Transcript of Tony Hill's appearance on the Stirling Faux Show, March 15, 2003

FAUX: Welcome back to the program, last hour already. Another great Saturday night. Thanks for all your calls and e-mails. Our next guest is a very interesting fellow. And the reason he's interesting is because he knows our country better than the likes of you and me and everybody listening put together most likely and the odd part of that of course is the fact that he's not a Canadian. Tony Hill is a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota and has written just a terrific book called Canadian Politics: Riding by Riding, and I might add in the process of researching and putting this book together visited every riding except one which is Nunavut and that's a lot more ridings than I've ever visited and I pride myself on my knowledge of my country. Tony Hill, welcome.

HILL: Thank you. It's nice to be here, Stirling.

FAUX: Well, it's good to have you, and you're kind of embarrassing the whole lot of us, you know, but it's a great book, and I might say not only for political junkies like me but for teachers this I would highly recommend as a terrific work from a reference point of view.

HILL: Well, it's not only a reference book, I made it readable. I fixed it so that even somebody who doesn't care a bit about politics could learn something about a place by reading the first paragraph of each riding entry. So it isn't just about politics. In the first half of each riding I usually don't even mention politics. So it's really more. It combines demographics and history and geography and culture and it focuses really on politics at the end. But it isn't necessarily about that. I think if you wanted to learn, for example, about Sudbury or Brandon, Manitoba, you might find something you didn't know in this book.

FAUX: Mm hmm. Now what on earth prompted a fairly normal-looking, nice young guy from Minnesota to become whacko about Canadian politics?

HILL: I grew up in the Red River Valley, not too far south of Winnipeg, and we went there frequently when I was a kid and also to a vacation home my grandparents had on Lake of the Woods on the Canadian side.

FAUX: Oh. OK.

HILL: So I was always familiar with Canadian things. We could get Canadian radio and TV in the town I grew up in --

FAUX: What town was that?

HILL: Warren, Minnesota.

FAUX: OK. Our friends in Winnipeg listening to us right now on CJOB will go "All right, of course!"

HILL: I remember listening to Peter Warren when I was a kid, on the radio from Winnipeg. And so I kind of always had an interest in Canadian things. But I really got into Canadian politics in the mid 90s when I started coming here as an adult, and it was at a time when our politics in the U.S. was really not very interesting. It was very vitriolic between Clinton and the Republicans in Congress and, you know, you didn't even want to turn on the TV in those days. And I thought Canadian politics was more refreshing. I know you actually probably have more battles royale than we have in your politics, but it was just a refreshing change from what we're used to in American.

FAUX: You know, watching all of this war business go on, and I don't want to get sidetracked on that, but watching all of this war business especially with Tony Blair's involvement, for the typical American _____, as they watch Dan Rather, or Peter Jennings -- also a Canadian -- talking about the events of the day, and they show a clip from Parliament at Westminster and there's Tony Blair standing up in the House of Commons justifying his actions, taking questions from his own and opposition MPs, and Bush doesn't have to do any of that. He's not accountable to any other elected official for four whole years.

HILL: No, I think that's something interesting about the Canadian system, true of parliamentary systems in general, but Americans don't understand that the prime minister has to face the opposition in question period every day that Parliament sits. The President of the United States doesn't ever have to take questions from the opposition parties. He might stand for questions from the press occasionally --

FAUX: Right. HILL -- Presidents do that, I might add, a lot less frequently than they did in the past --

FAUX: Did you see that last press conference? My God, what a manufactured event that was. What a performa -- He didn't even call, the reporters in the room didn't even get to stick their hands up and go "Mr. President, pick me!" and he didn't ask Helen the first question. Unbelievable!

HILL: It is a more media-driven presidency than it used to be. And to some extent the journalists -- not necessarily the ones who cover the president every day -- but the anchors on the TV news and on the morning shows seem to be afraid to ask the president the biting questions that journalists should be asking. And that's because, apparently, they don't want to offend the president and not want him to come back on the show anymore. Because when the president, especially when it was Bill Clinton, appeared on the likes of "Good Morning America," the ratings went up.

FAUX: Right, right. You do recall, perhaps, the open mike comment made by Prime Minister Chrétien to then-president Clinton at NATO headquarters in Brussels a few years ago. This was a sort of pre-game chit-chat. All the leaders were gathered around this massive conference table shooting the breeze for a few minutes until the meeting was called to order, and somebody left the mike open --

HILL: I think it was Chirac Chrétien was talking to.

FAUX: No, it was Clinton --

HILL: It was?

FAUX: He said to Clinton, and they were just talking about comparative, comparing their positions as leaders of their countries, and Chrétien actually said to Clinton, "You know, in my country, I have more power than you do."

HILL: That's really true. Some people have called the Canadian prime ministry an elected dictatorship --

FAUX: Many of my listeners do! HILL -- and there is some merit in that. Not only is it partially true, it's also meritorious in the sense that it makes for more efficient government and more accountable government. Right now in the U.S. there is not a lot that anybody in Congress can do to stop presidential -- for example, in the case of war, it says in our constitution that Congress is supposed to declare war --

FAUX: Correct!

HILL: -- but Congress hasn't declared war since World War II.

FAUX: Right.

HILL: Every conflict the Americans have gotten into -- Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War in 1991 -- were presidential initiatives.

FAUX: Korea was a "police action."

HILL: Yes. And so there's kind of a lack of accountability in our system. That's just one of the reasons, you know, I took a little break from following American politics to study Canadian. I might point out that I always get this question from everyone about why I study Canadian politics, which is something that Canadians who study the U.S. are never asked.

FAUX: Well, I guess not. And why do you think you get asked? Why do you think we all are so darn curious as to why you'd want to take the time?

HILL: I'd say it's because the U.S. is a superpower and Canada isn't, and it makes sense to people that people study superpowers and not study Canada, which is either the least of the great powers or the greatest of the small powers.

FAUX: Mm hmm. The matter of the prime minister of Canada, in this case, being an all-powerful human being, and the PMO -- the prime minister's office -- being the effectively the executive branch of government, replicating that in the United States, if you have a majority in the House of Commons, you are king of the hill, and you doesn't matter what you want to carry through, as long as your parliamentary majority can enact whatever you bring forward, you are home free.

HILL: Yeah, but he's also going to have to be more accountable for what the government does, at the end of three and a half or four years, or five years, to some extent, than the U.S. president is. What I find most intriguing about the Canadian situation right now is that Prime Minister Chrétien is really more powerful than he's ever been right now, just because a lot of the people in his own caucus who would like to vote against him on certain matters can't do so because that means he would be leader that much longer.

FAUX: They just want him out!

HILL: We have a feeling in our system that our president is just a complete lame duck in his second term, that the minute the election is over, that's basically it for presidential power. And there's an excellent book that was written about Ronald Reagan's second term that was called "The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988," and it described how Reagan, day after day, had less power, and it's really intriguing to see the exact reverse happening in Canada right now, where Chrétien can actually have his Liberal MPs marching backwards if he wanted to.

FAUX: And as was pointed out earlier on this program this evening, if he feels like it, drop $750 million on official bilingualism and add that to the "legacy package" that he's taking ever so long to organize for himself.

HILL: Yeah. That's true.

FAUX: Our guest is Tony Hill from the University of Minnesota. The book is wonderful. It's Canadian Politics: Riding by Riding. Let's open up the phone lines here. The mighty Thor at the controls once again on your Saturday night. You can call him, 'cause you talk to him before you talk to me, see. The number is 1-888-568-9800, again toll free from anywhere in Canada 1-888-568-9800. Back with Tony Hill and more on the Corus Radio Network.

FAUX: My guest is Tony Hill, a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota, who has written the terrific book called Canadian Politics: Riding by Riding, now it sounds, well kind of boring, but friends, it is anything but. It tells you more about your country in 350,000 words of terrific reading and easy reading, 'cause it's not some scholarly, dusty old academic exercise, it's a very readable book about every constituency in Canada. I want to ask you about this: there's still Democrats, to this moment, who will take you on in a bar fight, if necessary, and swear up and down that Al Gore won the presidency in the last election, and if it weren't for Georgie's brother and his pals in Florida, we would have President Gore in the White House today instead of George W. Bush. That's an inversion, if you will. Do we have those things in Canada as well, or is that a uniquely American phenomenon?

