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Dispatch from the Front Line: Welcome back People of The Line!
The News Gods were kind: now back to Premier Crazy Pants, Greenbelt shenanigans, Liberal misinformation, and the latest drama from the Good Doctor Peterson
Happy New Year, Line readers, and welcome to 2023 — a year which we absolutely guarantee* will be smooth, uneventful, and all around wonderful.
We had a great time off since we last spoke, but the offices are opening, the kids are back at school and the news, alas, is gearing up again. So we must get back to work, too. We agreed to start our first week back with a dispatch to get everyone caught up, and then we'll run as normal for the rest of the week, and here on out.
Before we jump into it, just a brief word of thanks to the news gods. We offered respectful prayers as we headed off onto holiday — please, lords of the news, don't drop anything big and exciting on us over the holidays. Nothing we'd have to write about it. And the news gods were merciful. They have our thanks.
With that behind us, on with the dispatch. Enjoy our meeting video!
And there’s a podcast version, as always, if that’s more your thing.
We start with a bit of a catch up on federal politics. The last few weeks have been mostly quiet on that front. We only noted a few items (and yes, readers, we saw the reports about all the money the Liberals are spending on outside consultants, but don't have anything to add yet beyond confirming we've read them and aren't shocked).
The first item worth mentioning: remember how back in November and December the prime minister and the public safety minister, Messrs. Trudeau and Mendicino, were dismissing any suggestion that they were banning hunting rifles as hype? Or Conservation misinformation? When they were saying that the suggestions were false, and those making them were sowing confusion?
Well! Funny thing happened over the break. The PM, in his year-end interviews, is now admitting that the suggestions were, in fact, right.
Take this, for example, from his sit down with CTV News (our emphasis added):
"Our focus now is on saying okay, there are some guns, yes, that we're going to have to take away from people who were using them to hunt," Trudeau said. "But, we're going to also make sure that you're able to buy other guns from a long list of guns that are accepted that are fine for hunting, whether it's rifles or shotguns. We're not going at the right to hunt in this country. We are going at some of the guns used to do it that are too dangerous in other contexts."
We'll skip much analysis here. We think this is dumb policy, and we've explained why before, but it's at least an acknowledgement of what their policy actually is, and very obviously was since the very time it was announced back in November. There's no room for any confusion or doubt here. The Liberals spent weeks crying LIES! and MISINFORMATION! at people who were accurately describing what they were doing.
You can support the policy being proposed — again, we don't, but that's fine — but you can't excuse this. The PM and the public safety minister were lying to the public. That should matter.
We'll have more to say on this later. But for now, that's the update: The Liberals now admit they're trying to do the dumb thing they spent weeks insisting they weren't doing.
This is, incredibly, a kind of progress.
Related somewhat to the above: a smart friend of The Line, who cannot be named as this stuff is their day job, told us weeks ago to watch for a schism in the NDP over this issue. For the Liberals, their dumb policy proposal still makes political sense. Well, it probably does — we have some suspicion that the LPC has maxed out the electoral utility of hammering on guns, and may now face more blowback than benefit, but time will tell. Still, the proposal may make sense for the Liberals: they are utterly dependent on urban and suburban women to survive, and the dumb gun proposal apparently resonates with them. And that's true for part of the NDP's base, too, but, critically, our friend reminded us, not for all of it.
The federal NDP of today is a strange creature. It's partly very much a party of the deepest, wokest downtown ridings, but there's also a big contingent of Dipper MPs from places like northern Ontario and rural parts of Manitoba and British Columbia. Cracking down on guns just plays differently there. When the policy was first announced, this division among NDP MPs didn't take long to come into public view. Jagmeet Singh, himself very much of the NDP's woke urban contingent, was quiet for a few days before very clearly and obviously pivoting to oppose the proposed expansion of the banned firearms. The Liberals can afford to write off their last remaining rural, non-urban MPs. The NDP simply can't.
And, our friend told us — again, this was weeks ago, right at the outset — if Singh didn't get the message pronto, the party would fracture over this ... and that Wab Kinew, leader of the Manitoba NDP, would be the leader of the rebels.
We aren't experts on Kinew, or in internal NDP power dynamics, so we simply thanked our friend for the tip and analysis, and assured them we'd keep an eye on it. And we did.
And wouldja look at that.
Anyway. As of now the Liberals are still talking tough on the amendment. But they need at least one party to work with them to push it forward. We can't say for sure, but we wonder if the Liberals are comfortable talking tough about it because they now accept they can't push it forward — at least not any time soon. The Bloc seems wary of getting saddled with this and the NDP, indeed, might split over this issue if Singh were to try.
So we'll keep watching this, and particularly Mr. Kinew, who may indeed covet Mr. Singh’s job.
To our friend: you were right. Thanks for the tip.
A few more quick points re: federal politics.
First, something jumped out at us over the holidays. Our news consumption absolutely tanks when we are off on break. You’ll have to forgive us that, but the news is our job, and when we’re on holiday, reading the news feels like work. So we might glance at a paper when things are quiet, but that’s about it. Even so, we noted a common theme in some stories we were reading: the federal government is worried about misinformation.
Well, yeah. We are too. Everyone should be. Misinformation is a huge and complicated topic, particularly during times of plague and war, but very few reasonable people seem to deny that there is a real problem of mis/disinfo in the West. Some is being generated organically by people who are stupid but not ill intended. Some is being deliberately created and spread by our enemies to destabilize us. It’s a problem in either case, and it’s all be being hyper-accelerated by social media algorithms no one fully understands. These are problems we all agree exist.
Buuuuuut … there’s a different problem here. We just don’t trust our Liberals to be effective at combating it. Hell, they deal mis/disinfo with the best of them whenever it suits them. You can’t claim to be anti-misinformation champions while actively misleading the public on multiple files. You just can’t.
See the gun admission above. The Liberals have “gaslighted” the public, in the words of expert Michael Geist, on their plans to regulate online speech. They were less than honest about the circumstances around their invoking the Emergencies Act. Indeed, Liberal misinformation is such a recurring problem that Line contributor Peter Menzies actually made a point of writing a whole column a few months ago where he went down a list of howlers the Liberals had told the public. Oh, and remember a few years ago, when the PMO made such a big deal of insisting they’d never heard about allegations of sexual misconduct being levelled at Canada’s top soldier, when their own internal emails were openly referencing the allegations?
And, of course, who can forget “The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false.” That’s a thing the PM told Canadians. As it turned out, the allegations in the Globe story that morning were true!
But our favourite? It’s petty, we know, but it still makes us giggle: the Liberals once released a summary of a telephone call between Justin Trudeau and then-Conservative-leader Erin O’Toole. The readout revealed that Mr. Trudeau had raked Mr. O’Toole over the coals over “misinformation” — there’s that word again — being spread by Conservative MPs.
Unfortunately, the telephone call actually hadn’t happened. It was scheduled, but hadn’t yet occurred. Technically, the Liberal readout was itself misinformation.
You can laugh about that, as we have, but it’s not a laughing matter. The facts in evidence are depressingly clear: the Liberals only worry about misinformation and disinformation when it’s other people doing it.
It’s hard to justify giving proven liars more power to declare what is and is not true.
But there’s another interesting problem here, and it’s a problem for the Liberals themselves: while we’re perfectly prepared to believe that a lot of their lies are just craven and opportunistic, we suspect that a lot of the time, they’ve guzzled so much of their own Koolaid that they believe that if they say it, it must be true.
Arrogance is the Liberal party’s kryptonite. They truly believe they’re the smartest people in the room. That’s a recipe for overconfidence at the best of times — if you truly believe that you’re smarter than everyone else, it’s hard to consider that your critics have a good point. On top of this natural arrogance, let’s add a sincere belief that they’re surrounded by misinformation and must combat it. Already convinced they’re smarter, and they’re now also increasingly convinced that a lot of their critics are simply lying.
How much harder is this zeal for quashing false information (except their own) going to make it for the Liberals to admit they’re wrong when they actually are? We don’t know. But we’d politely suggest that they, as a party, are already far too prone to giving themselves the benefit of the doubt when what they really ought to do is take a few long, hard looks into mirrors. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll make sure “That’s misinformation!” doesn’t become just their new favourite way to deflect criticism they ought to take seriously.
We doubt they will, though. So buckle up.
So how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? According to data collected by the fitness app Strava, you have about 10 more days till you bail on that new exercise regimen. Other studies suggest that all your other promises to yourself — to eat better, work harder, get a hobby, quit drinking or smoking, save money, or otherwise make yourself into a better person — will be shelved by the end of the month.
So why not cut to the chase, and quit trying to do all that stuff for yourself, and instead do something quick, simple, effective and rewarding?
Give some money to charity.
Not only will you be doing something good for society, but you’ll be one of the increasingly few Canadians who see that as a worthwhile way of directing a portion of their wealth.
Each year before Christmas, the Fraser Institute releases its Generosity Index, which measures the extent and depth of charitable giving in Canada. They measure the extent by looking at what percentage of tax filers give to charity, while the depth of giving is marked by the percentage of aggregate income that is donated to charity. By both measures, using 2020 tax year data, the Index confirmed the 20-year trend of Canadians steadily becoming considerably less generous.
Nationally, only 19 per cent of tax filers gave anything at all to charity in 2020. While it is a very slight drop from the 19.1 per cent who gave in 2019, it is down from 23.1 per cent a decade earlier. Similarly, the percentage of aggregate income given to charity dropped from 0.60 per cent in 2010 to 0.49 per cent in 2020, a significant drop from 0.53 per cent the year before. This is the lowest amount since at least 2000.
There are, of course, wide variations across the country. Manitobans are the most generous people in Canada in both the extent (20.6 per cent of filers) and depth (0.73 per cent of aggregate income) of their giving. In their extent of giving, Ontario (19.0), Quebec (18.7) and P.E.I. (18.5) and Alberta and B.C. (tied at 17.7) round out the top six provinces. As for depth, Manitobans, British Columbians (0.64 per cent) and Albertans (0.61 per cent) gave the highest percentage of their aggregate income to charity.
At the other end of the table, the Atlantic provinces as usual come out looking relatively stingy. Only 16 per cent of filers in Newfoundland and Labrador gave to charity in 2020, the lowest in the country, narrowly beating out New Brunswick (16.1 per cent) and Nova Scotia (17.0). But when it comes to the depth of giving, Quebecers continue to be Canada’s Grinches, giving only 0.24 per cent of their income to charity, lower even than Yukon at 0.26 (residents of the Territories all tend to be very low givers), with Newfoundland and Labrador the next lowest at 0.30 per cent.
One additional measure the report tracks but which isn’t included in the formal Generosity Index is the average dollar value of each donation. Albertans lead the way here, with donors giving an average of $2,883, followed by British Columbians at $2,752. Quebecers, as is their habit, give the lowest average donations in the country by a longshot, at $840, which is less than half the national average. The next closest province is Newfoundland and Labrador, at $1,186.
A few things are worth noting about this. First, while the general pattern of giving is consistent across Canada from year to year, the inexorable trend is downward everywhere. Second, it is striking how little Canadians give to charity compared to Americans, who give almost double as much of their aggregate income to charity.
It is worth pointing out that in many ways, higher taxation substitutes for private giving, and a larger state provides services that in other places are offered through charities. And also, there are many forms of giving that aren’t captured by charitable receipts and tax returns.
Yet while they decline to speculate as to what is driving both the low levels and the steady decline, the Fraser Institute report concludes by drily noting that “This decline in generosity in Canada undoubtedly limits the ability of Canadian charities to improve the quality of life in their communities and beyond.”
We at The Line don’t presume to tell our readers how they should spend their money (except subscribing to us!), but we would just point out once again that for the most part, Canadian charities do important, vital work. They are a crucial part of our broader social safety net, providing valuable services to Canadians in need in areas the government won’t or can’t reach. If you find yourself this week with a bit of the post-holiday blues, with flagging spirits and a dragging enthusiasm for the gym or that new hobby, we encourage all our readers, no matter their religion, creed, ethos or worldview, to make a quick little donation to a charity of their choice.
Pinning this particular news item for future reference: we would like to draw our fine readers' attention to the latest drama a-brewing between Ottawa and Alberta. You may recall that the federal government committed in 2019 "to advance legislation to support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low-carbon global economy." The short-hand for this pending legislation is "Just Transition," and Alberta — ever eager for a fight with the feds — is already framing this as a dolled-up plan to shut down the oil and gas sector.
Never mind that most of the rhetoric around "Just Transition" to date has actually centred around phasing out coal-powered electricity. Indeed, much of the gooey chatter about the transition seems to focus on providing pots of money to allow workers in affected sectors to retrain. One could infer from this that Alberta is getting too high on its horse too early. If "Just Transition" is just a new way for Ottawa to transfer cash from one jurisdiction of government to another — what Ottawa does best, after all — there's every reason to expect some small windfall for Alberta, should it play nice.
Of course, no one is seriously expecting such cash to actually replace fossil-fuel jobs. Because, bluntly, if there was another viable multi-billion dollar industry just waiting to be tapped, the federal government wouldn't really need to throw tax dollars at it. So what we can safely expect here is some cheery sounding program spending that may or may not accelerate some training programs to help former pipefitters install solar panels or somesuch. If much of that money goes to Liberal-friendly firms or schools, no one ought to be terribly surprised.
Indeed, early returns from the Office of the Auditor General are not very promising. A recent report found that the relevant ministries were simply "not prepared to support a just transition to a low‑carbon economy for workers and communities." To wit: "Although the government had identified Natural Resources Canada as the lead department to deliver just‑transition legislation in 2019, the department took little action until 2021. It did not establish a governance structure that would set out the related federal roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities, and it did not have an implementation plan to address a transition that involves a variety of workers, geographies, and federal and other stakeholders. A governance structure and implementation plan would enable a clear and coordinated approach to helping workers and communities avoid hardship and continue to contribute to the economy."
That, however, is the good-case scenario.
Remember, we at The Line have been going on for some time about the curdled state of our federal government. After seven (eight?) years in power, the Liberals are giving off the stench of death. They seem tired, visionless, and plum out of clear ideas or direction. We see a government that is increasingly insular, trapped in its own partisan bubble, and, as per the above, disinclined to parse the difference between rational criticism and misinformation. That leaves this government more and more likely to pursue ideological windmills, Don Quixote-style, with little regard to whether this legacy supercluster or that brilliant brainwave is something the federal government ought to be attempting at all.
Therefore, we don't rule out the possibility that the Alberta government has picked its target very well. That the Liberals are, indeed, planning for some kind of punitive legislation intended to all-but phase out oil and gas in exchange for some paltry cash transfer that will turn Confederation's richest, albeit most intransigent province, into a federal dependency. If that's the plan, it couldn't be better news for Alberta premier Danielle Smith.
A real, proper fight with Ottawa is exactly what Smith needs to transform her image among the moderate middle: From Crazy-Pants-Premier to articulate White Knight of Alberta's interests. And if she can lasso NDP leader Rachel Notley into taking Trudeau's side on the "Just Transition" bill in time for the next provincial election, all the sweeter for the UCP. It's just the kind of short-sighted stupidity we expect from just about everyone in Canadian politics at the moment.
Another quickie from another province, and this is purely flagged for your information: we’d forgive our readers for not paying much attention to real-estate development in the Greater Toronto Area, but this one might be worth watching. Most of you have probably heard of “the greenbelt.” It’s a swath of land around Toronto and its suburbs that the previous Liberal provincial government had ruled off-limits for development. The rationale was to preserve critical watersheds and agricultural land and also to constrain urban sprawl. There have been periodic adjustments to the greenbelt’s precise boundaries, with land swaps used occasionally to rectify planning absurdities strict adherence to the plan would create. These adjustments have, to date, been modest, and some occurred under the Liberals.
Doug Ford had long been accused of having designs on the greenbelt, and he’s denied it, as recently as the last election. Safely returned with a massive majority, the Ford government suddenly now intends to allow significant development on parts of the greenbelt, which is necessary, it says, to address the (real) housing crisis.
It probably isn’t. It’s not even clear that it’ll be helpful, since there isn’t yet infrastructure in place in most of these areas to permit any buildout. But whatever, we’ll see how that goes. What’s interesting for right now, though, are allegations that Ford-friendly developers seemed to have mysteriously good foreknowledge of exactly which plots of land would become eligible for development, and bought them up. Months ago, the land would be almost useless. Now? Proverbial gold mines.
The Line hasn’t yet closely looked into this issue, so we stress for all the lawyers out there that these are allegations that we cannot confirm, and that we are relying on the reporting of others even to provide that summary. That will hopefully keep everyone happy.
Here’s the new wrinkle, though: whatever happened here, the Ontario Provincial Police might be getting interested.
Maybe nothing comes out of this. Maybe there’s nothing there at all. Who knows? But consider us officially interested, too. We’ll be watching.
Lastly, that brings us to the final news of note in today's dispatch. That is, the professional complaints that have been levelled against one Jordan B. Peterson in response to his often provocative and intemperate social media presence.
We at The Line will pause for a moment to let out a long, careful hissing sound from between our collective teeth, and then get on with it.
We don't like to spend much, if any, time relating the latest Peterson saga because, well, can anyone really claim that the most popular Canadian public intellectual is somehow undercovered? Does he receive too little attention from Internet pontificators? We presume that anyone who reads The Line will be at least broadly familiar with Peterson and his career, and probably somewhat acquainted with this latest controversy. And, really, what more do we have to add?
In short, Peterson is so divisive a character, so deeply embedded into the weirdest subttenches of the broader culture war, that we find it almost impossible to find nuanced or fair commentary about the dude and what he's up to. On one side his supporters are so maniacal, so unwilling to concede any bad behaviour on the part of the Good Doctor, that it is fair to think that he does command an almost cult-like online following.
The other side of Peterson side, the antis, are often so bizarre and deranged that they have concocted a whole mythology around his supposed villainy that comes across as wildly grandiose.
From where we stand, Peterson's academic publications always read to us like a lot of puffed up woo in the service of a discipline that is three-quarters bullshit. But then, that hardly places him offside with a lot of modern mainstream academics, which seems like a huge part of why his success sets so many professorial types into paroxysms of envy and rage.
We would grant that Peterson is a talented lecturer. Any time on YouTube would make that assessment impossible to deny. We also suspect that he's actually a very sound clinician. If his career had stayed the middle course, if he stuck to helping depressed A-Type personalities see straight, and teaching undergraduate psych students, we suspect he would have maintained a credible reputation as a popular and respected professor who occasionally made controversial TVO appearances and wrote the odd risky article.
Alas, that is not our timeline. And so, here we are, forced to dissect Jordan Peterson's tweets for what such things say about the way regulatory bodies are being weaponized to enforce political and cultural uniformity on the professional classes.
We've skimmed over the tweets that appear to have gotten Peterson into trouble with the Ontario College of Psychologists and, to be honest, there just ain't a lot of there there. The most obviously problematic item in this oeuvre is as follows:
We mean, sure, you could claim that this tweet can be interpreted as a psychologist counselling a rando tweeter to commit suicide.
If you're slow.
Presuming you're not an idiot — you read us, after all — you'll see what we see: a tart tweet worth neither dissection nor debate.
If Peterson's tweets breach the standard for the OCP's codes of conduct, we kinda have to ask whether psychologists ought to be on the site at all. Maybe they shouldn't! Maybe Twitter is the bad place and professionals of all stripes ought to steer clear of it.
But until we make that collective social declaration, it's impossible to read the complaint against Peterson as anything other than either political, malicious, or motivated by a sense of collegial embarrassment — none of should clear the bar required to justify curtailing his speech rights by threat of withdrawing his professional license.
In short, Peterson is right on this one. Sorry Peterson haters, but them's the breaks.
Meanwhile, by pursuing these complaints we can only conclude that the OCP has embarked on a Kobayashi Maru scenario.
Seriously, guys? Are you dumb?
We don't usually like to be so blunt, but this is just ... so dumb.
This latest attempt to bring Peterson down a notch can only fail. It is, indeed, a truly no-win scenario for the antis. Either he will challenge the complaint and win, or he will challenge the complaint and have his license stripped, in which case, he loses … nothing. And becomes even more famous and monetizes that fame, thus becoming even richer and more independent and powerful.
Peterson isn't practicing to the best of our knowledge. He's swimming in cash. Although his star has waned somewhat since that weird benzo-Russian-detox episode, he maintains a dedicated audience of podcast listeners and book-buyers. Take away his license and he loses neither financial security nor popular prestige.
Fighting the OCP costs him nothing, but the act alone will become yet another platform by which Peterson can build his own profile by claiming victimhood against a politically motivated bureaucratic elite. Credibly!
Honestly, we understand why JBP grates on people; what we will never get is why his most deranged haters continue to hand this guy so much attention, and with it, money. Peterson is going to break the Forbes list by the time his critics begin to figure out that he's not actually the stupid one here.
And on that note, welcome back beloved People of The Line. We have all kinds of ideas and ambitions to throw at you this year and we can’t wait to get started. From us, all the best wishes for a healthy and happy 2023.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: firstname.lastname@example.org