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

LISTEN:

WATCH:

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

There has been quite a bit of talk about money in politics lately. Thanks in part to Bernie Sanders, we all know about the obscene amounts of money donated anonymously through SuperPacs to political candidates in the United States.

But the problem isn’t limited to the States, and it’s also not limited to major national campaigns. In fact, it has permeated even the most basic elements of our representative democracies.

There’s a phrase I saw, or rather re-saw, recently in a meme, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, now:

“If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.”

I have been trying to reconcile this with my long-held view that internet media can be revolutionary. There are good arguments both for and against the notion. When it comes to party politics, though, things become a little more cut and dry.

Application Fees for the Top Job

On Monday, Projet Montréal, arguably the most progressive political party in the city, officially began its search for a new leader. There were, of course, rules. Understandably, you have to be legally eligible to be a candidate for Mayor of Montréal (because that’s what the job essentially is) and you have to have already been a member of the party (fair play, considering they want to weed out people running just to disparage the party).

But there’s more: you also need to have previously donated at least $300 to the party and must raise between $5 000 and $30 000 during the campaign. Yes, there are financial requirements for prospective candidates.

On one hand, I understand that a City Councillor who owes their better-than-average paying job, in part, to a party, should give a little back. I also realize that for many, $300 isn’t all that much money.

However, these requirements limit the field to those who are already elected or have enough money lying around to make that $300 investment. If someone doesn’t, sure they can borrow it off their friend, but then they will be beholden to their friend. Sure, it’s not like owing Walmart or Imperial Oil, but it’s still owing a contributor.

When it comes to raising money during the campaign, it does make sense that a well-funded campaign will do better than a poorly funded one, so I imagine any candidate for leadership will try to raise money. But making it a requirement effectively works against someone who has an idea of another way to succeed (an excellent social media campaign, for example).

It’s not that foregoing raising funds in lieu of another approach will work. It’s that someone who has that idea should be given the chance to succeed or fail with it.

That said, you do not have to be a member of a political party to become Mayor, you can run as an independent. That’s not the case everywhere, though.

You Need to Lead a Party to be Prime Minister

The Federal NDP will also be holding its leadership race in the near future. The NDP also has rules for candidates wishing to enter (at this point, just proposed rules):

  1. Leadership hopefuls need to collect 500 signatures from party members in different regions of the country. Makes sense.
  2. Half those signatures need to be from “female-identified members” and 100 need to come from “other equity-seeking groups” which means visible minorities, Aboriginal Peoples, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. Yes, sure, absolutely. The more representative, the better.
  3. There is a $30 000 entry fee. Wait, what? Some people don’t make that in a year!

30 grand for a chance to be NDP Leader? That’s like taking three huge steps forward and then 30 000 steps back when it comes to inclusivity, especially when you consider that those the NDP is trying to include in the voting process are more likely to be those who can’t afford the leadership registration fee.

Former candidate Cheri DiNovo brought this issue to the forefront, refusing to officially enter the race and pay the fee. While she said she could probably raise the money, no candidate should have to in order to run.

And she’s absolutely correct. The only people who can afford to spend $30 000 on a job application when getting the job isn’t a sure thing (and a PM or MP’s salary isn’t either, even if you do get the job) are those who are already wealthy, are already elected officials, or those who know enough donors to raise the money from.

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No matter how you cut it, there is a huge personal economic restriction placed on people not already part of the political process who want to throw their hat in the ring. Sure, anyone can get involved, but the limits to the higher levels aren’t based on experience, they’re based on personal finances.

And unlike municipal politics, you need to be the leader of a political party to become Prime Minister of Canada. Not sure what the other major parties charge to run for leader, but if the progressive, left NDP is any indication, PM is a job inaccessible to those who don’t have or can’t raise large sums of money.

Until someone with hardly any cash can successfully run for mayor or PM on a party ticket, party politics remain inaccessible to the poor and therefore cannot be considered radical or revolutionary.

On Sunday, at the Green Party of Canada’s National Convention in Ottawa, party membership adopted a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution into the official Green platform. Now leader Elizabeth May, currently the party’s only elected Member of Parliament, is taking a week off to decide if she still wants to head the federal greens.

Entitled Palestinian Self-Determination and the Movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, the resolution builds on existing Green Party opposition to the expansion of Israeli settlements and demolition of Palestinian homes with “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).” The Greens will continue to support BDS “until such time as Israel implements a permanent ban on further settlement construction in the OPT, and enters into good faith negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people for the purpose of establishing a viable, contiguous and truly sovereign Palestinian state.”

The resolution also “opposes all efforts to prohibit, punish or otherwise deter expressions of support for BDS.” Efforts like the recent toothless, though inflammatory resolution in the House of Commons condemning BDS proposed by the Conservatives but supported by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government.

May opposed the Green BDS resolution, but said she welcomed the discussion and would support the members’ decision. Now, she is singing a somewhat different tune, calling BDS “polarizing” and musing in public if stepping down as leader but remaining the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands in BC might be the best course of action for her.

Most likely May is really weighing whether or not she can effectively defend her party’s position on the issue in a debate a few years from now with Trudeau and whomever the Conservatives and NDP decide to anoint as leader. You know someone’s going to bring it up. Probably Trudeau.

She’s also probably doing some math. Figuring out just how many lefties this will bring over from the NDP and comparing it to how many Green voters she may lose and factoring in how many Canadian voters actually care about this issue enough to switch their vote over it.

This is, regardless of how it plays out, a change in Canadian politics, and not just because the Green Party has staked ground in stark opposition to our current Government and Official Opposition. The very fact that May is mulling her options right now is incredibly significant.

In theory, if a party’s membership and leader are on different sides of a particular issue, the leader must decide between getting behind what the membership wants or resigning. That’s what’s happening here.

Now compare that with the NDP a little over a year ago. The leader, Thomas Mulcair, was at odds with party membership over his unbalanced support of Israel. In a contrast to what we are seeing now with the Green Party, NDP membership had to decide if they could get behind what the leader wants or leave the party. Many opted to try and push Mulcair’s position a little bit closer to theirs and some even occupied offices to do just that, only to see Mulcair back to his old tricks in the General Election.

With the Green Party, it’s the leader who has to follow what the party wants or leave. And that is a big change in Canadian politics.

* Featured image by Canada 2020 via Flickr Creative Commons

I really thought the US would get there first and we’d see a fistfight on the floor of the House of Representatives before what happened Wednesday in Canada’s House of Commons. I was wrong.

In case you were on a social media sabbatical, I’ll recap: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau manhandled Conservative Whip Gordon Brown and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest, then got into a shouting match with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

Have a look (starts around 0:38):

What lead up to this was a vote being called on a reduced timeframe for debate on the Liberal Government’s controversial assisted dying bill. The NDP is not opposed to the bill itself, but nor do they support it as a party. Mulcair made it a free vote, so MPs could vote their conscience.

What they are opposed to is the way Trudeau’s Liberals have been limiting the debate time on this and other recent pieces of legislation. That’s why they were blocking Brown’s path, something the whip didn’t seem to have a problem with, which prompted our PM to leave his seat and take matters, and Brown, into his own hands.

I have some advice. Most of it is for the NDP, but we’ll get the easier advice out of the way first.

Dude, What Were You Thinking?

By all accounts, Justin Trudeau is a smart man and a skilled politician. That’s why his antics on Wednesday really make no sense.

The vote was going to happen. The opposition whip making his way to the Speaker was really just a formality.

If he wanted to break up the logjam, he had two viable options: officially ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to do it or unofficially get some MP craving the spotlight to do it. What he did wasn’t one of them.

Maybe he thought this would play like Jean Chretien choking a protester. Instead it came across more like the late Rob Ford knocking over a city councillor by accident.

Or maybe he wasn’t thinking at all. Maybe he was just pissed. If that is the case, then there is a real problem. When the opposition is pulling a stunt to highlight your government ramming things through, maybe pulling your own stunt of ramming yourself through them isn’t the best idea.

My advice to our Prime Minister is, well, to think.

Wrong Spin, NDP

As for the NDP, Trudeau had handed them the kind of PR gold opposition parties can only dream of. Their response should have been a simple one that stayed on message: Trudeau is trying to steamroll bills through Parliament and now look at him physically steamroll through the opposition.

Instead, they decided to sell it much in the same way a pro wrestling jobber would sell an elbow from an up-and-coming mid-card talent, by falling to the ground. They decided to take the “what kind of feminist is Trudeau, he just elbowed a woman and she had to leave the room” approach.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of ways to call bullshit on Trudeau’s much touted feminism. His recent arms sale to Saudi Arabia comes to mind. This, unfortunately, was not one of them, and I am astounded NDP leadership didn’t realize it.

In less than 24 hours, they managed to turn a story about our PM acting like a bully into one where they were the butt of jokes in The Beaverton and, at the same time, the posterboys of trivializing violence against women by reducing it to an accidental elbow caught on camera while others have suffered and continue to suffer much worse on a daily basis.

In some coverage, Trudeau is now coming across as the victim of an overzealous opposition. In other articles, writers are juxtaposing the faux outrage over this incident with the real suffering people considering assisted dying are facing.

The NDP stunt was a statement against fast-tracking legislation in general, not against the specific bill being fast-tracked, but it’s easy to conflate the two when Mulcair and company aren’t sticking to their original point of contention by making it all about the elbow. Trudeau has apologized three times for the elbow, muting further attacks based on it and the Liberals have now quietly withdrawn their attempts to speed up debate in the Commons, meaning the NDP has now completely missed their chance to make it an issue, at least for the moment.

Another unfortunate side-effect is that now Brosseau is fielding tons of personal attacks online about the incident which she, in no way, deserves. Getting elbowed in the chest, I can only imagine, is quite an unpleasant experience, even if it was an accident. She was right to leave the room after being hit and also perfectly justified in being upset about what happened.

The over-reaction and insistence of her party that this is all about the elbow is not her fault. Unfortunately, now when Mulcair and others defending her against the recent hate tweet something like this:

Almost all the responses are about the elbowing incident and whether or not the party over-reacted and not about all of the hateful comments she has received.

So now the NDP has completely lost their message and are now fighting against internet trolls when they could have easily turned this into a statement about government bullying.

My advice to the NDP is the exact same advice I gave to Justin Trudeau: think.

The Winners

So who comes out of this debacle on top? Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and the Conservatives.

May got her chance to chastise both the Liberals and the NDP for being incredibly immature. Meanwhile, former PM Stephen Harper, who doesn’t always show up in the House of Commons these days, but was present for this vote, can be seen briefly in the video feed of the incident smugly smirking at what was going on:

So, once again to recap: Justin Trudeau screwed up royally but the NDP botched their response and are now on the defensive and Stephen Harper had a good chuckle.

Panelists Josh Davidson, Cem Ertekin and Enzo Sabbagha discuss the NDP Convention which voted for a campaign to replace Tom Mulcair as leader, Jersey’s Saloon, a controversial new coyote-ugly style bar Peter Sergakis is opening in NDG and the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the issues of gender and race representation it brings up. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

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

Panelists

Josh Davidson: FTB Food Columnist & Blogger at mealscape.wordpress.com

Cem Ertekin: Editor at The McGill Daily & FTB Contributor and Editor

Enzo Sabbagha: Podcast Production Assistant and music student

Kittomher: Cat

* Sergakis Report by Josh Davidson

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s something I have been asking myself for the past few months: Why, as a lifelong Canadian, do I care so much about the current US election?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a bit of a political junkie and I also write about politics, so American presidential elections always interest me. But never this much and never this early.

Sure, when the parties pick their candidates and the election looms, I’ll watch the debates and tweet about things like “binders full of women.” I’ll even find a bar to watch the results on election night.

But this year, I have been glued to the primaries, refreshing the page as results come in and once even watched CNN and was incredibly amused and confused by how caucuses operate (they’re flipping coins, really?).

Why do I care? After some reflection, it comes down to two people and none of them are Donald Trump.

It’s Not the Circus, It’s the Substance

When it comes to politics, one thing I have always enjoyed is the spectacle. The theatre of the whole thing. Yes, I know that they are talking about serious issues, but seeing as how I have never believed that any prominent candidate would ever be able to or want to change how things run, I have settled for watching their rise to the top as sport and trying to guess the outcome in the same light.

Things are different this time. I believe that Bernie Sanders wants to make things better. He doesn’t just say the sort of things that please my progressive sensibilities; he has been saying them for over 30 years.

