Yell at the spouse, lose the house (updated)

That’s a headline that ran in the Sun, nearly a generation ago. It changed political history.

Remember Lyn McLeod? I do. McLeod was the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party in the mid-1990s. In the months leading up to the 1995 election, McLeod had a massive lead in every opinion poll. NDP Premier Bob Rae’s government was despised; P.C. leader Mike Harris was mostly unknown.

One fateful day, McLeod talked to a reporter on proposed legislation that would change the definition of domestic violence – and the penalties for it.

One penalty for abusing one’s spouse, she said, should be the abuser’s eviction from the family home. Hard to argue with that, perhaps.

But then the reporter asked McLeod if  domestic violence included “verbal abuse.” It did, she said. Yes.

The next day, the headline in the Toronto Sun was this: “Shout at spouse, lose your house.”

Almost immediately, the Ontario Liberals started to slide in the polls. Mike Harris would go on to win a big majority. And a close friend, and a senior advisor to McLeod, later told me: “Yell at the spouse, lose the house,” he said. “That’s why we lost.”

Which brings us to this, the former Bill C-46:

The law that destroyed the Ontario Liberals was a proposed law. This one now is law.

Lawyers like me have been warning, for months, that this change is wildly unconstitutional. It’s legislative overreach. And it’s a political suicide note, too.

But it’s the law of the land. It gives police the power to demand you submit to a breathalyzer, even they don’t have a reasonable suspicion you’re impaired. Even if you aren’t behind the wheel.

When this change was being considered, legal experts warned that a Canadian who drives home, sober, and then consumes some alcohol could register a fail on the breathalyzer – even though they didn’t drive while drunk. And that’s in fact what happened to a B.C. woman: she was by the pool at her sister’s place, having a drink, when the RCMP arrived and demanded a breath sample.

She lost her licence and her vehicle. Ultimately, she defeated the impairment charge on a technicality – but not before spending thousands on legal fees.

The media are already calling this a “police state” law. That it’s “an inexcusable violation of an individual’s Charter rights, and an invitation to police harassment of visible minorities“. Hell, even the CBC is calling it “unnecessary police power.”

Make no mistake: this issue – coming in the Summer before an election – is potentially lethal for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, I am told, are now preparing to do to Trudeau what Mike Harris and a Toronto Sun headline did to Lyn McLeod.

Have a drink, wind up in the clink”: may not be as deadly as that long-ago Sun headline. But it may do the trick.

UPDATE: Oh, look. Shortly after the above post went up, something interesting happened. I’d say they are nervous, wouldn’t you?

You’re welcome

My latest: amend the constitution, save the planet

Want to save the planet? Amend the Constitution.

In the United States, such an amendment has been sought since 1996.   Here’s what it says: “The natural resources of the nation are the heritage of present and future generations.  The right of each person to clean and healthful air and water, and to the protection of the other natural resources of the nation, shall not be abridged by any person.”

That sort of statement exists in the state constitutions in Hawaii, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Montana.  But it hasn’t happened yet at the U.S. federal level.

Same in Canada.  In our constitutional rights document, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there are all manner of protections.  Section two says that all Canadians have the fundamental freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression and “freedom of the press and other media of communication.”  It also declares that peaceable assembly and association are fundamental freedoms.

Sections three, four and five proclaim and protect democratic rights.  Six gives us mobility rights within Canada, and the right to a livelihood.  Section seven asserts our right to “life, liberty and security of the person.”  Eight protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures; nine protects us against arbitrary detention or imprisonment.  Ten to 14 describe our rights when we are arrested or facing trial.

And section 15, importantly, constitutionalizes the notion that Canadians have “the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination” – meaning no discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.  There are quite a few sections about language rights after that.  Section 25: aboriginal rights.  Section 27: multiculturalism.  Section 28: gender equality.

But nothing – nothing – about the environment.  When you consider, say, that mobility rights don’t matter so much when your part of Canada is on fire, or under water, that’s a critical lapse.  When there’s no air left to breathe, equality rights tend to take a back seat.

It can be argued, and has been, that section seven’s “life, liberty and security of the person” includes the environment.  In about 20 countries around the world, in fact, constitutional court challenges are presently taking place, in which plaintiffs are arguing that life, liberty and personal security are being infringed by inadequate, or non-existent, environmental protections.  

Last November in Quebec, a group called Environnment Jeunesse started a class action in Quebec Superior Court, seeking $340 million in damages – $100 per young person in the class.  The young Quebecois are arguing that the section seven rights of young Canadians were being violated because the federal government hasn’t done enough about climate change. 

Because, you know, it hasn’t.  

The Justin Trudeau government talks a good environmental game, of course.  With much fanfare, it recently insisted that it will ban single-use plastics.  And then, just a few days later, Trudeau is photographed by his own office – In Quebec! At a lunch with a group of young people, the aforementioned plaintiffs! – sitting at a conference table where plastic cutlery was in plain view.

The Conservatives have an environmental plan, too, but it has been attacked by its former leader, Kim Campbell.  The New Democrats have tabled something called “Power to Change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs.”  It says it’ll meet its targets before other parties say they’ll meet theirs.  But everyone knows the federal NDP will be unlikely to form government anytime soon.

The Green Party, as its very name suggests, is arguably the most serious about avoiding environmental calamity.  That is partly why Elizabeth May’s party has rocketed ahead of the NDP to take third place in recent polls – and why liberals and Liberals (like this writer) have donated to them, and plan to vote and work for them.

The Green Party’s environmental plan is the one that deserves the greatest scrutiny, because – if, as recent polls also suggest, a minority government is almost inevitable – it is the one now most likely to be implemented.  Elizabeth May will be the most powerful person in Canada, in effect, because she will hold the balance of power in late 2019 and beyond.

May’s plan calls for modernizing the national electricity grid; creating trades jobs by retrofitting every building in Canada; ending all imports of foreign oil, and using only Canadian fossil fuels; and pushing adaptation measures to protect agriculture, fishing and forestry from climate change.  It’s not bad.

To achieve it, or part of it, more than a minority Parliament is needed.  We also need a national consensus, one that can’t be diluted by lobbyists, self-interest, and the vagaries of election results.  If recent events have shown us anything, it is that there is a paradox at the epicentre of Canadian politics: we all care about the environment, but we all lack the means or the will to do something meaningful about it.

The Constitution, as Environnment Jeunesse has already figured out, is the way to address that.  If we are serious about saving our part of the planet – and polls suggests that an overwhelming majority of Canadians, from cost to rising coast, are – then let’s constitutionalize our collective desire.

Every other right and freedom is protected in there.  Why not the right to an environment, too?


My latest: hypocrisy, thine name is JT

“A hypocrite,” Adlai Stevenson said, “is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.”

That’s all that the first Adlai Stevenson left behind in the sands of time, pretty much. He was the 23rd vice-president of the United States, he was from Illinois, and he was a Democrat. His grandson was the Democratic Party’s candidate for president a couple of times, in the 50s. But old Uncle Adlai, as he was called? He was just remembered for his aphorisms, pretty much.

That one above, the one about political hypocrisy, should be printed out, laminated, and pinned to Justin Trudeau’s shirt (You know, like parents do with kids who might wander away during field trips to the zoo).

Trudeau’s PMO staff, too, should have Adlai Stevenson’s pithy maxim tattooed to their foreheads, so that they remember the cardinal rule when they are at their next “deliverology” meeting: In politics, you can get away with all manner of misdeeds and sins. But hypocrisy? Political hypocrisy is lethal. It is toxic. It is the scarlet letter.

To wit: Justin Trudeau and his PMO are hypocrites. There is no shortage of evidence.

This week, for example, Prime Minister Selfie tweeted out a nice photo of himself with something called the “Papineau Youth Council,” whatever that is.  Fresh-faced youngsters ringed a table listening to Trudeau talk about, as he put it, ways “to fight climate change.”  That’s a quote.

Eyeballing the taxpayer-subsidized snapshot, we see:

• Pizza (not weird, it’s a political backroom staple)

• Trudeau’s pizza slices, both flipped over (super weird)

• None of the kids smiling, not even a bit (also weird, but who can blame them, really)

• Right in the foreground, a pile of plastic cutlery (weird AND wildly hypocritical)

Plastic cutlery?  That’s weird – because, really, who uses cutlery to eat pizza?

And it’s hypocritical, too, because this is the selfsame Prime Minister, boys and girls, who just a few days ago said he planned to ban so-called single-use plastics. Like, um, plastic cutlery. He also said his family uses “like, drink box water bottles sort of things,” and none of us know what that means. Still.

Political graveyards are littered with the remains of political hypocrites. Pat Buchanan, for example. As I write in my must-have book, The War Room, when he was making one of his many quixotic runs at the presidency, Buchanan started promoting the Trumpist “America First” tagline everywhere. Hire only Americans, buy only American. 

So the advisors to George H. W. Bush discovered a key factoid about Buchanan’s “America First” private life: he personally drove a Mercedes, made in far-away Germany. They passed along that little revelation out to the media hordes, and that was the end of Pat.

Another example:  Democrat Gary Hart.  Back in 1987, when the family-friendly Senator was making his second run at the top job, rumours were rampant he was following his little soldier into battle a bit too frequently. Gary was indignant about this scurrilous assault on his personal life. Said he: “Follow me around.  I don’t care.  They’ll be bored.”

The media followed him around. They weren’t bored.  Gary – thereafter photographed with model Donna Rice balanced on his senatorial knee, on a yacht called (we kid you not) Monkey Business – ended up caring, quite a bit.  And that was the end of Gary.

Have Justin Trudeau’s well-documented hypocrisies similarly doomed him to defeat in October? The polls suggest the best the Liberal leader can hope for is a minority government. If that.

So, if Trudeau loses, LavScam, unbalanced budgets, the Aga Khan and decidedly unharmonious fed-prov relations will figure prominently as causes.

 But one politically-fatal word, above all the others, will be seen on Justin Trudeau’s headstone: