Canadian politics

2011 04 03
L’Etat, C’est Moi

Posted by in: Canada, Canadian politics

With an election in Canada fast approaching, my cousin is doing his part and fighting Stephen Harper with the awesome power of disco.

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2010 02 12
Great moments in Canadian politics

Posted by in: Canada, Canadian politics

A politician got tossed yesterday from the New Brunswick legislature after giving another politician the finger. This write up of the story doesn’t come close to conveying how hilarious the audio recording of the incident is. As a friend of mine remarked, they sound like a bunch of kindergarten kids.

Via Kegri.

Howls of outrage (3)

2009 02 19
Obama in Canada

Obama paid a six hour visit to my home town of Ottawa today. My sources there tell me that the entire city was in a tizzy, with people busing in from hours away on the off chance he would find a moment to wave at them. The CBC sent out nine breathless news alerts (which are usually reserved for when something, you know, happens) in a few hours about now classic moments such as Obama’s plane landing, Obama’s arriving at Parliament, the Prime Minister’s declaring himself “quite confident” that Obama would honour free trade agreements involving the U.S. and Canada, Obama’s meeting the leader of the opposition for 15 minutes at the airport on his way out, and Obama’s plane departing.

It’s difficult to convey to Americans how important U.S.-Canadian relations are to Canadians. We’ve always had a serious love-hate (perhaps more accurately “condescend-envy”) thing going on with the U.S., but it’s a relationship that has been especially tinged with anxiety these last eight years.

We got off to a very rough start with George Bush. Even before he assumed office, Canada’s ambassador at the time said—behind closed doors, I think, but it got out quickly—that we would do better with Gore. Chrétien was apparently disgusted and bewildered when he finally got to meet Bush. Bush reciprocated by making it clear that the U.S. would not longer be our BFF. And the entire relationship entered a deep freeze when Canada announced that it wouldn’t be helping with Iraq. It didn’t help that the U.S. ambassador to Canada for many years, Paul Celluci, was deeply unpopular in a way that struck me as unusual for an ambassador (he may have felt, in turn, that Canadians weren’t very warm).

Obama is so popular in Canada now that there’s really nowhere for him to go but down. There seem to be some pretty significant trade issues between the two countries, which are bound to be exacerbated by the state of the economy, and eventually it’s going to sink in that Obama counts his votes South of the border. Still, it’s wonderful that the U.S. is finally able to send someone who isn’t a fucking moron up North to talk with us. That sound you hear is an entire country exhaling with relief.

Howls of outrage (18)

2009 01 13
Recently read: French Kiss

Chantal Hébert. French Kiss: Stephen Harper’s Blind Date with Quebec

The Conservative Party of Canada today is the product of a merger between the Western-based Reform party and the much older Progressive Conservative Party that contested for power with the Liberals for most of the life of the country. (The merger, when it was first proposed, was very briefly called the Conservative Reform Alliance Party until someone worked out the acronym.) Although the merger with the Progressive Conservative Party softened the edges of the Reform portion of the new party, much of the party remains rooted in Reform’s culture of Western alienation, fiscal conservatism, and an often jaundiced view of Quebec’s aspirations. This legacy is hardly an asset when the Conservative Party comes calling in socially progressive Quebec, or the often-economically troubled Eastern provinces.

And yet, in the 2006 federal election, the Conservative Party managed to pull out a surprisingly strong show of support within Quebec. In the same election, the NDP, the left-most leaning party in Parliament, managed to continue its miserable showing in Quebec, the most socially progressive province in the country. Meanwhile, Bloc Québécois (BQ), the Federal wing of the province’s separatist movement, had to face the fact that the Conservatives, rather than their own party, had picked up many of the votes that the Liberals lost. Had the decade and a half of participation by the BQ in Federal politics led, paradoxically, to a greater level of engagement on the part of Quebecers with the rest of the country?

These and other mysteries of Canadian politics are the subject of Chantal Hébert’s French Kiss. It’s a good, insightful book, and I learned a great deal from it about the country that I’ve been slowly drifting out of touch with over the last ten years of living in the United States.

Hébert examines the carefully laid groundwork that preceded Harper’s 2006 breakthrough in Quebec. Enough wooing preceded Harper’s breakthrough to call into question the appropriateness of the book’s subtitle. As for the basis of the attraction, Hébert argues against much of the conventional wisdom about Quebec in relation to the rest of the country: that patronage politics is the royal road to electoral prosperity in the province; that Quebecers would reject a Prime Minister who didn’t hail from the province; that the socially progressive province would never be a match for a federal right-leaning party.

Hébert points out how poorly supported many of these conventional assumptions are. In fact, Harper’s pledge to stick to federal responsibilities found a receptive hearing in Quebec, which was never keen on Federal meddling. And Quebecers may be socially progressive, but they tend to look to the provincial government for the realization of their progressive values. And no wonder. It’s not just a separatist impulse that is responsible for this tendency. After the federal budget slashing of the 90s, the federal government’s fondness for agenda setting in matters of provincial jurisdiction has not been consistently matched with funding to support those priorities.

This last point is part (though only a part) of the story, Hébert argues, behind the NDP’s poor showing in Quebec. The NDP’s fixation with the notion that social justice is best realized (and enforced) at the federal level is an irritant in a province that prefers to run its own programs its own way.

So, very interesting stuff. Two reservations—well, ok, one and a half—about the book. First, French Kiss is clearly written for politically informed Canadians. If you’re not informed about Canadian politics but this blog post has suddenly filled you with a lust for knowledge, I think you’re going to have to look elsewhere for an introduction to the subject. Hébert often alludes in passing to facts, events, controversies and so on without explaining them in a way that would allow outsiders into the conversation. It’s too bad, because not only do I think Canada is a fascinating country, but I think I would find Canada a fascinating country even if I weren’t Canadian. And perhaps you would too, outsider.

That was the half-reservation. The other reservation, the one which I have no reservation calling a full reservation, is that very often the quality of Hébert’s writing fails to match the high quality of her analysis. Sometimes we get not only prose weighed down by cliches and stale images, but a series of jarringly different stale images in rapid succession:

. . . the federal Liberals were about to fly blind into the perfect storm of the sponsorship scandal with only a skeleton crew on board, and endure a barrage of sovereigntist flak. . . The sponsorship scandal was the poison pill of Paul Martin’s prime ministership, but it need not have been fatal. A mouse of an affair got the better of a political elephant.

So in the space of a few lines the scandal morphs in the reader’s imagination from a storm to a pill to a mouse. Or rather, it would morph in the reader’s imagination but by this point most readers, realizing that Hébert herself doesn’t have a clear image in her mind, will have stopped assuming that she intends to produce one in them. In this way prose is drained of its vivacity. Here is Hébert describing the effect of Buzz Hargrove’s appearance at a Liberal rally:

It was a shot across the bow of the NDP and its leader, Jack Layton, that would reverberate until voting day.

That does not, strictly speaking, make sense, does it? A shot across a bow flies past the bow. If anything reverberates after a shot across the bow—does it?—it isn’t the shot, it’s the bow. But never mind whether this makes sense, since in a few lines we’re about to be too grossed out to care:

At the tail end of the campaign, Buzz Hargrove hit the panic button—and it virtually blew his finger off, showering Paul Martin with debris in the process.

Ew! Paul Martin standing on the still-reverberating bow of a ship covered in Hargrove-bits!

It’s interesting to consider how far Canadian politics has already moved since Hébert’s book was published in 2007. Since the 2006 election, we’ve had another election (in October 2008) in which Harper managed match his 10 seat showing in Quebec from the 2006 vote, but dipped in the popular vote in the province from 24.6% to 21.7%, while the Liberals picked up a seat and a good part of the popular vote that the Conservatives lost. Returned to Parliament with a slightly strengthened minority government, Harper then badly blundered, all but forcing the Liberals, NDP and BQ into an informal coalition that threatened to topple him. Harper appears to have survived the crisis, but in the meantime his public relations strategy was heavy on vilification of the BQ. Whether this will hurt him in the long run in the province remains to be seen. But it is clear that he will have a difficult, if not impossible time, governing Canada without Quebec. My hope is that Quebec has seen enough at this point to toss Harper to the curb, hit the panic button, turn the plane around, and ride the elephant of good sense past the mouse of the federal Conservatives on to a brighter Canadian future.

Howls of outrage (7)

2008 12 01
Oh, Canada!

Posted by in: Canada, Canadian politics

It doesn’t get a lot of attention in the US, but boy oh boy is there an awesome political drama going on in Canada right now. Here’s the latest. I’m pestering relatives and friends for help keeping up with this. If you want the basic story line, you’ve basically got a villain brought down by his own arrogance and overreaching (Harper) and a fractious, bumbling opposition apparently able to sock it to him. So far! But stay tuned. Will the new Liberal-NDP coalition fall apart? Will the Liberals, on the verge of a leadership race, break down in fresh in-fighting? What will the about-to-depart-but-suddenly-probably-PM Dion do next? Wither Rae? Ignatieff?

It’s a potential constitutional crisis wrapped in a lot of petty squabbling with the rich sauce of Schadenfreude poured all over the top. Oh, Canada! Sometimes I miss you so.

Howls of outrage (20)

2008 09 12
“One Liberal joked that the Tories couldn’t even get the pooping part right as the puffin is known for hiding its excrement.”

American politics is so juvenile, so petty. Instead of acting like children, American politicians should aspire to the seriousness of their neighbours to the North.

Howls of outrage (4)

2008 01 19
Canadian foreign minister Maxime Bernier caves under pressure, lies


Howls of outrage (5)

2007 08 31
Ignatieff on puffins

Michael Ignatieff wants to make the puffin a symbol of the Liberal Party of Canada:

“It’s a noble bird because it has good family values. They stay together for 30 years,” Ignatieff said Thursday outside a Liberal caucus retreat in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital.

“They lay one egg (each year). They put their excrement in one place. They hide their excrement.… They flap their wings very hard and they work like hell.

“This seems to me a symbol for what our party should be.”

A bird that carefully hides its excrement is actually appropriate for the Liberals, come to think of it.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 08 25
Recently read: Paul Wells’ Right Side Up

The first few years I spent outside of Canada I kept up with Canadian politics fairly well. The last few years my grasp of what is going on from day to day has gotten considerably weaker. Still, that’s not going to stop me from voting in the next federal election, and it’s not going to stop me from recommending Paul Wells’ Right Side Up, his highly entertaining book chronicling of the rise of Steven Harper and the Conservatives in Canada. Wells is as clever as he is cheeky, and although the occasional spot might be rough going for an outsider, on the whole I thought that Right Side Up would be as entertaining an introduction to the last few years of Canadian politics for a non-Canadian as it is a pleasant review of the same for a Canadian.

Wells has a great eye for hypocrisy and sham, and one of the great things about Right Side Up is the way he pauses to savour moments that the more jaded might let slip by. I think this passage illustrates this nicely:

For lo, the night had come when Paul Martin became the leader of the party to which he had given his life. Liberals from across the country repaired to the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto for the great moment.

“Over the years, in various leadership conventions, a small number of Canadians have stood on a stage like this,” Martin said from the floor of the hockey arena on the evening of November 14, 2003.

“In the past while, I have thought about them. And wondered just how I would feel as I stood before you at this moment. And what I would say and what I would do.

“As it turns out, it is deeply moving—and much more difficult than I thought.”

What a touching admission of vulnerability at the moment of triumph. Also: what transparent dime-store fiction. Even as Martin was confiding to a few thousand of his closest friends that this was harder than he had thought it would be, dozens of reporters, loosely herded in a bullpen on the floor of the arena in front of the new leader, were reading along with the prepared text, which Martin’s legions of helpers had handed to us before he began speaking. Sure enough, there it was, a third of the way down Page 1: Much . . . more . . . difficult . . . than . . . I . . . thought.

Earlier that afternoon Martin had read the speech (“. . .much more difficult than I thought . . .”) at that same podium, in a dress rehearsal [. . . .]

Which means that among the small number of Canadians who had stood on stages like this, before Paul Martin did, was . . . himself. Paul Martin. De deux choses l’une, as we say: either this deeply moving experience was precisely as difficult now as it had been during months of draft speech rewrites, meetings, and conference calls, as well as at the big dress rehearsal this afternoon—or it was even more difficult now than then, in which case Martin and his communications team had factored in the requisite increment of difficulty, aiming ahead of the hurtling clay pigeon like so many ace skeet shooters, and included their eerily prescient hunch about that supplementary burden in the text of the big guy’s acceptance speech.

I also enjoyed Wells’ description of the David Emerson kerfuffle. Emerson switched sides to the Conservatives very shortly after the 2006 election, much to the consternation of a bunch of Vancouverites who were under the distinction impression that they had just voted for a Liberal.

The Conservatives were helped by the fact that David Emerson is one of the most beatifically gormless amateurs ever to stumble into electoral politics without pausing to consider how it works. His excuse for switching parties wasn’t political conviction but its perfect absence. He had run as a Liberal, he told pie-eyed reporters, only because a Liberal was offering cabinet seats. Now that Liberal, Paul Martin, had quit as Liberal leader, so David Emerson was a free agent again.

“You’re saying that if Paul Martin had become prime minister you would have stayed with him and become a minister in his cabinet?” one reporter asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” Emerson replied cheerfully.

Wells is also very funny on the subject of Michael Ignatieff, who shows up in the final part of the book devoted to the Liberal leadership race that followed Paul Martin’s election defeat. He begins with a little poke at Ignatieff for trying to pass as common folk:

I haven’t heard anyone drop so many g’s from the ends of his participles since Hee Haw went off the air.

