The House

The politics of basketball

This week on The House, former political strategists Scott Reid and Dennis Matthews join us to talk about why politicians are clinging to the success of the Toronto Raptors. We talk about how environmental issues will affect this election with Sabrina Bowman of GreenPAC. And, after a shooter's manifesto was read into the Parliamentary record, we ask what belongs in our history books.
Golden State's Andre Iguodola stumbles as he tries to cover Toronto's Pascal Siakam during Game 3 on Wednesday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The country is roaring for the Raptors as they take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals, and politicians are capitalizing on the buzz.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh both attended previous playoff games, and former U.S. president Barack Obama also made a surprise appearance at a game in Toronto.

Former high-level staff members to two prime ministers say there's all kinds of political and personal reasons for politicians to try to tap into the Raptors' crowd. 

"It's young, it's urban, it's hip, it's diverse. And so if you're Justin Trudeau, you dig being around that because you think that's on brand for you. If you're Andrew Scheer, being around that demonstrates 'see I'm not not those things,'" Scott Reid, director of communications to former prime minister Paul Martin, told The House. 

But he also cautioned it's not just about the politics. 

"Let's not lose sight of the possibility that people are fans and occasionally politicians are also people."

The Toronto Raptors are having a moment and millions of Canadians are watching. Politicians of all stripes are cheering for the team too... from Toronto's mayor John Tory to Barack Obama. Former prime minster Stephen Harper and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer have already been to games. So has NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. For his part, the Prime Minister has taken to social media to show he's cheering the team from home. So is it time for Justin Trudeau to get off the couch and onto the hardwood... or are the political risks too high? Reporter Muhammad Lila and political strategists Scott Reid and Dennis Matthews weigh in.

Aside from potential fan-motivations, Dennis Matthews, who served as head of advertising for former prime minister Stephen Harper, said it's never a bad thing to be connected to a success. 

"Politicians like to be associated with things that are winning," he said.

When asked whether they thought Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be making an appearance at a finals game, they both thought it's a possibility — though it would have to be calculated. 

Both men said you don't want a politician at a deciding game (lest a loss result in the notion they somehow cursed the game), and you don't want them courtside (or seeming out of touch with Canadians). 

The diversity of the team and Toronto has factored in to the political appearances at the games, Reid and Matthews agreed. 

The team is situated in an election battleground, and the demographics represent votes to be snapped up. 

"I'd be looking at that audience base and I'd be saying 'hey I want these people to to vote for me,'" Matthews said, 

Reid agreed, adding how he'd look at those votes for political strategy. 

"How do I get those? Because if I do, I am bringing in new votes into the column and I'm bringing them for me."

This election is about the environment, advocate says

The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a tailings pond near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

This election is the one all about the environment, says the executive director of a climate political action committee.

"This is probably the most important election on climate change and environmental issues potentially ever," Sabrina Bowman, who heads GreenPAC, told The House. 

Her organization endorses and supports candidates they believe have strong environmental priorities. Last election, they chose 18 candidates from the four major political parties to put their weight behind. Of those, 14 were elected.

"We certainly hope to do more this time around," Bowman said.

 "Across the political spectrum everybody that we've endorsed has been really happy about the endorsements and really excited about it."

It comes at a time when there are more serious calls for climate action. 

Polls show that Canadians are very concerned about the environment and climate change -- more than in any other previous election. Younger voters are particularly worried and they are a growing voting block. Scientists warn that humanity has about a decade to turn things around... what will that mean for the four year election cycle? Chris Hall asks Sabrina Bowman, executive director of GreenPAC, a group working to get environmentally conscious candidates elected.

The UN Secretary General said last month that the world is not on track to meet Paris climate accord objectives that would reduce global emissions. 

And an April report a report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada said that, on average, Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. 

Bowman said it's time those issues are reflected more fully in politics.

"We know Canadians are concerned about the environment," she said. 

 "We saw an opportunity to put people in office who really wanted to hear the solutions and activate them."

It's not up to us to sanitize history, expert says

Michael Cooper is the Conservative MP for St. Albert-Edmonton and Official Opposition Deputy Shadow Minister of Justice. (Terry Reith/CBC)

One historian says removing hurtful things from the official records of Parliament diminishes the ability to hold politicians accountable. 

Conservative MP Michael Cooper was removed from the Commons justice committee for quoting the manifesto of the man accused of killing dozens of worshippers at two mosque in New Zealand, in response to a Muslim witness.

The Liberals and NDP members of the committee voted unanimously to expunge the name of the shooter and the portion of the manifesto from the official record. 

"I am pretty concerned about the idea that a committee would strike records," Adele Perry, the outgoing president of the Canadian Historical Association, said. 

"It's often keeping records of things, however difficult, challenging and heinous they might be, that allows us to hold officials of all sorts accountable." 

Perry said the justification for removal is odd, considering typically the only time an expungement happens is when the name of a protected witness has accidentally been put on the record. 

While this one incident may not set a precedent, Perry says it should be enough to make people stop and think about what belongs on the pages of history. 

"I would urge us to think really seriously about whether we want to engage in a process whereby we make decisions about what to keep and what not to keep on those sorts of grounds."

When Conservative MP Michael Cooper read a portion of the New Zealand shooter's manifesto to a Muslim witness it cost him his seat on a parliamentary committee. It also sparked a debate about what belongs on the records of history. Cooper apologized, but did not retract his comments. So the committee passed a motion to strike his comments from the official record. The president of the Canadian Historical Association, Adele Perry, believes that was the wrong decision.


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