Monday, May 23, 2011

Austerity Hypocrisy

Source: CTV News: Cabinet Costs Soar, New Salaries and Perks Total $9M

With the economy still being touted as one of the major issues that emerged from the election, the Conservatives have made some interesting announcements in the weeks building up to the return of Parliament on June 2nd.

Throughout the election the Conservatives talked of balancing the budget, years ahead of their initial expectations, without cutting budgets. Instead there was talks of 'attrition' and 'better budgeting practices'. And yet, newly minted Treasury Board President Tony Clement has refused to rule out cuts as a means of achieving a balanced budget.

Of course, Clement has defended this stance by suggesting that programs that were important 30 or 40 years ago may no longer be important or needed, and that programs like this could be cut or completely removed as a means of plugging budgetary holes.

But what exactly does that mean?

When the Conservatives came to power, payments were stunted to the Status of Women organization; given that pay inequality and other issues still exist in our society, I find it hard to believe that anyone could argue an organization that advances the rights of women is out dated and does not deserve to be funded anymore.

Given that we've seen the Conservatives cut programs that ARE NOT outdated, can we really trust Clement to only take the razor to programs, departments, and expenditures that are no longer needed?

I think the answer, clearly, is we cannot.

And then comes the news of the Cabinet...And the fact that Harper's 'Conservative' cabinet has tied fellow Conservative Brian Mulroney for the largest cabinet in Canadian history with 39 ministers. CTV News reports that the cost of this cabinet amounts to around $9 million dollars; which (also according to CTV) beats Mulroney and is the largest payout amount to minsters in Canadian history.

Those figures include the extra payments that are given to Ministers and Ministers of State; as well as vehicle allotment for Ministers. Add to this to the fact that the Conservatives had changed the payment structure for staffers prior to the election, allowing staffers to circumvent conventions that tied the payment of staffers to that of civil servants; AND the creation of severance packages that rival anything found in the private sector for staffers who lost their job in the wake of the election.

All of this from a government who has tried everything to paint themselves as sound financial managers.

Now, I'm not saying that some of these costs aren't justified. It's well known that staffers, the civil service, and even our Members of Parliament are in cases underpaid for the work that is expected of them. MPs, and their staff, work hard (we hope) and often sacrifice a lot of their personal life and time in order to do their jobs (on a level not found in the private sector.)

As such, I think those who commit themselves to serving in government (whatever capacity) deserve to be properly remunerated for their work and commitment.

But at the same time, I think a government cannot talk about cutting programs and departments while inflating the benefits to themselves. Harper has appointed Canada's largest cabinet, citing provincial representation and other lame excuses for the size of his cabinet, which in turn has increased the paycheques of those Conservative MPs lucky enough to sit in the cabinet.

Now, Canada is a large country...But look at the UK, our fellow parliamentary democracy. Right now, in a coalition government, the UK has only 22 Cabinet members. The UK has a larger population than Canada, yet is able to represent all of these people with fewer cabinet members. The math just doesn't add up when 22 people in the UK are able to do the same jobs as 39 people here in Canada.

Effectively, Canada's cabinet (at a time of financial uncertainty, as the Conservatives would say) should be streamlined to reflect the need to save money throughout the government. How can we expect the Harper Government to truly act within the best interest of Canadians when they eviscerate the civil service in the name of saving money (slashing jobs through 'attrition' and likely other means as well) but at the same time create more cabinet jobs than any other point in Canadian history?

The answer, of course, is we cannot. This is simply yet another move, by Harper and his party, to show to Canadians that the Conservative Party of Canada comes first. That rewarding party cronies, and long time MPs with a larger paycheque, is more important than reeling in spending.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Even Losers are Winners

Source: CTV News: Harper Appoints 3 Defeated Candidates to Senate

On a day when a new cabinet was selected, which should have been the major political issue of the day, Stephen Harper has sparked off a different conversation by appointing three 'new' Senators, from his roster of defeated Conservatives candidates.

Larry Smith and Fabian Manning were former Senators, both of whom resigned their seats in the Senate in order to make runs for seats in the House of Commons. Both were also soundly defeated in their attempts to win seats in the Commons. Then you have Josee Verner, a former cabinet minister taken out by the NDP in the election, who was also appointed to the Senate.

Needless to say, numerous people have taken objection to these appointments, most notably members of the NDP opposition.

Harper is defending the appointment by using his usual stance of saying he needs to stack the Senate in order to reform it. Yet the Conservatives have had a majority in the Senate for awhile now and there has been no moves to reform the upper chamber. Why?

Well, who would step forward and take steps that would eliminate their own job? Chances are the Liberals in the Senate will not support reform, and a few of the older Conservatives won't as well. Not to mention a few of the newer Conservatives who hope to sit long enough to develop a strong pension plan for when they retire from the Senate.

Effectively, you can't expect the Senate to want to reform itself given that any vote for reform means costing the current senators money and benefits that they currently enjoy and would lose to the reform.

Furthermore, we come to the issue of the appointments themselves. All three of these appointments are defeated candidates. That means that Canadians had a chance to elect them to our democratic process, but they were rejected from the opportunity to serve. As such, for Harper to then turn around and appoint them to the Senate is (as some NDPers have said) a slap in the face to Canadians.

We may not directly elect Senators, but given that these are candidates who were defeated in a general election, I think it's clear that Canadians don't want these three people playing a role in the governance of Canada. For a Prime Minister who kicked up a storm about respecting the will and votes of the people during the election campaign, Harper is showing his hypocritical roots with this move.

Add to that the fact that two of these 'new' Senators were former Senators who resigned before the election...And well, there's questions that need to be asked. Clearly, these two people knew that they could run an electoral campaign and lose yet still retain a job in Ottawa. If Harper truly respected Canadians, he would not have invited these two back to the Senate.

An argument for experience can be made, at least in the case of Fabian Manning, but Larry Smith only served as a senator for a number of months and as such does not really have the experience argument supporting him. However, there is a potential silver lining: These two are now political dead weight.

Smith and Manning, who clearly have ambitions to sit in the House of Commons, have shot themselves in the foot by accepting a return to the Senate. Come the next election, it would be unlikely that Canadians would elect either of them as candidates; given that all of us know that if they resign again to run for the Commons, they'll simply end up back in the Senate if they lose.

The other silver lining is this type of appointment could make Canadians consider senate reform more seriously. Many have suggested that this will provide fuel for the NDP argument to abolish the Senate; while Harper himself suggests that it will allow him to push through the idea of a Triple-E senate and other reforms.

Either way, Canadians should be asking questions and we might be able to start a real debate on an issue that seriously needs to be addressed.Link

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Overdue Post

My apologize for the lateness of this post...As previously mentioned, I was going to be indisposed for sometime after the election (light surgery, and I'm fine in case anyone is worried) and this is the first chance I've had to really sit down and get back to the blog.

Now, there's a lot that's worth talking about. There's the issues surrounding NDP Quebec MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau; there's the rising gas prices; there's Flaherty's vow that he will balance the budget on schedule; and there's ton of post election recapping on the conditions that allowed Harper to beat the pollsters and get a majority government (Here's a hint: It was less about the NDP surge, and more about 'Blue Grits' and 'Red Tories' throwing their weight behind Harper over Liberal candidates...After all, there's a reason why the Liberals did worse than polls suggested they would, and it actually has little to do with the NDP).

So, what issue am I going to talk about?

Well, it's one that hasn't gone away since election day: Coalition. But more than coalition, we're now throwing the M word about: Merger.

In the wake of the Liberals' worst electoral showing in their history, many Liberals began to suggest that the holes in the hull of their ship could be plugged by getting the NDP on board. That the only way to defeat Harper in the next election would be to 'unite the left' much in the same way that the Harper united the right.

This has been a topic that has come up time and time again, but mostly from disgruntled NDPers who were tired of seeing their party lose out to Liberals in certain ridings...But of course, now the shoe is on the other foot and it's now Liberals who are pondering whether or not to merge with the NDP to create a new party that could defeat the Tories.

