Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Alberta To Waste Taxpayer $ on Frivolous Lawsuit

So, yesterday, Jason Kenney announced that Alberta was going to sue the Federal Government for "trampling on provincial jurisdiction" with the Emergency Measures Act ... all of a few days after the Alberta government actually petitioned the Federal Government for assistance. 

Now, what I want to discuss here isn't the nitty-gritty of the legal position the province is taking, or how it's own actions undermine the credibility of their actions - that will be a discussion in a later post once the dust has settled, and I have some time to spend actually dissecting the arguments involved and the various bits of law.  Today I want to talk about the politics of Kenney's maneuvers and what a lot of this really represents. 

Kenney is a political creature first and foremost. In other words everything that he does is filtered through a political lens. Absolutely nothing he does is done "in good faith" - if he doesn't see a political gain in it, he won't do it. So why file a lawsuit that has little chance of success, and rationally makes little sense? 

Let's look at the political landscape that Kenney sees, and try to understand how his actions (or lack of them) are designed to play to a political audience. 

In Alberta, Kenney faces a dire political situation. His polling numbers - both personally and politically have tanked. He's being outpaced by the NDP that he defeated in 2019. Even in typically hardline conservative ridings, polling has shifted from "Deep Blue" (would vote conservative regardless) to "Swinging Orange". Discontent within both the caucus and the broader UCP as a whole has triggered a Leadership Review this spring.

For Kenney personally, the situation in Alberta looks quite dire. Federally, it's a somewhat different picture. The current Liberal government is a minority government, making it vulnerable to attack on any number of procedural tracks. The LPC's numbers are fairly flat, and the CPC is in the midst of a leadership campaign having just given Erin O'Toole the boot. Leadership campaigns are often good for a few points of support in polling. 

On top of that, with Canada emerging (hopefully) from a 2 year long pandemic, the government's finances are in a shambles, the world's economy is being hammered by supply chain issues and inflation at levels not seen in decades. To put it kindly, there is ample opportunity for the opposition parties to go after the governing Liberals.

So, what does the political calculation look like for Kenney? 

First, let's recognize that the Alberta Government took a very soft approach to the border blockade at Coutts - allowing a relatively small contingent of malcontents to close the border down for almost 3 full weeks, costing the Alberta and Canadian economy millions each day, and feeding inflation further - increasing the cost of goods and services to most Albertans.  Government MLAs showed up at the blockade (with seemingly no consequences afterwards), even when the government ministers were starting to actually condemn the blockade (after 2 weeks of utter silence...).  

There were also talk of secret "back channel" negotiations with the Alberta government about ending the blockade. Although the reality is that the blockade didn't end until the RCMP moved in, and arrested 13 of the protestors on weapons and conspiracy charges ... an event which happened on the same day that the Federal Government invoked the powers in the Emergency Measures Act.

For those that remember, Kenney made a big deal about "stopping blockades of critical infrastructure" with Bill 1 - The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act back in 2019/2020.  Yet, when it comes to this blockade of what is unquestionably a critical border crossing for Alberta, his government did nothing. They sat on their collective hands and did nothing except wag their fingers in the direction of the protestors.

On the Coutts blockade, it's pretty clear that Kenney saw this as an opportunity to poke the Federal Government in the eye with a stick. If he had any interest in doing his job as a Premier of a province, the lifespan of the Coutts blockade would have been measured in days not weeks. His thinking likely had far more to do with his hatred for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals than the affairs of Alberta. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenney's government has appeared to be balky and inconsistent. One day trying to appease the libertarian faction that refuses to believe there's a real threat even as hospitals fill up to the breaking point, the next being forced by public outcry to take action to mitigate things. Then lifting restrictions too soon, and triggering the next major wave of illness and death.  

Then there's the rebellion brewing throughout his party, with a significant percentage of riding associations pushing to move the leadership review up in the most recent dust-up in caucus.  Of course that was quelled by the party executive refusing to act on it, and more recently moving to displace uncooperative constituency association boards with more compliant leadership. 

Right now, Kenney is bleeding in the water politically.  His caucus is pissed off with him over numerous matters, and there have been several attempted revolts. The membership of his party is pissed off with him, and most importantly, the public at large is pissed off with him. 

Kenney is one of those people that has to have an adversary that he can attack. Without an adversary, he's lost and really quite unable to unify people around a cause, and tends to become his own adversary. This lawsuit gambit is nothing more than attempting to direct focus away from his agenda and mismanagement of Alberta. He's chosen his default opponent - a Prime Minister whom he hates reflexively because the conservatives have spent decades vilifying the name 'Trudeau'. 

