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Poilievre’s momentum is a result of strong leadership, not sinister ideology

If you asked those delegates in attendance, last weekend’s Conservative Party convention in Quebec City felt like a unifying — some would say crowning — moment for a party that has often struggled with unity.

Ask some other observers, and the event was a typical right-wing carnival defined by anti-woke vitriol and socially conservative undercurrents.

Much of the opposition and media chatter coming out of the convention has revolved around the resolutions the delegates passed, some touching on controversial matters such as trans issues, leading Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s critics to surmise that his “common sense” agenda is really a smokescreen for more sinister right-wing ideologies.

Yet Poilievre’s behaviour and comments at the convention, as well as his response to these motions, paint a different picture. When asked to comment, Poilievre replied he isn’t bound to implement any convention resolutions but merely take them under consideration.

And his rousing leader’s speech revealed far more about his priorities and what messages he thinks will win.

Tellingly, it didn’t mention woke, or trans — not even once.

And why would he? With the CPC enjoying its largest polling lead over the Liberals in a long time, this convention cemented the feeling that Poilievre has built a big tent movement by addressing the cost-of-living crisis middle- and working-class Canadians face everyday.

And if you wonder about the effectiveness of all of this, you need look no further than the reaction of the governing party. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, cried the Liberals. Poilievre’s “common sense” message is nothing more than a warmed-over version of Mike Harris’ “common sense revolution,” they warned.

Really? That’s all they’ve got? A reference to a government led by former premier Mike Harris? A successful, transformative two-term government from almost 30 years ago?

But while Poilievre and Harris differ greatly in many respects, coming out of last weekend I see many similarities, between Poilievre and Harris but not those voiced by the critics.

Just as Harris ousted a government that had grown out of touch with its electorate by promising to cut taxes, make sense of the welfare system and end unfair hiring quotas, so too is Poilievre leading a serious movement by taking a back-to-basics approach. Poilievre’s speech was all about improving lives for all Canadians including newcomers, lowering taxes, food prices, energy, and trade.

This leads to the second, somewhat subtle, similarity I see emerging: Poilievre’s acute sense of how far certain issues can be pushed and when best to push them.

Poilievre’s ability to acknowledge and respect the views of others, but not fully mire himself in the polarizing topics and intolerant debates of the so-called “culture war” is surely a result of his experience seeing other Conservative leaders knocked aside by such issues.

Poilievre is demonstrating an understanding that true leadership means sticking to what matters most to everyday Canadians.

As his speech demonstrated, he is clear-eyed about what that is. And it’s not the messy debates Liberals would love to drag him into. As the reaction and enthusiasm of Conservative members showed, despite the resolutions they overwhelmingly passed, they are just fine with the direction Poilievre is leading the party because for the first time in a long time, they have a real shot at both a majority government and the leader to deliver it.

Down the road, Poilievre will have to define more clearly what he truly believes to be “common sense” on the sticky topics and social issues clearly important to large parts of his base.

Still, for now, all he needs to do is reiterate that his economic plan centred on tackling the housing and affordability crisis towers over the tired policies of this tired government.

Funny, it seems that common sense may just equal electoral success after all.

All roads lead to this country’s dire need for affordable housing

It was as cold and brazen an act of violence as there is. To call it a heartbreaking and unspeakable tragedy is to descend into cliché and begin to normalize what happened.

The only appropriate response cannot be words but must be, for us as a city, to wake the hell up.

Early this summer, Karolina Huebner-Makurat, while walking in broad daylight, was murdered by a stray bullet from an exchange of gunfire after a fight between three men on Queen Street East near Carlaw Avenue.

This tragedy played out steps from the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. An employee of the centre was subsequently charged in connection with the shooting.

For many residents of this city, this tragedy was a clear sign that something was fundamentally wrong. And they are right. For people across Canada who live in close proximity to these sites, this event was part of an alarming pattern putting their children in harm’s way and their safety at risk, a pattern they’ve been sounding the alarm for years about to absolutely no avail.

Enough. It’s time for us to listen.

To be clear, supervised consumption sites save lives. They are integral to reducing the spread of infectious diseases. They provide users a safe space. They lower rates of death due to overdoses. And in a caring and compassionate society such as ours, they provide a crucial link to those among us that are not only neglected but forgotten.

But none of this means we can’t have a reasonable debate about how these sites operate, what fail-safes must be in place and, most importantly, where they belong.

When the fentanyl crisis first emerged in Canada, I wrote that stigma kills. I underlined that the absence of public sympathy for, and negative judgement of, fentanyl users bore a haunting resemblance to the atmosphere of fear, paranoia and callous neglect that characterized the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. An atmosphere that carries deadly consequences.

Today, that stigma persists. And it undoubtedly applies to all those caught in the grip of a wider drug epidemic that has swept across our country.

But stigma cuts many different ways. Yes, we’ve seen dangerous beliefs that stigmatize drug users. But so too have we seen concerning attempts to stigmatize and stifle rational debate.

In this conversation, we must acknowledge that absolutely legitimate concerns raised by parents about needles strewn across sidewalks and open drug use near where their children play have been dismissed as mere expressions of privilege and blanketed by accusations of prejudice. Not only is this simply wrong, it is profoundly unhelpful in forming durable solutions to these problems that keep people safe.

The strongest proponents of supervised consumption sites love to emphasize that truly “community-centric” approaches are required to address this issue. I agree. But there can be no such thing if the voices of some community members are summarily dismissed.

And here is where the debate needs to go. At their best, these sites serve as points of referral to other aspects of the health-care system — a new front door — that help put users on the road to recovery. As Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, recently pointed out, they connect people with social and health services, along with stable employment and housing.

Ah, there it is again: housing. Almost unanimously, experts tell us drug users can’t recover without a stable roof over their heads.

So yes: all roads lead to Rome, and in this case, to this country’s dire need for affordable housing. A need our governments aren’t even coming close to meeting. Anyone who denies this is wilfully ignorant about the wide-scale, complex, nature of this problem. And, when it comes to trying to help and protect those living with drug addiction across this country, anything less than concrete action to address this need can only be described in one way: running in circles.

The Liberals tied immigration to housing: they need to prove it can work

The revamped Liberal cabinet retreats to Prince Edward Island this week while their party languishes in polling and the Conservatives surge. Underestimate Trudeau at your peril, perhaps, but something seems to have become particularly challenging.

While it is difficult to put your finger on just what that something is, it has become clear that much of that something is Canada’s housing crisis.

Apart from the PM himself, perhaps no one feels the heat on the way to Charlottetown more than Sean Fraser, the new housing minister. Fraser got this job because the Liberals have embarked on a strategy to tie immigration (Fraser previously led this portfolio) inexorably to housing, supposedly using newly arrived skilled labour to build the houses we desperately need.

All well and good, but it doesn’t seem Canadians are having any of it. The problem is, most Canadians aren’t convinced this works — and with house prices swelling, interest rates rising, and immigration continuing exponentially, I fear by combining these issues so closely the Liberals risk sparking a major backlash against their record-setting immigration plans.

Fraser has outlined his answer to the conundrum: add more supply through incentives to local governments and increase immigration rates to, in part, provide the labour required for this.

The new housing minister tackles this after the prime minister bluntly argued, “housing isn’t a primary federal responsibility.” On cleanup duty, Fraser later stated the federal government should be more active in developing and enacting housing policy, as it once was.

This, of course, is the right approach. Nevertheless, Fraser’s major challenge will be convincing Canadians that high immigration levels are good when many can’t afford homes.

This week, videos of Canadians tearily lamenting the cost of living went viral. The narrative that, after eight years in office, this government has left many — the very ones they promised to fight for — behind is beginning to set like cement.

Federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has taken the government to task on housing with brutal effectiveness. He has managed to own this rhetorical stance while still supporting immigration — making the disconnect between the Liberal’s immigration policy and inaction on housing even harder to ignore.

Under Fraser’s oversight, immigration increased exponentially but integration remained plagued with accreditation issues and failed to correspond with housing supply: the national housing strategy has only resulted in just over 100,000 homes. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation determined 5.8 million more are needed over the next decade. In 2022, our population grew by over a million.

The Bank of Canada also acknowledged recently that immigration drives up housing demand. As the problem becomes more acute, this is where people will focus — not on the “mirage of economic prosperity” immigration otherwise contributes to.

The Liberals, if they are to have any hope of winning the next election, must convince Canadians immigration is in their near-term interests and that it will result in more houses being built. That’s a tall order when voters are being priced out of even the remotest dream of owning a home. It’s a disconnect that also dissuades immigrants from wanting to come here in the first place.

By failing to acknowledge this and rectify the integration issues in our immigration system so newcomers can positively contribute to the housing supply, the Liberals risk allowing the social cohesion they so value to fray. And when that starts, the uniquely Canadian support for significant levels of immigration will fray with it.

That would be a terrible shame. No one needs a lecture on the fundamental role immigration has played in our past and the crucial role it will play in our future — much less that it is simply right.

What isn’t right is an approach to this issue driven by complacency and inaction rather than by a fundamental commitment — not just to policy statements but to actually building new homes.

Canada’s forests are aflame. We need a national strategy to protect Canadians

The problem is so large, the smoke trails so horrifying, the devastation so vast, you can only truly grasp its enormity from space.

Our nation’s forest fires have released 290 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, according to the European Union’s Earth observation program. Not only does that represent more than double our previous annual record, it represents more than 25 per cent of the global total for 2023.

That’s what you call an emergency.

And it’s an emergency that’s only growing worse. To date, more than 5,000 wildfires have scorched the earth in all thirteen provinces and territories, consuming more than 3.5 million hectares along the way. More than 1,000 fires remain active with 660 burning “out of control.”

So as is blindingly obvious from the “code red” air quality alertsflights groundedand the serious health repercussions for all of us, this problem can no longer be dismissed as one only affecting small towns in the northern reaches of our country. No. This is a problem for all of us. And it’s high time we all did something about it.

Canada’s wildfires are here to stay. And that means our political leaders need to finally grow a backbone and implement a fully-funded national wildfire strategy.

While thousands of people are forced to evacuate their homes and lives are senselessly lost, our leaders have seemed content to sit back and watch our world burn, all while they play politics and shirk their responsibilities.

Justin Trudeau and the federal government need to step up and lead. They cannot continue to dawdle and dilly-dally while these wildfires rage. Canada’s wildfire season poses a genuine physical threat right now. The tragic losses and hardships that are impacting those Canadian communities affected by these infernos serve as a stark, daily reminder of the dire consequences of government inaction.

The solution? An urgent and immediate collaboration between provincial and federal governments which effectively addresses prevention, early detection, and firefighting strategies in an integrated fashion. By investing in robust firefighting resources, community preparedness, and sustainable forest management practices, we can start making a tangible difference.

The answer to this problem is to stop the fires before they start. There are not enough water bombers in the world to extinguish all the fires that are burning.

There are a number of mechanisms at our disposal to do so. Prescribed burns for example, deprive future wildfires of fuel by reducing the amount of underbrush and dead trees. It is this lack of proactive measures that should be utterly unacceptable to all Canadians. With less than 10 per cent of Canadian forests treated for wildfire risk, we are leaving our environment and communities vulnerable to inevitable disaster.

We need to look no further than to the significant role Indigenous communities can play in wildfire management and prevention. Indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with the land for millennia. They possess invaluable traditional knowledge and sustainable practices that can contribute to the development of the comprehensive national wildfire strategy we so desperately need.

The record-breaking global heat — last month was the hottest recorded — should serve as a wake-up call that this issue will not magically disappear. Inaction is no longer an option. The moment for bold and decisive action has arrived.

A comprehensive national wildfire strategy needs to put at its forefront the preservation of our environment and the safety of our citizens. We cannot allow our politicians to continue “fighting fires” with photo ops and generic tweets while our forests burn and lives are upended.

We simply must act decisively to protect our natural heritage, mitigate the impacts of climate change-related disasters, and safeguard our communities. Only through concerted effort and comprehensive planning can we hope to overcome this growing threat and build a resilient and sustainable future for all Canadians.

There can no longer be any excuses.

Three lessons from Toronto’s refugee crisis

More than occasionally, opposition criticism is nothing more than hyperbole. An exaggeration here. An embellishment there.

The recent failure of the federal government to provide adequately for the predictable arrival of refugees and asylum seekers sleeping on a street corner in Toronto is not one of them.

Every denunciation was richly deserved. And it’s undoubtedly why the federal Liberals swiftly coughed up the cash the city demanded. Simply put, the Trudeau government couldn’t withstand the damaging accusations swirling around them: their rhetoric was empty, they professed generosity but provided only hardship.

The dust on this issue is far from settled. Mayor Olivia Chow has indicated that federal funding is insufficient and that much more is needed until Toronto can properly accommodate further refugees.

But now that these newcomers have found shelter (after volunteers in the Black community stepped up) and the corresponding media storm has died down, it’s time to do what it’s never too early to do — recognize what we can learn from this.

  • The first lesson is one that every Canadian, but especially our political leaders, must come to terms with: this issue is here to stay. It does not matter who is mayor or what parties govern at any level. Geopolitical conditions, turbocharged by climate change, mean that Canada will continue to be a country of choice for asylum seekers and refugees worldwide. That’s not just a good thing, it’s a great thing. That means our country is peaceful, stable, free and, to adopt the old cliché, the envy of the world.

Countries either have a lineup of people trying to leave, or a lineup of people trying to get in. Canada is blessed to be one of those rare countries that is the latter. But keeping it this way requires visionary leadership we have yet to have the courage to adopt.

  • The second lesson is that a serious, long-term plan involving all three levels of government is needed to meet this challenge. This episode uncovered systemic issues that no one level of government can solve on their own. While the feds should take the reins, to make this work, all levels must collaborate on, to name a few, housing, labour and educational strategies.
  • The third and final lesson: loud and persistent public pressure is necessary to guarantee that this plan is built and executed.

Obvious to anyone paying attention to the latest municipal campaign is that this event only underlined and exacerbated pre-existing areas where Toronto is falling desperately short. Indeed, its genesis lies in the startling fact that Toronto’s shelter system is at full capacity virtually every night, that of the 9,000 people who rely on the system, about 35 per cent are refugees and that the number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system has grown by 500 per cent in 20 months.

These numbers represent an emergency, a level of human suffering that cannot and should not be tolerated. And yet it took this particular story — justifiably highlighted by our media — before we woke up.

The positive side of this coin is that once Canadians witnessed these images, action was demanded, then taken. The negative side is that it was not until this story exploded in the media that we did.

But that reveals a hard truth: how many major issues affecting so many disadvantaged sectors of our society have we ignored until the TV cameras show up? How many communities continue, for decades, on boiled water advisories because we just can’t be bothered to continue to care?

And so enough. It shouldn’t take last-minute emergencies. It shouldn’t take the glare of the media light. It shouldn’t take the arrival of a Hollywood celebrity for us to care. Instead, we should care because we are Canadians. Because we, as Canadians, have values.

Not just when they are convenient.