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Monday, March 2, 2015

Patrick Brown victory on May 9 means eight more years of political irrelevance for PCs

The deadline has passed for signing up new Ontario Progressive Conservative party members who will be eligible to cast a preferential ballot in the one-member, one-vote election on May 9.

Early reports following the cut-off are far from encouraging when one considers that, in the past, the winning PC leadership candidates have been the ones who sold the most party memberships.

Consider that, in this leadership contest, new members will outnumber “old” members by about six to one. It seems reasonable, therefore, to expect that the candidate who has signed up the most members will have a decided advantage on voting day. For me, this spells bad news indeed as my preferred candidate, MPP Christine Elliott (Whitby-Oshawa), is reported to be well behind federal backbencher, Barrie MP Patrick Brown, in this numbers game.

Apparently, the PC party has fallen short of what I thought was a reasonable goal of 100,000 members—a tenfold increase over the membership roster at the start of the leadership campaign. Early reports claim membership at the cut-off to be 70,000, some 40,000 of which appear to have been sold by Brown, and only about 26,000 by Elliott. (Elliott won’t release her numbers until the party has processed membership forms and eliminated duplicated and disqualified submissions.)

These figures are surprising, to say the least, since Elliott has been the party establishment’s clear choice with the backing of 17 of the 28-member PC caucus at Queen’s Park and 25 federal MPs. Elliott seemed to have the clearest path to victory.

The field of candidates is weak, though, and was so even when MMPs Lisa MacLeod and Vic Fedeli were still in the race.

Monte McNaughton, the least-likely-to-succeed candidate, has little or no appeal outside the relatively small hard-core social conservative members of the party. And Patrick Brown—the only candidate without a seat at Queen’s Park—is a little-known federal backbencher who seems to have accomplished little in his almost 10 years in Ottawa.

From my perspective, as Patrick Brown’s prospects improve, the fortunes of the Ontario PC party declines, for I don’t see how he improves our prospects beyond those we had under Tim Hudak. I find neither McNaughton or him inspiring, nor do I see enough difference between their politics and the past two PC election platforms to give rise to my hope of another Ontario PC government in my lifetime.

What Brown’s supporters see in someone who has accomplished as little in Ottawa as he has is beyond me. Brown has not even committed to running provincially if he loses his leadership bid—at least, he would not commit to do so when asked during the last leaders’ debate. Apparently, this career politician sees his future as either an Ontario legislature frontbencher, i.e., party leader, or he’s prepared to return to relative obscurity as an Ottawa Tory backbencher.

With Christine Elliott I saw hope for real change in the Party’s fortunes. Her politics—at least my perception of them—do differ from Hudak’s.  Classic progressive conservatism is supposed to be at the heart of our party’s core beliefs. Why else would party founders have chosen a name that seems to be self-contradictory?

In recent elections, the Ontario PCs have run on a right-wing platform, not even giving lip service to policies that would be consistent with the “progressive” part of its name. And this I believe has been a mistake. As I have written before:

Many famous statesmen—dare I say conservative statesmen—have been proud to have their names associated with progressive conservatism, including Benjamin Disraeli, Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, David Cameron, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower and many federal PC prime ministers who represented Canada’s conservative movement prior to Stephen Harper.

“Progressive need not be a dirty word. Nor is—as is claimed by some hard-right conservatives—progressive conservatism an oxymoron. Progressivism may very well be corrosive when deployed by left-wing parties, but that need not be an automatic consequence.”

Being a progressive conservative is not the same as being a Liberal, although a successful political party in Ontario needs to attract votes from both centre-left and centre-right where most Liberals reside on the political spectrum. Nor do we need to be at war with union members and those sympathetic to the union movement, for many union members and sympathisers in the private sector are as upset as other PCs are about overly-generous wages and benefits of their public sector counterparts and want to see some common sense applied.

Ontario’s PC party has become so closely identified with right-wing (rather than centre-right) politics that its members are often referred to in the media simply as “conservatives” as if the federal party and the provincial party were indistinguishable. To be sure, the parties share policies, membership, volunteers, etc., and the federal party—the direct successor of the right-wing populist Reform Party of Canada—has borrowed much from former premier Bill Davis’s progressive conservative style of governing.

