10 January 2007

M. Dion Speaks at Toronto Lawyer's Club

I had the good fortune to be in attendance at the Judge's night dinner tonight, which coincides with the opening of court and is always well attended by the Toronto bench and bar. Our guest speaker did not have much in common with his audience: we are all lawyers, and his predecessors as guest speaker include Mr. Turner (present tonight), Mr. Chretien, and Mr. Diefenbaker, who all held law degrees. M. Dion was a professor of politics, not law, and so I suppose the biggest thing he has in common with those gentlemen is the fact that he will also be the Prime Minister.

He began by noting that he rose to political prominence mainly during the time of the Charlottetown accord. That deal, in M. Dion's opinion, was designed to have something in it for everyone: a little pork for each province and major constituency so that each would swallow the medicine with its own spoonful of sugar. With one exception. The Charlottetown Accord - like so many of the deals that have or have attempted to unite this country - had nothing in it for Ontario. Of course, it's nice to have your ego stroked, but there is more than a kernel of truth to the compliment. Many Canadians criticize Ontarians for considering themselves to be the centre of the country, and perhaps the universe. This is a fair criticism, but with that sense of Canadian-ness also comes a sense of duty to a Canada that is greater than Ontario, and it is beyond question that Ontario more than any other province has committed itself and its resources very selflessly to this confederation for the past hundred and thirty some odd years.

Apart from this flattery, M. Dion was true to form - passionate and principled, taking up arms for the struggle (although I believe also largely preaching to the converted). He spoke of the three pillars, and stated bluntly that in addition to being a basic requirement for our future, environmental leadership is also a internationally desirable product that will make us "a megaton of money" if only we do, in fact, become leaders in the field.

Catering to his audience, he also spoke at length about his position on the rule of law with respect to the status of Quebec, and on crime in Canada.

On the first, he noted that it must be the will of the people that determines whether or not Quebec remains part of this confederation, but was adamant that any such move could only be completed within the context of the rule of law, and not on the basis of a premier of the province revoking the Canadian citizenship of its people by declaring himself President of a republic. So he defended his application to the Supreme Court on the clarity question, considered by many to be foolhardy at the time but almost common-sensical in retrospect.

On the second, he took the position of a scientist, criticizing Mr. Toews for introducing measures for getting 'tough' on crime that could not be empirically supported (such as mandatory sentencing and abolition of the gun registry). He noted that under criticism that the Conservative measures would not work, Mr. Toews could not defend his tried-in-America-and-proven-to-fail policies based on any appeal to reason, but rather was forced to rely on base appeals to fear, and nurtured the demonstrably false impression that ours is a violent society in need of drastic repair. He stated that a sound approach to the problem of criminal behaviour would include not simply harsher punishment but also stronger prevention; more support for police; more attention to communities and youth. He concluded by hoping that Canada would not follow in the footsteps of "tough-on-crime" jurisdictions like California, where more money is spent on prisons than on hospitals.

He finished his speech, not surprisingly, by returning to the question of the environment. He said that he has no less a hope than that Canada will be one of the great nations of the 21st century. In order to become that nation, we need to identify the great determining issue of the 21st century, which is sustainable development. He begged us not to become the first generation to hand our children a country worse off than the one we arrived in.

That last comment, I assume, was directed at the vast majority in the audience who are handing down the country. I myself am part of the group that is just now taking it, and I'm confident that we can and will abandon short-term political gain for the long term health and well being of our society and planet. My Canada will be one of the great nations of the 21st century, and while M. Dion will be chronologically our 4th Prime Minister of the century, it will be largely on the basis of the efforts of his Liberal government that we become that nation.


Blogger Gavin Magrath said...

Well i won't let it go to my head, because I assume not many journalist types are also lawyer's, but I was pleased to see this report caught the attention of Susan Delacourt and was referenced in the lead cover item in today's Toronto Star:


January 12, 2007  
Blogger Gavin Magrath said...

PS - where was Cherniak!?

January 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Gavin.

January 12, 2007  
Blogger Penny said...

Thanks for the great report, Gavin. I like Dion better all the time...

But I must say, in both my generation's defence and as a warning, that the environment has been on the agenda at least since I was in grade 4. It was called "conservation" back then (we're talking 1951) and we were shown movies (filums)about the importance of re-forestation and etc etc.

In the late 60s we had Greenpeace and in the early 70s, Rachel Carson wrote her famous book and....

Has the environment been protected? No!! Did voters like myself encourage, or even turn a blind eye to, the rape and pillage of our natural resources? No!! What has been the result of protests, blockades, letter writing and so forth. Zip!!

I'm tempted to blame big business, their lobbyists and the money they were able to throw at the political parties, but that may be too simplistic.

I just want to remind you that talk's cheap, and your generation will need to be very aware and very diligent to ensure that you achieve what your elders have not managed to do. Please....

January 15, 2007  
Blogger Gavin Magrath said...

Hey Penny, long time! (my fault not yours)

Yes, talk is cheap. Perhaps even worse than talk is symbolic action (like putting out a blue box) that has as it's greatest impact the fact that it encourages people to believe they have done something valuable and therefore enables them to do nothing further.

Other than that, I blame your generation, and call on all former-hippies-turned-yuppy to produe an analysis of the influence their hot air has had on climate change ;o)

January 16, 2007  
Blogger Penny said...

LOL!! Go ahead and dump on hippies, Gavin. I was too old - and too straight - by the time they came along...!

Certainly, though, it does looks if us pre-boomers and boomers have been blowing hot air for decades, since so little seems to have been done. It's our fault that climate change has snuck up behind us.

But WHY has nothing been done? The majority of people who vote have no power to accomplish anything more than put a party in office. When I first voted, something like 80% of Canadians voted. Why do you suppose they have become too discouraged to turn out any more? (I know the press call it apathy, but I contend it's discouragement.)

The first time I personally became aware that politicians would say one thing and do the other - or do nothing at all - after they were elected was - *oh, what blasphemy!* - was when Pierre Trudeau was elected. It may have been the case before, but I had been a naive believer in democracy as government by the people, for the people and of the people.

There are a small minority of people who are power brokers who seem to have much more influence on government than do people like myself.

I have no idea how we-the-people can take back our government, if we ever had it, and ensure that politicians honour the words they pass off as their commitments to the country, insofar as the situation allows them to.

The very fact that we have created so many watch-dog agencies speaks volumes about our faith in the honour and integrity in not just government, but contracting, medicine, law (excuse me!) and on and on and on....

Gavin, perhaps you can take up the cudgels on behalf of not just younger people, but us disillusioned oldsters too!

(Although, I can't believe I'm using a word like "oldster" wrt to myself, except facetiously!! My dad once told me a story about how, when he was close to 80, he was out for his daily constitutional and working, as usual, on his latest get-rich-quick scheme, when he noticed the reflection in a store window of some old geezer shuffling along the street... and was horrified to realise it was himself!)

January 17, 2007  
Anonymous grace said...

are you still alive?

February 05, 2007  
Blogger Gavin Magrath said...

Yes - alive and well! Just back from Las Vegas and not involved in any of the by-elections so I have not spent much time on making important political announcements ;o)

February 05, 2007  

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