All posts in Canadian Politics

Ten Questions about the Harper Government’s embrace of war with ISIS-ISIL-IS

Ready, Aye, Ready! Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird whips up the War Party in the House of Commons. Below: Stephen Harper, the prime minister, and Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn.

Stephen Harper, John Baird, Laurie Hawn and the rest of the boys yesterday finally got the war in Iraq they’ve been pining for since 2003.

“We should have been there shoulder to shoulder with our allies,” Prime Minister Harper, who was still the leader of the opposition, complained back in April 2003. At the time, the United States had just invaded Iraq to punish it for having nothing to do with 9-1-1 and having no weapons of mass destruction, although we were told a slightly different version at the time.

Well, we’re playing with the big boys in Iraq War III now, just as Mr. Harper wanted.

Yesterday the Conservative majority in the House of Commons, good soldiers every one, saluted, cried Ready, Aye, Ready, and approved the PM’s plan to get Canadian soldiers and airmen officially involved in fighting the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIL and ISIS) in Iraq, plus maybe Syria, and possibly other places as well. Armageddon?

Not that any of them will be going anywhere near the place, or their kids either, but you can count of it Canada’s CF-18 fighter-bombers are already on their way, if they’re not in place already.

The War Party in the Commons and the media assured us yesterday they’re doing it to keep us safe here in the Homeland. You can count on it they’re also preparing for the war that really matters to them – holding onto the House of Commons – by concocting a yarn about how opposition MPs are all dangerous wusses, unwilling to deal with a clear threat against Canada and Canadians. You’re welcome to tell yourself this story after you’ve read Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to the kids tonight.

Well, let’s hope this war in Iraq turns out better than the last one, which we wisely largely avoided, or the ones in Afghanistan and Libya on which we spent about $20-billion and saw about 2,000 Canadians wounded or killed. Indeed, it can be argued persuasively that what the Americans did in Iraq last time created the problem we’re trying to deal with now.

Who knew, when Saddam Hussein promised the Mother of All Battles that we’d still be fighting it in 2014? The secular Iraqi dictator the United States successfully toppled may have gone to his reward, but part of the army he built apparently fights on under the guise of IS.

Given the dearth of information about why we’re getting into this fight – other than the perfectly defensible claim that IS is made up of hideous people who would like to roll back history to the Eighth Century – about the only thing that we can say with confidence is that we are not being told the whole story.

Indeed, as it has been explained to us, the whole IS narrative makes very little sense. How did these guys spring up out of nothing overnight? Who funds them? And to do what?

And if we have coherent war aims, they certainly have not been clearly explained.

So while we can be certain members of IS are very bad people, and somehow do need to be stopped, we’re entitled to be skeptical when we hear Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn, in his new role as caucus Top Gun by merit of his previous job as an air force pilot, telling us on the CBC that if we don’t stop the beheaders in the Middle East, we’re going to have to deal with beheaders here in Canada.

Foreign Minister John Baird obviously agreed, as he beat the war drums Monday in Parliament: “If we don’t deal with ISIL and its ilk, they will deal with us.”

This is great propaganda, provided to us courtesy of the macabre IS social media team. But it will probably be a while before IS will have chopped off as many human beings’ heads as our dear friends and allies in the fight for a freer Middle East, the Saudi Arabians, who removed about 80 heads from human shoulders last year alone, including those of many foreigners. It’s only the Saudis, by the way, who have threatened to cut off the head of a Canadian to date.

So this leads to the first of 10 questions I think the Harper Government still needs to answer about this new war we’re now in:

Question No. 1: When IS has been defeated, what are the Harper Conservatives prepared to do keep Saudi Arabia from beheading foreigners?

Among the reasons our allies the Saudis give for these grisly activities is that the victims (who the Saudis would insist are not victims, but criminals) are guilty of practicing the wrong religion, viz., “witchcraft.”

The Harper Government loudly claims to be big on protecting the rights of people everywhere to practice their own religion. In fact, this is one of their justifications for going to war with IS. So…

Question No. 2: What will the Harper Government do to protect the right of Saudi citizens to practice whatever religion they wish? Even witchcraft. Will they even speak to our Saudi allies about this?

This leads inevitably to a question of who is funding and encouraging IS, and why.

We have been told that they’re doing it all themselves through bank robberies, kidnapping ransoms, refinery hijackings and the sale of oil to the Syrian regime, which is secular, and with which IS is also supposedly at war. This strains credulity.

However, there is also credible information that our friends the Saudi Arabians, through the donations of wealthy individuals and the organs of Saudi state security, assisted in the creation of IS to destroy their most hated enemies in the region, members of the Shia branch of Islam. (See Questions 1 and 2 above.)

Question No. 3: What will the Harper Government do to keep Saudi Arabia from financing IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada?

It is now also clear that our NATO ally, Turkey, has had a hand in supporting IS – at least by omission and quite possibly by commission as well. This is apparently because Turkey considers the regime of Bashir Assad in Syria to be its enemy. IS is pledged to fight the Assad Regime, although it apparently isn’t actually doing so because it’s making too much money selling it oil.

Question No. 4: What will the Harper Government do to get Turkey to do something about IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada?

There is also evidence that as recently as last year some of the secret services of our closest allies may have supported the groups that have now patched-over as members of IS in order to get at the Assad regime.

Question No. 5: What will the Harper Government do to keep security agencies of our western allies from supporting IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada? 

Alert readers will recall that just last year, the Harper Government was very enthusiastic about knocking off the Assad regime. Now it is very enthusiastic about attacking a group that is an enemy of the Assad regime. (Part of that fight, by the way, is about the fact the Assad family and its supporters and the people fighting it are members of different branches of the same religion.)

Question No. 6: Is the Harper Government proposing to use Canadian F-18s to support the murderous Assad regime in Syria, which is allied with Iran, which we have declared to be a state supporter of terrorism?

Well, it’s not at all clear what the Harper Government thinks our role in Syria ought to be, other than possibly bombing IS units and installations.

Question No. 7: Is the Harper Government also proposing to go to war with the Assad Regime?

If we do so, we will in effect be going to war with Iran as well, which sees itself as the protector of the Shia and therefore as the key enemy of IS. At this point, the narrative starts to read like George Orwell’s 1984: We have always been at war with Eastasia!

Meanwhile, IS seems to be doing everything it can to goad Canada, the United States and Western European nations to attack it. In this, it presumably has the same goal as Al-Qaeda – the Saudi-Arabian-financed group that attacked the United States in 2001, prompting the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attack, on the basis of a story that turned out to be fiction.

This is probably why IS is explicitly threatening Canada on social media even though it has no means to carry out such a threat and is tied down somewhere else.

Its leadership – whoever they are – seems to think that if they can get us bogged down in a war close to them, eventually they can unite the entire region against the West. It will help their goals spectacularly if we accidentally but indiscriminately kill civilians with our “precision” bombs, which bomber jocks like Mr. Hawn always promise will never happen, and which almost always does.

Question No. 8: What will the Harper Government do to ensure no Canadian bombs accidentally kill civilians in Syria and Iraq, thereby helping IS achieve its war aims?

This is not really a question for the Harper Government, but it’s also reasonable to wonder if we in the West ought to take the bait offered by IS. It is a fact that virtually nothing the West has done in the Islamic world since 2001 has worked out as promised, or very well at all.

Still, it’s fair to ask, even if we can be pretty confident we’re not going to get an answer …

Question 9: Does the Harper Government seriously expect things to work out any better in Iraq this time?

And finally, of course, since they are obsessed with balanced budgets …

Question 10: How much is all this going to cost?

All these concerns stated, it is in fact true that right now we face the most serious foreign threat to Canada in a generation. That is … the Ebola virus.

So I guess we could ask one more question: While we’re getting ready to get involved in a long, bloody and expensive war in Iraq and Syria that is almost certain to end badly for everyone, what is the Harper Government doing to protect Canada from Ebola?

Nothing?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The Postmedia-Quebecor deal: Welcome to newspaper hell, where the lowest common denominator will prevail

An unreconstituted Toronto Sun front page. Newspaper hell? Turns out it’s not quite as bad as we imagined it would be, except for the few unfortunates who still work in what’s left of the industry. Below: Tom Kent, who headed the 1981 Royal Commission on Newspapers, which was ignored when it was written and is still ignored.

If you want proof the Canadian newspaper business is on its last legs, look no further than yesterday’s announcement Postmedia Network Canada Corp. is about to take over Quebecor Media Inc.’s 175 English-language newspapers and a few other assets, including the five wretched Sun dailies, for a paltry $316 million.

Yes, $316 million would be quite enough for most of us working sluggos to enjoy a spectacular retirement, thank you very much, but it nevertheless is a piddling sum in terms of what newspaper “properties” fetched not so long ago.

Indeed, the decline of the industry is writ in the spectacular drop in the value of investments in print illustrated by this fire sale to Postmedia. Say what you will about the inadequacies of the market, it pretty well got this one right.

Consider:

  • Back in 1998, Quebecor bought up the profitable Toronto Sun – “the little newspaper that grew” – and the rest of Sun Media for a not insubstantial $983 million and proceeded to squeeze it till the pips squeaked to service the debt for its venture into cable TV.
  • In 2000, CanWest Global cooked up a deal with Conrad Black’s Hollinger Inc. to buy a similar sounding passel of papers – 13 big city dailies, 136 smaller dailies and weeklies, and 85 trade publications – in a spectacular and complicated $3.5-billion deal. Unsurprisingly, CanWest turned out to have debt troubles too.
  • By 2010, much the same collection of papers was handed on by CanWest to Postmedia for $1.1 billion.

So, really, $316 million compared with the airy heights of three and a half billion free-floating Canadian Dollars starts to sound a lot like Postmedia paid for the value of Sun Media’s real estate and not much else.

If it keeps up like this for a few more years, many of us should be able to buy what’s left of a Canadian newspaper chain with a credit card!

Why would Postmedia bother, even at that price? Presumably so they can stop competing for advertising sales and manage the final decline of the industry from a monopoly position in cities while there are still a few businesses that see value in newspaper advertising.

If anyone – especially Postmedia employees – imagines this is good news for their futures, though, they should think again. The lowest common denominator – that is, Quebecor’s awful way of doing business – will prevail because it always promises to fix the bottom line in time for the next quarterly report.

Postmedia has been engaged in a brutal Sun-like round of job cuts of its own as it tries without success to figure out how to make any money, let alone the kind newspapers used to produce, in a digital publishing world.

That process will likely get much worse, much faster, as Sun Media managers are absorbed into what’s left of the clueless old Southam-Hollinger-CanWest-Postmedia management and take an axe to editorial operations to find more cash for the next quarter.

Readers who might have stuck around out of nostalgia or habit will be driven away as the product continues to decline in a quality – accelerating a trend that has been continuing and growing more severe over the past 30 years as proofreaders, copy editors and literate reporters have been shown the door.

Outsiders to the newspaper industry may not realize how influential Sun editorial managers already are in some Postmedia newspapers – a factor directly related to precipitous declines in quality.

Newspapers are not the only business this has happened to, of course. When Daimler AG bought Chrysler, it was supposed to mean better Chryslers. The result was worse Mercedeses. That marriage ended in divorce, thankfully for everyone. But newspapers in the digital age, it is said here, provide the modern era’s most spectacular example.

Readers continue to want the excellent editorial product of old, but refuse to pay a dime when they’re already paying through the nose for Internet services and seeing richer folks getting the same thing for free. Paywalls to force them to pay simply don’t work – they are as leaky as the proverbial sieve.

Online advertising generates a tenth the revenue print advertising used to – and what’s left of print advertising has been mortally wounded by the realization you can’t tap on the picture and get more information.

The only sensible reason to hang onto a daily newspaper nowadays is to influence people, which is why Postmedia won’t give up the Post and, presumably, why Quebecor won’t give up its French-language papers. Pierre Karl Péladeau may no longer be Quebecor’s CEO, but you can count on it he still has influence there, and keeping French-language media doubtless furthers his dream of being the father of a new nation.

So the only strategy for survival the post-Sun Postmedia is likely to come up with is slashing and slashing and slashing until the fine old Southam newspapers like the Edmonton Journal and the non-Sun Vancouver Sun resemble the Sun Media tabloids their reporters used to sniff at. Expect Sun Media’s loony right ideology to reinforce Postmedia’s inclination to the same thing.

Before long, I expect, we can look for columnist Don Braid and right-wing agitator Ezra Levant to be sharing a cubicle at the Calgary Herald. I’m sure they can find something to talk about.

Back in 1981, when newspapers still made a contribution to democracy and Canadians who paid attention accordingly were worried about concentration of media ownership, Tom Kent and his Royal Commission on Newspapers made a number of recommendations that, ironically, might have kept the industry viable when the Internet came along.

These included legislated tax breaks for local content, tight rules for ownership to ensure papers remained in local hands, and mechanisms to guarantee communities had a stake in the operations of their local media.

Newspaper owners, who imagined the gravy train would never end, wanted none of it.

Today, when one company is on the verge of controlling all the print media in English Canada, it’s hard to find anyone who cares because what Postmedia has bought is on the verge of irrelevance.

