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THE SALON

TORONTO CENTRE BY-ELECTION: BATTLE OF THE JOURNALISTS


Richard Mahoney:

The Toronto Centre by-election is shaping up to be a fascinating battle between two parties, with different visions of our economy, represented by two high profile journalists in Linda McQuaig of the NDP, and the Liberal candidate, Chrystia Freeland.

Freeland is a compelling candidate- her writings on what have happened to the middle class in North America, and her ideas on how countries should address those challenges, are some of the most compelling writings on the subject.

Justin Trudeau admires many of those ideas, and has named Ms. Freeland to his Economic Policy Committee. Mr. Trudeau thinks this is the big economic challenge of our time, and I think he's right. And he has recruited a candidate, who if elected, can help Canada meet this challenge.

 

Jordan Berger:

 

There is a lot at stake for both the NDP and the Liberals, and their respective leaders, but probably more so for the Liberals.

Justin Trudeau has generated a lot of attention since winning the leadership – and has taken his party from third to first over the slow summer season. As we return to work and summer fades away, a lot of us are curious (or eager, frankly) to see if the Trudeau effect has any staying power.

Whether or not a loss in Toronto Centre signals the end of the Trudeau honeymoon remains to be seen, but it would send a shock through both opposition parties to be sure.

The riding itself has some of the largest income disparities in the country, encompassing both the wealthy Rosedale area and large swathes of low-income and public housing. It will be interesting to see, given their critical focus on growing inequality, if either opposition candidate manages to secure support from the richer parts of the riding.

I think either could do well in Rosedale as there is a growing consensus that the extreme inequality of recent years is not sustainable, and it is not actually “good for business."

For the NDP, the challenge will be to motivate their universe and I can't imagine a candidate better positioned to do that than McQuaig.


Rick Anderson:

 

There are two interesting things about what Ms Freeland and the Liberals are doing here, and both portend trouble for the Liberals if they are not careful.

First, Mr. Trudeau likes to talk about the middle class, and good for him, but of course the Liberal Party tradition has been to focus a bit more on the disadvantaged.

Most social policy, particularly income transfers, has come to be less universal, and more targeted to those who most need it.

Many people (including me) think this make sense: why waste scarce program dollars by spreading them too thinly? If Mr. Trudeau puts his money where his mouth is, so to speak, there may be some former constituents, and party regulars, who come to feel a bit estranged by the shift.

Second, Ms Freeland likes to talk about "North America," as though Canada and the United States are more alike in every respect than we are.

The data she frequently cites about income disparities are a lot more accurate, and relevant, in the United States than they are in Canada. She may find herself opening up a discussion that, upon examination, does more good for the government's position than for the opposition's. We shall see.

 

Richard Mahoney:

 

Jordan's right to bring up the income disparity in the riding. I like Gerry Caplan's description of Toronto Centre: "A triple-decker riding with the fancy top, gay middle and the relatively poor south."

Diverse as it is, this riding will be a test for all three parties.

For the Liberals and Mr. Trudeau, a win here would show that the rejuvenation of Liberal support that has happened under Mr. Trudeau continues.

For Thomas Mulcair and the NDP, if they are to make a breakthrough beyond what they did in the last election, they will need to win urban ridings such as Toronto Centre.

And for Mr. Harper, he needs to show that his policies are having some impact. His government says they are working on the economy, but what measures are they taking to rebuild Ontario's economy? What are they doing to help prepare Canadians for the challenges that a shrunken manufacturing sector presents?

Talking up the odd pipeline here and there is not an economic strategy, and is not enough leadership to help a generation of Ontarians find an acceptable standard of living in slow and tough global economy.

 

Jordan Berger:

 

One thing Harper has done with regards to the growing gap - an issue highlighted by both opposition candidates - is undermine our ability to track income and wealth disparity. Even though they were warned by statisticians that this would be the result, Harper's move away from a mandatory census has resulted in far lower reporting rates from the poorest Canadians, a change that is so drastic and so sudden that Statistics Canada had to issue a press release explaining why so many poor Canadians had effectively disappeared from the last census to this one.

