Dispatch from the Front Line: Stop scaring the normies, CPC.
Also, are the Liberals planning to do the right thing, or the wrong thing?
Hello, Line readers. Happy Sunday. We weren’t able to record a podcast last week due to personal obligations that left both of your Line editors away from their (home) offices (though one of them now has some sweet new windows!). We hope this weekend dispatch, combined with the loooooong one we rushed out on Wednesday, helps make up for that. Also, who are we kidding? Look around, folks. We know you’re all voracious news readers, but we seem to have hit quietest period of the summer news lull. Seriously. What the hell else is happening now? Frankly, if you’re reading this now, like, okay, thank you, but also, go barbecue something. Take a walk. Go for a swim.
But okay, we’ll write something. For you. Never say we don’t love you. And remember: this might be too long to display in your email, so click the headline and read it on the website!
So it’s with the shuffle, the only even semi-interesting thing right now, that we begin today. We are still digesting some of the big stories from last week, and we don’t have a lot to add to our day-of reactions to the big cabinet shuffle. But in a few places, yeah, some things have become clear to us that weren’t before.
Firstly, we confess we didn’t have much of a reaction to the Sports ministry getting a new minister last week, beyond perhaps a momentarily renewed bemusement that we have a Sports ministry. (Gurney would like to call dibs on Parliamentary Secretary for Hockey Operations.) But a friend of The Line’s, someone inside of government whose anonymity we have guaranteed, actually suggested that there is perhaps more going on there than meets the eye.
Up until the shuffle, the sports minister had been Pascale St-Onge, a not-particularly well-known minister who we’ll return to later in the dispatch for reasons that’ll become clear. Post-shuffle, the minister is now Carla Qualtrough. In fact, this marks a return to the portfolio for Qualtrough, who is legally blind and had represented Canada at Paralympic Games in her youth, winning several bronze medals in swimming. (For the record, The Line respects the hell out of that.) It’s her more recent accomplishments that are of interest to us here, though. Qualtrough isn’t high profile, but she’s a respected and dependable minister. Sending her back to Sport seemed odd to us — our initial sense was that this was a demotion, and we couldn’t fathom why.
Enter our anonymous friend, who suggested to us that Qualtrough’s return is not a demotion, but rather, the government making a conscious choice to put someone proven and dependable in a problematic ministry.
Wait, you could be forgiven for thinking. Sport is problematic? The truth is, yeah, it is. It ain’t Defence or Environment, but while it might escape the notice of the majority of Canadians, there’s been an angry if — to date — low-key push by Canadian athletes, and organizations, to get serious about the abuse, be it mental, physical or sexual, of athletes by coaches, trainers, judges and all the rest. We are honestly shocked that enraged parents have not rioted by now, given some of the scandals in youth sports we’ve heard about in recent years.
The odd story bursts into public view every now and then; the Larry Nassar sexual abuse fiasco in the United States, for example; Rick Westhead at TSN has done excellent work unearthing scandals in our own country. Still, we’ve only begun to learn the full truth of this. We have no doubt that many Line readers themselves, either as athletes or as parents, have heard of or experienced horrible things firsthand. This really does seem to be a time bomb about to go off and your Line editors very much want this to happen, as soon as possible. We, after all, have kids in sports ourselves.
There has been a growing demand for a full public inquiry, including by Kirsty Duncan, who was herself minister of sport for Justin Trudeau. This is a demand we support, both based on the specific merits of this issue and our conviction that we need 30 or 40 public inquiries right now, all into different dysfunctional parts of our society. The government has thus far resisted these calls, we assume because they fear the shitstorms they would unleash. They’ve got enough problems without dealing with an abuse scandal on the order of what the Spotlight team set loose on the Catholic Church in the United States. So instead they’ve nibbled around the edges, for instance, by slashing funding for Hockey Canada. That was warranted and wise, but also insufficient. Call a damned inquiry already.
Which brings us back to Qualtrough. There’s two possible reads one can have of her return to the Sports portfolio. The first is the optimistic one: maybe we’re going to get an inquiry, and the government wanted a minister who has experience, qualifications and clout on the file to navigate what could be a rough ride. We hope so, and if that’s the case, we’d wish her every success.
And then there’s the other read: the government has no desire to call an inquiry, knows full well that Westhead and others are going to keep reporting, and it wants someone it can trust to function as a human heatshield when refusing to call an inquiry even in the face of truly appalling stories.
We honestly don’t know. Our friend inside had no clue, either, for what it’s worth. So we’ll just watch, and hope.
One of the items of note and interest to come out of last week's cabinet shuffle was how the latest round of musical chairs will impact C-18. (Yes, sigh. We know, dear Line readers. We're sorry, this is yet another C-18 blurb. If that does not interest you, please skip ahead. We won't hold it against you.)
