Where Things Stand

Hello there everyone, it’s been a while…. Since March 25th to be precise, but yes, a while. I’ve taken some downtime from this space over the past few months, to focus on some professional changes in my life, spend some time with family and try to recharge the batteries. And now that Labour Day has passed and the unofficial end of summer has hit us, it feels appropriate that now be the time to come back and start writing again.

In this time off, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what I’ve done with this space since starting it and how I participate in the political discourse. In short, I’ve always been more focused on getting results than scoring political points. That’s something that’s just continued to grow stronger in me as I’ve gotten older, and I guess I don’t have as much patience for the political point scoring crap that I used to. And in the current political environment, it’s hard to find much other than that when you look.

My ethos for this blog (and my approach to politics overall) is right in the masthead of it, in the form of an old quote from former Saskatchewan Premier and Federal NDP Leader Tommy Douglas; “The best way to defend democracy is to make it work”. To me that defense and protection comes in two forms; actually making government work for the people and actually trying to make it work. It seems right now that both are in very short supply.

Mitch Heimpel wrote a piece in The Line late last week that points to the poisonous tone and tenor of our current political circumstances. He pointed to how we got here, how all side share some blame and the effect that it’s having on our country and the relative strength of our democracy. There is a lot in it that I agree with, although reading it brought up something I’ve personally been struggling with getting my head around for the past few months.

I agree that all parties share some of the blame regarding how we got to where we are today. All parties, big and small, have had their moments when they have torqued the rhetoric or push the envelope for their particular gain, for whatever reason. For me, to say that is not controversial. What gets controversial for me is to suggest that because all have blame, all have equal blame and that all parties share the same burden in fixing things. That is something I cannot agree with because of where we are today.

The analogy that seems to fit best to me takes me back to my teaching days, with two kids on the playground. The first kid calls the second one a “nerd”, in an attempt to insult the second. In response, the second kid responds by grabbing the first by the neck, throwing him to the ground and punching him repeatedly. In this circumstance, do both kids have culpability? Yeah, both did something wrong. But do both deserve the same level of blame? Well no, because while the first kids’ insults were wrong and should be punished, they aren’t on the same level of wrong as the second kid who responded with a physical assault. That second kid crossed a bright red line that the first didn’t, and that needs to be recognized and factored into things.

To me, that is where I feel that things are at right now, where things have progressed to. We’ve gone beyond amped up political rhetoric into the unacceptable. We’ve seen people repeated cross those bright red lines that we have in a democratic society, and when having that pointed out, we’ve seen those same people try to justify it like that second child in the analogy above. “But you did that, so of course I did this!”

This is where my struggle comes in, because we’re now at a point where pointing out simple, verifiable facts gets this response. People get called “divisive” by those doing those things, essentially for simply calling a spade a spade. You’re seeing it happen stateside now, where honest to goodness fascists and people who are still trying to overthrow a democratically elected government are called that, and then act as if those words are somehow worse than their actions. Like the act of calling someone who tried to invade the US Capital an “insurrectionist” is worse than the insurrection itself. That’s crazy to me, yet here we are.

Former American President Ronald Reagan (not someone I think I’ve ever quoted here) once pointed out that democracy isn’t a given. He said that “we didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” How can we protect and defend the very fact of democracy if we give into those who get irate when we point out their undemocratic ways? They count on the silence of the majority to succeed, so it’s understandable that we can’t give them that silence. It doesn’t need to be in a combative tone or manner, but it does need to be said. So going forward in this space, I’m going to continue to speak up because it’s not a given that we’ll always have that ability to. I’ll continue to do it in a respectful and constructive way, but the truth it will continue to be, no matter how uncomfortable that may be for some who choose to stray from our democratic norms. I hope we can lower the temperature of this fever in our democracy because Lord knows we need it now more than ever.

“You Can Take This Job and….”

It’s been quite a crazy week in Canadian politics to say the least. The confidence and supply agreement between the Liberals and NDP would normally make for big enough news all onto itself to fill a few news cycles, but it appears this week wouldn’t stand for that. Nope, we’ve also had the Conservative Leadership Race continuing apace, and not in the most helpful way to their cause. If you love your politics, you haven’t been left wanting.

But as wild and wooly as things have been in Ottawa, the action in Alberta this week has been outta this world. While Ottawa was out doing the historic, something else all together was happening in Edmonton around the upcoming leadership review for Premier Jason Kenney. In the span of a few days and weeks, we’ve seen:

That folks, that’s a lot. Any one of those things would be enough to tear any party apart, yet here we are seeing all of them happening. But such is the spectacle known as the Kenney Government. With the vote coming up in a few weeks, and the changes to the vote itself not going over well with those who already oppose Kenney, you’d think that we’ve surely heard enough already. But nope, just when you thought that Alberta had enough, the news tells us to hold Kenney’s beer:

Wow, wow, WOW!!! Where to start with this? Well, first maybe with the thought that I bet that many people agree with Kenney that he doesn’t “need this job” and they would be alright if he did just go off into the sunset. That didn’t come off as he maybe thought it would, but that wouldn’t be the last time that happened with this leaked audio. He went onto call some of the agitators and members of his caucus “kooky people generally” and when quoting an old quip from Preston Manning, said “there’s more than a few bugs attracted to us, this party, right now.” And what makes that more stunning is that when the CBC asked Kenney’s press secretary about these comments, they replied with stating that those comments “are consistent with previous public statements on this matter” from the Premier. No denial there, just pure ownership. Not exactly the best way to try to keep your tent together.

If those comments had come from another politician I likely wouldn’t have batted as many eyes. But those words coming from Jason Kenney, trying to paint himself as the reasonable, rational, “mainstream Conservative”, just blew my mind. Seriously, this is a guy whose gone out of his way to bend over backwards for these people he’s now calling “kooky”. Also, Kenney has shared many of the same views as those “kooky” people around issues like LGBT rights. The same Jason Kenney that proudly worked to deny gay couples the right to be with their dying partners in San Francisco, something he continued to wear as a badge of honour for a long time after the fact. That guy. That’s the guy calling himself a “mainstream Conservative”, and trying to set himself aside for the “kooky” ones. I know a lot of actual mainstream Conservatives who would take issue with how Kenney is presenting himself. That doesn’t just strain credulity, it shatters it into tiny pieces.

