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What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast – #Elxn44 Week Four

The latest episode of Bluesky Strategy Group’s “What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast” with my colleagues Tim Barber, Neil Brodie and Alyson Fair is now out. In this episode we talk about the fourth week of the 44th General Election campaign, the debates of the past week, the state of the race, and what we’re looking for in the last week of this campaign. You can check it all out below:

The Morning After: The Last Debate of #Elxn44

Last night we saw the lone English debate and the final debate of the 44th General Election campaign. With such a tight race, two previous debates in French that have barely moved the needle and so much for all leaders to gain or lose, the scene was set for a night that could make or break this race to be the next Prime Minister of Canada. And what we saw last night really spoke to that reality, especially given how some leaders reacted (or overreacted).

While the previous two debates were lifeless, last night was the polar opposite. All the leaders had to come out swinging, as they were tested by strong questions from the moderators. While some commentators on Twitter (mostly those known to support the Liberals) complained about the format of the night and the intervention of lead moderator Shachi Kurl, I didn’t see it that way. The format will always be a problem with a 5-person debate, so there’s no silver bullet to solve that issue. But for Kurl and the performance of all questioners, I have zero complaints there. In the past many of the same people have complained about moderators letting leaders run roughshod over each other and not controlling a thing. So I really appreciated Kurl’s direct, factual and firm managing of this event. I hope that Kurl is brought back to do another debate when we come around to that point next time.

When it comes to the individual performances, there is a lot of ground to cover. Liberal Justin Trudeau formally threw aside any pretension of his former “sunny ways” and came out swinging, wildly at times and rarely landing. Under heavy pressure from all side, he came across as angry, bitter, frustrated and made some factually questionable statements, especially in regard to his record on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The worst example of this came when he denied that his government was fighting Indigenous children in court, which brought this real-time fact check:

Folks, that was the ultimate factcheck right there, by the very person who brought said case before the courts and completely caught Trudeau out. It made him look craven and just plain bad. He looked even worse when he actually had the nerve to say that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was actually “harming reconciliation” because he was being so “cynical”, which was a moment that felt like a massive gaslighting exercise against most Indigenous peoples in this country. It also reminded me of his worst moment in the 2019 English debate, when he accused Singh, the first non-Caucasian leader in Canadian, of not doing enough to stop racism. It was the same “you should be grateful to me” kind of attitude that we’ve seen snippets of throughout his time as Liberal leader, but this time was much worse. It was condescending, speaking down and treating others with disrespect because they dared to call him out on his crap. And that’s before we even get to his punching down at Green Leader Annamie Paul with his quip about caucus management. He showed a very different side of himself, and not his best side. That performance was not one of someone who was confident in himself or his prospects, and they showed.

Conservative Erin O’Toole stayed on message for the most part. While he didn’t score any big hits against Mr. Trudeau, he didn’t sustain any fatal blows either. He got a couple of shots in but really, he spent the night trying to keep his nose clean. Compared against Mr. Trudeau, he looked much better, but that really isn’t saying too much in the grand scheme of things.

Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet played the usual role of the Bloc leader in the English debate and lost nothing by his performance. He was sullen, angry and clearly didn’t want to be there, complaining multiple times about not getting enough time even though he wasn’t trying to get in on the discussion. His attacks on the moderators as well came off as very bad, as well as his third time using the section of the debate on reconciliation to try to paint himself as the ultimate victim. It was the kind of performance that would make most people cringe, but he has no shame in his game. It was all deliberate because he feels that it will help him out. We’ll see if it actually does this time.

As for Green Leader Annamie Paul, she fared much better this time around, scoring strong points while making a good impression. My biggest take away from her performance though was to think of the “what if?”, as in “what if her party wasn’t imploding all around her?” She gave a good performance, but her party is in no state to build on it. Given her position with her party, the infighting and the must-win nature of her race in Toronto Centre, it’s possible that another loss on September 20th will mean that was the last time Canadians will get to see her on such a stage before a national audience. We’ll see if that comes to pass, but I couldn’t help but note it at the time.

But for me the best performance of the night belonged to Jagmeet Singh. When Mr. Trudeau aimed his anger at him, Singh replied with a sunny demeanor, facts and pointing to Trudeau’s own record. He stayed on message, connecting through the screen and made the case that Canadians have another choice beyond voting red or blue. He not only performed well himself, but when contrasted against Trudeau bitter, sullen approach to the night, he looked that much better. He showed why he continues to be rated as the most popular Federal leader in the country and put his best foot forward. It was his best night for the campaign so far.

Now if this debate will actually change much remains to be seen. The last two debates barely moved any needles so it’s totally possible that this one won’t either. But honestly, we won’t know until we know. The fact is that every leader had a goal last night and were aiming for a certain performance. Everyone didn’t come away from the night having done so, which means we’ll see a lot of desperate behaviour over the next 10 days. But one thing I feel safe in saying is that in this crazy campaign, if that debate didn’t move any votes, nothing was going to in this election.

Reasonable Debate

The next two nights will feature what could be two of the most pivotal moments in this election campaign; the French and English national leaders’ debates. The old adage says that “debates don’t change elections, unless they do”, and there is a lot of truth there. But given the tight nature of this race and the stakes, it feels like if anything is going to break the log jam in the polls that we’re currently seeing, surely these debates offer the best chances.

That being said, actually being on that stage the next couple of nights matters, giving each of those leaders a chance to make their marks. We’ll see the leaders from all five national parties with seats in the House of Commons and who met the criteria to participate; the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Greens. That composition is being questioned by some, a topic that I wasn’t planning on touching. But then columnist Andrew Coyne came out with a piece on this, and I believe it required a direct reply:

I should be clear right at the start here, as I have been on radio & tv when asked about this; I don’t think that the PPC’s Maxime Bernier should be on that stage, and I’m comforted that the Debate Commission set criteria and actually stuck to it. Remember, Bernier was on that stage in 2019 and it was questionable if he should have been. This time clear requirements were put in place, and they were followed to the letter. That is a good thing, and I’ll come back to that.

But Coyne is taking the opposite view, for reasons that I take issue with. I don’t think that Bernier should be on that stage for many good reasons, but if he had met the criteria, he would be there, period. He didn’t miss the criteria by much, so it was within his hands to get there. My problem with Coyne’s view basically comes down to what appears to be the premise of his argument; PPC supporters are conspiracy theorists, suspect that “the fix is in” and that should be answered to.

Coyne rightfully points to the noxious and ignorant nature of the PPC’s rhetoric and Bernier’s own over the top crap. He then considers the question about “how should the wider community react to this phenomenon?” and arrives at the following answer; we should basically validate their suspicions by taking them seriously. Or as he put it, “when dealing with people who believe powerful people are meeting in secret to conspire against them, it is generally best if powerful people do not meet in secret to conspire against them.”

I have to admit that this approach and those last words is what sent me to the keyboard today, mostly because of what he is basically suggesting; that rational people following facts and rules in society should change our approaches and how we rationally act because some irrational people are seeing irrational things that aren’t there. He basically suggests that if we don’t take there crap seriously, we’re proving that their crap isn’t crap at all, but oh so real. In short, he’s suggesting that we validate their irrationality. That today sounds completely nutty to me, if not downright naïve, a word I never thought I’d use to describe words written by a columnist I respect, even if I don’t always agree with.

And here is the thing, there might have been a time when I would have been more willing to subscribe to Coyne’s suggestion here. Yes, there are some people who back the PPC who have fallen deeply down insane rabbit holes and we hope could be brought back out with some kind discussion, patience and understanding. Early on, I would have agreed that leaders should try to do just that. But we’re now at a point where PPC members are showing up at other parties’ rallies, screaming, swearing, throwing things and calling for harm to other leaders. A PPC candidate in London went on Twitter calling for Justin Trudeau to be executive while another in Niagara tweeted about arresting and doing worse to journalists. Hell, Bernier himself put out a video just the other day he told a rally in Kelowna that “when tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty”.

