The Conservative government is about to take yet another step to the right of their American cousins.

Bill C-10, the ominous Omnibus bill now tumbling down the pipeline is a mish-mash of nine unrelated bills that form the centrepiece of the Conservative’s fear based “Law and Order” agenda.

The American style bill would increase incarceration rates by adding new and longer sentences for drug related crimes, increasing mandatory minimums, scrapping alternate sentencing (such as house arrest), and beefing up sentences for young offenders. That would mean building more jails, for which the unwilling provinces would have to pay. If you build it, they will come.

All this to make our communities safer. But would it? Canada is not the US. Our crime rate is at its lowest level since 1973, according to Statistics Canada. There is no crime wave sweeping this country. But even if there were,  Bill C-10 would be the worst possible response.

In hearings before the Justice Committee, and in a number of open letters and publicly released statements, one expert after another has explained that moving from a rehabilitation and reintegration approach to justice, to a punitive system based on lengthy prison terms will make us less safe, not more.

The Americans have been down that road and their experience is instructive. Even conservative Republicans have been forced to declare their punitive vision of criminal justice, on which C-10 is modeled, an abject failure.

Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the American Justice Policy Institute, sums up the unusually bipartisan American response to C-10:

Republican governors and state legislators in such states of Texas, South Carolina, and Ohio are repealing mandatory minimum sentences, increasing opportunities for effective community supervision, and funding drug treatment because they know it will improve public safety and reduce taxpayer costs. If passed, C-10 will take Canadian justice policies 180 degrees in the wrong direction, and Canadian citizens will bear the costs.

One Texas study found that every dollar spent on rehabilitation is worth $9.34 in avoided criminal justice costs, and a number of studies in Canada have found that, not surprisingly, locking more people up for longer creates a hardened criminal underclass with no hope of escape, leading to more violent crime.

Eric Gottardi, vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s national criminal justice section put it bluntly when he explained that:

We believe the substance of this legislation both to be self-defeating and counterproductive, if the goal is to enhance public safety…It represents a profound shift in orientation from a system that emphasizes public safety … rehabilitation and reintegration to one that puts vengeance first.

But, as with the long gun registry,  Conservatives have put ideology ahead of experts and  facts, even when criticism comes from their Republican cousins. In committee, Conservatives have consistently challenged the credentials of leading experts in criminal justice, and cited phantom unreported crime statistics when trying to justify a repressive and costly reaction to a plummeting crime rate. They’ve even gone so far as to characterize opponents of the bill as “advocates for criminals” and are attempting to avoid further study of the bill by invoking closure.

Meanwhile our NDP official opposition has been doing everything they can to block or at least amend the bill, but it’s tough slogging when Conservatives hold the majority on all committees, including Justice, which has been considering C-10.

NDP MP Charmaine Borg Photo: Robert Marquis

NDP MP Charmaine Borg sits on the Justice committee and told Forget The Box:

There’s a huge amount of arrogance on the government side. If it’s not their idea, it’s not a good idea. We’ve proposed a number of amendments, including friendly attempts to clean up the language in places, but the Conservatives have refused to even discuss them. The unwillingness to compromise when everyone, even victims rights advocates, is asking for changes is really undemocratic.

On November 16th Borg and four of her opposition colleagues won a small battle after filibustering the Justice Committee for nine straight hours in response to Conservative plans to limit clause by clause study of the bill to a single day. In exchange for ending the filibuster, Conservative committee members agreed not to limit debate on mandatory minimum sentences and have three meetings of the committee which will require unanimous consent to adjourn, in order to ensure a proper discussion of the NDP’s proposed amendments.

But despite the NDP’s best efforts, the Conservatives have made clear that their ears are closed on the subject of C-10. No amount of evidence, no well presented summation of the facts will sway their determination to implement a flawed bill that will make our communities less safe, our prisons more dangerous, and our society less equal – all while sticking taxpayers with the exorbitant price tag.

The Opposition has done a valiant job of exposing the dangers of  this bill but, in a majority situation, all they can do is raise awareness. Beyond that, it’s up to us.

The only thing that will derail this dangerous piece of legislation is public pressure. Conservative MPs have to start feeling a backlash in their constituencies before they’ll gain the courage to challenge the party line. In a democracy, voting is only a small part of the equation. Each of us has a duty to be an engaged citizen, and let the government know when their policies are wrong. And this bill is no small amount of wrong.

This is not a  left-right issue. From any perspective, C-10 will be a costly and abject failure.

So tell someone how you feel. If you live in a Conservative riding pick up the phone, call your MP, or better yet ask for a meeting. If not then tell a friend, a cousin or a parent, ask them to call their MP. Share this issue on Facebook and Twitter, check out and and send a message with their easy form.

Most importantly, do it now. C-10 could become law inside a month. If it does, it will make our country worse. Don’t let it.


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Brian Topp will be in Montreal for an evening of politics, policy and pints this Wednesday, the 9th of November. Please come by and get to know one of the candidates in the race to replace Jack Layton as leader of the NDP.

Brian was born in Longueil and lived in Quebec until his late twenties. Although he has worked and lived across the country he has a special place in his heart for Quebec and a deep understanding of our realities.

Brian’s vision of a more equal society is exactly what the NDP needs as we challenge Stephen Harper and his Conservatives for government in three and a half years.

Brian has taken a courageous stand in favour of increasing taxes on the rich and corporations in order to reduce inequality and combat years of Conservative cuts.

He was the first candidate to come out publicly in support of Occupy Wall Street, and his proposed tax policy speaks directly to the concerns of this fledgling movement.

He also supports Palestinian statehood at the UN and will be revealing more planks of his platform in the coming weeks.

Brian has been endorsed by Quebec MPs Alexandre Boulerice, Francoise Boivin, Charmaine Borg and Alain Giguere, as well as party legends like Ed Broadbent, Roy Romanow and Deputy Leader Libby Davies among others.

This event will take place in the riding of Rosemont-Le-Petit-Patrie, and will be hosted by its MP, and NDP Treasury Board critic, Alexandre Boulerice.

Bring your friends, and your questions. Together we can build the party we need to take on the Conservatives and elect our first truly progressive national government. He will be at Pub Rosemont 2440, boul Rosemont Montréal from 6-9.


"Authorized by the C.F.O. for the Ontario PC Party"

Last Wednesday an ad ran in the National Post. It was full page, black and white, and featured a picture of a somewhat unhappy looking young girl. Oh, and it was the most appalling and extreme piece of hate speech I have ever seen published in this country.

The ad really needs to be seen to be believed, so I won’t get into describing it. It was paid for by the Institute for Canadian Values, a front for Charles McVety, an evangelical leader and frequent champion of bigotry and prejudice.

No surprise that McVety would want to inject this type of Homophobia and Transphobia into the ongoing election campaign, but what on earth was the National Post thinking when they agreed to publish it?

Turns out they weren’t thinking. By Friday the Post had printed an unconditional apology, claiming, essentially, that they had been duped:

The fact that we will not be publishing this ad again represents a recognition on our part that publishing it in the first place was a mistake. The National Post would like to apologize unreservedly to anyone who was offended by it. We will be taking steps to ensure that in future our procedures for vetting the content of advertising will be strictly adhered to.

The Post will also be donating the proceeds from the advertisement to an organization that promotes the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

Two days later   a slightly different version of the ad showed up in the pages of the Toronto Sun. The same day pictures of a flyer being widely distributed by Tim Hudak’s Conservative campaign began to appear on Twitter. In miniscule type on the bottom of the flyer? “Authorized by the C.F.O. for the Ontario PC Party”

I have only two words for Tim Hudak: Forget. You. They are words I never thought I’d use in print, and I don’t use them lightly. But when you actively promote hate, when you target my friends, my neighbors, my fellow citizens and single them out for hatred and condemnation because of who they are, and when you do it while campaigning to represent ALL Ontarians in order to score points with bigots… well you can go forget yourself Hudak, sincerely.

I apologize for my language, I really do, but this is so sickening, so appalling, so fundamentally depressing, that I truly am at a loss for words. I can’t be rational, measured or calm. It’s all I can do to keep the steam from popping my ear drums.

Now, as anyone who reads me knows, I am the farthest thing from unbiased or impartial in my punditry. But there’s nothing partisan about this article. If you want to vote Liberal go ahead, I’ll be happy to tell you all the things I think are wrong with McGuinty, but he is not a bigot.

If you vote for Tim Hudak and the Ontario “Progressive” Conservatives this Thursday, you’ll be sending a message. A message to the Hudaks and McVetys of this world that this type of hate works. That spewing hatred and preaching bigotry are an effective way to get elected. A message that Homophobia and Transphobia are alive and well in this supposedly tolerant land.

Vote Green, Rhinoceros, NDP, Rainbows and Lollipops, Raelian or (sigh) even Liberal. But please, show Hudak that he’s wrong about Ontario. Whatever you do, don’t vote PC, or you’ll be putting your stamp of approval on bigotry.

Finally, please tell everyone you know. Share this and every other article about this slime until your mouse has a conniption fit. Call your mom, your dad, your grandparents, your half sister in Thunder Bay, your distant cousin in Hamilton, your old Chiropractor in Brant and your Dentist from when you were 10 in Niagara Falls. Together we can send a message of our own, that hate is unacceptable and a bigot will never be premier. So raise your voice, and tell the world there is no place for hate in Queen’s Park.

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Reading coverage of the Ontario leaders debate, one would be forgiven for thinking that it came out a wash, with no leader really picking up support out of the televised platform. In a Globe article published this morning Adam Radwanski even opined that “despite their better efforts, they [the Leaders] most likely succeeded in hardening their own support rather than moving votes”.

Now, it’s easy to doubt your own instincts, or be confused about the victor in this debate, especially if you missed the show. After all, each party’s spin teams took to twitter and other social media platforms with a vengeance before the debate even ended, pronouncing it a decisive victory for their candidate.

But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and for that I turned to the only comprehensive and scientific post-debate poll. Ipsos-Reid were in the field before and after the debate, interviewing a representative sample of 1,687 Ontarians pre-debate, and 1,470 afterwards. The top line findings on their poll have been reported accurately enough, 33% thought McGuinty won the debate, while 29% thought Horwath did and only 25% thought the same of Hudak.

But, as is usually the case, reading below the top line provides a great deal more insight. For starters, let’s look at the impact that Horwath had on voters. While McGuinty and Hudak were perceived to be the winner of the debate by roughly the same number of people who expected them to win going in (in other words, their supporters), Horwath exceeded expectations by 15%, leading Ipsos to comment that she   “appears to have had the biggest impact on Ontarians through her performance”.

But that’s only the beginning of the story. The second most compelling stat in the report (I’m coming to the first, don’t worry), was the stunning number of Ontarians whose impression of Horwath improved. Let’s go to the report again:

It was Andrea Horwath who made the biggest impression on Ontarians as 67% say they have an improved impression of her as a result of the debate, while just 10% say their impressions worsened, representing a net score of +57, effectively making her the real winner of the debate. By comparison, Jack Layton’s net improvement score in the English-language federal debate was +41 points, and +42 in the French-language debate. Three in ten (29%) have an improved impression of Dalton McGuinty, compared to a similar proportion (31%) who have a worsened impression, representing a net score of -2. Four in ten (37%) say that their impressions of Tim Hudak improved, while one in three (34%) say they worsened, a net score of +3.[emphasis mine]

Now that is a pretty stunning number, but Liberal and Conservative spin doctors would no doubt argue that people’s impression of Horwath may have gone up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll vote for her. After all, someone who hated her before might have had their impression softened, but still prefer another candidate.

So let’s look at the most important piece of information in the poll, as far as I’m concerned. Back to the report we go:

With the NDP leader performing so well compared to expectations, it is interesting to note that one in ten (14%) viewers say they changed their mind about who they were going to vote for as a result of what they saw tonight, with the NDP appearing to be the biggest beneficiary among those who viewed the debates and reportedly switched their vote.

Horwath was also chosen as the leader with the best ideas and policies (35% +10), the most likeable leader (52% +8) and the most “visually attractive” (54% +12). On the issues, Horwath came out on top with viewers as the candidate they most trust on Healthcare (35%, +11) and came second on Taxes (24% +5) and Education (29%, +10).

So in summary, Horwath was the runaway winner of the debate, improving the opinion of 57% of viewers, and 14% of viewers will shift their vote as a result. So could one of the numerous pundits opining that no one won the debate, and that no one succeeded in moving voters, explain their position to me please?

Even taking into account margin of error and the fact that not all Ontarians watched the debate (although they’ll certainly hear about it around the proverbial water-cooler) we’re talking about a minimum of 5-8% shift from the other parties to the NDP. Transpose that onto the most recent poll results and you’re looking at the NDP above 30% and in a three way dead heat with the Libs and Cons.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a ball game. So I wonder if journalists didn’t bother to read the Ipsos report through, inexplicably failed to notice the huge shift to Horwath which the report writers underline on several occasions, or chose to run with the story that the debate was a wash because it fit better with their own narrative of the campaign?

In any case, barring the remote possibility that Ipsos produced a rogue poll, I expect to see a significant swing to the NDP in the polls over the next week. This will leave us with a thrilling three way race to the finish, in which Horwath has as much chance of snatching the Premier’s chair as either of her opponents.

The NDP are back in Ontario, and that, coincidentally, is very good news for their federal cousins. It’s going to be one hell of a finish. I’m certainly looking forward to it.


Although an article I wrote about Jack appeared on before his funeral, this article marks the official inauguration of my blog on Rabble, where I will be re-posting articles I write for as well as some content exclusively for Rabble. I wanted to take the opportunity to welcome readers on Rabble and say how honoured I am to be appearing on the site, alongside so many giants of the left in this country.

I’ve been a fan of Rabble since Judy Rebick handed me a pin and told me about this great new site she was starting at a conference a decade ago. Over the years I have always returned for insightful commentary and cutting analysis which is, of course, completely absent from the main stream media. And Babble, oh Babble!

So a big thank you to Kim Elliott, Rabble’s Publisher, and Alexandra Samur, the Blogs Editor, for giving me the opportunity to join the team!

This column is a regular feature on, where I am the News and Politics Editor. Please stop by and check out our rather eclectic blend of news and politics with arts and culture, all infused with a uniquely Montrealaise ethos. And for my ForgetTheBox readers, please check out if you aren’t already familiar with the site. It is one of the largest and most influential progressive websites in the country, and my home page.

Finally, you can follow me on Twitter @EthanCoxMtl and like me on Facebook for updates, new articles and snide comments about Conservatives during Question Period.

*This article was originally published last year to mark the passing of Jack Layton.*

The second last time I saw Jack Layton was at a garden party at Stornoway in late June. Speaking under a vast white tent as desultory raindrops punished the exiled mass of smokers, he declared his and Olivia’s new house, the residence of the leader of the official opposition, to be “the people’s house.”

Shortly afterwards I caught him on his way out and sheepishly asked for a photo. I can’t say why really, I suppose I was overcome by the emotion of the moment. In seven years and something like twenty meetings and conversations, it was the first time I posed for a picture with him. I remember mumbling apologies for being so sycophantic, which he brushed off with his usual generosity of spirit.

The last time I saw Jack Layton I was in the gallery above the House of Commons as he delivered his now legendary speech to kick off the NDP filibuster of Conservative back to work legislation for Canada Post. Unaided by cane or desk, he stood for over an hour, speaking passionately and personally in defence of worker’s rights.

He talked about his neighbours, his constituents, his friends and his experiences. He stitched together this quilt of impressions, anecdotes and beliefs into a sprawling masterpiece, which Peter Stoffer would later describe as one of the finest speeches he had ever seen in his many years in the House.

Dylan Thomas wrote of our raging against the dying of the light. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the man universally known as Jack is the relish he took in doing battle against the dying of the light, and ever so implausibly, beating back the darkness from time to time.

In an age where things are getting progressively worse all around us, where gains of previous generations are being rolled back at an ever increasing clip and so many of us feel powerless to stem the tide of darkness, Jack rolled up his sleeves and dug in, refusing to believe that any lost cause could not be salvaged with a little love, hope and optimism.

In progressive circles, people often refer to “the sickness.” They mean that to choose a thankless life of 70 hour weeks, meagre salary and only the rarest of victories – the life of those who fight to make the world a better place – over the cushy perks of a corporate gig requires a certain measure of madness. Jack was definitely touched by the sickness, and he spread it to those he met with the virulence of a plague.

For an entire generation of Canadians, he taught us not only that a better world is possible, but that if we want it we have to fight for it. One need look no farther than the crop of new MPs, some of whom were as young as 12 when Jack ascended to the leadership of the NDP, to see his influence. He brought young people to politics like no one before him, fighting off cynicism and apathy as he inspired a generation of Canadians to fight for what they believed in.

I can’t really say I knew Jack well, and I so wish I had had a chance to get to know him better. We met often and I recall with pride and the faintest touch of a blush that he always managed to retrieve my name from his elephant sized memory, but we never really spoke at length, or shared a laugh over beers. He nevertheless had a huge impact on my life, and an even greater one on those younger than I, for whom he is the only leader of the NDP they have ever known.

As I write these words I am in a car traversing the midsection of Ontario, on my way to Toronto for the eminently deserved state funeral. On Tuesday I was in a café in Barcelona, sitting down for lunch, when a text message brought the walls down around my head. Wednesday I trooped through the sombre halls of centre block to sign the condolence book and take my moment in front of the flag draped coffin, head bowed to commune a final time with Jack.

Shaking hands with the indomitable Olivia I was shaken by her strength, her incredible composure and resolve in the face of tragedy. She brushed off the condolences of myself and a gaggle of staffers as she passed, telling us only that we knew what we had to do, fight on, twice as hard.

Joe Hill sang “Don’t mourn, organize!” and it’s been a credo of the labour and progressive movements ever since. But in this case I think I’ll do both. Jack was a titan, a larger than life figure who compromised when he had to, and sometimes more than we would have liked him to, but never broke from the progressive principles that shaped his life.

He believed in the movement, the communal project of making our world fairer, freer and socially just. No matter how large his stature grew, or how his name and face came to dominate the NDP, he never lost sight of his place as a cog in a larger struggle.

On the left we face the perennial challenge of holding true to our principles while struggling to achieve our goals in a world where the deck is always stacked against us. The media and corporate propagandists have largely succeeded in convincing the mice to vote for the cats, as Tommy Douglas would say.

Over the years many of my progressive friends have given me grief for my allegiance to the NDP. The party has become too moderate, they would argue, just another flavour of cat, not a party of mice at all. At times their criticism had merit, for instance in the party’s failure to take a principled stand for Palestinian human rights, but I always argued that Jack was doing what had to be done to actually change things and I believed in his principles and commitment to the progressive cause, and that of the NDP caucus.

This week Judy Rebick, a giant of the left in her own right, wrote about Jack that he was always more of an activist than a politician. Even when they did not see eye-to-eye, and even when she quit the party, she wrote, he always treated her as a comrade and never took her dissent as a betrayal. In her words, “Jack was a rare politician whose driving force was not ego but his passion for social justice and his compassion for people.”

Jack was a true progressive, in every sense of the word. He believed in a better world, and spent his life figuring out how to get there.

This is perhaps the hardest article I’ve ever written. I feel as though my words are hopelessly insufficient to contain the legacy of a man so much larger than life that he leapt off every page which ever tried to contain him.

I was in Nathan Phillips Square this morning and it was hard not to be overcome by the outpouring of grief and love expressed there. Every available surface has been covered in chalk messages of hope, love and solidarity, written in every imaginable language. The line to view his casket was so long I was unable to follow it to its end.

Faced with the aching insufficiency of words, all I can really say is that Jack was an inspiration, a leader for the ages, a legend who will live on in the hearts and minds of a nation’s worth of dreamers who dare to hope for a better world.

In his final letter to Canadians, Jack asked us to carry on the fight, and we will. We will carry it right to the doors of 24 Sussex Drive four years from now, and in his words, we won’t stop until the job is done. We’ll do it for you Jack, but we’ll do it for ourselves as well.   I can’t think of a more fitting tribute.

“My Friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” Jack Layton (1950-2011)

* Photos from Toronto vigil by Tomas Urbina

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Sorry Stephen, Canadians aren't as stupid as you think we are...

In politics smears have a tendency to work. That’s why attack ads and mudslinging are the norm down south, and a growing trend here. It doesn’t really matter if an accusation is true, studies have shown that people are far more likely to pay attention to the original, shocking, smear than to any subsequent correction.

With the debut of Fox News North (aka Sun News) and the success of Stephen Harper’s cheap shot politics, it’s fair to wonder if our smug sense of superiority about the gullibility of our neighbors to the south is warranted. Sure Canadians don’t believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11, or that Obama is a closet Muslim who was born in Kenya, but smears which grasp a kernel of truth and distort it beyond recognition have had some measure of success in Canada. These kind of smears are the hardest to combat, as refuting them requires placing this kernel of truth in context, rather than simply explaining that Politician A is not, in fact, in the habit of dining on kittens.

A good example is the brouhaha about interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel’s “sovereigntist ties”. Sure she’s a life long federalist who voted No in both referendums and held a variety of senior positions in the NDP in the 90’s. Sure Quebeckers to the left of Jean Charest’s ConservaLiberals have to choose between the PQ and Quebec Solidaire, with QS being the far less sovereigntist option, and sure the Bloc has been more about social policy than sovereignty for the better part of a decade, but we’ll call her a sovereigntist anyway and hope it sticks!

I have to admit, I was a little concerned that my fellow Canadians might miss the context and buy into the Con smear job. I should have had more faith in the population of this wonderful country.

Two polls released today, one by Angus Reid and another by Harris/Decima, provide a comforting reminder that Canadians are not nearly as stupid and gullible as Stephen Harper seems to think we are. After a solid week of misrepresentation and distortion in the mainstream media; of a virtual press blackout on the facts of life in Quebec politics; of a parade of right wing commentators gleefully predicting the end of the NDP; and of Liberals jumping on the bandwagon to condemn her for briefly being a member of the Bloc, while their own leader led another party, Canadians responded “So what?”

It was, and remains, inevitable that the establishment in this country would pull out all the stops to destroy the NDP. Heaven forbid that a party which actually cares about people accede to government, they might do something crazy, like raise taxes on major corporations (already among the lowest in North America) and lower them for small businesses (who are the only ones that actually use tax cuts to create jobs).

But Canadians have rejected the elites’ consensus. They’ve dug below the surface and refused to allow Harper to divide us against each other. I’m really proud of my country today.

The top line on the Angus Reid poll is this: Cons 39, NDP 31, Liberals 19. Not much change from election day. But the really fascinating stuff is buried in the report. For starters, the NDP lead in every region of the country, except Ontario and Alberta. They’ve posted big gains in the Atlantic provinces, the Prairies and B.C., while slipping a bit in Quebec to 35% (down about 5%) to account for their remaining at 31% nationally. The Quebec number is a natural leveling out of support after a surge, and should hold steady if not go up. More importantly, they may have dipped on the absence of Jack, but Quebeckers certainly don’t care about Turmel’s past.

Liberal Leader Bob Rae: his party is tanking after joining in the smear on Turmel

Meanwhile, 87% of those who voted NDP in the last election would do so again, a voter retention rate second only to the Conservatives’ 91%. Only 70% of those who voted Liberal would do so again, and 20% of Liberal voters now say they would vote NDP, a number sure to cause many sleepless nights in the Liberal camp. So the NDP have solidified their hold on the voters they captured on May 2, while making serious inroads with the Liberal voters they need to win over in order to form government in four years.

On the question of approval for the performance of each leader, Harper leads at -1, followed by Turmel at -6 and Rae at -10. That’s right, despite the sovereigntist smear, Canadians still think less of Bob Rae’s performance as leader than they do of Turmel’s.

On the so-called momentum score, which asks whether respondents’ views of the leaders have improved, stayed the same or worsened over the past month, Turmel scores a -12, while Harper comes in at -10 and Rae at -6. This is a shockingly good score for Turmel, given that in the weeks before this poll was conducted every second press story was about what a terrible person she was.

When the same question is applied to political parties, as distinct from their leader, the results are stunning. The NDP come in even, with as many Canadians opinion of the party improving as worsening, followed by the Conservatives at -11 and the Liberals at -25.

Despite an all out media assault, the NDP has come through the summer completely unscathed, while the Liberals are in free fall. I can imagine sales of Tums are at an all time high in the vicinity of Liberal offices.

Returning to the question of Nycole Turmel, and her past affiliation with the Bloc and Quebec Solidaire, the Angus Reid poll finds that 41% of Canadians are somewhat or very concerned about the issue, as opposed to 51% who are unconcerned. Most interesting in this number however, is the breakdown of respondents according to party affiliation. While 60% of Conservative supporters are concerned, only 29% of NDP supporters are, with only 8% registering as very concerned. On the question of whether the NDP should replace Turmel, the numbers are virtually identical.

Meanwhile, the numbers in the Harris/Decima survey are even more heartening for the NDP. A whopping 71% of Canadians consider Turmel’s past memberships in the Bloc and Quebec Solidaire to be either a minor issue (27%) or not an issue (46%) with 89% of NDP supporters feeling this way. On the question of whether she should be replaced as leader, 53% of Canadians feel she should stay, while only 25% feel she should be replaced. In Quebec 70% want her to remain, with only 13% thinking she should leave.

Allan Gregg, the chairman of Harris/Decima, put it about as well as I’ve seen:

What there is, I think, in English Canada by and large is indifference and in Quebec I think it’s a much more studied view: what is the controversy? The only people who haven’t flirted with the notion of being a supporter of the BQ at one time or another are terrified anglophones, It’s really not that radical a position to take and that seems to be the reflex view of the Quebecers in the poll.

All of this while Canadians only impression of Nycole Turmel has been a relentless smear campaign. Imagine where these numbers will be when she is finally allowed to bring her apparently stellar intelligence, savvy and leadership skills to the fore?

A pundit remarked in a recent column that rather than an error, perhaps Jack Layton had made a shrewd political gamble by elevating Turmel. That perhaps his intention was to force Canadians to confront their perceptions of Quebec, it’s place in the federation and the realities of Quebec politics. If so, he chose a risky road, but one which could ultimately bring us together as a country and help us to better understand each other.

If so, Layton chose to believe the best of Canadians, and put his faith in our fairness, intelligence and compassion. Stephen Harper meanwhile, bet on the worst of our natures. Holding that our pettiness, our fear, and our distrust of the other would allow him to once again divide us against one another.

I’m happy to say that Harper lost his bet, and the Liberals, by jumping on board the character assassination train, spectacularly so. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t share Jack’s unwavering confidence in my fellow Canadians. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.

Today we are stronger and more united as a country, and the NDP are reaping the just rewards of trying to build this country, rather than tear it apart. There will be more attacks, more smears over the next four years, but today I believe Harper is coming to grips with an unsettling reality: the NDP are made of sterner stuff than the Liberal leaders he beat bloody, and he’ll have to do better, much better, if he wants to knock a dipper down.
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Watching l’affaire Turmel unfold this week has been something of an eye opening experience. I’m not sure whether the national media really don’t understand Quebec politics, or are choosing to lie to Canadians.

Late last week Stephen Harper’s Conservative party released a memo   “revealing” that NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel had, for a brief period, held a membership in the Bloc Quebecois alongside her membership in the NDP, which she has held for over 20 years.

This Tuesday, the Globe and Mail ran with the story and the feeding frenzy was on. One national news source after another lined up to bemoan this dastardly, dastardly thing she had done.

No surprise that the Conservatives would pick up smearing the leader of the Official Opposition where they left off with Iggy. Nor that they would do so to a lifelong Federalist who has never voted Bloc and voted No in both referendums, when their cabinet, like the Liberals’ before them, boasts several real former sovereigntists and Bloc members. After all, the Conservatives’ constant attempts to turn Quebec and the Rest of Canada (RoC) against each other for political gain are the chief threat to national unity in our country.

What appalls me, if it does not surprise me, is that the national media, with nary an exception, would gleefully follow them down the rabbit hole. They did so for two reasons: complete ignorance of Quebec and how our politics work, and a desperate flailing to cut down the NDP and their new leader for the egregious crime of being Socially Progressive while Popular (SPP).

Former Bloquiste and sovereigntist, and now Conservative cabinet minister, Denis Lebel

Since facts have been given short shrift in this week’s coverage, allow me to recap them. Nycole Turmel has been a member of the NDP for over 20 years, holding several senior positions in the party in the 90’s. She voted No in the referendums of 1980 and 1995, and has never voted for the Bloc. Her crime is that, at the request of a close friend who was a Bloc MP, she took out a membership in the Bloc in 2006 and donated the paltry sum of $235 over the four years she was a member. During these years she remained a member of the NDP, and cancelled her Bloc membership in January of 2011. She was also, until hounded to renounce it this week, a member of Quebec Solidaire.

For the benefit of readers outside of Quebec, allow me to explain. Here in Quebec large numbers of federalists vote for and support the Bloc and Quebec Solidaire because they are progressive social democratic parties, which reflect their values.

Most national unions routinely endorsed the NDP in the RoC, while endorsing the Bloc in Quebec. This is because they saw the Bloc as the most viable progressive option when the NDP was not popular in Quebec, not out of an affinity for sovereignty.

Quebeckers of my generation have largely rejected the old sovereigntist-federalist axis and choose to organize themselves along ideological lines. The rise and fall of the ADQ and François Legault’s putative right wing formation are good examples, while the best example is in fact Quebec Solidaire.

While nominally sovereigntist, this grassroots driven party is composed of a fairly even mix of federalists and sovereigntists who agree that the priority is to address the growing inequalities in our society. I am a supporter, as are most of my Anglo and federalist friends.

Bloc co-founder, and later Liberal cabinet minister and Quebec lieutenant, Jean Lapierre

In the last election the “sovereigntist” Quebec Solidaire chose to abandon the Bloc and throw their support behind the federalist NDP. They did so because their priority is progressive governance. Their co-leader, Amir Khadir, is a member of the NDP and attended the party’s recent convention in Vancouver. He was even quoted last year as saying “We are caught in the prison of the national question.”

QS local riding associations have come out en masse to support newly elected NDP MPs with weak ground organizations. In fact the party debated removing sovereignty from their constitution at their last convention, a proposal which was only narrowly defeated, and will certainly be revisited.

But how dare Nycole Turmel support QS, the only provincial party in Quebec whose policies are even close to those of the NDP?

Never mind that mere months ago Canadians across the country were fêting the NDP for succeeding in convincing progressive Quebeckers that they could achieve more through the NDP than the Bloc. Never mind how insulting it is to Quebeckers that anyone who has expressed any sort of support, however fleeting, for what was until this spring the most popular party in the province is a target for this type of character assassination. Never mind that this week’s events prove the point of hard-core sovereigntists, who argue that Canada will never understand or accept Quebec.

The question is, why is our national media lying to us? Why are they telling us that anyone who ever cast a glance at the Bloc, or any of their MPs, is a traitor who deserves to be branded with a scarlet B, and expelled from polite society?

I think that this week’s conniption fit in a teacup is no accident. It is a calculated attempt to take down the NDP, that much is obvious. But I think there is another element to it as well.

Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier, who swore an oath to a sovereign Quebec when working for Bernard Landry

For years Quebeckers were distracted from the “social project” by their division along national lines. The shift to viewing politics along ideological lines, in a largely left wing province, is a threat to many vested interests.

This week’s firestorm will surely leave Quebeckers feeling insulted, and justly so. If our best and brightest federalists are judged unworthy by the rest of the country for no greater crime than the way Quebec politics work, then why bother trying to participate?

The RoC has spent years begging Quebec to give Canada a chance, to engage with the federation. As soon as we do so we are slapped across the face and told we are unworthy for our past thought crimes.

This mess will be bad for national unity, for the country and for all of us. But it will be good for the Conservatives and their agenda of division. Now remind me, who did all those national media outlets endorse in the last election?

Dear journos: Get your act together and do your job. Stop being so transparently partisan and hypocritical and tell Canadians the truth. Is that really so much to ask?

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On Monday afternoon Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, took to the stage at a nationally televised press conference and announced that tests had discovered a new cancer, different from the Prostate cancer which had dogged him in the lead-up to this spring’s election. Looking pale and gaunt and speaking in an almost unrecognizable voice, he announced that he would be taking a leave of absence from his duties as leader, pegging the resumption of Parliament in September as his target date to return.

He spoke of the tremendous support and inspiration he had received from across the country, and told Canadians “I will therefore be taking a temporary leave of absence as Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. I’m going to fight this cancer now, so I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes.”

In an email to party members sent moments before his announcement he said:

If I have tried to bring anything to federal politics, it is the idea that hope and optimism should be at their heart. We CAN look after each other better than we do today. We CAN have a fiscally responsible government. We CAN have a strong economy; greater equality; a clean environment. We CAN be a force for peace in the world. I am as hopeful and optimistic about all of this as I was the day I began my political work, many years ago. I am hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come. And I am very hopeful and optimistic that our party will continue to move forward. We WILL replace the Conservative government, a few short years from now. And we WILL work with Canadians to build the country of our hopes, Of our dreams, Of our optimism, Of our determination, Of our values… Of our love.

Jack was, as always, Jack. Nothing personifies the optimism, the strength and the courage that our ‘bon Jack’ from Hudson has brought to every challenge he has undertaken, better than this beaming ray of optimism on such a sombre occasion.

Let me say it now, unequivocally, Jack will be back. The spectacular strength and determination he showed as he overcame a fractured hip and Prostate cancer to lead his party to its most spectacular showing in history are already the stuff of legend. His courage is the most enduring and defining characteristic of a man who has spent his life in the service of others.

As Kathleen Monk, the NDP spokesperson, said on television shortly after the announcement, “I wouldn’t bet against Jack”

Meanwhile the mainstream media, once past the obligatory compliments on his courage and legacy, are full of doom and gloom. Op-ed writers across the country are treating his departure as permanent and already writing the obituary for a party they say can’t survive his departure. Poppycock. Poppycock on both counts.

Jack will be back. I’ve never known a stronger man, or one who could accomplish so much through sheer force of will. And in the meantime the party will be just fine. The media love to chortle at perceived rifts in the caucus: between “nationalist” Quebec MPs and the rest, between left and right, between whole wheat and white bread eaters it would seem.

Well the NDP is no loosely assembled collection of parts, unable to define itself outside of the large shadow of our ‘bon Jack’. The NDP stands for one simple yet brilliant idea. One little idea that poses more of a threat to the powers that be in our country than anything else.

The idea that all government policy should be in service of the people. That we can do better, be better, and that no challenge is insurmountable when we leave the interests of the richest few aside, and champion the cause of the powerless many.

That is what the NDP stands for, and every member of the NDP’s caucus is united in this core belief. No doubt there are differences of opinion on how this idea should be implemented, as well there should be in a democratic system, but the NDP is more than Jack. He personifies this belief, he champions and demonstrates it in all his actions, but it does not leave with him.

I have heard it said by many who go to work in political Ottawa that the most shocking realization is that the media “experts”, whom they had religiously devoured before, are in fact so singularly ill informed as to what is actually happening.

The NDP caucus is not, as these experts would have you believe, fragile or fractious. It is united, in belief and in purpose, and it is ready to carry on the battle of our lifetime. The battle to replace the divisive and destructive Conservative government with one which will work to build this country, not destroy it.

For now they will do so under Jack’s inspired choice for interim leader, Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel. Ms. Turmel may not yet be well known to readers outside of Quebec, but she most certainly will become so.

As the first female national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, her managerial and leadership skills are unchallenged. Less well known is her rock solid commitment to social justice and her tenacious dedication. These will become abundantly clear in the days and weeks ahead.

At a time like this it seems almost crass to focus on the welfare of a party, when a man’s life is at stake. But I know Jack would not have it any other way. Jack believes in this country, in its innate goodness, in its imperfect quest for equality and a just society. He has dedicated his life to his vision for Canada, and I know he will continue to fight for it until his dying breath.

Jack Layton is a true Canadian hero. And as he undertakes yet another battle in which he is perhaps the underdog, recall his bold words of hope from the campaign trail “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done”. We won’t, and we’ll be waiting for you to lead us out of our Conservative nightmare brother.

You’re in our hearts Jack, you always will be.

Reading Ha’aretz, one of the largest Israeli daily newspapers, is a fascinating experience. Here in Canada those who criticize Israel are dismissed as anti-semites, terrorists even. Rather than defend international law and UN resolutions, our Conservative government calls the participation of Canadians in the Freedom Flotilla 2, such as the five activists we profiled earlier this month, an unnecessary “provocation”.

Meanwhile, over in Ha’aretz, Netenyahu is called out for his “bullshit”. His bullshit that the new law making it illegal to boycott Israel, or any Israeli company or institution, is not an infringement on freedom of speech. His bullshit that opposition to the occupation of Palestine is synonymous with a desire to destroy Israel. His bullshit that 1967 borders are indefensible, when many former heads of the IDF and Mossad have endorsed 1967 borders as a start point for negotiations.

Most of all, Carlo Strenger calls out Netenyahu for his bullshit “that Israel can be a democratic country with a Jewish character while continuing the occupation. A clear-headed discussion would show that the greatest danger for Israel’s future today lies not in the Arab world, but in the disintegration and radicalization of its political culture.”

Strenger warns that “Totalitarianism, as George Orwell showed poignantly, hinges on clouding the mind by polluting our speech. This is precisely what the majority of the eighteenth Knesset and the Netanyahu government have done: they have crossed the line where bullshitting pushes towards totalitarianism.”

He is far from alone. The pages of Ha’aretz are filled with denunciations of occupation, from  Henning Mankell to Gideon Levy to  Zvi Bar’el, to name three on their front page today.

But if Strenger had written these words in a Canadian paper, as a Canadian atheist rather than an Israeli Jew, I don’t doubt that he would have been swiftly denounced as an anti-semite, or at minimum a wooly headed idealist with no grasp on the “facts”.

But things are changing here, people are awakening to the big lie they have been fed: that Israel is always right, the Palestinians are always wrong and that’s enough talking about it anyway.

The thrust of Strenger’s critique is that “open society”, or liberal democracy, “depends on a culture that values clear speech; coherent, logical argument; and truly critical discussion.” Netenyahu, and certainly his uncritical allies in our own government, have waged war on clear, critical discussion using the weapons of propaganda, or as Strenger would put it, “bullshit”.

No one claims that the Palestinians have never committed a wrong, or are blameless in the current predicament, just as it would be preposterous to say that Israel is always right and has only ever acted in self-defence (although I have heard this said often enough here, it would be laughed off the pages of Ha’aretz or the Israeli street).

When conflicts become so entrenched, when critical discussion and just remedy seem impossible, we have a tendency to retrench, to retreat to absolutisms. “My country right or wrong” was a rallying cry for supporters of the Vietnam war. That this idea abdicates any sort of responsibility to ensure that your country is,  in fact, acting righteously  was obviously lost on its utterers.

This reality is exactly why we need a frank and critical discussion of the situation in occupied Palestine and our responsibility to make it better, not worse. Binyamin Netenyahu and Stephen Harper lead by division. They turn one part of their country against the other and use our fears, our ignorance and our trust against us.

Harper does not want us to educate ourselves on Palestine, he wants us to believe that half our country is composed of terrorist sympathizers, and trust him to beat them over the head with a stick.  Frank, open and critical discussions lead to compromises and resolutions, and that’s the last thing Harper or Netenyahu want. Thankfully, they are finally losing the battle.

What last year’s tragic flotilla to Gaza, and this year’s abortive attempt, accomplished was to open the eyes of Canadians to the injustice, the suffering and the tragedy of the occupation. And further, to how simply it can be remedied.

The Greek government may have shamefully bent to the will of the powerful, keeping all but the tiny French vessel  Dignite-Al Karama from sailing for Gaza, but it hardly matters.

As a wide coalition of Palestinian groups wrote in an inspiring letter denouncing the Greek government‘s offer to send some pittance of aid “The organizers and participants of the Freedom Flotilla recognize that our plight is not about humanitarian aid; it is about our human rights. They carry with them something more important than aid; they carry hope, love, solidarity and respect.”

And their courage in doing so has been noticed around the world. As Wikileaks revealed recently when it published a slew of diplomatic cables from the American embassy in Israel, the blockade of Gaza is about keeping it on the teetering precipice of a humanitarian crisis. It has nothing to do with keeping out arms. This is no conspiracy theory, but the stated position of the Israeli government to their American allies, as published in Ha’aretz.

Canadians have witnessed the courage of their compatriots and have begun to ask why. This asking, this questioning of the official narrative, is the beginning of a frank, open and critical dialogue. A dialogue which befits an open society such as ours, and which has been impeded by propaganda and absolutism for too long. This conversation must begin with the facts, not the lies and half truths used by our leaders to defend the indefensible. It must begin with the inescapable reality that the occupation must end, not next month, next year or next decade, but now. And it must begin with the repudiation of those who would use the label of anti-semite to smear critics of Israel. Not only has the use of this label impugned many good and decent people, it has dealt a great blow to the fight against real anti-semitism.

The losers in this conversation will be Harper and Netenyahu. The winners will be honesty, compassion and universal respect for the human rights of all peoples.



As I write this it is twenty past seven in the morning Friday and the night shift has just ended at the House of Commons. I speak not of the doubtless dedicated cleaning crew, but rather of the night shift of NDP MPs who will, in the words of a poet, “rage against the dying of the light”.

Some hours earlier the NDP caucus began an almost unprecedented filibuster to delay and hopefully defeat the Conservatives scandalous back to work legislation for postal workers. While filibusters, in which outnumbered opponents of a bill take turns speaking for as long as they are allowed in hopes of breaking a government’s resolve, are a relatively commonplace occurrence south of the border they are virtually unheard of up here.
This is both because MPs are limited to twenty-minute speeches, and because our system of government makes them largely ineffective.

But today, on what would have been the last day of the session, Jack Layton led his caucus of 102 MPs into parliament and served notice that they would not be leaving anytime soon. The Conservatives even refused a one-day break to allow Quebec MPs to return to their ridings for St Jean Baptiste, apparently hoping that they would leave anyway and give up on the posties’ cause.

But there they were, all 103 of them, shortly after eight this evening as Jack launched into a marathon speech. I was lucky enough to be in the gallery of the house this evening, joined by dozens of striking posties, NDP staffers and ordinary citizens who recognized the momentous nature of the occasion, and the urgency of this battle.

Veteran Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer would later describe the speech as one of the greatest he has seen in his fourteen years in parliament. Standing for almost an hour without the aid of a cane, Jack transcended himself and was every bit the statesman that Canadians came ever so close to electing Prime Minister.

He spoke of the “fellow” who delivers his mail, and who has developed a friendship with his elderly mother-in-law, of the workers at the sorting station in his riding, so many of whom have braces and injuries. He spoke of his desire to compromise and his willingness to work with the government to craft a bill all parties can live with. He spoke forcefully on the folly of dividing us against ourselves, for are the posties not Canadians like the rest of us?

He decried a crown corporation which has locked out its workers and caused the very situation they now appeal to parliament to legislate away. He spoke of the real crisis of the middle class in this country, of the growing gap between the rich and poor and the incomprehensibility of ever more profitable corporations refusing to provide even such former givens as fair pensions.

At every pause, at every intake of breath, his astonishingly large caucus rose around him as one and applauded with a vigour and sincerity I have never seen. At one point they even broke into the chant of “so-so-so-solidarité” and kept it up for a good minute.

Following in his outsized footsteps, the caucus divided themselves into shifts and vowed to keep debating the resolution for as long as it took to defeat it, or at least buy the posties enough time to negotiate a fair deal. Every six hours those in the chamber would be spelled by a fresh batch of colleagues, ready to rise and raise their voices for our basic rights.

Now I have never hidden my strong ties to the NDP, or my rather unfailing support for the party. But if you ever wondered where my allegiance comes from, it is from moments like tonight.

Supporters of any political party or group can find themselves at times frustrated or angry with a particular decision or policy. I certainly have been with the NDP at some points in my life. What keeps us coming back, what inoculates us against the cynicism and indifference many feel to the political process, is a belief that when push comes to shove we share a core set of values, which our leaders can be counted upon to defend.

Tonight, as the Liberal benches sat virtually empty, the representatives I worked and voted for put it all on the line for people they had never met. As the Conservative propaganda machine was successfully selling the rather preposterous line that this mess is the fault of greedy posties, my MPs were standing for principle and fighting to the bitter end for the rights of ordinary workers like you and I.

That, in a nutshell, is why I vote NDP.

Several excellent summaries of the proposed legislation and the realities of the lockout have been written, which I urge you to read, but allow me to summarize.

The postal workers are not greedy. They started rotating strikes, which did not interrupt mail delivery, to resist management demands that they accept huge concessions while Canada Post continues to be a highly profitable corporation. The most notable of these was a demand that new hires have a defined contribution pension plan, rather than a defined benefit one. This type of pension plan means that dedicated employees who work thirty or more years for the company can be left eating cat food in retirement. A good pension plan is a basic right which we should be fighting to extend to all workers.

