RIP Sean McCann .. who among many other good things believed in the brilliant future of a Canadian republic

Posted: July 12th, 2019 | No Comments »
Sean McCann as Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in Donald Brittain’s 1988 mini-series on CBC TV, The King Chronicle.

Last Friday — a week ago now — the Globe and Mail published an obituary for “Character actor Sean McCann” who died in Toronto “on June 13 of heart failure at the age of 83.”

The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun had earlier published their own commemorations — “Canadian actor Sean McCann dies at 83” and “Canadian actor Sean McCann fondly remembered.” There have been other such recent pieces, eg, “The Canadian Entertainment Industry Mourns the Passing of Actor Sean McCann.” And there is a good up-to-date article on Mr. McCann in the online Canadian Encyclopedia.

I quite casually bumped into Sean McCann myself on a number of occasions in his later life, in connection with his interest in what might be called the broad political future (with special reference to his home and native land).

This particular side of his career has not been well covered in other commemorations. And though I knew him only very slightly, it does seem to me worth underlining that, among many other things, Sean McCann was a strong believer in a free and democratic Canadian republic, as the ultimate destiny of the country for which he entertained a simple but passionate patriotism.

The real Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King (top left) with UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill (top right) and US President Franklin Roosevelt (bottom centre) at the First Quebec Conference, August 1943.

Vague hints about all this do appear in some mainstream media obituaries. Note the story about how a youthful Sean McCann working in London, England once yelled “Up the republic!” at Prince Philip’s limousine — and “before I knew it, I was being frisked and questioned.”

Several obituaries also stress Mr. McCann’s performance as legendary Canadian “Prime Minister Mackenzie King in Donald Brittain’s three-part mini-series The King Chronicle, which aired on CBC in 1988.” This was “his favourite part, hands down.”

(And for those who may have forgotten, Mackenzie King is the longest serving Canadian prime minister [1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948]. While far from admirable in many ways, he did win the 1926 federal election by arguing that the then still British-appointed Governor General of Canada, Lord Byng, had undemocratically thwarted the will of a duly elected Canadian prime minister. See, eg, Randall White’s take in “Age of the Incredible Canadian, 1921–1948.”)

As the Canadian Encyclopedia also points out : “McCann appeared as Ontario premier Mitchell Hepburn, opposite Beau Bridges and Kate Nelligan, in Million Dollar Babies (1994), the CBC miniseries about the Dionne quintuplets.” (And the demagogic Depression-era Liberal populist Mitch Hepburn was known in his day as “Canada’s Huey Long” — after the populist governor of Louisiana, whose benchmark slogan was “Every Man a King.”)

Somewhat closer to the dark real world of politics, Sean McCann actually ran for the provincial Liberals in the 1977 Ontario election — and quite honourably lost to Bill Davis’s popular Attorney General Roy McMurtry.

Sean McCann urges his views on real-world Canadian politics over pot of tea, 2002. Photo — David Cooper.

Most directly to the point of my concerns here, in the midst of all his other activities, over the past few decades in the country’s present largest metropolis Mr. McCann found time to help with the early beginnings of popular agitation for a future free and democratic Canadian republic .

(An activity of which Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King — grandson of the 1837 “Upper Canada Rebellion” leader William Lyon Mackenzie — would almost certainly approve.)

From the early 21st century down to the recent past, Sean McCann joined with the likes of the late Toronto civil rights lawyer Charles Roach, former Toronto city councillor Tony O’Donohue, community leaders Tom Freda and Ashok Charles, and many more.

Like others of similar mind in other parts of the country, they continue to enthuse about how a free and democratic republic, altogether constitutionally unattached to any other sovereign country in the world today, is the logical and best possible outcome of “the long process of decolonization that Canada has undergone since 1867.”

MP s celebrate approval of new independent Canadian flag by a 163 to 78 vote in the Canadian House of Commons, December 15, 1964.

(And this outcome has already begun to take some constitutional shape in the Constitution Act, 1982, with its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.)

Sean McCann was not someone who took any great interest in the legal technicalities of turning Canada’s present constitutional arrangements into those of a full-blown parliamentary democratic republic — on the model of such other former self-governing “British dominions” as Ireland or India. And this is something the cause of a Canadian republic does need to take more account of.

Yet Mr. McCann’s faith in a Canadian future anchored in the full formal recognition of the free and democratic sovereignty of the Canadian people, at last, was of a simpler, more elemental and emotional sort. It has its own raw power. And it is worth underlining today, when many challenges around the global village have at least temporarily brought back too many tired old uncertainties of a traditional (and even still somewhat colonialist) elite culture, never shared by any majority in our remarkable diverse country with its own brilliant future ahead.

A belated Happy Canada Day to children of global village bringing Democracy in Canada since 1497 home at last ..

Posted: July 2nd, 2019 | 2 Comments »
Summer Shen waves a Canadian flag while sporting a patriotic outfit during Canada Daycelebrations in Vancouver, on Monday July 1, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Darryl Dyck).”

Another Canada Day has come and gone. And this year it’s hard not to be a bit uneasy about what at least we Canadians (with only 11.3% of the adjacent US population) continue to perversely believe is the real greatest country in the world — the “true north strong and free,” as the English words of the national anthem proclaim.

(A sign in front of a store on our local main drag this past weekend proclaimed : “Happy Canada Day. Stay strong and free!”)

According to the much-abused public broadcaster : “Conflicted and worried: CBC News poll takes snapshot of Canadians ahead of fall election [October 21] … Poll finds high levels of anxiety — and a low level of confidence in politicians.” Meanwhile : “Who’s got the election message Canadians want to hear? … CBC Poll reveals that health care, cost of living and climate change top voters’ minds.”

At the same time, this is still Canada where nothing altogether serious ever happens. And almost all the increasingly diverse citizenry likes it that way — while still honestly professing deep patriotism. Many of us are still most impressed by such good 2019 news as “Trenton, Ont. sets Guinness World Record for largest human maple leaf.”

Kiya Bruno sings the Canadian national anthem before first inning MLB baseball action between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals, in Toronto, Saturday, June 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jon Blacker.”

On a longstanding path of extreme gradualism, however, small doses of real progress do continue to appear. The CBC is also reporting that over the holiday weekend : “’It’s priceless’: Indigenous teen sings O Canada in Cree at Toronto Blue Jays game … Kiya Bruno is from the Samson Cree Nation in northern Alberta.”

There is in fact some particular deep logic in having what’s known in English as the national anthem sung in Cree at a baseball game, to celebrate the Canada Day weekend. In his current work in progress on Children of the Global Village : Democracy in Canada since 1497, our esteemed colleague Randall White has commented on the historic Algonquian languages in northern North America — of which Cree in various forms is by far the largest.

In his chapter on “How indigenous peoples have given more than a name to Canadian history,” Dr. White points out that : “The vast east-west geographic reach of the Algonquian linguistic family in the 17th century … — from the Micmac (Mi’kmaq) in Nova Scotia all the way west to the Blackfoot at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains — foreshadowed and no doubt helped facilitate the pioneering transcontinental reach that the modern ‘Indian-European’ fur trade in Canada had achieved by the early 19th century.”

Indigenous languages in Canada. The green/blue-shaded areas are host to various Algonquian languages or dialects, of which Cree in various forms is by far the largest. (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic.)

The online Canadian Encyclopedia expands on all this in its own way : “The Cree language … is spoken in many parts of Canada, from the Rocky Mountains in the West to Labrador in the East.” It “is often described by linguists as a dialect continuum (a series of dialects that change gradually over a geographical area), also called Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi. This dialect continuum belongs to the Algonquian linguistic family, and is spoken across Canada, from the Rocky Mountains to Labrador.”

Meanwhile in our own current corner of the second largest national geography in the world today, on Canada Day itself most of us from the lakeshore office here went downtown to take in Mitzie Hunter’s unofficial People’s Picnic at Queen’s Park.

Hungry Canadian citizens waiting for free food outside the patriotically generous Mandarin restaurant branch in the old Toronto suburb of Etobicoke on Canada Day.

The Ontario government’s reasons for cancelling planned official celebrations of Canada Day were alluded to at the June 29 Rolling Stones concert north of Toronto. As tweeted from the scene by the Canadian Press Pop culture reporter David Friend. : “‘For the next 15 minutes it’s a buck a beer, courtesy of Doug Ford,’ Mick Jagger jokes to a chorus of boos from the audience.”

We can nonetheless report ourselves that there actually was free ice cream at the unofficial People’s Picnic (which also understandably featured considerable Liberal party red!).

Alas, the free ice-cream lines were long enough to persuade us that they’d be even longer for the free Canada Day complete meals at the nearest Mandarin restaurant.

Finally, in this age of instant information of all sorts on the world wide web, we conclude with official June 2 announcements from “The central organ of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the voice of the party, state and people of Vietnam” :

Scarborough-Guildwood MPP Mitzie Hunter welcomes celebrants at 2019 Canada Day People’s Picnic at Queen’s Park in Toronto.

“Party General Secretary and President of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong sent a congratulatory message to Canadian Governor General Julie Payette on July 1 to mark the occasion of Canada Day, the National Day of Canada (July 1, 1867-2019) … On the same day, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc cabled a message of congratulations to his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau … Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh also sent a congratulatory message to Canadian Foreign Minister Alexandra Chrystia Freeland.”

Which reminded us again just how much things have changed since the late 1960s — when real men (and new women) smoked and drank almost every night after work, just to get to better know potential employers!

Anyway a belated very happy Canada Day 2019. May the best team for the very long-term future of this particular greatest country in the world win on October 21. And remember what Harold Innis wrote as long ago as 1930, in the conclusion to his now classic study of The Fur Trade in Canada : An Introduction to Canadian Economic History — “We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.”

Don’t get too excited re Mueller testimony July 17 — US Democratic debates (& Mitzie Hunter’s Canada Day) better bets

Posted: June 28th, 2019 | No Comments »

Everything that has happened in American politics since the fateful day of November 6, 2016 tells we progressives of one sort or another (especially in Canada) to suppress any big expectations about the good news that “Robert Mueller To Testify In Open Hearings On July 17 Before House Committees.”

The former special counsel Mr. Mueller is responding to a subpoena from the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives. And even the masterful Congressman from Los Angeles Adam Schiff has stressed : “I don’t think the special counsel’s office would characterize it as a ‘friendly subpoena.’ He did not want to testify. He made that very clear. Nonetheless they will respect the subpoena. They will appear.”

There may still be some hope in some places that having Mr. Mueller testify about his lengthy and subtle report in public will at last mobilize popular opinion, around the otherwise all too obvious unsuitability of Donald Trump (to say the very least) as even a bad American president.

The admirable Rob Reiner in California has tweeted : “On July 17, if Mueller just makes clear to the public what’s in his report, there will be no alternative but to open an Impeachment inquiry on the most criminal President in US history.”

