The Morning After: #Elxn43 “Time” Bomb

The news of last night is barely 12 hours old and this is all still sinking in with people. Needless to say, it’s all been very jarring and something that so many people didn’t see coming. But after sleeping on this overnight, I wanted to come back to this with a few other thoughts about what has transpired so for.

For starters, after hearing everyone’s statements on this last night, it’s hard not to remark on how this story can be lethal to the Liberal campaign in so many ways. Not only does it blow up the narrative and image that Mr. Trudeau has built for himself over time, it completely undermines the work that they have been doing by bringing to light the past misdeeds and mistakes of Conservative candidates.

When Andrew Scheer did his own emergency plane press conference last week and said that “as long as his candidates apologize, he won’t boot them”, he was roundly criticized for such a weak response and approach by the Liberals and others. It was a position that was completely untenable and frankly wasn’t up to the standard of a political party in this country these days. Yet with his apology last night and his attempts to explain, all while not stepping down, it looks like he’s embracing for himself the approach the Mr. Scheer was chided for less than a week ago. I think Postmedia’s Christie Blatchford put it best when she said today that “Trudeau cuts himself the slack he has denied to others.” That’s not a sign of good leadership at all, and we’re seeing those old chickens come home to roost now.

Another thing that I believe is important to keep in mind is the entire context under which this story is happening. It was just yesterday morning that we saw this headline posted on an article from a major TV network in this country:

It’s hard not to remark on the fact that the same day that the media was asking that question about the first person of colour to lead a federal party, that this story about Justin Trudeau in brownface and a turban comes out. It’s a jarring contrast to see and probably speaks to where we are these days in our politics. What worries me is that there are probably more than a few people out there who read that first story from yesterday morning and wondered if Canada was ready for a turbaned-Sikh as Prime Minister, but who will also look at this story about Justin Trudeau and try to sluff it off as nothing important. That’s the kind of cognitive dissonance that’s boggling to the mind and if it comes to pass, says a lot about us.

But the final thing that needs to be pointed out here is that this story isn’t done yet, and it seems that Mr. Trudeau wasn’t so forthright as he would have us believe. Remember last night when he was asked in his plane scrum if there had been other incidents? He said there was another, in high school, but that was it. But as Global News has discovered, it turns out that Mr. Trudeau wasn’t so honest in that answer:

In that moment of contrition, it’s important that if that apology is to be sincere and believed that you are being completely honest. So when you’re asked the question “Have you ever done this before?” and you leave something out, that completely undermines the apology you just gave. Furthermore, it makes you look more dishonest and worse than you would have otherwise. You just finished asking everyone to forgive you for a mistake and that you were being upfront with them, but when it’s discovered that that statement wasn’t even true, it just digs your own hole that much deeper.

The Liberal campaign is surely in full damage control mode and they have bunkered down in Winnipeg, cancelling their days events and journalists have been told to be ready to start at 11:00 am local time. This extra piece of news from Global is surely adding to the troubles they are facing, as they figure out what they try to do now. As this hole keeps getting deeper, it becomes less and less clear about how they get out of it without throwing Mr. Trudeau under the same bus that he’s thrown so many others under. Needless to say, as we enter what is just the 9th day of this campaign, this campaign has changed in a big way. What remains to be seen is just how this will shake the electorate and what everyone does with this new information. Needless to say, Canada will now be watching as this story is sure to shake voters awake and get them to pay attention. And if this doesn’t, maybe nothing ever will.

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#Elxn43 “Time” Bomb

We all know the old adage that “Campaigns Matter” in Canadian politics. Time and again this has found a way to be true, and it only seemed like a matter of time before something would happen to prove hat to be true again. Well that night was tonight, and wow, there are hardly words to describe how bad this is:

The release of this Time story is the kind of event that leaders fear will someday happen to them and it’s also a reason why campaigns always matter. This story and the photo attached to it is simply devastating for the Liberals, especially for Justin Trudeau himself. He’s built his entire political career and leadership around a narrative of diversity being Canada’s strength and of being the Champion of Progressive Values. That picture and this story, all by itself, has the power to completely undo that.

Some people will be asking if the timing of when this photo was taken will matter, but to that I’ll just respond with this. I was in teachers’ college at Lakehead University in 2001 when that picture was taken. When I was there, we were taught about professional ethics and the professional expectations of teachers. Even in 2001 a teacher who did that would be fired on the spot, no question at all. If that is the standard that we have for teachers, surely the standard must at least be the same for the potential Prime Minister of the country, right? The fact is that he was 29 when he did this for the second time, as he admitted the first time he did it was in high school. To simply say “I should have known better” and “I’m pissed at myself” doesn’t cut it.

That being said, I really don’t know what Trudeau could say to make up for this. His apology from the plane in Halifax doesn’t seem to be it. “I should have known better” doesn’t feel like it cuts it. This is indefensible and I can’t point to a progressive politician in North America who has survived such a thing. Over the first week of this campaign we’ve seen the Liberal opposition research team be on top of their game, bringing many bad things forward about Conservative candidates, forcing the Blue Team to defend them or toss them. With this news, what moral authority does Justin Trudeau now have to criticize anyone else’s candidates from here on out? Furthermore, given that Trudeau himself has already removed candidates for their violations, how can Trudeau then stay and have everything be alright? This news manages to completely cut the legs right out from under the him and leaves him incapable of being able to point a finger at anyone else.

Going forward though we’ll see what affect this has on the electorate. This news is so off brand for Trudeau and the Liberals that it could destroy any thoughts of trying to push progressive voters to vote strategically to stop the Conservatives. It has been clear for months that trying to make this a “Blue Door/Red Door” campaign and convince/scare NDP and Green voters to vote Red to stop Andrew Scheer in his tracks. That is a strategy that has a long track record of success, and progressive voters have overlooked a lot in the past when voting strategically. That’s how Dalton McGuinty got multiple terms doing this, and he had more than a few scandals out there that could have sunk him.

But this? Can progressive voters really overlook this, an act that Trudeau himself is saying tonight was racist? I don’t know, but this could easily be a bridge way too far for too many and could break the hold Trudeau has had on this segment of the electorate for years now. The next few days will be crucial to finding out if this is the case or not. Campaigns matter my friends, and this story shows why. We’ll know soon enough just how much this story will matter in who forms our next government.

Inside Influences

One thing I’ve been watching closely in the run up to and during the current federal election campaign has been the influence of third-party groups. More and more these third party groups have been getting involved in all aspects of campaigning it seems, from speaking out on issues to training volunteers, and more. But beyond those groups we are seeing another different influence in this campaign, more so than usual; provincial politicians.

In Ontario we’ve seen the Ford Conservatives putting torqued stickers on gas pumps in an apparent attempt to put their thumbs on the scales in this campaign. And Alberta Premier Jason Kenney hasn’t let his feelings about this campaign go unnoticed and has talked about even going out to campaign for the Conservatives. All of these activities, which help the federal Conservatives, will be paid for by the taxpayers of each province and won’t count against any advertising limits of the parties or third party groups. This is another black hole in the system, one that will need to be figured out.

But even with all of that, there are other influences that are coming out of the wood work, of the more conspiratorial kind. And wow, did an example of that ever come out of the woodwork today from Peter Guthrie, Alberta Conservative MLA for Airdrie-Cochrane. Sit back and behold this, which really speaks for itself:

Wow folks, how many of the favourite Conservative conspiracy theories are we missing in there? And yeah, never before had I ever thought of Neil Young as an outsider wanting to rig our elections and bring about the downfall of the Canadian nation. Next thing I’m sure Mr. Guthrie will tell us that if you play “Harvest Moon” backwards, you’ll be given the instructions on how to magically turn bitumen into granola. Sorry folks, but that’s just batty crazy stuff.

And let’s be clear here, everything that Mr. Guthrie put out there is complete bunk. C-76 was a law passed by the Liberals, but none of it was a conspiracy. When it comes to Canadians abroad being able to vote, this is a result of a court decision. The Conservatives tried to stop those people from voting and the Supreme Court shot them down. As for the ID issue, that too was a response to the Conservatives trying to suppress Indigenous voters last time around. And the idea that Canadian citizens who are living abroad are some kind of foreign influence to be repelled is just repellant itself. Also, I have to wonder who shot and produced that video. Was it his staff, you know, the staff that’s paid for by the taxpayers of Alberta? If he is using his legislative resources to put together propaganda against another level of government, well that’s not right at all and I think the good people of Airdrie-Cochrane deserve to know if he is.

Sadly we are seeing a lot of crazy stuff online in this campaign, some of it down right lies and propaganda, coming from within our own borders. While we need to worry about foreign powers trying to interfere in our democracy, we also need to look inward at this who are trying to spread falsehoods in an attempt to mislead voters. It’s one thing when a third-party group does it, but it’s completely unacceptable when a duly elected politician decides to use their position to do so.

A lot of what Mr. Guthrie said is down right laughable and makes him look like a clown with an MLA’s salary, but being 2019, there are others that will hear his words and see something that reinforces their views. Our politicians hold a greater responsibility to not only their constituents and their country, but to the very democracy that they are a part of. Putting out videos like that spits in the face of that hallowed responsibility and shows that he’s more interested in partisan gain than anything else. For someone who rants a lot about nefarious outside influences, maybe Mr. Guthrie needs to take a closer look in the mirror at the negative inside influence that he’s spreading with his own words.

The Hits Keep Coming

It’s been a very rough start to the 43rd General Election for Elizabeth May’s Green Party. Between candidate vetting that’s proved to be lacking, a poor platform launch with gaffes galore in the document and now news about data management issues, it’s been a cavalcade of mistakes and difficulties for the Green team. That might be why L’Actualité’s Alec Castonguay gave the Greens a “D” on their first week, summing up his comments by saying that it’s clear that they aren’t ready to play in the big leagues.

It’s understandable then that many Greens are hoping that their team might turn the corner and things might get better, but folks, that doesn’t seem to be happening with two new stories that came out over night from Ontario. First story came from Guelph, a riding that is represented by the Greens lone MPP and a riding that seems to be their top target in the province. And this story is one that has a familiar theme to it, but one that probably won’t help their chances:

Another 9/11 Truther post from a Green? Seriously? What is it with the Greens and Trutherism? By my count, that makes three Green candidates in this race that have been involved in such things, including their second MP, Paul Manly. Now his campaign says that he’s not a truther and that this post was a “one-time post made purely out of intellectual curiosity”, which is not exactly a strong reply to this issue if you ask me. His excuse is that he was “truther-curious”? Come on, that’s just not going to cut it.

Another interesting detail that the Guelph Mercury story on this notes is something I’ve never heard before. According to their reporting, in 2014 May herself presented a petition in the House of Commons “calling on the Government of Canada to conduct a parliamentary review into the events that occurred in the United States on September 11.” Naturally she was criticized for that but again, I have to ask, what is it with the Greens and Trutherism? This is crazy.

But folks that’s not the last story we have today. The next story comes from the bell weather riding of Peterborough-Kawartha and revolves around Brock Grills. He was the Green candidate in the riding until late July of this year, when he stepped down for “personal reasons.” That happens from time to time, people step forward then back out, so nothing really jumped out at people at the time. Yet yesterday Mr. Grills came back into the news with a social media post of his own, one that brings new light onto that previous resignation and raises new questions:

We’ve all heard the jokes for years about the Greens and their Conservative leanings, so I’ll leave those for you to make at home. But this announcement of the Green candidate going to back the Conservatives just amps that up a bit. Amazingly while announcing his endorsement of Conservative Mike Skinner, Grills stated that he will “continue to hold true to my position on serious environmental and social issues.” Something doesn’t add up there, because the Scheer Conservatives positions on the environment and social issues seem to be pretty far apart on paper. One has to wonder how someone who thinks that the Conservative Party of Canada can be a solution for environmental issues managed to pass that vaunted Green vetting process. You know, the process we were told would ensure that only pro-choice and pro-environment candidates got approved, therefore we didn’t need to worry about what they might do if elected when their votes weren’t whipped.

Personally I have to admit that I can’t help but shake my head at this continual stream of stories coming out of the Green camp. Another alleged truther and now a candidate who thinks that Andrew Scheer is the solution to climate change. Man, what is going on in that tent? These two stories just go to further prove that Mr. Castonguay’s comments about this party are on the mark, because while every party has bad days, defections and issues, they don’t have them on a daily basis and in ways that were so easily able to be found out. You have to wonder how much longer this will continue for the Greens but at this point, it seems like they are blowing their best chance ever at a breakthrough federally. You only get so many chances to make a first impression and if the first week of this campaign has been any indication, that first chance is long gone for the Green team.

Failures at Launch

We are onto Day 7 of the 43rd General Election and the parties are all spread out around the country trying to win over peoples votes. A big piece of that attempt is a party’s platform, which not only tells people what they are hoping to do if they get to government, but how they will pay for it and the choices they will make to get there. A good platform and platform launch is a sign of a professional campaign that’s running well and goes a long way to prove if that party is ready to make those serious decisions.

It was with that in mind that I watched the Greens release their platform yesterday. After a rough first week of the campaign for the Green team, this launch offered them a chance to distract from the lacklustre candidate vetting that has dogged them so far. A strong launch with all ducks in a row would go a long way to making a lot of people feel better about possibly voting Green. So how did that go? In short, not so good:

You could call yesterday a failure to launch, as there were some big gaping holes that came out of this event, some that are just simply unacceptable in 2019. First, they started by admitting to a major mistake that brought attention all its own; they didn’t have a full costing of their budget ready for the release. Not presenting a full costing of their platform at their launch is a serious mess up, regardless of the reason why. If the costing wasn’t ready, a professional party would never have gone ahead with the launch. They would have waited until that piece was in place, especially given that Ms. May has been crowing to everyone who would listen that her party would have a fully costed platform, with a full costing done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Trying to sluff that off as some kind of minor thing just speaks to how bad a mistake that was.

That’s not where this story ends, oh no no no.  Their platform is being criticized by some in labour, like the United Steelworkers, who said that it in their policy offering “workers are an afterthought.” Indigenous writer Robert Jago pointed out segments of the Greens Indigenous platform that looks to be plagiarised from the works of various Indigenous, with whole paragraphs seemingly lifted word for word with no credit or attribution. It looks like they tried to pass of the hard work of others as their own, which is a strange way to show respect for Indigenous peoples if you ask me.

On top of that, some parts of their platform were completely contradictory, as Alex Usher pointed out in one particular section on Universal Basic Income (UBI). The platform says that there will be no clawing back of existing programs with the additional income from UBI, but at the same time says that those “earning above a certain total income” would pay it back in taxes, which seems to be the very definition of clawing that back. So either that was a bad mistake in their platform, or a deliberate attempt to pull one over on Canadians.

But the biggest whopper that came out of this is a mistake that really blew my mind. As CBC reported last night, the Green platform began with a personal message from May that tries to compare the fight against climate change to the Allied efforts to defeat Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in the Second World War. She wrote about Dunkirk and the attempts to evacuate British soldiers from the beaches there, a harrowing story for sure. But as the tweet above from historian James Holland shows, May got her facts wrong and totally bungled the story. In the CBC piece, Holland referred to May’s intro “rubbish” and “embarrassing.” He later went on to say that “it’s just sort of fake history on a catastrophic level”, then asks “why would you write about this without checking the facts when it’s not your core subject?” That’s a great question, why would you not check your facts before printing anything in your platform document, let alone something that is so demonstrably wrong.

That is a lot of gaffes for any platform launch and they really don’t speak well of the Green team. Their biggest challenge in this campaign has been to present themselves as a professional party that is ready to be a serious factor in Canadian politics. They have tried to make a virtue out of the fact that they don’t have so many professionals, but unfortunately for them, G7 governments are not run by volunteers. They are run by professionals who get their facts right, make sure that everything is lined up and that they put their best foot forward. Canadians expect their parties to have a certain degree of professionalism to them and to be ready if they are called on. Unfortunately for the Greens, this platform release and the first week of this campaign have shown them to be left wanting on that school. As the campaign goes along, the Greens have shown so far that they need to do a better job of doing their homework and that they are not quite ready for prime time.