Archive for the The Chairman’s Corner Category


“There was no quid pro quo!  Read the transcript!”

So declares the Orange Eminence, with indignant nods from his apologists.  Of course, even that defence ignores the reality that no one has yet seen a true transcript of the July 25th call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but it should not surprise anyone if an actual transcript did not include any explicit “quid pro quo” proposition.  The most damaging corruption is rarely if ever so blatant.  It is almost always insidious to the point of banality.  I doubt that even Harvey Weinstein ever explicitly promised a specific role to any actress in return for her tolerance of if not acquiescence to his sexual demands.

It has taken an inordinately long time, but as a society we have finally moved beyond the need to demonstrate explicit quid pro quos to conclude that an individual has committed an actionable breach of trust. In the context of social and economic transactions between parties involving large disparities in economic power, the individual holding the power advantage is not entitled to request or even accept from the other party benefits that accrue to that individual rather than to the corporate or political entity that the individual in greater power represents.  No reasonable person interpreting the accepted facts surrounding the negotiations that culminated in the Trump-Zelensky phone call could possibly deny that President Trump asked a “favour” of Zelensky at a time when he had blocked the payment to Ukraine of US$400 million of military aid that had been approved by the US Congress.  The only determination left to be made upon which any reasonable persons could differ in concluding that a criminal breach of trust has occurred is whether the “favour’ asked of Zelensky would have been of benefit to President Trump personally, or to the benefit of the United States government and its people.

Interestingly, little of the umbrage taken by Trump supporters have focused on this question.  The defenders seem instead to fall into one of two camps: those that argue that there was no explicit quid pro quo, and those that argue that even if there was, it is not a breach that is of sufficient gravity to justify removal from office.  It seems that even Trump’s staunchest supporters are conceding that the requested announcement by Zelensky of enquiries into the activities of the Bidens and allegations of Ukrainian involvement in the hack of the DNC servers in 2016 would offer no material benefit to the US people.  No wonder. The 2016 hack has already been the subject of the Mueller report which concluded that it had been engineered by Russian malefactors, and if there was to be an investigation of Joe Biden’s role in his son Hunter obtaining a lucrative appointment to the Board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, it could and should be carried out by the US Justice Department, who is reported to have already reviewed the matter and concluded that it warranted no further action.

So the defence of Trump falls to the argument that this naked exercise of corruption is not of sufficient materiality to merit removal from office.  Given that the comparable unsolicited attempt by Russian-based actors to influence the US political process in 2016 was deemed sufficiently material to merit a Department of Justice investigation, it is difficult to see how anyone could conclude that an attempt by a sitting President to solicit such interference could be anything other than gravely material.  But is it sufficient grounds for removal from office?

Removal from office by impeachment is permitted under the US Constitution for “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanours”.  These terms are not further defined, and there have been no removals from office by impeachment to provide any precedents to further clarify what constitutes an impeachable offence.  Nonetheless, constitutional scholars generally agree that a betrayal of the “public trust” is what characterizes grounds for impeachment.  And what trust did the US public place in Donald Trump?  He is coarse and corrupt in all things, both intentionally and inadvertently, and has always been so.  It is not unreasonable to argue that his conduct in his dealing with Ukraine, like all of his questionable conduct to date, is not outside of what the electorate could reasonably have expected of him when they elected him.  The public, one could argue, had no reasonable basis to trust that the would behave otherwise.

Whether they are explicit in acknowledging it or not, I suspect that this will be justification that Senate Republicans cling to when they ultimately and inevitably acquit President Trump.  A small price to pay to make America great again.


There has been much consternation about the small number of leaders’ debates in the run-up to next week’s federal election.  There were only two that included all six of the Party leaders, one in French and one in English.  While there had been only two that included all party leaders in 2015, there had been a total of five that included the leaders of the three major parties.  Many were and are incensed at the paucity of opportunities to see the leaders debating head-to-head this time around.

They needn’t be.  I watched both debates.  They were awful.  They were disappointing.    They were uninspired.  They were uninformative.  They were disheartening.  And it wasn’t just the format.  The largely inaudible cacophony of the English debate was avoided in most part in the French language debate by both the firm hand of a single moderator and the segregation of the leaders into groups of three in addressing questions.  However, even with more order, and even where the questions posed to the leaders managed to rise above the usual opportunities for insipid virtue signalling, the substance of the answers offered by the leaders lacked nuance or insight that would allow a truly undecided voter to draw any basis for differentiation.

The most commonly asserted reason for the seeming poor quality of the choices that we are offered is the nasty nature of politics today.  It seemed that politicians used to migrate from successful careers in law, business or academia later in their career, bringing with them adult experience in an area of achievement other than politics.  Today, experience brings with it history, and history can include contradictions, lessons learned and unguarded moments that can be used, both fairly and unfairly, to distract from then current personal convictions and policy positions.  So instead we end up with career politicians, whose actions and personas have been constructed since adolescence, at least in theory, in anticipation of the unforgiving gaze of politics.  It is undeniable and patently evident that polls and focus groups have filled the void left by the lack of relevant experience in establishing policy priorities.

Add to this reality the advent of Big Data.  All political parties now have access to data that they believe allows them to stratify the electorate and identify with pinpoint accuracy those voters whose support they can be certain of and those who are truly available to be swayed by a political campaign.  And all, it seems, have concluded that the size of the former far outstrips the latter.  Accordingly, campaigns have come to be far more an exercise in rallying the decided voters to the polls than swaying the undecided or, heaven forbid, changing the minds of the least ardent supporters of an opposing party.  So, debates are exercises in polemic posturing, without respect for or admission of the complexities of any of the issues before the electorate.

While there is no quick fix that will bring leaders with broader experience back to politics, there is at least one measure than might go some way in curbing the inclination of party leaders to preach only to the converted.  And that measure is compulsory voting.

In proposing compulsory voting, I am not suggesting that we make abstaining from voting punishable by fines or imprisonment.  We extend a carrot, not a stick.  Citizens of voting age are made eligible for a meaningful but not extravagant refundable tax credit on their federal and provincial tax returns on the basis of each election held in that taxation year in which the voting data shows they voted.  They can exercise their vote as solemnly or frivolously as they like; they can spoil their ballot if they so choose.  But if they show up at the polling station and receive a ballot, they get the credit.

So how would compulsory voting improve the quality of election debates and the tone of political discourse generally?  By eliminating the incentive for parties to use the campaign as a tool to get out the vote, they will be more inclined to use it as an opportunity to bring undecideds and more weakly attached voters to their camps.  And to do so, their pitches would necessarily be more nuanced, more respectful of contrary viewpoints, and generally more thoughtful.

And maybe, just maybe, some young man or woman of substance and conviction will in the not so distant future watch an election debate and see a respectful and insightful exchange of ideas in which they would someday like to participate.


It is impossible to create or maintain a democratic nation in which the citizenry differs fundamentally on more issues than those upon which they agree.  Indeed, that is the very nature of nation-building; constructing constitutions that delineate the fundamental principles by and upon which all are willing to abide if not actually agree, and by which all agree to consent to the assertion of political authority over their affairs. However, the expression of common purpose and principle upon which nations are formed are always challenged by the polar and often tribal nature of the democratic process.

The basis of divergence is nearly always the same.  The applications of principles of liberty that are the bedrock of constitutional democracies soon come into conflict with the status quo.  The more progressive of the citizenry argue that the application of constitutional principles trumps all other considerations, including the preservation of the social structure in which they were first articulated.  The more conservative, meanwhile, argue that constitutional principles can never be fairly applied to undermine the social structure that they were designed to reflect and protect.   In short order, the electorates in democratic nations invariably form parties of the political left and right between whom lie ideological gulfs that are seemingly irreconcilable.

Notwithstanding this theoretical and demonstrable shortcoming, constitutional democracies have proven to be capable of effective governance for the bulk of their histories.  The US, dominated from its inception by a two-party system, has managed to maintain a level course through oscillations to the left and right by the electorate that have been reflected in reasonably even distribution of Republican and Democratic representation in both the Legislative and Executive branches of government.

But not so lately.  There can be no denying the increasingly polarized nature of American politics, and it is often pointed to as the harbinger of the end of democracy as a functional form of government.  Ironically, it is the perfection of democracy itself that has created this existential threat.

Politicians of both the Left and the Right wistfully long for the good old days, when men (and they were men, and financially comfortable white men to be specific) could find enough common ground to garner bipartisan support for what has been by any measure an incrementally progressive political agenda.  And they could do that because, for all of their political differences, they were, after all, all financially comfortable white men.  Those on the Left could be trusted by their counterparts on the Right to bring forward social change, and those on the Right could be trusted to not only maximize but also redistribute wealth and opportunity, in each case at a pace that would not result in an abrupt disruption of the social order.  After all, that social order had long been good to financially comfortable white men of both the Left and Right

North American democracies are no longer dominated by financially comfortable white men, and the most ardent adherents to the politics of the Left and the Right no longer have any interest in maintaining the social order.   On the Right, older working class citizens see the root of their disenfranchisement in the progressive trade and immigration policies that have undermined their already tenuous position in the social and economic order.  On the vanguard of the Left is everyone else who isn’t a financially comfortable white male, and they see in the incrementalism of the history of North American progressivism the paternalistic maintenance of privilege.  There is seemingly no place or voice for those in the centre of the political spectrum who are sympathetic to the reasonable concerns of both camps, and who want to see leadership that will redirect the engine of economic growth to ensure that both the benefits and costs of that growth are distributed more fairly and responsibly.   This reality has led to what seems to be an irreconcilable impasse in both the tone and effectiveness of American politics of which Donald Trump is a result not the cause.  It is a stark and ominous political landscape.

The picture in Canada may be no more inspiring, but it is considerably less ominous.  Canada is in the early days of a federal election in which there are four major parties fielding candidates nationally.  On the basis of their stated platforms, all of those parties agree that climate change is an issue that must be addressed by public policy, that women have the right to choice as it relates to childbearing, that people should be free to marry whomever they please, that immigration is not only welcome but essential for the continuing prosperity of the country, that economic opportunities are critical to the maintenance and expansion of freedom and that redistribution of the fruits of those opportunities is critical to social cohesion.  The party of the Right asserts the paramountcy of economic opportunity and the freedom that it offers above but not to the exclusion of all other considerations.  Both parties of the Left would place environmental and redistributive policies above the goal of maximizing economic opportunity.  The party of the middle would attach a roughly equal priority to those two interests.

The choices offered reflect an electorate that is only moderately differentiated on principle.  The approaches are ones on which reasonable men and women can differ.  It is a menu of political choice that highlights common principles and nuanced differences in policies.  And it is so not because Canadians are a wiser, more moral or homogeneous population.  It is so only because of the existence of more than two viable political parties that enhance rather than disenfranchise the centre of the political spectrum.  And as W. B. Yeats foretold, when “the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.

It was back in 1961 that actor Kiefer Sutherland’s Grandpa, Tommy Douglas, established the NDP as a viable third party in Canadian federal politics.  It seems that Canadians have more than socialized medicine to thank him for.