Sunday, March 08, 2015

Me vs. The Digital Columnist

Sometimes I come across an opinion column about politics that’s so nonsensical, I feel compelled to write a response to it as soon as humanly possible.

But that’s pretty rare.

Usually what happens is I procrastinate until the urge to undertake the actual drudgery of composing articulate thoughts and writing them down slowly fades away.

Then I watch TV.

Yet, for some strange reason the passage of time did not dull my desire to offer a critique of a Bruce Anderson column which appeared in the Globe and Mail, way back at the end of January.

You’ve probably heard of Anderson; he’s a well-known pollster, he appears regularly on CBC's The National’s “At Issue” panel, and he is the Globe’s “digital columnist.”

At any rate, the first thing you need to know about Anderson’s column is that you can make anything sound cool and “cutting edge” simply by modifying it with the word “digital.”

“Hey Joe, hand me that digital monkey wrench” or “The floor looks much cleaner now that I'm using a digital mop.”

 See what I mean?

The second thing you need to know about Anderson’s column is that it passionately decries the nastiness of the Conservative Party, a nastiness which he argues stems from Prime Minister Stephen Harper getting “lousy advice” from the “cynical and jaded.”

This advice, wrote Anderson, has “coarsened our politics, driven away good potential candidates, and caused a steady decline in turnout at elections.”

 Sounds awful!

Although to be fair, Anderson actually offers zero proof that “coarsened” politics is driving away “good” potential candidates or that it’s causing a steady decline in voter turnout.

But let’s set aside that itty bitty objection.

What really struck me about Anderson’s arguments is that they come across as a tad simplistic, and by a “tad simplistic” I mean incredibly, insanely, five-year-old-child simplistic.

To show you what I mean, let’s take apart Anderson’s digital Globe column, digit by digit.

To prove his point about the coarseness of modern politics, Anderson offers us an anecdote from Question Period.

He notes that in answering a question from NDP leader Thomas Mulcair about Canada’s mission in Iraq, Harper said, “I know the opposition thinks it’s a terrible thing that we’re actually standing up to jihadists. I know they think it’s a terrible thing that some of these jihadists got killed when they fired on the Canadian military.”

This response, says Anderson, was “appalling” and “beneath the office of the Prime Minister.”

Then Anderson recounts about how, after dinging Mulcair, Harper tried to hit Liberal leader Justin Trudeau “below the belt”.

What was Harper’s underhanded blow?

Well, writes Anderson, while responding to a question about his proposed income splitting plan, Harper commented, “on the fact that Mr. Trudeau inherited money when his father passed away.”

Oh the horror! Poor Justin, can you imagine such a terrible … wait, really? That’s it? Harper just made an offhand comment about Justin being a rich kid.

Heck, my wife is tougher than that on me when I forget to bring out the garbage.

But Anderson was horrified.

As he put it, “It’s as though the Conservative Party considers receiving an inheritance some sort of character handicap, and that anyone on the receiving end of a bequest should just shut up and let others decide things?”

Now, I’m not privy to the Conservative Party’s communication strategy or anything, but I strongly suspect that Harper’s comments to Mulcair and Trudeau on that day in the House of Commons were more about tactics than about simple rudeness.

But before I get to that, let’s carry on with our examination.

After detailing the chamber of horrors that was Question Period, Anderson puts forward his reasons as to why we can’t “turn things around” and make our public discourse more respectable so that it’s less likely to make Justin Trudeau cry like a baby.

One “newish reason” says Anderson “is the bad chemistry that happens when you mix rabid partisanship and a social media platform like Twitter.”

To make his point, Anderson put its in bone-chilling terms:

But when it comes to politics, Twitter can also create some pretty nasty neighbourhoods. Places where the ultra-cynical come to spit and spew, often hiding behind fake names, making juvenile arguments, and indulging in pathetic name-calling. There are lots who hate Liberals, or New Democrats, and many who hate Conservatives. Some loathe the media.

If you wander into this neighbourhood, you’ll find a seething, stinking place. And it’s getting worse. For people who get up in the morning hoping to insult others, success is about shock value and provocation. Ignore them and they come back with a worse insult. Reveal annoyance and they’ll double down, overjoyed at the thought they’ve drawn blood.

Wow! For a guy who wants to upgrade the quality of debate in this country, Anderson sure knows how to pile up steaming heaps of derogatory rhetoric!

