Charlie Hebdo and the Challenge of Freedom of Expression

“I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. ‪#‎JesuisAhmed‬.” – Lebanese writer Dyab Abou Jahjah

“Though tweaking the noses of Muslims might be as permissible as it is now believed to be dangerous, it has never struck me as anything other than a vapid way to use the pen.” – American Cartoonist Joe Sacco

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire

One of the things that has bothered me about the events in Paris this week beyond the extreme violence and lives tragically lost, is the celebration of the ‘moral mission’ of Charlie Hebdo to supposedly take on sacred cows in the name of free speech.

As a writer, a thinking being, and a free human being, I am completely in support of freedom of speech and expression. That quote by Voltaire is something I try to remember in all discussions I have and in how I approach politics.

There is, however, an important difference between recognition of a right and celebrating the results of its use. The right must be championed while the result must be challenged. To maintain the former, we must execute the latter.

In that vein, I do not celebrate overt racism, bigotry, and what amounts to hate-speech that are cloaked in claims of freedom of expression while masquerading as defiantly in support of all that is just and good.

I recognize the right of those who spew such hatred through their personal expression, because not to do so would be to endorse a world where humanity does not have ownership over our own personhood.

However, celebrating such hate-filled expression, let alone failing to challenge the bigoted beliefs it presents, only does us harm as a society and stunts our growth as individuals in our pursuit of personal liberty in all its forms.

Some of the attitudes expressed by Charlie Hebdo are at direct odds with the concept of open-mindedness and a free-thinking society. For example, “Charlie Hebdo once depicted a black government minister as a monkey, and in 2012, amid an uproar over an anti-Muslim film, the magazine published drawings of Muhammad naked and in demeaning or pornographic poses”.

If you canvassed societies in the Western world about which of those depictions would anger them more, I think there would be a clear answer that could be tied to what is currently accepted bigotry versus what is not. The fact that there is demonstrably accepted bigotry suggests that we are failing to challenge the results of freedom of belief and expression as a society, and instead giving in to our own bias and prejudice.

Charlie Hebdo’s response to the Islamic faith is not a critique of the bigoted narrative or barbaric actions carried out in the name of that faith. It is instead a critique of the faith itself and those who practice it, as if the mere existence of a belief counter to societal secularism is an affront to freedom. It is not.

The meeting of fanatical religiousness with fanatical anti-religiousness leaves society paying the steep price of having even the possibility of a rational discussion on belief and the source of our morality completely derailed.

The real path to human freedom – in body, mind, and societal interaction – is not by responding to vitriolic hatred with more vitriolic hatred but by coming to the table with a truly open mind, with recognition of our own biases, in an attempt to slay bigotry in all its forms. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo described above do not confront that bigotry, they contribute to it.

It is without question that these deaths were senseless and not deserved. And it could be successfully argued that being murdered for one’s beliefs is a far greater price to pay than living in ridicule for having them.

But instead of contributing to a world where either of those are possible outcomes of the freedom of belief and expression, we could do more to recognize our own contributions to the proliferation of hate in the world by creating a more welcoming discourse in which to express ourselves.

If we commit to anything after tragic events like this, let it be to the exchange of thoughtfully reasoned idea,s rather than the exchange of slurs and gunfire in service of ‘winning’ an argument.

Further Reading: Je Suis Charlie? Attacks Sparks Debate on Free Speech Limits (AP)

Further Reading: Why AP Didn’t Run the Charlie Hebdo Cartoons

My Grandmother and Ontario’s 1st Elected Woman Premier

Me in the crowd as Kathleen Wynne makes her victory speech as Ontario's 1st Elected Woman Premier
Me in the crowd as Kathleen Wynne makes her victory speech as Ontario’s 1st Elected Woman Premier

In the 1950’s my maternal Portuguese grandfather came over to Canada to start a better life for his family. He left behind my maternal grandmother (or as we know her, Vovo) in the Azores with two small children. Two years passed before Vovo travelled across the ocean with two small children all on her own and reunited with her husband in the small northern Ontario town of Foleyet.

Together they started a restaurant and got involved in the community. My Vovo took an interest in politics and was Liberal to her core. When I got involved in politics myself, I could tell she was proud. Afterall, this was a woman who could recite all of Canada’s Prime Ministers and who still cursed Diefenbaker decades after he had left power.

My Vovo was what my sisters and I call an ‘IW’ – an independent woman who was interested in the community around her, had lots of opinions, and spoke her mind. She was also a big fan of Kathleen Wynne.

As I headed to a political event in Windsor last year with many young Liberals and the Premier, my mother called me to tell me Vovo had had a stroke. On June 7, 2013 Vovo passed away. On June 12, 2013, we held her funeral.

One year to the day that we said our final goodbyes to Vovo, Kathleen Wynne became the first elected woman Premier on a plan first put forward in her budget by the first Portuguese treasurer in Ontario history, Charles Sousa. I spent the day helping pull vote for Cristina Martins, Ontario Liberal Candidate for Davenport and a Portuguese Canadian.

Standing just a few feet from where the Premier would deliver her victory speech, I read an email from my mother that brought me to tears. I cried out of happiness, out of pride, and out of thanks for everything that my Vovo and people like her had done to create an Ontario where a Portuguese person could be treasurer, a woman could be premier, and someone like me could have a role in this campaign and be present at the moment it all came to fruition.

