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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.

MB Podcast – Week Two of #Elxn44

The latest episode of the Magpie Brûlé podcast is now live. In this episode, Cam & Alise talk about the latest developments from Afghanistan, the questions being asked of the current government, how this might impact the ongoing election, the state of play in the campaign itself, where the parties stand at this point of the campaign and a couple last words for Elections Canada. You can listen to it below, download it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you download the finest podcasts.

Talking the Resignation of Dr. Fisman from the Ontario COVID Science Table with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Lindsay Maskell & Kate Harrison for “Political Heat” panel. We talked about the resignation of Dr. David Fisman from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, what this says about the transparency from the provincial government on this, the politics that might be at play here, the Trudeau Liberals caught sharing “manipulated media” on Twitter, what it says about the state of the Liberals campaign & the make up of the invitees to the Federal Leaders Debates. You can listen below starting at the 14:00 minute mark.

Talking the First Week of #Elxn44 on CTV News Channel

Saturday I joined CTV News Channel with Akshay Tandon for the “Political Pulse” panel along with David Zimmer and Marisa Maslink. We reviewed the first week on the campaign trail, the current state of the polling, the fact that the questions about why this campaign was necessary are still alive and well, the impact of the surprise Progressive Conservative win in the Nova Scotia provincial election, and much more. You can check it out below.

Talking Twitter Scolding the Liberals 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 Will Stewart. We discussed the start of week two of the 44th General Election campaign, the current state of the campaign, the Liberals getting their wrists slapped by Twitter, what that episode might say about how the Liberal campaign is going, the tightening polling in the race, Maxime Bernier correctly being left out of the leaders debates and much more. You can listen to it all below.

Ten Years Ago Today

During the 17 months of the COVID pandemic that we’ve lived so far, there have been so many moments when so many of us have commented that time seems to be moving so fast. We’ve all had those moments, when either something that happened just prior to COVID comes up and it feels like it happened an eternity before. It’s been a discombobulating part of these past months and this pandemic.

But on days like these, even in this pandemic, I have a hard time believing it’s been so long with some things. That was the case back on May 2nd, when we hit the 10-year anniversary of Jack Layton leading the NDP to our greatest heights ever. As I pointed out about that night, “at the time we didn’t know what was to come”. We surely didn’t know that before the end of that summer Jack would no longer be with us. Yet that was how quickly things did happen.

This period is so etched into the stone of my memory, probably because of the effect this had on me personally. I remember watching Jack’s press conference in July with my colleagues, announcing he was stepping aside to fight the return of that bastardly cancer. We were all brought together that July afternoon, because Jack wanted us to know before it went to the media (that’s how he was). We had been through this before, during his first cancer diagnosis in 2010 so when we came into that room, we were confident that he would beat this too, just like before.

The thing I remember the most about that press conference was his voice; I barely recognized him. I just remember how that shook me and how it confirmed that this time was different. From that time forward, we all knew the gravity of the fight that Jack was in. Deep down we probably all knew what it meant, but we weren’t focused on that; Jack had beaten cancer before, and he would again.

The morning of August 22, 2021, started like any normal Monday morning in the summer on Parliament Hill. I got into my office a bit after 8 am and started my usual morning routine; checking my emails, doing a quick media scan, seeing what priorities had to be dealt with that day. As a part of that, I turned on the TV in my office, which was already tuned to CBC News Network. While I was doing that, I remember glancing out of the corner of my eye at the TV and seeing Peter Mansbridge there. I thought that was odd, because what was Mansbridge doing on at 8 am on a sleep August Monday morning? He would only do that unless it was something big. It was only then that I finally focused on the chyron at the bottom on the screen and it all made sense.

I sat in my chair, stunned, sobbing, devastated in the moment. Everything stopped and I didn’t know what to do. I called my boss and when I got him on the phone, he was also sobbing. He had already gotten the news too and he was also trying to process it all. What happened next was the start of a week in my life I’ll never forget. My colleague and friend Andrea decided to get access to our caucus room in the Centre Block and get some coffee, tea, water and some things to nibble on for people to come together and talk. We didn’t want to go home, we wanted to be around our friends and colleagues (both old and new), and just talk about Jack. We sat in the Official Opposition caucus room sharing stories about our experiences with Jack, our own stories and it was a comforting moment. Later we heard that a memorial was building around the Eternal Flame, and we slowly trickled outside to join in.

It was a strange week because we were asked to continue certain things “as usual”, which for me included the opening of my boss’s constituency office in Val d’Or. I still remember going out for lunch with my boss and new riding colleagues. It was a Wednesday and there was a TV playing in the background with Radio-Canada on, showing the start of Jack laying in state in the Centre Block. It was a moment that was as strange as it was painful. It was strange because I saw all these people walking up to his flag-covered coffin, like happens in these times. But these weren’t nameless strangers to me; these were my colleagues & friends. These were people who I have known for a fair amount of time and while to everyone else in the room these were just those nameless faces, it clearly was different for me. It was painful because in that moment, I just wanted to be there with them. It felt wrong to be where I was and not there. I don’t know how else to explain it, but that’s how I felt.

Later that week came the state funeral in Toronto, and I got to see firsthand just how Jack had affected others too. I drove into Toronto the Friday before, staying with a friend downtown. I woke up that morning and started to get into my dress clothes, only to realize that I had somehow grabbed the wrong dress shirt, which didn’t come close to fitting. I was freaking out, and quickly rushed out in a panic to try to find one. I ended up at the Sears in the Eaton Centre, frantically trying to find something, anything that would fit. I’m not a small man, and normally finding dress close in a regular department store just doesn’t work out.

A gentleman working at Sears noticed me and offered to help. I explained my situation and that I needed anything he had that would fit on me. It was strange because once I mentioned I was going to Jack’s funeral, stories started to pour out as he dutifully dug through shirts trying to find something that would work. It took twenty minutes, and we shared stories about Jack. It was oddly comforting, just hearing from this random stranger in this moment, not only helping me but understanding why I was in my state. Eventually he found one shirt, one and only, that would fit me. It was a rose-pink dress shirt, which somehow felt right in the moment. We saw each other off, but that stuck with me.

Then later when my boss and I went to City Hall for our visitation with Jack, it was sobering to see the mass of people lined up to see him, to see ever square inch of available concrete covered in beautiful chalk art, and to see people sharing their stories. The rest of the day felt like that, people sharing their stories, experiences and how Jack touched their lives. Where earlier in the week I felt a bit alone in my grief, in that moment I felt more like I was in a common community of people who all had been touched deep down by Jack. That feeling continued inside Roy Thomson Hall during the funeral, as we listened to more people talk about how Jack touched them. They brought us to our feet in cheers of love and admiration, and then to tears of sorrow and sadness. When Steven Page sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, I broke down in my seat overlooking the scene and cried uncontrollably. It was such a release of emotion, as I looked around through my blurred vision to see others doing the same. It was alright, because we were all feeling the same.

There are few things I can remember so clearly after so much time, yet that week won’t go anywhere. Neither will the impact that Jack had on me, my life, my family and our country. Jack’s last words sit framed in my bedroom, as I see them every morning as a reminder of how we should be to one another and how much better we can be. My daughter is now at an age where she asks about those words and the man behind them. I know I’m not the only one having that experience with their children, and to me that’s part of the Layton legacy.

Even though he never formed government, he showed the effect that anyone can have in our public life when given the chance. Today I’m going to resist the urge to think about “what ifs” and instead will reflect on what did happen and what Jack did do to make our country better. Marsee Jack for everything, we continue to fight for that better Canada that you were working so hard to lead us towards. Let’s continue to strive to uphold his spirit, his vision and become the best we can be.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Source: Jack Layton’s Last letter to canadians, August 20, 2011

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

The latest episode of Bluesky Strategy Group’s “What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast” with my colleagues Susan Smith, Neil Brodie and Alyson Fair is now out. In this episode we talk about the start of the 44th General Election campaign, who had a good start & who struggled, the appearance of wedges at the start of the campaign and what we’re looking for during Week Two. You can check it all out below:

A Bad Pandemic Candidate Vetting Fail

I keep saying that this election that we are now in is one that will be a good case study somedays, because of the unique circumstances that it’s happening in, namely the COVID pandemic. Obviously, that’s having some tangible effects on how the campaigns are running, how people will vote and how people are feeling about certain issues. But as the campaign rolls out, it’s interesting to see how these circumstances further affect other things that are common parts of the modern political election campaign.

One of those parts is candidate vetting, and the importance of trying to catch potential problematic information or acts by said people to protect the party or leader. No campaign wants to be thrown off for a day, having to apologize for the words or actions of some random candidate who had no chance of winning to begin with. It throws off the national campaign, local candidates are affected by it too and it’s something that a good candidate vet can help avoid all together. So when that vet fails, it’s usually because of a failed vetting of said person. But what might qualify as problematic or to what degree pre-pandemic can look very different now in this context. I’ve been curious to see how this unique context would rear its head on this front and it turns out that we now have an example to test this on, coming out of the Liberal camp:

Everyone, say hello to Jessica Dale-Walker, who is running for the Liberals in Calgary Nose Hill against Michelle Rempel Garner. According to reporting from CBC, Ms. Dale-Walker managed to hit an interesting combo of candidate vet fails. Two tweets were flagged by the Conservative campaign to the media, one which would be a problem at any time, and another that’s really bad in this specific moment. The first came in March 2020 where, when was talking about certain Alberta politicians, she wrote that Alberta needs to “fit in or f–k off. We Alberta need to start fitting in. Because quite frankly, we are not as superior as our government touts.”

Ouch, that’s bad folks, seriously. That’s bad at any time and more than fair grounds to remove as a candidate at any time, but I’ll come back to that in a moment. The second Tweet came in November 2020, less than a year ago. This time she decided to weigh in on COVID vaccines and, well, these words speak for themselves:

“I chose to allow the entitled to flock for the vaccine like they demanded to be the guinea pigs, that way should there be problems those with brains were left behind,” Dale-Walker tweeted in November 2020.


Entitled guinea pigs? Excuse me? If you want to talk about entitled and sneering, smug behaviour, that’s an awful condescension that is just ugly as Hell. It also puts those comments from March in a different light, as I can imagine those “eff yous” being launched with the same kind of “better than thou” smugness that this damn Tweet drips in. This is particularly ugly given the context in which it happened and that we find ourselves in now. How in the sweet Hell did the Liberals all someone with such ugly comments about such an important thing as getting vaccines ever get on a ballot for them? That’s not just a vetting failure, that’s a vetting fiasco. Seriously, she tweeted that if you trusted science and experts in medical science somehow a part of some entitled flock of dumb people. In her twisted view, only those of her view were truly smart. And she was so “smart”, she Tweeted that out to everyone then decided to run for public office and apparently thought it wouldn’t matter. Arrogance, it clearly knows no ends.

But while all of that blows my mind, let me take a quick detour here to address something else that she had to say in that tweet; she basically called the vast majority of Canadians “entitled guinea pigs”. Clearly Ms. Dale-Walker needs to get out of her high tower of genius a bit more often because she clearly doesn’t know what an entitled guinea pig looks like. You want to see one? Here:

Everyone, meeting Ossie (also playfully called Ossington), my daughters guinea pig. This is one entitled-ass guinea pig. It demands nothing but the finest hay, the best water, premium chips to walk on top of in its spacious cage and more. It’s demands for fresh kale and carrots knows no bounds and when he doesn’t get it, he sneers and glares down his long muzzle at you as if you were lower than low. Yep, he’s an entitled guinea pig, not folks lining up to take medically approved and scientifically proven vaccines to do their part to fight this global pandemic.

But back to the issue for the moment, while the vetting fail here is bad, honestly the Liberal reaction to it is even worse. The Liberal campaign issued an apology on Dale-Walker’s behalf, followed by a statement of apology of her own. In that statement, she said that statement was “certainly not how I feel today.” Yeah, that’s exactly what you’d say now that you’re running for public office. She also claims that she is double vaxxed, which really doesn’t settle this matter either. Does that mean that she admits that she was wrong? That we “entitled guinea pigs” were right all along? No comments on that, just a weak tea attempt to make this all go away.

And that’s what makes this the biggest fail in my mind for the Liberals. As I mentioned at the start, her first comments from March 2020 were bad enough to toss her. Those comments about vaccines that she made mere months later were even worse given this context, making it all the more justifiable to remove her as their candidate. In fact, I would argue that it’s more damaging for her to remain on the ballot than the removal itself. That apology was not fulsome, came at a moment of her highest self-interest and as a result, is suspect. Furthermore, it’s not like this is something she did a decade ago and goofed; the anti-vax comments came like 9 months ago! To say something like that is “certainly not how I feel today” just sounds all the worse because, seriously, how much are we expecting her to have changed in 9 months? And if she had truly changed, why in the Hell hasn’t she removed crap like that when she “saw the light”? All legit questions that are left open here, casting a shadow on that weak apology.

There is no way that this candidate should still be on the ballot and the longer she stays there, the longer this issue will remain a millstone around the neck of Justin Trudeau. This was a real “put up or shut up” kind of moment for the Liberal leader, and he failed on that count. And all of this is because someone didn’t do their homework at the start of the campaign. I’ll be curious to see if more cases like this come out but if they do, other leaders would do well to learn from this response and do the opposite. If you’re truly supportive of public health and stopping this pandemic, you can’t have candidates on your slate out there Tweeting anti-vax crap like that. You’d think that would be a bare minimum right now, but hey, maybe some people are so entitled that they think the laws of political gravity don’t apply to them. That could explain a thing or two here.