Dumpster Fire '21: Your craziest election stories, a housing crisis and much more
Finally, election coverage that combines in-depth news with gossip!
That time Justin Trudeau Slapped me
Conventional wisdom had failed me again.
In Ottawa, they said, you can’t say no to cheap booze and a meal comped by the politicians. At the time, I was still paying rent in Montreal and clearing $500 a week as an intern reporter on Parliament Hill so the idea of some affordable shenanigans appealed to me.
All I could afford to rent in Ottawa back then was a room in a single mom’s house on Vanier St. They were Franco Ontarians and spoke in a sort of English/French gumbo that was charming but not at 7 a.m. when her boys argued loudly.
“Maman! Joseph m’a frapper in the stomach!” one would yell.
“Menteur! Bobby hit me first avec son hockey stick!”
I wanted desperately to smack them upside la tête.
The thing about these political cocktail parties is, they can be quite boring. Have you ever met Craig the insurance lobbyist? He could tell you a million stories about his real passion — putting model sailboats into bottles. And he did tell them. All 1 million of them.
“Bluenose! Now there was a ship. A gaff rig schooner, actually. Reminds me of the time…”
So I devised a plan to get myself out of these sorts of conversations.
I would go to the bar and order two drinks; one for me and one for the “friend” I had to go bring it to. But there was no friend. Whenever the conversation got into model airplanes or the fastest route from Etobicoke to downtown Toronto, I would lift my second drink and say “Sorry, I have to get this to my friend.”
It was a game changer.
But the strategy was not without its obvious flaw. Double fisting whiskey and beer gets you drunk. Fast. Suddenly, bottle ship Craig was getting bored with my stories.
“WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!” I screamed, in between swigs of my imaginary friend’s drink.
So here I was, stumbling around the ballroom of some hotel or arts centre, when who walks in but the Golden Boy himself: Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau. Now, bear in mind this was back in 2012, when Trudeau’s role in parliament was second opposition critic for sport, leisure and lawn furniture.
Even so, one year into the first Conservative majority government in 20 years and Canada was in the throes of Trudeaumania, which is a lot like Hulkamania or Beatlemania but less fun. Trudeau came through the side door and they flooded him, staffers, lobbyists and (why God) political reporters lining up for a selfie with the prime minister in waiting.
Somewhere Tom Mulcair put his fist through a cement wall.
Adding to the hype, Trudeau had just defeated Senator Patrick Brazeau in an amateur boxing match that he was supposed to lose handily. Ever the showman, Trudeau’s win came in dramatic fashion, surviving an early barrage from Brazeau before putting the boots on him for the remaining two rounds.
Being something of a killjoy, I thought his form in the bout was… stiff. He looked like a bird flapping its wings at an old Italian lady. So I yelled that at him, thinking he wouldn’t hear it.
Just then, Trudeau doubled back and — in full view of the adoring crowd — hit me with a mock punch that stopped about a mouse hair short of my jaw. Then he extended his fingers and gave me a little slap.
“How was that?”
Well played, Justin.
Your Crazy Election Stories, vol. 1
Before we get into the meat of an issue I’d like to see addressed in this campaign, let’s have a laugh. I put a call out, recently, for people to share their most ridiculous stories about elections and politics. Here are some them.
The most insane thing to happen on (the 2019 federal) campaign was during a canvassing activity. I was knocking doors when a man opened the door, fully naked, a hand covering his penis. Literally, open palm to cover his dick. When I tried to turn away, he reached out his hand for the flyer and said he was a (BLANK) and wanted to vote for (BLANK). So being the good staffer I am, I closed my eyes and handed him the flyer, marking him as a supporter in my database.
—Anonymous political operative
In the lead up to a by-election, I was supporting the Alberta (BLANK) running against a (BLANK) candidate in the riding of (BLANK, Alberta). Our candidate was a well respected family doctor with solid values and heart, great guy. At one of our events in a big, busy pub an extremely drunk guy and his equally drunk pals were heckling us (though we were in a semi-private area so they had to work at it) and when I, a volunteer, went over to be like “hey we’re almost done with the remarks can you just chill for 5 minutes?” This guy (a trades guy not dissimilar to my brother or his friends, about the same age as me, someone I would have gone to high school with or grown up around from a similar working class background) told me to “USE THE CARBON TAX TO FIX YOUR UGLY FUCKIN’ MUG” in a very agressive way. And yeah, I felt like I Had Arrived in that moment. Campaigns are weird and never boring. Just par for the course if you're a woman doing anything adjacent to politics sadly.
—Anonymous political staffer
A man is elected to federal office. He gets to Ottawa for his first caucus meeting. He chats with his new colleagues. He is ex military. He tells them exactly where he would deploy the tanks to “take” the capital.
—Anonymous political consultant
In the 2019 (BLANK) by election I was the officer manager. This was my favourite campaign. I would always say I needed to ‘move my car,’ which was a code for going to smoke weed behind the office. That made the food edible and the people much funnier.
—Anonymous office manager
(BLANK) was just elected mayor of (BLANK) after a particularly salty election where one of our columnists referred to him as “a clown.” But we figured it had barely registered, it was early in the campaign when we published that column and since he won, there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. So he was at an event, thanking supporters and basking in the glow of his victory when he spotted me. Now, mind you, I never called him a clown. At least not in public. But he sees me and he walks over, shakes my hand, pulls me in and says, “Not bad for a fucking clown, eh?”
A Housing Crisis Party Leaders Won’t Talk About
That’s what renters’ rights advocate Véronique Laflamme thinks of our governments’ handling of the worst housing crisis to hit Quebec in over 20 years.
The majority of apartment leases in Quebec expire on July 1, so while the rest of Canada celebrates Confederation we’re all helping someone’s deadbeat brother-in-law move into a new apartment. All of us. You’re welcome, Steven.
Lately though, there’s been a spike in the number of people who can’t find a new apartment by Canada Day. There are still 176 households in Montreal that are without a place to live. In other words, hundreds of people are living in government-subsidized motels or shelters six weeks after their leases expired.
Last year by this time, there were 129 households in that same situation. And that was the worst crisis since the early 2000s.
“It’s never been this bad,” said Laflamme, who works for the group FRAPRU. “In Sherbrooke there were 40 households in emergency housing as of July 1, in Drummondville there were 75. This is happening across Quebec, not just in the big cities. I’m doing my best to get better data but the picture I’m seeing is horrifying.
“As of July 1, there were nearly 500 households in Quebec that hadn't yet found a place to live. By August, that was closer to 350. People will say, ‘Yeah but in the early 2000s the vacancy rate was even lower than it is now.’ Yeah well, we’ve never seen this many people on the verge of homelessness six weeks after their lease expired. Ever.”
Most of this is linked to Canada’s white hot housing market, real estate speculation and landlords using “major renovations” as pretext to evict their tenants and flip their properties at a massive profit. But it’s also a function of governments chronically under delivering on promises to build social housing.
Ottawa has spent an average of $3.7 billion on social housing every year since 2017 but with limited impact on ending the crisis, according to a report by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer. Some of the limitations are linked to expired agreements between the federal government and the provinces. Quebec, for instance, has been thrifty when it comes to investing in social housing.
“(Quebec Premier) François Legault is barely keeping up with the 15,000 housing units that were promised by his predecessor. He’s not interested in this issue,” said Laflamme.
But at least some of the blame rests on Ottawa’s decision to create “affordable homes” instead of social housing, according to the Aug. 10 report. One federal program has set a goal of building 12,230 of these affordable houses. But the number of Canadians in need of subsidized housing is expected to jump to 1.8 million, the report said.
Shockingly, this hasn't even been a blip on the radar of federal party leaders. Only NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has something resembling a plan with his pledge to build 500,000 affordable homes in 10 years.
Unlike the previous housing crunch that sent vacancy rates plunging below 1 per cent in Montreal some 20 years back, this problem is harder to spot using conventional metrics.
For instance, you would think it’s good that the 3.2 per cent vacancy rate in Montreal is more than double last year’s. But the unprecedented spike in demand for emergency shelter combined with an explosion of homelessness across the island suggests a two-tiered crisis.
For those who can afford to live in the new condo towers being erected downtown, there’s plenty of stock to choose from. Try telling that to the single mother raising her child on minimum wage plus tips.
“Yeah, there’s available housing but those units are in the condos that tower over the city,” Laflamme said. “The developers would rather see them sit empty than charge below what they want.”
Articles and Podcasts you Should Check Out
Hey Look, it’s Peter Mansbridge! Now that we have your dad’s attention, I thought I’d point you to a great piece of election analysis from my friend Supriya Dwivedi… yes, appearing on Peter Mansbridge’s aptly podcast “The Bridge.” Get it? Because his name has the word bridge in it? Check it out here.
The BackbenchIf you like the idea of Candaland but want to punch Jesse Brown, consider listening to The Backbench, an in-depth show about our dumpster fire democracy hosted by award-winning journalist Fatima Syed. The last episode delved into abortion access, childcare and took a deep dive on Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.
Man about town Stephen MaherIn another life, MacLeans columnist Stephen Maher gave me a pouch of chewing tobacco to steady my nerves. It did not. I was reading Maher’s breakdown of the campaign yesterday and I forgot what a joy he is to be around. Here, his bone dry humour shines through as always.
I think O’Toole’s policy is electorally sensible, because he can’t win seats in the East and B.C. with an Andrew-Scheer-style pretend climate policy, and also wise, because much of the planet is burning, which is worrying.
Is Maxime Bernier Lost in Someone’s Backyard?
Although he claims to be fighting “medical tyranny” in this post, I’m fairly certain Maxime Bernier got lost looking for his golf ball somewhere in suburban Hamilton. Have you seen it? He hit a tree on the back nine at Oakridge in early August and he’s been “campaigning” on foot ever since.
That’s a joke. Please don’t sue us Mad Max.
Anyhow, the one time Conservative leadership finalist has been predictably intense since the campaign kicked off last Sunday. This week he held an “UNMASK THE CHILDREN” rally in Etobicoke, where (presumably) they were trying to end the tyranny of children wearing Halloween costumes in August. Or it’s an anti mask event. I can’t remember.
Last thing about Bernier. His first election promise, released Tuesday, was to make unrealistic election promises. It’s sort of like when that kid running for class president holds up the piece of paper his speech was written on and rips it in half in front of the whole auditorium/cafeteria. NO YOU DIDN’T, SLATER!!!!
One last thing…
Before you go, check out my latest for Ricochet on the so-called “summer of violence” in northeast Montreal and how it may be way overblown by local police. Here’s an excerpt.
When news of an Aug. 2 drive-by shooting made its way across northeast Montreal two weeks ago, Sacha-Wilky Merazil got an idea.
Just about everywhere he goes, the 26-year-old brings along a deck of cards, chess set or whatever board game he happens to be obsessed with at the time. Lately, it’s been dominos.
“Something magical happens when you go to the park and bust out a set of dominos,” said Merazil. “People drop their guard, they get closer, they’ll say ‘I got next, I got next’ and then before long you have a bit of a crowd. And then, all of a sudden, you’re sitting with your neighbours and you’re talking about everything and nothing.
“Maybe we try to solve life’s big problems or maybe we just have a nice moment together as neighbours and new friends.”
A bit late here but these behind the scenes anecdotes are too good. Hope you find a few more of these gems