Listen Up! Trudeau needs to stop apologizing for things he did not do

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

No more apologies for the sins of our fathers

There is a part of me that wishes Justin Trudeau was more like Paul Quassa. Now who might that be, you may well ask. He just happens to be the newly minted Premier of Nunavut, one of Canada’s three Territories, populated mainly by indigenous people. He was born in an igloo and at the age of six he was sent to a residential school in Churchill, Manitoba. He not only survived that, he thrived. “I received a very strong education at that time and I retained a very strong sense of my identity,” he said. Not a particularly popular thing to admit these days.

Yet, at age 65 Paul Quassa has witnessed many of the struggles endured by indigenous people, especially those of Métis descent, including the hideous side of residential schools related to sexual abuse. He spent much of his career working to improve their lives. Now, as Premier of Nunavut, he has power. Is he seeking to right the wrongs of past generations? Does he want apologies or retribution? Not at all. “We want Nunavut to shine,” he said. “We want to look forward, not back.” How I wish our Prime Minister had the same outlook.

It seems to me that every time I turn around, Justin Trudeau is apologizing to someone for the sins of our past, well before the mandate of his government. We should know by now that when you apologize, you admit wrong doing and when Government admits wrong doing, it leaves itself open to huge financial settlements like the $10 million gift Canadian taxpayers recently gave Omar Khadr.

Last week, Prime Minister Trudeau tearfully apologized to people in Newfoundland and Labrador affected by residential schools. Next week, as part of the settlement of a class action, he is apparently going to apologize for LGBTQ discrimination by the military, RCMP and the Civil Service between 1950 and 1990. We will never know how vigorously the Trudeau government defended this civil action, but we will soon find out how much it will cost a new generation of taxpayers who were not involved in these issues. A generation, I might add, that to a very large extent has a much different, enlightened and more positive outlook when it comes to our LGBTQ community. And yet, they must pay.

It is interesting and somewhat ironic that Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the father of our current Prime Minister, did not share his son’s penchant for apologizing for the sins of our fathers. When questioned by then Opposition Leader Brian Mulroney, who demanded an apology to a particular segment of Canada’s population, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said, “I do not think the purpose of government is to right the past. It cannot re-write history. It is our purpose to be just in our time.” He was right.

The hard facts are that an apology in 2017 does not undo the sins of the past. Whatever damage was done, was done. It happened and nothing can change that. What does matter is who we are today as a society and that is what we should be held accountable for.

Canada’s history, while in many ways a glorious one, also includes a large number of injustices committed against many people. For example, women in Canada were treated as second class citizens and denied the right to vote until 1918 and, even then, Canadian citizens of Japanese or Aboriginal descent could not vote. Unbelievably, it was not until 1960 that ALL adult female citizens had the right to vote in Canada. We simply cannot undo these wrongs.

Clearly, a government that appears to be willing to take responsibility for the multitude of mistakes of past generations runs the risk of opening the floodgates to countless lawsuits for real and perceived damage inflicted by past generations. Canadians in my view, should not be put in the position of apologizing and paying for injustices they, themselves, did not commit. I have never understood how one can really apologize for someone else’s actions.

If Prime Minister Trudeau remains bent on offering apologies, perhaps he could start with his own government. Just take the latest boondoggle, a $5.6 million skating rink on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. It was to be opened for just 24 days, but public pressure has extended it to 83 days. Nevertheless, you have to reserve two days in advance, you have to get there an hour early and you can only skate for 45 minutes, without listening to your music or drinking hot chocolate! Wow, what a treat! And this treat will be enjoyed by about one tenth of one per cent of our population at a cost of $67,500 for each and every one of the 83 days there is ice on the rink.

Hard to believe in these days of unprecedented federal deficits. As CTV’s Don Martin put it, “a teeth grinding waste of tax dollars.”  Now that, Prime Minister, is something for which to apologize!

