Politics in a post-blackface world - Macleans.ca

Politics in a post-blackface world

Politics Insider for Sept. 23: Promises to cut taxes and phone bills bring us back to politics as usual


Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reacts as he makes a statement in regards to photo coming to light of himself from 2001 wearing "brownface" during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, N.S., on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign-up at the bottom of the page to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

Now, where were we? Justin Trudeau is trying to get back on message track after a frenzied five days (has it really only been five?) since #brownface started trending nationwide. To help voters forget those incessant high school photos, the Liberal leader made two big promises on Friday: making cell phone bills cheaper and removing income tax from the first $15,000 earned by most Canadians. They would achieve the latter plan, which would allegedly save Canadians an average of $292 per year, by raising the basic personal taxable amount from $12,069 to just under $15,000 by 2023 for people with an annual salary of less than $147,000. This plan, yet uncosted, is aimed to rival the Conservatives’ more modest tax cut: they plan to lower the tax rate to 13.75 per cent from 15 per cent for anyone earning $47,630 or less.

The cell phone platform, meanwhile, comes roughly a week after the NDP revealed a similar plan to cap cellphone and internet prices, claiming they’d save families an average of $250 per year. The Liberals upped the ante with their announcement, boasting their plan would save families almost $1,000 a year. How big are these families? How many phones do these hypothetical families own? The numbers seem fanciful, but with Canadians already paying some of the highest mobile phone fees in the world, the fact that this is an election issue at all is promising news.

But we’re not over the blackface stuff yet. As the dust settles on Trudeau’s hideous scandal, the Liberals remain in a virtual tie with the Conservatives, according to our latest polling roundup. But while the full effects of the blackface scandal have yet to be seen, it’s worth taking a sober second look at the prime minister’s own place in a systemically racist world. In Maclean’s, Sarmishta Subramanian writes that the whole scandal has distracted us from serious antiracist strategies:

My fear is that this incident is going to galvanize a national hair-shirt extravaganza: more outings of past racist indiscretions, more confessions and apologies, more discussion of race, more hypersensitivity around racism, more meaningless acknowledgement of blind spots and white privilege. I say meaningless not because genuine reflection around these questions isn’t important or productive, but because ritual shaming and sacrifice is unlikely to produce any enduring change for the people who most need it. (Maclean’s)

Erasing the stigma. Speaking in Manitoba this weekend, Elizabeth May announced a Green government would decriminalize all drug possession. “We must stop treating drug addiction as a criminal issue,” she told a crowd of supporters in Winnipeg, which has been especially hard-hit by the crisis. “This is a national health emergency.” Between Jan. 2016 and Sept. 2018, more than 10,000 Canadians have died of opioid overdoses. Closer to home, May’s sister-in-law, the Canadian-American actress Margot Kidder of Superman fame, died of suicide by overdose after battling a drug addiction.

Tories court the veteran vote. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, by December 2018, nearly 40,000 veterans were waiting to hear whether their application for financial assistance would be approved. That marks a five-digit increase from the year before. The backlog, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, will take $50 million and more than two years to get through. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has become the first party leader to specifically address veterans this election cycle, saying he would get it done in less than two years and add a fair pension system to the mix.

The irony is that Scheer’s Conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, is the one who made deep cuts to Veterans Affairs back in 2014, including the closure of nine district offices across the country. Scheer was pressured to answer for the sins of his proverbial father, and he mostly dodged with his answer:

“As leader of the Conservative party, we have a new opportunity to make these types of commitments. This is my personal commitment to them as leader of this party: As prime minister I will take a personal interest in ensuring the commitments we made today are followed through on.” (Global News)

A fighting chance. How did Maxime Bernier, leader of the new People’s Party of Canada, finagle a podium spot at the official federal debates? In Maclean’s, Aaron Hutchins dives deep into the world of polls that shows that, by some metrics, the PPC has some kind of chance at winning at least a couple seats.

The debates commission then tasked Ekos Research Associates to conduct polls in the four ridings suggested by Bernier. But the commission, as a federal agency, did not want Ekos to poll with a straight ballot question asking which party someone intends to vote for, recalls the firm’s president, Frank Graves. Instead, it merely wanted to gauge the plausibility of PPC being competitive in the ridings.

So Ekos opted for a broader question, probing how likely someone is to vote for the People’s Party of Canada candidate in their riding. “Basically, it was: Are you going to [vote PPC]? Would you be likely to? Would you consider? Or you’re just not considering them at all,” says Graves, “Those were the four choices.”

When Ekos came back with the data, the highest “certain” vote share for a PPC candidate in any of the ridings was 15 per cent. But when combined with respondents saying they were likely to, or could possibly, vote PPC, the number of people who could be said to be “considering” the party rose as high as 34.1 per cent in Nipissing-Timiskaming, and 29.9 per cent in Etobicoke North. (Maclean’s)