In today’s Sun: Trudeau touches the third rail

Now that he has reopened the abortion the debate – and, rest assured, Justin Trudeau has done so – what next? Who wins, who loses?

Trudeau himself is both a winner and a loser.

At the centre of a Parliament Hill scrum a few days ago, the Liberal leader said “our position as a party is we do not reopen [the abortion] debate,” which was reasonable enough.  Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1988 Morgentaler decision – which jettisoned criminal laws relating to abortion – successive Prime Ministers have carefully steered away from the issue, which is the third rail of Canadian politics.

Messrs. Mulroney, Chretien, Martin and Harper all vowed to never, ever reopen the abortion debate. And they didn’t. So Trudeau’s position was an eminently sensible one.

But, looking a bit unsure in that now-infamous scrum, Trudeau didn’t stop there.  As reporters’ eyebrows went up, Trudeau said: “We are steadfast in our belief [in the Liberal Party], it is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body. That is the bottom line.” And then, leaping into the abyss, he reopened the issue he had said he didn’t want to reopen.

Said he: “I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills.”

In the days since he uttered those words, Trudeau has been engaged in uninterrupted damage control.  As bemused Conservatives and New Democrats looked on, Trudeau’s policy contortions have been something to behold. Over the past few days, Trudeau has said his party is pro-abortion, and its MPs are expected to vote that way without exception – but he has also decreed that anti-abortion candidates are welcome, and (presumably) so too anti-abortion thoughts.  That is, pro-choice if necessary, but not necessarily always pro-choice.

If that makes no sense to you, rest assured: it makes sense to no one else, either.

While the pro-life and pro-choice forces typically disagree on everything, they probably now concur on two slender points.  One, Justin Trudeau wasn’t telling the truth when he said he wouldn’t interfere in the selection of Liberal Party candidates – by telling them how they must vote on a matter of conscience, he was fundamentally involving himself with candidate selection.  Two, he wasn’t telling the truth about not wanting to “reopen the abortion debate,” either – he has now done precisely that.

But Trudeau is not necessarily a loser, now.  On Wednesday, Ottawa Bishop Christian Riesbeck told CBC that Trudeau’s stance was “unseemly.”

“It’s the fact that he considers himself to be a devout Catholic but then adheres to, or advocates for, abortion,” said Riesbeck. “That is scandalous.”

Scandalous? With that, the Bishop has mapped out an escape route for the relieved Trudeau. As Stockwell Day learned the hard way, Canadians favour a wall between Church and State.  They don’t like politicians involving themselves overmuch with religion.  And they don’t like the religious involving themselves, at all, in politics. As such, Bishop Riesbeck has gifted Trudeau’s relieved backroom with what they urgently needed: a way out of the mess they created for themselves.

Whenever the clergy start attacking me about something, a former Prime Minister once remarked to this writer, it helps get me re-elected. The same holds for Trudeau.

The Conservatives and the New Democrats have emerged as winners, too, and without doing very much. Pro-life voters will continue to gravitate to the Tories, convinced that there is no home for them with the Grits.  And for those pro-choice folk who favour no ambiguity, they will find a home with the New Democrats.

So, who loses, at the end of this sad political melodrama?

Canadians, mostly.  The majority of Canadians didn’t want the abortion issue re-opened. They didn’t want the rancour and ugliness it always brings.  They didn’t want what is highly personal becoming, once again, the highly political.

Will they blame the Liberal leader for reopening the debate? Who knows. But one thing is for certain: it has not been Justin Trudeau’s finest hour.

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Told ya

Ipsos tonight:

Ontario Race Tightens:
Hudak PCs Slip (35%, -4), Horwath NDP Gain (28%, +4) and
Wynne Liberals Stall (31%, +1) among Decided Voters
But Ballot Box Bonus Belongs to Progressive Conservatives (41%, +6), Not Liberals (30%, -1) or NDP (26%, -2) among Likely Voters


Ontario: who is a political ad for? (updated twice)

Not for you, highly-informed reader of Canada’s Best-Loved Political Website™.  Not for you, or people like you.

Let me explain. This morning, I heard The First Ever Academic To Understand Political Ads™ on CBC Radio: Prof. Peter Graefe of McMaster said that political ads are for people who don’t pay attention to politics.  They’re a shortcut. They’re designed to be simple.  They’re for the uninformed.

Finally! Finally, an academic who gets it! Yay, Peter Graefe!

Geddit? So, the Ontario campaign’s ban on political spots ends tonight.  But, already, the political parties have telegraphed the themes they will be pursuing over the next while.  Here are they are, below.  I like two of the three.  Can you guess which ones, and why?

And, remember: don’t be an egghead.  Watch ’em, as I always advise, with the sound off – and as Joe and Jane Frontporch would: without much prior knowledge.

UPDATE TWO: Quote from commenter that made me laugh out loud, really loud: “With the sound off the Liberal ad looks like I’m being chased down the street by Graucho Marx.”

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In Tuesday’s Sun: how a loser is winning Ontario’s election

Allan Gregg tells a great anecdote, one that explains why the least popular guy is presently ahead in the Ontario provincial election campaign.

It’s all about authenticity, the talented former Progressive Conservative strategist says: “For most of my adult life, I have worked with political and business leaders and have never ceased to be amazed at how different they can be in private compared to their public personae.

“Time and time again, I have witnessed otherwise funny, thoughtful, caring men and women walk from the wings of the auditorium to the podium, only to be transformed into nothing less than a big, blustering bullshitter – in effect, offering up a ‘performance’ and a caricature they think they should be playing.”

These political performers favour exaggerated claims about their opponents, Gregg says. They feign outrage. They take too much credit. And – this is the kicker – they carefully avoid “any direct and honest engagement of difficult subject matter that has the potential to cause media controversy.”

Which brings us to Tim Hudak, leader of the PCs in Ontario. Some polls say he is doing not badly. But some say he is winning, and winning big. This, despite the fact that selfsame polls previously showed him to be the least popular choice for premier.

Hudak is the embodiment of Gregg’s aphorism. In person, the PC leader is a highly likeable, friendly person. But when a microphone is placed before him, he becomes robotic. And it’s why so many Ontarians haven’t warmed up to Hudak – he was seen as inauthentic. He was reciting talking points written by someone else.

Well, the first two weeks of the Ontario campaign fully contradicts Allan Gregg’s wisdom. Hudak is still too stiff and too awkward on the hustings. But, if the polling firm Ipsos is to be believed, he is way, way ahead.

According to the last couple of Ipsos polls, Hudak’s support is growing – while that of his Liberal and New Democrat rivals is shrinking, in some places dramatically. The latest Ipsos offering pegs Hudak’s party at 39%, with the governing Liberals almost a full 10 points back – and the New Democrats even further behind, at 24%. If Tim Hudak is still stiff, awkward and therefore inauthentic, why is that happening?

Because of the other part of Gregg’s observation, that’s why. The part about “direct and honest engagement of difficult subject matter that has the potential to cause media controversy.” And that is precisely what Hudak has done, with his announced plan to cut 100,000 positions in the broader Ontario public service.

Given the fact that many of those who will be losing their jobs are teachers – and given that lots of public services will disappear, too – Hudak’s plan has attracted no small amount of criticism. Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, who is advised by the same inept gang who cooked up Paul Martin’s “soldiers in our streets” ads in the 2006 federal campaign, has been most critical. She has declared that Hudak’s plan will cause a “recession”– and, while in Walkerton, warned of the consequences of deep job cuts.

Hudak, meanwhile, remains unfazed and well ahead. He may never be seen as the most “authentic” politician, true. But he’s the one presently engaged in “direct and honest engagement of difficult subject matter that has the potential to cause media controversy.”

And he’s winning because of it.

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Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

I live three doors down from not one, but two, group homes. Without exception, the developmentally-challenged folks who live in them are quieter and nicer neighbours than the other neighbours I’ve got.

I spent yesterday at a big family get-together, cleaning the roof, moving generators, trying to start a fire, and shooting off fireworks for Son Three. I therefore didn’t see this.

What can you say? You can say what I said in a speech in Ottawa last week.

“These people are a disgrace. These people are a stain on our politics. And, by all that is holy, I swear to God that I will spare no effort in driving them, and the memory of them, from office.”

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The punk rock torch passes from one generation to the next

[The Dead Kennedy’s ‘Let’s Lynch the Landlord’ comes through the truck’s speakers.]

Son Three: I like Jello Biafra’s voice.

Me [astonished he knows who the Dead Kennedys are, let alone who Jello Biafra is]: You know about Jello Biafra?

Son Three: I think ‘Holiday In Cambodia’ is still their best song.

Me: I think I have to pull over, because it’s dangerous to drive while this happy.

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In tomorrow’s Sun: going sooner than later

If you sometimes get the impression that 80% of political journalism is preoccupied with when an election is going to take place, you’d be wrong.

The correct figure is around 110%. Nineteen times out of 19, with a margin of error of 0%.

OK, OK. That’s silly, of course, but so too is most of what passes for political debate in Canada. We typically prefer the silly stuff to the serious stuff. Thus, our preoccupation with election timing.

Journalists love writing about election timing because it’s more fun than writing about boring old policy. Politicians are fixated on election timing, too, because elections are the crucible in which political dreams are given life, or meet an untimely end.

The public? They don’t care so much about election timing. But what they think – as is well known – is mostly irrelevant to journalists and politicians.

Thus, here we go again: When will Prime Minister Stephen Harper decide to have an election?

He doesn’t really need to seek the judgment of the people until Oct. 19, 2015, but he doesn’t have to wait until the fixed election date.

The tradition was to have an election in or around the four-year mark. Which means we could be trooping back to the polls in May 2015, right?

Wrong. So say the Ottawa soothsayers, who are paid to pay attention to, and write endlessly about, such things. In the august pages of the Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen and the like, a consensus is emerging that Harper will go earlier than May 2015.

We are not making this up, as much as we wish that we were. Election season might soon be upon us.

“A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof, and when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.”

So sayeth the greatest-ever Canadian politician, my former boss Jean Chretien. And he would know, he called early elections all the time.

Thus, the proof. The Conservatives have quietly nominated around 100 of their candidates already. That places them ahead of the Liberals, and far ahead of the New Democrats, who have nominated none. Thus, the conjecture about the PM pulling the plug sooner than later.

The arguments for doing so are compelling.

One, the bloom has seemingly gone off the Trudeau Rose. A series of verbal mishaps – along with the necessary end to an overly long honeymoon – have persuaded many voters that the sun does not shine out of Justin Trudeau’s hindquarters.

Trudeau is human, it turns out, and not as popular as he once was. Why would Harper not wish to capitalize on that? Better a less-popular opponent than a popular one.

Two, at this very moment, auditors are poring through the expenses of every senator. Most of those senators are Conservative. And, in many cases, the Tory senators have been visited by teams of auditors many more times than once.

Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau aren’t the end of a sordid scandal – they are probably the start of one. Harper, therefore, would be wise to get re-elected before the scandal headlines begin anew.

Thirdly and finally, Harper’s Conservatives have economic glad tidings to pass along – and it is something that the Grits and the Dippers cannot ever hope to match: a balanced budget.

Many economists believe the budget is balanced already. But none of them expect that happy news to be announced until just before the next federal election is called. Among other things, it is an effective answer to virtually every fiscal criticism Messrs. Trudeau and Mulcair can muster on the hustings.

So, at the end of this admittedly proof-free speculation, will Harper do it? Will he have his election sooner than he is required to?

No one knows. But he’d be probably nuts not to be thinking about it.

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