Dispatch from the Front Lines: The hell with this, let's just watch some Star Trek
RCMP updates. Poilievre goes for a stroll. Alberta's missing billions. And some sci-fi shows you should binge while we're on holiday.
Line readers, happy Canada Day!
The Line is switching over to a lighter summer schedule. We will continue to publish throughout. We'll react to breaking news events. We'll respond to emails and messages (as much as we ever do). But for the next two weeks, in particular, expect things to be quiet around here. Unless the news gods ruin our vacations, again.
Later this month, we'll pass our second anniversary here, and we'll mention it when it comes, but for now, from both of us, a profound and sincere thank you. Truly. Thank you. We had an amazing year. One more like it, and The Line will be basically as large and robust as we'd ever dreamed it could be. And the sky is the limit. We are working very hard to build something real and sustainable here. Thank you again for making that possible. We hope you're enjoying it as much as we are.
And now, on with this special Canada Day dispatch — the last dispatch, barring major news events, until later in July.
Last video for a while! Enjoy!
A quick update on something we’ve been covering here for a few weeks now. This week saw further news developments in the controversy surrounding RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. We aren’t going to recap the entire story at length. We covered most of the relevant details and the admittedly complex timeline in our dispatch of last week, and those who wish to get caught up should simply read that.
But this week did bring interesting developments. Another document has been released that addresses the controversial teleconference between Lucki and local commanders and officials in Nova Scotia on April 28, 2020. This document is an email (which has been published by the Mass Casualty Commission in full), written by Lia Scanlan, a civilian who was working with the Nova Scotia RCMP as a communications advisor. She was a participant in the teleconference that is the source of the controversy. In an email sent to Lucky in 2021, well after the events in question but well before the recent controversy erupted, Scanlan harshly criticized Lucki's conduct.
The bulk of Scanlan’s email relates to Lucki’s insensitivity to the officers and civilian staff in Nova Scotia in the aftermath of the shooting. (Lucki, for her part, has already acknowledged that she behaved badly in the meeting and regrets it.) What’s interesting for the purposes of the broader story, however, is that Scanlan’s email repeats the primary allegation contained in the earlier explosive document: that Lucki told the local commanders and officials that she was under political pressure to accelerate the release of information about the crime prior to a forthcoming gun-control announcement by the Trudeau Liberal government.
Specifically, Scanlan wrote: "Eventually, you informed us of the pressures and conversation with Minister Blair, which we clearly understood was related to the upcoming passing of the gun legislation. and there it was. I remember a feeling of disgust as I realized this was the catalyst for the conversation and perhaps a justification for what you were saying about us."
This is interesting for two big reasons. The first is obvious: it is verification, from a new source also present at the controversial meeting, of the primary allegation that has been made against Lucki, and which she has not explicitly denied, though she has now put out two vague statements denying any intention to interfere. The second interesting thing is that one of the immediate lines of defence that miraculously sprung into being last week — just kidding, these were clearly PMO talking points — was that criticisms of Lucki’s conduct simply reflected the old-guard, all-male club mentality of the RCMP seeing an opportunity to put a hatchet into the uppity lady boss they’ve been saddled with by the Trudeau government.
Your Line editors weren’t born yesterday. We’re sure there’s plenty of good ole boys in the RCMP who do indeed feel exactly that way about Lucki. Scanlan, though, doesn’t reflect that. She’s a young woman, and a civilian. Further, even if the allegations were 100 per cent coming from an old-boys club, that doesn’t mean the allegations aren’t true. There have been many, many examples of pissed-off, agenda-driven people with axes to grind striking back at their rivals and opponents by … telling the truth about them.
As we said last week, Lucki is probably finished. If she doesn’t have the good judgment to resign, she should be fired. We don’t honestly know if this problem goes any higher up the chain of command than her. That’s why we repeat what we said last week: we need an investigation into this.
We will note that the government’s tone has slightly changed this week. It’s hard to read too much into government statements. And we want to be careful to avoid simply projecting our own views onto bland bureaucratese. But it does seem to us that the government’s position has evolved slightly, from "There’s no truth to these allegations and we stand by the commissioner" to something more akin to, "Hey, if she did this, it wasn't because we asked her to. Don't blame us!"