HILL: No. What happened in the last election -- that wasn't an inversion -- the mess in Florida wasn't an inversion --

FAUX: Well that was hanging chads and all the rest of that.

HILL: Yeah. The inversion is when one side wins the popular vote --

FAUX: Which Gore did.

HILL: Yes. And the other side wins the election. That's an inversion.

FAUX: OK. That's what happened.

HILL: It happens in Canada quite a bit more than it happens in the U.S. It happened -- right now, two of your provinces, Quebec and Saskatchewan, are governed by inversions. In Quebec, the Liberals won the popular vote in the last election, but the Bloc, er, the Parti Québécois came up ahead on seats, and so they're the government. Almost the same thing in Saskatchewan, where the Saskatchewan Party, formerly the Tories --

FAUX: Right.

HILL: -- won the popular vote, but the NDP was able to put together a coalition with the Liberals, and they're still the government.

FAUX: Ah!

HILL: It's only happened four times in our history that one person in U.S. history that one person has won the popular vote in the presidency and someone else won the electoral vote. So it's much more rare in the U.S. than it is in Canada. In Canada, your national government was governed by an inversion in 1979 when Joe Clark won the election even though Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals won the popular vote.

FAUX: Right. And of course, it's our first past the post system on the individual riding level that creates more seats, and no matter what the popular vote, he or she with the most seats wins the day.

HILL: Yeah, it's really a function of the party having its support in one place. For example, in the last several elections, the Tories and the Reform Party/Alliance have been rather similar in the number of votes they've gotten.

FAUX: Right.

HILL: The Alliance has done much better in the number of seats it's taken, because the Tories are more or less a national party, and their support is spread out all over Canada, but the Alliance has its support concentrated in western Canada, and that brings them more seats.

FAUX: And as was the case, and has been the case many times, in the province of Ontario, the vote on the right was split. Some voted for the Tories, some voted for the Alliance, and in the process, split that vote to the point where the Liberals took every seat in the province but one.

HILL: I really have trouble calling the Conservatives "the right." I think --

FAUX: I agree.

HILL: People who talk about uniting the right in Canada --

FAUX: Conservatives are Liberals who wear different coloured ties.

HILL: I don't know about that, but talking about uniting the right misses the point. What you have in Canada are really two centre parties.

FAUX: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

HILL: One of them, at the moment, is simply much more viable than the other, and I don't think we're looking at the end game in the Alliance/Tory debacle right now. I think there's still a lot to happen with that, and that if somehow you merged the two parties, I don't think you'd have a workable entity when you finished, because the right-wingers in the Alliance from places like rural Alberta just wouldn't get along with the Tories --

FAUX: From Toronto --

HILL: -- the so-called "red Tories" --

FAUX: Exactly --

HILL: -- from places like Eastern Ontario and New Brunswick, and there's still a lot to go on that. The real problem for those other parties, and I don't call them the right of centre parties. The NDP is kind of in hot water too. They're kind of drifting, uncertain of where their future lies right now, and the real problem for those parties is the Liberal dominance.

FAUX: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

HILL: If something happens to take the Liberals down, if they wind up with a minority government in the next election or in several election cycles, if they manage to lose, then I think you'd see those other parties find their place more quickly.

FAUX: And of course the Liberals are in the incredibly tedious and ever long process of getting a new leader. Chrétien said "I'm going, but I'm going to take a year and a half to do so," and the whole country went, "Oh, good grief!" But ultimately, sometime this fall, in fact, they're going to, well, from all appearances, crown Paul Martin as the new leader of the party and new prime minister, but even he won't be able to take over until February when Chrétien finally hits the road.

HILL: I don't know how big a problem that is though, but keep in mind I'm an American where we --

FAUX: I understand, and it's interesting listening to an outsider, if you will, observation, an extremely knowledgeable outsider who knows more about the country than most people listening to this program.

