Displaying the most recent stories under politics...
Trump will win in 2020 (and keep an eye on 2024)
In watching Democrats attacking each other again this week, I think it is important to put my gentle warning in writing as a nominally disinterested foreign observer:
Democrats have no serious chance of winning the presidency in 2020 because they still have not, by and large, understood why they lost in 2016.
In 2016, the "ballot question" was as clear and concise as it could have been:
Do you want the establishment?
Yes: Hillary Clinton.
No: Donald Trump.
That Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election is, to the urban middle-class, a sign of how broken the American electoral system is, that underpopulated states have a greater weight in the system than the wealthy, mainly coastal, metropolises. Democrats across the country cannot understand how voters could vote against their own self-interests. But they are missing the point by a country mile.
The trouble is, we, collectively, measure success by the value of the stock market and the growth of GDP; of the quantity of people employed and not of the quality of those jobs. We describe everyone as middle class, and we congratulate ourselves for defending them.
Right or wrong, these concepts are urban. When the GDP and the stock market go up and the jobless numbers go down, the communities outside the cities are not enjoying the benefits. Their costs continue to rise but their revenues do not. Their debts rise and their ability to repay them evaporate. The good union jobs of previous generations are long gone, nobody having defended them, and they are too busy trying to survive to contemplate why this is the case.
All they know for sure is that the establishment does not work for them. That "middle class" is a term urban denizens use to describe themselves and the people around them; that all the growth they hear about is not coming to their community. To them, that growth and prosperity is all just another lie. The simple, clear messaging of Fox News and the rising alt-right media is understandable; clear blame and simple explanations are offered to complex problems, and they are receptive because their problems are fundamentally not recognised by traditional media, who no longer serve small markets.
That Trump is known to be a liar is irrelevant, if not outright advantageous, in this context. That he has been impeached for what amounts to treasonous behaviour even more so, giving reason to the belief that the establishment is terrified of this man and will do anything to get rid of him -- and if that is the case, then surely he continues to be the anti-establishment candidate, there for the forgotten folks outside of town.
Make America Great Again was never a slogan to make Trump's old Manhattan neighbours feel better about their lives. It is about telling disaffected voters that they deserve a piece of the pie. When people see billions being spent on highway and transit projects in the big cities, and the countryside is told that a few million dollars is too much to get them connected to the Internet or to fix their crumbling infrastructure, it is clear who matters -- and who does not (see https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2018/12/rural-america-us-economic-future-new-york-times-wrong/578740/ for some good analysis). From there, the right wing message is an easy sell: 'Just cut our taxes and stay out of our way -- government doesn't do anything for us anyway.'
That he has only succeeded in raising the taxes of those who can least afford them, losing American jobs, hurting international relations and diminishing America's role in the world -- while greatly benefiting the upper class, and generally doing everything wrong from the perspective of the urban elite, is very much by design. Succeeding would be failing.
Reducing the hardship of the working poor now dependent on dollar stores for groceries would give them the opening to see the fraud being perpetrated on them.
Trump is indeed making America great again for these voters. He is keeping the urban elite on the run. His failure to accomplish substantive change is just further proof that he is still needed to keep up the fight. He is, himself, the very greatness that America will be implored to keep this year.
Campaigns matter. This year, Trump will win because Democrats will press all the wrong buttons, and he will portray himself as continuing to fight for the great forgotten masses; that he is robbing them blind while urging their support will not enter into the electoral calculus.
After the election, he will move quickly to consolidate his power. His pardon of accused war criminal Eddie Gallagher was not an accident. It served two purposes: it irritated the urban elite, helping the narrative that they are out to get him, the anti-establishment candidate. And, in the long game, it demonstrated, along with imprisoning and separating thousands of immigrant children and many of his other acts, his increasingly limitless power in the face of a Republican party more afraid of losing to a Democrat than of losing a democracy.
In 1979, Saddam Hussein famously performed a public purge of his Ba'ath Party, executing people that everyone knew had done nothing wrong for the specific purpose of demonstrating he could do it -- and there would be no consequences. Video was distributed to make sure everyone got the message. Make no mistake, Trump's actions serve the same ultimate purpose. Underestimate him at your peril.
The Republican purge of voter rolls and voter rights and the inevitable installation of a fifth Supreme Court justice unwilling to stop him will help him consolidate his power into retaking majorities in the House and Senate and more state legislatures in 2022 by whatever means are necessary.
From there, Trump will be in a position to move to repeal the 22nd amendment. With all the fixes needed in place, his physical health may be the only thing between him and a third term.
The Democrats will go after Trump for being a bad president, so bad he is only the third ever to be impeached, missing completely that the reasons are completely beyond the understanding and interest of most of Trump's accessible voters -- all of whom will turn out to vote, where turnout will be the most important deciding factor. And Republicans will stay firmly united.
Democrats will fight among themselves and centrist Democrats will stay home rather than vote for that evil socialist Bernie Sanders or excessive progressive Elizabeth Warren -- or left Democrats will stay home rather than vote for that quasi-Republican Joe Biden. The progressive centre through the hard left will not coalesce around a single candidate and get out en masse as they did for Obama 12 years ago. And when they do address the American people, they will only speak to those whose votes they already have, ignoring the industrial heartland, whose labour movements collapsed as corporate - read: urban - America raced to offshore every good job and break every union, and they will not address the severe rural angst that exists beyond the boundaries of every city in America.
It does not need to be this way. The progressive centre and left across the United States must start addressing rather than ignoring rural angst and culture and put aside their differences to fight as one -- for all American people, not just those who live within a country mile of a traffic light.
Don't blame the electoral system. It is there specifically to ensure that the vast underpopulated rural states do indeed keep their voices and cannot be forgotten; rather, solve the economic disparity between urban and rural, between wealthy metropolises and impoverished industrial towns, resource lands, and agricultural areas that gave urban its wealth in the first place.
For the past several days, I have watched as many people miss the point on electoral reform.
Way too much effort is being spent on the question of "proportional" and not nearly enough on the question of "representation."
Changing voting systems changes voting behaviour, so one cannot simply apply the results of one system to a different system.
Poll aggregators are self-fulfilling prophecies. Voters check for local momentum where none is measured, and share that information with their networks, while the data they are using is national numbers aggregated historically to local campaigns without any measurement of the current impact of the local campaign.
The fundamental breakage of our democracy is that we have 338 local elections, but we vote in a presidential manner - as if the party name or the leader's name are what is on the ballot.
I did not win in 2015 nor lose in 2019 because we did not have a proportional or preferential system; the results I had in both cases had a great deal more to do with the national campaign and the horse race numbers than my own efforts on the ground or those of my opponents. Yet the intent of our electoral system is to send local representatives to Ottawa to work together to find common ground with others across the country (not only the province) to solve our issues together, and do so by adopting a party banner that represents the issues those representatives intend to address.
The problem, at its core, is that local representation matters less and less and national campaigns matter more and more. The two solutions are either
- to say, ok, sure, national campaigns are easier than local campaigns to run and to cover, and we group-think anyway, so let's institutionalize this system by going to a proportional model of some sort, which puts more emphasis on the party and reduces the pretence that local representatives are relevant;
- to eliminate the horse-race and national narrative in favour of encouraging each community to make its own decision, and figure out how to make local representatives become once again relevant as local representatives, bringing that power and influence back to the communities that are choosing those representatives.
It comes down to a values question: proportionality and representation are essentially mutually exclusive; which one is more important to you?
Electoral reformers in Canada have proven time and time again that they want absolutely anything, as long as it isn't what we have. Their latest principle compromise is the referendum in BC next week, where the province will vote, for the second time, on an obscure and barely used electoral system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). At its core is the best possible electoral system: a preferential ballot, but the proposal in BC then takes a good idea and bastardises it so totally that, were it to pass, BC could kiss representation goodbye.
The problem is simple. BC intends to turn simple, single-member ridings into massive conglomerations of unrelated communities with multiple representatives forced to compete with local politicians to keep themselves relevant. These mega-ridings will be made up of as many as seven current ridings, with seven representatives. The premise is that with multiple representatives per riding, small parties have a chance of winning where they would currently be shut out on the vote split. While there's little evidence to support this, there is a misconception that the off-chance of a fringe party winning a seat if the mega-riding is sufficiently diverse makes the electoral system "proportional." It isn't.
Were this to be in Ontario, the equivalent where I live would be to have the ridings of Guelph, Wellington Halton-Hills, Flamborough-Dundas-Ancaster, Kitchener-Conestoga, Kitchener-Centre, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge merged into one mega-riding.
It's pretty easy to see where the problems would be. In the recent federal election, Guelph had ten candidates. Between these seven ridings there would have been more than forty.
Imagine, for a moment, an all-candidates debate with forty candidates.
If you live in Georgetown, a city that is significant within the current riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, do you expect ever, in an entire 36 day campaign, to hear from any of the forty candidates in your riding when they each have every door in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, and if they get to it, Guelph to knock on?
Having gone door-to-door in the last election in Guelph, I know how difficult it is to hit every door in the city. We had an 82-day campaign, thanks to the cancellation of our by-election, and one riding. Every candidate in an STV election would normally have a 36 day campaign and seven ridings to cover, giving a maximum of five days per current riding to campaign.
It isn't rational. And if you expect your MPs to give your community any reasonable representation, you're in for a surprise under STV. Just like a campaign is likely to concentrate on vote-rich communities within a mega-riding, representation by seven people of the same riding will concentrate where the most political points can be gained. As every representative has to cover seven times as much territory -- and they all overlap, unlike today where each representative has a clearly defined limit -- small pockets of the mega-riding will be massively overrepresented, and the rest will be hard-pressed to get any attention whatsoever.
Moreover, by having overlapping ridings, as I have been told happens in Ireland one of a tiny number of countries in the world to use this system, representatives will compete with each-other to do more on the local level, and step on the toes of municipally elected politicians.
Once again, a province in Canada is voting on electoral reform that is change for the sake of change, with its proponents having failed to think through the ramifications of its adoption. Single-winner, single-riding STV, known as Instant Run-Off Voting, would be an ideal sort of system. Mashing up the province with mega-ridings, and pretending that it adds proportionality, negates any benefits of the reform and hurts the democratic representation the province deserves.
For me as someone outside of BC who thinks electoral reform should be careful and considered, not slipshod and emotional, this referendum is very important. The result of this referendum in BC has national implications. The passage of STV, were it to happen, could ultimately result in a national STV campaign. Pro-STV activists, who know the destructive effects of this system but have a stated agenda of pure proportional representation, want this to happen quickly, before BC has another election under the new system.
When BC votes next Tuesday, I urge them to consider their vote, and its ramifications carefully. Just because it is different does not make it better.
My column in today's Mercury addresses the strange circumstances we now find ourselves in with regards to spending about $360 per Ontarian on one of the most heavily subsidised industries in the world. To put it mildly, I am not impressed.
In one of the newscasts covering the US' debate on the auto industry bailout, a US congressman in debate asked if we should have bailed out the horse and carriage industry when the car was invented. It is mildly alliterative, but it makes the point.
There are plenty of successful auto manufacturers left in the world, many of them manufacturing their vehicles in North America while making cars that consumers actually want, instead of asking consumers to want the cars they are making*. Moreover, if we are going to bail out American auto manufacturers, what bang are we going to get for our buck? If we invest the roughly $17 billion in the US and $4 billion in Canada to keep them afloat, what will we accomplish? Will we remain world leaders in the construction of SUVs, or could we perhaps exercise just a little imagination and use these billions of taxpayer dollars that, in Canada alone, add up to around $10,000 per affected auto industry employee to become world leaders in something that needs a little leadership?
Through part of the fall, I saw one wind turbine head up Guelph's Highway 6 just about every weekday afternoon. They were offloaded in Hamilton harbour and sent north by truck. Why? Because they had to be imported from Europe; they are not manufactured in Canada.
During the Second World War, North America's industrial might was very quickly changed from the manufacture of consumer goods and vehicles to the manufacture of war machinery including trucks, tanks, aircraft, ships, weaponry, and ammunition. Is our failure of imagination so total that, in an age when technology allows us to contemplate a manned mission to another planet, we can not re-task our manufacturing sector to prepare us for a more sustainable future?
The whole process of bailouts has been broken from the outset. The US' $700 billion bailout package is largely being used to buy up bad credit from creditors so that they can once again lend money. Had the same money been used to pay off the huge consumer and mortgage debt in the US, consumer confidence would have returned in spades, the credit markets would have been re-invigorated, and millions of people would not have had their homes foreclosed. If we are going to spend taxpayer dollars to that phenomenal extent, we should at least be helping people live rather than only ensuring that bankers' profit margins are not hurt too badly.
The big concern for me is that the failure of imagination is so comprehensive that the current governing generation is taking a huge debt-load, and doubling it for my generation -- those of us born well after the war in Vietnam -- to pay off. Recent policy in Canada has been to "give back surplus tax dollars to Canadians" in the form of huge tax cuts, but only during boom times. All it serves to do is bankrupt the country so that proper, forward-thinking investment is impossible.
Canada has a long history of building itself up only to sell itself short. It is a cycle we need to break. From being world leaders in the aviation industry until the cancellation of the Avro Arrow, a crime for which I will never forgive Diefenbaker, to turning from the most prosperous country in the G8 to essentially bankrupt under another Conservative government, Canada has a long history of getting to the top of its game, and then backpedalling with apology to those that we had outshone. The bailout Canada and the province of Ontario are offering to the auto industry here, measured as a simple function of how much the US is offering in their bail out multiplied by the percentage of the industry that is in Canada, is yet another example of how we are failing where we should be leading.
The ideas are out there. A report in the Mercury a few days ago related a new study proposing a high speed rail network for the greater Toronto area, stretching from Waterloo to Orillia to Peterborough to Niagara Falls. According to the study, the network could cost as little as $4 billion -- the amount we are giving to the auto industry.
With the prospects for my generation being as dim as they are with what we are inheriting, I feel I have to call attention to the existence of the future to those currently in power, as nobody at the top seems capable of seeing beyond the tips of their own noses.
This lack of vision and foresight extends to Guelph, which at a recent council meeting voted unanimously to ask GO Transit to set up a single station in the downtown core, not setting aside any other land for use as a future station, and committing downtown to building vastly more and more expensive parking -- no doubt at the expense of further increased transit fares. To council's credit, only three members voted in favour of a motion calling on GO never to consider any additional stations in Guelph. While the "Stone Rd extension" right of way connecting one of the main east-west strips at the south end of the city with highway 24 has been set aside for generations, preparing our transit infrastructure even a few years in advance is beyond the capability of our politicians at any level. Why are we so chronically incapable of planning ahead? Is it too much to ask that we plan as far ahead for our transportation infrastructure as we do for our water usage? We do have abstract plans, but without action, it's essentially meaningless.
We have never endured a recession. Sure there was one in the early 1990s, but when your parents tell you at nine years old that they are on their last
$20, your reaction is "that's more than I have!" So as we head into this period of economic uncertainty, what do we have to consider?
I am a firm believer in the role of government. For the economy, government's responsibility is to eliminate debt and build a reserve when times are
good. When times are bad, taxes can then be lowered and we can rely on those reserves and short-term debt to invest in our national infrastructure,
stimulating the economy.
Government's role is to reduce the peaks and troughs of the economic cycle. The bigger the boom, the bigger the bust, and by taxing the boom, we can
mitigate the impact of the bust.
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and president Dwight D. Eisenhower's Interstate system demonstrated this. Both took the economy out of
recession through massive investment in the future. We almost had it figured out on this side of the border this time, too.
For 10 years we paid down the debt of the previous two recessions. We were making headway, but a new government came in and opted to cut taxes when
the economy could actually afford the level of taxation we had.
Both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper brag about the amount they cut taxes: Martin by $120 billion, and Harper by another $200 billion. Between them, we
could have almost completely paid off our debt and could have had the money to invest in public infrastructure during this recession without
mortgaging my generation.
We pay in excess of $30 billion a year from the federal pot just for interest on the debt we have.
Without any debt that would be $30 billion more per year that the federal government would have to work with before going into deficit.
Our deficit is projected to be $30 billion in 2009, all of which will be borrowed to pay interest on what we have already borrowed.
The trouble is, we called our financial situation a "surplus." There is no such thing as a surplus as long as there is a debt.
Surplus is a bad word: it implies the government is taxing more than it needs.
That way of thinking considers only the here and now, it does not account for the spending done yesterday that we could not afford. Ultimately, it
means we are measuring our government's financial health in terms of cash flow, not in consideration of the long term.
You and I would not reduce our income if we still have a mortgage to pay off and a retirement to plan for. Why should we do so collectively?
Government is not some mysterious institution that robs from us. It is our way, as a society, to manage ourselves and share communal costs and
If we, as a society, are spending more than we can afford, it is our collective responsibility to pay off the excess just as it would be for us to do
personally. When governments at any level have a debt-target that is not zero per cent of GDP, we have a problem, just as much as if we abuse our
credit card, or refinance our homes simply because we can, with the deliberate intention of carrying a debt that we could have paid off.
After having quickly squandered our reserves when times were good, the governments of both Canada and the United States are now preparing to give the
American auto industry thousands of dollars per manufactured vehicle to keep their inefficient business models afloat. Meanwhile, their foreign
competitors continue to clean up the market with better, more efficient vehicles, built for less money that cost less to maintain.
This bailout is wholly uninspired and does nothing to invest in our infrastructure or our future.
The $23 billion being spent by the governments on the two sides of the border could be put into our national infrastructure in a way that is truly
meaningful while stimulating our economy.
Canada's $4 billion figure, just to bail out one industry in one province, along with all the other money governments around the world are giving to
save dated business models, could instead have been invested in rethinking our approach to infrastructure.
Why are we not refocusing the industrial might of the auto sector on redefining how our cities are built, how we move around, and how we power it all?
Why are we not taking this opportunity to invest in becoming world leaders in sustainable technologies?
The auto industry has the potential to do it. We would be better served investing our billions of dollars to convert these failed manufacturers to the
construction of technologies largely made elsewhere today including buses, passenger trains, wind turbines, solar panels and the like.
Purchasing the results would improve Canada's infrastructure. This would turn our automakers into world leaders in those fields, saving hundreds of
thousands of jobs, and truly preparing us for the future. All it takes is vision.
Cars are not going anywhere, but they do not need to go everywhere.
Instead of paving over my generation with poorly considered short-term fiscal policies from unnecessarily emptied federal coffers, this recession
could be our chance to invest wisely in our rapidly changing world.
At least then my surprised generation could contemplate a better future.
As an aside, Guelph spends a huge portion of its annual budget building and maintaining our 538 km of public roads. Mayor Farbridge's recent State of the City address confirmed this. 538 km represents approximately 4.5 metres or 14' 8" of road for each of Guelph's approximately 120,000 residents. It is 6.1 km of road per square km of city. All of those km are funded by the taxpayer and exclude the provincial highways in city limits, bridges, boulevards, traffic signals, and the other expenses we pay for to allow our cars to run. The level of subsidy for the automobile includes all these factors. By contrast, the City of Guelph turns an actual, real profit that is returned to city coffers on its railway operations. The subsidy for cars and trucks on our roads is so ingrained in our governing attitude that, in spite of the Guelph Junction Railway's profit, Guelph has, in the past, tried to convince its rail customers to switch to trucks. I suppose, given that, it is not that much of a surprise that we would seek to bail out the least profitable or visionary auto makers in the world.
* - Although I am unable to find a car I want to buy from any manufacturer to replace my venerable 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser 8-seat wagon as it approaches forced retirement. No car on the market today can seat more than five people aside from a fuel-thirsty Mercedes C350 7-seat wagon, which is a tad outside of my price range. Vehicles built on car frames rather than truck frames with a large capacity rather than the wasted space of a sedan, and bench seats up front allowing three occupants per row (something I use more than you'd think), simply do not exist any more from any manufacturer, with half-hearted attempts to correct a decade of SUV/Minivan obsession by building slightly smaller SUVs nicknamed "crossovers." Sorry folks, they're still SUVs.
Other interesting bits from EEE-Senate-obsessed Harper: Mike Duffy, CTV reporter extraordinaire. I suppose Peter Kent needed some conservative media colleagues to join him at the Conservative caucus table.
Frank Valeriote off to a good start in the House of Commons
While all hell breaks lose in Ottawa as the Prime Minister acts too clever by half, and rumour spreads (by tories) that he is planning on sending Canada toward its constitutional minimum of one Parliamentary sitting day per year, new Guelph MP Frank Valeriote has been settling in to the House of Commons. Here are Hansard transcripts from his first interventions in the two weeks since being sworn in. Valeriote, the rookie Liberal MP for Guelph, is the Associate Critic for Industry (Automotive).
Mr. Speaker, the auto sector has greatly suffered from the government's poor management of the economy and chronic neglect.
Guelph's economy is dependent upon the good jobs that come from a prosperous automotive and auto parts industry. Under the Conservatives, tens of thousands of good jobs have been lost, a situation that could have been avoided if they had a plan.
While the minister is on the road without a plan, auto workers are on the streets without a job. When will we see some real action?
Mr. Mike Lake (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, Canadians know that the global auto industry is facing unprecedented circumstances and the North American integrated automotive industry is no different.
The situation is changing daily. The minister is down in the U.S. right now talking to stakeholders. He has met with stakeholders here in Canada over the past couple of weeks.
The solution here needs to be a carefully considered one with a long-term view to the interests of Canadian consumers, Canadian workers, Canadian businesses and Canadian taxpayers. Any decision taken will be carefully considered in that regard.
Mr. Speaker, what our auto industry needs is a coordinated, concurrent effort with the United States. Anything less than that will result in the protection of U.S. jobs at the expense of Canadian jobs. Anything less than that is only going to worsen the new Conservative deficit.
Will the Conservative Minister of Industry tell us exactly with whom in the Bush administration and in the new Obama economic team he has met to ensure that Canadian jobs are protected and not siphoned across the border?
Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Industry, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would remind members of the House that the president-elect, the premier of Ontario and the Prime Minister of this country are all saying the same thing. We need long-term sustainability. We do not need back of the envelope plans. We need a business plan and a business model that will work for the future. Barack Obama is saying that. Dalton McGuinty is saying that. The Prime Minister is saying that, and we are proud of our Prime Minister.
Mr. Francis Valeriote (Guelph, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the Conference Board of Canada stated that Canada will lose up to 15,000 more auto assembly jobs, which means 100,000 lost jobs in total by the end of 2009, 100,000 Canadian jobs. The U.S. Congress on its own will not protect Canadian jobs. That is the responsibility of the Conservatives, but all we hear from that minister is empty rhetoric.
How much longer will workers and their families have to wait before that ineffective Conservative minister finally acts to protect the auto jobs in this country?
Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Industry, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House are serious about our auto sector and indeed the entire economy. We are not part of the ready-fire-aim gang over there. We are methodically working on the best economic strategy for this country. We are working with our stakeholders. We are working with the auto sector. Members on that side of the House have no plans, no promises, except a car tax and a carbon tax which people in Canada could not afford to pay. That is not good enough anymore.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga--Streetsville.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to highlight some of my thoughts on the government's agenda outlined in the Speech from the Throne entitled, "Protecting Canada's Future".
It is indeed a distinct honour and privilege to have a seat in Canada's Parliament. I am profoundly grateful for the confidence that has been placed in me by the citizens of Guelph, a city in which one could not be more proud to live. It is a tremendous opportunity and privilege to serve one's own community in public office.
I want to take a moment to extend my appreciation to those individuals who devoted their time, resources and energy during my extensive 82 day election campaign. I am humbled by their contribution and inspired by their conviction.
My family has always been a source of love, guidance and support for me, and I am grateful for, and often feel undeserving of, their continued support. In particular, I want to thank my wife, Catherine, and our children, Olivia and Dominic, for their steadfast love and support as my young family continues along this journey into public life and public service.
In meeting my new colleagues from all parties, I am mindful that while we are divided geographically and politically, we are bound by a desire to serve the citizens of our constituencies and contribute to a better quality of life for those we are entrusted to represent. It is an ambitious goal, one that is essential for all of us to achieve in co-operation together.
I respect that Canadians want a Parliament that will work together to overcome the challenges that are on our doorstep. I have been successfully serving Guelph for 27 years as a lawyer, assisting people through the best and worst times of their lives. I have also had an opportunity to serve my community through many community boards and foundations. The people I have met and the organizations I have worked with along the way in Guelph have always had the foresight and commitment to face challenges, accept responsibility and plan a strategy to move towards a brighter future.
The people of Guelph and I are concerned about, even disapproving of, the Conservatives' lack of vision. In response to calls for economic prudence, we saw the Prime Minister irresponsibly eliminate the $3 billion contingency fund. In less than three years the Conservative government has become the highest spending government in Canadian history, after squandering the $13 billion surplus left to them by the previous Liberal government.
The Conservative minority government increased federal spending by more than $40 billion a year and, despite all respected economists' opinions to the contrary, cut its own vital source of revenue. In doing so, the Conservatives failed to stimulate meaningful economic growth and failed to be prepared for the slowdown they saw coming.
This economic crisis is an opportunity to embrace and invest in bold ideas and strategies that are going to translate into the jobs of tomorrow. I invite the Conservative government to take a look at Guelph for inspiration.
Maclean's magazine consistently rates the University of Guelph as Canada's foremost research university. The university is dedicated to maintaining this reputation through its intensive research-based programs, such as making plastic from non-food agricultural products, plastic that becomes car parts or packaging. Imagine farmers around Guelph feeding cities and feeding raw materials to industry in Guelph and elsewhere. Imagine the benefit for the economy and for the environment.
Innovation is exciting and full of economic opportunity. We need to make more meaningful investments and create strategic partners with those engaged in innovation and research in order to contribute to the kind of growth that will have our economy thriving. Governments need to play a more meaningful role in sponsoring university research and helping turn that research into jobs in Guelph and throughout Canada. There is little doubt that investments in university research yield significant social and economic returns. For example, Canadian economist Fernand Martin estimates that the cumulative dynamic impact of universities' contributions to the economy through research and development was at least $60 billion in 2007. We need to invest in talent, knowledge and innovation to continue to fully participate in today's competitive global and greening economy.
When I think about the next generation, a clean sustainable environment stands side by side with a prosperous economy. We have a responsibility to be mindful of our environment.
Again, I turn to Guelph for a stunning example of environmental sustainability. Last year, Guelph became a North American leader on energy management with its commitment to a 25-year community energy plan. Through the plan's challenging but realistic targets, Guelph could use less energy in 25 years than it does today, even with expected population growth of 53,000 people, and cut its annual greenhouse gas emissions by nine tonnes per person. This will put Guelph among the top energy performers in the world, reduce our environmental footprint and make my riding one of the most competitive and attractive communities in which to invest.
Liberals have been saying it for years, and I repeat the message at the risk it falls on deaf ears: Sound environmental policy delivers economic prosperity.
We cannot talk about the economy of tomorrow without paying heed to Canada's struggling auto sector. Communities right across this great country were built on the back of a thriving automotive industry. Today, with the industry in crisis, we see communities rightfully distressed about the loss of the good jobs provided through automotive assembly and parts manufacturing plants and the hundreds of thousands of spinoff jobs, from office cleaners to accountants and restaurateurs, to mention a few. It will negatively affect even the charitable contributions made in our communities.
Government has a role to partner with the industry to enable this sector to survive its credit limitations and emerge an industry that is committed to transition to greener and more efficient technologies.
Guelph is an auto town. Canada is an auto country. I call on the government to send a clear message to the industry and Canadians that the Government of Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with our auto industry to protect Canadian jobs.
The people of Guelph are disappointed that the funding promised to Canada's cities and communities has been delayed. Sound infrastructure is the link between healthy cities, productivity and competitiveness. I implore the government to move forward with vital and more meaningful infrastructure investments to create jobs and address the infrastructure deficit.
It is simply unacceptable for Canada to have an infrastructure deficit that exceeds $123 billion at a time when we are depending on our cities and communities for business growth and development and jobs. Guelph needs more meaningful help to repair its infrastructure, invest in public transit and for affordable housing.
My friends across the floor have asked us for ideas. I invite my Conservative colleagues to meet with me in Guelph and talk to those in the child care and early learning profession. The experience of 35 other industrialized countries, more committed than the Conservative government to early learning and child care, tells us that early learning is designed to take an entire generation out of poverty and into prosperity, better prepare them for the knowledge based economy, help children be better adjusted and less likely to be involved in crime and allows their parents to return to work or pursue their education. The Conservatives' $100 a month has left Guelph's early childhood education and child care in crisis.
Our children deserve more. I would have thought that my Conservative peers would care more about our children.
I respect the choice that Canadians made on October 14. I look forward to working in opposition to hold the government to account for the commitments it has made.
We need a bold vision that will lead us to a larger, greener economy that will restore Canada's place in the global economy.
We live in a complex, demanding, diverse nation. We govern not only for today, but for tomorrow and beyond.
Mr. Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member opposite for his comments and intervention this afternoon.
I want to go back to his earlier remarks with regard to the surplus and so-called lack of capacity. I wonder if the member might comment on the fact that Canada, of all the G-7 countries, has the greatest fiscal position and the greatest capacity to deal with this, partly because the government over the past two and a half years has reduced debt by some $38 billion.
The $13 billion surplus that keeps being heralded here by the other side has been reduced to put in the pockets of Canadians and help put Canada's fiscal position in a better light. I wonder if the member would not agree that this has improved Canada's position to address the very situation that confronts us.
Mr. Francis Valeriote:
Mr. Speaker, the member is right. I do not agree that it puts us in a better position.
If he has seen the reports from the OECD, he will know that Canada is headed for a deeper recession than we predicted and a far deeper recession than was denied by the Conservative government.
Had the Conservatives not squandered that surplus, had they paid attention to where we were headed and had they acknowledged what was clearly in their vision, which was a deficit and a recession, they would not have reduced the GST and we would have been in a better position right now to respond to the needs of all Canadians and respond specifically to those industries that need our help right now.
Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East--Stoney Creek, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am little confused when I hear the member opposite talking about fiscal capacity when it was his leader who spoke to the Canadian Club and demanded that the government lower corporate taxes even further than it was planning on in the last budget.
Which side are you on?
The Deputy Speaker:
I would just remind the hon. member for Hamilton East--Stoney Creek to address comments through the chair and not directly to the opposite member.
Mr. Francis Valeriote:
Mr. Speaker, I am not at all against lowering corporate taxes to spark industry but lowering taxes alone is not enough. Lowering taxes for an ailing industry, all the ailing industries that are suffering right now, would be like refusing to throw a life jacket to someone who is drowning but telling them that if they get to shore they will be treated to a good meal.
I agree with lowering taxes but it is not enough. More must be done and more could have been done had the Conservative government prepared better for this deficit and for what is looming on the horizon.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton--Canso, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his maiden speech. I want to assure the people back in Guelph that the member has made an impact not only in a very tough situation in his own riding but an impact already not just in our caucus and as a member of our auto caucus, but in the House as well. He has brought some important issues to the House so early in his career.
We stand in this place and we talk about issues and we debate legislation and bold ideas but it is important that, as members of Parliament, we have an understanding of how these issues impact on the real lives of those back home.
As the member's community continues to wrestle with those challenges within the auto industry, how is the inactivity on the part of the government impacting on those back in his riding of Guelph?
Mr. Francis Valeriote:
Mr. Speaker, today and yesterday I have been in communication with those who are being severely impacted. Linamar Corporation has already lost 800 jobs. It has had to freeze wages and benefits. I have received letters from dealerships in Guelph that have indicated that the wheels have stopped rolling.
We are getting absolutely no response from the Conservative government. It is not coming at all to the table with a meaningful effort.
Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways
Today is the 79th anniversary of Black Thursday, the first of three miserable days on the stock market that signalled the start of the Great Depression. With that, rules for the Liberal leadership race about to come forward, and new developments on the highway construction front, there's lots to talk about these days.
First off, let me say that, given the choice, I want this man to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party.
With that out of the way, down to business.
This week, Ontario posted a deficit of $500 million for the first time in a few years. I have never made any secret of my disdain for deficits, and when I see a provincial government spending more billions on building new highways than you can shake a stick at go into deficit, I really have to scratch my head.
As I have noted many times before, Guelph is currently subject of, or is close to, four major highway projects: new Highway 24 (Cambridge-Brantford), new Highway 7 (Guelph-Kitchener), new GTA West corridor (Guelph-Brampton), and realignment and upgrades to Highway 6, in four separate sections each with its own EA, from south of the 401 to north of Guelph city limits.
Last night was the 4th Public Information Centre for the first of the four sections of Highway 6 to be upgraded. I am disappointed to, again, see no consideration whatsoever for the need to connect the Hanlon industrial park to the nearby rail network, which would involve crossing the Hanlon near one of the interchanges being proposed and therefore would need at least some level of planning or preparation within this environmental assessment. The changes proposed in PIC #4 for the Hanlon in their latest "preferred plan" call for a two-way service road to run between Stone and Downey Rd on the west side of the Hanlon, connecting up to Woodland Glen Dr., and the associated construction of a large retaining wall through several back yards along Old Colony Trail.
From a traffic flow perspective, it's definitely an improvement over previous plans, but from an environmental and social perspective for that area, it's a definite setback. This never-ending balancing act is frustrating to me.
I maintain that the investment in highways is a colossal waste of money if we are not also investing to at least the same level in transit infrastructure, which here and now necessarily means rail. If the as-yet unbuilt Hanlon industrial park were to connect to rail, which could be accomplished for the cost of one or two interchanges on the highway, the highway improvements would have a net long term benefit. The rail access would allow businesses to come to this industrial park to get material out of their trucks and onto the tracks, not just move it between trucks. I am all for road infrastructure improvements that help people and businesses get off the roads, but against highways for the sake of highways. Similarly, if passenger service were restored to the line between Guelph and Hamilton, some of the car pressures on Highway 6, which runs parallel to the nearly unused tracks for the entire affected area, would be reduced.
I found out just yesterday that there is an environmental assessment public information centre on Tuesday the 28th from 5-8pm at the Springfield Golf and Country Club on Gordon discussing upgrades to Maltby Rd, which would be an ideal right of way to connect the Guelph Junction Railway to the Hanlon industrial parks with minimal cost or disruption. Tracks could easily run on the edge of the road within its right of way.
With the recession coming very much as I predicted a couple of years ago, dead-end highway projects like the Halon may finally be put on hold. Given half a moment of reflection, if we are going to go into deficit to finance infrastructure and create jobs, then we should be doing so in such a way as to have high capacity, low environmental impact, low cost transportation solutions running at the other end of the recession. It remains my belief that our existing road system would be adequate if we invested properly in rail transportation rather than heavily subsidising roads while leaving rail to fend for itself.
The reality is, though, that we will continue to rip up rails in Canada and build highways nearby. This week, work began in ripping out the Kinghorn subdivision, a 195-mile railway line that was abandoned in 2005 connecting Longlac to Thunder Bay. The track itself was primarily used as a detour route in the event of problems in northern Ontario, but its removal demonstrates that we, collectively, have still not learned our lesson in rail removal. While difficult to prove, I believe Canada remains one of the few countries, if not the only one, left in the entire world still ripping out more railway lines than we are putting in.
Earlier this week, the first federal leader of a party to meaningfully recognise this reality and put it in a platform, was pushed out of the leadership of his party in a victory of politics over policy. The Liberal platform this past election included huge sums for infrastructure, and a plan to ban the removal of railway lines like the Kinghorn sub. While this horse has largely left the barn, the Kinghorn sub demonstrates that it is never too late to close this barn door.
This leads me to my next point, which is about the leadership of the Liberal party.
We should have rules handed down soon about the structure and length of the third Liberal leadership race in recent years within a few days. While pithy, Jamie's assessment is bang on and I hope some of the suggestions in his post are reflected in the rules.
Personally, I would like to see 50% of all donations to each leadership campaign be handed over to the party in lieu of a deposit, and no spending cap coupled with a ban on coming out with any debt whatsoever. We need a leader capable of fundraising as much as any other skill, and that is one way to weed out poor fundraisers. The debt lesson is a hard learned one as some of the last round of leadership candidates still have not finished paying theirs off, and I would suggest that to enforce such a no debt requirement, any candidate who still has outstanding leadership debt by the time they reach the convention be excluded from the ballot.
And on the topic of enforcement, you can read my latest presentation, this one to the Guelph Police Services Board on Thursday the 16th on behalf of the Community Volunteer Patrol, an organisation you should get involved with.
And by the way, why do so many drivers not normally get winter tires that requiring them in one province could cause such a massive shortage?
If I were writing the headlines this morning, and I were as biased as many papers seem to be around elections, my headline would read something to the effect: "'Not a Leader' keeps 'Cuddly Sweater Man' to minority." It was a long, tough battle in Guelph, with an 82-day campaign. Our writ was dropped on July 25th for a September 8th by-election, cancelled on September 7th, and postponed to October 14th. But our Liberal newcomer Frank Valeriote pulled it off and Guelph, almost alone in Southwest Region, stayed red.
While I did not get home from the victory celebration until almost 3 this morning, I should note that not a single one of the opposing candidates had the grace to congratulate Valeriote last night. I have a lot of thoughts about this election, both locally and nationally, to share.
I spent a good deal of the campaign volunteering, doing everything from sign crew to door-to-door to work in the office. I haven't really slept much since July. Our campaign had no paid staff on it, yet plenty of people there seven days a week. The hard work paid off as we defeated three strong candidates and six fringe candidates. Indeed, Guelph's campaign was the longest of any in the country, tied with St-Lambert and Westmount at 82 days. We had the most candidates of any riding at 10. We had the most high profile candidates, at four. As a complete aside, I want to note that several members of the campaign, including the Campaign Manager, CFO, and director of communications, along with many others, do not drive and in most cases don't have driver's licenses. That a campaign can function and win in those conditions makes me proud of our community's ever-improving transit system.
While much was made of the Green campaign in Guelph, I have to hand it to the Green supporters who think more clearly than the campaign they supported. While Greens in Guelph clearly felt they could take this riding early on, the results show them a distant third, ahead of the NDP, but well behind the second-place Conservatives. Greens and NDPers both understood the message about vote splitting, and I believe came through for the riding and the country in uniting to defeat our Conservative candidate here.
As a result of vote splitting and wide-spread strategic voting, however, Greens and NDPers especially will continue to raise proportional representation as an issue, under the guise of discussing electoral reform. As one who worked very closely on the campaign to defeat mixed-member proportional in Ontario, I will once again offer a compromise to proponents of electoral reform. I will meet you half way between STV and SMP, and support IRV, a system that would eliminate vote splitting and strategic voting, without introducing new problems to our democracy.
The NDP nationally, on the other hand, nearly achieved their goal. I have long believed that Jack Layton's goal has not so much been to become leader of the opposition, but to ensure a Stephen Harper majority. Having spent most of his campaign trying to unseat Liberals, even where the NDP itself had no chance of winning, Layton worked hard to ensure an unrestrained far right government which could ultimately lead to an extreme far left government in response to it with Jack Layton at the helm. For a party that claims to want to work with the other parties, as it does every time it offers during an election to be a coalition partner, it works very hard not to cooperate with anyone.
The Greens are going to be interesting to watch over the next couple of years. I expected them to sweep the protest vote nationally this election and come out much closer to the NDP at the end of the day. But I believe the Greens nationally understood that a vote for the Greens right now is a vote against action on climate change, and so ballot box guilt cost a lot of their support. The Greens will, however, need to ask themselves what they need to do to get their leader in the House. Running against an entrenched Conservative MP who is one of the few members of the Conservative caucus who would make strong leadership candidates when Harper moves on was not a brilliant strategic move for the party, but I appreciate the Green Party leader's decision not to run against any Liberal or NDP candidates where should would risk hurting progressives. While in any other party, with the possible exception of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, her decision would probably cost her the leadership of her party, I believe that what she accomplished in this election far exceeds what she lost. But to really make a difference, and they will hate me for saying so, I believe the Green Party should fold, and join the Liberal Party en masse, taking over some riding assocations and their policy committees, and using the vehicle of the Liberal Party to push through an agenda we largely share in common, rather than continuing an unnecessary national division.
The Conservatives, too, will have to do some soul searching. While conventional wisdom is that Stephane Dion was the big loser last night, in my opinion it was Stephen Harper. While he kept his own expectations down, he showed that with a carefully managed campaign where the public was not invited to a single campaign event from day one to voting day, where he spent millions of dollars successfully personally destroying his opponent outside of a writ period where there are few restrictions on spending, where his main opponents were essentially flat broke, and where his secondary opponents were working primarily to unseat his main opponent, he could not win a majority. If not against a broke Liberal party with what Conservatives see as a weak leader in Dion at the helm, then Consrvatives will have to ask themselves how they will ever win a majority. The answer they will come to will ultimately be: through a more centrist and less abrasive leader.
My sense of how things would go at the start can be summarised fairly simply. I felt that Canadians, by-and-large, wanted a majority government, and didn't really care who got it. The Conservatives' gaffes, with the exception of the arts and culture cuts, didn't stick. People didn't care, they just wanted an end to the minorities, something they still did not get.
The number of times I heard at the door and elsewhere through this campaign that "all politicians are liars" and therefore "I'm voting Conservative" really caught me off guard. There is only one party that ran a campaign based completely on lies, manipulation, and deceit, and people chose it over a party that offered a clear vision and honest assessment of where we needed to go and how we would get there, because they are tired of lies, manipulation, and deceit.
This brings me to our own federal party. Readers of this blog will know that I was a strong supporter of Dion through the leadership race, and have remained loyal to him since. I still strongly believe he is the only leader in the House who has any kind of vision or true leadership skills. He is not an eloquent speaker in English, but nor is Harper an eloquent speaker in French. That, to me, is his only major flaw. While we can thank Mike Duffy for throwing Ontario -- numbers in Ontario collapsed after his partisan intervention in the campaign -- people looking objectively at the video clip he posted would realise that the interviewer asked Dion a question, Dion asked for clarification ("if I were PM 2 and a half years ago?"), the interviewer repeated his initial question instead of simply agreeing to the clarification, and slipped on his answer, so asked to reanswer the question. Why that is such a big deal to people, I am not sure. I don't think there are many politicians or interviewers who have never restarted an interview. That all said, Dion's leadership is in danger. If we lose him, we will likely get some eloquent speaker with no vision or true leadership skills other than an ability to crack a whip, and people will rejoice that we have "a leader," while pretending that someone other than Dion would have done amazingly better this election. Against today's financial machine of the Conservative party, I do not see how any winner of the 2006 leadership race would have fared any better. Dion's numbers spiked after the debates. The number of times I heard complaints about Dion's leadership dwindled. It was the first chance Canadians had ever had to meet the real Dion and they liked what they saw. If perceptions were based on reality, not on smears and attacks, we would have a very different outcome.
Which leads me to my next point: money. The Liberal Party has precisely one thing to do between now and the next election. The party must convince every supporter in every part of the country who can afford to give a dime to the cause to give that dime. The party needs money to fight elections and inter-election battles. Millions of Canadians who believe in the Liberal cause must be asked to put their money where their mouth is. We have to learn to out-fundraise our opponents, and we have the base to do it if we make that our priority. That politics is decided by money and not ideas sickens me, but that is the context in which we must learn to fight.
The Conservatives spent millions of dollars on ads between elections, something that the Liberals simply couldn't afford to do. It had an obvious and direct effect as they beat the Liberals to the punch in defining the new Liberal leader by doing so, both immediately after the leadership convention and immediately before the general election. This problem would have been essentially mooted by having a well-financed party that could have fought back. It is your responsibility, and your friends, your family, and your neighbours, to ensure that this does not ever happen again.
But this brings us to a problem. I remember reading or hearing an analysis of attack advertising some years ago. It went something like this: If Wendy's released an ad saying Harvey's burgers were made of mice, then people would stop eating Harvey's burgers. If Harvey's responded by saying Wendy's burgers are made of rats, then people would stop eating Wendy's burgers. The result, ultimately, would be that people would stop eating burgers.
This approach to politics, more than any other factor I believe, is leading to the increasingly pathetic voter turnout we are seeing in elections. It isn't that people are disaffected by the nonsense of the "wasted vote" as some would have you believe, it is that voters are tired of having to choose between rats and mice. Elections should be fought on ideas first, last, and always, but almost never are. They're fought on personality, sound bites, and scored points. The result, ultimately, is that we all lose, every time. As Chretien used to like saying, "when you throw mud, you lose ground." This election was one of the dirtiest ever. With hate ads personally attacking the Liberal leader and offering no substantive reason for doing so dominating the airwaves, and with at least five Liberal ridings having homes and vehicles severely vandalised, in many cases resulting in a direct threat to life and limb, we have reached a new low in Canada.
Now that we have a Conservative government again, what becomes of policies like the Green Shift? My bet is that the Conservatives bring in a very similar but somewhat weakened policy that will not be revenue neutral in an effort to stem the tide of deficit that they have brought on us, early on in their mandate, and claim credit for it as the best idea since sliced bread. Nothing was made of the presence of a cap-and-trade system in the Conservative Party's hastily drawn up platform at the end of the campaign.
If Obama wins next door next month, this could well be the first extended period of time in which we have a Democratic president at the same time as a Conservative government. As Conservative governments tend to draw us closer to US foreign policy, this will have a tendency to limit the damage that Harper can cause to Canada if he is there for any length of time.
As we look toward the next election, which will not be more than a couple of years out, we must consider how we will go about winning. As I said before, fundraising is the key. For a party with the support and history that the Liberal Party has to be essentially out of money is ridiculous. For my friends who blog, but who make no other contribution to the party, I will say it very simply: you are not doing your part.
We have to work together to rebuild the party from the inside out, financially and organisationally. Chretien's return at the very end of the campaign was a sign of things to come and I believe the Liberal Party has woken up to the fact this morning that it really is only one party, not two, and needs to act that way if it hopes to return to power.
We're now up to no fewer than 5 ridings having Liberal supporters' cars intentionally disabled, with Mississauga-Streetsville and Niagara Falls joining in. Yesterday also saw the introduction of the Conservative party's platform, and Guelph's televised candidates' debate, with 9 of our 10 candidates attending.
I read the entire Conservative platform shortly after it came out. It struck me as a slipshod document that the war room threw together after hearing Harper announce that there would be a platform available in a few days. It's not well organised as a document, and offers nothing of substance to a country struggling under the weight of a weakened economy.
The Guelph debate last night was rather bland. As we had so many candidates, only six questions were asked from the floor during the two hours of debate, at least five of which were asked by known partisans, three of those Conservatives. For the first time in this 3-month campaign, and to the chagrin of the Green candidate, the room was not stacked with Green supporters. I had not planned on asking a question, but I drew a number from the hat for kicks and was more than a little surprised to pull out the '1'. So I asked a question that I think should be asked in every riding at all levels of government. I first heard a variation of this question asked by someone else in a debate in the municipal election here in 2006:
Do you live in this riding? If so, do you believe candidates should have the right to run in a riding in which they do not live? If not, why are you running here?
At least three of Guelph's 10 candidates do not live in the riding, and it seems to me with such a requirement our ballot would be somewhat more manageable, aside from my personal disdain for the practice of parachuting candidates. One candidate chose to take it personally, describing me as "Frank's assistant" which is not entirely accurate, though I do volunteer for him and believe he is far and away the best man for the job of the 10 people on our ballot, before saying that he does not live in the riding but has close ties to it, and that he was nominated in Guelph-Wellington before the 2003 redistribution. That's fine, but when Guelph-Wellington was redistributed, it is disingenuous to suggest that he had to run in Guelph, as he still lived in one of the two resulting ridings: Wellington-Halton Hills, and could have run there (perhaps leaving Guelph to his stronger provincial counterpart, Ben Polley). Later, that same candidate declared his opposition to strategic voting, but by this earlier answer admitted that he believes in strategic running. Running in a riding where you believe you can win rather than one in which you live is opportunism, pure and simple.
On the topic of strategic voting, I do believe it makes sense to work within the electoral system you have, and not live in some dreamland where a different system exists in your head, but not on the ballot. Strategic voting in Single Member Plurality is a necessity when the ballot is over-crowded with people with similar values who have abstract reasons for running against, rather than with, eachother. Would I like reform? Ya, I think we should have a preferential ballot and make some other structural changes, but not throw the baby out with the bathwater as proportional representation advocates would like us to do. But that is not the system we have here and now, and we must work within the context of what we do have.
There is no morning-after pill for federal elections
In the five days since I submitted my latest column for today's Mercury, a lot has changed. Stephane Dion owned the French debate, Harper has been accused of plagiarising no fewer than three speeches, Liberal supporters in two Toronto ridings have had their homes vandalised and their lives endangered through damage to their cars exactly as happened in Guelph six weeks ago. But one key thing hasn't changed: Harper and the Conservatives, in spite of all evidence that they are permanently unfit to govern, still lead in the polls.
While Vote for Environment, a website dedicated to helping people reconcile split votes into a non-Conservative MP, warns that Guelph is one of the hottest ridings in the country, some people in Guelph point to an obviously bogus poll released by the Green party during the by-election showing themselves a distant second as evidence that this is not the case.
During the leaders' debate last week, Elizabeth May stated that her top priority for the country is electoral reform. We need proportional representation, she asserted, preempting any policy issues like the economy or the environment. I can understand the sentiment, but not the priority. Under single-member plurality, the proper name for what we have today, we have this problem with vote splitting. But it is the system we have, and the system that we will have on voting day next week. I am in favour of electoral reform, although against proportional "representation," and look forward to that national debate, but it is not the number one priority of this country.
While I am generally sympathetic to the Green Party and believe they have a major role to play in our democracy, their push for proportional representation irks me greatly. The notion was soundly defeated with nearly identical margins in referenda in PEI and Ontario and will be nationally if presented nationally. The electoral system we should be turning to is the one used by the lower house in Australia known there as Alternate Vote, or Instant Run-Off vote. It is, or is similar to, the system all parties use to select their candidates and leaders, and benefits the voter first, the party second. It gives constituents the right to choose their MP without worrying about vote splitting, without giving MPs the right to choose their constituents as proportional representation does. I also believe in other reforms, such as the banning of candidates from running in ridings in which they do not live, and the elimination of much of the role of the Party Whip.
My latest article to the Mercury bears this disclaimer:
Editor's note: Community Editorial Board columnist David Graham is a member and supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada. He has volunteered with the Frank Valeriote campaign in this federal election.
It is true. I am a Liberal, and I put my money where my mouth is. I have never made a secret of that. I joined the Liberal party and volunteer for it because I believe it is the party best suited and most capable of governing this country, and I believe by being a member of it, and serving on its policy committees and in elections, I can help steer it toward the most productive policies, something I cannot do from the outside or by working against it.
There is no morning-after pill for federal elections.
With the very real threat that we will wake up Oct. 15 to find
ourselves tied to Stephen Harper, we have to ask ourselves: do we want
this man who violates his own laws, while denigrating his opponents,
to be in charge of our country and our economy?
Aside from the disdain he has shown for the rule of law by suing
Elections Canada, the world-renowned organization responsible for
ensuring our democracy, he is the leader of the first governing party
in Canadian history to have its headquarters raided by the RCMP and
has called this election in violation of his own fixed election date
Under that law, we were not scheduled to go to the polls until October
2009. As we know here in Guelph, our byelection was cancelled the day
before we were to go to the polls, as Mr. Harper evidently feared
There are few countries in the world where elections are cancelled
when the leader fears the result. Canada now counts itself among the
members of this exclusive club.
Harper inherited a booming Canadian economy and a well-balanced
federal budget from the Liberals less than three years ago. At the
time, our economy was stronger than that of our neighbour to the
south, and was the strongest of the G8.
Now, as the United States prepares to bail out an economy on the verge
of collapse, we find ourselves with no more budget surplus in Canada
and an economy no stronger than theirs.
This Conservative government has raised billions of dollars through
the wireless spectrum auction and by selling off government assets to
lease them back. The effect of this is to put extra money in the
budget now, from the sale of our assets, and increase our expenses
later by having to pay to lease them back.
It is a budgetary time bomb.
The claim that our federal budget is actually balanced is highly
dubious. If we count the assets the Harper government has quietly
sold, we are likely already in a substantial deficit.
Harper's actions are the equivalent of selling your house to pay off
This fits the pattern of federal Conservatives through this country's
By the end of Brian Mulroney's government, Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio
had achieved its worst peacetime level since the Great Depression,
something Jean Chrétien's Liberals had to remedy in their first term
Before this current Conservative government squandered the healthy
budgetary surplus left to them, the last time a Conservative
government balanced a budget was in 1912, the year the Titanic sank.
Since then, not a single economic boom has taken place in Canada under
a Conservative government, and that trend is set to continue under
We have seen this movie before.
The job losses in Ontario since Harper came to power in 2006 add up to
more people than there are working in Guelph, after a decade of
unprecedented growth under the Liberals.
We cannot afford Harper for the next four years. The last time we made
the mistake of giving the Conservatives power, the result was a
$40-billion deficit and a strong separatist movement in Quebec.
We sent a clear message and soundly rejected this approach to managing
Canada then by leaving only two lonely Progressive Conservative MPs in
the House. We should learn from our mistakes.
In Guelph, our choice is clear. We have a city councillor who claims
she will take our voice to Ottawa, but she has already demonstrated
that instead she will be Harper's voice here in Guelph.
Asked by this paper for her opinion on Guelph resident Steven
Truscott's compensation for his wrongful murder conviction, she
referred the matter to Stephen Harper's office to answer for her.
As a long-time member of council, one would expect her leadership on
council to bring about the support of her colleagues, but at this time
not one sitting member of council has endorsed her candidacy.
Voting for the Green candidate in Guelph, who does not live in our
riding, does nothing to push Green values forward. As Elizabeth May
herself said recently, she would "rather have no Green seats and
Stephen Harper lose, than a full caucus that stares across the floor
at Stephen Harper as prime minister, because his policies are too
The reality in Guelph is that this riding is a swing riding, not the
safe Liberal seat that some seem to believe. Voting for the Green
candidate only helps ensure that the Conservatives carry this riding
on the split environmental vote, and that the cause of
environmentalism and good government is set back for years to come.
When you cast your ballot next week, consider the true ramifications
of your vote.
You cannot take it back if you do not like the result.
To add to the "coincidence," the Guelph attack took place exactly eleven days before by-election voting day, and the Toronto attack took place exactly eleven days before the general election voting day. h/t Scott.
In the same article, Green campaign manager Stan Kozak is purported to have said, paraphrased by the paper, that "none of the major parties have ever advocated for proportional representation, which means they're not serious about working together." This grates me particularly because it is the push for proportional representation itself that tells me that the Green party is not sincere about democratic values.
A single-winner, single-seat preferential ballot would offer more honest choices to electors and would have my unqualified support. The system would allow most-liked instead of least-disliked candidates to win as strategic voting is weakened. Preferential balloting allows voters to always vote for who they truly want to win, without ever worrying about voting for someone they don't like to keep out someone they really don't like. Preferential balloting allows them to make a statement about a particularly bad candidate by ranking them dead last on their ballot.
Proportional representation offers none of this. It is all about dis-empowering and unrepresenting voters to the benefit of political parties. Under proportional representation, an MP is not entitled to exercise judgement of his or her own. The system works by eliminating ridings as we know them, and putting the whole country on list systems. Parties provide lists to Elections Canada, voters vote for the parties, and seats are assigned as a proportion of the vote. 30% of the vote in a 300-member parliament means 90 seats, with no geographic requirements.
But who are those 90 people? Under proportional representation, it does not matter who they are; they could be chicken sandwiches, because they have no effect on the decision making process, they exist only to rubber stamp the policies of their parties. The demographic representation in parliament could improve, but it would be hollow. A parliament made up of 50% women who are completely muzzled is not an improvement over a parliament with 25% women who are free to speak their minds. Under proportional representation, they do not represent anyone but their party and have no recourse if they step out of line. While having 50% (or perhaps more) of parliament be empowered women would be hugely beneficial to the function of government, proportional representation completely misses the mark.
If an MP from a list system is kicked out of caucus, they lose the legitimacy of having a seat in parliament at all. They do not represent a constituency, only a party list, and have no recourse to re-election outside of that list. Someone ranked highly on a party's list has no danger of not being returned to parliament.
But I can see the appeal of this to the Green Party in Guelph, whose own candidate does not even live in the riding. Their slogan here is "Guelph is Going Green," their message clearly that they want the Green Party represented in Guelph, not Guelph represented in Ottawa.
While the Liberal candidate here has made it clear in that same article that a cooperative left-of-Harper movement is needed and worthwhile, the Greens and the NDP candidate in Guelph and the NDP's leadership have shown that the only cooperation they are interested in is collusion to break the fabric of our democracy, the NDP by working with the Conservatives to keep out the Greens, and the Greens by pushing to take the weak electoral system we have and turn it into a completely dysfunctional one.
Well, as everyone who doesn't live under a rock by now knows, Harper has seen fit to cancel four byelections whose results he was afraid of in violation of his own fixed election date law. Here in Guelph, that means we're 45 days down, 37 to go. Tomorrow was meant to be election day. How symbolic for Mr. Harper to take a fleet of SUVs across the street to Rideau Hall to run over us all.
Vandals threaten the lives of Liberal supporters in Guelph
The escalation in Guelph is dramatic. Last night, over night, someone, or some group, went to all parts of the city vandalising homes with Liberal party by-election signs out front. Houses were spraypainted with slogans on the brickwork, garage, doors, and windows. But worse, much worse, is the fact that these cowards keyed the cars in the driveways with 'L' and cut the brake lines in the cars in the driveways. At least six cars are known to have had their brake lines cut. This is wreckless endangerment. Disabling the brakes on cars is a direct threat to life and limb and is way beyond the realm of acceptibility.
This is completely beyond the pale. The night of my post last week about my lawn sign walking off in front of my nose, my own car was tagged with whipped cream. The intimidation level in Guelph is getting to an incomprehensible point.
Tagging homes and cars with an 'L' is clearly an attempt to label people in a deragatory way, reminiscent of many an oppressive régime.
London North Centre MP Glen Pearson was once described by Maclean's magazine as the last decent man in Ottawa.
His years of tireless work on issues he cares about, and his humble mission to accomplish rather than to take credit, looking for accomplishment rather than attention, has earned him this respect and reputation.
Frank Valeriote, the candidate for the Liberal party in Guelph's federal byelection, is another man cut from the same cloth.
Decades of community service, both at home and abroad, have earned him an enviable list of accomplishments and enormous respect. He has served the public in Guelph since the early 1980s.
With a budget comparable to the city government and equally difficult decisions, Valeriote sat on -- and for several years chaired --the local Catholic school board, forging unprecedented co-operation with the public school board. His list of volunteer commitments, overseas mission work, and unheralded contributions to Guelph is extensive enough to fill its own page of a paper.
Valeriote has never worried about his profile or his image in the city. He just does what needs doing without fanfare, and feels no need to brag about it outside of the context of an election.
He is not asking to go to Ottawa for himself. He is not looking for glory, and as a long-practising and successful lawyer, he is not going for job stability. He is asking to go to Ottawa very simply to represent Guelph, Guelph's needs, Guelph's issues, and Guelph's residents, not himself.
Valeriote is all about principle, not about power for the sake of power.
As I have made clear many times, my number 1 issue for the future of this region is transit.
When considering the land-use demands, energy requirements, tax-dollar strain, and general economics of cars and trucks as compared to buses and trains, it is hard to see how our current path is really sustainable. Shifting our way of thinking about our way of moving will take serious, long-term leadership and the placement of principle ahead of politics.
While none of the candidates is making a point of sending his or her sign crews out on city buses, all claim to support transit.
The NDP, the party whose provincial wing cancelled GO train service to Guelph 15 years ago, even brought Leader Jack Layton here specifically to tell us how they would fund city transit. Their solution is simple: tie transit funding to car use through gas-tax based funding.
If we drive bigger cars more, we will burn more gas, pay more gas tax, and fund transit better. If we drive enough to fund transit properly, we will no longer need to drive, and transit will lose its funding. It's not quite how I envision the future of transit.
The Conservative candidate here also made a point of saying she supports transit, but it does not take much digging to find evidence directly contradicting that. Apparently Gloria Kovach believes 40-minute bus service is preferable, as earlier this year she voted against instituting 20-minute service in the city as a member of city council.
So the question for me is pretty straightforward. If I want a candidate who will be in a position to support transit, who can I look to?
Valeriote fits that bill, too. As a candidate for the only party that has a serious and immediate plan for the environment, that recognizes that environmentalism is primarily an economic argument, Valeriote, who has stated his own support for the future of transit, will be in a position in Parliament to push, and push hard, for increased transit planning and funding.
If you are trying to decide who to vote for on Sept. 8, and like me you believe that the country needs to move forward with real, honest new policy and not power for the sake of power, Frank Valeriote is your man.
I want a member of Parliament who cares about Guelph, cares about the environment, and will be in a position to do something about both. Only one candidate fits that bill.
Why settle for anything less? I recommend a strong show of support for this man of character, accomplishment, principle, and vision on Sept. 8. We owe it to ourselves.
I just glanced out the window a few minutes ago in time to watch a long, loose-haired caucasian guy in his twenties pass my driveway, pick up my lawn sign, and nonchallantly walk on. By the time I got out to the road to see where he went he was gone, along with my sign, in broad daylight. Unbelievable.
The by-election in Guelph is still in its early 'phony war' stage, where it seems only politicos are paying much attention, but there is enough happening to keep things interesting. Some of the Liberal signs are getting 'decorated' with swasticas, a rather lame way of protesting much of anything as it automatically invokes Godwin's law. Not only is it an ineffective means of protest, the people who did it painted the swasticas backward. Way to go.
There are a few interesting blogposts and stories out in the last few days.
Jason Cherniak weighs in with a pre-post-mortem on the Guelph by-election.
The Mercury has one of its best pieces to date on this by-election, poking some fun at all of the campaigns' for some of their actions to date. They've also done an interesting analysis of all the campaign signs from a graphic design/marketing point of view.
Jack Layton and Gloria Kovach pretend to have credibility on transit
The front page headline in yesterday's local paper is "Jack Layton promising transit cash". Interesting, considering he has no power to do so. It comes from an editorial board interview that the paper held on Tuesday with Jack Layton and Tom King (who the paper all but endorsed today), once a respected author, now Guelph's NDP candidate for the on-going by-election. The NDP's plan is simple: get people to drive more gas guzzlers farther, and use a tiny fraction of the increased gas tax revenue to placate transit.
For a party whose very survival depends on a healthy auto industry, their plan does a marvelous job of achieving their goals. The plan is to give one cent of the gas tax to transit. It's a paltry, essentially meaningless commitment, as its success depends on its failure. The more fuel people use in their cars, the more money we give to transit to get them out of their cars. If people switch to transit, that money goes away, transit becomes underfunded, and they return to their cars. Brilliant strategy from the NDP.
If the NDP were serious about transit and the environment, which they most assuredly are not, their push would be on endangered plants like the GM Oshawa truck plant to switch to the manufacture of light rail vehicles, busses, and that type of vehicle. The factory workers not needed to manufacture the smaller number of larger transit vehicles would certainly be needed to drive the vehicles in cities across the country.
If the market forces are not calling for that, then that is what the NDP and every other political party should be working to solve by ending the subsidising of cars and trucks through highway construction, and investing in our woefully inadequate transit infrastructure. Promising to spend one penny from each litre of gas used in cars on public transit, which doesn't even come close to matching the governments' collective subsidies for the cars burning the gas, is disingenuous and not a real transit solution. It is nothing more than politicking and solves absolutely nothing.
Not that Guelph CPC candidate Gloria Kovach has much more to offer on this score. Earlier this year, Kovach insulted Guelph, transit, and the environment by voting against public transit. But yesterday, she told the Guelph paper:
Investment in public transit is important to reducing our carbon footprint, Kovach said, adding the last budget from the Conservative government included $500 million for that purpose.
"That will be helping us here in the city of Guelph in our local transit, and also looking at interconnectivity between communities in the region, and also will help in bringing light rail to the city," she said.
