Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shocked few but startled some with a new attack on rival Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy capacities.
Mr. Harper, reacting to the Liberal leader’s earlier suggestion that an analysis of “root causes” play a role in the digestion of several incidents of terrorist activity over the past several weeks, countered with one of the most pregnant retorts in recent political memory:
“Our security agencies work with each other and with others around the globe to track people who are threats to Canada and to watch threats that may evolve. I think though, this is not a time to commit sociology, if I can use an expression.”
An interesting turn of phrase, to say the least.
The “sociology” component seems a coy and effective shot at Mr. Trudeau, placing him as both naive student and self-important teacher in the caricatured classroom he inhabits.
The term “commit,” however, points to a much broader process of delegitimization that stretches well beyond Mr. Trudeau and his relative inexperience. What the Prime Minster is really referencing here is the disenfranchisement of the alternative. The delegitimization of disagreement.
All parties vested in the status quo do this. In Ontario, former Premier Dalton McGuinty tempered a series of impending scandals in the health and energy sectors with a clumsy prorogation. Federal Liberals and New Democrats continually reinforce the perceived illegitimacy of coalition governments despite an ideological stake in defending them. Our neighbours to the south are led by the most forcefully delegitimized President of their time.
The same might even be said of Prime Minister Harper himself, whose own legitimacy is routinely questioned with a “60% of Canadians didn’t vote for him” red herring as preposterous as it is nauseating.
But, over the past decade, the Conservative Party of Canada has (with admirable success) undoubtedly upped the ante on this type of political thrust, repeatedly deriding the contributions of journalists, researchers, and bureaucrats to national policy and operational interests. The dignity of the citizenship ceremony, rules governing election activities, and even the Conservatives’ own Parliamentary Budget Office (among others) have all also been publically trivialized.
Suddenly reporters are “committing” journalism, scientists “committing” research, Canadians (or Ontarians, or First Nations peoples) “committing” democracy. Legitimate pushes to challenge or enrich the status quo are disqualified as acts of destabilization.
To be clear, there will always be plenty of arguments on our political margins worth deflating. In a society cherishing free assembly and relative freedom of expression, the delegitimization of untenable positions remains an important tool in social monitoring and agenda setting. The flexibility and adaptability of the internet in particular has revolutionized the ways in which North Americans achieve this, both as a platform for online campaigns and as a channel to propagate offline efforts.
But the broader stigmatization of even passingly-dissenting expertise–practiced widely but perfected under this iteration of the Conservative Party—is an unnatural extension of these important mechanisms. Devaluing the contribution of substantive disagreement isn’t just causing harm to public discourse and democracy, it’s committing it.
The past several months have produced countless visioning exercises on the prospect of a Liberal Party led by Papineau MP Justin Trudeau. Now, as the leadership race fades into something closer resembling a victory lap, these analyses have begun to turn their focus to 2015.
This thrust seemed to crystallize in a photo circulated today on social media, showing Trudeau using a celebrated representation of his father’s brashness to respond to a mid-flight challenge to his ability to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
But the exhilarating feistiness of Trudeau’s “Just Watch Me” stunt—a rare crack in his expertly-manicured humility—also served to highlight a central limitation of his candidacy so far: What exactly are we supposed to be looking at?
The early stages of Trudeau’s campaign read like a checklist of things that distance people from their politics. Timidity, pandering, indecision.
In his first major policy announcement as Liberal standard-bearer last November, Trudeau took to the pages of Postmedia to endorse the takeover of Nexen by Chinese-controlled CNOOC. Somewhat spectacularly, the foiree managed to synthesize centre-left fears of foreign ownership, resource exploitation, and environmental leadership into a concise deflative cringe.
More striking than the arguments made, however, was the way in which the editorial would foreshadow the approach of a campaign that wasn’t sure who it was running against. The appeal was reservational to a fault, boasting pretzels as flagrant as “it is…as difficult to reject bad ideas like the Northern Gateway as it is to approve good opportunities like the CNOOC and Petronas deals.”
