Thursday, June 27, 2024

Why Stay?

A lot of people are suggesting that Justin Trudeau should go. Martin Regg Cohn writes that Justin should talk to Kathleen Wynne:

Kathleen Wynne has been there, done that — and didn’t go.

After a bitter byelection defeat for the federal Liberals in Toronto–St. Paul’s riding this week, Wynne has been asking herself the same question anew. As premier, she stayed to fight another campaign in 2018, paying a high price in the election defeat that followed.

History also suggests that changing leaders is no panacea for unpopular premiers or prime ministers. After Wynne left, the Ontario Liberals under Steven Del Duca lost badly again to Doug Ford; after Brian Mulroney quit as PM in 1993, his successor Kim Campbell was wiped out; same with Pierre Trudeau’s successor, John Turner, in 1984.

Consider what Wynne is saying:

“I think what’s going to happen now is there’s going to be a lot of internal soul-searching,” Wynne told me. Over the next few weeks, MPs will be “trying to figure out now how to have the tough conversation with him,” because “he’s going to have to make a decision.”

Wynne predicts Liberal MPs across the country will be going door to door this summer hearing their constituents say, “We love you, we hate your leader.”

That’s what happened to Wynne in her last years, and it’s the fate befalling Trudeau now.

“I lived through that and it’s tough.”

MPs have to decide whether they can stand it. And the PM must determine if he can withstand it.

Wynne thought her situation would improve -- and so did Cohn:

Back then, I thought if Wynne could reintroduce herself to voters and somehow rehabilitate her image, she had a better chance to eke out a narrow victory in 2018 than any of the other pretenders to the throne. But as readers know, I’m always wrong — and as it turned out, the downside risk of an unloved leader was a massive loss on voting day.

Similarly, Trudeau may be the best bet for a longshot Liberal minority victory in the federal election due in late 2025. But by virtue of the personal hostility he engenders — akin to Wynne — he could very well be the worst bet if things don’t go their way, leading to even bigger losses.

It's not a simple decision. Stay tuned.

Image: CTV News

Monday, June 24, 2024

Very Consequential

Canadians aren't impressed by their political leaders. Michael Harris writes:

Federal politics has entered a “none-of-the-above” phase.  

The same polls that show Justin Trudeau taking his party over the electoral cliff if he remains leader also show something else of importance. Canadians are deeply unimpressed with the current crop of federal leaders.  

The latest Angus Reid poll nicely captures Trudeau’s emphatic unpopularity, but also the striking unpopularity of his rivals. The prime minister is viewed favourably by just 28 per cent of respondents in the Angus Reid poll, and unfavourably by a whopping 67 per cent.  

The Conservative Party has a commanding 20-point lead over the Liberals amongst decided voters, a staggering, double-digit lead they have had for months. 

But according to other key findings in the poll, 50 per cent of respondents had an unfavourable view of Pierre Poilievre and Jagmeet Singh.  

That makes predicting what will happen in the next election difficult:

While most observers have counted Trudeau out, based on persistent documentary evidence, [Nick Nanos] came up with another number that puts the Conservative “juggernaut” factor in an intriguing context.  

“Although the Conservatives enjoy a comfortable advantage in vote intentions, their pool of accessible voters—that is, the proportion of Canadians who are open to voting Conservative—is not much larger (45 per cent) than the group of voters accessible to the Liberals (43 per cent).”

In other words, the next election will not necessarily be decided by today’s polls, but by tomorrow’s, next week’s, next month’s, and next year’s political gamesmanship. And happenstance.

Things can change radically over a short period. Like climate change, political change can be swift and very consequential.

Image: CTV Nrews

Friday, June 21, 2024

On The March


Authoritarianism is on the march. Michael Harris warns that we should keep our eyes on Europe:

Across the world the hard right is moving toward centre stage. The latest sign that liberal democracy is in decline comes from an ocean away. But we in Canada would be fools to believe ourselves safely distanced from that tide.

Earlier this month Europe conducted the second largest democratic vote in the world. Four hundred million voters were eligible to choose who sits in the EU Parliament. The most stunning result was a far-right surge — with immediate and dramatic consequences.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo resigned in the wake of the results. His party, Open VLD, won just seven seats, while the two right-wing parties each picked up 20 seats in Belgium’s 150 seat federal parliament. De Croo was left with a one-seat advantage in the seven-member coalition he led and decided that was unworkable.

French President Emmanuel Macron called a snap legislative election for June 30 after his centrist party lost heavily to Marine Le Pen’s far right National Rally party.

Le Pen’s party captured 31.37 per cent of the vote and Macron’s centrist Renaissance coalition only 14.6 per cent. National Rally took 30 seats compared to Macron’s 13. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire pronounced: “This will be the most consequential parliamentary election for France and for the French in the history of the Fifth Republic.”

Although the centre-right European People’s Party will remain he largest party in the European Parliament with about 186 of the chamber’s 720 seats, the right is now positioned to be in the running to form governments in France, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Germany.

Post-pandemic, the world is taking a nasty turn:

None of this accidental. It is, in part, blowback from inflammatory political rhetoric. Donald Trump, for example, refuses to rule out violence if he loses the November election. That moves him from being a polarizing figure to an instigator, just as he was on Jan. 6, 2021. He has warned that there will be “death and destruction” if he is jailed over his recent 34-count criminal conviction in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case.

It is a dangerous message. A study released last year showed one in four Americans thought political violence was justified to “save” the country. Among just supporters of Trump the number jumped to four in ten.

Thanks to social media platforms, found another U.S. report on the growing embrace of political violence, there is a great deal of “anonymous rage” out there.

Not only is a convicted felon, sex assailant and tax fraudster positioned to win back the White House, his iconoclasm has apparently turned the GOP into the Lawless and Disorder party.

We're in for a rough ride.

Monday, June 17, 2024

A Pig In A Poke

Pierre Poilievre claims that he's the working man's friend. But the policies he promotes reveal that he's on the side of the working man's overlords. Linda McQuaig writes:

Pierre Poilievre often calls Canada “broken,” but he rarely reveals that his dream Canada is an austere place that few Canadians would recognize or want to live in.

However, in an unscripted comment last month that received almost no media attention, the Conservative leader briefly provided us with a glimpse of the bleak vision he has for Canada.

“I’m very hesitant to spend taxpayers’ money on anything other than the core services of roads, bridges, police, military, border security and a safety net for those who can’t provide for themselves. That’s common sense. Let’s bring it home,” Poilievre told reporters during a campaign stop at a Vancouver gas station.

This suggests an agenda of cuts that goes well beyond axing the carbon tax.

So what is he really talking about?

Poilievre didn’t even mention — among his list of things he considers worthy of taxpayers’ money — Canada’s major social programs including health care, education, pensions and family supports, which are central to the lives of almost all Canadians.

Now, I doubt if Poilievre is planning to cancel or completely stop funding these programs. (Health care and education are provincial responsibilities, although they rely on funding from the federal government.)

But his comment at the gas station indicates a desire to redesign Canada in a profound way — as mostly a supplier of “core services” — infrastructure, police, the military.

As for the social dimension, he favours a bare-bones, U.S.-style “safety net” aimed only at the poor, with the rest of the population forced to provide for themselves and their families in the marketplace.

If he gets a majority, he’s likely to be swift and ambitious in cutting and privatizing. As The Star has reported, the Ford government’s apparent interest in calling an early election is partly driven by its desire to hold the election before a Poilievre government produces a first budget with deep spending cuts, tarnishing the Conservative brand.

Poilievre presents himself as a friend of the working person — but a Canadian government supplying only “core services” would mean cutbacks that hurt working people.

His agenda seems very much in line with the far-right Fraser Institute.

These are very old ideas. They brought about the Great Depression and the Great Recession at the beginning of this century. You'd think that, by now, we'd recognize a pig in a poke when we see it.

Image: English Stack Exchange

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Another Departure

Some long-time politicians have simply had enough. The latest departure is Shannon Phillips. Max Fawcett writes:

At some point, even for the toughest of cookies, enough is enough. After years of enduring threats, harassment, and even an illegal surveillance campaign by local police officers — one that never resulted in criminal charges — Alberta NDP MLA Shannon Phillips announced last week that she was resigning from politics. “I’m the next in a line of woman politicians who are taking a pass,” she told the Globe and Mail.

“Yes, I'm mad,” McKenna said on social media. “We are seeing the deterioration of politics on our watch - allowing attacks on politicians especially on women — by right wing politicians & their mouthpieces. This toxic workplace would never be tolerated anywhere else. It's democracy that's at stake, folks.”

The price she paid for her political involvement was high. And while she switched to the opposition benches in 2019, that price just seemed to keep getting higher. “These conditions are not improving,” she told the Globe and Mail this week. “The right is only getting more crazy and more bonkers, and disinformation is just getting worse. And that is going to have an effect on people’s desire to do this work.”

