On Venezuela, it’s Chrystia Freeland who’s out of step with allies – or in step with the wrong onesi

On Monday, the Trudeau government backed calls for the Venezuelan military to enter politics and choose the next President of Venezuela.

That hawkish call has put the Trudeau Liberals and their Foreign Affairs Minister, Chystia Freeland, out of step with many of Canada’s traditional allies.

Last Thursday, several European countries – Spain, France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden – established an international contact group to help find a way out of the Venezuelan crisis. That group has now been expanded to include Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Costs Rica and possibly Mexico.

The expanded group meets in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Thursday, February 7.

But Canada won’t be there. Chystia Freeland continues on her one-track military approach. Neither the European nations or the international contact group has endorsed Freeland’s call for a military change.

Different theories have been offered on the motive for Freeland’s position as foreign policy hawk.

It does duplicate the Conservative position, preventing any attack from Canada’s political right, an advantage in an election year. Some have suggested it may be aimed at proving Canada is not the national security risk Trump claimed when placing tariffs against our steel and aluminum. Others have offered that this get-tough look is a story to cover recent weakness on China and India. Or it may simply be that Freeland is a hawk who thinks military solutions are the stuff of foreign policy realists, and those working hard to join them.

Whatever the motive, Freeland’s plan heads down a dangerous path – one which could lead to bloody chaos, even civil war. Once fractured, the military could degrade into rival militias of the sort we’ve seen too often before.

No one can know how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would respond. And no one can doubt that Maduro has a significant political following – in society, the Venezuelan state and the armed forces. Mudaro’s party has held the presidency without interruption since 1998. His PSUV lost its National Assembly majority in 2015 for first time since 2000.

Meanwhile, Trump’s National Security Advisor and super-hawk John Bolton has been musing to Fox News about getting “American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela” and sending signals about moving troops into next-door Colombia. In this worrying context,  Freeland’s military call risks creating a lawless scramble for control of a petrostate. It is absolutely the wrong move.

In contrast with the Liberals and the Lima Group they set up in 2017, the New Democrats have been supportive of the European grouping and its evolution into the international contact group.

That support has continued even though the European Union last weekend voted to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as president, a step the NDP has not taken.

The Venezuelan episode has the eerie reminiscence of the Iraq invasion, with President George W. Bush, like Donald Trump now, threatening military action. And UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, like Freeland today, clearing the pathways.

Whether something hopeful can come from the international contact group meeting in Montevideo is hard to know. Unfortunately, despite the importance of the issue and countries participating, Canadian news reports have been scant leading up to the meeting. Hopefully there will be some reports from international media on the meeting communique, assuming there is one.

What’s worrying isn’t just that Canada won’t be with allies in Montevideo, hoping to find a way to peace. It’s that, Freeland, for whatever reason, has fallen into step with Trump, Bolsanaro and other hawks who are stuck on a single, dangerous military track.

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PMO rewards McKenna’s mandate failure even as Wilson-Raybould demoted

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna was not a victim of PMO demotion in the cabinet shuffle held last Monday. But perhaps by any normal objective standard she should have been.

And McKenna’s treatment stands in marked contrast to that of former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who, in her long demotion letter last week, argued “there is very little, if anything, in my mandate letter we have not done or is not well under way to completing.”

ALSO: Wilson-Raybould posts demotion letter, says she spoke truth to power, gives no thanks to Trudeau

Yet the very top bullet of McKenna’s mandate letter was to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with our international obligations,” a job at which, by objective standards, she is failing. An Environment Canada report released December 20 shows McKenna is now even further from reaching our international obligations than last year.

McKenna is supposed to be getting the Canadian economy on target to produce 517 megatons (or less) of carbon by 2030 — our United Nations obligation. But an Environment Canada report released last month not only projected Canada falling short of our 2030 obligation — it showed the gap widening, up from the 66 Mt shortfall projected in 2017 to a 79 Mt shortfall projected last month. We are going the wrong way.

McKenna’s failure may be her fault. Or perhaps not. Perhaps McKenna is failing to work effectively with her Ministry to find solutions. Perhaps she is failing to make the case at the Cabinet table. Or perhaps despite good Ministry work and strong cabinet presentations, the PMO has competing priorities. Perhaps as long as she keeps up appearances with inspiring tweets and soothing public words she can stick around — mandate letters about international obligations notwithstanding.

Politically, the problem is the Liberals’ usual cover-line for failure – “better than Harper!” — doesn’t work with climate change.

The Paris Accord targets are Harper’s targets. And when the climatic health of the plant is the issue, there’s no middle ground. Failure – big, medium or small – is still failure.

The result of McKenna’s failure is polarization — and not just on the climate change issue. Trudeau’s rushed approval of the Trans Mountain was shot down by the federal court of appeal due to a failure to properly consult and accommodate Indigenous people.

The Trudeau government’s climate change failure has fractured its internally inconsistent coalition. That fracturing is now playing out as people move to oppose Trudeau over both climate change and Indigenous title rights. Including, perhaps, at the cabinet table.

 

PMO rewards McKenna’s failures even as it demotes Wilson-Raybould

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna was not a victim of PMO demotion in the cabinet shuffle held last Monday. But perhaps by any normal objective standard she should have been.

And McKenna’s treatment stands in marked contrast to that of former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who, in her long demotion letter last week, argued “there is very little, if anything, in my mandate letter we have not done or is not well under way to completing.”

ALSO: Wilson-Raybould posts demotion letter, says she spoke truth to power, gives no thanks to Trudeau

Yet the very top bullet of McKenna’s mandate letter was to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with our international obligations,” a job at which, by objective standards, she is failing. An Environment Canada report released December 20 shows McKenna is now even further from reaching our international obligations than last year.

McKenna is supposed to be getting the Canadian economy on target to produce 517 megatons (or less) of carbon by 2030 — our United Nations obligation. But an Environment Canada report released last month not only projected Canada falling short of our 2030 obligation — it showed the gap widening, up from the 66 Mt shortfall projected in 2017 to a 79 Mt shortfall projected last month. We are going the wrong way.

McKenna’s failure may be her fault. Or perhaps not. Perhaps McKenna is failing to work effectively with her Ministry to find solutions. Perhaps she is failing to make the case at the Cabinet table. Or perhaps despite good Ministry work and strong cabinet presentations, the PMO has competing priorities. Perhaps as long as she keeps up appearances with inspiring tweets and soothing public words she can stick around — mandate letters about international obligations notwithstanding.

Politically, the problem is the Liberals’ usual cover-line for failure – “better than Harper!” — doesn’t work with climate change.

The Paris Accord targets are Harper’s targets. And when the climatic health of the plant is the issue, there’s no middle ground. Failure – big, medium or small – is still failure.

The result of McKenna’s failure is polarization — and not just on the climate change issue. Trudeau’s rushed approval of the Trans Mountain was shot down by the federal court of appeal due to a failure to properly consult and accommodate Indigenous people.

The Trudeau government’s climate change failure has fractured its internally inconsistent coalition. That fracturing is now playing out as people move to oppose Trudeau over both climate change and Indigenous title rights. Including, perhaps, at the cabinet table.

Finally unpinned from PMO byelection tactics, this may have been Singh’s rebound week

Every successful political leader goes through their trial by fire. The pundits take a run at the new guy. The politicos pile-on in an effort to smother a new political threat before it can grow. This is standard practice.

Jack Layton was a “used car salesman.” Jean Chretien was “yesterday’s man.” Stephen Harper was “too cold.” All had stumbles, all had rebounds. New Democrats should neither tear their teeth out in fear at their new-ish leader’s performance nor shake their fists in rage at media bias. What they should do is learn from the experience.

Right now, the most important story for the New Democrats is, a week into the Burnaby South byelection, Singh was already cruising to a win — well before the Liberals crashed into utter disarray due to a desperate, gross and brand-incinerating race-based strategy from their local candidate, Karen Wang.

The actual story of Karen Wang’s downfall has hardly been written, though a local paper hints at it. Last Saturday night, January 12, both Singh and Wang attended a fundraising gala for the Burnaby Hospital Foundation, an event with many Chinese-Canadian attendees, reflecting the area demographics. And Singh was much in demand — people crowding around to meet him, chat, wish him well, get to know him. In contrast, Wang was sidelined, little noticed and left early. A few hours later the ‘vote for your own’ social post was made. And the rest is history.

Given this melt-down, Singh’s support has probably grown since the poll released just before it. Based on interviews done January 8 to 11, Singh was 13 points ahead with 39 per cent support. Now, with some wind at their backs at last, the NDP needs to pull the sail tight to make the most of it.

First, though, learning is important. For over four months – from September until January – the PMO’s game of byelection delay had Singh pinned in no-man’s land. Time was suspended — extended, even — while Singh remained stuck in the open, taking on shots from all sides. A problematic Mainstreet poll in November added weight to the media narrative that Singh might lose the byelection and, thereby, the NDP leadership.

From this semi-factual basis, layers of conspiracy theory got larded on top of each other – culminating in the outlandish “zebra hooves” theory from the National Post’s John Ivison. According to his theory, the PMO engineered the candidacy of Karen Wang knowing she would implode and result in the Singh win the Liberals want. That Singh was already well ahead is, of course, rendered obsolete by this contorted logic.

But this was the kind of ‘analysis’ possible while Singh was pinned. All serious discussion about him, his appeal or his policies could easily – increasingly easily, as one disparaging meme was topped upon another – be batted away by pundits with mockery and ridicule. The only thing the NDP had going for it was the increasingly poor performance of the Prime Minister and the weak appeal of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. And even those attacks could be countered by Liberals and Conservatives with a redirect to the guy in no-man’s land.

The problem of no-man’s land is something for New Democrats to reflect on. When elected NDP leader 15 or so months ago, Singh said he intended to run in Brampton East in the general election, but would take advice about a byelection run if an appropriate one came along. In advancing this line, the NDP pointed to the fact that Jack Layton remained outside the Commons from his election as NDP leader in January 2003 until the general election of June 2004. But maybe pointing to past practice — a sort-of effort to lead forward from the past — was an error.

Conditions had changed. In 2003 and 2004 no one cared about the NDP and no one asked about Jack Layton. Sure, he became a super-star in 2011. But in 2003 he took over a party near extinction, which had received a miserable 8.5 per cent support in the previous election of November 2000. Questions about Layton winning a byelection seat were not asked because everyone knew the answer — not happening. On the other hand, Singh inherited a party that had just missed a chance at government and was polling at around 20 per cent support. Singh’s NDP is a player.

And the actual past practice led to misinterpretation. Because Layton didn’t run in a byelection, the appeal to history opened the door to a Liberal and Conservative reinterpretation of Singh’s position as a rejection of a byelection run. Their assertions and NDP corrections made the NDP look weak. And when Singh took the first reasonable vacancy – Burnaby South – it appeared like a flip-flop, though it wasn’t. But appearances in politics…well, you know.

So perhaps here’s the point. In general in politics, it may be better to avoid arguments from history so as to avoid being trapped in it. Let the future always be the focus, staying open to doing whatever is needed to build and win, evaluating each opportunity as it comes. Ambitious eyes forward, on the horizon, always.

A related problem was the several byelections called between Singh’s leadership win and his Burnaby South announcement. Of course none of them were in ridings the NDP could win. But while a political leader might be blamed for playing it too safe, no one can be blamed for failing to jump off a cliff. And while that sort of reality-check is probably not for the Leader or MPs to offer, NDP pundits perhaps could have been more aggressive in recasting Liberal demands for Singh to jump of a cliff as self-evidently wrong, self-interested, preposterous advice.

Although an eyes forward stance from Singh combined with pundits ridiculing partisan demands for cliffs jumps might have worked better, they are just tweaks. It’s important to advance your own narrative, but you can only make it from the conditions you find yourself in. Narrative choices are limited when a party elects a leader without a seat.

So finding room to manoeuvre is always important. Once Singh made his Burnaby South decision, perhaps things could have been done differently to advance out of limiting conditions earlier. Perhaps a strategy of direct PMO challenge might have encouraged the PMO to call the byelection on October 28, alongside the byelection for Leeds-Grenville-1000 Islands and Rideau.

Putting Singh on a more aggressive stance could telegraph confidence, switch onus, move Singh out of no-man’s land, and recast him as the dangerous outsider. A strategy of PMO direct challenge could include a call for Butts to call the byelection forthwith – and for him to decide, without delay, on whether there would be a Liberal candidate. Singh could have directed tough Question Period-type questions at the PM from Burnaby South – perhaps speaking from the working class doorsteps of Burnaby South constituents. Or Singh could announce bills, to be tabled on arrival, to fix Trudeau’s failures or the results of his inaction.

It’s impossible to know how a strategy of PMO direct challenge might have succeeded in pushing the PMO call the Burnaby South byelection on October 28. But it’s been my observation that New Democrats often lack the confidence to direct their own play and cast themselves as the central plot protagonist — instead ending up as the guy who you don’t understand why he’s in the play. While there might be occasional upstaging opportunities, it’s no win if they are comic — or an annoyance.

On the other hand, the game played on Singh amid the non-resignation of Raj Grewal was addressed well. Despite the baiting by Liberal operatives for Singh to switch to Brampton East, Singh not only made the right choice, but made it promptly. Unless he could suddenly find a local star for Burnaby South, switching would have shown opportunism, disloyalty and weakness. And, of course, as we see now, the Liberal operatives were baiting Singh to switch to a seat they knew wasn’t actually vacant – and never did become so.

What may have aided Singh’s confidence in sticking with Burnaby South is some information not publicly shared. An internal poll, taken in September and never made public, showed him well ahead in Burnaby South (note to NDP strategists: the default answer to the question of “should we leak this poll showing us leading?” is yes).

Singh’s stumble last weekend on Evan Solomon’s CTV Question Period needs to be addressed. He was caught out on the story of an op-ed by China’s Ambassador to Canada.

Since then, Globe columnist Gary Mason tweeted the timeline of the taping and airing of the interview in relation the date of the op-ed, arguing a bit of slack should be cut for Singh as awareness of the piece really occurred between the Thursday taping and its Sunday airing. Insofar as viewers were not made aware the interview was done four day earlier, when the op-ed was just an emerging story, rather that Sunday, by which time much of the show’s insider audience would have become aware of it, was no doubt a mistake on the part of the show’s producers.

However, some New Democrats, it seems, have misconstrued the timeline Mason presented. The question may have been asked before condemnation of the op-ed exploded the story,  but Solomon’s question was, in fact, fair, coming a full day after the op-ed was posted. It is part of the trial by fire. Yes, that was the day after the PM’s byelection call and no doubt a hectic time. But the test was to see if Singh was briefed-up on a strange op-ed amid current, sensitive Canada-China relations or, even without briefing, could have taken a better swipe at it.

The China-Canada issue is extremely thorny and the NDP needs a China policy – though perhaps can muddle through without for a bit longer as it appears neither the Trudeau government nor Conservatives have one. But whether it’s China or other issues, someone competing for Prime Minister needs to be on top of the hot issues and have a perspective to contribute when called upon. Cycling back to favourite issues is not always possible or appropriate.

