why joyce murray should be taken seriously for the Liberal leadership

the federal liberal leadership race has looked sown up for a long time. aside from marc garneau (himself a rich, famous montrealer) calling out justin trudeau for being a rich, famous montrealer who lacks the courage of his convictions, the campaign has passed effectively in silence. in what way are these new Liberals going to be any different from michael ignatieff’s disastrous 2011 squad?

m. trudeau, if elected, will surely come under the most withering assault imaginable from the Conservative media machine. the ad men are prepared for him, make no mistake. thomas mulcair may have had a gentler ride than either m. dion or m. ignatieff (uncle Jack’s parting gift, no doubt), but m. trudeau is in for one hell of a grilling. ‘he is no self-made man like stephen harper is’, ‘he has no economic experience, unlike stephen harper’, ‘he’s not a Strong Leader like stephen harper’- these lines worked against messrs. dion and ignatieff. if those two were ‘wimpy’ intellectuals, but trudeau is a ‘charismatic’ one, will  it make a difference?

some will argue that it does, and that justin is what is needed to bring the party into the future. maybe that’s true. trudeau is against ‘tough-on-crime’ legislation, and wants to support community programs. his stance on sovereignty, that’s to say a two-thirds majority is needed for anything to happen, is coherent, if unpopular among ndp voters in quebec (which last time was basically everybody).

but this is the thing. we already know that 60% of the country is going to vote for a platform along those lines. it’s not that there are no good ideas in politics right now, it’s that good ideas can’t get implemented. the political machine in canada is badly broken. the PMO has more power than it’s ever had, and omnibus legislation is getting rammed  through a stacked  system which senators steal from.

everywhere in the country, if the liberals run on a ‘Stop Harper’ platform, they and the NDP (who we had may as well just call the ‘Stop Harper Party’ anyway) are going to cannibalize each others’ votes. Aside from the Great Quebec Wild Card (the Bloc are not dead, Option Nationale/Québec Solidaire have not disappeared, and the Maple Spring is not over), the result is predictable in an ‘any Liberal’ v. Mulcair v. Harper election: the left leftists vote NDP, the middle leftists vote Liberal, and everyone else, the whole gamut from libertarians to red tories, about 40% of people per riding, vote Conservative. this has happened before. it keeps happening. how to go from this stalemate to a responsible government?

ask joyce murray, endorsed this week by David Suzuki. you can read an official policy paper on her web zone, but i’ll just quote a highlight: “Where appropriate, Liberals will cooperate with local NDP and Green riding associations to put forward the strongest candidate — the one best able to take that seat from a Conservative.” This would of course allow them to form a government, and then “create a fair, representative electoral system” which among other things “(d)elivers sound, evidence-based policies that will better position Canada to respond to the challenges ahead”. this is simply good sense.

we have real problems coming down the pipe, and we are going to need a responsible government that makes sound long-term decisions. it needs to reflect and inform the national discourse. this no longer seems possible: endless electioneering, whether a legitimate political tactic or not, lowers the quality of discourse. if we’re speaking in sound bytes, we’re not saying anything. joyce murray wants to Stop Harper, then reform parliament, and i’m game. ndp candidate nathan cullen was up for it too. we don’t need to disturb the foundational parts of the constitution to get radically better results in our lawmaking and policy-setting. once the reform is discussed then implemented, have the Governor General dissolve the government and hold an election under the new rules.

no-one suggests that this is going to be an easy. what specific kind of electoral reform do we want? reform the senate, or abolish it? these are tricky questions, which is exactly why next election progressives want to run the strongest candidate possible in every riding, regardless of their party affiliation. but make no mistake: a coalition is urgent. do we really want to risk losing this next election? what will Canada look like in 2019 after 13 years of Conservative rule? will we recognize it at all? joyce murray, at least, is serious about Stopping Harper. i hope you are too.

