NORTHERN DRAFT

MY ARMCHAIR SELECTIONS FOR CANADA’S TEAMS IN TOMORROW’S ANNUAL NHL ENTRY DRAFT

     Has it been a year already? It just seems like yesterday that I was cheering the Edmonton Oilers selection of Darnell Nurse in the first round (as a long-suffering Oilers fan, draft day is about the only I get to look forward to on the NHL calendar).  Tomorrow marks the beginning of yet another busy off-season for the NHL as the league holds the first round of its annual entry draft in Philadelphia (rounds two through seven follow Saturday), and while there are always a few surprises on the draft floor (seriously, did anyone expect Seth Jones would fall to fourth last year?), this year promises a little more intrigue than most.   The teams that finished in the League basement will be looking to pick up a future star or maybe even a franchise player to build around with an eye on a quick (or in the case of the Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers and New York islanders an eventual) return to respectability while other organizations will focus on collecting assets and potential building blocks for the future. This draft is a little different though, as there’s no definite consensus name that tops the prospect list. Instead, a handful of players have emerged as potential first overall picks, making predictions even tougher. And since there are few things I enjoy more than playing armchair GM, I’ve decided to offer my totally unqualified advice on which young player Canada’s NHL teams should pick up in this weekend’s draft.

Edmonton Oilers: In an ideal world, the perpetually rebuilding Oilers would be able to draft Barrie Colts standout defenseman Aaron Ekblad, but the odds that the top rated d-man in this year’s draft will still be available when Craig MacTavish takes the podium to make the third selection falls somewhere between zero and none (and Florida’s asking price for the first overall pick is apparently stratospheric). But center Leon Draisaitl is a pretty nice consolation prize. He’s been described as the “German Gretzky” and the fact that 67 of his 105 points last season on a weak Prince Albert Raiders team were assists speaks volumes about his skills as a smart, slick playmaker.   Draisaitl isn’t a power forward, but at 6’1 and 208 lbs., he has pretty good size and doesn’t get pushed around. He’s also drawn comparisons to Jaromir Jagr for how well he protects the puck and he looks like the kind of elite playmaking talent that could develop instant chemistry with a pure sniper like Nail Yakupov. Throw Taylor Hall on the left-wing of that line and the Oilers may just start to demand some respect from their opponents’ blue line.

Calgary Flames: With the fourth overall selection, the Flames will draft someone with the first name Sam. What their last name is depends on who’s still available. If Sam Bennett is still on the board, expect the Flames to pounce on the Kingston Frontenacs star, whose combination of skill, speed, tenacity, hockey I.Q. and sheer competitive spirit have drawn comparisons to Doug Gilmour (upon hearing the comparisons, the Hall of Famer replied that he was never as good a skater as Bennett). If Bennett’s gone when Flames GM Brad Treliving announces his pick, expect them to go with Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart. Reinhart’s older brother Max is already in the Flames system and was one of only two prospects to score 100 or more points with his junior team last season (both he and Draisaitl collected 105 last season) A natural center, Reinhart also plays a strong, smart two-way game. But rest assured, whichever Sam the Flames add will form a strong one-two punch with 2013 sixth overall pick Sean Monahan down Calgary’s middle.

Vancouver Canucks: After years dominating the regular season (and only three seasons removed from being a Stanley Cup finalist), the Vancouver Canucks find themselves in uncharted territory with the sixth overall pick. A new regime is calling the shots in Vancouver, as longtime Canuck captain and fan favourite Trevor Linden has taken over the duties as President, Jim Benning has taken over as GM and John Tortorella has been replaced by Willie Desjardins as head coach. The most interesting one of the three is Desjardins, whose been described as a teacher who possesses strong communication skills with young players. And that’s why if I were the Canucks, I might take a chance on Nick Ritchie. The physically imposing right-winger is a beast (6’2, 230 lbs.) with plenty of hockey skill, collecting 74 points in 61 games with the Peterborough Petes last season. There have been some questions about his commitment on a nightly basis, but that’s where the Canucks new player friendly, communicating coach could come in handy. The Canucks need some talented size up front, especially with Ryan Kesler’s inevitable departure, and in a season or two, Ritchie could well be lining up on a line with the Sedins.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Odds are that the Leafs aren’t going to draft anyone with the eighth overall pick that will be able step in right away and be the difference maker they need at any position, but Toronto could do worse than drafting Red Deer Rebel defenseman Haydn Fleury. After Ekblad, Fleury is the next highest rated blue liner in this year’s draft and he’s an efficient combination of size (6’2, 205 lbs.), skill and poise. He’ll need a season or two before he makes the jump to the show, but he’s the kind of defenseman that plays his way into a team’s top four and stays there for years. And if Toronto’s late season implosion proved anything, it’s that defensive stability is something the Leafs are in desperate need of.

Winnipeg Jets: Winnipeg is in need of some elite scoring up front, especially if this is the summer they decide to trade much-maligned winger Evander Kane. If he’s still available, Willie Nylander (son of long time NHLer Michael Nylander) would fit that bill and then some. Not the biggest player at 5’11 and 170 lbs., Nylander more than makes up for it with his game breaking skill. His skillset is dynamic enough that he can play both center and right-wing at an impact level, making him even more valuable. Even though he spent all season playing against men for various squads in Sweden, he’ll probably need a season of North American hockey to adjust to the difference in speed and style. But once he does, watch out. He’d be the perfect compliment to Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg.

Montreal Canadiens: Not only has Montreal built the foundation of a strong team (they went from drafting third overall in 2012 to playing in the third round of this year’s playoffs), but they’ve guaranteed themselves a bright future by locking up most of their young pieces long-term (you can bet that when P.K. Subban signs on the dotted line of a new contract this summer, it’ll be for seven or eight years), as well as assembling a shiny collection of prospects. And if Red Deer captain Connor Bleackley is still available when the Habs draft twenty-sixth, they should think long and hard about adding him to their prospect cupboard.   A natural leader with character, heart and work ethic, Bleakely is tailor-made to center a contending team’s third line (with second line potential) while wearing the C. This is the type of player teams need to win championships.

Ottawa Senators: As it stands, the Sens don’t have a first round pick this year (it goes to Anaheim as part of last summer’s Bobby Ryan trade) but if Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko is still hanging around when the Sens draft at number forty, they should definitely snap up the highest rated goalie in this year’s draft (remember, last year’s highest rated net minder, Zach Fucale, went 36th to the Montreal Canadiens, so crazier things have happened). If Demko is gone, the Sens should look at Swedish goalie Linus Soderstrom or Finn Kaapo Kahkonen. Ottawa looks like they’re on the cusp of a rebuild, and successful rebuilds almost always start from the net out, so getting a strong goalie prospect or two right off the bat can’t hurt. The Sens would have the luxury of giving whichever goalie they draft a season or two of development before taking them pro, which is never a bad thing for any prospect but especially for the game’s masked men.

Shayne Kempton

 

SPAZZING ON SPEZZA

SOME SENS FANS HAVE BEEN A LITTLE TOO HAPPY ABOUT THE IMPENDING DEPARTURE OF JASON SPEZZA, BUT THEY COULD SOON BE PINING FOR THEIR FORMER CAPTAIN AND FAVOURITE WHIPPING BOY

        That sound you heard resonating across the National Capital region last week was a collective chorus of rejoicing by many members of the Sens Army, raising their voices in celebration at the news that after thirteen years and eleven seasons, current Ottawa Senators captain and fan whipping boy Jason Spezza’s tenure as a member of the Sens will be coming to an end. When Sens GM Brian Murray claimed that Spezza had demanded a trade and said he’ll try to move Ottawa’s much maligned star this summer, legions of loyal Sens fans tripped over themselves smearing their joy across social media. The news had plenty of Sens fans giddier than a fan boy after his first kiss (these were typically the same trolls that you could see during or following a Sens game, win or lose, jumping on the “We hate Jason Spezza and he never should have been born” cyber bandwagon). But in the midst of all their glee and self-congratulation, notoriously fickle Sens fans should heed that all too often quoted Chinese proverb-be careful what you wish for because you just might get it-because barring divine intervention, trading Jason Spezza is not going to end well for the Ottawa Senators.

First things first; Spezza is not Danny Heatley. Following the conclusion of the 2009 season, superstar left winger Heatley demanded a trade out of Ottawa and later leveraged his no trade clause to reject an offer from the Edmonton Oilers (despite Edmonton’s extensive groveling), and it quickly became obvious that Heatley would only accept a trade where either San Jose or the New York Rangers was his ultimate destination (after a frustrating summer, Murray sent Heatley to the Sharks in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second round draft pick). And despite Bryan Murray’s initial claims, it doesn’t look like Spezza made a black and white trade request/demand. According to people close to Spezza, the All-Star center felt that if management believed the Sens were only a few players short of returning to serious contention, then Jason, who loves living in Ottawa, wanted to remain a member of the team. But if the Sens were planning on going the rebuilding route then perhaps it was better if the two parties respectfully shook hands and parted ways. As an aside, Sens fans should also start wondering what’s going on with their GM, after last season’s double talk regarding the free agent departure of long time captain and face of the franchise Daniel Alfredsson and this year’s unfolding Spezza fiasco (even if Spezza did make a trade request, why would Murray make it public and hurt his bargaining posture?). But make no mistake, if Murray can’t deal him this summer Spezza won’t hesitate to report to training camp.

Now that being said, here’s why the Sens fans who are happier than a four-year old on Christmas morning need to think this through. After being drafted second overall in 2001 with the pick the Sens got from the New York Islanders (along with towering D-man Zdeno Chara) in return for the despised Alexei Yashin, Spezza has been Ottawa’s number one center virtually from the time he donned a Sens jersey, scoring 687 points in 686 regular season games (and an additional 52 points in 56 playoff games).  No one’s claiming he’s perfect (his penchant for blind passes and turnovers made even the most ardent Sens fan cringe) but the question is who will replace his offence? Sens fans have to accept the fact that Ottawa isn’t going to get a number one center back to replace him (though some of the fantasies I’ve seen online have been pretty amusing, my favourite was one guy who said Ottawa should trade Spezza to San Jose straight up for Joe Thornton) and even Murray has admitted that he isn’t going to get value for Spezza. Nor is there anyone currently on the roster or in the system who can fill his skates. Kyle Turris has played the best hockey of his young career since coming to Ottawa a few seasons ago, but he has yet to break the 60-point barrier (something Spezza did six times). Mika Zibanejad? 2011’s sixth overall pick oozes potential but isn’t ready for that kind of pressure or responsibility yet. And while prospect Curtis Lazar had an awesome season in the WHL-winning the Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings-he’s at least another season away from joining the Senators on a regular basis. Sure, it’s all well and good to hope that any of the aforementioned players will be able to step up given increased ice time and responsibility, but that’s a pretty bold assumption and is it one you really want to stake your entire season on? And Spezza isn’t the only player the Sens are cutting ties with, as both Ales Hemsky and Milan Michalek will probably be let go as free agents. That’s half of the Sens top six, with dubious returns coming back (Eugene Melnyk’s closed purse will prevent the Sens from pursuing any big name free agents for the time being). The ugly truth for Sens Army is that the Sens will be a worse team on July 2nd then the one that missed the playoffs in April.

The trading of big names, shedding veterans via free agency, an internal budget, all of these signs point to a possibly lengthy rebuild for the Ottawa Senators, and if that’s the case, Sens fans need to ask themselves if Bryan Murray is the guy to manage it (look no further than the Edmonton Oilers to see how badly a rebuild can be botched, and how a team can remain desperately bad even after nearly a decade of high draft picks).  If that’s the case Sens fans, just remember, during the January-February grind, if the Sens are struggling to score and the playoffs are looking more and more unlikely (again), that many of you got what you wished for when Jason Spezza was unceremoniously exiled. And remember how happy you were when he was shown the exit because sympathy is something you won’t deserve.

