Current Liberal House Leader Mark Holland has spent nearly his entire career in politics except for one four-year gap after losing a close race in the 2011 federal election. That loss was so crushing he attempted to take his own life.
Politics watchers don’t expect undecided voters got much out of leaders’ debate
Politics watchers and partisans were glued to their screens watching Thursday night’s debate between the leaders of the United Conservative and New Democratic parties.
But it’s unclear whether the event moved the needle for those who have not made up their minds for Alberta’s hotly contested provincial election.
Calgary pollster Janet Brown said it was a rare event for Alberta to have only two party leaders on the stage for voters to contrast and compare.
Add to that the fact that the UCP’s Danielle Smith and the NDP’s Rachel Notley are experienced political leaders. Both have spent time in the premier’s office and both have been involved in past leaders’ debates.
“They were very well matched. They both had their moments (in the debate),” said Brown.
It was a lively joust and both leaders hit key points in their platforms while taking a few potshots at each other.
Keen on fighting
“I know you’re keen on fighting,” said Notley to her opponent.
“You want to fight with Ottawa. You want to fight with the media. You want to fight, frankly, with your former self. It’s actually quite exhausting.”
Smith countered repeatedly by reminding voters of the NDP’s record in government from 2015 to 2019.
“I am running on my record. Ms. Notley is running away from hers,” said Smith.
“Last time around, she didn’t tell anybody she was going to increase the carbon tax. She brought in a business tax and she also ended up running up more debt than we’ve seen from any premier in our province’s history.”
Brown said there were many points laid out by the two leaders, but there wasn’t really a singular moment like the 2015 leaders’ debate.
Then Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice’s comment to Notley that “math is hard” left a lasting impression with voters that he was being patronizing.
She didn’t think there was anything close to that during this debate.
“I’m not sure that too many undecided voters would have been able to pick at that one thing that would give them confidence to commit to one side or the other,” said Brown.
“There was nothing that just kind of took your breath away.”
A former federal Conservative cabinet minister and politics watcher, Monte Solberg, said Smith scored well in communicating clearly her party’s plan while remaining calm under fire from the NDP leader.
He said Smith’s ability to communicate well through the TV camera because of her past political and broadcasting experience probably connected better with the average Albertan watching.
“I’m not sure Notley connected in the way she needed to in order to convince those undecided voters that the NDP has a platform that will be good for Albertans over the long run.”
Solberg said Notley turned in a good performance and scored better than Smith on education matters that were touched upon in the debate.
One thing he noticed about this debate is how moderate the campaign promises were from both parties. He said that’s likely because of the highly competitive races underway in many Calgary ridings.
“It was voters themselves who pulled those candidates towards the centre and caused them to present some pretty mainstream ideas. So in the end, Calgarians, in particular, can take a bow,” said Solberg.
A campaign strategist, Stephen Carter, said while the candidates performed well, he suspects this debate will be largely forgotten later in this election.
For the undecided voter who tuned in, he said, it did have advantages over past debates.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Carter. “It was easier to watch. It was easier to understand. It was more entertaining because there were only two people.”
He also credits the format for making the debate more accessible and cutting down on candidates talking over each other.
“We actually had a debate structure that enabled us to watch the debate and understand what each of the two big proponents were saying,” said Carter.
Perhaps the most intriguing factor hanging over the debate was that there were two major political developments in the hours before the event got underway.
Alberta’s ethics commissioner found that UCP Leader Smith violated Alberta’s conflict of interest legislation by speaking to her justice minister about charges filed against a controversial street preacher.
Smith said Thursday that one of her candidates in central Alberta would not join the UCP caucus if elected due to offensive remarks she made about transgender children.
For a couple of debate day surprises, Carter said he was surprised Notley didn’t do more to work in those two developments to hurt Smith’s support with voters.
“I think that she could have pushed much, much further, but instead she took kind of a muted tone on both of those issues, which is unfortunate because those are big issues.”
Dozens arrested in Hong Kong on Tiananmen crackdown anniversary
Police in Hong Kong have detained dozens of people on charges of “breaching public peace”, including a woman carrying a bouquet of flowers and a man who held a candle, during a crackdown on commemorations of the anniversary of the bloodshed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Restrictions in Hong Kong have stifled what were once the largest vigils marking the anniversary of the bloody crackdown by Chinese troops on pro-democracy demonstrators, leaving cities like Taipei, London, New York and Berlin to keep the memory of June 4, 1989, alive.
Near Victoria Park on Sunday night, the previous site of yearly vigils, hundreds of police conducted stop and search operations, and deployed armoured vehicles and police vans.
Police took away more than a dozen people at the scene, according to the Reuters news agency, including activist Alexandra Wong, 67, who carried a bouquet of flowers, a man who held a copy of “35th of May”, a play on the Tiananmen crackdown, and an elderly man standing alone on a street corner with a candle.
“The regime wants you to forget, but you can’t forget… It [China] wants to whitewash all history,” said Chris To, 51, who visited the park in a black T-shirt and was searched by police.
“We need to use our bodies and word of mouth to tell others what happened.”
In a statement, police said 11 men and 12 women aged between 20 and 74 were detained on suspicion of “breaching the public peace at the scene”.
A further four people had been arrested on Saturday for “seditious” acts and “disorderly conduct”, and four more on suspicion of breaching the peace.
Discussion of the crackdown in Tiananmen Square – when China’s Communist Party sent in troops and tanks to quash peaceful protests – is highly sensitive for Chinese authorities and commemoration is forbidden on the mainland.
Hundreds – by some estimates, more than 1,000 – were killed.
Commemorations of the event have also become increasingly off-limits in Hong Kong since China imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020, effectively barring anyone from holding memorial events.
After the enactment of the security law, Tiananmen-related visual spectacles, including statues at universities, were also removed. Three leaders of the group that used to organise the vigil were charged with subversion under the law. The group itself was disbanded in 2021 after being informed by police that it was under investigation for working on behalf of foreign groups, an accusation the group denied.
Most recently, books featuring the event have been pulled from public library shelves.
Ahead of the anniversary, senior officials in Hong Kong warned people to abide by the national security law but refused to clarify if commemoration activities were illegal under the legislation. Authorities also tightened security across Hong Kong, deploying as many as 6,000 police, including riot and anti-terrorism officers, according to local media.
Following Sunday’s arrests, the office of United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said in a tweet that it was “alarmed by reports of detentions” in Hong Kong and called for the “release of anyone detained for exercising freedom of expression & peaceful assembly”.
Amnesty International also condemned the detentions, saying the use of colonial-era sedition charges against activists and the persistence of non-conforming voices “lays bare the futility of the authorities’ attempts to enforce silence and obedience”.
It added: “The Hong Kong government’s shameful campaign to stop people marking this anniversary mirrors the censorship of the Chinese central government and is an insult to those killed in the Tiananmen crackdown.”
Despite the anniversary crackdown, some Hong Kong individuals and businesses quietly marked June 4.
A shop gave away candles, while a bookstore displayed Tiananmen Square archival material. Jailed Hong Kong activist Chow Hang-tung, one of the leaders of a group called The Alliance, which used to organise the June 4 vigils, said on Facebook that she would hold a 34-hour hunger strike.
In Beijing, meanwhile, Tiananmen Square was thronged with tourists taking pictures under the watchful eyes of police and other personnel but with no obvious sign of stepped-up security.
Ahead of the anniversary, a group of mothers who lost their children in the Tiananmen crackdown sought redress and issued a statement renewing their call for “truth, compensation and accountability”.
“Though 34 years have passed, for us, family members of those killed, the pain of losing our loved ones in that one night has tormented us to this day,” the group said in a statement released by the New York-based watchdog Human Rights in China.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning, when asked about the government’s response to events around the world to mark the anniversary, said in Beijing on Friday that the government had already come to a “clear conclusion about the political turmoil in the late 1980s”.
In democratically-governed Taiwan, the last remaining part of the Chinese-speaking world where the anniversary can be marked freely, hundreds attended a memorial at Taipei’s Liberty Square where a “Pillar of Shame” statue was displayed.
Kacey Wong, an artist who is among dozens of Hong Kong residents who have moved to Taiwan, said more than 30 years of commemorating the 1989 protests had made it a part of life.
