All my life I have been a bit of a breaking news junkie. I didn’t really realize this until I went to journalism school and figured out that I was a quick, precise writer. Unfortunately at the time I did not figure out that political journalism was a better fit for me than sports journalism.
Now, I had known that thoughts transfer from my brain to my hands quickly since high school when I was always first done in exams. But to understand this was not just a quirk but a skill was a boon to my confidence.
Then once I finally figured out that I was not a sports journalist and tried being a political junkie things really came together. And then I got the job I was made to do. I was a media monitor and analyst. And I was good.
Watching the media, seeing where the story starts and what it is then boiled downed to, sharing what people should and need to know, that’s my jam.
It’s fascinating. Someone presents the media with a story – an idea, a report, an open letter – and the media then picks the top two or three things they want to say about it, and then other people respond and so the story lives or dies and how it might evolve.
And it was my job to watch the process from start to finish. Not only to watch, but to share with others how the story was involving and what was changing when.
Now I’m taking on that role on a grander scale, monitoring more and different things. I got the opportunity to jump back into my old, more specific role this week and it reminded me how good this feels and how good I am at it.
Slowing down, looking at the bigger picture, gathering information and analyzing it more deeply, that’s the next step.
Canada’s Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould – the first Indigenous person to hold the position – has been in South Africa. While there, Wilson-Raybould spoke about the 150th anniversary of Canada’s celebration, which we are celebrating this year. She spoke about the fact that it is difficult, as an Indigenous person in Canada to celebrate 150 years of colonialism.
As quoted in the Globe and Mail: “For many Indigenous peoples, celebrating our country’s 150th birthday has its challenges… It is hard to celebrate 150 years of colonialism … What we need to do is make a 180-degree turn, so that our laws and policies are pointing in the direction of the future of reconciliation and transformation – not the past of colonization.”
Lisa Raitt, a former government minister and current candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada took issue with the minister’s remarks.
It, apparently, does not make sense to Ms. Raitt that any Canadian would be unable to celebrate this country and its history (including, as she pointed out in a later tweet, the 100th anniversary of our contributions at Vimy).
Now, Ms. Raitt is a smart woman. She’s been in cabinet leading three different ministries. She’s been an MP for almost a decade. I’m going to give her credit and say she probably knows about the history of Canada – the one that started more than 150 years ago – and the way settlers have treated, and continue to treat those who were here before us.
(I say us because my family, like the settlers, came from Scotland, Ireland and England and I’m white and have all the privilege that comes with that).
Living in third world conditions on reserves, without clean water or proper facilities. Schools in disrepair. Indigenous women missing and murdered at high rates across the country. The effects of residential schools affecting generations of pain, addiction, abuse and torment. Lost cultures, lost languages.
That, Ms. Raitt, is the part of the 150 years that is not worth celebrating.
Oh, and since you mentioned Vimy Ridge, maybe I could also point out that Indigenous veterans who fought for this country came home to find they had lost their status, and with it their homes on reserve.
Part of my pride in this country is that we can take the time to reflect on our history. ALL of it. And maybe spend some time being ashamed without facing wrath from our political leaders.
My brain has slowly been working on something over the past few days, trying to think this through based on all the information that’s come at me since budget day.
You see, I went to a panel the day after budget day and listening to some great minds, and I also read a bunch of post-budget analysis, and I’ve been paying attention to poli-twitter, as always, and watching a committee filibuster – because who doesn’t love a good filibuster – about changes to House procedures.
I have come to the understanding over the course of my life that many people don’t know what going on Ottawa, don’t understand it and, sadly, just don’t care. Our current Prime Minister knows this well. That’s part of the reason there’s this debate about changes House procedures – to make it so that he doesn’t have to spend as much time here, but rather can go out and about across Canada to meet with quote-unquote average Canadians (or middle class Canadians, or whatever the polls show is the best political language to use right now).
I have been thinking about this – this common knowledge that the current Prime Minister doesn’t like being in the House of Commons and thinks his most important work is done elsewhere – and then came a Saturday morning Twitter conversation that was really fun to follow (if you’re me).
Andrew Coyne, very smart national columnist who has been covering federal politics for the length of my memory, and Gerald Butts, long time friend of the PM and currently working in the PMO, one of the masterminds behind Trudeau’s campaign and one of his closest aides.
Coyne wrote a Saturday column that got a good amount of debate on ‘official Ottawa’ Twitter. It was fun to watch – if you’re me.
The rub is this – elections in Canada now run as though Canadians get to elect the Prime Minister. The campaigns have long focused on the leader of the parties and a lack of real civics educations means that a lot of Canadians vote for parties to elect the leaders rather than voting for their local representatives. Of course, once all those local representatives get to Ottawa they tend to tow the party line. It is the rare few who focus on what’s best for their constituents, so who can blame Canadians.
But we are a Westminster system, and that means that the Prime Minister is the man (or, hopefully soon, woman) who holds the confidence of the House of Commons. This is almost always the leader of the party that has won the most seats.
So regularly is that the case that when a coalition of parties who promised to maintain confidence suggested to the Governor General that she give them a shot the reigning PM went to the public saying the move was unconstitutional and a lot of Canadians believed him, even though it was a blatant lie.
So here’s the question: We know that Prime Minister Trudeau has no love for the House of Commons, he’s demonstrated that he thinks his time can be better spent elsewhere, and his party is now working on changing House procedure. We know that Trudeau currently holds the confidence of the House, by virtue of a majority government. We also know that Trudeau has broken some promises that have made many Canadians who voted for him angry *cough* electoral reform *cough* and that Liberal MPs are hearing from angry constituents.
All I’m saying is this – a PM who spends as little time in the House as possible, MPs who are hearing anger from constituents and maybe start to feel a bit neglected, two power-hungry parties on either side. This could get interesting.
In last week’s federal budget, the government announced intentions to give new parents the option of extending their leave to 18 months instead of the 12 months most are now eligible for under EI rules. (With the same conditions applying).
At first I had a good reaction to this change. Assuming that parents would still be able to split parental live, it would give both a good amount of time with a new baby and more time to find childcare. It would also help with one issue that I discovered when we were looking for childcare at the 12-month mark – Childcare spots for babies under 18 months are few and far between, and also tend to be more expensive than when your child is over 18 months.
I’ve said before that we were very lucky with the childcare we found. My daughter bonded with her caregiver right away, the cost was reasonable for our area, and the location worked for my husband to drop our daughter off and pick her up. I was also thrilled to get back to work after 12 months of being at home with my daughter, even though I loved the time we spent and adventures we got to have. Still, if my husband had been in a place to take part of the leave, I think it would have been fantastic for us as a family.
Diving further into this new policy, you start to see problems. Mainly, that if a parent opts for 18 months of leave they have to subsist on 33 per cent of their salary for that time. Now, some families will be able to do that, and some really, really won’t. I was very lucky to have my maternity benefits topped up by my employer, which meant that while I was off, I was still getting 90 per cent of what I earned – Except the deductions weren’t being taken off, which caused a high tax bill the next year that I wish someone had warned me about.
Presumably if EI is paying 33 per cent instead of 55 per cent the employer won’t be topping up to 90, that would be a huge cost outlay for them, as well as having to employ a maternity replacement for 18 months, which could cause additional problems. (My union contract stated that anyone employment for more than 12 months automatically became full time, permanent, which is actually how I ended up as permanent employee. I don’t know what trouble, if any, an 18 month leave would cause, but it’s something they would have to prepare for).
So, problem number one is the 18 month option isn’t really an option for everyone, only those that can afford it.
Problem number two is part of the bigger problem this government promised to solve – A lack of affordable childcare across this country.
As I said, we were very lucky to find childcare at a reasonable rate. That rate was $43 a day, or about $1,200 a month (roughly equivalent to one of my paycheques every month). In some regions (hi Toronto!), childcare costs much more. Much, much more.
The Liberal Party was elected on many promises, one of which was:
We will meet with provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities to begin work on a new National Early Learning and Child Care Framework, to deliver affordable, high-quality, flexible, and fully inclusive child care for Canadian families. This work will begin in the first 100 days of a Liberal government and will be funded through our investments in social infrastructure.
The 2016/17 budget includes $7 billion over 10 years, starting in 2017 with $500 million, with details of how this money will be used to be revealed later this year. It should be noted here that the Liberals are already in the second year of a four-year mandate, and that 10 years of spending takes us past both the 2019 election and the 2023 election. All of the provinces and territories also have to be involved in the planning, and over the next year they will all also go through multiple elections.
All of these moving parts may not be able to give us the national framework that was promised or the childcare that young Canadian families need.
Intellectually I know that not everyone in the country cares as much as I do about what’s happening in Ottawa and on Parliament Hill. I know a lot of people don’t understand it as much as I do.
But in practice I have a really hard time acknowledging the fact that there are some people who don’t care at all.
Like, at all.
Statistically speaking this number is a lot higher than I’m willing to admit. These are people that I just do not understand.
I never felt like I grew up particularly immersed in politics, but the fact is that I grew up in the capital, not far from downtown. Both my parents worked on Parliament Hill, both were engaged. As a child my mother took us to Question Period once, we talked about politics around the house, we read and watched the news, we knew what was going on.
It never once occurred to me that what was happening at the federal level wasn’t important. This government creates laws that are implemented across the country, they collect taxes to run federal programs, they help coordinate between the provinces. The invest throughout Canada. With our money.
As hard as I try, I just can’t quite wrap my head around those people.
The people that can’t name their local MP and maybe not even the Prime Minister or their province’s Premier. The people who never pay any attention to the national news.
To me news is a major part of life. Watching events happen, reading about them afterwards, listening to analysis. Knowing and trying to understand. It’s fundamental.
Today was the first debate in the race to become the next NDP leader. I don’t remember much about the last race. I was working in the leader’s office at the time and we weren’t allowed to openly support candidates. I also wasn’t a member of the party and thus didn’t have a vote.
At the moment I am once again not a member of the party, but I am curious to learn more about those who are running. The party has been a big part of my life since I was a child, and I remain curious, if less dedicated than I once was. And since the first debate was in Ottawa, I thought I might just go out and hear from the four current candidates.
When my father died I inherited a book about Tommy Douglas, signed by Tommy Douglas to my father. When I helped my grandfather move last week, one of the items I packed was a book by Ed Broadbent, signed and dedicated to my grandfather. I met him as a child, I knew he was an important man because my grandfather admired him.
And then I worked for Jack Layton.
Today at the debate Charlie Angus talked a bit about Jack, how Jack made you feel and it flooded me with memories.
Jack was a politician, but when you were in a room with him you felt like you mattered. You felt like not only was he listening to you, but he wanted to hear you. Working for Jack felt like something worth doing. It felt important. It still does. It always will.
Working on Parliament Hill is special, being a small part of history – the coalition talks, the prorogation (constitutional crisis), the 2011 election. All of that was special, but maybe wouldn’t have been as special if I hadn’t been working for a man that I believed in.
I don’t know what happens next for this party, I don’t know if I have a place in it, but I wish them all the best.
It has been very interesting looking at my Facebook memories this week because apparently it was this week nine years ago that I got and started my first job out of university.
It’s a bit hard to look back on because the excitement and optimism that I’m seeing this week turned into the worst job I’ve ever had.
I was in over my head and I had a manager who was very demanding and changed his mind repeatedly every project – and I was supposed to divine what he meant despite his saying to opposite.
I didn’t last past my probation period, and shortly after I left two other employees who had started right after me also left.
I believe the Executive Director didn’t last long after that.
It was very difficult to be let go, especially after searching for a job for three months after finishing classes. I had been so sure that a university degree is what I needed to succeed and then I faced all of the same problems I had after college. I was so sure and then I was so wrong.
An experience like that makes you question all the choices you made that led you to that place.
Of course now, almost a decade down the road, I know that trying to stay in that job and make that boss happy would have killed me. I know now that the fault was not all mine, but that I had a boss who was a terrible manager.
I know that because in my next job I had two great managers, one after the other. These managers who had high expectations, but made those expectations clear. They were upset when mistakes were made, but once apologies were given and corrections were made they moved on to the next task.
And they always stood in front of their team. When it came down to it, each and every one of us knew that our boss had our back. And that meant that I always pushed myself to do my absolute best and felt my worst when I didn’t.
So a decade later I take that excitement and optimism and I look at all the things I have learned from that experience, and since that experience.
This week an incident took place on the floor of the House of Commons. I wrote some thoughts about the whole thing here, but I’m assuming everyone knows to what I am referring.
In the aftermath both opposition parties have commented multiple times, including a rare appearance in front of the media together by the respective House Leaders.
It was odd. The whole thing was odd. And then it went from strange event breakdowns and who saw what when to accusations. The NDP’s Niki Ashton told media then that what had happened was akin to violence against women and that female MPs would no longer feel safe in their workplace.
I do not know whether Ashton was speaking for herself or with guidance and talking points from the party’s central office but the judgment behind the comments was severely lacking. Rather than letting the story happen and letting the PM wear his bad judgment, the story became about the over the top reaction by the NDP. If the messaging did come from the NDP’s central office – the leader’s office – I’d have to ask myself whether they are trying to sink any chance Ashton has if she decides to run for leader.
The Liberal leader and the PMO were facing a very bad day in the media. The PM demonstrated poor judgment and a bad temper. The NDP then became the story. Rather than Trudeau facing questions about his judgment the fact that he walked across the house onto the opposition side and took hold of an opposition member which he had no right nor need to do – with the opposition member telling him, it’s been reported, ‘let go of me.’
The NDP has become the story where they had no need to react at all, beyond Ruth Ellen Brosseau confirming that yes, indeed, she’d been caught in the crossfire and hurt.
And now, because she is the only woman involved in the incident, Brosseau is facing nasty backlash online from people who believe she “took a dive,” because it can’t have hurt that much, because she shouldn’t have been there in the first place – either she should have been at her desk, or maybe, as a woman, she should never have been in the House of Commons at all.
Today the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, MaryAnn Mihychuk, announced a new government consultation on flexible work. This consultation allows “every federally regulated worker the right to formally request a flexible work arrangement” and it has been a long time coming as far as I’m concerned.
The work world has changed, the economy has changed, and people need and deserve more flexibility in their schedules. There is no need to have employees chained to desks from 9 to 5 any more. Particularly when many employees now work outside of those hours on smart phones and email.
When I worked as a sports reporter I had to be in the office normal hours – I usually got there by 8 since we had to get the paper out every morning and I was part of the layout team, and was there until 4, except that I also worked nights and evenings because – surprise – that’s when sporting events take place. It was very frustrating and also unhealthy – I was never home, I was eating fast food, I was at a desk or in the car or sitting in a gym or an arena all day. I made no friends beyond my colleagues during the five months I stuck it out.
All of this meant that when I started struggling with work-life balance after my maternity leave I asked for a more flexibility. I was very, very lucky to have a boss who understood that though I started work at 7 am my daycare didn’t open until 8 am, and on the days when my husband was out of town this made things basically impossible. My deputy director allowed me to bring my daughter to work in the mornings and use my designated break to get her to daycare, after my early morning duties were done. Without that support I wouldn’t have been able to make it work. We would have been stuck.
Of course, four years later – almost exactly – I know that balance does not exist on a continuum. We all do our best week to week. But it would be easier to do our best if we all had workplaces that recognized what we can do away from the office.
Sometimes you need to take your laptop to a coffee shop to get work done, or to the library where it’s quiet, or from home while you wait for a delivery. Sometimes you need to not be faced with a hour-long commute or a 20 minute commute through a snow storm.
The government can only push through flexible work for federal employees, though the release from the Minister’s office says they will work with “interested” provinces and territories on this issue. I am hopeful that if the federal government starts adapting other employers will begin understand the benefits. If you want to contribute your thoughts to the consultative process read more here. The government has released a discussion paper and there is also a survey to complete and an email address where any Canadian can send their thoughts or experiences.
The world has changed, the workplace needs to catch up.
The public service was in the news a lot this election and continue to be so now that we have a new Liberal government. First when they applauded a visit by the new Prime Minister to Foreign Affairs and now because of a report put out by Canadians for Tax Fairness.
The report consisted of interviews with anonymous current and former public servants at Canada Revenue Agency who made claims that politics were getting in the way of audits of corporations that may be evading taxes with offshore accounts.
You can find the full report here.
Now the question is whether these anonymous public servants are acting for the public trust and deserve protection as whistleblowers or whether they are breaking their vow to remain “professional and non-partisan.”
Public servants have a duty of loyalty to their employer (the Government of Canada) as outlined in the Values and Ethics Code of Conduct. But this code of conduct also refers to a “fundamental role to play in serving Canadians, their communities and the public interest.”
As such, it is up to public servants, and possibly the courts, to decide whether things like these anonymous interviews are a breach of the code or that these public servants were acting in the public interest.
The Conservative Party in particular is upset about this report and is calling on the current government to investigate what happened here. There is an irony here in that the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper was elected on the promise of an accountability act that included whistleblower protection.
These protections were meant to allow public servants and, in fact, all Canadians to report government wrongdoing: “These changes will help create an environment in which employees and all Canadians can honestly and openly report wrongdoing in the federal government without fear of reprisal.”
These particular public servants opted to go to Canadians for Tax Fairness to report what they felt was government mismanagement and political interference that meant that tax laws were not being fairly implemented.
This case highlights two aspects of the Duty of Loyalty specifically: 1) The duty of loyalty owed by public servants to the Government of Canada encompasses a duty to refrain from public criticism of the Government of Canada but 2) However, the duty of loyalty is not absolute, and public criticism may be justified in certain circumstances.
But those circumstances have to fit into specific categories:
the Government is engaged in illegal acts;
Government policies jeopardize life, health or safety; or
the public servant’s criticism has no impact on his or her ability to perform effectively the duties of a public servant or on the public perception of that ability.
In this case the public servants would need to explain publicly that they believe that one of these circumstances apply, presumably that the government was engaging in illegal acts. It would be difficult to argue that tax evasion either jeopardizes life, health or safety or that this criticism would not impact their ability to perform their duties.
The facts of these case seem to require an investigation, as the Tories are calling for, though there is a chance that the anonymous public servants would be vindicated in an investigation.