But did Anderson really think social media platforms would be a haven for legions of would be Aristotles and Voltaires? It’s the wild, wild west of commentary!

Still, Anderson does have a valid point. Twitter is a place where partisans go mainly to reinforce their own belief and to attack the other side.

But so what? How does the rabidly partisan nature of Twitter impact the greater political world and make it more difficult to “turn things around”?

Unfortunately, Anderson never backs up his proposition with any logical argument.

So I am forced to surmise that his argument goes something like this: political parties must cater and pander to their partisan bases, which thanks to the ungodly powers of social media are now made up of spitting and spewing mobs of wild-eyed, crazed, fanatics who demand blood!

If that’s true, then logic dictates that banning Twitter and YouTube, Facebook and Instagram would make our politics more civil, wouldn’t it?


But on the other hand, spitting and spewing mobs of wild-eyed, crazed fanatics existed long before anyone ever invented the Internet.

In the days of Ancient Rome they used graffiti to communicate, after the invention of the printing press they used pamphlets, books and newspapers; in the twentieth century they used radio and TV.

And yes, each form of communication listed above, you could argue, helped degrade political communication, making politics more of a rough and tumble business, full of scurrilous attacks, rude language and vicious invectives.

Perhaps then the only true way to create a purer more pristine political world, one that’s full of rainbows and lollipops and where all politicians act like Mother Teresa, is to ban not just social media but all forms of free communication.

They do this in other countries; I understand that politics in North Korea is extremely polite.

But now that I think about it, there might be a downside to living in polite countries that lack freedom.

So maybe allowing a little rude commentary is a small price to pay to live in a democracy.

As the great British Prime Minister Leo Durocher once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government … say it aint so Joe?”

Besides, Anderson’s “Blame it on Twitter” thesis is actually wrong because political parties do more than just communicate with their bases, they must also communicate in a way that wins votes from all those Canadians who don’t care about politics, or ideology or partisanship, which by the way is about 99 percent of the population.

So the partisan cesspool of Twitter is largely irrelevant to a political party’s overall communication strategy. Yes, they want to mobilize their bases, but they must do so in a way that allows them to win over non-aligned voters.

That means for political parties, it’s the wants and dreams and desires of the voting masses that matter.

The other reason Anderson puts forward as to why we can’t turn things around and make politics more of a genteel, courteous exercise is that Prime Minister Harper has consciously chosen a dark path.

He writes:

But as the politician with the biggest podium in the country, he (Harper) has a lot to do with setting the tone and the standard for political discourse. He can deliver an argument with style, wit, incisiveness and impact. But he also knows how to get the blood boiling among the angriest people in his party.

So “to be clear,” as the PM likes to say, it’s a choice.

Then Anderson helpfully offers this tactical advice:

“But what this Conservative Party needs to win re-election isn’t more evidence that it likes to travel on the low road. Or that this Prime Minister is capable of insults.”

So according to Anderson, Harper has a better chance of winning the next election if he sets a new tone, one that’s witty, stylish and positive, and one that didn’t pander to angry Conservatives.

An interesting hypothesis. But could travelling the high road really work for Harper?

Somehow I doubt it.

Remember the children’s fable where the lion decides to lay down with the lamb, and then the lamb hacks off the sleeping lion’s head off with a rusty butcher knife?

The moral from that story is clear: if Harper unilaterally goes positive, it doesn’t mean all his legions of enemies – opposition MPs, big union bosses, small union bosses, left wing media, environmental groups, feminists, Rick Mercer, the United Nations, pro-long form census advocates, the entire country of Russia – who up until now have been doing to Harper what kids at a birthday party do to an overstuffed piñata, would suddenly cease their attacks.

They’d more than likely continue to hammer away at Harper with even more reckless abandon.

In a sense then, Anderson is advising Harper to unilaterally disarm on the eve of battle.

OK, hold on, I am beginning to sound a little “jaded” and “cynical” here, and I certainly don’t want to offend Anderson’s delicate sensibilities, so in the interest of reasoned debate let’s take a step back.

Instead of arguing back and forth about tactics, let’s review Canadian political history and examine the style, wit and incisiveness of Canada’s most successful prime ministers.

Let’s see how many of them traveled the high road.

Here’s the list:

John A. MacDonald – Canada’s first prime minister and a Father of Confederation
·        Alcoholic
·        Possibly racist
·        Once, likely in an intoxicated state, threw up during a campaign speech.

William Lyon Mackenzie King – Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister
·        Talked to his dead mother

Louis St. Laurent  -- Who?

Pierre Trudeau – Legendary prime minister and subject of CBC bio pic
·        Gave “The finger” to Canadian citizens.
·        Once spoke words resembling “fuddle duddle” in House of Commons
·        Called backbench MPs “nobodies”
·        Desire to experiment with socialism flattened Alberta’s economy
·        Pirouetted behind the Queen
·        Invoked War Measure Act suspending the rights of every Canadian.

Jean Chretien – Won three majorities in a row, now considered Wise Elder Statesman
·        Throttled protester
·        Joked about pepper spraying protestors
·        Allowed staff to mock the religious beliefs of political rival
·        Referred to Albertans as a different “type”.
·        Government linked to scandals too numerous to mention
·        Subject of a book entitled The Friendly Dictatorship
·        Won an election by promising to scrap the GST (Ha, ha, ha.)
·        Regularly accused political opponents of secretly wanting to close orphanages, hospitals and abortion clinics, as part of a plan to impose an “American-style” right-wing, religious theocracy.
·        Engaged in vindictive feud with his own Finance Minister

Hmmm, maybe Harper isn’t all that bad, at least comparatively.

Now to be fair, we should also contrast the above list with a list of all those Canadian politicians who acted in a respectful manner.

Here’s that list:

1.      Stockwell Day – Devout nice guy and former Leader of the Canadian Alliance – (a party which no longer exists)
2.      Um, ….

So clearly, as the historical record makes clear, the road to political power is not paved with clever witticisms and stylish arguments.

If it was, the Harvard educated, successful author and all around intellectual, Michael Ingatieff would be our prime minister.

The fact is in political messaging, simplicity and directness work. If you try to get too complicated and clever and witty you only alienate voters.

So no one should be shocked or surprised that Harper is using simple and direct methods to define the Liberal and NDP leaders before they can define themselves.

When Harper went after Muclair in Question Period on the jihadism issue, he was defining the NDP leader as a guy who is soft on terrorism.

And when he made that crack about Trudeau’s inheritance, Harper was basically saying to Canadians, “Trudeau is a privileged rich kid, who can’t possibly understand the concerns and fears of average middle class Canadians.”

Anderson might find such a defining tactic as “coarse” and appalling and beneath the dignity of a prime minister; and he might believe it’s based on “lousy” advice, but all the same, it’s an extremely effective ploy, one that has worked on innumerable occasions in elections all over the globe.

One of those occasions was in 2011, when the Conservatives won a majority government after they successfully defined then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as an out of touch academic.

And if you think only nasty Conservatives use this approach, allow me to direct your attention to south of border where everybody’s favorite progressively sensitive politician, Barack “Hope and Change” Obama, used devastatingly effective attack ads in the 2012 presidential election to define his Republican opponent Mitt Romney as a cross between Thurston Howell III, Ebenezer Scrooge and Darth Vader.

Other examples: the British Columbia Liberals defined the NDP as Marxist radicals, the Alberta PCs defined Wild Rosers as Bible-thumping crazies, the Ontario Liberals (or more specifically their union allies) skewered the PCs as heartless, right-wing monsters.

These sorts of attacks work because unlike clever witticisms or intellectual arguments, they resonate on an emotional level and it’s our emotions, not our intellects, which motivate us to vote for a certain party.

What’s more, due to a quirk of human nature, negative emotions make a much greater impact on our minds than positive emotions. This is why traumatic events – such as visits to the dentist – stick in our memories for so long.

Keep in mind in too, Harper has all the warmth and cuddliness of Genghis Khan with a hangover, making it difficult if not impossible for him to campaign as Mr. Nice. (Anybody remember those horrendous TV ads where a smiling, sweater-wearing Harper tried to come across as some sort of Mr. Rogers figure?)

So the Conservative political equation is pretty straightforward. Since Harper can’t make himself more likable, his only option is to make Mulcair and especially Trudeau less likable.

And please, don’t tell me Trudeau’s Care Bear persona somehow makes him invincible to attack.

Even the Liberals don’t believe that.

I’m pretty sure, for instance, that it was fear of Conservative attack ads that caused Trudeau (who once believed we could solve the terrorist problem by inviting ISIS to sit around a campfire and sing kumbaya) to support the government’s controversial anti-terrorism bill, and to rethink his opposition to the military mission in Iraq.

The Liberals don’t want to see TV ads airing during the next election that feature a deep-voiced narrator saying something along the lines of: “Justin Trudeau opposed the war on ISIS, he opposed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s anti-terrorism bill. He cares more about protecting the rights of terrorist scum than he does about protecting you. Vote for a strong and safe Canada! Vote Conservative.”

So yeah, just the fear of potential Tory TV attack ads pushed the Liberals to try change Trudeau’s image from adorable puppy to snarling Doberman Pinscher.

By the way, speaking of the Liberals, up until now their marketing plan was to avoid talking about issues and policies and platforms, hoping Canadians would vote for Trudeau solely based on his winning personality, charming smile and famous last name.

Some people (not me) might consider such an “idealess” strategy “cynical” and “jaded.”

Oh and I should note that if  Tory attacks on Trudeau do start to erode his support in the polls, the Liberals will drop their “Our leader is a boy scout” routine faster than you can say “drama teacher” and strike back with attacks of their own.

They’d have no choice; as one time manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Winston Churchill, once said, “Nice guys who don’t respond in kind to effective TV attack ads finish last or else alligators eat them last.”

This is not to say, of course, that Harper’s aggressive communications approach doesn’t entail risks or that it’s guaranteed to work.

My only point is this: in the context of real world politics, as opposed to Anderson’s make believe world of fairies, unicorns and gumdrop lanes, Harper’s tough guy approach makes strategic sense.

Despite what Anderson writes, Harper is not attacking Trudeau and Mulcair because of the nastiness of social media or because he’s by nature a rude person or because of jaded cynical advisors. (OK they might be jaded and cynical but that’s beside the point.)

Harper has simply adopted a strategy that offers his party its best chance of winning.

To paraphrase a guy who was paraphrasing the Bible, election victories don’t always go the side with the best attacks, but that’s the way to bet.

At any rate, that’s my “digital” opinion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Trudeau Illusion

It was just a little sign, taped to a Liberal Party recruiting booth, but it immediately caught my attention.

It read: “Enter to win a hat signed by Justin Trudeau.”

“Why,” I wondered, “would anybody consider a hat signed by a politician to be a prize?” 

Then I remembered, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is no ordinary politician, he’s much more important than that – he’s a celebrity!

He has a famous, former prime minster father; he has matinee idol good looks; he once pummeled a Conservative Senator in a boxing match, all of which makes him one part handsome prince; one part pop star; one part action hero.

This is why much of the media has bestowed upon Trudeau the kind of fawning coverage usually reserved for visiting royalty (such as Barack Obama) or for Rock stars promoting a trendy “celebrity-backed” plan to end African poverty, a plan usually involving creative Twitter #hashtags.

And make no mistake, celebrity-hood matters politically because in our modern, hi-tech, secular society, celebrities are the closest thing we have left to gods.

We see celebrities as heroic, glamorous, adventurous, beautiful, rich, privileged -- everything we aspire to be.

So we idolize them.

We buy the hemorrhoid products celebrities endorse; we dress (or in some cases undress) like them; we soak up their every word when they lecture us on the finer points of our national energy policy.

We even try to connect to them on some supernatural level by owning items they may have touched or signed, just as our ancestors in medieval times sought out holy relics, which is why people might covet an autographed Trudeau hat.

Part of this worshipping process includes transforming our celebrities into idealized versions of humanity.

After all, what’s the point of paying homage to a regular schmuck?

So it is that Trudeau’s celebrity status also confers upon him the aura of a perfect politician, a leader who is imbued with positivity and idealism, whose motives are completely pure, whose aims are utterly noble, and whose hair has achieved a divine level of flawlessness.

That’s why, unlike regular, run-of-the-mill, non-celebrity politicians, Trudeau doesn’t need policies or platforms or, you know, anything actually resembling a real idea.

Indeed, the implied Liberal “marketing” message is that Trudeau, through a combination of celebrity superpowers and Chinese-communist-style efficiency, will painlessly and effortlessly solve all our problems.

The budget will balance itself; Alberta will develop oil sands in a way that makes the air smell like roses; and once Trudeau discovers the “root causes” of evil, Vladimir Putin and ISIS will turn away from aggression and dedicate themselves to helping homeless puppies.

Who can compete with a narrative like that?  No wonder Trudeau is soaring in the polls.

Of course, somewhere deep in our hearts, we all realize the Trudeau story is really just a nice fairy tale, just as know that Kermit the Frog is really just a piece of felt with buttons for eyes.

