Magpie Brûlé Podcast: The End of Summer & Manitoba Goes to the Polls

After a bit of time off today I was able to record and post the newest episode of the Magpie Brûlé podcast. In this episode I review the most recent events in Canadian politics, the latest LavScam drama, the run up to the Leaders Debates and the recent news around the NDP. Then I go into the provincial election taking place in Manitoba, the state of play going into it and about how offensive comments from Conservative Leader Brian Pallister have made the campaign quite nasty. You can download the episode on Apple Podcasts or just listen to it below. Enjoy!

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Eight Years Ago…

In many ways, I consider myself to be very blessed and to be very fortunate. I have a loving family who I can always depend on, an amazing wife and best friend who I can’t imagine life with and a bubbly daughter who is full of life, curiosity and who continues to amaze me and make me so proud every day. I’ve also been so blessed and fortunate to get to live out a life long dream to work in politics, to call Parliament Hill my workplace and to get to take part in the policy and political discussions of our time. And in that job, I was blessed to get to work under the leadership of an amazing Canadian who we lost far too soon.

For my first two and a half years of working in the NDP caucus, I got to work under Jack’s leadership. From the time that I came onboard in late 2009 until his passing on August 22nd, 2011, I got a seat close to the front to witness an amazing example of what is possible and how politicians can be. And when I saw close, well look for yourself:

Yep, I remember so clearly the day that I saw that image flash into my personal email, part of an email blast from the party, my pudgy face in the background. Not my best picture, but something that reminded me of where I was. Working in Jack’s caucus was an amazing experience. It didn’t matter how big or small your job was, Jack wanted to talk to everyone. I still remember one time in early 2011 when I was working for John Rafferty that Jack called our office. I answered the phone, and as we started to talk, I said that John was out of the office and that he could get him on his cell phone, presuming that was his reason for calling. In response to that, he just said “Thank you” and continued to speak to me, asking me what was going on and my thoughts on this and that. That conversation was less than 10 minutes, but it stuck with me because here was this guy, the leader of a political party with the balance of power in a minority government, and here he was talking to little old me, the guy whose job it was at the time to answer the phone, manage the budget and write correspondence. That short conversation made me feel a thousand feet tall, but also a real part of a team.

It was moments like those, and through my involvement with the NDP’s Aboriginal Peoples Commission over the years, that showed me just how wrong I was about Jack at the start. It’s true, I became a card-carrying member of the NDP in the leadership campaign that elected Jack. I joined to support Bill Blaikie, who I liked a lot and had huge respect for. But I also joined because I was opposed to Jack. Being from Northwestern Ontario, I saw Jack as this downtown Toronto, city slicker know it all who had no clue about what it was like for people like me. And honestly, I’ve never been so happy to have been so horribly wrong about something. Over the years, Jack proved to me just how wrong I was, by his actions, his words and his hard work. He didn’t presume to know it all and he took the time required to not just know something but learn it and feel it. His example stuck with me and is something I keep going back to today.

And it was eight years ago today we lost him, a day I still remember so vividly. I came into my office in the Confederation Building on the Hill that morning at my usual time around 8 am. I turned on the TV in my office, as I did each morning, and put on the news. I was into my usual routine of signing onto my computer to check my email when I caught something out of my left eye; it was Peter Mansbridge. I didn’t see anything else; I was just thinking how odd it was to see Mansbridge on at 8 am. At that same time my email came to life, with a copy of a press release with the news. Then I finally noticed the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. Then I just sat, stunned, teary.

When we last saw him at his press conference that July, we knew how bad things were. Some of us had been there for his first bout with cancer and had been through this before. Right before that press conference we staff were called to an important, last minute staff meeting, which had all the hallmarks of a similar meeting we had back when Jack’s first cancer fight was announced. I remember saying to a couple of colleagues that day about that experience, saying that it will be alright. He fought this before and won, and he will again. But when we saw and heard him, I was stunned. Despite that, we were hopefully; Jack had fought this before and won, so he would again.

