Tag Archives: ontario

O’Leary, businessman and ‘Shark Tank’ star, wants to be Canada’s Trump

A more polite Donald Trump? Canada’s Kevin O’Leary hopes to make the same leap from business to reality TV to politics. (Facebook)

If Kevin O’Leary has his way, Donald Trump won’t be the only public official who won power as a businessman-turned-reality TV star. 

From the set of ABC’s Shark Tank — produced by Mark Burnett, who also brought Trump to the small screen with The Apprentice — O’Leary hopes to wage a campaign to bring his brusque ‘shark tank’ mindset to Canadian politics, first to the Conservative Party, then by bringing the fight to current prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

Unlike Trump, however, O’Leary will at least be able to say that he’s won an Emmy.

After months of consideration, O’Leary three weeks ago entered the crowded race to lead the Tories. So far, he’s a shark who is making a splash.

O’Leary, the son of an Irish father and small businessman, got his big break in business as the founder of Softkey, a Canadian software producer, riding the wave of growth in the personal computer industry that began in the late 1980s and exploded in the 1990s. O’Leary’s financial empire, over the years, grew to include everything from investment management to physical storage services. But his real claim to fame lies as one of the stars of Dragon’s Den, a reality TV show that launched on CBC in 2006. On the show, O’Leary portrayed a no-nonsense venture capitalist judging the projects of various contestants. (Sound familiar?)

Wildly popular in Canada and, indeed, one of the most popular television programs in Canadian history, Burnett picked up the concept for American television in 2009 and turned the series into Shark Tank, where O’Leary continued to hold a leading role and quickly assumed the nickname ‘Mr. Wonderful.’

Conservative Party members increasingly believe that Mr. Wonderful may also be Mr. Right, insofar as they think O’Leary can lead them out of the Trudeau-era wilderness and back into power. They will vote in May to crown the party’s first permanent leader since prime minister Stephen Harper’s defeat in the October 2015 general election. Continue reading O’Leary, businessman and ‘Shark Tank’ star, wants to be Canada’s Trump

Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins

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Defying expectations in August that pitted the Liberal Party in third place at the beginning of the election campaign in August, Justin Trudeau has now won a clear majority government and a mandate for change in Canada’s 42nd federal election.Canada Flag Icon

So what does that mean for Canada, for US-Canadian relations and for Canada’s role in the world in the weeks and months ahead?

Here are nine policy areas to keep an eye on as Trudeau begins the rapid transition to 24 Sussex Drive, appoints a cabinet and tackles a full agenda of issues that could dominate what will likely be a full four-year term with the kind of parliamentary mandate that should make it much more easier than Trudeau ever expected to enact his policy preferences.

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Climate change. As the Paris summit on climate change approaches in November, Canada’s government will go from being one of the most skeptical participants at the conference to one of the most enthusiastic supporters of action to reduce carbon emissions. Keep an eye on Stéphane Dion, the former Liberal leader from 2006 and 2008 and a former environmental minister, to play a vocal and supportive role. Nevertheless, global climate change policy is mostly set by the G-2 — i.e., the United States and China. So Trudeau’s role at the summit, while productive, will be more about style than any actual substance. Joyce Murray, a popular left-wing MP and British Columbia’s former environmental minister, who was the runner-up to Trudeau in the 2013 Liberal contest, is also a rising star to watch on environmental matters.

Economic policy. At the start of the campaign, the traditionally more centrist Liberals advanced a tax policy to the left of the New Democratic Party (NDP) by promising a middle-class tax cut to be paid for by slightly higher taxes on those who earn roughly more $200,000 annually. During the campaign, as Canada officially slipped into a shallow recession, Trudeau doubled-down by pledging to engage in deficit spending over the next three years to stabilize Canada’s economy, protect jobs and boost infrastructure. It was this move, again outflanking the NDP (whose leader Thomas Mulcair promised to maintain the Conservative Party’s devotion to balanced budgets), that may have convinced voters that Trudeau, and not Mulcair, represented the most striking contrast with Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Ralph Goodale, a former finance minister under Paul Martin; Bill Morneau, a 52-year-old newcomer first elected last night from the Toronto’s business world and Scott Brison, a former Progressive Conservative MP who defected to the Liberals over a decade ago, could all be leading contenders for finance minister. Continue reading Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins

A region-by-region guide to Canada’s election

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who declined to run for reelection last year, showed up at an Etobicoke rally for prime minister Stephen Harper last week. (CBC)
Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who declined to run for reelection last year, showed up at an Etobicoke rally for prime minister Stephen Harper last week. (CBC)

One of the reasons why it’s so hard to predict the results of tonight’s federal election in Canada is the diversity of political views across a country that contains 10 provinces and three territories across over 3.85 million square miles. Canada Flag Icon

By the time the last polls close at 7 p.m. Pacific time, we may already have a good idea of who will lead Canada’s next government. Or we may be waiting into the wee hours of the morning as results from several hotly contested British Columbia ridings.

With plenty of three-way races pitting the Conservative Party of prime minister Stephen Harper against both the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau and the New Democratic Party (NDP) of opposition leader Thomas Mulcair, there’s room for plenty of fluidity on a riding-by-riding basis. The contest is even less predictable because it’s the first election to feature an expanded House of Commons that will grow from 308 to 338 seats.

All of this means that as returns come in, it’s important to know what to expect from each region of Canada, where political views vary widely.

The state of play after the last federal election in 2011. (Wikipedia)
The state of play after the last federal election in 2011. (Wikipedia)


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Ontario

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Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne hosted a large rally for Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in August. (Facebook)

The most important battleground of them all, governments are won and lost in the country’s most populous province. Since the 2011 election, Canada has added 30 seats to the House of Commons, and 15 of those new seats are in Ontario, giving the province 121 of the 338 ridings across the country.  Continue reading A region-by-region guide to Canada’s election

Why a Liberal-NDP coalition in Canada feels inevitable

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau partipicate in a March 2014 forum. (Jean Levac / Ottawa Citizen)
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau partipicate in a March 2014 forum. (Jean Levac / Ottawa Citizen)

Roughly speaking, there are three plausible outcomes from tonight’s Canadian federal election.Canada Flag Icon

The first, increasingly likely (with a final Globe and Mail poll giving the center-left Liberal Party a lead of 39.1% to just 30.5 for the Conservative Party), is an outright Liberal majority government. It’s a prospect that no one would have expected a few days ago and certainly not when the campaign began with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stuck in third place. But as the Liberals have pulled support from the New Democratic Party (NDP) and possibly even from the Conservatives in the final days of the campaign, they just might make it to the 170 seats they’ll need to form a government without external support.

The second, increasingly unlikely, is a Conservative win. No one expects prime minister Stephen Harper to win a majority government again nor anything close to the 166 seats he won in the 2011 election (when the number of House of Commons seats was just 308 and not yet the expanded 388). Under this scenario, Harper would boast the largest bloc of MPs, even though an anti-Harper majority of NDP and Liberal legislators would be ready to bring down Harper’s shaky minority government on any given issue. Despite a growing Liberal lead, there’s some uncertainty about the actual result. That’s because Canada’s election is really 338 separate contests all determined on a first-past-the-post basis. In suburban Ontario, throughout British Columbia and in much of Québec, where the NDP is most competitive, left-leaning voters could split between the NDP and the Liberals, giving the Conservatives a path to victory with a much smaller plurality of the vote. (In the waning days of the campaign, several groups have tried to urge strategic voting to make sure the anti-Harper forces coalesce on a riding-by-riding basis).

The safest prediction is still a Liberal minority. For a party that currently holds just 34 seats in the House of Commons after former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s 2011 disaster, a plausible increase of 100 seats would be a massive improvement, validating the Liberals’ decision to coronate Trudeau as the party’s last saving grace. Despite the NDP’s loss of support, it is still expected to have some resiliency in British Columbia and Québec. Getting to 170 from 34 might just be a step too far, but it’s certainly no failure if Trudeau falls short in just one election cycle.

What seems clear from the trajectory of Canada’s 42nd election campaign is that Canada’s two parties of the center-left easily attract in aggregate over 50% of the vote in national polling surveys. Together, their lead over the Conservatives isn’t even close. Over the past month, as the Liberals have gained support, it’s chiefly come at the expense of the NDP, which was winning many more of those centrist and left-leaning voters at the beginning of the campaign:

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As the Liberals gained, the NDP correspondingly lost support, indicating that the fluidity in the election has come from anti-Harper voters shopping for the most attractive alternative. Continue reading Why a Liberal-NDP coalition in Canada feels inevitable

How the hope of Canada’s first NDP government dissolved

After next week's election, polls show that Thomas Mulcair will not only fall short of becoming prime minister; he may no longer be the official opposition leader. (Facebook)
After next week’s election, polls show that Thomas Mulcair will not only fall short of becoming prime minister; he may no longer be the official opposition leader. (Facebook)

After leading the polls in July, August and much of September, the New Democratic Party (NDP) now seems likely to place third after next Monday’s election.Canada Flag Icon

Much of the NDP’s fall is attributable to the corresponding rise of support for the Liberal Party under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, who spent much of the summer languishing in third place. Not so long ago, Mulcair appeared the favorite among Canadian voters to become the next prime minister. Today, however, polls suggest he will not only fall short of government, he’ll fall back from opposition leader to third-party status.

