Auditor-General’s report on Metrolinx a terrible reminder of Wynne’s political interference in transit planning.

Yesterday’s Auditor-General report really took Metrolinx to the woodshed, showing once again that political interference with Metrolinx has had a profoundly bad impact on the agency, to the determent of everyone who travels in the Greater Toronto Area.

The AG recounted various Metrolinx failings, but perhaps none is easier to grasp than Metrolinx’s decision to build the $100 million Kirby GO station in Vaughan, on the Toronto-Barrie line.

A Metrolinx staff report recommended against the station, arguing that additional stops would slow the service, actually encouraging people to take their car. The Kirby station, however, was in the riding of the Liberal Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, and it is going ahead.

But the most egregious display of political interference in Metrolinx was the deal between the Wynne Liberals and then-Mayor Rob Ford to cancel a Scarborough LRT plan and replace it with a $3.5 billion, ones-top subway extension.

In spring 2013 Kathleen Wynne became Ontario Premier, replacing Dalton McGunity, who was deep in scandal over the cancellation of two power plants, the purpose of which appeared to be to aid Liberal fortunes in byelections. Rob Ford was already Toronto’s Mayor, expressing his opinion that Scarborough “deserves” a subway.

Just months before, in late 2012, the Toronto and Ontario governments had signed a master agreement for transit construction, including the Scarborough LRT.

But now there was a byelection in Scarborough. And if there was one thing the Ontario Liberals really excelled at, it was doing anything at any cost to the public purse to aid a Liberal byelection candidate.

Liberal MPP Margaret Best was dropped as a Minister from Wynne’s new Cabinet in February for undisclosed reasons. On June 27, 2013, she quit as an MPP, creating a vacancy.

Within days of the vacancy occurring, the chair of Metrolinx, in a letter approved by Wynne’s office, took the initiative to ask city council to reconfirm its preference for an LRT or subway — to reconfirm a deal they had signed less than a year before.

Wynne knew her preference. Within days, Liberal candidate Mitzi Hunter’s campaign launched, branding her the “subway champion.” Transportation Minister Glen Murray was sent to meet with Mayor Rob Ford to say that, despite the master agreement, funding for an LRT could be switched to a subway.

And in mid-July 2013, Ford and Wynne’s city council allies voted together. On September 9, the Liberal Subway Champion won her byelection.

If you want to know why transit development in Toronto is so far behind, start with political interference in Metrolinx. And as bad as it was under the Wynne Liberals, expect it to get worse under the Ford Conservatives. Because, in just a short few months, if there is one thing Doug Ford is proving to be good at — at Ontario Power Generation, at Ontario Place, at Ontario Provincial Police — it’s political interference.

And now the Ford Conservatives want to seize Toronto’s subway system from the TTC, split it off to be operated by this broken agency, Metrolinx.

Progressives at City Council and the NDP opposition at Queen’s Park need to put the problem of political interference in Metrolinx at the top of their priorities. Torontonians will continue to suffer with bad traffic and transit until integrity is restored to transit planning. And with the parties of bad and worse up to their elbows in interference, the progressives and NDP appear to be the last hope for actually putting people first in transit planning.

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If Liberal Whip Mark Holland was as sloppy on votes as resignations, long ago the government would have fallen

News yesterday that Liberal Raj Grewal is thinking of unquiting as MP for Brampton East should not have come as a surprise. It’s just the latest example of inexplicable sloppiness by Liberal Whip Mark Holland.

The Party Whip is the enforcer of caucus or leadership decisions. He or she gives out little favours to MPs who toe the party line. And punishment for those who don’t. Carrots and sticks.

The Whip’s job is to win every vote – in the Commons, on committee – with zero dissenters or defectors unless it has been mandated from above. Every caucus head is counted twice or thrice. And when there are whispers of unhappiness, those rumours go to the Whip, who intervenes to head off problems

The Whip is not a job of subtlety. Nor a job about fine words. The Whip works by actions, providing either extreme discretion or object lessons for caucus members.

If Chief Government Whip Mark Holland was as sloppy with the rest of his work as he was in getting “quitting” Liberal MPs Nicola Di Iorio and Raj Grewal to sign on the dotted line, his Liberals would have been defeated in a non-confidence vote long ago. That is to say, Mark Holland seems only selectively sloppy.

Di Iorio is the MP for Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michal who announced his resignation in April but, like Grewal, Holland never actually got a signed and witnessed letter for the Speaker.

According to a review of Hansard, Di Iorio has not spoken or voted in the Commons since June 13. On September 28, various media reported that Holland said Di Iorio would quit this fall. But Di Iorio has defied an apparent agreement with Holland, on November 6 posting on Facebook that he will not quit until January, 2019. Di Iorio still has not shown up to the Commons.

Yet somehow all the weapons of the Whip remained sheathed. Despite Di Iorio’s affront to Canadians, Trudeau and Holland have kept Di Iorio as a member of the Liberal caucus.

Holland’s sloppiness with Grewal is similar. On November 21, Grewal and Holland met face-to-face. The next day, Grewal also posted on Facebook that he was quitting. But again, Holland somehow didn’t seal the deal. Amid police investigations and a conflict of interest probe, Grewal remains an MP and member of the Liberal caucus.

Holland let Grewal leave the meeting without submitting his resignation on paper, apparently trusting that a man in personal crisis and debt could be counted on for timely submission of the documents that cut off his pay. If that’s really what Whip Holland believed, he is an incredibly bad judge of character and circumstances.

And now it seems Holland won’t lift a finger to clean up the mess he left. Reports state neither Whip Holland nor the PMO has followed-up with Grewal. “We’re going to let him follow through on what he said he would do, that’s our expectation,” said Holland this week.

Holland’s actions and inactions with Di Iorio and Grewal don’t just attest to Holland’s inexplicable sloppiness in getting them to quit as Members of Parliament, when agreed.

By their inaction, Holland and Trudeau signal objective support for the bad behaviour of Di Iorio and Grewal and and their denial of the democratic rights of Canadians resident in Brampton East and Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michael.

The hands-off treatment of Di Iorio and Grewal is the exact opposite of the job of the Whip. Unless the job is to be hands off. Holland and Trudeau are acting like wet noodles exactly when a real whip is actually needed to preserve party integrity. Why they would sacrifice their party to protect these two disgraceful MPs — that’s the question to be answered.

For Di Iorio, Trudeau’s byelection games have a very convenient timeline

Like a unicorn, Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio is often talked about — but rarely seen.

Back on May 2, Conservative MP Gordon Brown died. On October 28, just before his 180-day legal limit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a byelection for Leeds-Grenville, the Conservative bastion in Eastern Ontario that Brown had represented. That byelection will be held December 3, 2018.

Related
The strange timeline of Raj Grewal, police investigations and the PMO
Grewal’s “medical” resignation: we’ve seen this before, there’s more to the story

But in his October 28 byelection call, the Prime Minister did not also include the vacant seats of Outremont, York-Simcoe and Burnaby South. That decision might be explained as a Liberal need to keep new NDP leader Jagmeet Singh (who is running in Burnaby South) on the sidelines, with the denial of representation for 300,000 Canadians simply being the price of Liberal interests.

Also excluded on October 28, was Saint-Leonard–Saint-Michael, even through in April Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio said he would be resigning. But he didn’t.

And it now turns out Di Iorio is working a very coincidental timeline.

Di Iorio has continued to collect his paycheque while not showing up to vote in the House of Commons since at least least June. And recently, brazenly, Di Iorio said he plans to continue to hold the seat a while longer — while not attending the Commons.

This is a different kind of reality. You try that at your workplace and see how it goes.

But Trudeau seems just fine with that, it seems. He hasn’t removed Di Iorio from caucus. He has not condemned his behaviour as completely unacceptable from a representative of the people — whose first job is to show up in the people’s chamber and vote.

Like with the delay in Burnaby South, it’s hard not to feel there’s some other Liberal-serving agenda going on here — in this case we just don’t know what it is. We are like the people in Plato’s cave, who can only see the shadows of Liberal reality cast against the cave wall. And like those in the cave, if we did turn to look at the Liberal reality, we would probably be so startled and overwhelmed — but at its cynicism, not brilliance — that we would never turn to look at it again.

Mr. Di Iorio has recently informed us, and Mr. Trudeau has raised no public objection, that he has now decided to quit on precisely January 22, 2019.

January 22 is a Tuesday. What a curious date to choose for retirement.

Or perhaps not.

