CuriosityCat: Niqab: In defence of Thomas Mulcair

Thomas Mulcair: Man of Principle

Mr. Mulcair was asked a simple question, loaded with peril, and he answered it very clearly in the last debate on foreign affairs. His answer to the question whether he agreed with the federal court’s decision regarding the right of a woman to cover her face with a niqab was Yes.

Yes, a woman could do so if she wished for personal reasons or for religious reasons to cover her face during the ceremonial part of the citizenship ceremony.
No, she had no right to cover her face during the part of the citizen admission process (that precedes the ceremony) that requires a would-be citizen to identify herself or himself, to ensure that she or he is indeed the person seeking admission as a citizen of our country.
Mr. Mulcair’s answer was both reasonable, and moral. And consistent with the highest values of our society. He deserves credit, and our support, for taking the stand that he did when he answered that question.
The fact that he is now losing support in Quebec for his answer, is regrettable.
The issue of the niqab is a complicated, and little understood in Anglophone Canada. In the Rest of Canada, many jump to the conclusion that so many Canadians living in Quebec who do not wish to countenance the wearing of a niqab by a woman in any public office or during any interaction between a citizen and the state, do so out of racial prejudice.
This might be true of some, but it not true for many of those who object to the use of the niqab in such circumstances. Quebec has been wrestling with what is called the identity issue for years now. It is a spillover from the bitter discussions that have and are taking place in many member states of the European Union.
The issue is complex, because woven into it are several strands, some at variance with other strands, others supporting other strands.
One strand is racial animosity towards Muslims. If the opposition to the wearing of a niqab is based on such racial animosity, then those who hate that way are not displaying the core values of Canadian society. Our society is not founded on racial hate as a mainspring; nor do our laws have any such basis. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms rightfully sets its face against any such racial hatred as being a permissible driver of any action by any level of government with any citizen. To those who oppose the niqab because of such racial hatred, we – all Canadians, no matter where they might live – should say: Enough! Those are not Canadian values. And we support Mr. Mulcair against any attacks on these grounds.
Another strand is the fear of many people that their existence as a separate, identifiable cultural or ethnic group (be it German, Italian, British, French, in Europe; or Francophone in Quebec, descended primarily from French settlers so many years ago) is threatened if others who do not share those group values are allowed into the country, and prefer to practice a different set of values. The Canadian response to such fears has been the conscious choice of multicultural diversity, as a source of strength, as opposed to forced assimilation. And that has worked very well. It is a core Canadian value.
However, a variant of that strand of concern is the fear of a being swamped ‘in my own country.’ This is especially true of many people in Quebec, who see themselves as a small group, facing up to the huge mass of non-French people in north America. We understand such concern, and we support steps taken to preserve the cultural values, as long as those steps do not deprive other Canadians of their own core rights.
In the European Union the niqab has become a symbol of attempts to preserve a way of life, as in France. It has become a lightning rod, a symbol, used to represent several different strands. And it is very effective when used this way, because it is so identifiable.
There is nothing in the decision of the federal court on the wearing of a niqab during the ceremonial party of the citizenship admission process that threatens the swamping of anyone in Quebec. We should stand with Mr. Mulcair in supporting the federal court decision against those if that is their primary reason for opposition to it. It can in no way be described in and of itself as a tipping point, which will plunge Quebec into chaos and unwanted cultural change.
Another strand is the wish to preserve a core right that has taken decades to be recognized in Canada: the right of equality between men and women. This is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is a basic Canadian right. But to those who say that a woman who chooses to wear a niqab while celebrating her admission as a citizen of our country, is being prevented – by the very act of wearing the niqab – from being an equal to a man, we say No, we do not agree with you. We understand that some fear that women are forced to wear niqabs by men as public evidence of the inequality of women compared to men. If there is any force involved in this fashion, then the use of such force is contrary to basic Canadian values, and should be resisted. Physical force against such a woman’s person would be dealt with under our current Criminal Law. Social pressure, on the other hand, should be dealt with by other means, including those dealt with below.
However, the federal court case did not revolve around this issue; it dealt with the wish of a woman to wear  her niqab in part of the admission process. That is as far as it goes. And that is what Mr. Mulcair agreed with.
Justin Trudeau forcefully stated his view: that just as the state has no right to tell a woman what to wear, so too the state has no right to tell a woman what not to wear. If those who are opposing Mr. Mulcair are doing so because they believe that any level of government in Canada (city, provincial or federal) should legislate against the wearing of a niqab in any interaction between a citizen and that government, including but not limited to the ceremonial part of the citizenship process, because this reduces a woman’s equality with men, then we have a wider issue.
I side with Justin Trudeau in his argument about the limits on the rights of any level of government in Canada to force a woman to wear clothing acceptable to those who run that government.
However, to those who feel strongly that disapproval should be voiced by citizens against the wearing of a niqab by a woman, because they believe it is a symbol of the oppression of women, then I say: By all means. Protest, debate, write letters to the editors of newspapers, hold meetings. Exercise your lawful rights to discuss any topic you wish to; that is your right under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But do so without expecting the state to step in and legislate the opposite unless our basic rules of law require it (such as witnesses in criminal cases, where there are conflicting values at stake; admission as a citizen where identification is necessary at some stage).
Yet another strand in this complex fabric is the desire of many to have the state be a secular one, rather than a religious one. If they see the wearing of a niqab as being a visible symbol of the interference of a religion with the secular nature of Canada, and therefore want to ban it through legislation to prevent the intrusion of religion into the secular nature of the Canadian state, then the answer to them is rightfully No.
No, the state does not have the right to ban a niqab simply because of fears of the secular nature of the state being undermined by such an act. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets limits on the rights of the state to interfere with the rights of citizens, including religion. There are other means apart from banning the use of niqabs to address the secularism issue. We encourage others to pursue those lawful methods (discussion, example, education, etc.).
That brings us to the despicable behaviour of those who would use the niqab issue as akin to tossing a dead cat on a table during a discussion, in an attempt to change the channel on discussions being held during our long election campaign. 
To focus on the niqab issue with the primary purpose of stirring up racial or religious hatred, in an effort to shore up support for a political party that wishes to become the government of this country, is disgusting. As voters, we should expect and demand of anyone wishing to become prime minister of this country a standard of moral behaviour that does not stoop to such immorality.
Just as there are limits in the freedom of speech rights of a person to the crying of Fire! in a crowded cinema, so too are there limits to how low a politician should be able to stoop in order to set one Canadian against another, or one group of Canadians against other groups, just to gain power. Anyone who does that, for those purposes, should be treated with contempt, and rejected.
Mr. Mulcair, you are an honourable man, and a good representative of the voters in your  riding. You have displayed very high standards of morality in your public dealings at various levels of government, and you are leader of a party that has high moral principles. Your position on the federal court niqab decision is an honourable one, fully in accord with core Canadian values.
I and many others, salute you for the stand you have taken.
And I can assure you that you and your party will have a very significant role to play after the October 19 election, no matter the result of the vote tally. We will, as Canadians, be looking to you to maintain your high moral standards, and to help remedy the debasement of our political values that we have seen take place over these past few years.
During the Friday debate, I recommend that your persist in your defence of your principled position on the federal court niqab decision, and call out all those who would use such issues to divide Canadian from Canadian, for base purposes. We will be sending your good wishes during that part of the debate.
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CuriosityCat: Poll Tracker: Harper 125 Mulcair + Trudeau 211 = New Government on October 19

Here’s the stark facts of the state of play from today’s CBC/308 Poll Tracker:

Note that Harper’s Conservatives are still far short of a majority, the only way that Harper will remain prime minister, given the emphatic rejections by both Mulcair and Trudeau of either opposition party voting confidence in a Harper minority government.
So Harper needs to reach the magical number of 170 seats to stay in power after election day October 19.
And notice that in Ontario, the projected seat total for the Liberals and Conservatives are almost equal today – 53 Conservative, 50 Liberal – with the NDP picking up 18. That’s a decline of 20 seats for Harper’s ‘new’ Conservatives in Battleground Ontario. AND THAT’S WITHOUT ANY MEANINGFUL STRATEGIC VOTING BY LPC AND NDP VOTERS IN TORY-HELD RIDINGS!

Flip through the Poll Tracker regional seat projections. Note the decline in Conservative seats right across the country?
No place is safe for the Harper brand.
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CuriosityCat: The Debates: Who won, who lost, and why

Trudeau: The Fighter

Let’s start with the view of how Tom Mulcair behaved in the Munk foreign policy debate, from Gerald Caplan:

But if I remove my mask of detachment, I must report that it was not at all the night the NDP needed to recover its faded lead. But there’s still three weeks left – a lifetime in politics. We have the most polarizing and, yes, dangerous, government in Canadian history and we have the NDP positioned to take advantage of it. Yet the NDP focuses its attacks far more on Mr. Trudeau and gives the government almost a free pass. A huge mistake, in my view. And not too late to change, by any means. It ain’t over till it’s over, in baseball or politics.
And Caplan’s conclusion about Mulcair’s performance in the debates?
Each of his debates have proved disappointing, when they were supposed to seal his deal with the electorate. I fear the deal is almost becoming null and void.
The Two Big Dogs & The Kid:
Eric Morse has a good summary of the Munk Debate:
This time, there was political blood in it.
That reflects the reality of all the political debates. They all had political blood in it.
The betting by most commentators prior to the first debate was that the order of competency in debating was clear: Harper was the Big Dog.

Then, close on his heels, came Mulcair.

And Trudeau? Most thought it would be a victory for him if he did not fall flat on his face while walking to the podium; once there, if he did not collapse like a squeaky and ill-tied birthday balloon; and during the one-on-one segments, if he could snatch a small portion of the air time away from the two debatemeisters.

What went wrong?
The main thing that happened to the two Big Dogs was that they underestimated the competence of Justin Trudeau.
Way back in January this year, Samuel Getachew got it right:
Trudeau has the luck of being underestimated, like Jean Chrétien was, and the intelligence to turn to experienced people the way Pierre Trudeau and Lester B. Pearson did. Perhaps like all Liberals, there is the will to win in his blood. Given his family pedigree, perhaps the will to win is not only powerful but predestined. Yet if he achieves victory, it will not be just because of his last name, but because he works hard, performs well, knows his weaknesses, and plays to his strengths.
And Brian Mulroney warned the Conservatives in early October of this same strategic blunder:
Speaking to the Globe and Mail’s editorial board on Wednesday, Mr. Mulroney said he believes Mr. Trudeau is a strong candidate who shouldn’t be underestimated. “He’s a fine young man, he’s going to do well,” he said. “And I’ll tell you: People who underestimate him, they do so at their own peril.”

He said he considered Mr. Trudeau’s father to be a “very tough, able man,” adding, “You know, the apple sometimes doesn’t fall far from the tree. He certainly has some of the grit of his dad, and he’s obviously got, as well, he obviously has some of the qualities required to win an election.”

The War of the Brands – The Fighter versus the Not Yet Ready Kid:
Trudeau summed up his view this way:
“Let’s be very clear. My fists will be up. I am a boxer,” he said.
Which brings me to the Battle of the Brands.
Trudeau has clearly won this battle. Harper spent a fortune trying to frame Trudeau as  the son of wealth, without intrinsic judgment, and just “not ready.”
And how did Trudeau react?
By putting up his own brand against the Harper framing. And that brand reached back into his youthful days, when he started boxing. He burst out of the leadership gate with his boxing match against a bigger, heavier, supposedly better boxer. He trained hard; kept his counsel; and then whipped the man everybody thought would beat him.
And in doing so established the brand of Trudeau the Fighter.
Note that before every debate, the media gets the chance to see Trudeau in a boxing ring. That’s not just by chance.
Trudeau is reinforcing his brand as The Fighter every time he does this.
And it works in three ways.
First, it works for him. His stints in the ring before every debate shore up his own view of himself as a fighter. When he ran for MP in a riding that was not a Liberal stronghold, he fought hard. He did his homework (training). He spent time speaking to voters in the riding (personal research). He built up a membership from scratch, and kept it running like a well oiled machine (setting targets and dedication).
Secondly, both Mulcair and Harper had fallen into the trap that so often catches married couples in a loveless marriage: they cannot stand each other, but need each other to define themselves.
With Harper isolating himself from any real contact with real people (his almost paranoid meetings with pre-vetted party members; his setting limits to media questions; his banning other MPs in his party from saying anything in public except PMO speaking points; his performances in question period in the House, carefully scripted and supported by mindless baying of otherwise voiceless MPs), he is ill-equipped for any real debate.
And with Mulcair being the leader of the opposition, with the right to most air time in the House after Harper, the trap was set for both men. They fought each other, in the abnormal conditions of Question Period in the House. No real free for all debate, but set times on set topics. Mulcair relished this because he saw it as putting Trudeau in the shadows, and allowing Canadians to see the only two genuine contenders for PM in action in the House.
With every question period, the webs of the trap around these two men were spun tighter and tighter. They bought into their assessments that really they were the only two genuine contenders for the top job in the nation.
Despite the warnings not to underestimate Trudeau, neither Harper Mulcair took him seriously.
And they still don’t.
So when Trudeau the Fighter stepped into the debate rings, he surprised both men, and many Canadians. He fought. And he fought skillfully, with a rapid mind, a lot of homework, and a value system that was his own pathfinder in his political career.
He attacked, much to the surprise of Harper and Mulcair, who both expected him to know his place, wait his turn, and try not to fall flat on his face.
And when he was attacked, much to their surprise he counter punched, devastatingly and with great impact.
Harper and Mulcair expected to pound a schoolboy into submission with a few hard blows, and then turn back to each other as the main show. Instead, they found themselves outfought by the young man they had underestimated. Trudeau outfought them on debate content. He outfought them on debate style. He outfought them on debate preparation. He outfought them on debate sound bites. He outfought them on choice of battlegrounds. He outfought them on vitality.
And now it is too late for both these two, tired, beaten men.
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CuriosityCat: Is an anti-Orange Wave rising in Quebec?

Abacus has a poll out on September 27 that has very bad news for Mulcair’s NDP. The NDP support in Quebec, its heartland, has plunged over the past week, dropping like a stone, while the other parties are ticking upwards:

And this anti-Orange Wave has dragged the NDP down nationally as well:

In Battleground Ontario, the race has become a two-party race since the middle of August, with the Conservatives and Liberals slugging it out, and Mulcair’s roll-the-dice read my lips: no deficits gambit causing NDP support to slide:

