Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How soon they forget: Harper's Conservatives changed electoral finance laws without a referendum...

The private conservative media (which makes up the vast majority of private sector media in Canada) has been giving a lot of ink lately to their cause of stopping any kind of electoral system reform.  This is but a small sampling just in the last couple days. 

Why?  Because First-Past-The-Post in Canada has served their narrow conservative interests well.  First-Past-The-Post is one of the last vestiges of old-style politics where the establishment elites of the country controlled its politics.  Granted, things are much watered down since the time when only white aristocratic males who owned property decided who could govern.  But First-Past-The-Post has the effect of ensuring only establishment parties with appeal to mainstream voters can walk away with 100% control of government with as little as 35% of the vote.  It's a fundamentally undemocratic system.  

It's worthy to note that whenever new electoral systems are implemented in emerging democracies in recent years elsewhere in the world, the West insists on implementing proportional representation systems.  That way, extremist parties that only garner about 30 to 40 per cent of the vote can't walk away with absolute majorities, as they would under First-Past-The-Post.  Proportional representation does ensure that all viewpoints (that receive support over a threshold of 5% or so of the vote) gain representation in the legislative body.  First-Past-The-Post almost always ensures that only big parties win seats.

It's easy under First-Past-The-Post for the Conservatives to win majority power in Canada.  It only takes a divided progressive opposition.  Even a conservative as polarizing as Stephen Harper was able to win a majority with just 39.6% of the vote.  He did so because his opponents nicely divided up the rest of the vote to allow his party to claim first place in 166 of 308 seats.

Harper didn't govern for anyone except his Conservative Party base.  His main political strategy was to divide and conquer - to maximize Conservative turnout, while doing everything he could to minimize voter turnout for his opponents.

To that end, he unilaterally used every trick in the book.  First and foremost, his agenda included trying to bankrupt his opponents by changing the country's electoral finance laws.  This was meant to ensure other parties would be simply incapable of mounting a campaign as well-financed as his own.

Harper first tried in 2008 after winning a second minority government to immediately end public subsidies for political parties, which used to provide $1.75 or so for every vote a party received.  When that attempt nearly cost him his government, he shelved the idea until the 2011 election, when he campaigned on it.  Having won a majority with 39.6%, he implemented his promise.  He didn't call a referendum on something he promised to do, even though changing how parties are financed is crucial to how democracies run, even more so than how we count votes which impact on all parties equally, I'd say. 

Harper also implemented other major changes that would deny the right to vote to thousands of Canadians, such as stringent new identification laws to purportedly fight fraud that didn't really exist.  The only real crimes that threatened elections were mostly conducted by Conservatives themselves by overspending or trying to trick opposition voters into going to the wrong polling stations.  But none of those issues were ever seriously addressed by Harper's reforms.  In fact, Harper made it more difficult for Elections Canada to even investigate such electoral crimes in his so-called "Unfair Elections Act" passed in the last Parliament.  

Expatriate Canadians also found their voting rights taken away.  None of these new rules, which fundamentally changed how we conduct our elections, were ever put to a referendum before being implemented.

And of course, I can't recall any conservative apologists in the private media ever demanding a referendum on these changes before Harper unilaterally imposed them.  

Neither did they call for a referendum on the obscene new spending limits that gave the Conservatives a tremendous advantage over their opponents when they called a 78-day campaign this year.  Of course, the Harperites blew that advantage by having no coherent message to sell with all that money.  The call for change was powerful and, aided by a knockout performance by Justin Trudeau in the campaign, won the day, despite the immense disadvantages the Liberals faced.   One major promise of the Liberal platform included making 2015 the last First-Past-The-Post federal election in favour of a new system that ensures that every vote counts, whatever that means. 

Still, when contemplating the future, it's clear that Conservatives are still nostalgic for the divide-and-conquer strategies of Harper and are fearful of any change away from the current voting system, under which they've found it most easy to win fake majorities.  Most Conservatives have long forgotten the politics of Bill Davis, whose inclusive approach to governing, straddling the centre of the political spectrum, kept his Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in power for decades.

The fact is that almost every Conservative politician and commentator is dead set against changing First-Past-The-Post because the status quo serves their narrow political interests best.

Moving to a new system like Alternative Voting, or Instant-Run-Off voting, whereby voters rank their choices by preference to ensure the elected MP has over 50% support in their riding, would force Conservatives to abandon their divide-and-conquer approach to politics.   It won't be enough to inspire just 35% of your riding, while demoralizing the rest.  They'll instead have to rely on second preferences from other voters to get over the top, were such a system adopted. 

Even worse for Conservatives, proportional representation systems would largely benefit parties on the far left which are currently underrepresented, especially the Greens and the NDP.   That's why those parties back moving to PR: when they have little chance to actually win, it's in their best interests to at least hold the balance of power. 

In truth, all parties are hopelessly biased on this question, favouring new systems or current ones that provide them with maximized power.   Their supporters in the media dutifully fall into line as well with the same positions.

I suspect that conservatives demanding a referendum are doing so because they assume any referendum would defeat any possible change.   Every referendum in Canada on the question of electoral reform has been soundly defeated in recent years, with the exception of the 2005 British Columbia vote.  In that 2005 experience, voters gave 57% support for change, without that change being fully fleshed out.  This followed the 2001 election there where the Liberals won 77 out of 79 seats with just 58% of the vote.  The flaws of First-Past-The-Post were glaring and possibly inspired that 57% result.  

But strangely that vote wasn't enough to implement change.  The B.C. Liberals, who had lost their love of reform after winning their huge majority, imposed a 60% threshold for approval.   And due to the indecisive nature of the 2005 result, the government held another referendum in 2009 to clarify, this time putting the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation up against First-Past-The-Post.  And the status quo won easily with 61% of the vote.

The results were similar in Ontario and Prince Edward Island when new systems of PR were put up against First-Past-The-Post.  I worked in 2007 on the Ontario referendum for change.  It was an eye-opening and frustrating experience.  Voters seemed greatly uncertain about switching to PR, particularly worried about the imposition of party lists of candidates, as well as the potential political instability of constant coalition governments going forward.

In truth, Canada has no history of multi-party cooperation that would be necessary for coalition governments and PR.  Hence, why Canadians have seemed quite dubious about moving to PR.  Hence, why conservatives are now demanding a referendum federally, hoping any proposed change the federal Liberals may want to adopt will be defeated.  However, it remains uncertain if a modest and reasonable change like Instant Runoff voting (or preferential voting) would face the same skepticism from the electorate.  Although I'm sure the private sector media would carpet bomb the public with negative coverage of any proposed change that threatened a return to conservative majority power. 

Personally, I'd like to see a change to our system.  I can completely live with Instant Runoff voting as it would greatly improve democracy in this country.  No longer would parties be able to write off the majority of the electorate in favour of their narrow base, as Harper did.  It would also eliminate the need to vote strategically in your riding.  Instead, you could put a "1" next to your top choice, then "2" next to your second preference, and so on.

Parties and candidates would have to compete for second and third preferences before the election.   If there are deals to be made, such as a promise by one leading candidate to prioritize an issue of a secondary candidate or party, those deals could be made public before the vote, not in the back rooms in secret after the vote (which would have to be the case under any system of proportional representation.)

It's foolhardy to suggest that Instant Runoff would only benefit the Liberals.  If the electorate were determined to knock the Grits out of power, they would do so just as efficiently, if not more so, under Instant Runoff as they would under First-Past-The-Post. 

I don't believe the Liberals are obliged to hold a referendum on any proposed change.  They have a mandate to proceed as they set out in their electoral platform.  As we see in this article, the Liberals are sticking to their guns so far. 

It'll be interesting to see how this issue plays out.  I have no doubt Justin Trudeau firmly believes that 2015 should be the last First-Past-The-Post election.  It remains to be seen how widely they consult on any changes and if they can get away with unilateral voting system change, particularly if not only the opposition parties, but also Fair Vote Canada (which only wants PR in order to empower the far left in this country) screams bloody murder about it.

