Monday, July 27, 2009

Happy Days are Here Again...

Source: CTV News: Conservatives Buoyed by Brighter Economic Outlook

Unlike usual, I won't be quoting much from this article. What I shall be doing is referring to it from time to time, while adding my own thoughts and wisdom to it.

The Conservative Party of Canada seemed to think the tough times are over. After Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney announced that the recession seemed to be over in Canada and that recovery was around the corner.

But that isn't what the Conservatives heard, at least not according to this article. What they heard was instead:
Great job, Steve and crew! No one would ever dare vote against you now, our economic stalwarts!

That's right, during 'election training', Conservative hopes were high that because of Carney's economic opinion, the opposition would lose their nerve and the Conservatives would stay in power until at least 2010.

Someone might want to tell Michael Ignatieff that...Before he does something foolish with the the Employment Insurance council and forces an election.

The problem is, and always has been, that the Conservatives seem to have an air of arrogance around them. That either they are 'untouchable' by the opposition parties, and an election will prove that...OR that the other parties are forcing Canadians to vote; even though it is their own bullheaded stubbornness that is forcing the opposition to consider bringing them down.

I would like, if you will allow me, to talk a little bit about the economic stewardship we've had under this government.

We've had city officials, Provincial officials, and other groups step up to the plate to ask Ottawa: Where is this stimulus money? Many people agree that the Conservatives dragged their feet on authorizing and spending the stimulus money; after all, would Michael Ignatieff demand progress reports and spending reports if the money was flowing?

The Conservatives, mostly John Baird and a few others, have always dismissed the idea that the stimulus money was coming out too slowly or not doing enough to help infrastructure and other projects throughout the country. But given the Conservative Party's penchant for saying one thing and then doing another (see Trost V. Ablonczy, etc), it seems unlikely that we can actually trust what a Conservative MP is saying.

And what about the thought that the economic dark times are over? Well, as someone who is experiencing them, I can tell you that they are not. I am going to get a little personal here, which may or may not be a good thing.

I graduated from University in May, was done classes as soon as April, and had been hitting the pavement to get a job in my chosen field. At first, I was a bit uncompromising in my desire to stay in Saskatoon. Then, as June rolled around and no job offers were given, I expanded to Regina, Edmonton, Toronto, and even the entire province of Nova Scotia.

So, where is the problem, some of you are asking are no doubt. The problem rests in that in my continued search to find work which I am qualified to do, there seems to be a dryness in the air that these jobs don't seem to pan out.

Now, the problem could be that there are better qualified people than myself. I'm the first to admit that I don't have the best resume, given that I was fortunate enough to be able to just concentrate on my studies during my four years in University, and perhaps that is a strike against me.

So, perhaps it's just being under qualified or lack of experience...Well, then that doesn't explain a certain agency which shall remain nameless. Their goal is an internship program that is designed to help recent graduates, like myself, with little to no experience to develop their skills to work in a modern business.

In those regards, everyone who applied should be on equal footing. But alas, the same problem arose.

Now, why am I talking about this? I'm not bemoaning my own difficulties in finding work, what I am bemoaning is the assumption that economic dark times are coming to a close. In my own estimates, I've applied for over 58 jobs in the past three months with no offers; imagine how many times this scenario is playing out across the country.

The fact of the matter is, as it stands, recently graduated students (and others throughout Canada, but I say students since I best understand that perspective) are having a hard time throughout the country.

I've spent four years and a ridiculous amount of money, told that a University Degree was my ticket to a career and the means of supporting myself. Instead, like many others, we've found ourselves at a crossroads:
Do we take a job, as opposed to the career we were promised? OR, do we return to University, spend more money, sharpen our skills, and hope that by the time we're done those career opportunities will have returned?

It is a difficult decision. Both have advantages and both have disadvantages. I would like to share, if I may, another personal story.

My brother and I are quite different people. He tried the world of academia, but ultimately decided that it wasn't the path he was meant to be on. He tried different jobs throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta, and he discovered something on some of these jobs.

Despite not obtaining a degree, or even completing more than a few semesters of University, there was an animosity of non-educated workers towards him. He was treated with a sense of contempt, all because he had had the audacity to go to University instead of automatically going to the workforce.

Ultimately, my brother had to leave one of the jobs he was at after a series of incidents that stems from this sense of contempt towards him. I won't say much about it, since I do not know all that happened and since I do not wish to point any fingers, but it ended with an activity that very well placed my brother in a dangerous and potentially life threatening situation.

What is the point of my telling this story?

I think, to a degree, there is a sense of contempt against University graduates in certain careers. But, is this sense justified?

In some senses, yes. There seems to be a sense of entitlement among certain university colleges, a sense that can rub quite a few people the wrong way. The idea that 'I'm educated, I deserve ________' has seemed to permeate within certain colleges. This sense of entitlement is further compounded by the flaw that these students think that their education allows them to do less work and instead shuffle their responsibilities to those they will be working with.

Perhaps others see this sense of entitlement, in these few select students, and think it characteristic of all University students.

Either way, the blame goes both ways when it comes to a sense of distrust and contempt between some people who entered the workforce and those who entered University.

I fear I'm straying too far from the point I was hoping to make, but I need to clarify something first. I am not saying that entering the workforce rather than school is the wrong choice; nor am I saying that entering school rather than the workforce is the wrong choice. What I am saying is that there are qualities, in both groups of people, that can cause conflict between the two sides and make a job/career difficult for both parties.

Now, back to my point and why I brought all this up. With this sense of contempt, the idea of a university graduate taking a short-term job outside of their field becomes a more daunting aspect. After all, where is the point in taking a job if you will be forced to leave it due to conflicts with co-workers who have been their longer?

I'm not saying this is commonplace, but I am saying that it does happen in certain cases and it's something we can recognize.

And what about going back to school? For many, this is not an option. Already saddled with thousands of dollars of debt, the idea of weighing yourself down with a few thousand more isn't appealing to many people; not to mention, the idea of having more degrees doesn't really help most people as they will be taking something outside of their original field, unless they are pursuing a Masters or PhD.

So, what is my point after all this rambling?

My point is that the economic rough times are far from over, and the fact that such unemployment exists is proof that our Conservative Government has not done a very good job in helping the economy. The idea of a trade deficit or just overspending in the first place may become less likely, but the fact that many Canadian are still facing unemployment is of far more importance and an issue that the Conservatives don't seem to talk too much about.

Until the Conservatives address this issue, and I don't believe they will as it's too 'socialist' to create jobs and use the government to place people in them over private enterprise, then we are still in a recession and we are far from the 'Happy Days' the Conservatives seem to see in their minds.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Few Things We Need To Talk About

Well, for the first time ever, I'm doing a double-blog post. By which I mean writing two different articles in the same day. Granted, I took a break between my last post and this one, but it's still a monumental thing for this blog.

Much like the last one, this is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge of subjects given that some things have come up that I think we should talk about.

Source: CBC News: Commissioner who Refused to Marry Same-Sex Couple Loses Appeal
Source: CNN News: Reality Check: Canada's Government Health Care System
Source: CTV News: Ontario Woman Slams Universal Health Care in TV Ads

The first thing I'm going to do is make a small comment on the case of Orville Nichols, the marriage commissioner who refused to marry a same-sex couple and was then taken to court for violating the couples' rights. Mr. Nichols', who argued that his religious beliefs were being infringed and not protected under the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, lost his appeal to the original decision that saw him pay $2,500 in damages to the couple.

Now, I've written an extensive blog post on the role of marriage commissioners and Justices of the Peace, and their roles and rights to refuse service to someone, so I'm not going to repeat things I've already said. What I will say, is that Mr. Nichols is in the wrong and it's good to see the justice system work in the best interest of the people.

Mr. Nichols' rights, in this case religious rights, were not infringed because he took a voluntary public service post and therefore bound himself to uphold the laws of the Province and Nation, not the laws of a religion. As such, he had no right to cite religious belief as a means to refuse service to a couple who can legally wed.

Hopefully, this loss will put a wrench in the Saskatchewan Party's bill to enshrine the right to refuse service based on Mr. Nichols' defense; as if the courts have their say, it will show that it is not a valid defense in a marriage commissioner's job and does not allow them to deny legal access to marriage to anyone.

With that out of the way, I'm going to talk about the issue that I wanted to blog about in my second blog post of the day.

I like the scan the news sites, it's something I do. So imagine my surprise when I see a headline on CNN saying that an American Lobby group against Universal Health Care found a poster girl in the form of a woman from Ontario.

That person is Shona Holmes. Ms. Holmes discovered that she had a growth in her brain, and was told that she would have to wait months to see a specialist here in Canada. As such, she re-mortgaged her home and went to the USA Mayo Clinic to have the growth removed, to the cost of $100,000.

The ad she is in talks about how she was refused service in Canada and that if she had waited for the government, she would be dead.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, former Health Minister, said that this was an extreme case. That serious cases are treated quickly in Canada, but that occasionally, some cases may be overlooked by the system. Even the CNN news report has testimony from a Canadian with cancer, who admitted that the entire process to undergo treatment and diagnosis for him was only a month.

Now, this is where things get a bit dicey and I open myself up for all kinds of abuse from a few people.

In the Canadian news article, Ms. Holmes' condition is only referred to as a growth near her pituitary gland. In the American news article, her condition is referred to as cancer pressing against her optic chasm.

I want to say at this point, that I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of Ms. Holmes' condition. A growth is a growth, and some would say that any growth is a tumor, but none of the Canadian agencies seem to go this far in classifying what was wrong with Ms. Holmes.

So, why do I think American doctors were quick to call it a tumor? Let's imagine for a moment: You go into your doctor and he tells you that there appears to be a growth on one of your internal organs. Obviously there is some worry, but the doctor schedules you to see a specialist in an appointment a few months away.

Now, imagine the worry when the doctor takes away the 'unfamiliar' word of growth and replaces it directly with the word: tumor. Your immediate thought is cancer, and all the things that are linked to it. Obviously, at this point, you would be panicked and not want to see a specialist in a month but now.

Understand what I am trying to say here. Americans seem to have a nation of sensationalizing; look at their media: Which house hold product could be killing your kids?! Did the government let _________ die?! And so forth...

As such, it would seem that they would be the kind of person to jump to the immediate that any kind of growth is a tumor, and that tumor is of course cancer. Whereas, I'd argue, that in Canada we are the kind of people to not jump towards an answer until we're sure it is the right one.

Again, I feel I must say this: I am not downplaying Ms. Holmes' illness. I am not saying that it was not serious or non-existent. What I am saying, is that due to her desire to rush and see American doctors (within this sensationalist ideal) she got an answer that may not be entirely accurate.

There was indeed a problem, a growth, but American networks are treating it as if it were cancer rather than as a benign, non-malignant or malignant/cancerous growth.

I feel as if I've strayed from the topic too much, which is why I'm going to attempt to 'right the ship' as it were. Ms. Holmes' has gone to the USA for medical treatment, and she is not the first, but she is among the first to my knowledge to become involved in a political campaign to attack Universal Health Care within the USA.

This post is not to condemn her or try and explain what she did was wrong, but rather to explore why she had to do this in the first place.

Yes, it is true that we do sometimes have long wait times in this country for medical access. And like former Health Minister Dosanjh said, sometimes serious cases could be overlooked. But does a system where a person has to mortgage their home to pay for treatment, to pay to live in some cases, sound any better?

It's time for me to get on my soapbox again and say what I've wanted to say about the health care system in this country.

To an extent, our health care system is broken. This is due to a few key reasons: politicians, health care workers, universities, and ourselves.

Allow me to explain.

Politicians are a problem because I firmly believe that none of them fully understand the health care system. Whenever there is a problem with health care, politicians are quick to say the usual things:
'Pay with your health card, not your credit card.' OR We've pledged this much money in our platform/budget to help improve access to health care.

The problem is, none of them ever go any further than introducing more money into the system. More money does not help when the system is understaffed. Sure, it may help us buy more equipment and help renovate aging hospitals, but if there is no one to work in these facilities then where is the point?

Now, what about health care workers? How can they possibly be a problem in all this?

Well, some of the problems are there and some of them are caused by others. When was the last time you went to a doctor's office? I imagine you had an appointment, and I also imagine that your doctor wasn't even close to keeping the time you were booked for. In these regards, doctors are a problem because of being overworked it is possible that they are increasing the chances for misdiagnosis and other problems.

We also have problems in that doctors, nurse and other health care professionals seem to be losing the human element in regards to health care. A Time Magazine article quoted a doctor, who trained others, that said many new doctors are treating their job as 'shift work'. That they don't see the patient as 'their patient' and are more than willing to pass on a patient to another doctor just so they can clock out on time.

So, what about universities? How are they a problem?

As a recent University Graduate, I can tell you there is a problem in our places of higher learning. In regards to medicine, look at the idea of 'seats' within the medical program. Only a certain number of people are allowed into the school of medicine each year, and hundred if not thousands more are denied entry into such programs.

In some cases, the applicant is rightfully rejected. Their MCAT score was too low, or their class average in undergraduate studies was too low. But even then, is this enough?

I don't have to tell some of you about the biases of standardized testing (like the MCAT), but I can see where they are coming from. But, there is one requirement which is utterly ridiculous: years of undergraduate study.

I happen to know someone who after four years of undergraduate study, to the best of my knowledge, they were finally accepted into Medicine. The same is true with other 'limited' seating programs like Law; where the college will only seriously consider candidate who have at least two years of undergraduate study. The applicant doesn't even need to graduate, although that looks better, but they need this time to study things they won't need before they can study what they will.

The other problem, is applicants whose rejection is unexplainable. I'm sure there are people with medium to high MCAT scores and decent averages, who are rejected from medical school, despite the fact that the person would indeed make a damned good doctor.

Effectively, universities are the SOURCE for our under staffing of the medical profession. By requiring applicants to have years of undergraduate study, they are robbing lower income students, who would easily perform well in medicine, access to studies by making them waste time and money on a program that does not help them earn a degree.

Furthermore, by restricting how many people can study medicine at a time, we are constantly stuck in a loop of under staffing. I'm not saying there should be no limit, as most professors would argue that it would be impossible to teach a class that numbered into the thousands, but surely we can provide access to more than just the few hundred that are allowed. Currently, the University of Saskatchewan only allows 84 (EIGHTY-FOUR) students to study first-year medicine, with hopes of expanding that to 100 by 2011.

And finally, there's us average Canadian citizens. In the past four years, I'd argue I've been to the doctor's office about, oh, no more than seven or eight times. Only one of those times led to a minor surgery, and even then, the wait time for that was only a matter of a month or so.

However, there are people that tend to be a bit more...Well, worrisome about their health. People who could have, in the four years I've seen a doctor eight times, gone at least fifty if not more times.

The sniffles or a cough, don't really warrant a trip to the doctor. Most of us, at least myself, try a bit of self-medicating with over the counter drugs from the local pharmacy and if those don't help, then we seek medical attention. Why do you think most doctors/nurses take the time to ask you what drugs you've taken in the past day or so?

The fact of the matter is, we are constantly told that we shouldn't self medicate. Or we shouldn't self diagnose what could be wrong with us. In serious cases, this is really great advice. In minor cases, it's something we should ignore.

By always going to a doctor when we don't need to, we are putting undue stress and burden on the system. We are plugging up a system that can move more freely if some of us would try other things before running off to the ER or the doctor.

So, in a nutshell, what did I just say up there?

Politicians think the only way to solve health care problems is to throw more money at the system, which doesn't help at all.

Health care workers are treating it too much like a job, rather than a public service, which increases the chances for mistakes and problems to arise; and worse, these mistakes can happen more often due to under staffing.

Universities add to the problem by not allowing direct admission to Medicine programs and restricting, to a ridiculous level, the number of seats they have in their first year medicine program.

And finally, we ourselves make the system worse by always running to a doctor at the first sign of a problem. Much like the boy who cried wolf, we think that a runny nose or sneezing three times in a row is a sign of a serious disorder that needs to be looked at immediately, rather than just an allergen causing a temporary problem.

Only by addressing all of these problems can we manage to fix the problems that currently plague our health care system.

We do have a great system, there is no doubt about that, but we have complications that prevent the system from functioning as it is supposed to, and only when those problems are fixed can we say that we have a PERFECT health care system.

The Truth Comes Out...Kinda.

Source: CTV News: Tories Reject Funding for Montreal Gay Festival
Source: CTV News: Minister Defends Decision Not to Fund Gay Arts Festival
Source: CTV News: Ignatieff Uses Speech to Blast Harper's Attack Ads

Now, today's post is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas that revolve around a theory I have been working on for the past couple of weeks. Surprisingly, the theory becomes more and more relevant and seemingly realistic as I've gone over these articles. For the moment, I shall discuss the first issue before launching into my own thoughts, but, in time you will see how the last source is connected to the first two and many more on this site.

I want you to think back to one of my last posts, one in which Brad Trost asserted that Diane Ablonczy lost a $100 million dollar tourism program after she gave the Toronto Gay Pride Parade $400,000. Trost asserted that her losing the program came after the caucus rose up in complaints about it, and that even the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) was upset about it as well.

Well, the party couldn't have that, so they quickly said that Trost was not telling the truth and that it was only four or so Members of Parliament who were vocal about the funding. They also said that Ablonczy lost the program because her department was understaffed and too busy working on a National Tourism program to handle both.

Now, let's fast forward to the Divers-Cite Festival in Montreal. The Festival, which brings Gay and Lesbian acts from around the world to perform, had applied for $155,000 of funds under the Marquee Tourism Fund (the same fund that was taken away from Ablonczy and given to Industry Minister Tony Clement.)

Before the fund was taken away from Ablonczy, Divers-Cite was basically told by government bureaucrats that they had met the criteria needed to apply for funds and were basically given the 'green light'. The funds seemed to be apparently in the bank, so to speak.

When the Ablonczy problem hit the news, the people in charge of Divers-Cite came to the government's aid; they said that they had felt that the government had never treated them differently and that they had even received more guaranteed funding in the past two years than in any other year before.

And then, they were told, that the final authorization was before Minister Clement. And then they were told that their funding was denied.

Clement's office came out to say, later, that the Divers-Cite Festival was denied funding in the interest of 'regional fairness'. Clement cited the Just for Laughs festival and the Montreal International Jazz festival received about a combined total of $12 million dollars. Clement went on to say that his department was trying to keep things fair with Quebec and Montreal and the rest of the country; that 42% of the funds have gone into Quebec, which is the same amount that have gone into Ontario. (Which for those of you keeping tracking, leaves only 16% for the rest of Canada.)

However, some people are disputing Clement's defense of regional fairness. Luc Fournier, a director of a Quebec events group, said that his group had told Clement and the Conservatives that Quebec's festivals would likely take a lion's share of the money from the offset.

Fournier's comment is based on the fact that the major requirement of being able to get funding from the Marquee Tourism Fund is that it must be a draw for national and international tourism, that it must be a major draw. This is to prevent a repeat of the 'Sponsorship Program', but also the requirement that Fournier says gives Quebec an advantage over other provinces.

Others are quick to point out that there is nothing in the criteria of the Marquee Tourism Fund that says regional fairness must be considered when the government dolls out the funds.

Gay and Lesbian groups are crying foul, of course. The director of the Black and Blue Festival in Quebec, who claims that their festival was the second largest draw in tourism behind the now non-existent Grand Prix, has been waiting approval for a pittance of $125,000; while a smaller, non-large drawing music festival (which is not gay or lesbian backed) has received approval for $1.4 million dollars from the fund.

So, what is the point of my argument in bringing all this up? I had stated in my last post concerning Brad Trost's opinion, that we would never know the truth about whether or not Ablonczy lost the Marquee Tourism Fund over her funding of the gay pride parade in Toronto, as Trost states, or whether it was actually from being understaffed.

Now, I believe we have our answer. Ablonczy was indeed punished for her funding, and Trost (who as I stated before, really has nothing to gain from making up this claim) was indeed telling the truth when he stated that the Conservative Caucus was against the funding, and we are seeing it now through Clement's denial of funds to gay and lesbian programs despite meeting requirements to receive those funds.

And now, to my theory: You will notice that I've linked another story that talks about Michael Ignatieff condemning Conservative Attack ads that ran in Quebec, which likened the Bloc Quebecois to pedophiles by their refusal to support a certain bill that came before the House of Commons.

Now many of you are thinking, what does this have to do with the first half of this post? Allow me to explain.

When these Conservative Ads first came out, I had a thought that ran across my mind and that I rebounded off a close political friend of mine. He told me that he thought it was ridiculous, if only because he refused to believe the Conservative Electoral Machine was this smart.

Right now, the Conservatives have 10 members from Quebec in the House of Commons, a result that was considered a 'breakthrough' for the Conservative Party and their luck in Quebec.

In the last election, the Conservatives came under fire for their controversial cuts to Arts Funding, and Quebec was one of the most vocal opponents over these cuts and seriously hurt Conservative chances in Quebec.

Many of you are asking, will you just get to the point, aren't you? Well, here is my point and my theory:

I firmly believe, that the Stephen Harper Conservatives have seen the writing on the wall. They know that their chances of re-election are diminishing by the day, and they need a way to stem the bleeding. How is the best way to do that? The answer: Prevent your opponent, your major opponent, from picking up your losses.

What do I mean by that?

By attacking the Bloc Quebecois, Harper is hoping to push Quebec citizens away from the Liberals and hope that any Conservative losses in Quebec will be in favour of the Bloc Quebecois. Even if Harper loses his ten seats in Quebec, if those ten seats go to the Bloc and the Liberals make no gains elsewhere, Harper could still have a chance of staying in government by preventing the Liberals from making gains.

To further these ends, by saying 'regional fairness' in regards to the Quebec gay and lesbian events funding, the Conservatives are pushing more people towards the Bloc Quebecois by saying that any other party will consider 'regional fairness' and do what they can to spread the funds across the country even if their events are lesser draws than ones in Quebec.

As such, this will push Quebec to vote for the Bloc as it will make them feel as if the Bloc is the only people who will actually fight to get funding for events in Quebec that qualify for them.

So, so sum things up:

I firmly believe that given the Harper Government's positions towards Quebec funding and attack ads that were released there; the Conservatives are hoping to push Quebec residents towards voting for the Bloc Quebecois in order to prevent those ridings they may lose from going to the Liberals.

If the Harper Conservatives can minimize their losses elsewhere, as I assume they are banking on, then by ensuring their losses in Quebec go to the Bloc, they have a small chance to retain government rather than losing it outright to the Liberals.

And even if the plan fails and the opposition form a coalition government, Harper still wins a small victory in saying that the government is 'in bed with the separatists' and furthermore, he gives Quebec a larger voice in the coalition which will sow the seeds of its own destruction.

I hate to admit that the Conservative Machine could actually be this smart to come up with a plan as dastardly as this...The idea of chopping off the hand to save the body, but the more I see the current government picking fights in Quebec, the more I begin to believe it may actually be the case.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Where is the Line?

Source: CBC NEWS: Alberta MLA Kicked Out of Tory Caucus Over Health Spending Spat

I know that when I started this blog, I said it would focus mostly on Federal Canadian and Saskatchewan politics, but this was an event that I figured was worthy of talking about.

Guy Boutilier, an Albertan Conservative MLA and former Cabinet Minister, was asked to leave the caucus apparently by Premier Ed Stelmach himself. So, what could this man have done that was grievous enough to make the Premier kick him out of the government caucus? Well, if you take Mr. Boutilier's word on the issue: He disagreed with the province dragging it's heels on a project to build long term care facility for the elderly in his riding and was vocal in his conversations with constituents about the issue.

As such, the ruling Conservatives decided that Mr. Boutilier could not longer be trusted to support and represent the government and promptly removed him from the Treasury Board and the caucus.

Now, for those of you who don't quite understand what it means to be removed from a caucus, let me explain. All parties in a legislative body are referred to as a caucus, which is effectively the gathered people of one party who represent their electors and the party within the legislative body.

When one is removed from caucus, they are effectively stripped of their party membership within the legislative body. So, Mr. Boutilier has gone from a Conservative MLA to an independent/undeclared MLA. I throw in the mention of undeclared, since it is possible that he may seek to join another party within the Legislative Assembly.

However, a spokesman for the Premier has essentially left the door open for Boutilier's return to the caucus, saying that any kind of reconciliation between him and the party is solely in Boutilier's hands. The spokesman then went on to continue to reinforce the government position, stating that Government MLAs need to present a united front in tough economic times by standing by government decisions.

The only crux to this argument is that the facility was approved 18 months ago, when tough economic times were already being predicted and making headlines. As such, I find it a little hard to believe that the facility was a cut back just due to this factor. Mr. Boutilier claims that the Alberta Health Minister also claimed that Boutilier's riding was 'youthful' and didn't need a long term care facility for the elderly.

So, once again, we find elected officials in a game of they said - I said. Obviously, this game has cost Mr. Boutilier a lot more than it has politicians who have recently been caught up in such games. (Brad Trost, for example.)

And now for the real reason I have brought this story up. A fine line was drawn by Mr. Boutilier's actions, a line that highlights the balance between representing your constituents and being fateful to your party.

Party politics is something that always risks taking over the way a government or opposition is run within a democratic system. You have competing forces vying for the same chance to run the country, and as such, co-operation is often limited. You have Government Bills that the party says all Government MPs or MLAs must support, or risk being removed from caucus.

You have opposition bills that have the same conditions, although they often revolve around not voting with the government.

What does this tell us about Canada's political system?

Well, if you listen to Mr. Boutilier, it tells us that constituents are fast taking a much worse back seat to the demands of the party. That our elected representatives are now too responsible to their party, so much so that they must ignore their constituents or face reprimands and consequences when they buck against the party in favour of those who elected them.

But it is important to measure a difference here. The Conservatives say Mr. Boutilier went too far in his candid conversations with his constituents, while Mr. Boutilier says he was just doing his job and being a good MLA. Right now, it's impossible to tell which one is telling the truth about the situation.

Obviously, there are times when an MP or MLA needs to represent the party over their constituents. For example, in the face of national media. We all remember Carolyn Parrish and her expressions towards American on national and international media outlets. In this case, she did not give her riding a bad name, but rather the party and government that she represented.

But where is the line when the MP or MLA is directly talking to their constituents? It is impossible to say whether or not Mr. Boutilier actually went too far with the information I have access to. It is also impossible to speculate whether or not he could have taken a different route to reach a better conclusion for himself. (Such as limited constituent interaction while privately consulting with the Premier, Health Minister, and others to push for the facility to be built, while still telling constituents that he was working on the issue.)

In closing, what we've seen here is the ultimate crime of the political landscape: The needs of the party put before the needs of the people. The Conservatives have been in power in Alberta for a long time, and perhaps that has clouded their judgment on how to interact with their constituents. After all, the odds of a Conservative getting elected in Alberta are incredibly good just because they carry the banner of being a Conservative; so, how hard do they really have to work to get re-elected?

Sadly, that last statement is true across Canada. We've seen ridings held by Federal MPs who have done nothing for the riding while continuing to get re-elected simply because they are a certain political stripe or the incumbent.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Until we demand better from our politicians, we'll never see any real or true progress in this country. We've grown too complacent in sticking with the familiar, and in the end, it is the familiar that will abandon the people in favour of keeping the power they've already managed to get.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Old Friend...

Source: CBC NEWS: N.L. Man Perplexed by Mailing from Sask. MP

I grew up in the Yorkton-Melville and during my time there, currently I am residing in the Saskatoon-Humboldt riding, I developed a rather terrible relationship with my local Member of Parliament, Garry Breitkreuz. A relationship which developed around 2004, at the Yorkton-Melville candidate debates.

I had a chance to speak with Mr. Breitkreuz about his feelings in regard to community involvement and co-operation between Federal, Provincial and Municipal elected officials. Mr. Breitkreuz used the opportunity to stress how important that relationship was, as well as how important it was to be seen supporting community events.

With a bit of insider information, when I proceeded to ask Mr. Breitkreuz why he'd only been to one event within the City of Yorkton (the largest area in his riding) in eight years, he seemed rather perplexed and presented a non-answer about that fact not being true, even though he did not tell me which events he had attended.

I furthered my contact with Mr. Breitkreuz during my years in high school, when as part of a 'social justice' class, I wrote him asking for some positions on same-sex marriage, a hot button issue at the time. It was in his response that I saw the true caliber of a man that he was. I had asked, if you polled your constituents and found that a majority over 50% supported same-sex marriage, would you reverse your opinion on the matter?

Mr. Breitkreuz proceeded to dismiss the notion and simply said, 'If they didn't agree with my positions, they wouldn't have voted for me.'

Well, for me, that was when the gloves essentially came off. Over the next few elections, I wrote in to my local newspaper and made it very clear the kind of man Mr. Breitkreuz was; how he was a model career politician who cared more about towing the party line than acting within the best interest of his constituents. Both of my letters were printed, and one even received a rebuttal from a fellow Yorkton-Melville citizen.

It's around this time, that I am convinced Mr. Breitkreuz learned who I was. I say so, because at the next candidate debate, he made it a very clear issue to avoid me for as long as he could. I had requested to speak with him, the moment the debates were over, and he proceeded to brush me off to talk to 'supporters' and other people.

After 30 minutes of making me wait, perhaps expecting me to go home, Mr. Breitkreuz finally talked with me. The conversation was a little heated, and both of us had a fair amount to gain given the small group of people who had gathered to watch a Member of Parliament and a teenager in a suit debate policy.

In the end, neither of us really won. We each had our talking points, we each got a few murmurs from the gathered crowd, and then we both eventually walked away from one another.

Now, I know many of you are asking, what does this have to do with the source story I've posted above? Is it just me stroking my ego by telling you about the small political feud I've had with an elected Member of Parliament? No, it is above all else a character study in Mr. Breitkreuz.

When I saw the news story today on the CBC, I expected someone in one of the larger city centres to be responsible, but to my surprise, it was my old friend Garry.

Effectively, a man in Newfoundland has reported receiving mail from Breitkreuz, despite not living anywhere near the man's home riding. He's not the only one, as other Newfoundland residents have stated they too have received mail from Breitkreuz's office.

So, how did this happen?

In Canada, Members of Parliament are entitled to mail out what is know as 10 percenters. Effectively, a MP can mail any riding in Canada provided that mail does not go to more than 10% of houses within a riding.

Usually, these 10 percenters are used outside of an election by a MP to get the word out about what his/her party has been doing in Parliament, and more importantly, what they have been doing for their elected riding.

For example, every once in awhile I will receive a black and white mailing from Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost. Within the mailing is the usual horn blowing "Conservatives cut ____ by ___%" or "Conservatives help _______" And of course, the odd "Liberals wrong on _____ issue." But inside is also usually a small record of what Mr. Trost has been up to since he was elected as our MP.

So, imagine the surprise of the people in Newfoundland, when they receive one of these mailing from a Saskatchewan Member of Parliament, and the only issue is a list of attacking points on Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Now, I know some of you are thinking, is this really a problem?

Yes. These 10 percenters are paid out of tax dollars, not money that is raised by the party, but rather money that comes from good, honest, hardworking Canadians. As such, these mailings should not be used as a means to attack a Liberal Leader, or any other Member of Parliament, as they are paid for by the taxpayer.

To compound the problem, the taxes should really stay within the riding of the Member of Parliament who is sending out the flier.

And now, for my speculation.

As I stated, in my dealings with Mr. Breitkreuz, I found him to be a man of political opportunity; say what he needs to say to get elected, then listen to the party and follow only what they tell him to do. (To some extent, he did break this when he introduced his own private member's bill on abolishing the long-gun registry, a major talking point for him, outside of the government sponsored bill to do the same thing.)

As such, I would like to state my opinion of what I believed happened. We all know that the Harper Government is not opposed to using dirty tactics to flaunt the law, and good taste, in order to further their own political careers. So, what is a good way of doing that? Redirecting money from 'safe' Members of Parliament to ridings where they need to stomp the word out.

I am man enough to admit that Mr. Breitkreuz will likely serve as Yorkton-Melville's MP until he retires or the day he dies; mostly because Yorkton-Melville has been a political stronghold for any party who gets in once. Before Breitkreuz, Yorkton-Melville elected Lorne Nystrom of the NDP for 25 years. As such, it seems that they will likely continue their pattern of voting in the incumbent.

Effectively, this means Mr. Breitkreuz has an advantage when it comes to funds. It is easy to imagine that a party desperate to bash Ignatieff would do whatever they could to get the message across AND save money for when the election comes. (After all, independent attack ads can be costly.)

As such, since Garry seems to be in a safe riding, why not use his 10 percenters (paid for by tax dollars) to send out attack ads in a province kilometres away? After all, Garry doesn't need the money to gain support, so might as well do something with it, right?

Now, this is all of course speculation on my part. I have no proof that this was the conversation that took place; nor proof that Mr. Breitkreuz, good Conservative Party Member that he is, agreed whole heartedly to the plan to move money around in the name of saving it in the long run.

What I can say, is that if the Conservative Party did indeed manufacture this plan to take money from a secure riding and use a Parliamentary Rule to allow it to be spent outside of the home riding, then the system is obviously broken and needs to be fixed and fast.

An aide for Mr. Breitkreuz was quoted as saying they were looking into how this happened, and whether or not that is true, I think some of us already know the truth. After all, when Stephen Harper beckons, Garry Breitkreuz listens.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Will of the Majority

Source: CTV NEWS: Canadians Growing Weary of Minority Governments: Poll

Well, for the most part, this week and the last have been mostly slow for political news stories within Canada. Mostly, there is still discussion over the last number of things I've talked about within the media, and frankly, I have no desire to keep bringing up issues I've already talked about...unless of course there is a development that requires talking about; much like the way I've presented nuclear power and Saskatchewan on this blog.

So, today I'm going to give my two cents about a recent poll that was conducted and posted on the CTV News website. Apparently, Canadians are starting to doubt and move away from minority governments. The poll suggested that 64% of Canadians would prefer a majority government in Parliament, as opposed to 52% who supported a majority a little over two years ago.

In fact, while support for the majority government standing have gone up, minority support has dropped by 12% from 36% in 2007 to 24% now.

But of course, the more important question proposed by the poll: Out of these four scenarios, which would you prefer: A Liberal Majority (30%), A Liberal Minority (14%), A Conservative Majority (24%), A Conservative Minority (9%).

So, while the Liberals find themselves in a position of support for them to lead a majority, Canadians also seemed to favour the idea of a coalition government, 45% to 42%, after the next election has taken place. Effectively, the idea that Harper bemoaned as anti-democratic and even almost treasonous, may become a political reality after the ballots have been cast.

So, now let's talk margin of error. According to the pollsters, the survey has a margin of error around 3.1%. As such, what does this mean?

Well, those who favour a Liberal Majority are still the top answer even with the margin of error factored in. As for the coalition, it becomes a bit more deadlocked with those who would oppose a coalition government.

And now, that the facts have been presented, let's talk a little bit more about the pros and cons of the majority and minority governments.

When Stephen Harper was first elected with his minority government, he had a unique advantage. The Liberal Brand was tarnished in the Sponsorship Scandal, their 'golden boy' Leader Paul Martin seemed to have fizzled out as a Prime Minister and Leader, and the party found itself in a general sense of disarray.

Despite these hardships against the Liberals, Harper failed to use these weakness to bolster himself and his party into a Majority Government, for a number of reasons. Some would argue that his leadership style, in which he governed as if he did have a Majority (known as the Clark Technique) may have harmed him. Others place the blame on centrist voters not willing to support a party with so many right-wing ideologues within the party.

