Some Advice For Senator Ted Cruz

Yesterday I read a few news articles about Ted Cruz having hired a legal team to work on formally renouncing his Canadian citizenship. Yes, one of America’s most shameful caricature-like right-wing zealots has a dirty little secret; that deep down, at his core, he’s Canadian. (More can be read about Cruz’s efforts here)

Evidently, something about Mr. Cruz (possibly that he is not African-American) has kept the birther movement from coming out in full-force against the Calgary-born American Senator.

Regardless, Mr. Cruz must be worriedthat these people will come out of the woodwork if he ran for President, so he’s making absolutely sure that his citizenship of the Great White North is no more. No Beavertails for Mr. Cruz, eh!

All of this got me thinking; isn’t this all a little overblown? Surely, there are easier ways to proudly show off one’s unrepentant love for America, Apple Pie, Baseball, and all the other things that define the divine exceptionalism that is America.

If Ted Cruz wants to show his countrymen that he is really, truly American, he should adopt the persona of former WWE ‘Superstar’ Hulk Hogan

While Hogan is known for his huge muscles, shirt-ripping tendencies, and upon further research, apparently a sex tape, he is also memorable for his hyper-patriotic ring-entry music.

The song he used to walk out to is ‘I Am A Real American’. You can give it a listen below:

Nobody debates Hulk Hogan’s patriotism. Why? Well, there’s probably lots of reasons.

If Ted Cruz wants to put this citizenship issue to rest, he doesn’t have to renounce his Canadian citizenship; he needs to show up to all events and functions with this song playing in the background, and learn to speak like the Hulkster himself.

I’m sure there are plenty of Hulk Hogan WWE DVDs in the $5 dollar pile of Wal-Mart for Mr. Cruz to study from. Time to get to work, brother Cruz!

With the Liberal Party’s By-Election Success, Team Trudeau Prepares for the ‘Long Game’

Justin Trudeau holding a media scrum with newly elected MPs Emmanuel Dubourg (Bourassa) and Chrystia Freeland (Toronto Centre)

Nine days after the by-elections held in four ridings–two in Manitoba, one in Ontario, and one in Quebec, respectively, it is clear that the Liberal Party emerged the winner both on Election Day and into the foreseeable future.

The Conservative Party talking point machinery and sympathetic pundits have attempted to spin the by-elections as a victory, but their argument is flimsy at best. As National Post’s Andrew Coyne summarized, Conservative MPs like Mark Adler from York Centre “were obliged first to pretend that a Forum Research poll showing the Liberals ahead by 29 points the weekend before the election had some basis in reality, the better to conjure up a fantasy ‘comeback.’” In reality, the Conservatives won the perceived ‘safe’ Brandon-Souris riding by only 391 votes–a razor-thin margin by Canadian electoral standards. The Liberals’ Rolf Dinsdale, the son of the late George Dinsdale, Brandon’s one-time Mayor and longtime Progressive Conservative MLA, nearly beat Conservative candidate Larry Maguire after the Liberal Party finished fourth in the riding in 2011, with a measly 5.36% of the vote.

This dramatic shift in vote share did not take place merely because of Mr. Dinsdale’s last name. Something else is happening to make these voters shift to the Liberal Party.

Similarly, the Conservatives held onto their stronghold Provencher, the former riding of Vic Toews, by a healthy margin. But Liberal Terry Hayward increased his part of the vote-share from 6.71% to 30%–something that must be very disturbing to Conservative partisans. Across all four by-elections, the Conservatives lost 11 points of the vote share, from 39% to 28%, in a trend that must be disturbing to Conservative Members of Parliament. The NDP, the Official Opposition, similarly lost 5 percentage points of the vote-share, while the Liberal Party gained 18 points. In every riding, if the Liberals did not win, they blew by the NDP to take second place in the election results.

If the by-election results  reveal anything, they suggest that Canadians are growing weary of a near-decade of Conservative government, hindered recently by multiple ethical scandals, and are similarly disinterested by an extremely effective Question Period prosecutor in Tom Mulcair.  Meanwhile Justin Trudeau’s positive brand of politics is drawing Conservative and NDP voters alike into its winning coalition–one that has been bleeding support since well before Paul Martin became Prime Minister in 2004.

Which brings us to the media coverage and dissemination of the by-election results, and what they mean leading up to the 2015 election. Some have said that Trudeau is no longer just leader of the third party, but now ‘Prime Minister in waiting.’ On the first of December, Trudeau was asked on CTV’s Sunday show Question Period why he did not ca for Stephen Harper’s resignation in light of the Senate Expense scandal and the seeming cover-up perpetrated by his inner circle. Trudeau responded that he would prefer to see the Prime Minister clarify his account of what he knew about the Senate expenses scandal, and when, as opposed to calling for his resignation. But why? Why not go for the easy ‘political right hook?’

I think Mr. Trudeau is not anointing himself ‘PM in waiting’ or calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation because it is not in his or the Liberal Party’s interest to see either of these things come true before 2015, and I believe until after the 2015 election.

My money is on Trudeau and his team playing the strategic long-game in his ascension up the Canadian political ladder. It is in his interest to hone his abilities in Question Period, and promote the Liberal alternative to Stephen Harper frequently across the country. Most importantly, for Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party to be viewed by Canadians as a potential government in waiting, Mr. Trudeau needs to be surrounded by a team of strong potential Cabinet Ministers. That will require significant electoral gains for the Grits in the 2015 election–something that seems likely to happen given the improving Liberal fortunes since Trudeau became Liberal leader.

Leading up to 2015, Trudeau’s Liberals will be focused on capitalizing on the popularity of the leader’s approach to politics to dramatically increase the Liberal seat count in the House of Commons, but Trudeau’s goal is not to win government. I believe that Trudeau and his team are quietly hopeful that Stephen Harper will lead the Conservative Party to a minority government, further eroding his credibility as an effective Prime Minister and leader of a unified Conservative caucus.

If Prime Minister Harper steps down as PM or loses a snap election from a confidence vote shortly after the 2015 election, it plays right into the rejuvenated Liberal Party’s hands. Stocked with a strong shadow cabinet after 2015, and a confident and charismatic leader in Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party would be in a much stronger position to be presented as ‘government-in-waiting’.

In this scenario, the Conservative Party will face a leadership selection process laden with strong candidates, who vary from social conservatives to relative moderates. Which direction the base ultimately chooses to go from an ideological perspective would undoubtedly cause tension within the party, which has never experienced an existence without Stephen Harper as it’s leader.

The NDP will seek to do one of two things. Dippers will either attempt to continue the to frame their party as the NDP of the late Jack Layton, and if they do, they will lose. With the utmost respect to the memory of Mr. Layton (who stoked my interest in politics), Thomas Mulcair is not the same kind of leader as Layton, and no amount of rhetorical gymnastics will change that. Mulcair plays the role of intense, thoughtful prosecutor well, and the NDP will need to figure out how to capitalize on these traits, but a sunny individual Mr. Mulcair is not.

This prediction could end up terribly wrong, but given the effect Trudeau has had on the Canadian political scene since he became leader of the Liberal Party, and the ongoing scandals surrounding the Conservative government, the conditions are ripe for Mr. Trudeau and his Liberals to firmly establish a solid shadow cabinet before making a bid for the ‘top job.’

Feel free to cook me a crow to eat in 2015 if I’m wrong!

Concerning the Justin Trudeau Public Speaking ‘Scandal’, Why Not Take a Page From the CPC’s Playbook?

Justin Trudeau has had to go on the defensive concerning his engagements as a public speaker over the past week.

Justin Trudeau has had to go on the defensive concerning his engagements as a public speaker over the past week.

Read the news lately? Watched CBC in the past week? If so, then you have likely heard all about the so-called ‘scandal’ involving Justin Trudeau’s public speaking engagements.

We already knew that ‘Trudeau the Younger’ made money as a public speaker. He disclosed that in his leadership campaign; a commitment to transparency rarely demonstrated by our politicians.

He fulfilled his contract with Speakers Spotlight by speaking at the Grace Foundation’s engagement. It was not his responsibility to be selling event tickets, and the fact the event was poorly attended falls squarely on the shoulders of those who organized the event.

This news item was ‘leaked’ by the PMO, in my opinion, to further play to the narrative that Mr. Trudeau is “in over his head”.

In my mind, a classic strategy from the CPC playbook could be, and perhaps should be taken by Trudeau and his staff, because it has proven very effective in the past. I like to call it “Accept, Rectify, Show Humility & MOVE ON.

For example:

Justin Trudeau: “I have heard the concerns of Canadians surrounding my past speaking engagements, and I accept them. Canadians have clearly demonstrated their belief that elected officials should selflessly contribute to the public good, and I intend to uphold their values. From now on, as long as I am leader of this Party I will only participate in speaking engagements free of cost. In fairness to taxpayers, I will continue to accept travel arrangements & accommodation when offered, and I will continue to disclose all of the avenues that my income comes from. I am committed to setting the standard for ethics higher than it has ever been before, *segue to accountability & transparency in Parliament* “

Then MOVE ON. Smother the issue with silence, and get back to the important issues & work that MPs are supposed to be debating & accomplishing (but rarely ever do).

In terms of the specific situation that Mr. Trudeau is currently embroiled in with the Grace Foundation, something similar to the dialogue above would be my suggestion for how to address the issue. He fulfilled the requirements of his contract, and that’s that. Case closed.

Now, the more difficult issue is the moral one. Should Justin Trudeau be required to give money back to charities who signed contracts for him to speak at their events?

The short answer is ‘No’.

The long answer is ‘No, and all of the lawyers who are serving as MPs should know just how ridiculous and insane a suggestion that is.’

However, we do also know that Mr. Trudeau lives a comfortable life with the money that he already has. His grandfather, Charles, created a car service empire in Montreal, and the inheritance generated from that has been used prudently by both Pierre Trudeau himself and later by his son, Justin. I know this because he disclosed how much of that money he has when he disclosed his personal wealth during the Liberal leadership campaign.

We know that he has made some good money as an MP, and stands to make substantially more as the Leader of the Liberal Party. I do not begrudge him for any of this.

However, it does beg the question of whether Mr. Trudeau really needs the money that he makes from public speaking engagements.  The answer for that is a resounding ‘No’ as well.

With this revelation in mind, Justin Trudeau should probably stop taking money to do speaking engagements for charities. The optics were bound to be unfavourable, and my strategic suggestion would be to very publicly commit to a higher ethical standard.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative Party were just waiting for Mr. Trudeau to split hairs on this issue, because a muddled response would give them carte blanche to refer to Trudeau as ‘In over his head’, and that is exactly what is happening right now.
A concise, direct, and measured response, such as the example I provided above would have served the purpose of shutting down the silly legal/contractual controversy surrounding Trudeau’s speaking engagement with the Grace Foundation, while establishing a ‘moral high ground’ to use as a basis of conduct for all speaking engagements moving forward.

This response would make Trudeau appear calm, cool, collected, and above all, the master of his own fate. As opposed to what we’re witnessing playing out in the media now.

And that’s my free piece of advice, Liberal Party of Canada. Use it as you will, but don’t be shy to give credit where it’s due!

Gun control is not the problem; gun violence is

With regard to the recent debate our Party and our country has had over the fate of the long gun registry, I wish to add my two cents in a substantive manner. In 1993, the Liberal Party passed the Canadian Firearms Registry as a response to the 1989 mass shooting at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, where 14 women were killed, and 14 others injured in what is one of the most tragic instances of the use of violence in Canadian history.

The recent discourse the country has had over the long gun registry seems to demonstrate that the long gun registry was a divisive issue among Canadians because it created the unintended consequence of making it much more difficult for law abiding Canadian citizens to acquire and maintain long gun firearms for legal, practical purposes such as hunting and livestock protection—particularly in rural and First Nations communities throughout Canada where such practices are integral to daily life.

We as Liberals should not apologize for attempting to further the cause of “peace, order and good governance” in our country and above all the safety of our neighbours by attempting to pass legislation with the intention of reducing gun violence. We should, however, learn from the analysis of cost versus benefit to the Canadian people that the Canadian Firearm Registry legislation was flawed; it was an undue nuisance for Canadians who wished to use long-gun rifles for practical means, and it did not address the far more prevalent reality of handgun violence that affects our large cities in particular.

In short, the long gun registry was not a failure because of its principles; it was a failure because it failed to address what it was intended to address.

What our Party should be doing is working to prevent gun violence by seeking to address the societal challenges that are typically associated with gun violence; namely poverty (and in particular childhood poverty) and mental disability & awareness. It is the conditions of poverty that limit a child’s pathway to a healthy home, an education, success, and prosperity, and can lead to participation in organized violence and other criminal activity, and represents a tragic failure of Canadian society to provide for them the conditions for which they may attain the success in life that they desire.

Likewise, we need to do more to rise to the challenge of identifying, treating, and caring for those whose mental health may make them more susceptible to the mental imbalances that can lead one to commit acts of violence. Addressing the challenges of mental health in this society must be considered a primary goal in general, as Canada lags far behind its contemporaries in providing treatment and care for persons living with mental disabilities, but particular attention must be paid to mental health when considering senseless acts of gun violence. We can do a better job of preventing gun violence by treating and caring for those whose mental health may put them at greater risk of committing a horrible act of violence, and it is a challenge that we must be willing to meet.

We can do this by promoting greater awareness of mental health issues as a mainstream part of Canadian society, by providing improved and better funded mental health treatment programs, because in addition to treating and caring for those who require long-term care, mental health is something that at one point or another could affect the life of any Canadian.

Only when we address these issues will Canada truly be confronting the root causes of gun violence, and I hope that in the coming weeks and months, Canadians across the country will share their thoughts with myself and with our Party about where they feel our efforts on gun control should be focused.

If we want to get smart on cracking down on gun crime, we as a society need to do our best to ensure that we create the conditions where no Canadian is driven to a gun to inflict senseless and tragic harm on others. That means addressing the conditions of gun violence at their root causes, childhood and long-term poverty, a lack of opportunity, and a deficit in mental health awareness, screening, and treatment measures.

A brief thought on religious funding of schools in Ontario

I hope I’m not coming off as offensive when I write this, because it’s not my intention whatsoever, but Catholic schools in Ontario should NOT be funded! What it amounts to is discrimination of every other religion, in the sense that parents who want their children to learn other religious beliefs (Judaism, Islam, etc.) have to pay an insane amount of money to do so. Which is the way it should be.
Church and state are meant to be clearly separated from the political realm; why then, is the government subsidizing religion? We have many, many churches that young people can attend each Sunday (as well as the Sunday schools they provide) or even on many other days of the week. Parents can also play an important role in instilling within their children religious education or beliefs, and the state should have no role in subsidizing what parents and churches are perfectly able to do on their own.

I’m listening to Ottawa talk radio (580 CFRA) and many people, including Lowell Green, are essentially saying that religion = morality, and vice versa, as if those of us who aren’t religious are incapable of living morally or making moral decisions. As an atheist, that’s a whole other can of worms that I don’t want to open up, but suffice it to say I don’t have a problem with people having some sort of religious belief; I however, am a perfectly moral person, and absent of religious schooling. I became a moral person because of my excellent public school education.

The UN, among other groups, has condemned Ontario for continuing to fund Catholic schools, and I couldn’t agree with them more. What troubles me almost as much is that Conservative-minded people preach that there should be less government involvement in the everyday life of its citizens, and yet most of the arguments in favour of continuing funding of Catholic schools has come from religiously-inclined Conservative supporters. John Tory got destroyed in the previous provincial election for attempting to “level the playing field”, and require all religious schools to be privately funded; an inherently conservative idea!

Ideologically-speaking, this should be an issue that Liberals, Conservatives, and Dippers alike should find common ground on, and I hope that when this issue is discussed at Queen’s Park our politicians can reach some common ground.

On a slightly more controversial note, any school that discriminates upon students because of their sexual orientation (not that all–or even many–of the Catholic schools do) should not be funded by the state in any way, shape, or form. The Roman-Catholic church has persecuted people for two thousand years; while they have done a lot of good in the world as well, it is my belief that if parents want their children to attend a school with that as its historical background; all the more power to them; however they should be paying 13K a year like every other member of a religious denomination that wishes to do the same.

