Tag Archives: NDP

This week in Electionland: There’s a war on for the soul of the NDP

ALSO: Duffygate and the things it distracted from; the Liberals struggle to stay relevant; campaign coverage is increasingly a story that’s being covered

For months, this week has been circled in red on the calendars of Cdnpoli nerds across the country. Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s one-time chief of staff, was scheduled to testify this week in the ongoing Mike Duffy trial about the $90 000 personal cheque he wrote the then-senator in an effort to make the rapidly metastasizing scandal surrounding Duffy’s residency expenses go away. The scheme backfired spectacularly, leading to Wright’s resignation from the PMO. Ultimately, Duffy was charged with bribery for accepting the cheque, although Wright, oddly enough, was never charged with anything for writing the cheque.

And, as expected, the testimony was contentious and scandal-ridden. Stretching over several days, and set to continue tomorrow, the Wright testimony has been a centrepiece of the still-young campaign, with Duffy’s legal team seeking to demonstrate that the Prime Minister’s Office sought to buy Duffy’s cooperation in their messaging war and attempted to deceive the Canadian people about the source of the funds Duffy paid back to the government.

But surprisingly, the real story of the week, at least from where I was sitting, was the increasingly visible internal struggle in the NDP.

Long-time NDP leftist stalwarts have been distressed by the rightward drift of the party over recent years – look at, for instance, the open letter from 34 prominent NDP members to Andrea Horwath in the midst of last year’s Ontario election campaign accusing the party leader of abandoning its base and running to the right of the Liberals in an ill-conceived attempt to win over Conservative voters. Up until this week, the federal NDP had been able to keep a tight lid on internal dissent over its increasingly neoliberal policies, but attacks against the party from within shot to prominence in recent days.

It began with candidate Linda McQuaig’s comments last week that much of the “oilsands oil” will probably have to be left in the ground – a position which is held by most prominent climate scientists and which, taken literally, is hardly controversial, given the vastness of Alberta’s reserves. The attacks on McQuaig and the NDP from oil industry lackeys was fast and furious, and Thomas Mulcair very quickly and publicly caved in, proclaiming that the NDP was committed to bringing tar sands oil to market. “We’re in favour of creating markets for our natural resources, we’re in favour of developing them, but that has to be done sustainably,” Mulcair insisted, a litany he would find himself repeating all week.

For instance, when he launched his campaign autobiography (which he apparently wrote on his BlackBerry, amazingly) in Toronto on Monday, the book-signing was interrupted by anti-pipeline activists who briefly shut the event down before they were escorted out. Speaking to reporters about the incident, Mulcair had this to say: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: Tar sands fever heats up, the press attacks Harper, and nobody talks about poverty

As a voracious reader of news, and as a blogger, I’m of two minds about the ridiculously long election campaign that we’ve just embarked upon.

On the one hand, I find myself wanting on an almost daily basis to throw in my two cents on the latest scandal or outrage or prime ministerial press conference. There’s a natural drama to a campaign that makes continuous running commentary both easy and lazily compelling; like the dramatic twists of a five-day-a-week soap opera, each juicy detail and revelation leaves you wanting more, even though the plot only creeps forward incrementally each day and the overall story arc going forward is pretty obvious to anybody who’s watched this sort of thing happen before.

And that’s what’s on the other hand – I don’t want to get too sucked into the petty drama of the whole orchestrated spectacle. As I noted last Friday in my coverage of the first leaders’ debate, electioneering in our current system is little more than well-organized propaganda and manipulation. The goal of party messaging is not to inform voters, but to persuade them, largely on a subconscious level. To engage seriously with such a process is, in many respects, to legitimize it, and that I do not wish to do.

All that being said, however, it is an important event, and it has the potential to be extremely revealing in terms of the actual functioning of the broken party system and the business-captured political class. I would be remiss to ignore it entirely.

