Tag Archives: Thomas Mulcair

The NDP vies for Atlantic touchdown

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Theirs may be a Hail Mary pass, mere days before the federal election, but you’ve got to hand it to the New Democrats: if nothing less, they are determined to go down fighting.

Just as some polls show Justin Trudeau effectively eating Thomas Mulcair’s lunch, last week the NDP announced its platform tailor-made for Atlantic Canada. It included a surprising number of goodies calculated to warm the cockles of regional hearts.

There’s a bit more money for regional development initiatives. There’s a promise to spent $512 million over the next four years on cities and downs for things like road and bridge repairs. Mr. Mulcair, et.al., also want to establish 50,000 childcare spots, costing parents a measly $15 a day. What’s more, the former socialist party intends to retain door-to-door mail delivery – something its arch-nemesis, the Conservative government in Ottawa, has announced it will dismantle across the country.

Whether any of this will actually persuade enough voters in Atlantic Canada to throw their hats into the ring with the NDP is an open question. In recent days, throughout Canada, sentiments have been shifting.

According to a recent CTV news report, “The latest nightly tracking by Nanos Research shows the Liberals emerging with a lead in the national election race, with the Conservatives holding steady and the NDP continuing to slide.”

Apparently, voters were asked, “If a federal election were held today, please rank your top two current local voting preferences.”

The results gave the Grits a squeaker of a head start against the Tories (35.6 per cent support, versus 31 per cent, respectively). At the same time support for the NDP has broadly plunged.

Said the news report: “The NDP have slid by a significant margin in Quebec, from a high of 50 per cent support at the beginning of the campaign, down to 30.1 per cent in the latest poll. The NDP are now in a statistical tie with the Liberals in the province, who registered 28.1 per cent support in the latest tracking.

“The Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives are also in a statistical tie for third, with the BQ at 20.4 per cent support and the Conservatives at 17.4 per cent in Quebec. Outside Quebec, the latest regional numbers show: The Liberals lead in Atlantic Canada, with 50.2 per cent support; the Conservatives lead in the Prairies, with 46.9 per cent support; the Liberals have 40.9 per cent support in Ontario, while the Conservatives are at 36.5 per cent support; in British Columbia, the Liberals are tracking at 34.7 per cent support, with the NDP at 30.0 per cent support.”

As Nik Nanos observed, “”The Mulcair brand is strong, and it’s very clear from the polling that he’s probably the most well-liked of the three federal leaders. The bad news is, Canadians don’t see him as prime minister.

Of course, this sort of shake up was bound to happen. The NDP, both federally and provincially, have provided Atlantic Canada with some of the region’s best policy ideas – both humane and sensible – in recent decades.

But attitudes about politics and politicians become easily calcified, and it doesn’t take much to undermine a promising showing in popular opinion. Sometimes it takes only a vague notion that, in the end, no amount of good intention, no number of worthy ideas, can eradicate the perception that the NDP has been and shall always be Canada’s “third” party (a rather absurd proposition, given that it was, until the election call, the nation’s Official Opposition).

Still, really, who wants to play on a team whose forwards can’t catch the ball?

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New Brunswick’s surging orange crush

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For a while here, on the East Coast, it seemed that the federal Liberals could do no wrong. They had a majority approval rating of nearly 50 per cent in the run-up to the national election. They had a youthful, passionate and sometimes articulate leader in the body of Justin Trudeau.

But at some point between the time the writ dropped and the last summer barbecue ended, a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box: Atlantic Canadians lost faith in the ability of a red tide to subsume the prevailing blue wave. Now, some are talking about an orange crush, Quebec-style.

This turn of events frankly amazes Don Mills of Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates, whose company conducted the latest survey of public opinion. “It’s all very close now within the margin of error for (the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP),” he told the Brunswick News organization last week. “New Brunswick is starting to look a lot like Canada. It’s going to make it a lot more competitive than, perhaps, it has been in the past.”

According to his most recent results, “Support for the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) has increased once again this quarter. . .Four in ten decided and leaning voters in Atlantic Canada support the Liberal Party of Canada (40 per cent, compared with 43 per cent of decided voters three months ago), while one-third prefer the NDP (33 per cent, compared with 29 per cent decided voters).

“Meanwhile, backing for the Conservative Party of Canada is consistent with last quarter (22 per cent, compared with 24 per cent of decided voters), while four per cent of decided and leaning Atlantic Canadians prefer the Green Party of Canada (unchanged). One-quarter (25 per cent, down from 41 per cent) of residents in the region are undecided, refuse to state a preference, or do not plan to vote.”

What’s more, Corporate Research’s results show that “Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper’s popularity currently stands at 17 per cent (compared with 19 per cent in May 2015). Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party is preferred by three in ten Atlantic Canadians (29 per, down from 36 per cent), while preference for Thomas Mulcair of the NDP increased to one-quarter (27 per cent, up from 22 per cent), and Elizabeth May of the Green Party is preferred by seven percent (up from 5 per cent).”

As for New Brunswick, specifically, the numbers shake out this way: Twenty-seven per cent of those surveyed are “completely dissatisfied” with the Harper government; another 30 per cent are “mostly dissatisfied”; only 31 per cent are either completely or mostly satisfied. That’s a ratio of nearly two to one against returning the incumbents to office.

As for leadership preferences, the results are even more compelling. On the question, “Which one of the following party leaders would you most prefer as Prime Minister of Canada?”, New Brunswickers answered thusly: Thomas Mulcair of the NDippers, 27 per cent; Mr. Trudeau of the Grits, 22 per cent; Mr. Harper of the Tories, 21 per cent.

Of course, there’s much turf yet to be covered in this horse race. Still, as Mr. Mills’ research indicates, “A majority of Atlantic Canadians continue to be dissatisfied with the current federal government. Two-thirds of residents (66 per cent, as compared to 63 per cent in May 2015) are dissatisfied in this regard”

All of which may not suggest an actual, Quebec-style orange crush for the NDP in New Brunswick next month.

But the chances of a blue day for the Conservative Party are certainly improving.

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Whose party is this?

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It should surprise exactly no one in New Brunswick that political parties do their level best to differentiate themselves from their opponents by any means necessary. After all, this province, New Brunswick, has been staging periodic vote-fests longer than almost any other jurisdiction in Canada.

Rarely, however, have the substantive policy differences among the three, leading federal camps – Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat – been as vanishingly small as they are today. And this presents New Brunswickers – owners of one of the nation’s least robust regional economies, and one of the most burdened by debt and deficit – with a special chore: Choosing who among these federal courtesans is most likely to doff his cap to the ancient regime of this country; the East Coast.

Shall we all just hold our breath?

New Brunswick’s social and economic challenges are both specific and articulated: High unemployment; low commercial productivity; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; low interest in anything remotely resembling renewable energy technology; high levels of disaffection with public institutions; low tolerance for civil-service cutbacks; high disdain for politicians, in general; low sympathy for elected representatives who purport to get things done by upending the status quo.

Under the circumstances, then, why would any party that seriously seeks power vary in form or substance from any other – except, of course, in what they tell the great unwashed at election time?

What they tell us now could fill a thimble for relevance and actual change.

Here come the Tories, barking at New Brunswickers that their jobs-ready, economic action plan has, over the past eight years, saved this province from perdition. Their implied motto is simply this: It could have been worse.

Here come the Grits, insisting that New Brunswickers will be much better off than they have been if only they will giddily throw themselves into the red tide that will surely swamp the Maritimes. Their message is: It can be better, though exactly how. . .well, we’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, comes the third rail (which, incidentally, looks an awful lot like the first and second), the NDippers. They want us to believe that New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes are overdue for a massive transformation. Let us, then, agree to abolish the Senate and see how well that works out for us.

Oddly enough, that was an essentially Conservative idea not so very long ago, and even a Liberal one for an Ottawa minute when Justin Trudeau kicked out every Grit senator from his sitting caucus, again, not so very long ago.

As for New Brunswick’s particular social and economic woes, no federal party has yet made a convincing case that this province’s hard and trenchant issues matter more to them than found money on a summertime beach along the Bay of Fundy (which, like substance in political rhetoric, is also rare these days).

What actually distinguishes each federal contender from the other is a media play; crafted and acted before cameras, packaged for YouTube, and meant to be taken with a large barrel of salt.

Jobs are good, so say we all. Unemployment is bad, so say we all. Innovation and productivity must be the urgent concern, so say we all.

Crime? Boo!

Victims? We feel their pain.

Health care? Of course, it’s necessary.

Literacy, numeracy, trust in public institutions? Yup, we have our work cut out for us on that, too.

Still, choose me. I wear the red sweater, or the blue one, or the orange one. The difference is immense.

Even if it’s all the same to you.

