For ten years, Stephen Harper has used the same electoral strategy:

1. Campaign from the centre, hold a kitten, don’t say much
2. Let opponents destroy each other
3. Govern from the far right
4. Repeat

It was a strategy that served him well and even gave him a majority government. He had no reason to change it, until a few weeks ago.

For the first time in a long time, it looked like the Conservatives were going to lose, badly. Harper’s own efforts to scare his opponents into accepting Bill C-51 had made this possible.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau took the bait. NDP leader Tom Mulcair didn’t and fought hard against it. This encouraged many progressives to abandon the Liberal brand and get behind the next Orange Wave.

A mostly united left in a country that is predominantly centre-left is a real threat to Harper. He recognized it and decided to send his campaign manager back to Ottawa and bring in Lynton Crosby, known to many as the Australian Karl Rove.

Crosby didn’t waste too much time:

Post-Crosby Conservative mailout (via Twitter)
Post-Crosby Conservative mailout (via Twitter)

Canada is now getting a federal George Bush-style campaign of fear.

The Niqab Debate is Back On

A few months ago, before the campaign was even launched officially, people were talking about the Niqab. It all stemmed from the case of one woman who wanted to wear hers while taking the oath of citizenship but was denied because of a rule imposed by Harper’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

When the rule was overturned, the Conservatives wanted to bring it back, the NDP didn’t and the Bloc Quebecois, under the leadership of Mario Beaulieu, tried to make it their wedge issue against the NDP.

It stayed in the public eye for about a week and then most people forgot about it. The Bloc changed leaders and started attacking the NDP from the left on pipelines.

Fast forward to the week leading up to the first French language debate. The Bloc, reeling in the polls, brought the non-issue back up and in the debate, Harper pounced on it.

Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair in a heated exchange during the French language debate (Radio-Canada/YouTube)
Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair in a heated exchange during the French language debate (Radio-Canada/YouTube)

In a heated debate, Mulcair got off a great one-liner: “Stephen Harper is trying to hide his failed economic policy behind a Niqab.” Elizabeth May echoed that statement. Bottom line, this is a distraction pure and simple.

Mulcair is right. Very few women actually wear the Niqab in Canada. I have seen maybe three people wearing Niqabs in my life and I live in Montreal. Only one woman fought for the right to wear one during a citizenship ceremony. Also, during the French debate, “What is a Niqab?” was the top Goolge search in Canada.

But yet, this non-issue is somehow THE issue for the moment.

You’re Either With Us or You’re With the Guy Who’s Already Serving a Life Sentence

When the Conservatives brought in Bill C-24, making it possible to strip citizenship from anyone convicted of “terrorism” or “treason” who could be considered the citizen of another country as well, most people, to put it mildly, weren’t impressed. Harper had just created second-class citizens and seeing as C-51 made it possible to define anyone the government didn’t like as a terrorist or terrorist promoter, it was now possible to have political opponents deported.

Harper`s new strategist Lynton Crosby
Harper`s new strategist Lynton Crosby

C-24 fell to the backburner quickly, but now that Crosby’s in charge of the campaign, the government decided to apply the law. They picked Zakaria Amara, one of two leaders of the so-called Toronto 18, a group of home-grown terrorists who planned to detonate several bombs in Toronto.

A dual citizen of Canada and Jordan, Amara was stripped of his Canadian citizenship on Friday. He was informed of this via a letter sent to the prison in Quebec where he is currently serving a life sentence. That’s right; our government boldly declared that someone serving life is no longer a citizen, though he will be staying here as long as his sentence lasts.

For him, that punishment means, wait for it, absolutely nothing. He’s still behind bars and will be for a while. Sure, if he gets paroled while he is still alive, he could be deported to Jordan, or, theoretically, Jordan could ask for his extradition before his sentence is up. After all, we are now holding a Jordanian citizen in one of our prisons. It was so much simpler when he was just a Canadian arrested and convicted under Canadian law.

It was a purely symbolic move. One designed to bring support to C-24 and the Harper government. Forget “sure it restricts freedoms, but it gets the bad guys,” this is more like “sure it restricts freedoms, but it allows us to turn the bad guys we’ve already caught into a political prop.”

Will It Work?

So, the big question is: will a right-wing wedge issue and fear-based campaign actually work federally in Canada? I don’t think so and seriously hope not.

I hope that the predominance of the Niqab debate is just spin from a mainstream media desperate for divisive issues. While I trust the Bloc’s statistic that 90% of Quebecers they surveyed are against permitting the Niqab at citizenship ceremonies (for now), I wonder how many of those people care enough about the issue to make it a primary voting concern.

If voters consider all the facts including the amount of women who actually wear the niqab in Canada, the fact that there are procedures in place at citizenship ceremonies to ensure proper identification and the fact that denying someone citizenship does nothing to protect them against coercion (in fact, it has the opposite effect), then the only way they can vote for a niqab ban is if their own cultural prejudices trump everything else. I seriously hope that’s not the case with my fellow Canadians.

I also hope that we can all see through the charade of picking someone who is already doing life and making him the poster child for an ill-conceived law that does not affect the guilty and harms honest Canadians who only want their voices heard.

I don’t think my countrymen and women are that fucking dumb. I don’t think Canadians will fall for a Karl Rove strategy. But I guess we’ll all find out on October 19th.

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I really thought I wouldn’t have to write this. No, scratch that, I really hoped I wouldn’t have to write this. Things were going so well since the New Year, the start of the election year in Canada.

Thomas Mulcair’s NDP, it seemed, turned over a new, very progressive leaf and it has really started looking like they could ride it all the way to 24 Sussex Drive. Unfortunately now it looks like they may have folded back that leaf’s left corner just enough to cause a problem. And they did it by taking the bait laid out for them by the Conservatives.

Two Steps Forward

Last summer, when Mulcair made a statement on Israel’s attack on Gaza that sounded as one-sided as the ones Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau released, the party faithful wouldn’t stand for it. Members of the NDP base began speaking out, some even occupying MP offices.

Such a strong statement eventually led to a mea culpa from the leader which came in the form of a Toronto Star op-ed. While it wasn’t everything the NDP base had been hoping for, it was a much more balanced approach to the situation and one that didn’t leave Israel blame-free.

Protesters occupying MP Don Davies' office in 2014. Photo: Mothers and Families for Gaza
Protesters occupying MP Don Davies’ office in 2014. Photo: Mothers and Families for Gaza

It was good enough to shift the party’s focus away from the Middle East and onto more domestic matters. It’s on these issues that the NDP has, for the most part, excelled in offering an alternate view to the sometimes indistinguishable Conservative and Liberal discourse.

This year, we have seen the NDP, among other things, take a very important stance against Bill C-51, Harper’s so-called anti-terror legislation. Not only did they oppose some of the more egregious elements of the now-law, but voted against it and promised to repeal it if they form government.

Four Steps Back: Manly, Wheeldon, Natanine and Hyder Ali

Unfortunately, that progressive streak hit a roadbump back in July when the federal NDP denied Paul Manly, son of former MP Jim Manly, a chance to run for the party’s nomination in the BC riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Manly, now running for the Green Party in the same riding, took to social media almost immediately, letting everyone know his nomination was refused because of his father being on the boat to Gaza.

Last week, it became apparent that what happened to Manly wasn’t an isolated incident. After CPC trolls unearthed some rather ordinary statements critical of Israel, the party forced Clyde River mayor Jerry Natanine who was running in Nunavut and Kings–Hants, Nova Scotia candidate Morgan Wheeldon off the ballot and barred hopeful Syed Hyder Ali from running for the nomination in Edmonton Wetaskiwin.

Unprincipled Approach to Principle

So what did they say online that warranted such a censure? Nothing groundbreaking, really. In fact, it’s the same thing the United Nations had to say: that in 2014 Israel was guilty of war crimes for its assault on Gaza.

To block someone from running under the orange banner just because they have voiced principled views on a subject many in the party, the country and the international community share is just plain unethical, paranoid and wrong.

It also indicates a tone-deaf top-down approach instead of the grassroots one the NDP seems to have adopted over the past year. Now we’re back where we started last summer with the leader enforcing his own agenda on a party and its supporters that, for the most part, have a very different point of view.

Not Even Good Politics

To be completely honest, a good chunk of the political centre in Canada, the so-called middle class which all politicians pander to, doesn’t really care all that much about Palestine and Israel. Domestic issues are much more important.

Supporting Palestinian human rights gets votes on the left and may lose some on the right. Coming out as a hardcore supporter of Israel no matter what the country is doing has the reverse effect. A politician doesn’t risk losing the centre with either approach, but Mulcair is risking losing votes on the left in hopes of getting some on the right, which he will not. It makes no sense.

I checked out the site The Conservatives put it together as an attack site, pulling gotcha quotes from MPs and candidates, but the attack really only helps to mobilize their own base. I read through the quotes and came to the conclusion that this site just makes me want to vote for the NDP.

Screenshot of Conservative "attack site"
Screenshot of Conservative “attack site”

Canada is, at its core, a centre-left country. Harper is an aberration of electoral math, his right-wing and sometimes ultra-right-wing views and policies are not shared or supported by the majority of Canadians. However, he tries to use the fact that he has a majority government to bait his opponents into mirroring his agenda.

Trudeau took the bait on Bill C-51 and has been relegated to near irrelevance because of it. Mulcair has avoided it and offered a progressive view of Canada to voters. But now, possibly spurred by his own beliefs, he has fallen for it and barred valid candidates from running under the NDP banner simply for saying things which quite a few Canadians already think.

What Happens Now

As I said, I never wanted to have to write this. This leaves progressive Canadians in a very precarious position.

I had actually been excited to vote this time, despite all the hoops Harper’s “fair elections act” is making me jump through. It was a clear choice, vote NDP or live with Bill C-51, a real no-brainer.

Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with Mulcair’s stance, or lack thereof, on Energy East, but at least he has chosen to remain on the fence until after he forms government and conducts a study on whether he gets more votes from Quebec or Alberta. Crass politics through and through, but I can live with it.

When it comes to Palestine, he’s not on the fence. He is forcing the NDP into a position that is no different than Harper’s or Trudeau’s and he is doing it with the party in full campaign mode, so it’s really hard to challenge him.

I can’t change my vote on FTB’s election poll, but I can do so in the actual election. I don’t think I will, though. There are plenty of good people running for.and working with the NDP who share what I believe in. I also want to get rid of Bill C-51 at all costs and while the Greens would do that and also offer a more principled position on Palestine, they are not in a position to form government and do anything while the NDP is.

While I’m reluctant to vote NDP under these conditions, I will do it. Unfortunately, I think there are those who will not, strictly out of principle. These are people who may have supported, volunteered for and voted for the party but just can’t because Mulcair seems to have taken a stand on Palestine that is on the wrong side of history.

I can only hope that the NDP fixes this problem quickly and acknowledges that criticism of Israeli war crimes is not something to sweep under the rug, but something to be proud of, as it is one more thing that distinguishes New Democrats from the Lib/Con slate.

On Wednesday, as most Canadian politicos were either basking in the afterglow of the Orange Wave which swept Alberta or nursing their hangovers, the House of Commons passed Bill C-51, the Harper Government’s so-called anti-terror legislation. This wasn’t a surprise by a longshot, but it is, nonetheless extremely unfortunate.

All the major parties voted as the said they would. The Conservatives voted for it, the NDP and Greens against, and the Liberals, living up to half of their promise to help make it law and then change it if they come to power, voted yea.

Much has been said about how this Bill is fundamentally flawed and over-reaching. Many pundits, including myself, have raised concerns that C-51’s definition of terrorism was left vague so the bill could be used as a weapon against the government’s political opponents such as environmentalists, First Nations, BDS supporters and others.

One thing that really hasn’t been talked about, though, is that even if C-51 was on-target and not a typical Harper Omnibus distraction, there still wouldn’t be need for it at all.

A Tale of Two Tragedies

I will never forget the Dawson shooting. My old CEGEP turned into a crime scene. Anastasia DeSouza was gunned down, an innocent, random victim of one man’s violent delusion. Her murderer, Kimveer Gill, killed himself after being shot in the arm by police, though this is one of those rare times when I think deadly force by police would have been justified.

At the end of the day, two people were dead, one an innocent victim, one very much the exact opposite. Several people were injured and survivors were left traumatized.

It was a terrible tragedy. In the aftermath people were calling for tighter firearms regulations and improved services for people suffering from mental illness. No one, though, was screaming terrorism, because it wasn’t. It was the act of one man.

Ottawa shooting Harper

What happened last October in Ottawa was also a tragedy. Corporal Nathan Frank Cirillo died senselessly, the victim of one man’s delusion. His killer, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was justifiably killed by Parliament Hill Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers.

At the end of the day, two people were dead, one innocent, one guilty. Others were injured and survivors were traumatized. I don’t laugh at Prime Minister Harper hiding in a broom closet (though I do question the RCMP’s exit strategy for a head of state), he’s human and was a victim of this event, too.

Despite its similarities to the Dawson shooting and other horrific attacks carried out by troubled lone gunmen, the reaction to the Parliament Hill shooting was different. It was instantly labelled as a terrorist attack.

A few thousand people, or even just a few people, killed by a coordinated assault planned by a group is a terrorist attack. It doesn’t justify something like the Patriot Act, in my opinion, but at least the shoe fits. A lone gunman going on a spree is a spree killing, even if the spree is cut short after one or a few victims.

While Zehaf-Bibeau may have had thoughts of jihad in his head and chose targets based on his take on world politics, he was still just a disturbed man acting without outside coordination. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was as much a member of ISIS as Kimveer Gill was the Angel of Death he claimed to be on a website.

Political Reasons Only

Justin Trudeau was interviewed on Vice News a few weeks ago. Shane Smith asked him about his party’s confusing position on C-51. Trudeau said that despite C-51’s faults, “there are a number of things in that legislation that increase security for Canadians, that do make us safer at a time when people are worried about terrorism.”

I’d honestly like to know what those things are. How does anything in a bill, inspired by an event that is not terrorism, but the act of a disturbed individual, protect Canadians against the bogeyman of terrorism?

It can’t, but that’s not the point. The point, at least for Trudeau, is “at a time when people are worried about terrorism.”

It’s politics, pure and simple. Polls, albeit sketchy polls, showed support for the bill at the time. He went for it. So did the Bloc Quebecois. When C-51 came up for a vote, though, the Bloc voted against it. I guess they saw that the bill was now opposed by many. If there ever was a time for the Liberals to flip-flop and not suffer for it, it was Wednesday.

There are so many ways Trudeau could have sold a reversal on this that even the cleverest Dipper wouldn’t be able to use it to hurt his party. While I’m not a Liberal supporter by any stretch of the imagination, I would have welcomed it. The more voices against this bill, the better. I even wrote to Marc Garneau, my current MP, asking him to convince his boss to change his tune.

Colossal Miscalculation

Being the anti-Harper candidate doesn’t just mean looking younger and fresher and having somewhat more progressive social policies. It means opposing crap bills with no purpose like C-51.

Instead, Trudeau stuck to his badly aimed guns. The opposition to this monstrosity of a piece of legislation now clearly belongs to Tom Mulcair. The NDP leader is a moderate centrist at best, but, thanks to a little bit of rain on his hair and some serious Liberal bungling, he has the chance to come across as a street fighter, standing on a soapbox railing against oppression and invoking the War Measures Act and Duplessis’ Padlock Laws. He’s Angry Tom who’s angry for a very good reason.

trudeau voting for
Justin Trudeau voting for C-51

C-51 may have cost Justin Trudeau any chance he had in the upcoming election. That is, if people remember a few months from now that he sided with Harper on a bill which has no purpose but potentially horrible repercussions. If they do, he can forget about the left. As for the right, why would they vote for Harper Light when the real deal is also on the ballot?

This colossal miscalculation on the part of the Liberals doesn’t necessarily mean a new era, though. Stephen Harper is still one of the craftiest politicians out there. Even if the anti-Harper vote crystallizes into a shade of orange, some of what once was red may turn blue and join their right-wing brethren to fight the feared wave.

The real trick is convincing all, or most, Canadians, whether they lean right, left, stay in the centre or don’t really care about politics at all, that taking away our basic rights to express ourselves for manufactured purposes is just plain wrong.

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After years of demands for a national inquiry into the status of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has finally released the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

The number – 1,186 women missing or murdered over the past thirty years – was made public last week by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson. The reported cases of missing Indigenous women date back from 1952 onward, however a majority of the cases reported occurred from the1980s onward. The RCMP report found 1,017 Indigenous women were murdered from 1980 to 2012. 186 of the cases were of missing women.

These numbers are staggeringly higher than what was previously thought. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) estimated in 2010 that there were over 500 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, though also pointed to the fact that the number could be substantially higher.

NWAC was also behind the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) project that aimed to track the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. However SIS lost federal funding in 2010, causing the research to end. Despite this, initiatives to investigate the number continued independently.

The numbers first came to light last week when Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) released the tip, forcing the RCMP to announce that the numbers were in fact correct.

According to the RCMP report, Indigenous women only make up 4 per cent of the population in Canada, however they make up 16 per cent of murdered women, and 12 per cent of missing women.

Despite these numbers, the Conservative government is still opposing calls for a federal inquiry. The New Democratic Party (NDP) however have spoken out since the report has been released on the need for an inquiry, with leader Thomas Mulcair calling on Monday for the federal government to take action.

The current Conservative government has previously ignored all calls for a federal inquiry. Despite the fact that they ended funding for SIS with claims that it was time for “concrete steps,” none have appeared to actually have been taken. The numbers being released only shows how much a federal inquiry is needed to properly shed light on the issue – however it seems highly unlikely one will occur under this government.

James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the welfare of Indigenous peoples, also called on May 12 for Canada to launch a ‘comprehensive national inquiry’ into the status of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

These numbers, while higher than previously thought, only reinforce how much of a culture of violence is tolerated against Indigenous women in Canada. While the RCMP are releasing these numbers, they should also be looking internally into how they themselves address cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, as so far they have proven to be just as complacent – at best – in properly addressing cases.

The numbers are part, according to the RCMP, of a larger National Operational Overview on Missing and Murdered Women to be released in the coming weeks.