Michael Den Tandt on the Brexit and Canada: Two crucial lessons for Liberals

Good commentary by Den Tandt on some of the lessons for the Liberal government, not to mention the Conservative opposition and the observations regarding Jason Kenney and Tony Clement’s support for Brexit:

Dear Prime Minister David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the rest: Thank you, so very much. You’ve done the twin causes of stability and unity in your former Dominion of Canada ever so much good.

For what Canadian provincial or federal leader now, witnessing the catastrophic cock-up of your Brexit referendum, will do other than duck for cover next time there’s talk of a plebiscite here to dramatically restructure anything more important than a yard sale?

It was curious, bizarre even, to see senior federal Conservatives emerge on social media early Friday, as the “victory” for the Leave side in the Brexit vote became clear, to beat the drum for St. George. “Congratulations to the British people for choosing hope over fear,” enthused former minister-of-everything Jason Kenney, “by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world!” Tony Clement, erstwhile Treasury Board president, called it a “magnificent exercise in democracy,” before slipping in a renewed call for a referendum on Canadian electoral reform.

Or, here’s another thought: The Liberals could shelve electoral reform and focus on more important stuff, this term, such as jobs.

Democracy is, indeed, magnificent. That’s why the Scots are now ramping up at breakneck speed for a do-over of their own 2014 referendum on independence from Britain, which post-Brexit surveys suggest will now swing in favour, because the Scots wish overwhelmingly to remain European.

Ireland, only recently at peace, now faces renewed turmoil at the prospect of a hard border separating Northern Ireland, still part of the United Kingdom, from the Republic of Ireland, soon to be Europe’s Westernmost outpost. Irish union, as the United Kingdom comes apart at the seams, is not out of the question. Hope over fear, indeed.

This is assuming, of course, that the UK leaves the European Union at all. Though it seems wildly improbable to imagine the referendum, 51.9 per cent for Leave, 48.1 per cent for Remain, being set aside, it is in theory possible, as long as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which governs an EU member state’s withdrawal, is not invoked.

…All of which brings us back to Canada. Brexit is xenophobic; Brexit is anti-immigrant; Brexit is nostalgic, insular, anti-international and anti-globalization; Brexit is, most of all, an expression of English ethnic nationalism.The federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper, with Kenney himself in the lead, founded their 2011 majority on openness to ethnic pluralism. They undid much of that good work in 2015 with their niqab debate and “barbaric cultural practices” tip line. That any Conservative, Kenney most of all, should have failed to connect these dots is astonishing. Perhaps that’s why Canadian Conservative Brexit cheerleaders have also gone eerily quiet since those initial outpourings of joy.

But it’s not just the Tories who can watch and learn. There are now two threads connecting populist, anti-internationalist, xenophobic movements worldwide. The first is income inequality and poverty among the rural working class, which in England voted as a block for Brexit. The second is the fear of Islamism, manifested in suspicion of immigrants and refugees, which fueled the Leave campaign.

Fixing inequality, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals say, is their job one. But they face a looming economic catastrophe in the resource sector, which can only be addressed through pipeline development and freer trade. Working people need decent-paying jobs. From where will these come in Canada, if ideological and mostly urban anti-pipeline advocates, together with anti-globalization tub thumpers, are left to own the debate, as they do now? The Liberals need to build the case for pipelines and for liberalized trade, while they still have an audience for such.

As for Islamism, the Syrian civil war and ISIL continue to threaten Southern Europe and by extension the West. Until ISIL is destroyed and its territory taken away, there will be no end to the northward flow of refugees, and no political stability in Europe. Canada can do more and should do more to help Europe in this fight — while there remains a Europe to help.

Source: Michael Den Tandt on the Brexit and Canada: Two crucial lessons for Liberals | National Post

Michael Den Tandt: You want a ‘sunnier’ conservatism, Jason Kenney? What a comedian

Some uncomfortable truths here, particularly given the drubbing the Conservatives received in those suburban ridings where new Canadians and visible minorities form a majority or close to a majority of voters (see Visible minorities elected to Parliament close to parity, a remarkable achievement):

Jason Kenney is a wizard in a scrum. Intellectually nimble, rhetorically agile, reflexively partisan, the Conservatives’ former “Mr. Fix-it” is everything one could ask for in a future party leader, yes? Of course yes. Kenney is also, it turns out, a comedian.

“We need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than we have sometimes conveyed,” he was quoted by The Canadian Press as saying, following his party’s historic drubbing at the hands of Justin Trudeau, a man Kenney himself has incessantly belittled and mocked, for years.

Apparently defeat has refocused the former immigration and multiculturalism minister’s mind on the better angels of his nature. Kenney, long believed to be angling for the Tory leadership in a post-Harper era, has had his conversion on the road to Damascus. He wishes to purge his party of its grim, Harperesque baggage. Perhaps he will be the wire brush, to borrow the Liberal expression from the post-Sponsorship-scandal era, to scrape the Conservative party clean. Perhaps he will tell jokes and smile and speak of building a greater Canada. Perhaps he, too, will hold a news conference in the National Press Theatre, during which he gently reminds shell-shocked journalists they have a role to play in democracy, and are not despised.

Optimism, it has been miraculously revealed, works, and Jason Kenney will be its new blue paragon.

Seriously, now. If there is a single minister other than Stephen Harper who must wear the Conservative loss, it is Kenney. That’s due to his abilities and strengths, ironically enough, as much as his omissions and flaws.

It was Kenney who famously delivered Ontario’s 905 seats, where many hundreds of thousands of new Canadians reside, in the 2011 federal election. It was he, lovingly dubbed the Minister of Curry-In-a-Hurry, who managed to pull off the apparent miracle of streamlining and toughening Canada’s immigration and refugee system, while increasing support among the various communities most affected.

It was Kenney also who spoke up most loudly and clearly, among federal ministers, in the fall of 2013 when former Parti Québécois premier Pauline Marois hauled out her xenophobic charter of values, which later cost her the premiership. “If you want people to become a part of your society and fully participate in it, then you have to create a space (and) send a message that people are welcoming (and) including,” Kenney was quoted by CTV as saying at the time.

But two years later, in the heat of a campaign, there was Kenney front and centre in the bid to transform fear of niqab into votes. It was on Oct. 2, in fact, the day his colleagues Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch unveiled their proposed “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, that Kenney said this to radio host Evan Solomon: “I believe it (the niqab) reflects a misogynistic culture that — a treatment of women as property rather than people, which is anchored in medieval tribal customs …”

Four days later, prime minister Stephen Harper doubled down, saying in an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton that he’d consider banning the veil across the civil service. There were no women wearing niqabs in the civil service, it later emerged, but never mind. This was the Conservative leader saying the wrangling would go on, and on. That very week, Conservative support began to slump, polls showed. It never recovered.

Michael Den Tandt: The Conservatives have Canadians soaking in fear

Funny and pointed commentary by Den Tandt:

Despite the psychological edge conferred on ISIS militants by illiteracy, innumeracy, zealotry and plain old stupidity, they really are not able to defeat the combined militaries of the whole world, led by the U.S. Air Force, which owns the sky and space. Yet here we are, locked in a stalemate, a token war in which Canada is participating with half-a-dozen old fighter jets, transport planes and a single company of soldiers. If the threat to our nation were pervasive, we’d have more invested — no disrespect to the Canadians serving valiantly over there now. But the fear certainly feels pervasive.

Next on the list of Things of Which We Should be Terrified comes the home-grown ISIS militant: Would-be Che Guevaras, misfits, drop-outs, rebellious teens and pot-heads fleeing the oppressive yoke of mom and dad, now fifth columnists for the jihadist horde. With Michael Zehaf-Bibeau as their poster child, this legion of highly-trained, lethal … but no, wait — they’re mainly witless incompetents, witness the Via Rail terror trial chronicled by my colleague, Christie Blatchford.

Ottawa is not under siege, nor does it feel itself to be: Any third-rate guest house in Kabul has more rigorous security screening than did last week’s Manning Centre conference, where the nation’s most powerful conservatives mixed and mingled. Hmm.

…The political question is simply this: Why so much distemper, now? It looks like nothing so much as an effort to shore up the Conservative base, comprising no more than 30% of the electorate and perhaps less. These are moves to harden the core, not win the centre — or persuade a plurality. If this is truly the game plan for Election 2015, then the governing party may be in worse shape than public polls indicate. The prospect of loss, they say, brings a fear all its own.

Michael Den Tandt: The Conservatives have Canadians soaking in fear

Michael Den Tandt: Conservatives would be wise to call a truce in the culture wars

Minister Kenney’s attempt to explain more coherently the reasons for the ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremony and tone down some of the government rhetoric, led by the PM with an assist by Minister Alexander, among others:

Mr. Kenney then ventured a Q&A with Macleans‘ John Geddes, in which he provided the first thoughtful defence, that I am aware of, of his banning the niqab from citizenship ceremonies.

“Something politically correct Liberals don’t understand, which I do rather profoundly,” Mr. Kenney told Macleans, “is that the vast majority of new Canadians, including new Canadians of the Muslim faith, believe that there are certain important hallmarks of integration. They don’t believe that multiculturalism should be misconstrued as cultural relativism. They believe that multiculturalism should mean a positive regard for what’s best about people’s cultural and religious antecedents. But it should not mean a completely unquestioning acceptance of every cultural practice, especially those of an abhorrent nature.”

Mr. Kenney continued: “I can tell you that the vast majority of Muslims that I’ve spoken with strongly supported my decision in 2010 to state what I thought was axiomatic that a public citizenship ceremony had to be performed publicly.”

So there you have it; the crux, about which reasonable people may disagree. Absent from Mr. Kenney’s construction was the overreach — whether it be Prime Minister Stephen Harper thundering that Islamic culture is “anti-women,” to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s earlier conflation of the niqab and the hijab or headscarf — that have opened the Conservatives up anew to the hoary old charge that they are anti-immigrant.

Michael Den Tandt: Conservatives would be wise to call a truce in the culture wars

Michael Den Tandt: Justin Trudeau’s manifesto stakes a claim for pluralism and liberty

By far, the best commentary on Trudeau’s Toronto speech on the politics of fear and the reaction:

What’s most novel about Trudeau’s thesis, at root, is the claim it lays to upholding individual freedom against the encroachments of the state. It’s intellectual ground the Harper Conservatives have been pleased to occupy, virtually without competition, since their Reform Party days in the early 1990s.

Most curious of all: Monday’s speech and the strategy underlying it have been in the works for months, according to Liberal party sources. But the hook was a series of recent Conservative missteps — ­from a Facebook post caterwauling about a non-existent imminent attack on the West Edmonton Mall, to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s conflation of the hijab (headscarf) and the niqab, to Conservative MP John Williamson’s facepalm-inducing recent musings about “whities” and “brown people” –­ that together convey the impression that, contrary to all its careful messaging of the past two decades, this Conservative party may not be friendly to minorities, after all.

Clearly, the PMO now perceives some peril here: Late Monday, staffers sent out an email reiterating past assertions by Jason Kenney and by the PM of warm support for Canada’s million-strong Muslim community.

The question is whether it will be enough. Intolerance of minorities is a 35-year-old chink in the Western conservative movement’s armour, which long held it back in Ontario. It’s odd indeed to see this dialectic re-emerge now, long past the time when most had thought it dead and gone.

Michael Den Tandt: Justin Trudeau’s manifesto stakes a claim for pluralism and liberty

Other interesting commentary by Aaron Wherry, notes the contradiction between the public position and the one argued in Court:

It would seem useful here to turn to the actual ruling of the Federal Court, in the case of Zunera Ishaq, that overturned the government’s attempt to ban the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship oath. What undid the government’s position was simple incoherence—the policy directive by the minister, Jason Kenney in his previous portfolio, conflicted with the regulations that govern the citizenship process. So while the directive demanded that the niqab be removed during the saying of the oath, the regulations instruct the citizenship judge to allow “the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or solemn affirmation thereof.” The regulations also do not require visual confirmation that an oath has been sworn—only that the applicant sign their name to a certificate bearing the oath. In the case of a discrepancy between the minister’s directive and the regulations, the judge ruled that the regulations took precedence.

And then there is paragraph 30 of the ruling: ”The Respondent argues that this application is premature. In its view, the Policy is not mandatory and citizenship judges are free not to apply it.”

Unless the judge has misunderstood the arguments, this seems a remarkable concession by the government. One imagines the government’s lawyers might’ve thought they had a novel argument for the case’s dismissal—that the ban on the niqab was not mandatory and therefore “there is no way to know what would have happened had the Applicant attended the ceremony and refused to uncover her face.” But, as the judge noted, this clashed with both the public statements of the minister and private statements of government officials.

On those grounds, the government’s claim of an option was dismissed by Justice Boswell. But that doesn’t quite absolve the government of the contradiction. In the House today, the Prime Minister said, “We do not allow people to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies.” But in the court the Prime Minister’s government would seem to have argued that we do allow for people to cover their faces, so long as the presiding citizenship judge agrees. So which is it? And if it’s the former, why were the government’s lawyers arguing the latter?

(I’ve asked Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s office for an explanation on this point and will post what I receive.)

Justin Trudeau and the niqab What Justin Trudeau says and what the Federal Court said

Terry Milewski of the CBC provides the play-by-play of  the political jousting back and forth over Trudeau’s remarks:

Niqab controversy: Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau wade into culture war over the veil

Radicalization, the Loss of Canadian Innocence and the Need for Perspective

With the two killings this week of Canadian soldiers, one by Martin Couture-Rouleau’s running over soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the other by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and his the attack on the War Memorial and Parliament Hill.

Surreal morning for me as I was downtown for meetings, about 8 blocks away from the Hill, learning about the shootings from TV monitors, along with others glued to TV monitors following developments. Felt very much, albeit on a much smaller scale, when I was in LA during the 911 attacks.

Some common points in recent commentary.

A note of caution on over-reacting and the need to maintain balance between freedom, access, and security. John Ivison: In response to Quebec terror attack we must remember a healthy balance between security and freedom, a point echoed by Andrew Coyne in Andrew Coyne: We can’t stop every little terror attack, so let’s brace ourselves and adapt where he recommends, not “a panicky search for false assurances, nor even defiance, but a collective insouciance.” Martin Regg Cohn praises the Ontario political leaders for keeping to the normal Parliamentary schedule in The democratic show must go on: Cohn.

While there was universal praise, and deservedly so, for Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, both for his quick and efficient handling of the attack as well as his philosophy of keeping Parliament a public space, Michael Den Tandt savages the overall handling of the attack in Michael Den Tandt: Ottawa shooting shows Canadian capital’s utter lack of readiness, and how information was not communicated. Haroon Siddiqui makes similar, but less well argued points, in Killings of two soldiers raise troubling questions: Siddiqui.

Margaret Wente takes the opposite tack, in an almost boosterish tone, contrary to much of the reporting, argues that Canadians will not change and that the attack was handled calmly and without hysteria in  Terrorists don’t have a chance in this country. Joe Warmington of The Toronto Sun takes the opposite tack in Canada will never be the same, as does Ian MacLeod in The Ottawa Citizen, in Analysis: Effects on Ottawa will be lasting and far-reaching (with video).

Also in the Post, which generally has some of the strongest reporting in this area, Tom Blackwell, their health reporter, reports on the “lone wolf” phenomenon and some of the factors that may result in some being open to radicalization in ‘Rhetoric and bluster’: Was attack on soldiers really terrorism, or just the violent act of a disturbed man? The Globe has a good profile on Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the War Memorial and Parliament Hill in Suspected killer in Ottawa shootings had a disturbing side, that reinforces some of these points.

From La Presse, a report on the local mosque in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and what appears to be a very conservative Imam in terms of social teachings but no indication that he preached violence, or whether Couture-Rouleau went to the mosque regularly (seems he was most active on social media) in Un imam controversé à Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

Listening to the RCMP outline what they did and what they could do, particularly in the case of Couture-Rouleau (as of writing not as fulsome an account for Zehaf-Bibeau) hard to see that any of the Government’s recent or planned initiatives would have made a difference. The RCMP monitored him, spoke to friends and families who shared their well-founded worries, confiscated his passport but as the RCMP officer at the press conference said, “We couldn’t arrest someone for having radical thoughts, it’s not a crime in Canada.”

Couture-Rouleau, like Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, were both born in Canada. Couture-Rouleau was not a dual-national and would not be subject, had he lived, for citizenship revocation. It is unclear whether Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, given his father was Libyan in origin, would be entitled to Libyan citizenship and thus theoretically subject to revocation.

And while tragedies for the families and friends of the soldiers killed, and (another) reminder that we have extremists among us, both reassuring and worrying that both of these appear to be “lone wolf” attacks rather than groups and more “sophisticated” plans and conspiracies that could result in significantly more casualities.

I tend to be between Wente and Warmington: no, not everything has changed but neither has everything remained the same. Our political leaders, of all stripes, as well as the media and others, will play a role in ensuring, or not, that we retain perspective and balance.


Ex-Tory MPs book offers a glimpse into the tightly controlled caucus – The Globe and Mail

Two contrasting views of the Harper government approach, starting with Brent Rathgaber, the former Tory backbencher who became an independent MP over the degree of control exercised by the PM and PMO:

The book raises questions of backbench independence that have simmered over the past year and comes as one Conservative MP, Michael Chong, pushes through a bill that would rein in the power of party leaders. Mr. Rathgeber supports the bill but, in the book, predicts it won’t pass.

The book makes specific recommendations for improving the function of the House of Commons, including disallowing backbench softballs; breaking up omnibus bills; bringing in MP recall rights, allowing voters to turf a representative between elections; and giving the Speaker, not government, say over when to limit debate on a bill.

The final straw for Mr. Rathgeber was the gutting of his own private member’s bill last spring – one that would have required government to disclose the salaries of senior bureaucrats. In the book, he said the PMO saw too many “landmines” in the notion, and eventually derailed the bill. Mr. Rathgeber quit caucus that day.

He expects the book to have few fans within government. Opposition MPs may like it, he said. “But if and when they become the government they will summarily dismiss all those concepts,” he said in an interview, saying there’s no silver-bullet for reversing the long, steady decline of Canada’s democratic institutions. “This is about the long game. This is about contributing to the debate to try to fix things.”

Ex-Tory MPs book offers a glimpse into the tightly controlled caucus – The Globe and Mail.

Michael den Tandt on why the PM’s tight control will not change in the context of his relationship with the media:

Harper personally, meantime, is simply not comfortable in informal engagements with reporters, both because he’s afraid of having an idle remark blow up in his face and because casual banter is not his forte. His recent Arctic tour was  a case in point; the informal portion of the agenda was restricted to five minutes on the aft deck of a Canadian navy ship, on one day. Had Harper felt able to do more, without risk, one has to believe he would have.

With respect to the environment, as I wrote during the tour, the Harper Tories are  behaving in the Arctic as a government would if it believed carbon emissions were warming the planet. But they may not be in a position politically to say so out of deference to their donor base, which is sharply right-of-centre and, probably, climate-skeptical. By the same token, every seemingly pointless battle between Conservatives and the media, or academics, or democratic institutions, is fodder for a fundraising mail-out. Populist politics, or more precisely populist, small-sum, broad-based fundraising such as we now have in Canada, feeds on partisan brush wars.

The upshot? Observers, including pundits, editorial boards and former Conservative prime ministers, can say all they like that Harper should change his ways. Did Mulroney change, in year nine? Did Jean Chretien, or Pierre Trudeau? There are reasons why they don’t. The most important may be that they can’t.

Den Tandt: Harper’s relationship with the media won’t change