When You Negotiate the Non-Negotiable

Have you ever had something that you’ve had to get done but not wanted to face it? You know, something that’s extremely difficult to deal with, with no straightforward solution that wouldn’t come without pain. And the only straightforward solution is one that you clearly don’t want to use because of potential fallout from it. Well welcome to May 12th, 2021 in the life of the Trudeau Liberal government, and the situation that we as a country now face with the Line 5 pipeline:

Well folks, what to say about this? For starters, Line 5 is a major piece of energy infrastructure for Canada and the US. Line 5 supplies nearly half of the supply of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids in Ontario and Quebec. It feeds refineries in Sarnia and Montreal. It’s the source of all jet fuel used at Pearson International and Detroit International Airports. This is no small matter, especially at the time when gas prices are already spiking, and supply issues are being raised thanks to the cyber attack against an American pipeline.

There is a lot to go after here, so let’s take this chunk by chunk. Let’s start in Michigan, with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s attempt to force the closure of the Line 5 pipeline. She is being as firm as can be on this, and appears to have no willingness to compromise on anything here. She wants the pipeline shut down, period. Her office has called it a “ticking timebomb” (it’s not) and is now threatening to attempt to seize any profits that Enbridge makes from operating the pipeline after today (hello more court cases). To say that their reaction to a pipeline that has never leaked or had a problem is over the top would be to under sell it. It also can be quite dangerous to real action to fight climate change (which I’ll come back to).

For the part of the Trudeau Liberal government, there has been a lot of talk about working behind the scenes and trying to convince the Biden Administration to step in here, but that hasn’t gotten us anywhere. The Biden Administration made it clear yesterday that they’re staying the heck out of this, as Wittmer is a close Biden ally and Michigan is a crucial state that Biden flipped from Trump. That should have been clear long before today, but yet the Trudeau team kept going down this road and insisting on it. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of their efforts, I do doubt the effectiveness of it, especially when you consider they waited until yesterday to move a brief in the legal case on this in Michigan.

The line from the Trudeau government has been that they will act “at the precise moment” when needed, which has sounded more like “at the last possible moment”. Nothing was stopping Ottawa from getting in on the Michigan court case long before this and waiting has appeared to gotten us nowhere. I believe in the value of negotiation, but it should have been clear long before yesterday that Wittmer wasn’t going to budget. And what’s maybe most worrisome for me is the fact that Ottawa apparently has a trump card in their back pocket that should make this all mute.

Canada signed a treaty with the United States in 1977 on pipelines, specifically to prevent this whole kind of fiasco from happening. Given that Michigan, as a state, is subordinate to such a treaty, the solution here should be pretty straight forward; invoke the Treaty, tell Michigan to go fly a kite. The fact is that American states, like Canadian provinces, don’t have the right to violate treaties that their countries sign with others. We’ve seen the Americans not be afraid to go after Canadian provinces when they have done this. Remember when Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams tried to expropriate property from an American lumber company that was pulling out of the province? That resulted with Canada getting smacked around and having to pay back the company in question for damages. Yet in this case, with so much at risk, we’re still getting this being put out there by Trudeau’s cabinet:

Folks, this bothers me. We know what the impacts of this will be, we know the chaos it would unleash, and we know how bad it could be if it were to pass. But why in the Hell won’t this government just say, “if all else fails, we will invoke that treaty”? We’ve constantly heard them say that “Line 5 is non-negotiable”, yet they have continued to act as if it was because, well, they’ve kept negotiating. And unlike what our Ambassador to Washington said to CBC last week, this is not just some commercial dispute. This is a big problem that could hurt Canadian families all over in the pocketbooks and worse, during a bloody global pandemic of all things. So why won’t this government take that firm stand long ago? Lord only knows but this positioning of theirs hasn’t help.

What this whole situation hasn’t helped as well is with the serious discussion around our energy future and the transition to clean energy. The approach by Michigan on Line 5 is extremely dangerous to any consensus that’s being built around achieving those goals we must meet, mostly because this is so unreasonable. The fact remains that Line 5 has never leaked, period. If this pipeline is a “ticking time bomb”, then so is every other bloody pipeline in existence. And, of course, that’s not the case. To have that discussion about pipelines that haven’t been built yet is on thing, but to try to impose this kind of ideological insanity to perfectly functioning pipelines with no issues is quite another. As an NDP colleague of mine put it, “my idea of a just energy transition isn’t for a foreign nation to inflict a sudden energy crisis on some Canadians.” And he is exactly right.

