Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here!

So, a very short post today.

I've followed through on my idea to create a Canadian Political Philosophy blog. The first post is up and ready, and is admittedly more philosophy than politics; but it is an instrumental topic to cover as it will be an underlying current that plays a role in future posts to come on the blog.

So, without further ado (and for those strong in heart) you can find a link to the new blog here: Canadian Political Philosophy

The first topic, for discussion: Is Humanity Evil?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where is Our Anger?

I was trying to embed a video, even though the subject matter isn't what this post is about, but it seems to be having trouble. As such, just click the link below:


As we approach the end of the year, we find ourselves in a time of reflection. In the political world, there is a lot that we need to reflect on. As time marches forward, we find ourselves in what I would argue is a state of continued apathy. For the first time in Canadian history, we have a government who has proven their vagrant disrespect for the laws of the land and the collective response is less than an audible yawn.

We have a government who, even while in opposition, lowered the discourse level of debate in the House of Commons. Furthermore, they've completely shut down the discourse altogether. Conservatives have been attacking the media and 'leftists' who say that time allotment and closure are the same thing. Well, if it walks like and duck and talks like a duck...

The Conservatives have us arguing over semantics and the national lexicon, rather than focusing on the heart of the issue: Which is whether or not it is appropriate to limit the debate in the House of Commons. Yes, there will come a time when debate has run its course and the time to vote has arisen...But the Conservatives haven't allowed this point to be reached on more bills then I can name.

For a government that was first elected on transparency they are doing everything possible to keep us in the dark.

As such, it is imperative to the nature of good government to allow debate and discussion. Using time allotment or closure, really flip sides of the same coin, prevents this from occurring and denies the due process that we should expect of those creating laws that we must follow.

Despite Canadians being denied due process and good governance, we continue to say nothing. Some of us are vocal and condemn these events, but it would seem that the vast majority of Canadians cannot be bothered to care about what is going on in Ottawa. The Harper Government sets fire to our institutions, and not a damned soul can be bothered to even yell 'Fire!' with any sort of conviction.

That brings us to the Wheat Board. Despite a federal judge saying that the Conservatives were violating the act that regulated the board by not having a farmer vote; the Conservatives were hellbent on passing through their bill that would scrap the board. Despite pleas from the opposition to halt the bill and have due process, the Conservatives refused. They rushed the bill through the House of Commons, and invoked closure in the Senate as well.

Hopefully, though doubtfully, Governor General David Johnston will have enough common sense to refuse to provide royal assent; or at least make it conditional on the outcome of the courts.Though, Canada hasn't had a GG rock the boat since Byng-King, so this scenario seems highly unlikely.

Add this to their contempt charge, and we have a government who clearly does not give two shakes about the rule of law.

And yet, despite this, Canadians remain silent. The bulk of us seem to have our fingers in our ears, our eyes clenched firmly shut, and the hamsterdance blocking out all other sounds in our minds. We have a government who is committed to keeping us in the dark and denying our elected officials the ability to do the jobs that we have elected them for...Who also seems more than willing to break the law and have the audacity to claim that they aren't.

And then there's the Irwin Cotler affair...I'll make this one brief: The Conservatives have been running a phone campaign saying that Cotler is going to resign and there is going to be a by-election in his riding. The Conservatives, surprisingly, admitted to being behind the phone calls...But suggest that they're protected by free speech and other flimsy excuses.

The Speaker has called the practice 'reprehensible'; but, it turns out that the company making the calls was hired by his campaign in the last election. Awkward.

So, not only are they completely undermining our political system...They also seem to be completely morally bankrupt. Did anyone vote for that?

All of this created a situation that was eventually going to come to ahead...And in some ways, it did. Now, I've made a habit of making sure that the content of this blog confirmed to a certain sense of decorum...Especially when it comes to curse words. But, for the purpose of this post, I would feel hypocritical talking about this subject yet curbing the words.

So, for those faint of heart, some mildly strong language follows below.

Given all the things the Conservatives have done since their re-election, its understandable that a Member of Parliament would stand up and lose their temper. Enter Justin Trudeau. Perhaps it should have been clear that he would be the one, given his father's short temper as well, but it was still surprising.

When Environment Minister Peter Kent came back from an international conference where Canada announced it was pulling out of Kyoto (though, let's face facts, we'd pulled out of Kyoto long before this official announcement) and was basically not open to further international agreements...Mr. Trudeau promptly called 'Bullshit' and called Kent himself 'a piece of shit'.

Strong words indeed.

Trudeau was quick to apologize for his overzealous and unparliamentary behaviour...But, why is he the one apologizing?

I've said before that sometimes we expect too much from our politicians, after all they are human, and I'm sure all of us have reached a point where we lost our temper at a time when we shouldn't have. Yes, Trudeau probably shouldn't have sworn in the House of Commons; BUT we can understand how he reached the point of frustration that caused him to have this outburst in the first place.

Which brings me to the point of this post: Trudeau has clearly shown his anger, as has NDP MP Pat Martin (via twitter and with even STONGER language), so why haven't the rest of us?

This is behaviour that affects us all.

And I'm not speaking about the opposition MPs...This is a government that is hellbent on changing Canada and they have already succeeded in many ways. They're destroyed our international reputation, from peacemaker to 'warmonger'. From elder statesman at the UN, to unprincipled amateur prone to temper tantrums. From reasoned thinkers who spur on global change, to the loudest voice of denial in the room.

And with words today that the government could cut more than expected (especially in regards to health care transfers to the provinces), they will now focus on destroying our internal reputation now that our international one is promptly destroyed.

I love this country, but I worry deeply about what it will look like in a few years time. We are not powerless. To borrow a phrase, 'people should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.'

The Arab Spring that occurred this year, shows that that phrase is indeed true. People are fighting for democracy and choice across the world, and we're allowing it to die a slow and lingering death. Our MPs are becoming increasingly useless, nothing more than arm candy, under this government...While real power is siphoned into the PMO and PCO.

This is not what we voted for.

So, I ask...Where is our anger? I'm not calling for revolution or anarchy or anything like that...But we still have power in this country and we can keep a government to task for the things they do in our name. A government will abuse its power when it thinks that the people are not willing to stand up and fight for the things they believe in.

I know that perhaps Canadians aren't known for their anger, but this is an instance where we need to be ready to stand up for our country and ourselves. We need to find our anger and we need to direct it to the right places.

We can prevent this government from running roughshod over us, and our beliefs as a nation, but we need to be willing to fight for the things that we know in our hearts are right.

To borrow another phrase, from the video I've linked to earlier: "Better to find your anger now, than wake up after the next election cycle and ask yourself where are my rights?"

On a random side note, I am toying with the idea of starting a second blog revolving around more abstract and philosophical questions. Should this idea stick with me, I shall be sure to let you all know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Is Wall Doing?

Source: CBC News: Brad Wall Defends Pay from Saskatchewan Party
Source: CBC News: Party for Government Politicians Raises Concerns
Source: Leader Post: Sask. Party Provides Pay Top-Up to Premier
Source: Leader Post: Wine and Cheese Receptions Not an Avenue for Lobbying, Premier Says

So, let's all take a deep breath and get used to issue responding posts before moving on.

There, now that we're all acclimated to the old format we can begin. Scanning the headlines today, these were the two most significant news topics I could see today (in regards to Saskatchewan politics, at least.) Let's start first with Wall's salary top up and then talk a bit about whether or not a wine and cheese party is a place where lobbying can occur.

News came out today that Brad Wall, who in a recent request for information didn't release his salary, that the Premier was receiving not only his public paycheque but a top up from the Saskatchewan Party itself. Wall, whose salary is $154,247 a year, is receiving an extra $37,000 from the party that he represents. Wall is defending the payment by saying that its an extra bit that acknowledges the extra duties that the party leader has and reflects this.

So, let's examine that for a moment.

Wall is suggesting that he needs an extra $37,000 to perform his duties as Leader of the Saskatchewan Party. Do you know what is wrong with that sentence? The problem rests in the idea that despite being Premier, Wall is still restricting his view to being Leader of the Saskatchewan Party.

I get the sense some of you might not see why this alone is a problem, allow me to try and explain. By suggesting that there are duties as Leader of a Party that fall outside his current pay scheme; Wall is essentially saying that there are times when he CEASES to be Premier of Saskatchewan and is simply the Leader of the Saskatchewan Party.

Or to break that down into simpler terms: There are times when Wall is only acting as Leader of his PARTY, not Leader of the PROVINCE.

Now, I'm struggling to find out where such an occurrence would exist. If he's talking to the business community, is he acting as Premier or as Party Leader? If he's talking to Federal Counterparts, is it as Premier or Party Leader? If he's outside of Saskatchewan for a conference, is it as Premier or Party Leader?

The only thing I could think of would perhaps be internal party work, such as attending Sask Party conventions...But, a convention is hardly something that a person should be paid for. I mean, we don't pay the general people who have taken time off their schedule to attend; why would we pay the current leader of the party to attend?

If anyone can clearly think of a legitimate reason, please pass it along as I'd be happy to know what it is.

That brings me back to where we were. This top-up payment seems to be a problem in two ways: Firstly, as mentioned, the payment suggests that there are times when Wall ceases to be Premier and acts only as a representative of the Saskatchewan Party.

The second problem comes from the money itself. Wall has been quick to point out that the payment is not from taxpayers, but comes from the party itself. The problem with this is that money is likely coming from donations made to the party. And these donations can, and in most cases do, create a tax return for the person making the donation.

If I can remember my tax scheme correctly, a $100 donation equals a $75 tax return to the person making the donation. That means a person making a $100 donation to the Sask Party receives $75 back, while there $100 could be put towards Wall's $37,000 top-up.

So, while taxpayers are not directly paying for this top-up, we are indirectly paying for it due to the nature of tax returns on political donations.

Furthermore, this raises a problem in terms of conflict of interest. In a system where the Premier is receiving a top-up from his party, that opens the door for impropriety. Allow me to explain.

Saskatchewan legislation, according to Elections Saskatchewan, has no limit on how much a person can donate to a political party. (Source) Furthermore, companies can contribute freely to the political party.

So, let's say Company A makes a $2,500 donation to the Saskatchewan Party. Now, that donation is money that the Sask Party can do anything with. They could print flyers, they could run advertisements...Or, they could use a percentage (or all of it) to put towards the pay top-up.

Indirectly, that Company is now responsible for part of the $37,000 that Wall receives from the party. You can see how this is a touchy subject. If you don't, allow me to try and explain a bit better.

Wall is essentially receiving money from those donating to his party. So, if Company A donates money to the party, there's a chance part of their donation goes towards Wall's top-up payment. Now, the problem with this lies in the fact that a Company A could be 'inclined' to provide more to the party, knowing that their donation will go towards paying the Leader.

So, should a bill come up where the Company would benefit (or even perhaps a public tender), the leader of the party might remember the Company who helped provide an extra $37,000 to their pocket. Now, you should see the problem.

To clarify, I'm not saying that Wall is currently taking direct payments from corporate or private donators in exchange for political favours. There's no proof of that. However, this kind of top-up opens the door for such financial influence to exist.

What else is telling is Wall's language regarding the pay. He said that he received these payments during his time in opposition, and that former Sask Party Leader Elwin Hermanson also received these payments. What's telling is that Wall has admitted that it was $37,000 for the last two years. He only vaguely mentioned that the amount, while in opposition, was 'similar' to what he is being paid now.

As such, Wall needs to actually release the figures of what the party was topping his pay with since he took over the helm of the party. If he was paid more, or less, is a valid question we should be asking. If the pay has substantially increased since he became Premier, it would seem to argue that the top-up may indeed be tied to some donations being made to sway the Premier.

If the payment has decreased, or stayed the same, then at least no one can claim that Wall is indeed being privately courted by donations to his party...But we can all agree that the process needs to stop because it is opening the door that would allow that situation to exist.

Public officials are paid from the public purse for a number of reasons. The main reason being that it keeps those in power beholden to the public, and reminds them that they make a living off of serving the community at large. When a private group contributes, or controls, the pay of a public official then it changes who that official is beholden to.

If Wall wants to show leadership, for a change, he can stand up and stop this practice in his own party.

And that brings us to lobbying, though we have touched on the subject with Wall's top-up payments. After the Legislature opened, a party was thrown in a Regina establishment by four different companies (a law firm, an oil company, an office supplies business, and an accounting firm) for members of the government caucus.

Now, obviously, this party has raised the ire of a lot of people and put Wall on the defensive. Wall is saying that this type of get together is not a place where lobbying of government officials occur, and that it is just a simple get together.

But, let's look at the problems with that statement.

Both articles allude to the event being invitational. The CBC article talks of how the event was for government MLAs and their staff; as does the Leader Post. Yet, they both fail to mention for who the invitations were sent out.

The invitations promised food, drink and great conversation...Yet, they don't mention who these invitations were sent out to. Were they sent to the Sask Party MLAs and staffers? Were they sent to local business owners? Were they sent to local citizens? Were they sent to Sask Party donors? Or all of the above?

I can't say, simply because I do not know. Though, the invitations existence would seem to suggest that the event was for people outside of the caucus and staff. The wording, especially the part about great conversation, would seem to suggest that the four businesses throwing the event were focusing on the caucus and staffers as 'guests of honour' rather than just the targeted guests.

As such, it would seem that this event was thrown to get the right people into the room with Sask Party caucus members and key staffers. That's just speculation on my part, but it's certainly how it reads to me.

Now, Wall says that these types of events are not the venue for lobbying...But these are the exact kind of events his party used to throw for members of the Enterprise Club; food, drink, and good conversation with Ministers and the Premier himself. The Sask Party abandoned the practice when it became public knowledge, but now they seem to have outsourced the event to the private sector. (Is there anything they're not trying to privatize?)

Wall deflected by saying that events that promote lobbying are usually thrown by associations and groups who are actively seeing the influence policy, and that events like that are attended by MLAs from both parties...

But what Wall is neglecting is the simplest fact of politics: ANY event is an event where lobbying will occur.

It doesn't matter who is throwing the event, or the reason why, but any sitting member of government or opposition will be approached with issues. Those issues range from personal initiatives to policy ideas, but politicians are always going to be approached by the public at ANY EVENT and asked their opinion on an issue and be told by those gathered the best way to deal with the issue.

As such, a wine-and-cheese party is a place where lobbying would occur. The nature and the complexity of the lobbying may be different, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen.

And if there was no lobbying occurring and it was just another 'new legislative session, boo-yah!' party; then surely staffers and MLAs from the other side of the house would have been invited to par take as well. As far as I know, none were.

So, here we seem to have a PARTY LEADER who is confused about what lobbying is and just who exactly he works for...It's going to be a long four years.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Scott Muses: Would I Lie To You?...Yes, Apparently You Would.

A warning, today is an expansion on the Peter MacKay helicopter debacle. For the most part, it is going to be a 'philosophical and historical' look at just how the hell we've gotten to the point where a politician could stand up in the House of Commons and WILLFULLY lie to the House...Especially lie without any repercussion.

In the 1970s, a scandal unlike anything else the political world had seen at the time was starting to break inside the United States. I refer, of course, to the Watergate Scandal. In 1972, several Republican 'White-House backed' gentlemen broke into the Watergate Hotel (which was being used as the Democratic HQ at the time) and proceeded to wiretap phones, in an attempt to give Republicans an edge in the upcoming election. The men were caught, and the following investigation into their actions led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon only two years later.

Perhaps most the shocking thing of all from this scandal, was Richard Nixon's consistent denial of any involvement or knowledge of the Watergate break in. History has shown at Nixon's involvement was far greater than what he had uttered or claimed, and that the President had lied about the extent of his knowledge. As that became more known, Nixon's defence changed to the idea that the President cannot do anything illegal. And yet, Nixon remains the only person to have resigned the Presidency.

As Nixon became more and more wrapped up in the details of the Watergate Scandal, the Congress of the United States began to take quick action. The move to impeach the President for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress was starting to gain steam. Furthermore, Republicans were joining the process and the Congress would have enough numbers to impeach Nixon. In view of his coming impeachment, Nixon resigned.

This background is incredibly important. Here we have a politician who lied to not only the nation, but to its legislative body, and he found himself punished by the system that he had attempted to manipulate. Nixon would not have remained in office, even if he hadn't resigned, as the impeachment process would have moved next to his removal from office. As such, in the 1970s, lying to the people you were representing was still an offense in which you could, and did, lose the job you were elected to do.

Then, twenty some years later, America found itself in the position of considering the impeachment of a president again. Bill Clinton found himself in a similar position as Nixon, what with Congress considering his impeachment. As everyone should be aware, Bill found himself in a position where he too had actively lied to Congress.

In what is now known as the Whitewater Scandal, Mr. Clinton denied that he engaged in oral sex with a White House intern. This was not the first time that Clinton had been accused to extra-marital affairs, but it was the most significant, given that one of the intern's friends had recorded phone conversations which seemed to conflict with Clinton's denials.

As such, Clinton was impeached under perjury (lying under oath) and obstruction of justice. Despite being impeached by the Congress, the legislative body fell short of getting the votes needed to remove Clinton from office. As such, Clinton was impeached but not removed from the presidency.

The reason I mention this is because this is, as far as I can see, a major turning point in regards to what people will tolerate from their politicians.

To take a Canadian perspective, before getting to the bulk of the argument, let's look at Brian Mulroney.

In 1995, the RCMP launched an investigation into the Airbus Affair; in which it was accused that Mulroney and others of taking 'kickback' payments from Karlheinz Schreiber for the purpose of securing the purchase of Airbus airplanes for Air Canada. Mulroney's response was to not only unequivocally deny these charges, but to launch a libel lawsuit against the Canadian Government.

The government settled outside of court in 1997, paying Mulroney $2.1 million dollars in legal fees and public relations costs.

Fast forward to just a few years ago, when Schreiber (facing deportation to Germany) acknowledged that he did indeed provide payment to Mulroney. Schreiber suggests he paid Mulroney, who was no longer Prime Minister but still a Member of Parliament, $300,000 over the course of three meetings. Mulroney denied the number, arguing instead that he received $225,000 for lobbying work done regarding the purchase of armoured vehicles.

Mulroney continues to admit no wrongdoing; even though his admissions and the admissions of Schreiber contradict Mulroney's libel lawsuit and effectively make a strong case of the former Prime Minister committing perjury and perhaps even obstruction of justice in the 1995 RCMP investigation.

Yet, Mulroney has never been asked to pay back the $2.1 million that he received from taxpayers; nor has he faced any other legal recourse. Granted, Mulroney's reputation was in tatters when he left office and he is generally reviewed as one of the least popular Prime Ministers in Canadian History...But, there was never any official punishment for his actions.

Now, the list goes on. I could cite Jean Chretien's pledge to remove the GST if elected, only to never bring that promise forward. I could cite Stephen Harper's pledge of transparency and open government, only to become one of the most secretive and controlling governments in Canadian History...But, let's not spend too much time focusing on 'campaign promises'.

After all, if every politician who ever turned away from a campaign promise was convicted of a crime, we'd see a lot of our current politicians sitting in a jail cell. But, what is worth discussing, is whether the idea of reversing a campaign promise is a symptom of the system or part of the problem?

So, let's focus on that for a moment. Broken campaign promises seem to exist since the dawn of the social contract. It's easy to look back in history and find examples of the political system being manipulated and deceived. One could look at the French Revolution and the 'Terror' that came from Robespierre under the guise of government. Promises made in a time of change seem to be part of the system, rather than a symptom that has arisen due to corruption of that system. As such, we're not going to hoist every politician who has made a misleading promise during a time of election.

Which brings us to the heart of this discussion. When Nixon breached the law and lied about his involvement, he suffered the penalty of the loss of his office. Indeed, Nixon also lost what little credibility he had left and all good will towards him. But twenty years later, Clinton held onto the office of the presidency. And when he left office, he left with a high approval rating despite Congress passing the measures to impeach him.

How did this happen?

Sadly, as much as I'd like to have a magic bullet answer, none exists. At a time when we demand so much from our politicians, the requirement that they tell the truth seems to have fallen to the wayside.

Look at Anthony Weiner or John Edwards.

Weiner was a vocal democrat, one of the few in Congress who regularly challenged Republicans and their morals and was a damned fine representative. However, his penchant for explicit photographs of himself proved to be his undoing. After tweeting inappropriate photos of himself, Weiner lost the support of many of his constituents and the support of his party, and eventually resigned his seat.

John Edwards was also a good example of the higher standard towards sexual deviance. Edwards committed a mortal sin in the court of public opinion when he cheated on his wife, who at the time was deathly ill with cancer. That revelation alone was enough to get Edwards booted from the race for the presidency.

Matters only got worse when it turned out he had fathered a child with his mistress, and used campaign funds to keep her quiet. He even had a young staffer pose as the woman's boyfriend on campaign trips to prevent people from asking too many questions.

Even before these allegations, Edwards' political career was sunk. And while adultery is a serious charge, the misappropriation of campaign funds is a more serious one in the political realm.

Then we have a slew of Republican politicians, from Herman Cain to Larry Craig, who have stepped out of the sexual norm and paid a serious penalty for their philandering. There is one other thing that many of these people have in common: Most of them, when the scandals broke, denied the charges being leveled against them.

In many cases, they lied.

But it was not the lying that put them into the hot political soup, it was the actions they committed outside of that.

Let's look at George W. Bush.

Bush has done a lot of things, and gotten away with most of them. He suspended habeous corpus for 'terror suspects', he authorized torture, and he mislead a nation and their politicians into a war over (as Michael Moore would say) fictitious reasons.

Bush lied to a nation, and a world, and no consequences have be fallen him over it. I mention this because it warrants a major point: In the political world, lying no longer has any consequences affixed to it. Edwards, Weiner, and others fell from their positions for inappropriate behaviour. Which suggests by its very nature that we hold politicians to a higher regard and expect a certain level of maturity and decorum from them.

But when we fail to punish those who lie to us, we are giving the system carte blanche to keep us from the truth.

Let's look again at Canada.

Stephen Harper's Government was found in contempt of Parliament; AKA they misled Parliament about spending. AKA they lied to Parliament. A slap on the wrist was more or less the only punishment that the government received. Instead of Harper and select cabinet ministers being removed from their offices and being barred from seeking re-election, Harper and many of his cabinet ministers were reinstated in the ensuing election which also gave them a majority.

Despite lying to Canadians, Harper won a majority government.

With that simple act, Canadians cemented the idea that we do not care about the truth. And it's a message which has reverberated throughout the government ranks.

Peter MacKay misuses a government helicopter, and lies to Parliament about it being a SAR demonstration. Yet, the Prime Minister excuses MacKay and says the use of the helicopter was 'appropriate'. Charlie Angus drops an F-Bomb on twitter, and suddenly the government is calling for his resignation.

Somewhere we lost of ideal of political morality. There was a time when the most egregious sin a person in government could commit was that of misleading the nation. Lying to the legislative body was essentially lying to the people of the nation, and it was a practice that no one would tolerate. People who committed this act were punished by the system and removed from it.

But now, lying seems to be permissible by omission of consequence. Now, we only care about how our politicians appear. God forbid they swear on twitter, or use the service to send inappropriate photographs of themselves. Granted, those are not things our politicians should be doing either, but they are no where near as bad as our politicians lying to our faces.

Ask ourselves, if twenty years ago a cabinet minister was caught lying to the public, would they still be in cabinet? Those old of you to answer that question probably answered with a resounding no. So, where did we lose our moral fiber?

Is our sense of morality so misguided that we only condemn those who commit the greatest flaw of being human? Allow me to explain that one. Edwards did a horrible thing by cheating on his dying wife, there is no doubt about that. But to play Devil's Advocate, think of the position he was in. A dying wife, the stress of a public life, and numerous other factors probably made the companionship of another woman a port in the storm for him.

It doesn't excuse his behaviour, but one can see how someone in his position would look for any comfort he could find in such a time. It is human nature to make mistakes and poor decisions; some would also suggest that its human nature to lie.

The difference is mistakes are something that are made in the passion of the moment. An opportunity that arises that seems too difficult to pass up; or a decision made purely in the now. Whereas lying always seems to suggest forethought and self-interest.

A cheating man knows that some day what he is doing is going to catch up with him, and that he will have to answer for his actions. Whereas a lying man is lying for the sake of not having to answer for his decisions. Both of these are serious, but we are only treating one as if it is.

Bev Oda, Peter MacKay, Peter Van Loan, Tony Clement, and numerous others have stood in the House of Commons and openly told untruths. They have denied involvement, they have denied courses of action, and they have done so knowing full well that documentation exists which proves them wrong.

And while some Canadians have stood up and demanded punishment for this behaviour, the punishment doesn't seem to be coming. Rather, these people are allowed to keep their cabinet positions (and the pay increase that comes with it).

I wish I knew how we had reached this point. Our very morality tells us that lying is wrong, and yet we are living in a world where those who do lie are rewarded rather than punished.

I could get into the debate of whether humanity is naturally inclined to evil or not, but that's not really the type of subject to discuss on this blog. What I will suggest, however, is that our system is quickly be defined by this lack of response. Harper's Government has been playing fast and loose with moral questions since being elected in 2006.

Each time they've been caught, the Canadian public's response has been 'So what? Who cares?' And with each muttering of that sentiment, the Harper Government has become more and more deceitful and ambitious.

We need to return to the days when a politician who misled their nation was punished for their actions. If we punish infidelity in the bedroom, we must punish infidelity in the legislature.

There is an idea that we as a people elect the government that we deserve. If we do nothing, then we deserve to have a government that lies to us and does god only knows what behind closed doors. In many ways, that's what we've already done. By electing the Conservatives with a majority, in spite of them being found in contempt, we have sanctioned state dishonesty.

And in a system like that, we will only see more dishonesty.

In four years time, we will have a clearer picture of what the Harper Government has done. We shall see the true extent of their dishonesty, and all of us who did nothing to prevent it will have to live with the fact that we allowed it to happen. Silence is deafening, but so is response to wrongs.

Something is WRONG in Ottawa, and many of us can see it. Perhaps those who don't are happy to be spoon fed the pablum that the Conservatives dish out; to close their eyes and believe that all is well despite evidence to the contrary.

Politics is not a competition of winners and losers. Lying is a tactic that the Conservatives are using to save themselves embarrassment, and they believe that that in turn will help them win the next election. Well, when politicians use methods like that they may indeed win...But it is the nation who will lose when we elect a self-serving government that cares more about public opinion and four-year election plans, then serving the people they are supposed to represent.

I sense I've strayed off topic a bit, so let's close with this final thought:

Honesty is a virtue, it's a phrase we've all heard. For those of us with children, we raise them with the idea that honesty is the best policy. We expect our children to tell us the truth and we equate the notion of truth with the idea of being a good and noble person. If we can expect so much of our children, why can't we expect the same of our politicians?

Surely, if a child has the capacity for honesty a politician must. Either we must hold our politicians to account, for all of their missteps; or we must admit that we simply don't care and abandon the social contract that we have created.

We expect police officers to be truthful in their reports, should we ever be accused of a crime or need them to vouch for us as victims. We expect doctors to tell us the truth about our medical state and not prescribe drugs that we don't need. We expect our teachers to impart the truth about history and our world to our children, not indoctrinate them into a misshapen world view that is inaccurate.

If we expect truth from so many others in the public service, why don't we demand the same of politicians?

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: In the Parliamentary System, we bestow the title of honourable upon those who serve. It's high time we demand that they live up to the title.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lies, Tell Us Lies, Tell Us Sweet Little Lies...

Source: CTV News: Emails Contradict MacKay on N.L. Chopper Flight

Does anyone else remember when we talked about the issue of Challenger jet flights?