HILL: Yeah. I mean, Chrétien gave 18 months notice that he was going. We know four years ahead that we're going to have a new president, you know, and we also elect our president in November and he takes office in January.

FAUX: Right.

HILL: And so just as an American, this is what I'm used to.

FAUX: Right. New leader in November, taking over in late January.

HILL: I mean it's the same thing with our city offices. Our mayor and city council gets elected in November, and they take office the following January.

FAUX: Mm hmm. Right.

HILL: And in Canada it's more like five days later. So it's not quite what you're used to in your system, but just from my perspective, I don't think that two months is really such a long time to wait between the electing of a new leader and his coronation.

FAUX: The 18, however, is a bit of a pain. Tony Hill and more after this on the Corus Radio Network.

FAUX: We're back with Tony Hill, a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota who has spent a lot of time in our country, friends, a lot of time, because he's put together a wonderful book called Canadian Politics: Riding by Riding. There's also a web site that accompanies this, and I'm on it right now, it's www.canpolitics.com, and if you scroll down through the web site, it says "Some questions you can find answers to in Canadian Politics: Riding by Riding," and here's why I like the book so much. Not only is it not boring and academic, and dusty, it's very vibrant, and kind of folksy. For example, here, let me just pull a few names. "What is the blueberry capital of Canada?"

HILL: It's Oxford, Nova Scotia.

FAUX: Ah. OK. Didn't know that one. "The corn capital of Canada?"

HILL: Taber, Alberta.

FAUX: Now our friends in Alberta know that. Taber corn is so good too! Kinda legendary. Just going through this enormous list.

HILL: I don't have all of these facts memorized.

FAUX: I know. And it's not a test.

HILL: OK.

FAUX: This one I could answer. "What is the Royal City?" My guess is New Westminster, B.C.

HILL: Yes.

FAUX: That's what they call it out here anyway, the Royal City. And it was the first capital of the province.

HILL: It was, I mention that in the entry about New Westminster.

FAUX: "What city is the centre of Chemical Valley?"

HILL: Sarnia, Ontario.

FAUX: Oh, of course. Petrolia is down in that corridor as well, isn't it? And is that an NDP riding right now?

HILL: No, that is Liberal. The whole province of Ontario is Liberal except for two seats in greater Ottawa and the two seats from Windsor which are both NDP.

FAUX: Right. Joe Comartin is one of them.

HILL: Joe Comartin and oh, I guess the name escapes me, the one who took Herb Gray's seat.

FAUX: That's right. That's right. A couple more here. "In what riding did the Edmund Fitzgerald sink?"

HILL: Algoma-Manitoulin.

FAUX: Ah, and that's of course in Lake Superior, well Manitoulin is in northern Georgian Bay, but that's a huge riding then, isn't it?

HILL: It is, yeah.

FAUX: Oh OK. One more here. "The Hartford of Canada?" I'm thinking Hartford, Connecticut, the insurance capital of the United States. What's the Hartford of Canada?

HILL: It's Waterloo, Ontario.

FAUX: Oh really. Oh OK. Well, this is not a test.

HILL: Well, it felt like one.

FAUX: (laughter) I didn't mean it to.

HILL: It's been months since I wrote that teaser for the web site, and you asked some challenging questions.

FAUX: When we wax theoretical and have open line moments on our program, we talk about politics and political systems and how we in Canada, the least reformed of all of the parliamentary democracies in the world, including the mother of all parliaments at Westminster, Canadian, for example, party discipline is still rigid and --

HILL: Oh, it's the strongest in the world in Canada.

FAUX: Well, strongest some would say, but also some would say strong to a point of ridiculousness, where unless you bark on command like a good trained seal, you're exiled to political Siberia and never heard from again. When we talk though about political systems and what we might do to spiff up the Canadian system, a lot of people will call this program and, Tony, will say things like, "Well, you know, I would like the opportunity to vote for a prime minister separate and apart from my MP and my House of Commons," and of course, the Senate is pretty much acknowledged as a joke, it's a patronage trough, and utterly ineffective, and irrelevant, but they do point to the executive and the fact that they look to the States and they see the presidential election separate and apart from the Senate and the House of Representatives and see that as a good thing. If you could change the American system, looking at the Canadian model to borrow from, what changes would you make?