Shayne Kempton

HATE’S IN A NAME

YES, THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS NAME IS RACIST. HERE’S WHY AND HERE’S WHY THE PEOPLE CLAIMING IT ISN’T REALLY, REALLY NEED TO SHUT IT

      I wrote a similar story last year when the then Nepean Redskins youth football team was forced to change their name following a challenge to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The pushback on the idea was reflexive and, for the most part, stupid and ignorant. And I have to admit, the current argument over the Washington Redskins name, occurring on a much larger scale, is making me want to rip my hair out. Listening to all the uneducated, nonsensical rhetoric of the people dismissing the idea that the name is racist makes me want to punch a kitten. And in fact, the anger over this is quite revealing. I honestly have to tip my hat to members of North America’s First Nations community; they have handled this with grace and extraordinary patience, because by now I would have gone off the deep end at warp speed. And make no mistake, this argument isn’t going away. President Obama said if he owned the team he’d change Washington’s moniker and in May fifty American Senators signed a letter to team owner Dan Snyder imploring him to change the name based on its history as a racial slur. Things heated up this past Tuesday when the United States Patent Office cancelled Washington’s trademark of the Redskin name based on the fact that it was a racial slur when it was copy written in 1967 (the name was first used by the team in 1933, the final year they played in Boston). Washington has filed an appeal of the decision, buoyed by the fact that a similar decision was overturned in 1999 and so far NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is leaving Snyder on his own on this (the fact that NFL has issued no formal statement on the subject is telling). But instead of offering a thoughtful, rational breakdown of the discussion, I’m going to look at the most popular excuses the name’s apologists use and mock them until they cry for their mothers.

It Isn’t Racist: Yes. Yes it is. I’ll wait over here while you look it up in your favourite dictionary. The simple fact is that any dictionary not written by a guy with a Swastika tattooed on his forehead defines the term Redskins as a racially derogative term used to disparage North America’s Aboriginal and First Nations communities. End of freaking story.

They Don’t Intend It To Be Racist: Really? What do they intend? That as tribute to a people us white folks tried really, really hard to wipe out, we use a proven racist slur? Is that what they mean? As for everyone trying to dismiss this because it lacks “intent,” what would you do if your kid was playing in the park one day and started shouting the N word at the top of their lungs? Obviously the kid has no intent of being racist and probably has no idea what the word means, but are you just going to shrug your shoulders in a “what are you gonna do” kind of way and let the little rascal keep it up? If you do, you suck as a parent.

Words Only Have the Power We Give Them: Seriously, if I hear this one once more I’m going to pray that the person who says it gets their ass kicked by baby Jesus. Newsflash, words do indeed have meaning, that’s WHY HUMAN BEINGS USE THEM AS THEIR PRIMARY FORM OF COMMUNICATION. But tell you what, as a little experiment in verbal communication, try walking up to your wife or girlfriend, give her a kiss on the cheek and then say “your looking lovely today you little bitch.” Or walk up to security at the airport and yell BOMB at the top of your lungs. Assuming you survive either experience (and there’s a good chance you won’t), do get back to me and let me know how understanding either the woman in your life or the armed security officers at the airport were when you tried to explain to them that they’re just words, only possessing the meaning people invest in them. As an aside, please include instruction on how to properly communicate while you’re getting your teeth knocked down your throat.

Its Tradition: Really? You’re going to make me do this? OK. You know what else was “traditional” back in 1933? Polio. Pogroms (look it up, it ain’t good). Racial segregation that bordered on Apartheid. Residential schools, victimizing thousands of the people who the Redskins name disparages. The Klu Klux Freaking Klan lynching African-Americans, all of that was pretty traditional back in the day. Care to bring back any of those historical goodies based on the virtues of tradition (although polio, along with a handful of other nasty little ailments, is making a fashionable comeback thanks to the anti-vaccination crowd)? Any time anyone claims that challenging or changing something is a threat to “traditional values,” it’s usually a thinly veiled attempt to preserve a racist or bigoted stereotype. Its like when someone says, “I’m not a racist, but” it’s a warning that something horribly racist is about to fall out of their mouth.

Its Political Correctness Run Amok!:  Shut. Your. Mouth. A) There’s a difference between rabid political correctness and common sense and B) could you imagine the deafening outrage if a professional sports team used a racial slur against whites as its name? FOX News would literally combust with apoplectic, righteous rage.