The deeper ultimate truth, however, increasingly does seem to be that the sins of Donald Trump are different from (even if much worse than) the sins of Richard Nixon, in the Watergate scandal that climaxed with Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974.

My own immediate sense is that if we need some reassurance that, whatever else, the good guys will win at the ballot box in 2020, we are better off with the first Democratic leadership debates on June 26/27, 2019.

(And I say this as someone who was not looking forward to these initial 2020 progressive adventures, and expected not to watch or otherwise pay attention to them!)

As I write, after the second June 27 installment, there are those who say Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, eg, have done well — while Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have slipped somewhat. But it seems to me far too early in the game to put too much stock in assessments of this sort.

I was nonetheless surprised to find both June 26 and 27 installments refreshing examples of sensible and intriguing public discussion in our clearly otherwise crazy current time in American politics. I also found myself thinking that, whoever finally lands on top, the others (judging by the 20 on display June 26/27) add up, eg, to a promising federal cabinet, that could bring the great tradition of Democracy in America into the limelight where it belongs once again.

Having said all this, I do think it will be at least interesting to hear Robert Mueller testify in open hearings on July 17 before House Committees.

But it does also seem that, while Donald Trump is clearly worse than Richard Nixon — as George Will and others have urged — removing his lamentable influence from the body politic is almost certainly going to involve a somewhat different process from the Watergate impeachment odyssey that finally prompted Nixon’s resignation in the middle of the summer of 1974. And the best news lately is that the Democrat leadership race now officially underway for the 2020 election actually is bringing serious new signs of free and democratic Hope.

(Meanwhile, back in my own usual neighbourhood north of the Great Lakes, kudos to Mitzie Hunter for reviving a Canada Day People’s Picnic at Queen’s Park, that the Doug Ford government saw fit to cancel, to avoid yet another venue where Premier Ford — who an earlier generation may well have called “Canada’s Donald Trump” — can be booed by the broad masses he claims to represent.)

Randall White : A very short note on the Ontario cabinet shuffle, June 20, 2019

Posted: June 20th, 2019 | No Comments »
Ontario Premier Ford at Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship celebration.

[UPDATED JUNE 22]. The obvious first reaction to Premier Doug Ford’s big cabinet shuffle at the end of his first year in office is that it wasn’t his cabinet who was so visibly booed at the Toronto Raptors NBA championship celebration this past Monday.

The point was not lost on CBC TV’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” which tweeted just past 11 AM this morning : “Several high-profile ministers demoted in major Ontario cabinet shuffle. It doesn’t get much worse than Doug Ford saying you’re the one doing a bad job.”

For details see “Fedeli, MacLeod, Thompson all demoted in major Ontario cabinet shuffle by Ford” ; “High-profile ministers demoted in Ont. Premier Ford’s cabinet shuffle” ; and “Fedeli, Thompson, MacLeod and Mulroney moved from embattled posts as Ford shuffles Ontario cabinet.”

The new official list, in alphabetical order by surname, appears online at “Meet the Cabinet.”

Rod Phillips, the new Minister of Finance.

If you are a Twitter addict, you may have arisen this morning to Mike Crawley’s 7:29 AM message : “One of my PC sources is calling this a bloodbath, and the most heavy-handed cabinet shuffle ever.”

Some two and a half hours later Adam Radwanski observed : “after all the initial hoopla about having a small cabinet, it’s now grown significantly.”

I have only a few immediate thoughts myself.

To start with, Rod Phillips might make a good Minister of Finance. By some accounts Stephen Lecce could become an effective Minister of Education — from a conservative point of view at any rate.

I am personally somewhat puzzled by the appointments of Monte McNaughton as Minister of Labour, and Todd Smith as Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.

The class act of the official swearing-in was Caroline Mulroney — who first did her oath of office in the kind of French you only learn growing up in Quebec.

Finally, in the end it’s at least hard not to wonder whether some of Premier Ford’s current problems have more to do with his own office than his cabinet.

Premier Ford marches in York Region Pride parade with cabinet ministers Caroline Mulroney (l) and Christine Elliott (r), Saturday, June 15, 2019. A cabinet shuffle anchored by these two women might have made more sense?

(As a Toronto Life article on “Doug Ford’s now-undisputed second-in-command” explained early this year : “He doesn’t have a lot of experience in government.”)

Meanwhile, the bottom line does very much remain that the Ford Nation Ontario PCs still have three more years to do much better — or, as some critics will no doubt urge, much worse.

If they really are going ahead with major health care system reform (almost bound to cause more initial trouble at best?), my guess at this moment would be that the Premier’s ultimate reputation will depend on just how well — or badly — this works out.

Meanwhile again, Ontario PCs now have until late October 2019 to get their big one-year stab at reforming the management team to work, without constant harassment from the opposition in the Legislative Assembly. (Where MPPs in the government majority just act like much-observed trained seals in any case!)

UPDATE JUNE 22 : As of late yesterday — “BREAKING: Premier Doug Ford’s embattled chief of staff, Dean French, has resigned.” (And note above : “in the end it’s at least hard not to wonder whether some of Premier Ford’s current problems have more to do with his own office than his cabinet. ” It seems the premier finally wondered this himself.)

Six notes from the Six, waiting for Raptors parade : Hillier vs French, Senate reform, Federal Liberals, Citizenship oath, 2011 voter fraud, BoJo in UK

Posted: June 16th, 2019 | No Comments »
Ontario Premier Doug Ford (l) and his Chief of Staff Dean French, in happier times.

