The Morning Brief – 02.17.21
By Bruce Carson
A look at today’s political scene through the eyes of Canada’s 16th prime minister
It has been 42 years since he led the PC Party to victory; much has changed, much has stayed the same
Views on Alberta’s role in the federation
Are there improvements to be made?
CBC’s Kathleen Petty, based in Calgary has started a podcast entitled “West of Center” designed to elicit views about Western Canada and its place in the federation.
Her interview with the Right Honourable Joe Clark produced some surprising results. Full disclosure, I was involved in the settlement of Vietnamese Boatpeople in Ottawa in 1979, involved in the development of the Charlottetown Accord and in 1998 worked with the late Bob De Cotret on Clark’s campaign to lead the federal PC Party.
Clark who still describes himself as an Albertan spoke about the changing nature of Alberta, but made it clear that Albertans have always been more progressive than caricatures would admit.
There is a sense that Alberta is still not a full partner in the Canadian family. He referred to the fact that only two prime ministers have been born in the west, himself and Kim Campbell, while John Diefenbaker became a westerner when he settled in Saskatchewan.
As a result of geography Alberta is farther away from the provinces that have had considerable “weight” in the federation. He believes there is not a clear understanding in central Canada of the Alberta reality. He and Petty talked about the lack of travel within Canada and Canadians not knowing each other as well as they might.
On the subject of breakaway political parties in the West and particularly Alberta, he believes that these parties have always been part of political landscape.
This led into a discussion of the changing nature of political parties; at least since he was last involved in federal politics. He spoke of political parties as instruments of reconciliation. He used the late Robert Stanfield’s leadership on the Official Languages Act as an example of political parties reconciling differences, within the party and within the country. Parties according to Clark welcomed different and even opposing views.
However, he believes that with the growth of single issue interest groups, the consensus building role of parties has been diminished. Discourse has become one of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ Before this phenomenon there was a greater sense of ‘us.’
Clark was quite critical of the Trudeau Liberals saying that while there were some strong members, the Trudeau’s Liberals were very shallow, not thoughtful, conscientious, or as serious as a nation needs. He described the party as being more inclined to statements than to action. It used to reflect all parts of the country as a reconciliatory instrument.
His advice to the governing Liberals was to be respectful of PC traditions and represent the whole country.
Clark believes this is something Erin O’Toole can do. He has hope for O’Toole and the Conservative Party, hoping O’Toole can make the party national again. He sees national parties as being able to integrate regional movements.
It is his view that the “genius” of the Canadian system is that different interests can get along with one another, perhaps not easily, but can get along. At this point he does not see any of the parties representing the broad range of interests that make up this country.
Drawing on his experience as foreign minister, he stated that Canada is at its weakest when we lecture other countries, a characteristic of the present Trudeau government. He views Trudeau as more prescriptive than conciliatory.
On Alberta, he believes Trudeau has not taken Alberta’s distinctive interests as seriously as he should. The Liberal Party is now looking for those who agree with it, not wanting to deal with a whole range of interests. He argues that the energy industry in Alberta saw the environmental movement coming, but there was a broad view that this movement was not reflected in the industry as well as it should have been.
He hoped that Trudeau would take the time to talk to people in Alberta who disagree with the government. You have to talk to the people with whom you disagree to find common ground.
Alberta’s “concerns are real and if ignored are exacerbated.”
He referred to the process that led to the Charlottetown Accord as a successful example of premiers and Indigenous leaders who were engaged in the process, taking the time necessary to make progress. Agreement was reached among those of good will, who did not always agree and held opposing views, but were willing to discuss and compromise.
Incidentally, the Indigenous section of the Accord sets out a template that Prime Minister Trudeau might wish to follow, should he want to make progress on reconciliation.
Clark describes Alberta as a “generous place” and “forward looking.” It should be a significant part of Canada’s future.
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Clark’s views on Alberta and the Trudeau government are shared by many. There is a need to understand differing views and move to reconciling those views.
On political parties, he is right that at a certain point political commentators spoke of “big tent parties” reconciling differences among their members within the party. The rise of interest group politics could be a result of the failure of that reconciliation or the belief that the views of the interest group were being ignored.
On the Trudeau Liberals, Clark’s views are frank while somewhat surprising, but in line with the views expressed by Trudeau’s critics; unserious and more about talk than action.
As someone who left the Conservative family after the merger, it is hopeful to see his optimism regarding O’Toole’s future.
All in all, the views expressed by Canada’s 16th prime minister, whether one agrees with him or not, are strongly held, based on a life serving Canadians.
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