Wong said an artist friend, Sanmu Chen, had been detained along with others while attempting to stage a public street performance in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong.
“So, it’s all engrained in our subconscious that we should care and practise our sympathy towards other people who are yearning for democracy and freedom,” Wong said.
Taiwan Vice President William Lai, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate in next January’s election, wrote on his Facebook page that the memory of what happened in Beijing in 1989 must be preserved.
“The event commemorating June 4 has continued to be held in Taipei, which shows that democracy and authoritarianism are the biggest differences between Taiwan and China,” he said.
Vigils were also held around the world, from Japan to Australia, with people standing with candles next to images of the brutal crackdown.
In Sydney, dozens of demonstrators rallied at the Town Hall, chanting “Free Hong Kong”, while holding up yellow umbrellas, the symbol of pro-democracy protests since 2014, and placards.
US Consulate in #HongKong lit candles all across building windows in memory of the #TiananmenMassacre on #June4th.
“The only place in Hong Kong that could light a candle on #June4th.” Thank you @USAinHKMacau. #悼念無罪 #Tiananmen1989 #6434 pic.twitter.com/XkNimPgtyq
— Frances Hui 許穎婷 (@frances_hui) June 5, 2023
And in London, before marching to the Chinese embassy, protesters staged a re-enactment featuring a blow-up tank and women dressed in white, emulating a statue to liberty set up on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
A 59-year-old poet from China’s Sichuan province told the AFP news agency at the Trafalgar Square rally that his family fled soon after the Tiananmen crackdown.
“Chinese people in my generation know what happened but the younger ones, not really,” said the man, who declined to be named for fear of Chinese reprisals.
“Their parents, their grandparents, need to keep up the knowledge and we all need to remember at events overseas like this.”
Trudeau continues to stand by David Johnston despite calls for him to step down
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is committed to keeping David Johnston in place as Canada’s special rapporteur on foreign interference, despite a majority of MPs voting to call on him to resign.
Trudeau said in Toronto Friday that he looks forward to public hearings the former governor general is expected to hold “across the country” over the coming months before he releases a final report by the end of October.
“He is taking very seriously this question and he is digging into the facts,” Trudeau said.
The House of Commons passed an NDP motion earlier this week, with the support of Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs, that urged Johnston to step aside and asked the government to call a public inquiry.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said in Winnipeg today that Johnston has to go but wouldn’t name a potential replacement.
“All the parties in the House of Commons should come together and agree on someone who is not partisan, not connected to any party leader and who has a track record of objectivity, preferably as a judge,” he said.
Poilievre has criticized the special rapporteur role as a “fake job” and questioned Johnston’s ability to objectively scrutinize the Liberal government’s handling of alleged foreign meddling because of his ties to the Trudeau family.
Poilievre is refusing to review a classified portion of Johnston’s initial report into foreign interference, saying it would prevent him from publicly criticizing the federal government on the subject.
Johnston has defended his integrity and downplayed his connections to the prime minister, saying this week he intends to stay on in his role.
“When I accepted the mandate to act as independent special rapporteur, I did so with full knowledge of the fact that the work ahead would be neither straightforward nor uncontroversial,” Johnston said in a media statement earlier this week.
“I deeply respect the right of the House of Commons to express its opinion about my work going forward, but my mandate comes the government. I have a duty to pursue that work until my mandate is completed.”
Trudeau accused Poilievre and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet of letting political arguments and political attacks get in the way of facts.
“They have refused to get security briefings on the actual facts surrounding the intelligence and the question of foreign interference, because they want to continue to smear a man of unimpeachable integrity and deep commitment and service to Canada,” Trudeau said.
From power to powerless: The high costs of a political life
Life after public office is not always a stream of plum assignments. Dealing with defeat can be devastating
Holland told the story of that loss last October while testifying before the procedure and House affairs committee. He made the shocking public admission of his suicide attempt in front of his peers.
“Because I had thrown my entire universe into this enterprise at the expense of unfortunately a lot of other things I should have taken better care of, I was in a really desperate spot,” Holland said during his testimony.
