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Dispatch from the Front Lines: We love you, but you're not serious people
Plus, Alberta's election drama, more guns legislation, and your MIA Line editors explain themselves
We at The Line admit to being a touch overwhelmed this week; An election in Alberta, a Coronation in London, and a Liberal policy convention in Fantasia all have us a little on our back heels.
One Line editor is, as of this moment, in the old country collecting colour from the Coronation. Expect to see more from him shortly: We don’t exactly have a “plan” for our regal coverage. We admit, we thought it would be fun to send Matt Gurney across the pond on a Red Eye flight and see what happened. That was the extent of our extremely sophisticated editorial decision making. Consider it another installment in our ongoing “Make Matt Suffer” series.
Speaking of suffering, your other Line editor collected another strain of Streptococcus this week, diligently racking up infections like some people collect points on coffee loyalty cards. (Two more rounds of near-death and the tonsillectomy is free!)
Jen Gerson is thoroughly drugged and now just competent enough to drag the narrative threads of a bizarre week into something resembling a coherent dispatch — albeit with the help of some of the Line’s friends. What we didn’t manage to make time for was a video dispatch and podcast. Sorry!
However, in the meantime, please enjoy what we have managed to pull together.
Fans of the HBO television series Succession will remember the amazing scene earlier in this final season, when the embattled family patriarch Logan Roy met with his rebellious kids in a karaoke bar. After yet another jousting match over money, power, influence, and loyalty, Logan stood up and looked at them: “I love you,” he told them as he left. “But you’re not serious people.” It was one of the last things he said to his three smug, entitled, brainless, useless, children.
The Liberals under Justin Trudeau are the Kendall, Roman and Shiv Roy of Canadian politics.
Once upon a time, Canada was led by a serious man named Pierre Elliot Trudeau. No matter what you think of his tenure as prime minister, there is no question that he took the job, and the country, seriously. Today his offspring, both biological and ideological, prance around the Canadian political landscape, smug and entitled and all the rest of it. But none of them has the foggiest idea of what they are doing with with the power they inherited, or why, or for what purpose.
Which brings us to the latest gathering of the incestuous, extended clan of Canada’s Roys, the Liberal Party annual convention in Ottawa.
For the evening entertainment on Friday, they brought out Jean Chrétien — another fantastically unserious person — to do his usual petit gars de Shawinigan routine. And did the old coot ever deliver, bragging yet again about keeping Canada out of Iraq, jabbing at Pierre Poilievre, and joking that he expects The Globe and Mail to call for a royal commission into Hillary Clinton showing up at the Liberal convention and interfering in Canadian elections.
Oh, our sides. They split. No matter that two days ago was World Press Freedom day. No matter that Friday also happened to be NNA night, where the Globe and Mail won nine awards. This is the Liberal convention after all, where one of the main policy proposals up for debate is a suggestion from the B.C. Liberals to essentially nationalise the news. Why not aim a few kicks at the media. The Liberals are paying for it anyway, aren’t they?
In his speech, Chrétien played to the latest Liberal idée fixe, which is that all of the party’s troubles since 2018 — from SNC Lavalin to WEgate to the egregious handling of Chinese interference — are all due to the clickbait chasing yellow journalists at the failing Globe and Mail.
For those of you who weren’t lucky enough to live through the nineties, Chrétien is the Liberal prime minister who brought you such hits as “what me worry?” about a Quebec referendum on secession; a joke about his PMO ordering the RCMP to pepper spray UBC students protesting his decision to invite a brutal dictator to dinner on their campus; and the Shawinigate and Adscam scandals, both of which are still routinely taught and referenced as case studies in ruling party greaseballery at its most unctuous.
But Liberals be Liberals. As National Post columnist Chris Selley noted: “This is deadly serious shit and this buffoon is playing it for laughs, just like [he] always played deadly serious shit.”
The “deadly serious shit” Selley had in mind is surely the river of scandal coursing through the Liberal Party in Ottawa over Chinese interference in Canadian politics, with tributaries flowing in from riding associations across the country, the Trudeau Foundation in Montreal, and numerous other parts of the Canadian political landscape. On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported on a CSIS analysis from 2021 which alleged that the family of Conservative MP Michael Chong was targeted by China’s security apparatus for unknown sanctions, in response to Chong’s sponsorship of a House of Commons motion calling China’s persecution of the Uighurs a genocide.
On Tuesday an understandably alarmed Chong was given an emergency briefing about the threat by CSIS director David Vigneault, in a meeting arranged by the prime minister.
This isn’t just about Michael Chong. Every member of parliament, every member of the government, should be up in arms over this. The Chinese diplomat in Canada involved, Zhao Wei, should have been sent home immediately, but Melanie Joly is still weighing the pros and cons.
As appalling as the targeting of Chong is in its own right, more scandalous still is the government’s response — equal parts utterly incompetent, unbelievably shady, and shamelessly partisan.
The scandal begins with the fact that Chong himself was never told about the CSIS report. Why is that? On Wednesday, the prime minister claimed it was because the threat identified in the CSIS report wasn’t deemed serious enough by the intelligence agency, so it never circulated outside of the agency. The first Trudeau had heard of this, apparently, was when he read about it in the newspaper.