What Governor Wittmer and her colleagues in Michigan are doing right now is not only futile, but it’s doing serious damage to the fight against climate change. Because of that 1977 Treaty, Michigan can’t do what they’re doing and whenever Ottawa finally drops the hammer on that, as much as they clearly don’t want to, that discussion is over. In the meantime, if Wittmer actual is able to follow through on any of this all she will accomplish is to inflict severe amounts of pain on people who are already struggling through a pandemic, and will likely harden their willingness to do their part to fight climate change. She will only succeed in making enemies out of potential allies, and will set back the fight against climate change even further.

I believe in a just transition to clean energy, but that transition must be just. What Governor Wittmer is proposing to do here is nothing close to being just, by taking out her agenda on a piece of infrastructure that functioning just fine, and hurting everyday people in the process. Those everyday people are a part of the solution to climate change. Those refinery works, those people commuting to work every day, they are all a part of the solution. And if she actually succeeds with this, those will be the ones she will hurt the most, during a time of global crisis. That’s beyond short sighted, that’s just plain dumb. And the fact that the Trudeau government has allowed things to devolve to this point before putting their foot down firmly seriously makes me wonder how much pain we could have avoided had they simply acted like this was actually non-negotiable from the start. What a bloody mess, one that we can easily do without and one that could have been avoided with some firmness.

Those Who Refuse to Learn from History

Politics and our political lives aren’t things that are always straightforward. While our beliefs in certain matters may be very clear and strong, that doesn’t mean that they don’t run up against complications out there in the real world. As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, whose political leanings have been affect by the teachings of the church and who is Progressive, this is something I have experienced from time to time. That tends to happen when you see some ultra-conservative members of the clergy try to use their institutions as a cudgel against those who disagree with them. We’re seeing that play out stateside right now and I have to admit that it really caught my eye:

As the Associated Press points out, it’s possible that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops might move to ban pro-choice Catholic politicians from receiving communion. For practicing Catholics, this is one of the worst things that the church can do to its congregants and is extremely heavy handed. Such a move is one that practicing Catholics would not receive lightly and if those suggesting it were trying to pressure people to change their views on Abortion this way, they are likely to fail miserably. Actually I would suggest that if history has taught us anything, it will most surely fail in their end goal, as the experience here in Canada taught us:

As a Catholic and a New Democrat, this is an episode I remember all too well. Local parish priests tried to “punish” NDP MPs Charlie Angus, Tony Martin and Joe Comartin for voting in favour of same-sex marriage in 2005. When you look back on it now 16 years later, the action taken by these parish priests looks all the move over the top, heavy-handed and ineffective a move it was. Angus, Comartin and Martin went on to be re-elected in the next two elections (for Angus, he’s never lost), they continued to have wide support from catholic congregants in those very same churches and same-sex marriage is widely accepted in society as a whole. In summary, these priests tried to impose their ultra-conservative interpretations of doctrine onto them to make an example of them, and instead made them more respected in Canadian political society.

So when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops considers doing this to President Joe Biden and other elected pro-choice Catholics, they are putting themselves in the same position to fail miserably. When you read between the lines of the letter from Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the American Bishop’s he’s basically saying just that. Beyond the divisive and heavy-handed tactics of this proposal, Cardinal Ladaria laid out some very specific issues with this idea:

  • He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.
  • He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”
  • He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”
  • He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

A couple of those points really hit home for me. Firstly the last point, about how any other bishop could basically tell the conference to go fly a kite and do whatever they want. Just as those parish priests in Ontario decided to take their own actions against those two MPs, other American bishops or priests can decide to ignore this claptrap, especially if they know that their congregations would be revolved by them obeying this dictate. So that right there makes it ineffectual as a move.

But for me the big point that hit me is one that strikes at the very core of the struggle between some peoples attempt to force the church to fit one ultra-conservative view, despite how it runs counter to not only the teachings of the church, but of Jesus Christ himself. By trying to say that abortion is the “preeminent moral issue”, Cardinal Ladaria is right to point out that this would be misleading as it would give the impression that church teachings focus solely on this and don’t care about other moral and social issues. This position by these bishops ignores the churches teachings on charity, giving back to one’s community or maybe the simplest of all, “doing onto others as you would have them do onto you”. When you read the Bible, you read stories about how Jesus Christ preached against greed, gluttony, and excess. He didn’t spend his time hanging with the rich and famous, nor did he preach about a single issue to the exclusion of all others. He spent his time with the poor, the infirmed, those who needed help and those who were shunted aside. So to try to use such a cudgel, to use one of the sacraments of the Catholic faith as a weapon against people who disagree on one issue, is beyond the pale and quite un-Christlike.

But I’ll also close on this observation about these US Bishops and their obsession here. As I just mentioned above, Christ preached about so many issues of social justice and fairness in society, yet I’ve never heard of any of them looking to ban Catholics who steal from their neighbours, who cheat their employees, who hoard obscene amounts of money or anything like that from receiving Communion. Those are all against the teachings of the Catholic church as well, and yet they propose nothing of the sort to make a statement like this against those Catholics, or call into question the very nature of their devotion to their faith. Maybe that’s because that would involve condemning a lot of conservative and Republican officials instead, people who these bishops clearly identify with more than anything else. It’s for that reason that this just reeks of cheap politics from the pulpit, which is why I appreciate Cardinal Ladaria’s letter pointing out the hypocrisy in what they are suggesting.

To be part of a faith is not a 100% proposition. Just like with politics and political parties, there are things that we agree with and others we don’t. I am a pro-choice, pro-equal rights Catholic New Democrat, in the tradition of so many “social gospel” progressives that we’ve seen make great impacts in the politics of this country. That doesn’t many me any more or less Catholic than the next guy and I don’t claim it does. But I vehemently reject the idea that my support for a woman’s right to choose makes me less Catholic than the anti-abortion churchgoer who cheats his employees or mocks the poor. As Angus, Comartin and Martin showed us 16 years ago, this will fail and will blow up in the faces of the American bishops and in doing so, they will put themselves on the wrong side of history.

Talking Potential COVID Re-Opening Thresholds with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Lindsay Maskell & Jason Lietaer for the “Political Heat” panel. We talked about Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health’s comments about potential thresholds for re-opening from COVID, why they were more reasonable and comforting, what it could mean for us going forward, the state of Bill C-10, why this legislation is important, the confusion that’s out there around it and how the government has to look in the mirror for the source of that confusion. You can listen starting at the 15:00 mark.

Talking Tighten COVID-19 Restrictions and Tensions 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 latest discussions around COVID, the increasing restrictions to fight the public health crisis and the politics surrounding them, the continued miscommunication of messaging from government around COVID measures, the effects those could have, how Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was right in calling out anti-mask and anti-public health protests, why it’s important to call them out for what they are and more. You can listen to it all below.

Circular Unreasoning

It was just earlier this week that I pointed to the shenanigans being played between the Liberals and the Conservatives when it comes to Bill C-19, the governments proposed temporary changes to an election during COVID. Given that we have a minority Parliament in Ottawa, we know that it’s possible that an election could fall in this period of time and given that we honestly don’t know when COVID will pass altogether, it makes sense to assume that whenever the next election comes, COVID will still be with us. And given all the crap we saw to our South around trust around elections, there is an extra imperative to get this legislation done.

So today, finally, after a long amount of delay C-19 came back to the House of Commons for debate. Finally we were going to hear the arguments for and against and see where this all lead us. Given all of their attempts to slow this bill down, I was especially curious to hear what the Conservatives might have to say about this. I was particularly interested in hearing to what degree real legit concerns were going to be raise versus how much usual partisan BS there would be. No bill is perfect, so there is always something to legitimately point to when it comes to improving a bill.

So where would the blue team go? Well I caught a few speeches but one in particular caught my eye because it encapsulated the Conservatives manic, contradictory position on this bill. Conservative MP for Calgary-Skyview Jag Sahota is the one who delivered said speech and I’m going to break down the first few minutes of it here, because it literally had my head spinning. First, here is the start of her speech with the opening premise:

Sahota comes right out of the box with some high heat, basically saying that “by bringing forward C-19, the Liberals want to force Canadians to an election”. Yes, she’s so disappointed that the Liberals would think about an election during a pandemic because bringing forward this bill, in her opinion, automatically equates to wanting an election and trying to force one on us. She leans in on the point that this has been introduced “during a pandemic”, as if there was something nefarious behind doing this now. But I’ll come back to that later. Here’s what she followed that up with:

Next up she points to science, stating that trying to run an election during COVID presents risks. Just look at what happened in Newfoundland she points out, where COVID threw that election into chaos. And she’s right, because the province was poorly prepared for that COVID election (which had to happen within 6 months of then anyway), things did go off the rails. So you’d think that the lesson to take from that would be that “hey, maybe we should be prepared in case an election does happen during COVID?”. In that piece, she basically says that the Liberals are ignoring science…. by introducing a bill that would ensure that the next election follows the science and public health protocols. Or hey, maybe that’s just my view. Next up:

This is where my head spins picked up to the level of an elite Olympic gymnast because it was mind blowing to me. On one hand, she is going after the government for “ramming through” this legislation, as if there was no need for doing this now. But a breath later, she points out the more salient point about the need for this legislation; we’re in a minority Parliament. The average minority Parliament lasts about 18 months. This Parliament has been around for…. about 18 months. So yes, in normal times if this government fell now, it would be totally normal. And yes, COVID should push that time out, as I’ve said many times in public that we won’t likely see an election until the Fall. But even if all the stars align, and COVID is receding, and we’re getting back closer to normal come the Fall, any election held at that time will still require these measures. That’s doubly true because Elections Canada needs time to prepare for that election. They can’t just “flip a switch” and have everything in place, this actually takes some time and planning to, you know, ensure that people are confident in our electoral system. That might seem like a good reason to move quickly, right? Onto the next part:

Sahota points to the report from the House Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on this topic, where it was recommended that the PM not unliterally call an election, only doing so if they lose a confidence vote. She said that very exception herself, basically admitting that if the government fell on a confidence vote during COVID, that it would be totally reasonable to having a COVID election. And given that she and her Conservative colleagues have been doing their level best to create that potential failed confidence vote for the past months, you’d think that she would want Elections Canada to be able to ensure that election she would help to cause would be a safe one, right? Nope, she’s more concerned about calling this some kind of arrogant political mastermindery on the behalf of this Prime Minister in some selfish grasp at something. But it’s the last clip on this that was really the cherry on the sundae, the true chef’s kiss to finish off this whole thing:

Ah yes, it’s not she and her party who are being inconsistent with their inconsistent messaging, it’s the government that’s being inconsistent here. That just made me laugh out loud when I heard it because after that confusing, circular diatribe, it only seemed fitting that she accused others of being what she was just being. So at this point, we can summarize the Conservative position on C-19 as the following:

  • “By bringing forward C-19, the Liberals want to force Canadians to an election!”
  • “Minority governments are unstable and usually don’t last 4 years. We need to be ready!”
  • “Poorly prepared COVID elections are dangerous, look at what happened in Newfoundland! We don’t want that to happen again!”
  • “A once-in-a-century pandemic is not the time to change the Elections Act for an election that might take place in this once-in-a-century pandemic!”
  • “I’m not confusing, you’re the one who’s confusing!”

Good Lord man that was bad. Seriously, there are things in this bill that can be improved and as I pointed out earlier in the week, the Liberals hands are not clean on this. They have screwed up by taking so long to bring this forward and they own that. But is this all the Conservatives are offering as an “opposition” to this bill? Is this seriously all they have to bring to the table? If you want an example of what really ails the Conservatives right now and why their sinking in the polls, those clips show it. Instead of putting together a coherent other position, they are leaning into crazed insinuation and inuendo. There are nefarious motives everywhere and there’s just no way that this should be done because science, just as the science calls for this.

Maybe it’s COVID but my patience for this BS is simply gone. Is it really too much to ask for this party to bring some real ideas to the table? Do they really have to lean so hard into this rhetorical crap? Because you know what, it’s extremely confusing messaging to say that “we can’t have an election because COVID, we should be ready for a COVID election but if you dare to prepare, you want an election”. You seriously can’t have it all these ways at the same time. Pick a damn lane Blue Team because if you really want to govern, this kind of crap proves that you’re not ready for it. If you can’t put aside your hate and rage at the other side to make a coherent argument, you can’t win the next election, let alone govern. We’ll see what it takes for that lesson to sink in because as this morning showed, it hasn’t sunk in yet.

Standing on Principle Against “The Big Lie”

It’s been a while since I spoke about the politics of our neighbours to the South, and there’s been a good reason for that. Let’s be real here, when Donald Trump was still President we had to pay ahead because he was capable of doing any kind of crazed depravity in the attempt to advance whatever goals he had. We paid attention not because we wanted to, but because we needed to out of caution. And folks, it was exhausting.

That’s made the past months of the Biden administration seem like a massive relief relative to what was happening before. Yeah, we still have our disagreements and policy fights, but at least with Biden we know that something crazy isn’t going to happen just off the cuff out of nowhere. We don’t need to worry about what Joe might say on Twitter. We don’t need to worry much about him because, well, he’s been quietly competent. That makes for a striking comparison to his predecessor and it’s hard to think of it being starker.

But this past week I’ve found myself tunning back into what’s happening in the United States for two big reasons. Today is the 4-month anniversary of the insurrection at the US Capitol. You know, the near-death experience that American Democracy had in which Trump supporters tried to overthrow the democratic process, aided and abetted by certain Republican politicians. I remember watching all of that unfold in horror, because it was just the kind of thing, we’d never think we’d see in the nation’s capital of the leaders of the Free World.

It was a watershed moment that made many wonder if the fever of the Trump grip on his party would finally break. In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, it seemed that maybe it would, as many high-ranking Republicans went on the record condemning what happened, stated the fact that the election wasn’t stolen and was free and fair, and started to distance themselves from Trump. It felt like maybe things had finally hit rock bottom, that things couldn’t get any worse.

But as that date has moved further from peoples’ minds, it’s starting to appear like the fever is stronger and more pervasive than we dared to think. We’ve seen Republican governors and politicians move fast to change election laws based on “The Big Lie” about the election. We’ve seen Trump continue to spread that lie, and more Republican politicians supporting his words when they make their regular pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago to worship at his feet and seek his approval. And while that is disturbing in and of itself, for me the more disturbing actions just started to take place in the past week, as we’ve seen disturbing acts taken against those Republicans who dare to tell the truth. Look at what happened to Senator Mitt Romney and Congresswoman Liz Cheney in the past days:

The partisan in me should probably be cheering at the sight of Republicans tearing themselves apart stem from stern, but the democrat in me cringes and worries about these stories. Having worked in politics here at home, I may have my own partisan stripe and beliefs, but I can honestly say I have friends in all parties. I learned early on that you can disagree on policy without being disagreeable and you can have policy debates with respect. That may seem very quaint and old-timey in 2021, but its my approach to things.

That’s why I worry when I see those stories play out and what is says about the health of democracy in the United States. A health democracy needs a few things to thrive. One of those is an adherence to respect for the democratic process itself and not undermining it for perceived political advantage. Right now you have a large part of the Republican Party clinging and pushing the lie that the last American election was somehow illegitimate. We’re seeing conspiracy theories and wild accusations take hold over rational facts and principles. And for the shrinking few that decide that they cannot countenance this anti-democratic and insane behaviour, all to win a vote, they are being openly attacked.

So while on policy I agree with Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney on very little, I have immense respect for what they are doing right now. They are doing what true leaders do, which is saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be said and done with clarity of purpose and true to the tenants of democracy. Yes, there are still those crazies in the crowd saying their crazy things, that’s not the part that’s changed. No, what’s changed is the cowardice of elected Republicans who have put the finger up in the air and are now moving to where they believe the winds are going. Two prime examples of this are House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, shown right here:

To call Congressman McCarthy a weasel would be an insult to all mustelidae in existence on Earth. I’m not shocked to find that this guy is that craven and without principle, but it’s still shocking to see it laid out so bare, in his own bloody words. As for Congresswoman Stefanik, I continue to shake my head. Her district is right across the St. Lawrence River from where I live and I’ve seen first-hand some of her work as an elected member, and suffice it to say, I was not impressed. Yet it somehow got worse under Trump, as she didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, she went the fully Barney Gumble and just screamed “just hook it to my veins!”. She felt that was the way to advance her political career and continues to put her own career over democracy itself.

So again I find myself watching the American political scene with a sense of dread because you can’t have a strong democracy when you have a major party who doesn’t believe in democracy if they lose. You can’t have a strong democracy when you’re guided by lies, conspiracies and crap. You surely can’t have a strong democracy if you punish those for speaking the truth and standing up for the basic principles of democracy itself. And given that we share a massive, long border with said nation with this problem, we naturally worry about not only the health of American democracy, we worry that these ideas and lies filter across it and infect our relatively healthy democratic institutions. When you’re the leading democracy in the World, some people in the worlds other democracies will take inspiration from what they see in the US. So yeah, we all have a stake in this insanity we’re seeing play out. And while we may not support the policy views of Republicans like Romney and Cheney, we should be supporting them in this moment as they tell the truth in the face of “The Big Lie”. Because if we take an equally craven approach to what Republicans like McCarthy and Stefanik are, don’t be surprised if we find ourselves in a similar fight in the future, having to pick sides as a “Big Lie” of our own tears our democracy apart.

Delivering Trees With a Side of Irony

The current Liberal government in Ottawa has made some pretty big promises during their current tenure over the past six years. Many of them have been well meaning and necessary moves, ones that have had wide support from the public. But for all the big promises from this government, actually delivering on them has been another issue. For a government that supposedly was all in on “deliverology”, they’ve had some very serious failures on delivering on their promises. And some of those failures have been spectacularly bad. Remember this one?

Aahh yes, the tree planting pledge. This is a prime example of this problem for this government. Over a year into their government, they hadn’t planted a single tree of the two billion they promised. They even re-announced the plan again later in 2020, which reminded us all of that fact. This is an example that’s pretty easy for people to grasp onto because, really, how hard is it for the government to plant a tree? This could be a real take off of the old “How many people does it take to….” trope, because planting a tree isn’t that hard. So if you’re planning on planting 2 billion of them, you’d think that you’d move on this fast and get the money out the door to do it. Yet, that didn’t happen, making it all the more laughable a failure.

The idea of planting trees to help tackle climate change is a good idea and a real, practical thing that can be done by just about anyone, which is why it was such a popular pledge to come from a government. That also makes it all the more of a failure, because if you can’t pull off these simpler things to fight climate change, how are you going to pull off the more complicated ones? It’s a fair thing to ask. But that point gets all the sharper when you see someone else pull it off. That came to my mind last night when I was watching some TV and this ad came across my screen, making me chuckle:

Yep folks, Harvey’s is gonna be planting trees now too. According to this initiative, they are going to team up with Tree Canada to plant a target of 25,000 trees in 2021, using a portion of the proceeds of their sales until mid-June to pay for it. Sure 25,000 trees aren’t 2 Billion, but this commercial made me ask a serious question; is it possible that Harvey’s will plant more trees in 2021 than the Liberal government? It’s not that outrageous a comment when you think about it. Harvey’s has a goal that’s pretty manageable, they’ve partnered with a respected charity who does great work to plant trees across Canada, and they’ve got the funding locked in to make it happen. In short, with that alone they already seem to be a few steps ahead of the federal government.

So is it possible that Harvey’s could plant more trees that the federal government this year? Maybe, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility. And the fact that you can even rationally consider that possibility just further drives home the failure of the Liberals on this one. Seriously, if a fast-food joint can pull this off with such relative ease, it makes the feds failure to do so over more than a year look even worse by comparison. And seriously, what’s the excuse for it? That’s the part of this that continues to vex me, I can’t think of what has held this up other than a lack of will to get it done. Clearly Harvey’s found that will and decided to take some of the profit from their tasty burgers and put it towards this.

I can’t help but chuckle and smile at this story. Yes, good on Harvey’s for taking this step. It’s not massive but it’s a good move and they should be applauded for that. But I also can’t help but chuckle at the fact that somehow, inadvertently I assume, this Canadian fast-food chain has managed to show up the Federal government in an area that they claim to be a world leader. It’s like I said about the Ontario Government on the radio on Monday, where their failures have managed to make the NHL look better on pandemic help than their own government. That’s just bad on a different level.

I continue to hope that this government will get its act together when it comes to worthy initiatives like the 2 billion tree planting idea, but this story doesn’t make it look that good. It’s time for them to pull up their socks to get it done. And if this story has taught us anything, if the Liberals continue to fail, maybe we can depend on the Canadian restaurant sector to get the job done when it comes to planting trees to fight climate change. What a concept, hey?

When Both Things Are True

In normal times, this would be the period of time when we’d be reaching the end of the current minority Parliament in Ottawa. All the signs of an impending federal election are there in growing abundance; tempers are flaring, parties are obstructing and making wild accusations about one another, there are increasing games of Parliamentary chicken being played. It’s all taking place in Ottawa right now, and it really speaks for itself. Just look at this exchange in Question Period on Monday to see for yourself:

Folks, there are so many things about that exchange that speaks to the tensions in the House. However you might feel about what was said by either side in that bit of video, it’s surely not the sign of a well-functioning Parliament. Heck, when even the Speaker is muted to try to get control on the room, that’s crazy. And yes, if these were normal times, that would be a sure sign that this Parliament was coming to an end and an election some be coming soon.

But as we know all too well, these aren’t normal times. COVID has turned our world on its head and some of the usual rules of political gravity aren’t applying like they normally would. Despite all of that tension and rancor that we’re seeing in the House, things are still getting done. Bills are being passed, debates are happening and even though we’re seeing brinksmanship from both the governing Liberals and opposition Conservatives in equal measure, the place is still somehow functioning. For the most part, when push has come to shove on important bills, the parties have gotten things done. But today a good example of the maddening cycle of work in Parliament is in the news, in an area where you’d hope the games and crap would be absent. Yet even here, we see it playing out in an irresponsible way:

I don’t know about all of you, but lately I’ve kept having a theme running through my mind that seems to apply to so much going on around us; two things can be right at the same time. This story is a prime example of that. Back in December the government tabled Bill C-19, a bill which would make important temporary changes to the Elections Act to all Elections Canada to take the proper measures needed to run a safe COVID election. The fact is that some of the measures that Elections Canada needs to take to make that safe election happen can’t be done under the current law, so they needed to change the law temporarily. Among some of the things that this bill would do to allow for a safe election would include a three-day voting period (rather than the usual one day), make it easier for voters to obtain and cast mail-in ballots and would allow Elections Canada more flexibility to conduct mobile polls in long-term care facilities, among other measures.

The point being, it would allow our democracy to function during this global pandemic, and not force people to choose between exercising their democratic rights and their health. You’d think that kind of measure would rise about the usual petty political crap, yet it seems that even this can’t. The Liberals are blaming the Conservatives for holding up the bill, using procedural tactics to stop the bill in past months. The Conservatives are blaming the Liberals for delaying to bring the bill forward (given that the government controls the timing of government business in the House), for only allowing three hours of debate so far and for their continued 40-hour filibustering of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, the committee that would study the bill when it passes the House. The Liberals accuse the Conservatives of wanting to stop people from voting while the Conservatives say the Liberals have no one but themselves to blame for the time its taken to get this bill done. And on and on and on.

This is clearly a case of that running theme that I mentioned before. Yes, the Liberals should have brought this bill forward sooner and put it on the agenda more often. They have the votes from the NDP and Bloc to get it passed, so if they put it on the agenda, it could be moved. Over these months, they chose not to put it on and instead focused on other things. That was their choice. But at the same time, yes, the Conservatives have been playing silly buggers with the procedural games trying to delay things. They have not been constructive in any of this and are more than happy to try to gum up on the works on the government all over the place whenever they can. That was their choice.

The fact is that both of these things can be true and, in this case, are true. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have been pissing around with this for going on six months, all while under the full knowledge that this legislation needed to be passed to ensure that whenever the next election happens, that it is safe. We can clearly see that whenever that next election comes, COVID is still most likely going to be a huge factor in our lives. Elections Canada will need to take new steps and measures to run that campaign properly and safely, not just for voters but for the staff who run our elections. This is serious stuff and should be something that rises above petty political crap.

Yet here we are, with stories coming out with the red team pointing accusatory fingers at the blue team and visa versa. The consequences of this bill not passing are very serious and come back to the very health of our democracy. The running of the next election cannot ever be allowed to be subject to the kinds of misinformation and crap that we saw happen in the United States just last year. If this bill doesn’t get passed, whoever is responsible for that failure will own having opened the door to some nefarious actors trying to use this towards those means. This bill needs to get passed and passed properly, to give Canadians the confidence that things are going to be run right. This is bigger than any one party or their partisan aims. This is about the strength of our democracy, period, end of story.

So both the Liberals and the Conservatives need to grow up, cut the crap and start treating this bill with that urgency in mind. They need to shut off their “political gain” thinking and turn on their “responsibility to democracy” mind. We’ve put up with a lot of crap in the past year and I know that things are getting stressful in the House, but now is the time these parties need to rise above that for the betterment of us all. That’s the job they signed up for when they ran and if they can’t find the fortitude within themselves to do that hard job now, they should walk away and leave it to others to do. Because this isn’t a game, this isn’t about polling and this isn’t about trying to score the cheapest of political points against your opponent. This is about the health of our democracy, and if you’re not working to be part of the solution here, your part of the problem.

“If All You Have is a Hammer….”

As a practitioner of the political arts, I can’t help but watch and observe how people of the others side or other political teams operate. I’m a big believer that we can all learn things from others, and sometimes another team does things in a way that can help inform or improve our own performance. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but it’s always been a part of my mindset.

But that kind of watching also comes with another side; watching those who never learn a thing or never change. That can be just as instructive as it is painful to watch, as it speaks not only to their approach but to the apparent limits of their abilities. It’s been with that in mind that I’ve watched many of the different governments during COVID, as they’ve faced the increasing challenges of this moment. If there was ever a time for a party to show personal growth and the ability to rise to a moment, surely this must be it. Yet here in Ontario, we have a government that’s falling way short on that front. As if to make my point, the Ford Conservatives have taken a couple of moves in the last couple days that just proves which side they are on, at the worst possible time. Let’s start with yesterdays reported next move by the Ford government, one that just left me shaking my head:

Look, I’ve had plenty to say about the apparent shortfalls of the Ford Government when it’s come to COVID and their response. Their instinct and general reaction always seems to come back to “do nothing and don’t spend your own money”, except in a few rare cases where they act and spend money on things that will do nothing to help. So in this moment where their government is under pressure to respond for their lacking response, instead of taking any responsibility for their inaction and crap, it looks like they are about to waste lots of money attacking Ottawa.

Instead of putting money towards making schools safer, or ensuring that public health measures are followed, they are going to waste millions (and I assume it will be in the millions if they are buying “significant TV and radio time”) of dollars attacking Ottawa. How many lives will be saved by those millions of dollars spent pointing their indignant fingers at Justin Trudeau, all in the attempt to deflect pressure on them? None. How many people will get vaccinated by the purchase of these political TV ads? No one. How many sick days will the funded by this cynical PR stunt by this government? Nada!

Yet that’s what they appear to be ready to do, which is disgusting as it can get. It reeks of Ford’s former failed political “gas pump sticker” disinformation plan on carbon pricing, which accomplished nothing except to cost a lot of money on cheaply made stickers and got shot down by the Federal courts as unconstitutional. You’d think an episode like that, that such a failure, would have caused the Ford team to pause and learn something from that lesson. Instead, it seems that they’ve learned nothing and are about to apply those non-lessons in the middle of a pandemic that’s ravaging Ontario. But if you thought that was their only response to trying to avoid any accountability for their own actions and in actions, we got another disgusting display of the Ford teams attempt today at Queen’s Park, which speaks for itself:

That is Ontario’s Long-Term Health Care Minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, refusing to take any responsibility for her ministries inactions in long-term health care facilities in Ontario during COVID. That’s despite a report coming out from Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission released its final report on Friday pointing out their failures. The report pointed out that Ontario had no plan to address pandemic or protect residents in long-term care, leading to so many deaths there in the first and second waves. It was a damning report that demanded serious accountability. Yet instead of delivering at least basic accountability, the Minister has refused to accept any. It’s not her fault, it’s not her government’s fault, it’s everyone else’s. And today, she attacked Ontario’s Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath, trying to blame her for the failures in LTC homes, said her questions were “obscene” and try to suggest that Horwath has never done anything to try to fix the LTC system in Ontario.

Not only was that stunningly ignorant on Fullerton’s part, it was completely wrong. For starters, Horwath has never been in government in Ontario, ever, so it’s not like she had any direct control over anything the government was doing since she joined the Ontario Legislature. So it’s not like she had lose levers of power and failed to use the. But despite being the leader of the second or third party in the Ontario Legislature for most of her time there, it’s not like he’s been silent on the topic. Here is just a taste of the times that she has spoken up to call for reform in LTC over the years:

Right there, in Hansard, quickly found in a few minutes search by a former Ontario NDP staffer, multiple examples going back to 2012. And I’m very confident in saying that if you took more time to search, there are plenty more examples. So not only has Horwath spoken out on this issue over time, she’s been doing it for over a decade and has been a vocal proponent of change to this system. All of that makes Fullerton’s flailing attempts to blame everyone else for her failures all the worse, and all the more disgusting. I’m not one who usually calls for the removal of ministers all willy nilly. But Dr. Fullerton surely must be reaching that point where she should be booted from her ministry, right?

Well in most governments, normal that would be the case, but not in this one. Nope, because she’s doing exactly what Doug Ford and his team want her to be doing. She’s just following the team’s game plan, as much as you can try to describe it as any kind of a plan. The further this all goes along, it’s becoming clearly that the Ford Government only has one gear when it comes to responding to anything. All they can do is attack and deflect. They are proving to be the epitome of the old say that “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” They have shown no growth, no ability to do better and no willingness to do so. This is what got them to where they are and they appear to be hell bent on sticking with it, no matter how ill-suited it is to the real crisis they are in.

This moment demands real leadership, not political bull shit and spin. This is a public health problem, not a political one, and the more that they treat it as a political problem, the more they will fail. For a while I had hoped that they could rise to this moment, if only because I don’t want to see them fail in the face of this pandemic. Their failure means people dying and I take no pleasure in that at all. Yet as things continue to progress, it’s clear that they aren’t going to rise to anything other than the same old, same old. That isn’t getting the job done now and it’s only making things worse. And no matter how much they try to blame everyone else, that is what people will remember and there is only one place where that blame will fall; on their shoulders. The only way to change that is to suck it up, accept responsibility and actually change to do better. And that won’t happen until this Blue Team learns to use something other than a hammer.

UPDATE: May 4, 2021 – 12:55 pm – I just wanted to add this video clip below, to speak to how absurd Minister Fullerton’s comments were today. I still remember when one of my political mentors, then Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton, gave this epic response to a question when asked about Long-Term Care. At that time, Andrew Horwath was a new member of that caucus, so this idea that she and the NDP haven’t been pushing on this issue for so long is beyond ugly.

Talking More Confusing Messaging on COVID Vaccinations with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Lindsay Maskell & Jason Lietaer for the “Political Heat” panel. We talked about NACI’s confusing and conflicting advice on taking COVID vaccines, how these words will lead to more vaccine hesitance and will hurt public confidence, how governments need to step in to clear up this messaging (and not attack those who raise legit questions about this confusion), Ontario’s Long-Term Care Minister refusing to take responsibility the Ford’s governments failures in long-term care homes during COVID and the continued failing and flailing by the Federal government and Conservative opposition on allegations of sexual assault. You can listen starting at the 18:00 mark.