On the other hand, I have found from recent posts on this issue, as well from my experiences in the 2007 referendum, that the public simply does not care much about this issue.  If the opposition couldn't inspire public outrage against changes imposed by Harper last time, I have major doubts conservative opponents of electoral reform today will be any more successful.   They clearly have their work cut out for them. 

This is definitely an issue to watch in 2016.

On that note, this is probably my last post of the year!  So happy New Year to all!  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The politics of contentment: Why I haven't been blogging lately...

Actors Rob Salerno and Trevor Ketcheson in 'Tri-Curious'
In recent months, I've been quite busy working on a personal project: a short narrative film entitled, 'Tri-Curious.'

I wrote the short script in the summer and went about producing it this fall.  I recruited two great Toronto actors - Trevor Ketcheson and Rob Salerno - to play a young gay couple about to embark on their first threesome together when one of them has a last minute anxiety attack and wants to cancel.  The script is a comedy that explores issues around relationships, monogamy and sexual experimentation in a thoughtful, light, and hopefully amusing way.  

Once a friend of mine, Nico Stagias, came on board as cinematographer (and graciously offered his own equipment for the shoot), the film was a go.  We shot most of it on October 24th, with a couple more scenes shot a couple of weeks later.

I've been diligently editing it since and I'm 99% finished the final picture cut.   After this, my composer will produce a musical score and a post production house in Toronto will give the film a polished colour correction and great sound mixing.

All of this is coming out of my own pocket.  In the early new year, I'll be launching a crowd funding campaign, likely on Indiegogo, to raise some money to help with these costs.   Despite all of the gracious volunteer help I've received, not to mention taking on the roles of writer, director, and film editor myself, I've still expended $1,300 to date.   That doesn't include the significant costs of the final sound mixing and colour correction.   

I'm hoping for a nice film festival run in 2016.  I've already sent it as a work-in-progress to 10 film festivals.  My fingers will be crossed in the coming months.

Thus, I've had little time to blog lately.  

But in addition to my busy schedule, I'm also feeling a huge amount of political contentment these days.  The election of Justin Trudeau's Liberals has eased my longstanding sense of anger. 

When I hear "Prime Minister Trudeau" on the news these days, I smile and cherish it.  We now have a Prime Minister who believes in diversity and espouses a political program that is progressive.  The move to stop bombing innocent Muslims in the Middle East (along with the rare ISIS leader), coupled with the government's decision to prioritize the entry of 25,000 Syrian refugees, sends a strong anti-racist message to Muslims around the world.   Trudeau's plan is far more effective for beating ISIS than the conservative options of constant bombardment and xenophobia.

In addition, we have a plethora of other progressive advancements on the horizon, such as cleaning up our environment, working cooperatively with First Nations, promoting innovation, enhancing the CPP, decreasing middle class taxes, and even legalizing cannabis.

These days, I find myself with little inspiration to blog because I'm so contented.  It illustrates clearly to me that much of my previous motivations for writing on this site came from a place of anger.  Many blog posts were attempts to deal with that anger and frustration through creative communication.  If nothing else, this blog gave me a place to vent and be heard. 

The Harper government represented one of the most regressive and damaging in our country's history: Harper's hostility to LGBT people's rights, his willingness to undermine all international efforts to fight climate change, his bizarre ideological obsessions, his hatred of public service, his hostility to science and basic facts, provided much inspiration for my words here.

But now that the great villain's gone, the relief is overwhelmingly awesome.  Sure, there will be issues here and there over which I'll disagree with the new regime.  But overall, the values underlining the new government make me proud to be Canadian.   We are in good hands moving forward and, for the first time in 10 years, the progressive views of the majority of Canadians are reflected in our national government's program.  

The dark days are over and sunny ways are here again!  Thus, I feel quite contented to get on with my life, to focus on the people I love and the tasks I love.  My film will be released in 2016 and hopefully more after that.  I will blog much less frequently as I continue to roll out 'Tri-Curious.'  Although you can definitely expect posts about that film and its progress, not to mention other films I love (plus of course political issues close to my heart.)   

I'm done with anger.  The politics of contentment are upon me.  It's nice to have my country back.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I hope new Finance Minister Bill Morneau doesn't forget about the vulnerable local communities that elected him...

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with his new finance minister, Bill Morneau
Today marks the end of the awful Stephen Harper era, and the beginning of a new Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Writing that still gives me a special thrill.  It means Canada has a prime minister whose values are better aligned with the progressive majority of the country.  It means there are numerous policy areas in which real progress will be forthcoming, as long as the new government keeps its promises.

One of the first promises kept was to name a cabinet with gender parity.  Today, Trudeau appointed 15 men and 15 women to join him around the cabinet table.  

In years past, conservatives and others never complained about regional quotas, like appointing representative numbers of Western MPs, Ontario MPs, Quebec MPs and Atlantic MPs to cabinet.  They never complained about cabinets that included people who beared passing resemblance to the ethnic make-up of the country.

Yet today, many conservatives and private media types are attacking Trudeau's decision to appoint an equal number of women and men, you know, to make his cabinet more representative of the country's population than ever before.  

Conservatives like Tasha Kheiriddin simply will never understand how women, people of colour, sexual minorities, and many other groups need to be represented in our society in order for voices to be heard and for decisions to be made that take into account more than just white, male, privileged mainstream perspectives.   To most of the complainers, diversity is not valuable.  To them, it seems if we all acted like while, male, heterosexual, privileged elites, the world would be a better place.  They pretend that women bring nothing unique to decision-making, therefore it doesn't matter if women are underrepresented.  

I heartily disagree.  A cabinet table with equal numbers of men and women will provide more balanced and civilized government for Canadians.  The voices of women will be well-represented, not silenced and irrelevant as they largely were in the boys' clubs run by conservatives, who seemed to like it that way.

For a thoughtful take on this issue, check out Green Party leader Elizabeth May's column in the Huffington Post. 

As a resident of Toronto Centre, it's nice to see my newly elected MP Bill Morneau make cabinet as the country's new finance minister.

However, I have to say I'm worried that Morneau may focus too much on his new fiscal responsibilities and neglect his very vulnerable local communities that elected him.  I hope not.

For too long, Toronto Centre has been seen as a launching pad by high-powered Liberals for big Ottawa careers.  The former MP, Chrystia Freeland, seemed more interested in writing New York Times columns than attending local events after she won her 2013 by-election.  Before her, Bob Rae also had his eye squarely on bigger things in Ottawa than tending to the urgent needs of his vulnerable constituents. 

I remember knocking on doors in the 2013 by-election for Freeland and coming across an AIDS patient who demanded to know what "the hell" my candidate was going to do for people like him.  I couldn't answer him.   Sadly, two years later, it seems that Freeland didn't do much if anything for people like him.  She then vacated the area to run in nearby University-Rosedale.

The pro-Liberal trend in last month's election, in which promiscuous progressives got behind the Grits in order to defeat the Harper government, pushed all of these local Liberal candidates to Ottawa.   They got lucky.  But if they ignore the needs of their communities, they will have a much tougher time in 2019. 

I have met Morneau briefly on a couple of occasions.  He seems like a decent guy.  But I have to admit I was always disturbed by the fact that he wasn't from the riding, but instead from Don Valley West.   Now he's being described as a Bay Street millionaire.  That's hardly representative of his new riding.

Of course, that doesn't mean Morneau won't be able to keep the interests of his vulnerable communities always in mind.   His previous volunteer work for Covenant House and other charitable organizations shows he has a heart.

I just hope Morneau remembers who elected him to Ottawa as he takes on the great task of managing the new government's finances.   Toronto Centre deserves a local champion in Ottawa.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Canada frees itself from Harper's regressive grip and moves forward under "sunny," progressive leadership

I'm not sure I've ever been this proud of my country.   I'm even more proud than I was last year when openly queer premier Kathleen Wynne, armed with the best plan for Ontario's future, won a majority government against all odds in the provincial election.

But last night's majority victory for Justin Trudeau's Liberals confirms that Canadians are, above all, thoroughly decent people who can't be scared into voting out of fear and anger. 

Previous Stephen Harper victories made some sense when he was up against old Liberal corruption scandals, or woefully inadequate former Liberal leaders. 

But in Justin Trudeau, clearly Harper met his match and his time was finally up. 

Promiscuous progressives like me wanted badly to rid ourselves of Stephen Harper's regressive leadership and replace him with a government in line with progressive Canadian values like fairness, opportunity, equality, and justice.

Near the end, Harper pandered again to our worst instincts, fanning the flames of intolerance by pledging to use the powers of the state to control what certain women can and cannot put on their bodies during citizenship ceremonies.   Polls that allegedly pointed to widespread support for those discriminatory policies worried me greatly.  Furthermore, the Tories' snitch line against Muslim "barbaric practises," sent a chill down my spine.  There appeared to be nothing Harper wouldn't say to win this election. 

These past weeks, I hoped Canada would reject this regressive politics.  Many progressive Canadians hoped the same as well.  Yesterday, Canadians confirmed we are much better than Stephen Harper.  It was a victory thankfully in line with Kathleen Wynne's 2014 victory, as well as the smashing defeat of the Parti Quebecois in 2014 and its repulsive Charter of Quebec values. 

Tom Walkom wrote a nice column on this today in the Star. 

Although he tried to share his accomplishment with all Canadians, Justin Trudeau's victory could only happen thanks to his own determination, decency and, dare I say it, vision for the country.

"Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways," said Trudeau last night at the start of his victory speech, quoting former Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.  Trudeau's positive leadership is a breath of fresh air.  

We are a country that wants to make peace with its Aboriginal citizens, not castigate them and spread racism against them in order to justify doing nothing much to improve their third world living conditions.  

We are a country that does support Israel's right to exist, but we don't offer unconditional support to Israel's right-wing government to do what it wants without any concern for human rights or basic dignity for Palestinians, as the Harper government did.

We are a country that sees itself as an honest broker on the world stage, not the right-wing militarists Harper wanted us to be.

We are a country that wants to play our part fighting the greatest threat to civilization: climate change.  We don't want to be saboteurs of those international efforts, as we were under Harper.

No, Harper was never a good fit for our country.  But he had good timing and a lot of luck.  That luck ran out big time this 78-day election campaign.  Designed to provide ample time for Justin Trudeau to screw up, instead the overly long campaign gave Trudeau the opportunity to shine and he did.

Canadians noticed and voted accordingly.

I do feel badly for the NDP which had the opportunity at the outset of this campaign to inspire and connect with Canadians.  But Tom Mulcair's somewhat prickly personality, coupled with his overly cautious and bland platform, failed to launch.  Once it became clear that Trudeau's Liberals would be the vehicle to defeat Harper, progressives abandoned the NDP en masse and pushed them back to historic levels of support. 

Should current seat counts be confirmed, the NDP's 44 seats still represent the second highest number of seats they've ever won in a federal election.  Mulcair's strength in Quebec no doubt helped save the 16 seats they won last night.  Another leader might've lost those too and pushed the NDP down even further.

I hope the NDP keeps the new Liberal government on its toes on issues like C51, privacy, human rights, the CBC, child care, foreign affairs, and many other progressive issues.  

As we move forward, I am going to enjoy the fact that our country's new leader goes out of his way to participate in Pride Day events, supports equality, and wants to bring out the best in us as human beings.   That's something we can all enjoy and cherish.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Private sector print media organizations mostly embarrass themselves this Canadian election...

Tweet by Ben Barnes mocking Globe's Friday "endorsement"
The importance of a public broadcaster like the CBC in today's media and political environment has again been reinforced amid the ongoing spectacle of private sector idiocy this week.  

The Globe & Mail's owners proved themselves more aloof and out-of-touch with reality than ever with yesterday's editorial calling for a re-elected Conservative government and Stephen Harper's immediate resignation soon thereafter.

Um, why would a leader in the real world who just won an election immediately resign? 

The Globe's suggestion reminded me of their editorial call for a "Tim Hudak minority" government in the Ontario election in 2014.  Um, how would voters seek to elect a minority government?  Carefully vote for NDP and Liberal candidates in 60% of the ridings to ensure the Cons can only take less than half?

There's no doubt the current leadership at the Globe & Mail needs to retire immediately from handing out political advice to the Canadian public.  If they insist on endorsing one party in the future, then please endorse that one party, including its leader.   Don't call for some hodge podge result that makes no sense in our parliamentary democracy in which voters can only vote for one candidate on their ballot in their local ridings.

The Globe's bizarre editorial did inspire much humour, including a couple Twitter hashtags. 

If you were frustrated with the trite printed yesterday in the Globe, check out this great column by former Globe editor-in-chief William Thorsell, shared by Paul Wells.  This is the editorial that the Globe should've published. 

The private sector shenanigans continued this week over at Postmedia and Sun Media where all of their local papers were clearly ordered to endorse the tired Harper regime.

But we are at least seeing some open rebellion from the journalists who work for those corporations, like this column today by Pete McMartin in the Vancouver Sun.  

Even Andrew Coyne is reportedly in the midst of a major disagreement with his bosses at Postmedia and a column he wrote contradicting his bosses may never see the light of day.   I'll be watching Coyne closely in the days ahead when he commentates on CBC and elsewhere, looking for hints for what he really wanted to say but was disallowed from publishing.

On the TV side, I have to say that the private sector did a much better job being fair this election.  Private sector TV networks do not traditionally endorse political parties and I continue to be thankful for that.

Previous pro-Conservative biases in CTV News coverage (like in the 2008 federal election when the decision to broadcast false starts in a Stephane Dion interview turned the election, and in the 2014 Ontario election when anti-Liberal bias, including broadcasting bogus "likely voter" poll results on the eve of the vote, was rampant) were largely gone this year.

Perhaps the ownership of CTV still felt stung by the incident in which owners tried to manipulate editorial decisions on the issue of CRTC regulations, but got rebuked by their brave employees.  Kudos to the journalists and producers who stood up to their bosses then.  

The integrity of those journalists working in the private sector is all we, the public, have to ensure a fair private media.  Clearly, that integrity is missing from private sector media owners.

Meanwhile, the CBC continues to set the standard on radio, online, and TV election news coverage including the most comprehensive across the country.   That scope keeps the CBC's private sector competitors on their toes and hopefully inspires all to be at the top of their game.

But going forward, Canadians should remember how poorly private sector newspaper organizations failed them in this campaign.  All let their political and ideological biases colour their coverage.

Recently, I decided to stop reading anything published by Postmedia or Sun Media to avoid being exposed to the blatant nastiness and manipulation of the pro-big corporate agenda.   I will continue to avoid those papers in the future. 

I will offer a bit of praise to the Toronto Star for at least publishing an endorsement of Justin Trudeau's Liberals that made sense, endorsing both the party's platform and the leader, instead of the half-assed, mind-boggling crap written by the Globe yesterday. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

I voted Liberal today

I voted Liberal in advanced polls today.  Wholeheartedly.

My reasons: I'm ready for the kind of leadership that Justin Trudeau is offering the country.  He's a positive, progressive leader who will do right for Canada and for Canadians.

Should the Liberals form the government after Oct 19th, I look forward to feeling good about my federal government and good about my country again, after so many years of being ashamed of Stephen Harper's regressive leadership, not only in this country but in the world.

I had my doubts about Trudeau at the start of this campaign, no doubt influenced by the Conservatives' propaganda machine and the critical opinions of friends and family.

But once the campaign began, Trudeau came alive with passion and inspiration that had been missing earlier and policy clarity that spoke perfectly to the mood of the country in these dire economic times.  Trudeau's positions in favour of more spending now on infrastructure, cutting middle class taxes, and legalizing and regulating marijuana all won me over.  On top of that, Trudeau's longtime promotion of diversity is the perfect antidote to the disturbing xenophobia from the Harper campaign. 

Now polls show the Liberals inching into a clear lead in most polls.  On October 19th, I'm predicting the Liberals will pull off a win.  

It's been a bit of a roller coaster this year politically, with the Liberals down and then back up, the NDP up and then back down, and the Tories still in the game but deservedly stuck around 30 percent.