Let’s be clear everyone; we’re not living in a fucking tyranny and there is no need for “revolution”. So why in the Hell would we, as law abiding and respectful citizens, validate that kind of dangerous lunacy by treating such vile shit as worthy of our respect? Worse yet, why would we give that leader four hours of prime-time national television in order to spew his racist, ignorant shit to the public? Also, in a time when we’re trying to fight this COVID pandemic, why in the Hell would you let a COVID denier on stage who is unvaccinated himself while trying to convince others not to be?

This isn’t a matter of having a simple disagreement in policy or having a “different take” on how our politics should be done. It is reasonable to have respectful discussion on such matters. But this is something completely different, because almost all of what the PPC is running on is based on conspiracy theories, lies, crap and threats. There is nothing reasonable about any of that. By treating that party as “reasonable” or making it acceptable to discuss this crap isn’t going to bring those people back out of the rabbit hole. If anything, it’s going to validate their burrowing and their new fascinations with these fascist fantasies.

In the end, it doesn’t fall to the law abiding and rational public to make the irrational feel heard when they spew their irrationality. That’s not to be mean, but it’s just a fact of life. To do so only justifies the unjustifiable and feeds the irrationality. Worse yet, indulging them won’t do any more to cure those of that irrationality. Those who see conspiracy theories around every corner will continue to, no matter what approach we in rational society take. It’s dangerous to the health of our democracy to continue to bend over backwards to try to please a tiny, irrational minority that has no interest or desire to be pleased.

Rules are rules and these rules set up were very reasonable. I see no value or reason to upend them now, especially when we consider the noxious and dangerous voice it would bring to the scene. I’m more than fine that Maxime Bernier won’t be on that debate stage the next couple of nights, period. While our debate set up isn’t perfect, this situation where Bernier isn’t invited isn’t an example of that imperfection. If Bernier and Co. want to be on that debate stage next time, they’ll need to do it by following the rules; either win a seat or get high enough in the polls in time. If they pull that off next time, we’ll worry about that then but for today, the PPC hasn’t earned their spot and that’s more than alright.

“Our Position Hasn’t Changed”

This election campaign has not been what some had hoped for, and many had expected. The Liberals were expecting a sleepy, boring election that would naturally end with their return to Parliament with a glorious majority, which was why they sent us all to the polls in the midst of the 4th wave of the COVID pandemic. That’s far from how things have gone, with the Conservatives no leading, the NDP continually rising and the popularity of Justin Trudeau continuing to drop.

Ever since the wheels started to come off the Liberal campaign, they have been grasping at straws trying to find something to staunch the bleeding, something to do the usual Liberal trick of scaring progressives into supporting them to stop the big, bad Conservative. Most of those attempts had fallen flat so far, mostly because of the lack of trust in Trudeau and the fact that his election call was the only thing that put anything at risk.

Also when they have tried to attack the Conservatives on issues like private involvement in the health care system, it rang hollow because the Liberals have allowed for the same things to happen. It all came off as quite desperate. But finally the Liberals have seemed to have stumbled upon something they feel is working, or will work; gun control. Specifically, we started to see attacks like these from Mr. Trudeau during last weeks TVA debate in Montreal:

First off, I must say off the top that there is something unnerving that we’re having this pandemic election and there are so many huge issues at play, yet we’re on gun control. Not that gun control isn’t important, but it hasn’t been anywhere close to the top of peoples minds as people try to stay healthy and are worried about their jobs. But the Liberals feel they have their way to create the much-needed boogeyman in blue, and they are hitting at this hard.

For this to work though, it wasn’t enough for Trudeau and Co. to hit on this endlessly. It also required for the Conservatives to botch the response, something they had managed not to do now for a few weeks. It looked like maybe, for once, the Conservative team might avoid stepping on the rakes spread out around them. But that would have been too much to ask for. Firstly, Erin O’Toole spent a couple days refusing to answer the question about what he would do regarding assault weapons, which clearly didn’t put the story to bed. Finally he was forced to respond, and here is what he went with:

If that had been the answer the first time or the first day, he was asked the question, this attack might not have hurt as bad. But the delay and dithering just pilled on more and more pain. Of course, taking this position of basically turning his back on a part of his platform during the campaign was going to hurt him with some in his base, which was the first shot in the foot here that maybe could have been avoided with a quicker response. They might not have been able to avoid that shot, but given the way things were going, it might have been possible. If that was where this all ended, he might have muddled through it all, but of course, it wasn’t. Here’s what came next:

