Lo, the stink of it all

Deep down inside their ostensibly nosy little souls, journalists know they have only one talent — they can recognize patterns. They’re really good at playing “What’s wrong with this picture?” They know when something looks right and when it smells like dead fish.

John Baird’s sudden and totally unexpected and unhinted-at resignation as foreign minister of Canada – and of the Harper government – smells entirely of dead fish. Ministers of Mr. Baird’s stature in this government do not allow announcements to be blurted out that they are quitting both cabinet and their seat in Parliament once they attend to the small detail of telling the Prime Minister.

Yet the mainstream media practically without exception have treated the story as if God, moving in the mysterious ways of which He is fond, abruptly elevated Mr. Baird to post-politics glory, barely giving him time to order his limousine driver to take him from the Pearson Building to Langevin Block to let Stephen Harper know what was going on.

This is either a few weeks or a few months before an election is called, an election that will be brutal and nation-fracturing.

This is an act by a man who has breathed politics since he was a teen-ager, an act by the minister possibly most trusted to act as Stephen Harper’s mouth, an act by a man who would have been expected to enter the jousting lists as a potential successor to Mr. Harper after the Prime Minister himself got lifted up by the Almighty, an act by a member of a government where every act and utterance are dictated by the Prime Minister’s Office, and an act by a man widely considered to be a chum and confidante of the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen

What’s wrong with this picture is dead fish — and journalists who either are lazy or have no idea what goes on in the ministers‘ offices of Canada’s Conservative government. Or both.

Some have suggested a certain pragmatic sense of what the next election will bring  but by and large the media have reported without a breath of suspicion – quoting over and over again the same anonymous robo-source in the minister’s office using the same words – that “The minister is looking to turn the page on 20 years of public service.” or that “A compelling position in the private sector awaits a man of Mr. Baird’s stature – his prime earning years are now.’ And those closer still to the inner workings of the Conservative Cabinet indicate  it really was a new lease on life Mr. Baird was after.

The media have then gone on to lugubriously eulogize Mr. Baird’s behaviour on the world stage as if he wasn’t loathed as foreign minister and considered an embarrassment for Canada’s image by at least half the country’s population – or maybe more accurately at least half that part of the population that follows public affairs.

The late James Carey of Columbia University, one of the foremost media theorists of the past half-century, wrote, “The true subject matter of journalism is the conversation the public is having with itself.” He would have considered the reporting of Mr. Baird’s resignation to be pathetic.

It is evidence that the Harper PMO has been entirely successful at building a wall between the media and the government. It is evidence that the media simply don’t know what the Conservatives are doing and simply don’t know, or don’t care, that repeated polls have shown that the values of the great majority of Canadians are at odds with the values of Mr. Harper’s government.

Mr. Baird’s sudden resignation, the stated reason for it and the way it was carried out, it all looks fishy and those who work in the media know that.

All is not what is seems (Editorial Board Edition)

With a long period of contemplative quietude behind it the Origins of Politics returns. Much has transpired during this  period of dormancy and  this post from Michael Valpy marks a reflection upon  some preferred themes; media, corporate power and the illusions of autonomy therein.

Thomas Hardy wrote in his diary in 1882: “Nothing bears out in practice what it promises incipiently.” Which in journalese means, “If a story looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Bringing us to Jesse Brown’s account in his Canadaland blog  of how The Globe and Mail came to editorially endorse Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives in the Ontario election.

Continue reading All is not what is seems (Editorial Board Edition)

Why I’m a Liberal. Why I fear Justin Trudeau.

As part of our ongoing series of guest essay posts, we introduce Mr Grant Bishop. Mr.Bishop is a Liberal who doesn’t think Mr. Trudeau, touted as the future of politics for Young Canada, is worthy of being the party’s leader. He’s passionate, and meticulous in developing his final judgment. It’s a long read but a good read. His assessment is closely argued and hammered into stone.



I have voted Liberal my whole adult life, except for voting Green in 2000 (for Chris Milburn in my then Kingston riding that Peter Milliken was certain to win).  Like many committed liberals, I nonethless eschewed a partisan label.  Yet, I always felt the Liberal party, more than any other, aimed to facilitate individual achievement while recognizing that we’re not born on a level playing field. Continue reading Why I’m a Liberal. Why I fear Justin Trudeau.

Good Trudeau, bad Trudeau

A political party leadership campaign is about what standards should be set for the nation.

It’s about what message the party sends out about its relevance to the country and the world to the next generation of voters. It is about all of our dreams, our vision, our imagination of Canada, about our attachment to Canada.

Justin Trudeau, all but annointed by the news media as the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, had an obligation to turn up in the House of Commons to vote on Bill C-398, legislation proposing reform to Canada’s access to medicines regime (CAMR) enabling inexpensive generic antiretroviral drugs to be sent to Africa for the treatment of those with HIV-AIDS.

He chose not to be present. Continue reading Good Trudeau, bad Trudeau

Who connects the dots on the Robocalls?

Canadians may be staring at their own Watergate. They may be staring at a widespread attempt to fix the last federal election by people with links to the upper levels of the governing Conservative Party of Canada.

That’s a big accusation, and nothing is proven. But it’s what you get when you bring all the evidence together.

The one party member to break silence has gone on CBC to label what took place a “massive scheme.” The Canadian news media — with the exception of two dogged Postmedia reporters, Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor — have disgracefully swept the story into the shadows, presumably because it is Maude Barlow’s Council of Canadians (or, as the mainstream media say, “left-leaning Council of Canadians”) that has gone to court to try to nail the Conservatives with electoral fraud. Continue reading Who connects the dots on the Robocalls?

What do the young remember?

Whoa! Let’s re-run the video of University of Toronto’s Service of Remembrance at the Hart House Soldiers’ Tower on Friday, Sept. 9. A grey day, emotionally enough, with the St. Catherine’s bell of Massey College tolling across the upper campus at the 11th hour  but not, by tradition, on the 11th day of the 11th month because that would be Sunday this year and the campus would have been near deserted.

Think first of two numbers: 1,100 and 100.

The priest conducting the service said more than 1,100 University of Toronto students died wearing their country’s military uniforms in two world wars, almost enough dead to fill U of T’s Convocation Hall. Someone somewhere will have the numbers of all the young Canadians from all the campuses across the country who went to war, and died. They shall grow not old.

As Ted Brown grew old. Continue reading What do the young remember?

When Freedom of Religion Isn’t.

The problem for ideological governments — especially those that get tangled in religion — is inconsistency. The devil forever pops up in the details of their behaviour.

Thus Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a U.S. audience in May of this year that, until the Harper government came to power, Canada had gone soft on defending fundamental freedoms like freedom of religion (he focussed on attacks against Christians and Jews).  And days from now, the government’s $5-million-a-year Office of Religious Freedom will open under the aegis of Mr. Baird’s department.

And yet last week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced he was cancelling contracts of parttime chaplains in the federal prison system to save money — contracts which includes virtually all the system’s non-Christian chaplains.  Forthwith, he said, non-aboriginal federal inmates would have their spiritual needs met by existing staff chaplains, all but one of whom is Christian (parttime aboriginal spiritual leaders were exempted). Continue reading When Freedom of Religion Isn’t.

The Big Question – Gerald Caplan on the Left-Right divide in Canada

Origins of Politics returns to the big questions theme, having talked to Gerald Caplan about whether a new political alignment exists and whether a ‘unite the left’ campaign is in Canada’s immediate political future. While Mr. Caplan requires no introduction, among other glories, he has been involved with the NDP, provincially and federally, serving as federal party secretary. He was co-chair of the Mulroney Task Force on Canadian Broadcasting Policy and Bob Rae’s Ontario Royal Commission on Learning. He is an international expert on genocide and has published widely on the Rwandan genocide. He also appears regularly in the Globe and Mail. We’ve asked him to comment on broad trends in Canadian politics. This is part one of the conversation.

Origins of Politics: So, if we accept the notion that the country has trended, as per the Manning Centre and others, towards some kind of centre-right alignment, and that the Harper Government will be in power for some time, and given the ascendance of the NDP (with promises of more success to come in BC for example) what can we expect from the Left in the next little while? (Feel free to dispute any of these assertions of course)

Do the NDP and CPC work together to kill off the Liberal Party, clarifying the political spectrum for a voting public that continue to lose interest and trust in their elected representatives? Or will we see a Unite the Left movement – and should we? Really we’d like to hear where you think the NDP will end up, especially under new leadership…


Gerald Caplan: OK. Very expansive questions but let me try a few things. It’s not clear to me whether most Canadians have trended rightwards in recent years, as per the manning Centre. It’s part of the genius of Preston Manning that he often seems to me be saying thoughtful, impartial things when in fact he’s almost invariably ideologically self-serving. You may know that I like to ground my comments in some kind of legitimate data, for instance pissing off my party for decades by arguing that we have no chance to form a national government. But it seemed to me the evidence—every federal election since the CCF was created, until 15 months ago—was incontrovertible. Continue reading The Big Question – Gerald Caplan on the Left-Right divide in Canada

Go Donna! (part three)

Part three of our interview with Olympian Donna Marie Vakalis – what do programs like Canada’s Own the Podium mean if you don’t compete in one of the targeted sports?

Origins of Politics: Are touched by this Own the Podium campaign?

Donna Marie Vakalis: My familiarity with it is in terms of it as a funding program and as a group of people who determine who get funding. So as someone who participates in what we call a non-targeted sport or a sport that is marginal, we don’t qualify for funding for Own the Podium, we’re completely left out.

OoP: Not good. Continue reading Go Donna! (part three)

Go Donna! (part deux)

Part 2 of Origins of Politics’s conversation with Donna Marie Vakalis, Olympic competitor for Canada in the modern pentathlon, in which she talks about blind horse dates, the meaning of competition and how to compete in a sport that gets no funding. See Donna’s website http://thisisdonna.com/world/ Donate. Cheer her on.

Origins of Politics: Oh that’s why I see [on their website] something about you and horse blind dates?

Donna Marie Vakalis: Exactly. Yes. That was what Jordan [the host] said, “Oh, it’s like a blind date with a horse.” And they just riff on that for a few seconds and it was one of the most hilarious commentaries on Pentathlon I’ve ever heard where one of them was the horse and one of them was the rider saying you know “Oh, it’s so awkward when you have to split the cheque” and like “Oh, do you want to hang out after?” It was pretty funny. Continue reading Go Donna! (part deux)