With the 2019 Canadian Federal Election looking like it might be a close one, we’re hearing calls for strategic voting once again. The narrative, coming mostly from Liberal supporters online is a familiar one: If you vote for anyone other than a Liberal, you’re helping to elect Andrew Scheer and his ultra-regressive Conservatives (or basically re-elect Stephen Harper).

The Liberals are acting like they’re still “Canada’s natural governing party” and the only alternative to the Conservatives. In reality, they’re the group who were in third place just five years ago until they vaulted to Majority Government last election, defying expectations.

This time, though, it looks like people are realizing that the Lib tricks are soo 2011. If the Liberals could jump like that, then if everyone who supports the NDP votes for the NDP instead of strategically, we might just have Jagmeet Singh as our next Prime Minister.

Minority or Coalition

Or, as the latest polling indicates, we may be headed for a Liberal Minority Government where the NDP could hold the balance of power, which would mean the NDP could force the Libs to the left on key issues. Even if Scheer gets the most seats, but not enough to form a majority, we could be looking at a Liberal-NDP Coalition Government, which could be interesting.

Such a scenario is a very real possibility, but don’t just take my word for it. Scheer clearly thinks a coalition could happen. So much so that he came out swinging against the very notion of it.

The Conservative leader is pushing the narrative that since the “modern convention” has the party that wins the most seats forming government, that needs to happen. He should ask former BC Premier Christy Clark if the “modern convention” helped her out at all.

We almost had a Liberal/NDP coalition government in 2008 but Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament. He knew that the break would give the Liberal Party establishment enough time to show Stéphane Dion the door.

Harper bet that the Lib brass would rather be in opposition with their handpicked leader Michael Ignatieff than let fluke candidate Dion elevate himself to PM and he was right. The coalition evaporated about as quickly as Liberal relevance under Ignatieff did the following election.

This time around, though, the Liberals are very much the party of Trudeau. Their goal is to keep him in power by any means necessary.

Obviously Trudeau doesn’t want to talk about a coalition before the votes are cast. Doing so would invalidate his party’s “only way to stop Scheer” narrative. But if it turns out a coalition with the NDP is the only way he can keep his job, he will take it.

Broken Promise as a Campaign Tool

Funny thing is, strategic voting wouldn’t even be a thing this time around of Trudeau had made good on his 2015 election promise to bring in electoral reform. He didn’t even try.

Why would he? Our current First-Past-The-Post system works very well for his party and the Conservatives. It was only when the Liberals found themselves in a crouch that he even brought it up.

Most electoral reform models involve switching from FPTP to some form of Proportional Representation. They have their strengths and weaknesses, which I go through in a post on my personal blog (so as not to get too sidetracked here) and also propose a model of my own.

The only party that will actually bring in electoral reform or at least put it to a vote in a referendum is a party that campaigned on it and then finds itself in power for the first time under the current system. Changing how it works is not just a promise to voters for them, but a way to ensure that their party and other smaller parties don’t continue to suffer the same disadvantage that kept them out of power for decades.

Therefore, Liberal and Conservative voters who support electoral reform voting for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP this election would, in fact, be a strategic vote. And it’s the only kind of strategic voting I can get behind.

For everyone else, let your vote, your real vote, count!

Featured image by ishmael n. daro via Flickr Creative Commons

It’s that time again. The 2019 Canadian Federal Election is underway and Forget the Box is launching an election poll.

The winning party gets the endorsement of FTB readers with a site post written on their behalf. One vote per person, but please feel free to campaign to drive up votes for your choice just like with real politics.

FTB contributors are also free to try and drive up votes as well and you’d better believe I’ll be doing the same if needed. Writing an endorsement for a party you don’t support is not a pleasant experience.

But it is one we’ll endure. That is, however, with one exception: we won’t be endorsing Maxime Bernier’s far-right roadshow known as the People’s Party of Canada.

Like the debate commission, we’re starting with just the five major parties with MPs already elected under those banners (Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens and Bloc). Unlike the debate commission, we’re not going to cave.

You can add any officially registered party you like and if we get enough votes for, say, the Libertarian Party or the Communist Party, we’ll consider that option, but we reserve the right to limit the endorsement to the five main ones and will certainly exercise that right to not endorse the People’s Party.

This poll is designed to get an idea of what our readership supports and there’s no way the majority of readers on a generally left-leaning site support the dangerous xenophobic rhetoric of Bernier and company, no matter what some trolls may want people to believe.

So have your say below or in the sidebar of any page on this site:

Who Should FTB Endorse in the 2019 Canadian Federal Election?
  • New Democratic Party (NDP) 52%, 73 votes
    73 votes 52%
    73 votes - 52% of all votes
  • Deez nuts* 14%, 19 votes
    19 votes 14%
    19 votes - 14% of all votes
  • Conservative Party of Canada 10%, 14 votes
    14 votes 10%
    14 votes - 10% of all votes
  • Green Party of Canada 10%, 14 votes
    14 votes 10%
    14 votes - 10% of all votes
  • Liberal Party of Canada 10%, 14 votes
    14 votes 10%
    14 votes - 10% of all votes
  • None of the Above 3%, 4 votes
    4 votes 3%
    4 votes - 3% of all votes
  • Bloc Québécois 1%, 2 votes
    2 votes 1%
    2 votes - 1% of all votes
Total Votes: 140
September 23, 2019 - October 20, 2019
Voting is closed

Also, please feel free to let everyone know why you voted the way you did in the comments below. This certainly is a contentious election, so let’s discuss.

Happy voting!

Featured Image by Alirod Ameri, via Flickr Creative Commons

The 2019 Federal Election campaign is now underway, but before it even started officially, there were stories of the Green Party of Canada picking up support and poised for a breakthrough. This was largely at the expense of the NDP.

While I’m a card-carrying New Democrat and don’t plan on changing my vote, I’m always happy to see other progressive parties making inroads. The more the conversation veers left, the better for us all.

Unfortunately, this time, Elizabeth May’s success is fueled by a bigoted undercurrent that she and some in her party would rather the rest of us not notice. Plus some of their moves make it look like they are abandoning the left in favour of giving a coat of biodegradable green paint to some truly reprehensible stances.

Pierre Nantel’s Dubious Motives

Let’s start with Pierre Nantel. Member of Parliament for Longueuil – Saint Hubert first elected under the NDP banner as part of the Orange Wave in 2011. He announced a few weeks ago that he would finish out his term as an independent and run for re-election as a Green.

His rationale for leaving, as disseminated by the Greens to their email list (which, for some reason I’m on) is all about the environment. He didn’t cite any specific problems he had with the NDP’s environment platform, which is arguably more solid, or at worst, equally as solid, as what May and company are running on.

It’s also interesting that his concerns didn’t materialize sooner, given that getting elected as a Green was just as pie in the sky as getting elected as a New Democrat in Quebec at the start of the 2011 campaign. Guess he was just some misguided 48 year old kid who matured in the last eight years.

Or maybe, just maybe, Nantel’s defection has nothing to do with the fate of our planet, but rather what the current NDP leader wears on his head. Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh, wears a turban in keeping with his religion.

During the NDP leadership race, Nantel, aping Pauline Marois, told Radio-Canada that “ostentatious religious symbols are not compatible with power, with authority,” and that Singh’s bid for leadership doesn’t align with what Quebecers want to see from their political leaders. Sadly, Nantel’s bigoted views are what the Federal Green Party doesn’t mind seeing from its candidates.

Memo to Quebec Candidates: Try Not to Piss Off the Bigots

Bill 21, the CAQ Government’s new law that bars public sector workers from wearing religious symbols while on the job, will definitely be an issue in Quebec this election. The Greens would rather it not be.

While officially opposed to the legislation, the party has issued a directive to its Quebec candidates to avoid talking about it, if possible. Meanwhile, May has no problem with Green candidates supporting 21, a position the National Council of Canadian Muslims calls unacceptable and said so to her face.

It makes you wonder if official opposition to such a bigoted piece of legislation is worth anything if you let your candidates support it and discourage them from opposing it in the very part of the country where it actually affects people.

May’s New Brunswick Statement

Last week, we heard that 15 former NDP provincial candidates in New Brunswick had jumped ship to join the Greens. Then we heard that five of them didn’t and are quite upset their names were listed.

While this is an interesting political story, it’s also pretty standard brinkmanship and somewhat dirty politics. The part that’s relevant here is what Elizabeth May said about the possibility that racism played a part:

“Indeed, it may be a horrible reality that some people will not vote NDP because they are racist. I condemn these attitudes. But it is quite wrong to attack anyone who is disillusioned with the NDP by saying that the only reason they are disillusioned is because they are racist.”

– Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

No. No it’s not wrong to attack someone if their racism factors into their reasoning at all.

Sure, there are completely valid reasons for being disillusioned with the NDP, even hating the NDP and Singh’s leadership, but if his brown skin or turban is one of them, then you are no longer someone making a political point, you’re just a racist. And it’s always okay to attack racism.

It’s also never okay to benefit from someone else’s bigotry, even if you’re not a bigot yourself. Even if it potentially increases your seat count.

Nazis Aren’t a Distraction, They’re a Threat

And then there’s Danny Celovsky, Green Party candidate in Bay of Quinte. That’s where, earlier this year, a man raised a Nazi flag over his property and Celovsky decided to try and stop a Twitter discussion and condemnation, arguing that fascism and even Nazism were distractions from the only real issue: climate change.

One part in particular was telling:

“I disavow the stupid fascist freaks called Nazis. Put them in jail. Covered? Now … let’s start solving the problems my kids futures face.”

Danny Celovsky, Green Party of Canada candidate, Port Quinte ON, Twitter, May 18, 2019

His kids’ futures. What about the futures of the children who aren’t so white and Christian. Climate change is a real threat to them, too, but so are Nazis.

Imagine if AOC or Bernie or any of the other proponents of the Green New Deal south of the border, people who have called climate change the greatest threat of our time repeatedly, came out and said that what happened in Charlottesville and the kids in cages on the southern US border with Mexico are distractions. It would never happen, because while their environmental bona fides are beyond reproach, so is their commitment to social justice.

That’s what a real alternative from the left needs to be. Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.

Not Left. Not Right. So, By Default, Right

At this point, you might be expecting me to say something like: “The Greens aren’t real progressives. They’re just neoliberals playing to the left to get votes!” Well, that’s not what I’m going to say.

Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a neoliberal who likes to play to the left during elections to get votes if there ever was one, is clear in his opposition to Bill 21 and I can’t imagine him allowing anyone who thinks the rise of fascism and Nazism is a mere distraction to run, or continue to run for his party.

The Green Party slogan this election cycle is “Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together” and it’s a recipe for disaster. If you say “Not Racist. Not Anti-Racist.” you are essentially saying that racism is okay.

To illustrate this problem, let’s turn to another topic:

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently had to stress that his party would not re-open the abortion debate despite allowing individual members to try. Elizabeth May, meanwhile, said that despite the party’s official pro-choice stance, she wouldn’t stop anti-choice MPs from trying to open the debate.

Her party corrected her and she changed her tune later that same day, but if your party needs to issue a statement to correct the perception that you are to the right of Andrew Scheer, then you have a serious problem.

No matter how important the one issue you care about is (and the future of the planet is of paramount importance), you can’t ignore the rest. It’s not a distraction.

If Maxime Bernier woke up tomorrow and declared that he had been visited by three very white spirits and now believes that we need to stop climate change (dude’s loopy, could happen), he would still be a racist asshole. And, at this point, one I fear Elizabeth May would welcome to the cause.

Not All Greens

It’s important to note that quite a few people involved with and running for the Green Party are truly trying to be a progressive alternative to the mainstream political parties in Canada. In particular, I know that the Green Party of Quebec isn’t trying to bank on or ignore bigotry to get votes.

I also realize that a provincial party distancing itself from its national counterpart is risky. So is a federal candidate standing against their party’s leader on a particular point, while arguing for them to be Prime Minister because of a bunch of other points.

So I’m not calling on Green candidates and provincial parties to disavow their federal leader. I am, however, calling on potential Green voters to realize just who the leader is welcoming into the fold. And I’m calling on Elizabeth May and the federal Green leadership to, excuse the language, get their fucking shit together quickly.

People, myself included, have frequently warned the NDP against becoming Liberal lite. I never thought I’d have to warn the Green Party against becoming an eco-friendly version of the far right.

I really didn’t want to start this election campaign railing against the Green Party and I truly hope I don’t end it that way. Greenwashing bigotry is not how you save the planet, it’s how you marginalize yourself with voters who may otherwise rush to support you.

Featured image via CPAC

In the premier episode of the all-new FTB Podcast, hosts Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney talk about the Outremont by-election and Canadian politics with special guest Niall Ricardo and we feature an interview with NDP candidate Julia Sanchez.

Also: News Roundup, Survey Says (Should Major League Baseball return to Montreal?), Dear FTB, Things You Did Not Know (Maybe) and Predictions!

