Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Anthony Koch. We talked about Thursday nights second and final American Presidential Debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, how this debate compared to the debacle that was the first one, how the new “mute button” feature affected the proceedings and how both candidates performed. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 17:00 minute mark.
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In any general election campaign televised leaders’ debates offer a rare chance to make a big impact, especially in these days of diffuse media consumption. It’s very rare that you get so many eyes watching the same thing at the same time these days, and American Presidential election debates are still one of those rare events that can deliver that kind of audience. After the debacle that was the first debate, it would have been totally understandable that people wouldn’t have tuned into this one last night. Yet despite all of that, eyes were still tuned in to what happened and here is a small taste of how the night went:
Well, what to say about what that turned out to be? It wasn’t as bad as the first debate, but it would have taken a lot to sink to that level so really that isn’t saying too much. There weren’t the constant interruptions or general rudeness by Donald Trump, but the lies were all still there. As CNN’s Daniel Dale pointed out, Trump actually lied more in this debate than in the first one. Under most normal circumstances that would be a damning strike against a candidate yet it’s what we know about Trump, so it really washed over so many like so many of his lies.
That isn’t to say that some of Trump’s lies weren’t egregious, because some absolutely were. His lines on children being separated from their parents were just ghoulish, actually saying that these kids ripped away from their parents were being treated well. It was an approach that was very similar to what First Lady Melania Trump was revealed to have used in those leaked tapes a few weeks ago, showing a real disregard for the basic humanity of those families. It wasn’t shocking coming from Trump given how he is, but it still stood out.
Another example was Trump’s quip about only “low IQ people” showed up in court for their asylum claim hearings, which was a particularly low moment. It wasn’t surprising to hear someone who said in the 2016 debates that he was “smart” because he didn’t pay income taxes, but it’s still such an eff you to the norms of what we expect from our leaders. Presidents are supposed to be the ones who ensure that our laws are respected and followed, yet Trump showed again that he feels that those who are good citizens and obey the laws are suckers. He treats those who ignore the laws as somehow virtuous and wise, which really undercuts the ability of government as a whole to uphold the rule of law. Seriously, how do you expect everyday people to follow the norms of law when the head of the government that passes them looks down on those who obey they as rubes?
It’s moments like those that really reminded us how despite the lack of screaming, insults and interruptions, last nights debate wasn’t normal. It’s not normal to lie that much, to trade in conspiracy theories and to treat the concept of the law with such contempt and disregard, yet thanks to what the first debate looked like, it all appeared more normal than it ever should. That’s not something that we can gloss over, as we see Trump move the window of what is acceptable even further away from what is acceptable.
For Biden’s part, he was solid. He did was he needed to do, got the points he needed to get across out there and showed his basic human decency, something that really shone when compared with the decency-deprived Trump. Biden turned his focus on the voters, how he would work for them and what he would do. Trump tried to turn that into a weakness, saying that he’s “all talk, no action”, all while Trump attacked the actions that Biden took as VP. Trump even mocked Biden for turning his attention to voters, as if it were some kind of moral weakness to worry about others rather than himself. That didn’t look good on the whole, and made Biden look better again by comparison. He was levelheaded throughout the night and really only had one moment where I was left wondering what he was thinking. That was the moment he invoked the name of Hitler, and while you can make an argument about how it fit in what he was trying to say, I just believe that if you’re the one who essential requires Godwin’s Law to be invoked in a debate, that’s not a good thing for your performance. But that pales in comparison to anything Trump did last night or did before, which really speaks to how crazy 2020 continues to be.
Of all of the things that happened last night, the biggest thing I took away was the contrast between what Trump and Biden appear to actually want to do with the Presidency. The question about “Why do you want to be President?” is one that we rightly expect those seeking it to have a good answer to, long before this point in a campaign. Biden laid out plans about how he wants to revive the economy, help families, reform laws and generally try to make the United States a better country. Over the 90 plus minutes of that debate, Biden kept coming back to wanting to work for Americans of all stripes to make their lives better.
Compare that to Trump, who didn’t lay out a single plan, a single idea or give any indication of what he wanted another four years in the White House for. He spent his whole night attacking Biden, Barrack Obama and other politicians for things they’ve done. He ranted about his supposed achievements and how great he is. But beyond making a few very vague statements about “wanting to reopen the economy”, he didn’t talk about any plans, ideas or desires for a new term. That’s not shocking given that the Republicans don’t actually have a platform this time, but it’s still shocking to the senses. With this glaring lack of plans or vision, it makes it sound like Trump is only running for re-election to simply be re-elected. For a guy who railed against “typical politicians”, saying that he isn’t one, asking to be re-elected simply to keep your job with no actual plans to help anyone other than yourself is probably the worst example of that stereotypical “typical politician” crap.
But you know what, as much as all of that is on the nose and should really matter in normal times, these aren’t normal times. It pains me to say it, but it’s true. People should care when their leaders lie as much as they breath, yet Trump has a solid core of support that just won’t abandon him. They have become impervious to truth, which is dangerous but an honest assessment of where we’re at. Those same people will also believe the awful, slanderous lies and rumours about Biden and his family, no matter how much they are a lie, let alone that they are Russian propaganda. We should expect people to care about that kind of thing about all else, yet nope, it appears not.
The fact is that last night didn’t move the needle or change the course of this campaign. Biden did what he needed to do and he’s performance should keep him on track. As for Trump, he didn’t completely crap the bed in an angry fit like he did last time. That likely won’t get him back in the race, but it was better than the first time, which is most likely what he needed to do. For all the sound, lies and fury of last night, they didn’t so much as signify nothing as they did just sound like we expected. That speaks to the stupor that we find ourselves in these days and how baked in a lot of this crap is.
Last night did nothing to shake the United States out of that state, yet didn’t seem to make it worse. To be polite about it all, you can call it a draw and like it is in most races, the draw benefits whoever is ahead. In this case, that’s Joe Biden and if that’s the standard of what we’re looking at right now, that makes Biden the winner of last night by default. There are only 11 days left for Americans to vote and we’ll see where this all leads. If something is going to change the course of this race, it didn’t happen last night on that stage in Nashville and honestly, given how 2020 has gone, that might have been the best thing everyone could have hoped for.
All of Canadian politics has spent the past 48 hours spinning, twirling and losing its collective mind over the potential of a snap general election during the start of the second wave of this global pandemic. It’s been something to see how this all blew up out of nowhere, against all commonsense thanks to both the Liberals and Conservatives completely overplaying their hands. That insanity put the pressure squarely on the New Democrats and Leader Jagmeet Singh to determine what would happen. Well just after 1 pm eastern today, we got our answer, and it was a rare show of maturity in these past couple days of petulant immaturity:
As I pointed out yesterday, the fact that we were even in this position was just insane. The Conservative took a legitimate idea that the NDP had floated around having a special committee to investigate federal spending during COVID-19 and torqued it in the worst, partisan ways. It’s totally reasonable to look over all spending by the Feds during this period, when things were moved fast, and mistakes did happen. We have seen the WE scandal, but we’ve seen a story a questionable contract for ventilators to one company that ended up apparently benefitting another company owned by a former Liberal MP, we’ve seen a commercial rent assistance program that flopped and other examples that also deserve to be thoroughly looked at. That is parliamentary oversight and that’s the job of opposition parliamentarians. Instead of sticking to that, the Conservatives did what they always seem to do, got far ahead of themselves and allowed their partisan overreach blind them to what their duties are.
As for the Liberals, their responses to this have been stunningly arrogant and bad. They tried to defend wanting to force an election over this by basically saying that they can’t do their job while being held to account, which is totally insane as a proposition. But they went beyond that, calling any attempt to be held to account a personal, vindictive attack on them. All of that came after they prorogued Parliament to stop committees from holding them to account, and then spent the past two weeks filibustering them to the same effect. It was petulance at it’s worst, yet something Mr. Singh mentioned in his press conference was very enlightening. When asked if the NDP was negotiated with the Liberals to create a special committee, Singh told the assembled reporters that the Liberals refused to discuss it and had no interest in actually allowing a committee to take on this work. That perked up my ears because that’s a change in stance from the red team, again raising the serious question about what in the sweet Hell they are trying to hide. But it also did because it became clear that Mr. Trudeau wants an election, no matter the cost, no matter the risk to public health and no matter what it means for accountability. Like a spoiled child being faced with a time out because his parents tried to keep him in line, this Prime Minister responded by effectively trying to get rid of his parents instead of facing the “indignity” of spending 10 minutes silent in a chair. The old words of “then gentleman doth protest too much” ring very true right now, and because there will be no election, Parliamentarians will be able to get to the bottom of those topics which Mr. Trudeau appears to protest far too much.
That has left Jagmeet Singh as the adult in the room in this conversation, and in doing so, he’s showing that he can do what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Official Opposition basically admitted they either can’t or won’t do; walk and chew gum at the same time. With the Conservatives more concerned with scoring cheap political points than getting to the bottom for the WE Scandal, the Liberals more concerned about their own self-preservation than being transparent and accountable to Canadians and the Bloc Quebecois doing what they always do, which is do nothing to be productive towards making Parliament work, it’s fallen to the NDP to do the heavy lifting. That is always the harder job to do and it’s one that all Canadians expect their elected leaders to do, but in this case thanks to three other parties thinking of their own best interests first, that hard work has fallen on the shoulders of 24 New Democrats from all across the country.
And let’s be clear, this is not the easiest route for the New Democrats to take. It won’t be easy to keep fighting in committees to get to the bottom of WE and other pandemic spending issues, but nothing worth doing is ever easy. The fact is that no one is going to get to the bottom of those issues on the campaign trail. Parliament is the place for that to happen, and you have to be there to make that happen. And the same is true when it comes to supporting Canadians during this pandemic. You can’t pass changed help for commercial rents, or disabled peoples, or any other COVID measures from a campaign bus bouncing from stop to stop. The only place for that work to happen is in Parliament, and in taking this position, the NDP has ensured that will happen.
A lot of what I’ve witnessed in the past 48 hours reminds me of things we saw in the last minority Parliament when we faced similar situations. Jagmeet Singh showed himself to be acting like Jack Layton in the best of ways, taking the hard work of making Parliament work to heart and doing what he can to balance those interests. Erin O’Toole has been acting a lot like Michael Ignatieff, the Official Opposition leader in those days, bringing forward bluster and rhetoric with no effect on making peoples lives better. The blue team might want to remember where that led Ignatieff in 2011. Yves-François Blanchet played the Gilles Duceppe role of aloof leader very much, more concerned with keeping his own salary & seat, which ended equally badly in 2011. And then there’s Justin Trudeau taking on the role of Stephen Harper, launching threats of elections from on high, minus the blue sweaters. While that might have gotten Harper a majority in 2011, I would only point out that Trudeau got elected by saying he was the antithesis of him, how he operated and how he governed. These last few days might be the final acts in Justin Trudeau’s transformation into the red version of Harper, in effect becoming everything in government that he scorned and repudiated in opposition. We’ll see how that goes, but it’s something interesting that I couldn’t help but notice.
In the meantime, Parliament will continue on. The pressure to hold the Trudeau Liberal government will continue, while Parliament continues to pass supports for Canadians during COVID, while we react to whatever happens after the US Presidential Election in a couple weeks and while we deal with whatever else that we haven’t seen come onto our radar yet comes out. That will be the case because the adults in the room stepped up and did the heavily lifting here. For all the recriminations that the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc will try to throw at the NDP here, they have made the right choice. It’s much easier to pout, fight and tear something down than to talk, compromise and build something up. The hard work is what we rightly expect from our politicians and honestly, its what real leaders do. In this moment, we can only point to one true leader in the House of Commons and that’s Jagmeet Singh, and that has just as much to do with him being the adult in the room as it does with the others acting like spoiled children instead. It’s all about contrast, and today, the contrast is especially clear.
Having worked in politics for a decade, I always find it interesting to see when and how parties manage to get far out over their skies. While many professional political operatives have good political judgement and senses, sometimes those senses can be completely off the mark and off base. It’s always struck me how really bad political calculations can blow up in their faces and just how obvious that it was that they would.
There are many explanations for how those bad choices get made, everything between total over confidence, to having something to hide, right down to just purely bad decision making. No political party has a perfect record on these things, so everyone has their time in this particular barrel. Seeing these kinds of examples play out happen a lot, but they take on a whole new dimension in a minority government like we have in Ottawa right now. So it was with that in mind that I’m watching what’s playing out in West Block today, shaking my head at the whole thing:
You know everyone, it’s a rare event to see both a Government and the Official Opposition totally overplay their hands, at the exact same time, over the exact same issue. It’s a clusterf*ck if I’ve ever seen one, and it shouldn’t have gotten to this point. This all comes back to the WE Scandal, an issue that rocked this government in the Spring and Summer months and pushed the government to prorogue to try to stop the investigation of. The Liberals claim there is nothing here, it was dealt with, yet at the same time are fighting tooth and nail to stop. They have been filibustering multiple house committees in an attempt to stop investigations there, grinding them to a halt. That alone is overplaying their hand, going so far to try to stop something that they say is nothing. But instead of facing the reality of that appearance, they have doubled down on that filibustering by saying that the vote on this Conservative opposition day motion is a confidence measure, threatening to send Canadians to the polls over this. That’s crazy, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.
For their part, the Conservatives have done again what they always seem to do; they took a legitimate issue of concerned that needed to be investigated, and torqued it up with hyper partisan language making it impossible for others to accept. In this case, the Conservative motion took a good idea (creating a separate committee to investigate the WE Scandal and COVID spending measures) that would free up other committees to do other works, and injected a vile poison pill trying, calling it an “Anti-Corruption Committee”. By putting such a leading, partisan and over the top label on a serious committee that would have serious work to do, Erin O’Toole and his team completely shot the moon here. Why? I can only guess why they would, but it’s not the first time they have.
So in one fowl swoop, both the Liberals and the Conservatives have completely overplayed their hands with childish behaviour that trivializes a legitimate and serious issue of how the Government of Canada spends our money. There were many red flags that flew around the whole WE situation, and for the Liberals to suggest that getting to the bottom of that is some kind of character assassination or completely inappropriate while fighting a pandemic is ignorant, desperate and reeks of blind partisanship. As Global News’ David Akin correctly points out above, Canadians expect that their government can walk and chew gum at the same time. In fact, they elect them to do just that, because never does any government get to focus on solely one thing ever. There are always multiple balls to judge for any government, and a pandemic doesn’t make that any different. So for the Liberals to suggest that we must have an election because they simply can’t juggle these two balls at the same time is not only unbelievable, but also a damning indictment of their own abilities. Or otherwise put, a total overreach by this government.
For the Conservatives part, while the WE Scandal needs to be investigated and gotten to the bottom of, you can’t do that if you come in with a pre-determined decision in mind. By trying to call this an “Anti-Corruption Committee”, the Conservatives are assuming right off the hop that this Liberal government is corrupt and committed illegal acts of some sort. We don’t know that yet, we don’t have all the evidence yet and no matter how terribly the Conservatives view the Liberals as people or want to characterize them, that doesn’t make it so without the proof. The Liberals don’t help their cause by filibustering and trying to hide what they say isn’t there, but while those acts in and of themselves look bad, they are not evidence of corruption or crimes. It’s smells, but that’s not evidence that it’s sh*t that smells. You don’t know if it’s sh*t until you see it first-hand. That’s what this whole investigation should be about and there is a lot there to investigate. But that wasn’t enough for Pierre Poilievre, Erin O’Toole et al, they had to take this extra, inflammatory step that gave them a quick injection of partisan jollies that made the base feel good. Heck, even when they offered to strip “anti-corruption” from the title, as CTV’s Michel Boyer pointed out the replacement language in the motion for the name of the committee would have in the new special committee having the abbreviation of “SCAM”. That’s too cute by half and shows just how serious the Conservatives are about actually getting to the truth in all of this. In doing so, they too have completely overplayed their hand by taking a serious issue that deserves answers and turned it into rank, low-level politics that Canadians don’t expect at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.
That’s left the NDP in the position of being the adults in the room again, as has been the pattern during this entire Parliament so far. NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus has proposed doing this separate committee, but stripping it of the offensive language and focusing on all pandemic spending for the government, which makes complete sense. Ottawa has had to spend a lot of money fast to respond to this pandemic, so it makes complete sense that we should have a special body to look at that spending and investigate any troubling situations that come with that, the WE Scandal included. In doing so, the NDP brought forward a constructive solution that would allow the WE Scandal to be investigated to its fullest, allow other House committees that were investigating WE to go onto other topics of importance during the pandemic and in effect, allow Parliament to continue to walk and chew gum, the very thing the Liberals claim is impossible. It’s a win/win approach that allows for proper parliamentary oversight to continue while we deal with the health crisis in front of us.
If that suggestion will come to pass will apparently need to wait until the idiotic shenanigans from the House today is dealt with. If this idiotic game of over-reach chicken being played out by the Liberals and Conservatives results in a snap election in the teeth of the second wave of a global pandemic, that would be the dumbest thing of all. Not only would we not get the answers to the legit questions that remain unanswered from the WE Scandal, we would be sending Canadians to the polls in the middle of a global pandemic while Ontario and Quebec are facing record high COVID cases daily, the Maritimes are still bubbled and the United States votes and potentially kicks off a constitutional crisis down there. All of that is a lot of gum we already have to chew while we walk, and we the Liberals and Conservatives decide to run for an election, it’s not like that gum goes away.
All of this means that both the Liberals and Conservatives have totally overplayed their hands and in the best-case scenario, are both in for epic walk backs of these insane positions. In the worst case, these gross political miscalculations will throw Canadians into an election we don’t need and don’t want during the biggest global health crisis in a century. This is a total clusterf*ck and a circus that Canadians just don’t need right now. It’s time for these two parties to tone down the rhetoric, walk back the over-the-top language and pull their heads out of their rear ends. We’ll see if they do it because if they don’t, I suspect that Canadians will be happy to punish these two parties for such stupid miscalculations on their parts, especially in these stressed days of COVID-19
Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Kate Harrison & Lindsay Maskell. We talked about the attacks on Mi’kmaw fishers in Nova Scotia, the reaction (or lack there of) by the RCMP, what’s needed to be done to move forward, the continued mixed messages around COVID-19 in Ontario now touching Halloween, the effect that it’s having on people and our behaviours and what will people do around this spooky holiday. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 17:00 minute mark.