Last December, I made a bold, early prediction about this federal election that the Liberals would win.  I had a feeling that Justin Trudeau would bring it in a big way once the election started. But as the months went on, I felt more and more stupid for having done so as circumstances changed.

In the future, when I look ahead at future elections and assess chances, I will remind myself I'm a pretty good prognosticator! 

Here is my prediction from last December again.  It's not completely correct, but it now seems surprisingly prescient: 

"If Stephen Harper runs again as Conservative leader (which I think he will), I'm predicting he'll at best be reduced to a minority government. But there is an excellent chance Harper will lose outright to a Liberal minority government.  If Justin Trudeau performs near perfectly and coalesces the anti-Conservative vote behind the Liberals, including in Quebec, he'll win a majority. 

We've already seen the polls change a bit in Harper's favour this fall.  He's been in full re-election mode, doing everything he can to get his numbers up, acting the conservative statesman on the international scene, the tough guy taking on ISIS and standing up to Vladimir Putin, while also stepping up against homegrown terrorists and in favour of working parents.  It's a cunning, toxic caricature that Harper has perfected after years in power.  He's come a long way from his days as head of the National Citizens Coalition.

By re-taking a narrow lead in the polls of late, making the 2015 election a real race, the dynamics of the pre-campaign will change.   Instead of focusing on Justin Trudeau, voters will instead contemplate the question: "Do we really want another four years of Stephen Harper?" 

This is actually good for Trudeau's Liberals, in my mind.  They'll continue to unveil their own compare-and-contrast campaign, focusing on Harper's considerable weak spots, which have been glaring ever since he cleared out the truly talented people from the PMO thanks to the Mike Duffy scandal.   If the Liberals are smart, they'll also soon start describing themselves as the "underdogs" in this federal election, reminding everyone that they are the humbled third party, that they've done their time in the penalty box, that they've learned the hard lessons of defeat and have developed a fresh new team with a clear, progressive vision for the country courtesy of a lot of "hope and hard work." 


Trudeau has succeeded on numerous crucial fronts since winning the Liberal leadership in the spring of 2013.  He's managed to replace Tom Mulcair's NDP as the unofficial opposition in the minds of Canadians, despite the fact the Libs have only one third the seats.  Repeated by-election results have confirmed that trend and most of the media now believe only Trudeau's Liberals can knock out Harper's Cons.  And they're right.

One of Trudeau's most senior advisors, Gerald Butts, previously worked wonders for Dalton McGuinty in 2003, helping to design a platform at the time that perfectly spoke to the concerns of Ontarians after 8 years of provincial PC rule.  It was an unabashedly progressive agenda and would set up the themes that would win power for the Ontario Liberals.  Those themes - ensuring quality public education, health care and other public services including infrastructure - continue to resonate and keep the Ontario Liberals in power today.  I'm seeing many echos of that successful strategy in many of Justin Trudeau's pronouncements, including on infrastructure, the middle class, tax fairness and even marijuana.  Trudeau's also talking about banning government advertising that is clearly partisan, which was another major plank in the 2003 Ontario Liberal platform.   And Trudeau lately has been criticizing Harper's penchant for secrecy and centralization of power and control.

Trudeau is setting himself up to be the great antidote to 9 years of Harper rule.   If his platform is convincingly progressive enough, he may be able to win more NDP votes than previously thought. 

Still, Trudeau is just 43.  To many, he will appear green on the hustings.  He may even spit out some uninspiring or worrying nonsense in a scrum or two.   The media will have a field day over such moments, of course. 

At the same time, I predict NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will largely unimpress outside of Quebec.  When most Canadians get to know Mulcair better, they'll find him to be what I've always thought of him: generally unlikeable, even occasionally irritating.   He's certainly no Jack Layton.   We'll know Mulcair is merely trying to save the NDP furniture should his platform continue to tilt far left.  Then, he'll be able to credibly say to progressives: vote NDP to ensure you get the government you actually want, instead of a mushy centre-right-left government under Justin Trudeau.   Mulcair will get in his blows.  He'll be aided by conservative media commentators who will declare him victorious in the debates just to try to undermine Trudeau.  But ultimately, none of that noise will matter.

Harper's campaign will be impressive, but will for the first time take several major hits from his opponents.  His support will sag and the Conservatives will run neck-and-neck with the Grits in the polls throughout most of the campaign.  If Trudeau performs as well as he wants, the Grits will surge ahead.  The NDP will vacillate between the high teens and the low-20s and back to the teens again.  Quebec will consider abandoning the NDP to vote Liberal to beat the Tories once and for all.  

A lot of what may happen depends on how well Trudeau can perform, how clearly and succinctly he lays out a realistic and progressive agenda, and how well he dispels worries about his readiness to lead the country.  For Trudeau, there are many variables yet to be defined which make predictions extremely difficult.  I, like most fair-minded, progressive Canadians, believe Trudeau will eventually get there and lead a federal government that again makes us proud to be Canadian.  I'd love it to happen in 2015.   It's certainly possible.  

Will Trudeau perform when it matters most?  Or will he fall on his face and force Canadians again to choose Harper as the allegedly safer option?  My gut tells me we'll see something like what we saw when Trudeau took on then-Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in the boxing ring in 2012.  Greatly underestimated, Trudeau will fight a disciplined battle and surprise everyone, especially the Conservatives. 

The end result: I think we'll be seeing a Liberal victory in 2015 in Canada, probably a minority government.  If Quebec swings hard behind the Liberals to stop the Conservatives, it will be a majority.  In answer to the ballot question, "Do you want another four years of Harper?," the answer will be, "No."   The country has had enough of the Harper show.  We're tired of him.   Efforts to soften his image and promise something slightly different will prove unconvincing.  After an inspiring campaign that hits all the right notes and, to the shock of the "commentariat," makes few mistakes, Canadians will give the younger Trudeau a chance to chart a path that actually reflects the realistic and progressive values of the majority of Canadians, not the conservative minority for whom Harper governs. 

That's what my gut is telling me.  I could be wrong.  We shall see"

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Yet another anti-gay dinosaur found on Stephen Harper's Conservative Party ticket...

This is gross, especially since this candidate is running in a winnable riding for his party. 

"A Conservative candidate (pictured in the blue turban) in suburban Toronto is defending therapies that attempt to turn gays straight, having penned an editorial that referred to homosexuality as "unnatural behaviour" and heterosexuals as "normal." 

"Jagdish Grewal, running in Mississauga-Malton, wrote an editorial in the Punjabi Post earlier this year entitled, 'Is it wrong for a homosexual to become a normal person?' 

Grewal was responding in his editorial to a new law passed in Ontario this year that banned the discredited and barbaric treatment.

I hope Grewal's dropped right away from the Conservative slate, but I'm not holding my breath.

Sadly, I fully expect Stephen Harper to do his typical thing and fully tolerate this bigotry in his party because he sees the upside letting homophobia go unchallenged (kind of like he sees the upside to letting Islamophobia flourish.)

It would be too late to replace him this late in the election game, after all.

It would be nice if the mainstream media took up this issue and demand Harper defend the practise of "curing" gays espoused by his local candidate.


The Tories have dumped this guy from their ticket.  Although as it's too late to replace him, Grewal's name and party will remain on the ballot in Mississauga-Malton.   However, this all but ensures a Liberal victory in the riding and one less seat for the Conservatives, who won the area in 2011. 

It's interesting that this kind of blatant homophobia would see a Tory candidate dumped while other more subtle forms of homophobia, like attacking the new Ontario public school curriculum for even mentioning the existence of LGBT persons, as many federal Conservative candidates across Ontario have done this election campaign, continue to go unpunished. 

Clearly, the Conservative Party has miles to go before it grows up.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Justin Trudeau is clearly ready to be Prime Minister...

Today's Nanos rolling poll numbers (see link below)
It's been a struggle to decide how to vote this election as a progressive desperate for change.

Liberal strength in the polls and various by-elections from 2013 to late 2014 seemed to collapse late last fall for various reasons.  The NDP victory in the Alberta election in May this year pushed the federal NDP into major contention.  The Tory attack, echoed by the NDP, that Justin Trudeau is "just not ready," seemed to be sticking.

