Tag Archives: Pierre Trudeau

The Liberal Party: A Substantial Heritage, a Future of Substance (Co-written with Theresa Lubowitz)

Theresa Lubowitz on the Death of Substantive Policy

Canada is teetering dangerously close to the death of substantive policy as we know it, with the rise of a populist Conservative Government, a populist NDP Official Opposition, and a struggling Liberal Party so afraid of irrelevancy it has spent the last four years taking the safe road.

Government used to stand for something and had a proud legacy in Canada of improving the lives of its citizens. Some blamed nearly a decade of minority parliament as the culprit yet Pearson arguably put into action more substantive policy than any other Prime Minister in Canadian history despite the political environment he was forced to operate within.

Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government negotiated a $41 billion health care agreement with the provinces, legalized same-sex marriage, introduced the landmark Kelowna Accord, and had negotiated a national childcare program with the provinces before losing power. The Conservative minority government that followed has no record of substance to speak of, other than tearing down major advancements like Kelowna and national childcare.

Over 100 members of the NDP were elected in the May 2011 election, a feat that allowed the Party to take its place as Official Opposition in the House of Commons for the first time in its history. Yet what it was exactly the NDP championed during the election in their platform is murky at best. They successfully rode the ‘Jack’ wave of platitudes and props and now find themselves sitting opposite a government that reads from the very same playbook of highly charged populist partisan posturing, delivering little of substance. The Party released a year in review video celebrating the ‘highlights’ of their first year as Official Opposition that was low on substance and heavy on reading from one’s notes.

While the Conservatives have a history of releasing election platforms at the last minute and the NDP have a history of releasing them with little content and even less costing, the Liberal Party provided voters with very little to get excited about in the 2011 election. The Party of balanced budgets, universal health care, pensions, student loans, official bilingualism, multiculturalism, same-sex marriage legalization, and Kelowna to name just a few, offered a platform built around something called the ‘Family Pack’. Reduced to what were at the time shocking levels of support in 2008, Liberals played it safe, turned their backs on a century of bold, innovative, and substantive policy that shaped a nation and created something that sounded like it could be found in the lunch meat section of a grocery store.

With populism on either side of the political spectrum, the Liberal Party cannot continue to play it safe. Canada cannot afford us to. We must again become the party willing to take bold political stands regardless of the political winds. Our most successful political leaders were those who did not apologize for who they were or what they stood for and were rewarded for that authenticity. Living authentically is good practice in everyday life and the same is true in politics. It must be made true again in our public policy.

Joseph Uranowski on the Revival of Substantive Policy

The NDP just released an attack ad  that looks like it was written and produced by Stephen Harper’s own attack machine. Like the NDP, it offers no real solutions. With so much vitriol coming from the Harper Conservatives and the Mulcair NDP (how far we’ve come from Nathan Cullen’s calls for cooperation and Niki Ashton’s constant usage of the phrase “New politics”) there is a large space (not necessarily one in the so-called “centre”) for the Liberal Party to become the party of substance.

In the past the Liberal Party brought forward great policy in the form of legislation. However, just saying “trust us, we’re great at governing” is the height of arrogance and is a terrible political strategy. When Bob Rae was an NDP MP he was quoted as saying “the Liberals are a beanbag kind of party that looks like the last person that sat in it.” As we drift through the summer, I have a fear that this might be happening to my party. My solution: the Liberal Party of Canada should start releasing white papers, one every month from now until the 2015 election. When the house is in session we should tie each white paper to a private member’s bill.

