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Friday, 15 September 2017 19:42

Wake Up Democracy!

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Commentary By: Avi Benlolo in Toronto

Today is International Day of Democracy. Yet, the western world seems to have lost hope of the very fundamentals we are supposed to hold dear to our hearts – freedom, equality, respect and peace building. Democracies are far from perfect and disparities within exist and must be addressed to alleviate hardship and continued inequality. However, Gross Domestic Product, mortality and literacy rates are amongst the highest in the world among leading nation states which practice democracy. Third-world developing nations struggle with persistent war, poverty, disparity, environmental degradation and inequity. It’s no wonder that democracies like Canada enjoy an inflow of migrants who hope to live in a nation which respects the UN Declaration for Human Rights, unlike the majority of the UN General Assembly.

Still, democracies have become far too forgiving or compromising. While we preach gender equality, we look the other way as non-democracies practice gender apartheid and withhold women's rights, for example. We say we want to promote "women and girls' leadership and participation in political, social and peace-building processes" which would be essential to building democracies worldwide, but we timidly look the other way. We provide military equipment as Canada has to Saudi Arabia and promote trade with nations that discriminate against others, and in many cases are spreading the seeds of hate and intolerance worldwide. 

For all of its good deeds in assisting the developing world with billions of dollars of investment aid in order to further democracy, the west is targeted relentlessly by terrorists who use the very freedom of movement and assembly to harm innocent people. Today, on International Day of Democracy, European cities have been placed on high alert as a result of a number of incidents, including a bomb in the London subway which injured 22 people; a hammer attack in Lyon that critically injured two women by a man running down the street yelling "Allahu Akhbar"; a knifeman stopped by police in Birmingham and a highway closed in Malmo after explosives were found in a car.

Yet our democracy is failing to curb the attack on the west, on our institutions and our citizens. We have seen a slow and steady degradation of our way of life since 9/11 with increasing spate of terrorism and relentless usage of rights like 'free speech' to sow hate and discord. In many ways, Jewish communities across Europe have been like the so-called canaries in the coal mine – having been the initial recipients of most terror attacks. Now it has spread to society at large. 

In Canada, while we speak about equity, anti-racism, tolerance and peace building, our hate crime laws fail to be enforced giving way to more hate crime. We learned this week that in Quebec, the Crown Attorney dropped charges against two imams who were captured on video preaching hatred and violence against Jews at a Montreal mosque. In Toronto, a Muslim community calls for the elimination of Jews each year at its annual "Al Quds" protest at Queen’s Park while violence promoting antisemitic pamphlet circulates the province, with little reaction from authorities. Graffiti stating "Hitler was Right" is spray painted on bridges without condemnation from our premier or leading public figures.  

If we are going to celebrate democracy and its fundamentals, we must learn to protect and defend our values and ideals. If democracies celebrate tolerance, they cannot and should not tolerate those who are intolerant of others. They must stand up to hate, enforce hate crime and hate speech laws and place our very values and ideals – like women's rights, justice and equality – first and foremost. Otherwise, I fear that if we are not passionate about our exceptional democratic system, hope for humanity might be lost.


Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the Canadian branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa

Canada could turn into a U.S.-style partisan battleground if its politicians and media don’t mend their ways, says former Conservative MP Chris Alexander.

Alexander, one of the Harper government cabinet ministers defeated in the 2015 election and an unsuccessful leadership candidate, has recently been vocal about the media, politics and the “alt-right” in Canada.

In a Tyee interview he acknowledged extreme right-wing factions were allowed a place in the Conservative party, but predicted that will change as a result of the backlash after deadly racist demonstrations in Virginia last month.

That kind of violence hasn’t hit Canada, Alexander said, and politicians and journalists need to work to make sure it never does.

But Alexander’s attempt to set out the failings of the Canadian media in an opinion piece he wrote for Maclean’s has drawn its own backlash.

Alexander accused the media of viewing Canadian politics through an American lens and inflaming tensions that divide the country.

And he set out what he called false accusations that he was anti-Muslim, linking them to a March 2015 speech by Justin Trudeau at McGill University reprinted in Maclean’s and then repeated “over and over.”

In the speech Trudeau says Alexander stood in the House of Commons and declared a woman’s hijab was “an indefensible perversion of Canadian values.”

“I never said any such thing,” Alexander wrote in the Maclean’s piece. “My wife Hedvig, who is Danish, wore a hijab through seven years in Afghanistan.” Alexander was Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and representative of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan until 2009.

Alexander, defending the Conservative government’s bid to require women to remove their hijabs — head scarves — during citizenship ceremonies, did say “the hijab has been used to cover the face of women... under the terrible influence of the Taliban in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Those practices have no place in our citizenship ceremonies, where we insist on confirming the identity and confirming the commitment of new citizens to our laws, to our sovereign, to our values, and to our traditions,” he told the House of Commons.

Alexander’s opinion piece sparked a rebuke from Ottawa Citizen columnist Shannon Gormley.

She said Alexander and other “far-right populists” were trying to “scapegoat elites” for their own failings.

“Adding insult to self-inflicted injuries, perhaps they should be pitied and politely ignored,” she wrote. “Only, in largely blaming others for their own fall just as they blamed them for social decline, populist misopportunists diminish the truth and the social cohesion they claim to desire.”

Failings of media

Alexander told The Tyee the Citizen column highlighted the failings of Canadian media he described in Maclean’s.

The column noted Alexander’s role in the 2015 pre-election announcement of a “barbaric cultural practices tip line” widely panned as anti-Muslim by pundits and political opponents.

But he maintains the tip line plan didn’t reflect bigotry or anti-Muslim sentiments. Alexander said he spoke to victims of cultural practices like forced marriage as he researched the initiative and they used the word “barbaric” to describe their experiences.

Victims even insisted the word be used in the government's tip line name, Alexander said.

But the media mislead the public, he alleged, painting it as a bigoted policy.

“Literally people go around calling it an anti-Muslim snitch line,” he said. “They are misleading the audience in the most dangerous way. There was nothing exclusive anti-anybody in that legislation.”

Alexander said if he had a dime for every person who referred to the line negatively without mentioning things like “forced marriage” or “honour killings” he’d be a rich man.

Alexander still speaks to the news media. But he said the barbaric cultural practices tip line coverage is the kind of story causing Conservatives to boycott media outlets like the CBC, which they say is biased against them.

While some won’t speak to the CBC, many Conservatives — including Alexander — did speak to the Rebel, a controversial right-wing online media outlet.

Alexander had been interviewed by the Rebel and appeared at the organization’s rallies.

In March he tweeted he would no longer attend Rebel events after a piece by contributor Gavin McInnes entitled “10 things I hate about Jews.”

“We have a responsibility, all of us, to hold media and social media to account to the extent they allow themselves to be platforms for spreading hate,” Alexander said then.

Alexander said he wants to talk to all media, and deciding what organizations he won’t speak to is subject to “constant review.”

He said his philosophy is “talk to everyone, pander to no one” and not to say different things to different outlets.

“I don’t think we should be, as a matter of course, boycotting media just because we disagree with reports that they put out,” he said. “I will continue to talk to the CBC and all the other professional media outlets.”

Alexander said the Canadian media is generally “professional” but declining circulations and audiences are having a noticeable affect on quality.

The downward trend, he said, has many Canadians relying on foreign news services as their go-to source for information.

During his years in Parliament from 2011 to 2015, Alexander said he noticed Canadians were increasingly less interested in consuming news from Canadian outlets.

One result has been the growing influence of the polarized political coverage from the United States, he said. “It crowds out our national story,” he said.

The Canadian media needs to change to avoid the same kind of partisan breakdown, Alexander said.

Media must create a “shared sense of public service,” he said, rather than existing to produce clickbait. Canadians should feel served by their media.

Often Canadian media seem to allow their headlines to be determined by negative attacks from a politician’s opponents, he added.

Reporters can’t allow the spin coming out of someone’s war room to drive their coverage, Alexander said, calling for more in-depth reporting and analysis.

“Let's put things in the context of real policy.” 


Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Tyee.

Monday, 11 September 2017 21:06

Wynne — Math or Sex Education

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Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

Time is quickly running out for this liberal government. With recent polls showing Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating hovering at 19 per cent within her home province, a historically low rate which stands below all other active Premiers.