Then the election was called in August.   Suddenly, Trudeau's muted pre-election appearances gave way to great passion and previously vague policy positions were replaced by a crystal clear message to boost economic growth by lowering taxes on the middle class, raising them on the 1% richest, and greatly expanding infrastructure spending now.    

At the same time, Mulcair's NDP fell into the very same trap that Olivia Chow fell into last year in the Toronto mayoral race: running a bland, frontrunner's campaign.  Mulcair has inspired few with his too carefully devised policies designed to bring about incremental and undramatic change at the federal level.  On issues of economic insecurity and employment, Mulcair has offered little inspiration. 

On top of that, Mulcair has failed to impress most Canadians with his leadership style.  What was once admiration for his tough questioning in the House of Commons and clarity on some important issues has now become frustration with his caution.

Furthermore, Mulcair has consistently failed to impress during all of the leaders' debates, including the most recent this week on foreign policy, where Justin Trudeau soared with passionate attacks on Stephen Harper's record.  Trudeau embodies the change most progressives want after this election, both in terms of policy but also style.   

I will admit that for years I disliked Mulcair.  Before he became NDP leader, I found him to be insufferably arrogant and unlikeable.  Since becoming leader, he's mellowed, trying to be perceived as more prime ministerial.   On some counts, he's succeeded.  But the old prickly habits are still there.  We saw them in the Globe's economy debate where Mulcair mocked Justin Trudeau for previously admitting to smoking marijuana. 

After the Maclean's leadership debate in August, I had a nice chat with a family member who usually votes Liberal.  She said Mulcair, "still creeps me out."   I remember well too another friend who had a very negative reaction using similar language to Mulcair's victory speech in 2012 after winning the NDP leadership.

Clearly, Mulcair is no Rachel Notley.  The notion that the NDP's victory in Alberta would automatically transfer to the federal level is simply untrue.  

Perhaps the big story of this campaign can be summed up like this: the public, now exposed to Mulcair on a regular basis, is realizing they don't like him all that much despite advertised strengths.  His muted policies aren't helping much either.   Furthermore, Trudeau has shone in this election campaign with passion and policy clarity on the issues most important to Canadians.  He's performed well above expectations while Mulcair has performed well below them.

This is why we're seeing the Liberals emerge as the sole challenger to the Conservatives while the NDP falls back to the mid-20s. 

I expect this trend will continue despite the NDP's renewed plans to mimic Tory attacks on Trudeau.  

Some words of advice for the NDP: don't stoop to more personal attacks on Trudeau as the public, like me, is starting to believe that he is, indeed, "ready" to lead Canadians.   Instead, focus on the issues that are NDP strengths like ensuring civil rights, better health care for all, a cleaner environment and experienced leadership.

I don't agree with everything the Liberals are proposing.  I have been very tempted to vote NDP in this election.  But I'm a pragmatist, and if the Liberals are the main challengers to the Conservatives, they'll get my vote. 

Based on current trends, I'm 80% sure I'm voting for my local Liberal candidate, Bill Morneau, who brings exceptional experience and qualities to the role of MP.   If elected, I hope Morneau focuses as much on helping his uniquely vulnerable local communities in Toronto Centre as MP as he does any cabinet portfolio given to him in Ottawa (should the Liberals form government.) 

Will Trudeau be able to continue this momentum and win?  If Canadians want change, yes.  No doubt, the Tories will spend millions over the next two weeks to undermine that Liberal momentum.  Hold on to your hats!  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mulcair and Trudeau making it hard for promiscuous progressives to decide how to vote...

I've been busy with work and life lately so I haven't had any time to blog since the beginning of the month.  I can't promise that'll change much between now and October 19th.  But I'm happy to share these thoughts today.

We seem to be stuck in a very tight three-way race with daily fluctuations that see one party on top, followed by a drop to a close third place within 24 hours and back again (if you follow the daily stream of rolling Nanos polls, which I do.)  Other legit pollsters like Abacus and Ipsos Reid confirm that trend.    

Since the early August election call, we can now deduce some clear trends:

  • The narrow NDP lead over the Conservatives has dissipated.
  • The Conservatives, after a rough first month, are back to where they were at the election call, but show little ability to grow further.
  • The Liberals have rebounded somewhat and are back in this game.

Why has the NDP lost its edge in the polls?

I think it's because of Tom Mulcair's overly cautious campaign.  The problem is varied: Mulcair's platform - with its promise of $15/day child care, balanced budgets, a corporate tax hike, a small business tax cut and incremental change here and there - seems designed to calm fears about an NDP government. 

Perhaps some of those fears have been calmed.  But the modest platform thus far isn't catching fire or exciting even the base.  It's certainly not exciting me much. 

On top of this is Mulcair's dry personality.  He does come across as very competent and prime ministerial.  But he's not warm and it seems that Canadians are not connecting with him much.  He comes across as an adequate replacement for Stephen Harper, not an inspiring one.  He wouldn't be a loved prime minister, certainly no more than Stephen Harper.

On the most important issue facing the country - the economy - Mulcair's platform seems a bit hodgepodge and uninspiring.  This may be a communications problem.  Mulcair has often expressed his economic vision for Canada: a more diverse economy, less dependent on fossil fuels, more opportunity for people, etc.  The separate planks are there and they are smart.   But the entire package has yet to congeal into a coherent and easily explained and inspiring whole.  That might change should the NDP put out their full platform backed up by some inspiring talking points that simply explain how an NDP government will make our lives better.

An average poll rating of 32% to 34% at the start of the campaign has eroded for the NDP down to just below 30%. 

Meanwhile, the Liberals have halted their spring and early summer decline with a vigorous campaign that has been very clear in terms of its main message of growing the economy and helping the middle class.  

As a communicator, Justin Trudeau is proving himself to be superior to Mulcair.  We saw this during last week's Globe & Mail debate on the economy in which Trudeau repeated often why the economy is in a ditch right now and how he intends to kickstart it by lowering taxes on the middle class, raising them for the wealthy and running deficits to invest in infrastructure now while interest rates remain low. 

Like it or not, the Liberal message on the economy is coherent.  Frankly, I can't find anything to quibble over among Liberal promises and much to admire.  As a promiscuous progressive, I can see myself possibly voting Liberal in this election after weeks of leaning to the NDP.

On leadership, I have to admit that Justin's voice and style still grates on my nerves.  The old attack line that he's "Just not ready," seems to still have some resonance.  But slowly, due to Trudeau's sunny, inspiring and effective campaign, that attack seems to have less and less potency every day.

If you believe the polls, the Liberals have emerged as the main challengers to the Conservatives in vote-rich Ontario.   Nanos puts the two parties neck and neck (after recently giving the Liberals a clear edge) in the province.  Ipsos still puts the Liberals well ahead of the Conservatives in Ontario, with the NDP a distant third.   

A clear lead for the NDP in British Columbia in August now seems threatened by Conservative and Liberal support.   Only Quebec remains staunchly in the NDP's corner in all polls.

With four weeks to go, voters desperate for progressive change have no clue which of these two parties is going to emerge as the main challenger of the Conservatives.   If this three-way split continues, such clarity may never come.

Under that scenario, it makes a re-elected Conservative minority quite likely, which would be terrible for the country.  It's likely that the NDP and Liberals would gang up to defeat the minority Harperites at their first opportunity in the House (the Throne Speech).   Trudeau's statement in the recent CBC interview that Stephen Harper, "will have a very difficult time commanding the confidence of the House after this election, after these 10 years of failings that he's had," makes that clear.

But it could take months before Harper brings the House back, perhaps not until 2016 long after the upcoming Paris climate change conference.   If six months pass before the opposition parties have a chance to defeat the government in the House, it would weaken the argument for the second place party to try to form a new government instead of the Governor General calling another election.  

I would prefer this constitutional uncertainty be avoided completely with an outright defeat for the Conservatives to one of the opposition parties on Oct 19th.  At this point, which ever one can muster the strength to win over and inspire enough progressive Canadians to do it will suffice for me.