News media have suggested that some big names have already chimed in on the notion of whether or not a merger should happen; like Jean Chretien and John Manley (if you can still call Manley a big name...)

However, there is a major problem with this. A merger between the NDP and the Liberals suggests that the two parties share the same core values and want to seek similar if not the same course of action to address problems that exist in our country. But this is not the reality that we live in.

The Liberal Party of Canada has never been a 'leftist' party, as they've always tried to market themselves as the 'centrist' choice for Canadians. Socially progressive while being fiscally conservative. Whereas the NDP has never stood in the centre and has always chosen to clearly mark their positions to the left of the political spectrum.

There's problem number one, the ideologies of the parties just don't mesh well beyond social issues. While there is common ground in some social issues (do keep in mind a few Liberals voted against same-sex marriage), it would be a nightmare for the two groups to agree on fiscal policy. The NDP would prefer more leftist economic reform and action, while the Liberals would continue to preach almost conservative like economic action.

The second problem lies in the membership issue. I'm an NDPer, and while we have a very active and dedicated membership, we also have to admit that we have a smaller membership then the Liberals on a national level. While that could change over the next few years, thanks to being in opposition and the increase of youth voting NDP, as it stands now a merger would benefit the Liberals while destroying the NDP.

I say it would destroy the NDP because policy would be dictated by party convention, and if there were more former Liberals than former NDPers in the room, the NDPers are going to lose out on helping to guide party policy. As such, what we would have from a NDP - Liberal merger would not be a new 'leftist' party, but a new centre-left party where the remaining old Liberal supporters run roughshod over the old NDP supporters due to higher numbers.

Effectively, as it stands, a NDP - Liberal merger would simply return the Liberals to a prominent place in Canadian politics without having to do any of the work. After all, if they perform badly in the next election and the NDP performs as well or better, and a merger is approved...All the old Liberals are suddenly returned to a place of power without the voters giving them that right.

Now, given that I was in favour of a NDP - Liberal coalition, this might sound hypocritical...So allow me to explain.

A coalition is not a merger. Both parties maintain their own respective party processes and individuals who work behind the scenes, but they agree to come together to form government and compromise on issues that they can pass with one another. Whereas a merger would destroy these two party machines and replace it with a single one that would be guided by those at the top.

And given the larger number of Liberals in Canada, at least according to party membership, they would dictate party policy with a few compromises that would essentially re-create the Liberal Party of Canada with a light NDP flavouring. Effectively, I don't support a merger because I believe that it would destroy my party. And, given the Liberal track record, I'd be left out in the political wilderness in such an event because I don't believe a party dominated by Liberals in the party machine but driven by mostly former NDP MPs in the House of Commons would even reflect anything close to the NDP now.

As stated this is not an attempt to defeat Harper or an attempt to bring two similar parties together. Rather, it is an attempt for the dying Liberal brand to save itself by taking over another party and slowly (but efficiently if their membership is high enough) replace NDP values with Liberal ones to create a new and stronger Liberal Party of Canada.

A merger with the NDP is the breath of life for the Liberals, but it is the kiss of death for the NDP.

However, Liberals surprisingly have begun to back away from this idea. All signs point to the interim leader of the party vowing to step away from any progress or steps that would make a merger with the NDP possible. Whether the next actual leader will also be confined by this rule remains to be seen.

So, what is next for the Liberal Party of Canada?

I think, if they do not successfully rebuild, they will continue to anguish in third party status until they collapse in the way the Progressive Conservatives did in 1993. Then all talks of a merger will be put aside, and the few remaining Liberals will likely cross the floor to the party that reflects them best.

Surprisingly, I think a Conservative-Liberal non-merger is more likely. Given that it was Liberal supporters who flocked to Harper in Toronto and Ontario, an action which handed him his majority government, it seems more plausible that fiscal conservative Grits will jump ship to the Tories, while the centrists stand around and wonder whether they should attempt to salvage their party...Or if they should accept defeat and join the NDP, without a merging of the two parties.

For a long time Stephen Harper has wanted to see the Liberal Party of Canada destroyed, he's made no qualms about it; but its starting to look like he might actually be the Prime Minister that sees that happen.

Whether that is for good or for ill is too early to ascertain. But what I can say is that Canadians are starting to question the political status quo in Canada, hence the spectacular failure of the Liberals in this election. And who knows where this soul searching may lead.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Election Night Thoughts

Well, as it stands now most of the polls are counted and candidates are elected nation wide. As a blogger, and a responsible one at that, there comes a time when I have to take responsibility for the things I've said on this blog in the pre-election period. Clearly, some of the predictions made on this blog did not come to pass.

While responsibility can be laid on the access to information I had, polling numbers and so forth, ultimately I write the blog and any fault in it lies with me and me alone. Obviously, I'm talking about dismissing the idea of a Conservative Majority and that being the result that Canadians have ended up with.

In fairness, polling numbers suggested a lower level of support for the Conservatives, and the electoral turnout shows that the Conservatives seemed to have about 3 - 4% higher support than most of the polls were giving them.

As such, it seemed a lock to suggest that the Conservatives were going to lose seats in this election...But I suppose this just goes to suggest that polling numbers continue to be questionable in terms of actual predictions.

But, enough about my faults in the pre-election period...Let's focus on what actually happened in this election.

As predicted, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois imploded at the poles. Duceppe was defeated, but no one saw the defeat of Michael Ignatieff in his riding coming. Further more, no one saw that the Liberals would end up with half of the seats they were predicted to win in the polls (most polls had them in the 60s, but they ended up in the 30s).

Few thought the NDP would hit above the 100 mark, but it seems that they have pulled that off. And of course that brings us to the Conservatives, who performed better than expected and have won the majority government that they've sought for years...Though at the cost of some prominent cabinet ministers and a loss of ground in Quebec.

So, that brings us to what we can expect from a Conservative Majority...

I've speculated on the social conservative issues we'll see pushed forward by backbench MPs who will see this majority as a chance to push social issues without the full blessing of the party through private members bills.

Economically...

I'm not sure. Conservatives have claimed credit for protecting the Canadian economy...but let's not forget that it was the Liberals who established regulations and policies that helped our banks survive the recession.

Let's not forget that Harper and his top cabinet members denied that a recession was even coming, and only agreed to stimulus spending once opposition parties more or less pushed the measure or threatened a non-confidence measure against the government.

As such, if a crisis approaches Canada in the future, who knows how a Conservative majority will react.

Finally, this is my prediction for the next four years: The emphasis will be on the deficit. The Conservatives have vowed to slash it by 2014, and if they fail to do this, they will likely not get re-elected.

After all, the bulk of their campaign platform needs a balanced budget...So, if the Conservatives fail to slash the deficit (which I believe they will fail to do, given that taxing less and spending the same or more never works to cut spending) the next election will reflect that Canadians don't trust them to slash the deficit again.

Hopefully, Canadians have made the right choice in this election. I have grave misgivings, given that this government has proven itself untrustworthy, but Canadians have decided to give them a chance and we must respect that.

But hopefully, we won't regret it in the years to come...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Once More Unto the Breach

This will be the last post before election results begin to bombard us, so let's take some time to reflect and look back.

Tomorrow, Canadians will get to cast their ballots and make a choice over what party they trust to lead Canada for the next few years. It has been a hard fought campaign, with a few surprises along the way, and it seems as though Canada is about to undergo a seismic shift in our political landscape.

Yet, despite polling indications and the confessions of some party insiders, some people refuse to admit the winds of change that are sweeping across Canada. Some pollsters continue to suggest that a Harper Majority is still in play; that vote splitting between the Liberals and the NDP could create this scenario.

At the same time, though, they seem to forget that vote splitting suggests that the Liberals and the NDP are neck in neck in certain areas. That the gap between them is insignificant in polling numbers to the point where the vote can be split. This is simply not the case in this election, as the the NDP is firmly ahead and seems to be at the cost of the Liberals.

Quite simply, the high polling numbers of the NDP suggest that the potential for vote splitting is low. I have some Liberal friends, who have openly admitted that they have to vote NDP if they want a chance of defeating the Conservative candidate in their ridings. That is a conversation that is happening across Canada.

It's the reverse of the conversation in 2004; where NDP voters handed Paul Martin a minority government in the hopes of keeping Stephen Harper from power. In 2004, light NDP supporters voted Liberal; and now the chickens have come home to roost and light Liberals (and some staunch ones) are coming out to vote NDP in hopes of keeping Harper away from a majority.

So, why are pollsters still pushing the idea of a Conservative majority?

Well, the cynic in me would suggest that these are pollsters with a clear Conservative bias who want people to think that their vote is not going to matter. That even if we all come out and vote en masse for the NDP, the Conservatives are going to win and win a majority.

I assure you that is not the case. If Canadians turn out in heavy numbers, and given the high advance poll turn out it seems likely, and vote for change in governance there is no way the Harper Conservatives will be handed the majority they've coveted since the creation of Canada's Conservative Party.

Furthermore, this election is less about the future of our country and the future of our political leaders.

Everyone has speculated about the future of political leaders come the finish line of this election. Effectively, we've all agreed, that at the beginning of the campaign no party leader was safe. Harper had the best odds of remaining at the helm of his party, but only if the Conservatives increased their seat totals. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Ignatieff had the worst odds of remaining at the helm of the Liberal Party and still has overwhelming odds against him.

Duceppe was considered mostly safe, and Layton could have gone either way considering his health.

Now, the only safe leader is Layton.

Effectively, this election stands the odds of destroying three party leaders. Ignatieff was meant to rebuild the Liberal brand after the Dion years, and as it stands he has failed to do this. In fact, it looks as though the Liberals are going to lose seats and beat their former worst electoral showing in 2008.

As such, Ignatieff is going to have a tough time convincing his party that he can do better in the next election. He'll have to convince his party that he can undue the damage done by the years of Harper attack ads, and rebuild the party in the wake of the NDP rising, but odds are good that Ignatieff won't be able to convince his party to let him stay on.

At least, if he's not a major player in a coalition agreement, Ignatieff won't have a chance of remaining at the helm. Which is one good reason why the Liberals might be quick to support a minority NDP government...

That brings us to Gilles Duceppe. Duceppe, for one reason or another, is well regarded as a politician. Partially because he speaks his mind, regardless of how blunt it may be, and that he's been around the House of Commons a bit longer than any of the other leaders.

But the NDP surge threatens him the most. The Bloc has suffered at the hands of the NDP and looks to be on the verge of their worst electoral showing as well. There are even concerns that Duceppe himself could lose his seat to the NDP.

Duceppe, of course, stepped aside a few years ago (briefly) to make a run for PQ leadership. Of course, he stepped aside in favour of the current PQ leader Pauline Marois, and then quickly asked the Bloc to reverse his resignation and let him take his old job back. That soured a few people in the BQ over the leader, and no doubt a major loss for the Bloc will only further lead to a push for Duceppe's ousting.

Especially if Duceppe fails to hold on to his own riding. Effectively, if the Bloc is as destroyed as the poll numbers suggest, Duceppe will be out as leader and one of the few remaining Bloc MPs will have their chance to rebuild the party.

That brings us to Stephen Harper. Now, I have long since made the case as to why Stephen Harper's political future is fully banked on this election. But with the NDP surge, the case is only stronger.

If poll numbers are true, the Conservatives are actually going to lose seats instead of gain them in this election. And this is at a time when the NDP will be biting at the heels of the Conservatives. As such, that will make Harper the first Conservative (and Prime Minister) to lose ground to the NDP.

That's not a good legacy for Harper, and not the one he'd like to be remembered for, which likely means that there will be some push for Harper to step down. After all, this is attempt number four to win an election, and get a majority. Even with an incredibly weakened Liberal Party in 3 consecutive elections (and now a fourth), Harper has been unable to seal the deal with the electorate for his party.

