Category: 2015 Canadian Federal Election

Community Gardens

Community Gardens are increasingly commonplace. A wonderful addition to modern city life, they bring pleasure to everyone. In Toronto, the community allotment gardens in the heart of High Park are much sought after and much admired. On our own street in Toronto, between the fence of our local parkette and the city sidewalk, some unknown neighbours have planted bulbs and perennials we all enjoy. Behind the Lillian H. Smith Public Library, south of College Street, there is a large formal garden maintained by the local community.

There are community gardens on the hydro easements in Scarborough, and entire lots set aside in downtown Vancouver for gardeners to cultivate and others to enjoy. If not to eat the produce or pick the flowers, the public can luxuriate in the growth of the plants and the beauty of the flowers.

There are three community gardens within five minutes of our West Vancouver apartment. The closest is not strictly a “community” garden as it is private property belonging to a large rental apartment building across the street from where we live. Shorewood’s Navvy Jack Gardens are located, however, beside the railroad tracks on the public access path to the Ambleside Seawalk and no one can miss the industry of the tenant gardeners nor the beauty and bounty of their labour.

In the seaside public park just down from us, there are two community gardens, called Argyle Green Gardens and Argyle Village Gardens after the street beginning with “A,” indicating that it is closest to the ocean. (All the streets running up the hill in this community are rather quaintly named in alphabetical order.) Argyle Village Gardens is a single lot between two of the original houses still occupied by long-time owners. In this area now designated for public parks, the city has the legal right to buy all the old properties along the seashore when they go on the market. Some of the old houses have been refurbished as public venues for workshops and event sites; others have been taken down and the properties integrated into the adjacent park. Where the lots stand solitary between existing houses, they apparently become community gardens. What a wonderful use of space!

The Argyle Green Gardens are a new creation, a series of raised plant beds built expressly for community gardeners as part of a park upgrade, a couple of years ago. They have been installed in an area close to the street where before there was only plain grass field. Since there is plenty of vacant lawn elsewhere in the park, this is a welcome innovation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many more such raised planter boxes appear in the future. We’ll see.

 

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A Cheer for the Change in Ottawa

It’s been over a month since the federal election. Time is going too quickly and the challenges facing the country are moving faster still. We stayed up almost all night on the 19th to watch the last of the results and were relieved beyond measure. The red tide had moved out of the Maritimes, across Quebec and Ontario, into Manitoba, touching even Calgary and Edmonton, and then into British Columbia. I was sorry to see good NDP incumbents defeated in Toronto and elsewhere, but delighted that, at least on Vancouver Island, the anti-Harper vote manifested itself as an orange surge.

The results were amazing. The Canadian people rallied and sent Stephen Harper packing. And we elected a majority government to boot! What was the final tally? 184 seats for the Liberals, 99 for the Tories, 44 for the NDP, 10 for the Bloc Québécois and 1 for the Greens. It is a definitive majority which now puts pressure on the Liberals to live up to their campaign promises.

The vote was up significantly. More young voters, more First Nations people, more Muslims, voted than ever before. The “Big Shift” suburbs in the GTA and suburban Vancouver changed from blue to red. Even with the defects of a “first past the post” electoral system, the electorate had made its choice. The voters knew that those “Canadian values” we all treasure needed a change of government. Never have I been more proud of our country.

That was a month ago. And the new era has begun. I was thrilled with Prime Minister Trudeau’s choice of Cabinet. Half women, diverse, incredibly accomplished, many very young, a breath of fresh air tempered by older politicians with significant experience. Who better to lead our nation? Our Minister of Justice was a First Nations advocate and a seasoned crown prosecutor. Our Minister of Defence was a Sikh Lieutenant-Colonel in the Reserves and an officer with the Vancouver Police Force, uniquely knowledgeable about intelligence in gang-busting on the Lower Mainland and in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Our Finance Minister is a high-profile business person with unusual policy experience, much admired on Bay Street and among those who know him. Our Minister of Science was part of a team which won a Nobel prize. Our Minister of Health is actually a doctor with extensive clinical and administrative experience in family practice. Our new Minister of Democratic Institutions is a young Afghan immigrant already active in municipal politics. Our Minister of Families is an expert in poverty from Laval University. Our Heritage Minister a media personality. And the list goes on.

The sight of Prime Minister Trudeau and his new cabinet walking to Rideau Hall for their swearing in on November 4th was totally memorable. The blue sky, sunshine and golden autumn leaves seemed symbolic of a new spirit in the country, a spirit of openness, camaraderie and affirmation which charmed even the cynics. For all the solemn oaths, the giggling throat-singers and the jiggers who led the procession from the Grand Hall stole the show. And the press conference outside concluding the event modelled the new openness that the Liberal government promises with the press and the people.

In the few short weeks since that glorious beginning, the new government has more than lived up to its promises. The long-form census is back, the country’s scientists are free to discuss their work, cabinet ministers have mandate letters from the Prime Minister setting out their agendas for all the world to see and are speaking for the government within their areas of responsibility. The Prime Minster has shown himself well able to represent Canada on the world’s stage, and has met with the premiers in a joint effort to restore Canada’s credibility at the Climate Change Summit in Paris next week. Even extending the timeframe for bringing the 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees to Canada has met with general approval, a sign that the new government listens to its constituents and acts on the advice of those with expertise.

Almost everyone I know is delighted with the change in Ottawa. A new generation of politicians has assumed leadership. They have energy, enthusiasm, expertise and idealism. They have what it takes to bring change and make things happen. More power to them. May the honeymoon last as long as possible.

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Voter Suppression?

The Official Advance Polls for the 2015 federal election opened at noon today. As I wrote previously, this election campaign has gone on far too long and I wanted to cast my vote and forget about it. My experience was an interesting and totally novel one.

In the old days (way back when) municipal, provincial and federal elections were held at the local school. Typically, a large room near the front door was set aside for several polls. The rooms were spacious, airy, and perfectly comfortable. Tables with the election official and the party scrutineers would be set up at each polling station around the room, to process the voters. Voters formed a line and, with the help of assistants, approached the appropriate tables as they cleared. As each voter gave their name, accompanied by their voter information card or other identification, the official found it on the voters list, provided a ballot, and the voter went behind a screen to vote. It was a congenial process, civilized and comfortable.

That was not my experience today. Two advance polls were located in a stuffy little room on the main floor of a local church partially renovated for commercial and residential uses. Voters entered the building into a narrow corridor and were first directed to a table where officials checked their voter’s card, their identification and the list. Then they were directed to stand at the end of a line of voters waiting to enter the little room where the two polls were located.

I arrived at the voting station at 12:15, shortly after it first opened. Already, the line up of voters pre-screened for voting extended into the narthex of the church. Several older folk, including myself, were permitted to sit in the few chairs jammed along the edge of the corridor. It was hot, stuffy, and already congested, as we waited patiently to be admitted into the actual room where voting took place. An assistant guarded that door, letting three voters per poll in at a time. Although people were generally congenial, the process was cumbersome and uncomfortable. Clearly the venue was far too small for those waiting to vote and all the officials.

When it came my turn, I presented my card and identification to the two officials at the polling desk as I had been instructed to do. One turned over the pages of the voters list, found my name, and expressed concern. My name was already crossed off, not by pen or pencil as would have been the case if it had been done by a live official, but apparently there was a computer-generated line through my name. You can imagine my surprise! The official indicated that the line through my name meant either that I had voted already, or that I had requested that my name be removed from the list. Clearly not the case. What is this? How come I was struck from the list? Was there now a ban on bloggers voting?

The returning officer had a problem. He took my voter info card and went to check the list at the identification table where I had already been cleared. He asked me to accompany him. On that list, there was no line through my name. He could give no explanation for why my name had been struck from one list and not the other. Nor for why my name had been struck from one list at all. He produced a form for me to fill out, attesting to how long I have lived in the riding (since 1977), and requesting that my name be added to the list. They gave me my ballot, I voted and that was that.

Moral of the story: This was the first hour of the first day of the advance polls. My companion and I required nearly 40 minutes to vote. And there was a problem. I would be interested in knowing if other people have problems voting. And how long it takes you to vote. And whether all voting stations are so cramped and crowded. Be warned.

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Turning the Page on a Dreadful Federal Election

This dreary and unduly lengthy election campaign has turned dark and dangerous. That the Prime Minister of Canada is stoking the flames of xenophobia (with his anti-niqab antics, two-tiered citizenship, and a snitch line against “barbaric practices”) has made me so down-hearted that I can barely sleep at night. It has literally made me sick, and sick at heart, a feeling I share with so many of my friends and associates.

I thought Canada was beyond that. In the past, the state and our prominent public institutions (including our churches, universities, hospitals, and workplaces) felt no embarrassment practicing overt discrimination against particular groups or railing against the perceived evils of vulnerable minorities. Once it was the Catholics, the Irish, the Italians and the Greeks, then the Chinese, the Jews, the Japanese, blacks, gays, the Doukhobors, the Sikhs, and the Roma. Once it was women, period, then married women. Now it is women who wear the niqab, a religious practice of Wahhabism, that sect of Sunni Islam promoted by the Saudi Arabians, our trading partners, to whom Stephen Harper is more than happy to sell the military vehicles we produce.

I had thought that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrined as part of our Constitution in 1982, and universally recognized as the best in the world, represented our common values: a society where freedom, equality, diversity and multiculturalism would flourish and be protected under the law. Instead, we have an incumbent prime minister whose track record has been to enact one law after another, one policy after another, obviously in breach of the Charter. When the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately overturns his unconstitutional laws, he maligns the courts as “unrepresentative of the people.” I ask you, who is representative of the people? A prime minister who seeks re-election promoting divisiveness and fear? Or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which all the other leaders know in their bones cannot, and should not, be perverted for partisan advantage?

That is my last word on this federal election campaign. I am voting in the advance poll on Friday and then closing my ears and eyes to all the superfluous advertising until election day. Maybe we should all do the same.

For all the sound and fury of the federal election, ordinary life in Toronto goes on in peace and harmony. The return of school brought the Toronto International Film Festival and thousands of people into the streets and the theatres, catching glimpses of the stars, and watching free movies under the stars. I saw many films at TIFF this year, which I will write about in the weeks ahead. Late summer also brought the last of the neighbourhood festivals. One sunny weekend in late September, the Roncesvalles Polish Festival, a fall extravaganza, just east of High Park, competed for fair-goers with the Ukrainian Festival further west in Bloor West Village. The following weekend, Word on the Street drew thousands of authors, booksellers and readers lingering over the stalls and stalls of books on offer. Who says people don’t read anymore? Last Saturday night, it was Nuit Blanche, an all-night extravaganza of art installations all over the city. My younger friends were out on the town on what could well be described as an effete, super sophisticated, artistic pub crawl. It’s no wonder people love Toronto. There is so much going on, and so little time to take it all in. All a much-needed diversion from the current Canadian political scene.

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Andrew Coyne and Naheed Nenshi on the Niqab Issue

Never have I been more impressed with Andrew Coyne than I was this morning. He has written a very intelligent and, to my mind, absolutely correct analysis of this wedge issue which the Tories have now injected into the federal election campaign. I commend it to you, on the National Post webpage.

I note that the first National Post headline on their website was: “ To uncover or not to uncover: Why the niqab issue is ridiculous… and dangerous.” It was then edited to cut the reference to “dangerous.” Too bad! A state ban on how a person chooses to express his or her religious practice in circumstances where there is no evidence of demonstrable harm is a very dangerous precedent. Are we going to reopen the long-since decided kirpan debate?

No more respected a politician than Calgary’s Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, said as much in a recent interview with Evan Solomon. You can read the story and full interview, also on the National Post webpage.

I should add that the predominant opinion at the Up For Debate women’s event last week agreed with Elizabeth May, Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair: that the Harper government has raised this issue solely as a distraction. For the state to let an individual wear her veil during the citizenship ceremony (after she establishes her identity in private) is no more an endorsement of her religious or cultural views than it is of any other distinctive religious dress. The state has no business dictating how women, or anyone for that matter, should dress, absent demonstrable harm. Similarly, absent demonstrable harm, does anyone really want the state interfering with how people express their religious beliefs? 

Apparently, in Quebec, there is pending legislation which would limit wearing the veil when providing government services. A friend whom I admire greatly says that, in the context of government services, the veil may be intimidating to recipients, or it may prevent a recipient from knowing the identity of someone who has done something wrong. On the other hand, many practices seem intimidating because they are unfamiliar or foreign. The problem of not knowing who has provided inadequate or inappropriate service could be resolved by the wearing of name tags. In principle, empirical data should exist to document the real existence of the perceived harm or harms the law is intended to address. Without such proof, the Supreme Court of Canada would likely declare any such law unconstitutional.

But I digress. Even my friend concedes there is no harm in wearing a veil during a citizenship ceremony, and that the issue in that context is no more than a partisan ploy. The Harper government has made a political scapegoat out of Zunera Ishaq, as it did out of Omar Khadr (more on that in another post), to fan the flames of xenophobia. In my view, it does no credit to Harper, his government, or the country.

It strikes me that recent polls showing that most Canadians favour Harper’s stand on this issue are like those polls where the majority once embraced the Anti-Terrorism Law. Once Canadians were alerted to the issues and the problems with the legislation, they became much more sceptical. Read Andrew Coyne and follow the advice of Naheed Nenshi.

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Have Progressive Conservatives Gone the Way of the Dinosaur?

Those who don’t normally read The National Post may be interested in several articles in today’s paper dealing with issues that should be on the agenda of the federal election.

Douglas Quan has a relatively balanced piece called “What TPP Means to You.” It is ironic that the 1988 Canadian federal election was largely fought on a single issue, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), signed by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and opposed by the Liberals and the NDP. This time round, the Harper government is negotiating the much larger and much more pervasive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) at this very moment and Canadians know very little about it. The Harper government talks in generalities about the TPP, but where is the “intelligent adult discussion” that the issue warrants? Quan at least identifies the issues. 

John Ivison looks at “Montrealers waiting on a new wave.” His conclusion is that “it doesn’t much matter to many voters whether the swell is red or orange… it is clear that the vast majority want a new federal government….” The focus is on the intense rivalry between the Liberals and the NDP and the horse races facing high profile Liberal Marc Garneau and even Justin Trudeau from the NDP. (As an aside, it is embarrassing that our incumbent Prime Minister is fanning the flames of xenophobia with the niqab issue. I have faith that, whatever consensus exists about “secularism” in Quebec, my thoughtful Quebec friends and colleagues of yore will recognize that Harper is using this issue solely to divert attention from his track record.)

Matt Gurney writes about the irrational and inefficient hodgepodge which is Canada’s “boutique tax credit system.” In 1963 the comprehensive Carter Report on Reform of the Canadian Tax System recommended, among other things, doing away with “tax credits” put in place for partisan purposes. Both Liberals and Tories have ignored this proposal, although none more so than the Harper government. Gurney notes that “all the maddening little boutique tax credits the Tories have loaded up the tax code with in recent years… have tortured it into a twisted mess… complicated… expensive…less fair and less efficient…(and not) very… conservative.” Although he does not endorse the Liberal plan, he writes that “it is, at least, refreshing to see a major party actually talking about starting to untangle the mess we’ve made of our tax code.”

In my view, some of the most intelligent political analysis during this election campaign has been found in The National Post.

Have Progressive Conservatives gone the way of the dinosaur, as my Conservative son insists? If not, they might want to see a strong anti-Harper vote, so that a new, truly conservative, party might arise from the ashes of the hyper-partisan, anti-empirical, “non-conservative” (Andrew Coyne’s view) Harper regime.

***** Don’t forget that Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau are debating Canada’s role in the world at 7 p.m. EDT tonight. The bilingual debate takes place at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. It will be live streamed at Munk Debates and on Facebook, and carried on your local CPAC channel. CBC News will host a special live blog featuring debate highlights and analysis, at cbcnews.ca/canadavotes.

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You Want Change? Strategic Voting is a Must

The election is three weeks away and the logjam in the polls may be breaking up. A new Mainstream Research poll reported in the National Post on Thursday said that, in Ontario, the Tories were leading at 38% among decided and leaning voters, the Liberals at 34% and the NDP at 22%. An EKOS poll the same day, in the Toronto Star, showed that the Tories have pulled ahead with 35.4% of voters nationally, the Liberals at 26.3 % and the NDP at 24.5%. Pollster Frank Graves is quoted as saying, “If (the Conservatives) keep those numbers up they’re very close to a majority—if not there already.” They apparently lead in British Columbia, Alberta, the prairies, and Ontario.

These polls are a reality check. People who are not political junkies are waking up to the election. As they do so, they are facing promises of a ‘tax lock,’ perpetual balanced budgets, and ‘a ban on the niqab.’ They may forget the well-documented track record of the Harper government itemized in “the Harper Abuse of Power Compendium” published by The Tyee. Without these facts, will the Tories get their vote? If not, will their votes be squandered in our “first past the post” electoral system?

This election has boiled down to two issues:

  • Are you for Stephen Harper and his ten-year track record?
  • If not, which of the two main opposition parties (for all their individual flaws) should lead the alternative?

Because of three-way (or four-way) splits in the vote in particular swing ridings, Harper could return for an unprecedented fourth term in office. He could even pull off a majority. As I quoted Will McMartin in an earlier post, “… compared to other parties (the Tories) are rich in ‘safe’ seats (123… won by Harper’s Conservatives in 2011, with over 50% of the popular vote).”

If 70% of the population really does want change, the best case scenario may be that the Tories are held to a low plurality of seats in the Commons. This result would force the Liberals and the NDP to defeat Harper in the House at the earliest opportunity, form a coalition or an accord on the 1980s Ontario model, and offer a joint government, with the support of the Greens, that could achieve much of what they share in common. Who would lead would depend upon how they divide the seats between them.

Change is possible only if electors in their local ridings make getting rid of Stephen Harper their priority. Where a Conservative could take the riding (because the riding voted for the CPC last time), will those who might prefer the NDP or Liberal leader/platform actually adopt an ABC or ABH strategy? This means voting for the opposition party which has the best chance of defeating Harper, whether Liberal or NDP, in the particular area. Without their strategic vote, their splitting the vote will have the effect of electing a Harperite.

Vote Together released the results of Wave Two of their Swing Riding Polls on Tuesday. In Eglinton-Lawrence, they predict that the outcome will be very close. At the moment, the Liberal candidate has a slight lead over Finance Minister Joe Oliver, with the NDP rising. They note that a non-Conservative candidate can win if people vote together. Etobicoke-Lakeshore is another traditionally Liberal riding which the Tories took in 2011 with 40% of the popular vote. Ditto Don Valley West, where the Conservative incumbent won in 2011 with 43% of the popular vote over 42% for the Liberals. In British Columbia, Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission is a new riding like that Tory MP Randy Kamp has held since 2004. The current polling shows the NDP with a slight lead. Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country has new boundaries in a traditionally swing Conservative-Liberal area held by Conservative MP John Weston since 2008. In what may be ‘an emerging battleground riding,’ recent polling shows a slight lead for the Liberals. There are hopeful signs that, if voters pay attention, strategic voting could make a difference.

Find your riding on the Vote Together webpage and learn the history and recent polling (if any) in your riding. It makes for sobering reading.

***** P.S. A reader forwarded another webpage with recommendations on which party in each of the 338 Election District Districts is most likely to defeat Stephen Harper.  Check out Strategicvoting.ca.   

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What the Election Campaign has Taught me about Social Media, and Vice Versa

I guess I am slow, inherently conservative, or a coward. After nearly two years of blogging, I have finally learned the incredible utility and power of social media. This federal election campaign has reinforced the point.

Last year I set up a Twitter account and began to experiment with the medium. I follow 133 people, institutions and agencies and have learned how useful and fun it is to plug into what’s going on in real-time. Riding on the streetcar, waiting for the bus, standing in a TIFF line, I can flip through the latest tweets very quickly on my smart phone and find out what is happening. I can catch newspaper articles or videos I missed, interesting analyses, news about TTC delays or local emergencies, notices of upcoming events. All in 140-digit bites.

But for a tweet I received while waiting for a TIFF film last week, I would not have known about the Up For Debate event on women’s issues Monday evening. It would have passed me by. That would have been too bad. It was great fun to see people whom I had “lost” from my past. I loved meeting women whose names I recognized but had never actually met. I would have missed hearing the new leaders of the women’s movement, and seeing the vitality of the many young activists present. I likely would not have known that the discussion was live streamed and videos of the participating leaders (everyone but Stephen Harper) are available for your viewing at the Federal Election 2015 women’s issues page of the Toronto Star website

That tweet allowed me to plug into the modern women’s movement and consider how the position of women has improved, or not, since my activist days. The vocabulary used today is different. Equality now extends to diversity and the complications of multiculturalism. The current controversy over wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony is an example. What precisely are the rights at issue? And what harms have been attributed to Zunera Ishaq because of what she chooses to wear?

When speakers talk broadly about “the oppression of women” in Canadian society, I can’t help comparing contemporary opportunities for women with what existed in the 1960s and 1970s. And when “the big news” of the event was that Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau volunteered that they were “feminists,” what’s the big deal? My husband, our sons, and many of their cohort have called themselves “feminists” for years. Of course, there are many definitions of feminism and different perceptions of how it should be manifest in practice. That’s the rub.

I understand that “the glass ceiling” and tokenism, sexist environments and sexual harassment, economic insecurity and dependence, primary responsibility for child care and for elder care, the high cost and paucity of quality care for children and seniors, under-representation of women in Parliament, violence against women, particularly aboriginal and First Nations women, these and many other issues remain. Although labelled “women’s issues,” these are really human issues affecting everyone. But the services, structures and institutions which previously existed to encourage advocacy and give federal support to these issues have been defunded, closed down, or relegated to the private sector. Clearly. there is much work to do, and the Up For Debate campaign is to be commended for holding our politicians to account.

Getting back to Twitter, I was greatly impressed by how Elizabeth May and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi used Twitter during the Globe and Mail debate last week. On Friday, a friend and I came up with the hashtag #Maysin, trying to start a trend that would encourage Harper and Mulcair to take part in the proposed “consortium” National Leaders Debate, including Elizabeth May. Alas, using Twitter for such a purpose requires effort and a basic modicum of skill about the medium. What’s the best “hashtag”? What “handles” to address? How to do direct messages? When to retweet? Apparently, it is quite easy.