But here’s one of this my own. Context. Come with me on a little journey through history. The history where anywhere between 90 and 110 million First Nations were slaughtered over the course of three hundred or so years by white colonists conquering the lands that would become known as North America. Go back and read that again. Between 90 and 110 million. Want a little perspective? That’s up to 22 times the number of African-Americans estimated to have died during the barbaric age of American slavery. It’s 15 to 20 times the number of Jews who lost their lives in the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust. It could be 10 times the number of people who starved to death during the Holodomor, the Soviet Union’s systematic murder of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930’s. It is without a doubt the greatest crime in the known history of the Human Race, but we don’t like to talk about it because we’re Americans and Canadians and we can’t possible be guilty of such atrocities (think again). If you need proof the bloody legacy of that genocide is painfully apparent today, just remember that the reservation systems Canada and the United States used to “shelter” their First Nation populations were studied by South Africa as models for Apartheid and were even admired by Hitler. Enough said.

Having said ALL that, where exactly do white people get off telling a group of people who were the subject of the world’s longest ongoing genocide (at our hands) what they can and can’t find offensive? It would be like a German soccer team naming themselves the Dreidels or a baseball team in Georgia calling itself the Southern Slaves and then being surprised when Jews or Blacks are justifiably pissed off. Most of the people who passionately defend this name are whiter then the driven snow (not all, but most) and it’s well past time that us white folk took a long look in the mirror and asked ourselves how we can tell a group of people who our ancestors murdered, assaulted, maimed, raped, and murdered lots, lots more, what does and doesn’t offend them. Because boiled down into a wee little nutshell, that’s what many whites, the vast majority of whom have never faced genuine discrimination once in their life, are doing. And those of us doing it need to shut it.

Shayne Kempton

BIG DADDY

ON THIS, THE ANNUAL DAY DEVOTED TO OUR DADS, I REVEAL SOME OF MY FATHER’S FINER COMEDIC MOMENTS 

Last Father’s Day, I wrote a heartfelt tribute to my own long-suffering Father while wishing a Happy Father’s Day to all the great Dads out there. Now moving tributes are fine and dandy, once in a while. So this year I’m changing gears and sharing some of the wackier moments my Dad gave me growing up, and boy, did my he provide plenty of comedic fodder. And you know what? I actually managed to learn a few practical things along the way, though I wasn’t smart enough to understand some of the lessons until years later. So without further adieu, allow me to share the comedic highlight reel of my formative years starring my one and only Pop.

Growing up, my Dad was a mobile pack rat. Everywhere we went he vacuumed stuff up like a Hoover on steroids. Business cards, flyers, pamphlets, those little condiment packets from any fast food place we stopped at (my family only went through one actual bottle of ketchup a year), but instead of squirreling his treasure trove in his pockets or the glove compartment of the car, he gave it all to my mother to put in her purse. It was her biggest pet peeve and finally one day she snapped, yelling at my bewildered father that she had more of his stuff in her purse than hers. My father was easily the smartest man I knew growing up, but even my five-year old self knew that his solution, that he genuinely thought would be a smashing success, was doomed for failure. I can’t remember if it was for an anniversary of Christmas or her birthday, but I have never seen a smile die so completely as my mother’s did when she unwrapped my father’s gift that year-a bigger purse. Now while there’s no actual lesson to be gleaned from this little nugget, there is a realization for my own personal development; that my complete failure to understand the fairer sex in even the slightest is totally and without doubt my father’s fault.

And speaking of Christmas. . . . One Yuletide morning my sister came bursting into my room, dancing from foot to foot like she was standing on a hot plate and stuttering incoherently. I soon saw why as a massive Christmas gift had found its way under our tree over the curse of the night. And more shocking, it was addressed to yours truly. Turned out it was a brand new mountain bike, but the punch line? My mother confided in me years later that my dad covered part of this several hundred-dollar purchase with Canadian Tire money. You know, the kind in 5 and 10 cent denominations. My first question was how long had they been saving up their Canadian Tire currency? The second was how much did that poor clerk want to kill my father when he purchased it? On the flip side though, the cool thing is my father braved death by cashier for my Christmas present that year.

Growing up on a horse farm I learned that while horses are animals of majestic beauty and dignity, some can be real, grade A jerks. One spring we welcomed two brand new horses to our little equine family, a high-spirited phillie I named Aldieb (after a character in a book I was reading at the time, so stop judging me). She was bright and full of energy and far too smart for her own good, an absolute bundle of awesome. The other one, a stallion my dad named Corby (though I had plenty of other R rated names for him), not so much. He grew so fast that by the time he was only a few months old he was already wearing gear reserved for horses a year or more older. He was pure power and he knew it. He was like that guy in high school who was just naturally gifted at sports; big and strong and fast and a total douche-bag to anyone who was smaller than him (which was everyone). Now don’t go and get the wrong message, he wasn’t a bad horse. He was a PSYCHOTIC ONE, and you would think that my father, the far more experienced and stronger horseman, would have volunteered to work with said nut job while I got the rambunctious but smaller (and much less violent) Aldieb. You would think. And you’d be wrong. Corby and I went to war every single day and since my entire body weighed about the same as one of his legs, you can imagine who usually came out on the other side of our regular battles bruised, scarred and occasionally crying like a little girl. I was kicked, stepped on, head-butt, body checked, run into and almost killed when my sister “panicked” one day and locked me in a stall with Corby when he decided to play a little soccer with my head. I learned two lessons from my many losing encounters with that four legged monstrosity; the first was that you have no idea how far or high you can jump when you have a couple hundred pounds of homicidal equine chasing you. And second, when your dad tells you that getting your ass kicked on a daily basis while he stands by watching, occasionally even smirking, is “good experience,” he’s totally lying so he doesn’t have to deal with that noise.

One year before Christmas (noticing a pattern in my nostalgia?), I underwent an emergency appendectomy, and in the rush to remove my little intestinal time bomb, a few corners were cut in the recovery process and suffice to say that for the better part of a month I had all the mobility of a drunken walrus with a hip problem. That was the same time my father decided to take me with him to go shopping for my mother’s Christmas present (probably to prevent him from buying another deluxe sized purse) and we deliberately ventured to one of the local shopping malls as early as possible to avoid the homicidal Christmas mob. That’s an important detail to keep in mind because when he got to the mall, the parking lot was indeed half empty. There were plenty of spots within comfortable walking distance for someone whose steps could be measured in millimetres. Instead, my father chose the second furthest spot from the door. Make no mistake, he would have grabbed the furthest but it was already taken (probably by some other guy who was torturing his wounded son). To add insult on top of humiliation, he would stop every ten feet or so as I inched my way across the concrete ocean of the parking lot, wee step by painfully wee step, to ask what was taking so long. Now you might think that was a one-off but he did the exact same thing to me a few years later when a sprained tendon restricted me to crutches for a little while. Only this time we were visiting the hospital and if he had parked any further away it would have been across the street (which he probably considered). When I questioned his choice of parking spot, he replied (complete with a smile on his face) that I needed the exercise. Note to any parents reading this right now; when a child is on crutches, that’s the last time they need more exercise, especially when you put a set of snow-covered stairs between them and the hospital doors. Just saying.

I’d like to think I got a few back here and there (like when I took him to see Avatar in 3D and he spent most of the fight scenes ducking the giant spears flying out of the screen), but I know better. Growing up, my dad pretty much had the upper hand and thinking back on it, it was probably karma for all the stupid grief I put him through. And after all, what good’s having kids if you can’t mess with them every once in a while? If anything, I got to cut my sarcasm teeth on my Dad and his occasional antics. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Make sure to spoil your Dad today folks, he’s the only one you’ll ever have so make it count. Happy Father’s Day Dad.  I love you.

