Why does Scotland want to leave?

This column was also published on the website of the Sun News Network.

As a foreigner, it’s often hard to view the cause of Scottish independence as anything but hopelessly impenetrable. By definition, any fight in which one rich, democratic, first world nation seeks to secede from another will be fought over exceedingly small beans —usually a constitutional power imbalance between federal and local political authorities that’s more theoretically problematic than anything  — simply because there’s little else left. Ably represented by both a parliament of their own and 59 seats in London, no Scot even rhetorically purports to being “oppressed” by the English in any genuine way — their nationalist movement is merely born from a people whose patriotic ambition is too great to be realized as a minority, even a disproportionately powerful one, within a shared-power state. Theirs is a uniquely 21st century movement of liberation, where worries of aesthetics and self-actualization sit in place of war and tyranny.

As the only other G7 nation with a viable separatist movement, Canadian elites tend to take special interest in Scottish nationalism (often to an embarrassing degree, as was the case with the Globe and Mail’s painfully patronizing “open letter to Scotland from your Canadian cousins”) and the parallels between Scotch separatism and the French-Canadian variety are broad indeed.

Like Quebec, Scotland was absorbed into a more powerful nation amid protest, which gave rise to a remarkably flexible culture of perpetual grievance. A deep animosity towards the colonizer, originally rooted in crimes of centuries past, has proven easily adaptable to modern concerns.

In recent years, the most popular mutation in both societies has been a sort of leftist superiority complex based on a greater embrace of statism than the cruel and stingy motherland — Quebeckers brag about their cheaper colleges and seven-dollar-a-day daycare, Scots of their more generous pensions and higher-quality public heath care. In both cases the oppressed parties whine about the fundamental indignity of having their social-democratic ambitions held back by an unrepresentative right-wing federal government; in both cases, this ideological righteousness is undermined by fiscal hypocrisy. The comparatively generous nanny states of Scotland and Quebec are only sustainable through deficit spending sustained by hearty federal subsidies (and in Scotland’s case, federal oil royalties), a paradox to which the independentistas offer pride in place of solution.

Yet the Quebec analogy is not precise, and in some ways Scottish nationalism perhaps more closely parallels the insecure nationalism of Canada itself. Both Scots and Canadians affect enormous offense at being mistaken for their largely culturally-indistinguishable southern neighbors, for instance — (indeed, in early Canadian history one often comes across the Scotch/English metaphor as a preferred analogy for the English-speaking nations of North America) and the rawness of this insecurity has ensured no price is to high to pay for the protection of “cultural sovereignty,” even when that entails government’s heavy-handed manufacture of distinctions where none previously existed.

Outsiders are often surprised to learn, for instance, that much of the charming quaintness we associate with “ancient” Scottish culture —family tartans, caber-tossing, highland dancing, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. — are actually decidedly recent creations born from the often wildly speculative Celtic revival movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s —  analogous, in the Canadian context, to Ottawa’s post-war creation of patriotic paraphernalia like the maple leaf flag and the Order of Canada. Edinburgh’s efforts to impose Gaelic (spoken by around 1% of the Scottish population) as an official language and encourage its teaching in schools in spite of any readily-apparent public need or desire will ring similarly familiar to anyone versed in Canada’s own linguistic flights of fancy — bringing French to the arctic, say.

Whether independence is right for the Scots is obviously their question to answer, and I won’t claim to understand the utilitarian nuances of the pro and con pitches, which, as previously noted, are bound to be exceedingly technical in the absence of anything more pressing.

That said, Scotland is not an impossibly foreign land, and it’s hard to escape the impression that Scottish separatism is a cause bound up in many of the destructive political fads distressingly familiar to western nations of all stripes, including the professionalization of victimhood, the belief that paranoid segregation is more principled than than cooperative assimilation, the state-backed construction of identity as a means of denying a naturally-occurring one, and the belief that a minority’s quest for “justice” should supersede — or even violate— their economic self-interest.

If voting “No” helps curbs that tide, I’m all for it.

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Attack of the Giant Cell Phones

A while ago, CNN.com commissioned me to draw one of these giant “longform” essay comics that are all the rage these days. The topic they gave was giant cellphones, which I have to admit, was not a subject I was incredibly passionate about, but I did my best to make it interesting just the same. It was the first time I ever worked for a client as big as CNN, and the final product is the result of a lot of back-and-forth edits and revisions, but hopefully the final product is still recognizably my own.

Check out “Attack of the Giant Cellphones” here.

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Bigger problems in public education

My home province of British Columbia is currently providing the world with a useful service — a vivid case study of all that’s wrong with government control of education.

B.C.’s public school teachers were given the right to strike in 1987, and in the years immediately following most did, disrupting classes in 48 of the provinces’ 59 school districts. In 1994 the NDP government of the day responded by imposing province-wide contract bargaining, supposedly to help make the employer-employee relationship more efficient and cost-effective. It’s proven neither.

British Columbians of the millennial generation — such as myself — became Guinea pigs of this bold labor experiment. Anyone who attended grade school in B.C. over the last decade saw their K-12 education upset by no fewer than six distinct periods of turmoil born from the consolidated might of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), including a one day (2002) 10-day (2005) and three-day (2012) province-wide strike, as well as numerous lesser “job action” boycotts of extra-curricular duties. When I was 12th grade student president, for instance, I had to hire private security firms to supervise our dances because no teachers would.

Such tactics seem to work. B.C. teachers have received an annual raise most years since 1994, though the union-government relationship has proven so hateful and obstinate three of four post-’94 contracts had to be imposed by parliamentary diktat following negotiation breakdown, with the sole successful one largely a hurried effort to buy labor peace in the run-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Teachers now want another raise, and the Liberal government nods furiously that they certainly deserve one, as the poor souls only make a mere 70–80 grand a year, a salary shared by such indigents as cops, lawyers, and engineers. And that’s not counting an additional $10,000 in benefits so exhaustive, current negotiations center around things like fertility drugs and  massage therapy simply because there’s little else left. According to The Globe and Mail, test scores have been slumping in the province over the last 10 years, but government long ago discarded the notion that collective pay should be tied to collective performance. The result is the standard dysfunction of state-run industry: it costs ever-more to deliver — at best — status quo results.

The Education Minister says he’s prepared to offer a 7% pay hike over six years; the teachers want 8% over four. They also want to teach fewer kids in general and fewer disabled children in particular, the sort of basic job description issue labor unions were never intended to negotiate, but something the BTCF considers its inherent right to control. Theoretically, government could just once again legislate a hard answer to this question, but recent Canadian jurisprudence has declared collective bargaining to be a constitutionally protected right, and the BCTF is spending a lot of its members’ money at the moment attempting to exert this right in the hopes the courts will render permanently invalid a 2002 law that withdrew classroom issues from the realm of negotiable matters.

A government monopoly on education coupled with the BCTF’s monopoly on educators has trapped BC schools in an endless cycle of blackmail: taxpayers are made to bow to ever-growing union demands or face tremendous disruption in the lives of their children. This extortion is softened through savvy PR that seeks to portray teachers as selfless victims of sadistic politicians, a villain the public can be easily mobilized against.

Those who remain unmoved by the sorts of sheltered teacher sob stories that form the backbone of this strategy (“sometimes I have to work at home!“) are accused of lacking empathy, though in my case I find having a parent in the profession only makes my heart harder. My mother taught high school for 30 years and was certainly hard-working and all the rest of if, but any complaints I heard always seemed more than compensated by what appeared to be a virtually limitless bag of sick days, half-days, personal days, conference days, and professional development days to soften the blow. Plus all of summer to spend with her family — and much of greater Christmas.

In any case, a teacher who complains about how hard she works is basically a sucker. Since successive BCTF contracts have made it progressively impossible to fire a teacher, there’s really no incentive for them to perform beyond the bare-minimum of competence, an unfortunately popular standard. Hard-working teachers who produce great results are far more victimized by the inherently socialist nature of collective bargaining than stingy governments, since province-wide, one-size-fits-all wages by design provide no incentive for the good to get better, but all the incentive in the world for the bad to remain so.