Recorded February 23, 2019 in Montreal

(DOWNLOAD)

Producer: Hannah Besseau

Hosts: Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney

Special Guest: Niall Ricardo, political operative with the NDP and well-studied political observer

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Julia Sánchez may be a first-time political candidate, but she has years of experience in highly politicized circles, tackling, for the most part, climate change. Now the former Managing Director for the Global Campaign for Climate Action is carrying the NDP banner in the Outremont by-election.

FTB’s Hannah Besseau had a chance to speak with her last week:

Featured image via NDP

On February 25th, voters in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South may very well give Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh a seat in the House of Commons. The prospect that they might not, though, has some openly speculating Singh won’t lead the party into the 2019 Federal Election if he loses.

Last Wednesday, former NDP Leader turned TV pundit Tom Mulcair told CTV’s Power Play that it would be very difficult for Singh to hold onto power if Burnaby South votes for someone else. He cited sources within the party to back up his statement.

Later in that same broadcast (the 40:40 mark to be precise), La Presse journalist Joël-Denis Bellavance told the panel that he knew of a pre-Christmas caucus meeting where they discussed a Plan B if Singh loses in Burnaby South. Basically, a new leadership election would be too expensive, so the party would force Singh to resign and the caucus would vote in a new interim leader that would take them into the 2019 campaign.

That’s right, some in the NDP think sending an unelected and officially temporary leader to debate Justin Trudeau on TV is a good idea. It’s actually the worst idea anyone has had in Canadian politics since the Liberals tried basically the same thing with Michael Ignatieff and failed miserably.

Sure, there were some differences. The Liberal Party establishment did let the leader their membership elected, Stéphane Dion, run in one election before replacing him with their hand-picked candidate and they did eventually go through the formality of letting membership officially elect Ignatieff once he was already in place with no challengers.

Still, the Liberal Party establishment’s choice failed worse than any other leader the party ever had in over a century. And that was with steps taken that the NDP establishment doesn’t even seem to want to attempt.

Bellavance mentioned Nathan Cullen and Guy Caron as possible interim choices. While Caron may be the current Parliamentary Leader, he didn’t just lose to Singh in the last leadership election, he finished fourth, so the party brass would probably go with Cullen, who didn’t run.

While Cullen may be a skilled debater and charismatic, he wouldn’t be able to overcome the fact that he wasn’t actually running for Prime Minister. Instead of “what I would do differently” he would have to talk about “what the person my party picks as leader and PM in a few months” would do differently.

Sure, if the NDP did win the election and form government with an interim leader, that person would probably become the actual party leader and PM very quickly, but there would still be no shaking the interim label during the campaign. It would be as if the NDP was saying “we won’t win, but vote for us anyways.”

Not only that, replacing a leader who had been on the job just over a year with someone else months before an election screams that the party is in disarray. Yes, the Ontario PCs did that and won, but they were already poised to win, not trailing in third place.

As a card-carrying NDP member, I didn’t vote for Jagmeet Singh in the last leadership election. In fact, I volunteered for one of his opponents, Niki Ashton.

That said, my fellow NDP members spoke and elected Singh as leader and I respect that. When we voted, it was to select the candidate to lead the party into the 2019 election, we all understood that.

When Tom Mulcair became leader, to say I was disappointed would have been an understatement. Still, I didn’t think that replacing him with someone else at the last minute before the election was an option, because it wasn’t.

Singh may still win the by-election. In fact, I suspect that talk of him losing is being amplified by the Liberals in hopes that the NDP will pull more money and resources out of places like Outremont and bring them to BC.

If he does lose, though, and resigns of his own accord, then another leadership race voted on by party membership is the only option if the party hopes to have any chance of maintaining what it has and gaining. If Singh loses in Burnaby South but wants to stay on as leader, then he should be allowed to do so and to run in 2019 as a party leader still looking for a seat.

NDP members knew he didn’t have a federal seat when they elected him. If he goes into the election running personally in some GTA riding where he is bound to win, then the party will do way better nationally than they would with a placeholder running as leader.

Pushing out a leader elected by the membership and replacing them with a handpicked party establishment favourite voted in by just the caucus is something that blew up in the Liberals’ face, and they’re the party of establishment insiders. Imagine what will happen if a party that is supposedly the progressive alternative pulls the same thing, and not very well.

* Featured image by ideas_dept via Flickr Creative Commons

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just put a new face on the opposition to Quebec’s religious symbol ban: his own.

In an interview with CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak, host Mike Finnerty asked him about the new CAQ government’s promise vigorously enforce a religious symbol ban and fire civil servants (police, teachers, etc.) who wear religious symbols on the job. While most of the public focus has been on Muslim women who wear the hijab, Singh, a Sikh, who wears a turban and kirpan (Ceremonial dagger), would also be affected by this ban if he was a Quebec civil servant:

Singh responded to this the best way possible, Sure, he couldn’t very well have said that wearing a turban is fine for Prime Minister but not a schoolteacher, but it’s still good that he’s taking a solid stand. It’s also quite politically savvy of him to refer to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms when asked about the Canadian one.

This is way better than the “I don’t like it personally, but you’ve got to respect the courts” message former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put out during the last federal election. Sure, the Bloc Québécois was attacking the NDP over their opposition to the Harper Government’s challenge to a court ruling that allowed women to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies, but they were doing it viscerally and Mulcair responded with an appeal to respect judicial rulings and an attempt at partial appeasement.

Not sure what he was thinking, really. The staunch bigots were going to return to the Bloc regardless, unless the NDP changed its stance, which wasn’t going to happen. Progressives, on the other hand, were looking for stronger anti-Harper messaging.

Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister who won a Majority Government with more than a handful of seats in Quebec, including some former Bloc strongholds that had flipped to the NDP in the 2011 Orange Wave, had this to say on the subject at the time:

“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”

That was bold. That was principled. That’s what someone not politically timid and completely controlled by advisers who favour the safe choice says.

Too bad he turned out to also be a total shill for Big Oil, which, incidentally, was the other part of the Bloc’s attack on the NDP in 2015 (Muclair was kinda wishy washy on pipelines). The Bloc actually released an ad with an oil pipleline dripping crude that turned into a niqab.

Eco-left and hard right in the same ad. Only in Quebec, I guess.

This is a strange place politically. We embrace leftist ideals and inclusiveness on many issues, but then go and elect a reactionary provincial government that promises a form of exclusion that even Trump hasn’t tried.

I think Singh gets this. That’s why he made a point of mentioning his support of LGBTQ and women’s rights and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants to head in the other direction along with his opposition to the religious symbol ban.

Singh, and everyone else, knows that the Bloc is imploding, this time with no outside help. He wants to make it clear to Bloc supporters jumping ship that voting Conservative means supporting a bunch of things that they may not be ready to get behind. They can’t greenwash or pinkwash their bigotry this time.

What’s most interesting, though, is how Singh is attempting to redefine the ban on religious symbols as anti-secular. During the interview (not during the clip above), he said:

There’s no way to say that you’re not supporting one identity or other, because there are certain identities that don’t require a kippa. But there are other identities that have headgear. I think it’s a hard argument to make, that one is more neutral than the other, because there’s always a certain tradition that may not have headgear and one that may or may not have a certain way of dress. I think that the point should be that we we have a society that is secular through the values that we promote — that sets freedom and access to justice for all. That there’s no barriers based on who you are. Those are the ways that we ensure that it is a secular society.

He’s right. Secularism means no state religion, not the state banning individuals, including those working for the state, from wearing the garments of their religion on the job while at the same time keeping a symbol of one religion on display in the National Assembly.

Singh is also reminding Quebecers that Muslim women who wear hijabs aren’t the only ones targeted by this ban. Sikhs who wear turbans like him and Jews who wear kippahs are also in the crosshairs, if not in the spotlight.

Will this bold strategy work? Honestly, who knows. Quebec politics are always a gamble.

Sure, a recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of a religious symbol ban, but that poll doesn’t show how many of them consider it an important enough issue to base their vote on. Maybe the CAQ won in spite of their bigotry, not because of it.

One thing is clear, though: trying to play it safe by appeasing the hard right while running as a left alternative is a recipe for disaster, especially in Quebec. When Mulcair tried it, he effectively turned Trudeau into the principled, inclusive opposition to the Bloc and, in the eyes of the rest of Canada, Harper. At least Singh won’t make that mistake.

Whether this stance translates into a better Quebec performance for the NDP has yet to be seen. Regardless, Jagmeet Singh speaking out against the religious symbol ban and redefining what it means is what the federal NDP needs.

* Featured image Creative Commons via OFL Communications Department

A candidate for major office with policies that appeal to the most progressive elements of the political left who is also the safe choice for so-called centrist strategic voters is kind of like a unicorn. It seems like Ontario may have found their unicorn in provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

According to a recent poll by Maclean’s and Pollara, Horwath and her party are in second place with 30% support. They trail frontrunner Doug Ford whose “Progressive” Conservatives are leading with 40% support, but are beating incumbent premier Kathleen Wynn whose Liberals are down to 23% support.

The writing is on the wall, or rather on everyone’s screens. Wynne can’t win. If you want to stop Ford Nation from taking over Queen’s Park, you have to vote NDP. Even right-leaning media are admitting Horwath won the first leaders’ debate.

Strategy Meets Solid Progressive Policy

So Horwath is the practical choice for those who don’t want to deal with a Ford at the provincial level. But what about those who see the Liberals as only a slightly less spiteful and ridiculous option than Doug?

Well, last time around, the NDP, under the same leader, desperately tried to position themselves as a watered-down version of the Liberals, to the chagrin of the party faithful. Now, the official ONDP Twitter account is posting stuff like this:

But they’re backing up the sassy tweets with a truly progressive platform that prioritizes universal dental and pharmacare, re-nationalizing Hydro One, turning student loans into grants, improving care for seniors by ending “hallway medicine” and raising taxes on the wealthiest people and corporations. Solid old-school NDP policies all, but the spin they put on some of them is just brilliant.

Bringing Hydro One “back into public hands” is coupled with an estimated 30% reduction in Hydro bills. Meanwhile, “creating thousands of student jobs” is the addendum to their plan to subsidize tuition.

But the best messaging, hands down, has got to be this:

“Protect middle class families by having the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations pay their fair share.”

They have successfully found a way to pitch a longstanding socialist solution to economic inequality as an appeal to the most coveted demographic for so-called moderates, the middle class.

More Left Through School and Weed

Another poll, this one by Forum Research, predicted a PC majority with the NDP as a “strong” Official Opposition. Since it doesn’t really matter how strong the opposition is in a Majority Government, the ONDP need to find a way to do just a bit better than predicted and overtake Ford or at least hold him to a Minority Government.

The only way for them to do that is to keep doing what they’ve been doing, just push a bit further. This is not the time to retreat back into old ways. Playing it safe, this time, means pushing the envelope more.

Horwath has her party’s traditional base back. Now she needs to mobilize new voters and get them excited enough not just to cast their ballot but to volunteer as well.

Proposing free tuition would be one way to do it. They could even announce how they plan to pay for it: with weed.

Seriously, I’m not kidding. Bear with me for a moment.

When cannabis becomes legal in Canada, Wynn plans to tightly control it through the LCBO. Ford, meanwhile, wants a free market, something that has garnered him support on the left.

The ONDP has remained pretty much silent on the subject and I understand why. Wynne’s position is extremely unpopular, especially among NDP supporters, but championing the free market just seems so un-NDP.

But in this case there is a third way. Have the government run medicinal marijuana and cover it as part of pharmacare but open up recreational pot sales to any business that successfully applies for a permit.

The government can regulate the product for quality and ensure proper labour standards and at the same time get a chunk of sales tax from all the places selling it, way more than they would from the mere handful of stores Wynn wants. Then they use the new revenues to pay for post-secondary education.

The spin is simple:

Wynn wants to privatize essential services like hydro and nationalize recreational products like pot with a plan that will make it unprofitable for Ontarians. Ford wants the Wild West. We see this as an opportunity to improve Ontario’s economy and provide a free education for all Ontarians.

It’s just one idea, but I’d hate to see the most left-leaning party that has a chance blow it and lose to Doug Ford over weed. The ONDP should really have a position on this issue which is currently wooing potential future hardcore supporters far to the right.

No matter what they decide to do on this front, though, Ontario New Democrats need to remember that their path to victory is keeping their traditional base and inspiring a new base with bold progressive and unabashedly socialist policy, pitching it in a way that doesn’t terrify suburbia, and driving the point home that Wynne can’t win and the only way to keep Ford Nation and all of their regressive social policies out of Queen’s Park is to vote NDP.

A unicorn is special because it’s a unicorn. If it tries to pretend it’s just a horse, then it loses any advantage it had.

* Featured image by E.K. Park via WikiMedia Commons

That was quick. A lot quicker than most expected. On Sunday Jagmeet Singh won with over 53% on the first ballot to become the new leader of the Federal NDP.

He’ll be taking on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that guy the Conservatives picked, Andy something I think (yes I know it’s Andrew Scheer, but did you without Googling it?), in 2019. It looks like we don’t have to wait two years for the media frenzy to start, though.

In the past few days, Singh has already generated quite a bit of coverage to say the least. There have been mainstream pieces focused primarily on his style and how this is really problematic for Trudeau, plus the obligatory right-wing attacks and commentary from those who supported other candidates for NDP Leader.

Full Disclosure: At the start of the leadership race, I had planned to cover and comment on it from the sidelines, that changed after I interviewed Niki Ashton. I was so impressed with her I decided to volunteer for her campaign and therefore stop writing about the contest on this site (my personal Facebook was another story). Now that the race is over, game on.

While Singh was not my first choice, he did win our reader poll quite handsomely. Speaking of handsome and charismatic, as I’m sure many will continue to do, I realize that having a style that can rival or even beat that of our selfie PM is an important step up for the NDP, but what about policy and the message Jagmeet is bringing to the table?

Image and Policy

Singh does have some propositions that strike me as quite progressive. Most unique to him, he wants to decriminalize possession of all drugs, period, and treat addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one. That’s a far cry from Tom Mulcair waffling on decriminalizing just pot and better than Justin Trudeau touting weed legalization while not overturning any convictions that happen before the legal status of the leaf changes, something Singh touched on in his first media scrum.

He also wants to decriminalize sex work and is a proponent of free post-secondary education. So far, so good.

Jagmeet is strong on social, racial and economic justice. For Singh, though, some of the NDP’s core issues are much more than talking points. He can (and did during his victory speech) offer personal stories of growing up with economic uncertainty and being pulled over countless times because of how he looked and the colour of his skin.

While he may not have been as strong against pipelines as some of his opponents, he did voice his opposition to Kinder-Morgan and Energy East in an interview with The Financial Post of all places.

All the NDP leadership candidates on stage following Singh’s victory (image: CPAC)

He wasn’t the only leadership candidate espousing progressive values in this race and wasn’t the furthest to the left, either. But it seems that this fact wasn’t lost on Singh. Before bringing his fellow candidates up on stage, he praised Ashton for her progressive stance and stopped just short of admitting she moved the discourse to the left, a sentiment he reiterated in his campaign’s email blast to NDP members on Monday:

“Niki has pushed the boundaries as a woman running for Prime Minister. Her courage to be unapologetically progressive and to engage a new generation has placed free tuition, climate change, gender justice, and unstable work on the federal stage. Thank you, Niki!”

He also thanked Charlie Angus for putting Native issues front and centre and Guy Caron for his “deep policy knowledge on (economic) inequality” before naming Caron his House Leader (Singh, an Ontario MPP doesn’t currently have a seat in the House of Commons) a few days later. It looks like he’s ready to listen, take what people liked about his now former opponents and integrate them with his own ideas.

He’s in it to win and become Prime Minister of Canada and if his subsequent actions match his current rhetoric, he just might, or at least lead the NDP back to Official Opposition status. This is a step up from Tom “My Way or the Highway” Mulcair.

This means that it’s up to all of us who supported other candidates to hold Jagmeet to his word and even guide him a little more to the left on some issues. He seems open to it.

There is a lot to like about Jagmeet Singh, but of course there are concerns as well.

The ‘Burbs, the Party Base and the Hangers On

Everyone knows that Singh brought a whole bunch of new members to the party, which is great. Many of them live in suburban ridings and could possibly add to the party base which would also be good.

If his plan is to mobilize them in hopes of swinging a few traditionally Liberal or Conservative seats to the New Democrats by changing the voting base without changing his national presentation, then great, good idea. If, however, he also plans to suck up to current Liberal and Conservative voters in those ridings by altering his image and message like Mulcair did, it won’t work and will turn off supporters elsewhere.

The NDP isn’t the party of middle class suburban continuity, it’s the party of big city and rural working class change. That’s what fuels and inspires the party base, the people who, really, can make or break an election.

The independent left-wing group Courage listed some of what progressives can celebrate in a Singh victory but also stuff to be vigilant about. The part that piqued my interest was the revelation that some people involved with the NDP’s move to the right under Mulcair were in the orbit of Singh’s candidacy.

Turning over a new leaf doesn’t just mean changing the face, it means institutional change behind the scenes as well. If Jagmeet truly wants to bring the party together and push a left-wing alternative to Trudeau, he should not only reach out to his opponents but the people who supported them, worked for them and volunteered for them as well (no, not talking about myself here, happily going back to journalism).

It’s not just what I hope for, it’s also good politics.

Oh Yeah, Racism

Jagmeet Singh was born in Scarborough, Ontario, a location that screams Canadiana about as loudly as Tim Hortons. When he speaks, he sounds like, well, someone from Ontario. When he speaks French he sounds like someone from Ontario who has put in the time and effort to learn the language out of respect for those Francophones listening to him.

That, of course, won’t stop the racists from having a serious problem with him because his skin colour is different from theirs. It also won’t stop the closet racists from using the fact that he wears a turban and a Kirpan (ceremonial Sikh dagger) to bring up some coded bigoted language about secularism and religious symbols while clutching their crosses.

The racist pushback started even before Singh won leadership. First there was the truly ignorant heckler at a Brampton event who started screaming about Sharia Law of all things. Jagmeet’s extremely chill response to this garnered him media attention globally and even caught the attention of US progressive outlet The Young Turks.

Then Quebec MP Pierre Nantel said that Singh wearing a turban was “inconsistent” with what voters in Quebec looked for in a leader. Honestly, Nantel sounds so much like a Bloc candidate that he should just join them and stop pretending he’s progressive.

Now, since the vote, the CBC’s Terry Milewski interviewed Singh and tweeted that Jagmeet refused to condemn Sikhs who held up posters of Talwinder Parmar, whom some suspect was involved in the Air India bombing. Never mind for a second that Milewski is infamous for his Samosa Politics series targeting the Sikh community, is the first question someone asks Justin Trudeau typically whether or not he condemns the Quebec mosque shooter or the FLQ?

Of course not. We assume correctly that Trudeau does condemn acts of terrorism. Why don’t we extend the same assumption to Singh?

I truly hope that the racists in Canada are as small and electorally insignificant a group as I think they are and that the only reason they seem louder is corporate media bolstering. I hope Canada and especially Quebec doesn’t prove me wrong.

