Whatever Shall We Do About Justin?

You need to know that Trudeauphobia has its roots in the fear and loathing of straight males who are closing in for the kill.

A clarification

MOST OF US, HAVING SEEN Sophie-Grégoire and Justin Trudeau caught in a candid moment gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, or photogenically romping around with their three children; or having seen Justin’s confident swagger in the presence of women who’ve momentarily lost their composure—there’s a photo somewhere of Ivanka Trump, crazed eyes two feet wide, looking as though she’s about to take her knife and fork and throw him onto her plate—most of us will understand that our guy in Ottawa is without question enthusiastically heterosexual, bless his trendy, eye-popping socks.

So I wanted to emphasize that, though I use the word “homophobia” in this essay as an explanation for conservative animus against Justin Trudeau, I am not suggesting that Justin Trudeau is gay; I am theorizing that his political rivals and a big cohort of typically homophobic Canadian male voters—oh, and, of course, Jordan Peterson— react to him as though he were.

Most gay men my age (in the late-boomer phase I reference as “missed the original cast of Hair, but front row centre for anything by Sondheim”) will have experienced homophobic abuse, even as children. The perpetrators were adults—teachers, relatives, parents—and they were our peers.

Adults have a duty of care towards children which few adults fully commit to, and children see what actions are rewarded. (The Sondheim number for this is “Children Will Listen,” from Into the Woods.) This is why I blame my peers slightly less than the adults.

(It’s also why, when I see a little bit of intimacy or authenticity crawling towards me, I open my mouth and blast it with humor, the RAID of the psychically damaged, until it dies.)

When I recall these episodes, I recognize that the intensely negative emotions my existence seemed to provoke were invariably contempt, disgust, and rage.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, LIKE HIS ILLUSTRIOUS father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, inspires devotion or loathing, either of those two extreme responses, with no half-hearted dabbling at attempts to compromise or to seek consensus. Love or hate, or perhaps, just occasionally, both at once.

That’s because the elder Trudeau, who gave us our one brief shining hour of a groovier, kinkier, more intellectual, extrovert and, hell, grown-up national persona, set the intensity levels for devotion or loathing so high that we still feel the aftershocks forty years later.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau — caustic, flamboyant, patrician, lusty, arrogant, no tolerator of fools, friend to Castro, autocratic liberal, male midwife to a repatriated constitution and a truly independent Canada, the adulation of whom attained such a frenzy it was dubbed “Trudeaumania” by the press — the elder Trudeau virtually single-handedly saved this nation from disintegrating in the 1980’s; held on tight with both hands and would not let go until we were safely through the crisis of warring regional interests and the impending separation of Québec.

We progressives, the true believers in the Canadian project, never stop loving him for this.

But our conservatives, ever more extreme, favoring ever closer political, economic and cultural ties with the U.S. and denying the validity of the multicultural, compassionate, liberal Canadian experience, can never forgive him for it.

The conservative element in Canada is explicitly scornful of the idea of Canada as an example to the world and dedicated to the concept that Canada is nothing more than a second-rate, wannabe U.S.A.; an embarrassing fake with delusions of grandeur, like that PVC handbag defiantly labeled “Louis Vuitton” that you buy from a huckster.

We’re the kid brother who hasn’t learned to hit the ball out of the park. We’re not who we are out of idealism, reads their script, but out of the failure to understand how much we fall short.

As for the son, the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree, at least when it comes to the arrogance and the adulation, a few basic points:

Justin Trudeau, a child of privilege who cut his teeth on the workings of the Canadian federal government, and sat on Nixon’s knee, unlucky boy, is not the most transparent, or even articulate, man.

Justin Trudeau is so quick to admit his faults, and so slow to defend himself, that the boys in the smoky rooms, the cigar-chomping, glad-handing wheelers and dealers of carnival-barker conservatism, are able to flesh out whole soap operas of corruption and criminality simply by leveraging his own reticence.

Justin Trudeau, and it kills me to say this, does not help his case, or ours, by failing to take account of optics and by acting in ways that create the appearance of entitlement, and worse, conflicts of interest; his reticence is too easily read as “something to hide.”

IF YOU’RE AN AMERICAN wondering why Canadian scandals are so “a cup of Ovaltine, a documentary from the National Film Board and — it’s beddy-bye for me!” and based on ethical scruples or niceties of legalese pushed to the limits of their stress tolerance: well, yes. That’s what you end up with when you try to cook up scandals with the basic ingredients missing.

But because Canadians still believe in peace, order and good government, we are rattled by even the hint, the slightest possibility, of corruption. We’re purists that way. Show us a Prime Minister’s mother who once accepted a speaking engagement from the same charity that was recently contracted to fund summer intern positions for students, and we’re tearing the plaid lumberjack shirts from our backs.

We’re so primed to gasp in dismay that we’re ready to condemn the charity for having invested in properties that gained in value (what else would be the reason for investing?), or for telling corporations that partnering with them would give a boost to the company’s brand.

It’s deliciously ironic to hear conservatives on the rampage cite the everyday workings of capitalism as proof of criminal intent.

It doesn’t help to stem the current flow of vile innuendo from the right that the mother in question, Margaret Trudeau, née Sinclair, the fairytale commoner hiding inconvenient levels of intelligence and an independent streak (and, as it turned out, an undiagnosed bipolar disorder), and married to a man thirty years her senior, upped the sophistication level by becoming restless and bored, chafing at the duties imposed on her and the paparazzi clinging to her ankles.

Sound familiar? Yes, in fact, she “pulled a Diana” (though Maggie holds the copyright, and Diana should, by rights, have been “pulling a Margaret.”)

Margaret had dutifully got with the program of providing princes, excuse me, heirs, blessing the Canadian public with three new Trudeaux, two of them, Justin and Alexandre, born on Christmas Day  two years apart. (The third son, Michel, died tragically at twenty-three when he was swept into a frigid lake by an avalanche while on a skiing trip; some attribute Pierre’s final decline and death to his heartbreak at that event.)

Then, true to the beautiful but errant flower-child script,  off Maggie trotted to dance, and, we assumed, more, with Mick Jagger et al. at Studio 54, and to perform all the other acts of youthful drama and defiance listed under “married for love, got Parliament instead.”

We were all pretty young, back then.

So, the love of Canadians for government and our dismay when confronted with the possibility of corruption. Contrast with the U.S., where Americans, barely tolerating government as a necessary evil, expect, even perversely celebrate, rampant and obvious corruption as proof of that evil.

I mean, what else would there be to pass the time with, what would you guys talk about if government wasn’t evil? “Poor people?” Oh, puh-lease, little socialists, where’s your ambition? You didn’t die in the jungles of ‘Nam, overthrow democratically elected governments in South America or permanently destabilize the Middle East so you could talk about poor people!

Consider the “Citizens United” decision of the Supreme Court, which all but stated:

“Our elections are bought, so, good start, but not bought obviously or big enough. Let’s make it much, much easier to buy election results with fistfuls of the profits we haven’t got a clue what to do with now that we have five yachts (shout-out to Betsy DeVos)! Go big or go home, guys!”

There you are, turbo-charged corruption gleaming under Klieg lights, government so evil. Phew! That was close. Americans might actually have begun to respect the political process, even vote, but — SCOTUS to the rescue!

Consider obnoxiously obvious Republican gerrymandering:

SCOTUS: “That’s fine, none of our concern about your evil, partisan ways!”

It’s an outrage — you do realize that, right? That it’s an outrage that no other lip-service democratic country would tolerate? — but Americans need great, big, obvious, rampant, stinking corruption, the bigger and rampanter and stinkier the better, so they can sleep at night knowing that their government is pulling out all the stops doing what it does best: proving how evil government is.

SO LET’S CUT TO THE CHASE and talk homophobia and Trudeau, shall we? Teaching drama, speaking gently and responding with care, ceding power and responsibility to women, choosing a diverse, gender-balanced cabinet, showing compassion — we’re out of traditional “real man” territory without a map, and conservatives have been in a perpetual state of befuddled outrage since 2015.

Assessments of the Trudeau government by other nations are positive. CNN does a piece on our appropriate and co-operative response to the pandemic. Those commenting on CNN’s report, mostly Americans, express envy at our country’s pulling together, our solidarity, our respect for science and each other. All modeled by the prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

The New York Times online is in twice-yearly raptures about our liberalism, for example, our accommodation of Syrian refugees, our model for the world. Justin Trudeau opened Canada’s arms and affirmed our welcome. More recently, a piece in The Guardian again compares Canada’s pandemic response and results with the U.S. Pulling together and doing what is necessary: All modeled by Justin.

