Tag Archives: Thomas Mulcair

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

This week in Electionland: The TPP and the niqab fight for centre stage

As we enter the final two weeks of the longest election campaign in living memory, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on a stunning contrast.

For the past four days, negotiators from the twelve nations participating in the super-secretive Trans Pacific Partnership have been feverishly bargaining in Atlanta, Georgia, straining to get a deal done. As The Alfalfafield goes to the presses for the day, the rumours are that a deal is close, but we’ve heard these rumours before many times. (For those readers who aren’t up to speed on the TPP, here’s my summary from back in July, as well as more coverage from The Alfalfafield on the subject.)

The plain truth of the matter is that until every detail is worked out, everything could fall apart – and that’s my abiding hope. However, the steady drumbeat of upbeat rumours and selective leaks from insiders suggests that the principal negotiators want to at least create the impression of progress. The Japanese trade minister has apparently made it clear that he’s leaving Atlanta tonight for a long-scheduled meeting in Turkey tomorrow, so there’s a sense of now-or-never-ness to the whole affair. It’s preposterous that trade ministers who have in many cases gone several nights without sleep are being pressured to make concessions that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and swell the profits of major international corporations on the basis of a man’s need to catch his flight on time, but such is the reality of the TPP. When you take a step back and look at it, the whole process is damned illogical.

After months of being a softly-simmering back burner story, over the past few weeks the TPP has stepped into the spotlight of Canadian news. But as I wrote earlier this week, the media’s focus has been narrowly focussed on the two under-negotiation issues of changes to Canada’s system of supply management in dairy farming and restrictions on the sourcing of auto parts, with precious little mention of the deeply problematic aspects of the agreement which have been public knowledge for quite some time: Continue Reading

The Unkillable Trans Pacific Partnership

This is one of those times that I hate being right.

A few weeks back, with negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership on the rocks after representatives from Japan and the NAFTA countries failed to reach an agreement on auto policy, some pundits were saying that a deal this year was now looking impossible, given the election timelines in various TPP member countries. But I wasn’t so sure:

Given how high the stakes are and how close the deal is to slipping away, I have a funny feeling that we’re going to see some desperate last-minute negotiations. And if Harper slips in the polls, it wouldn’t be surprising if he thought that cobbling together a “major trade deal” in the final weeks of the election campaign was the path to victory. Never mind about what’s actually in the damn thing – the public won’t get to read it, by some accounts, until four years after it’s ratified.

If you’re attending all-candidate meeting or if you get your door knocked by canvassers, please consider bringing up the TPP. And for all our sake, don’t vote for any candidate who supports this terrible deal. Meanwhile, watch out for a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon sometime within the next two to three weeks. There’s too much potential profit on the table for the major players in this negotiation to let this opportunity slip away.

Literally two and a half weeks later, we’re on the eve of – guess what? – a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon. Continue Reading

This week in Electionland was actually terrifying

Fear and loathing, my friends.

These two are the foundation of the Conservative campaign. Fill the electorate full to the brim with fear and loathing. Get them all fired up about threats both imagined and grossly exaggerated. That is the path that the governing party has to reelection – a campaign of terror and hatred, directed predominately against Muslims, to appeal to all the old racist white people who are most likely to turn out and vote.

But the truly terrifying thing is that it seems to be working.

I wrote earlier this week about the manufactured controversy surrounding the niqab which is being cynically pushed both by the HarperCons and by the Bloc Quebecois. The Prime Minister has elevated a complete and total non-issue – a few Muslim women’s choice of wardrobe for their citizenship ceremonies – into an existential threat to Canadian “values” and “heritage” and a bunch of other dog-whistle crypto-racist terms.

The niqab debate has been simmering away for quite some time now, and it was to be expected that the subject would come up in the first French-language debate of the campaign. But yesterday, the Conservatives injected another nasty bit of xenophobia into the election in a way that was clearly premeditated and which they obviously hope will play to their advantage.

Canadian citizen Zakaria Amara, convicted of terrorist offences in relation to the “Toronto 18” plot, was stripped of his citizenship by the federal government under the controversial new law, Bill C-24. This law allows the government to remove Canadian citizenship from people with dual citizenship who are convicted of treason, terrorism, or espionage. Four other men were given notice by the government that their citizenship may be revoked; they have sixty days to challenge the revocation. Opposition leaders Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau both oppose the bill, arguing that it creates two tiers of citizenship.

The odious Minister of Defence Jason Kenney, on the other hand, was in full-on attack-dog mode following yesterday’s announcement. On Twitter, he averred that Amara “forfeited his own citizenship”, a line he doubled down on in a press conference:  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

The Great Leap Forward – it sounds great on paper, but how do we get there from here?

If you haven’t heard about the Leap Manifesto yet, and you’re concerned about the future of humanity in the face of myriad challenges, challenges which are corporate, environmental, and white-cis-het-patriarcho-supremacist, then perhaps you could go take a look at it.

(I tried to pick a section to highlight and quote here, but it was all too reasonable and on point. So I’ll wait here while you read it.)

OK. So. A concrete plan for a transformation of the Canadian economy and political system and energy infrastructure and racial relations and worker/capitalist relations, all in the name of making Earth more habitable and life more enjoyable in both the short and long term.

Sounds great, right?

So why in the hell haven’t we been hearing more about this kind of thing from, I don’t know, ANY MAJOR POLITICIAN?

Funny you should ask…

Here’s the thing. We’ve never had any shortage of great ideas in terms of how we should radically transform the world to make it more inclusive, equitable, environmentally sustainable, racially just. Plans to conclusively end poverty once and for all have been kicking around for a century or more. And I’m not saying that these ideas and plans and schemes and manifestos have been ill-informed or poorly designed or unworkable in practice.

It’s just that, well… Continue Reading

This Week in Electionland: The press smells blood

If you read the political news recently, even a little bit, you’ll know that Stephen Harper had a bad week.

rabble went so far as to call it a “very bad, very ugly week“. Michael Harris at iPolitics dubbed it “the week that Stephen Harper lost the benefit of the doubt”. Maclean’s said it was the worst of the campaign for Harper and that the PM is now “seeking shelter” from the barrage of bad news. I’ll let Maclean’s sum up the damage:

The news of the week included a candidate who urinated in a stranger’s coffee mug, a candidate who impersonated a mentally disabled individual as part of a prank call, recent suggestions of turmoil within the leadership of the Conservative campaign and one anonymous Conservative’s subsequent assertion that someone was “obviously trying to f— us”, and, of course, the Syrian refugee crisis, a matter that, beyond serious questions of principle and policy, has had cabinet ministers complaining about media coverage (first, Chris Alexander’s unfortunate attempt to accuse the CBC of ignoring the issue, then, Jason Kenney’s admonition that the media was ignoring the government’s good work), campaign staff shielding another cabinet minister from reporters’ questions and a Conservative candidate’s spouse heckling a reporter’s attempt to enquire further of the Prime Minister. And before this week there had already been the trial of Mike Duffy—with its myriad of revelations and questions raised—and the official declaration of a recession.

Indeed, it really was one piece of bad news after another for the Conservative campaign this week – and the sharks in the press smelled blood.

It’s long been evident that the media elites in this country have it in for this Prime Minister. Hell, even the Sun called for his resignation at the height of the Duffy scandal in 2013. So it’s no surprise that they’re pouncing with all their might now, when they feel Harper is most vulnerable.

When I use the phrase “media elites” I feel a little bit like an Alex Jones-er, one of the Illuminati-obsessors, or even just a regular old Canadian Conservative supporter. It gives me a bit of an icky feeling.

But let’s be real here – our mainstream media in this country is dominated by a handful of extremely wealthy people who aren’t just in it for the chuckles. When, across the board, you see reporters and editorialists joining the pile-on and saying that Harper’s time has come, that he’s really fucked up this time, that the Conservative campaign is on a fast train to Nowheresville, then you gotta know that the big boys at the top are done with Steve-O.

Let’s take a look, shall we? 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

Ten thousand refugees? Twenty-five thousand? Why not half a million?

As the leaders of the major parties jostled this past week over the massive refugee crisis facing the world, each trying to spin things for his respective electoral advantage, there was a lot of bandying about of numbers.

Prime Minster Harper [sic] stood firmly by his plan to resettle ten thousand Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the next three years (but mostly ones who face religious persecution – a dog-whistle to his base that he’s gonna do his best to keep out teh Muslims), while continuing – nonsensically – to insist that the true solution to this crisis lies in dropping more bombs on Syria and Iraq for an indefinite amount of time.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, on the other hand, wants to accelerate the timetable for resettling refugees, offering to work with the government to bring in ten thousand by the end of this year, presumably with more to come in subsequent years.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, not wanting to be outdone, vowed to bring in twenty-five thousand refugees, although as far as I can tell, he hasn’t been willing to put a date to that figure. This year? Within four years? We just don’t know.

The common thread to all of these proposals is their timidity and sheer lack of imagination. Continue Reading

This week in Electionland – the refugee crisis is reduced to talking points

This week’s election news was solidly dominated by the refugee crisis, and specifically by each party striving to position itself as the one which actually gets what’s going on.

Which is all a little bit bizarre. While Germany has opened its borders to 800 000 refugees, while Turkey struggles to cope with the two million it has received, and while tiny Lebanon, with a population of a mere four million, has taken on a million or more, over here in Canada Justin Trudeau thinks he can outdo his rivals by pledging to bring in a mere twenty-five thousand. The small-mindedness of the proposals being put forward is staggering.

The Globe and Mail reminded us this week that we’ve done better before. In 1979, Joe Clark’s government moved to admit fifty thousand Vietnamese refugees in dire need of help.

Some details:

Decades before the current crisis, Canada airlifted 5,000 people from Kosovo in the late 1990s, 5,000 from Uganda in 1972, and 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80. From January, 2014, to late last month, Canada resettled 2,374 Syrian refugees.

Mike Molloy was the Canadian government official who oversaw the airlifting of the Vietnamese boat people and removed bureaucratic obstacles. “The motto out there was not ‘do the thing right,’ it was ‘do the right thing,’” the 71-year-old, who lives in Ottawa, said in an interview…

“The goal was initially to move 50,000 people in 18 months,” Mr. Molloy said. That became 60,000 in two years under Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1980. The government offered to match all private sponsorships, galvanizing the public. It was the formal launch of a system that involved communities in guaranteeing the care, shelter and early costs of refugees. That system has since brought in more than 200,000 refugees.

In the peak month, February, 1980, Canada resettled 6,200 Vietnamese, Mr. Molloy said. Canada flew 181 charter flights during a two-year period, each carrying anywhere from 200 people to more than 400.

Which is to say, Canada took in almost three times more Vietnamese refugees in February 1980 than it has Syrian refugees in the last twenty months. This despite the fact that there are more displaced people in the world today than at any time since the Second World War. Continue Reading

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