Premier Wynne needs to step aside soon and allow another member of the party an opportunity to rebuild the Ontario Liberal brand at a time when they can still recover ahead of the next provincial election. If she waits any longer, she risks depriving her party of any chance to enjoy the grace period that is usually afforded to new leaders. On another tangent, refusal to leave could result in further economic hardships for a province that was once looked at as a prosperous financial state. 

Since that election, the gaffes and examples of Liberal mismanagement have been stacking up like cordwood and polls have shown that Ontario voters are ready for a change. The Tories have made significant gains, now finding themselves sitting at 38% in the polls to the Liberals’ 30% and NDP 24%. The recent Forum poll even suggests, say it isn’t so, that the Tories are ahead in Toronto! 

Wynne’s hubris is larger than the budget deficit she and her party have racked up under their leadership, yet she insists she will not relinquish her position of leadership. If that is the case, then I am convinced we are going to see a catastrophic meltdown of her party from which the Liberals are not likely to recover for some time. 

Liberal failures are beginning to add up: the “billion-dollar gas plant boondoggle”, the disastrously inept mismanagement of hydro in general, the more than $300 billion in provincial deficit, Wynne's costly handling of the carbon tax and environment files, the Sudbury by-election scandal, and the botched sale of Hydro-One; are all contributing to the province's mistrust of the ruling party.

The Wynne Government's recent report on Ontario education reported that hardly half of Ontario's Grade 6 students passed provincial standards in math this year. The lack of improvement has lead the party to suggest a curriculum overhaul. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter went on to say, "there's still more work to do, especially when it comes to math overall." 

Even with the additional $60 million provided to schools for improved Math curriculums, students continue to struggle with the subject. 

Ontarians and pundits alike are reaching the same conclusion that the Liberal party’s popularity and prospects cannot recover with Wynne at the helm of the government. 

Ontario’s economy is being subjected to damage, the likes of which it has never seen and may never recover from. Which may leave the citizens of this once great and prosperous province to struggle against epic currents just to keep their heads above the proverbial water.

Wynne’s terrible leadership and numerous failures have done real and lasting damage to the Province of Ontario. It is time for her to accept responsibility for her mismanagement, step aside, and allow another to take over. 

This is now Patrick Brown’s election to lose and he needs to step up and show he has what it takes to lead Ontario out of the bleak state of affairs that Wynne and her Liberals have dragged us into. 


Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications.

Tuesday, 01 August 2017 23:59

Jagmeet Singh Out Ahead

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By: BJ Siekierski and Kyle Duggan in Ottawa

Jagmeet Singh raised more money than the rest of the NDP leadership field combined in the second quarter of 2017.

According to fundraising data published by Elections Canada late Monday afternoon, the deputy leader of the Ontario NDP raked in $356,784 from 1,681 contributors for the period that ended June 30.

That was well above Charlie Angus, who finished second with $123,577 from 1,285.

Niki Ashton raised $70,156 from 1,006 contributors, while Guy Caron brought in $46,970 from 568.

Peter Julian, who dropped out of the race in June citing fundraising troubles, still raised $28,673 from 296 donors.

In a press release, Singh cited the fact that he only officially joined the race on May 15, 2017 and that he therefore raised the impressive amount in only 47 days.

“Jagmeet Singh, candidate in the federal NDP leadership race, has raised more in the first 47 days than Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer at the same point in their leadership campaigns,” the press release said.

It added that the median donation was $40 and that two-thirds of the donations received were under $100.

The Liberals took issue with the $40 median donation being portrayed as evidence of a grassroots groundswell, pointing out that 87 per cent of all their donations in the second quarter were under $100 and that the median donation was just $11.

They also disputed the comparison to Trudeau’s leadership fundraising. A party spokesperson told iPolitics that — though Trudeau announced his intention to run on October 2, 2012, the race wasn’t officially underway until November 14, when the party began providing administrative support to the candidates.

In the first 47 days from November 14, the spokesperson said, Trudeau raised over $700,000.

All the same, with the NDP’s fundraising hitting a seven-year low in the quarter, Singh’s success is indisputably good news for the party, which takes a 25 per cent cut of all donations to leadership campaigns.

“Singh’s fundraising numbers also revealed how his message is resonating with new supporters for the NDP. A cross reference of address, name, and postal code with Elections Canada donor records, demonstrate that roughly 75% of the donors to Singh’s campaign have never before given to Canada’s NDP,” the Singh release said.

Singh himself argued his fundraising numbers show the party can take on the Liberals and Conservatives in 2019.

“I am very proud of what our team was able to accomplish in our first six weeks of the campaign,” he said.


By arrangement with ipolitics.ca.

By: Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Liberal MP Chandra Arya says he welcomes Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s suggestion to debate the Liberal government’s settlement with Omar Khadr. 

Arya acknowledged that “it’s not just the Conservatives” who are against the reported $10.5 million payout to Khadr. 

“Most Canadians … they’re uncomfortable, as the prime minister said.” 

The Nepean MP was in the Centre Block Monday morning, delivering introductory remarks to summer school students who were touring Parliament. He spoke with iPolitics between tours. 

“Most Canadians are a bit concerned,” he repeated, adding that sometimes the government has to make decisions that are unpopular. 

Repeating what Justin Trudeau has said, it’s better than spending $30-$40 million down the road, Arya noted, admitting he too “is a bit concerned.” 

He thinks it’s good that Scheer wants to bring forward the debate because the House of Commons is the right place for it and he’d rather debate the issue with his colleagues across the aisle than read their comments in a newspaper. 

Arya’s passion for Parliament was evident in his brief talks to the tours. 

“This is the most important institution in Canada. What happens here affects us all. This is what Canada is about,” he told the Nepean high school students. 

“When I sit in the House of Commons and I look at all 338 members of Parliament I realize that I don’t have to go to every nook and corner of Canada because (the people) here, they represent Canada,” he said. 

“I love (being an MP), I love every morning. Honestly I get up and feel I’m blessed.” 

The former business executive, who moved to Ottawa from India about 14 years ago with his wife and son, said the highlight of his two-year political career has been seeing his private members bill C-305 pass unanimously in the Commons. Arya’s bill would expand the scope of hate-based mischief relating to places of worship to also include schools, universities, community centres, sports centres, senior residences, or any building or place used for educational, cultural, social or sporting events. 

Currently, hate-based mischief against churches, mosques, synagogues and temples can result in a sentence of up to 10 years – whereas sentences for general mischief to other properties are up to two years. 

Arya’s “quite happy” about the bill – which is currently stuck at third reading in the Senate – and expects it to pass and become law in the fall. 

Given that only five per cent of private members bills become law, he picked this area to champion because he said it’s close to his heart. 

“I’m from India, I’m a Hindu. We know the clashes between the religions and the discrimination that’s there … in other parts in the world, but this is Canada. Here we don’t tolerate that.” 

After the Quebec mosque attack in February, Arya rose in the Commons and said the attack was a direct result of Conservative and PQ policies. 

“The recent killings of Muslims praying in the mosque in Quebec City is not an accident,” he said. “This is the direct result of dog-whistle politics — the politics of fear and division.” 

On Monday, Arya said Conservative MP Michael Chong has been more specific than he was on the issue and consequence of rhetoric. 

“Words they are important and they can really hurt,” he said. 

While all of the political leaders have “really good intentions,” what he was suggesting in February was that the rhetoric had to be toned down. Members of political parties may misconstrue rhetoric and some have extreme views, but he doesn’t think any current MPs have extreme views. Not even Kellie Leitch. 

“She wants much more scrutiny of the Canadians coming in, but I don’t think she’s a racist.” 

Arya used to publish a newspaper called The Ottawa Star before running for office. Initially it was weekly and then bi-weekly, but he started the paper for new Canadians because he found that the mainstream media was not covering new Canadians’ events well. 

When he became the candidate for Nepean, he shut it down because as he put it, “You know, I was funding it from my pocket.” 

Now, in the dog days of summer, the Nepean MP spends most of his time in his constituency office or at events. 

He said he’s fortunate to represent the riding because the income is above average, unemployment is quite low and there are not many major issues, apart from public service employees who have had issues with the Phoenix payroll system. 

“Ottawa-wide issues also affect us of course.” 

When asked if he considers the summer a break at all, he laughed. 

“No. No way. Last week there were four days I left at 8:15 a.m and was back home at 9:30 p.m.” 

That said, for him it’s not a job where he puts on a suit and stares at the clock. 

“This is life and I love it.”

By arrangement with ipolitics.ca

By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa 

As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year. 

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border. 

“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.” 

The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings. 

The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already. 

In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees. 

The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance. 

The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said. 

Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees. 

Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations. 

Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival. 

Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum. 

As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status. 

Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them. 

“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said. 

But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year. 

Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs. 

“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”

Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.

Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money. 

She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors. 

The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council. 

But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister. 

“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.” 

Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.

She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.  

Republished with permission from The Tyee.

By Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer introduced a handful of new policy ideas during the nine month long leadership race, but Tory strategists suggest they likely won’t be part of the Tories 2019 election platform.

Scheer has vowed to take away federal funding from universities that don’t defend free speech. He’s proposed displaying the flags of countries that export oil to Canada on gas pumps. Scheer, who sends his own children to a faith-based school, has proposed a tax break for parents who home-school their children or send them to independent schools. He also suggested in an interview with a community newspaper that he would axe CBC’s news division.

Conservative strategist and vice chair of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said he would be surprised if more than 20 per cent of Scheer’s ideas became a part of the Conservative party’s 2019 platform.

Powers said Scheer’s proposal to de-fund universities that don’t protect free speech could be an election promise — because that idea has appealed to more than just Conservatives — but he called the flags on gas pumps idea “gimmicky.”

Powers said he thinks that Scheer’s tax credit for home-schooled families and for families who send their children to faith-based schools likely would present problems for him because his opponents will say he’s beholden to certain faith groups.

Keith Beardsley, a longtime Conservative strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper, said Scheer’s policies are easy to implement, but … “Stickers on gas pumps? I doubt many motorists will give a damn. Raise the prices and you have a problem.”

Beardsley said a tax credit for homeschooling or faith-based schools could be opening up a can of worms. “Which faiths? How much will it cost the government when Scheer promises to balance the books?”

Beardsley said that while attacking the CBC is popular among Conservatives and makes for good rhetoric, it’s not practical.

“[Scheer] said he wasn’t going to present anything in 2017 that he wouldn’t run on in 2019,” said Nancy Bishay, a spokesperson for Scheer.

“There are many interesting proposals he put forward and he’ll work together with the caucus, and also through the grassroots conservative policy process, to put together a platform to present to Canadians in 2019,” said Bishay.

Scheer’s ideas will have to be taken under consideration at the Conservative party’s policy conference in Halifax next year. But since he has championed a few very specific policies, delegates likely will support his wishes, said Susan Elliott, a Conservative strategist and partner at Strategy Portal.

But Elliott, who favoured Michael Chong for the leadership, suggested that the Conservative party is still going to have a hard time appealing to millennials in the 2019 election — by which time, she said, they will have become the largest single voting bloc, surpassing the baby boomers.

“I personally don’t think millennials will find those issues motivating. I just don’t think they are high on their top issues of concern,” said Elliott of Scheer’s ideas, specifically tax credits for home-school or faith-based schooling, and taking funding away from universities that don’t protect free speech.

“Millennials will want a credible climate change plan. A revenue-neutral carbon tax – also eliminating cumbersome regulations and directives – is the most cost-effective and conservative way to achieve that, but both party members and the new leader rejected that proposal.”

Powers said Scheer likely will “beg, borrow and steal” ideas from other candidates — but that Chong’s carbon pricing idea won’t be one of them.

Elliott said millennials don’t want to reopen debates on social issues like women’s reproductive rights and equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. In fact, said Elliott, “they don’t even understand why those are debates.”

She said political hostility towards people of diverse backgrounds and contrary points of view is a foreign concept to most millennials — but it was front and centre during the CPC leadership race “in a way that would not attract millennials to our party.”

“We must trust Andrew Scheer, now that he has been chosen to lead, to understand these truths about the current electorate. I believe he is a smart man,” she said.

Elliott said she thinks Scheer will show wisdom in adopting “millennial-friendly policies” and convincing the party and caucus to come along.

“What did Trudeau campaign on in his leadership race in 2013 that became Liberal policy?” said Powers. “It’s hard to recall because it’s not often policy that determines who wins leadership races.”


