A mural in San Francisco in 2013 that reads "tax the rich." Image: mendolus shank/Flickr

What I liked about the English language debate: I warmed to it as it staggered on, not due to the leaders but to the journalist-questioners. Ottawa political journalists don’t so much dig out stories as cultivate sources who, of course, cultivate them back. It’s inherently septic. The worst is politicians who won’t answer questions no matter how many times they’re repeated. Eventually you surrender and move on, lest you be the one looking obnoxious.

Yet by the end it deteriorated into a sort of journalistic frenzy of attacks on leaders who refused to respond. It peaked with CBC’s Rosemary Barton, who came out sounding chippy (“Let’s try and get some answers this time, shall we?”) She and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet were pretty much spitting (“May I propose my own answer please? … May I follow up please?”). That’s skirting schoolyard style.

Then came CTV’s Evan Solomon, who you knew would get onto that set even if it meant leaving a trail of security guards and assistant producers in his wake. He tried, though he failed, to match Barton’s exasperation level. It was like one of those playoff hockey games where disciplined players suddenly forget it all and go roaring up and down the ice like kids.

There is no such thing as public health. I believe that’s the O’Toole position. It’s a version of Margaret Thatcher’s “there’s no such thing as society.” They won’t mandate vaccines or passports, so public health becomes a menu item. They’ve chosen for “choice.” Like a waiter recommending daily specials.

But public health isn’t a matter of taste, or education. It’s about civic duty, like taxes or traffic laws; why do you think many vaccines are required or else (no public school, no job etc.)? Police try to do things peaceably and use persuasion, but they also carry weapons because lawfulness isn’t optional. The U.S. is the alternate model, public healthwise. More than half the states now have laws that “permanently weaken government authority to protect public health,” writes The Associated Press. That sounds to me like O’Toole, leaving it to the provinces who can do nothing if they choose. Hundreds of U.S. public health officials have quit.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s reversal on public health measures Wednesday left O’Toole on a lonely limb. He’s praised the way Kenney, who ridiculed “restrictions,” had “navigated” the pandemic. Now Kenney says he was wrong and he’s sorry. He’s introduced a raft of rules. Health workers are being “trained” to do triage.

So Kenney’s finally chosen against choice when it comes to public health. Asked about that, O’Toole said Justin Trudeau called an election at the wrong time for bad reasons. Damn right. But what are you, gonna do about it, now?

Jagmeet Singh’s cheesy populism. I keep wondering what it is about Jagmeet Singh’s call to tax the superrich that bothers me. I’m a fan of left-wing populism as a way to counter the Trumpian (or Bernierian) right-wing forms. Populism always names the enemy of The People. The right-wing version is foreigners, immigrants or The Other. For the left, it’s the rich. So far so good.

But beyond that, The People don’t seem to figure much. They’re a passive, mistreated lot, who should look to Singh to raise them up. Only he among leaders cares about “people” and fights for them. There’s a waft of Trump’s, “Only I can fix it.” But left populism is usually marked by the view that the people deserve power and have the ability to wield it. I think most “people” are motivated less by resentment than a desire for fairness — and a voice! It’s demeaning to talk as if they merely want the rich to cover their costs.

Justin’s original sin. That would be dropping his solemn 2015 pledge to reform elections and bin our execrable first-past-the-post system forever.

Now we’re faced again with seeing a clear majority (Liberals+NDP+Greens, who barely differ on policies) of 55-60 per cent defeated by about a third of voters, leaning right (Conservatives plus, maybe, the PPC). It equals a democratic farce.

It’s striking how Liberal arrogance and stupidity in calling a reviled election is matched by thinking they don’t require electoral reform, since they can always con or pressure enough voters into supporting them. We shall see.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image credit: mendolus shank/Flickr


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.