Category Archives: Fallacy Friday

Bursting the Trudeaumania bubble

Look, I don’t wanna be a party-pooper. I don’t wanna piss on anyone’s parade. It’s really wonderful to see so many people being so enthusiastic about federal politics, so inspired by the notion of real meaningful change, and I wish that I could join in on the enthusiasm and excitement.

But I can’t, because as earnestly felt as the swell of goodwill towards the new Trudeau government is, it’s misplaced.

Now first of all, to be clear: it’s obviously fantastic that Trudeau appointed the most ethnically diverse cabinet in Canadian history, as well as the first to feature an equal number of female and male ministers. And I don’t have any patience for those crypto-racist/patriarchal arguments about how cabinet positions ought to be doled out on the basis of merit and not arbitrary quotas. “Merit” is such a fuzzy term, easily defined to mean just about whatever the user wants it to mean, and in a white-cis-hetero-patriarchal-colonizer society, merit has traditionally been almost exclusively an attribute of white cis heterosexual men. (Surprise, surprise.) There’s definitely a place for quotas in an inherently unequal society, because a lot of people who are entirely capable of doing big and important jobs aren’t ever able to try because of systemic oppression.

In fact, good on Justin Trudeau for setting a strong precedent by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet. It will now be incredibly difficult, politically speaking, for any of his successors to go back to male-dominated cabinets of the past.

But representation by members of diverse communities does not inherently mean that the concerns of those communities will be addressed. A lot has been made about the appointment of rookie MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous lawyer and regional chief, as Minister of Justice. And don’t get me wrong – it’s awesome than an Indigenous woman is in a position to do so much to address the injustices that have been heaped upon Indigenous communities by Canadian governments since before this nation was founded, and I sincerely hope that she is able to do just that.

Issues like the ridiculously disproportionate incarceration rate for Indigenous folks, the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the establishment of meaningful nation-to-nation relations using the treaties as a framework, and of course a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, would fall at least partially under Wilson-Raybould’s purview.

All of which is very exciting – but I can’t help feeling cynical. I’ve seen this movie before – a member of a marginalized and oppressed community achieves a position of power in which they can make some meaningful change, and then…they don’t.

The most direct parallel I can think of is Eric Holder, the first black Attorney-General of the United States. Continue Reading

Why did the NDP lose so badly? Here’s a close look at some popular explanations

There really isn’t a good way to spin it. The NDP lost hard on Monday night.

When the election started in early August, they were leading in the polls and poised to form government for the first time in their long history. Eleven weeks later, their support had cratered; rather than building on their 2011 outing, their most successful ever, they instead lost more than half their caucus, including many of their most experienced and well-known members.

Instead of moving from Stornaway to 24 Sussex, Thomas Mulcair is now house-hunting at considerably less prestigious addresses, no doubt grateful to even still have his job after a relatively close race in his riding of Outremont.

That’s the kind of meagre consolation NDP stalwarts are offering each other these days. It could have been worse – at least Mulcair didn’t go full Ignatieff and lose his own seat!

There has been the digital equivalent of a ton of ink devoted to the question of What Happened To The NDP, and I wanted to take a close look at a few of the more popular explanations today. As we’ll see, most are at best incomplete and at worst completely unfounded.

The most easily discredited of these theories was quite prominent in the final month or so of the campaign: the notion that the NDP lost because their stance on the niqab was at odds with the majority of the electorate, especially in Quebec.

This one is transparently false. First of all, a close reading of the data shows that the party’s numbers were slipping several days before the issue shot to prominence in the first of the two French-language debates.  Continue Reading

The inadequacy of “strategic” voting

It’s one of the most unpredictable aspects of this election, something which may confound all the pollsters and deliver a grossly counterintuitive result come October 20th. The intense and well-deserved animus that people of most political persuasions feel towards Stephen Harper has led to the most massive strategic voting campaign in Canadian history, with multiple organizations working with tens of thousands of people at the riding level to try to tweak the results and deny the Conservative Party victory in close races.

Although the concept of an “Anybody but Conservative” campaign is nothing new – IIRC, we had one of them last year right here in Ontario – the dynamic of this year’s organized Vote-Against effort is complicated by the unique balance of power between the federal parties.

In the past, these strategic voting campaigns have been quite straightforward: Conservative Leader Richie Q. McUnionbuster, known for his outrageously anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-minority, etc., views, produced intense repulsion and loathing amongst comparatively decent folks, who then rallied behind Liberal Leader Quentin “Smiley” Goodenoff, known for his moderately anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-minority, etc., views, on the grounds that he was the Only Way To Stop The Conservatives. Anybody who desired a more progressive government was told to Fall In Line, and Not This Time, because we Have To Stop The Conservatives.

This time around, of course, the NDP are serious contenders – though not so much as they were just a few weeks ago – the whole situation is all of a sudden much more complicated. Behind whom should relatively decent anti-Harper voters rally? The situation was somewhat more straightforward in the spring and early summer, with the NDP riding high in the polls and the Liberals lingering in a distant third place. Many political commentators – myself included – assumed that the NDP would simply take the place of the Liberals in the equation, right down to the strained middle-of-the-road something-for-everybody policies that have characterized past Liberal campaigns. But with all three parties within striking distance of each other, there is no one single standard-bearer for the ABC crowd.

And not coming to some kind of decision is potentially dicey. Canadian political history is positively littered with examples of elections in which the Liberals and NDP split the vote and allowed the Conservatives to win – the most notorious (and relevant) example of which is likely the 1988 election, fought principally over the issue of free trade. Both the Liberals and the NDP were vociferously opposed to the recently negotiated Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States, with Liberal John Turner vowing to literally rip the agreement to pieces if elected. And Canadian voters broadly endorsed their anti-free trade agenda – the two parties combined netted around 55% of the popular vote. However, our retrograde British parliamentary system being what it is, Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives won a commanding majority and went ahead with the FTA, which later evolved into NAFTA, and which, if Harper is reelected, will quite likely be replaced by the TPP.

More recently, of course, we have the example of the 2011 election, in which the Harper Conservatives won a majority government by the slimmest of margins. If a mere six thousand people had voted differently in a few dozen ridings, the balance of power would have lain with the opposition, but instead we’ve all stuck been on the Omnibus to Ruin for the past four years. Continue Reading

“#PeopleLikeNenshi”, “old stock Canadians”, and plausibly deniable racism

In 1963, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and dark-horse Presidential candidate, made his position on one of the major political issues of the day crystal-clear, saying, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

You could get away with that kind of thing back then – equating integration with tyranny and explicitly embracing a violently racist policy.

These days, a politician who openly expressed this kind of view would be unable to command much mainstream support. Even Wallace was unable to ever expand his political base out of the American South. But racist politicians haven’t disappeared; they’ve just learned how to make plausibly-deniable racist statements.

The Harper Conservatives’ 2015 campaign has been a master-class in subtly coded racism. And though we who follow these stories closely may think their sneakily derogatory statements aren’t gaining traction, it’s easy to be in a bit of a social media bubble on this issue. If you’re reading this, you’re probably relatively young, and you’re probably living in a city, and you’re therefore probably not considered a likely Conservative voter. When Conservative candidates say these are-they-or-aren’t-they-being-racist kind of things, they’re not talking to you.

To take the most recent example, currently trending on Twitter: Earlier this week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi did an interview with the slimy Evan Solomon on the ongoing niqab furor. (ICYMI, here’s my post from last week on the issue.) Nenshi, in typically blunt fashion, didn’t hold back on the question of Conservative dog-whistle statements. On the question of the niqab, he said, “This is unbelievably dangerous stuff. It’s not fun anymore. And you know, I spoke with a group of – I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week, and in my speech, with all these people from small-town Alberta, I stood up and I said this is disgusting and it’s time for us to say stop it. It’s time for us to say this is enough.”

He also spoke of the danger of trying to politicize the niqab, saying that the message that it sends to Muslim youth is that they will never be truly accepted as Canadians, at exactly the same time that they are being targeted by “deradicalization” campaigns that aim to convince them of the exact opposite. And speaking on the tenuous nature of multiculturalism, he even got kinda poetic: Continue Reading

Seriously? Are we actually gonna make niqabs a big election issue?

Like, actually?

Let me tell you, people: I am committed to covering this election. So much so that I suffered through the French-language debate last night, dubbed into English by the CBC. And though I’m sure a ton of nuance was lost in translation, one thing came through loud and clear – the niqab is a pretty friggin’ big deal in Quebec.

Which made me pine for the good old days when Quebecers mostly wanted to talk about independence – until I remembered Jacques Parizeau blaming the ’95 referendum defeat on “money and the ethnic vote”.

Multicultural “tolerance” – or the lack thereof – is a festering open wound upon this society, and nowhere more so than in Quebec, where the unkillable Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe* seems to have staked his comeback battle against the NDP entirely on his position on the niqab.

He’s against it, in case you haven’t been paying attention.

So much against it, in fact, that he takes great pride in pointing out that while other parties (like, every single party in Quebec) want to force Muslim women to remove their niqabs to access government services, he goes even further – he wants them to be forced to remove their niqabs to vote.

Because nothing says feminism like messing with women’s ability to vote. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Substance and logic the big losers in last night’s debate

I watched the whole damn thing.

Really I did. Without the aid of intoxicants, I sat through a painful hour and a half of shouting, statistics, and (old) stock lines from the leaders of the Big Three Parties.

I even took notes!

Looking back over them now, I can see with more perspective how utterly incoherent the evening was, how jumpy. How each subject was dealt with perfunctorily, with the utmost brevity. How the super-liminal branding by the Globe and Mail was a hideous distraction, as was the ominously dark and distorted and angled and looming false-colour photo of the Parliament Buildings that they inexplicably selected as a backdrop. How much goddamn squabbling and shouting and incoherent crosstalk there was.

Some sample quotes from my hasty scribbles:

  • “TOTAL INCOHERENCE ON TAX RATES. They’re all wrong.
  • “Mulcair: ‘Harper dodged the question!’ Then he dodges his question.”
  • Fear-mongering! Lies!”
  • “Harper: Canada: it’s not great, but it’s as good as it gets!”
  • Child care is Mulcair’s answer to the housing bubble?!?!”
  • “Trudeau keeps saying ‘top 1%’ – I guess the focus groups liked that line?”
  • “SQUABBLE SQUABBLE!”

Upon further reflection, I think taking notes was a waste of time. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: The NDP on Iraq, Syria, and the use of the Canadian military

This past week, Peter Mansbridge and the CBC news team decided to sit down in bizarre nature-esque locations across Canada to have frank unscripted one-on-one discussions with the intensely focus-group-prepped leaders of the three major parties.

Though nothing much of substance was said – especially in terms of things we haven’t heard before – the interviews at least served the function of drawing attention to a few things.

First of all, Mansbridge is a softie at giving interviews. When the leaders rattled off talking points that were often only tangentially related to his questions, he rarely pushed back, and when he did – like when he tried sooooo hard to get Mulcair to say “50 percent plus one” when he was inexplicably grilling him over the Clarity Act – it was on matters that didn’t really matter. A lot of Mansbridge’s questions were slo-pitched softballs – “Why do you want to be Prime Minister?” – and his infrequent attempts to be tough seemed pretty random. For instance, he didn’t raise the issue of Harper’s being an asshole and a tyrant when he was talking to the Prime Minister, but when interviewing Mulcair, he busted out some super-critical quotes from former NDP MP Bruce Hyer (now a Green) who said that Mulcair would be just as much of an asshole and a tyrant as Harper ever was, and what do you have to say about that, Mr Mulcair? He reminded me of Bob Cole during the sportscaster’s final years as the HNIC play-by-play guy – obviously past his best-before date, but still in there mumbling away because nobody had the heart to tell him he’d lost it and it was time to give somebody else a turn mangling Quebecois players’ names.