And an election that sees the NDP gain ground, and the Conservatives lose some, is only going to reinforce the idea to his party that Harper is not the man who will lead them to their ultimate electoral victory. Even before the NDP surge, Harper's leadership was facing questions due to his inability to win a majority.

The NDP surge simply makes it a certainty that if Harper loses seats, and if he does form a minority which then loses power on a vote of non-confidence, Harper will lose more than his government but he'll lose his leadership.

And finally, Jack Layton. At the beginning of the campaign, with Layton's health, there were doubts over whether or not he could run a good campaign and whether or not he'd stay around as leader after election day. No one was more vocal about this then Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, who went as far as to suggest that it was backbencher NDPers who 'forced' Layton into voting against the budget. (Since Duffy believed Layton was ready to support the budget and concessions made in it.)

But, keep in mind, the government fell from contempt not the budget...So Duffy's statement really makes no sense when you keep reality in mind.

And yet, despite the concern, Layton has ran a great campaign. He's been energetic, enthusiastic, and entertaining. He's taken his cane, which some were worried could have been a symbol of his weakness, and turned it into a prop showing his strengths and his willingness to keep fighting the good fight regardless of whatever shape he might be in.

In fact, it's Layton's energy and persona which accounts for a lot of the NDP surge. It's partially people finally waking up and recognizing the various different things both the Liberals and Conservatives have done over the years and why they shouldn't form government, but it's also Layton's personality as well.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Layton has been the major winner of this campaign, and we could see a major shakeup tomorrow when the votes are totaled. This election is going to be a lot closer than Conservatives are prepared to admit, and that is why it is more important than ever that Canadians make an effort to get out to the polls and vote.

We don't need to listen to pollsters who tell us that we can't change our government. We don't need to listen to people who tell us that the NDP will never form government. We don't need to listen to the naysayers who tell us that voting NDP will result in vote splitting and electing a Harper Majority.

This campaign has proven that those statements don't apply anymore. That the electorate has already created change before election day. And that come election day, we have the power to change Ottawa for the better.

And now it's time for my personal appeal. I do not understand how anyone can support this Conservative Party. This is a party that has nothing but contempt for Canada, for our political process, and for our citizens.

This is a government that was found in contempt of Parliament. That means that this is a government which lied, or subverted, Parliament. That means this is a government that lied, and subverted, the Canadian people. This is not about political games, this is not about one party being better than another; but it is about a party that has lied directly to the Canadian people and has continued to lie to the Canadian people throughout the election campaign.

They have bemoaned the idea of a coalition government; calling it unconstitutional and tantamount to treason...When in reality coalition governments are constitutional and legal. Coalitions have existed within Canada, in both official and unofficial capacities and have had major impacts on Canadian society.

After all, it was the Liberal minority of Lester B. Pearson (supported by Tommy Douglas and the NDP) that worked together and created health care, a national pension plan, and our beloved Maple Leaf flag.

That alone should be the greatest example as to why cooperation within the House of Commons should be stressed. Great things have been accomplished when two parties have come together in the past, and great things can continue to be accomplished if two parties could come together in the future. And as it stands, the NDP is the only party committed to working with other parties instead of steamrolling an agenda over the others and daring them to defeat them and cause an election.

As such, Canadians deserve to elect a government that we can be proud of. A government that is actually working towards the best interests of Canadians, and that means working together with other parties to compromise and create the best plan for the future. And for Canadians to get that government, we must vote NDP and we must elect the NDP.

This is an election that will decide the fate of our country for years to come, but also the fate of three party leaders. And that alone should be enough to get Canadians, who cannot support these leaders and their tactics, to vote en masse to show their dissatisfaction with the way politics is currently being run in Ottawa.

We have a chance to change our political process for the better. To elect a government that we can trust. A government that will work with all parties, and all Canadians, and who will ensure that the average Canadian reaps benefits not just those who are already well off.

Change is coming, and almost everyone can see that now.

So, I will close with a simple plea:

Be the change that you want to see; go out and vote. It's our world, and our Canada, let's change it for the better.