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The unpopular populist: Why former Trump strategist Steve Bannon can’t draw a crowd (outside Toronto)

When Steve Bannon speaks in Toronto tonight, there will be 3,000 people in the audience and perhaps as many protestors outside.

Either way, that might be a relief to the former Donald Trump adviser and Republican strategist. Because these days, the man who claims to have ignited a worldwide “populist revolution” is having trouble drawing flies.

A “micro-rally” at a Holiday Inn Express in North Topeka, Kan., on Tuesday drew a crowd of 25, including the organizers and a crew that’s trailing Bannon for a documentary. (To be fair, the event appears to have been publicized strictly via all-caps text messages.)

Bannon himself admits that his “grassroots” tour to whip up Trump’s “deplorables” in advance of next week’s midterms — and screen his self-produced Trump @War documentary — has been an intimate affair, with a half-dozen audiences of fewer than 10 people.

A showing in Staten Island last week attracted 38 Bannon fans. A rally at a firehouse outside a Buffalo, N.Y., firehall a couple of days later drew a comparably huge 200 people, but none of the Republican candidates that he was ostensibly there to support.

What has become increasingly clear is that “Sloppy Steve” is no longer considered polite company.

trump one year photo gallery

Bannon had a major hand in helping Trump win the U.S. presidency, but Bannon’s own tenure in the White House was relatively short-lived. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The New Yorker magazine backed away from a plan to feature him in its fall festival after social media was set aflame by angry readers, and other celebrity guests started dropping out.

An onstage interview event in London, UK, at the Bloomberg Invest Summit went ahead, but provoked a major mutiny among the business network’s employees, with 91 staffers signing their name to a letter criticizing management for “creating space” for a man who “targeted women, black and Muslim populations” when he was working in the White House.

And a scheduled keynote address to the 15th International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology at the University of Montana in December — the topic is “how economic nationalism will help minorities obtain more high-tech jobs” — now seems to be in doubt after complaints and boycott calls. (The Fourth International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, happening in the same space at the same time, is so far unaffected.)

Even the populist politicians who might be benefitting from Bannon’s advice and insights are loathe to admit it.

After Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazil’s new president, told a magazine that Bannon was helping his dad with voter analysis and data interpretation, Jair Bolsonaro denied having any ties whatsoever to the controversial strategist. “Typical fake news,” said the man who has been nicknamed the “Tropical Trump.”

Bannon’s efforts to launch a pan-European alliance of far-right parties called The Movement is off to a slow start, as leaders like Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini blow hot and cold on the idea of being associated with him.

In fact, the only person who really seems to want to hang out with Bannon is Robert Mueller. Last week, the special counsel probing the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia interviewed Bannon for at least the third time.

The subject of the meeting was apparently the timing of Wikileaks’ release of hacked Clinton campaign emails during the 2016 election.

A walk in their shoes

The National‘s Susan Ormiston reports from Mexico on the myths and realities of the Central American migrants hoping to make their way to the U.S. border.

Travelling with the migrant caravan in Mexico, it’s difficult to square the rising rhetoric from Washington with the worn-out feet here.

Six-year-old Josue has a nasty blister on his toe. It looks infected when he takes off his Croc-like shoes, not good for a 63-kilometre trudge.

His three-year-old sister Jessica begged her mom to stop walking days ago. She relented when Jakeline Cardona secured a stroller, from somewhere, on a rest day in Jichtan, in southern Mexico.

Cordona has a home back in Honduras, but she won’t go back. “Where I used to live, there was a lot of violence, there were no jobs,” she said.

These are the families President Donald Trump said are pushed to the front of the cameras in order to hide the men, whom he referred to as “vicious” and “invaders.”

migrant caravan

These migrants are among the thousands who have been making their way from Central America with an eye to reaching the U.S. border. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

It’s simply not so. None of the parents we met during our week with the caravan were staging their walk. Many signed up in Honduras, on social media, without being persuaded by some unseen political hand.

Among the 4,000 people still walking and riding, there are those who will likely never get into the U.S. legally as a refugee or asylum seeker. We met at least three men in three days who’d already been deported from the U.S. once, leaving wives or girlfriends and kids behind. They are part of this caravan, too.

But we found no evidence to justify the broad condemnations from Washington that these migrants are actors in an evil play.

When the large group of central American migrants first broke out of Guatemala and into Mexico, it appeared they might benefit from the daily news coverage and the focus on “lost countries,” as one woman described her home, Honduras.

But that spotlight has not gone their way, with the U.S. president seizing on a perceived threat to whip up resistance at home, and turn immigration into one of the toxic issues in the U.S. midterm election.

The U.S. is pressuring Mexico to deal with this “problem,” and there are small signs it is working.  This week, buses secured locally for part of the journey north out of Juchitan were cancelled. Organizers say it was due to pressure from the Mexican government.

It was one sign the strategy to keep the caravan wandering down south is working. Far enough away not to pose any real threat to the border — but close enough to be target practice for political mudslinging.

Sir John A. Macdonald’s troubled legacy

The heated controversy over what to do with statues of Sir John A. Macdonald in Canada prompted reporter Nick Purdon and producer Leonardo Palleja to dig down to the roots of the debate.

Sometimes you just have to get out of the way and let the story unfold in front of you.

That’s what happened in Regina when Leonardo Palleja and I were interviewing a man named Patrick Johnson in front of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald.

Johnson was telling us about the time he loaded a sledgehammer into his car in the middle of the night and drove to the park to attack Sir John.

“I gave it three whacks on this side and three whacks on the other and nothing really moved,” he said. “It was just like a big ding — like a big bell ringing.”

patrick johnson

Patrick Johnson says the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Regina, seen behind him, should be removed because the former prime minister was the architect of Canada’s residential school system. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

Johnson said he started to laugh, because the sledgehammer did absolutely nothing to the statue … other than provide him with a metaphor.

“It was frustrating, but also eye-opening that it would take more than me to change something,” he said.

Johnson then told us about the time he sprayed red paint on the Sir John A. statue’s hands. Even though he has publicly admitted to the act, he planned to plead not guilty to the mischief charge.

“The question is, am I guilty of mischief or am I guilty of public education?” he said.

Johnson said the statue should be removed from the park because it is an insult to Indigenous people. Macdonald was the architect of Canada’s residential school system, where thousands of Indigenous children died and many others were abused.

Of course, not everyone agrees with him.

While we were talking to Johnson, a man biked by on his way home from work. He recognized Johnson and yelled: “Vandal, vandal!”

Perfect, I thought.

I stopped the man on the bike, whose name is Gordon Blackmore, and I explained what Johnson and I were discussing. He and Johnson started to argue, and Leonardo filmed the whole thing.

Our goal had always been to capture both sides of the argument over what to do with the statues of Sir John A. Macdonald, and here was the debate unfolding right in front of us.

It was unscripted and real. Have a look.

Patrick Johnson argues with Gordon Blackmore about the statue of Sir John A MacDonald in Victoria Park, Regina. 0:42
  • WATCH: Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja’s story on Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy Sunday on The National on CBC Television or stream it online

Changing the time on a BIG clock

The clocks fall back this weekend, so producer Greg Hobbs went to find out what it takes to keep a century-old timepiece ticking smoothly.

This Sunday, as you relax in bed for the extra hour that the end of Daylight Savings will afford you, spare a thought for John Scott. He’ll be up bright and early to make sure one of Canada’s historic landmarks, the clock tower at Toronto’s Old City Hall, isn’t out of step with the times.

Scott is the horologist tasked with preserving and adjusting the century-old iron and steel mechanism behind the four faces of the tower. He’ll walk up more than 350 steps to get to the clock.

john scott

Horologist John Scott works on the 100-year-old clock in the tower of Old City Hall in Toronto. (Greg Hobbs/CBC)

But don’t feel too sorry for him. It’s a labour of love, and he has a contagious passion for the timepiece.

“It’s a work of art,” says Scott, of the fine-tuned cogs and springs that have been meticulously ticking away for more than 100 years.

“And to imagine they were able to put this together and install it … [how they did it] has me baffled.”

It is indeed a wondrous piece of old-world technology. Toronto’s Old City Hall tower clock was built in Croydon, England, and began operating on New Year’s Eve 1900.

However, it’s not without temperamental issues. Sudden changes in the weather can cause the clock’s timekeeping to fluctuate occasionally, for example.

But thanks to Scott’s careful and continuous tinkering, it rarely drifts more than a few seconds out of time per month.

Horologist John Scott explains how he regulates the huge century-old mechanical timepiece at Toronto’s Old City Hall clock tower. 0:33

On Sunday, Scott will stop the pendulum with his foot, and while the clock’s mechanical parts are halted, he’ll spend the extra hour inspecting and cleaning.

“Ever since I took over this contract, I’ve enjoyed every minute in this tower,” he says.

In 2011, at the city’s request, Scott reluctantly put together a budget to replace the old machinery with an automated, satellite-corrected timing system. But he was relieved when the city went with the option of maintaining the original mechanism instead.

“It was a lot of work to put this in. I’m not spoiling all the man-hours of sweat and labour to get all this up in here. I don’t want those guys rolling over in their graves thinking I’ve just deactivated all of their labour.”

Don’t forget to put your clocks back on Nov. 4. Enjoy the extra hour.

  • WATCH: Greg Hobbs’ story about John Scott and the clock tower at Toronto’s Old City Hall tonight on The National on CBC Television or stream it online

The warmth of ‘Square Town’

Producer Jill English was part of a team from The National that checked out 902 ManUp, a grassroots Halifax movement to curb gun violence and create positive spaces for men in Nova Scotia’s black communities.

When we started looking at the community group 902 ManUp, the story we were pursuing was about transitioning out of prison. It was about gun violence, second chances and finding a way to break the cycle of incarceration.

But then, as many stories we work on do, it evolved.

“What do you know about Uniacke Square?” 20-year-old Trayvone Clayton asked me, reversing our roles halfway through our interview.

trayvone clayton

Trayvone Clayton, a 20-year-old basketball player who attends Saint Mary’s University, says 902 ManUp’s messages resonate with his community. (Jill English/CBC)

It wasn’t the first time I had been asked that question over the three days CBC News video producer Eric Woolliscroft and I spent in the Halifax public housing block known as “The Square.”

Residents asked because they knew the answer. They were proving a point about how their community is perceived.

Uniacke Square has a reputation for violence, and people like Clayton — a St. Mary’s University basketball player who calls it home — resent that it’s all people know.

“These young people take pride in their community, there’s a lot of good here,” Clayton’s father and the central figure in tonight’s story on The National told us. “But they literally have to fake their street address just to get a [job] interview.”

What residents also want people to see is the warmth that exists in “Square Town” and the support they offer each other.

902 manup

Members of 902 ManUp run events like a weekly Friday night basketball game, holiday dinners and school supply drives to support the community. (Jill English/CBC)

How to explain that more tangibly? Well, these interviews were unlike any I have ever done.

Everyone we spoke to – whether it was James, his nephew Corey Wright, longtime community member Shawn Parker – made time for every friend and neighbour who passed by. They could be mid-thought with two cameras rolling on them, it didn’t matter — they always stopped to say hello.

It was so telling, our editor Brenda Witmer couldn’t help but build some of that into our story, like this exchange with James:

902 ManUp president Marcus James explains the Halifax group’s approach to issues in the community, but not without acknowledging a neighbour driving by. Formed to address local gun violence, the group of volunteers has become an integral part of the neighbourhood culture. 0:39

It’s this sense of community that tonight’s story profiles, through the lens of a group seeking to empower fellow black men to do better, to help one another and to feel pride in who they are.

As Parker said to us many times when describing Uniacke Square, “the spirit is contagious.”

Catch it tonight on The National.

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