Monday, June 25, 2012

Rating the new Tory attack ad

When you get a reputation for running political “negative ads”, people will almost be disappointed if you don’t go on the attack.

Such is the case with the Conservative Party.

Always aggressive, the Tories seem to take great delight in stuffing their opponents into a media meat grinder.  Just ask Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff.

At any rate, people either love these ads or love to hate them.

And so naturally, every one was impatiently waiting for them to go after the new kid on the block -- NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

Well, it’s happened; the Conservatives have at long last posted their first true Mulcair attack video.

How does it rate?

Well, I don’t like it.

Yes it has all the standard ingredients that go into making an effective attack spot:  black and white imagery to make the target look menacing, ominous music and a voice of doom narration.

But the messaging in the ad is vague and confusing; so people just won't get it.

My point is a good political ad starts from scratch and basically assumes the voter knows nothing.

Yet this attack spot more or less assumes voters know what “Dutch Disease” means; it assumes they know what a carbon tax is; it assumes they know about trade policy.

And those are all massive assumptions.

Plus, it’s just plain confusing when the words, “Make them pay now for what they are doing” flash on the screen. What the heck does that mean? Did Mulcair say that? If he did, so what? Who are “they” and what exactly are they “doing?"

How does all this lead viewers to conclude that Mulcair has “risky theories” and “dangerous economic experiments.”

It doesn’t.

Why not just come out and say, "Mulcair has attacked Alberta's oil sands, calling it the Dutch Disease, he wants to kill jobs etc."

Simpler is always better.

In short, this is an over the top ad that will leave viewers scratching their heads if not reaching for the remote.

That’s if they pay attention at all.

These are summer days after all, when the only dangerous experiments occur when people try to create their own barbecue sauce.

Score: 4 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's "American-style" Free Speech?

The Toronto Star’s Haroon Siddiqui recently came up with a baffling argument to defend Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Section 13, of course, is the controversial law which gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission the legal right to annoy Ezra Levant.

But that’s not all. Lots of people also believe Section 13 has empowered government bureaucrats to undemocratically censor free speech. See here and here.

But this doesn’t faze Siddiqui who recently wrote – and this is the baffling part -- that anyone who opposes Section 13 must be an advocate of “American-style free speech”.

Here's the phrase in its full context:

The human rights act and the commission it spawned came into being some 40 years ago as a result of yeoman efforts by the Jewish and black communities. There was to be freedom of speech but also freedom from hate. That was going to be the Canadian way.This was challenged by the advocates of American-style free speech — an unholy alliance of media (that wanted as few restrictions on content as possible) and anti-Semites and others (who wanted to be free to spread their bigotry).
My question is what the heck is American-style free speech? 

I have heard of American-style attack ads and American-style health care and American-style gun laws, but never, ever have I ever heard anyone refer to American-style free speech.

And what exactly is the "Canadian way?"

I am trying to figure all this out.

Perhaps Siddiqui believes each country has its own distinctive brand of free speech. Thus there is a Canadian-style free speech, a British-style free speech, a Mongolian-style free speech, a Bolivian-style free speech and so on.

An interesting idea to be sure, but also kind of confusing.

For example, exactly why do different countries have different styles of free speech? Does it have something to do with different genetic bloodlines?

If so, North Koreans must be genetically disposed to getting thrown into prison or executed any time they utter non-state approved thoughts.  If this is the case, then human rights advocates shouldn't mind if North Korean authorities deal with American-style free speech activists in the "North Korean Way."

But if free speech has something to do with our cultural heritage what happens in a multi-cultural country like Canada? We would have chaos with all those different styles of free speech intersecting and conflicting!

So maybe Siddiqui believes national speech styles are actually the result of local environments.

And so we here in Canada support Section 13 ie "The Canadian Way", because of some natural force which emanates from the Rocky Mountains or from the Arctic Circle.

But if that’s the case, why then did we only enact Section 13 about 40 or so years ago? Surely, the earliest settlers and pioneers were subject to the same environmental forces as we are today. Yet they did not include Section 13-type laws in the BNA Act.

Did John A. MacDonald or Wilfrid Laurier ever talk about the need for Human Rights Commissions?

Don’t think so.

Plus many Canadians actually oppose Section 13. Are they immune to Canadian-style speech? If so why? Are they “unCanadian" because they don't follow the "Canadian Way." Should they be deported?

That doesn't seem all that democratic.

Mind you, maybe there is another explanation for Siddiqui’s comment.

Maybe he actually used “American-style speech” as a pejorative. In other words, when he said American-style, perhaps what he really meant was “dangerous foreign idea”.

Now, I am no expert in this sort of thing, but to me that sounds like an attitude that’s not tolerant of the customs of people who live in other lands. It might even cause Canadians to look less than warmly on our American cousins or on Canadians who oppose Section 13.

Yet, Siddiqui opposes "hate speech."

Like I said, it’s all pretty baffling.

Luckily, we in Canada have an entity that can help solve this puzzle.

Somebody call the Human Rights Commission!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Analyzing Simpson's Analysis

A couple of days ago, the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson wrote a column bemoaning Prime Minister Stephen Harper's foreign policy.

Now, I'm certainly no expert on international relations, but his piece just seemed a little off to me.

To show you what I mean, I have reprinted Simpson's column below with my observations in italics:

Canada is 'back' on the world stage? Hardly
by Jeffrey Simpson
For those who care about Canada's international reputation and Canada's ability to influence others in the pursuit of Canada's self-interest, these are discouraging days.

Sorry Mr. Simpson, I am pretty sure very few Canadians actually care about Canada’s international reputation or its ability to influence others, unless, of course, you are talking about international hockey tournaments.

Everywhere, there is penny-pinching that makes no sense, a hectoring tone not appreciated by others, and a misunderstanding about how international affairs really work. For a government that has proclaimed Canada is “back” on the international stage, what is actually happening would be funny were it not serious.

Most things governments do would be funny, if they were not so serious.

For some time now, the euro zone has been in various states of crisis. To observe that the European Union, and particularly those member states using the euro, needs to improve its internal arrangements is obvious, as is any observation that the crisis there is a long way from resolution.

Translation: Europe is heading down a fiscal toilet.

But if that crisis deepens, Canadians, like people everywhere, will be adversely affected. And so, concerned countries outside the euro zone have been pledging what we might call “just-in-case” money to the International Monetary Fund to use, if necessary, to stabilize the world economy and assist the euro zone.

Pledges of $430-billion have been made. More are to come from large emerging countries such as China, Russia, India and Brazil. Countries that have already pledged include Japan, South Korea, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia and Singapore.

So let me get this straight. The people who created this fiscal nightmare of European overspending and massive debt have come up with a solution: more spending!!

The Harper government, however, rejects the idea of contributing to an IMF fund. Canada, therefore, stands alone with the United States, which unlike Canada is in terrible fiscal shape. Worse, various Canadian politicians, rather than at least using a sympathetic tone, prefer a hectoring, morally superior one toward Europe – a tone ill-becoming a G8 country.

Oh true. Canada has never, ever used a morally superior tone to any other country in its history, unless, of course, you count the million or so times Liberal Prime Ministers have denigrated, insulted or otherwise lectured the United States of America. But maybe that doesn’t count since the US was only a major trading partner and a key military ally. At any rate, why should we give our money to the Greeks, wouldn't it just be easier to waste it ourselves?

Where, except on the Conservative backbench, would one get someone like Pierre Poilievre, MP? He said: “This Prime Minister will not force hard-working Canadian taxpayers to bail out sumptuous euro welfare-state countries and the wealthy bankers that lend to them.” Here is blind ideology blended with profound parochialism of the kind that is giving Canada a well-deserved reputation for being increasingly an outlier, except when it comes to military interventions.

Hmmm, I wonder if any other Canadian politicians have ever made blind, ideologically blended comments? Hey, what about the time former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien seemingly blamed American "greed" and "arrogance" for the 9/11 terrorist attack? Oops, sorry that was an anti-American comment uttered by a Liberal and is therefore allowable blind, ideology.

Canada under this government failed to win a seat on the UN Security Council, a stinging rebuke. Canada's once-sterling reputation for caring about Africa is over. Canada's reputation in the Arab world is mud, because although ministers never criticize anything Israel does, they never miss a chance to lecture the Palestinians.

Oh no, the UN, that corrupt nest of despots, dictators and pathological killers, doesn’t like us!!! And before Prime Minister Harper came along the “Arab world” loved Canada, did it?  I guess that’s why, back in 2004, Al Qaeda put Canada on its hit list.

Canada is about to be spurned in its efforts to join the emerging trade bloc, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Canada's Commonwealth partners are worried the Harper government might wreck the next meeting in Sri Lanka because of its hectoring of that country's government, a policy that curries Conservatives' favour with the large Tamil community in Toronto. Canada's feeble non-climate-change policy is universally panned.

Yeah, imagine Canada "hectoring" a government to recognize basic human rights. How shameful! 

In the current budget, the government is cutting foreign aid by $319-million and taking $170-million from Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The government is selling off residences (that, properly used, are essential for making contacts with key people in other countries, which is what diplomacy is all about), hollowing out staff at missions abroad, closing consulates (in the U.S.), reducing budgets for outreach overseas. (How do you think Mr. Harper was one of the first world leaders to phone the newly elected President of France, Fran├žois Hollande? Because the Canadian embassy in France worked hard to get Mr. Hollande's personal cellphone number. That's called diplomatic work.)

So we need to spend $170 million to get a guy’s phone number! Seems to me a phone book would be cheaper.

The government is eliminating the small but effective program encouraging the study of Canada in foreign universities. It has ended the annual trip to the Canadian Arctic for ambassadors posted here (for which the ambassadors partly pay) – a briefing trip that gave ambassadors an insight into that increasingly crucial part of the country they would likely not otherwise receive.

Actually, I agree with Mr. Simpson here. Imagine how it would help Canada’s international reputation if, say, Syria’s ambassador to Canada was mysteriously eaten by a Polar Bear!

It is all so penny-wise and pound foolish, especially for a country that once prided itself on punching above its weight and, more important, understood that this is a relatively small country with huge international interests. Now, Canada has retreated into an anglospheric worldview coupled with a focus on trade deals, but lacking any sense of a wider conception of international affairs.

Not sure what an “anglospheric” world view means, but if it includes annoying the French, I am all for it!

Hectoring and lecturing undoubtedly appeals to the Conservative Party's core voters. It does not impress other governments, including friendly ones.

Unfortunately, for Mr. Simpson, no Canadian Prime Minister has ever lost an election because he was unpopular in Paris or Berlin.