On Losing and Leadership

05 Apr 2016

The New Democrats lost the last election in a resounding fashion. Talk to organizers or campaign managers across the country and they will tell you about soft support and the moment they felt that they lost control of their campaign. The exact moment and the degree will differ, and there are even a few notable success stories – Saskatchewan and fortress Vancouver Island come to mind – but the overall story for the NDP is that 2015 was our most devastating federal defeat. No amount of spin or rhetoric can change that reality. The question is then how we should react to that. This is not just a matter of electoral strategy, but also an existential one: what does it mean to be a New Democrat and why does our party exist?

Tom Mulcair offered a version that was to be the natural successor of the Liberal dynasty and, while it was somewhat unpalatable to the progressive wings of the party, it seemed to have a broader appeal to Canadians unsatisfied with Stephen Harper, but who were leery of trusting the Liberals to unseat his government. The New Democrats would be a middle way: close enough to the centre to expand our voter base, but left enough to remain connected to our roots. It was a difficult balancing act that was impressive to watch while it was working – and, of course, devastating to watch the stumble and fall. “Stop Harper,” indeed.

Now we find ourselves on unsteady ground in a very different political landscape. Where we are to go from here and how we are to get there should be the first questions that we, as New Democrats, should ask ourselves. With the upcoming convention and leadership review in Edmonton there has been a lot of focus on Mulcair and whether he should stay on, but that presents the party with a simple binary when we need a much broader debate about the NDP as a whole. With everything that has changed over the last year, the convention has to be more than a cathartic opportunity to vent our frustrations. While it is certainly the case that Mulcair should offer his (presumably) new roadmap for the party and why it should be him that leads us, it does New Democrats no favors for Mulcair to defend himself in a vacuum. We need a convention where different visions of the party are presented, discussed, and contested. This is not something that I believe can happen effectively when we are focused on a leadership review. Rather I think that we need a leadership election – and one in which Mulcair stays on as one of the candidates.

As it stands, I do not know whether the party can find a viable leadership alternative to Mulcair – or if there is a better voice of opposition against the Trudeau Liberals – but regardless, even if the result was for him to stay on as leader, the debate would help us discover what New Democrats want the party to be. Granted it would be a show of weakness for Mulcair to have to defend himself in such a fashion and any number of think pieces would be written about the disarray of the weakened New Democrats, but the truth is that the party is weak right now. Instead of trying to save face and hide it we should embrace the opportunity that a stable, majority government provides us with and take that time to build ourselves into a stronger, unified, and coherent party.

There is no Green revolt

07 Mar 2016

In April, Elizabeth May will be facing a leadership review that will assess whether she has enough support to continue serving as leader of the Green Party. This is a mandatory process that is initiated after a Federal election regardless of the results much like what is going on with the Tom Mulcair and the New Democrats. Unlike the NDP, there is almost no indication that the Greens have any interest in ousting their leader.

Green supporters have long had a complicated relationship with electoral results and so it is not altogether clear how they will respond to May’s performance last October. The Greens invested a great deal of effort in trying to elect strong candidates in both BC and Ontario, only to see a drop in their overall share of the popular vote. While it would be convenient to blame the Liberal wave, that hardly explains why Jo-Ann Roberts lost to Murray Rankin in Victoria or why seemingly strong candidate Gord Miller’s support in Guelph was so soft. These are precisely the kinds of questions that the Green Party will be asking themselves over the coming months and years as they plan for the next federal election. But before that, 20,000 party members will have to decide if Elizabeth May should be involved in that process at all.

May’s popularity is undeniable. Her debate performances were widely praised and she increased her share of the vote in her home riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands. Regardless of the party’s failings it seems unlikely that the membership will oust her, especially without any reasonable successor. This is a similar position that the New Democrats have put themselves, but, while there have been quiet murmurs of dissent regarding Mulcair, May has largely remained unopposed.

The only notable exception seems to be Colin Griffiths who resigned when a proposal of his was rejected by the very Green Party committee that he chaired. His plan was advocating for “a mechanism of wider discussion”. In itself, that sounds laudable enough, but what he is really asking for is an on the fly change to the Green leadership process to accomodate a perspective that appears to be overwhelmingly without support. It is popular to make vague appeals to the Internet as a magical forum for discourse and discussion. Especially in the wake of Trudeau’s leadership campaign. But the Green Party’s future is not going to be determined through ad hoc changes to a party constitution nor by hastily tossing a wide digital net. And this is a good thing.

