Can “socialism” in Canada (er I mean “social democracy”) be any inspiration for Joe Biden’s USA today (and meanwhile will the pivot to Asia now revive) ?

Posted: November 18th, 2020 | No Comments »
Sophia A. Nelson, author of “E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America.”

FROM RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO, WED 18 NOV 2020 : Sophia A. Nelson (who might qualify as one seasoned guide to the new political middle ground many Americans apparently now yearn for) published an interesting piece on the Daily Beast site this past Sunday.

Her article is called “The Authoritarian Threat in This Country Isn’t Socialism … Socialism reverberated like crazy in this election, but it was ironic that Trump supporters couldn’t recognize what a threat to democracy he posed.”

The delusional American right-wing view of “socialism” can seem especially eccentric if you live in Canada — and, like the majority of your fellow Canadians, almost always vote Democratic in American elections. Yet in reviewing my own favourite authors on the subject, I find that no less astute a political prophet than George Orwell put Americans and Canadians (and possibly even Mexicans?) together in the global picture.

As Orwell explained in his 1947 meditation on why socialism was only possible in Europe : “In North America the masses are contented with capitalism, and one cannot tell what turn they will take when capitalism begins to collapse … It may be that Europe is finished and that in the long run some better form of society will arise in India or China. But I believe that it is only in Europe, if anywhere, that democratic Socialism could be made a reality in short enough time …”

Socialism in North America and Canada

“The Grand Tour” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, November 2020.

In her thoughts on conservative, Republican, and right-wing demonization of “socialism” in the 2020 US election Sophia Nelson points to a 2019 Daily Beast article by veteran journalist Jack Schwartz. It argues that socialism was a deeply rooted force in American political culture long before Bernie Sanders revived its secular gospel in the age of Donald Trump.

Schwartz’s still well-worth-reading historical article is called : “How Socialism Made America Great … As a nation, we seem to have forgotten the circumstances that turned rock-ribbed Americans into labor activists, social reformers, populists, and, yes, socialists.”

Carlyle King, Head of the Department of English at the University of Saskatchewan, published this pamphlet in 1943.

As George Orwell cannot of course be blamed for not noticing, Canada has its own variation on this North American socialist history. Its boldest strand starts with the formation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in Calgary, Alberta in 1932, followed by the new party’s adoption of the “Regina Manifesto” in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1933.

The next big moment in this Canadian political history was the election of Tommy Douglas’s CCF provincial government of Saskatchewan in 1944 (“the first socialist government in North America” in one old lexicon).

Douglas’s subsequent long regime would, among many other things, also become an incubator for the 1960s beginnings of today’s Canada-wide network of provincial public health care systems, funded in part by the federal government in exchange for adherence to Canada-wide standards of public administration, accessibility, comprehensiveness, universality, and portability.

New Democratic Party in Canada today

Tommy Douglas would remain Premier of Saskatchewan (aka Governor in US political language) until 1961, when he went on to become the first leader of the new federal New Democratic Party (NDP), 1960s successor to the Depression-era CCF.

“Eden Redux: Memory of a Trampled Garden” by Michael Seward, November 2020.

Since 1961 there have been intermittent NDP provincial governments in all four western provinces of BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and in Ontario and Nova Scotia back east. The federal party has never formed a government in Ottawa. But it has often played an important role in the Canadian House of Commons. It did unusually well in the Canadian election of 2011, and in opinion polls a few months before the 2015 election finally won by the Justin Trudeau Liberals. (In both cases under leaders with deep roots in Quebec.)

Canada’s New Democrats, federally and provincially, have had their ups and downs lately, like many others. But they have also been energized by the fresh North American interest in what are thought to be socialist solutions to current issues, among younger people faced by bleaker economic prospects than their parents and grandparents.

The Canadian federal NDP has been led since 2017 by Jagmeet Singh, known on Wikipedia as “the first Indo-Canadian to lead a major federal party in Canada.” He was also born in Scarborough, Ontario, in the old suburban east end of what is now the City of Toronto.

The New Democrats won only 24 seats in the 2019 federal election. But given 2019’s tricky party arithmetic, they have arguably had some serious influence on Justin Trudeau’s current Liberal minority government.

The great Canadian provincial NDP success story right now is John Horgan’s freshly minted BC majority government on Canada’s Pacific Coast. (See this site’s own counterweights editors’ October 24/25, 2020 report on “If BC NDP can win a stable majority government to manage COVID-19,what about the Liberals in Ottawa?” And more recently see The Tyee on “The Last Strokes of BC’s New Political Map Are Drawn … Final vote counts add two seats for an NDP representing fresh swaths of the province.”)

Social democracy not socialism please

“Portrait of Charles Baudelaire” by Michael Seward, November 2020.

Few well-trained Canadian New Democrats nowadays, I’m guessing, would officially use the word “socialist” to describe their party’s values. The preferred term for polite company in 2020 seems to be “social democratic.” But if you’ve been around long enough, I think, you can still hear the same old gospel.

Practically, to me at any rate, it all comes down to the role of government.

As Orwell also explained in 1947, the Socialism that appealed to him was (and still is) “bound up with liberty, equality, and internationalism.” What he called “democratic Socialism” shares some of the liberal suspicion of too much government authority. But it also believes that popular government is the only ultimate protection the citizen of the democracy has from the aggressive limitations on personal freedom placed by vast (and vastly over-compensated) private sector oligopolies, bred by the only rhetorically free market.

In my own old age I think I’m just as happy talking about democracy. (Though if anyone else wants to talk about socialism that’s fine too.) All I mean at any rate is getting the role of government right in the mixed economy — to promote material prosperity and human equality and freedom in what our Constitution Act, 1982 and Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada calls the “free and democratic society.”

Meanwhile, what about the pivot to Asia and Brad Bannon’s “big and bold” Democratic thought?

Getting the role of government right in the USA also has a lot to do with foreign policy. And I wonder whether Joe Biden will somehow be reviving Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia”?

This wondering has been prompted by the mid-November 2020 news that : “Following years of negotiations, 15 countries formed the world’s largest trading bloc on Sunday. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is made up of the ten ASEAN states (i.e. Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) as well as South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.”

The news goes on : “The pact, which is the result of intense negotiations that started in 2012, is seen as an extension of China’s influence in the region. While limited in scope, RCEP covers more people than any previous trade agreement, with China alone contributing 1.4 billion to the roughly 2.2 billion people united in the deal.”

To me again, Donald Trump’s USA has been asleep at the switch on all this — from the cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on … And I’m finally concluding with a key current quotation that I think covers both this and the broader debate about socialism today.

It comes from Brad Bannon, President of Bannon Communications Research, a Washington, DC- based political polling and consulting firm : “The progressive economic message — economic security for working families — is fundamentally sound. Medicare for All could have been the ingredient that would have added some much-needed spice to a bland Democratic menu. It would have addressed the inadequacy of the current health care system that has been badly exposed by the deadly pandemic … A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation last month indicated that most Americans including a majority of independents supported Medicare For All.”

Bannon goes on : “The problem is the failure of establishment Democrats to adopt bold economic proposals. Progressives are being beaten up by moderates for the centrist failure to go big and bold.” Whatever else, it seems to me, this is a point of view worth thinking about before rushing too foolishly close to the countervailing American Old South gospel touted by Moscow Mitch McConnell … .

On Biden-Harris victory at last : some gains for American democracy ; some new lessons to figure out

Posted: November 8th, 2020 | No Comments »

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, TORONTO, NOV 8, 2020, 2 AM ET : As with so many others our first reaction was just relief. At least some big enough part of what you wanted to happen was probably going to happen. But until it was confirmed …

Most of our fellow workers, friends, and neighbours, in this North American city where most residents do not vote in American elections, seem more relaxed. Whatever other new truths liberals and democrats must make some new peace with, Joe Biden will be President of the USA — starting this coming January 20, 2021 and lasting the ensuing four years.

As often noted, what could happen on the losing side between now and two-and-a-half months from now (during the bizarre lame-duck feature of the USA’s late 18th century American constitutionalism) could be disturbing at best. But at the moment there does not seem too much altogether serious evidence that this is likely to get altogether out of hand.

Back just before election day our own Citizen X observed that whether any “seminal grand victory for American democracy and American progress is in the cards of who knows just what lies ahead … is the great remaining mystery.”

With some losses in the House, and a Senate whose final composition will depend on two run-off elections in Georgia early in the new year (and a genuinely impressive if not winning final surge of support for Donald Trump himself ), it is now clear enough that this seminal grand victory for the side of US political culture we like best did not happen.

Not entirely unlike the 2018 midterms, however, there does seem some sense in which as the depths of the 2020 election start to set in, the gains made for American democracy and American progress start to improve. The “Biden-Harris” ticket is ahead by more than 4 million (or almost 3%) in the popular vote, as matters stand. And it has decisively won the electoral college.

Whatever else, Democrats do still have the majority in the House, and they could in theory even win the barest edge in the Senate early next year. There is a woman and a Black Asian as vice-president for the first time. Whatever finally happens in Georgia, Democrats strongly backed by African Americans have opened new ground for the future in the Old South.

Just how badly President Trump and his most ardent supporters will behave between now and January 20, 2021 remains a mystery that will only be solved as it happens. But the happy, peaceful celebrations in the big cities the Trump Republicans are so afraid of have sounded one upbeat note. And President-elect Biden has already started reaching out to the many Americans who voted for Trump — and to the pandemic now especially raging in many red states. We keep remembering 1960, when Richard Nixon came a lot closer to beating the legendary John F. Kennedy than Donald Trump has come to beating Joe Biden in 2020.

(And to summarize a final report just phoned in, a day later : One side of 2020 is the Republicans have survived, to even their own surprise. But the other is now the Democrats have the momentum … for as long as they can figure out how to keep it … starting well with public health in a pandemic … .)

NOV 6 : Biden closer to winning ; Banon, Graham, and Trump closer to crazy! (And Kayleigh McEnany will always be …)

Posted: November 4th, 2020 | No Comments »
“Winter is icumen in/Ezra Pound” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward.

UPDATED NOV 4, 10:30 AM ET ; NOV 6, 3 AM, 12 NOON : COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS’ NOTES : 3 NOV 20, 11:40 PM ET : Just under an hour ago David Coletto at Abacus Data tweeted : “We won’t know what the outcome is tonight. Feels like it’s best to go to bed, try to sleep, and refocus tomorrow.”

At 11:35 ET Mr. Coletto tweeted again : “I’ll dream of this map” — where Biden gets 290 electoral college votes to Trump’s 248. (It takes 270 to win.) This assumes Biden will finally win Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — where he is currently running behind Trump.

At 11:26 ET the former NDP member of the Ontario legislature Cheri DiNovo tweeted : “We should probably all go to bed, but who can? Now 192 to 114. It’ll be awhile. It’ll be close. I see many lawyers in the future.”

At least it is now very clear why Trump has talked so much about wanting the counting of votes to end on election night!

4 NOV 20, 12:05 AM ET : In the results reported on the Globe and Mail and CTV websites (conservative at least for Canada in both cases) Biden (49.8%) has now moved ahead of Trump (48.6%) in the popular vote. At this point Biden has 213 electoral votes to Trump’s 118. By 12:25 it’s Biden 223, Trump 145. By 1 AM Biden is still at 223, but Trump has moved up to 174.

At 1:03 AM ET Biden himself tweets : “We feel good about where we are. We believe we are on track to win this election.”

The Michigan law professor and TV legal analyst Barb McQuade has already tweeted, to those in the Twitterverse that share her (and our) views : “No need to stress, friends. This is what we have been expecting all along. The election comes down to a handful of key states where the vote count may take a few days. As mail-in ballots get counted, the numbers will shift toward Biden.”

XYZ by Michael Seward.

But now by 2:30 AM ET Trump has spoken from the White House, and it is very clear his strategy is to contest the legitimacy of the mail-in ballots that are almost certainly more for Biden than Trump, and are still to be counted.

It is very hard for us to see at this point how this Trumpian strategy can portend anything but great grief for the United States — and many other parts of the global village.

In the results reported on the Globe and Mail and CTV websites at 2:50 AM Biden has 236 electoral votes with 49.8% of the popular vote, and Trump has 213 electoral votes with 48.6% of the vote. We are going to close up shop and get some sleep, and then see how it all looks tomorrow, or the next day. Even now, however, it is altogether clear that Trump’s constituency in the 2020 USA is somewhat broader than the opinion polls have been suggesting — yet again.

(Meanwhile, as of 2:50 AM ET, according to our sources as above, the Democrats are ahead in the House 179–171; the Senate is tied 47-47, and Republicans have 27 state Governors to the Democrats 23.)

For the moment, in any case, at the very least all Democratic talk of a bold Trifecta on a new blue wave is rather far from what has actually happened — even if Biden does ultimately win the electoral college (as well as the popular vote where he is already ahead and rising), when all the mail-in votes in the midst of the pandemic have been counted. And if Trump actually wins again in the very end, even with the mail-in ballots, well … let’s wait until it’s clearer what will finally happen before thinking about anything quite like that! Meanwhile again, to all a good night — or morning.

UPDATE NOV 4, 10:30 AM ET : At this point it seems that, whatever else, the Democrats will not gain control of the Senate. (The “Trifecta” dream is dead unless something altogether dramatic happens with the votes still to be counted.) On the other hand, less than an hour ago, the Long Island Democrat Jon Cooper tweeted : “If @JoeBiden wins these four states, where he’s currently leading, he’ll be our next president.” (The four states are Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin.).

Meanwhile, the counting continues. And as we look back on this site’s thoughts over the past year, we’re reminded most of Citizen X’s April 26 contribution : “COVID-19 America viewed from across the lake : remembering the 1960 US presidential election 60 years later.” (Though in 2020 Joe Biden already has a greater share of the popular vote than John F. Kennedy won then as of Nov 4, 11:30AM ET 50.1% and rising for Biden vs 48.3% and falling for Trump!) Like everyone else, we are staying tuned!

