Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Groundhog Day

By this time in his political career, Michael Harris writes, Justin Trudeau might have been plotting his exit. But Pierre Poilievre has given him a reason to stick around for awhile:

Not many people in federal politics win the PM’s job and a majority government on their first try. Even fewer win three consecutive federal elections, albeit by lesser margins, in the age of drive-by-smear politics.  

Few besides Trudeau have inherited—and navigated—a deadly pandemic that stole lives, liberties, and economies. Trudeau has also answered the international bell in two staggering tragedies, the Syrian War, and now Putin’s sick assault on Ukraine. Canada was there with both humanitarian and military assistance.

It hasn't been all sweetness and light:

Trudeau’s record on climate change has been mixed. But while slow to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, setting carbon emission targets more aspirational than real, and actually buying a rickety pipeline, he did give Canada a meaningful carbon tax. He also gave the country a piece of environmental assessment legislation that could be a game-changer: that is, if the Alberta Appeals Court decision striking down Bill C-69 is itself reversed on appeal by a higher court.  

His much-vaunted feminism was put to the test and failed during the SNC-Lavalin scandal, and the government’s handling of harassment of women in the Canadian military.  

Most prime ministers have mixed records and those records eventually catch up with them. But Pierre Poilievre presents a problem for the Conservatives:

The political odds right now favour Pierre Poilievre to become the next Conservative leader in September, another ex-Harper acolyte who has no chance of becoming prime minister.  

“Freedom” might pass for public policy at a biker rally, or in a non-representative trucker’s convoy. It will be merely comical during a federal election campaign. Canadians are cosmopolitan citizens of the planet. They know that few countries in the world can boast the freedoms, social safety net, and opportunities that Canada does. 

Who could take a candidate seriously for PM who argued against mandates that saved people’s lives during the pandemic, including crucially important vaccines?  

This is the same man who championed the right of fringe-truckers to tie up the national capital for weeks over COVID-mandates, but who wanted First Nations protestors immediately kicked off the railway tracks to guarantee the public’s right to move.

This is the MP who as a Harper cabinet minister endorsed a “snitch line” so neighbour could rat out neighbour over so-called “barbaric practices.” He was also the author of the laughably named Fair Elections Act, which would have put a Cheshire Cat smile on the face of any Texas Republican.  

Jean Charest -- another Quebec native son -- would be a much more formidable opponent for Trudeau. But it appears that, for the Conservatives, every day is Groundhog Day.

Image: You Tube

Monday, May 16, 2022

Bill 96

I'm tired. I'm tired of the language merry-go-round in Quebec. Francois Legault's government is on the cusp of passing Bill 96, which would further restrict the rights of Quebec's English speakers. The Montreal Gazette reports that:

Quebec’s anglophone community rarely protests in the streets against government policy. However, many who came out Saturday said while they are in favour of protecting the French language and culture in Quebec, Bill 96 — which is expected to come to a vote in the National Assembly at the end of the month — would have disastrous consequences in education, language and health-care sectors.

The law would give increased powers to the Office québécois de la langue française, the province’s language watchdog, such as search and seizure without a warrant. It would also restrict service in English in health-care institutions and the courts.

The bill has also raised the ire of the province’s Indigenous communities who called it a form of cultural genocide, and asked to be exempted from it, to no avail.

“The Mohawk language was spoken here thousands of years before French was ever spoken,” [Kenneth]Deer said. “We are being recolonized again by the Quebec government because of Bill 96. We don’t force you to learn Mohawk. Don’t force us to learn your language.”

The Two Solitudes no longer exists in Quebec. It was there when I was a kid growing up in Montreal. But it disappeared thirty years ago. Nonetheless, Adam Bright -- who teaches English at Dawson College -- is worried:

“It’s kind of heartbreaking to see how few people actually understand what this bill is going to do to their opportunities,” said Bright, who teaches English literature at Dawson College. Bright believes he will lose his job if the bill is passed, because there will be less of a need for English instruction in the CEGEP system. “So many of us are investing in French in Quebec. My son is going to a French daycare and will go to a French elementary school, but the bill is based on a misguided notion that to learn English, it somehow imperils French.”

I taught high school in Quebec for twelve years. When Rene Levesque's Parti Quebecois came to power, it severely restricted the ability of students to enter English schools. When I began my teaching career, the school where I taught had 1100 students. When I left, it had 300. I told my wife we'd better leave before they turned out the lights.

I love Quebec. Growing up there opened my eyes to the world. But there is a paranoia that runs deep in in la belle province. And it never goes away. Quebecers always fear the barbarians at the gates. And, in every generation, that fear rises -- like a phoenix from its ashes.

Image: The Montreal Gazette

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Faux Populist

In his first quest for the brass ring, Doug Ford ran as an unapologetic populist. Robin Sears writes:

Like Donald Trump, Ford’s deepest angst is being viewed by his hated “elites” as not very smart and somewhat vulgar socially. It’s what lies behind the bluster of every bellowing, red-faced populist. What was his campaign team thinking when they publicly signalled he is not the sharpest blade in the drawer?

Many populists with more blarney than brains have been great political successes — Ralph Klein, Mike Harris, Bill Vander Zalm — so this is not a fatal weakness. It does often lead, however, to your campaign team being too desperate to shield your less-than-persuasive knowledge of issues from careful examination.

And that weakness was apparent last week, at the first leaders' debate, when Ford showed up with notes from which he read -- a clear indication that Ford is not who he would like to appear to be. And there's more evidence of that. Ford wants to build a new highway near the GTA:

For GTA voters, though, perhaps the most insulting promise is his brag he intends to waste billions on a pointless new superhighway to be punched through farmland at the very edge of Ontario’s priceless agricultural jewel, the Holland Marsh. This is very much off-brand for the New Ford, and is a return to the Old Ford’s rants about “war-on-the-car” elites.

His talking points claimed it will cost only $10 billion dollars, and will save commuters hours of struggle in traffic. Those not trapped in a 1960s vision of the future — that is too say almost every urban planner, transit and traffic expert in the province — say it is likely to cost a great deal more and save only seconds of travel time. One wonders how many affordable houses those billions might build.

When Conservatives are financially dependent on rich corporate backers — that certainly defines this gang — and they brag about a clearly absurd policy, follow the money. The land this superhighway will plow through is owned by several of Toronto’s richest development families. It will see their adjacent land values soar. As Malvina Reynolds once sang, they will seed that farmland with hundreds of “little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.”

The Globe revealed that many of the executives of these family empires are among Doug Ford’s biggest contributors. Surely, Ontario deserves a less craven government — one not trapped in visions of the past. One led by a premier who doesn’t need cheat sheets.

The unapologetic populist has always been a faux populist.

Image: CBC

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Not Their Party

If you want to know how far the Conservative Party has devolved, consider former prime minister Kim Campbell's comments on what's going on there now. Sarah Turnbull writes:

Amid discussions about the battle for the soul of the Conservative Party, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell says without leadership on policies such as climate change, the party’s identity will remain in question.