Commissioner Lucki? That sound you hear is the big red bus you will soon be thrown under pulling up to the curb you are standing beside. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
For this next bit, we need to tell you upfront that we are writing this in the afternoon of June 30. We honestly don’t know yet what’s going to happen with the so-called “Canada Day Convoy" in Ottawa tomorrow (July 1, when this will be published). Our gut feeling is not much, as we expect the police there are highly motivated to avoid any further abject humiliation and will keep a very close watch on things. We can’t rule out some individual nutbar doing something stupid — and yeah, we’re worried about that. But overall we don’t expect there to be something akin to what we saw in February. Beyond saying that we will keep an eye on it as we barbecue our burgers and hotdogs tomorrow, there isn’t much more that we can say in advance. Fingers crossed.
This is a good opportunity, though, to offer one quick comment on Pierre Poilievre, the man likely to be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. This week, Poilievre joined James Topp, a former Canadian soldier who is marching to Ottawa from Vancouver to protest vaccine mandates. Topp was booted from the Forces for filming himself in uniform decrying vaccine mandates. (Military personnel are generally barred from political advocacy of any kind while in uniform, and Topp would have known that.)
Poilievre would tell you that this is just him showing a willingness to listen to Canadians who have different beliefs on issues. Actually, we can tell you exactly what he'd tell you, since he told a reporter in Ottawa exactly this: "I think that he is advocating freedom of choice. People should have the freedom to make their own decisions with their own bodies and that's why, I think, he's walked across the country and that's why I thought I would give him a greeting and give him a hearing and see if he has any thoughts to share with me."
Meanwhile, Poilievre's critics have reached a different conclusion: the walk with Topp is proof that Poilievre is a far-right MAGA fascist out to overthrow Canadian democracy in a repeat of Jan. 6. Or words to that effect.
We don’t buy either of those explanations, and we think people trying to convince anyone else of either ought to sit down and chill out. We think the same of Poilievre as we did before: he's trying to channel a lot of the anger that is out there in the public right now and use it to animate the Conservative movement and propel himself into 24 Sussex, or whatever eventually replaces that decrepit heap. We’ve said it before, and will say it again: We don’t think Poilievre is an authoritarian. We think he’s a populist trying to use anger to further his political career. We don't know if it'll work, or if he'll fly too close to the sun and destroy himself. Either is possible. You need to be both lucky and good at politics to successfully ride these dragons. We think Poilievre is good at politics — very good. Time will tell if he's lucky.
Your Line editors would not associate ourselves with the convoy. There’s just too many weirdos spouting complete nonsense there for it to make any sense for us to hitch our wagon to it, as well as some truly bad people using the movement for cover (more on that in a minute). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t Canadians who are angry, and fairly so, about real government overreach and failure during the pandemic. In a perfect world, every frustrated citizen would be an excellent natural communicator, free of any blemishes, and a real hobbyist of Canada's civic institutions, as well. That's not how things work in the real world, and a lot of angry people out there are looking for somewhere to direct their anger. They don't always choose well. We will probably get attacked as elitist snobs for saying that, and we really don’t mean it that way. We don’t think you need to be a genius-level IQ with a firm grasp on all of our societal and civic institutions in order to have a completely legitimate and fair grievance with the government. But there’s no way around the fact that many Canadian centrists sneer at anyone not of their ilk, and instantly and utterly dismiss genuine frustration and anger if it's imperfectly expressed by imperfect people.
This is, to put it mildly, counterproductive. We'll be blunter: this is what Poilievre is counting on them doing. The more he shows up with “deplorables" in public and the more shouty people get about it, the happier Poilievre and his campaign are going to be. It is not a fluke, or a coincidence. It’s a plan. It may end up being a mistake, too. His plan might fail. It might even be a terrible plan even if it "works." There is every possibility that Poilievre will not be able to control or harness the forces he is trying to tap into. But that doesn’t mean a whole lot of Canadian centrists, particularly the so-called gatekeepers he loves to campaign against, aren’t playing right into his hands.
We worry about the direction Poilievre is taking the Conservative party in, because the Conservative party seems to be largely intellectually bankrupt. Strong beliefs and convictions are the best guardrails to keep a person or a party on track even in moments of anger and frustration. Does the CPC have any left? We really don’t know what it stands for beyond the most basic talking-point level bumper-sticker slogans. Oh, and supply management. It loves supply management as much as it hates Liberals. Sigh.
This has been happening for years. It’ll get worse. Most of the intellectual heft in the Canadian conservative movement is well detached now from the Conservative Party of Canada itself, and will become more so, because most intellectuals, after all, are just a kind of gatekeeper. We have warned repeatedly in recent years that individuals and political parties that try to channel blind populist rage often end up simply getting gobbled up by it instead. We also think there is a real danger for Canadian conservatives in this moment. There are bad people in this country. There are bad people in the conservative movement. There are others who are simply chaos agents using the convoy and related movements as convenient cover. And we think there's way too much of a reflexive willingness among way, way too many conservatives to overlook truly egregious statements, behaviours and associations using some logic along the lines of, "If it upsets the libs, it must be good."
No. It's not. And that's a really dumb way to look at the world, because you’re stil letting the libs do your thinking for you if that’s how you assess things. Beware the company you keep, conservative friends. Sometimes the libs are alarmed for a reason, and you should be, too.
We haven’t declared the CPC a lost cause yet, because it’s possible that surprises are in store. The future hasn’t happened yet. But we think that this is the trajectory it is on: all anger, all the time, and an increasing unwillingness or inability to avoid veering off into dark places because the party will lose the ability to even spot the darkness. It might even learn to like it.
But that doesn’t mean the party can't win. History is full of examples of political movements that essentially boil down to "Why? Because fuck you!” winning power. They typically don’t know what to do with it, and break a lot of things while trying to figure it out. After all, to channel Captain Spock, “It has always been easier to destroy than to create.”
It takes a special kind of Canadian exceptionalism — arrogance, we mean — for Canadians to think it can’t happen here. Or that their own hysterical reactions to every little carefully arranged provocation by Poilievre and his campaign team are not in fact playing right into their hands.
In short, we urge everybody to chill out. It’s not that we don’t think we have big problems. We definitely think that we have big problems. We’re just saying it would be better to respond in a way that doesn’t make them worse, is all. Would that be so hard?
At the risk of paying too much attention to Alberta — forgive us, some of us live here — we couldn't help but note the province's sudden swing of good luck. After projecting yet another inexcusable deficit in the land of plenty, the war in Ukraine broke out, helping drive commodity prices — including oil — through the roof. This paid off bigly in Alberta, where royalty revenue hit a record $16.2 billion, a full $13.3 billion above previous estimates.
That, on top of a booming business cycle, allowed the pity-me province to suddenly find itself, once again, fully in the flush. And, of course, this time (this time!) Alberta will not squander its sudden boom. You might be expecting the staid, responsible Conservative government to pay down debt ahead of growing borrowing costs; or continue to bring down costs, perhaps even implement a small sales tax so that the province is not perpetually beholden to these radical boom-bust cycles.
If the last 40-odd years of mostly exclusive Conservative rule is any indication, of course it won't. Instead, we expect this province to squander the last of its declining bounty, make some incremental tax or spending cuts, and do nothing on the revenue side while glorying in the fortunes provided by a non-renewable resource in a state of generational decline.
And anyone who wants to say "well, at least the Socialists aren't in power!" are welcome to examine the latest report from the Alberta Auditor-General. Our fiscally responsible UCP government spent $4 billion on programs to help Albertans during the pandemic: the AG found that none of the government's annual reports adequately explain where that money went or what it did.
To name one among the most crucial failures; the province received $1.3 billion in federal funding for a Safe Restart Agreement “to help protect public health and safety, prepare for potential future waves of the virus, and further support the safe reopening of economies across Canada."