As you may recall, the Online News Act, which would force Google and Meta/Facebook into negotiations with media companies — to force the former to pay for the honour of distributing the latter's links — was granted royal assent in June. In response, the big tech firms responded in exactly the way they promised they would: they are planning to cease distributing those links. Meta appears to be irreconcilable on the bill and this is bad enough but the real worry is that Google will also follow through. At this point, the government has scant weeks to come up with a set of draft regulations that will assuage Google's manifold concerns with the bill. If it fails, well, that's it for organic traffic growth for news organizations, and good luck getting news from Canadian sources when you search for the latest.
In other words, the bill that purported to save Canadian media may backfire on the entire country and its media industry, and spectacularly so.
It’s still possible we see some kind of de-escalation that will prevent the worst outcomes of a poorly conceived bill: that is, it’s possible the government and Google will come to a face-saving agreement that will funnel some cash to media orgs and keep Canadian news surfacing on Canadian web searches. Don’t get us wrong, we’re philosophically opposed to the whole thing, but that’s our best read on what the only “positive” outcome would be at this point.
But to be honest, we're getting less and less optimistic as the weeks wear on.
To explain why, we have to note how we got here: firstly, we are led by a fearless Canadian policy making apparatus and lobbying industry that is so extraordinarily parochial that it has wildly overestimated the value of Canadian news to major tech companies. Regardless of how one feels about Big Tech, this profoundly narrow understanding of the global picture has, at a minimum, put us all in a losing negotiating position right off the bat. This has often seemed to us to be all the more true when dealing with the cultural elites in Quebec, where there’s a degree of not just acceptance of government meddling in the private sector and in social issues, there’s an expectation of it. And perhaps no other industry within Quebec better exemplifies this than its media industry. (Nous sommes désolés Québec, mais c'est vrai. S'il vous plait ne laissez pas l'Assemblée Nationale nous condamner.)
Yes, yes, there have been plenty of Anglo media executives and outlets willing to debase themselves for a touch of that C-18 cash, and we don’t want to pretend otherwise. Trust us, we don’t. We’ll keep calling ‘em out in English Canada. But at least in the Anglo provinces, this behaviour is not yet considered totally normal. By comparison, in Quebec, it seems practically mainstream.
As we've mentioned above, the draft regulations for C-18 are currently being written, and if we're going to see any additional compromise then this is when we should expect to see it — now, or very soon. Former Heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez has been a disaster on this file; lying about the bill and tarring his critics while offering half-baked concessions that fail to satisfy the concerns of anyone involved. So it was no surprise to see him shuffled out of Heritage.
But if we were hoping for a measured minister who could calm this contentious file down, we don't think you will be pleased to note Rodriguez' replacement. That would be the above-mentioned Pascale St-Onge, of Brome—Missisquoi, late of the Sports ministry.
Let's be clear, we have no grudge against St-Onge, exactly, but she does seem to fit the pattern we were describing above, doesn’t she? St. Onge is former president of the Fédération nationale des communications et de la culture, which is a labour organization that represents 6,000 members in 88 unions in the media, communications and culture sectors. So we feel we have a good sense of the worldview St-Onge is going to bring to her role. And it’s not one that is looking for win-win scenarios between highly dynamic corporate entities.
And what does the fncc–csn have to say about C-18, and the subsequent move by Meta and Google to pull out of the Canadian media market? Well, pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a starving, self-interested collection of union workers that eye large profits at global tech corps as overripe fruit rotting in the trees.
“C-18's intention is to rebalance the balance of power between the big players in the media and the smaller ones. By ending its royalty agreement ... Meta is proving the need for such a law and showing its true face,” Annick Charette, the current President of the FNCC-CSN, said last month.
The organizations' press release also noted that Meta's recent attempts to address misinformation on its platform should be seen for the superficial tinkering that it really is in light of their response to C-18. “Meta isn't going to hesitate to put its corporate profit ahead of its philanthropic façade,” Charette said.
Time for one of The Line’s favourite gifs!
Honestly, this is the sort of statement that only someone who has worked in a small cultural industry utterly detached from any kind of profit motive would make.
For what it's worth, we also no longer expect media companies to put their own stated values of editorial independence above their own corporate profits, either. Hypocrisy is catching.
Anyway, look, we don't want to knock St-Onge out before she's even begun. We wish her the best; we genuinely hope that she can come up with the least-bad solution possible in the face of a terrible bill. But given her pre-political CV, plus her immediate pledge last week to stand her ground against the tech giants, forgive us for harbouring a little more pessimism today than we held last week.
We wanted to add a quick note about how the opposition parties responded to the shuffle. We had a genuine laugh at the NDP’s response, which we think warrants the creation of a new Lack of Self-Awareness in Canadian Politics award. The only real reaction the NDP had in an official sense was a brief statement by Lori Idlout, the party’s critic for Crown-Indigenous relations, who lamented that the cabinet shuffle “does not change realities” for Indigenous peoples. The statement then notes specific challenges faced by Canadian Indigenous peoples, and specific failures of the government to act upon them.