I would say, in fact, despite its right-wing reputation in the media, the federal Conservatives govern more like a traditional Canadian-style PC government than did former PC premier Mike Harris or, I suspect, Tim Hudak would have done, judging by Hudak’s two election campaign platforms.

In Christine Elliott, I see a chance to return to a common sense approach with core conservative values informing our fiscal policy and a progressive approach to programs such as health care, education, public transit, mental health and ecology.

That’s my dream, but a dream I fear that is fading with the prospect of a Patrick Brown victory on May 9 followed by eight more years of political irrelevance for our party.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tory Rick Nicholls: “I don’t believe in evolution”

Just what the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario did not need, a member of the legislature who says he doesn’t believe in evolution. Nevertheless, it seems to have found one, namely, Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls. I hope no one asks MPP Nicholls about his belief in gravity.

Some days I feel like I’ve stepped through a time portal and been transported hundreds of years back in time. In this pre-modern time, women are stoned for adultery, men have several wives, women cannot vote and are, in general, second class or third class citizens, and conventional wisdom holds that the world was created by a supernatural being in six days and human beings and all other animals were created on the sixth day.

Then, of course, I realize I’m still in the twenty-first century, but I’ve been spending too much time with religious fundamentalists.

Most of us have become used to reading about Medieval laws and beliefs in places like Saudi Arabia and other majority Muslim countries, and we are no longer shocked by them. I, though, am dumbfounded when I hear otherwise intelligent Canadians expressing beliefs in myths that fly in the face of scientific discovery and common logic.

If Mr. Nicholls does not believe in evolution, how then does he explain the presence of modern humans? Considering he is a member of our provincial parliament and, as such, might someday serve as a minister of the crown responsible for some critical element of our lives, one can only hope he does not believe, literally, in the biblical myth of creation and that the world is only about 6,000 years old.

Admittedly, Christians, however fundamental their beliefs are, do not behead unbelievers or blow up innocent civilians on a regular basis. I do, though, find some of their bible stories hard to swallow and doubt anyone is really expected to take them literally.

Most Old Testament stories are, I believe, based on some elements of truth and often carry a useful moral lesson. Beyond that, it seems to me, literal belief in such stories is anti-intellectual and is the antithesis of the sort of thing we would want from our political leaders and lawmakers.

I, like most Canadians, have been taught to tolerate religious beliefs and to believe in religious freedom. I do not, however, have to respect the more outlandish of those beliefs.

Furthermore, I believe when holders of public office express a belief in a supernatural myth, it is incumbent on me to call them out and show that I see such nonsense as socially unacceptable.

I would feel much the same about a member of parliament who professed to be a “truther” who believes individuals within the United States government were responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I see the one being as silly as the other. And it’s high time these people—with their anti-intellectual beliefs and conspiracy theories—were not taken seriously and elected to high office.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Justin Trudeau: is his Teflon wearing thin?

Ever since he was elected leader of the Liberal party, there have been questions and doubts regarding Justin Trudeau’s competence to be prime minister.

He has been a member of parliament since 2008, and so has had the time to dispel most of the misgivings Canadians have about his capacity to lead the nation. By now, we should be seeing more political adroitness from the 43-year-old son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau. More cleverness in his political attacks and, perhaps, a few well-thought-through and substantive policies and positions by which Canadians could judge whether he and his party are worthy of their trust, and to decide how dependable is the man’s moral compass.

Not that Trudeau the younger is a dud as a political leader. To the contrary, he speaks well and seems to have grasped the importance of a financially healthy middle class and how important certain progressive values are to a wide cross-section of Canadians. 

Furthermore, Trudeau seems to have repaired much of the damage done to the Liberal brand by a series of inept leaders, namely, Paul Martin, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. And thanks in good part to Trudeau, the Grits have increased their party’s membership significantly and restored its financial viability through modern, aggressive fund raising.