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12 Comments

  1. Thanks, Hugh. As usual right on the money. Let’s accept that we screwed up majorly in the past, and move on. We can’t change history.

  2. The idea of apologies is to give back the victims just a touch of the dignity that was stolen from them, either by the government or with government support. These are people who were not convicted of any crime, merely persecuted for who they were. The criminals in these actions never had to pay for their crimes, because they were protected by the government and its power. You and I sat by and watched while this went on. Maybe we even worked to get some of these governments elected. So now we all have to pay.

    You imply that apologies somehow led to payment. Certainly in the case of Khadr, and the victims of the government gay purge, the government is paying because they were sued and lost. Every civilized country on the planet that stood by while the US sent their citizens to Guantanamo for torture had to pay compensation. To put it mildly, they all broke international laws about how accused are to be treated.
    The idea is that governments need to stop treating people differently because of race, or gender or sexual orientation. When they get caught, they have to apologize, and pay, or it will never stop.

    • You are right. We must apologize for the wrongs that have been done, and if need be pay for those wrongs. But there has to be a limit to what is a ‘wrong’. People are coming out of the woodwork for any injustice they feel has been done to them or there forefathers. History has to be written to include these injustices so that all people learn and do not repeat the horrors. But, changing the names of streets, or towns and cities is way beyond correct.
      The other day I saw where one Southern Ontario town wants to change the name of a street that was given its name in the 1920’s long before the Nazi occupation. There is an entire town in Northern Ontario with the same name. I would doubt anyone wants to rename this town that was built long before the Nazi’s came into power. Sometimes things are taken too far and we are in danger of this. As the author of this article said, we can not expect people to pay for what they have not done.

  3. The politics of historical apology by governments of all stripes over the last thirty- some years has created a growth industry and a gold mine – not for the victims of past wrongs – but for high-priced litigation consultants and lawyers.
    An activity with a more effective and educational outcome for future generations would be to provide classroom teachers with needed updated resources and training to critically and thoughtfully examine the contested terrain our complicated past, asking the overarching question, ‘what do these historical injustices mean for Canadians today?’
    Trudeau the Elder hit-the-nail-on-the-head when he said in 1984 on the eve of leaving politics, and as mentioned in the article: ‘I do not think the purpose of government is to right the past. It cannot re-write the past. It is our purpose to be just in our time.’ So true!

  4. Hugh it is not about apologies. This is a government that has already admitted that they are not going to attempt to balance any budget. So the taxes they collect is for one purpose and that is to stay in power. Buying votes has always been the Liberal way. I expect that he will soon be apologizing to women for as you already pointed out. What about native tribes that slaughtered members of other tribes and stole their land, who is apologizing for these atrocities and paying retribution, us? Then there are all those buffalo that were shot from trains. I am looking for the day My brothers and sisters and I get compensated for closing our one room school and forcing us to spend three hours a day on a cold uncomfortable bus. In order to get to school and home, thus delaying our chores on the farm to all hours. This prevented us the time to do homework denying us a proper education? Being a white man from a poor family, I won’t hold my breath.

  5. Skating rink on Parliament Hill? Worst idea ever while thousands of Canadians coast to coast struggle to feed themselves, to shelter themselves and live through winter.

  6. There are differing views on the subject – one of which is that an apology is best made when it happened or not at all – but I believe that an apology in the present for wrongs committed in the past is that it gives us an opportunity to take a longer view of the history surrounding it. It helps us to understand and accept who/what our forbears were and did. Apologies can also remind us that we might be blind or unaware of injustices being currently committed because we are safe and snug in a nest of our current culture and values.

    The link below is a small part of a 227 page study on the subject of government apologies that the University of Waterloo contributed to as part of a larger study out of Stanford University. This scholarly approach takes some of the emotion put of it and comes at it from a more rational approach.

    https://web.stanford.edu/~omidf/KarinaSchumann/KarinaSchumann_Home/Publications_files/Blatz.Schumann.Ross.PoliticalPsychology.2009.pdf

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