 By arrangement with iPolitics.ca 

Commentary by John Delacourt in Toronto

With just a few notable exceptions, the historical roots and complexities of South Asian politics here in Canada are barely covered in our mainstream media. What we miss are factors that can weigh heavily on current leadership races, and eventually on the federal election campaign in 2019.

Jagmeet Singh’s decision to enter the NDP’s federal leadership race, for example, has the potential to trigger a strong demographic shift among millennials. Here are two scenes from previous campaigns that speak to this possible breakthrough:

In the first, it’s 2014, and Olivia Chow has entered the mayoral race in Toronto. I’m sitting in a downtown restaurant with two South Asian NDP organizers who have offered to help her. Hailing from Brampton, they have both worked very closely with Jagmeet Singh.

One organizer has a theory about Trudeau and what he predicts will be the ultimate demise of the Liberal party in the 2015 campaign. It’s his view that no one really took a close look at who Trudeau was attracting to his events in the 905 area and in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. It’s only members of an older generation of South Asians, he affirms — those who had come to Canada in the 1980s and felt loyal to Pierre Trudeau and his progressive immigration policies — embracing the younger Trudeau’s candidacy with such enthusiasm. To the children of this generation, he says — the ones coming of age and becoming active in gurdwara politics — Trudeau’s Liberal bona fides are questionable.

Trudeau was tainted, he claims, by his party’s rejection of a groundswell movement of activism that was seeking redress for the pogroms the Indian government carried out against Sikhs in the eighties. It was NDP Leader Jack Layton’s charisma and support for these efforts, given validation by Jagmeet Singh’s work on the ground, that fired up this younger generation, he tells me.

It’s Singh’s ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.

Trudeau and his growing number of South Asian candidates only appeal to the less engaged “uncles and aunties,” the organizer assures me — and are doomed to lose in the face of the NDP’s new organizational strength out in Brampton and Surrey.

The second scene takes place a little more than a year later. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is having his first official campaign rally at the Variety Village community centre in Scarborough, Ontario. There I am fully expecting to see a strong contingent of young South Asian campaign workers in the front row, cheering in a full house. But the room is, by and large, made up of faces I recognize — people from the same core Toronto labour union and activist base that Chow initially rallied together in the early days of her mayoral campaign. These supporters are older — mostly “old stock,” as was the phrase-du-jour in those days. It seems a sign of things to come.

Indeed, four weeks out from election day, I’m on the phone with a pollster who offers me a salient read on what might have happened to that once-engaged South Asian NDP vote. He tells me that his numbers suggest an overwhelming percentage of those who voted provincially for the NDP in Ontario, back in 2014, were not going to vote for the federal NDP in 2015.

The emerging demographic split of South Asian Canadian voters my organizer friend had predicted just one year before failed to materialize. It was my contention that the South Asian candidates running — people like Navdeep Bains, Kamal Khera and Sukh Dhaliwal — could easily transcend generational biases and connect with all their constituents by addressing middle class issues.

One thing was clear: Mulcair was not appealing to a younger, engaged, activist demographic with all the fire and charisma that Singh is capable of inspiring.

For all the ways in which Singh’s rise to prominence has been profiled in the mainstream media, it’s his ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism and aspirationalism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.

And if Singh does win, that charismatic appeal to a younger generation might catch on well beyond South Asian communities — if the Liberal party’s mandate for the middle class loses credibility. And that might turn out to be the sleeper theme of the next federal election.


By arrangement with iPolitics.ca 

By Crawford KilianAndrew NikiforukJudith Sayers and Paul Willcocks in British Columbia

A new world for BC
By Judith Sayers

British Columbia sits on a precipice and will either fall into a minority Liberal government, an NDP minority government or a possible Liberal majority, depending on the results of the absentee votes and any recounts. This is one election where one vote could turn out to make the real difference.

Christy Clark is, of course, trumpeting the line that the BC Liberals will continue to govern and not wearing the fact that people wanted a change and her popularity has wilted drastically. If Clark retains power, I would predict she doesn’t make any change in the way she governs and that this election will not be a wake-up call to the Liberal party.

If there is a minority government, which many predict, it will definitely be a new world for B.C.

Will the government be able to build a better future for those of us who make B.C. our home? I sure hope so.

Whether many of the needed changes are made will be in the hands of the BC Greens, who hold the balance of power. The NDP and Liberals will have to work with the Greens to make decisions. The key to success of any initiatives will be finding agreement with the Green Party.

It is going to be a very interesting four years. Reversal of decisions on major projects like Site C and Kinder Morgan is a real possibility. Achieving electoral reforms, including an end to unlimited political donations, is now closer. If we thought the B.C. legislature was a battleground before this, it is nothing compared to what we will witness ahead.

As a First Nations person I am disappointed that more people didn’t vote to make the difference we needed. We are at a critical state in this province and only 57 per cent of voters went to the polls.

Uncertainty will be something we will live with until we get final results. If there is a minority government, that uncertainty will continue while parties wheel and deal on their priorities. This is a time when people will really learn about the values of the Green party as they will play a major role with a minority agreement.

Clark’s survival shows our system is broken
By Andrew Nikiforuk

It is outrageous that a government so Trumpish in character, so wedded to alternative facts and so visibly supportive of growing economic inequality still won a minority government. It proves that Canadians have as many political problems as the Americans and that a diminished press allows those with the most money to engineer political control.

Expect more volatility. And another election soon.

A Schrödinger election?
By Crawford Kilian

Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment seems very applicable to B.C. politics after yesterday’s election. Imagine, he suggested, a cat put in a sealed box. A source of radiation may fire a random particle into a Geiger counter, causing a hammer to smash a vial of cyanide and kill the cat. Or it may not.

Schrödinger argued while the box is closed, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead, in a state of “quantum superposition.” When we open the box, reality “collapses” in a single cat, alive or dead.

The B.C. 2017 election box won’t be opened until May 24 and the official vote count. Given the outcome of the vote, all three parties are in a similar state of superposition, simultaneously alive and dead. Recounts and the absentee vote may cause reality to collapse into a majority Liberal government; or a majority NDP government; or a Liberal-Green coalition; or an NDP-Green coalition. (A Liberal-NDP coalition, with the Greens as the opposition, seems too weird even for B.C.)

Even then, a coalition would be another kind of superposition. If Andrew Weaver makes a deal with Christy Clark and becomes a cabinet minister in a Liberal government, he’ll have to extort an end to Site C and the Kinder Morgan pipeline — or go the way of David Emerson, who defected to the Harper Conservatives within days of being elected as a Liberal MP. His whole party would lose credibility.

Both Weaver and his party seem likelier to survive a deal with the New Democrats, who are largely on the same wavelength. But they would have to get past some hard feelings about vote splitting and Weaver’s late-campaign blowing of kisses toward the Liberals.

Whatever the coalition, its members should bear in mind that its half-life will be short. The larger party will ditch its Green allies the moment it seems opportune to do so, and we’ll all be back in Schrödinger’s box again, awaiting yet another political reality.

Green voters helped Liberals stay in power
By Paul Willcocks

You don’t have to support strategic voting to recognize it could change the outcome of elections.

On Tuesday, Green voters who ignored the idea of strategic voting handed three seats to the BC Liberals, turning a potential NDP majority into a Christy Clark minority government.

It’s not reasonable to assume all Green supporters would consider voting strategically. And in three ridings, the party had a realistic chance of winning.

But assume half the party’s voters in other ridings decided to cast a vote to ensure the party they preferred — Liberal or NDP — formed government. That means 74 per cent go NDP, 26 per cent go Liberal, according to a Mainstreet poll on voters’ second choices.

Run the calculations on all 87 ridings, and you’ll find the NDP would have taken Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, Richmond-Queensborough and Vancouver-False Creek, all seats that went to the Liberals. Two NDP seats at risk of being lost to recounts — Courtenay-Comox and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows — would be secure.

And the New Democrats would have the slimmest of majorities, with 44 seats to the Liberals 40 and Greens three.

Republished with permission from The Tyee.  

by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

The establishment got another burning in the French elections on Sunday, revealing again that there is no level of voter disgust that will not find some voice in the current range of elections.  The terror for pollsters and the establishment now is whether Marine Le Pen will realize her anti-Euro project and drag the French nation kicking and moaning into a new, even more fractious order. In her way will be the pro-European Union figure of Emmanuel Macron.

The French example is similar to others of recent times: parties with presumed tenure were confined to a punitive dustbin, rubbished for stale, estranged obsolescence.  The Gaullists got what was a fair drubbing – 19.9 percent for François Fillon of the Republicans, a figure crusted and potted with corruption. 

It did not, however, mean that both candidates in the first and second positions were political virgins.  In that sense, the U.S. election remains an exemplar, a true shock.  France retains a traditional appearance to it, albeit a violently ruffled one.

Macron, with his 23.9 percent, supposedly deemed outside the establishment, still held office as minister for economy, finance and industry but flew the Socialist coop in opportunistic fancy.  Blooded in traditional harness, he has managed to give the impression that he has shed enough of the old for the new, notably with his movement En Marche.  He is blowing hard from what commentators have termed a “centrist” position.  (To be at the centre is to be in the middle, which is not necessarily a good thing in current times.)

Just to weaken the sense of Macron as outsider, both establishment parties – the Socialist, led by Benoît Hamon, and the Republican – urged voters to go for the centrist option.  This all had the appearance of a gentleman’s seedy agreement, plotted in a traditional smoking room to undermine an unlikable contender.  The losers wanted to be vicarious winners.  The tarnished Fillon urged voters to “reflect on your conscience.” In effect, Macron as a quantity is being sanitised for stability, the firebreak against the Le Pen revolution.

Le Pen herself speaks to a particular French and nationalist sensibility, tutored to a large extent by her father, who also ran in the 2002 Presidential elections and lost to Jacques Chirac.  She is hardly one to be unfamiliar with the political argot, which has retained a reactionary punch in more measured guise.

Le Pen kept her approach punchily traditional, milking the killing last Thursday of a policeman on the Champs-Elysees with old apple and oranges comparisons on security and immigration.  Having her in the Presidential office would see the stop of “mass immigration and the free movement of terrorists.” 

For Le Pen, the May 7 runoff election would enable a choice to be made between “savage globalisation that threatens our civilisation” and “borders that protect our jobs, our security and our national identity.” 

Macron provides an attractive target for the Front National: having worked for Rothschild, he supplies the front for corporate interests, and is “Hollande’s baby” uninterested in French patriotism.  He certainly promises to be friendlier to companies in France, with a policy envisaging a cut of the corporate tax rate from 33 percent to 25 percent, while also permitting them to re-negotiate the sacred 35-hour week.  His vision of the European Union, in short, is business as usual.

Under Le Pen’s particular tent lie appeals to critics of globalisation, a force that has rented and sunk various industries while also seeking to reform the French labour market.  But this nostalgic throw back entails barriers and bridges, building fortifications, holding firm and wishing for the best.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon proved to be another dark horse, the spicy left-wing option to Le Pen, and a candidate who experienced a surge of popularity prior to the poll.  His result is a story that has invigorated the left while gutting the socialists, providing us a reminder of the time of a greater radicalism. 

“Len Pen,” claims Roger Martelli, “was counting on turning this election into a fight with the Socialist party government, but she had to compete with a radicalized right-wing opposition and socialist opponents who had moved more sharply to the left than she had expected.”

Nor were things pretty for Hamon, with a devastating result to compare to Gaston Defferre’s 5 per cent showing in 1969.  The socialists reformed by the 1971 Épinay Congress in the wake of that electoral catastrophe, have been well and truly buried.

What Mélenchon’s popularity suggests is that the European system, at least the model as it stands, needs reform and a degree of disentangling vis-à-vis the state.  Nor has he told his supporters to vote for Macron, a paternalistic ploy that can irritate voters. 

“None of us will vote for the far-right,” went the consultation to 450,000 registered supporters of the France Untamed movement.  “But does it mean we need to give voting advice?” As Der Spiegel opined with characteristic gloominess, “The presidential election in France is becoming yet another end game over Europe’s political future.”

Much will depend on voter turnout come May, and the seasoned opportunism of Le Pen.  Her latest play is to place herself above partisan considerations by stepping down from the leadership of the National Front.  “So, this evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front.  I am the candidate for the French presidency.” 

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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