Moreover, under Trudeau, the Grits have surged in national polls and have led the Tories consistently for most of his tenure as leader. The Tories have tightened the race in recent months (more on this later), but few will argue that Trudeau has not played the pivotal roll in the resurgence of the Liberal party’s fortunes.

Working against him, though, is Justin Trudeau’s apparent penchant for the political misplay. Let’s recall some of the most notable.

Only a few months after his successful leadership campaign, we learned that, while he was an MP, Trudeau had earned tens of thousands of dollars from non-profit organizations in speaking fees. Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall put it well, saying at the time:

He’s now an aspirant to be the prime minister of the country. I think it’s wrong for MPs or MLAs, for those elected to office, to take money for speeches that we ought to be giving because we’re already paid our wage and so, because these are charities in the main, I think an offer of reimbursement is the right thing to do.”

Trudeau did not even seem to realize his ethics here were questionable; though, he did eventually offer to give the money back to any group that asked.

Later, he talked about admiring China because “their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.” Here again, Trudeau seemed to miss the obvious—China’s government operates one of the most brutal, oppressive dictatorships in history and has little or nothing to be admired, other than their individual citizens, of course.

On another occasion, Trudeau told us Russia’s incursion into Ukraine had something to do with Russia’s loss in Olympic hockey. People were dying in Ukraine and Trudeau could see humour in that?

Besides, it wasn’t long before Trudeau was at it again making light of serious issues when lives were at risk. This time he made a joke about Prime Minister Stephen Harper trying to “whip out our CF-18s” just to show how big they are.

This latter gaffe marked—perhaps precipitated—the beginning of the end of his commanding lead in public opinion polls, combined as it was with his political miscalculation of not supporting Canada’s military actions against ISIS in Iraq. Trudeau misread the mood of the people on this one and his party has been scrambling to backtrack and recover lost ground ever since. In October, Trudeau said:

As the months unfold I am certain that Canadians will realize that the Prime Minister did not think about Canada’s long-term interest or even what Canada has best to offer in the fight against ISIL ….”

Well, months have unfolded and Canadians have realized nothing of the sort and the Liberals are down in the polls.

On strictly political grounds, the Liberal leader’s record is also marred by miscalculations and inconsistencies.

Think about the shabby way he treated the former Liberal senators who had been staunch party supporters and organizers and who were Grits to the core. Trudeau cast them out of his caucus like one might throw out old shoes, but with less apparent gratitude for past service.

Then there was his announced policy of allowing “open nominations for all Liberal candidates in every single riding in the next election.” A policy that—in Shakespeare’s words—seems to be “a custom more honor’d in the breach than the observance.”

Consider the example of former long-shot leadership contender David Bertschi being blocked from seeking the Liberal nomination in Ottawa-Orleans so that Trudeau’s foreign policy adviser (retired) general Andrew Leslie could have the nomination to run in the Oct. 2015 general election. And who can forget the earlier blocking of a bid by Christine Innes to seek the nomination in Trinity-Spadina.

Following Trudeau’s career, one can see why Jonathan Swift would write, “Promises and pie crusts are made to be broken.”

I also found Trudeau on shaky moral grounds when he denied his MPs their right to vote their consciences on the moral issue of abortion, forcing them to vote pro-choice regardless of their personal or religious convictions.

The foregoing notwithstanding, I’m puzzled that, despite Trudeau’s mature age and length of time as a politician, he continues to exhibit uneven political judgement.

Moreover, sometimes Trudeau shows no political judgement at all, as seems to be the case with former Tory MP Eve Adams’ opportunistic floor-crossing.

As Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail put it recently, Trudeau chose to “embrace a trouble-making reject that the Tories are obviously glad to get rid of.”

I believe Trudeau really harmed his image among both fellow hard-core Grits and non-partisan voters when he sat beside his new protégé at the press conference to announce her road-to-Damascus-like conversion to his cause. Adams’ mean-spirited parting shots at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and her former colleagues did little to enhance either her appeal to Liberal insiders or Trudeau’s street cred as an astute political leader.

To many watching the show, Trudeau seemed less like a principled statesman who saw himself as a prime minister in waiting and more like a cynical opportunist.

To use Trudeau’s own words, “when you start to compromise your principles, you’re through.”

