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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.

This content is restricted to subscribers

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.

In the wake of an election marked by nastiness we are unaccustomed to in this country, and violence against politicians like we have never really seen before, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about how things got this bad. While many are quick to blame the Americans for somehow exporting this to our country, others are quick to point out that no, this is on us because we’ve got bad actors too in this country. Nevertheless, there is a prevailing sense among many in mainstream conservatism in this country who somehow believe that they can flirt with right-wing populism and somehow avoid the negative consequences that come along with it, as though there were some kind of “good parts only” version available to them. The hubris of that belief has come home to roost.

One of the most prominent proponents of using right-wing populism to his political advantage is Alberta premier Jason Kenney, who had spent years honing the craft of stoking and directing anger and turning it to his political advantage. First he sent it toward then-premier Rachel Notley, blaming her for every ill under the sun, and once she was defeated in the provincial election, he turned that anger entirely toward prime minister Justin Trudeau. It wasn’t Trudeau’s fault that a global supply glut in oil was depressing world prices because OPEC decided to open the taps in order to try and make the American’s shale oil unprofitable (which was even worse for the oil sands, for whom the shale boom was already sounding a death knell for their expansion plans), but Kenney was perfectly happy to blame Trudeau regardless – even if Trudeau was offering the province federal assistance that Stephen Harper had refused to.

Already, the signs were there that this was turning ugly. The “protesters” that Kenney was attracting were already selling t-shirts that promised to lynch Trudeau (or journalists, for that matter). “Lock her up!” chants about Notley and whoever else was convenient were starting, imported from the ugly Trump campaign, and Kenney gave a cursory “now, now, we vote them out,” rather than forcefully denouncing the practice and coming down hard on it and all that it entailed. Around the same time, there was a Conservative leadership contest happening, where there were candidates who were also willing to import this same American rhetoric for their own purposes.

Some of you may remember the campaign that Kellie Leitch ran, promising “values tests” and dog-whistling to the far right – so much so that Maxime Bernier denounced her as a “Karaoke Donald Trump,” while he was trying to run on libertarian values (and very nearly succeeded). That Bernier later left the party and started his own that embraced this very same rhetoric and tactics shows that he too believes there was political value in embracing it – the biggest difference seeming to be that he doesn’t seem to care about the negative consequences that come with the embrace, or he is willing to turn a very blind eye to it.

It should be no surprise that this stoking of anger in the service of political point-scoring turned to violence, whether that was with the gravel-throwing incident against the prime minister, or Liberal incumbent Marc Serré being assaulted in his campaign headquarters. And sure, the leaders of the other parties – including Bernier – denounced these acts, but again, a single statement of denunciation doesn’t go very far when you’ve amped up irrational anger in a group of people who are looking to hurt those who you have blamed for their woes. That anger needs to go somewhere, and it’s more than just forcefully marking a ballot on election day.

These kinds of tactics are deliberate. O’Toole’s social media consulting firm makes a point about messages shocking people in order to “invoke anger, pride, excitement or fear.” Kenney is a month away from holding a series of provincial referendums, one of which is to explicitly stoke anger at the federal government by asking a torqued question about equalization payments, as though the referendum could do anything about it. That referendum will also be held alongside blatantly unconstitutional “Senate nomination elections,” which is something invented whole cloth by Alberta governments in the past as a fictional grievance that they can then stoke, which Kenney was all too happy to resurrect – because he needs to keep directing that anger elsewhere. It’s too late, however – all of the anger he’s fomented is now being directed at him, and he won’t last much longer in the job.

It’s also not a surprise that this anger, not just in Alberta but in other parts of the country where the messages resonate, have led to an increase in threats against not only the prime minister (it was only a few months ago that someone rammed through the gates of Rideau Hall with a truck full of loaded weapons, intending to harm Trudeau), but also Notley, and ministers like Catherine McKenna. And it wasn’t just Kenney or Bernier stoking it either. Both Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole made a point of winking and nodding to these crowds, whether it was addressing the Yellow Vesters under the credulous guise of only seeing them as their fig-leaf cover story of being oil workers concerned about carbon prices (when in truth they were the same far-right operators mobilized by M-103 the year previous), or in stoking conspiracy theories about the United Nations Compact on Global Migration, the Great Reset initiative, or even George Soros. They knew what they were doing, and thought it could work for them.

The fact that things have taken a turn to physical violence was the least surprising thing, and yet both the Conservatives and their apologists are acting shocked. They tried cherry-picking elements from the fetid swamp that is the eco-system of right-wing populism, and pretended that it wouldn’t come with consequences. But now that those ugly consequences have reared their heads, it’s time to dismantle this system before it festers, and that means the Conservatives making a conscious choice not to double down in the hopes of regaining PPC votes that they blame for losing them the election.

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 content is restricted to subscribers

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.

Ah, the Leaders’ Debates Commission. Fancy meeting you here!

