'Since when is Justin Trudeau on "the Left"?'

Letters to the editor, Feb. 6, 2019: Readers weigh in on Canada's polarized politics, safe tap water and the dilemma of protecting the environment without harming our economy

Maclean’s magazine February 2019 covers

In the duelling cover stories featured in our February 2019 issue, Shannon Proudfoot and John Geddes delved into the angry, closed-minded, petty world of both the Left and the Right of Canadian politics. 

Tribal politics

This month’s Maclean’s is brilliant (“What’s wrong with the Left?/What’s wrong with the Right?” Politics, February 2019). I read it in both directions. Excellent articles, well-thought-out and to the point on both the left and the right. This is a keeper to be read again as we gird our loins for the upcoming election.
—Gionilda Stolee, Toronto

I am a recent graduate of politics and philosophy and a member of Québec Solidaire, a socialist party that is on the rise in my province. Like many young people, I share values with the likes of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. After reading the recent issue, my main complaint is the following: where is the “left” that everyone is mentioning here? The writers and opinions published in this issue seem to lack any understanding of political ideology. Since when is Justin Trudeau on “the left”? Macron, a rich banker who champions privatization and austerity politics is considered on the left? We see liberal criticisms of conservatives and conservative criticisms of liberals, but substantial arguments from the real socialist left are completely disregarded, and simply equated with either centrist liberals or far-right fringe movements, such as when Terry Glavin compares Tom Mulcair with Nigel Farage. Seriously? Tom Mulcair was the most reserved leader the NDP had in decades—possibly ever—who even took the word “socialist” out of the party’s platform for fear of being too polarizing. Equating someone as tame as him to a far-right nationalist movement is simply demonstrative of the writer’s bias, as is the case in a number of other writers’ articles. As socialist movements are seeing a resurgence across the world in response to both the right and neo-liberal centre, I am disappointed that this edition offered such an archaic political dichotomy rather than a comprehensive presentation of real, substantial debates.
—Gavin Armitage-Ackerman, Montreal

The polarization of Canadian politics became entrenched with the loss of the Progressive Conservative party under Peter MacKay. A significant portion of the electorate has no place to park their moderate vote.
—Rick Buchanan, Springdale, N.L.

After decades of reading, subscribing and procrastinating, I am finally doing it: Maclean’s is excellent. The February edition is outstanding, not only because of the inspired two-cover format, which only a genius could have conceived, but also the quality of your columnists. I couldn’t put the magazine down; there is so much insight and clear explanation, most of it new to me, even as a bit of a newshound. I now have a fuller insight of what to expect with the 2019 federal election.
—Andrew Simon, Toronto

It is patently absurd to call the Liberals a party of the “left.” In Canada we have the Conservative (pro-capitalist), Liberal (pro-capitalist) and NDP (critical capitalist and generally pro-labour) parties. There are three sides to the Canadian political discussion, and I’m sick and tired of seeing people being herded into one of two corporate corrals by the mainstream media. We have Conservative, Liberal and left. The left consists mainly of the NDP. It also includes, and always has, socialist, environmentalist and communist parties, which do exist in Canada no matter how badly you seek to ignore them. The Conservatives and the Liberals, if you would only be honest, are two different types of right-wing party, one a bit more interested in international development and the other more interested in their religious ideology and making sure women cannot get an abortion. When I was young, in the ’60s and ’70s, Conservatives like Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark were more concerned with the national economy, but the right-wing revolution of the ’80s (Thatcher and Reagan) catapulted both Conservatives and Liberals into the neo-con world of international trade and no boundaries for money and investment. Only the NDP was left to stand up for the rights of ordinary working people. The Liberals are not the left, no matter how many times you want to sell this dishwater.
—Elisabet Thor-Larsen, Vancouver

In your “Why we did this” editorial from February 2019, Bill Bishop is quoted as saying: “Mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes.” So let’s seat our MPs in the House of Commons not by party but by some order that will force mixing—alphabetically, say. That could bring more restraint and respect to question period and hopefully end the obnoxious cheers, hoots and backslaps. Reorganizing the House would be an easy and low-cost experiment, and could inspire better conversations between the left and right all across Canada.
—Jay Whetter, Kenora, Ont.

Access to water

In January, Maclean’s writer Kyle Edwards wrote about members of the Neskantaga First Nation, who are set to have safe tap water for the first time in 25 years

Could your journalists not provide a little context for this article (“Not a drop to drink,” Indigenous Peoples, February 2019)? Last time I checked, about 18 per cent of the Canadian population is rural—6.7 million people, 80 per cent of whom manage without access to municipal water systems. The issue of clean drinking water is not about First World versus Third World living conditions. Instead, it is about rural vs. urban living conditions. Forty years ago, my husband and I put $10,000 into a water system for our home. Over the years, there has been constant maintenance and we have had to replace at least four water pumps. Throughout all that time, we hauled drinking water from town because I am immune-suppressed. This is not an unusual situation: all our neighbours manage their own water systems. We suffer in the winter when our lines freeze, and we watch as water levels drop in the creek over a hot summer. We have all hauled water from the neighbours in five-gallon jugs and heaved them up on counters for cooking and washing. I still consider it a small miracle every time I turn on the tap and water comes out. I am glad the Trudeau government has committed to getting those water systems on First Nations working and look forward to the day First Nations people can freely use safe drinking water. But there are millions of us who deal with the worry about water every day.
—Paula Van Tine, Fraser Lake, B.C.