“I'm sorry, if you're not worried about climate change, and you're not worried about resurgent authoritarianism, and you're not a champion of the rights of women to make the contributions they need to make in society, I’m not interested,” she said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday.

“Canada has got to be part of the solution to climate change and the fact that there could be any party that drags its feet is just so depressing.”

Campbell is no friend of Pierre Poilievre:

The former leader also weighed in on Pierre Poilievre’s attacks on the Bank of Canada, and specifically comments that Governor Tiff Macklem should be fired for failing to manage soaring inflation.

Yeah, he should have predicted you know, the disruptions of the COVID supply chains and the war in Ukraine, right? Yeah. Get rid of the dude, he's not consulting his tarot cards. Grow up,” she said.

And on the independence of Canada’s central bank, she said “when people are appointed to hold independent positions you need to suck it up and respect that unless there is clear evidence that what they are doing is either incompetent or done in bad faith or dangerous.”

The party is obviously not Campbells's Party. It's not Joe Clark's Party. Or Brian Mulroney or Bob Stanfield's Party.

Indeed. CTV News

Friday, May 13, 2022

Student Debt

In both Canada and the United States, proposals are being floated to deal with the problem of student debt. Paul Krugman writes:

What I think I do know is that much of the backlash to proposals for student debt relief is based on a false premise: the belief that Americans who have gone to college are, in general, members of the economic elite.

The falsity of this proposition is obvious for those who were exploited by predatory for-profit institutions that encouraged them to go into debt to get more or less worthless credentials. The same applies to those who took on educational debt but never managed to get a degree — not a small group. In fact, around 40 percent of student loan borrowers never finish their education.

But even among those who make it through, a college degree is hardly a guarantee of economic success. And I’m not sure how widely that reality is understood.

What is widely understood is that America has become a far more unequal society over the past 40 years or so. The nature of rising inequality, however, isn’t as broadly known. I keep encountering seemingly well-informed people who believe that we’re mainly looking at a widening gap between the college-educated and everyone else.

When governments stopped issuing grants to students and started providing loans to them, the assumption was that their lifetime earnings would far outpace their debt. They could, it was said, easily repay their loans.

But the economy changed. University students graduated into the gig economy, where a regular paycheque was far from guaranteed. The result has been that students graduate from university with the equivalent of a home mortgage on their backs. That's quite an achievement by the age of 22. Recent statistics indicate that newly graduated doctors owe a quarter of a million dollars as they begin to set up a practice.

In Canada -- for the past two years and until March 2023 -- the federal government has stopped including interest payments on that debt. But there is so much more that could be done.

Image: North Shore Community College

Thursday, May 12, 2022

More Bombast

The Conservatives had another raucous debate last night. And it's clear, Bruce Arthur writes, that Pierre Poilievre will say anything in his quest for the party leadership:

In a Conservative leadership campaign defined by convoy praise and high school debate club burns, Pierre Poilievre also takes time to attack the Bank of Canada. Sunday, former Bank governor David Dodge responded, “well that’s bulls---” on a national talk show. You don’t see that every day.

The Ottawa-Carleton MP seems to be leading the Conservative leadership race thanks in part to predatory, distorted attacks on institutions during a time of global uncertainty. The Bank of Canada is a target thanks to the rise of inflation, which is largely due to the war in Ukraine and oil prices, house prices, China and COVID, and maybe some profiteering. People notice pocketbook economics.

In response to this thorny global financial challenge, Poilievre blames domestic spending and Bank bond-buying to support government deficit spending — he has always been against the pandemic financial supports to Canadians — and pitches … Bitcoin? That attack on the Bank came after its research showed five per cent of Canadians owned Bitcoin between 2018 and 2020: mostly young men whom the Bank described low financial literacy. Pierre, courting such young men, shot back that the bank was financially illiterate. Poilievre has also pitched Canada as a global cryptocurrency leader, proposed banning a government version, and has sold Bitcoin as a way to opt out of inflation.

It truly is a Trumpian performance -- loud on volume and high on ignorance:

Economists look at Poilievre the way a plumber would look at your plan to build a cardboard toilet: befuddlement, rising to annoyance. Bitcoin as a watchword for sound money is more or less the gold standard rebranded, and former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has already noted that a fixed money standard historically raises the risk of deflation and depressions.

Maybe you could view Poilievre’s Bitcoin pitch simply as the broader trend of hawking crypto: buy Bitcoin, make lots of money, opt out of inflation, the dream. He’s like Matt Damon telling people that fortune favours the brave so he can afford a new boat or something.

But Bitcoin is down 50 per cent since November as part of a greater cryptocurrency slump, and one estimate had 40 per cent of its holders as being underwater. It might go up again. But it’s not stable.

His attacks on the Bank of Canada are similarly reckless. He wants the Bank to focus on keeping inflation as low as possible, while knowingly pushing lines of attack that could undermine its ability to do so. Expectations of inflation affect wage expectations, which affect prices, and if the market doesn’t think the Bank of Canada is serious about bringing down inflation, inflation doesn’t slow.

Really, the simplest throughline to Poilievre’s bit is that if your goal is to hammer freedom to an audience that found wearing masks was an imposition, that vaccines were a conspiracy rather than a collective victory, and that are angry or confused by what’s happening with the world, then Bitcoin is just another aspirational buzzword that signifies the world doesn’t have to work the way you’re told it does. Poilievre has been pumping conspiratorial theories about gatekeepers for much of the pandemic; He’s still doing it. He’ll say just about anything, and that opens the door to all kinds of conspiracies, all kinds of anger, all kinds of extremism.

These days, morons get a lot of press coverage.

Image: CBC

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Recipe For Electoral Disaster

There was a big difference between Ontario's leaders' debate in North Bay and the Conservative leadership debate in Ottawa. Susan Delecourt writes:

It may not be fair to compare them, but the first Ontario leaders’ debate on Tuesday was far superior to last week’s debut debate between the federal Conservative leadership candidates.

Here’s one big difference: the Ontario leaders spared some words for lives lost and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Thursday night, anyone listening to the Conservative leadership debate would have thought the only damage wreaked by the pandemic was on the poor convoy protesters and all of those Canadians forced to get vaccinated.

The Ottawa debate was among enemies:

What last week’s debate definitely demonstrated was the depth of division among the contenders — particularly between the front-running Pierre Poilievre and former Quebec premier Jean Charest.

If it was just a personality clash, that division might be shrugged off as the intensity of competition, a demonstration of the personal stakes in this race.

But the competition is really all about the personality of the party. Under Charest, Aitchison or even Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, the Conservative brand would be more or less like it has been for decades: strong on fiscal conservatism, law and order, and steeped in institutions. It would likely be more than simply the “I Hate Justin Trudeau” party.

Last night's debate was between opponents:

There were clashes, sharp ones even, among the four on stage, but all four — Ford, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Green Leader Mike Schreiner — talked about practical policy issues and getting Ontario back on its feet after the pandemic.

They all talked up collaboration, too — even, imagine, with Trudeau’s government in Ottawa. Ford fondly recalled his nightly calls with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The federal Conservatives are taking their cues from American Republicans. That's a recipe for electoral disaster.

Image: Global News

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Riley On Carbon Capture

Susan Riley has become a fierce critic of Justin Trudeau's climate policy. She writes:

Well, that didn’t take long. Mere weeks after the federal budget offered a generous tax credit to help oil and gas companies create carbon sequestration projects—aimed at redirecting greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands projects underground, or into storage—industry pooh-bahs are moaning that the government proposal isn’t generous enough.

As Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix complained recently, carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) projects are costly and complicated and the industry isn’t sure they will pay off in the long term, due to oil’s uncertain future. Despite the dizzying profits of recent months, this is one gamble Big Oil isn’t willing to take. Instead, it wants taxpayers—federal and provincial—to pick up the tab for cleaning up the industry’s growing emissions.

Instead of the 50 to 60 per cent tax credit Ottawa offered—worth a notional $8.6-billion by 2030—the industry wants governments to cover at least 75 per cent of the cost of CCS, a technology that has existed for decades, but has yet to be successfully adopted for large-scale use. The so-called Oil Sands Pathway Alliance, representing the six largest companies in the patch, points to Norway, where government has taken on much of the direct cost of building CCS.

By now, we should know who the oil barons are. Former environment minister Catherine McKenna's eyes are wide open:

“When you see companies issue large dividends, fail to invest in technology, and make large profits, then ask government to step up—but say there is no way they’d do it themselves—it actually makes you wonder about the business model.”

In fact, Trudeau wants to have it both ways -- big oil profits and low emissions. That circle can't be squared. And that impossibility may affect national unity:

The constant appeasement of Alberta’s powerful fossil fuel industry and its political spear-carriers—federal cash to clean up abandoned wells, reduce methane emissions, buy a pipeline to the coast!—has done anything to fortify national unity, much less lower emissions. If anything, it has exacerbated divisions.

When it comes to climate change, for instance, Quebec may as well be a separate country. It recently became the world’s first jurisdiction to ban further oil and gas exploration. This wasn’t a federal initiative, of course, nor is it entirely a mark of the province’s superior virtue. But it does point to the wisdom of previous provincial governments, that prudently developed Quebec’s abundant hydro power. Those investments, mostly in James Bay, are now paying dividends in both international exports of green power and the emerging electrification of transportation.

Ontario’s important auto industry, unlike oil and gas, has embraced the future and is embarked on a transition to electric vehicles, with the applause—and significant financial support—of both federal and Ontario governments. A campaigning Doug Ford is showing up with federal counterparts, grinning broadly, as billions in federal-provincial funding is directed at retooling assembly lines, setting up battery manufacturing facilities, and establishing EV research centres at car plants across southern Ontario. (Last week, some $3.6-billion federal-provincial-private money was announced to upgrade assembly lines in Windsor and Brampton, thereby securing well-paying jobs.)

While Central Canada moves, albeit belatedly, towards a zero-carbon future, federal Conservative leadership candidates are back-pedalling furiously on climate, joining western premiers, like Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, in denouncing a carbon tax and endorsing an expansion of the fossil fuel industry. Even former champion of cap-and-trade, Jean Charest, has rejected the federal carbon tax. Patrick Brown, who included a carbon tax in his provincial platform when he was an Ontario PC leader, is calling for “consultation” with party members before he reveals his climate plans. The front-runner, Pierre Poilievre, wants to revive the Energy East pipeline, the Northern Gateway, and, basically, every LNG project anywhere.

This leaves federal climate debate, literally, all over the map. There is incoherence and mixed signals from the Trudeau government, hostility and denial from the Conservatives and no unity among premiers. As the climate crisis becomes more immediate for voters—with India baking under record heat, severe tornadoes in Oklahoma and another summer of climate threats looming at home—you wonder when, and how, the political fault lines will occur.

But make no mistake: They will occur.

Image: You Tube

Monday, May 09, 2022

Anti-Democratic Justices

The Supreme Court of the United States is anti-democratic. E.J. Dionne writes:

If the Supreme Court adopts the substance of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s draft ruling ending the constitutional right to abortion, the conservative majority’s radicalism will deepen the crisis of American democracy and further divide an already torn country.

There is an irony to this since, in principle, the Alito opinion is all about democracy. “It is time,” he writes, “to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

It has been a long journey to this outcome:

Even as they harvested pro-life votes, conservatives engaged in a deceptive two-step. Except for Donald Trump, who said outright that “I will be appointing pro-life judges,” Republican politicians typically veiled their intentions behind abstract promises to back “strict constructionists” who wouldn’t “legislate from the bench.”

The justices themselves were equally cagey during their confirmation hearings. They never told us they thought Roe was wrongly decided. On the contrary, they spoke of their great respect for precedent, often at length. Whether you call this lying or not, it was certainly intentional misdirection and evasion. The last thing Trump’s appointees wanted was an extended debate on what overturning Roe would mean.

Even now, most Republican politicians don’t want to talk about Roe. That’s because they know how unpopular eviscerating abortion rights would be. So they focus instead on how horrible it is that a draft opinion leaked out of the court.

The decision on Roe is not the only anti-democratic decision the court has made:

The court’s conservative majority has sabotaged all manner of democratically enacted laws: environmental and labor regulations, limits on the role of money in politics. The court’s decisions on voting rights and gerrymandering are anti-democratic on their face since they enable minority rule in the states that would be legislating on abortion. And the justices’ refusal to be candid about their designs on Roe matters. They prioritized their own confirmations over the imperative of a necessary national dialogue on the flaws and virtues of a controversial ruling they apparently intended to scrap.

If Americans expect justice from their Supreme Court, they're as deluded as the most recent ex-president of the United States.

Image: Supreme Court

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Nothing More Than A Bomb Thrower

In his quest for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre has made a point of attacking the Bank Of Canada. Andrew Coyne writes:

The bank is always open to criticism, of course, but it matters how it is conducted, and it matters by whom. The independence of central banks from political interference is rooted in much of the same soil as the independence of the courts, and is as sacrosanct. People agree to use a currency for the same reason they agree to obey the law: because they believe it has not been debased by the powers that be.

That does not mean critics should refrain from pointing out when either has in fact been debased. It does mean they should not make inflammatory suggestions to that effect without evidence. That is especially incumbent on those in positions of political leadership, or who aspire to it. A candidate for party leader who runs, essentially, against the bank is not sending a message that he would, if elected, leave the bank’s current leaders to carry on undisturbed. He is implying, even if he does not say it out loud, that he would fix their wagon.

This is a particularly hazardous moment to be playing politics with the bank. After a prolonged period in which interest rates were held at historic lows, the bank has begun to raise them, and promises to raise them further, the better to take the air out of inflation – or more particularly inflation expectations.

