Mulcair, Trudeau, and the classic double bind

In the 1950s, the social scientist Gregor Bateson described what he called the Double Bind phenomenon: an emotionally distressing situation in which someone in authority delivers a pair of messages so conflicted that a successful response to one results in a failed response to the other, and the recipient is wrong regardless their response. It’s roughly the equivalent of being asked whether you have stopped beating your spouse.

ndp-leader-tom-mulcairEvents of the last month in Ottawa show that, where allegations of sexual abuse against two Liberal MPs are concerned, Tom Mulcair’s NDP caucus has mastered the double-bind. Here’s the latest nugget, courtesy of the Hill Times:

The Canadian Press reported last week that NDP MP Craig Scott (Toronto-Danforth, Ont.), a former law professor, told Liberals that one of the alleged incidents, the way it was described to him, amounted to an allegation of sexual assault. Mr. Scott responded to the story last week with a terse statement saying his “good faith contribution to this meeting was confidential” and “had been broken in a way that disrespects the victim.”

How, exactly, does suspending an MP who may have committed sexual assault get turned into disrespect for the victim of that (alleged) assault? Let’s review the events leading up to this charge of “disrespect for the victim.”

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau became aware of the allegations through a chance encounter.
  • He immediately put in place a mechanism for investigating the allegations with the cooperation of the NDP caucus.
  • Based on those discussions, he concluded the allegations were serious enough to warrant suspending the MPs from his caucus until the issue could be resolved.
  • He did all this in a matter of days, without identifying the complaining MPs or the caucus they belong to.

trudeau copyYou can argue that Trudeau acted with such haste that he compromised the rights of the impugned MPs. Indeed, their political careers may never recover. But no, Mulcair, Scott, and their caucus argue that, by acting at all, Trudeau “disrespected” the purported victims of the Liberal MPs’ alleged abuse.

What a clever trap! Disrespectful if you do; disrespectful if you don’t. Had Trudeau failed to act, the NDP would have pilloried him for… “disrespecting the victims.” But since he acted with dispatch, the NDP must now pillory him for “disrespecting the victims.” Classic double bind.

I don’t like to speculate on motives, but it’s not hard to see how distressing it must be for Mulcair to have the youthful leader of the Liberal Party, thought to have wide appeal to women voters, act with rare urgency on an allegation of sexual abuse. Why it’s almost like having Lester Pearson adopt medicare.

Moral panic makes bad law

The trial of the second boy charged in connection with the #YouKnowHerName case got underway in Halifax this morning. In the Halifax Examiner, Tim Bousquet correctly predicted the defendant would plead guilty, before adding:

The first man tried in the case pleaded guilty and was given a light sentence that included no jail time.

Since the media long ago convicted both youngsters of rape without benefit of trial, Bousquet and his fellow journocutors would likely consider anything short of a long prison term to be “light.”

But the boys—they were legally boys at the time of the now infamous incident— haven’t been charged with rape. One was charged with making child pornography, the other with distributing it. The open secret is that everyone—media, police, prosecutors, public—knows that’s not really what they did.

What they did, as minors, was to take, and text to others, a sexually explicit photo of another minor without her consent.

Up to the “without her consent” part, this is something thousands of Canadians—young and old—do every day. Doing it without the girl’s consent was nasty, cruel, and certainly worthy of being a crime. I would support a law that made it a crime. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a law, so we shoe-horn the offence into a bogus child pornography charge.

Ugly as it was, this was not a case of child pornography. Society created child pornography laws to protect children and punish adult pedophiles, not to punish sexual activity and imagery among teenagers, even those deemed too drunk to give their consent.

One result is a flurry of child pornography charges against youngsters guilty only of entirely consensual sexting.

In the #YouKnowHerName case, the media and much of the public want to see the boys punished for what many fervently believe, based on hearsay accounts by individuals with a deep personal stake in the case, to have been rape, a crime that too often goes unpunished. It’s clear the available evidence does not support such a charge. So any charge will do.

That’s no way to run a criminal justice system.

More roundabouts, please

Halifax Commons Rotary copy

Here’s an aerial photograph taken yesterday of the gorgeous, WSP-designed roundabout taking shape at the northeast corner of the Halifax Commons, in front of the Halifax Armoury. Construction of bike trails and pedestrian walkways on adjacent sections of the Commons will take place over the next two weeks.

Construction of a companion roundabout at the right edge of this photo, where North Park St. meets Cogswell, Trollope, Ahern Ave., and Rannie Drive at the foot of Citadel Hill will begin next Spring. Once workers complete that job next year, an underground electrical system will go into service, enabling NS Power to remove utility poles from the area.

Roundabouts smooth traffic flows, increase roadway capacity, enhance safety, lessen idling, and curb pollution. They are a fantastic improvement. Nova Scotia could use 200 more. Congratulations to all involved.

An Ingonish reader defends the colossal monument

Mother Canada Site Diagram 550

In a post last week, I argued that the 24-metre* war memorial statue of “Mother Canada” proposed for Green Cove in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park flew in the face of sound public policy. Many readers weighed in, mostly against the project. Today, a passionate supporter of the monument takes the floor.

Jason writes from Ingonish:

Upon reading your view on the monument, it is hard to believe the joy newspapers and news broadcasts get out of, once again, stirring up controversy on a subject you really don’t know about.

While you make points about the project itself, and its artistry, you leave out the fact something incredible has been proposed by, not just someone with money, but by a group of people with a passion for our war dead.

[A] very small number of naysayers are trying to say this shouldn’t happen in a park—with most wanting it in an area closer to them.

Of course, everyone wants a memorial to honour our fallen. For you to say we as a community want it because we are economically depressed is extremely ignorant and without fact. Did you come interview me to ask me those questions? No you didn’t. I get tired of hearing papers from away make comments based on our “little economically deprived” town, as you have said without asking any of us. It’s sad to see so-called educated reporters report without fact.

I happened to be at the community meetings at which hundreds of people from all over showed up to express their opinion, and where the sentiment was 95% positive—but I’m sure you won’t print that. You won’t print the fact that Banff has built a whole town and huge ski hills in a national park without consulting us. So I guess building a resort town in Banff was OK, but building a memorial in dedication to the many men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice is just too much to do here in Cape Breton.

You won’t print the fact that the majority are excited at the opportunity to have something with so much meaning brought to one of the most beautiful islands in the world. In fact you won’t print anything positive as it does not sell papers or create controversy.

It’s a sad world we live in when some thing proposed by people that truly have a passion for our fallen Heroes is only met in the media with negativity in hopes that you sell a few more issues in coming months.

Why don’t you come speak with me about the support of the community and how we feel about the monument before printing an article using us as your base and saying we only want this because we are so down and out here. It’s too bad as a society most of us thrive on the negative things instead of seeing something so positive in all of this.

Reading comments on your site, I see people say the money would be better spent on veterans affairs. This has to be to rest finally. It was said at the second meeting that this is private money. People are under the misunderstanding due to the faulty reporting of media that the money is tax dollars. The building of the monument and upkeep will all be privately funded. People believe everything they hear in media instead of actually researching the project itself. It’s time people stop listening and start educating themselves on the facts.

And someone has mentioned how ugly it is. Wow! So all other monuments that happen to be big, and that commemorate our fallen be it canada or elsewhere, are ugly? That is one of the most ignorant things I have ever heard, and I’m embarrassed for you. Whether one is for or against I believe being negative to something that honours our soldiers to be very offensive.

There are lots more comments from readers in the queue—mainly opponents of the proposed monument. I’ll publish more this week.

* An update to the post that started this thread corrects the hight of the proposed Mother Canada stature, along with that of the Canada Bereft statue in Vimy upon which it is based. The mistake is mostly mine, but also partly a reflection of the fact the size of the proposed monument has been a moving target.

That colossal monument — Contrarian readers react

The gigantic statue of “Mother Canada” discussed here yesterday has many detractors and few admirers among Contrarian readers. Here’s a sample from the flood of comments received:

Barry (#1):

Non-supporters of this project need to stand up and hopefully have this cancelled.


If some people in Ingonish or elsewhere see economic benefit to this statue, perhaps the focus should be on finding a different place for it—say at Ingonish. While Ingonish is one of my favourite places on earth, I could accept a (somewhat less intrusive) statue there, because there is already a certain degree of man-made tourism in the area. The irony of Green Cove as a location is that, on the one-hand, the promoter clearly understands what a special beautiful peaceful place it is, but on the other hand, does not understand why, nor appreciate that he is ruining it. Almost any other location would accomplish his objective while causing less fatal damage.

The Greek:

The proposal meets the essential criterion of kitsch monuments in Nova Scotia (the Stewiacke mastodon, the Millbank Glooscap): it presents its buttocks to the public. The proponent seems most proud of having nailed down all the branding rights. I’d love to see that contract. But it’s what you call the Emotional Blackmail (over & over again) that’s most offensive—the bumper sticker mentality behind such bullying slogans as “If you don’t stand behind our troops, you’re welcome to stand in front of them.”

Mother Canada and The Commemorative Ring


I fear this is going to be like that gawd-awful memorial to “peace officers” that got installed at the Grand Parade is Halifax—no one can say “No,” because to say “No” would be disrespectful. And so we have a mini-arc de triomphe in a public space that already had a monument. Here’s an idea: why don’t we put Mother Canada there? And while we’re at it, a monument to nurses, and one to teachers, and maybe Vince Coleman…? [PD note: Pretty sure he means the train dispatcher, not the Cardinals left fielder.] We could rename the square Monument Place, and all groups worthy of commemoration could have their own monument there. I’ll bet it would be a real tourist attraction.


Size matters. Clearly, Parker, you do not support our troops.

This from a government who would rush to take electorally useful flak jacket photo-ops in front of soldiers in the field but cashier them before they could draw their pension if their service had injured them so they were considered unfit for service. I guess monuments are cheaper than ongoing support for veterans.


Man, that is one ugly statue.


All great points, Parker, but there’s another. Plenty of non-Christians have died overseas for Canada, some of them even from Cape Breton. The monument not only excludes them, it crosses the line between church and state. Then there’s the fact that—beyond ruining one of Canada’s most beautiful coastlines—it’s bad kitschy art.

Janet, again, a few hours later:

I’ve just been getting up to speed. From what I read, this project is the brainstorm of a sentimental Toronto-based millionaire with more money and political connections than taste. The politicians, including Peter MacKay, jumped on it to wring some cheap political capital out of the same veterans whose benefits they’re busy cutting off. And now we’re in danger of having a gigantic piece of kitsch plopped down on the glorious Green Cove lookout. Seriously, it has to be stopped.


What’s wrong? Everything’s wrong. It’s spending a fortune to destroy a beautiful and unique section of Cape Breton’s coastline in the guise of honouring our veterans by constructing a gargantuan, Gothic monstrosity. Huge monies stand to change hands—on the heels of the closure of Veterans’ Affairs offices because they’re not affordable. Green Cove’s ancient geological rock formations will be replaced by a mammoth figure looming over our coastline.


I agree the monument could be more contemporary. However, as an artist who could have submitted a winning design… At the risk of adding to the hyperbole, only tree-hugging, PC pinhead twits oppose this project. [PD note:  Bobby had more to say in what became a heated Twitter exchange, but most of it was of an ad hominem nature that didn’t really address the policy issues I raised. You can find it at my Twitter feed: @kempthead.]


The expropriation of land was for the stated purpose of declaring the area a national park, not for a statue and “tourist attraction.”


still cannot get it through my thick skull that people are serious about such a grotesque monstrosity. But I guess they are.


My beautiful new Strombo bobblehead is a much finer work of art, frankly

Barry (#2):

I’ll take it if you don’t want it. Oh, and how is this a Harper thing? The media I read and heard from the spring was some rich guy from the big smoke was investing millions of his own money. I think Parker was just hoping it was going to be a giant statue of him to match his over sized ego.

Barry exaggerates. The statue is big, but not THAT big. It’s a “Harper thing” because Harper’s cabinet gave the necessary permissions to locate it in a National Park. It also seems clear that promoter Tony Trigiani enjoys special access through a friend or friends inside cabinet.


Love it! You can compete with Rio De Janeiro!

That’s it for now. If Mr. Trigiani or his “ambassador,” retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, wish to respond to the points raised in my original post, they will get space here.

What’s wrong with the colossal monument at Green Cove

In case you missed it, Cape Breton journalist Joan Weeks was on CBC’s The Current Tuesday morning with an even-handed account of the controversy over plans to honour Canada’s war dead with a colossal statue at Green Cove in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Like so many initiatives of the Stephen Harper government, the project offends good public policy in several ways.

Accountability and Transparency: The project was conceived and designed in secret. It was presented to, and approved by, the Harper cabinet without public input or discussion. The belated exercise now underway, touted as a public consultation, has been limited to a pair of meetings in the tiny, economically depressed village of Ingonish, many of whose residents have been persuaded their community will benefit economically from the project. Even in Ingonish, the project has met significant minority opposition. “Consultation” has further been limited by promoter’s unwillingness to consider any changes to the size, scale, design, location, or ancillary elements of the proposed monument. 

“Mother Canada” at Green Cove would stand three six times taller than “Canada Bereft” at Vimy. Both owe their origins to Mater Dolorosa-style images of the Virgin Mary

Acquisition of Public Art: Good public art begins with a widely shared community purpose and proceeds through an open, public competition among artists who submit concepts for executing the work. Many such competitions are now underway in Canada. The concept for the stunning Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, came from an unknown, 21-year-old artist, who beat out 1,441 other submissions. By contrast, the enormous statue proposed for Green Cove was designed without artistic input of any kind, let alone competitive proposals. The businessman-promoter behind the scheme simply scaled up a similar (but better) statue at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France to three times its original size, lifted its head, and extended its arms outward. Public Art should not be designed in secret by the millionaire operator of a food packing business and presented as a fait accompli.

Inappropriate Scale:* Canada Bereft, the Vimy statue the proposed monument emulates, stands 20 about four meters tall and occupies a 100 117 hectare site. The “Mother Canada” knock-off soars to 60 metres was originally supposed to be 10 storeys high (about 33 metres, 108 feet) but occupies a site of less than one hectare. More recent statements by project proponents have scaled it back to 24 metres (79 feet). It will face the ocean and a few lobster fishermen, while turning its back on residents and tourists who pass by on the Cabot Trail. [Please see the correction at the end of this post.]

National Park Integrity: Canada’s National Park system is charged with protecting lands of national importance for future generations in perpetuity. On the rare occasions when the Government of Canada has turned over National Park land to other purposes, it has insisted on simultaneous acquisition of additional, new park land of equal or greater conservation value. Not so in this case. Cabinet secretly approved the repurposing of protected land with no quid pro quo. There are many equally dramatic sites, in Cape Breton and elsewhere, that would not require the repurposing of lands designated as a National Park.

Emotional Blackmail: Proponents of the project have repeatedly cast the debate as a choice between supporting or not supporting Canada’s war dead. Such invidious tactics do nothing to encourage rational debate or sound decisions. If World War II meant anything, Canadians ought to be able to debate public policy without one side impugning the other’s patriotism or reverence for war sacrifices. 

This project should go back to the drawing board, for a full, open, public planning process that follows well established practices for public art.

* [Correction]  The statue heights in my original post were incorrect, and have been changed in the “Inappropriate Scale” section above. Like many details about the proposed monument, the height of “Mother Canada” has been hard to pin down. As recently as last spring, project promoters put her height at 10 stories (about 33 metres), not 60 metres as I originally reported. At last month’s meeting in Ingonish, project proponents used the figure 24 metres (79 feet). I cannot find a precise figure for the Canada Bereft statue at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, but from examining photographs, it appears to be roughly 3.8 meters or 12-1/2 feet—not 20 metres as I indicated in the original post. So “Mother Canada” would be roughly six times larger than Canada Bereft, on whom she is modelled, not three times larger, as I had indicated. Apologies for the error. I am grateful to a reader North of Smokey for correcting it.

A disappointed Democrat searches for silver linings

The morning after Democrats suffered humiliating defeats in midterm elections, a Massachusetts friend who is a lifelong, liberal Democrat, licked his wounds in a Facebook post:

I would so like all the talking head experts to point out that this election was all about who voted and who did not. It was not a “wave election.” Numbers matter. Look at three critical states:

  • In North Carolina the Republican Tillis received 1.4M votes, [Democrat] Hagan 1.3M. In 2012 Obama received 2.1M and Romney 2.2.
  • In Colorado, the winning Republican received 922,977, [Democrat] Udall 843,103. Two years ago Obama won with 1.2 M votes to Romney’s 1.1M.
  • And in Iowa the same picture: the winning Republican had 586,856 and [Democrat] Braley lost with 491,669. Two years ago, Obama had 816,429 to Romney’s 727,928.

So this election was all about who voted and who didn’t. A higher percentage of Obama’s voters did not vote. A higher percentage of Republican voters did vote. Result: Republicans control the Congress. Demographics are not destiny if key constituencies do not vote.

While I have little respect for many of the Republican politicians who won yesterday ( I don’t know which is scarier: that they believe what they campaign on or that they don’t) , I am deeply troubled by the millions of decent, considerate, generous Americans who voted for them. There are of course many factors: religion, sincere conservative beliefs, too rapid change, race. But there is also the failure of the Democratic party to offer thoughtful, creative, populist proposals for real change and reform that could appeal to at least some of the voters who did turn out yesterday and voted Republican. [Contrarian’s emphasis]

John Cassidy, writing in the New Yorker, made a parallel point:

The same exit poll that showed fifty-nine per cent of respondents were dissatisfied or angry with the Obama Administration found that sixty-one per cent of respondents were angry or disappointed with Republican leaders in Congress. It found that fifty-three per cent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party and that fifty-six per cent have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party. [And those are polls of the Republican-skewing citizens who actually voted. – PD]

As for policy, the exit poll showed that the economy remains the biggest issue, by far, in voters’ minds. Jobs and wages are what people care about most, and, in both of these areas, they tended to support Democratic positions. One quick example: at the same time as they were electing a Republican senator and a Republican governor, the voters of Arkansas approved, by a two-to-one margin, a raise in the state’s minimum wage.

Yet another lining, though perhaps more green-hued than silver: While Stephen Harper seeks longer prison terms for ever smaller quantities of marijuana in Canada, the disproportionately elderly, Republican crowd that trooped to the polls in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC, voted to legalize marijuana. In Florida, a constitutional amendment to do the same thing legalize medical marijuana failed when it received only 58 percent of the vote. (It needed 60 percent.)

And in welcome bit of good news for the Nova Star Ferry, favourite whipping boy of Halifax political reporters, South Portland, Maine, also voted to legalize pot.

Road trip, anyone?

A nearly perfect campaign ad

Well, perfect as an ad for a right wing Republican senatorial candidate can be. Tomorrow’s mid-term U.S. elections seem all but certain to produce Republican majorities in both houses Congress—even as more citizens vote Democratic than Republican. This ad is funny, pointed without being mean-spirited, and it hits hot-button emotions in a way that is like to connect with Iowa voters.

I grew up in the US, and once spent most of a year travelling in a Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign plane, but the hateful right-wing turn politics has taken in that country often seems bewildering and incomprehensible. Ads like this are part of what makes it happen.

Trick or treat on Duncan St. — the 2014 numbers

West End Halifax Hallowe’en statistician Dan Conlin has updated his 18-year record of ghouls, goblins, and octopi with this year’s totals. The numbers continue to sneak upward from their 2012 trough.


The little sugar fixers began arriving at 5:58 p.m. and peaked around 7:30 p.m., with the tardiest monster straggling in at 9:50 p.m. All these times are later than usual, probably due to the pagan ritual falling on a Friday. There were “no surly, un-constumed teenagers — once a late night constant.”

Conlin’s Best-costume honours went to a Giant Eyeball with its bloody optic nerve dangling. Honourable mentions to a homemade octopus with working arms, a vending machine that dispensed real candy, a well-acted tiger, and a pair of “fetching, homemade Ghostbusters.”

The insect category included a butterfly, a caterpillar, and a ladybug. One of Conlin’s guests, a dementer from the Harry Potter novels, may be a Contrarian relative.

Meanwhile, Hallowe’en totals at Kempt Head remained steady at zero, for the fifth year in a row. Birth control is not a top-of-mind issue in our neighbourhood. More Baby Ruths for Contrarian.

A story you don’t know about Stephen McNeil

In 2007, the L’Arche community in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, known as L’Arche Homefires, embarked on an expensive, long-term project to move its work programs from various ill-suited, inaccessible locations to a single, safe, fully accessible building that would also house its administrative office.

As a first step, Homefires purchased the former Anglican Parish Hall on Main Street in the centre of town. Halifax architect Syd Dumaresq donated the design for the renovation.

The new facility will let wheelchair users with intellectual disabilities take part in L’Arche day programs that are currently inaccessible. It will free up space in two L’Arche houses, so the community can add new Core Members.

As of this September, Homefires had raised about half the money needed for the job. Three provincial departments had contributed, but not the Department of Community Services, the agency responsible for supporting people with disabilities.

Christina Tanner

Accessibility rights advocate Christina Tanner

One of the project’s most persistent advocates has been Christina Tanner, a 40-ish Core Member who has lived at L’Arche for two decades. As a wheelchair user, Tanner was unable to take part in some of Homefires’ ill-housed work programs, and she constantly pushed for new day program quarters.

Tanner also dreamed of living on her own, and in September, after seven years on a waiting list, she received approval to get her own apartment.

It will be a big change in her life. In preparation, she enrolled in a program at PeopleWorx in nearby Coldbrook, to learn skills she might need in, say, a customer service position. Her first class was scheduled to begin on a Monday in late September.

It happens that the previous Friday, Premier Stephen McNeil stopped into Homefires for a planned visit.

Now when a politician or an entertainer or a notable person of any sort comes to a L’Arche community, staff always observe how the celebrity interacts with the Core Members. Are they nervous, stiff, or patronizing? Or are they naturally engaging and friendly?

McNeil passed this test with flying colours. The 6-foot-5 premier slumped into a chair so he could engage the Core Members at eye level. Having heard about Tanner’s campaign for the new building, he specifically sought her out. Tanner spoke movingly of how much it will mean to have an accessible building. She described her search for an accessible apartment she could move into, and her excitement about the PeopleWorx course.

“He arrived early, and he stayed late,” said Ingrid Blais, Homefires’ community leader. “He was very, very warm with the Core Members. People were really impressed with his visit.”

The following Monday, Tanner was just settling into her first class at PeopleWorx when a staff member came into the classroom to say she had a phone call. Tanner was too focused on the work ahead to take the call, but she got the message later.

“Premier McNeil called to wish you good luck on the first day of your course, and to say how much he enjoyed speaking with you.”

Two weeks later, on October 16, the Department of Community Services announced a $200,000 contribution to the new building.

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