I have always been appalled at the living conditions many Indigenous people deal with. We Canadians should be ashamed. According to U.S. News & World Report, Canada was the second-best country to live in in 2018. Why is anyone in this great country still waiting not only for potable water, but even water safe enough to bathe in?
—Cheryl Burchell, Yarmouth, N.S.

All Canadians, except many First Nations citizens, grew up with clean drinking water, either on municipal systems or from wells. It is a disgrace that so many First Nations do not have this resource, and it is a credit to Trudeau that he considers this unacceptable. However, why put only $2 billion over five years to gradually address this problem? The government is able to come up with $5 billion to buy a pipeline in one year. I would urge the Prime Minister to sit down with the provinces, take advantage of their expertise in providing safe water supplies, and determine how much money is required and correct this travesty within two years.
—Joe O’Brien, Halifax

Starving students

In December, Rosemary Counter wrote about what’s driving the increased demand for rotisserie chickens at big box grocery stores and what providers are doing to meet it. 

A large, ongoing survey at the University of Alberta shows that around seven per cent of undergrads skip at least three meals a week due to the cost of food (“Have we reached peak chicken?” Takeout, January 2019). The same study indicates that around one in five undergrads would not visit the campus food bank even if they felt they needed it. Other recent surveys suggest that 10 to 15 per cent of undergrads need to choose between buying textbooks and food. That’s an awful lot of young people who can appreciate a great deal on hot, fresh protein. Rosemary Counter points out that it takes tens of millions of dollars in losses to keep grab-and-go chicken at an accessible price point—and I’m sure students are grateful. With the cost of food set to rise this year, though, how many other nutritious staples could be lucky enough to wind up discounted for loyalty purposes? Or is the Costco chicken’s combination of affordability and nutrition something of a rare bird?
—Jonathan Olfert, Edmonton

One rule for the rich

In January, Emily Senger wrote about the battle between wealthy landowners and concerned citizens over the right to access public lakes in B.C., and the recent court decision that could set the precedent for the future.   

After reading about the billionaire Stan Kroenke, who fenced off public access to fishable waters in B.C. (“Reel justice prevails,” National Notes, February 2019), I am so weary of narcissists—especially wealthy ones who can afford to indulge their lack of conscience, their lack of respect for others, and their belief that the laws are not meant for them.
—Laurie Sim, Wetaskiwin, Alberta

Men and carbon

In November, senior writer Paul Wells wrote about the united front of Canadian conservative politicians who oppose a carbon tax. That feature was also our December cover story—and the text on the front of that issue elicited some colourful reactions online. Our readers, of course, wrote in.

As a 70-year-old white woman—a feminist—your cover “The resistance” is possibly my worst nightmare (“Just try them,” Politics, December 2018). Five middle-aged white males. Where are the female faces as part of the resistance? And you wonder why some women of my age would vote Liberal or NDP. This cover speaks volumes to me.
—Jan Niekamp, Saskatoon

We have a dilemma: how to protect our environment without harming our economy, and the obverse, how to grow our economy without harm to our environment. Environmentalists focus primarily on the environment with not much concern for the economy and business, and for conservative leaders, it appears to be the opposite. Kudos to the Trudeau government for trying to develop policies that marry the two—an uphill battle indeed. Having had a major setback in getting our oil to market, they now have to deal with fierce opposition by the country’s conservative leadership to their carbon tax, which they propose to introduce as a means of reducing greenhouse gases or carbon output to our atmosphere. Conservatives argue that the plan will be ineffective despite considerable scientific evidence to the contrary. They say it is bad for business and simply a tax grab—Doug Ford called it the “worst tax ever.” This may be an exaggeration, as the Trudeau government states that it is revenue-neutral, and it plans to cover the cost by putting fat cheques in people’s pockets. Despite these discrepancies, the federal Conservative party plans to pitch its position in the hope of ousting the Trudeau government. This is reminiscent of Donald Trump’s exhaustive misinformation campaign on migrant “caravans” as a strategy to get votes in the recent mid-term elections. Hopefully we Canadians, who are reasonably environmentally savvy, will not be taken in by the misinformation on the carbon tax and will reject it at the polls.
—Margaret Oulton, Halifax

Sorry, Saskatchewan

Alongside delving into the problems plaguing Canada’s political right, one of the cover stories crunched data to illustrate that Conservatives often win in rural ridings.

In your February issue (“What’s wrong with the Right,” Politics, February 2019), you incorrectly placed the federal riding of Souris–Moose Mountain in Manitoba. It is in Saskatchewan, in the southeast corner. I was reminded that Tommy Douglas once remarked to me that some people think of that part of Saskatchewan as the backwoods of Manitoba. The riding includes the area that was the former provincial riding of Souris–Estevan, for which I was the MLA 1956-1960 and 1971-1975. I am the only survivor of those who were MLAs with Douglas when he was premier of Saskatchewan. He would have been amused by your error that put Saskatchewan voters in Manitoba.
—Kim Thorson, Weyburn, Sask.