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I don’t want to excuse or debate or even really dwell on the Ottawa occupation or border blockades.

But I do want to talk about something underneath these incidents that is worth our attention.

Regardless of the precise motivations of the organizers – and I fully concede there are extremists, seditionists and an actual fringe to these groups – I want to focus on why ordinary Canadians lined overpasses to cheer on the convoy across the country.

It’s more than just anger about COVID-19 restrictions; on the whole, Canadians have shown great solidarity with public-health measures.

Rather, I suspect and worry we are fully in an era of tension and of disparity that our politics seems dumbfounded about. Millennials are now in our thirties, and many feel homeownership is an impossible dream of a simpler time. Retirees worry about the rising cost of living. Gen Zers fear climate change. A Russian president speaks of imperialist ambitions that sound more fitting to a century ago than the modern world.

Again, this is not to excuse bad actors; I am not writing a column about “economic anxiety” as some sort of culpability panacea.

But I do take as a very fair and important point what Jeet Heer wrote recently in The Nation: “The Freedom Convoy is speaking to discontent that is widespread… Those who have sympathy for the convoy tend to be poorer, younger, and less educated…”

He goes on to say, “The burden of the pandemic has fallen on the working class… As the pandemic enters its third year, many Canadians have become more pessimistic and feel that governments are dealing with the problem by imposing duties without offering economic relief or a path forward. This is producing stress and anger. The Freedom Convoy isn’t a working-class movement. But it will be able to harvest and exploit working-class anger unless the plight of poorer Canadians improves. The Freedom Convoy should be a wake-up call for not just Canada but the wider world as well.”

Our politics feels broken, unable to get important things done. I’ve commented before favourably about Ezra Klein’s writings and interviews on this subject, and agree with his thesis that we’ve built up processes that make improving transportation systems, building housing and other key infrastructure projects we once considered nation-building harder and delayed or reduced in scope or cancelled.

As Klein said recently on his New York Times podcast, “You have a country in which it is… harder and harder and harder to get anything done. And I think one of the unhappy equilibriums of that is that you end up with representation, but not action. Because representation is fairly cheap.”

No wonder identity and polarization have become such potent forces in our politics; we can debate and fight over beliefs, rather than coming together to get things done.

Our politics needs a reset, a focus on persuasion and getting things done and less on animating a sliver of the left or right that can be reved up into a motivated voter base, and more of a focus on getting important projects delivered. Our politics needs to be about results, not animus, making daily life easier and more affordable and restoring a sense of ambition, a belief that we can actually get ahead, what Tony Blair used to call “aspiration”.

Or, as Alexandra Ocasio Cortez recently told The New Yorker“That is the work of movement. That is the work of organizing. That is the work of elections. That is the work of legislation. That is the work of theory, of concepts, you know? And that is what it means to be in the arena.”

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Liberal MP Joël Lightbound was the talk of the town on Monday. Part of it because of what he said about COVID-19 and mandatory vaccinations for truck drivers, and part of it because most Canadians had no idea who he was.

Let’s examine the last detail as a starting point.

Lightbound represents the Quebec riding of Louis-Hébert. Introduced in 1968, this electoral district has long been regarded as one of the most politically inconsistent. Between 1984-2015, the riding was held by the Progressive Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois (thrice), Liberals, Conservatives and NDP between 1984-2015. Most of Louis-Hébert’s representatives have been one-term MPs – and Lightbound is the only one to have won it three times in a federal election.

The 34-year-old lawyer was at one point viewed as a rising star in his party and potential cabinet minister. He served as parliamentary secretary to the Health Minister (June-Sept. 2017), Finance Minister (Sept. 2017-Dec. 2019) and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister (Dec. 2019-Aug. 2021) during the 42nd and 43rd sessions of the Canadian Parliament. He was also the Quebec caucus chair, a rather important role in a Liberal government that depends on good relations with La Belle Province to achieve electoral success.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won last September’s federal election, Lightbound wasn’t placed into another role. (There are unverified reports that the MP was the one who asked to be removed.) He’s still Industry and Technology Committee chair, but sits in the backbenches biding his time with Liberal MPs who’ve watched the cobwebs spread on their phones far longer than he has.

What was the reason behind it?

“He’s not super-likeable, in the way smart guys can sometimes be a bit much,” Macleans columnist Paul Wells observed on Feb. 8. “He’s chippy and has no discernible sense of humour.” He also noted that “in the first year of this government, it was not uncommon to hear Lightbound mentioned around Ottawa as one of the Liberals’ brightest talents. But he hasn’t clicked… all of this suggests uncommon ambition thwarted.”

At the same time, Wells pointed out Lightbound is “eligible for a full pension” and “Quebec City is a strange bubble, a place with a distinctive centre-right political culture that makes it Quebec’s current capital of frustration with restrictions and mandates, which means Lightbound will have been hearing a lot about those restrictions from constituents with a documented history of partisan fickleness.”

When you put it all together, “this adds up to Lightbound as a mix of real smarts under real pressure with a strong feeling of nothing to lose.”

Which brings us to the Quebec MP’s astonishing press conference on Monday morning.

Lightbound broke ranks with his Liberal colleagues on COVID-19 policies. “I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government have changed drastically since the last election campaign. It went from a more positive approach to one that stigmatizes and divides people,” he said. “I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions. This is not a risk we ought to be taking lightly… It’s becoming harder and harder to know when public health stops and where politics begins. It’s time to stop dividing Canadians and pitting one part of the population against another.”

With respect to the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa, he appeared to be of two minds.

Lightbound denounced what he perceived as “far right groups we have seen in these protests,” but said he had “enough respect for my fellow Canadians not to engage in these easy absurd labels.” This was directed at Trudeau’s comments about the protesters being a “fringe minority.” In another notable shot across the bow, he said “not everyone can earn a living on a Macbook at a cottage.” Some have interpreted this as a general comment about ordinary Canadians, but it could easily be an assessment of the PM’s past, present and future whereabouts.

Within hours, Lightbound announced he was stepping down as Quebec caucus chair. Government Whip Steven MacKinnon told the media that while this resignation was based on “disagreements with government policy,” he would remain a Liberal MP.

Methinks this hastily-made arrangement won’t last for long.

Some reporters and columnists spent more time focusing on Lightbound’s political future instead of what he actually said. Considering the Canadian media’s relatively favourable position about the Trudeau Liberals, that’s not surprising.

Alas, it meant they missed the meat of the matter. Additional chinks in the already-weakened Liberal armour had been exposed on an issue they’ve been fiercely united on – in public, anyway. Meanwhile, if Lightbound’s comment that “I can tell you that I’m not the only one who feels varying degrees as I do within our ranks” is valid, there could potentially be other Liberal MPs speaking out at some point.

Lightbound’s political future is uncertain.

His words won’t bring down the Liberals.

His story will eventually fade into the background as the news cycle shifts course.

Nevertheless, Lightbound’s refreshing decision to put principles ahead of power may have helped change the narrative when it comes to Ottawa’s restrictive policies on COVID-19, lockdown measures and vaccine mandates. Or additional food for thought, if nothing else.

For that, we owe him a small debt of gratitude.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Poor Boris.

It’s been a difficult few months for Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He’s been ensnared in the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) Westminster lockdown parties controversy, or “partygate.” This refers to the revelation that large social gatherings involving government and Conservative Party staff occurred during COVID-19 that directly contravened with the country’s public health restrictions.

The Daily Mirror was the first British newspaper to reveal that several gatherings had reportedly occurred the past couple of years. This includes in May 2020 (garden of 10 Downing Street, which is the PM’s residence), Christmas season 2020 (various affairs in November and December) and April 2021 (two leaving events for staff, which occurred the evening before Prince Phillip’s funeral). The affairs have been described as “booze parties,” which included large quantities of alcohol and food, and some allegedly had loud music, dancing and carousing.

Johnson and the Conservatives initially claimed some of the parties were held with proper social distancing. When it became apparent this wasn’t the case, a steady stream of apologies occurred. It’s been happening on a near-daily basis ever since.

The most recent “partygate” scandal focuses squarely on the PM.

According to ITV News’s UK editor, Paul Brand, on Jan. 25, Johnson reportedly had a “birthday party during the first lockdown in 2020 despite the rules forbidding social gatherings indoors at the time. It’s alleged that the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, helped organise a surprise get-together for him on the afternoon of 19 June just after 2pm.”

How big was this affair? “Up to 30 people are said to have attended the event in the Cabinet Room,” Brand wrote, “after Boris Johnson returned from an official visit to a school in Hertfordshire.” There are now reports the Metropolitan Police will be investigating Johnson due to this public health breach.

Poor, poor Boris.

Opposition parties are calling for his resignation. Some members of his own party caucus are doing the same thing, too. Several media organizations have reported that as many as 30 Conservative MPs have requested a no-confidence vote on his leadership.

The government’s poll numbers have also collapsed at the seams. Labour leads by around 10 points, and the PM’s disapproval rating is reportedly at 72 percent, the lowest since the days of Theresa May. Two YouGov polls conducted on Jan. 25 were equally disheartening: 62 percent believe Johnson should resign (only 25 percent feel he should remain), and 74 percent support the police investigation at 10 Downing Street (including 58 percent of Conservative voters).

Poor, poor, poor Boris.

In all seriousness, Johnson and the Conservatives are the makers of their own fate. They set the public health rules during COVID-19, and broke them. They arranged these large parties, which was incredibly foolish and showed a lack of intelligence and basic common sense. They created a double standard in British society when it came to social gatherings, and tried to mask and/or swat away these allegations until the evidence proved otherwise.

Here’s something else to consider. Johnson nearly died from COVID-19 complications in March 2020. Long before the vaccines had been created and administered, in fact. If anyone should have realized that holding lockdown parties was a terrible decision and a political disaster waiting to happen, it was him.

Can Johnson survive “partygate?” That’s a tough one.

His intelligence, wit and political savvy had been undeniable until recently. His prominent role in the Brexit movement helped spearhead it to victory in the 2016 EU referendum. His success in the 2019 general election, winning a majority government (80 seats) and the popular vote (43.6 percent), was a watershed moment for Conservatives. His one-nation Tory ideology, or paternalistic model of conservatism that promotes democratic institutions and traditional principles, helped his party capture seats they hadn’t won in decades – or ever before. His brand of intellectual conservatism and populist candour won over many Britons in a way that hadn’t been seen since Margaret Thatcher led the nation.

At the same time, the Conservatives don’t want to be dragged down by this scandal. Whatever their private feelings are about Johnson, he’s the catalyst for “partygate.” There’s no way for him to escape this, and no apology has had a lasting effect. The PM has lost complete control of the narrative, and can’t seem to regain his footing. If a leadership spill, in which the party caucus decides his political fate, is required in the coming days and weeks, many are ready to proceed.

Hence, there are only two identifiable means of political survival for Johnson. He either needs a huge burst of economic success to immediately focus on, or a war to distract the domestic and international media for long enough to change the narrative.

Oddly enough, the latter is starting to materialize.

If Russia invades Ukraine, the world’s focus will shift away from “partygate” at the speed of light. This means Vladimir Putin’s militaristic vision could potentially decide Boris Johnson’s political fate. Strange times, indeed.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.