Ontario voters believe that the main job of any national government is to protect the economy, and to make it grow. Mulcair shed the confidence of many when he decided to turn himself into an economic HarperLite candidate; he will not regain that confidence because there is nothing he can do now to change his fatal choice.
What went wrong for Mulcair?
It’s really very simple. Tom Mulcair should have studied Tony Blair’s leadership of the UK’s New Labour Party with just a little bit more application.
Mulcair inherited from Jack Layton a party that was really a party of protest, not of government: the same problem that faced Blair. But Blair set about changing the Labour Party in a different manner to that adopted by Mulcair.
Very early on, Blair understood that his party had to change, in order to appeal to a wider group of voters. As he put it in his autobiography, A Journey: My Political Life:
As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s and the defeats kept coming, I became ever more convinced that there were crucial bits of a governing coalition missing for Labour. Where was our business support? Where were our links into the self-employed? Above all, where were the aspirant people, the ones doing well but who wanted to do better; the ones at the bottom who had dreams of the top? … Where were those people in our ranks? Nowhere, I concluded…
But it seemed that the party and the voters were in two different places, and so the party had to shift against its will. My own feeling, however, was: the voters are right and we should change not because we have to, but because we want to. It may sound a subtle difference, but it is fundamental.
The crux of the matter was the Labour Party and the economy; this was enshrined in the party’s constitution, that called for nationalization of assets. Here’s Blair’s take on just how deep the change in his party had to be:
Clause IV was hallowed text repeated on every occasion by those on the left who wanted no truck with compromise or the fact that modern thinking had left its words intellectually redundant and politically calamitous. Among other things, it called for “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” … At a certain level, it meant a lot and the meaning was bad. Changing it was not a superficial thing; it implied a significant, deep and lasting change in the way the party thought, worked and would govern.
Mulcair faced the same problem: how to modernize what was essentially a kind of aged hippy protest movement into a lean, mean fighting machine that would appeal to a wide swathe of Canadian – and very conservative economically – voters.
Mulcair changed the constitution of the NDP to slice out similar nationalization and anti-capitalistic policies and values, true.  But in the process, he failed to communicate the essence of the change to enough voters – especially in vote-rich Ontario. He was too muted; the party slid the changes through and then kept quiet about it. My guess is that Mulcair did not want a vigorous public debate about the nature of the changes within the NDP, because he feared this could split the party and there was not much time left before the next election.
Mulcair should have shouted from the rooftops how much the NDP had changed, taking a leaf from what Blair learned from the best politician of the past fifty years, Bill Clinton:
I always remember him saying, “Don’t forget: communication is fifty per cent of the battle in the information age. Say it once, say it twice and keep on saying it, and when you’ve finished, you’ll know you’ve still not said it enough.”
Mulcair has not done that, and he has run out of time to do it.
Blair had a vigorous internal debate within the Labour Party, and finally forced through the changes, setting the signposts for the election campaign:
The pathfinder was already switched on: growth was the key; investment, not tax cuts; redistribute, but carefully and not touching income tax; keep the middle class onside, but where growth and redistribution allowed, focus on the poorest; then, in time, you could balance tax cuts and spending.
Mulcair seems to be lacking a similar pathfinder for the NDP in this election. He has been left straddling the old NDP and the new NDP he has tried to forge.
And he has not been helped by the publication of a manifesto by diehard socialists, slap bang in the middle of the election, that seem to many to deny the shift Mulcair has pushed for.
So when Mulcair announced read my lips: no deficits, he had not prepared the soil enough for these seeds. The party itself seemed surprised by this channeling of Bush Senior; and his anxiety to appear “safe” economically with this mantra, simply forced him into the straitjacket of a visionless plan for the next four years.
This duality was noticed in Ontario, and many made up their minds that having Mulcair control the country, with all the vast power that our prime ministers have under our style of government, was a high risk choice. Read my lips: no deficitsachieved the opposite result from what Mulcair wanted it to. It increased the perception of a leader who would say anything to get elected, rather than reassured voters who desperately wanted change.
The polls show this change in Ontario. That change is set, now.
In Quebec, something else has happened. Jack Layton was admired for his personal attributes, and became the non-politician of choice as compared to Harper and Duceppe and others. The Orange Wave was not just a protest wave against the sterility of the Bloc-Conservative way of doing things; it was also a vote for a man and his values.
Tom Mulcair is no Jack Layton, and voters in Quebec are now sifting through the differences. Mulcair’s passion is hard-edged, while Layton’s passion was softer, more personal. Mulcair’s pathfinder is not as clear as Layton’s was: you knew with Layton what his basic values were, and felt confident that he would take the country to places consistent with those values. His heart led his values.
Voters in Quebec are not so sure where Mulcair’s heart would lead them, and so they are changing their minds about the NDP as a viable choice for Quebec, and for Canada.
The decisions of the changed blocks of voters in Ontario and Quebec have now altered the election. The range of choices is narrower now.
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