She-lection Bullshit Bulletin No. 3: Scary sounding bullshit
In which you will be forced to bear a child at the point of an assault rifle while paying more than you ought to for a liter of milk.
Welcome to the third instalment of our weekly election Bullshit Bulletin, where we’ll note and mock all the incredibly dumb stuff that crops up during the campaign. A reminder that this list is not comprehensive; we try to delineate between True Bullshit and the wiggle room required of Ordinary Electioneering. We also don’t pretend to see everything, so if you want to send us suggestions, tweet us at @the_lineca, and add #bullshitbulletin, or drop us a note at email@example.com, with Bullshit Bulletin in the subject field.
It is hard to know where to even begin picking through the bullshit that Canadians have had dumped atop their heads this week on the gun-control file. Both the Liberals and Conservatives hurled their share, but the worst offenders were by far the incumbents who claimed to ban “military-style assault weapons.”
Let’s start with this: Canadian law categorizes guns into three categories depending on their technical specifications: length, ammunition calibre, mode of operation, and the like. The categories are licensed and regulated differently. It can get pretty complicated. Despite their near-constant use, the terms “assault rifle,” “assault weapon” or the even-scarier sounding “military style assault weapon/rifle” have no specific or universally recognized meaning, including under Canadian law and firearms regulations. They aren’t part of or used by the categorization system.
This is essential to understand: because the terms have no specific and universally held meaning, these campaign-ready phrases can be appended to pretty much any type of rifle, whatever its actual legal category under our law. And that’s how we all found ourselves aspirating bullshit this week.
Most gun experts would generally classify an assault rifle/weapon as a rifle that fires medium-powered (or higher) ammunition and is capable of a “full auto” mode — that is, the weapon will continue firing as long as the trigger is held down. This results in a rapid volley of bullets at a cost of diminished accuracy (the recoil makes the firearm difficult to hold on target). These firearms typically have their ammunition kept in detachable magazines of 20 or 30 rounds each. When a magazine is emptied, it can be replaced by a practiced user in moments.
These sorts of weapons have been banned in Canada since the 1970s.
In 2020, the Liberals used an executive order — an Order in Council— to change the classification of several broad categories of until-then legal rifles, with the effect of preventing sales and further restricting most lawful uses for owners. None of these firearms were assault rifles/weapons by any reasonable standard. All are capable of semi-auto operation only, meaning one round is fired for each pull of the trigger. Under Canadian law, the magazines are limited to five rounds (there are some rare exceptions but five is the law).
Sigh. Still with us?
So the Liberals chose firearms linked to tragic events in Canada or abroad, like the AR-15, deemed these “assault weapons” and then banned them. But there was nothing meaningful or rational about this ban; it was was entirely a matter of political messaging. Numerous other rifles — firing the exact same ammunition from the exact same size of magazine at the exact same semi-automatic pace — remain legal and for sale to any licensed would-be purchaser. This isn’t an oversight. It’s just that the Liberals’ political goals were met by simply banning rifles linked to tragedies and ignoring the rest.
That’s the key thing to understand about what the Liberals did — it was always bullshit policy. But it sounds good to Canadian voters who don’t know fuck-all about guns. In that way, it’s meeting the Liberals’ needs.
Now we have the Conservatives.
The Conservatives pledged to reverse the 2020 Order in Council banning the infamous rifles, and another piece of Liberal gun control legislation (The Line’s Matt Gurney has written about that bill, and what it got right and wrong, recently here). But to avoid opposing a move that is popular with Canada’s well-intentioned but ignorant electorate, the Conservatives tried to insist that they’ll keep the assault weapons ban.
That’s true! They will! But they are talking about the ban from the 1970s! The real assault weapons ban. That will remain. The Conservatives had pledged to nix the 2020 order that was called an assault weapons ban but wasn’t. The CPC tried to be cute with their messaging here, like they did before with vaccine mandates. Reporters generally don’t know a damn thing about guns but they know when a politician is refusing to answer a question, so Erin O’Toole got his ass kicked for days before the party eventually pledged to maintain all current bans pending a full review.
Maybe that’ll defang the issue. Maybe not. In any case, the Conservatives truly do have the better policy here — at least insofar as their policy isn’t total make-believe bullshit. But the Liberals had the better politics. And that’s all this is to them.
Oh Lordy. Is this ever bullshit.
Look, Trudeau’s pre-COVID fiscal record was garbage. The Liberals never found the discipline to hold the line on spending in good times. First they promised small, temporary deficits. But they screwed that up. So then they said they’d keep the debt-to-GDP ratio trending down, but they couldn’t quite stick to that, either. So attacking the Liberals’ pre-2020 spending record is entirely fair game. Indeed, as noted in our Saturday dispatch, by eroding our fiscal position unnecessarily during good times, the Liberals left us poorer off in bad times. They have no excuse for this but laziness and political expediency. Attack them on this. They richly deserve it.
But ignoring the massive emergency that began last year in your little chart is bullshit, CPC. It’s weak bullshit, at that. Every Canadian prime minister would have massively ramped up spending to respond to the greatest emergency Canada has faced since the Second World War. Stephen Harper did it during the global financial crisis, and that was a picnic compared to this. You’re not fooling anyone with this bullshit, Tory friends. Stop it.
Oh, and one more for the CPC, while we are here:
Hey, you know what helps keep food prices high in Canada — food like butter, chicken, eggs, and dairy? A policy that has a particularly brutal impact on the poor? Supply management. And where does Erin O’Toole stand on the issue of forcing the poor to pay more money for essential goods? He thinks it’s a great idea. Because the dairy lobby is infinitely more powerful than the gun lobby in this country and as a result, Conservative leaders must all pay obeisance to one of the most absurdly un-Conservative policies on our books today.
Politicians can ban guns until the cows come home, but good luck trying to find decent butter.
Look, folks. COVID-19 and the related disruptions to global supply chains, which continue today, were a wake-up call for many of us. Your Line editors have a much more open mind than we would have two years ago to arguments that we should reshore or otherwise develop key supply capabilities within our own borders. But you can’t make that argument while simultaneously lamenting the universally acknowledged consequence of that kind of protectionism — higher prices for consumers. There’s just no getting around this. Pick a lane.
This entire thread by Patty Hajdu:
Just to be clear here; some of the tweets on this thread fall into the category of “legitimate oppo drop” — as in, they’re above-board gotchas. Randy Hoback musing about pulling out of NATO over vaccine access? Yep, dim. Point 1 Liberal. Dean Allison promoting ivermectin? Lots of not-insane people seem to have fallen for the idea that ivermectin is some kind of secret miracle drug for COVID-19. (It isn’t.) Regardless, Point 2 Liberal.
Some of the drops on this thread are, however, finely sifted bullshit.
Last year, lots of credible people — including the New York Times — were cautioning against unrealistic hopes of a rapidly developed COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine, by the way, was developed and manufactured en masse in a near-miraculous timeframe. It is probably one of the greatest achievements in medical history, and there was no guarantee that we could pull it off way back in the Spring of 2020. At that time, it wasn’t totally out to lunch to push for more research into the effectiveness of alternative medical treatments.
Many people, including yours truly at The Line, were critical of the Liberals for a delayed start on procuring vaccines; and the fairer among us were also quick to give credit where due when the government succeeded.
Not all CPC candidates are vaccinated; but then, by the sounds of it, not all Liberal were when the campaign started, either. Conservative MP Kyle Seeback was right to throw two of his campaign volunteers under the campaign bus when they showed up to a raucous anti-Trudeau protest, but everyone in politics knows that anybody with a pulse can show up to volunteer on a campaign. Being a campaign volunteer isn’t a position with any kind of standing.
Oh, and the campaign manager for a Conservative candidate who runs an anti-mask Facebook group? Yeah, it’s a group that opposes masking children in school — a subject over which there is legitimate ongoing debate.
In short, if Hajdu’s thread represents the entirety of the Liberal’s oppo drop, we’re frankly shocked by how thin the file is. We honestly expected quite a lot more.
We’re often critiqued for going a little too rough on Trudeau during this bulletins, and in our defence, he often richly deserves it. But in this case, we think a little bit of slack ought to be afforded.
Trudeau had been asked repeatedly about Liberal MP Raj Saini. Last week, after the deadline to replace candidates had passed, it emerged that Saini had been accused by multiple Liberal staffers of inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature — but Trudeau refused to drop him.
That is, until this week, when the party said it received undisclosed new information and decided to let the the liability of Kitchener Centre go. When he was asked again on September 5, Trudeau responded:
“Obviously this is a far from ideal situation that we no longer have any candidate in that riding. There’s going to be lots of reflections on what we could have, should have done differently.”
Which, yeah, sounds pretty goddamn callous. And, yeah, this is a party that has not developed a great track record for not-ignoring allegations of misconduct once they’re run up the chain of command. And, also yeah, his response is a lot of word salad.