Questions? Comments?

If you have any comments, please be respectful of people’s opinions and religious beliefs. I may not agree with Government funding of religious schools, but I do respect the right of everyone to subscribe to religion if they so choose, so please keep that in mind.

A (Very) Brief thought on Bill C-30 (AKA the Online Surveillance Bill)

I would encourage anyone who cares about internet privacy to sign this petition. Do we really want a government that is not just allowed, but indeed readily able to track our personal information and browsing history over the internet?

Of course, we all believe that the authorities should have the capabilities to apprehend those that break the law by looking at deplorable images, or the like, but to frame that as the issue is to be disingenuous. This is first and foremost a public matter because the authorities would not require a warrant to keep tabs on whomever it is they may choose. This information could be requested by the government, and then kept indefinitely, essentially creating an online portfolio of an individual’s history over the internet.

Will the government use this power to muzzle individuals such as myself that oppose them? Highly doubtful; we do not live in the Soviet Union. But when the government abolishes the long-form census and the long-gun registry due to their being an invasion of privacy, and then decides that it’s somehow not a similar invasion to look at the web history of innocent Canadian citizens, you begin to see why oftentimes its ideology trumps its congruency.

The NDP has a relatively inexperienced shadow cabinet due to many important ministers running for their party’s leadership. The Liberal Party can and has acted as an effective opposition party; far more effective in projecting its vision for Canada than its 35 seats might suggest. Once again, in order to most effectively oppose this bill, I would encourage everyone who may read this to take a minute or two and sign  a petition for a party that throughout a rebuilding process and beyond seeks to effectively and successfully stand up for all Canadians who oppose not just this bill in particular, but the branding that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party is attempting to put in place in this country.

LPC Biennial Convention and Some Thoughts…

Queen's University Young Liberals and Stephane Dion pose for a photo at the Liberal Biennial Convention, Ottawa, 2012

Hey there! It’s James Bridges again, and much later than I had hoped/expected. Evidently the rigors of applying for Graduate Studies, apathy toward sitting down to write are not great preconditions for getting any writing done, but I digress…

The past few weeks have been interesting ones, as I have had the opportunity to attend the Liberal Biennial Convention for the first time, and Queen’s Model Parilament for the fourth time, respectively. While my experiences as House Leader of the NDP at QMP 2012 were interesting, I wanted to dedicate some time and thought toward the Liberal Convention that took place from January 13th-15th of this year. If it isn’t already obvious, I am a Liberal Party member, and would consider myself left-of-centre ideologically, although if you want to pidgeon-hole me you could say I’m a social democrat who is a proponent of evidence-based policy.

Attending as a youth delegate, I was entirely unsure of what to expect. I was lucky enough to travel by bus to Ottawa from Queen’s University with new Executive Vice-President of the Young Liberals of Canada/Ontario Young Liberals, Maddie Webb, who successfully campaigned to win that position, and to stay in the Lord Elgin in Downtown Ottawa with a few fellow Queen’s University Liberal Association members.

On the first day, at the youth conference portion of the convention, we were greeted by a keynote speech from outgoing-Liberal President Alfred Apps. He spoke to us about the Party’s  history of renewal; how in both 1922 and 1958, the Liberals, seemingly down and out, had been able to renew interest in the party and secure more votes than anyone could have realistically hoped for. While some have viewed Mr. Apps’ Presidency of the Party as tenuous, he is a brilliant mind and will assuredly work with the Liberal Party in some manner for years to come (I think he should try running as an MP once more!).

Senator Mercer followed a presentation on technology/online voting by George Takach, and discussed the role that youth have played in keeping the Liberal Party vibrant–spearheading the pursuit of same-sex marriage legislation, decriminalizing marijuana (more on that) in the Paul Martin years, and the like. Martha Hall Findlay similarly discussed the fact that there has historically been too much discord within the Party, and how to counteract this Liberals must be tough in defining where they stand on issues. She mentioned that if Liberals are simply the party for everyone, we lose the opportunity to define ourselves and instead allow other parties and various interest groups to do that for us, which has led to disastrous results in the past.

