ontario news watch

Among recent news items that strike me as ominous, this one was particularly bad: “In a 90 minute TV debate not a single question about Europe, translatlantic relations, China, Russia, Afghanistan”. And if you’re thinking well, no, this is Canada, it was actually Germany. But either way.

If self-government is a good idea, voters need to pay attention to key issues and demand that would-be leaders do the same. Instead the merchants of make-believe ignore things that are unsettling and we let them.

You might think otherwise, given the constant barrage of election rhetoric about the terrible things Justin Trudeau will do for the ultra-rich, Erin O’Toole will do to women, Jagmeet Singh will do to entrepreneurs and so forth. But it’s all make-believe. Their policy differences are as small as their promises are unserious. And we know it.

We know it’s just the usual Punch and Judy show. And it’s reassuring because you can jeer and cheer and vote for your tribe and it will have no consequences.

Unfortunately plenty of things will. Like having the Bank of Canada’s printing presses roaring at full speed for 13 years because of something called “quantitative easing”. And now that inflation is creeping into public discourse some people are talking about housing prices pushing up the CPI and stuff, the old “cost-push” model of inflation. But really it’s too much money chasing too few goods and services… as always. Yet we will re-elect the guy who said flatly that he doesn’t think about monetary policy, or one of the others who don’t talk about it or understand it. And it will matter. But back to China.

Terry Glavin just tweeted in disgust “Imagine being so confident that your voters have absolutely no idea that this guy has been Beijing’s Number 1 man in Canada for decades that you can trot him out like he was an honourable elder statesman, and nobody will even notice.” But if you surveyed voters about who he was talking about, very few people would have any idea. (Answer: Jean Chrétien and the Liberals, whose leader just had his book “Common Ground” republished in China.)

Possibly someone will say that having Germans not preoccupied with foreign policy is something of a relief after the 20th century. But it’s sad that having become democratic they’ve lost focus. As too many have.

Not everyone is in this leaky boat. For instance Australia, which has major governance problems but, perhaps due to proximity, is increasingly aware of and pushing back against the Chinese Communist Party’s lunge for world domination. And just signed a significant “Aukus” deal with the U.S. and the U.K. for nuclear-powered submarines, the first “non-nuclear” nation to do so, and for sharing intelligence that no sane person would let Canada see because we haven’t even banned Huawei from our vital communications infrastructure, dangerous in itself and revealing of a frivolous attitude toward security.

Likewise South Korea just became the first “non-nuclear” nation to test-fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Whereas our submarines caught fire, fell over and sank into the ocean and nobody cares. As in New Zealand, where they eliminated their air combat capability in 2001 on the theory that it worked so well in Guernica, and Prime Minister/ climate warrior Jacinda Ardern just banned Australian submarines from New Zealand waters.

Somebody has an IFF problem, doesn’t know a nuclear reactor from a nuclear bomb, or both. But it’s not the Australian PM, who responded to the usual abuse from the ChiComs (“seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race”) by inviting Xi Jinping to drop by for a discussion of what’s wrong with Chinese foreign policy now that he has some major weapons.

These new submarines replace a cancelled French deal for conventional subs, infuriating the French government. An Australian spokesperson commented that “To say he [French President Emmanuel Macron] was disappointed was an understatement”. No kidding. France just cancelled a Washington gala. But at least the French care, even if only about the money.

Ah yes, the money. All this will cost serious coin. More than AUD$90 billion. But what price honour and safety?

Don’t ask Canadians. We’re taking a different, time-honoured approach that if we pretend it’s not there it can’t hurt us. Unfortunately if you look at what politicians were discussing in the democracies in the late 1930s and compare it to what actually mattered in retrospect you will get a queasy feeling. You might even shout “Never again” as people did in the 1940s and 1950s before getting distracted again. And if you look at what most politicians were saying in the late 1970s and early 1980s and compare it to what actually mattered you won’t feel very well either.

If you want the sick-making details revisit the attitude of, say, Pierre Trudeau or Helmut Schmidt to Brezhnev-era Soviet aggression or the threat of inflation. Still, we woke up in time thanks to the much-mocked Reagan, Thatcher etc. before being lulled back to sleep by the end of history and the global triumph of democracy. And after 9/11 we … got frustrated, rolled over and dozed off again.

Now the alarm is going off once more. Including in some “non-nuclear nations” that will soon reconsider that option, including Japan. Of course if we don’t get our cybersecurity in better order then if one day we press the button nothing will happen except laughter in Beijing. (Same thing applies to our power plants, by the way.) But this Aukus deal also includes some serious cyberwarfare capability.

So where’s Canada. Think the US and UK would trust us with that stuff? Think we’d accept if they offered? Well, what’s the position of our parties on foreign policy? The rise of China? More defence spending? Cybersecurity? Afghanistan? If this is the most important election since 1945 you’d think they’d have one. And voters too.

If pressed the politicians will degas the usual generalities about being pro-humanity and anti-bad-things, like those activists who had endless fun ridiculing America’s endless wars and are now bleating that something must be done for women in Afghanistan. But our politicians have no more idea how to achieve such things than how “quantitative easing” is meant to work. And no more interest in learning, or intention of doing anything hard or unpopular.

