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With Angela Merkel’s retirement as German Chancellor, Justin Trudeau has become the dean of G7 leaders, its longest serving leader.

That speaks as much to the latest turnover among G7 leaders as to Mr. Trudeau’s longevity as Prime Minister.

A twitter storm raged following this factual acknowledgement by well-regarded political analyst Chantal Hebert.

The debate reflected all the merits and defects of many Twitter political commentaries.

The Trudeau trolls pounced on the statement to repeat their vitriol against his performance as a political and national leader.

His apologists rose to Mr. Trudeau’s defence, citing his government’s achievements and the unfairness of his critics.

As Ms Hebert wryly noted in response, she was simply citing a fact; in the same factual manner, she noted that veteran Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon, originally elected in 1984, was the dean of the House of Commons.

Other columnists sought to explain the ‘dean designation’ as an undeserved promotion of Mr. Trudeau by his PMO, questioning whether he had earned this role or was capable of executing it.

Twitter can provide valuable factual insight or opinion commentary, sharing perspectives from different ends of the political spectrum and diverse geographies. Journalists regularly use the app to share their latest insight, hoping to stay ahead of the reporting pack.

There is no doubt that many Canadians follow these interactions in the hope of becoming better informed.

Does this Twitter outpouring about the G7 ‘ Trudeau dean debate’  bear any resemblance to the reality of what politicos themselves consider the appropriate measure of success.

It reminded me of a lesson I learned travelling with then Prime Minister Jean Chretien on a Team Canada trade mission to Spain.

Conversing with different senior Spanish political staff at several events, I had asked about their interest in Mr. Chretien.

I probed about their understanding of Canadian politics. Did they find any of Chretien’s political experiences of interest? Did they want to learn more about his breadth of service in multiple Cabinet Minister roles? Were his lessons learned fighting for Canadian unity and against separatist forces [an ongoing and relevant issue in Spain with its Basque region] ones they wanted to hear more about? Were they more focused on the business at hand, how to translate his trade promotion mission into greater opportunity for themselves?

The answer was simple and quick to come.

Repeatedly, they asked numerous questions about how Mr Chretien won three consecutive majority governments. His electoral success was simply unimaginable in most parliamentary democracies.

For these ‘insider’ political observers, in a democracy, the true test of a politician’s effectiveness and influence was staying power.

In Canada, over the last 40 years, we have witnessed our share of leaders winning only one general election. They include Joe Clark, Kathleen Wynne, Bob Rae, Alison Redford, Ed Stelmach, Darrell Dexter, Rachel Notley, Greg Selinger, Lorne Calvert, Pauline Marois, Jacques Parizeau, Philippe Couillard, Lucien Bouchard, John Savage, Rodney MacDonald, Russell MacLellan, Wade MacLauchlan, Dwight Ball, Kathy Dunderdale.

For the trivia enthusiasts among us, a number of others won party leaderships to become designated sitting Prime Ministers or Premiers but never won a general election. The list includes, among other notable names, Kim Campbell, John Turner, Frank Miller, Ujjal Dosanjh, Ernie Eves, Bernard Landry, Daniel Johnson Jr, Pierre Marc Johnson, Donald William Cameron, Roger Stuart Bacon, Iain Rankin.

Winning a general election the first time to head a government is exceedingly hard, twice is remarkable and three times a truly unique achievement.

After all, the political barnacles that ships of state start to acquire following their first day of election victory usually weigh down and disrupt the best laid political prospects.

Idealists may argue that it is far better to attribute success to a leader doing the right thing, on substantive achievements while in office even if they are subsequently reversed.

By that standard, former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne might still be winning accolades for her daring introduction of an universal basic income program, even though the initiative was quickly laid to rest when Doug Ford got into office.

Successful politicians have often  bemoaned that they can only get ahead of public opinion on evolving issues incrementally if they want to be reelected.

Should success be measured by the ability to inspire and lead? Winston Churchill’s remarkable leadership during WW 2 was rejected in 1945 by the British public.

In any democracy, different factors affect a politician’s success at the polls. The quality and appeal of emerging political opposition or new parties siphoning off votes are relevant.

Policy platforms often play second fiddle to other developments weighing the scales of judgement. Does the public conclude that it is time for a change? Or has the inevitable scandal somewhere in government tarnished the prospects of a second victory? Do assessments based on managing unimaginable acts of God from climate to Covid colour re-election possibilities? Can reaction to world affairs influence vote patterns? Ultimately even quirks of personality or appearance can play a role.

In the face of all these factors, no wonder that political insiders believe that the ability to secure the support of the voters over and over again is likely the fairest way to assess true success.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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Welcome to the Summer of 2021, when politicians are doing what politicians like to do best: shifting blame.

With the bodies of Indigenous children now being found all over Western Canada, and with an unwanted and unneeded federal election in the offing, our political leaders can be observed energetically passing the buck. Trying to pin it the horror on someone else.

Justin Trudeau insists the Pope needs to come to Canada and apologize. Putting on his Serious Face, Trudeau says: “It is not just that [the Pope] makes an apology, but that he makes an apology to Indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil.”

Gotcha. But the Prime Minister hasn’t travelled to Kamloops – or Cranbrook, or Marieval, or Brandon – to do likewise, has he?

No, he hasn’t.

Back in December, Erin O’Toole told some young Conservatives that the inaptly-named residential schools actually provided schooling. And that the issue provide a handy way to “silence Liberals” politically.