But Poilievre is not a man of self-restraint. His mission is to light fires:

To undermine the bank’s credibility at this, of all moments, then, is the height of recklessness. It can do no good, and may do much harm. Mr. Poilievre compounds the fault by pretending that, by baselessly questioning the bank’s independence, he is in fact defending it. The point of siccing the Auditor-General on it, he said in a statement after his press conference on the bank’s doorstep, was to “restore the bank’s independence.”

Poilievre sided with the truckers who wanted to overthrow the government. He also wants to overthrow the Bank. He doesn't have the stuff to be prime minister -- which he insists is the job he wants. He's nothing more than a bomb-thrower.

Image: Quotefancy

Saturday, May 07, 2022

A Dark Future

The Conservatives held their first leadership debate this week. And, if it showcased the future of the party, that future will be dark, indeed. Susan Delacourt writes:

Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec, was the odd man out in this week’s dust-up between Conservative leadership candidates at the Ottawa convention centre.

The crucial question for Charest, if not Conservatives themselves, is whether the same is true about the entire federal party. If the crowd at the Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference is representative of the Conservative party as a whole, Charest and his brand of politics are an outlier force.

Or, to put it more frankly, it may be now that the old, progressive conservatism is the real fringe movement in the Conservative Party of Canada.

 The crowd's reaction to Charest was deeply troubling:

It was the chorus of boos greeting Charest that showed just how much he was in unfriendly territory on Thursday night. Standing in a convention centre that was near ground zero of the Ottawa occupation this winter, Charest had the nerve to call the [truckers']protest illegal.

That’s not what the crowd, or the other candidates, wanted to hear. They howled outrage. Not only is Charest the only non-Ontario contender in this race, he is also the only would-be leader who isn’t looking to align himself with the angry mob that put the capital city and crucial border points under siege in February.

He’s also not declaring war on the media or the CBC, conflicted on abortion rights or nostalgic for the days of Stephen Harper. All any candidate needed to do to get the crowd cheering on Thursday was to whip up rage against “legacy media,” elites and anything else deemed “liberal.” Even the moderators got in on the act, positing that Conservatives keep losing elections because the media gangs up on social conservatives.

No, Charest pointed out at one early stage of the debate — Conservatives are still paying a high political price for their “barbaric cultural practices” tip line during the 2015 election, he said. A modern Conservative party has to be welcoming to new Canadians and national in outlook. His own supporters cheered. Many in the room did not.

This isn’t just a question of whether Charest will win or not when the votes are all counted in September. It goes to the heart of what the Conservative party is all about, after losing three elections and the discipline of power they had during the Harper years.

Charest and his team will no doubt be reflecting on that scene at the conference, and whether it’s wise or even possible to lead a party populated by partisans more interested in knocking things down than building anything up. No one talked of climate change, Canada-U.S. relations or even Ukraine in any substantial way.

We've seen how this story plays out. South of the border, it led to four years of Donald Trump and the Supreme Court he built.

Apparently, there are lots of us who are crazy enough to want to repeat that story.

Image: The Toronto Star

Friday, May 06, 2022

How's The Brand Doing?

In the last Ontario election, the Liberal brand was toxic. The party wound up with seven seats --  not enough for official party status. This election will be a real test of that brand. Bob Hepburn writes:

Political branding is about how a party is perceived by the public. It’s a feeling or image that voters have of a party.

 Importantly, it plays a major role in a party’s efforts to generate a feeling of identity, of being part of a “like-minded community,” for voters. It also helps voters to determine quickly what a party is all about, how it differs from other parties and whether a party’s major positions are generally in line with theirs.

Indeed, political branding is arguably more important in an election than a party’s detailed campaign platform, given that a candidate’s stands on various issues have only a limited impact on whether a person will vote for them or not.         

But over the last half dozen years, the brand has taken a hit. And, as this election starts, it's not looking very strong:

Greg Lyle, president of the polling firm Innovative Research, says the current Ontario election is significantly different from previous provincial contests when it comes to branding.

"For the past 20 years, the Ontario Liberals typically enjoyed at least a 10-per-cent lead in brand affinity. Voters felt closer to the Liberals than the PCs,” Lyle said Wednesday in a tweet about his firm’s latest poll. “This election is a virtual tie, thanks to backlash to the federal election.”

Lyle’s polling, conducted between April 27 and May 2, asked people how they think of themselves when it comes to Ontario politics. The survey indicated 29 per cent think of themselves as Liberals, 27 per cent as Conservatives, 17 per cent as independents or as supporting no party, and 13 per cent as New Democrats.

For the Liberals, that’s a sharp drop from before the 2021 federal election, when up to 40 per cent of Ontarians said they thought of themselves as Liberals.

The harsh fact is that the Liberal “brand” has suffered terribly for generations in many parts of Ontario, especially in rural areas. But in recent elections, it has faded even in regions where it was once strong, such as Windsor and Hamilton.

On June 2nd, we'll have a much better idea of how the brand is doing.

Image:  The Toronto Star       

Thursday, May 05, 2022

The New American Civil War

The leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion on Roe v Wade is the second attack on Fort Sumter. It is the beginning of the second American Civil War. Lawrence Martin writes:

Although its reputation has been bruised in recent times, the Supreme Court was the one remaining branch of government for which Americans maintained a level of trust. That’s gone now.

Not only is there a wide disconnect between the Supreme Court and the American population on this vital issue (poll after poll shows that two-thirds of Americans wish to uphold Roe), there’s also the stunning hypocrisy of two of the court’s justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Both had indicated in their Senate confirmation hearings that they would uphold Roe, but now they’ve given their backing to a draft ruling that would accomplish just the opposite. What credibility do they have now?

The decision will split the country in half. One half of the country will allow abortion. The other half will ban abortion. What will follow is a battle royal. Americans have lost faith in the last of its three governmental institutions.

Winston Churchill said that Americans eventually will do the right thing. No more.

Image: Detroit Free Press

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

A Little Foresight


Armine Yalnizyan writes that we're headed for a global recession:

After the foreseen economic rebound from pandemic, business pages are newly flooded with warnings of looming slowdown and even economic contraction around the world.

But it’s not a complete surprise, because it’s being driven by the same things that caused inflation in the first place; widespread supply and labour shortages caused by COVID-19, which has triggered China’s latest lockdowns of whole cities and North America’s latest wave of illness due to premature lifting of masking and slowed vaccination efforts.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused global oil prices to spike, impacting energy costs and production throughout Europe.

Now central banks are tackling inflation by raising rates, which will not address the root causes of inflation but are necessary for the credibility and legitimacy of these institutions.

Still, we’re on a tightrope, swinging from a strong but temporary rebound from the pandemic to a softening, perhaps faltering, economy.

So what should we do to prepare for what's ahead? Reform the Employment Insurance system. That system was gutted in the 1990's:

In the 1990s, EI was deliberately gutted by four rounds of “reform.” We went from 80 per cent of the unemployed receiving jobless benefits to less than 40 per cent in the decade before the pandemic hit.

The people hardest hit by the reforms were more likely to be women, low-paid, and in large urban centres — exactly the people most impacted by the pandemic.