(1) Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, is going ahead with “a defamation lawsuit over posts made on social media by Randy Hillier, the maverick MPP ejected from the governing Progressive Conservative caucus.” And “Maverick MPP Randy Hillier says lawsuit by top Doug Ford aide is meant to silence him.”

All this quietly puts one revealing finger, I think, on the growing unpopularity of the Ford nation so-called “For the People” government at the end of its first year in office. It is stumbling over its own inexperienced and unseasoned contempt for successful traditions of Ontario government and politics largely bequeathed by its own “PC dynasty” precursors, many long years ago.

(2) Meanwhile, back in Canada’s federal capital on the banks of the Ottawa River Justin Trudeau’s Senate Reform lite gestures of the past few years are receiving what also strike me as undeserved support from some surprising places.

“Senate Liberal Lillian Dyck (left) and Government Representative in the Senate Peter Harder (right) welcome Manitoba’s newest Independent Senator, Mary Jane McCallum, to the Red Chamber on December 13, 2017. PHOTO: Greg Kolz.”

See Emmett Macfarlane on “The Renewed Canadian Senate: Organizational Challenges and Relations with the Government,” and (especially surprising?) John Ibbitson on “Trudeau’s reforms to Senate worked – and Scheer should follow suit.”

(3) I personally agree with the editors of this site that the Trudeau Liberals “have altogether lacked courage and depth (and common sense) on real Senate reform and democratizing our head of state.” But I also agree (and quite unlike Mr. Ibbitson I’m guessing) that “in the very end this time we’re outright supporting the Justin Trudeau Liberals for Oct 21, 2019.”

So I have been pleased by such recent reports as “Liberal bleeding after SNC-Lavalin affair seems to have stopped: Poll,” and “Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck as Greens rise to 12%.” I can’t resist adding my own recent Ontario News Watch column : “Ontario in the 2019 Federal Election: Is 1972 a Model?

(4) I have recently been pleased as well by a column from the beautiful northwestern BC wilderness that does show some serious courage and depth (and common sense) on such overdue Canadian constitutional issues as real Senate reform and democratizing our head of state.

Smithers, BC.

See Thom Barker on “Citizenship oath an unacceptable double-standard … Thom argues it’s time to stop making new citizens swear (or affirm) pledge to Queen,” in the Smithers Interior News.

(5) Meanwhile, back on Twitter I was recently equally struck by certain at least vaguely related provocative thoughts from pollster and Canadian political philosopher Frank Graves.

The thoughts were perhaps so provocative that @VoiceOfFranky has now taken them down. There is, however, still some evidence for : “This is arguably the greatest travesty in modern Canadian democracy.” It was in any case all about the robocalls issue in the 2011 Canadian federal election. And for more on this front (from back in 2013) see : “Federal Court won’t remove MPs over election robocalls … Judge finds that fraud occurred, linked to the Conservative Party’s CIMS database.”

(6) These political thoughts while waiting for the Raptors’ great Toronto parade tomorrow end with a glance back across the Atlantic Ocean, at the latest strange permutations of what earlier Canadian generations called the Mother of Parliaments.

Hugh Laurie (r) as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry (l) as Jeeves, long before it looked like Boris Johnson might actually become UK prime minister!

My text here is Sam Knight’s June 13, 2019 New Yorker piece on “The Empty Promise of Boris Johnson … The man expected to be Britain’s next Prime Minister makes people in power, including himself, appear ridiculous.”

I especially liked : “To the British public, Johnson is an immediately recognizable figure in the culture. He is Bertie Wooster. His hair is a mess. He falls into ponds …. You can find yourself feeling sympathetic toward him, because of … vulnerability and a sense that he is fundamentally unserious. ‘Boris has the capacity to lose his way in a sentence …’ Michael Gove … has said.”

For my own always-try-to-say-something-positive concluding thoughts here : It may at least be better to have Bertie Wooster trying to run your government than, eg, Donald Trump. And who knows? Contrary to everything he has said up to this point, Bertie might even stumble into keeping the United Kingdom in the European Union by accident or mistake? The big remaining question is just : who is the sensible companion Jeeves?

Is Toronto Raptors’ first outside-US championship 2019 just the start of a new NBA in the global village?

Posted: June 14th, 2019 | No Comments »
Celebrating the victory at Jurassic Park, Toronto.

GREATER ONTARIO”. FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2019. As rarely enough in Toronto these days, there is sun in the sky (along with intermittent foreboding clouds for tomorrow). According to our latest reports from the streets, it’s almost warmer than lately too.

It is impossible not to be affected in some happy way as well by the great news that finally, after so much extended game-end agony, even with mere seconds to go on the official clock, the Toronto Raptors (We the North) became 2019 National Basketball Association champions, for the first time in their 24-year history.

It was, to start with, the Six in Six. And close to all residents of the local city region today feel some elemental joy, beyond all foolish attempts at written description.

Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard : NBA champs 2019.

And then, with all due allowances to local exaggeration on this front, “We the North” was also “Canada’s team.” As Kyle Lowry from Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia nicely explained, when asked about a message for the fans : “We brought it home baby. O Canada.” (And then in Toronto proper or Whitby or Barrie or Mississauga or Oakville on TV we could see the local Jurassic Parks and related celebrations in such places as Halifax and Regina or even Montreal and Vancouver. It is impossible not to be locally happy about that too!)

Then again for sympathetic observers beyond Canada, the ultimate Toronto Raptor fan base is in the much larger global village. According to the Associated Press in the USA : “A global NBA now has a truly global champion.”As viewed by the Guardian in the UK : “’It means the world’: Toronto Raptors win first NBA title after beating Warriors.”

Raptors president Masai Ujiri who grew up in Nigeria — in many way the long-term architect of 2019 NBA title.

The AP piece (by Tim Reynolds) also explains how the global, Canadian, and local themes finally tie together. It points to former NBA veteran Jamaal Magloire, who “has been on the [Raptors’] staff since his playing days ended” and “is a Toronto native.” As Magloire “said as he watched champagne spray all over the locker room .. ‘Canada and Toronto especially are very diverse places. And this team, all the diversity that we have, it served us well’.”

From where we sit as (in a few cases at least) other Toronto natives, it is finally impossible not to be happy about the various good ways in which showing support for the We the North Raptors has helped (and will continue to help) all we diverse Canadians of 2019 express the shared enthusiasm and solidarity we feel for our community life in challenging times.

Mr. Reynolds’s AP piece notes as well that : “At NBA headquarters in New York, they truly didn’t care who won the series … That doesn’t mean they don’t realize the Raptors’ title is a good thing for the league’s future.”

Compliments of Felix Richter, statista.com.

The NBA in the United States, that is to say, is ultimately going global. And the Toronto Raptors in Canada who have become 2019 NBA champions are just a step in this long-term direction. All of which can have some crazy echoes in a city which once described the late 1920s new headquarters of its Canadian Bank of Commerce as “the tallest building in the British empire” (on which the sun, as they used to say, never dared to set). History, in the words of the T.S.Eliot who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and died in London, England, “has many cunning passages.”

PS : For something completely different try “Democracy is what finally makes America great (& Canada too etc, etc),” on our reviving companion “music and the arts” site, birdhop — named in honour of the great master of modern jazz, Charles Parker Jr., born in Kansas City 1920 and died in New York City 1955. (If he were alive today, we think he’d be a Raptors’ fan too.)

Big Blue Wave stops at The Rock (well .. Lib minority, maybe dependent on NDP) — good or bad news for Justin Trudeau?

Posted: May 18th, 2019 | No Comments »
Kelly Jefferson, originally from faraway Regina, now in Toronto : a master of the tenor saxophone.

Some of us were at The Bluebird near the Dundas West subway station in Toronto as the results of the provincial election in Newfoundland and Labrador (aka The Rock) rolled in.

We were listening to the “Stubble Jumpers … a brand new cooperative Jazz Organ trio consisting of Kelly Jefferson (saxes), Jeff McLeod (organ), and Ted Warren (drums).” All three began their lives in Regina, Saskatchewan — where “Stubble Jumper” is a term of proud abuse. Then they moved to the city with the heart of a loan shark, where they have become accomplished musicians and energetic entertainers for discriminating democratic tastes.

Dropping quickly into the office on our ways home, we caught up with the results of the election still further east, where Giovanni Cabotto may or may not have landed in 1497.

There are 40 seats in the Newfoundland House of Assembly — making 21 seats a bare majority. On May 16, 2019 (based on results reported by Maclean’s) Dwight Ball’s incumbent Liberals won 20 seats with 45.1% of the popular vote across the province. Ches Crosbie’s Progressive Conservatives won 15 seats with 43.7% of the vote. Alison Coffin’s New Democrats won 3 seats with 6.5% of the vote. And 2 seats were won by Independents among the Other candidates, who collectively took 4.8% of the popular vote province-wide.

Surviving Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball says his party is listening to voters’ plea for politicians to “work together.”

Possibly hinting at how federal Conservatives may react to some broadly similar result in the Canadian federal election this coming October 21, 2019, Conservative leader Ches Crosbie declared : “I am not conceding victory to the Liberals …They will have to struggle for the next months and years to hang on to power.”

In particular, Premier Ball’s Liberals may have to depend on co-operation with the three elected New Democrats — party leader Alison Coffin in St. John’s East-Quidi Vidi, Jim Dinn in St. John’s Centre, and Jordan Brown in Labrador West.

Conservative leader Crosbie has apparently “said he will be calling on three elected members of the NDP and two Independents to form a coalition to counter the Liberals.” If those he is calling on accept his invitation, there will indeed have to be a fresh election very soon. (20 Liberals vs 20 very strange bedfellow united Conservatives, New Democrats, and Independents is a contest that no one can win, including a provincial budget!)

It would, however, seem a better bet for Ms Coffin’s newly energized New Democrats to trade co-operation with Dwight Ball’s Liberal minority government for concessions on NDP policy objectives that could not otherwise be met. (And then it is also true that the government only needs one of the two Independent votes for at least a bare majority in the House of Assembly — one of which belongs to a former Liberal.) Only time will tell definitively, of course.

Very Rockish NDP leader Alison Coffin, whose party has made gains and could hold a balance of power in the House of Assembly over the next while.

Meanwhile, whatever some might say about how close the 2019 Newfoundland election has been, the Big Blue Wave that brought conservative governments to office in five provinces over the past year has been stopped by democracy on The Rock.

Our very rough and ready guess of the mere moment is that these Newfoundland election results may also prove to be a good enough predictor of the broad shape of things likely to emerge from the Canadian federal election this coming October 21.

We’d guess as well that, at a time when such things are not easy to find in Ottawa, the 2019 election in Newfoundland and Labrador has to qualify as good news for Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada. Along with such headlines as “Canada, US reach deal to lift steel and aluminum tariffs within 2 days” — if not the results of today’s Australian election!