And that’s all well and good, but, with all respect to Ms. Idlout, one of the reasons the Liberals can continue to accumulate failure after failure, for Indigenous citizens and Canadians more broadly, is because another reality that hasn’t changed is that Idlout’s NDP is backing the Liberals. They can release a billion statements, Jagmeet Singh can say as many mean things about Justin Trudeau as he wants, but until and unless the NDP either withdraws from their confidence-and-supply deal or starts putting really overt pressure on the Liberals, the party does not have the moral credibility to lament nothing changing. The NDP right now has the most power they’ve ever had, against a government that is the most vulnerable it has ever been. If they can’t realize that, or figure out what to do with that power, they’ve even more useless than we’ve long suspected.
Speaking of lost and useless, we’d like to note another entry into our notebook under the heading of “What the fuck, CPC?” After the new cabinet was announced, the Tories rolled out a series of attacks on the cabinet’s new members, including this one.
So. That’s … umm. Hmm.
Look, The Line has no desire to re-litigate every public-health measure we implemented during the pandemic, at least not in this dispatch. Yeah, sure, a full public inquiry — see, another one! — is warranted into our COVID response. Suffice it to say that while we accept that the public health interventions were well-intended, we also accept that some of them were either ineffective as designed, implemented too poorly to function as intended, or retained for political signalling longer than necessary. We also think that Canadian elected and public-health leaders continually downplayed or ignored a basic fact of political physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But on the whole, we get the impression that most people have silently decided to just put COVID behind us and move on.
So using that quote to attack a new minister strikes us as all kinds of bizarre, on at least two levels. First: the vax passport had broad support at the time, including among such notoriously left-wing progs as Doug Ford and Jason Kenney. Though rightly noting at the time that it was largely a matter of provincial jurisdiction, the CPC’s policy during the 2021 election was itself not far off from a vax passport. For example, under the CPC plan, workers without a vaccine could offer a negative-test result instead. We can debate the nuances of the plans (we thought the CPC’s was fine, at the time they announced it), but the CPC can’t pretend that theirs didn’t also infringe on civil liberties.
But second: does the CPC really need that anti-vax vote or something?
Seriously. The PPC had shown some strength in the run-up to the 2021 election, The Line wrote about it at the time. But that fizzled, and the PPC tanked back to its baseline of rounding-error level of support since. Max Bernier just tried to win a byelection in about the most-PPC friendly riding we could imagine, and he lost to the Tory candidate, by a mere four-to-one margin, for God’s sake. The PPC is not a viable threat to the CPC’s right flank. The Tories don’t need to be picking fights here. At this point, we have to assume they’re doing this either because Valdez is otherwise beyond reproach, or because they just like talking about how much they hate vax passports.
Okay! Our sense is that if the CPC just focuses on the LPC’s horrible record on any number of files for the next year or two, they’ll win — perhaps win big. Their best chance of losing is to find new and interesting ways to live down to the worst fears of voters who’ll hold their noses and vote yet again for the Liberals just to keep the CPC out of office because they do stupid shit like talk about someone supporting vax passports back when most Canadians, including most Conservatives, felt basically the same way.
So who is the target voter here? Where do they live, how many of them are there? And those really the voters the party needs to win? Is this part of a plan to defeat the Liberals and form a government, or is this just some reflexive Lib-owning that they indulge in for the LOLZ and out of force of habit?
Guys, just be normal for a hot minute. Focus on normal things. The Liberals have already given you everything you need to defeat them. The only people who can stop the CPC are in the CPC, and gosh, do they seem determined to do exactly that.
Two quick housekeeping notes: with C-18 coming up and the possibility of your favourite news outlets — like, ahem, The Line — getting cut off from organic traffic growth, we could really use your help. Firstly, consider adding us to your bookmarks bar. Remember that thing? Look up! Way up! It lives at the top of your Internet browser, usually just below your address bar. You should see a button somewhere up there that will let you add theline.substack.com directly to your bar so you don’t have to rely on Facebook or Google to find us again.
Secondly, if you like us, please let other people know about us. We’re going to become very dependent on word-of-mouth marketing, and simply singing our praises to friends and family would be enormously helpful.
The second item to note is that The Line is planning its first event in October in Toronto and we’re still on the hunt for a few sponsors. We already have one! Thanks spark* advocacy. But we are still looking for more. We have all kinds of ideas and options, so if this interests you, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll have more details about this event coming up when we think you’re all back from the beach.
Okay! We’re done! We might take another week off in August, depending on how our family schedules shape up, and, to be blunt, how dead the news remains. It’s fairly dead right now. But we do have some stuff lined up for this week, so stick around for it.
Oh, and remember what we said about having kids in sports. You have any idea what putting a kid into hockey or tennis costs these days? Help us out, eh?
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