Monday, July 31, 2023

Intellectually Dishonest

A cabinet shuffle offers us an opportunity to conduct our politics differently -- something, Michael Harris writes, that we desperately need to do. But Pierre Poilievre is having none of it:

When it came time for Pierre Poilievre to offer his reaction to the government’s facelift, the leader of the opposition proved once again that he will have to do a lot more than take off his glasses to improve his image with Canadians. Not even a ski mask could conceal the meanness of his response. 

Politics is not Sunday school. No one—including yours truly—expected Poilievre to offer any bouquets to the ministers, old and new, of what will likely be Trudeau’s election cabinet, whenever voting day comes.  But there wasn’t a pinch of civility, a drop of statesmanship, or a scintilla of decorum in his response, just a dreary litany of the government’s alleged failures. Poilievre claimed that after eight years of Trudeau, the sky is falling. It sounded so old.

Despite his age, Poilievre is an old man yelling at the neighbours' children:

Canadians, he claimed, have to choose between heating their homes and eating. The carbon tax, you see, is to blame. Immigrants can’t work. Housing is unaffordable. Mortgage payments and rents have doubled. Housing costs in Canada are the highest in the G7. There is disorder in the streets. Every town and metropolis has tent cities, and violent offenders roaming the streets who have been released from prison. And, of course, Chrystia Freeland is not the minister of finance, she is the minister of deficits. Bottom line? After eight years of JT, everything is broken. Only PP can make Canada great again.

It is one thing to cast the appropriate lights and shadows over your opponent’s record. Every politician does that to some degree. But it is quite another to paint a portrait in black of every single thing that any government, including the one to which Poilievre used to belong, does or did.

And it is something less than honest to offer such a blanket condemnation of your opponent without offering anything by way of explaining how firing Trudeau and hiring Poilievre would leave Canadians better off.  

How would Poilievre make housing cheaper? How would he control food and energy prices, the main drivers of the kind of inflation that everyone feels? I take it he is still a free-market guy, so wage and price controls aren’t the answer. So what is? No real substance from Poilievre beyond “common sense” solutions.  

Like ditching the carbon tax while the planet is alternately drowning or burning? Like not regulating the energy industry, as the Harper government chose to do when it was calling the shots? By firing the governor of the Bank of Canada? By using bitcoin as a hedge against inflation?

In blaming Trudeau for everything that is wrong in this upside-down world, Poilievre never comments on a remarkable thing. Trudeau is not the president of the United States, the prime minister of Britain, or the chancellor of Germany.  

Yet all of these countries—and many more—are facing the same problems as Canada: inflation, high housing costs, large deficits, and worried citizens. In a global environment, Poilievre remains a parochial thinker.  

The plain truth? A lot of the problems in Canada are not made in Canada. And it is intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise.  

And that's the point: Poilievre is intellectually dishonest.

Image: Quote Fancy

Friday, July 28, 2023

Uncommonly Stupid

Donald Trump will be remembered for many things. But, most of all, he will be remembered for his monumental stupidity. Ruth Marcus writes:

If the allegations in the latest indictment of Donald Trump hold up, the former president is a common criminal — and an uncommonly stupid one.

Everyone knows, as the Watergate scandal drove home: The coverup is always worse than the crime. Everyone, that is, but Trump.

Monday, July 24, 2023


If you really want to know who Doug Ford is, consider what Linda McQuaig has written:

There will be no cheapness on the part of the Ford government when it comes to providing for customers visiting the private spa to be built at Ontario Place.

On the other hand, the Ford government is exhibiting plenty of cheapness when it comes to providing for children getting an education in Ontario. (Those would be our children, by the way).

And so it is that our “populist” premier will spend $400 million building a parking garage for the convenience of well-to-do spa users, while scrimping on the most basic educational materials in Ontario’s schools.

That scrimping — education funding has dropped by $1,200 per student under Ford (in inflation-adjusted dollars) — explains why classroom shelves are empty after teachers remove the learning materials they have provided, and schools increasingly rely on fundraising drives to pay for technology, libraries and classroom supplies, leaving schools in lower-income areas at a disadvantage.

The government’s miserly approach to funding our children’s education seems curious in such a rich province.

It's not that Ontario doesn't have the money:

The government is actually swimming in money — even as it hollows out key public programs, underfunding schools, shutting down hospital emergency wards and doing nothing for the homeless beyond allowing developers to build ever more condos that are quickly sold to high-income buyers.

While underfunding our public programs didn’t start with Doug Ford, his government has raised this sorry practice to a guiding principle.

For years, we have been told by provincial business and political leaders that we must cut government spending to keep deficits under control — or international investors will cut us off.

That threat was always grossly exaggerated. Our deficits were always manageable; there was never the slightest risk international investors would cut us off.

The notion that we cannot afford a strong public sector has always been a scam.

But it’s particularly a scam these days. The Ford government’s own numbers show a sea of surpluses — not deficits — over the next four years.

And the government’s finances are even better than it likes to admit. The province’s Fiscal Accountability Office — an independent government agency — reported last month that Ontario is on track to collect $22 billion more than it plans to spend on its public programs.

That’s $22 billion that is not being used to adequately fund our education, health care and other vital public programs that determine the quality of life for millions of Ontarians.

If you're a rich land developer, Doug Ford's your man. If you're an ordinary citizen of Ontario -- or the child of one of those ordinary citizens -- he'll do nothing for you.


Thursday, July 20, 2023

Things Will Be Different

Many people believe that the next election in the United States will be a replay of the previous two elections: the Democrats will win the popular vote, but the election will be decided in the Electoral College. Celinda Lake and Mac Heller write that won't be the case:

The candidates might not be changing — but the electorate has.

Every year, about 4 million Americans turn 18 and gain the right to vote. In the eight years between the 2016 and 2024 elections, that’s 32 million new eligible voters.

Also every year, 2½ million older Americans die. So in the same eight years, that’s as many as 20 million fewer older voters.

Which means that between Trump’s election in 2016 and the 2024 election, the number of Gen Z (born in the late 1990s and early 2010s) voters will have advanced by a net 52 million against older people. That’s about 20 percent of the total 2020 eligible electorate of 258 million Americans.

And unlike previous generations, Gen Z votes. Comparing the four federal elections since 2015 (when the first members of Gen Z turned 18) with the preceding nine (1998 to 2014), average turnout by young voters (defined here as voters under 30) in the Trump and post-Trump years has been 25 percent higher than that of older generations at the same age before Trump — 8 percent higher in presidential years and a whopping 46 percent higher in midterms.

Similarly, though not as drastic, we have seen a 7 percent increase in voter registration among under-30 voters since Gen Z joined the electorate. In midterm elections, under-30s have seen a 20 percent increase in their share of the electorate, on average, since Trump and Gen Z entered the game.

What distinguishes Gen Z voters is not their support for a particular candidate, but their support of specific issues:

That policy-first approach, combined with the issues they care most about, have led young people in recent years to vote more frequently for Democrats and progressive policies than prior generations did when of similar age — as recent elections in Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin have shown.

In last August’s Kansas abortion referendum, for example, women under 30 turned out at a rate of 41 percent and helped win the contest. A similar Michigan abortion referendum brought youth midterm turnout to 49 percent — and 69 percent of voters younger than 30 voted to put abortion rights protections in the state constitution compared with just 52 percent of voters 30 and older. Michigan voters elected Democratic majorities in both state houses for the first time in years, and reelected their Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

The same phenomenon will affect our politics.