Admiring pieces in the LA Times cover Chrystia Freeland, our deputy prime minister, impressed by her firm, even hawkish, stance about the necessity of defending liberal values worldwide, and breathlessly listing her accomplishments in journalism and as a respected author. Appointed by Justin.

In fact, the American and British press survey the political landscape and recognize Canada as the last example of a nation standing apart from the populist crowd; the sole shining light of unrepentant, compassionate liberalism that remains.

The last election, which gave the Liberals a minority government, is viewed by the international community, correctly, as a referendum on the far right, represented by the odious People’s Party of Canada (PPC), whose anti-immigrant, climate science-denying platform was roundly rejected. The PPC lost its only seat, making it unique as a party with “people” in the name, but none in the actual party.

All seems rosy with maple leaves and beaver tails from sea to shining sea—you’d think.

But spend a little time on Twitter — the toilet that’s also a megaphone — and soon your head will swim from the unrelenting vicious Trudeauphobia. Dig a little deeper and discover a real, deep-seated revulsion towards Trudeau on the part of a certain class of Canadian men, including the leaders and members of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), especially its de facto leader, Andrew Scheer, and the PPC. This class of Canadian men is monolithically white, heterosexual, libertarian or conservative and deeply, unapologetically homophobic.

(The CPC is currently without a leader, in fact; I call Scheer the de facto leader because, although he was forced to resign as party leader after he admitted to dipping into party funds to pay for his children’s private schooling, he has hung around for months as Chief Scandal Cooker Upper and proud recipient of the honorary CPC Donald Trump Chair in Twitterbation. Well done, Andy.)

The attacks on Trudeau are as relentless as they are empty. He’s slow to act. When he acts, he’s reckless, his actions misguided. He “gives in” to the U.S. in allowing a Huawei executive to be arrested in British Columbia; China, enraged at Canada’s actions, takes two Canadians hostage, setting out terms for their release. When Trudeau refuses to acquiesce, he’s “putting lives at stake,” except he’s also “weak.”

Trudeau kneels in solidarity with victims of anti-black racism. Wrong! An insult to suggest that good, ordinary racist white Canadians are racist! What effrontery!

Comes the pandemic. His response is “too late,” (though no later than any other nation on earth trying to take the right path with little information to go on.) He is “appeasing the WHO,” which apparently means appeasing China. This is straight from the American playbook.

Trudeau saves the economy by swiftly moving to provide substantial aid to Canadians affected by the pandemic. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), tabled and passed in record time, provides two thousand dollars per month for any employee or self-employed individual whose job has been affected by the Covid-19 response.

On day one of CERB, close to one million Canadians go online and apply.

Result? Our economy weathers the storm, Canadians keep their homes and pay their rent and buy food and start talking UBI. But to the CPC? He’s “wasting taxpayers’ money” and “creating a huge deficit.” (Though a week earlier, Scheer was screaming that “Canadians need action!”) Trudeau is “encouraging people not to work!” (Contempt for the non-wealthy and their lazy ways is a big conservative thing up here, too.)

These are great conversation starters for anyone who hasn’t a clue about economics, forgets that the benefit will be taxed back at up to 50% for the highest tax bracket, and who believes there is such a thing as taxpayer money, a quaint myth promulgated by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and which has had no meaning since the gold standard was abolished except for those who never heard of double-entry bookkeeping. That “huge government deficit,” the red in the government’s ledger is a “huge economic surplus,” black in the public sphere, without which the economy would have nose-dived.

How’s Trudeau doing? Incompetent, dithery, floundering.

What next? Parliament adjourns for the summer as it always does. But no, this year it means that Trudeau is avoiding oversight. What is he hiding?

A terrorist, possibly primed by the negative coverage, drives his car through the gates of the prime minister’s residence. The driver has weapons which he clearly intended to use. Not a word of solidarity or sympathy from the CPC, in effect, tacit approval of the would-be attacker. Is Andrew daydreaming of assassination, a sudden election, his resurrection as party leader?

Andrew Scheer continues the onslaught. Trudeau’s every sentence is parsed, every act dissected, taken out of context and construed in the worst possible light, then fancied up with manufactured outrage, outright distortion, and, when even that level of subtlety fails, straight-out lying.

Comments caught on a hot mic? An embarrassment, a scandal. His twenty-second pause? Weakness. The hashtags read “#worstPMever, #Trudeauresign, every day on Twitter a new iteration, trending.

Now Trudeau pulls a Justin. A Canadian charity is offered a contract to subsidize a summer intern program for students. Trudeau’s mother, Trudeau himself, Trudeau’s wife, brother and a member of Cabinet have all at various times had speaking engagements with the charity or otherwise financially benefited from the association.

Trudeau, contrary to basic standards of ethics, or even of common sense, fails to declare his connections or those of his family and fails to recuse himself from meetings about the contract, creating the impression of conflict of interest and of shadowy dealings.

Andrew Scheer is on this like a pit bull on a squirrel. There is, in fact, no personal gain to Trudeau from this project, and all the other connections are years in the past. But it looks like he’s dealing them a nice quid pro quo. To Justin, it’s just a good cause in aid of another good cause.

Justin doesn’t get that it’s not just corruption that lowers public confidence in government. It’s even the appearance of corruption.

Once again Justin has made fools of his supporters because of his arrogant refusal to play by the onerous rules. Once again we are making excuses for him; once again we don’t come to the table with clean hands. Our claim to be Canada’s progressive conscience and moral authority in contrast with the CPC once again sounds embarrassingly hollow.

As I write this, Scheer, in full “Ride of the Valkyries” mode, is calling for a criminal investigation.

WHATEVER SHALL WE DO ABOUT Justin? His misstep acts as camouflage for Scheer’s true agenda. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is one of continual crisis, an ever-present subliminal emergency. It’s obvious that Scheer is engaged in a concerted attempt to render our duly elected government illegitimate—and it’s personal.

Because it’s not the Liberal Party of Canada that is being attacked, or even just “liberals”. Not at all. It’s Trudeau himself. Something about him just sticks in every manly conservative throat.

We are meant to understand that Justin Trudeau is incompetent, weak, hiding something; worse than that, sinister. What’s missing, what is unspoken but hinted at?

Girly man, wearing traditional Indian clothing. Effeminate. Eye lock with Obama. Pandemic lockdown is proof he’s under house arrest, wearing an ankle bracelet (pedophile). Drama teacher (what kind of man…!). How would a drama teacher know anything about running government? How would a homosexual know anything about running government? Why would a homosexual ban assault weapons? Because he’s not a real man.

Andrew Scheer’s tweets rain down like missiles. I think, “This is beyond outrage. It’s pathological, an obsession.”

He doesn’t ask how we Canadians are doing, he doesn’t share what he and his family are doing. There’s no human interest, nothing to relate to, nothing that’s not angry opposition and fire and brimstone.

Scheer doesn’t post a homey picture of the barbeque, or of him and his wife — who I hope is named “Shirley,” but he’s never introduced her — shopping wearing masks, or of him and the kids washing the car, or playing, or laughing…. He gives us not a single reason to like him, and, Canadian to the core, we comply.

He tweets, literally, about nothing else but Trudeau, no other content seems possible for him. I begin to sense the electricity, feel the thwarted admiration, the bromance that never was and never can be, in Scheer’s hysterical baiting of the man who plighted his troth to another. I feel his utter emptiness, his sociopathic indifference, to anything but his desire to bring down the fury of the closet-case scorned on the man he loves.

Now comes the Centralia mine fire of homophobia that burns perpetually under the surface, that no stream of logic or evidence can ever extinguish.


“Justin’s friends caught in pedophile scandal…”

“Flocculent Canadian president [sic] Justin Trudeau takes time to meet with accused sex pervert Joshua Boyle, whilst children of the Canadian tundra starve in frozen death agony….”

“True Detective shows Trudeau foundation logo as a symbol for child sex trafficking.”

All my life, as a gay man, I’ve endured the bullying, the contempt, the assumptions about my emotional life, the judgments about my character, and, most traumatically, the unspoken assumption and disgusting lie that, as a gay male, I’m a pedophile, a corrupter of youth; all of these indignities perpetrated mostly by straight men.

And now a self-selected group of heterosexual males, “social conservatives”, is stirring into life these atavistic fears in an attempt to oust Trudeau, ostensibly for “corruption,” just not the fiduciary kind.

Looking through the correct lens brings everything into focus. Looking through the lens of white supremacy and anti-black racism made it possible for me to understand Trump’s loony presidency, to explain his election and why his egregious almost daily criminal acts trivial and terrifying alike are brushed off, justified, or even admired. White men can do whatever the fuck they want.

Looking through the lens of homophobia, transphobia and rigid gender role orthodoxy has made it possible to understand how the boy wonder is becoming one of the boys in the band, not a real man, unfit for office.

My mother would have said, of a closeted gay man, “He’s that way,” and we all knew what way “that way” was. There was no need to spell it out then, and no need to now.

“Sissy.” “Corrupt.” “Queer.” Hey, what else would you expect from Castro’s love child?


All? Or Nothing at All?

I’m all for ideals. Some common sense would be good, too.

A collage featuring Don Cherry, a poppy and some Muslim servicemen and their families.

To kick off today’s in-depth exploration of the obvious, let me ask you a question: Who gives a flying fuck about a miserable, bigoted, old white guy sportscaster with bad taste in clothing and worse taste in philosophy?

As it happens, I’m the first one hundred people who reply: Not me, Murgatroyd McGraw. Look—pockets empty. Not a single fuck left to give. But it is Christmas season coming. Ask me again on Boxing Day. Or, better yet, Epiphany!

For those of you not privy to, or interested in, the finer points of Canada’s sports world and its personalities, let it be known that Don Cherry worked—the past tense is deliberate— for decades as a sportscaster for Sportsnet, a subsidiary of Rogers Media. He was and is known for his ridiculously garish suits, his supposed dudely brilliance in the area of hockey coaching, playing and announcing, and his tough, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is 80-year-old heterosexual male bluster, which is just as tedious and backward and unapologetically, ear-splittingly raucous as you might expect.

Unfortunately, on Remembrance Day, Mr Cherry removed the puck from his mouth, became confused, and inserted both his feet instead.

Live on Sportsnet, Mr Cherry offered his opinion that “immigrants” were not buying enough red poppies and wearing them to honor the fallen:

“You people, you like our country, you like our milk and honey, you could at least spend a couple of bucks on a poppy and wear it.”

— Don Cherry

This was an opinion-based, rather than a fact-based, opinion which we can unpack like this:

You people. You people who are immigrants, who are physically different, who aren’t white; you people who wear funny clothes and speak with funny accents; you people who are taking over, who want hand-outs, who are lazy, when you’re not stealing our jobs; you people who aren’t Christians, who aren’t “real” Canadians.

That’s a lot of hatred and the resulting damage packed into two words. It’s shameful that anyone, let alone a public figure with the responsibility to set an example, can have missed the point so completely and thought it would be acceptable to make such a demeaning, patronizing and divisive, in a word, such a racist comment.

Rogers Media issued a statement apologizing for Cherry’s remarks, then fired his saggy white ass.

Predictably, middle-aged white guys are up in arms—well, actually, they’re in their La-Z-Boy recliners swilling Labatt’s 50—because Don Cherry got fired for stating his opinion. Freedom of speech!

But how was his freedom of speech curtailed? He said exactly what he wanted to say! May I remind you that the “freedom of speech” that conservatives everywhere keep yelling about—Americans and their tedious trotting out of the First Amendment, to be specific— pertains exclusively to the freedom to criticize the government.

That’s right! Criticize an elected official, your police chief, a magistrate, the Prime Minister or President, any civil servant, and you’re protected, as long as you make the statements without malicious intent and in good faith. You’re not even required to fact-check in detail, or be one hundred percent accurate.

But you can’t scream “censorship” when a university declines to welcome a neo-Nazi speaker; they’re not obliged to give anyone a platform. You can’t print libel or make statements harmful to someone’s reputation or shout “fire” in a crowded theatre without repercussions.

In Canada there’s less confusion about this because we still have a shred remaining of our social contract, a sense that the scope of rights is larger than each individual.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes it clear that every freedom must be balanced with others’ freedoms, considering the common good.

Freedom comes with adult responsibilities not to cause harm to individuals or to society. We recognize that some speech is so harmful it can be criminal. This is called hate speech.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission explains the delicate act of balancing my rights with yours. One principle states: “The private expression of a right is more protected than the public expression.”

So go ahead, Don, and continue to state your opinion in private. That causes minimal or no immediate harm. I just don’t understand why you’re so damn proud of it.

And while I’m on this particular rant, let me take this opportunity to bemoan the hegemony of professional sports. (Sportsarchy?)

Hockey may be your national identity, fellow Canadian, but it ain’t mine. Please note that there are at least several of us who are not knuckle-dragging homophobes with no front teeth.

Sports is supposed to be the great leveler, a way for citizens to bond and feel a common cause. The whole gung-ho, well-rounded, wave your team’s flag and get shit-faced pro sports boondoggle reminds me of those Fascist parades with girls spinning Swedish medicine balls and precocious boys with way too much muscular development for their age. As Noam Chomsky has suggested, it’s a way to keep us occupied with something useless but addictive, anything that stops us thinking deeply about our world and fills up the time we’d be better off using for activism.

As excited as everyone is for me to be a “joiner,” I have always sashayed to the beat of my own drummer and wailed off-key to the synthetic tones of my karaoke machine, depending on the night of the week.

We don’t need to reduce everything to the highest common factor and dumb everything down until we’re spitting out our broken incisors and talking like Donald Trump, who’s made President of the United States, the most powerful position in the world, into a massive, developmentally-challenged fifteen-year-old’s macaroni picture that you stick on the fridge door.

In Canada, we have other pursuits besides holy hockey. For winter sports, climb onto a circular aluminum toboggan and swirl down the hill behind the primary school, right out into the oncoming traffic. Personally, I’m hot for skating with my ankles bent inward at a forty-five degree angle, and stopping myself by slamming into the cold, wet walls of the ice rink, or a concrete arch, if I’m in Nathan Phillips Square.

And culture, forever underfunded and relegated to “the elites,” is on our radar, too. Curl up with Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopian saga, a bottle of Seconal and some razor blades, or watch something by David Cronenberg involving people with new orifices growing out of their necks, a nasty sex virus and a posse of wise-cracking, animatronic bugs.

Sometimes I play the piano of an evening. And, trust me, no one was telling Beethoven, “You should get out more, Ludwig. You’ll never find your beloved—immortal, hanging on for dear life, or even prone to occasional nasty chest colds—sitting at home scratching out these—watchamacallilt, symphonies. Honestly, you really think Napoleon is gonna listen to this shit for an hour? My crazy Komponisten! Go out, live a little! Be a joiner! Fancy a Jagermeister jello shot? What? Oh, you mean I have to write that all down?

But most of all, I love to spend time at the Canadian Opera Company, where at any given performance you’ll find more combat, gore and hysterical screaming than you could shake a Zamboni at, but nothing aimed at your head that’s more dangerous than a high F.

And there, resplendent in Balcony Three, and Canadian as all-get-out in my bow tie and loafers, I’ll stay.

I never thought I’d be in a position to complain about an entire generation being too concerned with getting things right. And I never envisaged the possiblity that this same generation, raised with LCD crystal displays for eyes and a 404 Not Found error message where their emotional intelligence should be, would feel empowered to talk back so sassy to their elders.

I’m interested in the mindset of perfectionism, seeing that this behavior is supposed to be the Achilles heel of Virgo, my astrological sign, and stop putting your hand over your mouth when you titter, I’m not fooled.

Over the past five to 10 years, Young People (which is everyone at least one year younger than me, just so we’re on the same page) sacrificed an entire country, the United States of America, on the altar of “if I can’t have Bernie, I don’t want nobody, baby” and during the same time Republicans, determined to thwart Obama’s every proposal, refused to engage the primary engines of democracy, namely, compromise and consensus. Frankly, I’ve begun to despise the entire concept of insisting on the most perfect manifestation of your ideals, up to and including the end whose bitterness is a foregone conclusion.

Here’s an example I stumbled on recently, in an online rag with a definite tilt to the far left called “Common Dreams.” It’s a short read, if you care to, is entitled “Obama’s endorsement of Trudeau highlights the class unity of the 1 percent“and takes for its premise: “if Barack Obama truly cared about endorsing a progressive economic leader, or even a leader of colour just like him, he could have chosen Jagmeet Singh of the left-wing New Democratic Party. But he didn’t.”

(The link above opens a new tab. Of course it does! Jeezus. Who do you think this is, ol’ Grampa Wilkinson with the rosy-apple cheeks and his Princess telephone from 1971?)

Ah, to be young and dewy-eyed again! If it ain’t one hundred percent perfect, goes the sentiment, then we’ll take our votes (endorsement, goodwill, high fives or whatever benefit would have been forthcoming) and go home.

According to this mindset, for Obama to endorse Trudeau can only mean one thing: they’re part of an international cabal of the one percent (how much is Bernie Sanders worth, again?); and Trudeau’s lifting out of poverty of 300,000 children is just slight of hand to distract us from his….? What? Helping Hillary at the pizza parlour?

I’m as dumbstruck and angry as you about corruption and economic inequality—just ask Canada Revenue Agency—but good reporting, even good opinions, don’t result from taking a holier-than-thou stance then cramming the facts into it like an ugly sister’s foot into a glass slipper.

I dunno, is it possible that Obama holds progressive views, Justin holds progressive views, they’re great friends and Barack truly believed he was the best choice for Canadian Prime Minister (not that we vote directly for the prime minister, we vote for a party, as I keep reminding everyone in my snippy, know-it-all way)?

What’s Obama supposed to do? Endorse everyone so they won’t be hurt, like mom buying all the kids the same Christmas toy?

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party and a political novice, appears to be a man of great integrity, and demonstrated real leadership and finesse throughout his campaign, especially his dignified, restrained yet still straight-to-the-jugular handling of Blackface-gate.

However, the idea of Barack Obama endorsing Jagmeet made me choke on my maple-glazed donut. It would be like Barack Obama endorsing Marianne Williamson for President, or doing a commercial for Mar-o-Lago: utterly bizarre, laughable, a pity endorsement.

The New Democrats have never held power federally. Ever. Not in my entire lifetime and before and beyond. And Jagmeet Singh is a promising progressive voice, but with almost no experience. Normally we endorse a product that we’ve used and that we know works. Kind of thing?

Canadians definitely know how our dysfunctional first-past-the-post electoral system works, i.e. with results weirdly disconnected from the actual numerical vote count and with most of the parties ending up with few or no seats in Parliament. Is it any wonder that many voters feel that their participation was a waste of effort? In Ontario, after a year enduring the awful oppression of Conservative premier Doug Ford’s “balanced budget” (translation: cuts to essential services), we weren’t about to let the Conservatives and their dissembling leader, Andrew Scheer, anywhere near the driver’s seat.

We voted strategically, holding our noses about the blackface pictures, for the Liberal Party. This past federal election was, for Canadians, desperately important. We had endured the Harper years, like Trump years currently, just quieter, and we needed to send a message about keeping our progressive image and values. We barely succeeded.

And I’m sorry, but—Trudeau and Obama members of the one percent? The one percent are rich conservatives, implicitly or proudly, who game the system to keep working people down, making the lowest wages legally possible, disenfranchised and powerless. If you’re so impressed by hand-tailored suits that you mistake two of the world’s most progressive leaders for the enemy, you probably skipped too many PoliSci classes so you could fetch Bernie’s slippers and brew his cup of Ovaltine.

Make sure you end up with more than one person in your corner, won’t you?

I’m also sorry to see yet another tiresome iteration of the Conservative baloney about SNC-Lavalin, our lame Canadian attempt at a scandal that would be user-friendly, not involve sex or drugs and get everyone to bed by ten PM after making hot chocolate, watching Peter Mansbridge, then brushing and flossing.

In this particular scandal involving the corrupt dealings with Middle Eastern clients of a Canadian firm, the Ethics Commissioner misinterpreted his own legislation to the extent that, were his interpretation followed to its logical conclusion, every tax break and every other incentive to any corporation would have to be judged a breach of ethics.

Then there was the “pressure.” The choice was: litigation or remediation (hefty fines). The legislation allowing remediation was tabled by the CONSERVATIVES. The execs at SNC had already done their time, and there was nothing to be gained by litigation except the probable loss of 9,000 jobs. That was the issue that caused Trudeau to “pressure” the Attorney General, Little Orphan Jody.

Imagine the blow-back if the company had folded due to the litigation. “Did no one see this coming?” everyone would have shouted. Well… yes. Justin. Can you say, “can’t win this one”?

Then of course, as soon as Trudeau shows any backbone and demotes Jody in a carefully-calibrated-to-be-obvious cabinet shuffle, it turns out it’s the wrong kind of backbone. He fired a woman! He must not be feminist after all! He fired a member of the Indigenous community! He’s racist!

Please. I’m as feminist and as supportive of women’s and Indigenous rights as it’s possible for a white male oppressor to be, and I’ll happily state for the record that Jody Wilson-Raybould was incompetent and not up to the pressures of her appointment. If anything, Trudeau erred on the side of over-confidence in appointing her.

I’m disappointed with Trudeau’s apparently empty promises; but to use what fell off the table to utterly discount his other significant achievements is unbalanced, unfair and maybe just the tiniest bit immature.

Remember this: Justin deliberately ran a deficit. In case you get the wrong idea, I’m not giving this as an example of his incompetence, but as an example of his courage.

For a few decades, “austerity” (but only for the middle class) has been touted around the world like a regifted Christmas sweater and foisted on one unwilling citizenry after another. I nearly wept for joy when Justin declared that he was going to spend some money to take care of infrastructure and to stimulate the economy, and when he declared that running a deficit was OK.

To be OK with a deficit flouted economic dogma. To be OK with a deficit and even smile about it was just unseemly. To spend like a good old-fashioned Keynesian economist while all the world worships the golden calf of Milton Friedman was a big mud in yer eye to the austerity drones.

Everyone who fails to keep a promise isn’t part of a sinister cabal or just pretending to be progressive.

World leaders, if you haven’t noticed, have fairly full schedules, which includes responsibilities to all citizens.They also have to have, up to a point, rather stinky diplomatic relations with autocrats, which does not constitute condoning their actions, necessarily; and they must engage in other imperfect, messy, reality-based activities that nonetheless have concrete and positive results, such as promoting human rights both at home and abroad.

Also, let us not forget that our involuntary bedding down with elephants has consequences. Justin Trudeau’s agenda, be it ever so imperfect, was additionally derailed by The Great Mouth Breather, Donald Trump. From nasty accusatory Tweets targeting our PM and his resolute negotiations for a new NAFTA, to MicrophoneGate, to embroiling us in the US targeting of Huawei with the resultant worsening of our relations with China and the danger to our nationals in that country…

…to the shooting down of a Ukrainian Airlines flight resulting in the horrific deaths of dozens of Canadians, as direct result of Trump’s unrestrained and unaccountable actions in Iran—Canada’s leadership has spent much of its time baby-sitting the US President and containing the fall out from his recklessness for the better part of four years. Don’t talk to me about broken promises until you acknowledge the distratction and disruption to our interests this represents.

My heart sincerely goes out to Young People, who’ve been taught from birth to expect instant connections and even faster results, who’ve lost the art of subtle thinking in direct proportion to their disdain for reading and therefore history, which means re-inventing the wheel, with no benefit of context or any notion of degree, countless times in a day.

Young People have been saddled with moral, spiritual and geophysical debts of every kind just as the last of us boomers are preparing to leave spaceship earth, waving farewell with our angel wings and mouthing, “Good luck, suckers!”

We fucked up. Everything. Our fragile, wounded planet. The climate. How we raise children. Sex. The way we grow lima beans. Justice. Relationships. Choosing VHS instead of Betamax. Everything.

I know this. I literally tear up when I see the frustration and anger, above all, the lost innocence of the next generation as they realize, at way too young an age to fully understand its enormity, the grand larceny we’ve committed in the name of greed and profit.

And the white male oligarchs of greed and profit have no remorse. They react in outrage at outspoken Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, seeing in her nothing but teenage rebellion and lack of respect, when they should be begging for her forgiveness. She is the sad avatar of her generation, children forced prematurely into adulthood as they struggle to salvage something from the wreckage in order to live. They are the new chimney sweeps.

Nothing is perfect. Insults are not political argument. There are shades of grey for the same reason that there are emergency generators and the cloud. You need a Plan B. You need to keep what works and throw out what is not working. You can’t, and you don’t need to, throw out everything.

What works, what lubricates the gears of democracy?

Compromise. Consensus. Slow, gradual, incremental change is how liberalism works (unless your country will be underwater in ten years. That merits a bit more speed). Consider how France descended into the Terror through rigid ideology that renamed the very months of the year and enforced its codes with the guillotine, and compare how England, stodgy and tradition-bound, established liberalism and true freedom through a slowly evolving concept of precedent and the inviolable rule of law.

The neoliberalism we hate is an ideology, not an economic theory. There is no such thing as a democratic ideology, because ideologies are rigid boxes. Neoliberalism is profoundly undemocratic.

So is revolution.


Justin Scandals, Count How Many

The skipping rhymes of Generation Z …

…with a nod to the 2019 Canadian Federal Election

I’VE BEEN UNDERCOVER IN MY SAILOR SUIT AND adorable Hudson’s Bay dress shorts (available in Québec only in polyester, due to the current shortage of “pure laine;” nous sommes très très fucking désolés), chatting about Dr Seuss and reminiscing about The Friendly Giant with unsuspecting school-age Gen Zed-ers as they go about their daily activities.

You remember the drill: Get to school, line up your Venus pencils in careful gradients and start coloring the edges of your maps if you’re a girl, or roll up some paper spitballs and practice farting noises if you’re a boy.

Or, if you’re a gay boy, line up your Venus pencils in careful gradients and watch all the other boys roll spitballs and practice their farting noises before they beat you up after gym class, thus laying the foundation for a truly world-class sexual fetish about a decade later.

Some traditions never change.

My mandate —which, unbelievably, I had to give to myself after MacLean’s Magazine was so snarky about the pitch, thanks a bunch, Ms Barbara Lucrezia Borgia Gutenberg Amiel—was to find out how much political savvy these kids had absorbed in this age of 24/7 connectivity, deep fakes, and Hallowe’en nights when mom and dad insist on driving them door to door so they can keep tabs, mooch the candy and spoil, to the very last iota, the fun of wearing DIY handsewn Beyoncé costumes.

Make no mistake: I was in constant danger of having my cover blown, and there was more than one occasion when I was eyed with suspicion by some chocolate-milk-mustached freckle-faced rascal of a boy, or prim, annoying little girl who’d just had her best party dress splashed with mud by some Grade Eight dude on a Canadian Tire mountain bike.

I tell you, looking authentic while trading prosciutto di Parma and Dijon mustard sliders on artisanal focaccia at lunch break, or fake-crying when it was time for yet another “milk and cookies power-nap,” stretched my humorous-blogger incognito reporting skills, and my already gossamer-thin patience, to the limit and beyond.

But I did net the following cultural gold: Non-traditional skipping rhymes, who knew, and I have to say these kids are the future.

And it’s off I go for another “Ankle-Biter” portion of chicken nuggets and French fries at Pickle Barrel or I’ll start to get cranky around four o’clock, which is typically when my ADHD kicks in.

The Skipping Rhymes of Gen Z

Out in Victoria

Out in Victoria
Real estate’s a bitch
“Hordes of Asians
Stinking rich

Racist Canadians
Cry, “What cheek!
How many condos
this week?

One condo
Two condos
Three condos

Mandarin on
A red front door

Five condos
Six condos
Seven condos

White people want to

Cut down trees
And pave the lawn

Now watch Chinese
Tai Chi at dawn!

—Traditional, West Coast.

Justin Scandals

Justin scandals
Count how many

ONE for blackface
How embarrassing

TWO for a
Sexual harassing

THREE for India
Shoe toes curly
Wearin’ a sari
Lookin’ all girly

Justin scandals
Count how many

FOUR for Jody
Attorney G
He broke her balls
Over SNC

FIVE for comrade
Castro, Fidel
He eulogized
So we gave him hell

SIX is the pipeline
We don’t like
Tell Alberta
To take a hike

Paper Rocks
Scissors Socks

Feminist Faggot
Drama Teacher

Caught in the act
With the son of a preacher

{That’s made up
That’s made up

Justin scandals
Count how many

—Ottawa valley, possibly First Nations origins

When Will Scheer

When will Scheer
Let the news drop

One day, three?
Three weeks, Four?
Six months, a year?

How many abortions
Will he stop?

Rusty coat hanger
Dish soap mild
Jump off a table

And lose that child!

How will Scheer
Let the news drop

Friends of Dorothy
AIDS you’re dead
Three-legged dogs

In a marriage bed!

Will he be swift
Or will he lag

To make it cool
To kill
A fag?

Maxime Bernier Isn’t Gay

Maxime Bernier
Isn’t gay
He just likes to
Be au fait

Maxime Bernier
Why so camp?
It’s just contextual

“Be my girlfriend
Julie, sweet!
Should be discreet!

“Beard me, Julie
Just this one time
(You’ve got bikers
For a fun time)

“Beard me twice
I’m such a charmer
(When you’re not a
Dairy farmer)

“Beard me three times
Beard me four
Top-secret files
On your bedroom floor!

“Beard me five six
Seven Eight Nine
I must resign!!”

Maxime Bernier
Isn’t gay
Julie says:
“He’s not ‘that way’!”

She should know,
There’s no debate—
Until she gets her
Real estate.


We Sincerely Hope Our Election Won’t Disturb Your Sleep …

plus: Facebook is the idiot-maker.

Carolyn Strom, R.N.: Self-made victim of the Facebook justice system.

IT BEING MY BIRTHDAY COMING UP and all, I treated myself, as one does, to a little bit of narcissistic self-analysis, in the form of the Myers-Briggs personality test.

The Myers-Briggs personality test is perfect for when you’ve gotten tired of astrology or palm-reading, want a little more cachet, but don’t want to burden yourself with anything too accurate or scientific. Lighten up, Mr J. Robert Oppenheimer!

Myers-Briggs is the real deal, having been concocted by the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in the spare time they could find between un-moulding the jellied ambrosia salads for the church social and retying each other’s corsets, and based on tinkering with the poetic but utterly unscientific, even dotty, theories of Carl Jung.

 Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers

Myers-Briggs is routinely referred to as pseudoscience, has poor predictability, poor repeatability (you can easily get a different result if you try again), it doesn’t account for neuroses or any personality disorders, and basically it’s just a load of old codswallop that’s maybe fun to administer to your friends when you have your Monopoly nights.

In the end I self-diagnosed as an extraverted introvert, meaning I’m constantly on a knife edge of confident self-doubt. I don’t quite know why I fall into this two-headed, comic-tragic, hi-lo self-esteem upward-downward spiral. I realize that everyone is unique, everyone has value and everyone’s story is different, which is why I should never compare myself to anyone and goddamnit how come he has over one hundred thousand followers of his blog while I have just over two hundred after five years?!

But that’s typical of an extraverted introvert with a knickerbocker twist. I’m the kind of guy who writes a kick-ass book, then fails to publicize it, which means I’ve sold three copies in the year since I bore down in a bathtub full of warm gin and tonic and Lamaze’d it into being.

Meanwhile I keep re-reading it, which means I keep nit-picking, and of course there’s no longer any hope of responding to my own humor in a spontaneous way. The whole project feels limp, deflated, like the balloons the day after your birthday party.

My birthday party, for which I intend to knock back a gin cooler or three from the liquor store and practise the Beethoven Opus 126 Bagatelles, will be this Saturday, September 21st. I’m going to be sixty-four years old. You may, in your imagination, kiss my gnarly hand and tell me how much I don’t look it, then slowly withdraw, because, and I know you can take the truth, you’re not on the list. Actually, no one is—just this once I’d like to experience an important milestone that isn’t all mucked up with guests.

The only invitee is my five-year-old self, who’s always here anyway, gazing out through these astonished eyes the way a fish trapped in its goldfish bowl gazes at the shimmering, wavy world beyond.

I feel the inside of my crusty iguana-skin, I stomp my webbed feet and I wonder what happened to the pale, milky-cool velvet integument of my childhood. I still reach out with the arms of a five-year-old, still love like one, still break down like one.

I once loved someone so much that when they left me, I literally thought I would die. I cried for a day and a night, for a week, for six months, for a year; I cried until I flipped inside out and stood like a long-forgotten martyr flayed for a lost cause, my heart and guts and liver and every internal organ that could feel pain dangling, glistening red and purple, from my bloodied trunk. I was stunned, slaughtered and butchered in the abattoir of love, and yet I didn’t die.

I didn’t die.

But I never slept in my bedroom again.

I’m persistent despite the odds; I’m lichen on a tree stump, moss on stone; insistently unlovely. I have grim determination, which means I’m handy to have around when you need someone to open that pickle jar.

What’s up with me at sixty-four? I’m shocked as the ghosts of my lost friends start to crowd around me at night, whispering that it’s OK and they’ll see me soon. I listen to Beethoven’s last five string quartets, his final confession and urgent advice to the future; mankind’s only necessary music.

My parents are dead, I’m estranged from my siblings, I’m currently sharing my one-bedroom apartment with three charming renegades, the tax people have garnished my monthly government pension and, all in all, life is way more interesting than I had any right to expect.

We’re approaching the day when the Canadian Federal Election limps across the unavoidably advancing finish line—oh, sweet Jeezus, no, I don’t know the date though it may have something to do with Canadian Thanksgiving or it may not.

How the election campaign begins is: we simply flip the switch to “on” and sit back. No primaries, no ticker-tape, no accusations of rape, or mass shootings or failed space launches. Just FLIP, ping! and we’re good. You’d have to have the compound eyes of a deer tick to notice any change.