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The almost-ready-for-prime-time leaders

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We knew them not so much by the ideas they conveyed or the words they uttered, but by the roles they assiduously embraced.

There was Prime Minister Stephen Harper assuring his audience, like a narrator in a Thorton Wilder play, that his avuncular governments have, over the past 10 years, had only the interests of the common, ordinary folk in mind.

There was fighting-fit Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau throwing left jabs and right crosses (sometimes even landing a few) in a mighty attempt to show fans of political pugilism that he was, indeed, a heavyweight ready for the main event.

There was a professorial-looking Thomas Mulcair, studiously reminding Canadians that good governance is serious business and only the highest-minded among us are properly equipped to meet the challenges of providing universal day care and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

In fact, the only leader in the first debate of the federal election who didn’t appear to assume a role for the benefit of the voting public was Green Party chief Elizabeth May. Bully for her and for a brand of plain-speaking one can almost endorse.

“We have a weak and shrinking economy and it’s the wrong time for austerity measures,” she said at one point. Turning to the prime minister, she added acidly, “We’re in a recession under your watch for the second time.”

As for the condition of Canadian democracy, she declared, “Instead of fixating on this splitting-the-vote non-problem, vote splitting, we need to focus on the real problem, which is that 40 per cent of Canadians in the last number of elections haven’t voted, and vote abandoning in my view is a much bigger problem than vote splitting.”

Under the circumstances, it’s a shame that Ms. May’s appearance last week is likely to be her single debate opportunity in this election cycle. On the other hand, one wonders what these dog and pony shows actually accomplish, either for the candidates or for the electors.

Are they any more articulate about their plans and priorities for having spent a chunk of time in front of a camera taking pot shots at one another’s records, statements, misstatements?

Are we any better informed about the issues that concern us most?

When, in the debate, Mr. Harper said, “the other parties are proposing literally tens of billions of dollars of additional spending, permanent spending, to be financed by permanently higher tax rates and permanent deficits,” are we sure he was telling us the whole, unvarnished truth?

Likewise, when Mr. Trudeau complained that Mr. Mulcair’s “minimum-wage plan actually will only help less than one per cent of every Canadian who earns minimum wage,” and that this, in effect, amounts to “false advertising”, do we believe him?

In the end, though, as political debates go, this wasn’t an especially dreadful affair. If we didn’t learn much more than we already know, we did recognize the players for their various scripts generally courteous comportment.

As it happened, on the very night last week that Canada’s leaders’ debates proceeded, the Republicans in the United States hosted their own verbal cage match.

According to a BBC report, “(Donald) Trump. . .most uncomfortable moment came when moderator Megyn Kelly challenged him on his views about women. ‘You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,’ she said. He answered by joking that he only said that about actress Rosie O’Donnell and stating that political correctness was one of the country’s biggest problems.”

We should, perhaps, be grateful for the political actors we have here in the Great White North

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In Fat City, the name is the game

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Welcome, dear webinar participant, to the 14th annual, interactive session on politics in the early 21st Century.

Now that we are about to enter 2056 – also known as the Glorious Acquisition of Wisdom in Democracy (GAWD) year – we must be vigilant in remembering how our society was radically changed for the better when our fearless, nonagenarian leader, Sun King Stephen Harper, chose to dispense with formality and address his political opponents by their first names or, indeed, by any names that came to his exquisite mind.

Let us, then, cast our thoughts back to the summer of 2015 and the first leaders’ debate in that year’s general election campaign. To be sure, we go not far enough to declare that the event changed the entire world.

Here, then, is a partial transcript of that momentous, felicitous event:

Mr. Stephen Harper, recent Prime Minister and current Conservative Party of Canada Leader: “Thank you, (moderator). Let me say what a great pleasure it is for me to address the citizens of this great nation and to lock horns with my eminent colleagues, Gumby and Pokey, standing over there in the corner trying to figure out how to turn on their mics.”

Mr. Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada: “Excuuuuse me! I object strenuously to Mr. Harper’s tone and characterization.”

Mr. Thomas Mulcair, Official Opposition Leader (New Democratic Party of Canada): “As do I. In fact, this may be the one thing young Justine and I actually agree on.”

Mr. Trudeau: “That’s JUSTIN to you, Tiny Tommy!”

Mr. Mulcair: “My deepest apologies, Pierre-Light!”

