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Talking Premiers Meetings and Carbon Tax in Court on CFRA

This afternoon I had the chance to talk with CFRA’s Anna Desmarais on their Strategy Session. Along with Sabrina Grover, we talk about the Premiers Meetings starting in Saskatchewan, new developments in the Saskatchewan Carbon Tax case and how this all might play into the 43rd election in the fall. You can listen to the audio below, starting right at the beginning. Enjoy!


Educated Ignorance

2019 has been a rough year in our politics so far, and with a big election coming in the fall, it seems to be sure to get harder before it gets any better. Some of that will come from policy differences that have existed since the very beginning of the country, so that’s not new. But some of that of that roughness and anger will come from individuals of note making comments on social media, comments that are just beyond the pale. We saw an awful example of that this weekend on Twitter, one that was just so very wrong:

Where to begin with this? Well, lets start with the premise of the comments from Professor Attaran. Yes, that Abacus polls and many others have shown for many years that Conservatives tend to do better with people with a high school or college education. There is nothing new in this finding, nothing at all, and there are probably many good reasons for that fact.

But yet Professor Attaran went way too far and showed an ignorance of his own in the process. Here’s the thing about what Professor Attaran did; as much as he professes that he’s just stating a fact, he didn’t do that at all. Nowhere in that Abacus poll, or any other polls that I can point to, is any group referred to as “uneducated”. He made that leap, he made that judgement and he then ascribed an ugly caricature to these people in the process.

And that has me all kinds of insulted for so many reasons. First off, it plays on some of the oldest, ugliest, classist tropes that we’ve seen in society for centuries. It plays on the idea that somehow those who have less formal education are somehow less smart, that they are rubes, that they are unable to “see the truth” and are just unable to be enlightened because of their intellectual abilities. Of course, that trope is disgusting and completely wrong for so many reasons. Yet the professor played right into that with his “uneducated” comment.

Secondly, I come from a family of hard working, middle class people, a position that my family rose to over time. In my dad’s family, my generation is the first to attend a university, let alone graduate from one. Me, a Métis guy from Northwestern Ontario, graduated with two university degrees. That came through not only hard work and perseverance, that also came from fighting through many institutional barriers in my way. I had two separate guidance councillors who told me I had no business considering a university education, that I was going to fail in the attempt. I just told them to tell me what I had to do and I would do that. And that’s precisely what I did. That didn’t make me a better person, or a smarter person. Those degrees didn’t elevate me to some better status in life.

Those degrees were a result hard work and using the intelligence that I had to use. I was fortunate to be able to get past those barriers, but not everyone is so fortunate, which brings me to the next point. The fact that someone hasn’t attained a certain education level does not mean for an instant that they are incapable of doing it, and that’s what throwing around a term like “uneducated” implies. The fact is that there are many people with only high school educations or less who have achieved tonnes in our world. They have started businesses, they have created inventions that are a part of our lives and they contributed greatly to our betterment. There are many people with college educations who have done the same and are extremely intelligent, doing things that people with PHD’s could never hope to do. Some people come from poor families who simply can’t afford to send their children to get that higher education, so it’s not a lack of ability but a lack of opportunity that is holding them back. Not having that piece of paper does not make them any less intelligent or empathetic.

The point is that while tracking those kinds of things in a poll might make for an interesting stat, it doesn’t not have some deeper meaning about the quality of the people they are categorizing there. And it seems that Professor Attaran seems to have missed that point.

Finally, this whole episode upset me so much because I’ve met far too many people in progressive parties who express things like Professor Attaran did. They act as if they have some kind of moral superiority graced upon them because of their education, and that those who disagree with their world views are simply incapable of understanding because of their education. That is complete crap, something that I believe is completely counter to the very ethos of progressive thought and is ignorant in its own way. Taking someone’s education and trying to extrapolate a connection to one’s morals is just disgusting and completely wrong. The Professor will deny this, he has already. He said that the Conservatives are “The party of the uneducated.  Every poll says this.” The problem is the polls say nothing of the sort; I’ve never seen a poll call people with a lower formal educational attainment “uneducated”. In fact, I can only think of one person of note who I can remember calling these people those kinds of words; Donald Trump, during his victory speech after the Nevada Primary. I doubt that was what the Professor was aiming for.

As a New Democrat and a progressive person, it drives me mad when I see episodes like this happen. It upsets me because this is precisely the kind of stereotype that so many Conservatives put out there about all progressive minded people, a stereotype that is hardly representative of all of us. Not only are these words offensive, hurtful and wrong headed, they stick in the minds of voters. As a progressive, I believe that it’s our job to call this crap out when it happens. We can’t stay quiet and shake our heads, hoping that everyone forgets this. Silence is complicity in these kinds of comments. Silence sends the signal that we agree with these words. Therefore silence is not an option here. Professor Attaran needs to apologize for these comments and give some reflective thought to what it is that he said. Given his comments on Twitter, I doubt that will come. This is not shooting the messenger and this is not disliking the data; this is calling out the messenger for ascribing conclusions to the data that are simply wrong and hurtful. I’d hope that a professor of all people would be able to stand up to that kind of intellectual rigor. We’ll see if that’s the case.

Magpie Brûlé Podcast: The Quiet Season at Queen’s Park & The Importance of Candidate Vetting

Today I was happy to be able to record and post the newest episode of the Magpie Brûlé podcast. In this episode I talk about the “Quiet Season” at Queen’s Park, the fall out of the scandals building there and how they will affect the Federal Election. Then I go into the importance of candidate vetting and the examples that have recently come to light proving their importance. You can download the episode on Apple Podcasts or just listen to it below. Enjoy!

The Quiet Season at Queen’s Park

July is supposed to be a quiet month for most politicians, or at least it’s usually among the quietest for them. Elected people are back at home in their ridings, away from the crush of the press gallery and are usually keeping a low profile. For governments that are going through a rough patch, getting away for the Summer can be the perfect tonic to the pressures and problems they face in their chamber.

In Ontario, this was part of the thinking or assumptions when we saw the Ford Conservatives put Queen’s Park on hiatus until after the Federal Election. Given the problems that Ford and his team have been causing for their federal cousins, it was thought that getting away and staying away for the summer would help lower the temperature and help to take them out of the headlines. Well if the news at the end of June did a lot to prove that to be a faulty assumption, July surely hasn’t let up, especially over the past couple of days:

Yep, the long shadow of Dean French continues to produce more and more stories and more and more details start to come to light. This time it’s allegations that French tried to get the OPP “onside” in public statements on the story about Doug Ford’s special van request and that French hired a long-time client of his insurance business to a plum civil service job that paid an even better salary. Once the story about Peter Fenwick, who was appointed to be the government’s “strategic transformation adviser”, was about to hit the media, he was shown the door “effective immediately”. Hmmm, I’m sure this departure was planned for months too, right?

As the summer keeps going on, there are more and more stories coming out about the largesse of Dean French in the name of Doug Ford towards friends, family, friends of kids, lacrosse players and now as it turns out, at least one business client that the media has been able to find so far. Given the constant drips coming from this story and the breadth of where all of these appointments have been made to date, it seems very logical to assume that we’ll see more and more stories come to light. So much for laying low over the summer, right?

But folks if this was all about Dean French that would be one thing, but more stories keep coming out about members of the Ford Cabinet that keep adding more fuel to the fire and draw more attention at a time when supposedly they didn’t want to. A prime example of this has been Minister Lisa MacLeod. Last week when she said she used to be “the Minister of Tears” was bad enough and gave another week of oxygen to the stories about her failures on the Autism file and the families deeply hurt by her word. But this morning another story has come out about the new Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and wow, it’s a doozy:

Everyone, that is a crazy story and somehow Lisa MacLeod has managed to make me feel some sympathy for Eugene Melnyk, something that is no small feat. But beside that, a couple of things jumped out at me about this story. For starters, the Minister is not denying Melnyk’s account of what happened and in a Tweet said that she apologized. So that alone bolsters the story in Melnyk’s favour. But maybe more importantly, this is another story in a pattern of intemperate language and behaviour from this Minister. Since when is it appropriate for a Minister of the Crown in any government to go after a private citizen at a public event, dropping f-bombs all over the place, completely unprovoked? And add to that the fact that she was there on official duties that day, so it’s not like she was just out there on her own private time, not that that would make it any better.

What makes this whole episode worse is that Melnyk is a stakeholder for this Minister, is a major employer in Ottawa, and of course with the Senators seeking to build a new arena in downtown Ottawa, could be a major part of one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the history of the city. You’d think that as the MPP for Nepean and the Senior Minister for this government in the Nations Capital that even of you have issues with Mr. Melnyk and his management of the team that you’d temper your language some. But folks, that doesn’t appear to be the M.O. of Minister MacLeod at all.