The Auditor "could not trace funds through to the recipient ministry results analysis sections to see who spent the money and what was achieved."
So, yeah, remember that the next time Alberta complains about getting an unfair deal from Confederation. While that's undeniably true, let's not forget that most of Alberta's financial problems are entirely of its own making; and even when the province does receive an extra dose of cash from the feds, they can't always keep track of it.
A lot of the above is pretty heavy stuff, and that’s no way to start a vacation. So we deliberately chose to end on something a bit lighter. And my God, is it ever an amazing time to be a fan of science fiction. There are terrific shows on TV right now and we can’t encourage you enough to enjoy some of them.
Firstly, we’d like to start with an admission of bias. Although your co-editors Jen Gerson and Matt Gurney find themselves in general agreement on a great many issues, there is one crucial point of insoluble contention between them. Gurney is a Trekkie. Gerson is a Star Wars nerd. This will never be resolved.
However, both editors have found new content to delight in in recent weeks — and perhaps may even be able to reach a détente.
First, let’s begin with Obi Wan Kenobi, now streaming in full on Disney+.
Gerson, like so many Star Wars fans, admits that she has been traumatized in recent years by the franchise. The prequels may have forever cemented her passion for Ewan MacGregor — and large bearded Scots, in general — but she readily concedes that Episodes I, II, and III were lackluster and unnecessary. In fact, she admits to having watched the cathartic Plinkett deconstructions more often than the films themselves.
With news that J.J. Abrams would lead the soft reboot, The Force Awakens, in 2015, she had high hopes the brand could redeem itself. And while the film wasn’t bad, it also wasn’t particularly good or original. It was a re-hash of A New Hope and, hey, maybe that was fine. She was open to seeing where it went.
And it went … nowhere great. The Last Jedi almost had it: the film’s focus on Rey and Ben Skywalker was compelling; its vision of the force tried to take the series in a new direction. The decision to make the protagonist the daughter of nobody special was a great idea. But the characterizations remained too thin; Rey was a Mary Sue; The Last Jedi was too bogged down by pointless subplots that felt dumb, and cartooney.
By the time The Rise of Skywalker rolled around, Gerson was out. She couldn’t bring herself to see the film in theatre and eventually watched it, begrudgingly, while stuck on a plane. The last film in the franchise reversed all the interesting decisions in the second; it failed to fill out any characters, and its cartoonish unreality was amped to 11. Star Wars had lost Gerson. She thought, forever.
Then The Mandalorian came out on Disney + and it was great. It was a classic homage to the spaghetti western serial with a soupçon of fan service. So, Gerson thought, maybe, maybe there was a new hope in Obi Wan Kenobi, which bridges the life of the titular character from prequel to original trilogy.
And, Gerson was happy to report, she ate that shit up with a spoon and asked for more. She wasn’t alone. The series broke a Disney + viewership record, and while it is behind Stranger Things, it would be tough to say the series hasn’t done well.
Not that the diehard Star Wars fans seem to agree. YouTube reviewers, and Plinkett wannabes, have trashed the series, noting that Obi Wan is not as heroic in this series, he gets bossed around by a 10-year-old Princess Leia. Oh, and they really didn’t like resident villain Reva, played by Black actress Moses Ingram.
And while, yes, Gerson, too, has noted a trend in “woke” art toward shoehorning “diverse” cast members into established series and then failing to provide those actors with credible dialogue, or a compelling story arc … your Line editor disagrees with every one of these critiques.
McGregor offers a compelling, and dare we say, nuanced portrayal of a former military commander suffering from severe PTSD. And, of course he would! Jesus, the guy’s best friend and mentee betrayed the entire Jedi order. His religion, life, everything he’s ever known has been wiped out by a genocidal empire. He’s been in exile in 10 years in a galactic armpit, keeping watch over a kid whose family hates him. Who is coming to this expecting Obi Wan Kenobi to come into this series swinging a lightsabre and a witty quip?
The series starts with Obi Wan at the lowest point in his life, and follows him over six episodes as he gets some of his mojo back. In other words, it offers us an actual character arc that follows a real and believable protagonist. The series doesn’t over-rely on force tricks or lightsabre duels, instead forcing Obi Wan to demonstrate his intelligence and wit. We watch as he evolves from a broken hermit to a heroic figure who can once again develop real human relationships.
Is the series perfect? No, of course not. Like every other obnoxious nerd, Gerson can nitpick its little plot holes, too. But in substance, it resolves all of the key failures of many previous Star Wars titles, and in that, it’s worth both a watch and a pass.
Across the aisle of the great science-fiction divide, we also strongly urge our readers to check out the latest Star Trek show, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. (Produced by CBS, it streams on the Crave app in Canada.) This is the third live action Star Trek series to come out during this latest era of the long-running franchise’s history. Your Line editors tried out Star Trek: Discovery, which premiered in 2017, and eventually gave up on it. The show was hobbled early on by considerable behind-the-scenes problems and major writing-staff turnover, problems that weren’t really smoothed until the third season. The third season was definitely better, but by that point, we realized that even after watching three years of these characters, we couldn’t recall most of their names or the first bit about their backstory. The show was visually stunning, and proudly diverse, but too many of the characters and plotlines were paper-thin, at best. So we gave up after the third season, and haven’t looked back.
We actually quite liked the first season of Star Trek: Picard, which brought famed actor Patrick Stewart back to the small screen in his iconic role. The first season was polarizing among the fanbase, and it didn’t stick the landing. The finale tried to cram too much plot resolution into a single episode and it ended up being a muddled slog. Overall, though, the first season was an entirely honourable outing for the new show, and we had high hopes for the second. Unfortunately, it ended up being a complete hot mess. The plot made no sense. The talented cast was wasted — indeed, a major problem is that it was really obvious that a lot of plotlines existed simply to give actors under contract something to do. There was a genuinely wonderful idea for a Star Trek story at the core of Picard’s second season, but it was buried under so much baggage and nonsensical plot twists that the entire thing left a bad taste in our mouths.
That’s why we approached Strange New Worlds with such trepidation. Believe us, Line readers. Star Trek has hurt us before and we did not want to be hurt again. Thank God, Strange New Worlds hasn’t done that yet.
Is it perfect? No, of course not. Not every episode has been great. Not every scene has worked for us. Not every plot development has made sense. There are definitely things about the show we could criticize.
But overall, it’s very, very good. It is a slickly produced and well-acted return to traditional Star Trek storytelling: as the Enterprise roams the galaxy, arriving at new destinations each week, the crew is presented with a new series of challenges that they must overcome, using teamwork, smarts, good humour and, yeah, an occasional full spread of photon torpedoes. It is exactly what worked about Star Trek at its best, and we do not hesitate to say that Strange New Worlds, with only one episode left to air in its debut season, has had the best first season of any new Star Trek show, hands-down, since the original premiered in 1966.
It ain’t perfect, but it’s good. At times it’s very good. We can’t wait for more. If you have a chance over the summer, maybe wait for a rainy day and check it out. We don’t think you’ll regret it.
And even better, even if you aren’t a Star Trek or Star Wars fan, there are tons of other great science-fiction options out there right now. Apple is airing new episodes of For All Mankind, a show set in an alternate universe where the space race never ended after the Soviets barely beat the Americans to the first moon landing. Netflix is just now releasing the final batch of episodes for its delightful sci-fi adventure series Stranger Things. HBO just released the fourth season of Westworld, after an unevenly received third season that your Line editors actually thought was quite good. And if you haven’t already, check out Man in the High Castle or The Expanse on Amazon Prime — both shows have wrapped up their runs, but are entirely worth a binge.
We spend a lot of time here telling you about bad things. This is a good thing: we are in an absolute golden age for fans of science-fiction television. Dig in, friends. We plan to.
Now let’s see what’s out there.
Okay! We’re done. We will probably trickle out a few articles over the next few weeks before coming back on a lighter publication schedule in the latter half of July. Take good care, Line readers. Happy Canada Day.
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