Monday, November 25, 2019

Mitzie Hunter has won my support in the Ontario Liberal leadership race...

Ontario Liberal leadership candidate Mitzie Hunter
Like the Democrats to the south who are now trying to figure out which of their presidential candidates is best to beat Donald Trump next year, big-L Liberals in Ontario are also in the throes of their own provincial leadership race to determine who will lead the fight to bring the party back and challenge Doug Ford in 2022. 

Like so many pragmatic progressives in Ontario, I have to again admit that I voted for the Ontario NDP in 2018 in a failed attempt to stop Ford's regressive PCs from winning.  Yet again, despite the best possible political conditions for the NDP in a generation, they came up way short.  To me, those results again proved the NDP is incapable of winning over Ontario voters.  Now, the lingering and mediocre leadership of Andrea Horwath, whose work as Opposition Leader has gone mostly unnoticed by the public, reinforces that opinion.
That leaves the Ontario Liberals as the most viable option for displacing the PCs in 2022.  However, that won't happen if the Liberals pick the wrong person to lead them.  I wrote earlier this year my reasons for not supporting candidates Steven Del Duca and Michael Coteau.  Why settle for mediocre now hoping that it'll bloom later into something better?

Ontario Liberals need to embrace a leader who personifies a different and better approach to politics now.  Someone with a track record of competence and authentic progressive politics. 

For me, that person is Mitzie Hunter.  Let me explain why.  

Mitzie isn't afraid to reach out to members directly.  Amid this busy year for her, she's literally called me up three times to engage with me and give me a chance to share my thoughts with her.  That's an accessibility I've never seen in a leadership candidate. 

As a daughter of immigrants from Jamaica, Mitzie's lived the struggle to integrate and find a place in Ontario.  She's got street cred.  And she's succeeded as a leader.  She was the Vice-President of Goodwill Industries, the CAO of Toronto Community Housing, and CEO of Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, where she fought for democratic reforms and other progressive issues.  She was a big proponent for implementing preferential balloting at the municipal level.  In government, she has a solid record as Minister of Education, and Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development.  And in 2018, when so many Ontario Liberals were losing their seats, she hung on to hers in Scarborough-Guildwood.  I also greatly appreciated her outspoken support this year for reforming how Ontario Liberals elect their leaders with One Member One Vote (which received 58% support from members at the June AGM, but failed as the change needed two-thirds support.)  

She's a bridge builder too.  While I didn't support the Scarborough subway extension (I much preferred the cost-effective light rail transit plan), I understand that politics is about compromise.  Sometimes you need to put a little water in your wine to get the best decision made supported by the most people.  Mitzie took a position on the Scarborough subway that respected everyone and tried to find a compromise that suburban residents wouldn't resent.  I have to admit that such pragmatism is a virtue in a successful leader. 

We need a new but credible style of leadership, one that excites and reaches out to all people.  We need a leader who does politics differently, with a desire to focus on our own strengths, not just our opponents' weaknesses.  Mitzie has pledged to be that kind of leader. 

Mitzie Hunter's policy focus thus far in this leadership has been to propose innovative ideas to address the crises of affordable housing, education, skills development and gun violence.  All crucial issues that speak to the basic needs of all Ontarians.  

I really admire her cautious, fair, balanced approach to policy.  She's steady.  She's done the work.  Fundamentally, she's a bridge builder whose judgment I would trust running the Ontario government.  When Mitzie says she wants to make sure our education systems and our economy work for "everyone," I know that she means "everyone."  I think that even-minded approach is how she'll be able to reach out to all Ontarians, not just those in the Greater Toronto Area, to win support and get the Ontario Liberals elected back into government.

I will admit that the two other candidates running for the leadership this year, Kate Graham and Alvin Tedjo, are both charming, smart and exciting options.   Back in September when Graham launched her bid, I was initially quite excited by the tone of her campaign and the new approach she promised to bring to politics.  Her recent policy pledge to embrace electoral reform with a new Citizens' Assembly process is a great idea (one I hope Mitzie borrows.)

Both Mitzie Hunter and Kate Graham are pledging to do politics differently, to focus on our strengths and not so much our opponents' weaknesses, and re-engage with the grassroots.  However, this is work that Hunter has actually done for years.  On top, Hunter actually has a seat at Queen's Park and has so many more years of elected experience in government.  Hunter is ready for this, while Graham seems a bit too green.  (Although I do hope Graham runs and wins in the next Ontario election in London North Centre.)

Tedjo too failed to excite me much with his leadership campaign until he recently announced his bold policy to unite the Catholic and Public school systems into one.  I've long supported that policy to end institutional religious discrimination in Ontario public schools.  I'm sure many Liberals and other Ontarians would support that too.  Tedjo deserves praise for proposing this.  But leadership is about more than just taking a great position on one issue.  Like Graham, Tedjo is unelected.  His personal work experience has been mostly as a political staffer or communications person.  He's talented, as he's proving with this leadership race.  But I'm not sure he's ready for this job now.

Mitzie Hunter is ready for this now.  She's the full package.  She's proven to me that she's willing to make those phone calls and reach out to all people.  The prospect of her winning the leadership gives me hope that the Ontario Liberals will be able to do the work to re-connect and earn back the confidence of Ontarians so that we may provide the kinds of policies our province needs.

I'm proud to support Mitzie Hunter.

The race is currently in high gear with all campaigns trying to sign up as many Liberals as members before the deadline of December 2, 2019.  Any one who pays the $20 for a two-year membership before next Monday is eligible to vote in upcoming leadership delegate selection meetings in February 2020.  (Each riding or student association will elect delegates in proportion to the amount of support received by each leadership candidate at those meetings, and those delegates will go on to attend the leadership convention in early March 2020.)   

Even if you're undecided, but want to participate in this crucial process, I urge you to follow this link and join the Ontario Liberal Party before December 2, 2019.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

For all his flaws, Canadians reluctantly accept Trudeau over the far worse Scheer

There is a lot to digest about yesterday's Canadian election results.

Due to temporary work duties, I decided not to write publicly on the election while it was still in progress.

But I can say today, like most progressive Canadians, I'm relieved we don't have to endure Andrew Scheer's Conservatives and their regressive, retrograde policies just to punish the Liberals for their misdeeds.

Justin Trudeau didn't so much win this election;  Andrew Scheer lost it.

My main issue with the Trudeau Liberals these last four years has been their basic incompetence in terms of communications and issues management.

Their policy record in government was actually very solid.  Successes included more support for families with children which raised hundreds of thousands out of poverty, re-negotiated trade agreements that protected Canadian interests as much as possible in the face of an aggressive White House, better environmental protections across the board including more thorough and fair approvals processes for major projects, the legalization of cannabis, the reform to how the government appoints senators, better foreign policy with regards to women's rights, and great support for the LGBTQ community.

Despite all these policy successes, the government was largely incompetent in terms of how it communicated those successes or the reasons they had made certain decisions.  I would judge Trudeau's government on issues management as sloppy.

Into that vacuum jumped the country's Conservatives with their constant negativity and hate against all things Trudeau.  Much of it was unfair.  The Trudeau government literally bought a pipeline to keep western energy and economic prospects alive.  For this, they got trounced on the prairies.  Furthermore, the Liberals lost ground in Quebec to the Bloc for their pro-pipeline stance. 

In parts of the country where there is almost no Liberal base, support for the Grits collapsed last night.  Looking over the rural results in Saskatchewan and Alberta proves the Liberal brand is almost fringe out there.  Longtime stalwarts like Ralph Goodale were easily pushed aside by the Conservative juggernaut.

Those lopsided victories for the Conservatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan are largely responsible for the overall Conservative plurality in voter support across the country, which was 34.4%.  The Liberals won 33.2% across the country, but won in Ontario and Quebec, thus giving them the seat advantage overall - 157 to 121.

The NDP did better last night than it appeared they would at the start of the campaign.  24 seats is a big drop from 44, but the party did manage still a respectable showing.   Jagmeet Singh emerges from this campaign strengthened after two years of bad press.  Plus he now controls the balance of power and will be in a position to get major policy gains from the re-elected Liberals.

Trudeau will truly need to work hard to make this Parliament work and enact any kind of agenda.  He'll likely rely on both the NDP and the Conservatives at times to pass certain things.  These will be interesting times.

