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The Hits Keep Coming

It’s been a very rough start to the 43rd General Election for Elizabeth May’s Green Party. Between candidate vetting that’s proved to be lacking, a poor platform launch with gaffes galore in the document and now news about data management issues, it’s been a cavalcade of mistakes and difficulties for the Green team. That might be why L’Actualité’s Alec Castonguay gave the Greens a “D” on their first week, summing up his comments by saying that it’s clear that they aren’t ready to play in the big leagues.

It’s understandable then that many Greens are hoping that their team might turn the corner and things might get better, but folks, that doesn’t seem to be happening with two new stories that came out over night from Ontario. First story came from Guelph, a riding that is represented by the Greens lone MPP and a riding that seems to be their top target in the province. And this story is one that has a familiar theme to it, but one that probably won’t help their chances:

Another 9/11 Truther post from a Green? Seriously? What is it with the Greens and Trutherism? By my count, that makes three Green candidates in this race that have been involved in such things, including their second MP, Paul Manly. Now his campaign says that he’s not a truther and that this post was a “one-time post made purely out of intellectual curiosity”, which is not exactly a strong reply to this issue if you ask me. His excuse is that he was “truther-curious”? Come on, that’s just not going to cut it.

Another interesting detail that the Guelph Mercury story on this notes is something I’ve never heard before. According to their reporting, in 2014 May herself presented a petition in the House of Commons “calling on the Government of Canada to conduct a parliamentary review into the events that occurred in the United States on September 11.” Naturally she was criticized for that but again, I have to ask, what is it with the Greens and Trutherism? This is crazy.

But folks that’s not the last story we have today. The next story comes from the bell weather riding of Peterborough-Kawartha and revolves around Brock Grills. He was the Green candidate in the riding until late July of this year, when he stepped down for “personal reasons.” That happens from time to time, people step forward then back out, so nothing really jumped out at people at the time. Yet yesterday Mr. Grills came back into the news with a social media post of his own, one that brings new light onto that previous resignation and raises new questions:

We’ve all heard the jokes for years about the Greens and their Conservative leanings, so I’ll leave those for you to make at home. But this announcement of the Green candidate going to back the Conservatives just amps that up a bit. Amazingly while announcing his endorsement of Conservative Mike Skinner, Grills stated that he will “continue to hold true to my position on serious environmental and social issues.” Something doesn’t add up there, because the Scheer Conservatives positions on the environment and social issues seem to be pretty far apart on paper. One has to wonder how someone who thinks that the Conservative Party of Canada can be a solution for environmental issues managed to pass that vaunted Green vetting process. You know, the process we were told would ensure that only pro-choice and pro-environment candidates got approved, therefore we didn’t need to worry about what they might do if elected when their votes weren’t whipped.

Personally I have to admit that I can’t help but shake my head at this continual stream of stories coming out of the Green camp. Another alleged truther and now a candidate who thinks that Andrew Scheer is the solution to climate change. Man, what is going on in that tent? These two stories just go to further prove that Mr. Castonguay’s comments about this party are on the mark, because while every party has bad days, defections and issues, they don’t have them on a daily basis and in ways that were so easily able to be found out. You have to wonder how much longer this will continue for the Greens but at this point, it seems like they are blowing their best chance ever at a breakthrough federally. You only get so many chances to make a first impression and if the first week of this campaign has been any indication, that first chance is long gone for the Green team.

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Failures at Launch

We are onto Day 7 of the 43rd General Election and the parties are all spread out around the country trying to win over peoples votes. A big piece of that attempt is a party’s platform, which not only tells people what they are hoping to do if they get to government, but how they will pay for it and the choices they will make to get there. A good platform and platform launch is a sign of a professional campaign that’s running well and goes a long way to prove if that party is ready to make those serious decisions.

It was with that in mind that I watched the Greens release their platform yesterday. After a rough first week of the campaign for the Green team, this launch offered them a chance to distract from the lacklustre candidate vetting that has dogged them so far. A strong launch with all ducks in a row would go a long way to making a lot of people feel better about possibly voting Green. So how did that go? In short, not so good:

You could call yesterday a failure to launch, as there were some big gaping holes that came out of this event, some that are just simply unacceptable in 2019. First, they started by admitting to a major mistake that brought attention all its own; they didn’t have a full costing of their budget ready for the release. Not presenting a full costing of their platform at their launch is a serious mess up, regardless of the reason why. If the costing wasn’t ready, a professional party would never have gone ahead with the launch. They would have waited until that piece was in place, especially given that Ms. May has been crowing to everyone who would listen that her party would have a fully costed platform, with a full costing done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Trying to sluff that off as some kind of minor thing just speaks to how bad a mistake that was.

That’s not where this story ends, oh no no no.  Their platform is being criticized by some in labour, like the United Steelworkers, who said that it in their policy offering “workers are an afterthought.” Indigenous writer Robert Jago pointed out segments of the Greens Indigenous platform that looks to be plagiarised from the works of various Indigenous, with whole paragraphs seemingly lifted word for word with no credit or attribution. It looks like they tried to pass of the hard work of others as their own, which is a strange way to show respect for Indigenous peoples if you ask me.

On top of that, some parts of their platform were completely contradictory, as Alex Usher pointed out in one particular section on Universal Basic Income (UBI). The platform says that there will be no clawing back of existing programs with the additional income from UBI, but at the same time says that those “earning above a certain total income” would pay it back in taxes, which seems to be the very definition of clawing that back. So either that was a bad mistake in their platform, or a deliberate attempt to pull one over on Canadians.

But the biggest whopper that came out of this is a mistake that really blew my mind. As CBC reported last night, the Green platform began with a personal message from May that tries to compare the fight against climate change to the Allied efforts to defeat Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in the Second World War. She wrote about Dunkirk and the attempts to evacuate British soldiers from the beaches there, a harrowing story for sure. But as the tweet above from historian James Holland shows, May got her facts wrong and totally bungled the story. In the CBC piece, Holland referred to May’s intro “rubbish” and “embarrassing.” He later went on to say that “it’s just sort of fake history on a catastrophic level”, then asks “why would you write about this without checking the facts when it’s not your core subject?” That’s a great question, why would you not check your facts before printing anything in your platform document, let alone something that is so demonstrably wrong.

That is a lot of gaffes for any platform launch and they really don’t speak well of the Green team. Their biggest challenge in this campaign has been to present themselves as a professional party that is ready to be a serious factor in Canadian politics. They have tried to make a virtue out of the fact that they don’t have so many professionals, but unfortunately for them, G7 governments are not run by volunteers. They are run by professionals who get their facts right, make sure that everything is lined up and that they put their best foot forward. Canadians expect their parties to have a certain degree of professionalism to them and to be ready if they are called on. Unfortunately for the Greens, this platform release and the first week of this campaign have shown them to be left wanting on that school. As the campaign goes along, the Greens have shown so far that they need to do a better job of doing their homework and that they are not quite ready for prime time.

Podiums for Six

It was about a month ago that the brand new Federal Election Debates Commission decided on the guest list for the two big Commission debates on October 7th and 10th. There were five leaders who were going to be there; Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May and Yves-François Blanchet. Debates Commissioner, former Governor General David Johnston, ruled that only those five party leaders represented parties that met the criteria.

That left People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier sitting on the outside, seemingly held out because of one criterion around chances of electing a candidate. As I mentioned at the time, the goalposts seemed to have been moved on that criteria at the time, seemingly from getting one person elected to more than one, which Johnston said was the case when he denied Bernier. But after that the PPC decided to appeal the decision, at which time they were asked to show where they might have a chance of getting elected.

So it came to today, the deadline for the Commission to rule on this matter; would Bernier be let in, or would he be shut out? Well what Mr. Johnston decided was something that many people didn’t see coming:

Max Bernier is going to be allowed in. In the release about his ruling, Mr. Johnston said that “based on our further evaluation, I’m satisfied that more than one candidate endorsed by the party has a reasonable chance to be elected.” More than one, that’s where this all hangs and that leaves the open question as to where that one other riding is.

As best as I can tell, that other riding must Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley in Southwest Winnipeg, where former Conservative cabinet minister and most recently MLA Steven Fletcher is running for Bernier’s team. One could argue that Bernier owes his spot in this debate to the folks at Mainstreet Research, as they recently did riding polling in that riding that would have supported the PPC’s case to be included.

Regardless of how they got there, the PPC are there and now the other parties have to figure out what to do with this. First off for all parties, the simple strategy of this debate will need to be redone just by the logistics of having six people on that stage rather than five. That means less guaranteed time for each leader and more people to talk over. If things go sideways, those debates could turn into a mosh pit of noise, which doesn’t really help anyone.

If any specific leader should be the most worried here, it should be Conservative Andrew Scheer. The fact is that while having Bernier on that stage could make Scheer look more moderate by comparison, Bernier is a better performer than Scheer, especially in French. Where Scheer is static and staid, Bernier does have more life and energy in his performance. Also Bernier will be debating like someone with nothing to lose, as he will go after Scheer and try to tear him down, trying to get as many votes from Scheer team as he can. And every vote that Bernier takes from Scheer helps the Trudeau Liberals do better. So on that front, Justin Trudeau has to be giddy at these prospects.

For the other Opposition leaders, they now face a big challenge; how to get noticed and remember in this mess? It’s already hard enough to make an impact in a 4-way debate, let alone the 5-way debate it was going to be. Now you make that 6-ways and it becomes that much harder to stand out and make an impact. That task will be made all the harder by having a character like Bernier on the stage, who you know will say bombastic things that will grab headlines and rip at people’s emotions. I don’t know if any of the other leaders can match that, but they need to find a way to try to do that in their own way. One leader who has an advantage in that matter is Jagmeet Singh, as he is the very antithesis of everything that Bernier is running on. Every time Bernier goes on one of his screeds, the very presence of Singh there, debating him and putting him in his place shows the fallacy of Bernier’s words. In standing up to Bernier’s craziness in a respectful but strong way, Singh could be given the same kind of foil that he had back during his leadership race with that woman who crashed his rally.

Whatever comes ahead, this news will surely change the two federal leaders’ debates, both in tone and in substance. I personally don’t think that Bernier should be there and that many of the things that he is saying deserve a national television platform, but the Commission has made it’s ruling. Now it’s time to prepare for that debate and for the other leaders to get ready to not just put their best foot forward, but to put Max Bernier in his place. On October 7th and 10th, we’ll know who, if anyone, is capable of doing just that.

More #Elxn43 Candidate Vetting Headaches

As we start Day 6 of the 43rd General Election, an early on-going theme has been the problems that some campaigns are having with the vetting of their candidates, and their histories that keep pouring out. And really folks, there’s been a lot of them, more than usual, which is a bit surprising in this age of tight candidate vetting. The two parties that have taken the biggest hits on this front have been the Conservatives and the Greens, both for the candidates themselves but also because of their responses to the concerns raised about these candidates.

From the Greens, their response from leader Elizabeth May has been to say that she “has no power” to punish, boot or whip any candidate or MP she may end up with. That line of reasoning entered the absurd when her party claimed that the unity of the nation was not a “value” of the party, therefore they couldn’t possibly do anything about any sovereigntists running for them. Candidate Pierre Nantel has said multiple times in this campaign that he is a sovereigntist, to which Elizabeth May said he wasn’t. Then finally she said tried to say that “sovereigntist” and “separatist” were not the same thing, which got rightly ridiculed. The Greens have also been dealing with a lot of other candidate issues too, around a woman’s right to choose, to even if climate change is a real thing.