That lack of access to EI guaranteed the Canadian economy would be clobbered during the pandemic without the invention of CERB.

But CERB is gone. So the burden falls on EI:

Change is urgently needed, because 57 per cent of GDP is propelled by household spending and the major source of that income comes from workers. The working-aged population is shrinking as a share of all Canadians, but their incomes also help those too old, too young and too sick to work.

More workers need to be able to access jobless benefits when they need them. That means reducing the hours required to trigger eligibility.

Before the 1990s “reforms,” it took just 165 hours of insurable earnings — hours on official record with an employer, meaning you’re not self-employed — to be eligible for employment insurance in regions with more than eight per cent unemployment.

That ballooned to 595 hours after the cuts.

During the pandemic a universal requirement was set at 420 hours, but on Sept. 25 that will jump to between 420 and 700 hours, cutting off many.

Make it 360 hours — for everyone.

A 360-hours threshold won’t reach everyone, and isn’t as generous as pre-1996 cuts, but it will provide shelter from the storm for most workers. Reforms also require tackling widespread misclassification that leaves too many workers without EI and other protections.

Improved coverage needs to extend to higher earners too, largely shielded from the pandemic’s economic impact. Technology means people working from home can be replaced by workers from lower-wage countries.

Maximum insurable earnings — the upper limit of earnings that will be replaced, though not fully — need to be raised.

A little foresight can save a lot of pain.

Image: livescience.com

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Have They Got Him?

It looks like New York's District Attorney will give Donald Trump a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. But, in Atlanta, Trump faces another kind of district attorney. Norm Eisen and Donald Ayer write:

Ms. Willis, a Democrat, has a demonstrated record of courage and of conviction. She has taken on — and convicted — a politically powerful group, Atlanta’s teachers, as the lead prosecutor in the city’s teacher cheating scandal.

And she is playing with a strong hand in this investigation. The evidentiary record of Mr. Trump’s postelection efforts in Georgia is compelling. It is highlighted by a recording of Mr. Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021, call with Mr. Raffensperger, in which Mr. Trump exhorted Mr. Raffensperger to “find” those votes.

The tape also contains threats against the secretary and his staff that had an element of coercion, like Mr. Trump’s warning that failing to identify (nonexistent) fraud would be “a big risk” to Mr. Raffensperger and to his lawyer. The recording is backed by voluminous evidence that Mr. Trump likely knew full well he had lost, including acknowledgment from administration officials like his attorney general, William P. Barr, and an internal Trump campaign memo admitting that many fraud claims were unfounded. As a federal judge noted in finding that Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election were likely criminal, the former president “likely knew the justification was baseless and therefore that the entire plan was unlawful.”

Ms.Willis has impaneled a grand jury and, in Georgia, grand juries are a little different than the grand jury in New York:

Under Georgia practice, special purpose grand juries are typically used for focused investigation of a matter and have the power to subpoena witnesses. Special grand juries develop expertise in a single case over a sustained period (here up to 12 months), as opposed to regular grand juries, which hear many matters over a shorter period. Unlike regular grand juries, the special grand jury cannot issue an indictment, but any charging recommendations are presented by a district attorney to a regular grand jury, which can then indict based on the special grand jury’s work.

The special grand jury will begin issuing subpoenas for some of the 30 or so witnesses who have refused requests for voluntary interviews. Those initial witnesses will then be served and will start appearing in June. Mr. Trump and those closest to him have a history of rushing to court to fight subpoenas, but they are unlikely to be given the opportunity in this first wave. Careful prosecutors usually start with less controversial witnesses, and Ms. Willis is a careful prosecutor. If Mr. Trump or those closest to him are served, that is when subpoenas are most likely to be challenged in court — but that is probably months away.

And then there is the investigation in the House of Representatives:

The case also in no way diminishes the importance of the House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 committee. In fact, the committee will most likely aid the Georgia prosecution while going about the business of its own investigation. (Ms. Willis and the committee have reportedly already been in contact.) For example, litigation with Mr. Meadows disclosed key details of the alleged plot to overturn the Georgia election. An email the committee filed from one of the lawyers helping Mr. Trump, Cleta Mitchell, included a detailed 11-point memo about overturning the election. Operating outside Washington, Ms. Willis might have taken years to obtain that email and other evidence like it.

Trump may meet his fate in Georgia.

Image: The New York Times

Monday, May 02, 2022

What Happened To Civility?

Canadians used to be famous for their civility. The roots of that civility are a little hard to trace. Robin Sears writes:

Perhaps it grew out of the need to pretend to show respect to Canada’s Indigenous peoples, so as to beguile them into suicidal concessions.

Another thread in our effort to maintain a harmonious social tapestry must have been the often painful relationship between francophone and anglophone Canadians, and the need to manage mutual concessions on an ongoing basis.

It is evident in our remarkable, if unfathomable, success at growing from an all-white, somewhat racist and socially rigid community to the most successful multicultural nation on earth. Surprisingly, we are in overwhelming agreement that adding nearly five million immigrants and refugees a decade — more than ten per cent of our population — to Canada is a good and necessary thing.

But that civility is disappearing:

So why are we so frivolously throwing away the social civility that makes that possible? We can blame Americans, social media, too little civics education and more. More usefully, we might examine why over-the-top insults are so appealing to most of us, when directed at a hated target, or why Trudeau knows that when he uses insulting invective to attack his opponents, it’s a political plus for him. And then putting ourselves in the shoes of those under attack — especially the young and the vulnerable — before spitting a slur at someone who offends us.

There are all kinds of examples of the uncivil and the cruelty around the world these days. But Sears suggests that we turn to Shakespeare to find the reason: " The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Image: Quote Fancy

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Musk And Twitter

Why did Elon Musk buy Twitter? David Olive writes:

Some business deals eventually go bad. And some are failures from the start.

Elon Musk’s planned $44-billion (U.S.) purchase of social media company Twitter Inc. announced this week falls into the second camp.

Seldom has someone tried to pay so much money for something of so little value. 

When you look under the hood, Twitter looks like a lemon:

In 2016, Walt Disney Co., Salesforce Inc. and Alphabet Inc. each scrapped plans to buy Twitter after finding a lack of economic value in the company.

As a business, Twitter barely registers with its $5 billion in 2021 revenues, against the $118 billion in revenues posted by Meta Platforms Inc., owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

In its 15 years, Twitter has never been able to settle on a business model that generates sustainable profit growth.

Musk’s Twitter purchase is one of the biggest leveraged buyouts (LBO) in corporate history. In an LBO, the target company is loaded up with debt to finance its own acquisition.
To finance this deal, Musk has put up $21 billion of his own money. Another $12.5 billion is covered by bank loans secured by $62.5 billion worth of Musk’s shares in Tesla.

The remainder, about $13 billion, is debt that will be piled onto Twitter’s balance sheet.

Those numbers add up to more than $44 billion to cover the lenders’ fees.

Twitter’s new debt will stick it with annual debt-payment costs of about $1 billion.