But Trudeau has been brought down several pegs.  He deserved it.  His racist blackface controversy in September hurt many in this country and dissolved a huge amount of existing good will for him.   His apologies seemed sincere, and his record in government was clearly pro-diversity.  Yet, it remained unclear how a 29-year-old son of a Prime Minister could possibly think it was appropriate in 2001 to dress up like that.  The vacuity of Trudeau's mind was fully exposed.

Despite this, the strong minority win will give Trudeau a chance to fight another day.  As there are not many viable successors in the wings and things are precarious with a minority, Trudeau will try to make this work and perhaps rise to the occasion.  I bet you he leads the Liberals into the next campaign regardless of what the Conservatives do.

As for Scheer, I truly hope he steps down.  While Trudeau's flaws were enormous, they weren't bad enough to justify looking past Scheer's failings.

Scheer was petulant and uninspiring in this campaign.  There was no real vision that inspired much of anyone east of Manitoba.  Quite the contrary.  His inability to apologize for his homophobic past was particularly irritating.  For him to emerge defeated despite Trudeau's mistakes says it all.  He needs to go.

One more note about Maxime Bernier, whose vanity project ironically called the People's Party now seems finished after winning zero seats last night.  That is wonderful.  He chose to stoke bigotries to try to build his party up.  It failed miserably.

There will be some people who will point to Bernier's failure as a reason to keep our current First Past The Post voting system.   Bullocks, I say.  His party only garnered 1.6% yesterday, which would not be enough for any representation under Proportional Representation (which, if enacted as I would like, would only grant seats to parties with over 5.0% of the vote.)  Even in a mixed PR system with local ridings, Bernier would've still lost his local seat as he did last night. 

But First Past the Post actually is exacerbating regional differences in Canada.  The Liberals won 14% of the vote in Alberta yesterday, but have zero seats.  They won 11% in Saskatchewan and also have zero there.  The NDP (16% voter support) and the Greens (6.5%) should've received more representation based on their support from Canadians, but will have to settle with the 7% and 1% of seats they respectively won.  The only solace for the NDP is the fact they now hold the balance of power.

Canadians aren't as divided as our electoral system would have you believe.  We'll see if the NDP demands that electoral reform be back on the agenda as part of this minority government.  I hope so. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

New Indiegogo campaign launched to raise funds for my new short film, "Big Snore"

Actor Scotty Murray during auditions for Big Snore
Today, I launched a three-week Indiegogo campaign to help raise much-needed funds for my new narrative short film, Big Snore.  I hope that you might consider helping me out!  

As many will know, I've been working part-time on film projects for over ten years.   My first success was co-writing and helping produce a beautiful short film, The Golden Pin, back in 2009 with director Cuong Ngo (the link to view the film is on the right.)  I also worked with Ngo on his first feature film, Pearls of the Far East, as an additional writer and associate producer.

In 2015, I finally decided to overcome my fears and take on a project as director.  The result was the short narrative film called Tri-Curious, a comedy about how last minute anxiety threatens to ruin a young couple's first threesome together.  It was an awesome experience and I remain very thankful to those artists and friends who shared their talents with me making that film, and to those individuals who donated generously to the Indiegogo campaign that helped finance it.

Tri-Curious played in several international film festivals, it earned over 1.5 million views on YouTube before it was exclusively licensed by gay streaming service Dekkoo, and released on a DVD compilation by TLA Releasing

Since then, I've literally spent the last couple of years contemplating what kinds of film projects to do next.   Making something that authentically expresses my values as an artist and a human being is very important to me.


As I detail on my new Indiegogo campaign page, inspiration for Big Snore happened one late night last year when I was lying next to my partner Samuel in bed while he slept.  I've always been a light sleeper, easily awoken.  Samuel, on the other hand, is a heavy sleeper who occasionally snores. (In truth, Samuel tells me I occasionally snore as well.)

That night, I couldn't find rest as his snores were unusually loud.  I struggled, I shifted in bed often, I took a sleeping pill.  Momentary frustration eventually gave way to inner peace when I remembered how lucky I am to be able to share my bed and my life with this wonderful man!  "What would I do if you ever stopped breathing?" I whispered.  Suddenly, EUREKA!  This could be my new story!  This could be an idea that I can carry all the way to production and beyond.  This story could say something I'd like to say about relationships and love in general.  Inspired, I soon fell asleep and slept like a baby.

I've been working on the script and preparing for this shoot since.  The script details one night in the life of a young gay couple, one of whom snores very badly, the other a light sleeper who struggles to get some needed rest.

I'm not one to spend months drafting up applications and waiting for responses from public funding agencies.  I've found such endeavours in the past to be somewhat futile, especially since competition for such dollars is so fierce.  For now, I'm hoping that this crowd-funding campaign will raise the necessary funds to give some compensation to my actors and crew, as well as fund the film's crucial post-production sound design.

One of my ambitions as a storyteller is to normalize the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people, without whitewashing the elements of our lives that make us unique.  All audiences want stories that are honest but also connect with them emotionally.   I'm hopeful that Big Snore will earn many chuckles and nods of appreciation from all audiences.

I hope you might consider contributing to this project.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Re-engaging after yesterday's hateful march against my own community in Toronto and the inspired counter-protest

I haven't written anything here since June when I expressed my new love and support for Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (a love and support that has only grown stronger.)

My focus these last few months has been strengthening my own day-to-day life and perhaps even enjoying it more. You could say I was being selfish.  Few if any issues in Canada had inspired me to write, despite a lot of course happening as it always does.  I have also disengaged from social media especially Facebook.  I have found myself avoiding most of the new social media platforms that have invaded our lives these last years.  I had been foolish with some of my engagements on those platforms.  I had angered others and undermined some of my own relationships.  I was worried some of my efforts at communication were being seen as shrill.

So instead, I've chosen to disengage.  To step back and re-evaluate.  To try to focus more on real life experiences rather than virtual ones.  But disengaging from these platforms cuts one off from the ways our modern world communicates these days.  Perhaps retreat is not the answer.  Perhaps figuring out how to fight, how to love, how to support each other in this online world is our new real life.

I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't hear about both yesterday's hateful march that tried to move up Church Street in Toronto, and the much larger counter protest defending love and the LGBTQ community, until afterwards.  The counter-protest defended my community by moving down Church Street from a rally outside the 519 Community Centre shortly before noon yesterday.  It had been organized in response to a planned march up Church Street of religious bigots who wanted to bring their hate to the heart of the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood.  The counter-protesters were going to have none of that.  They managed to create a massive human barrier on Church Street south of King Street.  The police barricaded both sides, which managed to stall the bigots from heading north of Wellington Street and perhaps cause physical violence (on top of the spiritual violence they were already spouting).  Streets were shut down for hours until the group of bigots dispersed and went back to whatever miserable lives they are leading.  

All of this drama happened before I even heard about it.  How could that happen?  I'm sad to think that my withdrawal has made me blind to the planning of these events.  Facebook invites from the 519 or other groups would've made clear the plans to counter the bigots.  I missed them and I'm ashamed. 

Yesterday's planned march against LGBTQ people wasn't a surprise.  It was planned by evangelist preacher David Lynn, who was arrested in June at the start of Pride month for causing a disturbance after attempting to preach hate in the Village and sparking loud and angry confrontations with local citizens.   Imagine a white supremacist taking his hatred to the heart of the Black community, then complaining about being silenced when he gets shouted down.  He was lucky he didn't get punched.  This kind of aggressive religious bigotry is becoming more common.   Yesterday's march was just the latest manifestation of it.  The haters have been emboldened in recent years by the likes of Donald Trump and powerful conservatives like him.  A misplaced sense of victimhood, arrogance, and bigotry is a toxic mix.
In recent years, I've not been overly comfortable as a protester.  I'm not one to make signs and march out on the streets, although I have been definitely an activist in other ways.  I did march and chant in the streets when I was a young adult but it's less my style now.  I engage here and there politically when it comes to the big picture and get involved on the occasional campaign.  But it has rarely been fulfilling in recent years.  But some causes are still worth marching for.  Yesterday would've been one of them.  This was literally an attack by hate-filled bigots in my own neighbourhood.  Their signs would've marched up Church Street right past my home had they not been stopped further south.  

I need to re-engage now.  I need to start making more of an effort to take part and be active in my community in a real way.  I need to find the energy after work to go to meetings I've been avoiding in recent years.  I need to seek out more opportunities to turn my passion and interest and support into something more than likes on Facebook.  There are opportunities to have real human connections, perhaps in marches, perhaps at other grassroots events, perhaps in Pride parades with folks just like me.

