Panelists David DesBaillets and Jerry Gabriel discuss the Conservative Leadership Race and Montreal’s 375th Anniversary with host Jason C. McLean. Plus News Roundup. Community Calendar and Predictions!

Panelists:

David DesBaillets: Blogger, Doctoral student and political junkie

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Reports by Hannah Besseau

Recorded Sunday, January 15th, 2017 in Montreal

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Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

Canadian Politics

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

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

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

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

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

This year was not any less turbulent for smaller parties.

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

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

Canadian Pipelines

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

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

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

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

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

Standing Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous Issues in Canada

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

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

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

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

Quebec Politics

Couillard struggling during a TV interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rape Culture

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

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

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

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

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

US Presidential Election

Painting by Samantha Gold, buy the original on eBay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montreal Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Lives Matter/Police Killings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria

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

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

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


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

A young Inuit woman addressed the assembly at the UN Conference on Climate Change on Canada’s behalf this past Wednesday in Marrakesh.

Maatalii Okalik, president of the Inuit Youth Council, accompanied the Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna to the 22nd Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 22) where she pleaded for the world leaders to take native communities into account.

“With your continued leadership that will define our future on climate action, I am hopeful that it is done in cooperation with Indigenous peoples,” Okalik said.

Okalik’s brief allocution was showcased in Canada’s national statement. The Minister introduced her as “an incredible young leader for the Canadian Arctic and a strong voice for Inuit youth.”

The liberal government seems determined as ever to display its good intentions to include indigenous communities in its decisions, at least on social media. On Tuesday, McKenna shaed a picture of Okalik on a stage with several indigenous leaders on Snapchat. The picture was captioned “Amazing panel on Indigenous role on climate action. I want Canada to be a leader on this.”

cop22-enviro-can

According to National Post, the Canadian delegation in Marrakesh comprises around 17 representatives from various indigenous groups.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) decided to send its own delegation to Marrakesh. Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart and Elder Francois Paulette of the Dene Nation are both attending. Their mission is to ensure that First Nations have “a strong voice” in the plan for climate action.

“First Nations are in a unique position to be leaders in climate change initiatives because of our knowledge of the sacred teachings of the land. We must not be situated as passive recipients of climate change impacts. We must be agents of change in climate action,” Elder Paulette declared in a communiqué.

Chief Hart, who is also co-chair on the Chiefs Committee for Climate Change, insisted on the importance of indigenous rights and responsibilities being fully recognized.

Both he and Okalik alluded to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although the Canadian government officially supports this treaty, the Trudeau administration deemed it “unworkable” as a Canadian law.

Although Trudeau is not attending this year, Canada sent a sizable delegation. Several provincial Premiers and environment ministers are there, including Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and David Heurtel. Union representatives as well as environmental advocacy groups like Equiterre and Ecojustice Canada are also there.

Where does Canada stand in Marrakesh?

COP 22 is a two week long event that will end on Friday the 18th. Its purpose is to form strategies to reach the goals set one year ago in Paris for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In November 2015, freshly-elected Justin Trudeau arrived at the COP 21 with nothing but the timid goals set by the Harper government: bring GHG emissions down to 30% under 2005 levels before 2030. But according to the grapevine, Canada will revise its ambitions upwards. Greenpeace Canada told La Presse Canadienne that Canadian officials in Marrakesh said that the new goal was to bring GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels before year 2050.

The measures to be deployed in that regard are vastly unknown. Last month, the federal government announced that all provinces and territories will have to implement a carbon tax of at least 10$/ton by 2018, to reach 50$/ton in 2022. Canada had already promised $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries access and create clean technologies.

On Wednesday, the government announced a contribution of $2.5 Million to the Climate Technology Centre and Network to that effect. The CTCN is an agency created by the UN to help emerging countries access and develop new technologies, both to fight climate change and to deal with its effects.

The government also promised an investment of $1.8 Billion to “mobilize” the private sector to do the same.

A more detailed national strategy is awaited in the next couple of days.

 

Last fall, Justin Trudeau was unequivocal: if he won the elections, he would make sure that it would be the last election to happen under the first-past-the-post system. After exactly one year in office, the Prime Minister is backpedaling.

In an interview with Le Devoir on Thursday, Trudeau was much vaguer on his plans for electoral reform: “We’re going to see what happens at the consultations, the reactions and the results of the reports.”

He pleaded that switching to a more representative system such as Single Transferable Vote or Mixed-Proportional can only be done if the population “is open to it.”

He explained that smaller improvements could be made more easily: “Less support and a small change; that might be acceptable. A bigger change would need more support.”

What constitutes a small or a bigger change? Those questions will be answered through “rigorous and intelligent conversations with Canadians,” according to Trudeau.

A committee mandated by the government is currently conducting consultations through the country about how to make the voting system more representative. A report containing their conclusions and recommendations is awaited on December 1st.

Trudeau is not ready, however, to promise the recommendations will be followed, according to Le Devoir. What sort of proof of popular support does the government need to go forward with a “bigger” electoral reform is not clear either.

“We’re not going to prejudge what is necessary, but when we say a substantial support, it means something,” said Trudeau.

Lack of popular support?

The minister of democratic institutions, Maryam Monsef, has frequently brought up the importance of having the support of the population before going forward with the reform in the last few months. It didn’t seem particularly significant, considering the undisputed popularity of the idea.

After all, the Liberals were counting on on it during their campaign in 2015.  After one year in office, though, they seem a lot less certain.

“Under Mr Harper, there were so many people who were dissatisfied with the government and its approach that people were saying ‘it takes an electoral reform so we’ll stop getting governments we don’t like’. And under the current system, they now have a government with whom they’re more satisfied, so the motivation to change the system is less glaring,” argued Trudeau.

However, a poll conducted by Abacus Data (commissioned by Broadbent Institute) in December showed that Canadians wanted the Liberals to uphold their promise. 83% of respondents thought the way MPs were elected needed at least some changes, with 44% believing it needed either major changes or complete transformation. Unsurprisingly, Quebeckers and supporters of Greens, NDP or Bloc were the most likely to want drastic changes.

In 2015, the Liberals won a majority government with 39% of the vote, just like the Conservatives did in 2011.

It should be noted that all major parties, except the Conservative Party, are in favour of electoral reform. Needless to say, the questions period on Thursday was not an easy one for the Prime Minister.

“The Prime Minister said that while he liked the idea of getting rid of our unfair first-past-the post-system, now that he has been able to get elected using that very system, it might not be so bad after all!” summarized Thomas Mulcair, the leader of NDP. He claimed that the desire of Canadians for an electoral reform was clear.

Rhéal Fortin, interim leader of Bloc Québécois, later commented that Trudeau was betraying the trust of the voters. Even Conservatives joined in, accusing the Liberals of self-contradiction.

The government will be conducting public consultations about the electoral reform throughout October.

*Featured image by Adam Scotti

After years of pleading, debating and waiting, the Quebec Ministry of Health officially released the funds to open three supervised injection sites (SIS), as well as one mobile unit in Montreal. Two such sites are already in function in Vancouver, but it will be a first for Quebec.

Quebec will release $12 million over three years to three community centres in Montreal: Spectre de rue, CACTUS and Dopamine. One part of the money will help the centres prepare the locations and fulfill all the requirements to be granted an exemption from the law on drugs by the federal government.

The other part will be used for the launching and running of the sites’ operations. One mobile unit will also be providing services in a few boroughs. No official date is set for the opening of the facilities, but Le Devoir mentioned that it could be as soon as March 2017.

The project is far from new. In fact, six years have already passed since the Director of Public Health started pushing for the opening of SIS in Montreal. In June 2015, Mayor Coderre had announced his plan to go forward with the facilities, with or without Ottawa’s approval.

At the time, the provincial government decided to lend a hand. According to Lucie Charlebois, Quebec’s Minister of Health and Healthy Living, “we are now at the final step” of the process.

She told Radio-Canada that the work on installations and the hiring of medical staff was already on track. “That means we’re advancing quickly.” She commented that she discussed the matter with her federal counterpart, Jane Philpott: “she is very receptive towards it, but we have to fit certain criteria, that is clear.” Charlebois stated that she believes that getting the federal approval will be a formality.

Sandhia Vadlamudy, the director of CACTUS, told FTB by phone that this formality requires a lot of paperwork, but no problematic modifications.

Last year, CACTUS distributed 610 000 clean syringes in an effort to prevent transmission of infection, which is around 65% of distributed materials on the island, including those distributed in CLSCs and drugstores. With their supervised injection site finally going forward, they will be able to “add one more tool to prevent infections and overdoses.”

Some have argued that the government would do better to focus on treating drug addiction or even on cracking down on drug crime instead of improving the conditions of drug use. Vadlamudy doesn’t think that promoting abstinence and prohibition is sufficient.

“This approach is more based on pragmatism; which is to say drugs exist and people take them.”

She argued that SIS are beneficial for more than just drug users, highlighting that, within four years of operation,  SIS start saving money for the healthcare system by preventing overdoses and health deterioration in users.

It will also help reduce the number of intoxicated people and of used needles left on the streets “and thus improve the quality of life of everyone in the community.”

Slowly breaking the taboo

According to the Director of Public Health, there are 4000 regular users of injectable drugs in Montreal. People who use injectable drugs are 59 times more like to be infected with HIV. An average of 70 people die of drug overdoses every year in Montreal.