I now understand why so many public figures tweet so often, and why they have so many followers. What better way to keep in touch, and to share ideas and interests with others? A friend reminded me of the importance of Twitter on the international scene: bringing down the government of Egypt, challenging the government in Iran. As he said, if Twitter has so much utility in these circumstances, we should understand how it works.

I am now inspired to do just that. I have now tweeted 120 times and have 25 followers. Not many, but a start. It is so much easier (and faster) to “retweet” something of interest than to prepare a post on a blog, send out emails, or use the telephone. It is the difference between email and texting, multiplied by the number of followers you have. Had others in my circle been on Twitter last week, I could have retweeted news of the Up For Debate event to my followers instantly and we could have gone together. Or we could have joined forces to get our demand for “the real National Leaders Debate” organized by the national media and including Elizabeth May out to a broader audience.

If you are at all interested in learning about this technology, you might want to set up a Twitter account, search for my handle, MarionELane, and then follow me. Or tweet me @MarionELane. I will follow you and then we can share tweets.

Those who have been on Facebook for years will know that Twitter is likely an extension of Facebook, providing shorter, more instantaneous, more focused communications, from many more sources. Because of this experience, I am finally moving onto Facebook as Marion Lane. I have sent out some “Friend” requests and would welcome such requests from you. Just as computers, iPads and iPhones are best suited for particular uses, I look forward to comparing which of these two best serves different purposes. Please join me in this venture and let’s discover social media together. If you have any tips, don’t hesitate to use the Comment section below.

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#Maysin

If you missed Elizabeth May’s simultaneous commentary on the Globe and Mail “leaders” debate last night, read it for yourself on Elizabeth May’s Twitter account and on #GlobeDebate Twitter hashtag.

The current schedule of English-speaking leaders debates is a sham, symbolic of all that is wrong in the political culture of Canada today. Three leaders (all men) agreed to terms of debate which excluded the fourth.  She, who personifies the importance of the environment to the economy, who is perhaps the most articulate of the bunch, and the only woman.

How could they do that? How can we not call them to account? Why have they all put their personal partisan interests ahead of public access to our politicians?

Thursday night’s “leaders debate” is only the latest example of how the Harper government has manipulated the media to limit their own access to the public. These leaders debates are no different from muzzling scientists, controlling public servants from the PMO, and whipping Parliamentarians to pass deliberately misnamed laws that fly in the face of all the evidence. Harper is a control freak, and the media is complicit, grateful for whatever crumbs he throws their way.

Mulcair and Trudeau, vying for our votes in the name of “change,” have become enablers in the same game. Is this the new norm? Is this the standard we expect of our politicians?

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau apparently see nothing wrong with a debate that excludes Elizabeth May. Tom Mulcair has also refused to debate when Stephen Harper does not take part. A debate organized for months on “women’s issues” (note the label, as if “women’s issues” have no effect on men), is cancelled as a result. And “the National Leaders Debate” broadcast by the major media networks for decades, with an established audience of over ten million, and scheduled for October, is, apparently, not going to happen.

Actions speak louder than words. Who is standing up for principle? For public access to our politicians? Elizabeth May?

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of “information suppression.” I am tired of politicians telling me whom I can and cannot see and hear, and what subjects “they” will or will not discuss.

If you want my vote, let’s see some principles in action.

Take the The National Leaders Debate organized by the “consortium.” Notice the Harperite “consortium” label, designed to excoriate the producers rather than address the needs of the public. It is still tentatively scheduled for October. It is a prime example of gamesmanship ahead of the public interest. “Prime Minister” Harper has refused to participate. Wannabe PM Thomas Mulcair refuses to attend if Harper is not there. Ridiculous! Politicians are supposed to be servants of the public, not the other way around.

If Harper won’t attend, so be it. Manipulation and control are his mantras and this is totally consistent with the most pernicious qualities of his persona and his government. If he doesn’t attend, all the better. The public needs to see the existing opposition debating together. They have more in common with each other than they have with the incumbent prime minister. A minority government, an accord (as in Ontario in the mid-’80s), or a coalition between the existing opposition parties are real post-election possibilities. Voters need to know that this result is a viable democratic alternative (not an aberration, as Harper would say), and that it need not lead to weakness and instability. Besides, isn’t Mulcair wanting proportional representation? A new voting system will need new skills, including the capacity to negotiate solutions between different parties for common interests. Where better to foreshadow that perspective than in a leaders’ debate without the current prime minister?

In a “positive” debate, leaders could score debating points by highlighting common interests and demonstrating their leadership in negotiating to solutions. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? And a real change in Ottawa?

See two prior posts on the same subject:

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Real Change? How about Principles ahead of Partisanship?

So, are you going to watch the second Leaders Debate tonight? It begins at 8:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 p.m. MT) and will continue for two hours. You can see it on CPAC. As the Globe promo says, “you can find the CPAC channel in your area at www.cpac.ca.Or you can “livestream the debate on globeandmail.com, on GM apps, and on YouTube – The Globe’s channel as well as the YouTube Canada Election 2015 Hub.” Welcome to new age “access to politicians,” everybody.

But if the cheap cable channel and the new technology is too uncomfortable, don’t worry. Again, according to the promo, “The Globe and Mail is… offering a live feed of the debate to any broadcaster who wishes to air it on their own channel.” Maybe one of the other networks will pick it up. Has anyone heard one way or the other?

Sponsored by the Globe and Mail, focused on “the economy,” this debate is supposed to be one of those “new format” debates that would bring greater diversity and democracy to our Canadian federal election campaign.