Mom wrote in her email: “Congratulations on your majority! Vovo would be proud. Love you tons. – Mom”. Moments later I watched as the Premier gave her victory speech which included a line from her thank you message to volunteers sent out earlier in the night that I had the privilege to write. I wish I could tell Vovo about how I felt in that moment.

I’m sad that Vovo was not able to see this moment happen. But I am so glad that she and countless others helped create a province where I was able to. I can only hope that the work I have the privilege to do in the days to come will help create an Ontario that will have as much of a positive impact on its people as the one we live in now.

Canadian Leadership

On weekends like this, I’m reminded of the worst part of my job: death threats. In Canada we like to think that our democracy is boring and safe, and that our history is similarly without much great danger.

But the reformers of the 1840s faced great threats and real violence, and some founders of this country like Brown or McGee, paid with their lives to help form our nation.

In modern times we think of people like Pierre Laporte, but the great risk that those who lead us stare down on a daily basis is rarely remembered or recognized. Occasions like the assasination attempt at the end of the Quebec provincial election jolt us because they seem so out of place in our society. But as someone who reads these threats too regularly for comfort, I can assure you with great responsibility also comes great risk.

This is all to say that this Canada Day I am so thankful for our leaders past and present, including the trailblazing and brave Kathleen Wynne, for pushing our country forward against all odds and at great personal risk with little more reward than having made a substantial contribution to a society they deeply believe in.

Canada Day is about great leadership and this nation continues to have an incredible supply.

The History Inside Mt. Pleasant Cemetery

Mt. Pleasant Cemetery was designated a National Historic Site in 2000 and with good reason. The cemetery marks the final resting place of nearly 170,000 people, including:

  • Sir Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best, discoverers of insulin and heroes to millions of diabetes sufferers and their families
  • Dr. Allan G. Brown, Physician in Chief at the Hospital for Sick Children and partly responsible for the development of pablum
  • Herbert Bruce, 15th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 1932
  • Henry John Cody, Chancellor and President of the University of Toronto and Provincial Minister of Education
  • Charlie Conacher, former NHL player for the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Timothy Eaton of the famous department store chain
  • George Howard Ferguson, Premier of Ontario from 1923-30
  • Glenn Gould, famous pianist
  • George S. Henry, Premier of Ontario from 1930-34
  • Foster Hewitt, famous hockey announcer
  • George ‘Punch’ Imlach, coach of 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967 Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leafs
  • John Kelso, reporter for the Globe who founded organizations that would lead to the creation of the Toronto Human Society and the Children’s Aid Society
  • Warring Kennedy, Mayor of Toronto from 1894-95
  • William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister
  • J. Keiler MacKay, 19th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1957-63
  • Albert Matthews, 16th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1937-46
  • Samuel McBride, Major of Toronto from 1928-29 and 1936 when he died in office
  • William Barclay McMurrich, Mayor of Toronto from 1881-82
  • Sir Oliver Mowat, Father of Confederation, 8th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (1897), Senator (1897), and Premier of Ontario from 1872-96
  • Alexander Muir, author of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’
  • John Andrew Pearson, architect who designed the main block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa and the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall amongst other famous Canadian buildings
  • Dr. Jennie Smillie Robertson, Canada’s first woman surgeon and founder of Women’s College Hospital
  • Robert H. Saunders, Mayor of Toronto 1941-44
  • Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior that oversaw the expansion of the west and the creation of Saskatchewan and Alberta
  • William J. Stewart, May of Toronto 1931-34, Speaker of the House (Ontario) 1944-47
  • Augusta Stowe-Gullen, first Canadian woman to study medicine and graduated with a degree in medicine from a Canadian university
  • Donald Summerville, Major of Toronto 1963 (died in office)


I spent around two hours walking around the grounds bust mostly focused my time in the east end of the grounds. The cemetery is split in half by Mount Pleasant Road. The visitation centre, Garden of Remembrance and Cemetery Office are all located in the eastern half of the grounds towards Bayview Avenue. The Mausoleum Crematorium and Chapels, as well as the bulk of historical figures mentioned above are located in the west side of the grounds towards Yonge Street. The grounds are a very short walk from Davisville Subway station and about a 15-20 minute walk from St. Clair Subway station.

It was a particularly gorgeous day when I went – 17 degrees Celsius and lots of sun. Here are some of the highlights of my walk:

Banting and Best – located near one another in section 29 of the eastern half of the grounds (Banting faces section 27 and Best faces section 28)

Banting and Best

Alexander Muir – located in section X of the western half of the grounds (facing section L)

Clifford Sifton – located in section 10 of the western half of the grounds (facing section V and not marked on the history tour map provided by the office)

Sir Oliver Mowat – located in section W of the western half of the grounds (facing section 7)

Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King – located in section L of the western half of the grounds (facing section K)

The Champions – René Lévesque vs Pierre Elliott Trudeau

A wonderful three-part series by the National Film Board of Canada. Watching the first twenty minutes of part two where the 1968 leadership race is held was of particular interest to me, having been at two different announcements this year in federally and provincially. The series can also be found on the NFB’s website here:

Part 1

Part 2

The Champions, Part 2: Trappings of Power by Donald Brittain, National Film Board of Canada

Part 3

The Champions, Part 3: The Final Battle by Donald Brittain, National Film Board of Canada

918 Days to Build a Better Future

  As I stood in a crowded ballroom at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa last Sunday and watched Justin Trudeau become the 14th leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, I had only one worry about this party that had been declared dead by the media less than two years earlier. It was the fear that I have had throughout the rebuilding process that has taken place since the disastrous May 1, 2011 election. It is the fear that should polls go up, or a charismatic and popular leader take the helm, that the hard work of building the party again would stall. As Justin Trudeau stood on the stage and accepted the leadership of the party, he spoke of many things but had two suggestions for the supporters that had just elected him – with hope and hard work, the Liberal Party can lead the change that Canadians are looking for.

The most important thing the Party can do to ensure success in the future starting right now is to not take our eye off the horizon we’ve been building towards for almost two years. While an incredible amount of work has already taken place at Party headquarters and on the ground in EDAs across the country, further substantial work can get started now that the leader is in place. But the constant between the period of interim leadership and Justin Trudeau’s leadership has to remain that hard work exerted by all supporters of the Liberal Party. While we hope for the revitalization of our Party’s fortunes and work hard to secure that reality, we must remember that it can take a long time to build up a political movement from the drawing board to the cabinet table.

Victories seldom happen overnight. And sometimes the best course of action is to pause for a moment and learn from your rivals.

Lessons from Western Reformers

May 2, 2011 has a much different connotation for Canadian Conservatives than it does for Canadian Liberals. As everyone knows, it marks the date that Stephen Harper and his Party won a long coveted majority government, the first for a federal conservative party in Canada since Brian Mulroney won a reduced majority in 1988. However, the Harper majority might never have occurred if not for a rebellion on the same date ten years earlier.

In 2001 Stockwell Day was the leader of the Canadian Alliance. His party had formed just a year before in March 2000 and quickly squared off against the Liberals in an election that September. Unprepared for a campaign and led by a gaffe prone leader, the Alliance increased their seat total by only six over their predecessor, the Reform Party, and won only two seats in Ontario. The lack of growth in Ontario led many to question Day’s leadership and ability to eventually overtake the reigning Liberals who had taken all but three seats in Canada’s most populous province. On May 1, 2001, a rebellion sprang up in Day’s caucus and 11 Alliance MPs would eventually leave to sit apart from their colleagues in the House of Commons. The reform movement that began in protest in 1987 and dreamed of government under the banner of the new Canadian Alliance appeared shattered. Instead, as we know now, it was the beginning of a decade of hard work that would put majority government in the hands of Canadian conservatives for the first time in almost two decades.

By the fall, Stockwell Day had called a leadership vote for March 20, 2002. Stephen Harper resigned his position at the National Citizen’s Coalition and quickly received backing from many in the conservative movement. By the end of March, he had defeated Day on the first ballot with 55% support. Preston Manning vacated his seat in the House of Commons and Harper ran, campaigning against an NDP candidate after the Liberals ran no candidate and PC candidate Jim Prentice stepped aside. Harper became the Leader of the Official Opposition in May 2002 but did not take his eye off the organizational work of his party. By fall 2003, Harper had worked out a merger deal with the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, Peter MacKay. By December 7, the Party became an official entity and a leadership race began that would conclude on March 20, 2004.

Two years to the day after winning the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, Stephen Harper became the first leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Only two months later, Harper and his new party would face a general election with barely any policy developed, a bare-bones leadership and campaign team, and no real strategic plan to speak of.   Despite knocking the governing Liberals down to a minority against long odds, Harper was devastated by the result and nearly abandoned leadership of the Party he had created altogether.

But Harper and his Conservatives got back to work, hammering the Liberals in the House and working hard nationally and in local associations to build up their Party infrastructure. In his days as Canadian Alliance leader Harper had said that setbacks simply meant their ‘room to grow has risen’. His party began to embody that sentiment and by the 2006 election had methodically won over more Canadians than any other political party.

With power attained, a majority still remained out of reach. The party did not rely on its governing record alone to guide it to future victories and began employing modern campaign tactics year round to build connections with Canadians, grow the base, and expand its financial support system. These were all areas the party had focused on in opposition and had only redoubled its efforts on once in government. The 2008 campaign came and went and in its third straight campaign, the Conservative Party continued to inch up its support.

In 2006 they had 25 more seats than in 2004, and in 2008 the campaign team delivered 19 more. While the constitutional crisis of 2008 would cause Harper to again doubt his future, the party team would reel him back in and work with him towards the next campaign, delivering 23 more seats and a majority government.

A Decade of Hard Work

The majority victory won by the Harper Conservatives came 3330 days after he first took over the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. It also came a full decade after the caucus rebellion that instigated the leadership race that allowed him to come to power. In between the start of that rebellion and the majority victory, Canadian Conservatives would form a new political party, back a new leader, merge populist and progressive conservative philosophies, build a campaign team, bolster associations across the country, adopt new campaign tactics and tools, and fill party coffers from scratch.

Canadian conservatives went from doubting the possibility of their continued existence as a political movement to becoming the most organized, best financed, and most powerful political organization in the country. And they did it through hope in their cause and hard work on the ground.

918 Days

Justin Trudeau at the 2012 Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) AGM listening to Joseph Uranowski and me delivering a talk on the importance of engaging the electorate online.
Justin Trudeau at the 2012 Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) AGM listening to Joseph Uranowski and me delivering a talk on the importance of engaging the electorate online.

There are 918 days between the election of Justin Trudeau as Liberal Leader on April 14, 2013 and the probable date of the next election on October 19, 2015. That is a far less time than Harper and Canadian conservatives spent seriously toiling away at their path to victory.

However, October 19, 2015 can be a defining date in our Party’s history with hope and hard work. Today, October 19 is a date of hope that inspires our continued hard work. By October 20, 2015, let’s make sure it is proof that all of our hard work has paid off.

Why No Green Candidate in Labrador is Bad for Liberal Rebuilding

Labrador MP Peter Penashue

Watching the Liberal Leadership Debate yesterday, I was struck by the response to the announcement that the Green Party of Canada would not be fielding a candidate in an upcoming by-election in Labrador.

Reactions varied, generally along the lines of whether one supported the concept of so-called electoral cooperation or didn’t, and also where a person hailed from (those from Alberta seemed less than enthused after recently facing an onslaught of attacks by the Greens in Calgary Centre). Even those who disagreed however seemed to believe that all in all this was great news for the Liberal Party because it means one less Party to compete with during this by-election.

I am not on the same page. I believe that the Green Party decision to not field a candidate is not only bad for democracy in this country but also bad for the Liberal Party of Canada.

The Supposedly Seductive Power of Labrador Greens

A lot has been said of the 139 votes the Green Party received in 2011 in Labrador. Many say this was the difference between a Conservative having been elected and a Liberal losing.

I myself have never thought that those Green votes were really Liberal votes, for a number of reasons. The most obvious being that those voters cast ballots for the Greens, even though they had the option to vote Liberal. Some Liberals now say that without a Green on the ballot, those votes will go to the Liberals. This of course presupposes that those voters will still vote in the upcoming by-election, despite their preferred option being (undemocratically) voided by their party leader.

Even if these Green Party supporters do still come out to vote, there’s no reason to assume they will vote Liberal. They turned down this Party once before for a different option, and they could very well do so again. In the 2008 election, Dion agreed not to run a candidate against Elizabeth May while also running on the greenest platform our Party has ever put forward. Yet only 1/3rd of Green supporters ranked LPC as their second choice. Over 40% ranked either the NDP or Conservatives as their second choice while nearly 1/3rd said they had no second choice at all, demonstrating that the choice was between the Green Party or staying at home on election night.

Some suggest that without a Green candidate and considering the fact that the Conservatives overspent in Labrador during the last election (ie. cheated), Green supporters will rush to support the LPC candidate in order to keep out another Harper Conservative MP. But the Harper Tories have cheated before (In and Out Scandal) and in the race in Labrador in 2011, the LPC candidate was the only one likely to beat back the Conservative. And yet Green supporters voted Green just the same. To me this suggests that those 139 voters didn’t simply park their votes – they voted based on their principles and thought the Green Party best represented them.

So for those who salivate at the prospect of a race in Labrador free of the Green Party, this shortcut may not rake in the returns you expect.

There Are No Shortcuts

I often think of this period in our Party’s history as not necessarily a time of rebuilding but a time of building. Rebuilding suggests bringing something back to its former status while also suggesting a specific end date for construction. I don’t believe we should or should even want to bring the Party back to some past golden age. I also don’t believe the work of a political party is ever complete. This is why I talk of building the Liberal Party rather than rebuilding it.

To continue the metaphor, a home builder of any real ability would never take a shortcut on building a strong foundation for a home. If he or she did, the whole thing would begin to rot or collapse a short time later. A strong structure that can withstand the test of time needs the right materials, a clear plan, and strong execution. And all of those things take time.

Which is why I want to bring up an important fact: while so many focus on the 79 vote difference (0.7%) between Penashue and Russell in 2011, I instead focus on Todd Russell’s electoral results from the time he was first elected in a 2005 by-election to the most recent result.

In the 2005 by-election, Russell was elected with a majority of support from the voters in his riding and beat his next closest rival (a Conservative) by 19% of the total votes cast. In the 2006 general election a year later, Russell again won by a majority, taking nearly 11% more votes than his Conservative rival.

In 2008 something interesting happened in Newfoundland – the sitting Premier called for an ‘ABC’ strategy – Anyone But Conservative – and his province complied. The CPC vote in that election took a nosedive from nearly 40% in 2006 to just 8% in 2008. In a province where the vote traditionally went back and forth between centre-right Liberals and Conservatives, suddenly the Conservatives were nowhere to be found and the race was between the NDP and the Liberals. However, it wasn’t a close race as Todd Russell swept Labrador with 70% of the vote, receiving almost 53% more of the vote total than his NDP rival. What made this even more incredible was that it occurred at a time when the Liberal vote was crumbling to Conservatives and the NDP across the country in what was at the time seen as rock bottom for the Party.

All of this brings us to 2011 where Todd Russell lost by an incredibly small margin, the blame falling on Conservatives cheating and the presence of a Green candidate with anemic voter support. While both those events were factors, no one seems to be talking about the fact the Liberal vote share in Labrador fell by 31% between the 2008 and 2011 elections. If we allow that 2008 was an outlier, the 2011 result was still 10% lower than in 2006 or 2005, with both Conservatives and the NDP rising above their traditional support levels. Essentially, we bled at both ends and ceded ground to both parties.

Even with other factors at play, it’s clear that our Party lost a step in Labrador (and the rest of Canada) all on our own.

The Work Ahead

We shouldn’t take our eye off the ball on the hard work to be done in Labrador simply because the Greens have decided not to field a candidate. Nor should be lobby or expect the NDP not to run a candidate so that we can win by default (even though victory would clearly not be assured). It simply isn’t going to happen.

What we should do is work for every vote, on either end of the spectrum, until we garner enough support to win. When it comes down to it, hard work is the only way we will win.

By the time the by-election rolls around, we will have a new leader and will begin building a serious platform for the 2015 campaign. In my mind there are two things that will win that campaign, and possibly, the upcoming Labrador by-election.

The first is that we have to reach out and connect with the people of Canada in our local communities. We have to develop personal relationships with fellow Canadians and deepen those we have already established. The best thing we can do to shed the image of a party of elites is to be a party of the community.

The second thing we have to do is put forward a vision of substance that is forward-thinking and able to tackle the issues of not just today but the next 30-50 years. The number one reason why people say they don’t vote is because they aren’t interested. In a time where more people who were eligible to vote didn’t cast a ballot than did cast one for the governing party, there is nothing more important than putting forward a compelling reason for Canadians to participate in their own democracy.

Gone are the days when such enormous topics as free-trade, national unity, or the rights and freedoms of Canadians were discussed during an election period. Kim Campbell is famously (and erroneously) quoted as saying that an election is no time to discuss policy issues. The quote happened in an election between the famous free trade election of 1988 and the post-referendum election of 1997.  Since 1997, I can’t recall there being an election that was about substantive issues or that called for a grand vision of Canada’s future. All we’ve had since are elections about scandal and partisan bickering.

The elections of today are not focused on nation building at a time when our country is growing so fast that our infrastructure needs have outgrown our infrastructure budgets. Our elections are not focused on nation building when our natural resources have come to play a starring role in the economy of our country or when the wise use of those resources has become an important question for Canada’s future economic viability.

Instead the numerous elections of the last decade have focused on small platform planks usually focused on simple tax credits that some Canadians can make use of. Rather than discussing how to build a Canada for the 21st century, a period where all of our resources and human talent are primed to excel in, we instead discuss how to save $100 here or there off your taxes every April. That’s important too, but it isn’t a long enough view of our potential as a country.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. Our country doesn’t have to be as visionless as the Harper Conservatives that lead it. Liberals can look beyond the 2015 election or the 2019 election and put together a road map for our country as it could be decades from now if only we started planning now. I might be an optimist, but when it comes down to it, I think Canadians are much more likely to respond to a party that thinks beyond tax codes and instead offers a plan that could build a nation fit for Canadians. None of the other parties have offered up that kind of vision and only the Liberal Party has a track record of delivering that kind of future to Canadians.

More than anything, the by-election in Labrador is a reminder not to get bogged down in the partisan considerations the last decade has been all about, whether those considerations benefit us or not. Rather than continue to focus with tunnel vision on ways to push other political parties out of the equation, we must create a new, grander vision for how our Party can inspire Canadians again. To focus on ‘stealing’ Canadians away from the other parties is to move backwards. Voters do not belong to political parties – they are Canadian citizens looking for a compelling reason to put their faith in someone who will make a difference. We need to leave vote totals and seat counts for the journalists and begin the hard work of rebuilding our relationship with Canadians in communities across the country.

The Liberals elected in 1896 and 1968 were dreamers that inspired Canadians with their activist vision of government. The voters responded and those Liberals changed the course of this country in ways that still reverberate today. It’s time for our Party to dream big again so that we inspire Canadians to reclaim their country, using our Party as the vehicle to carve out a better future for us all.

The Missing Concept of Clarity in Mulcair’s NDP

On October 4th, 2012, the separatist party won a minority mandate in the province of Quebec. Twice before the separatist Parti Québécois held government, elected first in 1976 and again in 1981, and then during a second wave in the 1990s with election in 1994 and 1998. Within four years of the 1976 victory under René Lévesque, a referendum was held on the separation of Quebec from Canada. Under Jacques Parizeau in the 1990s, only one year separated the election of the PQ and the holding of a referendum to break up the country. Despite the PQ only winning a minority government in 2012, unlike the back-to-back majority victories of the past, there are now rumblings of a possible third referendum on Quebec’s separation from the rest of Canada as the province’s new Premier has such a vote at the top of her political agenda.

The Clarity Act – Spelling Out Our Responsibilities to Each Other

However, in the time since the last referendum a safety has been placed on the metaphorical gun that would end the current configuration of our federation as we know it. That safety is the Clarity Act, ushered in by Stephane Dion under the government of Jean Chrétien after an extremely close vote on the separation of Quebec in 1995. Those who rejected separatism won the referendum by only 1.16%. This is in comparison to the ‘no’ side winning the 1980 referendum by 19.12%.  The question asked of Quebecers in 1995 was as follows:

“Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?”