Finally, the Right Honourable John Turner chose to speak to us about renewal. To paraphrase him, he told us to “stay loose and relaxed”, to build a movement from the bottom up, and to remember the Magna Carta; or, rather, the notion that Parliament was created to be an open institution, and Young Liberals must lead the drive toward making it an open institution once more.

Many of the articles in the media that I had read leading up to and during the Convention called for the Liberal Party to come up with radical new ideas, or face extinction. I think that voting to allow supporters to determine who our next party leader will be will accomplish exactly that, and I disagree to an extent over the media’s portrayal of the Convention itself. While new ideas were certainly required, this convention was just as much about putting a dagger in the party’s historical infighting and firing up the 3200 delegates to build a grassroots movement over the next four years. Having fared poorly in the past two elections is no effective method of keeping Liberals invigorated for what must now be a permanent campaign, but a Convention of rousing speeches, stimulating conversations, and an opportunity to connect with the “Party Elites” surely will!

I do not wish to make this post an entire essay, so for today I will leave this post with a few closing thoughts, which I hope people will take the time to comment on. Firstly, I was entirely surprised at the amount of people at the Convention who were interested in hearing what Canada’s youth had to say regarding the state of Canadian politics, and of the Liberal Party itself. I was lucky enough to speak to former-MP candidate Joe Cormier from the Nickel Belt riding for nearly an hour, and he gave me all the encouragement I need to continue to take steps to make an impact within the party, and hopefully within the country by extension. If this party can become the party of youthful renewal, and can attract that vote by appealing to the 18-35 age demographic by pursuing the legalization of marijuana, for example, then all the more power to them. I can say that I will be working tirelessly in the next few years to make that the case!

Secondly, and this is not just a suggestion for the Liberal Party alone–but politics is and has traditionally been a realm that people are either uncomfortable getting involved in, or feel as if it is an aspect of daily life that does not affect them directly. While I could go on for pages about why this is not the case, I’ve found that the most effective way to engage people in politics is simple: converse with them about it! This may seem like a fairly self-evident statement, but oftentimes people will be passionate about things that they have no idea are political. For example, with someone planning on or attending a post-secondary educational institute, a common and debilitating issue is that of student debt, coinciding more recently with high youth unemployment. Many people in this situation may not be students or followers of politics, but if they are engaged in a conversation that makes them realize that simply accepting the current Government’s catering to corporate interests over ensuring the long-term success of it’s future leaders is not the only option, they will realize that something that is an every day concern is indeed political. Another example would be discussing Canada’s falling crime rate since 1974 and the fact that the Government is becoming increasingly tougher on crime while building prisons to contain this new generation of benefactors. The cost of the omnibus crime bill (C-10, by the way) that will accomplish this is costed at approximately half a billion dollars this year alone, and has been estimated to cost Ontario alone over a billion dollars within the next few years. This money could be spent better elsewhere, say, in improving education so that people don’t become criminals in the first place. This is where the discussion would transition to “evidence-based policy”, where I think that most people would agree that there are better places to spend this money. The same type of argument can be invoked against the Government’s decision to dismantle the long-form census.

Lastly, in dealing with the Convention, as I’ve said earlier, it was about getting Liberals fired up again, and I hope that anyone who reads this will consider looking at the Liberal Party as an alternative to our current government in the next few years. Oh yeah, and I got the opportunity to speak to my hero in politics, Bob Rae. It took me about three days to work up the courage to do it, but I told him his newest book, “Exporting Democracy” (which I would highly recommend) was a fantastic read. He thanked me, and it was awesome. Yeah….I’m a loser, I know, but what can I say? It was probably less awkward for him than when he and Justin Trudeau came to the Young Liberals party at the Government Conference Centre and were dancing the night away with Young Liberals!

Hopefully somebody reads this and enjoys what little observation I made of the weekend that was. I’ll try to be less partisan with my other random observations going forward, except for this one; GO SENS GO! :)

As a last little tidbit of Liberal information, here is the link to Bob Rae’s fantastic speech to close the Liberal Biennial Convention. If you keep your eyes open at 14:55, you’ll see me applauding beside Alf Apps, who was undoubtedly too busy with membership renewal requests on his phone to applaud when I was :p

All the best!

–James Bridges