Friday, March 30, 2012

Episode V: The Blogger Strikes Back

I had already written this post earlier today, but technological trouble meant that it didn't save properly and well, it erased the entire thing. Two hours well spent, no doubt. Oh well, I'll start from scratch, but as such I'm not going to bother with the linking of sources...They're all on CBC and CTV, so you can find them easily enough.

We're going to spend the first part of this post talking about the budget; from there we'll move onto Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz and the hot water he finds himself in; and finally, we'll wrap up with Marc Mayrand's appearance before a parliamentary committee to discuss Election Canada's investigations into the entire Robocall Scandal.

So, let's start with the budget.

I'll start first with the most pressing thing raised from the budget, and one that we all saw coming from a mile away: The raising of the OAS eligibility age from 65 to 67. This was something Harper touted shortly after his re-election while in Switzerland for an economic summit; as such, no one was completely blindsided by the announcement in the budget.

There is no doubt that we need to be addressing the sustainability of the OAS system, but in my mind, the Harper Government is missing the point on the issue. One of the statistics that Flaherty used while presenting the budget is the well known fact that the ratio between worker and retiree is getting wider. For every one worker there's two or three retiree to support.

But instead of addressing the key issue, and problem to this, the Harper Government is just going to raise eligibility ages. So, what is the key problem?

The problem is youth unemployment. This country has a skyrocketing youth unemployment rate of about 14%, which is double the national average for unemployment. The reason why we have more retiree per worker is because we are not doing enough to get young people into the marketplace and generating the tax revenue necessary to keep OAS funded.

But instead of introducing a plan that calls for and focused on youth employment, the government has released a shortsighted plan that is only going to work to keep more youth out of the employment market. Allow me to explain.

By raising the age needed for benefits, older workers are going to stay in their careers longer. For specialized careers, this means that entry level employees are more likely to remain entry level for longer which in turn drives down the need to foster more job creation within the company.

Furthermore, in industries where high-turn over rates are meant to create jobs for young adults and teenagers (such as the service industry), the growth is going to be even worse as older employees hang onto their careers for two more years in order to receive their OAS benefits. This move is going to cause a backlog in our employment sector, as more people just stay put in the jobs and titles that they already have. There will be a ceiling in the company, but there also won't be a front door for new workers to even get in.

This is just going to put more pressure on the OAS system, as fewer working people means that we will see a net decrease in the tax revenue used to fund the entire system in the first place. It is in the best interest of all to get more employees into the system, not keep workers already in the system. That is how we generate the needed income to support OAS, and it should have been the first step in dealing with the problem.

If we managed to slash youth unemployment and get more people working, then the raise from 65 to 67 may have been completely unnecessary. The fact is that it is a step that could have addressed the problem that was not taken, and clearly not considered by this government, as they continue to drag their feet on any meaningful action that would lower youth unemployment in this country.

Youths working is good for the entire economy, not just for the youths themselves. And when this government finally understands that, then perhaps we'll see a measure that can address this problem without causing a massive headache to want to be retirees, want to be workers, and the economy as a whole.

So, let's look at one of the 'flashy' items contained in the budget. The government included good news for cross border shoppers, as they announced they would raise the amount a person could buy without paying duty/taxes on those items when crossing the border.

For a 24 hour trip, you can now bring back $200 as opposed to the old $50 limit. For a 48 hour trip, it is now $800 over the old $400.

While that sounds like a good idea, there is a catch.

The government will be spending $15 million on this program, if only due to the lost revenue this tax freedom provides; but at the same time, they will be doing an incredible amount of damage to our own internal economy.

We all know that somethings are cheaper in the USA. And while we've talked about forming committees and studies into finding ways to bring our prices more in line with the US, we've seemed to abandoned that for the quick fix.

With the dollar permanently floating above parity, cross-border trips to pick up better deals is not an uncommon occurrence. But by Canadians flocking to the USA to do their shopping, we have to consider what this means for Canadian retailers. This is going to result in a net loss of income for Canadian vendors, as more people flock to the US in order to save a few dollars.

Effectively, this is a program that is only going to work to stimulate the lagging American economy; while having a potentially harmful effect to the Canadian economy.

So, why should Canadians being paying up to $15 million in lost income to stimulate the American economy? It's a shortsighted measure that sounds good to those who travel to the States a lot, but once you look at the fine print, the glimmer really wears off the false gold.

That brings us to the most troubling thing, in my opinion, in the budget. And that is the fundamental change to the funding of research & development and the destruction of environmental reviews in this country.

The government has placed a 24 month maximum on environmental assessments when it comes to developing projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline. The government claims that we have lost developers due to assessments which have taken several years, and that this walking away as cost us a lot of money. So, they propose that we limit the debate and require only a single assessment that will take no more than 24 months.

This means that the government can more or less shut down an assessment, or a debate, and green light any project they want. But surely there would be scientists or something who could provide evidence that a project would be an environmental net deficit....

But the Conservatives have already thought of that. They're changing the way the National Research Council provides funding to researchers by moving away from a tax credit system to a grant system. As such, a bureaucrat will now decide which research proposals will receive government funding and which ones will not.

The problem with this is that is creates state mandated science. And that is not science, that is propaganda. A government has no right to unilaterally decide what is fact and what is fiction; that is solely in the realm of science. And way we find out what is fact and what is fiction, is through research of hypotheses. Scientists propose something, examine it, and determine whether their proposal was correct or incorrect.

That is how we discover facts. This move will prevent us from fully exploring scientific endeavours, and will effectively allow the state to mandate what we do and do not know. That is, as I said above, propaganda. The government has no right to mandate 'facts', or to deny the creation of new facts that run counter to their own ideological beliefs.

And the Conservatives have already proven that they will mandate what is science fact. They've done this two fold, in addition to the revision to NRC funding. First, they muzzled scientists in Ottawa.

Now, they've cancelled the Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. This was a group that did regular studies and release information on the effects global warming would have on the Canadian economy. They were doing research that the Conservatives did not like, as no Conservative in Ottawa believes global warming is happening...Just ask why they shut down the PEARL observation station.

The Conservatives have shown that they will do what they want when it comes to the release of information, including the release of scientific fact. If it runs counter to the message, it is destroyed and ground into dust. Canada's scientific community should be terrified in the face of this budget, especially those who have committed themselves to environmental sciences, as this is a budget that seeks to silence any opposition that relies on the pursuit of scientific truth.

Finally, on the budget, we come to the elimination of the penny. This was a surprise proposal, but one that actually isn't that bad of an idea. And if you know your party electoral policy, specifically from 2006, you'd know that the NDP has been in favour of the getting rid of the penny for a very long time.

It is true that the penny costs us more to make than it is worth, and that many Canadians do not even bother to spend the things, relegating them instead to jars and trays across our homes. In that way, it makes sense for the government to stop minting the penny.

The problem with this plan is that it comes with a rounding situation that is left entirely in the hands of businesses. Let's take Tim Hortons, for example.

Say your cup of coffee costs $1.86 cents; under the proposal your coffee would be rounded down to $1.85 for a cash transaction. If your coffee costs $1.87 cents, it would be rounded up to $1.90 for a cash transaction.

See the problems?

Firstly, there's the cost to business. These roundings are supposed to occur only on cash transactions, but the technology to implement that is going to cost a bit of money (in terms of training and reprogramming automatic tills, etc.) And then you have a double standard where someone paying by debit or credit is able to get their coffee at a cheaper price, than someone who is paying by cash.

Secondly, there's the cost to consumers. Take Tim Hortons again, who will now be able to charge 3 cents more for a cup of coffee. While that doesn't sound like much, think of the daily traffic through your Tim Hortons. If even half of them were cash transactions, it stands to reason that the business will be taking in hundreds in extra daily revenue due to rounding up on cash transactions.

So, while eliminating the penny was a good idea the rounding system that comes with it is a final 'screw you' to people who purchase things with cash. And if you think about people who purchase things with cash, it tends to be people on the lower end of the economic system. As such, this is almost a 3 cent tax on the poorest among us. Yep, this government really cares about making our money go a little further for the average Canadian.

That's all I have to say about the budget for now; though I'm sure one or two things may yet rise again to be discussed.

That brings me to Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz. Recently, a fellow MP has levelled an accusation that Garry endorsed a 'gun touting' society and that Canada would be a 'safer country if everyone were armed'.

Now, if you've met Garry, you'd know that those kinds of ideas coming from him are nothing new. The accusations don't even make you bat an eyelash at this point; what is shocking about this accusation is that Garry made these comments during a presentation to a Grade 10 class in an Ontario school.

Now, Garry has said that the accusations are baseless...But he didn't outright deny them. But the letter written by a parent, which details the accusations, doesn't contain any quotes from Breitkreuz. So, it's sort of a he said  - she said at this point.

What concerns me about this is the fact that Mr. Breitkreuz was even in an Ontario school in the first place.

Allow me to explain. I grew up in the Yorkton-Melville riding. For as long as I lived there, Mr. Breitkreuz was our MP. In that time, I've never run into him at any sort of function, other than scheduled candidate debates during an election.

He never came to any of my schools, elementary or secondary; not even when our schools put on mock elections during federal campaigns. Furthermore, I've never run into him at any local functions; such as Lieutenant Governor dinners (of which I've attended a few), or at particular local attractions.

So my real question, rather than the comments, is why a man who is so invisible in his own riding was in a school in Ontario at all? Did Rob Anders have a nap scheduled?

I don't know which riding the school was in, but if they have a sitting Conservative MP, or even an opposition MP, I'm curious to know why Mr. Breitkreuz was selected to go to this school and give a presentation to the students.

I know Garry's views on guns, after all, this is a man who got indignant when an event he was keynote speaker at took flak for offering a handgun as a door prize. So, he could say anything about guns and their role in society, and I wouldn't be surprised.

What does surprise me is that he agreed to go to a school, outside of his riding, in the first place. I'm not saying MPs should only do things in their own riding; on the contrary, I think it's great that MPs are reaching out to youth across the country and its something there should be more of. But if he can't be bothered to perform the same kind of interest in his own riding, why are we letting him talk to youths in another riding?

Finally, that brings me to the most recent news in the Robocall/Election Fraud scandal. Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand appeared before a parliamentary committee on Thursday; the morning before the budget was introduced. There is a lot of speculation about the timing of this, given that Mayrand offered to appear before Parliament weeks ago; and it is know that the Conservative chair of the committee chose the specific date for Mayrand to appear.

That's fishy enough, but we won't spend too much time focusing on it.

What Mayrand confirmed was interesting, however. He confirmed that Elections Canada received 800 reports of wrong doing, in 200 ridings across Canada. This was a much larger number than anyone expected, and many will be watching to see what comes from it.

He also confirmed that there are 250 open files being investigated, and that at least 70 complaints were filed shortly after the election; which puts a major hole in a Conservative talking point about this being organized only recently.

Mayrand also condemned the actions as outrageous and called for the strongest possible action to be taken against those who were found to have committed the acts. He also evaded Conservative attempts to belittle the information he presented; reprimanding Tom Lukiwski for suggesting that the level of complaints were low. Mayrand pointed to the call record from the now infamous 'Pierre Poutine' and suggested that many people were called, and many more didn't file complaints, but some did.

Mayrand is expected to file a report in a year's time with his recommendations to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again. It's unclear whether or not his report will also contain any accusations of wrong doing against any of the political parties in Ottawa.

But in perhaps the most telling sign of the day; Mayrand asked for the Elections Act to be reexamined and for punishments for those who violate the act to be increased and made adequate. The Conservative Party responded by including a multi-million dollar funding cut for Elections Canada in the budget.

And that alone, should speak volumes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Well, Time For a Post

So, there's a few things to talk about. Firstly, we're going to discuss the recent NDP Leadership convention. Secondly, we'll look at the most recent developments regarding the Robocall Scandal, and the role that Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer might have played. Finally, we'll talk about Christian Paradis and the trouble that he finds himself in.

So, let's talk about the campaign to replace the late Jack Layton as Leader of the NDP and Opposition. Unless you've lived under a rock, you'll have heard that Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair has been elected as leader after a four ballots at the NDP Convention. The first ballot saw withdrawn candidate Romeo Saganash removed, Niki Ashton eliminated, and Paul Dewar withdrawing.

The second ballot saw Peggy Nash dropped; while the third ballot saw Nathan Cullen eliminated. As many figured from the get go, the final ballot came down to a final vote on whether NDP members wanted Mulcair or Brian Topp as their new leader. Mulcair was victorious on the forth ballot with about 54.7% of the total vote.

Needless to say, this has angered a few people. Despite us all being NDPers, there's something about leadership contests that eventually bring out the worst in people, regardless of their political party. I can cite the Liberal Convention that brought Stephane Dion to leadership; where the party basically devolved into an anyone but Ignatieff group.

I can cite the Liberal Convention that brought Jean Chretien to power, over Paul Martin. We all know how that turned out for the Liberals. That convention, and the anger and bitterness that grew from it, played a major part in dividing the Liberal Party and essentially putting it into the troubled mess that it is in now.

And the fact of the matter is that there are some NDPers who are falling into this trap, and it threatens to potentially plunge our party into the same pitfalls that the Liberals fell into. But the confusing part of this all, is that many of these disaffected NDPers are now expressing their support for the Liberal Party. As a friend of mine said, 'how do NDPers leaving their party because Mulcair might make them more like the Liberals, end up supporting the ACTUAL Liberal party?'

And that more or less sums it up. People who are leaving the party, only to go to a party that they don't want us to turn into, is pretty ridiculous. If these people were committed to the values that they worry about, they could find another left of centre party to support. Granted, a lot of those would be 'fringe' parties, but then at least their outrage wouldn't seem hypocritical.

But let's talk about this worry that Mulcair might push the NDP towards the centre...

The great thing about the NDP is the involvement of the party membership in making decisions. Conventions are not just a place to elect leaders, they're also a place to forge policy. Members can propose policy ideas, and the entire convention can vote as a whole to adopt or reject it. With the way the NDP is set up, any fundamental change to our values will have to come with membership approval.

This isn't the Conservative Party; our policy is not dictated from the top down. We can challenge our leadership, we can make changes to our party, and we can have a real say in deciding how those who lead our party forge it. Mulcair can promote a vision for our party, but without the support of the members of the party to make drastic changes, drastic change will not come.

And Mulcair has already expressed his desire not to shun the beliefs that make our party what it is. So, before we start to condemn him, let's see what Mulcair is going to do and how he intends to bring more people to our party before we start lobbing attacks at him...After all, the Conservatives already do that.

Secondly, Mulcair is going to be a force for good for our party in the House of Commons. Mulcair has a reputation as a 'pitbull' in the House of Commons; and when you're responsible for questioning Stephen Harper, we need someone who can give as good as he's going to get...And believe me, judging by their opening salvo, Mulcair is going to get a lot of flax from the Conservatives.

The Liberals were harmed by non-effective leaders who were able to be defined by the Conservatives before they could define themselves; Mulcair already has some reputation behind him and he's going to be able to stand toe to toe with Harper and actually make some dents in the Prime Minister's armour.

For that reason alone, we should be celebrating Mulcair's victory.

Hopefully, all of the defeated leadership candidates will have a role to play in the months ahead. Obviously the MPs will, but hopefully Martin Singh and Brian Topp will find ways to continue their contributions to our party in the months ahead. All of them have things to contribute to our party's future, and hopefully they all step up to the challenge.

That brings us to the Robocall Scandal. News broke last week that Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer made a cash transfer from his campaign to the campaign in Guelph, the so-called 'ground zero' of the Robocall Scandal. The timing of the payment is questionable, since it came days before the election. And since the bulk of the calls were made on election, if the Conservative Campaign in Guelph is connected to the calls, then it means that the money from Scheer was used to make these calls.

Essentially, there is question over whether Scheer has any moral authority to make any rulings in the House of Commons with regards to the Robocall Scandal, as he may have a conflict of interest due to his involvement in the Guelph campaign.

So far, there's been no calls for Scheer's resignation or for him to allow one of the Deputy Speakers to take over until he can be cleared, but if anymore information comes out there's a chance that Scheer is going to be facing calls against his position.

Finally, that brings us to Christian Paradis. The Raheem Jaffer case is the gift that just keeps on giving when it comes to dragging Conservatives through the mud. Paradis was found to have a conflict of interest when he arranged for former MP Jaffer to meet with various government officials. So, even though Jaffer could not be registered as a lobbyist (since he had only recently be defeated) Paradis arranged meetings for Jaffer to lobby government officials over a business idea.

The Ethics Commissioner ruled against Paradis and effectively rebuked him, but Harper (in classic Harper fashion) basically rejected the report and would not call on Paradis to stand down.

You have to wonder about a government's ethical centre when someone who has been confirmed to have broken an ethics law is not punished in the slightest. But then again, this is nothing new. The Harper Government's go to response when Cabinet Ministers are in trouble is to deny that they did anything wrong. (MacKay's flights, Raitt's 'sexy cancer' quotes, Bernier's file leaving, Kenney's immigration handbook editting, Oda's inserted NO...etc, etc, etc).

When that fails, they blame a staffer or a liberal media bias or whoever happens to be passing by them at the time.

Effectively, we've seen that it takes a hell of a lot of get thrown out of the Harper Cabinet. The only person who has ever received the full force of Harper's wrath, other than opposition members, was Helena Guergis, and even now we still don't really know what (if anything) she did.

So, who knows why Harper is so reluctant to demand a Cabinet Minister step aside...Perhaps its the stunning lack of replacement talent in the backbench MPs at his disposal, or perhaps Harper just plain feels uncomfortable with unfamiliar faces around his table.

Whatever the reason, his refusal to dismiss those who have been found to have violated the public trust in one way or another only shows that this is a government which believes that they are above the law and the rules do not apply to them.

If that's their mentality, is it really such a leap to think that they were involved in the Robocall Scandal?

Search your heart, I'm pretty sure you know the answer to that one.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Budget Day

Source: Government of Saskatchewan - Budget Key Facts and Figures

While there is some stuff to talk about federally, namely Speaker Andrew Scheer's potential conflict of interest with regards to the Robocall, we're going to stick provincially for today.

It was budget day here in Saskatchewan, and I'm still looking through the budget documents (I'm no accountant, so some of stuff does go over my area of expertise from time to time), but I will do what I can.

Firstly, let's just talk about the budget itself. For the most part, surprisingly, I don't think it was as bad as it could have been. However, the document is far from perfect. For the most part, it continues the SK Party's practice of throwing small amounts of cash at a major problem without fully addressing the problems themselves.

For example, we have the drug plan. On one hand, they're increasing coverage for people with diabetes in order to help them get long term insulin, as well as increasing the insulin pump program for young people to cover those from 17 to 25 years old.

On the other hand, they've also decreased funding for the Seniors and Children Prescription Drug Plan, meaning that those who previously had certain prescription drugs maxed out at $15 a prescription, to $20 a prescription. While that may not sound like a major increase, for someone on a fixed income it is. I delivered prescriptions drugs for a long time for a local pharmacy, and there are some senior citizens out there (and young people too) who rely on a myriad of prescription drugs to remain healthy. If you take someone who has as many as 7 covered prescriptions, they were paying $105 for those prescriptions. Under the new plan, they would pay $140, well over the 'average' $125 predicted by the SK Party.

And I think there are a number of people who do rely on multiple prescriptions in this province, and they're going to lose some cash from their pocket. In the example above, a person is now paying $35 more than they used to. For someone on a fixed income, that $35 could have been used for groceries or access to public transit, or any other possible expenditure.

So while they are working to get people with diabetes better access to insulin, they've also laid the groundwork to make sure that those people are paying more for those drugs then they would have under the old system.

To counteract this for senior citizens, they're going to raise the SIP program to $50 (up to $10 over the next three years per month). The problem is, as noted in my example, someone who is now paying more and losing $35 due to the drug program changes, is not going to notice much of a net savings under this program.

After all, the extra money (which sounds good as $50 usually does) would only work out to $15 for the person who has 7 prescription drugs. And while $15 is better than nothing, it is still not a major advantage for the person who needs that extra money for other expenditures. 

Then we have their approach to post-secondary education. On the one hand, they're making it easier for high school students to receive $2,000 towards their tuition. Now, I'm not sure I'm reading this one right, so someone please let me know: The plan says that it will provide up to $2,000 over four years for post-secondary education.

Now, that either means that a student would receive $2,000 every four years for a grand total of $8,000 to help with their studies.

Or, it means that the student will receive small payments adding up to $2,000 over a four year period.

I'm more inclined to believe it's the latter, but I'd like to know before. It's late, and I'm confused easily in these late hours. But, effectively, the first option means that the program isn't that bad of a one. But there's no way that could meet the numbers projected by the SK Party in the budget...Unless there's a significant drop of high school students going to post-secondary education.

If it's the latter...Well, a grand total of $2,000 is nothing to a post-secondary student. Considering the cost of ONE TERM's tuition at the University of Saskatchewan is around $2,300 - $2,500; a person isn't even getting a single semester out of this program.

At the same time, the government is cancelling bursary programs for middle-income students; claiming instead that these programs should go to the most in need. While that sounds noble, there's some problems with the plan.

For starters, the program is already skewed towards helping those from lower income families. If you've ever gone through the process of getting a student loan, you know that the phrase 'your parents make too much' gets thrown around a lot, especially from government backed programs.

Furthermore, there's already differences between lower and middle income families. If you look at the Saskatchewan Student Aid Fund Report from 2009-2010, you'll see that middle income family students were guaranteed $23 per week of study; whereas low income family students were guaranteed $58 per week of study.

While eliminating the program for middle income students could allow the government to create more opportunities for lower income students, we're seeing this as a sacrifice at a 2:1 ratio. 2 middle income students are denied help from the government for every 1 lower income student.

Again, while this is a noble effort to ensure that lower income students can attend university; it fails as it doesn't help make education accessible for middle income students either. While lower income students do need the help, there is an argument to be made for middle income students as well.

Unless their families have made plans and have been saving since before the child was born, there are very few middle income families who can single-handedly put their children through university. This in turn means that students must turn to private banks, if they can even qualify, for high-interest loans that will keep the student in debt for years to come.

Furthermore, we don't know what the enrolment rate have been for the past year with regards to financial background for new students. If more middle income students are applying for post-secondary education than lower income students, it greats an entire group of people who are not receiving any help. Whereas, if more lower income students are applying, then perhaps the program makes more sense than it does on paper.

So, if it is indeed more middle income students applying for this assistance, this is not a noble effort at all. Rather, it is the concentrated effort to deny these students help while wrapping it under the guise of helping those who need it more. But if those who need it more are applying in lower numbers and not using the services provided, then it is simply a means for the government to say no to those who do need help.

At the same time, they've also paved the way for campuses like SIAST to raise their tuition by allowing the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission to undertake a raise to these programs in wake of demand for the seats.

The problem with this is that there has been no talk of increasing the number of training seats in the province, and rather this will create a system where those who want to get into programs will be on long waiting lists or be unable to afford the program at all. After all, if you know much about SIAST, you'll know that there are dozens of programs that have a waiting list of over a year to apply.

So, by increasing the tuition, they may free up some seats...But will those seats even be filled if people can't afford the program anymore?

A bit of a double-edged sword on that one.

Finally, the last measure I want to talk about is the removal of Film Employment Tax Credit. Since coming to work for a film festival, you gain a new appreciation for the way government provides funding to cultural programs and such in the province.

The SK Party will honour the last commitments it has to filmmakers in the province, but will not accept new applications. Effectively, the program was a tax credit that saw a return of no more than 50% on taxes paid by filmmakers within the province.

A number of people have already spoken out about this program being cut, especially those in the film making business. For example, one of the producers of CBC show InSecurity (which shoots in Regina and Ottawa), has said that if they do another season they will not be doing any shooting in Regina due to the new costs that would be incurred.

She also went on to suggest that the production made money for the province, at least more than it cost for the tax credit, and that the government is being shortsighted in cancelling this program.

While it may not affect the day to day lives of the average Saskatchewanian, the loss of this program is going to have an impact on our economy; but this is a move that wasn't that surprising from this government, given their closure of support for one of Saskatchewan's largest sound stages in Regina a few years ago.

This is effectively a potential death knell for an entire industry in the province; and it will have impact on the economy as a whole. If you shut down one section of the economy, everyone is going to feel it eventually.

If the government wanted to save money on the program, they could have instituted stronger rules for who could qualify for the program...Such as requiring a certain percentage of the crew or talent to be residents of Saskatchewan. This could have allowed the program to continue, while also ensuring that more people in our province were given access to jobs in the film making field.

As it stands now, there is a strong chance that these jobs are going to dry up in Saskatchewan and some incredibly talented people are going to leave Saskatchewan to look for greener pastures.

For a government wanting to keep our economy strong and developing, this is one blunder that makes us wonder whether or not they actually believe what they say.

I'm sure that there's other noteworthy things to talk about from the budget, but for now, those are the points I wanted to get across. I've provided a source link for the budget's highlights, so feel free to look it over for yourself and draw some conclusions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Source: National Post: Robocalls: Who is Rick McKnight?

An interesting story, that so far the main-stream media has left alone; I'd like to imagine that it's to do some fact checking and further digging into the issue, but who knows.

This isn't a smoking gun by far, but it does raise questions about the leadership structure at RackNine; not to mention some serious questions about CEO Matt Meier. After all, unless he's the true identity behind McKnight, then why is a CEO letting an employee have a false name and false title?

There's a myriad of problems behind this, but only one of them is related to the Robocalls: If a company is actively having employees using alternative identities online and in business practice, what does that mean for the people who hire them?

If anything, this shows more or less that RackNine is a company that doesn't seem to care too much about reality and lacks the oversight necessary to ensure that its customers are using their services in legal ways. After all, if they let an employee provide a false name with no oversight, then it would stand to reason that they would have no problem in letting a contract be tendered to a false named purchaser.

That's the only point I have to mention on this story, as others have talked about it in a better way than I could. I feel like the blog has slowed down slightly, but with two budgets (provincial and federal) and the NDP Leadership race coming, I think that will change in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Grown Locally

With all the news surrounding the Robocall Scandal, I can't help but feel like I've been neglecting my home province and the political news coming out of it. As such, we're going to leave federal politics alone for this post and focus solely on the provincial news.

Firstly, there's talk of a takeover of Viterra; the grain giant could face the possibility of a takeover from a still not-quite known company from outside of Canada. Much in the vein of the PotashCorp debates, politicians are already beginning to muse about what the sale of Viterra would mean to Saskatchewan and to Canada.

Wall, who was one of the last people to step up for PotashCorp (do try and keep that in mind), fired an opening salvo by suggesting that grain handling and producing wasn't as 'strategic' a resource as potash. Yes, because the stuff we use to grow food is more important the food that we end up producing...

So, for the moment, it looks like Wall is ready to jump on board and let this happen if the takeover bid comes through. That is, unless like PotashCorp, a report comes out and says Saskatchewan will lose a substantial amount of money from the deal.

Of course, the decision rests ultimately with the Federal Government. Wall can only advise, not stop this from going through if it happens. The Federal Government's track-record on these kinds of issue is a bit spotty, if only because we know that with PotashCorp, the government was strongly considering the deal and the opposition in the House of Commons and from the Provinces played a significant role...But that was also in a minority Parliament.

So, we'll see whether or not something like this will go through when it reaches that point. But given Wall's 'non-strategic' view of Viterra, the Feds may be inclined to agree knowing that the province won't be stepping up to defend the company.

The other big news, and what I will be dedicating the bulk of this post to, is the news that the Saskatchewan NDP will be getting a new leader in 2013.

A number of MLAs are public musing taking runs for the leadership, while a few prominent ones have also bowed out of consideration.

The following are the MLAs considering a run (in alphabetical order):
Buckley Bellanger
Cam Broten
Danielle Chartier
Cathy Sproule
Trent Wotherspoon

The following MLAs are not going to run (in alphabetical order):
David Forbes
Warren McCall
John Nilson
Doyle Vermette

There's also a number of other people who come to mind, mostly defeated candidates from the 2009 vote (like Ryan Meili and Yens Peterson) who might consider making a run for the leadership again. There's also several defeated Federal NDP candidates I could see getting involved in the leadership race for the provincial party, but I'll leave that alone for now.

Now, it's a bit hard to start forecasting odds on which potential candidate has the best odds of winning the leadership; let alone which one stands the best chance at rebuilding the party after the results of the last election. But, of the MLAs that currently are in office, some of them have more advantages than others.

In my mind, the 'top' three candidates who could enter the race would be Cam Broten, Danielle Chartier, and Trent Wotherspoon. They have a bit of experience behind them, and are well liked within the party by people outside of their constituencies. As such, I think they could garner the most support on a broad scale.

Bellanger is well known within his constituency, but I don't know if he'd be able to keep as high a profile as the other three. I'm not saying it's impossible, but his profile is currently lower than those of the other three. Furthermore, the fact that he isn't as well known yet to a wider audience, will allow the Saskatchewan Party to 'define' him; much in the same way the SK Party defined Lingenfelter and the Conservatives defined Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

Sproule is also fighting to define herself to a broader scope of the party, as this is her first session in the legislature. She's talked about getting a feel for things before making a decision, but should she decide to run, she will be bogged down by questions of experience. Also, like Bellanger, she will be defined by SK Party before she has a chance to define herself to the people of Saskatchewan.

That's not to say that Bellanger or Sproule would be a bad leader; I think they'd do alright in the job, but the 'top three' have already created profiles for themselves outside of their constituencies and that would give them a leg up in the leadership race; whereas Bellanger and Sproule would have to start laying the groundwork for this during the campaign.

As such, in terms of the sitting MLAs (depending on who runs) it will ultimately be a race between Broten, Chartier, and Wotherspoon. The other advantage these three have is an intense likeability. The NDP didn't go negative against Wall in response to the ads against Lingenfelter, because of Wall's likeability and popularity.

That allowed the SK Party to decimate Lingerfelter in the court of public opinion. As such, the NDP needs its own leader with that certain likeability factor that prevents the SK Party from going negative against the leader. Broten, Chartier and Wotherspoon can ensure that.

Then we have to consider the outside factors.

I don't know if Ryan Meili would take another stab at the leadership, or if Yens Peterson would either, but its possible that one or both of them could make a run for it.

The advantages here is that as previous candidates, they still have some infrastructure in place to hit the ground running should they get involved in the race. The only question is if they have lost any of that infrastructure in the wake of a nomination race (in Meili's case) or a disappointing election result (in Peterson's case).

Also, those losses raise some questions that will stick in the mind of members. Peterson's electability, just as an MLA, is under question due to his inability to win his seat in the election. While this can be downplayed by pointing to SK Party momentum (and the fact that several long serving NDP MLAs lost their seat), it will be the primary challenge to Peterson as a leadership candidate.

As for Meili, who withdrew from his nomination contest in Saskatoon-Sutherland, there will be questions about determination. By which I mean, there will be questions about Meili's response to challenges and how he would deal with this as leader. There were concerns about the nomination in Sutherland, and accusations from campaign insiders about interference, and under those conditions its easy to understand why a 'high profile' candidate would back away from the race.

But, the fact that 'internal politics' could have played a factor undermine Meili's credibility in dealing with 'internal politics' both within the party or in the legislature in general. If he backed away from a nomination due to infighting, how will he deal with infighting within the party?

That's going to possibly be the strongest accusation levelled against Meili should he decide to make another leadership run.

That said, though, as noted Meili and Peterson do still have strong pockets of support and likeability, so that could very well be enough to get past any questions of past performance.

However, there is a stronger problem with an 'outsider' stepping into the race, and that stems from the contest of a by-election. Given the complications we had in the election, where so-called 'safe' ridings disappeared under a groundswell of support for the SK Party; we're going to be hard pressed to find a safe riding for a newly elected leader to run in.

Which of course, likely means as always, that a current MLA would be asked to step aside for an unelected leader. In that event, depending on who the leader is and where they hail from, a number of non-running MLAs come to mind.

If the leader comes from Regina, then I imagine John Nilson will be asked to stand aside; to a lesser degree, Warren McCall could also face prospect of stepping down for the leader.

If the leader comes from Saskatoon, things get complicated. The only Saskatoon MLA not running for the leadership is David Forbes; and frankly, while David is a nice enough guy to step down, the caucus would suffer if we didn't have him in it. He's been a strong voice for his riding, and on issues of housing and affordability, and our caucus would be diminished without him in it.

As such, if there is a Saskatoon based leader that isn't a current MLA (and Sproule, Broten, and Chartier all run), we could see a leader asking a defeated leadership opponent to step down from the legislature. Which could look like bitter grapes, and would also remove some stellar talent from our caucus.

Now, a by-election for an outsider has to happen. We can't elect a leader in 2013, and then have them outside of the legislature until 2015. We can't have a leader outside of the legislature for two years and then throw them into an election untested against Wall and the SK Party.

In my humble opinion, now is not the time for an unelected member to throw their hat into the leadership race. If not only for the problems mentioned above, but for the very fact that the current team of MLAs all bring something to the table and losing any of them for the sake of a by-election will have an impact on our performance as a whole.

As such, at this given moment, I don't think now is the time for an 'outsider' run at the top job. Of course, I could be proven wrong, provided the stars align the right way and the problems I've mentioned are addressed in such a manner that they become null and void.

Now that I've talked a bit about who could run, and why some candidates would have stronger footing than the others, we also need to talk about why a candidate needs to run.

There is a perception that the NDP are 'done' in Saskatchewan. It is a gloating fact that some of the more conservative members of my family remind me of when they see me. As such, our next leader needs to fight this perception and misconception. We can't have a leader with the kind of baggage our last one had, as it makes the election about personality politics not policy.

Our next leader has a lot of work to do in rebuilding the party, and its going to be a monumental undertaking. As such, we need to elect a leader committed to renewal and growing our party.

All of us will have to do our part, either as volunteers, supporters, candidates, and one of us will serve as leader. What we need to do is ensure that those who left the party, embittered by the last leadership contest, come back to us. And once we have resecured our past and present voters, then we can focus on expanding to future voters.

Regardless of who our leader will be, there is a lot of work to be done. And regardless of who it is, I will be there (and here) to do my part. Hopefully, they can count on you as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

There is a Difference

Another day, another new defence from the CPC over the Robocall Scandal.

Firstly, rumours are percolating that the man behind Pierre Poutine may be stepping forward today; we'll comment on that and what it means if it happens.