Singh also needs to warm-up as an interview subject. In person, Singh is animated and has warmth. But in a talking-head interview format, he often comes off cold. He has the right raw stuff; he need experience, time to experiment and confidence. A smile and occasional head nod are appropriate. New Democrats can’t be scared off the format; it’s an essential part of politics that needs to be mastered.

Having looked back, let’s look ahead. Now unpinned from no-man’s land, well ahead in Burnaby South and with local Liberals ruined by their candidate’s own desperate cheap-shot against Singh, New Democrats have a short window of time to advance a new narrative without too much counter-pressure. They need to think of what to do with it. Narrative starts from the conditions you are in.

Trudeau’s response to Wang’s attempt to racially divide Canadians isn’t acceptable. Rational Canadians understand her strategy isn’t just abhorrent, it’s dangerous in our country. Given Trudeau’s often-stated opposition to divisiveness, taking three days to break his silence over racial divisiveness coming from Liberal ranks is hypocritical – and encourages a creeping suspicion that Trudeau is more identity marketing machine than true belief. And even when he broke his silence there was no apology to Canadians, no apology to Singh, no firm direction to his own troops. He did the absolute bare minimum.

Encouraging suspicion of Trudeau hypocrisy isn’t unfair or opportunistic because there’s lots of evidence it’s true. Haida tattoos aside, the demotion of Jody Wilson-Raybould may be another case of the PMO profiting by reducing people to two-dimensional identities, appropriating them for political profit — then spinning away when the PMO can’t control a political actor who exists in all four dimensions; with not just a deep real life, but also ambitions for the future, both personally and for their society.

On the other hand, Singh’s long-articulated ambition to “bring people together” really is something baked in his soul – you can tell when he talks about it; it animates him and it matters to people, especially younger people. Jagmeet Singh is the lead protagonist in the story of uniting people.

Singh’s role as uniter isn’t just on issues of cultural identity or language. It’s also a class story – but perhaps with a Gramscian twist.

Rightly, Singh has been campaigning on affordability issues, pointing to the problem of people squeezed between stalled wages and rising costs. There is a lot that could be done – both directly by Ottawa and indirectly by encouraging provincial action – but Trudeau doesn’t do much. He makes plans and promises. In official Ottawa, the hegemonic issues are China and Trump and tax cuts for corporations. In subaltern Canada, those are far away.

The problem with subaltern Canada is, unlike officialdom, it lacks constant interconnection and a shared culture — that’s why it’s subaltern. It is an immense challenge to connect the cultural pockets of ‘leave-behind Canadians’ that official Ottawa doesn’t know or care much about. And this is especially true when social movements and the labour movement, which previously created alternative national networks, have been undermined, divided and weakened by both centrist stratagem and neoliberal claims of no alternative.

In this analysis of the inside culture and outside cultures, there is opportunity to bring subaltern Canadians together around change that benefit them. These outsider cultures include working class people, marginalized people, immigrants, the lonely, indebted students. They are the entire cast of real people who never get called up by the liberal glitterati, except as image accessories — but often get talked down to by them.

And here it is critical to remember the social democratic movement isn’t Singh or his caucus team or even the wider NDP membership. For broad success, social movements and the labour movement need to quit playing defence for a rotten economic, environmental and political model out of fear of a worse one playing offence. Defence never wins. Leaders create new teams and new alignments based on new visions arising from current conditions. They work to change the future, not just to slow down a collapsing present.

Official Canada may be liberal by default. But officialdom really is a thin veneer over a much bigger country with much deeper stories. A pundit pile-on is not the story. Echoing the dominant narrative isn’t the story. Singh winning a seat he is now expected to win – not a story. Singh’s unpinning now followed by the Wang inferno gives the NDP a chance to introduce a new story, one in which Singh is central protagonist in a plot about building social unity that touches us all.

But they best be quick, because Singh’s opponents are no doubt already working on a new play in which he again holds a subordinate role.

Wilson-Raybould posts demotion letter, says she spoke truth to power, gives no thanks to Trudeau

Mid-day, former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a demotion letter that I think we can be pretty sure wasn’t vetted by the PMO. You might want to give it a quick peek — because it might not stay up long.

ALSO: Trudeau cabinet shuffle takes Ministers out of protest and court examination line of fire

Wilson-Raybould, MP for Vancouver Granville, was demoted to Minister of Veteran’s Affairs today, a drop from the ninth to 30th place in cabinet minister precedence, observed CTV’s Parliament Hill reporter Glen McGregor.

Earlier in the day, McGregor’s Global TV colleague Mercedes Stephenson commented that “a number of Liberals” had told her that “Cabinet members and PMO were not thrilled with her performance” as Justice Minister.

Wilson-Raybould doesn’t explain why she thinks she was demoted, but she certainly leaves some big clues in her 1,100 word letter, which is followed by another 1,000 words in an annex.

And it’s worth noting that among the more than 2,000 words, Justin Trudeau are not two of them. Nowhere does she name the Prime Minister or thank him for the privileged of serving as Justice Minister for three years.

ALSO: PMO pipeline imperative rewards McKenna failures, punishes Wilson-Raybould success?

Frankly, it’s hard to understand to whom Trudeau was making his public display of displeasure with Wilson-Raybould — certainly he didn’t have to publicly drop her 11 cabinet levels. But as we’ve learned with the Burnaby South games, Trudeau can be quite petty.

Also keep in mind this is a lawyer’s letter about an employment separation. Wilson-Raybould makes a few points — all of which sum up to one big one: I did my job.

First, she provides the evidence that she acted on the mandate letter, arguing “[t]here is very little, if anything, in my mandate letter we have not done or is not well under way to completing.”

Then she addresses the more nuanced part of the job. It is not just to be the Minister of Justice, administering to the court system. It is also to be the Attorney-General of Canada and the top legal adviser to cabinet — and as such “demands a measure of of principled independence.” She says the AG “must be non-partisan…always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served through my tenure in that role.”

Wilson-Raybould then continues, throwing out the PM’s own words that the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people is the “most important,” mentioning that “the work that must be done is well known,” and “legislative and policy changes based on the recognition of title and rights, including historic treaties, are urgently needed”. Toward the end of her letter she pledges to “continue to be directly engaged” in advancing “fundamental shifts.”

Remember, these words are being written by a woman of Kwakwaka’wakw heritage who was previously the Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations. And they are being written the week after a heavily-armed RCMP contingent used force to remove Wet’suwet’en activists from a ‘checkpoint’ on the road to a work camp for gasline workers. The line crosses lands where, courts have ruled, hereditary chiefs hold historic and traditional title. Those chiefs, it seems, were not part of the consultation and accommodations for the project.

And it also comes as the Trudeau government re-runs consultation and accommodation efforts with Indigenous people regarding the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The Trudeau government’s previous consultations and accommodation with Indigenous people were stuck down by the Federal Court of Appeal last spring because they insufficient. Without a doubt, the Trudeau government wants to soon show its finance and big oil backers that shovels are in the ground. And that means ending the consultation, making whatever accommodations they decide upon and re-approving the project soon. Perhaps, once again, too soon.

Given the focus of her letter, and given the pipeline context, it’s hard not to wonder if Wilson-Raybould’s comments about independent advice and speaking truth to power might well be aimed at a PMO political mix that that is one part Indigenous policy meat-grinder and one part Trudeau marketing show.

And it makes you wonder if Wilson-Raybould’s public drubbing has come because, on matters of Indigenous title and consultations, she gave independent, non-partisan, “truth to power” advice — to people who didn’t want to hear it.

Trudeau cabinet shuffle takes Ministers out of protest and court examination line of fire

In November 2015, shortly after being sworn in, new Treasury Board President Scott Brison went to bat for Irving Shipyards, a company owned by the billionaire Irving family.

The Canadian Navy needed an interim supply ship due to the lagging construction schedule of a replacement. The previous Conservative government had just negotiated a $670 million deal with Davie Shipyard, based near Quebec City, to refit a commercial vessel and lease it to the Navy for five years.

ALSO: Wilson-Raybould’s issues demotion letter, says she spoke truth to power, gives no thanks to Trudeau

And in a November Cabinet committee meeting, news reports say Brison argued for a review of the decision – and against the Minister of Defence – to review the decision. Irving Shipyards had been lobbying new cabinet ministers about their alternate proposal, one which had been rejected by the previous government.

Irving Shipyard is located in Halifax, not far from Brison’s riding of King’s Hants.

In the end, the Liberals stuck with the Conservative plan to contract Davie Shipyards. But news of the political intervention became public. And Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the head of the Navy, was fingered for it. He was suspended then, in spring 2018, criminally charged with breach of trust.

Norman’s defence team has made it plain that it would be attacking Brison and working to expose a relationship with the billionaire Irving family. Later, on December 14, documents tabled in court showed Minister Brison would be on the defence’s witness list. Within the next ten days, Brison met with Trudeau and a decision was made that Brison would step down from cabinet and resign from politics. For family reasons, of course. That decision was only made public late last week.

With the case scheduled to start in court in August — and an election campaign starting in September — no doubt Liberal strategists were not keen on having Norman’s lawyer, Marie Henein, cross-examine the Treasury Board President on the ins and outs of his communications with the Irvings. That sort of news would re-up stories about the Aga Khan’s billionaire island, Morneau’s forgotten French villa and other reminders that this isn’t a government that puts the working person first.

Brison will still be in court and it may still be quite embarrassing. But there will be no risk of him facing calls to resign.

Also today, along with Brison, another key Liberal got moved out of the way – Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The logic for Wilson-Raybould’s move isn’t as clear. That she’s been shuffled to Veteran’s Affairs – a clear demotion – sends the signal it’s not just about helping her out of the hot-seat of anti-pipeline protest and Indigenous land rights issues in British Columbia, her home province. If the goal was to insulate Wilson-Raybould from accusations she’d given bad legal advice to cabinet on pipeline conflicts with Indigenous rights, or had sold-out Indigenous people, the demotion wouldn’t be presented as such an object lesson.

Interestingly, as the shuffle was underway, Global TV report Mercedes Stephenson tweeted that “a number of Liberals” had indicated to her that “Cabinet members and PMO were not thrilled with her performance” in Justice.

That leaves open a lot of space. But given the Wet’suwet’en checkpoint protest of a BC gasline project and Trudeau’s evident plan to re-approve Trans Mountain through BC (the Federal Court of Appeal having sent the Liberals back to do the Indigenous consultation and accommodation correctly), it may be Wilson-Raybould’s legal advice and political instincts weren’t what the pipeline lobby wanted to hear.

Cabinet discussions are private – possible leaks from Vice-Admirals notwithstanding – so we may never know how Wildon-Raybould came to deserve her demotion. But whatever the reason for it, the fact of her move out of Justice puts Wilson-Raybould – BC politician and Indigenous person – on the sideline with Scott Brison, and out of a line of fire that could ricochet onto Trudeau himself.

Is the Canadian left so weak it goes ga-ga when our PM says what should be expected?

When, at an open meeting, our Prime Minister was questioned by one person who claimed that Muslims “want to kill us” Justin Trudeau gave a perfectly fine answer — so don’t get me wrong about what I’m about to say.

It was absolutely awful that people in the audience frantically applauded when the Prime Minister simply stated the historical fact that Canada “was built by waves of immigration.” It was terrible they felt it was urgent to clap when the PM pointed out that escaping misery and war elsewhere to the refuge of Canada is what “generations upon generations” have done, resulting in this diverse Canada.

News stories about the clip quickly became among the top shares.

The PM’s response was fine. It was the audience’s response I find concerning. Have some Canadians’ expectations in our leaders fallen so far they feel the need to applaud a statement of historical fact? Are we so worried about a small xenophobic minority who believe in race war that we need to over-enthusiastically affirm our agreement with historical facts for fear they might get erased? Have we been massively gaslighted by the far-right and immobilized into clinging to history, rather than making it?

My suspicion is the weakness of the Canadian left is not because progressive Canadians go ga-ga when the PM says something that should be the minimum expectation of a PM. Rather, the ga-ga response is a symptom of a weakness — particularly a weakness of analysis and vision.

Without an analysis of how things stand and a vision of what we want to create, the left is a force of reaction, not change; of the past, not the future; or surrender, not advance.

For Canada’s first 100 years, the left, whether in or out of government, was pointing the way in Canada. Others responded. And perhaps even the Upper and Lower Canada rebellions of 1837 and the 1870 Red River and 1885 Batoche rebellions were in this same historic arc — the story of people demanding government respond to them, that Canada reflect them, that history be made by them — not the other way around.

But in this age of neoliberalism, the left is trying to cling to old gains. Some even try to protect themselves with supplications to the neoliberal elite, hoping to become the well-fed dog closest to the master.

So we applaud statements about history as if we were afraid the far-right was about to break into our homes and steal it. But history cannot be taken — only the power to write it. And when we spend our time guarding the truth of the past, we are diverted from creating our own power through writing the story about the future we want.

To use that horrible hockey analogy — you don’t score goals when you’re skating backwards.

The immobilization of the broad left is the empowerment of the far-right. It will not go away because we clap very, very hard in affirming the past. The far-right will fade when the power of narrative switches back to a story about a future that is guided by hope for ourselves, and away from the recitations of hatred of others.

More than any political model or set of rules from the past, the political left is always about people writing their own history, reaching for a tomorrow that is an improvement from today.

It is the interminable challenge of the left to build consensus around people’s hopes — because, unlike the right, the story isn’t handed down from a think tank. That is the job of every person but especially leaders of political parties and movements. That ability to create a consensus of hope — and the confidence to try — is the difference between true leaders and placeholders.

The byelection is on – and hopefully soon Trudeau will face the tough questions

This afternoon – a Wednesday for some reason – Prime Minister finally called three byelections, including the much-anticipated Burnaby South, where NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is running.

Of course, as now seems inalienable from the Trudeau style, even when the games of delay and deception appeared to be over, they weren’t. Usually a byelection is 36 days long – but for Singh, the PM has called a 47-day campaign that would land the NDP Leader in the Commons the week before a two-week break.

Through the whole byelection game, Mr. Trudeau’s pettiness has appeared as an extension of his self-obsessed effort to turn everything – from International Women’s Day to Valentines’ Day – into an opportunity to reflect upon and advance himself. And it strikes a stark contrast with his apparent indifference to the challenges Canadians face with the cost of everyday life.

Three years into his mandate, Mr. Trudeau has failed to address the cost of housing and rents – or act with provinces to do so. A plan unveiled last year with headline spending of $40 billion on housing construction turned out to be a mirage, with the federal contribution only half the claimed amount, all federal money contingent on matching provincial funds and a timeline stretching far into the future. When one-third of the country is being run by the ax-wielding Doug Ford, it’s a good bet even the mirage will be further reduced to a small gust of hot air.

And despite decades of study and the known savings of a public, single-payer, universal prescription drug insurance plan — a plan that could ensure coverage for the millions of Canadians without any prescription drug insurance — Trudeau’s only concrete step has been to appoint a Liberal with personal ties to the pharmaceutical industry to write a report.

Even Trudeau’s signature infrastructure promise has been a cruel hoax. His pledge to use historically low interest rates to build infrastructure, create jobs and prime the economic pump was turned into another Liberal banking scheme. Trudeau’s Infrastructure Bank will forego the cheapest source of funds – public borrowing – for higher priced private finance capital. And it has yet to sign any new deals.

Trudeau’s climate change plan is so weak that the gap between our projected carbon emissions and our 2030 targets is growing, not shrinking. Many provinces still generate electricity using large doses of coal – and rather than help them move to clean production, Trudeau has exempted those power stations from his carbon pricing plans, encouraging their continued use.

And despite a wonderful Haida tattoo, it has recently become more than clear that Mr. Trudeau has no comprehension of what reconciliation means — or even the case law our courts have settled on Indigenous rights.

In other words, Trudeau has given the NDP leader a lot of tough questions to ask when, we assume, Singh arrives in the Commons in February.

And Canadians need Singh to ask those tough questions. Scheer’s constant pandering to far right identity politics is not only nauseating but has given Trudeau a free ride on questions about the costs of everyday life. If Scheer asks a question about affordable housing, it’s usually to complain that asylum-seekers are using it. If he asks a question about a universal pharma plan…well, that’s just never happened.

So hopefully Singh will win so the tough questions can finally be asked.

But Burnaby South is no NDP bastion – it’s a competitive seat and Singh and his team are going to have to fight hard and make a connection with voters’ concerns. In that regard Singh may be helped by the Liberals’ nomination of Karen Wang who, far from being an advocate for affordability, has been a fundraising favourite of real estate interests.

But if you are one for bets, I’d wager it is unlikely voters in Burnaby South will choose to elect another voice who will sing from the back row in Trudeau’s Red Army Choir when they can instead send Trudeau a message he can’t ignore.

Polls show Canadians are disappointed with Trudeau. The darling of the liberal establishment needs to be put on notice, and only a vote for Singh will do that.

After months of messing with Singh, Trudeau adds to byelection delay — and inaction on the cost of everyday life

Back in early August, new NDP leader Jagmeet Singh declared his plan to seek the seat of Burnaby South, which officially came open on September 14.

Since then there’s been months of discourteous delay and games from the Trudeau Liberals. Even when a byelection for Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau was called on October 28, Burnaby South was passed by.

Then, amid the Grewal affair in November, Liberal operatives attempted to nudge Singh into switching his byelection run to Brampton East when they knew no vacancy existed. Had Singh taken that bait he would have been left twisting when Liberal MP Raj Grewal rescinded his resignation pledge — no doubt good for some quality PMO snickering.

On December 29 the Liberals nominated a Burnaby South candidate, suggesting an imminent byelection call. But nope. Maybe next Sunday. Or the next.

Burnaby South is a relatively new riding, first appearing for the 2015 general election when NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart narrowly took the seat with 35 per cent support. The Liberal candidate took 34 per cent and the Conservative candidate earned 27 per cent support. Stewart was elected Mayor of Vancouver, creating the vacancy.

Mainstreet poll provides no real guide

The only public poll of the Burnaby South was released on November 19 from Mainstreet. But Mainstreet is a company that has had difficulties getting it right in the past. It’s most public disaster was wildly missing the mark in the Calgary municipal elections. And this poll also has its problems.

Mainstreet’s Burnaby South poll was published along side snap-shots of Beauce, the seat of MP Maxime Bernier, and the BC provincial seat of Nanimo, where the local MLA resigned on November 30 and a provincial by-election is now underway.

Mainstreet’s poll of Burnaby South had certain — oddities.

In the Beauce and Nanimo surveys Mainstreet presented results of both a candidate poll and a leadership poll. That is, respondents were both asked their preference between the party candidates (“Would you vote for Jill Smith, candidate of the NDP,” for example), and their preference between party leaders (“Would you vote for the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau”).

Those two questions will yield different results. In Nanimo, when NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson was compared against other candidates, her result was five points higher that the NDP’s result in a leadership poll. In Beauce, the candidate poll boosted Maxime Bernier by seven points from the leadership poll. Candidates matter — especially in byelections.

But in Burnaby South, only a leadership poll was presented, not a poll of candidates. Of course only Singh will be on the ballot, alongside the names of the other local candidates — not alongside Trudeau, Scheer and May.

The other curiosity was that Mainstreet included May’s Greens at all. The Green Party leader has repeatedly declared her party will not be fielding a candidate in Burnaby South.

Both those oddities mean the one public poll is not a worthwhile guide to actual support levels in Burnaby South.

Via Twitter, I asked the president of Mainstreet why he didn’t report a candidate poll and included the Green Party.

The reason given for excluding candidate names was that candidates are not officially nominated with Elections Canada yet. But, that response doesn’t square with Mainstreet’s surveys of Beauce and Nanimo, in both of which candidates were named though they are not officially nominated with their electoral commissions.

And the reason given for including the Green Party is that May might yet change her mind. Well, okay.

The result is that the November Mainstreet poll of Burnaby South does not reveal or clarify, it just raises more questions.

Liberals will come hard at Singh to try to avoid affordability issues

But there’s no question the Liberals will be coming hard at Singh in Burnaby South. The machinations and manipulations leading up to the byelection prove that. And surely Liberals know that, though clearly it isn’t showing up in polls on political preference, the NDP is aiming at the right target with their focus on Liberal inaction on the affordability everyday life.

As shown in a recent survey, the cost of everyday life and personal health concerns are what keep Canadians up at night. And Singh keeps pounding away at Liberals’ failure to fix the cost of prescription drugs and housing affordability. It’s a vulnerability the Liberals would prefer to address by attacking the messenger — delaying him and even defeating him, if possible.

Strategically, the Liberals would prefer to keep the media narrative focused on Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Liberals may be do-nothings, but — they will argue — that is better than rule by the unpalatable Conservatives.

In Burnaby South there’s also a lot at stake for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Despite disappointment with the Trudeau Liberals, there has not be a single poll during Scheer’s leadership showing his Conservatives in majority territory.  Now Burnaby South presents two strategic problems. First, whether to primarily campaign against the Liberals candidate or the NDP’s Singh. And second, whether to continue their anti-immigrant rhetoric in a working class suburban riding home to many immigrants. Those decisions will be instructive and perhaps significant to the outcome.

But of course the stakes are highest for Singh and the NDP. A win by Singh puts him in the Commons in February, asking Trudeau why he pays so little attention to working class Canadians struggling with the affordability of everyday life — even while paying out billions in new subsidies and tax reductions to corporations.

A Singh loss would likely result in a 2019 election almost exclusively fought over whether it will be Liberals or Conservatives who hand out billions more in corporate subsidies and tax cuts. A Singh win opens the door to turning Liberal vulnerability on affordability into a surprise NDP’s opportunity.

However Burnaby South turns out, it’s a significant milestone toward the general election scheduled for October 21, 2019.

Liberals kept the Conservatives in power for two years, imploded, blamed the NDP — and could do it again

After backing out of a 2008 coalition pact with the NDP, switching leaders then backing Harper’s minority government for two years, it’s no surprise the Conservatives gained at Liberal expense to win a majority in 2011. The Liberals legitimized Harper.

And it’s also no surprise the Liberals strategists blamed the NDP for their epic failure.  Strategists are like that. But the bigger concern is Liberal strategists might do it again after this fall’s election.

Between the 2008 to 2011 general elections, Conservative support rose two points, hiking them from 38 per cent to 40 per cent support, adding 23 new Conservative seats, and giving them a majority.

That 2011 Conservative majority didn’t come from vote splits, as consoling and exculpatory a story as that might be for Liberal strategists. Harper’s 2011 win came from Liberals — in two ways.

The immediate cause of the Conservative win was moving two points of support and 27 seats from the Liberals to the Conservatives (Layton’s NDP increased vote support and took a net four seats gain from the Conservatives, limiting total Conservative gains to 23 seats).

The longer-term cause follows from the Liberals legitimizing former PM Harper after the 2008 general election, which elected a hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party.

Almost immediately after the new parliamentary session in fall 2008, and despite the global banking crisis and impending recession, the Conservative government introduced an austerity package in their Fall Economic Statement.

In response, not only did the NDP and Liberals agree to vote against the budget and defeat the Harper government, they also declared they would form a coalition government, under Liberal leadership, to replace Harper, if invited to do so by the Governor-General. Facing possibly imminent replacement, Harper prorogued the Commons, putting off any confidence vote.

The Liberals used Harper’s delay to back out of their deal with Layton’s NDP. Liberal leader Stephan Dion quit in late December and was replaced by Michael Ignatieff in early January 2009. And, for the next two years of confidence votes, Liberal votes kept Harper in the Prime Minister’s office.

When the Commons was recalled on 28 January, 2009, the Liberals, now under Ignatieff’s leadership, gave Harper the votes needed to pass his Throne Speech and continue as Prime Minister. The Liberals also voted for Harper’s Throne Speech in spring 2010. Liberals supported Harper’s 2009 and 2010 budgets. Liberals voted for Harper’s Fall Economic Statements of 2009 and 2010.

It really was astonishing. The Liberals rejected a plan to replace Harper and instal a Liberal Prime Minister, preferring to back Harper than work with the NDP.

After two years of Liberals legitimizing the Harper Conservatives, no doubt some past Liberal supporters were convinced. And when the 2011 election came, a drift of Liberal votes to the Conservatives gave Harper his long sought-after majority. For that key sliver of Liberals, a weak leader like Ignatieff was a poor alternative to conservative stability on offer from Harper.

Of course that’s not how the Liberals remember it. In Liberal history books, two years of Liberal support for PM Harper is erased. The drift of Liberal votes — and seats — that boosted the Conservatives to a majority is erased. What is instead written is that once again Liberal strategists did nothing wrong — it was the NDP’s fault.

Leading up to the the October 2019 election there’s been no partnership between the Liberals and Conservatives. But should the Conservatives win a minority in 2019, and given the Trudeau Liberal’s history of pursuing Harper’s policies, the risk is that Trudeau would put Scheer in the Prime Minister’s office rather than form a coalition with Singh’s NDP. Like before.