Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Favourite Films of 2017 (so far...) UPDATED

I'm delighted to share my annual list of my favourite feature films released in 2017.  Of course, I'm no movie critic so I haven't been able to see every major release this year, so there are several probably great films I have yet to see which could find their way into my top 13 favourites (in fact, one just did; The Florida Project has jumped to number 1 on my list!)  As I continue to see more movies, I'll continue amend this post, like I always do.   While I do consider myself a refined cineaste, this list is still, first and foremost, a list of my favourites.  So very good films that simply didn't appeal to me or even offended me won't make it on this list.  Still generally, I don't think any film critic or film lover would quibble with my top 13:

1.  The Florida Project:  Wow! Everything about this tender, incredible film is note perfect.  The film depicts life for a little girl living with her troubled single mother in a Florida housing project/motel and it's quietly riveting.  The performance by Bria Vinaite as the mother is mesmerizing and so is young Brooklyn Prince as Moonee, through whose eyes we see the experience unfold.  Plus I don't remember enjoying a performance by Willem Dafoe this much.  He most certainly deserves the acclaim he's getting for this.  This is great filmmaking. 

 2.  Call Me By Your Name: Another year, another great gay classic in this beautiful film by director Luca Guadagnino (Moonlight was last year's gay masterpiece, if you ask me.)  This film is a sensuous delight that perfectly captures a unique moment in time and place for its characters.  It's the classic coming-of-age/first love tale many of us in the queer community have always hoped to see, free from queer film tropes like gay bashing, hateful parents or inevitable punishment and death.  It's a gift from the director to us.  This film chronicles the evolution of young Elio from genius yet inexperienced teenager to broken-hearted adult, and actor Timothée Chalamet embodies the role with seemingly effortless authenticity and feeling.  He is the beating heart and soul of this movie.  Everyone else involved also do their best work, including Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg.

3.  Dunkirk:  Stunning visuals and direction from Christopher Nolan, as well as a stunningly hot and talented cast, depict the efforts to rescue the British and French armies from the beach in France in early World War II.   Gripping and beautiful to watch, I loved this war film from beginning to end.  It's nice to see Nolan stay true to his vision, perfectly execute it and now receive the acclaim and hopefully the nominations he deserves.

4.  Lady Bird:  I saw this recently and loved it.  Saoirse Ronan gives a performance as equally lived in and authentic as Timothée Chalamet did in Call Me By Your Name.  This is a brilliant character study and I loved the unique relationship portrayed between daughter and her mother, played by the amazing Laurie Metcalf, who I haven't seen much of since Roseanne.  I also adored Tracy Letts as Lady Bird's dad, as well as Lady Bird's relationship with her best friend Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein.  There are so many moments in this gem that I truly cherished.  Touching, intimate filmmaking here by Greta Gerwig.  (Formerly #9 but moved up after some more consideration.)

5.  The Post:  Steven Spielberg taps into the zeitgeist today in this note perfect film about the 1971 backroom deliberations at the Washington Post to possibly publish details of the infamous Pentagon Papers after the New York Times had been temporarily barred from doing so.  There is heady stuff here including the fight between government and the press, the competition between newspapers, the fight for equality and respect for women in the workforce.  And it's all handled with a non-melodramatic touch that felt completely realistic and appropriate.  Spielberg does thankfully keep some of his stylistic Spielbergisms in check, focusing on moving the story forward at all times.  And the film is gorgeous including the 1970s art direction and the awesome focus on the old-fashioned news gathering and editing process, not to mention the printing press mechanics.  Meryl Streep is perfect as are the rest of the cast.  I was born to love this movie!

6.  Get Out:  This timely, anti-racist, satirical masterpiece by director Jordan Peele was released last winter, yet is now poised to do well this awards season, even perhaps take Best Picture.  It deserves to.  It's a perfect, original exploration of its subject matter about a young black man who visits the home of his white girlfriend only to find a house of horrors, playfully pushing buttons that need to be pushed today in our culture.  Loved it!

7.  Baby Driver:  Super-hot Ansel Elgort plays the sympathetic driver nicknamed "Baby" who transports his fellow crooks away from their crime scenes.  Every element of this film - from the music, to the editing, to the sound, to the writing, to the acting - is masterful.  I watched this before the Kevin Spacey scandal erupted, so I have no idea if his presence might ruin it now for viewers.  But I suggest it's still demands a try.   

8.  Okja:  If you've never thought about the conditions in which your food is engineered and brought to your table, you need to see this film immediately.   Director Joon-ho Bong does some of his best work here ever, artfully telling his tale without being preachy.  If you have Netflix, watch it!  Not only does this film enormously entertain, it inspires audiences to think.  It certainly inspired me to start buying "free run" eggs despite the extra costs, although I'm not quite ready to give up meat.

9.  The Shape of Water:  This just might be director Guillermo del Toro's best, most accessible film. It's certainly my favourite one of his.  It's still a little strange, but what else could it be coming from him?  Let its beautiful colours, sounds, effects and performances wash over you as soon as possible, I say.

10.  Detroit:  I didn't know much about the 1967 Detroit riots, nor the shocking and heart-breaking Algiers Motel incident that took place during it, before watching this film.  But I do now thanks to the incredible talent of director Kathryn Bigelow.  Harrowing and essential viewing for anyone who thinks the police are just great and that black people complain too much about discrimination and police violence.

11. I, Tonya:  Hilarious and completely entertaining.  Margot Robbie superbly captures the essence of Tonya Harding's humanity, in all its tragedy and ridiculousness.  Allison Janney as her mother is an unforgettable villain.  The rest of the cast is awesome, as are all other elements in Craig Gillespie's film. 

12.  The Big Sick:  I didn't think that star Kumail Nanjiani was sexy before seeing this movie, but I definitely do now.  Funny that.  Fabulous all around. 

13.  Wonder Woman:  Director Patty Jenkins (who helmed Monster back in 2003 with Charlize Theron) outdoes herself with this perfect telling of the famous heroine's story.  I'd always lamented the fact that Hollywood had not yet put Wonder Woman on the screen, but considering how great this film is, the wait was worth it.

Honorable mentions: 

God's Own Country 
Spider-Man: Homecoming  
Land of Mine 
I Am Not Your Negro 
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
A Bad Moms Christmas

Strangest, completely fucked, but a masterpiece: 

mother!: Darren Aronofsky's most daring work can only be viewed and understood as an extended, tragic and violent metaphor.  It's a tough watch and definitely not for everyone.  But I've never seen anything else like this movie and remain glad I got through it.  


Darkest Hour:  Gary Oldman gives a great performance as Winston Churchill.  But director Joe Wright has no idea how to make historical dramas gripping.  Instead, he spends his time using odd lighting and showing his hero "huffing and puffing" and marching quickly down dark hallways.  In calling it Darkest Hour, they mean that literally.  This is the most poorly lit film I saw this year.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri:  I thought Frances McDormand, unlike in previous roles, was a little one note here.  There were many great characters here with stories playing out especially with Sam Rockwell, whose character was thoroughly repulsive.  Overall as a film: not horrible, but I just didn't like it that much including the (spoiler alert) non-ending.  

Beach Rats: Where was all the much-hyped male nudity?  And haven't I seen this closeted teen story done this way dozens of times before?

It:  Unsettling and not in a good way.  Watching kids fend off child molesters and killer clowns for two hours is not my idea of entertainment. 

The Dark Tower:  Way too short and rushed.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:  Lots of visual eye candy but little depth.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle:  Ugh, nowhere near as enjoyable as Part One.

The Great Wall:  Look, it's white guys saving the day in People of Colour land again.

Life:  Look, the black guy is the first one to die again.  Couldn't finish it.   How do you make a film with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds together in tight quarters, and yet it still disappoints?

Worst film of 2017:

Geostorm:  Makes all other apocalypse films look like masterpieces.  So bad.

On my list to see as soon as possible, in order: 

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
All the Money in the World
The Disaster Artist 
Good Time
Battle of the Sexes
Victoria and Abdul
Blade Runner 2049
Thor: Ragnarok

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Politics in Review, and a couple Predictions for 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, a few political observations:
  • 2017 saw the cancer that is Donald Trump assume the Oval Office and proceed to denigrate American democracy and government - from constantly promoting white supremacy to muddying all waters simply for the sake of causing trouble.  His own fragile, pathetic ego was his only priority.  The good news: because of his inherent unsuitability for office, Trump was barely able to get anything accomplished, except for the big tax cut bill passed in the Republican Congress.  If there's anything Republicans (and most conservatives) are good at it's cutting taxes for the rich and powerful, at the expense of the rest of us who pay for it with degraded public services and higher service and tuition fees.  
  • But perhaps in response to the grotesque Trump, we saw an important push back from the left this year with key victories that may portend more progressive wins in 2018 and beyond.  Pendulum swings to one extreme tend to eventually provoke similar swings in the opposite direction.  With Democratic wins this year in Virginia and, most importantly, in the special Senate election in Alabama where progressive hero Doug Jones bested bigot/accused rapist Roy Moore, it looks like the Democrats will do very well in 2018 mid-term elections. 
  • But should the Democrats stay the safe centrist course, or follow the Bernie Sanders route of authentic progressive politics?  Time will tell.  2017 did also provide some important insight into how well an unabashedly progressive agenda might play with voters: 
    • Voters in Great Britain upended the Conservative establishment by turning to far-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in droves in last June's election.  Written off as politically dead before the campaign, Corbyn inspired a new generation of voters to turn out with his "For the Many, Not the Few" campaign that echoed sentiments promoted by Bernie Sanders in 2016.  As a result, Corbyn held Conservative Theresa May to a shaky minority government and stands well-positioned to topple the Tories next time. 
    • Voters here at home in British Columbia also turned to both the NDP and the Green Party to displace the long-entrenched conservative BC Liberal Party.  Despite a booming economy, voters decided last May that policies designed only to benefit the privileged needed to go in favour of helping the many, and the combined NDP-Green vote jumped from 48% in 2013 to 57% in 2017.   Now a NDP-Green alliance is governing British Columbia, with a fair vote on proportional representation set for 2018.  
    • Voters in France embraced flawed centrist Emmanuel Macron over the governing Socialists (who got trounced), and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon to beat back the horrid Marine Le Pen, whose racist politics mimicked those of Trump.  The final tally saw the centrist Macron beat out Le Pen 66% to 34%.   But Macron now has seen his popularity plummet and it remains unclear if he can maintain his centre-left coalition over the forces of the far right in that country. 
Those gains by Corbyn in the U.K. and the NDP and Greens in B.C. proved to me that authentic progressive agendas can win wide support from voters.  Federally in Canada, we continue to see the progressive left divided between a moderately progressive Liberal administration under Justin Trudeau, and the third-party NDP under the novice but promising Jagmeet Singh, forcing the question: what is the best way for progressives to beat conservatives?  As an authentic left-wing option under the NDP or Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, or as a mushy/moderate/barely progressive option like under Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron?  This question will continue to dominate my thoughts in 2018.   

Besides the above predictions of Democratic victories next November, I'll predict that the upcoming Ontario 2018 election will be closely fought between a superior incumbent, Kathleen Wynne, who's worn out her welcome with most Ontario voters, and her sub-par opponents Patrick Brown and Andrea Horwath.  Ontario voters will be largely uninspired by their choices.  I honestly can't decide who will win this.  Although my gut is telling me that, in the end, Brown will fall flat on his face due to his inherent mediocrity, opening up the election for a narrowly re-elected Wynne government.   To that end, Wynne has already embraced the policies and politics of the Sanders left, sensing that Ontario voters will want to swing as far away from the neo-con Trump right as possible.  In the end, Ontario voters might just decide to accept the devil they know (Wynne) rather than the ones they don't (Brown and Horwath.)  We shall see. 

Stay tuned soon for my annual Favourite Movies of the Year post....

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When good people like Nancy Leblanc step away from partisan politics, we all lose...

As long as we've recorded human history, we've known that politics is a nasty business, perhaps the nastiest. But also one of the most important - the pursuit of power will always be.

Plato wrote about a "philosopher king" as the ideal ruler. Such a person in practise has never existed, of course. Or if such a person actually did pursue political power, their idealism and principles would soon undermine those efforts. No doubt, history is filled with thousands of such decent people who considered politics but stepped back rather than compromise their integrity and ethics. The tragedy here is the absence of decent people relinquishes the realm of politics to the ruthless, nasty, amoral jerks who make up the vast majority of our politicians and those who work for them.

So there is nothing profoundly new about this post, except highlighting just the latest example of how the nastiness of politics has once again pushed aside a decent person. Nancy Leblanc is such a person. She may humbly disagree with being compared with a "philosopher queen," but for me, the comparison is apt as Nancy is exactly the kind of person our politics needs: someone who's in it for the right reasons, to help make people's lives better and to promote better public policy and governance.

Nancy is an accomplished Toronto lawyer who entered the political arena in 2014 as the Ontario Liberal candidate in Parkdale-High Park in west-end Toronto, then considered a thankless task taking on NDP veteran incumbent Cheri DiNovo.

Given only a handful of weeks to raise tens of thousands of dollars and her public profile, Nancy ran a great campaign and came within 600 votes of knocking off the well-entrenched incumbent. Had the party deemed to allow her to take the nomination sooner, as it did other non-incumbents in Toronto NDP ridings, Leblanc might've prevailed.

"I got involved in the political process because I sincerely want to make a difference in people's lives for the better. I am a lawyer and as such ethics and integrity are very important to me. So after coming so close to winning in 2014, I persevered and continued to work in good faith because I knew I could do a good job of representing this riding," said Leblanc in a statement this week. 

Since 2014, she's continued working in the grassroots, knocking on well over 20,000 doors in her riding, engaging with and advocating for local residents, working on riding specific policy ideas for the coming 2018 election.

She also used her considerable organizational skills to raise $50,000 for the local riding association, as well as raise over $50,000 for the Ontario Liberal Party separate and apart from riding resources.

She is the ultimate grassroots candidate with the kind of skills, local base and established profile you'd think the Ontario Liberal Party would want to take on the NDP again in 2018.

But sadly that doesn't seem to be the case and that's a shame. Another nominee with no public profile who doesn't even live in the riding, but close with the party backroom, seems poised to take the nomination instead.

Leblanc announced yesterday that she won't be continuing to pursue the Liberal nomination.

"I have come to believe that the path for me to continue to make a difference for the people here in Parkdale-High Park is not with the Ontario Liberal Party in 2018. This was a very difficult personal decision to make, especially after all the hard work over the past few years, but it is one that I have firmly made after much consideration around all of the circumstances involved," said Leblanc.

In life and in most professions, massive hard work, intelligence, integrity and years of grassroots campaigning will usually produce results.

But not in politics, sadly. Certainly not in Ontario provincial politics, it seems, these days. This is a major loss to the Ontario Liberal Party and to all Ontarians, frankly.

Despite this setback, Leblanc would still make an incredible politician and community leader and I hope she finds other ways to serve the public in the future. If she does take the plunge again, I will support her 100 percent.

Because if good, decent people like her step away from politics, we all lose.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Australia becomes 2nd country to pass same sex marriage by popular vote

Results of Aussie vote on equal marriage, courtesy ABC

Ireland was the first country in 2015 to pass equal marriage by national popular vote, by a margin of 62% to 38%. 

Today, Australia released its results in that country's postal survey of voters in which almost 80% of voters participated on the issue of legalizing same sex marriage in that country and the results are wonderful: 62% in favour, 38% opposed.  Observers expect the Aussie government to pass same sex marriage into law perhaps by the end of this year.  

I want to congratulate all Australians on this historic victory for equality! 

It's heartening that these national votes, at least in the western world, are starting to result in wins for human rights and equality.  Sadly other national votes outside the west in recent years, like in Slovenia, have been won by the bigots.

But referendum victories even in the west are a recent phenomenon.  Defeats in similar referendums at the state level in the United States used to be common.  It wasn't until 2012 that American voters started embracing equality by popular vote at the state level.    

Other victories for same sex marriage happened either in legislative bodies or in the courts, including in Canada where a court victory in 2003 legalized same sex marriage in Ontario, followed by passage of full marriage equality across the country in the House of Commons in 2005.  Full marriage equality was granted by the American Supreme Court in 2015 across that entire country.

Of course, we must not forget that homosexuality remains illegal in many parts of the world, so we must keep up the fight for equality the world over and not forget those LGBTQ people not fortunate enough to live in mostly progressive countries. 

As always, we can't forget that many other issues remain for LGBTQ people: Freedom from discrimination in human rights laws, protection against hate crimes, as well as a host of other economic equality issues which are even more relevant to all LGBTQ people than marriage laws.  On those fronts, much more progress, especially in over half of American states where LGBTQ people can still be fired from their jobs for being queer, is needed. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

I never thought Frank Underwood's comeuppance would look like this...

Actor Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
Netflix has announced that Kevin Spacey will no longer play any part in its series, 'House of Cards.'  

This follows a series of allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault leveled against the actor from various House of Cards male crew, former colleagues and actor Anthony Rapp, who made public last weekend complaints that Spacey made inappropriate advances on him when Rapp was 14 (and Spacey was 26.)

It also follows the maelstrom that has erupted across Hollywood recently in response to allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and other powerful straight men.

For a country that heard gross admissions of sexual assault and harassment from Donald Trump, but then proceeded to "elect" him anyway over a more qualified woman, these recent developments are a minor step in the right direction.  We have to continue to fight to make sure all sexual predators, straight or queer, pay for their behaviour (that means that Trump must be tossed out on his ass in 2020 if not sooner).  It's nice to see that the immense bravery it takes to come forward with allegations like these is being partially rewarded with some major professional consequences for those who clearly seem, due to the mere volume of complaints, to be far from innocent.  That's heartening.

This article this week by writer Natasha Chart proved to be one of the best articles on the connection between sexism and homophobia I've ever read.  I recommend it highly. 

But back to Kevin Spacey and 'House of Cards.'   Please allow me a bit of glee at Spacey's demise from the increasingly tiresome show.   This was a show that since Season 3 or 4 (of six) has become incredibly annoying, ditching any pretense for realism in favour of the repeated formula that went something like this: "Let's introduce weak adversaries for Frank, let them annoy him for an episode or two, then let Frank flick them away like dust off his lapel only to become stronger and even more powerful than before. Repeat."

It wasn't good writing the last three seasons, it was bullshit.  No politician has ever experienced the kind of uninterrupted climb to immense power as Frank Underwood.  And to get there, Underwood killed at least two people.  Furthermore, his wife Claire joined the murderous club last season just before the heavy-handed writers made her President of the U.S. 

I've been watching 'House of Cards' since the first season but have been disappointed since Season 3.  I stopped watching mid-way through Season 6 when it became clear the writers were taking delight in deceptively teasing us with the continued hope that Underwood and his wife would finally pay in any major way for their crimes.  In life, that kind of evil should face consequences, but so rarely does.  The last thing I need is to experience dramatized and exploited evil in my entertainment.  I'm kind of sensitive that way.  

That's why I've also refused to watch the celebration of misogyny and violence against women that is "Game of Thrones." Other sadists may love that shit, but not me.  (In a culture that adores such entertainment, is it any wonder that sexual harassment and violence against women remain such problems?)

Who could have foretold that Frank Underwood's demise would be due to the complaints of one man?  Anthony Rapp is my new hero. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jason Kenney sure can't get enough of bullying LGBT kids

Jason Kenney's at it again, arguing that public taxpayers which include many who don't agree with retrograde Catholic beliefs, should have their tax dollars finance lessons that teach that LGBT people are "disordered."

Kenney even has the gall to claim his position is in favour of a "diverse society," when in fact it achieves the opposite, giving power to religious bigots to crush the lives of LGBT teenagers.  

This issue reinforces again my belief that no public tax dollars should be spent on religious schools, including Catholic ones, in Alberta, Ontario or anywhere else.  

Kenney's latest bullying of LGBT kids is in line with the weaselly candidate's past recent pronouncements.

Earlier this year, the anti-gay candidate argued that vulnerable teens who wish to join straight-gay alliances in high schools should be outed to their parents.  

You know, the kind of thing that might terrorize a closeted teen struggling with their sexuality.

On all of these issues, the slimy Kenney proves time and again how awful he is when it comes to human rights and equality, always siding with bigots.

No decent person who supports equality can have a kind thought or any support for Mr. Kenney.   

As Kenney appears to be the frontrunner for the upcoming United Conservative Party leadership against former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (who actually seems more reasonable on equality issues than Kenney) and social liberal Doug Schweitzer, this paints a fairly depressing picture of the future of Alberta politics.   I'm hoping somehow either Jean or Schweitzer can pull off a victory against the disgusting Kenney. 

Thankfully, the current NDP government is adamant that public tax dollars should not be spent to promote religious bigotry in publicly funded schools.  So at least that progressive policy will remain in place until the next election expected in 2019. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Jagmeet Singh will change federal politics and Canada for the good

New NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
Just a short note to express my happiness with Jagmeet Singh's resounding victory in the federal NDP leadership yesterday.

I did have a sense a couple weeks ago that Singh would prevail easily and that turned out to be the case. 

Singh is a star but he also seems to have all the goods needed for leadership success, including policy chops, vision, compassion, supreme communication skills, and charisma.  He commands attention and when he receives it, he impresses.

Like I wrote a couple weeks ago, I think many Canadians including many Quebecers will give Singh a chance and a listen and most will be impressed.   His turban, as a practising Sikh, ought not to offend anyone who listens to and understands Singh's story as to why he chose to wear a turban in the first place - as an act of rebellion in favour of social justice.

Some critics have written him off as a silver-spooned socialist who likes the finer things in life.  On that, I say, "So what?"  His description of his choices to dress impeccably well, as well as earn a law degree and even learn mixed martial arts, all fit in with a member of a visible minority who was "arming" himself against racism and oppression.  Singh's description of his personal history rings true to me and I find him extremely sympathetic.

Now, Singh will get the chance to challenge underlying / sub-conscious racism that still exists in Canadian society.  Just by standing on the leaders' stage, he'll confront old prejudices. 

In the end, his power as leader may indeed end up one day or year soon truly challenging Justin Trudeau's Liberals and Andrew Scheer's Conservatives for government.  He brings to this considerable strength and promise. 

I'm looking forward to watching him over the next several years as he begins the process of challenging for power in Canada.  It's true that Justin Trudeau's Liberals have disappointed many progressives and clearly stand too closely with the Conservatives on too many issues that need real action today.   Singh's NDP will provide a viable threat to the Liberals on the left and force them into action on progressive issues, or risk defeat and huge losses of support to their left-wing rivals in the next election.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Coming out of the closet: I joined the NDP and I'm voting for Guy Caron

NDP leadership candidate Guy Caron
I wrote last week about the future of the New Democratic Party, as well as the future for progressive politics in Canada.

Since then, I've done a lot of thinking, including watching yesterday's NDP Leadership Showcase online from Hamilton.  After a great deal of reflection, I have some confessions to make:

1) I'm coming out of the closet as a card-carrying New Democrat.   Yes, this follows having joined the Conservative Party of Canada earlier this year and participating in their leadership race.  I remain a pragmatic progressive who cares deeply about the shape of our Canadian democracy.  For me, joining these parties including the Liberals in the past is the equivalent of voting in open primaries in the U.S.  More Canadians should be engaged in this way, as far as I'm concerned.  I, of course, quit the Conservatives after the regressive Andrew Scheer won that close contest.  

2) Up until last week, I was most attracted to leadership candidates Charlie Angus (for his passion, authenticity, and clarity) and Jagmeet Singh (for his passion, charisma and similar authenticity, as well as the fact that his victory would be an important breakthrough for people of colour in Canada.)  I had come to think poorly of Niki Ashton whose ambitions to lead a renewed "movement" of socialists didn't seem to ring true to me.  I also didn't think much of Guy Caron, who seemed like a nice enough guy but hadn't yet reached me emotionally or intellectually in this campaign.

3) As of yesterday, I've done a complete switch.  Guy Caron's stellar showcase presentation yesterday impressed me greatly, including the heartwarming introduction by his wife.  Suddenly, Caron's very well-thought out plans on basic income, proportional representation and many other issues are resonating with me.  Yesterday, he even clarified that he opposes the Quebec government's proposed plan to tell religious minorities what to wear when they provide or receive public services; he simply respects the jurisdiction of the Quebec legislature, which frankly so do I and anyone else who respects Canadian federalism.  Caron has also been showing his charming and humorous side of late.  He's clearly a likeable guy, much more likeable than Tom Mulcair could ever be.  He's no recent recruit to the NDP cause in Quebec like some other pseudo-separatists; he's been fighting for the NDP in that province for decades and his federalist credentials are clear.   Add to this Caron's ability to speak both official languages fluently, he offers a truly credible option to not only hold on to the NDP's base in Quebec but also to build on it (and deny the Bloc Quebecois a comeback anytime soon).  None of the other candidates can offer that, so he's suddenly skyrocketed from being my last choice to my first.

4) I still think highly of Jagmeet Singh and I think he'd be a fine leader who will easily engage with young people across most of English Canada.   He may even be able to similarly connect with Quebecers, I suspect, although that will be a struggle at first as his French language skills, as we saw yesterday in his showcase speech, remain merely adequate. 

5) Niki Ashton has been passionate in this race and her drive to renew the NDP as a movement is well-timed after it lost those roots under Tom Mulcair.  Her speech yesterday was solid, showcasing her decent French skills.  Furthermore, it's now clear to me that her youth and her clarity on the issues puts her in a great position to connect with millenials.    

6) Charlie Angus is still a great man and leader.  I've been inspired by his passion and clarity in this race.  However, when it comes to his weak French skills, or his ability to connect with the next generation of voters, I suddenly have major doubts.  In him, I saw someone a bit charming and older in the same vein as Bernie Sanders.  However, Angus has yet to show the kind of passion needed to inspire young people the way Sanders did.  While the other three candidates might quite naturally or easily connect either to young people or to Quebecers, Angus will have a huge struggle on his hands.  In him, I see flashbacks of Howard Hampton, another earnest and well-meaning NDP leader from Northern Ontario who ultimately failed to have much of an impact.

Thus, to my shock, I will soon fill out my online ballot in the NDP leadership race in order: 1) Caron, 2) Singh, 3) Ashton, and 4) Angus.

Yes I've changed my tune big time since last week.  I felt it important to clarify my new position.

A stronger NDP will keep the Liberals on their toes and force them to protect their left flank.  For me, I want a viable NDP that challenges for government, not just third-party status.  While the Liberals have done some good on the progressive front, if they become complacent about their progressive support, that'll spell trouble for many of the issues we progressives care about and want real action on.   And if the NDP can become strong again, should the Liberals falter, we'll have a decent and clear alternative to whom we can turn. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How to beat those Liberals and Conservatives? My prediction in the NDP leadership race.

Ever since the horrible Donald Trump conned his way into the White House by winning working class support in the American Rustbelt, I've been consumed by the question: What mistakes have progressives been making that led to this and how can progressives do a better job preventing right-wing idiots with or without fascist tendencies from ever winning the votes of working class folks again?

It's clear that establishment Democrats in the U.S., and Liberals and even New Democrats in Canada - those who love playing the insiders' game of politics, rubbing shoulders at elite parties, barely distinguished in style or substance from typical conservatives - lost the confidence of many working class people long ago.

Support for establishment forces like the big banks and Wall/Bay Street badly undermined claims by liberal politicians that they were on the sides of ordinary people, who've struggled more and more over the last 30 years as their incomes have stagnated while the wealth of the top 1% has skyrocketed to obscenely historic levels.

Ordinary folks in the U.S. lacked confidence that anything would change under Hilary Clinton, so they narrowly opted for a guy who at least was not aligned with the same powerful forces that surrounded the Democrat.   It was a lesson for progressives: when you abandon the interests of your working class base, be prepared to be defeated.  In retrospect, the progressive messages and authenticity of Bernie Sanders were the better option over Hilary Clinton.

In 2017, we've seen the U.K.'s Jeremy Corbyn use a message similar to Bernie Sander's that proved to be remarkably effective in winning new Labour Party support; he almost tied the Conservatives in June's national election.   Also, in British Columbia's provincial election last spring, the New Democrats ran on a similar message, as did the Greens, and together they managed to form a coalition government.

For me, the answer isn't narrow partisanship, particularly in Canada where we have two big parties on the centre-left at the federal level: the Liberals and the NDP.   I'm truly pragmatic and not naive about the realities of our politics.   It's entirely possible that a Liberal could authentically embody genuine progressive policies and do the right thing for people in government, just as much as a New Democrat.

On some issues, I've been a bit disappointed that Justin Trudeau's Liberals haven't been progressive enough (ie. abandoning electoral reform, introducing legislation to possibly undermine defined benefit pensions, not doing much to take on the big banks, cell phone companies or big oil).  But on others, like marijuana legalization, or promoting carbon pricing, or Finance Minister Bill Morneau's proposals to close corporate tax loopholes used by wealthy individuals to pay less tax than the rest of us, the Liberals do occasionally fight the good fight.

At the Ontario level, only Kathleen Wynne has pursued an unabashed progressive agenda in government, including proposing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and to provide free university tuition for more students.   This while NDP leader Andrea Horwath sits on the sidelines fighting for the ability of folks to burn more fossil fuels without restraint. I really don't like the choices Horwath has made as leader, which has led to some residual resentment against Jagmeet Singh, at least perhaps undeserved. 

While Labour is the sole credible choice in Britain for beating Conservatives, and the Democrats remain the only true option to stop Republicans in the U.S., our choices as progressives in Canada remain more complicated, depending on where you live.

The federal NDP had second place firmly in its possession from 2011 to 2015, yet it slipped away because Tom Mulcair played it too pragmatic and safe.  Ironically, the Liberals outflanked the NDP on the left with their 2015 platform and the rest is history.

Yet that history also makes clear that progressive Canadian politics is fluid and that, given the right circumstances, the fortunes of our two progressive parties could switch again.  Perhaps Justin Trudeau will get into a major scandal and cause his party to collapse again.   Part of me does long for a more consistently progressive governing option instead of the Liberals, one that routinely takes the side of ordinary folks in the face of an ever-powerful conservative/business elite that has the worst plans for working people in their sights (beware mass automation of the economy.)

That's why it's important to see what path the NDP takes this year in its leadership race.

On the far left, we have the somewhat unconvincing Niki Ashton, who claims to be the champion of a social justice movement.  I haven't bought it; you can't just stick a "movement" label on your campaign and have it magically be a movement.  Still I applaud her tenacity and her drive.  Were she to win, she'd be a new mother at the same time.  It would make a great story.    

Generally charming and intelligent, Guy Caron, has also annoyed me with his deference to the xenophobia of Quebec.  Should Quebecers feel the need to use the power of government law to destroy the basic human rights of minorities just to feel more secure in their secular mainstream culture, I want my federal leaders to stick up for all human beings.   Special message to Quebecers and everyone else: if your culture can only survive by purposefully suppressing the rights of other peoples, your culture isn't worth saving. 

Is it possible always in politics to be 100% pure?  100% consistent, never wavering from one's ideology in the face of new complicated realities?  I don't think so.  I've never thought so.  That's why I became a Liberal, because I understood that while we generally must tack progressive left, on occasion, a bit of conservative common sense makes sense.

The most important things in politics: authenticity and clarity.

Progressives who come across as phony and inconsistent will lose to conservatives who appear genuine and authentic.  Every time.  Despite what elitist snobs sometimes think, the public is generally smart and can see through liars and frauds.  They are more than capable in our mature democracies to sift through the nonsense and make decent choices considering their priorities and who they feel has their backs.

If progressives can prove to the working public that we are the real deal - that we will actually implement policies that will help, not hurt them - and we communicate a vision and a plan that the public understands, victory will be ours more than not.

Charlie Angus has run an incredible and inspiring campaign.  I've toyed seriously for most of the campaign with supporting him.   He is super clear when it comes to his vision and the value he'd add to Canadian politics were he the NDP Leader.   He's walked the walk and talked the talk.  He's passionate.  As leader, he'd try to drive important issues too long on the back burner like Aboriginal rights.

His only problems: he can't really speak French well and he seems to have the inability to develop colour on his face either tanning or burning.  He has this dead looking complexion.  At 54, he doesn't represent the next generation, at least superficially.  But he's passionate and a firebrand, he'd connect easily with average Canadians.

Jagmeet Singh is a sensation who's lit his community on fire, politically speaking.  He also walks the walk and talks the talk.  He talks like a surfer dude and is charming, compassionate, and super-smart.  In many ways, his rise to national leader, the first of a non-white person to such an achievement, would be an incredible story.  He can probably more easily reach new voters the NDP needs to win if it's ever going to break through, especially in Ontario.

One note of criticism of Singh: For a man who claims to be all inclusive now in his leadership campaign, it didn't quite seem that way a few years ago when Ontario was updating its public school curriculum, including its sex-education curriculum.  Homophobic parents were spreading misinformation about the changes in many communities, often times in various languages targeting Toronto suburbs including Singh's territory of Bramalea-Gore-Malton.   Despite the fact the new curriculum finally acknowledged the existence of LGBT people and went through a thorough consultation as per any curriculum update, Singh told a local Sikh audience the Liberals were to blame for the controversy surrounding it for not communicating the changes clearly enough to various communities in various languages.  The Liberals of course had spent a lot of money communicating the facts of the curriculum update including in multiple languages.  It was a partisan swipe from Singh, the kind of which most opposition politicians make from time to time against governments.   While I do believe Singh when he says he's in favour of equality for all people including sexual minorities, I just wish he had shown more leadership in supporting the changes instead of just blasting the government. 

Overall, I can't blame Singh for Horwath's flaws.  And he's leaving her team, after all.

My prediction: New Democrats are going to put Singh over the top easily in this leadership race.  I love Charlie dearly.  But sadly it's not going to work out for him.  Caron and Ashton will trail far behind.  Not sure if Singh has the numbers to pull off a first ballot win, but it's possible.   We'll see how it goes next month.

With Singh as leader, they'll struggle in Quebec in the short term, but I think Quebecers will be listening to hear what he has to say.  He'll also be listened to by Canadians right across the country.   I think he's going to impress.

I'm totally looking forward to it.  Somehow I think Singh could possibly go the whole way if he's lucky and Trudeau and the Liberals self-destruct one day.   Anything can happen.  With a relatively underwhelming Conservative leader in Andrew Scheer, Singh's brilliance will shine all the more brightly. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

U.K.'s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers...

U.K. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Just a quick note about yesterday's election in Great Britain.

Called by Prime Minister Theresa May to grab a huge majority, she instead found herself and her Tory party reduced to a minority government.

Why?  Her arrogant campaign inspired few, it seems.   Polls showed her party started the campaign in April 20 points ahead of Labour.  She ended up barely two points ahead last night, and now her leadership has been badly damaged.  It's unlikely she'll lead the Tories into another campaign, I predict.    

But the main reason why: Jeremy Corbyn's highly effective campaign.   Where May's Tory campaign bored Britons, Corbyn's campaign to govern "for the many, not the few," resonated.   His longtime activism and obvious integrity connected with Britons looking for major change.   Although he didn't win outright, he emerges from this campaign stronger than ever.

Corbyn's campaign was the latest example of a left-leaning leader inspiring the public with an unabashed progressive agenda designed to help the working and middle classes in these trying economic times.  

This follows similar success in British Columbia where the provincial NDP ran a similar campaign and reduced the governing conservatives there to a minority government and now seem poised to form a NDP minority government with the support of the Green Party.

This article by Owen Jones in the Guardian nicely sums up the state of affairs for the left: 

"This was about millions inspired by a radical manifesto that promised to transform Britain, to attack injustices, and challenge the vested interests holding the country back. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People believe the booming well-off should pay more, that we should invest that money in schools, hospitals, houses, police and public services, that all in work should have a genuine living wage, that young people should not be saddled with debt for aspiring to an education, that our utilities should be under the control of the people of this country. For years, many of us have argued that these policies – shunned, reviled even in the political and media elite – had the genuine support of millions. And today that argument was decisively vindicated and settled."

Bernie Sanders was clearly on to something with his campaign in the U.S. last year.  It's too bad Democrats didn't embrace him.   I'm now of the opinion it's highly likely he would've prevailed against the insidious Donald Trump had Democrats not picked the flawed Hilary Clinton to lead their presidential ticket.  

There are some major lessons here for progressives that need to be absorbed.  Serving elites and insiders against the interests of ordinary people will get you defeated and your party destroyed.  Justin Trudeau better take note.