And yet, at the same time, speaks to exactly the problem that Kenney is facing right now. All of this situation is one of his own making; his penchant for holding his MLAs and Ministers to a different, lower standard than everyone else when it comes to COVID or ethics rules, his constant demonization of others and his attempts to placate those who he now scorns. That is all on Jason and no one else.

That is exactly the kind of thing that leads to someone in your own caucus staff making a secret recording of a caucus staff meeting on a Tuesday, only for that same recording to be leaked and reported in the media before Thursday was out. Seriously, the idea of any staff recording such a meeting at all is a serious breach of trust for any political staffer. To then turn around and leak it, clearly in an attempt to knife your leader publicly just multiples that action. And then the fact that has happened, and barely anyone has batted an eye that it happened, tells you how dysfunctional things are in UCP-land right now.

The responsibility for that kind of disfunction always falls on the shoulders of the leader. When that disfunction leads to a leader giving a speak to his staff that includes lines like “I don’t need this job”, it speaks to how far beyond the point of no return things have gone. Seriously, if you think that telling your party to basically “take this job and shove it” or “you need me more than I need you”, should anyone be surprised when the party takes them at their word and shows you the door?

What we’re seeing playing out in Alberta is going to be quite the case study for future politicos to study because we’ve seen Jason Kenney’s UCP go from being an unbeatable, inevitable behemoth to a disfunction, crumbling entity. And as was the case with the merger that brought the UCP into being, it’s demise also appears to be credit to Jason Kenney’s work. We’ll see how much crazier things will get out west before it’s all said and done, but one thing is clear; there are more boots to drop in Alberta and like many good pairs of work boots, odds are they’ll have some crap stuck to them too. Stay tuned.

Making It Work

It never ceases to amaze me how some big things just happen, surprising us all and catching everyone off guard. It seems to come when we least expect it or see it coming. Last night was a prime example of that for me in my home. Yesterday was my first day back in my office in Ottawa after over two years away because of COVID. After that long day at work and spending a bit of time with my daughter at home, I decided to put down my phone to catch up on a couple of my favourite TV shows.

Things seemed to be quiet, and it felt like I could disconnect and just soak in some entertainment without having to worry about much, if anything of note, happening. So I took that time to myself and when I was done, I checked in on my phone to see what social media was saying. And well folks, that’s when all Hell broke loose:

Well folks, wow. That sure did come out of nowhere, didn’t it? Given our recent history in Canada around Parliamentary co-operation, this big news was clearly going to set certain people off and the Conservatives have delivered that in spades. Throwing around terms like “government by blackmail” and “backdoor socialism” (which sounds like the title of a classy 80s adult film that Pierre Poilievre probably came of age to in the 90s) just screams the kind of ugly politics that the Conservatives have been playing for generations and, to be fair, has worked for them before.

But those kinds of misleading bellows seriously don’t matter right now (if they ever should have to begin with). Things have changed and we’re in a very different period than we were in 2008. The fact remains that, based on these reports, this is not a coalition agreement, just a “confidence-and-supply agreement”. This will not stop the NDP from holding the Liberals to account for many things in committees and in the House itself, as they won’t be a formal part of the government. Most things that happen in the House are not matters of confidence in the government, so this agreement protects that avenue for accountability. In exchange for that, they will get action on big policy planks the NDP have been pushing for now for years in successive elections, namely pharmacare and dental care. For a party and leader in Jagmeet Singh, who has made his brand in the past two years of minority government all about making Parliament work for Canadians, this completely fits that mold.

This is good for the government as well, as it formalizes support for this minority government and keeps it alive much longer than most minority Parliaments ever survive. The irony is that while doing that, it doesn’t change the basics of how Parliament has worked in this period of minority government. All this agreement does is take away the regular drama of “will the government fall or not”, which some partisans feed off of like a vampire does blood. Sucking that ratcheted up venom from our politics in the best of times is probably a very good thing, and a welcomed change from the usual partisan crap we all complain about seeing on a daily basis in the House of Commons.

But where this agreement stands out and is all the more exceptional to me is that these aren’t the best of times. We are hopefully coming out of two years of global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our society and economy. We’re less than a month away from an occupation of our Nations Capital by a group organized by people with the repeated, expressed desire to overthrow our elected government and install an unelected group they agree with, essentially doing away with democracy in this country. And just as that was ending, we’ve seen the invasion of Ukraine by Russia bring the world the closest we have been to the brink of World War Three. Maybe, just maybe, these aren’t the times for hyper partisan crap in our Parliament and a time for cooperation instead? Maybe being on the brink of potential global, nuclear war might not be the best time to indulge in the usual partisan crap that we rightly complain about ad nauseum?

I’ve always believed in the old Tommy Douglas quote saying that “the greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work”, so much so that I made it the motto of this blog. Most times, making things work involves cooperation, reaching across the aisle and finding compromise. Most Canadians usually complain loudly about the lack of cooperation we normally see in our politics, saying that it sets a terrible example of the country and our children. Yet in the moments where we see actual compromise and cooperation, do we actually reward it? Watch the reaction of the Conservatives and you can see that we don’t because if we did, their disconsolate reaction would be a death knell for their brand. If we did, it would have been the Conservatives trying to reach across the aisle to come to an agreement of their own because they would have seen that as the most advantageous move to achieve their political ends.

It’s in that environment I bring that old Douglas quote out, because making democracy work doesn’t always mean a surefire huge political win. For the NDP, as it is reported, this deal more than does the job. The orange team can go back to their voters and point to the big items they ran on and delivered. They can actually help make the lives of Canadians better, especially those who at this moment can’t afford their prescription medications or to see a dentist. That will bring better health outcomes for all Canadians, and help keep people from ending up in our hospitals with bigger problems because they were denied those services due to cost.

