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Greg Selinger is making history. And not just in Manitoba. The current crises of leadership and governance that have beset his administration are without precedent in Canada, or indeed in any modern Westminster-style parliament. How the beleaguered Premier has chosen to respond to the situation at 450 Broadway also speaks volumes about his political acumen (it is terrible) and his ability to lead the government (he cannot).

Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it is neither acceptable nor factual for NDP brass to insist the situation is run-of-the-mill party politics. Ministerial resignations are a rare thing, especially in Canada. Having five of a cabinet’s senior-most ministers resign en masse is rarer still. That they do so because they’ve lost confidence in their prime minister is unheard of. This alone ought to have compelled Selinger’s resignation. Ought to, but didn’t.

No, Greg Selinger soldiers on — or so he would have you to see it. The plucky premier weathering the storm! Rising to the occasion! Showing strength in the face of adversity! Pick your metaphor, they’re all delusions. Never before has a sitting prime minister held a leadership contest in which he or she themselves will compete. It isn’t just bizarre, it’s idiotic.

The questions Selinger’s contest raises are many and worrisome, especially since he has already made plain he won’t be resigning from his own cabinet post (as leadership aspirants were required to do in 2009) while running for the job he already occupies.

Will his Ministers be required to pledge their loyalty, or at least their neutrality in this contest? If not, how can our Cabinet Government possibly function? If so, doesn’t that only reinforce the weakness of his position?

For the New Democratic caucus, surely every vote his government brings forward in the legislature is a vote for or against his continued leadership. For those who no longer have confidence in Selinger, why wait until March of 2015 to register their displeasure? Party loyalty? That went out the window when Oswald, Swan, Struthers, Howard and Selby violated the principle of cabinet solidarity. Fear of losing confidence of the entire legislature, triggering the dissolution of the parliament and a snap election? Exactly.

Therein lies the rub. It isn’t just Greg Selinger who thinks he can have it both ways. His party also seem to be of the mind they can continue to claim the moral authority to govern whilst holding a contest that cuts to the very heart of their ability to do so: who should lead them. Which is why it is no longer acceptable to treat the imbroglio on Broadway as a party matter; it’s a parliamentary matter and, in the absence of an election, ought to be dealt with by that body.

Regrettably, while Canada has imported most of its parliamentary conventions from the Palace of Westminster, it neglected to adopt one of its most crucial: the ability for a party’s parliamentary caucus members to oust their parliamentary leader.

Some, no doubt those loyal to Selinger, would argue this would be “undemocratic” — that it isn’t for the caucus to determine who should lead the party; it should be the members. Except what’s democratic about party members determining who should be premier? Sure, during elections in a roundabout way voters get to make that determination, but what about in between them as in now during this extraordinary situation unfolding in Manitoba?

The problem, it would seem, is that we do not draw a distinction between party leader and parliamentary leader — even though, for the purposes of governing, the distinction is profound.

Had the NDP caucus had the authority to remove Selinger from his post, the current crises would likely have been over by now. Either Selinger would’ve been removed and a new parliamentary leader installed, or he would’ve remained and any further questions about his fitness to lead put to rest until the general election. Instead, we are now faced with the prospect of four more months of further speculation, doubt, instability and drift until the NDP party holds its conference in March. Then what? The noblest thing Greg Selinger could have done — and should have done — is call an election now. Even more democratic than allowing his parliamentary caucus to determine his fate would have been to allow all Manitobans to do so.

It should be said: the NDP alone can’t be blamed for the way in which this situation is being managed. It’s not entirely implausible another party would have handled it any differently, especially if the alternative for that party was being relegated to the opposition benches (as it is for the New Democrats). No, it has been in every major party’s interests, in the provinces and in Ottawa, to exert maximum control over the functions of parliament.

What this situation further demonstrates, however, is that Canada’s major political parties can no longer be trusted to manage the affairs of the nation’s parliaments. Consider how the House of Commons is choosing to address serious allegations of sexual harassment between sitting MPs: behind closed doors. As with the Selinger fiasco, the situation in Ottawa isn’t an internal party matter; it’s a matter for us all.

Sadly, unless or until Canada’s political parties agree to divest themselves of at least some of their authority over their own affairs, the situation — be it in Manitoba, or in Ottawa — will not change. Perhaps voters in Manitoba and across Canada will take up the charge in 2015. They would be wise to do so.

***

Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

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With school receding quickly in the rear view mirror of my mind, I loaded up the 10-foot u-Haul truck and, along with my brother and co-pilot, plotted a course eastward for Toronto.

Nearly 2200 kilometers away, our journey would take us two days.

Two… Long… Days.

The purpose of our trip was to transport a bed, dresser, night table, clothes and cookbooks to my new abode in the Big Smoke. It would be there where I’d hang my cook’s cap whilst completing my second work placement (required to complete my culinary arts diploma).

In a curious bit of symmetry, my brother and I made a similar journey two-and-half years earlier, except we were heading westward that time, from Ottawa to Winnipeg.

Here I was, so many months later — no longer a disillusioned political hack, but a still-wet-behind-the-ears culinary grad — making the journey in reverse.

Knowing we had so many hours ahead of us, and with only so many hours of daylight on our side, we made the painful decision to depart Winnipeg at 5 a.m. on Monday morning. Like so many tough decision, it proved to be a wise one.

By 7 a.m., we were cruising past Kenora; by 9, refuelled and caffeinated, Dryden (the “proud home of Chris Pronger,” by the way) was behind us. Emboldened, we set our sights on Thunder Bay — and lunch at its infamous Hoito.

***

Thunder Bay: Superior by Nature.

True, geographically speaking. Debatable, otherwise.

Nevertheless, we pulled into the Lakehead around noon, on schedule, and proceeded through town to The Hoito. Serendipitously, we’d seen the place featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here! the night beforehand.

Was it a sign? Was it meant to be? Were they the “best pancakes in Canada?”

30 minutes late, the answer: no.

Still, we were fed, watered and ready for the next leg of our journey — and cautiously set our sights on Sault Ste. Marie, another 7 hours away.

***

Ah yes, the Soo. Never were we happier to see the welcome sign for a town than when we were pulling into the place at 9 p.m. that evening — a full 17 hours after we left Winnipeg.

Eyes blurry, butts sore, we refueled, then checked into Algoma’s Water Tower Inn and Suites, aptly named because of its proximity to, you guessed it, the city’s water tower.

Thankfully, the hotel’s adjoining Casey’s Restaurant and Lounge was still open, so we grabbed a quick bite and just sat, numb — at once pleased with ourselves for making it so far, and yet dreading yet another day on the road in our spartan 10-foot juggernaut.

Pushing through to Sault Ste. Marie, like our decision to leave Winnipeg before sunrise, had been taxing but wise. After all, we’d managed to avoid staying overnight in Wawa, Terrace Bay, or Marathon (which, incidentally, is “built on paper, laced with gold.”)

Rested, recharged, we set off at the lazy hour of 8 a.m., with our heads high and our sights set first on Sudbury, and then Toronto.

***

Of course, the downside to making this trip eastward, instead of westward, is the increasingly disappointing scenery the further east you go — glaringly obvious as you leave Sault Ste. Marie, away from the Great Lakes and glorious Canadian Shield, and approach the nickel belt.

Ugh.

On the plus side, however, the highways in and around Sudbury are first rate.

(Kudos to whomever was the political minister for the region who managed to strong-arm their Cabinet colleagues for the cash necessary to make those improvements. Undoubtedly you were rewarded by your constituents by being tossed out at the next election.)

***

By comparison, the second day was an easy one; we’d made such great progress on the first day of our journey we only had a scant 7 hours to Toronto. Easy. And easy it was, albeit uninteresting.

Seriously, there isn’t much happening between Sudbury south to Toronto — though we did have the (dis)pleasure of passing Tony Clement Country™ (a.k.a., Parry Sound–Muskoka).

Groan.

So nice to see that money from the G8 summit spent so well and so wisely. Atta boy, Tony!

***

At around 2 in the afternoon, something happened: the landscape no longer rocks and trees, but concrete and steel; the horizon, once endless and blue, now closing in and oh-so-cluttered.

There she was: the Big Smoke.

By God, we’d made it. 26 hours of driving and 2200 kilometers later, we’d arrived in Toronto.

It took another hour or so to actually get into Toronto, mind you.

Driving a rented truck with an engine retarder that prevented us from travelling at more than 120 kilometers per hour didn’t help much either, as cars whizzed past us on the 401, undoubtedly furious at us bumpkins inexperienced on these #bigcityfreeways. (It wasn’t us! It was the engine! Honest!) Nevertheless, we’d made it.

One journey over, another about to begin.

After one of the longest stints grounded in recent memory, I was up in the air this weekend, in the big smoke, the T-dot, the centre of the universe, Toronto.

The purpose of this brief sojourn was threefold: inspect the apartment I’ll be calling home this coming summer; firm up plans for my second co-operative work placement (the final requirement of Red River College’s culinary arts program); and, lastly but not leastly, have a bit of fun.

And oh, what fun I had!

Indeed, I was fortunate enough to spend a better part of Sunday working the line during the brunch rush at Café Belong, alongside the resto’s chef de cuisine — who also just happens to be a dear friend from my days in Ottawa, and with whom I’ll be sharing an apartment this coming summer.

It was intense. I’m but a lamb in the woods when it comes to cookery. She’s a frickin’ lion.

Nevertheless, I had a blast — and can’t think of a better way to have spent a frigid Sunday in the Big Smoke.

2011 is cold. Damn cold.

The mercury hit a new low yesterday: -31C.

I used to think a clear, blue sky in January — even if it meant blisteringly cold temperatures like the kind we experienced yesterday — was preferable to the damp and overcast days of places more humid, like Ottawa.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

That it’s a dry cold doesn’t mean squat. Give me damp, cloudy and -10C any day of the week.

(I’d prefer +25C and sunny, but beggars can’t be choosers.)

There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I would have seized the opportunity an unexpected long weekend presents to travel. I’d fly out on the Friday night, fly back on the Monday afternoon. Easy.

When I was living in Ottawa, I was able to indulge my jet-setting urges fairly frequently. After all, Ottawa’s proximity (and direct flights) to so many fantastic destinations — Montreal, New York, DC, Chicago — made it relatively painless. Better still, I’d become expert at playing off my two travel rewards programs (Air Canada’s Aeroplan and RBC’s Avion) against each other to my maximum benefit.

But that was then.

Despite having just such a long weekend this weekend, I’ll be staying put. My jet-setting days are over.

Granted, for a brief moment earlier this fall, I was gearing up to make fairly regular trips to Toronto. Air Canada was even offering a student pass that allowed individuals to make six trips to a specific destination. It couldn’t have been more perfect. But things change. Sometimes in an instant. And so, I’m grounded. Indefinitely.

I suppose it’s for the best. As I revealed earlier this month, I’m a student again. I might as well start living like one.

Still, I’m comforted by my fond memories of those many weekend excursions. Each one was an adventure, a marvel, a treat; always to see friends, eat well, laugh lots and soak up the many delights of whatever city I happened to be visiting.

But of all the weekend excursions I made during my extravagant years in Ottawa, I’m proudest of the weekend I spent in London. (England, not Ontario.)

It was the May Long Weekend of 2009. A dear friend of mine was celebrating his birthday around that time and I thought it might be fun to wish him a happy one in person. So, on that fateful Friday morning, I went to work with my weekend duffel and then headed straight to the airport that afternoon. By the next morning, I was eating breakfast in my friend’s kitchen, steps from London’s Pimlico tube station. Amazing.

Anyway, as I said, that was then.

Will I have more amazing weekends in the years ahead? Will I ever again be able to pick up and fly away at a moment’s notice?

Fingers crossed…

The next time your friend suggests you extend your layover in Brussels by, say, 10 hours, quickly, flatly, resolutely refuse to do so. Seriously. The town is about as exciting as, well, a 100-foot high stainless steel sculpture of an iron molecule.

That’s not to say the city isn’t attractive; on the contrary, it oozes old-world charm. It’s cobble-stone streets, Gothic towers, plane trees and public art make the seat of the EU and NATO altogether difficult to dislike.

In many respects, it’s the Ottawa of Europe; however, its charm is the kind you can acknowledge as being pleasant, but are liable to forget as soon as you’re back at the airport awaiting your onward flight to parts more exciting, like, say, Barcelona.

Just sayin’.

The oysters.

I’ll miss those lowly bi-valves, lovingly shucked and plated at one of Ottawa’s best restaurants, The Whalesbone. And I’ll miss their food. And their service. And those LPs. And the Sailor Jerry — that sweet, spicy elixir.

In the years I’ve been in Ottawa, this unassuming resto-bar at the corner of Bank and Gladstone has become my watering hole of choice, my go-to destination for a good time, my satellite office.

My friend Rachelle has already heaped the praise on the Whalesbone and its annual Oyster Fest that the establishment deserves, so I won’t belabour the point; but, it cannot be said enough: Ottawa’s Whalesbone Oyster House is awesome.

And when I Ieave Ottawa, I know I’ll miss the place and its kick-ass staff, many of whom I consider friends.

I know what it seems like: guy befriends staff at drinking establishment: how sad.

Not so.

Ask any urban Ottawan with half a brain and an iota of taste what they’d say is the coolest, tastiest place in town and they’ll say, “the Whalesbone.”

So, yeah, one thing I’ll miss about Ottawa is its extraordinary oyster bar.

Of course, I’ll also miss the friends I’ve made. And the four distinct seasons in this part of the country. And being so close to Montreal, and New York City and Washington, DC. (I can live with being a little father away from Toronto.)

But distance won’t come between me and my friends; nor will it prevent me from visiting DC, NYC or Montreal. (Better still, I’ll be closer to my favourite US city, Chicago.)  Distance will, however, make it more difficult to enjoy a plate of oysters and a pint of Steamwhistle.

Sigh.