We need a Government of National Unity: A prescription for Justin Trudeau, Alberta and the 43rd Parliament

In October of 1995, I was a student at York University. There was a buzz in the air because History was being made every day. By this time in my life, the Cold War had ended, the Iron Curtain had fallen and we believed in the diversity of a “Thousand Points of Light” and that we might have peace in our time. Democracy was being taken up around the World and Europe was talking about being the next “Super-State” or “Super-Power” because of closer integration and the emergence of the idea of the Euro. The IRA, the Irish and the British Government had just started their first steps toward what would become the Good Friday Agreement in 1998; while, in 1993, the Oslo Accords had been signed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the State of Israel and the United States of America. The borders in Europe were being redrawn as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia had disintegrated; while, Somalia was imploding. As I said, History was being made every day.


However, for a young and politically active student who was studying Political Science and Economics, none of that seemed to matter as much as what would happen on October 30, 1995. I was invited to go on buses out to Montreal for a rally but I didn’t go. Assignments and Exams, probably combined with a bit of fear and anxiety, led me to decline. Consequently, it was later, I saw friends and strangers getting out of buses in Montreal to Rally for Canada. This was the lead up to the 30th of October 1995: the date of Quebec’s Second Referendum on Independence. I remember where I was on that date in Calumet College’s Senior Common Room watching one of a few televisions. I was interviewed by Global News and gave my feelings. A snippet later was aired and I got my 15 minutes of fame. It is in this context that I speak. I speak from a place of passion and knowledge and theory. 


Which, in turn, will lead me to a place of vanity. For, it may be vein to ask the Trudeau Government to do more. Appointing the Hon Anne McLellan to be your Western Canadian advocate and/or spokesperson is not enough. This is not to say that Ms. McLellan is not smart or wise or competent. In fact, she is all of those things and more. She was the Parliament for Edmonton West, later Edmonton Centre, from 1993 to 2006 under the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.


She is credited for helping the oilsands industry grow and for bringing in necessary policy changes. When she was the Minister of Natural Resources, she was Ottawa’s point person on the Oilsands Task Force, which resulted in tax cuts at both the provincial and federal levels. The Hon. Anne McLellan also pushed forward the accelerated Capital Cost Allowance to help Oilsands producers quickly write off the cost of their investment. The initiatives she championed help to stimulate tens of billions of dollars in spending.


However, appointing competent and capable people will not solve the problem or fill in the gap that has been created. In 2017, the Honourable Rona Ambrose was appointed by Justin Trudeau to a 13-member NAFTA advisory council that would provide opinions and feedback on the negotiations with the United States and Mexico. She was an Edmonton area MP. She was the interim Conservative leader after the party’s 2015 election defeat and a significant cabinet minister before that. It was an attempt to build a bridge between his government and Alberta; and, it failed. The Honourable Rona Ambrose was not able to defend Justin Trudeau, his government or herself from the partisan criticisms of Andrew Scheer. Scheer, as an example, called the new NAFTA, USMCA, an “historic humiliation” and accused Trudeau of “capitulating” in the face of the mercurial U.S. president’s threats to scrap NAFTA altogether if he didn’t get a new continental trade deal favouring the United States. (Former Conservative leader disputes Scheer’s claim Trudeau caved to U.S. on NAFTA, by Joan Bryden, THE CANADIAN PRESS, Global News.com, Posted August 27, 2019 5:47 pm) Given that Trudeau has not gotten credit for appointing prominent Conservatives or Alberta’s like the Honourable Rona Ambrose, the Hon. James Moore and the Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney to be policy advisors, one thing has become clear: iIn Alberta and Saskatchewan today, the appointment of a person or set of people to the PMO, the Senate or other Institutional organs of the State will not be sufficient. To quote the present Premier of Manitoba, Brian Pallister – deeds are more important than words.


So how does one stem the anger of 33% of Albertans and 27% of Saskatchewanians? (Separatist sentiment in Alberta, Saskatchewan at ‘historic’ highs: Ipsos poll, BY MARYAM SHAH, GLOBAL NEWS.com, November 5, 2019 8:11 pm). I would argue a Government of National Unity.


A Government of National Unity is unusual in Canadian History.  In my mind, I can only come up with two previous situations: the Great Coalition of 1864 and the Union Government of 1917. In both situations existential problems came to the for. In 1864, the problem was simple, the Province of Canada created by the 1840 Act of Union wasn’t working. A new solution was needed and significant political reform was required. So, the modern Liberal Party’s predecessor (the Clear Grits led by George Brown) worked with the Parti Bleu under George-Étienne Cartier, and the Liberal-Conservatives under John A. MacDonald. Yup, that’s right, the eventual leaders of the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada would work together. They would start on June 14, 1864 and end with their eventual purpose: the creation of the Canadian Federation in 1867.


In Borden’s case, he had the problem of conscription and  World War I. To get through – what we now call the Conscription Crisis of 1917 – he offered to bring Laurier into a Government of National Unity. When Laurier refused, Borden’s offer was given to pro-conscription Liberals; and the Unionist Party was born. While, it would only last until 1922, the Unionist Party and Government got Canada through World War I more or less in one piece. It is with this in mind that I suggest that Prime Minister Trudeau does the same thing today. 


I say this for one reason: our country is at a crossroads. In the last election, we saw how split the country is. The Liberal Party didn’t take a seat in Saskatchewan or Alberta and has less than 16% of the seats west of the Ontario-Manitoba Border. While, the Conservative Party has less than 22% on the Eastern Side of that same border. 221 MPs (or almost ⅔ of all MPs) ran under a banner which called for increased Green House Gas regulations; while the economy of the other ⅓ will be significantly hit by those regulations. 


This election result shows some huge splits in our country. There are rural and urban splits. There are splits between resource rich provinces and those who are industrial in nature. There are even split within provinces as the Energy East and the TransMountain pipeline debates have highlighted. In Canada today, we disagree on where we are going, how we are to get there and what we want to achieve when we get there. 


When you look at the MP results, we can see that there is not one Western Perspective. Saskatchewan and Alberta had a very different outcome than that of BC and Manitoba. Equally so, Ontario and Maritimes look more alike than Quebec. This is why we need a Government of National Unity. We need a government who can equally speak to all Canadians.


Imagine for a second that Justin Trudeau creates a cabinet of 25 to 30 people, picking Members of Parliament that can work together. Imagine the Goodwill that could be created if Conservatives or moderate New Democrats were chosen. Heather McPherson is an NDP MP from Edmonton, Alberta who supports the TransMountain pipeline. While, there are other Conservatives in Alberta who could step up to become ministers or regain their old role. This would include Stephanie Kusie, Tim Uppal, Shannon Stubbs, Jagdeep Kaur Sahota and Greg McLean. 


What if BC Conservative MPs like Marc Dalton, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Tracy Gray or  Kenny Chiu were asked to put country before party. The same could be said of Candice Bergen of Manitoba or welcoming back Jody Wilson-Raybould to cabinet. Each of those actions of sharing real power would create more trust than appointing the Hon. Anne McLellan as Ottawa’s ambassador to the West. Furthermore, it would be on brand for Justin Trudeau.


Like the non-constitutional changes to the Senate, creating a government of National Unity will be seen as a novel and non-constitutional way of sharing power. Instead of being perceived as an “us or them” situation, one where absolute victory and zero sum games are inevitable, Prime Minister Trudeau can be inclusive and welcoming and reflect the very best of what it is to be Canadian. We share what we have and we recognize that this is better for all. This is the way that we create a better country. We do it by finding the best solution, the solution that is non-partisan and pragmatic. We only do better by finding solutions which are in the best interest of all without excluding a sizable minority. In speaking to each part of Canada, the Prime Minister can continue the conversation of Confederation as his predecessors did. Borden, Brown, Cartier and Sir John A. MacDonald got out of their pickles by sharing power. The West, Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada and the Territories can do the same today to ensure that this conversation can be had in 2050, 2100 and 2150.  

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