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.

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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.

Amid the giants, it’s time for a bigger media platform for independent voices

There are many good quality, on-line media platforms that put forward a consistently progressive point of view.

There’s the The Tyee and the National Observer, both based in British Columbia. In Quebec there’s Ricochet. Rabble is a national voice.

But without a doubt, these democratic voices are a lot fainter than those of the big media empires, of which there are really only a few.

In English-language, Postmedia is the print king, owning the National Post, the five Sun papers and many local newspapers. Postmedia includes some of Canada’s best known conservative opinion-writers.

There’s TorStar, owner of the Toronto Star and many local papers, especially in Southern Ontario. The Star provides space for more liberal and occasionally social democratic voices.

What The Star and Postmedia have in common is their eroding balance sheet, as print media fades away and on-line audio, video and written content takes over.

Among the on-line media, there’s Corus’ Global.ca. Corus owns Global TV and many radio stations nation-wide – including several focused on AM talk personalities which are now being rebranded Global New Radio. Global.ca has on-line news and commentary including video and written pieces. The commentary mostly comes from in-house – and conservative – TV and radio personalities. Global.ca also publishes written reports from sources such as Canadian Press.

Rogers also owns many radio stations and Macleans magazine, an on-line and print production.

Bellmedia owns the CTV network and many AM talk stations. Backed by BellMedia’s 24/7 News Channel, CTV.ca has an on-line presence that is weaker on personality and comment, but strong on video interview.

And there’s CBC.ca, with a strong on-line presence that now includes opinion, and which can draw on a huge network of TV and radio stations, all under the CBC brand. They also have an ownership stake in Sirius XM satellite radio. While CBC.ca opinion has been mostly liberal or conservative, there may soon be a social democratic voice.

Everyone one of these outfits dwarfs even the largest of the progressive on-line content.

The big outfits are running culture factories. Independent media is running cottage industries — they are fighting the internet companies with a spinning loom. It’s time to at least upgrade to steam power.

After three years of writing a weekly column for Postmedia’s five Sun papers and doing regular pundit panels on Corus and Bellmedia TV and radio outlets, I’ve see a lot of what happens behind the curtain. And the honest answer is those guys aren’t special. Their personalities are good, but not better. Their hosts are good, but could be challenged. The writing is good, but not exceptional. The audio and video is strong, with big capital investment, but still runs on the production skill of mortal humans.

They are no slouches by any means. But it’s not skill and knowledge that has allowed them to dominate the creation of political narrative.

But they do dominate. And that’s why their voices are heard. Not so much because they’re better than anything independent media could put up. Because they have a bigger platform.

And the question is whether there could be good-quality, intelligent and down-to-earth independent media platform – a single platform that amplifies all the good work going into the currently existing small platforms. If the current array of progressive media platforms federated into a united platform, co-branded and combined their power of promotion, the total combined reach of all the video, reports, audio and commentary could grow considerably.

It’s kind of like that old idea that if we join a union and bargaining collectively, we can be stronger. Or that if we co-operate we can provide to ourselves the services we couldn’t provide on our own. Those are smart ideas. So is bringing together Canadian independent media onto one platform, with one brand and a focused marketing effort. It doesn’t mean voices get homogenized – not if done right. It just means more people hear them.

The Munk Centre has recently shown has sterile the narrative can become. They think it is meaningful to hold a debate between an imperial Republican and authoritarian Republican, asking which is preferable, war crimes or hate crimes. They span the alphabet from A to B. That imposed narrative can’t be permitted to become the default range of thought.

Without a stronger media platform that can host – and better project – voices capable of change hearts and minds, the larger democratic project will always be frail and susceptible. Without public discussion between social democrats about the steps forward, the political, labour and social movements tend to stay in separate boxes that don’t connect.

Many people have built-up lively and impressive on-line media platforms over the last decade. Let’s start the discussion about building a powerful and more impressive platform before this decade is over.

What Toronto learned this week: John Tory’s white flag gave Doug Ford the green light.

Doug Ford is full of surprises. Or maybe not. Maybe we should have known a vengeful, right-wing populist elected with no plan would use his power to carry out vendettas against political opponents.

More surprising is how fast Toronto mayor John Tory surrendered.

In the general election only six weeks ago, Doug Ford said nothing – to the people, anyway – about disrupting municipal elections.

Then three weeks ago Mayor Tory met privately with Premier Ford. On the top of Tory’s agenda was to get more power for himself. This was also without the knowledge of the people. Conservatives. Go figure.

It took Tory two weeks – until the night before Ford was to go public – to ‘fess up. Then he revealed he’d talked with Ford about changing council’s constitution. And, it turned out later, the conversation wasn’t abstract. Monday, Tory confirmed Ford told him he was thinking of changing the electoral map for the election already in progress.

Tory’s response was to call it impractical. And, no doubt, to steer conversation back to his request for more power.

Impractical. Not wrong. Or illegitimate. Or undemocratic. An insult. Outrageous. Contrary to the Toronto-Ontario consultation agreement. An affront to the months of consultation his city had just completed on new ward boundaries. Tory didn’t say it he would fight it, tell everyone and rally opposition.

Impractical. Surely, to Doug Ford, Tory’s lack of concern – or perhaps his concern only for himself – was a green light.

The morning Ford was to announce his plan, Tory held a press conference. Not one councillor by his side. No plan to fight Ford’s sabotage – on the contrary, he offered a referendum to legitimize it.

On the contrary, Tory ran up the white flag, prematurely conceding that Ford has the legal authority to make these changes to the City of Toronto Act. Former Toronto Mayor David Miller has publicly stated that Ford’s actions may breech the Toronto-Ontario consultation agreement. Tory didn’t mention that. Or any legal opinion from the city solicitor. Or any effort to mobilize council or Torontonians against Ford’s interference.

There are many good arguments why council wards should be smaller than MP ridings. Councillors aren’t just legislators. They are involved in community consultation about everything from the location of stop signs and cross-walks to zoning and developments. In some wards, there are scores of development applications at any given time. It’s only developers who win when councillors can’t engage the community. Of course, remember Ford’s backroom greenbelt promise.

But the issue isn’t 25 or 47 or any other number. The issue is that in a democracy, consent comes from the people – especially in defining their own electoral process. And decrees that target political opponents are unacceptable.

Because keep in mind that Ford isn’t only trying to disrupt municipal elections in Toronto, where Andrea Horwath’s NDP is on the rise, having won the popular vote six weeks ago. Ford also stepped into the Peel and York elections, carrying out vendettas against two political adversaries.

Former PC leader Patrick Brown and former Liberal cabinet minister Stephen Del Duca were campaigning for the Peel and York region chair positions. Without a whiff of consultation with the people of Peel or York, Ford announced his plan to eliminate both as elected positions. This is arbitrary, personal rule. Despotic.

And it’s just the start. Ford’s tax cut for the highest income earners will hurt housing, transit, health care and schools – and those who depend on them. What this episode proves is Tory’s allegiance is to himself, not the city, and he can’t be trusted in private meetings with Doug Ford. Since that’s a key part of the mayor’s job it’s hard to see how he can continue in it.

The whisperers are stealing your cookies

There’s a new strategy from the political right in Europe and North America. Its goal is to co-opt feminism and mobilize racism and other phobias to build new bases of support. These bases of support are in addition to affluent conservatives seeking tax cuts and social conservatives supporting a theocratic state. There is a previous blog post about it.

Authoritarian populism’s racist edge ‘feels’ anti-system as it clashes with liberalism’s support for diversity. That clash makes authoritarian populism feel like it could be ‘for the people.’ It could be supporting Trump’s forgotten ‘white working class.’ It could be against the elite. Of course it’s not. But what ever it is, it’s certainly not for the liberal elite.

Authoritarian populism is a vile attack on liberal value. And liberalism is failing to stop the growth of authoritarian populism because it often has a very bad analysis of where racism comes from. The most common liberal analysis is that racism is a function of education. This analysis is not only wrong, it undermines the ability to counter the racist appeal of authoritarian populism.

It is simply a fact that many very well educated people are racist. And also true is the inverse – many people without strong educations are not racist. If racism was caused by a lack of education, neither would be true. If education ‘cured’ racism, no educated people would be racist. All “uneducated” people would be.