Uneven, unbalanced, and most damning of all, uninteresting, the CBC’s leader interviews are destined to go down in history as having practically no impact on anything ever. (Their final sit-down, with Elizabeth May, airs tonight. Look for a lot of patronizing condescension and non-sequiturs.)

The only other thing of note about them – and the only reason I bring them up – was the fact that, for one extra news cycle, folks were talking about the NDP’s position on our Glorious Non-Combat Operation in Iraq and Syria.

In case you haven’t heard, Mulcair & Co. favour an immediate and total withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq and Syria, including the troops training Kurdish peshmerga forces. Here’s the relevant quotes from the interview; if you want to suffer through the whole thing, you can watch it here, with the ISIS discussion starting at about 25:30: Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Why “More War!” isn’t the solution to the refugee crisis

It’s a terrible sight to be sure – the image of a drowned toddler washed up face-down on a beach, something none of us ever wanted to see but which still, compellingly, must be seen, demands to be seen, and cannot be unseen.

Just last week, I found myself irate upon reading about the plight of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, who was photographed selling pens on the street while his daughter slept on his shoulder. The photo was shared on Twitter by an Icelandic tourist, and within days, over $100 000 had been crowdsourced for the man, a single father of two who hoped to someday make it to Europe.

I was irate because, while surely this man and his children were deserving of compassion, the difference between his case and that of the other four million plus Syrian refugees is pretty much non-existent, whereas the difference in international reaction couldn’t be more stark. Whereas for years the vast majority of refugees have been demonized, their motives intensely scrutinized, their access to healthcare cut off, and their ability to find safe haven in the West heavily restricted, this one photogenic man was, for whatever reason, able to inspire sympathy in the hearts of the Twitterverse. Though I don’t for a second begrudge him and his family the help that they’ve received, I wondered to myself when we would be able to look at all refugees with this kind of compassion and generosity. If he deserved it – and surely he did! – then why didn’t all the others deserve it as well?

And then the tragedy of the Kurdi family blazed its ways into our news feeds and our headlines and, most irrevocably, our brains, our memories. Lord knows why this particular drowning was the one that went mainstream – because there have been a lot of drownings, that’s for sure, over 1800 in the first half of 2015 alone. But for whatever fickle reason of the news cycle, we’re talking about the refugee crisis now, and so now is the time to push the issue. So I’m going to devote all my posts for the next five days to the international refugee crisis.

Today being Fallacy Friday, I’d like to focus in particular on our Prime Minister’s reaction to the outrage over the drowning of Alan Kurdi, his brother Ghalib, and his mother Rehan.

There’s been a lot of politicking around this issue since the story broke a few days ago, and I’d like to deal with that all in detail in Sunday’s round-up of this week’s election news. For now, though, I want to take a close look at one particular thing that Stephen Harper has been saying repeatedly ever since his sycophantic yes-men went underground to ride out the media frenzy: that a key way Canada can help refugees is by continuing its war against the Islamic State.

For a typical example of that, here’s a four-and-a-half minute video from Harper’s daily news conference earlier today. The first two minutes consist of him distorting his government’s record on refugees, but the latter half of the clip is all about ISIS: Continue Reading

Policing for profit: Why the criminal justice system only makes reforms it can profit on

Starting next Tuesday, drivers in Ontario face stiff new penalties for distracted driving:

As part of the new Bill 31, which was introduced by the Liberal government and will come into effect Sept. 1, drivers can be fined $1,000 (up from $280) and receive three demerit points should they be caught by police.

It’s intended to be so restrictive that motorists put down their phones and end what Staff Sgt. Mitchell called a distracted driving “epidemic” on our roads…

Transportation Minister and Vaughan MPP Steven Del Duca congratulated lawmakers on passing the bill unanimously and said it was about time we recognized the risks inherent to distracted driving.

He added he has two daughters, one eight and one four and he hopes they will be safer as a result.

Del Duca further noted the rules are justified considering distracted driving is now as big a problem in this province as impaired driving.

Del Duca is, if anything, understating the case. Statistics from 2013 showed that there were actually more fatalities from distracted driving than from drunk driving in this province. Multiple studies have shown that the average driver’s reaction time when using a cell phone is significantly slower than if they are drunk or high. (Also, for those who like their evidence anecdotal, Mythbusters “confirmed” it by getting drunk and driving around.)

So clearly, the government has an interest in deterring people from distracted driving. That interest is well backed up by thoroughly documented evidence from multiple reliable sources, including the government’s own statistics. This is a clear example of evidence-based policy-making.

It’s also a policy that will make cops across the province a lot of money. Continue Reading

“Prime Minister Doug Ford.” Think about that, and tremble with despair.

The long knives are already out for Stephen Harper as he struggles to contain the rapidly metastasizing Duffy scandal and faces down an increasingly intransigent NDP lead in the polls. Although anonymous Conservative Party insiders are insisting that the Prime Minister would try to hang on as leader of a minority government and quite possibly run for reelection, there’s little doubt that Harper would be interested in once again being Leader of the Opposition in the event of a Conservative loss this fall.

And already, potential rivals for the Conservative leadership are positioning themselves for a run.

The Walrus pointed out in long form last fall what many political observers have long known to be true – Jason Kenney wants Stephen Harper’s job. For those unfamiliar with Kenney, he’s your pretty standard-issue Conservative boogeyman – a terrifyingly uncompassionate human being, uniquely ill-suited to his five-year term as Minister of Immigration:

In his five-year stint at Immigration, the longest of any minister’s in history, he managed to pull off a precarious balancing act: boosting the number of newcomers, among them thousands of cut-rate temporary foreign workers, needed to fill the yawning corporate maw, while brandishing the lexicon of a law-and-order zealot who cast asylum seekers as guilty until proven innocent. Staging showy crackdowns on alleged human smugglers, marriage fraudsters, and whole classes of refugees he branded as “bogus,” he used such inflammatory language that it has changed the terms of the national debate. “What Kenney has done is create this whole new vernacular,” says Philip Berger, co-founder of a national physicians’ campaign against Kenney’s cuts to refugee health care. “It’s creating a terrain of hostile attitudes to refugees.”

Currently the Minister of Defence, Kenney’s latest schtick is serving as a cynical cheerleader for our extremely limited war non-combat operation in Iraq and Syria. As I wrote in “The ISIS racket“:

I don’t think the political elite have much interest in actually defeating or degrading ISIS. They do, however, have an interest in looking tough – there’s an election this fall, after all! – and getting tough on terrorists never polls poorly. The fact is that this is a very complex conflict, full of regional and sectarian rivalries which confuse even people who have lived there their whole lives. If the HarperCons think a couple CF-18s and some military advisers to the Kurdish peshmerga are gonna make even a trivial difference in this conflict, they’re dumber than they look…

More likely, though, is that they’re cynically manipulating political instability in Iraq and Syria for political points at home in what’s shaping up to be a tough election. The war on ISIS is pretty much win-win – if it goes well, Harper & Co. (and especially Kenney, who’s got his eye on Harper’s job if and when Steve calls it quits) get to brag about Canada’s contributions to the glorious non-combat operation, but if ISIS takes more territory, they can hammer on the theme that now more than ever it’s important to oppose this terrorist menace. And all the while they can steadfastly ignore and evade questions about the effectiveness and realism of their chosen strategy, and bash any opposition leader who questions them as unpatriotic and soft on terrorism.

But as depressing as the notion of a Kenney-led Conservative Party may be, it pales in comparison to this: Continue Reading

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