Gonna Stay On Board

I became a card-carrying NDP member shortly before the Orange Wave and volunteered during that campaign. After Tom Mulcair took over, I remained an NDP voter but let my membership lapse. I knew that my input was not sought, though I offered plenty of it in posts on this site.

I re-joined the party specifically to vote for Niki. She didn’t win, but I’m not going to jump ship again, at least not right now.

Jagmeet is not Tom. Mulcair’s victory felt as though the most I could do was offer advice from the sidelines and hope for the best. Singh, on the other hand, seems like someone who wants to do what it takes to win and if he is convinced that keeping the NDP on a leftward trajectory will do that, then those hoping for a true progressive political change should all help him do that.

At the very least he’s a better choice for PM than Justin Trudeau.

Niki Ashton is the Member of Parliament for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, Manitoba and one of four candidates currently running to replace Ton Mulcair as leader of Canada’s NDP and take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election. She is currently garnering quite a bit of support from the party’s grassroots who see her as the most progressive left candidate in the field.

Ashton is in Montreal for a large rally with supporters just three days before the deadline to sign up to be a member of the NDP, which allows you to vote in the leadership election. I spoke with her about how Canada has changed since the last time she ran, the need for real progressive change and not just faux progress and other topics. Plus, we do some political name association:

* Audio recorded and edited by Hannah Besseau

* The Niki Ashton Montreal Rally is tonight, August 14th at 7pm at La Vitrola, 4602 St-Laurent

* To vote in the NDP Leadership Election in October, you need to become a member by August 17th

* You can also vote in FTB’s NDP Leadership Poll

Now that we know who the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is (Andrew Scheer), there is one more podium to fill next to Justin Trudeau on the debate stage when Canadians go to the polls in a few years: that of the Federal NDP Leader.

The leadership debates and campaigns are in full swing. While we won’t know who won until late October of this year, we’re giving our readers a chance to weigh in with a new site poll.

If new candidates enter the race or current ones drop out, we’ll update the choices. You can only vote for one option, but you can also change your vote right up until the poll expires on October 29th, so if you’re undecided, please feel free to say so knowing you can change your vote when you do make up your mind.

The winner of our poll gets the official endorsement of FTB readers and a post written on behalf of them. Since this is over four months of voting and we have other polls that will run in that time, it’s possible this poll may disappear from the site sidebar, but it will always be available in this post.

Here it is:

Who do you want to see as the next leader of the Federal NDP?
  • Jagmeet Singh 70%, 1639 votes
    1639 votes 70%
    1639 votes - 70% of all votes
  • Niki Ashton 18%, 409 votes
    409 votes 18%
    409 votes - 18% of all votes
  • Charlie Angus 4%, 99 votes
    99 votes 4%
    99 votes - 4% of all votes
  • Guy Caron 2%, 52 votes
    52 votes 2%
    52 votes - 2% of all votes
  • Peter Julian 1%, 33 votes
    33 votes 1%
    33 votes - 1% of all votes
  • I support another party 1%, 30 votes
    30 votes 1%
    30 votes - 1% of all votes
  • I'm not Canadian but thanks for asking 1%, 29 votes
    29 votes 1%
    29 votes - 1% of all votes
  • Not Sure Yet (you can change your vote before the poll expires) 1%, 20 votes
    20 votes 1%
    20 votes - 1% of all votes
  • Bring back Tom 1%, 13 votes
    13 votes 1%
    13 votes - 1% of all votes
  • I support the NDP but don't like any of the current choices. Someone else, please. 1%, 12 votes
    12 votes 1%
    12 votes - 1% of all votes
Total Votes: 2336
June 16, 2017 - October 29, 2017
Voting is closed

Of course, if you want to vote in the actual leadership race, you need to first become a member of the NDP

I’ve always loathed how a politician’s style and personal likability and trustworthiness seems more important to pundits and the public than the policies they put forward. After watching the first NDP Leadership Debate in Ottawa today, though, I’m inclined to push substance aside for the moment and focus on style.

I suggest New Democrats concerned with the future of their party do the same. This is the only time in recent memory that it’s actually been safe to do so in the search for a major federal party leader.

Last NDP Leadership contest, it would have been way too risky. There was a charismatic candidate who had floated the idea of cooperating with the Liberals electorally and a frontrunner who was great in the House of Commons but who was only progressive in a few areas and to the right of the Liberals in others.

The four candidates I saw today, though, seemed to be cut from the same orange cloth as Jack Layton. While there were minor differences in approach to some issues, by and large they agreed on pretty much everything. These were four voices from the left who knew that the best way forward for the party was to reconnect with its progressive base. A connection that was lost in a Mulcair-driven failed attempt to form government at all costs.

So when there was a “lightning round” of absolute fluff, stuff like favourite Quebecois movie, food and sport (that they all didn’t just answer hockey was astounding) with a couple of interesting questions mixed in (favourite feminist and last book you read), I thought good call, NDP moderators! I’m sold that they would all make great progressive Prime Ministers, let’s see who has the best chance to get there with some typical non-policy questions politicians get.

Actually, let’s now take a look at who has the best chance of bringing the NDP message forward, now that I’m confident that message will be a progressive one.

The four contenders are Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian. Going in, I was leaning Ashton, as I was familiar with her and voted her my #2 pick in the last leadership election. I also was familiar with Angus, but mostly as a musician who made it to Parliament. I was aware that there was an MP named Peter Julian and this is my first time hearing of Guy Caron.

Let’s see how they did:

Unique Style

When it comes to style, it’s important to remember that this is the person who will have to hold their own in debates with the selfie PM/international faux-progressive posterboy and all around great talker Justin Trudeau and whatever iteration of the right (TV businessman or true believer xenophobe) the Conservatives elect. The NDP needs a standout in that mix.

On stage today I saw three different models of NDP leader from the four candidates.

Ashton came across as fiery, like someone on a mission. She was the most passionately progressive person on that stage.

Angus, meanwhile, evoked the working class hero. Relaxed, someone you could have a beer with, but also someone who’s not afraid to call out BS and injustice when he sees it.

Caron and Julien, meanwhile, both seemed to play the part of the likable, principled middle manager/uncle who you respect but that’s about it. Think Tim Kaine but actually on the left.

Second Languages

To be elected Prime Minister (if you’re running with the NDP), you absolutely need to be bilingual. Sure, Quebec MPs don’t make up as much of the caucus as they did before the 2015 Orange Crash, but this province is still a huge factor in any roadmap to victory for the New Democrats. So is winning a decent number of seats throughout English Canada.

