No one is getting electoral reform because no one really wants it

You are going to read very little accurate commentary on the final report from the House Special Committee on Electoral Reform simply because so many powerful and influential people are deeply vested in denial. We saw a preview of this in the House of Commons the other day with Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef getting piled on from all sides for observing a simple fact: the electoral reform committee was a dumb thing that produced a dumb report.

Conservatives are instinctively hesitant to believe anything a hacky partisan like Monsef says. NDPers and Elizabeth May, who have the most to gain from a new electoral system, take her criticism personally. Pundits across the land — nearly all of whom believe deeply in the cause of electoral reform — need a scapegoat to blame for a dream that’s fast slipping away.

Yet changing Canada’s electoral system in time for the next election was always a wildly implausible promise that was only attractive in the abstract. Preserving the idea’s popularity thus required keeping it abstract as long as humanly possible, which is what the electoral reform committee did quite successfully during their six months of opaque proceedings, and clearly hoped to keep doing in releasing this utterly useless report.

Would you like to know what electoral system the report recommends? Here’s the summary, in total: “a proportional electoral system.” This is less than useless, because as the report’s endless pages of exposition and thinking-out-loud make clear, a “proportional system” doesn’t actually mean anything, it’s merely an aspirational standard in which seats in the legislature are elected in greater sync with the popular vote than they are at present. People like the sound of that, but as Mackenzie King once said of taxes, everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.

If the report offers little formal instruction regarding how government should make the “proportional” dream a reality, it certainly knows what it doesn’t want. The new system must have “a Gallagher Index score of 5 or less,” it demands, referring to a fairness standard too technical to get into here (Canada’s last election got a score of 12, for reference). But so too must this new system not use “pure party lists,” as are common in Europe, “as such systems sever the connection between voters and their MP.” Also: it’s important that “no change to the electoral system must be made that would have the effect of diminishing Quebecer’s [sic] voice in the Canadian political discourse” or “the needs, interests and aspirations of Canada’s two official language minority communities.” They also concede there are a lot of constitutional ambiguities that still need to be sorted out, so get cracking on that too, government.

Thankfully, the report does explicitly acknowledge one piece of reality establishment boosters of electoral reform have been most loathe to admit: swapping Canada’s electoral system will inescapably compromise other aspects of Canadian democracy as currently practiced. My own personal anxiety has long been that adopting an electoral system disposed to yield narrow minority governments, or coalition governments, brings enormous risk of severing voter control over who gets to be prime minister — which is really the only important voter concern in a political system as constitutionally top-heavy as ours. Thus, government must undertake a “comprehensive study of the effects [of a new electoral system] on other aspects of Canada’s ‘governance ecosystem’” before they offer voters any hard proposals, the report concludes.

In sum, the committee’s findings can be reduced to “status quo bad, let’s change it,” which marks no meaningful advancement from the slogans spouted by Justin Trudeau on last year’s campaign trail. The committee should have had the courage to recommend a specific alternative system, but that would have invited the public to immediately begin deconstructing its flaws. A de facto “Vote No” campaign would instantly spring to life, and the uphill battle for the pro-change folks would become more obvious than it was already.

So poor Minister Monsef, already so long suffering, is forced to take the fall for an incompetent government determined to bluff and deny its way through life. Much fire is being disingenuously spat for her completely accurate comment that the electoral committee “did not complete the hard work we had expected,” as if her words were intended as a literal dig at the amount of man-hours its members invested, and not how useless those hours ultimately proved. The only real criticism she deserves is for pretending to anticipate anything different.

No Comments - Discuss on Facebook






Trump wins cartoon

The CNN people kindly asked me to draw something for their “cartoonists of the world react to Trump winning” special feature. You can check out what I drew here.

I actually drew that cartoon the day before the election. Like everyone in the world, I suspected Hillary would win, but I was not very confident. I expected a long night, and thought she would win very narrowly, barely crossing the 270 threshold, or that Donald would stage a narrow upset. So I drew the Donald-wins cartoon along with a Hillary-wins cartoon, which you can see here, if you are interested in such paralell-universe things.

 

4 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Election 2016 fun times

coloring-2016

It’s election day, and thus I must honor my over-decade-long tradition of providing a coloring sheet for election night. You can download the higher-res version here, in case you want to print one out and do something creative.

If you’ll be as glued to your computer as me today, may I suggest once again taking a look at my predictor page? I will be updating it throughout the day with all the various websites’ final predictions as they drift in, just so we can see which source was the most spectacularly wrong (so far, the LA Times seems to be in an early lead).

I’ll have a real cartoon done tomorrow to honor the victory of the next president.

3 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Another election cartoon

Probably the last thing I will draw about this election (not that I’ve drawn a lot).

Here’s a cartoon about the intersection between this election and McDonald’s I did for The Nib.

5 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Prediction time

Another four years, another occasion to update my site about presidential election predictors.

More updates coming as more news happens, but for now, the page above at least has a handy link to other predictor sites, so you can always check back to see what all the bigshot predictors are predicting over the next two months.

What’s your prediction?

7 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






New cartoon!

Every election cycle, a publication called the Ladies Home Journal does this thing where they get the two would-be first ladies to submit dueling cookie recipes. They both get published, and readers vote on which one they like better. It’s occasionally accurate in predicting the winner.

The tradition began in 1992 and was probably a bit retrograde even then, but given 2016’s dueling “first ladies” this year might be the most cringe-inducing yet.

I drew a cartoon about it for The Nib.

11 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Just how much anti-Semitism is acceptable, Elizabeth May?

Elizabeth May and Monika Schaefer

Last month, Elizabeth May was ensnared in another one of those embarrassing brouhahas for which her Green Party has become well-known. One of her perennial candidates in Alberta, a woman named Monika Schaefer, was revealed to be quite an ugly anti-semite and Holocaust denier. May described Schaefer’s views as “shocking” but news to her, and moved swiftly to eject her from the party. In an attempt at damage control, it was noted that Schaefer had been “disallowed” to run for the party in the previous two elections, though this proved a less than impressive defense after Elizabeth May admitted Schaefer’s anti-Semitism was “not the reason” for previous vetos of her candidacy.

Thanks to the help of Ben Shachar, a reader of mine and student at York University, I have come across information that proves Elizabeth May was lying in her characterization of Ms. Schaefer’s history with the Green Party, and May’s personal knowledge of Ms. Schaefer’s anti-Semitic views.

Contrary to her claim that Schaefer’s views took her by surprise, Elizabeth May was directly exposed to Schaefer’s anti-Semitism as early as 2014 and was actually involved in negotiations with Schaefer in the run up to a 2014 by-election in which May attempted to get Schaefer to tone down her anti-Semitism to a level that would be publicly palatable. Only when Schaefer refused did May veto her candidacy — which, again, contradicts May’s claim that Schaefer’s anti-Semitism was “not the reason” for her doing so.

Timeline of Events

Much of the information contained in this post comes from a January 4, 2015 article on the anti-Semitic website Radical Press that contains multiple quotes from Monika Schaefer, including portions of emails Ms. Schaefer sent to Elizabeth May in the past.

According to the article, on August 5, 2014 Schaefer sent Elizabeth May an email complaining about the controversy surrounding then-Green Party president Paul Estrin’s conservative views on Israel. Schaefer called Estrin, who is Jewish, “a Zionist shill” who “will destroy the Green Party of Canada from within” and accused him of trying to hijack the Greens “on behalf of a supremacist cult.” She demanded May fire him, saying “it is time to free ourselves of the shackles of Zionism. In the teachings of the Talmud, we the goyim are lower than cattle, and we are quickly becoming enslaved.” (Estrin resigned as party president that same day and has since complained that “many in the Jewish community” are disturbed by the “abuse and unbalance” that animates the Green Party’s attitude towards Israel).

On September 17, 2014 Conservative Yellowhead MP Rob Merrifield announced his resignation from the House of Commons to accept a job working as an Alberta diplomat in Washington DC, forcing a by-election, which was held on Monday, November 17. Schaefer wanted to run for the Greens, as she had run in the riding three times prior (including two times under Elizabeth May’s leadership, in 2008 and 2011). In the Radical Press article, Schaefer offers this description of what happened:

“Lo-and-behold a by-election was called in my riding of Yellowhead, Alberta in October of 2014 but because of the letter regarding Paul Estrin I was rejected by the GPC as a candidate. Elizabeth May told me I could apologize to Paul for the letter, thereby making it ‘go away’. I refused, because that would have been the beginning of the road to compromise on truth.”

Accordingly, Schaefer did not run for the Greens. It appears that she continued to remain an active figure in the party.

A few months later, on December 30, 2014 Schaefer sent Elizabeth May an email complimenting her for a decision she made earlier that month to present a “truther” petition to the House of Commons and encouraged her to double down. The rambling letter contains several anti-Semitic flourishes, including mention of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and reference to Israeli “foreknowledge” of the 9/11 attacks. May took a lot of flack for the 9/11 petition and eventually more or less disavowed it, defending herself with the factually incorrect claim that MPs “have to” present to the House any petitions their constituents give them. This backdown offended Schaefer, who on July 30, 2015 sent an email to Elizabeth May quitting the Green Party “effective immediately,” citing May’s lack of dedication to the cause of 9/11 Trutherism. It appears this is the reason why Schaefer did not run in the October 19, 2015 general election.

Schaefer’s anti-Semitic video was not published on YouTube until nearly a year later, on June 17, 2016. After the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs expressed outrage and the CBC reported on it on July 15, 2016 Elizabeth May issued an official statement claiming to be “shocked” by Schaefer and her “terribly misguided and untrue statements.”

Later that same day, I, J.J. McCullough, and a guy named Daly de Gagné asked Elizabeth May some questions on Twitter. Our exchange went like this:

New questions for Elizabeth May:

1) Monika Schaefer’s 2014 email to you about Paul Estrin was clearly anti-Semitic. Why did you not initiate efforts to expel her from the party at that time?

2) According to Schaefer, you offered her an opportunity to remain a candidate in the 2014 Yellowhead by-election if she apologized to Estrin. This seems preposterous given anti-Semitism is a worldview and not something that can be cleared with a mere apology. Why were you interested in allowing Schaefer to continue to represent the Green Party? Will you release your email exchange with her so we can see the exact terms of any “deal” you offered her?

3) What was Schaefer’s role in the Green party between August 2014 and July 2015?

4) Why did you lie about being “shocked” by Schaefer’s anti-Semitism, given you clearly had been exposed to it multiple times prior to her video?

5) Why did you tell Mr. Gagné that Monika Schaefer was going to be “expelled” from the Green Party when she had already quit? Did she rejoin the party at some point?

6) Why did you say Schaefer’s anti-Semitism was “not the reason” for her candidacy being disallowed in 2014? Did you consider her anti-Semitic criticism of Paul Estrin to be an offense distinct from general anti-Semitism? How anti-Semitic is a Green Party candidate allowed to be?

UPDATE: At an August 22, 2016 press conference in which she stated she would not, contrary to popular opinion, be stepping down as Green leader, Elizabeth May wandered into the topic of anti-semitism within her party, insisting “I don’t think there are anti-semitic people within the Green Party” and claiming the party was actually hyper-vigilant on this front. She claimed that the “only” time people have been disallowed to run for the Green Party was over what she called “this issue,” adding “I’m not going to say those people were anti-semitic, but there was concern.” It again begs the question as to what Elizabeth May considers anti-semitic.

UPDATE 2: On October 24, 2016 VICE reporter Mack Lamoureux reported that Ms. Schaefer was scheduled to speak at a Canadian neo-Nazi convention known as “Blood and Honour.”

7 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






New archive and final week of Kickstarter!

Here’s some new updates for you.

I wrote a long piece about everyone’s favorite right-wing subculture, the “alt-right” for C2C Journal, a conservative Canadian opinion outlet run by the Manning Centre.

Check it here: All the angry young white men.

I’ve also written a couple new Loonie Politics columns since my last update, but good news! There is finally a Loonie Politics J.J. archive. You can check that out here.

And lastly, this is the final week of my Canada Guide redesign fundraiser at Kickstarter. If you haven’t made a donation yet, please consider it. Every small bit helps and it really means a lot to me.

16 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Kickstarter!

Canada-kickstarter3-small

You know my Canada Guide, right? It’s actually the most successful thing I’ve ever made, but I’m looking to make it even more successful with the help of a professional redesign.

Could I bother you for a humble donation to the Kickstarter page?

Here’s my full video pitch:

 

28 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Our new homophobia

President Obama’s second inaugural was the first to cite the gay rights movement as an essential chapter of the American story. That “most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal,” he said, “is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

The reference was to the Stonewall Inn riots, a multi-day spectacle of street violence that followed a 1969 police raid of a Manhattan gay bar. The conventional retelling describes police brutality so vile New York’s long-suffering gays could not help but respond in kind, and in doing so initiate a fresh era in the struggle for sexual equality. But as is often the case with sanctified anecdotes, reality was more ambiguous. Stonewall was certainly notorious, but as much for its mafia ties and role in the city’s sex trade as its homosexual clientele. Nuances like these provide consistent headaches to anyone attempting to retell Stonewall’s story — consider the contentious reception that greeted  Roland Emmerich’s recent effort to commemorate it in film.

What happened in Orlando, in contrast, was entirely bereft of nuance. As the bloodiest instance of anti-gay violence in American history, Orlando does not simply overshadow Stonewall, it makes pathetic mockery of it and all previous conceptions of what homophobia is.

Like Stonewall, the history of American attitudes towards homosexuality form a complex tale that many are uninterested in acknowledging. Far from a consistent crusade, it’s been a fickle, performative concern, ebbing and flowing over time. Walt Whitman was the most celebrated poet of the 19th century and wrote openly about gay sex — which he claimed to enjoy. President Buchanan may have been gay, but it’s hard to know since his contemporaries didn’t care. Sterilizing “perverts” was proposed during the eugenics craze of the progressive era but vetoed by the courts. Anti-sodomy laws were mocked in their own time as an entrapment tool for lazy cops rather than a useful way to curb crime. Many American gays saw their families destroyed and careers ruined once their homosexuality became known, while others reached the pinnacle of success flaunting it openly.

What even a cursory glance of the nation’s LGBT history suggests, in short, is that the style of homophobic violence perpetuated in Orlando is something horrifyingly exotic to the American experience. It is not consistent with some preexisting tradition of “hate.” It does not remind us  “how far we have yet to go,” the need for “solidarity,” or any other hoary cliche of the gay rights establishment. What it illustrates, in the blood of 100 victims, is the degree western gays have endangered themselves by supporting politicians and activists who welcome foreign proponents of the world’s most radically homicidal strain of gay-hate into our communities.

While American gays seek acknowledgment and approval, gays in the Muslim world fight a war for survival. In nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death — a duty executioners have been more than happy to perform before the cameras. In territory controlled by the Islamic State, which considers the regimes of Iran and Saudi Arabia insufficiently dogmatic, gay men are thrown from the tops of buildings and have their skulls smashed with stones, as prescribed by the Hadith.

The life of killer Omar Saddiqui Mateen is a case study of radical Islam’s exploitation of American multiculturalism. His immigrant father, who supports the Taliban in his native Afghanistan, clearly felt little pressure to abandon his old world obsessions, constantly leaving America to remain politically engaged in the Middle East. He had his own chat show about Afghan politics and fantasized about becoming president. The kid furthered the faith of his father by soaking up hate at a Florida mosque frequented by at least one suicide bomber and taking online courses from a local imam who once served as bodyguard to the notorious “Blind Sheik.”

In the name of celebrating diversity, western liberals have outlawed the only tools we once used to get a handle on this sort of thing: immigration quotas, assimilation initiatives, and a shared understanding that the foreign should conform to the expectations of the host nation, not vice versa. They have exaggerated the benefits of Islam’s presence — Muslims have assisted in “building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy” in the words of the President — while inventing, then endlessly charging, a new crime of “Islamophobia” to silence anyone who speaks honestly of the challenges.

Today, progressives insist homophobia is a global sickness, not an Islamic one. Today we mourn the dangers of failing to acknowledge bigotry’s spectrum.

15 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






This week’s updates

Here’s some of what I got up to this week.

I did the Indie News Hour solo with host Martin Strong this week. Over the course of our 45 minute chat we touched on a vast number of disparate topics, including Muslims pretending to be Tories, Donald Trump’s views on climate change, Jason Kenney’s sex life, ticket scalping robots, and more. Give it a listen.

I wrote a column for Loonie Politics, as usual. The headline is “Conservatives shouldn’t abandon marriage,” in I reflect on what it means to be the pro-marriage party in the aftermath of same-sex marriage.

Lastly, in the aftermath of Muhammad Ali’s passing, I thought I might call your attention to my short bio of him on my site, Americans That Matter. I made the site to offer condensed summaries of important historic people to assist those looking for a quick education but unclear where to start. Occasions like this test the merits of the thing.

77 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






That Muslim woman who tried to shame the Tories is no Conservative

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 3.17.15 PMUPDATE DEC. 9, 2016: According to her Twitter feed, Ms. Heer is now running to be a provincial Progressive Conservative candidate in the riding of Mississauga Centre. There are rumours the riding association did not want her, but an attempted veto of her candidacy has been overridden by leader Patrick Brown, but nothing has been substantiated. iPolitics has more.

MAY 30, 2016 — This weekend’s Conservative Party convention in Vancouver had the vibe of a Maoist “struggle session” about it — or at least that’s how the press is choosing to portray it. The party is grappling with its future and reflecting on its past, with heavy, heavy pressure being exerted to admit the past in question was just one long, dark slog of homophobia, racism, climate-change denial, and Muslim-bashing.

Two incidents gave reason to suspect the Conservatives are interested in playing along. The first was the party’s much-covered decision to scrap its formal commitment to defend the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage (a voluntary gesture of zero practical consequence but considerable symbolic significance which I’ll write more about another day); the other, the party’s public dressing-down at the hands of a Muslim woman named Urz Heer who gave a vigorous scolding on the convention floor.

Quoth Stephanie Levitz of the Canadian Press:

Urz Heer, a turquoise scarf covering her hair, chastised her fellow Conservatives and party leadership, saying the campaign unfairly targeted her community.

“This party worked actively and aggressively against my people,” she said, to cries of “not so” from the crowd.

“It did, it did,” she said. “It didn’t differentiate who Muslims were versus the enemy.”

The election drove many Muslims who had never cast a ballot before to aggressively vote against the Tories, said Heer, who is from the Toronto-area riding of Brampton South.

“For the first time I felt like I didn’t belong here and this was my country,” she said, her voice breaking.

Her passionate statement was greeted with applause and she received hugs from some in the crowd but it left party executive director Dustin Van Vugt stumbling for words.

Ms. Heer became the celebrity of the convention and was shortly thereafter interviewed by the CBC. During the chat, she complained further about the Tories, stating that when they spoke about terrorists the Conservative government should have made it clear “that Muslims are not included in that bucket.” She also claimed that her floor speech provoked widespread apologies from other personalities at the convention, including one from Dr. Leitch, who is of course presently running for party leader.

But who is Ms. Heer, really? On the CBC, she was described as a “member of the party’s Brampton-South riding” and a Tory “delegate” to the convention. American Blogger Sierra Rayne at the American Thinker appears to have been the first journalist to actually look into Ms. Heer’ background, and found a lot of troubling stuff. As a Canadian, I can put an even finer point on it.

Urz Heer is a cable access journalist and activist with a long record of dabbling in and out of various causes, many of which involve immigrant outreach. Her politics are vague and unclear, and seem to reflect a desire to simply be on good terms with whoever has the rising stock of the moment. If she is currently self-identifying as a Conservative it is a hollow and unconvincing claim.

According to Heer’s LinkedIn profile (and a 2009 tweet), from 2009 to 2011 Heer was a director for the Liberal Party riding association of Brampton West (she appears in an outdated version of the riding association’s webpage, here). She was evidentially a good Liberal — this weekend wasn’t the first time she attended a party convention in Vancouver.

Brampton West was represented by Liberal MP Andrew Kania in those days. Heer apparently stepped down just before the 2011 election, which Kania lost to a guy named Kyle Seeback. The new Conservative MP then hired her as an “outreach co-ordinator” of some sort, but that relationship did not last.

Heer appears to have been a member of the Ontario Liberals circa 2013, and was a backer of Kathleen Wynne’s campaign to succeed Dalton McGuinty as premier. When Wynne was installed she posted a selfie from the Liberal Party convention floor “celebrating” the victory. In 2014 Heer met Wynne several times and posted multiple fawning photos of the two together, calling her “an amazing premier,” “amazing” and “my favorite premier.”

From December 2014 to October 2015 Heer claims to have worked as a “campaign manager” for a “Federal Nomination Candidate” though the riding and party are not specified on LinkedIn. Judging from photos on Facebook and Twitter it seems she backed a guy named Kuldip Gollee to get the 2015 Conservative nomination in Brampton West after MP Seeback decided to run in the new riding of Brampton South. When that fell through, a few months later she posted a Facebook photo of herself attending a “volunteer event” for the Liberal candidate Robert Oliphant in the riding of Don Valley West. She tweeted at him “hope u become the next Multiculturalism Minister!” When Prime Minister Trudeau was sworn in, Heer cheered him on to “Bring back the better, peace loving, more inclusive #Canada for everyone.” She would later tweet praise at him for “saving” Canada.

Ms. Heer seems to be a particularly vain and self-aggrandizing woman, eager to inform the world of her perceived importance and supposed closeness with politicians. Her social media accounts are all public, and brimming with opinions and endorsements. It did not take me much effort to investigate her background, and conclude that she is not a serious Conservative or a even a person with particularly serious political opinions. It would be nice if the media — and for that matter the Conservative Party itself — could be bothered to do even the slightest bit of research before crowning a mysterious stranger their new high priestess of things they wish to be true.

UPDATE:

A person who worked with Ms. Heer during her stint at the office of the Tory MP Kyle Seeback contacted me with more information.

“Among us staff in Seeback’s office, she was known to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the person told me.

“She pretended to be conservative for the job” the person continued, adding it was known that Heer was simultaneously attending “other party conventions and events.”

 

14 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






This week’s stuff

I appeared at 4 AM on a CBC radio show this week debating whether we should impose term limits on the prime minister. I said yes. You can listen here.

I also did my now-standard weekly appearance on Roundhouse Radio’s Indie News Hour in which we chatted about Donald Trump, Facebook vs. conservatives, and Chinese influences in Vancouver. Listen to that here.

Here is my weekly Loonie Politics column, Canadian democracy could be unrecognizable once Trudeau gets through with it. You can also join the Reddit discussion on it here. The Loonie Politics people now have a columnist RSS feed. It’s not just for my stuff, but since they don’t have very many other columnists it’s not hard to find my writing when it comes up.

And lastly, here is a YouTube video I made about Canadian spelling:

64 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Dumb Canadian foods

A new video in which I engage with stereotypes with marginally more affinity than usual.

13 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Why #quantumgate matters

By now the world is well aware that Prime Minister Trudeau’s impromptu “genius moment” — in which he gave a brilliant, off-the-cuff slapdown to a condescending reporter who underestimated his intelligence — was actually nothing of the sort. It was a carefully pre-planned bit of theater designed to repair a deficit in the Prime Minister’s public image — namely, a perceived lack of brains.

Conservatives in Canada have relentlessly bashed the Liberal leader for his legacy of gaffes — from calling Baltic states “not a thing” to talking about “reciting pi to the 19th decibel” to darker nonsense like claiming to envy China’s “basic dictatorship” when asked to name a country he admired. No politician benefits from dopiness of this sort, but Trudeau’s verbal flubs and flashes of ignorance have proved particular liabilities given this telegenic son of a former PM has long struggled to deflect accusations his rapid rise from high school drama teacher to world leader was fueled by anything other than celebrity.

Doubts about Trudeau’s intelligence did not prove substantial enough to deny him the prime ministership. But as he plunges ever-deeper into the business of the nation, pulling Canadian troops from the war on ISIS, racking up enormous budget deficits, and drafting laws about literal matters of life and death, the dangers of perceived stupidity only heighten.

Trudeau’s handlers clearly saw the advantage of staging a photo-op in which the Prime Minister could demonstrate to the world that he was actually a man of intellectual heft. Perhaps at one of the country’s top science labs, where he could stand on a dais surrounded by scientists, in front of a blackboard covered with dense equations. Maybe he could even wear one of those graduation caps with the little dangly thing. If he could say a bunch of smart things in that setting surely there’d be no more joking about the man who once suggested the Russians might invade Ukraine because Canada beat them at hockey.

And so that’s what we got. As I described in a much-shared blog post, Justin Trudeau spent his Friday boning up on quantum computing at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics then demanded reporters ask him about what he learned. When they failed to comply, he launched into a mini-lecture on the matter anyway.

The coverage that ensued was surely better than anyone in his inner circle could have possibly expected. The vast majority of reporters either deliberately or lazily omitted the part of the story where Trudeau asked to be quizzed about the subject he had just studied, so we got stuff like this:

During a visit to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to a reporter’s sarcastic comment about his knowledge of quantum computing by giving the reporter a quick lesson on it.

Global News

PM shows off knowledge of quantum computing… The man who has been called Canada’s new heartthrob, yoga hotshot, feminist PM — apparently eager to show he’s more than a now globally recognized pretty face — promptly showed he has computer-geek talents previously little known.

Toronto Star

The Internet was abuzz with praise for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday after clips showing him schooling an reporter on quantum computing went viral… While political opponents learned a lesson about underestimating the photogenic Trudeau, 44, during last year’s surprise electoral upset, the unnamed reporter fell into the same trap during an event at a Canadian university on Friday when he jokingly tested the former teacher’s knowledge.

Reuters

Forget the incredible yoga strength, the charming feminist talk, or that glorious hair. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is more than a pretty face…When a reporter sarcastically suggested that the prime minister explain quantum computing, Trudeau took up the challenge without missing a beat.

Huffington Post

Handsome Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Gives Passable Off-the-Cuff Lecture on Quantum Computing… Tired of being treated like a himbo meme queen, Trudeau proceeds to deliver a succinct explanation of quantum mechanics vis-à-vis computing. And it was all captured in a video that by any reasonable definition qualifies as softcore porn.

Slate

Near as I can tell, the sole contrary voice amid all this was the reporter who actually asked Trudeau the question in the first place, the Canadian Press’ Colin Perkel, who was obviously in a good position to note Trudeau had “seized an opportunity with both hands,” though even his coverage was still more credulous than warranted. To the degree any reporting was even marginally critical it was entirely on Trudeau’s terms — as when Vice assembled a team of scientists to scrutinize the Prime Minister’s summary.

All this favorable press was not gained legitimately. It was the product of a media who chose — again, either through laziness or deliberate effort — to spin Friday’s events in a fashion that would prove most useful to the Prime Minister and help alleviate one of his greatest liabilities. Their coverage was not neutral or skeptical, it was aggressively supportive and free of cynicism. This has been a defining theme of Trudeau’s media reception. When the Prime Minister stages a photo op it is often reported as a relevant news event unto itself, as when Justin Trudeau cuddled the new baby pandas at the Toronto zoo or dressed his family as Star Wars characters for Halloween or did that weird yoga thing.

Stephen Harper was certainly not above using cheesy PR gimmicks to shore up perceived weaknesses with his public image. Yet time and time again, it was cynicism of Harper’s media strategies that became the story. His sweater vests and kittens and cowboy hats and hockey book were tropes of incessant, sarcastic mockery as journalists recoiled at the notion they could be so easily played. A reader drew my attention to this 2010 CBC story on Prime Minister Harper’s famous piano-playing: “Some commenters accused the prime minister of using the concert as a publicity stunt to improve his image and criticized news organizations for giving it so much attention,” they note sternly.

Why is Trudeau different? Partially it’s a product of the corrupting influence of foreign journalists, who have no obligation or interest to offer responsible coverage of Canadian politics and are thus free to treat Justin Trudeau as a pure celebrity. In the eyes of progressive American journalists in particular, Justin Trudeau has become a reliable clickbait meme, a slightly comical, mostly endearing mascot of the utopian dreamland their liberal readers expect Canada to be. Canadian outlets are presumably not ignorant of the views that can be gained by pandering to this base, which one must assume is larger than the typical audience for stories about Canadian prime ministers.

But partially too is it the result of a Canadian journalistic establishment that simply doesn’t regard Justin Trudeau as a politician deserving of hassle. If Canada’s journalists are operating from a mindset in which Trudeau has been one of the great victims of our time, a man chronically “underestimated” and unfairly maligned by right-wing “trolls” then they will be naturally predisposed towards stories that confirm the Prime Minister as a man of great complexity and substance.

That is the act in which I believe far too many of this country’s journalists have been caught. It reflects poorly on all involved.

32 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






The North Koreanification of Canadian political reporting

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has won the world’s heart and broken the internet by proving he’s “not just a pretty face” (in the words of Britain’s Daily Mail) and “the man of your dreams” (in the words of Vanity Fair). Foreign reporters are drawing these conclusions based on Canadian reports that the PM launched into an impromptu soliloquy on quantum computing during a press conference yesterday, in which he dressed down a condescending reporter who apparently considered him too stupid to understand the technology.

This is how the Toronto Star reported the episode, for example (headline: “PM shows off knowledge of quantum computing”):

On the chalkboard behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., on Friday, were equations sufficient to give anyone who struggled in high school math horrors for a lifetime.

Then an inquiring reporter, covering Trudeau’s reannouncement of the recent federal budget’s $50-million allocation for Perimeter, inadvertently led with his chin.

“I was going to ask you to explain quantum computing, but . . . ,” the reporter said before asking a question about Canada’s role in defeating Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The man who has been called Canada’s new heartthrob, yoga hotshot, feminist PM — apparently eager to show he’s more than a now globally recognized pretty face — promptly showed he has computer-geek talents previously little known.

“OK, quite simply, normal computers work by . . . ,” Trudeau said to laughter and applause.

“No, no, don’t interrupt me, when you walk out of here you will know more — well no, some of you will know far less — about quantum computing,” he continued.

“A regular computer bit is either a one or a zero, either on or off. A quantum state can be much more complex than that, because as we know, things can be both particle and wave at the same time and the uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer.”

“So that’s what’s exciting about quantum computing,” he said as the crowd erupted into sustained applause.

You can read some version of this story just about anywhere at the moment. It is extraordinarily good press for the Prime Minister, given the man has long struggled with accusations he is an intellectual lightweight. It has also helped overshadow various unpleasantries he would rather not be talking about at the moment, including his government’s assisted-suicide legislation and, as the Star story notes, Canada’s ambiguous role in the war on ISIS.

So anyway, here is what actually happened.

On Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau visited the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Ontario. After a tour, he staged a brief photo op with some scientists and gave a short speech about how his government believes in funding science yada yada. Then, at one point he said this:

“You don’t have to be a geek like me to appreciate how important this work is. Although I have to tell you, when we get to the media questions later I’m really hoping people ask me how quantum computing works because I was excited to deepen my knowledge of that this morning.”

Click here to see a link to the relevant snippet of the speech on the Perimeter Institute’s YouTube channel.

Eventually we did get to the media questions. The first one went like this:

REPORTER: Morning sir, I was going to ask you to explain quantum computing but.. [trails off as audience laughs] When do you expect Canada’s ISIL mission to begin again and are we not doing anything in the interim while we prepare?

PM TRUDEAU: ‘Kay, very simply, normal computers work by….

And that was that.

So, to summarize, the PM went to a place and learned about a thing. During the speech that followed, he excitedly suggested he wanted to talk about the thing he just learned. A reporter was disinterested in playing along, and tried to ask a more relevant question, but Trudeau ignored him and launched into what was clearly a pre-prepared treatise on the thing.

In the reporting that followed, the Canadian media deliberately and pointedly did not place Trudeau’s verbal essay on quantum computing in the context in which it occurred. They instead chose to present the story in a fashion that would ensure maximum PR benefit to the prime minister — namely, this idea that Trudeau confidently called the bluff of a patronizing reporter.

To put it another way, the Canadian media has actually reversed the realities of the story 180 degrees. What is being falsely presented as a story of a scrappy prime minister resisting a hostile press is actually a story of a slavishly subservient press who are actively shaping their reporting to suit the government’s needs.

It is a disgrace.

 

63 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Video content marches on

People seem to like learning about Canada. So here’s a video about Canadian newspapers.

Also, if you are not already aware, I do another YouTube series with my friend Adam, called Gay by Gay. Check out this latest episode in which we ask each other a series of rapid-fire questions.

19 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Indie News

I’ve started doing a weekly segment known as “Indie News” on a new Vancouver radio station called Roundhouse Radio 98.3. Me and the other panelists had a good chat yesterday, talking about the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial, the US election, vaccines, and a whole host of other topics in a free-wheeling, hour-long chat.

Give it a listen.

34 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Good cartoons

A couple weeks ago, I broke down and did something millennials aren’t supposed to do — I got cable.

The internet is great and all, but a thing I’d come to miss since leaving my parents’ house — the last place where I enjoyed reliable access to television — was the pleasure of a non-curated watching experience. Sometimes it’s fun to discover a new show not because a friend told you about it or because you’ve been hearing great things on social media, but just because it happened to be on one night as you were channel-flipping.

Cartoon Network is great. I honestly didn’t realize we had access to it in Canada. The quality of children’s animation is incredibly high these days — both in terms of art and stories — another thing I hadn’t anticipated, having snobbishly assumed everything went downhill the second I turned away.

Here are four short reviews of my four favorite cartoons I’ve discovered, ranked in order of preference.

p10517219_ce_h9_aa1. Clarence 

A show about an endearingly awkward — maybe even borderline autistic — eight-year-old and the various white-trash weirdos who inhabit his life. Its kid’s-eye-view of the world reminds me a lot of thematically similar shows I liked in gradeschool, including Doug, Recess and an obscure Canadian cartoon called Stickin’ Around — but also has elements of King of the Hill in how bluntly it portrays the culture of the lower-middle class. It is not a mean-spirited or bitter show, and the characters are endearing in their earnestness to make the most of their circumstances.

p10517219_ce_h9_aa2. We Bare Bears

An aggressively modern show centering around three bear brothers — eager Grizz, nervous Panda, and phlegmatic Ice Bear — who live like 21st century hipsters in a cave at the outskirts of the big city. The premise is odd, but the characters are charming and the writing is consistently funny and insightful with plots centering around the neurotic brothers struggling with the familiar stresses of contemporary life including social media, smartphones, online dating, food trucks, and vlogs. Though the show is gentle and inoffensive, its subject matter often feels “mature” — in the literal sense of the world — making it compellingly unique.

p10517219_ce_h9_aa3. Steven Universe

Broadly familiar with the series thanks to its Tumblr fans, it was nevertheless quite different than I anticipated. The show’s universe is complicated, and revealed only gradually, but essentially centers around a magical boy named Steven who lives in a resort town with three even more magical women — cold and authoritarian Garnet, bossy and dorky Pearl, and free spirit Amethyst. It’s a surprisingly slow-paced series — episodes often contain little action — but its laid-back, dreamlike atmosphere makes for a relaxing watch. Steven is an impossibly adorable character with huge, expressive eyes and a naive eagerness to learn and do right.

p10517219_ce_h9_aa4. The Amazing World of Gumball 

The most artistically compelling but also the least deep, this one centers around two young, frantic brothers, Gumball and Darwin, who inhabit an insane neighborhood in which almost every imaginable fantasy character — dinosaurs, robots, video game sprites, talking flowers, etc. — cohabit uncomfortably. Every character is rendered in a completely different style, from claymation to hand-drawn to CGI to South Park-style cutouts, which only increases the madness. Plots are generally simple and tend to utilize slapstick and chaos at the expense of serious characterization or genuine emotion. But it’s hard not to be captivated by the endless creativity of it all.

17 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook






Election theft… or just betrayal?

Only a few criticisms seem to genuinely get under Donald Trump skin, and they’re easy to identify since they’re the ones he tends to bring up unprovoked in debates and speeches.

One is his allegedly small fingers, an insult about which he has an inexplicable psychological hang-up; another is the more factually-grounded observation that he has yet to win 50% in any Republican primary contest to date.

Democracy may be a better system for picking leaders than all the others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rife with philosophical contradiction and paradox, the most persistently unsolvable being who should win in a circumstance in which there are more than three choices, and none of them can secure a majority of votes. This is the dilemma the modern “electoral reform” movement attempts to resolve, and at the moment it is the struggle consuming the Republican primary election, and the Trump campaign in particular.

That Trump is doing much better than anyone ever anticipated conceals the fact that he is doing considerably worse than most other Republican front-runners at comparable times. By March of 2012 Mitt Romney had won majority victories in several states and surpassed his closest opponent more than 2-to-1 in the delegate count. By March of 2008 things were even more one-sided, with John McCain winning states with 60% and up, having already intimidated all serious competitors out of the race.

By contrast, Trump’s strongest rival, Ted Cruz, does not appear to be slowing down, and no matter what happened on Super Tuesday Part II this was unlikely to change. If Trump had won both Ohio and Florida he would’ve knocked out both John Kasich and Marco Rubio causing the anti-Trump majority to firmly coalesce around Cruz. Any other outcome, such as the one that actually happened, ensured the continuance of a three-man race, which isn’t great for Cruz but makes 50%+ victories for Trump no easier either.

The conservative prediction, in both senses of the word, is that Trump is on course to send only a plurality of delegates to the Republican convention this summer. Though the rules are byzantine (and yet to be even firmly established) in all likelihood this would mean a Trump loss on the first ballot, in which the combined majority of his opponents’ delegates vote his nomination down. If they continue to vote in sync they could theoretically deny him the nomination forever, eventually using their majority to install some outside guy as a compromise candidate — perhaps Paul Ryan, who recently won the endorsement of John Boehner.

Is this just?

The question, as usual, reminds me of a similar dilemma in Canadian politics — namely the question regarding the justness of a so-called “coalition government” in which the second and third-place parties in Parliament deny the prime ministership to the boss of the party which has secured a plurality of seats, but not an outright majority. John Kasich had a clever line about this in the last debate — “in school, if you got an 86 you got a B; just because everyone else got an 84, doesn’t mean you got an A” — but I would counter that two Bs added together don’t make an A either. My problem with coalition governments has always been that they draw a mandate from voter behavior that the voters themselves did not explicitly give — that is, because most Canadians voted against Harper, a coalition of his opponents has greater moral right to govern. Or, in this case, because most Republicans voted against Trump, the nomination of any person who is not Trump fulfills the wishes of the majority.

It is a fallacy to conclude that because voters reject one option, they are endorsing every possible alternative. In a single-ballot electoral system, voters only get to express one preference, and for the system to have predictability — and thus public legitimacy — the stated preference of most voters must be honored, even when that entails awarding an office on the basis of a plurality victory. Kaisch voters did not vote for Cruz or Ryan, they voted for Kasich in the context of an election in which he was an option. What choice they would make in even a slightly different context, say Cruz v. Kasich, let alone Trump v. Ryan, is unknowable, and it would be undemocratic for his delegates to offer a hard answer.

It can be argued that America is a republic, not a democracy. In Canada, people who are fond of the coalition idea argue Canadians elect a parliament, not a prime minister. If we believe our elected delegates have broad, personal discretion to make decisions as fundamental as who should be president or prime minister without explicit voter instruction then that’s fine, but it obligates candidates to conduct their campaigns in a far different manner than has been done to date.

7 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook