Tom Mulcair and Sports Franchises: A Brave and Wise Opinion

Let’s get one thing clear, right now: for the Canadian electorate, there is no such thing as only one choice. The voters will always demand that there be an alternative, and for right now, as of August (and admittedly this will probably change during the next couple of months) the NDP are it. And Tom Mulcair knows this.

The way he’s going to keep being the preferred alternative is to say things that, upon reflection, voters will agree make sense. As he’s done here:

“I think that nothing would be better than for the private sector to get together and put everything in place to have a Major League Baseball team (in Montreal),” he said. “But in a society that knows still to this day far too much poverty and when I have hundreds of thousands of children going to school hungry, it’s hard to understand that the taxpayer would be asked to fork over money for franchises that are worth billions.”

From the Left’s perspective, of course this makes sense: sports franchises are commercial, mostly private-sector-driven ventures, and if the private sector’s done its homework properly they shouldn’t need help from the government to land a major-league sports franchise for a city. But it’s also a logic that makes sense to the Right, for mostly the same reasons as well as a few more pragmatic ones: they’ve seen the lessons that other cities like Beijing and London have learned regarding major sports events, and no one’s willing to strain civic finances on a bet that a few thousand people will pay hundreds of dollars to see a millionaire try to swat an apple-sized pellet with a wooden stick.

But Mulcair’s also being brave here because he’s essentially saying “no” to a pernicious form of Quebec nostalgia, a harkening for return to the days when the Expos were a force to be reckoned with in Montreal and Guy Lafleur ruled the roost as the leader of the Quebec Nordiques. Quebec politicians have always tapped into this vein of nationalism for support, and Mulcair’s refusal to do the same is his recognition that his party has to do more — much more — than regional pandering.

Certainly he sounds more sure of his agenda than does Justin “My deficits will be better because they’re Liberal deficits” Trudeau. Which makes him, for right now, the more attractive political alternative.

(Note to Tory partisans: yes, Mulcair’s said stupid things, and he’ll say more stupid things before the campaign’s over. But if you want Stephen Harper to win a second majority, you’d be far better off defending his achievements and trumpeting his record than re-hashing old attacks on political rivals that voters have already tuned out.)

Posted in Election 2015, New DiPsticks, The Muleclear Reactor | Tagged , | 1 Comment

What’s A “Merit-Based” Senator?

Justin Trudeau’s latest campaign promise pretty much describes the typical Liberal campaign promise: it sounds good, but it’s also too vague to be taken seriously.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is promising to reform Senate appointments and introduce an “open, non-partisan, merit-based process.”

“As [Liberal Party] leader, I took decisive action removing Liberal senators from my caucus because partisanship and patronage need to be removed from the Senate,” Trudeau told supporters at the official opening of his campaign office in the Papineau riding of Montreal Tuesday.

Of course it should be said that Mr. Trudeau’s record on “open process” is — well, “superficial” is probably the kindest word. “Non-partisan” presumably means he won’t be appointing people with Liberal Party memberships, but that’s still torquable, based on the following question: if Bob Rae didn’t renew his Liberal membership and gets appointed to the Senate, is he considered “non-partisan”?

But it’s the phrase “merit-based” that really takes the cake. Because in order for it to be credible, Mr. Trudeau would have to explain exactly what merits a person has in order to be considered for the Senate. And that can create all sorts of mischief.

Of course there are some rules about who can be appointed. According to the Senate’s own web page, a prospective senator must:

  • be a Canadian citizen
  • be at least 30 years of age
  • own $4,000 of equity in land in the home province or territory
  • have a personal net worth of at least $4,000
  • live in the home province or territory

One of the reasons why Mike Duffy is in such trouble is that he claimed a summer residence, in Prince Edward Island, as his actual home, while investigators pointed out that he didn’t actually live there anywhere near long enough for anyone with a dictionary to agree with him.

Apart from that, the only Canadians really excluded from consideration are young people who rent their homes and don’t have cars, because they haven’t really accumulated enough net worth. So that doesn’t really help when we consider merit.

But how about this bit from the Senate page?

Increasingly, the Senate reflects our multicultural society. Senators come from many different ethnic backgrounds and religions. Canada’s First Nations and Black communities are represented in the Senate, as are Canadians of Arab, Asian, Italian, Jewish, Ukrainian and other origins.

So: is racial background, or religious belief, part of the definition of “merit” that Mr. Trudeau wants to use? If the behavior of Patrick Brazeau is anything to go by, probably not.

Of course, we do expect our senators to behave ethically while they hold their seats. But was there anything in Mike Duffy’s background and history as a journalist to show he would be profligate in his spending? Or Pamela Wallin’s? Mr. Trudeau might be tempted to say that anyone who works or has worked for CTV News would automatically be disqualified for Senate consideration, but would people consider that a fair condition?

Then we have to consider “merit” in terms of what we expect the Senate to actually do. If we say “pass good legislation” and “stop bad legislation” — well, that’s only going to bring up the issue of partisanship, but at a stage further down the process.

So it’s simple. If Mr. Trudeau wants to make Senate reform a campaign issue, he’s going to have to do more than say something that sounds good. He’s going to have to debate his competition in detail — and that will be a harder game than he or his handlers seem to be expecting.

Posted in Federal Government, Justin Time, Politics | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Fisking John Boyko’s Ten Election Rules

There’s a writer named John Boyko who’s published an essay in the Montreal Gazette (if for some reason you hit a paywall, it’s also available on his blog). One note: the fact that the graphic he uses for his blog entry comes from the Kelowna Lake Country Liberal Riding Association doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his objectivity.

So shall we have a look at his proposed rules?

  1. Don’t call us voters or taxpayers. We are citizens. Okay, fine. A reminder that citizenship is a proud and noble thing; nothing wrong with that.
  2. Don’t tell us we’re choosing a prime minister. Well, technically, none of the parties actually are. Unless you’re actually in the leaders’ ridings, you’re not likely to see signs saying “Vote Harper” or “Vote May”. It’s why candidate signs have party logos. However, if all your information about the election is coming from party advertising, you might be forgiven for thinking that everything focuses on the leaders — but that’s more the fault of traditional legacy media behavior, and the way the politicians pander to it.
  3. Don’t deride coalitions. Well, here’s a problem. Mr. Boyko seems to want to re-fight the coalition crisis battle of 2008, and the real problem there is a matter of timing; ideally, the coalition should have happened the day after the election, not several months afterward. Popular sentiment, at the time, was against the coalition, all the more so when people had seen how the Opposition behaved during prorogation. I think it’s assured, should the NDP be in second place but the Tories fail to get a majority of seats, Mulcair will push for a stable coalition — and the third place party would be foolish not to give it to him, then, rather than wait a few months for an “unacceptable” Tory minority budget.
  4. Don’t offer false choices. I don’t think “false choices” is the problem so much as it’s “uninformed choices.” Suggesting that “oil should be left in the ground” completely ignores the reality of the local economy of the oil-producing region; likewise, building a pipeline through a province without taking into account that province’s concerns over leaks and spills as a born recipe for failure.
  5. Don’t employ terms without definitions. But, you see, that’s not the politicians’ fault for not providing them. It’s the media’s fault, both online and legacy, for ignoring the explanation in favour of the shorter, more memorable (but less accurate) headline or hashtag.
  6. Don’t try to scare us. Well — sad to say it, but that’s not really the media’s fault, but ours. The only cure for reacting to scaremongering headlines and hashtags is the elimination of ignorance among the electorate; it’s our job as responsible citizens to be aware of what our government is doing and what the political parties want to do about it.
  7. Don’t bribe us with our money. Actually, this shouldn’t really apply to just election time, but to all government and political behavior. This doesn’t apply just to the Tories’ UCCB cheques, but Justin’s promises to benefit the “middle class,” Premier Wynne’s new “pension plan,” et cetera.
  8. Don’t devalue social media. Oh, I hardly think “devaluing” is the real problem for politicians here. As we can now see. The better advice would be to learn to master social media — not just to be able to defend what’s been posted in the past, to just to not pretend that it didn’t happen, but to develop the mental discipline to prevent posting silly things in the first place.
  9. Don’t underestimate us. Personally, I’d rephrase this one to: don’t take us for granted.
  10. Don’t forget character. At first, this might seem contradictory with point 2, but really it’s a warning to all candidates, not just leaders.

So are these points useful? Well, it depends on who pays attention to them — and I’m not entirely convinced that any of the three parties will.

Posted in Blogging, Election 2015, Politics | Tagged | 2 Comments

Premier Wynne Doesn’t Really Know Her Tory History, Does She?

You might think, given the role of Ontario in Canadian history, that Premier Wynne (or at least her speechwriters) would be at least passingly familiar with Canadian history. Or at least did a brief search on Wikipedia.

Apparently not:

“I’ve said that if Stephen Harper had been the Prime Minister instead of Sir John A. Macdonald and B.C. had said ’well we need a railway,’ he would have said ’well, you know, we’re not going to help you with that, build it yourself,”’ Wynne said.

One of the big problems with this rhetorical technique is that it fails to take context into account. Macdonald’s Canada is not Stephen Harper’s Canada: it had less people, a smaller tax base, and a more hostile neighbor to the south. Which, in case she hadn’t noticed, was still in thrall to the idea of “manifest destiny” expressed a mere fifty years or so earlier.

Which means that, had Stephen Harper been PM at that time, issues of national security would have overridden any reluctance to rely solely on the private sector — a sector which, incidentally, would never have built a transcontinental railway within British North American borders, due to the engineering effort required to get through the Rockies.

Of course, there’s also the question of whether Harper would encounter the Pacific Scandal, which was a direct result of the decision to build a transcontinental railway; Macdonald was more tolerant of what we would today call patronage, and living in an age which was altogether more tolerant of patronage and bribery.

I think we should consider Premier Wynne’s oration an example of someone with political blinders on. Macdonald is one of those few Tory prime ministers that Liberals, provincial and federal, have to acknowledge as important to Canadian history, especially since he’s considered a primary nation-builder. She might have been better off making comparisons to R.B. Bennett, the Tory Prime Minister of the Great Depression, or Robert Borden, the Tory PM of the First World War; both are more relatable to the current political situation that Macdonald, and such comparisons would have given the Premier a stronger reputation as someone who’s learned from studying history.

Instead, what we see is a retail politician using poor research and cheap rhetoric to score a point that even now is fading from public consciousness, mainly because the educated public knows better than she does.

Posted in Election 2015, Ontario | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

About Last Night . . .

No, I didn’t watch the first leaders’ debate. And judging from the feedback, I didn’t miss all that much.

Michael Den Tandt of the National Post was the earliest mainstream pundit to declare a winner — except, actually, he didn’t. He noted, in his text, that Justin Trudeau was a technical winner mainly because he exceeded some very low expectations. (And, yes, he had his trousers on, so such a win was predicted.)

Warren Kinsella, of course, is a bit more involved with Canadian politics, so his verdict is worth paying attention to.

And naturally, the Guardian’s Nicky Woolf declared two winners: Elizabeth May for the night, and Tom Mulcair for the win. But then, it’s the Guardian, so everything that’s noted, including the PM being “rattled” and Justin being “lame,” can be discounted.

Which is really the problem with having a debate this early in the election campaign. All it really is, is a testing ground for each leader’s campaign themes and partisan attacks. Any incident even approaching the level of a “knockout punch” will have lost its impact by October, because by then people will have their interest distracted by the latest incident or gaffe that the leaders will have been involved in.

And in the meantime, the partisans who’d be voting for their party anyway will have declared their guy (or Ms. May) the clear winner, the punditocracy will be busy with their thesauri to find new ways of saying nothing’s really changed, and everyone else will be looking up the weather and planning what they want to do this weekend.

Insofar as any debate matters, it’ll be the last one, as well as any event happening within 2-3 weeks of voting day. That timeframe means the spin doctors won’t be able to undo the damage of a gaffe, or even begin to stop a rise stemming from a Game Changing Moment. (It’s also when people like me will really start paying attention to what the parties are up to, to get themselves into Parliament.)

Posted in Election 2015, Harping, Justin Time, The Muleclear Reactor | Tagged , ,

The Leadership Lesson of Eglinton-Lawrence

It isn’t often that a political party’s grassroots manage to save its leadership from the consequences of its own actions. Such, however, is the case of the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence and the local Liberal riding association’s rejection of Justin Trudeau’s preferred candidate, the erstwhile Tory Eve Adams.

Of course, there’ll be the usual punditing and partisan patter about Trudeau’s leadership suffering a blow, but I’d argue the opposite — because, if you examine the issue quite closely, the actual process of candidate selection has nothing whatsoever to do with political leadership.

Justin wanted candidate X on his team, and said so. Is that leadership? Or is it, rather, like a carpenter selecting a tool from Home Depot for a particular job? I would argue that it’s the latter — because actually selecting a candidate isn’t the job of the party leader, it’s the job of the riding association. And while the leader may express a preference, that has no real force in the political party structure.

Party leadership isn’t really tested when a leader takes charge of a group of people he’s chosen, on his own, for his own purposes. It is, however, tested when he’s presented with a slate of people he’s never worked with before and given the task of turning them into an effective legislative force, whether in government or opposition. These people may not be who he wanted, but they’re who he’s got, and it’s up to him to pull out the best they can give to the political process they’ve joined.

The well-known Liberal Scott Reid has argued that Ms. Adams’ rejection would be seen as rebuff to Justin, and partisans would agree. But he also argues that

… Occasionally voting for something or someone you dislike because the leader wants it comes with the territory. Such discipline is vital in politics. It enables the reliable functioning of our big-tent, brokerage party system. And that system has served Canada well by forging stability in spite of pronounced regional, linguistic and cultural tensions.

Actually, this is the sentiment that Mr. Trudeau was elected to question — he’s on record as saying he wanted to reform the way the Liberal Party did politics, if you’ll recall. It’s why he fired senators from his caucus; it’s why he made that oh-that-we-could-really-really-do-it promise to make candidate nominations “open.” The rejection of Ms. Adams should be (and, if the Liberals are smart, will be) portrayed as the party grassroots holding Justin to that promise.

Posted in Justin Time, Ontario, The Third Party | Tagged , , ,

No Government Department Will Ever “Get” Facebook

Here’s a question for those of you who use Facebook: do you ever use it to look for government departments?

I see a few hands up out there, and to them I say: okay, now put your hand down if you actually work for a government department. Be honest now.

Uh-huh — I thought as much.

Which is why this Ottawa Citizen story about Environment Canada’s Facebook page doesn’t surprise me.

According to Environment Canada, the change is a result of the government’s web renewal initiative to consolidate 1,500 government departments onto the website by the end of next year.

“Environment Canada is a theme-led department, responsible for the Environment and Natural Resources theme on The changes to Facebook are reflective of a theme approach rather than a departmental approach,” wrote Environment Canada spokeswoman Jirina Vlk in an email.

Environment Canada will continue posting content on the newly named Facebook page but will be “working more closely” with 17 other “environment and natural resources theme” partners to include their content, according to Vlk. Those departments include the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada.

And yes, quite a few people say it’s going to be a disaster.

“There’s natural change and there is good change and then there is crazy change,” said [digital public affairs strategist Mark] Blevis. “It’s confusing. It’s trying to turn a government department into an action-based community. I think it is trying to be the hip social media destination that other social media destinations are that government usually is not.”

When the administrator of the Conserve, Restore, and Connect with Nature group asked visitors what they thought of the new name, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative.

“Please change back to Environment Canada. This new name is a real mouthful, and needs to be disposed of,” posted Matt Williams.

“I absolutely don’t like the new name. What was wrong with the actual name of the department, and presenting actual information about and by the department? People want information on policy, not just weather and pretty pictures. Please rethink this ‘theme account’ idea,” added Gabriela Rappell.

I think you understand the problem here. Government consists of public servants, and public servants by definition cannot be “cool,” which is what Facebook is (or was, depending on your generation). It’s sort of like watching Peter Mansbridge try to perform Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines in public: the default form is dull, but the attempt is infinitely worse.

Mind you, there are some corporations that have perfectly fine Facebook pages. Look at them closer, though, and you’ll realize that they benefit from narrow focus: they’re done by one person or a small team, for example, or devoted to one particular product. Environment Canada’s super-broad mandate doesn’t really let them follow this model. Add to that the natural inclination to be all things to all people, and there’s your recipe for Facebook fail.

Posted in Blogging, Federal Government | Tagged ,