Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deborah Coyne enters Liberal Leadership Race

By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press, in Globe and Mail, June 27, 2012
Deborah Coyne
(Deborah) Coyne, 57, has been involved in public policy debates for decades, as a lawyer, university professor, constitutional activist and author of numerous books and articles on a variety of issues. She is probably best known for her role in advising former Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells during his fight against the Meech Lake constitutional accord and for spearheading efforts to rally public opinion against the subsequent Charlottetown accord.

It was during those constitutional wars that Ms. Coyne’s relationship with Pierre Trudeau, an influential figure in scuppering both accords, flourished, resulting in Sarah’s birth in 1991.
Given her experience with past constitutional conflicts, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the central ideas Ms. Coyne is advancing now as a leadership contender are aimed at depoliticizing divisive federal-provincial issues.
Among the more novel ideas on 23 different subjects outlined on her campaign website, are proposals to:
•Replace sporadic first ministers meetings with a formal council of Canadian governments, based on the model used by Australia and designed to create a “more collegial and collaborative” mechanism for tackling issues in need of a national response, including criminal justice, the environment and energy.
•Create an independent advisory commission tasked with reforming and managing equalization and other federal transfer payments to provinces in a manner that promotes “greater equity and equality of opportunity for all Canadians, regardless of residence.”
•Expand the powers of the national health council to facilitate consensus on national health care standards, including the best mix of public and private care.
Among other things, Ms. Coyne is also calling for a carbon tax and a reassessment of the utility of supply management for dairy products. The one-time Liberal candidate – she was a sacrificial lamb put up against then-NDP leader Jack Layton in 2006 – rejects the notion of a Liberal-NDP merger.
Her vision for the country also includes some echoes of Pierre Trudeau’s philosophy – such as her view that the country needs a strong national government to impart a sense of common purpose and to demonstrate that Canada is “more than the sum of its parts.
Nor does she shy away from defending Mr. Trudeau’s 1982 deal to patriate the Constitution with a Charter of rights, maintaining that national leaders need to “seize every possible opportunity” to counter the “old canard” that Quebec was “excluded” from the deal.
Still, Ms. Coyne bristles at suggestions that “somehow I’m just a mouthpiece for things that Pierre Trudeau may have said in the past.”
“Whatever I’m saying there is not at all just repeating, it’s what I’ve come to learn in my years of experience, most of which were long before I even met Pierre Trudeau” in the mid-1980s.
She points out that her views on things like collective rights and special status for Quebec are shared by millions of Canadians, manifested in public opposition to the Meech and Charlottetown accords. To ascribe them to one person, namely Mr. Trudeau, does a “disservice” to Canadians, she says.
Politics is so very "personal" in Canada, and Ms Coyne, obviously a bright mind, a scholar and an intellectual force to be reckoned with by the Liberal Party, will have to overcome her 'link' with Pierre Trudeau, in order to capture the leadership. She protests that she is not 'mouthing' Pierre Trudeau's thoughts, vision and words but that millions of Canadians hold the same views. And that is true.
However, her life is coloured by her close association with the former Prime Minister, and in public life, clones are usually considered somewhat "less than."
That is clearly not necessarily fair, just nor warranted. It is merely a notion over which we have trouble climbing. Public identity, no matter how that identity is secured, is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shed.
Should she be able to get her ideas heard, understood and supported by a large number of both party members and associates, and establish her own 'political identity and style' she would be a formidable opponent for others seeking the leadership.
Clearly, she has a vision for a strong central government that works consistently and diligently with the provinces, and a vision of how to sustain the health care system for the long term. She is also demonstrably a technocrat and a policy wonk, so, again on the personal level, she will be challenged to project a public identity that 'connects' with ordinary Canadians.
Ms Coyne's entering the race early and  committing to the party will, however, provide some necessary traction for others who might still see the party as unlikely to emerge from the wilderness. Should Martha Hall Findlay also enter the race, as many expect, there will be two outstanding intellects with solid proposals and the capacity to capture the imagination of the rank and file of the party, even before some of the more 'expeccted' candidates decide whether or not to run.
This is clearly going to be a very interesting and historically pivotal leadership race, given the state of both the Liberal Party and the current state of governance in Canada.

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