My take in this morning’s Hill Times

Can’t remember my password, so here’s the unedited version, filed with ’em last week:

“Political things tend to come in threes. This Parliament is likely to be no exception. Three things – three issues, three challenges – will define the coming session.

One, the war that isn’t a war. Stephen Harper’s insists that his decision to commit dozens of members of the Special Operations Regiment to the fight against the murderous, rampaging ISIS is nothing to worry about. It isn’t “war.” But he isn’t being truthful.

On its web site, the regiment describes itself as a “weapon” in the Canadian Armed Forces’ “arsenal” – that is, peacekeepers they are not. They are trained to fight, and equipped to fight. They are going to Iraq to wage war.

Harper may pretend that isn’t so, but few will be fooled. As is the case with our Western allies, we are commencing a post-9/11 type of war against an enemy unlike any we have ever encountered. How Canadians – and Parliamentarians – react to that remains to be seen.

Two, the fate of the New Disappearing Party. In British Columbia; in Nova Scotia; in Ontario; in New Brunswick; federally. The NDP is in deep trouble, provincially and federally, and the reasons are myriad.

Jack Layton is gone, and Tom Mulcair is no Jack Layton. Traditional sources of NDP support – particularly trade unions – are contracting, and no longer pledging fealty solely to New Democrat candidates. And the party seems uncertain about what to do about the resurgent Liberals, who are stealing soft NDP voters away, hand over fist.

The NDP is in trouble. To preserve its Parliamentary bench strength – almost wholly situated in Quebec – it may start mouthing sovereigntist rhetoric. But if it does that, it risks an angry backlash in the rest of Canada.

What will the New Demoracts do? No one knows – and New Democrats apparently don’t, either. The coming months are unlikely to be happy ones, for them.

Third, the people are sick of Harper’s Cons. They’ve been in power for nearly a decade, and it shows. The Tories look old and tired and fundamentally out of ideas. They’ll trumpet a budgetary surplus, to be sure, but that is never enough to win re-election.

Instead, the Conservatives need to re-capture a narrative, because they decidedly do not have one anymore. It isn’t enough to say “you’re better off with Harper.” That sounds like someone deciding to stay in loveless relationship because they have nowhere else to go.

Canadians have somewhere to go, and it is into Justin Trudeau’s waiting arms. Nearly every poll has shown him ahead, or far ahead, for nearly two years. And neither the Tories nor the Dippers have devised a strategy to change that.

A war no one understands. A New Democratic Party that no longer seems new. A Conservative Party that is adrift.

It all points in one direction, and in less than a year, too:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


Now THIS is writing

I don’t agree with Strobel on politics, pretty much ever, but this column had Kirbie and I laughing our keesters off on the way back from Stiff Little Fingers last night.  Just great writing, here:

“Some folks are so sick of that temple to entitlement on Nathan Phillips Square, that social engineering academy, they’d vote for a wombat if it was named Ford.

They don’t see Rob or Doug as hillbilly bullies. They don’t hear banjos. No, they see a chubby avenging angel marching downtown to clean up that snakepit of excess, greed and civic sin.

By folks, I don’t mean my downtown neighbours, with purple hair, pink poodles, a tofu lunch in their bicycle basket and a city arts grant in their back pocket.

I mean my old neighbours in Scarborough, who still debate Beatles vs Stones, live three days from the nearest subway and want City Hall to leave them, their lives and their wallets alone, thank you very much.

So they roll their eyes when John Tory gripes, before Sunday’s debate at the Evergreen Brick Works:

“(Doug) is afterall the gentleman that was joined at the hip with this brother, who I hope gets better…”

Yes, hip-separation surgery must be a bitch, Johnny.”


From the bulging Shameless Hypocrite file: John Tory on Doug Ford

There is plenty of stuff like this lying around. And it’s why I broke with the guy: he enthusiastically supported – for years, without qualification – the very thing he now claims to loathe and oppose.

He’s not running because he opposes the Fords. He’s running because he’s the worst kind of opportunist, and he figured he could beat a crack-smoking “buffoon.”

Beat Rob Ford? Sure. But beat Doug, about whom he said stuff like this? We shall see.

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In Friday’s Sun: the rough beast slouching towards Baghdad

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Baghdad to be born?

Theatrical, perhaps; a mangling of Yeats, to be sure. But watching U.S. President Barack Obama on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, did you experience a creeping sense of dread? Did Obama’s speech to the world – in which he executed a colossal about-face, pledging to wage war in Iraq, having been elected in 2008 to do the precise opposite – leave your blood cold?

ISIS, which doesn’t stand for Satan Made Flesh but should, sought war with the West. It now appears ISIS will get it. For months, it has been murdering, raping, kidnapping, amputating, torturing, enslaving, desecrating – and, as is well-established, beheading – innocents across Syria and Iraq.