Federalists argued that the question of Quebec’s separation was proposed so vaguely and the acceptable margin for which to determine a vote in favour of separating so small that clarity must be brought to any future debate on the issue. Rather than a convoluted question that suggested vaguely that the economic and political relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada would be altered, federalists wanted a clear question with no confusion as to the meaning of what was being decided. They also wanted those voting in a referendum to know ahead of time what the results would mean. And finally they wanted to ensure that a province so integral to Confederation, as all of Canada’s provinces and territories are, would not secede from the rest of the country by the slimmest of majorities that while still a majority would rip an almost equal minority of Canadians from their democratically chosen country.

The Sherbrooke Declaration – Soft on Sovereignty

Initially the federal NDP supported the Clarity Act and the details it entailed. However, in 2005 under the leadership of Jack Layton and with party strategists now beginning to look towards Quebec to make inroads with the Canadian electorate, the NDP began to relax its own position on the requirements for cutting a province out of Canada’s national fabric. Perhaps they had seen the public beating Stephane Dion’s popularity had taken in Quebec for fighting to keep Canada together with his Clarity Act. Whatever the reason, the NDP publicly stated then and has reaffirmed since September 4, 2012 that it would support contravening the Clarity Act in the event of a referendum vote with a result of 50% plus 1 (vote), arguing that is enough for Quebec or any province to remove themselves from Confederation.

To put it in more concrete terms, if just 27,145 more people had voted for sovereignty1995 (or 2,335,505 people had voted in favour of separation instead of the 2,308,360 who did) the NDP would have been fine with the province seceding from the rest of the country. I repeat, if just 27,145 more people had voted for sovereignty on a murky question in 1995, the NDP would be fine with Quebec no longer being a province of Canada and Canada having about 24% less of its citizens. Nevermind the fact that any vote on sovereignty will only include the voices of those who came out to vote or were able to come out to vote. In 1995 almost 94% of Quebecers came to the polls. In 1980, under 86% cast a ballot. If greater than 14% of Quebecers don’t show up to the polls, how valid is the NDP conception of a majority of 50% plus 1 vote? If even just over 5% of Quebecers don’t show up or aren’t able to on the day of a referendum, how valid is 50% plus 1 vote then?

Yet NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies recently defended the Sherbrooke Declaration saying,  “It’s a solid piece of work and we stand by it.” NDP MP Charlie Angus agreed, saying the Sherbrooke Declaration showed Quebecers that the NDP trusts them to decide for themselves and is a major reason they won so many seats in that province during the 2011 election. What he neglected to add, however, is that the separatist Parti Québécois who just won election in Quebec at the provincial level was swept to power on the same sentiment, and with the same policy on what constitutes fair grounds for breaking up the country.

Angus also neglected to add that what his party sees as a fair number in Quebec, 50% plus 1, they do not see as a fair number internally. The NDP requires a two-thirds majority to change anything in it’s own constitution as a political party. They do this to ensure the will of the majority is thoroughly fleshed out and so a major-minority is not cast aside in any decision. Yet since 2005 the NDP as a party has felt that the same rules it applies to itself to protect its members should not be applied to the discussion of national unity in order to protect Canada and those in the minority of current democratic opinion at any given time within a specified geographic boundary. The Sherbrooke Declaration also goes against a long held party belief in proportional representation as a fairer representation of the true will of a democratic country than the ‘winner-takes-all’ reality of our current first-past-the-post system, where a government formed with 50% of all seats plus 1 in the House of Commons does all of the governing. If 50% plus 1 is not good enough for the NDP when it comes to their own Constitution or in the governance of Canada, why should they support anything different when it comes to a referendum on national unity?

When Thunder Bay MP John Rafferty was asked about the cognitive dissonance between the policies of his party on its own governance versus that of the country, he simply said, “Hey, listen, I’m just a little guy from northern Ontario. You need to talk to the big guys about that sort of thing.” And that brings me to Thomas Mulcair.

 Mulcair’s Silence

Remember that earlier number of 27,145 voters swapping sides that would have made the difference in 1995?

To put that into further perspective, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was put on the final ballot of the NDP convention with the support of 27,488 New Democrats, and chosen on the final ballot with the support of 33,881 NDP members. He was also elected in the riding of Outremont in the 2011 election with the support of 21,916 voters. If another referendum were to be held in Quebec,  just those who supported Thomas Mulcair at the ballot box in his own riding could be the deciding factor on whether his home province and a part of our nation ceases to exist within our federation.

That’s why Thomas Mulcair’s voice on the issue of secession matters. It matters because it could be the difference in a vote on national unity. It matters because he is a national party leader. It matters because he is the leader of the Official Opposition of this country. And it matters because he aspires to one day lead this nation, that includes the province of Quebec, as Prime Minister of Canada.

Yet during the 2012 provincial election in Quebec Thomas Mulcair was strangely silent about the political climate of the province he calls home. As talk of separation ramped up, Mulcair became less visible within the province and on the national stage. To be fair, the election did take place during his summer vacation from Parliament. But to be accurate, when sovereignty rears its head in our national discourse, the most visible and well-known politician from Quebec must drop everything and stand up for federalism.

