Essential as election campaigns are, I’m not a fan. They always seem to bring out the worst in us: too much lazy punditry on the latest polls, too many analysts droning on and on as masters of the bleeding obvious, and leadership tours reduced to little more than orchestrated photo-ops and tightly controlled rallies. When was the last time anyone did some real reporting from the campaign trail? I’m not blaming the journalists. Everything is so packaged nowadays, what is there to report? Comment on the electoral horse race, focus on the occasional gaffe or two and that’s about it.

Meanwhile, partisanship and emotions run high, leaving little room for anything approaching illuminating debate. Not to mention the wealth of misleading attack ads and nastiness on the hustings, this time, mostly from the party of you know who. Is this what democracy has become? An appeal to the lowest common denominator? Demonizing your opponent as if he or she were running to deliberately ruin and bankrupt Canada, just because they have different views than you do? I’m so old I can remember when politics was a relatively honourable pursuit.

This dispiriting campaign is the worst in memory. Although the three major parties have platforms sufficiently varied to give voters a decent range of options, manipulation of the democratic process and the relentless, divisive drive of the Conservatives to nudge their support up to the 39 or so per cent that produced a majority last time is enough to drive one to pee in a cup….or call up Rob Ford….or both…. It is to despair.

Thank goodness for that seventh inning and José Bautista!

Just to further jolly myself, herewith my Top Ten list of deliberate electoral shenanigans by the Conservatives that, taken together, illustrate just how much this country needs a breath of fresh air on Monday. Cast a happy vote!

(This just in: none of it worked……hehe)

  1. The three-month campaign. Shades of Bob Dylan’s never-ending tour, this is by far the longest, most expensive campaign in Canada’s modern political history. It’s a marathon no one wanted but the Conservatives. It was a calculated decision they believed would be to their advantage: more total money to spend, lots of time to overcome any gaffes or bumps on the road (Duffy, anyone?), and difficult for the opposition parties to maintain momentum. Plus, perhaps reducing the turnout by boring people to death. As for me, I’d rather be on Pluto, where campaigns last only three weeks.
  1. As Joel Gray sang in Cabaret: “Money makes ze world go round.” Not only do the Tories have a political war chest absolutely stuffed with cash, they took advantage of being in power by spending oodles of taxpayers’ money to flood us with pro-government ads in the months leading up to the campaign.
  1. Dividing Canadians. As we have learned over the years, Stephen Harper could care less about the 60 per cent of Canadians opposed to the direction he is taking the country. As long as the anti-Harper vote is split between the NDP and the Liberals, he can claim victory with less than 40% of the popular vote. He’s not the first political leader to exploit that, of course, but it’s never good for the country. We are better together, than divided.
  1. Never has a major political party been less willing to debate the issues. First, the Conservatives kiboshed the heavily-watched, English-language TV debates that have long been part of the political process. (Harper did debate on Radio-Canada — twice!–  but that was in Quebec, where les Conservateurs had nowhere to go but up.) And at the same time, Tory candidates across the land have been missing in action at most all-candidate meetings. Sure, these grassroots gatherings rarely change anyone’s views, and they can sometimes turn into partisan gong shows but they are part of the process. Turning one’s back on the public in this small way shows contempt for democracy. debate
  1. There has rarely, if ever, been a government so obsessed with controlling its message. This has carried on into the campaign, where all reporters have experienced difficulty getting access to the Prime Minister for even a brief question, along with the inevitable, brusque control of political events by security.
  1. Yes, the date of the talks were set, but did the Conservatives, representing Canada, even consider asking them to be postponed for a month or so? Maybe a naive suggestion, but negotiating a major trade deal, with profound implications for the country, in the midst of an election campaign that, conceivably, you might lose, verges on the surreal. All behind closed doors, all without involving the Canadian people, and still without disclosure of more than a few meagre details. The rest is silence. How are voters supposed to make a decision on the merits or otherwise of Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest free trade deal ever negotiated?
  1. Like Republicans to the south of us, the Conservatives seem to believe it’s better for their chances to make voting a bit more onerous. Hence, extra ID requirements for some, and unprecedented legislative proposals to restrict the independence of Elections Canada Some of this was withdrawn after a huge public outcry. But it showed where their hearts lay: the weaker Elections Canada and the lower the turnout, the better for the Conservatives, since a greater percentage of their supporters vote than all those young people. In the meantime, past budget cuts have surely contributed to the many well-pulicized, voter list fiascos and the schmozzola at many advance polling stations. It all smacks of a two-bit democracy.


  1. The politics of fear and division. Ethnic Chinese and Punjabi voters have been targeted with specific ads in Chinese and Punjabi, making absurd claims that Justin Trudeau supports making pot accessible to kids and setting up neighbourhood brothels? Why are they the only groups targeted? Then, there are those election pamphlets suggesting ISIS would be attacking people in their bedrooms, if the Conservatives were not bombing ISIS. Tory candidate Dianne Watts, once a sensible mayor of Surrey, originally distanced herself from the messaging. She told reporters she had her own style. A day later, presumably after receiving a phone call from election headquarters, she embraced the fear-mongering.
  1. A blanketing of the airwaves with attack ads on Justin Trudeau’s economic policies during the campaign’s final few days that are even more misleading than usual. Observed Globe and Mail economics reporter David Parkinson: “They paint pictures of their opponents’ economic platforms that are about as close to reality as a Dali canvas.“
  1. The niqab. Hammering away on such an inflammatory topic in the heat of an election campaign to win votes is reprehensible. This issue brought me down more than any other. Speaking of José Batista, also thank whoever’s up there for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. He says it beautifully.


(Cartoon by Steve Nease)


E01JEC Newspaper readers in Nisch, 1914. Image shot 1914. Exact date unknown.

E01JEC Newspaper readers in Nisch, 1914. Image shot 1914. Exact date unknown.

As regular readers know by now, I remain a big fan of newspapers, despite their ever-diminishing state. Why, just this weekend, I found all sorts of goodies distributed among their varied pages. The treasures are still there. You just have to look a bit harder and be a bit more patient these days. This being both the end of B.C. Day and the end of the full moons, I thought I would share a few. rnewspapersok1. I hadn’t quite realized before that the state most affected by climate change is not media-saturated, rain-starved California, but, of course, Alaska. So far, this summer, wildfires have burned through more than 20,000 square kilometres of Alaskan forestry, a swath larger than all of Connecticut. Other bad stuff, too. An excellent story from Saturday’s Vancouver Sun, written by the Washington Post’s environment reporter, Chris Mooney. 2. The legendary Mark Starowicz, former editor of the McGill Daily and part of so many great things at CBC (As It Happens, Sunday Morning, The Journal, Canada: A People’s History) reflects on the Mother Corp’s decision to kill its in-house documentary unit: “There’s a sadness that comes form the realization that the institution has been totally starved. Starved. The price is extraordinary in what’s not being produced.” 3. In his newly-published autobiography, NDP leader Tom Mulcair says it took him a while to learn that “not every shot has to be a hardball to the head.” 4. North Korea has hopes of becoming an international surfing destination. 5. It’s possible to write about Nantucket without a rhyming couplet in sight. 6. Photography doesn’t get any better or more imaginative than this. Amazing series of photos by the Globe and Mail’s John Lehmann, featuring artists from B.C. Ballet in locations and poses you won’t believe. 7. The per-night price of a room at the storied Hotel Vancouver this weekend was $849. 280715-MATT-WEB_3389347b 8. Lord Sewel’s favourite bra is orange. 9. Stephen Harper once wondered out loud: “Why does nothing happen around here unless I say ‘fuck’?” 10. In the week before Sunday’s election call, the Conservative government announced nearly $4 billion worth of government projects across the country. 11. PostMedia columnist Stephen Maher reminded us that when Stephen Harper was head of the National Citizens’ Coalition, he challenged election spending limits imposed on so-called third parties all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Now, that same Steve guy is justifying his early election call to give his party the chance to drown the country in their own ads, over fears of alleged big bucks being spent by those once-lauded third parties that might sway voters, too. images-2 copy 4Only these third parties are “big unions and corporations…staffed by former Liberal and NDP operations,” the Conservative Party warned its members last week. 12. It has taken Russell Brown less than three years to rise from law school professor to a seat on the Supreme Court of Canada. Apparently it didn’t hurt to have blogged in 2008 that he hopes Stephen Harper wins a majority, and that the Liberals “just fade away” by electing a leader who is “unspeakably awful”. 13. The word “terrorism” is now being used openly by Israeli authorities, including Benjamin Netanyahu, to describe recent attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on unarmed Palestinians. 14. The Bay Area (San Francisco et al) has two dozen transit agencies, each with its own system, funding sources and fare structure. And we complain about TransLink…. 15. Surrey’s Adam Lowen is close to a first in baseball history: going from pitcher to hitter and back to a pitcher, all in the major leagues. Story here: 16. On Aug. 1, 1959, Premier W.A.C. Bennett fired a flaming arrow at a raft piled high with voided government bonds from a distance of five feet. He missed. Luckily, a well-prepared Mountie, hidden at the back of the raft, managed to light the paper bonfire, and lo, one of the province’s most outlandish political stunts, dubbed by Paul St. Pierre “the biggest thing” since the cremation of Sam McGee, became part of B.C. lore. (Thanks to John Mackie.) 17. Premier Christy Clark orders a crackdown on gun violence in B.C. That should be easy….

A spill response boat works to clean up bunker fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa anchored on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A spill response boat works to clean up bunker fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa anchored on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

18. Get this. According to an independent review: When a large, toxic fuel spill began fouling English Bay last April, Canadian Coast Guard staff were unsure of their roles. What????? Then, when Port of Vancouver said they couldn’t see the spill and were taking water samples, the private sector response team thought the Port meant they were “standing down”, passed that on to the Coast Guard, who then de-escalated their alert. Further delay resulted from cellphone and computer problems. Oh yes, and once they finally did figure out what to do, there were not enough Coast Guard staff around, since a bunch of them had been busy doing something else in “Granville Channel”, wherever that is. As a result of this Comedy of Errors, which would have done Shakespeare proud, review author John Butler concluded: “The response was delayed by one hour and 49 minutes due to confusion of roles and responsibilities, miscommunications and technology issues.” This is what federal cabinet minister James Moore at the time called a “world class” response. 19. Sally Forth continues to be unfunny, and Rex Morgan, alas, unreadable. 20. Baseball in Toronto is fun again. Oh, and i’m still working my way through the Sunday New York Times. j-seward-johnsons-statue-of-newspaper-reader-at-princeton-uni-garden