Caron fared the best in both official languages. His English was as solid as his French, just with an accent. His confidence and style didn’t change much when he switched languages.

Ashton and Julien were equally bilingual. Neither sacrificed the pacing of their speech in French to search for the right words. Yes, there were a few flubs, but they were barely noticeable given the confidence with which they spoke.

Angus, unfortunately, did mess up the second language test on both counts. He made quite a few errors and substituted English words on more than one occasion. That wouldn’t be so bad if his delivery remained constant. Unfortunately, it didn’t. In English he was relaxed and charming, in French, he sounded like someone reading a text for the first time.

Bringing the Progressive Message Home

All the candidates on the stage in Ottawa espoused progressive values and a return to the true left for the NDP, however, there were a few standout moments where they really drove that message home.

Ashton did this not once but twice. First, she spoke of the base that had “distanced” themselves from the party and then mentioned that the NDP lost the 2015 election because they had strayed too far to the perceived political centre that Trudeau’s Liberals were able to outflank them on the left.

Julien impressed when he acknowledged that in some cases it was impossible to reconcile the employment needs of Canadians with avoiding the potential environmental catastrophes that the Kinder-Morgan and Energy East pipelines might bring. He was the only one to answer that question in such a bold way.

Both Angus and Ashton opened the debate by acknowledging that it was taking place on unceded Algonquin territory (Ottawa). Julien also thanked Ashton for her acknowledgement, echoing the statement on stage and on Twitter.

So if, for the moment, we are safe with policy, let’s look at who’s best to deliver it.

You can watch the whole debate on ndp.ca

Featured image: CBC screengrab

An earlier version of this post said only two candidates mentioned that the debate was taking place on unceded indigenous territory

When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.

No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.

As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).

Canadian Politics

2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.

Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).

One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons.  Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.

Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.

As the year went on, the government kept up the progressive discourse that got them elected, but too often failed to follow it up with actions. The Prime Minister even blatantly went back on his promise of electoral reform, driving the last nail in the coffin for a good portion of increasingly disgruntled voters.

This year was not any less turbulent for smaller parties.

The NDP was licking its wounds and doing some soul-searching after their grueling 2015 loss. Fortunately, many members signed an open letter recognizing how disastrous their electoral strategy of aiming for the middle ground was and declaring their desire to go back to the unashamedly leftist positions they used to hold

As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)

Canadian Pipelines

Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.

The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.

While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.

If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.

None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)

Standing Rock

2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.

In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.

The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.

Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.

As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.

With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.

The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.

While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)

Indigenous Issues in Canada

Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.

While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.

Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.

Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)

Quebec Politics

Couillard struggling during a TV interview

The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.

This is undoubtedly linked to the fact that the real impact of the budget cuts in public services started becoming more apparent. In a memorable interactive interview with Radio-Canada last June, Premier Philippe Couillard was confronted with an onslaught of people suffering from his austerity measures. Some had lost their jobs and others were overwhelmed healthcare workers and angry parents.

The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.

Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.

If the PQ is now breathing down their necks in the polls, it is hardly due to their own accomplishments this year. In fact, the Parti Québécois spent most of 2016 trying to find a new leader after the freshly elected Pierre-Karl Péladeau resigned, citing family reasons. His excuse, standard as it might be, is not very hard to believe, considering he was later found to be stalking his ex-wife and is now in a grim legal battle against his late girlfriend’s ex.

In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.

Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.

However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)

Rape Culture

Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.

First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.

Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).

A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.

During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)

US Presidential Election

Painting by Samantha Gold, buy the original on eBay

For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.

First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there  and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.

The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.

The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.

Then it looked like it was finally over for the Donald with the release of the Access Hollywood tape. That was the last straw for several prominent members of the Republican establishment. Was the GOP going to implode?

Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.

The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.

As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)

Montreal Politics

At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.

This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.

2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.

By June there were already approved proposals for really ugly granite fake tree stumps for Mount-Royal and a national anthem for the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles. How was the city going to pay for all of this? In August a task force gave the Mayor one option: taxes on water consumption and trash collection.

Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).

There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.

When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.

The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.

In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.

While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.

The Montreal Police (SPVM) were also in trouble this year. They were caught spying on at least four journalists in November. Famed whistleblower Edward Snowden even mentioned this story ahead of his livestream talk at McGill University.

What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.

The Mayor said he stands by his police chief before cancelling an investigation into the matter.

Coderre probably wants Montrealers to forget good chunks of his 2016 and focus instead on 375th celebrations, then vote him back in near the end of the year. The opposition has another idea, though.

Official Opposition party Projet Montreal held its first ever leadership race in fall 2016 culminating in the election of Valérie Plante early December. (JCM)

Black Lives Matter/Police Killings

2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.

There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.

This prompted solidarity protests across the US. There was also an impromptu BLM sit-in during the Toronto Pride Parade and a couple of Montreal marches which highlighted that racist police violence was not just an American problem.

BLM sit-in during Pride Toronto, photo Hector Vasquez (BlogTO, Creative Commons Licence)

In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.

In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.

There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)

Syria

Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.

The Anti-ISIS coalition lead by the US is also responsible for a lot of civilian casualties. Amnesty International and the official opposition of al-Assad even called for a suspension of their airstrikes after they were reported to have killed between 100 and 200 civilians in the region of Manbij over two months.  This number is now confirmed to have surpassed 300, although the US still refuses to acknowledge it.

Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)


So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!

This podcast features panelists Mirna Djukic and Jimmy Zoubris discussing the new NDP back in Québec , Projet Montréal looking for a new leader, Trump’s latest remarks regarding women and more in our News Roundup segment. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha

Panelists

Jimmy Zoubris: Projet Montreal VP and Business Owner

Mirna Djukic: FTB News Contributor

 

*NDP Report by Mirna Djukic

*Projet Montréal Report by Hannah Besseau

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Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

The New Democratic Party of Quebec will soon be a thing. We spoke to its interim leader, Pierre Ducasse, on the phone.

“An alternative for people who want to have a progressive, social democratic voice, but at the same time a party that wants to work within Canada.” That’s what the NDPQ aspires to be in the next provincial elections.

Pierre Ducasse, three time candidate for the federal NDP and once Jack Layton’s “Quebec lieutenant”, officially kicked off the NDPQ public campaign this Wednesday.

“We have to get out of this political void and gloom. Maybe it’s time to give a home – a real one this time- to political orphans,” he wrote in an open letter on Facebook.