In the eyes of many, SIS remain a marginal, controversial option for desperate cases, when they are not a silly progressive scheme. But their growing popularity around the world and the expanding stack of evidence in their favour are now hard to ignore.

The first North American facility, Insite, opened in Vancouver 13 years ago.  In 2008, federal health minister Tony Clement called it “a failure of public policy, indeed of ethical judgment.” Just last spring, Toronto’s Police Association expressed firm opposition to the idea of opening SIS in their city.

“Insite is not a model we want to see replicated,” association president Mike McCormack said, fearing that SIS would attract crime and loitering and thinks that government money would be better spent on treatment options.

Insite handles 600 injections daily. Not one person has died of an overdose within its walls. According to the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, there was a 35% decrease in overdose deaths in the area of forty blocks around the site. BC’s HIV and Hepatitis C infection rate went from the highest of the country to one of the lowest. More than thirty peer-reviewed papers were published about Insite’s beneficial impact.

Supervised rooms for drug consumption started popping up as a response to AIDS epidemics and the spike in overdoses in the eighties and nineties. There are now about 90 of them around the world.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction recently published a study in which they found overall that those sites increased safe and hygienic drug use and reduced risky behaviours. They also found that, contrary to Toronto’s Police Association’s concerns, there was no evidence that those sites increased drug related crime and violence in their vicinity.

*Featured image by Todd Huffman, WikiMedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Featured image credited to Chris Schwartz, Government of Alberta

The national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) officially starts today.

Less than two years ago, the killing of hundreds of indigenous women and girls wasn’t “really high on [the] radar” of Canada’s Prime Minister.

Yet here we are, with a new government chanting a very different tune, kicking off a national inquiry with a budget bigger than promised. But the long awaited hearings are not yet about to start, warned the Chairwoman Marion Buller. “I just hope the public expectation is somewhat qualified by the fact that tomorrow we’re starting at square one,” she told the CBC on Wednesday.

Here is a list of the most important things you should know before they actually start:

What exactly is the Inquiry About?

Indigenous women and girls disappear and get murdered at a much greater rate than any other group in Canada. It’s been like this for at least thirty years and it’s been happening across the entire country. Yes, it is a proven fact and no, it can’t be explained away by high criminality and poverty on reserves.

In 2014, a report published by the RCMP brought this alarming fact to the public’s attention. It documented 1017 homicides of indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. This is 4.5 times what has been recorded for the general population.

For the same period, the RCMP’s counted 164 unsolved disappearances of indigenous women. However, even this alarming number is probably a gross underestimation, considering the general distrust between police forces and native communities.

The accounts of police forces failing to follow criminal leads or to investigate suspicious deaths are countless. CBC investigated 34 cases filed as accidents or suicides, despite the families of victims being convinced otherwise. They found signs of foul play for many of them. A Globe & Mail investigation found that indigenous women were seven times more likely to be murdered by a serial killer than non-indigenous women.

The real number of murdered aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012 could reach around 4000, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

What will the Inquiry do?

The Commission’s mission is to investigate the systemic causes of the high rates of violence against indigenous women and girls and to make recommendations about how to remove them. They will look into underlying factors for the greater aggression and vulnerability of aboriginal women, such as economic, historical, institutional, sociological or cultural factors.

In order to do so, the commission will reach out to families, survivors and community members to hear their “experience and views, including recommendations” and require the testimonies of whoever they see fit. It might also set up regional committees formed of loved-ones and survivors to address specific local situations and issues.

It will review existing reports and research about the issue at hands and related matters.

The federal government will allocate two years and $53.86 million to the process. An interim report should be produced in Fall 2017 and a final one by the end of 2018.

What can the commission do?

The commission is supposed to act completely independently of the government. As per the National Inquiry Act, it has subpoena power, meaning it can legally oblige people to testify or hand over documents.

Provinces and territories have also agreed to let the Inquiry address matters that fall outside federal jurisdiction, like child welfare and policing.

However, the Inquiry cannot determine any civil or criminal responsibility nor lead to accusations. Furthermore, it was announced in early August that commissioners can’t force police to reopen cases, to the disappointment of many families who are still waiting for answers.

Who is on the commission?

The government appointed five indigenous commissioners to lead the inquiry. They are from different corners of Canada, but none are from Atlantic Canada. Four have careers in law, one is a key figure of aboriginal activism in Quebec who has also served as deputy minister of Quebec’s status of women.

The chief commissioner, Marion Buller, was the first indigenous female judge of BC’s provincial court. She has advanced law studies and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She was a pioneer of numerous battles for aboriginal rights, including the formation of the First Nations Court of British Columbia in 2006. Thanks to her, First Nations’ members in BC can now choose to be judged by this court focused on rehabilitation and reconciliation with the community. She lives in Port Coquitlam (BC) but is still member of the Mistawasis band in Saskatchewan.

What to watch out for?

The terms of reference set for the Inquiry make it clear that the focus will be on prevention and solutions. Advocates and families of victims want that, of course. But they also want answers and accountability.

The negligence and mishandling of indigenous cases by the police is a key issue. However, the terms of reference do not make any specific mention of investigating police forces. Instead, they talk about “systemic causes” and “institutional policies and practices”.

Many worry that those broad terms will allow commissioners to stay clear of touchy subjects that might ruffle too many feathers, like direct criticism of police work.

Indeed, there is no shortage of systemic causes and Institutional policies contributing to the vulnerability of indigenous women. The Indian Act, centuries of under-funded health, education and justice services in indigenous communities, residential schools, reserves… pretty much everything that happened since 1492.

We don’t need the national inquiry to tell us that Canada has treated First Nations like shit and is still doing so in many aspects. We might need it to tell us why a certain case was closed or if the disappearance of a native child is treated with the seriousness it deserves.

The Minister of Indigenous affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said that the terms of reference are so broad only to give the maximum latitude and independence to the commissioners. Let’s hope they use this latitude to fully address the faults in the functioning of our courts and police work, and not to skirt over the less comfortable issues.

Another thing we should be looking for is who will really cooperate with the Inquiry. Who will demand to be heard, who will come willingly and above all, who –if anyone- will be subpoenaed into it.

Chief Commissioner Buller has expressed to CBC that she is “cautiously optimistic” about getting full cooperation from the police. Past evidence suggests that police forces are not very receptive to being investigated, but well, there’s a first for everything.

A recent statement by Commissioner Michèle Audette also signaled a possible development for Quebec.

Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard wanted Quebec to have its own inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. The Minister of Justice had refused, pleading that the emotional cost of testifying twice for families and victims was too high. However, Audette says that a provincial inquiry could coexist with the national one, if it had a clearly different mandate.

She said this to La Presse on August 31st, so we’ll have to see if anyone will push on the door she just opened. Maybe, optimistically, this will lead to a more transparent way of looking into the abuse of indigenous women by police forces in our part of the country. Enquête’s uncovering of the behaviour of SQ agents in Val-d’Or certainly made it clear that the issue needs to be addressed, and the police-investigating-police method we’re currently using is not good enough.

* Featured image via WikiMedia Commons

A panel of experts has been mandated to review Canada’s environmental assessment process. On Monday, Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna presented the four members of the committee in charge of this effort to modernize our environmental laws.

The committee is tasked with producing a report “in early 2017.” To do so, they will “engage broadly with indigenous groups, the public and a wide range of stakeholders across Canada,” according to the government’s website.

Who is on This Committee?

The chairwoman of the committee is Johanne Gélinas, a leading consultant on environmental law. She was the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development from 2000 to 2007 and also served ten years in the Environmental Public Hearings Office (better known as BAPE) in Quebec.

Also sitting on the Panel are René Pelletier, a lawyer from the Maliseet community who specializes in Aboriginal rights and environmental law, and Rod Northey, another prominent environmental lawyer. The last member is Doug Horswill, who previously served as Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources of BC and as chairman of two Mining Associations.

What Will Happen Now?

The committee presented by McKenna will get input from Canadian citizens and organizations during September. People can already communicate their opinions via the internet. Dates for in-person hearings should be decided shortly.

By early 2017, the panel will present a summary of the input received along with its conclusions and recommendations. The Ministry of Environment will then “consider” the recommendations and “identify the next step to improve federal environmental assessment processes.”

Promises, Promises…

This is a step towards making the process more “open, transparent and inclusive,” according to a press release from Minister McKenna.

The review of the environmental assessment process is one of the three parts of the Liberal plan to improve environmental regulations that was officially launched this summer. The two other parts are modernizing the National Energy Board and restoring the protections under the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Act that were lost under the Harper government.

The Liberal environmental platform is mostly defined by two key points repeated ad-nauseam since 2015: restoring the population’s trust in the environmental assessment process and insuring that their decisions are based on “evidence, facts and science” (because redundancy sounds much more inspiring).

During and since the elections, they have advertised their intention to involve the population, and especially the aboriginal communities, more directly in the approval of projects that could be dangerous to the environment.

Indeed, they have launched and publicized many public consultations. They also announced up to $223 000 of funding for Indigenous participation to Federal Government reviews of Environmental Assessment Processes and National Energy Board Modernization.

They will hear the opinion of Canadians and they will “consider it.”

Consultation after consultation, the government is working to make the population feel more involved and to restore their trust in the system. But is it working to insure that this trust is warranted? They have yet to take any concrete action to put science and research at the base of their policies on environmental issues.

* Featured image of Squamish River by James Wheeler via Flickr Creative Commons

The World Parliamentary Forum opened on Wednesday in Montreal with very notable absentees. Ottawa denied visas to six of the invited foreign parliamentarians. Organizers and participants suspect that this attitude is linked to the leftist orientation of the event.

The World Parliamentary Forum (WPF) is the closest thing to a world convention of left-oriented politics. It is organized in context of the World Social Forum (WSF), an international event where politicians, militants and other actors meet to discuss and advance global alternatives to capitalism. Montreal is hosting the event from August 9th to August 14th. It is the 12th edition of the WSF and the first taking place in the Northern Hemisphere.

However, the chosen location is proving inaccessible to an unexpected number of people. Canada denied visas to more than 200 people who wanted to attend the WSF.

On Wednesday, politicians from here and abroad, along with some civil groups, are meeting in UQUAM to discuss the issues and the future of left-wing politics for the WPF. But six representatives from Palestine, Columbia, Malaysia, Mali and Nepal won’t be able to take part. One co-organizer of the event and one ex-presidential-candidate of Mali were refused, among others.

Apparently, immigration authorities were not convinced that their stay was intended to be temporary. A strange concern, considering that the people in question are all elected members in their home countries’ parliaments.

Alexandre Boulerice, a NDP MP, called the decision “indecent and shameful” in a statement to Le Devoir. “It’s completely silly,” he said, “those people regularly attend international forums.”

André Fontecilla, from Québec Solidaire, believes that Ottawa’s decision deliberately targets elected members of the political left. He affirmed to Le Devoir that “it is certain that if this was a forum promoting free-trade, the response would have been completely different. Those people could have entered the country without problems”.

The ministry of immigration maintains that the decision has nothing to do with politics. Visa demands are being treated on case-by-case basis. Decisions are not taken by politicians but by simple civil servants.

“Parliamentary or not, if they don’t fit the criteria, they cannot come,” said Félix Corriveau, spokesperson for the Immigration Minister John McCallum. “We simply can’t know who those people are.”

* Featured image from the @FSM2016QuebecWSF Facebook page

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

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

Panelists

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

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

Enzo Sabbagha: Podcast Production Assistant and music student

Kittomher: Cat

* Sergakis Report by Josh Davidson

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panelists Katie Nelson, Enzo Sabbagha and Jerry Gabriel discuss the feud between taxi drivers and Uber, the Canadian Parliament voting to condemn the BDS movement and Apple challenging the FBI. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

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

Panelists

Katie Nelson: Concordia student and frequent taxi passenger

Enzo Sabbagha: Concordia student and podcast technical assistant

Jerry Gabriel: Podcast regular and FTB contributor

* Uber v Taxi report by Hannah Besseau

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

UPDATE: Canada’s Parliament approved the Conservative resolution with 221 Yea votes, 51 Nay votes and 12 abstentions, meanwhile Justin Trudeau’s alma mater McGill University voted in favour of a pro-BDS resolution with 512 for and 337 against.

So while our collective political attention, or at least mine, has been focused south of the border, or on less partisan though equally polarizing issues like taxi protests, celebrities being screwed over and basically anything but Canadian federal politics, our parliament has been debating a motion to condemn the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) movement which will come to a vote today, the same day McGill University votes on whether or not they will adopt a pro-BDS stance or not.

Yes, that’s what our elected officials are spending their time and your tax dollars doing. It started when the Connservative Party, our Official Opposition put forward this resolution:

“That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”

Now that may sound like typical Harper-era BS. We even got to see Jason Kenney railing against what he thinks is anti-Semitism, completely ignoring the fact that criticism of a state’s policies has absolutely nothing to do with the religion the majority of the people in the state follow.

What’s different this time is that even though Stephane Dion initially called the resolution divisive, it now looks like Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government will be voting for it today. The NDP and Greens will oppose.

This is a really embarrassing moment for the Parliament of Canada. While toothless, the resolution is a clear indication that our parliament, and moreover the Liberal Government, doesn’t respect the right of economic boycott, an overall effective tactic protesters can use to bring about real change.

Now remember that Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terror bill that leaves the definition of terrorism so broad it can apply to anyone the government wants to tag with it,  and C-24, Harper’s second-class citizens bill, which could strip citizenship from anyone convicted of “terrorism” are both still on the books. The Liberals haven’t scrapped C-24 or changed C-51 yet, both things they promised to do. In that context, this toothless statement seems a little more menacing.

Makes sense that there is a petition out against this and people are urging Canadians to contact their MPs (and making it easy to do so). I have signed the petition and sent an email to my MP, who is a Liberal and sadly will probably vote for this resolution anyways. If you agree with me, even if you don’t agree with BDS at all but think Canadians have a right to call for economic boycott nonetheless, I urge you to do the same.