“Yeah, people have got questions about—bein’ out of the country,” Ignatieff said. Here, “bein’ out of the country” is a genteel euphemism for the fact that until he moved to Toronto to run for Parliament in 2005, the rookie MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore had not resided in Canada since 1969. He spent some of that time teachin’ at Harvard. “I genuinely got a lot of people sayin’, ‘It’s great. It’s great. Good for you.’ Behind the you’ve-been-out-of-the-country question, it’s not really—I think Canadians rather like the fact that somebody’s been out and has done stuff and has come back. What they want to be assured is that the guy knows the country, right? He’s not some kind of Martian.”

Oh, surely that a bit harsh. Where would any Canadian get the idea that Michael Ignatieff is a Martian? I mean, where besides the preface to his book The Rights Revolution, published in 2000? In that preface, Ignatieff admits that he is writing about the Canadian conception of rights and that it “may read oddly” to an audience of actual Canadians. “To them, this book may seem like a report by a visitor from a distant planet,” Ignatieff writes. “I want to alert readers that I am a Martian outsider.”

And so on, and on, and on (for several pages afterwards, Wells drops the “g” from every single participle, a deliciously cruel little touch). It’s passages like these – gotcha passages – that make the book so highly entertaining.

So much for entertainment. What about edification? Well, here I think the verdict a bit more mixed. Wells really is, as I said, awfully bright. And in the course of providing context for some of those very funny gaffes, Wells treats his reader to a bit more substance that we might find in a regular news column. Still, I found myself wondering at times if the book didn’t reflect (as I confess this post does), in some modest way, one of the vices of Canadian reporting, which is to allow gaffes and gotcha moments to organize the presentation of the issues rather than the other way around. (Toward the end of the book, Wells makes a few comments on Harper’s attitude to the media that suggests sympathy for this view of the Canadian media.) I can see that since this is the way that Canadian politics is so often done, a history of Canadian politics will need to reflect that. And I can see that there is some difference between writing a bunch of gotchas and writing about a bunch of gotchas. Still . . .

I’ll leave aside my irritation with Wells’ brief treatment of Harper’s foreign policy towards the end of the book to make just one complaint about substance. Wells seems to think that the relative moderation of the early Harper government shows that critics were wrong to complain that the sky would fall if Harper got into power. But Harper didn’t win a majority in 2006, and his government lives on borrowed time, with a very strong incentive in the meantime to act in as nonthreatening a way as possible, in the hopes that the Conversatives can sweep to power later with a solid majority. And it seems pretty clear to me that if Harper can do that, we can expect very different things from him. So, the sky may yet fall.

Howls of outrage (2)

2006 12 02

I’m a little rusty on my Canadian politics, but I’ve always had a fairly positive impression of St�phane Dion, who just won the federal Liberal Party leadership race. I never especially liked Ignatieff, who was long favoured to win the race, so this result is gratifying. Also, Dion is a total geek, an intellectual, professor type with little in the way of conventional political charisma, and so I applaud this win as an important step in the Geek Takeover of the world.

Howls of outrage (3)

2006 01 23
Harper wins Tory minority government, CBC News projects

Oh well:

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will become Canada’s next prime minister, as Canadians have elected a Tory minority government and ended a 12-year reign of Liberal rule, CBC News projects.

At 10 p.m, the Tories were leading or elected in 99 ridings in central and eastern Canada, the Liberals in 89, the Bloc in 39 and 20 for the NDP.

It was hard to know what to hope for. As much as I hate the Conservatives, the NDP didn’t have a chance, and the Liberals deserved a good whooping. Anyway, you can’t have the Liberals rule the country forever. If it really is a minority government, it’s reasonable to hope that it’ll fall quickly, but not before giving the Conservatives a nice chance to embarrass themselves. It’s not clear yet whether the embarrassment will be the result of actually doing what they want to do, or failing to do it. Either way, it’ll pave the way for a (slightly) chastened and reformed group of Liberals to take power in a year or so. To be honest, I’m relieved. A Conservative majority would have truly sucked.

Howls of outrage (6)

2005 06 26
Rick Mercer

If you’re a Canadian, you know who Rick Mercer is. In case you’re not a Canadian, he’s a smart-ass comedian who does a lot of political humour. (Samples here.) Anyway, I just now discovered that he has a blog (via). I thought this post was especially funny:

Like most Canadians when I�m surfing the Internet I have Canada�s parliamentary affairs channel CPAC running in the background.

I find I can work and think just a little bit more efficiently if I�m simultaneously entertained by the dull and dulcet tones of Peter McKay or the shrieking wail of Anne McClellan.

