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Sticking it to the Pump

In last weeks Ontario budget, there were lots of things in there that poked and prodded at the perceived enemies of the Ford Conservatives. There were also lots of cuts and while assumed it would be worse, I say “just wait, that time will come”. But one of the measures put into this is one that crossed a line for many people, from simple policy disagreement to a prime example of government overreach, one done for purely partisan reasons. What was that proposal you might ask?

Yes folks, the Ford Conservatives, the same people who are saying their all about free speech, are going to force gas stations across Ontario to put stickers on their pumps that give a torqued message about carbon pricing. The sticker (and you’re free to make your own sticker jokes at this point) will not speak about the Federal governments carbon pricing plan in full, just a selected part to get people pissed as they pump up.

Now some might ask “What is the big deal here? We already have stickers on pumps talking about taxes” and you know what, we do. Many gas stations have little stickers on them showing how much you spend on HST, excise tax and provincial gas tax on pumps. But here is the thing folks, not every station has those. This morning I stopped to fill up my tank at a Costco in the south end of Ottawa and you know what I didn’t see there? That sticker talking about taxes. Why not? Because those stickers aren’t mandated by law.

Remember, those stickers on your pumps were created by the gas companies to help explain why the price of gas would go up, or at least try to divert attention from them when prices got higher. It was as much a PR move as one of transparency, but the reason why I bring that it up is that it was their choice. They chose to make those stickers, chose what to put on them and then chose to place them on their pumps across the country. They even put this information on their websites. That’s a privately-owned business making a choice, free speech in action.

But folks that’s not what Doug Ford and his Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford are up to here, oh no, no, no. They are actually mandating by law that all gas stations must place this sticker here on their pumps:

See the problem with it? It doesn’t actually tell you the details about carbon pricing, it doesn’t tell you about the rebates that you get in your taxes (which for the majority of Canadians is greater than the tax they’ll actually pay) and at the bottom, they share a link to a website that is pure spin for this government and their message on this policy. What makes this even more galling is that when you visit the website, you’ll see the Ford Conservatives crowing and trying to take credit for all of the actions that the past government did, the very same moves that they opposed and fought tooth and nail, the policies they have started to undo.

And if the sticker itself wasn’t bad enough for you, the Ford government has found a way to take this up another notch and a few more steps too far; in the proposed law for this change, the province will fine any gas station who refused to go along with this sticker program $10,000 a day until they comply. $10,000 a day folks, for a $0.04 per litre tax? That’s crazy, that’s overkill and that’s quite counter to upholding free speech. I don’t know how you get to call yourself a defender of free speech when you want to force small business owners across Ontario ten grand a day for refusing to parrot your partisan messages.

Needless to say, this proposal is sure to be challenged in the courts on a few grounds. The violations here to free speech protections are very straight forward and are a clear case onto itself. But also, Canada has laws and standards on this under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which states “Advertisements must not omit relevant information if the omission results in an advertisement that is deceptive or misleading”. And that also seems like a very clear-cut case here; the whole point of these stickers is to deceive the public on a public policy decision and has no pretense of trying to be honest.

This is the Ford Conservatives trying to force private businesses to be conscripted into their political fight with Ottawa, one that moved into the courts yesterday and one that, according to most legal experts, Ontario is going to lose spectacularly. All told, this policy smack of petty politics, torqued language and dishonesty all over; but I guess that makes sense, given that petty politics, torque and dishonesty is Doug Ford’s stock and trade.

Lessons from the Campaign Trail

Over close to 15 years now, I’ve volunteered and worked on many political campaigns. I’ve been involved in campaigns at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, in three provinces, three leadership campaigns (two of which were national) and I’ve even put my name on the ballot twice. In all that time, I’ve been blessed to learn a lot and to have some amazing mentors who taught me so much about campaigns, from the day to day basics, to the high-level strategy, to everything in between.

When it comes to campaigns, I’ll admit I’m a total geek; I love to study campaigns, see what worked, what didn’t and I’m always interested in new ideas and techniques. I’m a big believer in keeping an open mind to new ideas and technologies because I just believe we never know it all. Maybe it goes back to my training as a teacher, but I’m a big believer in life long learning.