Mr. Harper: “Gentlemen, gentlemen. . .please let’s just all calm down. Or, maybe Gumby can jump on Pokey’s back and, together, they can ride away into the red and orange sunset that frames their electoral fortunes. Hmmmm? Whaddya think?”

Mr. Trudeau: “Well. . .only if I get to be Gumby.”

Mr. Mulcair: “Not on your life, Pokemon! I’ll do the riding around here. . .Anyway, maybe we should ask our esteemed colleague, Steve, how he intends to fix the Canadian economy now that he’s broken it.”

Mr. Trudeau: “That’s a fair question from my esteemed colleague, Dimbulb. What say you, Steverino?”

Mr. Harper: “Well, now, let me address this issue by asking Messrs. Turduckin and Mohair how they will handle falling confidence in the wit and wisdom of their respective leaderships amongst their own ranks – otherwise known as the pinko, Birkenstock-cobbled, hipster, media elite.”

Mr. Mulcair: “Allow me to field that one. . .For one thing, Mr. Prima Donna Stavros Harpy, I am just as stiff and uninspiring as you in front of a camera. I am just as unenlightening and disengaged as you in a press scrum. In other words, I possess all the qualifications that prime-ministership in this country requires. And one more thing that is crucially important. . .I can grow a beard.”

Mr. Trudeau: “That’s right, Beardy McBeardyson can grow facial hair. . .But is that any reason to elect him to the highest office in the land? My fellow Canadians, I shave semi-regularly, which ought to be some indication of my abiding commitment to personal hygiene.”

Mr. Harper: “Mr. Moderator, I see from the clock that our time is rapidly running down. The only real question Canadians must address in this election is which name they prefer for their fearless leader: Gumby, Pokey or. . .Sun King. Let history be the judge.”

All of which proves, dedicated students, what history always reveals: Greatness is never properly appreciated in its own time.

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Welcome to New Torytown

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It is, perhaps, a measure of just how conservative Canadians have become over the past decade that Thomas Mulcair is still considered, in many quarters, a socialist threat to all that is worthy.

In fact, there’s almost nothing leftish or wobbly in this leader of the federal New Democrats; if anything, he represents an almost “Clintonian-Blairish” shift to the centre of the political spectrum. And it seems to be working out fine for him.

Writing in iPolitics earlier this month, EKOS Polling chairman and founder, Frank Graves, noted, “Just as it looked like we were setting into a three-way tie, the NDP appears to be opening up some daylight between itself and the Conservatives ­– who are still stuck at sub-30 – and the listless Liberals, still drifting downward in a significant erosion of their support. New Democrats should be jubilant. Liberals should be very concerned. But the worst news here may be for the Conservatives.”

\The pollster added: “NDP and Liberal fortunes are inextricably connected; they tap a shared pool of promiscuous progressive voters who are now looking more favourably at the NDP for a variety of reasons – the election result in Alberta, dissatisfaction with Justin Trudeau’s qualified support for C-51, and a rising sense that the New Democrats are a plausible option to dislodge the current government.”

What’s more, Graves observes, “We do know that those outside of the diminished Conservative base are increasingly receptive to some form of government arrangement between the progressive parties.”

That’s probably because Mr. Mulcair is sounding more and more conservatively avuncular,and less and less radically agitated, these days. Consider his comments at a recent gathering of the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto.

“As our country’s financial capital – hosting 40 per cent of corporate headquarters in Canada – Toronto’s business community has its finger on the pulse of the entire Canadian economy,” he began. And, looking at the performance of our economy over the past number of months, there is reason for concern.

“The first quarter in particular has some alarming news. Gross Domestic Product took the deepest plunge in nearly six years ­– down by 0.6 per cent. Business investment – down. Exports – for the second quarter in a row – down.

Household spending – the lowest growth in nearly three years.

“And BMO’s overall revised projection for 2015 sees the slowest growth for Canada’s economy, outside of recession, in the past thirty years. But as worrisome as these first quarter trends are, they don’t tell the whole story.

They don’t give us a sense of what’s happening to Canada’s middle class – the best measure of a well-functioning and diversified economy.”

Then came what has become the NDP’s rallying cry in recent weeks: “In 2015, middle class families are working harder, but falling further and further behind. Over the last 35 years, while our GDP has grown 147 per cent, income for the typical Canadian family has actually shrunk by 7 per cent.

And household debt is up – way up ­– hitting a record 163 per cent of disposable income. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, calls that ‘a significant risk to Canada’s financial stability’.”