The idea has been in the air for some time. In fact, the New Democratic Party first got registered at the DGE in 2012, even if it was just to protect the name. “A few years earlier, a conservative tried to register the name New Democratic Party of Quebec, so we didn’t want that to happen,” explains Ducasse. With only about 300 members to date, the NDPQ is ready to start recruiting. The interim leader is confident that it will be a fully functioning party before the 2018 elections.

“Organizationally, it might be tough, but we can’t give a free pass to this government anymore,” he admits.

Despite the declining enthusiasm of Quebeckers for the federal NDP, he feels that the timing is just right to “shake up the political dynamics” in the province.

What makes the timing right?

For me, the decision to create a Quebec NDP relies exclusively on analysis of the context. That context is that feeling of morosity; the feeling that Quebec is not moving, that there is no project that builds bridges and brings people together. There is the lingering issue of sovereignty where people are still polarized in a way that is not useful.

With Couillard and Charest before him… when we look at it, they are not really liberals, are they? They are more conservatives…. This has to stop because we sense so much arrogance with this government, scandal after scandal. Ethics and fighting corruption: they are not our number one priorities and they should be.

At the same time, I think a lot of Quebeckers are fed up with the constant polarization around the national question. A lot of Quebeckers – it’s been clear from the polls- don’t want another sovereignty referendum. But, sadly, the PQ and others want to bring us in this direction.

Between the unconditional federalist partisans of the Status Quo on one side and the unconditional independentists on the other side, the rest of the population feels held hostage. We need to find a way to move beyond this debate – well not beyond it, but beyond how it’s debated ducasse-fbright now.

Except on the independence issue, your positions seem similar to Quebec Solidaire’s. Are you concerned about splitting the left vote?

I said repeatedly that we can’t steal the votes from other parties for one simple reason: the vote belongs to the citizens; it doesn’t belong to the parties. Some people think that Quebec NDP would divert support from QS mostly, others think that it would be at the liberals’ expense mostly… The only way to know is to do it.

One thing I can say for sure is that I do not consider Québec Solidaire my opponent or my enemy. For me the adversaries are these right-wing policies, whether they’re from the liberals or from any other party: those austerity policies, the lack of focus on education and health and fighting poverty. And right now they are embodied by the Quebec Liberal party – who is ideologically closer to a conservative party.

How many people do you think vote Liberal, not because they necessarily like them, but because they could never vote for a sovereignist party? A lot of people say ‘we hold our nose while voting”. Well, maybe holding our nose is not something we should do while voting,

Your assessment of Quebec’s political landscape is pretty harsh. Referring to the Liberal party, you said “when we ask for nothing, chances are we will get it.” What is the NDPQ going to ask of Ottawa?

It’s too soon to get into specifics, but look at the Liberals… what I’m saying is they have not put forward a vision, like: this is how we see provincial-federal relations, these are the issues we’d like to work cooperatively with other provinces and these are issues where we might have a different approach…

Sadly, the only two files in which we had a sense that the Couillard government really took a firm stand against Ottawa, were in terms of pensions and healthcare. And in both cases, it was, in my mind, the wrong decisions! When the federal wanted to strengthen the pension plan and the Régie des rentes du Québec: that was an example of when we should have worked with other provinces. I certainly support the principles of the Canada Health Act and certainly support that we can’t have more health care privatization, but we shouldn’t wait for somebody else to tell us.

The federal NDP has had a rough time since last elections, especially in Quebec where it lost 75% of its membership. Why would Quebeckers be interested in a provincial version of it?

I was there, building the party in the beginning of the 2000s with Jack [Layton], and I remember a time when we had 1% in Quebec. That didn’t stop us: we believed in the project and we moved forward and a decade later there was the Orange Wave.

I’m well aware that the 2015 elections did not have the results we had hoped. We’ll see what happens federally. The liberals tend to talk on the left, but for a lot of issues, it’s the same policies as Harper.  But the federal Liberals are at least pretending to be progressive, where the Quebec Liberals are not even pretending!

The Quebec NDP would be independent, there is no automatic affiliation between the two but there is certainly an ideological proximity with the Federal NDP. Many members might be involved in both so, the ideas are similar, but it doesn’t mean they will be exactly the same all the time. If it’s a distinct autonomous party, it means that it may not be always exactly the same.

 

Over the next few months, the NDPQ will be forming riding committees and organizing training sessions about Quebec’s electoral law for its members.

Alberta officially started its path to reach a minimum salary of $15 an hour by 2018. The cabinet passed the legislation to launch the phased hike on Tuesday.  This surprisingly progressive move will make Alberta the province with the highest minimum wage in the country, and by far.

On October 1st, Alberta’s minimum salary will go from $11.20 to $12.20. It will rise to $13.60 in October 2017 and finally reach $15 on October 1st 2018.

The government has already reduced the gap between the general minimum wage and the one for servers and bartenders (these employees are generally paid less to compensate for the tip they receive) by half. The gap will be completely eliminated next month.

Premier Rachel Notley had promised to raise the minimum wage during last year’s provincial elections. She is now following through with it, despite backlash from business groups and other parties.

Unsurprisingly, detractors of the hike have predicted terrible consequences for the economy.  The opposition is convinced that unemployment will soar and small businesses will burn. Representatives of small businesses have launched a petition against the $15 wage. It should be noted that, despite popular beliefs, research has failed to prove a clear correlation between job losses and minimum wage hikes.

Notley’s party, the Alberta NDP, have relentlessly defended the hike as a necessity.

“Every Albertan should be able to afford rent, transportation and food. These increases will help insure that low wage earners can at least meet their basic needs,” said Labour Minister Christina Gray, when the plan was outlined in June.

There are approximately 305 000 Albertans currently living on minimal wage. According to the government’s numbers, almost two thirds of them are women. 44% have children under eighteen and 7% are single parents.

In 2015, 3.1% of Albertan workers were on minimum wage, but a much larger percentage, currently paid under $15 an hour, will be positively affected by the hike.

The proportion of workers on minimum wage is twice as high in Quebec.  In August, Minister of Finance Carlos Leitao made it very clear what he thought of raising the minimum wage. According to him, $10.75 is within the “advisable range” and the slight readjustment made every year for inflation is more than enough. “I don’t see why we would accelerate this process,” he declared to the Journal de Québec.

He was responding to Alexandre Taillefer, a businessman who gained notoriety through the TV show Les Dragons. Taillefer had called for a $15 minimum wage during the World Social Forum. Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire are also supporting this idea.

*Featured image credited to Chris Schwartz, Government of Alberta