Categories for Feature

Donald Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a wall

Jennifer Keesmaat’s vision for Toronto, not exactly as pictured.

There are 67 days until Election Day, and Jennifer Keesmaat still has this up.  She slept on it, apparently, and she still wants to separate from Ontario, Canada.

It’s crazy, sure, but it at least explains her desire for a TST (Toronto Sales Tax): she’ll need to tax the living Hell out of everyone living in her city-state to pay for basic services.

Oh, and you want jobs in Toronto? There’ll be plenty of opportunities for bricklayers to build Keesmaat’s wall along Steeles Avenue!


On Sir John A., and Sir John A. statues

From next week’s Hill Times column, which I’m still trying to cobble together, like a monument of sorts:

If you disagree [that we should remove statues paying tribute to racists], a challenge. Imagine, for a moment, you are a First Nations person – or imagine that you are, like me, father to a beautiful and perfect indigenous girl.

Just imagine that. Then read these words.

Here’s what [Macdonald] said in 1879: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages. He is simply a savage who can read and write. Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

And here’s what he said in 1885: “…we have been pampering and coaxing the Indians; [but] we must take a new course, we must vindicate the position of the white man, we must teach the Indians what law is.”

Also in 1885: “I have not hesitated to tell this House, again and again, that we could not always hope to maintain peace with the Indians; that the savage was still a savage, and that until he ceased to be savage, we were always in danger of a collision, in danger of war, in danger of an outbreak.”

A couple years later, in 1887: “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.”

And, finally, this in 1884, when describing potlaches, the joyful indigenous gatherings held to celebrate births, deaths, adoptions, weddings: “…celebrating the ‘potlatch’ is a misdemeanor. This Indian festival is debauchery of the worst kind, and the departmental officers and all clergymen unite in affirming that it is absolutely necessary to put this practice down.”

And “put them down” Sir John A. did. He gave Canada’s First Nations – the ones who were here first – assimilation, brutality and genocidal residential schools.

That’s what he gave them, and us.

Column: when monsters oppose you

Canada is in a social media war with Saudi Arabia.

It’s not a real war – at least not yet.  Real wars involve bullets and bombs and bodies.  This one is presently confined to Twitter and press statements.  Conscription hasn’t happened just yet.

There has been one truly extraordinary statement made by Saudi Arabia, however, one that promised violence on a grand scale.  A week ago, the state-controlled Saudi media tweeted this at Canadians: “Sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong! As the Arabic saying goes: ‘He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him’.”

Those words were superimposed on a graphic of an Air Canada plane, about to collide with some tall buildings in downtown Toronto.  The message was unmistakable.

We are willing to murder you, Canadians.

It was not subtle.  Continue to criticize Saudi Arabia’s dictatorship, and its unchanging abuse of human rights – as the Department of Global Affairs did, with an innocuous and fairly routine tweet of its own, the week before – and a plane will be dispatched, as on 9/11, and piloted into the CN Tower.  We did it before, Saudi Arabia’s rulers were saying, and we will do it again.

To you.

Because, you know, they did.  They did. There were 19 men who carried out the mass murders at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and just outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Of the 19 killers, 15 were Saudis.  Their leader, Osama bin Laden, was a Saudi, too.

A U.S. 2016 congressional inquiry found that there had been substantial Saudi involvement in 9/11.  The bipartisan inquiry reviewed half a million documents, interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and released an 838-page report.  Bob Graham, the former Democratic Senator who co-chaired the inquiry, said the hijackers had an extensive support system while they were in the United States.  From the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The definitive probe into the attacks, The 9/11 Commission, concluded that there remained a “likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al-Qaida.”  Those funds were used to carry out the murders of 2,998 people – 24 Canadian citizens among them.

So: the Saudi government’s little tweet, and accompanying infographic, isn’t so far-fetched, is it?  The tyrants who run Saudi Arabia evidently did fund efforts to murder two dozen Canadians, and many more Americans.  They did it before, their tweet strongly suggested, and they are unafraid to do it again.

None of this should surprise us, unfortunately.  The human rights record of Saudi Arabia, according to the watchdog Freedom House, is among “the worst of the worst.”

Saudi Arabia uses corporal punishment against wrongdoers, dissidents and critics.  This includes amputations of hands and feet for petty theft – and fines, floggings, and torture for being gay.  You can also be sentenced to life in prison, or death, for being gay or a “witch” in Saudi Arabia.

Until recently, women were not permitted to drive in the “kingdom.”  Women who protested this were jailed.  Oh, and this: over there, women have been flogged for being the victims of rape, as well.

Amnesty International has reported that the Saudi government habitually uses torture to extract false confessions.  Human Rights Watch has said that the torture includes “beatings, electrocution, and pouring chemicals into the mouth.”

Unsurprisingly, capital punishment is also a regular occurrence in Saudi Arabia, and it is done with the utmost viciousness.  Human Rights Watch reported on one 2015 case in which Saudi security officials “filmed the beheading of a Burmese woman in Mecca in which the swordsman required three sword strikes to sever the victim’s head.”

Sometimes, the Saudis behead as many as a dozen people in a single day.  Afterwards, they will often crucify the headless body, so that it can be displayed publicly.  If one is convicted of adultery, the death penalty is carried out by stoning.  Saudi women are usually the ones stoned to death.

The Saudis execute children, as well. In 2016, the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that the Saudis were stoning children to death in Yemen, with whom the Saudis are at war.  The UN has also documented that, out of the 47 people executed by the Saudis on Jan. 2, 2016 – their biggest mass execution day in decades – “at least” four were children.

We could recite many such figures, here, but banal statistics do not adequately capture the full extent of the brutality and savagery that is familiar in Saudi Arabia.  Suffice to say Saudi Arabia is one of the three countries who executes people the most – along with China and Iran.

In the past few days, Saudi Arabia’s “royal” goons have said they will be expelling our ambassador, pulling out of Canada thousands of Saudi students and hospital patients, barring Canadian grain exports, and making attempts to tank Canadian bonds in the marketplace.  And, as noted, they have now even hinted at a 9/11-style attack on Canadians.

Asked about all that, our Prime Minister has not blinked.  He has said: “We will continue to speak clearly and firmly on issues of human rights at home and abroad wherever we see the need.”

Canada is quite literally under attack.  As a nation, we need to rally behind the position taken by Prime Minister Trudeau – and all of us need to refuse to be intimidated by a vile mob of homicidal scum posing as Saudi Arabia’s leadership.

Because that’s what they are.


Column: where was he?

Where was he?

The Prime Minister of Canada, I mean.  When Canada’s biggest city needed him – when the millions of people who live and work here were feeling anguished, and angry, and afraid – Justin Trudeau was AWOL.

He was gone.

A young girl, and a young woman, murdered in cold blood on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue.  A dozen more wounded and hurt, some critically, and in hospital.  Toronto has had a horrific Spring and Summer, with the van attack on Yonge Street, with children being shot in playgrounds, with an explosion in gun violence.

None of that, however, quite equalled the horror of the Danforth Avenue attack on hot Summer night.  Two children, out with family and friends, shot to death on a city street: it affected this place in a way that is hard to describe, and impossible to imagine.

Now, most Canadians don’t live in Toronto, of course.  So not every Canadian can be expected to completely comprehend the impact of the Danforth terror attack – because that’s what it was, really, because it terrorized so many.  It chilled the blood of this city.  It left people breathless, like the very air was running out.

A vigil was held.  Hundreds showed up.  Among them were Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, and Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford.

Justin Trudeau?  He had sent out a couple tweets, one in English, one in French.  But he didn’t show.

He was on vacation.

People noticed.  People talked about it.  People – included Liberal and liberally-minded people – shook their heads.  People got mad.

Because here’s the thing:  if you think that Justin Trudeau isn’t good at anything at all – economics, policy, foreign affairs, trade, defence, whatever – there is one thing we all know that he is really, really good at.  There is one thing he excels at.  And that is the so-called retail part of politics.

You know: showing up.  Hugging people.  Shaking hands, smiling, looking in their eyes and making them feel like they are important.  Justin Trudeau is good at that stuff.  Really good.