So when that news hit on that morning, it brought a pain, sadness that was hard to explain but a feeling that I remember so vividly to this day. I remember a friend and colleague who worked across the hall coming into my office, wondering what we should do. We weren’t going to be working that day so what should we do? Go home? Stay in our offices? That didn’t feel right. So she had an idea that we acted on. I called the House of Commons folks and asked to get access to our caucus room. She called the food services people to get coffee and tea delivered there. Then we invited everyone who was there if they wanted to be there to talk or just be together. So there we were, in the Centre Block of the House of Commons, in the same room where Jack had presided over his new 103 person caucus just a couple of months before. We were sad and stunned. People started to share stories, telling everyone their experiences with Jack. Those stories started to help the healing process, filling everyone with good memories of this great man to build upon their own.

I won’t lie, it’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since that day. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long and that so much has passed in that time. Jack made a huge impact on so many and set an example to follow, not only for those of us who got to know him, but for those coming behind us in our footsteps.

I now get to talk to my daughter about those times, that experience and what Jack stood for. In our bedroom at home, my wife has the now-famous words of Jack framed, which my daughter has asked about. When talking to her about this man, this leader, I showed her a picture that her aunt took in the past. It’s of my girl in Toronto, posing on a statue of a two-person bicycle, with a mustachioed man behind her. I told her that man was Jack and that her dad was lucky enough to get to spend time working in his caucus. So today I remember Jack, but I also take today as a chance to re-dedicate myself to the ideals that he stood for, what we all did together. I also take the chance to share that with my young one because that is how we ensure that Jack’s work and message continues to move forward. Thank you Jack for everything, thank you so much.

The Opening Act

It was just last week that I went into the news surrounding the Federal Leaders debates, who was in and who was out as of that moment. In that piece I mentioned the about how 2015 was different because we saw multiple debates organized by multiple groups, beyond the usual major English and French debates. One of the questions going into this campaign was whether that would happen again this time, or would we go back to the old standard. Well last evening we got an answer to that question, and it’s an interesting development:

Yep, we’ll have more again in this campaign, with Maclean’s and CityTV hosting their own debate. Respected journalist Paul Wells will moderate the event, which will take place in Toronto at CityTV’s studios just a block away from Yonge-Dundas Square. While the news that there will be another debate is pretty big all onto itself, there are a few details from the announcement of this debate that were very notable.

First thing was the date; Thursday September 12th. That date jumped out because everyone has been speculating about when the writ for the campaign itself might drop and when the campaign would officially be on. The latest the writ can be dropped to meet the minimum standard of a 36 day campaign is Monday September 16th and many have assumed the Prime Minister wouldn’t drop the writ before Tuesday September 10th, which is the day of the provincial election in Manitoba. That has left many to assume the writ would drop sometime between September 11th and the 16th. So it’s quite possible that this debate will happen pre-writ, which is interesting.

But the date of this debate also ensures that this debate will be the first leaders debate of this campaign, making it a huge event in a tight race. With the two other currently scheduled leaders’ debates happening on October 7th and 10th (towards the end of the campaign), this debate will have a big chance to set the tone and narrative of the campaign for the first few weeks. For the Liberals and Conservatives, it marks a chance to try to break away from one another in the polls. For the Greens, it would present a chance for Elizabeth May to re-boot her stalled momentum and present herself as the alternative. For the New Democrats, it would give Jagmeet Singh to staunch the bleeding, reverse the current trend and show that he and his party are the real alternative.

The timing of this marks a huge opportunity for all parties invited, and conversely a huge risk. A great performance could boost a party’s fortunes and jumpstart their prospects, but a bad performance could sink a party’s campaign potentially before the writ even drops, supercharging the bleeding of votes to other options. It could be very high stakes and could go a long way to determining what the campaign looks like.

But for that to happen for a party, you need to be on that stage, which brings us to the other piece of news on this announcement. It was announced that only the Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens have confirmed their attendance, while they were still waiting for a reply from the Liberals. Maclean’s made it clear that this debate will go ahead, Trudeau or no Trudeau, so this is happening. That makes it weird that the Liberals haven’t given an answer yet and while I’d be surprised if they said “no” to taking part, the fact that a “yes” hasn’t come already is an interesting thing to note.

Beyond the Liberals though, it’s also notable that neither the Bloc nor the People’s Party have been invited to take part. The Bloc wasn’t invited in 2015 as well, so it’s not a shock that they weren’t invited to take part in a debate being broadcast from Toronto. But when it comes to the PPC, this would have been an open question as to what Maclean’s might do here. Being that this debate doesn’t operate within the new results of the federal leaders’ debate commission, Maclean’s is completely at their own discretion to invite whomever they want. There are no pre-set or prescribed criteria for them to follow, giving them a completely free hand. And with that being the case, they seemed to have made the decision that Maxime Bernier shouldn’t be there. Personally I’ll be interested in hearing the explanation as to why he would be excluded, as it could set an interesting precedent going forward. Beyond that though, I would expect that the PPC will start making a stink about this lack of invitation and given that there are no formal criteria to speak of, they will probably try to pressure their way into this thing. Will it work? We’ll see, but this seems sure to be a part of the discussion.

Now we have a much better idea about when the 43rd General election will launch, either officially or unofficially. This first debate will go a long way to determining the course of the campaign for all of the parties involved and will be a big “make or break” moment early in the campaign. So mark your calendars, were about three weeks away from the fireworks beginning. After a long wait, the campaign is almost here and the rubber is starting to hit the road.

Sticker Shock

Back in June I wrote about the Ontario Conservatives plans to force gas stations to put politically torqued stickers on their pumps with misleading information about the federal Carbon Tax. With a fine of $10,000 a day for gas station owners who refuse to post the stickers, this heavy-handed move by the Ford Conservatives has been denounced by group like the Ontario Chamber of Commerce coming out against it. They have rightly pointed out that forcing them to put these stickers on their pumps violates their rights and freedoms.

If the motives behind this of this move (apparently to impact the Federal election in the Fall) wasn’t clear enough, that was driven home when the news came out that these stickers had to be in place by the end of August, a couple of weeks before the writ drops on the 43rd General Election. And given the news that we heard yesterday about the chill being put on environmental NGO’s for daring to talk about climate change, it’s doubly galling to see the Ontario government force this propaganda out the door just in time to take part in the election and that same debate.

So with the stickers in the mail as of last week, a new development came out on this story today, one that puts more evidence behind the apparent motives of this move:

First off, a tip of the hat to the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association (CIPMA) for trying to deal with a crappy situation that was simply not of their own making. They are stuck in a very difficult spot, and according to this Maclean’s piece, they decided to try to find a compromise. That compromise seemed like a reasonable one, especially if we are to believe the rationale that the Ford Conservatives put out about informing the public about the effects on the price of gasoline from the Carbon Tax.

The CIPMA proposal was a very straightforward and common sense one; put together a sticker that showed everything that goes into the price of gas. So far, what makes up the price of a litre of gasoline is a mystery to most consumers and is usually a part of a lot of debate, so the CIPMA’s proposal was to be completely transparent, putting it all in a pie chart on a sticker on the pump. And to remove any doubt about those numbers, they proposed using provinces own figures, straight off their website.

That seemed like a very reasonable compromise if your goal was truly to inform people about how the Carbon Tax will affect them at the pump. But that suggestion was shot down by the Ford Conservatives, rejected out of hand with no hint of potential compromise on the table. Why might that be? Well take a look at how that information would look in a pie chart:

Well look at that folks, the Federal Carbon Tax looks tiny compared to all of the other components that make up the average price of a litre of gasoline, especially when compared to other taxes already charged on that same litre. So why would the Ford Conservatives reject a compromise that is gives an accurate picture of the potential impact on the Federal Carbon Tax on that litre of gasoline? If they were being honest about their motives, there wouldn’t be a legitimate answer that would make any sense.

With these new developments and details, the motives of the Ford Conservatives here are all the clearer. As we already thought, these stickers are all about trying to mislead the voting public, help their federal Conservative cousins and do it all while using the power and finances of the Province of Ontario to do it. And if there were any doubts about what the Ford Team was doing before, this development should make it very clear what is going on here. Will it make an effect on the upcoming election? We’ll see but one thing that’s clear is that willfully misleading Canadians taxpayers’ dollars in an attempt to help turn an election into your favour is never a good thing for our democracy, no matter who is doing it. For a government that talks all the time about being “For the People”, you’d think that being honest with them would automatically be considered a given. But this is the Ford Conservative government, and as we’ve seen, that wouldn’t be consistent with this governments brand or approach.

Longueuil Changes

Politics can be a strange and fickle beast at times, or at least some days it feels that way. And in one way, that makes a lot of sense; people change, grow, evolve over time. We fall in and out of love, relationships and friendships all throughout out lives. Yet that same phenomena and accepted reality of life never seems to get applied to politics. For me, that’s always been a curiosity and, in a sense, an oddity.

Working on Parliament Hill seeing MPs change parties is part of the experience and in my experience those situations tend to fall mostly into two categories; people you’re sad to see go and people you’re happy to see out the door. I’ve experienced both myself. I’ve seen people leave the NDP caucus over time that I really liked a lot, respected a tonne and thought we were worse off for losing. I also seen others leave the caucus that I couldn’t have been happier to see go. They were someone else’s problem now and it was a true case of “addition by subtraction”.

That is what made Friday such an odd day for me, as news broke in the NDP caucus on this front. Then this morning the other shoe on that front dropped, making for a situation that’s not cut and dry:

Before going too much into this, I should say right up front that for me Pierre Nantel falls into that first category of MPs, but with a caveat. He’s someone who I got to know a little bit over time (not too well) but he was always someone was pleasant, polite, funny and a great person to have on the team. Even in his message on Facebook when he spoke to this, spoking about all the good people in the NDP. He is someone who has been very upfront with his views and he’s someone who didn’t always fit 100% within the NDP policy wise, but he didn’t seem to fit anywhere 100%. But if anything, I’ve always found him to be relatively hard working and constructive. So yes, this one hurts a bit on a few fronts.

But here is where my caveat comes into play. Some people will point to craven political interest, others will point out that he was in talks with the Greens after he was nominated by the NDP and others will even point out to the fact that the Bloc had been courting him for a very long time. All of those things are legitimate comments given the circumstances. If you wanted to boil this all down to that, as it has been with so many others who have made similar leaps in the past, you could and many probably wouldn’t bat an eye.

The problem here is that I don’t believe that any of that matters in the grand scheme of things. The facts out there (including in a leaked Conservative riding poll that Quebec media was talking about) were that he was going to lose his seat running as a New Democrat and lose badly. That riding poll at Nantel running 5th. Fifth folks, think about that. Also take into consideration he barely held on in 2015, winning with only 31% of the vote when the NDP was at 25% in the province. Add to that the fact that both the Liberals and Bloc have put star candidates up against him, things are looking over grim.

So for me, as much as I like Pierre, he’s someone who I had already written off and assumed that we were going to lose him from the NDP caucus come October 21st. In my own mind, he was already gone because the electorate was going to choose to go in another direction and given his leanings, seeing him no longer be an NDP member after wouldn’t have shocked me either. So for me, this was already baked in.

Now does running for the Greens change any of this for Nantel? I don’t think so. In that riding poll the Greens were still running fourth, with the Liberals far ahead at over 40%. This change of party colour doesn’t change those facts at all and won’t make that all go away. It gives the Greens a bit of a bump, but not as much as if Nantel hadn’t been tossed from the NDP caucus for exploring this change to begin with. But beyond that, it will not change the Greens standing in Quebec.

But for the NDP, this should hurt and should bring a bit of internal reflection about where the party is at. To his credit, Jagmeet Singh seemed to do everything he could to try to make Nantel at home under his leadership, so this isn’t a case of major personality clashes and usual skullduggery. This wasn’t a decision based on anger, but more based on their own assessment of the situation. That fact should trigger some reflection on if this relationship could have been salvaged and if it would have been worth it.

While there should be some reflection, the party can’t dwell on this; Nantel wasn’t the first person to leave a caucus and he won’t be the last. The party needs to move forward and do what it can to be ready for the election. This story hurts on a few levels, but it’s far from fatal for the NDP. The final outcome of the campaign will not hinge on this defection, but how the party bounces back from it will go a long way to determining the end result. I’m sad to see Pierre go but it’s time to keep the eyes on the prize. There’s a lot to do before the writ drops in a few weeks and for the New Democrats, they simply don’t have time to dwell. It’s time to pick themselves up and to keep moving forward, because nothing will be gain about crying over this spilled milk.