Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Assaults in Cologne: A Progressive Highwire Act

When mass migration hit new highs last year and Germany opened its boarders to refugees from Syria and elsewhere, there were many voices from the right predicting that an increase in sexual assaults and crime would result. On New Years Eve, an attack too place against women during celebrations by a mass of men, a number of whom have been identified as asylum seekers. It also appears that these attacks may be connected to a larger criminal organization. Over 100 women have reported assault and there have been some reports of rape.

There has been strong reaction to this horrible crime, as there should be. I myself struggled to believe that something like this could actually happen, and that sickening feeling all to familiar to women when they imagine large groups of men coming toward them with malicious intent swept over me. I was shocked and angry thinking about it, and frustrated that the police were not able to help these women, who were assaulted for simply being outside enjoying New Year's celebrations.

My other reaction was some curiosity about the media coverage of this event. The police have been very slow to report, and with good reason. For one, people are too quick to jump to conclusions and the resulting blacklash against the migrant community would be severe and could cause panic. Yet there seemed to be very little attention paid at all. It took days before major networks picked up that this event had even happened. But this is a story that needs to covered, and covered accurately. If there were migrants involved the public has the right to know.

I also sense that there has been a real struggle among the more progressive elements of the political landscape to both juggle their pro-immigration stance with their feminism. The truth is that these migrants come from countries where women are not treated as equals, are often abused in public for being "immodest", and are expected not to leave the house without a male present. This will inevitably cause conflict and difficulties in adjusting to the society to which they have arrived.

With groups this big there will always be criminal elements hidden among the masses, and it will at times like these make it difficult to defend taking in more refugees from these places. I do not defend these men, but we cannot deny the societies from which they come. Nor can we simply ignore crimes against women because we do not want to talk about the difficulties that come with bringing in people with very different social and cultural ideals. What we need to do is face these challenges, and deal with the criminals. And the first step is to recognize that this is not a migrant problem, but  a criminality problem.

If the men involved in these crimes are asylum seekers, they should have their status revoked and be sent back to their country of origin. Germany needs impose German values and German laws. If these criminals do not wish to abide by the law they should be sent back from where they came or put in jail. There are plenty of hard working, law abiding refugees fleeing war who want to get into Germany. But the important thing is that we separate the discussion of the criminals from the refugees in general. This is the biggest problem we have seen in recent years. A difficulty in treating crime by Muslims as crime, rather than terrorism, and a general conflation of terrorism and criminality.

Most of these refugees just want to get on with living their lives and get to work in their new home. Refugee or Migrant criminals are no different than other criminals. They are not reflective of the whole, and need to be treated as criminals first, rather than "Muslim criminals". Allowing the public to conflate these two things by refusing to face criminal acts like this one frankly and openly will only cause more strife.

The police and government need to come out clearly against these men, and remind the public that these are criminals who are possibly connected to a larger criminal network, and are not like the vast majority of asylum seekers, who are simply going about their business like everyone else. Criminals are criminals, regardless of their background. Their being migrants does not make them criminals. Their committing crimes makes them criminals. We'd be best not to confuse these things.

Friday, October 30, 2015

#ILoveMenButHatePatriarchy Is Counterproductive, And Here's Why

Actors Emma Watson and Laverne Cox came up with a new hashtag to try and spread awareness about feminism among the twitter community. Although the idea of #ILoveMenButHate Patriarchy appears to be an attempt to counter the idea that feminists hate men, it takes the same approach as Watson's other forays into feminist discourse in that it continues to buy in to the rhetoric that feminists need to convince men that we don't hate them in order to be relevant  or accepted as a movement. This is simply the wrong approach and there needs to be a shift in attitudes towards one that prioritizes the needs of women, rather than being afraid to tell the truth for fear of male backlash or being seen as a "bitch".

This new kind of feminism has been shaped by decades of the movement being undermined and attacked on all sides in the media and elsewhere. Suddenly it has become taboo to be up front and say "I stand up for women" without having to cushion it somehow in order to protect the feelings of men. Not unlike how women are constantly having to watch what they say in the workplace or daily life so as not to be labelled "bitchy" or "uncooperative" or "hysterical". It's the same mindset that tells girls that they have to think about boys first, and themselves second. It's been going on forever, and it needs to stop.

The reality is that we shouldn't have to cater our message to men in order to be taken seriously. We shouldn't have to make appeals like "What if this was your daughter" to get men listening. Men should just be listening. If they want in, they should buy into the movement as it is, instead of expecting us to cater to their needs, like women are always expected to do.

The critical reason that we cannot give into this mindset is that men get away with saying and doing absolutely heinous things to women and never face pressure to explain why they do not, in fact, hate women. I should not have to coddle a man by reassuring him that I do not hate him  just because I believe that women should be equal, and should not have to put up with all of the pervasive violence and brick walls of oppression that keep women from having safe, happy, and fulfilled lives.

Women should not have to alter the truth of their lives and experiences in order for men to feel better about themselves. When we talk about violence and harassment and racism, we should not have to perform back flips so as to make sure that some guy isn't going to be threatened by what we say and send us death threats and rape threats over the internet. Male anger and male violence should not be what decides if our voices are heard or not.

If men can only handle feminist ideas if they are watered down and served in a golden chalice to them, then we don't want these men in the movement. We don't need them. If they cannot understand or appreciate what we have to say unfiltered and not catered to them, then no matter what is done they will never understand. Why should we be wasting our energy and resources trying to get people like this on board instead of trying to tell the real stories of women everywhere, and being unapologetic about it?

Men are not my concern as a feminist. Men should enter feminist spaces if they are willing to listen and willing to do something tangible to help women, like backing up their female coworkers who are fighting to get paid fairly or claim maternity benefits, or telling off their friends who are harassing women in public. They should come to the fold if they actually are interested in our ideas and our experiences. Otherwise, I do not see a need to silence myself as a shield against violence and threats.

#ILoveMenButHatePatriarchy is not part of my vocabulary.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Election 2015: Post Mortem

The election of 2015 taught us many things. The Liberal victory was an overwhelming rejection of Stephen Harper's negative politics, and the way in which the country has been run for the past 4 years. Justin Trudeau as Canada's new Prime Minister is certainly a change from Mr. Harper. It seems that he is already starting to work on some of his commitments, such as consulting with the premiers and taking them with him to the climate summit next month. As Trudeau said, Canada is back.

The election result was not surprising. The Conservative base stayed steady at 30%, and the NDP vote collapsed under the weight of those who saw the Liberals as having the best chance to get rid of Harper. What I found disheartening was the loss of many excellent NDP MPs, and I certainly hope that we will see more of them in the future in other roles. I was also disheartened that the Conservative base never faltered even slightly from the beginning of the campaign, and because of that the only way to ensure a Harper defeat was the decimate one of the progressive parties.

Trudeau ran the strongest campaign. He ran to the left, promised accountability and honesty, and he won. The NDPs trek to the middle resulted in a UK Labour like defeat. This should be a strong message to all progressive parties. Progressives want to vote for progressive values and policies. The NDP made a strategic mistake by having Mulcair agree with Harper more often than not, and attacking Trudeau even when their platforms were essentially quite similar. The NDP also failed the economic test with their costing document, which was simply not detailed enough. Should Mulcair stay on? I am not sure. I think the NDP would be served better by a leader who will not drag the party to the centre just to try and get elected. NDP voters want to vote for NDP policies, otherwise they will just vote Liberal instead, which they did en masse.

The biggest challenge for the Conservatives out of this election will be deciding which direction they want to take their party in, and I think that their decision on a new leader will be the biggest determinate of that. Judging from some post-election interviews, it seems that the Conservatives do not believe that their policies were the problem, and blamed government fatigue and the desire for change. What they need to do is really look at the culture of the party and choose a leader who is capable of keeping the fringe right at bay. If they cannot do that, they will end up shut out of the big chair like the Republicans have been in the US for the indefinite future. The Conservatives if they want to get elected again any time soon, are going to have to stop marketing only to their base. I am not sure that their defeat was big enough to actually get them to change strategies though.

The new Prime Minister is going to have a massive job on his hand in the next 4 years, but it appears that he is up to the task, and is doing what Canadians wanted him to do when they elected him; be open and collaborative. What remains to be seen is if Trudeau will be a classic Liberal who will run to the left and govern to the right, or if he will actually keep all of the more progressive promises he made. The first big task is making a good cabinet filled with strong and capable people. Unlike the past 10 years, we finally have some very impressive and properly qualified people in our government who will make great cabinet ministers. I look forward to seeing who is chosen.

Finally, after such a long and at times very disappointing campaign, it is great to see such a positive outcome. Canadians are feeling optimistic again. I sincerely hope that this attitude will remain for some time. I also hope that our new Prime Minister will be as ambitious as he claimed he wants to be.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Election 2015: The Final Days

Well it has been a very interesting campaign. This being the longest Canadian campaign in living memory, we have naturally seen many twists and turns. We have seen some of the very worst and lowest political discourse, but also some very compelling and good discussions like the Munk Debate. Overall the length of this campaign I think has been a benefit to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals and a real disadvantage to the Conservatives and the NDP who came into the race expecting Trudeau to flop. Trudeau had time to grow, and the others had time to fall.

