By Danielle M. Cameron.
As with all underdogs, victory came unexpectedly.
This time last year, a crimson tsunami was washing over our beloved eastern front, loosening the icy-blue grip of then prime minister, Stephen Harper and his imploding Conservative party – its top dogs jumping ship left, right, and centre.
Anyone who has walked with the beaches of Prince Edward Island is familiar with its bright blues, regal reds, and energizing green hills. But, orange? Not so much. For Tom Mulcair’s NDP, the election fallout was a lot like those beaches: at one point, Harper’s official opposition seemed to just fall off the face of the earth. Whether Atlantic Canadians voted for real change or in protest, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
On election night, Atlantic Canada was a declarative Liberal stronghold, having rode the red wave in all 32 ridings. All four premiers of the region also happen to be Liberals. This was a massive turnaround for a party that had struggled to find its footing out East. In the not-so-distant past, Maritimers witnessed the Grits sit idly by as the party’s hold on the region slipped, finding Tories (red and blue) on the rise for several years.
Good will hunting
In more recent memory, one highlight in Ottawa’s relations with Atlantic Canada was when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took selfies and signed autographs in Bridgetown and New Glasgow, Nova Scotia promptly following his government’s pledge to commit $119 million in federal funding for transit and wastewater projects in the province. His high-ranking visit across the East Coast brought a frenzy of party faithful, the curious, the young and hopeful, and those just wanting to see the PM visit their hometowns.
The tour, back in August was his first in the neighbourhood since his energetic election where he expressed a heartfelt thank-you to all the Atlantic Canadian voters who entrusted he and his party to take over the reins from one of Canada’s least-popular leaders. Gone seemingly was the bitter and divisive suit and in was the BuzzFeed-savvy teddy bear in jeans and a dress shirt. The contrast between the two: stark, exciting, and for many, a major sigh of relief.
He asserted to the media and throngs of well-wishers that he and his party were deeply committed to listening to the hopes and concerns of Atlantic Canadians by working more closely with the region’s four premiers. He acknowledged the Supreme Court controversy, along with other issues, but did not elaborate. The new prime minister also promised to make good on the overwhelming confidence those in the Maritimes placed in his hands.
Infinite insult, something about spitting and swamps
Yet many in the region feel that they are, once again, being trivialized and fed table scraps from the overstuffed Ottawa spread – spit in our eyes, as former Justice Minister and Atlantic Canadian, Peter MacKay said. Potential Conservative leadership contender, Lisa Raitt, even claimed the region was treated as some friendly “backwater.” Both Tories referring to what they saw as a potential snub for a seat on the Supreme Court.
For Raitt, the possibility of the federal government overlooking an Atlantic Canadian to represent Atlantic Canada plays into the stereotypes of Maritimers not exactly possessing the “scholastic aptitude,” but in reality the entire prospect of the snub, weird as it is, was spun as a dim toss-up between ‘merit’ and ‘regional representation.’
She went as far to say, “It just drives me around the bend when people assume that we’re not good enough, that we can’t be bilingual, that we don’t have visible minorities here, whatever that mix is that they’re looking for,” in an interview with host of CBC Radio’s Mainstreet Cape Breton, Wendy Bergfeldt.
Similarly, MacKay, in his op-ed for the National Post in late summer, writes, “It defies all constitutional convention. It is also disrespectful and an insult to Atlantic Canadians to suggest that suddenly, of our entire legal population, none are qualified to sit on the top court.” Say what you will about Conservative-Liberal bickering, or Raitt and MacKay, whether or not you agreed with their policies in the past, but when it came to pointing out just how silly this situation was, the two struck a chord.
Was everyone to believe the feds couldn’t find one person – one accomplished person fully capable and deserving of the position somewhere in our four salty provinces? As if one disheartened Atlantic lawyer was awaiting a ring from the big, red phone hiding away in a King of Donair on Quinpool in Halifax.
Michel Bastarache, a New Brunswicker and former justice at the Supreme Court of Canada, told CBC earlier this month that it’d be “a great error” if the federal government refused to maintain a seat in top court for an Atlantic Canadian. Bastarache retired in 2008 and was subsequently replaced by now outgoing Justice Thomas Cromwell.
More than what it seemed
It may be easy to think all this belly aching is because of a mere snub at the big table, but this entire issue goes beyond some emblematic, pompous gesture. Whomever takes up the seat could have a very real and serious effect on the region. The administration of justice in these provinces is directly impacted by the decisions of the country’s highest court.
So much so even, four senators from Nova Scotia took it upon themselves to pen an open letter, pleading to the prime minister not to strip Atlantic Canada of its rightful seat.
To deny the Maritimes their representation would undermine the already tenuous relationship between Atlantic Canada and Ottawa, argued senators Jane Cordy, Wilfred Moore, James Cowan, and Terry Mercer.
With the news of Justice Malcolm Rowe’s surprise selection out of Newfoundland and Labrador, however, it’s now confirmed a Maritimer will continue the 141-year-old tradition of representing his region on the Supreme Court. Problem solved? Not quite. What upset East Coasters the most was the idea that a historical region of Canada could have been left unrepresented on the Supreme Court and that it took so long for the prime minister to adequately address the fears and disappointment of a region he – not so long ago -promised to listen to.
After winning the 2015 federal election a year ago this month, Justin Trudeau said, “Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways,” invoking the positive politik of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. But unfortunately, many living in Atlantic Canada have yet to reach for their sunglasses.
We wanted change, and we haven’t got it – much.
Don’t put your wallets away just yet, folks
You can go ahead, however, and make another bag of popcorn because the drama doesn’t end with this Degrassi-esque lunch table saga; you can’t go anywhere in Nova Scotia without hearing someone rail on the carbon tax – or rather, carbon pricing fiasco.
Why, just earlier this month, Nova Scotia’s environment minister, Margaret Miller, had enough and bailed from the national meeting on carbon pricing. She walked out just hours after the prime minister got heavy-handed, issuing a final statement of terms to the provinces that they either adopt his plan or have it foist upon them anyway by 2018.
To the shock of the provinces, Trudeau took a moment prior to a parliamentary debate on the Paris Climate Change Agreement to announce this plan. His government hopes to curtail Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
Saskatchewan’s and Newfoundland and Labrador’s representatives also left a meeting held amongst provincial ministers – prior to a planned photo-op with federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.
Nova Scotia is particularly feeling burnt by this because, as Premier McNeil has put it, the province has already made large leaps toward progressive reform and reducing its carbon footprint. He figured the province might have been spared by its eager use of renewable energies – already a major factor in soaring electricity rates out east.
In fact, rates have gone up 62 per cent, since just 2005, which is having a measurably negative impact on small business in the province.
To many it seems unfair that these conditions be placed upon them with both no recourse of action or appropriate alternative. As taxes and rates increase, the idea that Nova Scotians ought to pay hundreds of dollars more is unimaginable in an already ailing economy.
What is more, most of the province is rural, countless commuters do not have the luxury of public transportation or biking or car-sharing – they have no choice but to shut-up and put-up. The dispute is not about the clear need for better management of climate change, finding long-term solutions, or progressive thinking, it’s about minimizing harm in the near future for the average person.
A battle on two fronts
And it’s not just been the federal Liberals that those on the East Coast have struggled with, Nova Scotians are increasingly becoming more and more tired of their provincial party and Premier Stephen McNeil – his most notable blunder being the film tax credit that resulted in the battering of the province’s film industry. His failure address affordable housing and his promise of a family doctor for every Nova Scotian, still five years away (at best), has also haunted his administration.
Capacity issues and cuts to healthcare – perhaps the most immediate concern in Nova Scotia -have proven to have alarming results. People needing medical care aren’t receiving the sort of top-tier medical care one would expect to enjoy as a Canadian. Just late last month, a woman slowly going blind from a brain aneurysm could not get a bed in an intensive care unit, and no nurse would be readily available to look after her post-op, but her surgical team were ready to go. How? Why?
Danielle M. Cameron is East Coast-born and returned after having lived in Ottawa. Besides crash-coursing in journalism at the City University of New York (CUNY) in N.Y.C., Danielle holds a B.A. Hon. Human Rights from Carleton University, B.J. Journalism from University of King’s College, and is currently working towards an M.A. in Political Science at Acadia University. Former intern at The Coast — Halifax’s Weekly.
Canadian and American politics are more precious to her than air – will watch anything on PBS American Experience and has probably read every presidential biography, twice. “New Deals with It” on a daily basis, and also recently discovered coffee is not a food group.