Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Harper Accused of Plagiarism

CBC News Report: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canadavotes/story/2008/09/30/rae-harper.html

Well, I suppose this came somewhat out of left field...No pun intended there. I was going to talk today about Jack Layton's calls for a party leader meeting to discuss Canada's economic standing given the collapse of the American Bailout Bill; but decided that this was something that was worth talking about.

Essentially, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being accused of copying a speech that was delivered by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard on the issue of Iraq. There has been some varying reports on this issue. A conservative speech writer, Owen Lippert, resigned over the speech and claimed that he was pressed for time and did indeed copy parts of Howard's speech.

There are some people who are unhappy with this explanation and suggest that something more sinister lurks underneath. Some of said that the speech was really written in Washington D.C. and passed along to Conservative leaning world leaders to shore up support and standard talking points in favour of invading Iraq. While there is no evidence, at least that I have seen, to support this some people seem to prefer this to explain what happened.

I don't think that that is the case; rather I think it simply boils down to what the Liberals are actually saying about Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. Now, I don't always agree with the Liberals (see their massive record of abstains during the last session of the House), but some of what they are claiming does make sense.

Essentially, the Liberals are drawing the line that this is just further proof that Harper has no real policies of his own; that his speeches, his policies, and all his ideas come from outside sources rather than Canada. Now while that sounds rather overarching and dramatic, allow me to explain my position in a way that doesn't make it sound like a wild theory.

The idea of the Child Tax Credit which Harper ushered in when he was brought into office in 2006. Well, how many Canadians are aware that the same kind of system was brought into effect in the United States under George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts? Let me explain that in another way; a major plank in the Conservative platform (one which they continue to cite and warn other parties will remove) came into effect in the United States FIVE YEARS BEFORE the Harper Conservatives were elected.

Now, I'm sure there's dozens of other examples where Harper had brought in, introduced, or proposed ideas that seemed like a new thing within Canada but where happening else where in the world. Don't get me wrong, if the program works else where and can work here, by all means let's explore the option.

But the fact that we see a Prime Minister who actually is aligned with Bush's economic policy on this issue (as well as the idea of allowing the market to have a free hand and granting tax cuts to only the top money earners in terms of corporate tax breaks rather than those who really need them) I think we need to acknowledge that Harper is indeed a man who does not have a clear vision for this country.

Rather, he sees clearly into other countries (as long as they're on the right of the spectrum) and decides to bring those policies here. The speech is only another nail in the coffin of the Harper electoral campaign.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rant Against FPTP

Well, since we're in an election year, now would be the perfect time to bring this up.

I have long had a problem with the way in which Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly have been elected. Now, I know there are some people who are asking, 'Is he about to rant against democratic choice?' No, rather, I'm about to rant against the undemocratic method Canada currently uses in determining who becomes our elected representatives.

Currently, our voting system operates in a system that is known as First Past the Post (FPTP) in which a plurality (or majority) of votes is needed by a single candidate to be elected. In my current federal riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt a clear example of how this system is broken can be found. Our current MP is Conservative Brad Trost.

In the last election, Mr. Trost captured 49.07% of the vote within the riding, according to the CBC. (Saskatoon-Humboldt 2006 Results) Now, what this effectively means is that 50.93% of the riding voted against having a Conservative represent us in Ottawa. So, the majority didn't want Mr. Trost as our MP. Yet due to him getting the single largest number of votes, the will of the majority was ignored and he was ushered into office.

Now, I can hear some people saying; 'but the majority was listened to, he got the most out of all them...So that's the true majority!' Well, that's not true, to be brutally honest.

So, what is the solution? A scary term almost every Canadian has heard at some point: Proportional Representation (PR.)

As some of you may be aware, Ontario in their last election included a public referrendum on the idea of PR which was rejected by the electorate. Given the circumstances of the PR System, I'm not surprised. I'm working towards a degree in political science, have done a paper on PR, and not even I understood the system they were proposing.

Now, I can hear people saying; 'If PR is such a complicated issue that YOU don't understand, why are you proposing it?' To that I say; there are numerous forms of PR, some of which are far less complicated.

The seemingly popular, but not a good idea, system of PR is known as a Party List System. Under this system, a party captures the total number of seats based on how many votes they received throughout the country. Under this system a party usually needs to hit a specific quota in order to receive a seat. Generally, the quota is around 5% nationally with seats assigned as such.

In addition to the quota system; the party list functions on the basis of 'a who's who' within a political party. This means that popular party members are higher on the list. (Start with the Leader, then popular party members.) This increases the likelihood of an increased number of MPs from one part of the country rather than being truly representive of the entire nation.

You can see the headache that a system like that would cause for most Canadians, myself included.

Rather, the best system of PR is what is known as a Single-Transferable Vote system. This system is rather easy for anyone to understand and wouldn't require a massive change to the way our political system works presently.

A single-transferable vote functions by having an elector number the candidates on the ballot from 1 - 4, or however many candidates are on the ballot. So, if the Conservatives were your first choice, you'd number the Con. Candidate as 1 and then the other candidates in sequential order until all have a number or you have no other choice.

As such, this is what happens when the votes are counted.

If your first choice finishes last in terms of overall votes, they are removed from the election and your ballot is transferred to your second choice. So, if your first choice was Liberal but they finished last in your riding, your vote would be transferred to your second choice (which for fun, let's say is the NDP.) So, the votes are recounted with all the Liberal votes transferred to the second choice on the ballot.

This process continues until no more votes can be transferred and a candidate has a clear majority of 50% in the riding. By using a STV system, fewer votes are 'wasted' and the idea of 'vote splitting' disappears as votes are transferred.

The system isn't completely perfect, but it is by far a much better choice than our current electoral system.

As far as I currently know, only the NDP and Green Party current support electoral reform to a PR system. I'm not sure which PR system the parties are advocating, but hopefully it would be one based on a STV model.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Harper Promises to Name Young Offenders

Before I say anything substantial here, allow me first to acknowledge a few resources that this site will be using. First and foremost, Canadian news sources (http://www.ctv.ca and http://www.cbc.ca) are going to be a major source for quotes, campaign issues, and other things that will be brought up. In many cases, I will provide links directly to stories for readers to get the news perspective on the issue being mentioned.

News Report: Conservatives Vow to Toughen Youth Justice Act

Well, this is a bit of a tricky issue. Youth crime is a serious issue throughout Canada, in small cities and large ones alike. However, it does seem to me that the Conservative method of seeking to prevent crime is one that will not work within the long run. Allow me to build my case, lest it be left up to complete interpretation as to what I mean.

The essentials of the Conservative plan, from what I can gather from news reports and policy reports from the Conservative website, are as follows:

-Increase funding to the Youth Gang Prevention Fund to $10 million a year
-'automatic, stiffer' sentences to youths over the age of 14 who are convicted of a serious crime
-Upon conviction, youths 14 and older would be named in the media for serious and violent crimes

"We are concerned about young people falling into a life of crime...We are developing and implementing prevention and rehabilitation programs to meet that challenge more effectively.”

That quote is attributed to Prime Minister Harper, and is located on the Conservative website at the following link: Balancing Rehabilitation and Responsibility.

The Youth Gang Prevention Fund I must admit is something that I have little insight on. Someone is welcome to correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know, this fund has done little to decrease gang activity. In fact, in some communities gang activity seems to actually be increasing. Perhaps it is due to a crack down in larger city centres that are forcing gangs to smaller areas, or perhaps it's just a coincidence; but I know of a few communities here in Saskatchewan that have seen gang activity increased since this fund was created.

Now, since the fund is something I can't speak authoritatively on, I'm going to leave my points about it at that and move on to the rest of the Conservative plan.

There is a good reason I included Prime Minister Harper's quote in this blog, namely because I feel that their is either a sort of hypocrisy or ignorance in it. The reason I say this is because simple thoughts and opinions of the current penal system within Canada contradict this claim.

Presently, it is widely agreed that prisons and juvenile detention facilities are a breeding place for future criminals. That young people exposed to this type of atmosphere simply pick up tips from other inmates and in effect become 'better' criminals due to it. By exposing young offenders to these types of institutions at younger ages, Mr. Harper's plan is simply ensuring that young offenders will become repeat offenders.