First off, having a sitting member of your caucus go public basically saying “don’t worry, he doesn’t mean it”. No better way to send that signal to say when asked about this that “our position hasn’t changed”. You knew that once that got out, the press following the O’Toole campaign would ask him what was up. Surely it was legit to ask about why his candidate and caucus colleague was saying one thing while he was saying something very different. But when asked, O’Toole fumbled this badly, point blank. When asked if an O’Toole government would change the classification of those weapons in question, he refused to rule it out. He tried to couch it in saying that he didn’t want to “pre-judge the process”, but that doesn’t wash here, especially when his caucus members are basically suggesting what the result of that process will be.

And with that response, O’Toole got his second shot in the foot. In the process, managed to look duplicitous to both members of his base that are upset about this issue and to other Canadian voters who are considering voting Conservative. Seriously, what’s the value of your word or promise if you refused to say that you’ll uphold it? Cripes, this was just bad, all around, and what makes it worse in my mind is that it was something that you could see coming. The Liberals have gone after the Conservatives for so many elections on gun control, just like they have on social issues, health care and others. For the longest time they have talked about the Conservatives “Hidden Agenda”, and most of the time it worked for the Liberals. How were they not ready for attacks like these? They knew what was in their platform and it’s totally reasonable to assume that they should have seen such attacks coming.

With that being the case, you would think that they would have had lines in place or some kind of response ready in case this time ever came. Yet here we were, in a campaign where the “hidden agenda” attacks were falling flatter than flatter and they weren’t ready for this attack that many could have seen coming from a mile away. Earlier in this campaign polling was even showing that more Canadians believe that Trudeau was the one with the hidden agenda, not O’Toole, so they should have been in the best position possible to fight this off. It seemed like maybe, for once, this old tactic was going to fail miserably. Yet in this moment, right before this week’s debates, O’Toole has managed to give the “hidden agenda” CPR and brought it back to life. Bang, bang, two shots from the chamber into the foot, all because he was trying to have his cake and eat it too!

Will this episode change the outcome of this campaign? It’s hard to say, but its clearly stopped any momentum that they had built up to this point. If the Conservatives end up losing this campaign, people will be able to point to this mistake as the turning point that brought it about. We’ll see what comes of this, but it continues to amaze me how unprepared some can be for what was clearly coming, if everything was going well. You’d think you’d plan for something that has been done to you time and again. But as this shows us, we can never really assume much, or at least we shouldn’t.

What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast – #Elxn44 Week Three

The latest episode of Bluesky Strategy Group’s “What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast” with my colleagues Geoff Turner, Neil Brodie and Alyson Fair is now out. In this episode we talk about the third week of the 44th General Election campaign, the current state of the race, and what we’re looking for in the week to come. You can check it all out below:

MB Podcast – Halfway to Election Day

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 tone of the campaign as it hits the midway point, the Liberal platform release, the upcoming party leader debates and a couple last words about those protests at campaigns, both for the protesters and the protested. You can listen to it below, download it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you download the finest podcasts.

Talking the Protests During #Elxn44 Events on CTV News Channel

Saturday I joined CTV News Channel with Todd van der Hayden for the “True North Politics” panel along with Jamie Ellerton and Marcel Wieder. We talked about the growing number of disturbing protests at various campaign events during this election, the venom and anger found at them, why we’re seeing this, how this result was years in the making and much more. You can check it out below.

