanding and expectations.  Gonna take a while getting used to it. Justin Trudeau is not going to be the last Canadian leader to find it whacking him in the back of the head when he least expected it. As long as the Ottawa calculus is mostly about the price in Quebec seats of holding SNC-Lavalin to account, we probably have not even figured out what really drives this crisis. 

Update, February 23:  Jarod Milne comments:
Great comments. This is why so many Indigenous activists are criticizing the Trudeau government's efforts as 'tokenism' or ceremonial at best. The frustrating thing is that most Indigenous people have in many respects been very consistent about what they're looking for over the past 150 years, as John Ralston Saul's book The Comeback showed with its extensive quotes from Indigenous thinkers. Harold Cardinal wrote in The Unjust Society that 'the Indian has been shouting what he wants'...and he wrote that 50 years ago.

Unfortunately, for some reason the rest of us are more inclined to waste time and money fighting Indigenous claims and desires than actually trying to at least meet them halfway...which would have saved everyone a lot of time, money and grief in the long run, particularly when just about all the Indigenous people I've read and spoken to show no indication of changing their desires.
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