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In Defence of Tom

Tonight a story is making the rounds about comments made by former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair that more NDP MPs will not be running than have already said won’t. The comments from Tom are strong and needless to say, there are many in NDP circles who are not too happy to hear them. Frankly, many of those same people haven’t been happy to hear to much of what he’s had to say since he left the House of Commons this summer. Some have pointed out that former NDP leaders have traditionally stayed quiet about the current leadership when stepping aside, and that this is just wrong on Tom’s part.

Well, tonight I want to take this up and come to the defence of Tom Mulcair in this moment. Tom’s a good leader and doesn’t need me to defend him, but I feel compelled to do so because of the circumstances that we find ourselves in today. For starters, I would point out that while most former NDP leaders have stayed away from attacking current leaders or staying out of leadership races all together, Tom’s not the first to break that tradition. Remember back during the race to replace Jack Layton, no less that Ed Broadbent went public with is criticisms of Tom in the weeks before the vote. He told people to look at who was supporting Tom, noting that most people who had been in the caucus before 2011 were supporting someone else, as a kind of backhanded comment. Later Ed defended those comments by saying that he had a “responsibility” to raise his concerns and that they were no personal vendetta against Tom. So let’s keep our history in perspective here.

Now when it comes to Tom, I will openly confess that I didn’t want to see him tossed as leader. He had my support to comeback and put in the work to do better next time. Yes, the campaign that was run in 2015 was not the best but I believe that he deserved another chance to run, just as Ontario NDP (and now Official Opposition Leader) Andrea Horwath did. I had the chance to work in the caucus under all of the years of Tom’s leadership and he’s someone who I enjoyed working with and while I disagreed with him on some thing, I found there was space to voice that and try to move the debate.

But when it comes to what I saw over the years of Tom’s leadership, one thing was very clear; some members and supporters never accepted his win as leader or accepted him as leader. Some people always looked at him with a suspicious eye, said he wasn’t a real New Democrat and never gave him the chances they had given other leaders. To me that was sadly ironic because policy wise, Tom didn’t take the NDP in any direction other than the one that Jack Layton took us. In fact, the platform that the NDP ran on in 2015 was very similar to 2011, and similar again to 2008; many of the principles were the same and the things that people attacked Tom for (the promise of balanced budgets as one example) were also there in Jack’s previous platforms. At the end of the day, even though after the leadership race Ed buried the hatchet and did what he could to help Tom and the team going forward, Ed’s attacks on Tom left a mark, one that never left.

We also have to remember the full arc of the Mulcair story within the NDP, starting with his by-election win in Outremont. When it came to building the party in Quebec, it was people like Tom and Françoise Boivin who did a lot of the heavy lifting in those pre-2011 years. While Jack got and deserved a lot of the credit for 2011, he wasn’t shy to put the spotlight on others like Tom who deserved it for their hard work to make that happen.

So you can just imagine how it must be for him, a proud person who made a career out of doing things that no one said he could, to not only be dispatched like he was, like no other leader in Canadian history had, but then be forced to watch that decade of hard work to build a beachhead in Quebec for the NDP start to crumble and be on the verge of disappearing if things happen the way public commentary believes it will.

That isn’t easy to sit back and watch silently and I know that because he’s not the only one feeling that way. There are many of us, former and current MPs, former staff like myself, some current staff who are still there, volunteers, donors, people who have sacrificed and poured themselves into this party trying to form government and make a better country, watching it all slip away. So yes, that’s very hard for Tom to stay quiet and rightfully so.

Now while some are pointing to Tom saying he’s being vindictive and trying to settle scores, I see this a different way. What I see is someone who is watching from a distance as something he built falters. I see someone who cares deeply about the institution, the party and those involved in it and watching it all start to go under the waves. I see someone who can’t stay quiet, in the hope that by speaking up it will shake something loose and help right the ship. And let’s be clear, the NDP ship needs some righting right now.

Some will say that Tom shouldn’t say anything now, should wait until the by-election in Burnaby is done before point this out and that’s a fair comment. But to that I would only retort that maybe there isn’t enough time to wait to say it. 9 times out of 10 I would agree with the “wait until after” approach, but from everything I’m seeing, this is that one time to speak up.

So in defence of Tom, maybe this isn’t someone throwing knives at their successor but instead maybe this is Tom channelling his inner Ed Broadbent, feeling the responsibility to speak up now. That’s how I see it, as someone who voted for both Tom Mulcair and Jagmeet Singh in leadership races and worked in both of their caucuses. I want to see Jagmeet be his best. I’m hoping that Jagmeet grows, improves and becomes the leader that we all hope he can be. And I just don’t believe that can happen if we ignore what we see.

