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Daniel Wilson served 10 years as a diplomat in Canada’s Foreign Service, working mainly with refugees in Africa and South-east Asia. Joining the Assembly of First Nations, he became Senior Director of Strategic Policy and Planning. Of Mi’kmaq Acadian and Irish heritage, Daniel was a founding Chair of the New Democratic Party Aboriginal Commission and manager of the 2011 Romeo Saganash campaign for leader. He now works as an independent consultant and writes about rights. Topics covered on this blog include Indigenous and other human rights as they relate to Canadian and international politics.

Is the incompetence that of the appointees or the Prime Minister?

| February 22, 2013
Is the incompetence that of the appointees or the Prime Minister?

I might have let this slide, preferring not to kick a person when they’re down, but calls for sympathy for John Duncan beg retort.

It strains credibility that Duncan resigned as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development because he wrote an inappropriate letter to a judge.  Several Conservative Ministers have been caught inappropriately using their Cabinet title in correspondence to officials, were even found to have broken rules by the Ethics Commissioner, but none have had to resign. 

Unlike some people, I believe that Minister’s should resign when they have acted to besmirch the reputation of Canada, but Ministerial accountability went out the window with Barbara MacDougall and the Al Mashat affair more than 20 years ago.  None of the other Conservative Ministers who similarly wrote letters to officials were blameless; their offences were just ignored, creating a working climate in which Duncan’s letter is not anomalous. 

The Conservatives certainly could have blustered their way through this mini-scandal the way they have illegal robocalls in Saskatchewan for example.  They could have just stood there and boldface-lied their way out of it until the media went away.  But they chose to do the right thing, in this one case.

Neither the Prime Minister nor John Duncan have said why it took nearly two years for the letter to come to light, nor how it was discovered, who brought it to anyone’s attention, or why this scandal wasn’t swept under the rug like all the others.

Certainly, no one in the Conservative government or their typists in certain media would want to credit First Nations’ pressure on a completely ineffectual Minister for bringing about his resignation; that would empower people and show them what they might accomplish. 

On January 14th, I wrote: “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan is the most obvious loser.  After a series of gaffes, demonstrations of ignorance, and an air of disengagement on the file that have led to demands for his resignation in the past, the defining moment came when Chief Spence refused to meet with him, rendering his impotence and ineffectuality plain for all to see. 

As a result of Friday's meeting, he is now entirely irrelevant. Having failed to maintain control and keep the Indians quiet as he was expected to do, his boss has removed any pretence at Duncan's authority, passing "oversight" to the Privy Council Office. On the upside for him, he will continue to collect a Minister's salary without the work.”

A month after this embarrassment, a letter written 2 years ago is found, suddenly compelling an immediate resignation. 

One might wonder if revelation of the letter was the only way to avoid admitting what a complete failure Duncan was as a Minister, what an ignorant choice Harper made in appointing him in the first place and what a continuing failure Conservative policy on Indigenous issues remains. 

Recall Stephen Harper’s recent pretense that Patrick Brazeau’s behaviour was unpredictable – certainly not part of a pattern that existed long before he was appointed to the Senate – so that particular embarrassment couldn’t be blamed on the Prime Minister’s lack of judgment either.  Yet, as the Harper designate in the Senate on the Indigenous file, Brazeau was an utter failure, pursued the worse possible policy approach and it all ended in personal embarrassment.  Just like Duncan.

Certainly, the Prime Minister needs protection from the perception of vulnerability.  

If people thought that demonstrating how empty were Harper’s promises and apologies, how much his unwillingness to compromise, his resort to bullying and his own incompetence is costing Canada, they might look for an alternative.  His friends in the oil and gas sector might realize how much he is costing them while he ignores the constitution, begging to be beaten in court once again, daring to be confronted by protests and blockades.  People might realize there is a better way.

Why, that could lead to an honest conversation about a relationship built on cooperation that benefits local economies, protects the environment and respects Indigenous rights all at the same time. 

Apparently, the Conservative government feels it would be best avoid that result at all costs.

No, it is much better to pretend Brazeau’s behaviour was somehow a surprise and Duncan’s failure was a letter no one knew about.

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