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Charest Out

With the return of the House of Commons from the holiday break coming next week and MPs ready to flood back into Ottawa, life around here will return to a more normal pace. Overlaid onto the normal events in Ottawa will be the Conservative Leadership Race, the scuttlebutt around it and what it will all mean for the future of this Parliament and of course, the next election.

We’ve been waiting for certain shoes to drop to see what the field might look like and who would stand a good chance at not only becoming the next leader, but maybe even someday the next Prime Minister. Given the field so far, the odds of becoming PM have been much longer, but one name floating around out there had the potential to be in a very different position: Jean Charest. Well this afternoon that shoe dropped and well, it was quite a drop indeed:

After the false start from La Presse, who had reported minutes before that Charest would get into the race, Charest himself burst that bubble in an interview with Patrice Roy of Radio-Canada. In the interview Charest lays out a few reasons for his decision to stay out, with a couple of them being very revelatory. The first reason was a more practical one for sure; according to Charest, the rules of the race “were not written for a candidate coming from the outside”. He pointed out that under those rules, it would be nearly impossible for a candidate like him to mount a proper campaign and be competitive in this race. That reason should be very sobering for Conservatives who were hoping that this leadership race would be a chance at renewal and growth for the future. If someone like Jean Charest, who’s as connected and able a politician that Canada has had for the past thirty or so years, if he can’t make it work, no one can. If the rules are written so that a well-known candidate couldn’t sign up the new members, bring in the new blood to the party, to make it work, that’s a bad sign not just for this race but for what comes out of this race for the Conservatives and that’s something they may come to regret down the road.

The second big reason that Charest laid out though is one that should be equally concerning to Conservatives looking to bring their party into the present, but not one that’s shocking to most observers. Charest bluntly pointed out that since he left the party, it had changed a lot and that when it came to certain key issues and principles of importance to him, his views had not. He went onto say that’s not to say that the Conservatives couldn’t change their views and that this leadership race could offer that opportunity, but it was said in such a way that you could tell he wasn’t very hopeful of that. When you read between the lines you can tell what those “issues” are. They’re the same social conservative views that sunk Andrew Scheer and will threaten to sink the next Conservative leader if don’t change the paradigm.

This is big news and really changes the course of this race, but not for the better of the Conservatives if you ask me. Charest was the only potential candidate who had the potential to change the Conservative paradigm and make it more palatable to progressive centrist voters. Charest was the only potential candidate with the heft to give Justin Trudeau a run for his money as well, and there’s no one from the current crop or other rumoured potential candidates who can bring that. What worse is that, as Charest pointed to, the rules of this race will make it near impossible for such a candidate to come into this race and be competitive by bringing in new members.

Simply put, whoever wins this race will still be heavily dependent on the current Conservative coalition of members and supporters, which has a very strong and good sized social conservative contingent. The only chance to break free of that group and their influence would be to bring in lots of new members to swamp their influence, which Charest probably could have done with better rules. I would argue it’s what Charest would have to do in order to win, or at least would be his best chance. By making the comments he made about the rules, it’s pretty clear that Charest believes that isn’t a viable path to victory.

In the end what I find so striking about this is that the Conservatives pushed Andrew Scheer overboard because there was a recognition that the party had a serious problem with the voting public when it came to LGBT rights and a woman’s right to choose. We saw all the commentary from conservative voices talking about how the Scheer approach (which was basically the Harper approach) wasn’t good enough for 2019 and that the party needed to evolve. And what we see so far are candidates who are basically the equivalent of doubling down on the exact same approach as Harper, with a few better-chosen words. Call me crazy if you like but that doesn’t seem it would be good enough or even close to it.

While Jean Charest brought a lot of potential baggage with him that could have caused a lot of problems down the road, he was still the best chance the Conservatives had to break out of the box they find themselves in. Instead they’ve decided to reinforce the walls of that box, making sure that they’re safe and sound in it. They may feel good about that state today, but something tells me that after the next election and another loss, they won’t have the same warm, fuzzy feelings towards that box they call home.

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A New Trend for 2020?

2020 hasn’t been off to the best start and as some had hoped that this year would be better than what 2019 turned out to be, so far many of those people have been disappointed to put it mildly. This is especially true when it comes to our politics, when it seems that the vitriol from some places isn’t about ready to end.

Even with that, I haven’t been able to help but notice how one thing in particular has evolved, probably to where it was going to go anyway but it’s still notable none the less. That has to do with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and how he gets criticized and attacked by certain partisans. Let’s face it, lots of people don’t like Trudeau, never have liked him and were likely never going to like him. I think that’s something that comes part and parcel when you’ve born with the family name “Trudeau” in this country.