I was really taken aback when I saw a video from the late 80s of Sanders talking about his ideal President. He used many of the same lines that are a key part of his stump speech today. So he didn’t just grab those ideas and talking points from the Occupy Movement afterall.

This isn’t a case of a candidate catching up to what the voters want and emulating it. Instead, the voters have finally caught up with the candidate.

That is something truly revolutionary. While the spectacle remains with the Republicans, the substance is with Bernie. Though I have to admit, the bird landing on his podium was probably the most spectacular piece of unexpected and improvised political theatre I have seen in a long time.

So that’s why I have been following so closely, reading the polls, getting annoyed every time Hillary Clinton or her supporters tried to block the Sanders surge. Hell, I even joined the Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash on Facebook.

Well, Bernie’s authenticity is one of the reasons. The other is a little closer to home.

What this Election Means for the Canadian Left

It’s no secret that the election of a new US President has a profound impact well beyond the 50 states. A change of face and possibly direction in the world’s one remaining economic, cultural and military superpower always has an effect around the world and here in Canada, too.

But that’s not why I care so much this time. I am far less interested in the relationship our current Prime Minister will have with the next POUTS than I am with the effect a potential Sanders victory will have on the left in Canada.

One of his better moments: Tom Mulcair speaking out against Bill C-51 in the rain
One of his better moments: Tom Mulcair speaking out against Bill C-51 in the rain (photo: Toronto Star)

If the Empire itself, a country that can generously be described as center-right by and large, can elect a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist as their President, then what place does the NDP, supposedly the most progressive party in Canada, a center-left country, have removing the word socialism from their party platform?

Moreover, if the unapologetically left approach the Sanders Campaign has employed eventually moves him into the White House, there will be no more justifiable electoral reasons for the NDP to remain silent on issues that speak to their left flank.

Not only does Bernie Sanders welcome the support of Black Lives Matter activist Erica Garner, he put her in an ad. He also didn’t stop BLM activists from taking the microphone at one of his rallies. Meanwhile, Tom Mulcair’s NDP remained silent during Quebec’s student protests in 2012, even when the movement was threatened with massive police repression and draconian laws.

What were they afraid of? That they would be tagged with embracing protest? Well, one of the images that improved Bernie Sanders’ rep among voters was the one of him being personally arrested at a civil rights protest in the 60s:

bernie sanders arrest

Also, while Mulcair campaigned for a $15/hr wage for federal employees, Sanders wants to make that a reality for everyone in the US. When our own left-leaning party is more cautious than a potential Democratic Party nominee for President, it makes me wonder.

The Change is Happening

Admittedly, Mulcair has been talking tougher lately, as his leadership review is approaching. He tweeted #ibelievesurvivors just before the Gomeshi verdict was announced, is arguing for democratic socialism and has openly called Donald Trump a fascist.

It makes me wish that this was the Mulcair we got during the campaign and during his tenure as Opposition Leader. Sure, he was strong in his opposition to C-51 and in a few other ways, but overall he refused to embrace the radicalism that was at the base of his party.

Whether Mulcair remains NDP leader or not, the change in the party’s approach to big issues has already begun, and that’s thanks to the influence of the success Sanders has had so far. Imagine what the NDP will be courageous and principled enough to campaign on next time if Bernie is President.

So why do I care so much about the next US Election? It’s because of two people: Bernie Sanders and Tom Mulcair.

For many true dippers, through and through New Democrats, the last Canadian Federal Election was an excruciating ordeal. What looked like a historic run towards the first Social-Democratic government in Canada history turned into a nightmarish scenario for thousands of NDP volunteers, hundreds of NDP teams, candidates and their staff from coast to coast to coast.

It is a secret to no one that I participated in one of the NDP campaigns on the Island of Montreal, in the borough of Lachine and Lasalle and in the city of Dorval. During the three years of working in the riding of Lachine, I saw first hand what elected representatives with heart and courage can accomplish for social justice by fighting against poverty, racism and xenophobia.

MPs offices and staff can truly be at the service of the people, front-line services like fighting deportations, fighting for the betterment of poor working people’s pensions, fighting for mothers to receive their rightful universal child care benefit and most importantly creating a space of listening, a true channel between the voices that are silenced in our political system and Parliament. A true, though minor, revolutionary occurrence.

It was three years of seeing firsthand the gruesome side of the political spectacle. The daily sexism that young women and women in general faced both inside and outside of the House of Commons. The political plays and the political playbooks. The clientelism and tokenism and racism that is tenfold within our political system. The centrifuge forces that boil politics all down to the same one disconnected narrative, the photo-ops that are nothing more than smokescreens for the worst of political maneuvers.

As NDPers we get involved in a broken political process to bring about transformative change, to deconstruct the toxic power dynamics that keep voices outside of the political process. As an NDPer I got involved not for power as the sole objective. Instead, like many other dippers, it was for my heartfelt objective to fight alongside disenfranchised communities and sections of Canadian and Quebec society against all types of exclusions and all phobias.

It was to craft alongside members of marginalized, radicalized and ostracized groups a space in which their voices are heard. A space in which their stories are the narrative, the focal point and not a skit or a footnote.

I got involved in the NDP to share, to learn, to have the voices that are offend muted influence our decision making process and our policy and platform. I got involved with the NDP to uphold human rights, equity and social justice everywhere, both within Canada’s borders and outside.

In the last election, it seems we forgot that change beings within the realm of our own party. It must flow through the structure of the party itself. We failed terribly in last election and during the four years leading-up to e-day in creating the structure and environment that empowered and enabled change.

When we so badly needed change to be the fuel that would propel us to a historic victory, we were running on empty. Let it be clear from here on, the NDP won’t get into 24 Sussex Drive through the back door.

What hurt the most in the last election is that we underestimated ourselves. We underestimated the potency of the values and principals that are at the foundation of our political movement. Canadians weren’t asking for caution, they were asking for courage.

Courage to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people. Courage to tackle fiscal inequity and financial deregulation. Courage to tackle poverty and to fight “deficit zero,” the golden rule of austerity, through progressive budgeting. Courage to have a vision for Universal Free Education, to work with the provinces–respecting provincial prerogatives, differences and jurisdiction– to create a framework for universal access to post-secondary education for all Canadians.

Canadians expected us to stand up to big oil, gas and mining companies and to offer a clear plan to bring the Canadian economy into the 21st century through the overhaul of toxic pipeline projects.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities were expecting the NDP, during the campaign, to put the spotlight on the suffocating poverty, disrespect and disregard they’ve been the victims of for centuries. To have a bold plan to deconstruct the dynamics of systemic racism that are embedded within the structure of our democracy.

It was our duty to put forward a global plan to create new structures and institutions, to change the structure of political system and our electoral model, to ensure that the concerns and aspirations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are not merely heard but the benchmark for all policy debate within this country.

Like many Quebeckers, I added my name to the initiative calling for a structural and ideological renewal of the NDP which appears in the pages of Le Devoir and the Toronto Star today. This implies a board debate within Canadian society that engages with activists and militants of all stripes, environmentalists, students, anti-poverty, anti-racist, LGBTQIA, First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Here in Quebec we must reach out to the anti-austerity movement and campaigns that are happening right across this province. We must make the NDP the movement of movements again, a synthesis and space of debate and true participatory democracy for all Canadian progressives.

We have an obligation to our past and to the future to reinvigorate our internal democratic proceedings, to start a big conversation about what’s the future of the Canadian political left and what is the role of the NDP within the bigger picture, alongside grassroots mobilization, community and local initiatives and organized labor.

If the NDP is to have any relevance in the future, our party must create the space within itself where true democracy flourishes, that empowers the spaces of democracy that are already existent within the Canadian left, the spaces of democracy that have flourished in resistance to the policies of austerity, racism and the destruction of the environment.

For the NDP to be the vehicle of true democracy, of a more just, free and equitable Canada, this debate must start now.

Panelists Quiet Mike, Josh Davidson and Jerry Gabriel discuss our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the defeat of the NDP and the overall results of the Canadian Election and Bernie Sanders and the US Democratic Debate. Plus a Sergakis Update and Predictions.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

Panelists

Quiet Mike: Editor-in-Chief of and columnist on QuietMike.org

Josh Davidson: FTB food columnist

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor

* Please note: This podcast was recorded prior to the events in Paris

FTB Podcast #13: Canadian Election Results, Bernie Sanders and Sergakis Update by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

FTB Podcast also available on iTunes

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons