Thursday, March 31, 2022

How It Works

If you want to know how it works, consider the case of Dr. Brooks Fallis. Bruce Arthur writes:

It’s been more than a year since Dr. Brooks Fallis was suddenly fired in January as interim head of critical care at William Osler Health System, in the hardest-hit part of Ontario. Fallis was respected and admired by peers and employers. He was also a passionate, incisive critic of the government’s pandemic response. One was given more weight by his bosses than the other.

When Fallis was fired, it seemed clear at the time that the hospital had reacted to government pressure, whether applied or implied. As first reported by the Star, the entire Osler critical care staff signed a letter strongly objecting to his demotion, and Fallis was told by hospital leadership his advocacy had put funding for the hospital — funding controlled by the provincial government — at risk.

Ford and his office have always denied contacting hospital leadership. When asked for comment Monday, premier’s office press secretary Alexandra Adamo said, “At the time of his claims, the Office of the Premier had never heard of this individual. His allegations remain categorically false. William Osler has already publicly acknowledged that at no time has the premier’s office ever given any direction or advice relating to human resourcing matters at the hospital.”

To be clear, Fallis never said the premier called the hospital; he merely said he was told so by hospital leadership, which then changed its story. After one guest column in Healthy Debate in September 2020, the hospital communications team created a plan to reach out to government in stages: the local MPP, the ministry of health and Christine Elliott’s office, the premier’s office, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown’s office, and the chair of the hospital board. In November 2020, after hospital complaints over media appearances, Fallis and Osler leadership came to an agreement that he would no longer represent himself as a representative of William Osler.

Fallis is now employed at another hospital. But there is a tale here. And the tale is about what happens to people who cross Doug Ford's government.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

They're Getting Angrier

The Conservatives are thrashing about, angrily proclaiming that they are the party of small government -- as Justin Trudeau announces that the government is getting bigger. And, Susan Delacourt writes, Canadians like his message:

In the space of a little more than one week, Canadians have been put on notice that the country’s social-safety net is in the midst of a major expansion.

A child-care program that now covers all parts of the country; a dental-care plan that will be fully in place by 2025, as well as a pharmacare system still under construction — all have been unveiled by Justin Trudeau and various partners since last Tuesday.

Much of this social-program expansion will happen thanks to the new pact between Trudeau and the federal New Democrats. But the latest and ultimate part of the national child-care program comes as a result of collaboration between the federal Liberals and Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives.

“Forget the political stripes,” Ford said at Monday’s news conference with his good friends in Liberal Ottawa. “We’re all, federally and provincially, municipally, working for the people. That’s why we’re here, to make things better.”

So what happened to small government?

Somewhere, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are spinning in their graves, as all of their 1980s crusades to present government as the enemy are relegated to ancient history.

The most obvious, immediate answer to the what-happened question is two years of COVID-19 and a global pandemic. It was hard to argue that government should be getting out of people’s lives when state-financed subsidies and vaccines were keeping money in pockets and people out of hospital.

Still, the need for subsidies and vaccines will eventually fade away. But the idea that government needs to be a force in Canadians’ lives has not, like it or not.

But the Conservatives hold fast to their basic principle:

It should be said that Pierre Poilievre, the apparent front-runner in the Conservative leadership race, is doing his best to keep the Reagan-Thatcher idea alive. His leadership-campaign website is a litany of rants against governments and institutions and all the “gatekeepers” who stand in the way of freedom.

Yet even Poilievre has had to permit himself a measure of government interventionism. Two weeks ago, the freedom fighter promised he would be doing all he could to speed up licensing and training for immigrant professionals. How would Poilievre pull this off? By giving money to provinces and territories to speed up licensing and “study loans” for new Canadians who needed skills upgrading. So much for letting the market sort things out.

Thoughtful Conservatives have been talking for a while about where their old, small-government ideas fit in this new political era.

“Not only has the party lost consecutive elections, but the broader cultural, economic, and political context has significantly changed from the final days of the last Conservative government,” Sean Speer, former economic adviser to Stephen Harper, wrote in The Hub in February. “We’ve gone from every major political party supportive of balanced budgets as recently as 10 years ago to today’s new multi-partisan consensus in favour of larger and longer deficits. Something obviously changed.”

Some Conservatives have noted the change -- but not many.

Image: You Tube

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Great Simplification

Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine has shaken up global oil markets. Andrew Nikiforuk writes:

Putin’s ugly war of annihilation in Ukraine has probably ended globalization as we know it, along with our culture’s ignorance of the reality of depleting finite resources. Officially, things have gotten so bad that the Paris-based International Energy Agency is now recommending that citizens drive slowly, work at home, share cars and avoid business travel to conserve some 2.7 million barrels of oil.

The IEA pulled the same plan out of its back pocket during the 2008 financial crisis. Their technocrats now assume that at some point electrification will diminish our dependence on fossil fuels and save economies from damaging volatility and other inconvenient events.

Meanwhile political vultures such as the petrostate of Alberta want to take advantage of the chaos by pressing for more pipelines and oil exports even though the province’s own government could not have balanced its budget without the war in Ukraine.

The empty rhetoric from IEA and the likes of Alberta, however, does not offer real solutions. Putin’s war has merely worsened a structural crisis that our political leaders collectively deny. Cheap fossil fuels built the global economy, burnished its hi-tech political order, energized its complexity and drove all financial flows.

The future of oil is a dark future:

Get ready to spend a much greater share of your income on energy. Prepare for shortages. Expect rampant inflation. Assume chronic supply chain interruptions.

And get ready for the energy fallout: high degrees of political conflict and instability. When people can’t afford drive to work or heat their home, don’t expect rational politics to emerge as a solution. (About 20 per cent of Canadians now spend 10 per cent of their income on energy.)

According to U.S. social critic Nate Hagens, the invasion of Ukraine has accelerated a multifaceted global emergency. That crisis includes biological extinctions, climate upheaval, a population crisis and a technological war on truth. He argues that the “war in Ukraine has shortened the runway leading to the Great Simplification.”

By simplification he means radical decreases in energy consumption necessary to prevent the collapse of biological life systems on the planet. That means the end of globalization, and the relocalizing of economies with a priority on local food security.

If the pandemic closed the door on the illusion of material and energy normalcy, Putin’s war has forever bolted it. And when the world’s largest wheat exporter invades the world’s fifth largest wheat exporter, expect famine to visit parts of the globe.

There will be no quick fix to this mess nor any reliable energy transition, other than radical conservation and de-growth. That path, of course, risks high unemployment and business failures. It will trigger severe civil unrest in the absence of Volodymyr Zelenskyy-like leadership to relocalize our economies.

A dark future indeed.

Image: Art Berman

Monday, March 28, 2022

It Runs Deep

If you want to know how deep the rot in Washington goes, consider the case of Ginni Thomas. James Downie writes:

Since news broke that Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent dozens of text messages to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows promoting efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Republicans have pooh-poohed calls for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from cases related to the election and its aftermath.

Let’s be clear: Ginni Thomas’s texts themselves aren’t the issue. Yes, her argument that “Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History” is deluded. Biden won the 2020 election. But she has a right to her views, same as anyone else.

The problem lies in a late November message to Meadows in which Thomas refers to a reassuring conversation with her “best friend.” It’s hard not to read that as a reference to her husband — who once described their partnership as “equally yoked.”

Ginni is also "yoked" to cases that have appeared before her husband:

As the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported in January, Ginni Thomas received $200,000 in 2017 and 2018 from a group asking the high court to uphold Trump’s “Muslim travel ban,” which Justice Thomas voted to do in June 2018. In 2011, the justice amended his financial declarations after previously failing to disclose $680,000 his wife was paid by the Heritage Foundation several years before. And, Mayer writes, Ginni Thomas “has held leadership positions at conservative pressure groups that have either been involved in cases before the Court or have had members engaged in such cases.”

 The problem does not involve only Thomas:

Part of the problem is that the Supreme Court is composed of the only nine judges in the country who are not subject to a code of ethical conduct. The justices decide for themselves whether to recuse. Back in 2004, Justice Antonin Scalia defended his refusal to recuse himself from a case involving his friend Richard B. Cheney, then the vice president, by citing this unintentionally damning rationale: “A rule that required members of this court to remove themselves from cases in which the official actions of friends were at issue would be utterly disabling.” Some of the most successful Supreme Court litigants either worked for or socialize with the justices, Reuters reported in 2014. Three justices own individual stocks in 40 companies, National Law Journal reported last year, “many of which frequently appear before the court.” (The justices have usually, though not always, recused themselves from cases involving those companies.)

It's pretty clear what must happen:

Only a thorough investigation and complete overhaul of ethics rules for Supreme Court justices would reverse this dispiriting trend. But when waiting for reform at the nation’s highest court, don’t hold your breath.

Don't expect that to happen.

Image: NBC News

Sunday, March 27, 2022


The Tories and the Bloc are furious. But, Robin Sears writes, the deal between the Liberals and the NDP is a sign of political maturity:

The Bloc and Tory hysteria at the NDP-Liberal agreement is just puerile rage at suddenly facing a majority government. The almost universally sneering reaction from conservative-leaning political journalists and pundits would be laughable, if it were not such a sad insight into their ignorance of how politics is actually lived.

Some commentators claim that the Dippers have committed political suicide. Not so, says Sears:

Those who say the NDP is the certain loser in such a deal choose to ignore the success of similar arrangements in Ontario, Saskatchewan and B.C. In each case the NDP was the clear winner, although in Ontario it took two elections for Bob Rae to claim his prize. Several cite the certainty that Justin Trudeau will dump the agreement and call a snap election, crushing the NDP. Again, wrong.

Each side will be judging progress and reaction from their base, daily. And each leader is free to call “time” when they judge the other not delivering. Some pundits declare with great certitude that Trudeau will never make good on his promises, making the NDP look like suckers. Highly unlikely, as it would only seal his reputation as an untrustworthy performance artist who never delivers.

Candace Bergen claims that Trudeau has neutered Parliament. Again, not so:

Some attack the agreement as merely a device to neutralize parliamentary oversight. Germany’s new three-party coalition has dramatically transformed their nation’s policy choices, and with the broad backing of the Bundestag. What happens under a deal such as this is often an empowerment of caucus members. The freedoms now granted backbenchers to share ideas across the aisle means that together they can put greater pressure on the monopoly of power that currently is held by leaders alone. Leaders who successfully manage such agreements must be especially sensitive, accommodating caucus sentiment. Jagmeet Singh will do better at this than Trudeau, if history is any guide.

Sears knows how these things work:

I was an operations manager of the 1985 David Peterson/Bob Rae accord in Ontario, and these conclusions are among the many lessons of that lived experience. Then as a close observer of European coalitions during six years working at the leadership level there, I witnessed the rich and complex changes that power-sharing creates in many of those democracies.

And, for those who are unhappy with the arrangement, consider the alternative:

The alternative is clear and horrific: the hyperventilating super partisanship of the U.S. polity today. This is the path that Pierre Poilievre would take his party down. That someone claiming to be a contender for prime minister would declare the Davos gabfests are proof of a global conspiracy to enslave the world is breathtakingly idiotic. But it will, no doubt, appeal to the enormous number of Donald Trump fans in the Conservative base that many polls reveal.

So, yes, the deal is a good thing. Now we turn to the challenge of making it work.


Saturday, March 26, 2022

Mr. Ford's Assurances

If you're wondering when the next COVID wave will hit, Bruce Arthur writes, it's already here:

That’s it, all right: the surge is coming, and it’s here. Anecdotally COVID is racing all over the place, and why wouldn’t it? Omicron BA.2 is one of the two or three most infectious viruses humans have ever found, and two doses of vaccine has limited protection vs. infection, and Ontario, like many other jurisdictions, has removed almost all wide-scale public health measures.

“The government has essentially removed any semblance of the fact that we’re still in a pandemic, right?” said Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto and a member of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, and the medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai-University Health Network.

“We still have not gone six months without a wave, but we’re acting like the Omicron wave was the last one, and there are zero hypotheses that’s true.”

It is true that the vast majority of Ontarians are vaccinated:

The good news is many of us are vaccinated. The bad news is that’s more or less the whole plan. The reason I say anecdotally is because PCR tests are limited — positivity on 15,515 tests was 16.7 per cent Thursday — and rapid tests aren’t generally recorded. Daily data is therefore of limited help, and we’re left with rising outbreaks in seniors homes and wastewater surveillance, with the GTA still closer to stable. We’re not just flying blind into this wave: we are flying blind by design, expecting an increase in hospitalizations.

“We don’t have good (anti-viral) drug delivery systems in place,” says Morris. “We don’t have (new) vaccinations. We don’t have the testing. None of this is currently in place right now. And we have a public who’s been led to believe that the pandemic’s over, and that not only is the pandemic over, but that the vaccines are of no value now.

“We have no situational awareness, and the public’s fed up. I get all this, like I really do. And I think the public deserves it should be allowed to be as free as is reasonably possible. But we do need some kind of system in place to be able to respond to that.”

Where we live, the old system is still in place. Lots of us are still walking around with masks. My wife is attending an event on Thursday of next week. Word has gone out that those attending must show proof of vaccination.

It appears -- at least down here -- that people take Mr. Ford's assurances with a grain of salt.


Friday, March 25, 2022

Just Politics?

It used to be that the leaders of political parties had significant life experience before they entered politics. But, increasingly, it appears that politics is the only experience the leaders of our parties have. Rick Salutin writes that is particularly the case with those who are vying for the leadership of the Conservatives:

Start with Pierre Poilievre. At 16 in Calgary, he was selling Reform party memberships. He was always a prairie, U.S.-style right-winger, never part of the historically continuous party that reached back to Sir John A. and became known as Progressive Conservatives. From Reform, they became the “Canadian Alliance,” then swallowed the old PCs whole.

He worked to make Stockwell Day leader. At 20 in second-year university, he entered an essay contest on what he’d offer as prime minister. Freedom, he proposed, still his political ID. There’s something to be said for consistency, but not that much if it never goes anywhere else. He moved to Ottawa and became an MP in 2004 at 25. He still is—an MP, that is.

From the start he was a fully formed mudslinger. There’s a pressing anger in him, like a physical need to expel bile and insults lest he explode. You can amass aggravating policy quotes but they’re not his essence; it’s his prosecutorial style in Question Period or committee hearings, visible in any of many YouTube clips: sneering at Justin Trudeau or Mark Carney, interrupting, seeking to dominate. It can be riveting.

I’d say there’s a link between this exceedingly stylized nastiness and going almost directly from student politics to Parliament. Student politics are highly idealistic; all they usually lack is a sense of life’s complexity, which you can only acquire from… living awhile. That needn’t mean abandoning the ideals, but it implies expanding how you get to them.

What remains true of Poilievre is also true -- to different degrees -- of Jean Charest and Patrick Brown:

Jean Charest is 20 years older but similar in trajectory. He became an MP at 26 in 1984. He led the PCs starting in 1993 after they’d been decimated, then became Quebec’s Liberal leader and premier. He was booted from office in 2012 as an enemy of youth, despite his lifelong youthiness, during the Quebec tuition strike. He became one of those lawyers with a corner office in a big firm who get pointed out to clients taking the tour. He’s always seemed old before his time but he may be catching up.

Patrick Brown, born in 1978, was elected to Barrie City Council at 22, became an MP in 2006, then provincial PC leader in 2015. In 2018 he was obliterated politically by a sneak attack full of murky details, launched by his own members and staff as well as CTV. Yet within months he was back as mayor of Brampton, which was his second attempted resurrection.

Of the three, I’d say Brown comes closest to having real life experience in the sense that he was backstabbed by allies, deserted by staff and got panicked into quitting—as opposed to being a parliamentary secretary, shadow finance critic or two-time head of the PC youth federation.

Compared to this trio, Justin Trudeau seems a grizzled veteran of life’s misadventures. Born in 1971, he did a BA; floundered through some grad programs; substitute taught high school; did a eulogy for his dad which convinced me, among others, he should stay out of public life; and didn’t run for office till 2008 when he was 37. If flailing around looking for something to do and who you are counts as life experience, which it does, he stacks up well.

One could argue that, if you specialize in politics, you ought to be good at it -- and perhaps that's true. However, if politics is all you know, you probably don't know much about the life experiences of the people you represent -- the vast majority of whom are not politicians.


Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Deal

Michael Harris takes a hard look at the deal between the Liberals and the NDP: 

The way interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen tells it, the deal between the Liberals and NDP to keep the federal government in place until 2025 is a socialist coup that will destroy the country. 

That’s because Bergen makes the equally absurd claim that this deal hands the reins of government to the NDP — saying that Jagmeet Singh is “basically” now deputy prime minister.

Obviously, Bergan got a spotty education in civics:

Bergen has confused a coalition with a co-operative agreement, in which no member of the NDP will have a cabinet post. Or maybe she’s engaging in just more of the poison dart politics that has led the Conservative Party of Canada to three straight electoral losses. You can only go so far in Canadian politics on spite and malice.

She recently called Singh a communist. Her knowledge of history is also pretty sketchy. But all of this isn't surprising:

Willing to stand up for guns, but not the planet; ready to back an unregulated energy sector, but not national daycare; able to champion lawless truckers who brought the national capital to its knees, but not political parties out to perpetrate co-operation.

As the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson show, co-operation is something utterly missing from U.S. democracy these days, as it continues to nosedive into strongman politics.

Pierre Poilievre has also called the deal a coalition. And "the Globe and Mail weighed in with an editorial that reached the astonishing conclusion that in making this arrangement with the NDP, Justin Trudeau has figured out a new way to castrate Parliament."

Both Poilievre and The Globe fundamentally misunderstand how parliamentary government works:

What is Parliament but the MPs who make it up? Between them, the Liberals and the NDP won 185 seats in the 2021 election. Between them they had 50.4 per cent of the popular vote. In the cold arithmetic of the system, that amounts to a de facto parliamentary majority, as long as the co-operation continues. So how does that “neuter” Canada’s legislative body? Since both caucuses approved the deal, how is that undemocratic?

As for the agreement itself, with the exception of an income-based national dental care program to be brought in over the next few years, the language of the deal is aspirational, not prescriptive. The deal is non-binding. Although it is slated to last until 2025, either party can opt out at will. Far from being a backroom coup cooked up by power-hungry socialists, it is a list of good intentions, not deeds. The language is pretty oceanic.

Additional “investments” in the COVID-ravaged health-care system; “continuing progress” on a universal pharmacare program; “moving forward” on tax reform; the pledge to “explore ways” to expand voting; “developing plans” to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel sector; advancing measures to achieve “significant” emissions reductions by 2030; a “significant” additional investment in Indigenous housing….

What really galls the Conservatives is that it throws a spanner into their plans:

The detail may not be there, but the timing of this agreement was astute. With two federal elections in the last three years, not many Canadians are clamouring for a chance to throw the bastards out. Especially when the CPC alternative doesn’t know whether it wants to be run by Pierre Poilievre or Jean Charest. They are as different as cat kibble and caviar.

Three years of stable government may look good to a public battered by COVID, sticker shock at the pump and the grocery store, and the prospect of World War Last brewing in Ukraine. And if the whole thing goes south, the handy benefit of democracy is that you can fire the incumbent government and hire a new one.

So much for that election that the Conservatives thought was only six months away.

Image: Head Topics

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Lower Than

Republicans are giving Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson a hard time. Paul Waldman writes:

Republicans know they can’t stop Ketanji Brown Jackson from being confirmed to the Supreme Court. Since they don’t hold a majority in the Senate, they cannot simply refuse to allow her nomination to be considered. Given her sterling record and lack of disqualifying misconduct, they won’t be able to turn any Democrats against her.

So they try to change the focus to their own victimhood:

You can see it in the multiple times senators have brought up prior judicial nominees who were either deprived of their supposedly deserved place on the high court or mistreated by cruel Democrats before taking their seats. The average voter may not recognize all the names in the GOP’s parade of decades-old judicial martyrs (Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown), but the activist base knows them, if only as victims of some long-ago Democratic treachery.

It all culminates with Brett Kavanaugh, the victim to beat all victims, his name invoked again and again. How can the poor Supreme Court justice even bear to get out of bed in the morning, knowing only that he’s a hero to his party and will be making the country’s laws for the next 30 years or so? What a nightmare it must be for him.

So GOP senators repeated again and again that they would never abuse Jackson the way Kavanaugh was treated. “You’re the beneficiary of Republican nominees having their lives turned upside down,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told her, adding that “Most of us couldn’t go back to our offices during Kavanaugh without getting spit on.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) agreed, telling Jackson that “No one is going to inquire into your teenage dating habits,” though “dating habits” is an interesting way to refer to what Kavanaugh was accused of. “We won’t get down in the gutter like Democrats did during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

To all this umbrage, one might respond, “Let us know when Jackson is credibly accused of sexual assault.” But this has nothing to do with her. The point is that Republicans know the sense of victimhood ties their entire movement together, and the more it is nurtured, the greater their chances of keeping that movement mobilized in November’s midterm elections, the 2024 presidential campaign, and everything that happens between and beyond.

No, this isn't about Jackson. It's about November's election. That's why Graham asked Jackson about her religion. To which the judge correctly responded, "Senator, there is no religious test in the constitution." Graham -- who is a lawyer -- knows that. But he was speaking to the largest part of the Republican base -- evangelicals.

Hemingway had a phrase to describe people like Graham and his colleagues. "Lower than snake shit," was how he characterized them.


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Like Pearson?

Apparently, the Liberals and the NDP have a deal. The CBC's Vassy Kapelos reports that:

The leadership of the Liberals and the NDP have reached an agreement that would see the NDP support the Liberal government to keep it in power until 2025 in exchange for a commitment to act on key NDP priorities, CBC News has learned.

The confidence-and-supply agreement was presented to NDP MPs for a vote late Monday night, according to multiple sources who spoke to CBC News on condition they not be named due to the sensitive nature of the discussions.

The agreement would see the NDP back the Liberals in confidence votes, including the next four budgets. In return, the Liberals will follow through on some elements of national pharmacare and dental care programs — programs that have long been promoted by the NDP.

The deal does not involve the NDP joining cabinet.

The devil, of course, will be in the details. The Conservatives -- unsurprisingly -- are furious. Interim Conservative leader Candace Bergen reportedly called the deal "backdoor socialism." Expect more of the same from them -- particularly from Pierre Poilievre.

Under Justin, Canada will get some form of national childcare, national pharmacare, and national dental care. He came to power claiming that, next to his father, the prime minister he admired most was Wilfred Laurier. Historians may conclude that the prime minister he resembled most was Lester Pearson.

Image: CP24

Monday, March 21, 2022

Defeating MAGA

These are dangerous times in the United States. Jennifer Rubin writes:

The GOP has unabashedly fanned violence, propagated a parallel universe of lies and conspiracy theories and sought to subvert elections by limiting who votes and undermining nonpartisan election administration. Yet Republicans may take over the majority in one or both chambers of Congress in this year’s midterms. The risk of an anti-democratic faction regaining control of government should set off alarm bells and spur some creative political strategizing.

The MAGA crowd is a minority. But it's a loud and powerful minority:

While only about a third of Americans subscribe to MAGA views (e.g., that the 2020 election was stolen), that minority still has a chance to dominate Congress with their authoritarian-minded white grievance. For that, we can blame negative party polarization (Americans are motivated more by hate for their opponents than support for their own party); partisan self-segregation by geography; and the constitutional bias for minority rule (e.g., allotting two senators for each state, regardless of population).

Given those conditions, how does one defeat the MAGA crowd?

Steven Levitsky, co-author of “How Democracies Die,” advocates a “much broader coalition than we’ve put together to date” to combat the MAGA threat. In a lively roundtable discussion for the New York Times Magazine last week, he called on the “Bush-Cheney network” to work with Democrats in common cause. “It means that lifelong Republicans have to work to elect Democrats,” he says. “And it means the progressives have to set aside a slew of policy issues that they care deeply about so that the ticket is comfortable to right-wing politicians.”

What would that look like? It can start with a negative coalition — that is, a coalition organized around the goal of defeating MAGA Republicans. Consider the Senate race in Utah, where no Democratic candidate has a chance to win a statewide election. Instead, anti-Trump conservative Evan McMullin is running as an independent against increasingly extreme incumbent Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

In this and similar races across the country, Democrats should forgo running any candidate. That would allow Bush-Cheney Republicans, independents and Democrats to rally around conceivable anti-Trump candidates such as Evan McMullin. Yes, that means Democrats will need to vote for people who are pro-life and to their right on a great many issues. But the alternative is to throw their votes away on a sure-to-lose Democratic candidate and see incumbent senators such as Mike Lee (R-Utah) remain in office for six more years of MAGA sycophancy.

Levitsky’s approach also requires pro-democracy Republicans to stop kidding themselves. Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) stands a strong chance of losing in the GOP primary for her seat. Rather than watch as a Trump-endorsed MAGA Republican replaces her, she should do what McMullin has done: run as an independent conservative in the general election, drawing support from Democrats, anti-Trump Republican and independents. Again, Democrats need to forgo running their own candidate for the sake of maximizing the vote of one the few principled, pro-democracy Republicans left in the House.

In short, defeating MAGA will mean voting strategically. We know something about that in Canada.


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Will They Fall In Line?

I tend to think that, if the Conservatives choose Pierre Poilievre as their leader, they will wander in the political desert for quite a while. Chantal Hebert has a warning for people like me: Think again. Think Stephen Harper:

If you are not a Conservative supporter and are nevertheless cheering on Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre in his leadership bid because you believe the party will either implode or at least never make it to government on his watch, you may want to have a chat with Paul Martin’s former palace guard.

Over Martin’s abbreviated tenure as leader and prime minister, the notion that Stephen Harper’s presence at the helm of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) was a prescription for repeat Conservative defeats was widespread within Liberal ranks.

Such was not the case:

Two years into his leadership, Harper led the Conservative party to government for a decade. Over that period, the CPC thrived in Ontario. It also won more seats in Quebec than the Liberals did in Saskatchewan and Alberta. That trend still endures.

It helped Harper that he was in the right place at the right time.

The Conservatives were tired enough of losing to set aside their differences and focus on the big prize of government. After a decade of Liberal rule, public fatigue with the governing party was on the rise.

Come the next election, the Liberals will be close to the point in the political cycle where voter fatigue with the incumbent tends to become a serious threat.

At the same time, what most stands to unite the quarrelsome factions within the conservative movement on the heels of three consecutive defeats is a desire to win.

At the moment, leading the Conservative Party is like herding cats. What will matter most is whether or not the cats will fall in line.

Image: Linked In

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Kenney's Last Days?

The tide seems to be turning in Alberta. Dave Climenhaga writes:

If the findings of the online survey of 600 adults made between March 11 and 13 are accurate, the New Democratic Party led by former premier Rachel Notley now has a significant advantage in Calgary as well as in Edmonton and is closing on the governing UCP even in its rural strongholds.

The Research Co. poll has a rather large margin of error, plus or minus 4 per cent, presumably a result of the relatively small sample size. Somewhat confusingly, the comparator numbers in the pollster’s news release look back to a similar poll taken by the same firm more than a year ago. Still, it tells a story that feels right as Kenney continues give the appearance of foundering as his date with destiny on April 9 nears.

Research Co.’s poll shows the NDP leading the UCP by 50 per cent to 25 per cent in Edmonton, and by 47 per cent to 34 per cent in Calgary. Even in rural Alberta, the UCP only leads the NDP by 33 per cent to 31 per cent.

Startlingly, the Research Co. poll shows the NDP leading the UCP among male voters by 40 per cent to 32 per cent, and among female voters by 49 per cent to 28 per cent.

“The UCP is evidently having difficulties maintaining the base together,” observed Research Co. President Mario Canseco, rather understating matters by the sound of it, in his news release yesterday. “While the NDP is keeping 89 per cent of its supporters in the 2019 provincial election, the UCP is only managing to hold on to 51 per cent of their voters.”

Kenney's rival for the leadership of the United Conservative Party just won a by-election in Fort MacMurray-Lac LaBiche.

The bell is tolling for Jason Kenney.


Friday, March 18, 2022

Impunity And Justice

Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine must not go unpunished. E.J. Dionne writes:

The trial of human decency the world is looking at now should have been obvious long ago. It was seen clearly by some, including a humanitarian well versed in the workings of power politics. David Miliband, who served as Britain’s foreign secretary from 2007 to 2010, is president of International Rescue Committee, one of the world’s oldest and most respected refugee relief agencies.

In 2019, Miliband gave a speech that was unrelenting in describing the suffering of the time and eerily prescient about what was to come. Miliband called our era “the Age of Impunity,” a moment “when those engaged in conflicts around the world — and there are many — believe they can get away with anything, including murder, whatever the rules and norms. And because they can get away with anything, they do everything.”

And he meant “everything,” listing: “Chemical weapons, cluster bombs, land mines, bombing of school buses, besiegement of cities, blocking of humanitarian supplies, targeting of journalists and aid workers. You name it, we are seeing it, and seeing more of it, and seeing less outrage about it and less accountability for it.”

He specifically called out Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “two leaders unencumbered by national institutions or by the fear of international law.”

Impunity, Dionne writes, is a characteristic of autocracies. Justice should be one of the defining characteristics of a democracy:

Impunity is a characteristic of autocracies. Accountability should define democracies. Democracy will not fare well in a world where impunity runs rampant.

What should apply to Putin also applies to Donald Trump. As citizens of a democracy, it should apply to all of us.

Image: BrainyQuote

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Canada's Trump

Andrew Coyne writes that, among the Conservative leadership hopefuls, Pierre Poilievre is clearly a northern Trump:

Bear in mind that, according to a recent Leger poll, 44 per cent of Conservative voters would vote for Donald Trump over Joe Biden. It is safe to assume that Mr. Poilievre holds an overwhelming lead among that particular voting bloc. (Indeed, he is currently the choice of 41 per cent of Conservative voters, to 10 per cent for Mr. Charest and 3 per cent for Mr. Brown.)

What those voters want is someone who will fight – well, I was going to say, fight for them, but it’s mostly fight against the people they despise, the people who they assume despise them: liberals, elites, academics, bureaucrats, the media of course, all the people who think they’re better than them, and need to be taken down a peg or two. Or at least given a poke.

Not very prime ministerial. But Poilievre's people don't want him to be prime ministerial:

They don’t want him to look prime ministerial or any other bow to conventional standards or expectations of how politicians should behave. These are the very sorts of badges of elite approval they detest.

Tapping into that resentment proved Mr. Trump’s particular talent, mostly because Mr. Trump was every bit as resentful of the same people. Mr. Poilievre is attempting to harness the same loathing, though perhaps without the same authenticity. For in truth Mr. Poilievre is a member of the same elite class he attacks. He is not an outsider, but a consummate insider. He is not an anti-politician: His whole career has been in politics.

Put bluntly, Poilievre -- like Trump -- is a phony. But, at the moment, that doesn't matter:

For the moment, however, Mr. Poilievre bestrides the Conservative Party. The only way his rivals can dislodge him is by selling new memberships wholesale – tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands – in effect remaking the party. It’s a long shot. The day we see Mr. Poilievre launch a charm offensive, we will know it is beginning to work.

A charm offensive for Poilievre? Not bloody likely.

Image: twitter

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Junkyard Dogs

The race for the leadership of the Conservative Party is turning into a brawl among junkyard dogs. Campbell Clark writes:

The things Tory leadership candidates are saying about each other are downright scathing. To Canadians outside the Conservative tent, that’s bound to send an ugly message about the folks squabbling inside.

Then on Sunday, when Brampton, Ont., mayor and former Ontario provincial Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown jumped into the race, Mr. Poilievre’s campaign quickly posted a social-media ad to attack him.

It said Mr. Brown “will say anything” to win votes – because Mr. Brown opposed carbon taxes when he ran for the provincial PC leadership in Ontario, but once he won, adopted a carbon-tax policy.

The next day, Mr. Brown fired back with a statement that accused Mr. Poilievre of backing “discriminatory policies.”

It cited Mr. Poilievre’s support for the Conservatives’ 2015 election campaign proposal for a “barbaric cultural practices tip line,” and the ban on wearing a niqab while taking a citizenship oath – a ban which former prime minister Stephen Harper once said he would consider extending to civil servants. Mr. Brown said that Mr. Poilievre “has never once spoken out against these policies.”

Then there is Roman Baber who was kicked out of Doug Ford's caucus for opposing COVID 19 lockdowns. They're quite a collection, these hopefuls.

Post Stephen Harper, the party's bedrock has been grievance. What would life be like if they were given a majority?


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Keep The Masks

Ontario is in the process of removing all of its COVID 19 restrictions. Its mask mandate will disappear after the end of March Break. Sachin Maharaj, a professor of  Educational Leadership at the University of Ottawa, writes that the decision on masks in schools should be left to individual school boards:

What is striking about [Dr. Kieran] Moore’s decision to drop mask mandates is how much it is opposed by his colleagues in the medical and scientific communities. This includes the heads of Sick Kids, CHEO and other pediatric hospitals in the Children’s Health Coalition. It also includes the head of Ontario’s science advisory table, who told the CBC the decision to remove masking is “not supported by science right now because it’s just too early.”

Indeed, wastewater analysis by the science table suggests that we are still experiencing an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 new COVID infections per day. Two months ago, this was the level of spread that closed schools for two weeks. But somehow now it is cause to drop the one intervention reliably shown to reduce transmission?

Ford says, “Let me be very clear to the school boards: they aren’t medical experts ... Follow the direction of the chief medical officer, plain and simple.” But there clearly is disagreement among the scientists:

Speaking to The Globe and Mail about the benefits of masks in schools, Sick Kids CEO Ronald Cohn said, “There’s no question that masking has a protective effect as it relates to transmission. I mean we know this, and we should just really universally accept this.” Indeed, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics of more than 1.1 million students in over 3,000 schools found that, even when controlling for differences in vaccination rates and other characteristics, school districts that implemented universal masking policies had in-school transmission rates 87 per cent lower than those districts where masks were optional.

Ford's past performance on the COVID file leaves a lot to be desired. Masks can be uncomfortable. But they're a simple protective measure. It makes sense to air on the side of caution.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, March 14, 2022

Take Him Seriously

Pierre Poilievre is a clown. Nonetheless, Susan Riley writes, it's time to take him seriously:

Random journalists, subject-matter experts, and others, try to counter Poilievre’s facetious boilerplate—“lets give Canadians back their freedom, so they can take back control of their lives!”—and a lot of people are simply turned off by his smug and snarky tone. But official Liberal sources—party apparatchiks, cabinet ministers, with three times Poilievre’s education, access to non-fake facts and a cadre of professional speechwriters? Mostly absent. Even Jean Charest, who is expected to be Poilievre’s main challenger in the current race to head the Conservative party, has barely dipped his toe into the ongoing, online leadership campaign.

Indeed, like some Liberals and media, Charest makes a huge error in adopting an air of knowing superiority towards his merciless rival. Sniffed Charest recently, asked about a Poilievre comment: “I’m not going to spend a lot of time responding to my critics … [the comment] says more about them than it says about me.”

Mr. Trudeau doesn't take Poilievre seriously:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, too, often tries to pretend Poilievre isn’t there when he provides answers in Question Period that are totally unrelated to Poilievre’s torqued questions—and always in Trudeau’s patented robotic drone. Too many Ottawa insiders wrongly believe that Poilievre is too extreme, too cartoonish, to be taken seriously.

This has to stop. Poilievre is not simply a buffoon, although there are buffoonish aspects to his political style. He is a slippery operator, hitting upon issues of immediate concern to Canadians—rising gas and food prices, the war in Ukraine, China’s thuggishness—then blaming Justin Trudeau for all of it and more. If the obsessive focus on Trudeau may strike non-partisans as risible, the problems register as real.

Poilievre is also capable of adapting his principles—or, at least, cooling his rhetoric— according to prevailing opinion. Hence, he has dropped his original opposition to same-sex marriage, advertises himself (quietly) as pro-choice and is often nowhere to be seen when a prominent Conservative premier does, or says, something spectacularly unpopular. And, on Ukraine, for instance, Poilievre’s position is almost identical to Trudeau’s, except that he wants Russia’s ambassador kicked out of Ottawa pronto.

And Poilievre knows the value of pictures:

Poilievre’s social media feed also includes pictures of his photogenic family—wife Anaida, and two children under five, Cruz and Valentina—and even his diminutive mother, Marlene, a Conservative volunteer in a Calgary riding held by Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie. Another photo shows Poilievre, flying to the so-called “Regina Freedom Rally” of Saskatchewan supporters, reading (or pretending to read) Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Indian in the Cabinet.

These curated images are meant to soften Poilievre’s razor-sharp edges, as is his deliberately cheeky sloganeering. “Legalize smiling,” reads the caption on one video clip, in which Poilievre demands the federal government end “all mandates and restrictions” related to COVID-19. The pandemic is gone, is the underlying message, if you really want it to be.

Magical thinking from a dangerous man.

Image: SaltWire

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Trump's Role

When tracing the causes of the war in Ukraine, one cannot ignore Donald Trump's role in the debacle. Jonathan Stevenson writes:

Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden for not doing more to arm the Ukrainians, yet fail to recognize that crucial US support was withheld years ago: they voted not to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial in the Senate, proceedings that the House of Representatives had precipitated over Trump’s making US assistance to Ukraine conditional on political favors. That observation barely scratches the surface of Republican hypocrisy on this front, but recounting the Trump administration’s corrosive relationship with Ukraine is not the vindictive resurrection of old talking points. Rather, it is essential to reckoning with his domestically and strategically calamitous presidency. Trump must be held accountable for weakening the US-led international, rules-based order, undermining US deterrence of a hostile and predatory Russia, and setting up Ukraine for Putin’s brutal and geopolitically ominous invasion.

Trump’s instrumental use of Ukraine for personal political advantage began with the government that preceded Volodymyr Zelensky’s, that of Petro Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 to 2019. Like Zelensky, Poroshenko saw US support as essential to shoring up Ukraine’s national security in light of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and fomenting of a separatist rebellion in the Donbas region. Trump himself evinced no special affection for Ukraine and placed no particular value on its independence, refusing when he was the Republican nominee in 2016 to condemn Moscow over its annexation of Crimea.

Trump and his acolytes were always on Vladimir Putin's side:

His campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had advised the monumentally corrupt Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who advocated that his country distance itself from the West and align more closely Russia. In late 2016, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, signaled to Russia’s ambassador that the Trump administration would take a conciliatory approach to economic sanctions imposed by Obama—then a leading objective for President Putin.

Precisely because of the pro-Russian tilt of crucial members of Trump’s inner circle, Poroshenko felt compelled to be of great service to Trump. In 2017, to address energy shortages, Ukraine bought coal from US producers, nourishing the fossil fuel–based economy that Trump championed, and cultivated deeper business ties with the United States, making deals with American firms to buy locomotives and fuel for Ukrainian nuclear plants. Meanwhile, the former federal prosecutor and pro-Trump Republican politician Rudy Giuliani became a private consultant on crime for the city of Kyiv and on emergency services for the city of Kharkiv.

It was the Trump-Putin alliance that helped ignite today's Ukrainian War.

Image: The Guardian

Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Price Of Gasoline

Gasoline prices are higher than they have been in a very long time. Paul Krugman writes:

There are three things you need to know about gasoline prices. First, the price of crude oil — the stuff that comes out of the ground — is set in a global market, not country by country. Second, fluctuations in the price of gasoline, which is refined from crude, overwhelmingly reflect fluctuations in that global price. Third, U.S. policy has little effect on world oil prices, and virtually none at all in the short run — say, the 14 months that Biden has been in office.

About crude prices: A number of countries export oil: Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf producers, Venezuela, Norway, various others and, in normal times, Russia. Where they ship the oil depends on the price they can get. This more or less levels prices around the world: Any country with above-average prices will attract extra shipments, driving prices down; any country with below-average prices will see imports fall off, driving prices up.

For those blaming Biden for rising prices here, I regret to inform you that he is not the prime minister of Britain, or the German chancellor, or …

The Conservatives are making the same arguments in Canada. Take a look at this ad from Pierre Poilievre. It's the same line. Justin Trudeau is responsible for high gasoline prices.

Like the Republicans, the Conservatives think we're stupid.

Image: You Tube

Friday, March 11, 2022

Get Rid Of The Clowns


It's time, Andrew Coyne writes, for the Conservatives to get rid of the clowns:

For much of the past decade, voters across the democratic world have indulged in the fantasy that they could elect, in essence, a bunch of clowns to lead them: demagogues, dilettantes, billionaire brick-throwers, people with no experience of or fitness for office but only a talent for distraction. Politics was not about electing serious people to make serious decisions in a dangerous world. It was about sending a message, or making a point, or sticking it to the people we don’t like. Or else it was about entertainment. It was only the government, after all. What was the worst that could happen?

We might not want to admit it. But we are at war:

Those may not be our soldiers fighting in Ukraine, but they are our weapons, and it is our fight. Vladimir Putin, it can no longer be denied, represents a singular threat to the democratic world. A leader who invades a neighbour for the sole purpose of extinguishing a nascent democracy, who levels whole cities in this pursuit, and who threatens any country that intervenes to stop the carnage with nuclear annihilation – and who can do all this entirely at his own, not-necessarily-rational discretion – is a creature out of our worst nightmares.

Therefore, all of our leaders must be serious. Unfortunately, the ghost of Stephen Harper still hovers over the Conservatives:

Too many Conservatives make the same mistake as their most blinkered opponents – of confusing being conservative with being a jerk. Stephen Harper was certainly blessed with the ability to irritate Liberals, but in 10 years in government left precious little in the way of a lasting conservative legacy.

What he did leave was a party that was all too prone to picking needless fights and peddling conspiracy theories – the party, or rather that section of it that is attracted to this sort of thing, that thinks the World Economic Forum is a threat to our freedom, but cheered on the lawless mob that occupied Ottawa. To subscribe to such idiocies does not prove you are a principled conservative. It merely marks you as unfit to govern.

Leadership in the mold of Stephen Harper is precisely what we don't need.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Now There Are Four

There are now four candidates for the Conservative crown -- Pierre Poilievre, Jean Charest, Leswyn Lewis, and Patrick Brown. Eric Blais writes this battle will be all about the definition of "conservative:"

If the third time is indeed a charm, this third leadership race in six years will be a referendum on the party’s future. One that should force a decision on what the Conservative brand should stand for to succeed. Since it’s often more important to be different than to be better, the more polarized the positions of the two leading candidates will be, the better. It might split the party but it will bring much needed clarity on what the Conservative brand stands for.

There was much talk of the party’s need to “rebrand” when Andrew Scheer stepped down in 2019. In most organizations, that’s usually important work done prior to choosing the person who will best embody the new brand promise.

Political parties don’t operate this way. Members pick the leader they believe best represents their views. And when the rules of the leadership race create an opening, one can come from behind and get elected even if the new leader’s positions aren’t representative of the majority.

And there's the rub. The party's base is where Poilievre and Lewis are. Charest and Brown will not be their first choice. However,

having two clear choices is the only path forward to shape the future of the Conservative brand. Party supporters, which must include a significant number of new members this time around, should welcome having to choose between two polar opposites. It might reposition the Conservative brand in a manner that alienate some members it but it’s the only way voters in the next general election will be able to choose between a Conservative party that can confidently say “I’m a PC” and a Liberal party that can only say “I’m a Mac.”

We'll see in September what being a Conservative in Canada means.

Image: CBC

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

No Good Options

 Vladimir Putin faces defeat in Ukraine -- and that worries Tom Friedman:

Why do I say that defeat in Ukraine is Putin’s only option, that only the timing and size is in question? Because the easy, low-cost invasion he envisioned and the welcome party from Ukrainians he imagined were total fantasies — and everything flows from that.

Putin completely underestimated Ukraine’s will to be independent and become part of the West. He completely underestimated the will of many Ukrainians to fight, even if it meant dying, for those two goals. He completely overestimated his own armed forces. He completely underestimated President Biden’s ability to galvanize a global economic and military coalition to enable Ukrainians to stand and fight and to devastate Russia at home — the most effective U.S. coalition-building effort since George H.W. Bush made Saddam Hussein pay for his folly of seizing Kuwait. And he completely underestimated the ability of companies and individuals all over the world to participate in, and amplify, economic sanctions on Russia — far beyond anything governments initiated or mandated.

 In Russia, defeat has global consequences:

Putin surely knows that “the Russian national tradition is unforgiving of military setbacks,” observed Leon Aron, a Russia expert at the American Enterprise Institute, who is writing a book about Putin’s road to Ukraine.

“Virtually every major defeat has resulted in radical change,” added Aron, writing in The Washington Post. “The Crimean War (1853-1856) precipitated Emperor Alexander II’s liberal revolution from above. The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) brought about the First Russian Revolution. The catastrophe of World War I resulted in Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication and the Bolshevik Revolution. And the war in Afghanistan became a key factor in Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms.” Also, retreating from Cuba contributed significantly to Nikita Khrushchev’s removal two years later.

Putin has no good options. He can only lose. The only question is whether he will lose small or big:

Wait until Putin fully grasps that his only choices left in Ukraine are how to lose — early and small and a little humiliated or late and big and deeply humiliated.

I can’t even wrap my mind around what kind of financial and political shocks will radiate from Russia — this country that is the world’s third-largest oil producer and possesses some 6,000 nuclear warheads — when it loses a war of choice that was spearheaded by one man, who can never afford to admit defeat.

Image: Vanity Fair

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

It's Getting Warmer

Things are beginning to heat up. Apparently, Jean Charest will announce his bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party on Thursday. Stephanie Levitz writes:

While the federal Conservative leadership race sets the course for the party’s future, some story lines from the past are shaping the race.

Former party leader and Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, for instance, has been sending signals he’s not willing to take a back seat if former Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest runs.

The two interacted often when Harper was prime minister and Charest was premier of Quebec, where he harshly criticized Harper often and in particular, during the 2008 election in which the federal Conservatives again failed to secure a majority.

There is talk, too, that Brampton mayor Patrick Brown will enter the race. Like Charest and Harper, Brown and Pierre Poilievre have their own history:

In 1998, as Charest was on his way out as PC leader, Brown had become the president of the party’s youth wing for a two-year term.

A year after Brown took over the youth wing, Poilievre was the president of the University of Calgary campus club, where he expressed frustration with the party’s direction under Joe Clark, according to coverage from the Calgary Herald.

Brown had mused about kicking out the anti-Clark factions from the party’s youth wing; Poilievre objected, threatening to take his club executive over to the United Alternative movement.

Then, of course, there is Charest's connection to Brian Mulroney -- who would like to wield some influence in this contest. Some look forward to Mulroney's resurrection. Others hope he will stay in his tomb.

Things could get very warm.


Monday, March 07, 2022

The Soul Of The West

Michael Harris writes that, in the Ukraine War, the soul of the West hangs in the balance:

Ukraine’s pop-star president, the guy in the T-shirt, says if Ukraine goes down, it’s not just the end of one country. It is the end of the world. In other words, if Ukraine dies, ask not for whom the bell tolls. You know the rest.

It is true that war leaders deal in hyperbole, but Volodymyr Zelensky has a point. As he said, Ukraine is the border between the civilized world, and what used to be known as the evil empire; between democracy and brutal dictatorship.

Vladimir Putin, the villain of this piece and more than a few others, is proving to be a one-man geopolitical pandemic. Despite all the death and destruction Putin has already caused, French President Emmanuel Macron warns that the “worst” is yet to come in this unprovoked and savage war against a sovereign, democratic state.

When Putin invaded Crimea, he learned that the West would not fight for Ukraine:

Russia has now used its uncontested land grab in Crimea as a key staging area for a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine. It is a war that could create five million refugees and kill 50,000 civilians.  This time the target is not Sevastopol, it is Kyiv. 

True, the West has imposed disastrous sanctions on Russia. But they are not enough to stop Putin:

So far, there is no sign that severe sanctions have done anything but make Putin double down on his outrageous invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces continue to inexorably close in on the country’s key cities, including Kyiv, in what has been called by U.S. intelligent analysts, the “slow annihilation” of Ukraine’s military assets. Despite Putin’s denials, civilian targets are also being ravaged by intense shelling. 

So if the goal of the sanctions, the shaming, and the isolation of Putin and his band of thugs and oligarchs was to stop the invasion, it hasn’t worked, at least not yet. 

And even if, over time, the sanctions work, what if the net result is an isolated Putin driven into the arms of China? What if China becomes the buyer of last resort for Russian wheat and energy? What if the two countries conspire to set up a course of their own, buying and selling securities and commodities in a non-dollar currency? If your neighbourhood is Asia, how tempting would it be to work with Peking rather than New York, even if the deals weren’t denominated in U.S. dollars?

Emmanuel Macron is right. The worst is yet to come.


Sunday, March 06, 2022

We Will Have To Choose

Ukraine wants NATO to protect its skies -- something the alliance, up to this point, has refused to do. We really are caught between a rock and a hard place. Glen Pearson writes

The problem with Ukraine is Putin’s threat to use tactical nuclear warheads.  It changes everything.  Do you protect airspace to safeguard humanitarian supply chains, knowing that any encounter in the air with Russia could set off something unimaginable?  Or do you keep attempting other methods of funnelling supplies into Ukraine?  A debate ensues in the rest of the world that becomes more complicated the longer the fight continues.

 As the fight continues, the situation grows more and more dire:

Women and children are increasingly falling victim to this conflict.  Ukrainian men and even boys use whatever weapons they can find, and their casualty rate will grow as the weeks, months, and years ensue.  In a war of attrition like this, a decision will have to be made: allow Putin to continue the civilian carnage or risk the nuclear option by protecting civilians caught in the mayhem.

Sometime this coming week, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the country and becoming refugees will reach 1.5 million.  Of those, over half a million will be children.  This is ever the way with senseless war.  As Gandhi once put it: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”  Conflict becomes senseless when we no longer heed that lesson.

Many kids will lose their fathers, grandfathers, and sometimes their mothers forever.  Whenever this kind of conflict rears its ugly head, parents seek to get their children to someplace safe, just as the English did in World War Two.  We aren’t even two weeks into the conflict, and Ukrainian children are now traumatized, surrounded by mortality, and increasingly facing a future without a father, a mother, or both.

As this conflict wears on and Russia inevitably gains the upper hand, images of the carnage will play much more on the western mind than they do at present.  When enough children perish, pressure will mount for someone to do something, likely starting with creating open skies.  Critics will continually point out that doing so risks the use of nuclear weapons, and they won’t be wrong.

So here we are: neither outcome is acceptable. But, inevitably, we will have to choose.


Saturday, March 05, 2022

Tunnel Vision

The National Post reports that Andrew Scheer will support Pierre Poilievre for the Conservative leadership:

Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer will support Pierre Poilievre’s bid for leadership. The announcement will be made on Friday evening during a rally in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Scheer was seen beside Poilievre as he was making his second promise as leadership candidate: repealing what he deems as “anti-energy and anti-pipeline legislation,” formally known as bills C-69 and C-48, and building “Canadian pipelines with Canadian workers.”

In addition to killing C-69 and C-48, Poilievre has said that he will scrap the carbon tax: 

Speaking to media, Poilievre promised to replace them with new laws that would “protect the environment, consult First Nations and provide them with paychecks and give quick decisions on proposed energy projects,” should he be named leader and then elected Prime Minister.

Scheer's support for Poilievre indicates that he still doesn't understand why he lost his quest for the brass ring. And Poilievre's stand on the environment indicates that his vision doesn't extend beyond the Manitoba border. 

It's tunnel vision. And it appears that the Conservatives can't find their way out of the tunnel.


Friday, March 04, 2022

Character And Destiny

On one level, the war in Ukraine is a study in character. Eugene Robinson writes:

Perhaps any Russian leader would feel some measure of frustration or even rage at the way their nation’s status has diminished since the Cold War ended. Perhaps anyone calling the shots in Moscow would resent seeing former Soviet republics turn their backs on Russia and embrace the West. Perhaps any master of the Kremlin would believe, deep inside, that Ukraine really is an integral part of Russia.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin holds those views with a tragic intensity. He imagines a Western plot to humiliate Moscow and deny Russia the superpower status it deserves, and he appears to take this grievous insult personally.

Putin has an unusually high tolerance for risk — since World War II, sovereign nations simply do not invade and conquer their neighbors — and he is almost inhumanly callous to civilian casualties, as evidenced by the way he reduced the Chechen city of Grozny to rubble in 1999 when he waged war as prime minister.

Several commentators here have pointed to Russia's humiliation as the driving force behind this war. Russia's greatest novelist, Leo Tolstoy, would probably agree. But to understand why things are as they are, you have to understand Putin:

While attempts at long-distance psychoanalysis are generally worthless, recent images of Putin meeting with high-ranking aides are undeniably weird — Putin keeping them at an unnatural distance and speaking to them as if they were schoolchildren. A different Russian president might have been given a more realistic assessment of how ready his military was to conduct a large-scale invasion, how fiercely Ukrainians would resist and how the international community might react. Putin either didn’t ask to hear such truth or decided to ignore it.

 There is, however,  more than one character involved in this war:

Perhaps any Ukrainian president would have bravely resisted the Russian invasion, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else matching the way Volodymyr Zelensky has performed. Zelensky’s defiance and bravery have rallied Ukrainian soldiers and civilians to fight tooth and nail for every square inch of their homeland. And it is no overstatement to say that his decision to put his life on the line by remaining in Kyiv has inspired support for the Ukrainian cause around the world.

Who could have imagined that a former comedian, famous for winning the local version of “Dancing With the Stars” and playing an accidental Ukrainian president on television, would so rise to the occasion and become such a hero?

“You have to remember that he is a performer, and performance is a big part of this,” former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr., who knows Zelensky well, told me this week. Indeed, Zelensky knows not just what to say but also how to say it for maximum impact. He understands the visual impact of the olive-drab military T-shirts he wears and the backdrops he chooses for his social media messages.

Zelensky has single-handedly changed the trajectory of the war. He may not be able to change its outcome, but statues of him will be erected in Ukrainian exile communities around the world — and someday, I am confident, in Kyiv.

Character does make a difference. It can inspire and it can destroy. That dichotomy is playing out in Ukraine.

Image: Newsweek