Anyway, a few weeks back I happen to catch Don Boudria standing up in the house and I can tell he is hopping mad.

Don is seriously pissed by the anti same-sex marriage crowd. It seems they have gone out and purchased one of Don�s domain names and they have been playing silly buggers with it. Take a look for yourself at

Don is upset that somebody stumbling across such a site would think that they were viewing an official Don Boudria website, and not a propaganda tool. Obviously Don thinks there are a lot of low intelligence voters out there googling the hell out of Don Boudria. But I digress.

Anyway, Don felt that this was a nasty below-the-belt tactic from the family values crowd. Well, the Conservative party wasn�t going to have any of this bashing of the anti-SSM crowd so Jason Kenney jumped to his feet.

I love Jason. The honorable member from Calgary Southeast is the Conservative bright light that likes to point out that gays are allowed to get married; as long as they get married to members of the opposite sex! Stupid and talking, my favorite combination in a politician. Needless to say, when Jason Kenney opens his mouth, I listen.

Anyway, long story short, Jason told Boudria it was his own fault for not registering his own domain name. I tend to agree with Jason on this; I mean, doesn�t the liberal Party have access to a teenager who can advise them on this kind of stuff? I bet a guy like Jason does. Anyway, Jason was just getting started. I include here a transcript from Hansard for your own edification.

Mr. Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the only additional element that the hon. member has brought to the Chair’s attention relates to a matter which is in no way, shape or form within the purview of this House or your honour and it never has been, and hopefully never will be, that is to say, the registration of domain names on the World Wide Web. I understand my hon. friend opposite is learned with respect to parliamentary procedure but I must infer from his remarks that he is stupefiedly ignorant about the commercial practices on the Internet.� (1510)

The Speaker: Honestly, the hon. member for Calgary Southeast need not suggest that any hon. member of this House is ignorant.

Mr. Jason Kenney: Mr. Speaker, of the Internet.

The Speaker: That does not make it better. He could say that he has perhaps missed the point or something. We do not need to use this kind of language.
I would urge the hon. member to show some restraint.

Mr. Jason Kenney: Mr. Speaker, let me be clear. I did not mean ignorant in the pejorative sense but in an objective sense that the member apparently does not understand the process by which domain names are registered on the Internet.

Anyway while the speaker was admonishing Jason for such unparliamentarily language as �ignorant� I started thinking �What are the chances that Jason Kenney is so stunned that he would call another MP ignorant for not having registered his domain name when he hasn�t bothered to register his own?�

Not a chance, I figured. I am not that lucky.

Turns out the chances were pretty good. Before he sat his arse down in his seat I was the proud owner of

As you can see by clicking the link, drives web surfers to the Marxist Leninist party of Canada. I wanted something that screamed Jason.

I should say, though, I am open to suggestions. If you think it would be more appropriate that points to hot lesbian sex, by all means drop me a line. Or maybe you have a website that needs the conservative traffic generated by this bright thinker. Just email me and tell me where should go. You can send me an email at and I�ll be sure to take all suggestions seriously. I might even send a dated no longer useful Monday Report t shirt or sleeve of golf balls to the winner.

Later, Mercer pointed the site here.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 05 20
Suspense! Passion! Betrayal!

Would you believe it’s Canadian politics?

There’s some hilariously wacky stuff going on North of the border, eh.

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2005 03 10
Jean in Turkmenistan

The Argus reports this revolting little tidbit of retirement fun:

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien paid a visit to Turkmenistan on behalf of CalgaryÂ’s Buried Hill Energy as part of his new role as an attorney with the Calgary firm of Bennett Jones. While there, he spent an hour lobbying Turkmenbashi the Great for oil concessions, which he received.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 01 16
In what other nation would this happen?

This is standard fare at this point:

Restoring America’s moral authority

Yesterday, Army Spc. Charles Graner was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a military jury for his role in the 2003 Abu Ghraib torture of Iraqi prisoners. In what other nation would this happen? Of course this won’t stop the crazy Left and equally crazy paleocon Right from carting out Abu Ghraib as an example of the “natural consequences” of American empire, but it is worth noting that under the rule of law and through due process a torturer is duly and justly punished. In the old Iraq under Saddam Hussien, torture wasn’t punished, it was punishment. See the difference? Bush’s critics can’t. And that difference separates the countries that need regime change from the countries that make regime change a reality.

The hilarious thing, though, is that if I’m not mistaken these lines were written by a Canadian. Canada did in fact have a torture scandal a few years back, which even featured trophy pictures. Read all about it here. Here are some samples:
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A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)