To be a politician these days you have to live with constant harassment:

"In 2019 there was approximately eight files we opened up on threat behaviours, either direct or indirect threat towards an MP, and in 2023 there was 530 files opened," [Patrick]McDonnell said. Worse, it’s now increasingly happening in real life instead of online, with people showing up at the homes of MPs and MLAs. As RCMP deputy commissioner Mark Flynn told the Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles, “we’ve seen a shift from people protesting or appearing…at Parliament Hill, minister’s offices, constituency offices, et cetera, to where we are now seeing people go to their residences and start taking actions at their residence.”

While the MPs involved are reluctant to talk about it, some of them have already had their windows broken and buildings vandalized. If the ongoing escalation here doesn’t stop, at some point soon this is going to lead to something far worse than property damage or threatening behaviour. Someone is going to get hurt, maybe even killed, and that puts the families of every elected official at risk. Is it any wonder that people like Phillips and McKenna, progressive women who take the lead on issues that most rile up far-right agitators, decided to leave?

It is time to make some changes:

First and foremost that means dialing down the rhetoric about a political opponent’s supposedly nefarious intentions and treating them like a human being with a difference of opinion rather than a threat to anyone’s livelihood or existence. It means significant additional resources for the offices in both the House of Commons and provincial legislatures that are responsible for maintaining the safety and security of elected officials. And it means finding ways to ensure both the police and courts are taking these threats more seriously.

We have become very nasty in the way we practice politics.

Image: I Stock

Monday, June 10, 2024

A Clear And Present Danger

Some countries are messing with our democracy. Michael Harris writes:

Canadian democracy has been weakened this past week by a signal failure of transparency, a dire error of priorities. On an issue of monumental importance, the public was informationally dealt out.

What makes that harder to take is that the Trudeau government never misses an opportunity to take a bow for its openness in governance. The PM talks the talk, but sometimes doesn’t walk the walk.

Thanks to the work of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), Canadians have learned that some Members of Parliament have been helping foreign actors to interfere in this country’s politics and elections.

The NSICOP report released on June 3 said that certain elected officials “began wittingly assisting foreign state actors soon after their election.” The key word is “wittingly.”  

The committee members said that they had seen intelligence suggesting that some MPs worked to influence colleagues on behalf of India, and that they had provided confidential information to officials with the Indian government.  

In one case cited in the report, that relied on information from CSIS, a then-sitting MP had a relationship with a foreign intelligence officer.  

According to the report, the MP even tried to arrange a meeting with a senior foreign intelligence officer in a foreign country. 

Several counties are facing this kind of threat. But if we don't know who is working for these countries -- and not for us -- they represent a clear and present danger. And unless we know who they are, we can't vote them out.

Image: Radio Canada

Friday, June 07, 2024

The MAGA Mob

Michelle Goldberg writes that Donald Trump's Maga Mob has embraced criminality. She refers to a recent interview with Peter Navarro from his Florida jail cell:

This week, Breitbart interviewed the former Trump official Peter Navarro, one of many criminals in the ex-president’s orbit, from the Miami prison where he is serving four months for contempt of Congress. While life behind bars is difficult, Navarro boasted that his stint has been smoothed by his ties to Donald Trump, which make him something of a made man. The former president, said Navarro, is beloved not just by the guards, but by the “vast majority” of inmates as well. “If I were a Bidenite, things would be a lot tougher here — and yes, they know exactly who I am and respect the fact that I stood up for a principle and didn’t bow to the government,” he said.

The entire Republican Party has embraced lawlessness:

One of the more unsettling things about our politics right now is the Republican Party’s increasingly open embrace of lawlessness. Even as they proclaim Trump’s innocence, Trump and his allies revel in the frisson of criminality. At his rally in the Bronx last month, for example, Trump invited onto the stage two rappers, Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow, who are currently facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder and weapons possession. (They’ve pleaded not guilty.) During Trump’s recent criminal trial, his courtroom entourage included Chuck Zito, who helped found the New York chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang and spent six years in prison on drug conspiracy charges. (The Justice Department has linked his Hells Angels chapter to the Gambino crime family.) Trump, who has his own history of mafia ties, has repeatedly compared himself to Al Capone. MAGA merchants sell T-shirts — and, weirdly, hot sauce — showing Trump as either Vito or Michael Corleone from “The Godfather” movies, with the caption “The Donfather.”

A fascinating new book by John Ganz, “When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s,” offers a useful way to think about the value system undergirding MAGA’s romance with the mob. Ganz’s book excavates a prehistory of Trumpism in the angry, cynical period between the end of the Cold War and the full flush of the Clinton boom. You can see, in the rise of figures like David Duke, Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan, Trumpism in embryo. (The chapter on Duke, and the cultish loyalty he inspired, is particularly illuminating.) But the most revelatory section — some of which Ganz has adapted in a post for his Unpopular Front newsletter — involves the mystique around the mobster John Gotti and the Buchanan-style paleoconservatives who saw, in the mafia, an admirable patriarchal alternative to the technocratic liberalism they despised.

It's been a long time coming. But it's the symptom of a very sick society. And it's not new:

Societies fetishize Mafiosi to the degree that they lose faith in themselves. Writing about the ideology embedded in the classic crime films of the 1930s, the Marxist social critic Fredric Jameson noted that gangsters “were dramatized as psychopaths, sick loners striking out against a society essentially made up of wholesome people (the archetypal democratic ‘common man’ of New Deal populism).” When, in the 1970s, gangsters instead represented a fantasy of family cohesion, it was a response to a broader climate of social dissolution. It’s a sign that a culture is in the grip of a deep nihilism and despair when moblike figures become romantic heroes, or worse, presidents.

I'm sorry to  end on such a pessimistic note.

Image: Wikipedia

Monday, June 03, 2024

Why Is He Sticking Around?

Justin Trudeau is in trouble. Lots of people wonder why he's sticking around. Michael Harris writes that two new books deal with that question:

Whatever the answer may be, two [books] have just been [published] — a full-length book by Stephen Maher, and a slim volume by Paul Wells. Both ultimately paint the picture of a leader who is washed up.

Maher’s book, The Prince: The Turbulent Reign of Justin Trudeau, is already a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon in the Kindle edition. And the Wells 96-page essay, Justin Trudeau on the Ropes: Governing in Troubled Times, has been reviewed as a skilfully written psychological assessment of one of Canada’s longest-serving prime ministers. Neither work will put many smiles on faces in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Wells also portrays the PM as a man who doesn’t deal well with opposition. It’s his way, or the doorway.

“For all his pedigree and physical grace the work of politics has never come easily to him,” Wells writes, adding that “his judgment is often terrible. He has not surrounded himself with great talent; in fact, he has discovered a real gift for chasing talent away.”

Considering what happened to Jody Wilson-Raybould, Jane Philpott and Gerald Butts, Wells has a point.

The Maher book is much bigger and more extensive:

Maher’s book, at 385 pages, is the first full-length biography of Justin Trudeau, the interest it has already sparked is not surprising. Based on 200 interviews, including one with the PM himself, The Prince offers a trove of inside information that one would expect from the talented journalist who was part of the team that broke the robocalls scandal surrounding the 2011 election.

While Maher was writing the book, I visited with him in his home, a converted boathouse on the back harbour of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Over beer, we talked shop about the challenges of taking on a big book about a Canadian prime minister. I had one piece of advice for him about the complex business of getting a book from concept through to publication, a process in which an author is pushed and pulled in many directions: “Stick to your guns.”

I was struck that day by Maher’s sense of fairness in his assessment of the prime minister. He was not interested in writing a “hate Trudeau” book, although by doing so, it would be easy to cash in on the PM’s plummeting popularity.

When Maher began his work on The Prince, he thought the current PM was a more consequential figure than either Jean Chr├ętien or Stephen Harper, a high-impact leader who changed the country more than his predecessors.

It was the author’s opinion that history would look kindly on Justin Trudeau. Although that impression changed as his research progressed over 18 months, Maher’s book has been received as a fine example of a traditional journalistic deep dive: exhaustively researched, fair and balanced.

Maher's opinion of Trudeau is now more nuanced. There are two Trudeaus -- the Prince and the Entitled Snob:

Which Trudeau is the real one? The earlier version full of hope and hype, and some big-ticket accomplishments; or the Prince, who can’t get over his own sense of entitlement, even as his tired government seems to have lost its way?

Whether we will ever know the answer to that question depends on what the PM decides to do: walk off undefeated into the lucrative sunset of the speaker’s tour and the corporate boardroom, or stand his ground and fight, despite dismal polls and relentless journalistic epitaphs.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Maher shared a momentous quote on how the PM himself sees his political future. They are fighting words.

“I just see it as such a fundamental choice in what kind of country we are, who we are as Canadians,” Trudeau told Maher. “That, for me, is what I got into politics for: to have big fights like this about who we are as a country and where we’re going.”

Stay tuned.