I need to get out of this funk and start to see the value in my own contributions again.  I need to find my inner activist again.  I need to write more, something I truly love to do. 

Congratulations and thank you to those great people who did get out there yesterday to defend our community against the bigots.  Who heard about it and took action.  I wish I had been there with you.  I hope to be there next time.  

Saturday, June 15, 2019

In a crowded Democratic field, Elizabeth Warren has won me over!

Senator Elizabeth Warren is surging in this race.
I'm a big fan of the Marvel Avengers series of flicks.  In 2018's Avengers Infinity War, in one key scene, the super hero character Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) conducts some kind of massive mental examination of all possible future scenarios for defeating their genocidal enemy named Thanos.  He later tells Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) that he was able to envision 14 million possible scenarios and in only one of them do they beat their enemy.  Of course, if you've seen the final Avengers Endgame film this year, you know how that turned out.

I think of that scene when contemplating the ongoing race for the next Democratic presidential candidate.   Like most progressive political junkies, I've been sifting through the various scenarios presented by the now 23 candidates on the crowded stage for the right choice to take on and defeat the grotesque Donald Trump in 2020.

I do believe that the chances are much better than 14,000,000 to 1.  But I worry, like most, that settling on one safe candidate or relying too heavily on 2016 assumptions repeating themselves, could end up being a gigantic mistake.  The horrific thought of picturing Trump being re-elected in 2020 sends chills down my spine, as I'm sure it does all good people.  That sleazy, lying criminal must be removed from the White House next year (if not sooner.)  The key is figuring out which Democratic candidate is the one to do it.

Here are some factors that I believe to be true which underpin my current thinking:
  • Trump won in 2016 on a populist message that won over working class voters in rust belt states typically won by Democrats by campaigning to be on their side.   He was seen as an outsider and a change candidate who would shake things up in Washington. 
  • 2016 was not some aberration.  2016 was a repudiation of the politics as usual in Washington, ie. the Washington establishment represented by the Clintons, the Bushes, even Barack Obama, and in many ways, Joe Biden.  
  • The fact that Trump emerged victorious, despite his woeful inadequacies for the office well-known even by his supporters at the time, is proof of a much larger problem: Americans are tired of the status quo.  Ignoring this is foolhardy. 
  • Yes, Trump has let down many voters who supported him who now realize he was lying when he promised to bring back manufacturing jobs, or to protect Medicare. Instead, he's cut taxes for the top 1% while they continue to struggle.  This makes him vulnerable.
  • But Trump now has the power of incumbency when the economy is doing very well, which makes defeating him quite difficult. 
  • Trump's pathetic antics and major personality flaws have galvanized his opponents against him.  Despite this, Trump's approval ratings remain around 40%, thus he's been able to mostly maintain his base, but has alienated the other 60% including Independents.  While his base is motivated to support him again, the Democratic base is equally determined to turn out and stop him in 2020.  

In the Democratic field, I have been hoping that some awesome change candidate would emerge.  At first, it seemed that all of them, while possessing great strengths, also were dangerously flawed (dangerous only in that I could see those flaws one day undermining their campaigns and helping to re-elect the man-child.)

Below is a list that details how my mind has evolved on this since last fall: 
  • I first looked at Beto O'Rourke last fall as a dream candidate.  His Senate run against Ted Cruz was inspiring.  Yet, Beto's incoherent messaging since launching his presidential run has left me confused.  By losing the Senate race and no longer holding an elected office, Beto only has the power of his personality to sell in this race.  While charming, it's not good enough.  His tendency to provide long-winded answers to simple questions isn't helping.  Beto's going nowhere in this race.  
  • Kamala Harris impressed me back in December when it first became clear she has "the goods" when it comes to the gravitas needed for this race.  But since then, we've been reminded of some of her less than progressive accomplishments in her previous role as Attorney-General of California.  Plus, she hasn't really provided a compelling narrative surrounding her current candidacy and her policies are unsurprising, uninspiring and all over the map.  She's stuck in single digits in the polls. 
  • I've always loved Elizabeth Warren.  Her long-established reputation as a fighter for ordinary people against the excesses of Wall Street preceded her current run.  She was already well-defined before this race.  Yet, I worried about sexism in America.  Was now the time to have another female candidate when the last one had such a difficult time and eventually lost to Donald Trump?  That, plus Warren's handling of her DNA Indigenous heritage test made it seem her political smarts weren't quite as refined as needed.  Last December, I wrote Warren off.  But now I've changed my mind about her (more about that below.) 
  • Pete Buttigieg's surge earlier this year was fascinating to watch.  No doubt, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana and combat veteran has made quite the splash among the mainstream media and white, urban Democrats.  His speaking skills are amazing, of course.  But to date, he too suffers from a lack of a clear galvanizing message.  His open homosexuality would make his presidency historic.  I'd like to think that the right gay candidate could win the White House in 2020 as the right black candidate did in 2008.  But so far, I just can't really see it happening.  His vagueness on most policy issues is now working against him.  It's clear, in such a crowded field, he's not doing quite enough to go much higher than where he is now (between 5 and 10% in the polls.) 
  • Tulsi Gabbard's message is awesome but I just can't see her pulling up enough in this race to compete effectively.
  • Montana Governor Steve Bullock also has excellent experience and positions on issues, but he started this race too late and is now even shut out of the first debates happening later this month. 
  • The other candidates in the race are mostly non-starters for me: Cory Booker is too tied to Wall Street and is pretty uninspiring.  Kirsten Gillibrand was centrist until she pivoted left just in time for this race; she too is not inspiring.  Amy Klobuchar is boring and wants the Democrats to remain much like Biden: centrist and milquetoast.  The rest just aren't in the game.

I had hoped that Joe Biden wouldn't run due to his milquetoast approach to everything, not to mention his major mistakes in the past.  The list is too long: the 1994 Crime bill, voting for the Iraq war, voting against ordinary people in favour of the big banks on bankruptcy law, demeaning questioning of Anita Hill in the early 1990s and only apologizing for it in 2019, etc. etc.

Joe Biden is yesterday's man.  It's true that Washington Democratic insiders who just want to go back to the eras of Clinton and Obama are excited about him, but I'm not sure anyone else truly is.  Were Biden to become the candidate, it would deflate and discourage huge portions of the Democratic electorate, particularly the progressive side looking for major change in Washington.  Biden could overcome some of that lack of excitement by nominating a progressive Vice-Presidential candidate to run alongside him.  But Biden leading a clunky, uninspiring ticket against Donald Trump in 2020 fills me with fear that election day will produce a re-elected and truly dangerous Donald Trump for another four years.

For me, Biden represents nothing that America truly needs right now besides not being Trump.  As with Clinton in 2016, that simply won't be enough to stop Trump.

So back in February, I deduced that perhaps the best candidate for the job would be Bernie Sanders.  He had made such a strong impression in 2016 and inspired so many devoted progressives.  His message taking on the 1%, promoting Medicare for All, taking money out of politics, free tuition for public universities, all spoke to me.  His ability, as a white man, to connect with white working class audiences, such as in the rust belt states that Clinton lost to Trump, seemed to make him a winner.  I thought that now was the time for Sanders to emerge as the Democratic presidential candidate.  So I let that be known on some private social media accounts.  

The torrent of resistance and hatred against Sanders I received back was overwhelming.  It was clear Sanders remains as divisive as perhaps Trump is on the other side.

Thus, I've been questioning that support for Sanders big time.  Sanders' messaging this time isn't really all that much different than in 2016.  He remains pretty much exactly the same as he was then, except now he's pushing 80.  He does talk rather superficially a bit more about his personal family history.  But overall, the focus has been a constant repetition of working class outrage, heavy on grievance, not so detailed on the solutions.   Sanders' support doesn't seem to be growing either. 

Sanders would also struggle against a full-on attack from not just Donald Trump but also the top 1% establishment spending everything they could to undermine Sanders' campaign.  His self-described "socialism" would be a target on the back of his head.  I haven't heard anything close to enough from Sanders to counter the tsunami of hate, confusion and misinformation that's coming his way.  His communication skills are simply not strong enough. 

I have huge fears now that Sanders wouldn't be able to unite the Democratic Party around him.  Sanders might even inspire some centrist independent to run to try to stop him.   Whereas Biden might deflate progressive voters, Sanders might deflate centrists who will be less inclined to mark an 'X' next to Sanders' name in November 2020.  If it's between a tax-and-spend socialist named Sanders versus the status quo under Trump, I can see Trump actually pulling it off.

Ugh.  So they all have their flaws.

Yet the last few weeks have proven crucial to Elizabeth Warren:
  • Her steady release of detailed policies has given her candidacy additional gravitas and credibility.  
  • Her amazing retail skills are already reaching new heights.  Her town hall events have shown an ability to connect, particularly with suburban women that is so refreshing and undeniably impressive.
  • Unlike Sanders who inspires few outside of far left audiences with his dour stories of economic injustice, Warren's stories about struggling to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher, or how she was lucky to have an Aunt Bee to help her with child care, are emotional and inspiring
  • She's feisty.  
  • She's energetic.  
  • She's very likeable.  
  • She's principled.  
  • She is emerging in this race as the best candidate, possessing both the retail smarts to connect with ordinary people who want a champion to fight for them, as well as the policy credibility to appeal to voters who want real change.  She might even be the person of the moment, in 2019 and in 2020.

But what about Pocahontas?  With some great messaging, Warren can leave that minor controversy behind in the eyes of all reasonable people.  If Trump keeps calling her that long after the American people have accepted Warren's apology for it, it'll just make him seem even more immature and trite.  Of course, by comparison, Trump too has his major mistakes and flaws to contend with.  I'd much rather worry about Warren's handling of this one issue than worry about Joe Biden's various mistakes in his past including plagiarism.    

But Warren's a woman in a sexist country?  True.  Let's not forget that Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote in that "sexist" country in 2016 by almost 3,000,000 votes.  It was a unique failure in three key states that undermined her.  Clinton was also hopelessly flawed and uninspiring with so much baggage.  Yet despite that, she won the most votes.

It's easy to see Elizabeth Warren inspiring and galvanizing turnout in places where Clinton failed.  Certainly, in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and perhaps many more places. Warren is also 100% more likeable than Hillary Clinton could ever be. 

Warren's words also inspire: "What I've learned is that real change is very, very hard. But I've also learned that change is possible - if you fight for it."

When I've over-thought issues like this, suppressing my own instincts and instead tried to appease other people, I've fallen flat on my face.

I've learned the hard way that the best way forward is to fight for what you want.  Don't compromise and capitulate.  Stick to your own instincts and vote with your principles.  You're never going to get what you want if you don't vote for it. 

Supporting Biden because he's safe and currently considered the best bet for beating Trump reminds me of John Kerry in 2004 against George Bush Jr.   It would be the worst kind of capitulation.  Biden is not what America needs right now.

While his policies are great, Sanders personally isn't the answer, it seems, anymore.  I just can't see that happening.   

No, the answer to Donald Trump is Elizabeth Warren, a powerful, progressive woman who's got well-thought out plans for what ails that country and a new, vibrant ability to connect with ordinary people.  

I can't think of a better way for Trump's presidency to end than with Elizabeth Warren taking office after him in 2021.  

She's got the progressive credentials to inspire the left.  She's still reasonable on many issues that she won't scare off too many if any centrists, or even establishment types who can't stand Trump.

She's on her way up in this race.  I predict she'll soon overtake Bernie Sanders as the best bet to not only stop Biden, but also Trump in 2020.

Think of it: President Elizabeth Warren.  Now that's something to get truly inspired about. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Disappointing annual meeting sadly leaves little hope for the Ontario Liberal Party

Wow what a terrible waste of my time and money.  I paid $450.00 to attend the Ontario Liberal Party's Annual General Meeting this past weekend to help change it.  I had hoped that activists in the party would understand that the best way for a nearly extinct party to survive is to open itself up to tens of thousands of new members, members who do more than receive fundraising emails and thankless calls to knock on doors, but also get a full say in who becomes the party's leader.

That's how movements are supposed to work.  Engage, inspire and earn the trust of followers.

But after this weekend, it's clear the Ontario Liberal Party is no movement.   It's more like a corrupt corporation that sees membership as a transaction and revenue generator.

But first the good things from this weekend.  It was great fun to see so many old friends I haven't seen in quite a while and catch up.  Those lovely conversations will be the highlight from the weekend for me.

Unfortunately, those good moments have been overpowered in my mind by the bad.

The party had a chance to modernize and open up its final leadership choice to all members.  The constitutional amendment would've created an equally weighted One Member One Vote system that would've given all ridings an equal say in the final result.  

The change had majority support among convention delegates, garnering 58% support.  But as with all constitutional issues, a higher threshold of 66.67% was in force that prevented the change from happening.  

I am pleased with the fact that a majority of party activists who spent considerable money and time to attend this past weekend showed a preference for a more open and democratic party.  But alas, it's the 42% who ruined it for the rest of the folks for reasons which were simply invalid, in my opinion.

One woman sitting near me who voted against change claimed the party wouldn't have enough time or resources to organize a new open system for leadership.  Yet, she ignored the fact that instead holding a big convention staffed by hundreds would be just as cumbersome on the party.  "I support the concept, just not now for this leadership," was a refrain I heard.

"I like doing the right thing.  But let's delay doing it and instead keep on doing the wrong thing because it's more convenient."

That would be the sentiment that underlies the amoral core at the heart of too many Ontario Liberals, and Liberals in general.

"You don't want to give the chance for the crazies to take over," was another sentiment I sensed from opponents of change.  It's better to let 2,000 insiders who can be easily controlled and corralled toward a "consensus" candidate (a consensus no doubt cooked up by the elite insiders around each losing candidate in the backrooms) at a leadership convention decide the direction of the party.    

When someone who ought to know better looked at me in horror yesterday when he saw me wearing a One Member One Vote t-shirt, it reinforced for me why he could've been so pleased with remaining a Liberal party staffer even in the dying days of the Wynne government, when any pretense of principle or moral authority had long gone out the window.   

This weekend I even caught a glimpse of a 2003 war room insider who I later learned went on to form his own clean energy company, which lo and behold, got a high-paid contract from the Liberal government a few years later under its Clean Energy policy.  This weekend, he too was of course bad-mouthing the democratic modernization of the leadership process to keep it controlled by insiders like him.  

Power, being insiders, attaching oneself to the establishment elite, occasionally rubbing shoulders with them at conventions for which they paid huge amounts of money to attend without blinking an eye, perhaps even getting some corrupt contract out of it that lines your pockets, that's what being a Liberal is all about, at least for the 42% who ruined it this weekend for the majority.

Every single motion to modernize the party in any meaningful way was defeated this weekend.  

I do admire the lovely activists, particularly those who worked so hard to promote the OMOV option.  Most will continue to stay active and hope for change another year or decade from now.  

But I've always been an all-or-nothing guy.   If corruption rules the day in your organization, I can't just tolerate your organization for the bits of good it does.  The corruption disturbs me too much.  It's why I left the Catholic Church, for example.  This whole weekend triggered some old anxieties of mine which were responsible for my original decision to mostly leave partisan politics last decade.

I'm not sure I want to be active in a party where 42% of people could see no major value even now in opening up the party into a movement that engages and empowers its members to decide the leader.

"Justice later, not now," is not a credo I can respect or live by.  The fact that this is the last party in Canada that can't even understand that enough to change its rules speaks volumes.

The Ontario Liberal Party did some good in government, but also a lot of atrocious, deeply incompetent things.  They deserved the massive defeat they received in 2018.  Now they're the third party without status in the legislature.

After what I saw this weekend, perhaps they need to stay there.  My assumption after the NDP's inability to stop Doug Ford's PCs in 2018 was that resuscitating the Ontario Liberals would be the best way to get the Conservatives out of office one day.  

Not so sure now.  After this weekend, I don't think the Ontario Liberals are even capable of change.  Like their federal cousins who got rescued by Justin Trudeau and restored to power despite doing nothing to truly change, we're seeing the downsides of just putting the Liberals back in there to beat the Conservatives.

On the leadership front, things are even bleaker for the Ontario Liberal Party.  

Steven Del Duca would be a disaster as a leader.  The man is anti-charismatic and robotic in appearance.  He looks like the kind of sleazy, backroom, amoral Liberal of your worst nightmares.  He's talking about bringing the Liberals back to the center-right.  Presumably that means cozying up again with powerful interests like developers in the 905 sort of like Doug Ford is doing right now. 

The fact that Del Duca's now considered the "presumed frontrunner" means the Ontario Liberal Party has no future.