So my compromise with myself is this: each Sunday, I’m going to be writing up the week that was in the election. This will, hopefully, undercut my impulse towards gossipy commentary, result in more insightful and thoughtful coverage, and allow me to focus more on broad trends than the frenzied daily news cycle. Continue Reading

Vote if you must, but set yourself some standards and don’t settle!

This is the final entry in a series on the question of voting and whether it’s a worthwhile exercise. Parts one, two, three, four, five, and six 

It’s the summer election campaign that nobody wanted and everybody’s going to get subjected to.

This morning, our Fearless Leader visited the Governor-General to ask for the Queen’s permission to dissolve Parliament, which of course he got, the whole ridiculous monarchistic ritual being a meaningless and banal anachronism that gets right under my skin but which isn’t the subject of this post and which therefore I’m going to tie to a balloon and let go.

*Deep breath*

Harper didn’t get to make the triumphant declaration he’d been hoping for today, as TPP talks broke down badly over the weekend. He’d planned on launching the campaign by boasting about how he’d signed Canada on to the “biggest trade deal in history”, but instead trade envoys left Hawaii with little more than some upbeat spin – and no date set for the next round of talks. Rumour has it they won’t meet again until at least November, setting this up to be a campaign issue, which is actually so exciting for me.

Instead, the campaign immediately devolved into an argument about money, which is probably the worst and most crass kind of argument there is. Harper’s claims that the new form of campaign financing instituted by his party’s widely panned “Fair” Elections Act mean that parties, not taxpayers, will be on the hook for election expenses – a statement which, as Elizabeth May quickly pointed out, is a blatant falsehood. The former Chief Electoral Officer for Elections Canada estimated that the extra costs to taxpayers would run in the tens of millions.

These extra costs are being incurred, of course, because the election campaign we’re staring down is set to be the longest in nearly a century. And that only happened because Harper thought it would be to his advantage, because a longer campaign means he can spend more money – an extra $675 000/day. As the Globe and Mail put it, “If the election can be bought, the Tories will win easily.”

Fortunately, there are other factors at play here, including a strong and earnest desire on the part of many many Canadians for change in government. And for what it’s worth, The Alfalfafield’s official long-range prediction, from eleven weeks out, is a narrow NDP majority, a massive collapse in Liberal support, and an election-night resignation from Stephen Harper. (This will be followed by four years of resigned disappointment on the part of long-standing and principled Dippers, who aren’t much going to like the spectre of an NDP government.)

The question we’ve been considering in this space for the past six weeks is whether or not this whole election drama matters, and it’s fitting that our series concludes as the election opens. For some context, let’s return to the problem as it was posed in our initial entry: Continue Reading

Getting “left behind” on the TPP is fine by me – we shouldn’t buy into this race to the bottom

It’s been called the sleeper issue of this fall’s federal election campaign, but my riding’s Liberal candidate sure seemed surprised that I brought it up when he came knocking on my door earlier this week.

I got home from work just in time to catch Arif Virani in the hallway of my building. I gotta admit, I was pretty impressed to see him out canvassing on a weekday afternoon three months before the election – and I was excited to give him a piece of my mind.

I saw a certain look of resignation in his eyes when I mentioned Bill C-51 – and indeed, he had a well-thought-out reply to the oft-made criticisms of that bill. (It was an argument that I didn’t particularly buy into, but it was a thorough and well-prepared one, and one I imagine he’d had to make pretty frequently.)

But he had quite clearly not heard about the Trans Pacific Partnership from nearly as many people in his door-knocking.

I made it clear to him that the TPP is for me one of the biggest issues of this year’s election, and that any party that can endorse that sovereignty-destroying nightmare of a “trade” agreement won’t get my vote. (I didn’t mention that I’m not entirely certain I’m going to vote anyway – didn’t want to undercut my argument!)

To his credit, he didn’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but instead frankly acknowledged that he didn’t know much about the issue, beyond the squabbling over supply management which has dominated recent coverage of the mysterious deal: Continue Reading

Getting Obama’d, or, how we fool ourselves into thinking politicians are on our side

This is the latest in an ongoing series on the question of whether voting is a worthwhile exercise. If you’re interested, you can read parts one, two, three, and four.

This week’s entry is going to be the ultimate in “dog bites man” journalism, but it’s also a point well worth making loudly and repeatedly: politicians lie.

Politicians lie, and they mislead, and they inculcate false impressions. Politicians demonize their opponents and exalt their own parties, regardless of whether this demonization or exaltation is deserved. Politicians promise something for everybody, they promise prosperity, they promise responsibility, they promise that they will stand up for you. And then they proceed to help out the wealthy and ignore their promises.

This has been the pattern since time immemorial. That it isn’t always true isn’t ultimately that relevant. It’s true often enough that politicians have a well-deserved reputation as untrustworthy. A poll conducted by the Gandalf Group last year found that only 13% of Canadians “trusted politicians to behave ethically in fulfilling their duties.” The findings shocked the polling company’s director, David Herle, who had just months before successfully managed Kathleen Wynne’s campaign for premier of Ontario.

“After over 20 years in opinion research, it comes as no surprise that politics is not the most respected profession, but the findings of this survey with respect to the extent of the cynicism is shocking,” said Herle.

“The gap between politicians and others in public life, the extent to which our politics is believed to be inherently corrupting, and the frequency with which private interests are assumed to trump the public interest are all corrosive to democracy.”

Of course, Wynne’s premiership is a prime example of why most Canadians are cynical about politicians. As I wrote in an earlier post in this series, “Strategic voting and how it helps the capitalists win“: Continue Reading

Strategic voting and how it helps the capitalists win

This is the second in an ongoing series on the question of voting. You can read last week’s piece here.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard pundits and Liberals loudly claim that I’d be “throwing my vote away” by voting for a “fringe” party, like the Greens or the Marijuana Party or even the NDP. My vote would amount to little more than a meaningless gesture, they say, and a counterproductive one at that, as it would make it more likely that some nasty backwards-thinking poor-bashing homo-hating war-mongering arch-conservative demon would split the left vote and squeak into power. (The implications of the fact that the Conservative Party has a seemingly limitless supply of these baddies is a topic I’ll get into in more detail below)

And so, in election after election, people who would much rather be voting for a party and platform they could wholeheartedly endorse (assuming they can find one!) find themselves reluctantly voting Liberal. We saw it as recently as last fall here in Ontario, when the cretinous (and possibly creationist) Tim Hudak scared the socialist shit out of enough Dippers to give Kathleen Wynne a completely undeserved majority.

So there must be some gleeful schadenfreude in the NDP these days, as they find that the traditional roles have suddenly and completely flipped, and now it is Liberal voters who are being exhorted by the anybody-but-Harper crowd that they must fall in line and vote Orange. Continue Reading

On Timbits and terrorists and Thomas Mulcair

Over the past few weeks, the Conservative government has been introducing a flurry of bills that they have absolutely no intention of passing.

Many of the bills, which include motions to sentence certain criminals to life without the possibility of parole and to ban women from wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, have been labelled as potentially unconstitutional by legal observers and rights groups. But that’s besides the point.

The Conservatives are betting on two things: first, that these bills will be popular with their base, and second, that they can slur the Liberals and NDP for opposing these motions. As the CBC puts it, “who wants to run an election campaign arguing against tough sentences for murders and rapists?”

To claim that opponents of their measure are sympathetic to vicious criminals is a classic example of an ad hominem attack. If you’ve never heard of it, the ad hominem is an attack on the arguer rather than on their argument, an attempt to discredit the speaker rather than refute the speech. Ad hominems are common on schoolyards everywhere – like for instance, “What do you know about sports? You’re just a girl!” or, “Nobody cares what you think anyway, you dummy!”

Which sound pretty obvious. But I still remember watching George W Bush gravely intone in a speech to Congress days after 9/11 that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” to wild thunderous applause. Now, that’s barely one step removed from “If you don’t agree with me, you’re clearly an idiot”, but I don’t remember the New York Times calling him out on that one. Continue Reading

“Strength of Conviction”? Popping the NDP’s bubble

A few days ago, amidst a slew of polls showing the NDP pulling into a three-way tie nationally with the Libs and the HarperCons, there was a wave of generically interchangeable op-ed pieces from knowledgeable old political hacks opining that Thomas Mulcair’s party was poised to win this fall’s election.

The Star’s Tim Harper opined that “Thomas Mulcair [is] emerging as the real agent of change”, arguing that the Trudeau Liberals have proven too wishy-washy to take on the polarizing HarperCons, and that this year’s election could be a “change” election, which is pundit-speak for “people are sick of Stephen Harper”.

Lawrence Martin over at the Globe, under the headline “Mulcair or Trudeau: One must offer real change”, manages to say a lot without actually stating much about what he thinks will happen. After all the “on-the-one-hand,-but-on-the-other-hand”ing, he seems to ever so slightly imply that maybe this time the NDP might have some chance – which for the Globe is I suppose a pretty big deal.

Meanwhile, over at the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Cohen sees the NDP making gains in the battle for the anyone-but-Harper crowd, which he labels “progressive voters”, a group he generously includes Red Tories in. (Are there any of those left?) He slams Trudeau as a “retail politician,” and says of the NDP leader, “Mulcair may not be cuddly but he is effective in Parliament. His principled critique of the anti-terrorism bill – admired by many Liberals – is one reason that public support for the bill has fallen sharply.” Continue Reading

#BreakC51 – why mass civil disobedience is logically the next step

The club is all their law – stand up now, stand up now!
The club is all their law! Stand up now!

The Diggers’ Song, 17th-century English protest ballad

As was widely expected, Bill C-51 passed its third reading in the House of Commons last night. All that remains are the largely pro forma rituals of Senate approval and royal assent, and this hideous bill will become the law of the land.

For those who have been backpacking in bush country since the winter, Bill C-51 will radically expand the legal definition of terrorism to include any activity that “undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada,” including: “Interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada.”

It also gives CSIS and the RCMP expanded police powers; this CBC article summarizes them in detail, but the new powers include lowering the threshold for arresting suspected “terrorists”, criminalizing the “promotion of terrorism”, allowing CSIS to “disrupt” suspected “terrorist” activity (without oversight), authorizing courts to remove “terrorist material” from the internet, allowing for secret court proceedings, and expanding the “no-fly” list.

Given the impossibly open-ended definition of terrorism promulgated in this bill, it’s easy to see the potential for abuse. Continue Reading

“Open nominations,” or, how to further destroy people’s faith in democracy

A seriously heavy run-down of allegations of interference in nomination contests across Canada

All current and past Liberal MPs may not like it, but they are going to have to fight in 2014 for the right to run in the next election, says Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

As the federal Liberals gear up to begin choosing candidates in the new year, Trudeau is warning that there are no safe seats or free passes for anyone who wants to wear the party banner in the 2015 campaign.

“Canadians need to see that the Liberal party has understood the lessons of the past and is willing to completely reboot,” Trudeau said in a year-end interview with the Star.

“We have to offer a full reboot, and that means that every candidate for the Liberal Party in 338 ridings in 2015, or whenever the election does come, will have been chosen in a free vote by the Liberal members of that riding.”

That’s what he said to the Toronto Star at the end of 2013, with the election a comfortably long ways in the future. And it was a well-received pledge because it was so common-sense, so reasonable. Of course party members should be able to choose their candidates locally – it’s practically tautological that in a representative democracy, the people should have the ability to choose who will represent them, that they shouldn’t have their options arbitrarily limited by outside forces. So Trudeau’s pledge was heartening, and I personally hoped it would help to set a standard for the other parties.

Fast forward two and a half months.

Continue Reading

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