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MacDonald Laurier Institute

Canada is completing Confederation

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From the MacDonald Laurier Institute

By Ken Coates

For generations, decisions about the North were made in Ottawa. While consultations improved, final decisions still rested outside the territory. That has now ended.

Something important is up in the Far North. With the signing of the Nunavut Devolution Agreement, Canada is completing Confederation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Iqaluit to join Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk, and federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal on Jan. 18, 2024, to sign the history-making document. What seems to be a technical administrative process is, in fact, a transformative event in the evolution of the North.

Canadians have had trouble coming to terms with their status as a colonial power, both on the broad front of the mismanagement of Indigenous affairs, and the more traditional colonial control exerted over the territories. In 1870, the Northwest Territories stretched from the Rocky Mountains to Labrador, and the 49th parallel to the Arctic Ocean and much of Baffin Island—much larger than the original four provinces.

Over more than 150 years, Canada slowly peeled back its colonial holdings. Manitoba grew from a “postage stamp” province to its current dimensions. Alberta and Saskatchewan were carved out of the Northwest Territories. The Arctic Islands were added in 1880. The Yukon gained separate territorial status in 1898. Ontario and Quebec had their boundaries extended northward. The remaining lands of the Northwest Territories covered much of the Far North until Nunavut was created as a separate territory in 1999.

The establishment of provincial and territorial boundaries did not establish political fairness across the country. Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan only secured control over natural resources in 1930, although the lack of consultation with Indigenous Peoples has resulted in a recent court challenge about the exclusion.

The Yukon only got responsible government in 1979; before then, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories were controlled by federally appointed commissioners.

When Canada patriated the Constitution, the final agreement virtually foreclosed the prospect of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut ever achieving full provincial status.

Given less than a perfect hand, the northern territories have systematically negotiated their way into partnership in Confederation. Modern treaties and self-government agreements that now cover much of the Yukon and Northwest Territories and all of Nunavut re-empowered Indigenous Peoples.

Devolution—the transfer of responsibilities (and the funding associated with these duties) from the federal government to the territorial governments—reduces the power of Ottawa and brings the territorial governments closer to province-like status.

The process unfolded slowly. The territories assumed responsibility for health care, education, highways, and many other duties over time.

But the most important transition, the transfer of responsibility for land and natural resources, remained to the end.

The recent Iqaluit signing was a celebration of this crucial stage. The agreement gives Nunavut province-like powers over resource development and land use.

The agreement promises a different future. Nunavut has impressive mineral resources and considerable opportunities to develop them. Akeeagok and his colleagues emphasized the importance of resource control and their eagerness to do it right, making it abundantly clear that the people of Nunavut are determined to change decision-making about the territory. This point is critical—and it is the main purpose of devolution.

For generations, decisions were made in Ottawa, with no direct engagement with the people of the territory. Judgments reflected southern or national priorities and not necessarily northern needs. While consultations improved, final decisions still rested outside the territory. That has now ended.

The transfer does not signal a retreat of the federal government from the North, nor does it mark an end of northern requests for federal financial support. Small and widely distributed populations, vast expanses of land, and the high cost of living, working, and building will always make the Far North reliant on southern funds. But the balance can shift. With control of natural resources and the ability to extract territorial revenue along with the minerals, Nunavut will secure more money and even greater autonomy from Ottawa.

The Nunavut agreement means that all three northern territories now have control of land and natural resources. The federal government has a significantly reduced role. Like the southern provinces, the Far North now has the power and responsibility needed to determine their own economic futures.

Ken Coates is a distinguished fellow and the director of Indigenous affairs at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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MacDonald Laurier Institute

Anti-Jewish campus protests reveal ugly double standard when it comes to policing “free speech”

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From the Macdonald Laurier Institute

By Kelsie Walker for Inside Policy

Despite encampments trespassing on private property, and thus being, by all definitions, illegal, they’ve seen practically no disciplinary action.

Following widespread pro-Palestinian protest encampments popping up on American campuses, there was an influx of copycat encampments across major Canadian university campuses, including at the University of Toronto, McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, the University of Ottawa, and Western University, among others. These encampments are demanding that universities divest from entities associated with Israel, accusing them of supporting apartheid and being complicit in genocide. The protests, intended to express solidarity with Palestinians but also rife with antisemitism and calls for violence against Jews, have sparked intense debates about the limits of free speech and the legal boundaries of protests on campuses.

What began as a story of peaceful activism has quickly turned into lawmakers, universities, and the police selectively enforcing the law on partisan lines, displaying both hypocrisy and inaction when it comes to handling protests associated with the left.