Sadly, the other major candidate in the race so far, Michael Coteau, isn't much better.  Yes, he's a mildly charismatic man who managed, unlike Del Duca, to keep his seat in 2018.  But his speaking style is as flat and uninspiring as a seal.  Plus he flip flopped this weekend on the One Member One Vote issue, first openly opposing it and then voting for it yesterday morning.  (At least the more cunning Del Duca, who was largely invisible this weekend, had the sense to lie and not let his disgust with democracy actually be communicated to the masses.)

****UPDATE #2 - Someone from Coteau's campaign claimed shortly after publishing this post that he never took a public position on OMOV prior to the AGM.  I have since re-located the CBC story here in which Coteau in fact did say he favoured sticking with a "delegated convention (that) allows for people who become supporters of the party at no cost to vote in delegate selection meetings."  The same CBC story says Coteau claims the "delegated convention protects against what he calls "special interests" taking over the leadership vote."

So clearly Coteau did flip flop on this very important issue, no doubt reading the room correctly before it voted 58% in favour of change.  It's not a great sign for people who want more integrity and genuine progressive credentials in the next leader after our last one did so much of her own flip flopping.   

I also wanted to see a side of Coteau this weekend that would show me that he's got some nice grassroots and interpersonal skills.  If he can make some magic one-on-one, maybe there's hope.  But sadly, when I attended his hospitality suite on Friday night, I saw a guy not ready for prime time.  I shook his hand, but he otherwise totally ignored me, despite multiple opportunities to engage with me.   If you can't even have a friendly 30 second conversation with a stranger wearing a delegate badge who's shown up in your own hospitality suite, your political skills are wanting. 

Because of his flip flop on OMOV, as well as his lack of political/social skills, my hopes that Coteau will ever have much ability to lead the Ontario Liberals back into contention faded this weekend.  

There is of course one more minor candidate, the energetic Alvin Tedjo, a defeated 2018 candidate from Oakville-Burlington North.  He's likeable and telegenic, but his resume is as thin as mine.  His background is in communications so perhaps he plans a major message that might inspire.  He did at least consistently support OMOV publicly so that appeals to me. 

As Del Duca and Coteau are so lousy, it does leave an opening for Tedjo.  Or anyone else with a bit of talent and ambition to work hard and bring this party back. 

Because this party desperately needs it. 

Those Ontarians looking for a progressive alternative to the Ford government might have to re-focus on the NDP and the Greens as more serious options for now until the Ontario Liberal Party learns how to fix itself.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Heartfelt and authentic Elton John biopic "Rocketman" soars in ways "Bohemian Rhapsody" disappointed

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman
I caught the new feature film Rocketman at the opening night of Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival last week and loved it.

As Elton John, actor Taron Egerton (previously most famous for the Kingsman spy thrillers) delivers the best performance I've ever seen him give, embodying the musical icon with such heart and authenticity, he rivals Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury in 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody.  In fact, Egerton does his own amazing singing, which gives him one up on Malek (who lip synced), if you ask me.  Egerton is the best thing about this entertaining flick.

I quite agree with this Daily Beast piece: "Rocketman lends a dignity to John’s feelings about his sexuality where Rhapsody disgraces and even demonizes Mercury’s struggle. And while Rhapsody manipulated facts of Mercury’s sexuality and AIDS diagnosis to manufacture an emotional climax in the Live Aid finale, there’s no such bastardizing in Rocketman."

There are an awful lot of tears, but even more laughs in this flick as the emotional struggles of addiction take their toll on Elton John's life.  Most in the audience, straight or queer, will relate on some level.  You can do justice to a superstar's life without making stuff up, plus structure a good film and entertain an audience all at the same time, who would've thought?

Rocketman's strengths put the flaws of Bohemian Rhapsody into clearer focus for me.

I did enjoy much of Bohemian Rhapsody, please don't get me wrong.  Malek was brilliant, the scenes of Queen producing their music in studio were cool, and the final concert scene at Live Aid was rapturous.  (Rocketman's scenes depicting Elton John's spontaneous writing, especially crafting "Your Song" at the piano, also hit such awesomeness.)

But I quietly resented all the praise some straight people gave Bohemian Rhapsody because it was obvious many didn't really notice or even question how that film "treated (Mercury's) sexuality as a predatory gateway drug to a destructive lifestyle."  I had hoped to learn something awesome about Mercury we didn't already know - but instead it was just a story about how a sad and selfish gay man turns his back on his straight Queen band members and collapses into disaster and contracts AIDS because of it.  I also didn't appreciate the dozens of minutes spent watching Mercury flirt with his first wife in the first hour of the film, while the love of his life, the man who stood by him during his final years struggling with AIDS, was reduced to a final act footnote.  It was insulting. 

After experiencing that disappointment, Rocketman is such a satisfying experience. 

I'll be very curious if all the Queen fans who heaped such praise on Bohemian Rhapsody do the same thing for what I consider at least as good a film in Rocketman.  Many will.  All of them should.

It opens in theatres this weekend.  Please check it out. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

It's time to let all Ontario Liberal Party members vote on the final ballot for leader

The Ontario Liberal Party will hold its first Annual General Meeting since the 2018 election next week in Mississauga.  At that AGM, party members will be voting on a constitutional amendment to the party's bylaws that would allow a change in how the party elects leaders.

Currently, the OLP uses a delegated convention system to elect leaders, where members in ridings and other local associations vote for delegates to represent them at a leadership convention.  Those delegates - 16 from each riding association, and 8 from other local associations such as youth groups - are elected in proportion to the amount of support each leadership candidate receives from members at those local meetings.  Those meetings are held weeks in advance of the end of the leadership race, long before leadership candidates make their "final pitches".   Those delegates then go to the convention and are obliged, if they don't spoil their ballot, to vote for the leadership candidate on the first ballot they pledged to support at their local meetings.  But after the first ballot, they are free to change their vote or to not vote at all.  Furthermore, hundreds of unelected ex-officio delegates also attend the convention and water down the votes of those elected delegates.

It's not very inclusive and in 2013 only about 5% of party members participated in the final ballot that actually elected the leader.   No other parties in Canada still elect their leaders this way.  All others, even the Conservatives, have embraced systems that let all members participate in the final decision.  

The proposed constitutional amendment at the Ontario Liberal AGM would change the current system to One Member One Vote.   Under the proposed system, each riding would have 100 points, which would be awarded to leadership candidates in proportion to the amount of support they receive from members in the riding on voting day.  No one region would dominate the outcome as all ridings count equally.  If no leadership candidate wins over 50% of the points on the first ballot, subsequent choices are counted until a winner is elected.  This is identical to the system that elected Justin Trudeau as federal Liberal leader in 2013.   Supporters of the change launched their own website recently that hashes out the great arguments in favour of change.

I've been proud to support these efforts as I've advocated for this kind of change for years.  In 2013, I wrote about it in this opinion piece on Ontario Newswatch and on this blog. 

My main problem with the status quo: it's a system that's designed to maintain the control over the party and its leadership in the hands of backroom insiders, mainly the backroom types who run leadership campaigns as well as the losing candidates themselves.

If the leadership is decided at conventions between ballots, it gives losing candidates and powerful backroom types the time to forge secret deals, like promises of future cabinet positions or who knows what, in order to manipulate the outcome.  The pressure cooker of a convention, in which candidates falling off the ballot move across the floor to remaining candidates, creates artificial momentum in favour of those chosen candidates.  We've seen bad choices win this way (Stephane Dion in 2006), and we've seen good choices elected (Kathleen Wynne, Dalton McGuinty).  Obviously, it's subjective.  (Full disclosure: I was an elected delegate for Lyn McLeod in 1992, I supported Gerard Kennedy in 1996 but was not a delegate, same for Stephane Dion in 2006, and for Sandra Pupatello in 2013.)  

Good candidates will work within whatever leadership rules to win the prize.  That's politics.  This is a question about process.  And what values should underlie that process.

Do we want to be inclusive and allow as many people as possible to participate in the final decision for leader?  Or keep that final decision within the pressure cooker of a convention that only lets 5% of members take part?  

I've read all of the arguments being put forth by status quo supporters.  In my opinion, most of their arguments are smokescreens for their real reasons, which they aren't giving.

The main priority of status quo supporters seems to me to be simple: they want to maintain their power. 

They want to maintain their backroom control over the leadership of the party.  They simply don't trust individual members to make the final decision over who should be leader.  So poorly do they think of ordinary members that they're pleased to shut them out of the final, crucial decision.

Supporters of the status quo argue that weighted One Member One Vote could open the party up to a takeover of one-issue extremists.

Of course, the weighted points system of OMOV (100 points for every riding regardless of the number of votes) would make that very difficult.  In truth, one-issue extremists could take over the party now just as easily under the current delegated convention system.  Who can forget how anti-choice activists elected a massive number of delegates to the 1990 federal Liberal leadership convention? 

Another bogus argument: the current system allows for a minimum number of women and youth participation at conventions.  They, of course, forget that those quotas were put in place to address the fact that these groups were massively underrepresented in elected delegate spots in the past.  No doubt, if all members can vote under OMOV, the numbers of women or youth participating (which will be in the tens of thousands) will be much higher than the 25% of delegates (or around 500 lucky people in total) under the status quo. 

The most misleading argument of all put forth by supporters of the status quo?  "Every member of the Ontario Liberal Party has a direct vote for the leader under MDDV."  

In my opinion, that statement by status quo supporters is simply dishonest.  It reminds me of Doug Ford's attacks on the federal carbon levy without mentioning the rebates that all Ontarians are receiving because of it.  

Let's be clear.  As I explained above, party members currently only get a vote in local delegate selection meetings for leader held weeks before the end of the leadership race.  Those votes determine how many of that riding's 16 delegates - or that youth association's 8 delegates - get designated for each leadership candidate.   But not all of those votes count equally. 

For example, if 300 members vote in a riding meeting, and 9 of those members choose one leadership candidate, that translates into ZERO delegates because 9 votes only constitute 3% of the vote, not enough to elect anybody (0.48 out of 16 delegates would be rounded down to zero, after all).   So their votes don't count.  

Furthermore, all of those 300 votes only translate into 16 delegates per riding.  That's less powerful than the 100 points that will be awarded each riding under OMOV.  One member's vote has a bigger impact on the result under the new system.  

I also have to say that status quo supporters are being quite hypocritical when they argue that separate balloting at conventions is somehow better decision-making than voting all at once using a preferential ballot.   

The OLP, of course, uses the preferential ballot to elect all local riding candidates at nomination meetings.  If the OLP nomination rules for local candidates are valid, why can't we use the same system for leaders?  

Personally, I much prefer the sober vote of members listing out their choices in order in the privacy of their local ridings without the manipulations of a pressure cooker convention which, as I've already stated, are susceptible to backroom insider machinations.   

Status quo supporters say that conventions are "exciting" and give the party a boost in public support.  What superficial B.S.!  Kim Campbell got a nice boost after she won her delegated convention too.  So did Stephane Dion.  Enough said.  

The last argument being made by supporters of the status quo that really annoys me is that we should not change the rules of the leadership "in the middle of the race."  Most members will be surprised to hear that we are now "in the middle of the race."  Most would think the race really has barely begun.  

The leadership rules were last changed at the AGM in the spring of 1991, several months after the resignation announcement by David Peterson in September 1990 and while the party had an interim leader, as it does today.  They were changed less than a year before the eventual leadership convention took place in February 1992.  

The fact is that changing the leadership rules only really seems viable when the permanent leadership is otherwise vacant, as it is now.  The party has been reticent to revisit this topic when an incumbent leader, elected under the current system, remains in office. 

Thus, June's AGM represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the party to modernize itself. 

While the current system was innovative when it was adopted in 1991, it's now a bit archaic and looks elitist by today's standards.  

Voting to keep a delegated convention system, thus shutting out 95% of members from the final decision as to who should be leader, would send a grotesque signal to Ontarians that the Ontario Liberal Party isn't interested in modernizing.  

Let's pick someone strong who can appeal across the wide membership without the help of backroom deals at conventions.  Let's pick a strong new leader who can beat Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath.  Let's do it the right way.   

Monday, May 20, 2019

A new referendum strategy to challenge First-Past-The-Post in Canada...

Current average poll standings: CBC Poll Tracker
This year, our outdated Single Member Plurality voting system, also known as First-Past-The-Post, once again threatens Canada's progressive future, as well as the world's.

How?  The progressive left in this country is currently divided at the federal level between three parties: the governing Liberals, the NDP and the Green Party.  Together, in the latest polls, they hold well over 50% of Canadian support.

However, as all parties currently trail the regressive Conservatives of Andrew Scheer, who hold an overall average of 36% support, the losses that will be faced by progressive parties will be exacerbated by First-Past-The-Post. 

With that level of support, Scheer could emerge with a very strong minority government.  If Conservative support hits 38% or 39%, that could mean a majority government under our broken system.  Crucial progress on issues like economic growth for all, not just rich oil executives, as well as climate change, would be undermined.  No doubt, any kind of victory for a regressive social conservative like Scheer would bolster the despicable right-wing forces wrecking havoc already in this world.   

That this could happen despite a clear majority of Canadians voting in favour of parties supporting real climate change action and other progressive policies makes my blood boil.  

I've fought against First-Past-The-Post ever since it became very clear our system always distorts voters' intentions.   It's even handed power to the second-place party on occasion (as it did in New Brunswick in 2018 and in 2006, as well as Quebec in 1998, and B.C. in 1996), not unlike the winner-take-all broken Electoral College in the United States.

But efforts to change voting systems in Canada have had a difficult time.  Provincial referendums on the subject have been mostly negative experiences, with forms of Proportional Representation (or PR) losing to the status quo.

British Columbia's mail-in vote last fall produced a disheartening result with 61% again voting in favour of First-Past-The-Post (a similar percentage voted that way in that province's 2009 referendum too.)

But last month's vote in Prince Edward Island renewed some hope.  Held in conjunction with the provincial election, the Yes side in favour of proportional representation almost won with 49% of the vote, and victory in 15 out of 27 districts.   That was the highest vote yet for PR in Canada.  It was possible that the unique regional demographics of that island province made the notion of a mix of local and regional MLAs more enticing than it's been seen in British Columbia or Ontario (which only supported Mixed Member Proportional with 37% in its 2007 referendum.)  

Proportional systems always sound much more complicated than the status quo.  Opponents have been able to utilize any means of fear-mongering to raise doubts about PR, including the notion that fringe or racist elements could win a foothold in legislatures or even the balance of power under them.  Of course, as I've noted before, it's First-Past-The-Post which handed victory to Donald Trump and Doug Ford, so it's the current system that has the potential for doing great damage and empowering extremists.

Proportional Representation isn't the only alternative to First-Past-The-Post.  Preferential balloting, in which voters rank their favourite local candidates, would be a major improvement, but it's not one favoured by the Proportional Representation purists who don't want to have to compromise on their first choices.

Justin Trudeau clearly favoured Preferential Balloting in 2015 when he promised to make that election the last one fought under the current voting system.  But he was met with a wall of opposition for his preferred choice from all other parties and grassroots activists, so he abandoned electoral reform altogether.  He should've followed this proposal below.   

As we've seen, Proportional Representation can't seem to beat out First-Past-The-Post when it comes to referendums in Canada.  The public simply can't seem to embrace it, despite it being used in most democracies the world over.  

I think reformers have been going at it wrong.  We've been too nice, hoping that our strong, reasoned arguments would win out over the manipulations, distortions, and fear-mongering from the other side.

Instead of turning every debate over change into an agonizing defense of the confusing and unknown elements of one particular form of proportional representation, proponents should simply insist on a simpler strategy.

I write this as a prescription to achieve change in Ontario, which is more conservative a province than PEI.   If Ontario is to revisit the issue of voting systems again, it seems to me we ought to focus squarely on the flaws of First-Past-The-Post.  We also have to leave open the option for Preferential Balloting as an alternative and let the voters decide.

I would propose that in Ontario we hold the following referendum questions:


"Should Ontario continue to use the Single Member Plurality voting system, commonly known as First-Past-The-Post, for its provincial elections?" 

YES, Ontario should continue to use the Single Member Plurality voting system, commonly known as First-Past-The-Post, for its provincial elections.
NO, the Ontario government should set up a Citizens' Assembly made up of representatives from each of Ontario's ridings to design a new voting system, which the government will enact into law before the next provincial election."  


"If a majority of voters vote NO to Question One and the government sets up a Citizens' Assembly to design a new voting system for Ontario, what kind of voting system should the Citizens' Assembly design to replace the current system?"  

MAJORITARIAN system, in which all candidates - one per riding - are elected by receiving a majority of the votes in that riding, through either preferential balloting or run-off elections.  
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION system, in which local and regional candidates are elected in proportion to the number of votes each political party receives across the province, as long as those political parties receive over 5% of the vote. 

A simple 50 per cent plus one vote across the entire province regardless of how many ridings vote one way or the other would be enough for victory.  It would be unconscionable for a majority to vote one way, but the result not to be honoured.  

This would take the complications of Proportional Representation out of the referendum question and focus the issue more squarely on whether or not voters even want change at all.

The choice for which kind of alternate system would be one of values - simple majority rule or proportional representation to replace our current plurality system. The choice in the second question would provide direct guidance from the people to the Citizens' Assembly as it embarks on designing the change. 

Ontario underwent a Citizens' Assembly process from 2006 to 2007 when the McGuinty government set it up to fulfill a 2003 election promise.   That Assembly, made up of ordinary Ontarians from all ridings, recommended a Mixed Member Proportional system for Ontario.

However, the subsequent referendum was rigged in favour of the status quo with zero public education about why the Assembly had recommended change away First-Past-The-Post.  The government set an impossibly high 60% support threshold for change. Opponents then tore the MMP proposal to pieces, nitpicking on the fine details and doing their best to confuse voters.  

Under my proposal, there would be no Citizens' Assembly until after voters vote against First-Past-The-Post.  Then with a mandate for change and clear direction on the type of system to replace the status quo, the Citizens' Assembly would get to work on a system that would meet the specifications of the choice in Question #2.

It would be best to provide some limitations on both types of systems, such as the five per cent threshold for representation under PR, as well as the specification that candidates would be "elected locally and regionally," to remove some unknowns from the question.  I believe these options would give maximum choice and minimal ambiguity for voters, while at the same time a great amount of guidance to any possible Citizens' Assembly.  

Of course, my proposal remains academic until a true leader steps forward in Ontario to champion it.  I outline them here as my contribution to this debate and a possible means for actually achieving change, something proponents have been unable to achieve up until now.  

Sadly, I doubt any of the Ontario Liberals who might run for leader want to revisit this issue.  I look forward to being pleasantly surprised on that front.   Even the NDP's Andrea Horwath barely mentioned electoral reform in the 2018 election (but she is more than welcome to steal my proposal if she wants.)  Only the Greens under Mike Schreiner clearly support change (he is more than welcome to steal this proposal too.)

Of course, if Andrew Scheer wins a "mandate" this year in Canada with just 35% of the vote and proceeds to force his regressive agenda down the throats of Canada's progressive majority, perhaps that will push this issue again to the forefront.

Friday, April 19, 2019

As Alberta retreats into bad conservative habits under Jason Kenney, PEI may show us what real change looks like

There isn't much positive to say about the gross Alberta election results this week.

The voters of that province are generally much more conservative than other Canadians and they stayed true to those inclinations this week.  The Alberta NDP's election in 2015 was a unique event that took place simply because they were the only viable option that year to boot out the old Progressive Conservatives, who truly deserved it.  The NDP was abetted that year by a divided conservative vote, when 52% of the right-wing vote was split almost down the middle, allowing the NDP's 41% to translate into a majority government. 

There's no doubt that Jason Kenney is an effective politician.  Many thought he'd run to succeed Stephen Harper as leader of the federal Conservatives.  But after 2015, he may have (correctly) deduced that Justin Trudeau would be hard to beat in 2019.  As such, Kenney changed focus and left federal politics for Alberta where he united the two provincial right-wing parties there into one, the United Conservative Party (or UCP).  The result was a provincial victory this week, in which the UCP took 55% of the vote, while Notley's NDP receded back to 33% (still a huge level of support for the NDP in that province, which averaged around 10% support in the 20 years prior to Notley becoming leader.) 

Like the federal Conservative Party that Stephen Harper helped create, the conservative union was and continues to be somewhat awkward, putting people who hate LGBTQ people and non-white people in the same tent with people who don't.

Notley hoped that by reminding socially liberal conservatives of the bigoted positions taken by Kenney and many others in the UCP in the past, they'd wrest those votes back to the NDP.  But as always with the NDP, it was a bridge too far.  Too heavy was the weight of dissatisfaction with the NDP's economic record.

It's sad that bigotry is not much of a deal breaker for most socially liberal conservatives.  On every issue that's ever mattered to LGBTQ people, Kenney has always sided with the bigots.  His election this week was a clear declaration by a majority of Albertans that LGBTQ people just don't matter that much to them.  Or at least not as much as some vague notion of "fiscal responsibility" and "economic growth."     

The irony is biting, of course.  Kenney has a strange personal history that's been largely ignored by the mainstream press in Canada.  Years ago, he professed that he'd remain a virgin until married.  And of course, he remains unmarried today.  Like many, I've long suspected that he's really a closeted, self-hating gay man who put his devotion to his Roman Catholic faith ahead of even himself.  The whole thing is such a gross throw-back to yesteryear, when gay men lived deeply sad and closeted lives.  Kenney seems to have whittled off a major portion of his life based on the false belief he must in order to save his soul.  All the better if doing so, in his mind, is the only path to unfettered political success.

It's gross to watch Kenney's contortions today pretending to have "evolved" on LGBTQ rights from the time 30 years ago when he campaigned against same sex spousal hospital visitation rights in San Francisco.  The best part of this election campaign was Charles Adler's scorching interview when he took Kenney to task for that history.  LGBTQ people know well that the biggest homophobes are usually closeted homosexuals themselves.

So now Albertans have ignored all of this oddness and embraced this man as their new spokesperson.  Good luck with that.  Personally, I'll be muting the television every time Kenney appears on it, as I have done previously.  This is not a person who can speak with any authority on anything that matters to me, that's for sure.  If Albertans thought they'd elected a champion who will shake up eastern Canadians into supporting their big oil agenda, they are sadly mistaken. 

PEI Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is poised for historic breakthrough
Despite this depressing turn of events, there is reason for optimism this weekend for progressive political junkies in Canada.   

Prince Edward Island goes to the polls on Tuesday.  And it seems that it may be far more historic and interesting than anything Albertans did last week.  

The Green Party seems poised for a historic victory, which would probably be the first time in the world this has ever happened.  That's what I'll be hoping to see. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Jody Wilson-Raybould launches leadership bid: "I'm running for leader...of the Conservative Party of Canada!"

In the latest twist in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal, former Trudeau government Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould has shocked the nation again by confirming she now plans to challenge Andrew Scheer for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

The revelation emerged after Sun Media reporters discovered a hidden statement she wrote deeply embedded within a 727-page report tucked into an envelope marked "Highly important intellectual stuff" and anonymously slipped under the front door of the Toronto Sun last week. 

The first 562 pages of the report rehashed various statements and allegations already made by Wilson-Raybould or her Liberal MP colleague Jane Philpott, some of them copied and pasted over and over for chapters on end.

The explosive new statement appears starting on page 563.  It took over a week for Sun reporters to read that far and discover it. 

It reads as follows:

"I, Jody Wilson-Raybould, have done my part stabbing Justin Trudeau in the back and the front over and over again for weeks.  It's been extremely enjoyable."

"It's true on the surface once the average person sifts through the pages and pages of partisan bullshit and hyperbole that's fronted for news coverage related to this scandal, it doesn't seem like much really happened here.  Some might think that this was merely two people disagreeing with their boss, and rather than act like team players in a high stakes environment, we decided instead to burn the house down in an election year.  Jane Philpott and me, of course.  But that's not what happened.  We had good reasons for burning the house down.  There were really, really bad things going on behind the scenes at the highest levels of our government and I'm hesitant to talk about them in public.  But trust me, there's a lot of nasty things happening that Canadians need to know about.  And one day, when I write my autobiography, I'll finally tell them."  

"But I know that's a long time to wait for answers.  So let me answer one question now.  Some people have asked me if my attacks on Justin Trudeau were just part of a big plot to seize the leadership of the Liberals.  But please, why would I be doing all this to hurt the Liberals if I hoped to lead that party?  I'm not stupid."

"No I have different ambitions, I have to say! Today, ladies and gentlemen, I'm very proud to announce that I'm running for leader (PAUSE FOR IMPACT)...of the Conservative Party of Canada!  Sure the leadership isn't vacant at the moment, but so what?  I'm running anyway."  

"Andrew Scheer has been a great ally and friend throughout this scandal.  Where Trudeau offered me nothing but very, very, very inappropriate pressure, Andrew has offered me a friendly boyish smile.  But the last few weeks have taught me that you need more to win an election than a nice smile.  Canadians want more than that.  I know in my heart they want someone else to lead the Conservatives into the next election.  And I submit today that person's initials are "J-W-R." 

"Let's face it: I've done more damage to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in just a few weeks than Andrew Scheer has done in two long years.  He's a dud.  He's got to go."

"I'm calling on Andrew Scheer to step down as leader immediately.  And I'm calling on all Conservatives to embrace me as their new leader."  

When contacted to confirm the veracity of the statement hidden within the report, Wilson-Raybould replied by email: "It is all true."

When asked if she plans to quit the Liberal caucus now and join the Conservatives, Wilson-Raybould responded: 

"I'm running to be a different kind of leader, one that bridges the historic divide of right and left in this country.  I intend to keep my seat in the Liberal caucus as the MP for Vancouver Granville.  I'm going to be the first person to win the leadership of one party while still sitting in another party's caucus.  That's how incredible I am."  

Attached to the same page in the report as the speaking notes announcing the leadership bid was a yellow post-it note which reads

"Great work! I read it last night.  Try practicing this in front of the mirror over and over, you can do this, you are awesome!  Best, Warren." 

When confronted by reporters at a Yellow Vest rally about Wilson-Raybould's leadership challenge, Andrew Scheer looked like a deer caught in headlights.  After a few seconds of stammering, his eyes turned red with hatred.

"This is an attack on freedom!  Never before in the history of our country has someone been so unfairly treated as I have been today.  You can't believe a word she says.  Jody Wilson-Raybould is a menace to this country, she will destroy our economy and will bring the entire planet to complete destruction.  She must be stopped and only I can stop her
," said Scheer, who then darted away from reporters.   

When contacted about this latest revelation and if Wilson-Raybould will be allowed to stay in the Liberal caucus while seeking the Conservative leadership, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Issues Management department wouldn't comment but promised a response "within seven to 10 weeks."

 “We’re still thinking about how to respond to Wernick’s phone transcript thing.  We can only do one thing at a time.  We’ll put this on our list of nice-to-dos.  We're not making any promises, but stay tuned.”


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Progressives are justifiably angry with Jody Wilson-Raybould and her buddy Jane Philpott

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott in happier times
A good friend of mine who tends to vote NDP more often than not, but doesn't mind Justin Trudeau that much, came up to me the day after Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet two weeks ago.

"Is she trying to elect Andrew Scheer?" she asked angrily.  "How can she throw her colleagues under the bus like that?"

In truth, most progressives, if they were being honest, would easily prefer Justin Trudeau over Andrew Scheer's regressive Conservatives.  While many progressives may indulge in voting NDP or Green this year, they do so hoping that Justin Trudeau's Liberals will still win the election over the Cons.

Some might call that hypocritical.  But that would be unfair.  There's a myriad of reasons why someone may cast a ballot for one candidate in their local riding.  I live in Toronto Centre and feel especially repulsed by the performance both locally and nationally by my MP Bill Morneau, one of the worst communicators ever to hold the Minister of Finance portfolio.  Yet I hope the Trudeau Liberals will still best the Scheer Conservatives later this year (as I do currently consider Jagmeet Singh's NDP way out of the governing game.) 

Progressives were so traumatized by 10 long years of Stephen Harper, there's no way we're in any mood to see his baby successor Scheer take over this year.

It's true that Justin Trudeau has disappointed many progressives.  On some issues, like his promises of electoral reform, many feel he misled them.

But in truth, most progressives very much favour Trudeau policies like the carbon tax, the legalization of cannabis, the very generous Canada Child Benefit, and the Liberals' choice to invest in the Canadian economy through infrastructure spending instead of an ideological austerity plan favoured by most conservatives.  The robust growth of the Canadian economy today is proof the plan is sound.  

But on the SNC-Lavalin affair, Trudeau's image has taken a beating.  And it continues thanks to the ongoing public attacks from two of his own Liberal MPs, who refuse to let the story die by not speaking publicly about "the whole story".

It now seems Jody Wilson-Raybould will finally fess up and take advantage of her parliamentary privilege to finally tell us.  This should've been done immediately after she left cabinet, yet Canadians have suffered through a long, agonizing tease of information dribbling out.

In truth, we've seen a lot of smoke, which the mainstream media and the opposition have been more than happy to blow.  But at the end of the day, there appears to be no fire, or at least no fire that justifies even calling this affair a "scandal."  

I'm not going to comment on why the former Attorney-General felt so strongly that SNC-Lavalin doesn't deserve a deferred prosecution agreement.  I don't know the full details of the case against the company, although it's clear its history is checkered with corruption.

But whether or not SNC deserves a deferred prosecution agreement now seems beside the point.  Pressure for the new Attorney-General to possibly overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions will continue as long as the issue remains before the courts.  That's how it should be.

I've struggled to understand the motivations behind Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

The only reasons that would justify their actions would be exposing some truly criminal or unethical actions on the part of the government.  

But in the end, it seems rather clear now that this "scandal" is merely just a difference of opinion about what constitutes "pressure" and how governments should work.  Nothing unethical or criminal went on.  This affair is more about personality and hurt feelings rather than issues of crucial public policy.   

Wilson-Raybould didn't speak out about anything until she lost her "dream job" as Attorney-General. 

There can be no doubt that Wilson-Raybould was clearly the source of the information that led to the original Globe story in February while she was still a member of the cabinet as Veterans Affairs Minister.  If not the original source, she must've anonymously confirmed it.  That's a betrayal of her colleagues and the confidence that had been shown in her.

Yet she enjoys reverence in certain corners of the country that has nothing to do with her own character or her actions, but instead what she represents as an Indigenous woman.  That's ridiculous. 

Wilson-Raybould got her Liberal Party nomination in Vancouver Granville thanks to Justin Trudeau.  And thanks to Trudeau's performance as leader in the 2015 campaign, she got elected in a swing riding that could've easily elected another party's candidate.  Then she got elevated directly into cabinet into her "dream job", again thanks to Justin Trudeau.  Her move to Veterans Affairs (after turning down the Indigenous Affairs portfolio in the January cabinet shuffle) was the first time her upward career trajectory in politics went slightly off-course. 

There was one telling moment during her February testimony at the Justice Committee that stands out in my memory.  During questions from backbench female Liberal MP Iqra Khalid about discussions in cabinet over the SNC issue, Wilson-Raybould pointedly mentioned to Khalid that the backbencher "wouldn't know what the inside of a cabinet meeting room looks like."

It was the kind of galling comment that reminded me of similar moments I've experienced in politics.  I used to work for a Liberal MPP at Queen's Park who, despite winning re-election in 2003, was passed over for cabinet in favour of others just elected that year who possessed qualities that looked better in front of the cameras.  There was one occasion when one such cabinet minister refused my old boss a ride in her government-funded minister's limo despite them going to the same destination.  It was humiliating.  So was Wilson-Raybould's comment in the justice committee toward her elected colleague. Wilson-Raybould is no angel. 

Politics is a team sport.  If you're going to hurt and humble your own team publicly, you need to have very good reasons for doing so.  Certainly more than hurt feelings and resentment with a decision with which you don't agree. 

Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott are now receiving considerable backlash for their actions.  They deserve it. 

They need to put everything on the table immediately.  It's appalling it's taken this long.  It's time to shit or get off the pot. 

Sadly when Wilson-Raybould finally reveals all documents and information in an upcoming briefing to the Justice Committee, I have a feeling that there will nothing particularly damning of the government, just more accusations that keep the story alive and Trudeau's opponents happy.

It seems now these two MPs want to get rid of the person who helped them get elected in the first place.  If they don't support their leader, they should quit the caucus now. 

The only silver lining that may come of this is that Justin Trudeau may become a smarter leader and pick his cabinet colleagues more wisely in future.  I also desperately hope he hires a more competent issues management team in the PMO immediately.  

A Justin Trudeau who is more concerned about competence and effectiveness in government, as well as healthy caucus relations, would be a welcome change from the virtue-signalling idealist we've seen previously.

This non-scandal has damaged his brand though, and made it more difficult for him to beat Andrew Scheer's Conservatives.

And for that progressives are justifiably angry.