HILL: Well, I really think a parliamentary system is more responsive than the presidential system of the type we have in the U.S. It might be nice to actually see the presidential candidates' name on the ballot, but keep in mind, we don't elect our president directly either. We elect a series of electors who then supposedly will cast the vote the way the state went --

FAUX: The electoral college.

HILL: Yes.

FAUX: But effectively, on the local constituency level you can vote for Gore or Clinton --

HILL: It's true, every person in the U.S. sees the names of the candidates on their ballot. But I would really caution people in Canada who want to try to copy our system. And there are a lot of people particularly in the West who want to do that. I think, for example, having an American-style Senate would be bad for Canada.

FAUX: Why?

HILL: I think we're headed for a train wreck in the 21st century in the U.S. the way it is. When you look at our biggest states keep getting bigger -- California, Texas, Florida -- very large and also very diverse populations. Each of those states has two votes in our Senate.

FAUX: Mm hmm.

HILL: You look at states that are actually declining in population like North Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, Idaho, and these are states with very homogenous populations. It's easy to foresee that perhaps 50 years from now, there'll be a time when there's some incredible fiasco that happens as a result of that.

FAUX: Yet you have the House of Representatives which effectively does the "rep by pop," to go back to an old Lord Durham expression in Canada, representation by population, so you've got California with as many seats as it deserves in Congress, and yet on the Senate level, Delaware has the same clout effectively as California, and because there's the balance of the other house, why is that a bad thing?

HILL: I'm just not as convinced it's a good thing as it was when the constitution was written in 1789. It was -- I should point out that even though I don't take sides in Canadian politics at all, I don't actually care which of the parties wins or any candidate, I am a good American Democrat --

FAUX: Aha!

HILL: -- and just from my standpoint, it was very frustrating when my party had a majority in the House of Representatives, which is the most democratic branch of government --

FAUX: Right. Right.

HILL: -- and all that progressive legislation got stymied in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans.

FAUX: Right.

HILL: And I see that as a problem that's going to get worse rather than better. Now, I'm not saying we should tilt the scales in favour of the Democrats, but I'm saying that the Senate of the U.S. is a patently undemocratic body, and that was built into the system as a compromise between the small states and the large states, and I'm just not convinced that that's something that's relevant anymore.

FAUX: Given your admission of your Democratic leanings, what do you imagine -- and I'm asking you to hypothesize to a villainous degree -- but what would you imagine the United States to be like tonight if President Gore was running the show? Would we be sitting here in this radio station with assignment sheets on the walls scheduling people for war coverage? Would we be leaning over the precipice of conflict as we are under George W. Bush?

HILL: I doubt it. I think the September 11th and what followed from it would have happened, but the spillover into having a war with Iraq wouldn't necessarily have gotten to this stage under Gore. I should also say I'm not as much of an activist as I used to be. I still call myself a Democrat but I really don't do anything with the party anymore --

FAUX: OK.

HILL: -- I've really focussed more, I actually like writing about things and doing that better than being a partisan. But Democrats have been accused of being warmongers too. It just happens that all the big wars that happened in this century happened when Democrats were in the White House --

FAUX: Mm hmm.

HILL: -- So the parties routinely accuse each other of being the party of war. I can't speak for Al Gore, but it seems to me that Bush is more eager to have this war than Gore would have been. This is a completely different war from the one that Bush's father fought.

FAUX: Right.

HILL: -- That was, the 1991 Iraqi War --

FAUX: It was pretty cut and dried, wasn't it?

HILL: It was essentially World War III. It was the whole rest of the world against Iraq.

FAUX: Right.

HILL: And that's not what we're looking at now, and that is what really has a lot of Americans on edge, that we're looking at doing this war by ourselves, without our allies, without the U.N., and without really a clear objective. In 1991, we had a clear objective, we were going to liberate Kuwait --

FAUX: Sure.