Some topics I’d like to see the Liberal Party release policy solutions on:
  • Reform of Question Period: Now, the NDP is so petty and ruthless in their desire to deny the Liberal Party a win (like the Republicans down South) that they have actually worked to defend Dean Del Mastro. The Liberal Party needs to do politics differently, if passing good policy gives one of our opponents a win, it is still worth it to pass good policy. In that vein, I believe at the next avaliable opportunity the Liberals should introduce a private member’s bill that is word-for-word Michael Chong’s QP reform bill. We should ask him to co-sponsor and support the bill. He can bring over the dozen other CPC votes we need and we can shame the NDP into doing what is right.
  • Electoral Reform: At the 2012 biennial convention convention we passed a AV electoral reform platform. We should flesh it out as soon as possible. Let’s start a real debate.
  • Cannabis Legalization and progressive crime policy: We also overwhelming passed a cannabis legalization motion in Ottawa. The crime debate has changed in Canada with legalization going mainstream. This would be a great area to differentiate ourselves from the CPC andNDP. It has recently been reported that private companies are lobbying the Harper government to privatize our prisons. We have a unique opportunity to explain how terrible this policy would be and shift the crime debate once again.
  • The Environment: Scientists have literally taken to the streets on this issue. We have Kirsty Duncan (who won a Nobel Prize for her environmental work), Ted Hsu and Marc Garneau. Let’s put forward policies to take by the environment as an issue from the Greens and NDP with a pro-economic growth Liberal twist.
  • The Economy: Scott Brison is doing a great job shining a light on youth unemployment. A plurality of the white papers should be economic. If we can’t talk about the economy (every Liberal, not just our leader) we will never be relevant to Canadians.
  • Rebuilding the farm safety net: In many ways the Harper government is tryng to balance the budget on the backs of farmers. Income in the agriculture sector has been declining for 30 years. We need policies that will rebuild the farm safety net and focus on sustainability and affordability.
  • Some other issues: High speed rail, safe injection sites, free trade, foreign policy, public transit, education, public housing and veterans’ affairs.

 Uranowski and Lubowitz on the Verdict

Canada will not be bettered by the lip-service of populist politicians. It will be improved by substantive discourse about intelligent solutions in public policy. The Liberal Party of Canada has the strongest record in Canadian history in this area and is the only party showing any interest in speaking substantively about the issues. We’ve had a substantial heritage in public policy and have a substantive future ahead of us. While the populists blather and take jabs at one another, we should lay out a clear path for a better future for Canada.

Follow me on twitter at @Uranowski and follow Theresa at @TheresaLubowitz. Visit her awesome website “What Have You Done For Democracy Lately?

Toronto Pride with the Queer Liberals

“There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” – Pierre Trudeau

While at university I made a point of watching the Toronto Pride Parade a a member of the crowd. This year, thanks to my friends in the Queer Liberals, I was able to participate in the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo Pride Festival, the Durham Region Pride and I marched in the Toronto Pride Parade.

My experience at all 3 pride festivals was extremely positive. The Federal and Provincial Liberals have solid records on Queer issues. With Bill 13 in Ontario the fact that words matter and government policy can have a positive affect was on full display. At Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo Pride and Durham Pride (in Oshawa) it was really interesting as the complete lack of a conservative presence was really palpable.

My Pride Week started off at the Queer Liberal’s “Red Ball” fundraiser. There I got to meet Minister Kathleen Wynne:

Minister Glen Murray, and former Liberal MP Rob Oliphant were also in attendence. It was a great event. I had any excellent conversation on pro-Queer policies that the Liberal Party can and should pursue.

The Toronto Pride Parade was one of the most positive experiences of my life. It was great to see Dr. Eric Hoskins, Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, Deborah Coyne, and Ministers Murray and Wynne marching along side a huge group of Liberals.

I got lots of sun, had a great walk and you could really feel the positive vibes directed at the Liberal Party along the parade route. It was particularly awesome having Minister Laurel Broten as Co-Marshal.

I can’t wait for Capital Pride in August!


Follow the Queer Liberals on twitter: @QueerLiberals.

Read the “Queer Grits” newsletters: Click here.

Fill out the Queer Liberals’ Survey: Queer Liberal General Survey.

“In a nation of minorities, you don’t cherry pick human rights.” – Paul Martin

Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Speech in Support of the Abolition of Capital Punishment (House of Commons, June 15th, 1976.)

“I am sure that very few of us consciously contemplated, when we decided to run for public office, that we would find ourselves playing a decisive role in the resolution of a question as awesome as that of life and death. Yet, here we are, with all our individual limitations, required by the office we hold to make a decision on as profoundly important an issue as has ever divided Canadians.

It is not open to anyone among us to take refuge, in the comforting illusion that we are debating nothing more than an abstract theory of criminal justice, and that it will be the Cabinet’s sole responsibility to decide the actual fate of individual murderers, if this bill is defeated.

I want to make it very clear that, if a majority of honourable members vote against abolition, some people are going to be hanged. Their death would be a direct consequence of the negative decision made by this House on this bill.

I say that, Mister Speaker, not from any desire to be morbid or melodramatic, nor from any desire to try to absolve the Cabinet, in advance, of its share of responsibility for the taking of human life in the future, if this bill is defeated. I say it in order to impress upon the House as strongly as I can that what we will actually be deciding, when we vote on this bill, is not merely how the law of the land will be written, but also whether some human beings will live or die.

At this moment, eleven men are being held in Canadian prisons under sentence of death for the murder of policemen or prison officials. Some have exhausted their rights appeal – others have not. Therefore, while it is impossible to pre-judge how Cabinet will treat any individual case when the time comes to decide whether to invoke the royal prerogative of mercy and commute a death sentence to life imprisonment, it is inevitable that the defeat of this bill would eventually place the hangman’s noose around some person’s neck.

To make that quite clear: if this bill is defeated, some people will certainly hang.

While members are free to vote as they wish, those who vote against the bill, for whatever reason, cannot escape their personal share of responsibility for the hangings which will take place if the bill is defeated.

It is in that contest, Mister Speaker, that I wish to place my remarks on the issue before us.

Any discussion of capital punishment must begin with the identification of its intended purpose, which is clearly the security of society, the protection of innocent people against the ultimate criminal violence. It is not that goal which divides us. It is the goal we all share. What divides us is the question of appropriateness of state execution of murderers as a means of achieving that goal.

It is clear that the protection of innocent people against assaults on their lives and liberty is one of the highest duties of the state. It is equally clear that this duty requires aggressive and effective prevention, prosecution and punishment of criminal violence.

It is essential that people have confidence in the law, essential that they have confidence in the ability of the legal process to protect them against the lawless. Reinforcing that vital sense of confidence and security is the primary aim of Bill C-83, the companion piece to the bill we are now debating.

Longer mandatory sentences, and tightening of parole regulations in relation to convicted murderers will give society the assurance it needs that those who have unlawfully taken the life of another will be removed from our midst for a very long time.Other provisions are designed to restrict the availability of guns, the most common murder weapons, and to strengthen the ability of our police forces to prevent and solve crimes. There is every reason to believe that such measures will effectively inhibit criminal activity whereas capital punishment offers no such assurance. That is why the time has come for Parliament to decide whether we should remove capital punishment from the Criminal Code.

The crux of the question before us is whether execution is an effective and therefore justifiable weapon for the state to use in order to deter potential murderers.

There are those who sincerely believe that no man or group of men ever have the right to end a human life. They believe that life is a divine gift which only God has the right to take away. I am not one of those who share that belief.

Our law, from its earliest beginnings, has always recognized the right of an individual to kill another when there exists reasonable grounds for believing that killing an aggressor is necessary to the protection of one’s own life or that of another.

Moral philosophers and theologians have recognized for many centuries the right of a country to defend itself in a just war, even when defence involves the killing of enemies.

So the question before us is not whether execution by the state is justified per se. The question is whether state execution is an effective deterrent to murder, and therefore a justifiable act of collective self-defence.

The deterrent effect of capital punishment is at the very core of the issue, and since one’s moral view of the justification of capital punishment is entirely determined by one’s judgment of its deterrent effect, the proper focus of this debate is factual data and logical induction, not moral philosophy. In that sense, the issue before us must be resolved – by a practical rather than a moral judgement.

I know there are those who say that execution is justified because it prevents a murderer from ever again committing the same crime. It certainly does. But if you rely on that reasoning, you are killing a man not because his death may deter others from following in his footsteps, but because of what he might possibly do at some time. To justify such preventive execution, there would have to be some reasonable grounds for believing that a convicted murderer, if released into society, would murder again. In fact, the probability lies strongly in the other direction.

We know of only four people who have been found guilty of murder by a Canadian court, and convicted of murder a second time. In order to be absolutely sure than no murderer would murder again, we would have to take the lives of all persons convicted of either first- or second-degree murder, even though the probability is that an infinitesimal percentage of them would ever murder again if allowed to live. That’s an unacceptably high price to pay in human lives for a sense of security insignificantly greater than we have now.

I might ask those who would execute a person to prevent a future murder how they could logically avoid advocating the execution of mentally ill people who are found to have homicidal tendencies?

Well, you may say, let’s execute the murderer for the crime he has committed. Let’s take a life for a life. Let’s remove a savage animal from the human race.

I do not deny that society has the right to punish a criminal, and the right to make the punishment fit the crime, but to kill a man for punishment alone is an act of revenge. Nothing else. Some would prefer to call it retribution, because that word has a nicer sound. But the meaning is the same.

Are we, as a society, so lacking in respect for ourselves, so lacking in hope for human betterment, so socially bankrupt that we are ready to accept state vengeance as our penal philosophy?

Individuals who strike back at the murderer of a loved one and kill him in a frenzy of passionate grief have sometimes been excused by the courts because they were thought to have temporarily lost control of their reason. I have received letters from the parents of relatives of victims demanding the death penalty for the murderer, and have been deeply sympathetic to the suffering of those who have suffered such a tragic and cruel loss of a loved one. But the state cannot claim the excuse of blind grief or unreasoning passion when long after the provocative act, and after calm and deliberate consideration, it kills a man.

My primary concern here is not compassion for the murderer. My concern is for the society which adopts vengeance as an acceptable motive for its collective behaviour. If we make that choice, we will snuff out some of that boundless hope and confidence in ourselves and other people, which has marked our maturing as a free people. We will have chosen violence as a weapon against the violence we profess to abhor. Who is so confident that he knows for sure that such an official endorsement of violence will not harden the society we were elected to improve, will not pervade gradually many different relationships in our society? Who is so confident that he knows for sure that acceptance of state violence will not lead to the greater social acceptance of lesser forms of violence among our people?

Vengeance and violence damage and destroy those who adopt them, and lessen respect for the dignity and rights of others among those who condone them.

There is only one other possibly justification for capital punishment – the one we started with – the belief that execution of murderers will protect society by acting as a deterrent to the commission of murder by other people.

There are some who adopt an experimental approach to the question of deterrence, like a scientist experimenting with different combinations of chemicals in the search for a new healing drug.

Let’s try it, they say, and see if it works. If it does, we’ll keep it. If it doesn’t, we can always stop using it. Let’s not slam the door, they say, on a possibly effective weapon against murder, on some specious philosophical grounds. There are innocent lives at stake. If capital punishment prevents just one murder, they say, it will be adequately justified.

That’s compelling rhetoric, but it contains a fatal flaw, namely that we would be experimenting with human lives. Respect for human life is absolutely vital for the rights and freedom we all enjoy. Even the life of the most hardened criminal must be accorded some degree of respect in a free society. If we take that life without proven purpose, without proven necessity, then we weaken dangerously one of the fundamental principles which allow us to live together in peace, harmony and mutual respect. That is why free peoples have always insisted that the onus is on the person who would interfere with another’s life or liberty to prove that such interference is necessary for the common good.

Strictly speaking, therefore, it is not up to me, as an abolitionist, to prove that the execution of murderers will not prevent other murders. It is up to the advocates of capital punishment to prove that it will. If they cannot, their case must fail. Otherwise, this debate turns into a guessing game, and the lives of human beings become so many chips on of the poker table. That’s not good enough. I don’t want to hear your guesses about the deterrent value of capital punishment. I don’t want to hear about gut feelings. I want proof. Not absolute proof. Not even proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A preponderance of evidence will do. A preponderance of available evidence showing that executions are likely to deter other murderers would serve as an adequate justification for the act, an adequate guarantee that a human life was not being taken capriciously.

Show me the evidence that capital punishment anywhere, at any time, has deterred other people from committing murder. My own reading of the speeches made here on this issue since the first week of May, together with the Solicitor-General’s daily monitoring of the debate, have indicated that no such evidence has been placed before the House.

The evidence does not exist, neither in the Canadian experience nor in the experience of any other jurisdiction. At best, the statistics are inconclusive. They prove nothing. There is no evidence proving that the use or non-use of capital punishment has had any effect whatsoever on murder rates anywhere in the world.