But on Thursday, Michael Chong told the House of Commons that he’d been told, in a call from Trudeau’s current national security advisor Jody Thomas, that the report had actually made its way to the desk of one of her predecessors. When Trudeau was asked to explain this apparent contradiction on Friday, he said: “In terms of what I shared, I shared the best information I had at the time on Wednesday, both to Mr. Chong and to Canadians.” When asked who had given him this information, Trudeau declined to answer.
Look, we’ve seen this game before, countless times, with this government and this prime minister. Trudeau’s habit of responding to allegations of wrongdoing or incompetence or mismanagement by first denying any knowledge of the issue, then discrediting the source, and finally throwing unidentified third parties under the bus, is a well trod path for this deeply unserious man.
Given the pattern, we’re pretty skeptical of Trudeau’s claim that he’d been given incomplete information. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise us in the slightest if it turns out that he just made the whole thing up.
Meanwhile, the scandal is now unfolding in other ways that are entirely predictable for the Liberals. Their shamrock attack dogs on Twitter are going after Chong. The Liberal public safety minister is attacking CSIS. And Jean Chrétien is out there yucking it up, treating the whole thing as one big joke, to a rapturous reception by the gathered partisans.
This is a serious issue, but these are not serious people. We get the government we deserve of course, but Canada is not a serious country. We’re the Roy siblings of the Western elite — wealthy, entitled, and utterly cartoonish. The joke is on us.
As Line editor Jen Gerson put it on Twitter Friday evening, you can hear the laughter all the way from Beijing.
One of your Line editors — can you guess which one?! — was excited to see a new gun-control announcement by the federal government this week. Column fodder! Whoo hoo! Excitement soon turned into befuddlement and that’s been the mood since. This is … uhhh … something else.
Recall that six months ago, the Liberals tried to slip in a massive expansion of gun control by legislative sleight of hand. They’d been working on Bill C-21, which freezes the sale and transfer of handguns, for months. And then suddenly, well into the legislative process, the bill was amended to massively expand the scope. Thousands of types of rifles, including many of the most commonly used hunting rifles in the country, were slated to be banned.
The attempt was a political fiasco for the Liberals and a particularly embarrassing episode for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino — an especially brutal showing for a not-particularly gifted minister. The Line covered the issue extensively at the time, and if we may, we called it correctly almost from start to finish. The Liberals did not grasp how profound their proposals were. They did not have a messaging plan in place. They did not correctly gauge the public anger. And they had not consulted with the NDP and Bloc, both of which were quick to walk away from the disaster. The issue reportedly came close to derailing the confidence and supply deal between the Liberals and the NDP. The Dippers were that angry at having been caught by surprise.
The Liberals needed longer to walk away, and tried to bluster their way through in the typical way: accusing those making the entirely accurate and truthful observations about their amendments of spreading misinformation. But of course. But in the end, they couldn’t help but retreat. They had to, even if it took too long. As noted many times here, their ability to perceive danger (political or literal) and then react to it is bad. They are slow and getting slower. But after a few weeks of flailing and letting Mr. Mendicino beclown himself, they pulled the amendments and admitted, quietly, that they’d screwed up.
We wondered what that would mean at the time. It seemed to us, astonishingly, that one of the most tried-and-true Liberal wedges had lost its effectiveness. For years, guns and abortion had been the LPC’s go-to wedges. “In case of political emergency, break glass and talk about AR-15s.” Months ago, they tried that … and it failed. Had they finally taken that one too many trip to the well?
We think so. This week, the Liberals announced a major revamp of C-21. Some of it is good! Or at least harmless. There is some stuff in there about “ghost guns” that seems smart, given the growing sophistication of 3-D printers. But the rest? Wow.
The big news? The sweeping rifle ban is back, but with a big twist. It will only apply to rifles designed and manufactured going forward. Everything that already exists is fine. And based on our reading, rifles based on existing designs would remain fine forevermore. This, of course, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The entire “logic” behind any ban on a go-forward basis is undercut by being A-okay with all the rifles that predate it. This is half-pregnant territory here. The rifles are either too dangerous to be owned by civilians or they’re fine under the existing regulations. The Liberals are trying to say both things are true. It’s absurd, and some of their typically steadfast gun-control allies seem rather fed up about it.
We don’t always agree with the Poly folks (an understatement) but we are aligned on at least this much: for all the brave and bold talk, the Liberals are massively retreating on this file. To an extent beyond we ever would have guessed.
They may be trying to proceed by a stealthier route. The new bill proposes that an “independent” expert panel will have the power to recommend specific guns for banning, and the cabinet will oblige with orders-in-council. Count on the Liberals loading the panel up with pro-ban types. Still. Let us set aside for a moment the undemocratic outsourcing of executive power to an unelected body. This is the kind of thing you only do when you are looking for a shield from criticism and accountability. Don’t blame us! It was the independent review panel!
Ponder for a moment how massive a shift this is. The Liberals have spent all their time thus far talking big on guns while doing not all that much. They wanted the political benefits of the announcement because it plays well for them among women in urban and suburban ridings. They’ve been doing this regularly for years. Now they want a panel to take it over so they can duck the heat?
We know they’ll still talk guns sometimes. They certainly have at their convention. But this is something they’d only be doing if they’d come to realize themselves what we said months ago: they have largely maxed this issue out in terms of political advantage. Backlash now surpasses the benefit for any large move. And that’s fascinating. What does Liberal politics look like without one of their favourite wedges?
Finally, an unseasonably warm Spring has arrived in Alberta, along with a writ drop: one of these events was far more welcome to the populace than the other. To begin, there is not a lot of enthusiasm for either party going into this provincial election: The traditional progressive conservatives that once made up the bulk of the now United Conservative Party is struggling with the fact that the Natural Governing Party of Alberta is now very much headed by the former leader of the Wildrose Party. Another way of putting it is that Jason Kenney tried to Unite-The-Right, bringing the PCs and the Wildrose together under his leadership; his combination of federal experience under Stephen Harper, and position on the right side of the ideological spectrum, should have allowed him to bridge the cultural divide between the two streams of conservative thought represented by the parties.
Oops! Well, it obviously didn’t turn out that way. The success of Danielle Smith heralds a very different outcome than the one Kenney must have envisioned. He did all the work of uniting the right, only to see the Wildrose Party end up leading it. It’s a clear success for one particular faction of the Big Tent Party, namely the quasi populist/libertarian one; and it’s leading to no end of drama and fall out, particularly from the ideological guardians and stalwarts who were once pillars of the old PCs. We saw a little of that drama play out in this very publication this week, between Jared Wesley and Ken Bossenkool and Karamveer Lahl. (Expect an Act II play out in The Line next week. Wink wink.)
All that said, the actual election campaign to date has been lacklustre. On one hand, we have the NDP led by Rachel Notley attempting to convince Alberta’s moderates to hold their collective noses and opt for a steady hand rather than the unpredictable Ms. Smith — a woman who wants to make you pay for a family doctor, pull Alberta out of the CPP etc. etc. On the other, UCP loyalists who either support Smith’s cowboy politics, or at the very least, see the greater threat in the wicked socialist NDP. Both camps are accusing the other of raising taxes using math, methods, and means that we won’t bother going over.
Smith’s many, many unwise public statements are coming back to haunt her, as predicted. Most notable was this bizarre livestream hosted by the Western Standard and recently highlighted by lefty hitching post, Press Progress:
When asked specifically about the then-ongoing border blockade at Coutts, AB. Smith responded: “This whole phrase of ‘peace, order and good government’, I think it’s become a shorthand to the federal government can do whatever the heck it wants and we just have to be peaceful and orderly about it…That’s not, in my view, what it should mean.”
She want on to raise fears about vaccine mandates, including the notion that in some dystopian future, we would all need to be vaccinated to open a bank account.
“This is the line in the sand that’s been drawn…he federal government has so much more planned, they have so much more coming and I think this is the reason why we want to see this win.”
This is, of course, well into “wtf are you on about, woman?” territory, and implies some deep thinking on topics that is dangerously offside with consensus reality.
Meanwhile, the most substantive announcement to date has come from team Smith, who has promised a significant tax cut for income less than $60,000; as well, she has promised legislation requiring a referenda to succeed in order to raise taxes in the future.
We must say here that that is an absolutely brutally awful policy promise. While Kenney’s UCP can be fairly criticized for running his 2019 campaign on a thinly re-hashed Reform Party policy book, Smith seems to be running hers on thinly re-hashed policies that have already failed miserably for Republicans south of the border.
We’re not against tax cuts in principle, but it’s hard to see how Alberta needs any more of them. The province has already arguably maxed out its competitive advantage on this front, and any further reductions will simply reduce potential government revenue while not necessarily spurring any increase in economic activity. We could see an argument for reducing taxes for the province’s poorest as a temporary inflation relief measure — but no tax reduction will be temporary under this model thanks for a need to pass a referenda to raise them again.
We know very well that virtually nobody votes to increase their own taxes in a direct ballot, so a referendum legislation is just a roundabout way of hampering any future government’s ability to raise taxes to deal with pressing economic issue. It was a bad idea in California — a state mired, quite literally, in its own shit as a result of bad policies like this. It’s especially poorly thought out in a much smaller economy like Alberta, which is much more dependent on highly volatile resource revenue.
Provided a future government doesn’t simply undo the legislation wholesale, locking in low taxes will only make the province more dependent on resource royalty in the long run. The province will ensure that the only way it can manage inevitable declines is through cuts to wages and services. Essentially, these policies risk in debt and labour crises for the foreseeable future. And all very needlessly.
Anyway, we think this is dumb, but we look forward to seeing what comes out of the campaign next week.
Considering the week, we actually think this was a respectable line up! Just a reminder that we’re becoming more dependent on our subscribers to grow The Line. If you would be so kind, please consider passing this dispatch around to anyone who might like it. We’ve kept this week’s unpaywalled, to give all you free subs a taste of what you’re missing. But that will likely change again in the near future. Have a great Coronation weekend, everyone.
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