The current strike, which began in June, is the longest in British Columbia history, and this longevity has increased a culture of polarization in which one is expected to profess unwavering fidelity to either the embattled teachers or the besieged Liberal administration. I have little natural affinity for either, reserving my harshest contempt for the larger system that produced both.

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Murdered Aboriginal Women and the Politics of Moral Panic

At one time, the left was rightly skeptical of conservatives who sought to manufacture public hysteria as a means to achieving their ideological ends. Today, they’ve become masters of the craft.

Canada is currently in the midst of something of a fashionable fluster over the plight of “missing and murdered indigenous women,” a five-word phrase that’s become a ubiquitous part of the Canadian socio-political vocabulary, complete with its own hashtag. There now exists an archipelago of institutions devoted to the #MMIW cause, which presents itself as one of modern Canada’s darkest crises. The common refrain that the federal government has an obligation to commission a report on the phenomenon reached a fevered pitch this week as the various premiers of the Canadian provinces unanimously threw their weight behind the idea.

The only problem? There is no national epidemic of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Or at the very least, this exceedingly specific worry is not supported by any exceedingly specific data.

According to RCMP statistics, the percentage of female Canadian murder victims possessing aboriginal ancestry has remained largely constant over the last three decades, at around 14%. While this figure is extraordinarily high given that aboriginal women only comprise about 4% of the country’s female population, such victim overrepresentation is no less true of aboriginal men, whose disproportionate murder rate is an even larger statistical outlier (17%). Likewise, since most aboriginal murder victims die at the hands of other aboriginals — usually family, friends, or lovers — such high victim rates largely reflect the fact that aboriginals of both genders simply murder more, period.

These are dark statistics, but they illustrate a broad phenomenon, rather than a narrow one — aboriginal Canadians are the most homicide-prone demographic in Canadian society at the moment, and their violence is mostly internal. This, in turn, is the predictable outcome of the fact that aboriginals disproportionately suffer from the well-known social pathologies that make Canadians of all races more likely to murder and be murdered — broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity in general, and so on. Summoning Ottawa to investigate aboriginal murders would be akin to asking the government to investigate murder in general. Canada’s grotesquely high aboriginal homicide rate can be explained succinctly: the same reasons, only more so.

But if the stats are so unambiguous, from where did the panic about missing and murdered indigenous women arise?

Much of it seems born from the legacy of the 2007 trial of the hideous Vancouver serial killer Robert Pickton, who’s estimated to have slaughtered as many as 49 prostitutes at his pig farm during the 1990s. Pickton’s arrest offered a grim conclusion to what had previously been one of the city’s great mysteries — why had so many prostitutes gone missing over the years — and a related class-critique follow up — why wasn’t more effort being exerted to find them? A 2012 report commissioned by the British Columbia government concluded the predictable: law enforcement was indifferent to the underclass.

About a third of Pickton’s 33 identified victims were aboriginal, a fact which probably owed more to the disproportionate presence of aboriginal women in the Canadian sex trade than anything else. Yet in the aftermath of his arrest, a narrative emerged that the broad societal nonchalance to his victims’ disappearances and deaths offered a useful case study of the particular plight of Canada’s native women, while the murders were symptomatic of a predatory white patriarchy prone to viewing indigenous women as subhuman and expendable.

Aboriginal and feminist activists had an obvious interest in pushing this perspective, yet as is the case with most serial murderers, it was always a stretch to claim the Pickton phenomenon was representative of anything beyond his own idiosyncratic evil. Under ordinary circumstances, the RCMP estimates 88% of aboriginal murder victims have their cases promptly solved by the police — a rate indistinguishable from victims of other races — and instances of white-on-Native violence, to say nothing of the spectacularly sociopathic sort, remain rare in Canada.

The rates at which aboriginal men and women are killing each other in this country is a national disgrace, and, as the prime minister recently declared to absurd controversy, a matter that deserves the full focus of the criminal justice system. But to reframe the status quo through narrow narratives of neo-colonialist misogyny is to bury an unsensational problem of generic criminality beneath trendy academic ideologies of gender, race, and privilege — largely for the benefit of those who truck in such theories.