Hockey is Dead, Long Live Hockey

So in the wee hours of this morning, a deal was finally struck to ‘save’ hockey for the year. Yes, the owners and the players have finally decided on a way to split their huge fat stacks between them ‘equitably’, and everyone is willing to lace up, open the gates, and give the crowd what they want.The thousands of ordinary Canadians, small-business owners, service employees, and others who depend on the league, and its famous Stanley Cup tournament, for their livelihoods can return to work. But this return is different: the NHL has likely shot itself in the face in a number of small markets- already in desperate competition with basketball and football, the absence of hockey this fall could very well be the last nail in the coffin for Phoenix, Nashville, and others besides.

For this lockout is different- at the start of the 2005-06 season, at least, we got some fun new rules to open up the game (eg. two-line passes, shootouts, a point for overtime losses, and the behind-the-goal safe trapezoid for goalies), and so when hockey came back there was the promise that we’d be seeing something new on the ice. Hockey game back from its break rejuvenated- if not better, at least different. Not this time, though: we left hockey at the start of the blocked shot era, and it looks like that’s where we’re going to pick it back up again.

Now, far be it from me to criticize the league’s business model. Ill-conceived expansion south of the Mason-Dixon line aside, they seem to have done alright for themselves, and the fact that there are so many millions to be divvied up is proof of the fact. But that said, there is a malaise. In a Toronto Star poll this morning, 31% of respondents indicate they will not watch the shortened season as they are ‘no longer NHL fan(s)’- a further 38% will watch, but feel the lockout has ‘soured’ the season.

This, don’t forget, is Toronto- I can only imagine the results of a similar poll in Phoenix. Indeed, some serious damage has been done. We seem to have come a long way from the heady days of the Original Six era, where hockey was the thing that mattered to Canadians, where Maurice Richard’s suspension could set off riots, when the Leafs needed to put a decent team on the ice to ensure their revenues, where hockey could be seen as a metaphor for our nation, rather than a perfunctory pageant populated and promulgated by the very richest. There was a time, in other words, when hockey was real, when it was visceral, when it served its ancient purpose (as with all sports) as a proxy, or metaphor, for war. Our boys versus theirs, us versus them, in the spirit of fair competition for the honour of victory itself.

I have seen it repeated as a truism this fall that hockey players ‘used to be different from other athletes’: that they were motivated by love of the game, not by profit. It’s worth considering where this trope comes from, as hockey players, and hockey owners, have in fairness been making money hand over fist for a good long time, well before even the Original Six. But the history of the Stanley Cup can point us in the right direction. The Canadian Encyclopedia reminds us that it was “(d)onated by Governor General Lord Stanley in 1893 for presentation to the amateur hockey champions of Canada.”

That’s right, the amateur champions. In fact, the NHL gained control of the cup in 1926 only, 33 years after its dedication. The NHL at this point was recognized to be the pinnacle of hockey competition in the world, and because there were Canadian teams playing in it, it was a safe bet that whoever won the NHL championship was indeed the champion of Canada. The fact that American teams could, and can, win the Cup is an act of charity on the part of all Canadians. The fact that professional teams can win the cup is a testament to the power of commercialization.

Of course, I am not the first commentator to notice this. The following two paragraphs lean heavily on Colby Cosh’s manifesto from August 23 2012. Effectively, during the last lockout, in 2004-05, the NHL was sued by Gard Shelley and David Burt, a couple of Toronto rec league players, to allow the trustees of the Cup to award it to a non-NHL team in the event that the NHL, for whatever reason, declined to organize a tournament in a given year.

The lawsuit was settled out of court, and the result subject to a strict confidentiality agreement. In the one part of the settlement that was addressed publicly, however, Shelley and Burt’s lawyer, Tim Gilbert, affirmed just that: “The current agreement…between the Trustees and NHL shall be amended to acknowledge that nothing therein precludes the Trustees from exercising their power to award the Stanley Cup to a non-NHL team in any year in which the NHL fails to organize a competition to determine a Stanley Cup winner.”

