Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Was Trudeau a Disaster for Canada? Yep.

 David Frum 

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This is the full text of David Frum's opening statement at a debate over the late prime minister's legacy hosted by the MacDonald-Laurier Institute. Arguing for Trudeau was Lawrence Martin. The debate, moderated by Michael Bliss, was held Tuesday Sept. 27, 2011 at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

Under the strict rules of debate, my opponent can win if he proves that Trudeau was something less than a disaster for Canada: a misfortune or even merely a disappointment. I hope you will hold him -- and Trudeau -- to a higher standard. I hope you will require him to prove that Pierre Trudeau was affirmatively a good thing for Canada, actually a successful prime minister.

If so, he cannot possibly win.

Debating this resolution in Toronto against Prof. John English, I was very struck that my opponent readily conceded that Pierre Trudeau was a very poor manager of the Canadian economy. Prof. English argued more strenuously that Trudeau's foreign policy record was not as bad as it looks. I'll take up that issue later.

Prof. English hung everything on Pierre Trudeau's alleged services to national unity. He described Pierre Trudeau as a very flawed man who also happened to be the savior of his country.

My answer then, which I'll repeat again tonight, was that on the contrary, Pierre Trudeau did more than almost anyone in Canada to strain and break national unity. Through his own tactlessness and arrogance, he consistently aggravated the problem. In order to justify his own mishandling of the national unity issue, Trudeau in his retirement, concocted a ridiculous story that separatism had been defeated by him in 1980 -- shrugging off the inconvenient fact that separatism raged for another two decades, that a second referendum in 1995 proved even closer than the first -- and that in the end separatism was quelled not by Trudeau-style constitutional amendments but by economic and demographic change inside Quebec itself. If Pierre Trudeau had spent his entire life as an international playboy -- instead of just the first half of it -- the story would have ended in almost exactly the same way, except very possibly... sooner.

Canada today is a very successful country. It has suffered less from the global economic crisis than any other major economy.

So Canadians may be tempted to be philosophical about disasters in their own past. Hasn't all come out right in the end? But I want to stress: Canada's achievement overcoming Trudeau's disastrous legacy should not inure Canadians to how disastrous that legacy was.

Three subsequent important prime ministers -- Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper -- invested their energies cleaning up the wreckage left by Pierre Trudeau. The work has taken almost 30 years. Finally and at long last, nobody speculates any more about Canada defaulting on its debt, or splitting apart, or being isolated from all its major allies.

Yet through most of the adult lives of most people in this room, people in Canada and outside Canada did worry about those things.

And as you enjoy the peace, stability and comparative prosperity of Canada in the 2010s just consider -- this is how Canadians felt in the middle 1960s. Now imagine a political leader coming along and out of ignorance and arrogance despoiling all this success. Not because the leader faced some overwhelming crisis where it was hard to see the right answer. But utterly unnecessarily. Out of a clear blue sky. Like a malicious child on the beach stomping on the sand castle somebody else had worked all morning to build.

That was the political record of Pierre Trudeau.


Pierre Trudeau took office at a moment when commodity prices were rising worldwide. Good policymakers recognize that commodity prices fall as well as rise. Yet between 1969 and 1979 -- through two majority governments and one minority -- Trudeau tripled federal spending.

In 1981-82, Canada plunged into recession, the worst since World War II. Trudeau's already big deficits exploded to a point that Canada's lenders worried about default.

Trudeau's Conservative successor Brian Mulroney balanced Canada's operating budget after 1984. But to squeeze out Trudeau-era inflation, the Bank of Canada had raised real interest rates very high. Mulroney could not keep up with the debt payments. The debt compounded, the deficits grew, the Bank hiked rates again -- and Canada toppled into an even worse recession in 1992. Trudeau's next successors, Liberals this time, squeezed even tighter, raising taxes, and leaving Canadians through the 1990s working harder and harder with no real increase in their standard of living.

Do Canadians understand how many of their difficulties of the 1990s originated in the 1970s? They should.

To repay Trudeau's debt, federal governments reduced transfers to provinces. Provinces restrained spending. And these restraints had real consequences for real people: more months in pain for heart patients, more months of immobility for patients awaiting hip replacements.

If Canada's health system delivers better results today than 15 years ago, it's not because it operates more efficiently. Canada's health system delivers better results because the reduction of Trudeau's debt burden has freed more funds for healthcare spending.

Pierre Trudeau was a spending fool. He believed in a state-led economy, and the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by the single worst economic decision of Canada's 20th century: the National Energy Program.

The NEP tried to fix two different prices of oil, one inside Canada, one outside. The NEP expropriated foreign oil interests without compensation. The NEP sought to shoulder aside the historic role of the provinces as the owner and manager of natural resources.

Most other Western countries redirected themselves toward more fiscal restraint after 1979. Counting on abundant revenues from oil, the Trudeau government kept spending. Other Western governments began to worry more about attracting international investment. Canada repelled investors with arbitrary confiscations. Other Western governments recovered from the stagflation of the 1970s by turning toward freer markets. Under the National Energy Policy, Canada was up-regulating as the US, Britain, and West Germany deregulated. All of these mistakes together contributed to the extreme severity of the 1982 recession. Every one of them was Pierre Trudeau's fault.


Pierre Trudeau had little taste for the alliances and relationships he inherited in 1968. His spending spree did not include the military. He cut air and naval capabilities, pulled troops home from Europe, and embarked on morale-destroying reorganizations of the military services. In 1968, Canada was a serious second-tier non-nuclear military power. By 1984, Canada had lost its war-fighting capability: a loss made vivid when Canada had to opt out of ground combat operations in the first Gulf War of 1990-91.

Something more was going on here than a left-of-center preference for butter over guns. Throughout his life -- now better known than ever thanks to John English -- Pierre Trudeau showed remarkable indifference to the struggle against totalitarianism that defined the geopolitics of the 20th century.

Indifference may be too polite a word.

Pierre Trudeau opted not to serve in World War II, although of age and in good health. If not pro-Nazi, he was certainly anti-British. As a young student, we learn from John English's biography, he wrote a play heavily seasoned with anti-semitic themes, and he opposed the entry of Jewish refugees into Canada.

After the war, Trudeau traveled to Josef Stalin's Soviet Union to participate in regime-sponsored propaganda activities. He wrote in praise of Mao's murderous regime in China. Trudeau lavishly admired Fidel Castro, Julius Nyere, and other Third World dictators. The Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik scathingly recalled Trudeau's 1971 prime ministerial visit: Trudeau visited the Siberian city of Norilsk and lamented that Canada had never succeeded in building so large a city so far north -- unaware, or unconcerned, that Norilsk had been built by slave labour.

It's telling I think that Trudeau came to the edge of endorsing the communist coup against Solidarity in Poland in December 1981. Hours after the coup, Pierre Trudeau said, "If martial law is a way to avoid civil war and Soviet intervention, then I cannot say it is all bad." He added "Hopefully the military regime will be able to keep Solidarity from excessive demands."

Let that disgusting remark be remembered forever. The man who began his career despising Churchill ended by shrugging off Lech Walesa.

Yet it was upon the Canadian nation that Trudeau inflicted his greatest harm.


When Pierre Trudeau was elected prime minister in 1968, Canada faced a small but militant separatist challenge in Quebec. In 1970, that challenge erupted in terrorist violence: two kidnappings and a murder of one of the kidnapped hostages, Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte.

Trudeau responded with overwhelming force, declaring martial law in Quebec, arresting dozens of people almost none of whom had any remote connection to the terrorist outrages. The arrests radicalized them, transforming many from cultural nationalists into outright independentists. As he did throughout his career, Trudeau polarized the situation - multiplying enemies for himself and unfortunately also for Canada.

At the same time, Trudeau lavished economic benefits on Quebec at the expense of English-speaking Canada. Unsurprisingly, English-speaking Canada resented this favoritism -- with the result that Trudeau polarized English Canadian politics too.
In 1968, Trudeau's Liberals won 27 seats west of Ontario. In 1980, they won two. I'm always glad to see the Liberals lose a seat. But a political system in which each of Canada's two main parties piles up huge super-majorities in one region of the country -- while being blanked out of another -- is not healthy.

Trudeau's provocative policies failed to achieve their stated goals. They failed to prevent the election of a separatist government in Quebec in 1976, eight years after Trudeau started "saving the country." They failed to prevent a referendum in 1980, 12 years after Trudeau started "saving the country."

To win his referendum, Trudeau promised Quebec constitutional changes to satisfy Quebec nationalism. Instead, he delivered a package of constitutional changes that tilted in exactly the opposite direction. The government of Quebec refused to ratify the new constitutional arrangement, opening a renewed opportunity to separatists and bequeathing a nightmare political problem to Trudeau's successors.

For the next 15 years, Trudeau's successors had to grapple with the consequences of Trudeau's constitutional bad faith.

Aggravating their difficulties was Trudeau's other legacy: his disastrous debt. In the early 1990s, Canada looked like an over-mortgaged property. Many Quebeckers - who might have wished to remain inside an economically successful Canada - saw in separatism an inviting opportunity to escape a burden and start fresh.

It's not a coincidence that separatism truly ebbed only as the debt burden was overcome -- and as quitting Canada, not staying, began to look like the losing economic proposition.

Defenders of Trudeau's disastrous governance habitually rally around one great accomplishment: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Well, Herbert Hoover had some excellent wilderness conservation policies, but we don't excuse the Great Depression on that account. Would it really have been so impossible to achieve a Charter of Rights without plunging Canada into two recessions, without wrecking the national finances, without triggering two referendums, without nationalizing the oil industry, without driving not only Quebec but also Alberta to the verge of separation?

To me, one story will always sum up Pierre Trudeau.

1979. Trudeau had lost that year's election. His career seemed finished. Reporters awaited in the driveway of 24 Sussex Drive as he stepped into his gull-winged vintage Mercedes to speed away into history.

One shouted: "Mr. Prime Minister -- any regrets?"

Pierre Trudeau pondered. He remembered something that Richard Nixon had said after losing the California governor's race in 1962 and revised Nixon's words to his own very different purpose. "Yes," he said. "I regret I won't have you to kick around any more."

It's long past time that Canadians in turn resolved: no longer to be posthumously kicked by this bad man and disastrous prime minister.

I ask you to vote yes to the resolution.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Surely it’s a coincidence the electoral reforms the Liberals favour would keep them in power forever

Tasha Kheiriddin: Surely it’s a coincidence the electoral reforms the Liberals favour would keep them in power forever

| | Last Updated: Dec 11 8:56 PM ET   
More from Tasha Kheiriddin
Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef.
Wayne Cuddington/ Ottawa CitizenMinister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef.
Referendum. In Canada, the word is enough to send chills down the backs of politicians and who was of voting age these last 35 years. It conjures up memories of the two failed Quebec referenda on independence, in 1980 and 1995, the second of which saw the country hang together by a hair.

 It induces flashbacks to the 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, a constitutional amendment package whose defeat sent any future attempt at constitutional reform into the deep freeze. More recently, it reminds voters of referenda on electoral reform, in British Columbia, P.E.I. and Ontario, held in 2005, 2007, and 2009, which rejected attempts at junking the first-past-the-post voting system in favour of single transferable vote and mixed member proportional alternatives.

Little wonder, then, that when the Conservative Opposition grilled democratic reform Minister Maryam Monsef over two days this week on the possibility of a federal referendum on electoral reform, she first skated very hard, before attempting a double axel and falling smack on her backside.

 “Mr. Speaker,” she said in Question Period Tuesday, “… I remind the 337 other members of Parliament in this House that what we committed to was an open and robust process of consultation … I will not prejudice the outcome of that consultation process by committing to a referendum.”

Cue the outrage. Both in the House of Commons and in a news release the following day, the Conservatives blasted the new Minister’s remarks. “The Liberal government obviously thinks Canadians can’t be trusted with such a fundamental change to our democracy … The Liberal government does not have a mandate to implement whatever new system they decide suits the Liberal party best … all they have proposed is that the system should change.”
The opposition is right, even if their interpretation of Monsef’s words may be wrong. She did not preclude the holding of a referendum — the consultation process could, in theory, recommend that one be held. But her tone certainly supported the suspicion that the Liberals do not intend to hold a popular vote on the consultation process’ recommendations — buttressed by the fact that a) the Liberals have a vested interest in changing the electoral system and b) previous provincial referenda have consistently rejected attempts at reform.

Why would a change benefit the Liberals, even if they have held power for most of the past century? Because that power has alternated between minority and majority situations, and because the Conservatives have also formed government, relegating the Liberals to Opposition or even third-party status, as was the case for the last four years. In other words, voters have the possibility of “throwing the bums out” when they’ve had enough. But with a particular type of reform, Liberals could more easily elect back-to-back majority governments — possibly forever.

That change would be a move to a preferential or “ranked” ballot. Instead of a first-past-the-post electoral system, which gives the party with the most elected members the right to form government, a preferential ballot would ask voters to rank the choices on offer: first, second, third, and so on. That doesn’t mean they would have to rank every candidate, however; if they had no second choice, they could simply not mark one down. The votes to the candidate with the fewest “first choice” nods would then be reassigned to the other candidates based on their supporters’ second choice, then third choice, and so on until one candidate obtains at least 50 per cent of the votes.

Preferential or ranked ballots thus don’t create a more proportional system; if anything, they tend to increase the proportion of seats taken by the dominant party
In the recent federal election, this would have benefited the Liberals significantly, because Liberal and NDP voters were more likely to name each other as their preferred second choice. In contrast, most Conservative supporters had no second choice, which means their votes would have been counted once, and if they didn’t achieve the magic 50%-plus-one mark, dropped out of the equation altogether. 

The Council of Canadians published a simulation run by, based on the 2015 results and found that under a ranked ballot, the Liberals would have elected 224 members instead of 184; the Conservatives, 61 vs. 99; the NDP, 50 vs. 44; the Bloc 2 vs. 10. Only the Greens would have obtained the same result: 1.
Preferential or ranked ballots thus don’t create a more proportional system; if anything, they tend to increase the proportion of seats taken by the dominant party. 

And in a country like Canada, where there are three parties, one on the left, one in the centre and one on the right, it is most likely that in any election, the second choice of either “extreme” would be the middle, not each other — thus entrenching successive Liberal governments.
The COC also published a simulation on proportional representation; under that model, the Liberals would have obtained 134 seats, the Conservatives 109, the NDP 67, the Bloc 16, and the Greens 12. This would still have put the Liberals in government, but with a minority or coalition that would give the NDP the balance of power. 

That scenario would be likely to repeat ad nauseum, and result in consistent left-of-centre government, since the Conservatives would have no potential coalition partner and couldn’t stay in power in a minority unless they caved to NDP demands. Not surprisingly, the “progressive” COC is now calling on the Liberals to adopt proportional representation.

The opposition is thus right to demand that any fundamental change to Canada’s voting system should be the subject of a referendum. While Canadians voted for the idea of reform, they did not pronounce themselves on a clear alternative — and they should not be subjected to one by Liberal fiat, particularly when the result will likely preclude any possibility of alternating government between one party and another. That, ironically, would be the very opposite of the democratic reform they sought to achieve.

National Post

Tuesday, December 15, 2015