Stephen Harper Is The Face of Democracy

There’s a peculiarly funny bit in this Ottawa Citizen story covering the first event of the People’s Social Forum, which happened to be a march on Parliament Hill yesterday. It’s about the child of labour leader Chris Wilson:

Wilson’s eight-year-old daughter, Sasha, held a sign that read: “No more Harper. Not cool.” Asked why she doesn’t think the prime minister is cool, Sasha said, “I don’t know. My daddy says so.”

It’s funny because that’s pretty much indicative of progressive politics in Canada these days. Ask why they hate the Harper government, and they’re more likely to sputter out insults and invective rather than hand out anything resembling a reasoned argument.

They don’t really know why they think the Harper government is bad for Canada; but they know what “Daddy” says. And “Daddy,” in this case, is the popular “groupthink” of the Left, the hyperpartisan set of so-called counter-Establishment thinking that constitutes an Establishment of its own, the one that hates conservatism simply because it’s too intellectually lazy to consider its merits — not to mention their own deficiencies.

But here’s the thing. These people often forget that Stephen Harper did not become Prime Minister of Canada all on his own. He got there with the help of about 5.8 million people, the ones who voted Conservative back in 2011.

Now of course the Left will haul out that hoary old chestnut about how that’s a minority of the total votes cast. What that line of reasoning conveniently omits is that the remaining votes were split between the other four national parties (and yes, the Bloc and the Greens are national parties), which means that the Canadian Left simply failed to coalesce behind a single party.

Which means that the Harper majority is not just a result of Harper’s efforts, but of the Left’s failures — most particularly, their failure to sell a progressive vision of how Canada ought to work. Not merely to mainstream voters, but to each other.

A lot of punditry will complain that Harper’s politics are about division — dividing the electorate instead of unifying the country, et cetera. But they somehow forget that division is democracy. Arguing for one idea may be persuasive, but it’s hardly democratic. For that, you need two or more ideas in competition with each other, and theoretically once they’re all argued out, the one that makes the most sense wins. One of the reasons why the Canadian Left tends to be mocked or ignored in favour of the so-called “politics of personality” is that they’re rendered too incoherent by their own hatred of the Establishment to mount an effective counter-argument.

The marchers of the Peopls Forum hate Harper. Okay, it’s good to get that off your chests. They just need to remember that emotion does not necessarily translate into action — and that the people who voted Conservative in 2006, 2008 and 2011 won’t change their vote just because the Forum participants say so. That, too, is democracy.

Posted in Federal Government | 3 Comments

The Opposition Merits Protection Too

I think what disturbs me most about this Third Party Leader house break-in story is this bit near the end:

According to the RCMP, it is “mandated at all times, during both private and official functions, for the personal protection of the Governor General of Canada, the prime minister, their families and residences.”

The RCMP says it is “responsible for the safety” of Supreme Court and Federal Court judges, as well as federal cabinet ministers. Its protective policing unit also provides security for Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall and the Supreme Court of Canada.

However, its website does not mention mandated protection for any additional politicians.

This would seem to be a glaring omission, because there is certainly one politician who does merit this protection: the Leader of the Opposition.

Partisans may protest over this, but the simple fact of the matter is that, under our parliamentary system, the Official Opposition are the de-facto government-in-waiting, the folks in the best position to replace the old lot when the electorate gets tired of them. Stephen Harper recognizes this, which is why he began the unofficial practice of appointing new Opposition leaders like Michael Ignatieff and Thomas Mulcair to the national Privy Council. (He didn’t do so with Stéphane Dion because, as a former cabinet minister, Dion was already a member.)

Since Stornoway, the Opposition leader’s residence, is an official government residence, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue to have a security detail there. Mr. Trudeau, of course, is a different matter: even though he heads the traditional “Natural Governing Party,” right now they’re in third place in Parliamentary rankings, and as a third party leader he doesn’t have as many entitlements. And since his parliamentary home is in Rockcliffe, one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in Ottawa, having neighbors complicates the issue further.

My own personal feeling is that, yes, Mr. Trudeau should have some form of security due to his job, and yes, it should be paid for on the federal tax bill, because Mr. Trudeau is the national leader of a party that still has official party status. (Neither the Bloc nor the Greens can claim this.) I’d have to hear some pretty serious-minded arguments to reconsider this position, and I think most people would agree.

Posted in Federal Government, Justin Time | Tagged , | 7 Comments

When Justin Fights Tony Ianno, He Fights Stephen Harper Too

Should those young “advisors” in the Prime Minister’s Office ever want to figure out why Justin Trudeau is still riding high in the opinion polls in spite of their negative ads, they should make this Globe and Mail story required reading this week.