Who knows? A federal Liberal minority government dependent on NDP (and/or Green Party) votes for parliamentary majorities may even be the best PM Trudeau can hope for in 2019. And this would nicely echo his father’s second election as party leader as well, in 1972!

Will Labor win in Land of Oz on May 18 (and what will it mean for Liberals in Canada if they don’t) ??

Posted: May 15th, 2019 | No Comments »

[SCROLL DOWN FOR MAY 19/20 UPDATE ON ELECTION RESULTS]. With only a few days until voting on Saturday, May 18, the 2019 Australian federal election seems a closer thing than it appeared to be six months ago.

(Fellow Commonwealth citizens in northern North America should also note that Australia is considerably further ahead of us in time of day than either the UK or France. Polling places down under on May 18 will close at 6 PM. And, eg, 6 PM in Sydney is 4 AM in Toronto. By 10 AM ET this coming Saturday — and only 7 AM PT in Vancouver — we should have at least some serious sense of the election results in the Land of Oz.)

As one of our excellent Twitter correspondents from down under, Meredith King, explained to us a day or so ago : “Polls suggest it’s very close but Labor have hit their stride in the past week. Anything to do with action on climate gains traction every day.”

A similar story is told by Max Walden on aljazeera.com : “Here’s everything you need to know about Australia’s election … The opposition Labor Party is expected to win Saturday’s election, with climate change emerging as a key issue.”

Labor leader, Bill Shorten (left) and current Liberal PM Scott Morrison (right) at third leaders’ debate. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian.

Mr. Walden also gives a tidy summary of the two main forces contesting the election : “the incumbent Liberal Coalition of Prime Minister Scott Morrison is hoping tax cuts and the enduring resilience of Australia’s economy will be enough to keep it in office … But growth is slowing and climate change has emerged as a major issue after the country’s hottest summer on record … The opposition Labor Party under Bill Shorten is betting voters will instead back its promises to improve education and healthcare as well as create a fairer Australia.”

Aljazeera.com, does not do as well on some practical details. It claims : “Australians will choose 150 members of the House of Representatives (the lower house) and some 76 Senate seats (the upper house).” The parallel summary on the Express website from the UK is more exact : “The election will see voters choose members of the 46th Parliament of Australia with all 151 seats in the House of Representatives and 40 out of 76 seats in the Senate up for election.”

The UK Express also offers a somewhat more sobering account of recent opinion polling : “The latest opinion polls place the [Liberal] Coalition ahead with 38.5 percent. They are closely followed by the ALP [Labor] with 35.5 percent … Green, ONP [One Nation Party] and the other category have 10 percent, four percent and 12 percent respectively … When voters were asked to choose between either the LN/P [Coalition] or ALP, Labor won by four percent — with 52 percent of the vote.”

Like Canada, Australia broadly speaking is a parliamentary democracy, on the Westminster model whose original home is on the Thames River in London, England. But there are at least three intriguing major differences between the two former self-governing dominions of the old global empire on which the sun once never dared to set.

First, Australia has an unusually short, three-year term for members of its “lower” House of Representatives. Second, it actually has the kind of “Triple-E” or elected Senate that Alberta used to urge on Canada. And third, participation in Australian federal elections is compulsory : you can be fined if you don’t vote without a very good excuse.

Bondi Beach in Sydney — a place to go when politics gets you down?

Similarly, Australia doesn’t have anything quite like the unique province of Quebec in Canada or two official languages. In compensation, perhaps, it also has its own unique geography (and kangaroos etc). Beyond all such things, however, the Land of Oz down under does have some provocative similarities with Canada. And they make the results of its May 18, 2019 federal election a possible source of revealing light on our October 21, 2019 Canadian federal election.

If Labor does not win as many still expect this coming Saturday, eg, that could mean the international forces of right-wing conservatism are growing stronger, not weaker. And that could be bad news for the Justin Trudeau Liberals (more like Labor than the Liberals down under) this coming fall, in the true north, strong and free.

We’ll be watching as closely as we can from such a great geographical distance — even in the current age of high communications technology. And we’ll add a short report below when the results are finally known — probably sometime later this coming Saturday our time, on the northwest shore of the Great Lake Ontario. Stay tuned …

UPDATE MAY 19, 2:00 AM ET (TORONTO) : We’ve waited a bit to report back on what PM and Liberal Coalition leader Scott Morrison has greeted with “I have always believed in miracles.” Despite all polling predictions about a tight race with Labor finishing ahead , it turned out to be a tight race with the incumbent Liberal Coalition finishing ahead!

Claudia Cox in regional Victoria was not sure which party would be best for her area : “I have no idea what is going on with the election, to be completely honest. All I know is my family usually votes for the Liberals because they usually help us out the most…”

With just over 75% of the vote now counted it remains unclear whether Mr. Morrison has won a majority or minority government. On numbers from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), as of 4 in the afternoon May 19, Australian ET, the Liberal Coalition has 73 seats in the House of Representatives, where 76 is a bare majority. Labor has 65, and Others have 6, leaving 7 seats still to be decided. There does seem a good enough chance that the Coalition will have a majority when all the counting is done. [UPDATE MAY 20 : The ABC is now predicting that the Liberal Coalition will finally have 77 seats, just one over a bare majority!]

For the moment the long and short appears to be that the undecided vote was rather high. After all the last-minute decisions the Liberal Coalition did somewhat better than expected and Labor did somewhat worse — especially as it lost votes to the Greens and other smaller parties! Support for the Coalition was especially strong in the state of Queensland and among older voters. According to the Vice site : “The upset is already being compared to Hilary Clinton’s 2016 US presidential loss and Brexit” in the UK.