This campaign for the Conservatives has been a total disaster from start to finish, and it frankly shocks me that with such a poorly constructed and delivered campaign that they are still enjoying the support of 30% of the electorate, which has been basically unchanged from the start. It seems that there are people who will vote for Harper no matter what, and this baked in 30% will remain with the Conservatives into the future, and because of this the choice for the next Conservative leader will be an interesting race. Harper managed to keep the fringe right mostly at bay, but the next leader could decide to go the Republican route and focus their policies entirely on the base, which will essentially make them undetectable in a general election, just like the Republicans.

Now looking back on the campaign, it started out quite well for the NDP, but what probably caused them the greatest damage was not proposing a platform that would appeal to Quebecers. I am not sure the niqab was the only issue that hurt the NDPs chances. The main problem was that the NDP platform was making many promises, while at the same not admitting that they would have to go into deficit to fund them. They also made the critical mistake of backing away from their progressive roots and moving too far to the centre. Progressive parties have to learn that voters who vote progressive actually want progressive policies, not Conservative light, or Liberal policies. Toward the end of the Campaign Mulcair started to hammer away at the issues that progressive care about more (like C51 and TPP), but it was a bit too late. He tried to go for the middle, and ended up being smacked down by disappointed progressives, and was unable to convince the "anyone but Harper" crowd that he could form government, so they headed over to the Trudeau camp, and are poised to put him into office on Monday.

The Liberals have run a very impressive and disciplined campaign. Trudeau performed well at the debates, and was able to capitalize on Mulcair's mistake and position himself as the agent of progressive change. Whether he will actually govern progressively is another matter, but his tactic of out left-ing the NDP worked. The dark spot was the corruption allegations that came out in the last week of the campaign, that had they had time to percolate could likely have cost the Liberals more than they are probably going to lose because of it. The old Liberal party is still there, and that was a very unfortunate blot on an otherwise very well run campaign. I suspect that people who are worried about Liberal corruption will probably weigh that with the fact that the Liberals look to be the best choice to replace Harper and will overlook it.

Now as for predictions of the outcome it is hard to say. I suspect that by the time Ontario votes are mostly in we will have  Liberal minority, and I think a strong one. I think there is a possibility of a majority as the Liberals have been polling at 38% in some polls, but that support is mostly concentrated in Ontario, and unless Quebec goes red in a bigger way than the polls are currently showing it will not be a majority. the Conservatives will hold on to the rural and western base but they will get around 28 to 30%. The NDP will probably fall to around 23-25%, and will lose a good chunk of Quebec seats to the Bloc and Liberals. Harper will step down, and if the NDP does much worse than 25% Mulcair will too. If there is a closer minority then Mulcair will likely stay on.

This campaign has been a real test for Canadians, and the main question has been not so much about Harper, but about how Canadians see themselves, what role they want Canada to play on the world stage, and the direction they want to see their country go in. I am hopeful that the negative rhetoric and Islamophobia that was being propagated by both the CPC and the Bloc during this campaign will not sway voters toward them. I am hopeful that Canadians will see that for what it is and vote against it. I am hopeful for Canada for the first time in a long time. Canadians have a real choice on Monday. I hope everyone who can vote, does vote.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Election 2015: Debate #2

The second debate of the 2015 election was about the economy, and each of the leaders had their own challenges coming  into it. Stephen Harper came into the debate with some good news behind him. There was a small surplus last year, and Harper is hoping to leverage that news as he attacks the others on their plans. But he is weak on the economy on a number of fronts, so it was interesting to see how he defended his record of low growth and deficits while attacking the others. Mulcair has put himself into a difficult spot by promising to balance the budget even when the economy looks to be headed to a rough patch. He had to convince Canadians that he could actually deliver all he is promising without cutting significantly or keeping Harper's cuts in place. Trudeau had the easier job in this debate compared to Mulcair as he would be able to clearly place himself in opposition to the plans of the other two. His plan is also much more tangible and realistic, and he would come out on top if he could convince Canadians of that.

My first impression was that the debate lacked some clarity and at times the moderator really needed to step in to reign them in and there were several exchanges to devolve into shouting matches. That being said, I think all the leaders came out unscathed. Harper held his own with his base, and kept up his usual talking points that will please the people who were planning to vote for him anyway. He has not won any new voters over.