After the Danforth attack, when this rollicking, noisy, diverse city was wounded – when it was laying in the dirt, gasping – we needed Justin Trudeau.  We needed him to show up, and listen, and put his arms around the city.  Because that is the one thing, above all things, at which he is without equal.  He’s the best at that.

On social media, the usual suspects attacked him for having too many vacations.  They attacked him for surfing out in Tofino.  They attacked him for being not there, even though they would still attack him if he was there.

His supporters, meanwhile, also took to social media.  He deserves a vacation with his family, some said, and they were right.  “Damned if he shows up, damned if he doesn’t,” they intoned, all King Solomon-like, and they were wrong.  Because that’s crap.  It’s bogus.

I worked for a Prime Minister.  The job description is vast.  The responsibilities are endless.  But right at the very top of the list is this: to give comfort to the afflicted.  To console the grieving.  To soothe the fearful.  To give hope and help a wounded city get through it all.

He didn’t.

When the full extent of his error became known to he and his advisors, of course, he eventually made his way here on a Challenger jet.  He went to the funeral of the 18-year-old, Reece Fallon, and spoke to people afterwards.  Some asshole heckled him, but Trudeau didn’t lose his cool.  He spoke well.  He was there, finally.

But too many days had gone by.  And, for too many Torontonians, showing up so late reminded them that he hadn’t been there when he was needed the most.  It reminded them that he was absent when a big, grieving city wanted to hear from him.

Will any of it be remembered in the way that the disastrous Indian trip will be remembered?  Maybe not.  Will it hurt him in the way the Aga Khan and the groping mess hurt him?  Probably not.

But down here in a city that matters – a city that should matter politically to him, too – his absenteeism is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.  This is now a mark on Justin Trudeau’s permanent file, right down here in Toronto.

Where was he?  We wanted him here.

And he just wasn’t.

Toronto Tax™

Listened to a bit of the interview of NDP mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat this morning on John Moore’s indispensable radio program.  She said she favours a Toronto sales tax.

I was pretty surprised by that, until a loyal reader reminded me that – for the candidate with a plan to have no plan – that’s always been part of the plan, here:

“I don’t really care” how to pay for stuff.

Not sure many folks would agree with that.  Or could.

Ten reasons I will be working for John Tory


So, John Tory.  That’s him a year ago at our place, for the Festival of Joy.  It’s a year later, and I’ve decided I am going to support him, and vote for him, and (if he wants me) volunteer for him.

There’s ten reasons for that.

  1. He’s an adult.  After 2010-2014, Toronto needed someone who was a grown-up and who would calm things down.  Tory is that; he’s done that.  He’s a good guy.  Hell, he and his wife even went to an SFH show at the Bovine and stayed. Respect.
  2. He doesn’t want T-Rexit.  Most reasonable folks agree that his main opponent – who promised many folks, in writing, that she’d never run – is not up to the job.  Secession?  Her solution is to separate?  Will she put up a wall along Steeles, will she demand York Region pay for it?  Craziness.
  3. He’s way better than any of the other alternatives.  There’s a couple white supremacists, and a bunch of people with zero experience.  In these challenging times, we need someone with experience and smarts.  And who isn’t, you know, a white supremacist.
  4. He’s a centrist.  That’s where most residents of Toronto are, and that’s where Tory is, too.  He doesn’t ever go too far Left or too far Right.  That’s why he’s still got approval numbers that are up in the stratosphere (70 per cent plus).  He knows that the safest place to drive is within the lines.  And, bonus: he isn’t a separatist.
  5. He’s smart.  I helped out on his 2003 mayoral campaign, and I got to know him pretty well.  He is, as noted, a decidedly thoughtful person.  He doesn’t rush to judgment, and he isn’t an ideologue.  Also: he went to see SFH.
  6. He’s unrelentingly decent.  When my Dad died, my family heard from lots of folks – Stephen Harper called my Mom, Justin Trudeau (then a friend, now not so much) sent along some beautiful flowers and some great advice, Jean Chretien came to the funeral and they all made us feel a lot better. But John Tory? He sent my Mom a long handwritten letter that we have read many times since.  He’s like that: he’s just decent, you know?  In these dark Trump times, that matters.
  7. He’s done what he said he’d do.  He said he’d build SmartTrack: it’s being built.  He promised to scrupulously follow a code of conduct: he’s done that, and then some.  He said he’d keep taxes down, and he’s done that.  He said he’d aggressively go after the feds and the province for housing help: he’s done that, too.  He said he’d get more cops on the streets, and he’s done that. He’s kept his word, I think.
  8. He believes in redemption.  Some political folks – like Yours Truly, too often – never forget and rarely forgive.  Not Tory.  When I made a stupid, thoughtless, unfunny, idiotic tweet during 2014’s race, John accepted my apology – and we resumed our friendship.  He’s been like that with others, too: when they make mistakes, and make amends, John gives them a second chance.  It’s a good thing.  Was for me.
  9. He’s prepared to fight for the city.  I can attest to the fact that John Tory has been unafraid to give Hell to Justin Trudeau – and, before him, Stephen Harper.  He’s done likewise with the Wynne and Ford governments – for example, in the latter case, just this week hammering Ontario’s new government for changing the municipal election rules during an election.  Even though he and Harper belonged to the same party – and even though he and Trudeau share the same vote in Toronto – Tory has always been ready, willing and able to fight for what this city needs.  His partisanship is Toronto.  I suspect, but don’t know, he has the city logo tattooed somewhere on his body.
  10. He’s a likeable dude.  In politics, even in the Trump era, that still matters.  The ones who tend to do well are the ones – like Chretien, like Trudeau, like Tory  – who treat others (even adversaries) with respect.  That’s the John Tory I’ve known for a decade-and-a-half.  Also, he came to see SFH.  Points, man.

And it’s why I’m supporting the guy again.  And it’s why you should too.


Change vs. More of the same

That was the frame in the epic 1992 Clinton vs. Bush matchup.

I talked to James Carville about it for my book The War Room.  Snippet here:

In 1992, the strategy Carville designed for Bill Clinton was the same from the start of the primaries to voting day in the general election for president. Clinton was the candidate of change — the new ideas Democrat who would fix the economy. It was always the same strategy, the same plan, from beginning to end.

“Our staff, however, was frequently distracted,” Carville admits. So he put up a famous sign on the war room wall in Little Rock. Here’s what it said:

Change Versus More of the Same

It’s the Economy, Stupid

And Don’t Forget Health Care

Change, as James Carville recalls, was the message. Positioning Bill Clinton as the agent of change was the strategy. The message was heard; the strategy was a winner.


Abacus is out this morning with this.

So almost 60 per cent of Canadians want a change – which means, per the cliché, if an election were held today, Justin Trudeau would be toast.  Abacus decided to probe deeper about how truly committed these folks are to “change.”  here’s what they found:

When asked if the government could do anything to change their mind, 14% (or 8% of the population overall) said “yes, for sure” while another 33% (19% of the population overall) said “there could be”.  In other words, the number of “hard change” voters is about 30% in total.

Among voters who say they are inclined to vote for a change but could be persuaded to vote to re-elect, 30% voted Liberal in 2015, only 15% would today.  35% voted CPC – 41% would today.  26% voted NDP – 29% would today.

We asked people to tell us which of several potential factors had been contributing to their desire to change the government next year.  Overall, fiscal and tax issues rank high in importance as do immigration and refugees issues and the PM’s trip to India.

They dug even deeper, too.  They put together a ranking of why New Democrat-leaners and Conservative-leaners favour change.  Here’s what they found.

What’s it all mean, Virginia?  It means Trudeau is being squeezed on both flanks, with defined issues.  It means that Trudeau’s detractors have identified clear reasons to defeat him.  It isn’t just some amorphous desire for change to whatever.

And that India imbroglio?  It pissed people off on both sides of the ideological spectrum.  It is now, officially, the biggest Prime Ministerial trip-mess since Joe Clark’s ill-fated trip to the Middle East, forty years ago.

Change.  When the desire for it takes hold, it’s pretty hard to stop.