My latest: broken

Is Canada broken?

Most Canadians apparently think it is.

The political debate about whether the country is broken or not has been going on for a few weeks, now. On the one side is Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who says that it is – or, at least, that it “feels” broken.

On the other side is Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who says Canada isn’t broken at all.

Back in November, Poilievre told a press conference that “most everything in Canada is broken and Justin Trudeau carries a good deal of the blame.” A few days later, Trudeau responded, telling lobbyists and staffers at the annual Liberal holiday that “Canada is not broken.”

Then, after the Christmas break, and as the Tories were kicking off a two-day caucus retreat, Poilievre doubled down. Said he: “Everything feels broken.” Pause.“Oh — I just offended Justin Trudeau. He gets very angry when I talk about these problems.”

Trudeau was unmoved and unimpressed. In late January, the Prime Minister said: “Mr. Poilievre has no real solutions. He’s just trying to exploit people’s anger and concerns. When you twist the facts or make things up for political gain, that’s not responsible leadership.”

The punditocracy weighed in on one side or the other, as it always does. (This writer, for what it’s worth, opined that the country isn’t broken – its politics and politicians are.)

Inevitably, the pollsters decided to step in to name the winner of the debate.

And: it’s Pierre Poilievre – and it’s not close, either. Because most Canadians agree with him. To them, the country indeed feels broken.

The pollster Leger went first. They issued a survey last week, and it found that nearly 70 per cent of respondents – across Canada – agreed with the view that “Canada is broken.” A whopping 30 per cent even told Leger that they “strongly agreed” the country was broken.

Four per cent said they were happy. Thirty-seven per cent said they were only “somewhat happy.” And the majority – 50 per cent – said they were very or somewhat angry.

Abacus, another polling firm that tends to offer optimistic perspectives on the Trudeau government, got into the field. They asked 4,000 Canadians for their opinions on the “Canada is broken” argument. And, in the resulting poll released Thursday morning, they found that Leger got it right.

Abacus’ numbers spell big, big trouble for the sunny ways of the Trudeau regime. The Ottawa-based firm found that nearly 50 percent of Canadians are dissatisfied with Canada – and more than 20 per cent of them are “very dissatisfied.”

Out on the prairies, where Poilievre does well and Trudeau doesn’t, the dissatisfaction with the country was most pronounced – around 60 per cent in Alberta and Saskatchewan. But over in vote-rich Ontario, things aren’t going too swimmingly for Trudeau’s side of the debate, either: there, nearly 50 per cent aren’t happy at all.

What’s causing the unhappiness, the dissatisfaction, the “Canada is broken” sentiment? It varies from region to region, and demographic to demographic – which explains why Poilievre cleverly points to an array of issues as the source. Crime, cost of living, taxes, even airline travel woes: Poilievre now regularly offers up a laundry list of misery, and it gets heads nodding.

And not just older white and white-haired heads, either. The polls show that Poilievre – who remains unpopular with female and Quebec voters – is beating the even-more-unpopular Justin Trudeau because he is talking about the main issue Canadians outside of Ottawa are talking about.

Namely, that Canada is broken.

Because Canadians increasingly think it is.

[Kinsella was Jean Chrétien’s special assistant.]

My latest: farewell John, hello future

He’s gone.

And we don’t even have to say who. You already know: John Tory.

Full disclosure: I’ve known him — and been friends with him — for 25 years. I helped run two of his campaigns, in 2003 and 2018. I stepped away from his 2022 campaign because (tellingly) he had closely associated himself with a political bottom-feeder.

I didn’t know about what he blandly called “a relationship” with a woman to whom he was not married. I was shocked by that.

I was appalled, too, when the Toronto Star transformed itself into a broadsheet Drudge Report, and broke the “story” that every newsroom in Toronto had known about for weeks. I was proud, however, that my own editor refused to let this paper get down in the muck with the Star.

Oh, and this: I’m not worried about John Tory, and you shouldn’t be, either. He’s a white, wealthy man of privilege, and he’ll get by.

Personally, I’m more preoccupied with his wife, an extraordinary and decent person I have also known for a long time. His kids, too, who are wonderful.

For what it’s worth, I also sympathize with the unnamed young woman, who I don’t know. She doesn’t deserve to get the Monica Lewinsky treatment, with her life turned into a punchline. But that sordid process now seems to be well underway.

I told John Tory he needed to resign, and — when he seemed to be wavering — I also told him I would publicly condemn him if he didn’t. But, as he promised, he formally tendered his resignation right after his administration’s $16-billion budget passed. So, that’s settled.

What isn’t settled, however, is the state of Canada’s biggest city. Because, in the Tory years, some things got manifestly worse in Toronto. And, now that he’s gone, I am conflict-free to write about them.

There are five main ones. Each represent a critical failure of leadership over the past eight-plus years.

CRIME: Under Tory, crime got dramatically worse. Period. Every category of violent crime surged. And while murders have dipped slightly in recent years, Tory was at the helm when the city endured a record-high 98 homicides in 2018, smashing a record that had stood for 28 years.

You don’t need to hear the shocking litany of crime statistics to know the truth — in Toronto, crime has become a veritable growth industry. Everyone has heard about the seemingly never-ending stabbings and beatings and robberies. What they haven’t heard, from anyone at City Hall, is an intelligent and practical plan to combat crime.

GRIDLOCK: As in every other major city in the world, the pandemic scared the public away from public transit in Toronto. It isn’t clear if they will ever return because of that, and the near-daily reports of assaults and attempted murders in the transit system certainly haven’t helped matters.

What is clear, however, is that Toronto’s streets, always congested, have become much more so. The city’s total inability to plan, along with its addiction to development fees — and its Byzantine fetish for bike lanes where they are unwanted and unneeded — have rendered Toronto streets virtually impassable. Toronto is getting more and more people every day, and not all of them can ride a bike to get around. Those people deserve less gridlock, and an easier way to get to work, school and the like.

DECAY: Toronto politicians famously like to describe the city as “world class” — whatever that means. But if it means a clean, attractive, prosperous city? Well, Toronto is no longer that.

Overflowing and neglected trash bins. Graffiti and vandalism in every neighbourhood. Shuttered and/or bankrupted businesses. Decline, debris and decay everywhere you look. But we sure have a hell of a lot of cannabis stores. There’s that.

Meanwhile, the services for which Toronto residents pay plenty of taxes are too often nowhere to be seen. Apart from trash and recycle collection, what service do city residents regularly get in exchange for the tax dollars they fork over? Precious little.

FINANCIAL PROBITY: The city has a spending problem. As my colleague Brian Lilley has often pointed out, spending by the city’s managers is essentially out of control when compared to inflation. And the city counts far too often on the province and Ottawa to bail it out.

While this year’s city budget passed relatively quickly, municipal leaders need to exercise more restraint and better judgment. Look at their announced plan to change the name of Dundas Street — at a cost of more than $6 million. Now it turns out their sole reason for doing so — Henry Dundas’ alleged support for the slave trade — is very much in question. Not impressive.

VISION: Taxpayers actually don’t ask for much. And they don’t expect that every wish on their list will always be fulfilled. What they do want, however, is leadership that stands for something. They want a leader, or leaders, who possess a vision for the future, and a plan for executing it in the present.

That necessarily means saying no to some vested interests. That necessarily means planning the way households do — with a budget, and a timeline. That means possessing a real, honest-to-goodness vision.

Because of crime, because of decay, because of reckless spending and decision-making, Canada’s biggest city needs the best leadership it can get.

John Tory very often provided that, but sometimes he and his administration just didn’t (see above). The historians will write his chapter soon enough.

Toronto residents need to start thinking about their city’s future — because, right now, that future is unwritten.

Happy birthday

Many guys will understand what I mean when I say this: your father is both a bit of light, and a bit of shadow, over your path through life.

Mine, T. Douglas Kinsella, MD, OC, would have been 91 years old today. Ninety-one! So many years after we lost him, he remains a constant in our lives. He still illuminates some of the path. Without even being here, he still quietly persuades me to examine the choices I have made.

Me? I have made some bad choices. I have been reckless and selfish. I have not lived by the single rule he left us.

“Love people, and be honest,” he said to us, and I sometimes feel I have done neither.

He saved many lives as a physician, and he won accolades, and he was a member of the Order of Canada. But for us – my brothers, my nephew he raised, my closest friends – he was the man we aspired to be. Not for the distinctions he received, but for how he was, in his heart.

He was unfailingly honest; he was kind to everyone he met. He married his high school sweetheart, and was with her every single day for 50 years, and my God how they loved each other. We would sit there at the kitchen table in Calgary or Kingston or Montreal, and we would listen to him. He’d listen to us, too, and persuade us to try and figure things out. There were some great times, around that table.

The best thing is having a father like that. The harder thing is knowing that you will never be like him.

I met a girl, once, who had also lost her father, too soon, and never got over it. Fell in love with her just for that. Hope she finally finds peace.

Anyway. I had a dream that my Dad died in 9/11; I don’t know why, but I did. I woke up weeping, and remembered that I wasn’t a boy anymore, and that he has been gone for much more than a decade. I don’t think he would like what his son has become. I usually don’t.

So I put on my pants and shoes, and went out into the day, looking for what’s left of the path.

Happy birthday. I miss you.