The odds of this lawsuit going anywhere substantive, or even presenting an interesting opportunity to review Federal - Provincial jurisdiction in the midst of an emergency are practically nil. This is never going to be more than a prop that he uses at the lectern to quell the dissent in his party.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

On The Emergency Measures Act

If you've been paying attention at all, you are aware that the Federal Government has invoked the Emergency Measures Act to deal with the "Convoy". In this writer's opinion, this decision came a week late, and let me explain why. 

First, as much as the organizers have tried to make a carnival atmosphere around this protest - bouncy castles, hot tubs, bbq's etc to be found everywhere in the occupation zone, that is little more than a fa├žade cover for what's really going on.  

Second, this is no ordinary protest where a bunch of people get pissed off about an issue and go and hold a rally on the steps of the Parliament buildings. Those protests have a pattern of organization and attendance that seldom lasts more than a few days at most. 

Structurally, there are several elements of this "protest" that indicate it is something else entirely. These range from blockading streets with heavy trucks to create what amounts to an occupation zone, setting up what are clearly military-styled bases for logistics and supply, coordinating actions with other units of occupation which had set themselves up at border crossings, and using sophisticated processes to raise funds to sustain the protest. 

These are major differentiators that show us that a level of organization and planning not normally associated with peaceful protest is at play here. I'm not saying that organization and planning don't happen with other protests.  It certainly does. However, it doesn't normally include this level of sophistication. 

We are already finding that there are connections among these protestors that are very concerning. Connections to white nationalist groups that want to start what they call a "race war" to found their bizarre idea of a white homeland (Vanilla ISIS anybody?).  Now, I'm not saying that the majority of the protestors _are_ connected to these various groups and movements.  I suspect most of them are what I would call "useful idiots" who got sucked into the emotional high of participating in something big.  They're being used by the core organizers as "cannon fodder".  They will bear the brunt of direct enforcement in the form of fines and criminal charges for harassment, property damage, and whatever other offences are happening within the occupation zone. 

However, let's not kid ourselves about the core organization of this "protest".  Their goal was never about "ending vaccine mandates" - that was merely a pretext.  The "MOU" that came out as they were driving into Ottawa made it quite clear that the goals had shifted to the overthrow of the government similar to that attempted in the Jan 6, 2021 assault on the US legislative buildings

Looking a little closer at this protest on the ground, it shows a disturbing shift. First, on the surface it looks a bit like the "Yellow Vest Convoy" a couple of years ago (complete with some of the same figures central to organizing it).  However, it also shifts in some very concerning ways.  First, while the the Yellow Vest Convoy certainly used heavy trucks as a symbol, this protest shifted to using them essentially as modern day siege warfare tools. Setting up logistics and supply bases at the edges of what became the occupation zone in downtown Ottawa is another hint of the emergence of a paramilitary/military mindset entering the picture. While they created a "carnival like" atmosphere in the occupation zone, they have actually engaged in a form of psychological warfare by using their vehicle horns to create a non-stop noise zone. 

Then there is quite a rogues gallery of people connected to organizing this "protest" (Seriously - read that article). They all hang out on the political far right, and move even further right when opportunity arises, but what's notable to me is the range of skillsets that they bring to the table. I do not think that is accidental, nor do I think that the connections to elected politicians are accidental. 

Then there is the funding for this thing. People started getting suspicious when the campaign on GoFundMe raised nearly $10M.  Let's be clear here - $10M is not chump change, and the GoFundMe campaign racked that up in weeks.  The quarterly donations to the CPC don't reach that kind of number even when they're doing well. When it shifted to a less well known Christian Evangelical fundraising site called "GiveSendGo", nearly $8M was raised in even less time. A data leak following a hack of GiveSendGo has made it possible to start building a picture of where this money is coming from.  Then the protest organization shifted to the much more shadowy world of cryptocurrency.  

Now ... does this sound like a "perfectly normal peaceful protest" to you?  Because to me, there's a ton of red flags going up here that say there are actors involved whose intentions are anything but. 

The Federal Government allowed this protest to go for a long time (3+ weeks) before moving to invoke emergency powers, and really this happened in large part because the US started pressuring over the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge (in particular) as a result of the economic impact of shutting down the automotive trade sector. 

Fair enough.  At 3 weeks in, there had been little to no attempt on the part of the conservative-led provinces to intervene in the protest and start to restore order. Premier Ford in Ontario eventually did declare a state of emergency, but even then refused to ask the Federal Government to assist with intervention. 

I suspect that the conservative politicians in Canada saw this as a golden opportunity to force Trudeau's hand into using the Emergency Measures Act.  So they quietly let Canada burn, and did virtually nothing. They were likely hoping that in doing so, the Federal Government would move with the military, and they would have all sorts of nasty video of the military moving in to quell the protests.  

Does this meet the standard set out in the Emergency Measures Act? While the Canadian Civil Liberties Association thinks it's a massive overreach, I think there is more than ample evidence that shows this goes beyond normal levels of civil protest and disobedience and has moved into being an attack on Canada itself. When the protestors themselves publish a document essentially demanding the duly elected government resign en masse, we have to consider that there is a reasonable probability that this protest represents a much more significant threat to Canada and its government than appears on the surface. 

I suspect that as investigators start digging into the financial and organizational structures behind this, they are going to find a lot of very ugly things connecting this "protest" to some of the darker corners of conservative political activism, and it will likely as not be very problematic for some very highly placed conservative organizers - both in Canada and abroad. Conservatism is one thing, fascists are another matter altogether - and aligning with fascists is a danger to all of us.

Lastly, as a nation, Canada cannot justifiably allow a part, or the whole, of a city to be held under siege for any length of time. It has a duty to its citizens in such matters that requires action. The failure of local and provincial authorities to act on this threat effectively earlier made it a federal problem. The investigation into what happened needs to inspect not only the actions and organization of the protestors, but the actions (or lack thereof) of police, municipal authorities, and provincial governments as well.  Those who were willingly complicit in this debacle must be held to account - regardless of how prominent they are, or the public positions they may hold. 

In the meantime, we get to watch the CPC attempt to play "gotcha" politics with Trudeau in the House of Commons, while they madly scramble in the backrooms to destroy the evidence connecting them to the protest itself. 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

A Few Thoughts On The "Freedom Convoy" Protests

I'm not going to spend a great deal of time reviewing the chronology and activities of this "protest" - it's all been documented to death in the media.  What I want to do today is consider what this event really is/was about.  

As with the "Yellow Vest Convoy" a couple of years ago, this started out with a small band of loudmouth malcontents making a fuss over something they either didn't understand, or couldn't be bothered to understand. As their rhetoric escalated, the inevitable collection of hangers-on and opportunists popped up and started to take their places in the choir.

In this case, we got a not-so-delightful collection of really terrible people joining the protest group, and they got even worse quite quickly. By the time the first waves of the Convoy were leaving their home provinces, it was quite clear that various white supremacist groups had joined the convoy, and the rhetoric was shifting from ugly to violent. 

At the outset, I think most people expected a noisy weekend in Ottawa, which would then disperse relatively quietly.  Had that actually been what happened, I think most Canadians would shrug and get on with their lives. 

That isn't what happened. Instead, the "protestors" dug in, and basically occupied downtown Ottawa.  They set up several supply and logistics camps and continued their protest at the expense of the citizens of Ottawa who live and work in the downtown. The demands morphed. Yes, there was a contingent yammering on about vaccines and mandates, but some much uglier stuff started emerging. Racists started adding their twist to the messaging, people were being harassed for wearing masks in public places, the Prime Minister was threatened, and so on.

In parallel with this shift, there are several concerning developments that emerged, and they need to be paid close attention to. 

First is the money supporting the convoy.  Fundraisers on both GoFundMe, and GiveSendGo, both racked up donations in the $10M range.  That's an astonishing amount of money to raise in less than a month for an event taking place in Canada. Even the Conservative Party of Canada's annual fundraising machine only raises that amount every 3 months (and they have what is widely acknowledged to be one of the most effective fundraising machines in Canada).  For a single fundraiser to raise that kind of money in less than a month is both shocking and suspicious. Eventually, it came out that a lot of money had flowed into those fundraisers from the US and elsewhere abroad. 

Then the organizers let drop that they were also receiving significant funds via cryptocurrency transfers.  The amounts involved there are not known to the public, but that's in part because at this point cryptocurrency remains what amounts to an unregulated financial instrument, and there is no requirement for reporting and monitoring it the way that we track other financial transactions. 

The financing of this "protest" is a giant red flag. There are clearly actors at play here who are engaging directly. Politely, this is 'foreign interference' - and we need to understand the scope, intent, and actors involved. 