But the Trudeau fairy tale is one we desperately want to believe. We want to believe there’s a leader out there who can magically make the country a better place, who can unite us all regardless of race, region or hockey affiliation, who can rise above partisan political bickering, who will let us have our cake and eat it too.

We don’t want to pull back the curtain and see Trudeau for what he really is: a likable but inexperienced, gaffe-prone politician who is probably incapable of uttering anything beyond carefully rehearsed platitudes.

That would force us to face the ugly truth: that no matter who is prime minister, no matter which party is in charge, politics is a messy, tough, cynical, scandal-prone business that offers no clear cut or easy answers.

Who wants to contemplate that harshness when it’s so much easier, so much more satisfying to believe in Trudeau’s rainbows and lollipops agenda?

As Oscar Wilde put it, “illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

Consequently, because it gives us pleasure, Trudeau remains firmly atop his celebrity pedestal, meaning he has a good chance of becoming our next prime minister.

Then, I guess, we will see what happens when illusion confronts reality.

(Spoiler alert: illusion usually doesn’t do so well.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Liberal Ad Not a Wynne

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she doesn't like political attack ads, which is why, I suppose, her own political attack ad is so terrible.

In fact, her ad is almost a textbook case of what not to do.

Check it out:

So the spot starts off with Wynne ambling along a bland suburban street explaining why she hates negative ads, which as a viewer sets me up to think she is going to spend the next 30 seconds or so explaining her positive vision for Ontario. But no! Instead, almost in mid-sentence, she goes from saying she hates attack ads to launching an attack of her own against PC leader Tim Hudak. That's a mistake because shifting gears and changing the tone of a message in such an abrupt way can jar a viewer and that's not a good thing. In this case, Wynne risks losing her audience in the crucial first seconds of the ad.

Then, after that odd start, Wynne proceeds to list a litany of "facts", which are supposed to convince voters that Hudak is evil incarnate: he hates labour; he wants to destroy jobs, he wants to eradicate youth employment; he wants to drive down wages; he wantzzzzzzzzzz.

Oops, sorry...  for a second there I dozed off.

But in my defence, this ad's style is conducive to napping. Wynne not only delivers her lines in a dull, boring monotone voice, but her list of Hudak misdeeds seems to go on forever. It's like Lord of the Rings! The average viewer is going to quickly lose interest. For a political spot, anything longer than 30 seconds is too long. (Even 30 seconds is a bit long.)

To be effective, to keep a viewer's attention, a video has to make its points briefly and with some sort of dramatic punch. Equally important, a good spot includes interesting visuals that reinforce the message. Even writing out key words on the screen helps. Just having one shot of a ranting Wynne strolling down a street doesn't cut it.

The biggest problem with this ad, however, is that Wynne herself is doing the attack. That's a major no no. Why? Well, going "negative" has a stigma attached to it, which is why the candidate must always be perceived as being all about rainbows and lollipops. If there's vicious knife work to be done, leave that to your allies in the media or to PR hacks or (most ideally) to Third Parties.

The more distance between negativity and the candidate, the better.

Mind you, what's truly troublesome about this ad is how much time it probably took to produce. I mean, there's always something that will spoil a shot when taping in the great outdoors: a car horn tooting, a dog barking, a plane flying overhead, kids making faces in the background. Plus, I'm sure Wynne, not being a professional actor, flubbed her lines more than once. All that translates into a lot of takes. That means a lot of time. Surely the Premier could have allotted that precious time for more useful government purposes, such as deleting emails. (Note to Liberal legal department: that's just a joke, so please don't sue me!)

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

A look at Quebec Politics

My friend, Mat Vaillancourt, asked me to post his reflections on my blog, so I did.

Check it out:

Five Lessons from the Quebec provincial election

1) Campaigns matters
Pauline Marois did badly in places where she did not campaign like the Îles-de-la-Madeleine and the Abitibi region.

Otherwise, the CAQ leader won seats where he met people: shopping malls, at sugar shacks, at community centres. The CAQ seemed to have done well with people who voted the same day.

2)Trying to win everyone at the same time means pleasing no one at the end
The PQ is traditionally a centre-left nationalist party changed course in 2013 and started pushing a more ethnic nationalist platform, even more so than during earlier PQ stints in government.

The strategy behind this change was probably to win some regions in Quebec which are quite conservative.

Then came the billionaire Pierre-Karl Péladeau who is not seen as a big friend of the labour unions which were traditionally close to the PQ. Many labour unions were not keen on supporting the PQ this time because of Péladeau constituency and the charter of values.

At the end, this strategy backfired completely as the PQ lost on both sides. They did badly among what they already had and they did not win anything else even in areas where the PQ invested a lot of money in pork barreling projects. The party also had their worse score ever in Montreal being close to be a third party there.

3)The cool factor:
If you want to be PM or premier and you have a good lead at the polls, being cool, calm and seeming to be in charge of the situation could be a good strategy to win.

Philippe Couillard and Stephen Harper had the same strategy especially in debates. In both cases, it worked.

4)You have nothing to lose? Go for it.
If you are third and have nothing to lose, being on the attack could be a good strategy. Being low in the polls at the start of the campaign and having nothing to lose, François Legault had this strategy and it worked out really well for him to win more seats.

Even if he lost some seats in the Quebec City area to the Liberals perhaps because of anti-PQ tactical voting, he was able to win quite a few seats in the Montreal suburban areas because of the fall of the PQ and because he was able to be seen as the alternative to both the Liberals and the PQ especially in suburban and exurban areas.

5)Being seen as the anti-development party could hurt you.
The PQ had some major losses in Northern Quebec, especially in areas where mining is a major part of the economy.

Like for the BCNDP in the last provincial BC election, the PQ being seen as the anti-development party and the mine closings did not help at all to keep these seats. The PQ had a unpredictable policy on mines, which made Quebec a place which scared the mining companies to invest.

Ungava, the nothermost seat in the Quebec National Assembly was won for the Liberal for the first time ever since its creation in 1981.

The PQ also finished third in Nicolet-Bécancour, where closing the single biggest employer in the region (the nuclear power plant) the first day in power did not helpl the PQ in a riding which is traditionally péquiste and very rural.

Are these five rules only applicable in Quebec? Perhaps. But there is no doubt that some of these rules are also applying to other places in Canada and elsewhere in the western world.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Revealed: Table of Contents for Trudeau's memoirs!

Don’t ask how, but I managed to get my hands on the Table of Contents for  Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s soon to be published memoirs tentatively entitled, Fifty Shades of Yay!

If the chapter titles are anything to go by, it promises to be a fascinating opus. Take a look:

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Kindergarten Years

Chapter 2. What I learned from zany old Uncle Fidel

Chapter 3. Why I love Canada to my very bones, to the core of my molecules, to the roots of my incredibly thick hair.

Chapter 4. Discovering the Middle Class by observing it through the window of my dad’s limousine.

Chapter 5. Albertans running Ottawa! Not in my Canada.

Chapter 6.  Why “Open” Nominations are good for democracy

Chapter 7.  Why my power to arbitrarily veto Liberal candidates is good for democracy.

Chapter 8.Communist China: Admirable paradise of efficient state power.

Chapter 9. My take on foreign policy: Putin and a Ukrainian go into a bar…

Chapter 10.  The budget will balance itself and other economic theories I’ve devised while smoking pot.

Chapter 11.  Harper’s a big Meanie

Looks great, right? I suspect more chapters might emerge between now and the book's publication. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Oh no! Canadian Democracy is Doomed!

Our democracy is doomed!

For all the gory details of its demise, check out this column by the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hebert.

She explains how the Conservative government, in its “Fair Elections Act”, plans to – are you ready for this? -- forbid Elections Canada from launching “outreach campaigns”.

Imagine that! No more Elections Canada outreach campaigns!!

It’s outrageous! It’s scary! It’s Orwellian! (Note: George Orwell was a noted political writer who penned the classic anti-totalitarian novel about a wild college fraternity called Animal Farm House.)

If this news doesn't terrify you, it must be because you don't know Elections Canada’s outreach campaign is a campaign whereby Elections Canada tries to “reach” “out” and motivate people to vote.

This is similar to other government motivational campaigns such as its stop smoking campaign, its stop taking drugs campaign, its do more exercise campaign, its recycle your garbage campaign, and its pay more attention to government motivational ad campaigns campaign.

Technically, such government campaigning is known as “nagging.”

At any rate, an important part of that Elections Canada “outreach” campaign is its effort to convince young people that voting is cool and hip.

Now you might be thinking there’s no way middle-aged Elections Canada bureaucrats, whose idea of fun is coming up with “spoiled” ballot jokes, could ever be “groovy” enough to effectively reach out to today’s youth.

Well, if you watch this youth “outreach” ad you’ll see exactly how much Elections Canada is “with it.”

Yes, sir, with this ad airing on TV, it’s no wonder young people vote by the dozens.

Although admittedly some studies suggest that when young people are exposed to these hip Elections Canada ads, many of them not only don’t vote, they actually renounce the very concept of democracy.

But whether or not these ads work really isn’t the point.

The point is without the government telling them what to do at election time, an entire generation of young Canadians will lapse into an X-Box induced apathetic coma.

That means only non-cool old people will vote!

But wait, there’s more bad news.

As we all know, if young people don’t vote in large enough numbers, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau might (gasp) lose the next election.

And Hebert fears despite his Teenbeat model looks, despite his promise to legalize marijuana, despite his idealistic persona and despite his party’s sophisticated GOTV measures, without Election Canada ads to energize apathetic young  people, Trudeau won’t be able mobilize his Liberal Youth Legions.

In other words, stopping Elections Canada from advertising to help Trudeau probably violates the British North America Act, because surely the Fathers of Confederation never meant for us to have non-Liberal government!

So what can we do to protect our democratic values from this vicious assault?

Well, there’s only one thing we can do: wait for guidance from a hip and cool government ad.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reviewing the Year in Politics (Sort of)

Whenever a New Year approaches, I like to take my eyes off the road ahead and stare intently for a long period of time at the rear view mirror of history.

Yes, metaphorically-speaking, it’s reckless driving, but it’s also the only way to gather the facts needed for my annual “Year in Review” column, which highlights the key political events of the past twelve months.

And this year’s review of 2013 is chock-full of exciting highlights. Check it out:

(Please note: Nothing you read from here on is meant to be taken seriously and is for entertainment purposes only.)

* Idle No More movement leader, Chief Theresa Spence, threatens to “bring Canada’s economy down to its knees.” NDP leader Thomas Mulcair immediately objects saying: “Hey, bringing the economy down to its knees is my job!”

* NDP says a "bare” majority enough for Quebec to separate from Canada; nudists rejoice.

* Taking a cue from the Idle No More movement, the groundhog refuses to look for his shadow unless the Governor-General is present.

* The federal Liberals face lawsuits when their “imaginative” TV leadership debate format bores several viewers to death.

* During a speech before the House of Commons, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty admits the Conservative government’s entire budgetary plan consists of “putting up a bunch of Economic Action Plan billboards all over the place.”

* Justin Trudeau is elected leader of the Liberal Party, finishing ahead of Liberal MP Joyce Murray who wanted to co-operate with the NDP, proving once again that in politics having no ideas is much better than having bad ideas.

* The NDP holds a policy convention at which it drops the word “socialism” from its constitution and replaces it with the Canadian equivalent of socialism: “Economic Action Planning.”

* Toronto Mayor Rob Ford starts clever PR campaign, which successfully puts his city on the map.

* The Conservative Party, which had already adopted Liberal-style economic policies, decides to also adopt Liberal-style scandals. Enter Senator Mike Duffy.

* Prime Minister Harper leaves for Europe saying his visit will result in several key photo opportunities.

* Worried about its worsening image the Senate takes a pre-emptive step: it passes a resolution to abolish the NDP.

* Controversy erupts when it’s learned Liberal leader Trudeau received pay for speaking at charity events, leading many Canadians to voice a key question: why in the world would anyone pay money to hear a politician speak?

* Prime Minister Harper denounces those who say he is making government too partisan. Later that day Canada Day is officially renamed “Harper Day.”

* The media becomes completely obsessed with the "royal child," or as he’s otherwise known, Justin Trudeau.

* Absolutely nothing happens.

* After watching Russian President Vladimir Putin out maneuver President Barack Obama over the Syrian chemical weapon crisis, Prime Minister Harper asks Putin to negotiate the Keystone pipeline deal.

* Senator Mike Duffy stuns the country when he reveals that he taped the infamous Mayor Rob Ford “crack video.”

* The RCMP says it will investigate the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff for possible illegal activity, causing Harper to boast that his “law and order agenda is clearly working.”


* Conservative MP Michael Chong introduces a Bill to give backbench MPs more power; as a reward, he is quickly named Canada’s ambassador to Siberia.

So as you can see, 2013 was an extremely interesting year. And 2014 promises to provide us more of the same.

Oh well, try and have a Happy New Year anyway.

(This article originally appeared in the Hill Times.)