Between the two main opposition leaders, I had thought that Mulcair was the most ready to govern.  In most ways, I still do.  But if he can't inspire Canadians to elect him, then he's lost the edge the NDP has enjoyed since the Alberta election in May: the claim that they alone can defeat Harper.  

Now Trudeau has re-emerged as a contender whose campaign and inspiring personality does embody the change many are seeking.  If the Liberals emerge as the main challengers in the coming few weeks and the NDP continues to recede, I will switch back and support the Liberals.   

A Trudeau victory would irk the hell out of most average Conservatives in this country, most especially Stephen Harper.   That is reason enough to savour the possibility of a Liberal victory.  After 10 years of torture, it would be delightful to see Conservatives do a little squirming.  

I'm still hoping that Mulcair and the NDP find a way to right their ship and inspire progressive voters to put them over the top.   They may still. 

Both opposition parties have the potential to seize the moment and win this.  I'm hoping that one of them pulls it off.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Let's all support Mark Holland's campaign in Ajax to stop Chris Alexander's reign of error

With today's international crisis of Syrian refugees exploding, including the tragic death of a 3-year-old boy, his brother and mother off Turkey, it's put a strong focus on the record of Stephen Harper's government on refugees in general.

We have a commitment to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees come to Canada which the government has barely begun to honour.

We have a government that played politics with the refugee issue by cutting off health care to refugee claimants and other social supports in a bid to placate the Conservative Party base, which generally hates refugees.   When the Ontario government stepped in to offer health care coverage to refugees after the Harper government abandoned them, Minister Chris Alexander scolded the Wynne administration for its compassionate move.

What are some other big accomplishments by Alexander in his role as Citizenship Minister?  Trying to confuse the niqab and the hijab in the minds of Canadians and further poisoning relations between Muslim-Canadians and non-Muslim Canadians.

And now yesterday, have a look at Alexander in action trying to blame the media for not spending enough time covering the refugee crisis hitting Europe, and getting caught in a lie.  His argument seemed to be that he was unwilling to do anything about a crisis unless the media gave it more coverage.   This helps explain the Harper government's panicked response today to the international attention. 

Chris Alexander is a petty, petty man!

His recent performance reinforces the need to not only defeat him, but also the entire Harper government this election.

It just so happens that Alexander is one of many low-hanging Tory fruit running for re-election in Ajax, Ontario, and quite vulnerable to defeat.   He's facing off against the former Liberal incumbent, Mark Holland, who lost by a small margin last time to Alexander due to the 2011 Liberal vote collapse.

This time, Holland looks well-positioned to take back the seat and rid Canada of Alexander's pettiness, at least in the House of Commons.   If I lived in Ajax, I'd most definitely vote for Holland.   At any rate, I will be donating to Holland's local campaign.  I encourage you to as well.

And if you live in Ajax riding, please vote for Mark Holland on Oct 19th!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Peel school board's courageous stance against ignorance, bigotry and discrimination

In the face of very ignorant protests from parents and religious groups who want kids to grow up in a learning environment where LGBT people don't exist, this is a breath of fresh air. 

"Parents can remove their kids from sex-ed classes for religious reasons, but any requests for students to opt-out of learning about gay families or diverse gender identities won’t be tolerated, says the director of Ontario’s second largest school board — one that expects to be hard hit by protests over the new health curriculum." 

“We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” said Pontes, who cited Ontario’s Human Rights Code as applying to people of all sexual orientation and gender identity. “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.”

Congrats to the Peel Board's director of education, Tony Pontes, for this courageous stance!  There will be hundreds of bigots in that region who will continue to demand the public school system sanitize public education to appease their bigotry and they'll scream bloody murder about this decision.

But it is most definitely the right decision!   LGBT students exist in Peel Region schools.  This is a victory for them!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Determined, pragmatic 'Anybody-But-Conservative' movement may finally topple Harper from power this year...

I can hear it in the exasperated voices of friends and acquaintances as we discuss the ongoing federal election campaign in Canada.  Regime fatigue has definitely set in this election campaign. 

"Harper's got to go!" one friend told me last night.  She lives in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in west Toronto, a bellwether seat that usually swings to the winning party.  Last time, the Conservatives took it, defeating Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.  This time, all three parties are competitive there.  My pragmatic, progressive friend told me last night she's leaning NDP this time. 

The progressive majority in this country has put up with Harper's regressive policies and dysfunctional leadership for almost ten years.   We're sick to death of him now and more determined than ever to get rid of him.  I suspect this year we'll finally get our wish.  

The election call in early August did wake a slumbering electorate.  While most Canadians have continued to enjoy their summer, most have also started listening more closely than they otherwise would've in August.  Thus, the Mike Duffy trial revelations of a big conspiracy within Harper's office to lie to the public about Senate corruption simply reinforced sour opinions of Harper's team and judgment.  The slumping economy has also undermined Harper's main message that 'we're better off staying the course.'  With most middle class Canadians barely getting by, living pay cheque to pay cheque, the spectre of more of the same seems woefully inadequate.

I'm beginning to think that Harper's choice to call the election so early will prove to be a big blunder that no negative ad campaign come September and October will overcome.  It might've been possible that most Canadians would've simply missed the minutiae of the Duffy trial revelations this month were there no election call.  Instead, with their political senses heightened by the call, Canadians were given a daily dose of scandal for two weeks as well as Harper's increasingly uncredible denials.  

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's steady, cautious campaign thus far has done much to calm many fears that persist about the NDP forming a government.  Talk of modest, progressive, incremental change isn't scaring anybody.  An old video of Mulcair praising the free market policies of Thatcher's Britain should prove to even the most skeptical conservative that Mulcair is not some lefty lunatic.

In his rush to the centre, Mulcair is ceding much progressive ground to the Liberals' Justin Trudeau, whose campaign is showing resilience and renewed strength.  The NDP has a careful balancing act to maintain in order to win over centrists while not alienating their progressive base.  Thus far, they're mostly succeeding although it's clear that Trudeau's Liberals are targeting those same voters with vigour.

Polls now show Tom Mulcair overtaking Harper in the "Best Prime Minister" category.  Even Justin Trudeau, who the Tories have labeled "Just not ready," is competitive in those same polls with the incumbent.   That's got to hurt, especially after the Conservatives spent millions pushing the anti-Trudeau line.

Ultimately, I suspect the anti-Trudeau attack won't work as well as the Conservatives hoped.  The Liberal vote is coming back from its historic low of 19% in 2011, currently pegged around 27-30% in polls today.  But now, pragmatic centrists and progressives looking for change have switched to the NDP, pushing them into the mid-30s, well ahead of the Conservatives.  

Another woman I met last week who lives in Waterloo, Ontario told me she likes Trudeau but does worry about his level of experience for the job this year, while her fatigue with Harper was obvious.  So that means, "I guess I have to vote for Mulcair," she said. 

As the next month-and-a-half rolls out, voters determined to change the government will take a close look at their local ridings and decide which opposition party has the best chance to knock off the Tories, or at least add to the seat count for the party with the best chance of beating the Conservatives nationally.  In most parts of Quebec, that will be the NDP.  In Atlantic Canada, it will mostly be the Liberals.  In BC, it will be the NDP, except in parts of the Lower Mainland where the Grits are competitive again.  In Ontario, it will also depend on the region in which they live.   Downtown Toronto might lean NDP, while the outer suburbs will mostly lean Liberal.   In some ridings where both the NDP and the Liberals pose strong challenges to the Tories, the choice will be agonizing. 

In a healthy democracy, most of us can tolerate a victory or two by our ideological opponents should they earn it.  In many ways, Harper did well earn his 2006 victory over a tired Liberal government and a Prime Minister in Paul Martin who failed to impress much with his dithering style of leadership.

Harper then got luckier facing off against the hapless Stephane Dion in 2008, but still failed to secure a majority in progressive Canada.  In 2011, Michael Ignatieff's uninspiring leadership, coupled with a surging NDP, forced a Liberal collapse that handed enough seats in Ontario to give Harper a majority even though he got less than 40% of the national vote.  

Currently, Harper is failing to crack 30% in the polls.  Those polls also show that the vast majority of people currently backing other parties will not consider the Conservatives as their second or third choices.  Thus, the chances of Harper getting back up into the mid-high 30s seems unlikely, barring major screw-ups by Mulcair and Trudeau on the hustings.   The Conservatives' only real hope now is to inspire their own base like never before and suppress the opposition vote.  Their "Unfair Elections Act" is a tool in their arsenal to that end, but I suspect these sleazy Tory tactics won't work this time.  Voters determined to get change will make it to the polls regardless of Tory robocalls illegally misdirecting them.  Plus the Tory base is shrinking and badly outnumbered by Canada's progressive majority.

The grassroots desire for change is palpable and firming up.  We are simply waiting and watching this election campaign to see which opposition party poses the greatest national threat to Conservative rule.  Once that becomes clear come early-mid October, we should expect a big swing behind that party to finish the job October 19th.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stephen Harper has never turned down an opportunity to turn down an opportunity to show support for LGBT Canadians

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau at Montreal's Pride Aug 16, 2015
It's sad that in Canada in 2015, we've grown so accustomed to Stephen Harper's absences from the country's major Pride celebrations that we almost expect it every year.  Instead, we shrug and barely notice his continued non-leadership. 

Harper's absence yet again from Montreal's Pride yesterday was "noted," remarked NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.   It was all the more glaring considering all the other major party leaders including Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May were present yesterday.   The best the Conservative party could muster were two obscure local Montreal candidates. 

Of course, I'm sure many Tories will gripe that Mulcair, Trudeau, and Duceppe would, of course, show up to Montreal's Pride as they're from that city.  However, Mulcair and Trudeau also showed up at Toronto's Pride in June.  Trudeau was also present at Vancouver's Pride earlier this month, despite Harper's early election call that day.   Attending any of these celebrations shows important symbolic support for LGBT people. 

But as we know Harper will have none of that.  Harper doesn't even attend Pride celebrations in his home city of Calgary, nor Edmonton.  He simply doesn't care about LGBT Canadians, or at least he's happy to be seen as not caring.   It's one of his little tricks for keeping his bigoted base happy and their donations rolling in to the Conservative Party.  He'll do nothing legislatively to attack gays (at least, not since 2006 when he half-heartedly attempted to revisit equal marriage and lost), but he's been more than happy to ignore LGBT issues completely for 9 years, as well as quietly de-fund LGBT arts festivals and organizations here and there.  

Harper has never turned down an opportunity to turn down an opportunity to show symbolic support for LGBT Canadians.  After almost 10 years of this, it's beyond shameful.   It's yet another reason why Harper needs to go as soon as possible.   

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Harper's "verbal liarrhea": PM lies today about pot, safe injection sites, and pensions on the campaign trail

Stephen Harper has no shame.  He's willing to say anything as long as it conforms to his narrow-minded and often dangerous worldview.

Clearly, facts are irrelevant to him.  Today, we got Harper's latest dose of what I'll call "verbal liarrhea." Expect many more posts on this subject in the days and weeks ahead.

I'd like to credit CTVNews.ca for the amazing breakdown of Harper's lies today, which I've quoted extensively below:

Harper lie #1:  “Most Canadians (when) you actually ask them, do not want the full legalization of marijuana.”

Reality:  A 2014 survey by Angus Reid Global found that 59 per cent of the 1,510 Canadians surveyed supported legalizing marijuana and 41 per cent were opposed.

However, in a survey where Canadians were given a third option -- decriminalization for possessing small amounts – only 37 per cent supported legalization, while 33 per cent chose decriminalization and 14 per cent supported the current laws. That survey included 3,000 people and was conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of the federal government.

Harper knows full well his statement today about Canadian support for legalization was a lie because his government ordered the poll that showed massive support for either legalization or decriminalization.   Only 14% of Canadians support Harper's position.   Yet, he's willing to ignore Canadians' views on marijuana and instead is now promising to spend millions more on his failed war against drugs. 

Harper lie #2: “I think the statistics in places like Colorado are very clear on this. When you go down that route, marijuana becomes more readily available to children.”

Reality: Marijuana has only been legal in Colorado since Jan. 1, 2014, so extensive research has not been conducted.

However, drugs have been decriminalized in the Netherlands since 1976, and past-year cannabis use among young Dutch citizens appears to be declining. Among those aged 15 to 24, past-year use dropped from 14 per cent in 1997 to 11 per cent in 2005, according to a study in the journal Addiction. 

Harper lie #3:  Today on safe injection sites, Harper said, “Providing programs that do not provide treatment, in our view, is just throwing away the key and writing off somebody’s life. Trying to manage their decline, that’s not what we want to do. Our anti-drug strategy is based on prevention, enforcement, but most of all treatment.”

Reality: Insite does, in fact, provide addictions counselling in the hopes that users will opt to enter the on-site detoxification program, which is the first step in treatment.
Studies published in the journals Addiction and the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that Vancouver opiate drug users were more likely to enter detox programs after Insite opened.

Harper lie #4: "I am delighted to see, quite frankly, that our refusal to co-operate with the imposition of this tax is making it more difficult for the Ontario government to proceed," Harper said today, claiming it would be bad for the economy for ordinary Ontarians to have enough money to survive and feed themselves during retirement.  

Reality: First of all, Harper is a hypocrite.  He's forced thousands of civil servants in Ottawa and across the country to pay higher payroll deductions for their defined benefit pension plans in recent years. 

Secondly, pension savings are not taxes.  That's a big lie pushed by Harper and his allies in the corporate media.  The government doesn't touch those savings; they go into an independently managed, defined benefit pension plan and earn value over time.  When we retire, we reap the benefits.

The great horrific truth is that Harper simply doesn't really care much about ordinary Canadians and their retirement savings.   If he did, he'd support increasing CPP contributions now for all and not force us to wait until age 67 to collect our Old Age Security, as he's planning to do.

Ordinary Canadians without defined benefit pensions have no good options for reliable savings.   The only plans that provide great potential earnings are RRSPs, but they aren't reliable and can collapse in value, like they did during the great 2008 Wall Street swindle.   Some employers do match monthly contributions to group RRSP plans; however, again there is no guarantee of payouts during retirement.  Only a hope and a prayer.   In decades past, the private sector did provide better retirement options to their employees with defined benefit pensions.  But those pensions are long gone and the result is now a major crisis, particularly with our aging population.

Kathleen Wynne's plan to enhance the CPP is much needed.  Harper's opposition is despicably short-sighted, much like most of his decisions.

I hope we see past Harper's big lies this campaign and kick the thug out on his ass where his verbal liarrhea won't hurt us anymore. 

It's time to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aka the dirtiest trade deal you've never heard of...

Recently, it was revealed that the as-yet-unapproved Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, currently being negotiated in complete secret, could force the CBC, Canada Post and other Crown corporations in Canada (and other public bodies in other participating countries) to operate solely for profit under the deal’s terms.

The information was obtained and released by Wikileaks and states that a “majority of TPP countries” have agreed that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will have to “act on the basis of commercial considerations.”

The document — a briefing for ministers ahead of a December, 2013 TPP meeting which makes clear that final decisions on these issues hadn’t been made at that time — also indicates that state-owned companies may be subject to all the rules of the TPP.  If that were to be the case, governments would not be able to fund Crown corporations with taxpayers’ money if that funding has “adverse effects” on another TPP country, says Jane Kelsey, a professor of law at the University of Auckland, in an analysis of the document she prepared for Wikileaks.

“It looks like SOEs are not allowed to get government support or non-commercial assistance. … That kind of support is often essential for SOEs that provide public functions that are not profitable or are even loss-making.”

This is but one scary possibility this possible agreement might thrust on unsuspecting populations whose governments are negotiating away their best interests, including Stephen Harper's government.  

Have a look at this video below at some of the very real threats we face if the TPP is approved.  The video was produced in Australia, but the issues raised in it are relevant to all countries that could be effected by the new deal.  

There has been little discussion around the TPP in Canada except about its potential impact on supply management.  In truth, Canada stands to lose much more than simply its dairy industry. 