He does have a way with words.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The niqab/burqa: culture clash and a test of multiculturalism

It seems inevitable to me that, in our diverse world, there will be practices common to some cultures that will be offensive to some Canadians. And it is entirely expected that some of those practices have reached our shores through our broad-based immigration policies of the past fifty years or so.

In some parts of the world, polygyny is practiced, as is some form of female circumcision (FGM). The eating of dog meat is traditional in many parts of the world, including, though rarely, among some cultures in Europe and North America. In Saudi Arabia, one should always use one’s right hand for drinking and eating. One’s left hand is regarded as unclean, because it is assumed it is used to clean oneself after using the toilet. Pretty tough on left-handed people, eh?

Among the more dreadful of cultural practices are honour killings, the aforementioned FGM, forced marriage and other gender-based violence. And among the least offensive are forms of dress like turbans worn by Sikhs, the thawb worn in the Middle East, various forms of kurta worn in Pakistan and elsewhere by people of Pakistani descent and the hijab worn by some Muslim women beyond the age of puberty—the hijab being the less controversial, in the West at least, head-covering used by Muslim women to satisfy the decency and modesty requirements of Islam. More controversial are the niqab and the burqa that cover a women’s entire head except for an open space for her eyes.

Some of these “foreign” practices are contrary to the Canadian Criminal Code while others, though legal, offend many Canadians. It is the latter group we will discuss here.

The majority of Canadians, especially since the 1950s, feel obligated to respect the religious beliefs and cultural practices of others. Tolerance has become one of the stamps of authenticity of the Canadian identity. Moreover, since 1971 when the federal government implemented policies to protect and promote diversity—what we now refer to as “multiculturalism”—most Canadians have come to embrace the principles of equality and mutual respect among our ethnic and cultural groups.

During that same time frame, however, many Canadians began to de-emphasize religiosity, and the U.S. concept of separation of church and state became very much in vogue in our country.

Religious symbols were often removed from public places and prayers in publicly-funded (non-Roman Catholic) schools and city council meetings were often discontinued. Sundays became like any other shopping or entertainment day.  Nuns began to adopt simple business suits rather than wear traditional habits and clerical clothing can now differ little from other street clothes.

Over time, many Canadians became only nominally religious or what one might think of as cultural Christians, cultural Jews, cultural Muslims, etc., who identified themselves with Christian, etc., culture without going to church, synagogue or mosque.

For many Canadians, religious practice means going to church for baptism/Christening, confirmation, weddings and funerals—with, perhaps, a few Christmas and/or Easter services thrown in. For many others, though, not even that minimal level is observed.

After the removal of European immigration preferences in the late 1960s early 1970s, however, the trend towards Canadian secularism took a turn as Muslims began to arrive in significant numbers. Prior to that time, Bosniaks (ethnic Bosnians) and Albanians made up most of the Muslim communities in Canada and one hardly ever heard the words Muslim or Islam mentioned in the same sentence as the words Canada or Canadians.

Arabs had arrived here much earlier, of course, most of whom were Lebanese immigrants who originated from what was then Syria. But they were 90 per cent or more Christians who integrated quickly.

Later many Muslim immigrants, seeking to escape unfavourable social, economic and political conditions in their homelands, brought their religion and culture to multicultural Canada, and have insisted on transplanting their customs without modification or with any regard to the host culture or its religious traditions.

Some of those transplanted customs, I might add, date back to the Medieval period. In contrast, forebears of Judeo-Christian Canadians had mainly adopted modern Western dress generations before. Furthermore, they did not practice polygamy, forced marriage or other gender-based violence—or, at least, it was not socially acceptable when some did so. In other words Canadians were the product of an evolved social system loosely based on the archaic Judeo-Christian model.

Unlike earlier immigrants, some Muslims who have arrived  relatively recently seek accommodation for their religious and cultural practices that is absolute. Some even seek to usurp Canada civil law with their archaic legal system, Sharia. Google, as I did, “Legal system of Saudi Arabia” and experience chills running down your spine as you get a sense of what this Medieval legal code would mean in Canada.