Let’s talk about Bill C-76. It’s a bill from the Minster of Democratic Institutions, Katrina Gould. As Canadians will remember, Gould was the PM’s promise-breaker on electoral reform.

Bill C-76 includes something very interesting for Trudeau and Di Iorio. Its legislative summary states the bill would “prevent the calling of a byelection when a vacancy in the House of Commons occurs within nine months before the day fixed for a general election.”

The next federal election is scheduled for October 21, 2019. Nine months prior to that date is Monday, January 21, 2019.

Coincidence?

Why exactly Trudeau and Di Iorio would want to prevent a byelection in Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel is, of course, a mystery to us cave-dwellers. But avoiding the voters does seem to be the game.

It really is something that Trudeau or Di Iorio appear to have already found a way around their own law — even before it has been passed.

Anyone trying to understand how this Prime Minister makes his byelection decisions — whether there is any democratic principle at work in them — is condemning him or herself. It seems it’s all tactical games, each one individually designed for a specific and hidden Liberal need. And the democratic rights of us cave-dwellers is just an unimportant matter.

Grewal’s “medical” resignation: we’ve seen this before, there’s more to the story

Thursday afternoon at about 4:00pm, the Prime Minister and his Liberal MP for Brampton East, Raj Grewal, put up social media posts announcing Grewal’s resignation as MP.

The circumstances around the resignation suggest the reasons are likely serious — certainly more serious than initially admitted by Trudeau or Grewal.

Also read: The strange timeline of Raj Grewal, police investigations and the PMO

Grewal is 33 years old and was was serving his first time as MP. He was just getting started — now it’s over.

The Prime Minister’s social media post pointed to “personal challenges” and hoped Grewal would receive “the support he needs.” Grewal’s post said he quit for “personal and medical reasons.”

We’ve seen that one before. Just weeks ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the resignation of cabinet minister Jim Wilson with a communication that directed readers to an unspecified addiction problem as the reason.

But anyone who watches politics — anyone who thinks about work — immediately knew Ford wasn’t telling the whole story.

Wilson didn’t just quit as Minister. He quit the Conservative caucus. And that was a tell. When a member of a party caucus is having personal struggles — a family crisis, an addiction, any serious illness — the caucus doesn’t abandon them. On the contrary, like a family or a decent workplace, a party caucus shows solidarity with a member in tough times. It gives them them the time to address their problem and return to the job they had. It doesn’t push them out. Unless that’s only part of the story.

So no one was surprised when, over the net couple days, Global News discovered allegations of sexual impropriety against Wilson.

A similar story was spun about Liberal MP Hunter Tootoo. In 2016 he resigned from the Liberal caucus, under cover of an story about alcohol addiction. That story seems to have been true — Tootoo did reportedly undertake alcohol addiction treatment — but only part of the truth. Later it was reported that Tootoo had “inappropriate” sexual relationships in the workplace.

The story that the PMO has told us about Raj Grewal is that he suffers from a gambling addiction. And if that was the full story, Grewal would likely have been supported by his party through treatment.

Of course, we already know there’s more to the story — on Friday afternoon, the PMO confirmed there is at least one police probe into Grewal and hinted at a second.

And we don’t know how much more. But by the actions that have taken place, it’s substantial. Because unlike Tootoo or Wilson, Grewal didn’t just “quit” his party caucus. He quit as an Member of Parliament.

That’s a significant difference. And it’s not just a difference a little farther down the spectrum. It’s a qualitative difference.

A party leader can put someone out of cabinet or caucus. In good graces they’re allowed to resign. But no party leader has the power to make an MP quit.

How exactly Raj Grewal came to quit, what discussions the PMO or government whip might have had with him over what timeline, and the nature of his police problems are all unclear. But following from the histories of other incidents, the actions surrounding this one suggest it is serious.

The strange timeline of Raj Grewal, police investigations and the PMO

Late Friday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s office announced it is not aware of a Peel Regional Police investigation into one of the governing party’s MPs, Raj Grewal.

The statement wasn’t in response to an inquiry. Neither the opposition or media was asking if the PMO knew Grewal was subject of a police investigation. It was something the PMO raised for some need not apparent to us.

Also: Grewal’s “medical resignation: we’ve seen this before, there’s more to the story

So the questions must be asked — when did the PMO first become aware it was unaware of a police investigation into Grewal?