I must confess I cannot understand why anyone would agree to kill a man without the least shred of assurance that his death would accomplish any worthwhile social purpose. If penalties applied by the state against law-breakers cannot be justified for their rehabilitative, punitive or deterrent value, they cannot be justified at all – not in a civilized society. Capital punishment fails on all three accounts. To retain it in the Criminal Code of Canada would be to abandon reason in favour of vengeance – to abandon hope and confidence in favour of despairing acceptance of our inability to cope with violence crime except with violence.

It is because I have an enduring confidence in mankind, and confidence in society’s ability to protect itself without taking human life, that I am eager to support this bill and vote for the abolition of capital punishment.”


Note: I have a hard copy of this speech and could not find it online. If there are any mistakes they are due to my typing incorrectly and shall be fixed post-haste. The parts that have been highlighted were done by me.

Stephen Harper Silent On Security Certificates


– Stephen Harper hates everything that Pierre Trudeau accomplished as Prime Minister. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was his greatest achievement. Stephen Harper may or may not be conscious of this but he is more than willing to ignore the charter (see his law and order related policies) and that may be justified in his mind because it was created by Trudeau.

– The Liberals are the only party talking about civil liberties but with bill C-15 their record is mixed. Mark Holland is doing a great job in this portfolio.

– Stephen Harper has repeatedly failed to protect Canadians being held overseas. He has also ignored judge’s orders before. The issue of Civil Liberties needs to be covered more by the MSM as the Conservatives have a terrible record on accountability (The Budget office having no budget for example) but no one seems to be paying attention.

OTTAWA – The Harper Conservatives risk losing public faith in our anti-terrorism laws unless they explain to Canadians why powers designed to protect the public from terrorism were abused, Liberal Public Safety & National Security Critic Mark Holland said today.

Mr. Holland was commenting on the revelation that, for the second time in as many months, Canada’s spy agency was found to have withheld evidence from a federal court judge regarding the arrest of a foreign national being held on a national security certificate.

“Liberals have been clear that enforcement and application of our anti-terrorism laws must always comply with the rule of law and respect our Charter of Rights, so that no individuals or groups are subject to discriminatory treatment,” said Mr. Holland. “We now have two clear cases where CSIS failed to live up to their responsibility to share the full story with the court.”

Letters written by a federal court judge concerning security certificate hearings against Hassan Almrei show that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service wrongly claimed that one informant had taken a lie-detector test, while failing to disclose that another informant had been “deceptive.” In May, CSIS was criticized for withholding damaging polygraph results for a key government source in a hearing against Mohamed Harkat.

“Protecting Canadians from terrorism cannot come at the cost of trampling on the civil liberties that we hold so dear,” said Mr. Holland. “We need to know why those entrusted with upholding our national security have abused their responsibility to provide the federal court with full disclosure behind the scenes.”

Under Canada’s anti-terrorism laws, foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities can be arrested if a federal judge orders a national security certificate following secret hearings where matters of national security are disclosed. The discovery of withheld or incorrect evidence comes following amendments to Canada’s anti-terrorism laws made in 2008 which allows for “special advocates” to represent terror suspects in secret hearings. These amendments were supported by Liberal MPs only after guarantees were made in law that no evidence that may have been obtained through torture would be admissible in the hearings.

“The Harper Conservatives owe Canadians an explanation on why these men have been detained for so long on the basis of incomplete evidence,” concluded Mr. Holland. “People everywhere are entitled to live in peace and security, but these freedoms must never come at the expense of anyone’s right to due process and a fair hearing.”

Globe and Mail Compares Future Prime Minister to Current President and Past Prime Minister

– I welcome the comparison of Michael Ignatieff to Pierre Trudeau and Barack Obama. They are all inspiring leaders, all are public intellectuals, all represent/represented change and all upset the status quo to lead their country (that will be true for Mr. Ignatieff is the near future.)
– The problem with Stephen Harper is that his policies all have a “win votes now” philosophy behind them. Michael Ignatieff, as a historian, political philosopher and intellectual is able to grasp the bigger picture. Foreign policy affects economic policy, ecological policy can affect the economy, health care policy can affect crime; the leader of the government should be able to see how everything is connected. This is not possible when your policies have no depth like those of Prime Minister Harper.
– Michael Ignatieff’s family history is very epic and very Canadian.
– Ideally Canadian politics should be about public discourse, competition of ideas, thoughtful decisive action (all of this is was Mr. Ignatieff represents) and not the politics of fear, division and patronage (which Mr. Harper represents.)
– Stephen Harper is the Canadian equivalent of President George W. Bush. He has ruled with fear, took us from surplus to deficit, pursued regressive crime/drug policies, fought against scientific development, worked to subvert democracy by putting all the power in his hands, acted in a very cloistered and un-transparent manner, and pursued foreign policy that has worked to undo a lot of what the Liberal party has worked to achieve from the end of World War II. We need our own Obama to replace our Georoge Bush.
An atypical politician with a pen

There are many differences between Barack Obama and Michael Ignatieff, but one that struck me as I was reading Mr. Ignatieff’s True Patriot Love is that while Mr. Obama is a politician who can write, Mr. Ignatieff is a writer who can be a politician.

Both are men of ideas, but the true nature of the American President lies in his formidable political skills – the easy charm, the inspiring speeches, the soft diplomatic approach to problems, the (almost) flawless way he manages to diffuse controversies. The true nature of the new Liberal leader lies in his love of writing. He is part-novelist, part-historian, part-political philosopher. Mr. Obama knows how to tell a story (preferably his own) to his advantage. Mr. Ignatieff is simply, like all born writers, very good at telling a story – any kind of story, his own or that of others. For a politician, however, this gift can be a trap, since writers are independent minds who get carried away with words at the risk of forgetting words might have a political fallout.

The Russian Album, the epic tale of Mr. Ignatieff’s paternal ancestors, was a delightful read. This new book is about three generations of Grants, on his mother’s side. The subject is certainly not as exciting and romantic as the story of the Ignatieffs. The intellectual biography of austere Canadian Protestants of Scottish origin cannot be as gripping as the extraordinary lives of Russian aristocrats who played a prominent role in czarist Russia before taking the painful road of exile. Yet True Patriot Love is a lively, interesting, even entertaining book. I especially enjoyed the chapter about his great-grandfather’s exploration of the West. (George Monro Grant was part of the first expedition that mapped the course of the Canadian Pacific Railway and wrote a book about his journey.) Mr. Ignatieff, who retraced these steps in 2000, conveys the sense of wonder of his ancestor as he discovers the vast expanse of the Prairies, as well as his compassion at the sight of the misery of aboriginal Canadians.

Of course, one cannot help feeling the political manipulation. The story of the Grants – public intellectuals who in different eras and in different ways were obsessed with the destiny of Canada – is tailored for a politician who wants to be prime minister of Canada. Mr. Ignatieff wants to be seen as their inheritor, the one who will give Canada the prominent role his ancestors dreamed of.

This book is also, obviously, a way to show off his “roots” – a response to those who reproach him his 30-year absence from Canada. Mr. Ignatieff started the book six years before his jump into politics, but the introduction and the afterword, written recently, are filled with political clichés and sanctimonious pronouncements. (Granted, they are more readable than the usual political “manifesto.”)

Mr. Ignatieff is an atypical politician given that he lives in a country where politicians don’t write. This is a sharp contrast with France, where any respectable political figure feels obliged to publish more than one book. The rare books authored by our political leaders were written by professionals hired for the job. Either they were crude attempts at boosting a leader’s image before an election or, like the recent memoirs of Messrs. Mulroney and Chrétien, intended to provide a self-congratulatory interpretation of their years in power.

The only genuine intellectual to lead a political party in Canada was Pierre Trudeau, whose earlier political essays were masterworks that have indeed become classic reading for anyone interested in political philosophy. But Mr. Trudeau was a Cartesian thinker, with a dry, slightly cynical turn of mind. He could write splendid essays but he would never have thought of writing a novel, let alone a story about his family. Mr. Ignatieff is another sort of writer – more imaginative, more romantic. Perhaps too much for his own good, now that he’s left the world of ideas and emotions for the hard field of politics. We’ll see.