Talking the arrival of Omicron on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Josh Zanin. We discussed the arrival of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, how Canada should respond to it, the continued flooding in BC & the need to address the infrastructure deficits this crisis has reminded us of, the problem of inflation and how government should be responding to it and more. You can listen to it all below.

“True Blue” Redo

We’re coming to the end of the first week of Parliament and it’s been nice to see the place up and running again. But there has been another development that hasn’t been as welcomed to see and is honestly more of a concern for things going forward. And if I had to highlight it in a certain way, I guess this tweet is probably a good example of what I’m seeing:

This tweet from Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has been making the rounds since last night, and it’s a good example of the tone and language being used by the Conservatives post-election. It’s been much harder edged, bordering on Trump-ish and totally non-constructive. Another example is what we saw from their finance critic Pierre Poilievre earlier this week, and there have been plenty others through out the week you can point to.

But O’Toole’s tweet is especially egregious for a few reasons. First off is this claim that MPs working in the hybrid set-up aren’t working, which is particularly insulting. In my experience under this hybrid set-up, MPs are actually working harder and longer hours, mostly because there isn’t an excuse not to. When you can vote electronically wherever you are in the country, you lose the excuse for missing a vote. In normal times, MPs miss many votes because they are either in the riding, or somewhere else on government business. But today? Nope, those excuses all melt away because you can do it from wherever.

The same goes for MPs availability to meet with constituents, or stakeholders, or anyone else for that matter. Because MPs aren’t travelling as much, that gives them more available time in their schedules to meet with people and discuss their issues. That also opens the window to more meeting times during the days, as you don’t need to work around normal office hours to make things work. And folks, most MPs are taking advantage of that extra time.

Many of these MPs haven’t been slacking during hybrid Parliaments, they’ve been working harder. So for O’Toole to throw around the lazy language that going hybrid is equivalent to “not going to work” is not just wrong, it’s highly insulting to not just Parliamentarians, but Canadians in general. A large number of Canadians have been working from home since the pandemic started and I’m sure they would be quite offended to hear that Erin O’Toole believes that people who are working from home are “not showing up for work”.

Also I’d note on this whole line of attack from O’Toole that he is basically saying that the only way MPs are truly doing work is if they are in Ottawa, which is complete horseshit. In normal times, MPs who are doing their jobs are work very long hours. When they are at home they’re not sitting on their thumbs and doing nothing watching TV in their living rooms. But with this language, O’Toole is suggesting that the only legitimate work done by MPs takes place in Ottawa. I’ll admit it’s also an interesting approach to take for the leader of a party that had the “worst attendance record at House of Commons COVID-19 committee”. Maybe Mr. O’Toole might want to spend time worrying about some in his own caucus rather than pointing condescending and accusatory comments at others.

But in effect what Mr. O’Toole is doing here is worrying about his own caucus, namely keeping them onside and keeping his own bloody job. To that end we saw that O’Toole brought Jeff Ballingall, the man behind Canada Proud, back into the fold to help him hold onto his job. Remember that Ballingall was a part of O’Toole’s leadership campaign team, the one where O’Toole ran as the “true blue” Conservative to win the leadership. Of course, after winning the race O’Toole tried to pivot back to the centre, to the great chagrin of those on the right that he was courting just months before. But this change of tone, this language and these tropes have the fingerprints of Ballingall’s past work all over them. When you look at the track record, this is more a hallmark of his work, words and views than O’Toole’s own original ones.

So it appears that what O’Toole is now doing is trying to save his job by trying to pivot back to that “true blue” position in an attempt to save his leadership. In essence, he’s changing his messaging to suit that audience, knowing that he’ll face their wrath in a vote long before he’ll potentially face the wider Canadian electorate again. And if he pulls this trick of, the flip-flop-flip, he’s likely to try to flop back again just in time for the 45th General Election, whenever that comes.

All of this is to say that for the next few months (or at least until he passes a leadership review vote), we should assume that Erin O’Toole’s words and actions are not about what’s best for the country, for public health, for the best operation of Parliament or even what he truly believes deep down. Nope, it’s all about saving his job, he’s fancy government-funded housing in Rockcliffe Park and his leadership. Regardless of how you feel about the guy personally, what is becoming increasingly clear is that he’s willing to say just about anything if it gets him where he wants to go, no matter how hypocritical or dissonant it makes him sound. He’s can apparently worry about that later because its operation “Save Erin’s Butt” over in the OLO, and nothing else but that seems to be on the agenda.

A Bad Start

Today was the day that the 44th Parliament got back to the nitty gritty of work. After a five-month break for the summer, an election, and another two months to recover from the election (no other reasonable excuse has been given, so maybe that’s it?) the House got back to work with the first Question Period of this Parliament. Normally it’s not something I would take the time write about as a stand-alone piece but, in my opinion, todays Question Period warranted it badly. With an emphasis on the bad, because while it’s been five months since I’ve been able to watch a Question Period in Ottawa, it was especially bad. What exactly do I mean? Well this exchange on the serious issue of inflation really drives it home for me about how bad QP this was and what a terrible omen it is for this entire Parliament ahead:

Gah, that was bad folks and I think I have to start this with an apology… an apology for exposing you all to that video that was a groan worthy as it was disturbing. It didn’t even take 20 minutes for Question Period to devolve into the worst of the political performance theatre that it can be, and there really is no excuse for that. And in my view, it was bad on both parts, for reasons that should disturb all Canadians.

Let’s start with the questioner, Conservative Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre. Anyone who has been watching Ti-Pierre’s social media feed for the past month or so would have recognized the false message track he put down. He tries to lay the blame for the inflation issues we are seeing right not at the feet of Justin Trudeau, and more specifically, the help the last Parliament gave to Canadians to help get us through COVID. Poilievre does have his finger on an actual problem, which is rising prices. We do have a problem with inflation right now that demands a serious response to it. But instead of offering that solution, Poilievre is offering what is the political and economic equivalent of suggesting ingesting Ivermectin.

Economists have been clear that the inflation we are facing right now has nothing to do with government spending. If that were the case, there’s no way most of the rest of the world would be facing the exact same problem as we are. This problem is a creation of COVID, of ripples in the economy from prices that crashed to record lows last year to rebound this year. It’s also a creation of massive supply chain problems, creating less supply and driving prices up. None of the blame for that falls on the shoulders of this government or Justin Trudeau, as much as that might feel good to do. What Poilievre is trying to do is shoehorn his preferred political outcome as a solution for a series problem, effectively telling the Canadian economy should ignore the experts and instead go off and undertake another approach that won’t solve anything and will likely create more harm. That’s dangerous, stupid crap and it’s disturbing that on day one of Question Period, Erin O’Toole’s team are buying into this crap argument lock, stock and barrel. It’s not a serious solution to a serious problem, and again proves how unready for primetime they are.

But while the Blue Team is showing just how unready and unserious they are, it’s not like the Red Team is basking in glory after what we just saw above. Through out the entirety of Question Period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied to just about every answer with a slap-dashed talking point from the election that finished over two months ago. In doing so, he acted as if nothing has happened in the world for the past two months while he took his sweet time recalling the House. His answer to climate change concerns? Cheap shots about ratings of campaign plans was his reply. When asked about the rise of day-to-day costs? He points to promises to help with affordable housing and childcare, which does nothing to help those who are already housed and without need of childcare. Yes, funding for affordable housing should help create more stock to meet demand and hopefully bring down costs (another thing that Poilievre seems to not understand, as he claimed that investing in Housing would actually drive costs up) for those having trouble cover the cost of housing. But does it speak to the breadth and depth of the inflation problems out there and neither does it address any of the causes of that inflation. The same goes for childcare; yes it makes something more affordable, but does nothing to lower the inflation for everything else.

It was the kind of response that was rather unserious in my estimation and honestly, I was quite taken aback about how poor the answers were. Sure, I’m not expecting the government to answer all the questions put to them forthrightly and such, but I’m expecting a bit of basic work to be done to at least speak to the time frame the questions are asking about. With those canned answers from the campaign it left me wondering what in the Hell they’ve been up to for the past two months. Seriously, are you trying to tell me they were doing so much they couldn’t update the bloody talking points to at least speak to the reality that’s developed over the past two months? Come on man.

Overall, it was just a bad sight to see and a truly bad omen for the remainder of this Parliament. You saw a government not ready to answer basic questions and couldn’t bring themselves to offer a reply that didn’t point to a program that’s tangentially connected. The answers simply weren’t serious and sluffed off the serious problem being brought to their attention. And the way the question itself was ask, it was also lacking any seriousness that something if its importance deserved. The rising cost of life for all Canadians deserved so much better than a politically torqued question that completely ignored the reality of the problem, only to be followed by an equally torqued answer that completely ignored a real answer that actually addresses the problem posed. It was shite folks, pure shite.

Right now Canadians are looking to their Parliamentarians to be mature, serious people and work on their behalf. Just two months ago the votes sent that clear message by sending this minority Parliament back, with nearly identical numbers as they had before the election. The message was “stop the crap, work things out!”. If we’re supposed to take todays Question Period as an indication of what’s to come, you’d have to assume they either didn’t get the message or heard it and don’t give a flying fig. Surely that can’t be a good omen for how this Parliament is going to roll out and what might happen. This Parliament clearly needs to do better than this because we all need better than this. After today though, it’s an open question if this group can put on their adult pants and deliver that better.

The Nature of Irresponsibility

We are living in very tense times, there is no doubting that. The past 20 months of COVID has raised all of our anxieties, and on top of that you can layer on other issues that haven’t gone away, operating in that anxious environment. It’s all making for a lot of noise, anger and tension that isn’t exactly helping move anything forward.

It’s within that context that I write this tonight, and comment on the words of someone whose work I’ve had a great deal of respect for. I believe that we need to hold everyone up to the standard that we expect in society, friend, foe or anywhere in between. When someone who you respect messes up, I believe we need to call it out. Tonight that’s what I need to do, based on a story from the weekend that left me shaking my head:

David Suzuki, man…. When I first read this story, a lot of four-letter words came to mind, trying to figure out what in the Hell he was thinking or if he even was. There isn’t a lack of hotter takes on this story out there, so fill your boots with those. For those who have always had a bone or a dozen to pick with Suzuki, this is easy pickings for them and I’m not going to add into that pile on. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be critical of whatever the Hell that was.

In the end, my astonished criticism comes down to two major points: the words and the audience. Let’s start with the obvious and point out that you just can’t say anything close to the words that he said in that context. You just can’t, it’s very much the equivalent of “yelling fire in a burning theatre”. No one should be saying that, let alone someone with the prestige, notoriety, and respect of David effing Suzuki. I would argue that the list of circumstances where it would have been okay for Suzuki to say what he said would be small and would involve alternate universes. You know, like instead of becoming a world-renowned environmentalist, alternate David Suzuki became a world-renowned expert in public safety, and instead of being at that protest, he was testifying at a House of Commons committee meeting warning about the dangers in the world. In that place, yeah uttering those words would have been alright, as that would be the person and the place to say it. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

The second and maybe most damning part of this story was more about the audience. Suzuki said this at an Extinction Rebellion protest, a group that I’ve written about here before. Remember it was back in the pre-COVID days, in February of 2020 that this group tried to “invade the home” of BC Premier John Horgan, while also insulting & disrespecting local First Nations. They are an offshoot of a group of the same name in the UK, which have taken to massive, disrespectful civil disobedience actions that have gone far beyond the pale. As a group, they are not viewed in a positive way, and I can’t help but think of them as being like a climate change version of “PETA”. Not exactly the kind of group that any respectable or respected person would want to be associated with.

Yet there was Suzuki, at their event, speaking to them and even praising them. He was quoted by CHEK News in Victoria saying that “People in Extinction Rebellion are saying we’re headed in a direction of extinction and we’re rebelling against it. That’s why I’m here.” That’s why he was there he says, leaving one to assume that he agrees with them, their approach, and their tactics. Needless to say, that blows my mind because Suzuki has earned a good reputation for being a credible expert. He’s been long seen as a voice of reason and someone who could reach across the partisan divide to shine a light on this very issue. He never should have agreed to be at or speak to that group, period. And yet with that one move, boom, he comes off like a wacked out radical. With those words, he sounded more like Weibo Ludwig than anything else, which is exactly the last thing that was needed right now.

