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.

No comments: