A Saturday spike in Google searchs for Jack Layton

Since the debate, we’ve kept an eye on searches for the five party leaders, using the Google Trends tool that famously notices ‘flu outbreaks before the Centres for Disease control. (Previous examples here and here.) Extreme caution is required, but look what happened to Jack Layton yesterday.

Google Trends Saturday

On its face, this means a lot of interest in Jack. I assume that’s mainly a result of the found-in story, but a friend argues otherwise:

[I]ndications from previous elections (check 2008) seem to suggest [it reflects] popularity as well, though I don’t know why. It’s quite a spike, though.

It is quite a spike, and quite a leap to assume it reflects an increase in popularity, given that it occurred in the 24 hours after the campaign took a  salacious incoming missile. Still, it’s intriguing—and noteworthy that Layton searches have consistently outpaced those for Harper, which consistently outpace those for Ignatieff, May, and Duceppe. Searches for Iggy and Harper remained flat yesterday.

Trending federal leaders in Google searches

Google’s Trend feature lets users track and compare the frequency of searches for particular words or phrases in any country, or worldwide. This chart compares searches within Canada for the full names (first and last) of the five leaders contesting the May 2 Federal Election.

Google Trends Elxn41

I used Gilles Duceppe as the standard, so you could say Stephen Harper scored 12.6 duceppes; Jack Layton 7.8 duceppes; Michael Ignatieff 7.2 duceppes; and Elizabeth May 4.0 duseppes. (Sorry about the confusing colour assignments. Google picked ’em.)

A serving of crow, best eaten promptly

After listening to wrongness guru Kathryn Schultz‘s TED talk on the counterintuitive blessings of making mistakes, it seems an opportune moment to get this out of the way. A quiet but astute observer of provincial and national politics writes:

I meant to ask you where you get your drugs from. They are obviously very powerful. I mean, how else can you explain your federal election campaign outcome prediction?

That would be this prediction:

I look forward to their stories a month from now acknowledging April 12 as the turning point when a majority slipped from Harper’s grasp, and a minority Liberal Government became a real possibility.

The post-debate polls are mixed, and mostly flat. They certainly reveal no such turning point. The only real change seems to be a startling rise in soft support for Jack Layton in the unlikely province of Quebec, where he has taken over second place in most polls. Whether this translates into many, or any, seats is an open question, since the NDP vote in the province is inefficient, in the sense of being too evenly spread among many ridings to produce majorities under Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

Another friend, a Nova Scotian by inclination currently suffering asylum in Toronto, summed up the election this way:

Isn’t this campaign awful? Layton, my MP, seems to be winning ever since the debate, heaven help us. I have a feeling anything could happen. Two events stand out.

One was the televised English debate, in which only Layton seemed authentic. The other was the Ignatieff interview with Peter Mansbridge today. For a generation over 40, Mansbridge represents something along the lines of Walter Cronkite — the guy who presides at the campfire, the embodiment of Canadian centrality. He’ll be the last one, of course, since now everyone’s a short-lived broadcaster, but to watch his cold, barely concealed contempt for the actor and nimble intellect before him was to realize that even at the top of his considerable game, Ignatieff isn’t achieving acceptance — which is what the polls seem to show, however faulty they may be: he hasn’t moved the dial much.

The other: I spent some of today rapt, watching Day 1 of SUN-TV. It’s lunatic. Prewar Germany. Sex and death. The Americanization of Canada, in the worst imaginable way. How did the country ever beget this Rosemary’s Baby of television? OK, I may exaggerate, but if it’s a taste of Harper regimes to come, we are in the wrong hands to put it gently.

If you are straining to find a silver lining in these trends, it’s this: In the main, the polls point to a Harper minority and a carbon copy of the current parliamentary seat allocation. If that happens, we could be rid of all four leaders before our next trip to the polls. Wouldn’t that be a blessing?

The clear winner: Ignatieff

Ignatieff-1Contrarian is baffled by the reaction of Ottawa-based press pundits to tonight’s debate. Most said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff failed to score against Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who, they averred, held his own. I think this is a major misreading, and the polls will quickly show it to be off base.

Try the old silent test: watch any portion of the debate with the sound turned down. Harper looked miserable, especially when forced to listen to anyone direct criticism at him. I am not comfortable commenting on politicians’ physical traits, but Harper’s expression did not serve him well, and likely reinforced voter concerns that he is cold, autocratic, mean-spirited.

Layton looked ever the happy warrior, as he always does, and many will think he won the debate. I doubt this will translate into votes, however, but if it does, it’s wonderful news for the Harper camp.

The angry looking Gilles Duceppe was occasionally effective, but is, in any case, irrelevant in English Canada.

harper-2Ignatieff looked poised, serious, concerned, and easy to imagine as prime minister—nothing like the caricature painted of him in attack ads or pack news analysis. He was effective against Harper, especially in the first half. This is the first long look most Canadians have had of him, and many will be surprised and impressed. He will benefit from low expectations.

Layton-3The press gallery are so caught up in their own memes of the invincible Harper juggernaut, and Ignatieff as flop, they missed the important event that unfolded before their eyes tonight. Too much guzzling of each others’ bathwater, boys and girls.

I look forward to their stories a month from now acknowledging April 12 as the turning point when a majority slipped from Harper’s grasp, and a minority Liberal Government became a real possibility.

Why Harper hates experts

Andrew Coyne demonstrates afresh why he is my favorite conservative columnist with this attempt to fathom Harper’s inexplicable vandalizing of the census. Money quote:

It isn’t just that the Tories habitually ignore the expert consensus on a wide range of issues—crime, taxes, climate change—it’s that they want to be seen to be ignoring it. It’s the overt antagonism to experts, and by extension the educated classes, that marks the Tory style. In its own way, it’s a form of class war.

Andrew Coyne-150You can see it in the sneering references to Michael Ignatieff’s Harvard tenure, in the repeated denunciations of “elites” and “intellectuals.” In the partial dismantling of the census, we reach the final stage: not just hostile to experts, but to knowledge…

The result is a uniquely nasty, know-nothing strain of conservatism. The Thatcher Tories, unlike their forebears, weren’t anti-intellectual: her cabinet contained some of Britain’s most fertile social and political minds. Ronald Reagan, though hardly an intellectual, did not demonize expert opinion, or pit the educated classes against the rest. Even today’s Republican party, as know-nothing as it sometimes appears, relies heavily on a network of think tanks to provide it with intellectual heft. Only in Canada have expertise and ideas been so brutally cast aside. On the level of principle, this is appalling. A society that holds education and expertise in contempt, no less than one that disdains commerce or entrepreneurship, is dying. To whip up popular hostility to intellectuals is to invite the public to jump on its own funeral pyre.

Surely it’s a stretch to argue that the American right in its current incarnation is informed by intellectual rigor. So why do I like Coyne, even — perhaps especially — when I disagree with him? A few reasons:

  • He argues from first principles, without bobbing or weaving on the fundamentals whenever some shiny bauble of political advantage for “his side” appears in the form of a clever but intellectually dishonest argument.
  • He argues honestly, never selecting or trimming facts to fit the case wants to make.
  • He forces others, most especially those who disagree with him, to reflect on the weak points in their own arguments, producing what John Stuart Mill memorably described as “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

If only the left in Canada had an equivalent interlocutor, they might be taken more seriously. Jim Stanford, I suppose, is as close as we’ve got.

In the present case, Coyne notes with approval his Maclean’s colleague John Geddes’s assessment of Harper’s mistrust of experts. Also well worth a read.

The Globe and Mail newsroom steps up

Several Globe and Mail reporters who looked looked at the leaked Colvin emails that fueled Christie Blatchford’s recent philippics against the diplomat came up with a very different picture. To begin, here’s Paul Koring:

The Harper government has blacked out large sections of relevant files handed over to the independent inquiry probing allegations of transfer to torture of detainees in Afghanistan, despite the fact that its investigators have the highest levels of national security clearance.

The heavily redacted documents… underscore the sweeping nature of the government’s efforts to keep the documentary record from the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is attempting to conduct an inquiry into allegations that Canada knowingly transferred prisoners to likely torturers in Afghanistan…

“I’m not sure ‘cover-up’ is the right word but someone is going to considerable lengths not to disclose what was known,” said Stuart Hendin, an expert in the law of war and international-rights issues…

“It’s almost impossible for any independent authority to conduct a meaningful inquiry” with documents rendered so unreadable, Mr. Hendin added. “It all suggests someone knew there were issues.”

Koring also offers a useful reminder:

Transfer to torture is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. It is also outlawed by international convention.

The whole article is must-read material.

Meanwhile, the Globe’s Campbell Clark reviews the evidence and finds three points of agreement…

  1. The government knew that abuses and torture took place in Afghan jails when the Canadian mission in Kandahar began in December of 2005.S
  2. Sometime in 2006, it became clear that detainees transferred by Canadian soldiers were not being properly tracked and monitored, meaning that Canadian officials could not know if they were being abused or tortured.
  3. Once Ottawa changed the transfer arrangements in May, 2007, serious allegations of torture of detainees captured by Canadian soldiers came to light. Colvin  warned that the reports appeared credible; the generals and senior diplomat David Mulroney said they stopped transfers several times because of serious allegations.

…and one unanswered question:

  1. Why the government take so long to change the transfer arrangements?

Finally, the Globe’s Jane Taber has two blog posts (here and here) cataloging the Harper Government’s resort to jingoism in their efforts to thwart any inquiry into diplomat Richard Colvin’s testimony that senior Canadian military and foreign affairs officials ignored warnings that low-level prisoners we were turning over to Afghan security officials were likely being tortured.

Stephen Harper’s Tories wrapped themselves in the Canadian flag in Question Period today, aggressively accusing the Liberals of being anti-soldier, anti-athlete and by default, anti-Canadian.

“When will they stop attacking these men and women who are heroes,” demanded Transport Minister John Baird, dodging a question from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

Sedated and body-snatched

michael-ignatieff-001-sYou have to wonder who in Michael Ignatieff’s camp thinks it’s smart for him to keep giving long form interviews to plummy foreign journals. First it was the New Yorker, now it’s The Guardian, a left-of-centre daily in Britain, where Iggy hosted a BBC-TV arts program for six years.

Interviewer Rachel Cooke is a tad shaky on Canadian politics—she calls Ignatieff “the man most likely to be Canada’s next prime minister,” and describes the Harper government as “on its knees”—but she does get off a few delicious zingers.

On his return to Canada:

[H]e likes to attribute his return at least as much to homesickness as to pragmatism. Honestly! It wasn’t like he disliked Canada, or anything, for all that he chose to live elsewhere, and for so long. He missed the place: the cold, the skating rinks, the desperate need for mittens in winter.

On his new book:

This is what has had [critics] holding their noses. Now that he is a politician, they say, it’s hard to see True Patriot Love as anything other than a grotesquely over-blown campaign leaflet. Ignatieff, who has the aloof manner and the half-closed, upwardly-tilting eyes of a pedigree cat, looks at me more in sorrow than in anger when I bring this up. It is so very… painful because, after all, he was a writer long before he was a politician.

On his manner:

His tone, as he tells me this, is slow, excessively careful, and completely without irony, none of which would be surprising were he a career politician. Since when did irony and politics go? But Ignatieff used to be a writer. Listening to him now, it’s as if he’s been sedated, or body-snatched, or something. He’s like a jazz man who’s lost his sense of rhythm…

[E]verything I know about Canada has been gleaned from the stories of Alice Munro, and the novels of Carol Shields. Ignatieff nods approvingly at this: “Good for you!” he says, in the manner of a kindly don to a kid from a council estate.

On his Iraq War cock-up:

[I]n Canada, his former support for Bush continues to hang over him, like a cloud of midges.

Cooke gets a few interesting quotes out of Iggy, too:

Going to meet the president of the United States is a big deal. You do get, erm, a little apprehensive. But he is a master political animal. Grips you by the elbow, tells you that he’s read your books, sits you down, makes you feel like you’re the only guy in the world. Thirty-five minutes later, you think: that was a great guy. But you don’t feel surreal. You feel you’re sitting down with an extremely intelligent, good listener who’s locked right in. A month into his presidency, and he conveyed the impression that he’s always been president. That was genuinely astounding. He was at ease in some amazing way.

“I married the right woman,” he says. “That has turned out to be the most important single fact. I’m not going to die out there if people don’t like me because there’s someone at home who thinks I’m OK.”

Hat tip: A.N.

Wafergate redux: the questions pile up – with updates

[UPDATES appended at end]

Contrarian reader SL shares our ink-stained correspondent‘s distaste for the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s malodorous apology to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. She wonders why departing Harper Communications Director Kory Teneycke included the precise timing of his decision to resign so prominently in his resignation talking points. The second paragraph of the CBC story reads:

Teneycke said he told Harper just after Canada Day and before the G8 meeting in Italy earlier this month that he was going to step down.

CANADA/That would be, uh, just before the Prime Minister did or did not consume the sacramental Host at Romeo LeBlanc’s funeral. (The timing of Teneckye’s decision appeared in the sixth paragraph of the Toronto Star story.)

If the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal’s groveling apology was brokered as part of a deal that included Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard’s efforts to woo federal shipbuilding contracts, maybe Teneycke, Harper’s third director of communications in 3-1/2 years, decided the backroom machinations could do permanent damage to his career. Or maybe not.

Another piece of speculation, promoted by CTV and the always impartial National Post, holds that the whole wafergate scandal was a Liberal set-up. As CTV’s Bob Fife put it (at 10:30 into the aforementioned video):

I’m told the Liberals passed the story on to young Jamie Irving, who is the publisher of the paper. He passed it on to the editor who put it into the paper without checking it out, and today the editor has been fired and Jamie’s father has suspended his son for 30 days, and I’m told the Prime Minister is pretty thrilled with that decision.

So T-J editor Shawna Richer is indeed out of a job, but somehow publisher Jamie Irving (that last name has a nice ring) escaped with a 30-day suspension—facts the paper neglected to include when making a clean breast of the matter. (An Irving spokesperson now acknowledges that the pair have been relieved of their duties, but still will not reveal their employment status.)

National Post columnist Seve Janke points the finger at former NB Liberal MP and current Ignatieff staffer Paul Zed based on, well, zero evidence (“I’m not saying Paul Zed had anything to do with this”), except that Zed “is related by marriage to the Irving family, having been married to Judith Irving, the granddaughter of K.C. Irving.”

The operative words there are “having been.” The couple is divorced, so perhaps Paul is no longer whispering sweet nothings into Judy’s ear, or Cousin Jamie’s for that matter. Nevertheless, Janke wants Ignatieff “to direct Paul Zed to uncover the identities of those did the deed and who had knowledge of it.”

Oh my, my, my. Does the Post actually pay for this crap?

For what it’s worth, Maclean’s Magazine’s Kady O’Malley reports that Doug Finlay, the Conservative Party’s National Director of Political Operations, is flogging the same line:

Can Michael Ignatieff assure Canadians that no Liberal staffer, executive or advisor contacted Jamie Irving or Shawna Richer regarding the Prime Minister’s acceptance of communion at Romeo LeBlanc’s funeral?

So O’Malley put the question to Ignatieff’s office. Response:

This is nonsense. We didn’t record the videotape–CPAC did. And as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Canadians need only look at the video on You Tube to see what happened.

Meanwhile, LifeSiteNews.com, a Toronto-based Campaign Life website, suspects Liberal blogger-strategist (and Chretien acolyte) Warren Kinsella‘s hand at work, noting that Kinsella has apparently changed the time-stamp on his blog to make it appear that he posted a refernce to the original T-J story somewhat later in the morning (9:53 am) of July 8 than was actually the case (6:53 am), the implication being that Kinsella is trying to obscure the fact he had advance knowledge of the story. (Pretty bad when you have to turn away from our august papers of record to an anti-abortion website for actual reporting.)

No question, Kinsella has aggressively promoted the alleged scandal, drawing “the faint outlines of a link between the shipbuilding announcement and, hours later, mincing, shit-eating apology,” which he describes as “fundamentally false.”

Meanwhile, what the hell is this?

Radio Canada takedown

A copyright claim by Radio-Canada? CBC spokesperson Angus MacKinnon confims to Maclean’s:

Radio-Canada requested that the footage be removed from YouTube due to copyright infringement (something it does on a regular basis). It was deemed that no ‘fair dealing’ exception was applicable in this case… [O]ur policy on fair dealing with regard to YouTube-d material [is] judged on a case-by-case basis.

Excuse me? Since when is it part of a news-gathering organization’s role to block public access to primary research sources, especially when those sources were created with taxpayers’ money? Since Harper became PM, perhaps? How much faith can we now place in Radio-Canada’s coverage of the current copyright debate, where Crown copyright is a key issue? Suckholing to the government of the day has long been endemic within the CBC, but rarely has a Mother Corp flack acknowledged it so brazenly.

Happily, Canadians can still see video evidence of Harper’s nontransubstantiation here, here, and here. The videos show pretty conclusively that, whatever Harper may have done with the Saviour’s virtual Body, he didn’t consume It promptly.

Here’s a novel idea: Could someone in our nation’s Parliamentary Press Gallery separate their puckered lips from Harper’s posterior long enough to do some actual reporting? Or does endlessly opining on the terminal  inadequacy of any possible pretender to Harper’s throne keep you too busy for honest work?


Scarborough blogger Jeff Jedras parses the T-J apology in meticulous detail, pointing out additional oddities and inconsistencies.

The apology exonerates the reporters whose bylines appeared on the story on grounds that the inaccurate material was added in the editing process without their knowledge.  But the story, which appeared five days after the funeral, was all about the wafer issue.

This is a daily newspaper, so they’d covered the funeral story already. So clearly the original, untainted story the two reporters wrote was more than just “there was a state funeral a week ago.” That’s not a story. The story they wrote had to centre around Harper accepting communion, was that right or not, and when did he consume it? Then some things were inserted to beef that up that were apparently troublesome.

So which part of the story is true, and which fabricated? That’s the central problem with the Irvings’ highly selective account of the events: we can’t tell. As Jedras puts it:

[T]he Telegraph Journal’s apology doesn’t really change the original story, whether you think it’s a dumb or newsworthy story or not: Harper accepted communion when he shouldn’t have, and took his sweet time consuming it, when he should have consumed it right away. All they’re retracting is “senior priest wants answers” and “he pocketed it.”

There’s more. It’s worth reading.


Blogger Stephen Taylor, who bills himself as a scientist and political analyst, and who organized rallies to protest last December’s aborted coalition government, also weighs in. Taylor notes the massive character of the edits that would have been required to sustain the apology’s odd claim that, although the central facts of the story were wrong, the  reporters who wrote it bore no responsibility for the erroneous material. Then he adds an intriguing twist:

I’ve learned from a source close to one of the journalists that at least one of them may have gone so far as to seek advice and consider a lawsuit against the newspaper if the paper did not retract the story and absolve (no pun intended) the journalists of fabricating a significant portion the article.

That would be consistent with the highly unusual lengths the apology went to in exonerating the reporters.

Curiouser and curiouser. Too bad that journalism is the only public institution journals and journalists deem off limits.


Contrarian reader Justin Ling wonders:

One wonders why ‘investigating’ this non-issue (a) counts as journalism or (b) matters to anyone but the media. If he pocketed it, he did so because he did not want to offend Catholics by refusing the wafer. Shouldn’t we be focusing on the other host of issues out there surrounding Mr. Harper?

Well, of course the original story wasn’t important. It was amusing and ironic, and treated as such by the media. But then the Prime Minister blew a gasket, and the CBC invoked copyright to bar public access to the video evidence, and the Telegraph-Journal issued this astonishing and hard-to-credit apology (just as its owners queued up for lucrative shipbuilding contracts), and the PM’s director of communications resigned a year into the job. And finally, there’s the Ottawa press corps’s disinclination to look into the inconsistencies.


Contrarian reader WT observes:

Whatever else there is to be said about the TJ wafergate apology, it must rank as one of the great pooh-eaters of all time.


Mervin Hollingsworth of Saskatoon thinks we’re off our trolley:

Do you know how silly your report reads? Who cares what Harper did with the Host. It is between him and his God. Try to move on to something that all Canadians care about. This is pure speculation and garbage and a waste of everybody’s time. It truly must be a slow summer.

To be clear, which I thought I had been, I don’t give a flying fig what SH did with the Host. I care about the fallout, which reeks of dishonesty.

A plague on all their holier-than-thou houses

Screenshots: coincidental tweets.
Screenshot: coincidental tweets.

Contrarian has fully recovered from the fleeting (and uncharacteristic) sympathy we felt for Prime Minister Harper over the Case of the (Allegedly) Missing Host. We hereby revert to our customary stance: a plague on all their holier-than-thou houses.

Let’s review: A  Catholic vicar general complained that the Prime Minister has committed not just sin but scandal by failing to consume the host during holy communion at Romeo LeBlanc’s funeral. When the press dutifully reported this, PM spokesman Dimitri Soudas (he of the misattributed Ignatieff non-quote) insisted Harper had indeed consumed the host, whereupon more protectors of the faith piled on to condemn the Prime Minister, a non-member of the One True Church, for partaking of the Eucharist in the first place.

Harper, who takes care to conceal his Evangelical Christian beliefs (except when writing memos to Preston Manning recommending US-style religious wedge polities), seemed caught in a double bind: Damned if he didn’t; damned if he did.

So how does he wriggle out of this sanctimonious trap?

With even greater sanctimony, of course, directed at… the media. Reporting this loony-toon debate was “a low moment in journalism,” he said. Oh yeah. A bunch of antediluvian Christianists get into a doctrinal dog fight, and it’s all the media’s fault. In the land of theocrats, the only remedy for excessive sanctimony is even greater sanctimony.