Yet Mulcair never once spoke about the election or the possible victory of a separatist party or what that might mean for Quebec and Canada. He never stood up to say what he and his party would do as the Official Opposition and the party with the most seats at the federal level by far in Quebec. He said nothing. He was silent. On the eve of the provincial election in Quebec, rather than campaign in Quebec for federalism and a united future for our country, he visited Ontario to campaign in a by-election. He has remained silent in the days since the PQ victory. He has sent out MPs from Manitoba and northern Ontario to respond for him, a Quebecer, Official Opposition leader, and possible future Prime Minister of Canada, on the issue of national unity and Quebec’s place in Canada.

The NDP supports a position that if 50% of Quebecer’s less one single voter support the province remaining in Quebec, the province would separate. If just one more voter out of the entire province, out of just those who came out to vote, decides that separation is preferable, the NDP says that’s fine with them. And if their leader remained silent during an election where the separatist threat was the central topic of discussion, what likelihood is there that he will suddenly take a stand during a provincial referendum on the issue? Why should we believe he would speak out for federalism at all? 21,916 Quebecers marked an ‘x’ beside Thomas Mulcair’s name last election. If he does not speak out on separation and there is a third referendum, what might these voters mark an ‘x’ for next?

The role of the Prime Minister of Canada is first and foremost to protect, promote and strengthen the unity of our federation. Thomas Mulcair has already shown he is not up to the job.

Unforseen Ripples – Forgotten Stakeholders

It is not democratic to harm a sizeable minority by rewarding a slim majority with all the spoils. This is what the NDP argued in terms of political representation up until their historic second place finish in the 2011 election (since which we have heard very little about proportional representation from a party now reaping the benefits of our first-past-the-post system). Yet the NDP and their Sherbrooke Declaration is completely silent on indigenous rights within the discussion of provincial sovereignty.  First Nations chiefs within Quebec at the time of the 1995 referendum said that their forced secession from Canada with Quebec in the event of a ‘yes’ vote would violate international law and their right to negotiate their own future under their own rights to self-determination. The NDP plan has no consideration for the indigenous minorities of Quebec and still insists that 50% plus one voter in all of Quebec is enough for the province to separate – regardless of the concerns, wants, needs, or even rights of minorities within the province. For the record, Cree and Inuit peoples residing in Quebec held their own referendum on separation alongside the provincial ballot question in 1995 and each nation decided by 96% to remain in Canada.

The NDP claims the Sherbrooke Declaration allows the rights of voters to be championed yet it is in direct conflict with their own view of democracy within their party as well as the governing of Canada, and would contravene the rights of minorities like the Cree and Inuit living within the geographic boundaries of the province of Quebec.

The Fight for Continued Federalism

Whether there is another referendum or not, the stance a party takes on the unity of a federation nearly 150 years in existence is incredibly relevant to our national discourse about where we want to head as a country in the years to come. For me, the only direction forward is towards a federation of increased strength, cooperation, and prosperity. This does not mean pushing down any province, ethnicity, culture, or people. It means bringing together all of Canada’s people in all of our great diversity and working together to make life better for each of us within a cooperative and mutually beneficial national fabric. The NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration that would cut up our country is not only unacceptable but also counter to the future most Canadians dream of for our shared country.


Tonight the unthinkable happened in Canada: a Canadian was murdered at the scene of a political rally in Quebec. As Pauline Marois took the stage in Montreal to thank members of her Party for their victory in the Quebec provincial election, shots rang out leaving at least one dead as I write this.

Canada is not a country that was born out of violence like revolutionary countries that dot this globe. Canada is a country that evolved into the nation it is today through respectful discourse and the adoption of Responsible Government, which places the need for peaceful, deliberative consensus directly at the centre of our political system. When LaFontaine and Baldwin first campaigned for Responsible Government they stared down loyalists in the streets of Montreal, watched as Parliament burned, and did nothing as repeated attempts were made on LaFontaine’s life, as Prime Minister of what was then the United Province of Canada. They did not turn to violence themselves but instead used politics as a positive and lasting tool to counter the hatred hurled at them. And they won.

This is Canada’s legacy: a politics that does not resort to violence but instead champions peaceful discussion between rational citizens. Today is a sad day for Canada and for the legacy of a mostly peaceful political history in in our country.

The Sacrifice

As Pauline Marois was whisked off the stage by her security team, my thoughts turned to my own experiences in politics. If you’ve ever knocked on a door while canvassing, called a constituent of your riding, answered a voter’s email, or had any other interaction with the public because of your involvement and interest in the political process you will know one thing: the time, effort, and concern political volunteers and professionals put into the political process is often met with great disdain by the general public. Politicians are bloodsuckers, they often say, only in it for themselves. Sometimes politicians even turn on one another and say these things about their opponents, despite knowing first-hand the sacrifices involved in political life whether you’re simply a volunteer or the Prime Minister of Canada.

I have spent the last week knocking on doors all day and night, talking to voters about their concerns and their hopes for a better future in Ontario. I truly appreciate these conversations because for me, politics is all about that interaction and really getting down to what matters most to actual people. That’s why I’m involved in politics and it’s why I like to hear from other Canadians about politics. Every once in a while you will step up to a door where the resident will thank you for your effort and your interest in the political process. That’s when politics is the most rewarding.

But it can be a far darker place. I’m not talking about getting an earful at a door or even being exhausted after a long day of volunteering. Those are real sacrifices made every day. But many people devote their entire lives to the political process because they believe in something much bigger than themselves. It is those Canadians who will go to any length to ensure a better tomorrow for all of us, and often do. It is those Canadians who are willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of those around them so that collectively we may all leave this world better than we found it.

We have seen Canadians pay the ultimate price before in service to all of us as citizens of this country. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was assassinated shortly after leaving Parliament one night after a long day of peaceful debate. His funeral in 1868 in Montreal drew nearly the entire population of the city. In 1970 Pierre Laporte was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ, leading to a second funeral in Montreal for an assassinated Canadian politician. With violence erupting in Montreal once more this evening, it serves as a painful reminder that politics is about service to others and sometimes those involved pay the ultimate price.

The True Gravity of Choosing to Serve

Violence in Canadian politics is uncommon which is why we are so shocked on nights like tonight. But just because tragedy is uncommon does not mean there is not a constant risk in being involved in politics. I do not say this to be dramatic, as Canada is clearly one of the safest countries in the world and perhaps the safest country to get involved in the political process. We decide political differences at the ballot box, respectfully decline or agree to support candidates and parties at our doorsteps, and do not take up arms when our political opinion is not shared by others.

Most of the time. For every rare story of Canadian political violence there are hundreds of frightening threats that never come to fruition. There are aspects about my own job in politics I usually have no interest in discussing. In my position I attend a lot of events but also receive a great deal of feedback from the electorate. It is not an easy thing to receive death threats at your workplace that are directed at your employer and sometimes even at you and still go on about your day as if nothing as happened. To still wade into crowds of people as if the threat doesn’t exist. But I have done that and so have many other people I know.

Most days I hardly think about it. When threats come in I do pause for a moment. But it’s really not until a day like today that it really hits home how very real threats can be. There are few workplaces where such threats are so common and probably fewer still where they are more likely to be followed through on. When I stood with the Premier of Ontario at an event last month, his security detail behind us, I felt no worry at all about what might happen despite knowing full well the threats we receive. This is Canada, after all. I have been present at events with heavy police presence and extremely angry protesters where violence could have easily broken out at any moment. When you choose to involve yourself in something bigger than yourself, whether you are a just a staffer or the leader of the province, fear comes second and hope first.

If we worried about the price we might pay for simply believing in something, very little would be accomplished in the world. And while the politically involved are rarely called on to pay that price, it is important to remember that risk is a serious sacrifice that those in politics make on a daily basis. If there is nothing else learned from this tragedy tonight let it be this: let us show respect for one another and the peaceful legacy of our politics because while some would knowingly sacrifice their lives for our well-being, they should not have to. Senseless violence is only the fault of those who carry it out, but we could all do a little more to ensure our discourse about the political process is constructive and respectful of the very real sacrifices made each day by every day people like you or me.

What Ontario Liberals Have Done for Students

The following is a list of what Ontario Liberals have done for me and other students since 2003:

They created a permanent 30% off tuition grant for students in a university or college degree program saving $1,600 per student annually and $730 annually for students in college diploma and certificate programs. The grant is calculated off the average Ontario tuition and will keep pace with any increased future costs, meaning it will always be 30% off the price of tuition. In 2012, 300,000 students are eligible and those already on OSAP will receive the grant automatically without ever having to apply.

They have tripled the number of grants available to students compared to before taking office with 1 in 4 students enrolled in post-secondary now receiving financial support they will never have to pay back. In 2003, 44 cents of every dollar spent on post-secondary education went to grants. Under Ontario Liberals, this amount has increased to 61 cents for every dollar. Thanks to Ontario Liberals, nearly 2/3rds of post-secondary funding from the province goes directly to financial support for students who need it most without ever asking them to pay it back.

They created the Ontario Student Opportunities fund, ensuring the amount of student loans students repay is capped at $7300 annually. Any loan above this amount is covered by the government, not students.

They increased  the amount of financial support students coming from low and middle-income families can receive, increasing it from $9,400 in 2003 to up to $12,900 today.

They created a new 6-month interest-free grace period for OSAP loans, and extended it to 12 months for grads starting their careers by doing important work at non-profits.

They created the Repayment Assistance Plan to help recent graduates looking for work reduce the cost of student loan payments, sometimes cut to zero if necessary. And they made sure no graduate will ever have to pay more than 20% of their income towards loan payments.

They even ensured that student loans are forgiven after 15 years no matter what, so no Ontario student will ever again weigh a quality education versus a lifetime of debt.

They have supported students so strongly that the Ontario Student Loan default rate has dropped from 23.5% in 1997 to 8% by 2009, the lowest in the province’s history.

They have been consistent in their dedication to students and quality education. They have supported those students who most need it more than any other government in Ontario’s history. They have made education more affordable now and in the long-term, replacing debt with grants, and obstacles with opportunity.

The Ontario Liberal Party’s commitment to affordability, accessibility, quality and mobility in post-secondary education is simply unmatched. I feel truly privileged to have received a quality and affordable Ontario education.