There is one important element outstanding in this analysis: the Cup’s origins as a challenge cup. The Champions held it as long as they could keep defeating challengers, and the trustees were responsible for ensuring the fairness and timeliness of these challenges. Thusly, small teams from small towns could put themselves together and go after it. The victory of the Kenora Thistles in 1909 was not the product of efforts by paid professionals from Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the United States- it was truly, deeply local.

There is a certain metaphor to be seen here- just as liberal economics have opened up the world to trade, disconnecting us from the sources of things we buy, economic considerations have caused the NHL to expand to the point where maybe one player out of ten is ‘local’ in any meaningful sense. The NHL is a league unrooted, and maybe here we have hit on some of the problem.

The Cup, as we’ve seen above, still has trustees: it is rightly the property of the people of Canada. Returning the Cup to its rightful place as a Challenge Cup, and stripping it of its corporate overtones, can only help restore some nobility to the game. In his column linked above, Colby Cosh proposes justly this: allowing any eligible Canadian hockey player to form or join a pick up team to enter a tournament for the express purpose of challenging for the Stanley Cup. The definition of an ‘eligible player’ is tricky, but for the moment let’s limit it to any player who makes their living from hockey.

Assuming an upper limit of 24 teams, and a lower limit of 12, such a tournament would look a lot like the world cup of hockey- a round robin with four (or two) divisions of six teams, who each play each other once (or twice), with the top two from each division advancing to the knockout round. If we’re trying to condense this tournament, they can play single-elimination knockout games until someone wins. If removing the Cup causes the league to finally collapse under its own sclerotic weight, and we have plenty of time to do this, they can play best of three, best of five, or even best of seven series until the end. It would certainly take place only during winter months, as I don’t think Lord Stanley ever envisioned his hardware going anywhere in June.

The advantages to such a tournament are easy and obvious. The big one is that the Stanley Cup would no longer be the personal purview of Gary Bettman or any of the other big-wigs (read: clowns) at the NHL head office. It would be awarded annually to a Canadian team comprised of only Canadians. The tournament itself would be played in many venues- any city with an AHL arena should be able to host a game or a series, and teams would decide amongst themselves or draw lots to determine who would play from which ‘home’ arena. It would bring top-flight hockey to places where it either does not presently go, or where it is too expensive to see. Profit from this tournament would go exclusively to funding boys’ and girls’ minor hockey programs from coast-to-coast- playing for the Cup, after all (in this perfect world), is about the love of the game, not making money. Professional players would thus be amateur, in the true sense, for this tournament only.

I am not an expert, but I am a hockey fan, and a proud Canadian. It pains me to see one of our national symbols, an important part of our national identity, abused and defaced and held hostage in the name of profit. Lord Stanley’s Cup will be awarded this year, but its unclear whether those who hoist it will be ‘worthy’ of it, in the sense he envisioned: amateur, playing for the love of the game, and Canadian, playing for his countrymen. It is time to do something about this- time to make a change to reclaim our heritage. Hockey is dead- long live hockey!

An Open Letter to Stephen Harper re: Chief Theresa Spence

Dear Mr. Harper:

Where are you, man? It seems like it’s been forever since you’ve been around. You’re aware, I hope, that one of our friends, and one of your fellow citizens, Chief Theresa Spence, is literally dying to see you. She hasn’t eaten since December 12, you see. She’s waiting for you to come down and meet her. She doesn’t want anything from you right now- just your attention. Now I can understand of course that you’re a busy guy- you’ve got executives to shmooze with, a caucus to manage, and I’m sure your hockey book is probably taking up some time as well. I even hear that you have a family. So I can understand that you wouldn’t have be able to see Chief Spence immediately, even though I’m certain that you would love to.

But Mr. Harper, it’s been weeks. Three weeks. Twenty-one days. Our friend, and your fellow citizen Chief Spence has not eaten in that time. I’m sure that you, Mr. Harper, have enjoyed some tasty meals since then, surrounded by your friends and loved ones. I’m sure that you can understand the tremendous force it must take her to maintain her strike, and the serious danger she is placing herself in as the holidays fade into winter. You, Mr. Harper, and you alone, have the power to save her. I know that you know this, because you’ve sent faxes, e-mails, and phone calls to her office- I also know that you know, like the rest of the world, that Chief Spence is not there, that she is in a tent on an island in the Ottawa River, spitting distance from your office.

It’s been three weeks, Mr. Harper, and the only logical conclusion I can draw is that you are choosing to ignore her. Presumably, you are motivated by two things. The first is the desire to prove that hunger strikes won’t work, and that you are prepared to see our friend and fellow citizen into the grave rather than imply that others, too, could meet you if they showed a similar fortitude. The other thing, I assume, is the same thing that motivated Jean Charest this spring, when hundreds of thousands of young people flooded the streets of Montréal and other cities in Quebec- that you think this strike is meaningless, that your mind is made up, and that you will execute your planned agenda regardless of dissent.

Let me take the second point first. Last spring, the student strike was called meaningless by all sorts of commentators. “Who cares if the students don’t go to class, they’re only hurting themselves!” “Tuition fees are going up, there’s nothing they can do about it!” “If we ignore them, they’ll go away!” However, the one thing that is very clear, almost a year after the strike, is that ignoring the protestors was the absolute worst thing Charest could have done. It strengthened their resolve. It made them louder, it made them work harder. I was there, after all, and I can’t say it more succinctly than this: “Cri haut, plus fort, pour que personne ne nous ignore!” Shout! Louder! So no one can ignore us!

And six months after the fact, Charest lost his job, and the fee increases were cancelled. The protestors understood something fundamental about a democracy that Charest, seemingly, did not: here, policy comes from the street and it’s up to the politicians to implement what the people want. We do not elect someone for him or her to impose their plans- we elect them to implement ours. Charest was charged in his position with implementing policy developed collaboratively and which reflected Quebec values. Universal access to education, free assembly, and free speech are Quebec values: endebting those who simply wish to learn for learning’s sake is not.

Nobody voted for you for dictator, Mr. Harper- you are a public servant. Canadians voted for your party because they trusted you to be a sound manager whose agenda would reflect the values of the country. Conservatism- the idea that we should move carefully, cautiously, do our research, listen moderately to dissenting views, and build a nest egg sustainably- this is a Canadian value. Limitless, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources for private profit on the backs of our First Nations brothers and sisters is not.

Mr. Harper, you might think that Chief Spence’s hunger strike is meaningless. You might think she’s only hurting herself, you might think these resources are going to be developed anyway, so who cares if she wants to starve herself to death? You might think that if you ignore her, and her allies, that we will go away. But thinking this way will lead you nowhere productive. If you don’t meet her, Chief Spence will die. You don’t need me to explain what type of social movement that will set off- you will be faced with hate, vitriol, and the fury of those whose loved one you could have saved, but chose to ignore.

But you have a second option. Though you want to prove hunger strikes don’t work, that Chief Spence should follow the proper channels (the same ‘proper channels’ responsible for residential schools, land theft, and thousands of other injustices, might I remind you), you could do something different. You could leave your Mountie buddies on the shore, humbly step into a canoe, and paddle yourself out there. Have a cup of tea with our friend and your fellow citizen, and truly hear her concerns. Hear where she is coming from. If you are lucky, maybe you too will hear the rhythm of the living earth with which we have been blessed through drum circles and round dances.

Because I agree, Mr. Harper, than Canada is a blessed country, and that this can be Canada’s century. All the ingredients are here. But your neo-liberal, slash and burn, for-profit mentality will not get us there, and is indeed a dogma responsible for many of the gravest injustices of the 20th century. Like the carrés rouges in the spring, like IdleNoMore now, and like the waves of protest movements to come, we are millions of Canadians demanding social and environmental justice today. You, Mr. Harper, can either join us, and help us save our shared natural environment and restore our First Nations allies to their rightful place as the senior partner of Confederation, or you can be swept aside by the tide of history.

I hope, for your sake, and the sake of Chief Spence, that you decide soon, because I don’t think any of us should need to wait one more day.

Best regards,

Marc “Richard”