And let’s face it, it’s not that Mr. Trudeau isn’t without reason to be criticized. There are many legitimate policy reasons out there to be unhappy with Prime Minister, so he is far from being above criticism. But It feels to me like something changed over the holiday period when it comes to criticisms of Trudeau the person, something that’s notable.

For me that feeling started to come when the Prime Minister was in Costa Rica over the holidays and he went to a corner store to buy himself some adult drinks. He got mocked and attacked for that, some making fun of him, others going after him for doing it himself like it was some Machiavellian stroke to try to look more normal. Then just last week we saw the Prime Minister announce financial help for the families of victims of Flight 752, which brought some attacks from certain corners of the Internet. Those people complained that Trudeau was helping these people, in some cases questioning why we were helping “non-Canadians”. Needless to say, the tone and content was downright ghoulish and just ugly, even by the standards that we usually see thrown at Trudeau.

But the example that put this over the top to me came yesterday from Winnipeg, where the Liberals have been having their Cabinet Retreat this week. It turns out the Prime Minister stopped into a local doughnut shop to pick up some treats for his colleagues, and well, it all went downhill from there:

Yeah folks, the man got attacked for paying a bit more for local doughnuts from a company that treats its workers well and uses local products. Some say he should have gone to Tim Horton’s, others asked “who paid for it?”, and others just spewed crappy insult into the Twitter feed. Seriously folks, I think we’ve reached a point where Mr. Trudeau literally cannot do anything without getting attacked for it. In this case, if he had gone to Timmy’s, he would have been attacked for supporting a company that just locked out their own employees in the city over a 10 cent an hour wage increase, which would have been a warranted criticism. Or he would have been attacked for supporting the Brazilian-owned company. Or he would have been attacked for buying doughnuts instead of carrots. Or he would have been attacked for the packaging the doughnuts came in. Or he would have been attacked for trying to look “normal” by going to Timmy’s instead of the local place. In this case, no matter what he did, he was going to get attacked for it, no matter what he did. And that was all over him buying effing doughnuts for a few dozen people from a local small business working hard to put out a quality product. Instead of being happy for that small business person and the sale they made, this happens instead Seriously, what the fresh Hell?

Let’s be clear here, I’m not saying that politicians should never face criticism for their actions, their choices and their policies. We live in an accountable society and by running for elected office our politicians sign up for that kind of accountability. But for me, I draw a line between that accountability and what we’ve started to see so far in 2020 when it comes to the Prime Minister. This feels very different to me. It feels like people who dislike this Prime Minister or even hate him will criticize him no matter what he does, with no consistency at all. In the Costa Rica example, if he had sent some hired hand to fetch his libations from the corner dispensary, he would have been called a silver-spooned elitist and all that. But if he gets off his rear and goes down there himself, scruffy beard and all, he’s mocked for doing so or is attacked for trying to appear normal. Christ people pick a lane already!

Of all people to be writing this piece, it feels weird that I’m the one writing it. Trust me, it feels really weird to me. I’ve not been one to hold back on my criticisms of this Prime Minister and his policy choices. But what I’ve seen so far in 2020 has just been so over the top and such an over-reaction that it needs to be pointed out. This kind of griping does nothing to help out debate and just pushes people out of serious discussions when they come up. This stuff also helps to undermine serious questions and criticisms when they come, allowing those being put on the stop to say that “no matter what we do, you attack us”. Finally, it’s just more than a bit juvenile. If this year continues like this, it’s going to be a painfully long one. I can hope that this will stop here, but I doubt it. Here’s to hoping though.

Talking the Liberal Cabinet Retreat & Harry & Meghan with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I had the chance to join Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” with Katlyn Harrison and Colin MacDonald. We talked about the Liberal Cabinet Retreat in Winnipeg, what we might see from the government next week & the latest in the news around Prince Harry & Meghan. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 19:00 minute mark. Enjoy!

Talking Canada-China Relations & the Conservative Leadership Race on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. We talked about current state of relations between Canada and China and how things are going at the start of the Conservative leadership race. You can listen to it all below. Enjoy!

How to Not Find a Solution: This Week in Ontario’s Education Labour Strife

The return of labour strife to the education sector in Ontario continued apace this week, as we saw the Ford Conservative government make no moves to get back to the table and negotiate in good faith. But we did see some developments come from that crew, moves that really made a lot of people question not just the good faith of the Ford Conservatives, but also to a degree the competence of that government in question.

What brought those questions about? Well two moments from the week that really spoke to this governments view on the World. The first came from Education Minister Stephen Lecce, making a move to try to quell the concerns of parents that only raised a lot more questions than it raised:

Yep, the Ford Conservatives are going to pay parents whose children get affected by strikes up to possibly $60 dollars a day to cover child care costs. This isn’t a new idea or manoeuvre, as the British Columbia Liberal government of Christy Clark did the same thing back in 2014. But along with that announcement came some serious questions about details that, well, the government didn’t deal so well with:

Firstly, yep, if the BC example from 2014 is any answer to the question that the Ford Conservatives didn’t bother to ask themselves it seems, then that “benefit” to parents will be taxable. Let’s do some math folks; if every board in the province went out on strike, that benefit would cost the Ontario Government $48 million a day. And you know who would be the biggest single beneficiary of that $48 million dollars a day taxable benefit? The Government of Canada, which would get over $10 million a day in tax income, directly from the Province on Ontario. Seriously, how ass backwards is that? Doug Ford and team have managed to come up with a “solution” that actually makes the coffers in Ottawa richer, directly putting money in their coffers.

That sounds like a really crazy thing for a government that says it’s poor and needs to find efficiencies to do. That sounds even crazier when you think that the Ford Conservatives are saying that classrooms need serious cut backs and teachers need to be laid off to help get the books back to balance. And that brings us to the second crazy part of this whole announcement; Ford and Co. says Ontario is flat broke and must grow class sizes and lay off teachers to reduce costs. If that’s the case, where in the Hell do they have $48 million a day to blow on this, let alone to send over $10 million of it to Ottawa? That’s a question that a lot of parents have been asking, simply “Why not just put that $48 million a day into the classroom and try to solve the problem?” That’s a legitimate question to ask, one that deserves a serious answer. So what has the answer been coming from the top so far? Well, let’s just say it was a bit less than serious:

Honestly, are we the least bit surprised to see Doug Ford of all people give such a childish answer to a serious question? Instead of actually dealing with the issue at hand, Ford took a crummy cheap shot at the leadership of Ontario’s four teachers unions, calling their leadership bad and trying to claim that somehow they are to blame, as if these leaders are ignoring their members and trying to pad their own pockets. You know, that usual Conservative trope about unions of all kinds. But here is the thing about comments like that, there are ways to test thesis like those, and thankfully publicly available information can help us here. A sure way to determine the faith that Ontario’s teachers have in their union leadership would be to look at the strike mandates they were given. Surely that would show how much these members feel about the actions of their leaders, right? Well let’s look at those, shall we?

  • OSSTF’s education workers voted 92% in favour of strike action, and the Federation’s teacher and occasional teacher members provided a 95.5% in favour.
  • For OECTA, it was 97.1% of members agreeing to take strike action should the need arise.
  • For ETFO, it was 98% in favour
  • And for AEFO, the French teachers’ union, it was 97% in favour

Yeah, that’s a very strong degree of support for their leaders and obviously decisions that they didn’t take lightly. So yeah, it seems that the vast majority of education workers are in support of their leaders and don’t agree with Mr. Ford at all. So if we look past that metric, let’s look at another measure; public opinion. We’ve got a couple different polling results that should help us out where when figuring out who has “good leadership” and who trusts who. What does it tell us?

Well, isn’t that something. According to a poll commissioned by OSSTF:

  • about 57% of people polled said they sympathize with teachers and education workers over the Ford government
  • 56% believe education unions are being more reasonable in the talks;
  • 59% say teachers should keep pushing for a better deal.
  • 60% say the Government of Ontario is on the wrong path when it comes to public education, with only 22% agreeing with the governments moves

That’s quite the result folks, surely far from a ringing endorsement of Mr. Ford or Mr. Lecce’s decisions to date. Then you can add to those poll numbers the personal approval ratings of Mr. Ford, which put him as by far the least popular Premier in the entire country, with even worse disapproval ratings than his historically unpopular predecessor Kathleen Wynne. Oh yeah, maybe if I was Mr. Ford I wouldn’t be calling others “bad leaders” when it seems that the consensus is that it’s Mr. Ford himself who’s the one lacking when it comes to this matter.

And after all of that, all the name calling and the wasted money, we are no closer to actually resolving the issues that Ontario’s teachers want to get resolved and we are no closer to labour peace. It’s starting to look more and more like Mr. Ford and his party are more interested in having a fight with teachers, rather than try to make Ontario’s education system the best that it can be. All in all, as much as I would like to be positive about a change to the current situation, I can only see things getting worse before they get any better. And that is strictly because the Ford Conservatives have no interest in being a constructive or positive part of this process. If that wasn’t clear before, this week made it so and from what you’re seeing in the public opinion polling, the people of Ontario aren’t fooled in the least.