Rule by pseudo-intellectual

Justin Trudeau is not intelligent — but he thinks he is. There’s no other explanation for his long, rambling speech at the McGill Institute yesterday, a speech he doubtlessly believed proved he was a man capable of grappling with deep questions of political philosophy, but was in practice an incoherent mess of fashionable truisms, politically-correct bromides, and circular logic.

Its purported topic was “liberty,” but since liberty is a complicated abstract concept with a long pedigree, Trudeau mostly just talked about things he likes.

Trudeau likes multiculturalism. Therefore, “Liberty means inclusion.” Not-liberty means discrimination, as manifest by various historic morality plays — the internment of the Japanese during World War II, for instance.

Why did Mackenzie King intern the Japanese? “He did it because people were afraid.” Why were people afraid? Trudeau doesn’t get into that, but presumedly it’s because we were at war with Japan at the time and many felt — wrongly of course — that Canadians of Japanese origin might engage in terrorism or sabotage to destroy the nation’s liberty.

Such is one of the great tensions of democratic society: to what extent can we justifiably restrain the freedom of a dangerous (seeming) minority in order to preserve the safety of the majority? This is essentially the anxiety Canadians feel about Muslim immigrants today — the concern is less about their personal faith than the extent to which fundamentalist Islam seems to correlate with domestic terror.

In Trudeau’s mind, alas, there is never rational motive on the other side. The political arena simply contains nice people and nasty people, and the nasty people do what’s wrong and the nice people do what’s right. Justice is achieved by hammering down the nasties.

He provides his own abortion policy as an illustrative case-study.

“Forcing a Liberal MP to vote against [his or her] conscience on a matter of morality is an unjust restriction of [his or her] liberty,” he posits rhetorically. “It sounds like a reasonable argument.”

But of course it isn’t, since “the right of a woman to control her body is more important than the right of a legislator to restrict her freedom with [his or her] vote.”

Importance, in this context, does not seem to be determined by any metric beyond what liberal politicians believe wins elections. As a practicing Catholic, one might expect Trudeau to at least be dimly aware that abortion opponents believe restricting the “right of a woman to control her body” is entirely justifiable when the exercise of that control entails ending the life (and thus rights) of another body inside her.

He continues, even more preposterously, that “for me, Canadian liberty is not about the freedom of powerful people to exercise that freedom according to the dictates of their conscience. It is about Canadians’ rights not to have their freedom unduly restricted, especially by the state.”

Trudeau may be surprised to learn that freedom of conscience is not a treat for him to dole out as he sees fit, but rather a protection guaranteed to everyone by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — regardless of how “powerful” their job happens to be. Likewise, when the state is found to have unduly restricted a right, it is the government as collective that’s liable, not individual legislators or their principles.

A few paragraphs later, when the conversation turns to banning burkas, Trudeau gets incredulous at the tactics he just finished endorsing. “Whatever happened to a free society’s requirement that we can disagree with a person’s choices, but must defend their right to make them?” Indeed.

What Monday’s speech makes most apparent is that Trudeau’s doctrine of liberty is less coherent ideology than a string of improvised defenses for policy positions he’s inherited from individuals much smarter than himself. Beyond a dispositional instinct that everything his party supports is right and everything conservatives — or people in the olden days —believe in isn’t, his ideas are not united by any overarching philosophy, a fact best reflected by what he identifies as the most “fundamental” disagreement between himself and the Prime Minister: “Leading this country should mean you bring Canadians together. You do not divide them against one another.”

A democratic polity will always be divided, and its reasons for division are rarely frivolous or petty. Ours is a society polarized by significant disagreement on deep legal, moral, and cultural questions, and we elect politicians to accurately represent our competing opinions. For all his patriotic bluster, Trudeau does not grasp this basic reality of the country he wants to lead, and instead furrows his brow at the perplexing existence of people who don’t think exactly like him, whom he can only analogize as the spiritual successors of racists and anti-semites.

The most frightening figures in politics are not the ideologues or demagogues, for the rigidity of their beliefs makes them boring and predictable. It’s leaders who lack firm intellectual grounding, since their exercise of power is destined to be confused, erratic, and arbitrary — the very antithesis of stable, safe government.

