My Last Post

Yes, that’s right. After eight years and four months, three federal elections and tons of comments and posts, it’s time for me to fold this blog.

A good part of my decision is personal; after checking my blogging frequency, especially about federal politics, it looks like I no longer have the time nor the inclination to say anything substantive about our political scene. Certainly not anything that won’t sound like it already came out of the punditry echo chamber. (Four posts per month, which is what I seem to be doing these days, doesn’t really make for a viable political blog.)

Another part of it is the thinking that, after eight years, a certain milestone has passed. I think it can be argued that Canada’s conservative movement, thanks partly to Stephen Harper but also partly to the Blogging Tories and their particular niche of social media, has now become the mainstream. Certainly it’s now a viable alternative to the big-L Liberal narrative that dominated our politics for more than three decades. Add to this the notion that, thanks in part to conservative political blogging, two weak politicians were dispatched from the leadership of a moribund political party in the wilderness, and I think it’s fair to say a sense of “mission accomplished” can be enjoyed. For a while, anyway.

My intention is to keep this blog “on air” through the month of May, after which its associated account will be closed down. I still intend to hold on to the “phantomobserver.com” domain name; it may come back though not necessarily as a political blog. I might also look at writing about other topics, but we’ll have to see.

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Posted in Blogging | 13 Comments

We’ll Choose Our Own Voters, Thank You Very Much

Back in 1989 (25 years — dear god), I was a graduate student at McGill University, having just completed my first year of my masters programme. There was a provincial election scheduled for that year, so I wasn’t surprised, in April, to answer a knock on my apartment door to see a pair of enumerators for Elections Quebec.

It was an important election for anglophones. Bear in mind that the year before, the Supreme Court had told the Quebec government, in no uncertain terms, that while it could compel the use of French on commercial signs, it could not ban another language from appearing. This meant that when the language laws were amended, the notwithstanding clause was going to have to be invoked if they wanted English to be restricted. My figuring was, if the Liberals were voted in with a massive anglophone count, they’d have a better argument for less restriction of English.

So what do I remember about this visit? Well, the enumerator who spoke was skinny, had a grizzled white beard, and was dressed in jeans and a yellow jacket. He asked me how long I’d lived here, and when I told him since September, he smiled and said, in very slow English, “I am sorry. I can’t register you. You haven’t lived here long enough. Good day.”

At the time, I thought that the residency requirement for qualifying as a voter was six months; I’d been at that place for eight. Since this was before the Internet became widespread, I couldn’t do a double-check and so, in my naiveté, took the man’s word for it. So I never voted.

Knowing what I know now, of course, I probably should have insisted on getting my name down. But it did make up my mind about one thing. Had the man not been so condescending, I might have seriously considered putting more effort into learning French, finding a permanent library job in Montreal. Instead, I decided that I’d look at working somewhere other than Quebec when I eventually graduated. And now I’m wondering how many other McGill students had similar experiences to mine, at the time.

This is why stories like this, today, don’t surprise me. It’s not exactly a partisan thing; we’re talking about a decade or more of the social experiment that is the Quebec language charter. This has encouraged a mindset, among that province’s political and cultural elites, that the pure laine québécoise is very much primus inter pares when it comes to the pecking order, and that’s being reflected in the decisions of each enumerator whether to accept or reject a potential voter.

The thing is, though, it’s a bad policy in the long run. If you want more people to move to your province, one of the conditions for settling there is that they be allowed to participate in the civic activities that sustain your government. Quebec’s various charters, first language and now values, will have the net effect of reducing the province’s population — which also means reducing their potential tax base, which means higher tax rates and a more burdensome debt load. Simply put, the charters may make Quebec’s elites feel good, but they need to realize that such a state cannot hope to be self-sustaining.

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Posted in Politics, The Provinces | 5 Comments

What Does Warren Kinsella Have In Common With Conrad Black?

It’s a two-part answer, really. One: neither claim to be working as journalists. Two: both are pilloried, by people who consider themselves journalists, for the crime of practicing journalism.

In Mr. Black’s case, he got hammered for a softball conversation with Mayor “Toronto Must Still Endure Him Until At Least This Fall” Rob Ford. And in Mr. Kinsella’s case, he’s being yelled at by the National Post’s Christie Blatchford for a softball presentation of Toronto’s newest mayoral candidate, Olivia “My Husband Was A Political Saint and He’s Rubbed Off On Me” Chow.

Perhaps we should take a step back here. Mr. Kinsella is honest enough to say, out loud, that he is not a journalist, but a pundit. And he did make the disclaimer that he does work for Ms. Chow’s campaign.

Ms. Blatchford’s beef can be summed up in the two paragraphs of her article:

A day later, on his blog, he said of this interview, “And, yes, I asked Olivia Chow six of the nastiest, meanest, rottenest questions I could come up with. If I’d done anything else, the whole segment would have been a waste of time.”

He actually asked five questions, all of which I would characterize the way a radio colleague did the other day, that is variations on the theme of, “Were you always this awesome or did you become more awesome as time went on?”

Do we need to come down hard on Mr. Kinsella? No. He’s essentially doing his job: introducing the Canadian viewing public to a potential mayor for Toronto. (And if you try to riposte with the notion that Ms. Chow needs no introduction, you should bear in mind that lots of viewers don’t pay that much attention to federal politics, especially to someone who is, in essence, a backbencher.)

By declaring his allegiances up front, Mr. Kinsella did two things. First, he set up lowered expectations from the viewer: when he declares he’s asking the “meanest, rottenest questions,” he’s doing so with a wink. (Note that it’s the same sort of wink that then-PM Paul Martin, back in 2005, gave when he recruited Tory MP Belinda Stronach into his Liberal caucus, and told a group of cynically-laughing reporters it had nothing to do with passing his budget. It’s the same attitude of “yes you know the real reasons but let’s not say them out loud” gameplaying in politics. It’s also one of the reasons why Paul Martin stopped being prime minister in 2006.)

Secondly, it allows him to take the same attitude that Lord Black did with Rob Ford: set up an environment of comfort for the interview subject, in order to let them say their piece. Neither of the interviewers feel the need to grill their guest, or put them into a situation that risks them coming out in a bad light.

Is this journalism in practice? No. But then, it doesn’t have to be journalism to be informative. Both Mr. Ford and Ms. Chow have a record on their desire to be mayor of Toronto, out there for viewers and the general public to analyze, interpret and pass judgement. They are records of their own view of the universe and their place in it, and neither Mr. Kinsella nor Mr. Black feel the need to slant that view for their audience by challenging it. Other people who call themselves journalists will have more than ample opportunity to do that.

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Posted in Media Watch, T.O. | Comments Off

Justin’s Purge of the Liberals Continues

Back in 2011, when the Liberals were staggering, bloodshot-eyed and shell-shocked, from the glorious triumph (from Canada’s point of view) of the federal election, I wrote this:

… Harnessing the passions necessary for renewal will require a high degree of bluntness, from everyone with a stake in the party’s existence from grassroots members to whoever becomes the new party president. And we’re talking about the sort of bluntness that punctures inflated egos, smashes emotions, fractures potential alliances and shatters friendships.

There’s no getting around this: people need to see the process of a party trying to reform itself, if you’re going to convince them that renewal is happening. If that means dirty laundry gets exposed in the public eye, well, you’ll have to judge for yourselves if that’s a risk worth taking.

We now have two instances from Justin Trudeau showing that he’s serious about presenting the voting public with a “renewed” Liberal Party. First there was the expulsion of senators from the Liberal caucus. Now we have the blocking of longtime Liberal Christine Innes from running as a Liberal in the Trinity-Spadina riding — as well as any future ridings in the area created by electoral redistribution for the 2015 general election.

The email sent by the party’s Ontario campaign co-chair, David MacNaughton, is worth quoting (I’m using the Star for this source as it’s more complete):

“Your campaign team began to use intimidation and bullying on young volunteers. Derogatory remarks were made to several young, enthusiastic Liberals about one of our leading MPs,” MacNaughton wrote. “Suggestions were made to volunteers that their future in the Liberal party would be in jeopardy if they were on the ‘wrong side’ in a nomination battle.”

Naturally Ms. Innes denies this allegation. But is it credible? Given that Ms. Innes’ husband, former MP Tony Ianno, was a part of the campaign team, I’d have to say the answer is yes. Certainly I can believe that some activity must have taken place that could be considered a form of intimidation, given how partisan passions can flow among disputing “adult” partisans. And, given the experience that Ms. Innes and Mr. Ianno have, they may not have regarded such behaviour as anything other than the normal give-and-take of political discourse. Furthermore, the Star story talked about Mr. MacNaughton receiving “written evidence” about the behaviour of the Innes campaign team; presumably we’ll be seeing more of this “evidence” if Ms. Innes decides to push back on this decision.

The remarkable thing, though, is that this decision says about Justin and his perception of what’s needed for the Liberals.

Ms. Innes and Mr. Ianno are representative of the Liberal era of Chrétien and Martin, Mr. Ianno having represented Trinity-Spadina from 1993 to 2006. They therefore represent the old Liberal Party, the one that kept losing elections three times running starting in 2006. Furthermore, Christine Innes ran as a candidate in 2008 and 2011, losing both times.

If Mr. Trudeau wants to show the voters of Trinity-Spadina that the Liberal Party has genuinely renewed itself, it won’t help that message if, in 2015, the voters see on the Liberal slate the name of a candidate who’d appeared twice before, who’s known as the spouse of the MP who first represented the riding more than 20 years ago. When it comes to this riding, the meme of “party renewed” means a fresh face will trump campaign experience; that’s the gamble that Justin has to take.

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About Trinity-Spadina …

Trinity-Spadina is New Democrat Olivia Chow’s riding — or rather, was Ms. Chow’s riding. She resigned this morning to enter the Toronto mayoralty campaign.

It’s interesting to note that Ms. Chow’s parliamentary career, up to now, is exactly as old as the Harper government’s — she was first elected in the 2006 election. Prior to that, she came in second in the 2004 election that gave Paul Martin a minority. And while her popular voted dropped in the 2008 election, in 2011 it surged to 35,601, which of course reflects the Jack Layton-inspired Orange Crush phenomenon. (Note that I’m only going back to the 2006 because this reflects the current riding boundaries; Ms. Chow did run in the 1996 election before the boundaries were redone.)

Since we’re slightly over a year and a half away from the next election, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not a by-election is called here. If the answer is yes, then the natural alternative to the New Democrats would be the Liberals, but there’s a bit of a worrying trend going on here. In 2008 and 2011, their candidate was Christine Innes, and her vote dropped from 20,970 in 2008 to 15,276 in 2011. Unless the Liberals put up someone super-exceptional, the New Democrats should be able to keep this riding in either a by-election or the next general one, by taking advantage of the good will enjoyed by Ms. Chow.

The federal Tories aren’t really players here, but they do have an interesting trend going on, in that their popular vote increased from 2006 to 2011: from 5,625 to 8,249 to 10,976. Depending on the caliber of candidate, given two more elections and more work at the ground game, the potential to become a player here still exists.

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Posted in No DiPsticks, Politics, T.O. | 1 Comment