October 16, 2019

 

Debating democracy – youth may prefer shared power 

By Mark Leahy

 

For election watchers, the last couple of weeks have been marred by plenty of hypocrisy and often warranted political mudslinging unlike anything ever seen in election history.

Canada’s most ‘woke’ prime minister – seemingly cast from a fractureless mould of perfection with all the values one might prescribe as if building a socially progressive candidate from a checklist – was found to have donned blackface and otherwise questionable make-up and garb more times than he seemed able to remember.

Understandably, his adversaries wouldn’t let him live it down. This fall from grace from a man who had come to define new principled politics was staggering. What was he thinking? And, for that matter, when did he stop thinking it – if indeed he really has?

Youth would not think this cool. Others – largely those of older generations – seemed prepared to let it slide with, “I was young once, too, and did stupid shit – I’m just glad there were fewer cameras around then.”

But for young people, often not yet imbued with their parents’ prejudices, and more often surrounded by people of different ethnicities and tones on the colour-wheel, this was a staggering serial lapse in judgement, beyond comprehension, and hard to forgive of one who had convinced them he was a new-approach leader who would dump the old politics of their parents.

For the first time ever, voters 18 to 29 – the age range referred to as ‘millennials’, though often with an unfairly derogatory tone for a group handed such a raw deal – are set to make up the biggest voting bloc in a federal election. More millennials than baby boomers are now eligible to vote.

Justin Trudeau’s inarguable charisma and refreshingly positive campaign in 2015 drew nearly 20 per cent more voters in that age range to the polls than the previous election in 2011 – an election that featured the inspirational rise of the NDP’s Jack Layton and his Orange Crush. Forty-five per cent of millennials voted for Trudeau.

Will they vote Trudeau now? Much good has come to those looking for Justin to lead the nation away from the Harper years. Many promises made, many kept – domestically and on the world stage. 

However, the Liberal government bought a pipeline the day after declaring a Climate Emergency. And notably – fundamental to democracy – they promised a change to the voting system where winning about 39 per cent of the vote as Trudeau’s Liberal did wins you all the power. (The Conservatives love this model, too. Harper won his majority the same way, with about 39 per cent of the vote.)

I had occasion to put this question of ‘electoral reform’ to Justin Trudeau on behalf of the Low Down at last week’s French leadership debate (bit.ly/LDtrudeau). I asked him what he would do to restore youth’s faith in democracy given his betrayal of the votes of many about changing the system. As if in a parallel universe, Trudeau heard the word ‘youth’ and ran with that, offering up every youth-related platform plank – some of it very sound and, indeed, desirable.

But not a word on addressing the broken promise. 

The man who entranced the nation with his open, new politics no longer answered the question he was asked. He answered the one he wished he had heard.

Now, in these waning hours, a new dynamic is upon us. The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, having risen above the fray of ugly shouting matches at the debate, landed that most sought-after rare-bird of electoral politics: the zinger take-away clip: “I want to say this directly to Canadians. You do not need to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny. There is another option out there.”

For the youth Trudeau had disappointed, Singh’s gentle, seemingly-unscripted evoking of the ubiquitous Mr. Men and Little Miss series of moral lesson books… well, you might as well have had Jagmeet give you a hug right there. 

Polls over the weekend show support tacking towards Singh and away from climate change’s Mr. Delay (Justin Trudeau) and Mr. Deny (Andrew Scheer). There is talk of a minority government, and of coalitions, that much-maligned but more collaborative option which would operate similarly to your vote being valued as if Trudeau had changed the darn voting system.

Let’s hope for a dash of Greens in any coalition colour palette, as well. There’s a planet worth saving, and our youth would like to be in a position to bring their kids into it. 

And in light of saving the planet and pushing for electoral reform, everyone in Low Down nation should attend the youth forum The Low Down is hosting in partnership with the Centre Wakefield La Pêche on Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. Our youth will be asking our candidates in the Pontiac to answer their questions. Here’s hoping they don’t pull a Justin.

 

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October 2, 2019

 

Climate Change –Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

 

By Mark Leahy

 

As I stood at the gates of the Parliament lawn during the Climate Strike last Friday, September 27th, around me thousands marched and milled, hoisting flags, banners, and signs of all designs. They ranged from the dire: The Amazon is still burning; Si c’est fondu, c’est foutu (if it melts, we’re screwed); There is no planet B, to the light-hearted: Make Canada Cold Again; I get hotter everyday just like the planet; Climate change is worse than homework, to the overtly political: Don’t let our environmental policies become a Scheer disaster.

