Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Debates, Old Debates...

I'd like to take the time today to talk a bit about the yet-to-be-announced leaders' debates in this election cycle.

As no real surprise to no one, the consortium of broadcasters decided to exclude Elizabeth May from the debates this year. This was the same decision they made last year, but backed down and allowed her in after massive complaints from the public at large. Complaints continue to appear now, but whether or not they will create the same result remains to be seen.

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and say something unpopular here: This election, I don't think Elizabeth May should be in the debate.

Allow me to try and justify that before you all start throwing rocks and twigs at me. As the election was beginning, Elizabeth May explained how she would not be undergoing a national campaign as leader of the Green Party in this election; rather, she would focus solely on winning her own riding and being active there.

As such, since she announced this and this is her goal, why would she be included in the national debates?

It is true that her party does receive a fair amount of support across Canada; more than you see with other so called 'fringe parties', and that one day the Greens will likely actually elect a Member of Parliament.

So, as it stands, is it right for the broadcasters to restrict her access to the debates based on the fact that her party had no representation in the House of Commons when the government was dissolved?

It is a tricky question.

After all, there are those other 'fringe parties'. None of them had representation in the House of Commons, but they all have party leaders who I'd imagine would love to get involved in the leaders' debates.

Keep in mind, in 2008 the Green Party received 937,613 total votes across Canada. The next largest 'fringe party', the Christian Heritage Party, received only 26,475. What this suggests is that the Greens are slowly moving from 'fringe party' to viable option in Canadian politics.

So, with that in mind, how can I say that Elizabeth May has no place in the debates this year?

Well, I'm resting most of my argument on her words in that she is more concerned with winning her own riding in this election than on waging a federal campaign. In truth, that's the only reason I'm against her being added to the debates this year. In the last debates, I supported adding May.

But given that a party leader isn't undertaking a national campaign, should they receive national coverage?

There's numerous reasons why a leader wouldn't undertake a national campaign: Lack of funding, for example. But the Green Party's past has shown that they have the funding to send May across Canada to stump for the party; and that they're capable of running a whole slate of candidates.

But May has chosen to exclude herself from the national campaign; as such, it should come as no surprise that the broadcasters have decided to exclude her from the debates as well. Whether or not this decision was reached because of May's comments at the start of the election, I don't know and I doubt we ever will...

But given that she openly stated that she was taking a national backseat, could that not have influenced the broadcasters' decision to leave her out of the debate?

It's possible. But again, I can't offer proof than that other than her words and my opinion.

So, given that May had announced that she was going to focus on her riding; why is she now suddenly infuriated about being left out of the leaders' debates? One would imagine that if she was focusing on her own riding, she was already prepared not to take place in the leadership debates.

So to come out and then condemn the decision, and more or less demand her time at the debate, May is turning her back on her own words at the start of the campaign.

Which leaves us in a bit of a bind:

Either May wants to run a national campaign, which includes stumping for the party and taking part in the debates OR she wants to focus on potentially winning the first seat for her party by shrugging off some of the responsibilities of leadership and focusing solely on her riding.

She set the tone for this herself, and can't have it both ways...But now she is trying to.

And if my opinion can be trusted, I think it can given the facts, that casts a lot of doubt on the Green's message of changing politics and ending government hypocrisy; after all, the Greens have been trying to portray themselves as the antidote to the other parties and the politics as usual message. But if May is expecting her time, despite announcing that she wasn't going to actively campaign nationally, she is showing a Green Party that is hypocritical and is running 'politics as usual'.

She excluded herself at the start of the campaign; and while I would find her exclusion objectionable by the broadcasters if she hadn't made this announcement, I can only say that when you exclude yourself you can't be surprised if others start to exclude you too.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Takin' Care of Business

Source: CBC News: Ignatieff, Harper Trade Barbs on Taxes, Spending

Well, it's day three of the election campaign, and so far very few actual policy ideas have been brought forward by any of the parties. This is to be expected, given that the first days if not week of an election campaign will be mostly spent setting the tone of the election and developing key themes.

Harper continues to bemoan the coalition lurking over Ottawa; Ignatieff has crossed off forming a coalition; Layton and Duceppe continue to bring up, rightfully, how eager Harper seemed to be in 2004 to form a coalition with the opposition to bring down Paul Martin. Harper and his team have rejected this conclusion, saying instead they were simply forming a 'co-operative effort'.

You say co-operative effort, I say coalition. Semantics, and Canadians deserve better than debating whether or not co-operative effort is Conservative-Speak for coalition; since they can't say coalition now because of the harm they're trying to inflict on the word.

I'm pretty sure I've made my thoughts on a coalition government clear on this blog. I'm for it. It's more democratic, given that more voters are heard, than simply awarding a minority government to the party with the most seats. After all, in the 2008 election, 70% of Canadians voted for non-Conservative candidates.

John Baird said in the House of Commons that the party with the most votes forms government...But the Conservatives, with their 30%, may have had the most single votes but not the most votes over all.

You can't have it both ways fellas, so please, let's just put this issue to rest and all accept that coalition governments are a norm across the world and nothing to be afraid of.

Now, back to the main part of this post.

Harper announced today the first major election promise in the campaign, and it revolves around helping families.

Harper announced that for families with children under the age of 18, the government would restructure the tax code so that parents could income-split to a maximum of $50,000 which he said would save them about $1,300 a year.

Now, I'm not an economist, so I might have the details wrong here (If I do, someone please correct me): Income splitting basically allows the 'breadwinner' in a family to transfer some of the money that they earned to their spouse/partner, which results in the 'breadwinner' paying lower taxes over all.

Now, that sounds like a reasonable idea. After all, families need every dollar they can get now a days...

But there's a catch.

Harper has made this promise on the premise that the Conservatives will only pass such a motion once the deficit is gone and the books are balanced. According to their predictions, while they were in office, that would happen somewhere around 2016. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, the Conservatives had no plan to balance the books when the government fell and paying off the deficit could likely take much longer than 2016.

There's also some other concerns here.

Harper's government had just tabled a budget, yet this idea was no where to be seen in it. So, why the sudden about face to include a measure which should have been included the in the failed budget?

Obviously, the words vote buying come to mind...But the conditions behind this policy also mean that if the Conservatives are re-elected, it won't be in the next budget...Or the budget after that.

So, why even announce this?

Because it sounds good; and Canadians who only pay attention to numbers and small details will hear the positives of this idea, but not the part about it only coming when the books are balanced.

So, let's consider for a moment what a re-elected Harper Government budget would look like:

It would mostly be a rehash of the failed budget, only with the measures to appease the NDP likely taken out or scaled back to such a level that they become insignificant. This policy won't be there, either.

What will be there?

Billions of dollars for building new prisons, while adding nothing for rehabilitative programs.

Billions of dollars for stealth fighter jets, sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin who now has a former lobbyist for them running as a Conservative.

Billions of dollars for corporations in federal corporate tax decreases, while leaving the middle class and lower class waiting for the day the books are balanced.

Canadians deserve a government that actually has their best interests at heart. Harper has shown his disdain for Parliament, being the only Parliamentary leader in Commonwealth history to ever be found in contempt; and now he's showing his disdain for average Canadians by promising they will finally get something, but on a day that will never come while the Harper Conservatives are in power.

If Canadians want a government that is looking out for them, it is not found in the Harper Conservatives.

To borrow a phrase, and modify it, from Bachman Turner Overdrive:
"The Harper Government's been takin' care of business, so Canadians have to work overtime."

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified this as being Day Four in the Federal Election campaign. I apologize for the error.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Structuring the Election

Source: CTV News: Poll says Trust in Conservative Government Falling
Source: CBC News/Opinions: Scott Reid: Whose Fault is it if no one Cares?
Source: Global and Mail: NDP Leads Federal Parties Vying to Capture Quebec Imagination

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to sit down and peruse the news websites, as is my habit. Much by chance, I stumbled across the above mentioned editorial by Scott Reid; a former Liberal party strategist. Reid does an apt job of recounting the recent misfortunes of the Harper Government, the scandals and problems that have gotten them in hot water, yet draws an interesting conclusion:

Reid suggests that Canadians aren't phased by the actions of the Harper Government, or at least the voters likely to give Harper a majority aren't, and poll numbers suggest that Harper's lead will continue. Reid points a few fingers, mainly at the media, and suggests that it will take some strong electoral planning to get Canadians to care about the Harper Government's abuses of power.

Well, it now appears that Mr. Reid may have to eat his hat.

Recent poll numbers, in which the question was how much trust do you have in the current government, have been overwhelming bad for the Harper Government. 41% of Canadians say they have less trust in the government than they did a year ago. Granted, 49% trust it about the same amount, and 6% trust it more.

But, let's look at those numbers before moving on to a few others.

When Harper first came to power in 2006, the question of trust was always at the back of the minds of Canadians. This is partially due to the Liberal, and NDP, suggestions that Harper had a hidden agenda that he wasn't telling Canadians about. Even in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal, Canadians were willing to put some trust in the Liberals and give them a minority rather than trust Harper.

Of course, that changed a few years later, when the outrage over the Sponsorship Scandal hit its high and Canadians voted the corrupt Liberals out of office. But despite the outrage, the suggestion of a hidden agenda continued to plague the Conservatives, and they were only given a minority government.

Now, we all know this, so why am I mentioning it? I'm mentioning it because 49% of Canadians saying they trust the Harper Government the same amount doesn't tell the full story. After all, what if some Canadians started off not trusting the Harper Government? As such, they would continue to not trust the Harper Government the same amount...

See what I'm getting at? The phrasing of the question is just as important as the answers. And while 49% saying they trust the government the same might sound like an endorsement for the government, if you consider the paragraph above, the seeds of doubt begin to show. So, 49% trust the Harper Government the same amount; effectively, that doesn't really mean a thing.

Now, I said we would look at some other numbers, so let's go to that.

Perhaps the most damming part of the poll, at least if you're a Conservative, is that 49.1% of respondents in Quebec said they trusted the government less. Brian Mulroney learned that key to a majority government is found in Quebec. As such, it's been no surprise that Harper has been trying since 2006 to increase Conservative fortunes in Quebec; but it seems that the support he needs will continue to elude him.

In fact, those numbers are flocking to a surprising solution: The NDP. In a recent poll, the NDP was the second choice of voters, but the first choice of Federalist parties, beating the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Now, a lot of people are saying these numbers are not likely to translate into too many seats for the NDP in Quebec; but who knows what will happen come election day if Quebecois voters distrustful of both the Liberals and Conservatives...But, that's subjective predicting and not really my forte, so we'll leave that alone.

So, what's the most important part of this poll?

Obviously, it is the stage setter. Mr. Reid suggested that Canadians have yet to care about Harper's indiscretions, which is what the Conservatives are hoping for. After all, they think they can win an election based on economic factors...

Though, in reality, there's a lot of holes in their economic 'sound' management. $15...or was it $20...or was it $30 billion for fighter jets, will become a very popular retort to 'sound financial management'. Especially the bit about it being sole-sourced/contracted.

But, back to the point I was making.

The opposition is clearly hoping to fight on the moral high road, by reminding Canadians about Harper's own scandals and his flaunting of Parliamentary power despite being elected to clean up Ottawa in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal.

I dare say, even the Liberals could pick up seats by reminding Canadians that they were tossed out because of the Sponsorship Scandal, and now it's time to do the same to the Conservatives. Though clearly, this argument works best for the NDP: We have two parties who have held the faith and trust of the Canadian people, both in the past and at this present moment, let's not give them a future chance to mislead us and let us down.

This is a message the NDP can pick up and run with. Canadians know what they will get from the Liberals and the Conservatives, more of the same. It's a message that the Greens are attempting to use, but history shows Green support begins to evaporate come Election Day.

Some Canadians continue to cite Bob Rae as their reason for not voting NDP, and despite my best efforts to make the 'He did the job he was given with the conditions that existed at the time' argument, some people refuse to be swayed.

To that I say: Keep in mind that a report from the civil service shows that provincially speaking the NDP has the best track record of balanced budgets and running surpluses.

We're all victims of the past, in that we're beholden not only to our own choices but the choices of those who came before us. As such, some of Bob Rae's record is Bob Rae's fault; but some of it can be found in the governments who came before him.

This is also true of good things: Our economy has done so well in the face of global recession because of the work of the Liberal Governments, and even some Progressive Conservative ones, who placed regulations on our banks and developed other financial policies that created a strong economy for Canada. Yet, the Harper Government would have you believe they've done this all on their own.

And besides, federally speaking Bob Rae is a Liberal now, so saying he's the reason you can't vote NDP is like me saying Alexander Mackenzie is the reason I can't vote Liberal; it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Now, I've strayed a bit so let me reel this post back in line.

As it stands, the coming election is going to be an election of priorities. Instead of the staples such as health care, provincial transfer payments, the environment, and other social issues; this will instead be an election where morality is going to be weighed against financial issues. Now, I'm not saying the Conservatives have the answers for the economy, clearly I don't believe they do, but it will be the framework they will operate under.

And Canadians will have to decide whether the Conservatives actually are sound financial managers. As such, the opposition (in this blogger's humble opinion) have two things to prove to Canadians:

1.) That the Harper Government's financial record is not as iron-proof as they want Canadians to believe.

That means reminding Canadians about their calls for 'austerity' while spending $1 billion dollars on a G8 summit for a weekend; more than any other G8 and G20 summit ever held.

That means reminding Canadians that as they are scrapping stimulus measures, cutting funding to various groups (Status of Women), they went out and will spend between $15 - $30 billion dollars on stealth fighter jets; jets which were not put up for tender, or contracted through a bidding process, but were immediately awarded to Lockheed Martin.

That means reminding Canadians that they will spend untold billions on new prisons; while at the same time scrapping programs, such as the farm work program, that served as rehabilitation for the inmates contained in prisons.

And finally, by reminding Canadians that it was the work of the previous Liberal Government who helped put in the regulations and safeguards that helped prevent Canada from falling deeply into the global recession; and that while the Conservatives touted these regulations to the world, they were beginning to roll back certain regulations.

And:

2.) That the mistrust over the Harper Government's moral issues, also goes to show that we can't trust them on financial issues either.

This is simple enough to prove as well, given the scandals, but also helped along by pointing to previous Conservative promises on spending that never came to fruition. After all, how long ago was it that the Conservatives promised to create a children's art program tax credit? And I doubt it's coincidence that it was finally included in a budget that everyone knew was dead on arrival...

After all, there's a plethora of things the Conservatives promised that they didn't deliver on, and I'm sure a lot of it will go to show just how untrustworthy the Conservatives are.

Perhaps the most exciting idea to come out of this election is the possibility of the moral highroad being the primary ballot box question. If the Harper Conservatives are re-elected, minority or majority, it is an implicit approval of the methods used by this government to circumvent the laws and procedure of Parliament, and the will of Canadians.

As such, this election could set a precedent either way: By letting politicians know just what Canadians will and will not put up with by those they put in power to represent them.

Let's Get Ready to Rumble...Well, Electorally Speaking.

So much news, so little time.

Obviously, we've had two budgets: The Federal one, which has a snowball's chance in (well, you know where) of passing...Or even making it to a vote before the Opposition bring forward a non-confidence motion.

And a provincial one, which I'm still combing through myself. Once I have a bit more time, I'll maybe do a nice little post on the provincial budget, but no promises.

And then we have Brad Wall's nice little scandal here in Saskatchewan over the Saskatchewan Party's $1,000 Enterprise Club.

For those who haven't heard, the Premier and a few other Sask Party MLAs (Cabinet Ministers too) were having private get togethers with members of their party who contributed $1,000 or more in donations. Wall and the others deny that any lobbying went on at these meetings, but the letters sent out to members and the actions of a few of those in attendance suggest otherwise.

All I'll say about it is this: Yes, politicians need to meet with their supporters and the general public at large. Yes, politicians have always thrown galas and meetings where supporters pay a bit of money and people get to hob-nob with the political powerhouses of the province.

The problem comes when: these meetings are kept secret; an insanely large amount of money changes hands and then is not declared properly to Elections Saskatchewan; and when the Premier is involved.

I think a Premier needs to be aware of what sort of situations they find themselves in; and I can't help but think that anyone would see the potential conflict of interest that exists in a private $1,000 a head meeting with party supporters. But, apparently, Brad Wall thought this was acceptable.

The fact of the matter is, Premier Wall only put a stop to this once it came to light. If the events that brought about the revelation of this 'Enterprise Group' didn't occur, chances are Wall and his buddies would still be throwing their meetings every couple of months and thinking there was nothing wrong with this.

Hopefully, the people of Saskatchewan get some answers about who attended these meetings and what was discussed there; either way, there's going to be some serious questions for Premier Wall, and I doubt he'll answer them willingly.

And as you should all be aware, the Federal Budget has come down and is likely to fall down along with the Harper Government by the end of this week.

The opposition, mainly the Liberals, have already put forward a non-confidence motion in the government and come Friday it seems likely that it will pass and the nation will be cast into an election.

In my last post, I spoke about how the Conservatives like to suggest that this election is unnecessary. And again, I will say, an election is never unnecessary. Any politician in a democracy who utters such a phrase needs to give their head a good shake, because they're questioning the very basis of our political system by making such a statement.

But on top of this, the finger pointing has begun.

The opposition parties are blaming the government; while the government is blaming the opposition.

So, who is really at fault?

Perhaps it's my own personal bias, but clearly the government is in fault. After all, they have been found in contempt of Parliament. And they have been found in contempt of Parliament because they have repeated run roughshod over the rules and procedures by refusing to release information to Members of Parliament that sit on the opposition side.

Furthermore, the government is refusing to accept any amendments to the budget.

And despite it all, Stephen Harper has the audacity to still say that opposition parties should be working with the government to make Parliament work.

Mr. Harper, to that I must say, in a minority parliament it is up to the government to reach out to the opposition to make Parliament work, and you have failed massively on that front. The opposition does indeed play a role in making Parliament work, but compromise is a two-way street; not the Harper Highway which suggests that it is our way or no way at all.

Despite this, some Canadians continue to believe that it is the opposition's fault that we shall be having an election. Again, elections are not a bad thing, and I don't understand why some people are so opposed to one occurring, but I've talked at length about this already...

When the truth of the matter is, that this election falls clearly at the feet of Stephen Harper, the Harper Government, and the Conservative Party of Canada.

It is their decisions, their actions, and their refusal to work with the opposition that is forcing an election. They can paint the opposition as turncoats, or obstructionists, all they want; but the truth is that this government has never been serious about working with the opposition.

Remember budgets past; when the Conservatives purposefully included 'poison pill' legislation, essentially daring the opposition to vote against the budget and bring the government down. And of course, the Liberals in a weakened state (having lost their backbone), passed these budgets, or at least kept enough members away from the vote to prevent the government's defeat.

Canadians need to wake up to the tactics Harper and his team are using, and we need to realize that we cannot afford another year of the Harper Government, and we cannot afford a Harper Majority.

The disdain and contempt that the Conservatives have shown for government, and its procedures, should be truth enough to show Canadians that we cannot trust Harper and his Conservative party with the reigns of power.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Death Knell of Democracy?

Another abstract post today, as it's a topic that's been weighing on me. Though, we do have one semi-related source.

SOURCE: CTV News: Don't Force Election in Wake of Japanese Quake: Harper

I've noticed a rather disturbing trend in Canadian politics, not just during the Stephen Harper years (though the minority parliament situation has heightened discussion about it), and that is the average Canadian's feelings towards elections.

In one form or another, the word election has become a dirty word. Now, I think some of you are wondering how I can back this up. Well, let's turn to a list of adjectives that should hopefully illustrate my point:

An election is...

"Opportunistic"
"Unnecessary"
"Irrelevant"
"Costly"/"Waste of money"


The list could continue, but let's focus on those four for a moment, shall we?

Perhaps the first two have grown to prominence under the Harper Conservative years, given their use as buzz words for Conservative caucus members to use when talking to the press and (on the rare occasions when they actually do talk) to their constituents.

As such, the Conservatives are hoping to paint in the mind of Canadians that the current election that looms ahead of us is one that is not in Canada's best interest.

Yet, this argument would be more tangible and believable, if the Conservatives hadn't launched their own 'unnecessary' and 'opportunistic' election in 2008, when poll numbers suggested they had a chance at grasping the golden ring of a majority. This was done, in spite of, the Conservatives passing a fixed election date law.

So, to see a Conservative talk about 'unnecessary' and 'opportunistic' election, is a bit like the phonebook calling the newspaper obsolete.

But, you know what, these buzzwords have worked. Canadians seem to remain apathetic about elections, as our low voter turn out shows, and furthermore Canadians actually seem to be leaning towards the Harper Conservatives not out of ideology or conviction in their governance, but because as it stands they could form a majority government and end this election cycle for at least five years.

The Liberals can't form a majority, maybe a minority, and as much as it pains me to say the NDP is even further off in public support. As such, those non-voting electorally pained Canadians who want this cycle to come to an end are seriously considering voting Conservative just to avoid having to vote for five more years.

I ask you, is that anyway for a democracy to be run?

But of course, much as it always does, it gets worse.

On top of Canadians believing the idea that an election is 'unnecessary' and 'opportunistic', they are also buying into the idea that they are 'costly/waste of money'. According to Election's Canada data (found here) the 2008 Federal Election cost Canadians $230.3 million dollars, and $288.2 million after the reimbursement of political parties and candidates.

Now, when this is taken with the stance given by the Conservatives now, keep in mind that this is a $288.2 million total which could have been avoided by following their election dates law. After 2006, the next election was scheduled to occur on October 19th, 2009. Yet the Harper Conservatives jumped the gun and called an election early.

As such, Canadians went to the polls a year early in 2008. As such, the next 'scheduled' election should be for or around October 19th, 2012. Yet, Canadians are likely to head to the polls a year early again.

So, why is it not 'opportunistic' or 'unnecessary' when the Conservatives did it in 2008, but now it is?

I fear I'm treading too far from the topic I wanted to discuss in this post, so I shall attempt to fix that.

The point I am getting at is that Canadians are starting to buy into the buzzwords created by political party spin doctors, and as such our democratic institution is being undermined. The other problems rests in the other term I used, 'irrelevant'.

Increasingly, Canadians are starting to view the political parties as more or less the same. People look at the political parties and lump them into another set of adjectives, which surprisingly match a great deal of the adjectives for elections, and that helps breed further apathy among voters.

Look at Barack Obama.

In 2009, American politics was hitting a low point and there was a lot of anger amongst voters directed towards the administration and the political machine. Obama rose to prominence in this atmosphere for his ability to inspire audiences and voters. Obama won the election due to being able to organize grassroots organizations and younger voters to come to the polls and to surge support for the Democrats.

What I'm saying is that Canadians lack politicians who inspire.

Rather, our political system is self-cannibalizing in that it supports the problems that many Canadians see in the system. People believe that the parties are mostly the same, because in some ways they are.

The Liberals and the Conservatives are the worst offenders in this way, in that they often take the route of populism and 'rushing towards the centre' during election campaigns to lure voters to their parties. Yet, once elected, populism and ruling from the centre are often tossed aside...At least until the next election approaches.

As such, political parties (thanks mainly to the Liberals and Conservatives) are given a bad reputation; the idea that they will say one thing, then do another, comes from these two political organizations.

Yet, despite their faults, Canadians for one reason or another still resist the alternatives in our system. Canada is, thankfully, not a two party system; yet Canadians treat it as if it were. If I had a nickle for every time I've seen a person justify voting Liberal because they weren't the Conservatives, or vice-versa, I'd never have to work a day in my life.

Canadians need to understand that we make our own political system. By rewarding parties who say one thing then do another, we do not change the system. By switching out one party for another, when the differences between them are minuscule, Canada is not getting better or moving forward.

As much as I can talk about this subject, Canada has had a person who could talk about it better than I ever could. So, I'll leave that topic be and let the man himself tell you about it: Tommy Douglas on Mouseland

Which brings me to the 'meat-and-potatoes' portion of this post. As it stands, the two major political parties like this mindset in Canadian politics and don't want to do anything to change it. As such, it's up to us to do something about it.

For years, the Liberals have had the swagger in their walk from the fact that they think they are the only centre-left option for Canadians that has a chance of forming government. And the Conservatives now have that swagger by being the only right-wing (and during election time, centre-right) option for Canadians.

While it's true for the Conservatives, it's not true for the Liberals.

Canadians have a wider berth of choice than just Liberal/Conservative, Harper/Ignatieff; yet we act like we don't.

We complain about the political culture, the culture of corruption and deceit that exists in Ottawa, and yet we still come to the same solution: We can either vote in a Conservative or a Liberal Government.

The fact of the matter is, Canadians have more choice than that. And we need to start exercising it if we ever want to see real change take route in Canada.

In closing, I suppose I have swayed quite a bit off topic...But I feel that I need to say this:

The cornerstone of democracy is the right of the electorate to have their voices heard and to demonstrate those choices through the expression they have in an election. As such, an election is: The voice of the people.

An election is never 'unnecessary'. An election is never 'a waste of money'. It can indeed be opportunistic (as the Liberals and Conservatives [including the Progressive Conservatives]) have proven throughout the years. But it is NEVER a waste of time, money, or effort.

Any Member of Parliament who talks about an election as if it is a bad thing, regardless of political stripe, is doing a disservice to the institution they serve and the people they serve; and as such, any Member of Parliament who speaks ill of elections, is speaking ill of the people. As such, I think we need to examine whether or not that person deserves to represent anyone when they have such contempt for the process that gives them their forum in the first place.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What's Good for the Goose

It's an abstract post today, so brace yourselves.

In watching Power & Politics on the CBC this afternoon, I was given what they call 'The Firing Line', only because of technical difficulties only former Cabinet Minister Monte Solberg, talking with the host about the Conservatives spending $26 million dollars on advertising for the 'Economic Action Plan', which comes to a close at the end of this month.

The host asked former Minister Solberg a simple question: Are ad buys like this responsible governance, or are they just a waste of taxpayer dollars?

Rather than answer the question with a yes or no, Mr. Solberg (like a lot of politicians, of all political stripes) dodged and evaded the question, and instead used a point we've heard millions of times from the Harper Government:

"Well, there's no doubt that the former LIBERAL government did this when they were in power; yet no one said it was wrong when they did it."

Effectively, Solberg fell back onto the defence we've heard from the Conservatives over all their recent blunders:

1.) The Liberals did it when they were in power (Used for: The ad buys, the branding of Government of Canada to Harper Government, excluded any significant mention of gay rights in immigrant handbooks)

2.) Okay, we dropped the ball, but at least we didn't take $300+ million from the taxpayer for the Sponsorship Scandal (Used for: The ad buys, and every 15 minutes in random conversation in case Canadians have moved on from the event which broke in 2004)

3.) This is something that all the other parties have done. (Used for: The in-and-out cash scheme during the 2006 election.)

So, looking at the excuses the Harper Government have put forward, no one can reasonably say that they have taken ownership of their mistakes. Rather, nine times out of ten, their answer to questions tends to be either: The Liberals did it...Or why are you worried about this when the Liberals did this!

That is not leadership, and it is not taking responsibility for your actions. That's like a child admitting that he broke his mother's favourite vase, but in the same breath reminds her how the elder son crashed the car eight years ago. A bit of a flawed analogy, perhaps, but it does work on a mental image level.

A part of being in government means owning your mistakes. Political parties seem to have it in their heads that being in government means you have to appear to be infallible, when that is simply not the case.

Canadians want a government they can trust. That they don't have to watch with one eye open while they sleep, and the actions taken by the Harper Government have only gone as far as to show that Canadians do not have that in their current government.

It's time for the Harper Government to take ownership of their problems, and admit that they've done wrong and that they've screwed up. And that means Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister taking their lashings for it, instead of passing the responsibility onto the nearest staffer.

I re-read a Time Magazine article from 2006, when it talked about Harper forming government and the things he would need to focus on. Transparency and accountability were one of the things mentioned, and the article goes on to say that: "The real test will be how Harper reacts when his own government is caught in some kind of controversy or one of his ministers is found with their hand in the cookie jar..." (rough quote, taken from memory, from a 2006 Time Magazine article.)

Well, given the way Harper has reacted (and the way his cabinet has reacted as well), the results aren't good.

The Conservatives can slam the Liberals all they want, but the fact of the matter is that the events of the past do not give the current government free license to act the same way, or in similar degrees but not as bad. The Harper Government may not have taken $300+ million for Liberal friendly ad agencies in Quebec...

But they did sole source $17+ billion (or is it $20 billion? Or $30 billion? Who knows...Thanks, Harper!) to American Conservative darling Lockheed-Martin for stealth fighter jets.

So, let's call it even, even though the Conservatives are now holding a large share of misplaced taxpayer money (and on more than just their fighter jets...) and throw them out the same way Canadians threw out the Liberals.

At this point, an election is clearly coming and we need to send a clear message as an electorate. We want leadership, not finger pointing. We want a government who is actually transparent and who correctly punishes those who make mistakes, instead of defending them to the death even when they are clearly in the wrong.

But most importantly, we need a government with a vision for Canada and clear policy goals and ideas; as opposed to a government who's major reason for voting for them is "Well, at least we're not the other guys."

*****************

On a side note, I'm sure we've all been watching the events unfolding in Japan. My thoughts go out to the people of Japan, and those affected by the tragedy there. I also encourage readers of the blog to find out ways that they can help contribute to helping those in need in Japan.

-Scott

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

No, You're Out of Order!

Source: CBC News: Speaker Rules Against Government, Oda

In a ruling that should shock no one, Speaker of the House Peter Milliken, has ruled against the Government and cabinet minister Bev Oda in two separate rulings. The ruling against Oda suggests that she may be guilty of misleading Parliament, given that she asserted before a Parliamentary committee that she didn't know who inserted a 'not' into a funding document for KAIROS. She later admitted to Parliament that the 'not' was inserted under her orders/request, which contradicts her earlier statement.

As such, Oda could now face a vote in the House of Commons finding her in contempt of Parliament. The motion could also expand further to include the 'Harper Government', as opposed to just Oda herself.

The second motion, which Milliken sided with the opposition on, revolves around the refusal of the 'Harper Government' to release spending information on their tough on crime legislation. The opposition has been requesting documents regarding the cost of these pieces of legislation, yet the 'Harper Government' has been refusing to release these documents and using 'cabinet privilege' to keep the documents away from the hands of the opposition.

Milliken has ruled that this is not acceptable and violates Parliamentary privilege of other members of the House of Commons.

As such, the House as voted to return the matter to committee to determine what the next course of action is. The committee will then have until March 21st to report back to the House of Commons.

However, can we expect that report to come?

Given that the Liberals have now admitted that they are considering bringing the government down before the Federal Budget, which will come down on March 22nd, it seems possible that we won't get any results from this.

On the other hand, if I can think like a Liberal for a moment, there is a possibility of affixing a vote of non-confidence to the results that are brought forward, if they are particularly damning to the Conservatives. If this is the case, it would give the Liberals a great deal of ammunition to use against the Conservatives an election, and would serve as the best sounding board.

So, the Liberals would be able to avoid voting against a budget (which might include concessions to the NDP on social spending) that could make them look bad, while maximizing the negative image of the Conservatives going into an election.

Call me crazy, but that sounds like what's going on.

Not that I'm defending the 'Harper Government', mind you, but I call it as I see it.

So, whether this is part of Liberal election strategy or not, I think it's an issue that Canadians need to hear the results of; and hopefully, Canadians get a chance to hear about it before the Liberals jump the election gun for their own political advantage.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Harper's House of Cards

Source: CBC News: In-and-Out Worth $100,000 in Payouts
Source: CTV News: PMO Apologizes for Booting Media from Ignatieff Speech
Source: CTV News: Tories Defend use of 'Harper Government'
Source: CTV News: Kenny Stands Firm amid calls for his Resignation

I apologize if my posting seems less frequent these days, as essay season has begun and there's a legion of work to do on that front. Regardless, I take a break for a few days and the Conservatives do everything in their power to bring me back to posting...

So, the question is now where do I start?

We'll start with the less serious offences and slowly make our way towards the larger ones.

So, at an event organized by Indian High Commission, our illustrious Prime Minister gave a speech to the gathered crowd and collected journalists. After his speech, staff from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) ushered people out of the room and reportedly removed the podium as well. Then the news broke that Michael Ignatieff, Liberal/Opposition Leader, was planning on addressing those gathered as well.

So, let's just recap that again: After Harper addressed the crowd, the crowd was dispersed and even the podium was taken from the room, moments before Michael Ignatieff was supposed to address those gathered.

Now, the PMO apologized for the incident and called the entire thing a 'mistake' or as they've come to rely on as a defence a 'clerical oversight.' But at the same time, there's been condemnation with the apology. Conservatives, perhaps reaching for the last bastion of a defence they can muster, have said that Ignatieff and his camp never announced that he would be addressing the crowd, rather that he would simply be in attendance.

Granted, there was no report from Ignatieff's people about addressing those in attendance at the event. But, I know events like this and Ignatieff wouldn't have been standing on the floor, listening to Harper's speech and then decide last minute that he too would like to address the crowd. Someone would have been told, and Ignatieff would have been scheduled into the program.

A decision for Ignatieff to speak would have occurred prior to the event's start, and as such, someone somewhere would have known that Ignatieff was to speak after Harper. After all, as I've mentioned, events like this don't usually schedule in last minute speakers on a whim. So, either the staff responsible for the event dropped the ball...OR Harper's team knew full well what they were doing, and assumed that no one would notice Ignatieff's speech getting bumped.

And given other events surrounding the Conservatives, especially when it comes to wooing 'ethnic voters', having only Harper speak at an event for the Indian High Commission would be a feather in their cap come election time with Indian voters.

Call me conspiratorial, but we all know how the Harper Agenda works by this point in Canada; and that statement above rings true to me, as I'm sure it does to many of you reading this. But, of course, the PMO has apologized for the 'misunderstanding', after Ignatieff and his team kicked up a bit more dirt about it than was likely expected.

But, if the event wasn't as well reported, would there have been an apology? I think not.

That brings us to the latest in-and-out update. Elections Canada has put out a report that has much as $100,000 in tax rebates were paid to Conservative candidates for the 2006 election.

The rebates are to be used as a means of reimbursing election expenses for candidates who won their riding with a certain percentage of the total vote in their riding. But, given the skewed reporting of the in-and-out method, some candidates were entitled to ridiculous rebates. One riding for example, spent $12,000 during the course of the election but received $34,000 in TAX DOLLAR rebates.

So, that's money going from taxpayers to these riding associations for money that they didn't actually spend on riding expenses. Must be nice to get a tax break one isn't entitled to, of course big business knows how that feels, and apparently so does the Conservative Party of Canada...If only middle and lower class Canadians could know as well.

That brings me to the Harper Government. It's a term I've used on this blog numerous times throughout the years, and one that I likely will continue to use. I use it because it's easier than typing the much longer Conservative Government, or the idea of referring to the entire process as the 40th Parliament.

That, and the 40th Parliament, is too wide reaching as it also includes the opposition members who don't have much say in what gets drafted in Cabinet and Government.

And now, the Harper Government has taken steps to make sure Canadians across the nation know them as this as well.

It's been reported that a direct has come down from the PMO to change certain references from the term 'Government of Canada' to 'Harper Government.' And while the Conservatives are scrambling on the issue and denying that an order has been given down to this regard, there is some opposition from the Privy Council Office that suggests that there has indeed been directing on this issue.

The PCO has pointed out the increase of the term Harper Government over Government of Canada, pointing out that the term has been increased in usage. CTV reports that the phrase has been used 297 times in the last month alone; and that it has been used an additional 571 times since Nov. 2010, which coincides with the idea of a directive coming down.

So, if I refer to them as the Harper Government why is it ok, but when they do it it is bad?

Well, I do it for the same reason they are: Making sure Canadians know who is doing what. Though the difference is I usually point out short comings and misgivings that the Harper Government is responsible for; while they seem to be making sure that the Harper Government branding is attached to news reports that have a positive message.

Does that mean in a negative message, one that would reflect badly on the ruling party, that they would say Government of Canada?

Possibly.

If history, and giant cheques, have taught us anything it's that the Harper Government is doing everything in it's power to step through the bonds of being non-partisan and to integrate the workings of government and civil service with the Conservative Party of Canada.

Picture this for a moment: Take one of the NUMEROUS Canada's Economic Action Plan commercials that run on TV. At the end, it talks about the message being brought to you by the Government of Canada. Now, imagine that instead of Government of Canada, it said brought to you by the Harper Government.

Makes you feel dirty, doesn't it?

That's effectively what the Conservatives are doing in press releases and news briefs, given that a lot of these documents are either just blindly posted on government websites, and only hardcore political junkies are going to bother to go and read these documents.

Government isn't easy, and you have to take the good with the bad. Unfortunately for us, Harper wants us to believe that his government can do no wrong and that all that's good in this country is brought to us by him and his party; and that everything bad stems from Parliament and the 'Government of Canada'...Not the Harper Government.

Well, Steve, government doesn't work that way.

And that brings us to our Conservative Cabinet Minister Scandal of the Week! This will likely become a feature column on this blog, given the rate the Conservatives continue to make epic mistakes in cabinet.

Jason Kenney, our Immigration Minister and in my opinion a man who has made many gaffes in cabinet (removing mention of gays & lesbians from the immigrant handbook, anyone?), has again found himself in hot water in Ottawa.

Through a 'clerical oversight' a letter from the MINISTER, as in a letter that was written within Kenney's official capacity as Minister for Immigration, was sent to a wrong recipient. The letter was meant to go to John Duncan, a fellow Tory MP, but instead made it's way to Linda Duncan, a NDP MP.

The letter, which was sent out again on letterhead from the Ministry of Immigration and prepared by an aide for the Minister (who has taken the heat and been fired/resigned), detailed a plan to target 'ethnic' communities across Canada in hopes of boosting Conservative electoral support and also solicited $200,000 worth of donations from Conservative riding associations.

Despite increasing pressure, Kenney stands by the fact that he's done nothing wrong and that the staffer responsible for the letter has been removed from his position. To add further fuel to the flames, and take the heat off him, Kenney is claiming further ignorance by making a point to remind people that the staffer was only on the job for a few weeks before he sent the letter.

So: Is ignorance of the law/rules justification for breaking them?

Clearly not, given that we don't let offenders in court get away with such a defence. Furthermore, the NDP have correctly pointed out that even with the staffer being removed from his position, it is still using parliamentary resources for partisan purposes to have a staffer prepare the letter in the first place.

Let me clarify that.

The problem here is that Kenney used parliamentary resources for partisan purposes; so, he used taxpayer funded letterhead and a taxpayer paid aide to draft and send out the letter which solicited aid for the Conservative Party. Even if Kenney didn't mean for the letter to be sent out from the Ministry, which he claims, he still had an aide paid by Parliament/Taxpayers prepare this letter. And that alone is an offence.

So, Jason Kenney is now the Conservative Cabinet minister is the spotlight for this week. And I'm sure Bev Oda has never felt more like the luckiest person in Canada than she does right now.

The idea of ministerial responsibility doesn't just apply when Conservatives decide it does. Oda claimed responsibility for directing the now infamous 'no' in the KARIOS document, and the government and her Tory friends defended this as being within her purview as a minister. Kenney is in a similar situation, as it's clear he did indeed give the order for the letter to be created, and yet this was not within his purview and he needs to take responsibility for it.

The idea of 'the buck stopping here' is an old one, but a true one. Cabinet Ministers aren't there to take credit for good ideas and good implementation of a program/project, but are there to ensure that the Ministry they are in charge of is run in an effective manner and an efficient one. All decisions, and actions, undertaken by that Ministry become the responsibility of the minister in charge.

Either the Minister in charge takes responsibility for everything, or nothing. They are either complicit in decisions like this, or incompetent. And either one of those qualities should immediately disqualify someone from having that much control over government functions. It's time the Harper Government understood this and started to respect Canadians by giving us competent cabinet ministers who have the courage to take responsibility for their actions, as opposed to pointing fingers to interns, staffers, and anyone else they consider expendable in 'Harperland.'

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Who Does Government Serve?

Given that my last post was on the 'in-and-out' problems plaguing the Conservatives, I'm going to leave that alone...Despite Elections Canada receiving a victory in the Federal Court of Appeals.

Instead of that, I'm going to editorialize a little and do some light philosophizing.

Today, the question of who government serves has weighed on my mind for a greater part of the day. Now, most people would have the knee jerk reaction that the answer to that question is obvious: government exists to serve the people of the country they represent.

But sadly, the question is not that simple at all.

After all, as I've said before, everything we do today has an impact on the future that has yet to come. As such, does our government exist to serve the people of today or the people of the future?

With the way governments talk about reeling in deficit spending and slowly making payments towards provincial and national debt, one could easily draw the conclusion that our government exists to serve the people of the future; meaning of course those that will still be alive in our country in 40+ years, and the next generation.

Undoubtedly, government has a responsibility to ensure that their policies are designed to have an impact on the future of the nation. As such, financial responsibility is a cornerstone of this philosophy. After all, our decisions today tie the decisions of tomorrow: If a government creates a $50 billion deficit, which it fails to correct, it limits the spending and policies that can be enacted by future governments.

Saskatchewan is perhaps, again sadly, a good example of this. Under the Devine Government numerous services were cut, privatization ran rampant, and our finances were 'criminally' (excuse the pun) mismanaged. And through the use of creative accounting practices, the people of Saskatchewan had no idea just how much money our government was burning through in their ideological pursuits.

As such, when the Progressive Conservatives were tossed from office and the truth behind the books was revealed, the hands of the 1990s New Democrats were tied quite tightly. Saskatchewan was brought to the precipice of economic collapse, and as such, tough decisions had to be made in order to right the sinking ship that was Saskatchewan finances.

Many people will condemn the Romanow NDP for hospital closings in the 1990s, and use this as proof of the horrible management style of the NDP. Yet they fail to mention, or perhaps remember, that it was the spending style of the previous government which forced the NDP to make difficult decisions.

Closing a hospital is a horrible thing, there's no doubt about that; but Saskatchewan needed to close down a few hospitals, or risk our entire economy collapsing right in front of us. As such, there truly was no other way Romanow could have handled the situation he was given from the government that succeeded him.

If this doesn't prove that our decisions today impact tomorrow, I don't know what will.

So, why bring this up?

I mention this because it shows how a government that lives purely in the now, lays the groundwork for future problems. This raises the question again, who does government serve?

Obviously, there is some drive for governments to be responsible to future generations. But does this mean that the role of government is to ensure that their decisions have a net positive impact in the future? To an extent, yes. But for the most part, this is not the primary role of government.

It is true that government exists in the realm of possibilities; that many of the policies proposed by political parties and governments often take time to become realized. An example of this, though an unpopular one, is the Liberal introduced Federal Gun Registry.

At the time, the registry was introduced and touted it was an economic blunder. It overshot the costs projected and was quickly becoming a financial black hole. However, once the initial hiccups wore off, the program manged to reign in it's spending. This is true of pretty much anything (look at the construction industry, for example) where the proposed cost of a project is subject to either coming in under or over budget. Very rarely does anything ever spend the exact amount budgeted on it.

Now, why did I mention the gun registry, I'm sure some of you are asking. I mention it because although it cost more than planned, it has become a sort of policy that exemplifies the idea of a net future benefit. The registry was created in the hopes of minimizing gun crime in Canada, and promoting responsible firearms ownership.

Of course, the registry has had numerous vocal opponents (including the Harper Government), but it has had strong support in the RCMP and local police communities.

The Conservatives point to the registry as still existing as a 'financial black hole', when the truth is that it no loner does. Financially speaking, the registry is no longer a 'billion dollar boondoggle', as it only costs a few million dollars a year to operate. Yet, the government does nothing to tell people this and is content simply to rely on the initial anger created at the initial cost overruns.

I'm straying a little, so let me reel this in and get back on topic.

The registry is an example of a piece of legislation that had future positive benefits, though it had initial problems in financing, which was introduced by a government that was seeking to serve the future by establishing a Canada that would hopefully have fewer gun related crimes.

As such, it was a good example of a government in power in the present serving the collective future good.

So, surely, the answer to the question whom does government serve has been answered, and the answer is that the government serves the people of the future by creating policies that will have a socioeconomic net benefit to people of the next generation.

However, despite the evidence above, the case is far from settled.

I say this because there are numerous amounts of legislation which has no socioeconomic future benefit, but rather has immediate 'benefits' for the present.

The perfect example of this is the Harper Government's GST reductions. As we should all be aware, since being elected in 2006 the Harper Government has shaved 2% of the GST. Now, this is hard to defend as a future benefit as it effects the present. After all, it means that people living right now in this moment are subjected to 2% less Federal Tax on goods and services.

Another example, though still related to tax cuts, revolves around reductions in corporate tax levels.

Now, some conservatives may attack me here. After all, they argue that corporate tax cuts have a positive future benefit: that companies are lured to Canada because of their generous corporate tax system, in turn creating jobs, and in turn generating more wealth for the country. And since this takes time, it becomes a future benefit.

Now, that sounds like a sound argument, doesn't it?

But since the Conservatives have begun rolling back their corporate tax level...How many companies, that weren't here before, began running to Canada? How many corporate headquarters moved out of New York to Toronto?

As such, arguably, corporate tax cuts exist solely as a present benefit (for companies) as opposed to a future positive benefit.

And now that I think of it, there is a clear distinction being drawn in my mind between future benefit and present benefit; and unsurprisingly, it's ideologically based.

This may be a controversial thought, especially from such a young man, but here goes:

The politics of conservatism revolve around present benefit; while the politics of progressives revolve around future benefit.

Think about it.

Social issues, such as medicare, are usually revolving around future needs. Spending in health care is always arranged on projections and targets; the concept of say increasing spending in areas like medical imaging or hiring new nurses revolves around a target (ex. 20,000 new nurses by 2017) and budgeting projections (ex. spending increase by 4% by 2014, 8% by 2025, etc.)

Furthermore, the politics of future benefit seem to revolve around the idea of constancy. Again, using medicare as an example, levels set by a government are unlikely to decrease. A government would not spend $400 million on medicare one year, then decrease it to $200 million the next.

As such, the concept of future benefit suggests that a government today would set limits that would not be decreased in the future.

Whereas, if you look at present issues that constancy disappears.

Going back to the example of tax cuts. The 2% GST decrease is not a constant. As times change and budget strings become tighter, the chances of a tax increase become more and more likely. This is due to constancy, indirectly, given that Canadians want certain levels of service to remain the same and as such this means that spending in key areas (like medicare) are not likely to decrease because of the impact it would have on services.

But at the same time, these programs need to be paid for. And that means that the government needs to be able to generate income for these programs. As such, tax cuts exist solely to create a benefit in the present that is likely to disappear in the future.

And since, right wingers tend to be the champions of tax cuts, they are championing the idea of benefits now, regardless of the cost later.

As such, getting back to my opening statement on this idea, the ideological lines are clearly drawn between parties on whether they exist to create a positive net benefit for the future (and in most cases, the near future and sometimes the present) or rather they exist to create a limited benefit for the present, with no real regard to the future.

After all, after the 2006 election of the Harper Government and the 2% reduction of the GST, the Canadian Government of the future has lost that income. It's subjective history, but there's questions over what the Harper Government could have done with that extra 2% of revenue; and even further questions of what future governments could have done with the 2% of revenue.

Effectively, I think it is possible to argue that our political system today is clearly becoming divided; and not just between Liberal/Conservative, Left/Right, but rather between altruism and selfishness.

The Harper Government has been the epitome of self-serving, living in the now with no concern for the future style of government I've talked about in this post. The bulk of their policies have no net positive benefit for the future, and very few positive benefits for the present. In fact, I'd argue most of their policies have net negative effects for future Canadians.

After all, the Harper Government's prisons plans (which could cost Canadians upwards of $5 billion) will be a project that Canadians will pay for for years to come; while doing nothing to actually address the problems that create the environment that allow crime to develop. And their tax cuts have robbed future governments of revenue which could be used to foster such a program.

It is true that a government needs to be responsible to the people it serves today, I don't think anyone could argue against that...But they also have a responsibility to ensure that their policies have a positive benefit on the future of the nation. After all, we've all been taught the adage of leaving things in a better state than we found them.

That is a guiding principle, and perhaps the biggest different I see now, between right-winger and left-wingers: Right wingers live to see policies that benefit them NOW; while left-wingers live to see policies that benefit everyone, now and in the years to come.

Effectively, I think the answer to the question I opened with: Whom does government serve; is multifaceted and could be argued from numerous different viewpoints.

However, I think we can all agree that we'd prefer a government that thinks years in advance when they consider their policies; as opposed to one who scraps together policies on a day-to-day basis with little care, or regard, for the impacts that their follies of the day will have on Canadians not just now, but for years to come.