Suddenly, Mr. Mulcair is sounding like a kinder, gentler version of Stephen Harper. The former’s focus on the middle class may be apocryphal (after all, who really believes that socio-economic rhetoric ever produces durable results), but it is politically cunning. He is, in effect, eating the prime minister’s lunch; Mr. Harper’s emphasis on “hard-working families” seems almost clunky by comparison.

Mr. Mulcair may be Canada’s first federal Progressive Conservative in more than a decade.

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The great ‘Lib-Dem’ divide

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Political polls, timely and alluring, always, somehow, manage to say it all even as they point so clearly to our splendid isolation.

Where once the young Justin Trudeau seemed destined to reconstitute his father’s party – shoving Thomas Mulcair into a neo-Liberal corner not even Jack Layton’s ghost would haunt, and relegating the reformer Stephen Harper to a chapter of history where John Diefenbaker takes tea with Ward Cleaver – the telegenic politico is suddenly falling flat on his lovely, red face.

Naturally, the sharks are now circling the inland waterways that surround Parliament Hill, smelling political chum at its very best.

According to an EKOS Politics public opinion survey, released not long ago, “For five of our last six polls, the NDP has improved its standing with Canadian voters and the party now stands at 33.6 per cent, a 16-point improvement over its modern low just four months ago.”

Indeed, “The NDP have nearly double the support that they did this time out from the 2011 election. Support for the Conservatives and the Liberals, meanwhile, continues to languish with the two parties standing at 27 points and 23 points, respectively.

This suggests that had the brass, responsible for the fortunes of Canada’s two opposition parties, managed to pull their noses out of their respective navels four years ago they might now be looking at a “Liberal-Democrat” hegemony come October.

As things stand, they can expect another Tory win right up the middle of the Main Street they have managed to pave and split on their own dime.

Of course, none of this prevents either Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Mulcair from pretending to disagree about issues on which they obviously concur. Perversely, electoral politics in this nation encourage it.

Still, both leaders want Canada to cradle a degree of social justice it hasn’t enjoyed in more than a decade. Both want a demonstrably democratic, proportional system of representation in Ottawa. Both want to see a Senate, corrupted by its own rules, either radically reformed or abolished. Both endorse a system of long-term, early childhood education, supported and subsidized by the federal state as a means to a proper end for mums, dads, teachers and, most importantly, kids.

As the Grit and NDP policy platforms are so evidently compliant with one another – in fact, nearly identical in every important way – does their fiction of friction make any sense at all?

If recent opinion polls show one thing, they show this: Canadians are not evenly split between the right and the left; they are confused and confounded by their traditional loyalties to political parties that no longer represent their values, interests, secular beliefs, and actual circumstances.

Can we be fiscal conservatives and still recognize the importance of public investment in municipal and community infrastructure?

Can we be social progressives and still acknowledge the need to live within our economic means?

How do we balance ourselves on this thin beam that traverses between the gravity of our reality and the flight of our fondest fantasies?

Inevitably, we meet ourselves in the middle – at work, at home, in politics, and in life. If we are true to ourselves, we demand the same of those whom we send into public office.

Messrs. Trudeau and Mulcair are clearly missing the point in this election cycle. Together, they own 57 per cent of the popular vote; alone they fail.

The polls say it all: We, all of us, are stronger, smarter and kinder standing together than when we perch at the periphery of our society in splendid isolation.

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The federal race to the mushy middle

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In a circumspect piece for the Globe and Mail about a month ago, Michael Adams, president of the Environics Institute, argued that, despite the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing of those to the left of the political centre, the current government in Ottawa has not, in fact, made Canada measurably more Conservative over the past eight years.

Indeed, he wrote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper “sometimes plays to public opinion, sometimes carefully runs against it, and sometimes flouts it in areas where he won’t face consequences. He navigates public attitudes astutely, but I see little evidence that he has changed them.”

Specifically, “On crime, he has not moved public opinion. Quite the opposite: He has heeded it in a way his predecessors did not. In the past, elites pursued evidence-based policy while the public still favoured old-fashioned punishment. . .When Parliament abolished the death penalty in 1976, more than three-quarters of Canadians still backed it. Mr. Harper. . .didn’t have to persuade Canadians that a ‘tougher’ approach was preferable – just that he was the man to deliver it.”