Also, the issue of naming offenders of violent crimes contradicts Mr. Harper's quote. In many cases, people who have been labeled as criminals often find it hard to escape the social stigma attached to it. Even if they have been reformed in prison, they will always be known as 'the person who did...' By naming young offenders, youths as young as 14, Harper and his party are ensuring that these rates continue to go up.

A young offender, depending on the crime, could spend between two - four years OR more in prison and may not be released until they were a young adult (18+). As such, these people have lost years of work experience and education. (There are those who will argue that there are programs in prison that allow people access to education and work experience. I can't argue against the education, but I can suggest that the work experience is hardly the kind that builds on a skill which can be used to secure a job once the inmate is released.) Due to this loss a sense of hopelessness may become present within the offender; they may realize that they're never be able to lead a life that doesn't revolve around crime.

Add to this hopelessness the fact that they have been named in public as an offender and this entire issue spins out of control. From my understanding, businesses when given a choice between a convict and a person with a clean record, the businesses will usually pick the person with no prior convictions. This system of naming an offender and toughening the sentences for young offenders, simply won't work within the current prison framework in which they will simply become more skilled criminals and might even realize that they no long have any other path in life.

So, obviously, given these flaws that are inherent within the Conservative plan; it is safe to say that their plans do not match with Prime Minister Harper's quote.

I hear many of you asking, so Scott what is the alternative to this issue then? From my point of view, the answer rests within social answers. In most cases, social poverty drives gang membership to numbers that wouldn't exist otherwise. While not all low-income families turn out gang members, as that is a gross generalization and highly inaccurate to claim, there is a higher chance that it will occur. As such, a party needs to address ways to ensure that poverty within Canada is taken care of and that low income families have more money in their pockets to provide a basic standard of living for themselves and their children, so that the need to engage in illegal activities is removed.

Secondly, supervision is definitely an issue as far as youth gangs are concerned. In today's world where many parents have to work numerous jobs to provide their children, it is not always possible to look after them and ensure that they aren't falling in with the wrong crowd. This can be addressed by addressing poverty as well; but is better addressed by the establishment of better day care systems and after school programs that can keep children active and involved within their community and well looked after.

We can not have a society that addresses problems after the fact; which seems to be a staple in the Conservative playbook. Anyone who challenges that as an unfair statement can gladly look at Conservative plans for environmental sustainability, a plan which would try to stem the tide after it has already crashed against the shore. Punishing those who commit crimes is all well and fine, but it can not be the only recourse of a government. Rather, it must be our duty as a community, country, and government; to address the root causes of crime and remove them.

Tougher penalties are not going to deter criminals; just look back in history to see people who would commit treason despite the extreme penalty of being hanged, drawn and quartered; if that sort of extreme punishment wouldn't stop someone who wanted to commit the crime, how can we expect it to be an answer that works today when our punishment is nowhere near that serious?

Rather, crime will only be deterred once social inequalities and social issues have been addressed. We can't afford to sit back and punish after the crime has happened, we need to stand up and prevent the crime from occurring in the first place.

First Post of the Blog

Hello fellow Canadians, or random people from various countries who have stumbled across this blog.

Over the course of time I'll be adding numerous postings here on political viewpoints, opinions, thoughts, and perhaps even some suggestions as I respond to various political events that occur on both a provincial and federal level.

Due to the high number of events that occur within this vast country of ours, I'm sure that there will be events that I miss or fail to comment on. As such, for the interest of time and coverage, I will only be focusing on political events here within Saskatchewan, as well as Federal events when they occur.

First and foremost, I am a student who is currently finishing his last year of earning a political science degree with a minor in philosophy. As such, I like to think that I do indeed have some insight into political issues.

Secondly, I will admit that I exist on the left side of the political spectrum. As such, everything on this blog will be viewed from a centre-left/left of centre position. If you've come looking for a right/centre-right opinion, I'm afraid you've found the wrong place. So, now that the welcomes are out of the way, we shall be moving along to the first post of this new blog.