The result is a pretence that there’s no world out there except as an exotic, lavish backdrop against which to virtue-signal while ignoring the ominous snarling from the darkness under the stage. And if we let them, we’re asking for trouble.

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.

Dominic LeBlanc said a funny thing on Wednesday.

First, to the Toronto Star, the Liberal cabinet member said, “I’m very confident in our chances of forming a majority government.” And then a little later he told reporters much the same thing.

“I’ve said from the beginning of the campaign that we’re campaigning to win a majority government,” LeBlanc said.

It’s an interesting thing to hear with just five days left.

It was around last weekend, when the release of excerpts from former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s book were making their splash in the newspapers and the SNC scandal was once again raising it’s head that I thought, “Hmmm, smells like a Liberal win, maybe a big one.”

I hashed this out a bit on Twitter, but essentially my logic is this: However wretched that SNC Affair was, and how ever horrible the issues around ethics and the interplay between corporations and government, too much has happened since then for JWR to be the focal point of a day or two of the Conservative campaign.

More than 26,000 people are dead — more are still dying! — from COVID-19. Homes are increasingly unaffordable. There’s been a major economic shock because of the pandemic. And oh yeah the world is on fire.

And yet, here we were, after a few days of ethics talk.

It looked to me, and still does, like a Conservative campaign that had lost its way. Plus, the Liberal sink in the polls seems to be bouncing back. The polls aren’t fully there yet, and many of the projections give it a low probability of there being a Liberal majority. And yet…

Which brings us back to LeBlanc. From the start it was clear winning a majority was the point of this whole exercise. That’s why we’re having an election. The trouble was, as soon as the election was called the Liberal poll numbers dived and so even thinking the word majority was libel to sink the whole enterprise.

And now here we have a senior Liberal not just thinking about a majority, but talking about it to reporters.

But here we are, on the other side of the debates, where Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau walked away bruised but not broken. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wasn’t a disaster — nothing like his predecessor — but he flubbed his answer about daycare in in the French-language, and didn’t really stand out in the English-language debate. And by that point O’Toole’s momentum seems to have stalled out.

So is it really that crazy to think that after all this Trudeau might pull off his dreams of a second majority? I’m inclined to think not.

But I think the Liberals have halted what looked like a terminal slide out of government. Instead, Trudeau and his party seem to have hit their stride at just the right moment. Summer has ended* and kids have gone back to school, and life has entered a period of sort-of normalcy where people are more focused on ‘real’ things, rather than summer leisure.

Voters seem to have given Erin O’Toole a look, and found him wanting. The Conservative Party leader made an interesting pitch to voters, that he was a different, nicer kind of Tory.

Pitching a sort-of compassionate conservatism — though it’s unlikely he or the party would ever invoke George W. Bush — O’Toole has made the case that he wasn’t like those other Conservatives that have come before.

People do not seem to have bought it. Sinking in the polls, increasingly firing off random attack lines and policies, his campaign seems to have peaked too early.

It’s possible if he was able to run in another campaign voters might come around to his vision of Conservative governing, pitching the same program twice tends to convince people you’re serious, but that would require his party to both want to keep him on and stay together.

Big changes — even if they’re just rhetorical ones — so soon after the last election are a lot to get a handle on. Especially when O’Toole is a former Conservative minister.

It’s tough for people to believe you are a kind and gentle party when they’ve seen how you’ve governed before, and how your allies have governed as premier in provinces across the province. It’s an interesting tactic, but one that doesn’t seem to have worked this time around. It’s an interesting play, and will be even more interesting if his party gives him another shot at it.

In any case, I don’t think it’s a certainty that Trudeau has his majority in hand. But I no longer think it’s an impossibility. Enough so that I put a $5 wager on it happening — figured I might as well put my money where my mouth is.

Now all we have to do is wait for Monday.

*Yes, yes, I know summer ends Sept. 21, but we all know what I mean here.

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.

After four uninspiring and unstimulating weeks, the campaign to form the next government of Canada has narrowed into a tight two-way race between the Liberals and the Conservatives.

For progressive voters, heading to the polls this election will be a rather disheartening exercise in civic responsibility, especially in the ridings in which third parties aren’t registering much support, leaving many torn between voting for what NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has called a choice between “pretty bad” (aka Justin Trudeau) and “worse” (Erin O’Toole).

It’s hard to find fault with Singh’s analysis on his two main rivals.

After taking stock of Trudeau’s record in office, I can’t imagine there are many Canadians that are enthusiastic about a renewed Liberal mandate.

While the Liberals have not been the failure some pundits claim they are, they also haven’t been the boldly progressive, honest, and transparent administration that Trudeau promised.

Instead, for every moment of praise this government has earned (resettling 40,000 Syrian refugees, helping lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, instituting a gender-neutral cabinet, legalizing marijuana, etc.) they have cocked up equally with clumsy policy missteps and cynical politicking.

For examples, one need only recall Trudeau’s cowardly about-face on electoral reform. Or the Liberal’s abysmal record of global engagement, epitomized by their humiliating loss for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Or their insufficient action to tax the super-wealthy, institute a national pharmacare program, and tackle the lack of affordable housing in this country.

Nonetheless, as disappointing as Trudeau’s record has been, there are even more reasons to be wary of Erin O’Toole and his Conservative cabal.

For one, O’Toole is campaigning to scrap the deals that Trudeau negotiated with various provinces to finally implement universal, federally funded childcare.

Back in 2006, Stephen Harper killed Paul Martin’s dreams of national childcare. Now, fifteen years later, another Conservative leader is pledging to do the same. For the millions of working and middle-class families, struggling to balance work with raising children, O’Toole’s promise to eliminate what could be the next major pillar in Canada’s social safety net is a worrying prospect.

Then there is O’Toole’s climate plan.

Throughout the campaign, O’Toole has stated clear his intent to rollback Canada’s emissions targets and build more pipelines, including the now-defunct Northern Gateway pipeline. This, even as scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have released yet another report, warning of dire repercussions to the planet if urgent action is not taken. But really, what else can you expect from the leader of a party whose delegates reject policy proposals affirming that “climate change is real”?

While we are on the topic of retrograde views, a majority of O’Toole’s own caucus voted against a proposed Liberal ban on conversion therapy, so don’t expect an O’Toole government to be an activist champion on LGBTQ rights, either.

Next, consider foreign policy, another area O’Toole would likely be worse than Trudeau.

With dangerous platform promises to “Recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem” and “Return Canada to its longstanding policy of not singling out Israel for criticism at the United Nations” O’Toole’s continuation of Scheer/Harper-era positions would only facilitate Palestinian injustice and hinder efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East.

Equally disheartening is his pledge to increase military spending, while offering nothing to bolster Canada’s embarrassingly low foreign aid spending.

Finally, O’Toole’s appeasement of Quebec nationalists (what with his silence over the province’s secularism law) has been so weak-kneed that it has even earned him Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s endorsement, which doesn’t bode well for all the discriminated religious minorities in the province, nor for Canada’s continued descent into crippling, ineffectual decentralization.

True, Canada’s other party leaders have not spoken out against Legault with the nerve that is required of them. But none have been quite so placating as O’Toole with his assuaging words and litany of Quebec-centered platform promises.

In an ideal election, neither the Liberals, nor the Conservatives, would be the party that forms the next government. Unfortunately, this election is far from an ideal one.

Therefore, in the ridings in which only the Liberals are competitive with the Conservatives, it is candidates of the former, not the latter, that Canadians will be better off casting their ballot for.

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.

Sorry, Toronto Centre residents, but the number of election polls in your riding has been reduced by 84 percent.

Sincere apologies, university and college students, but the Vote on Campus program has been axed.

Pardon us, Indigenous communities, but a paltry $100 is all we’re willing to offer to use your community hall on elections day – and clean-up costs will be on you.

2021 has certainly put the “snap” in snap election.

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unsatisfied at having to share power, Canadians find themselves thrust into an early federal election, the first in a decade. As the campaign began to unfold, details gradually emerged that this election wouldn’t be quite what Canadians had become accustomed to.

Voting – the entire point of an election – would be a more cumbersome task.

Locations where Canadians cast their ballots – polling stations – were reduced in number, drastically in some ridings, especially in Ontario. The Vote on Campus program that had been tremendously successful at encouraging tertiary students to vote, often for the first time, was mothballed. And, if unconfirmed reports are accurate, Elections Canada didn’t exactly exert itself to ensure Indigenous people could vote in their community, allegedly offering low compensation for rental venues on some reserves.

When asked why voting would be available at fewer places this year, Elections Canada offered two alibis: the pandemic, and the “minority government situation” (or more accurately, the early election).

These excuses are somewhat reasonable. To avoid COVID transmission, Elections Canada has hired fewer but larger venues to serve as polling stations. This explains why the quantity has been curtailed, although whether the reduction need be so severe is questionable, as it’s particularly impactful on disabled and elderly voters.

However, the adjournment of the Vote on Campus program is especially unwelcome. Born as a response to the 2008 election’s woefully low turnout rate, which plummeted to a depth unseen since the late 1800s, the program facilitated convenient voting for university and college students, resulting in a hefty boost to turnout in the 2015 and 2019 elections.

Cancelling student-focused election polls is especially irksome considering that Elections Canada will continue to operate polling stations at seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities. Voting should be convenient for every demographic, but withdrawing services aimed at Canadians with the lowest turnout rate while preserving similar programs for those with the highest voting levels is a perplexing decision.

It’s important to realize that previous efforts to expand voter outreach, such as the Vote on Campus program, were possible due to the implementation of fixed election dates. Scheduling the 2015 and 2019 elections years in advance allowed Elections Canada the certainty to organize a variety of new methods to encourage people to vote.

And that’s the problem with Trudeau’s snap election: despite the repeated hints, it technically came as a surprise to Elections Canada bureaucrats, who are left with a mere 36 days to organize an early election, rather than four years. Due to logistical constraints, programs such as Vote on Campus became a casualty, as undoubtedly so too will the turnout rate.

