In politics, all debates about the past are really about the present and the future.
So it is with Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s concern for the nation’s statues — which is really about the leadership of Justin Trudeau and, ultimately, how this country ought to move forward.
The nation’s supply of statues is by no means perfect. Just seven prime ministers have been honoured with statues on Parliament Hill; the most recent was Lester B. Pearson, who left office in 1968.
But O’Toole’s worries about the possible erasure of history have not led him to campaign for a statue of Pierre Trudeau. Instead, he’s focused his attention on the recent toppling of a statue of John A. Macdonald in Montreal.
After the first prime minister’s likeness was pulled down last month, O’Toole tweeted his objections and called on unnamed “politicians” to “grow a backbone and stand up for our country.” In a subsequent video message, he condemned “lawlessness,” “violence” and “mob rule.” O’Toole then raised his concerns again on Wednesday during a speech to Conservative MPs in Ottawa.
Is it time to stand up against the destruction of Canada’s history? 🇨🇦 👍 <a href=”https://t.co/gEoShGedbH”>pic.twitter.com/gEoShGedbH</a>
History with a political spin
O’Toole prefaced his latest comments by noting that he and his fellow Conservatives were meeting in the Sir John A. Macdonald Building. But that was less of a poetic coincidence and more of a handy reminder that Canadian politicians are rarely apolitical when they invoke history. In this case, Macdonald’s name was given to the former Bank of Montreal building by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2012. (Pierre Poilievre dressed up in period costume for the announcement.)
That commemoration was announced a year after the Conservatives renamed Ottawa’s old City Hall to honour another Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker. Months before that, John Baird reportedly insisted that his business cards as foreign minister not include the name of the place in which he worked — the Lester B. Pearson Building.
One possible explanation for O’Toole’s interest in statues can be found in survey results released by Leger Marketing a few hours before he addressed his caucus. According to Leger’s findings, 50 per cent of Canadians oppose the removal of statues of politicians who expressed racist views or implemented racist policies, while just 31 per cent support removing such statues (the other 19 per cent are undecided).
Opposition is highest among Conservative voters (80 per cent). So while O’Toole moderates his party’s position on fiscal policy, statues might provide him with a culture war rallying cry for the Conservative base.
An issue with cross-party appeal
Sticking up for Sir John A. might also appeal to some of the voters O’Toole’s party needs to form a government. Fifty-six per cent of Bloc Quebecois supporters also oppose the removal of controversial statues, while Liberal voters are evenly split — 41 per cent opposed, 41 per cent in favour.
Rather than tearing down statues of people like Macdonald, O’Toole has said such memorials should include inscriptions that recognize both the good and bad aspects of their lives and work. He joked (somewhat curiously) that such a plaque could be added to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal. (As Sen. Murray Sinclair told the National Observer, Macdonald’s misdeeds and Trudeau’s faults don’t seem analogous.)
But O’Toole’s concern for statues — and his suggestion that Trudeau isn’t doing enough to stand up for them — seems like an extension of a critique Conservatives began building three years ago.
In September 2017, Trudeau went to the United Nations and used Canada’s speaking slot at the General Assembly to discuss this country’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and the need for reconciliation.
Six weeks later, the Conservative Party sent a fundraising pitch to supporters that claimed Trudeau was “travelling abroad to places like the UN General Assembly to denigrate our country, and diminish Canada’s great achievements.” The email pointed to a speech made days earlier by then-leader Andrew Scheer in which he lamented that it’s “fashionable today to look down at the past.”
Facing up to the past
“If we look back at our rich history and study the leading figures in its telling and see only the blemishes, then we are missing out on the beautiful story of a country constantly bettering itself,” Scheer said, arguing that anyone living in Canada today would have to agree that this country has been the best place in the world to live for the past 150 years.
Many people past and present — Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians, the poor — might disagree. Liberals no doubt would object to the suggestion that they only see the grimmer aspects of Canada’s history.
But Trudeau certainly has aligned himself with the idea that it’s important for a society to acknowledge and understand its mistakes — that facing up to the injustices of the past is a necessary part of righting wrongs and building a more just society.
If Conservatives don’t entirely reject that thinking (it was Stephen Harper, after all, who launched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and officially apologized for residential schools), they’re at least willing to appeal to anyone who is uncomfortable with the idea, or with Trudeau’s approach to it.
But there surely would be less interest in toppling statues of John A. Macdonald today if the basic injustice he propagated and advanced had been fully corrected by now — if the sins of the past had given way to a truly just present. And what leaders do to achieve reconciliation and social justice now surely will matter more than how they feel about statues.
Trudeau’s record in those areas can be debated. O’Toole has expressed some interest in Indigenous reconciliation but the proposals contained in his leadership platform were primarily framed around economic issues.
The next several months could be instructive. Before the pandemic, the Trudeau government was committed to pursuing action on a number of fronts, including new legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Liberals have since promised to come forward with a plan to combat systemic racism.
O’Toole, who has expressed misgivings about the UN declaration already, presumably will have to take a position on whatever the Liberals come up with and then explain what, if anything, he would do differently.
Such stuff might lack the spectacle and intensity of arguments about statues and history. But if future generations decide they want to see any of today’s leaders cast in bronze, it will be because of what they did to improve the present and the future — not how they felt about commemorating the past.
Source: – CBC.ca
Bipartisan Politics | Politics and Public Affairs – Denison University
But the ties that bind these four individuals are stronger than most. They, and several other Big Red alumni, are connected through Forbes Tate Partners, a bipartisan, full-service government and public affairs advocacy firm, founded by Forbes and his partner Dan Tate.
In today’s divisive political landscape it might be difficult to imagine that colleagues from opposite sides of the aisle can be, well, collegial. But according to Forbes, who has worked on Democratic campaigns since Al Gore’s presidential bid, that’s the whole point.
“People forget about the moderate factions in politics — and that’s where real work can be done,” says Forbes. So it made sense to build a firm that could work well with both parties and provide positive results for everyone.
And the work has become more complicated. “Lobbying has changed,” he says. “It’s not as much who you know – though that still matters. Today, you have to run a full-fledged campaign with traditional PR, social media, news updates. You have to make sure the people back home see the reason for what you are doing, to create that support before you move forward.”
So how did all these Denisonians find their way to Forbes Tate? You can credit another Denison tie, the Hilltoppers men’s a cappella group. Forbes was a member of the popular campus group, and several years ago a student Hilltopper reached out to him, struggling to figure out what to do for the summer. Forbes’ impulsive response, “Why don’t you come here?” became the beginning of an internship program that has brought scads of students from Denison’s hill to Capitol Hill.
US vetted stars' politics to showcase Trump virus response – CKPGToday.ca
The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesman Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesman for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.
According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of soundbites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the President will Help the Country.” The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II against Germany.
“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.
The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.
The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.
“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”
Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the Oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.
“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.
HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.
The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.
Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”
Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.
Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press
How Virus Politics Divided a Conservative Town in Wisconsin’s North – The New York Times
MINOCQUA, Wis. — When coronavirus cases began to spike in Wisconsin this fall, Rob Swearingen kept his restaurant open and let customers and employees decide whether they wanted to wear masks.
Mr. Swearingen, a Republican seeking his fifth term in the Wisconsin State Assembly, didn’t require other employees at his restaurant in Rhinelander to be tested after a waitress and a bartender contracted the virus because, he said, nobody from the local health department suggested it was necessary.
Kirk Bangstad, Mr. Swearingen’s Democratic opponent, took the opposite approach at the brewpub he owns in Minocqua, 30 miles away. He has served customers only outdoors, and when a teenage waiter became infected after attending a party, Mr. Bangstad shut down for a long weekend and required all employees to get tested.
Mr. Bangstad has since turned his entire campaign into a referendum on how Republicans have handled the coronavirus. On Facebook, he has served as a town shamer, posting lists of restaurants and stores in Wisconsin’s Northwoods that have disregarded state limits on seating capacity and don’t require masks.
With just days until the election, the contest for Mr. Swearingen’s Assembly seat in this lightly populated area in the Northwoods of Wisconsin serves as a microcosm for the way coronavirus politics are playing out across America. Mr. Bangstad is unlikely to prevail in a Republican-heavy district that covers parts of four counties stretching south from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but his effort to make the campaign a referendum on the virus echoes that of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has sought to make President Trump’s handling of the pandemic the central issue in the presidential contest.
Mr. Bangstad, a 43-year-old Harvard-educated former professional opera singer, moved back to Wisconsin six years ago from Manhattan, where he was a technology consultant and served as the policy director for Anthony Weiner’s 2013 mayoral campaign. Like Mr. Biden, he has eschewed traditional campaigning. He has moved his entire effort online, including in email and on the Facebook page of his brewpub, the Minocqua Brewing Company.
But unlike the former vice president, Mr. Bangstad has made little effort to win over voters who aren’t already appalled by Republicans’ handling of the coronavirus. Many of them, he said, are being duped by false or misleading statements by the president and the conservative news media.
“A lot of them, I feel, haven’t been equipped with the tools of media literacy or critical thinking skills to be able to discern if they’re being told something that doesn’t quite jell or is not true,” he said during an interview this week at his shuttered restaurant overlooking Lake Minocqua.
Oneida County, which includes Minocqua and Rhinelander, where Mr. Swearingen operates the Al-Gen Dinner Club and has lived his entire life, has a virus rate nearly twice the state average over the past two weeks.
Scott Haskins, whose wife, Pamela, is a waitress at the Al-Gen, is among the county’s recent fatalities. Ms. Haskins contracted the virus after working a restaurant shift in mid-September and was hospitalized in early October. Mr. Haskins, 63, checked into the hospital with the virus four days after his wife, according to his daughter, Kelly Schulz.
Two days later, Mr. Haskins suffered a stroke and died.
“The day after my dad passed, Governor Evers put in the 25 percent capacity limit, and they weren’t abiding by it,” Ms. Schulz said of the Al-Gen. “People were posting pictures of themselves there on Facebook and it was pretty busy for a Friday night.”
Republicans who control the state legislature this month successfully sued Mr. Evers to overturn the capacity limits on bars and restaurants he ordered. In Oneida County, local sheriffs and town police departments weren’t enforcing them anyway.
Before winning election to the Assembly, Mr. Swearingen, 57, was the president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the powerful lobbying group for the state’s bars. He fought the state’s efforts to ban smoking indoors at businesses, lift the drinking age to 21 from 18 and increase the legal blood alcohol limit to drive.
He said his restaurant is not responsible for employees who caught the coronavirus. No one from the local health department ever called with questions, he said, and no contact tracers contacted the restaurant. Mr. Swearingen said he has not had a test himself.
“There’s been no connection to the restaurant to all these cases,” he said during an interview in the dining room of the Al-Gen, which is bedecked with taxidermied heads of deer and black bears. “These people are part-time, coming from different jobs and different things.”
Of all the places where Democrats barely bothered to compete in 2016, Wisconsin’s Northwoods may have been the most neglected. Not only did Hillary Clinton skip Wisconsin altogether, county Democrats in this region didn’t even have yard signs to distribute, not that there was much demand for them.
Mrs. Clinton was a “polarizing’’ candidate, said Matt Michalsen, a high school social studies teacher who ran against Mr. Swearingen in 2016. “Personally, did I support her? No.”
Four years later, Mr. Bangstad has few expectations that he will win. He sees his campaign largely as an effort to increase Democratic turnout for Mr. Biden and cut into Mr. Trump’s margins by focusing attention on the impact of the coronavirus on northern Wisconsin.
Mr. Bangstad wrapped the side of his restaurant in a giant Biden-Harris sign that attracted the ire of the Oneida County Board, which sent a letter informing him that it exceeded the allowable size of 32 square feet. After Mr. Bangstad used the fracas to raise money and get more attention for himself in the local press, the board backed down.
At the same time, the Biden campaign and local Democrats have put far more resources into northern Wisconsin than they did four years ago. There are twice as many organizers focused on the area than in 2016. And though the Clinton campaign swore off yard signs as an unnecessary annoyance, the state party has made efforts to get them in every yard that would take one.
“We distributed approximately 50 Hillary yard signs four years ago, and we’re at more than 1,200 so far for Joe,” said Jane Nicholson, the party chairwoman in Vilas County, just north of Oneida County.
There’s some evidence that Mr. Biden is making up ground. A poll taken for Mr. Bangstad’s campaign this month found Mr. Trump leading Mr. Biden in the district by five percentage points — a far cry from his 25-point margin of victory in 2016. The same survey found Mr. Swearingen ahead by 12 points, less than half his 26-point margin over Mr. Michalsen four years ago.
Mr. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by less than 23,000 votes statewide. His gap in Mr. Swearingen’s district alone was 14,000 votes.
“If we’re in the low 40s there, that means that we have blocked Trump’s path to pulling in the votes that he’d need to cancel out other areas of the state,” said Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
The Assembly race has engendered hurt feelings and worsened political divisions in Minocqua, a town of about 4,000 full-time residents. Down the street from the Minocqua Brewing Company, Tracy Lin Grigus, a Trump supporter who owns the Shade Tree bookstore, shook her head at Mr. Bangstad’s attempts to shame local businesses.
“On his Facebook, he’s calling all of us up here idiots, like a mini Joe Biden,’’ said Ms. Grigus, who doesn’t wear a mask in her store and doesn’t ask her customers to do so. “It’s insulting to people that share the space with him and other business owners. He’s like the only one in this town and surrounding towns that went this far.”
Across Oneida Street, the main drag through Minocqua’s small downtown, Casie Oldenhoff, an assistant manager at the Monkey Business T-shirt shop, where signs instruct customers to wear a mask, said Mr. Trump was to blame for the current wave of the pandemic.
“He’s just not taking care of us,” Ms. Oldenhoff said. “He doesn’t care about what’s going on with the pandemic.”
Mr. Swearingen said he had little doubt that Mr. Trump would do just as well in the Northwoods on Tuesday as he did in 2016. Enthusiasm for the president is higher, he said, as evidenced by the regular boat and car parades adorned with Trump flags and carrying young men concerned foremost about a Biden administration taking away their guns.
But he said he had never been involved in a campaign as ugly as his own this year.
“We’ve been targeted by my opponent as a den of Covid and all sorts of rumors in Facebook,’’ he said. “I’ve never quite had to fight against Facebook in an election. He went after a couple of other bars in the area, and one of the bar owners was livid that that bar was on the list. It’s like, ‘Well, who are these people? It’s the mask police or something.’”
For Mr. Bangstad, shaming Mr. Swearingen and other Republicans who have fought against public health guidelines is exactly the point.
“If you’re a citizen in this state, and there’s one branch of government that’s trying to keep people healthy from Covid, and you have the legislative branch and the judicial branch trying to stymie him every single time he does it, it’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen,” he said. “As a Wisconsinite, I’m just completely ashamed.”
Andy Mills and Luke Vander Ploeg contributed reporting.
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