A new poll from the Angus Reid Institute found that two-thirds of Canadians (64 per cent) say the police give preferential treatment to certain groups when dealing with protests. Canadians of all political affiliations largely feel that police response and engagement at protests is not applied consistently, with three-in-five past Conservative (68 percent), Liberal (60 percent), and NDP (73 percent) voters saying so. While they differ on the question of who receives preference, given the recent events at Canadian universities, it is undeniable that left-leaning causes, and more specifically, pro-Palestinian protests, are given unfair leeway in comparison to causes deemed to be right-leaning.

While some have tried to frame the campus encampments as an issue of free speech, in many cases, the protesters are breaking clearly defined and communicated laws. Students are certainly free to protest. However, they must also comply with university policies and Canadian laws. Free speech allows individuals to express their opinions, even controversial or unpopular ones. However, when the expression of an opinion crosses into illegal activity, such as vandalism, trespassing, or the incitement of violence, it is no longer protected under the banner of free speech. Yet, pro-Palestinian protestors are demanding that their protests be held above the law, and such demands are being met.

Despite encampments trespassing on private property, and thus being, by all definitions, illegal, they’ve seen practically no disciplinary action. The majority of Canadian universities are either placating protestors’ demands by offering a list of concessions, or, they are simply letting protests proceed practically unchecked. Police did recently disperse the encampment at McGill University on June 6 – but only after protesters there escalated the situation by illegally occupying an administration building. While most protestors have good intentions, illegal and alarming activity is frequently occurring in protest sites. Encampments have, at times, seen physical conflicts with counter-protesters, the presence of anti-Canadian and anti-police slogans, the refusal of numerous orders to leave, have issued calls to incite violence, and in one instance, have even displayed shocking imagery depicting the lynching of Jews.

Consider McGill’s “peaceful” protest. Launched in late April, it quickly turned into a hotbed of intolerance. Protestors rejected the university’s offer of concessions (despite the offer being similar to those that have led to conflict resolution at other universities) and sent masked individuals to follow and harass senior administrators at their homes and offices. The encampment displayed profane graffiti, and even featured a hanging effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  donning a striped outfit that resembled the uniforms that Jews wore in concentration camps during the Second World War. Are these truly displays of free speech, or something far more sinister?

Many of the encampments are demonstrating a striking intolerance to differing opinions and an unwillingness to reach a compromise with universities, with many protestors refusing to leave until all their demands are met. If the situation was reversed, would a pro-Israeli encampment be met with the same tolerance?

Well, the University of Toronto clearly says no. Recently, a pro-Israel encampment, created in counter-protest to the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, was removed by campus security within minutes of being established. The justification? Unlike the fully fenced-in and untouchable “Little Gaza” that has existed and grown steadily on the campus for over a month, the counter-protest was simply small enough to remove. So, it turns out, universities are in fact able to remove encampments, but only when they are on the wrong ideological side (or, in this case, the “right” side). This double standard is alarming. Why are universities and the police so afraid to stand up to left-wing protests when they blatantly break the law? If encouraging “free speech” is the justification, then that very speech cannot be encouraged selectively.

While encampments at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta have been disbanded by police, most Canadian universities are not taking any action against illegal encampments. Indeed, some universities have reassured protesters that there will be no punitive actions taken towards them. The University of Toronto, the same university that was so quick to remove pro-Israeli protestors, even began its convocation ceremonies to the backdrop of a large pro-Palestinian encampment.

To be clear, I am not advocating for the forced end of protests. However, the inconsistent application of the law is troubling. This is part of a much wider issue in Canadian society, where there is a clear double standard on this issue. Just look at how the federal government reacted to the “Freedom Convoy” that gridlocked Ottawa in January 2022. In response to the anti-vaccine-mandate protest, the Trudeau government invoked the Emergencies Act and forcibly brought it to an end. Some Freedom Convoy organizers were arrested and their bank accounts frozen. A federal court ruling later declared the use of the Emergencies Act “unreasonable” and a violation of the protesters’ Charter rights.

Ironically, the same people who applauded the crackdown on the Freedom Convoy protesters are crying foul at the very thought of the police disbanding left-wing protest encampments on university campuses. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”

While free speech is protected, it is not without limits. And it certainly shouldn’t be used as a phony justification for inaction, especially pro-Palestinian encampments make other students and staff feel unsafe on campus. The mobs are especially concerning for Jewish students, faculty, and staff who have suffered instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric, harassment, and exclusion on campus. In the face of such blatant anti-Jewish hate, how can they feel safe, respected, and valued by their institutions?