UPDATE NOV 6, 3:00 AM ET : On the NY Times website, the presidential vote in Georgia is now very close, and Biden still leads in Arizona and Nevada. Meanwhile, Trump has made outrageous and unsupported claims about voter fraud, and they have been seconded by Lindsay Graham. See also Daniel Dale on the CNN site : “Fact check: Trump delivers the most dishonest speech of his presidency as Biden closes in on victory.”

Meanwhile again, as reported by The Independent in the UK : “Steve Bannon said a second term for Donald Trump should start by displaying the severed heads of Dr Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray on the White House ‘as a warning’.” To quote Mr. Banon directly : “I’d actually like to go back to the old times of Tudor England. I’d put their heads on pikes, right, I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats, you either get with the programme or you’re gone.”

We give up on just what all this means at the moment, as we close up shop and try to get some sleep. There is hopefully better news ahead. But what the Canadian comedian Don Harron used to call the Excited States is for the moment coming all too close to crazy, crazy, crazy …

Still, we finally agree : Democracy in America will win out in the end, as it has recurrently in the past, one way or another. The Kansas City heritage of Mrs. Parker’s son and Harry Truman will finally shine the brightest. Or as Winston Churchill once explained, the United States finally does the right thing after it has tried everything else first. And meanwhile yet again, in early November 2020 we are staying tuned, of course.

NOON ET, NOV 6 : So, to quote Nate Cohn who covers elections etc for the New York Times : “Biden now leads in states worth 306 electoral votes.” (The as yet uncalled states where he’s ahead are Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.)

As others have noted, if this result prevails Biden will have defeated Trump in the electoral college by the same 306–232 margin that Trump defeated Clinton by in 2016! As still others have noted, however, “Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by 3 million votes, whereas Biden will win the popular vote in 2020 by perhaps 6-7 million votes.”

(Or as Ezra Klein has put it : “There are some razor-thin margins in some key electoral states. But this election, in terms of the popular will, will not end up close. Biden’s margin over Trump is on-track to be larger than Clinton-Trump, Obama-Romney, Bush-Kerry…”)

Meanwhile, we’re still staying tuned. As we used to say way back when, in the late 1960s : Peace and Love. And even some hard core Democrats may remember that, whatever else, Kayleigh McEnany will always be hot, hot, hot!

Waiting for the 2020 US election from just across the lake (while also thinking about Canadian public finance)

Posted: November 1st, 2020 | No Comments »

FROM THE DESKTOP OF CITIZEN X, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. NOVEMBER 1, 2020. One thing Canadians never quite understand about their friendly-giant neighbours in the USA is how they ever manage to remember even the bare political geography of their federal system.

Memorizing the 10 provinces of Canada and their capital cities at school or otherwise takes some mental effort. But it is no great ordeal. Memorizing all 50 states of the union and their capital cities is a major intellectual exercise.

Among many other things, Americans are blessed by the almost crazily diverse geography of their federal system (the legendary North and South Dakota, eg, or North and South Carolina, or Virginia and West Virginia, etc) In my advancing age (and with cumulating visits among friends, neighbours, and relatives next door) I have come to understand that the answer to how Americans manage to remember all this is that they don’t.

“Final NPR Electoral Map: Biden Has The Edge, But Trump Retains Narrow Path” — Biden = blue & light blue ; Trump = red & pink ; Toss-up = yellow.

And that it seems to me, as I look at the leaves outside my office window, in between staring at “2020 Electoral Map Based on Polls” on my PC screen, is what makes this November 3, 2020 election still so moody and uncertain.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE BLUES : For better or (most likely) worse, it’s not the nation-wide popular vote that counts. It’s results in an Electoral College where each state gets the number of seats it has in the House of Representatives and the Senate combined.

The Senate-related votes tilt the College somewhat in favour of states with fewer people (but equal Senate representation to the likes of California, home to more people than all of Canada!).

President Obama’s communications staff in the Oval Office, Washington, DC, November 9, 2016, not long after the 2016 victory of Donald Trump. (Photo by Pete Souza).

The regular update of the “2020 Electoral Map Based on Polls” I’m looking at right now shows that if you put together all the states which are safe or likely for or leaning towards Joe Biden, he already has 279 electoral votes, where it takes only 270 to win.

At the same time, see, eg : “Understanding the polls: Why a popular vote lead for Biden isn’t a guaranteed win” ; and “Final NPR Electoral Map: Biden Has The Edge, But Trump Retains Narrow Path.” (And there is one version of this map in which Biden already has 279 electoral votes as well, and another in which each side has 259 votes and Pennsylvania remains a toss-up!)

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA 2020 : The modern United States (what the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville christened “Democracy in America”in the first half of the 19th century) has had a sordid and twisted past — like many other ambitious political and economic projects in human history.

The great redemptive quality of Democracy in America has also been that it at least began with great universal ideals. And, whatever else, it has made intermittent great efforts to live up to these ideals. (As in the Civil War, the Progressive Movement, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, etc, etc — and as Joe Biden has been proclaiming at his closing 2020 car rallies : “Wall Street didn’t make the American economy ; You did!”)

The greatest effort of this sort in my own lifetime of observation from just 42 miles across the lake has been the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2008 and 2012. And that of course means that I fervently hope Biden-Harris wins (and the Democrats take the Senate as well as the House) in 2020.

Whether quite this kind of seminal grand victory for American democracy and American progress is in the cards of who knows just what lies ahead — with all the added fresh complexities of election day on and after November 3 — is the great remaining mystery.

FATE OF THE MAN FROM MAR-A-LAGO : The utter craziness of a not-impossible second term for the Man from Mar-a-Lago just adds to the general sense of American democratic unease that we can also feel in Canada (in my own case almost as if it is being carried on a breeze from Youngstown, NY, blowing gently across the lake).

COVID-19 in the USA, late October 2020.

At least as we approach the end of the long period from just before the 2016 US election to just before the 2020 election, I remain more impressed than I used to be by the passion and resilience of the 40% or so of American federalism that still adamantly rejects the new more diverse, egalitarian, forward-looking, and globally connected USA of the Obama-Biden/Biden-Harris new directions that makes the most sense to me.

But it’s clearer to me now as well that Barack Obama was an essentially moderate and compromising democratic politician — as his moderate Obamacare health care reform underlined. Whatever else, Biden-Harris would be the same. And, again, like many others in many places, I certainly believe myself that is what America needs right now, almost desperately.

CANADA’S MINISTER OF FINANCE ON THE ROAD AHEAD : Meanwhile, there are those who would argue that we’re in our own crazy coronavirus phase in Canada right now as well.

We have already spent more per capita on fighting this strange and altogether unusual global pandemic than any other G20 country. And an October 28 virtual address to the Toronto Global Forum from Canadian finance minister Chrystia Freeland makes clear that this won’t be ending any time soon.

Here is a quick summary of what Ms Freeland said :

  • “You already know what our essential policy is. It is to do whatever it takes to protect Canadians’ health, jobs and living standards; to put COVID-19 behind us as quickly as we can; and then to foster the strongest, most resilient, most innovative, most globally competitive and most inclusive economy possible …
  • “Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, it seems there are few disciples of Ayn Rand in a pandemic. We’re all in this together …
  • “let me offer this important caveat. While advocating expansive fiscal policy to battle COVID-19 – and to grow our way out of the coronavirus recession – I am not among those who think Canada should have a fling with Modern Monetary Theory, which holds that deficits don’t matter for a government that issues debt in its own currency … Whether on Bay Street or Main Street, there are no blank cheques, and there are no free lunches … Our fiscally expansive approach to fighting the coronavirus cannot and will not be infinite. It is limited and temporary.
  • “A smart and careful government — and those are two adjectives I would use to characterize our policy — will impose those limits upon itself, rather than waiting for the more brutal external restraints of international capital markets … I will have further thoughts to share soon about the fiscal rules and limits by which we will govern ourselves …
  • “As we beat down this virus, we will need to provide meaningful investment to build our way out of the coronavirus recession, and to ensure our economy comes roaring back, stronger than before … That means laying a foundation for a green economy, an innovation economy and a fair economy that supports good jobs for all Canadians …
  • “As that occurs, we will resume the long-standing, time-tested Canadian approach, with fiscal guardrails and fiscal anchors, that preceded this pandemic. For these are the very policies that left us so well positioned to meet this generational challenge.”

Happy Belated Halloween 2020 …

If BC NDP can win a stable majority government to manage COVID-19,what about the Liberals in Ottawa?

Posted: October 25th, 2020 | No Comments »
At 9:12 PM PT Steve Faguy at the Montreal Gazette tweeted “That was quick.” By 10:10 PM PT the NDP was up to 54 seats. A bare majority in the Legislative Assembly is 44!

UPDATED OCT 26. FROM THE COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS. TORONTO, OCT 25, 12:15 AM ET ; OCT 24, 9:15 PM PT : Surprise, surprise (not, of course). Despite the large volume of mail-in votes that will only be counted “a couple of weeks later,” both CBC and CTV have now projected an NDP majority government in today’s very interesting snap provincial election on Canada’s Pacific Coast.

FURTHER NOTES FROM THE BOARDROOM, OCT 25, 2:00 AM ET : Both CBC and CTV have been assigning Premier Horgan’s NDP 55 seats. (With, on the CBC numbers eg, just under 45% of the popular vote. The Liberals have 29 seats with just under 36% of the vote, and the Greens only 3 seats with 15%.)

“Night Vision” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, October 2020.

The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia has 87 seats, making 44 a bare majority. (So at as many as 55 or even somewhat fewer seats, the NDP … etc.)

As one sign of why both TV networks seem confident about the NDP majority, P.J. Fournier of 338Canada (and often enough in Maclean’s magazine) has tweeted about a recent Mainstreet Research poll. It shows voters who mailed in their votes as considerably more likely to vote NDP than those who did not. As M. Fournier says : “When the votes by mail get counted in two weeks, the NDP could run up the score.”

WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT BC? (In the eyes of ill-informed but nonetheless interested observers on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario) : Whatever else, this is a big win for Premier John Horgan — the “only consecutive two-term premier in his party’s history.” It’s a big win for Premier Horgan’s BC New Democrats as well. (Even if their most aggressively progressive factions, some TV commentators suggested, are doomed to disappointment.)

Two other quick thoughts strike us. First, with this genuinely impressive big victory BC and its provincial New Democratic Party has altogether superseded Saskatchewan as the western heartland of the most left-wing brand of left-wing politics in Canada — founded, as it were, by the legendary Regina Manifesto of 1933. More practically, John Horgan seems to have found an NDP governing strategy that’s working, and probably deserves still further study elsewhere. (Especially if he can keep his act up in BC.)

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We’re having pandemic elections in New Brunswick, BC, and Saskatchewan. Why not in Canada too?

Posted: October 21st, 2020 | No Comments »
“After the Rain” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, October 2020.

UPDATED 4 PM ET, OCT 21 ; 2, 9 PM ET, OCT 22 ; 11 PM ET, OCT 23 ; 12 NOON PT, OCT 24. RANDALL WHITE, TORONTO. TOO EARLY IN THE MORNING, OCTOBER 21, 2020 : This Wednesday, October 21, 2020 marks the one-year anniversary of the October 21, 2019 Canadian federal election that gave us the perhaps not-stable-enough configuration of political forces that prevails in Ottawa today, in the time of the coronavirus.

Already, according to calculations advanced in the Wikipedia article on “Federal minority governments in Canada,” the Justin Trudeau Liberal minority government bequeathed by the 2019 election has lasted longer than six of the 14 minority governments that have so far marked the now long-enough history of the Canadian confederation of 1867.

When Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats finally backed the September 23, 2020 Liberal Throne Speech, while the other opposition parties turned thumbs down, it did seem that Justin Trudeau’s 2019 minority government might conceivably last as long as his father’s 1972 variation on the theme — kept in office until 1974 by David Lewis’s New Democrats.

As matters stand right now, however, the Conservatives seem determined to scandal-monger over the WE charity controversy that almost certainly cost Liberal seats in the October 21, 2019 election. Both the Bloc Québécois and possibly enough even the New Democrats seem unwilling to confront the Conservatives rather than the Liberals once this issue becomes the focus of debate. And all this has raised the prospect that another federal election not much more than a year after the last one might finally be the most sensible way of dealing effectively with the worsening pandemic across Canada.

From Michael Seward’s Toronto street scene photos, October 2020.

As the Legislative Assembly of Ontario showed recently, when it unanimously supported a motion from Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter to not hold any snap election in Ontario before the June 2, 2022 fixed date, the prospect of any major democratic vote in the midst of the current COVID-19 does strike many as weird, considered in the abstract.

Similarly, “NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus” recently urged that treating opposition demands for a parliamentary committee on the WE controversy as a confidence motion that could lead to a fresh election would be “one of the most irresponsible things anybody’s ever done in the history of Canada.” (And “Conservative Leader @erinotoole says he does not have confidence in the Liberal government, but he does not want an election.” Mmmmm … how does parliamentary democracy work again?)

Yet what all arguments against a Canadian federal election in the time of the coronavirus must seriously come up against is the recent provincial snap election in New Brunswick, that allowed a Conservative minority government to win a more stable majority — and the BC provincial election this coming Saturday, October 24, in which a NDP minority government will be reaching for the same objective.

(There is also a Saskatchewan provincial contest on Monday, October 26, but it is at least a fixed date rather than a snap election. The Saskatchewan Party has had a majority government for the past four years, and it will almost certainly win another this coming Monday. The prospect of a snap election soon in Ontario also seems especially weird, since the present Ford government has a stable legislative majority that can at least in principle manage the pandemic until the next June 2022 fixed date.)

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How hard would it be for Canada to follow Barbados and become yet another Commonwealth republic?

Posted: October 18th, 2020 | No Comments »
Dame Sandra Mason at her swearing-in as Governor General of Barbados in January 2018. (PHOTO Richard Grimes).

SPECIAL FROM ASHOK CHARLES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, REPUBLIC NOW/RÉPUBLIQUE DU CANADA, TORONTO/THUNDER BAY. OCTOBER 18, 2020 : That Barbados has resolved to transition from constitutional monarchy to constitutional democracy (see “Barbados To Become A Republic by 2021”) also has relevance for Canada.

Explaining the coming changeover, Barbados’ Governor General, Sandra Mason, said : “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state. This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic by the time we celebrate our 55th anniversary of independence.”

It is noteworthy that this statement was delivered by Barbados’ Governor General, who is, officially, the Queen’s representative. In supporting the transition from a foreign, monarchical office of head of state to one that is national and democratic, Ms. Mason has affirmed that her job is to serve the interests of the citizens of Barbados above all other considerations.

Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley and Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau at bilateral meeting on sidelines of UN General Assembly, September 2018. (GP).

When we replace Barbados and Barbadian in Ms. Mason’s statement with Canada and Canadian, and 55th year with 153rd year, the message is just as valid.

The awareness that Canada will benefit by democratically selecting its own head of state is not new.

In 1978 The Canadian Bar Association’s Committee on the Constitution issued a report entitled “Towards a new Canada”, which stated : “In our view, it is necessary if we are to succeed in promoting throughout this country confidence, pride and a strong sense of Canadian identity that the Head of State be a Canadian. This office is by definition a major symbol of national identity. Its Canadian character must, we think, be undiluted and perceived by all to be an important Canadian symbol.”

On Canada Day in 2014 The Globe and Mail in Toronto ran an article by career diplomat, Paul Heinbecker, which argued that “Fealty to the British monarchy is an anachronism and a drag on Canadian foreign policy that confuses many and delivers little. Its time to turn the page on Buckingham Palace.”

“Once a British colony, vestiges of Barbados’ plantation days remain, along with a lush, green landscape and rituals of afternoon tea.” Photograph by Andrew.

James Cox, former Canadian Brigadier-General with a PhD in War Studies, recommended: “Queen Elizabeth II should be the last Queen of Canada. Canadians cannot avoid discussion about what comes next. The idea that another member of the British royal family should become the Canadian head of state is preposterous, offends our dignity and denies diversity. Canada should abolish the monarchy and become a parliamentary republic.”

Canada is the only member of the G7 which doesn’t have the assurance to administer its own office of head of state. In the G20, only Canada and Australia have this ignoble distinction.

But emphasizing our independence and expressing confidence are not the only reasons for Canada to sever its constitutional link to British royalty. There is also the matter of our values.

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Is it really true that, whatever else, Donald Trump “isn’t as bad as Warren Harding”??

Posted: October 7th, 2020 | No Comments »
“President Donald Trump salutes from the Truman Balcony upon his return to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center on October 5, 2020. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images).”

SPECIAL FROM L. FRANK BUNTING, PANCAKE BAY, ON. OCTOBER 7, 2020 : On a trip last year I bumped into a gentleman from the white suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia who claimed that, whatever else, Donald Trump “isn’t as bad as Warren Harding.”

For those of us who know next to nothing about Warren Gamaliel Harding, 29th president of the United States (March 4, 1921–August 2, 1923), this can be a puzzling argument.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across further information at last. While paging through old magazines as a COVID-19 diversion, I found a 2004 review of John Dean’s short study Warren G. Harding, in Arthur Schlesinger’s American Presidents Series for Times Books.

The review was eloquently written by the late Russell Baker (1925–2019) — an American journalist the likes of whom now seem to have largely vanished from the real world that has finally brought us President Donald Trump.

The John Dean who was a key Watergate witness — and whose compelling book Blind Ambition still has a known place in my library — makes a provocative author of a short Warren Harding biography as well. He may be especially intriguing 16 years after the 2004 Baker review, when Mr. Dean has also become a frequent critic of President Trump on CNN and MSNBC.

President Warren G. Harding at work.

Russell Baker does explain that : “For twenty or thirty years after his death Harding was notorious even among schoolchildren as our most scandalous president.” And while the scandals (“Teapot Dome” etc) may seem “unexciting” by today’s standards, they “blackened Harding’s reputation so thoroughly that many historians still rank him as America’s worst president.”

This at least starts to sound like the historical figure invoked by my 2019 travel acquaintance from Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Baker, however, also reports that Dean’s 202-page Harding biography is “a careful lawyer’s defense of a client he believes has been unjustly and cruelly abused by history.”

There are ways in which Donald Trump in 2020 does have things in common with Warren Harding in 1920. They seem, eg, to share something of the same political base — white, male, rural and small-town America, away from the big cities.

“Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Russell Baker … at his home in Leesburg, Va., in 2012. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun).”

Yet unlike Trump Harding actually came from the same American social strata as his political base. He began as a small-town newspaper editor in Marion, Ohio (“population 4,000”), who quickly developed a consuming interest in Republican politics.

Harding is said to have run his 1920 presidential campaign from his “Front Porch” in Marion — in a style also associated with “James A. Garfield in 1880, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and William McKinley in 1896” (and most recently “Joe Biden’s presidential campaign” in 2020).

Mainstream American political journalism today has taken some notice of intriguing similarities between the US presidential elections of 1920 and 2020.

See Thomas Mallon’s “How the Promise of Normalcy Won the 1920 Election … A hundred years ago, the US was riven by disease, inflamed with racial violence, and torn between isolation and globalism. Sound familiar?” — in the September 14, 2020 issue of the New Yorker.

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So … no snap federal election in Canada this fall (Trudeau & Singh 2020–?? like Trudeau & Lewis, 1972–74??)

Posted: September 26th, 2020 | No Comments »
“Morning Light; Fading Summer” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, September 2020.

FROM THE DESKTOPS OF THE COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS. GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2020, 4:00 PM ET : We have to confess that some of us actually fell vaguely asleep trying to watch the much-anticipated Trudeau Liberal throne speech, on TV this past Wednesday afternoon.

The close-to-an-hour presentation by Governor General Julie Payette in alternating French and English wasn’t the kind of political oratory that grabs your attention. It was easy enough to see why PM Justin Trudeau wanted to present his own 15-minute TV summary at 6:30 PM ET Wednesday evening.

Still later again on Wednesday evening some of us did connect with the 34-page text of the Governor General’s September 23, 2020 speech, entitled A Stronger and More Resilient Canada. (And complete with a cover photo of a young girl watching the sun rise over some northern lake.)

Even in just one official language this long document itself is quite dense, though still at the general level characteristic of throne speeches in the “Westminster” tradition. The details began to appear Thursday morning with the introduction of initial implementing legislation in the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa (COVID-19 pandemic edition).

Governor General Payette reads Speech from the Throne, September 23, 2020.

It does nonetheless seem possible to sketch the main thrust of the Governor General’s remarks quickly, and then briefly summarize just where the political reception to what it proposes stands.

(Or, more exactly, after the election last fall the Trudeau Liberals command the plurality but not a working majority of seats in the House. If at least one of the three major opposition parties supports the broad policy vision sketched in their throne speech, the Liberal minority government will have a majority and can carry on. If not, the government will soon be defeated in the House on a matter of confidence. Then the Governor General will ask the people to choose another government in a fresh election. This is our version of democracy at work. And the ultimate question is : Will we be having a fall pandemic election in Canada, along with everything else?)

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RIP John Turner, Canadian democratic politician of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s

Posted: September 20th, 2020 | No Comments »
John Turner as collegiate track star at the University of British Columbia in the late 1940s. PHOTO BY POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES.

RANDALL WHITE, TORONTO, SEPTEMBER 20, 2020 : John Napier Turner (June 7, 1929 – September 18, 2020) sat in the Canadian House of Commons for the Montreal electoral district of St. Lawrence-St.George, 1962–1968, for Ottawa-Carleton, 1968–1976, and finally for Vancouver-Quadra, 1984–1993.

He served as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs in Lester Pearson’s Liberal cabinet, 1967–1968, and then as Solicitor General, 1968, Minister of Justice, 1968–1972, and Minister of Finance, 1972–1975 in Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet.

John Turner was subsequently leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, 1984–1990, and during this period served briefly as the 17th Prime Minister of Canada, June 30, 1984 – September 17, 1984.

The CBC News site piece on his death in Toronto two days ago is headlined “John Turner, PM and Liberal leader who battled free trade with US, dead at 91.”

This strikes me as somewhat misleading. I did the media rounds promoting a free trade history book in the late 1980s, and I recall several interviewers’ noting privately that “everyone knew” the Bay Street business lawyer John Turner was not altogether serious in his opposition to Canada-US free trade.

L to r : Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, PM Lester Pearson, Jean Chrétien, 1967. Calgary Herald.

What someone on TV yesterday (Robert Bothwell perhaps?) did more aptly stress, I think, was Turner’s concern for Canadian political sovereignty in any Canada-US trade deal. (A problem at least significantly mitigated, it could be argued, with the North American Free Trade agreement, which included Mexico.)

I was most struck, however, by some TV punditry yesterday from the NDP commentator Tom Parkin. He recalled seeing John Turner on the Toronto subway. Parkin was with one of his children at the time. He pointed out that in our Canadian democracy the former prime minister was riding the subway just like everyone else!

This reminded me that I know others with stories about chance encounters with John Turner of this sort. One friend remembers seeing him in Yellowknife in the early 1960s. My wife saw him at Lake Louise around the same time.

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