Olivia Chow

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In an op-ed article in the pages of The Toronto Star on July 30, 2015 (and reprinted on rabble.ca) subtitled, “How can Chow frame herself as a champion of affordable child care, when hers was the party that killed that dream 10 years ago?”  Rick Salutin makes about as ridiculous a political assertion as possible; one at complete variance with history, reason and, indeed, common sense (see: The irritating way Olivia Chow took the plunge).  Salutin writes

“The NDP’s Olivia Chow took the plunge in a particularly irritating way this week when she announced she’s running against Liberal MP Adam Vaughan in a downtown Toronto riding. It felt like a bad omen for an election that hasn’t even begun and will drone on for over twice as long as usual.

“But then she based the core of her appeal on her lifelong “passion” for child care. “We’re on the edge of having a government that will finally build affordable child care for kids across this country,” she said. … We were on that edge 10 years ago; in fact we were past it when her party, led by her husband, Jack Layton, voted to bring down a Liberal government which had put exactly such a program in place – giving us instead nine years of a Harper government that immediately cancelled the program.”

Paul MartinNow this is a nonsensical and highly skewed characterization of the political events of 2005 and Salutin ought to know better. Let’s review the history

After the November 2005 release of the interim report of the Gomery Commission investigating the sponsorship scandal, support for the Liberal government plummeted. The NDP under then leader Jack Layton, made further support of the Liberal government contingent on a commitment to no further privatization of health care, a core NDP value. Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin refused any accommodation of NDP proposals. There was considerable discussion at the time that Martin wanted to “go it alone” and engineer his own defeat, thereby triggering an election that he thought he could win with a majority, ridding himself of the irritating necessity of negotiating with the opposition parties for parliamentary support.

There was a great deal of political jockeying amongst all parties during November 2005, with Martin, for example, scheduling opposition days so as to try and provoke any of the opposition parties (Conservatives, NDP, or BQ) to introduce a motion of non-confidence so as to provoke an election over the Christmas season, which Martin thought would be unpopular.

In the end, it was Stephen Harper, as head of the Conservative Party and the Leader of the Opposition, who introduced a non-confidence motion on November 24 (which was voted on and passed on November 28). All three opposition parties (Conservatives, NDP, and BQ, plus three independents) voted to bring down the government and the writ was dropped.

Jack LayonAfter Stephen Harper won the 2006 federal election he scrapped the Liberal plan for a federal-provincial child-care system in favour of his own ideologically motivated tax-credit program.

Any historically accurate appraisal makes clear that Saultin’s assertions are nonsense. In the political brinkmanship of November 2005 it’s difficult to ascribe any definitive responsibility for which political party “triggered” the election:

• The Liberals, for trying to govern as a majority with only a minority mandate and refusing to reach an agreement with any opposition party, indeed, perhaps trying to engineer their own parliamentary defeat in a way they thought would be politically advantageous;

• The Conservatives, for their cynical exploitation of the sponsorship scandal (which happened under the tenure of Jean Chretien, and which Paul Martin had little to do with, but was made to carry the political can for) and for introducing the motion of non-confidence that led to the defeat of the Liberal government; 

• The NDP, which stuck to its guns on the issue of the privatization of healthcare, refusing to support a Liberal government uninterested in any legislative cooperation with opposition parties; or 

• The Bloc Québécois, that also voted to bring down the government.

Stephen HarperAll that aside, the person who cancelled Paul Martin’s national child-care plan after the 2006 election was Stephen Harper, not Jack Layton, and certainly not Olivia Chow, who wasn’t even an MP in 2005 when the Martin government fell (Chow only became an MP after the 2006 election). Harper could have continued with and implemented the plan negotiated by the previous Liberal government: he deliberately chose not to. The direct responsibility for this decision lies with one person and one person alone: Stephen Harper

Furthermore, any objective evaluation of a national child-care plan needs to recall that the Liberals first introduced this idea under Jean Chretien in their 1993 Red Book. Yet in the following 12 years of Liberal government it had not been accomplished. It was only in 2005 that Martin, in political extremis as a result of the sponsorship scandal, finally came up with a deal.

It’s unquestionably the case that Canada needs a national child-care program. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women first introduced such a proposal in 1970, and yet, 45 years later, we still don’t have it. There have been many missed opportunities under a succession of Liberal and Conservative governments.

Thomas Mulcair

Now, the NDP have proposed a plan to create one million $15-a-day childcare spaces in Canada within eight years. NDP leader Tom Mulcair has committed to implementing the program saying that affordable daycare is, “just one election away.” [See: NDP proposes $15-a-day national childcare program.] Olivia Chow launched her bid for Parliament with a very specific commitment to spearheading such a plan saying:

“We are on an edge of forming a government that could deliver finally high-quality and affordable child care. It’s so exciting and that’s why I want to contribute my experience and make it happen.”

If the NDP win power in the 2015 federal election, they will, of course, have to be judged on whether they act on this commitment. However, given almost a half-century of inaction by the Liberals and Conservatives, it might not be unreasonable for Canadians to decide that another party should be given the opportunity to take action.

Olivia ChowSalutin goes on to lament the fact that the forthcoming federal election will bring about all manner of squabbling between talented progressive candidates, for example Olivia Chow and Adam Vaughn in Spadina-Fort York in Toronto, both of whom Salutin thinks would be “useful presences in Ottawa.” Now this is undoubtedly true, and a reflection of the dysfunctional nature of Canadian politics, and the importance of electoral reform away from the archaic first-past-post system with its zero-sum political calculus. But none of this has anything to do with the history of child-care policy in Canada, nor is Olivia Chow responsible for the state of Canadian electoral politics (indeed, the NDP supports electoral reform and the implementation of proportional representation). Salutin touches on some useful points, but his narrative is a confused and frequently misdirected rant.

It was apparently US ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan who first said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” a quotation that Mr. Salutin should bear carefully in mind. 

Christopher Majka is an ecologist, environmentalist, policy analyst, and writer. He is the director of Natural History Resources and Democracy: Vox Populi.

Christopher Majka

Christopher Majka

Christopher Majka studied oceanography, biology, mathematics, philosophy, and Russian studies at Mount Alison and Dalhousie Universities and the Pushkin Institute in Moscow, and was a guest researcher...