Image: Olga Fedorova / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP 

Monday, July 17, 2023

What We've Got Here Is A Failure to Communicate

If there's one thing the Liberals don't know how to do, it's to communicate. Max Fawcett writes:

After nearly eight years in power, one thing has become abundantly clear about Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government: it can’t communicate to save its increasingly vulnerable political life. From the carbon tax to COVID-19, its otherwise good policies are consistently undermined by a total inability to explain them to Canadians. And for some reason, it seems determined to add its response to Canada’s housing crisis to this list.

Witness the op-ed published last week in the National Post under Minister of Housing Ahmed Hussen’s byline that almost seemed designed to irritate young people in Canada’s biggest cities. It began with the patronizing suggestion that housing “is not a political issue,” one that was undermined almost immediately by a lengthy political attack on Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre Poilievre. But as Matt Lundy, an economics reporter for the Globe and Mail, noted on Twitter, “I assure you, we think it's political!”

It's a lot more than political:

Yes, the Liberal government implemented a national housing strategy in 2018, an $82-billion plan to build more social housing and help first-time buyers get into the market. That’s more than the Harper Conservatives did while they were in office, and it marked a welcome return by the federal government to the table. But so far, it’s been insufficient to meet the growing challenge housing poses for so many people. It’s like trying to fight a house fire with a water gun — sure, it’s better than nothing, but it’s not doing much for the people in harm’s way.

That doesn’t seem to have gotten through to the Liberals. In his op-ed, Hussen wrote: “We are putting Canada on track to double housing construction over the next decade. And we are just getting started.” But after eight years in power, and with a housing market that is more treacherous and less affordable than ever, Canadians don’t want to hear that the government is “just getting started.”

Canadians don't want to be lectured to. But the Liberals like to lecture:

The fact that younger voters in Canada’s big cities and suburbs are more open to Poilievre than they’ve been to a Conservative leader in decades should be a huge, flashing warning sign to the government. That support, after all, has nothing to do with his habit of posing with anti-LGBTQ bigots or non-existent climate policies, and it’s definitely not a product of his charm or charisma. It’s a reflection of the fact that he’s the only federal leader who seems to be taking this issue seriously. If the Trudeau Liberals don’t start doing the same, they’ll deserve to lose the next election.

As readers of this blog know, I'm no fan of Poilievre. But political malpractice from the Liberals could assure his ascension. The movie Cool Hand Luke popularized the phrase, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."

That's precisely what we have here.

Image: YouTube

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Canadian Constitutional Chaos?

The United States is in constitutional chaos. In Canada, we could soon find ourselves in similar circumstances. Max Fawcett writes:

It’s been clear for some time now that when faced with a choice between democracy and power, Republicans in the United States will almost always opt for the latter. It’s why their elected officials at the state level continue to aggressively gerrymander congressional districts in order to favour their candidates, why their elected senators hold up Democratic nominees for the Supreme Court while rushing theirs through, and why so many of them tried to pretend the 2020 presidential election had been stolen — while actually trying to steal it themselves.

For years, Republicans have been trying to establish minority rule:

Now, that anti-democratic strain of Trumpism is starting to show itself north of the border, albeit in an appropriately Canadian way.

Recent polls put Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative Party of Canada well ahead of the governing Liberals, but none of them show a path to a majority government. Instead, if he wins — and that’s far from certain given Justin Trudeau’s obvious gift for campaigning — it’ll take the form of a plurality of seats, one that will require Poilievre to find a legislative partner willing to support him. That won’t be the New Democrats, for any number of reasons, and it’s hard to imagine the Bloc Québécois siding consistently with the CPC if the combined Liberal-NDP seat count is higher. In other words, there’s every possibility Poilievre could win the most seats in the next election and not become the next prime minister.

This is, by the way, an entirely acceptable — if unusual — outcome in our political system. The party that governs in a parliamentary democracy is the one that can command the confidence of Parliament (or the legislature at the provincial level), and we’ve seen situations where the party with the highest number of seats isn’t the one calling the shots. In 1985, David Peterson’s Ontario Liberals won four fewer seats than the long-governing Tories but formed a coalition with Bob Rae’s NDP to force it from power. In 1987, the Peterson Liberals were rewarded with a crushing majority win. More recently there was John Horgan's NDP, which won fewer seats than Christy Clark's BC Liberals but reached an agreement with the BC Green Party that allowed it to govern. Voters there also rewarded Horgan with a big majority in the next election.

But, if that situation occurs, expect Mr. Poilievre to claim that the government is illegitimate -- which, of course, would be a lie:

There is nothing in Canada’s Constitution or its political conventions that suggests the party with the most seats should automatically be the one that governs. Indeed, as Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders noted, it’s progressives who have been disenfranchised by Canada’s first-past-the-post system and its habit of producing false majorities. “In every election since the 1980s, 60% have voted for a left-leaning party. Yet right-facing parties have governed half the time because the liberal/left parties have a tribal resistance to governing together.”

Now is the time for Canadians to truly understand how their political system works.

Image: CHEK News

Tuesday, July 11, 2023


We are about to discover just how crazy Republicans in the House of Representatives are. Eugene Robinson writes:

I’ll admit I was surprised when Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) got the House to approve a deal on the debt ceiling that takes the threat of default off the table until early 2025, eliminating the possibility of election-year brinkmanship on that issue. He and President Biden reached a reasonable compromise — far too reasonable, it turns out, for the anti-government zealots in McCarthy’s fractious ranks.

Members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, outraged at the notion of meeting anyone halfway about anything, are trying to renege on the spending targets set in the debt ceiling deal and instead force much deeper cuts. They don’t have the power to get what they want, since all the other actors (Biden, House Democrats, a bipartisan majority in the Senate) are determined to honor the terms of the agreement. But looney-bin GOP radicals can make McCarthy’s life miserable and perhaps even oust him as speaker. And there is a good chance they can force a government shutdown at the end of September.

Like the leader of their cult, many Republicans are insane:

Pulling such a stunt would be dumb and self-defeating. The historical record is clear: When Republicans force a shutdown, they end up hurting their own party politically and helping the Democrats. But logic and pragmatism no longer appear to be getting through to the outer-planet far right in the House.

How far into the wilds of extremism have these GOP radicals wandered? Members of the Freedom Caucus have reportedly voted to oust Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from their club. Her perceived sins include having supported McCarthy’s debt ceiling deal and generally being too cozy with the leadership. But the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Freedom Caucus member Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told reporters, came late last month when Greene called another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a “little bitch” while both were on the House floor.

Greene and Boebert once looked like potential BFFs; you will recall how they previously teamed up to heckle Biden during his State of the Union address. But each seems to want to be recognized as the GOP’s loudest and most telegenic provocateur. Greene was hopping mad because Boebert had filed an unserious, publicity-seeking resolution to impeach Biden — jumping the gun before Greene could file her own unserious, publicity-seeking resolution to impeach Biden.

Other prominent House Republicans are busy performing such vital legislative tasks as investigating Hunter Biden; investigating the Justice Department investigation of Hunter Biden; threatening to impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland; threatening to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; threatening to fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who was appointed by Donald Trump; complaining about “woke” capitalism, as if they think Wall Street has somehow repealed the profit motive; and now, in a weekend flurry of official statements and Fox News appearances, vowing to get to the bottom of who left a small bag of cocaine at the White House.

Amid all this nonsense, however, the House Appropriations Committee is working on spending bills for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 with funding levels about $119 billion less than those set in the Biden-McCarthy compromise. This attempt at changing the rules midgame was blessed by McCarthy after Freedom Caucus members staged a tantrum, blocking the House from getting any work done, to protest the debt ceiling deal.

There's only one word for all of this: Crazytown.

Image: The Sobor Curator

Saturday, July 08, 2023

A Deal They Couldn't Refuse

Ontario and the Feds have come to an agreement on funding the Stellantis EV battery plant in Windsor. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

So why did the premier and the prime minister dig so deep? And deeper still?

They couldn’t risk Stellantis pulling up stakes — and pulling the rug out from the rest of the auto sector.

There is no simple political calculus, no easy economic calculation for placing so big a bet in so broad a bidding war. You do what you have to do.

Or you do nothing at all. And watch the sector spiral into nothingness.

When the provincial and federal governments first ponied up a witch’s brew of sweeteners and concessions to lure a Stellantis electric vehicle battery plant last year, it seemed like a good idea at the time. At a good price.

But then things changed:

Once U.S. President Joe Biden opened the door to massive subsidies for American EV battery-making, the corrosive effect was always going to leach into Canadian decision-making. With a better offer over the border, you can’t blame Stellantis for holding us over a barrel.

Why put itself at a competitive disadvantage knowing its rivals would gain an edge? Why would we?

When the carmaker downed tools, suspended construction and made plans to relocate to the highest bidder, it wasn’t bluffing. Stellantis wasn’t so much putting a gun to our head as it was pointing the way to its next move — as logical as it was inevitable.

As the company’s CEO Carlos Tavares told my colleague Rob Ferguson this week, he had to make a rational business decision in a world where everyone wants to come out on top. It’s also a defensible governmental decision in a world where no one wants to hit bottom.

To be sure, labour and business both will cheerfully if optimistically tally up the potential multiplier effects of a car sector that generates spinoff jobs throughout the economy — from mining of rare minerals to assembly of commonplace auto parts. Multipliers don’t always add up, but they are not nothing.

Which is why Unifor, which represents auto industry workers, lavished praise on two politicians from two different parties it doesn’t always love.

“Thousands upon thousands of workers’ livelihoods were hanging in the balance throughout this dispute,” said Lana Payne, president of the country’s largest private sector union. “We would like to thank Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau, Premier Doug Ford and the company.”

Such is the world we live in.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, July 06, 2023

That Kind of Change

Polls suggest that Canadians are in the mood for change. Michael Harris writes:

Within its sample of 2,000 respondents, the same Abacus poll that showed an overwhelming majority wants a change in government also found 31 per cent of respondents didn’t like any of the politicians on offer. This group was then asked how they would vote if there were an election tomorrow.

Here are the numbers: 33 per cent Liberal; 22 per cent NDP and 19 per cent Conservative. According to pollster David Coletto, it is this group of people who don’t favour any of the leaders that will decide the next election. If Trudeau can hold on to the Liberal vote in this group and add it to the 20 per cent who want him to remain PM, there is a realistic chance he will win a fourth term.

According to Coletto, the only certain way that Trudeau falls is if one of the Opposition parties makes itself more attractive to this pivotal group that currently doesn’t like anybody.

And that is bad news for the Conservative Party of Canada. Up until now, the party’s leader has scored with the CPC base but missed the net with the broader electorate.

The problem for Conservatives is their leader, Pierre Poilievre:

The sticking point is Pierre Poilievre’s slavish adherence to the kind of Trumpian nastiness that is rotting the heart of the Republican party in the Indicted States of America. Poilievre specializes in put-downs, not lift-ups. It is usually the latter that inspire Canadians.

With former PM Stephen Harper’s public endorsement, Poilievre won the top job by dragging the CPC further to the right. And he has maintained that Freedom Caucus-style political stance as leader of the Opposition.

Gut the CBC, fire the chairman of the Bank of Canada, close safe injection sites, and keep the drill bit turning to the right while the planet is deep in a fossil-fuelled fever.

That approach may have gotten Skippy the clip of the day from question period, but it didn’t make more room in the CPC tent. Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction, and so far, Poilievre’s has got the arithmetic backwards. Great at subtraction, a flop at addition.

Poilievre's predecessor, Erin O'Toole, recognized that the Conservatives have to make room for more moderate Canadians:

Erin O’Toole won the CPC leadership the same way his successor did — by playing to the party’s hard-right base. But O’Toole realized that the pitch that won him the top job in the party would not, could not, win him a general election.

So he adjusted the sales pitch, moderated his views, and took a few baby steps to the centre of the political spectrum in hopes of gaining wider appeal. It didn’t work because Canadians didn’t believe that the leopard had really changed his spots. O’Toole ended up winning fewer seats than his hapless predecessor, Andrew Scheer.

Unlike the more supple O’Toole, a move toward the centre is not possible for Poilievre. It is more likely that Vladimir Putin would rehire Yevgeny Prigozhin as his chef than Canadians would believe in a kinder and gentler Pierre Poilievre.

So if David Coletto has it right, and the only way to beat the Liberals is for the opposition to make itself more attractive to those who don’t like any of their political options, how does Poilievre do that?

Word has it that Poilievre intends to ditch his glasses for contacts. That kind of change won't do it for him.

Image: The Toronto Sun

Monday, July 03, 2023

Money And Journalism

Some nasty stuff has been going on at CTV News. Michael Harris writes:

Bob Fife blew the whistle on the sad state of affairs inside CTV, when he reported in a June 27, 2023, story in The Globe and Mail that Wade Oosterman, a top Bell Media executive, urged his news team to avoid “negative spin” in coverage of the network’s parent company.

According to The Globe, Oosterman said on an audio tape obtained by The Globe that there was a lack of “balance” in the network’s coverage. Although The Globe reported that he said he was not asking reporters to “shill” for Bell in its coverage of the company, that is exactly what his words sounded like. “But for God’s sake,” he reportedly said, “If there is a choice between helping and not helping—help.”

The Globe reported that Oosterman gave an unsettling example. When Bell reported flat revenues and an eight per cent profit, arguably obtained by cuts, he didn’t like the way CTV played the story. 

The network reported the heart of the business story: that revenues were flat, not the single digit improvement in profits. “Why would we take that negative spin instead of the positive spin?” Oosterman reportedly asked. 

And what did Oosterman do to solve the problem? He replaced Lisa Laflamme:

Some said that her crime was letting her hair go grey, which the company denied.

But The Globe reported that two former news managers at CTV said that Oosterman thought LaFlamme’s newscast was too “favourable” to the federal Liberals. 

Laflamme's exit was only the beginning:

Then came the disturbing termination of two of CTV’s finest Ottawa bureau assets: bureau chief Joyce Napier and reporter Glen McGregor. Along with Napier and McGregor, Bell also iced the network’s chief international correspondent, Paul Workman.

Napier had been a correspondent for Société Radio-Canada before joining CTV. McGregor was the investigative print journalist who broke the robocalls scandal along with his then-colleague Stephen Maher. And Workman spent most of his long career as the CBC’s Paris-based correspondent. 

With their departures, invaluable experience walked out the door.

If you have a ratings problem, seasoned journalists like Napier, McGregor, and Workman with proven track records are exactly the people to turn that around. Instead of letting these people go, BCE might have considered investing more in the Ottawa bureau. Instead, they have chosen to chastise, hobble, and diminish it.

Fife, who himself had been Ottawa bureau chief for CTV before joining The Globe, made an incredibly important point in his story. It could be persuasively argued that Oosterman’s reported attempt to inject more balance into CTV’s coverage by lecturing news managers runs contrary to BCE’s own journalistic independence policy.

As Fife reported, the policy is clear: “Any interference, either direct or indirect, actual or perceived, undermines the principles of news independence and can erode the credibility of Bell Media News, which is critical to maintaining the trust of our viewers and listeners.” 

Money has corrupted our politics. It is corrupting our journalism. There is controversy about the source of the quotation. Nevertheless, its truth is undeniable. "In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

Image: YouTube

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Canada Day 2023

Where we live, smoke is in the air. It irritates our eyes and, when we go outside, we wear masks. These are difficult days. But let's not be overcome with cynicism. There is still much to celebrate in this country.

Happy Canada Day.