As a progressive, I now think that enough is enough: it's time to stop the TPP from happening.  The best thing we can hope for is to elect a new government in October that won't sell out Canadians to the global corporate agenda like Stephen Harper secretly plans to do.

I'm starting to strongly suspect that means we must vote in the NDP, which at least has a strong history opposing these kinds of sell-out trade deals which only make the select few rich even richer while the vast majority of Canadians lose out.   While we appear stuck with previously negotiated trade deals, it seems like the TPP is one we can't afford to sign.   

Friday, August 7, 2015

First Leaders' debate reaction: Trudeau soared, Mulcair was decent, and May drew real blood.

Harper's campaign is having trouble attracting good spellers, it seems.
I suspected Justin Trudeau had some moxie he was saving for the election campaign.  His unusually low profile in the weeks preceding last weekend's election call seemed designed to keep expectations low.

But since the election call, Trudeau has been quite strong.  That reached new heights in last night's Maclean's leaders' debate in Toronto.

Overall, I'd give Trudeau the night as he was the most passionate, engaging, and surprisingly well-spoken on a variety of issues.  He did everything he needed to do quite well.  His attack zingers landed directly on their targets and inflicted damage.  On tough questions, he gave good answers and then quickly pivoted to strong counter-attacks against his opponents, especially on Bill C-51 and the fight against ISIS, in which he quickly turned his answer into a passionate attack on the Harper government's treatment of veterans.  It was so strong that Harper was forced to quickly (and unconvincingly) defend his government's record on veterans before getting back to ISIS fear-mongering.

Even Trudeau's closing statement which ended the broadcast was great, finally giving us a convincing idea what drives him to be a leader and why he's doing this: he wants a better Canada for his three kids and he offers something "better" than Stephen Harper's rather dreary status quo.  This was the Trudeau so many were excited about in 2013 and for most of 2014.  Trudeau's performance will undoubtedly bolster Liberal spirits and fortunes.

But it is still early days.  It's difficult to know if this one debate in early August will have lasting impact.  If nothing else, it signals that Trudeau is back in this game and we should look forward to stronger performances from him in upcoming debates.  As increased Liberal strength in the House of Commons is key to denying Harper another majority, this is cause for joy.

Watching Green Party leader Elizabeth May in the debate was as awesome as I expected it to be.  She was sharp, frequently deflating Harper's lies with expert precision and doing herself proud.  There's no doubt why the Tories will do everything they can not to see May in future debates alongside Harper: she damages him greatly and assists the other party leaders in their similar efforts.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was also quite decent last night.  As an unfiltered introduction of himself to English Canadian voters, it was a fine performance, if also somewhat flawed.  He got dozens of awesome attacks in against Harper and many great lines.   He even got Harper to admit that we're likely in a recession again.   Mulcair spoke often about his experience as a former cabinet minister.  He looked calm, dignified and prime ministerial - like a worthy alternative to Harper.  By contrast, Trudeau looked like the eager young man next to his older opponents and perhaps a bit less prime ministerial.

But Mulcair held back too much in the big fights, his frequent smiles looked forced, and he didn't help himself by frequently facing the debate moderator instead of looking into the camera.  When Mulcair screwed up his final statement with a "Sorry," he barely recovered and almost rushed through it.  It reminded me of his 2012 NDP Convention speech which he also rushed through without a care in the world because he knew at the time the quality of that 2012 speech would have no impact on the leadership vote.  But of course, the quality of his performance in last night's debate will most certainly have an impact on this election.

For Mulcair, he was decent but there is much room for improvement in future debates.  He's going to have to more clearly articulate his vision and passion in upcoming debates so Canadians have a clearer idea why he wants to be Prime Minister and what he would do with that power.

We already know full well what Harper plans to do with more power.  Harper was solid, although his lines of defense frequently fell flat.  He was pilloried on the Senate.  He refused to show leadership by apologizing for appointing all of the problem senators of recent years.   Harper also finally admitted that we are likely in a recession, which is not going to win him any more votes.

Overall, Harper, as the default incumbent choice, could only consider last night a victory if the other leaders fell flat.   They didn't.  Trudeau soared, Mulcair was decent, and May drew real blood. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Progressives should tone down Liberal hatred and re-focus fire on the real enemy: Stephen Harper

I have been hearing of torrent of criticism and putdowns against Justin Trudeau and the Liberals from NDP friends and acquaintances for months.   Attacks such as "airhead" and "moron" and "unprincipled" have been echoing on my Facebook timeline and Twitter, mimicking attacks from the Conservatives in their well-financed ad campaign. 

But I say those lefties should tone it down a bit and re-focus their fire on the real enemy: Stephen Harper.  Why?  Because the NDP needs the Liberals to make significant gains in this election.   Yes, you read that correctly.

I reject the notion that two strong centre-left parties will just divide the anti-Tory vote.  That's partially true.  But a stronger Liberal Party with much more than the paltry 19% they took in 2011 will rob the Conservatives of the votes they need to slip into another majority. 

Blue Liberals, red Tories and centre-right folks tired of Stephen Harper's ways will probably still end up voting for him if the only alternative seems to be the NDP.  That's what happened in 2011.  I'll be damned if the same thing happens again this year.

To avoid this, those centre-right folks (especially in the huge Greater Toronto Area) need a strong Liberal option that appears competitive.  There are literally dozens of ridings across the country where the Liberals will be the main competition against the Tories.  The Grits remain the strongest challengers there with great local candidates.  I have a sick feeling that should this federal election polarize too strongly between Harper's Conservatives and Mulcair's NDP, it'll only benefit the former in those dozens of ridings and push the Tories toward another majority.  Clearly with their continued attacks on Justin Trudeau, that's what the Conservatives are hoping.

Sure, the NDP dreams of winning over masses of voters in the 905 area of Toronto and beyond, taking seats they've never come close to taking in the past.  The NDP did win 15 out of 25 seats in Calgary in the May provincial election, after all.  Certainly they can do the same elsewhere, some insist.

No, they won't.  First, the Alberta NDP was the only serious centre-left option in that fight.  The Alberta Liberals and the little Alberta Party combined won only 6% of the vote.  The Alberta NDP also benefited from a divided right.  We have the opposite situation federally, with a strong Liberal Party sharing the opposition vote.  Plus Harper's Conservatives aren't anywhere near as detested as the Alberta PCs.   They are still tied for first place in two credible polls out this week and are very much in the federal game.  Their best hope remains suppressing opposition support while re-inspiring their base to turn out. 

Yes, Trudeau's Liberals have suffered a correction since last year in the polls.  The shine is definitely off Justin's leadership rose.  His inexperience and lack of gravitas have left many progressives hoping for change turning to the more experienced, tougher Tom Mulcair.

I do believe that Mulcair's NDP will form the greatest overall threat to the Conservatives this year, but not in every single riding.  The NDP's new support in the low 30s is not about to decline.  Trudeau's mistakes on Bill C-51 were the straw that broke the camel's back.  Those votes are lost to the NDP this October.  The NDP may even be able to push their vote up from 31% last time but I'm not predicting it'll get much higher than 33% or 34%, unless of course Harper's campaign truly goes off the rails.  If a higher Grit vote can pull the Tories down from 40% last time to 32% or 31% or even lower this time, that'll help the NDP win the most seats.

I do think Trudeau still has considerable abilities and appeal.  I don't usually like to link to Warren Kinsella, but he's bang on here.  He's also largely correct here explaining the Liberals' fall from grace and how Justin may fix the situation.
With a stronger Liberal caucus this year, perhaps two or three times its current size, the result will either be a minority Conservative government or a minority NDP government.  And that'll spell a quick end to Stephen Harper's reign as there's no way the Trudeau Liberals will allow Harper to survive longer than his new Throne Speech.  While I doubt we'll see a formal NDP-Liberal coalition as some would like, I'm sure some working arrangement similar to the 1985 Peterson-Rae accord will be in the works.

That would be a government to celebrate.  So lefties, please lighten up on the anti-Trudeau attacks.  You're doing Harper's bidding.