A new chapter

After leaving the wonderful world of daily talk radio in March, the question I’ve been fielding more than any other is, “What’s next?”

The timing made it possible for me to jump into an initiative I had already been heavily considering—a run for office. I put all other projects and possibilities on hold for my (unsuccessful) campaign, which ended on June 7th. Since then, I’ve been very quiet as I plan my next moves.

It has been a whirlwind of a few months, but I am thrilled about where I am right now. I’m at a point in my life where I have the editorial freedom and flexibility to not only work across platforms, but also tackle the issues and stories I think are the most important.

As I’ve weighed my options, these have remained priorities.

There is a common theme to much, if not most, of my work on the radio and in columns—the championing of democracy and freedom.

I’m delighted to announce on this Canada Day that I’m starting a fellowship at the True North Initiative, a fantastic think tank devoted to the preservation of liberty and sound immigration policy in Canada, kicking off Monday, July 2 with a live broadcast on Facebook—something I’ll be doing weekly, in addition to creating other content.

I will continue to write columns for a variety of publications as a freelancer, and will be able to take on more speaking engagements across North America (which you can inquire about here).

I’ll also be keeping the blog here updated with appearances, published work, and some original columns as well.

This is a new chapter for me, but an exciting one. I’m so grateful to have you on the journey with me!

“Go kill yourself”: How social media mobs are hurting democracy

When the emotions of politics and the impetuousness of social media fuse, the result isn’t pretty. Social media, which can be a cesspool at the best of times, morphs into something unrecognizable during elections.

It may look like noise to an outsider, but when your name is the one in the line of fire, it comes at a cost.

During a brief stint as a politician this spring, I had a front row seat to my own dehumanization, when, as a PC candidate in Ontario’s June 7 election, my social media history made headlines.

I went viral—and not in the charming toddler-crashes-BBC-interview or Chewbacca-mom-laughs sort of way. My Twitter mentions were so voluminous that my phone’s battery drained in record time.

Just try to imagine that quantity. Now understand that almost every incoming tweet was negative.

The anger was directed at a slew of long-deleted postings I made nearly a decade ago. Most were ill-advised attempts at humour. With some, I couldn’t even figure out what I was getting at. I chock them up to an unfortunate combination of mental illness, immaturity and a general recklessness at that point in my life that extended far beyond Twitter.

People can decide for themselves whether they believe I’m a different person than the one depicted in those years-old snapshots. What I take issue with are the digital vigilantes—digilantes, if you will—who so cruelly and viciously attack others for being unkind on the internet, ignorant of their own hypocrisy.

A few messages still stand out.

“Do the world a favour and go kill yourself asap,” Kyle from Owen Sound ordered me. When I hadn’t heeded his request a few weeks later, he followed up.

“Seriously, like tonight would be a great night to do us all a favour and fucking end yourself you slime ball.”

On the suicide-wisher’s Facebook page was an adorable photo of him reading to two young children who were seated on his lap. I hope he wouldn’t read a message like this in the vicinity of the children—so why send it to a perfect stranger?

“I feel bad for your heart that it failed on you. Hope on the next round you don’t pull through. Fuck you asshole,” wrote Lou from Toronto.

“I hope you get gang raped,” said Ben, adding, “You don’t deserve the oxygen you breathe. Do us all a favor, let that mental illness take hold and KILL YOURSELF.”

Most of the messages were tamer of course, composed not of death wishes, but of a tired rotation of fat jokes or musing about my wife’s and my sex life. Some dedicated trolls harassed my friends and family directly, which was harder for me to stomach than what was pointed at me.

Consistent in almost all was a nastiness combined with a disinterest in genuine dialogue.

Before the crocodile tears come, know that I’m not shrouding myself in victimhood. I share these for the sake of others, be they politicians or otherwise, who aren’t able to brush off such venom.

Had I been subjected to this volume and tone of messages six or seven years ago, I would be hanging from a bridge.

Whether those urging me to kill myself would have felt any remorse if I did is irrelevant—these comments are made with no sense of consequences, and without recognition of the target’s humanity.

When Twitter and Facebook users join the chorus, they surrender their individual voices in pursuit of a singular mob voice, seeking only to add gasoline to the inferno.

What’s one more tweet when there are already thousands, right? By the same token, you’ve got to know that your insulting tweet isn’t adding anything. It serves no other purpose than virtue signaling to your followers that you’re moral and hip for attacking whichever politician, celebrity or random sap it’s en vogue to hate that hour.

When we import this phenomenon into politics, democracy is threatened.

While free speech, which, yes, includes online nastiness, is paramount to democracy, voters are setting themselves up for failure by instating litmus tests no one can pass.

Especially now. As millennials come of age to seek political office, we near the point where every political candidate will have a social media history extending back to youth.

Everyone has uttered a regrettable word or two. Some had the forethought to not log them for the public record, mind you.

Regardless, every election of the last few years has had at least an entire week or two dominated by stories of who tweeted what, and when. In the 2018 election, I was the poster boy for social media missteps, but not the only example.

I distanced myself from words that don’t reflect who I am. While we should obviously be skeptical when a politician says anything, that also must include an understanding that past comments aren’t necessarily ironclad proof of one’s present character.

Maybe someone lashed out on social media because of a mental health battle, or cracked a lewd joke that seemed funny in the moment, or perhaps genuinely advocated something they no longer believe. If no genuine person could claim to have never evolved or grown in their lives, why should politicians be held to a different standard?

How or if they’ve conquered these mistakes is a better barometer than whether they exist in the first place.

If politicians must represent a population of real people with lived experience, we can’t scare off flawed, but qualified, people from seeking office, as the status quo does. Otherwise, we’re left only with the dynastic sorts who’ve been groomed for leadership from birth, a la Justin Trudeau.

This isn’t a call for censorship, but rather a plea for sensibility among those partaking in Canada’s national conversation on social media. If you don’t work to diminish the mob’s power, you may just become its target some day.

McMaster “Tolerating Intolerance” event canceled because of intolerance of ideas

The Monty Python troupe couldn’t have written a better headline.

A Hamilton, Ont. free speech event has been canceled due to “concerns about the safety of the event.”

McMaster University was to play host to the panel, titled “Tolerating Intolerance: A Discussion on Free Speech.”

The event was canceled by its organizers, the anti-poverty group Overcome the Gap, who said in a statement that “it would be difficult to convene the civil balanced discourse we were hoping to have on this important issue.”

Two of the three panelists had arranged travel from out of the province, to address the themes of free speech and open discussion from the time of Mao to the present day.

I haven’t even seen evidence of any large-scale campaigns to have the event canceled, prompting me to fear that just a few complaints were enough.

When three professors of history, philosophy and psychology are deemed to pose a danger to the fabric of a university campus, there isn’t much else to say.

I’ve offered to moderate the discussion in London, or in another city, if the participants are interested. Unlike the organizers of this event, I won’t back down.

A Grinch’s exposé of the worst holiday — New Year’s

First published at Global News on December 29, 2017.

‘Twere the days before New Year’s, and all ’round the world
Revelers await 2018 being unfurled
Most creatures will toast — from human to mouse
But I’ll just be here, asleep in my house

As 2017 winds down, and the mad dash to tie up the year’s loose ends ramps up, politicians will do year-end interviews, and my fellow commentators will unpack 2017’s ups and downs, perhaps even laying out some predictions for 2018.

Instead, I opt to answer Frank Loesser’s timeless musical query, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?”

Absolutely nothing. And it will be spectacular.

As the Grinch of New Year’s, it’s worth noting that fewer and fewer people ask me that question each year, which suits me well.

(Indeed, newcomers to my workplace inquiring about my plans get quickly shushed by my longer-term colleagues who have already heard the perennial rant.)

Save for my childhood years, when the coming of a new year permitted me to stay up past bedtime, I’ve never enjoyed New Year’s Eve. We trumpet it as the passing of a year, but it’s really a loud and lengthy build-up to the changing of a single day, which just happens to fall at the end of the Gregorian calendar.

The digital age has even done away with the annual calendar swap-out formerly common in so many households.

No, I don’t have some repressed champagne-cork mishap from my formative years. It isn’t about my boredom with the anti-climactic Times Square ball drop. I wouldn’t even blame my family tradition of linking arms and singing “Auld Lang Syne” a couple of years.

I simply resent the purposelessness of New Year festivities.

It is a made-up holiday. The Seinfeld of observances — a day about nothing.

Unlike birthdays, which commemorate the passage of a year in a personalized way, and religious holidays, which carry meaning to believers, New Year’s Day is an administrative holiday with no more significance than the similarly contrived Family Day and Civic Holiday.

Yet our collective investment in New Year’s goes beyond merely enjoying a day off work — there’s a cosmically spiritual fervour driving some people’s celebration of it.

A look at Wikipedia’s entry for New Year’s Eve shows how circular the event is, offering a list of the holiday’s raisons d’être that includes: “reflection, late-night partying… [and] social gatherings during which participants may dance, eat, consume alcoholic beverages, and watch or light fireworks.”

It’s difficult to imagine much sombre reflection emanating from the two latter categories, in particular when one factors in the thumping music, noisy cheers and strangers kissing anything appearing to bear a human form. All after a few hours of consuming imitation champagne, I’d add.

Not that Wikipedia is a definitive authority, but it does seem to reflect New Year’s existence as nothing but an excuse to party.

There’s nothing wrong with getting dolled up and having a party, but let’s be honest about why we’re doing it. (And who can afford the ridiculous New Year’s Eve restaurant and hotel premiums six days after Christmas?)

Though it’s not even the revelry of New Year’s that irks me, but rather the annual self-flagellation rituals in which so many partake. This forms the basis of New Year’s resolutions, the fodder of punchlines now, but which people still seem to make. Self-betterment is a noble goal, sure, but it isn’t coming from New Year’s resolutions.

Toronto Star reported in 2013 that of the 68 per cent of Canadians who made a resolution in 2012, one in five reneged on their pledge within 24 hours.

Just under half abandoned them within a month, with only 19 per cent making it to the end of the year. (If we believe them, that is.)

Weight loss typically ranks at or near the top of New Year’s resolutions, yet North Americans are getting fatter each year.

We seem to mistake the change in year with change in ourselves, which doesn’t have a timeline.

Viewing day one of a new year as a clean slate may be cathartic, but oftentimes this reflection just trudges up 12 months of baggage. Every year, I see people express the same yearning for a better year ahead, but it seems to come from a place of darkness, rather than hope.

If it brings you joy, then don’t let me rain on your parade. But if it’s another social obligation you have to shoulder, join me in celebrating No Year’s Eve.

And with that, this Grinch is out. Until next yea…week, that is.

The real scandal is how Justin Trudeau’s four ethics violations carry no punishment

First published at Global News on December 22, 2017.

It’s official: Justin Trudeau broke the rules.

Canada’s prime minister was found guilty of violating four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act governing public office holders, stemming from two 2016 vacations on Bell’s Cay, a private island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan.

Beyond the legal wrong-doing, Conservatives are no doubt rejoicing that Trudeau screwed up in the least middle class-ish way — by taking a private aircraft to vacation with a billionaire in the Caribbean.

Trudeau has always promoted himself as a voice for the middle class, but that veneer cracks under the weight of this autumn’s Liberal scandals.

From Bill Morneau’s numbered company-held French villa to Trudeau’s billionaire holidays, this seems like the first period in Canada’s political history in which the country’s elected leaders aren’t even pretending they live like ordinary Canadians.

I remember when a $16 glass of orange juice and a senator taking a loan to pay back improper expenses were all the rage.

Trudeau’s lack of judgment and foresight is lamentable, but the real scandal here is how four ethics violations effectively disappear after the prime minister stammers his way through a 15-minute-long apology press conference on a Wednesday afternoon. Five days before Christmas. While Parliament is out of session for another five-and-a-half weeks.

The ethics commissioner’s report was scathing, but didn’t impose or recommend any penalty, despite the severity of a sitting prime minister breaking federal law.

Our prime minister behaved unethically in the most literal sense of the term, but it seems that his sole punishment is a couple of days of bad news cycles. Oh, and likely a few unpleasant exchanges in Question Period in late January, too. By the time Valentine’s Day rolls around and the Trudeau family yearns for another Bahamian holiday, all will be forgotten.

But despite Trudeau’s acceptance of Commissioner Mary Dawson’s report, and his vow to do better in the future, he and his office have been trying to ignore or trivialize this misconduct for months.

In a May 10 tweet that certainly didn’t age well, Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, mocked the issue, saying, “MPs from all over Canada finally get a chance to ask the prime minister a question. They all ask about his Xmas vacation. It’s May.”

Trudeau himself, even while supposedly apologizing Wednesday, continued to downplay the trip by saying “family” — describing his “family vacation” with “family friend” Aga Khan — more times than I could count.

The real unanswered question is how neither Trudeau nor a single person in his office thought there might possibly be a concern with this trip.

Remember, in 2015, Trudeau advised all of his cabinet members to consult, in advance, with the ethics commissioner on trips exactly like his. As Dawson noted, Trudeau ignored his own advice.

CBC’s Rosie Barton asked Trudeau how he didn’t think his “family vacation” could have posed a problem, and, well, I’ll let his words speak for themselves:

“The fact is, we work, uh, hm— the, um— Sorry, let me just try to re-order— re-order the thoughts. We, um, worked with the, uh, lobby— Conflict of Interest Commissioner, uh, on a regular basis on a broad range of issues when the issues come up. On this issue of a family vacation with a personal friend, um, it wasn’t considered that there would be an issue there. Uh. Obviously— Obviously, there was a mistake.”

And that was after he, um, re-ordered his thoughts.

Trudeau had no personal interaction with this close family friend of his for 30 years, until, coincidentally I’m sure, he became the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Except for his father’s funeral in 2000, the last time before 2013 Trudeau saw the Aga Khan was when he, as a 12-year-old boy, accompanied his father, then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, on a family vacation in Greece.

Yet after one encounter in 30 years, Trudeau and his good buddy holidayed together thrice in two years — once as Liberal leader in 2014, and twice as prime minister in 2016, when the ethical lapses occurred.

It’s undeniable that the Aga Khan, whose foundation has received more than $300 million in Canadian government money since the 1980s, has a business relationship with Canada that is relevant to the prime minister’s work. Even if they were genuinely friends, that’s all the more reason to clear the trip through Canada’s ethics channels.

With friends like these, who needs lobbyists?