Let’s face facts here; if this was any other minister in any other government, they would be out of cabinet long before this episode. If somehow that minister had survived to have that episode, surely this would been the final straw. But as we are seeing ample examples of so far, the Ford government is just not any normal government, in behaviour or actions.

And all the while, you know that the Scheer Conservatives are watching these stories play out with a growing sense of horror and absolute frustration. Many Canadians are wondering what life under a Scheer Conservative government might look like, and they are looking to the examples being set by Conservative governments all over the country. Beyond the surreal nature of some of these stories, they are sticking in the mind of voters, probably at the worst time for the Scheer Conservatives. And to think, this was supposed to be the time that they went radio silent. So much for that I guess.

The Importance of Candidate Vetting

One of the most important parts of a well run party in the 21st century is a solid organizing team, one that is able to not only get members activated but can also find those big time candidates to run for them. While we keep downplaying the importance of individual MPs in Parliament, the importance of high profile or “star” candidates is much more important that ever. The fact is a strong candidate with their own track record and good name can not only really help to boost a party’s chances in the riding that they are running in, they can also help to boost the fortunes of a party across the board. We saw an example of this just last week, as the Conservatives were touting some of the new, young women running for them across the country.

But another places where a solid organization comes into play is the vetting of those same potential candidates, especially in this day and age when we live so much of our lives online. An overlooked embarrassing or offensive episode from a candidate can have the same effect on a party, attaching all of their candidates to that one act. Remember this one from the last campaign?

Oh yes, we all remember Jerry Bance, his cup video and that episode. That didn’t kill the Conservative campaign in that race, but it did hurt, so much so that we still remember it to this day. Not only was his act nasty, disrespectful and just down right wrong, it was something that should have been easily caught, because it aired nationally on CBC three years before. It shouldn’t have become a story because a good candidate vetting would have ensured that he was never a candidate to begin with.

As we go into the 43rd General Election candidate vetting, or lack there of, stands to be another important factor. And last night APTN News broke a story that has the potential to be much worse than Mr. Bance’s kitchen episode, involving one of the star candidates that the Conservatives were promoting just last week:

A human skull….. as a birthday present. Seriously, what the hell? And this was found on Facebook, just sitting out there in the open, because where else do you gloat about the human head that you got as a birthday present. Appalling doesn’t feel appropriate enough to cover just how disgusting this is, and it’s not just the purchase that is. Oh no, no, no, the explanation from Conservative candidate Claire Rattée is pretty bad too. In a phone interview Rattée actually said that she could prove where the remains came from, that “it’s actually a European skull”, the skull was very expensive and it came with documentation. Oh look folks, she has the paperwork; she didn’t buy some black market human skull, so it’s okay, right? Good Lord what the heck?

How does a serious candidate, one who has already been elected as a city councillor in Kitimat, think that response was somehow alright? Who actually gets hit with this story and thinks “Hmmm, how do I defend the desecration of the remains of a dead person? Oh yeah, show them the paperwork, that will make it alright.” The fact that she felt the need to say “Hey, they’re European remains”, as if that made their desecration alright, is just a mind-blowing example of terrible judgement. Here’s something I never thought I’d ever need to say on a political blog, but here it goes: It’s not alright to buy or sell the human remains of anyone, especially not as a birthday present. Period. End of story.

But oh folks, that surely won’t be the end of this story. How in the heck didn’t the Conservatives catch this one? Again, it was just sitting out there on Facebook, waiting to be found. And if they knew about it and decided that it wasn’t worthy of disqualification, I have to ask at what point in history did the Conservatives become the “pro-desecration of human remains” party? I have many views on the Conservative Party of Canada, but even I would have never jumped to that conclusion, and something tells me that this is much more of a case of bad vetting than anything else. But for the Conservatives, this story shouldn’t end here if it is to end with the right result. How do you keep a candidate who did this? How do you defend keeping a candidate who bought a human skull for her boyfriend as a birthday present? I don’t think there is a way they can do it while remaining credible.

This story will be an interesting test of the priorities of the Scheer Conservatives, because if they are serious about trying to present themselves as a moderate party who can be trusted to govern, this candidate will be gone and gone fast, regardless of the stature of her nomination. If they decide to overlook this grievous episode and keep her on the ballot, that will tell us about their true nature. I have gotten to know a few Conservative MPs over the years and I can easily imagine just how disgusted they would be at one of their candidates treating human remains as something to be bought and sold for gifts. We’ll see what happens in this case, and I’m sure it won’t be the last case of bad vetting we’ll see going forward. But if this episode proves anything else, it is that vetting matters, no matter how much some people chafe at it.