So today I saw two things come through my social media feeds that spoke to both sides of the learning curve; one example of a cool idea from a campaign and another a simple lesson on why certain dirty tricks just don’t work and aren’t worth it. First for the cool innovation, this one coming from the States:

Branding is such a big part of modern campaigns and having brand consistency is something that campaigns really tend to harp on. There is all kinds of evidence to back that approach up, and it’s not one I tend to argue with; frankly I’m a pretty strong adherent to it. But today I saw this story about the campaign of Democratic Presidential Primary Candidate Pete Buttigieg, the young Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. His campaign is one that has been picking up steam has he’s come from nowhere to being firmly on the political radar, raising lots of money and profile. So far, it’s been a well-run campaign.

On Sunday he formally launched his bid, and in doing so, added an interesting twist into his approach. On his website, his team created an online design tool kit that allows people to go and design their own customized signs that can be used for anything; for social media, on lawn signs, or any other way they can come up with to use them. The tool gives people a choice of logos and then different colour pallets to choose from. This approach is one that is revolutionary in a way, as it basically gives up control over some of the biggest parts of a campaigns branding to the people to do as they wish. No central control over the sign you bring to the rally or make a sign for your lawn that fits you better while showing your support.

So, if you prefer your sign to the in “Rust Belt”, “Truman Brown” or any other colour, that’s totally your call. This could be a model that others follow or it could be the modern rule that proves why brand control is so important. Time will tell but this is a very interesting experiment to watch, one that I think has the potential to be successful and sends the right messages about a campaign, the candidate and his approach.

But along with good examples in this world come some pretty bad ones, and todays bad example comes from the Alberta election. One of the constant frustrations in campaigns can be the destruction or theft of campaign signs, big and small. Campaigns spend thousands of dollars on those signs and when they are stolen or destroyed by vandals, it comes at a considerable cost to campaigns to replace them. In the current Alberta election, this has also been the case but just as this election has been very tense with a lot of anger out there, this has also translated over to signs.

Every day in my social media feed I’ve seen pictures from the Wild Rose province of NDP signs being destroyed, defaced with racists and ignorant messages and stories about signs going missing while Conservative ones stay in place. Every campaign I’ve ever been on we’ve seen some variation of these stories, but admittedly not as intense as is happening in Alberta this spring. Of course, because of the value of these signs you can call the police to report it, but normally those calls go nowhere because there is no evidence of who did it, and many times the blame for these cases get laid at the feet of teenagers.

In the past I’ve heard stories of people doing some of this dirty work as a campaign strategy to try to hurt their opponents. When I’ve given training to candidates and campaign workers, I’ve always said to not to this kind of stuff because it will blow up in your face. And it was that training that was running through my head this morning as I saw this social media post from Red Deer, which has seen more than its fair share of sign vandalism in this campaign. This post really does speak for itself:

Hmmm…. You can check out the full video here but it looks like it wasn’t a teenager stealing signs this time, right? Hey, at least a teenager would probably have known about the possibility of homes in the neighbourhood having doorbell cameras to catch them in the act. But that was something that this sign thief obviously didn’t think about, as they were caught in glorious colour. I’m sure that the police will appreciate this video and should go a long way to ensuring that someone gets arrested this time.

But in the meantime, as I said before, when you try to play these kinds of dirty tricks, many times they blow up in your face and do the party you support more damage than any good the trick would have gotten you. We’ll see if this person learns their lesson here, but at least I hope that others see it and decide they don’t want to be “that guy” in the future.

Great Power… No Responsibility?

On Thursday we saw the first budget brought in by the new Ford Conservative government in Ontario and in it, there was some of what we’ve come to expect and other things that haven’t come to fruition yet. As I mentioned on CFRA on Thursday, I believe the big cuts in education will start to come in the Fall when the collective agreements with Ontario’s teachers start to expire. I expect this government will play extreme hard ball, and Finance Minister Vic Fideli even alluded to that in his budget speech, taking a clear shot across the bows of the teachers’ unions.

But for all the things that were seen to the naked eye in the budget, there were things that were buried deep inside it that are extremely worrying. One of those details came out this weekend, and while it fits the persona and attitude of this Ford government, it’s deeply disturbing and could set a terrible precedent:

Yes folks, Mr. “For the People” wants to make it nearly impossible for the people to sue the Government of Ontario, even in cases where the government has acted in bad faith or breached their duties of office. Of course, this was buried deep in an omnibus budget bill, deep beneath the details of free booze in casinos, tailgating and partisan coloured, double blue licence plates. It’s a cowardly move from this government, but not one that should shock you if you’ve been watching their first few months in office.

So why is this important? How does this affect everyday people? Well, lets start with this; this government just slashed a funding for many different ministries, including a billion from Social Services and half of the Indigenous Affairs Ministry. That Social Services budget helped to pay for autism care, so let’s suppose that as a result of those cuts something awful happens to an autistic child in care. Or let’s say the family of an autistic child decides to challenge these cuts on a charter challenge or on the basis of equity? This change in the law would stop that in it’s tracks.

Remember Walkerton and the tragedy that happened there? I would assume that legislation like this would have stopped the victims, the survivors and their families from suing the government for negligence if it existed then. Remember Ipperwash? I also would assume that this legislation would have prevented the family of Dudley George from suing the government if it existed at that time. How in the Hell does that do the public any good?

I could go on with examples like that but I can see a reason looking ahead for legislation just like this. Remember at the beginning when I mentioned teacher contracts? Well there will be negotiations coming this Fall, and the Ford Government has already made it clear that they expect the education sector, and teachers, to make bigger sacrifices. And that is after already scrapping class size caps and forcing the lay-off of thousands of teachers who have received notice so far, with more to come. But where this legislation could come into place would be if the Ford Government decided to legislate a contract and force certain classroom conditions on them. Why might that be the case? Well legal precedent:

Remember these two cases here where governments tried to impose on teachers in British Columbia and in Ontario. In both cases, the government was found to have erred, and in the BC case, it revolved around class sizes, in a circumstance eerily similar to what the Ford Government has just forced on Ontario classrooms. In that case, it went all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with the teachers, which has forced BC to hire back thousands of teachers, to the point where they are doing everything they can to try to fill the backlogged need.

Something tells me that come the Fall, Ontario’s teacher unions could have easily mounted a similar case against this government, and with the precedent set in BC, probably would win. And if Ontario tried to force a contract on teachers, just like Bill 115 did back in the last Liberal government, it’s a guarantee that the teachers’ unions would take legal action. So if you’re the Ford government, what do you do? Do realize the situation, correct course and decide to act within the law and legal precedent? Or do you try to weasel your way around it? Well the chose the weasel route it seems.

And if you thought this wasn’t bad enough, this change in the law would actually make this retroactive, meaning that it would apply to cases that are current underway. As the CBC story on this points out, there is a case out there right now, a class action lawsuit by a Toronto law firm on behalf of juvenile inmates placed in solitary confinement. Yep folks, this law would wipe that out, because somehow this government believes that it shouldn’t be accountable for kids being held in solitary confinement for long periods of time. I’m sure that’s exactly what the people were calling for when they electing this crew.

Bills like these bother the hell out of me, mostly because they are the kinds of bills that cowards pass in the dark, hoping no one will notice. This bill is an attempt by Doug Ford to put him and his government above the law, beyond consequence and leave no one ultimately responsible for the actions of the government when they act inappropriately. And folks, that is the biggest problem; responsible government, like ours, only works when the government is actually answerable and responsible to the people. One of the avenues that the people have to be heard is the court system. It’s one of the most important checks and balances that we have on the elected people in this country. Bills like these just spit in the face of that responsibility, that check and screams to everyone out there that this government feels they can’t act within the proper bounds of the law and act the way they want. That should be a warning sign of Bat-signal proportions, not only of their actions on this piece of legislation, but for what they might want to do in the near future.

Signs of Change

The 2015 Federal election was a bit of a watershed moment in Canada, but this was especially true for Indigenous voters across the country. After years of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives antagonism towards Indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast, many people were frustrated and itching to act.

We saw the “Idle No More” protests across the country, we saw round dances appearing everywhere as an act of protest and cultural pride and we saw more attention being drawn to Indigenous issues than we have in a long time. We also saw the tabling of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, a moment that I will never forget. I got to be in that room, and it was hard not to cry in that emotional moment, being there with survivors of the Residential Schools, some of whom I got to know over the years and consider to be friends. It was not an easy moment for sure, but from that moment came an image that I think crystalized the moment and the government we faced at the time. This image said far more than any scripted words that came after from the Harper Government:


https://tworowtimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Valcourt_Mulcair-large-800×450.jpg

I still remembering thinking to myself what a cold, uncaring person couldn’t rise to their feet in that moment, and I know I wasn’t alone. After this whole period of time, Indigenous people knew it was time for Stephen Harper to go and responded. With the NDP and the Liberals to choose between, both actively seeking their support with policies and promises that spoke directly to the concerns and hopes of Indigenous peoples, there was a choice to be made. But regardless of who exactly they voted for, Indigenous people turned out in numbers we haven’t seen in a long time, if ever, and there are many Liberal and NDP MPs who owe their wins to Indigenous voters who supported them.