No, I think both opposition candidates are on the right track (though McQuaig has written far more than Freeland and also, in contrast, is far more willing to offer policy prescriptions to tackle growing inequality).

I wouldn't want to be the Conservative candidate in this upcoming by-election. They have a lot to answer for and, to Richard's point, they haven't come up with many answers to date for Ontarians concerned about their economic futures.

 

Rick Anderson:

 

Wow, Richard, I sure hope this is recorded. There will be plenty of Conservative candidates eager to quote your dismissive comments regarding energy exports, which are Canada's largest export and generate both employment and government tax revenues to the benefit of Canadians coast to coast to coast. While I can demonstrate how resource industries directly benefit folks in downtown Toronto, perhaps you can enlighten us as to what you term the "shrunken manufacturing sector" is doing for them?

Jordan, the people who are having the greatest trouble "track(ing) income and wealth disparity" are the ones trying to make an argument at odds with the facts. Here they are, if you're interested:

 

Andrew Coyne: The myth of income inequality: Since the bleak 90s, things have actually gotten better: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/09/02/the-myth-of-income-inequality/

 

Richard Mahoney:

 

Rick, don't distort things. I did not dismiss energy exports, and never have. They are crucial to our country's economic future.

I did say that talking up pipelines was not in and of itself an economic strategy- should be part of it, but not the only thing a government does.

 

PARTI QUEBECOIS' CHARTER OF VALUES

 

Richard Mahoney (continued)

 

Moving right along to another big issue this week, how about that PQ government in Quebec?

They introduce a Charter that threatens the basic rights of Quebecers. In the process, they become a subject of national discussion and opposition. That was no doubt their intent.

But opposition in the province is growing. We even had an ugly incident or two that shows just how dangerous and divisive this kind of approach is.

Finally, the Charter is attracting negative international attention for the province, creating an image of intolerance for some.

Quebecers are a generous, open people. Like the rest of Canada, they have built a pluralist, tolerant society.

The proposed Charter is an assault on that, and will be defeated by public opinion and by the National Assembly.

 

Jordan Berger:

 

This was a very cynical move by the PQ and they may pay a high price for this proposed legislation in the future.

The decision to “double-down” on their base vote and to so clearly target the growing diversity of Quebec society seems like the death throes of a movement.

There is clearly no Quebec consensus about values, even among those supporting the proposed legislation. We’ve heard very different arguments including “the face of the state must be secular,” “the hijab is a symbol of oppression,” and "people need to fit into the “dominant” culture."

This confusion just sends the message to religious minorities that their very existence in Quebec society is the problem to be addressed.

The PQ may couch this proposal in the language of secularism and modernity but it clearly touches a number of anxieties in their base, anxieties that are not terribly modern in my opinion.

For me, the test is simple.

If you are an observant Muslim woman or Jewish man and you work for the broadly defined public sector, you will lose your job.

If you are an observant Christian, you will not lose your job.

With the floating of the concept that this approach could be applied in the private sector, the PQ is essentially saying that religious minorities are not welcome in Quebec.

It's a sad episode for a province that has a long history of tolerance.

 

Rick Anderson:

 

It might be good if we talked honestly about this and stopped paying lip service to the notion that "Quebecers have built a pluralist, tolerant society."

This is not as true as we wish it to be: in the name of protecting French language and culture, successive Quebec governments have introduced no end of limitations on their own minorities' rights to choose their education, their language of work, even what kind of signage they put on pizza and bagel places.

Their discrimination has been rebuked time and again by the courts, including the Supreme Court, only to be shielded by Trudeau Sr.'s infamous "notwithstanding clause", which in laymen's terms means "notwithstanding what you think the Constitution's Charter says about your rights, we can do whatever we want with them as long as we say "notwithstanding".

The atrocious bill introduced by the Marois government has clearly gone even further, and it is good to see so many Quebecers speaking so eloquently and clearly about it, but we should understand this to be a problem of degree, not direction.

Discrimination against minorities is woven into the heart of the nationalist movement, and is frequently its political play of first and last resort.

 

Richard Mahoney:

 

Nationalist movements are problematic, wherever they may be, because they are centred around a "nation," usually a language or ethnic nationality. That is what led Pierre Trudeau into public life, and those same values obviously animate Justin Trudeau - he has been the one national political leader who opposed this Charter from the beginning, clearly, and without ambiguity. The same cannot be said for Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Harper. In fairness, Mr. Kenney and Mr. Mulcair have now spoken against it.

My friend Rick may be trying to get a rise out of me by criticizing Pierre Trudeau for the "notwithstanding clause."

While it was included in the 1982 Charter, it was done so over Trudeau's strong objection, and at the insistence of Conservative and NDP led provincial governments. Secondly, it has never been used by the parliament of Canada, and almost never by provincial legislatures, so our Charter stands intact, and protects Canadians every day.

As Mr. Trudeau (the younger) has said, let's count on Quebeckers to defeat the Marois Charter.

 

Jordan Berger:

 

"Let's count on Quebeckers" - yes Justin did say that, in fact he clearly stated the federal government shouldn't get involved at all. Which I don't believe he actually believes; it's just an indication of his lack of gravitas.

Mulcair knows Quebec a lot better than Trudeau Jr. and he was absolutely right to wait for the actual proposal to be released. And when he did weigh in, he did so from a position of strength and experience.

I was about to praise all three federal parties for unified front and relative restraint in responding to this provocative legislation. I really hope that Rick’s approach does not signal that the federal Conservatives are about to bomb their own bridges by pandering to simplistic notions of Quebecois history.

The point our federal leaders must make is that our commitment to human rights must always trump political considerations. Making sweeping generalizations about an entire province is not the way to make that point.

Many of us on the left assumed that discrimination against minorities was “woven into the heart” of the Reform movement. I for one salute the efforts – and success - of Harper and Kenney in largely unwinding that legacy.

Even if the hijab or kipa were symbols of “oppression," in almost every case where state-mandated bans on religious clothing have been introduced they have led to a strong negative reaction.

Most tragically, women have usually borne the brunt of this reaction, as their visible evidence of religious obedience becomes a symbol of survival and resistance for their respective communities.

The French (in France) above all should recognize that as their de-veiling campaign in Algeria transformed the veil into an act of anti-colonial resistance.

On these matters, I prefer to listen to the voices of women who are engaged in their own societies struggling for progress.

 

Rick Anderson:

 

I always enjoy the Liberal defense that someone else made them do it.

"Pierre Trudeau only wrote notwithstanding into the Constitution because the premiers made him do it. Turner only appointed those Senators because Trudeau made him."

Fact check: provinces have used the "notwithstanding" clause five times; two of those by Quebec (who initially tried to exempt its entire body of laws from the Charter of Rights.)

The most egregious use of "notwithstanding" was by Quebec to assert its language law, despite a Supreme Court ruling that some sections represented an unacceptable oppression of individual rights.

Section Thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notwithstanding_clause#Quebec

Anyway, back to the question of the Marois Charter, I think the Prime Minister's reliance on the common sense of Quebecers to defeat the bill makes a great deal of sense.

The PQ would doubtless like to draw the "rest of Canada" into an us vs. them conflict; that suits their political agenda and unites their base.

The Prime Minister's calm manner of pointing out the deficiencies of the bill is well advised.

About The Salon (Anderson, Berger, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Jordan Berger is a former Ontario and federal NDP candidate and Queen's Park staffer, now working in private equity and infrastructure for the OPSEU Pension Trust in Toronto; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : September 18, 2013

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