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O’Toole Out

Well all of political Canada has watching Parliament Hill this morning, as all parties held their respective caucus meetings. With all due respect to all parties, we all know which caucus meeting we were paying the most attention to; the Conservative caucus. With the drama of the past 48 hours Erin O’Toole’s leadership of the Blue Team was being put up to a vote, one that was expected to be close and expected to tell us a great deal about the future of their party.

It was shortly after 1 pm eastern, the metaphorical blue smoke rose from out of the Conservative confab, and the result was as striking as it was surprising. Here is what came out:

Wow folks, it wasn’t really close in the end. Those trying to remove O’Toole only needed 59 MPs to make it happen, and they surpassed that by 14. It ended up being over 60% of the caucus that decided he needed to go, which is a much stronger mandate than I believe that most people expected. That tells us a few things in the end.

Firstly, it tells us that this disconnect went beyond just the core of social conservatives who are known to be the biggest agitators within the caucus. To put this into perspective, only 62 Conservative MPs vote against the government’s conversion therapy ban legislation in the last Parliament, an issue that continued to be a big problem within that caucus & was cited as a reason for moving on O’Toole’s leadership. It’s remarkable that 11 more MPs voted to toss him than on that significant vote last spring.

What that tells us is that the discontent when beyond those issues and clearly came to bother others on the other side. It takes a lot of work to manage to turn that many of your own caucus against you from all sides, and somehow it appears that O’Toole has managed to do it. Part of that clearly comes from the lack of ability or will to manage the caucus on the part of O’Toole himself. The entire episode around O’Toole’s move to let the new conversion therapy bill pass through unanimous consent in December was one that was very telling on this score. In order to do that, you can’t have a single MP offside because all it would take was one of those 62 MPs who voted against this last time to raise their voice to deny that unanimous consent. When that didn’t happen at the time, I knew that either one of two things happened; either O’Toole had worked with his caucus, spoke to those opposed and got them to stand down in that moment to allow his party to move beyond this issue, or he didn’t tell them a thing, sprung it on everyone as a surprise and effectively caught his caucus members off guard.

Now that we are seeing this today, it’s clear that O’Toole too the second path, not the first. That confirms what we heard earlier in the year when O’Toole released their carbon pricing plan, news broke that O’Toole told the public about this plan before his own caucus. As a result, many of his caucus members learned the news from the CBC of all places, which you know just added more salt into that particular wound. As someone who spent a decade working in a caucus on Parliament Hill and I can say for a fact that it’s normal for MPs to know of such big policy plans before they hit the media. When a leader is running a tight ship and is doing the work to connect with their caucus, no one is finding these things out in the media.

All of that builds up resentment, mistrust and eventually, problems. Another leader who might have had stronger leadership skills, or had a reputation that created credible fear within their caucus, could have likely survived such a situation. Stephen Harper wasn’t much a beloved leader as a respected (and somewhat feared) leader, and he could get away with moments like that. But he got to that spot through years of building relationships and a reputation, good or bad. He also got to that spot by having done the work of bringing the Conservative camp back together (something I’ll come back to in a moment). Erin O’Toole never had any of that and it’s starting to become apparent that he never really did the work to build that support. For all the reasonable critiques that can be made of the social-conservative elements of his caucus, O’Toole owns his own style of management.

But that is all now for historians and political scientists to study, look back upon and judge as time goes by. Now is a time for looking ahead and what all of this will mean for not just the Conservatives but Canadian politics in general going forward. When you look at this result, and how all of this has played out over the past days, I continue to believe that some things were said that cannot be taken back. Erin O’Toole is gone as leader, but now we’ll see what others decide to do. Those who tossed O’Toole today have done so under the premise that they should go further right, be more strident and given the language they’ve been using in this past days, likely more radicalized and more like the Republicans we are seeing to the South of us.

I’m personally not convinced that given the moment that we are in, with all the convoy crap we’ve seen in front of Parliament and the support of it from too many Conservative MPs, that reason will prevail and that all of their caucus will hold together. It feels like the gap between the social conservatives and social progressives in their party is getting too wide to manage, and that gap isn’t likely to get any closer. We’ll see where all of this leads, but today’s vote feels more like the first domino falling than the final act of this episode. The Conservatives have made a choice, and now come the consequences for them. The question remains if they are truly ready to face up to them in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned!

A Big Blue Groundhogs Day

It’s been quite the 24 hours in #cdnpoli, but not for the reason why we expected at the start of yesterday. With a move to try to give Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole the boot finally made, the attention of Political Ottawa turned from the “protests” on the street in front of Parliament and looked towards inside West Block. In the time since the news broke, things haven’t settled down and here is a quick bit of some of what happened since I last wrote last night:

With a virtual caucus meeting coming tomorrow (which I’ll come back to in a moment), this will all come to a head, and it appears that everyone is rushing head long towards it. O’Toole isn’t backing down, and is basically telling his detractors to “Bring it”. And for the few Conservative MPs who have already gone on the record with their opposition to his leadership, they are reply “Oh, it’s already been brung”. There have been comments made by O’Toole, and MPs Garnett Genuis and Bob Benzen that are the kinds of statements there is no coming back from. They are serious enough that whoever the winner is in this scenario, the losers will likely have to go. I don’t see how both sides stay put at the table after all of this.

I find it pretty telling that some of the biggest names and most respected members of his caucus haven’t taken a position to say they want to boot O’Toole, but are saying that it should be the members who make that decision, not MPs. MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who would be an interesting and strong candidate if she chose to run, made that statement and it felt like a very reasonable position to take. While that may be a reasonable position, it’s not one that should make O’Toole feel comfortable. It’s not a 100% endorsement of his leadership, but rather is a view that members should be the one to plunge in the knife, not caucus members. It remains to be seen if here are enough caucus members with the view of Rempel Garner to help O’Toole carry the day, but if there is, his team needs to be cognizant that their position isn’t any less precarious if they win.

I’ll also note that the O’Toole response to this whole situation has not been something that would likely inspire confidence or win caucus members over to his side. While his statement last night could be taken as strong, it wasn’t coming from a position of strength and would have gone much further if it had come long ago. I’m sure a few people reading that statement were left thinking “we’re in the Hell has that been all this time?” Sometimes late isn’t better than never, and this is a good example of that.

Beyond that fact, the rest of the response hasn’t really been awe inspiring. We saw the sudden appearance of the “Majority Committee” Twitter account out of nowhere, which looked like and sounded like an Astro-turf campaign in the minds of many. Many people wondered if this was for real, “where has this group been for the last couple months?” O’Toole’s leadership hasn’t been safe now for a while, so if this group is for real, it is really late in the game to suddenly appear. If they think that showing up about 48 hours before a do-or-die vote is going to turn the tide, I think they are mistaken.

Finally the story about O’Toole’s pledges to change if he’s allowed to keep his position are cringy as can be. He has been correctly accused of flipping and flopping all over. Prior to the last leadership campaign, he was known as one guy, tried to be the polar opposite to win the campaign, won it then tried to inch back to who he originally was and ended up pinballing all over the map. Essentially O’Toole’s pledge amounts to saying “Hey, if you don’t like this Erin, or the few other versions I’ve shown you over the past year, I’ve got a few more in the back I can show you if you let me stick around”. To be polite about this, that’s amazingly tone deaf. To be blunter, it shows that either you really don’t understand your problem, or you think that somehow you can keep pulling the same trick and get away with it. Erin O’Toole isn’t a one-trick pony, but with promises like those, I can’t blame people if they think that he is.

But for the time being, all of that doesn’t matter as much. What really matters is what will happen in the Conservative caucus meeting tomorrow morning. It wasn’t lost on me that this meeting will take place on Groundhogs Day, because this is starting to feel alike a bit of a pattern of the Conservatives in the post-Harper era. The fact that this is going to happen in a virtual session is going to add another layer of intrigue into all of this. In normal times, those who wanted to move on the leader would have to eventually come before their caucus colleagues and face them in the same room. They would have to face the leader and essentially confront them, taking all the risks that come with that. And for those caucus members who are thinking of voting to remove the leader, caucus members in the room can put direct pressure on them, either peer pressure or something more forceful. Those are influences that can help a leader hold on, especially if the vote appears to be on the edge, as this one does.

But when you’ve got a virtual meeting, a lot of that pressure goes away. You don’t have to face a soul in the room. You don’t have someone standing over your shoulder. You don’t have the eyes of leaders’ office staff glaring at you, or close by to grab you by the elbow to try to convince you to stay in line. Given that this vote might ultimately be one where a few votes make the difference, not having that dynamic of pressure could be the factor that tips this one way or another. For that reason, I’ll be very curious to see the final tally in this vote & just how close it is.

Tomorrow is going to be a defining day for the conservative movement and Canadian politics, regardless of the result of that vote. Ironically, we may soon find that regardless of who wins the day in this vote, the end result could very well be identical; the fracturing of the united Conservative Party and a return to some kind of pre-Harper/MacKay merger situation. Given everything that’s been said and how this has all played out, I have a hard time this coalition staying together for very long if it survives this week. We’ll all be watching but when this week started, who would have guessed that Erin O’Toole’s removal would come before the removal of those trucks littered across the streets in front of Parliament. Crazy days indeed.

The Ground Letting Loose Under Stornoway

I’ve seen a lot of comments lately about how this has felt like a very long January, and I can’t help but concur. Between Omicron, snowstorms, deep cold and now the antics of the past week that have descended on Ottawa, a lot of us have been looking forward to seeing the backside of the first month of the year. But just as it felt like tonight might be a bit quieter and fading into February, really big news has hit social media about the Conservatives and their beleaguered leader. And folks, both bits of news help to explain one another. First piece came from David Akin of Global News, with a particular number that jumped out at me:

Yep, money is one thing that helps to make the political world go around, but it also tells us a lot of stories. When you’re raising a lot, it speaks to your power and organizational prowess. When you’re not raising as much, it’s a sign of trouble and that you’re bleeding support. For the Conservatives, who have had the strongest fundraising machine in Canadian politics for over a decade, it takes a lot to mess that up. Yet as Akin points out, the Blue Team raised just $3.09 million from 22,318 donors in the final three months of 2021, their worst fundraising quarter since the third quarter of 2011, which was right after their big majority win. This is big for a few reasons, and that point of comparison is important. Usually the last quarter of the year is the one of the best fundraising quarters for most parties, as people who give are wanting to earn tax credits to collect on in a few months. It’s one of the easiest asks in fundraising.

What’s one of the hardest asks? The first quarter right after a majority government is formed, especially when that quarter is not the fourth quarter. The fact is that at time, donors feel the least need to give. You’re further away from the pay off of the tax return, and the party is in least need of your money, as the next election is a whole four years away. Yet somehow Erin O’Toole and his team managed to take what should have been a great time to raise money (fourth quarter in a minority government) and had the worst outcome in over 10 years, on par with one of the worst possible times to raise money. For most parties, that would be bad. For the Conservative who are practically a money-printing machine at time, that’s terrible boarding on unforgivable. That might also help explain these couple of tweets that we saw earlier today from the Conservative’s Twitter account:

Hmmm, someone doth protest too much? Given what’s been going on, with Mr. O’Toole trying to save his job and following Pierre Poilievre’s lead in just about everything, including on the convoys in a shameful way, you could tell that he’s in big trouble. Between his Saskatchewan and Senate caucuses rebuffing his attempts to remove Senator Denise Batters from the caucus, he has been on shaky ground for a while now. But is the ground so shaking that it’s about to collapse under his feet? Well according to the Globe and Mail, it’s giving way:

Folks, this is quite big and a few big points to make here. Firstly, this group of caucus members took the first chance they got right after their caucus retreat last week. Something that happened in that room and the days after clearly shook something loose because it didn’t take long for those 35 MPs to take the formal step of signing a letter calling for a leadership review. That move accelerates things, requiring a leadership review vote by all Conservative MPs as early as Wednesday’s mornings caucus meeting. If he loses the vote, he would be toast. After everything that O’Toole has done to try to contort himself into pretzels, he could be out of the Leaders office before the end of the week (and maybe even before the convoy crew is cleared from Wellington Street in front of Parliament). Boy, did that escalate quickly.

Secondly, according to the good reporting of Bob Fife and Marieke Walsh, those looking to remove O’Toole have at least 63 MPs of the elected 119 Conservative members needed to vote him out. The fact that these members have apparently triggered this vote tells me they have the votes to make it work. The old saying that “You can’t go for the King and miss” is very true here, because if these members failed to boot O’Toole here, they would be in deep doodoo within their caucus, if it managed to hold together at all. That tells me they aren’t taking this step half-cocked, that they know who they have onside and know they can win the day. That is bad for O’Toole.

Thirdly, O’Toole clearly knows this because according to the same reporting, Conservative Whip James Bezan was making calls on Sunday and Monday to potential dissident MPs, warning of repercussions if they tried to remove O’Toole. That would be a pretty normal thing to see, as a leader tried to shore up their position. The problem though with that approach this time is that over the past couple of months one thing has become clear; this caucus isn’t afraid of O’Toole. He has no carrots to use to bring people onside, nor does he have any stacks, as the Batters episode and Poilievre driving their narrative has come to show.

The events of this week involving the convoy have just further demonstrated that O’Toole is not in charge of the Blue Convoy right now, so how can he possibly expect to use that kind of forceful persuasion now when he hasn’t been able to in ages? I understand he has to try, but that doesn’t mean it’s likely to succeed. Amazingly the reporting also notes that O’Toole has been advised to use his own supporters to force the caucus vote on his leadership to try to cut this down at the knees. That is an amazing risky gambit and is the equivalent of pushing all of your chips into the middle, hoping that your pair of 7’s is enough to win the hand. Either way, if that’s the point you’ve gotten to, you’re already in a terrible position. Or as my dad always like to say when I was a kid “if you’re stuck on thin ice, you might as well dance”.

Regardless, this week that was starting off all about the tension on the street in front of Parliament but with this turn of events, that focus will now be partially shifted to a conference room in the Sir. John A. MacDonald building on Wednesday morning. Sure January has been a very long month so far, but depending on what happens over the next few days, Erin O’Toole’s February will either feel just as long, or could be over far quicker than he ever would have imagined. Crazy days folks, stay tuned for more.

UPDATE #3: January 31, 2022 @9:43 PM – I’m feeling like the DJ Khalid of #cdnpoli tonight because here comes another one, this time with Conservative MP Garnett Genuis taking aim at Mr. O’Toole on Twitter. That’s the kind of statement you can’t take back, and usually means that somebody has to go. Things appear to be spinning out of control pretty quickly now that the dam has broken:

UPDATE #2: January 31, 2022 @ 9:11 PM – As the night continues, the hits just keep coming, this time from one of the biggest names in the Conservative moment, Jenni Byrne. The movement is moving fast, and there is no mincing of words tonight:

UPDATE #1: January 31, 2022 @ 8:45 PM – More details coming out about this move to boot O’Toole, and amazingly it appears to be coming from one of the best things he did; getting his party to give unanimous support to pass the Conversion Therapy Ban. And Andrew Scheer wants to be given back the keys to Stornoway, on a temporary basis (insert your own jokes here). Wow man, wow!

The Morning After: The Second Day of Whatever the Hell That Was

Yesterday in this space I gave a summary of the awful things that happened in Ottawa on Friday and Saturday, where a group of self-proclaimed “peaceful protesters” settled into the streets of our Nations Capital. As the sun rose on Sunday, and more of their actions came to light, one might have hoped that they would have learned a lesson or two from what the wrought onto the people who call Ottawa home. And yet, as the night turned into day, that hope was quickly dashed as we saw more disgusting acts and more stories come out about the completely disrespect this marauding group unleashed. For this summary, I’ll put this into three categories. Let’s start with the “protests” themselves:

First off, it’s clear this group have not learned a bloody thing and clearly aren’t interested in doing anything but wreak havoc on the lives of the people who live in Ottawa. They are celebrating the cancellation of COVID vaccination clinics, ensuring that more people will have their access to life-saving vaccinations delayed because of their ignorance. When faced with the consequences of their degradation of the Terry Fox memorial just off of Parliament Hill and the National War Memorials, their response was bullshit and no apologies at all. I assume that response also replies to the desecration of the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, which was also urinated on. For a group that claims that they are “protesting” in support of veterans and Indigenous peoples, they clearly have no problem insulting and disrespecting those very same people.

Then on top of that, we saw more attacks against journalists for simple doing their jobs in a professional manner. We also saw people being outwardly proud of being white supremacists, which was a blunt admission that came with no hiding it or shame. And for those who will say “oh, it’s just a few bad apples”, what does that say for those in the crowd who rose their hands or cheered in support of such declarations. Seriously, it’s no longer a group of “bad apples” when those present who say they are opposed to such crap stay silent or cheer it on. For the second category of actions yesterday, let’s look at what the people of Ottawa have had to live with and what has been directed at them from these “protesters”:

Paramedics get rocks and racists slurs behind hurled at them by “respectful protesters”, to the point where they need police escorts (something I will return to in a moment). Verbally abusing residents and defecating on the steps of homes for simply  flying the rainbow flag in the window of their own homes. Firing fireworks directly at people’s homes with impunity. Threatening teenagers working part-time service jobs with stabbing and worse for simply politely asking people to wear a mask. Flailing around a tiger torch in a threatening manner towards residents. And stores, malls, libraries, schools and more being forced to close because of this lawless, threatening crap. None of that speaks to anything close to resembling “respectful” or “peaceful” protesters. Not one iota of it. And that brings me to the last category, which refers to the actions of law enforcement in all of this:

I am going to preface everything that I say here with this disclaimer up front; I know that the police have a very difficult job in this situation and that they are not in an enviable position facing all of this. I know that the majority of individual officers have been acting in an extremely professional manner and have done so in a neutral and objective manner. I applaud those officers and thank them for their continued service here.

But that being said, I have a hard time viewing the policing of this situation as a success. Despite everything I said above and believe, you cannot ignore videos of police being “buddy, buddy” with this group. You can’t ignore the impact that is has on this group when individual officers’ day they support them, and the protesters are “having a good time”. Where the Shepherds of Good Hope having a good time when their clients were assaulted and the scarce food for the homeless was stolen? How about those citizens who had to see antisemitic messages and flags all over? How about those businesspeople and their staff who had faced threats, assaults or have had to close for days because of this crap? Was pissing on the National War Memorial a hallmark of a “good time” according to that officer that said that with a chuckle and a smile? Is threatening to overthrowing our elected government and dismantling our very system of representative democracy part of “having a good time”?

Come the fuck on, you have to be kidding me. This weekend was pure, unadulterated Hell for so many citizens in Ottawa, especially those who live downtown and have been unable to escape it all. Many have been effectively trapped in their homes, while random “respectful protesters” have been threatening them where they live. And through it all, the Ottawa Police has bee absent. There may be a legitimate reason for that absence, but they have still been absent. These law-abiding citizens have been left to their own devices to face threats of violence and to the safety of their homes and families, while at the same time, some Ottawa Police have been seen taking selfies with those issuing those threats and defacing the city. No wonder some of those protesters and their organizers have the impression that the police are “on their side” when some on-duty officers in uniform act like that.

There is nothing right with that at all, and that is a failure on the part of the Ottawa Police, period. While there may be legitimate reasons for policing this as they have, the Ottawa Police service have a lot to answer for simply because the faith of citizens to serve and protect them from lawlessness took a serious hit this weekend. And I can’t blame those citizens for feeling let down by their police. When they needed them the most, when they were facing these threats, the Ottawa Police were not there for them. After all this is done, the Ottawa Police and Ottawa City Council will need to address this in full because the people deserve answers to help rebuild any trust.

In the meantime, this isn’t over yet. While the crowds have thinned and a good number of people have gone home, the core protest group and the more extreme part of them remain in place. They continue to insist on their demands that will never be met, and they refuse to leave until they are met. I understand why the police are trying to avoid a confrontation with these people, but at point do they finally move in and remove this group from where they stand? Opinions on that vary but this cannot continue as such much longer. This is the part of this moment that is the most dangerous, as this group isn’t likely to accept the inevitable result of their unacceptable demands being rejected. If we’ve already seen the worst of this “protest”, then that’s good. But it still feels to me like we haven’t yet. That will all come down to how the last part of this group is dealt with. Until then, Ottawa remains on edge and the pressure to deal with this group of disrespectful people will only grow. We’ll see how this goes, while still hoping for a peaceful conclusion to all of this crap.

The Morning After: The First Day of Whatever the Hell That Was

In the past I’ve written some of these “Morning After” pieces to discuss elections, debates or more normal political things. It was an approach I always felt worked well for those things. Yet this morning I was racking my mind as to how to talk about yesterday in Ottawa, because there was so much that happened that was awful . As a result, I decided to revive this title for this because of how disturbing the day was, but also because of the political fall out that may very well come from what has happened so far.

The day was full of foul language, disturbing signage and a lot of things that we have seen show up at anti-vax events all across the country over the past year. That was to be expected, and honestly probably wasn’t as shocking. It was some of the other things that happened that have grabbed us all by the scruff and infuriated many. I’m going to take this in some tranches of events. Let’s start on Parliament Hill itself, and some of the images we saw:

In that collection of images you saw there, we saw swastikas a plenty, Confederate flags, people literally pissing on the grounds of our hallowed democracy and then desecration of the Terry Fox statue, found directly across the street from Parliament. We also saw photos and videos from Conservative MPs who were hobnobbing with the people there, leaving them to defend getting themselves seen with these images, like Conservative MP Michael Cooper in that screenshot of a live TV shot with swastikas in the background. It was the ultimate example of “fucked around, got caught”, but things got more disturbing as the day went along. Let’s go to the next tranche, one of the most hallowed places in all of Ottawa:

Many of us woke up Saturday morning to see photos of the National War Memorial being used as a parking lot, an act of disrespect for those who have fought for our freedoms and died to protect them. For a group that was supposedly all about “freedom”, it was an ignorant and disgusting act. Eventually the vehicles were cleared, some leaving willingly and others refusing, having to be removed, giving an additional act of disrespect. You might have thought that once the out-of-towners realized what that place was that they would steer clear if it, but that didn’t happen. Nope, it actually got worse. Later we saw members of this “Freedom” protest drinking and dancing on the memorial, jumping on top of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And then this morning, I woke up to images of people who literally pissed on the place. For those of us who were working in Parliament in 2014, that place holds extra importance because that was the place that Corporal Nathan Cirillo was murdered by a terrorist before he shot up Parliament. He died standing sentry, protecting that place in 2014. And here we are less than eight years later, and a group of self-proclaimed “patriots” treated that hallowed ground with the ultimate disrespect. That disrespect extended to those who live in the city, which is the next tranche for your consideration:

When I lived in Ottawa, I saw a lot of protests. That is part and parcel of what comes with living in the Nation’s Capital and those who live there are used to what comes with that. Most protestors who come to Ottawa are, in our most Canadian of traditions, are polite and respectful as they make their point. That has been far from the case this time, almost right from the start the night before with images of threats being made against simple workers in hotels, restaurants and stores. That continued through Saturday, and I expect will do so again going forward as the crowd gets thinner and more extreme. But it was the news that came out late last night of the actions of members of this “freedom” protest against the Shepherds of Good Hope was maybe one of the most stomach-turning things I’ve ever seen. As the shelter itself told everyone on Twitter, some of those “protestors” turned up at their shelter, demanding to be fed and because of the fear of this moment, they gave it to them. These “patriots” claimed that they had to because they couldn’t get fed without a mask, and therefore were somehow worthy of getting the meager and limited resources aimed for the homeless in Ottawa. Yes, because they refused to wear an effing mask, they stole from the poor. They supposedly raised over $8 million, yet they stole from the poor. They had the money and resources to feed themselves, but they refused to do a simple thing that the vast majority of us have done. So in the end, they literally stole from the homeless, who are trying to survive on a 30 below night in Ottawa. I would invite people to make a donation to the Shepherds of Good Hope and show them just how their good work is supported by the vast majority of Canadians.

I can’t adequately describe my anger and disgust at those acts because that is so debased and disgusting. All day during interviews on live national TV yesterday, these self-professed “Canadian Patriots” talked about how they were really doing this for all Canadians, for the poor, the homeless, for small businesspeople, for Indigenous peoples, for veterans and more. Yet in all of these depraved acts, groups of cowards in this “protest” desecrated, demeaned and stole from all of those people. And as a group with so many self-professed Christians, they even deliberately tried to disrupt church services, even after they were asked to stop. They weren’t just acting like jerks, they took it up more than a few notches, with that last act at the Shepherds of Good Hope being the lowest of lows. But in the last tranche here, I can’t help but look forward a bit, with what might still come next:

On Friday night I wrote about the dangers that could come ahead with this protest. I pointed to the unprecedented actions taken by the Parliamentary Protective Services and their warnings to MPs about staying safe at home. It spoke to the threats that are being traced, to the safety of members of Parliament and those in the Parliamentary precinct. And yesterday, we saw more of that play out. We heard from CBC that the Prime Minister and his family were moved to an undisclosed, safe location, again a serious step I never witnessed in my time on Parliament Hill. We saw trucks trying to force their way to Rideau Cottage, showing that those precautions were warranted. One of the most infamous protest leaders was videoed knocking on the door of the Prime Ministers office, making comments that could be construed as threatening. We also saw threats lobbed at journalists yesterday and this morning we saw that Parliamentary Press Gallery members needing police assistance to get into work, something else I cannot remember ever hearing about or witnessing in my time there. This is very serious stuff.

Remember, this group has been calling for the removal of our democratically elected government and dismantling of our representative democracy. That is in their demands, along with other crazy things that show their complete lack of understanding of our democratic system, the Constitution and more. But this is what they want, and as I’ve been saying for a while now, I don’t picture a situation where this group gets told “No” and just walks away quietly, accepting the denial and protection of democracy. They haven’t accepted a bloody thing during this whole pandemic and have made it clear that they want to overthrow the government. So why would they all of a sudden gain rationality when they’ve shown themselves to be anything but. Heck, now they even have the backing of Donald Trump of all people, stirring the pot at one of his dangerous rallies just last night. That is only going to push them along further, not chasten them.

So what is going to happen when they finally realize they aren’t going to get their way? That is the next step that is dangerous and worrying. Tomorrow Parliament is supposed to reconvene after their winter break and while it will be a hybrid sitting, there will still be some MPs there in person, along with Parliamentary staff that are needed to make it work. I don’t logistically see how all these trucks and people will be cleared out of Ottawa’s downtown by tomorrow morning, and the group has clearly stated they have no intention of leaving until we no longer have a democracy. While so much of we saw yesterday was disturbing, enraging and disgusting, this isn’t over yet and still has the potential to get worse. Now that some of the cooler heads who were along for the ride of this protest have gone home and we have a more extreme group there, it remains to be seen what will happen. I continue to pray for the best and that nothing dangerous will come from this, but after the depravity we saw yesterday, I am not as hopeful as I’d like to be. We’ll see what happens tomorrow but unfortunately this is not over, and the worst may still be ahead of us.

What You Need to Know: The Return of Parliament

The latest episode of Bluesky Strategy Group’s “What You Need to Know: A #CdnPolicast” with my colleagues Andrew Leslie, Neil Brodie and Alyson Fair is now out. In this episode we talk about the return of Parliament after the winter break, what we are watching for as the House returns and which ministers we are keeping an eye on. You can check it all out below:

The Tories Josh Hawley Moment?

Today the small cars, passenger trucks and a much smaller number of transport trucks than advertised started to roll into downtown Ottawa. Yes, the moment is before us, and after the disturbing turn of events from last night involving Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, a moment of truth appears to be before us. This feels more and more like the hours before the rally that took place in Washington on January 6th, 2021, the one that sparked an insurrection and an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power in the United States.

It was a moment that I couldn’t believe I was witnessing when I saw what was happening before my very eyes. It was the kind of thing we never thought we’d see, yet there it was running live on international television and all-over social media. Yet it wasn’t until afterwards that everything that happened sunk in, and some moments especially stood out after we all took stock of what had just happened. Some of those moments have come to personify those who did them, and as I’ve watched things starting to play out in Ottawa today, this image below from that fateful day last year is sticking in my mind:

Credit: Francis Chung / E&E News and Politico via AP Images

Yep, the raised fist of Republican Senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley. That image showed Hawley, a highly educated lawyer who clearly knows how the American constitution works and how their democracy functions, raised his fist in support of the mob of Trump supporters and varied other far-right groups. He did that as he was walking into the United States Capitol building, as he was going to the Senate to try to stop the legal counting of electors, using what he knew to be misinformation and lies to try to stop that peaceful transfer of power.

In the moment, that raised fist of privilege looked pretty bad. But after the events of that day, the storming of the Capitol, the deaths that came from it and the danger that Americas Congresspeople, Senators and Vice President was put in, it looked terrible. It’s the kind of image that spoke many thousands words and became a signal for how low he was willing to go to achieve his partisan goals. It was an image that spoke to the wounding of American democracy, and you’d think that it would be the kind of thing that most self-respecting politicians would want to avoid.

Yet here we are, with some of the people gathering in Ottawa looking to have a maple syrup version of the Capitol Insurrection and we’re seeing a disturbing number of elected Members of Parliament from one particular party apparently about to have their own Josh Hawley moment. According to a report from iPolitics.ca, a significant number of the Conservative caucus have publicly voiced their support for this convoy, regardless of its composition and completely ignoring the dangers it possesses. iPolitics identifies 13, including O’Toole himself. On top of that, I’ve identified at least another few. That makes at least 10% of the Conservative caucus to date, with more that are likely to come. Out of those, here are some of the worst examples:

Folks, none of those postings, photos or messages were a mistake or a slip of the tongue. For some of those posted there, like Martin Shields, Garnett Genuis, Andrew Scheer, Marilyn Gladu, Jeremy Patzer or Michelle Ferrari. If anything, those fit neatly into their views of everything they’ve shown us time and again. That is just showing us who they are. Those people know exactly what they are doing, exactly who is mixed in with this group, who is organizing it and what they stand for. As an elected person, you don’t show up to their event if you don’t know that, let alone go taking selfies and doing live social media interviews with one of the most notorious ones like Jeremy Patzer did.

Some others, I must admit I am a bit surprised by, mostly because I’ve come to know them through personal experience as a bit more level-headed and rational. Melissa Lantsman would be my best example of that group, with her Tweets promoting her petition on the vaccine mandates that others have jumped upon being the subject of my surprise, showing misleading photos of empty grocery shelves from the UK. Before her election, I had done panels with Melissa and I found her to be someone who was very informed but also very principled. Her speaking out against homophobia within her own party was a great example of that. While I likely don’t agree with her on much when it comes to policy, I had found her to work in realm of facts and trying to win her argument with them. That petition, as misleading and somewhat inflammatory as it is, is not that. Sure, she’s not out there going to meet these protestors or photobombing them like some of her colleagues (and that’s a credit to her), I must admit that this did vex me quite a bit. If this were a moment that were more normal moment that wasn’t so fraught given the malign influences involved, I would likely not even mention it, nor would I have noted it from other more level-headed members of her caucus.

But the reason why I can’t ignore it in the context of what’s happening is because of what we saw happen south of the border last year. If things hadn’t gone off the rails on January 6th last year, if those Trump supporters hadn’t turned violent at all or breached the capitol, it’s likely that raised fist of Hawley’s would have been remembered much differently. If things hadn’t jumped off that day, we likely would have seen it as a thoughtless, overly partisan thing that had been done but didn’t matter in the end. But as we know, that’s not how it all played out.

So where am I going with all of this? Ottawa is on a knives edge this weekend and we know that tensions are high because of the malign influences that are looking to overthrow the government. As I’ve said before, when the demands of this group and their MOU are not accepted, do we honestly expect them to just go home quietly and accept it? I have a hard time picturing that. I pray that I’m wrong, but we can’t discount the danger right now. For those Conservative members who have either latched themselves to this group with zeal, or who have given them mild support publicly rather than repudiate the threats of violence towards their colleagues in the House of Commons, through their words and actions they have opened themselves up to their own potential Josh Hawley moments.

And folks, they know it. They know the decision they have made, and they have done the political calculus in their minds and hearts. They either don’t care or are ready to accept what comes with it. I don’t know how any of that will help any of their party get to government, as they chase the PPC and further fringes around while more than 80% of vaccinated Canadians look on in stunned silence. I hope and pray for the best this weekend but if my prayers are not answered, this group of Conservative MPs have opened themselves up to joining Josh Hawley in the history books, and not in the best of ways.

UPDATE: 7:30 PM EST: No sooner than I posted this piece above, another prime example of a potential “Josh Hawley” moment happened with none other than Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

Rubicon Crossed

Having not written in almost two months, I hadn’t pictured that I’d end up writing again twice in the same day the first time back. Yet things are moving fast tonight and there has been a couple developments that have come out regarding the protests heading to Ottawa. I’m going to post them both together, as I honestly can’t separate them in my mind:

The first Tweet posted is from journalist Justin Ling, sharing a copy of a statement the likes of which I’ve never seen in all my time working on Parliament Hill. It in, it is calling on MPs to basically lock themselves at home and watch out for dangerous people coming to their places of residence in Ottawa. In the second, we see Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole giving one of the worst performances I’ve ever witnessed from a party leader in this country, promising to meet with representatives of the same group that the Parliamentary Protective Services are warning all MPs to protect themselves from.

I can’t separate these two Tweets from one another because of the brazen shithosery of them. I spent a decade on Parliament Hill, and I saw many protests. I was there for Idle No More, I saw years of March for Life protests and I even saw Greenpeace protestors rappel from the roof of my building, right in front of my office window overlooking Wellington. I also saw this event take place in late October 2014:

That was the day that part of my workplace was shot up by a lone terrorist. On that day, while my NDP colleagues were in a conference room on one side of the hallway where the shooting happened, Erin O’Toole and many of his current Conservatives caucus members were across the hall in their conference room. After the shooting, you could see the bullet marks in the stone in the hallways, and see where bullets nearly pierced the double soundproofing doors to those conference rooms. For our room, a bullet passed through the first door, only to be logged in the second. In the room behind it, some of my colleagues were sitting at desks on risers, and that bullet was lodged at the same level as those sitting on them.

That was a harrowing and frightening experience for everyone involved, and it was a day that none of us who worked there at the time will forget. To this day, I assumed that included Mr. O’Toole yet after what just happened, I now honestly have to wonder if he truly does. I mean, if he did, surely he wouldn’t go into a nationally televised press conference and promise to meet with a group of people who have been hanging the Prime Minister in effigy, or who have been uttering death threats at some of his colleagues in the House and journalists sitting in the audience. If he did, surely he wouldn’t promise to meet with a protest with organizers linked to all kinds of alt-right, antisemitism, racism and worse. If he surely did, you would think that he would confidently be able to stand up to anyone in his caucus who dared to suggest such a thing.

Yet here we are, with O’Toole bending to the will of a group who police clearly have enough concerns about to issue such a warning to members of his own caucus, the rational and others, and all members of the House of Commons and Senate. Instead of chastising these people for trying to come to the homes of Parliamentarians in Ottawa to harass and threaten them, if not worse, he gives them an audience and gives them exactly what they want. And what is it that they want? Legitimacy. In doing this, he is giving legitimacy to the same kind of people who have harassed medical professionals at work and home, to the point where he himself voted for a law to make it illegal just last month. And when they turn to the same tactics towards the people who he shares a workplace with he invites them to coffee and gives them some of his time?

In my earlier piece today I asked how things had slide so far since fall of 2020, when we were all up in arms at dangerous people making dangerous threats against people in public life. I was concerned that for those who were trying to take political advantage and trying to run to the front of this parade of anger, that there would no longer be any red lines left for them to cross. Of course they exist in all of our minds, but I was worried that they would no longer recognize them. Clearly openly supporting people who are making threats against the lives of your fellow Parliamentarians much be such a red line, and O’Toole crossed it with what appeared to be little coaxing or pressure.

I still remember even back on that day in October of 2014, in the wake of the worry about other shooters or the potential for future similar incidents, the Parliamentary Protective Services never issued such a warning to Parliamentarians. They were never told to lock their doors, secure their homes and don’t mention a protest on social media. They didn’t because even in that darkest moment, it wasn’t necessary. Yet within hours of that unprecedented step being taken today, Erin O’Toole gave those people causing such a warning comfort and part of what they are coming to Ottawa for.

History will not judge this moment kindly, and in my mind, this is one of the darkest moments in recent Canadian political history. I remember after that shooting in 2014 how so many of us from across party lines were able to come together and find some common humanity in the aftermath. We had all just experienced a similar experience, with similar fears and despite our political differences, we never wished anything close to that experience upon our opponents again. So here we are, just over seven years later, and when faced with impending danger Erin O’Toole chose the side of those making the threats over his fellow Parliamentarians whose only apparent “crime” here is following science, the law and being decent human beings. To those who are protesting, they seen that as the worst possible thing and when faced with that, O’Toole has decided to give that tacit validation and to hear them out over Timmy’s. We have crossed a disturbing rubicon tonight, and it managed to come 48 hours before the trucks hit Ottawa. In this moment one thing is crystal clear; some haven’t learned a bloody thing from the Hell we’ve seen play out stateside in the past year and when faced with that kind of dangerous energy, the Conservatives have decided to try to harness it rather than repudiate it. We’re seeing how that works to our South and I feel safe in saying that it will not go any better up here with those who try this now.

The Wakeup Call?

This space has been a bit quiet for a while, mostly because I’ve been quite busy and haven’t had the time to write. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, it’s just been more of a matter of not having enough time to say it. And to be fair, there have been many great columnists and commentators out there who have been saying a lot of what has been on my mind. But with the events of this week, and after a particular Twitter exchange I had yesterday about the topic du jour (re: convoys), I felt compelled to write. This is the specific part of this exchange that tweaked this for me:

When I was having this back and forth with the amazing journalist Stephen Maher and with fellow political gadfly Jamie Carroll, I had a moment of clarity that really just struck me as so strange. It brought me back to the end of the summer of 2020 and a piece I wrote about the disturbing scenes we were seeing play out just off of Parliament Hill. At that time conspiracy theory spouting individuals were trying to enact “citizens arrests” against politicians and journalists. That came after members of the same group tried to do the same to the Prime Minister at Rideau Cottage. And of course, that came after an armed military reservist and supposedly “friendly sausage-maker” attempted to storm Rideau Hall to get the Prime Minister.

At that time, I remember so much of the conversation what centred around how this was out of control, about how our politicians should be better protected, how it was un-Canadian to have this happen on the street right outside Parliament and how we didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole we saw playing out in the United States. It was a moment when it felt like almost everyone across the political spectrum was saying “hey, this is too much”.

Yet we fast forward to today, and during that conversation it just hit me that moment was clearly gone. Instead of speaking with a united voice against those malign voices and forces, we’ve seen splintering and called to embrace the crazy conspiracy theories and those spewing them. When one points out that there are far-right groups, white nationalists and other assorted populists attached to this group coming towards Ottawa, a growing number of mostly big and small “c” conservative voices have tried to silence those points. They call the ones who point to these malign influences as the true dividers and the real problem. A prime example of this played out right in front of the Sir John A. MacDonald Building across the street from Parliament Hill this morning, from a sadly unsurprising voice:

When you listen to that, it’s clear as day who is driving the Conservative bus these days and it’s clearly not Erin O’Toole. Pierre Poilievre is driving that thing, trying to angle his way into a leadership job with some of the most disingenuous and devise stuff I’ve heard from anyone on the Blue Team in a long while. I know there are good, moral members of good conscious with that caucus who are shaking their heads at what Poilievre is doing here. He’s parroting the worst of what we’ve seen play out stateside, just as some within this convoy are calling for a Canadian remix of the worst event to play out there in decades. You don’t believe me? Here:

I could go on but I’m going to ask a question here that I asked in the Twitter thread I mentioned yesterday: At what point do we take these people at their word? Do we wait until the first shot is fired? Until blood is spilled? Words matter & have consequences, as it is in a free country. When those words go beyond the legal standard and create harm to others, they should be acted upon by the authorities to the fullest extent of the law. Seriously, how many people down south were talking the same way about what happened last year in Washington? How could we allow ourselves to be put in the same situation with the same kind of malaise?

Right now all of the warning signs are blaring red, telling us that we should take this seriously, even if this isn’t a group of serious-minded people. Heck, these are the same people who think that if they get enough signatures on an incoherent petition that they can force the Senate and Governor General to dissolve the government and basically put an end to our elected, representative democracy. Doesn’t that sound eerily familiar to the batshit crazy stuff that led to what happened on January 6th, 2021? And when those people show up in Ottawa and what they’ve been led to believe will happen doesn’t, what do you think they’re going to do? Go home, realize this was all a big mistake, that they’ve been fooled and had and will just go home quietly? I come to this video clip here to make my point:

This has all the ingredients to make for a terrible time in Ottawa, one that could be minimized and dealt by the authorities if we are taking this seriously. The different police and security agencies clearly are and i’m thankful for that. But sadly we’re seeing some Conservative politicians who are seeing political advantage in this moment, trying to replicate the “successes” of the likes of Republicans like Josh Hawley, Marjorie Taylor Green, Paul Gosar and others of their ilk. They have seen a road to personal political advantage through creating the ruins of strong democratic institutions that they have personally helped to create, and now we are seeing some Canadian Conservatives apparently looking to walk the same path. Basically they’ve look at Maxime Bernier and decided they can do that better. Do I think that’s what is going to play out in Ottawa when that convoy arrives? I’m not convinced of it yet, but I’m not willing to wait to find out if I’m right. It only takes one time to get succeed, regardless of how many failed attempts are made. On January 6th, 2021 we saw just how close our American neighbours came to that edge, and that should have been our wakeup call here at home. Instead we slept through that alarm and this is on our doorstep today. Will we continue to hit snooze hoping for things to get better? I guess time will tell but now is the moment that our elected political leaders need to dig deep and lead. That means denouncing the hate and conspiracy theories that should be easy to denounce and standing firm. They all did it back in September of 2020 and the future of our democracy depends on all of them doing it again now.

Talking the arrival of Omicron 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 Josh Zanin. We discussed the arrival of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, how Canada should respond to it, the continued flooding in BC & the need to address the infrastructure deficits this crisis has reminded us of, the problem of inflation and how government should be responding to it and more. You can listen to it all below.