I’ve never appeared before the government agency that was established in 2018 to oversee English and French language debates with eligible federal party leaders. I never dealt with the TV network consortium that previously arranged them, either.

Nevertheless, I’m intimately familiar with each organization’s questionable decisions that have kept several party leaders away from the podium.

When I was an Ottawa Citizen columnist, I wrote in favour of then-Green Party leader Elizabeth May being included in the 2011 leaders’ election debates. I didn’t support May and the Greens, and never have. Regardless, I felt she deserved to participate in the debate with Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Tories), Michael Ignatieff (Liberals), Jack Layton (NDP) and Gilles Duceppe (BQ). She was ultimately excluded.

I also wrote in favour of People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier being included in the 2019 leaders’ election debates in a Toronto Star op-ed. I didn’t support Bernier and the PPC, and never have. Regardless, I felt he deserved to participate in the debate with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Liberals), Andrew Scheer (Tories), Jagmeet Singh (NDP), Yves-François Blanchet (BQ) – and, as fate would have it, May (Greens). He was originally excluded, but the decision was overturned.

The Commission is back at it this year. The main target is Bernier, but they threw in Jay Hill and the Maverick Party to create additional flavour for its political Mulligatawny Soup. Alas, it tastes more like smoke and mirrors.

PPC and Maverick didn’t fulfill the three criteria the Commission laid out for the 2021 leaders’ election debates:

* The party has at least one MP in the House of Commons who was elected as a member of that party.

* The party’s candidates in the 2019 federal election received at least four per cent of the total number of valid votes cast.

* The party has a national support level of at least four per cent, five days after the date the election is called. That is measured by leading national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recently publicly reported results.

The first and third criteria in 2021 are the same as 2019. The second criterion is new, and replaces the previous threshold, “Nominate candidates to run in at least 90% of all ridings.”

Maverick is a new party based on western provincial rights and independence. It was formed in January 2020 as Wexit Canada, and switched to its current name in September. It’s never run federal candidates, and has no electoral history. The Commission’s decision about Hill and Maverick seems logical. They don’t meet the parameters right now, but this could change after next month’s election.

What the Commission did with the PPC (again) is completely wrong.

The criteria for leaders’ election debates has always seemed arbitrary, restrictive — and, at times, undemocratic. Some people cheered this decision because of the controversial ideas that Bernier has espoused since launching the PPC in 2018. Regardless, liking or disliking a political party and/or leader isn’t a justifiable reason for inclusion or exclusion.

Let’s examine the Commission’s thresholds.

Criteria #1: Bernier doesn’t hold a seat in Parliament. He lost the Beauce riding in Quebec that he and his father, Gilles, held for the better part of three decades in 2019. However, May participated in the 2008 and 2011 leaders’ election debates before becoming the party’s first elected MP in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in the latter. Ergo, one hand washes the other.

Criteria #2: The PPC ran a full slate of candidates in 2019, and would have fulfilled the old criterion in 2021. Conversely, the PPC only earned 1.62% of the popular vote in 2019 – which the Commission obviously knew, and set a high bar the small party couldn’t cross. A little fishy and unfair? Sure seems like it.

Criteria #3: Five days before the election was called, the PPC’s polling was at 4.6 percent (EKOS, Aug. 10) and one listed it as not available (Angus Reid, Aug. 10). If we include additional days, the party was sitting at 4 percent (Abacus, Aug. 11), 3 percent (Leger, Aug. 12), 1.9 percent (Nanos, Aug. 13) and two N/A (Innovative, Mainstreet). On Aug. 15, the day the writ was dropped, the party was at 5.6 percent (Mainstreet), 2 percent (Leger), 5.1 percent (EKOS) and 5 percent (Forum). If you add everything together, it’s an average of 3.9 percent – which is close enough. Remove one outlier, and the 4 percent threshold has been fulfilled.

End result? Even with these arbitrary thresholds, the PPC basically met the Commission’s criteria. Unless you really want to split hairs, of course. Hence, Bernier should be allowed to participate in the leaders’ election debates.

As I’ve said and written before, the English and French debates should be about enhancing voter choice, knowledge and understanding. When party leaders like May and Bernier are prevented from participating for flimsy reasoning, it hurts our democracy and electoral process far more than it helps. It also affords small political parties like the Greens and PPC the ability to claim that “elitism” is always their greatest political adversary.

None of this will cause the Liberals, Tories, NDP or BQ to have any sleepless nights. Nevertheless, they must surely realize the Commission’s current criteria is preposterous, the party thresholds are evergreen and things need to be reformed. Otherwise, why bother holding these debates in the first place? (Which, I readily concur, is a separate matter that may be worth having.)

Until we meet again, Leaders’ Debates Commission… and we undoubtedly will.

Michael Taube, a columnist/political commentator, was a speechwriter for former 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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