Some have already pointed to this deal as terrible for the NDP, that it will reduce them to ruins in the next election and will help the Liberals above all. To that, all I’ll say is sometimes that does happen in such agreements, but sometimes it doesn’t. The opposite happened in Ontario over 30 years ago when Bob Rae’s NDP used that agreement to vault over the Peterson Liberals to a majority government. And after cooperating with this current Liberal government for the past two years, the destruction that was predicted for the NDP in the last election never came.

The job of an elected politician is to serve the people and make decisions in their benefit in the years that they are in office, not spend those years in office focused on nothing but getting re-elected. Some might call that naïve, but I’ve learned from first-hand experience working on Parliament Hill for a decade that good policy makes for good politics. Voters tend to reward popular policy decisions and given that over 50% of Canadians voted for parties that support the measures we’re talking about above (in some way, shape or form), that likely will be well received.

In the meantime there will be plenty of time to pick through the entrails of what all of this agreement will mean for the future of the NDP, the more-likely retirement of Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leadership race it would set off, and what it means for whoever wins the Conservative leadership. But for today, this agreement should be held up as an example of how our politics should be done more often in this country. We keep saying we want to see more of this, so now is the time for Canadians show our political leaders that cooperation and compromise are more politically advantageous than division, hyper-partisanship and social media snipes. I give the NDP and the Liberals credit for taking this chance and taking a step that isn’t the conventional one in our politics. Making democracy work isn’t without risk and not always easy, but doing so makes for a strong democracy and a better country. I, for one, will applaud the courage of those who chose to take those difficult steps in service to their country, rather than putting their own political ambitions above all else.

Empathetic Failures in Manitoba

We’re living in rough times to say the least, and as much as things seem to be changing around us, some things continue on as they have before. One of those things (for better or worse, depending on where you sit) is political polling. While our minds are on Ukraine, or inflation, or COVID, political life is still going on and our pollsters are out there tracking peoples’ opinions. While it may not thrill many, I take it as a healthy thing for our democracy to see.

This week we saw the regular Angus Reid reporting on the popularity of provincial premiers, something that is of increased interest to certain provinces facing elections this year, like Ontario and Quebec. Others like Alberta and Manitoba will be facing the voters in 2023, and leadership machinations and politics are surely there. So it’s with interest to see results like these:

Not a lot of shocking numbers there, especially for premiers like Houston, Ford and Kenney. Quebec’s François Legault’s personal popularity seems to be coming back to earth a bit, but facing a spectacularly divided opposition, he seems to be cruising to a massive sweep in the Fall. But the number that really jumped out at me was the -29% of Manitoba’s new Premier Heather Stefanson.

She’s not been in the job that long, after replacing the extremely unpopular Brian Pallister. The hope was that putting a new face on this government that’s more than a little long in the tooth could help resuscitate their fortunes. With numbers like those, it appears that isn’t happening. It makes you wonder what exactly is driving that, as the further you get away from the leadership of the former Premier, the more the results fall on the shoulders of the new one.

With that in mind, a story came across my social media feed around the same time as those polling numbers. The story was about Krystal Mousseau, who died in May 2021 after a failed attempt to airlift her to an Ottawa hospital. A member of Ebb and Flow First Nation, Mousseau suffered “what the province described as “serious and undesired” unintended consequences as she was being transferred from a ground ambulance to an airplane at the Brandon airport during the height of the third wave of COVID-19.” She died a day later after the incident. She was 31 years old.

Since then the Manitoba NDP of Wab Kinew have been calling for an inquiry into what happened here, how this came to be and how this could be avoided in the future. The Manitoba government has been criticized for their COVID response, and it was one of the big factors that took down Pallister. Even after the change in leadership at the top of the Manitoba Conservatives, the response to these things hasn’t changed, as CBC Manitoba’s Bartley Kives aptly pointed out a few days ago:

“Would, coulda, shoulda”. That sounds pretty cold to hear it when you’re talking about peoples lives and loved ones dying. Like it or not, that has been part of the context in which the questions about the death of Krystal Mousseau are being asked, looking for the Stefanson government to act accordingly. Kinew asked Stefanson again about this issue in the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday, and her response left my jaw on the floor:

Look folks, when I heard about this exchange on Twitter, I hadn’t first seen the video, so my natural inclination was to believe that Stefanson couldn’t have possible been so tone deaf in the moment. But then I saw the video above, and it confirmed just how bloody tone deaf she was. Seriously, who in their right mind takes a serious question about the death of a young woman and instead of answering it fulsomely and thoughtfully, answers instead with congrats to their kid’s hockey team. Seriously, in what bloody university is that acceptable in any way, shape or form? It was the very first question that she got that day, and if she wanted to throw an attaboy in there at some point about her son’s hockey team, surely as Premier she was going to have ample opportunity to do it. She didn’t need to do that there.

What makes it worse is, as Kinew pointed out, is that Mousseau had children of her own too. Mousseau’s children aren’t going to get to experience being on the receiving end of “proud mum moments” because the healthcare system failed their mother to her lethal detriment. Maybe instead of remembering “that we need to take time to celebrate our kids”, Premier Stefanson should have remembered the Mousseau’s children, who are mourning their biggest loss in life and will never have the chance to have their mother celebrate their achievements again.

As Kinew rightly pointed out in a calm and respectful tone, “Krystal Mousseau’s children will not be able to have their mother at the important moments of their lives, and that’s why we are bringing these questions forward.” You know, the questions that Stefanson chose not to answer right away in that exchange in a manner that left me shaking my head. I know that not every politician has great judgement, but what does it say about where your head is at as a leader when you find yourself mistakes like that on such important matters.

When you see episodes like that, terrible leadership polling like we saw at the start of this piece makes more sense. It also makes more sense when you change the voice at the top, but apparently change little else about how you speak, act or govern. The fact remains the Mousseau’s family, children and community deserve proper answers to why their beloved Krystal was taken from far too soon. They deserve a government and a Premier who delivers that, and does so with empathy. That’s not what they got on Tuesday, which says a lot more about the state of Manitoba’s Conservatives than they’d like it to. And it shows that those low approval numbers are not an aberration, but increasingly earned by the current occupant of the Premiers office.

A Speech to Move a Nation

Today was a rare day in political Ottawa, one that few ever witnesses. It’s not very often that the leader of another country is offered the chance to address the Canadian Parliament, so we were already starting from a small pool of events. But today we saw something as historic and rare as they come, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Parliament. He did so via video link, a fact that is historic in its own right. But he also did so from a safe, undisclosed location, as Russia continues to attack and bomb his country. All of these historic facts spoke for themselves, as Zelensky spoke to all of us.

The speech was short by the normal standards of such an address in the House of Commons, clocking in at just over 12 minutes. That was as expected, as when one is defending their country from an invading neighbour, one doesn’t have the time to give the kinds of long, soaring speeches like we’ve heard from past leaders like Nelson Mandela or Barrack Obama in the chamber. That fact made the speech all the more remarkable in these circumstances.

Zelensky used that short speech to cut right to the heart of the matter, transporting Canadians to imagine what their lives would be like if they were suffering under the attacks of another country. He asked us all to consider how we would feel if the Hell being inflicted on Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kherson and other Ukrainian communities were being inflicted on Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton. I’m sure that we’ve all had moments where similar thoughts had struck us witnessing this war from the safe distance of our living rooms half a world away. I’m sure that many of us saw the missile attacks on the large TV tower in Kyiv and wondered what would happen if that had been the CN Tower instead.

Zelensky didn’t spare any of us the discomfort we naturally feel when we think of those things, and then juxtapose them against our response to date. He thanked Canadians and our government for what we have done to date to support his country and people, but also made it clear that hasn’t been enough. It was done with tact, care and drew on our humanity. It was probably this one quote that did this best, putting us all in the shoes of the Ukrainian people:

“Can you imagine when you when you call your friends… and you ask: ‘Please close the sky. Close the airspace. Please stop the bombing. How many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities until you make this happen?’ And they in return express their deep concerns about the situation”

Source: Rachel Aiello, CTV News

Folks, that cuts straight to the heart of the conflict in Ukraine, and the conflict that so many in NATO are struggling with in their minds and their hearts. We all know the potential impact of implementing a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine and how it could stop the bombs falling on innocent civilians. We’ve seen that work in other countries and in our hearts, we know it is the right thing to do, with each new horrifying attack on a maternity hospital, or kindergarten, or apartment building further confirming our feelings. But in our heads, we know that implementing a No-Fly Zone will mean war with Russia. It will mean having to confront Russian jets in they sky over Ukraine, having to fire upon those that refuse to obey and likely attack Russian ground artillery that would shoot at them. It would be World War Three, and in our heads, we know that’s something we vowed never to do again.

It’s a conflict that is raging within all of us, and particularly so within the hearts and minds of those who we elected to make such decisions. With that quote from Zelensky, he gives Canadians no quarter or respite from that conflict within us. He actually turned up that tension, making the case that those “expressions of deep concern” essentially feels to them like the victims of mass shootings getting the usual “thoughts and prayers” comments from American politicians who vehemently oppose gun control. We know that those “thoughts and prayers” are relatively worthless, and we can understand why Ukrainians would feel that our “expressions of deep concern” are worth even less to them as they are being bombed into oblivion.

He also used that same sanguine tone to point out to our Parliamentarians while Canada has been a “reliable” partner, when it comes to Ukraine’s aspiration to become members of NATO, we have hesitated to give them clear answer. That fact must feel like a strong sense of abandonment in this most difficult moment, when the lack of that very NATO membership is being used as the tent post to hold up the argument to keep NATO jets out of the sky, to stop the bombing. While I don’t doubt Mr. Zelensky’s sincerity in his thanks for what Canadians have done to help his country, I couldn’t help but feel hearing the word “reliable” to describe our partnership as a reminder that our reliability here has been hasn’t been everything that’s been needed.

In the end with his speech, Zelensky used his deep rhetorical and story-telling skills to both thank Canadians and try to push us further to help his people in their moment of peril. He served his people well in this moment, as he did something that many political leaders from conventional backgrounds never could. He painted a picture, delivered it with visual and moral clarity, all while forcing us to consider how we can do more, even the things that we feel we can’t consider. It was a speech the likes of which we’ve never seen in Canada’s chamber of democracy, and depending on what happens in the weeks to come, could mean a great deal. And many most importantly in this immediate moment, it was a speech that left all Parliamentarians and most Canadians standing, applauding and saying in unison, “Slava Ukraini”. We’ll see if this speech brings about more action from allies like Canada, but it’s clear that Ukraine is leaving no stone unturned in the attempt to save their country and stand up for democracy.

Shots Fired at the Bow

We’re in the very early stages of the Conservative Leadership Race and to call it chippy would a very strong understatement. We’ve seen the early attacks from frontrunner Pierre Poilievre against former Quebec Premier Jean Charest that have been more aggressive than we’d usually see during a general election against an opposing party. The tone has been striking because if that’s how you’re talking about people within your own party, how much harder are you going to go after other parties?

It’s been a bit jarring to say the least, and that was just towards Charest. On the weekend former Ontario PC Leader, former federal Conservative MP & current Mayor of Brampton Patrick Brown declared his intentions to seek the leadership of the Conservatives and it didn’t take long for the Poilievre team to come out guns a blazin’ against Brown too, with work like this:

Look, given his track record, that’s fair to say that Brown would “say and do anything” to win, as his time as Ontario PC leader proved. He made many promises during that run, only to break them one by one, turning his own party against him in a way that many haven’t managed to do before. But to be fair, if you stripped the images from that video and just listen to the audio, that “say and do anything to win” description could very easily describe Poilievre himself. A clear case of “throwing stones in glass houses”, so you’d think that knowing that one of these two might put down the rocks for a while. But nope, instead today we got this exchange on Twitter that just floored the Hell out of me. First, lets start with the first shot:

Ahhh, it seems that Poilievre isn’t the only one with receipts on their opponents, as Brown reminds Canadians of the disturbing saga of the Conservatives 2015 attempt to push a niqab ban and a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline to try to save their campaign. It was an ugly moment in Canadian political history, that Canadians rejected pretty strongly, and Conservatives have been hurt by ever since. Brown points out that Poilievre wasn’t exactly a knight in shining armor standing up against this at the time, an example of “saying and doing anything to win”. To be fair, neither did Brown, but that wasn’t the point. Anyway, all Poilievre had to do was own his history, say he was wrong and move on. Instead, team Poilievre used his own Twitter account to release this shot in return:

So if Brown’s first shot was sent across the bow, Poilievre’s return was clearly aimed at it. He used the word “lie” in different variations nine times in a short message, claiming that Brown was attacking the Harper government and that a “niqab ban” never existed. Not a sign of any contrition there for sure, and in pure Poilievre fashion, he doubled down with gusto while veering into comments that are easily disproved. An easy Google search proves that what Poilievre just stated was not factual.

