07.03.2017 10:07 PM

This week’s column: Happy —— Day

Canada’s 150th birthday has come and gone. Notice anything missing?

Like, say, a federal presence. If you live outside of Ottawa, you sure didn’t see much of that. 

In Ottawa, despite the many terrific Canadian acts available, the big moment at the big show was a single song performed by a couple members of U2 – a band, you know, from Ireland. There was an extended fireworks display, too – with the fireworks coming entirely from China. There was Gordon Lightfoot, who (despite previous reports on Twitter and credible news web sites) was decidedly not dead.

Elsewhere, local communities did their own thing. They have gotten used to a lack of help from Ottawa, perhaps. There was greeting the dawn in St. John’s. There was a canoe excursion in Toronto. There was the start of some totem-carving in Duncan, B.C. There was an ultra-marathon in Winnipeg. In Calgary, there was a giant snakes-and-ladders game (seriously). And so on. Lots of variety, lots of local initiative. Local.

The federal government, meanwhile, was mostly invisible. 

Contrast Canada’s 150th with previous big-deal years, 1967 and 2000. In those years, Ottawa was omnipresent, and in a good way.

In 1967, the centennial year, we had Expo ’67, a huge success. There was the Canadian Armed Forces’ immensely-successful Tattoo 1967, which travelled the country. A dove was added to the penny – remember those? The Caribana Parade launched in Toronto. There was a voyageur canoe race, with 100 contestants, paddling and traversing more than 3,000 miles. The centennial flame was unveiled on Parliament Hill. Gordon Lightfoot (then, as now, still alive) did a wonderful railway trilogy. And the federal government provided $25 million – now worth nearly $200 million, 50 years later – for local centennial projects.

Pierre Berton called 1967 our “last good year” in one of his books. But 2000 wasn’t too bad, either, when one considers the degree to which the federal government participated. And lots of fun stuff happened. The good folks in St. John’s were again the first to greet the new millennium. In that year, the Mint produced a series of Millennium coins, and Canada Post a special stamp. There was a snowmobile parade in Iqaluit. A bunch of military specialists climbed the Peace Tower on the Hill. There was a huge firework display on Toronto’s waterfront. My former boss, Jean Chretien, wore an Inuit fur hat and parka and hosted a big celebration of Parliament Hill – and he did not apply the Shawinigan Handshake, despite requests. And no computers went down, really.

Contrast all that to 2017. Unless you live North of the Queensway, you can be forgiven for wondering what the federal government did with your tax dollars on July 1, 2017.

One really can’t blame the Prime Minister. Unlike his predecessor, but like the aforementioned Chretien, Justin Trudeau delegates authority to his ministers to do their jobs. And, in this case, Canada 150 was the chief responsibility of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Melanie Joly. Her predecessors included giants like Sheila Copps and James Moore, who understood the importance of championing Canadian symbols.

Joly has a $3.3 billion budget for precisely the sort of things we are supposed to be celebrating in 2017, but aren’t. As such, she has been the most ineffective Minister of Heritage since Bev “Orange Juice” Oda, and that’s saying something.

Joly ran for mayor of Montreal in 2013, and was handily dispatched by Denis Coderre. It was a nasty race, with Joly running ads claiming Coderre “has no credibility to wipe out corruption.” She said she’d run again in 2017, but she didn’t. A couple years later, instead, Joly was parachuted into Ahuntsic-Cartierville, the favourite of the Liberal Party establishment. The riding’s nomination process was delayed to give her time to sign people up, and two rival candidates were pressured to drop out, and did. Her nomination win “wasn’t pretty,” the Montreal Gazette observed.

As Minister of Canadian Heritage, Joly has mostly distinguished herself as camera-loving, gaffe-prone, and possibly-doomed. In just one recent controversy, reports say she didn’t bother to consult with senior PMO staff about her choice for Canada’s official languages commissioner – although some of her staff had previously worked for her pick at Queen’s Park. As Chantal Hebert of the Liberal-friendly Toronto Star subsequently wrote, there exist “clouds of doubt [about Joly’s] judgment,” she has “egg on her face,” and she is “inexperienced” or “incompetent.” Ouch.