On February 19th of this year, Kovach voted against the motion: "THAT 20 minute transit service be approved to commence July 7, 2008 from the start of service until the end of the PM rush." She voted in favour of leaving busses at the ridiculous 40-minute cycle they had at that time. Fortunately most of the rest of council does support public transit, and 20 minute service now runs. Fortunately for Guelph residents, she was in the minority. For her new position, I guess she had to ask Stephen Harper: "hey, what's my opinion today?"
Gloria Kovach's love-hate relationship with deficits
Monday night at City Council, Guelph Conservative party candidate Gloria Kovach went on and on about how the city using deficit funding for capital investment is a bad thing and should be stopped. I just about choked on the hypocrisy as this came within days of her party admitting to a $517 million federal deficit in just 2 months, after more than a decade of Liberal governance and balanced budgets. For a party that preaches fiscal responsibility, they wouldn't know a balanced budget if it hit them square in the face.
We know that the Conservatives have been selling government assets that they will have to pay to use after, likely in a vain effort to mask their deficit. The Canadian Wheat Board hopper fleet has been sold, though I have yet to see any official announcement about it. The government has also sold at least $1.41 billion of government buildings to lease them back. And that's just what I know about. Before the GST was cut another percent at the beginning of the year, we were already posting huge monthly deficits. Last October, for example, the monthly deficit was $2.7 billion.
The GST cuts since the tories have come to office are costing the federal treasury on the order of $1 billion per month, money that could be used to begin to fix the country's estimated $123 billion infrastructure deficit, something Kovach, as a city councillor, should be keenly aware of. If she were serious about helping Guelph, her press releases would be demanding more infrastructure money for cities, rather than criticising others for making those needed demands.
If she isn't willing to stand up for Guelph's interests while on City Council, how can we expect her to in Ottawa?
I'm in Ottawa attending a conference, far from the action in federal politics. How ironic. At any rate, the Guelph by-election is on. I wish Ms. Kovach a long and continued career on Guelph City Council! More when I'm home in a few days.
A photo in the July 10th edition of "The Fitzhugh", a weekly paper in Jasper, AB credited to Yellowhead NDP candidate Ken Kuzminski was demonstrably taken by Brendan Frisina, a friend of mine who is living in Jasper for the summer, and is used in the paper without his permission. Updated
The photo in question is of a derailment that Brendan watched take place on June 29th.
At that time (Sun, 29 Jun 2008 23:10:38, UTC-6/MDT), Brendan posted a photo of the derailment to popular trainspotting website railpictures.net and sent the following message, which included a copy of the photo, to the major mailing list for trainspotters watching CN operations in Canada. It reads, in whole:
Above: the photo from The Fitzhugh with credit enlarged. Below: Brendan's original colour photo.
G82541 28 derailed at least four grain loads this evening as they were departing Jasper at 1933 MT. Power was 2222 and 2260.
The trailing truck of ITLX 44061 jumped the tracks while going over a switch leaving Track 8, and dragged for half a mile along the ballast and
through a public crossing before finally reaching the crossovers at CN Home, where it and at least 3 other cars jumped the tracks. The ITLX and two
other hoppers ripped open and were spilling grain, while at least one other car remained upright but off the rails.
The conductor reported to the RTC that the speed at the time of the derailment was 16 MPH, but I'd like to see what the event recorder download has
Yesterday afternoon, he posted a note on facebook reading as follows, with a link to his photo and a scan of The Fitzhugh's July 10th edition -- some 11 days after Brendan witnessed and photographed this derailment:
Below is a note I wrote to the newspaper after discovering that a photo of mine had been stolen and printed without my permission, with someone else's name as the credit!
Much to my surprise, I found that one of my photos had been printed in the Fitzhugh. Not only had I not given the photo to the newspaper for publishing, but the photo credit went to somebody else! For what it's worth, the photo in question is the one of the CN derailment at Home (Mile 0.5 on CN's Albreda Subdivision).
I'm not sure where or how Mr Kuzminski got a hold of my photo, but I'm thankful that I only upload low-resolution copies (which are unsuitable for printing because of the drastic loss in quality, which is quite evident in the printed photo) to my password-protected Photobucket account. I suppose I'll have to start watermarking all of my photos to ensure such blatant thievery does not occur in the future.
I'm willing to bet that all the EXIF information is still intact too, which can be easily used to prove which camera took the photo (not to mention that I'm the only one with the full-resolution image) if there is any doubt.
It's unfortunate that the Fitzhugh has printed the photo, but I doubt that you had any idea the photo was not Mr Kuzminski's and were thus unaware of any copyright infringement. The real disappointment here is that Mr Kuzminski had the gall to pass off the photo as his own. I wonder how many people have made comments to him about the photo, and I wonder how many people he told the photo wasn't actually his own?
I sincerely hope you didn't pay Mr Kuzminski for the photo, since I would have given the Fitzhugh the full-sized image to print for free (since the Fitzhugh is distributed for free). All I'd have asked is that I be properly credited for the photo and retain copyright.
Ken Kuzminski, the name credited on Brendan's photo, is the NDP candidate for Yellowhead. He is clearly concerned about rail safety as an issue. This does not give him the right to use Brendan's photo as his own to push this agenda.
The email, facebook note, and photo, incidentally, are reprinted with Brendan's full permission.
Update 11:24: The Fitzhugh replied to Brendan, stating:
"brendan: the error is mine, not Mr. Kuzminski's. He forwarded the image to the Fitzhugh and I passed it on without noticing the copyright line at the bottom of
the picture. If you send an invoice, we'll pay you $50 for use and acknowledge the error in a correction. again, my apology for the error. jack danylchuk"
The photo was still submitted to the paper without permission, but the paper claims responsibility for cropping the copyright notice off and posting it as the submitter's.
It was an excellent event, with Dion showing once again that he puts his principles above all other considerations, setting him apart from his strategy-over-substance rivals on both the left and right. He did not discuss a lot of issues other than the Green Shift, but he was there specifically to discuss the Green Shift. Nor was the event restricted to partisans, with party affiliation not a question on the sign-in sheet, and people who are not Liberals asking pointed questions. My only regret is it could not go longer.
The questions were wide-ranging, from the president of the Chamber of Commerce asking about early learning and childcare to a participant asking about federal jurisdictional defense. Concerns were raised about the Green Shift pushing investment off-shore and mental healthcare as well. There was even one person who stood up with the intent of making a 15 minute speech about everything from hydrogen to copyright law, though she was cut off after only a couple of pages.
Dion's answers were in all cases candid rather than practiced as the paper suggested. While I've always been a strong supporter of Dion as one of the very few politicians who is an idealist rather than a crass partisan, Dion-cynic and fellow blogger Steve V attended the event and has been shown Dion for who he is.
Rumours are flying in Guelph that a by-election will be called here on July 23rd. With that in mind, the Mercury -- the same, usually balanced, Mercury whose assessment of a workday lunchtime crowd is that they have grey hair -- has launched a blog specifically to address the by-election.
Conservative government selling out wheat farmers?
A staple in any trainspotter's life in Canada is the ubiquitous Canadian Wheat Board grain car. Recently, though, I have been seeing a change in them -- they no longer appear to be owned by the Wheat Board. They seem to have been sold -- and not to the farmers as the Canadian Wheat Board had demanded.
In the last few years, I have photographed just shy of 400 Wheat Board-owned railway cars, a small fraction of their total fleet. Some of them are lettered -- the railway equivalent of a license plate -- "CPWX", for Canadian Pacific Railway handled Wheat Board cars, and the others are lettered "CNWX", for Canadian National handled Wheat Board cars. The ones I have been seeing recently are lettered simply "CP" and "CN" with the "WX" painted out, suggesting the cars are now owned by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, not just handled by them.
It may not mean much, but I have not found any news stories or press releases about this change. With the Conservative government's pinching of the Wheat Board over the past couple of years, one has to wonder if they are being forced to sell off assets like their large railway car fleet against their wishes. It is worth noting that the Alberta and Saskatchewan government owned freight cars for carrying wheat, lettered ALNX/ALPX and SKNX/SKPX respectively, do not appear to be suffering this same fate.
The CWB's apparent sell-off of their wheat-carrying fleet is made doubly curious by the fact that the Wheat Board was complaining about being gouged by the railways for maintenance costs on these same government-owned cars just a few months ago. It seems a bit strange to me to turn around and sell the cars to the operators you just accused of gouging you.
Especially, that is, when you consider that the Wheat Board told a Commons committee 4 years ago that "[o]ther [grain car fleet] divestment options presented or discussed would significantly increase farmers' costs with no commensurate benefit. In essence, farmers would be paying for an asset owned by another entity." At the time, the Wheat Board was endorsing a proposal by a group called the "Farmer Rail Car Coalition" to purchase the fleet from the Government, with the "other divestment options" that they warned about appearing to be what has now happened. Two years ago, the Conservative government refused to sell the Wheat Board's 12,000-odd grain cars to the Wheat Board-endorsed Farmer Rail Car Coalition.
So what's going on? The Conservatives seem to have blocked the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board rail car fleet to the country's wheat farmers, only to turn aroudn and sell it off to the railways themselves. Is the Conservative government simply selling the Canadian Wheat Board rail car fleet to the highest bidder because it has run out of other assets to sell to balance the federal budget, or is this yet another attempt by the Conservatives to hurt Canadian wheat farmers and act against their wishes?
When Reverend Lucien Larre returned his Order of Canada yesterday to protest Henry Morgentaler's receipt of the same, the only message he sent to Canadians was: "I am holier than thou."
The Order of Canada recognises people for "a lifetime of distinguished service in or to a particular community, group or field of activity". When someone acts so conceited as to return his Order of Canada because of who else has been appointed to it, he is announcing that he feels his contribution to this country is worth more than that of others, and that he will not share an award with someone to whom he is superior. It really boggles the mind.
There is no aspect of the award that Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor who knows what murder really is, does not deserve. His tireless work on abortion rights can only be described as "a lifetime of distinguished service in ... a particular ... field of activity."
No doubt the people who label supporters of Morgentaler as "pro-murder" apply the same standards to all life. Or are they superior there, too?
Whatever you think of the Greenshift concept, the fact is that Stéphane Dion and the Liberal opposition is taking its role as a "government in waiting" more seriously than any predecessor opposition ever has. While the Conservatives use an oil spill as their environmental mascot, the Liberals are putting forward detailed new policy that would change the way we do business as a country. Canadians are, by and large, of the opinion that the environment is a serious issue that needs addressing and the Greenshift concept takes the best of both a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system to begin to prepare to start to do something about it.
The fact that people are complaining that some particularly egregious environmental behaviour will become more expensive to do shows exactly why this is the way forward. If using unclean energy costs more, then people will use unclean energy less, a result tacitly admitted by the opponents of the Greenshift. The gradual but relentless increase in cost will give people time to start considering their alternatives as their bills begin to rise faster than their taxes are cut for some activities. In essence, the Greenshift gives Canadians an opportunity to put our money where our collective mouths are.
The Conservative Party of Canada, our current opposition-in-waiting, continues to brand Stéphane Dion as "not a leader" which is increasingly showing itself to be patently false. No previous opposition leader has ever led the country and our national debate the way Dion has managed to. The Conservatives themselves have shown no leadership whatsoever on any file. Even on the Residential School apology, Harper admitted to the entire country that it was brought about by the NDP's leadership on the matter, not his own, before turning around and putting in policy to address concerns about the apology raised by CPC MP Pierre Poilievre.
To cap it off, Dion has challenged Harper to have a televised "adult" debate on the Green Shift. No doubt Mr. Harper will be in a great hurry to take up the challenge and defend his record on leadership and the environment.
Once again proving that the Conservative Party of Canada will say or do anything without meaning a word of it, Pierre Poilievre got on radio station CFRA on the day of the Residential Schools apology yesterday and said:
Need I really say any more?
He apologised between Statements by Members and Question Period in the House, of course, so he was either being dishonest about his actual opinion on the radio or in the House.
My bet is that he is still Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board because his perspective reflects the honest views of the federal Conservative government. Why would they fire a spokesman who gives their honest assessment?
Thanks to Red Tory for noticing and posting this video.
What value would an elected Senate provide to Canada that the current Senate does not?
In my view, absolutely none. Indeed, I think an elected Senate would be more vocal and less valuable than what we have today. Given the choice, I would opt to abolish the Senate outright if the alternative were to devalue the House of Commons with an elected Senate.
An elected Senate is an empowered Senate. A Senate that is elected must keep itself relevant. Its very background as a house of "sober second thought" is thrown out the window if the sobriety of not needing to seek re-election or a post-term employment position is lost. The Senate is a house of sober second thought precisely because it is not elected, and its members need not seek employment when they are done. Elections break the former, and term limits break the latter.
Indeed, if I could change anything about the Senate, it would be to bar senators from having any other form of employment while sitting in the upper house.
The real flaw in our Senate is the same as the major flaw present in our lower house, and would not be rectified by election. The introduction of partisanship over principle or independent thought has devalued both houses and largely rendered them obsolete, with the bulk of our country's power in PMO, most of whose members are, I should point out, not elected. Any reform at any level has to be to return independent thought and decision-making to our representatives, where their opinions and consciences are more valuable than those of their parties, where debate is actually about influencing one another's opinions, ideas, and decisions.
If a senator must seek re-election, or seek employment at the end of their terms, their judgements are no longer "sober". Their decisions risk becoming clouded with self-interest. To be re-elected, they must conform to their party line, eliminating that very sobriety our bicameral system exists to provide. Their decisions become what is popular and not what is right. The Senate becomes another elected body, redundant in the presence of the Commons, with a need to assert its own relevance and damage the value of the Commons.
I am happy with the status quo for Senate appointments, and I would also be happy if premiers were given the opportunity to appoint senators, if only to break any single party's majority in that Senate, but electing senators would be a huge step backward for this country and in no way improve anything but the optics of the house of once-sober second thought.
The Senate as an appointed body exists as a check on the power of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister's Office. That balance of power would be completely gone with an elected Senate. Senators would have to watch their own backs rather than those of all Canadians. Today, Senate is not bound by rules of the House of Commons. There are no confidence bills, Conservative tactics over the crime bill notwithstanding, there are no time-limits on debate and committee research. The Prime Minister cannot railroad a bill through Senate. Bills passed for political expediency without so much as a proof-read by the lower house stop in the Senate for a careful re-read. This is what it means to be the house of "sober second thought".
Some have suggested in the extensive thread that spawned this post that in the 21st century, there should be no appointed electoral bodies. As the quality of debate and the strength of our democracy is weakened by partisanship and lack of substance, I argue that it is now, in the 21st century, more important than ever to have this appointed body, not vulnerable to political whim.
Electing the Senate is, like converting to Proportional Representation, a purely emotional and self-interested argument. It is intellectually dishonest, putting partisan interest before the good of our democracy and the effectiveness of our governing bodies. We have an elected body today. It is called the House of Commons. Electing the Senate makes little more sense than electing the Supreme Court who wield at least as much power, yet few would consider electing.
If we are serious about reforming the Senate, we should consider meaningful reform. Stripping partisan labels from members to ensure that each is there on their own merit and not as a function of a lower house party, would be meaningful reform worth pursuing. A difficult but existing means of removal for useless or AWOL Senators would also be an improvement. Requiring the unanimous consent of the House of Commons and the majority support of the Senate would probably be ok, for example. Senators are like tenured professors in that they have work to do that may be unpopular with their peers that must be done, and they need a strong defence to be able to pursue it. That defence is in their lifetime appointment and lack of need to seek re-election.
What do we gain from an elected Senate, really? Why would the Senate be anything more than a carbon copy of the partisan self-interest of the lower house? The Senate will need to make itself more relevant in order to capture the media attention needed for its members to be re-elected. A more relevant Senate is a more activist Senate. A more activist Senate risks trumping the power of the House of Commons rather than only checking it. An elected Senate will be nothing more than another lower house, more than ever subject to the direction of the PMO and party whips. What we have works today works, but an elected Senate would be worse than no Senate. The "political legitimacy" of an elected Senate is nothing more than a straw man.
An elected Senate would, quite simply, hurt our democracy.
Last weekend, Charles Caccia, a 36-year veteran of the House of Commons and a strong advocate of environmentalism ahead of his time, passed away. Here is a collection of the tributes to him, in chronological order, from Hansard from this week.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a colleague who passed away over the weekend, the former member for Davenport,
Charles Caccia. He was the environment minister a few years ago. He first came to the House in 1968 and, as an environmental warrior, he spent
36 years in this House trying to convince as many voters as possible that we need to protect the environment. A real fighter, in 2001, he introduced a
bill for mandatory labelling. We must not forget that Charles Caccia, who died this past weekend, had been trying since 2001 to convince
parliamentarians here to bring in this mandatory system. Unfortunately, the House rejected his bill, 126 votes to 91. This bill thus has a history.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that I rise today to acknowledge the passing of a dear friend and former Liberal member of Parliament, the
Hon. Charles Caccia.
Mr. Caccia was first elected to the House of Commons in 1968 to represent the riding of Davenport and was subsequently re-elected nine times,
where he served as minister of labour, minister of the environment and Liberal opposition critic on environmental issues.
After leaving Parliament, he went on to serve as Senior Fellow at the Institute of the Environment at the University of Ottawa.
Mr. Caccia was more than a respected member of Parliament. He co-founded COSTI, Canada's largest immigrant service agency and was cherished and
respected by his community. He was a great Liberal who dedicated his life to building a better Canada. His many accomplishments and his longstanding
commitment to the people he served as an MP will not be forgotten. His passion for environmental and social justice issues was a great inspiration to
On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and our caucus, I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies to Mr. Caccia's family and friends. He will be
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the Hon. Charles Caccia, who passed away this weekend.
In 1993, as a veteran parliamentarian, Charles must have been bemused when 201 rookies, myself included, came to this place. I clearly recall
turning up at Charles' environment committee without a starting point of a clue what committee was about.
Charles took me through the steps, always exhibiting the highest sense of respect and patience. He encouraged my participation in parliamentary
associations. He emphasized the importance and the significance of members of Parliament attending on the world stage.
Charles Caccia was a man who proudly marched to his own drummer frequently leading the way where others had not gone. Although he and I had little
in common politically or philosophically, it is an honour for me to have this opportunity to pay him tribute.
Charles Caccia was a man who made this Chamber a better place in his 36 years and into the future through those of us who remain. In that respect,
Charles Caccia lives on in our Parliament today.
Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to honour Charles Caccia.
[Member spoke in Italian and provided the following translation:]
He was an accomplished Parliamentarian and former Minister of Labour and the Environment. My heartfelt condolences are extended to his family, his
friends, but above all to the community.
As a student, I involved myself in his first federal campaigns. At the time, he, like no other, succeeded in personally expressing the collective
character and personality of the people he represented, people from other countries, with abundant energy and resources adaptable to the creation of a
new and "just society"; as it was defined by the new Prime Minister of the period.
We, Italian Canadians, saw him as a vehicle for change, and integration into a society that emphasized civic responsibility and concerns for
In Davenport, his dedication became iconic and for new arrivals, a role model. Thanks Charles.
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to pay tribute to the life of the Hon. Charles Caccia, a distinguished former colleague and my predecessor as Dean of
the House of Commons.
Charles was the member for Toronto--Davenport for 36 years and, while he was here, he established a reputation as one who practised politics with
dignity, with principle, with civility, with independence of mind and with a deep, abiding and well-informed concern for the environment.
It is not an exaggeration to say that had Charles Caccia been listened to more often over the years by both Liberal and Conservative governments,
many of our ecological problems would be far less difficult than they are today. Unfortunately, he was the minister of the environment for only a very
His concern for the environment was part of a larger ethic of care that made him an advocate for peace and social justice in general and a mentor
to many in this place. I worked with him in the mid-eighties when we were our party's respective environment critics, on the environment committee, on
the special committee on acid rain and on many issues of mutual concern over the years.
Many others will also gratefully remember the excellent work he did more recently as chair of the environment committee for over a decade,
producing critical reports that challenged his own party and government.
Parliament could have used a lot more Charles Caccias. May his memory be instructive now and in Parliaments to come.
According to Stephen Harper, his mentor, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was the leader of a Liberal government. Mulroney's Liberal government created the Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System in 1989, and therefore our current, first-ever Conservative government had to kill it for the good of government transparency. Transparency in government is, evidently, only useful through two offset polarised lenses.
Here it is: CAIRS has to be killed because it is a Mulroney-Liberal program. From yesterday's Hansard, relevant bits underlined:
Hon. Stéphane Dion (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the government took another step to limit transparency and accountability. It quietly killed the CAIRS, which allowed everyone to know what information Canadians had requested about their government through access to information.
Why did the government shut down the registry? What does it have to hide?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):
In fact, Mr. Speaker, this is a government that has actually widened access to information. The database in question was created by the previous Liberal government. It was called the product of a political system in which centralized control was an obsession. That is why the government got rid of it.
PMO to Auditor General and officers of Parliament: your message passes through us
Does Prime Minister's Harper's disrespect for democracy and its institutions have no limits, no bounds, no end? New rules being proposed by the same government that fired our nuclear safety officer and voted non-confidence in Elections Canada would require all officers of Parliament to filter their public statements through, you guessed it, the Prime Minister's Office before being released to the public. Auditor General Sheila Fraser is fighting back. There really are no words to express my shock at this proposal.
It's got to make you wonder. The Conservative's finance minister is the same one that managed to hide a deficit over $5 billion in Ontario under Mike Harris. I've argued for months that we are already in deficit. Is the purpose of suppressing the Auditor General to ensure that his deficit is hidden yet again?
I have to ask my fellow Canadian bloggers: if American bloggers had taken as keen and active a partisan interest in the Liberal leadership race two years ago, spinning and defending, insulting and chastising our candidates, how would you react?
Tory spokesman: In-and-out is like AdScam, a scheme to keep money off the books
The spokesman is no less than Peter Van Loan... take a look at this interview with the CBC's David Gray this afternoon, a bit over 5 minutes into it.
Here's a transcription of the relevant section done by yours truly:
04:38 David Gray: ... do you think there is any political motive behind what elections Canada is doing?
04:46 Peter Van Loan: Well, I would hope that it would stand up in court, that we would be held to the same standard as other political parties and all political parties in Canada should be treated equally and that is the core of our court case and we think it would be very alarming if there was a different set of rules for each political party so that's why we brought the dispute to the courts.
05:04 Gray: Again though, can I ask you, do you think there is any political motive behind what Elections Canada is doing?
05:08 Van Loan: Well, I don't, I'm not going to ascribe motive to them. I do find the unequal treatment unusual and I do observe that when the Liberals engaged in that sponsorship scandal where millions of dollars of taxpayer's money was stolen where it was spent for political purposes to help them campaigning where people have actually been prosecuted. The RCMP has been involved, we saw another arrest last week, (interrupted) they actually gave back some money...
05:29 Gray: Alright, but that's (interrupted) that's (interrupted) that's a different issue but I appreciate what you're saying...
05:33 Van Loan: But it is the same issue in that money was spent off the books in election campaigns. ...
Conservative party does not want Guelph represented
Guelph's Con candidate, Gloria Kovach, says that Guelph has been abandoned by the Liberals. I must remind her that it is in fact her party that has abandoned Guelph by refusing to call a by-election to replace our recently retired long-serving MP. It is her party that is in charge of fixing Guelph's current lack of an MP. If she believes her own rhetoric, she should be telling her leader to call our by-election. Clearly, Kovach would much rather simply leave Guelph unrepresented than resolve the problem. Or maybe it is because she knows that the party cannot throw out the victor and put her in as the MP after she loses Guelph -- for the second time in as many years.
The Conservative Party of Canada has gathered more scandal in two years of minority government than pretty much any multi-term majority government before it. Not since the last time this party governed has a government brought so much shame to our country. Now they are trying hard to avoid the damage that will be inflicted today with the release of the search warrant used by the RCMP and the Elections Commissioner to examine the party's head office, but all the spin in the world can't hide the facts. The Cons cannot con Canadians.
The RCMP does not execute search warrants in civil cases. This very suggestion by the CPC is ludicrous. Any substantive violation of election law is very serious, yet the CPC's attitude is that there should be no such laws and are suing to this effect, and that therefore they couldn't possibly have broken them.
Their approach to selectively inviting journalists to a briefing on the soon-to-be-released search warrant is as transparent as it is stupid, exempting journalists from embargo while attempting to pander to members of the media they see as sympathetic to them. It can be summed up well in this CBC newsclip:
According to Kady O'Malley's blog, the tories have released a statement about the RCMP and Elections Canada's "visit", but it's missing one important word...
It reads, "Today Elections Canada visited the Conservative Party of Canada Headquarters. This is related to an on-going court case initiated by the Conservative Party of Canada in the spring of 2007. The Conservative Party has provided Elections Canada with all the information that they have requested."
It should perhaps now read: "... The Conservative Party has involuntarily provided Elections Canada with all the information that they have requested."
One of the major (and wholly flawed) arguments in the referendum we endured in Ontario in October was that a change in electoral system would inevitably result in increased voter turnout. While there was no evidence to back up the claim, and the turnout in the referendum showed Ontarions to be completely uninspired by a referendum that should, by its proponents' logic, have had very high turnout, it does raise some important questions about voter turnout in the first place: Is voter turnout in itself important? What does a vote represent? Should there be a "none of the above" option, and what should it do? What can we do to address low turnout in a way that actually improves democracy?
I have more questions than answers, of course, but here are my thoughts on the matter.
1) Why wasn't the referendum's turnout higher than the previous election's?
It's a simple chain of logic, really. If MMP was going to increase voter turnout, then those people who would have come out to vote under MMP, who otherwise would not have voted, should have felt empowered by the referendum to come out and vote in that referendum. Had that happened in any significant numbers, the referendum would no doubt have turned out differently, but people were not inspired by what it offered and turnout dropped over the previous election yet again.
To me, that reinforces the view that while our democracy is severely lacking in participation, it is not strictly about the voting system itself, though there are certainly improvements we could make to it. What happens as a result of the vote is a lot more important.
2) Is voter turnout in itself important?
Many people will jump on this question and say "but of course!"... but is it? I think the question is a lot deeper than that.
We currently give our voters every opportunity to vote in every election. There are mail-in/absentee ballots, advanced polls, laws to ensure sufficient time off to cast a ballot, and substantial marketing of the balloting date, among other points I am likely forgetting. But in spite of this, voter turnout drops each election.
There are, in my view, two mutually exclusive ways to interpret the dropping turnout. The first is a satisfaction with the status quo, and the second is a dissatisfaction with the status quo. In the first, people trust their peers to make electoral decisions for them, being content with whatever decision is made. I include general apathy in this category. In the second, there is a feeling of disconnection between the vote and the results, a feeling that the vote that is cast won't make a difference regardless.
To me the subtext of the question really should be: are votes informed? I would much rather have a 40% voter turnout where most of those voters have taken the time to look into the differences between the candidates and decide which one best represents them and their views. The alternative is 100% of voters turning out to vote, with large numbers of them voting for the prettiest face, the best slogan, or the slickest campaign. None of those factors have any effect on how the winner will govern, or what they believe, yet they are the most tangible aspects of a disconnected voter's vote.
This leads me to my next question.
3) What does a vote represent?
When a voter goes to the ballot box to cast a ballot, what does that vote represent? For a significant number of people, the vote is for the person or party for whom they have always voted. While this is very appealing to political parties, it is an extraordinarily broken way of choosing a government. Non-judgemental loyalty to a party, rather than support for the candidate who best represents the voter, takes away the fundamental objectivity needed to choose a government that will govern as well as possible. For another large section of the voting public, a vote can be a vote for the prettiest face, best slogan, or slickest campaign.
I believe the segment of the population that votes completely objectively based on concrete factors of the history, present actions, and plans of a candidate is quite small. So when a voter does not cast a ballot, what does it really mean? I don't know. A tellingly small handful of people register their disgust with the options by showing up and spoiling their ballot, rather than lending their support to any candidate.
4) Should there be a "None of the above" option on the ballot, and what should be its effect?
It is my view that, in a representative democracy, a voter who is unsatisfied with all options on the table has an obligation to run. As such, I don't believe a "None of the Above" option is, philosophically, appropriate, as it says that not only does the voter not agree with any of the options, but is saying that he could not do any better. It is therefore incumbent upon a voter to select one of the options on the ballot.
That said, I consider some electoral rules and practices to be undemocratic, and a hindrance to the implementation of that philosophy. The presence of a political party's name on the ballot suggests that we not only accept that many people are not voting based on the substance of the candidate, but that this is ok and we should therefore give that voter a way to cast a vote without being sufficiently informed to know anything much about the candidate. This system presents a liability to independent candidates as they are fighting to get their message out to an audience that may not be interested in listening, and without the backing of any political party's organisation. A campaign's organisation and its ability to "get out the vote" are inherently undemocratic as a victory can be far more related to the quality of the volunteers and campaign staff than the quality of the candidates themselves or their ideas. The other problem is the deposit that most jurisdictions charge its candidates, generally a significant sum. If a certain percentage of the vote is achieved, the deposit is returned. It is intended to block frivolous candidates, but it creates unnecessary barriers to entry to those who have ideas rather than organisation.
So, with those problems, a "None of the Above" option may indeed be necessary for people to express discontent if they are not going to seek the office themselves. In this case there has to be a defined result for a "None of the Above" victory in the election.
That is, if more people vote for "None of the Above" than any of the candidates, what should happen? The easiest and most obvious answer is that the electoral district will go without any representation whatsoever until the next election. Perhaps that is indeed the best option, as it would give voters a chance to ask themselves seriously, is having no representation really better than the options presented?
5) What can we do?
Mandatory voting, a solution employed by some countries and advocated by some people, is, I submit, inherently broken. It does encourage voters to vote, but it does not address the fundamental question of whether the vote was an objective, informed vote, or a subjective one based on the abstract factors of the prettiest face, best slogan, slickest campaign, or a completely random selection, and does not allow the lack of a vote as a deliberate statement.
Adding a "None of the Above" option could serve to give voters an opportunity, as I mentioned above, to ask themselves: is no representation at all better than what we have? If the answer is yes, then our system is a lot more broken than I thought. I rather suspect though that such action would bring back to the forefront what having a democracy is all about.
Voter turnout has been dropping steadily in most democratic countries over the last half century. This is well known. Could one cause of this be that our democracies have not, collectively, been threatened lately? Nothing makes a person more appreciative of something they have than losing it, and with our democracies having remained stable for so long, they are largely taken for granted by the voting public. Having a "None of the Above" option that actually results in the loss of representation would be the first real threat to their democracy that most people would have felt and would likely, I suspect, result in higher voter turnout -- and few "None of the Above" votes -- the next time around. The often expressed belief that public policy has no impact on an individual could be rather seriously challenged by a total lack of representation.
Many people advocate for a change in the voting system as the solution. While my opinion of the first attempt of that offered here in Ontario is well documented and need not be rehashed, I believe that it could, indeed, have an effect, but only a minor one, and only with an appropriate choice of alternative.
I do not believe that it is the voting system that keeps people away from the polls, but rather cynicism about what happens after they have voted. We can all go to the polls and vote for an excellent candidate in our riding, but if elected as a member of a party, everything they stand for and everything we voted for can be changed on a dime once they arrive in their parliamentary seat. It is the party structure, the party whip, the party line, and the discouragement of public intellectual discourse by party members that creates that cynicism. The only people who have any real effect on policy are not the voters or indeed the election's winners, but the small proportion of the population that take the time and effort to join a party and work on its collective policies, along with the party's leadership.
Members elected to a parliament should, before all other considerations, represent their constituents and not their party, and be free to exercise the judgement their constituents have opted to trust. To me, using one's own judgement is an important aspect of representing a constituency. A failure in judgement should result in a defeat at the next election.
The only aspect of the voting system that I believe needs changing to decrease cynicism is the abolition of the single-choice ballot. Vote splitting and the strategic voting that results means that we spend far more of our voting time voting against, rather than for, candidates and ideas. A system that disempowers party structures and empowers voters to make an honest choice with minimum strategy and maximum principle is integral to reducing cynicism of the voting system. Preferential balloting is my preferred solution, currently employed in Australia's lower house, but changing the voting system will not on its own solve the problem. Weakening the party structure and strengthening the actual power of a vote will begin to.
So, is declining voter turnout a problem?
I don't know, but an uninformed, disinterested vote is a problem. Getting people involved and understanding the issues, having their say and having it mean something to them would be beneficial to democracy as a whole. Forcing people to vote or encouraging turnout for the sake of turnout really would not solve much other than to help us all feel good about what we will cynically call "public participation".
Right now, the NDP looks to Canada like the little kid who is the schoolyard bully's wannabe, making taunts while standing behind the bully. The bully, of course, is the Conservative government. The bully's bag-man is, as always, terrified of the bully, and must cower behind the bully to taunt the victim, who is usually the geeky, academic student who will go on to do great things, while the bully and his wannabe are destined for high paying jobs as full serve gas station attendants.
This week's by-election results show one thing more clearly than anything else. The Green party is the new home of Canada's protest vote, and they are well on their way to replacing the NDP in the back corners of the House of Commons. The NDP's support is down under the disingenuous unprincipled partisanship of Jack Layton. The party ostensibly of the left has thrown out everything it stands for in pursuit of power, targeting its philosophical allies to aid its philosophical enemies for political gain at the expense of principle, or perhaps simply to hide its inability to reconcile the labour and environmentalist wings of its party.
What Canadians see is a petty party, more intent on partisan jabs at the official opposition than in performing its own role as a tertiary opposition party. The people see the Green party as a true protest vote - one that protests the status quo and invites genuine new policy direction to realign our country, rather than whiny political hackery with an obvious goal of power, not principle. It was the NDP that brought down the Liberal government and gave us a Conservative one. It was the NDP that released the RCMP letter announcing an investigation into a Liberal cabinet minister during the election campaign. It was the NDP that attacked the Dion-May strategic electoral coalition the most visciously, when it would be the principles they espouse that would be of the most benefit.
It is time for Jack Layton and the NDP to step out from behind the Tory bully. It is time for the NDP to show itself as a party of principle. Otherwise, its time has come and gone.
Can someone please explain to me why the Ontario Municipal Board exists? Why do we elect local politicians at all if their only purpose is to express an opinion to a mysterious judicial body?
The developers of the former Lafarge property in Guelph recently told city council that they had no plans to withdraw a pre-emptive OMB case against the city because they would be appealing the city's as-yet unmade decision regardless. Not exactly the spirit of cooperation those same developers told city council not five minutes earlier they were pursuing. But it begs the question, why does such a body exist?
Why is there a body that can overrule cities' elected politicians, their decisions, and their long term plans?
As former BC premier Mike Harcourt so eloquently put it to a conference in Guelph a year ago, "First off, abolish the OMB". I couldn't agree more, it's time for this useless body to be purged from this province.
Why is it that every time the Conservatives bend to accommodate the Liberal position, it is portrayed by bloggers and the media as Dion folding?
Dion won on Afghanistan. Dion won on the budget. But in spite of this, people don't see it for what it is: a man of principle forcing his opponent's hand. I don't know if it is caused by too many latent leadership ambitions, or simply by people who think politics should be about adversity and about power rather than about policy or principle.
The Conservative party put forward a motion calling for an indefinite Iraqesque war in Afghanistan and asserted that the motion would be a confidence vote. The Liberals responded with an alternative motion and, after some deliberation, the Conservatives met them in the middle. How is the Conservative government backing down from its position and an assertion of a confidence vote based on that position anything but a win for the Liberals under Dion?
Similarly, in yesterday's budget, Flaherty offered nothing of substance to anyone other than one more gift to the well-off with the Registered Tax-Free Savings Account, only useful to those who don't need it. It is full of pitifully small short term investments, but it introduces little of any substance. If the Conservatives were confident that the Liberals were going to support the budget no matter what, it would have been a full-on, big spending, tax cutting, deficit-generating Conservative budget like their last two. The reality is that they did not have that confidence, and they were forced to provide a largely meaningless budget. How is it a loss for the Liberals when the Conservatives have to, yet again, bend to the Liberals?
I agree with the assertion that Canadians don't want an election, however people are largely misinterpreting this statement. It isn't that people don't want to go to the polls. Quite the contrary, I would argue. Many people are itching to give their party a majority. The problem is nearly everyone acknowledges that if we go into an election right now, the parliament we will get at the other end will be remarkably similar to the one we have, barring unforeseen RCMP investigation announcements, and so the question becomes: what's the point? There won't be a general appetite for an election until Canadians come to the conclusion that it will actually change the status quo in parliament.
In short, I think Canadians are tired of minority governments, but have not decided who to give the reins of power to. As long as Liberals continue to fail to recognise Dion's leadership for what it is -- true leadership, rather than dictatorship, a concept Canadians are so unfamiliar with that they no longer recognise it -- we will continue to be in this national political limbo.
While the finance minister from the party that has not left office with a budget surplus in over a century accuses the Liberal party of wanting a deficit, I have to ask: has Minister Flaherty got us back in the hole? There is some evidence to suggest that this may already be the case.
In October, the treasury posted a $2.7 billion deficit, down from a $500 million surplus the previous October, which means Flaherty has already given us a real, actual deficit, just not an annual one.
The month of November showed a meager $100 million surplus. Take out the $6 billion a year, or a $500 million/month revenue loss from cutting the GST another point this past January 1st, and you have a recipe for a serious and ongoing deficit.
For the party that has not on its own given us a budget surplus since before the First World War, saying that the Liberals would put us in deficit while the Conservatives have already given us one in October, and are on track to give us one that they would not likely admit to in tonight's budget, is more than a little bit rich. Especially given Jim Flaherty's track record of giving us a deficit of over $5 billion in Ontario.
The federal government may already be cooking the books. There is some suggestion that the federal government is selling Crown office space and leasing it back, feeding the sale money back into our federal numbers. Liquidating federal assets is one way of going into deficit without borrowing any money.
The likelihood that we are back in deficit is, in my estimation, extremely high.
Recognising Kosovar independence will have little impact on Quebec separatism
It is a matter of credibility for Canada. Like it or not, we contributed militarily to what amounts to Kosovo's war of independence. To not recognise Kosovar independence now would be a reversal of a position we backed up with our own military.
In 1999, Canada sent 16 CF-18s into battle, dropping a significant proportion of the bombs dropped by NATO aircraft in that war. Canada partook in the bombing of Serbia to drive out the Serbs from Kosovo. The result has been de facto independence for Kosovo for the 9 years since. Now that Kosovo has declared independence, it only makes sense for Canada to recognise what we helped make happen.
The argument that recognising Kosovar independence would affect Canada's relationship with Quebec makes little sense. Quebec is not an oppressed region desperately wanting out by the near unanimous consent of even its majority French population. Even at the height of separatism in Quebec, the province could not even muster 50% support for a negotiation of any sort with Canada in a referendum with a deceptive question.
The FLQ attacks and the October crisis of 1970 hardly merit being called a war of independence, and it certainly did not gain widespread and lasting acceptance by the population as a legitimate means to secede. No foreign countries have felt a need to bomb the rest of Canada out of Quebec.
I see no real parallels between Kosovo and Quebec. The backgrounds are different, the scenarios are different, the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia and the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada are completely incomparable.
So let's get on with it.
Congratulations Kosovo on the official declaration of what has been true for almost a decade, the independence of your country.
From Canada's premier troop supporter comes a Christmas present like no other: a pay cut for some of our soldiers. I guess that's how he plans to pay for the C-17s.
Hat tip to our favourite Red Tory for catching this.
If this story sounds a little bit familiar, perhaps it is because the Americans announced this week that they, too, are supporting their troops -- by demanding signing bonuses back from injured soldiers because they aren't fulfilling their contracts.
It is no secret that Jack Layton spends more time attacking the Liberal party, even in opposition, than the Conservative party. Most NDP supporters place the Liberals as their second choice and the tories as their third when ranking the three major national parties, but this does not stop the current NDP from attacking the more ideologically aligned Liberal party. So what is the agenda? It all makes sense when you consider one thing: Jack Layton wants a Conservative majority government.
It is counter-intuitive, but here is the game plan for the NDP:
In order for the left wing to be in power, the population has to be polarised. When it is not polarised, we have a centrist or centre-right government. As most of us are well aware, Harper's Conservative agenda is far more to the right than their minority is really letting onto. There is now clear intent to return the death penalty to Canada. They want to cut taxes at the cost of our social programs. They want citizens to be unable to challenge the government in court. Minority and women's groups have been stripped of their funding. Environmentalism is a curse word. Free trade is gospel. Decentralisation is imperative.
The opposite of all this is the equally radical left wing, which desires high taxes for high levels of social services, particularly high taxes on anything considered a luxury, the strengthening of unions, and the abandonment of any effort to pay off the debt, as there are other priorities.
In the middle, in every sense, is the Liberal party. The Liberal party's survival is based on amorphously and moderately adopting the most sensible of these left and right policies from the left and right parties as the times call for. It is called the centre because it is a balance of left and right.
If Stephen Harper's Conservatives gain a majority government, the country takes a hard right turn. The fact that everything that would happen in the country is ideologically diametrically opposed to everything the NDP stands for is irrelevant to the NDP: having the right wing in power is an investment in the future of the left.
Under Brian Mulroney's strong majorities, the NDP's Ed Broadbent brought the party its greatest ever success, and while he accomplished nothing of note for the country as leader of the party while the country adopted the GST, free trade, and an ever ballooning debt, he is revered as their most successful leader for winning 43 seats in the Commons.
Jack Layton wants to take this a step further. By having a hard right government, he is gambling that Canadians will want a hard left opposition to oppose it. And if he can gain the title of official opposition, he figures he can lead a government after the Conservatives kill the economy and send citizens, the greedy people that we are, back to the left in their times of economic drought after having gone to the right during our unprecedented boom.
The NDP's philosophical differences with the Conservative party are both irrelevant and of the utmost importance to the NDP. The differences are irrelevant because the NDP is willing to accept the Conservative philosophy at the helm, while it is of the utmost importance because there will be a more easily opposable government than a centrist Liberal government. By having a right wing government the NDP hopes to achieve a divisive left-right split in parliament with little room for the middle, leading, eventually, to a Rt. Hon. Jack Layton.
Paul Wells makes some interesting points about Harper's bluster over inquiries. It leads me to a conclusion, too: Harper doesn't want prime ministers to have the power to launch inquiries into their predecessors (not that he doesn't actually have that power) so that noone may launch inquiries into his term as PM after he's gone.
The last time we had a federal Conservative government, the Liberals presented a fierce opposition through the so-called Rat Pack, consisting of Don Boudria, John Nunziata, Brian Tobin, and Sheila Copps. With the Conservative party's election finance activities in constant question, do we have a new ratpack forming? I put it to you that we do, consisting of Ralph Goodale, Mark Holland, Michael Ignatieff, and Marlene Jennings.
I exclude Dion here deliberately because his questioning on this topic is not particularly effective. He should be concentrating on matters of substance and governance, while leaving the assault on the governing party to the new Rat Pack. That said, Harper's treatment of Dion on the issue is disrespectful and ignores generations of parliamentary tradition. The Prime Minister rarely answers Dion's questions in question period, leaving it to one of his (air)bag men, Peter Van Loan, although he does not hesitate to answer Jack Layton.
It's become apparent that the Ontario election's televised debate is going to be lacking one important participant: the soft-spoken leader of the Green Party, Frank De Jong has not been invited.
The Green Party has started a campaign to force the television stations that plan to air it to allow Frank to participate. All the power to them, but I think there is a far more important target: the leaders of the other three parties competing for seats in this election.
If Dalton McGuinty, John Tory, and Howard Hampton can be convinced to let Frank De Jong into the debate, he will be in it. So I ask all of you to ask your party to tell the leader that the debate will be better for all with Frank present, as I am doing by this post.
Frank and the Greens should be given the opportunity to make or break themselves in the provincial election on their merits rather than on their presence. Share ideas; don't suppress them.
Dalton McGuinty responsible for 7200 deaths, says tory candidate
Last night I attended the Guelph provincial all-candidates debate at the University of Guelph. A few things stuck out in mind that warrant discussion.
First, the Green, NDP, and Communist candidates came out in favour of MMP in the referendum. The Conservative candidate came out opposed. The Liberal candidate said she was genuinely torn and had no idea yet how she would vote on the matter. The Green party candidate, Ben Polley, made the interesting and absurdely false claim that under MMP, Guelph would have had two MPPs last election because he was the highest scoring Green candidate in the province. This shows his clear lack of understanding of how the MMP proposal he supports actually works. The lists would be pre-submitted, with their structure having nothing to do with the results of the election, and him being elected from the list would not necessarily give us a second Guelph MPP regardless, as he would be a province-wide MPP whose only constituency is the party itself.
Second, the Green, Communist, Liberal, and Conservative parties all supported, with varying degrees of urgency, GO train service to Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo, one of my big issues. The NDP candidate chose her words carefully never once mentioning GO service but talking in platitudes about the need for increased public transit without really specifying. It's not surprising that the auto-union backed NDP would not want to support GO service. The Green party candidate here had it right with his assertion that we need to stop building highways, plain and simple, and the Communist party candidate noted that GO service can have the equivalent capacity of a 10-lane highway, another interesting point.
The most interesting bit though was Bob Senechal, the tory candidate, in a discussion about the Nanticoke coal plant still being open. He indicated that Dalton McGuinty once said that the Nanticoke plant is responsible for approximately 1800 deaths a year in Ontario. Therefore, Senechal said, "Dalton McGuinty is responsible for 7200 deaths."
It just hit me. Hard. There's a clear and obvious reason why the tories are dumbing down question period. They don't want anyone to report on it. And it's not just because they don't have anything to say.
It's pretty simple, really.
In the US, political discourse has moved from the floor of the houses to the television airwaves. It is, in short, political discourse by the highest bidder. By dumbing down question period and attempting to force the media to lose interest in this daily event in democratic government, they make it easier to shift their communications strategy to the one-way method of government-by-television-ad.
They have the money to do it, more than any other party by a long shot, and the anti-Liberal attack ads airing constantly on popular television channels together with their constant non-answers in question period belie their true agenda -- US style government by the highest bidder.
Why are there rumblings in the party about weakness in the most visionary and gutsy leader of any party in recent memory? Dion's decision to not run a Liberal against Elizabeth May is honourable at the highest level and shows that Dion, alone among all the leaders of all the parties, puts his country before his party. Jack Layton is a hero to his party for giving us a Conservative government. Harper is a hero to his for being in power while out-spending the most spendy of governments, and Gilles Duceppe, by definition, does not put his country before his party.
Canada has languished in its recent past, lacking any form of vision and falling behind much of the world in technology and foresight. We pay more than anyone else on the planet for cell phone service while having poorer service than much of the third world. We now build the poorest quality, most fuel inefficient cars on the planet, yet complain that the Asian markets don't want them. We have one of the worst public transit systems in the world, where there is not one single form of public transit that will allow someone to commute from the large city of Guelph to the larger city of Kitchener, just 15 miles away, yet we pour billions of dollars into our highway networks and subsidise the auto and aviation industries.
Then one day a leader comes along with a vision for the future where we can begin to address these failings in the backwater and increasingly irrelevant country of Canada. He is not particularly charismatic and he does not say things just to appease those interested far more by power than by the future of the country in his party, but he represents a future in which our biggest national issues are relevant to our future and not the disposition of our constitution. All the power in the world is not useful if you cannot live in your environment.
The electoral coalition between Dion and May, even if it only encompasses a single riding, is something I had been hoping for. Nobody loses anything by the Liberals not running in Central Nova, or by the Greens not running in St. Laurent-Cartierville. Both stand to gain, although Elizabeth May and the Greens more than the Liberals.
This action frees up the Liberals to support Elizabeth May in Central Nova and allows the local resources of two parties to work together to bring down Peter Mackay, one of the most dishonourable federal politicians in this country whose very presence in government owes to blatant dishonesty with his written lie to David Orchard. After the leadership convention I posted a suggested cabinet for a Dion government, and put Elizabeth May in as Minister of the Environment. I am very happy to see that this is indeed the path we seem to be travelling.
With the electoral system we have, we would do well to form more such electoral coalitions across the country. The Green party is no longer an insignificant player in Canada and must be taken seriously if our own green agenda is ever to come to pass. In ridings where there is a risk of a Conservative winning with anything less than an absolute majority of the vote, it is incumbent upon those of us not falling off the spectrum on the far right to work together to bring in a left wing MP in those ridings. I beg you not to infer from this statement that I would support that most insulting of electoral systems in proportional representation.
The NDP is a long lost cause, putting its own electoral fortunes and party's power well ahead of anything resembling the national interest. In this respect the NDP is worse even than the Conservatives and the respect I had for it a few years ago when Pierre Ducasse made his phenomenal speech at the NDP convention is utterly gone. This party needs to whither and die before it completely destroys what is left of the left in Canada.
The Liberals and the Greens, both centrist parties that merely have different balances of left and right must work together to keep the enlightened in power and the Machiavellians, of which the Liberals certainly have their share, out. The future and the country is more important than the party's tradition of running a candidate in every riding. The country is more important than the party.
Thoughts on the Quebec election a couple of days later
It's been a couple of days since the Quebec election and in spite of that time to reflect, I am still unsure of what to make of the results.
Before the election I warned friends to expect the unexpected, as is Quebec's habit, and it sure delivered. Mario Dumont narrowly avoided forming a government, and André Boisclair has placed himself on his stomach on the operating table with no anaesthetics, and Jean Charest is still premier, for what it's worth in the circumstances.
Quebeckers clearly wanted a change in the status quo, as they do about once a generation. I don't believe Quebeckers really knew, collectively, what change they wanted, just that a change was needed. Mario Dumont and his Action Dumontist du Québec party weren't necessarily what voters were looking for, the party was just the only one there ready to accept a concentrated protest vote.
The immediate result is clear: Quebeckers don't want separatism -- either for or against -- as the main policy plank in the party's platforms. Separatism and federalism, I believe, have become two opposing religions in Quebec and what the ADQ offers is a party that doesn't care which of these religions its members are. It's a breath of fresh air from that perspective.
But what Quebeckers may not be counting on is the effects of a move to the right. Having a right wing party in power, with a righter wing party in opposition, with a right-leaning but less-so party bringing up the rear puts the spectrum pretty narrowly up against the right edge. For the province I consider to be the most progressive of all the provinces in the country, it's rather strange.
There are three schools of thought on what the right wing's decisive victory in Quebec means.
The first is the obvious thought: if the ADQ can win so dramatically provincially, then the province must be fertile ground for federal right wingers. The federal Conservatives are enjoying this particular point of view as if true, it means gains in their forecast.
The second is the theory of balance: Quebec now has a right-and-righter set up, with only the most right wing party likely to be in any rush to have another election. Quebeckers, historically, haven't kept the same opinions in power both federally and provincially, and with their rejection of the separatists, this has to be good for the Liberal party in the next federal election.
The third is the theory of low risk: with the PQ way down and a referendum many years off at the very least, Quebec may yet vote in a strong BQ representation in the next federal election. It's a party focused only on their interests, but without an ally with which to break things in Quebec city, so planting the vote there may be safe and productive in the view of many voters.
Ultimately I think all of these have some truth to them and so I cannot for the life of me predict what would happen in a federal election in the province of Quebec were one to be held right now.
If I were advising any of the parties in Quebec right now, I would advise the PQ to do two things: Promise specifically not to hold a referendum in their first mandate, and shift to the wide open and utterly abandoned left wing in the province. These two things would allow the party to regain much of the disaffected vote currently going to the ADQ, allowing even staunch federalists who find their PQ candidate to be the best person to represent them to vote for them.
What will happen to this minority government? I think it will have a longevity that will make the current federal government look short-lived. None of the alliances between the three parties will be natural, but none of the parties will be in any hurry to go to the polls again any time soon. The PQ will almost certainly eat its young leader alive, putting them in a position of being forced to support the Liberal government until they get their leadership sorted out. The PLQ itself may dump Charest, but the loyalty in that party is historically far stronger than in the PQ and this is not overly likely. The ADQ, while it would love another election within a year, has a leader who is smart enough to know that if he wins he will be a one-term wonder due to the total inexperience of his caucus. It will be in his interests to work as a strong and cooperative opposition and government in training for a couple of years.
The trouble with our electoral system is not the method with which we vote, it is simply that our political parties are far more interested in power than in their basic philosophies. Across the country it is apparent. The Bloc does better philosophically with a Conservative government, but better politically with a Liberal government. The NDP does better philosophically with a Liberal government, but better politically with a Conservative government. In both cases, in order to maintain the political advantage of those governments, they must vigorously oppose them.
The Bloc Quebecois ostensibly wants a decentralised federation and a separatist Quebec government that will ultimately lead to a separate Quebec. This ultimate goal is unattainable and for reasons of survival, the Bloc Quebecois knows that separation must never actually take place. No political party that has found a source of power is going to will itself out of existence. In a separate Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois and its membership will no longer have a role in Quebec politics.
With separatism not therefore being the first priority of the separatist party, what is? Philosophically, it is more money and autonomy for Quebec without outright separation. The current Conservative government is the best vehicle for this the Bloc has ever had. But the trouble is if the federal government is giving in on these demands based on its own governing philosophy, the Bloc Quebecois becomes redundant and its electoral fortunes risk declining. Thus getting what it wants is bad for it.
With a Liberal government, a party that strongly supports a united Canada and a useful central government, the Bloc gets a party that will not pander to its interests. Philosophically, this is terrible. With the Liberals in power, especially with a Quebecker leading as is usually the case when the Liberals actually win, Quebec gets treated as an equal instead of as a superior being by the federal government. The Bloc then has an issue to go to the Quebeckers with: we need independence from this nonsense of being called a province of Canada! It is the only way the Bloc Quebecois's electoral fortunes can improve.
This rather odd situation means that the Bloc Quebecois benefits the most politically from the party that is furthest from it philosophically. It also means that the Bloc's philosophy of independence for Quebec is contradictory in its own right and can never be fulfilled.
Because the Bloc cannot admit to this reality, we find incidents like the Bloc resentfully supporting yesterday's federal budget because of the billions of dollars it gives to Quebec. If their priority was philosophy and more for Quebec was their primary objective, they would be waving this budget enthusiastically in Quebec to say 'look, we accomplished part of what we set out to accomplish', and Duceppe would not be coming out mid-speech to announce they will be supporting the budget in an effort to get this good news for the Bloc's objectives out of the headlines as fast as possible.
The NDP is in a similar situation of contradiction.
The NDP has accomplished the most on its agenda through its history when there is a strong Liberal minority that needs the NDP's balance of power for support. However whenever that happens, the NDP's fortunes drop in the next election because the Liberal party has moved slightly to the left, encroaching on the NDP's narrow band of support.
The NDP does best in federal elections when the Conservatives come to power, as evidenced by Ed Broadbent's leadership during the Mulroney years. He is hailed by the NDP as their most successful leader, even though he accomplished nothing whatsoever of the NDP's left-wing agenda, because under his leadership next to a strong Conservative majority they scored 44 seats, although could do nothing with any of them.
With the recent election of Stephen Harper, Jack Layton has also achieved some level of success for the party, bringing it up to 29 seats although the NDP is finding itself unable to meaningfully push any part of its agenda even with a Conservative minority government. Unlike a Liberal minority, there is no part of the Conservative government that shares any beliefs with the NDP. While the NDP had a balance of power, albeit a very marginal one, with the Paul Martin Liberal minority, they squandered it in an effort to gain more seats.
In order to appeal to its left wing base, the NDP must vigorously oppose a Conservative government, but not too harshly, lest they get a Liberal government back which is bad for their electoral fortunes. The result is that the NDP spends as much time attacking the Liberals, if not more, than attacking the Conservatives, even now, over a year after the election. A strong right wing means a consolidated left wing for the NDP to tap and so its fortunes are tied to the presence of a Conservative government. A Liberal government is a centrist government which adopts, and thus moots, some of the principles of the NDP and is therefore bad for the party's survival, even if it is good for the party's philosophy.
The Liberals and the Conservatives are themselves not immune from this game. Their counterparts are, rather, the provincial governments of Quebec and Ontario.
While counter-intuitive, it is in the Conservative party's interests to keep Liberal governments in power in both Quebec and Ontario. For whatever reason, it is extremely rare for a Liberal government to be in power in both provinces and federally at the same time. This is made easier currently by the Quebec Liberal leader being a former federal Progressive Conservative leader. Arguably, the Quebec Liberal party would be better named the Quebec Conservative party, as it tends to be far more aligned with Conservative than Liberal principals. Similarly, the Conservatives perform better when there is not a Conservative government in Ontario, although many of the cabinet ministers in the current federal Conservative government are former Ontario provincial Conservative cabinet ministers.
The Liberals on the other hand do best federally when the Liberals are not in power in either province. This is a direct correlation with the Conservatives doing better when the Liberals are in power in both provinces. The Liberals do best when the PQ is in power provincially: there is a clear need for an uncompromising federalist party when that is the case lest the country disappear in a puff of separatist smoke.
I am still trying to figure out how, exactly, the Green party figures into this formula of interdependent opposites, but from their push for proportional representation it is clear that seats are more important than philosophy for that party as well. Proportional representation further strengthens the parties and weakens core representative democratic principals.
What solutions do we have?
The simplest, best, and least likely ever to happen, is the outright abolishment of parties in Canada. Our first past the post representative electoral system was built around the principal that each community would send one person to represent their local interests in the government. That person would be answerable only to the people who elected them and would sit in the Commons on their behalf.
Parties have gained too much power in this country and must be returned to being a vehicle for loosely representing common philosophies rather than merely existing as a means of acquiring and retaining power. Our representative democracy is meant to represent us to the Commons. It is not meant to have the parties send representatives to us via the Commons.
When parties put their own interests ahead of their own philosophies, our democracy is broken.
The Member of Parliament of Burlington, Conservative Mike Wallace, just stood in the House in Statements by Members and asserted that the current government is responsible for the triple tracking through Burlington, Ontario intended to improve GO commuter train service with the help of $23M of federal funds.
For a plan that's been in the works for several years and has been in progress since before the Conservatives were even elected, that's awfully rich.
The tracks, called the Oakville Subdivision, were triple tracked over the last two years for improved GO service, with a completion date of summer 2006. Wallace asserted that this project proves the Conservatives' commitment to the environment. Typical tory.
If this were true, the Conservatives would be funding GO -- Government of Ontario -- Transit to a much greater extent and be actively promoting and supporting passenger rail service across this country.
Last night's National had the end-of-season At Issue panel. Here are my answers to the same questions, though with a far more Liberal-party biased bent than the actual At Issue panel had.
Best Political Play?
There is a lot of talk about Kennedy's move to Dion being the best political play, but, sticking to the convention, I think there is one thing that overshadowed even that.
Bob Rae dropped off after the third ballot and had three options. He could support his friend of 40 years and one-time roommate Michael Ignatieff, he could back Stéphane Dion, or he could remain neutral. Had he supported Ignatieff, Ignatieff may well have won by the thinest of margins.
By refusing to support one or the other candidate, he did the best thing possible for party unity and for the future of the party. His supporters were already divided between Dion and Ignatieff, and a move to either one may well have offended many of his supporters, particularly those accumulated from other candidates over the course of the campaign. What he did meant the race could end with a minimum of open wounds.
I also suspect that had he endorsed Ignatieff, the margin would have been very close to 50-50 and the optics of a 50.1-49.9 win are quite bad and would almost certainly result in a divided party whichever candidate had won in that scenario. What he did was very significant.
Worst Political Play?
Stephen Harper and Rona Ambrose went out West to make an announcement on the environment. The announcement was, in effect, that there would be an announcement on the environment. The subsequent announcement was, in effect, that climate change exists but if we have twice as many cars that each put out only 2/3 the amount of CO2, we would be making an improvement, or what they call Intensity Targets.
This hammered it home to Canadians that the Harper government does not take the issue seriously and was probably a contributing factor to Dion's victory at the convention a few months later. Had the Conservatives taken the environment file seriously from the outset, it would be a non-issue as all parties would be in agreement that it must be addressed.
Most Significant Political Event This Fall?
As Coyne said on last night's panel, the decapitation of the Liberal party establishment was the most significant event this fall.
Stéphane Dion's victory over Ignatieff and Rae who were party outsiders yet ironically perceived to be the establishment candidates will have far reaching consequences for the Liberal party and probably for the country. A renewed and rejuvenated Liberal party with new leadership at all levels of the party will be difficult to combat in an election, as, simply put, mud from other parties will have difficulty sticking.
Most under-reported or overlooked political event?
Like others, I will again agree with Andrew Coyne on this point.
The Ontario Commission on Electoral Reform existed. This was news to me on the At Issue panel. I have very strong opinions on electoral reform and would have made sure to have had my voice heard by the Commission had I been aware of it.
It is significant that this event was not made a bigger deal, especially as it will be resulting in a referendum question in less than a year and could have very far reaching consequences for both the population and governance of Ontario and for other provinces which will watch the results of a change in Ontario's system very carefully.
Most underrated politician?
Martha Hall Findlay came from nowhere at the start of the leadership race. Her main claim to fame was that she was first defeated by, then had to step aside for Belinda Stronach. I believe by the end of the leadership race most Liberals were scratching their heads wondering why it was we had Belinda and not Martha in Ottawa.
Findlay has become very popular in the Liberal party, but I don't know that the country has taken notice of her yet. Time will tell.
If her phenomenal growth in popularity in the party can be translated onto the national scene, there is a very good chance that she could eventually become the first female leader of the Liberal party in the future.
Most overrated politician?
Michael Ignatieff was touted early on as the heir apparent to the Liberal throne. His worldly experience and background were seen by many to make him the obvious candidate to lead the party. Had the leadership race been shorter or taken place later, he would almost certainly have won it. As time marched on, he made rookie mistakes and treated the race as both an entitlement ('I don't think anything is wrong with my approach - I'm the frontrunner') and as an academic discussion rather than a political competition. While Canada is in dire need of more in-depth discussions on all of our issues, it cost him the respect of many people in the party as, particularly in the case of the Nation debate, his machinations opened Canadian wounds that had he been in the country for, he would have known were highly volatile and not safe to open.
Ultimately, he could have won over the support of many people in the party, possibly including myself, had he simply appeared to make an effort to understand Canada and current domestic Canadian issues before seeking to lead the country. That problem, however, was not of his own making. He almost certainly expected to spend several years in cabinet before being faced with a leadership race which would have given him an enormous advantage when he would inevitably run.
With Martin having been leader for just over two years, things have not changed terribly much in the Liberal party from the perspective of joining it earlier this year with the hope of eventually leading it, and while others seem to believe he will return to an academic life, I have little doubt that he will retain his organisation and stick it out in the hopes of running for leadership again at some point in the future, especially as in party tradition it will be an Anglo's turn to lead. Provided he does it in a way where the mantra of 'tous ensemble' is actually maintained, I will have no objection and would be likely to give him a serious look next time if he does indeed stick around.
Fate of the Afghanistan Mission?
I believe that the mission in Afghanistan will result in a total withdrawal in 2009-2010 with the country's infrastructure a mess and a decreased quality of life for its citizens from today, unless all NATO countries take it more seriously and put as much time, money, and effort into infrastructure and economic construction as they do into combat.
As I pointed out in my above-linked entry, Germany and Japan, the main recipients of the Marshall plan after the second world war have both gone on to be world economic powers who have never again gone to war. If the West put the tens of billions of dollars into reconstruction in Afghanistan, I believe it could become a democratic regional powerhouse and important ally. Of course there is a war taking place, and by extension there will be casualties, but they will be for nothing if we do not make it our collective mission to rebuild the country, not just subdue it.
The government will force its own demise in the late spring of next year, with a campaign timed to coincide with spring final exams in universities across the country. With the environment set to be a major issue, preventing students from organising is a must for Stephen Harper, and waiting any longer will allow the Liberals to organise too much for the current government's tastes.
I don't know if the government will fall on the Afghanistan vote being brought in by the Bloc in February, but the tories could still elect to have the date of the election at the end of April to ensure the above-noted scenario even if it does.
Who is this woman?
In spite of watching question period most days, I had no idea who the woman Peter Mansbridge asked his panel to identify was. Apparently she's the minister of national revenue.
With talk of a tory cabinet shuffle running rampant today and the recent news that the government has stunned the European Space Agency by declining to provide a rover for a Mars mission, their true plans are starting to take shape.
It is a fairly obvious choice to dump featherweight Rona Ambrose from cabinet in the rumoured upcoming shuffle. She's ineffective and inexperienced. But she is capable of walking around independently, and Canada could save a great deal of money by sending Rona to Mars to replace the cancelled rover. The environment on that planet should be quite similar to what Rona likes, as it isn't too far off her vision for Canada.
Seriously, though, cancelling the Mars Rover project is a bad idea. Harper is trying so very hard to damage Canada's credibility in so many ways, and now he's throwing technology out as well.
The comparisons between this move and Diefenbaker's cancellation of the Avro Arrow are apt. There's no tory like one who wants to throw out Canadian pride and technology at the first opportunity.
Nation vote makes international news -- that is, outside of both Quebec and Canada
From my IRC log this morning, I found this three-am conversation between three mostly European Linux kernel folks on the topic of the vote:
03:05 <ahu> Quebec has become a nation!
03:06 * jeffpc wonders what cdlu will have to say about this
03:07 <peterz> uh, city in .ca?
03:07 <peterz> its own nation
03:07 <peterz> whatever for
03:07 <jeffpc> peterz: a province
03:07 <peterz> ah
03:08 <peterz> so now canada is smaller?
03:08 <jeffpc> seems so
03:08 <ahu> it is a nation within a country it appears
03:08 <jeffpc> huh?
03:08 <peterz> like a state, in the united states?
03:08 <peterz> we are but we are not
03:09 <jeffpc> ahu, peterz: I always thought that provinces were much like .us's states
03:09 <ahu> no idea
03:09 <ahu> these things quite often revolve around taxes
Thank you, parliament, for helping to make this matter so clear for the world.
While I don't begrudge Harper his motion from a practical political point of view, the notion that the province of Quebec is a nation is rather offensive to me, as a (departed) Quebecker.
Harper's motion is wonderfully fun because it forces everyone in the Commons to vote against a resolution calling Quebec a nation at least once -- including the Bloc. It also serves to head off a Bloc motion calling Quebec a nation without any qualifiers, the purpose of which is immediately clear and emphasised by André Boisclair yesterday holding a press conference to say that you can't have a nation inside another nation. I assume this to mean that a separate Quebec's government has no intention of recognising the First Nations. Duly noted.
There are francophones outside of Quebec in this great country of ours. There are anglophones in Quebec, and not just in Westmount or on the West Island. I grew up in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts as an English Jewish kid with a Scottish family name in a French Catholic area. So to me, drawing Quebec's 'nationhood' on provincial boundaries is, well, a little provincial.
I would have no trouble recognising French Canadians at large as a 'nation'. As people seem to like to get caught up in historical rather than practical matters, it can easily be argued that the three founding groups of Canada - the First Nations, the English, and the French, are each distinct nations, or tribes, within Canada, without requiring us to name every ethnic group in the country a Nation. This would also mean we would have an English Canadian Nation to go with our French Canadian Nation, though with Chinese being the third most spoken language in Canada and the Chinese having been responsible for building the bulk of the first trans-Canadian railway and thus our country, perhaps they, too, should receive this title.
It is all a bit rich, really. This whole word game with nation is intended merely by the separatists in Quebec to trip people up into saying they support Quebec's minority aspiration to separate, and when people don't go along, say 'see? we should separate because they don't agree that we should separate!'
If we want to recognise nations in this country without limiting ourselves to French Canadians, we could always define the word as a "tribe", as it is in the dictionary, and say anyone is free to identify themselves as being a part of any nation they wish, as long as such definition has no legal meaning.
I am tired of the whole "nation" debate, and I place the blame for its resurgence squarely on the shoulders of Michael Ignatieff and his big mouth. It is a huge waste of national time when there are far more serious and relevant issues to discuss. I, for one, don't wish to be inundated by American migrants when the global temperature of the planet submerges much of the eastern seaboard with polar meltwater and renders the South unarable. That would just provide us with one more nation to recognise.
Public transit dominates municipal election debates
Every debate I have seen or heard about has so far been dominated by discussion of public transit in the K-W/Guelph area. Tuesday night and again last night, Waterloo Region chair incumbent Ken Seiling and challenger Bob Verdun squared off over the issue in debate. The debate is coming down to one between Seiling and Light Rail Transit, and Verdun and GO service, but it shouldn't be.
It is our responsibility as residents of this region to work towards ways to improve public transit as a whole, not through any one solution, but through all the available solutions. It should be noted that in the US, it has been widely stated that the emissions reductions the country has seen over the last few years have been entirely due to changes in local and state policy, not federal policy. This must be our approach, in the absence of any current federal interest in the matter, as well.
Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge represent a population of around a half-million people. There are many people who both commute within this region, between these cities, and to areas beyond including Brantford, Hamilton, and the GTA. If anyone in this area wants to travel to anywhere other than Toronto's downtown core, the only options are busses or their cars. I don't believe either of these are ideal, when railroad rights of way exist linking all the cities mentioned to each-other.
The Light Rail Transit idea is a good one, but on its own, it is not useful. The tracks on which they could run stretch from Elmira through St. Jacobs and the Kitchener Via station, to the old Cambridge CP station in Galt, passing through only one downtown - that of Waterloo - on the way, missing Kitchener's downtown by a whole mile.
Without connecting to GO train service, what good is the LRT system? People will be able to travel on a single line, up and down Waterloo region, but will be unable to exit the region. They would be forced to return to their cars, then leave. One could not take the LRT from Cambridge up to Waterloo, run errands, back down to Kitchener, and hop the next GO train to Bramalea. There are three Via trains a day in each direction through Kitchener, and they do not stop everywhere along the way. There are GO trains out of Georgetown that could easily be extended to run from Kitchener - they already run on the busiest section of track. Between Georgetown and Kitchener, there are a mere two non-passenger trains a day in each direction, while the GO trains share their tracks with over twenty freight trains between Georgetown and Bramalea.
The Waterloo region's LRT plans also call for immediate electrification of the line, which is enormously expensive when diesel powered trains can be used until electrification is warranted. This is irresponsible and can only be interpreted as being intended to tie up transit funds to prevent the addition of GO service to the region for ideological rather than practical reasons.
Incumbent Waterloo Region chair Ken Seiling has been in the position for over two decades. He insisted in this week's debates that our region is not a bedroom community for Toronto, and should not be one. What he inexplicably fails to realise is that Waterloo region and Guelph have limited lands, and due to lack of planning by the very people who call for the addition of local employment industry in all affected cities, most of these lands are developed as residential. We are absolutely a bedroom community for the Greater Toronto Area, and it is not all that bad a thing to be, if we allow inexpensive, environmentally friendly commuting options. To deny that we are a bedroom community is to deny that the earth is round.
If the regional leadership truly wants this area to be largely occupied by a locally employed population, it is incumbent on them to bring business in, not to prevent people from getting out. The reality is that employment industries are in the GTA, and the people who work in them live everywhere from beyond Oshawa in the east to beyond Barrie to the north and beyond Waterloo region and Hamilton to the west and the sheer volume of it drives up the cost of housing. People settle further and further from the city into places they can afford, but they still need to get to their places of work.
GO service provides the most inexpensive and ecologically sound answer for commuters to the GTA, while LRTs will complement the Grand River Transit bus system in Waterloo region. Let us all stop pretending Waterloo Region and Guelph are self-contained economies and work to reduce the traffic and pollution created by the reality we face.
Dion unleashes his letter writing capability on unsuspecting rival
Stéphane Dion has written an open letter clarifying the debate over Quebec's nationhood for all us normal people. His open letters to Lucien Bouchard following the referendum last decade were some of the most intelligent, thought out arguments made against separatism and the absurdity of the separatist position, and he is applying this same mighty-pen approach to Ignatieff's political insanity of wanting to reopen the constitutional debate.
The Ignatieff folks are not thrilled, but that is alright with me.
I believe even mentioning the constitution with Boisclair ahead in the polls in Quebec is a suicidally bad idea. A Canada under Ignatieff discussing the constitution with a Quebec under Boisclair ought to lead to just the kind of debate the separatists want to launch a referendum campaign and send Quebec's economy into a tailspin the likes of which has not been seen since, well, the last time the PQ was in power.
The Kennedion alliance brewing should ensure that this does not become a serious issue for the time being, at any rate. Kennedy and Dion working together can easily defeat Ignatieff or Rae at the convention and, as numerous bloggers have pointed out, each one's political strengths are the other's weaknesses so as a leadership tag-team it doesn't get much better for the Liberals or for the country. Dion is the unity candidate in every sense of the word.
Since the Toronto debate last weekend I've come down with pneumonia, of all useful things, and haven't had much energy to post anything while being mostly bed-ridden. I watched this afternoon's debate and have only a few thoughts on it.
First off, I found it difficult to follow. I don't know if it was just because I am sick, but it just felt less organised than previous debates. It was in Montreal, mostly in French, but some candidates changed languages so often that by the time I had the channel changed (SAP on Rogers still has YTV...ugh) it was time to change back again.
Is it just me or did the last debate, between Ignatieff, Kennedy, and Findlay, get twice as much time as the others and a bonus question?
I have mixed feelings about Dion's closing comments. I am a die-hard Dion supporter, but I have to admit, I didn't really like the tone. The debate should be a positive one, even if saying negative things in a positive way. I agree with his point that he is the one that comes without baggage, but that should perhaps be the opening to the speech rather than or as well as the closing. I'm not sure, anyway, I may have misinterpreted it through a coughing spell.
A lot of candidates carried on in French until they hit brick walls, then switched to English. Some of the candidates, most notably Kennedy - more for his statistical standing than for the relative quality of his French compared to the other unilingual candidates - caused me to nearly cringe when they spoke. The French of some of these people is downright painful.
In the same vein, what a few people have said is true. Dion's English is much better than any of the other's French. Rae confidently misuses words (most notably 'dur', something I complained about Elizabeth May doing at the French Green party debate some months ago, albeit with a different misuse of the same word), while others spend so much effort trying to speak French they are unable to make any kind of point.
Somehow, I don't expect this debate to truly be the last. I would really like to see a debate between Ignatieff, Rae, Dion, and Kennedy exclusively, configured as an election leadership debate would be with real debating actively encouraged and allowed.
Sunday's debate in Toronto was quite the entertainment. The clear winner of the debate was Martha Hall Findlay who, with one word, brought the house down.
But this debate has been extensively covered by just about every blog on Canadian soil so I won't rehash it yet again.
The debate took place in Toronto the same day as the Toronto Marathon, so, concerned about parking, I parked much further from Roy Thompson Hall than I needed to. We headed up there and arrived about an hour early, working our way to the Dion table inside of the building. We picked up an armload of stickers, flyers, and other paraphernalia, and went back outside and stood next to a gaggle of Rae supporters handing out Dion flyers. I don't get the impression there are very many people left who are undecided, though.
During the debate, Dion went on the offensive, ripping Rae apart, who turned around and ripped Ignatieff apart, while Kennedy did his best to stay out of dodge. It was fun to watch. The energy level in the room was tremendous. The whole room reacted to everything that was said. At the debate in London a few weeks ago, there was constant polite applause, but nothing like this.
I thought it was interesting that Dion got the question on the environment, Ignatieff got the question on foreign affairs, and Brison got the question on gay marriage. The fits were often perfect.
Dion's English has often been criticised through this campaign, though I'm not too concerned by it. As Allan Bonner said on Politics yesterday, if Canada can get used to Chrétien, we can get used to anyone. Dion's English is merely French with English words. Quite understandable, if a little strange for people who don't speak both. "You don't know of what you speak," he said at one point. No-one has any doubt what this means, in spite of criticisms, and it is even easier to understand when you realise it is a literal translation of "tu ne sais pas de quoi tu parles."
After the debate, which was attended by a true who's who of Ottawa politics and punditry, we headed up to the pub where Dion's after-debate party was being held. We found a table with a couple of spots open, and grabbed seats, striking up conversation with the other occupants of the table.
Eventually Dion came in and shouted out a few words to the room, but we were too far to make them out. Shortly thereafter a camera and reporter came in, and it soon became apparent that it was This Hour has 22 Minutes. I'm curious what they're going to do to the clip they took there.
Later on, I met another fellow blogger, BC Undecided, who assures me that Undecided does not refer to the race. We talked for a while and then on my way out I met Jason Cherniak.
The Alter Boys have come up with a great scheme to help Stéphane Dion and his dog Kyoto take on the intensity-based hot air output of the tory government, Iggy wants to go step on another landmine, and the municipal election is heating up.
I'm not much of a dog lover. I haven't got a lot of use for pets that can't either be eaten or trained to protect the ones that are to be eaten, but I think anything one can do to help Dion win the leadership that he is the best qualified to win is good.
Ignatieff wants to go to Israel. Why, oh why would he do that? He is going just a couple of weeks before the convention. It will be very hard for him not to gaffe there. If he visits occupied lands, he gaffes to some people. If he doesn't, he gaffes to others. I just can't see the logic for the trip and its timing.
I spent the last two nights watching debates for Ward 6 in Guelph, one televised, the other not. I'm happy to say all five candidates attended both debates, and I'll be posting something very in depth on them soon.
GOKW.org got in both today's Guelph Mercury and Guelph Tribune. At the debate tonight, I ran into people who had seen the articles and support our mission. Four of the five candidates in the debate even expressed support. If you want GO service to the tri-cities area, join us!
Cambridge is planning to build a 1000-car parking lot for a Greyhound commuter station. I'm not thrilled, but an existing bus service is a lot better than imagined rail service.
I won the election for chair of OFTC again. Our 4500-user project's constitution creates an executive (chair), judicial (ombudsman), and legislative (network operations committee) type system of governance, and discourages campaigning by making all members of staff rank all other members of staff, assigning each person a role. Aren't Internet politics exciting?
Michael Ignatieff hadn't gaffed for a while. I thought maybe, just maybe, he was learning from his early mistakes. But I suppose the two month gaffe timer was up.
Don Newman on Politics reports that Ignatieff referred to Israeli actions in Lebanon earlier this year as a war crime on a TV show in Quebec over the weekend, costing him Thornhill MP Susan Kadis' support for his leadership.
To me it is not so much the issue of Ignatieff calling Israel's actions war crimes. I can deal with that opinion. It's the constant changing of opinion that worries me. His office apparently immediately issued a clarification, stating that while he had prefixed his comment that Israel's actions were war crimes with a reminder of his expertise in international law, he didn't really mean it that way. Way to take a principled position and stick to it.
He started off by commenting that he wasn't losing any sleep over the fate of the Lebanese. It was probably quite honest, I'm sure he was sleeping just fine, as were most people not directly involved in the conflict. But it is still a dumb and insensitive thing to say.
After having a weird disagreement with his campaign chief over the reason for his extended absence to Eastern Europe during the crisis, he noticed that the comment about losing sleep was not going over well. Oops, better retract it. Now he is going off the other end. Instead of showing reckless disrespect for the Lebanese side of the conflict, he is calling the Israelis war criminals. In so doing he has managed to piss off both sides, rather than neither, and that is hardly a leadership skill worth rewarding.
Liberals must not elect this gaffe-prone time bomb as our leader if we hope ever to win an election. Crashing haphazardly from gaffe to gaffe through a federal election campaign would be fatal for the party and is something we truly cannot afford. Did we not learn anything from the disaster that was Paul Martin, whose name no-one even dares mention any more? Have we not had enough of "oops"-based policy?
While the Ignatieff supporters who have gone blind with faith in their holy leader will dismiss this as just the machinations of a supporter of another leader, I urge those whose minds continue to be open to seriously think about the ramifications of Ignatieff as a leader come the next federal election, almost certainly just around the corner from the convention.
Those wishing to prop up Ignatieff at the cost of others will state that Dion gaffed by not voting in the opposition motion compelling the government to meet its Kyoto targets, ignoring the resounding success of that vote, Dion's prior obligations, and his presence at the parliamentary committee meeting on the same day grilling Rona Ambrose. These same people will probably also call Bob Rae's skinny dipping on the Mercer Report yesterday a gaffe equal to his proportions. Really, though, it was a hilarious and totally harmless stunt.
It can be acceptable to gaffe in a campaign, once. Apologise with a sincere smile and move on, or possibly even stick to your principled guns. From what I have seen, more damage is created reacting to a gaffe than is normally created by making one in the first place.
Those considering supporting Ignatieff should pause and think: is drunken lurching from gaffe to gaffe really what we want in a leader, no matter what his intellectual credentials?
The front-runners: All could be Prime Minister, given time
What do Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff, and Gerard Kennedy have in common? All of them would have a very tough time winning the next federal election, though I would do my very best to help any one of them try!
Bob Rae, a brilliant left wing thinker and experienced politician could probably keep the Harper government to a minority. His weakness in urban Ontario ridings where people make fun of Rae Days while ignoring the blood-letting that successor Mike Harris implemented in their stead will hurt the Liberal party where it is strongest. But after serving time as the leader of the opposition, I believe it would be possible for him to bring the Liberal party back to power, as his record as a federal opposition leader overwrites that part of people's memories of his time as premier. How long it would take, I do not know. That he can win eventually is why Bob Rae remains my second choice.
The Liberal party has retained power over the bulk of the last century by capturing the centrist vote in the centre of the country. The highly urbanised provinces of Quebec and Ontario are the backbone of Liberal support, with a varying degree of support in the rest of the country. Rae might gain on the Bloc in Quebec and increase the current support in the rest of the country, but his Ontario weakness was shown in the delegate selection this past weekend. His left wing background makes him a concern to the volatile right wing of the party and is a short term liability, but a long term asset.
Michael Ignatieff, a brilliant intellectual with little political experience and no map of the minefield that is the Canadian political landscape has been hailed by many in the party as the white knight. He has tried to portray himself as a Pierre Trudeau, the frontrunner who will unite the party and defeat the naysayers, to lead us to 16 years of rather interesting government. Trudeau, as leader, welcomed his opponents into his cabinet and into his circle as team members, and not as rivals. It was a true demonstration of his leadership. I have no doubt that Ignatieff would handle his opponents in the same manner were he to win the leadership. Where I have doubt is in his ability to win an election following a leadership win.
Michael Ignatieff is, in spite of his claims to the contrary, from the right side of the party. The last right wing leader acclaimed by the membership as the holy grail of Liberal leadership nearly destroyed the party and allowed a Conservative government that no longer even pretended to be progressive to take power, putting us in the very position we are in today.
We are facing the prospect of a recession in the near future, as the North American housing market begins to collapse, accelerated by poor fiscal decisions by the Republican government in the United States and the rapid expunging of Canada's federal monies by our Conservative government in Canada. When recessions hit, the population moves to the left. Instead of having money and refusing to hand it over to the government, the population goes through a seismic shift, demanding that the government help the hobbled economy by injecting money into it. Indeed it should be the role of the government to put money away through the good times and spend it on things like rebuilding our national infrastructure in the bad times, to soften both the ups and the downs of the economic cycle, but the government we have today is eliminating the surplus we had put aside as a buffer, with huge tax cuts and massive military expenditures.
When the economy enters its period of recession, issues such as the war in Afghanistan become secondary to the domestic concerns of Canadians. This is not why Ignatieff risks losing an election. His views on foreign policy are interesting, if slightly untraditional to the Liberal party, but not wholly relevant to the upcoming political discourse in Canada. The main issue will be the economy. As things stand currently, a budget deficit by whatever party is in government is nearly inevitable only a couple of years down the road. Why the population will not accept their government going into deficit while they themselves dive into debts larger than their own 'gross family product', for lack of a better term, is a mystery to address on another day.
During recessions, populations tend to trade in their governments. This could become a problem in the province of Quebec, which currently has an unpopular, but federalist, leader. The Quebec Liberals may be re-elected before the economic downturn is felt, but if the recession hits in the next year as I believe it will, the people of Quebec will almost certainly elect André Boisclair and his separatist Parti Québecois.
Michael Ignatieff has already promised to pour salt into the wound of the Canadian constitution, never ratified by Quebec's National Assembly. Coupled with a weak economy and a separatist government, this would provide just the boost the PQ would need to win a referendum. It is a scenario that people who do not know Quebec fail to realise, though the soft nationalist vote in Quebec is more than happy to bring it on, as demonstrated by Michael Ignatieff's results in the province.
However, to get to that point, he would have to win an election and become the Prime Minister. I do not believe he can pull it off in the upcoming federal election. Some of his statements are already being played against him in the House of Commons, and his commitment to Canada is perceived by some as being a bit shaky. While he was in Canada in 1968 for the leadership convention that brought in Pierre Trudeau, he has been politically absent virtually the entire time since. Until recently, he would not even commit to running for parliament if not elected leader, though in a reversal reminiscent of Paul Martin, he now states unequivocally that he will of course stay on and run in the next election.
While I believe that Bob Rae could, I do not know if Michael Ignatieff would be able to keep Stephen Harper's Conservatives to a minority. In the short term, his right wing policies on foreign relations, including the general belief, whether true or not, that he would have sent Canadian soldiers to Iraq, prevent him from differentiating himself from the Conservative party. The dedicated right wing voters in Canada already have a right wing party to vote for in the Conservative party. I would be hard pressed to believe that they would vote for a conservative Liberal party, given that choice.
Ignatieff would also risk opening up the left flank of the party wider than it is now. I do not expect to see a Jack Layton minority government, but one cannot underestimate the size of an NDP caucus in a House with two right wing parties and only one left wing party in a time when the country is about to shift to the left. Jack Layton has been widely chastised for bringing down the Martin government prematurely, but his strategy may have been better thought out and longer term than he has been given credit for.
Michael Ignatieff sees himself as a left wing candidate. In the US political spectrum, I agree, but there is a red-shift of difference between the US and Canadian left. Here, he is distinctly to the right of centre.
The Liberal Party has long straddled the centre line, shifting to the left and to the right as the nation does. While the tide has been flowing to the right for a long time, it is now shifting back to the centre, and now would be a bad time for us to drop anchor.
Bob Rae is wrong about this not being a race of ideas, but he is right when he invokes winability. The ideas that matter are the short term, practical ones which will even out the Canadian economic cycle and reduce the shocks to our system, the ones that are relevant to the lives of Canadians.
Canadians want to live in a united, prosperous country without the uncertainty of another round of constitutional wrangling or the threat of a referendum on succession in Quebec, or the international animosity and tragedy created by fighting foreign wars for foreign powers. We, as a country, want a leader who has proven himself to be successful in handling the relevant issues of the day, and who has shown an unquestioning commitment to our country. The Liberal party's front-runner offers us neither of these features, and the man in second place has only the latter to show for his five year term as a majority premier.
There are two other possibilities in the race for the leadership of the Liberal party. Whether either of them can win the next election is unclear, but they at least offer both features mentioned above. Gerard Kennedy understands the problems facing our country in a prolonged war in Afghanistan and sits decidedly to the left of centre on the political spectrum, but faces his Achilles heel in that, while Michael Ignatieff has captured the soft nationalist support of the party in Quebec, and Stéphane Dion has captured the federalist vote in Quebec, he has captured no measurable support in that province.
Quebec is the critical growth area for the Liberal party and it would be unwise for us to head into the election with a leader who is completely unknown in the province. Kennedy might be able to win a subsequent election, after time spent leading the opposition, but he would need to grow into the role over a longer period of time and could not defeat the Conservative party in an election held in under a year. While he could almost certainly keep the Conservative party to a minority, we need to aim higher.
This leaves only one person in the top tier who stands any reasonable chance of winning a federal election this time, without waiting.
Though I admit, from a cynical perspective, that the Liberal party would benefit in the long term from a Conservative government taking us into the recession,
Canada needs a Liberal government going into this recession to manage the country carefully and soften the blow it will inevitably deliver. The Conservative party's wreckless slashing of social programs, large tax cuts, increased capital spending, and premature debt repayment will leave them no alternative but to return to deficit when the economy cools off.
Stéphane Dion may have slightly weaker party support than any of the other candidates mentioned, but has more even support across the country than the other candidates. He is also the strong second choice for supporters of nearly all the other candidates. He is firmly in the centre of the political spectrum, and has a long track record in federal politics and is a dedicated, passionate, and uncompromising Canadian. His delegate support in Quebec is comparable to Michael Ignatieff's national support, dispelling the myth that Quebec will not vote for him, and proving that he can bring growth to the Liberal party in a province that needs it. Dion is the uniting candidate, lacking the perceived Chrétien ties of the Bob Rae campaign or the perceived Martin ties of the Ignatieff campaign. He is acceptable to both sides of a historically split party and stands the best chance of any of the candidates at bringing the party together following the leadership.
He understands that domestic issues, especially the increasing effects of our environmental irresponsibility, are the primary concern of Canadians, and he will talk policy, not politics, at every possible opportunity. He entered the race without being taken seriously, and has shown that he is not only serious, but has the potential to surprise the country as much as he has surprised the party, and win an election.
I have confidence that Stéphane Dion's understanding of the issues facing our country will cause him to invest in the major infrastructure investment of our time. A massive government initiative to spend on green energy will not only help Canada pull through a recession relatively unscathed, but bring us out the other side as a world leader in environmental issues. Dion's vision for the future of Canada is larger than the Liberal party, it is to the benefit of the country as a whole.
The economy will be our biggest near term concern, but the climate altering effects of global warming are our most important long term concern. The people of Canada are waking up to this reality. The solutions for our carbon dioxide filled atmosphere are just a properly led recession away.
All these candidates can, as leaders, win federal elections, eventually. Together, the four of them would make an excellent senior cabinet team in a Liberal government. All of them are true Liberals within the wide scope of the party, but the real question we must answer is how long are we willing to wait? How deep will the Canadian deficit have to get before we are brought in to patch it up? Many of the ministers in the current government have a good deal of practice at hiding fiscal mismanagement. Our federal Minister of Finance managed to hide a five billion dollar annual deficit from the people of Ontario when he was the provincial minister of the same portfolio in Ontario. We, as a country, cannot afford a leader who will require years to learn how to do his job. We need someone who is a leader here and now, who has the appropriate experience to defeat the Conservative government and the vision to keep Canada running smoothly in both the short term and the long term. I put it to you that this leader is Stéphane Dion.
Today's question period had an extra bit of satire for those of us watching on CPAC. (Updated)
I doubt it's deliberate, and it could be restricted to Rogers customers, but the Secondary Audio Program channel, where French is normally found, today appears to be hosting the sound track for a cartoon channel or something of that nature. It has nothing to do with CPAC, at any rate. It is amusing to watch people rise in the house and laugh hysterically while dramatic music plays in the background, but it isn't really helpful.
As far as the actual questions, John Baird called Ignatieff the upcoming leader of the Liberal party, while quoting him on the topic of cutting government spending. Does Baird know something the rest of us don't?
Digs were also taken at Volpe and I think Brison by the tories, with a minister asking if the party was going to investigate Volpe's charge of bigotry in the party, and a leadership candidate being challenged by Peter MacKay for supporting the abolishion of ALCOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency).
The NDP has me as baffled as ever, handing questions to the Conservatives with which to attack the Liberals, by design. I know the NDP sits on the same side of the house as the Conservative party, but I thought it was because there wasn't enough space for them on the opposition side...
Update: CPAC's SAP is YTV's soundtrack today (on Rogers here, anyway)!
A friend in Brampton, Ontario, using Rogers confirms that he hears YTV on secondary audio on CPAC.
A friend in Fergus, Ontario, using Cogeco confirms that he is hearing a French simultaneous translator.
A friend in Vancouver, BC, using Shaw reports that CPAC there, too, has French on the secondary audio, and not any other stations.
As of 18:50 eastern, CPAC on Rogers is still playing YTV on SAP after almost 5 hours. And no, I don't feel like spending an hour on the phone with their tech support to be told that it's all in my head.
As super weekend winds down, there are a few things on my mind about what's happening.
Kennedy's numbers are higher than I would have expected, but I'm not sure he has a lot of room for growth. I expect the other candidates will not really consider him for their support, but you never know.
Dion's numbers still have room for growth. Apparently, 2/3 of Quebec has yet to report.
Brison is being written off too early. I suspect his numbers will rise as rural ridings start checking in later in the week, though not to a seriously competitive level.
I did not make it in as a delegate for Dion for Guelph. There were 12 Dion candidates in my riding, but only two got in. I don't really understand how the algorithm works from there, but as far as I know I didn't make it. Not that I've heard officially, mind you. I spent the entire voting period outside the voting area with people from the Dion (3), Ignatieff (3), Dryden (1), Rae (1), and Kennedy (1) camps offering assistance to arriving voters, but most people had already decided.
Guelph turnout was around 30% of a not very big number.
My MP, a declared Kennedy supporter, was a no-show for the vote, though both people who have declared as potential replacements for her spent most of the afternoon there.
Cross Country Checkup callers this afternoon appear to be overwhelmingly in favour of Dion. Robin Sears commented on the show, and I agree, that Rae is the choice for people concerned about the left, Ignatieff is the choice for people concerned about the right, and Dion is the choice for people who want someone in the centre. I think the right is sufficiently well represented in our political landscape at the moment, though would have no objections to Ignatieff being in a senior cabinet role providing the right's representation. The left is fractured at the moment, but a strong centrist leader can definitely bring in the left-side pragmatists. A right wing leader will only help to consolidate the left on a party other than the Liberals.
Sears also expressed hope for a Dion-Rae last ballot to avoid blood on the floor at the end of the convention.
A friend of mine in another riding voted Ignatieff because he is leading. Elections Canada definitely has it right when they disallow distribution of results before the end of voting.
The Liberal party site's live results requires flash 8. Flash is only available up to version 7 for Linux, so I can see pretty bars, but not the names associated with them.
I hope that delegates in Montreal do not feel obligated to vote the way their candidates do as they drop out. The reasons for one candidate supporting another are not generally related to principles. Delegates, on the other hand, are free to throw their support the way they want to.
Volpe's really blown it. Had he gotten out early, he might have a shred of credibility left, but even the 180 decibel 'get lost, already' from the party seems to have fallen on deaf ears with him.
In considering the convention that is a short two months away, I have realised the fundamental truth about who the Liberal party truly prefers for its leader.
In a two-way race between Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion, Stéphane Dion would win, hands down.
In a two-way race between Bob Rae and Stéphane Dion, Stéphane Dion would win, hands down.
In a two-way race between Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, the party would risk becoming crippled by the polarisation between these two candidates.
The last ballot will be a two-way race. Please do your part at this weekend's delegate selection meetings to make sure that Stéphane Dion is one of the two.
There are only three serious contenders in this race: Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae, and Stéphane Dion. Gerard Kennedy is a close fourth, but his weak French will doom him in a party whose tradition puts a francophone in this time around. His lack of a seat in the house would also risk making him a lame duck leader of the opposition. While I would also like to believe that Dryden's national name recognition could translate to a convention victory, organisation, not name recognition, has proven time and time again to be more important.
Contrary to the Conservative party's deliberate leak yesterday, they do not fear Michael Ignatieff. His supporters have fallen for this leak hook, line, and sinker, flaunting it as a reason why Ignatieff should win. The reality is that his inexperience at leading anything bigger than a university department, his ideas on war and torture, his desire to reopen the constitution, and his general ability to gaffe make him an easy target.
They would, it pains me to say, enjoy a fight with Bob Rae, though not as much as they think. Whatever he has learned over the last decade since losing his premiership in Ontario, that skeleton is still in his open closet. While his skills as a politician are strong, as evidenced by the fact that the three drop-outs in the race have all joined him (though their supporters have apparently mostly gone to Dion's campaign), and he has the backing of the formidable forces that are the Chrétien team, a federal election is not a leadership convention. Tory attack ads would not even need to be particularly creative to remind Ontarions of Rae's five-year term as Premier. His other major liability is, like Kennedy, that he is not yet in the Commons. As the leader of the Liberal party, this could prove to be very problematic. If the Liberals were in opposition to a majority government, Rae or Kennedy would have plenty of time to get themselves in the House and establish themselves as viable national leaders, but that's a scenario we neither have, nor particularly want.
It is Stéphane Dion they fear most of all. This is clear from their attempts to damage him by politicising the recent report on the environment file, and in their attempts to portray him as an also-ran who is behind Gerard Kennedy in yesterday's leak. Dion was only the environment minister for Paul Martin's short stint as a minority Prime Minister. Under Chrétien, he was the minister responsible for national unity, where he did an excellent job. Dion, who surgically picked apart the separatist arguments in Quebec with his open letters, would apply the same intellectual torture to tory policies while in opposition, and would bring the federalist vote back in line in Quebec, knocking the tories back out of that province and putting the Liberals back to the Speaker's right.
Last night, my wife and I drove the hour and a bit to London, Ontario for a locally organised all-candidates debate. It was my first time seeing any of the nine candidates in person, and it was definitely a worthwhile experience.
On the way we were running a bit behind schedule and stopped at the service station at Beachville for a quick bite to eat. We pulled into a parking spot, next to a sedan with two people inside. The car pulled out, then pulled right back in, evidently deciding eating dinner in their car was safer when not actually moving. I am fairly certain that the passenger in the car was Martha Hall Findlay. In her opening statements she mentioned the 22,000 km figure for her bus again, and I assume that since that was the number in both the Quebec and BC debates, and seeing as I am pretty sure I saw her in a sedan, she has not been driving it much lately.
The first two candidates I saw venture into the room were Ken Dryden and Bob Rae. Television has a remarkable way of making everyone appear to be the same size, but, I was surprised to note, Ken Dryden is a giant man, and Bob Rae.. is not. All the candidates looked more or less like I expected, but seeing them in person rather than on TV they look a little different somehow.
The debate got under way at around 19:00. Three riding association presidents stood up at the mike together to welcome us and start off the debate. They made reference to the presence of all the candidates, noting it would be the last all-candidate event before Delegate Selection Meetings. I looked around the stage, noting: Hedy Fry - Joe Volpe - Scott Brison - empty podium - Stéphane Dion - Bob Rae - Michael Ignatieff - Ken Dryden - Martha Hall Findlay. I wondered if anyone would explain why there were only eight people at the nine podiums if everyone was here. Had Gerard Kennedy dropped out in the preceding hours?
The opening statements began. Just as Scott Brison was about to start speaking, Gerard Kennedy entered the room and quietly ran up to his podium, causing the moderator to re-explain to the audience for Kennedy's benefit the signals for when each speaker would be out of time.
Most of what the candidates had to say is what the candidates normally have to say. A few things stood out for me. I did not take any notes, so this is them in the order that I remember them:
On the topic of Maher Arar and security certificates, Michael Ignatieff asserted that we should abolish security certificates, something I agree with completely. If people have broken a law, charge them, in a closed court if needed, but charge them. Dion noted on the same question that he was surprised at how obvious many of the report recommendations were, citing one that said the RCMP should have annual reports on the human rights conditions in other countries.
In their answers about the war in Afghanistan, Brison and Ignatieff were clearly on the stick-it-out side, while the rest were on the side of not staying there forever. Kennedy said we should make NATO do it right or get out, Dion stated that we must rebuild the country as was done with the Marshal plan, though Ignatieff countered that we need security before we can rebuild. It is a bit of a catch 22, I think. We will not have security until we rebuild, and we can not rebuild until there is security. Perhaps we would get somewhere if we just go ahead and rebuild.
Still on Afghanistan, there was discussion of how to wean the Afghani economy off opium. Martha Hall Findlay pointed out the hypocracy of our position, noting that the market for opium is largely in the West, and citing the lack of profitable alternatives for Afghani farmers.
After a 90 second break, the debate briefly shifted to a format where, instead of each candidate answering each question in sequence for one minute each, the candidates were given 30 seconds and only three were selected to answer the questions, chosen at random.
One of the questions in this format was on renewing Liberal party fund-raising. Naturally, the randomly selected candidates to answer that question included Joe Volpe and Bob Rae, the most curious fund-raiser and the most successful fund-raiser in the campaign combined. Volpe tried to make a joke of his answer, but it fell flat. We should increase our popular vote, he said, so that we get a bigger subsidy from Elections Canada.
Scott Brison had a lot of zingers and can be very funny, though being funny does not necessarily make someone a good leader. Among my favourites were his comments that he would address Quebec's lack of inclusion in the constitution in his second term as Prime Minister, and later, that he was born a Liberal but only came out of the closet recently.
Sticking with the constitution for a moment, Findlay and Dion's responses to how to rectify Quebec's absence from the Canadian constitution were apt, amounting to "don't we have more important things to do?" I couldn't agree more: reopening the constitutional debates plays right into the hands of the Bloc and accomplishes nothing whatsoever.
Bob Rae poked fun at his own history as an NDP premier on at least two occasions, once mentioning a mysteriously appearing Trillium Drug Program that showed up in Ontario.... in 1994, and later commenting that multiple terms is something he knows little about.
On health care, predictably all the candidates angled toward a single-payer system. Martha Hall Findlay made reference to the "elephant in the room" of the private sector's role, suggesting competition within the system wasn't a bad thing. There is definitely a role for the private sector in health care, as she noted in her comments. General Practitioners, for example, have long been publicly funded private practices. But encouraging competition within the health care system has its risks. I have a photo worth a thousand words to say on that particular topic, as a caution. This photo is of a billboard in Utica, New York which I took on December 30th, 2005:
Well, that's about it for the content. Most of what was said has been said by all sides many times before. The debate was aired on Rogers TV locally, but I have no idea whether it will ever be viewable by a wider audience.
Having now seen all the candidates in person rather than on TV, I'd like to give my impression of each, from left to right:
Hedy Fry has a lot of energy. She says she grew up poor and her perspective on the world is shaped by that and her pursuit of an education to get out of poverty. She wants to get everyone to learn French starting in elementary school. Personally, I don't see the point. I think it should be encouraged for all citizens to learn a second language from an early age, with French being an available option. But in spite of official bilingualism, there are many people in many places who will only learn to dislike French if forced to learn it as it will have no use whatsoever in their lives.
Joe Volpe's candidacy was defined early on by a fund-raising issue in which he accepted money from people too young to be members of the party, and from several members of a corporate family. While he is not a uninteresting speaker, it has tainted everything he does and says. Even if he makes a strong point, there is no enthusiastic reaction, only polite applause.
Scott Brison has a constant smile. He looses off one-liners constantly, keeping his audience smiling as well, but I'm not entirely sure what it is he has to offer based on what he says. He quit the PC party when the Reform party absorbed it to join the Liberals and he is clearly on the right side of the party.
Gerard Kennedy was late. I consider it disrespectful of him to have been late. It is not that hard to arrive at a commitment on time, especially a major commitment. Less popular candidates with smaller budgets from further away, more popular well-funded candidates with busy schedules, and everyone in between were able to show up on time. Why couldn't Kennedy? If he had arrived two minutes later, he would have missed his opening statement altogether. Aside from that, he strikes me as young and conceited: he knows what is right because he's been a provincial cabinet minister. I would like to see how he handles a federal cabinet before I would be willing to trust the leadership to him.
Stéphane Dion is a constant surprise. He waits, quietly nodding in agreement or shaking his head in disagreement as others speak, pensively waiting for his chance. Watching him, you will expect a quiet, diplomatic response. When he gets his chance, he comes out swinging and his energy and ideas bubble over. Popular ideas are irrelevant, his ideas are based more on reason than on polls. It is what leadership is meant to be. Wanting to get home before it was seriously late, I took the opportunity to shake his hand quickly and tell him I was proud to support him.
Bob Rae is a crowd pleaser. He knows what to say to keep his audience happy and in agreement. He's an experienced if not wholly successful politician, and it's evident. He has recently entered some hot water in the blogosphere for donating money to the NDP in this year's election. It's a bit of a strange situation and I'm not sure what to make of it or his candidacy in light of it. "Liberal PM donates to opposition campaign" is not really our ideal future headline. On the other hand, he has the possibility of picking up both the Liberal vote and the NDP vote. There is a bit of a void on the left in this country at the moment, and he does have a chance of bringing some of it in.
Michael Ignatieff is a professor. His ideas are clearly thought out and different from the status quo. Many of them are also different from how I and many other Liberals see the country and the world. I would really like him to stick around for a while and get to know the current rather than the 1968 Liberal party a bit better.
Ken Dryden showed a lot of passion in the debate, I found, but lacked a lot of substance when speaking off the cuff. His opening and closing statements were read, the only one of the candidates to do so. I think he has a lot of good ideas, but simply has trouble really expressing them clearly. His popularity among Canadians is likely more related to his name recognition than any awareness of his campaign... but at election time, that counts for a lot.
Martha Hall Findlay is intelligent, articulate, and a great asset to the party. I hope she finally gets into parliament and demonstrates that these features won't disappear into the ether of Ottawa, and then takes another more serious stab at this next time around.
Lastly, I note that six of the nine candidates wear glasses. What is remarkable to me is that any of them still even have a sense of sight. At the end of the debate, I looked back toward the lighting pointed at the stage and noted no fewer than four very bright lights pointed straight at the candidates' faces. If politicians seem to see things a little spottedly, I can understand why!
Last ballot scenarios: Ignatieff the... kingmaker?
I have been pondering Michael Igantieff's leadership bid and his chances at the convention in December, and have a slightly different scenario from the norm to propose: the last ballot will be between Stéphane Dion and Bob Rae.
A divisive "anybody but Iggy" movement at the convention must be avoided. Perpetuating years of internal party rifts with a wounding anybody-but campaign is not good for the party, but I fear that such a movement is already present in the race. This polarising effect means that Michael Ignatieff's support is, to me, both very strong and very stable. The people who would support him are already supporting him. Put together with his lack of political experience, he risks not knowing how to pursue the dark side of a convention where horse trading inevitably takes place, most blatantly seen with David Orchard's contract with Peter MacKay to not do what Peter MacKay went ahead and did anyway. The result is that I see very little room for growth for Ignatieff at the convention. If he does not have a strong first ballot showing, his subsequent ballot support may also be weak, giving the momentum to others.
Maurizio Bevilacqua and Carolyn Bennett's moves to the Bob Rae camp strike me two ways. First, they show Bob Rae's purely political know-how. Getting the support of two early drop-outs from the race is a bit of a coup for him, and suffice it to say that neither of them are likely to have done so without some kind of not readily apparent incentive. Second, both candidates likely wanted to support someone who is Not Ignatieff, or they would have supported him.
If I had to guess, I would say that with most of the candidates being from Ontario, most of their support will go to the strongest Ontario candidate. As much as his campaign would like to believe it is the case, I suspect that the strongest Ontario candidate at the convention will not be Gerard Kennedy, but Bob Rae. I don't believe his record as premier will remain a factor when push comes to shove.
As the convention goes through several ballots, I foresee Dion and Rae being the recipients of virtually all the orphaned delegates. At the second to last ballot, Dion, Rae, and Ignatieff will be left with around 1/3 support each, meaning there will be three possibilities for the final ballot: Ignatieff-Rae, Ignatieff-Dion, or Dion-Rae. In the latter case, which would only happen if Ignatieff accumulates absolutely no additional support, he would have to choose between Rae and Dion. In all these cases I see one of Dion or Rae winning. Between either and Ignatieff, the one to leave the ballot of Rae and Dion will support the other, and in the case of Rae-Dion, well, obviously one has to win.
I do not believe Michael Ignatieff has considered the possibility that he could lose this race and I do not have any idea which way he would go on a final ballot if this scenario were to unfold, nor do I think he yet knows himself. The irony of the situation though would be that the person whose campaign was marked by an anybody-but campaign would end up being the kingmaker, selecting the leader for the party Harper (accidentally) called Canada's "next" government in question period today.
They're back! The first question period of the fall session of parliament took place this afternoon and was even somewhat interesting.
It started with a moment of silence for the victim of the Dawson college shooting and ended with a moment of silence for the latest deaths in Afghanistan, followed by half an hour of tributes to Benoit Sauvageau, an MP killed in a car accident earlier this year, and a third moment of silence. In the interim, here are some of the things that were said and my immediate reaction:
Bill Graham's first question of the session was why Stephen Harper believes now is not the time to talk about the government's pursuit of the removal of the long gun registry. Harper's answer was that his thoughts are with the family and that we should have mandatory minimum sentences for firearm-related offences, though he failed to show how that would have proven beneficial in this recent case. Harper said in response to the English version of the question that the incident at Dawson proves that our gun laws don't work. He takes no pleasure, he said, in saying 'I told you so' over the uselessness of the gun registry. The exchange continued with Graham insisting that we should use all available tools, and with Harper responding that the gun registry was a wasted decade. What we need, he said, is to reduce the possibility of crime.
The gun registry came up several more times with Lucienne Robillard, Raymonde Folco, and Marlene Jennings pressing the Tories on the issue. Jennings noted that the gun lobby contributed $133,000 to the Tory campaign in the last election, asking if the Tory's reluctance to keep the registry is related to a debt owed to the lobby. Stockwell Day noted that tax payers have contributed over a billion dollars to the existing system and that it remains inefficient. Day also made note of the pending addition of 3,500 more police in the country.
Day's responses to questions about the gun registry were a bit confusing. One answer he gave suggested that all aspects of the gun registry would be kept, but not the gun registry itself. I note here that he never once said the gun registry is ineffective or does not work, only that it is inefficient, which Jennings contradicted noting that even the Auditor General said inefficiency was no longer an issue in the last couple of years. He also noted that the current database would continue to be available to the police. I'm sure that a database that is no longer being maintained will be tremendously useful to the police.
Predictably, there were a number of questions over the war in Afghanistan. The government, apparently, is sending an additional 200 soldiers to Afghanistan. Asked why, Gordon O'Connor, minister of defence, replied that the military says they need more infantry, armour, and engineers to complete their mission. Not to draw more parallels than are needed, but the US military in Viet Nam also said they needed more troops... and more... and more... resulting in a draft and ultimately 500,000 soldiers in the war. And we all know how well that one turned out.
O'Connor commented that only the Taliban and the NDP want us out of Afghanistan, though I challenge him to answer the real questions that were asked during question period: what are we doing besides fighting? Keith Martin asked how many people we have working in construction in Afghanistan, and asked how many clinics and schools we have built in the country. The evasive answer from the government side didn't provide any kind of numbers for what has been accomplished, but suggested a bit clumsily that there were three teams of 90-113 people doing... something.
The last major set of questions in today's question period was perhaps the most telling of the real problems with our new government.
Several opposition MPs asked about how the conservatives managed to get 30 party hacks into lobbying roles, collecting 327 lobbying contracts in the space of only seven months, and how this jibes with the Conservative party's Accountability Act. Former Harris cabinet minister John Baird, now the President of the Treasury Board's answers amounted to: the liberal senate is holding it up; I dare the liberals to make it retroactive. It sounds like a bluff to me. The accountability act should, perhaps, be amended to be retroactive - with stiff penalties - to January 23rd. But first, liberals, don't forget to amend it so that party members get to Montreal this fall.
I would like to understand first why it is that the new government believes that gun control is a waste of money. More police does not necessarily equate to less crime. The United States have gobs and gobs of police, but their murder rate is still substantially higher than ours per capita and the country has high crime rates over all. An infinite number of improperly equipped police will not do anything to curtail crime, only every possible tool available will help.
The second major item I don't understand from our government is what our mission in Afghanistan really is. We've lost a lot of soldiers; we are likely to lose a lot more. There is no clear exit strategy. There is no evidence of progress after nearly five years at war in the country. Most of the progress was made in the first few weeks of the war, when various parts of the country were "liberated" from the Taliban and people started going to school and a passable infrastructure was created, allowing a vote. Since then, it has just turned into a protracted guerrilla war with no end in sight and no serious effort to rebuild the country. If the allies had as many soldiers in Afghanistan as there had been US soldiers in Vietnam, around half a million, there probably would still not be any progress if their role was only military. Two hundred additional soldiers certainly won't make a bit of difference, except to provide additional targets for local guerrillas. A half million soldiers, half of which are defending the other half while they completely rebuild the country's national infrastructure ala Marshall plan might get somewhere, but the pittance of a military force in the country is not likely to accomplish much of anything in the short, or in the long run. I've been over this before, I suppose. I just find it endlessly frustrating that our country is divided over a war that no-one is really quite sure how to end.
Analysis of the September 10th, 2006 Liberal leadership debate
I was travelling over the weekend and did not get back on time to see the debate, but caught the evening rerun on CPAC. This third formal leadership debate saw some serious structural improvements over previous ones, not least of which was the mostly unilingual format.
As one of those Canadians who does actually speak both languages, it can be frustrating to listen to translators translating English speakers' poor French back to English or vice versa, and taking what is said out of the original voice. Not having to chase speakers back and forth between primary and secondary audio was a very welcome change. That said, here's my analysis of the performance of most of the candidates from yesterday's debate.
The debate was formally bilingual. The moderator asked each question in both French and English, so those listening to the simultaneous translator could get two versions of the same question, and candidates were free to pick a language in their statements and debates. In that vein, I enjoyed Scott Brison's comment that while he has a maritime accent in French, he also has one in English. Stéphane Dion stated that a leader should be fluent in both languages and made a point of switching between them, causing me to lunge for the SAP button on my remote, and Martha Hall Findlay showed herself to be the only one to understand the real root purpose of bilingualism.
What's that, you say? Well, Findlay was the only candidate who, instead of bumbling along in a language she could not speak properly, chose the message over the form. The true value of having a bilingual country isn't necessarily, in my view, to have everyone speak both languages. It's to have everyone speak their language, whichever it is, and have their message heard. When Findlay found herself unable to say something as clearly as she'd like to in French, she simply switched to English. To me, that's perfectly acceptable. If there was a unilingual French candidate, I would expect them to do the same the other way in the interests of getting their message across. Ideally, of course, all our leaders would be fluently bilingual, as Dion is, but fundamentally, the message is more important than the form. When Carolyn Bennett stands up and struggles hard to construct useful sentences, misusing words left and right, it detracts from what she is trying to say. I suspect that what she has to say is wonderfully intelligent and useful in explaining her vision for our country. If I could figure out what it was she was saying I'd tell you for sure.
Findlay also tipped her hand during the debate that her mission was more about becoming known than actually winning the leadership, noting that when she joined the race she was an unknown and now she's the "daring choice". She has secured her place in the political future of the party and the country, I am sure.
The format of the debate, abolishing the absurd paired questions and the two sections, was a huge improvement over the earlier attempts. This debate was actually interesting to watch, and easy to follow. The match-ups were great, leading to some interesting discussions, though I didn't take any notes about specific things said that I might want to discuss here.
Gerard Kennedy did not come across as a particularly good debater. He waits in the wings, not interjecting usefully, constantly waiting for his opportunities instead of taking them. He does not appear comfortable debating, and that does not bode well for an election race. When the liberal leader, Harper, Layton, and Duceppe are going at it in the next federal election, the leader will have to be adept at getting his message across.
It is also worth noting that Kennedy's applause when he stood up for his opening remarks was unrivalled for its sparsity, which I found surprising. Kennedy kind of reminds me of another ostensibly attractive provincial minister from a have province who took over a federal opposition party -- before, as a manner of speaking, falling off his sea-doo into a south-flowing Niagara Falls.
Bob Rae tried to score some points in various and subtle ways. He commented at one point that he would win this race -- and if not, he'd still be there fighting for the party. I'm sure Ignatieff felt that one on his cheek. Rae is impressive in his relaxed comfort in the debate format and his ability to stick to his point.
The debate between Carolyn Bennett, Hedy Fry, and Ken Dryden was uninspiring at best. Dryden and Bennett both have a nervous vibration in their voices, especially when speaking French, and so even if what they say is important, they sound tense, nervous, and diffident. That's fine in debating clubs, but when running for the leadership of the party, it would be very useful to just relax and speak with confidence.
I'll refrain from commenting too much on Dion's performance except to say he's still far and away my first choice. He's the only one who knows the answer to all the key questions: why he is running, what he plans to do as leader, and how to go about it. He's charismatic, he's bilingual, and he deserves to win this race. While other candidates debate whether it is more important to express their message clearly -- or in French, Dion has no such concern. His message is clear in whichever language he is speaking.
Michael Ignatieff, for his part, seems to be taking heed of all the criticism floating around. There were no anticipatory hypotheticals yesterday. He managed to keep his vocabulary to the understandable and his misstatements out. Perhaps it was a function of not speaking much English during the debate. Also, I find that he goes out of his way to compliment other candidates on their work and their very existence, to the point of sometimes looking a bit silly.
Except for Volpe's pointless appearance at the debate, I'd say it went very well yesterday as far as debates go. It was a little more engaging than the previous two debates and remained mostly quite positive. My preferential standings for the candidates is unchanged except for the disappearance of Bevilacqua from June 17th:
Martha Hall Findlay
Dryden is where he is here because I believe that a soft spoken leader who stands for what I believe in is better and more important than a well spoken leader who does not.
I would also like to express the hope that the bottom three candidates, at least, on this list drop out of the race before the next debate, but I not so naive as to believe any of them will.
Ignatieff says he'll run for parliament if he wins the leadership
Michael Ignatieff says he will probably run in the next election if he wins the leadership of the Liberal party.
According to this article by Linda Diebel at the Star, Ignatieff says whether or not he runs in the next election will depend on who is leader. He also says that he is "quite confident" that he will win the leadership.
Obviously he thinks he would make the best leader, otherwise he wouldn't be running. Any leadership candidate who does not believe they are the best person for the job doesn't stand much of a chance when they take a run at it. It is probable also that he would not wish to run in a Liberal party run by someone who he considers inferior to himself. We can therefore assume that he has no intention of running in the election if anyone other than himself is leader, though we can only guess as to whether or not he intends to run if he does win. He may, after all, consider himself to be an inadequate leader under which to run.
Asked if he plans to re-run in his own riding, Ignatieff says, according to the article: "I'd like to serve my constituents well, but you're asking me an anticipatory hypothetical about the situation that prevails on the 3rd or 4th of December."
If Ignatieff would seriously like to be leader, he would be well advised to put in some more time on the Hill, and to at least sound like that is where he wants to be. I would be surprised if he were to be left out of cabinet in a future Grit government. A little experience on the governing side of the house demonstrating his abilities, how he handles controversies and debates, and proving himself to be a leader would go a long ways toward boosting support for a future leadership bid. Returning to academia following a defeat would only confirm the misgivings I have about his commitment to leadership and his competency as a leader. Mainly I am concerned that he does not understand politics within the Canadian frame of reference -- and that he will move on to other challenges if he loses.
If his inclination is to cut and run when suffering a setback, how would he handle a defeat in the Commons?
A mass mailing went out today to all Liberal party members, something done by many of the candidates over the course of the campaign. Unlike the others though, this one is advertising against a candidate rather than for one, promoting a site called Stop Iggy. While I do not wish to see Ignatieff win the leadership, I believe this is about the worst thing his opponents can do.
The letter warns: "We are a group of longtime active members of the Liberal Party of Canada who are disturbed about Michael Ignatieff's bid for the leadership of our party. A self-styled left-of-center Liberal, Michael Ignatieff is anything but. He supports both the war in Iraq and Missile Defence/Weaponization of Space, is an apologist for torture, and is against the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, he has suggested that he would privatize Medicare. Do we want a leader who is similar to Stephen Harper in so many ways?" It goes on to say he could actually be elected and implores Liberals to carefully consider their votes.
My view of Ignatieff is fairly simple: he sees Canadian politics through an American prism, where liberal is a swear word and supporting soldiers is not distinguished from supporting the wars they are fighting, where there is a President, but there is no clear leader of the opposition. If he loses the leadership, I fully expect him to return to academia and abandon his political career until his next opportunity. I see him as running for "President" in Canada, as opposed to for the leadership of the Liberal party or for leadership of, at least for the moment, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
I do not, however, believe that an Ignatieff victory would cause Canada to disappear in a puff of red, white, and blue smoke, or that his victory will end the Liberal party. It has endured leaders like Ignatieff before, namely in the form of John Turner and Paul Martin, and it can again. As such, I think the StopIggy approach is bad.
The StopIggy approach is, ironically, playing in the game Ignatieff is more used to. Making it a negative campaign based on attacks rather than the promotion of another's policy and merits puts us in a race closer in nature to American primaries than to a party leadership race ostensibly based on policies and principles. At the end of the day, all the leadership candidates have to stand up on stage, shake hands, and work together to get the Liberal party back on the other side of the Commons, with whoever won being responsible for guiding the rest of the candidates and the rest of the party. The new leader is highly influential in the direction of the party, but is not all-powerful and would be hard pressed to move the party in a direction that it does not wish to go.
If Shawn Jackson, the registrant of StopIggy.com, and others who believe Ignatieff should not be leader truly believe that he should not be the leader, they should pick one of the other candidates who they do believe in and back them passionately, positively, and proactively.
It is not even necessary to support a top-tier candidate like Dion, Rae, or Kennedy. In fact, it might even be better to support a smaller-time candidate so that you can influence that candidate's direction when it is time for them to support another at the convention. If you believe one of the other candidates would be better than Ignatieff, see to it that your choice wins, rather than seeing to it that Ignatieff loses. When you force one candidate to lose rather than another to win, nobody wins, and the Liberals remain to the speaker's left.
Think of it this way: is Joe Volpe really a better choice than Michael Ignatieff?
Excluding non-renewable resources from equalisation is patently absurd
Alberta's Ralph Klein is again pushing for non-renewable resources to be kept out of Canada's equalisation formula. The notion that because a resource is non-renewable, it should not be included in equalisation, is ridiculous.
Let's examine the issue of equalisation right from its legal roots. Article 3 of the Canadian constitution reads, in whole:
PART III EQUALIZATION AND REGIONAL DISPARITIES
Commitment to promote equal opportunities
36. (1) Without altering the legislative authority of Parliament or of the provincial legislatures, or the rights of any of them with respect to the exercise of their legislative authority, Parliament and the legislatures, together with the government of Canada and the provincial governments, are committed to
(a) promoting equal opportunities for the well-being of Canadians;
(b) furthering economic development to reduce disparity in opportunities; and
(c) providing essential public services of reasonable quality to all Canadians.
Commitment respecting public services
(2) Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.
I see no room for exceptions in this clause of our constitution. Equalisation must be provided to put all provincial governments on an even keel. When one government has more revenue than another, and can offer better services than another, it is that province's duty to share with the others, and the federal government's duty to enforce this sharing.
Alberta, particularly, is currently in an oil-induced economic boom on a massive scale. The economy is so strong that even Tim Horton's is being forced to pay people real wages. But the economy is built on top of the tarsands, and the tarsands are only seriously viable because the price of oil is extraordinarily high, hovering around $70 per barrel.
Tarsands require two barrels of oil and produce around 240 kilograms of greenhouse gasses for every three barrels of synthetic crude produced. Even with upwards of 1.5 trillion barrels of synthetic crude theoretically available, it represents a net gain of only 500 billion barrels over the amount needed to extract it. The remaining trillion barrels only replaces the oil that was used to produce those 500 billion barrels. That is assuming the ratio does not further deteriorate as development continues, and that all 1.5 trillion barrels of synthetic crude can be extracted from the tarsands.
The bigger the boom, the bigger the bust.
If the price of oil were to fall back to pre-Bush levels of $20-$25 a barrel, or the ratio of oil used to oil extracted in the tar sands approaches 1-to-1, Alberta would likely return to the economic devastation that it experienced in the mid-1980s, after the prices fell from the last energy crisis. This is part of Klein's argument against contributing oil revenues to equalisation, which doesn't make much sense as an argument.
Were Alberta's economy to be in the hole, Alberta would be screaming for equalisation payments from the federal government and demanding other provinces which have their own natural resources contribute to the program. If Alberta continues to refuse to contribute while their economy is the best in the country, they should not expect much when their economy does eventually, inevitably, tank.
Contributing revenues from non-renewable resources to the equalisation program now can only help strengthen the economies of other provinces, and when Alberta's economy does collapse, the other provinces who have benefited from this wealth will be both more inclined and more able to contribute back to its government services, softening the blow.
When Alberta sends $400 to every citizen of the province as an oil revenue bonus, pays off its entire provincial debt, and still has more revenue than it knows what to do with, and then spits in the face of the rest of Canada, "western alienation", as they so happily flaunt, is increased. Except it is the west that is alienating, not the west that is being alienated.
Non-renewable natural resources that power an economy must be included in any formula that accurately counts provincial government revenues. The elevated salaries and costs of the resulting economy must also be counted in the formula. There is no logic in not doing so. Resources being non-renewable does not mean that they do not have an effect on the economy, as is the implication of refusing to contribute.
The reality is that the federal government decides who contributes how much to who for equalisation. Alberta can merely posture and argue its position, but at the end of the day, it is a decision made in Ottawa. When the premiers all get together to make an agreement on equalisation, even if they manage, it is merely a recommendation to the federal government. There is nothing the provincial governments can do, from a legal standpoint, to challenge the federal government's position on equalisation.
I therefore call upon the federal government to calculate equalisation every year, as it does our income tax, and include all revenues from all provinces, no matter what their revenue sources, as well as the costs of providing public services in all provinces. This would be in line with both our constitution, and logical reason.
A common criticism I have seen of Stéphane Dion in blog comments, for months now, is that he is from Quebec, that we shouldn't have yet another Quebec leader. I don't believe it is fair to judge a leader based on previous leaders, only on their own merits. But for the sake of argument, because I am tired of reading criticism of Dion purely because he is from Quebec, let's take a look at the history of Prime Ministers over the last 40 years and compare where they are from to their success as Prime Minister.
In chronological order of the Prime Ministers since Pearson came to office, as gleaned from wikipedia:
Lester B. Pearson
Lester B. Pearson
By province of birth:
Prince Edward Island
The territories (all)
By this table we can see that a mere one-third of recent Prime Ministers have actually come from Quebec. The same number are from Ontario.
Of the last 14 parliaments, 8 were majorities and 6 were minorities.
Of those 6 minorities, one was won by a Quebec-born leader, one by an Alberta-born leader, and four by Ontario-born leaders.
Of the 8 majorities, all 8 were won by Quebec-born leaders.
If we go by province of representation instead of by province of birth, Ontario loses two prime ministers, each representing one minority, one to each of Alberta and Quebec. By representation, Quebec still represents fewer than one half of recent Prime Ministers.
By any measure, Quebeckers - whether English or French, Liberal or Conserative - have been the most successful Prime Ministers in the last 40 years. We have had 9 prime ministers, but not one single one from outside of Quebec has won a majority government in recent history.
If you do not believe Stéphane Dion is the best candidate for leader of the Liberal party, that's fine with me. I like a lot of the candidates, too. I prefer Dion, but I won't begrudge others' opinions of who is the best man for the job. Say why you prefer your candidate. Say what it is about Dion that you would like to see improved. Discuss policy ideas and alternatives. But don't say that there have been too many Prime Ministers from Quebec and it's time for another province to take a turn. It is not a fair argument: Quebeckers have simply won more elections as leaders, they have not had more leaders.
This leadership race should be about ideas, policies, and the future, not about where leaders are from in relation to previous leaders.
I watched the National's At Issue panel last night and have read a number of blog entries today with their own answers to Peter Mansbridge's questions. Some of my answers are a bit different from most, so here goes...
Best Political Play
Paul Martin stepping down immediately as the leader of the Liberal party on election night as soon as the defeat was obvious, in spite of his own continued ambition, was the single greatest act of leadership of his time as leader. It will allow the Liberal party to heal its wounds and get back on its feet much faster and more successfully than if he had stayed on for any length of time. It provides the party with its first opportunity since Pierre Trudeau to elect as its leader someone other than the second place finisher from the previous race and makes it more difficult for the current government to know who it will be up against in the future.
Martin avoided making the mistake that John Turner made by staying around and facilitating Mulroney's tenure in office. His resignation has also served to reduce Stephen Harper's ability to hold a snap election in his first few months in office due to the Canadian tradition of not holding elections during leadership races (though the day after they're over seems to be fair game). Whether this remains the case has yet to be seen, but it will at least make it more difficult.
Worst Political Play
The Conservative party went to the governing side of the house after having spent years criticising the Liberal party for its lack of any plan for the environment and achieving our Kyoto targets. Once there, they went to the international community and announced that Canada would not honour its Kyoto commitments. Further, the Conservative government, after years of criticism, has no plan of its own. At all. They have been talking for months of a "made in Canada" plan for enviornmental change but have so far announced no such plan, saying they will have one... eventually.
A google search for "Canada Kyoto targets" yields several matches at "climatechange.gc.ca", a Government of Canada website. All of these documents found now return the ubiquitous "404 not found" error.
While this may not affect the Conservative party in the short term, it is likely the worst political play for both the Conservative party and for Canada at large for a long time to come, as we will continue to destroy our environment, and foreign countries may no longer take us at our word when we sign accords.
Most Significant Political Moment
The most significant political moment of the last 'academic' year was the Tories winning the January 23rd election.
This event was highly significant because, firstly, it signalled the impending end of the Bloc Quebecois as a political force in Ottawa. The party now in power shares their agenda of decentralisation and takes the teeth out of their arguments about any federal government shortcomings as far as providing Quebec with what it wants. The Bloc knows this, and will likely fight as hard as it can to avoid any election for as long as it can, while being careful to look like the Conservatives are the evil, the bad, the fédéral.
Secondly, after running a blunder-free campaign in the face of a suboptimal Liberal campaign, the Tories were only able to muster a net gain of a mere 26 seats in the commons, after having the inverse scenario at the previous election. The Liberals dropped by 32 seats, and the Bloc dropped by three, with most of the remaining gain going, interestingly, to the New Democratic Party.
Stéphane Dion, to me, is the obvious pick here. Some may accuse me of bias because I am supporting his leadership campaign, but there is a cause-and-effect problem here. I am supporting his campaign because I think he is the obvious pick in this category (and others), not the other way around.
My feeling about Dion is that with Chrétien and Martin gone, and a leadership race in which he can participate now here, his shackles are off. Speaking about the environment in a meaningful way under Martin is only slightly more effective than doing so under Harper. One of Martin's first acts as Prime Minister was to axe $700M of capital funding to Via Rail which would have served to expand and improve our ever-environmentally-important national passenger rail network. Under that kind of faux leadership, an environmentalist and academic like Dion can only sit and wait for his chance. He has it now, and people are being surprised left and right by his charismatic and spirited campaign.
Don Newman still doesn't mention his name when talking about the 'perceived frontrunners' on Politics, but let me assure you that he is.
My pick for the most overrated politician of the last year is astronaut Marc Garneau. He was brought in as a star candidate on the West Island of Montreal, likely intended to bring in the huge space cadet vote, and fizzled, commenting to a reporter after his election defeat something along the lines of, "I'm unemployed."
Ralph Klein's successor as premier of Alberta will have big shoes to fill and a plateful of non-obvious problems. The province has had over three decades of Tory rule and is in the midst of the largest localised economic bubble in Canadian history. As the population of the province grows by leaps and bounds and its budget surplus surpasses the budget deficits of the rest of the provinces combined, the new premier of Alberta will have to tread very carefully both within the province and outside of it.
For the first time in the course of this boom, the Prime Minister is from Alberta and not from central Canada. Having an Alberta Prime Minister means the standard arguments of "western alienation" when the central government inevitably has to do something about the unbalance between Alberta and the rest of the country won't work. The West is in charge now, and the relationship between Alberta and Ottawa is going to get a whole lot more complicated.
When is the next election and how does Stephen Harper orchestrate it?
I would be very surprised if the next election takes place next spring. I predict that Harper will try to bring down his own government this fall, after delegate selection for the Liberal leadership convention, and before it takes place in an unexpected move. Whether he succeeds will have more to do with the Bloc than anyone else, but he may succeed in bringing his own government down in spite of them.
In a cheeky move, I expect that Harper will attempt to use the issue of fixed election dates as a "confidence motion" to bring down the government ahead of its time.
I have a problem with war. All war. Sometimes, though, it is necessary for a generation to be sacrificed in the name of a cause. My question: is Afghanistan one of these?
I've implied in previous posts that I disagree with our role in Afghanistan. I'd like to clarify this a bit.
In World War 2, Canada joined its allies when they faced imminent invasion. It wasn't a case of a perceived but false threat, it wasn't about defending another country's internal human rights, it was about defending our allies from invasion, pure and simple.
Things like the Holocaust didn't figure into the decision in 1939. It was not a "just" war in that sense. We, as a country, did not know what was happening, and even contributed to it with our own refusal to take in refugees, never mind the fact that we actually interned Canadian people of "enemy" heritage in camps right here, in Canada.
So who got invaded in 2001?
Well, the US did. The official report says 19 people, mostly from Saudi Arabia, flew four planes into 3 buildings and a field on September 11th, 2001, killing three thousand people including Chris Carstanjen, a friend in the IT department at my high school who was on UA 175 bound for a motorcycle show in California.
As a result, the US, with the backing of the United Nations, invaded the already war-torn country of Afghanistan, ostensibly to catch Osama Bin Laden, a CIA-trained international "terrorist" who had fought on the West's side against the Soviet invasion of, well, Afghanistan, because he was alleged to have orchestrated this attack on America.
After running him on 'Afghanistan's Most Wanted' for a few Saturday nights, they decided he wasn't going to be caught and all of a sudden, it became a "just" war about defeating the evil Taliban who follow a rather extreme view of Islamic law and tradition.
So Canada joined in this "just" war.
As Scott Brison said the other night, millions of people who couldn't go to school, many of them young women previously not permitted to be educated, are now there.
The regime has been toppled and now we fight skirmish battles. Our soldiers are dying, and our soldiers are killing. It's still a war.
Is it a "just" war?
It's awfully subjective. Yes, some people's lives are better, in some cases much better, because of the US-led and ally-heavy invasion of the country. Some civilians are dying. It's an unfortunate consequence of nearly all wars, but civilians were dying before we arrived, too, executed for such offences as being seen in public with skin visible.
On the face of it, these reasons alone should be enough for us to invade a country and "liberate" it. Though if it is, there are certainly a lot of countries we could justify invading for human rights violations. Canada, for one and two, is no stranger to human rights violations, though at least we have abolished the death penalty for our own people.
We have been in Afghanistan for around four and a half years. We have around 2000 troops there, roughly the number of our soldiers captured at the Battle of Dieppe. The total troops in Afghanistan right now count in at approximately 21,000.
The War in Europe started September 1st, 1939, and ended May 8th, 1945, a span of about five and a half years. For that war, Canada alone had 1.1 million people - around 10% of the population of the country - join up over the course of the war, losing 45,365, from a population about 1/3 of what it is today. If we are to take a "just" war seriously, that is serious.
In Afghanistan, there are fewer troops from all the Allied countries combined than Canada alone lost in the Second World War. In fact, there are fewer Allied troops in Afghanistan than the 35,000 sworn police officers in New York City.
If it is really about being a "just" war, we'd be in Darfur, separating warring sides and preventing massacres.
Is it a "just" war?
Maybe. But if it is, we are certainly not treating it like one.
To turn an invaded country around, we have to do more than hold an election and offer children a chance at going to school. We have to rebuild the infrastructure ourselves and create a sustainable economy not based on the production of heroin. And we need to have enough soldiers there to have a fighting chance of actually accomplishing something in the long term.
After the Second World War, the United States rebuilt Germany and Japan into the economic powerhouses they are today, with the Marshall Plan. It was a massive reconstruction effort aimed at rapidly and effectively rebuilding the countries after years of bloody war.
Neither country has ever gone to war again.
Do I support the war?
No. Not as we're currently fighting it. Either we should do it properly, or not at all.
As we're fighting this war right now, all we are doing is perpetuating a quarter-century old conflict in Afghanistan. If we stay or we leave, it doesn't really matter, the civil war will go on. If after four and a half years the domestic forces haven't strengthened enough to fight for their own cause, who are we to fight for them?
Michael Ignatieff argues that it is a peacekeeping mission, and says we need more of them to avert future Rwandas, an assertion backed by UN Rwanda mission commander, Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire.
I disagree with the first assertion, and agree with the second.
Our war in Afghanistan is not a peacekeeping mission. We have chosen a side. But yes, we should do more peacekeeping missions.
In Afghanistan, we did not avert a Rwanda by invading. Human rights were being violated, but not significantly more than in many countries around the world. The human rights violations had not just begun and were not in the midst of getting more serious.
But in the Darfur region of Sudan, we might. People are being massacred there, by all accounts, and the international community is doing virtually nothing about it.
If we are not really there for the Afghan people and human rights, why are we there?
This article adresses this question at length. We are in Afghanistan, prolonging our mission for one reason and one reason alone: the United States needs us there. We sent our troops to Afghanistan in the first place to free up American troops to go to Iraq, and we are keeping them there to show solidarity with the alpha male of our Allies.
Neither our former nor our current government has ever come straight out and said this. A war under false pretenses is not a war I can support. If the government were to come straight out and say "either we go to war in Afghanistan, or we face more problems in our relationship with the United States," then at least they would be honest, and the question of whether to extend our mission or withdrawn our troops would be seen through an entirely different lens.
In short, I don't believe our war in Afghanistan is justified in the way we like to pretend it is. I don't truly believe that our contribution to the war will serve to bring a lasting peace to Afghanistan. I also don't think we have any strategy figured out about how we plan to turn Afghanistan over to its own people and eventually leave. Our two year extension will inevitably turn into two more, over and over again, until a real strategy is created. And finally, I don't believe our government has been honest about why we are there.
Don't let it be said that because I do not support this war as it stands that I do not support our troops in Afghanistan. Our troops are doing their job as they are asked to by our government, and they are doing an admirable job of it. No army that questions its orders or challenges the reasons for its presence in a battle will maintain the morale and resolve to perform its mission.
In my view, the best way to support our troops is to ensure that what they are fighting for is worth it. To have a national debate on the topic, as we are doing, is the healthiest approach to answering this question.
Analysis of the June 17th Liberal leadership debate
The second of five Liberal leadership debates was much more lively than the first. The debate was in the same format as the one on the 10th, but all the candidates seemed to have noticed the lack of excitement in that last debate and wanted to make things more lively. The result was more English and less French, much to the chagrin of one vocal francophone audience member. Here is how I see the candidates' performance this time around, in order of seating:
Maurizio Bevilacqua: Bevilacqua was quite good at answering all the questions he would have liked to have been asked, with only some influence from the questions that were, in fact, asked.
In his opening statement, Bevilacqua asked if we Liberals have lost our way. No, he says, we know exactly who we are. We also know who Harper is: he speaks about spreading democracy but limits it at home. He says he and Harper are the same age, but generations apart.
Bevilacqua was long on rhetoric, but short on any real ideas or plans.
He described seasonal workers as a misnomer. They are not seasonal workers, he said, they are full time workers with seasonal opportunities. We must create more opportunities.
He dismissed the carbon tax as not being an option.
He debated Hedy Fry in the one-on-one debates. They were given the topic of federal/provincial jurisdictional boundaries to discuss.
He opened by saying that we have to go back to when we inherited a $42B deficit with escalating debt. We got the books in order, invested, and things improved for everyone in Canada. Provinces, he said, benefitted from this federal management.
An improved standard of living, lower taxes, improved productivity, and investment in our universities are areas where he will work, he said, completely missing the topic at hand. The key to economic growth, he went on after Fry addressed interprovincial barriers, is free flow across the country. Foreign investment in Canada is declining, he said, and without capital investment, we will not be able to improve productivity.
Bevilacqua said very little of substance and was unable to answer the questions that were asked. He is trading places with Scott Brison on my list.
Michael Ignatieff: Ignatieff showed slightly more life than he did last week. This week I felt there was somebody home.
Ignatieff says this race is about who has the best chance of defeating Harper. He says the Liberals must defeat Harper's narrative, his story line, a theme Ignatieff used through his opening statement.
He warned that Harper wants to make impossible for future governments to build social structures in Canada as have been done since Laurier. He said he wants to lead a party with a better story.
Ignatieff was the only one of the candidates that I could see who referred to notes during his opening statement.
A couple of little things Ignatieff said bothered me.
Ignatieff made a point on the topic of seasonal workers of applauding Joe Volpe's work on the subject. Personally I think Volpe is damaged goods over his questionable large donation from the entire family of a corporate executive, and his handling thereof, and should not be encouraged to stick around.
The second thing he said that got to me was his apology on behalf of all the candidates for not speaking enough French after an audience member took the whole lot to task for not speaking enough French. Ignatieff should stick to apologising for himself, and let the other candidates answer or not answer as they see fit.
That said, he said some positive things as well.
On the topic of seasonal labourers, he would like to remove the two week eligibility period for collecting employment insurance, and use EI for more apprenticeships and retraining.
He would like to see an investment in researching Alzheimer's, which he says his mother died of and affects some 750,000 people a year in Canada.
On the controversial issue of carbon taxes, he said he does not want to add to our taxes; he would like to reduce them. He wants to use taxes to incite people to pollute less. Pollute less, pay less tax.
I suppose that is just a creative way of saying that pollution should be taxable -- which I have no problem with.
Ignatieff was assigned Ken Dryden as his partner for his one-on-one debate, the question of which was about our national finances and priorities, our tax system, and what our two or three most important fiscal priorities are to improve productivity and our the standard of living.
Ignatieff commented that the tax system is full of buy-the-vote gimmicks from many previous governments and should be simpler. He asked why tax forms are so complicated that they take an accountant to fill them out.
He said that we need to pay down the national debt, warning that the new government will put us back in deficit very quickly.
Post-secondary education needs some serious investment, he said, saying the policy should be: "if you've got the grades, you get to go, the Canadian government guarantees it".
Ignatieff comes across to me as being far more used to lecturing and being listened to than debated and challenged. I still have trouble with the idea of him leading this party.
Scott Brison: Brison said he was proud to be back home in Atlantic Canada, playing to the local audience.
We need a leader who believes in Atlantic Canada, warned Brison, saying he was that leader while asking for support.
To Harper, he said, "we are not defeatists" in Atlantic Canada.
Brison made a point of answering the first two questions in his heavily accented but not bad French.
He said that we need to invest in telecom and transport infrastructure and to work on development for the Maritimes, in answer to a question about EI benefits for seasonal workers.
On the topic of fisheries, he commented that there are more bureaucrats in Ottawa than there are fish in the Rideau canal, suggesting that people in the fishing regions might have better ideas for how to handle fish stocks.
He said that we must use carrots, not sticks, to handle carbon emissions, and offer incentives for consumers.
He said Canada must have a strong foreign policy to defend our interests and promote our values. If Trudeau had not brought us the Charter, he said, he'd probably not be standing there. In Afghanistan, he noted, 5 million girls are now going to school who could not before.
Brison was selected from a lobster trap to debate Joe Volpe and Bob Rae in a three-way debate on the topic of whether Canada's multi-culturalism is a ticking time-bomb or a model of social cohesion.
Citing 750,000 peace-loving Muslims in Canada, Brison said multiculturalism is not in conflict with security, but a complement to it.
He also suggested that we need to work to create an international protocol on the certification of professionals, to eliminate skilled professionals being unable to work in Canada. He said we have free trade in cars and furniture, but not in brains. We should have a knowledge-based economy.
On the development of immigration to Atlantic Canada, Brison stated that we need to find policies to retain people, not just attract them.
Brison's approach to this debate seemed to be well geared toward the Atlantic audience he was directly speaking to. For making more sense than last week and not saying anything dumb about how our foreign policy should be governed by New York Times headlines, and because of Bevilacqua's own performance, he and Bevilacqua are trading places on my list.
Bob Rae: Rae started by stating that we must work for a strong federal government that can act for all Canadians.
He warned that Atlantic Canada is the only region of Canada that lacks a catastrophic drug plan.
Rae categorically says "no" to the idea that EI pay-outs should be based on how much is paid in, which would punish seasonal workers.
He said the plan "is a tory idea, it's a bad idea."
Rae said that it is easy to promise to lower taxes. Tories do this.
For carbon taxes, he wants to know what is meant by them before passing judgement. If a carbon tax will target one industry, province, or region, it is a bad idea, but if it links pollution to tax, it's good. We have to take advantage of the opportunity afforded us by Kyoto, he said.
The UN, he said, is the best chance we have to improve the rule of law in the world. It is in the best traditions of Pearson and Trudeau.
Rae was selected to join Scott Brison and Joe Volpe for the lone three-way debate during the debates section at the end of the leadership forum, left to discuss the topic of multiculturalism in Canada.
Rae noted that the Air India bombing was plotted in Canada, carried out by Canadians, and killed Canadians. We have to recognise the dignity of difference, he said. We must break down festering solitudes between communities, starting in our schools.
After listening to Volpe and Brison go at it for a while, Rae commented "it's nice to get a chance to speak."
He said Canada is the world. We have to break down extremism as we see it around the world and improve integration. We must celebrate our differences and not insist on conformity.
From what I've seen, Rae provides a logical rather than passionate approach to issues in Canada and could well make a good leader. He remains my second choice for leader of the Liberal party.
Stéphane Dion: Dion began his opening statement by wiping his forehead and noting he ought to start with global warming.
Dion's main campaign plank is the addition of a third pillar to fundamental Liberal values: environmental sustainability.
To this end, he noted in his introduction that we are more aware of major storms in the Maritimes and more aware of the need to protect our fish stocks. While fighting a microphone that kept cutting out, he promoted his three-pillars approach and cited his 10 years of federal experience, saying he has practical solutions to offer.
On the topic of seasonal workers and EI, Dion noted that it is not the workers that are seasonal, it's the industries. One quarter of industry in Canada, he noted, is seasonal.
We have pilot projects in progress to improve EI, he said, and they are working well.
On the topic of low income seniors, he said that when he was a minister the proportion of seniors who are low income was reduced from 11% to 6%.
Following a challenge from a member of the audience over the candidates' (lack of) use of French and Ignatieff's apology on behalf of all the candidates, Dion responded that he will answer English questions in English, and French questions in French. I don't think he gained the vote of the plaintiff in so doing, but I don't think he was wrong in any way. As I said last week, what is said is more important than what language it is said in. Content over form.
Dion said he wants to use science to reduce pollution in our waters, noting that Harper cut funding for such projects. Harper, he said, has no vision for the future.
He asked that people stop pretending that the Liberal government did not do anything. We have had a plan since 1995, he said.
Dion described the world being in Montreal together last December to fight climate change as being his best moment.
His worst, he added, is when Harper destroyed all his work last month.
Dion was put up against Gerard Kennedy for their one-on-one debates.
Kennedy spoke of changing the Liberal party's approach to the Maritimes, causing Dion to ask why people pretend that the Liberals have done nothing for the previous 12 years.
We have a strong economy, Dion said, because we have been doing good things. We need to work on resource productivity and bringing together our economy.
Dion said there is a program in Atlantic Canada that has helped secure loans for environmental projects that need funding but the banks refuse to fund. He called it a very good program and expressed a desire to expand it across the country.
Kennedy described the Liberal party as the 'status quo' party and warned Dion that it can't be about what we did before.
Dion retorted that Kennedy had so far failed to express a single original idea.
Dion noted that the government has invested $700 million in economic development in the Maritimes but only $10 million in environmental development.
I believe Dion is the only one of the 11 candidates who truly knows exactly what it is he wants to do as Prime Minister, and how to do it. This makes him the opposite of his predecessor at the head of the party who knew only that he wanted to be the leader, but had no plans or ideas once there.
Dion's passion and ability to respond quickly and intelligently to anything asked only serves to reinforce my continuing support of his leadership.
Martha Hall Findlay: Findlay declared in reasonably good French that it is nice to be in Canada's only officially bilingual city in Canada's only officially bilingual province and to be bilingual. Then she switched to English for the duration of her opening statement.
She implored Liberals to be able to distinguish between private sector contribution to public health-care, and US-style HMO/insurance-company two-tier health care. The private sector must have a role to play in a single-tier public health-care system.
She warned that Canada needs to pay down its national debt, especially in good times. Our social programs, she warned, depend on our prosperity.
We need to come up with constructive progressive policies for the future of the country, she said.
It bothers me that so many politicians say things like this. "We must come up with" "we will find solutions" yadda yadda. It's the leaders' responsibilities to have those solutions and implement them, not just to idly state that they should eventually come up with some.
In debate with Carolyn Bennett, Findlay cautioned that while we all worry about a two-tier health-care system, our education system is becoming increasingly two-tier.
She described home care as more cost effective and better for the patient and said it is an important policy to pursue.
On the topic of the East coast fishery, Findlay commented that if there are no fish, there is no fishery.
On Carbon tax, Findlay says she is using solar energy at home, and that it is doable. For lowering our carbon emissions, she says a carbon tax is not the way to go about it. Nor, she said, is putting a tax on all SUVs - some people, she points out, actually do have legitimate need for such vehicles and we should not penalise them. We must use tax credits and incentives to encourage positive environmental behaviour.
Carolyn Bennett was named to debate Findlay on the topic of US relations and the need to diversify our foreign partners.
Findlay noted that our advantages on the world stage are not that we can offer cheap labour as some countries do, but that we offer an educated workforce, a universal health-care system, and embrace diversity.
She warned that we are training our competitors, rather than, as Bennett suggested, sending ambassadors for Canada to other countries when they receive their educations here.
Findlay likes to say it as it is. It's not diplomatic, but it's damned refreshing. She moves up to third on my list, after Dion and Rae.
Ken Dryden: Dryden was slightly more lively this time, though not much. Frankly, I think he should have about four cups of coffee before the next debate so that his tone is wired rather than sleep-inducing.
He warned that this race is about preparing to win the next election and regaining the confidence of the population.
Dryden compared Harper's childcare program to giving everyone $50 a century ago and telling them to come up with an education system. Nothing would have happened, he warned. Child care, he said, is about learning. There is no learning by putting a few dollars in parents' pockets.
We must be a learning society, he said.
Dryden said we must explore all options for curbing global warming including the promotion of alternative and greener fuels, and a carbon tax.
On the topic of the UN and multiculturalism, he described a high school he visited while researching for a book as being a model of the world, with all the different cultures in classrooms together. They are preparing for a global experience. We are the most global country in the world, he said, and it is an incredible advantage.
He and Michael Ignatieff debated fiscal priorities for the country.
Dryden said that the economy has been strong, that we must remember what it was like before, and how we got where we are. When you pay down the debt, he said, you generate a kind of confidence and you allow growth and a reduction in unemployment. He described the tories' lowering of the GST and raising of personal income tax as a difference in fundamental understanding of our country.
Though a painfully boring speaker, Dryden has a lot to say. By paying more attention to him than I did last week, I can see that there is substance there. He's moving up over Michael Ignatieff to take fourth place behind Findlay on my preferentially ordered list.
Carolyn Bennett: Bennett, mercifully, avoided speaking too much French this time around, though the French she did speak seemed slightly stronger than last week. Perhaps she practised.
She said that the leadership candidates did not explain their positions well last week.
I say: All general statements are false.
Some candidates did explain their positions much better than others, but I think she was really referring to the confusion in her own statements.
Bennett said that we must rebuild the Liberal party to win back the confidence of Canadians to protect our children's future.
She offered some actual policy ideas, setting her apart from many of the other candidates, suggesting such things as revisiting mandatory retirement.
On the topic of carbon tax, she said we must reward the purchase of hybrids and electric lawn-mowers, and not such things as the purchase of SUVs.
For the United Nations, she warned that the US is not the sheriff of the world. There is an existing organisation, she said, that does have the role, though it could use some democratisation. The UN is not perfect, she said, but it is there.
She was up against Martha Hall Findlay in her one-on-one debate.
The topic of their debate was whether we need to diversify our international trade to avoid being too reliant on our relations with the United States.
She believes that it is very important for our economy to diversify its trading partners. She cautioned that it is dangerous not to, with the rise of China, India, and South America. We must invest in education and innovation.
She made the curious point that one of our great strengths is that we educate foreigners who then go back home with our education. Findlay took issue with this point, noting that in so doing we were not so much sending ambassadors for Canada back to these countries, but training our competition.
Bennett's non assertive style and sometimes illogical statements leaves her down near the bottom of my list, but her heart is in the right place.
Gerard Kennedy: Kennedy's opening remarks were energetic and slightly confusing.
He implied that the other candidates offered tweaks, while he offered real change.
Kennedy warned that globalisation is real and that we need to prepare for it, saying Canada needs to be out in front to define the terms of globalisation, but, like so many other candidates on so many issues, said little in the way of how.
Asked about fish stocks, Kennedy said that we can not control the stocks. We can have joint management with input from those directly involved, and we must have confidence in the way we manage the stocks.
He said he disagrees with the idea of a carbon tax. We need to create consensus, he said.
During his one-on-one debate with Stéphane Dion, he raised Dion's ire with his unwillingness to propose anything constructive, after telling Dion that it can not be about the past.
Kennedy's description of the Liberal party as the "status quo party", high dose of rhetoric, low dose of concrete ideas, and the performance of some of his competitors get him knocked down a few spots on my candidate rankings.
Mainly, I did not feel that Kennedy came across as a leader in the debate, just an arguer.
Joe Volpe: Volpe is still here?
His opening comment was about a newspaper article describing the war in Afghanistan. "I agree with it", he said. "I am Stephen Harper."
Really, I couldn't have said it better myself.
On the topic of a carbon tax, Volpe said we already put in a program to succeed with Kyoto, crediting Dion with creating the plan.
Volpe made frequent reference to having landed at Pier 21 51 years ago this week.
Somehow, Volpe got into the three-way debate again this week, this time saddling Bob Rae and Scott Brison with his domineering rhetoric.
Volpe challenged Brison over whether he has a program to get more immigrants to Atlantic Canada.
Brison replied that opportunities need to be created to retain people. Getting them to come is not the problem, but getting them to stay is, Brison went on to say "I've started businesses in Atlantic Canada, I know something about it." Volpe was visibly crestfallen.
I'm not sure why, but Volpe seems unable to be a gentleman in this race. He is my first choice of candidates to remove to help pare down the list of candidates to something slightly more manageable.
Hedy Fry: Fry's energy is boundless, but her point always seems to be lost on me.
In another of those great misstatements, she said in her opening statement: "I want you to support me because my policy is on my website."
I think I shall endeavour to support anyone with a website, now that you mention it, Hedy. Thanks.
She concluded her opening statement with "I defeated the last tory Prime Minster, I can't wait to defeat the next one!"
On a question about the sorry state of Atlantic fish-stocks, and what can be done about it, Fry stated that the ocean is warming. Therefore it is important that scientists be called upon to figure out what fish can be brought in to live in these warmer waters for the industry to fish.
Of course. Working to solve global warming and poor management of fish stocks is unnecessary when we can simply transplant tropical fish to the Grand Banks.
The debate itself:
First off, we should probably have had linguistically separate debates.
One audience member's outburst that the candidates were not speaking enough French was a warning. It was not a warning that people in the debate should be speaking more French or more English, as the immediate reaction would be, but a warning that we have made language an issue in a way it should not be.
The constant shifting of languages during answers and the inability of some candidates to speak proper French in the first place is downright annoying. If the debates were in completely separate languages, people would get a much better sense of candidates' comfort level and ability to communicate in both languages, but there would be no need to artificially self-regulate. Many candidates in this format started their answers in French, and as soon as they reached a word they were not comfortable with or did not know how to say, switched to English -- and stayed there.
I don't know the official reason for not having the debates in split languages, but I am betting it is precisely because so many of the candidates do not speak adequate French and do not want to be exposed to an environment where it becomes too painfully obvious. Whether the ability to speak French is important in a Prime Minister is subjective, but I believe it is important for a Liberal one to be able to speak both languages fluently as it is a party for all Canadians, not a regional party.
Secondly, the microphone problems are inexcusable. They happened at the first debate and were not fixed for the second debate. Candidates should be able to speak without being cut off periodically by their microphones.
With that out of the way, here is my preferential ballot, as it stands following this debate:
Martha Hall Findlay [+1]
Ken Dryden [+2]
Gerard Kennedy [-3]
Scott Brison [+1]
Maurizio Bevilacqua [-1]
Dion and Rae continue to show themselves to be the only fluently bilingual candidates who have any substance and real plans for this country that are in line with my views. Dion's extensive federal experience, grasp of what leadership is - to lead, not to follow - and clear vision sets him apart from the pack. Rae's major liability is not his policies, his intellect, or his understanding of the needs of the future, but his one-term-wonder as an NDP premier of Ontario.
A lot of the candidates this time around spent too much time talking about how much of an evil man Harper is and far too little talking about what they have to offer in his stead.
I am very disappointed that no candidate mentioned the importance of mass public transit (commuter trains, long haul passenger trains, light rail transit, subway systems, busses, and so forth) and other forms of more energy efficient and ecological transportation in the discussion on carbon emissions and taxes. Only hybrid cars warranted special mention, but these are only a minor improvement from conventional cars for emissions.
The debate itself was passable. While very odd, the system of asking two questions at a time does allow us to get inside the candidates' heads much better than with only one question at a time. It really does allow us to see how they think and whether their minds can multi-task.
I would prefer it if more time was given to the pairwise debates. A Prime Minister spends several minutes every weekday in the commons handling a volley of tough questions which they have to answer in 35 seconds on their feet, with cameras pointed at them and every political journalist and junkie watching. They need to be able to handle debates that last more than three minutes and cover more than one single issue. It is unfortunate that there are 11 candidates, but not all of them are serious intellectuals with real ideas. Fewer, longer debates between people with serious ideas about policy and vision for the country would make it far more valuable.
The next debates will be held in Quebec and British Columbia in September, and Toronto in October, all of which will be after the closing of party memberships.
I ask that at least a couple of candidates drop out prior to the next round of debates to make this leadership race a little bit more sensible.
Elizabeth May and David Chernushenko spent a couple of hours this evening having an argreement in French on CPAC about the leadership of the Green Party. I only caught the second half of the debate, but found what I heard to be interesting nevertheless. Jim Fannon is listed on the CPAC website as being in tonight's debate but he was evidentially a no-show, which won't help his chances much.
I haven't exactly been following the Green Party beyond giving it an occasional glance to see what they're up to, but, as every party knows, a leadership race is a good time to catch the public's attention for your party.
My first impression of Ms. May is that she would be an excellent leader of the Green Party for the established parties, and that David Chernushenko would be a decent leader for the Green's own future.
The differences are not blatant, other than in the quality of their respective spoken French, but there are nevertheless differences.
Asked about why the Green Party does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons, May blamed primarily the lack of Green representation in debates during elections. Chernushenko was more philosophical, noting that it is important for the party to get a foothold with one seat before it can expect to be in debates. The party must be built from the grass roots up.
Chernushenko says he believes that what is critical is for the Green Party to, effectively, be campaigning between elections. He says the party must go to synagogues and other places outside the party's main core of support and get its message out, so when election time comes people already know about the Greens and what it is they stand for.
May realised her weak answer and noted that Deborah Grey was elected in a by-election prior to the 1993 election, eventually resulting in her party's win in this year's election. While she doesn't agree with Grey or the Conservative-Reform Alliance Party, it's a strategy that needs to be adopted.
When asked about their opinions on strategic voting, Chernushenko had an excellent line, translated roughly as: There is no point in voting strategically if you don't have a strategy. Our strategy is to build a better country, etc. He says he would not ask any candidate not to run in an election in their riding to prevent, for example, a Conservative candidate from winning.
May's answer to the question was that we need to start voting for people, not against them.
Chernushenko's spoken French was very good, confident, and understandable. He had no trouble that I could see expressing his thoughts.
May's French, on the other hand, can be summarised by this sentence in her closing statement: "Je travaille très dûr pour le parti." It is important when speaking a second language to speak that language, not your own language with the second language's words. If you are speaking French, it is helpful to understand the difference between "connaître" and "savoir", or "dûr" and "fort" when those words are the same in English.
I am happy for the Green Party that they were actually able to have unilingual debates. I am a little bit disappointed that the Liberal debate was bilingual, sometimes switching languages every sentence. It is nice for showing off one's linguistic prowess, perhaps, or the weakness of your opponent, but for an audience that is not completely bilingual, it is not helpful.
Having only two candidates also helped the debate stay more focused and give both candidates more of an opportunity to speak at length to each issue, but it also severely reduces the options for the party membership, and reduces the level of debate and exchange of ideas outside of a soundbite-oriented leadership debates.
The next Green Party leadership debate will take place in Calgary in English on June 21st. The next Liberal leadership debate will take place on June 17th in Moncton.
Analysis of the June 10th Liberal leadership debate
Yesterday afternoon I cut a day trainspotting short to watch the Liberal leadership debate live. It was a worthwhile move. The debate was an interesting one and served to introduce me to some of the candidates who I had never seen before. Here are my impressions of the candidates, in order of their seating from left to right.
Carolyn Bennett: She said one thing that struck me as being totally illogical.
She commented that a few years ago when she was in cabinet, Ontario had a particularly bad year with things like the SARS outbreak and the blackout, which places the year she was discussing at 2003. As a result of Ontario's bad year, its contribution to equalisation was down and some of the lower revenue provinces did not benefit as much from equalisation, which she indicated is a flaw with equalisation.
There is a logic problem here. The purpose of equalisation is to equalise, not to raise the have-not provinces to an unsustainable constant standard at all costs. That would not be equality. If the giving provinces are down, then the taking provinces should, naturally, receive less from them.
Her French struck me as among the weakest of the lot. Her efforts seemed to be far more directed toward trying to assemble the sentences, leaving very little mental load for inserting thoughts into those sentences. I believe it is far more important for politicians to express their ideas clearly and concisely than it is for them to speak beyond their capabilities in their second language.
Joe Volpe: His opening comments included an attack on Michael Ignatieff, specifically, over Kyoto, breaking, right from the get-go, the civility and intellectual policy discussion that has marked this campaign up until then. It somehow does not surprise me that Volpe did this as he has already shown his lack of respect for the Liberal party by taking money from Apotex through a thinly disguised veil of proxy donations from people too young even to buy party memberships.
During the pairwise debates he was in the lone threesome where I found that he attempted to dominate the debate without really contributing anything of substance.
I would have been happier if the other candidates had refused to acknowledge his existence. There is no benefit to any candidate to continue treating a liability like Volpe as an equal. He must go.
Martha Hall Findlay: This was the first time I'd seen Findlay and she struck me as the brutally honest type who says it as it is, and offers solutions.
I liked her stance on senate reform, where she noted that one elected house was ample, we don't need two. An elected senate is a politicised senate, no longer a house of "sober second thought" she warned, a position I agree with wholeheartedly.
Her shot back at Brison about how we should not govern our country based on potential New York Times headlines was fantastic.
Findlay believes that our immigration points system does not work. We have too many overqualified immigrants doing unsuitable jobs, and too many illegal immigrants doing things like construction, due to our points system. I have to agree with her. Our immigration system should be more open to people from all skillsets, not just PhDs.
Findlay moves up from an unknown to an interesting candidate.
Gerard Kennedy: This was the first time I'd seen Kennedy speak, as well, that I can remember. Aside from the disadvantage of looking kind of like Jerry Springer, he came across well. His French was the clearest of the Anglos and he seemed very comfortable in both languages.
He warned that Quebeckers can never be bought, but that Harper is trying.
He started off the debate on a good note. In his opening comments, he stated that he is not better than any of the other candidates, just that he's the right one for the times. It's a creative use of the language to get across the message that he is, in fact, better than the other candidates, but it demonstrates the valuable level of chivalry between most of the candidates in this race.
I did not find that he performed fantastically well under the pressure of the one-on-one debates.
Scott Brison: I got the distinct impression that Brison is on the far end of the party's political spectrum.
Brison believes we have an obligation to our allies to go places like Afghanistan.
His comments centred around the development of businesses and investment, and his comment about what the next morning's New York Times headline would have been if the vote on the extension of our mission to Afghanistan had been defeated placed him firmly on the right edge of the party.
Bob Rae: One of the strong intellectuals of this campaign, Rae showed himself to see the world as it is, as it should be, and how to bridge that gap.
He warned that Canada's agricultural sector needs strong government intervention and support. In the US and Europe, he said, agriculture is heavily subsidised, and that to compete on the world stage we would need to ensure that ours is, as well.
Rae noted that every province, no matter what or which, feels that it is giving more to the rest of the country than it is getting, effectively dismissing "fiscal imbalance".
Though accented, his French showed no signs of weakness that I could see, though his microphone did not seem to like hearing him...
Michael Ignatieff: When Ignatieff debated Brison one-on-one, the main impression I got was that the only real difference between the two of them is that Brison admits that he is on the right. I describe this kind of debate as an "argreement".
His comments that we need to support our troops by supporting the mission place him in a different political prism, one that is found on the South side of the border.
I believe it is possible to support our soldiers without agreeing with the mission they are performing. In fact, I believe if you don't agree with a mission, working to get soldiers out of that mission is the best way to support them. Better to have them home and alive than overseas and fighting for a cause the country as a whole does not believe in. When a debate is brought forward on the value of a mission, it should be purely about the value of that mission, on its merits, not based on any other factors.
There is no merit to sending soldiers somewhere because they are already there. It's the kind of circular logic that gets us stuck in long, protracted wars with no end in sight.
Ignatieff believes in a strengthened Canadian military, warning that we need a stronger military to be able to perform missions like Afghanistan and still be able to send troops to the war torn Sudanese region of Darfur.
On the topic of energy, Ignatieff warned that we are not the enemy of Alberta. It is important to work with Alberta to develop clean energy, instead of merely complaining about its development of its oil industry.
He was also careful to acknowledge Dion's leadership on enviromental issues.
Ignatieff's demeanour was that of a professor, which he is, who has been teaching for 30 years, which he has, who has little in the way of political experience, which is the case.
Hedy Fry: Fry's French is comparable to Bennett's. It's strained and difficult to understand.
She speaks with a lot of energy and believes in herself, which is good, though I'm not entirely sure what it is she said.
Though not significant, it is noteworthy that Fry was the only one to ask for a repeat of a question while answering it during the first part of the debate.
Maurizio Bevilacqua: Bevilacqua said he is an immigrant who sees the opportunities available for immigrants decreasing from what they were when he and his family arrived, something he would like to improve.
Ken Dryden: Not bad for a hockey player. Really. Almost a day after the debate, though, nothing he said specifically stands out in my mind.
Stéphane Dion: Last, but certainly not least!
Dion's opening quip was that he agreed with everything that had been said up to that point. Evidentally Dion is a concensus candidate.
He was the only candidate in the debate who delved into serious, specific policy ideas. He started by indicating that he feels the one percent drop in the GST, which will cost the government around $5 billion per year, could be better spent by putting $4 billion toward the national child benefit supplement and the remaining billion toward programs to otherwise help low-income Canadians.
On the topic of senate reform, he warned that the senate could not be seriously changed without changes to the constitution, but that 6 or 8 year term limits for senators could be acceptable and should be done as a kind of gentleman's agreement, possibly including signing an agreement to that effect when they are appointed. Having unlimited terms with a retirement age of 75, he said, risks not being fair to younger people who could offer a lot to the senate as they are simply unlikely to be appointed until later in life due to their age. He noted that in the current constitution, New Brunswick is guaranteed more senators than Alberta is, and that by appointing senators, proper geographical distribution can be ensured, which may not be the case under an elected senate. In short, he said, by protecting the senate from Harper's reforms, he is protecting Alberta from Stephen Harper.
Incidentally, he's been in Quebec long enough to know that saying "Constitution" is as about as bad as saying "Tabarnaque" in that province.
He was no less succinct on electoral reform: he could support a German-style mixed member proportional electoral system, he said, but described direct proportional representation as "stupid", a sentiment I agree with without reservation, though I'm no personal fan of anything that resembles proportional representation. A preferential balloting system, which the parties use for their own leadership races either directly or through a run-off vote system, is the most truely democratic system we can use if we don't wish to give up the "representative" in "representative democracy".
On the topic of the Kelowna Accord, Dion commented that Canadians don't have a problem with the very important Kelowna agreement, it's Harper that has a problem.
During his one-on-one debate with Martha Hall Findlay, he interrupted himself to give his opponent an opportunity to speak, showing a kind of good sportsmanship all politicians should demostrate but few do.
He appeared to be enjoying the debate to the point of actually offering a legitimate grin, a little known capability of this deep intellectual.
Dion remains and is reinforced for me as the best choice to lead this party and this country.
The debate itself:
Based on the debate last night I can pretty well fill out my preferential ballot for the lot, though I reserve the right to re-order it in the future.
Acceptable leaders in order of preference:
Martha Hall Findlay
The ones I'd really rather not see lead at this time:
Is he still here?
The format of the debate itself was a little bit odd. The moderator posed two questions at a time to be answered simultaneously by each candidate. While he did so, all the candidates scribbled furiously on little note pads, vaguely reminding me of the final round of 'Jeopardy'.
The effect of this format is it allows viewers to judge which of any pair of issues is more important to each candidate, and how each candidate can handle multi-tasking. The first two questions asked about bilingualism and about farming, for example, and it sounded to me like Joe Volpe's answer was something along the lines of 'it is important for farms to be able to operate in French'.
CPAC's broadcast of the debate was translated by a simultaneous translator, as are most programs on CPAC, much to my annoyance. I would find a 'floor sound' option much more beneficial than chasing the politicians back and forth between primary and secondary audio, without requiring the use of unreliable video streams on the Internet.
There is probably a good deal more to say about this debate, but there will be more debates and more opportunities to revisit them.
At the next debate, I hope the threesome will be Bob Rae, Ken Dryden, and Gerard Kennedy, and that Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion can get a one-on-one in.
I am looking forward to next weekend's debate which will take place in Moncton. Questions for that debate must be submitted by the 14th. See the Liberal party web site for more information on how to submit questions.
I am not exactly sure how the procedural blunder came to pass yesterday in the House of Commons that allowed the Tory budget to pass unopposed, but ultimately it works in everyone's favour.
The Tories can't lose on a budget vote. If the budget were to have been defeated, they would have gone to an election where they would likely make political gains. With a budget vote win, their agenda proceeds forward on their terms. It's win-win for them.
The Bloc can't take an election right now, or possibly ever again. Their popularity is at an all-time low in Quebec and they would come back to Ottawa after an election looking kind of like the NDP. By having the vote accidentally pass quickly, they avoid being put in the position where they have to choose between supporting a government that they disagree with, and toppling a government that would eat them for lunch in an election.
The NDP has nothing much to gain from an election now, either. The left is split between them and the Greens, and the centre-left already sees them as responsible for Harper being in power and they're doing about as well as they ever expect to in terms of number of MPs in the Commons. Having the budget pass mysteriously is good for them, too.
The Liberals are in the midst of a long and deep leadership race. It is probably the first in forty years where the outcome isn't a fairly safe bet. An election right now would be virtually unwinnable by the Grits. It is not possible for a party to go to the people and ask for a mandate to govern without being able to say who the leader will be a few months down the road and thus where exactly the party stands on a number of issues. The budget passing by accident is good for us, too.
In short, everybody wins. Nobody loses, at least in the Commons. And in the long term, noone loses at all. If this budget were to have brought the government down, there would be a risk that the tories would come back with a majority government and damage the country much more severely than this one budget will. One Conservative budget is a lot better than four Conservative budgets.
There is, of course, also the matter of the Senate. It is rare for the Senate to be activist, but now is certainly an opportunity for it to act where the Commons apparently failed and carefully review and, if needed, amend the budget, away from the glare of the cameras. It is the Senate's job now to inspect the budget one last time before it becomes law without the partisan posturing of the House of Commons overshadowing the debate.
Natural resources, equalization, and the so-called fiscal imbalance
CBC is reporting that an "expert panel" is recommending that 50% of non-renewable natural resources revenues be included in the national equalization program. I don't get why any of it shouldn't be.
The purpose of equalization is to put all provinces on a relatively even fiscal keel. It has a hint of communist idealism at its root: from each (province) according to its ability, to each (province) according to its necessity.
Why, therefore, is natural resource revenue, even if from non-renewable resources, even a question?
Revenue is revenue. It boosts the affected local economies, and as long as it does, it should be included in any formula based on those economies. It makes no sense that just because a province has a temporary financial high (though the oil-based resources are not exactly expected to dry up next spring, so how temporary is it, anyway?) thanks to natural resources that it should be declared superfluous.
How would those same governments react if I told them that this year I made an extra hundred thousand dollars, and next year I expect to, too, but eventually I will retire, and because I won't make that kind of money forever, I should not have to pay taxes on it? My bet is there would be a "notice of reassesment" in my mailbox telling me that I owe tax on that difference within a couple of weeks.
Why should additional provincial revenues be any different? Equalisation seems to, in essence, be income tax for provinces, where provinces get a tax refund based on their income and outgo at the end of the fiscal year.
I believe that there is indeed a fiscal imbalance, but that it is between have and have-not provinces, not between the provinces and the federal government.
Over the weekend, 17 people were arrested for an alleged terrorist bomb plot ring in and around Toronto.
So big was the news that on Saturday night, the World this Wekend on CBC radio did not cover a single other topic.
I have four problems with this story, and its handling in the media and by politicians:
Every news site, news story, new channel, news paper, news anything, has made a point of the fact that these 17 people were Islamic. This emphasis on the background of the suspects is self-perpetuating and does not serve the public good in any way. They're people, that's all. Saying anything else perpetuates a stereotype that will only serve to make more people wish to do harm.
Some people are blaming Canada's lax immigration policies for the existence of these alleged bombers. Canada and Canadians should be able to stand up and take responsibility for our own societal shortcomings. All the suspects in this case were born or at least grew up in Canada.
The Prime Minster declared that the averted attacks are motivated by hatred of our society's freedom. I would argue that it is quite the opposite. It is our society's love of warfare and imposition of our morals and standards on others that motivates people to hate us and take up arms.
This bust is awfully convenient for a conservative prime minister's conservative political agenda. It strikes me as odd that just a few weeks ago, the govenrment forced the House of Commons to a vote over the war in Afghanistan, likely knowing this bust was coming. The vote was clearly not (only) about exposing splits within the Liberal party, but about making the opposition parties look silly when this revelation came out, which the government knew was coming.
As far as I know, the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Canada has spent a good deal of time, resources, and lives assisting in the conquest of this country since then.
We didn't go into Afghanistan wearing blue peacekeeping helmets to separate two mortal enemies from eachother. Nor did we go to a peaceful but broken country that needed rebuilding. We didn't even go with a UN mandate for a "police action". We sent soldiers to a country that has been at war for at least a quarter of a century to contribute to the war effort by joining our preferred side. Our soldiers are dying, and our soldiers are killing.
Harper's agenda is to distract, deflect, deny, and damage.
Last week, Harper's latest attempt to distract the national attention from serious issues in the country was to announce that he would introduce fixed election dates. Around the same time, he orchestrated an utterly pointless battle with the parliamentary press gallery over who has the right to ask him questions.
Unfortunately, it's working. People are being distracted by these non-issues. We have serious issues right now, like the environment, as illustrated by three consecutive over-30 degree high humidity, low breathability smog days in the so-called 'golden horseshoe' of south-western Ontario.
Harper's government has sought to cancel several environment-related programs and has shown his disdain for the environment
If our government is serious about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, even if they don't want to do it under the Kyoto protocol, here are some ideas.
We could probably beat our Kyoto targets by simply closing the Nanticoke coal-fired power plant. It pollutes more than some entire provinces.
Don't (just) give tax credits for using public transit, provide more and better public transit. Integrate public transit systems from as many cities as possible. Expand and better fund Via, GO, AMT, the various light rail projects, the skytrain and any other commuter trains and services in the country, provide better bus service, fully integrate bus and rail networks with eachother, make rail travel cheaper than air travel, and set up public transit systems to get to all major airports.
Legislate that all car manufacturers who wish to do business in Canada must provide, at a reasonable price and without making them difficult to find, rechargeable electric vehicles (as opposed to hybrids). It doesn't force anyone to buy them (but people will!). The only loser, if we have fewer fuel-dependent cars, becomes oil-arrogant Alberta. It's not like the manufacturers don't have viable electric cars already, they just don't sell them since the California law to the same effect was forcibly repealed by a government similar to our own (the Bush one, not the Davis one).
I assure you none of this is in the as-yet unpublished tory "plan" to fix the environment. Their plan is and always has been to let market forces do the work. From their perspective, when people are dying faster than people are born due to the quality of our air, some entrepreneur will come up with a magic bullet to clean air and sell it at huge profit, because after all, that's the way capitalism works!
When industry and the public decide it's more economical to clean up their act than to continue polluting, only then will they act, and that's acceptable to the tories. They *could* hasten the process by providing tax relief (something they like doing anyway) to any and all companies and individuals who make serious efforts to curtail their pollution, but that would be interference, and the tories don't believe in using government interference for progressive measures (as demonstrated by dropping 'progressive' from their name).
I'm sure Harper's government and his minister of the environment will take this all very seriously and keep the public focus on the issues that actually matter by shortly announcing a law that pot holes may not exceed 3 inches deep and 8 inches across.
Harper wants to give us fixed election dates every 4 years, "except in cases where the government is defeated in a House of Commons vote or is otherwise 'prevented from governing.'" (from the linked article).
Technically, in Canada, we already have them. The only difference is that the constitutional version of Harper's law provides for 5 year terms.
Let's take a quick look at our constitution:
Democratic rights of citizens
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified
for membership therein.
Maximum duration of legislative bodies 4. (1) No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs of
a general election of its members.
Continuation in special circumstances
(2) In time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may
be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House
of Commons or the legislative assembly, as the case may be.
Annual sitting of legislative bodies
5. There shall be a sitting of Parliament and of each legislature at least once every twelve months.
In the case of Harper's law, a government that loses a vote of non-confidence will still cause an immediate dissolution of parliament and election, meaning any government that seriously wants to can bring itself down early. It's also quite feasable for any subsequent parliament to simply revoke the 4 year election law as it is not enshrined in the constitution.
It's also interesting to note that Harper's law would allow the country to go to election if the government is "prevented from governing". I'm awfully curious to hear the legal definition of "prevented from governing".
Left undefined, it could mean anything from the Prime Minister having a cold to an independent MP filibustering a motion to adjourn to the parliament buildings being locked down for security reasons to the parliamentary press gallery asking too many questions.
Regardless of all this, I don't believe it is an accident that this law is being introduced in an acrimonious minority parliament and not in a future majority parliament. If the bill fails, Harper will not lose a political advantage he doesn't really want to lose anyway, and gets all the political points of having tried.
Like a handful of other bloggers, I got a ping from someone offering an interview with Stéphane Dion for this blog, so it got me thinking about the leadership race again. It turns out this blog is listed on this site under the Dion camp in the great leadership blog-off.
So I'd like to address the leadership race a bit here...
I don't think Dion will have any trouble stemming from the Clarity Act. The people who won't vote for him based on that won't vote liberal anyway - it'll either be for the Bloc, or for a decentralist party like the tories. The Canadian nationalists (aka federalists) in Quebec will flock to anyone who will stand up for their side of the 'sovereignty' debate.
Chrétien proved that you can be relatively unpopular at home in Quebec and still rake in majority governments. People outside Quebec have never minded the accent, and Dion's accent in English is much better than Harper's accent in French. I think Canadians have been and are above judging a person by his accent. We're a bilingual country and I don't think anyone (who would vote liberal) holds that against the candidates.
People have complained about Dion's lack of charisma, but I disagree. He's charismatic in an intellectual way. Harper, too, is an intellectual who has the charisma of a rock and it is not hurting him at all. I believe Paul Martin's obvious artificial charisma and politicking have turned Canadians off this approach to politics for the forseeable future. Charisma is not a requirement, but intellect is.
My main problem with most of the other candidates is they're almost all from COTU -- Toronto, or the Centre of the Universe -- and I believe have a clouded perspective of the country because of that. Toronto is an enormous place and it's easy to forget there's a Canada outside of it. It's no accident Toronto voted overwhelmingly for the incumbent and a large proportion of the rest of the province voted for the challenger in the recent election.
The major exception is Ignatieff, who's simply been AWOL for thirty years teaching at one of the most conceited schools in the world, and expects to return like a deposed leader returning from exile to save the country. On the other hand that may also be his strength - he has not been corrupted by Canadian politics over the last generation, but has instead been corrupted by American politics. He simply has no track record that I can discern other than a few votes in parliament.
One thing we do know about him is that he supported the war in Iraq (though he has since changed his mind) which I don't believe, and never believed, was necessary or justified. I marched in the pre-war anti-war protests and I stand by that opinion to this day. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the US government's motives for going to war are related to money and power, possibly in preparation for a long cold war with China, not with any philanthropic goals.
I may consider Ignatieff next time around after he's been at home a little while and has settled into the Canadian political scene a little more comfortably.
I lived in Quebec, not Ontario, at the time, and was a little too young to pay much attention anyway. But from what I understand from people I have talked to since, two major issues killed Rae in his public support when he was premier of Ontario:
Photo radar. Highway 401 has an average speed, I was told in a defensive driving course, of about 140 km/h. Premier Rae put photo radar in the province tuned to 118 km/h, causing fines for anyone who drove at standard highway speeds. As the budget got tighter, this number was dropped to 108 km/h. I don't care how idealogically aligned I am with a government, an act like that is just plain insulting (speed limits warrant a blog post all of their own.)
His true common sense revolution. From what I understand, Rae's government gave every civil servant in the province a couple of days off -- unpaid. While this was unpopular, this ingenious solution allowed the government to avoid laying off thousands of public employees. When Harris came along with his common sense revolution, he didn't give anyone any more unpaid days off -- he just fired a large number of civil servants, instead. You decide which one makes more sense.
Rae seems like an intelligent policy man who, like Ignatieff and Dion, lacks much in the way of charisma, but makes up for it intellectually. He is definitely my second choice for the federal leadership, from the options available.
I first heard of him when he was running against David Orchard, Belinda Stronach, et al., for the tory leadership. Definitely a Red Tory, it wasn't much of a surprise when he bailed out of the no longer progressive Conservative party and joined the liberals. I don't believe Brison is serious (yet) about running the Liberal praty, but by staying in the public eye, he is trying to ensure himself a higher profile and a more prominent role in any future Liberal government, and ultimately a better chance in a future leadership race. To that end, I think he will succeed and I look forward to him returning to a federal cabinet.
On the others
There are at least five other declared candidates in the race. I have not seen enough of any of them to really judge them. I have been told I should watch Ken Dryden who, in spite of his hockey background, is supposed to be the fourth leading intellectual in this race (with Dion, Ignatieff, and Rae).
On Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall Findlay, Maurizio Bevilacqua, Carolyn Bennett, and Joe Volpe? No opinion.
Other candidates who should have, but didn't, run:
Brian Tobin - a strong partisan and successful federal and provincial politician who would have brought a lot of attention to the leadership race and who would have made a strong leader.
Pierre Pettigrew - another Quebecker up for the challenge.
Joe Clark - the last truely principled (even if I don't agree with his principles) Prime Minister we had.
Sheila Copps - come on, what's a leadership race without her?
David Orchard - come on, what's a leadership race without him?
Mike Harris' cabinet's takeover of the federal government has brought us another illogical common sense revolution.
Somehow, someway, cutting taxes (except personal income tax, which is going up - but corporate taxes are dropping by several percentage points) and raising spending is going to result in a balanced budget.
My bet: We're back in deficit from a strong surplus faster than Bush managed to put the US there.
That might be good, though -- the dollar's incredible rise (it's over 90 cents!) would finally be curtailed. Not such a bad result for putting the next several generations of Canadians into extremely deep debt!
The real problem here is this:
We're supposed to go into deficit only during down times in the economy (if at all), and during booms we tax it all back and pay it off.
We've got the first part down ok, but then we get to boom times and everyone gets greedy. People with money want to keep it; people without want handouts. During down times everyone is happy to take borrowed money, but we're, as a society, loathe to give it back when the going is good.
Without it, our debt is doomed to get worse. The conservatives are in power again during a boom and will squander it as they always do, leaving the centre and left to clean it up during the next bust. When we finally recover and get into another boom, the conservatives will be right there again to squander it.
Interest rates went up this week. Again. Apparently the Bank of Canada wants to keep inflation down.
What I can't figure out is why. A few percent inflation is good for all those consumers who are in debt. It reduces the value of their debt. If inflation is higher than the interest rate, you can even start to get into breaking even on an investment that you borrowed for. But I guess like all banks, even the Bank of Canada's real job is to make money, not for us to.
Then there's Harper's latest shenanigans: No flags at half-mast on Parliament Hill when a soldier is killed, though certainly no complaints about doing so for a politician if that were to happen. No media at the soldier's repatriation at CFB Trenton... This is done somewhere else, let me think...
What's NAFTA for if the US won't obey a dozen court rulings? Canada should consider NAFTA null due to the US' well-documented non-compliance and force them to the table to renegotiate a treaty they will actually abide by. Not that the US knows what a treaty is...
If Brian Mulroney is the greenest prime minister in Canadian history, it is not a testament to his environmental policy, but a warning that the rest of our leaders, regardless of political stripe, are a complete embarassment in this respect.
I wrote this a while ago on my belief that proportional representation is no less bad for Canada than our current system, but never found a place to publish it. In light of the floor-walking controversy and its denial of the fundamental principle that we have the option in Canada to vote for people, not just for parties, why not put it here?
Why Proportional Representation is Not the Answer for Canada - but nor is the current system
Jack Layton has told the country that a condition of the NDP joining any federal coalition is that the new government would hold a nationwide referendum on proportional representation. While this may benefit the NDP, it's not really good for Canada. But other systems might be.
Under the proportional representation system, everyone in Canada would vote not for a person to represent them locally, but for a party. The party provides a list to the Chief Elections Officer of all their candidates, in order that they are to be elected. The party is then awarded a proportion of the seats equivalent to the proportion of the vote they receive.
If 20 million Canadians vote in a federal election, and 4 million of them vote for the NDP, the NDP will win 61 seats. Under the current system they would likely win between 15 and 30. And that's great, every vote really does count, but at the cost of local representation, and the cost of allowing people in this country to vote for a person, not for a party.
If a party has a stallwart supporter, or just a big campaign contributor, the party can put them very high on their list and they are guaranteed a seat. In that way, people could literally buy their way into a seat in parliament. From there, our democracy can rapidly decline.
Is this better than our current system? I'm not sure. In our current system, each riding has a set of candidates and the person who receives the most number of votes, even if it's only one more than the next candidate, wins the riding. In that way, 2 people, or 2 parties who represent a similar point of view hurt eachother when their total vote exceeds another candidate's tally, but the other person came out above either one of them and thus wins the election.
There are at least two ways we can improve our system without sacrificing the ability to choose our representatives. One is a minor, perhaps even intermediate, change from our current system, and the other is a significant change from our current system.
Canadians, historically, have had a tendency to vote against certain people or parties, not for certain people or parties. In Quebec, I voted against the Bloq, not necessarily for the Liberals or my local candidate. In Ontario, I have voted against the Alliance or tories, not for the Liberals. We call it strategic voting, but it's really just voting against someone.
What we should do instead is allow people to vote one of two ways on their ballots. You can either vote for someone, or you can vote against someone. Instead of casting a strategic vote for a person or a party you don't really like, in order to not help one you like even less, we should allow people to vote against candidates.
Instead of one column on our ballots, we would get two. The left column would be "for", the right column would be "against". You would still only be allowed to vote once, but you would have the option of voting against someone, which would reduce their total votes by one, instead of in favour of someone else. While the results at the end of an election could contain negative votes in a net count for some candidates, it would allow Canadians to vote the way they already do, but properly.
The other alternative system we could use that allows every vote to count, preserves local representation, and preserves the selection of our own candidates, is the preferential ballot.
Australia has a preferential balloting system that is a poor implementation because it forces every voter to rank all candidates in their ridings. There exists a preferential balloting system that does not force people to do this. It is called the Condorcet system of pair-wise preferences.
It works by each voter ranking candidates on their ballot by who they prefer. For example, if I prefer candidate C over candidate A, and don't really care about the rest, I would vote for C as 1, and A as 2 on my ballot. This would tell the ballot counters that I prefer C over A, and both C and A over all the other candidates. If I only select one candidate, that tells the counters that I prefer that one candidate over every other candidate. At the end of the day, someone will be preferred over the others more than anyone else in a riding, and that person wins the election.
Political parties have for years demonstrated a preference for preferential balloting, including the NDP. It was by a preferential ballot that Jack Layton became leader of the party.
The preferential balloting system solves the problem of local representation, choosing between voting for a person or a party, choosing who you vote for, allowing voters to vote for more than one person, run-off votes, and vote-splitting, all in one fell swoop. With that, the power stays in the hands of the people.
I'd just like to note that Stéphane Dion has my support for the liberal leadership. As Trudeau, Mulroney, and Chrétien demonstrate, you not only have to pander to Quebec to win majority governments: you have to be from there, though you don't have to be liked there. We also need someone who supports a green economy in a position of influence (which, in spite of their enlarging ego, the NDP does not have and won't until they completely disocciate themselves from unions and stop acting like over-excited children who were just given ice cream.)
I find it somewhat ironic that Paul Martin was born in Windsor and moved to Montreal, Jack Layton is from Montreal and moved to Toronto, and Stephen Harper is from Toronto and moved to Alberta.
Oh yeah, and Harper & company... the election is over. You don't have to answer every liberal question with 'blah blah blah liberals bad! us good!' No polls have shown that you won for any reason other than people wanted something new. It has nothing to do with your policies, it's almost farcical to even call your thin victory a mandate, and it accomplishes nothing. Stop being sore winners.
I don't have any better place to put this, so I'll put it here.
This is the results I predict in the January 23rd, 2006 Canadian election:
. Neocon (tory): 180 seats
. Seperatists (bloc): 60 seats
. Incompetent fools (grits): 50 seats
. The fools that gave us this election (ndp): 18 seats
Why? The "Liberals" got rid of the Liberal party (you remember them... Warren Kinsella, Sheila Copps, Jean Chrétien -- they brought us a stable, centrist government for a decade, and had strategists who knew how to, um... strategise?) and then ran the most incompetent campaign in Canadian history, at least since Martin's role model Turner went from majority to deep opposition. (And yes, that would put the Bloc back as the official opposition. Remember 1993?)
Martinites: Shaken, not stirred.
Their attack ads lately are so low and so bad that I wonder why they didn't simply put out a press release saying "We're desperate". Perhaps it could have gone in the For Singles Only section of the paper: "desperate party looking for love from anyone who will give it."
That all said, I can't figure out what it is about our country that would cause us to give ourselves the pain and torture of a reform-party majority. Are we that forgetful? Does noone remember Avro? "Free Trade?" (You know, that stuff that lets American companies sue Canada over banning dangerous substances in our motor fuel and causes the Americans to quickly cede to Canada after a dozen rulings against them over softwood lumber?) The Common Sense revolution? Do you know that Spain threatened trade sanctions against Canada if Ontario refused to let the Spanish-owned Highway 407 Commission raise its tolls? Is that the Canada we want?
Give me a tory minority with a weakened bloc (so that they can't hold the balance of power) and we'll be all set for years yet -- we'll get rid of Martin, Harper won't be able to persue his neo-con agenda, and MPs will actually have to work together to get anything done.
In two weeks time it will be put to the test one more time. This time it won't be a political jurisdiction up for grabs, a country choosing new leadership, or a province deciding its fate within a country.
Nope, this time it is a bunch of project members rating eachothers' performance and ability. Every member rates every other member between one and the total number of members of the project. Whoever has the lowest total number is the most trusted and seen as the most competent member, and becomes the project's leader. Whoever has the highest cumulative rating is assumed to be hampering the project based on his peers ratings of him and will be removed from the project.
There is no campaigning, there are no speeches, there is no publicity, it is simply a matter of the project members collectively deciding the future of the project.
When it is all over, the project's administration may look exactly the same as it does now, or the landscape of the project will look completely different and everyone will wake up scratching their heads.