Back in early October 2015, the National Post reported on a campaign stop in Saskatoon where Harper repeated, if re-elected, his desire “to consider federal legislation modelled on Quebec’s Bill 62, introduced by the provincial Liberal government” earlier that year. He went onto say that legislation “would prohibit public servants from wearing niqabs in provincial offices.” In that same event Harper pointed to the Quebec example, saying that “The Quebec government has been handling this controversy in a very responsible manner and we will do exactly the same things.” Harper said those words mere weeks after his government lost its appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a ban on wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. If there was no niqab ban moved by the Harper government, would a court have been able to strike it down? Courts can’t defeat things that don’t exist, so the fact that the courts did shows that it did in fact exist.

But when it comes back to Poilievre’s retort, and that attempt at a drive-by revision of history, things weren’t done yet. Nope, it turns out that Brown’s team were ready and came back with these receipts of note:

Wow, another shot to the bow and both ships are now taking on water. The fact is true that some members of the current Conservative caucus realized how bad that niqab ban policy hurt their party, let alone how bad it was. To both of their credits, both Tim Uppal and Melissa Lantsman apologized for their words and support for that policy at the time. That probably should have been able to stand on its own and be a credit to those MPs who took the stands they did when they did. Yet now, the person they are backing for leader says that the very thing they apologized for so sincerely never happened, didn’t exist and is a figment of Patrick Brown’s imagination. I doubt that those well-meaning MPs appreciate being put in that position now, but that’s the kind of thing when someone “says and does anything to win”.

All this is to say that none of that exchange will do anything to bring their blue team together or make anyone feel great about their future. If that was the only potential harm to come from all of this for any one candidate or their party as a whole, that would have been fortunate. But, of course, that’s not the case and I couldn’t help but notice this thread of Tweets that came out from the National Council of Canadian Muslims:

“An attempt to misrepresent what actually happened”… Hmm, there’s a short word one could use to describe that, one that Mr. Poilievre seems to be fond of firing at his opponents. Strange, huh? As they pointed out, this exchange of Tweets came in the context of today, which means after such tragedies like the London terror attack and the Quebec City Mosque attack. Those are the kinds of flames the Conservatives were playing with in 2015, which is why it was so right for MPs like Uppal and Lantsman to apologize for their parties’ part in that. The fact that the NCCM felt the need to even make that statement speaks to how the Conservatives are not just hurting their own party, but others around them, which such crap as they grasp and claw to take their blue throne.

Real leadership demands accountability, and true leadership is shown when leaders admit their failures and own them. True leaders don’t play whataboutism and deny the basic facts of history, just because they don’t suit their current needs. If Conservatives think that the Canadian public isn’t paying attention to episodes like these and that they won’t be remembered come the next election, they should ask Erin O’Toole how that worked out for him. These are the kinds of episodes that do long term damage to a party and how they are seen by the public. They don’t just go away, and they stick in their minds, just like the niqab ban did. This also shows what can happen when you try to win at all costs, and have no concern about salting the Earth as to pursue that win. I’ve said many times already that the caucus the winner inherits on Day 1 likely won’t look the same on Day 30, and when you see this crap playing out in real time, you can see why I do. And just think folks, there are still 6 months to go until the winner is announced. We’ll see whose ships are still afloat by then, and how many have been driven under the waves by continued cannon balls to the hull.

The True Start of the Race

It was over a month ago that the fact of a race to lead the Conservative Party of Canada came to be. It only took a few more days after the ouster of Erin O’Toole from the leadership for the most unsurprising candidate to step forward in the person of Pierre Poilievre. Since then, people have taken their time to decide if they would take the leap and try to challenge the one who was seen as the true front runner. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, we saw Poilievre and his supporters doing their best to try to scare off any serious competition, trying to claim the soul of the Conservative Party without a fight.

Until this week one could have argued that Poilievre was being successful in that attempt, as no one had stepped into the breach to signal their clear intent that they would take their shot. But as this week started, that changed with likely the largest other shoe to drop ready to hit the floor in Calgary tonight. And with that, the true race will begin:

It’s not shocking that former Quebec Premier Jean Charest has finally deciding to take this plunge, but it wasn’t a sure thing that it would happen. Team Poilievre has thrown everything in the direction of the former federal Progressive Conservative leader to try to keep him from taking this step, which showed just how much they worried about his potential entry. And let’s be clear on this, in this potential field Charest is really the only candidate who can directly challenge Poilievre. That’s no disrespect to other candidates who have already declared like Leslyn Lewis, Roman Baber or Patrick Brown (when he jumps in as expected). I have strong disagreements with all three of those individuals but looking at the cold, hard reality of this race, they don’t have a path to victory. That’s because of the stakes in this race.

This is going to be a true race for the soul of the Conservative Party. It will tell us a lot about the direction of the Conservatives for the next decade, if they are even able to stay together. Let’s be real, if Poilievre wins, there are many members of that caucus who can’t stand him, what he stands for, his way of doing politics and likely won’t stay. The same is true of Charest when it comes to the sentiments of those who oppose him. Those people just tossed O’Toole for not being “pure” enough, and Charest is even more impure in their eyes. As I’ve been arguing for the past week on radio and TV, the party that the next Conservative leader inherits on Day 1 will not be the same one they have on Day 30 and onward.

That is the axis this whole race is resting on, and none of the other candidates have any effect on that. Only Poilievre and Charest. Maclean’s Paul Wells put a fine point on this challenge that has really stuck with me, that speaks to the challenge the Blue team is facing right now:

“Its only winning leader was Stephen Harper. Harper worked hard, for little credit, to ensure Progressive Conservatives like Peter MacKay and Lawrence Cannon could feel reasonably comfortable in his party. The basis of Poilievre’s appeal is that he doesn’t work hard to make anyone feel comfortable.”

Source: Macleans.ca

Wells is very right on this point. For all the knocks you can have on Stephen Harper (and there are plenty), he was able to not just bring, but hold this group together and keep the focused on the prize. That feat looks all the strong in the shadows of the failed Scheer and O’Toole leaderships. They never would have won government three times if they were approaching things the way they did under those two and continue to now. As Wells points out, the whole point of Poilievre’s appeal is he doesn’t give a crap about your feelings. It’s all about purity, no bridge building. The fact that Andrew Scheer has jumped onto Poilievre’s team as a campaign co-chair in Saskatchewan should tell you about the direction he’ll take. I doubt that Scheer would be onboard if Poilievre was offering a leadership that was an admonition of his own approach.

At this point we have a race and now we need to look at the nitty gritty of it all. Each candidate has their pros and cons, which need to be addressed. Charest has his baggage, but given how Poilievre threw it all at him in an attempt to keep him out, there isn’t anything left to do any more damage. That’s baked in. Charest though has governing experience coming out of everywhere, having fought to save Canada and trying to keep Quebec in the country. That’s heavy stuff that Poilievre doesn’t come close to matching, despite the fact he’s actually sat in the House of Commons longer than Jean Charest did. Some will point to Poilievre’s organizational and digital strength, and compare that to the fact that Charest wasn’t on Twitter until yesterday. That is a gap that Charest will need to close, and Poilievre has shown his chops in this way in the past. But while doing a bit of research for this piece, I was amazed to make this discovery when visiting Poilievre’s leadership campaign website:

As that screenshot shows, if you visit pierre4pm.ca, the first thing that comes up is that donation page (automatically set to give a max donation of over $1,600 to boot). That’s not abnormal for any political candidate or party. But what is abnormal is that there is nothing else there. It’s just the donation page, that’s it. I thought maybe there might be a wrong link or something, so I went to Poilievre’s Twitter and Facebook pages to see if I was missing something. The only other thing I could find was a link to a Linktree page, which has links to his donation page and petitions. Again, no campaign website, no information about the man himself, nothing about his policies, platform, plans or ideas. Not a thing to speak of.

I have to say that it’s an interesting choice for the supposed leader on the digital front not even having a website, not telling us a thing about him. I raise that point to bring everything back to this. Being the front runner at the start of this campaign guarantees nothing. Polling out yesterday shows Poilievre far out ahead before much has happened. But what struck me was this reminder about how things looked around the same time at the start of the last Conservative leadership campaign less than two years ago:

Just a reminder folks that Peter Mackay seemed inevitable last time, until he wasn’t. Mackay’s campaign made many gaffes as that campaign went along, which helped to bring him back to earth and back to the pack. Mackay was no slouch as an organizer himself too, but there were a lot of people who didn’t want to see him win. The same could be said of today’s front runner Poilievre, and to a certain degree, his main challenger Charest. So in my mind, even through the race to replace Erin O’Toole started a month ago today is the true start of this campaign. Tonight the fight will kick off in earnest in Calgary, and the result will affect the face of #cdnpoli for a long time to come.

The Challenge of Misinformation

As the invasion of Ukraine goes into the second week, the World continues to react to the aggressive actions of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Given that we live in the social media age, many of us have been glued to our favorite networks getting every bit of new news we can. It’s been doom scrolling taken to the next level. But given the stakes of what is happening in Ukraine, it’s been more and more important to check the sources of what is coming out.

As long as human beings have fought wars, we’ve seen disinformation and misinformation being put out in an attempt to bolster a side in a war. During the last World War, we saw the likes of “Tokyo Rose” and “Axis Sally” use the radio waves to try to undermine the Allied powers and sow division within those fighting against the Axis. So it shouldn’t come off as shocking to see that Russia is doing the same thing this time around. I mean, look at this example put out on social media by Russia’s embassy in Ottawa yesterday:

Add that tweet to the same embassy complaining about lawful protests against their war were “hostile” and “threatening” to them, and you can see that this group doesn’t mind gaslighting and throwing out a lot of disinformation. While that kind of stuff is reprehensible, you could argue that is par for the course when compared to pasted armed conflicts. But something is different this time around on this topic, and it’s something that we shouldn’t be surprised by. Journalist Justin Ling has printed an example of why this is different, and the problem we have before us right now:

Through out the past many years we’ve had to deal with more than our fair share of disinformation and conspiracy theories eating away at our society and the health of our democracy. We’ve seen unscrupulous politicians, like Donald Trump, jump on these dangerous words as a potential vehicle to bring themselves to power. To Hell with the consequences for the rest of us, as long as it helps them achieve their short-term goal of getting and keeping power. We’ve seen that spread from politics, into the COVID pandemic and further. They have been spread and amplified by Russian and Chinese government funded activities, trying to undermine our democracy to advance their ends, and social media companies have been loathed to stop it. It seems that conspiracy theories are taking a bigger toll on our society as a whole.

That is why this piece from Justin Ling was so worrying to me. We’ve been seeing how far down so many conspiratorial rabbit holes too many of our friends, family and neighbours have fallen, and the effect it’s had on our community. Just over a week ago in the House of Commons, we saw a Conservative MP quoting conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum and using that to question the government. We’ve seen this mindset take root and create real world harm.

But while we’ve seen all of that in times of relative peace, we haven’t seen this playing out in a time of war. Yes, we’ve seen disinformation used before on the battlefield, trying to demoralize and affect soldiers, but on the home front we never saw such things during the last World War. Now that we are in a world of social media, with users who are hardwired into networks already adept at spreading conspiracy theories. That is a danger on a level we haven’t faced at home before.

In the case in Ling’s story, it’s crazy false stories about alleged bioweapons facilities in Ukraine and that Putin supposedly invaded not for the reasons that he himself states publicly. No, it’s to get rid of those bioweapons and in the minds of those buying into those theories, Putin is the good guy. It doesn’t matter how many times that crap story has been debunked, it’s a story that keeps living on and morphing into the moment, as it did with this invasion. Yet within those networks, like ones we’ve seen created around far-right, anti-vaccine and COVID-denier groups, we’re seeing similar conspiracy theories sprouting up in the first week of this invasion. Just look at this example from Peterborough, which came into my Twitter feed just last night:

That is from a group of Canadians, here at home, being radicalized to the point where they’ve gone from COVID to saying that “Trudeau is our problem, not Russia”. These are some of the people who occupied Ottawa for weeks on end demanding “freedom” to infect others, yet when faced with an aspiring democratic nation facing actual invasion and suppression of their freedoms by an autocratic nation, they’re siding with the invaders. They’re siding with the autocrat in Putin against the democratically elected President Zelensky. That’s a problem folks, a big problem.

It’s not like I’m shocked at this turn of events, but this is a dangerous consequence of this malignant influence that’s been growing in our society over the past years. We may roll our eyes with we get conspiracy theory crap thrown at us or even feel sympathy for those who have been led so far down that crazy path, and I get that. But in this moment these people aren’t harmless in their rants and such. They are spreading this crap further and further, undermining our countries efforts to support the people of Ukraine and their actual fight to protect democracy.

It’s perverse in a sense that we find ourselves in this place, yet here we are. We, as a nation, need to have a serious discussion about the impact of social media and disinformation on our society. Nations who are not friendly to us, like Russia, has used these tools to weaken our society to their benefit, not ours. And now that the lives of innocent Ukrainians are on the line, we can’t ignore the effect that years of that malignant influence is having on us now. It’s time for us to have this difficult conversation and take this problem of misinformation on social media seriously. We can’t undo what’s already been done, but we can work to stop it from getting worse. And that is completely within our hands to do.

True Valour

People who know me know that sports has a big place in my life. Growing up I loved to play sports, in high school and into university. I was never the best athlete out there, but I was alright and won a handful of awards in my day. You’d never know it to look at my out-of-shape person today, but sports mean a lot to me. Growing up I’d play just about anything that we could afford as a family, but my two favourite sports were basketball and football (sorry, I can’t call it soccer, it just doesn’t feel right to me). They even influenced the naming of this blog, as the “Magpie” in its name comes from the Newcastle United Football Team in England, known as the Magpies. They are my favourite football team and I follow them with the love of a true fan.

Growing up where I did, I took all the chances I could to watch a good football match. Being close to Winnipeg, there were only so many options but to be fair, that’s been the Canadian experience for most of us. Unless you live near Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, there hadn’t been constant professional football to follow in Canada since the very early 90’s, and even then, it was a stretch to even refer to it as that. But that changed in 2019, with the creation of the Canadian Premier League, a place where young Canadians would hone their craft here at home and chase their dreams in professional football. While I still follow my Magpies (along with Toronto FC and Paris Saint-Germain) with passion, I came to have a new club to cheer for; Winnipeg’s Valour FC. The naming of the club was inspired by the story of Winnipeg’s Valour Road, which you’ve likely heard about on TV before from this Heritage Minute:

So as it is with most of the clubs and teams I follow, I follow them on social media. Given the events taking place in Ukraine right now, I have been on there a lot following the horror that is taking place and the West’s response to it. It was in doing so today that the following Twitter post popped before my eyes, and suddenly two worlds came together in a way I wouldn’t have expected just a week ago:

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his forced into Ukraine in a craven violation of their sovereignty, we’ve seen the repercussions of this spread out wide like a tidal wave in the middle of the ocean. We’re seeing sanctions and punishment rightly being levelled against Russia and Belarus for their actions, in some cases from organizations we never thought would do so. I mean FIFA is about as sketchy an organization as there is, yet after a few days, even they dropped the hammer on both nations for their actions in Ukraine. It’s been a breathtaking thing to behold.

Yet while we’ve seen all of these actions correctly taken against the Putin and Lukashenko regimes, we’ve also seen another wave of reactions the likes of which we’ve rarely seen since World War II. We’ve seen Ukrainians from all walks of live put down their tools of work and pick up automatic weapons to fight. We’ve seen then step forward from all sectors, professional sports include. One example is professional tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has just retired from the sport after the Australian Open in January. We’ve heard stories of entire football teams hanging up their boots and enlisting to protect their country. Here in North America, it’s the kind thing we haven’t seen since the 1940’s.

But included within that mobilization was this story that came up on Valour FC’s Twitter feed that just hit me in a different way. Svyatik Artemenko was a name I honestly didn’t know, a little-known third string goalkeeper from Winnipeg. He just turned 21, having finished his schooling at the University of Guelph and helping to lead his team to an Ontario University Athletics championship. That led him to the next opportunity in his life, signing with Ukrainian second division team FC Podylla. He signed his contract the day before Russia invaded. One whole day before.

Once that invasion happened, he could have walked away and left Ukraine to return to the safety of Winnipeg. Even though he was born in the Ukraine, he has no Ukrainian passport and is fully a Canadian citizen. If he had walked away and returned to Canada, no one would have blamed him or held it against him. Instead he made a decision, and called one of his former coaches Patrick Di Stefani to tell him about it”

“I talked to him about five minutes before he was hopping on a train to go to the battlefront,” said Di Stefani following Valour’s training session Tuesday. “We had a good conversation. He told me he was at peace, and this was something he wanted to do. We talked about football, too, because he had just signed a contract, but his entire team had signed up to go to war and he said, ‘I’m not a coward. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.’

Source: valourfc.canpl.ca

“I’m not a coward”. I don’t think that anyone would have thought he was if he decided to leave, but he saw all of his teammates step up. He decided to join with them and support them in this dangerous moment, even though he could have left for the safe harbour of Winnipeg. It’s hard not to admire the courage and conviction of his beliefs. But there was a quote later in the piece quoted above, from a conversation withThe Winnipeg Free Press, that really hit me the hardest:

“The road to your dreams is never easy. Unfortunately, the road to achieving my goal involves me giving up the dream for a little bit to go and defend my country. “We can’t continue playing soccer until the war is over. We need to end this war to continue playing the season, so this is part of the proves in achieving my goal.”

Source: valourfc.canpl.ca

“The road to achieving my goal involves me giving up the dream for a little bit to go and defend my country”. Let those words sink in, especially given everything that we’ve experienced here in Canada over the past two years of pandemic. For the past month we saw groups of disgruntled and anti-social people disrupt the lives of thousands and demand the overthrow of our very democracy because they’ve been asked to wear makes, get a vaccine and look out for one another. Millions of Canadians did their part, “giving up their dreams for a little bit” to defend their families, loved ones and neighbours, yet this other group refused and cried tyranny. They yelled about “freedom” without thinking of any responsibility to anyone else. It was a moment that was disturbing and surreal then, but looks even more infantile now when we see what is happening to the people of Ukraine.

Coming from that experience and likely seeing stories about these things happening back home in Winnipeg, one wouldn’t be surprised if that had a negative effect. Yet there he is in Ukraine, witnessing real tyranny, a real attack on democracy and seeing his teammates drop everything they have worked for to do their part to stop it from happening. And when faced with that, he didn’t repeat the selfish lines that have been heard back in Canada. He did what he knew was right, and decided to fight alongside his teammates. He came to the realization that he needed to do his part to end this aggression against Ukraine in order for him to be able to continue to chase his dreams. To reach his goal, to achieve his dreams, he had to give it up.

I can’t help but admire that kind of bravery and clarity of thought. By stepping up as he has, he’s shown what true valour is and what it means. He’s following the example of brave Winnipeggers who came before him like Corporal Leo Clarke, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, and Lieutenant Robert Shankland, the soldiers whose actions inspired the name of the club he played for. I know that going forward we’re going to hear more and more stories like these, but this one just hit me very differently. Back at home in Canada we’re praying for you Svyatik, and we look forward to the day when your sacrifice can end, and you can continue to pursue your dreams on the pitch. Slava Ukraini!

The Gaslighting House Guest

For the foreseeable future on this blog, there is going to be a bit of a balancing act going on. As may not be shocking to you, I have a fair bit to say about what’s going on in Ukraine. I will be doing my best to share those views, while also talking about political matters here at home in Canada. And to be honest, because things are moving so fast in Ukraine, it’s hard to write about. That being said, I am going to try to focus on some specific items and do my best to offer some constructive voices to what’s happening.

With that in mind, there was a matter that came up over Twitter this morning that I couldn’t resist writing about today. On the weekend across Canada, we saw Canadians take to the streets to protest and show their support for Ukraine. It was a beautiful sight to see people across the political spectrum coming together in common cause. Given everything that we’ve seen here in the past month, it was nourishing for the soul.

In Ottawa, hundreds of citizens marched to the Russian Embassy and protested right in front of the gates. It was a beautiful sight of peaceful, democratic action. People came, shared their views and then peacefully went home afterwards. It was what true democracy was is all about. And yet for the Russians, that clearly was a problem. That became clear when the following was reported this morning:

Okay folks, I must admit that reading that tweet partially had me laughing and partially had me fuming mad. I laughed because there was nothing remotely threatening or hostile about that. Hell, that’s a normal weekend day in Ottawa, where people protest at just about any time of the year. The idea that the Russians would call in our ambassador to “lodge a formal protest” is the snow-flakiest, “Karen-esque” thing they could possibly do. Seriously Russia, that’s some weak tea.

But part of me was fuming mad because of the nerve of these guys. Not only did their state media fan the flames of a group wanting to overthrow our government in the past weeks, they did so openly and brazenly. They actually created a more hostile environment here at home, giving oxygen to what we saw play out. While that upsets me, it was a more specific example that put this over the top for me, from a while back:

I still remember this story from 2001 so well because of how shocking it was to me. Catherine MacLean an Ottawa lawyer, was killed while walking her dog after a car veered onto the sidewalk and hit her. Andrey Knyazev, the third-ranking Russian diplomat in Canada at the time, was the driver and reportedly was drunk. Russia refused Canada’s request to waive his diplomatic immunity, allowing him to escape justice here in Canada. He was sent back to Russia where he was sentenced to four years in a penal colony. Ironically according to CBC at the time, his lawyer said his client didn’t get a fair trial back in Russia, something he would have received here in Canada had he faced the music where he committed his crime.

The reason why I raise this case is because Ottawa is an extremely safe city for most people, but especially for diplomats. There isn’t a much more plum diplomatic posting in the western world than sleepy Ottawa. The idea that any diplomat, let alone a Russian one, would feel “threatened” or any real “hostility” is laughable at best, and deeply ignorant at worst. If I go by the statistics and history, it’s Canadians that need protection from Russian diplomats, not the other way around.

But this story from today shows exactly why doing what we do to protect democracy is so important. These “diplomats” are so scared at the idea of a few hundred people showing up to give speeches outside of their heavily protected compound in the sleepiest G7 capital that they take this step. Look at what’s happening back in Russia, where over 6,000 people have been arrested protesting Putin’s war over the past days, basically being snapped up and beat up by police as soon as they pull out their banners. That is actual oppression, and that’s what the people of Ukraine don’t want to be under the boot of. They want the freedoms that we have here, that we have had all along and continue to enjoy, even if our Russian diplomatic guests are so freaked out at the notion.

My message to the diplomats at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa is a pretty simple one; if you don’t like facing natural democratic consequences for your attempt to subjugate a neighbouring nation, then maybe you should just go home. Go back to Russia where your fragile sensibilities will be better protected. If things continue on this route, hopefully soon enough the Canadian government will make their mind up for them and send them home. But in the meantime, I would expect to see more protests outside the gates of the Russian Embassy as this violence is thrown at the people of Ukraine. It’s a natural consequence for invading a sovereign nation, and if the Russian diplomats in Ottawa don’t like that, maybe they should take it up with their leadership instead.