Readers looking for affirmations of environmental stewardship would come away unsure and dissatisfied; those seeking a commitment to resource exploitation would leave similarly puzzled. Perhaps more importantly, those without a strong opinion either way would leave uncertain that Mr. Trudeau did either.
Regardless of one’s confidence in the stock of Mr. Trudeau’s candidacy, it is clear that the soil of Liberal resurgence is fertile. For the first time this century, the scorched plots of their coalition face an opportunity for renewal.
The New Democrats’ seasonal flourish in Quebec has withered, and it seems likely that Quebecers will return to a more familiar constellation of Liberal and Parti Quebecois representatives in 2015. If Mr. Trudeau—a flawless francophone who has arguably paid his dues within the province—can save par with the spoils of his ruling predecessors, he likely already secures a return to Official Opposition status. The opportunity is there to be taken.
New Canadians may also once again be on the table after a drastic break towards the Conservatives in the last election. Though Stephen Harper has continued to display a strong and persuasive strategic focus on immigrant communities though the first several years of his term, a reminder of the tone that drew first and second-generation Canadians to the Chretien coalition could be enough to reverse the tide. In the specific case of Mr. Trudeau, an ability to embody the promise of the “New Canada” (a concept as powerful as it is ambiguous) seems natural. If the campaign’s messaging can incorporate the broader thematic concerns of these diverse constituencies, the opportunity is once again there to be taken.
The federal public service, perpetually red but inconsistently engaged, may also represent an easy thrust for Mr. Trudeau. The ability to leverage a “stop the attack on the civil service” argument (admittedly only made possible by the fact that ideologically-consistent Conservative cuts to the public rolls will have already been absorbed beyond reversal) could re-open blocks of voters that broke left or feigned right in the face of Michael Ignatieff. Among an increasingly large group of Canadians committed to an organized workforce but uncomfortable with the institutions of Big Labour, the opportunity is there to be taken.
If you mix in smaller constituencies: young New Democrats more receptive to the shiny allure of a transformational candidate than the recounted struggles of their mothers and fathers; urban Canadians aching to hear a federal leader utter the word “transit” through their front teeth; internationalists craving a return to charismatic global presence. The opportunity is there to be taken.
Internal barriers within the Liberal Party are also less pronounced than in recent years. Liberal elders, understandably cautious about the projected identity of the Liberal brand, are likely as willing as they’ll ever be to take a chance on transformation after diminishing returns on more traditional choices in 2009 and 2011. If there was ever a Liberal Party that felt inclined to embrace unorthodox ideas, it is this one. Here again, the opportunity is there to be taken.
But, much to the frustration of on-the-ground Liberals and orange pragmatists, the early stages of Mr. Trudeau’s campaign have failed to capitalize on the momentum underfoot. The campaign has messaged without risk, youth, and vitality: three of its candidate’s central strengths.
As always, the goal remains the creation of a simple, sellable platform that is radical enough to seem fresh to the Canadian media but sensible enough to ensure a passionate sell from established candidates and operatives (undoubtedly easier said than done, as any New Democrat will peripherally admit).
But if Mr. Trudeau is going to bring the Liberal party back to prominence, he must do it on his strengths: innovation over experience, energy over expectation, accessibility over caution.
The sum of these factors promise only one thing: the opportunity for Mr. Trudeau is there. The time was right for Jean Chretien; the time was right for Louis St. Laurent; and yes, the time was right for Trudeau Sr. But in each of these cases what ultimately transformed opportunity into mandate was competence, and what is competence but opportunity seized?
- 1 year ago
Last night, many Twitter users across Canada found themselves following a series of tweets grouped under the hashtag #TheRosedaleClub. They emanated from a small event held at a private residence in Toronto’s downtown, featuring guest speakers Andrew Coyne and John Tory and co-organized by Liberal Party insider Zach Paikin.
As news of the event spread, some began to express apprehension about the inclusiveness of the gathering, spurred by factors incuding its semi-public invitation mechanism, stated dress code, and, later, pictures tweeted from inside the venue.
Inevitably, these critiques culminated in the all-too-familiar refrain: “What’s with all the white guys?”
Before I get too deep in the weeds, I would like to offer a small disclaimer about the term “white guys.” I understand that its use generalizes both the makeup of attendees of this particular event, and the broader phenomena this post alludes to. With that in mind, I hope you will afford me the liberty to use it here as a blanket descriptor for infinitely more complex hierarchies of privilege.
I have been in the white guy in this picture, and I know what it’s like to look back on it with discomfort about the message it sends.
Groups of white men, and the hierarchy of intersectional variants that they embody, are recurring cultural signifiers of exclusionary structures past and present. They are divorced from the intent of their participants, and remain core physical and psychological barriers to those standing outside them.
This is not a call for tokenism or pandering: people of similar visible characteristics are as free to form bonds and friendships and associations as anyone else. No one is suggesting that white men be staggered across rooms in order to conform to a contemporary impulse towards perceived inclusiveness.
But white males weaving though positions and institutions of power must begin to perceive and take ownership of the signals that their actions and inactions send to others. They must-both individually and collectively-be open to internal discussions about the advantages and responsibilities they carry with them when they order a coffee, or apply for a job, or walk into a public meeting.
These conversations must not be rooted in a perception of outside pressure, or appearances, or rewards. They must be rooted in a concerted effort to recalibrate the structures of power in our societies, and, quite necessarily, an honest and eager desire to insist that others occupy roles that people with my privileges may like to have filled, or platforms we may like to have populated.
So what can someone like me do to make events and spaces like The Rosedale Club more successful?
If participating in the planning stages, don’t be afraid to tell fellow organizers that you would like to feature experts of colour (or, say, female panelists) for the specific purpose of broadening the range of experiences and expertise in your discussion. Anecdotally, misplaced fears of perceived tokenism can keep people from bringing up concerns about inclusion in the first place. Understand it is there, and address it head on.
If mid-event you find yourself in a gaggle of privilege, be conscious of it. Grab a fellow goose and introduce him to someone outside the circle who you know to work in a similar field, or have a similar sense of humour. Be clear with yourself that your intent isn’t to be a nice guy, or to feel more comfortable with the evening’s eventual Instagram feed, but to build new allies and foster new allegiances.
More fundamentally, be conscious of the ways in which your actions can be decoded, regardless of the intent behind them. If you want to, say, set a dress code for an event, that’s fine. I can understand a desire to lend a measure of formality and gravitas to the agenda.
But also understand that the decision to enforce a dress code is, for those standing outside The Club, a powerful signifier of power, exclusion, and oppression. It conjures the same associations of overt disenfranchisement that marginalized twenty-somethings witnessed in their parents’ and grandparents’ private moments, and the subtler systemic challenges that recur within their own.
We all have an instinct to rationalize behaviours we consider innocuous or well-intentioned, but part of an awareness of privilege recognizes that the conditioned interpretations of others are just as valid as our reflexive shields of intent.
If building bridges is what we strive for (and I think it should be), these concepts are but a scratch on the drafting sheet. Underpinning our broader efforts must be a commitment to disrupting estates of privilege not as martyrs or victims but as curious, engaged participants in an insistence that cooperation in struggle strengthens our human capacities, not weakens them.
- 1 year ago
You may have noticed variations of the term “online trolling” creeping their way into the style guides of your parents’ newspapers and magazines over the past several months.
On the coattails of digitally-reified terms like curation and piracy, trolling has become the trigger-du-jour for national journalists to refer to a wide range of threatening interactions on the internet: harassment, bullying, stalking, racism, misogyny, q-phobia, pornography, hacking, and even good ol’-fashioned profanity.
Reporting of events as varied as the tragic death of teenager Amanda Todd, the doxxing (outing, in webspeak [file under “2019 NYT Crossword Clues”]) of prolific reddit moderator Violentacrez, or the emergence of a Toronto creepshots network has uniformly characterized trolls and trolling as central narratives for readers to consider.
Most recently, this dynamic was visible in coverage mechanisms surrounding the arrest of infamous Toronto Twitter-troll Gregory Alan Elliott, who was charged after persistent harassment of local activist Stephanie Guthrie (full disclosure: I consider Ms. Guthrie a friend).
Many initial reports—and, frustratingly, several published pieces—characterized Mr. Elliott’s alleged actions as trolling, persistent contact, or simply “being a jerk on Twitter.” While few familiar with the situation would object to these as secondary descriptors, many identified a desire to append a universal qualifier to pop-discussions of the topic. For me, it may have been:
“Mr. Elliott was not arrested for being a troll or engaging in persistent trolling. He was arrested for alleged criminal behaviour (in this case, criminal harassment and breach of a peace bond). I actively defend the rights of people to act like jerks or trolls in online contexts, just as I defend the same rights for a stranger in line at a coffee shop. But if that individual moves to target or threaten a patron of that coffee shop, or attempts to pursue them from coffee shop to coffee shop, my perception of this behaviour changes. I have no reason to understand the dynamics of online interaction any differently.”
Contrary to the perceptions of many newcomers to these issues, there is in fact broad consensus that it is not (and should not be) illegal to be a troll, act like a troll, or engage in trolling activity on the internet. The same subtle mechanisms we have developed to signal and delegitimize troll-like behaviour in offline spaces (teasing solidarity with a grocery cashier after a particularly inconsiderate customer, miming annoyance towards inconsiderate drivers or pedestrians) are being increasingly adopted and adapted to help shape the hues of our online ecologies.
What the internet need not attempt is to expunge trolls; they are perpetual subletters to the bridges that help to define it. Nor should it submit to the stigmatization of acts of trolling themselves, already established as core governing structures of its margins and surges.
Instead, the digital class must work towards a renegotiation of its idioms, promoting precision in the ways we categorize our growing pool of online behaviours.
A key part of this process will be coaxing more nuance from terms like trolls and trolling, insisting on new ways of delineating the undesirable from the criminal: the process from the by-product. The cultivation of these ontologies encourages a more nimble navigation of the fundamental tensions (freedom and governance, anonymity and accountability, encoding and decoding) that make the internet such a significant space.
So troll power, not struggle; troll patriarchy, not feminism; troll hypocrisy, not disagreement; troll structure, not station: troll upwards, not downwards. But resist the rush to concede the perch of the troll; it’s all many of us have left.
Late yesterday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty resigned as Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and, by extension, his Premiership. He indicated that he will continue to serve as Premier until a new Liberal leader is chosen, and stay on as MPP for Ottawa South after that.
If seeking the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada factored into Mr. McGuinty’s decision to resign, this would have been the time to do it; behind-the-scenes fundraising and water-testing could not be put off much longer, as major players begin to consider a gelling field and posture to commit accordingly.
Though Mr. McGuinty was coy in his half-denial of federal aspirations yesterday, most agree that his desired political trajectory lands him in Parliament at one point or another. So is this the time for Mr. McGuinty to go national?
A few factual considerations:
Mr. McGuinty is, by all indications, not bilingual enough to recapture Quebec. That is a tough sell considering the electorate he would be courting.
Mr. McGuinty’s brand is somewhat damaged among Ontarians, particularly with orange Liberals and red New Democrats. It also remains unclear whether he has a brand outside the province (a good or bad thing, depending how one manages it).
Mr McGuinty, as he continues to prove, is perpetually underrated as a politician.
A few strategic considerations:
With Justin Trudeau awaiting coronation against the current stated and presumed candidates for Leader of the Liberal Party, the central consideration of McGuinty’s team will likely be the degree to which the party establishment sees value in his brand. It is highly unlikely that the Premier will enter a race he does not think he has a particularly good chance of winning.
If Mr. McGuinty presumes the perception that his candidacy mirrors the thematic thrust of Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff (policy stability and intellectual rationality), he may be best to sit out this campaign and wait until next time (yes, there will be one). Indeed if Mr. Trudeau wins the leadership race but fails to sell his transformative brand in the next election, McGuinty’s identity as partisan stalwart is easily renegotiated into a central strength for an ensuing contest.
With that said, if McGuinty believes that Trudeau will become Canada’s next Prime Minister, it is unlikely he will get this chance again in his political prime. Assuming that calculation, cannonballing into the mix now would seem his last best chance.