What’s more, “on domestic security, (Harper) has not shifted attitudes so he can pursue a more aggressive agenda of surveillance and preventive detention. Canadians are alarmed by the threat of terrorism and willing to give the government a lot of latitude in keeping them safe. This reaction troubles civil libertarians, but it is not new.”

In fact, if recent polls mean anything, Mr. Harper joins his nemesis, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the mushy middle of affection among prospective voters – not an eventuality that seemed likely even last fall, when the latter appeared to be riding high on a wave of “change-for-the-sake-of-change” support. 

According to the Weekly Nanos Party Power Index Tracking (period ending January 16th, 2015), “Harper and Trudeau continue to be tightly locked in the weekly preferred Prime Minister (metric). Thirty-one per cent of Canadians prefer Harper as PM, 31 per cent also prefer Trudeau as PM, while 18 per cent prefer (Thomas) Mulcair, five per cent prefer (Elizabeth) May and 14 per cent were unsure.”

And just last week, Ipsos offered this: “The four-point lead that the Conservatives enjoyed just last month has evaporated, with a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted exclusively for Global News revealing the federal Liberals and Conservatives are once again tied. This tight race appears to be the natural resting point for public opinion in Canada. When one party jumps out ahead, the advantage doesn’t last long and the two leading parties return to a tie.”

Said the pollster: “If the election were held tomorrow, the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau would receive 34 per cent of the decided vote (up three points since January), while Harper’s governing Conservatives would receive 33 per cent (down 2 points) of the vote. In the last year, as Canadians continue to acquaint themselves with Justin Trudeau, most of vote-support fluctuation has been with the Liberal Party, ranging between 31 per cent and 38 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are the known quantity and have experienced relative stability between 31 per cent and 35 per cent.”

In other words, it’s a dead heat everywhere except in Atlantic Canada where, Ipsos reports, the Grits are running in majority territory (47 per cent, versus 26 per cent for the NDP and 24 per cent for the Tories).

All of which suggests that if the prime minister hasn’t made Canada any bluer, Justin Trudeau hasn’t made it any redder.

Let the games continue.

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How the Grits are crashing their own party

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In politics, like comedy, timing is everything. In timing, like comedy, politics is everything. That said, welcome to the strange, recent displays of young Justin Trudeau, Leader of the federal Liberal Party, aspiring Prime Minister of Canada.

What persuades him to characterize the Government of Canada’s decision to commit planes and troops against the latest incarnation of Middle East violence as a genitally influenced decision is anyone’s guess.

But to say, as he did last week, that his Tory nemeses “whip” out the nation’s aging fleet of fighter jets to illustrate just how well they still work in the ugly business of killing people and decimating far-flung enemy states is the apex of juvenility. It is, as one commentator correctly adjudged, the sign of “an unserious mind.”

Of course, it can be argued that Canadians have endured far too many serious minds since the world went to hell In 2008.

On the Liberal side, there have been those of Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, each spewing their self-referential brand of national purpose and pomp.

On the NDP side, there have been those of Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair, each scolding, in their own tiresome ways, Canada for its disengaged, anti-progressive tendencies.

Then, there’s been the true pater familia of all political dads – none other than Prime Minister Stephan Harper, himself – who has done his reformist best to convince the country that he’s a benign, hands-off father-figure who won’t interfere in the business of his constituents if, and only if, his constituents utterly subjugate themselves to his politically crafted ideology.

Into this absurd company marched Justin Trudeau, the son of legends, promising a more sensible and respectful form of leadership. In him, scores of citizens saw a new hope, a new mandate, and a “back-to-the-future” apparatus for a fully engaged, skilled, educated, and largely independent public bureaucracy.

Certainly, it was his candour that caught the devoted attention of the mainstream media. He was the first, major federal political figure to support decriminalizing marihuana. He was among the first to publicly support a woman’s right to choose abortion, despite stiff opposition within his own caucus. And he was out front, first and centre, with a pledge to introduce universally accessible early childhood education.

On the latter issue, he has squandered his mojo in the face of Mr. Mulcair’s announcement last week of a comprehensive daycare plan. On soft drugs, he seems to have ceded some of his leadership to, of all people, Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who now says he’s willing to consider parts of what is, in effect, Mr. Trudeau’s original proposal.

And now, young Justin has this to say about foreign policy:

“Why aren’t we talking more about the humanitarian aide that Canada can and must be engaged in?,” he freelanced to journalist Don Newman at a conference last week.

So far, so good; but then there was this: “Rather than. . .trying to whip out our CF18s and show them (the Islamic State) how big they are” why don’t we. . .well, do the other thing?