Raj Grewal is the Liberal MP who suddenly up and quit on Thursday.

And in explaining his departure, a tweet from the Prime Minister pointed only to “personal challenges” for which the Prime Minister hoped Grewal would receive “the support he needs.”

In a Facebook post, Grewal went a little further, saying the departure was for “personal and medical reasons”.

The two Thursday social media posts seem to have been co-ordinated in advance, the PMO tweet coming at 3:59pm and Grewal’s post at 4:08pm.

The language in the posts also appear to have been worked out in advance with a very conscious explaining of who didn’t know what and when.

“Yesterday” was the very first word in both the PM’s tweet and Grewal’s post. According to Grewal, he told the Chief Government Whip he was resigning as MP on Wednesday. Trudeau asserted he only knew about Grewal’s “personal challenges” on Wednesday.

Then, on Friday afternoon, more information came from the PMO.

A written statement from the PMO said Grewal had a gambling addiction “that led him to incur significant personal debts.” The Prime Minister accepted Grewal’s resignation “on these circumstances.”

But the PMO’s Friday statement also showed it had been less than transparent and forthcoming. Not just about what they knew, but also when they knew.

On Friday the PMO acknowledged they were aware Grewal was “subject of a complaint” to the Ethics Commissioner. The complaint, made by NDP MP Charlie Angus, alleged Grewal broke conflict of interest rules by inviting a business associate to official Canadian meetings in India during the Prime Minister’s visit.

In fact, Grewal was not just subject of a complaint. On May 17, the Ethics Commissioner confirmed Grewal was subject of an investigation.

But more significantly, the PMO statement added new information that revealed the “personal and medical” explanation was only a part of what was at issue with Grewal.

The PMO now revealed it was aware the RCMP had been making “inquires” about the “circumstances that were the subject” of the Ethics Commissioner’s investigation. The delicate wording gave no clarity on whether these “inquiries” add up to an RCMP investigation. They didn’t clarify the nature of these inquires. And they didn’t clarify when the PMO became aware of the inquiries.

And there was a very odd line: “we are not aware of an investigation by the Peel Regional Police.”

This is not meant sarcastically, but when did the PMO know they were not aware of a Peel police investigation? And what steps, reasonable or otherwise, did they take to continue their state of unawareness?

Perhaps the Liberals had chosen to not to know too much — adopting the Sgt. Schultz alibi.

It seems the PMO led reporters away from police investigations — or inquiries — with a cover story about “personal challenges”. Indeed, the PMO’s initial telling of the story was only forthcoming and transparent if we include possible multiple police probes in the category of “personal challenges” about which the Prime Minister only became aware “yesterday.” That’s not usually how we think about these things. Now we know there were other issues, knowledge of which may have preceded “yesterday.”

By their own admission, the PMO was aware of RCMP inquiries. But we don’t know when they became aware, or what they became aware of. And we don’t know when the PMO became aware that it didn’t know anything about any Peel Police investigation.

What’s missing is any timeline of what and when the Prime Minister or his office knew about possibly illegal acts by Grewal and police probes into him. “Yesterday” learning about “personal challenges” doesn’t cover them. The Prime Minister needs to be more clear about what he knew about Grewal and when he knew it.

Air comes out of lobby group attempt to justify low wages after less than a day.

The Montreal Economic Institute, the former employer of Maxime Bernier — former Conservative MP now leader of a new far-right splinter party — has a new study out today to support Doug Ford’s lower minimum wage laws.

And within hours of the report’s release, the MEI’s illusions have been punctured by reality.

The weakness of the report may be why the the MEI’s story has, so far anyway, only been reported on by the Toronto Sun, the paper whose editor-in-chief was formerly the communications director for Mayor Rob Ford.

Economist Michal Rozwarski has written a short analsyis of the MEI’s two pages thin paper showing the MEI has committed the cardinal sin of data cherrypicking.

Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey is, as its name warns you, a survey. And like any survey, there’s a volatility to the data. And any decent pollster will agree that volatility grows even more when a subset of the survey data is selected. Which is, of course, what the MEI’s anti-wages piece does.

As Rozwarski points out, volatility in LFS data for youth — 15 to 24 year olds — employment means you could pick two points to show whatever you want. When some two month points are selected, the result is a job increase. Other selections yield a job decrease.

Rozawski points out that when you look at the big picture, employment is up from the time of the minimum wage increase to the most recent data point.

Worth noting, the Montreal Economic Institute is a sort-of cousin to the Fraser Institute. Both receive gifts of money from the Aurea Foundation, the organization that hands out a legacy from Peter Monk, the former owner of Barrick Gold. Aurea has a pretty interesting board of directors. Aurea is also a generous funder of many fine far-right causes and hosted the Steve Bannon v. David Frumm fiasco last month.

Trudeau’s games of infinite delay don’t hurt him. They should.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is back in Canada after traveling to Singapore and Papua New Guinea to observe the ASEAN conference and join the APEC summit.

Without doubt, listening to and seeing the global big-shots in international conferences can be important, even through far away. But not more important than listening to and seeing Canadians. That’s job number one – and Justin Trudeau is falling down on the job.

For an important few weeks in the 2015 election, it seemed like Justin Trudeau really got it. As he trudged up that escalator backward in that TV ad – with loosened tie and tired look – there was an emotional connection with those who aren’t in the middle class, who aren’t getting ahead and who are losing the opportunities, benefits and security we believed were essentially Canadian.

Now we have the Trudeau who just doesn’t get it. Insider Ottawa and elegant global cities are his reality. That’s sure not the reality Canadians live in.

It’s easy for him to put off building affordable housing until after the next election. It’s no big deal to him if he delays a public drug insurance plan for a few more years. He can hide from Sears workers who are losing their benefits and pensions. Or just give lip service to ending the education funding gap for Indigenous students.

Those aren’t his reality. Justin Trudeau’s children will get the best education. He doesn’t need to worry about the rent. He’s never lived from paycheque to paycheque. He doesn’t pay a child care bill or fret about his pension. He doesn’t pay for his prescriptions.

But millions of Canadians do. And Trudeau’s delays are keeping them stuck in that reality — when it doesn’t have to be this way. But we need a leader with Canadian’s priority at heart.

Trudeau does have priorities. When Trudeau wanted to buy a pipeline for $4.5 billion, it happened almost overnight. It’s just people’s priorities that must wait.

On day one, work should have been started to creates a national drug plan so every Canadian has pharmacare insurance. At the start, a post-Harper government should have been investing in affordable housing. A bill to protect pensions should have been passed long ago. A plan to encourage provincial childcare expansion is long overdue. And it is solely within the authority of the federal government to end a second-tier education system for Indigenous people. Instead it’s been delay, delay, delay.

And rather than act of people’s priorities, Trudeau continues the awful Ottawa politics of hoarding power for himself. Justin Trudeau didn’t reform our electoral system. He ran his own cash-for-access fundraising ring until public outrage shut it down. He has done nothing to make the House of Commons more democratic. He still brings those Harper-sized omnibus bills.

He has even written his own chapter in the playbook of usurping the people’s power, suspending democratic representation for Canadians in Burnaby South, where NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is nominated for by-election. Holding back an advocate for pharmacare, pension security and affordable housing is no benefit to the people of Burnaby South. But the delay benefits Justin Trudeau.

The game of infinite delay doesn’t hurt Justin Trudeau — but it should. The term of this Parliament is finite; the vote comes Monday, October 21, 2019. Canadians’ priorities need to be addressed by then — or Trudeau probably never will.

We’ve had bad and worse. How do we build something completely different?

Frustration with the Ford government — the scandals, the cuts, the vote to erase trans people’s existence — has once again opened the old wounds about how we got here.

It also challenges us to consider how we get out.

What was unusual about the 2018 Ontario election was the high number of NDP-PC vote switchers. These were people who were definitely not going to vote for the Wynne Liberals, but were unsure between the other two parties.

Repeatedly, polls showed the most common second choice of NDP voters was the PCs and the most common second choice of PC supporters was the NDP.

Also critical to this dynamic was that Horwath had very high approval ratings, while Ford’s approval was deeply negative. This continues, with a poll this week putting Andrea Horwath at a net +20 approval and Doug Ford at net -26.

These two factors were the driving impetus of the first half of the campaign.

Having started at about the 20 per cent mark, in the first week, Horwath’s NDP moved into second place. Horwath — under her campaign against “bad and worse” and for “change for the better” — was drawing support from both PC and Liberal vote totals. The PC-NDP switchers were coming to Horwath.

By the May 24 long weekend of the campaign the net effect of the growth of Horwath’s NDP and the declines of the Ford PCs put the two parties in a tie — both somewhere about 37 per cent support. The last two weeks broke this tie in the PCs favour, with two strategies being mainly responsible.

First, the Ford party rebranded as the “PC all-stars” who were “ready to govern” — and the implicit message was that Christine Elliot and Carolyn Mulroney were moderates who would constrain Ford’s impulsiveness (of course, this has not happened in the least).

And to create contrast, the Ford campaign created a narrative about “radical NDP” candidates — one who wore a white poppy (horror!) and another, an interfaith activist whose excellent work was praised by a local Jewish community group, who the Conservatives claimed posted a Hitler meme on her Facebook account. The NDP campaign could never find a trace — even a deleted trace — of the meme. Regardless, the PCs were now pitching themselves to the NDP-PC switchers as the safe choice.

The second strategy was the Liberals’ final gambit, a mythical crisis. A strike by contract instructors and teaching assistants at York University had started on March 5. On April 12 the government appointed an Industrial Inquiry Commission to bring a report to the Minister of Labour.

The Liberal government could have used its majority to pass any bill it wanted, through three readings would take some days. But Wynne waited four more weeks to act. On the very last day before the Legislature dissolved for elections, Wynne tabled a back-to-work bill and demanded all-party support to pass all three readings in the single day. Forget the students and staff — Wynne’s goal was to have the bill fail and pin blame for the strike on the NDP.

As the Ford PCs were pivoting away from the Highway 407 scandal and toward the PC all-stars, Wynne launched her campaign against the NDP, the election of which, she claimed, would lead to “never-ending” strikes. The play didn’t much move the needle for the Liberals, who still ended the election at 19.5 per cent support. But it did have an impact on those key PC-NDP switchers. Between the all-stars and the never-ending strikes, what was a 37-37 tied broke into a 40-34 win for Ford.

A few follow-on points. One, the PC assurance that Ford would not lead a centralized Premiership was critical — but, as was very foreseeable, has been proven utterly false. Two, no one can condemn Wynne for campaign for her own party – but her end-game strategy against Horwath lacked principles, objectively aided Ford and no contrition has ever been shown. Three, if New Democrats really want to win, they need to be prepared to make final week shifts and re-orient strategies in response to changing campaign dynamics driven by their competitors. There is no law that says the strategies of “all-stars” and “never-ending strikes” had to win.

Now the Ford PCs have a four-year term. It can feel deeply dispiriting. But what is absolutely critical is that it must be only a single term. And that requires vision and hope.

The New Democrats have put up resistance in the legislature — and that’s necessary, but not sufficient. If the New Democrats are to end the Ford Premiership, they need to build a movement that propels them there. Resistance is an argument to restore an old status quo — to turn the clock back to “bad” from “worse.”

The analysis that Ontario needs “something completely different,” something discovered by the NDP through listening to voters in focus groups, was deeply resonant. Our democracy isn’t doing the job. Our economy is leaving people behind. Our public services are declining. Our infrastructure isn’t keeping up. Climate is changing. People face discrimination. The status quo needs change. Less clear is what type.

The conservative response (and this isn’t just in Ontario) has been the construction of myths — that trans people don’t exist, that tax cuts for the wealthy boost the economy, that minimum wages hurt workers. There are a series of these illusions — or delusions, depending on the participant. It’s all about fingers in ears or hands over eyes.

But denialism, while it may obscure reality, doesn’t erase it. In place of the politics of illusion, what would be completely different is a culture-shifting movement to see problems as they really are. To stop abstracting and erasing reality and debating the illusionists — instead, that seeing reality and real people’s experience becomes the starting point. Whether it’s low wages, discrimination or access to public resources, to focus on the real and material effect on people’s life stories and go from there. Not government by myth.

Politics lives in a culture. The Ford PCs have one that erases and obscures. More than resistance, replacing a culture requires asserting a different one — perhaps one that really sees and hears.

Another bad poll for Scheer. But what’s the matter with Singh’s NDP?

Response to Thursday’s Abacus poll mostly focused on the poor numbers for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. With less than a year to an election, it has been a very rare poll that has shown his party within striking range of the 37 or 38 per cent support required to win a majority.

Abacus pegged Scheer’s Conservatives at 34 per cent — and it seems the poll did not prompt respondents for the option to support the new People’s Party of break-away Conservative Maxime Bernier.

What wasn’t much of a focus was that Jagmeet Singh’s NDP earned the support of only 17 per cent of poll respondents. And that really sums it up — Singh’s NDP have dropped off the media landscape.

The Conservative attacks on the Trudeau Liberals are often half-baked and half-truth. But at least they’re attacking. And that’s why they get in the news cycle. Singh’s NDP seems to be in splendid isolation — that’s not an interesting media story.

In the absence of an engaging, positive narrative from the New Democrats, pundits and media commentary is all too happy to fill the gap. Colby Cosh’s hit-piece in the National Post is a case in point. The result is that if the Singh NDP are thought of at all in media coverage, it’s negative.

It’s not that the New Democrats don’t have a good story they’re trying to tell. Or, that on that story, the Trudeau Liberals aren’t weak. That story is about the kitchen table realities of working class people. It’s about the cost of everyday life.

The Trudeau Liberals are anxious to tell all who will hear that this economy is great, the average Canadian is doing well, let the good time roll.

And there is some truth to that. On average. But nobody lives in an average. When Jeff Bezos walks into a bar, on average, we’re all billionaires.

Singh’s NDP have an important different story to tell — one that resonates with many people who are struggling with low wages and personal debt and many others who are doing okay, but worry about what kind of Canada they’re leaving for the next generation. But that narrative needs to punch through. Singh’s New Democrats are facing a tactical problem.

Media narrative has arc and conflict. And those who aren’t part of the conflict aren’t part of the arc. That’s where Singh’s NDP are today.

This isn’t a new problem for the NDP, every leader has had it — with the possible exception of Tom Mulcair — because of the NDP’s third party status.

When you’re the third party, conflict doesn’t come to you — you have to make it. The third party needs to work at least twice as hard as the official opposition to get in the media narrative. That may be unfair — but that’s real.

Every single morning, the NDP needs to think about how they put themselves into the conflict. And it’s not just the leader who needs to amp-up the tactical game, it’s every MP, every staffer. Everyday they’re not bringing conflict to the news and changing the narrative arc, it’s a day the Trudeau Liberals win.

Loss of Conservative seats could give Trudeau a free ride. Or open the door to a different challenge.

The Conservative Party puts on a brave face on the pundit shows. The new far-right party of Maxime Bernier with either come to nothing, they explain, or any success will come at the expense of the Liberals and NDP.

Remember, this is what pundits are paid to do.

But you judge for yourself.

The more realistic prognostication is that the Bernier split means for the next 13 months Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will be looking over his shoulder at Maxime Bernier – not be eyes-forward on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It means that in the election to be held just over a year from now the Conservative Party will win fewer than the 96 seats it currently holds.

Maxime Bernier was the close runner-up in the recent Conservative leadership. He built a national organization including a national fundraising machine. He also knows where conservative voters itch. And that’s exactly where he’s going to scratch.

Look at his policy platform. He knows exactly where to put the wedge in order to separate Scheer from the Conservative base. Bernier will sprinkle his talk with coded phrases – like “illegal immigrants” and “mass migration” – to appeal to the Rebel Media types. He has promised that all capital gains will be untaxed and higher incomes will get a tax cut – to appeal to affluent conservatism. He will take pro-gun positions – he is already known as someone who thinks the AR-15 assault weapon should be unrestricted and there should be no limit on the killing-power of ammunition magazines.

Rebel Media. Affluent conservatives. Gun owners. That’s the trifeca of hard-core Conservativism, and Bernier is going hard at it.

A poll by Abacus released in late August suggested a Bernier Party would receive 13 per cent support, dropping Scheer’s Conservatives to 28 per cent.

When the Conservatives were tossed out of office in 2015 they won 99 seats on 32 per cent support. At 28 per cent, the Conservatives would likely lose 20 to 30 seats.

A more interested question is how the campaign flow would change with a Conservative Party that is not an electoral threat. It could be good times for Trudeau. Or open the door to a different threat.