Trudeau spends a great deal of time scolding the Prime Minister for sowing fear, then turns around and encourages us to “shudder” at this government.

I shudder at him.

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Trudeau’s choice

There’s really only one reason to go around saying the debate over some contentious political issue is “closed” — you don’t like debating it.

By definition, a debate is a deep disagreement among sides who resist reconciliation. A century and a half after General Lee’s surrender people are still debating who started the Civil War (or was that the War of Northern Aggression?).

At best, a debate may simply lose its intellectual challenge over time, thanks to the emergence of facts that overwhelmingly endorse one side’s conclusions. The debate over the desirability of Soviet Communism, for instance. Or whether inhaling tobacco smoke damages your lungs.

The abortion debate, which asks deep questions of humanity and individualism, isn’t quite at that level.

When Canadians — particularly Canadian politicians — declare the abortion debate “over,” or warn against “re-opening” it, they’re not conceding to an abundance of evidence on one side so much as acknowledging their own nervousness about the conversation — and their own unease about where they stand.

The aggressively pro-life and pro-choice, in contrast, are more than happy to keep the discussion going. They’re so supremely self-confident of the philosophical, emotional, and scientific merit of their argument they’ll gladly debate you to sunrise until you’re similarly persuaded.

#No2Trudeau has ambitions of being the “Biggest Pro-life Campaign in Canadian History.” Led by the country’s two largest pro-life organizations, the Campaign for Life Coalition and the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, it kicks off this weekend with a cross-country speaking tour set to run throughout the spring, then conclude with several months of summer leafletting.

As the name suggests, it is an explicitly partisan endeavor, determined to decry what the campaign describes as Justin Trudeau’s “extremist” pro-choice position, in which the Liberal leader is not merely an enthusiastic supporter of the anything-goes legal vacuum that is Canadian abortion law, but officially opposed to the presence of pro-life politicians within his parliamentary caucus.

The activists behind #No2Trudeau are not subtle. Their poster depicts the party boss with bloodied hands, and one imagines photographs of mangled fetuses — a mainstay of both groups involved — will be in ample abundance as they criss-cross the nation. Whether such tactics change minds is an open question, but if the goal is to remind the would-be PM that there still exist an awful lot of Canadians for whom the abortion question is hardly settled, and who resent a politician who uses blunt force to pretend otherwise, the campaign could prove more than mere annoyance.

Over the last few years, Canada’s pro-life subculture has been undergoing what the Toronto Star dubbed a “slick, youthful rebranding” as the movement’s longtime vanguard of elderly, Catholic leaders begin to slowly give way to a younger, more aggressive generation buoyed by the adversarial, proselytizing culture of Evangelical protestantism that has become such a domineering force in activist Christianity.

A leading figure of this renaissance has been my good friend Jonathon Van Maren, who, although largely unknown to mainstream tastemakers, is an enormously popular columnist, radio personality, and lecturer in Canada’s so-con underground. Like many of the millennial-aged foot soldiers in Canada’s 2.0 pro-life movement, Jonathon is a man who often seems as frustrated with the shabby state of Canadian antiabortion activism as abortion itself, and the #No2Trudeau campaign — in which he will play a leading role — represents an unapologetic effort to force abortion back into the national consciousness after years on the periphery.

Canada’s political elite is largely single-minded on the abortion question, and it’s not difficult to argue Prime Minister Harper — who tolerates pro-life members in caucus, but denies them opportunity to act on their convictions — offers an alternative to Trudeau that’s more symbolic than consequential. Yet Trudeau’s decision to make the pro-choice position an outright Liberal sacrament — a major policy decision he appears (not for the first time) to have made up on the spot — could well prove the spark of something larger.

The awkward peace that’s come to define Canada’s abortion wars has long been fragile, and was a product of multiple variables, including a submissive pro-life opposition and a string of party leaders who felt no need to provoke it.

Should #No2Trudeau prove remotely effective, it’s entirely possible voters will wind up punishing Justin for his abortion position. Not because they disagree with it, but for inviting this uncomfortable topic back into their lives.

