In Friday’s Sun: will by-elections mean bye-bye?

As by-election results rolled in on the evening of June 30, did Prime Minister Stephen Harper start contemplating the location of the nearest exit door?

It’s possible. After all, the quartet of by-elections arguably gave him plenty of cause for concern.

In the Alberta riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca, his party’s candidate won handily, as most expected. But Team Harper received less than 6,000 of the nearly 84,000 entitled to vote. That means only about seven per cent of Fort Mac’s electorate were motivated enough to get off the couch and go vote Conservative. Also cause for concern: when contrasted to the 2011 general election, the Tory share of the vote in the riding shrunk by more than 20 per cent.

And the Liberals – the damned NEP-foisting socialist Liberals! – came a respectable second in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, the very heart of Alberta’s oil industry. They didn’t win, as the polling firm Forum Research had predicted. But the Trudeau Liberals are surging, even in places like Fort Mac, where all that previously preserved them were endangered species laws.

Turnout was similarly dire in a second Alberta riding, Macleod. There, the Conservatives won convincingly – but, as in Fort McMurray, the Liberals quadrupled their share of the vote from 2011. And, as in Fort McMurray, the Grits displaced the NDP as the Conservatives’ principal opponent.
Back East, where the remaining two by-elections were taking place in Toronto, the Conservatives were given much more to fret about.

In Scarborough-Agincourt, where the Tories were most competitive, the Liberals won all but one of 160 polls. They also received more than twice as many votes as the Conservatives – who had blanketed the riding with despicable leaflets that falsely claimed Justin Trudeau favoured the sale of marijuana to kids.

In Trinity-Spadina, meanwhile, the resurgent Liberals took back the riding they had held from 1993 to 2006. But the Conservatives received a measly five per cent of the vote – the same share as the Green Party candidate.

As is well-known, it’s foolish to suggest that by-elections portend general election results. Here in Ontario, for instance, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals did poorly in a string of by-elections – and then won a stunning majority when all the votes were counted on June 12.

But, as he sifts through the by-election entrails, Harper can reliably extract three truths.

One, Justin Trudeau is no flash in the proverbial pan. His popularity endures. And millions spent on attack ads haven’t changed the reality: in the 50-odd polls that have been conducted since he became Liberal leader, Trudeau remains Canadians’ favourite choice to be Prime Minister.

Two, Canadians clearly want some sort of a change from Harper and/or his Conservatives. It isn’t scandal, so much, that has muddied the Conservative brand. It’s likelier the passage of time: nearly a decade in power have left the Conservatives looking decidedly tired and old. To many Canadians, they don’t represent places like Fort McMurray or Macleod in Ottawa anymore – they ARE Ottawa.

Three, Harper doesn’t have much to work with. Sure, he will boast about a federal budgetary surplus in the coming months – but with most provinces facing sizeable budgetary deficits, Harper’s fiscal success won’t be so clear-cut to many voters. And, apart from the surplus, what other issues can help Harper win support? Not ethics, and not social programs. What story will he tell on the hustings? It’s unclear.

Clearer, however, is that exit door. All that Stephen Harper need do is step through it.

And – presto – all of problems described above become someone else’s.


Dear John

Things are good. The boy is back (and apologized). Talked to someone, was good. Painting again. New songs. Business is rockin’. And the new book is flying out of me – almost 4,000 words in a week.

Cheers,

W


Two questions about last night’s by-elections

Question one: watching last night’s results, did Stephen Harper think once or twice about resigning, and finally going to make some real money somewhere? Probably.

Question two: if he goes, what are the implications for Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair?

That last one has me somewhere between “it doesn’t matter at all” and “holy cow, it’s a whole new ballgame.”

What do you think, O smart readers of this here website?

.


In Tuesday’s Sun: Rob Ford, the destroyer

If you’re interested in politics, two things probably caught your attention yesterday.

(1) Important by-elections took place – two in Alberta, and two in Ontario.

(2) Rob Ford got out of rehab.

This column is being written in advance, but we’ll hazard a guess that the second political happening – the Rob Ford one – garnered about 100 times more interest. Sure, the by-elections were expected to conclude with some surprising upsets. Sure, they were highly relevant to the futures of Messrs. Trudeau, Harper and Mulcair. Sure.

But Rob Ford getting out of rehab would end up attracting far more interest. Why? Why, why, why?

Well, for starters, Ford has actually changed our political culture. He’s obliged us to confront several unpleasant facts about ourselves – about the cult of celebrity, about the irrelevance of scandal, about the fleeting nature of rules.

For example, it used to be that if an elected person got caught in a scandal – say, using hard drugs and consorting with drug dealers – they’d resign. They’d leave, and never come back. They broke the rules, and shame was upon them.

Rob Ford has changed all that. He has no shame. He doesn’t follow the rules. Instead of punishing him for that, we pose for selfies with him. In that way, we’re almost worse than him.

The Watergate scandal? Remember that? It was a real scandal, and it claimed a sitting President. It transformed journalism and American democracy, for a while.

If Rob Ford had been President, he would have just kept going. He would have laughed at impeachment and his critics, and he would have brazened on. And, based upon our recent collective experience, we would have let him.

Finally, it is apparent that Rob Ford isn’t actually a person anymore. He isn’t human. He’s more famous than the most famous Canadian – more famous, truly, than Terry Fox and Norman Bethune and Celine Dion and Chris Hadfield. We’ve made him that way. Us.

We’ve rendered him a porcine Kardashian, or a Reubenesque Paris Hilton. He’s accordingly much, much more than a garden-variety politician. He’s a CELEBRITY. And we cannot help but watch him, as he careens through our politics, a wrecking ball made flesh.

Rob Ford has taken several bits of conventional political wisdom, and stomped all over them. And many people – particularly those people who never thought there was anything noble or redeeming about high public office – think Rob Ford is still worth voting for. Because they already thought all politicians were liars anyway.

Full disclosure, as they say: I am volunteering for another candidate for Toronto’s mayor. I called her up on the same day I listened to my 11-year-old in the back seat, laughing with his friends about crack cocaine.

“Crack cocaine isn’t funny, guys,” I said, amazed that I would live long enough to ever have to say such a thing. “It can kill you.”

“But Dad,” my son said. “Then why is Rob Ford using it?”

And, at that moment, I figured I needed to do everything I could do to drive that bastard from office. Right then and there.

Like I said at the start: those by-elections – and I hope my friends Arnold, Joe and Kyle won in three of them, by the way – are far more important. But here we are, again, all talking about goddamn Rob Ford instead.

I need a drink.