They say it would be a strange world if everybody held the same opinions, but it can also be pretty weird when we don’t.
For instance, I have learned that my notion of who deserves public tributes is on a completely different wave length than that of no less a personage than North Bay Mayor Vic Fedeli.
I had the distinction of asking the last question of the year on Fedeli’s cable-TV call-in program in June. I was curious about what a marketing expert who is so conscious about maintaining positive images thought about the controversy that erupted after the university announced it was bestowing an honourary degree on former Ontario premier Mike Harris?
The mayor opined as to how sad he was to see all the commotion after word leaked out that Harris’s name might be attached to a new library being built at the university campus, followed by an announcement that he would become an honourary Doctor of Letters on June 11. He said he couldn’t think of a better example of someone who should be recognized in this way.
When it opens it doors, the new campus library will house a magnificent collection of resources which will be available to students of both Canadore College and Nipissing University. Included will be a copy of The Canadian Encyclopedia, which contains the following entry under Harris, Michael Deane:
“Harris was sworn in as premier of Ontario on 26 June 1995 and immediately launched his conservative agenda. He cut income taxes by 30% over three years, closed hospitals, shifted welfare responsibilities to the local governments, cut education spending, repealed labour laws and began a program of urban amalgamation by forcing together an immense Greater Toronto. Under Harris, Ontario retreated from its traditional role as a national unifier and relations between Ottawa and Ontario sank to a low point.
“Harris’s second term in office lacked the dynamism of the first, and the premier resigned before its end. The malaise of the period and the mounting criticism of spending cuts and the downloading of government services was reflected in, and symbolized by, the tragic contamination of the water supply in the small southern Ontario town of Walkerton, leading to the death of seven people and the illness of another 2300 in the spring of 1999. An inquiry into the causes under Justice Dennis O’Connor specifically faulted Harris’s 1996 discontinuation of government laboratory testing services. O’Connor added that budget reductions at the Ontario ministry of the Environment made it less likely that improper practices in the Walkerton public utilities commission would be caught and corrected.”
The Learning Library will likely also contain a copy of the report of the Ipperwash Inquiry , whose task it was to uncover why unarmed Chippewa protester Anthony Dudley George was shot and killed by police on the night of Sept. 6, 1995.
On the Labour Day weekend that Dudley George became the first person to die in a land claim dispute in Ontario in over a century, then-premier Harris – who worked as a golf pro in his formative North Bay years – was participating in events at the Canadian Open Golf Tournament in Oakville.
In his findings, Commissioner Sidney Linden wrote that, contrary to Harris’s evidence, “…it is my view that Michael Harris made the statement ‘I want the fucking Indians out of the park’” at a meeting of key cabinet members and staff on the day Dudley George was killed by an Ontario Provincial Police sniper. Justice Linden characterized the premier’s remark as “racist”, and said the meeting at which the remark was made “was woefully lacking in transparency”, noting that Harris did not disclose information about the meeting when questioned several times about it in the Legislature. The meeting was attended by two senior OPP officers.
Justice Linden added: “…the Premier’s determination to seek a quick resolution closed off many options endorsed by civil servants in the Ontario government. His narrow approach to the occupation did not enable the situation to stabilize at the park.”
With this documentation of Harris’s political legacy part of the written record, I was a bit startled when Mayor Fedeli offered his two key reasons about why he thought the former premier merited public recognition.
“He was the premier … and he was a local boy.”
If the attainment of high political office is an achievement in itself, regardless of how leaders carry out their roles, I can think of several excellent opportunities for Canadians to honour citizens who have been extremely successful at the polls.
How about the Brian Mulroney centre for the Study of Integrity in Political Office (donations in unmarked bills, only, please), or the Colin Thatcher Women’s Shelter for victims of domestic violence?
A Mike Harris Learning Library doesn’t seem so inappropriate in this kind of company.
To give the ex-premier his due, since June 11 he should be referred to as Michael Harris, LL.D, although a reference text on academic honours says LTD is also acceptable.
LTD: also used in the business world as an acronym for "long-term disability".
in this case, it's likely closer to "long-term liability", for Nipissing University, that is.
Here's wishing everyone a happy and healthy National Aboriginal Day -- especially the George Family of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.