Musings —07.03.2017 10:07 PM—
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.