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.

When it comes to politics, let companies be neutral

First published at Global News on March 23, 2018.

It used to be controversial for a company to weigh in on a political issue. Now, it’s expected.

It’s an all too familiar trend. A gang of noisy activists calls on a company to take a stand on an issue or end a relationship with a vendor. The company, wanting to make the problem go away, gives in, thus alienating another group. The only winners are, well, the noisy activists who started it all.

The latest casualty is Domino’s Pizza, which was dragged into Canada’s pipeline politics after an anti-Trans Mountain Pipeline protester shared a photo of a stack of pizzas with a caption thanking Domino’s for its support of Camp Cloud, the makeshift tent city on British Columbia’s Burnaby Mountain.

After supporters of Canada’s oil industry pounced on Domino’s, the company investigated and couldn’t find any evidence that a franchisee in the area made any such donation. Even if one had, it would hardly be tantamount to a company-wide endorsement of the cause.

Regardless, momentum was building for the Domino’s-hates-oil side of things. When the company spoke up last Sunday, it was in support of the oil industry.

“Although we fully support everyone’s right to their opinion and free speech, we do not endorse the protest movement as we recognize the importance of the Canadian oil patch industry and the economic impact the industry has on all Canadian citizens,” a statement on the Domino’s Canada Facebook page said. “Most importantly, we offer our full support to the dedicated, hard-working men and women assigned to the ‘patch’ who often times face very difficult conditions. Your efforts are truly appreciated.”

Within minutes, Domino’s became a favourite shop of Albertans, a flood of whom pledged to start making orders. But then the winds shifted again, as anti-oil activists fought back, slamming Domino’s on its own Facebook page and vowing to get their (gas-oven-baked) pizzas from elsewhere.

Further complicating matters, Domino’s deleted its Facebook post, and the activist who posted the initial photo clarified that the pizzas were not given for any political reasons, but rather they were part of an unclaimed order that was given away.

I’ve no doubt that in the midst of this there was an executive at the Windsor, Ont., headquarters for Domino’s Canada who knew nothing about pipelines and regretted waking up that morning.

In siding with Canadian oil, Domino’s picked the path of least resistance — and what I believe to be the correct position — but it should concern any business leaders that the company was forced to make such a determination because of one person’s Facebook post in the first place.

Let me be clear in saying companies have the right to take whatever political stances they want, just as consumers have the right to respond however they please. But that doesn’t mean we should revel in a culture in where this is the expectation.

When activists demand that companies sever ties with a vendor, stop advertising on a particular platform, or condemn a political position, the damage goes beyond simply generating public relations nightmares. The practice is rooted in the flawed belief that companies — which, at their most basic level, serve a transactional role in society — must exist with consciences to be legitimate.

It isn’t just about being political, but landing on the “right” side of the issue — despite there being no such thing as a consensus on the contentious issues that trigger these episodes.

If some CEO takes aim at something near and dear to my heart, I may decide to put my money elsewhere, but why must I agree with a company’s management on things like domestic energy production and tax reform?

If a company wants to engage in moral or political battles by donating to political parties, or refusing service to people of certain belief systems or lifestyles, let them. But stop pigeonholing brands that don’t want to play that game.

Celebrities are faced with the same pressures. Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift have refused to engage in political conversations, and have been attacked for making such decisions.

Guardian editorial chided Swift for not preaching politics to her fans, concluding that she must be a “musical envoy for the president’s values” because she hadn’t chimed into the chorus of celebrity condemnations of Donald Trump.

Activist culture has taken neutrality off the table. This idea that taking a side is everyone’s duty is found in the words of Desmond Tutu, who once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

In times of genuine oppression, I agree. But not every contentious issue is a matter of oppression and injustice. Sometimes, it’s just political disagreement, in which cases neutrality should be regarded as a virtue from any player whose job is not to litigate these matters.

We’re seeing an expansion of the second-wave feminist edict that “the personal is the political,” which rose to popularity in the 1960s. More than 50 years later, there’s little that isn’t political, or at least ripe to be politicized.

These activists are looking for fights. And if they don’t find a reason to fight they will generously provide one.

Companies would be well-suited to stop taking the bait.