Shayne Kempton

ONTARIO VOTERS ARE HARDLY THRILLED BY THEIR CHOICES IN TOMORROW’S PROVINCIAL ELECTION AND WE’RE EXPECTING ANOTHER RECORD LOW TURNOUT AT THE POLLS.  BUT INSTEAD OF QUITTING ON DEMOCRACY, HERE’S ANOTHER ALTERNATIVE

So here we are, the home stretch of Ontario’s latest election campaign, and right on cue the major media outlets have begun their customary endorsements of candidates, defending their selections in the editorial pages and offering reasons why you should vote for them. The words “hold your nose and vote for” have been busier then a mall Santa on Christmas Eve and given that tomorrow’s voter turnout is expected to be on the wrong side of a record low, just about anything could happen. Tim Hudak’s Conservatives could replace the governing Liberals with a majority or Kathleen Wynne could well return to office with a minority government (meaning we’ll be in this exact same spot in another two years or less). Voter turnout in 2011’s Ontario election was an anemic 49.2%- breaking the previous record low of 52.8% set in 2007-and this year’s turnout is expected to preserve the trend of declining voter participation.

And who can blame Ontario voters? This is perhaps the most underwhelming provincial campaign in recent memory and I’ve both spoken to and heard a lot of voters who are ready to throw their arms up in exasperated defeat, ones who can’t bing themselves to vote for the detested and despised “other party” but have completely lost both faith and confidence in their regular party of choice. If Elections Ontario allowed pollsters to list “none of the above” as a polling option, you could bet that the Big Three Party leaders would all be trailing the Invisible Man by a country mile.   I would never presume to tell someone how to vote (and I don’t believe any media organization should either) and as a political independent, I can’t sympathize as much with voters who have spent the majority of their lives voting one way but now face voting another out of disgust and disillusionment. But I do have some advice that I’d like to share after a quick recap of why we find ourselves in this situation.

Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals are dragging more baggage in this election than Jacob Marley in a Christmas Carol. Everything from Dalton McGuinty’s litany of broken promises on taxes (“I will not raise your taxes,” “Ok, this time I’m serious, I won’t raise your taxes,” “OK, I can’t say it again with a straight face, but look, I keep getting elected so whose really to blame here?”) to a non-stop parade of scandals, from eHealth to the Ornge Helicopters fiasco to the current gas plant nonsense. I’ve argued that the reason McGuinty was re-elected twice since he started lying to Ontario voters in 2003 was that he faced weak competition who giftwrapped the subsequent elections for him (whether it was John Tory inadvertently galvanizing Ontario’s Islamaphobia against the Conservatives with his multi-faith schools in 2007 or Tim Hudak’s 2011 economic platform that was so bland that even the staunchly conservative Sun Media refused to endorse him). And while Wynne has been able to deflect some of that pressure by pointing out she wasn’t in charge when Dalton was doing his best impersonation of Pinnochio, she was still pretty high up on the food chain for some of it. In the eight years McGuinty was Premier, the Liberals doubled Ontario’s debt and saying that the Provincial Liberals have a spending problem is like saying that Rob Ford only likes seconds once in a while. Wynne promises to balance the budget by 2018, but the simple fact is that the Liberals never passed a balanced budget under McGuinty (even before the Great Recession of 2008) and they have zero economic credibility as a result of their overspending and fast and loose approach to campaign promises.

And that sound you heard during the opening days of the campaign? That was the sound of any Public Sector employee in Ontario who was even remotely considering voting for Conservative leader Tim Hudak changing their mind at warp speed. Hudak came out of the Blue corner swinging, offering an economic platform of severe job cuts and austerity measures to cure Ontario’s addictions to deficits and combat it’s enormous debt. Hudak’s formula (and platform) is pretty straight forward-the money Ontario would save by cutting 100,000 public sector jobs over the next two years (some through attrition, though no one knows how many) would cover a proposed 30% cut in the corporate tax rate, and that tax break combined with other deregulations would allow a slumbering private sector to awaken like a hungry, angry bear, creating a million private jobs over the next eight years. But Conservatives are usually the first ones to tell you that governments can’t guarantee job growth in the private sector, and one only has to look at our neighbours to the south to see that even when they have money, it isn’t unusual for companies to stubbornly refuse investing in a larger workforce (American corporations are enjoying record profits despite the lingering effects of the 2008 collapse, yet employment levels remain largely stagnant). And you can ask our friends in Europe how deep austerity cuts usually only result in swollen unemployment and stressed social safety nets. Ontario is already one of the most hospitable places for corporations in North America and big companies are the last people who need a tax cut, let alone a 30% one. The truth of the matter is that corporations hate spending on labour (and would scrap the minimum wage in a heartbeat if they could) and the Conservatives haven’t offered any backup plans if some corporations decided to simply pocket the tax savings. And while Hudak pledged not to include doctors or police officers in his cuts, he almost eagerly admitted that teachers would find themselves in his pink slip crosshairs (what is it with Conservatives and teachers?). Just to put his proposed cuts into perspective, the number of jobs Hudak could lay his hands on is about 650,000, so his cuts would result in a sudden reduction of over 15% of the public sector (which would wreak incredible havoc on the services affected), and between 1.5 and 2% of the province’s entire workforce. While the PS is admittedly more swollen then Justin Bieber’s ego, the idea of putting a tens of thousands of people out of work over the next two years doesn’t sound like it’s merely throwing a monkey wrench into a fragile consumer economy so much as it’s dropping an anvil laced with nitro glycerin on top of it. The math Hudak used to formulate his platform (which has been endorsed by a very, very far-right, anti-union American economist) has already been questioned by a number of experts and he’s already found himself on the defensive over reductions to local spending, primarily Phase 2 of Ottawa’s LRT (part of his plan includes reduced funding to municipalities). It’s no surprise that labour unions began mobilizing against Hudak as soon as the writ hit the fan and this is the first time I’ve seen advertising that doesn’t endorse any one particular candidate or party, but rather implores you to vote against one, in this case Hudak’s Conservatives (the City of Ottawa recently ordered that particular advertising removed). Hudak’s cuts have been described as more draconian then former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’, whose reign was filled with more strikes then a Major League baseball game, and he’s been described as a meaner sequel to Harris himself.

And what to say about Andrea Horwath and the NDP? She’s easily the biggest riddle among the three. Already burdened by criticism for failing to capitalize on the Orange Wave that lead the Federal NDP to record success in the last national election, Horwath decided to trigger all this despite low poll numbers and an empty warchest. Labour unions, the NDP’s main source of support, actually implored her to back the Liberal budget last month. Instead she voted against Wynne’s Liberal government, triggering an election that could see a very union unfriendly Conservative party take provincial power. The NDP platform is little more then a collection of vague offerings beyond raising the minimum wage by an extra dollar over the next two years while giving tax breaks to small and medium sized businesses . You may not like the Liberal or Conservative platforms, but at least they have one. I still can’t make head or tails of the NDP’s pledges. And wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you were the party propping up a government, that you would use that position to your advantage by trading support for concessions that align with your agenda rather then triggering an election when your support is low and your cash even lower? What does Horvath tell the NDP faithful if they wind up with fewer seats and less influence this Friday as a direct result of her decision?

So it’s easy to see why so many voters are willing to throw in the towel. It looks as if plenty are planning on spoiling their ballots or staying home altogether. This truly is a case of choosing the least evil. So my advice? Forget the talking heads. Ignore the party leaders. Not one of them has earned your respect or admiration. Instead, use the remaining time to check out what your riding’s candidates have had to say. And don’t let yourself get blinded by the party mantras that so many like to retreat behind. We all know what Kathleen Wynne plans on doing for the province, but what about Ottawa? What about your riding? Would a Conservative government pledge funding to prevent millions of litres of raw sewage from flooding into the Ottawa River every time it rains? And look beyond the rhetoric. After all, the Liberals have promised for years to help clean up Ottawa’s river yet haven’t delivered. It may well be time to abandon the Big Three altogether. Don’t ignore independent or non-mainstream candidates. Worse things could happen then electing either the Conservatives or Liberals to a minority government and allowing a handful of independents to hold the decisive balance of power. After all, what sort of message would it send to the Three Party Leaders if a sizeable chunk of Ontario voters rejected them and their party lines? This is the only time politicians truly listen or care to what the electorate has to say, so instead of staying home or spoiling your ballot, use your vote to send a message. People constantly complain that the system is broken, that it’s stacked against the “little guy,” and those arguments have plenty of merits, but every once in a while we have a chance to shout at the bureaucrats who like to talk over our heads. Every once in a while they need us, and here in Ontario, tomorrow is that time. So vote. And make it count.

Shayne Kempton

 

ONTARIO’S THREE STOOGES