Meanwhile, things in Joly’s office aren’t much better. Global News has reported that her chief of staff has been lobbied by Google six times in 2017 – when she was, just months earlier, a senior executive at Google. Her chief of staff came into Joly’s employ straight from Google, where she served as director of communications for a number of years.

Google, now facing a massive $3.6 billion fine from the European Union for anti-competitive practices, probably doesn’t care. But Melanie Joly should: her ministerial accomplishments, one might say, are rather sparse.

And Canada’s 150th birthday certainly isn’t one. If it is remembered at all, it is will be remembered for what everyday Canadians – or their municipal and provincial governments – do.

It won’t be remembered for what Melanie Joly did, which is nothing.


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    Pierre D. says:

    A good argument, but I don’t generally connect Canada Day to a particular minister, but rather to the government in power.
    One thing is for sure though, the clusterpluck of people directed to the Hill was shameful. Lineups, broken lineups, three-plus hour waits, little shelter or provisions for rain.
    There were definitely good points, but I was glad I stayed home and followed through Twitter.
    And yeah, there might need to be a cabinet shuffle in the future, or at least some mentoring for Joly and others.

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    Charlie says:

    “As Minister of Canadian Heritage, Joly has mostly distinguished herself as camera-loving, gaffe-prone, and possibly-doomed”

    Holy god, Warren. This post perfectly sums up what I feel about Melanie Joly, particularly the above quoted sentence.

    She has succeeded in making herself the second most visible political figure in the Canadian entertainment scene next to Trudeau, despite not doing the things expected of her as a minister. She has turned the Canadian Heritage portfolio into an opportunity to promote herself endlessly.

    Its not just about Canada 150, its about her entire tenure as minister. I can’t name one instance where she has done something to advance Canadian culture or heritage without first putting herself at the fore and it utterly sickens me.

    Maryann Mihychuk was booted out of cabinet for causing a stir in caucus and being a shitty minister. Its only a matter of time until that Liberal caucus starts feeling agitated with Joly receiving apparent favouritism from the PM despite being another shitty minister.

    With Monsef still serving in a largely symbolic and junior cabinet role, Chaggar completely bombing as a House Leader and Joly taking in the primetime attention, I’m starting to sense a pattern of poor foresight and impotence in swift action from the PMO.

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      Howard says:

      The PM should select ministers based on merit. The result of not doing so is clear for all to see.

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        Charlie says:

        There is no such thing as meritocracy when it comes to cabinet appointments. Every government since confederation has had multiple dumbasses who were incapable and incompetent of the position they held. Julian Fantino is one such prime case.

        Having said that, what you stated is exactly what Trudeau’s team should have seen coming when they appointed complete rookies to cabinet and gave them total autonomy. In what was otherwise a valiant gesture towards contemporary youthful politics, a handful of these ministers are proving the concerns that originally emerged to be true. Its entirely of their own doing.

        Appointing individuals like Bardish Chaggar to House Leader or Maryam Monsef to the ER portfolio were, and remain, profoundly stupid decisions. Having some experience in the portfolio you are heading isn’t a demerit, but pushing these individuals out into the wild and patting yourself on the back for doing so is how they fail.

        The logical response to the issues the Liberal government is facing on the Hill would be to introduce new individuals to struggling portfolios before the Liberal caucus completely loses faith in the ability of cabinet to deliver on the Liberal agenda.

        I said this in 2015 and its true today: 183 elected MPs and a cabinet of only 29 MPs is going to leave out a lot of qualified men and women. If some pieces are working, then there is no need to tamper with them. But, if some individuals are not working well then the PM shouldn’t be hesitant to shuffle them out.

        Some degree of foresight is wholly necessary on the part of the PM and his team.

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        Yeah, just like the way GIC appointments are made based on “Merit and Qualifications. ”

        Too funny, coming out of any PM’s mouth.

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    lou says:

    Thank you. As a Canadian born from immigrants, I was embarrassed to see Bono up there when a great many Canadian artists would have been appropriate. This is just another example of the brain dead attitude that the Dauphin and his minions display to everyday, regular people that are proud of our birthplace and proud of our fellow citizens. While you say that Mr. Trudeau is not to blame, the buck stops at the top. It was Trudeau and Butt-Head that decided that Joly was representative of what they stand for and she sure was. Not proud, not patriotic, and damn sure not CANADIAN.

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    P. Brenn says:

    I know in 1967 in ottawa anyway we ended up with somc permanent legacy infrastructure like arenas and parks – this year not so much …an OTTAWA sign..presuming of course that crowd control pens were only rentals

    I thought Joly was one of better peforming newcomers …you have more info though ..

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    BillBC says:

    The lack of action by Ottawa is fine with me. I think local celebrations are better anyway, and certainly more genuine than the stuff on Parliament Hill.

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      SJS says:

      I totally agree Bill, I don’t really care.

      I’m an old colleague of another federal minister and they’ve been frustrated by having to handle hand grenade files while Joly get’s to “plan a f’ing birthday party”. That was the first I’d really though of it.

      Since you raised this a few weeks ago Warren, I’ve actually been asking people if they think it’s going to be an issue. I ask people what they remember from ’67 and other than Expo and I guess the Tattoo (people told me the military made a big deal of the summer, nobody explained the specifics), most of what old-timers remember were fun local things from then anyway and it’s been unclear to me how many of those were done because a cheque made it’s way down from Ottawa or if people were just fired up. I suspect people were generally more fired up about civic pride- reflected in data around general engagement, voting turnout, etc.

      One comment I did hear though, from a guy who’s lived through more than half of the Canada Days is that the Liberals are due to start infighting soon.
      That’s the ultimate north of the Queensway intrigue. Perhaps this means Game On for the talking heads!

      Trudeau is still a great, great thing for this country and anybody paying attention, even slightly, still feels that way. We are headed in the right direction.

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    Aongasha says:

    As usual, Christie Blatchford differentiated herself from a syncophantic media and once again called a spade a spade. Word is that Gerald Butts & his short pants gang have the media terrified & muzzled. Not this lady; http://nationalpost.com/opinion/christie-blatchford-the-dangers-of-canada-shaming-on-the-day-of-our-birthday/wcm/feea7aa5-f7d8-4e33-b4bb-1cb97337218e

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    Matt says:

    Makes you wonder where the $500+ million they budgeted for Canada 150 went.

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    Patrick says:

    Having members from U2 on stage for a brief performance was fine by me. Irish immigration to Canada is a big part of our history and I had no issue with them singing a couple of songs and talking about the connection they see between Canada and their country. Many Canadian artists had a chance to showcase their talent during the show.

    As for security lineups, sure the police and the city probably could have done a better job but i can’t help but wonder whether the complaints are sour grapes from people who didn’t manage to get in the Hill. Given the number of people downtown security officials were never going to be able to allow entry to everyone. it was a given that some people would be denied entry and complain.

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      Kev says:

      I hate U2 with a passion. However, have also felt for a long time that some international presence at these often insipid canconfests might not be such a bad thing.

      And Canadian Heritage doesn’t do security. Go talk to Jim Watson and the Speakers of the two chambers about that.

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    liberalandlovingit! says:

    Why aren’t the original 32, given minister portfolios?

    Lamoureux, Casey, etc., etc.

    Persistent, hard workers.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    IMHO, the only common trait that Trudeau and Harper share is if they see nothing “wrong”, they won’t deep six a Minister, come Hell or high water.

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