The political party in Canada is dead – and we killed it

Let’s accept that all those former members of Parliament Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan spoke to are telling the truth – or, at least, being mostly truthful – and the real work in Parliament gets done in committees, rather than the House of Commons. It sounds about right, anyway. But then, how do we explain Thursday?

Ostensibly, New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair was scheduled to appear at the procedure and House affairs to testify and discuss the fact that members of the party’s parliamentary staff had been working at political offices in Montreal and Quebec City – ones paid for by the party. That, technically, would be a no-no under the current rules. Before Mulcair even showed up, the NDP contested that the office’s employees were under two different unions and, therefore, the political employees did only party work, and the parliamentary employees did only non-partisan work. It was a splicing of fine hairs, probably, for most Canadians, but such things do matter, and this particular case ought to matter even more now that we’ve seen what happened.

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What kind of party is the Conservative party?

A lot of disconcerting things have been said in Ottawa lately, but something from the prime minister on Thursday afternoon was more worrisome than others. And for Conservatives more than anyone.

Question period that day went poorly for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Only a day earlier, most observers agreed that he was in rare form as he ferociously defended his integrity in light of new accusations lobbed his way from Mike Duffy’s Tuesday speech in the Senate. The Conservative line on Wednesday was that Harper had only just been repeating what he’d said for months. Whichever was the truth – either Harper finally sounded serious about the Senate scandal, or the entire press gallery suffered an episode of amnesia and were suddenly incapable of remembering this past spring – barely mattered six minutes into question period Thursday.

After taking his first round of beatings from New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair, Harper had to answer a query from the far side of the House of Commons – the Liberal corner. That party’s leader, Justin Trudeau, was (strangely, when such events are unfolding in Ottawa) in Washington, D.C. for a conference about progressive governance. So, it fell to his deputy Dominic LeBlanc to make the accusation that instead of punishing Ray Novak for his alleged in “covering up the Conservatives’ scandal” and helping “hide the prime minister’s involvement,” Harper chose to make Novak his chief of staff. LeBlanc question was this: “Why does the prime minister think it is acceptable to reward potentially criminal behaviour?”

Harper stood to respond.

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Duffygate 2013: What matters now are the details. Good luck, prime minister.

Tuesdays revelations – or allegations, anyway – from Senator Mike Duffy were quite something. If his comments are to be proven, the consequences for the prime minister and, by extension, the Conservative Party might be dire. Probably you know what those allegations are already, but by way of a quick recap, I’ll simply quote Duffy himself, as he described what happened following a caucus meeting, after a story in the Ottawa Citizen raised the question about whether his residence was in Prince Edward Island or Ontario.

“I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules. But the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base,” Duffy said Harper told him. “I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others. It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the prime minister – to ‘pay the money back!’ End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout. Just the three of us.”

That was the Holy Moly moment, delivered by a man who once told stories for a living, with the all the pauses and pronunciations in the right spots and the inflections placed more or less exactly on target. Duffy, accustomed for so long to TV, proved in the television-less Senate Tuesday he probably could have been just as successful a journalist had he stuck with radio.

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Why I should stop watching Pawn Stars and why you shouldn't start

I’ll get this out of the way right now: I watch Pawn Stars, the show on History Channel featuring the guys at Gold and Silver Pawn in Las Vegas. A lot. I should not. And nor should you.

In case you don't know what this show is, the premise is pretty simple. Whereas other pawn shop-related reality shows put an emphasis on unruly customers, security breaches and the downtrodden locals, Pawn Stars focuses on the items that people bring in to sell. Most importantly, though, it aims to examine the history behind those items. This is how the show is on something like the History Channel in the first place – or perhaps how the channel can get away with showing it. But it’s because of this, the show’s central premise, that it’s actually not worth your time.

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On the referendum society

"The key to the referendum society is that it turns on a mystic evocation of past grievances, gathered together into a churning, aggravated spleen, where they are magnified and isolated from reality. Everything that is not a grievance disappears. This anger is then dovetailed into a heroic solution. Simple, absolute, salvatory. An answer.The modern referendum, as Napoleon understood when he invented it, is the ideal consummation of the rational as irrational, of the anti-democratic posing as democracy. The complex issues of reality, which democracy can deal with in its own slow, indirect way, are swept aside by single, clear issues, often modeled on single human qualities – either we must have common sense, or we must have reason, or we must have memory. It is as if any combining of human qualities is impossible. Not surprisingly, both the referendum and direct democracy are a happy marriage with corporatism. The complex, real question sare dealt with behind the scenes through efficient 'interest mediation' between the different interest groups. As for the citizenry, they are occupied and distracted by the fireworks of their direct involvement on the big questions and their direct relationship with the big people. A simple 'yes' or 'no' and history, they are told, will be changed, as if by the wave of a magic wand."

– John Raulson Saul, The Unconscious Civilization

On sports chatter

"Sport as practice, as activity, no longer exists, or exists for economic reasons... and there exists only chatter about chatter about sport. The chatter about chatter of the sports press constitutes a game with its full set of rules... It will be seen, as for that matter everyone knows already, that evaluations, judgments, arguments, polemical remarks, denigrations, and paeans follow a verbal ritual, very complex but with simple and precise rules. In this ritual, intellectual energies are exercised and neutralized; physical energies are no longer in play, so the competition shifts to a purely 'political' level. In fact, the chatter about sports chatter has all the characteristics of a political debate. They say what the leaders should have done, what they did do, what we would have liked them to do, what happened, and what will happen... Such chatter seems therefore the parody of political talk; but since in this parody the strength that the citizen had at his disposal for political debate is vitiated and disciplined, this chatter is the ersatz of political speech, but to such a heightened degree that it becomes itself political speech. Afterwards, there's no more room – because the person who chatters about sport, if he didn't do this, would at least realize he has possibilities of judgment, verbal aggressiveness, political competitiveness to employ somehow. But sports chatter convinces him that his energy is expended to conclude something. Having allayed his doubt, sport fulfills its role of fake conscious."

– Umberto Eco, Sports Chatter

On identity

"Our children in a twentieth-century information environment have to process more data than any human being in any previous culture of the world. Our children from early infancy are engaged in extraordinarily hard work, and that work is mainly just growing, growing up because to grow up in a modern electronic environment is a fantastically complex and difficult job. It's also a job which threatens to deprive people of identity, the personal concept. One of the peculiarities of an electronic environment is that people become so profoundly involved in each other that they lose that sense of private identity. This is one of the peculiar cruxes of our time that people, precisely because they become profoundly involved in one another in an all-at-once simultaneous field of happenings, then begin to lose their sense of private identity because identity used to be connected with simple classification and fragmentation and non-involvement. In a world of profound involvement, identity seems to evaporate."

-- Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage