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Dispatch from the Front Lines: Let [us] eat cake
On the state of Alberta, a federal government adrift (at best), and ... delicious, topical treats!
Happy Victoria Day, Line readers! Our dispatch was delayed by long-weekend related family obligations and, we confess, sleep. We needed some sleep. But we didn’t forget you! We hope you enjoy this, and had a wonderful long weekend. We’ll be back to normal this week.
You know what isn’t normal? A video with our avatars instead of our usual selves. We explain, don’t worry.
Enjoy the podcast, if you’d prefer!
Your Line editors have learned through hard-won experience to never let themselves get too invested in the narratives constructed by polling — especially where Alberta politics are concerned. Yes, we've been burned before by believing in the numbers, and so our skepticism is born of professional emotional trauma. Sure. Part of this is rooted in a deep distrust of polling as a pseudoscience — a position made all the more reasonable to our minds because we don't understand math or statistics and do not care to, thank you very much.
Lastly, our distaste with the practice is connected to the way it has debased political reporting: we don't really cover personalities, dynamics, or policy in the way we probably should because simply reporting on a cheaply produced public poll is easy. The fact that these polls are now strategically released to create narratives and sway the electorate only adds to our displeasure.
So we're simply not going to sit here and waste too much time parsing the latest numbers coming out of Alberta. We take it on general faith that the popular vote is close; that the map favours the UCP over the NDP; both sides have run relatively weak campaigns with thin policy measures, and that the UCP side in particular is giving off an air of flailing about.
We maintain that the Alberta electorate is volatile, and we expect final decisions to be made close to election day. Beyond that, whatever.
Two news items emerged in this week of the election that do reinforce one narrative of ours, however: that this is the most bizarre election we've ever covered.
Take the first bit of bad news to drop early this week: after the cut-off had passed to allow parties to replace candidates (heh), remarks were released by UCP candidate Jennifer Johnson, who compared transgender children to feces in cookie dough.
“Oh but she didn't really say that ... blah blah blah"
Oh yes she did. Which raises the obvious questions about where the UCP (or, rather, its leading organizational light, Take Back Alberta) is finding these people, and how thin will the talent pool of the caucus be when and if a Danielle Smith-led party forms government.
The official debate was held on Thursday. We don't have much to add about that because there isn't much worth saying. It didn’t change any minds or move any votes.
The most notable item from the event actually occurred just before it, when the Office of the Alberta Ethics Commissioner dropped a report that claimed Smith had breached the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to get locally infamous Street Church pastor Artur Pawlowski off on charges connected to last year's border blockade at Coutts.
What made the report particularly hilarious was, first, its timing. (Lol.)
And second, how extensive it was.
Commissioner Marguerite Trussler did multiple interviews across government and media to get the bottom of claims of Smith's impropriety. And her report, as a result, makes absolutely everyone look like shit. Except Attorney General Tyler Shadro.
Tyler goddamn Shandro. The same dude who is currently before the law society on allegations that he broke its code of conduct by chasing down critical doctors while he was minister of public health.
Shandro, apparently, was also the last, great defender of prosecutorial independence in Alberta, and according to the commissioner's report, stood up to Smith who was clearly stepping over the line in her attempts to aid Pawlowski.
Individuals contain multitudes, we guess.
As premier, of course, Smith bears the brunt of the condemnation from the ethics commissioner, and rightly. We don't know whether it is more accurate to describe her actions as amateurish or corrupt, misguided, or bizarre. Perhaps all three?
Anyway, Pawlowski was convicted and the world continued on, which raises the question of why Smith was willing to expend so much personal integrity and political capital salvaging a pastor who has literally gained a religious following by making himself a personal martyr to just about every level of government.
As an aside, however, the CBC also doesn't come out of this report looking squeaky clean, which is why Smith and her team were able to spin the whole situation to their advantage.
Her response to the report was to note that the ethics commissioner had vindicated her: that the CBC and NDP had been "lying" about reported messages sent between her staff to Crown prosecutors to drop COVID-related charges. And "Both the CBC and the NDP should apologize and withdraw those false accusations immediately and publicly." Narrator: They did not.
While this is a particularly egregious example of, ahem, burying the lede, Smith is not exactly wrong, either.
Trussler conducted one of the most extensive examinations of this whole affair that we're likely to get, and it's hard to walk away from her report without thinking that the CBC, in its early reporting on the affair, clearly went over its skis by reporting on these alleged messages. Messages that they had not actually seen, and whose existence, we were told, had been established by anonymous sources offering vague, lawyerly quotes.
Of course, none of that clears Smith of her attempt to influence Shandro directly, but it doesn't exactly get the CBC off, either. However, as the same report that Smith will use to claim victory also declared that the premier did, in fact, break the law, well, we're not sure what kind of damages she could reasonably claim in a libel suit. So we guess that old chestnut is going nowhere.
Anyway, that's pretty much where we're at.
Early voting starts Tuesday, and the election will be held next Monday, May 29.
The next week will either be filled with chock-a-bloc oppo drops painting Smith as an unreliable lunatic; or it will be comparatively tame, as the NDP tries instead to bolster Rachel Notley's image as a competent and reliable manager. The ballot question will either be "Can Danielle Smith be trusted?" or "Can we put another socialist government in charge without risking another 2014-esque recession."
The winner will be either the UCP, or the NDP.
Beyond that, what can we say beyond: it's 'Berta, baby.
On top of the provincial matters above, we kept an eye on the latest stories coming out of Ottawa (or related to Ottawa this week). Probably the most interesting story to our minds was the Globe and Mail’s latest file on the China electoral interference front. As always, we encourage our readers to read the stories themselves, but to briefly summarize: the Globe, citing a national security source, says that in the run-up to the 2021 federal election, CSIS requested a warrant to bug the property, and monitor the electronic communications, of Michael Chan. Chan is currently a municipal politician in the Greater Toronto Area, but served in senior roles in successive Ontario Liberal provincial governments. He has long been a subject of CSIS interest, due to reported links to Chinese officials. Your Line editors can’t comment on the accuracy of any allegation against him, but can certainly acknowledge that there’s been “chatter” about Chan for many, many years.
That CSIS sought such a warrant is interesting on that basis alone, but what’s more interesting is that the Globe reports that the warrant took months to be approved by then-public safety minister Bill Blair, a fellow Liberal. The Globe’s security source suspects that the delay was due to the shared political allegiance of the two men. Blair denies the allegations, saying the Globe’s facts are incorrect. '
We’ll see if the ole “The allegations in the Globe are false” works out for this senior Liberal any better than it has any of the other ones.
The Line takes no position the suggestion that Blair was giving cover to a fellow Liberal, though we certainly think that warrants for national-security investigations ought not to languish for months on the desks of cabinet ministers in any circumstance, if that is indeed what occurred. The problem for us here is that while we agree with the Globe’s security source that shared partisan links are a plausible explanation for Blair’s delay, we also think it’s equally plausible that the months-long delay was just Liberal deliverology in action. We really wish that a long, needless and disruptive failure to make a critical decision or take a necessary action was so rare an event as to constitute some kind of smoking gun for these guys. Alas.
Don’t misunderstand that: even simple delay would be a problem. Indeed, for the last few months, we’ve noted with interest that the Liberals’ most strident denials and explanations for their role in all these allegations sound a lot more like confessions than defences. We can accept that our government isn’t either guilty of working with China or at least complicit in others doing so, but accepting that requires us to then accept that they’re guilty of something else: being frickin’ terrible at defending our country’s interests in a rapidly shifting geopolitical environment and effectively overseeing our intelligence services. There aren’t any other real explanations here that we can think of.
“Not guilty by reason of incompetence” probably isn’t the standard the Trudeau government is looking to fall back on here, but that’s about where even its own statements and rationalizations leaves us. Whatever is broken here is their responsibility to fix. Let’s not any of us hold our breath, though.
Also on federal matters, The Line wants to flag something, purely for your information. And credit here must go to Stephanie Levitz, of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau, who was on Line editor Matt Gurney’s SiriusXM radio show last week. The topic of conversation was the proposed changes to our bail policies that the Liberals announced, but Levitz then noted something that caused a lightbulb to go on over Gurney’s head (that happens so rarely these days).
What Levitz noted was that on bail reform, the Liberals are adapting, after the usual delay and under enormous pressure, something close to the Conservative position on the issue. The Tories have been hammering bail reform for months, as the country has seen a series of horrific crimes that could plausibly have been avoided had the perpetrator not been out after a prior arrest. A government slowly coming to adopt a hostile opposition party’s position is interesting on its own, especially given the intense dislike between the current crop of Tories and Liberals, but as Levitz noted, it’s not even the first time that this has happened recently. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the Liberals have adopted the Conservative party’s position on gun control, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Conservatives (and others) stridently opposed the Liberals’ attempt to dramatically expand gun control in Canada using amendments to an existing bill, and that after weeks of denials and evasions and eventually defences, the Liberals caved. They might try and find a backdoor way of doing what they’d wanted, but for now, at least, they’ve read the opinion polls, chatted with their confidence-and-supply partners and adjusted accordingly. Their policy shift can only be called a near-total surrender and retreat. It was remarkable.
And Levitz then noted a third such controversial issue gaining attention: drug policy, especially safer supply. The Tories are hammering the government on this issue at every opportunity. So far, the Liberals are sticking to their talking points. We’ll see if that holds.
To us, this all fits a pattern we aren’t surprised to see, and have actually expected: public-safety and law-and-order issues are returning to the forefront of Canadian debate and thought. People are alarmed by what they are seeing and hearing, and they want to see a government take meaningful action to protect them and their families. Liberal gun-control policies, heavy on theatrical crackdowns on lawful, carefully vetted owners, don’t qualify. A revolving-door bail system even for violent offenders certainly doesn’t qualify either.
We’ll see if the Liberals can hold the line on their drug policies. They clearly want to, but they also wanted to ban a ton of hunting rifles, and haven’t seemed all that interested in bail reform, for that matter. The public mood didn’t allow them to take more action on guns and didn’t permit any further inaction on bail. We will be watching with interest to see what happens with drugs — and if the Liberals are more broadly able to begin adjusting their policies and messaging to respond to public desire for a very basic focus on law-and-order issues from a government that hasn’t often had a whole lot to say on that front, and has done even less than it’s said.
As we’ve noted with some frequency here at The Line, there’s a curious inconsistency in the Trudeau government’s approach to Canada’s moral worth. For domestic audiences, the Liberal attitude can be summed up as “Canada: Racist Dump,” and that’s been more or less the consistent messaging from Ottawa since at least 2017.
Yet when the prime minister ventures abroad, he makes a habit of boasting about Canada’s moral superiority, and drawing invidious comparisons between his government’s progressive policies, on the one hand, and those of the countries he happens to be visiting, on the other.
And so it was with some bemusement that we saw a tweet from CBC journalist Ashley Burke last Thursday noting that Trudeau, while at a meeting of the G7 in Hiroshima, Japan, had sat down with Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and told her that “Canada is concerned” about her government’s position on LGBT rights. According to the government’s readout of the conversation, Meloni responded that she is “following court decisions & is not deviating from previous administrations."
We don’t really know what to make of this. On the one hand, we’re very pro-LGBT rights here at The Line. But we’re also very pro-mind-your-own-fricking-business when dealing with our democratic allies and their domestic policies. And it’s pretty clear that the goal of Trudeau’s scolding of Meloni was not to change her policies or influence Italian public opinion, but instead, was to impress Canadians.
This is one of those things that got us wondering. Does every country do this sort of stuff? Like does every leader go abroad and do a little point scoring against their friends and allies for the sole benefit of the domestic audience back home? For all we know, this is standard stuff, and we just never hear about what other countries’ leaders give our leaders grief over, because we’re not supposed to hear about it. Maybe there’s this little international bargain, where each country agrees to give the other the gears about something — we ask you about gay rights, you ask about our genocide — and the local papers agree to ignore it?
Well, we got the answer on Saturday, when the Italian newspaper Libero published a front-page report on the Trudeau-Meloni meeting. “Questo buffone vuole darci lezione,” read the above the fold headline — “this buffoon wants to teach us lessons.” The headline was accompanied by a all-too-familiar-to-Canadians photograph of the prime minister leering in a turban and blackface.
It turns out that Meloni was none too pleased with being called out by Trudeau. A widely circulated image of the two of them meeting showed an annoyed Meloni staring at the camera while Trudeau was apparently mansplaining democracy to the Italian leader.
We find this all a bit frustrating. There are any number of extremely serious issues on the agenda of any G7 meeting, and this one was no exception: The geopolitical threats of China and Russia top the list, in a meeting that was actually dominated by the arrival of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. You know, the guy who has spent almost year and a half desperately begging for help while Russia murders his people by the thousands. At the G7, Zelenskyy had a massively important one on one with the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
Then there’s Trudeau and his smarmy blindsiding of Meloni. Why Trudeau, or the people around him, thought that going out of his way to piss off an important international ally was a smart gambit is frankly beyond us. Especially once you throw into the mix Canada’s record on, say boil water advisories on reserves, and stir in things like Trudeau’s own past habit of appearing in blackface, the fact that he was credibly accused of groping a reporter, and his firing of Canada’s first female Indigenous minister of justice, it all makes us think that we should just stow the smug routine for a bit.
All we can really do is conclude, once again, that these Liberals are not serious people, and the message they keep sending to the world is that Canada is not a serious country.
Also, we hope you don’t mind us breaking character just for a moment. The Line is, we know, a gloomy place. We think this reflects the times, but we still don’t like it. So we do like to offer up good news when we can, even if it’s trivial. So here’s an example of something we enjoyed doing this long weekend: baking. With a recipe provided by YouTuber Max Miller.
Miller came in for a mention here before, but gosh, we just really like the guy. A young American with an interest in both cooking and history, Miller launched a YouTube channel just before the pandemic struck and he lost his job at Disney (temporarily, as part of widespread emergency closures). Miller began to focus his time and energy on building out his YouTube channel content, creating a show called Tasting History, that is some weird but perfect blend of a cooking show and a historical lecture. He researches a food or drink, or the origins of same, and tells that story, and also prepares it, sticking as closely as possible to the original recipe. He then tries it, and tells us what he thinks.
It’s just fantastically entertaining content, in large part because Miller has a real talent for it. His Titanic series of videos was especially terrific, and highly recommended. In 2021, Disney apparently tried to recall him to work, but Tasting History had become popular enough that he chose to focus on it instead. He now has a cook book, too. We bought a copy the day it was released.
The Saturday of the long weekend was rainy in Ontario, and one of your intrepid Line editors made, as faithfully as possible, one of Miller’s simpler recipes, the “Victoria Sandwich,” a sweet treat that would have been served in the 19th century at high society teas. This Line editor is no baker, but had some help from his mother — yes, he needed his mother’s help, and her kitchen implements — and is delighted to report that the exercise was a complete success. And appropriate for the occasion, as well. Victorian-era cakes on the Victoria Day long weekend. What can go wrong?
The world is full of serious stuff these days. We suspect it’s going to get worse and keep getting worse for a long time before it gets better. For that reason, it’s essential to find some things to keep you entertained and sane. A history lesson that ends up with you having a tasty dessert is about the best medicine we can imagine. Check out Miller’s page here, and browse his videos. You won’t regret it.
And Max? If your book tour brings you to Canada, drop us a line.
Happy long weekend, friends. Get baking!
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: firstname.lastname@example.org