While Justin Trudeau clearly likes appeasing the right wing, including the right-wingers in his party, while at the same time trying to mollify the left with some feigned indignation followed by actual voting support for the very thing they are indignant about, I think a clearer message is in order. Here is my resolution, which, sadly, will never come before Canada’s Parliament :

  1. Criticism or promoting an economic boycott of the State of Israel is not anti-Semetism and any politician who argues so is either uninformed or a political opportunist
  2. Condemning economic boycott is un-democratic
  3. Any politician who supports a resolution condemning the BDS Movement can no longer claim to be progressive and must admit that they are just a neocon in progressive clothing from here on

Contact your MP and sign the petition, but if that doesn’t work, then please make me this one promise: vote any MP who supports this monstrosity of a resolution out of office the first chance you get!

Theories trying to explain just what went wrong with the NDP campaign have been as prevalent on my Facebook newsfeed this past week as posts about how cool Trudeau is and analysis of the new Star Wars trailer (it’s awesome, btw).

There are three main arguments being put forward. Each has its merits:

It’s Because of the Niqab!

Party insiders, defeated (and elected) MPs and now even leader Tom Mulcair himself have laid the blame squarely on the niqab. Specifically, they blame the race-baiting tactics employed by Harper and reinforced by Gilles Duceppe for their defeat.

Since NDP Orange Wave seats came largely at the expense of the Bloc Quebecois, Duceppe was able to mobilize xenophobic members of their former base and make the NDP look weak, or at least weaker than they looked before, in fortress Quebec. When people in other parts of the country saw this happening, the Anyone But Conservative crowd collectively decided that if the NDP couldn’t hold Quebec, voting Liberal was the only way to ensure a Harper defeat.

Awkward Bearded Man in a Suit Trying to Smile

Every politico worth their salt knows and loves The West Wing, so the easiest way to explain this theory of defeat is to reference the show, in particular the episode The Two Bartlets. NDP strategists took a street fighter and a damn good parliamentarian and forced him to run as Uncle Fluffy.

When Tom Mulcair railed against Bill C-51 while being rained on at a demonstration in the streets of Montreal a few months before the campaign started, it was magic. Angry Tom was in his element. The Harper Government ripping apart the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is definitely something to get angry about.

mulcair c-51 rally

It worked. Too bad NDP strategists opted to take a different road for the campaign. Tom Mulcair in a suit, the same suit each time it looked like, talking in measured tones and cracking a forced smile.

They also chose to make the campaign about him. Focusing on the ensemble of talented MPs and candidates with Tom at the centre leading the charge would have been a much better strategy. You should only make it all about the leader when the leader exudes charisma.

Running a Jack Layton campaign only works with Jack Layton as leader. Focusing on a leader who isn’t all that charismatic and not being used to his full “angry” potential when one of your opponents is Justin Trudeau is just bad strategy.

Sharp Right Turn Alienated the Base

While the NDP started off the campaign strong with a principled stand to the left opposing and promising to repeal Bill C-51, they soon tried move themselves to the mushy middle. On the economy, they overshot their goal and found themselves to the right of the Liberals.

Sure, it may have seemed like the only option at the time. The NDP saying it was going to run deficits would have caused some to say “look at those socialists, can’t manage money.”

True, the Liberals can get away with promising deficits in a way the NDP cannot, but surely some strategists in Mulcair’s inner circle knew that and could have predicted Trudeau would make an economic play to the left. Mulcair’s zero deficit promise helped further alienate a good chunk of the party’s social democratic base.

I say further because Mulcair had already damaged relations with the base a few weeks before by refusing the nomination and candidacy of candidates who had been critical of Israel during the bombardment of Gaza a year earlier.

So What Was It?

Which one of these theories is correct? They all are.

The niqab debate did hurt the NDP much more than it hurt the Liberals. It was the spark that pushed the party to third place in the polls.

However, if the base had been solid instead of pushed to the sidelines, those who had all but given up on the New Democrats wouldn’t have been saying “you see, I told you so!” Instead they would have been devoting every second of their spare time to counter Harper and Duceppe’s poison pill on social media, on the phones calling voters and door-to-door.

Likewise, if Mulcair had been allowed to be Angry Tom, he could have got mad at the race baiting and explained clearly, as he did with C-51, why it was wrong. If the campaign wasn’t just about him, his co-stars, the candidates, could have taken some of the heat off on a much larger level.

It’s possible the NDP would have still finished in third place, but it would have been a much stronger caucus, one that may have eliminated the Bloc, too. It may have even been strong enough to hold Trudeau to a minority.

So What Happens Now?

Along with calls for Mulcair to resign, I have seen total disbelief that he hasn’t done so yet and that the party hasn’t forced him to. It makes more sense, though, if you look at NDP history.