Even the idea of paying respect to the Canadian tradition of not covering one’s face in public seems to be anathema to some Muslims. For them, accommodation is a one-way street without reciprocity.

They seem to be saying that earlier Canadians must accommodate so that newer ones can be doctrinaire and uncompromising. Is that what is meant by being multicultural? I think not.

Multiculturalism is supposed to promote mutual respect.

When a newcomer insists on covering her face at the very moment she is accepted as a citizen, does that show respect? As C. Bowman of Toronto wrote, in part, to today’s National Post:

… in Canada, the accepted practice is for all of us to see each other, to smile at one another and to exchange messages, with or without words. She [niqab wearing Muslim lady] seems to want to become a Canadian—on her terms; perhaps she has made, for her, an inappropriate choice of country in which to reside.”

A harsh judgement perhaps, but maybe for the very few who are so dogmatic about religious/cultural beliefs that have not evolved in centuries, Canada—a country ruled by secular law—is not right for them.

I do not buy the argument that since the Quran is considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of Allah, its practices cannot change or evolve. From my reading, Islam did seem to evolve from the time of the Muhammad (abt. 570 - 632 CE) through the thirteenth century. Surely its Canadian followers can do, as millions of other Muslims around the world have done before, give up the wearing of the full face covering.

To those Muslims who insist on hiding their faces in public, I say, accommodate those of us who feel you are insulting us, as we’ve accommodated you and welcomed you and your religion and most of your culture to our country.

Friday, February 13, 2015

It’s never a good day when a conservative voice goes quiet

This morning at 5 a.m., Canada lost an important source of conservative commentary on TV, and 200 folks lost their jobs. I’m referring, of course, to the demise of Sun News Network.

The end took me by surprise, though, I did wonder at the time when I heard the TV network was not part of the purchase of the Sun newspapers by rival Post Media. Sun News seemed to benefit from its corporate relationship with Sun newspapers, and I wondered if the TV operation could carry on as an independent entity without them.

Apparently, they could not.

The failure of the right-of-centre network is, I believe, another example of the fallacy of the notion: if it works in the United States, it will work in Canada. Target learned this recently as Canadian Tire did in the 1980s and Loblaws did decades earlier.

Fox News has been a resounding success south of the border, so the idea seemed to be to replicate its format in Canada and, Presto!, success would be assured. Critics even called the fledgling news operation “Fox News north.”

Personally, while I eagerly anticipated Sun News Network when it was first announced, I was disappointed with the on-air product from the day it was launched.

David Akin’s Battleground in the early evening was watchable, especially during election campaigns, and I often tuned in to Michael Coren’s The Arena at 8:00 p.m., though, somewhat less so recently. The other evening shows were watchable only on a semi-regular basis and generally were marred by too much preaching at the audience, not enough variety of views expressed  and a lack of respect for any contrary view.

Yes, Warren Kinsella was a regular on the network and he seemed pretty much to be given free rein to argue the other view. And there were others beside Kinsella, of course, but it always seemed clear the “other view” was there to be thumped and kicked to the ground. Remember that appalling interview between host Krista Erickson and Quebec-based dancer Margie Gillis back in 2011?

Moreover, show formats were too similar, there was far too much replaying of shows in place of new programming, and there was too much duplication of subject matter among the evening shows.

Recently, the network began showing documentaries, but I found the production values of some to be little better than that of cable community channels—though, the subject matter was often interesting.

So, as far as I’m concerned, the attempt at providing a conservative voice in Canada was, at best, a limited success. But I do give the organization full marks for trying. Canadians need more opportunity to hear conservative views and ideas and it’s a pity Sun’s voices—on air at least—have been silenced.

For those progressives out there who tried your best to demonize the network because it did not champion your views, I ask that you temper your celebration at its demise, and give a thought for those unfortunate 200 staff members who worked very hard for four years and now are without jobs.

Let’s hope some other organization will have the courage—and the financial resources—to take on the challenge of fighting the good fight for conservative principles and values on TV.

Later today, I’ll raise a glass to all Sun News Network’s staff members and wish them all a soft landing and prosperous new careers.

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