 

And the one that started it all: young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate).

 

Attendance estimates varied, as they invariably do, with the Ottawa Citizen’s (and Ottawa Sun, which is now the same newsroom) baffling lowball figure of “more than 5,000” people to newer media’s Narcity with a more realistic ballparking of “10,000 to 20,000” — the Wakefield contingent proudly and vocally among them. Lower numbers are perhaps to be expected from The Citizen and Sun with their owners, Postmedia Network Inc., blurring the lines of journalism and agenda-setting by lobbying the Alberta government “to discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.” To lobby… for the oilsands, the tar sands. Let that sink in.

 

Postmedia told the Globe and Mail: “the lobbying involves a division of the company that creates advertising and other commercial content, not its newsrooms.” But please, the optics, the perception alone… well, it doesn’t look good.

 

Bear that in mind – and Postmedia’s glaring endorsement of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the last federal election in 2015 – when looking to that corporation’s Canada-wide newspapers for direction in casting your ballot this election.

 

And more broadly – as you get informed this election season, bear in mind that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. During the Strike, I was one of thousands turning Wellington Street into gridlock. Being there made me feel like I was part of something big. That we are part of something big. Awesome was the sheer industriousness and craft of the drawing, painting, and stencilling of poster boards. The thought of thousands upon thousands of parents and kids nationwide, globally, working together, discussing their home planet in days and nights before the Strike, then taking to the streets – all that energy focused, then unleashed – was palpable and inspiring.

 

Notably muted at the event were the political partisans now seeking office. While a number were visibly and understandably amongst the throngs, none were seen to make the mistake of trying to make it about them – to make hay while the sun shone for the people: the students; business owners, who shuttered their shops; and moms and dads and bewildered, fretful children, who gathered to echo and amplify Greta Thunberg’s message, which was delivered by her personally that same day at the Montreal Strike of 500,000.

 

Recent polls show a third of Quebecers say climate change is the most important issue in determining how they will vote on October 21st (and advance polls on Thanksgiving weekend). That’s just a slight notch below health care. As the Climate Strike showed: the signs are many and all around us. Choose the one which best reflects your feelings on the matter when voting later this month.

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September 18, 2019

Orange or Green – where do progressives put their ticks?

By Mark Leahy

 

As the Canadian federal election campaign starts into week two of this 40-day battle for the ballots – a number of days that will resonate for those recalling the biblical period of time God’s wrath flooded the earth in the time of Noah – the parties arguably from the progressive left (the NDP and the Green Party) are both wrenching the table their way to eat each other’s lunch.

 

As things trend right now, the New Democratic Party is a fading force of social democratic values – formerly ‘socialist’ values, a term removed from the party’s constitution in 2013 during the tenure of their last leader, Tom Mulcair, who held the job from 2012 to 2017.

 

Mulcair was a questionable fit for the NDP, with their longtime former leader Ed Broadbent imploring party faithful to not let a centrist, former Liberal fox into the left-of-centre henhouse. Mulcair succeeded the NDP’s beloved and most successful leader, Jack Layton, who had achieved the previously unattained result of winning the hearts of Quebeckers to catapult the NDP into its first ever stint as Official Opposition in the House of Commons.

 

Jack Layton’s untimely death not long after propelling his ‘orange wave’ of Members of Parliament to power had left the party largely without high calibre leadership contenders with prime ministerial ‘royal jelly’, the intangible quality great political leaders possess.

 

This was the election of 2011 when Pontiac voted in Matthieu Ravignat, the riding’s only ever NDP Member of Parliament – and this was the only time since 1980 when the Pontiac MP was not also a member of the party winning power nationally

 

Now, in 2019, the NDP is led by Jagmeet Singh, Canada’s first national political leader of South Asian descent, and as a member of the Sikh religion, its first turban-wearing leader. This is a notable fact in light of Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans government and other public sector workers from wearing religious symbols. If Singh wanted to be a government lawyer in Quebec, he could not do so while wearing his turban.

 

This all goes directly to whether Singh could conceivably win enough seats in Parliament to gain enough power to remain relevant and successful in Quebec – and if the NDP can’t generate good numbers in Quebec, its steady decline in popularity and ability to fundraise will continue. As it stands, to fund ongoing operations and the campaign, the NDP took out a $12 million mortgage this year to keep the orange lights on at the Jack Layton building in downtown Ottawa.

