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Happy Ending Deferred

2008

Me on American Election Night, 2008

This is not a post about the US election. I don’t want to get into why one candidate won, and the other lost, although I will say there’s no simple answers or one line explanations. Instead, I want to talk about how Tuesday felt, why I fell into an emotional hole, and found my way out of it.

The American election broke my heart not only because the result was a surprise, but because it was a shock. Up until the results started rolling in on CNN I felt fairly confident Hillary would win. In 2008, there was a lot of talk of the ‘Bradley Effect’, the idea that polls would wouldn’t pick up on voters’ real intentions because they were reluctant to admit to not supporting an African American candidate. But, since the polls in 2008 were essentially correct, I had pretty solid faith in them for the next eight years.

The fact that they could be so spectacularly off this year in multiple states was not something I was prepared for. (I think there was a double Bradley Effect – people didn’t want to admit to not supporting Clinton and, in a related but distinct phenomenon, were embarrassed to admit they were supporting the Republican candidate.) On Tuesday night, I felt such anger that I had trusted the polls. All those combined hours of reading Nate Silver’s blog – what was the point? I may never really trust polling again.

My boyfriend Kirk was never sanguine about this election. In his gut, he felt that, if the racism the Republican candidate espoused had led him as far as it had already, it could easily take him to the White House. As a person of colour, Kirk is more aware of the racism, subtle and blatant, inherent everyday in North America. He took no pleasure in the election’s outcome but was not stunned in the way of his white boyfriend.

So there’s that – progressives are saddened, scared and angry about what this election says about a lot of voters’ views of marginalized groups: African Americans; Latinos; Muslims; LGBT people; people with disabilities; women. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that the majority of white women voted for the Republican. Anger at the results was swiftly followed by fear of what comes next.

As has been the case for much of my career, I work with a group of wonderful, smart and powerful women. At the office on Wednesday, work momentarily stopped as we watched Hillary’s concession speech. There were tears. Then I went home, and Kirk and I spent the evening discussing the racial dimensions of the result and what happens next. The election results appeared almost tailor made to upset everyone in my life and disrupt everything I care about.

Another reason for the depression that set in with many of us on election night and has yet to recede has to do with the winner. Americans elected a bully. A charlatan. A blatant liar. This is a person who does all the things we teach children not to do, whose rise should have been halted along the way by any number of his discretions, but it wasn’t. For idealistic political progressives like myself, things aren’t supposed to work this way. We’ve been shook and will remain so for some time.

In the days after the election, I would have moments, whole periods of time when I was fine, but then my mind would drift back to the election, and my anxiety about what happens next, and I would become moody and withdrawn. Each day a new thing would worry me: “What about Obamacare?” “What about the environment?”

Things that helped: the photo of Hillary Clinton out hiking the next day, with a smile as bright as the morning sunshine. The way progressives of various stripes started, on day one of this new world, reaffirming all the fights we will continue to take to the administration and beyond. The grace and calm President Obama has shown in the last two weeks has been a particular source of power.

And, closer to home, my partner Kirk has helped pull me out of it. One morning in particular as we walked to work he reminded me there’s only so much in life we can control, and one Canadian can hardly be expected to swing an American election. Things in life don’t always go the way you want them to, but that doesn’t mean you give up, curl up in a foetal position and retreat from the world. The election results don’t necessarily mean game over for the environment, a Fascist dictatorship or the end of the world as we know it, and making yourself sick over your worst fears helps no one.

There are light times, followed by dark times, and all we can do is keep living and fighting to make things better.

I keep thinking back to this Salon piece by Gerry Canavan about the new Star Wars movie, From “A New Hope” to no hope at all: “Star Wars,” Tolkien and the sinister and depressing reality of expanded universes. In it, he describes how J.R.R. Tolkien planned to write another Lord of the Rings story, set a century after the last book, showing that the fairytale ending of The Return of the King was short lived (similar to how the Force Awakens shows that everything didn’t stay hunky dory after the Ewoks cleaned up after their celebration at the end of The Return of the Jedi). Tolkien quit after 13 pages basically because it was too depressing. Who wants to read that, after all the fighting and triumphs, evil reasserts itself and you must fight the same battles a generation later?