Protests are often intended to create discomfort; however, universities are sitting by idling while atmospheres of hatred and racism are being strengthened with each passing day. It is so severe that some Jewish students in the United States are taking legal action against their universities, under the claims that the institutions are failing to protect them from discrimination and harassment. If such hostility is allowed to continue unchecked, it is only a matter of time until legal battles emerge on Canadian campuses too. Universities are legally and ethically obligated to ensure that all students feel secure and respected, not allow a select few to run rampant all over university rules. There must be a principled, consistent approach to free speech and legal enforcement – one that transcends political affiliations and ensures that the rights and responsibilities of all citizens are respected equally.


Kelsie Walker is a project manager at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute where she primarily assists with the Defending the Marketplace of Ideas project.

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Food

The Trudeau government’s latest assault on transparency is buried in Bill C-69

Published on

From the Macdonald Laurier Institute

By Aaron Wudrick for Inside Policy

The new powers granted to the minister of health under Bill C-69 are considerable. For example, they allow the minister to unilaterally make decisions regarding drug approvals and food safety regulations, effectively pulling products off the shelves of stores without the typical procedural safeguards. This concentration of power in the hands of the minister circumvents much-needed scrutiny and risks politicizing health decisions.

As the Trudeau government scrambles to pass its spring 2024 budget measures through Parliament before the summer recess, most of the media’s focus has centred on the budget’s headline measure, the increase in the capital gains inclusion rate. Unusually, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland chose not to include that change in its main budget bill, saying she would instead soon introduce those measures in a separate bill.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the budget measures are contained in Bill C-69, an omnibus bill that has attracted little media attention. That is a shame, as it contains provisions that warrant closer scrutiny, particularly the proposed changes to the Food and Drug Act. These amendments grant the minister of health sweeping powers, exacerbating the Trudeau government’s longstanding habit of undermining proper procedural channels when it finds them to be inconvenient.

The new powers granted to the minister of health under Bill C-69 are considerable. For example, they allow the minister to unilaterally make decisions regarding drug approvals and food safety regulations, effectively pulling products off the shelves of stores without the typical procedural safeguards. This concentration of power in the hands of the minister circumvents much-needed scrutiny and risks politicizing health decisions. It is not hard to see how such authority could easily lead to arbitrary or politically motivated actions, further diminishing public trust in a health system battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Mark Holland defends these new powers by arguing that they are necessary for protecting public health swiftly and effectively and suggests that only a “dishonest” minister would misuse such powers. He fails to mention that governance should not rely solely on the personal integrity of individual ministers but on robust, transparent processes that ensure accountability. It is concerning that Holland advocates bypassing established departmental procedures, which raises questions about the motivations behind these proposed changes.

A more appropriate regulatory approach would trust independent agencies, including Health Canada, to oversee the safety of health products. Establishing clear guidelines and procedures for evaluating and removing unsafe products would ensure consistency, fairness, and transparency in decision-making processes.

Unfortunately, this approach contrasts sharply with the Trudeau government’s preference for consolidating power and limiting oversight.

For instance, the Trudeau government has been criticized for its use of secret orders-in-council, which bypass public scrutiny and reduce transparency. These orders often contain sensitive decisions that the government simply prefers to keep out of the public eye.

The government has also allowed the federal access to information system to atrophy, with frequent delays and heavily redacted documents further undermining the principle of open government.

In 2017, the Trudeau government introduced changes that critics argued would limit the independence and effectiveness of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO). These amendments allowed the government to control the PBO’s work plan and staffing, potentially reducing its ability to hold the government accountable. More recently, the government cut the budget of the Information Commissioner’s office, undermining the capacity of an already overwhelmed independent officer of Parliament to hold the government to account, with the commissioner herself noting that “this reduction in my budget will spell long delays for complainants who are seeking information from government institutions.”

Further examples of this troubling trend include the government’s proposal in the early days of the  COVID-19 pandemic that sought to grant the government extraordinary powers to tax and spend unilaterally – without parliamentary approval – for almost two years. Later in the pandemic, the government faced significant criticism from Auditor General Karen Hogan for the lack of transparency and accountability regarding the allocation and spending of tens of billions in relief funds: “I am concerned about the lack of rigour on post-payment verifications and collection activities,” Hogan said in 2022.

Taken together, a clear pattern emerges of a government that regularly seeks to undermine transparency, limit oversight, and concentrate power within the executive branch, and Bill C-69 is just the latest attempt.

The government should back off and drop these proposed new unilateral ministerial powers. Strong regulatory oversight, coupled with transparency and accountability, won’t impair the government’s ability to regulate health products – all while safeguarding democratic principles and public trust.


Aaron Wudrick is the Director of the Domestic Policy Program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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