When caught out, O’Toole had to apologize.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, doesn’t think Trudeau is solely to blame for inaction on Indigenous issues. He blames O’Toole, too. It’s all the fault of “the inaction of Conservative and Liberal governments,” Singh has said.

Predictably, some partisans have gotten in on the act, and reached for the history books to find scapegoat. Some, to this writer’s astonishment, have started pointing fingers in the direction  of Jean Chrétien.

So, a senior advisor to former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer took a swipe at Chretien on Twitter, calling the respected Liberal leader’s policies “racist,” quote unquote.

Chretien being the father of an Indigenous boy, and the highest-regarded ministers of Indian Affairs ever, this seemed particularly unhinged. The slender basis for the anti-Chretien drive-by smear, it seems, was the 1969 “white paper” that was written by Chretien’s bureaucrats.

Chretien met with dozens of Indigenous leaders from across Canada in Ottawa in May 1969. A couple months later, the white paper was published, but not passed into law.

Here are the main things the white paper advocated:

a) it called for Indigenous people to be finally made equal, in law, to every other Canadian,

b) it suggested permitting Indigenous people to do what other Canadians have always done, which is own land – and sell it and buy it without government approval,

c) it criticized the separation of racial and ethnic groups,

d) it offered millions to compensate for changes to treaties, and,

e) it called for Indigenous people to be given the power to run their own schools.

That last one would have ended residential schools a generation before they actually came to an end (under one Jean Chretien, Prime Minister). Oh, and this: Chretien was essentially calling for he, himself, to be removed from his job – because the “Indian Affairs” department would no longer be needed.

The white paper hit a wall of controversy, and was scrapped.

A source close to Chretien told me this: “In his attempt at eliminating the Indian Act in the white paper, [Chretien] believed strongly in eliminating the apartheid/reserve system that existed at the time.

“He got rid of the governor system. He created local decision-making and worked at protecting Indigenous languages. And he ended residential schools once and for all in 1996.”

So, as you all get haircuts and shaves in anticipation of the looming election, Messrs. Trudeau, O’Toole and Singh, consider looking elsewhere as you try to shift blame for the growing residential school scandal.

Consider blaming the men who actually hold power and influence right now, for example.

You know: the guys you see looking back at you in the bathroom mirror every morning.

[Kinsella was Chretien’s Special Assistant.]

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Very few people have marked Canada’s political history without being themselves a politician. Retired Quebec Superior Court justice John H. Gomery was one of them. Judge Gomery passed away on May 18th at the venerable age of 88.

Of course, John Gomery was not seeking to have the political impact he had. But when he was entrusted with heading the Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, Gomery quickly became a household name.

The Gomery Commission played a major role in recent Canadian history and was one of the key elements that brought an end to the Chrétien-Martin era of Canadian politics.

Live on television, for weeks, day in and day out, Canadians watched with fascination the hearings led by John Gomery. The drama was riveting and the ratings were high.

A slew of colourful characters made the Gomery Commission as good as any Perry Mason episode. Chuck Guité, Jacques Corriveau, Paul Coffin, Joe Morselli, Claude Boulay, Benoît Corbeil, Jean Brault, Jean Lafleur, Alfonso Gagliano, to name a few. Lawyers were interrogating and counter-interrogating, allowing Canadians to slowly appreciate the depth of the scheme and to understand the extent of the embezzlement orchestrated by the federal government under the guise of promoting national unity.

The search for the truth led to some memorable testimonies, one of which involved former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. There was no doubt to many that when Chrétien took the stand, on February 5th 2005, it would be a memorable highlight. In fighting form, Chrétien didn’t disappoint, defending the sponsorship program and its objective to unite the country, in the wake of the 1995 referendum.

A few weeks earlier, John Gomery had granted some misguided year-end interviews calling the sponsorship program a catastrophe and commenting on Chrétien and his habit of distributing golf balls bearing the Canadian Maple Leaf, emblazoned with his signature. 300 of them were ordered as part of the Sponsorship program, at the cost of $4 a piece. Gomery made fun of these balls, calling them “small-town cheap.”

In an orchestrated crescendo at the end of his testimony, Chrétien’s lawyer set it up for the former PM. Had he ever received any golf balls during his travels as prime minister? Did he have any examples? Of course, he did. Chretien began pulling golf balls out of a suitcase. Balls from George W. Bush. Al Gore. Bill Clinton. Fidel Ramos. All small-town guys, Chrétien noted. The last ball he pulled out was from the firm Ogilvie Renault. The law firm of the Commission’s lead counsel, Bernard Roy and of Sally Gomery, the daughter of the judge.

This was classic Chrétien political theatre and an embarrassment for John Gomery.

After his retirement, Gomery admitted the comments were a mistake and that it was his one regret:  “These were difficult days and I should never have done this interview,” he told Radio-Canada in 2018. The political stunt didn’t derail the commission, thought,  and didn’t really change the overarching narrative.

Truth be told, John Gomery was very talkative and at times stubborn. He enjoyed the spotlight provided by the Commission, perhaps a little too much. Would things have turned out differently if not for Judge Gomery? Hard to know. It might not have been as entertaining, which was key to make the actors part of the country’s water-cooler discussions.

Nevertheless, John Gomery had a job to do and Canadians would eventually be the judges. In his report, published on November 1st, Gomery strongly blamed Jean Chrétien and his entourage for political interference in the management of the program. According to Gomery, the program served to fuel a complex system of bribes benefiting the Liberal Party of Canada. This led to the fall of the Martin government within a month and its defeat a few months later. Canadians appreciated the findings of John Gomery for what they were.

Photo Credit: The Canadian Press

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.