, 10.23.2017 08:16 AM

Column: when do you cease to be a country?

She’s on the bus! The second she pulls down that veil, arrest her!

When do you cease to be a country?  When do you stop being a people, a nation?

Romeo LeBlanc, who I loved, had an answer.  “When children sleep on the streets,” he said to us once.  “When they have nothing to eat.  That is when you are no longer a country, and when you become something else.”

Romeo said that to those of us in the Liberal Party war room in 1993.  Back then, Conservative leader Kim Campbell had been asked by a reporter about an apparent Tory plan to gut social programs.  “An election is no time to discuss serious issues,” she was quoted as saying.

LeBlanc, like the rest of us in the war room, had been angry.  The statistics – the recent ones in particular – suggest that that, on any given night, 35,000 Canadians sleep on the streets.  Children are among them.  And, every year, more than a quarter million people are forced to use homeless shelters at least once.

All of us under LeBlanc’s leadership agreed with him: when one child is hungry, and sleeping on a grate on a downtown sidewalk in February, you aren’t a real country yet.  You are something else.  Something less.

In 2017, if we think about it, there are too many other examples like that.  Ways in which we fall short.

In the United States, of course, there is plenty of that. Donald Trump – who has been shown to be, again and again, a liar and a racist and a coward and a pig – has remade America.  His executive decisions and his policies have made the air and the water dirtier.  He has barred women and children seeking refuge from famine and torture and death.

He has pushed laws that will make the super-rich richer, and leave everyone else to bear the burden.  He said he will build a wall to keep out Mexicans, who he calls rapists and murderers.  He has worked to eviscerate a program that made health care affordable for 30 million Americans who previously had none.

If Romeo LeBlanc were still here, he would say that any one of those things have not just rendered the United States of America less of a country – they have ended it.  But he’d probably say that Canadians shouldn’t start feeling all that superior to our neighbours to the South, either.

So, last week, Quebec’s government nudged us towards the abyss.  Their Bill 62, you see, makes illegal the wearing of niqabs or burkas by women offering or receiving public services.  The target, notwithstanding what Quebec’s allegedly Liberal government claims, is Muslim women.  A previous version of the law would have banned the display of any religious symbols by public servants – crucifixes by Christians, yarmulkes by Jews, turbans by Sikhs.

Justin Trudeau, to his credit, has denounced such racist laws in the past – but has yet to do anything about it in the present.  So too new NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who has been clear in his opposition.  The Conservatives, meanwhile, had wanted to pass a raft of similarly Islamophobic “laws.”  But they were voted out of office before they could get away with it.

Speaking of the Conservatives, they contributed to the diminution of Canada last week, too.  They announced that someone named Hamish Marshall was going to run their next federal campaign.

Why would such a thing hurt Canada?  Because Marshall helped to found, and fund, an avowedly racist media organization called Rebel.  Rebel achieved notoriety, in recent weeks, for publishing statements that their luminaries were “sick of” Holocaust “brainwashing.”  And: “much less than six million” were slaughtered in the Holocaust.

And: “left-wing, commie, socialist Jews” killed “millions” in World War II’s aftermath.  And: columns titled “Ten Things I Hate About Jews.”  And: at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville where a woman was murdered by a white supremacist, one Rebel celebrity said there has been a “rising” in what she called “white racial consciousness.”

The aforementioned Hamish Marshall ran Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign out of Rebel’s offices.  And, when a Globe and Mail reporter asked Scheer about that, he ran away.  He actually ran away.

Finally – and this we must never forget – we cease to be much of a nation when 4,232 First Nation women and girls are murdered, or go missing.  And when the federal government spends untold millions to launch an inquiry into those murders – and it becomes such a sham, such a mockery of justice, that the father of Trudeau’s Justice minister (himself a hereditary chief) calls it “a bloody farce.”

There are other examples, but we don’t have any more room to describe them.

And if he were still here, perhaps Romeo LeBlanc would say we still don’t have much of a country, either.

2017: good times.



  1. Al Hayward says:

    Sometimes you write a post from the heart that touches mine, as you did today.

  2. Jill T. says:

    Most of Robert Pickton’s victims gravitated to the mean streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The worst slumlord there is Gurdyal Singh Sahota and clan who have amassed a real estate empire worth an estimated $130 million. “Located at 159 East Hastings, the Balmoral Hotel is home to 168 tenants, most of whom are on income assistance and the government-subsidized rent of around $450 a month [roughly $900,000 / year] is generally paid directly to the owners.” (Vancouver Sun). The tiny, usually unheated, run-down rooms are infested with cockroaches, bedbugs, mice, mildew, mold. Residents shared toilets, often clogged and overflowing. June 2017, the Balmoral was deemed uninhabitable and at risk of collapsing – surely a metaphor for Canada. Floors so rotten the bathtubs couldn’t be used for fear of crashing through, wooden beams like wet sponge cake after decades of leaks and neglect. The Sahotas still operate other micro-ghettos akin to the Warsaw Ghetto for native Canadians. Crony socialism in Canada has allowed the Sahotas of the land to grow fantastically rich. It allows serial killers like Robert Pickton to operate without restraint. The Sahotas are staunch Liberals. Have you no shame about your lying?

    • Derek Pearce says:

      What a hot mess of a post this is. I think what you really mean to say is “I don’t give a shit about homelessness and it makes me mad that my taxes pay a red cent to house the otherwise-homeless.” There. Fixed that for ya.

  3. Gyor says:

    You we’re so mad about homeless children that once you beat Kim Campbell, you ended up slashing and hacking healthcare and social spending by ungodly amounts.

    Then when the Liberals had balanced the budget, after disqualifying countless unemployed and seasonal workers so they could pillage the EI that these people had payed into for years to do so, they then spent it on homeless kids right? Oh wait know, no it went to massive corporate and income tax cuts and paying down some of the debt Trudeau Sr. racked up.

    The truth is the Liberals acted concerned, but don’t govern that way. In practice PM Chretien was far to the right in practice he made Stephen Harper look like freaking Sanders by comparsion. But most people go on vibe and emotion and so they have no idea.

    • Bill MacLeod says:

      True, that, about Chretien. That’s why I liked him so much.

      Also, largely true about Harper. Sort of why he never quite lived up to my hopes.


    • Terence Quinn says:

      Lets get it straight about Chretien. He inherited a balance sheet that was almost third world Country it was so bad. The big international rating agencies were about to educe our debt to junk status. JC and Martin took control and be a that debt down to realistic ratios. In the meantime they had to take a razor to many things that Canadians were used to. Once the debt was reduced they gave back most of what they cut and then some. Try and keep up with real facts.

  4. Luke says:

    I find the notion of homelessness in Canadian society to be impossible to understand. How is it acceptable that we allow this at this point?

    I moved from Halifax in 2011, and now live in NS again. When I’m in Halifax, I see many of the same homeless people as before, looking much older and much worse. There are shelters and stuff, sure, but availability is a problem and it isn’t permanent anyway.

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