The Message Sent, Intentional or Not

In every election campaign is seems that an announcement is made, or a promise is put on the table that really speaks a loud truth about the leader or party making it. It’s the kind of thing that may not be big or consequential alone by itself, yet when you put it in context with other things happening in the race, it sends a stark message. And sometimes when that happens, it sends a really bad message to the electorate. Today the Conservatives made one such announcement, one that might seem innocuous by itself:

Yes folks, the Conservatives are promising to ban puppy mills and “take credible steps to secure the welfare of animals”. And really, who would possibly be against being nicer to pets, right? This is as motherhood and apple pie as one can get, so you’re likely wondering what the problem here might be. The problem has nothing to do with animal welfare, not at all. The problem comes when you compare this policy to another statement that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole made on the weekend, and the dissonance that it creates:

On Saturday Mr. O’Toole had a chance to answer a real, simple, straightforward question: will you continue the federal government’s legal fight against Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders to compensate Indigenous kids who were unnecessarily removed from their communities and put in the child welfare system? You might think that for someone who says he’s serious about reconciliation and doing better than the current Liberal government, it would be a layup to say he’d cancel the legal action that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have been fighting in court for years. Hell, there would be a few million saved right there to put towards that reconciliation, right?

But nope. Instead of taking that open layup and slamming it home, he acted like Ben Simmons right at the rim; he passed. He couldn’t bare to bring himself to do what should have been so easy to do, literally the bare minimum to show that he was different. Instead he mouthed some weak admiration for Cindy Blackstock and the work that she had taken in support of these kids. Heck, he even said that he doesn’t “want to see the federal government fighting Indigenous communities in court.” If that were so true, you’d think again he’d jump at a chance to actually prove that and put a marker down. Instead we got that crap. Of course, that only came a few days after he dropped this crap on the Indigenous community from coast to coast to coast:

Yeah, he believes that “we should be proud to put our flag back up”, as if some how lowering it out of respect for thousands of dead children was some sign of disrespect or lack of pride in our country or flag. It was a real culture war dog whistle to try to insinuate that basically showing any contrition for genocide was somehow equivalent to showing “disrespect” for the symbols of our nation. Essentially O’Toole took the position that Canada has taken too long thinking about this and enough is enough. It was ignorant, disturbing yet all too familiar coming from the blue team.

What amazes me about all of this is that when you juxtapose that against today’s puppy announcement, it makes it look like Mr. O’Toole is more concerned about the welfare of family pets than the children and loved ones in actual Indigenous families. In taking these positions, he’s actually promising more humane treatment for dogs, while refusing to take basic steps to ensure humane treatment of actual human beings. And what makes this worse, you know this is to get votes and soften his image. None of that is a mistake in my opinion.

Mr. O’Toole claims that he’s been talking to Indigenous leaders since he became Opposition leader last fall, but while he’s been talking, it’s clear that he hasn’t been doing any bloody listening. If he had, he’d realize that it takes more than pretty words and admiration to actually make reconciliation happen. All of this feels like he’s paying lip service to this important matter, very similarly to how the current Liberal government has. Many people thought that after the discoveries at former Residential Schools that Canadians would demand that their political leaders do better in this campaign, but the longer this campaign goes, the less that seems to be the case. That shows when the party leading the race to become government things that they’ll get more political mileage out of promising to be human to dogs than to Indigenous kids. That’s where we are, and folks, that’s just shitty.

What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast – #Elxn44 Week Two

The latest episode of Bluesky Strategy Group’s “What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast” with my colleagues Tim Barber, Neil Brodie and Alyson Fair is now out. In this episode we talk about the second week of the 44th General Election campaign, the current state of the polling in the race, what we’re seeing play out in the campaign and what we’re looking for in Week Three ahead. You can check it all out below:

When Trust is Lacking

We’re closing in on the end of the second week of the 44th general election campaign and things continue to get tighter in the race. The Conservatives and NDP are on the rise, the Liberals are slumping, and this supposed easy march to a Liberal majority government has turned into anything but. It turns out that maybe some of us were right that calling a snap election in the middle of a pandemic was a bad idea. Who knew?

In the meantime, the campaign continues apace, and the Liberals are starting to get more and more desperate in their attempts to turn this thing around. They’re throwing a lot of wild attacks out there and I expect that will continue right until election day. But what’s interesting to this point is that those attacks don’t seem to be landing like they used to, as polls keep showing us that Justin Trudeau’s personal brand and trust in him are cratering as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s rise. Just last week a poll from IPSOS for Global News showed that 44% of those surveyed felt that Trudeau will say anything to get elected, while 36% also said he has a hidden agenda.

It’s hard to convince people to by your Chicken Little “the sky is falling” rhetoric if people don’t believe you or trust you. That is a big problem the Liberals are currently facing, and it seems that they don’t have an answer to it yet. They are trying to invoke all the boogeymen that they can and drive those wedges as deep and hard as they can, trying to shake something loose. Yet in doing so, it keeps falling flat because of these impressions out there. A prime example of this played out this morning in Mississauga, as the Liberals announced money to support the provinces in making COVID vaccination passports happen. Here is what played out, in two parts:

On one hand, Justin Trudeau goes after Ontario Premier Doug Ford for refusing to do is part in making COVID vaccinations passports happen in the province. To be fair, Ford is failing on this front and is doing his best to duck and hide from making any decision to make this happen, so I have no problem with him getting called out for that failure. But it’s what comes right after that which bothers me and highlights the Liberals big problem. In the next breath, Trudeau goes onto state that “keeping you safe, that’s my top priority”, said with his usual flourish and body language. He’s the Prime Minister, he should be caring about that, right? But wouldn’t doing that involve following the bloody COVID safety measures in the province where you are? You’d think so yet here is some more context to that event, and a question precisely on that:

Yep, look at that. The room inside the event is packed, clearly beyond the capacity allowed under Ontario’s public health rules. And when Trudeau is asked directly about this contradiction of public health rules, what does he reply? He sidesteps the question, ducks it and refuses to answer something that should be really straight forward. And if you aren’t clear on the expectations of Liberal candidates in this campaign when it comes to COVID measures, here is what a senior Liberal campaign official assured Twitter about just two weeks ago:

“We’re expecting that all candidates representing the Liberal Party will follow public health guidelines”, that’s what they said. Yet there is Justin Trudeau, doing the polar opposite of “following public health guidelines”, while at the same time he’s chiding Doug Ford for not doing his part on this part of the fight against COVID. Remember how he said that “keeping you safe, that’s his top priority”? Well it appears that the same doesn’t apply to the campaign trail because instead of ensuring that everyone around them today were being kept safe, we saw that.

That’s hypocritical to say the least, attacking other parties on this topic while at the same time appearing to be guilty of the same, while you’re making that attack. Refusing to answer the legitimate questions about that contradiction is just the cherry on the top of this crap sundae. And that doesn’t even factor in the fact that Liberal Party has said explicitly that they are “expecting that all candidates representing the Liberal Party will follow public health guidelines.” You’d think that would also apply to the Leader of the Liberal Party, but after that sight today, clearly not.

It’s precisely that kind of display that feeds into peoples’ thoughts that Justin Trudeau will say anything to get elected and builds more mistrust in him. It’s a clear example of selected application of the rules. One set for you, another for me. Doing that with any normal issue would be bad enough, but doing that with the fight against this pandemic? That’s bound to grate against people that much more. People fumed and raged when Doug Ford broke COVID public health rules last summer when he was going to his cottage, going to his mom’s house to bake cheesecakes and such. And people were right to be upset about it. So what exactly is different about this situation? Both involved a political leader breaking the rules to suit their immediate personal and/or political needs. Both set a bad example. The only difference is that one did it in the middle of an election campaign, a moment when they are looking for the greatest personal & political gain.

In my mind, it’s more than fair to criticize Trudeau here for not only holding the event like that, but refusing to answer such a basic, legit question. It’s a bad example for the Liberals to set, but at the same time it’s a prime example of the problem they face. The fact is that people don’t trust this Liberal leader like they used to, they don’t like the duplicity and double-standards, and with everything that’s going on with COVID, people just don’t have the patience to put up with that crap like they might normally. How do the Liberals fix this? I’m not sure if they can during this campaign at this point. But one thing that’s clear is that continuing down the path of this same strategy appears to be a failed approach, one that will just continue to exacerbate the Liberals problems the longer it happens. Will they change course, or will they continue to double down? Time will tell but it’s clear that things aren’t going the way they had hoped when they called this snap campaign and as much as they try to blame others, they really have no one else to blame but themselves for the mess that they find themselves in.