Tom Mulcair was the weakest of the three in this debate. Because of the way he has positioned himself as in the middle of the road, it was difficult for him to carve out a space for himself. Mulcair is going to have a hard time convincing Canadians that he is going to be different than Harper on the economy, because he seems to be using Harper's numbers and is committed to a surplus even if he has to keep Harper cuts to get there. He was also weak on explaining where he is going to get the money for his promises. I think he was very calm and definitely had a better performance than last time. He could well improve further in the rest of the debates. What he needs to work on connecting with Canadians, and really proposing a vision for the future. He appears to be struggling to push past the other leaders into the territory he needs to be in to win clearly. He really needed to show to progressives to move over to the NDP and he failed to do that. But he hasn't hurt himself with this debate.

Justin Trudeau was by far the most passionate, and more confident in his plan than Mulcair. Although he at times got a bit tongue tied, he was the most effective at differentiating himself from the other two, which was probably his main goal in this debate. I do think that at times he came off as if he is less comfortable with the facts, but I think the fact that he is proposing a very different vision is going to benefit him, and might well attract more voters. He was also trying to get the message across that he is telling Canadians the truth about the economy, and on that I think he might be successful. He didn't leave any good attack ad soundbites, but he still did not do enough to convince Canadians that he is competent enough to run the country. If Canadians vote Liberal it will be because of the plan, and more in spite of Justin Trudeau's personal competency.

All this debate has done is reiterated the fact that this is a three way race, and that benefits Stephen Harper. I think that this debate hurts both the NDP and the Liberals because neither of the leaders were able to make a break, and that will lead to the Conservatives winning yet again, and perhaps even a majority if the splits go in their favour. We still have lots of time left in this election, and if undecideds cannot decide between the progressive choices, things will play into Harper's hands.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Election 2015: The Interviews

Over the past three days there have been interviews with each of the main party leaders. I wanted to watch all three interviews before making an analysis so as to give a fair comparison. The first interview was with PM Harper, followed the next day with Justin Trudeau and finally Tom Mulcair. I think these were all very telling interviews and showed a lot of where the leaders are strong and where they are weak, and should give Canadians a good idea of the kind of people each of them are.

Harper's interview was very standoffish. He was quite defensive about his record, and when asked about what he would do on many issues, he seemed unwilling to admit any kind of failure or the need to do things differently. I think the part that will hurt him most was his answers to the questions about the Senate scandal and who he holds responsible. When asked about why more people involved haven't been fired, he was particularly belligerent in his answer to Mansbridge, bringing up disgraced CBC personalities as a comparison, which was just odd, and somewhat inappropriate. When listening to Harper, you can tell that he sees himself as a victim of some kind of smear campaign, and that everyone is against him. The truth is that he has never been particularly well liked by Canadians or even trusted, and this distrust between him and the Canadian people is what seems to drive most of his decisions.He thinks he has to keep his agenda from us, even on simple matters, because he fears backlash. What is clear to me after watching this interview is that this is a man who is finished. He had nothing new to offer to Canadians. Most of his answers were straight from his talking points that he has been saying since the campaign began, and he doesn't appear to believe that changing circumstances should have any impact on policy, particularly in terms of the immigrant crisis. Yet strangely, he seems more jovial and more scrappy than he did at the beginning of the campaign. Maybe knowing that he is likely to lose is firing him up somehow.

Justin Trudeau's interview was a mixed bag. At times he was quite strong, and answered the questions well, particularly on the issue of PMO power. Where he fumbled some was in discussing the refugee crisis, and what he wants to do right away when he comes to office. Trudeau is the kind of person who you can tell what he's getting at but sometimes he just fails to articulate what he wants to say in the best way. But from that you get the sense that he is genuine, and not so comfortable being tightly bound to a script, but the problem comes when he is off script and simply has no answer. I think his position on coalitions is understandable and he made it clear that he will be cooperative in an effort to be rid of Harper, although he left out the possibility of a formal coalition. His understanding of convention was there, although he flopped about a bit before getting there. I do think though that he got across his plan fairly well and came away relatively unscathed, and because he is probably the best campaigner on the hustings of the three leaders, the tiny lead we are seeing develop for his party could well grow. He has the most practical plan and Canadians see that when he talks about it. What is apparent from the interview though is that it is a good thing that Trudeau is a self-professed collaborative leader, because on his own he can come up a bit short.

Tom Mulcair's interview was the strongest. He was clear with his answers to every question, and even if you didn't like his answers, he had them. He is confident and is a very good at articulating his party's platform. Where I think people are going to think him strongest is in his own personal strength when compared to Trudeau. No doubt that Tom Mulcair would be a competent and capable Prime Minister. Where he lacks sometimes is in his policies. The Senate issue particularly will be his weakness. He basically admitted in the interview that if he takes office he will have to rely on the good will of the Senate to get bills passed, and that might worry some Canadians who are considering the NDP instead of the Liberals. I think this issue of the Senate, his position on the Clarity Act, as well as his position on deficits may hurt him. I am not sure Canadians are going to believe, no matter how strongly he says it, that the NDP are not going to run a deficit next year if they want to introduce many new programs. He needs to worry about looking like he is Santa Claus with gifts for all, because the public just won't believe that these things are all possible. He did come away the best of  the three leaders, and was the most comfortable talking about the issues. I would not be surprised if we see an uptick for the NDP after this interview.

Overall the interviews were very telling, and I think in many ways they have confirmed the things that are already known about each of the leaders. Harper is tired and his plan to keep doing the same things he's been doing for 10 years is not connecting and this interview won't change that. Trudeau is big on vision but weak on details, and needs to work in a team to reign his ideas in. Mulcair will probably not be able to shake the impression that he is offering more than he can deliver. Nobody crumbled, and at the end of the day these interviews probably won't have as much of an impact as the debate on the 17th. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Election 2015: Three Horse Race

The election has been a bumpy ride so far and we are still less than half way done. The polls have been quite volatile, but the two latest polls are suggesting the trend that I was expecting now that we are getting closer to the big day. Right now the Conservatives have dropped to third place, the Liberals are picking up some steam and the NDP are dragging. The reasons for this are varied but it most likely has to do with some genuinely terrible press for the Conservatives over the past few weeks, and the party policies being put under more scrutiny.

The Conservatives have been having a rather rough go at it so far this election. They are bleeding support even in some of their traditional strongholds, particularly in Alberta, and after the Duffy trial there has been bad economic news and an implosion of the refugee crisis in Europe, a file for which the Conservatives were seen as being insufficient actors. Now on the refugee file, the Conservatives are in a tough spot, because although 70% of Canadians want immediate action to bring in more Syrians, the 30% who don't are generally Conservatives, which is why the Conservatives haven't been bringing in many Syrians to begin with, and also why they have been cutting refugee healthcare and sending flyers around demonizing refugees as leaches on the system, even conflating refugees with terrorists. What the problem is though is that this position has reinforced the view many Canadians already have that this is a government that lacks compassion, and it is unclear if their stance to basically do nothing more for Syrians is going to get their base excited either.

Then there is the bad economic news, which the Conservatives are desperate to spin as good economic news. Canada is now in a recession, and although there was some very modest growth the past two months, the rest of the quarter could well turn out to be negative. The unemployment rate is up, and at the height of the construction seasons, Canada created only 12,000 jobs while the US economy is doing much better. This is more bad news for Harper, who was hoping to run his re-election campaign on a strong economy and a balanced budget, neither of which have materialized.  Things are not looking so great for their chances as 64% of Canadians want a different government.

On the other side, the NDP have been losing some ground recently. Outside of Quebec it has been a kind of roller coaster for the NDP, who have gone up and now are going down, as the Liberals start to extend a lead in Ontario, This comes down to the numbers. The NDP are making many spending promises while also saying they will balance the budget. Canadians do not appear to trust that this can be achieved, and are turning toward the Liberals as a result. The NDP cannot win government without more support in Ontario and BC, and in both provinces they have been faltering.

It's been good news for the Liberals in Ontario, where they appear to be making some considerable gains, likely because voters who have gone Liberal in the past but voted Conservative or stayed home last time are coming back to the fold, as well as some disaffected Conservatives who do not want to see an NDP government. The bad news is that although there have been come gains, it is only marginally helping them overall. But the trend is positive, and the Liberals will like their chances as they prepare to drop their platform. The Liberal road to victory lays in Ontario as it always has, and if they can pick up some seats in BC and Alberta they could sneak through the middle. It's far too early to count them out.

When the platforms are released next week we will get a better idea of how the plans are costed and what each party intends to cut to fund their promises. This is an economy election, so all three parties are going to have to demonstrate their willingness to put forward a vision, but also to show how they can achieve it. More debates are scheduled in the coming weeks as well. and as more Canadians start to tune in, these will have a greater impact. This campaign is far from over, and is going to be a close one.