national post

Jonathan Kay Likens Conrad Black to Lindsay Lohan

Kay – “For shorthand, let’s call this the Lindsay Lohan test — since we know she passed — and see how Conrad Black stacks up.”


I had to read it three times to fully appreciate the irony of Kay making Black look even more like a snob. In his column, he goes out of his way to compare Canada’s special treatment of Black with its equal leniency towards Lohan.

And with that, we now know one thing for certain: rich people remain coddled in Canada.


Jack Layton’s Death Means Vitriol Lives On

Leader of the Opposition was last hope in Canada’s deteriorating political landscape

By: James Di Fiore

This is not your mother’s Canada anymore.

All across the country, from conservatives to socialists, the apathetic to political junkies, the universal response to Jack Layton’s losing battle with cancer was unmistakable. Not surprisingly, his supporters were quite emotional, tearing up on live television as they reminisced about their leader, their mentor. Liberal party members were next, echoing the sentiment and paying their respects, calling Layton their friend and a worthy adversary. Conservatives also showed the kind of class we should expect from our leaders, telling stories of battles waged in the House of Commons with a man they held in high regard. It was as if Layton’s passing could serve as a watershed moment of sorts, breaking down barriers between people or at least slowing down Canada’s slide into the depths of polarization. Liberals and Conservatives were certainly not about to trade in their red and blue for bright orange, but for once they were able to speak with civility about someone who they disagreed with politically.

‘Not so fast’, said the loudest, most ignorant and most extreme voices in the country.

In a surreal display of cowardice, and a testament to the internet’s greatest misgiving, up popped the lunatic fringe who expressed glee over the death of their socialist enemy. Sure, there are crazies everywhere, and the internet is crawling with them, but what once seemed like a tiny minority is now appearing to become a growing phenomenon. These aren’t your typical nut-jobs, pranksters or mentally disturbed people – they are regular, every day folks who have decided that since they no longer believe in evil concepts such as political correctness, they are now free to kick a man on the day he dies, especially if that man disagrees with their point of view.

The comments from these regular folks reflect a new way of interpreting the now omnipresent political battlefield. Canada is experiencing a variety of social symptoms where the fabric of decency is being unraveled and restitched with ideological threads once seen exclusively during campaign season. Journalists like Dave Naylor and Christie Blatchford, desperate to differentiate themselves and provide an alternative perspective, tweeted jokes about Layton’s death or penned long winded columns about how the coverage (on the very day our Leader of the Opposition died, no less) was over the top. And while Blatchford has had a wonderful career and is a magnificent writer, her need to appear original and crafty actually made her look petty and amateurish.

Amazingly, and it is worth repeating, it was politicians who showed true leadership when the news broke. In fact, these moments in history often produce an ethical hubris where politicians act like statesmen while bias media organizations and maverick journalists take on the role of children, championing the classic public relations strategy of personal exposure through controversy instead of simply writing and reporting. Opinion news, the new and oxymoronic method of ideologues and partisans, has morphed from a watered down version of journalism to a full time, hatchet wielding concept meant to assimilate people into specific political philosophies. The aforementioned mainstay issue of those with opposite views of Layton is now political correctness. By hiding behind free speech, far right radicals are convincing regular folks to feel infallible if they cheer the death of someone they disagreed with.

Jack Layton’s passing is a stark reminder of how our leadership can sometimes shine, even if some of the people they are leading distort its reflection.

No sir, this is not your mother’s Canada.

Election 2011: How Canada is Replicating America’s Hyper Partisan Politics


 NDP surge means more than a political shift – it completes the national polarization process

By: James Di Fiore

As far as Parliamentary systems go, Canada once had an international reputation of demonstrating fiscal prudence, strong social policies and a peacekeeping military. It wasn’t too long ago when our national identity was predicated on our ability to differentiate ourselves, respectfully of course, from our American cousins. Canadians, a patchwork of various political leanings, had a reputation of not letting ideology trump civil discourse, even while their politicians took cheap shots or when Question Period looked like Romper Room. Americans, by contrast, treat politics like a blood sport, a tug of war between polar opposites fueled by cable news, conspiracy and the tendency to vilify opposing views. And while the two countries are easily separated by this political distinction, that gap is shrinking ominously.

The 2011 election has been preempted by deliberate tactics of aspersions meant to reinforce political differences rather than spotlight honest disagreements. This reinforcement seems logical on the surface; after all, this is an election of partisan ideas and genuine dissimilarities between the parties. But the tactical trends indicate an increase in hyperbole, demonization and vitriol between regular people, not just the leaders they support. Evidence of this new mindset among voters can be seen on social networking sites, the opinion sections of news outlets and in pubs and coffee shops across the country. The two sides are drifting from the center, espousing far right and far left ideals while warning their fellow Canadians of the perils of political views opposite from their own.

By attacking Stephen Harper on military spending, corporate tax cuts and perceived government secrecy, the Liberals and NDP are inciting reactionary rhetoric from their loyalists rather than a frank discussion on policy differences. Rooted in these talking points may be reasonable concerns, but the conversation is routinely fertilized with fear mongering and allegations of conspiracy.

The far right, disciplined in their ability to robotically stay on message, firebomb the left with labels like ‘socialist’, ‘fiberal’ and ‘anti-Semite’. The latter smear is telegraphed and eerily reminiscent of Evangelical America, the slur being delivered arbitrarily and deliberate. The term socialism, as the Obama era has demonstrated, is now the political equivalent of calling a person a Brownshirt, stoking a reaction among those conservatives who still cynically dub Canada ‘Canuckistan.’

Identical to American politicos in tone and delivery, these two groups have become the loudest voices during this campaign. Television broadcasts may not espouse or endorse the same kind of language, but journalists and pundits quietly recognize the behind the scenes trend of tar and feathering political opponents. As the Conservative base digs in, the rise of the NDP marches on. Ideologies are continuing to drift farther apart. The rhetoric provides the kind of cover that helps avoid the effective discourse needed to reconcile opposing views. You might never hear Stephen Harper publicly utter the word Canuckistan, but you can hear his base cackle enthusiastically when the term is used. Jack Layton probably won’t point and yell ‘Fascist!’ if Harper wins a majority government, but many of his minions are already wearing t-shirts bearing the message.

The chances of further polarization among Canadians is high. Engagement in politics is rising, moods are shifting and party strategists are encouraging an ongoing spirit of anger among their respective loyalists. Torches and pitchforks have been replaced with internet trolling and reactionary, inflammatory language.

Disinformation. Relentless name-calling. A dangerous and tragic replication of American discourse is being born, and many Canadians are unwitting, tragic accomplices.

The Toronto Election 2010: An Analysis From the Fringe

The 11th hour recap from a guy who won’t be Toronto’s mayor on October 25th

By: James Di Fiore

The night before the election and I did what any fringe candidate would do. I went grocery shopping.

It’s been a crazy ride. Nobody expected me to win, which is probably a solid prediction, but I really can’t complain. I walked to the neighbourhood Metro with a thousand thoughts and flashbacks dancing in my head. I registered in August even though I told everyone I was going to register on January 4th. OK, that was actually pretty funny. But even though I waited so long to register, I was still able to garner a fair amount of press, especially for a fringe candidate.

Several people have told me that I am not qualified to be mayor. They might very well be right, but if you look at what qualifies a person to hold public office, and the general consensus is that most lifer politicians are generally untrustworthy, then I am certain I am different from the cast of characters vying for the top job in 2010. On paper I am a freelance writer and an events producer, but I have never misused public money, I have no criminal record (much to the surprise of anyone who went to high school with me), and I do not have trouble getting along with my professional peers. And since my entire campaign has been directed towards the daunting task of eroding voter apathy among young people, I think my qualifications are sound. I may not win this election, but I am one of many young Torontonians who have made it our mission to shine a spotlight on the one item that defines politics today – young people, the largest demographic in the city, have been left out of the process.

On October 18th, Calgary residents went to the polls in their own mayoral election. Ric McIvor, often compared to Rob Ford, was the right-of-center front runner in all of the polls. Barb Higgins, a former local news anchor, was polling a close second, and a political novice named Naheed Nenshi was a distant third, polling at a paltry 18% just three days before the election.

On September 30th I traveled to Calgary to attend an event and met with McIvor and his campaign manager to talk about the youth vote. I was given a surprising response when I asked what he thought the turnout among young people would be.

“We don’t really try to reach young people. They don’t vote, so why bother?”

Nineteen days later McIvor lost the election to Nenshi who credits the mobilization of young voters as the key ingredient to his victory.

Toronto does not have a Nenshi, and contrary to a sparsely held belief, Joe Pantalone does not resonate with young Toronto voters. Incidentally, Pantalone will still receive a higher percentage than the current polls indicate as there is a movement of anti-strategic voting taking place as you read this. People are growing exhausted at the political construct and the media alike. Toronto is being dictated to by pundits, smarmy journalists, political lifers and their handlers, all caused from a  subliminal consensus that has convinced them of the following: Rob Ford and George Smitherman are the only two politicians who can win this election.

Even the polls are showing a lack of depth as it pertains to critical thinking and execution of facts. EKOS, an otherwise reputable firm, recently admitted to using an automated dialer to conduct a poll that claimed Ford was ahead of Smitherman by 9 points. Of course, these robocalls cannot distinguish between the target receiver of the phone call or a 12 year old child. Additionally, this poll was conducted over a period of 9 days, an eternity in election time when many people change their minds about their choices more than once.

The Toronto Mayoral Election of 2010 is a first of its kind for the people of this city. We are seeing tactics normally reserved for American political races (Rob Ford has also used robocalls to reach thousands of voters) as well as a media who have become cheer leaders for particular candidates not just in their editorials, but in their so-called balanced reporting. So blatant has this year’s biases been that many readers have called for the termination of journalists who have openly endorsed a candidate, not because it hasn’t been done before, but due to the uniformity of opinions in the columns of their colleagues. Like it or not, the media is not only editorializing the election but shaping the outcome. Writers from The Sun took Rob Ford. Star readers think Smitherman is their guy. The National Post also selected Ford, and The Globe and Mail held their nose and took Smitherman. NOW Magazine still doesn’t matter.

And we sit here, looking at suspect poll results, sifting through each newspaper and countless online publications, listening to the incessant sloganeering of each campaign and gasp at how our electoral process devolved into something so blatantly artificial. A glimmer of hope can be found in the 34 candidates who are not projected to make the top three. Fringe candidates, while endlessly marginalized, include a handful of people who have surprised the media and turned more than a few heads in the electorate. What a statement it would be if these candidates collectively stole 25% of the vote. And while I include myself in that figure, the bigger picture is the libertarian idea that the individual still has the ultimate say over how he or she exercises their self given right to vote for whoever they please.

I don’t know how many votes I will receive, and frankly I don’t really care either. During the process of registering, campaigning, encouraging young people to vote, debating the mainstream candidates and writing about this election, I have learned one invaluable lesson: it is much better to be engaged in the political process, however flawed it may be, than to sit idly by and wait for the results determined by the mechanism itself.

On the way out of the grocery store I ran into Olivia Chow who was handing out leaflets for her son, Mike Layton, who is running for council in Chow’s old stomping grounds of Trinity-Spadina. We know each other from when I voted three times in her riding back in the federal election of 2004. I asked how Jack was doing in his cancer battle and wished Mike good luck in the election before sauntering away with my groceries. It was a fitting way to end my engagement in this exhausting political season.

Happy voting, and don’t believe anything you read in the paper today.

Political Posturing

Candidates gambling through dead ideas and quiet alliances

By: James Di Fiore

Labour Day has always been the unofficial start to what is often referred to as the ‘real campaign’ during municipal elections. Policies dreamt up months earlier are either tossed aside or proudly announced, depending on the mood of the electorate, the poll numbers and the advice from campaign strategists. Politicians roll up their sleeves, taking more risks and hoping those risks pay dividends.

So while it was not surprising to see Rocco Rossi announce that he had an upcoming policy announcement (redundant much?), the peculiar and downright recycled idea of extending the Allen Expressway by tunneling underneath the city from Eglinton to the Gardiner was desperate at best. In short, Rossi’s campaign appears to believe he and George Smitherman are on a path to split the vote, vaulting Rob Ford into the mayor’s chair at City Hall. So instead of creating a vision unique to his campaign, Rossi gambled and is now swimming in political quicksand just 5 weeks away from the election.

Smitherman, whose stagnant campaign has surprised even his most unforgiving critics, has the rare opportunity to position himself as the only realistic opponent to Rob Ford, but his first ad after Rossi’s blunder had a spelling error. You can’t make this shit up. It writes itself in what will one day be regarded as the most farcical election in Toronto’s history…guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Rob Ford continues to pull the string on his back, making the exact same few statements about spending cuts and transparency as he has throughout the campaign. Coincidentally, Ford’s unchanged messaging is mirrored by his poll numbers which have plateaued at around 35%. His supporters, who have been the most vocal of any candidate, were cemented long ago in the outskirts of the city and will likely not increase unless Ford extends an olive branch to the downtown population. Even if Ford does unveil a more inclusive platform, it is unlikely his numbers will grow due to a genuine dislike downtowners seem to have for the frumpy front-runner.

Sarah Thomson is also struggling to increase her support. In fact, the lone female candidate has now taken up her own renditions of Ford’s key talking points in an effort to reach the right-leaning citizenry that have thus far ignored her platform. Thomson, who positioned herself verbally as a social conservative, spent most of the start of her campaign cosying up to Toronto lefties through her environmental initiatives, abandoning her neo-conservative roots in the process. This deliberate attempt to disguise her true colours cost her credibility among informed voters while coming off inauthentic to everyday Torontonians. Her parroting of Ford’s positions on wasteful spending have become so obvious lately that one wonders if she will drop out of the saturated race and throw her support behind the Ford campaign, perhaps securing a spot in his administration should the current numbers hold.

Finally, Joe Pantalone is still in the race. Expect nothing notable from Miller’s concierge between now and October 25th. It would be nice to expand on Joe’s campaign progress, but the tiny City Hall lifer just doesn’t resonate with voters.

In the end, this election will be decided on how the vote is split, and whether or not candidates without a chance of winning will be stubborn enough to stay in the race. Time will tell…

TTC Watch: Bob Kinnear Disrespects Torontonians…again

Inarticulate union leader blames Toronto public for TTC woes

by: James Di Fiore

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Bob Kinnear, the head of the Almagamated Transit Union local 113, lambasted the public at a press conference, blaming them for systemic problems at Toronto’s mass transit service.

Sound familiar? Well, it should.

Kinnear is making a habit out of scapegoating the Toronto public when his own competence is legitimately questioned. In the 2008 TTC strike he abruptly stranded thousands of transit customers without warning, erroneously stating the decision made was to protect his workers from “angry and irrational members of the public.” During negotiations with the TTC, Kinnear had promised to give 48 hours notice before walking off the job but in the end decided 90 minutes was enough.

And people wonder why unions have a bad name is some circles.

His latest farce took place at a press conference on February 9th. It was classic Kinnear, complete with a faux tough-guy voice meant to show his members he had their backs. Not so surprisingly, the statement came off forced, lacking any trace of real professionalism.

“Listen people, stop harassing people who are doing their jobs,” Kinnear told a news conference Tuesday. “Stop insulting them. Stop waving camera phones in their face. Stop spitting on them. Stop calling them lazy and overpaid.”

Kinnear continued. “We will be prepared to listen to constructive criticism and take it to heart,” he said. “We will listen to customer complaints if they are presented in a reasonable way and if we are given the courtesy of giving a courteous reply.”

It is always entertaining to hear a person demand reason and courtesy while behaving unreasonable and arrogant.

In the world of public relations, Kinnear is a nightmare. His crass, unpolished communications skills are evenly matched with his complete lack of respect for the millions of people who ultimately pay his members’ salaries. His tactic – pandering to his base while using the public as pawns and patsies – symbolize an ineptness of diplomacy when attempting to garner public support. In short, Kinnear is a colossal failure.

This latest public rant comes on the heels of TTC Chair Adam Giambrone’s failed mayoral bid after the candidate’s very public sex scandal involving a 20-year-old university student. While Giambrone has not yet announced plans to abandon his transit post, it showcases the rooted failure of the TTC to have effective leadership on both sides of the Commission.

If the public is deciding to hold Giambrone accountable for the TTC’s diminishing reputation, Kinnear deserves the same fate. After a two-year decline in quality service, an ill-advised surprise strike and another fare increase, the public has the right to feel used by Kinnear and the workers he represents.

I bet you $3 he does not learn his lesson.