However, we think that this one quote is probably the most ungenerous reading of Trudeau’s response, here. He claims that Saini was cleared after a “rigorous” investigation that he can’t really talk about — which is not untypical for internal allegations of sexual misconduct — and he’s clearly frustrated about the outcome. You can read that quote above as “the only thing I care about is that we no longer have a candidate in this key riding” or you can read it as “our process obviously wasn’t good enough to get this guy flagged earlier, and the party is going to take the hit for it by losing a candidate in a winnable seat, and I’m pissed off, too.”
There are certainly better answers he ought to have given, but a charitable interpretation would probably lean further to the latter than the former.
Good Lord, are we still doing this? O’Toole did denounce the protestors, repeatedly, and did so again after Trudeau was hit by gravel over the weekend while boarding a campaign bus — an act that crosses the line from protest to assault, guys.
That last particularly rabid protest hosted angry crowds hoisting PPC signs, not CPC ones — in other words, these are the people who are too far gone for a mainstream conservative party. Further, it increasingly looks like there’s little to no central organization of these trailing anger mobs at all. (These populist protests aren’t even limited to partisan rallies, but are now also showing up at goddamn hospitals. Fortunately, so is Trudeau!)
While we’re here, it’s possible to condemn these increasingly inchoate rage fests while also refusing to be totally naïve to the tactical advantage they present to Team Trudeau. There is a reason why Trudeau is trying to link these mobs to O’Toole, even though there is no evidence that the Conservatives are behind them — and despite the fact that organizing angry anti-vaxx protests would be a profoundly idiotic thing for a CPC trying to woo centrist Ontario voters to do. If the Liberal leaders’ handlers and scouts aren’t leaning into these protests deliberately, then they are, at a minimum, absolutely terrible at their jobs. Like, do your job, guys!
Not to pick on some poor Tweeter here, but we couldn’t resist taking a poke at this. Yes, we understand that concerns are high on the abortion issue because of the situation in Texas. We just want to remind everyone reading this newsletter — you do not live in Texas. You do not live anywhere close to Texas, either culturally, legally, or geographically.
You live in Canada. This is a country where 75 per cent of Canadians are largely satisfied with our current abortion policy — which is, in reality, an absence of abortion legislation, with doctors’ associations filling the ethical gap. “Does not wish to open this issue again” has pretty close to super-majority support in Canada. Do you want to know how that compares to Texas? Texas might as well be the moon.
But because Stephen Punwasi is convinced we’re missing a “huge” issue, we have some bad news on this file; the government wouldn’t necessarily need to make a constitutional amendment to create abortion laws in this country. In fact, Morgentaler was pretty specific on this point; the pre-1988 restrictions on abortion did not pass constitutional muster. That doesn’t mean that literally no restrictions would pass a Charter challenge.
In fact, the Mulroney government did try to to create legislation around abortion — twice. The last time, the bill was narrowly defeated by the senate after a 20-year-old died of a botched abortion attempt, and every party since then has abandoned this cause because the entire issue is an impossible tar pit from which not even light escapes.
Lastly, this nugget:
“Canadians are beginning to know what those of us who have watched him in the House have known for a long time about Erin O’Toole,” Trudeau said on the trial. “He’ll say anything to try and get elected.”
We’re not even sure how to respond to that except to say that we’re ded inside now.
Well that’s it for this week’s Bullshit Bulletin. Please join us again next week because this stupid election isn’t over yet.
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These are valuable columns for the inadvertent look they give at political thinking. When you chase the links, 55% of Texans want the same, or reduced, restrictions on abortion. 75% of Canadians are 'satisfied' at the current level, which is, well, reduced restrictions compared to Texas, pre-new-law. That 20% gap is "the moon" to a political consultant, though it wouldn't strike you as sharply different, in daily life, if you moved from one community to another. You'd still find a majority of abortion-supporters.
Indeed, the "hey, calm down, this is Canada" message is undercut by the data, which shows that you can lose abortion access even if you have a clear majority in favour of the same or more access.
But the big political insight is Mr. Boessenkool's theory that the Trudeau campaign is not helpless to prevent a crowd from meeting within earshot of his speeches, but are cultivating the background noise as a strawman. Nobody else is thinking that, but he might be right.
If so, it's very sharp: why run against the CPC when you can run against crazed, violent anti-vaxxers with the popularity of skunks?
He's even doing his job in government, at the same time: it strikes me as a legitimate function of goverment itself to make anti-vaxxers look stupid, offensive, and criminal just now. And, sweetly, you can do that by just ensuring that a prime-ministerial coverage camera is pointed at them while they indict themselves for all three things.
This guy is brilliant! Thanks for pointing it out, Ken!