Quite the contrary. The current schedule of English-speaking leaders debates is a sham, symbolic of all that is wrong in the political culture of Canada today. Three leaders (all men) agreed to terms which excluded the fourth. All three, Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair, agreed that the one English-speaking federal leader who personifies the environment which is essential to our economy, the one who is perhaps the most articulate of the bunch, and the only one who is a woman, could/should/would not take part in a national “leaders” debate on the economy.

How could they do that in this day and age? How can we not call them to account? Why have they all put their personal partisan interests ahead of public access to our politicians?

We have come to expect that our current Prime Minister, who should personify “Canadian values,” always stages his access to the public. Limited public appearances. Vetted audiences. Non-attendance at all-candidates meetings. “Talking points” instead of spontaneity. Press conferences held rarely. Questions curtailed, and preferably pre-approved. Partisan practice ahead of public access. It is one of the most pernicious anti-democratic characteristics of the current government.

The schedule of “leaders debates” is only the latest example of how the Harper government has manipulated the media to limit their own access to the public. And the media have bought into it, taking whatever crumbs they can get. 

Mulcair and Trudeau, vying for our vote in the name of “change,” have become enablers in the same game. Is this the new norm? Is this the standard we expect of our politicians?

Actions speak louder than words. Who is standing up for principle? For public access to our politicians? Elizabeth May? Forced off stage by common agreement among our wannabe PM’s, she has had the wit to organize her participation in the debate using her Twitter account. Hers is a brilliant response to a sad situation. Check out her simultaneous commentary on http://twitter.com/ElizabethMay. I understand that you don’t need a Twitter account to get access to her comments. I, for one, will watch the debate on my computer and follow May’s comments on my iPad.

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau apparently see nothing wrong with a debate that excludes Elizabeth May. Tom Mulcair has also refused to debate when Stephen Harper does not take part. A debate organized for months on “women’s issues” (note the label, as if “women’s issues” have no effect on men), is cancelled as a result. And “the National Leaders Debate” organized by the major media networks for decades, with an established audience of over ten million, and scheduled for October, is apparently not going to happen.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of “information suppression.” These leaders debates are no different from muzzling scientists, controlling public servants from the PMO, and whipping Parliamentarians to pass deliberately misnamed laws that fly in the face of all the evidence.

I am tired of politicians telling me whom I can and cannot see, and what subjects “they” will or will not discuss. Why is “the economy” okay? And “women’s issues” not sufficiently important to warrant public debate? Is it because the track record of the Harper government on women’s issues is abysmal and, since Harper refuses to discuss it, Mulcair won’t either? Ridiculous! Politicians are supposed to be servants of the people, not the other way around.

If you want my vote, let’s see some principles in action.

***** If you are as tired of partisan “information suppression” as I am, please share this post using email or social media sharing buttons just below.

The Toronto Star has just announced that the women’s coalition, We’re Up for Debate, has obtained pre-recorded interviews about women’s issues from Mulcair, Trudeau, May and Duceppe, but not Harper. The interviews will be screened, debated by experts and televised live from the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto on Monday September 21st at 6:30 p.m. Free tickets are available from We’re Up for Debate. It’s not a “national leaders debate” on women’s issues, but it is a grassroots response to unprincipled political actions.

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Is ABC a “Tsunami” in the Making?

The federal election is half over and the parties are neck and neck. The CBC Poll-Tracker, compiled by Eric Grenier, is keeping a rolling tab on the polls, the polling preferences by popular vote and by projected seats, nationally and by region. It is excellent fodder for everyone interested in what is happening in this totally unprecedented federal election campaign. 

Seven weeks ago, everyone was surprised by Harper’s calling so long and unnecessarily expensive an election campaign. How had we missed this possibility in earlier discussions of the misnamed “Fair Elections Act’? How had we not appreciated the partisan advantages an unusually long election campaign would give to the Tories with the most money and the greatest vulnerability to third-party campaigning?

So, what have the extraneous six extra weeks provided to the Tories? At this point in the campaign, they are in third place in the polls and even conservative columnists in the national press are writing Harper off.

On September 10th, Andrew Coyne wrote in the National Post that “This is the great achievement of the Harper government. Not only has it made itself unelectable, but it has made even conservatives indifferent to its fate. It did not invest its political capital in difficult but necessary changes to national policy. It frittered it away on pointless vendettas, sideshows and gewgaws, all the while congratulating itself on its cleverness. Yet for all its aimless vote-chasing, it has managed to make itself more unpopular than if it had actually done anything worthwhile…. It is a remarkable feat, is it not—to have discredited conservatism without actually practising it.”

And the same day Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail, under the headline “Why Stephen Harper is toast,” wrote how “Stephen Harper has hit the ditch…. (The refugee crisis has shown that) Harper is not a man who alters course. What you see is what you get, as he told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge the other night. And that’s the problem. We’ve seen Mr. Harper, and we get him. He’s the man without a heart. When he’s gone, not even the most diehard Conservatives will miss him very much. And gone he will be. A majority government is beyond his reach. He will resign, or the opposition parties will bring him down, and he’ll go quietly. The question now is what, and who, comes after.”

The polls and the pundits scare me. It is too easy to write off Stephen Harper at what is effectively the beginning of a normal federal election campaign. To conclude that he is a goner at this stage is to underestimate the onslaught of Tory electoral advertising that is to come. Or the cumulative effect of “slice and dice” domestic and foreign policies designed to win over particular blocks of voters. Or the impact of the “Justin is not ready” ads. The Tories are masters at subliminal advertising. That everyone refers to Trudeau as “Justin” or says “they don’t like Justin,” for whatever reason, shows the extent to which we have all been sucked in by the Tory diminutive. If our priority is getting rid of Stephen Harper, we must not lose sight of the ball.

I am mindful of a very perceptive analysis by Will McMartin that appeared in the Tyee.ca on August 17th. McMartin is a long-time political consultant associated with the Social Credit and Conservative Parties in British Columbia. His article reminds us that, in our federal election, we elect individual local MPs in 338 ridings across the country. He notes that “Harper’s Conservatives may trail in national polls, but compared to other parties they are rich in “safe” seats. Those are the redrawn electoral districts where they dominated the vote in 2011 (see sidebar) and, in many cases, previous elections as well.” On his analysis, there are 123 seats won by Harper’s Conservatives in 2011 with more than 50% of the popular vote. He concludes that “Conservatives will almost certainly keep them, barring a historic election tsunami rewriting Canada’s political map.”

He also notes that the all-pervasive attack ads on Trudeau are readily explained by the fact that the ridings which are least “safe” for the Tories are ridings where the Liberals have the greatest strength. These are ridings where the Tories won by the smallest margins in 2011, and in which votes for the NDP will divide the opposition and allow the Tories to win on the splits. We can be sure that the “Wizard of Oz” whom Harper has imported from Australia to help pull this election out of the fire will be concentrating on these types of details.

McMartin concludes that both the Liberals and the NDP must do well for the Stephen Harper government to be defeated. If defeating Stephen Harper is the primary goal, voters must be aware of which of the opposition parties is in the best place to defeat him in each individual riding and vote accordingly. More on this theme in another post.

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CBC’s Live Blog on the Mike Duffy Trial

Nigel Wright’s testimony in the Duffy trial this week has raised yet again the question of cameras in Canadian courts. As Peter Mansbridge says, if the Supreme Court of Canada can televise its hearings, why are trials of national interest such as the Mike Duffy trial, now continuing in the Ottawa Court of Justice, not accessible to the public on television? I have set out some of the history, and the issues surrounding cameras in courtrooms, in an earlier post which I commend to you.

In the meantime, the media and politicos and, apparently, even the participating lawyers are following with avid interest the CBC’s Live Blog of the Mike Duffy Trial, now on Day 39. My sister-in-law in Campbell River has followed since Day 1. She loves the short blow-by-blow, the more elaborate explanations, the video interludes, and the comments posted by followers. Like others who have left comments on the blog, she appreciates this very rare access to a historic court proceeding. It’s CBC innovating on a new platform and doing so very well. A great role for the CBC.

Kady O’Malley was the reporter who carried the ball in June. This week, Rosemary Barton has tweeted the blow-by-blow, with the hashtag #duffy, and Jason Ho has added more expansive explanations of the details. Other reporters have sketched in the context, posted pictures, and added video content of the scene outside the courtroom and across the country. Although wi-fi is sometimes sketchy and the reporters sometimes have trouble keeping up with the pace and form of the questions, they are doing yeoman service. Together, they give followers a pretty good idea of what is happening, what is said, and how.

Setting up the Live Blog on my iPad has been particularly useful. The blog updates all day while I work on another computer. Sometimes, I follow what is happening in real-time. Sometimes, I catch up later. Although second-hand, that we can be present at such a proceeding with at least this semblance of modern technology is pretty exciting. It gives us access to the raw data from which we can assess later reports of what occurred. 

Equally, if not more important, the blog for Day 38 gives links to the documents which the lawyers have put in as exhibits for discussion with Mr. Wright. There are documents put in by the crown on Wednesday and by the defence yesterday. These are priceless archives of emails and other materials not readily available to the public. Now they are open to professionals for analysis, and to anyone else for personal perusal.

I would venture to say that never have Canadians had access to documents which so clearly show, email by email, how a Prime Minister’s Office operates. Apart from the interaction between the PMO and Mike Duffy, they offer a window into the inner workings of the PMO, its relationships with the Conservative party, with the Commons and the Senate. Stephen Harper may seek secrecy and control, but the Mike Duffy trial has blown that aspiration wide open. Undoubtedly, we will learn more about the significance of those documents in the court proceedings to follow, and in the election campaign.

On the face of it, yesterday’s cross-examination of Nigel Wright, together with the documents, shows that many people still close to the Prime Minister were aware of what was going on and of the “media lines” devised to deceive the public about the facts. That’s not what the Prime Minister told the public. But then no one ever said that the current government puts much weight on the truth.

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Is Mulcair Still Going to Pull Out from the National Leaders Debate in October?

Yesterday’s “new format” leaders’ debate originated with CityTV and radio network. City is not one of the media “consortium” whose national debate planned for October Stephen Harper intends to boycott. Tom Mulcair last week threatened to do the same.

A few days ago, I was venting my frustration about Mulcair’s latest position to a relative who is a highly experienced left-wing political activist. I have always liked “the national leaders’ debate.” (Let’s frame it for what it is and not denigrate it with Harper’s “consortium” brand which focuses on the producers and not the voters.) It is the one time when 10 million voters across the nation gather for a great national event, something which brings us together to consider the decision ahead. It is one of those all-too-few occasions in our national calendar when the nation stops and pays attention, together.

I understand why Harper doesn’t like the format. He has a ten-year record to defend and two (or three) against one is a challenge. Besides, he doesn’t like the CBC and anything he can do to harm the corporation suits him fine. And if the other big media companies are unhappy, that’s okay, too. He’s already gone out of his way to make their lives difficult recently and this is totally consistent. With the “consortium,” he can’t control the questions or curb who watches, both partisan advantages he needs. Every one knows that Harper is a control freak who doesn’t like access. No control, no Harper.

But Tom Mulcair? I was looking forward to all those millions of English-speaking Canadians watching a national debate, absent the incumbent prime minister. The stark symbolism of an empty rostrum would have been as suggestive as the PM working alone in his office at night. Actions speak louder than words. You couldn’t buy (or produce) a negative ad more effective than that.

So what is Mulcair’s motive in walking away from this multi-million dollar opportunity to connect with voters? Elizabeth May says that he (like Harper) doesn’t want her to participate in the debate and this is just another example of how the NDP really works with the Tories. My experienced politico relative says he understands that if Mulcair were leading in the polls, he would not want to set himself up for potential attack in the absence of Harper. He also says that these debates really don’t have any impact on the public; the public is only interested in the media analysis after.

I beg to differ. Has everyone forgotten the effect of the 5 o’clock shadow on Richard Nixon during the precedent-setting Nixon-Kennedy debate? Or the gutsy impression left by Kathleen Wynne when attacked by both sides in the recent Ontario election debate? The post-debate pundits said that provincial Conservative leader Tim Hudak “won” the debate; the electorate thought otherwise. Voters do watch debates, and form impressions of character which are definitive.

My view is that the public needs to see the existing opposition debating together, all the better without Harper. They have more in common with each other than they have with the incumbent prime minister. A minority government, an accord (as in Ontario in the mid-80s), or a coalition between the existing opposition parties are real post-election possibilities. Voters need to know that this result is a viable democratic alternative (not an aberration, as Harper would say), and that it need not lead to weakness and instability. Besides, isn’t Mulcair wanting proportional representation? A new voting system will need new skills, including the capacity to negotiate solutions between different parties for common interests. Where better to foreshadow that perspective than in a leaders’ debate without the current prime minister?

In a “positive” debate, leaders could score debating points by highlighting common interests and demonstrating their leadership in negotiating to solutions. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? And a real change in Ottawa?

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The “Heave Steve 2015” Website

Is there a back story to the “Heave Steve 2015” website? It’s such a great slogan, with such a delectable rhyme, resonance, and prospect, that I immediately checked out the site. The blog was put up in January 2015, and copyrighted as “Heave Steve in 2015.” It is apparently the product of “a non-partisan group…” of “centrists” who are “NOT…anti-conservative,” but “are against a Stephen Harper conservative government.” There are only five posts, one dated January 24th, and the rest January 25th. The only apparent writer is identified as “Ed.” There is a link to the Facebook page of author Michael Harris (Party of One, Viking, 2014) and a call for volunteers “to coordinate election drive flyers in their city.” There is the usual structure of a WordPress blog site but, apart from the five posts, the template is empty. The website is singularly unsophisticated, replete with diction and spelling errors, and filled with rhetoric that will turn people off. If it represented the groundswell of a rising grassroots campaign, one would have thought that the website would have taken off and gone viral by now. But such is not the case. It seems to have ended as quickly as it began. All of which is profoundly suspicious.

How can that be, in this particular federal election non-campaign? The latest polls show that the Tories are neck and neck with the Liberals and the NDP. Who would have thunk it? Never have the polls been so close. For all the talk about “the middle class,” “the economy,” and “the threat of terrorism,” the really hot issue in this campaign is the track record and the legacy of Stephen Harper. Hence, the significance of the “heave Steve” label.

The writ has not yet dropped, but the federal election non-campaign has been waging for months, with endless notices of tax benefits yet “to be approved by Parliament,” lavish partisan ads funded by Canadian taxpayers, and attack ads questioning whether “Trudeau is ready.” The hotly contested ridings around the country have been identified by where the Prime Minister travels. And when his travels take him for extended visits abroad, you can be sure that it is for a photo op with the troops or some foreign leader, or because there is bad news on the domestic front. One week it is Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault complaining about the government passing retroactive legislation to protect the RCMP from future investigation into their own past wrongdoing, a troubling historical first. The next, the Auditor’s report on Senate expenses is released.

Harper strictly stages his public appearances and doesn’t like press conferences. The media picks up on when he does not speak, as in no response at all last week to the Truth and Reconciliation report. It’s like his non-response to vacancies as they have arisen on the Senate in recent years. If the Supreme Court of Canada says the Harper government cannot reform or abolish the Senate, except with the consent of the provinces, he will show them. He will do it himself, by stealth, one vacancy at a time, until there is no one left. Ditto with the monument to the victims of Communism he’s building in Ottawa, in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, and with the long-form census he killed a few years ago. If all the experts agree that the location is wrong or that the long form census is essential, he will resolutely forge ahead anyway. What do they know?

Clearly, the PM is a control freak. It is called the “the Harper government,” not the Canadian government, at his direction. No one in the public service or the federally-funded agencies says anything or does anything without prior approval from the PM’s office. He has reduced Parliamentary backbenchers to lap-dogs barking on command. He has appointed Senators for seats they are geographically unqualified for. I didn’t realize that Tory Senators were part of the Conservative caucus until Harper emerged telling them what to do when the Duffy/Wallin/Brazeau scandal first broke a year ago. Since Harper controls everything, and fires the watchdogs who take him to task, the key issue in the campaign is whether the time has come to heave Steve.

This brings me back to the “Heave Steve 2015” website. Is it possible that the Harper Tories bought out the writer of the blog so that they could control the domain name and shut down the site? Or that they published the blog themselves and claimed a copyright, to block use of the phrase by anyone else?  And that they left up the existing site as a decoy to discredit those who did?  The Harper Tories do, after all, have a history of political tricks: the in-and-out scandal, robocalls, exceeding election spending limits, “vote suppression” in the “Fair” Elections Act. Use of a decoy “Heave Steve” website seems like it could be consistent. Question whether it is possible to copyright a phrase as generic as “heave Steve”? I was never an intellectual property lawyer, so I don’t know.

Regardless of the suspect authenticity of  the inactive website, maybe we should begin to speak plainly about what needs to happen in October, and work to make it so. If you agree, please forward this post by email or social media to everyone you know. And follow my blog for further posts on the 2015 federal election.

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