The current situation is 100% the fault of the Canada Post Corporation. Canada Post locked out their employees, causing a complete shutdown of mail delivery which had been only marginally delayed by the rotating strikes. The union has offered to return to work without rotating strikes, and Canada Post has refused to end the lockout. The whole thing was a set up for the Conservatives to pass draconian back to work legislation.

Conservative/Canada Post strategy? Send a message. The point of the exercise has been to send a message to unions that if they exercise their charter protected right to bargain collectively and withhold their labour, not only will they be legislated back to work, but terms will be set by the government that are worse than what the employer was offering, as is the case with Canada Post. No employer will have an incentive to make a fair offer and unions will be terrified that if they go on strike they will end up with even less than what was being offered. End result? A downward spiral of working conditions that hurts us all.

Jack Layton and a record 102 other NDP MPs

Today Jack Layton announced the composition of the shadow cabinet that will take on the Conservatives when Parliament resumes on June 2. For those who don’t obsessively follow politics, a shadow cabinet is the group of MPs who will serve as critics to the government’s ministers. A critic is tasked with holding their government counterpart to account, and is the main voice of opposition on issues relating to the ministry for which they are responsible.

For the first time in their history the NDP are the Official Opposition, and the government in waiting for the next four years. As such, a strong front bench that will be able to stand up to the Conservative agenda is critical.

Looking down the list I am impressed by the calibre of the NDP MPs, but also by the artful juggling act undertaken by Layton to produce a well-balanced shadow cabinet where no one looks out of place.

In particular, the representation of women and Quebec is great to see.


The NDP shadow cabinet is 40% female, which reflects the record percentage of female candidates the party fielded in the last election. The NDP ran strong female candidates, and is now putting them in positions of power.

This compares to a Conservative cabinet which boasts only eight female ministers (22%) and is once again overrun with old white men.

The NDP was able to draw on the strength of returning heavyweights like Libby Davies (Health) Olivia Chow (Transport) Megan Leslie (Environment) and Peggy Nash, who returns to Parliament after losing her seat in 2008 to take on the all important Finance critic position. Other returnees include Linda Duncan (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development), Irene Mathyssen (Minister of State for Seniors) and Jean Crowder.

While the NDP will rely on the experience and skill of these veterans, there’s a lot to get excited about when it comes to the rookies.

Nycole Turmel

Nycole Turmel, the former national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, becomes Caucus Chair and critic for Public Works. Although she had left by the time I started working for PSAC, my colleagues are universally enamoured with her drive, determination and principles, and I’m thrilled to see her in such an important position.

Hélène Laverdière, a former Canadian diplomat who resigned her position over philosophical differences with the Harper government, will be the critic for International Cooperation. Her energy and intelligence (she holds a PhD and used to teach university) will be needed as she tries to explain the meaning of the word “cooperation” to the Conservatives.

New NDP MP Francoise Boivin

Francoise Boivin, a lawyer and former Liberal MP, will go head to head with Rona Ambrose in the Status of Women portfolio. She is an extremely intelligent and articulate advocate and I’m looking forward to seeing her contrast herself with the less than impressive Ms. Ambrose.

Meanwhile Marie-Claude Morin (Housing), Rathika Sitsabaiesan (Post-Secondary Education), Manon Perreault (Disabilities) and Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet (Skills) will each take on different parts of the Human Resources and Skills Development portfolio, with returning MP Jean Crowder as the principal critic. Claude Patry (Employment Insurance) will round out the field. I love that it’s been broken up, as each of these sub domains are near and dear to the NDP’s heart. With a dedicated critic for each, these issues will get their due.

The other rookies are Christine Moore, who will go head to head with everyone’s favourite Con, Julian Fantino, as critic for Military Procurement. Look to see this up and comer from Northern Quebec hold Fantino’s feet to the fire on jets without engines and other boondoggles.

Hélène Leblanc will be up against Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State for Science and Technology. Given that he believes the earth is six thousand years old, and she is an educator and agronomist with degrees in education and agriculture and the environment, I like her odds.

Finally Paulina Ayala will be the critic for the Minister of State for the Americas and Consular Affairs, Diane Ablonczy. She was born in Chile and was a leader in the student movement and in citizens rights organizations fighting the Pinochet dictatorship.


40% of the shadow cabinet is from Quebec, which is not surprising given that the 59 seats the NDP won here are more than they have in the rest of the country combined. All of the rookie women I mentioned above, with the exception of Rathika Sitsabaiesan, are from Quebec. They will be joined by a number of talented men from here.

Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair at a Habs game

Tom Mulcair is rewarded for his role in delivering Quebec to the NDP with the role of House Leader, aka second in command. His tenacious determination and incorrigible optimism got the NDP this far in Quebec, and much will be expected of him as the elder statesman in a provincial caucus otherwise consisting of rookies.

Alexandre Boulerice is a union man (as are many of the new NDP members) who was most recently with CUPE. He has run and lost several times before breaking through, and although he’s a rookie MP he will bring a lot to the table in terms of experience with the party. He’ll have the weighty assignment of Treasury Board, where his intelligence and rock solid progressive principles will be called upon to go toe to toe with Tony Clement.

Tyrone Benskin

Tyrone Benskin is the former National VP of ACTRA (the union for actors) and Artistic Director of Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop. His wealth of knowledge and practical experience at ACTRA make him a natural fit for the Heritage portfolio. This is
an area where the NDP matches up particularly favourably with the Cons, who haven’t recovered from blasting artists for being lazy bums who spend all their time at lavish taxpayer funded galas, and Benskin will be counted upon to be a strong defender of everything from the CBC to freedom of expression for musicians as the Cons go on the offensive against Canadian culture.

Pierre Nantel, formerly the artistic director at the Cirque du Soleil will take on Sport, while his South Shore colleague Hoang Mai (another veteran of multiple campaigns) will be responsible for the important National Revenue post. Both are dynamic, well qualified MPs and I’m thrilled to see them in the shadow cabinet.

Romeo Saganash and Jack Layton

Romeo Saganash is a hugely respected Cree leader and a star candidate who had a good chance of winning in northern Quebec even before the surge. A former representative to the U.N., Saganash is no stranger to politics and he will take on Natural Resources, where his talents will stand him in good stead.

Raymond Côté rounds out the Quebec contingent, and he will take on Small Business and Tourism. His counterpart on the government benches will be the disgraced but inexplicably back in cabinet Maxime Bernier.

Bottom line?

The NDP shadow cabinet is good. Scary good. These people’s intelligence, talent and dedication are going to impress the hell out of Canadians over the next four years, especially in comparison to the Cons front bench.

Today Jack Layton took the first step along the long and winding road to replacing the Conservatives in four years. For my money, it was a damn good first step.


I skipped some big ones, like Joe Comartin in Justice, because they weren’t women or from Quebec. Here’s the full list: NDP Shadow Cabinet



Stephen Harper, demonstrating his approach to opposition

To listen to the experts, this election would change nothing. The same parliament, in the same proportions – give or take a few. Instead, it went from, as the media were so fond of repeating, the “election about nothing”, to the most significant realignment of the Canadian political landscape in decades. The Bloc Quebecois dropped from a commanding 47 of Quebec’s 75 federal seats to 4, leading them to lose even their status as an official party in the House of Commons.

The Liberal Party, long considered “Canada’s natural governing party” by the entitled mandarins within its slowly desiccating husk, reduced to a historic 34 seats and the humiliation of becoming the dreaded third party. A position they derided the NDP for holding for as long as my memory serves.

The NDP, propelled by an outpouring of support in Quebec without precedent in Canadian history, surged to a record 103 seats, more than double their previous record. Quebec’s “bon Jack” will now move his contagious energy and enthusiasm into Stornoway, the official residence of the leader of the opposition.

But even for those who bleed Orange, the election is a bittersweet pill to swallow. Despite record levels of support across the country, the NDP lost dozens of achingly close races and were unable to block Stephen Harper from finally attaining the majority government he has been so doggedly pursuing ever since his ascension to leader of the Canadian Alliance Party in 2002.

A sea of Blue and Orange...

The prospect of Stephen Harper wielding the sort of absolute power a majority provides is terrifying. For women, for the LGBTT community and for Canadians of all stripes who value just and democratic government. That he was able to gain it with the support of a sliver under 40% of those who voted is perhaps the most depressing aspect of our current predicament.

If you harbour any doubts about the urgent necessity of replacing our anti-democratic and antiquated voting system with a proportional one, then consider this. In Saskatchewan, the birthplace of the NDP, the New Democrats won exactly zero seats, despite the support of over 30% of   voters. When our choices are not reflected in our government, we begin to lose faith in the democratic process. Little wonder then that so many of our fellow citizens, especially young ones, don’t vote.

If we had a proportional system right now, we would likely be looking at a coalition of the NDP and Liberals under the leadership of Prime Minister Jack Layton. An outcome that an obvious majority of the country prefer to a continuation of Harper’s reign.

But while this tragedy of democracy must inspire us to redouble our efforts towards a voting system that honestly represents our intentions, the system is what it is (for now) and we need to buckle up for four years of unchecked Harper.

The one silver lining gleaming through this dark cloud is the position of the NDP. For the first time in our history, the official opposition, called upon to hold the government to account and shine light on its missteps, will be formed by New Democrats. While the Liberals so often supported Stephen Harper that it was increasingly difficult to distinguish between their policies and his, the NDP can be counted upon to represent those of us whose priorities revolve around health care, the environment, social justice and equality.

We are certainly in for four turbulent and trying years, but after that time Harper will be forced to go before the people again. The NDP will have then had four years to prove its ability and earn its role as the Conservatives main opposition in Ottawa.

I believe the NDP will succeed on both counts, and form the next government of Canada in four years time. I believe this because I know many of the amazing MPs elected in Quebec and across the country. Even in a majority situation, the caliber of the men and women chosen to represent Canadians for the NDP will shine through, and prove sharp contrast to the often muzzled characters on the government benches.

So in the words of the ever relevant Tommy Douglas, “Courage my friends, ’tis not too late to make a better world.”

There will be many protests, many fights ahead, as we try to counter the impending Harper attack. We will lose more than we will win, but we will win some, and we will come through it all stronger and more united than ever before. So fear the storm, but don’t despair. There is sunshine on the other side.


This Thursday Jack Layton will arrive in Montreal for a huge rally in the riding of Jeanne-Le-Ber, one of many seats that the NDP suddenly find itself competitive in as Layton fever sweeps the province. The rally, taking place at 5PM at the Corona Theatre (2490, Notre-Dame O) is a homecoming of sorts for Quebec’s newest favourite son.

Considering that the NDP was at lower than 2% in the 2000 election, it’s almost inconceivable that the party now finds itself in second place to the Bloc Quebecois. The latest Angus Reid poll put them at 24%, and they have been at or over 20% in almost all polls released since the beginning of the campaign. In fact, as polls taken on different days and by different companies bounce around like some sort of electoral yo-yo, the consistency of NDP support in Quebec is startling.

So what accounts for this stratospheric increase in NDP support in this province, and is it a permanent marriage, or merely a temporary fling for my fellow Quebecois?

All indications are that this is no one-nighter and that the NDP is here to stay as a force on the federal level. In every election since Jack Layton assumed the leadership of the NDP in 2003, the party has posted significant gains. From 4.6% in 2004 to 7.5% in 2006 to 12.5% in 2008. This last result was undoubtedly aided by Thomas Mulcair’s by-election victory in Outremont in 2007, a feat the party’s deputy leader repeated in the 2008 general election, proving once and for all that the NDP was capable of winning in Quebec.

The truth is Quebecers are increasingly falling head over heels into Jackmania, and the only cure is more votes and more seats.

Our long lost native son has succeeded in reshaping the image of a party long seen as too centralizing for Quebecers, and Layton seems to have truly gained the trust of this province with his relentless championing of social issues important to us.

While the Bloc and NDP share many platform points when it comes to fighting for the rights of regular people, rather than the major corporations whose interests the Liberals and Conservatives seem to represent, Quebecers are losing faith in the Bloc’s ability to achieve its goals.

Tyrone Benskin: candidate for Jeanne-Le-Ber where the rally will take place

Of hundreds of bills proposed by the Bloc since their inception, they’ve managed to pass three, two of which were to change the names of ridings. There is also a lingering distrust of the Bloc’s commitment to their platform since they voted against $4.6 billion of new funding for social housing, education, healthcare and other social programs. Rather than supporting this new funding, negotiated by the NDP to save Paul Martin’s government, and which they had promised to fight for in their platform, the Bloc chose to oppose it in order to gain a few new seats.

As Tom Mulcair is fond of saying, the Bloc is very good at playing defence, but you can’t win a hockey game with five defencemen.

So as the Bloc slides, a process sure to accelerate after the looming departure of Gilles Duceppe for the provincial arena, the NDP is the party best positioned to take up the progressive flag of Quebecers concerned more with social programs and a just society than doling out favours like corporate tax cuts to the giant corporations that bankroll the Libs and Cons.

Considering that 45% of Bloc supporters identify their second choice as the NDP, it isn’t hard to see why disillusionment with the Bloc is resulting in a surge in NDP support.

What is harder to measure is how this new-found support, which is quite evenly distributed across the province, will translate into seats in our out-moded first past the post system.

While La Presse’s riding poll of Outremont shows a 20% lead for Mulcair over his Liberal rival (and former justice minister) Martin Cauchon, increasing numbers of other ridings appear to be in play. Gatineau and Hull-Aylmer   seem likely to fall to the NDP while even the northernmost riding in Quebec, Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou could see an upset by star NDP candidate Romeo Saganash, a leader in the Cree community there.

Meanwhile, if NDP gains continue many Montreal ridings could fall to the orange wave sweeping the province.

Full disclosure, I am currently a member of NDP central campaign staff in Quebec for this election. As such, it’s sometimes hard not to pinch myself when I wake up in the morning. But this is no dream.

Quebecers are flocking to a party that is first and foremost honest about its intent and is also clear on who it represents. The NDP is and always has been a party that seeks to get the best deal possible for the oppressed and marginalized in our society.

The party that brought us medicare has been no less clear on where it stands in this election. Promising to radically overhaul funding for post-secondary education and freeze and reduce tuition, legislate net neutrality, hire more doctors and nurses and strengthen pensions. They’re promising to cut taxes on small businesses and reward job creators while raising the Corporate taxes that Harper has unconscionably lowered. They’ll also cap credit card rates at 5% + Prime, take federal tax off home heating oil and give us control over our cell phone bills. Social Housing that we desperately need will be a priority, as always, for the NDP.

Ultimately, the determining factor in how many of those Quebecers who now find themselves supporting the NDP actually make it to the ballot box to vote will depend entirely on how successful we are in mobilizing them. The NDP’s key disadvantage is that the Liberals and Bloc have well oiled electoral machines in Quebec, which are capable of keeping their voters in the fold and driving them to the polls.

If we can field an ever-growing team of volunteers in this election, then we have a real shot at many ridings here in Montreal.

So this election, please don’t just vote NDP, volunteer for the NDP. Because this is history in the making, and you don’t want to miss it.

To volunteer for the NDP please phone Ethan directly at 514-662-0070. The Jack Layton rally will be held at the Corona Theatre (2490 Notre Dame W.) at 5PM this Thursday, April 14.

Images: and

That's right, it's blurry on purpose!

Concordia Student Union elections are like a really bad soap opera, or a train wreck. They’re oftentimes appalling, but once you make the mistake of looking directly at them you can’t seem to look away.

For those of you who don’t know me, I have been a CSU Councillor for the past two years and before that I led the two-year drive to accredit the Dawson Student Union against ferocious, and often illegal, opposition from the Dawson administration.

So you can tell that I have a particularly virulent case of the madness that compels some of us to get involved in the largely thankless world of student politics.

But this year, I promised myself, I was well and truly out. Instead of slogging through the unreasonably vicious trenches of another CSU election, I was taking a leave of absence from my union to work for the NDP during the upcoming federal election.

No backstabbing, no corruption (well… except for all that shit Harper pulls…) and the opportunity to work with a whack-load of awesome people and like-minded progressives.

But sure enough, just when I thought I was out, I got sucked back in.

Before I go any further, allow me to provide some background for the uninitiated.

You see, the CSU was run for many, many dark years by a dynasty of CV minded, administration-backed right-wingers known as Evolution, who moved from winning elections by overspending campaign limits by thousands of dollars to stuffing ballot boxes when even their massive financial advantage wasn’t enough (no seriously, they eventually got caught when one of their pet Chief Electoral Officers fessed up).

Amine Dabchy aka "The Puppet Master"

In order to beat them and ensure that elections could be run fairly and without ballot box stuffing, all the left and progressive groups formed a temporary alliance with a group of Evolution defectors led by Amine Dabchy. Unfortunately he turned out to be every bit as despotic and power-obsessed as Evolution and has sought to form a new dynasty in his image, first as President and then as puppet-master, ever since.

So we’ve suffered through a CSU controlled by a bunch of tragically incompetent representatives, who seem to take a perverse pleasure in refusing to respect the wishes of their constituents.

Now Amine’s new handcrafted slate of empty vessels, who love talking about their opposition to things like tuition increases, but hate it when students actually try to take action to prevent them, is running under the banner of ACTION.

Which brings us to how I got sucked back into this morass. You see when the campaign started ACTION’s website featured an impressive list of around 25 student clubs and organizations who endorsed them. Everyone from the campus Conservatives to NDP Concordia, from the Biology students association to the Sustainability Action Fund. The only problem? It was entirely fictitious. That’s right, why bother going to the trouble of asking groups for their endorsement when you can just make it up?

After some confused conversations between members of NDP Concordia we figured out that no one from the club had authorized the endorsement. So I posted a note on the wall of ACTION’s facebook page complaining that the club never authorized the endorsement and asking for an explanation.

Within the hour my post was deleted and I was blocked from their facebook page. So much for the accountability and transparency they’ve been campaigning on eh?

I have communicated my request for a public apology and retraction to several members of the slate, and left messages for their presidential candidate, all to no avail.   The entire endorsements section of their website has been taken down, leading us to believe that the half dozen groups we know didn’t agree to endorse them weren’t alone.

The funny part about this whole saga, aside from the fact that Evolution did the exact same thing two years ago,  is that it wouldn’t be nearly so bad if they hadn’t attempted a half-assed cover-up. If they had accepted that they screwed up and publicly explained their actions in response to my post, rather than trying to hide it from students, they might have gotten some credit for being honest and taking responsibility for their actions.

Sure, the cynical would argue that most students visit slate websites shortly after the campaign starts and removing it doesn’t change the impression of most students that ACTION is overwhelmingly supported by groups that had no intention of endorsing them. Or that their explanation to the student papers, that it was an error caused by their EXPECTATION of being endorsed by all those groups, and you know, not bothering to check, is a transparent fiction.

They're coming for you!

But it wouldn’t be as bad as trying to prevent students from finding out what they did. This from a team that is asking us to TRUST them with over 2 Million dollars of our money.

The whole problem with the CSU this year, which culminated in the CSU trying to expel almost 100 students from a public council meeting two weeks ago, is that they treat their constituents with contempt. ACTION is certainly not making a compelling case that they will be any different, and why would they be? At least a half dozen of the worst offenders from this year’s CSU are running for them.

So you can certainly gather from this article that I have no intention of voting for ACTION, however it’s very important to point out that NDP Concordia is not endorsing any slate or candidate at this time. Although you can certainly guess that we’re none too pleased with ACTION. Us poor dippers just wanted to stay out of it. So be aware that the opinions expressed in this article are my own, not those of the party or the campus club.

We are currently on an inexorable march towards a Canadian federal election, which will more than likely take place on May 2 or 9th. Despite the seeming strength of the Harper Conservatives, chinks are beginning to appear in his armour. One revelation of unethical behaviour after another has left Our Glorious Leader facing down the barrel of a finding of contempt of parliament.

Parliament is likely to find the Harper government in contempt as a result of senior government officials lying to parliament and otherwise carrying on like mafia dons rather than public servants. In the face of this unprecedented action, which has never happened in the history of our nation, was Our Glorious Leader duly cowed? Apologetic?

Hardly, his response “you win some, you lose some” smacks of the arrogance and thinly veiled contempt for long-standing democratic principles and practices that has so many Canadians itching to oust him from power.

So, on the eve of another election, what options do we have? Well there’s the good ol’ Liberals under the leadership of our man Iggy. The same man who supported the Iraq war, wholeheartedly supports torture and loved corporate tax cuts until his pollsters told him to oppose them (for the election campaign only of course).

Business as usual? Chretien and Ignatieff

What can we expect from Iggy this time around? Well pretty much business as usual for the Liberals, who always campaign to the left and govern to the right. A campaign that shows the cuddly-feely side of the Liberals as they try to convince NDP voters that the Libs have their best interests at heart. Of course if they win you can forget about all that progressive stuff as the Libs pay back their buddies on Bay Street with corporate tax cuts of their own and devastating cuts to the social programs Canadians elected them to protect. We saw it with Chretien and Martin and you can bet we’ll see the same script play out if we elect Iggy.

Meanwhile, as much as we love the NDP, no one has illusions that they will be forming a government when the dust clears from this election. So what would qualify as a best-case scenario for a long-suffering and beleaguered progressive?

Quite simply, the best we can hope for is a coalition government. Ideally one in which the Liberals need the support of the NDP to govern without needing the politically touchy support of the Bloc.

So keep your fingers crossed and work your tails off to elect as many NDP MPs as possible.   After all, some of the best days of Canadian government, including the introduction of Medicare, were the result of Liberal minority governments supported by the NDP.

Hope in Gatineau: Francoise Boivin with Jack Layton

Meanwhile, here in Quebec, the fortunes of the NDP are brighter than they have been since, well, ever. Over the last eight or nine polls of voting intentions in Quebec, the NDP has held steady at around 20%. This is not only a huge jump over the 12% they earned in the 2008 election but also puts them in the rarefied air of second place behind the Bloc. That’s right, the NDP is more popular in Quebec than either the Liberals or Conservatives.

With numbers like that it looks like Francoise Boivin in Gatineau and Nycole Turmel in Hull are sitting pretty and we have a serious shot at taking some ridings in the Montreal area that were hopelessly out of reach even a year ago.

So if you ever thought of getting involved with the NDP, now would be the time. Let’s elect some more NDP MP’s here and hope the chips fall right in the rest of the country to have a minority Liberal government propped up by the NDP.

It’s the best case for a country already scarred by an overdose of Harper and his fanatical quest to dismantle the Canada we hold dear and bring us in line with the disaster down south.

Do you hate politics? Do attack ads and sweater-vests make you want to cap a bitch? Do you throw up a little in your mouth when you think about an election happening?

Well you’re not alone. The trend in recent elections has been a sharp drop in participation, most noticeably among young voters. While seniors vote so often that they’ve been known to write-in the name of their favourite candidate when signing for packages, and the middle aged troop to the ballot box with a muddled sense of duty instilled by their parents and that fifth grade civics teacher who scared the crap out of them, young people most often don’t bother.

And really, can you blame us? As my colleague Jason C. McLean wrote last week, if Stephen Harper isn’t a cyborg from another planet, he sure could pass for one. Then you have the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, who does stiff so well he could play a board on Broadway.

Source: Elections Canada

To read the mainstream media, these two winners (bi-winners?) are all the choice we have. Of course they agree about almost everything, from continental integration to the war in Iraq, so watching them attack each other is a pretty funny sight.

Michael Ignatieff:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in a fulminating fit of outrage! My less loquacious colleagues on the government benches wish to grant their friends in the corporate sector tax cuts, tax cuts I say! Of course their corporate friends are our corporate friends, and when the Liberals were in power we handed out corporate tax cuts like life preservers on the Titanic, but for the purposes of this election cycle, we are outraged by this unnecessary handout! Wink to our corporate friends in the gallery to let them know that we’ll pass the tax cuts as soon as we’re elected. Wait, was I supposed to read that part?

Stephen Harper:

Mr. Speaker, my long-winded colleague in the “recent arrivals” section of the House has impugned my honour. He knows full well that the Conservative Party of Canada is a party of principle! Why, before we stacked the Senate with Conservative hacks we were committed to its abolition! Just like electoral reform and transparency, we loved them in opposition and hate them in government!

All kidding aside, there’s not much to like in either the Conservatives or Liberals, especially for young progressives who actually want the country to be better for everyone, not just corporations. But even a party like the NDP, of which I am a card-carrying member, tends not to focus on youth-oriented platform points. The NDP’s new TV ad targets seniors for instance, but you’ll be unlikely to find one geared towards young people.

Whose fault is that? Well, kind of ours. Because we tend not to vote, political parties of all stripes feel safe ignoring us. After all, we can’t punish them at the ballot box, like those pesky seniors.

Some parties could give a fig newton about our concerns, while others, like the NDP, have policies that favour students and young people, like lowering tuition, raising the minimum wage and decriminalizing marijuana, but they don’t talk about them a lot.

Now, if you think that Canadian democracy, as presently constituted, is a pretty pale imitation of the real thing then I’m with you. If you think voting every four years in elections determined by corporate media and attack ads is no way to run a country, I agree. If you think no party represents you, and that they’re all a bunch of hypocritical sell-outs driven by polls and not principle, then I can understand.

But none of it is an excuse for not voting. Every young person who votes is sending a message. A message that all parties need to appeal to us, and our concerns. By not voting we make it easy to ignore us, no matter how many protests and rallies we organize.

There’s more than likely going to be an election this spring and I know who I’ll be voting for, and volunteering for, but no matter who you support (or don’t really support, but are willing to hold your nose for) you need to go vote. Vote, and make sure everyone knows you’re voting. As a demographic, we need to make our electoral presence felt.

Even if your party has no hope in your riding, by voting for them you’re giving them an extra couple bucks a year, which adds up.

On a more partisan note, check out the NDP. They’ve always been referred to as the party of conscience, and although they too can sometimes get caught up in the circus that is our politics, they tend to be on the right side of issues more often than not, and they’re sure as hell better than the LibCons.

They’ve been growing, slowly but steadily in Quebec, and look likely to triple their seat count in this province in the next election (to a total of three).

For me, elections are about picking the most progressive option and working to improve the things you don’t like about them. If we all joined the NDP tomorrow and fought to make the party more progressive, we could do it. Some parties make it easier for members to shape policy than others (Quebec Solidaire is a great example) but progressive parties tend to value citizen input and democratic decision-making more than the old school corporate parties.

At the end of the day if we don’t vote we’re not making a statement or acting on principle, we’re just letting the hacks that run the country laugh all the way to the electoral bank, their seats unthreatened by the power we have to effect change, of some order, if we would only vote.

I’ll discuss the other levels of politics in a future article, and the importance of a common front between the NDP, Quebec Solidaire and Projet Montreal in order to make real gains for ordinary (extraordinary?) people. But for now, I want to hear from you: do you plan on voting? Volunteering? If not, why not?

Leave your responses in the comments section; I’m curious to hear what you have to say