With projected cash flow of only $1.9 billion next year, Twitter won’t have much free cash flow to finance a needed turnaround.

Musk is the richest man in the world. He knows how to make money. But this purchase doesn't fit the profile.

Is Twitter Musk's version of a Russian oligarch's yacht?

Image: The Toronto Star

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Radicalized Right

Max Fawcett writes that we are about to discover how much the Right has been radicalized:

A public inquiry into the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act has been struck, and it will look into the events that led up to that precedent-making occasion. Justice Paul Rouleau, an Ontario judge who has been described as “practical” and “thoughtful” by his colleagues, will examine the “evolution and goals of the convoy and blockades, their leadership, organization and participants,” along with the role domestic and foreign funding and the spread of disinformation played in turning a protest into an illegal occupation. His report will be tabled in the House of Commons and Senate of Canada by Feb. 20, 2023.

That report should shine a crucial light on the growing influence of far-right radical movements in Canada and the degree to which they’ve infiltrated more mainstream institutions like the Conservative Party of Canada. That didn’t just start happening over the last few months, either. The Yellow Vest movement, which culminated in a convoy of its own to Ottawa, was marbled with white supremacists and far-right extremists, as National Observer’s own Caroline Orr noted in 2019. That same year, David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told a Senate committee his agency was “more and more preoccupied” with violent right-wing extremism.

None of this seems to have registered with the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, much less with Maxime Bernier, who came within a handful of votes of becoming its leader in 2017 before breaking off to form the People’s Party of Canada. Surely, they were aware of renewed warnings in late January from the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) that the convoy about to converge on Ottawa was filled with radical elements.

Conservatives -- like Pierre Poilievre and Candice Bergen -- danced with the leaders of the truckers' convey. Now they're trying to suggest that the inquiry is a plot to punish those devoted to freedom:

In question period Wednesday, Bergen suggested the inquiry is going to be “another chance for [the prime minister] to call innocent people racists and misogynists and accuse them of all kinds of things that are factually not true.”

What is and isn’t factually true will be up to Justice Rouleau to decide, and he’ll have plenty of leeway to do that, including the power to summon witnesses under oath and require them to provide documents. Conservatives have complained loudly that the government hasn’t (yet) waived cabinet confidentiality around internal documents related to the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, with MP Raquel Dancho suggesting the inquiry “will be useless unless they waive cabinet confidence and allow Canadians to know the whole story.”

But as Postmedia columnist Matt Gurney wrote, we may not get to know the whole story here. “It’s very possible that the government possesses information that has not been made public for valid national security reasons, which informed its decision-making, and led cabinet to believe the Emergencies Act was warranted.”

And remember: This is happening as "Rolling Thunder" pulls into Ottawa -- some of whose members were arrested last night for defying police edicts that they could walk -- but not ride -- into the downtown core.

Image: insidenova.com

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Arsenal Of Democracy -- Again

Mark Twain wrote that "history doesn't repeat itself. But sometimes it rhymes." Paul Krugman writes:

Britain in 1940, like Ukraine in 2022, had unexpected success against a seemingly unstoppable enemy, as the Royal Air Force defeated the Luftwaffe’s attempt to achieve air superiority, a necessary precondition for invasion. Nonetheless, by late 1940 the British were in dire straits: Their war effort required huge imports, including both military hardware and essentials like food and oil, and they were running out of money.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded with the Lend-Lease Act, which made it possible to transfer large quantities of arms and food to the beleaguered British. This aid wasn’t enough to turn the tide, but it gave Winston Churchill the resources he needed to hang on, which eventually set the stage for Allied victory.

Now Lend-Lease has been revived, and large-scale military aid is flowing to Ukraine, not just from the United States but also from many of our allies.

Thanks to this aid, the arithmetic of attrition is actually working strongly against Putin. Russia’s economy may be much bigger than Ukraine’s, but it’s small compared with the American economy, let alone the combined economies of the Western allies. And with its limited economic base, Russia doesn’t appear to have the capacity to replace its battlefield losses; Western experts believe, for example, that the fighting in Ukraine so far has cost Russia two years’ worth of tank production.

Ukraine’s army, by contrast, is getting better equipped, with ever more heavy weapons, by the day. Assuming Congress agrees to President Biden’s request for an additional $33 billion in aid — a sum we can easily afford — cumulative Western support for Ukraine will soon come close to Russia’s annual military spending.

In other words, as I said, time appears to be on Ukraine’s side. Unless the Russians can pull off the kind of dramatic battlefield success that has eluded them so far — such as a blitzkrieg-style assault that encircles a large part of Ukraine’s forces — and do it very soon, the balance of power seems set to keep shifting in Ukraine’s favor.

The outcome of the war is still unclear -- as it was in 1940. But it appears that some folks have learned the lessons of history.

Image: AZ Quotes

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Language Pirates

Lawrence Martin writes that those on the Right have become skilled language pirates:

The word “woke” used to have a positive connotation. It originated in Black culture and took on a more common, mainstream usage following the killing of Black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. To be woke meant to be socially progressive, with an acute awareness of social injustices.

Then, in the United States, Canada and elsewhere, the word woke was co-opted, hijacked by the political right and turned into a broad-sweep putdown of anyone with politically correct liberal values. Woke was newly reserved for lefty intellectuals and tree huggers, sushi eaters and faculty lounge highbrows, New York Times readers and the like.

It’s a strong weapon for the right, all the more so because progressives have ceded ownership of the term. You don’t hear “I’m woke and proud of it” much. They don’t have a retaliatory catch-all smear for reactionaries or their backwardness. Hillary Clinton tried “deplorables.” We know how well that went.

Re-engineering political language to discredit progressives hasn’t just been limited to woke. The language pirates put liberals on the defensive by weaponizing the term “elites” as well, which used to signify success, having reached a high level. Now it’s shorthand for ruling class condescension and snobbery.

It also used to be that the wealthy elites were primarily conservative. But the right smartly politicized the term, slotting elites on the left side of the spectrum – part and parcel of the woke crowd.

Let's be clear: this is not a trend to be applauded. George Orwell wrote in Politics and The English Language that corruption of language leads to corruption of thought. These days that corruption supports all kinds of intellectual fraud. And now Elon Musk has acquired Twitter:

This week, with Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the right has more to celebrate in terms of its power over the public discourse. With the company going private, it appears that deregulation is in the works. There will be no more banning the Donald Trumps of the world. It’s a victory for the politically incorrect.

Over time, the language pirates in the U.S. have even turned the word liberal into a derogatory term. That hasn’t happened in Canada, but conservatives here have been no slouches in picking up on some of the trends.

Pierre Poilievre’s leadership campaign strongly appeals to anti-woke sentiment. “Stand up to woke culture,” he tweets. “Stand up for freedom.” It’s not the hard right that divides Canada, insists the demagogic MP who was one of the foremost defenders of the truckers’ occupation of the country’s capital. It’s the woke mob. “We know what this woke culture is about,” he recently told supporters at a rally. “What it’s about is dividing people. Dividing them by race, gender, vaccination status.”

Caveat Emptor.

Image: usatoday.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Exam Time

We're getting close to exam time in Ontario. It's been a long time since I was involved in this annual ritual. But I was struck by George Monbiot's column in The Guardian:

Why are we doing this to our children? As exam term begins, the question hangs over millions of households. NHS figures suggest that 17% of 6- to 16-year-olds in England now suffer from a “probable mental disorder”, and the incidence has risen by 50% since 2017.

In a survey by the children’s commissioner for England, two-thirds of children ranked homework and exams as their greatest cause of stress. Responding to a poll by the National Education Union, 73% of teachers said they believed the mental health of their students had deteriorated since the government introduced its “reformed” GCSEs, which put more weight on final exams and less on coursework and other assessments.

These reforms, imposed on schools by Michael Gove against expert advice, may have contributed to the OECD’s shocking finding in 2019 that, of the 72 nations in which the life satisfaction of 15-year-olds was assessed, the UK came 69th. Our children’s joy of living suffered the greatest decline of any country since 2015, the year in which the GCSE reforms became effective. If we are going to subject young people, already so vulnerable, to the extreme stress and anxiety of exams, there must be an excellent reason. So what is it?

I'm not against exams. But Monbiot states a simple truth:

You can pass your exams, enter a top university and become a cabinet minister, yet fail to achieve basic standards of research, insight, originality, reasoned argument, empathy or humanity. 

That notion came to mind yesterday when I heard that Senator Rand Paul tried to justify Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Paul is a graduate of the Duke University School of Medicine. But he strikes me as a horrendously stupid man -- who passed his exams. Monbiot writes:

What exams measure is aptitude in exams. While they might rank certain skills, such as the retention of facts and the performance of linear tasks under pressure, these represent just a small part of the equipment a person needs to navigate the world. Many of the challenges we face are complex, long-lasting and multi-layered. They might demand social and emotional intelligence rather than the ability to marshal facts, and might best be overcome by collaboration instead of competition.

But performance in these narrow, unrepresentative tests can determine the entire future course of a student’s life. Some will be branded failures, creating a self-image that will never be erased. I’ve met children who are brilliant in peculiar ways, but who flunk exams. I’ve met adults who, often after long struggles with self-esteem and social condescension, succeed magnificently despite their low grades. I’ve met others whose evident talents remain unrecognised, as they never overcome the stigma.

It’s not the child who fails the system. It’s the system, seeking to force everyone into the same box, that fails the child. It pathologises diversity. For example, as The ADHD Explosion, by the clinical psychologist Stephen Hinshaw and the health economist Richard Scheffler, suggests, a massive increase in ADHD diagnoses appears to be linked to the rise in high-stakes testing. As exams become more important, parents have a greater incentive to seek the diagnosis and acquire the drugs that might improve their child’s performance. At the same time, as a report by the education professor Merryn Hutchings argues, more children are likely to show ADHD symptoms in a stressful, channelled schooling system that forces them to sit still for long periods and reduces opportunities for creative, physical and practical work.

It's time to rethink how we do exams -- and what we want to test.

Image: bbc.com

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

It's Called Stupidity

The Ontario Party is the new kid on the block. Kelsey Carolan reports in The Hill that:

The party was founded in May 2018, according to its website, but didn’t have a leader until December 2021, when Derek Sloan, a former conservative member of parliament, took control.

“In the fall of 2021, with the launch of vaccine passports, citizens who requested that their right to freedom of conscience, informed consent, medical privacy, and bodily autonomy be respected, had their request overruled,” the party mission outlines. “In the absence of sufficient cause, they were banned from public life, fired from their jobs, or removed from their college or university programs.”

Sloan spoke during the Freedom Convoy, advertising the party as an alternative to the Conservative Party, which he said has moved “so far to the left.”

And now the party has announced that it has hired Roger Stone as an advisor:

“I can’t wait to see the amazing effect that Roger’s genius will have on our campaign to take back Ontario,” Sloan said in a statement.

Stone commended Canadians who protested COVID-19 mandates and restrictions throughout the three-week “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa, which ended in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoking emergency powers to quell the disruption. According to the statement, the protest inspired Stone to join forces with the party.

“They [protestors] came there for a purpose and when you’re protesting you may not get everything you want but you’re expecting to at least have the government listen to what you talk about,” Stone said on the “The Stew Peters Show.” “The government has done nothing but show contempt toward these people.”

There is a virus more deadly than COVID. It's called stupidity.

Image: Vanity Fair

Monday, April 25, 2022

More Lies

On the Right these days, lies are the common currency. Supriya Dwivedi writes:

Conservatives are incensed over a truck tax that does not exist. The outrage stems from an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun by a director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which claims the federal government is “planning to hit Canadians with a big new tax on their trucks and sport utility vehicles.”

The basis for the claim stems from recommendations provided to the government by an independent advisory panel, known as the Net-Zero Advisory Body (NZAB). The NZAB was created via section 20 of the Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

Section 13 of the act mandates that the “governments of the provinces, Indigenous peoples of Canada [and] the advisory body established under section 20” be provided with the opportunity to make submissions to the federal government.

The NZAB recommended, among other things, that the government “broaden Canada’s existing Green Levy (Excise Tax) for Fuel Inefficient Vehicles to include additional [internal combustion engine] vehicle types, such as pickup trucks.” This recommendation was included in the annex of the federal government’s recent emissions reduction plan, alongside recommendations from every province and territory, the Métis National Council, the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

The environment minister is legally bound via section 13.1 of the act to ensure submissions made to the government are available to the public, hence the inclusion of all the submissions in the annex of the government report.

The Conservatives are apoplectic. But a little history is instructive:

The Alanis Morissette-level of irony in all this is that the existing excise tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles was brought in under former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2007. This salient detail seemed to have been edited out of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s opinion piece. It also went completely unmentioned by Conservative politicians like Alberta premier Jason Kenney and presumptive Conservative leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre — even though they were members of the Harper government at the time.

It’s much easier to falsely claim this is a “punishing tax on working people for buying pickup trucks,” as Kenney asserted it to be, or that the federal government is looking to “slap thousands in new taxes on anyone who buys a truck,” as Poilievre tweeted.

In its most charitable interpretation, the folks who have been peddling the “truck tax” nonsense are merely too vacuous to understand the difference between an independent advisory body making non-binding recommendations to the federal government, and official government policy. Though it’s hard fathom that applies to politicians who have been in office for as long as Kenney and Poilievre.

Something to remember in all the outrage.

Image: macleans.ca

Sunday, April 24, 2022

How A Trudeau Wins

Pierre Poilievre sounds a lot like Donald Trump. But, Chantal Hebert writes, if you look at how Poilievre's campaign is organized and executed, the model looks less like Donald Trump and more like Justin Trudeau:

It is undeniable that there are Trumpian undertones to his anti-elite rhetoric and his dismissive treatment of the competition.

But it is not necessary to look south of the border for parallels between his campaign and a relatively recent leadership bid. In many non-Trumpian regards, the dynamics of Poilievre’s bid mirror Justin Trudeau’s own path to the leadership of the Liberal party a decade ago.

He too drew uncommonly large crowds, including in regions where voters have never elected a Liberal candidate. On a brief visit to Red Deer, deep in Tory blue territory, in the fall of 2012, I remember being told by my hosts of the lineups for selfies that had attended a Trudeau event just a few days before my arrival.

Like Poilievre, Trudeau enjoyed a social media presence that totally dwarfed those of his rivals. That presence, combined with the status of political rock star, went a long way to turn his leadership bid into a coronation in all but name.

Again, like Poilievre, Trudeau’s connection to voters was more grounded in emotion than in intellectual appeal. Those who flocked to his events were not inspired by his political or managerial track records. He did not have much of either.

The name Trudeau sends Conservatives into fits of rage. But, this time around, it appears that they've taken a good look at how a Trudeau wins.

Image: huffpost.com

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Upcoming Election

There are a little more than five weeks to go until Ontario's election. And, if you believe the polls, Doug Ford might just win it. Bob Hepburn writes:

Ford’s laughing because his Progressive Conservatives appear headed for a second straight majority victory — and the NDP and Liberals seem incapable of stopping them.

With the June 2 election less than 50 days away, latest polls indicate the PCs are backed by 38 per cent of decided voters, the NDP and Liberals by 25 to 27 per cent, and the Greens 5 per cent.

Indeed, vote splitting between the NDP, Liberals and Greens could result in progressive voters, who comprise more than 60 per cent of the electorate, seeing their worst nightmare come true — a second Ford victory in which his Tories match or exceed the 76 seats they won in 2018. A total of 63 seats are needed to form a majority government.

That’s why a growing number of progressive voters are urging strategic voting. They believe such a strategy solves the problem of vote splitting by voting for one candidate in each riding to allow the progressive majority to win the seat.

Importantly, they also believe — or fear — that it may be the only way to defeat Ford, or at least limit him to a minority.

There's no talk of a deal between the NDP and the Liberals:

Both NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca say they aren’t at all interested in working together in individual ridings to defeat Ford. “You aren’t going to hear me talk about strategic voting,” Del Duca told reporters last week.

While rejecting any deal with the Liberals, Horwath is urging voters to vote strategically for the NDP. “I’m asking folks who may have decided in the past to vote Liberal to keep Conservatives out to recognize that this time that’s not the strategy,” she said last week. “This time, that strategy will split the vote and cause Doug Ford to come up the middle.”

Meanwhile, Ford keeps announcing billions of dollars in giveaways. Clearly, he believes he can buy his way into a second term.

As in the last two federal elections, progressive voters will have to vote strategically -- and force the Liberals and the Dippers to work together.

Image: thestar.com

Friday, April 22, 2022

Marie LePen

This weekend, there is a run-off election in France. Marie LePen is challenging Emmanuel Macron. And her two major weaknesses are painfully apparent. Jennifer Rubin writes:

The weaknesses of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen were on full display on Wednesday in her nearly three-hour debate with French President Emmanuel Macron. Two issues in particular show how difficult it is for Le Pen to be a mainstream candidate: her close ties to Russia and her disdain for religious liberty for minority groups.

Her most glaring weakness is her alliance with Vladimir Putin:

Macron was ferocious on the issue, attacking Le Pen for attempting to soften her pro-Russian tendencies. He said Le Pen’s positions today are contrary to her party’s “historical positions” and noted her refusal to condemn the annexation of Crimea in 2014. On her outstanding loan, he went for the jugular: “When you talk to Russia, you’re talking to your banker.” He added, “As soon as there are important and courageous decisions that need to be made, neither you nor your leaders are there.”

Her other glaring flaw is her position on religious freedom:

Le Pen also tripped herself up while promoting her proposal to ban Muslim women from wearing hijabs in public, falsely declaring that any woman wearing the headscarf does so against her will. Among the many problems with such an edict is that it would ban all such religious garb in public. The Times of Israel reported that “her plans to curtail religious freedoms to counteract the presence of Islam in French society would mean a ban on wearing headscarves and kippahs worn by Jews, she has acknowledged. She invited French Jews to make that ‘sacrifice’ for their country.”

Unsurprisingly, that caused a furor in the French Jewish community. The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, which lobbies the government on issues of concern to France’s small Jewish population, endorsed Macron. That move divided the Jewish community, which includes some Le Pen supporters. (She has tried to appeal to them with her virulent anti-Muslim positions.)

Le Pen has made a lot of hay by appealing to her countrymen's darker angels. On Sunday we'll know how ultimately successful she has been.

Image: nbcnews.com

Thursday, April 21, 2022

When Politics Becomes War

The polarization that has upended American politics has seeped across the border. Susan Delacourt writes:

The Steam Whistle brewery in Toronto is not a politics-free zone.

Back in 2013, a guy named Justin Trudeau held one of his final big social events there before he became Liberal leader. A decade earlier, Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay held an event for his supporters at Steam Whistle too. In 2014, new Liberal MP Adam Vaughan celebrated his byelection victory at the brewery — with Trudeau at his side.

But, this week, things changed:

It wasn’t until this week that Steam Whistle’s management felt it had to draw a line between the brewery and the political company it was keeping. In this case, it was Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre and one of the large rallies that is quickly becoming his trademark.

“Steam Whistle is in no way affiliated with Pierre Poilievre, does not endorse his political views, nor did the brewery sponsor the event,” read the statement handed out to event attendees on Tuesday night.

Predictably, Poilievre and his supporters went ballistic:

Poilievre’s supporters were bristling at Steam Whistle’s disclaimer on Tuesday night, eager to see it as another example of “cancel culture” and Conservatives being punished once again for being politically incorrect. But Poilievre has been whipping up the polarizing rhetoric himself at his big rallies, presenting Canadian politics as a simple battleground between the “gatekeepers” and those who want to storm the gates.

 Things are getting nasty:

This is how polarization creeps out of politics and starts infiltrating the ordinary lives of citizens. It stretches beyond mere ideological differences and starts influencing how people organize their social and business contacts. Hanging around with the wrong political crowd, whether that’s at a brewery or an ice cream shop, can be damaging to one’s livelihood.

In the United States, where polarization is rampant and much tracked in recent decades, political differences have fused with identity and community to an extent where Republicans and Democrats increasingly form their own insular worlds among the like-minded. Red and blue sides consume their own media — Fox for Republicans, CNN and MSNBC for the Democrats — and build friendships and business contacts among those who share their own view of the world. The danger isn’t just that they don’t mingle with diverse views; it’s that they see the other side as a sworn enemy.

In a Pew Research Center report on America’s “exceptional” state of polarization in late 2020, authors Michael Dimock and Richard Wike wrote: “What’s unique about this moment — and particularly acute in America — is that these divisions have collapsed onto a singular axis where we find no toehold for common cause or collective national identity.”

When political parties become tribes, politics becomes war.

Image: The Toronto Star