To knowingly peddle distractions on the pretence of seeking justice for victims is to commit a tremendous disservice to both.

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Improving Iraq

Improving Iraq
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There is a certain naiveté inherent in believing dysfunctional foreign nations can be made viable simply through outside military intervention. This was obviously the great lesson of the second Bush administration and the war to remove Saddam Hussein: Iraq was a blood-soaked basket-case under Saddam, yet in hindsight it seems his dictatorship was as much a product of this unlovely status quo as its cause. America’s empathetic rhetoric of liberation proved too generous by half, presuming, as it did, that the violent, petty sectarianism that characterized Saddam’s regime lacked the popular support we’ve since learned it has.

Yet the aftermath of America’s 2003–2011 war has encouraged the rise of another sort of thoughtlessness — the sample-size-of-one generalization that since Iraq went poorly, US military interventions in foreign nations always “cause more problems than they solve,” and should be ipso facto avoided as a result. Such knee-jerkism has been in predictable abundance in the aftermath of President Obama’s decision to bomb select Iraqi targets in response to the growing power of the fundamentalist terror group ISIS.

Ron Paul released a tendentious editorial last week denouncing the Obama strikes as but the latest manifestation of a “failed interventionist policy” in Iraq, in which human suffering is “cynically manipulated by the Obama administration … to provide a reason for the president to attack Iraq again.” Rand the Younger, for his part, warned that opposing ISIS could bring America into closer alliance with decided undesirables. “Do you know who also hates ISIS and who is bombing them?” he asked rhetorically the other day, “Assad, the Syrian government.”

On the left, meanwhile, some Congressional Democrats have been equally eager to draw continuity between the eight-year Bush war and Obama’s potentially “open-ended” raids. Even MoveOn.org’s put aside their usual dogmatic partisanship to issue a stern reprimand that Iraq’s current problems are not ones “that more U.S. bombings can solve.”

There are concerns to be raised about the Obama plan, to be sure. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and Americans are right to be wary of the unforeseen consequences of ill-conceived military adventurism. Yet if this latest Middle East intervention is to be skeptically considered in any useful way, critiques should begin by confronting its terms of engagement as articulated by the president himself, as opposed to some totemic notion of what we might cynically expect them to be.

On August 7, President Obama defined his ambitions for military action against ISIS as fundamentally limited, and based around two narrow goals: safeguarding the thousands of American personnel still serving in various official capacities in the cities of Erbil and Baghdad, and protecting various Iraqi religious minorities hiding on Mt. Sinjar from “a potential act of genocide” at the hands of surrounding ISIS fighters.

To date, all bombing raids — nearly 100 now, or about 20 a day — have made good on this promise.

In the days immediately following the President’s August 7 announcement, hundreds of thousands of pounds of food and water were airdropped to Iraqis stranded on Sinjar, while bombing raids around the base of the mountain helped create a “humanitarian corridor” through once-hostile territory to expedite refugee migration. Thousands have been liberated, and though the United Nations says the mountain remains far from empty, America’s first mission has been declared more or less accomplished.

Mandate number two, the protection of American personal, has proven no less focused, even if the precise subject of that focus — providing air support to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces recapture control of the Mosul Dam from ISIS militants — was somewhat unanticipated. Though critics have cried mission creep, the interest in making protection of the dam the primary focus of American safety seems evident enough: destroying the Dam could flood Baghdad within hours, and presumably the safety of the countless US contractors, diplomats, and elite forces stationed there would not be well served by a “15-foot wall of water” crashing into their homes and offices.

Amid the backdrop of these missions, the President has repeated a consistent, self-aware refrain that no, this is not an open-ended war, yes, it is primarily the Iraqis’ responsibility to defend themselves, and yes, he is keenly aware of — and eager to avoid — the irony of being a president who ended one war in Iraq only to start another.

America’s current battle is not about regime change or nation-building, nor is it one that threatens to instigate the emergence of “something worse” by failing to appreciate the stability of the status quo. ISIS literally crucifies hereticsburies children alive, and decapitates journalists with rusty razors. They are quite objectively, as Charles Krauthammer put it, the “worst people on Earth,” yet the current US mission is simply trying to restrain the impact of their evil, rather than extinguish it altogether.  Considering how much responsibility Obama bears for the rise of ISIS to begin with — through his blindly political Iraqi troop withdrawal and refusal to back Syria’s moderate rebels when it could have made a difference — it seems the man has earned the benefit of the doubt when he says he’s not serious about using American might to solve big problems.

To dust off cliched complaints about American imperialism in this context is not only to lazily slur a military intervention that is at least trying to be the opposite of Bushism — restrained and humble— but to profess moral apprehension about even the clearest-cut applications of military force to defend American safety and prevent humanitarian disaster from villains of truly unimpeachable evil.

Such arguments bear little principle beyond ostrich-like isolationism — an ugly label, but sometimes the most accurate.

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Pastafarians and Progressivism

I was doing a hit on Sun News this morning (“doing a hit” is what we media bigshot types call “going on a show”) and the guy hitting after me was Obi Canuel, a devotee of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Obi’s currently waging a quixotic — and highly media-friendly — battle with the British Columbia DMV to let him take his drivers’ license photo with a colander on his head, as his “faith” demands.

I spoke a bit with Obi after the fact and found him to be a good-natured, gentle fellow, if perhaps a tad naive. I asked him about the support he’s getting for his crusade and he got sort of wide-eyed. “To be honest,” he said, “some of my supporters are pretty… racist.” To which I wanted to reply, “well, duh.”

The whole Spaghetti Monster thing is an interesting metaphor, and not just in the way the Spaghetti Monster people themselves want.

Pastafarianism, as the quote-unquote “religion” is known, was initially just one more way for smug liberal atheists to have fun mocking fundamentalist Christians, this time via the magic of Dada absurdism. The Flying Spaghetti Monster church believes global warming is caused by pirate ships and rejects the theory of gravity in favor of “Intelligent Falling.” It’s not hard to grasp what they’re going for with this.

Folks like Obi, however, take things a step further. By insisting the state recognize their right to wear colanders on their heads in some obtrusive context, the teasing shifts away from the politics of evangelical right-wingers and towards the well-known headgear accommodation demands of Muslims and Sikhs. This is more delicate territory.

There are a lot of Canadians who believe government concessions for religious minorities — what the Quebeckers refer to as the doctrine of “reasonable accommodation” — have tilted too far in favor of third world immigrants and their unapologetically exotic customs. Customs rooted in religious or cultural assumptions that threaten to disrupt or undermine the values of Canada’s majority, such as extraordinarily draconian codes of modesty or demands of female subordination. I don’t consider this kind of attitude “racist” per se, but in the sense we now carelessly slap that label on anyone possessing any anxiety about minority behavior, it’s obvious why “racists” of this sort would find common cause with a guy making biting mockery of a famous minority demand.

As I noted in an earlier essay, I believe one of the defining political cleavages of coming decades will be a growing tension between the pro-science left and the post-modern left. This is because 21st century progressives have yet to definitively decide what they’re all about — embracing the hard answers of  biophysical reality, or the non-judgmental acceptance of all identities, behavior, and beliefs as equally valid.

Proud atheism is widely demanded as evidence of one’s seriousness as a impeccably rationalistic thinker, a virtue held in highest regard by leftists who want to place data, technology, and centralized planning at the core of policymaking. Religious argument has no place in this world; indeed, it’s seen as the stuff of extraordinarily counter-productive ignorance and superstition.

But while secular liberals are generally comfortable leveling such harsh words against white Christians, whose privileged standing in society is taken as self-evident, there is of course no shortage of multicolored overseas faithful who believe “anti-science” things just as hard, and their domestic presence is steadily increasing thanks to an aggressively multicultural immigration policy. For the progressive, this posits a crisis: one can criticize minority religions with the same vigor and fire heretofore used to bash Christians, and thus flirt with “racism,” or give minority religions a pass in the name of respecting diversity, and flirt with anti-scientific superstition.

The notion that the left can maintain a permanent ideological coalition of people inherently tolerant of all cultures and inherently critical of religious justifications for public behavior seems inherently fraught. I don’t know what strategy could possibly be employed to keep these two sides, with their wildly distinct notions of “truth,”on amicable terms.

But as a conservative, I guess it’s not really my problem.


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Ferguson Biases

The Ferguson story is complicated, but its reception is not. We do not know how or why or under what circumstances young Michael Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson, but we do know, in astonishingly precise detail, how we feel about it.

To say the Ferguson tragedy is being “politicized” isn’t entirely accurate, since (as of now) few figures of high politics have attempted to exploit its heated aftermath for partisan gain— with the possible exception of the ever-scrounging Rand Paul. But most analysis of the episode has certainly been reflective of American political culture, and the various interests and assumptions that increasingly define it.

This includes:

  • The maintenance of perpetually adversarial relations among racial groups through endless stoking of fear, suspicion and grievance;
  • The dismissal of much of established authority as illegitimate, with power that derives solely through force and oppression, usually exercised with extreme prejudice;
  • The inflation of shameful incidents into symptoms of larger “disturbing trends” to shame and frighten the public into a state of moral panic;
  • Conspiracy theories that “the media” works as a unified force to actively spread misinformation and sire hate;
  • Notions that “justice” is not a neutral evidence-based process, but a retributive weapon to be wielded against those we believe to have done wrong.

Such attitudes are the essence of Colbertian “truthiness” — the idea that realities about the world should derive from plausibility, rather than fact — and if left to fester, will rot any civilization in which they’re tolerated. That what happened to Michael Brown is undeniably a tragedy does not excuse doubling-down on destructive ideological clichés any more than it excuses rioting or preposterous police militarization.

America, quite simply, does not have a police-murdering-innocent-people problem. It may well have a disproportionate arrest of African-Americans problem (an at least partial outgrowth of its disproportionate number of crimes committed by African-Americans problem) and even a police brutality problem, but to argue Michael Brown’s death was in any way representative of some greater phenomenon— as many activists are doing — is to ignore precisely what made his killing newsworthy in the first place. Namely, its rarity.

As NPR reported last month, of the over 98 million arrests made in the United States over the last seven years, around .005% of them resulted in what the Justice Department deemed a “homicide.” Even if 100% of all such victims were black, which they obviously are not, it remains an occurrence so freakishly obscure it resists much use as a valuable statistic of larger social trends. Larger social trends, incidentally, reveal massively declining black youth arrest rates.

Likewise, though the #ifiwasgunneddown hashtag has prompted much sympathetic nodding of heads, there’s equally scant evidence the “press” as some collective entity plots to present the public image of black victims of violence in the worst possible light. On the contrary, in the Treyvon Martin case, much greater controversy was had over the media not portraying him thuggishly enough, and instead erring on the side of progressive political correctness by using an outdated, innocuous photo.

It should also be said — and it’s sad that this is even an insightful thing to note these days — no one really knows what happened to Michael Brown. As I write this, the Chief of the Ferguson police department has just released security cam footage of Michael Brown minutes before his death, in which he can be seen stealing a box of cigars from a convenience store and roughing up its clerk. This is of course still miles away from an acceptable justification for killing an unarmed youth, but it does remind that these sorts of stories often involve a lot of moral gray, with facts that refuse to neatly conform to the good vs. evil morality play many desire.

A peaceful society is born from one whose citizens treat each other with tolerance and compassion, and where the disciplinary powers of state authority are exercised with sensitivity and restraint. But so too does peace require a populace whose reality is shaped by observation and fact, not hostile suspicion and pre-determined conclusions.

To cling without proof to assumptions of the most dark and cynical sort is to make ourselves not merely intellectual prisoners of our worst fears and biases, but architects of the very world we claim to want to avoid.