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Magpie Brûlé Podcast Launches

With a cold, snowy weekend coming down on us here in Eastern Ontario, today made a great chance to make some headway on the second part of this project called “Magpie Brûlé”: the podcast. Yes I’m happy to say that the first episode of the first season of the Magpie Brûlé Podcast is done, in the metaphorical can and ready. If you’d like to visit the podcasts site you can find it at http://magpiebrule.libsyn.com/. And soon the podcasts will be available on iTunes and other services as we get them set up and running.

For the first episode, I discuss the week that’s was in Canadian politics, the current state of play in the Canadian political scene as we start 2019 and a story about a different approach being floated by an East Coast MLA. If you’d like to check it out, you can listen to it below here. Enjoy.

Off and Running in Burnaby

Election years always bring a fair bit of excitement, as everyone starts to ramp up their campaigns, raise funds, nominate candidates and draw up platforms to run on. But in 2019 we have a bit of business to take care of before we get to that point. Earlier in January we saw the government call three by-elections in Outremont, York-Simcoe and Burnaby South, with another one to be called in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in a few weeks.

While each by-election called as importance all its own, it’s the race in Burnaby South that’s topped the list in that regard for one big reason: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is trying to win his way into the House of Commons and as I wrote about last night, there is a lot riding on this race. With the stakes being what they are, you would expect more attention and more energy to be around this race, and we’ve gotten some of that so far.

But on top of the usual, we’ve also seen a series of events that have been quite the thing to watch from a distance. “What’s happened so far?” you might ask. Well here is a short list of what’s happened so far:

  • The NDP Leader spends a few months calling on the government to call the by-elections, accusing the Prime Minister of denying these ridings representation
  • The Prime Minister finally calls the by-elections on January 9th, later than expected, but not before getting his wrists slapped in editorials about his delaying.
  • Maxime Bernier named his first every candidate, who will run in the by-election, but the media soon discovered that she has said many intolerant things before about the LGBT community, gender fluidity and other topics.
  • The Liberal candidate goes after Singh for not being from Burnaby
  • The Conservative candidate, a lawyer, attacks Singh for being the “wrong kind of lawyer”, a defense lawyer. The Conservative candidate tried to back track saying defense lawyers are good people, play an important role, but then tries to still say that there is something insidious about Singh being a defense lawyer. Singh replies by saying he should go back to law school.
  • Jagmeet Singh has a notably bad interview on CTV’s Question Period, which sets out a series of commentary from across the board that ranged from “that was rough” to “Gah!!! What the hell?!?!?!”
  • Mainstreet released their first poll of the by-election campaign period for the riding, showing Singh with a good lead, the Liberals 2nd, and Bernier’s People Party getting to 9% at the expense of the Conservatives

Until yesterday, the only party who seemed to be having a good campaign in Burnaby was the Greens, and that was only because they aren’t running a candidate. No one has gotten off to a clean start, but no one was wounded to the point that they couldn’t hope to catch up, especially with the extra couple of weeks the Prime Minister tagged onto this by-election. But oh, then came yesterday, did it ever. So, what’s happened in the last 36 hours or so? Well….

  • The Star reported that on social media, Liberal candidate Karen Wang suggested that as the only Chinese candidate, she could beat Jagmeet Singh, who she noted is of “Indian descent.”
  • Later in the day, Wang resigned as Liberal candidate, apologizing for her comments
  • After that, news came out that Wang had previous approached the Conservatives about running for them before seeking the Liberal nomination and was actually rejected by the party
  • Then a story came out that members of the local Liberal riding association warned the national party with concerns they had about Wang as a potential candidate
  • Wang goes to the media, saying that she wants to take back her resignation, saying that she still wanted to be the Liberal candidate and that she wasn’t a racist
  • The Liberal Party said “no backsies”, said that she would not be their candidate and informed everyone that Elections Canada had already accepted her resignation
  • According again to the Star, Wang may now seek an independent candidacy
  • Then finally at the end of the day Wang held a press conference, claiming that a campaign volunteer was responsible for the post in question, but ultimately she took ultimate responsibility for it.

Wow…. That’s a lot, isn’t it. Round and round and round we go. What to say about all of this? Well, for starters it really changes the state of play, regardless if Karen Wang decides to try to run as an independent or not. We’ll have to see if the Liberals decide to field another candidate, but they have until February 4th to decide that; given the view of many that the Liberals don’t want to see Mr. Singh lose this race, they might all of a sudden discover the virtue in “Leaders Courtesy”.

For Singh and the New Democrats, this week is ending a lot better than it started; they have some wind in their sails, with either a new main opponent or no Liberal replacement, and the Conservatives getting a decent share of vote eaten up by the People’s Party. If you’re on Team “Love & Courage”, you take this and keep on keeping on, get to those doors and making the best of this chance.

For those who are seeing conspiracies everywhere in all of this or believe that some parties are playing 3D chess while the rest play checkers, I would suggest that they pump their breaks a bit. The events of the past 36 hours are far from being planned or welcomed by the government in my opinion. Yes, it’s pretty clear the Liberals want Mr. Singh to win, but they didn’t concoct all this to try to help him over the finish line. You wouldn’t open yourself up to accusations of using that kind of language or using those kinds of tactics, accusations that are so counter to your brand and the same kind of thing you accuse others of doing, in some Machiavellian plan to try to “own the dippers”. The risks of it backfiring on you are too great, and that risk is nowhere near worth whatever reward would come from it.

If I have learned anything while working in politics and running campaigns, I can point to one very simple rule: Don’t credit to strategic genius something that can most easily be credited to human error, vanity or simply screwing up. And in my view, that’s exactly what we have here, a rather spectacular example of just that; someone doing something that they didn’t think through or thought they could do without getting caught, then getting caught. We’ll see how the next couple of weeks of this by-election go but something tells me that because of this energetic burst of action over the past two days, this race may have come a lot closer to being decided. Jagmeet Singh hasn’t won it yet and still has a lot of work to do, but tonight as I write this, the question of “if” he wins seems to be much closer to be settled in the positive for the NDP than it was when the race was called. Events have intervened this week, as they tend to do during campaigns. Will more of them come before February 25th and voting day in Burnaby? Time will tell but one thing we can say for sure is that this by-election hasn’t been a boring one so far.

The State of Play

2018 was a year that was one for the record books, and one that I think many people were happy to put behind us, hoping for a better year ahead in 2019. But so far if the first two weeks of this year are to be any indication, 2019 is going to be a rough ride all its own. We can look at everything we’re dealing with at home and there is a lot of understandable angst. We look to our South and watch the Trump presidency with less and less shock, but more and more worry. Then we look to our East and we see the slow-motion fiasco known as Brexit that is rolling out and everything happening in Europe.

All over we are seeing the democratic pillars that have helped to get us to where we are today over the past 70 years being eroded and shaken. Whether we like it or not, this is the political environment that we find ourselves in as we go into an important Federal election in 2019. When you add to that the provincial elections coming in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, along with the minority governments in British Columbia and New Brunswick, this year promises to be a memorable one.

So with all of that in mind, I think it’s good that we take a baseline of where we start this year, the “State of Play” as it currently is. We’ll come back at regular intervals to see where everyone stands, as things are bound to happen if recent history is any indication. So let’s kick this off, starting with the government:

Liberals: Now into year four of their majority mandate, if you’re the Prime Minister you have to be comfortable with where you sit. Yes, there are many challenges and problems out there that the Liberals are facing (some of their own making, others totally beyond their control) but we can objectively say that things could be much worse. They can count some wins in their column, despite long odds and difficult situations. If you had told any of the three major leaders in 2015 that they would have to re-negotiate NAFTA with Donald Trump, I dare to think that any of them could have done any better than this government has.

There is no doubt though that the general mood of the people is not as happy as it was in 2015, among some people who voted Liberal last time and among others who never would have. We’ve gotten a good taste of this phenomena this past week, as we’ve seen the Prime Minister doing town hall meetings, being greeted by protestors on both ends of the political spectrum. Under normal circumstances that might worry a governing party, but to date the Opposition parties haven’t been able to harness that sentiment on either side. So right now it seems like the Liberal Party has found its familiar spot in the “not too hot, not too cold” middle of Canadian politics. In the current climate is that an advantage? Only time will tell but I can safely say that the other parties would happily be in the position the Liberals sit in today.

Conservatives: Watching the Conservative Party in the age of Trump and Brexit is nothing short of fascinating. That would be fascinating enough to watch by itself, but when you add the “Life after Harper” aspect, it becomes that much more so. Say what you will about Stephen Harper and his policies, the biggest part of his legacy was leaving a united Conservative party behind him. That unity somehow managed to survive the leadership candidacies of Kellie Leitch and Brad Trost, both of which could have easily blown open old fault lines from the early 2000’s and undone all that work. And that unity survived another 15 months or so until Maxima Bernier left (more on that a bit later).