But that’s the story of the world, triumphs followed by set backs followed by new fights. If America were a novel, film or Netflix miniseries, President Obama’s win in 2008 would have been a perfect ending. An inspiring and honourable man unites swaths of voters representing marginalized, now newly engaged groups (‘The Coalition of the Ascendant’) and demonstrates that racism, the country’s founding sin, was, if not erased, at least in the retreat.

It was pretty naïve of us to think that was the end of the story, but the various legislative wins of the Obama era and his reelection made it seem like we would continue to generally march forward. Two thousand sixteen brought that illusion crashing down.

But life goes on. To quote Angels in America, “The world only spins forward.” In an interview in the New Yorker, Obama, as he often does, asks his supporters to take the long view. He reminds us that the famous Democratic Convention speech that launched his career came after George W. Bush’s re-election, which seemed at the time a very dark place. He first uttered the clarion call ‘Yes we can’ after a major loss during the primaries. One of the only mottos that has ever always been true is, no one knows what the future holds.

So we keep living and fighting, staying informed and challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, while making time for the simple pleasures that make life enjoyable: watching our favourite TV shows and movies; dinners with friends and family; afternoon walks and cuddles with our partners. I’m not ‘over’ the election results, but I will be fine.

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You decide Canada’s future

You decide Canada’s future

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When Canadians go to the polls on October 19, they will not only vote for a political party or local candidate. They will vote on Canada’s future, on what kind of country they want us to be. Every election has long-term effects, but this time the issues are particularly crucial. Among other decisions, Canada’s next government must radically reform the Senate, take action on a changing environment and balance privacy rights with protecting Canadians from violence and terror.

Since the Senate expenses scandal first came to light in 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the governing Conservatives have sought to create distance between themselves and Senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, along with Nigel Wright’s infamous cheque.

Although not directly implicated, Senator Nancy Ruth unintentionally gave the Senate scandal its Marie Antoinette moment with her dismissive comments about airlines’ ice-cold Camembert and broken crackers. An Angus Reid poll in April found 45 per cent of Canadians want the upper house reformed, while 41 per cent would like to see it abolished all together.

Where do the federal party leaders stand? Reflective of his Western Canada background, Prime Minister Harper came into power with talk of Senate reform, only to appoint 59 Conservative Senators since 2006 (although none since the expense scandal broke). The Liberal party, despite its long history with the Senate, has, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, recently expelled Liberal-appointed Senators from party membership. Only the New Democratic Party has been consistent on abolishing the Senate, although everyone, including NDP leader Tom Mulcair, knows how difficult it will be to revisit the Constitution.

The world’s climate is changing. Canada, with its energy sector and natural resources, has a role to play limiting the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. Despite claims this week from a spokesperson for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq that the Conservatives are the first Canadian government ever to achieve a net reduction of greenhouse emissions, Canada faces increasing international criticism for taking a back seat on environmental action.

Trudeau has pledged to expand carbon reproduction programs simultaneously with growing the oil industry, while Mulcair, a long-time critic of the Keystone Pipeline, seeks to kick-start clean energy production. Canada’s next prime minister must walk a delicate tightrope between nurturing our energy industries while protecting the environment.

With the Internet and the rise of massive data collection, the parameters of privacy will be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. The federal Tories may have passed the controversial Bill-C51, which eases the exchange of federal security information, broadens no-fly list powers and creates a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terrorist attack, but in doing so they have shifted the dynamics of the political moment.

Trudeau’s decision to support the Bill, while pledging to reform it if elected, allowed Mulcair to become the lead voice of opposition. Were the New Democrats to form the next parliament, amendments would strip Bill-C-51 of its most contentious measures. No matter what happens to the bill, the conflict between civil liberties and law and order is not going away.

These differences between parties don’t simply represent policy decisions. Rather, they represent fundamental visions of the function of government, the importance of issues and the future of Canada.

None of these issues are simple. Democratic choices rarely are. That is why it’s imperative that voters are informed, up to date and ready to cast their votes on election day. It is not just about political leaders and party proposals. It’s about Canada. It’s about the future. It’s up to you.

Holla for Hollett!

MAXANDJENN

Sometimes a loss isn’t an ending but a step towards a new end. I realized that at the nomination meeting for Jennifer Hollett, running as a New Democrat in the newly created federal riding of University Rosedale.

Last summer, desperate to help end our long municipal nightmare, I emailed everyone on the Olivia Chow mayoral campaign. Jenn, the campaign’s digital director, was the first to respond. Soon I was on the digital team and editing the campaign’s Tumblr. Previously, I used Tumblr for animated gifs of drag queens. Now it had a slightly more practical purpose.

Jenn kept me in the loop and made me feel I was a valued member of the campaign. The election may not have ended the way we wanted, but I’ll always be proud of what the digital team created.

Arriving at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre for Jenn’s nomination, it struck me how much I missed the campaign. We had so much work still to do. Judging by the familiar faces I recognized from the Chow campaign, I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Accepting the nomination, Jenn described her background as a CBC reporter and producer who asked tough questions on important issues.

“I had to move from asking questions to finding answers,” she explained. “So I left the media and joined the NDP.”

She acknowledged many feel cynical and disconnected from politics, but maintained it didn’t have to be that way. Surveying the crowded room, she declared, “We are politics. Politics is about people.”

Jenn said she didn’t know exactly when the election would be called, “but I do know the work starts tonight.” As a digital veteran, I’m poised and ready to tweet, link and tumble as soon as she needs me.

My 9/11 Thoughts

It has been ten years since my grade 11 science teacher came into our class room and announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Details were vague, but they were clear by second period: there had been two planes, the towers were down and it was not an accident. My Modern Western Civilization teacher pulled in a TV and turned it on so we could watch the news. His simple excuse: “This is history.”

I had never before witnessed an event which dominated every area of the media. Magazines naturally were the first reflections of the new environment. The changing colours of autumn that year would not be red, yellow and orange but red, white and blue. ‘Entertainment Weekly’ arrived with an American flag on the cover and the query “What lies ahead”.

The world appeared momentarily united, but this was an illusion, as was George W. Bush’s sky-high approval ratings. ‘Vanity Fair’, no friend of the Republican Party, profiled Bush, Dick, Condi and company with all the patriotic heroism they could muster.

‘Vogue’ featured the Star Spangled Banner and Britney Spears. Inside, the editors had pushed up a photoshoot of spring’s romantic white dresses by American designers set against the New York City skyline. Fashion in 2001 had, as James Wolcott put it, become utterly bored with itself and its dominatrix-Madonna-1980’s retreads. Reacting to the changed zeitgeist with remarkable speed, fashion editors, designers and stylists pulled a giant U-turn: 2001’s black spiked boots would be replaced by 2002’s soft peasant blouse.

Movies, on the other hand, responded to the shifting culture with all the swiftness of a lumbering brontosaurus. Then Hollywood rushed out two different 9/11 movies, neither of which anybody saw or liked. Perhaps you need more distance from an event to memorialize it with the ‘Gone with the Wind’-‘Titanic’-‘Pearl Harbor’ treatment. The wars started as a result of the terrorist attacks are still on-going, as is the threat of violent extremists. As the clichéd joke would have it, the 9/11 films had come ‘too soon’.

The only reflection of this anxious decade I see reflected in cinema are the popularity of super hero movies (we un-ironically yearn for saviors in tights) but I suspect their abundance has more to do with CGI advancements and movie studios eager for franchises than the shakiness of the collective psyche.

I felt a personal loyalty to New York City. I had visited only twice, but it was the first place I arrived in feeling like I had been there before. From Big Bird to Carrie Bradshaw, my life had been filled with Manhattan-dwellers and Brown Stone steps.

When I wore a ‘I Heart New York’ button on the first anniversary, I remember a girl at school rolling her eyes: “Oh, that’s just Americans exaggerating again,” was the jist of what she said. A shocking example of warped political priorities.

We all know what happened next. Bush missed his opportunity to capture Osama bin Laden and instead spent billions of dollars invading a country which had nothing to do with the attacks. In doing so, he frittered away both his popularity and international goodwill, and, by cutting taxes at the same time, began the debt crisis which he deposited on his successor.

Ironically, it was Barack Obama, the one suspected of being a closeted Muslim and Manchurian candidate by hysterical Republican conspirists, who made a priority of finally capturing the al-Qaeda leader. But it will be the Bush recession which will plague his re-election bid next year.

And now it’s been ten years and what have we learned? Sometimes it seems like not very much. We’ve learned to be cautious about political leaders who will use national tragedies to ram through their agendas. We’ve learned that violent extremists can crop up anywhere (the ‘Toronto 18’) and can come from any religious or cultural background (Norway’s Anders Breivik). We’ve learned that combating religious fanaticism while respecting spiritual freedom is a very tricky balance to strike, yet one we must continue to strive for.

I realize this has been a messy, unfocused post. Perhaps on the 20th anniversary my thoughts will be a little more ordered.

Jack

People like to joke that politicians lie a lot. It’s a stereotype I’ve always found unfair: often politicians spin the truth because they are asked hundreds of questions a day, because they have talking points to get across, because they honestly don’t know an answer or they would get heck from word-parsing reporters if they spoke too bluntly.

Then there are the most sympathetic lies, the ones to make us feel better. When Jack Layton held a press conference last month announcing his leave of absence from politics, claiming that he would fight his cancer now so he could fight for families in the near future, how much were his brave faced words for us, his supporters and well-wishers, and how much were they for himself?

Another word for lies is fiction, and the story of the NDP over the last six months has the dramatic twists and turns of a Victorian melodrama: years of patient and at times-plodding ground work leads to a historic breakthrough for the party, ricocheting to second place to become the Official Opposition, only to have the leader who cleared the path snatched away before getting to fulfill his new position.

And what happens next? With no obvious replacement in the wings with the same mix of Quebec folksiness, Toronto activism and telegenic star quality, many columnists are already pitying the NDP (indeed, even the future of progressivism in Canada) for all its dashed potential. To which I have one thing to say; the NDP has always been underestimated, particularly by reporters. Just give it time.

For the leader of a political party which has been treated at worst patronizingly and with hostility, but often just plain ignored, the overwhelming outpouring of grief is surprising. Facebook profile pictures are awash in orange and the spontaneous memorial at City Hall would even bring a tear to Mayor Ford.

Perhaps its because so many voters, who never supported the NDP before, finally felt like they trusted Jack and believed in his hopeful vision. It’s like becoming good friends with a person you’ve known for years, only to have them snatched a way. The unfairness is cruel.

But let’s not end on that note. Instead, we should take inspiration from everything Jack accomplished. We need to continue to fight for the ideals he held dear, especially with the prospect of Mayor Ford, Prime Minister Harper and (potentially) Premier Hudak at the same time, and with far-right Ayn Rand nut jobs crowding the Republican primaries down in the States.

Government is not evil. Government is where people come together to make things better. As Jack said in his farewell letter, Canada is one of the best countries in the world, but it could be better – “a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity.”

I’ll end with the ending of Jack’s letter. It’d be too daunting to write a better one.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Ruth Ellen Brosseau for PM

It sounds like the plot of an Anna Faris comedy: a pretty, blond single mom returns from a discount trip to Las Vegas and discovers that she’s leading in the federal election race she supposedly didn’t have a chance in. Before she can even visit the riding, she’s swept into power along with a tidal wave of support for her party. Now she must quit her job as the co-manager of a pub, move to Ottawa and frantically learn enough French to communicate with her mostly-Francophone constituents.But that’s the way it happened for Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the 27-year-old who is set to represent the Quebec riding of Berthier-Maskinonge. Brosseau is one of the 57 rookie politicians the NDP elected in that province, which also includes four undergraduate students from McGill University and Canada’s youngest Member of Parliament ever, 19-year-old Pierre-Luc Dusseault.

I’m actually a little jealous, because I have a suspicion that if I had been in Quebec and thrown my hat into the ring, I could be on my way to sitting in the House of Commons.

How to explain the win of a candidate who famously left the campaign trail to fly to Nevada? It seems that Quebec voters didn’t just sour on the Bloc Quebecois; they broke up with them. And it was a nasty break up. They burned love letters. They threw clothes out the window. They reduced the party to four members, denied Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe a seat and elected a candidate who may not have even visited the riding.

Even though a recent poll found that Berthier-Maskinonge voters were aware of her shortcomings but wanted to support the NDP and Jack Layton regardless, there has been grumbles from the media that Brosseau and her young colleagues are too inexperienced and too green behind the ears to be trusted with federal office. (These are some of the same pundits who were spectacularly wrong when they said this election would be boring and nobody would care.)

The NDP, who’s chief priority for the next four years will be to look like a responsible, electable opposition to the Conservatives, does need to watch out for its new caucus members. As The Toronto Star wrote, “Hundreds of staffers must be hired to work in the Parliament Hill offices, hours of training must be scheduled for dealing with the media, playing by parliamentary rules and taxpayers’ money.” NDP spokesman Marc-Andre Viau hasn’t gotten much sleep in the last two days, fielding endless calls from reporters about the new New Democrats.

Brosseau has attracted a lot of the attention (someone has already created a joke Twitter account for her) and the fact that she has been hiding from the media has made it worse. She has not done a single interview, there’s only one photograph of her in circulation and, after collecting her newspaper clippings, I’ve discovered there’s even confusion about whether she has one kid or two.

But as NDP MP Libby Davies said on the CBC, there’s something disturbing about the idea that just because a candidate doesn’t fit the tradition idea of what a Member of Parliament looks like, they shouldn’t be elected or respected. Don’t we whine about how young people aren’t involved in politics and don’t vote? Don’t we turn them off when we patronize young members, already elected by their ridings?

Along with more young people, the upcoming parliament will have the greatest about of women and First Nations representatives ever. This is a very good thing. The next four years could be a transformative time in Canadian politics. As NDP MP Pat Martin said, “The nation’s problems through the eyes of young people are maybe not so insurmountable.”Then today the news broke that Brosseau’s nomination papers may not be all in order. Four people whose names are on her endorsement list claim to have never signed it, while allegations have been raised that other signers don’t live in the riding or didn’t know who they were endorsing. I should add that the effort to delegitimize Brosseau is being spear-headed by her defeated Liberal opponent. You need 100 signatures in order to run, and Brosseau collected 128. So yes, if it turns out there’s reasonably cause to discount 29 of those, even I will have to agree with a by-election.

But I hope that doesn’t happen. Brosseau has my best wishes. She may end up being an embarrassment to the party. She could also be its future. We now know that anything’s possible in Canadian politics.

The Conflicted New Democrat

It was the best of outcomes, it was the worst of outcomes. As the polls predicted, but no supporter could actually believe, the New Democrats doubled their last greatest seat count, decimated the Bloc Quebecois and, for the first time, became her Majesty’s Official Opposition.

But it came with a price: Stephen Harper got his long-sought-for majority, ensuring that he will be Prime Minister until I am thirty years old. The fact that he achieved this with only forty percent of the vote is further evidence that our first-passed-the-post electoral system fails the majority of voters.

But let’s start with the day of the election. After some soul-searching I had decided to pound the pavement for my local NDP candidate Andrew Cash. I had volunteered in campaign offices before (and, because my parents both worked for the party in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I was partially raised in them) but I had not gotten involved in an election since I was 19. Because I was never comfortable bothering people on the telephone or going door-to-door, despite the fact that I knew that those were still one of the surest ways to promote the candidate, I often ended up performing safe but uninspiring tasks, like photocopying and dropping leaflets.

This election I worried that if I didn’t get involved, if I was too afraid to be even a small part of the ‘orange tide’ I would regret it. Your values are only your values if you affirm them when it’s inconvenient. For me this meant waking up at 8.30 am, pinning on some vintage NDP buttons from my parents’ collection (don’t tell), and heading out in the rain to ‘pull the vote’: going door-to-door, reminding people who said they would support the candidate to go vote. If they say, as many do, that they plan on voting that afternoon or evening, you are to write it down and return later to make sure they do. You are to be, like a Jehovah’s Witness, friendly but persistent.

Luckily, my old friend Sarah Lewis was volunteering for the same campaign. Sarah is an incredibly sweet and unassuming young woman, and she feels just as uncomfortable knocking on doors and talking to strangers. But she is from a family that is even more invested in the party than mine (yes, she’s related to that Lewis) and volunteers in every election. Her commitment and ability to overcome her nerves was a powerful inspiration.

Even though she was given her own couple blocks (you are handed a map of streets along with a list of would-be supporters), she accompanied me on my first poll for moral support. She encouraged me to knock on doors even when I found reasons not to (“I don’t know, there’s no lights on… maybe no one’s home…”) and made me be the one to speak when people actually answered.

“You’re doing great!” she would said. “You’re a natural.” But my stomach still turned whenever I rang a doorbell, as if I expected people to yell and curse and reach for shotguns. Frankly, I have new-found respect for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

After two blocks, like a parent teaching a kid to ride a bike, Sarah began to let go. “Okay, Max, I’m going to go off to do my own poll now. I know you can do this. You’ll be fine!”

“Alright…” I said, shaky as a toddler on training wheels.

I needn’t be afraid as, it being the middle of the day, most people were not home. There was one beautiful old renovated house (the porch was painted deep purple) where a small note was taped to the door asking visitors to not wake the baby by ringing the bell. But by the time I was close enough to read it, the dog was barking and a young mother sleepily came to the door.

“I’m sorry!” I said. “I’m from the Andrew Cash campaign, just reminding you today is election day.”

“I know,” she said.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t see the note in time. I didn’t ring the bell. Did the little one wake up?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay. My husband and I will vote tonight. And we’re supporting Cash.”

“Okay. Thanks! Bye!”

Other than that, and a talkative older woman who said she had to support us because she knew someone (potentially her son) who played in a band with the candidate and NDP MP Charlie Angus, my day passed without incident.

I was losing steam in the early afternoon, so I went back to the buzzing campaign office to wait for Sarah to grab some lunch. There were so many volunteers, the organizers barely seemed to know what to do with them. It’s ironic that people are more encouraged to get involved in a campaign that’s doing well when it’s winning campaigns that least need the support. I was feeling tuckered out and worried that I wasn’t helping in a substantive way. Then Andrew Cash waltzed in and came right up to introduce himself.

“How’s it going out there?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s great. Good response. How’s it going out there for you?”

“It’s fantastic.” Then he added, with touching sincerity, “Thanks so much for being here today and helping out. It means a lot.” And with that, he was off and I was revived.

Political buttons are an interesting thing. Especially when you’re wearing a lot of them and looking somewhat official (ie. walking around with paper and a pencil) strangers see you differently, as though you’re in a uniform. You’re no longer just some guy on a street, but a representative whom they feel secure in talking to. After I passed an older black man on the sidewalk, he called out,

“So who’s going to win tonight?”

“In this riding? I think we are.”

“And who’s going to be Prime Minister?”

Not sure what my official line should be as a NDP scrutineer, I paused. “Well, I think Stephen Harper probably will.”

“Really?! The man’s a bully. It’s Mulroney all over again. When’s this country gonna learn? Why can’t Layton be Prime Minister, with the support of the Liberals?”

“Well, that may be one option going forward…”

“Yeah. Alright. Good luck!”

Watching the results that night was both exciting and tense. Exhilarating as the NDP seats rose dramatically, towering over the Liberals, but scary as the Tories’ inched towards the 155 seat mark which would give them a majority. My friend and I played a not-very-strict drinking game in which we’d take a sip for every NDP win, but take several for every Conservative one. Tipsiness ensued.

And Cash walloped Liberal Mario Silva.

My parents, who dedicated large parts of their adult lives to the New Democratic Party, never dreamt that we could become the Official Opposition. But their pride was dampened by Harper’s supposed mandate.

“Perhaps it had to be this way,” my Dad said.

To people who blame the NDP for splitting the left by stealing voters from the Liberals, I’m going to quote Ralph Nader when he was asked after the American election in 2000 if he felt bad for potentially spoiling Al Gore’s win. “No. He spoiled mine.”

So in conclusion, happy about NDP opposition but sad about Tory majority; happy about the decline of the Bloc but sad about decline of the Liberals (for the country’s sake, even if it benefits my party); sad about four years of PM Harper but happy that the new NDP caucus gets the same about of time to provide a local progressive counter-narrative. Trepidatious about the next parliament but hopeful for the future of Canada and our democratic ability to remake our country. It’s a privilege that daily headlines about dictators and murdered protesters reminds us we’re lucky to have.

Orange Crush

Where did this come from? Is it all a dream? The election no one wanted, the election no one cared about, the election that must fight for air time against what dress an unemployed British girl may or may not wear to her wedding, might now become historic seismic shift, a transformative moment in Canadian politics.

I’ve been following it pretty closely but even I was caught off guard by the NDP’s ‘surging’ poll numbers, the ‘orange crush’ that swept Quebec and is now moving across the country. Even dyed-in-the-wool supporters were shocked with the polls this weekend that show the New Democrats ahead of the Liberals and poised to be the official opposition. Never before has this happened and it’s still difficult to believe it will.

Up until recently, Jack Layton was  treated as a third party/third wheel, patronized by reporters who didn’t understand why he still didn’t get it was a two-person race. After the debates, as he claimed that more and more Canadians were hearing his message, a reporter in a yuppie suit (taking notes on his blackberry) snapped “But you say that every time and you still lose!”

“Are you kidding?” Jack replied. “We’ve won more seats in each of the last elections.”

How did this happen? Well, people obviously like Jack. He is an appealing fellow. He’s also been around enough that voters think they know him and what he’s about. EKOS pollster Frank Graves referred to him as that kind of average, Tim Hortons guy. While Americans pick a president who they’d like to get a beer with after hours, we Canadians, of a milder temperament, prefer our elected leaders to dunk Tim-bits. Graves also credits Jack’s cheeriness, the inspiring story of his battle with cancer and the overall positivity of the NDP campaign. Ads like the one below pratically scream ‘Yes We Can!’

But even as an NDP supporter, I must admit that a vote for Jack is also a vote against the other leaders. The Green Party’s numbers collapsed early on and haven’t rebounded. And, even though his core supporters stay loyal, only the most dedicated Conservative voter gets warm and fuzzy thinking about Stephen Harper.

But the biggest drop is inarguably that of Michael Ignatieff and the hapless Liberals. He must be wondering why the Trudeau-mania-style excitement which was supposed to be his has ended up boosting his opponent. I must once again quote James Mason in ‘A Star is Born’: “A career is a very curious thing. Talent isn’t always enough.” Timing is, of course, essential (seeing your chance and seizing it) but most important is that “little something extra”, that difficult to define but impossible to fake star quality. Jack has it. Ignatieff does not.

It looks like the Liberals, once Canada’s ‘natural governing party’, will witness their third disastrous election in a row, and their second leader who will be unceremoniously dropped once all the ballots are counted. A man who probably should have stayed in the ivory tower of academia will most likely return to his essays and books, his head spinning from his tumultuous foray into the messy world of politics.

Who knows if it will last, but for now, my Mom is running around the house, ruing that “the one election I don’t work in is the one we win!”

Still, there’s five days to go.

And Kate might choose ivory.

My Favourite Ridings

Conservative Member of Parliament John Baird. What’s her problem?

There’s an election on the horizon. I hope everyone intends to vote. If you guys don’t vote, I’m going to have to kill this kitten (holds up basket containing adorable kitten with pink bow). I obviously don’t want to, but if you don’t vote, you’ll be leaving me no choice. It will be hard, but… (looks into kitten’s enormous eyes). Okay. I’m not going to kill the kitten, but I still hope you all vote.

I don’t even care who you vote for. Well, that’s not true. But I’d actually prefer it if you voted for someone I didn’t support rather than stay at home and allow the media commentators to say that young people don’t vote and Canadians don’t care about their government.

So in honour of the upcoming election, here’s a list of some of the best federal riding names and what they could alternatively be used for. I mean no disrespect to the places themselves. Rather, I think all these names are pretty awesome.

Crowfoot (Alberta)– Hogwarts professor

Bramalea-Gore-Malton (Ontario)– Rich old lady who gets bumped off at the beginning of Agatha Christie mystery

Medicine Hat (Alberta)– Where granny hides her pills when she goes to church

Burnaby-Douglas (British Columbia)– Charles Dickens protagonist

Elmwood-Transcona (Manitoba)– Setting of misguided horror movie cross-over

Glengary-Prescot-Russel (Ontario)– First-names of leaders of Phi Sigma Nu fraternity

Nickel Belt (Ontario)– “Sorry, did I hear you needed five cents? Just one moment…Voila!”

Vegreville-Wainwright (Alberta)– Rufus’s saucy French-Canadian cousin

Simcoe-Grey (Ontario)– Nothing better on a chilly afternoon than a steaming cup of Simcoe-Grey

Fundy-Royal (Manitoba)– A monarch who is both evangelical and a hoot to hang out with

Thunder Bay-Rainy River (Ontario)– Does that help tourism, guys?

Wild Rose (Alberta)– Paint colour or burlesque dancer

Cardigan (Prince Edward Island)– Cozy

Jeanne-Le Ber (Quebec)– Late-1980’s Celine Dion rival

Madawaska-Restigouche (New Brunswick)– Just fun to say

Cypress Hills-Grasslands (Saskatchewan)– Suburban development for which cypresses, hills and grasslands were paved over

Louis-Saint-Laurent (Quebec)– Yves’ unfashionable and therefore unemployable younger brother

Blackstrap (Saskatchewan)– Kind of sexy

Brant (Ontario)– Combination of Brent and Brad, number one baby name for boys in 2014

Brandon-Souris (Manitoba)– Hunky actor, romantic lead to Reese Witherspoon

Avalon (Newfoundland and Labrador)–Cos-play festival

Why Harper’s Lies Matter

We’re one week into the election and already the party leaders have settled on stock expressions and focus-group- tested phrases. While the three main opposition leaders attempt to draw contrasts between their parties and the ruling Tories (with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff sounding almost poetic when summarizing the current government’s priorities as “fighter jets and jails”), it’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper who remains the most stuck on one strategy, one claim and one word.

Harper cannot or will not stop using the C-word. And no, I don’t mean a dirty word, as the Prime Minister hasn’t lapsed into random cursing (although that would definitely perk up his regimented five-question-only press conferences). The C-word isn’t even ‘Conservative’. The word Harper is obsessed with is ‘coalition’ and he’s been using it until he’s Tory-blue in the face.

Politicians seeking re-election often dwell on their accomplishments, although Harper has always been more successful at tearing down his opponents than building himself up. Other than trumpeting the Conservatives supposedly deft handling of the economy, this election threatens to be more of the same bickering, name-calling and gravelly-voiced attack ads we’ve become so used to.

By constantly invoking the failed attempt of then-Liberal leader Stephan Dion (along with Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe) to form a coalition government in 2008, Harper is in a way reliving one of his shining moments. Through swift action and shameless spin, the Prime Minister successfully painted the coalition as an undemocratic take-over by “separatists and socialists” rather than as a legitimate alternative in our British-style parliamentary system.

Harper won both the ground war of politics and the war of words and the Liberals have been paying for it ever since. He’s hoping that the bogeyman of a coalition is scary to enough voters to not only dissuade them from voting Liberal but to grant him the majority he has long been denied. “Unless Canadians elect a stable, national majority,” the Prime Minister threatened outside Rideau Hall on Saturday, March 26th, “Mr. Ignatieff will form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois. They tried it before. It is clear they will try it again. And, next time, if given the chance, they will do it in a way that no one will be able to stop.”

It doesn’t matter that Harper himself toyed with a coalition in 2004 (with the same villainized separatists and socialists). Nor that Ignatieff has been forced preemptively to rule one out. Harper insists that’s a lie. And, so far, it’s working, at least according to the media, who nowadays report on “what people are talking about” rather than acknowledging that the relationship between reporters and the public is reversed.

So we have the sorry sight of the CBC’s Wendy Mesley hounding Liberal MP Bob Rae with question after question about the coalition. To Rae’s claim that Ignatieff had started the campaign well, Mesley countered “but we’re not talking about ethics and the kind of issues you’re trying to get on the table.” “Well, I’m  talking about them,” answered the clearly-frustrated Rae.

All this talk of coalition is partly to blame for the success of the Tories’ other big lie of Election 2011: that the Speaker of the House’s finding that the Conservatives were in contempt of Parliament was somehow manufactured political sabotage in order to bring on an election. This glosses over the Hydra-like scandals that have plagued the Tories for the better part of a year. One would assume that charges of corruption make a more interesting narrative than the procedural details of a coalition, but hey, I’m not a CBC producer.

Politicians calling each other liars is nothing new. But a governing party running a campaign by deliberately misrepresenting the Opposition’s position is pretty disturbing.  It edges closer to an American style political scene where facts matter less than vaguely-defined “feelings”. All the evidence for climate change doesn’t matter to those who trust Fox News more than scientists. The Obama administration could drop photocopies of the president’s birth certificate from airplanes during a Thanksgiving Parade but it wouldn’t stop the so-called ‘birthers’ from denying he was born in Hawaii.

Even potential-Republican candidate Donald Trump (let that sink in for second) has flirted with questioning the President’s nationality, despite nominee Trump’s support base being not Tea Party activists but fiscal conservatives and, presumably, those who like TV shows where people get publicly humiliated and fired.

When facts don’t matter and opinion is everything, politics becomes a game of who can talk loudest and most repetitively. Sadly, many people, unable to make sense of all the noise, tune out, leaving only the most motivated to choose the direction of our country.  It is the media’s responsibility to separate fact from  fiction and to focus on a new C-word: clarity.