This is of course not a good precedent for the fate of the Justin Trudeau Liberals in the October 21 Canadian federal election this fall. (They are more like Labor than the Australian Liberals.) One big lesson they might be drawing is that in a pinch nowadays in countries like Australia and Canada, voters’ concerns about the economy will finally “trump” concerns about the environment. (And too much of the green vote will go to the Green party in any case!) PM Trudeau may already be exploring this proposition with recent headlines like “Canada, U.S. reach deal to lift steel and aluminum tariffs within 2 days.”

Top 5 list : why we still support the Justin Trudeau Liberals for October 21 .. in spite of all their faults ..

Posted: May 5th, 2019 | No Comments »

(1) Opinion polls certainly do suggest that the Justin Trudeau Liberals in Canada have serious problems right now.

Sophie Gregorie-Trudeau watches her husband deliver his victory speech on election night, October 19, 2015.

It is also true that a late April 2015 Abacus poll shows vaguely comparable results to a 2019 Angus Reid poll for broadly the same time of year. In late April 2015 Abacus was reporting Cons 36%, Libs 28%, NDP 24%, Greens 6%. In late April 2019 Angus Reid is reporting Cons 38%, Libs 25%, NDP 18%, Greens 11%.

Even so the Liberal poll performance now in 2019 is generally worse than it was around this time in 2015 (when the Trudeau Liberals finally won a 54% majority of seats in the Canadian House of Commons on October 19, with 39.5% of the cross-country popular vote!). Or, as Alex Boutilier at the Toronto Star has lately explained, using another source of 2019 intelligence (Forum Research), “SNC-Lavalin affair having an effect on voter intentions, poll finds.”

(2) There remain many things about the Justin Trudeau Liberals we do not like at all. For us, eg, they have altogether lacked courage and depth (and common sense) on real Senate reform and democratizing our head of state. And they have been too worried about losing the “progressive” side of the old Progressive Conservative vote. (Which often proves illusory in any case!)

Wilfrid Laurier (left) and his successor as federal Liberal leader, William Lyon Mackenzie King (grandson of the 1837 Rebellion leader William Lyon Mackenzie) : two inventors of the “natural governing party of Canada” in the 20th century.

We agree as well that ever since Wilfrid Laurier invented them as Canada’s natural governing party in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the federal Liberals have been recurrently arrogant and a bit too elitist for Canada’s original populist party of the sovereign people. And for too long they have been too intermittently weak in Western Canada, for too many good reasons.

(3) But when all is said and done we also essentially agree with, eg, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts from Glace Bay, NS, and the current Liberal MP for Kelowna-Lake Country in beautiful BC, Stephen Fuhr.

To quote from Althia Raj’s interesting recent interview with the former principal secretary : “Butts said he expects the SNC-Lavalin affair ‘will obviously play a role in people’s determinations in the fall’ but won’t be a ‘deciding factor’ for many people … ‘Canadians are fair people, and they make judgments based on a wide variety of the government’s accomplishments and disappointments,’ he said … Trudeau has been a ‘very good prime minister’ leading a ‘very good government … I think that the government is just getting started on its agenda to make the economy fairer and to make growth work for everybody’.”

At the historic Lambton House in Toronto, opened in 1848 — the European year of revolution when modern parliamentary democracy began in Nova Scotia and the old United Province of Canada (modern Ontario and Quebec), May 3, 2019.

And as Stephen Fuhr from Kelowna somewhat similarly tweeted Friday, May 3 : “ [Canada] was #1 in 2017 for economic growth amongst the G7 and #2 in 2018. Unemployment is at a 42 year low and poverty in Canada has been reduced by 20%. Andrew Scheer … thinks BREXIT was a good idea. Choose wisely.”

(4) We have some sympathy with those who voted Liberal in 2015 and are now contemplating voting either NDP or Green in 2019, because they value political principles above political expediency.

Our failed preferred outcome in 2015 was some form of Liberal-NDP (or NDP-Liberal) co-operative government (that might have actually implemented electoral reform!). Still more intriguing fantasies of this sort seem in potential play for 2019. And we’ll probably have more to say than anyone wants to hear on this subject between now and the fall.

Harold Innis, 1924.

(5) But in the very end this time we’re outright supporting the Justin Trudeau Liberals for Oct 21, 2019 — on the now ancient argument given one classic expression 70 years ago by the late great first Canadian president of the American Economic Association, Harold Adams Innis :

“As evidence of the futility of political discussion in Canada, there were Liberals who deplored the activities of the federal administration in no uncertain terms but always concluded with what was to them an unanswerable argument — ‘What is the alternative?’ In one’s weaker moments the answer does appear conclusive, but what a comment on political life …”

Or in our view Justin Trudeau, for all his faults and personal foibles, is just too much better an international representative of what Canada is today and can and will be in the future than any of Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, Maxime Bernier, or (especially?) Elizabeth May. QED.

Happy earth day 2019 : will the people of PEI elect the first Green government in North America tomorrow?

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 | No Comments »
Excellent Grade A potatoes are one thing PEI is famous for in the rest of Canada. Beautiful beaches are another. Photo courtesy of Tourism PEI/John Sylvester.

GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. EARTH DAY, MONDAY, APRIL 22, 2019. The first thing to say about the provincial election tomorrow in Canada’s smallest province of Prince Edward Island (on the east or Atlantic coast) is that the entire island (and Canada at large) has been sadly stricken by grief over the tragic deaths of Green candidate Josh Underhay and his son, in a canoeing accident this past Friday.

(There are 27 ridings or electoral districts in the PEI Legislative Assembly, but elections will be held in only 26 on April 23, 2019. No election will take place in Mr. Underhay’s old riding of Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park, out of respect for the tragic deaths. Somewhat further down the road a “by-election will be held at a date to be determined.”)

The next thing that will inevitably be said in, eg, the 192 out of 338 Canadian federal electoral districts with more than 100,000 people (on our hasty count at any rate) is that the current population of “the Island” is only 154,748. And note as well that at the time of the last federal election there were 10 federal ridings with more than 120,000 people.

At the same time, as of 2017 there is now a Canadian federal law known as the Recognition of Charlottetown as the Birthplace of Confederation Act. (In 1864 a conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island began the process that led to the Canadian confederation of British North American provinces in1867 — though PEI itself did not actually join until 1873.)

Whatever else, PEI remains a unique Canadian province. Much of this has turned around its preservation of pasts that have almost altogether faded away, in parts of the country with more people and without the Islander spirit that only a compact, self-contained geography can sustain.

There are now provocative signs, however, that in its April 23, 2019 election Canada’s smallest province may be about to make a big bow to the future as well, by electing the first Green party government in North America.

For some reason, in the global village today the Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silver Bush, Park Corner, PEI is a place where couples from Japan like to get married!

(In the sense, say, that the Canadian province of Saskatchewan elected the “first socialist government in North America” back in 1944. Green politicians have certainly been elected in all of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. But, in our current state of knowledge, it seems fair enough to guess that a full-blown Green government has yet to be installed at provincial/state or federal levels in any of the three countries?)

PEI’s small population makes realistic opinion polling somewhat more difficult than in places with more people. Peter Stewart Bevan-Baker’s Green Party nonetheless first jumped into the polling lead very briefly in early 2018, and then more frequently this past summer of 2018. According to the Wikipedia article on “2019 Prince Edward Island general election,” the Greens have led consistently in the last half dozen polls that have been taken, since late January 2019.

Here on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario we of course have no special knowledge about what will happen tomorrow. But we’re happy to recommend :

  • The Pollcast: Is PEI ready to give the Greens a try? … The CBC’s Kerry Campbell talks about the PEI election.” CBC News, Apr 18, 2019 : CBC polls analyst Éric Grenier is interviewing Mr. Campbell here. One encouraging note is that the PEI campaign has apparently been notably civil, unlike (so far?) the emerging federal campaign that will climax on October 21.
  • A new vote projection points to a historic Green win in PEI… Philippe J. Fournier: Uncertainty remains high but a simplified 338 electoral model puts the Green Party just above the threshold for a majority win.” Maclean’s, Apr 21, 2019. “Philippe J. Fournier is the creator of 338Canada.com, Qc125.com, a regular contributor to L’actualité magazine and a professor of physics and astrophysics at Cégep de Saint-Laurent in Montréal.”
  • What We’re Watching: Is the land of Anne about to go Green?. … By Kady O’Malley. ipolitics.ca, Apr 22,2019. Ms. O’Malley, who has been remarkably sensible lately about such matters as SNC-Lavalin, notes : “According to the latest polls, the PEI Greens are poised to win a majority of the 26 seats up for grabs in the provincial legislature, which would make party leader Peter Bevan-Baker the first capital-G Green premier in the country.”
The almost 13-kilometre long Confederation Bridge, opened in 1997, at last connected Prince Edward Island with the Canadian mainland in New Brunswick. Photo : Igor I. Solar.

For added zest tomorrow night the PEI election will include a referendum on electoral reform. Islanders will be asked “Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?” To be implemented the reform “must be approved by a majority of voters in at least 60% of the province’s 27 provincial electoral districts.”

According to the local Guardian newspaper : “PEI voters could not be any more divided on electoral reform.” But there will be some great irony afoot if the Islanders finally do vote for a Green majority government and for the kind of electoral reform that would arguably make a similar majority government quite unlikely down the road.

We’ll be watching closely and will report back briefly when the results are known. Meanwhile, best wishes to the people of Canada’s Island democracy who will be making the decisions — on both the Green party and electoral reform! And congratulations on conducting an election campaign with some civility in 2019.

UPDATE APRIL 24, 12:30 AM : The Greens did well, but not well enough to form even a minority government. In a legislature where 14 seats makes a bare majority that limited honour goes to the Progressive Conservatives led by Dennis King, who won 12 seats with 36.5% of the Island-wide popular vote.

From left to right, NDP Leader Joe Byrne, Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King, Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker and Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan smile at the provincial debate in Summerside, PEI on April 16, 2019. Photo by Andrew Vaughan/CP.”

The Greens led by Peter Bevan-Baker did manage to become official opposition, with 8 seats and 30.6% of the popular vote. Former Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals, who were seeking an unusual fourth consecutive term in office, had to rest content with only 6 seats and 29.5% of the vote. (The balance of the Island-wide vote and 0 seats went to Joe Byrne’s NDP.)

Premier-elect Dennis King was apparently one of the people who kept this still unusual 2019 PEI election so unusually civil. His minority government may have better prospects with non-partisan support in the legislature than usual?

Voter turnout was 80.5% — compared eg to 58% in the 2018 Ontario provincial election and an unusually high 71% in the recent 2019 Alberta election. In the accompanying electoral reform referendum, Islanders “narrowly chose to keep the first-past-the-post system rather than switch to a mixed-member proportional system of voting.”