An August United Nations report detailed just a fraction of ISIS’ campaign of genocide: “Women have been lashed for not abiding by ISIS’ dress code. In Raqqa, children as young as 10 are being recruited and trained at ISIS camps.”

And: “Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle. Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheading or shooting in the head at close range…Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to local residents.”

Its objective hasn’t been difficult to ascertain: it broadcasts all of its serial atrocities on social media, to ensure we can relive them in the comfort of our living rooms. This week, its Facebook and Twitter-adept monsters have switched their profile pictures to Osama bin Laden, to make certain we all get their point: we’re coming to kill you. (Oh, and al-Qaeda were wimps, in comparative terms.)

Watching Obama say what he, and we, never thought he would say was an disquieting experience. He can dress it up in whatever oratorical sophistry he likes, but the facts are the facts: we are going to war.

Canadians, too. This week, the federal government acknowledged that dozens of troops from the Special Operations Regiment are being deployed to Iraq. They won’t have a combat role, said the Prime Minister. But no one believes that.

The Special Operations Regiment, on its very own website, describes itself as “a robust and adaptable weapon in the [Canadian Special Operations Forces Command] operational arsenal.” Sound like they’re Mike Pearson-style diplomats to you? Us neither. They’re a “weapon” in the Canadian Armed Forces’ “arsenal.”

So Obama fully reverses himself, and Harper attempts to persuade us that war isn’t war. Are we doing what is right?

We are. In the span of about a year, ISIS – or ISIL, or whatever it is they call themselves this week – have transformed themselves into the most lethal terrorist threat confronting the civilized world.

In his speech, Obama called them “a cancer” and “evil,” which are the sort of words speechwriters always deploy to describe terrorists. The Jordanian U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights has said, more emotively, that their objective is to create a “house of blood.” All true.

But better, perhaps, is the matter-of-fact analysis of U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel: “(ISIS) is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group.” And they want to kill us all.

So, all our leaders are agreed: waging war against ISIS is the right thing to do. Inaction would be to be complicit in their pogroms. Of course.

But – and here is where the unease comes in – war is unmistakably what ISIS desires. ISIS has been plainly seeking it for months. It has been trying to goad the West into combat, and it has succeeded.

So, as the beast that is ISIS slouches towards Baghdad, and as we let slip the dogs of war, it is fair to ask:

Is this a war we can win?


What will (or could) happen next in Toronto politics

Rob Ford – who, by the by, was the only mayoralty candidate to contact me during my recent run-in with the underside of a bus – is facing a huge health challenge.  You know that.

What you don’t know, perhaps, is that I had two epiphanies last night.  Epiphany One, I was disgusted and appalled by the frankly evil things being said about Rob Ford’s predicament on Twitter.  I said so, and I wasn’t alone.  I firmly believe, this morning, that some of the things being said by self-described “progressives” will propel many, many sympathetic/empathetic voters into supporting Rob Ford again.  It was that bad.

Epiphany Two – and I said this to myself, as I lay there sleepless and as the rest of you slept like babies – was the following: “Has something like this happened before?”

Well, yes, of course.  It has.  And it had a dramatic and extraordinary effect in both cases, one named Layton (who was being dismissed as a  glib used car salesman until he got sick), and one named Bouchard (who was being reviled as a Benedict Arnold-nation-destroyer until he got sick).

Listen to my friends McLoughlin, Gauthier and Cobb, from a 2011 Citizen story:

“…the pundits all underestimated the Tao of Jack and his Walking Stick — the crutch that has become a Churchillian-like symbol brandished with increased frequency in Layton’s public battles against his political enemies.

“It looked like the beginning of the end of his political career,” said Ottawa communications specialist Barry McLoughlin. “We saw two things happen to him back to back, that showed his humanity. We saw him on our screens looking gaunt, older, frail and very vulnerable.”

Then, adds McLoughlin, Layton suddenly connected with Canadians in a deeper way.

“He struck an emotional chord just by the way he faced up to his setbacks and went about his work. He appeared in the House of Commons after his hip surgery and showed he was a fighter. People developed an emotional relationship with him that wasn’t there before.”

Something similar happened between Quebecers and Lucien Bouchard when the former Bloc Quebecois leader contracted flesh-eating disease in 1994, added McLoughlin.

“It’s not about the cane,” he said, “but about the humanity it shows.”

Bernard Gauthier, a communications and audience research specialist at Delta Media in Ottawa says the walking stick has become a defining element for Layton.

“It’s become part of the Jack Layton brand, along with his white moustache,” said Gauthier. “I said at the beginning of the campaign that the walking stick will go one of two ways for Jack Layton: it will hinder him because it could suggest to people that he is not at the peak of health or it will engage people.

“It’s made him more endearing and empathetic.”

At this point, it will be very difficult for anyone to call Rob Ford names anymore, as John Tory has been doing.  That’s one thing.

This is the other: all that Rob Ford need do is show up – and look vulnerable and human and brave, as Layton and Bouchard did – and something like this will happen:

He will win.