That makes those words all the worse. You knew that Suzuki’s opponents would take those kinds of words and use them to their will right away. Jason Kenney’s government in Alberta has jumped on them with a horny froth of desperation. They never miss a chance to make hay out of such a mistake. But when he says those words, to that group, it takes on a totally different importance and interpretation. If alter-world David Suzuki said that in that hypothetical House Committee, the odds are very good that someone in the audience wouldn’t be pre-disposed to take them as a suggestion or a potential action to ponder. It would likely be taken as the warning that I assume the real Suzuki intended it to be. But when you say those words, in front of that group, with their track record and you give them an attaboy while you’re at it, it is totally different and completely irresponsible. That must be called out and an apology demanded, because that’s exactly what we’d do if it was someone on the other side saying something as irresponsible and incendiary.

But to be fair, I don’t expect that apology to come. As the years have gone along, Suzuki has waded more and more into the political. With statements like that one, he strikes me more and more as someone who knows his days on this planet are fewer and fewer and he has fewer and fewer fucks to give about how his words might be taken. While that may be understandable on a human level, that doesn’t make it right. In a time when opponents of fighting climate change want to make those who want to stop it look like radicals and extremists, this is just feeding them months worth of quality grist for their mill. They’ve made much out of far less than this, so these irresponsible words will keep them going for a long time. The only way that Suzuki can limit that will be for him to issue a full apology, period. That won’t make it go away because these words will dog him for a long time to come. But what it could do is take down the temperature a bit, release some of the tension and send the clear message to those who think his words sounded like a good idea. We’ll see if that happens but, in the meantime, I can’t hide my disappointment in all of this. Those words did nothing to help and the sooner he takes them back, the better for us all.

Talking BC Floods and the return of Parliament on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. We discussed the disastrous flooding taking place in British Columbia, the devastating impact it is happening, how it has further exposed weaknesses in our infrastructure and ability to respond to crises, the return of Parliament today, the state of the Conservative caucus and their vaccination statuses, and where Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stands after the weekends United Conservative Party conference. You can listen to it all below.

Tension Under the Big Blue Tent

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything in this space, mostly because I’ve been taking some time to disconnect and take some time for myself and my family. At some point I knew I would come back to the charge and to commenting on what is happening around us in our politics, but the question in my mind was “what would it be that would trigger me to go back to the keyboard?”. Well yesterday the answer finally came and it’s a story that only seems to be starting:

Folks, I can’t say I’m shocked at this turn of events but on a certain level, I am. I have been saying for the past two months on radio and TV that I believed there would be three leadership races before the next general election, and that the Conservatives would end up being one of the parties having one. The idea that the Conservatives would end up going down this road isn’t a surprise, but I have to admit I didn’t see it going down this way.

Between the anti-vaxxers and those who are trying to start a “Civil Liberties Caucus” to stand up for those who are facing the natural consequences refusing to get vaccinated (instead of fighting to keep schools and hospitals safe and ensuring that everyone working in those places are vaccinated), there have been more than enough voices within the Conservative caucus threatening to send their party far off into the political wilderness. And that doesn’t even start to touch the usual flash points in their party, like gun control, Abortion access and climate change. As Stewart Prest recently pointed out, while Canadian society has pretty solidly made up their mind on most of these issues, with strong majorities supporting progressive positions on these matters.

It’s only within the Conservative camp that you see major divisions on these issues, and in some cases, their divisions aren’t even that even. A great example of that comes with COVID measures and vaccinations, where public polling continues to show that while the Conservatives are the most offside with public opinion on mandatory vaccinations and public health measures, even within their own base the percentage of those who oppose is a clear and small minority. Yet again and again, we’ve seen conservative leaders across the country have twisted themselves into pretzels trying to accommodate that tiny minority, to the detriment of the majority and any kind of common sense.

Of course, none of that is Erin O’Toole’s doing; that’s been the Conservative party for a long time and long before he became leader, so he doesn’t own the blame for that state of things. But where O’Toole does own culpability is on how he’s conducted his leadership, from the race to become leader right up to the present day. While I disagree with a lot of Senator Denise Batters assessment of O’Toole’s leadership, there is one point where she is right on the mark; He won the leadership race claiming to be ‘true blue’ but as soon as that campaign was over, he tried to tack back to the centre and ditched that persona he created to win the leadership. At the time, I pointed out that appeared to be the lesson that he learned from his first run for the Conservative Leadership; he couldn’t win as who he was. So he changed that, went hard right and then tried to walk it all back as if no one would notice or care.

That turned out to be a terrible calculation, especially when that approach led to more and more clear contradictions during the election campaign. It exposed O’Toole to one of the worst charges that can be thrown at any political leader; being insincere and unprincipled. That gets even worse when you can point to examples that make those charges plausible and with merit.

Of all the things that Erin O’Toole can blame others for in this moment, he completely owns that, and he hasn’t properly figured out how to deal with that fact and correct it. In the end, it could cost him his current role. But while all of those points could easily sink O’Toole, one thing appears to be different this time that I find to be very noteworthy:

This is an interesting turn of events and quite the gambit, one we haven’t seen yet in this post-Reform Act era of Canadian politics. According to CBC’s reporting, “24 Conservative MPs have pledged to sign a letter triggering the Reform Act”, giving them the chance to vote to remove any Conservative MP who backs Batters motion to pressure O’Toole. This is the first time I’ve seen this being thrown around, and there’s good reason why you wouldn’t just say this willy nilly; if you don’t have the votes to back this up, it’s a terrible bluff. That’s exactly why I don’t think they don’t have the votes to back this kind of threat up because if they didn’t, that’s the kind of threat you can undo or stop the damage from. It’s as heavy-handed a move as we’ve seen a post-Harper Conservative leader take with their own caucus, and the way they operate, you can’t do this and survive it if you don’t have the numbers.

The question that remains now is if this threat will work or will someone call their bluff? It all makes for quite a wild time under the Blue Tent and could easily go wrong in so many ways. And the irony of the situation is that I can easily picture this situation playing out under the leadership of just about any other potential Conservative leader short of Stephen Harper himself. Seriously, with the divisions in the conservative movement as they currently exist, who can possibly keep it all together and become able to govern anything? It doesn’t seem possible in the least, especially when you have some who could care less about that governing imperative. So while Erin O’Toole has made a good part of the bed that he is currently laying in, I submit that there isn’t a potential Conservative replacement that changes the underlying facts hoping up said bed. Tossing Erin O’Toole won’t be the silver bullet to fixing what ails the Conservative movement, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. This merry-go-round doesn’t look like it’s about to stop anytime soon. If anything, it’s picking up speed and if they can’t get this thing under control soon, it’s going to result in a lot of yelling, screaming, fighting and nausea. Not exactly the winning formula to forming government.

What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast – The End of #Elxn44

The latest episode of Bluesky Strategy Group’s “What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast” with my colleagues Susan, Neil Brodie and Alyson Fair is now out. In this episode we talk about the last week of the 44th General Election campaign, the state of the race, what the parties need to do in the last days of this race and more. You can check it all out below:

MB Podcast – The Final Week

The latest episode of the Magpie Brûlé podcast is now live. In this episode, Cam & Alise talk about the latest developments from the 44th General Election, the last leaders’ debates, how they went down, the tone of the campaign as we enter the final week and a couple last words about the campaign & social media attacks on Indigenous women who speak the truth. You can listen to it below, download it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you download the finest podcasts.

Talking the Fourth Week of #Elxn44 on CTV News Channel

Saturday I joined CTV News Channel with Akshay Tandon for the “Political Pulse” panel along with Colin MacDonald and Maureen Harquail. We reviewed the fourth week on the campaign trail, the release of the NDP’s platform costing, what we are looking for in the last week and more. You can check it out below.