To which, government attack dogs replied in predictable fashion.

“Mr. Trudeau’s comments are disrespectful of the Canadian Armed Forces and make light of a serious issue,” PMO spokesperson Jason MacDonald told CTV News. “Our involvement in the fight against (the Islamic State) has been motivated by a desire to do our part in fighting a group that has made direct terrorist threats against Canada and Canadians, in addition to carrying out atrocities against children, women, and men in the region. As the Prime Minister has said: ‘we take that seriously and will do our part.’”

Game, set and match.

Is Mr. Trudeau in danger of screwing up his free lunch with Canadians? Major polling agencies have confirmed that the young politico is still running well ahead of his arch-rival Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Still, that could change in a heartbeat. It’s a long way to the ballot box next fall, and in politics, like comedy, timing is everything.

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When some are more equal than others

 

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It is one of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s favorite yakking points. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair bangs on about it every chance he gets. Even Canada’s esteemed Prime Minister Stephen Harper has raised the subject, albeit delicately, in public from time to time.

Now the worthy Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has jumped into the fray in its first country report on the Great White North in two years: Canada is, indeed, a nation of unequal opportunity and in all the ways that matter.

While “Canadians enjoy high levels of well-being and social progress” and though all of the country’s “component scores exceed the OECD average,” the report also concludes that “disposable income inequality has increased by considerably more in Canada since 1995 (11 per cent) than in other countries with data (2 per cent) to a level that is now 12th highest in the OECD.” 

What’s more, “in an era of high commodity prices has created wide regional economic disparities, while much of the public revenues from non-renewable 

resource extraction are spent on current government programmes, rather than being saved for the benefit of future generations. Incomes have risen in resource-rich provinces, but the resulting currency appreciation has placed pressures on manufacturing.”

The nation’s traditional mechanism for redistributing wealth from have to have-not provinces, federal equalization transfers, “only partially offset inter-provincial disparities in fiscal capacity.”

Housing is a special concern, says the organization. Prices in major cities, especially Vancouver and Toronto, are preposterously out of sync with the asset wealth that underpins homes and condominiums there, raising the specter of a market bubble and subsequent crash. 

If that happens, only banks and other lenders will prosper, thanks to Canada’s uniquely generous mortgage insurance system which guarantees institutions 100 per cent payback in the event of loan default – a circumstance that if repeated often enough would, itself, accelerate the widening gap between the rich and the rest of us poor schlubs.

Still, whenever politicians and pundits grumble about income inequality – which U.S. President Barack Obama has termed the “greatest threat” to contemporary society – other members of the chattering class are sure to point out that sour grapes never helped anyone, rich or poor.

Unerringly, they cleave to arguments that justify, legitimize or merely accept disparity as a fact of life. 

Writing in the Washington Post earlier this year, economist Joann Weiner cited four reasons why Mr. Obama is sort of stuck. 

First, America  is a “Great Gatsby” nation where “the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.” Second, “winning the ‘birth lottery’ is the biggest factor in determining” one’s like pay grade in life. Third, birds of a feather flock together; rich, educated, people marry other rich, educated people. And fourth, the uneducated are unlikely to reverse their fortunes because college has become too expensive to pursue. 

Ironically, though, these conditions, which hamper efforts to inject the system with greater equity, are themselves the product the widening disparity that first appeared in the late 1970s thanks to what former U.S. Labour Secretary Robert Reich and others have identified as two concurrent developments: the appearance of spectacular, new business technologies; and a wholesale assault on private unions.

The former lowered labour costs, while the latter undermined wages and job security. Consequently, as Mr. Reich notes on his blog, “We are heading back to levels of inequality not seen since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. The pertinent question is not whether income and wealth inequality is good or bad. It is at what point do these inequalities become so great as to pose a serious threat to our economy, our ideal of equal opportunity and our democracy.”

In fact, the best practical reason why everyone, from the improbably wealthy to the grudgingly poor, should worry about disparities in wealth and income is economic. Without a sturdy middle class around to keep buying the stuff rich people’s factories make, the whole game implodes.

Progressives among us are certainly not inured to the status quo. They note with confidence various fixes, including universal early childhood education to provide economically disadvantaged kids with the same start in life as their wealthy counterparts. 

The real question is whether our collective Trudeaus, Mulcairs and Harpers will ever be ready to put their money where their mouths are.

 

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