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Trudeau’s Promised Extremism

Whether a politician can harm himself veering too far to the social left is not a question we’re used to contemplating, destructive extremism on issues like abortion and Islam being traditionally understood as dysfunctions of the right. Yet if Canada’s Conservatives have their way, the dangers of unchecked social progressivism will be one of the defining themes of the country’s 2015 general election, which will pit the square, bourgeois sensibilities of Prime Minister Stephen Harper against the dramatic permissiveness of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

Young and peppy, Trudeau’s energetic spontaneity can be an obvious asset, but it’s also resulted in several of his substantial policy positions having their roots in flippant remarks. At a Vancouver barbecue around this time last year, Trudeau offered an impromptu declaration that he was in favor of legalized marijuana, and the statement has been the stuff of endless Tory attack ads ever since.

His opponents’ glee is warranted. A recent Ipsos poll commissioned by the Justice Department revealed Canadians’ views on pot have yet to reach consensus. While legalization remains the plurality preference, with around 37% in favor, 33% back the milder course of merely decriminalizing the drug — essentially the de facto reality today — while about a quarter want things to either explicitly stay the same or for punishments to get harsher.

Such numbers expose a lingering apprehension about the proper place for pot in our society, yet Trudeau’s position is indifferent to subtlety. By the standards of the status quo, it is, in fact, an extreme position, and if Justin is embarrassed that it’s drawing the loud endorsement of other extremists — like flamboyant pot advocates Marc and Jodie Emery — he has only himself to blame. Post-hoc attempts at moderation, couched in assurances that his real marijuana agenda is simply to “regulate and control” a problematic substance — whose use, he is now quick to scold, has actually increased under Harper’s rule —  merely carry an odor of insecurity.

The pot numbers bring to mind a similar recent poll on abortion, which revealed no less public division. 13% believe the procedure should be banned in all or virtually all circumstances, 24% want it very tightly limited, while 52% want no legal restrictions whatsoever. In the face of such nuance, Trudeau again wields a blunt weapon — a complete ban on pro-life candidates within his party. Even in a country as famously anxious about “re-opening the abortion debate” as Canada, the extreme premise that pro-life politicians should simply not exist generates upwards of 70% disapproval. The Harper Tories, whose believe anything/do nothing abortion stance has historically delighted no one, suddenly appear thoughtful and pragmatic.

Nuance was equally absent in Trudeau’s response to last week’s big mosque visit brouhaha, in which Sun News — the conservative network I work for — aired a series of stories noting that in 2011 Justin campaigned at a radical Montreal mosque with al-Qaeda ties.

The Conservatives attacked, but questions were quickly raised. The fact that the mosque had served as a terrorist recruiting post was not widely known until the New York Times broke the story in April of 2011 — a full month after Trudeau’s visit. And even then, it was claimed the mosque’s most vigorous phase of al-Qaeda recruiting occurred during the 1990s. Critics cried cheap shot.

But just as the cover-up is often worse than the crime, it was Trudeau’s excuse that proved worse than the gaffe. Asked to justify his decision to stage a partisan event at the only North American mosque on an official Pentagon watch list, Justin was without apology, and could only chauvinistically sniff that “the US is known to make mistakes from time to time.” On the charge the place was a hotbed of extremism, he smirked that respecting diversity means “you don’t just speak to people who agree with you,” adding “I’m somewhat different from Mr. Harper in that measure.”

The Tories immediately drew analogies to the Liberal boss’ similarly blasé, politically-correct reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings, but the comments were troubling for reasons beyond national security. Regardless of what terror ties existed at the time of his visit, hateful religious fundamentalism of even the non-violent variety should surely test the limits of what any self-respecting progressive politician is prepared to defend in the name of “diversity.”

In winning three back-to-back elections, the Harper Tories have displayed great skill appealing to voter inclinations usually ignored by traditional mythologies of “progressive Canada” — deep apprehension about wild swings in social policy, and even deeper skepticism towards those who equivocate on matters of crime and wickedness in the name of enlightened thinking.

To Harper’s caution and forbearance, Trudeau’s radicalism offers voters an unprecedented alternative. But it’s probably unprecedented for a reason.

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