Costly decisions in campaign financing

A few years ago I gave my phone number to the NDP and the Mormon Church. No prizes for guessing whose phone calls have proven more incessant and obnoxious.

If Canadian politics seems to have gotten more shrill and annoying in recent years, with parties obsessed with matters pointless and petty in reverse proportion to how melodramatic and apocalyptic their rhetoric has become, it’s in considerable part because of perverse incentives brought about by changes to the way our politicians raise their money.

In his devil-may-care final days in office, Prime Minister Chretien pushed through changes to the Canada Elections Act that capped the amount of cash corporations and unions could give to federal political parties at $1,000 apiece. Whether this was a selfless act of non-partisan principle or just one more scheme to screw Paul Martin, it proved a brazen act of self-sabotage — in 2004, the first year the reforms took effect, the Liberals collected nearly $20 million less than the year prior. They have yet to fully recover.

In 2006, Prime Minister Harper went even further, outlawing corporate and union donations entirely and capping the amount individuals could donate to the party or candidate of their choice at $1,200 each (in 2014, the limit was hiked slightly to $1,500).

Unlike the Liberal reforms, Harper’s caps were objectively self-interested — his Conservatives were always far less dependent on corporate and union handouts than their opponents — as was his subsequent decision to abolish the other great compromise of the Chretien reforms:  a regime of public subsidies in which political parties get yearly grants based on how many votes they won in the last election.

The chief benefactors of this system have been the Green Party and Bloc Quebecois, who, despite overwhelming unpopularity with voters, have collectively been kept alive with over $40 million in federal welfare since 2004. After a long period of phase-out, come April of this year the subsidy tap will officially run dry.

Ottawa is not entirely out of the business of party financing, mind you. Thanks to a generous tax credit regime that grants a maximum rebate of $650 per political donation —with a 75% rebate for the first $400 alone — the national treasury has surrendered around $250 million over the last decade incentivizing citizens to give money to politicians.

The notion that money of wealth and industry should play no role in politics has become a progressive shibboleth, with Canadian liberals particularly fond of looking in horror at the United States, where we supposedly “see” what happens when untamed amounts of cash are allowed to flow into party coffers. Exactly what is supposed to instigate our outrage is rarely clear, however.

A fascinating 2014 column by the New York Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum looked at the evidence and concluded — contrary to popular lore — that even the largest campaign donations in America are rarely transactional, in the sense of offering money with an expectation of something in return. To many in the donor class, a donation is simply “a form of consumption, akin to making a charitable contribution.”

There are similarly countless cases in which one candidate dramatically outspent the other to no clear electoral benefit, perhaps most vividly in the 2010 race for California governor, where billionaire Meg Whitman outspent her rival 86-to-1, yet lost by more than 1.3 million votes. Moneyed interests do exert ample influence over the governing process, to be sure, but largely through lobbying, which is considerably less regulated.

Money sustains the expensive enterprise of running for office (when critics complain it costs “too much,” I’m always curious how much they think it should cost to persuade thousands, if not millions, of strangers to like you), yet evidence suggests the process through campaign cash is obtained influences the tenor of politics more than the output of government.

In shifting to a campaign finance regime based around the collection of small amounts of money from the largest numbers of donors, Canadians have resigned themselves to a political culture dominated by simplistic storylines designed to manipulate the basest emotions of those who part most easily with their dollars.

Policy debates are reduced to whatever cliches can fit comfortably in a three-sentence spam email or thirty second telemarketer pitch, with the state of the nation portrayed according to whatever lunatic caricature marketing experts think voters want to believe. Obsessive partisan pandering to the crudest fears and dopiest fantasies of the most furiously ideological becomes the norm.

This is why the two most pressing political issues of the moment involve a Mississauga woman who won’t take off her burka and a supposed Conservative conspiracy to establish an Orwellian police state.

In politics, let us be clear, everything has a cost.

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Immigrants, Islam, and discrimination

Multiculturalism, broadly speaking, is not popular in Canada. When asked by a CBC poll last year if they believe “immigrants should make their best effort to assimilate to Canadian values and culture,” 75% of Canadians declared themselves in favor — a stark rejection of the progressive shibboleth that Canada is defined by an eagerness to do precisely the opposite, and contort existing cultural norms around the preferences of newcomers.

Numbers like these suggest Prime Minister Harper has little to lose and much to gain —  particularly in culturally nervous Quebec — from taking pointed pot shots at high-profile instances of multiculturalism’s excesses. Whether he has the courage to champion a more comprehensive solution to the deeper problem is another matter.

Our case study de jour is Zunera Ishaq, a 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant who insists upon reciting her citizenship oath whilst burka’d, in defiance of a 2011 decree from ex-immigration minister Jason Kenney that faces must be completely exposed while oath-taking or citizenship will not be granted.

Ms. Ishaq believes such a rule violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (whose protections, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1985, extend to non-citizens), and earlier this month a federal court judge agreed to overturn it. Leaving aside the Charter issue, Justice Keith M. Boswell concluded a ban on face-coverings undermined the Immigration Department’s own promise to create religiously inclusive ceremonies. Existing cultural norms should contort around newcomers’ wishes rather than vice-versa, in other words.

The Prime Minister has loudly pledged to appeal Boswell’s ruling, and his opposition has been emphasized in his party’s pre-election propaganda as Conservatives scramble to make partisan hay defending a policy backed by about 80% of the electorate.

One doesn’t have to be an apologist for fundamentalist Islam — or a libertarian poseur — to find something distastefully reactionary about all this, and indeed, the Harper administration’s handling of the immigration file in general.

Since Islamic fundamentalists like Ms. Ishaq can freely enter Canada, obtain permanent residency, and pass our citizenship exam, it seems unfair for the state to abruptly impose, this late in the game, what amounts to a secularism test for would-be citizens who had otherwise been playing by the rules. To suddenly make taboo or unlawful customs which immigrants had previously been led to believe were acceptable or irrelevant contradicts traditional common law aversion to retroactive punishment, and portrays Canada as a nation whose lawmaking is vindictive and erratic.

Ms. Ishaq’s veil, after all, is but a symbol. We don’t oppose it as much as the larger ideals it represents: draconian expectations of female modesty and subservience grown from an extremist interpretation of the Islamic faith that’s quite unlovely in general.

The only surefire way to prevent the import of such ideologies into Canada is to do just that.

In 2013, Canada admitted nearly 62,000 immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, including over 12,000 from Pakistan alone. Since ours is an immigration regime without quotas or standards (despite popular mythology, only about a quarter of all Canadian immigrants are admitted for economic reasons, the rest are relatives or refugees) the result is what inevitably comes from fishing with a wide net: you catch all types.

It’s this thoughtless system more than the bad behavior of immigrants themselves that’s the root of so much present frustration. Ms. Ishaq is a symptom, not a cause, and it’s hardly fair to use hapless figures like her as receptacles of rage for a policy we imposed on ourselves.

If Canadians have an aversion to immigrants who bring over what our government refers to as “barbaric cultural practices” —  practices which are tremendously hard for proponents to be reasoned out of, coming, as they do from a place of deep religious faith —  then the most logical course of action is to impose limits on how many we welcome in the first place.

This would require discrimination, of course, an offense we’re increasingly taught to regard as mankind’s darkest ill. But there is a marked difference between practicing discrimination against immigrants already here, who enjoy constitutional rights and protections, and a government policy of numerical discrimination against theoretical migrants thousands of miles away. Particularly when the latter will actually help alleviate the former.

Canada is a tolerant nation, but when it comes to the backwards or barbaric our tolerance has its limits — and that’s not something to apologize for.

Our immigration system does few favors, however, to those imported on the false pretense that we’re actually something else.

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The vanity of anti-terror critics

After 9/11, you may recall it became fashionable in certain left-wing circles to scold endlessly that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Initially, this was just boilerplate postmodernism — all evil is relative, who are we to judge, etc. Surveying progressive reaction to the Harper government’s new anti-terror bill, however, it seems the cliché is now mutating in an even more irritating direction: Canada’s self-proclaimed freedom fighters are beginning to wistfully wonder if they might be terrorists.

Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, does a great many things, affecting no fewer than eight distinct realms of federal authority. Its most substantial reforms grant Canada’s spy agency the power to disrupt terrorist plots, streamline the bureaucratic sharing of security intelligence, extend the length of chargeless detentions, and authorize judicial warrants for the seizure of terrorist propaganda.

Useful debate may be had about the efficacy of all this, but before that can happen, one must concede that this government’s war on domestic terror is valid, which in turn requires conceding that the thoughts and actions of old man Harper might be motivated by something other than pure evil — a concession many on the left are unwilling to make.

Thus, the bill’s critics have preferred to target C-51 in the broadest, most existential terms: Just what is terrorism? And is it possible I’m guilty of it? Because that sure would be exciting! I mean, terrible.

The Anti-Terrorism Act doesn’t redefine terrorism per se, but does provide security officials with a list of activities which “undermine the security of Canada” and can be cited as grounds for counter-terror action.

Any reasonable person, as the judges say, would interpret the stuff on this list — “interference with critical infrastructure,” hurting the “economic or financial stability of Canada” and so on  —  as describing substantial threats to national security, as opposed to activities which are merely politically irritating. The bill even helpfully notes that it’s not concerned with “lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.”

But reason tends to be in short supply when it comes to critics of this government.

In his official reaction, New Democrat boss Thomas Mulcair frets that C-51 may threaten “legitimate dissent,” presumably of the sort NDP voters like to imagine they’re bravely engaged in when signing those “Save the CBC” petitions. He’s also s0wed suspicion that Quebec separatists may soon face increased scrutiny — an obvious sop to darker factions of his base.

Elizabeth May, meanwhile, wonders ominously whether C-51 could limit “lawful protest and advocacy,” like —  to cite an entirely impartial example — “when Green Party members blockade Kinder Morgan pipelines, while the Toronto Star editorial board says banning terrorist propaganda “casts a chill on freedom of speech.”

“Could cheering on rebels in a foreign conflict now be seen as promoting terror?” they cry.

Even the Ottawa Citizen’s Terry Glavin, usually quite reasonable about these sorts of things, imagines a whole host of scenarios in which his swashbuckling advocacy of “legitimate acts of revolutionary violence against police states” gets him hauled away for thought crimes.

In fairness, Ottawa has historically been overzealous with these sorts of laws. It was once said Canada prosecuted more “subversives” than the rest of the British Empire put together. Yet it’s worth recalling that past crusades involved hounding people who were at least intellectually sympathetic with enemy governments and anti-democratic movements — chiefly anarchists, communists, and fascists.

If the modern Canadian left sees a great deal of common cause with ISIS and the Taliban, I suppose concern might be justified. Otherwise it’s simply sheltered narcissism to believe legislative tools very obviously drafted to strengthen an ongoing crackdown on Islamic jihadism will be abruptly rerouted to round up suburban socialists and hipster tree-huggers.

Enforcement is nine-tenths of the law, and a byproduct of the larger civic culture from which our enforcers emerge. This is why we’re taught, as a cautionary tale, that the Soviet constitution contained the world’s firmest protections for human rights, and why we react with amusement, not anxiety, when we learn Canada still has laws on the books banning blasphemy and witchcraft.

Words on paper are only as powerful (or dangerous) as the nation’s broader norms, precedents, and expectations will permit them to be, as adjudicated by the checks and balances of a free and democratic society, particularly courts and elections.

To the extent anyone on the left is guilty of subversion, it’s toward that end — undermining public faith that our institutions can be trusted to enforce laws with the intention they were written, as opposed to some cynical, totalitarian manipulation.

And even then, I’m sure they’ll be just fine.

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Sun News and problems of bias

Few acts of public commentary are more intrinsically worthless than a political post-mortem of a partisan enemy.

Ask a conservative why something liberal failed, and he’ll answer “because liberalism is awful.” Ask a liberal why something conservative bombed, and she’ll reply “because right-wingers suck.” Ideological bias impedes a great many things, but nothing more than the objective analysis of a rival’s defeat.

Such has been the case with the majority of commentary about last week’s abrupt closure of the conservative Sun News Network, which has provided Canada’s progressive commentariat no shortage of ideological vindication.

