Like, say, a federal presence. If you live outside of Ottawa, you sure didn’t see much of that.
In Ottawa, despite the many terrific Canadian acts available, the big moment at the big show was a song performed by a couple members of U2 – a band, you know, from Ireland. There was an extended fireworks display, too – with the fireworks coming entirely from China. There was Gordon Lightfoot, who (despite previous reports on Twitter and credible news websites) was decidedly not dead.
Elsewhere, local communities did their own thing. They have become used to a lack of help from Ottawa, perhaps. There was greeting the dawn in St. John’s. There was a canoe excursion in Toronto. There was the start of some totem-carving in Duncan, B.C. There was an ultra-marathon in Winnipeg. In Calgary, there was a giant snakes-and-ladders game (seriously). And so on. Lots of variety, lots of local initiative. Local.
The federal government, meanwhile, was mostly invisible.
Contrast Canada’s 150th with previous big-deal years, 1967 and 2000. In those years, Ottawa was omnipresent and in a good way.
In 1967, the Centennial Year, we had Expo 67, a huge success. There was the Canadian Armed Forces’ immensely-successful Tattoo 1967, which travelled the country. A dove was added to the penny – remember those? The Caribana Parade was launched in Toronto. There was a voyageur canoe race, with 100 contestants paddling and traversing about 5,000 km. The Centennial Flame was unveiled on Parliament Hill. Lightfoot did a wonderful railway trilogy. And the federal government provided $25 million – worth nearly $200 million, 50 years later – for local projects.
Pierre Berton called 1967 our “last good year” in one of his books. But 2000 wasn’t too bad, either, when one considers the degree to which the federal government participated. And lots of fun stuff happened. The good folks in St. John’s were again the first to greet the new millennium. The Royal Canadian Mint produced a series of millennium coins and Canada Post offered a special stamp. There was a snowmobile parade in Iqaluit. A bunch of military specialists climbed the Peace Tower on the Hill. There was a huge firework display on Toronto’s waterfront. Jean Chretien wore an Inuit fur hat and parka and hosted a big celebration on Parliament Hill. And no computers went down.
Contrast all that to 2017. Unless you live in the Ottawa region, you can be forgiven for wondering what the federal government did with your tax dollars on July 1, 2017.
One really can’t blame the prime minister. Unlike his predecessor, but like Chretien, Justin Trudeau delegates authority to his ministers to do their jobs. And, in this case, Canada 150 was the chief responsibility of Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly. Her predecessors included giants like Sheila Copps and James Moore, who understood the importance of championing Canadian symbols.
Joly has a $3.3-billion budget for precisely the sort of things we’re supposed to be celebrating in 2017 but aren’t. She has been the most ineffective minister of Heritage since Bev Oda, and that’s saying something.
Joly ran for mayor of Montreal in 2013 and was handily dispatched by Denis Coderre. It was a nasty race, with Joly running ads claiming Coderre “has no credibility to wipe out corruption.” She said she’d run again in 2017 but she didn’t. Instead, Joly was parachuted into the Ahuntsic-Cartierville federal riding in 2015, the favourite of the Liberal Party establishment. The riding’s nomination process was delayed to give her time to sign people up, and two rival candidates were pressured to drop out and did. Her nomination win “wasn’t pretty,” the Montreal Gazette observed.
As minister of Canadian Heritage, Joly has mostly distinguished herself as camera-loving, gaffe-prone and possibly doomed. In just one recent controversy, reports say she didn’t bother to consult with senior prime minister’s office staff about her choice for Canada’s official languages commissioner – although some of her staff had previously worked for her pick at Queen’s Park. As Chantal Hebert of the Liberal-friendly Toronto Star subsequently wrote, there exist “clouds of doubt [about Joly’s] judgment,” she has “egg on her face,” and she is “inexperienced” or “incompetent.” Ouch.
Things in Joly’s office aren’t much better. Global News has reported that her chief of staff has been lobbied by Google six times in 2017 – when she was, just months earlier, a senior executive at Google, serving as its director of communications for a number of years.
Google, now facing a $3.6-billion fine from the European Union for anti-competitive practices, probably doesn’t care.
But Joly should: her ministerial accomplishments are rather sparse.
And Canada’s 150th birthday certainly isn’t one. If it’s remembered at all, it will be for what everyday Canadians – or their municipal and provincial governments – did.
It won’t be remembered for what Melanie Joly did, which is nothing.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.