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The media myth that will not die: Conservatives and the ethnic vote

Michael Den Tandt, the syndicated National Post columnist, wrote an otherwise defensible editorial the other day describing the delicate balancing act faced by Canadian politicians who take a stance against fundamentalist Islam —basically, they have to look opposed without looking bigoted.

I say “otherwise,” because Den Tandt’s piece also thoughtlessly dropped one of the Canadian punditsphere’s most tired and fact-free clichés. Analyzing the dangers of xenophobia for the Conservative Party in particular, he stated matter-of-factly that “the Conservative party’s 2011 majority was built on support from new Canadians.”

This conclusion has become one of the most unchallenged truisms of the Canadian press, though there’s scant evidence to support it.

Here’s what we actually know. In 2011, Ipos-Reid released an exit poll (an unusual thing, by Canadian standards) of voters in that year’s federal election. I’ll reproduce it here, just because it’s hard to find online these days:

immigrantvotes

As you can see, the Conservatives did win a plurality of the immigrant vote, but — and this is a huge, enormously qualifying but — they did not win a plurality of votes from immigrants who arrived in Canada less than 10 years ago (ie; “new” ones), nor a plurality of votes from visible minorities (for whom “new Canadians” has become a synonym, given immigration trends).

Put somewhat less obtusely, the Tories lost the recent immigrant vote 28-to-62 to the left-wing parties, and lost the nonwhite vote 31-to-61. Considering that the Conservatives won nearly 40% of the popular vote overall, this means they significantly underperformed with these two groups, in contrast to the NDP and Liberals, who were more popular with both recent immigrants and nonwhites than they were with voters overall.

As a category of Canadian, “immigrant” is fairly useless. Looking skeptically at the preposterous Canadian Immigrant magazine, another National Post columnist, Jonathan Kay, once said it would make about as much sense to have a magazine called “Canadian Human,” so broad and meaningless is that designation.

It’s easy to forget, for instance, that Canada has a rather large population of white immigrants. About 2.5 million came to this country from Europe, Britain, America, or Australia —  most prior to 1980 — and today comprise nearly 35% of Canada’s total immigrant population. Thoroughly versed in the cultural norms of Canada’s Anglo-European heritage, it would be hardly remarkable if the Tory party was able to win their votes, which is why they probably do, and dilute the notability of that “42% of the immigrant vote” figure in the process.

The fact that the Tories could only win 28% of the votes of immigrants who have spent less than a decade in the country, by contrast, and only 31% of nonwhites overall, suggests that the votes of these groups, while surely helpful, are a great deal more marginal to the Conservative coalition than media lore suggests.

With a few headline-grabbing exceptions, the Conservatives’ won few seats in Canada’s downtown urban centers where nonwhite immigrants are most numerous, but did vastly better in considerably whiter, less immigrant-heavy suburbs and rural communities — as a casual glance at the 2011 electoral map will surely indicate. Of Jason Kenney’s 10 infamous “very ethnic” ridings, the Conservatives won eight, but they could have won zero and would have still eked out a majority in the House of Commons.

Where this media obsession with overstating Conservative skill at winning the ethnic vote originates is hard to discern.

Like many Canadian delusions, it may have its roots in anti-American pettiness, and a smug desire to believe our conservative party is more compassionate than theirs—  or it may simply be evidence of a press so thoroughly razzle-dazzeld by the high-profile ethnic pandering of Minister Kenney they’re willing to uncritically parrot whatever self-aggrandizing claim of talent he asserts.

Many are also under the mistaken belief that the Big Shift, a much-discussed 2013 book by Jon Ibbitson and Darrel Bricker that loudly asserted the ethnic vote thesis, contains compelling data, which it does not (relevant footnotes cite only “confidential sources”), while others cling to stereotypes about third world immigrants as incurably backwards in their disposition towards women and homosexuals, making the designation “natural Conservatives” more of an intended pejorative than compliment.

The most egregious bias of the press is not an ideological tilt towards right or left, but rather a tendency to substitute easy or compelling storylines in place of a more difficult reality. Race plays a compelling role in Canadian politics, and one hopes it will someday be investigated seriously.

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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 five-to-one, 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 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 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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