First, it’s important that we concede that Justin’s political instincts were spot-on in Trinity-Spadina. He calculated that a “star” candidate plus a highly-motivated riding team had a better chance of taking that riding than a “veteran” candidate plus that same riding team, and by golly, history proved him right.

Far more important, however, is the nature of this lawsuit that Tony Ianno has launched. Let me quote:

The decision followed complaints by several young Liberal volunteers who alleged that Ianno had pressured them, disparaged Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland, Liberal MP for the neighbouring riding of Toronto Centre, and warned them they’d have little future in the party if they backed the wrong side in a potential Innes-Freeland nomination battle.

The comments were “intended to convey the message ‘Ianno was a bully and intimidator then and he is a bully and intimidator now,“’ the former MP says.

“Bullying and intimidation, when used together, implies criminal or quasi-criminal, unethical and anti-democratic conduct. To label a former politician, who served his constituency for 13 years, as a bully and intimidator or someone who condones such conduct is to irreparably damage his reputation in the eyes of the public.”

Ianno “did not and has never” bullied or intimidated other Liberals, it adds.

Y’know, it’s a funny thing about bullies. Have you ever encountered someone who was acting like a bully, challenged them on it, and heard them admit it right off the bat? I haven’t; I’d be willing to bet that a bully, accused of being a bully, will first deny being a bully. Which is what Mr. Ianno is doing now.

Do I believe that Mr. Ianno could be a bully? Certainly. The life experience of more than a decade in politics, on the government side, with an unbroken record in riding wins, can make a person arrogant enough to make the slide from “overly aggressive” to “bullying” in social situations with strangers. It’s a charge that can be levelled against the Harper government easily enough. No reason not to make the accusation in this case as well.

But the takeaway from Tony Ianno is this: he’s your typical example of the Chrétien-Martin-Era Liberal; his biography puts him solidly in this camp. His mindset and behaviour are the very thing that turned Canadian voters off on the Liberal Party in the last half of the 2000s, and made them turn to Stephen Harper’s Tories instead.

The Liberal leaders of the Harper era would have tolerated people like Mr. Ianno moving in the party’s inner circles. In the interests of “continuity” and “tradition,” they would say, pointing out that he was a veteran of the time when the Liberals revelled in their role as Canada’s “natural governing party.”

Justin Trudeau, however, is a different breed of cat.

Like his predecessors, he’s acknowledged that the party needs to reform itself. Unlike his predecessors, though, he’s willing to admit that the Party’s biggest problem are their own veterans. That’s why he expelled Liberal-membered senators from his parliamentary caucus, and that’s why he barred Christine Innes from seeking a nomination. It’s also why he’s taken a hardline stance on pro-choice for his caucus as well as other controversial positions.

Justin’s current goal is to present, in 2015, a Liberal Party that’s completely different from the Liberal Party that ran against Stephen Harper in 2006, 2008 and 2011. He’s gambling that all those people who didn’t bother to show up to vote in those elections (and there’s a fairly big proportion of them) will show up in 2015 to support a party that’s more socially progressive, and more economically pragmatic, than the versions that were marketed by Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Add in those who believe that nine years is enough time for Stephen Harper to be prime minister and that it’s time for someone else, and the odds of “Prime Minister Trudeau” in 2015 start to look a lot better than they did two years ago.

And why should this interpretation trouble the Harper PMO? Because their current negative-ad campaign against Justin makes one vulnerable assumption: that the party that he leads hasn’t changed at all from the one that Paul Martin took into 2005. If Justin and the LPC take their reform battles out into the open, as in this case, it focuses press and public attention on the Liberal attempts to reform themselves, and away from the Harper attack campaign. The Liberals will come across as earnest and dynamic, while the attack ads will be dismissed as mean-spirited and stale.

If the Harper PMO were to ask my advice (which of course they won’t because I am merely a voter they take for granted, which is never a smart thing to do), I’d tell them to lay off the ads for a while. If they want to keep busy, they should devise a strategy to promote the Tories’ accomplishments in power; give people a reason to come out to the polls and vote Conservative, rather than give people more reasons to stay home.

Posted in Ontario | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Don Cherry Doesn’t Need the Order of Canada

It seems that Joe Warmington, of the Sun News Network, is a little upset that Don Cherry wasn’t on this week’s list of honorees for the Order of Canada.

He lists a bunch of famous people who are in the Order, and then adds this puzzling comment:

My suggestion is to add another appointment to this list. A regular Canadian. One that sits in traffic, struggles to pay bills and has no political connections. There are more than 30 million to chose from.

One gets the impression that Mr. Warmington hasn’t really read the complete list of honorees. Among them:

  • Colonel Chris Hatfield. Oh. Okay, maybe listing Canada’s latest celebrity astronaut wasn’t to my point, but it does confirm my suspicion that Mr. Warmington hasn’t really read the list, since he doesn’t name him even though he’s a newsmaker. Okay, how about:
  • Richard Vincent Mercer. Oh, hang on — that’s Rick Mercer, isn’t it? Of the Mercer Report, rants and all? Mind you, this guy would probably argue that (a) he does sit in traffic, struggle to pay bills and has no political connections (or, at least, connections willing to admit their existence), and (b) he’s non-political, skewering Liberal and Conservative alike. (That he skewers Tories more is mainly because they’ve been in power the the majority of the years that RMR has been in production.) Okay, let’s try again:
  • Harold John Jennings. Ah-hah — a name that’s not on the news agenda. He’s in for “his contributions to carbohydrate chemistry, notably in the development of a pediatric vaccine used internationally to prevent the most common strain of meningitis.” Okay, he’s not exactly working class, but I don’t think he’s happy about rush hour either. Let’s see who else:
  • Eleanor Collins. For her achievements as a jazz vocalist. Okay, she’s an artist, but let’s be honest now: the vast majority of people who work as artists in Canada have salaries that qualify them as lower working class.

Here’s the thing: yes, if you look at the list of this year’s appointments, you’re going to find a few names you’ll recognize, but mainly in areas of your own interest or expertise. If you don’t pay attention to the music of Quebec, you won’t know René Simard; if you’re not into science fiction or radio drama, you won’t care who Guy Gavriel Kay is. But the one thing you cannot deny is that the appointees are all, in one definition or another, achievers: they have made a contribution to their community that’s appreciated by them.

As for Mr. Cherry? Actually, he has been honoured by Canada: he’s been awarded a Diamond Jubilee Medal. So have the pundit David Frum and Justin Trudeau, who aren’t part of the Order of Canada either. Nor is the bestselling author Ruth Ozeki. Or Michael Ignatieff, the NDP’s Tom Mulcair or even the late Jack Layton.

So sure, the Order of Canada may be a social measure of fame and accomplishment, but it is by no means the sole measure, nor is it really the awards carrot of the Canadian Establishment that Mr. Warmington would claim it to be.

Posted in Federal Government, Media Watch | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

I Will Not Mourn The CBC

If I may be honest about what I’m thinking … this was long overdue.

Ever since the CBC’s English TV network lost the rights to NHL hockey, most Canadian media watchers have been playing the “whither the CBC” game. And now the axe has fallen, and now we know what the future of the network is going to look like. And it can be summed up in one word: worse.

What emerges from this news is that the one part of the network that came out relatively unscathed — News and Current Affairs — is actually the one department that needed to be culled. There’s even the suggestion, in an earlier Globe story, that News and Current Affairs proposed to indulge in some empire-building.

The reason I say News and Current Affairs needs some serious pruning is that, for at least the past decade, the CBC’s broadcasting mindset seems to be overdominated by News and Current Affairs. Think 22 Minutes, think The Mercer Report. Even comedies like Little Mosque on the Prairie and dramas like Intelligence have the whiff of being “inspired by the headlines” — headlines generated by News and Current Affairs.

The role model that the CBC always likes to hold up — the BBC — is actually a fairly balanced mix of programming. Most of their comedies and dramas aren’t driven by contemporary concerns that come out of the news headlines, and there are actually a lot of them. The counter-argument of course is that the BBC can afford this due to the consistency of funding provided by a license fee, but what they conveniently forget is that their executive also have good people willing to promote good programming with no one genre in dominance — something that hasn’t existed in the CBC’s corporate culture in years.

I don’t know when Hubert Lacroix’s tenure at the CBC is supposed to end, but once it does, his successor should probably give some consideration to “retiring” more of the CBC’s senior execs. Not just because it would help save money, but because if the CBC is to have any hope of surviving at all, it needs new blood at the top, blood that’s not so beholden to notions of “tradition” and “mandate” that are outdated in today’s broadcast environment.

Posted in Media Watch | Tagged | 5 Comments

Getting Through the Wynneter of Tory Discontent

Being a conservative (both economic and social) by nature, I tend to subscribe to a lot of Tory feeds on Twitter. You can therefore imagine the overall tone of my Twitter feed yesterday — perhaps a “progressive” ironist would even label it as appropriate for Friday the 13th.

Anyway. Now that people have had a chance to calm down and think about this, perhaps you’d like to hear an alternative take on the situation. Which begins as follows:

  1. This is not a disaster.
    You want to see what real political disaster looks like? Take a glimpse at Ukraine, Iraq, Syria. The economic situation of the province isn’t peachy, but neither is it as dire as what’s happening in those nations — and even given our political situation, it’s highly unlikely that Ontario will fall to that level. And what’s more:
  2. The government is screwed, no matter who’s in charge.
    This is the natural result of over a decade of errors in fiscal management by past governments: whoever was going to win Thursday’s vote was going to wind up hamstrung by the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Finance, pointing to balance sheets and telling politicians that whatever ambitious spending they want to do, they can no longer borrow more money to do it.
  3. Provincial Tories have a four-year opportunity to craft themselves into the next government.
    During the past Wynne minority, Tim Hudak did a creditable job as Opposition leader, but his strategy was still based on the politics of protest. And voters know that a good protestor is not necessarily someone ready to handle power — that’s the convention that’s kept the New Democrats out of power on the federal level, and Bob Rae actually proved that maxim during his premiership.
    Renewal, for the provincial Tories, has to mean more than just replacing the leader. It also means developing individual caucus members so that they turn into effective critics for their portfolios, ready to push Wynne’s ministers to the wall not only on the strength of rhetoric, but also on their knowledge of the topic and grasp of alternatives to whatever the government proposes. I’m not entirely certain that the typical Ontario voter can name the Tory finance critic, since the media focus was almost always on Hudak. That’s a situation that has to change, and the party has four years to do it.
    Renewal also means growing the party base, something that Hudak neglected to do. Does anyone recall seeing an outreach to voters from the provincial Tories — town hall meetings, newsletters, updates to party websites that talk about something more than fundraising or the perfidy of the Government? As Jason Kenney can attest, outreach to communities can pay dividends at the voting booth.
  4. Ontario’s blogging Tories also have an opportunity to become a potent force in the political dialogue of the province.
    They’ve now got the motivation; now it’s time to get serious, the way the Blogging Tories did on the national level in 2005-06. That means doing more — much more — that simply ranting at the latest policy announcement from Queen’s Park. People dismiss partisan rants. They can’t as easily dismiss properly informed criticisms.
    It means doing research, relying on more than reporting from legacy media. It means scanning the Ontario Gazette, perusing Hansard, going through committee reports and transcripts, looking at the stuff that reporters and pundits leave out of their own dispatches, to find and make critical points about Wynne’s policies that will resonate with their audience, both the dedicated partisan and the casual browser.
    Of course, earning credibility in the eyes of the blog reader will depend crucially on the following step:
  5. It’s now time to give proper respect to the accomplishment of Kathleen Wynne.
    This is something I have always stressed, in discussing politics: you must always respect your opponent. If you do not respect them, you will dismiss them; if you dismiss them, you will ignore them; if you ignore them, you will forget them; if you for get them, you will not know what they can do to you — until it’s too late. And Premier Wynne is no exception to this rule.
    She has fans, many from outside the province who aren’t eligible to vote in Ontario but who admire her for what she’s accomplished. That is something that must be borne in mind: that whatever criticism is to be made not be based on an assumed stereotype or shallow knowledge.

It’s time to acknowledge this possibility: that, four or five years from now, Premier Wynne can call an election, conduct a good campaign, and secure a second majority. If the conservative movement in Ontario does not want this to happen, then the serious work of rebuilding itself has to begin now.

Posted in Ontario | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

How I’ll Vote in the Ontario Election

The last time I voted in an Ontario election, in 2011, I did so in the advance poll (because I would be out of town on election day). I voted for the NDP; my riding wound up with the Liberal Yasir Naqvi as its MPP.

Tomorrow I will vote in election day proper, and my procedure will be as follows:

1. In addition to the usual IDs required, I will have a coin on my person.

2. In the booth, I will flip the coin. Heads for the Tories, tails for the NDP.

3. Whichever wins the toss, gets my vote.

The thing is, I’m somewhat ambivalent when it comes to who should represent Ottawa Centre at Queen’s Park. It’s obvious, of course, that I won’t be supporting the Liberals, but to be frank I could live with either of the other parties being the MPP for this riding.

I’m still not convinced that Tim Hudak could be a great premier of Ontario. I am willing to concede, though, that his campaigning has improved over his past attempt in 2011, and that does count for something. It’s why I’m not automatically voting NDP this time round.

I will say one thing about this election: it’s making me look forward to Friday the 13th.

Posted in Ontario