And this theory leads to other problems. If education ‘cures’ racism, the implication is that racism is somehow essential to humans. And of course, the essentialist argument is exactly the rationale for white nationalism. The argument that education ‘cures’ racism is a gift to the racists who argue that ‘politically correct’ liberal values are inauthentic social engineering. But there is no DNA that causes racism. It’s all garbage thinking.

The common liberal analysis is a gift in another way. A more objectively political way. Those who are not ‘cured’ by education are commonly dismissed by liberalism. They are idiots and morons.

Though Hillary Clinton’s condemnation of the “basket of deplorables” was horribly warped by the authoritarian right, the way in which is was warped is instructive. The weakness of liberalism is that it can be claimed – and some liberals themselves will regularly and openly claim it – that the authoritarian populists are uneducated and irredeemable white trash. It’s an incredibly elitist argument that not only washes the white elite of racism, it suggests liberalism does not value poor and working class white people. It divides the political opposition to racism that needs to be build in all segments of society, including among working class and poor people. It creates grounds for anti-liberal resentment, which can be captured by the authoritarian populists.

If we can’t properly explain where racism comes from we make horrible mistakes about how to get rid of it. Bad explanations lead to arguments that work against themselves and are politically self-defeating.

One of the earliest anti-racist movements was the American labour movement. It was confronted with building a unified democratic movement within a national history of racist slavery and segregation. The labour movement had a simple story as an explanation.

A black worker, a white worker and a boss sit down at a table. There are 10 cookies on a plate. The boss takes eight cookies and gets up to leave. And just as he’s leaving, he whispers to the white worker. “Watch out, that black guy’s going to steal your cookie,” he says.

Racism is created to maintain undemocratic power. The U.S. constitution guaranteed that the new country was for “the people.” Yet many people were enslaved. This required a powerfully racist ideology that denied the humanity of Black people. In Canada, a powerful ideology was needed to justify the exclusion of Indigenous people from voting. There are limitless examples. Racist myths and ideologies are created to continue undemocratic power.

The labour movement’s cookie story can be applied far beyond the issues of CEO compensation and worker pay. ‘The whisper’ is regularly used to cover over the failings of undemocratic power and divide people.

In big Canadian cities, rents and house prices go up far beyond inflation. And until the election in British Columbia last year, the policy of federal and provincial governments has been to cut funding for non-profit housing. In our big cities, poor and working class people are on years-long waiting list for affordable housing. While affluent people get their tax cut cookies now, poor and working class people are waiting in line for their one cookie.

But now – so says the political right – illegal immigrants who break the law and queue-jump to enter Canada are going to steal their cookie. They are going to the head of the line for housing. Toronto mayor John Tory has been quiet funds for new non-profit housing. Suddenly he is demanding attention on the alleged housing crisis being caused by cookie-stealing immigrants.

Authoritarian populists makes the same sort of claims in towns and cities that used to rely on factory jobs. Corporations move manufacturing across the world in search of more profit – more cookies. So authoritarian populists make up talk about job-hiring quotas and exclusion. White men look out, they whisper, it’s women and people of colour who are taking your job.

The ploy is used over and over. Whenever there is a resource shortage – wages, housing, jobs, health care, transit – and the undemocratic elite prefers austerity, the strategy of the authoritarian populists is ‘the whisper.’ It distracts people. And it divides people. It gets people fighting each other. Undemocratic power creates racism – and other divisive phobias – to allow the power of an undemocratic elite to continue.

The liberal celebration of diversity is not an effective counter-strategy. The defense of diversity requires solidarity – and not just solidarity through unions about issues of work. Fighting racism and protecting the values of diversity requires social solidarity that unmasks ‘the whisper’ and all the whisperers.

Authoritarian populism is here. We need a plan.

A right-wing politics of authoritarian populism is gaining strength in Europe and North America. Canada is not immune. In fact, it’s already here.

Canada has always had it’s share of racists and bigots. But perhaps never before in living memory have Canadian conservative politicians so overtly appealed to them.

The new authoritarian populism dog-whistles to racist voters. It legitimizes racist slogans and claims. It emboldens their militant organizations.

It also proposes a new women’s politics – one it brands as a feminism – in which violence against women is fought by arming women with guns and blocking immigrants and refugees.

Authoritarian populism co-opts feminism and mobilizes racism to win power. It’s a strategy that obscures the economic agenda of the right – to advance rent-seeking and privatization at people’s expense while reducing taxes for the wealthy and corporations. It expands the voter coalition of the right to those open to racist appeals who otherwise reject conservative economics.

Insofar as the new right’s racist appeals contrast with elite liberalism, they feel anti-system and anti-social. The result is the right’s slogans about the elites, the people and the working class obtain a veneer of believability.

Whether the leaders of this authoritarian populism are actually racist isn’t important. What is crucial is that they are mobilizing and encouraging racism as a new rampart to voting constituencies. It’s a new strategy to sustain elite economic power despite the evident failure – for most people, anyway – of their economic policies.

It’s no accident this authoritarian populism has occurred while Europe continues in economic crisis and the United States fails to address the causes of the 2009 Wall Street banking collapse. Trust in the economic orthodoxy is down.

Authoritarian populism is a last-ditch effort – successful, so far – to deflect and protect the status quo.

This vile politics leads nowhere good. The question is how to defeat it.

Toronto is growing but transit isn’t. Progressives need to fix it. No one else will.

July 17, 2019 — Go stand on the Bloor-Yonge platform at 8:30am. Or drive through 404 and 401. Take the King streetcar. Or the McCowan North bus.

This city doesn’t work right.

Former Mayor Rob Ford takes most the blame. But every Mayor and Premier since Transit City has contributed to the mess.

The city is growing. But TTC ridership is falling. That is a big threat to Toronto’s future. Progressives at city hall and Andrea Horwath’s NDP opposition at Queen’s Park need to work together like never before to fix this. Because no one else seems to care.

After his 2006 re-election, Mayor David Miller won city council and Provincial support for Transit City – a plan to boost bus service and run new LRT lines across the city.

And in the 2009 Ontario Budget, the Queen’s Park Liberals confirmed $7.2 billion for three LRT lines: Finch West, Eglinton Crosstown, and a replaced and extended Scarborough RT. A fourth line, Sheppard East, received $613 million in provincial and $317 million in federal funding. The projects were to be completed between 2013 and 2020.

But less than a year later Dalton McGuinty pulled the rug out, cutting Transit City by $4 billion and putting it on what Mayor Miller then called “the never, never plan.”

Then came Rob Ford. Bus service was cut. TTC was told to not implement new lines. In early 2012, Council fought back, reinstating some LRT plans. An Ontario-Toronto master agreement covering four lines – now with much longer timelines and lacking full funding – was set in November 2012.

Next it was Kathleen Wynne’s turn to make things worse.

Despite the Ontario-Toronto deal inked only months before, in late June 2013 the chair of Metrolinx, in a letter approved by Wynne’s office, asked city council to reconfirm whether it preferred an LRT or subway.

But Wynne knew her preference. She launched “subway champion” Mitzi Hunter as her candidate in a Scarborough by-election. She sent Transportation Minister Glen Murray to tell Mayor Rob Ford that, despite the master agreement, he could switch Scarborough LRT funds to a subway.

And in mid-July 2013, Ford and Wynne’s city council allies voted together. The cynicism astounds.

Now it’s John Tory’s turn. The mirage of his 22 stop SmartTrack “surface subway,” now that we’ve gotten closer, appears to be just six additional GO train stations. But watching that mirage shrink delayed other plans, including the downtown relief line. And though he’s reversed some of Ford’s cuts to bus service, it’s not enough to keep up with a growing population.

Ever since Transit City was announced, each Mayor and Premier has undermined Toronto with shifting plans based on political calculations, written on napkins, sold as empty brands, funded by nothing, and dissolving into expensive disaster.

A decade has been lost to politicians who keep announcing that incredible transit is just around the corner. Then the next corner. Then the next corner. And the bus still doesn’t come.

The result is TTC ridership has stopped growing – though the city certainly hasn’t. If transit use continues to goes backward, the city will go with it.

In the last Ontario election, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pledged to reinstate operating support and help expand ridership – exactly what Toronto urgently needs. Meanwhile, PC Leader Doug Ford’s latest napkin-based planning cycle produced a pledge to take over the subway – presumably to hand it to Metrolinx, an agency that has failed to protect transit planning from meddling politicians. Now he is Premier.

With rationality abandoned for craven cynicism everywhere else, Toronto’s future now depends on Toronto’s 11 New Democrat MPPs and the progressives at city hall fighting hand-in-glove, tooth and nail to expand and improve TTC service. It’s clear no one else will.

Tossed out of Queen’s Park, Liberals plan to crush progressive hope at city hall

July 10, 2018 — Their party having just been defeated at Queen’s Park, it seems several former Liberals MPPs or candidates are seeking to bring their special brand of cynicism to Toronto city hall – and hoping to defeat some key progressive candidates to do it.

After four years on the Ford Mayoralty crazy train, John Tory’s last four years has been an improvement in relative terms. But in absolute terms, it’s been about settling for a lot less than hoped for.

There is a decent-sized progressive opposition at city council — and it needs to grow because council’s cynical faction is big enough to push through John Tory’s preferences, no matter how ill thought-out. We’ve seen that on SmartTrack, the East Gardiner and council vacancy skullduggery.

Boosting city council’s cynicism quotient by adding some Queen’s Park Liberals is the exact opposite of what Toronto needs.

Yet, barely one month after voters rendered a massive moral verdict on them, several Ontario Liberals are looking to get back on the power grid.

George Smitherman – the central actor in both the eHealth scandal and in the privatization and betrayal of green energy – seems to be the tip of the spear. He’s planning a council run in Ward 23, which includes Cabbagetown and Regent Park. His brand is so blemished even the Wynne Liberals turned him down when he wanted to be their candidate for the 2018 election.

Rumours are afloat that Han Dong, the former Liberal MPP in Trinity-Spadina, is considering a run. And in true Liberal style, it seems Dong will try to pick off a proven progressive voice, Ausma Malik, in Ward 20, which is below Queen, just west of the downtown core.

Deanne Sgro is another Wynne Liberal rumoured to be looking to defeat a progressive, Anthony Perruzza, councillor for Ward 8, which includes Northwood Park and Jane and Finch neighbourhoods. A lawyer, Sgro was disciplined by the Law Society of Ontario, which found her staff engaged in “misleading, harassing, and threatening” behavior in her debt collection business. Perfect fit!

Peter Milczyn is another Liberal who may be on the move, looking for election in Ward 5, which lies between Bloor and the QEW in Etobicoke. Milczyn would likely align with team Tory – when campaigning for city council in 2003, Milczyn backed Tory over the eventual winner, David Miller.

Remember, Liberals know how to talk like progressives, but their purpose is to stop progressives from winning. We saw that in the last provincial election. First Kathleen Wynne tried to outflank Horwath on the left. When that failed, Wynne swung right, refusing to say who she’d support in a minority and driving votes to Ford with wild accusations about the NDP.

What’s needed at city council now are more hopeful, progressive councillors. None of these Liberals are going to bring a progressive agenda, fix dysfunction or hold John Tory to public account.

Their cynical style is now nearly vanquished from Queen’s Park. It would be a terrible setback if Liberals now creep back into city hall at progressive expense.

Canadian media keeps pushing Trump’s wrong, anti-immigrant framing

July 9, 2018 — On March 5, 2011, about 10:00pm, Jeune Sterson and Louis Frantz were hanging election posters for a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Haitian police abducted them. And their lifeless bodies were found the next day. In June that year, Serge Démosthène was arrested by Haitian police and died as a result of police torture.

A United Nations report addressing the deaths of Sterson and Frantz stated the UN Stablization Mission in Haiti “regularly receives reports of killings involving the Haitian National Police (HNP). In some instances, these allegations appear to indicate that a number of HNP officers have committed extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.”

A UN report into Démosthène’s death said the findings of their investigation “question the Haitian authorities’ compliance with the right to life, the right to be free from torture, and norms governing arrest, as well as respect for judicial independence.”

Haiti’s 10 million people are victims of a plague of violence spread by a political corruption and gangs. United Nations data shows there were 1,033 murders in Haiti in 2012 — over 10 in 100,000 Haitians are murdered. Canada’s murder rate is 1.68 per 100,000.But Haiti is nowhere near the top of the list, according to UN statistics for 2016. In Guatemala over 27 in 100,000 people are murdered. In Honduras, over 56 per 100,000 people are murdered. El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world, over 82 of every 100,000 people are murdered.

These are all countries, like Haiti, where the people have been oppressed by dictatorship, corruption, war lords and gangs. When Canadians think of a violent society, we may think of the United States — where five in 100,000 people are murdered. Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are multiples of the US murder rate.

And it’s not just murder. As a society governed by gangs and corruption, it should be no surprise that there is a rape epidemic in Haiti. The country doesn’t keep statistics on rape, which it only recently considered a crime. Abortion is illegal. A report by the Pan American Development Foundation, a project of the Organization of American States, estimated about 225,000 children — two-thirds of whom are girls — are given up by their parents to other families to work as slaves, where they are often victimized by violence and rape.

It is no mystery why people try to leave — especially if they come to the attention of gangs, corrupt police or paramilitary squads, or fall into servitude to a rapist.

But a decision by Donald Trump’s Attorney-General Jeffery Sessions made on June 11, 2018 now severely limits people from claiming asylum in the United States to escape violence from gangs or sexual violence.

Sessions’ decision was on a specific case, but he has told immigration judges it is their “duty to carry out this ruling.” Sessions’ decision revoked the protection granted by the US Board of Immigration Appeals to a El Salvadorean women. The woman was abused and raped by her ex-husband. It persisted even after she moved away to a different part of the country. She was threatened by her ex-husband’s brother, a police officer. In granting her asylum, the Board ruled the government of El Salvador was unable to protect the woman from her ex-husband. Sessions’ decision means the woman may be deported back to El Salvador.

Countries — like the United States and Canada — that have signed the global treaty on asylum have a duty to protect people who have a “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Sessions’ decision rejects the opinion held elsewhere, including Canada, that women are a “particular social group” covered by the treaty.

Trump’s anti-immigrant policies go far beyond finding and deporting those illegally in the United States. But that’s how he wants it framed. And, to a large extent, Canadian media has adopted Trump’s framing of the issue, projecting it to the effects of his policy push on Canada.

Trump’s policies and politics are pushing out asylum-seekers who are legally in the United States — that’s what Session’s decision was all about, it’s what Trump wants. The effect is clear from the statistics. Trump’s push has undermined the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires Canadian Border Services Agency staff to turn back anyone claiming asylum at a regular controlled border point. To avoid being turned back, those being pushed out by Trump cross into Canada where there is no border control point and the Agreement doesn’t apply.

From 2011 until 2015, the number of irregular crossings ranged between 600 and 700 a year. In 2016, numbers climbed to over 1600, with a significant rise after Trump’s November election. And in 2017, numbers spiked after Trump was sworn in. In Trump’s first first week he signed the “Protecting the Nation” executive order, which limited the right to asylum, and an executive order implementing his first Muslim travel ban. The message was received. The final number of irregular crossings in 2017 was almost 7,000.

The most significant crossing point is in southern Quebec where asylum-seekers take the very simple walk into Canada by following Roxton Road, in Clinton County, New York. And once again, Trump’s framing of the issue has led many media outlets to misrepresent the crossings at Roxton Road. International and Canadian law specifically protects people from legal penalty when crossing a border to make an asylum claim.

Media presentations that frame this as a story about illegal immigration, illegal immigrants, or illegal border-crossers are factually wrong in exactly the way Trump wants media to be wrong. He wants the story to be about someone else’s acts, not his. When Canadian journalists adopt this factually wrong diversionary reframing, they not only misinform, they unwittingly take Trump’s side.

And it’s that kind of wrong framing that leads to wrong policy responses. According to a Reuters report, one response from the Trudeau government has been to ask the US government to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement to apply across the entire border, not just at regular crossing points. It’s a bad idea. It would imply an acceptance of Trump’s unacceptable standards. It would put more barriers in front of those seeking protection from persecution.

But extending the Agreement is also just a political non-starter. Trump is narrowing criteria and pushing asylum-seekers out of his country. He’s not going to sign onto an extension of an agreement so Canada can turn more back.

Given that Trump has already undermined it, the rational approach is to cancel the Safe Third Country Agreement and allow asylum-seekers to make their claims at controlled Canada-US border points. Given the ease of crossing at Roxton Road there’s no reason to think it would have any effect on the numbers making claims. It would make asylum claims happen in a more orderly fashion. From a more rational process, the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board can determine who is fleeing due to persecution and requires asylum and return home those who don’t qualify. This is the way it always has been done and should be done.

But there’s one more important thing that happens when we realize Trump’s framing about and vilification of “illegal immigrant” is false. It re-focuses us on the situations asylum-seekers are fleeing. It reminds us that we need to work with all like-minded people and countries to prevent violence and persecution around the world.

People flee gang and political violence in Central America. They flee the violence under Hungary’s far-right government which discriminates against Romani people. They flee the sexual violence and discrimination in Nigeria. The flee religious persecution in Pakistan. We don’t want a world where people are having to flee their homes and families.

Canadians should be telling their government to do more to prevent radical, fascistic and criminal governments. Our collective security is strengthened when we help stop wars and don’t contribute to destabilization, which creates power vacuums filled by terror organizations, gangs, thugs and fanatics. Canada and like-minded countries need to do more to encourage democracy, stability, freedoms and human rights.

War, corruption, gangs and violence cause asylum-seekers to pick up and move. The right solution isn’t to stop them from moving. It’s to stop what they’re moving from. That’s not Trump’s framing. But when that frame is lifted, we can see it’s true.

Ontario’s ugly, Ford-made fiscal crisis

July 5, 2018 — In Doug Fordlandia it was going to be free ice cream every day and no one will ever have to pay for it.

Unfortunately, the election is over and reality’s here. And it’s going to be an ugly reality.

Doug Ford made big spending promises and never showed voters any plan to pay for it. He repeatedly said no one would lose a job. That there would be more nurses and teachers if he was elected. And that his spending plan only required targeting efficiencies of three or four per cent. Nope. Nope. Nope.

In fact we can now see Ontario is moving inexorably toward a Ford-made fiscal crisis.

The ugly reality is that cuts will need to three or four times deeper than the efficiency targets he promised voters if Ford is to keep his campaign promises.

Consider the problem. Ontario has annual revenues of $152 billion and annual expenses of $158 billion — a $6 billion deficit. But the Auditor-General says it’s $164 billion in expenses and a $12 billion deficit. Oh.

Now, if you review Ford’s campaign platform, it adds another $1.6 billion in expenditures, increasing annual expenditures to about $166 billion. And his promised revenue cuts of $8.05 billion bring new annual revenues down to $144 billion.

Never mind a $12 billion deficit, if Ford keeps his promises, balancing a budget with revenues of $144 billion requires cutting $22 billion from the $166 billion of expenses.

For someone who says he is very concerned about the deficit, increasing it is a very strange way to go about balancing it. But maybe his real priorities are elsewhere.

So what about that three or four per cent efficiencies claim? Well, it was just not true. It was never true. Surely they knew that. They know math.

A $22 billion reduction from a $166 billion budget is a 13.2 per cent cut to all spending — a lot more than the three or four per cent efficiencies Ford talked about.

It gets worse. The province pays $13 billion in debt interest each year — but it won’t be Wall Street that takes a haircut. So the $22 billion reduction needs to be cut not from the $166 billion in total spending, but from the $153 billion in program spending — the funds for departments and transfer partners. That’s a 14.4 per cent cut to all program spending.

Here’s a couple problems for Ford. First, he’ll be tempted to defy the Auditor-General and continue the Liberals’ accounting methods. That would come at a political price. Second, the largest revenue cut — over $2 billion annually — is for a tax cut that gives a maximum benefit to the highest income earners and nothing at all to an income under $45,000. He’ll try to just power over this fact. Horwath and her team need to keep everyone focused on it.

The stragtegy for Ford will probably be to create confusion. Already the right-wing chorus is saying the books are “a mess,” which actually isn’t true. The Liberals were awful, spending money on themselves, that’s true. And they had fights with the Auditor-General on accounting, yes, true. But it’s all accounted for. The Auditor-General knows how much money is coming in, and how much each Ministry is spending and transferring. There are no unknowns.

What will be interesting is how the Ford PCs try to use their “mess” narrative and their consulting auditors to confuse people about the revenue effects of their tax cuts. Right now, I don’t see any other big play for the Ford team to make in an attempt dodge blame for turning a Liberal deficit into a full, Ford-made fiscal crisis that badly hurts the services we rely on.

Tom