HILL: -- and if we got Saddam Hussein in the process, then the more the merrier. But, you know, if we were just going to say, we're going to go in there and take out Saddam's weapons, then I think we'd have an easier time getting these allies on board than with what Bush is doing, kind of saying, well, let's get the weapons, and then let's get Saddam, and then, who knows, which is essentially what he's saying, and --

FAUX: It's been handled very badly, from a public relations, even, point of view, not only in terms of convincing the people of the United States, but the people of the world, and the governments of the rest of the world, that, hey, you know, we're up to good things here, we have a clear mission, and we have a job to do.

HILL: I think Americans would support the war if it were stated clearly and in limited fashion that there was a way out of it. A lot of Americans don't like the idea that we might be occupying Iraq for 10 years like we did with Germany and Japan.

FAUX: I wanted to ask you about Jesse Ventura! You're a University of Minnesota guy, now he's out of the game, but he was an independent. Americans celebrate their mavericks and their independents. I was talking about the Canadian party discipline. You buck the party, you're toast. In America, you buck the party, back home, you're a hero!

HILL: That's really not true. We don't have very many independents get elected to anything in the U.S. --

FAUX: Well, true, but I mean you can go against, vote against the party in the house, and not die a thousand horrible deaths.

HILL: That is really true. The case that really comes to mind is the Republicans as part of their Contract with America in the mid 90s brought up having a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget --

FAUX: Mm hmm.

HILL: -- and there was a Republican senator, a prominent one, Mark Hatfield of Oregon, who voted against it, and the thing failed by one vote, and the Republicans didn't punish Hatfield for that. In Canada, of course --

FAUX: He would have been beaten!

HILL: Well, he would have been out. He would have been like the MPs who voted against the GST in 1990 and they were tossed out of the Tory caucus --

FAUX: Mm hmm.

HILL: -- by Brian Mulroney. That really doesn't happen in the U.S. As for Jesse Ventura, I expect him to run for president next year.

FAUX: You do?

HILL: Yeah.

FAUX: And how do you think he'll do? I mean, he has that, he's a flamboyant guy, and he has an ability to touch the grass roots, unlike a lot of professional politicians.

HILL: Well, he really benefitted from a lack of scrutiny toward him. He was kind of treated as a joke when he ran --

FAUX: Sure was!

HILL: -- and the media didn't examine his past and what he was saying as thoroughly as they would have the two major party candidates, and I think that is something that will not be repeated if he runs for president. If he runs, I think he would have a vote that would only be his. There are some people who would come to the polls and vote for him, and those delegates, if he did it within the context of the Democratic Party, I think he could make them go to a second ballot, if he ran as a Democrat and took a bunch of delegates with him.

FAUX: Unfortunately, we're out of time, but I have to ask you one more question. We talked about the Liberals and the seemingly endless reign that they appear to be destined to hold. How long do you foresee the Liberals running the show in Canada given the inability of non-Liberals to coalesce and vote for an alternative.

HILL: That really depends on how the new Liberal leader is received. We've had the situation before where it looked like somebody was being crowned and that they were going to have a long reign -- you remember John Turner in 1984 --

FAUX: Sure!

HILL: -- Kim Campbell in 1993, and they both fell on their faces, and I don't think it's inconceivable that that could happen again. I don't think if, for example, the party picked Martin or Manley that they'd be reduced to two seats like the Tories were, but I could see them taking a minority government, which would destabilize the Liberal Party for governing in the future. Some people have bounced back from minority government, particularly Pierre Trudeau, but you can't expect that to happen every time.

FAUX: This is a fabulous book, friends, $59.95 Canadian, $39.95 U.S. from Prospect Park Press. Is it in bookstores, Tony, or do they go to the web site, how do folks get a hold of it?

HILL: Yes. We're in a few bookstores, and I'm actually appearing in Calgary this week, on Tuesday evening at the Calgary Public Library downtown and on Thursday at 7 PM at the West Edmonton Mall Chapters bookstore.

FAUX: It's the big book tour starring Tony Hill!

HILL: And, yeah, but check your bookstore, and if they don't have it, try our web site www.canpolitics.com.

FAUX: I wish you tremendous success with this book. It is an astonishingly good effort and a great read. Thanks for popping by for a visit.

HILL: Well, I thank you for your kind words, and thank you for having me here.

Return to the main page