Attempting to end his life served as the “genesis” of Holland seeing his life differently and “reframing the choices” he faced.
When Bill Morneau resigned as Finance Minister in 2020 he went on to a fellowship at Yale, joined CIBC’s board of directors and wrote a book released earlier this year. Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney landed at Calgary law firm Bennett Jones. While many Canadians assume life after politics is a stream of board appointments and plum assignments, it isn’t always an easy landing. Being an elected official is a unique profession as the job’s singlemost important qualification is appealing to people and garnering the most votes on election night. Being defeated can be a devastating blow to one’s self worth.
You put your heart and soul on the line, and when you lose, it’s hard not to take it personally
Holland told the National Post that being a politician in an all-encompassing career, and having it suddenly taken away was traumatic. “It’s so much part of your identity, that it takes a while to get over,” he said.
Léo Duguay, who until 1988 represented the Winnipeg-area riding of Saint Boniface-Saint Vital for the Progressive Conservatives, said that Holland’s experience is not uncommon among former MPs transitioning to private life after politics.
“Some were very lucky, I was one of them. Some people right away find a job and something they like, and they’re good,” he said.
“Some people never expected to lose — so there’s that shock of people you thought were your friends and supported you and voted for you, to find that a whole bunch of people didn’t vote for you, and you’re out.”
Dugay, who has served as president of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, said depression and suicidal thoughts aren’t unheard of among their ranks. “For the people who lose, and even those who planned their loss, the shock is much greater than they thought,” he said.
Tiziana Casciaro, a professor of organizational behaviour at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said “transitional trauma” is a very real phenomenon, rooted in the gain and sudden loss of power. “It’s a basic need that we all have, to feel that we are in control, to some extent, of our existence, that we can influence the world around us,” she said.
“When you’re in politics and voted into office, you’re given control over resources that many value, and therefore you become important in their eyes.”
“You don’t have to put your name out there in front of thousands or millions of people — depending on the scope of the election — and be judged by them. In a sense, you’re much more vulnerable.”
Some have no idea how to look for a job, because they’ve never done that
While MPs who’ve accumulated at least six years of service qualify for a government pension, Dugay said about 40 per cent of former parliamentarians aren’t eligible. In nearly all cases, MPs who resign or are voted out are eligible for a one-time severance allowance of 50 per cent of their annual salary, as well as access to transitional benefits including education funding.
For Sue Barnes, who represented London-West for the Liberals for 15 years, the realities of her narrow October 2008 election-night loss hit fast.
“One of the things that affected me immediately was going from masses of emails and your calendar being filled every weekend with events … because somebody’s replaced you,” she recalled.
Barnes said she experienced feelings of grief over her loss for at least a year. “Not for the job, but what it meant to me,” she explained. “The connection to people working hard and solving problems —I really missed the intellectual stimulation of the job.”
People don’t know what to say to you — it’s very socially isolating
Holland, who lost by less than 3,300 votes to Conservative candidate Chris Alexander in the 2011 election, had similar recollections.
“You move from your calendar and phone constantly being filled to suddenly all of that being displaced and being completely silent,” he said. “You realize how voracious this life is, how much it takes over so many elements of your life, and you’re left to fill those back in.
He also found that after leaving office some people just avoided him. “It’s not that people don’t like you anymore, it’s just awkward,” he said. “People don’t know what to say to you — it’s very socially isolating.”
Casciaro, who co-authored a book on the topic titled Power for All, said serving at the will of the people — and suddenly having those same people take your power away — can impact one’s sense of self-worth.
While Holland would eventually run again and win in 2015, he spent much of his four-year hiatus rebuilding his life.
“When you do this work, as a member of Parliament, there’s no plan B,” he said. “It is all-consuming, you give every inch of yourself, you don’t have time to plan what you would do if you were to lose — you can’t go into an election thinking you might lose.”
She recognizes that her pension-eligible years of service left her in a better spot financially than others, which she credits with giving her some options.
“I loved the work, but I was exhausted by it,” she said. “It catches up to you after a while.”
If you’re thinking about suicide or are worried about a friend or loved one, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1.833.456.4566 toll free or connect via text at 45645, from 4 p.m. to midnight ET. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
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