The defining characteristic of elite liberalism in Canada is sheltered narcissism, a belief that the idiosyncratic collection of beliefs that high-ranking progressive politicians, journalists, and academics personally hold dear are also the animating ideology of the entire country.

Because they believe in multiculturalism Canadians believe in multiculturalism. Because they don’t like America Canadians don’t like America. Because they reject conservatism Canadians reject conservatism, and so on.

Since this progressive bias concludes that progressivism is not only wildly successful in Canada but enormously popular, those who reject it —  ie: Sun journalists and viewers — must be forever defined as a tiny, strange, even grotesque fringe on the absolute margins of Canadian society. For good measure, it also helps to portray them as suspiciously American in form and temperament, in order to imply their deviance is not just gross and ignorant but pseudo-treasonous as well.

Thus, we get cocksure articles like Jon Kay’s in the National Post, where he blames Sun’s failure on the fact that unlike America, “Canada just doesn’t have enough ‘regular-white-guy resentment’ to support a mass-viewership news channel catering to pissed-off ordinary Joes,” or Tim Harper sniffing skeptically in the Toronto Star at the notion of “Fox North in a country in which we believe our politics are polarized, but are really quite tepid compared to the shout fests on U.S. cable television.” Ex-CBCer Linden MacIntyre in the Globe and Mail was no less incredulous at the spectacle of angry, right-wing commentary “coming from people who, when all is said and done, have nothing, really, to complain about.”

The shared thesis is that Canadians are just too polite and placated for a television station based around aggressively critical, conservative analysis of Canadian politics and culture, because aggressively critical conservatism implies the existence of opposition to the heroic liberalism of Canadian politics and culture. And who could possibly fathom such a thing?

Sun flopped for a variety of reasons, and doubtless some of these had to do with off-putting tone and content. Speaking as a former Sun employee, I knew few colleagues who weren’t occasionally embarrassed by some of the things the network aired, though it’s worth remembering how much of that was ultimately a product of budgetary limitations— doing television on the cheap means lower salaries, which attract a less professional grade of producers and guests. But bluntly asserting the network’s failure stemmed from “not understanding Canada” is ultimately an ideological criticism, not an objective one, and deserves to be understood as such.

There are countless issues on which Canadian public opinion is dramatically to the right of the progressive establishment — immigration caps, the death penalty, elected judges, voter ID laws — and it can easily be argued in their coverage of these matters and others, Sun’s editorial slant was considerably more in line with typical Canadian opinion than say, the Toronto Star’s.

Whatever problems the network had with ratings, Ezra Levant has repeatedly noted in interviews that some of Sun’s online videos boasted view counts that vastly exceeded their TV viewership — or that of their competitors’ — and that these videos were invariably covering issues No True Canadian is supposed to care about, like First Nations corruption or radical Islam in Canadian mosques. As much as there will now be a great deal of pressure for any post-Sun conservative news outlet to shift sharply to the left, it remains worth asking why few establishment outlets see no virtue in shifting more to the right — at least on certain issues.

More than anything else, Sun was simply the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time —  not in the sense, as many on the left are eager to believe, that it was a contrarian conservative network in debate-free, progressive Canada, but rather a badly under-funded, late entrant into the increasingly irrelevant, cash-hemorrhaging, archaically over-regulated world of television news.

Whatever controversies the station provoked during life, this is the firmest certainty it can offer in death.

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Sun News columns now archived

When Sun News went off the air the other day they took everything with them, including all their web content. Luckily I have salvaged my own articles, which you can read here:

Our close-minded Supreme Court, Feb. 12, 2015

Debunk anti-vaxxer myths, don’t just dismiss them, Feb. 4, 2015

Is Winnipg racist, or something else?, Jan. 29, 2015

Trudeau still grasping for reasons not to fight ISIS, Jan. 22, 2015

Death of satire, Jan. 8, 2015

A desparate coalition for 2015, Jan. 2, 2015

Danielle Smith’s defection is classically libertarian, Dec. 23, 2014

The false hope of Justin Trudeau, Dec. 12, 2014

Elizabeth May and the truthers, Dec. 2, 2014

Kinder Morgan protestors show striking thoughtlessness, Nov. 27, 2014

The fall of Mayor Moonbeam, Nov. 13, 2014

A sex scandal or CBC scandal?, Oct. 29, 2014

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RIP Sun News

For those who are not aware, Sun News, the conservative Canadian television station at which I have been working for the last year-and-a-half or so, closed down this morning in a long-anticipated, but nevertheless fairly gothic spectacle.

This is what I wrote on my Facebook wall:

I’m reminded of a line from Jesus Christ Superstar: “Put away your swords / don’t you know that it’s all over / it was nice, but now it’s gone.”

Sun News was a remarkable thing while it lasted, and beyond all the friends and connections I made working there, I’ll be forever grateful for the national forum I was given to express my thoughts and ideas on issues that were important to me.

The network obviously had its troubles, but I do believe Canadian conservatism is stronger for its existence. So many young, bright, talented conservative men and women worked there, both on camera and off, and today they enter the job market with renewed experience, insight, and self-confidence in the world of Canadian politics and media.

I am genuinely excited to see what what we all get up to next.

My life and career have gotten increasingly fluid in recent months, and I don’t know where I’m headed. As I alluded to in the post, I’ve been talking with a lot of Sun’s outgoing employees, and there seems to be a real appetite for redirecting our collective energies elsewhere, but to where and what exactly, who knows.

I’d also like to bring your attention to this fine editorial by Warren Kinsella — a former Chretien administration advisor who was sort of the Alan Colmes of Sun — reflecting on what Canadians of all stripes and opinions have lost in losing the network.

I believe in market forces, and I believe in a capitalist economy governed by survival of the fittest. But nothing is lost without cost, even unsuccessful or unpopular things.

I think Warren offers a good rebuttal to the schadenfreude of Sun’s ideological enemies, which will no doubt be filling the editorial pages of Canada’s leading newspapers very soon.

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Our closed-minded Supreme Court

I’ll just take it for granted that you’ve never heard of Suzanne Côté. I hadn’t heard of her either, but yesterday she apparently became the newest member of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Reports say she was picked by Prime Minister Harper last December — “quietly” according to the Ottawa Citizen’s headline writers — but for whatever reason it took until this month to formally inaugurate her.

Mysteries are hardly unprecedented for Canada’s top court, of course.

No one really understands how Canadian Supreme Court justices are chosen. In theory, it’s the job of the prime minister to pick them, but over the years it appears that responsibility has been largely outsourced to a shadowy clique of law association-types who bring names to him.

Depending on the alignment of the planets that month, the Attorney General may additionally choose to convene a rubber stamp committee of MPs to “vet” the appointee. The committee will be explicitly forbidden from doing anything useful, however — such as questioning a judge’s record or philosophy —  and even then sometimes the whole sham will be considered too time-consuming to bother with (Ms. Côté wasn’t subjected to any sort of committee oversight, nor were twoof the other six judges Prime Minister Harper appointed).

From any objective standard of openness and accountability, this is an atrocious system. It’s also one of the world’s worst — the human rights group Global Integrity ranks Canada’s judicial appointment process below that of many third world nations, including Pakistan and Angola, so appallingly absent are any meaningful checks and balances.

It’s unfortunate Supreme Court reform rarely polls high when it comes to voter priorities, since we’re paying an increasingly high price for this apathy.

In recent months, the Supremes have issued a bevy of sweepingly activist rulings offering assertive answers to contentious policy questions, including the appropriate length of prison terms (short), whether sex should be sold as a consumer good (yes), the desirability of an unelected Senate (very), and the credibility of prescription suicide as a cure for suffering (high).

These issues polarize public opinion, which only makes sense since they aren’t really matters of law so much as subjective questions of how to interpret some of our constitution’s vaguest promises — say, the right to “security of the person.”

Our current Supreme Court regime has a habit of producing rulings that don’t even hint at the contentious nature of their debates, alas. Of the aforementioned decisions, every single one was unanimous, meaning Canada does not possess a single Supreme Court judge who thinks it would be okay to hold Senate elections, or that euthanasia conflicts with the Charter’s “right to life.”

Critics tend to agree this is largely a reflection of the closed, cliquish nature of the Canadian legal establishment who produce and select our senior judges. There are simply not that many respected law schools in this country, which has made it easy to perpetuate what the Marxists would call a “class ideology” among elite lawyers — in this case, a philosophy holding that the constitution is a “living tree” whose terms must be creatively reinterpreted as progressive fashion dictates.

A fine philosophy, perhaps, but it doesn’t deserve to win every argument. Otherwise we may as well just par the number of Supreme Court judges down to one and save taxpayers a few bucks.

Improvements aren’t hard to imagine. Canadians overwhelmingly support the idea of elected judges, and studies have found, contrary to the hysterical protestations of the legal clique, that there’s little hard evidence to suggest judges appointed by politicians are objectively “better” than ones elected by the public.

What we do know is that elected judges tend to reflect a greater diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and are more democratically accountable — two variables the Canadian system desperately lacks.

My ideal fix would be for the court’s nine judges to be selected in three different ways, representing a spectrum of accountability.

Three could be appointed in the status quo fashion — which is to say, quietly, secretly, and more or less by the lawyers’ guilds directly.

Three could be nominated by the Prime Minister, probably on the advice of the same clique, but subject to the interrogation of a parliamentary committee with teeth, and an up-or-down vote of the House of Commons.

The final three would be chosen by voters directly in a federal election.

Such a reform package would be popular, and could no doubt be easily passed.

The only question is, would the Supreme Court overrule it?

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Are we being too mean to anti-vaxxers?

Is it an effective strategy? Do they have any valid points? That’s the question I engage with in my latest Sun News column and appearance on the Michael Coren show.

What do you think?

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Debunk anti-vaxxer myths, don’t just dismiss them

Mandatory vaccinations are controversial. Any reasoned discussion of the topic must begin by acknowledging this.

Any reasoned discussion of the topic must end, mind you, by noting that careful scientific research has systematically dismantled the worries of vaccine skeptics and supported the position of proponents.

But it can’t be denied that there have been plenty of disturbing vaccination-related incidents and anecdotes to justify wariness along the way.

It is an objective fact that the polio vaccine given to tens of millions of Americans between 1955 and 1963 was tainted with the monkey virus SV40. It is an objective fact that until 2001, many childhood vaccines contained thimerosal, a mercury compound.

It is an objective fact that rates of child and teen autism have spiked dramatically in recent years, and that this correlates with rising rates of vaccination. It is an objective fact that in 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a compelling study linking the two phenomena in the respected British medical journal, The Lancet.

It is an objective fact that most western nations have established special courts to compensate individuals claiming negative side-effects from government-mandated vaccinations. The United States government alone has paid over two billion dollars to victims under the terms of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which was approved by President Reagan in 1986.

All these facts are true, and it is not unreasonable for a person who comes across them, be they on an internet message board, in a column by Robert Kennedy Jr., or flowing from the lips of Jenny McCarthy to be troubled by them.

Whether they justify abandoning vaccinations altogether, however, requires investigating things a bit further.

There is no evidence the monkey virus SV40 caused any ill-health effects to Americans who received tainted vaccinations containing it, nor was the removal of the mercury ingredient thimerosal done out of anything but an abundance of pre-emptive caution.

The correlation between rates of autism and vaccinations does not imply causation any more than the correlation between divorce rates in Maine and per-capita consumption of margarine. The leading explanation for the spike in autism diagnoses is simply that doctors are getting better at identifying the symptoms.

Dr. Wakefield’s study was massively flawed, and Wakefield himself was on the payroll of lawyers in an anti-vaccine lawsuit. In 2010 The Lancet recanted his study and a few months later he lost his medical license.

Vaccine compensation courts were established for political reasons and bear little resemblance to actual courts. They award no-fault compensation based on the plausibility of a plaintiff’s claim, not guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — or any sort of scientific measure. Even then, the American vaccine compensation program has long sat on a budget surplus that far exceeds its payouts.

Anti-vaxxers are rightly cautious about a government that demands they surrender their children for mandatory chemical injections. But caution is an instinct, not an argument. Endless studies have found vaccinations to be safe and effective, while the consequences of opting-out have proven enormously destabilizing to public safety.

Yet mere smug assertion of this reality is not a compelling counter-argument either.

If we genuinely seek to change the minds of a small anti-vaxx subculture whose worldview is heavily bound up in distrusting the assertions of the establishment, it’s doubtful much of what we’ve witnessed over the last few days — in which powerful voices sitting at the very top of our political and media hierarchy have loudly denounced the ignorance of the uneducated rabble below — will have much effect.

Anti-vaxxers may be obnoxious and irritating — and the consequences of their behavior indisputably dangerous — but when they note that our newspapers have been filled for decades with reasons to worry about vaccinations they are not wrong.

What’s needed is a public health campaign based around dispelling the procedure’s many myths — not decrying those who may have good reason for wanting to believe them.

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Keeping Baird’s not-so-secret secret

Here are some things the Canadian press felt it was important for you to know about foreign minister John Baird following his resignation on Tuesday.

His nickname was “Rusty.” He had a cat named Thatcher. He was single. He was a vegetarian. He was “hard-living.” He often accompanied the Prime Minister’s wife to official galas when Mr. Harper was out of town.

Here is something the press felt it wasn’t important for you to know about John Baird: he was widely rumored to be gay.

In fact, if you talk to press people in and around Ottawa, he was indisputably, unquestionably, brazenly, openly gay.

In fact, if you talk to a male reporter, they probably have a story about the time Minister Baird hit on them personally.

Baird’s sexuality, and/or the rumors thereof, was never reported openly in the Canadian media. The gay press brought it up a number of times — particularly following Tory candidate Pamela Taylor’s accidental “outing” of the minister during a 2010 interview on CBC radio — and they’ve enjoyed spreading the gossip far and wide as a means of embarrassing a government much of the LGBT community still considers homophobic.

More mainstream outlets have alluded to it in only the most opaque ways. Most reported without comment when the traditionalist group REAL Women of Canada accused Baird of promoting an excessively pro-gay foreign policy “to further his own perspective on homosexuality” at the expense of conservative values, and the fairly open sniggering about Baird’s “dates” with Mrs. Harper were not difficult to view as some sort of code — “Laureen Harper is his fag hag,” as Xtra columnist Brad Fraser unsubtly put it.

Overall, it was a painfully conspicuous blackout, particularly given the amount of decidedly uncensored Baird gossip that swirls on blogs and social media.

Does the public have a right to know if their foreign minister is gay? One could just as easily ask if we have a right to know the name of his “beloved tabby.”

The lines that cordon the private from the political have always been blurry, but are generally most difficult to justify when they exist to prevent forming a complete picture of a public servant whose leadership we are being asked to trust — or in Baird’s case, a man whose job was to literally embody Canadian values before foreign audiences.

Homosexuality is an interesting characteristic for a person to have, particularly a high-ranking person in a nation that until quite recently had laws on the books criminalizing “sodomy,” and a politician whose caucus has repeatedly voted against same-sex marriage.

For a press that felt little anxiety about publicizing the swinging single life of Peter MacKay or the chronic substance abuse of Mayor Ford, to suppress even the lightest discussion of a public figure’s romantic affinity for the same sex is to prop up archaic homophobic taboos that such information is the single worst rumor a person can spread about another.

Many will claim a individual’s sexuality “makes no difference either way,” but choosing not to care about something requires awareness of what you’re choosing not to care about. The alternative is not tolerance, but denial — a willingness to extend compassion only so long as the other person conceals anything about his lifestyle that is potentially threatening or strange. The very logic of the closet.

Sitting way over here in Vancouver, I have absolutely no idea if John Baird is actually gay or not. Credible people have told me that he is, but in a court of law it would all be hearsay. If it is true, it does trouble me as a gay conservative that our foreign minister would have such little faith in his party, voters, and government to appropriately handle such knowledge, or — worse — that he believes Canadian society remains bigoted enough to use such information against him.

But greater indignation should be reserved for a Canadian press that continues to condescendingly treat the public as ignorant children who can’t handle learning certain types of information about public figures.

All things being equal, I’d rather know too much about a politician than too little.

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