Unfortunately for voter engagement efforts, 2021 isn’t likely to be Canada’s last snap election. Our Parliament doesn’t feature set “terms” like in American politics – instead, we have parliamentary confidence, and the loss of confidence can trigger general elections at any time.

Hung parliaments, which typically result in minority governments, have become the norm in Canada – four of the past six federal elections have ended without a majority government. The combination of a minority government and the first-past-the-post electoral system encourages the governing party to risk triggering a snap election whenever the polls look favourable to them, in the hope of increasing their seat count.

All of this threatens Elections Canada’s efforts to spend four years organizing expanded voter outreach, as a snap election can nullify years of planning.

But rather than bash the Prime Minister for calling a snap election – a perfectly valid action in Westminster parliamentary systems – we should instead ask how Elections Canada’s expanded voter outreach can be maintained in the event of early elections. And there’s no better way to do that than to invest in Canada’s democracy by giving Elections Canada more resources.

There are multiple ways to achieve this. One would be to increase Elections Canada’s budget, enabling them to hire more staff and not feel pressured to allegedly make insultingly low bids for rental venues. But there are also more inventive options, such as having a pool of federal civil servants available to be seconded to Elections Canada in the event of a snap election call.

Bestowing Elections Canada with additional resources to deal with snap elections isn’t a perfect solution, and would never be as seamless as elections that occur on their scheduled dates. For example, no matter how well Elections Canada is staffed, having only 36 days’ notice to book voting venues isn’t ideal. But because much of the logistical pinch is trying to force four years of work into just over five weeks, wielding the extra staff to hire venues should prevent polling stations from dwindling too low in number, and allow programs such as Vote on Campus to continue.

Considering the tremendous achievements at boosting voter turnout over the past decade, it would be indolent to shrug with indifference at the challenges that snap elections present. But Elections Canada can’t bridge the resources gap on their own: they require additional support from the government.

In the context of recent challenges to Western democracy, Canada can’t risk allowing voter turnout to decline, especially when snap elections are an expected occurrence in our parliamentary system. It’s particularly important that we encourage young adults to vote for the first time, which makes programs such as Vote on Campus absolutely vital.

If Canada is already paying more than $600 million to stage a general election, we might as well add a sprinkling of additional resources if it results in increased participation. For what are the costs of eroded democracy?

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.

Politicians have made promises that will cost tens of billions of dollars during this election. But when it comes time to open their wallets to pay the tab, these party leaders are running to hide in the bathroom while taxpayers cover the bill.

Politicians and taxpayers both need to understand a simple truth: there is no free lunch. Someone always pays and that someone is the average working Canadian.

Canada needs to elect a government that will rein-in spending, balance the budget within a reasonable timeframe and reduce taxes.

But each of Canada’s three major parties have indicated that Canadians won’t get the responsible fiscal stewardship that the country desperately needs.

The incumbents are promising more of the same.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are seasoned experts when it comes promising the sun and the moon and claiming that they can do it all without mortgaging the future of our children.

They’ve introduced billions of dollars of new spending without a plan for how to pay for it, and they’re taking the exact same approach in this election.

Ten dollar a day daycare? No problem.

Billion-dollar boondoggles targeting legal gun owners? Count us in.

Throw another half a billion dollars at the CBC? Yes, please.

The Liberal platform is counting on $25 billion in new revenue while it promises $78 billion in new spending. That’s baked-in borrowing.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is already planning to run a deficit this year of $154 billion.

And as a cherry on top, much of this hypothetical new revenue is wishful thinking. Almost half of the new revenue the Trudeau Liberals have identified relies on the Canada Revenue Agency finding new revenue.

That’s about as likely as a fisherman catching a whale.

The Liberals are also planning to increase taxes on Canada’s largest banks and insurers, who will find creative ways to avoid sending more money to Ottawa or they’ll just stick their customers with higher fees.

How about the opposition?

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has criticized Trudeau for his poor economic management, but O’Toole has a laundry list of unpaid promises of his own.

O’Toole has pledged to introduce $52.5 billion in new spending over the next five years. That’s new spending on top of Trudeau’s.

How does the Conservative leader plan to pay for it?

Deficits, my friends, deficits.

Freeland’s budget predicted a $154 billion deficit for 2021-22. O’Toole says he would increase that deficit by $14 billion.

O’Toole claims to be the adult in the room, but he won’t commit to balancing the budget for another decade and he would rely on rosy economic forecasts to get there.

Finally, there’s the NDP.

Perhaps Jagmeet Singh deserves some credit for at least admitting that he plans to hike taxes to help pay for some of his promises. But the reality is that Singh’s new taxes won’t even come close to covering them.

The NDP is promising $214 billion in new spending over the next five years and $166 billion in new revenue.

That still leaves a $48 billion gap.

Singh’s new tax proposals would also weaken economic growth and are unlikely to generate nearly as much money as the NDP hopes. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said as much.

Canadian taxpayers are presented with bad choices during this election as none of the major parties offers a plan to get back to sane spending and balanced budgets.

If a major party wants to truly fight for taxpayers, it needs to go back to the drawing board and present a realistic plan to get the nation’s finances in order.

Jay Goldberg is the Interim Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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.