Secondly, the CPC has taken a new approach to defending misguiding Robocalls that they are being accused of ordering. The CPC is hammering the Liberal Party for also using Robocalls in Guelph, only they are not lambasting the party for providing misleading information to voters. Rather, they are pointing out that the LPC ordered a round of Robocalls that were not identified as coming from the LPC.

The CPC is pointing to this as a smoking gun that the LPC is behind the Robocall Fiasco, not them. But of particular interest is the fact that we know the content of the unidentified LPC call. The LPC call is read by a woman telling voters the Marty Burke, the CPC candidate, was strongly pro-life and would work to roll back a pro-choice stance in Canada.

The message goes on further to recommend strategic voting in the riding, as it could be a close vote, in order to prevent Burke from being elected.

Now, the CPC is trying to get these Robocalls on the same level as the ones that misguided voters and directed them to the wrong polling stations. But the fact of the matter is that there is a difference between the calls made by the LPC, and the calls that identified themselves as coming from 'Elections Canada'.

Firstly, let's look at the big difference.

The LPC calls were not identified, but the LPC has come forward and admitted that the calls came from them and that it was an oversight that the calls were not identified as coming from their party. So, the LPC has at least embraced their wrongdoing and admitted that they released Robocalls that were incorrectly identified. But they've taken ownership of the problem.

BUT, these calls are not on the same playing field as ones that are being investigated by Elections Canada. This was a call that identified TRUE issue (Burke is notoriously pro-life, as are many Conservative MPs and candidates), and was letting voters in the area know that Burke would be a number of Conservative MPs that could support rolling back abortion rights in the country.

The only problem with the calls is that they did not identify themselves as coming from the Liberals, but the issue in the calls ARE TRUE.

Secondly, these calls were not targeting voters in underhanded ways...OR at least, in illegal ways. The calls did not identify themselves as from Elections Canada...OR from the Liberals, at odd hours of the morning and in patterns designed to turn voters off the LPC.

Essentially what this boils down to is that these Robo calls were different from the ones being made by people or parties still yet unknown.

To try and equate two different sets of calls as being essentially the same is quite the fallacy.

The Liberal calls presented a valid opinion and fact, whereas the calls being made, supposedly, from Elections Canada were out right fabrications.

What it comes down to is that these calls are not all bad things but the conservative party is trying to present all of these calls as being illegitimate regardless of the content or purpose of those call.

While automated calls may be annoying to the average Canadian they are not illegal in and of themselves. What matters is the content of those calls and whether or not they were made with malicious intent.

As there is no clear malicious intent in the Liberal calls we can not equate them with the same calls that are alleged to have come from the conservative party.

The fact that the Conservatives are even using this as a defense strongly implies that they have more ties to these calls then they are allowing Canadians to know.

This is not so much a smear against the Liberal party as it is a smear against automated dialing itself. The goal is not to incriminate the Liberals but rather to make all automated calls sound illegal, illegitimate, and against a code of ethics.

If conservatives can change the channel by making all automated calls sound wrong, then they think they can sweep this under the rug by implying that all parties use these automated calls and therefore all parties are at fault for using them.

But the question at hand is not whether automated calls are wrong in and of themselves. Rather the question is were these calls used to break Canadian election law.

The Conservatives don't have to discredit automated calls, most Canadians already hate those kinds of calls; but if they can at least make automated calls sound like the bad guy when it comes out that the Conservatives have more to do with this then we currently know, they can point to the calls themselves as being the problem rather than a culture of corruption within their own party.

There is a difference between the calls made by the Liberal party of Canada and the calls being alleged to have come from the conservative party of Canada; although both of these calls were not correctly identified when they were placed only one of them was illegal and sought to undermine the Canadian democratic process.

Finally, this is just a note for those long-time readers of the blog: if the spacing or paragraphs or anything like that seems out of the ordinary, I tried dictating this to my phone which copied and pasted the text. So if anyone notices any errors or problems with the post today, it stems from the limitations of speech to text technology This was something I wanted to try and I don't know whether more posts will come in this fashion, but we'll see what happens.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Well, That Was Unexpected.

The Election Fraud Scandal in this country, now that Robocall doesn't quite cover everything now, is the gift that just keeps on giving. 

I say this because new information has come out today that former Liberal MP Joe Volpe's riding had a last minute turn out of about 2,400 (or more or less) turn out to the polls without voter cards or adequate identification. But instead of being turned away from the polls, these people were allowed to cast ballots.

What?

For a government that has made a big stink about making sure people had to present either a voter's card or some form of identification that contained an address, this is one of the charges that has come out that leaves a person scratching their heads.

Joe Oliver, who defeated Volpe, pledges that he ran a clean campaign and managed to defeat Volpe by getting '5,000 new voters' out to the polls on his behalf. Oliver stopped short of calling those lobbing the allegations 'radicials', but the story is new and who knows what the Natural Resources Minister will have to say about those making the allegations in the weeks ahead.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservative Online Rabble Squad (Let's call them CORS) have rushed to news media websites to defend their party and Mr. Oliver. 

The usual complaints are being thrown about; the fact that the CBC broke the story has ruffled the usual CORS posters, who are lamenting the 'state broadcaster' and claiming massive bias from the CBC against their party. Keep in mind, these people are likely the same people who cheered when Harper was asked a question by the CBC during the election, and someone from the audience yelled about closing the CBC. 

For people who are so anti-CBC, it's amusing just how many of them took the 4 - 6 minute it takes to get an account with the website so they could comment on news stories...But, if we see hypocrisy in the party they represent, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to see it from their supporters as well.

The other defence being thrown around by the CORS is that this is not a fault of the Conservative Party, or Mr. Oliver, but of Elections Canada. As such, they've gotten on their high horse and have begun to suggest that someone else should start investigating Elections Canada to get to the bottom of this. 

While this sounds like an intelligent point, there is a problem with it. The main problem is that the people who work in elections polls, are not technically Elections Canada employees. People who work in polling stations on E-Day are often one-day workers who have been hired by Elections Canada. They're given a brief training day, but other than that, they're not really trained do this as a full time career.

There are meant to be people who are trained better than the poll clerks, such as Deputy Returning Officers and the Chief Returning Officer, but even then...They're only temporary employees. As such, how much faith can we really put in these officials? I'm from Saskatchewan, and I will guarantee that there have been instances where someone shows up to the poll without information.

BUT, in a smaller Saskatchewan poll, does it matter? Chances are the persons working the poll know the local population well enough that they know whether or not someone is from the community.

But this is not the case in a city like Toronto. The odds of someone at the polling station knowing someone and being able to vouch for them, is highly unlikely. 

Furthermore, there are supposed to be safeguards in the system already against something like this happening.

For example, political parties can send scrutineers into the polls and watch not only the count but also the general election process. This is important, because on occasion, these scrutineers should be able to file complaints to the DRO or RO and have those complaints noted. 

On certain campaigns, scrutineers will have check box lists to do two things: One, to know when an identified supporter has cast a ballot (this helps with an internal count and helps campaigns focus E-Day effort only on supporters who haven't gone to the polls yet). Two, it shows those on the voter's list, not by name but by an identification number.

If the Liberals had scrutineers in this riding, then we need to ask exactly what happened, as these complaints should have come out a long time ago.

So, we can conclude two things from that: One; that the Liberals did not have scrutineers at the polling stations where this occurred. OR, two; that this is a last ditch effort by Mr. Volpe to justify his lost during the election. I don't like discussing the second option, as it seems tawdry, but we know what sort of character Mr. Volpe has from his actions during past elections and his brief leadership run a few years ago.

If we can assume guilt from the Conservatives based on past behaviours, we need to entertain the possibility for Mr. Volpe as well.

But, let's say that the second scenario isn't the case. Let's assume that the first scenario is, and that means that the Liberals didn't have scrutineers in the polling station. This is possible, I've scrutineered twice in my life time. The first time I did, I was the only scrutineer from any party in the polling station. The second time, there was actual representation. So, it is possible that scrutineers were not present in these polling stations.

What becomes important though is this: Was this turn out of unregistered voters ONLY at polling stations where there were no Liberal Scrutineers? It is possible the the Liberals had scrutineers at only certain polls in the riding, and forewent other polls.

If this turns out to be the case, which hopefully we can get to the bottom of, it paints a very dangerous picture. I say that because if this is the case, then it shows that this was a concentrated and controlled plan to get non-registered (and perhaps non-riding constituents) a ballot and to determine the outcome of the election in that riding.

Let me clarify that point:

If it turns out that voting stations without Liberal scrutineers were the only stations to have this influx of unregistered voters, the suspicion that this was orchestrated and deliberate becomes very clear and very real. 

If this occurred in stations where Liberal scruinteers were present, the question then shifts to why these complaints and irregularities were not reported sooner. After all, scrutineers take notes of their objections back to Campaign HQ, so Volpe's campaign would have been aware of these issues the night of Election Day.

That's why at the moment the odds are more in favour of this occurring in polling stations without Liberal scrutineers present.

But what this means in the larger scope of things is that Canada's last Federal Election is growing increasingly more and more suspect. 

Regardless of what side of the political chart you fall on, something doesn't sit right about this election and the cries of thousands is only backing that up. And more and more allegations are undermining the credibility of the government that we have representing us in Ottawa.

This is not a plot by the left against the right. 

This is about whether or not our democratic process was undermined, manipulated, and downright violated by those seeking political power. Questions need to be asked, and eventually we will get the answers. Whether those answers exonerate or incriminate the Conservative Party of Canada remains to be seen; but the truth of the matter is that those answers need to come. 

And they will only come when those who still blindly support this government start asking to hear the truth about what happened.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Standard Posting

*This post incorrected stated the Conservatives blocked a motion regarding Elections Canada in 2008; in truth, the block came this year and was only a few weeks ago. As such, the post as been edited to contain the proper information.*

 A few things to talk about today...

Firstly, let's talk about the latest developments in the Robocall Scandal. We'll firstly look at some newer developments about Maurice Vellacott's comments regarding Elections Canada. Some more observant people have noticed that Vellacott's comments contained some irregularities, mostly in the way that it confirmed that the Conservative Party was responsible for generating voter contact lists for regional campaigns.

Vellacott's comments showed that the regional campaigns were being given contact lists, which included telephone numbers, which are not provided by Elections Canada. (I may have erroneously claimed Elections Canada provides numbers in a previous post, so I stand corrected on that fact.)  Anyways, Vellacott''s defence to back up his claim against Elections Canada inadvertently confirmed that the National Conservative Party was responsible for providing voter contact lists.

What this proves is that the national party was at least involved in generating these lists, and would have had to provide this information for robo-calling. So, there's definitely a question there that needs to be answered by the Conservatives.

Secondly, it came out this week that the Conservatives blocked a committee motion that would have granted greater scope to Elections Canada to investigate irregularities and compel political parties to provide receipts for their expenses. The Conservatives scrambled on a defence for this one, with Harper (surprisingly) pleading ignorance over the issue and claiming that he was unaware Elections Canada needed more scope to conduct its business.

After a day of stumbling and muttering, the Conservatives signed on to support a NDP motion to move towards granting Elections Canada these new powers within the course of six months. It was surprising to see the Conservatives change their tune so quickly on this one, and many are wondering why the Conservatives were so quick to surrender on this one.

The obvious answer is that there's no way to positively spin denying Elections Canada more powers when the nation is embroiled in an investigation over voter fraud. Others are most suspicious, with one online commentator suggesting 'they signed on because they've finished shreding their documents.'

Now, that makes for an amusing visual, but (hopefully) isn't the case. I think it is far more likely that the Conservatives know that with the doubt they are already under they can't afford any more political cost in looking deceptive and denying Elections Canada more scope to conduct investigations.

Furthermore, the Conservatives are begrudgingly accepting this motion. How can you tell? Because they are still refusing to hand over their documents to Elections Canada. They continue to say that their documents are 'available', but that Elections Canada hasn't asked for them...And as such, they're not going to just hand them over as they've demanded the NDP and the Liberals do.

(After all, as far as I know, Elections Canada hasn't asked the opposition parties to hand over any documentation, but they're moving towards releasing this information anyways. The Conservatives are the only ones refusing to hand over their documents without being asked.)

And finally, we come to a slightly connected story: The Conservatives have abandoned their court challenge against Elections Canada over the in-and-out scandal, and will not appeal the decision made by a lower court before the Supreme Court. This means the Conservatives will have to pay almost a quarter of a million dollars to the agency for overspending during the 2006 Election.

It also does nothing to take away from the sting of having to plead guilty to related charges in order to prevent several higher Conservatives members from facing jail time. I say this is related for two reasons; accusations continue to swirl that in-and-out tactics were used in the 2011 Election by the Conservatives in Quebec with regards to robocalling.

And secondly, because the middle of another scandal is the perfect time to bury the hatchet over another scandal before people really start asking questions.

I'm sure we'll have more of this in the days to come.

Speaking of appeals, that brings us to the Saskatchewan Government's decision to appeal a court ruling which struck down their essential services legislation as unconstitutional. There's two reasons that Wall Government is using for their reason to appeal the decision.

Firstly, that the government is committed to essential services legislation and determined to have some kind of law for it on the books. And secondly, that the appeal makes it seem as though a person has a Charter Right to Strike; which they say sets a dangerous precedence in Canadian law.

Well, at least they sort of admitted to at least being slightly ideologically driven to ram this bill through. But the question is whether or not a person has a constitutional right to strike? While it might not officially be on the books, we have to consider a few things...

A strike is essentially a peaceful form of protest, which is indeed covered by the Charter, but is a strike the same thing as a peaceful protest?

This is where we're not going to find agreement. Some people will say that strikes are a form of demonstration and constitutionally protected. Others will attempt to argue that the two things are apples and oranges.

Truth be told, I'm not even sure if I buy the argument myself....But, I am by no means a legal scholar. So, perhaps someone with more legal knowledge than myself can determine whether or not such an argument is even true in the first place.

And finally, a congratulations to Vaughn Schofield for being named Saskatchewan's newest Lieutenant Governor.

Though I knew nothing about Her Honour before her appointment, I look forward to seeing how she addresses her role and presents the office to the people of Saskatchewan. Hopefully, she can live up to the poise, grace, and skill that others have brought to the office.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Do As We Say...But We're Not Following Suit

Source: CTV News: Conservatives Refuse to Release Phone Records

There's a few things we're going to talk about, but I'm only providing a source for one of them. Firstly, we're going to look at the newest information to come out with regards to the Robocall Scandal. Secondly, we're going to look at some polling information and why Canadians should be paying closer attention to the polls that are coming out and who is producing them.

A busy day on the Robocall front, as Parliamentary Secretary Dean Del Maestro continued his job as Harper's attack dog on this issue in the House of Commons. Del Maestro and other Conservatives have lambasted the Liberals and have placed the blame on them for the Robocalls. They're going as far as to suggest that the Liberals themselves have placed these calls.

In response to that, Liberal Leader Bob Rae has announced that his party will be releasing their phone records and contracts from the last election, once they've cleared doing that with the companies they hired to do their calling. The opposition parties are demanding that the government follow suit and produce their own records to the public, to which Del Maestro has responded that such an action is out of the question. Using the "we know we're innocent, just trust us on this" defence, the Conservatives are refusing to release their records.

But let's look at the Conservative defences that have come out so far:

1.) We're not saying anything about this, it had nothing to do with us.

Debunked: Despite their claims of innocence, the Conservatives have ties to several telemarketing and research firms that could be connected to the Robocall Scandal. Furthermore, employees at live call centres have come forward and said that a Conservative campaign paid them to direct voters to the wrong polling stations.

But the Conservatives have not addressed these points and refuse to. Furthermore, there's the firing/resignation of Michael Sona. His 'so-called' involvement in the Robocall affair led to his leaving his job, or possibly being dismissed, and Peter Mackay implied that he thought Sona was involved. As such, Sona's abrupt departure leads to some questions over why the young man was dismissed or resigned.

2.) Did you know the Liberals used call centres in America! They were the only party to use non-Canadian call centres in the last election!

Debunked: Not only did the Conservatives get this one wrong, they also lied about the last part. The Conservatives confused to similarly named companies, one in BC and one in North Dakota. The Conservatives ran with the North Dakota one, but it didn't hold water when it came out that the Liberals used a firm with almost the same name in BC instead.

Furthermore, a day later, it came out that the Conservatives used a call centre based in the United States to make calls during the last election. So, with that in mind, the Prime Minister of our country stood up and told a lie on the floor of the House of Commons. After all, it was in the Commons that Harper first announced that the Liberals were the ONLY party to use outside Canada call centres.

It was a lie on two fronts: One, because it wasn't true at all. And two, because the Conservatives (and Harper) should have known that they hired American firms during the elections to do calls for them.

3.) But wait! We're victims too! Some of our ridings got these robocalls as well!

Debunked: Out of the 31,000 complaints received by Elections Canada, how many of those are from Conservatives who received these calls? Furthermore, look at the number of Conservative candidates/MPs who have made comments about receiving these calls VS the number of opposition members and defeated candidates who have made these claims.

Now, Conservatives are saying the opposition made these calls to themselves. So, I can say this without sounding like a conspiracy nut job: If I were making illegal phone calls to suppress voters, I'd call a few of my 'safe' ridings and misdirect my own voters. That way, when the story eventually came out, my party could cast some doubt by saying that we received false calls as well.

Whether or not that's what happened, we won't know until something comes out to prove it or disprove it. But if the Conservatives can claim the opposition are behind their own doubtful calls, we can also assume the Conservatives are behind their own as well.

That more or less covers the Conservative defences, and the reasons why the arguments are not valid. But let's cover a new argument that was thrown out today by Maurice Vellacott, a Saskatchewan MP.

Vellacott took the next awkward step of blaming Elections Canada for the robocall scandal. Saying that voters lists are often incorrect with information such as address and phone numbers and that this could have led to mistaken phone calls being sent to the wrong voter.

Vellacott also condemned the lack of regular enumeration before elections, noting that the practice has gone to the wayside slightly and makes voter contact and accurate information a little bit more spotty.

I'd never thought I'd say this, but I actually slightly agree with Maurice Vellacott. Not to the full extent of his argument, but some of the points here are actually valid. Since Elections Canada was legislated in 1997 to move away from enumeration and use information based on Revenue Canada returns, as well as working with provincial bodies to verify address and other information, enumeration is falling to the wayside.

While enumeration isn't completely gone, the quality of it has fallen down hill. I received a blank enumeration card when enumerators came to my building and I was not home. The card was not filled out, which meant that I was given no means to contact Elections Canada. There was no address of the nearest returning office, or a phone number to call them.

I was not the only one who had issues with enumerators in the last election, as many people didn't even see an enumerator during the last election campaign. So yes, enumeration has gone down hill in recent memory. But it's also odd to see Vellacott defend a detailed voters list, when at the same time his party voted to destroy the long form census which could have helped provide more information to confirm a voter's details such as address.

But is he right that this ill-record keeping by Elections Canada plays a role in this? Hardly.

Part of an election campaign, I know I've worked on several, is making sure that the information you have on your voters list is accurate. You go door-to-door and not only ask if the household is supporting you; but that you have the right information down on the list provided to you.

Yes, sometimes people will not want to give you their name on the doorstep; especially if they don't support your party. But, you ask and try to confirm that the information is correct. Vellacott, however, announced that this step of the election process was a waste of time during an election campaign.

Well, if confirming voters residences is too much then ultimately an election is too much of a waste of time. After all, door knocking and voter contact are important. And you do this to identify supporters and confirm your information is correct. But no, this is a waste of 'valuable campaign time'. But this is part of the campaign, if not one of the most important parts.

So, while Elections Canada's voter lists are not always accurate, it is part of the campaign to ensure that your information is as accurate as possible and that you are updating as you go. To place the blame solely on Elections Canada is a fallacy because it is a two-fold problem: Elections Canada provided outdated information, but your campaign failed to try and update this information. You share the blame as much as Elections Canada would under this defence, and that is why it will be added to the growing list of failed Tory defences with regards to this scandal.

Moving right along, we're now going to talk about some poll information...Yes, I know, how exciting.

Two very different polls have come out this week, one from CTV's Nik Nanos and another from Frank Graves over at EKOS. The important thing here is the difference in support numbers.

I saw the EKOS poll first, so let's have their results. EKOS Poll.

As you can see, the Conservatives are barely ahead of the NDP in this poll. While other respondants clearly answer that the government is moving in the wrong direction and that the country is just barely moving in the right direction.

I'll mention that the EKOS poll surveyed 3,600 Canadians.

That brings us to the NANOS Poll, which surveyed just under 1,300 Canadians. NANOS Poll.

Wow, what a difference a few thousand survey takers makes...

The big news on this poll is the idea that the NDP is not within striking distance of the Conservatives, but rather running in third behind the Liberals. So, how can one poll have the NDP with numbers just shy of 30%; while another has them with numbers barely at 25%?

Well, the difference in the number of respondants is problem number one. Problem number two stems of course from biases within the marketing company itself. Anyone who has followed Nanos' polls since before the last election can clearly see that the company has some built in biases. While I wouldn;t say that it's a pro-Conservative bias, it certainly is an anti-NDP one.

But pointing out media biases in today's world isn't exactly news...What is important is that we all keep this in mind when we read these polls. I'll point out the last poll that mattered: Election Day. All the pollsters were predicting another Conservative Minority, with the Liberals still in opposition, and the Bloc Quebecois remaining a political entity.

That was not the reality we saw come election day. As such, all polls need to be taken with a grain of salt.



Probably tomorrow, I'll put up a post about the Saskatchewan Government's decision to appeal the courts overturn of their Essential Services Legislation. And we may or may not discuss some 'mysterious' allegations being levelled at NDP Leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair. And of course, we'll continue to talk Robocall as more news develops.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Quick Mention; Followed By Some More Cognitive Dissonance

In a last minute attempt to lob the ball into the other court, Stephen Harper stood up in the House of Commons to suggest that the Liberals were responsible for annoying robocalls; citing the use of an American firm in North Dakota to place the calls during the last election. The Liberals quickly denied the claims, and the media eventually revealed the truth: The Conservatives had confused a similarly named Canadian company with the one in North Dakota.

As such, there should be an apology from Harper tomorrow...Or he'll continue to put his fingers in his ears and hum loudly to himself; or he'll pull a Vic Toews and say that he never said such a thing in the first place. Effectively, this robocall scandal is not going away anytime soon; and such a flimsy attempt by the Conservatives to cast suspicion on an opposition party shows just how desperate they are to shift the blame.

Also, a Quebec journalist is suggesting that the Conservatives may have reused the in-and-out campaign financing that got them in electoral hot water earlier in this last election. Several candidates have said that they provided money to the national campaign from that was chalked up to their riding coffers; that they provided money to the party and did not receive any services for the money that was provided. If these accusation are true (let's not forget, the Conservatives pled guilty to this type of behaviour before and made a plea bargain to avoid jail time for several top Conservatives, some of whom were involved in the last federal campaign as well.)

So, two potential scandals boiling under the Conservatives; we'll see how that turns out for them. I get the feeling that if the in-and-out accusation is true, Elections Canada will not take a plea bargain this time for it.

And that brings us to focus on a provincial issue, even though the federal issues have been dominating the news for the past few days.

Premier Brad Wall has come out and announced that the upcoming budget will be an 'austerity budget' and that we can expect to see some 'cuts' included in the financial document. Wall is attempting to say that the cuts are proactive, rather than reactive, but there's a problem with that.

Governments don't slash spending willy-nilly; rather, there is always a reason. Most times, it has to do with a question of cost and affordability. But, according to the Wall Government, Saskatchewan is booming and our economy has 'never been stronger'. So, the question of affordability is a moot point.

The second reason governments cut spending is due to ideological perspectives; look at the federal government who has more or less shut down Canada's Arctic Research Station, by denying it the $1.3 million needed to keep it operational. There is no question that this was ideologically motivated, as the station was used to study and prove the effects of global climate change.

Need more proof? Its come out that Jim Flaherty and the Federal Finance Ministry has spent over $12 million dollars promoting the upcoming budget. So, in a time of austerity, our government is spending $12 million to publicize an event that doesn't actually need advertising; while slashing spending to anything that challenges the government's ideological perspective.

So, are Wall's coming cuts ideological in nature? Well, that depends on what cuts end up coming when the budget is brought down.

What is more likely, is something we've been saying for years: The Wall Government has mismanaged our provincial finances and there needs to be some drastic spending cuts in order to keep that information from fully coming public.

Let's look at the facts to support that. Wall and team talked about paying down Saskatchewan's debt; when in reality they have added more to the debt then they have paid off. Furthermore, by reporting only certain accounts and not others, this government has been able to make those claims without the well informed knowing that the government is only presenting half the picture to the citizens of the province.

That's why there's still a debate going on over how the province presents its financial statements and the accounts that it presents when it makes its claims about paying down the debt and running a surplus.

When Grant Devine left office, no one knew just how bad the economic situation in Saskatchewan was until the opposition opened up the books and saw for themselves. We've been climbing out of that hole since the early 90s, and Saskatchewan can not afford to fall back into it again.

This is Not a Matter of Partisanship

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a reader when it comes to the news. And something, that one day my doctor will tell me to stop doing for the sake of my blood pressure, I like to do is read the comments made online by people reading the same news stories. Sometimes, reading some of the comments one finds online makes you shake your head, pour yourself a scotch, and ponder a slow descent into alcoholism until the stupid stops.

With regards to the Robocall Scandal, there has been any number of partisan hacks spewing venom for their chosen party. There's a few leftist-centrists who are engaging in this as well, but by far they are outnumbered by the members of the right who take to these message boards. I don't feel like copying and pasting some of things that have been said online here, but I will be addressing the comments and challenges made towards those of us on the left of the political spectrum.

Firstly, let's start with the defence being used by Stephen Harper himself: This entire affair is nothing more than a Liberal-NDP smear campaign. Conservative commentators have leap onto this defence and are repeating it ad nauseam on website after website. I feel I need to break this into two discussions: Firstly, we shall explore the Conservative hypocrisy on denouncing a smear campaign. Secondly, we shall explore why this defence is wrong fundamentally.

"Michael Ignatieff: He didn't come back for you."

"Michael Ignatieff: Just visiting."

"Stephane Dion: Not worth the risk."

"Stephane Dion is not a leader."

Do I really need to continue? The Conservatives denouncing something as a smear campaign, and making it sound as such such tactics are deplorable, is a bit like the thief on the street robbing you at knife point but ranting about thieves who use guns when they rob people the whole time. As if there's something noble about stealing when he does it with a knife, but it becomes too barbaric and unfair when someone switches to a gun.

The Conservatives have set themselves up as the party of the smear campaign, starting with Paul Martin (anyone remember the black and white close up photo on Paul's face ad?), following through on Dion, and then Ignatieff. And you can beat your last dollar that the Conservatives already have at least one ad drawn up for each of the NDP front runners, hoping to destroy the new leader as quickly as they destroyed Dion.

I don't like smear campaigns...I think there are few people who do, which is why I want to say that I really dislike the tactic. But, if Conservatives are going to continue to use these tactics they cannot cry foul when someone starts using the tactics against them.

Furthermore, the Conservatives have personally attacked the Leaders of the Opposition. The Robocall Scandal is a trying to get to the bottom of whether or not the Conservative Party was involved in any illegal activity. Some have jumped the gun and are already saying the Conservatives were directly involved (and the evidence does seem to be mounting to make that the case), but these are facts and questions that are being presented and asked...Not accusations meant to destroy someone personally.

That brings us to the next part of this first argument: That the defence of this being a smear campaign is valid.

A smear campaign suggests that someone is presenting false evidence and actively saying that someone else was involved. Furthermore, these accusations are often groundless and are driven more towards a questioning of character and ability. The Robocall Scandal doesn't really meet these requirements.

With the exception of a few, pretty much all the non-Conservatives are asking for the government to cooperate with an investigation and work towards finding out why these calls occurred, not directly accusing the government of being involved.

Proof is linking those involved to the Conservative Party, and the opposition is rightly asking questions about the government's involvement with those parties that are connected to the scandal. Asking what the government knew, and when they knew it, is not a direct accusation of guilt. Rather, it is a question that is pose to get the government to come on board and work with others to get to the bottom of what is shaping up to be the worst case of potential electoral fraud in modern Canadian history. 

But that is not what the Conservatives hear. Rather they only hear direct accusations and their only retort is "Prove it."

We've all used 'prove it' as an excuse at least once in our lives. And 99.99% of the time, it's the defence we use when we know we've done something wrong and have nothing else to say about it. Now, that is not a direct accusation of guilt. Rather, I'm saying that it is in the best interest of the Conservatives to stop trying to stonewall and district the other parties (and Canadians) and work with Parliament and Elections Canada to get to the bottom of this.

The only reason to not work towards a speedy resolution of this scandal, is if the Conservatives know that the end result is going to be bad for them.

I've rambled enough on that aspect, so let's move on to the next one.

The next defence is that the Conservatives do not engage in that type of politics, what with Dean Del Maestro standing in the House of Commons and specifically saying that the Conservatives do not make misguiding phone calls...

Yet, Irwin Cotler would have a thing or two to say about that. Furthermore, this is not the first time the Conservatives have run afoul of Elections Canada. A plea deal on the in-and-out spending scandal shows that Conservatives have breached the Elections Act in the past, but have used stall tactics and then eventual legal manoeuvring to take a slap on the wrist and protect the people who should have ended up in jail.

So, to say that Conservatives don't engage in that kind of politics is wrong in all ways, shapes and forms. And if you doubt that, check the quotes from their attack ads listed above to see what kind of political messages the Conservatives put out into the Canadian political discourse.

And now a defence so ridiculous, I have to debunk this one personally.

A comment on a CTV News web page said that this scandal is ridiculous because it only targeted Liberals and NDP voters. Furthermore, Conservatives couldn't have gotten that information so it seems like a smear campaign indeed.

Obviously, that comment has never worked on an election campaign. The first phase of any electoral campaign is your office receiving the local voter's list, which includes addresses and phone numbers. As you canvass, from door to door or by phone, you keep track of individuals who are supporters, likely supporters, undecided, or not voting for you.

In the last provincial election, I was quickly identified as a NDP supporter by the Saskatchewan Party when they phone canvassed my home. The next week, after the revenue sharing announcement, I received a robocall (not identified as being from the Saskatchewan Party) that praised Brad Wall's leadership on opposing the plan and asked if I supported the NDP on that subject.

I was not the only NDP supporter who received that call. I didn't ask how the Saskatchewan Party got that information, I knew damn well how the got it. Because I had identified as a 'hostile voter' they knew that I would not be voting for them and they would have a record of that.

The same is true on the federal level. You keep track of the people you've talked to, if only to make sure that you don't contact the same people twice (especially if they said they won't vote for you). As such, Conservatives would have identified Liberal and NDP voters during the campaign to identify their own supporters. If you wanted, you could easily create a list of NDP and Liberal voters in addition to your own campaign supporters.

So, the idea that this is fishy because they couldn't have access to that information...Well, it's completely incorrect as you gain that information during the campaign.

Then we have the fact that a few Conservatives have jumped on the suspicious call bandwagon. Now, a lot of people have already dismissed this as a Conservative ploy. I won't outright dismiss, but the conspiracy theorist in me knows that if I was going to do something like this, I'd robodial a few of my own campaigns for plausible deniability when/if word of what went down came out.

The fact that more Conservatives haven't come forward though, is actually what is disturbing about this. I say that because if a bunch of Conservatives came forward, and then the news came out that the party was behind the calls, those candidates and party officials would be in a further heap of trouble. So, the fact that only one or two have made accusations that their riding was also called limits the amount of fallout should the party be connected, but also sows a few seeds of doubt over whether their party was actually behind the calls.

That brings us to the next defence: That this is opposition parties trying to manipulate the political system, and due to sour grapes, are trying to change the democratic election results.

This is the most dangerous argument the Conservatives are using, but not for the reasons you think. Firstly, this is an argument we've heard from the Conservatives before. Remember all the talk before the election about a coalition government? It was undemocratic. It was against the will of the people. It was the opposition trying to steal the election.

The undemocratic argument is a quick go to for the Conservatives when the opposition does something that they don't like. BUT, this argument undermines their own defences. By championing democracy as an argument, the Conservatives are betting large on not being connected to this in any significant way. If it does come out that the party was involved, then they will have admittedly been undemocratic.

Furthermore, this is not attempting to undermine democracy if the allegations are true. If the allegations are true, then democracy has already been undermined and some of the people sitting in the House of Commons are sitting there illegitimately. That is the real crux of this scandal, that some of our Members of Parliament are shrouded in doubt over whether or not they are the representative that their riding actually wanted.

This is not a problem, or doubt, that we should have in Canada. And the fact that even a SINGLE MP could be illegitimate casts doubt on the entire Parliament, and worse, the entire government and our democratic system in general.

And that brings us to the most important factor of this story, and the title of this post. This issue is not about partisanship, or smear tactics, or attempting to change the results of the election. This is about ensuring that the Will of the People, the fundamental driving force of a democracy, was respected. That those who wanted a vote, were given a chance to exercise their democratic right in a free and open environment.

This is not anti-Conservative, or pro-NDP/pro-Liberal. Rather, this issue is solely pro-democracy. An assault on our democracy has taken place, there is no doubt about that. All parties should be coming together to find out who was behind this, how it happened and what can be done to prevent this sort of undermining from happening again.

All the parties in Ottawa have spoken to the importance of democracy and the will of the people at some point or another; and it is time for them all to put their money where their mouth is and work together to ensure that our democracy is being protected and enhanced.

The goal of a political party in a democratic system should be to encourage people to vote, hopefully by inspiring them or by presenting practical ideas; the goal should not be to gain power or to turn voters off from exercising their democratic right.

The Conservatives have proven in the past that they are resistant to work with the other parties, or to admit that they've made a mistake; or to even cooperate with the systems of Parliament and the like. This is a party that was found in contempt for withholding documents from the opposition, let us not forget. As such, they need some gentle, if not rough, prodding to work with others and get to the bottom of things.

If the Conservatives are deeply involved in this scandal, there is no telling where the chips will fall for those involved. But if the Conservatives have nothing to hide, they should stop the stonewalling and the jeers during question period, and instead commit to working with Parliament and Elections Canada to get the country past this issue and remove the seeds of doubt that are slowly blossoming in our minds over whether or not we have a legitimate government.