How did the NDP end up in such a strong position, as recently as a month ago, and how did it and its leader, Thomas Mulcair, squander such a historic opportunity?

If you’re just tuning in, the conventional wisdom goes something like this: Continue reading How the hope of Canada’s first NDP government dissolved

In Depth: Canada’s general election

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With prime minister Stephen Harper’s decision to call an election last week, Canada has now launched into a 13-week campaign that ends on October 19, when voters will elect all 338 members of the House of Commons, the lower house of the Canadian parliament.Canada Flag Icon

By American standards, where Republican presidential candidates will gather for their first debate nearly six months before a single vote is cast (for the nomination contest, let alone the general election) a 13-week campaign is mercifully short. In Canada, however, it’s twice as long as the most recent campaigns and, indeed, longer than any official election campaign since the late 1800s. But the major party leaders have already engaged in one debate — on August 6.

Plenty of Harper’s critics suggest the long campaign is due to the fundraising advantage of his center-right Conservative Party. Harper, who came to power with minority governments after the 2006 and 2008 elections and who finally won a majority government in 2011, is vying for a fourth consecutive term. He’ll do so as the global decline in oil prices and slowing Chinese demand take their toll on the Canadian economy, which contracted (narrowly) for each of the last five months.

Energy policy and the future of various pipeline projects (such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan, Northern Gateway and the more well-known Keystone XL) will be top issues in British Columbia and Alberta. Economic growth and a new provincial pension program will be more important in Ontario. Sovereignty and independence will, as usual, play a role in Québec — though not, perhaps, as much as in recent years.

In reality, the battle lines of the current election have been being drawn since April 2013, when the struggling center-left Liberal Party, thrust into third place in the 2011 elections, chose Justin Trudeau — the son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau of the 1970s and 1980s — as its fifth leader in a decade. Trudeau’s selection immediately pulled the Liberals back into first place in polls, as Liberals believed his pedigree, energy and sometimes bold positions (Trudeau backs the full legalization of marijuana use, for example) would restore their electoral fortunes.

Nevertheless, polls suggest* that two years of sniping from Harper about Trudeau’s youth and inexperience have taken their toll. The race today is a three-way tie and, since the late spring, it’s the progressive New Democratic Party (NDP) that now claims the highest support, boosted from the NDP’s landslide upset in Alberta’s May provincial election. (*Éric Grenier, the self-styled Nate Silver of Canadian numbers-crunching, is running the CBC poll tracker in the 2015 election, but his ThreeHundredEight is an indispensable resource).

With the addition of 30 new ridings (raising the number of MPs in Ottawa from 308 to 338) and with the three parties so close in national polls, it’s hard to predict whether Canada will wake up on October 20 with another Tory government or a Liberal or NDP government. If no party wins a clear majority, Canada has far more experience with minority governments than with European-style coalition politics, and the Liberals and NDP have long resisted the temptation to unite.

Canadian government feels more British than American, in large part because its break with Great Britain was due more to evolution than revolution. Nevertheless, political campaigns have become more presidential-style in recent years, and the latest iteration of the Conservative Party (merged into existence in 2003) is imbued with a much more social conservative ethos than the older Progressive Conservative Party. The fact that polls are currently led by a left-of-center third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), also demonstrates that the Canadian electorate, which benefits from a single-payer health care system, is willing to shift more leftward than typical American electorates.

Provincial politics do not often portend changes in federal politics, but the 2015 election is proving to be influenced by political developments in Alberta, Ontario, Québec, Manitoba and elsewhere, and many provincial leaders have not been shy about voicing their opinions about federal developments — most notably Ontario’s Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.
Continue reading In Depth: Canada’s general election

Toronto’s Ford era is over (for now)

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As usual, the supporters of Rob and Doug Ford proved a potent force in Toronto’s municipal politics, bringing the mayor’s elder brother much closer than polls predicted to winning the city’s mayoral election tonight.Canada Flag Iconontariotoronto

John Tory, however, the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, managed to unite center-right and moderate voters, narrowly edging out Ford (pictured above) and third-placed candidate Olivia Chow.

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Chow, a former city councillor and the widow of Jack Layton, the former leader of the progressive New Democratic Party (NDP), began the race earlier this year as its frontrunner. Since July, however, Chow sunk to third place, falling behind Rob Ford who, until his cancer diagnosis in September, was still running for reelection. Incredibly, both Fords commanded a strong core of supporters among the self-proclaimed ‘Ford Nation,’ despite a turbulent four years in which the mayor admitted to crack cocaine use and alcohol abuse, was stripped of many of his executive powers by the Toronto city council, and attended a recovery program for substance addiction.

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RELATED: Rob Ford’s crack cocaine scandal, urban politics and the new face of 21st century Canada

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Such was the power of Ford’s everyman charm that he retained the loyalty of the suburban and working-class voters that fueled Ford Nation. His supporters include a surprisingly high number of racial and ethnic minorities, despite Ford’s sometimes culturally uncomfortable moments (swearing, perhaps drunkenly, in Jamaican patois, for instance). The lingering regard with which ‘Ford Nation’ held for Rob meant that Doug Ford was always a potent candidate for mayor.

Notably, Rob, whose chemotherapy treatments limited his campaigning, still won a seat on the city council from Ward 2 in his native Etobicoke with around 59% of the vote — it’s the seat that he held in 2010 when he was elected mayor. Opponents breathing a sign of relief at Doug Ford’s loss tonight might not want to relax too much. A wiser and healthier Rob Ford could easily return in 2018 as a formidable candidate.  Continue reading Toronto’s Ford era is over (for now)

Wynne lifts Ontario Liberals to majority government, 4th term

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Heading into Thursday’s provincial elections, polls showed that both the center-left Liberal Party of Ontario and the center-right Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC) both had a chance of winning at least a minority government.Canada Flag Iconontario

Late-breaking polls on Tuesday and Wednesday, however, showed the Liberal vote creeping up, matched by a decline in support for the progressive alternative, the New Democratic Party of Ontario (NDP).

As it turns out, those late polls were spot on, and Ontario’s new premier Kathleen Wynne, who inherited a minority government from her predecessor Dalton McGuinty just 16 months ago, reinvigorated Ontario’s Liberals and won a majority government in her first campaign leading the party.

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RELATED: Meet Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s premier and the 180-degree opposite of Rob Ford

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The Ontario Liberals won 59 seats in the 107-member Legislative Assembly with nearly 39% of the vote, while the Ontario PC won just 27 seats with just over 31% of the vote, a nearly disastrous result that found the Tories losing ground in what was shaping up as a PC landslide a year ago:

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It’s an unexpected trajectory for a party to go from two terms of majority government to one term of minority government and, then, back to a majority government. Part of the reason is that Ontario’s voters simply never warmed to PC leader Tim Hudak.   Continue reading Wynne lifts Ontario Liberals to majority government, 4th term

Ontario election too close to call with 48 hours left to go

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Just two months after Québec’s extraordinary election, which devastated the sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ) and replaced the minority government of Pauline Marois with a federalist majority government under Philippe Couillard, Ontario voters will choose their own provincial government on Thursday in what has become a tight two-way race.Canada Flag Iconontario

Politics in Anglophone-majority Ontario, however, looks nothing like politics in Francophone-majority Québec.

As in most provinces, Ontario’s political parties have only informal ties to federal political parties. But Ontario’s political framework  largely maps to the federal political scene. Accordingly, the center-left Liberal Party of Ontario is locked in a too-close-to-call fight with the center-right Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC), with the progressive New Democratic Party of Ontario (NDP) trailing behind in third place.

All three parties have led provincial government the past 25 years. The Liberals are hoping to win their fourth consecutive election, after Dalton McGuinty won majority governments in 2003 and 2007 and a minority government in 2011. Under the leadership of popular former premier Mike Harris, the Progressive Conservatives won elections in 1995 and 1999. Bob Rae, formerly the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, led an NDP government between 1990 and 1995.

ThreeHundredEight‘s current projection, a model based on recent polling data, gives the Liberals an edge over the Ontario PCs of just 37.3% to 36.5%, well within the margin of error. The Ontario NDP is wining 19.8% (though individual polls show that the Ontario NDP could win anywhere from 18% to 27% of the vote) and the Green Party of Ontario is winning 5.2%.

Voters elect all 107 members of Ontario’s unicameral Legislative Assembly in single-member ridings on a first-past-the-post basis. That, according to ThreeHundredEight, could result in anything from a Liberal majority government to, more likely, a hung parliament with either a Liberal or PC minority government.  Continue reading Ontario election too close to call with 48 hours left to go

Former Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty has died at 64

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Less than a month after he stepped down as Canada’s finance minister, Jim Flaherty died in his Ottawa home earlier today at age 64. Canada Flag Icon

When he left the role in March, the Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson wrote the following about Flaherty:

“Brand Canada” today stands for a well-ordered financial sector, prudent fiscal and monetary policy, skilled management of the recent financial crisis, and a rigorous approach to restoring balanced budgets. 

As finance minister from February 2006 until Tuesday, Jim Flaherty played a starring role in that story, though he was by no means the only star. Whatever Canadians might think about Mr. Flaherty’s legacy, the world will remember him as the man who sat in Canada’s chair when Canada set an example for the world.

That’s about as strong a eulogy as any will deliver for Flaherty, who rose to prominence as prime minister Stephen Harper’s finance minister from the first day of Harper’s Conservative government in February 2006. Though Harper and Flaherty (pictured above) inherited a strong fiscal position from the outgoing Liberal government, Flaherty’s financial management steered Canada away from the worst of the 2008-09 global financial crisis, with a healthy assist from Canada’s sound, if conservative, banking system.

Over the course of his eight-year tenure as finance minister, Flaherty steered an Canadian economy that often narrowly outperformed  even the US economy in terms of GDP growth:

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Flaherty came to national politics only after a decade of somewhat feistier political warfare in Ontario’s provincial assembly, where he also served (briefly) as finance minister at the end of former Ontario premier Mike Harris’s government from 2001 to 2002. He unsuccessfully sought the leadership (twice) of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, losing the 2002 contest to Ernie Eves and the 2004 contest to John Tory.

But the Tories have yet to wrest back power from the Liberals, who have controlled Ontario’s government since Harris left office in 2002 — under Dalton McGuinty until 2013, and now under  Kathleen Wynne. It’s ironic to note that if Flaherty had won the Ontario PC leadership, he might have been waiting around today to become Ontario’s premier. Instead, he’ll be remembered as one of the leading lights of the Harper era, and one of the ‘grown-ups’ who have given credibility to the Conservative Party as a party of government after years of disunity and fracture.

He was also a loyal guy. Flaherty was a longtime family friend of the Fords, the family that gave the world a punchline and Toronto a mayor in Rob Ford. It’s not often that you see a finance minister of a G-8 economy become teary-eyed, but his tender remarks on the occasion of Ford’s admission of using crack cocaine were some of the more memorable — and humanizing — comments of the entirely sad Rod Ford saga.

 

Chow’s entrance settles October Toronto mayoral race

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The initial view today is that with Olivia Chow’s resignation as an MP in the federal Canadian House of Commons and her announcement on Thursday that she will launch a candidate for Toronto’s October 27 mayoral election, the race is now Chow’s to lose.Canada Flag Iconontariotoronto

At first glance, there are a lot of good reasons to believe that Chow is really the frontrunner, and her announcement closes the effective field for Toronto’s 2014 mayoral aspirants.

In a race otherwise dominated by at least two or three high-profile conservative candidates, Chow is the only left-leaning candidate, and she’ll be able to easily consolidate the left-leaning support within the Toronto metropolitan area.

But Chow is not the frontrunner — and her fate depends almost entirely on how the pool of center-right Toronto voters divides up. Continue reading Chow’s entrance settles October Toronto mayoral race

The narrative of federal spending in Canada ignores provincial debt

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I don’t mean to single out any particular post at any particular think tank, but a post from Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute today gets to the heart of why I am so distrustful of think tanks that lean so clearly either to the right or to the left.Canada Flag IconUSflag

The Cato post comes after Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty (pictured above) unveiled a budget on Tuesday that outlines further spending cuts designed to lower Canadian public debt more deeply, largely keeping to the same fiscal path that prime minister Stephen Harper’s government has set for years.  The post, however, argues that the gap between federal spending in Canada as a percentage of GDP, which is lower, and federal spending in the United States, which is higher, is growing:

In Canada, federal spending fell to just 15.1 percent of GDP in 2013 and the government projects that the ratio will decline steadily to 14.0 percent by 2019 (p. 268). Federal debt as a share of GDP fell to just 33 percent this year.

Then follows some fairly massive generalizations about the state of Canadian and US federal spending over the past two decades and contemporary politics in both countries:

On federal fiscal policy, Canada has had pragmatic centrist leadership for the last two decades, with voters keeping the loony left out of power. In the United States, we’ve had power divided between centrist Republicans and loony left Democrats in recent years….

Pundits often claim that the Republicans are controlled by radical Tea Party elements. I wish that were true, but in terms of policy results there is no evidence of it. Republican and Democratic leaders are apparently satisfied with federal spending, deficits, and debt far larger than acceptable to the centrists in Canada.

And there’s a chart that proves it! See!? Canada good, US bad.

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But there’s no indication that these numbers include spending at the provincial level, which is much more robust in Canada than corresponding spending at the US state and municipal level.  It’s trend that has accelerated in the past two decades, as well, following Canada’s narrow brush with Québec’s independence referendum in 1995.  That makes the chart essentially useless — it’s an apples-to-maple-leafs comparison.   Continue reading The narrative of federal spending in Canada ignores provincial debt

Meet Kathleen Wynne — Ontario’s premier and the 180-degree opposite of Rob Ford

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Though it’s been five months since the first reports emerged that Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoked crack cocaine, it’s only been within the last week that the controversy surrounding Ford has reached truly staggering attention.toronto ontarioCanada Flag Icon

When the embattled mayor earlier this month admitted that he used crack cocaine in a drunken stupor, he only opened the floodgates to more questions — and more allegations, which have certainly followed in short order.  It’s been a truly catastrophic week for Ford, who made his problems even worse with some misogynist comments about a former female aide, his refusal to step down as mayor, further admissions that he’d purchased illegal drugs in the last two years, and that he’s operated a vehicle while drunk.

But this week also marks the first time that anyone’s suggested that the province of Ontario should step in — and that’s putting Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne in the spotlight, who is the absolute opposite of everything Ford represents.  Wynne is not only the first female premier of Ontario and the highest-ranking openly gay official in Canadian politics, Wynne exemplifies the polite, dignified consensus-driven leadership for which Canada has become so well-known.

Wynne gently waded into Toronto’s growing crisis earlier this week, urging Ford to take heed of the Toronto city council’s call to step down:

“The concern for me is that city council can function and it seems today that that’s exactly what’s happening,” she said, referring to two overwhelming council votes to politically emasculate the mayor by stripping him of some powers.  “I see that city council is making decisions and they are determined . . . to find a way to make that work,” the premier said at a Council of the Federation meeting in Toronto.

There’s not much that the Ontario premier can actually do to remove Ford, though Wynne opened the door to legislative action earlier this week — but only at the request of the Toronto city council and only with the support of the leaders of both the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Tim Hudak, and the Ontario New Democratic Party, Andrea Horwath.

Ironically, it’s the ‘amalgamation’ plan that former Progressive Conservative prime minister Mike Harris pushed through the Ontario legislative assembly in 1998, over the protest of many Toronto residents, that made Rob Ford’s 2010 election possible.  Under amalgamation, the city of Toronto merged with the surrounding communities of East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York — Ford himself comes from Etobicoke, a suburb to the west of Toronto’s urban core.

Meanwhile, the Toronto city council is likewise limited in its ability to remove Ford from office, though it voted to strip Ford of many of his powers on Friday — on a vote of 39-3, councillors removed Ford’s ability to hire or to fire the city’s standing committee chairs and the deputy mayor, and on a vote of 41-2, councillors voted that Ford’s powers should be delegated to the deputy mayor in the event of an emergency situation.  Despite the council’s limitations, it’s important to keep in mind that the office of mayor in Toronto is relatively circumscribed — in many ways, Ford is more like the council chief than a true chief executive with the broad executive powers of, say, the New York City mayor.

Ford has become an international punchline, to the horror of many Toronto residents, who are proud of a city long known as Canada’s financial capital, a magnet for immigration, and a quiet showcase of North American prosperity and safety.

Far less well-known is Wynne, who is the anti-Ford of Ontario politics.  In her remarks on the Toronto mayoral situation earlier this week, she stressed that Ford’s antics do not characterize Ontario and do not characterize Toronto — Wynne herself represents Toronto in Ontario’s legislative assembly:

“I believe Toronto is not defined by one person, by one politician. We have to be very careful that we not allow ourselves to be defined by this,” she said.

Still, the premier expressed sympathy for Ford and his family, given the mayor’s drinking and admitted illegal drug use.  “I’m very concerned about the human element of this. A person who is struggling in his life, as far as I can tell, and so I hope that he will look after himself.”

Wynne became the province’s first female premier in February.  But that’s not exactly a surprising feat in Canada, where Kim Campbell served as the first female prime minister (however briefly) for just over four months in 1993, and where the premiers of Québec, Alberta and British Columbia are all women.  What makes Wynne more remarkable is that she’s the first openly gay premier of any Canadian province. Continue reading Meet Kathleen Wynne — Ontario’s premier and the 180-degree opposite of Rob Ford

Rob Ford’s crack cocaine scandal, urban politics, and the new face of 21st century Canada

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There’s no city with more people in Canada than Toronto, and in all of North America, there are just three cities that are more populous — México City, New York and Los Angeles.torontoCanada Flag Icon

Their mayors include Miguel Ángel Mancera, the latest in a line of Mexican center-left leaders in a position that’s seen as a stepping stone to the Mexican presidency; Antonio Villaraigosa, a former speaker of the California State Assembly; and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent.  Even the fifth-most populous city in North America, Chicago, has a mayor in Rahm Emanuel who was a previous U.S. congressman and White House chief of staff.

Enter Rob Ford, who was elected mayor of Toronto in October 2010, a former city councillor who’s often taken pride in his anti-urban views over the years.  Canada (and much of North America) has been in a frenzy since Thursday night, when Gawker published a report stating that its reporter had been to Toronto, talked to a man who purportedly filmed Ford smoking crack cocaine and is looking to sell the footage to a news outlet.  Gawker is now trying to raise $200,000 to buy the video and publish it online.  A photo accompanying the Gawker report purports to show Ford in the process of buying and smoking crack cocaine.

As a resident of Washington, DC, it seems doubly insane to me that a major big-city mayor in North America would take such a reckless risk in light of the sensational conviction of our own former mayor Marion Barry for crack cocaine possession in 1990 (for the record, Barry had no advice for his beleaguered Toronto counterpart).  It’s not the first time that Ford’s made headlines, though, since his victory in the October 2010 municipal election — here’s a list of 42 highlights (or lowlights) of the Ford era from The Toronto Star.  It’s not the first time that Ford’s made headlines for substance abuse, and he admitted during the mayoral campaign to having a 1999 conviction for DUI and marijuana possession despite earlier denials.

Josh Barro at Bloomberg View has a great summary of how exactly such a relatively conservative and anti-urban was elected mayor of Canada’s biggest (and decidedly left-of-center) city, and much of it has to do with the 1998 amalgamation of the wider Toronto metropolitan area, including not just what was the older City of Toronto, but the six surrounding municipalities as well.  Barro quotes Canadian political consultant Jim Ross on the reasons Ford won:

From 2003 to 2010 Toronto was governed by a green-left former councillor named David Miller, and a lot of his initiatives were perceived by suburban Torontonians as favouring downtown over suburbs, and specifically favouring bikes over cars. There was also a well justified perception of wasteful spending and personal overindulgence by downtown councillors, a very expensive retirement party for one of them was often cited. Rob Ford was elected as a reaction by the suburbs against what was perceived as a city hall hostile to their lifestyles and careless with their tax dollars.

But the urban-suburban divide is becoming an even more pronounced part of Toronto city politics, and 15 years on, the Ford scandal highlights whether amalgamation is working at all and, more fundamentally, whether Torontonians are empowered to choose a representative municipal government.  It’s made Toronto a case study on the political geography of urban elections and city governance.

The 1998 amalgamation brought together the former core of urban Toronto with five additional surrounding municipalities — East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York.  It was directed not by Toronto but by Ontario’s provincial government, then headed by Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris as a cost-cutting exercise, and it was always unpopular among Toronto residents, who widely opposed it in a February 1997 referendum.

Harris’s government nonetheless pushed forward, and the first mayoral election in November 1997 for the amalgamated Toronto pitted the more conservative incumbent mayor of North York, Mel Lastman, against the incumbent progressive New Democratic Party (NDP) mayor of the former, smaller city of Toronto, Barbara Hall.  Lastman defeated Hall by a decisive margin, due to his support in the more suburban municipalities outside the urban core, where Hall won.  Though Lastman was reelected virtually unopposed in 2000, the same dynamic repeated in November 2003, when Miller defeated conservative John Tory, based again on support that came largely from the downtown Toronto core.

But the urban/suburban divide reemerged in November 2010, when Ford faced a less-than-stellar candidate in George Smitherman, a member of the Ontario provincial government under Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty.  Ford ultimately defeated Smitherman by 47.1% to 35.6%, assisted in part by the fact that Miller’s deputy mayor Joe Pantalone won nearly 12% of the vote, splitting the ‘anti-Ford’ vote, but a ward-by-ward election map shows just how divided downtown Toronto remains from the rest of the greater Toronto municipality:

Toronto_mayoral_election_results_by_ward_2010

Even more than in 1997 and in 2003, the 2010 election played out along geographic lines — the boundary between Smitherman territory and the boundary between Ford territory largely parallels the boundary of the old pre-1998 City of Toronto.

Toronto’s politics are especially interesting because it is a rapidly growing city with a largely immigrant face, given that nearly one out of every two residents in Toronto was born outside Canada.  What’s more is that the immigration wave includes all sorts of ethnicities — while South Asians and Chinese predominate, the Toronto immigration wave certainly also includes Africans, other Asians, Latin Americans and Arabs as well, many of whom have come to Toronto since 1997 and live both within and outside the borders of the pre-1998 city.  In many ways, Toronto is a model city that’s attracted immigrants in a way that points to the future of Canada and even, perhaps, the United States and Europe as well.

Continue reading Rob Ford’s crack cocaine scandal, urban politics, and the new face of 21st century Canada

Trudeau now all but certain to become Liberal leader in Canada

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While everyone was watching to the Vatican City on Wednesday, another potential world leader took a step toward his own elevation — Justin Trudeau, whose chief rival for the Liberal Party leadership in Canada dropped out and endorsed him in advance of what’s now likely to be a mere formality on April 14. Canada Flag Icon

Like the new Pope Francis, Trudeau will assume control of a once-powerful organization that has had difficulty finding its purpose in a vastly changing world — the world of 21st century Canadian governance.  He’ll do so having risen to the leadership as the son of a beloved former prime minister on a campaign that’s little more substantive than rewarmed platitudes of what’s been orthodox Liberal policy of the past two decades and his airy good looks.

Right now, Canadians love him, though — they say that they would overwhelmingly support the Trudeau-led Liberals in the next election.  Today, however, with his election as leader all but certain, the Liberals remain mired in third place behind the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party.  So it’s worth taking caution in reading polls that seem to show a Trudeau landslide in the next election — those polls suggest to me the upper limit of what Trudeau might achieve in a best-case scenario in 2015, when the next federal election is likely to be held.

As the leadership race approaches, though, the central question of Canadian politics has now become whether, on the one hand, Trudeau’s rock-star quality and popularity will wear thin after his coronation (dooming the Liberals to what must certainly be oblivion) or, on the other hand, Trudeau will rise to the occasion by navigating the top echelons of federal politics sufficient to bring the Liberals back into power by following in the footsteps of his father.

The future of Canadian politics — and Canadian policy in the next decade — rests on the answer to that question.

His chief rival Marc Garneau exited the race on Wednesday after releasing a survey that showed he would win just 15% of Liberal voter support to 72% for Trudeau, who he also endorsed.

As the first Canadian in outer space, Garneau is somewhat the John Glenn of Canada — he served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006, and then moved into electoral politics, winning a seat in the 2008 election in the Québécois riding of Westmount in the Montréal area.  He’s thoughtful, articulate, and he hasn’t been unwilling to take on Trudeau — taking advantage of several debates to challenge Trudeau directly for running a campaign of ’empty words’ as an untested rookie.

Garneau, ironically, would have been a better candidate than any of the past three Liberal Party leaders — former prime minister Paul Martin, who lost the 2006 federal election to Stephen Harper’s ascendant Conservative Party; former environment minister Stéphane Dion, who won just 26% in the 2008 federal election; and former author and academic Michael Ignatieff, who won just 19% and 34 seats in the 2011 federal election, well behind the more progressive NDP that’s now Canada’s official opposition. He may well have even been a better Liberal leader than Bob Rae, who ruled out a run himself last year, despite receiving high marks for his performance as interim leader.

If Trudeau becomes prime minister in 2015, Garneau will obviously be at the top of the list to fill an important ministry.

But Trudeau fils has always been the frontrunner in the race, and it was never likely that anyone would be able to dislodge what the Liberals believe is their last shot at returning to electoral viability.  Sure, six additional candidate remain in the race — including former justice minister Martin Cauchon, former leadership contender Martha Hall Findlay and British Columbia MP Joyce Murray, who has called for center-left unity with both the NDP and Canada’s Green Party.

Nonetheless, it seems ever more likely that Trudeau will now overwhelmingly win the Liberal leadership and, sure, he probably seems like the best chance that Liberals have to retake power, even if they would need to quintuple their current 35 seats in the House of Ridings in order to win a majority.  We still don’t know if Trudeau’s breezy success in politics to date will continue after he wins the Liberal leadership, though even former prime minister Jean Chrétien, the last Liberal to have widespread electoral success, agrees that the race — and, implicitly, Trudeau’s energetic campaign — has boosted Liberal fortunes.

Either way, the Liberal Party in 2013 is a far cry from the Liberal Party that governed Canada for 69 years in the 20th century — a party dominated by elites from Montréal, Toronto and Ottawa — and personified by Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, prime minister in the 1970s and 1980s.  Continue reading Trudeau now all but certain to become Liberal leader in Canada