Whatever the reason, Harper failed to capitalize on his best chance to form a majority government. Even under the weakened leadership of St├ęphane Dion, Harper could not push the tables far enough his way to get the majority he craved, instead, he simply gave the Liberals their worst showing in years and still ended up in a minority situation.

Ultimately, the Harper Years have done nothing more than prove that Canadians do not want an ultra-right wing government in office. Centrist, yes...Perhaps even centre-right, but nothing that fully steps away from the centre. This of course, is Harper's greatest weakness. Even if he shows Canadians that he is not the right-wing man he used to be; the one who praised American values and wanted a 'fire-wall' to separate Alberta from the rest of Canada, his party members and fellow Parliamentarians are still enough to show this ultra-right wing presence within the party. Not even gagging and restricting his Parliamentarians have been enough to take away this perception among centrist voters.

And so, since Harper has failed in his quest for the majority, Canada has seen numerous consecutive minority governments. However, we have not actually seen a TRUE Minority Government.

I say true minority government, because in a minority, it is up to the parties to come together on bills they can work on and pass for the good of the nation. Parties work together and put aside differences in order to try and make parliament work, and that is not what we have seen during the Harper Years.

Instead, we have seen the largest party threaten and bully the others into supporting their legislation or risk an election. The disorganized Liberals too afraid to risk further loses and perhaps worried of suffering the 1993 result for the Progressive Conservatives, ready and willing to back the Conservatives in order to protect their own skins.

Then of course, we have the NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Both parties have consistently voted against Government Motions, and occasionally, when acceptable, they have voted with a government bill. This is only part of what you are supposed to see in a minority government. These parties voted with the government when the bill before them was acceptable to their beliefs as a party, while the Liberals voted or abstained or didn't even show up, simply to prevent an election.

The other part, the part we didn't see thanks to Harper and his 'Clark Technique', is the parties coming together to work on bills in a bipartisan manner and present a bill that forms the idea of two different parties.

An example of this would be the Governments of Lester B. Pearson, who was often supported in his own minority government by the New Democrats. During this time Canada saw Universal Health Care, the Canadian Pension Plan, as well as our National Flag created in the spirit of two parties coming together in a give and take atmosphere.

Now, some people might say that the NDP of old just bullied the Liberals into supporting them (much like Harper is doing now) or face an election and risk losing government. Well, allow me to point out the difference:

In a minority government, the opposition parties should seek a give and take atmosphere; you support this and we'll support you on this motion. In this case, Universal Health Care for budget support and likewise.

Under the Harper Government, with the weakened Liberals, we've seen: You support this bill, or we'll go to an election right now...And it's the GOVERNMENT that is saying that, not the opposition.

Effectively, minority governments are supposed to come close to the perfect idea of a parliamentarians coming together to better life for all Canadians. To increase co-operation between two parties and allow MPs to say: The opposition has a point with this motion, or the government does, and allow them to support a motion because it is the right thing to do.

Instead, we've seen parties (both in minorities and majorities) vote against motions simply because the 'other' party introduced the motion. We've also seen parties vote against something, have an election, then introduce the motion they voted against. (See Brian Mulroney and the North American Free Trade Agreement on this one.)

Minority Governments, when the government realizes they don't have a majority and need to work with the other parties, can be a good thing for Canadians, as the Governments of Lester Pearson prove.

However, under Harper, we've not seen the minority governments of co-operation but rather ones of division and advantageous nature. (By which I mean, calling an election that directly contradicts a motion your own government passed on fixed election dates.)

When the next election comes, I hope for two things:

1.) That the Liberal Party can secure a minority government and form a coalition with the NDP, and Bloc if necessary, to show Canadians that minority governments can work when their is a spirit of co-operation involved.

2.) That if the Conservatives win another minority, that the Liberals are effectively able to re-establish themselves as a party from the tarnish of the past, so that without their weakened former position Harper will not be able to bully the other parties to his will and will lose his power to the parties willing to work together in an opposition coalition.

Ideally, for me anyways, we'd see a third option: Federal NDP Government. If Canadians are truly becoming disillusioned with the political system in Canada, then the fault lies with our two governing parties, and the only real solution is to elect a new governing party. Some of Pearson's best accomplishments came from an opposition NDP who got their ideas across through give and take; imagine what they can accomplish when they're in power.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sometimes, I Hate Being Right.

'My bigger fear, of course, is that now that Chalk River has popped up into the news again, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall will again attempt to sell Saskatchewan as a nuclear option and the next best place to build the new 'Chalk River' facility; even though it seems the majority of Saskatchewan residents are against nuclear reactors in the province. Mark my words, give it time, and Brad Wall will step out again saying how Saskatchewan can take over for Chalk River as Canada's isotope producer.' - Me, Yesterday.

SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Nuclear Critics Suspect Hidden Agenda in Sask. Medical Isotope Plan
SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Saskatchewan to make Federal Bid for Isotope Facility, Premier Confirms

Well, I have to say I called this one. When it was announced that Chalk River could be out of production until 2010, I predicted that our nuclear gung-ho Premier would once again poke his head up and tout Saskatchewan as a means of providing nuclear isotopes. And lo and behold, barely a day after I predicted this, it comes true.

Politics can be a nasty game sometimes, and that is what we are seeing here. Brad Wall and his government are exploiting a situation, a shortage of medical isotopes, to push towards their own nuclear agenda and I'm not the only one who feels this way. Former Professor and member of Coalition for a Green Saskatchewan Jim Penna agrees.

Penna suggests that there are ways of obtaining nuclear isotopes without a reactor, yet Premier Wall and his crew have always stated that they will look into building a reactor dedicated to the production of nuclear isotopes.

The bigger problem with this issue is that it confirms what we've all feared since the beginning: That the Saskatchewan Party Government does not care about what Saskatchewan residents have to say about nuclear power, instead they are determined to push ahead on this issue regardless.

I know what you're saying, that sounds a little callous. However, keep this in mind: The Premier has until July 31st to submit a proposal to Ottawa in regards to getting Federal help in building a new medical isotope facility in Saskatchewan. Dan Perrins, who is in charge of preparing the report in regards to citizen's opinions based on the public forums the government has held, won't file his report until August 31st.

That effectively means that the government will move ahead with a nuclear medical facility before consultations are finished and the report on public opinion is given to the Premier and his government.

To make matters worse for the Premier, even Wall's own people seem a little confused on the issue. Back when the Saskatchewan Party Government was still maintaining the illusion of actually listening to Saskatchewan Citizens and their concerns during their nuclear public consultations; Richard Florizone and others prepared a report on the feasibility of a nuclear isotope reactor in Saskatchewan.

Quote from their report: Although medical isotope production provides an attractive source of revenue for a research reactor, the economics of a stand-alone isotope reactor are not attractive. (Source: CBC News: Medical Isotopes on Saskatchewan's Radar: Premier)

The report also suggested that even though Saskatchewan could make $9 million dollars a year in profit from the reactor, there were complications over finding a location that would allow further processing of the isotopes within Saskatchewan, especially since the location would need to be at least within three hours from the isotope reactor.

As such, we would be looking at hefty travel and shipping costs for the isotopes we'd produce, the cost of which was not included or estimated by the report.

Before I continue, I feel I must hammer this point across: Wall's own people, back in June, doubted the fesibility of a reactor solely designed to produce nuclear isotopes. Well, now that it's July, how do they feel?

Richard Florizone again came out to say that the production of a medical isotope facility could be a very 'worthwhile endeavour', with no mention of the fact that little over a month ago his group reported that there would be problems with the simple reality of such a reactor in Saskatchewan.

The Opposition NDP have also voiced their concern over the speed in which Brad Wall is moving forward with this issue. Furthermore, they have also condemned the role Richard Florizone is playing in the entire ordeal. Sandra Morin, environmental critic for the NDP, pointed out that Florizone is helping to prepare the government's proposal to Ottawa, and that before that he chaired the Uranium Development Partnership, a group which seeks to further uranium development in Saskatchewan and proposed building a nuclear isotope facility.

Morin said that his involvement raises a lot of questions, and she is indeed correct in that statement.

I'm not going to speculate on Dr. Florizone's role in all of this, though I will admit I do agree with Sandra Morin that there are complicated questions that arise from his involvement, but what I will do is explain, yet again, how Saskatchewan residents are being ignored by their government.

We've had public consulations on nuclear power for quite some time now, and with this move Brad Wall has publically affirmed he doesn't care to wait to see what the people of his province have to say about all this. Furthermore, Premier Wall has gone on record saying that as far as he is concerned, the Saskatchewan Government could opt out of the program all together and leave it in the hands of the Federal Government and private investors.

Effectively, Saskatchewan is being betrayed by it's government. If the reactor goes ahead, it is only a matter of time until Premier Wall pushes for the expansion of nuclear reactors throughout Saskatchewan and makes a move to push us towards nuclear power.

The problem, as I've mentioned before on this blog, is that our expansion towards nuclear power is not for our benefit as Saskatchewan residents, but rather to help our neighbours to the South by selling excess power off our grids to them at a profit, while we take all the risks that come with nuclear development.

Furthermore, if the Saskatchewan Government opts out of the program all together and simply allows Ottawa and private investors to develop a nuclear reactor here, we will be in the same boat with Wall pushing for expansion, but there are compounded problems.

Chalk River has not been perfect, but under better governments we have seen better management of the facility. If the Saskatchewan Government opts out from the role to run a facility here, even though I oppose building one in the first place, then we run the risk of a facility that's sole purpose is to make money for it's private investors: regardless of the cost and risk that it may pose.

In closing, our government is selling us out for a few extra shillings so that when the next election comes, they can say they've pumped money back into the province at a cost we won't see for quite some time. Remember, Brad Wall studied under Grant Devine, and he too no doubt learned how to make your books look a lot better than they actual are.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Very Busy Week...

Well, when I decided to put up a new post, I had intended to talk a little about some issues that had popped up involving my own Member of Parliament, Brad Trost. However, since then, a lot more issues have come up that require a lot more attention. As such, sadly, I must write another multi-post to get these issues across. I say sadly because it makes me feel as though I am not contributing enough to each issue, or that I become too focused with what I am going to say about something else, that I forget to mention something somewhere else.

So, here's the sources for the articles I'll be talking about today.
SOURCE: CTV NEWS: Deficit Predicted to Hit $155.9B Over Next 5 Years
SOURCE: CTV NEWS: Gay Festival Organizer Defends Tory Government
SOURCE: CTV NEWS: Gay Pride Cash May Have Led to Demotion of MP
SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Chalk River Reactor Idled to Late 2009 or Longer
SOURCE: CBC NEWS: LeBlanc Funeral Puts Harper in Communion Controversy
SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Page Calls for Debate on Economy
SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Canada to Spend $5B for Armoured Vehicles, LAV III Repairs
SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Montreal Gay Pride Festival Head Defends Tories
SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Abolonzcy Punished For Giving Pride Parade Cash: Tory MP

Yes, I know, it's a lot to talk about. Thankfully, there are three general groupings: Economy, Chalk River and Tory Controversies.

So, which one do I talk about first? Well, let's get the controversy out of the way before trying to grapple with the economy.

Out of all the things I've heard about problems with Stephen Harper, this is by far one of the strangest. At the funeral for former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc, our Prime Minister was caught on camera receiving communion from the priest, but not shown actually 'accepting the host.' (See it here for yourself: YouTube: Stephen Harper Puts the Host in his Pocket)

Now, there are a few problems with this. Number one, our Prime Minister is noted to be a devout Protestant. As such, under Catholic Law, he shouldn't be accepting communion in the first place. Secondly, for Catholics, the 'bread and wine' undergo the process of transubstantiation, wherein the bread and wine quite literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. To accept the host, but then to not eat it, would be quite offensive.

The PM's office claims Harper did indeed eat the host, and that the video was inconclusive and did not focus on the PM long enough to show that he did. Now, I'm just going by what I saw, and I can tell you: It certainly looks to me that Harper did not eat the communion waffer.

Now, I was raised loose Catholic and attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Before going through my First Communion, it was common knowledge that if you put your hands out then the Priest would offer you communion. If you put your hands on your shoulders or kept them at your side, he would simply give you a blessing.

One of Harper's staffers has said that he didn't brief the PM before the funeral, but was sure that this was not Harper's first time attending a Catholic Mass; as such, if little old five-year old me can see the difference between those accepting communion and those accepting a blessing, I should certainly hope our Prime Minister could tell the difference as well.

So, why did Harper take the host if he isn't Catholic? I can only speculate on this issue, but I like to think my speculation is correct. Christianity is quite the divide religion, what with numerous sects of Protestants and different sects of Catholics. Harper has shown himself to be a man who likes to get the support of religious individuals, probably because more evangellical religious followers would approve of his social values.

Anyone who doubts Harper's desire to court the religious vote, look at his efforts within the Jewish Community to ensure that Jewish voters will show up and vote Conservative. (Such as mass mailing cards and other letters to Jewish Canadians during Jewish holidays.)

So, in my opinion, this is just a move by Harper to help prevent the problem he would face from not taking the host. Harper didn't want to showcase the difference between his own personal beliefs, as a protestant, and risk alienating his Catholic followers. However, given the fallout that has happened from his actions at the funeral, the PM would have been better off accepting the blessing and explaining it later on, given that he'd likely would have not offended anyone through that course of action.

Effectively, for Harper, this was an issue that he was going to take flak for either way. Foolishly, he chose the option he thought would look better for others, but was caught not fully following through on it. For a PM as 'image conscious' as Harper, he should have seen this coming.

Now that we've dealt with our PM's latest blunder, and hopefully explained it slightly, there's another issue that needs to be discussed under the umbrella of Tory Controversy.

Diane Ablonczy, a junior cabinet minister, made a bit of a wave when she gave the Toronto Gay Pride Parade $400,000 dollars from the $100 million dollar Marquee Tourism Events Program. To make matters worse, Ablonczy lost control of the Program and it was transfered away from Ablonczy (the Secretary of State responsible for Small Business and Tourism) and given to Minister of Industry Tony Clement.

You might want to re-read that last part: The Secretary of State responsible for small business and TOURISM, lost the right to give out funding under the Marquee TOURISM events program. The Conservative Government claimed that the Marquee Tourism Events program was transferred to Clement because Ablonczy's department was in charge of another program and that it could not effectively administrate both programs.

Enter Saskatoon-Humboldt Member of Parliament Brad Trost, with his take on what happened to Ablonczy. Trost, speaking to a 'pro-life' website, stated that Ablonczy lost the money specifically because she gave $400,000 dollars to the Toronto Gay Pride Parade, much to the shock of the entire Conservative Caucus and the Prime Minister's Office.

Not to be outdone, a Conservative speaking under the condition of secrecy, said that Trost and four other unnamed Conservative MPs were mostly ignored by the caucus when they made their objections clear to the $400,000 grant.

What makes this incredibly interesting is the response that it is generating. Social Conservatives are condeming the pumping of tax dollars into the pride parade, while gay rights advocates are applauding Ablonczy for the allocation of the funds. So, the question becomes, who is telling the truth?

Since being elected, Stephen Harper has kept a pretty tight muzzle on his Members of Parliament, in hopes of keeping centrist voters within the party by making it appear to be less extreme in their beliefs. So, given this previous history, how did Brad Trost manage to make his comments?

Well, that's something that I can't even speculate on. What I can speculate however, is which one of them is telling us the truth?

We have a single MP who claims the government was against the funding and punished Ablonczy for giving it to them. We do indeed see Ablonczy losing the $100 million dollar initiative, but we see no proof to prove that it was in response to her funding of the pride parade.

Then, we have the government claiming it was a conflict of investment programs that caused the shuffling of the program away from Ablonczy, that while her department is working on a Federal Tourism Growth Strategy, it is too understaffed to administer both programs. This is according to Darren Cunningham, communications director for Minister Clement.

So, who is telling the truth?

Well, what does Trost have to gain by coming out about the shuffle? Trost runs in a riding that is generally safe for Conservatives, winning by a little over 50% in the last election. (SOURCE: CBC NEWS: Canada Votes: Saskatoon-Humboldt) So, obviously, he's not too worried about being re-elected. The only thing he gains is the means to further himself with social conservatives, which he doesn't really need given the security of the riding. So, in effect, Trost gains nothing by saying Ablonczy was punished for her funding to the parade.

Now, what do the Conservatives gain? By saying it's an issue of staffing and time that caused Ablonczy to lose control of a major tourism fund, they are able to save face. By saying it's a question of staff, they are able to hide their own internal prejudices against the gay community and hopefully prevent a backlash that comes from such prejudices. As such, the Conservatives have a lot to lose if Ablonczy did indeed lose the funding because of her choice of donation.

However, there is a third unknown option that rears it's head in this debate: And that is the nature of the relationship between Toronto and the Conservative Government. John Baird was overheard saying that the city could 'F--k off', but did apologize for it, then denied funding to help fix the TTC, stating it didn't meet federal requirements.

So, what is this isn't a question of social conservativism? What if it is a question of a government that just doesn't get along with one of Canada's largest cities? Well, in that case, the Conservative Government doesn't have much to gain by taking the responsibilities away from Ablonczy, neither does Trost, which makes his comments all the more stranger.

Either way, there is only one way to bring this matter to a close: The four other Conservatives who opposed the funding need to step forward and identify themselves, back up the fact that they were rebuffed at the meeting...Or back up what Trost had said. Until that happens, we won't truly know why Ablonczy lost control of this program.

And now for a topic that keeps coming back to Canadian Politics, regardless of how much we try to fix it, Chalk River. It's been reported that the facility, which produces nuclear isotopes, will be out of commission and under repair until late 2009, if not even later. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt have bemoaned the announcement, and expressed their disappointment.

However, let's do one little reality check before we give them too much credit: When the conditions at Chalk River were first identified as being a potential risk and in need of repair, it was suggested that the facility be closed and repaired. Stephen Harper and his government refuted the report, fired the then nuclear watchdog who created the report, and instead ordered Chalk River to fire the reactors back up and keep producing isotopes.