The second aspect of this "protest" is the pivot from "protesting vaccine mandates" to various occupation tactics:  ranging from blockading major border crossings to so-called "bear hug" demonstrations like slow-rolling through major transportation thoroughfares in cities like Calgary. These are all well coordinated, clearly well funded, events. They are also events which are being used to test out tactics which will be used later to intimidate people. 

Third in my list is the actions of various politicians in giving this "protest" air.  In particular, we have numerous high profile CPC politicians meeting with the "protestors", as well as giving the entire enterprise profile in their social media feeds. Whether it has been Pierre Poilievre's full throated support of the "truckers", or numerous other MPs wandering amongst the protesters handing out coffee and having their pictures taken with swastikas in the background, there can be no question that the federal conservatives have supported this from the beginning.  

The conservative premiers have all, without exception, dutifully done exactly nothing to curb these demonstrations until they became a potential political liability. Jason Kenney has been particularly awful in dog-whistling to the protestors at the same time as he tries desperately to save his political hide in a leadership review later this spring.  Then we get Ford, who sat on both hands quite firmly until blockades at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor threatened to bring the auto industry to its knees.  Moe in Saskatchewan has been madly trying to keep up with Kenney's pandering, delivering inconsistent to awful messaging, and so on. 

To be abundantly clear, our conservative politicians have seen this as a "political opportunity", with statements as blatant as Candice Bergen's comments to former CPC leader O'Toole: "Let's make it Trudeau's problem".  

This isn't an accident.  This is the conservatives playing stupid games - and the people who pay the price for it will be you and I. It has long been mused that "If conservatives decide they can't win at the ballot box, they will not abandon conservatism, they will abandon democracy". The movement itself has decided that the time to abandon democracy has come, and what is happening in Canada right now stems from the Jan 6, 2021 assault on the US legislature.  

I don't know if you remember, but the "Jan 6" attack on the legislature also was going to have parallel attacks on various state legislatures. Those kind of fizzled out and didn't really happen, but they form a basis for what we are now experiencing in Canada.  

The main protest formed a beachhead at the Federal Parliament, and then dug in and created a couple of base camps that serve out coordination and logistics support.  From there, protestors were able to make themselves very hard to remove from Ottawa without actual military intervention as well as to use various social media networks to coordinate with groups elsewhere and attack the economy by blockading key border crossings.

Jan 6 attempted a simple, direct assault on the legislature - it failed in its stated goal, but it did show that it was relatively easy to rile up a big enough mob to overwhelm normal security measures. The occupation of Ottawa leveraged that success, and used it to set up an encampment from which logistics and communications could be executed. They used that to test numerous tactics - blockading borders, flooding 911 call systems, etc.  

It's the attack on the economy that's the major expansion of tactics here. In the past, as political movements shift from politics to terrorism, they have tended to engage in tactics such as bombing, but that doesn't do much more than create a protracted violent conflict. However, in today's world, it's a far more effective tactic to block the borders up, in part because the economies of Canada and the USA are so intertwined.  Make no mistake - this tactic will be used again. 

The particular failure of civil authorities - in particular the police - to shut these "protests" down after their first weekend is an issue that needs to be examined in much more depth. As is the apparent complicity between various conservative premiers and these protestors. While political self-interest is always a part of the calculations, the responsibility of politicians is not merely to those that they agree with, but to the well-being of all. The right to protest does not grant anyone the unfettered right to fuck up other people's lives for an extended period of time. 

There are already those who argue that this represents the rise of a "police state", where the police themselves decide what they are (or are not) willing to do. There is merit to this perspective, but I think it's far more important to acknowledge the similarities with the rise of fascist governments in 1930s Europe. The parallels are disturbing to say the least, frightening in many other dimensions. 

The Federal Government needs to launch a full scale investigation into these events.  That investigation has to look not only at the actions of the protestors, but it must pull back the curtain on the backers as well.  The full capabilities of CSIS/CSEC to track things through the cybersphere will be essential, as will collaboration with aligned agencies in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere. It's easy to point at Putin and see him has the central puppet master, but I think at this stage we need to figure out the shape of the network that is actually doing things. That will lead us, almost inevitably to numerous very powerful, wealthy people who control things like newspapers and other media.  We must be prepared for that. 

We cannot simply look at this as "just a protest".  It isn't, and it never was. This has been a coordinated, funded attack on Canada, and Canada's government. It cannot be ignored.

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...