 

And whether one thinks it’s an ugly fact or not, prevailing Quebec sentiment may not want him to lead because he wears a turban. True or no, it sure doesn’t help that, to date, he has not displayed a flair for leadership to match his flair for stylish attire.

 

So, is a vote for the NDP a wasted vote in the election this Oct. 21? And does voting for the Elizabeth May-led Green Party make more sense?

 

The Green Party has been seeing a significant uptake in their support across the country in the last year. With reasoned Canadians fearful of the effects of volatile climate change – and those not otherwise convinced now sheepishly seeing their insurance rates go up as homes are sunk beneath rising waters, or flattened like the straw and stick houses of the less wise Three Little Pigs – well, who to vote for but the party prioritizing the climate more than the Liberals, who say they’re on the case, while they work to expand fossil fuel pipelines?

 

One has to wonder, however, whether the Green Party has the skillset and the ‘bench strength’ in its often ‘one issue’ candidates to run a country, which relies on this thing called ‘the economy’ to keep us all safe from debt collectors with a nasty grip more real in the face of hungry mouths to feed than the randomness of cataclysmic tornadoes or 100-year floods which now occur every year or two.

 

In Pontiac, the Green Party candidate is former Canadian Air Force pilot Claude Bertrand and the NDP’s candidate is lawyer and public servant Denise Giroux. It will be interesting to see the two stake their claim for the votes of progressive readers – or at least for those scared of climate doom in a time when far fewer can afford a brick house the Big Bad Wolf can’t blow down.

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September 4, 2019

Tory candidate: ‘join our team’ – with subtitles

By Mark Leahy

 

When the Liberal Party won Canada’s last federal election in October, 2015, it was a return to form for the bruised brand which hadn’t held power since winning a minority government under Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004. 


The Liberals had governed Canada with a majority government under Jean Chrétien for over a decade since 1993, but come 2004, their support was eroding in the dark light of the Sponsorship Scandal and the ensuing Gomery Commission investigation. 


In a government program originally intended to stave off Quebec independence, the Liberal machine was found to be misdirecting funds to Liberal-linked advertising companies. 


Unlike the current SNC Lavalin affair shadowing the Justin Trudeau Liberals, the Sponsorship Scandal was a more straightforward ‘hands in the cookie jar’ moment, with the Canadian populace getting a good look at corruption once thought to be reserved for banana republics. It all smacked more of the 1890s than the 1990s. 


During much of that long period of Liberal rule – from 1993 to 2003 – conservative, right-leaning voters found their interests fragmented. The independence-minded Bloc Québecois rose under the leadership of former Progressive Conservative party Quebec lieutenant Lucien Bouchard, while various Tory factions rallied and missed the mark to wrench power from the Liberals again. The Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance, and the Progressive Conservatives couldn’t put the right-of-centre Humpty Dumpty back together again. 


And so Conservatives were in the wilderness – for a long time. 


After much convulsive debate, the Conservative Party drew together the right side of the political spectrum as one unified party in 2003, and by 2006 took power until 2014 when the rise of Justin Trudeau re-animated Liberal aspirations. 


Fast forward to now, in the run-up to this fall’s election on Oct. 21. The Conservatives are now four years removed from nearly a decade of the leadership of Stephen Harper, notable foot-dragger on the acknowledgement of the perils of a changing and more volatile climate. 


Canadians are trying to get a look at their new leader, Andrew Scheer. Given a chance to lead, would he be Stephen Harper Lite, Harper 2.0, Stephen Harper with a smile? As he won’t attend Pride events, would he roll back the clock on same-sex marriage, reverse the gains by LGBTQ communities, and, beyond Pride, would he set about on an anti-abortion agenda such as is burgeoning in the United States? 


Stephen Harper, despite constant pressure from his evangelical Christian base – one of several keys to his long reign and his eventual forming of a majority government – didn’t roll back these clocks. But would Andrew Scheer? 


Recently, the Liberals shone a spotlight on a 2005 speech in the House of Commons, where Scheer spoke out against same-sex marriage. The video was in the public record, but with a reminder of Scheer taking this position, during Pride events as well as in prime ‘barbecue circuit’ season, when politicians use their time away from the House of Commons and the Ottawa bubble to drum up votes – well, it may be that the sagging Liberal poll numbers could find an uptick with Scheer taking somewhat too long to speak up and beat off the brush of bigotry. 