Following the release of the NDP’s “costing” document – a term that deserves to be used only very loosely – leader Jagmeet Singh declared that he is going to get things done where the Liberals haven’t because he has “unlimited zeal.” And then he started hashtagging it, and the memes started rushing in, because that’s their digital campaign strategy apparently. The problem with “unlimited zeal” is that unlike zeal, resources and capacity are finite in government, which is why one needs to have priorities and plans to implement them. The NDP have neither, but are using some particular sleight of hand to try and convince people that they have both costing and credibility when in reality, they have a hollow shell.

Consider their costing document – it contains billions of dollars in new spending obligations that they balance off (somewhat) with promises of billions in new revenue sources. The reality is that there is no way they can book that revenue in the first or second year like their costing documents suggest. This is part of the problem with having the Parliamentary Budget Officer doing the costing for these platform promises – he has to work with the inputs that the parties give him, and because implementation of these policies matters, he can’t judge whether the implementation is feasible. Thus, he has his stamp of approval on their proposed annual net wealth tax – and most people aren’t going to read the “source of uncertainty” disclaimer at the bottom when the NDP simply plug the “verified” numbers into their costing document.

The description of the tax proclaims that it is meant to “impose an annual tax of 1% on net wealth owned by Canadian resident economic families on December 31st of each year, beginning in 2021.” It would be exempt on those whose net wealth is below $10 million, and on any wealth acquired through lottery winnings, because gambling apparently doesn’t have the same moral stench as capitalism. The problem? Our tax system is built toward individual filing – we don’t have “economic families” in tax law, and we would need to create a new structure to capture these revenues – and the American economists whom the NDP are modelling this policy from are clear that it needs to be “families” that can include siblings who live together, as well as children, to prevent income being sprinkled among them. There is also the added question of what counts as wealth under this regime (such as retirement savings), and it is going to take a lot of time to both legislate this, and for CRA to start making these determinations. There is no way they are going to capture $10.85 billion in the 2021-22 tax year. And yet they can claim the PBO signed off on it.

The trickier part of their costing document is that while they got the PBO to put all of their revenue projections on his letterhead, no matter that their input assumptions won’t pan out in reality because implementation matters (but hey, he gets to hide behind his “uncertainty” caveat), but for nearly all of their spending promises, they haven’t released any PBO costing, so you’re just going to have to trust them on it. As well, because their platform document was largely platitudes without any details of how they planned to implement anything, we don’t have any way to gauge whether these spending plans are realistic or achievable – and given that we know that the revenue projections aren’t, it really, really puts the question on the spending side.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy, run by former PBO Kevin Page, was not sold by the NDP’s assurances in their document, giving it a 10/18 – very nearly a failing grade. They did give a failing grade inside to the transparency of their plans, which is not surprising considering that they haven’t released the spending side of their costing, and the only reason they didn’t fail the “Responsible Fiscal Management” portion was because they reduced their expected revenue generation figures by ten percent (which is not enough), and included a contingency fund. It’s not too dissimilar to how Mark Jaccard gave the NDP’s environmental plan a 2/10 for its credibility because they have no implementation plan or even a pathway to how they will get to their emissions targets, especially as some of their stated plans would tank the economy for little in the way of reductions.

This is why it’s crucial to actually spell out a plan for how to achieve their policy goals – it’s not enough to be enthusiastic, or to use political willpower, of “unlimited zeal.” Enthusiasm isn’t getting Jason Kenney or Doug Ford to sign onto universal child care, or for every premier other than PEI’s to sign up for universal pharmacare – including the NDP premier of British Columbia. For Singh to say he’ll get the job done under the premise that these premiers will sign right up because it’s him and not Justin Trudeau in front of them is fantasy. Likewise, insisting that he’ll get all of the remaining boil water advisories sorted on First Nations reserves within a year is also simply hand-waving because each community’s problem is different – capacity, training, maintenance, distance, ability to bring in materials (one community only made progress after an all-season road was completed) – and if they could be solved by throwing money at the problem, they would be by now as the current government has not been shy about doing just that. Singh is lambasting Trudeau for not fulfilling his promise in the desired timeline while at the same time making a promise he can’t keep.

It’s not enough in politics to simply say you want to do something, and that it’s just a matter of willpower. That’s not how the real world works, and it’s doing a disservice to voters to pretend otherwise. We also need journalists to step up to demand answers on implementation, and to stop just taking the PBO’s word as the final authority because of the problems he has with inputs. Willpower or “unlimited zeal” is not an implementation plan, and it only sets up for future disappointments, as Singh has only been too happy to remind the Liberals, apparently lacking the self-awareness to see that he’s simply doing more of the same.

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.

If you think the federal election has been a snooze fest so far, don’t worry, all the really fun stuff is going to happen over the next few days.

I say that because, typically speaking, it’s only in the last week of an election that the legions of undecided voters out there actually make up their minds.

Before then, they’re really only half paying attention to all the political shenanigans taking place on the electoral stage.

The fact is, for a huge number of people in this country (or in any democracy for that matter), the game of politics is just not that interesting, which explains why there are so many undecided voters.

In other words, they’re undecided not because they’re diligently studying all the various competing political party platforms, or studiously comparing all the pros and cons of the leaders, or carefully pondering the issues put on the table, they’re undecided because they’re simply not engaged in the electoral process. (This is one reason why you should take all those political opinion polls conducted in late August with a huge grain of salt.)

Yet, the closer we get to Election Day, the more the undecided voters will get caught up in the electoral drama and the more their minds will become focused on politics.

Knowing this, political parties will always unleash their best, most persuasive messaging campaigns in the last week of the race, a time when they figure voters will be the most receptive.

It’s not a coincidence, for instance, that Jody Wilson-Raybould releases her book this week.

So, brace yourself; each party is about to launch a full-scale propaganda assault.

And since these ads will be geared toward the undecideds, don’t expect much in the way of subtlety or substance.

After all, if you’re reaching out to people who don’t care about ideology or policy, your ad campaign shouldn’t focus on ideology or policy.

Nor will you have time to “educate” voters on policies or issues.

The only persuasive tactic that will work during this short but crucial period is to manipulate emotions.

So, watch for all the parties to bash us over the head with strong appeals which will tap into our hates, fears and hopes.

The exact tone of the ad messaging, of course, will depend on what the internal polls are telling the party strategists.

If, for instance, pollsters are telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he’s falling behind, expect the Liberals to accelerate their efforts this week to demonize Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole.

It won’t be pretty.

In fact, if they’re truly desperate, the Liberals will throw everything they’ve got (including the kitchen sink) at the Conservatives. (Expect the name “Donald Trump” to pop up a lot.)

Also, if the Liberals are holding any dirt on O’Toole, now’s the time they’ll release it.

On the other hand, if Trudeau’s doing well in the polls, he’ll push a more inspirational, “vote for a happier Canada” sort of message.

Meanwhile, the exact same political calculations are going on in the Conservative camp, meaning if O’Toole is in trouble, he’ll drop the hammer on Trudeau; if he’s ahead in the polls, he’ll take the high moral road.

As for the New Democrats, well this is where their lack of fundraising success in the past, will come back to haunt them.

My point is, I seriously doubt they’ll have the financial resources needed to match either the Liberals or Conservatives when it comes to pushing a last week advertising blitz.

What that means is it’ll be much more difficult (but not impossible) for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to make any sort of surge at the finish line.

Anyway, watching all the parties for broke this week should be entertaining.

So, grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.

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.

Political history can sometimes make our present political chaos and ineptitude seem somehow more bearable. Don’t worry. All this has happened before.

Not everyone will also think that the increasingly ancient history of even the most populous province of Ontario may have some interest for Canadian federal politics in 2021.

Yet some would likely enough compare a Liberal Justin Trudeau who lost to Conservative Erin O’Toole this coming September 20 with the Liberal David Peterson, who lost to the New Democrat Bob Rae in the 1990 Ontario provincial election.

Premier Peterson had called an election earlier than usual because this seemed good democratic politics. But the voters didn’t like it, and elected a new government instead.

On some parallel trajectory a Justin Trudeau who won only a second minority government in the 2021 election would compare nicely enough with another historic Ontario politician — the later widely admired Progressive Conservative premier who sadly passed away on August 8, 2021, William Grenville Davis.

Like Justin Trudeau in 2015, Bill Davis from Brampton won a majority government in his first contest as PC party leader in 1971. Then like PM Trudeau in 2019, he could only manage a minority government in his second election in 1975.

Eminent and sometimes even brilliant political advisors then urged Premier Davis to call a snap election in 1977.

Opinion polls seemed to suggest that the Ontario PC minority government could regain its Legislative Assembly majority in a fresh contest on June 9, 1977 — just as polls seemed to imply something similar for Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals earlier in 2021.

As it happened, the best the Davis PCs could do in 1977 was a second minority government. They were still short of even a bare majority in the Assembly.

At this point, the Ontario Liberals and New Democrats were not close enough to contemplate the kind of joint action to defeat the long-lived Progressive Conservative dynasty that the David Peterson Liberals and Bob Rae New Democrats would bring to life in 1985. (When William Davis’s successor as PC leader, Frank Miller, could manage no more than another minority government.)

In the 1970s the Ontario Liberals were still showing their historic ties to the old family-farm democracy that dominated the province in the late 19th and earlier 20th centuries. The New Democrats had stronger urban industrial connections.

There were some subtleties of political arithmetic as well. Liberals and New Democrats together, for example, had only four more seats than the PCs in 1977, but 21 more in 1985. This made co-operation between the two opposition parties more realistic in 1985.

Back in 1977 the second William Davis PC minority government elected on June 9 would manage to survive until the first quarter of 1981. Perhaps partly because it was in some ways a progressive government, with which Liberals and New Democrats sometimes agreed, it managed to attract legislative majorities for three annual budgets.

Then, in a fresh election on March 19, 1981 the Davis PCs finally won a second majority government. And this gave a note of triumph to a career that ended with the premier’s retirement in 1985.

What does all this history mean today?

A Justin Trudeau who won only a second minority government on September 20, 2021, even though he called the snap election to win a majority government, would certainly have made a mistake. But the now admired Ontario Premier William Davis made the same mistake back in 1977. And he went on to finally win another majority government a few years later.

Justin Trudeau arguably has other things in common with William Davis in the 1970s and 1980s. Davis faced much criticism in office. He was too bland. He was all talk and no action. And his talk was just designed to obfuscate and confuse his critics.

In retrospect there is much agreement that Premier Davis managed a rather effective Ontario democratic government from 1971 to 1985.

He was also on the whole a crucial supporter of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the arduous federal-provincial negotiations that finally led to the Constitution Act, 1982, with all its challenging amending formulas alongside the landmark Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In any case a Justin Trudeau who won only a second minority government on September 20, 2021 could at least take some inspiration from the William Davis who finally won another majority government in 1981, quite a while after his mistaken election on June 9, 1977!

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.

This week, we finally got the costing of the Conservative platform pledges, and it was little wonder that they released it a mere two hours before the second French-language debate, as things in it weren’t exactly as advertised. For example, the health spending they have been touting – particularly to premiers whose endorsements they are after – is back-loaded to what would need to be a third consecutive Conservative-led parliament, and their growth assumptions are far beyond what other credible economists are pointing to. We are running out of days until the country goes to vote, and neither the NDP nor the Greens have released their own cost projections.

Whether it’s with the main fiscal numbers, or their climate plans and the associated modelling for them, the Liberals have been clearly coming out ahead of the other parties. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy – a Canadian think-tank at the University of Ottawa, led by former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page – has taken a look at the costing of both the Liberal and NDP platforms, and the Liberals have come out clearly ahead. The Liberals scored 15.5/18 on the three metrics that the IFSD judged them on – each meriting a “good” grade, as compared to a much more concerning 11.5/18 for the Conservatives, where the IFSD judged their “Responsible Fiscal Management” metric to be a failure. For a party that likes to call itself the “party of the economy,” or to wrap itself in an undeserved mantle of being good fiscal managers, the Conservatives are not living up to their own hype.

And then there are the environmental platforms, which have been judged by several experts in the field, one of the most notable being Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University. In his evaluation and modelling of the four federal main parties’ climate plans, he found that the Liberals’ plans and the sincerity behind what is being proposed garnered an 8/10 score, whereas the Conservatives got a mere 5/10, and interestingly, the Greens only got a 4/10 and the NDP merited a 2/10. Why? Because the Liberals had a plausible pathway in their platform that could reasonably achieve their GHG reduction targets with an estimated 2.5% loss of GDP. The Conservatives’ convoluted plan, with their carbon “savings accounts” (that will be an administrative nightmare and virtually unworkable) will achieve fewer reductions with a 2 percent loss of GDP, but that smaller target will also take Canada out of the Paris Accords.

As for the NDP and Greens, while they promise bigger reductions, neither has a credible pathway to achieving those reductions – certainly not a pathway that would be constitutional, and the GDP loss would be a lot bigger – 7.5% for the Greens, and 6.5% for the NDP, in part because they are promising things that will crater the economy for relatively little gain in the way of reductions. That both claim a dramatic economic transformation without job losses or economic pain, and all in the space of nine years, is neither feasible, nor is it credible. It’s not a stretch to extrapolate that their fiscal costing projections will likely also be similarly unrealistic, especially if the Greens are promising Basic Income and the NDP pledging to pay for a huge expansion in social programs that in no way could be financed by a wealth tax – certainly not for the first few years in any case.

Part of the reason why the Liberals have been able to achieve greater credibility on both the fiscal and environmental fronts are because they listen to expert advice – most of the time. The so-called “Economist Party” has had a huge influence on their platform and budgets, and that’s why we’re seeing a focus on things like inclusive growth, and why they have built an effective carbon pricing structure that will be far more likely to achieve results (particularly if provinces can effectively recycle the revenues from those pricing mechanisms). But the Liberals also have a recognized problem of over-promising, and being overly ambitious in terms of their timelines, which opens them up to attacks and opponents who are trying to foster disillusionment if things have not gone as fast as they would like, usually for good reason.

This is why we’re getting the canard of “you had six years” being thrown around for virtually any policy under the sun – it’s an attempt to skewer the Liberals for that sense of ambition and not crossing finish lines when they were hoping to (no matter how much of the journey they completed when time expired). It’s also horribly misleading, and assumes both infinite capacity within government to achieve results, and infinite parliamentary time to legislate – something that is harder to treat credibly given the toxic session we just completed, where almost no bills were passed thanks to the procedural warfare that the opposition engaged in for the first five months of the year, and displays of partisan dickishness in committees.

With this in mind, one has to wonder if the ballot question starts coming down to the credibility of what is on offer. The Liberals have done their homework, the math adds up, and their roadmaps show credibility – the other parties can’t say the same. The Conservatives most especially can’t claim much in the way of credibility given that Erin O’Toole has spent his entire time as leader both lying to Canadians about virtually everything under the sun, while also contorting his personal positions to fit whoever is in the room and to whatever the thinks he can get away with – on top of the fact that his fiscal plan is unsustainable, and his climate plan is both unworkable and won’t achieve needed reductions. The NDP and Greens had the advantage – if you can call it that – of never really being considered credible in the first place, and the analysis we’ve seen to date backs that up, but the Conservatives are supposed to be the credible alternative to the Liberals. The fact that they have not proven to be can’t be helping their chances the closer we get to election day.

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.

There were no winners among the federal leaders on Wednesday and Thursday. And the only real losers was anyone who gave up four hours of their life to watch both.

It was a farcical two nights where a confused debate format made what should fundamentally be a simple concept — have the leaders answer questions about their plan — and turned it into a confused circus where topics whizzed by and nothing of substance was allowed to happen for more than 20 seconds before the moderator moved things along.

Wednesday’s French-language debate was probably the worst of the two, but at least it started and ended an hour earlier. The world gets by on small mercies, and being able to call it a day at 10 counts for something.

What marked out the French debate was less what was said, than how weightless the whole thing felt. There was a moderator, Patrice Roy, who would ask leaders questions, then some leaders would debate each other, then other leaders would debate amongst themselves, and then everyone would all debate each other, then someone else would appear to ask individual questions before quickly moving on, and there was of course regular people asking questions on live TV.

The only thing to really break up the swirl of questions and talking points were the frequent interruptions of Roy to explain what exactly was supposed to happen in the next round, like we were all sitting to play a complicated board game for the first time and needed a guide through the rules.

When there was a chance for something of real substance to take place, the moderator or one of the other journalists who were not-moderating (like I said, it was confusing) quickly intervened to make sure the substance was cut off. The section of the debate on Indigenous issues was dominated by a story of some Asterix and Tintin books being burned in Ontario because of their depictions of Indigenous people. Dumb and overzealous, surely, but 1,000 miles from anything truly important.

When the debate did veer back toward more serious and substantive issues, Roy, to what should be his great shame, made sure to get things back on the subject of the comic books.

In another of the few moments we might have learned something came when an 11-year-old asked the leaders what they would do to reduce fossil fuel use, to fight climate change, and the subaltern moderator watered down the question enough that the leaders just talked about how they had children and climate change was important.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau probably came out of the French debate the best, having mostly been able to keep his hair being mussed by his opponents, and landing a surprisingly fiery — and no doubt at least a little bit rehearsed — broadside at Bloc Leader Yves Francois Blanchet, saying he too was a Quebecer and the Bloc doesn’t have a monopoly on Quebec issues.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole probably did fatal damage to his Quebec campaign by releasing a costed platform that would ditch Trudeau’s daycare plan and claw back a $6-billion dollar deal with Quebec to fund their already-in-place system.

But the second night provided a slightly flipped outcome. O’Toole came away seeming more reasonable, and likely introduced himself to a number of people who had barely heard of him. He made no fatal errors, and never really had to answer for his crap-ass climate plan or his decision on daycare.

Trudeau, this night took more heat from his rivals, and always seemed a step or two behind — relying too often on canned lines. The only real positive moment was when he chided Green Leader Annamie Paul that he wouldn’t take caucus management advice from her. The rest of the night he was flat.

Thursday, too, there was little of substance. And whenever some substance might have happened, moderator Shachi Kurl made sure to interrupt any meaningful exchange and hand the response to someone who wasn’t a part of a particular tete-a-tete.

It seems that Kurl will now be the focal point of the campaign after she called Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans religious head coverings from being worn by civil servants, “discriminatory.” Which is correct, it is. But Blanchet and the Quebec media broadly do not take well to this sort of truth-telling about their province and its gross conception of secularism.

This may turn the province back into the loving embrace of the Bloc. Or it may fizzle out. It will definitely spice things up for at least a few days in the closing stages of the election in that province though.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did better Thursday than he did Wednesday, it might have been the best performance of the night. But his stalled campaign needed some real pop from him. While he came close a few times, he was once again foiled by the format, which never allowed any attention to linger on any one candidate or issue for too long.

It was impossible to come away with any real idea about where anyone stood on much of anything. Whatever positions they were able to put out, were quickly swamped when we moved on to the next thing, then the next thing, then the next. A series of three-sentence talking points, one after another. It was exhausting, right up until the moment it was crushingly dull.

But like the rest of this election the debate was missing any real sense the pandemic ever happened, never mind is still happening.

The closest we came was maybe when a senior who was working a part-time job in Burlington, Ont. asked the leaders what they would do to make sure that she wouldn’t have to work a job she didn’t want to just to survive. The leaders all made nods to the difficulty of the pandemic, and how it was particularly hard on the elderly. But there was no acknowledgement from any of them about how profoundly traumatic the last 18 months have been.

Which is how both debates, beyond their stupid format, were a waste of time. Why this whole election exercise is turning out to be a waste of time. Nobody is willing to grapple with what we’ve been through, and what it might mean to the country going forward.

There was talk of the effect on business, and inflation, and housing prices all with a slight nod toward the pandemic. But nothing about more than 26,000 people dying of the same disease that’s still ravaging the country.

So instead we get a quick breeze though various topics, never getting anywhere beneath the surface.

It was a farce, but how could it be anything else? It was a part of Canadian democracy, all we can manage is farce. There are 10 days to go in the election. If only it could be fewer.

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.