As a result, many commentators have pointed out that the Greens are managing to blow the chance of a generation to do better, seemingly all of their own devices. And if you thought that the candidate issues were done for the Green team, well folks, it seems like there’s more out there that is coming to the surface. Everyone, meet Kevin Nichols, Green candidate in the Manitoba riding of  Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingly:

Wow, look at that trifecta of insanity from Mr. Nichols. He’s been sharing 9/11 Truther information, which would make him the second Green to allegedly be in the Truther boat, joining Green MP Paul Manly, who after his May election was exposed for his past comments on the matter. But that’s not all folks. Mr. Nichols also shared conspiracy theories on social media about fluoride, linking it to Nazi death camps. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s also shared conspiracy theories about the moon landing on social media too. That’s a lot of wackiness there folks, he’s on the Green Team in southwest Winnipeg. Gotta wonder if this candidate will get the boot but given the current track record of the Greens on this so far, it’s not a guarantee they will.

But if that were all from the weekend, Conservative Andrew Scheer did his best to step up to the plate on this matter. On Saturday news came out about the Conservatives candidate in Kanata-Carlton and her relationship with none other than Faith Goldy, about an hour before Mr. Scheer was due to do a public even with said candidate. Needless to say, that was quite the surprise for them that day and well, the reaction of the candidate herself to this was breathtakingly bad, something that led the news all weekend:

Yeah, that was bad. Note that the car sped away even before she got the door closed. They were high tailing it out of there with no delay, a terrible look for sure and something that I guarantee brought a smile to the faces of the Liberal Opposition Research team who found this. It couldn’t have gone much better for them. But for the Conservatives, it’s become clear they’ve got a big problem when it comes to the steady stream of candidate vetting issues and unsavoury pasts of candidates pouring out. They had to do something, and for them, that turned into a mid-flight press conference where he said that as long as a candidate apologized for their past transgressions, that’s all the Mr. Scheer cared about. So in his mind, as long as someone said their sorry, no matter how bad what they said or did, he was going to let them stay on.

It’s a position one could take, not a good one in my view, but if they were consistent about it and stuck to their word, it could have potentially worked. But after the media got that lacklustre new line from Scheer, it obviously got some people thinking about how such a policy would be applied. And to that, we got one very sharp question from a member of the media who asked this question, which brought about this exchange:

Wow, way to blow up your own standard Andrew Scheer. Remember Scheer made his own offensive comments about same-sex marriage and he’s never apologized for those, yet he’s leading the flipping party. So when offered the chance to abide by his own standard, live on national TV, to put this all to bed, he refused, ducked and dodged, not once, but twice. Folks, it doesn’t get much more hypocritical or ham-fisted than that. Not only now does it call the whole fairness of their candidate vetting into question, he again refused to apologize for what he said back then, which gives that issue new life and makes people openly wonder why in the heck he won’t apologize. It gives doubts about Scheer life and allows them to keep going, ensuring that the concerns of some about the influence of social conservatives in his party will not go away at all. It looks like he’s trying to hide something, and that looks bad.

In both of these cases, we’ve seen two parties seriously thrown off their games by issues of candidate vetting gone wrong and completely inconsistent or nonsensical answers to those legitimate questions. Both the Greens and the Conservatives are managing to torpedo their own campaigns in a way that other parties could only dream to do, and if they continue down this path, they will be undone by their own hands. And in both cases, we see leaders in Scheer and May who seem to be unwilling or unable to apologize or publicly accept that they have messed up, which is creating hubris of its own. There is a way out of this mess for both parties, but neither has seemed to be willing to do what it would take for that to happen. That would involve some real contrition and ability to admit to their own mistakes. And probably until they do that, these issues will continue to undo their campaigns and help the other parties around them.

Linguistic Gymnastics

We’re onto Day 4 of the 43rd General Election and the first weekend of campaign events. The first few days have been interesting to watch, to see how the different campaigns are dealing with things and what the different leaders are having to say. Some of it has been pretty boilerplate stuff, nothing to write how about, but some of it has been gobsmackingly bad stuff.

For the prime example of the bad, we have to look at Green leader Elizabeth May and her attempts to defend her party’s positions on a few issues, including abortion, free votes and amazingly of all, the unity of the country. May has been trying to make a virtue of saying that she has no power to whip, punish or stop her MPs from doing anything, even if that means doing things that are supposedly against Green policy. Her continued responses have become a hash of mixed, contradictory words that were starting to boarder on silly.

In the case of her new candidate Pierre Nantel and his avowed sovereigntist bent, this has reached some amazing new heights, or lows, depending on your point of view. Over the past few days Nantel has said again and again that he is a sovereigntist, yet Ms. May keeps saying he’s not. After the Maclean’s/CityTv debate on Thursday night, she clearly said that Nantel was not in favour of Quebec’s sovereignty, despite the fact that a few hours earlier he had said, clear, “yes I am”. And whenever she has been confronted with these facts, she’s said it simply isn’t true and has tried to move on. As a result, this issue simply hasn’t gone away.

That lead us to yesterday, when May did another interview with CBC’s Vassy Kapelos. If you remember, she did one earlier this week which kicked off a lot of her troubles when she said she couldn’t stop a Green MP from trying to re-open the abortion debate. Remember, she has no power according to her. During this new interview, she was asked about the Nantel situation and she delivered probably one of the biggest whoppers of an answer that I’ve seen in a very long time:

Everyone, that is some of the most amazing attempts of linguistic gymnastics that I’ve ever seen and to further that metaphor, she lost grip of the bars and did a face plant on the mat below. That answer was about as bad as they come, and if you needed confirmation of that, check out the responses from the media covering this campaign:

The incredulity of those responses tells you everything you need to know about what May did there with her response. To be crystal clear, “sovereigntist” and “separatist” mean the exact same thing. The difference is that calling someone a “sovereigntist” is the polite way do doing it, while calling someone a “separatist” is an insult, is used in the pejorative and carries more negative connotations. Most people from outside of Canada would never know this difference, but when I went to work for Romeo Saganash, I learned that lesson quickly. During my first trip to Val-d’Or after Romeo’s election, I was chatting with a former colleague and in the course of the conversation I used the term “separatiste”. She quickly and politely corrected me, explained the difference and we went on our way. The lesson of that story? Words matter folks.

That’s what makes what May tried and failed to do yesterday so bad on so many levels. It left two possibilities. It showed that either she has no idea what the difference there actually is, and what it means, which would be a stunning bad thing for any federal leader, let alone the one who comes into this campaign as the one whose lead her party for the longest time of the group. It would show that she doesn’t know some of the basics about Quebec and the whole issue, which would put that whole “national unity isn’t a core Green value” comment from earlier in the week into a new light.

The other option here is that she knows all of this full well, that she knows the difference, knows the connotations and knows it all, yet she is trying to muddy the waters and deceive voters about what is really going on here. That’s far from doing politics differently and would really run counter to everything the Greens say the like to represent. Neither of those options are good.

But there is one final possibility, one that I’m seeing increasingly as this campaign goes along. Maybe Elizabeth May is incapable of apologizing or admitting when she’s made a mistake. Think about it, we’ve seen a few examples now through out this campaign. She refused to admit an mistake in her SNC-Community Service proposal that was so insulting. In that case, she got upset at those who pointed out how flawed and insulting that idea was. When the whole fiasco that took place in New Brunswick over a week ago, Ms. May refused to admit any wrong doing in that case, and she attacked the NDP, saying that they bullied these people back into the fold, which was not the case. And now in the case of Pierre Nantel, she refuses to accept the truth that is staring her in the face, even as Nantel tells everyone that basically, she’s wrong. This is a possibility worth considering, especially because it seems that if it’s the case, it continues to undermine the Green campaign.

Regardless of the reason or explanation, this has been a spectacularly bad start for the Green campaign. For a party that thought it was going to have their chance at a break through and become a bigger force in our politics, this has been an objectively bad start. They seemed to have been caught off guard by some of the simplest of issues and have given some amazingly bad and dismissive answers to those mess up. It all screams of a party that might be in over it’s head, or at least a leader who is. We’ll see if the second week of the Green campaign is better than the first but that mistake made on CBC last night is the kind of mistake that is almost never overcome. That is the kind of mistake that can define a campaign and for a party who thought they were on the rise, that could bring them crashing back down to Earth, with the rest of us Earthlings.