So, after that election, needless to say we had our hopes raised up. With the election of the Trudeau government, many felt that maybe there was a change in the wind, there was a chance to move forward on important issues and that we might get somewhere this time. And while this government has made progress on some things, it’s failed mightily in others, and as time has gone on, we’ve seen how “the most important relationship” for this government has evolved to where it is now. We’ve started to see more and more evidence of the trust being gone and the kind words from the PM just not matching up their actions, or lack there of. Given that situation, three things I saw this week speak to that relationship being damaged and the possible blowback for the government. The first came with this op-ed I saw in the Toronto Star:

For those who don’t know, Riley Yesno was a member of the PM’s youth council, which she ended up leaving. She was also one of the Daughters of the Vote who protested the PM last week. And when you read her words, you can’t argue with that. In the end, those aren’t the words of someone who is satisfied with the government or the status quo; that’s someone who has been let down, how had their hopes dashed and is fighting for better. It should also serve as a warning to the Liberals, especially those who have been hectoring progressive voters by saying “if you don’t vote Liberal, you’re electing Andrew Scheer and it will be all your fault!!!”. That line is never a good one, it rarely works, and it surely doesn’t work when your image and credibility has been obliterated by scandals like the SNC/PMO scandal. Long story of the short, you need the benefit of the doubt to make that work, and the government has lost that. Another story that came across the feed yesterday also speaks to some of the feelings out there:

In the last election, the Indigenous Rock the Vote campaign was one of the biggest organizing successes by a grassroots organization that you can point to anywhere in a long time in this country. With her work, Tania Cameron was able to help Indigenous communities around the country get out to vote, while dealing with the roadblocks that the Harper “Fair Elections Act” threw up in the way of Indigenous voters. That bill was intended to keep Indigenous people from voting, and with hard work and determination, efforts like Indigenous Rock the Vote helped to drive a record Indigenous turn out at the polls. So, one would have to wonder what would happen in 2019. In 2015 Stephen Harper himself was a major motivator in getting people out, but as she points out in this piece in Windspeaker News, she is now just as motivated to get rid of Justin Trudeau. She will be pushing for New Democrats to be elected. That can’t be a good sign for this government, to see a movement that helped to elect some of his MPs now be turned against him. But another story that came out yesterday also speaks to this, one I honestly can say I didn’t see coming:

Folks, meet Joan Philip; she is a band councillor with the Penticton Band and she has decided to run for the NDP in the BC interior in Central Okanagan – Similkameen- Nicola against Conservative Dan Albas. She is a highly qualified candidate and a great addition to the NDP team, but here’s the part of this that should be concerning to the PM and the Liberals; Her husband is UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, one of the most prominent Indigenous leaders in British Columbia and Canada. Grand Chief Philip has recently said of PM Trudeau that “the sun is setting on” him and that more bluntly, “he’s toast, absolutely toast” after the expulsions of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. So now you have one of the most respected Indigenous leaders in the country not only upset with the current PM, but that I feel safe in assuming will be supporting the New Democrats in the Fall campaign. Something tells me that “but what if Scheer wins….” line won’t be of much use there.

If I were the Liberals, these are signs that would be worrying to me about where the coalition that helped to elect me in 2015 might be going. It may seem like some chickens are coming home to roost here, but it looks like the PM and his team might have a big problem on his hand. Remember the Assembly of First Nations has identified 51 ridings with high Indigenous populations, where Indigenous votes go a long way to electing their MPs. For a government that holds many of those seats, is targeting others held by other parties and sits just a dozen seats over a majority today, that is a big problem going ahead. We’ll see how this all plays out but if I were members in the Liberal caucus, especially in one of those 51 seats, I wouldn’t be feeling as good today as I would have a few months ago.

Talking Ontario Budget on CFRA with Evan Solomon

This afternoon I had the chance to join CFRA’s Evan Solomon again, this time with with Kate Harrison and Lindsay Maskell. We talk about the first Ford Conservative Budget in Ontario, the cuts made today, the foreshadowing for what might come in the months and years ahead and the seeming Conservative obsession with booze. You can listen to the audio below, starting right at the beginning. Enjoy!

Disrespecting Democracy: Senate Conservative Edition

During my nine years working on Parliament Hill, I was blessed to get to be a part of and witness some amazing things. There are things that I got to experience that I will be telling my grandchildren about someday, as I got the chance to life out a dream of mine. There are also some things I got to do that I am seriously proud about and moments around them that I will always remember. One of those moments came on May 30th, 2018, when this happened in the House of Commons:

On that night, NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s Bill C-262, a bill that would harmonize the Laws of Canada with the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples, passed third reading in the House of Commons and was sent to the Senate. It was a night that at my darkest moments I thought might never come. I was Mr. Saganash’s Legislative Assistant for five years, and over that time I had the privilege to work on that bill with him; it was one of my biggest duties and more than a bit of a passion project for me. It was a chance to make a difference. So that night, I couldn’t have been much happier.

For me, this bill is about getting a lot of things right not just for now, but for generations to come. That’s why one of my other most memorable moments was sitting in the Members Gallery of the House of Commons in December of 2017, as the first hour of debate took place on C-262, the first chance the bill had to start to move forward. That night, I had my then-five-year-old daughter with me, sitting in the gallery, as she shyly waved down at Romeo from above after we heard him speak. Because in the end, that’s what a bill like this is all about; the future. Making a better future for our kids, our grandkids, looking seven generations ahead.

So, after that vote at third reading at the end of May last year, C-262 was sent off to the Senate, which had over a year to get this bill passed after the six months it took to get through the House of Commons. That was more than enough time to give it serious consideration and to get things rolling. But sadly, this supposedly new Senate hasn’t been acting so new on this bill, and this week it’s all started to come to a head:

Yes, you see the Senate Conservatives have decided to play silly buggers with this important piece of legislation and instead of giving this bill “sober second thought”, they seem to be trying to kill it through procedural BS. Needless to say, that’s brought out a wide amount of response to these childish tactics and from some places they might not have expected:

Look at that wide list, from Indigenous leaders, to civil society groups, all Members of the House of Commons unanimously (even those who voted against the Bill), to the Mennonite Central Committee. I mean if Senator Don Plett, one of the Conservatives supposedly leading these attempts to kill this Bill who just happens to be from Southeastern Manitoba, would listen to anyone, you’d expect it to be the Mennonite Central Committee. Of course, if he were actually elected, he’d had to face those folks come election time, but of course that’s not how our Senate works. Sober second thought here? Nah seems more like drunk on power today.

Now to be fair, this is not the majority of the Senate acting this way, only the shrinking minority in the Conservative ranks that have decided to play partisan games with a bill passed by the people who actually have to face the electorate. And folks, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Many of those same Conservative Senators were in those same seats when they killed off Jack Layton’s climate change bill through procedural tricks, without so much as a vote or a second of debate.

And to me that is the crux of pointing this out today; there are no guarantees that a chance like this will come again. Jack Layton’s climate change bill died a decade ago and we haven’t seen anything like it get passed through the House since, let alone to the Senate. Beyond the importance and historic nature of Bill C-262, the imperative of getting this done now cannot be lost on us. Mr. Saganash introduced his first version of this bill in 2012, and it took six years and two parliaments for it to get into the Senate. The fact that it has been sitting there for 10 months, when the House was able to give it proper debate and pass it just six months, is just unacceptable.

This is the time to get this bill passed, to move further down the road of reconciliation and to start getting things right. So, I invite and implore you to visit the link I’ve posted below, reach out to those Senators who are playing partisan games with this important piece of legislation and ask them to get out of the way. We can’t say when this chance may come again and honestly, I won’t want us to have to find out. Miigwetch, Maarsi, Thank you and Merci!

Talking SNC/PMO with the Hill Times

Good morning everyone. Earlier this week I was interviewed by The Hill Times and was asked about my thoughts on the Prime Minister’s move to threaten to sue the Leader of the Conservative Party, the wisdom (or lack of it) in that decision and how this will all play out going forward. You can check out my thoughts, along with those of an impressive group of seasoned political strategists, in the piece below. Enjoy!