Why? Because it is the approach that the Green Party itself decided on long prior to the recent federal election. Regardless of how one feels about the Greens or even Elizabeth May herself, it is hard to argue with allowing the membership to make its own decisions. Particularly in the case of the Greens who champion free votes and open debates in almost all of their affairs.

Perhaps there truly is a mutiny occurring in the Green Party, but if so it entirely soft-spoken and in the shadows because there is nothing to suggest that there is a widespread and growing opposition to the way that May and the Green leadership are handling the upcoming review. One might point to that very silence as troubling because it might be hiding all manners of discontent.

That, of course, would be absurd.

In Praise of Rubio

02 Mar 2016

It has been an interesting few days.

First we had former Republican [Opposite of Frontrunner] candidate for president, Chris Christie endorsing Donald Trump. While a helpful reminder of how low Christie is willing to sink, that was hardly the most shocking event of the weekend.

Then we had another endorsement for Trump, this time by former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. Given that Trump’s entire campaign can seen as an endorsement of racism, xenophobia, and general bigotry, this was also not particularly surprising. Even less so was Trump’s hesitance to reject said nomination.

Instead what appears to have caused astonishment and celebration across both the country and the twittersphere is the nobility of United States Senator and Participant Ribbon Winner, Marco Rubio. At a campaign rally in Purcellville, Virginia, Rubio stated to rapturous applause, “We cannot be a party that refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan”. The sheer bravery of this man is a profound example for all of us. He stands proud to voice his opposition to the racism that plagues not only this election, but the entire nation. We are all rightly in awe that that he is willing to do this despite the fact that it is an unpopular opinion that may cost him the nomination.

Wait. What do you mean that Rubio is going into Super Tuesday in third place behind the very man that he is attacking? Well, it’s still early in the primary process. Super Tuesday hasn’t even happened yet and surely Rubio’s stance on this could lower his odds there.

Oh. You’re telling me that Trump is polling obscenely well in many of the upcoming primaries and that one of the few hopes at blunting his momentum comes in the form of desperately hoping that suspected Zodiac Killer Ted Cruz wins Texas in a landslide? Okay, this just might not be Rubio’s year. Still, he feels that it is important to use the opportunity he has to speak about how we, as a nation, need to act out against racism and hate speech whenever it appears.

Except, I guess, for the dog-whistle racism that Rubio was happily spouting as recently as the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries. Then, of course, is the fact that Donald Trump has been spewing blatantly racist nonsense since almost the beginning of the campaign and Rubio has been more than content to keep his mouth shut out of a concern that it would be the last nail in the coffin made for his increasingly pathetic political career. One might also point to Rubio’s muteness during the near constant racism that President Obama has faced during the entirety of his presidency at the hands of many prominent Republicans.

So you’re telling me that this is just another example of typical political opportunism coming from a candidate with little to lose and a troubling history that is just a quieter version of exactly what he is pretending to be outraged by? Sigh.

At least we’ve still got Ben Carson.

The Style Guide: On Comedians as Comedians [Episode 29]

29 Feb 2016

Dave and I love to laugh. We also love to think about the bitter nature of existence as a comedian. So this week we focused on the overwhelming variety of television shows that do just that. And by overwhelming variety, we found three. As such, we expanded our gaze to comedians in sitcoms and eventually got talking about the nature of late night shows, news comedy, and Roseanne. There isn’t a lot of focus on Cheers, but you can follow along with the much beloved sequel in “I Hate How Much You Like Frasier”.

Behind the Scenes

28 Feb 2016

Paul Wells for Macleans:

I’ve never hit pause on the recorder, said “Excuse me,” and run out into the street to ask a passerby what my next question should be. Maybe that would be a fascinating experiment, but it wouldn’t be journalism. The sun doesn’t rise and set on journalism, but maybe it’s not an utterly defeated model yet, either.

The Macleans debate was great to watch and is a solid model for how we should structure them in future elections.1 Beyond being an explanation/exploration of that, this is really meant to highlight the continued excellence of Paul Wells’ work. When I find myself particularly stumped by the nonsense and incomprehensibility of my own academic writing, I often turn to Wells as an antidote. Particularly his ability to craft engaging narratives from the often dry world of political journalism – and that he does so with the care and nuance to provide something resembling the ‘whole’ picture.

  1. In Canada, that is. I am making no claims as to how to fix the dumpster fire that is the American Presidential Race.

The Style Guide: On Time Travel [Episode 28]

22 Feb 2016

Dave and I could talk about Back to the Future for weeks on end, but rather than subjecting everyone to another episode dedicated to it, we have instead broadened our horizons to the entire sub-genre time travel films. Dave asks me a question which takes most of the episode of answer, so join us as we try to resolve those nuances and more in “Do You Always Go Naked?”.

The Style Guide: On Julia Roberts [Episode 27]

15 Feb 2016

Continuing our beloved actor profiles, Dave and I try to find out what makes Julia Roberts movies work. Whether we come to a satisfactory answer likely depends entirely on whether you already enjoy Julia Roberts or not. Regardless, tune in to find out why “Dave Understands Why People Don’t Like Sandra Bullock”, but loves Julia-Robs. J-Robs? Jobs? Maybe she doesn’t need a nifty nickname and that’s what makes her so appealing.

[Insert Anecdote Here]

15 Feb 2016

Alexandra Mintsopoulos:

There is a massive disconnect between the enthusiasts and Apple’s broader customer base on the perception of Apple’s software quality. That is a PR problem for Apple to solve, not a software one.

Crafting a universal precept from a particular experience is usually a fool’s errand. Immanuel Kant thought pretty highly of the notion, but nobody I have always categorically rejected it.1

  1. I’ll show myself out.

Christmas Village Madness Redux

13 Feb 2016

Yet another descent into the madness of Richard Kelly Kemick for The Walrus:

If it is a truth that the holiday season should make us think of those which are less fortunate than ourselves, then this village has done just that. When I first saw your village I thought, This is what Pyongyang must look like. Aside from there being (and I can’t stress this enough) absolutely no comprehensive city planning, your village also has a post-apocalyptic lack of people.

The Necessity of Christmas Villages

10 Feb 2016

Richard Kelly Kemick for The Walrus:

An elderly woman walks up beside me. Her snow-white hair is freshly permed. Two gold chains hang around her neck. She is eyeing the gin distillery. I can tell she’s unfamiliar with the piece because she raises an eyebrow when the water mill actually rotates. As I pretend to appraise a picnic table’s paint job, I watch her; I want to see her reaction to the distillery’s three-figure price tag. I’ve yearned for that piece for years, my porcelain white whale. But I can’t get a distillery until I get a police station, and I can’t get a police station until I get a city hall. Instead, there’s a Batman tree ornament atop the church spire. For now, vigilante justice is the only justice my village needs. I fear a distillery will upset this delicate balance.

We all have our own particular madnesses. Even when those around us recognize them, the social contract demands we avert our gaze – or, failing that, at least to speak not of its peculiarities. It is embarrassing for others to be present when the oddity of our private selves is revealed, because they can recognize in these exposed moments their own lives, not the content of our strangeness, but the fact of strangeness itself.

To suffer without ever making explicit that suffering, with the sheer multitude of quiet desperations, is the implicit agreement that binds together society. I will not draw attention to your madness, and you will not draw attention to mine. It will surface in our public lives, as such things inevitably do regardless of any attempts at keeping them weighted down in the deep ocean that is our private lives. One insists on using their own writing instrument because “fountain pens simply write better”; one refuses an offered meal on the basis that the food is no longer raw; or one makes an offhand reference to the significance of an odd presentation of the minor arcana from their weekly reading. The silence punctuates those revelations far stronger than any mark. It is a quiet that is pregnant with uneasy tension, as if all participants are considering full abandonment of the many benefits of so-called civilization. After all, what is one to do with a rabid animal but alleviate their misery. And, of course, the exposed beast that uttered the proof of their illness is all too aware of their nakedness.

Rather than bloodletting, we have all decided to merely act as if these diseases are invisible. Never to be laid bare amidst the healthy minds of others. That is to say, the minds of those that are not ill in precisely the same way that ours happens to be.

Richard has broken this most sacred of vows, forcefully drawing our attention that which we are to pretend is not. He is supposed to have the decency to cover his nakedness, if not with clothes then at the very least with a fig leaf or a hand. Instead there he stands, facing forward, hands on hips as if to say, “I have nothing to be ashamed of”. The polite among us know that we should proffer our coats or avert our eyes – neither of which the impolite will even consider. Yet, by inaction, all are reduced to the same. Mouth agape we stand, looking at Richard as he presents his madness to us. But perhaps he is not naked after all. Perhaps he is clothed in the finest teeny little garments and all we have to do is but look closer.