So, welcome to newspaper hell. Turns out it’s not actually as bad as we imagined it would be.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Sun Media – not its squalid commentator Ezra Levant – is the problem

Ezra Levant, on the job with his Sun News microphone. Mr. Levant is not the problem. Sun Media is the problem. Below: Justin Trudeau, Bernie Farber, and Brian Mulroney.

Ezra Levant is a squalid nuisance, barely worth contemplating.

Sun Media is the problem.

On Monday, Sun Media apologized for Mr. Levant’s repellent and sexually obsessive hysterics about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s parents, one dead and the other an elderly grandmother and thus neither in a position to defend themselves.

This only happened, of course, because Mr. Trudeau threatened no longer to talk to legitimate Sun Media journalists, of which we have been repeatedly assured there are a few, after Mr. Levant’s Sept. 23 rant, and because former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney intervened in his current role as a member of the board of Quebecor, which owns Sun Media.

Within seconds of the apology being read by an anonymous narrator, Mr. Levant’s smug visage was back on the air and, not long after that, in the pages of the local edition of Sun Media’s newspaper here in Edmonton. No apologies from him, thank you very much.

In other words, thanks to his enablers at Sun Media, Mr. Levant has gotten away with it again, just as he got away with his sinister racist screed about an entire people, the Roma, his false statements about George Soros, his reference to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council as “idiots” and “censors” for mildly ruling that he really shouldn’t tell people he disagrees with to “f**k your mother” on the air.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m compelled to inform readers that Mr. Levant has called me personally “a snitch,” “a weasel,” “a bully” (presumably for daring to criticize Sun Media), a person who unprofessionally sneaked union propaganda into Calgary Herald news stories, a “union boss” – if only it were true! – and a big chicken for refusing to appear on his program. Plus the Spanish obscenity translated above, of course.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note in light of this that when the shoe was on the other foot, and the self-described free-speech advocate was being criticized for his Roma commentary, he did not respond to my three requests for his comments about the situation.

As far as I am aware, only in the case of the hate-filled monologue about the Roma – when according to Rabble’s Karl Nerenberg charges were seriously considered under Article 319 of the Criminal Code for public incitement and willful promotion of hatred – did Mr. Levant himself apologize.

So we can count on it that Mr. Levant will make inappropriate comments again – and again, and again – and that each time Sun Media will say, sorry, so sorry, it’ll never happen again … all the while tacitly encouraging Mr. Levant to continue.

In other words, it’s Sun Media that gives Mr. Levant a multi-media platform for hate, obscenity, hectoring abuse and bullying. It’s Sun Media that allows him to play unsupervised on national television. It’s Sun Media that defends his excesses. It’s Sun Media that apologizes for them – usually with enough qualifiers to render the apology meaningless. So it’s Sun Media that ought to be held responsible for what he does.

Sun Media’s defences of Mr. Levant can be quite elaborate. In 2012, Sun News Network Vice-President Kory Teneycke publicly defended Mr. Levant’s noxious rant about the Roma. The former member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political praetorian guard barricaded himself inside Sun Media’s “message box” while doing his best to sound contrite about Mr. Levant’s savage commentary.

Mr. Teneycke refused to acknowledge the patently racist overtones of Mr. Levant’s sinister remarks and suggested they were merely meant to be satirical. Anyone who heard the original nine-minute episode of Mr. Levant’s program knows this explanation is so preposterous that Mr. Teneycke himself may have been engaging in satire.

Thankfully, other respected public figures, like Bernie M. Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, treated Mr. Levant’s appalling remarks with the gravity they deserved.

Unfortunately, though, readers will be hard pressed to confirm any of this now, since Sun Media seems to have washed all copies of Mr. Levant’s poison down the corporate Memory Hole. A recording placed on Youtube.com by a third party was removed “due to a copyright claim by Sun News Network.”

And even Sun Media didn’t bother apologizing in 2011 when Mr. Levant dressed up in an orange wig and mocked the death from cancer of NDP leader Jack Layton.

Why would Sun Media encourage this kind of behaviour by its commentator?

I can only speculate, of course, not being privy to their strategies. But it seems reasonable to conclude Sun Media fully endorses Mr. Levant’s messages, even when they disavow particular examples like his rant about the Roma and now the attack on Pierre and Margaret Trudeau. Surely, at least until Mr. Mulroney stepped in, Sun Media also supported the attacks on the elder Trudeaus as a way to get at their son.

Finally, presumably Sun Media underwrites Mr. Levant’s efforts to debase public discourse for the same reason as does Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party, which is closely allied to Sun Media: because it is an effective voting suppression tactic that helps keep the Conservatives in power.

So don’t expect Mr. Levant to act any differently, or Sun Media to do anything more about it except issue meaningless apologies, as dictated by circumstances, in future.

This may be good enough for Mr. Trudeau – whose spokesperson said yesterday, no doubt with a sense of relief, that the Liberal leader would talk to Sun Media reporters again.

It ought not to be good enough for anyone else. Sun Media is the problem.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Brian Gallant has a thin resume? Stephen Harper hasn’t held a real job since he quit the mailroom in ’79 or whenever!

New Brunswick Premier-designate Brian Gallant, grabbed from his campaign website. Below: Cranky old National Post opinion thingy Kelly McParland, age undetermined; Justin Trudeau, 42, getting off an airplane with some old guy, 62; Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, 59.

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’ …

— Bob Dylan (age 73)

If anyone has the right to be bitter about bright young Liberal leaders with good looks, great hair and supposedly thin resumes like those of New Brunswick premier-elect Brian Gallant and You-Know-Who, I guess it ought to be the not-quite-sixty-something Thomas Mulcair.

The highly accomplished Mr. Mulcair, after all – who is credited by no less an authority than former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (age 75) with being the best Opposition leader in Canada since John Diefenbaker, which is no mean praise for those of us old enough to remember The Chief – is seemingly being eclipsed by this trend as much as any politician.

But Mr. Mulcair, who will be 60 in exactly one month, just keeps beavering away in the hope and expectation that hard work, persistence and a razor-sharp inquisitorial style in Question Period will pay off in the end.

Maybe it’s because he used to be a Liberal and therefore knows something us non-former-Grits do not. More likely it’s just that you’ve got to be an optimist to be a New Democrat, as we Alberta Knee-Dippers have been proving all the way back to the Calgary Manifesto of 1932.

Instead, it seems that it is the Conservatives, still enjoying the perquisites of power, who are reacting with fury, hatred, panic and vitriol to the phenomenon of appealing young Liberal leaders doing well at the polls and the polling stations. The Liberal they’re most infuriated with, of course, despite yesterday’s foot stomping and breath holding about Mr. Gallant’s election victory, is federal Leader Justin Trudeau (who will be 43 on Christmas Day).

Consider the bitter screed in yesterday’s National Post, the publication founded by permanent Canadian resident Conrad Black (age 70), by columnist and commentary editor Kelly McParland. (I could find no age for Mr. McParland – perhaps that’s information he guards closely, as is his right – but judging from his on-line photographs he must be almost as old a wheeze as me. Either that, or he really should make some lifestyle changes.)

Regardless, Mr. McParland’s diatribe sounded for all the world like that of an angry old man infuriated that the same old obfuscatory Tory tricks are not working any more. He raged against New Brunswick and Ontario voters’ lack of seriousness – read willingness to vote Conservative. (“Canadians want to quit worrying and be happy.”)

He screeched at them for their coolness toward Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the old sourpuss (seemingly 65 although only 55) of 24 Sussex Drive. (“They don’t want to hear about restraint or challenges or the need to persevere. They want a vacation. They want to be young again.”)

And Mr. Gallant’s relatively young age, seemingly, almost moved him to a paroxysm of frustration. (“You don’t know whether to shake his hand or buy him a new scooter.”)

Sticking loyally to the Harper PMO’s main talking point, Mr. McParland assailed the resumes of both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Gallant: “At 32, Brian Gallant, the premier-elect, could be Justin Trudeau’s younger brother. To say his resume is ‘slim’ would be an understatement. He spent a short stint as a lawyer in Moncton, but otherwise has been running for office since he was 24.”

OK, let’s make just one point about that: Other than being on Reach for the Top and being a professional politician since the age of 26, unless you also count being a member of the Young Liberals’ Club in high school, Prime Minister Harper’s resume makes Mr. Gallant’s seem hefty.

He got a job in the mailroom at his dad’s company in 1978, for crying out loud. How long he stuck around seems to have been excised from his online resumes. After that, he got a couple of economics degrees from the University of Calgary’s Political Creation Science Department, best known as the market fundamentalist Canadian equivalent of Oral Roberts University. And when he wasn’t running for office, he worked as an agitator for extremist market fundamentalist Astro-Turf groups. That’s it!

This is not to say that Mr. Harper’s political accomplishments are either inconsequential or came easily. Of course not.

But for the life of me, I cannot see how they are any different from the political accomplishments of successful young politicians like Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Gallant – who will be the youngest premier in Canadian history, by a month, when he is sworn into office.

By contrast to the PM, Mr. Gallant managed to get through law school, which I would suggest is considerably more of an accomplishment than getting a “Calgary School” BA and MA from ideological friends and fellow travellers in the faculty.

By contrast to both, Mr. Trudeau, who has Bachelors degrees in literature and education from two different universities, has worked as a teacher, for heaven’s sake, which is as real a job as you can get. If the Conservative Party wishes to demean him as a “drama teacher,” he can be confident that most Canadians don’t seem to be buying it, and for good reason.

That’s the Conservative way, though, isn’t it? If you can’t get anywhere with the facts, make up new facts. And if that doesn’t work, start spewing hatred and abuse.

Speaking of which, at least Mr. McParland’s sour whinging sounds pretty level-headed compared to commentator, if that’s the word, Ezra Levant’s increasingly bizarre and obsessive rants on the so-called Sun News Network on the topic of Mr. Trudeau’s parents. It’s actually kind of sad to see someone come unstuck in public as Mr. Levant, circa 42, appears to be doing.

Meanwhile, if cranky old Canadians like Mr. McParland and some of the other columnists he supervises at the National Pest just can’t stand the idea of a politician who looks young and has nice hair, they should think about voting for Mr. Mulcair. He may be old and cranky too, but he’s also smart, accomplished and better spoken than any other federal party leader.

One way or another, eventually the Pest’s opinion providers are going to have to reconcile themselves to the fact that the times, they are a-changin’.

They certainly shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Mr. Harper’s resume is weighty enough not to float away on the first gentle puff of breeze.

It’s as thin as a single sheet of paper! The man hasn’t held a real job since he left the mailroom in 1979 or whenever the heck it was!

This post by David Climenhaga (age 62) is also found on Rabble.ca.

Rob Anders, Canada’s Worst MP, has been handed his great big hat a second time

Calgary West MP Rob Anders waves farewell from the back of a pickup truck, a type of vehicle that along with firearms was numbered among his most loved things. Below: Nomination victor Martin Shields; Mr. Anders in one of his favourite poses, with a great big pistol, and asleep in the House of Commons.

Leaving so soon, Mr. Anders? Here’s your hat.

Long before Canadians had the Ford Brothers to humiliate them around the globe, there was Rob Anders, the hardy perennial of the Canadian loony right – elected six times over 17 years by the inattentive voters of Calgary West.

But last night, Mr. Anders, renowned across the land and throughout the world as “Canada’s Worst MP” and the man who dismissed Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist,” was rejected by Conservative Party members in the rural Bow River riding, which covers a vast tract of land east and south of Calgary.

It was the second time in the last six months Mr. Anders, born on April Fools Day 1972,  has suffered that fate in a nomination vote the hands of local Tories, who are seemingly as fed up with his antics as the rest of us.

Mr. Anders’ double defeat is a huge loss to the Canadian blogosphere, which will miss his comedic value; both opposition parties, to whom he was a useful symbol of Conservative lunacy; and the country’s most extreme gun nuts and social conservatives, who were apparently his only remaining supporters.

Conservative Party members in the new Bow River electoral district elected Martin Shields, mayor of the Town of Brooks, site of the massive meat-packing plant at the centre of Canada’s largest meat products recall in 2013 and one of the larger communities in the huge and sparsely populated area.

Back in April, Mr. Anders was sent packing by the urban voters of another new riding created in the last redistribution of Alberta’s federal electoral districts, Calgary Signal Hill. They chose instead Ron Liepert, the former Alberta health minister, a politician almost as controversial as Mr. Anders himself.

Given that the new Calgary Signal Hill riding occupied much of the same territory as the old Calgary West district, it’s not at all certain Mr. Anders would not have been skidded by his own party even without redistribution. He was increasingly recognized as an embarrassment serious enough to pose a threat to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

That said, it is probably a mistake to over-analyze Mr. Anders’ defeat in a geographical area where the local Conservative Party candidate, no matter how bizarre, is normally a shoo-in in the next general election.

So perhaps it was not Mr. Anders’ bizarre behaviour – falling sleep on camera in the House of Commons, suggesting NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair caused the death of former leader Jack Layton, striking butchy poses with his latest firearms, voting against honorary citizenship for Mr. Mandela and, in his youth, working as a professional heckler in the United States – so much as his lack of local connections that caused his electoral demise this time.

Mr. Shields was a well-known mayor in one of the riding’s main rural communities. The two other candidates – one from a semi-suburban community east of Calgary and the other from a rural area – did not have his support base. As for Mr. Anders, despite his enthusiasm for guns and pickup trucks and his formidable talent as a campaigner, was seen as a carpet-bagger, and a weird one to boot.

Most of the interest in Mr. Anders second, desperate bid for a nomination came from outside the riding.

Now that he has been handed his great big hat a second time, one would expect Mr. Anders just to take his generous Parliamentary pension and go quietly away. Don’t count on it.

That, alas, is probably too much to hope. He will remain the MP for Calgary West until the next federal election, plenty of opportunity to embarrass the nation. And he will likely turn up shortly as a spokesperson for one or another far-right think tank, lobby, crowd-funding agency or “charitable” foundation. Manning Centre, c’mon on down!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Political business in great waters: When they that go down to the sea in ships are up to no good!

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Admiralty Stephen Harper. For all we know, actual Canadian prime ministers do appear in silk stockings and tri-corner hats exactly as illustrated. You know, in private. Below: The unlucky Sir John Franklin.

O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy— The Navy Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1662

VICTORIA, B.C.

And preserve us all from belligerent clowns who would exploit ships of all kinds and the brave mariners that sail them to score the basest of political points.

Canadian ships are in the news these days – put there, apparently, by the Harper Government as part of its intensifying campaign for reelection, its cynical stratagems advanced without thought for consequences, to Canada or the world.

As is so often the case with the buffoonery of the Harper Regime – which always seems to operate, with just enough justification to be disheartening, on the assumption we are all imbeciles possessing neither memory nor a sense of irony – these latest maritime developments are both troubling and unintentionally hilarious.

So, first, there is the matter of HMCS Toronto, the apparently* corroded and ill-maintained Canadian frigate allegedly “buzzed” by a couple of geriatric Soviet-era SU-24 military aircraft in the Black Sea, leading to much huffing and blowing by Conservative Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, who called the Russian flight “unnecessarily provocative” and said it risked “escalating tensions even further.”

Never mind that the 40-year-old Russian jets seem only to have flown by in the general vicinity of the Canadian warship – leastways, apparently no one was able to procure any video that suggests they were even visible from Toronto’s bridge, odd since surely every able seaperson aboard must have an unauthorized iPhone in his or her pocket!

This lack of evidence, unsurprisingly, hasn’t stopped the proliferation of the unlikely story the Russians were picking on the Canadian ship because the Harper government has been so strident in its recent condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s so-far quite successful ripostes to Western machinations in Ukraine.

Never mind that Mr. Nicholson is the same Canadian defence minister who was blustering triumphantly just four months ago about how Canadian fighters similarly buzzed propeller-driven Russian bombers outside Canadian airspace. That considerably closer encounter was also accompanied by self-serving theorizing about the Russian strategy of approaching Canadian airspace with ancient Bear bombers, relics from an even earlier Soviet period than that of the aged Su-24s glimpsed momentarily from HMCS Toronto on the Black Sea horizon.

For the hilarious part, to take this posturing seriously it is necessary to forget that the Black Sea, strategically speaking, is a Russian lake, where hostile or threatening incursions are bound to be viewed in Moscow with profound concern. In other words, the appearance of Canadian, U.S. and French warships in those waters is about as “unnecessarily provocative” as you can get, even if your actual objective is to “risk escalating tensions even further.”

Mr. Nicholson, unsurprisingly, groused about how the Black Sea is international waters, which is true enough. But let me ask you this, what do you think our American neighbours would do if a Russian cruiser, a Chinese frigate and a couple of destroyers, all armed with God only knows what, cruised cheerfully via Cuba into the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m guessing a couple of U.S. aircraft considerably newer than the SU-24s would quickly make their presence known in an unmistakable way to such an unnecessary provocation in that particular large American lake!

Then there is the matter of the wreck of HMS Erebus, or perhaps it is the evocatively named HMS Terror, underneath the Arctic Sea where, even now, a nefarious Russian submarine bent on challenging our sovereignty could be lurking – although it would have to be a small sub, because the long-missing sailing ship appears to be only 11 metres beneath the surface.

Why we’re spending money discovering and recovering a 168-year-old wreck from the floor of Queen Maud Gulf when we’re allegedly in need of another painfully pleasurable dose of austerity would be a puzzlement if the political strategy of the Harper Government were not so obvious.

Desperate to be seen to be doing something – and preferably something that won’t be as expensive as actually building and maintaining a harbour or other infrastructure – to preserve Canada’s Artic sovereignty, the Harper Government has hit upon the historical oddity of the reappearance of the doomed ship from Sir John Franklin’s effort to find an unfrozen Northwest Passage, which began in 1845.

Indeed, His Nibs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrambled to mount the podium himself to make the rather tendentious claim, given the relatively southern location of the wreck, that discovery of the ship strengthens Canada’s claims to the Arctic. Well, perhaps it also allowed him to bask enjoyably in the reflected glory of the imperialism of old as he advocates for the New Imperialism of unregulated capital. One is almost surprised, given all this, that Mr. Harper didn’t don the garb of a 19th Century sea captain for the occasion!

Which leads us to the unintended hilarity in this maritime news story. Mr. Harper was quick to pour loads of dough into his pet science project and to tout the “commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved.”

It is ironic, of course, that the same government actively pursues a policy of science denial and science suppression, especially when the science in question runs counter to the quasi-religious ideological nostrums of the Harper Government.

Indeed, global warming – denied and disparaged by the Harperites – may have contributed to the discovery after all these years of the unlucky Royal Navy vessel.

Well, at least the Harperites can argue they’re helping solve the problem of too much ice in the Northwest Passage, which seems to have been the undoing of Commander Franklin’s ill-fated expedition.

This seems an appropriately nautical note on which to end my short sojourn adjacent to salt water, which was required by some urgent family business on Vancouver Island. I will not have a regular Internet connection for the next couple of days, and will return to commentary on the state of Alberta politics next week in Edmonton. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

* Or so it looks in several recent news pictures. Perhaps the Canadian Navy, royal or otherwise, has in the Harper Era forgotten the useful naval dictum: “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, move it. If it won’t move, paint it.”

Dispatches from your crazy Uncle Steve: It’s all the fault of the media elite!

“Isn’t that Brian Mulroney talking to some guy … Hey! Isn’t that one-a those Trudeaus?! Mulroney’s just another Trudeau lover! Like the Ottawa media elite!” Yadda-yadda… Below: The real Crazy Uncle Steve, Mr. Mulroney again, Heather Mallick. You can tell she’s a member of the urban Ottawa media elite because she’s wearing pearls!

VICTORIA, B.C.

You may think the Harper Tories are getting ready to do battle with the Liberals under Justin Trudeau (whom former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney just called “a potent package”) and the New Democrats under Thomas Mulcair (whom Mr. Mulroney called “the best Opposition leader since John Diefenbaker”), but if you do, you’d be mistaken.

Nope, at least according to the mail they constantly send their supporters, the Harper Cons getting ready to go to war with the media.

That’s the right, according to the stream of fund-raising emails the Tories send to The Base, the Libs and the Knee-Dips may be a bit of a problem, but the big one is that “the urban media elite are mobilizing against us.”

Reading this stuff makes it feel like your country is being run by your crazy Uncle Steve, the guy who brags he has an unregistered firearm hidden under the floorboards of every room in his house – “in case of burglars” – and says he’s ready to shoot back when the black drones from the United Nations manned by aliens start patrolling the airspace over his house. And he lives by himself, so there’s no one to give him his meds and lead him back to his room. Yeah, that Uncle Steve.

Except, you might argue, the Uncle Steve running the country, the one whose party functionaries and MPs send out these electronic epistles to the faithful, may be crazy like a fox.

Every third line or so in every one of those little e-pistles says something alone the lines of this: “chip in $5 and help us fight back and get our own positive record out.” (You know, like the 111,800 real jobs lost in Canada last month, which a compliant Statistics Canada managed to whittle down to one tenth that sum thanks to anemic job growth in the public sector and by counting the almost 87,000 people who chose, if you will, “self-employment.” Another 21,000 people didn’t even get counted any more because they’d given up and stopped looking for work.)

Who knows? By writing this I myself may get a dishonourable mention in a Conservative fund-raising email as an honourary member of the media elite – something for which the real media elite, which is Conservative to a man and woman, would never give a blogger credit. They’re certainly willing to strike back at individual journalists who fail to toe the Tory line. Case in point…

“Friend,” Fred DeLorey, the CPC’s “director of political operations” told me the other day in a note sent to thousands of others who clicked a link in a Tory Facebook ad, “this morning, I picked up a paper to read with my morning coffee. You won’t believe what I found inside. I discovered a 740-word column by the Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick, full of disgusting personal attacks on the Prime Minister. I won’t go into detail, but it included the word ‘sociopathic.’ Not even trying to hide her bias, Mallick ends her column hoping that when it comes to Conservative majority, ‘next year it will be over.’”

I think they threw in the bit about 740 words because that would sound like a lot to the Conservative Base. But, anyway … then came the first pitch for a $5 donation.

Holy Cow, Martha, better send five bucks to Mr. Harper right now!

Just for the record, in fairness or whatever to Ms. Mallick, here’s what she actually said: “Perhaps it was Harper’s dead sociopathic eyes or the way he campaigned with pre-selected audiences from behind a metal fence. No. It was when people started to think of his hair as a separate organ, like Dick Cheney’s heart which he basically kept in a pocket, a living pulsing thing that would halve, leap on you and clap both sides of your head if you poked it.”

This of course, prompted the usual withering response from the real media elite, the one that instructs its editorial boards to plump for Tories even when they’ve spent weeks deciding to do something else. Never mind that, though, back to Mr. DeLorey:

“How did the Liberal leader fare in her column, by contrast? It read like a heartsick teenager’s love letter: She swooned over his ‘intellect and wit’, his ‘good looks’, and the fact that he can really ‘wear a suit.’ Yes, it was thorough, hard-hitting journalism. If you ever had any doubt that the urban media elite are mobilizing against us, this ridiculous piece should end it.”

Actually, this sounds a bit like Mr. Mulroney, swooning over Mr. Trudeau: “He’s a young man, attractive, elected two or three times to the House, attractive wife, beautiful kids.” Maybe Mr. Mulroney’s now part of the urban Ottawa media elite now too, though! And you’ve got to admit – just sayin’ – Mr. Trudeau really can wear a suit!

Getting back to Mr. DeLorey’s come-on, this is where we find the second pitch for $5, which I particularly liked: “Let’s make sure that Mallick and her friends in the Liberal media elite have something to write about for four more years. Chip in $5 today …”

He concludes: “We’re up against the Liberals and the NDP in the next election, but we also have to fight an uphill battle against all their friends in the Ottawa media. Since we can’t count on fair coverage, we’re going to need to speak directly to voters. It’s not cheap, but it’s the only option.” This is followed by yet another pitch for five bucks.”

Other Tory emails ask for 25 bucks. “Unlike the Liberals, we don’t have the Ottawa media elite backing us,” said one such recent plea. “But we have something even better – our strong and supportive grassroots base – people like you and me, who understand that we’re better off with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and are willing to work together to make our country a better place.”

You get the picture.

Now, look, I hate to say this, but if you do have five bucks, there’s a better way to put them to use. Why not click on the donation button on the left-hand side of this page? Bloggers? We’re doing more than the Conservative Party ever will to bring the media elite to its knees!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The push-polls prove it again, Canadians hate unions … really, really, really they do! Happy Labour Day

The past is a foreign country: Labour Day in Vancouver, not so long ago. Below: The workers, united, will never be defeated! The goal of union “transparency,” “worker choice,” “right to work” and other Orwellian right-wing buzzwords is to ensure the workers are never united and always defeated. Below that: Stephen Kushner, president of the anti-union Merit Contractors Association.

VICTORIA, B.C.

NOTE TO READERS: Since the Alberta chapter of the Merit Contractors Association, a group of non-union construction companies, seems to have recycled much of its past opinion survey and press release on union “transparency,” I thought I’d recycle most of my 2012 post responding to nearly identical claims made by the same group. Remember, it’s not plagiarism if you’re only plagiarizing yourself.

When I was a kid growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, there was a holiday at the end of the summer called “Labour Day” on which Canadians celebrated the vast contribution of working people to the past, present and future of our great country.

Unions, groups of working people who pooled their modest individual strength to bargain collectively and ensure that a fair share of the great wealth they created ended up in the hands of ordinary families, would sometimes gather for picnics on this holiday, which was tinged with true patriotism, and sing songs.

One of those songs, a particular favourite in those long-ago days, went like this: “It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade; Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid; Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made; But the union makes us strong….”

Well, those days are gone – the part about “but the union makes us strong,” anyway – and I can almost hear many of you, dear readers, silently mouthing “Thank God!”

Today, our Tea Party of Canada government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dedicated to signing “trade agreements” that ensure high-paying Canadian jobs are exported as quickly as possible to more efficient foreign jurisdictions, such as China, the role of public education is well on its way to being outsourced to corporate shills, and the final long weekend of our short Canadian summer is devoted to what might be called the Seventy-Two Hour Hate, a three-day frenzy of official and media sponsored loathing for the weakened vestiges of the labour movement.

Oddly enough, though, this occasion is still known as “Labour Day.”

This year, as in the recent past, we are marking Labour Day 2014 with the traditional publication in the media of “studies” by right-wing think tanks that “prove” how we’d all be better off if there were no unions, no pensions and no public health care, as well as with a “new” poll that purports to show everyone is in agreement that unions are at best an irrelevant anachronism, at worst an outright menace.

OK, enough with the sarcasm. The survey was conducted for the Merit Contractors Association, a group that describes itself as “the voice of open shop construction in Alberta.” Open shop, in this context, means non-union and prepared to do pretty well anything to stay that way.

The poll was conducted by Innovative Research Group, Merit said in its press release on Friday, which otherwise was little different from statements it has made about similar polls conducted for the association by other pollsters in the past.

The survey purports to show, in the words of Merit President Stephen Kushner, that “Albertans have a strong desire for labour reform on union fiscal transparency, worker choice and a fair and equitable labour market.”

Now, two points need to be made about this statement:

  1. Merit’s claims about the survey are hard to verify because the group has not provided us with access to a copy of the poll and the questions asked of respondents.
  2. Several of the phrases in Mr. Kushner’s statement, which may have been used in the poll, are coded expressions that do not mean what they appear to say. “Union fiscal transparency” means forcing unions to comply with expensive reporting rules more severe than those required of corporations and other organizations. “Worker choice” means effectively depriving workers of the choice of being union members. “A fair and equitable labour market” means U.S. style “right to work” laws that make it impossible for unions to operate.

In the past, this poll was conducted for Merit by another pollster that provided details about the questions asked and the number of respondents. It was possible to argue based on that information that the poll was a “push-poll” that asked questions clearly designed to make unions look bad, thereby leading respondents to the obvious “correct” conclusions about how to deal with that badness.

Deprived of this information about the current poll, it is impossible to say that this is also a push poll. However, the probability, given Merit’s history and well-known position, plus the loaded terminology repeated in Mr. Kushner’s news release, is quite high that the results of the 2014 poll are not a legitimate measure of public opinion.

Unlike its previous pollster, which had a reputation for serious public opinion research and was taken to task publicly for its role in promoting a push-poll, Innovative Research Group appears from its website to be principally a public relations firm specializing in issues management, corporate communications and fund-raising. This is not a comment on the quality of its public opinion research, of course, because we do not have an example of the work to comment on.

Merit has not yet responded to my request, made Friday afternoon as soon as I became aware of their news release, for more information about the poll. Perhaps they left work early to enjoy the Labour Day weekend.

Regardless, it is easy to get poll respondents to say they support “transparency” of union finances – a position for which an argument can be made.

However, I can guarantee you that with the right loaded questions it would be similarly easy to get like results in a poll asking about the benefits of financial transparency for governments, private corporations doing business with the public, public and private employers during negotiations, far-right “think tanks” and, just for one more example, non-union construction employers’ lobby groups. A good argument can be made for all these ideas as well.

Similarly, one could use push-poll questions to elicit responses that would allow us to confidently state that a majority of Canadians, including people who work in management, support a ban on corporate political donations and an end to charitable status for corporate think tanks that engage in constant political advocacy.

Be that as it may, most Merit Contractors members are virulently anti-union small construction firms that have banded together to pool their strength and lobby collectively (you know, like a union) for laws that would make it much more difficult for unions to organize Merit employees and represent them effectively. As a necessary sideline, they make a big effort to persuade the public that this is a good idea.

At any rate, for all their rhetoric about “choice” and “freedom” and their alleged concern for the rights of working people, I think it’s fair to say that Merit members’ principal interests in this are avoiding the inconvenience of dealing with unions generally as well as finding ways to compete with larger, often more successful, unionized contractors.

If they can recast their competitive struggles as a fight for “worker rights” and see the imposition of legislation that also makes it harder for their chief competitors to operate as they do now, perhaps they can increase they market share.

I wonder if IRG has done any parallel – and methodologically similar – polls on how many Albertans support the full disclosure of company financial information, especially during union negotiations? They might also ask how many Albertans want their tax dollars to subsidize excessive contracts with private companies, large executive bonuses and severance payments, or any advertising, including glossy corporate and government brochures.

You get the idea. Probably almost all of our imaginary respondents would agree with the conclusions suggested by these questions too – especially they’re worded like those in a typical push poll.

Well, never mind. Later today, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Edmonton and District Labour Council will hold its annual Labour Day picnic at Giovanni Caboto Park.

This popular event will attract a huge throng of Edmonton’s many unemployed and working poor citizens, hardship that stubbornly persists despite Alberta’s seeming economic prosperity. Similar events organized by unions will take place in communities all across Canada.

My guess is that most Canadians, polled about this informal annual charitable effort by unions and their members, would strongly approve. I wonder what they would say if they knew the proposals pushed by the Merit Contractors and their ilk would make these picnics illegal?

Happy Labour Day!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Why Edmonton Strathcona electors should vote NDP, as (not exactly) explained by Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland

Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland, a Liberal, after speaking at the University of Alberta Faculty Club last week. Below: Eleanor Olszewski, nominated Liberal candidate in the federal Edmonton Strathcona riding; Linda Duncan, NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona.

Last Wednesday night, during an engaging talk at the University of Alberta Faculty Club, Chrystia Freeland pretty clearly laid out the arguments for why voters in Edmonton Strathcona should re-elect New Democrat Linda Duncan in the next federal election.

The Toronto MP, who is one of the bright lights of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s caucus, wasn’t aiming to make that point, of course. Indeed, she was actually gamely making the argument to the more than 100 Liberals who spent two hours listening to her remarks why voters should elect Eleanor Olszewski, the Liberal Party of Canada’s standard-bearer in the riding.

As a native of Alberta – born in Peace River and raised here in Edmonton, where she was educated in public schools before attending Harvard and Oxford – Ms. Freeland is likely to be to play an important cabinet role if the Liberals manage to form a government. As such, it was bizarre no one from the local mainstream media could be bothered to show up to cover her remarks or even try to get a file photo.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about Ms. Freeland’s potential as I am, by the way. A scion of the Ukrainian-Canadian diaspora, she has been banned from Russia by President Vladimir Putin’s diktat, a retaliatory slight that must get up similarly hostile Harper Conservative noses, pretending, as they do, to be Ukraine’s only friends in Canada.

But at the risk of being mean (Ms. Freeland was certainly very nice to me, and kindly posed with me for a photograph), and also of offending my friends in both the Liberal Party and the NDP, the case she so articulately set out is in fact stronger if you replace Ms. Olszewski’s name with Ms. Duncan’s.

I imagine the recently elected Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre knows all this, although she was too loyal a Liberal to let on, having just won a hard fought by-election against New Democrat Linda McQuaig, who like Ms. Freeland is an author, journalist and high-profile and effective spokesperson for progressive Canadians. Both of them deserve to be in Parliament, but, alas, that’s not the way the system works here.

It’s important to all Canadians, Ms. Freeland emphasized to start, “not to have the Conservatives form the next government.” Agreed!

She excoriated the so-called Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as deeply sexist, profoundly out of touch with the values of Canadians, anti-science and not even able to live up to its No. 1 talking point, “that it is business oriented, business friendly or oriented to business.”

“It’s just not true,” she said, wondering what kind of a pro-business government wants to suppress science and ignore facts. She introduced a nice argument that the Harper Government’s hostility to science is in fact evidence of its lack of business acumen.

So, she argued, is its misunderstanding of the U.S. government and the psychology of President Barack Obama. Mr. Harper’s bizarre pronouncement that he won’t take no for an answer from Washington is not likely to be effective, she said, nor is his apparent notion he can exploit Alberta bitumen while ignoring the need for social consent in the United States or elsewhere.

“The fact that Keystone hasn’t been approved is directly the fault of this government,” Ms. Freeland stated. “Believing we have to choose between the oil industry and the environment totally misreads the situation,” she went on.

Whether or not you endorse the entire range of views expressed by Ms. Freeland, it’s hard for me to argue with her conclusions the Harper Conservatives suffer from “an arrogant sense of righteousness and entitlement” or that allowing them to continue to govern would be deeply harmful to Canada.

Which brings us back to Ms. Duncan and Ms. Olszewski. In Edmonton Strathcona, Ms. Duncan can win, while Ms. Olszewski cannot – although Ms. Olszewski very well could split the vote sufficiently to ensure a Conservative gets elected.

The arithmetic is pretty simple: if the Liberals do well in Edmonton Strathcona in 2016, the Conservatives will win in the riding, as they have many times in similar circumstances in the past.

If you are simply a party partisan, this doesn’t matter, I guess. For most of us, though, Ms. Freeland spoke a profound truth when she said of the Harperites that this is an election in which we simply “can’t let them continue to be our government.”

So this calls for a certain degree of strategic voting, as unpopular as that idea is bound to be with both Liberal and New Democrat true believers. But here too the electoral math is pretty clear: the more seats not held by Tories, the better off the country is.

I think Ms. Freeland’s late mother, Halyna Chomiak Freeland, might have agreed with this analysis. After all, she ran for the NDP in Edmonton Strathcona in 1988 and came pretty close to winning.

Regardless, Liberals should hold their noses and vote NDP in Edmonton Strathcona, for the very reasons Ms. Freeland ably enumerated.

New Democrats in some other ridings – including, I daresay, Toronto Centre – are going to have to return the favour.

The hard part for many progressive voters is going to be figuring out how and where to cast a strategic ballot – which is seldom completely clear.

It is clear in Edmonton Strathcona, though, and that requires a vote for Linda Duncan, whether it’s strategic or deeply partisan.

As Ms. Freeland rightly stated: “We cannot afford in this crucial year to split the progressive vote.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Justin Trudeau in Edmonton: dismiss this guy as a flake or a lightweight at your peril

Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau energized a crowd of Liberals and the curious last night in Edmonton. Below: His father, Pierre Trudeau, circa 1968; the chip off the old block.

I’m pretty sure it was in the spring of 1968 that I heard Pierre Trudeau speak in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. I think it was March ’68, as a matter of fact, right before the convention that made him leader of the Liberal Party and prime minister of Canada.

I can tell you this for sure, it was a beautiful day, the sun was warm, there was a nice breeze off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the daffodils were in bloom, and the presence of the still-youngish Mr. Trudeau (he was not quite 50 and the minister of justice at that time) generated a heck of a lot of excitement.

Seems to me there were about 1,000 people there that day – the single Internet account I could find was imprecise about such details, including the exact date. The crowd was abuzz. Mr. Trudeau spoke for about half an hour. It was exciting. I can’t recall much of what he said, but it isn’t really important anyway. It was boilerplate campaign stuff.

The mood was the thing: Upbeat. Hopeful. It was memorable.

Fast forward to yesterday evening and Justin Trudeau, 42, was in Edmonton. And to my mind there were a lot of things in common with that afternoon in Victoria, lo those many years ago.

Maybe I just caught a taste of the Kool-Aid. Maybe I’m just getting old and remembering my youth through rose-coloured spectacles. But I can tell you this, it was a beautiful evening last night, the sun was warm and some marigolds or something were blooming nearby. Edmonton’s River Valley was nice, although I’m afraid it didn’t quite come up to the standards of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains.

But there were about 1,000 people there. Justin Trudeau spoke for about half an hour. People seemed to find it pretty exciting. Nowadays, of course, we have an Internet record of what he said, but it isn’t really that important anyway. It was boilerplate campaign stuff.

The mood was the thing: Upbeat. Hopeful. It was memorable.

I’m telling you people, if it hadn’t been for the boring interlude when the rally organizers tried to get their most fervent supporters to break a silly record by making phone calls to voters in other cities, a lame idea that momentarily took the wind out of the rally’s sails, the feeling was much the same.

Yes, there was more than a whiff of old-style Trudeaumania in the air, just like in ’68.

As I’ve said before, whether you’re a New Democrat or a Conservative like most of the people who run things in this province, if you think you can just blow this guy off as a flake or a lightweight you’re sadly deluded. He’s got some ideas, he’s got charisma, and so he’s got people listening to what he has to say.

There are differences: We’ve got a mean spirited, tired old government in Ottawa that has discovered from its fellow travellers in the United States how to wedge the electorate and go negative to great effect. It’s prepared to do things to stay in power that real Conservatives like Bob Stanfield or Joe Clark would never have contemplated.

The Liberals in ’68 were just renewing a franchise that had gone a little stale.

Oh, and we all have cell phones with cameras in them now.

So you can say that was then and this is now if you like.

Still, 2014 is starting to feel to me a bit like 1968. Maybe more than a bit. It sure did for a little while last night, anyway.