Where does Pontiac Conservative candidate Dave Blackburn stand on these issues? Little is known of his positions beyond what can be garnered from his Facebook page, which shows a decided penchant towards French-first communications. His requisite ‘join our team’ video is spoken in French only, with English subtitles, and the bilingual website he assured the Low Down – by email only – was coming in November, 2018, has proven to be ungooglable. The phrasing of his Facebook posts stating, ‘English is below’, is decidedly unsettling here. 

 

With Canada on the verge of recession, certainly there are other fish to fry than simply noting a lack of English for Low Down nation readers, but if that R-word becomes reality, one would hope Pontiac’s MP hopefuls could keep the electorate informed and served – while the Canadian state keeps its nose out of the inclusive bedrooms of this and the broader Canadian nation.

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August 21, 2019

The honeymoon is over. Will we renew our vows?

By Mark Leahy

Trudeau enjoyed a remarkably long honeymoon when elected to a majority in October, 2015 with many Canadians basking in the glow of sunny ways after what they viewed as a decade of darkness under the rule of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. Here in Low Down nation, the electorate swept Liberal Will Amos into the House of Commons to take the Pontiac seat based on both his and Trudeau’s promises. 


The return of the then-highly damaged Liberal brand was hailed as a return to the glory days of science-based ‘do politics differently’ sort-of-left-leaning, centrist government. 


Liberal fortunes had foundered – just before Justin Trudeau won the party leadership in 2013, former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien was promoting the idea of merging with the New Democratic Party (NDP) despite Liberal objections that the NDP was soft on Quebec independence. 


With Trudeau winning the mantle of party leadership in April, 2013, the Liberals were re-enlivened with the prospects of resurrecting the electoral success of the storied party of Justin’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was prime minister from 1968 to 1984 – with only a brief nine months in opposition in 1979-80 under Conservative Joe Clark.


Immediately, the Liberals dusted themselves off and dispensed with any thoughts of joining Jack Layton’s NDP and the ‘Orange Crush’ that swept the nation during the election of May, 2011 (the Pontiac riding was part of that crush and voters elected the NDP’s Mathieu Ravignat). Jack Layton’s homespun charisma – and resonance in Quebec – had led the left-of-centre NDP to their first stint ever as official opposition. 


The Liberals were decimated in that election under the ill-suited leadership of academic-turned-politician Michael Ignatieff. The tattered Liberal banner had no standard bearer and pressure was put on Justin Trudeau to button down his freewheeling junior portfolio ways, get a proper haircut, and bring about the return of the largely self-described ‘natural governing party’. 


Eventually, Justin Trudeau ceded to the pressure to lead, threw his hat into the ring, and handily won the job of trying to resurrect the much-beleaguered brand in April, 2013. 


From that time until Canada’s last federal election, Trudeau and his re-animated Liberals promised the moon to Canadian youth, Aboriginals, families, environmentalists, and whatever constituency could be wrangled into a polling station. 


Key among the promises made was putting an end to the ‘first-past-the-post’, winner-take-all voting system, which has allowed Liberals and Conservatives alike to win majorities – and so control the entire agenda and decision-making for four to five years – with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. 


That promise to make democracy democratic was scornfully heaped into the trash bin with weak justifications that it was too complicated for Canadians to understand, fears of sharing power (which was actually the intent), and dividing Canadians with a national referendum – which was not even needed, given the Liberals being elected on a mandate to go ahead and just change the system. 


Disgruntlement with Liberal promise-breaking, along with a ‘say-do gap’ around environmental protection versus fossil fuel expansion and resulting climate change, dissatisfaction with Aboriginal reconciliation and self-determination, politics-as-usual in the SNC-Lavalin scandal of inappropriately pressuring Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, the return of that nefarious imbroglio’s architect (and a key to Trudeau’s doing his job) Gerry Butts – the list goes on. 


It may well be that the honeymoon is a distant memory for these nouveau Liberals. If, indeed, they were nouveau in the first place. The idea of a ‘natural governing party’ is fraught with arrogance and self-importance – and it doesn’t sit well with electors who feel your actions suggest you think it of yourself. 


It remains to be seen whether Pontiac Liberal MP Will Amos will bear the brunt of national dissatisfaction – or at least, disappointment – with Trudeau’s Liberals, or whether his own work locally can buoy his numbers enough to keep his seat in Parliament.