Trudeau follows his father into the purgatory of minority government. Yet his achievement this autumn should not go unheralded.
The last year of the second decade has had its winners and losers. Some are obvious, some not.
In Canada, the federal election clarified things. Justin Trudeau won and lost. Jagmeet Singh lost and lost. Andrew Scheer lost and won and lost.
Trudeau follows his father into the purgatory of minority government; he will either see a way back to a majority in three years or resign. Yet his achievement this autumn should not go unheralded. In a country where the provinces have defeated one progressive government after another since 2015, in a western world turning conservative, the Liberals were re-elected.
Singh acted like a winner on election night; he danced into his election headquarters and gave an endless campaign speech, ignoring his party’s stunning reversals. His performance was brazen and shameless, but this is the way for politicians today.
Singh acted like a winner on election night; he danced into his election headquarters and gave an endless campaign speech, ignoring his party’s stunning reversals.
He was outdone by Scheer, who debased himself in the leaders’ debate with a performance laced with malice. It was breathtaking to see our politics descend into character assassination.
Poor Scheer had so little sense of himself that he didn’t seem to know what job he held before politics, why he had U.S. citizenship and, most critically, how he felt on homosexuality. Had he had any self-knowledge, he could have addressed all of these points with a little honesty. Now’s he’s gone, a historical footnote, who will be seen as the party’s placeholder between Stephen Harper and Rona Ambrose.
Other politicians fared well. Chrystia Freeland (Deputy prime minister) becomes the Minister of Everything. François-Philippe Champagne (foreign affairs) becomes chief diplomat. Catherine McKenna (infrastructure) gets big money to build things that the country needs – and she will.
Mélanie Joly (economic development) returns from exile to a senior portfolio. Johnathan Wilkinson (environment) and Marco Mendicino (immigration) get a seat at the head table. Mona Fortier (minister of middle class prosperity) has no earthly reason to be in cabinet, which may explain why she was given an Orwellian portfolio, presumably named by a naïf in the Prime Minister’s Office who had just read 1984.
In Parliament, the big loser is Jody Wilson-Raybould. She won her seat, sadly for her, and now endures the exquisite punishment of being a defrocked senior minister with no suite, staff or ministry. Her soul-mate, Jane Philpott, wisely made her point and lost her seat.
In the provinces, Doug Ford goes from weakness to weakness. His triumph was appointing (then firing the next day) Tyler Albrecht, a 20-something lacrosse player, as Ontario agent-general in New York City. It showed a premier who was all ignorance and impulse.
Ford’s soul mate, Jason Kenney, was a winner in Alberta until he turned whiner. Now he talks up western alienation to distract Albertans from draconian budget cuts in a province without a sales tax.
In the United States, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed several important bills (albeit dead on arrival in the Senate) and impeached a president. She united her fractious caucus and proceeded masterfully. She is a heroine.
She is joined, as winners, by those Democrats (and a former Republican) who put their seats on the line to protect the integrity of the House, and, as they did in the articles of impeachment, the security of the union. Other heroes include the former and serving diplomats who testified before the House committee at risk to their careers.
Abroad, Boris Johnson emerges a winner. If Brexit goes badly and the United Kingdom goes into recession, though, he will wear it. If Scotland leaves, he will preside over the end of the U.K.
In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu comes out a loser, under indictment for corruption and trying to hold power in another election. It’s unlikely. In France, Emmanuel Macron is in trouble, which may have less to do with his well-intentioned reforms than his country, which like Spain, may be ungovernable.
All of this makes the real winners of 2019 Canadians. Our quarrelling and complaining notwithstanding, we managed to get the national government we wanted, and some new faces, too. In an unsettled world, we muddled through – again.
Andrew Cohen is a journalist, professor and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.
Kais Saied: The political outsider accused of a coup – Al Jazeera English
President accused of attack on Tunisian democracy after sacking the country’s prime minister and suspending parliament.
Tunisia’s president described his election victory in 2019 as ‘like a new revolution’ – and on Sunday night he brought huge crowds of supporters onto the streets by sacking the government and freezing parliament in a move his foes called a coup.
Kais Saied, a 63-year-old political independent and former constitutional lawyer with an awkward public manner and a preference for an ultra formal speaking style of classical Arabic, is now at the undisputed centre of Tunisian politics.
Nearly two years after his election and a separate vote that created a deeply divided parliament, he has sidelined both the prime minister and parliament speaker with a move seen by critics as an unconstitutional power grab.
However, as tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of major cities to celebrate, Saied appeared to be riding a wave of popular anger against a political elite that has for years failed to deliver the promised fruits of democracy.
While the parliament speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, has been tainted with the messy compromises of a decade of democratic politics since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, Saied entered the scene in 2019 as a comparative newcomer.
Presenting himself in his campaign as an ordinary man taking on a corrupt system, he fought the election without spending money and with a bare-bones team of advisers and volunteers – winning the backing of leftists, Islamists and youths alike.
His supporters said he spent so little on the election that it cost only the price of the coffee and cigarettes he consumed meeting Tunisians and presented him as a paragon of personal integrity.
Once elected, he appeared for a while shackled by a constitution that gives the president direct power over only the military and foreign affairs while daily administration is left to a government that is more answerable to parliament.
Saied has made no secret of his desire for a new constitution that puts the president at centre stage – prompting critics to accuse him of wanting to emulate Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in stripping his foes of power.
As president, Saied quickly feuded with the two prime ministers who eventually emerged from the complex process of coalition building – first Elyes Fakhfakh and then Hichem Mechichi.
However, the biggest dispute has been with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party and its veteran leader Ghannouchi, a former political prisoner and exile who returned to Tunisia in 2011.
Over the past year, Saied and Mechichi, backed by Ghannouchi, have squabbled over Cabinet reshuffles and control over the security forces, complicating efforts to handle the pandemic and address a looming fiscal crisis.
As protests erupted in January, however, it was the government and the old parties of parliament who faced the public’s wrath – a wave of anger that finally broke last week as COVID-19 cases spiked.
A failed effort to set up walk-in vaccination centres led Saied to announce last week that the army would take over the pandemic response – a move seen by his critics as the latest step in his power struggle with the government.
It set the stage for his announcement on Sunday following protests targeting Ennahda in cities around the country.
During the 2011 revolution, his students and friends said, he used to walk the narrow streets of Tunis’ old city and the grand colonial boulevards downtown late at night, discussing politics with his students.
Saied was one of the legal advisers who helped draft Tunisia’s 2014 democratic constitution, though he soon spoke out against elements of the document.
Now, some of the main political inheritors of Tunisia’s revolution are casting him as its executioner – saying his dismissal of government and freezing of parliament are an attack on democracy.
Putnam: The character of our politics – SC Times
When I first considered running for office, many of the people I care about offered their own version of “Why would you want to do something like that?” But my daughter Eliza, who was 13 at the time, said it best: “But Dad, then you’ll have to talk to people, and people suck.”
She meant politicians.
Eliza and my friends clearly thought politics was a place for questionable characters. Countering Eliza’s cynicism was a big part of why I ran for office that first time. After being involved in local politics for a couple years, it pains me, but low expectations for politicians are sometimes justified.
We’ve all heard people lament how our politics have gotten too personal. In some ways I agree, but in others I think we haven’t gotten personal enough.
I believe politics are about character — but not just expecting a politician not to indulge conflicts of interest or demanding that they keep their word, although clearly we should expect as much. It’s also more than personality. While many folks consider who they’d like to have a beer with before they vote, that’s not the only issue that matters. Character is bigger than professional ethics or likeability.
I believe character is about who we are and who we want to be. Character isn’t about a moment, an individual decision; it’s about the patterns of behavior that define us as individuals or as groups.
You know my character from how I behave when you’ve been around me. We know our character when we recognize it in our neighbors. Some patterns of choices are better than others. Some are aspirational. Sometimes we make choices that reflect concern for the best of us, the best for us, the best from us. Character is not about one day, but is reflected in the choices we make every day.
Recently, questions about the character of our politics and the characters in our politics have taken on a new urgency. Rep. John Thompson was stopped for not having a license plate on the front of his car. According to reports, during the traffic stop, Thompson first made sure to mention that he was an elected official, and then he provided the officer a Wisconsin driver’s license that had been renewed the same month that he was elected to the Minnesota legislature.
In the aftermath of this traffic stop, as reporters tried to ascertain his legal residence, they discovered repeated allegations that Thompson had committed domestic violence.
I don’t know Thompson personally, and I haven’t really worked with him in the legislature. He’s in the House, I’m in the Senate. That doesn’t really matter, though. I still find his pattern of alleged behavior to be abhorrent. It’s not good enough for an elected official. He does not deserve to serve.
This issue is not about a particular ideology or politics. It’s about an individual accused of repeated moments of unacceptable behavior, habits that come together to demonstrate character that simply isn’t good enough. We need to expect more from our politics.
This doesn’t mean that we should expect our politicians to be exactly like us, to have exactly the same values we have on every issue or never to make mistakes. But I do believe we need to hold them to a higher standard. Public service is about service. That’s the foundation, and it should be assumed that those who run for elected office have hearts of servants and habits of them too.
Next time you write to an elected official, don’t be surprised when they write you back. Demand it. If they answer you with talking points, tell them that’s not good enough and they need to think for themselves just like you do. If you have high expectations and they fail to meet them, well, then it’s your turn. Run for office.
Of course voting is important too. I’m not a big fan of participation trophies, in sports or in politics. Voting for or against someone just because of their party identification is setting the bar way too low. Our character is constituted in the decisions we make. We need to have higher expectations when we make those decisions. It’s not good enough to say someone else doesn’t do this work well. We all need to do it better.
Politicians needn’t be role models. Parents are best at that job. But we do need people in office who can be trusted, who show up and put work into listening, who finish what they start, who recognize the dignity of all people not just because that’s what’s useful, but because that’s who we want to be.
— Sen. Aric Putnam, a Democrat, represents Minnesota Senate District 14. His column is published monthly.
Germans divided over restrictions for the unvaccinated – Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) — German politicians were deeply divided Sunday over a warning by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff that restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary if COVID-19 infection numbers reach new heights in the coming months.
Chief of staff Helge Braun told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he doesn’t expect another coronavirus-related lockdown in Germany. But Braun said that unvaccinated people may be barred from entering venues like restaurants, movie theaters or sports stadiums “because the residual risk is too high.”
Braun said getting vaccinated is important to protect against severe disease and because “vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people.” He said such policies would be legal because “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens.”
His comments fueled a debate in German politics about potential vaccination requirements. The issue has proven divisive, even within Merkel’s own Christian Democrats party. Its candidate to replace Merkel as Germany’s leader, Armin Laschet, said he opposes any formal or informal vaccine requirements for the time being.
“I don’t believe in compulsory vaccinations and I don’t believe we should put indirect pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told the German broadcaster ZDF on Sunday. “In a free country there are rights to freedom, not just for specific groups.”
If Germany’s vaccination rates remain too low this fall, other options could be considered, Laschet said, adding “but not now.”
With the highly transmissible delta variant spreading in Germany, politicians have debated the possibility of compulsory vaccinations for specific professions, including medical workers. No such requirements have been implemented yet.
Germany’s vaccine efforts have slowed in recent weeks and that has led to discussions about how to encourage those who haven’t yet received a vaccine to do so. More than 60% of the German population has received at least one dose while over 49% are fully vaccinated.
During a recent visit to the Robert Koch Institute, the government run disease control agency, Merkel ruled out new vaccine requirements “at the moment,” but added, “I’m not ruling out that this might be talked about differently in a few months either.”
Other elected officials have struck a similar tone. Baden-Württemberg governor Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the Greens, noted Sunday that the delta variant and others that may emerge could make vaccine requirements more attractive down the line.
While there are no current plans to require people to get vaccinated, he told the German news agency dpa that “I can’t rule out compulsory vaccinations for all time.”
Karl Lauterbach, a health expert from the center-left Social Democrats, spoke in favor of possible restrictions. He told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that soon one of the only remaining options to fight new variants will be “to restrict access to spaces where many people come together” to those who have either been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.
Others immediately pushed back against Braun’s comments on Sunday. Some expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of such restrictions, while others warned against having rights based on one’s vaccination status.
“Of course, we need incentives to reach the highest possible vaccination rate,” Marco Buschmann, parliamentary group leader for the pro-business Free Democrats, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group.
Still, he said, if unvaccinated people who have been tested or recovered from the virus pose no greater danger than vaccinated people, to impose such restrictions on the unvaccinated “would be a violation of their basic rights.”
Rolf Mützenich, head of the Social Democrats’ parliamentary group, said politicians should be focusing more on getting willing citizens vaccinated than penalizing the unvaccinated.
“We’re not going to sustainably change the vaccination behavior of individuals with threats,” he told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.
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