“Hey, what was that tiny pinging noise?”
“That’s the Canadian Federal Election starting!”
“Are you trying to be funny?”
“I wish.”

This non-startiness is because we’ve spurned the American M.O., which is: de-educate your citizens, yell at the black people, make up stupid shit and Tweet about it, enlist foreign powers to destabilize the country by exacerbating social tensions, make up some more stupid shit, declare your press enemies of the people, declare your closest allies enemies of the Prez, discipline the weather agency for contradicting you, show contempt for the judiciary, yell at the Mexicans, stack the Supreme Court, then give everyone permission to donate as many billions of dollars as they want to buy the election for the candidate of their choice, which all makes for lousy democracy but superlative theatre.

Democracy… Theatre… Democracy… Theatre

You can see how easy it might be to get conflicted about this.

Of course, this means that Canada, with its geeky rules about political donations (they’re limited to $1,500 per person, and labour unions and corporations can’t contribute) must be socialist, at which epithet I chortle heartily even as I struggle to hoist my liver-spotted, chain-laden arms to the keyboard.

Ayn Rand, who conservatives worldwide keep mistaking for Milton Friedman, would have said we’ve “sold our rights for free healthcare!”

Ms. Rand was scarred by her experience with the Bolsheviks, so we can forgive her confusing authoritarian state capitalism, i.e. “communism,” with citizens voting for a benefit to which they willingly contribute their tax dollars, which they all love, and which results in happier, healthier participants in the consumer economy.

Take that, crazy-novel lady, and here’s a shout-out to your awkwardly named characters: Dagny Taggart, Ragnar Danneskjöld, Wesley Mouch, Howard Roark and Gail Wynand (a man). Rand may have had a certain vision and a dollop of sheer audacity, but her ear was pure tin.

I’ve been in total avoidance mode about, well, any of the alternatives to Justin Trudeau, frankly. But it’s time to man up and think about— UGH— Maxime Bernier, our very own Québec-grown authoritarian-nationalist white supremacist-misogynist candidate, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada. (We don’t, by the way, elect the Prime Minister; we vote for the party of our choice, whose leader then becomes PM.)

We are in the tradition of liberalism up here, which, like the development of common law, is a slow, dare I say, conservative process. We don’t throw everything out and start fresh. We don’t talk revolt or tyranny. We don’t nail everything down. We like nuance, interpretation, shades of grey. It takes us a century to ask for our own flag, even longer to repatriate the constitution.

We’re a pack of earnest Boy Scouts and Girl Guides who’ve finally achieved every merit badge, chanting our so-boring-it’s-woke mantra “peace, order and good government” with the self-conscious superiority of kids cleaning their plates of Brussels sprouts.

We are not republicans, up here in the cold-as-a witch’s-penumbra north. We are loyalists, which means we rebel by not rebelling; we are not a country in our own right, with a distinctive identity. We are whatever the revolutionaries were before they revolted. We are “not the United States.”

Because we did not rebel but remained a colony of the British Empire, we are more in tune with those who want another country’s protection. We understand what it means to take the high road and be the adult in the room, to know that we have every right to be isolationist and look to our own first, but to decide not to exercise that right.

The last guy who cared very much about any of this was Pierre, Justin’s dad. When Canada was about to unravel he gripped that idea with both hands and he held us together by the force of his will and by his arrogant belief that we should get what we needed, not what we wanted. He would not let us disintegrate because he could not let the idea of Canada die.

That kind of certainty is rare. Mainly we are full of self-doubt, unlike our British forebears with their five-hundred years of lawns hand-rolled by Capability Brown and tarnished, inherited silver services for twenty. The least little remark from a snarky American who hasn’t read the playbill about how we’re coolest on the block can send us, by which I mean me, into a tizzy of defensiveness.

Why, just this week on Twitter a creature called “Diana Death” (@TheeDianaDeath), a self-styled “rock musician and politically incorrect humorist”, invited herself to an exchange and told me that Americans “don’t give a scintilla of shit about your cheesey Charter;” and how could I respond except to point out:

“Diana, take it from a gay guy: You have the wrong kind of tits for that outfit.”

But getting back, reluctantly, to Maxime Bernier and the election: Maxime is the sweet, or angry, or reasonable, or vicious, face of the People’s Party of Canada.

Now I ask you—does that not sound promising? There couldn’t be anything ironic about having “people” (or “democratic” or “republic”) in the name of a political party, right? And anyway, everyone has to have a “People’s Party” these days, darling! Don’t be left behind! Don’t be caught flaunting some tatty, worn out, twentieth-century human rights thing; brown shirts are the new navy blue of conservatism worldwide!

It’s People’s Parties, and For the People, common people and right-thinking people and particularly white people. Good honest, hard-working people! Not rapists or gang members or illegals or invasions or infestations!

People—! People who need people! ♫ are the most right-wing people—in the world—!

Maxime’s for people, except when people are teenagers, female and refuse to shut up about climate change. He thinks it’s good politicking to bring out big ammunition to crush Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old girl from Sweden who’s so fired up about this disaster, she’s traveled the world on a yacht (zero carbon profile!) to raise awareness. Bernier thereby demonstrates what teams of researchers in Sweden, studying climate-change denial (yes, it’s an actual subject for academic study now) have found: That there’s a direct correlation between climate denial and being a white-supremacist misogynist male, that there are guys who believe the planet was given by a white, WASP god to white, WASP men to abuse and dominate the same way they abused and dominated their womenfolk.

These are the guys who are threatened that their place in the sun has been taken over by a new generation terrified and angry about this chaos that’s been dumped in their laps.

(Click to view larger version.)

This is Bernier’s EIGHT-PART Tweet diatribe against a 16-year-old climate activist.

It’s a shameful outburst, uncontrolled and gratuitously nasty. He revels, like all abusers, in his power over those he perceives as weaker than him. It arouses revulsion in me, the same revulsion that I felt in Grade Six when our Principal whipped, with a barber’s huge black razor strop, the hands of a fellow classmate, a girl, who endured this torture and returned to her desk shaking uncontrollably, convulsed with sobs, her spastic fingers telegraphing an indecipherable message of confusion, betrayal and grief.

Many Canadians, noticing that he’s polling at only three percent, don’t take Bernier seriously, but I do. I remember how little we took Trump seriously. Do you?

And if that doesn’t make your ovaries descend, think of this: It doesn’t matter if Bernier’s party, the party of white supremacy and “pure laine,” falls into the ditch. He will have done his work, which is to make racism a topic, to normalize the discussion and make us ponder whether there might not be “good people on both sides,” that is to say, good racists.

And now it sounds like a legitimate comment when we say it’s the Chinese buying up all the condos; though no one is ever able to explain to me what the problem is with Chinese people buying condos, even all of the condos, as opposed to white people buying condos. The problem, apparently, is self-evident to everyone but me.

I’m being precious, of course, because we all know very well that the problem with “Chinese people buying all the condos” is that the Chinese people are all Chinese.

We do things our own way up here: In ‘Murica ya got yer slavery, up here we have the Canadian tradition, dating back to the eighteenth century, of head taxing Asians, throwing them in internment camps and working them to death, literally, laying track for our glorious Canadian Pacific Railway so our superiority can gleam from sea to shining sea.

But there I go, standing on the wall and screaming at wooden horses again. The body politic are like boulder-headed teenagers: You long to save them from the fatal mistakes of your youth, but they’re too busy buzzing their hair into Mohawks and hiking up their tartan schoolgirl skirts to listen to your desperately uncool warnings.

Every generation thinks they’ve nailed it, and we dinosaurs have to sit back and endure their predictable screams of outrage as we watch them climb those stairs to the attic room and open the very door, the only door, they were forbidden to open. It’s almost not worth the pleasure of saying “I told you so.”

We now head west, for the next plate of canapés in my tasting menu of annoyance will be served in the cloakroom: that ever-so-flat, barely-remembered Cinderella of Canada’s provinces, Saskatchewan. But first I have to stop for a little joke, OK? Bear with me.

An American couple have just collected their luggage at the airport and are figuring out where to go next, when they spot another couple, both dressed in heavy winter overcoats, tuques, gloves, snow boots, scarves, the full get-up.

The American wife says to her husband, “Oh, Harry, look at those inneresting people! Do you think they’re Canadians? I’m gonna go find out!”

She walks over to the couple who are all decked out in their winter clothes, and she says, “Excuse me, but would ya’ll mind tellin’ me where you’re from?”

The startled winterized guy looks at his winterized companion, then back at the American woman. The two of them say to her, in perfect unison, “Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!”

The American woman, taken aback, returns to her husband’s side.

“So,” he says to her. “Did y’all find out anything? Where are they from?”

“I dunno,” says the wife. “They didn’t speak any English!”

So it seems that in Saskatchewan a Registered Nurse made a complaint on Facebook about the allegedly poor treatment her grandfather received while in palliative care. Here’s a little of what she wrote:

“It is evident that not everyone is ‘up to speed’ on how to approach end of life care … or how to help maintain an aging senior’s dignity (among other things!)… To those who made Grandpa’s last year’s [sic] less than desirable, please do better next time!” 

Now, this seems fairly innocuous, right? Not to the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association, several of whose members launched a complaint.The nurse, Carolyn Strom, was brought before the SRNA’s Tribunal accused of violating their code of conduct for social media and bringing the nursing profession into disrepute by her remarks.

Strom was fined $1,000 and asked to pay the $25,000 cost of bringing her to the Tribunal. A Court of Appeal reaffirmed this decision (courts are reluctant to contradict the decisions of self-monitoring professional bodies). Strom, who has been dealing with this fallout since 2015, is due this week for a final appeal.

You can read more about the case » starting here.

I feel that I need to justify my fascination with this rather obscure case. I can only tell you that freedom of speech, and other rights, become very interesting when they come into conflict with others’ rights. How are we to decide whose rights get precedence?

Let’s think about this. Ms Strom took her complaint and aired it in public. On Facebook. What is it about this crass social media platform that is so seductive? It’s ugly in design, puerile in attitude, its algorithms can’t tell the difference between art, news and spam, it’s run by an entitled brat who sells our data to private companies and feigns surprise when it’s revealed that mysterious PR firms are rewriting reality in order to subvert democratic elections, and yet where do we run to?

We literally don’t seem to care how sinful it all is; I say “sinful” as only an atheist can say it, as a crime against the natural and good. Facebook makes idiots of us all, every time we use it.

Carolyn Strom made an idiot of herself when she broadcast her complaint on Facebook. She was seduced by the irresistible urge to give shade, to take her grief about her grandfather and neutralize it, turn it into a brisk efficient trip to customer service.

Because here’s the deal: by all accounts, Ms Strom did not once, ever, voice her complaints to the nurses at the facility during her apparently infrequent visits. We’re in the realm of guilty until proven innocent, trial by public opinion.

The nurses, unnamed by Strom but for all practical purposes easily identifiable by anyone who cared to make the effort, have been accused—but which of them and of what? They have no way to defend themselves against what is just insinuation. Every one of them is now under the shadow of this vague complaint, competent and “incompetent” alike.

Bad enough for a member of the public to complain this way, in a transparent, at least to us, attempt to obtain sympathy for her relative’s death. For a member of the nursing profession to do so, knowing full well that her actions were in defiance of professional standards and procedures she was bound to uphold, is unfair, unjust, and just plain tacky.

Welcome to social media, where everyone’s the star of their own monodrama, where we’re stuck in a twilight world of my side and your side, but rarely the point in the middle where the truth lives, messy and shaded with grey and letting no one off the hook.

Communication is a hard slog. Voicing your complaint to a real person, in the flesh, in real time, you can hear your self-justifications and convenient white lies fall flat in the dead space between you and them. Seeing someone’s skeptical face, experiencing their lack of investment in your innocence, is bracing as well as humbling. Unless you’ve truly been horribly abused with no provocation, you’ll feel like a kid who’s lying about who broke the window with the baseball. You’ll feel that most public of emotions, shame.

Far easier to sing your aria in an echo-chamber to a hand-picked audience of sympathizers, who’ll co-opt your story and take up your “cause.” Then you can all tut-tut together. Why solve the problem when it gives back so generously?

I have noticed over the years that some people crave negative experiences, even gladly paying for a fancy version that will impress the neighbours. Strom’s bill, at $26,000, with the luxury extras of a self-critical essay and a mandatory course in ethics, makes this the Rolls Royce of disappointment.

So, Merry Birthday to me, god bless us every one, vote anything but Conservative and don’t take any wooden nickels.


SCANDAL!? Nothing we can’t handle!

The SNC-Lavalin ruckus isn’t really about SNC-Lavalin—it’s about Justin.

Gather around, boys and girls, as once again I pull my granddad pants up into my armpits and hook my Walter Brennan thumbs behind my suspenders. I’ve just awakened from a forty-eight-hour afternoon nap, which is why I’m so annoyingly perky, and though the time is long past when it was even remotely relevant for me to explain what the Tommy Douglas was going on with this Canadian SNC-Lavalin doodad, I need you to listen up and at least pretend to care.

As blessèd Saint Judy was wont to growl:“ATTENTION WILL BE PAID!” Now, could someone help me up off my knees?

I never promised you relevance, Murgatroyd McGraw. I promised you Marlboro breath so toxic it could singe your eyebrows, yellow teeth caked with butter tart filling, mysterious, noisome stains on my gusset and slyly humorous, flippant commentary in place of measured, in-depth analysis.

Measured in-depth analysis? How perfectly common!

So, while I clear my smoker’s throat, the better to hoark another oyster onto my signed, framed portrait of Stephen Harper—some pleasures never pall— it’s time for a Canadian Fireside Chat about politics, optics, and which one of the following options you find most attractive:

Progressive Conservatives: More guzzling of fossil fuels, privatized health care, blatant white supremacy, rolled-back reproductive rights for women, no seat at the U.N. Security Council and compulsory church attendance in calico habits modeled after “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Who?;

Liberals: Badly-needed carbon tax that will actually put money IN the pockets of taxpayers, a stab at equality, properly-funded universal healthcare, business as usual and a pretty—and pretty ineffectual—prime minister, but who, when you look at him, at least doesn’t make you feel like stabbing yourself in the eyes with remorse because you voted your country into a no-turning-back state of oligarchic theocracy run by climate-change-denying cretins; OR

New Democratic Party: You’re kidding, right? Though Jagmeet Singh, the national party leader, is right up there, for me, anyway, in the woody-popping hierarchy, what with that dashing, dark, handsome sub-continental vibe and the liquid music of his accent, which is to me as a moist, patchouli-scented tongue probing my hairy, crusted inner ear.

Though, pace Jagmeet, Sikhs can be a little homophobic, as proof of which I will share that the last time a Sikh guy popped round for a blow-job, he said something kind of, well, insensitive to me as he was doing up his trousers. He cast an incredulous look down his nose at me, and said,

“Why do you like men?”

Betsy DeVos Theranos! This is a tough one! Don’t forget your ‘Smores, eh?

There was once a time in Canada, a long-ago, simpler era when squawking blue jays landed on your outstretched index finger and friendly, efficient beavers in Harris Tweed vests valet-parked your car at the Royal York, when we were content with, even proud of, our de facto one-party system.

Every other year or so you could vote Progressive Conservative (PC) instead of Liberal, just so you wouldn’t die of boredom, and without afterwards having to blush and laugh nervously while explaining that you’d recently been thrown from your thoroughbred at Woodbine Racetrack and weren’t expected to recover full brain function for at least a few months.

There was no shame in voting for the party of John Diefenbaker, or even of Brian Mulroney. Diefenbaker, for example, in 1957, appointed the first female member of Cabinet, Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough, who is remembered for eliminating racial discrimination in Canada’s immigration policy.

Yes, the PC’s were for equality and advancing the role of women in public service. Kim Campbell, Justice Minister and Attorney General under Mulroney, passed important gun control legislation.

And here’s a quote from Brian M:

“I think the government has to reposition environment on top of their national and international priorities.”

Provincially, we had exemplary conservative leaders in John Robarts and Bill Davis (who appointed Margaret Birch as the first female Cabinet member in the Ontario Legislature in 1972).

Empowered women! Gun control! Prioritizing the environment! Are we through the looking-glass yet, did we nibble the wrong side of the giant mushroom, are we mad as hatters? These were “conservative” men and women with some bold ideas (and some dubious ones such as NAFTA), but they were, on the whole, advocates of fiscal conservatism. Whatever their private beliefs might be, they understood that as public servants they were in office to work for the benefit of all Canadians.

That government had a role to play in the lives of voters, that government could and should be a good custodian of the environment, that government should protect and recognize the worth of all its citizens—these were not “radicalized extreme-left socialist agendas.” They were givens.

Only when the execrable slime-bag Mike Harris took power—on the rebound from Bob Rae and the NDP— in 1995 did the conservative shredding of the social contract begin in Ontario. This of course was nothing but the same old conservative playbill, turbocharged and disguised as a “Common Sense Revolution.”

When populists and demagogues start making like Uri Geller with English, co-opting concepts like “common sense,” “revolution,” “freedom,” “democratic” and “people,” and bending them into new, sinister shapes, you know it’s time to pack your weekender from Frank & Oak with rolls of bandages and a big bottle of aspirin, in case your future includes an extended stay in the basement of the Presidential Palace, where they don’t even bother to soundproof the interrogation rooms; and whatever you do, don’t forget your Roget’s so you can look up the exact opposite of whatever they’re promising to deliver.

Mike’s “Common Sense Revolution” involved a typical, explicitly anti-labour, anti-social safety net stance (get those queens off welfare!), gerrymandering by way of the amalgamation of the City of Toronto and its suburbs into a “megacity,” the downloading of once-provincial costs to municipalities, and pedaling the snake oil of “deficit reduction” and privatization: all of this based on the premise that government itself is the problem, and therefore the correct and only model for government is that of a department store holding a fire sale.

Example: Ontario had built and was managing a toll highway, the 407, the world’s first with no toll booths and automatic, electronic billing. This public project was based on the startlingly novel concept that greedy, entitled car drivers should actually pay for the infrastructure that they require and should also compensate for guzzling black gold, with the tolls collected contributing much-needed revenue (deficit!) that would support health care and other social services. This one was a no-brainer, and would surely be Ontario’s golden goose for many decades.

But Harris, following his personal mantra of “if it ain’t broke, break it, then declare it needs privatizing,” sold the highway’s operations to a business consortium in the late 1990’s for $3 billion to “reduce the deficit.” Now, twenty years later, none other than SNC-Lavalin is selling ten percent of its share in the toll highway for $3.25 billion.

Nice business acumen, Mike.

Whatever their private beliefs might be, conservatives used to understand that as public servants they were in office to work for the benefit of all Canadians.

Other highlights of his term in office include the Walkerton tragedy, in which a couple of buffoons in charge of the well water supply to a small town failed to chlorinate the water (which had been contaminated by manure run-off from a farmer’s field), make accurate reports, undergo yearly mandatory training, or indeed to do anything except help themselves to a cold brew from the fridge at the Public Utilities Commission and try to cover their criminally incompetent tracks.

Although the Ministry of the Environment had repeatedly ordered the managers and staff to follow the correct, current testing protocols, no one had ever followed up to see if this had actually happened (it hadn’t). Water testing had been privatized, and it can’t be denied that government was smaller as a result.

So was the population of Walkerton, down by a body count of six unfortunate victims of E. coli-contaminated water and thousands of others laid low by life-threatening gastrointestinal infection as a result of ignorance and bad management.

But let’s look at the bright side: At least we balanced the budget.

Getting back to our “scandal:” SNC-Lavalin is a Canadian company whose executives have, in the past, been rather overly fond of bribing Middle Eastern despots in order to obtain lucrative contracts. (Business as usual in that part of the world, you might understandably murmur, and many did.)

This is old, old news; all of the executives guilty of buying their business are long gone and justice done. Any scandal had been dealt with long ago, yet the stars decreed that SNC-Lavalin would be thrust into the spotlight once more, apparently to provide our new Justice Minister and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, with her inaugural trial by fire.

The stakes: Prosecute SNC-Lavalin, after which they would be forever banned from taking government contracts; or treat it as a civil matter and administer a sharp financial slap on the wrist.

Wilson-Raybould was determined to take the prosecution route. Justin Trudeau, understandably anxious about the potential loss of nine thousand jobs just before a federal election, picked up the phone. In fact, he may have picked up the phone a few times before having his morning de-caf, and he may have insisted more than once, as it’s his duty to do so, that there was an alternative to going hard-line and prosecuting.

This was remediation, involving hefty fines but saving the nine thousand jobs, a rather sensible-sounding approach made possible by recent legislation that had been fully endorsed by the PC’s. In this scenario, there was scope for judicial discretion and prosecution was not inevitable. Remediation would provide transparency, promote confidence in the just outcome via that hefty fine and avoid dragging innocent employees into a quite unnecessary, because redundant, criminal investigation.

Wilson-Raybould, whose staff had examined the legislation and concluded that SNC-Lavalin was not eligible for remediation, was having none of it.

Why was Wilson-Raybould so rattled when the PM, along with other members of the boys’ club, advocated vigorously for remediation, and why did she dig in her heels? The more Justin and other cool heads tried to persuade, the more stubbornly she pushed back. Was she handicapped by the thinnest skin ever sported by a member of Cabinet or, for that matter, a lawyer? Was she revealing that she simply couldn’t cope with the demands of the post?

Trudeau’s lobbying has been spun as “undue pressure,” obstruction of justice, a sneaky attempt to let criminals off the hook, or to pay off business cronies, but all these descriptions are quite false. His lobbying was neither inappropriate nor shady.

Did Trudeau attempt to influence the attorney general’s decision? Of course he did, because this is exactly what is expected in our adversarial legal system. Every day, in every court, lawyers attempt to influence: They advocate vigorously, even aggressively, for the solutions that they feel best serve the public interest. This is not sleaze or scandal or interference; this is how our legal system works.

Now Wilson-Raybould proceeded to have an extremely public melt-down that cast Trudeau in an extremely unfavorable light, and she stirred the contents of this teacup so relentlessly that we can justifiably question if her concern was actually about justice.

Wilson-Raybould’s trump card, and her most gasp-inducing error of judgment—or deliberate act of sabotage, take your pick—was to produce, like a cheesey Las Vegas illusionist producing a white rabbit from her top hat, a recording of a phone conversation she’d had with the PM—a recording she had made secretly, without Trudeau’s knowledge or consent— and every nuance of whose content was now parsed and analyzed in the press ad nauseum.

Seriously, friends.

Such cloak-and-daggerism is not the meat and potatoes of the highest levels of Canadian government. This is high-school drama, the sort of subterfuge the nerdy, overly-sensitive President of the Debating Society deploys on the mean boys in the motorcycle jackets who tease her about her acne.

I draw the following conclusions:

There is no scandal or wrongdoing to be found, and no one is seriously claiming there is. This whole affair was a cynical, calculated exercise in throwing mud and seeing how much would stick. Progressive Conservatives and their official mouthpiece, the Globe & Mail, were more than willing to leverage public ignorance of our government and our legal system and to misrepresent both the substance and context of events.

Let’s see what we have: A Native MP, a woman, being hounded by the “feminist” PM; “punitive” demotions and Cabinet shuffles; sudden resignations, corporate criminals going scott free; secret recordings! Perfect ingredients for the perfect spin, a narrative that could create enough doubt to cast the prime minister as a sneak and a bully, and make Canadians question his judgment and even his legitimacy.

The ultimate goal? Bring down Justin Trudeau at any cost.

Did Trudeau attempt to influence the attorney general’s decision?

Of course he did, because this is exactly what is expected in our adversarial legal system.

Is SNC-Lavalin a great, big, heavy-duty Glad bag full of sleaze? Sure, but no more so than any other corporation doing what capitalism does best, i.e., feed itself. Is Justin Trudeau an entitled, opaque, overgrown brat who expected business as usual with the boys in the backroom and who doesn’t understand how his apparent belief that he is not obliged to justify any action, or tell the whole truth, ever, reveals him as shifty and arrogant? It would seem that way.

Were any laws broken? No. Did anything happen that was even out of line? Apart from maybe Nancy Drew and the Case of the Secret Phone Call, not even close.

This was a scandal-free scandal, a big helping of Nothing-Poutine, yet the Progressive Conservatives made a meal of it, bulking up the thinnest material with insinuation and indignation. More insidiously, they caught the attention of the white male demographic that despises Trudeau; despises him for being his father’s son; despises his patrician upbringing and gentility; despises what they see as his “girliness,” his drama teaching days, his avowed feminism, never acknowledging that he grew up breathing politics as the son of Pierre, our most flamboyant and also most intellectually rigorous statesman, the man who held this country together with his bare hands when it threatened to disintegrate and would not let go until it was out of danger.

The trolls and the disgruntled slingers of mud forget Justin’s long years of political dues-paying and his resounding success in 2015; and they are apoplectic at Trudeau’s inclusiveness, his generosity, his uncanny ability to unite Canadians, to embody our pride, to build and articulate our identity and our collective vision for this brave, fragile confederation, this country that is barely more than a wish, a dream, an idea of a country.

Trudeau inspires; white male conservatives, fuming with hard-hatted rage at their diminishing hold on power, carp and threaten and bury their heads in the tar sands and call, shamefully, for a return to “European values.”

They are full of that odious, passionate intensity; the very worst, as always, dragging down the very best.