In the months since Bernier created his new party, we’ve seen the Conservatives’ tone and language change. We’ve seen lines of attack used that would make you think that the party hadn’t learned anything from the “barbaric practices tip line” episode from the last election. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has been spending his time attacking the UN and tweeting about how he supported Brexit before it was cool. These are things that are pretty far from the mainstream and are not typically the route to government in this country. At this point it seems that Scheer and crew are trying to “out Mad Max” Max Bernier. Will that work? Is that where people are at? It’s hard to say but you can’t help but wonder where this approach will lead in the end.

New Democrats: It has not been an easy three years to be orange and coming into 2019, the party is on the media’s lips, but mostly for all the wrong reasons. Fundraising is down, by-election results have been rough and some MPs have decided to take their leave and not run again. Also Leader Jagmeet Singh has spent the first 15 months of his leadership without a seat in the House of Commons. If your glass is half-empty, there is a whole lot to focus on.

Really, most of the NDP’s current situation does begin and end with Singh. After running a great leadership campaign and winning, we haven’t seen what happened there translate to the party so far. It has not been easy to change that when you’re the third party and poll after poll shows that your supporters like many things that the current government is doing. They even like the Prime Minister himself, which takes away the emotional motivator for NDP supports that they had before when it came to facing Stephen Harper. It’s a hard box to be stuck in.

In the end, we’ll know more about the New Democrats situation because the by-election in Burnaby South is now on. With a win Jagmeet Singh takes his seat in House of Commons and continues to build towards the next election. With a loss, it’s hard to say what happens, but the best way to not have to worry about that is simply to win. Now with the events of the past two days, with a Mainstreet riding poll showing Singh with a good lead and the Liberal candidate resigning due to inappropriate comments she made on social media, he sits in a better position. But none of that guarantees anything and at the end of the day, this is all in the NDP’s hands. For the next month nothing matters but knocking on doors and pulling the vote; they can deal with the rest afterwards.

Bloc Quebecois: It’s kind of amazing to think of where the BQ has gone in the past 25 years. Many people of greater stature than I have said many times “this will be the Bloc’s last election….the Bloc is surely done”. Yet here we find ourselves heading into another Federal Election with the Bloc there, ready to be on the ballot. But could those people be right this time?

It’s hard to say that they are entering this pre-election period in a good spot. Most of this parliament for the Bloc has really been taken up with the drama of their break up and reunion. Now It looks like former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Yves-François Blanchet will lead them into the next campaign once their current leadership campaign is over. Their fundraising is not great, but that has normally been the case. The biggest question going into this campaign is “where do they really fit into the conversation in 2019?”. This is an even bigger question now that we have the addition of Maxime Bernier’s party into the mix. Between recent history and crowded ballots in the province, it’s hard to say what might happen with the vote splits. So with all that in mind the Bloc isn’t done yet, but you have to wonder how much longer that will be true for.

Greens: When looking at the Greens, the big question that comes to mind is pretty straightforward: How much of their provincial breakthroughs will carry to the federal scene? In the past few years, the Greens have made up ground and different levels. They have won seats in four provincial legislatures, have clout in the new minority government in New Brunswick and hold the balance of power in British Columbia. And now, according to polling, they are in position to win government in Prince Edward Island. In each province where they have won seats, they have done it their own way and took advantage of unique circumstances. On PEI, the troubles facing the islands PC’s has helped, in New Brunswick, the collapse of the NB NDP has aided them. In BC and Ontario, a lot of it seems to come down to the individuals themselves who have won.

But with all of that, the sole Green to ever be elected federally remains Elizabeth May. Might this change in 2019? It’s hard to say but you have to ask yourself when it comes to the Greens “If not now, when?”. It can be argued the Green brand has never been as well-known or viewed as positively in Canadian history, but it remains to be seen if that provincial success will bleed over to the federal side. If we look at public domain polling, it doesn’t seem to be happening yet. A good test of this will come this fall from PEI, when Islanders will vote twice in October, in provincial and federal elections. It will be something to watch.

People’s Party: Okay, we now get to the end of the list, to what seems to be the wildest of wild cards. Maxime Bernier’s decision to strike out on his own is one of the most watched political moves coming out of 2018, one that has the potential to have an outsized impact on what happens this year. Will the People’s Party be the next Reform Party, or will it be the next Forces et Démocratie? By the end of this campaign, we’ll have a much better idea.

So far we can safely say that this party has already managed to do more than other recent newly created parties. The fact that Bernier and his team have managed to organize 338 riding associations and raise a fair amount of money to date, all of which is no small feat. It shows some ability and strength for the new party, but will it amount to anything more than that? Will it have any effect on the outcomes of the election? They may not win many seats, if any beyond Bernier’s own, but if they draw between 5-10% of the vote away from Scheer’s Conservatives, that changes the electoral map. And remember, in the province of Quebec alone in 2015, nine people were elected with 30% of the vote or less, with a half dozen others elected by only a couple percent more. That was due to many 4-way splits that we saw in the province. Imagine what that might look like with a 5th party with resources on the ballot? And outside of Quebec, how many more pitched 3 and 4-way races might we see?

But finally with the call of by-elections this month, we have a few test cases for what the People’s Party might be able to do. In the riding poll for Burnaby South released by Mainstreet this week, the PPC candidate polled in at 9%, which is far ahead of the 1.5-3% we’ve been seeing them at in national polls. We can guess where most of that vote in Burnaby would be coming from, which might explain why it seems that Mad Max has taken up residence inside Andrew Scheer’s head. Since Bernier bolted and started his party, we’ve seen a marked shift further to the right by the Conservatives, taking up the topics that Bernier has been parroting for a while now, almost as if they are trying to prove their conservative cred. While we hear all the time that the Conservatives need the NDP to do better to have a chance to form government, the Conservatives will have no shot at government if Max and his crew have success, no matter how mild.

So since we last spoke….

Wednesday November 18th, 2009….. that was the last time that I wrote a post for old blog “Peterborough Politics”. It’s been going on close to 10 years since that last post, and so many things have happened and changed in that space of time.

So what happened to me you might ask? Why did I stop writing and why did I end the blog I had spent four years on. The answer to that question is a pretty simple one; I was given the opportunity to live out a dream, one that I had been having ever since my earliest of days in school. I got the chance to go work on Parliament Hill, working for an Member of Parliament.

It was a chance that I simply couldn’t turn down, one that changed my life forever and I am eternally grateful for. When I came onto the Hill at the end of November, 2009, the world was a different place. We were in a minority Parliament and there were no guarantees about how long we would have left and when that next election would come, let alone if we would still have jobs after that election happened. In hindsight, it was a crazy risk to take; giving up a comfy, safe job with a pension and benefits and knowing it all could be over in a matter of months. But instead of the worst happening, I got to be a very small part of and a front row seat to some amazing times and events in the history of our country.

But after nine years of living a dream, getting to pour myself into issues and topics I care about deeply to my core, it was time to move onto the next phase in life. This year I turn 40 (yeah, I’m getting older) and I now have a young family; living and planning life on a four year election cycle was just simply not as easy on the family and myself. It was time for a change.

Just as haphazard as my going to work on Parliament Hill was, moving onto the next challenge was something I honestly never thought of; I didn’t go to work thinking about what I would do afterwards. I was just happy to be there and wasn’t thinking that far ahead. So when the family and I decided to look for a change, my mind was open to what that might be. In the end that change came in the form of an opportunity, which brought be into the world of government relations. This fall I became a part of the team at Bluesky Strategy Group and it’s been just as great a leap into the unknown as going to Parliament Hill itself was.

And that brings me back to this point, Tuesday January 15th, 2019. Why did I decide to start up another blog and come back to this? Honestly, for many of the same reasons I did when I first started. I believe that it’s always a good things to hear what others have to say, to bring different and diverse voices into the conversation and to be heard. And that doesn’t matter what the venue is, whether if it’s online, in the House of Commons, in the media or just in your local community; I believe that speaking out and being a part of the discourse is good for society for the most part .

But I come to this blog from a different perspective now, one that I guess I can only chalk up to having lived more, experience more and having grown up more (maybe only a bit, all depending on who you ask). That perspective really will guide this blog and how I go about it. My goal of this blog is for it to be a productive venue, not one interested in partisan bluster, overstatement and hyperbole. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a card-carrying New Democrat, but I am much more interested in progress and making things better. I’m not interested in any ideological purity tests or anything like that and you won’t find that here. At this point in my life, I am much more interested in the end result rather than who completed it or who gets credit for it. So if you’re looking for hyper-partisan rhetoric, I’m sorry but I don’t plan on supplying it here. If you’re looking for mean attacks and name calling, sorry I won’t be able to help you there either.

I plan to continue to write about issues that mean deeply to me and issues that need attention drawn to them, but also to talk about where I see progressive parties doing things right and where I see them heading down the wrong path. In this current, tense political environment, I believe that we owe it to everyone in this country to be honest about this, looking critically at our own work and seeing how we can do better, not just pointing and yelling at the other side.

On top of writing this blog, I will also be starting a podcast where we will tackle the same issues. I hope to have the podcast up and running soon, so please keep an eye open for it.

I’m happy to getting the chance to come back to this forum, to opine as best as I can and taking part in the debates on this side of things again. I hope that you enjoy reading and listening, and lets start talking again. Thank you, Merci, Miigwetch, Marsee.