On one hand, this is the most catastrophic defeat the party has ever suffered. On the other, with 44 seats in the House of Commons, this will be the NDP’s second largest caucus since the formation of the party, beating Ed Broadbent’s 1988 total by one seat.

Then again, Mulcair was elected leader, over the misgivings of some of the party faithful, on the promise that he could win. Not just do better than Ed Broadbent, but continue what Jack Layton started and form government. On that promise, he failed to deliver in a spectacular fashion.

Mulcair Layton

I think the best course of action would be for Mulcair to announce his resignation as leader, to take effect when a new leader is elected. I hope he stays on as an MP, as he is a strong presence in the House of Commons. He’s a pitbull, but not a Prime Minister.

The NDP should elect a charismatic, preferably bilingual, social democrat as leader. Alex Boulerice springs to mind, so does Nikki Ashton. Now that vote sharing with the Liberals won’t be an option, maybe even Nathan Cullen, with some French lessons, could work.

If Mulcair does decide to stay on, though, and the party doesn’t force him out, he should admit all the reasons why he failed this past election and make changes accordingly. Otherwise, what happened to him and the NDP last Monday could end up being a preview of worse to come.

Prime Minister-Designate Trudeau,

Hi, first off I would like to congratulate you on your sweeping victory. Canadians clearly had enough of Stephen Harper and his policies and put their trust in you to rectify the wrongs our soon-to-be former leader wrought on our country.

To be completely honest, I did not vote for you. In fact I urged others to vote for the NDP rather vocally. While I have found myself supporting that party in the past, this time it was due almost exclusively to their promise to repeal C-51, Harper’s so-called anti-terror legislation, completely.

I am aware that you voted for this legislation, helping it become law. At the same time, you promised to make changes to it, which was not enough to get my vote. However, you and the Liberal Party got enough votes from my fellow Canadians that now we are left with your promise as our only way to eliminate at least some of this disastrous piece of legislation.

Some Positive Signs

You’re off to a good start. I have to admit that so far you seem to be sticking to your promises. You even made it clear that reforming C-51 is a priority. In particular, I like that you are considering making changes to the vagueness surrounding the “terrorist propaganda” section.

As someone who frequently writes opinion pieces online, I would hate for one of my pieces supporting, say, Idle No More, to land me in jail for five years and result in this site being taken down. While you may not be inclined to apply C-51 in such a way, the fact that a government that was so inclined could do so is completely horrifying.

It is equally frightening that attacking the economic interests of Canada or another country can be considered terrorism. Urging economic boycott is one of the most effective tactics activists have in their arsenal. Also, while I know you don’t agree with me about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and have tweeted as much, at least you can agree that my writing a post supporting then shouldn’t land me in jail for half a decade.

Adding parliamentary oversight and sunset clauses is also a very good idea, so is having public consultation. But why not go further?

Canadians Don’t Need It. You Don’t Need It

I don’t think there was any need for C-51 to begin with, as what happened in Ottawa was closer to a school shooting than an act of terrorism. We should have been looking at mental health and gun issues instead of passing sweeping anti-terror legislation. But after hearing you talk about the need for balancing our security with our rights and freedoms during a debate, I realize you’re probably not going to change your mind on this.

Though, after laying a wreath for Corporal Nathan Cirillo this year, you didn’t repeat your claim that what happened in Ottawa last year was an act of terrorism. It gives me hope. Now that you don’t have to fight Harper in an election, maybe you are starting to realize that all of his claims were not only full of it but counter to what the Canadian people want.

c51 sign
Anti C-51 rally in Toronto (image openmedia.ca)

Since you want to be the Prime Minister of all Canadians and not just those who voted for you, I hope that you will take advantage of an opportunity that now presents itself. Instead of trying to reform C-51, surprise everyone and repeal it. I know there were some things in there you feel are worth keeping. Why not simultaneously pass your own security law with them included?

You have a majority government, you can do this. You can honour the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and get this Harper stain off of your administration before it has a chance to set in. You also will live up to your election promise of balancing security and rights in the process. You’re already planning on repealing C-24, why not get rid of its companion legislation at the same time?

Petition Already Underway

In case you needed more incentive to do the right thing, there is already a petition underway, courtesy of the people at OpenMedia.ca asking you to kill C-51. While the public may have been behind the bill initially, that quickly changed as they found out what was really in this piece of legislation.

You and your party learned this, too. In fact, it almost cost you the election. As I’m sure you’re aware, you won the election in spite of having voted for C-51, not because of it.

Now is the time to listen to the public and do the right thing. Opponents of C-51 didn’t remain silent during the campaign and there is no sign that we will now that power is changing hands.

Now, Prime Minister-Designate Trudeau, is the time to be on the right side of history. I have faith and hope that you will do the right thing and get rid of Harper’s omnibus disaster C-51 once and for all.

Yours truly,

Jason C. McLean
Montreal

* Top image: Election night screengrab

It has all come down to this. Tomorrow night we will know the result of #ELXN42, the longest Canadian Federal Election campaign in recent memory.

With millions of votes already cast in advance polls, no more nationally televised debates left, and no real time for new media stories (except for huge ones) to take hold, it’s all about the ground game now. All the parties know it and have been sending their armies of volunteers out to knock on doors and call voters all weekend and will quadruple their efforts tomorrow.

At this point, I think the election is still too close to call. Sure, each party will tell you that they are headed to victory and so will their pundits, but what will it actually take for each of them to win?

Well, here is my analysis, in the order the parties are currently polling nationally:

The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC)

liberal logoThey started at the bottom and now they’re here. On top of the polls. For this to become reality, recent polls need to be right as well as mainstream media predictions.

For Justin Trudeau to become our next Prime Minister, corporate pundits need to be correct and not just thinking wishfully. Or, they have to be powerful enough that their pieces cause their wishes to be fulfilled.

If enough Anyone But Conservative voters, particularly those in Ontario, think the niqab issue damaged NDP chances of retaining Quebec and lined up behind Trudeau, the Libs may pull it off. That is if the last minute scandal surrounding Dan Gagnier, their now former campaign co-chair/Enbridge lobbying tutor doesn’t take hold.

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)

Conservative_Party_of_Canada.svgStephen Harper is a master electioneer, but his strategy may have finally caught up with him. Making it a super long campaign and then throwing a curveball covered in a niqab at his top ranked orange opponent late in the game was a brilliant, though morally bankrupt, strategy.

If the campaign had ended two weeks ago, it may just have worked. However, it’s possible things may have gone on just a bit too long for the Conservatives. Even Lynton Crosby, the so-called Australian Karl Rove, has jumped ship.

Crosby’s strategy is still at play, though. If Harper hopes to remain Prime Minister, Canadians not only need to be as xenophobic as he thinks, but their prejudice needs to be the first thing on their mind when they go to the polls.

Endorsements from corporate media at the behest of their owners could also help bring about a CPC victory as well as support from the wealthiest Canadians. Niche campaigning from the likes of the Ford brothers could help, too, but statements critical of Trudeau having smoked weed do more harm than good when they come from Doug Ford, an (alleged) former hash dealer and brother of admitted crack smoking mayor.

Plus they could always cheat.

New Democratic Party (NDP)

NDP-LogoRemember when I said that the ground game is the key? Well, that applies to the NDP more than any other party. With poll numbers sinking, the local candidates and their campaigns have the best chance of reassuring voters that a vote for the NDP is the best way to defeat Harper.

It would take a superb ground game this time out for Thomas Mulcair to become Prime Minister, but it is possible. Recent polls being wrong would help, too. Keeping the Quebec seats they won during the Orange Wave and adding a few more is essential, so the Bloc really needs to implode more than they have been.

They would also need a strong First Nations turnout, which may happen. Mulcair spent much of the last two weeks campaigning in First Nations communities promising an almost immediate inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, nation to nation dialogue and more. It may pay off in ways other than bolstering his progressive credentials.

Mulcair has been impressive even since the party’s poll numbers started tanking. He kept his cool in the TVA French debate and in a recent interview on Vice. That could help. The Gagnier scandal growing legs would help, too.

Green Party (Green)

Green-Logo-300x300The Green Party’s ultimate goal this election should be to retain the seats they have and win as many new ones as they can. If they succeed, they could end up wielding some power in a minority parliament.

Most of those seats will probably come in the west of the country where the party has been focusing their efforts. If their ground game was solid, they very well may achieve that goal. If not, well, as long as Elizabeth May still has a voice in Parliament, the party will not be in bad shape.

Bloc Quebecois (BQ)

bloc quebecois logoFor the Bloc, a victory is the majority of seats in Quebec. That’s just not going to happen.

At this point, the Bloc winning any seats would be impressive. If leader Gilles Duceppe wins his back and overall they top their 2011 seat count of four, it will be a victory for them.

For this to happen, it would take, for lack of a better word, a miracle. Their desperate play to the right on the niqab issue only benefited the Conservatives and indirectly the Liberals.

Bottom line, the Bloc is screwed.

What I Think Will Happen

While this not what I hope will happen, it’s what seems the most logical outcome on Monday evening will be. I predict a Minority Government. Regardless of which party comes out on top, I’m pretty sure none of them will win enough seats to form a majority.

Coalitions are possible and so is a huge role for the Governor General in selecting our next Prime Minister. But I guess only time will tell.

Oh yeah, there’s also still a few hours to vote in FTB’s Election Poll. The winner gets an endorsement post written on behalf of FTB readers published on election day.