Obviously, for political reasons, Harper wanted to be seen as the man who kept our nuclear medicine going. Now, he might very well become known as the man who destroyed it. Instead of allowing the repairs to happen, Harper put extra stress on the reactor at Chalk River and is now more or less responsible for the problems we have experienced at the facility. By refusing to allow the repairs to happen then, we are paying for it now.

To compound matters, Harper has openly stated his government's intention to get out of the 'nuclear medicine business' and to seek a means to transfer the Chalk River facility out of government ownership and into private. I know Chalk River has it's problems, and that Harper is quickly feeling it as a cement block around his neck, but if this is the best solution he has to avoid problems with it in the future, then he's just not trying hard enough.

My bigger fear, of course, is that now that Chalk River has popped up into the news again, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall will again attempt to sell Saskatchewan as a nuclear option and the next best place to build the new 'Chalk River' facility; even though it seems the majority of Saskatchewan residents are against nuclear reactors in the province. Mark my words, give it time, and Brad Wall will step out again saying how Saskatchewan can take over for Chalk River as Canada's isotope producer.

So, where does that leave us? Ah yes, the economy. I nearly fell out of my chair when I read the headline on CTV News' website: Deficit predicted to hit $155.9B over next five years.

That's One-Hundred, Fifty-Five Billion dollars, for those who don't do numbers well. The number comes from the government spending 'watchdog' Kevin Page, who released the numbers in a 35 page report. Now, why is this important?

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty predicted that the government would only run a deficit as large as $100 billion, or one-hundred billion dollars, over five years before hitting a $700 million dollar surplus in 2014. To compound measures for our finance minister, Page predicted a $16.7 billion deficit in 2014, not the surplus of $700 million.

Page has said that the economy will require spending cuts or tax increases, perhaps both, in order to recover. While Flaherty, in true open-market conservative fashion, believes the economy will recover on it's own and produce a surplus once market conditions get better.

So, let's see: In the years we've had a Harper Government, we've seen a decrease of 2% in our GST, but a massive deficit growing and bubbling over us. Is it really worth it for 2% off of whatever we buy? Especially considering that those who buy more really see a benefit from it, while those of us who save our money, don't see the same benefit.

To top it all off, the Conservative Government announced today that they will be spending $5 billion dollars to purchase new armoured vehicles and repair older ones. In a time of a deficit, perhaps this is not the greatest investment. I understand we have troops fighting overseas, but Defence Minister Peter McKay confirming that the new vehicles won't be ready until 2012, with the fleet being fully repaired by 2015. Canada's operation in Afghanistan ends in 2011.

So, unless the Conservatives are planning to increase our time in Afghanistan, or are preparing for the next big war, this expenditure seems kind of worthless. Granted, our troops could use better technology to keep them safe during wartime, but in a recession do we need to spend that money AFTER our troops are already brought home?

With the deficit and the economy the way it is, this is $5 billion dollars that could be better spent in stimulating the economy through public works projects and infrastructure development; and perhaps, -gulp- even a tax credit to Canadians to encourage spending. If the vehicles would be operational for the current Afghanistan mission, then perhaps it would be a wise investment. But given that they won't be fully ready until four years after the mission is over, it's a bad investment in a time when we can't afford to make bad investments.

Now, there's a lot to digest in this post, given the magnitude of the economy and some of the other topics...So, I shall leave it there for you to pour through and digest and think about. After all, there needs to be more than just me thinking about these things if we want to find the truth behind them and a way to get through them.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Times, They Aren't a Changing...

Source: CTV News: Tory Ploy Could Muzzle Liberal-Dominated Senate
Source: CBC News: Same-Sex Couples Could Hear 'No' From Sask. Marriage Officials

When I went home this weekend, I had intended to come back and talk solely on the issue of same-sex marriage being challenged here in Saskatchewan, but a very important Federal matter also caught my attention. As such, this will be the first post where I will discuss two issues I feel need to be discussed.

We'll start with the issue of the Senate, since I previously talked about senate reform in a post. The Tories do not like the Canadian Senate, at least, they don't like it how it is now. Throughout the 80s and 90s, the Tories claim that Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien stacked the Senate full of Liberals and now it is next to impossible to move Conservative Legislation through the Upper Chamber.

Well, obviously, there are some facts. The Senate is indeed Liberal dominated, in that there are currently 54 Liberal Senators, 38 Conservatives, 2 Progressive Conservatives, 1 independent Liberal, 5 independents, and 5 vacant seats. (Source: Senate of Canada, Wikipedia) As such, the Tories are right when saying the Senate is dominated by Liberals.

However, after the failure of the Triple E proposal in the early nineties, and no real headway for reform under Stephen Harper; the Conservatives have found a new way to get past the Liberal Senate...Well, kind of.

The way legislation works in Canada is very simple: The House of Commons proposes a bill, sends it to the Senate (if passed), and the Senate sends it to the Governor General for Royal Assent (if passed), or back to the House of Commons to be retooled if if is defeated. With the exception of money bills, however, the process can work backwards with the Senate passing a bill and then sending it to the House of Commons.

Once a bill is sent to the House of Commons, it must be given a sponsor within the House of Commons who will speak in favour of the bill and present it to the House for consideration. This is where the Conservatives found their loophole. The Clerk in charge of the Senate is also in charge of letting Members of Parliament sign up to sponsor a bill from the Upper House; and Conservative MPs have been flooding the office to sign up to sponsor almost every bill; regardless of whether or not they support it.

The trick behind this is that a bill before the House of Commons, when brought down from the Upper Chamber, is automatically defeated if the sponsor fails to show up twice for debate of the motion. So, if a Conservative picked up a Senate bill to end the seal hunt in Canada (an actual motion, by the way) and then failed to show up twice to present and debate the motion, it would automatically be defeated.

See the problem?

Currently, the Conservatives are enacting this method against Private-Member Senate Bills, which are individual bills put forth by Senators and do not reflect either the government or the opposition. The reason the Conservatives say they are doing this, is to increase the odds of Commons Private Members Bills of being heard; since Senate Bills take precedence in the cue of motions to be heard.

However, no one is really buying this explination given by the Conservatives. Regina-Wascana MP Ralph Goodale went on record to remind Conservatives that Commons Private Member Bills are treated the same way in the Senate; where they take priority, and warned that these types of actions could lead to a destruction of private member motions, as no progress could be made on either front.

Goodale also noted that the actions were very much an affront to free speech, and it amounted to nothing more than an attempt to muzzle the Senate. Progressive Conservative Senator Lowell Murray also condemned the actions as corrupting the parliamentary system, and warned that the Senate could very well block government action in retailiation.

Allow me to explain that last point. The Senate, Canada's Second Sober Thought, has the authority to defeat a bill that was passed in the House of Commons. When this happens, the bill is sent back to the Commons to be retooled and then voted on again. In addition to returning bills to the House of Commons, the Senate can also effectively hold up legislation in committee and use other methods to slow down the function of government.

And now, a Progressive Conservative Senator, has warned that such a thing could happen if the Senate is continued to be treated in such a manner. But, no doubt, if such a thing happened our Prime Minister would blame it all on a conspiracy of the Liberal Dominated Senate, even though the movement started from the dust of his former political stripes.

Now, I feel that compounds the Senate issue to a matter in which there is more or less nothing left to say about the issue. And as such, we will move on to the second issue I highlighted as important in my opening.

Saskatchewan was one of the provinces to legalize same-sex marriage outside of the sweeping Federal Bill that legalized it throughout the nation, but we're finding the decision effectively under attack. The Saskatchewan Government, led by Premier Brad Wall and his Saskatchewan Party, have introduced a motion in the Legislative Assembly that will allow Justices of the Peace to say 'no' to same-sex couples if it violates their religious beliefs.

Now, this stems mostly from a case that is already being heard in the courts. A Saskatchewan JOP (Justice of the Peace) refused to marry a same-sex couple, and they promptly sued for violation of their rights. And the JOP's defense? That the union of marriage between two people of the same sex violated his religious convictions and beliefs, so much so, that he refused to marry them.

So, I can sense some people are saying what is the problem? Allow me to explain.

A JOP is essentially a member of the Saskatchewan Public Service Commission, also known as the bureaucracy, public service, or whatever term you chose to use to define the people behind the scenes within the legislative process. Now, as such, one would expect two very important things from this kind of job title:
1. That they provide a public service
2. That they uphold the laws, both provinical and federal, of the job in which they serve

Now, if you use this definition, what does it tell you? It tells you that any JOP who chooses not to marry a same-sex couple, is effectively not doing their job. Let's perform a little experiment.

The next time you have to deal with your boss, trying explaining to them that you can't peform a certain part of your job because if violates a belief that you have. (In reality, I've actually done this when it comes to the process of 'upselling' a customer.) Watch your boss' reaction, and see if you still have a job in the morning.

A JOP is not a religious official, they are a government official; and as such, they have no business bringing in their religious beliefs to their position. I'm not saying that they can't have beliefs, religious or otherwise as a JOP, but they must accept they are employed by the Government and not the Church, and as such they must uphold the rules and regulations of the Government while acting as its representative.

What do I mean by that?
God's Law (According to some people): Man + Woman = marriage; and is the only right kind of marriage.
Government Law: Marriage is any kind of legal union between two persons; ex] man and woman, woman and woman, man and man.

Now, as a government representative, you'd be expected to uphold the government viewpoint and be required to marry any loving couple that came to you expecting to be wed. From God's Law viewpoint, you'd likely be a minster within a church and wouldn't have to perform same-sex marriages unless you wanted to, since some denominations do.

Effectively, a JOP must follow the government laws in regards to marriage, they cannot claim to follow God's Law as a means to deny a legally behind contract to anyone.

Now, I hear some people saying, 'so what if one person says no? There are plenty of JOPs to officiate if someone else doesn't want to.' The problem with this, coincidentally, is the same problem that is enshrined by this bill.

By allowing someone to say no to following the law, and in fact creating a law that allows them to circumvent another law, the government is effectively enshrining discrimination into marriage law. Allow me to explain.

There is commonly the phrase, 'second class citizen' thrown around when it comes to any movement attempting to achieve rights. By allowing a JOP to say no to a same-sex couple, and legally allowing it, the Sask Party Government will effectively turn homosexuals into second class citizens. This is because a JOP rejecting a same-sex marriage would likely never reject a hetrosexual marriage on the same grounds...Nor would they reject an interracial marriage.

By allowing someone to say no to something, the government will effectively push homosexuals back in their pursuit of equal rights.

Frankly, I can see where the Sask Party might believe where they are coming from using a very old argument: How can you claim to protect one person's rights while taking away someone elses?

In this case, the argument would be this: Homosexuals have the right to get married, but people also have the right to religious freedom. To force a person to marry homosexual couples, against their religious freedom, you are compromising their rights.

It's almost a convinicing argument, almost, until you consider one very important fact. A person chooses to be a JOP, a person does not chose to be a homosexual. As such, you are saying that person who choose a life of being a JOP and also a life of spirituality, has more reason to have rights than a distinct individual who was born a certain way.

If a JOP has such a problem with same-sex marriage, then they have no right being a JOP and should resign. As mentioned, being a JOP means following the laws of the province and nation, and those laws include the allowing of same-sex marriage. Rather than attempting to force religion into a place where it does not belong, especially given that there are religious forms of marriage outside of 'state' marriage, and attempting to enshrine homosexuals as second class citizens who can have their rights violated at the whim of a JOP who refuses to recognize a legal union, these people should retire their commission and accept that there times have changed.

But like they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. Same-sex marriage has only been a reality for a short time, and there will be issues that will challenge it for years to come. There will be attempt to take it away, as Conservatives attempted to do after being elected, and attempts to restrict it, as is happening in Saskatchewan now.

These challenges, like any other challenge, will only make the issue stronger and make it that much harder to take away. And for that, perhaps the cost of fighting for these rights to continue to exist, unabashed and recognized like any hetrosexual marriage, will almost make it worth it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Problems in the Upper House

Source: CBC News: Raucous YouTube Videos Leave Senate Committee Embarassed
Source: Senators Behaving Badly
Source: Senators Behaving Badly, Pt. 2

Every election campaign eventually the talk rolls around to what a political party thinks about the Senate. The Conservatives want to reform it and make it elected, in the classic Albertan Triple-E proposal no doubt; the Liberals want to leave the Upper Chamber as it is; and the NDP calls for the Senate to be removed from Canadian Politics all together. As mentioned, I am a left-winger myself, but this has always been an issue where I am a free thinker for myself, but after watching these videos, I found myself finally agreeing with the NDP on the issue of Senate Reform.

Now, according to the CBC News article, there are a number of fingers being pointed as an excuse over why this 'bad behaviour' took place. There are a number of allegations from both sides of the government and opposition, allegations which are not mentioned during the two videos showcasing the confrontation between the committee and the chairman.

I'm not going to comment on these allegations, namely because there is no proof of them. If you are interested in what they are, then by all means read the CBC Article, but you will not see mention of them here. This is simply because, as stated, there is no proof brought forward from the Senator who made the accusation other than his word, and until more is brought forward, I will not treat it as fact or fiction. Furthermore, as illustrated by the videos, there is another allegation by a female Conservative Senator against the Chair that is not substantiated.

What I will talk about, and mention, is the childish behaviour shown by our representatives in this video. First and foremost, I cannot deny that the Chair of the Committee, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, seems to show an arrogance within his position that leads him to believe that he can never be wrong or challenged on an issue.

However, on the other side, we have three Conservative Senators: David Tkachuk, Pamela Wallin, Fabian Manning; constantly interupting others, yelling, and generally causing problems for everyone else in the committee in a way that does not allow debate or anything of substance to come from it.

As I mentioned before, I've supported keeping the Upper House of Parliament, but today made me wonder for the first time whether or not I was on the right side of the issue. The debates in the House of Commons can sometimes make you shake you head and wonder why we elected these people in the first place, but this argument in a committee really makes you wonder about those appointed by those we've elected.

While I do support keeping the Senate, we need to do something to change it. We cannot afford to be ruled by a single level of government, other than dictatorships I struggle to think of any government that has just one level. So, what can we do to change it instead?

Allow me to present, my rather simple plan for Senate Reform. Political parties, take note.

First and foremost, we must change the way citizens become Senators. There has been talk of having a directly elected Senate, but this is a problem for a number of reasons. Due to the nature of the Senate for provincial representation, an elected Senate leads the possibility of electing a body which is comprised of solely provincial interests. As such, this leads to provincial parties dominating the Senate, and would establish a block of Senators who worked together to pass measures that would benefit their own provinces.

As such, given the current numbers of representation with the Senate per province, it is not hard to imagine a group of Senators from 3 or 4 provinces working together to pass legislation that helps their provinces, while leaving the others a few votes short to ever stop them. As such, the first measure of reform is to look at the nature of representation.

Should we have a set number of universal senators for each province, regardless of population? This is how the United States Senate works, by having two senators for each state. However, in Canada, dropping the number of Senators to two per province, and perhaps one per territory, would be disastrous due to the change it would drop from 105 senators at present to a measly 23.

So obviously, a number of two senators is too low. The only option would be to give each province 10 senators per province, and one per territory to raise the number to 103. But then the territories are being excluded, and quite unfairly to an extent, so the best option would be to raise the territories to 1/2 the number of representation as a province, to 5. As you can see, this is getting complicated. As such, a numerical system that is universal probably wouldn't work in Canada.

I say this because larger provinces would likely complain about having the same representation despite a larger population, while the territories would complain about fewer representation in general. And if the territories were given greater representation, there would cries of giving more power to a weaker area in the nation...Which just causes headaches for everyone involved.

So, let's keep the current system, which gives 24 seats to Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, and the West and 6 seats to Newfoundland and Labrador. Now that we have the determined number of seats, how are we going to determine who gets what? I'm glad you asked.

Instead of directly electing senators, which will only lead to problems, senators shall continued to be appointed but the method shall change. Currently, a Prime Minister can appoint whomever they like to a senate seat. (Technically, the Governor General appoints them under the recommendation of the PM, but we all know the initial choice rests solely with the PM.) Now, the PM generally can appoint whomever they like, which generally means people who share the same political stripes.

It's odd, but it does happen, when a PM will appoint someone to serve as a Senator outside of their own political party. These so called 'patronage' appointments are in turn which probably contribute heavily to the problems we see within the senate, so we need to fix this. The way in which we do this can be done using a type of proportional representation.

Using the West as an example; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba all share 24 seats within the Senate, with each province getting six seats for themselves. Now, this is how the system will work:

During an election, provincial results are used to determine the make-up of the Senate. So, let's say the Conservatives take 45% of the provincial wide vote in Saskatchewan. That would give them 45% of the Senate seats for Saskatchewan, so rounding up, 3 seats out of 6. The remaining seats would be divided the same way.

Now wait, I hear you say, does this allow more parties to win seats then their are seats? Well, I'm ahead of you on that one. To prevent a conflict in seats, a simple quota of around 8 - 10% is set to require that a party must capture that much to be considered for a senate seat.

So, under this system, the Senate would be appointed but elected based on the electoral results on a per province basis. And instead of those Senators being appointed by the Prime Minister, party representative Senators would instead be passed along by Party Leaders to fill those roles. As such, the Liberal Leader would recommend Liberal Senators, and the Conservative Leader would recommend Conservative Senators, and so forth.

So, what we've done is made it that Senate appointments, based on party, are restricted by provincial vote totals, and divided patronage appointments by allowing all party leaders to be in charge of appointing their own senators. Sounds better already, doesn't it?

And now for the most important part of all; the term of the Senators. Since the proportionality of the Senate will change with each election, Senators only serve as long as their House of Commons compatriots, in four - five year terms. Even then, it is up to the party leader to determine whether or not to reappoint a senator back to the Senate after a new election.

So, let's see: We've addressed term limits, we've addressed patronage appointments, and we've even addressed the idea of electing Senators, and found a workable solution without major change to the way the Senate operates.

Who knows, it just might work.