Good, that will bring us all up to speed then. After Canada's Top General got caught using a challenger jet to fly down to the Caribbean for a vacation. Then days later word came out that Defence Minister Peter MacKay had used both a Newfoundland Search-and-Rescue chopper to leave a vacation at a fishing lodge; as well as using a challenger to fly to a lobster festival days later.

MacKay defended the use of the chopper by saying that he was taking part in a search-and-rescue training exercise that was in the area.

And now, e-mails obtained by access to information requests directly contradict the answer that MacKay provided in the House of Commons.

In fact, the e-mails suggest that the military was more or less pushed into picking MacKay up from his fishing trip. On top of this, there appears that a SAR helicopter was not MacKay's only option for leaving his fishing trip a day early. In fact, MacKay was only a 90 minute boat ride and then a 30 minute drive from the nearest airport. 120 minutes, altogether. Furthermore, MacKay or his staff have yet to provide a reason as to why this alternative was unacceptable.

So, what's the real issue here?

Well, we've got MacKay lying to Parliament, for one. Then there's misappropriation of military aircraft/resources...

The lying to Parliament thing is probably the biggie though, given that this government is quickly establishing a sterling record for saying one thing while doing another. After all, we've got Tony Clement saying that he wasn't involved in deciding what projects in his riding would receive funding from the G-8 Heritage Fund (though information that has been released directly contradicts his statement)...Then there's the entire Harper Government team saying that the PMO/PCO did not issue orders to refer to the Government of Canada in news releases as the Harper Government...(Even Harper's former press secretary denied this claim, though memos have now come out showing that the order did indeed come down the bureaucratic chain.)

If anything, this is just a further list on the things this government has done that shows they have zero credibility or reliability to tell the truth. This is like the kid who gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar, then has the gaul to suggest that it's actually their older brother taking all the cookies.

Now, I sourced this yesterday, so I didn't re-source it today.

In response to SaskTel's cellular problems, the Wall Government as dismissed ten managers from the Crown Corporation. In Wall's style (which we saw when they first came to power and cleaned out the civil service) cause for the terminations were not provided to the employees and they will instead be paid out full severance packages and other benefits.

Which brings us to Wall's talking point for SaskTel. Wall has, for the second time, suggested that SaskTel does not have the capacity to meet service expectations. This is conservative speak for a private company would not have these problems.

Now, it is indeed possible that this is the first opening salvo from the Wall Government with regards to destroying SaskTel. After all, the government as already robbed them of their profits from the past few years and increased the Crown's debt level due to the need for private loans.

We'll see when the government and the crown rehire the positions that have just been opened. If the government is overhanded in selecting people for those positions, it's a bad sign. If any of the positions are 'consolidated' to save money, it's a bad sign. If any of them are left vacant, it's a bad sign.

SaskTel is being put into a precarious position by this government, and if the government continues to raid SaskTel's profits, then we could very well see this crown corporation fall apart in the years ahead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Can You Say?

CTV News: Feds to put Attawapiskat Under Third-Party Management
CBC News: Attawapiskat Ordered into 3rd-Party Control
CBC News: Managers Axed at Sasktel

So, there's a few things that we need to talk about. The primary purpose of this post is going to focus on Aboriginal issues, both federally and provincially, with a small smattering of SaskTel news at the end of the post. There's also something we're going to talk about in the main body of the post that isn't covered by the sources above, and that revolves around the Sask NDP announcement that they will be back tracking on the resource revenue sharing idea that was put forward in the last election.

I want you to imagine for a moment. I'd tell you to close your eyes, but then you wouldn't know what you were reading and just what you were supposed to be imagining. I want you to picture yourself in a house. Now, most of us likely envisioned the house we live in now, or the house we grew up in, or maybe the house we'd like to live in if we had the money to...

Very few, if any of us, imagined a house full of imperfections. A house where every step on the floor results in a loud creak that makes you worry you're going to fall through on the next step. A house where the cold wind outside cuts through the walls in a way that makes you feel as though the walls don't even exist. A house where turning on a tap does not produce running water. A house where the walls are filled with noxious and health hazardous substances, like mold, which are threatening your health and your family's.

This is not some nightmare scenario. Rather, it is the accurate problems found with housing on Aboriginal Reserves across Canada. And it's the case with housing on the Attawapiskat Reserve in Northern Ontario; a case which is receiving a lot of media attention.

For the most part, many residents of the reserve are abandoning the houses that are too dangerous to live in in favour of makeshift shacks or tents that can barely stand the cold; if they can stand it at all. The reserve's leaders have even taken the step of declaring a state of emergency on the reserve, and the Red Cross has begun to help out the beleaguered community.

And the Harper Government drags their feet.

Despite intense opposition pressure, the Harper Government has done little to address the problems within the community. Harper himself as argued that the government has spent $90 million on the reserve since 2006. However, Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae has suggested that this number is skewed. The reasoning being that the figure is including transfers to the reserve for the purpose of education spending, water and sewers, and other general expenses.

So, the Harper Government's response has been to order someone else to take control of the situation. The government has placed a third-party in control over the reserve and is also asking for a full audit of the reserve's finances to find out how the money received was spent over the past few years.

Now, an audit is not out of the question. It is important to make sure that money being put towards improving life on reserves is actually being used to improve life on reserves. It's much the same that money raised by the government and passed through Parliament is being spent properly; granted, that's a thing this government has a bad track record with, so it's a bit like the pot and the kettle...

So, while it is important to make sure money being received was well spent, it is also important to move quickly to address the current problems. The Red Cross has reported that temperatures are routinely around -15 to -20 in the area, and as we get deeper into winter those numbers are only going to get lower. As such, we have a responsibility to make sure that we minimize harm in the coming months.

The situation right now is bad, and it is a tragedy that is has reached this point in the first place. But it will be a source of national shame if we fail to act and the people living in these conditions are exposed to additional hardships over the coming months. As temperatures drop, the odds of people starting to die because of inaction by the government increases. These people have suffered enough without adding death of loved ones to the equation. And for that reason alone, if not all the problems mentioned before, is why we must act quickly.

Now, as I mentioned, these conditions are not unique to the Attawapiskat reserve. There are Aboriginal communities throughout Canada that are facing substandard housing, sewer and water system problems. Not to mention problems with education and health care access. Since many people probably failed to hear this point during the last provincial election, I'll say it here: In a municipality, education spending per child is around $1000 - 1200, depending on the size of the municipality. On reserve, that spending drops to about $600 - 800 per child.

These fundamental problems are what fosters situations like the ones we're seeing now. We are failing Aboriginals as children, and we continue to fail them as adults.

That said though, it is not only our responsibility to address these problems. Canada's problems with Aboriginal groups were a founding problem with this country. And the problem started by the newcomers attempting to dominate and control the every day lives of Aboriginal groups. And, sadly, that is the mentality that many people in Canada have held on to.

The idea that Aboriginals are still a 'lost child' that are the responsibility of the Federal Government and non-Aboriginal groups. That we have a responsibility to guide their lives and influence their day to day life. This is the same approach that created these problems in the first place.

Aboriginals are not a 'lost child' that need to be controlled and parented; they are (to belabour the metaphor) another parent with a different parenting style. That is to say, that Aboriginals are human beings like the rest of us. Just as deserving, and entitled, to the respect that the rest of us receive. And that also means allowing them to make their own decisions.

That means we need to have the Federal Government step back in the day to day life of Aboriginal Groups, and allow Aboriginals to take control of their own destiny. Yes, we do have an obligation to help Aboriginal groups in times of need and to help them lay the foundations of their own self-determinism; but we have to first raise them up to our level.

We have to accept that we are not the 'we know best' people we assume we are; the way our ancestors thought when they first came to this country. Rather, we must accept that we are both rational adult groups that MUST work TOGETHER, rather than have one side dictate at the other.

And that seems to be the best place to take us towards resource revenue sharing. I was at the Red Phesant Reserve when former NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter announced the NDP plan to begin negotiations with First Nation groups over resource revenue sharing.

And then the firestorm started.

The Saskatchewan Party was quick to condemn the plan, with Brad Wall mastering the art of the soundbite by arguing that 'Saskatchewan's resources belong to ALL people of Saskatchewan'. The spin began heavily from the Sask Party, and the true intentions of the resource revenue sharing plan were mostly lost to the masses and replaced with base rage and a tiny bit of blind racism.

So, the resource revenue sharing plan, let's break it down to what it truly meant.

As it works now, mining companies that want to develop mines or mills or what have you on reserve land have to work out deals with the respective band of that land. Which means, as it stands now, that bands already benefit from resource development on their land as they are paid a percentage already in exchange for the creation of that development.

What the resource sharing agreement would have accomplished was a unified percentage, which would have stopped negotiations between companies and Aboriginal groups and instead would have created a standard percentage rate.

So, let's say one Aboriginal group gets a 4% deal from a potash company for development on their land. Whereas a different group only received a 2% deal from the same company on a year or two earlier. The resource sharing plan would have eliminated these types of unfair deals and ensured that all Aboriginal groups with the same resource received the same amount of money for the same resource.

But that's not what the Sask Party told Saskatchewan residents. They told us that the deal would result in a percentage of the province's resource revenues being dolled out to Aboriginal groups. So, if the government made $25 million in potash, Aboriginal groups would be dolled out 5% of that $25 million.

It was a noble goal. But it was poorly defined by the NDP leadership during the campaign, and instead the issue was defined by the Sask Party who were able to use the program as an economic boogeyman that would give yet another (to borrow a term from Yorkton MLA Greg Ottenbreit) 'hand out' to the Aboriginals in Saskatchewan.

The Sask Party ran with the issue and was able to define it, while the NDP left defending the program to the local candidates and volunteers. The Sask Party even targeted NDP voters (through a massive phone campaign) by asking if they agreed with the program.

The issue became a nail in the NDP coffin, and was likely a factor in defeating several incumbent NDP MLAs and quite a few hopefuls who were almost shoe-ins for their constituency.

So, considering the impact that the program had on the election, it's not surprising that the NDP came out today and announced that they would not be including the program in future policy developments. Now, this announcement has received some condemnation from former candidates and long time NDPers.

Defeated Saskatoon Candidate Nicole White, used a quote from a friend on her Facebook to sum up her thoughts: 'There are times when it's important to do what's right rather than what is popular. This is one of those times.' Now, while it is a powerful sentiment; and there is much truth to the phrase...The NDP has to see the writing on the wall.

This program is a noble goal and something that we should work towards in the future...But, the issue itself was a political hand grenade in this election. As much as we'd like to deny it, there was a basis of racism that caused many to turn their backs on the NDP in this election.

Without naming names, I saw this first hand on the campaign. I traveled through Saskatchewan and knocked on many doors through the election, with various campaigns and candidates. And we had people who had been supporters in the past; or people who were identified as 'soft supporters' in this election cycle, who admitted that they could not vote for the NDP because of the revenue sharing plan.

It was always prefaced with the phrase, 'I'm not racist, but...'; and to borrow a phrase from Bill Maher, 'If you have to preface a phrase with the term, I'm not racist but...You're racist.'

We like to think we're above such things, but the sad truth is many people are not. There are stereotypes that all of us buy into. Yes, I have my own stereotypes about people, as I'm sure many people reading this blog do as well. Anyone who says they don't, is lying. We all have some little thing that we just instinctively believe about a certain group or people.

Granted, some of us (like myself) try very hard to overcome these stereotypes and views that many of us grew up with or have experienced in our lives; but some of us are content to keep the status quo.

Racism played a factor in the NDP record defeat; and it is embarrassing to admit but it is true. As such, the NDP really has no choice but to back away from this program for now. Maybe in a few years time, perceptions will have improved. But, there's no promise in that.

However, there is one way to defuse the situation. The NDP can recommit to this program, but there needs to be some changes to occur ahead of time.

Firstly, the NDP must define the program before the Saskatchewan Party has a chance to. They need to make it simple, explain what it does and what it doesn't do, and how it will impact non-Aboriginal Saskatchewan residents.

Secondly, the NDP needs a price tag. Lingenfelter was unable to commit to a price tag, as it would require years of negotiation with Aboriginal groups to determine how much the program would cost. The NDP has four years right now to being negotiations with Aboriginal groups and start getting numbers and costing details. While it may not create an agreement within four years time, it would be the first step in getting a cost for the program.

By having a cost, the NDP can counter any Sask Party claims about how much the program will cost. As such, the NDP should look into negotiating such a program with Aboriginals during their time in opposition in order to revive the program without some of the criticisms as before.

Of course, overcoming the racist part is going to be trickier. I'd like to think human beings could enlighten themselves over the course of four years...But, we've existed as a species for thousands of years. And during that time, we've always had trouble with people who are different than us. Look at the battle for civil rights for African Americans. Look at the battle for equal rights for women. Look at the on-going battle for civil/equal rights for the LGBT community...

I'm hopeful, but I'm not blindly optimistic. Humans have come far in our short time on this planet, but we haven't come far enough. And four years just doesn't seem like enough time to change that. I would love to be proven wrong on this point, but sadly, I think this point will still stand in four years time.

I think that more or less covers Aboriginal issues for now. I was planning on talking a bit about SaskTel's managers getting the axe today, but I will save that instead for tomorrow or later this week...As this post seems complete as it is.

I'd like to close on this thought: There are many of us out there to subscribe to the idea of a higher power. In the bulk of the teachings of these groups, human dignity and respect is often a cornerstone of these beliefs. We want to respect each other, we want to help each other, and we want to care for one another. Those are tenants that people claim to live their lives by. But when the going gets tough and we are called upon to care for our fellow man, many of us turn our backs on those tenants.

Some of us use excuses to justify our hypocrisy with our faith; while others simply remain blind to the problem.

Which brings me to a closing quote from Stephen Colbert:

"...either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Blanket Posting

CTVNewsSaskatoon: City Admins Defend Tax Hike in 2012 Budget
CTVNewsRegina: Wall Fed up with SaskTel's Cellular Service Problems

So, despite the slim two topics sourced above, we'll see where this blog post goes. We'll start with the Saskatoon plan to increase property tax by 4.7% for next year. City officials have defended the plan by stating the new income into the city will be used to hire six more city police officers; while also boasting that other departments will not be increasing staff.

Here's the problem with this plan...As any long term resident of Saskatoon will know, there's some problems with the way the city is currently run. Let's take a seasonally relevant issue, such as snow removal, for example. A person I respect once referred to Saskatoon's snow removal service as 'snow moval' service, given the city's penchant for scrapping snow from the streets into piles which remain in the middle of the roadway until the near end of winter.

This process has already begun, as many streets (such as Central Ave, for example) have started to have snow moved from the sides of the street into piles in the middle. Now, one can surely understand the problem with this. It's hard enough making left hand turns in the summer, now imagine making one with a giant snowbank obscuring your view of traffic.

I've basically given up left hand turns for the past four winters, since the snow banks make each turn a game of 'Turn or No Turn' with my life as a prize. And yet, the city has never once talked about fixing this issue. Saskatoonians already pay a good share of property tax, and we've yet to see just what it is we are actually paying for.

I have no problem paying property taxes, provided that the services rendered for those taxes are worth what we are being charged. The snow removal is just one example of a service which is currently failing in in its present incarnation, yet one that the council is not talking about in terms of improving. Then we come to the issue of road repairs in the city as well...

A friend of mine lives on 106th St, and at the end of the road where it becomes Egbert Ave there is a massive patch of gravel that has been sitting there for the better part of half a year. The gravel was a stop gap measure to repair broken pavement in that area, and it has been a bane for any who dare to cross it. For almost three weeks, the gravel pit was a sinkhole that drivers had to avoid by basically driving on the right hand sidewalk. And the answer to this problem was not to repave the section, but add more gravel.

No one likes tax increases, I think we can agree on that much. But when we are subject to them, we expect that we're going to get a fair shake. Given the roads and other infrastructure services in this city, I can tell you pretty confidently that we aren't getting a fair shake right now. As such, should the city really be talking about raising property taxes?

Let's look at the other ideas, shall we?

Saskatoon's population has exploded and we've seen increases to our city. As such, this brings in new taxpayers to the system. Granted, it also brings some added costs. However, if you factor in the idea of new taxpayers to the system, plus a comprehensive review of current expenditures, I'm sure you could skip the idea of a tax increase altogether.

Our tax dollars currently are being questionably spent; (questionably as in 'how are they spending', not questionably as in 'illegally' spent.) and we deserve to examine how they are being dolled out before we commit to raising more money.

Any simple budgeting process will tell you that if you're having a spending problem, you don't fix it by spending more without addressing the problems in the system. Yes, we could raise more tax dollars, but if we don't address problems within the system it is a stop-gap measure at best. So, the city should be looking at ways to enhance its current spending and find more effective ways to spending current tax dollars, before committing to a tax increase.

The two problems with road infrastructure should be proof enough that our current tax dollars are not being spent in the best possible way; and as such, we should make an effort to ensure that the city will do more to examine current spending measures to enhance review, before they simply raise taxes as the knee jerk reaction.

In the long haul, a tax increase may be necessary. If that turns out to be the case, then that is what we need to do. But, it should not happen until the city has proven that there are no means of maximizing current spending to the best possible way.

And that brings us to Brad Wall.

Wall tweeted today that he is committed to addressing problems with SaskTel's cellular service. Now, I'm a SaskTel customer (surprise surprise) and must be one of the fortunate ones, because I've had no issues with my cell phone.

But apparently, there's been some issue with congestion and dropped calls. This prompted Wall to suggest that SaskTel doesn't have the capacity to handle the volume of calls that its customers are trying to make...

Now, the doomsayer in me says that that sounds like the first volley in excuses to privatize the crown. After all, saying that SaskTel can't handle the capacity sounds  alot like saying 'Other cell phone companies don't have this problem, let's open the market for them'...But we'll leave conspiracy theories alone...At least for now.

Wall has committed to the Minister responsible sitting down with the SaskTel President in the weeks ahead to discuss the problems and challenges ahead. So, how did SaskTel get in this mess?

Well, let's examine some issues around capacity.

For example, did you know that Rogers and Telus rent SaskTel's cellular towers? That means Rogers and Telus customers are using SaskTel's infrastructure to provide cellular service to their customers. Now, I'm not the biggest cellphone tech person...But I'm sure that having three different companies relying on the same cell phones towers is going to have an impact.

So, Wall doesn't mention the fact that SaskTel's infrastructure is being 'piggy-backed' by two of the other major providers in the province.

Then we come to my favourite part of this problem: This problem is Brad Wall's own.

Remember when the Saskatchewan Party took all of SaskTel's profits? In 2009, they took 80% of a $129 million dollar profit. In 2010, SaskTel posted a $155.2 million profit (source), and 2010 was the first year of the Saskatchewan Party government taking 100% of SaskTel's profits.

Now, that's a lot of money that was earmarked for improvement to SaskTel's infrastructure throughout the province. So, instead of having the money on hand to pay for these improvements SaskTel was required to get loans instead. Loans which likely did not cover the full cost of plans to fix up the infrastructure, and which will push the crown into debt. After all, it's hard to pay back loans when the government keeps taking all of your money.

So, the Wall Government made this mess (or at least made it worse) by robbing SaskTel of the funds necessary to pay for infrastructure development, upkeep, and expansion. So, if Wall wants to start talking about finding solutions to SaskTel's cellular problems, why doesn't he start with letting the corporation actually keep some of the profit they've been making?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cash-Back and Occupy This

This post is going to be split in to two subjects; though one will be longer than the other.

First, let's talk about election financing. Stop groaning and moaning, it's an important subject and it's the shorter of the two topics today. A long time ago, in a Parliament not too far away, it was revealed that the Conservatives had broken electoral financial laws by using a so called in-and-out scheme to transfer money from the federal party to riding associations for the purpose of having those ridings pay for national advertising BUT claim them as a local expense.

The Conservatives defended the practice, but Elections Canada refused to allow it to disappear into the background and took the Conservatives to court. Some high ranking Conservatives, including a few sitting senators, were named in breach of the Elections Act and were looking at some fines and even some jail time for their role in the plan.

However, the Conservatives (perhaps knowing that after losing the last couple of court fights they were going to lose this one) made a plea deal agreement where the party would admit wrongdoing in exchange for dropping the charges against the individuals. The court accepted the deal, and fined the party about $52,000 for breaching the Elections Act.

Now; it's been reported that the Conservatives used this practice to transfer $1.3 million dollars to local ridings. I'm going to repeat that with the connection you all should have made: They overspent in the election by $1.3 million dollars and were given a fine of $52,000. For a party that talks about making punishment fit the crime, it really doesn't apply to them or their lackies when they're the ones caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Let's highlight a similar problem that was faced by the NDP. It recently came out that the NDP improperly used resources to fundraise for the Broadbent Institute, a left-wing think tank founded by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. The party had reached out to members and encouraged them to contribute to the institute as a means of remembering Jack Layton.

And what happened when this came out? Believe it or not, the NDP was quick to admit that they were in the wrong and worked with parliamentary officials to see every dollar of those donations returned to the people who made them. In fact, parliamentary officials noted that there would be no further action against the NDP due to the level of cooperation they provided and their quick admission of wrongdoing.

Let's contrast that again with the Conservatives. Elections Canada says they overspent by $1.3 million dollars; the Conservatives will only admit to $668,000. Elections Canada had to use the RCMP to storm Conservative Party HQ back in the day in order to seize files that were relevant to the charges being laid. Elections Canada insisted that the in-and-out method violated the Elections Act; the Conservatives denied that this was true and had the audacity to suggest every party used in-and-out financing...

The list goes on and on. Some right-wing commentators have seized on the NDP using Layton's memory to illegally raise funds for the Broadbent Institute, insinuating that there is a darker side to the NDP and that they cannot be trusted in power. Yet, when they were caught/or made aware of the conflict, they admitted their mistake and worked with parliamentary officials to correct it. Whereas the Conservatives are hell-bent on avoiding admitting mistakes and even more hell-bent on not working with parliamentary officials.

So, out of those two parties, which one really sounds like the one we can't trust with the reigns of power?

That brings us out of campaign financing, and now we're going to talk a little about the Occupy Movement that has been sweeping the globe. Perhaps I'm a little late to join the party on this one, but I felt for awhile that it was best to stay silent about this movement.

Let's talk for a moment about why this movement exists. The movement was spawned out of the Occupy Wall Street event, wherein people in New York took to the streets and began camping in New York parks as a means of protest against corporate greed. Furthermore, the movement was to show (and remind people) that many Wall Street traders and companies were the recipient of bailout money from the federal government; and that that money was used improperly (Who else remembers Goldman Saks upper-uppers receiving bonuses for 'good work' with bailout money?) and only continued to contribute to the idea of corporate greed.

Well, despite many main stream media organizations basically ignoring the movement; it caught on and soon Occupy Movements were popping up all over North America. We've even got one here in my city of Saskatoon.

And it gained coverage, and support from celebrities and other left-wing supporters, but now the cities are starting to crack down on the movement. Saskatoon, Regina, and Toronto are the latest Canadian cities to issue orders of eviction from the parks these protestors are occupying.

American cities, such as Seattle and Atlanta, have already started to call in riot police armed with stun grenades, pepper spray, and other 'fun' riot gear to get the protestors out of the parks. And this is only getting worse.

While Canadian cities have yet to call in the troops, American cities are using this as a the first option. This is despite both countries having an enshrined right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Conservatives and right-winger like to talk about rights. They have a RIGHT to their guns. They have a RIGHT to privatize their property. They have a RIGHT to say whatever hateful, ignorant, and bigoted comment they want. They have a RIGHT to defend their faith as blindly as they like.

Yet when the other side exercises their RIGHTS, they immediately call for the police to come in and stomp that 'hippie scum' out.

Rights aren't rights unless everyone has them. And to borrow a phrase from George Carlin, 'You don't have any rights, you have privileges.' I say that, because our dear Mr. Carlin may have been closer to the truth than a lot of us want to admit.

A right isn't a right when it can be taken away. And right now, that is what municipal governments are doing. There is a difference between interceding when a peaceful protest turns violent; and attacking a peaceful protest claiming violence.

Yes, some protestors are going to do some stupid things. I'll again refer to the wonderful movie 'Battle for Seattle' (which dealt with the WTO protests.) An organized group of protestors called for peaceful protest; while a smaller bunch of protestors called for all out anarchy. Despite some protestors potentially being trouble makers, the larger group is sane and rational and do not deserve to be pepper sprayed for the actions of a few.

It's much the same that we don't expect to punish all police members when one of their members makes a mistake. Let's say that a cop is seen speeding, outside of duty. We may demand that that officer be punished for their actions, but we don't demand the whole force be punished. So, why do we have a double standard for individuals and groups?

There are going to be bad eggs in the group; that's true of any massive organization of people. But to punish all, even the peaceful protestors, is to create the greater evil by denying a group of citizens a fundamental right.

The Occupy Movements serve as a reminder that our current economic uncertainty is man-made. Sure, markets go through flux, but they are also manipulated by traders and bankers who are looking for a fast score regardless of the cost.

No one should have that much control over an economic system; especially when that control is for the expressed purpose of singular financial gain. These traders and bankers are responsible for the economic slow down; which in turn has led to people losing their jobs, homes, health insurance, and numerous other necessities of life through no fault of their own.

Yet, no one on Wall Street has been punished for their role. Instead, federal money was thrown at them to keep them afloat while the average citizen continues to struggle to hold their head above water.

The Occupy Movement exists to remind us that this situation is unfair and wrong. Many have attacked the group for lacking coherency, but how more coherent could that simple message be?

In short, the Occupy Movement is a necessary movement and deserves to be allowed to continue their occupation of city parks across North America. People need to be reminded that there are those in power and in the media, who are not telling us the truth and who are not interested in seeing the status quo change. Garth Turner once referred to some Canadian people as 'sheeple'; and in many ways he was right.

People don't like to be told that times are tough. That we have challenges ahead of us and that there are going to be sacrifices that we all will have to make. We like to be told that things are good; that there's a 'chicken in every pot' and a 'car in every driveway'. We'd rather buy the illusion of security, than the reality of uncertainty.

The Occupy Movement serves as a reminder of our reality, and for that reason alone it is important to let them continue. Otherwise, who knows what dream-state we may find ourselves in some time down the line.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

There's Got to be a Morning After

Well, election day has come and gone in Saskatchewan. All of you should be aware of the numbers, and the fact that the NDP has been reduced to historical lows, while the Saskatchewan Party has risen to new heights in terms of their own electoral success.

Going into the campaign, the NDP knew we were entering into an uphill battle. Wall's popularity, however unfounded it may be, was high. The same could not be said for Dwain Lingenfelter, who had suffered attacks against himself from day one at the hands of the SK Party. And now, as a new day rises after election day, the Sask NDP finds itself without a leader and with a reduced caucus. Before we talk about what that means for the party, and what the future holds, we should talk a bit about how we reached this point in the first place.

Now, I've decried the historical argument before on this blog; yet many news casters were quick to point it out. Saskatchewan has never been a province to toss out a government after only one term. Personally, I don't think historical precedent had much to do with the result of this election. Yes, it furthers that idea, but I don't know how much water it actually holds.

With that hogwash out of the way, we can focus on some of the more reasonable ideas as to why the NDP was unable to gain traction during this campaign.

1.) The personal popularity factor: As mentioned above, Brad Wall has been riding on levels of popularity not seen for other politicians throughout the nation. While I personally disagree with the reasons for his popularity, no one can argue that like it or not he is a well liked man. The same could not be said for Dwain Lingenfelter; for both founded and unfounded reasons.

Like any of us, Lingenfelter had a history and a record in government that he had to defend. The SK Party was quick to point out problems and missteps in Lingenfelter's record, though often left out the reasons why those decisions were made, and it was the first nail in the coffin of Lingenfelter's leadership. Lingenfelter did come off as an old school politician, and to a degree arrogant and brash; but he fought against this image in the campaign by promoting positive change.

The Lingefelter of old was very much as the SK Party portrayed him, but the one we saw in the campaign was indeed a different and changed man.

2.) The party popularity factor: For reasons I cannot fathom, the SK Party also shares in some levels of popularity. Perhaps it is the afterglow of having Brad Wall leading them, but the party itself has a degree of popularity that the NDP wasn't able to match during this campaign. Now, I could cite all the reasons why the SK Party doesn't deserve the laurels that it has been resting on; but we're only going to focus on the major one and that rests with the economy.

During 2005 - 2006, Saskatchewan became a have province and the boom of Saskatchewan began. It was a slow start, given that we'd spent 16 years working off debt and making difficult choices to right our economic house. But the boom began under the NDP, and we need to acknowledge that.

In four years, the only major success of the SK Party is that it hasn't completely destroyed the economy...yet. I am trying to focus on the election, so I don't want to get into topics about how our Crowns are in jeopardy, how local contractors are going to be losing bids left and right to those from Alberta and British Columbia, and how we will run deficits that are covered up by redirecting funds from other parts of the government's purview.

But for the most part, Saskatchewan's economy was touted as being in good shape. When the rest of the world continues to talk uncertainty, the SK Party was able to successfully suggest that our economy was in good shape. Granted, it depends on who you ask. We still have a high number of unemployed people in the province. We still have a record number of food bank usage. We still have people struggling to pay for the rising cost of rental units and permanent housing.

So, whether or not the economy is in good shape is fairly debatable. But, the SK Party was able to sell the idea that it was and that they were the ones responsible for the economy being in good shape. As such, this enhanced their own popularity in a fairly meaningful way.

3.) Collapse of the Liberal Vote: Saskatchewan has become more or less a two-party province, thanks to the collapse of the Liberal vote. And much like in the last federal election, small-C Liberals found themselves drawn to the nearest conservative leaning party.

Provincial Liberals flocked to the SK Party in this election, and it was their involvement that pushed the NDP to the edge and the SK Party over the top in this election; much like those Liberals in Ontario who pushed Harper's conservatives into a majority government.

However, that's only a fraction of the story. Given that there are going to be Liberals who couldn't 'hold their nose' and vote for one of the parties that was fielding candidates in their constituency. Now, I haven't seen any information on voter turnout as of yet. But, I'm going to guess that we were probably on the lower end. I could be wrong, but I imagine that a lot of those lost Liberal votes from 2007 (that didn't turn out to be SK Party supporters) include those who simply did not go out and vote.

4.) Uncertainty: Let's face it, all of the provinces and territories that have had elections have shown one thing that is the current trend in Canadian politics: Despite disliking the government in office, voters are unwilling to toss them from power when there is a lot riding on it.

Look at Ontario. No one expected McGuinty's Liberals to form another government, let alone a minority one. Doomsayers also suggested that the Manitoba NDP were going to be turfed from power as well. In both cases, the pollsters were proven wrong and both governments were kept in power, despite the suggestion that people were ready for change in the province.

As such, while one can toss out historical precedence, there's no denying the current trend of supporting the incumbent during uncertain times. That was one of the things the NDP was fighting against during the campaign, in addition to the popularity of Brad Wall and his party. In uncertain times, people are unwilling to change the route and would rather stay the course.

5.) Dwain Lingenfelter: I've talked a bit about personality, but now I need to be a little bit harsher. I have to admit, I didn't support Lingenfelter during the leadership race. I was skeptical about electing an 'old guard' leader, especially given the contrast it would have against Brad Wall. Despite my resistance, Lingenfelter won me over after the first time I saw him address a room full of NDP members.

Sadly, that Lingenfelter was absent from the election campaign. Despite a better debate performance than Wall, Lingenfelter never really seemed to capture the imagination or inspire those outside of the NDP already. Yes, he was able to win over members who were uncertain about his leadership. But he was not able to win over those who did not have the chance to meet him and get to know him.

Rather, he was defined to the public by the attack ads that were taken out against him by the SK Party. The public never got the chance to actually see Lingenfelter as he was; but only as the boogeyman the SK Party wanted people to see.

And yes, he had a history and some things he had to answer for from his past. I've written about that before on this blog, and I think we don't need to cover the same old ground again. Lingenfelter was never fully able to address the concerns the SK Party levelled against him, and that (in the court of public opinion) made all the accusations true.

There is an idea in politics that you can't address the claims of an attack ad, because when you do you let your opponent's message define the campaign. But in Lingenfelter's case, one can't help but wonder how things would have been different if he had addressed the charges against him in those ads. Yes, it would have involved going after Wall and his party's record (contrary to the campaign of positive change) but it may have also improved public opinion of Mr. Lingenfelter.

6.) Positive Campaigning: I've said it before, I don't like attack ads. I think it is the cheapest, basest form of politiking and any politician worth their salt should never have to run an attack ad to win a campaign. That said though, there is a difference between negative campaigning and focusing on a record.

The SK Party campaigned on their record and their attacks on Lingenfelter. The NDP meanwhile let pretty much everything slide and focused solely on their platform. If electors in a democratic society didn't live the age of the soundbyte, then perhaps the NDP approach would have produced a better result. But, since we do live in the information age; and have a mentality of wanting to cram complex subjects down into 3 sentences or less, this was an approach that couldn't work on its own.

I'm not saying attack ads should have been taken out against Wall. But I am saying ads should have been taken out about the SK Party record. Allow me to illustrate:

-SK Party literature loved to mention that Saskatchewan was a have province now. Yet, the NDP never publicly reminded voters that it was the Calvert Government who made Saskatchewan a have province.

-SK Party literature loved to mention that more people were working in Saskatchewan, and not in part time jobs but in full time jobs. Yet, the NDP didn't condemn the SK Party when reports came out that proved this wasn't true. In October, Saskatchewan lost thousands of full-time jobs and replaced only a handful of those losses with lower paying part time jobs.

-SK Party literature loved to talk about paying down the debt by 40%. Yet the NDP never mentioned how the debt was just shifted to the Crown Corporations; or how the surpluses the SK Party were running were generated not by prudent financial management but by taking money from the Crowns and the 'rainy day fund' to cover budgetary shortfalls.

-SK Party literature loved to talk about how more young people are staying in this province. Yet the NDP  never addressed the key reason why younger people are staying in Saskatchewan. (I'm a young man myself, so allow me to explain) After the tuition freeze ended in Saskatchewan, students were paying more for schooling. Many of those students are now unable to find work or careers in their chosen fields, while many more are unable to find any work at all.

It's not that the SK Party is making things better for young people to stay, it's that their making it worse and impossible for young people to leave. I'm in a fair amount of debt after 4 years of school; as is any other student. Compound that with the inability to get a job which can cover living expenses, debt payments, and other expenses and you have a generation who have stagnated and are unable to leave the province if they wanted to.

Sure, I could pack up and move to Manitoba or Ontario and find a job with a political studies degree there easily...BUT, like many other students, I simply don't have the financial means to do so. I don't have the down payment on a house. I don't have the financial ability to pay rent in a new place. Young people are staying in Saskatchewan, but only because they can't afford to leave.

(On a side note, I happen to like it here in Saskatchewan. So even if I was in a different financial situation, I doubt I'd want to leave.)

The SK Party campaigned on their record, but it was not a complete picture. But the NDP was too focused on positive campaigning that even mentioning that the record was flawed was considered 'negative' and not worth mentioning during a campaign. The problem, of course, is that a record is always open to scrutiny. There is a difference between calling a government's record into question and personally attacking another leader.

Those are some of the major reasons that brought about the colossal NDP defeat that we saw the other night. The party will lick it wounds over these next four years, and eventually will be ready to fight again and hopefully win.

Which brings me to the part of the post where we will focus on the future of the NDP in Saskatchewan. I'm not a fortune teller, but I'll tell you what I think. With regards to the leadership race, I think we're not going to see any outsiders. By which I mean, I don't think we're going to see any of the 9 step aside for a by-election to be held for a new leader. Furthermore, a party is not going to elect a leader and have them sit outside the legislature for two - three years.

As such, one of the current 9 MLAs is likely going to step into the leadership position. The question is a matter of who is going to step forward and who is ultimately going to win. There are 3 big names that I think most people would agree on: Danielle Chartier, Trent Wotherspoon, and Cam Broten. Of the current caucus, those three stand out as the most likely leadership contenders.

That isn't to say that any of the others are unsuited for the job; rather, it is just an assessment of who seems most likely (in my mind) to pursue the leadership. Of course, there's always going to be a chance of outsiders running anyways. Former second-place leadership contender Ryan Meili could always make another go of it, but as mentioned above, it seems unlikely that the anyone would step aside for a by-election or that the party/caucus would support someone who isn't currently in the legislature.

Of course, I could be wrong, I am not a psychic.

Of the three mentioned, it's possible that one may end serving an interim leader instead of making a full leadership bid. Or it's possible that one of the other six will serve in this post to allow these three candidates to make a full run at leading the party into the future.

Only time will tell whether or not any, or all, of them get involved in a leadership race. What I do know is this: Many will say that last night was the night that the NDP were destroyed in Saskatchewan. Many will say that we must abandon our ideals and our consciences and embrace populism politics in order to ever have a chance of forming government.

It is true that our party is broken and beaten at the moment; but wounds heal and bones set over time. With time, we shall recover from this and we shall recover in a way that only makes us stronger. From destruction can come two things: We can either accept the defeat and convince ourselves that nothing can be done. Or, we can stand up, brush ourselves off, and acknowledge that from destruction comes the chance for creation.

And it is this new incarnation of our party that will become a strong voice for the people of Saskatchewan. Ours is a party that seeks to include, not exclude. To unite, not divide. And by doing this, we shall rise from this defeat with the knowledge that ours is a party that seeks to do the right thing. We may not always choose the most popular course of action, but we will choose to do what is right.

And by embracing our principles, and championing our causes, we shall regroup and we shall rebuild. And most importantly, in four years time, we shall be ready.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mountains and Molehills

Since the election campaign began in Saskatchewan, the election has been framed mostly around the NDP's commitment to review potash royalties to increase the return for the people of Saskatchewan. The SK Party has condemned this idea, and gone as far as to suggest that Saskatchewan's potash companies would jump ship if such a review took place.

Lingenfelter countered this argument with the idea that no company would walk away from a $2 billion dollar arrangement simply because they weren't making $3 billion. Which, is a pretty good argument. But, allow me to add a few more arguments.

Let's start with an exploration of other potash options.

It's a well known fact that Saskatchewan has an incredible amount of potash; and some would argue that Saskatchewan's potash is among the finest (if not the finest) in the world. As such, a company turning their back on mining a higher quality potash because of a five-cent increase in royalties is a bad argument. That would be like an oil company closing down derricks that produce regular crude in favour of only harvesting 'sour crude' deposits.

Then we come to the longevity argument. As mentioned above, Saskatchewan has a ridiculous amount of potash. For example, the K-1 and K-2 mines in Esterhazy have been in operation for almost 50 years. Now, that is a remarkable amount of time for a mining operation to be open. Obviously, it is in a mining company's best interest to open a mine where there is a great supply to be mined.

If potash companies were to leave Saskatchewan, there are other options and places for them to go...But will those areas grant the same kind of longevity to the mines found in Saskatchewan? If a mining company has an option between opening a mine that would last 50 years (but where the government takes a higher royalty rate) VS opening a mine that would last 10 years with a lower royalty rate; it's a no-brainer.

Cost effectiveness says that it is cheaper in the long run to establish the longer running mine, than it would be to open a mine for a few years, tap local resources, and then be forced to develop ANOTHER mine. As such, the issue of longevity seems to favour Saskatchewan heavily. As a world supplier of potash, and a major supplier at that, Saskatchewan is the best option for potash investment; regardless of the royalty rate.

As such, it is doubtful that any mining company would turn their back on Saskatchewan simply because royalty rates went up to a ten cents on a dollar. I'm sure there's more reasons than the ones I've listed above, but those are the two major ones that I can think of.

And that brings us to a bit of fortuitous timing.

Today, PotashCorp's third-quarter earnings were released for all of Saskatchewan to hear. The company posted an incredible $826 million dollars in profits. Now, if my math is correct (it probably isn't, since math isn't one of my strong suits) that means Saskatchewan received $41,300,000 in potash royalties from the company.

That means PotashCorp made $784,700,000 in profit. Brad Wall suggests that PotashCorp reinvested $590,000,000 in infrastructure and expansions. If that's true, PotashCorp still cleared  $194,000,000.

(Simplified process:
Total PotashCorp profit [826,000,000] MULTIPLIED by Government Royalty Rate [.05] = government profit

Total PotashCorp profit [826,000,000] MINUS Government Profit [41,300,000] = PotashCorp Profit

PotashCorp profit [784,700,000] MINUS expansion cost [590,000,000] = final PotashCorp profits) 

That's a fair chunk of change. So, let's see what would have happened if the royalty review had been in effect.

Under this increased royalty, the Saskatchewan Government would have made $82,600,000. That means PotashCorp would have made $743,400,000. Take away the expansion cost of $590,000,000 and PotashCorp has a final profit of $153,400,000.

(Simplified process:
Total PotashCorp profit [826,000,000] MULTIPLIED by Government Royalty Rate [.10] = government profit

Total PotashCorp profit [826,000,000] MINUS Government profit [82,600,000] = PotashCorp profit

PotashCorp profit [743,400,000] MINUS expansion cost [590,000,000] = PotashCorp final profit)

That makes a total difference of profit of $41,300,000 under the potash review. Let's face it, $41,300,000 is a drop in the bucket when your company is making $826,000,000 a year. And even if they did spend $590,000,000 in expansions, then a profit of $153,400,00 FOR ONE QUARTER of operating is a damned fine impressive profit.

As such, from a mathematical standpoint the overall loss to PotashCorp is not as bad as Brad Wall is making it sound. And if a company is going to leave because they're making $41,300,000 less than they were before, but still made $743,400,000 (after the government's cut) then they need to readjust their priorities...

Now, with all that headache inducing math out of the way, we can move on to the molehill part of this post.

I mentioned when we talked about the leader's debate that Brad Wall brought no real substance forward when compared to Lingenfelter and the NDP Platform. Well, Wall made his own major announcement today and it fizzled almost immediately after he spoke it.

I am talking of course about Wall's idea to move the school calendar forward to make K - 12 start after Labour Day, as opposed to the way it current works in which there is a small break a week after the school season starts.

While some have said it's a good idea; many others have come out to condemn the idea. Namely, school boards and teachers have condemned the move since Wall has proposed the idea without any consultation with them. Furthermore, the idea of what happens with those lost days begins to rear its head. Some have suggested that in order to make up for the lost week, the government will be forced to rob students (and therefore teachers, and parents) of another break somewhere down the line; with many suggesting that the week long February Break could be on the chopping board as a means of balancing the times table.

Now, why do I mention this in the same post as potash figures?

I mention it because it is the perfect contrast between the SK Party and the NDP in this campaign. The NDP is proposing bold new ideas that will have a major impact on the lives of people in Saskatchewan. While the SK Party is proposing ideas that barely register on the political radar...I mean, seriously, did anyone suspect that moving the school calendar by a week would become an election issue?

Yet another example of how the NDP is planning a long term strategy to move our province forward, while the SK Party meanders and hems and haws at actual ideas and strategies that will REALLY move Saskatchewan forward.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Debatable Debate

Like many people in Saskatchewan, I sat down tonight to watch the Leader's Debate.

For the most part, the debate was rather reserved. Both leaders took a few small swipes at each other, but no real 'attacks' came out during the length of the debate...Which was a nice change of pace, and unexpected. So, let's spend a minute exploring the tone and nature of the debate and then we'll talk about some of the things that came out during the debate.

When the campaign started, the NDP was determined to run a positive campaign without attacking the SK Party or Brad Wall. For the most part, the NDP has succeeded on this front. Lingenfelter's tone and interaction with Wall was quite reserved and focused mostly on NDP platform issues over personal attacks.

Brad Wall was also fairly reserved during the debate, though he did use the opportunity to attack Lingenfelter on a few occasions. Wall mostly quoted the SK Party attack ad against Lingenfelter, referring to Lingenfelter's past and suspect allegations against him from actions taken from previous NDP governments. But, for the most part, Wall didn't personally attack Lingenfelter directly.

That said though, Wall seemed underprepared for the debate. Lingefelter kept his head up, eyes at the camera or the moderators or Wall; while Wall often looked down at his podium. In fact, Wall clearly was being coached through electronic methods. Look to his quote from former NDP Minister Andrew Thompson; Wall quoted it verbatim and looked down at the podium the entire time...

And given the nature of the quote and the question, Wall couldn't have prepared this statement ahead of time. So, Wall clearly was underprepared and perhaps a little worried about this debate; and it clearly comes across through his mannerisms.

That isn't to say that Lingenfelter didn't have his own stumbles in the debate. In fact, within the first ten minutes, I was concerned about the performance we were about to see from Lingenfelter. However, after a rocky start, Lingenfelter found his stride and was really able to get the NDP message across and promote the positive change that the NDP is working towards in our province.

So, in the long run (if only based on who came across as prepared) Lingenfelter clearly walked away with this debate in his corner.

That brings us to the substance of the debate.

Lingenfelter wins this category too; but before you call me biased allow me to explain. Throughout the debate, Lingenfelter constantly presented planks from the NDP platform; specifically hammering home messages of potash reviews, rent controls, and the school childrens' dental program. Now, quick, name one proposal Wall talked about.

The only one I can remember is his answer to post-secondary education; the program which would give students who qualify $500 for four years; or $2,000. Or, less than the cost of 1/2 a year of study at the University of Saskatchewan.

Other than that, Wall introduced no major campaign thoughts but talked vaguely about 'staying the course' and keeping Saskatchewan on track...Without any substance. Wall hammered Lingenfelter on costing for certain campaign promises; but Wall mentioned no promises or real ideas that would keep Saskatchewan 'on track.'

In this way, Lingenfelter presented the stronger case and better policy options in the debate. Wall brought no real ideas forward and stuck to vague talking points that provided no substance. So, that's 2 - 0 in favour of Lingenfelter.

In my opinion, Lingenfelter clearly won the debate. In a confrontation that was hyped up to be a battle between Wall's style and Lingenfelter's substance, the debate was turned on its head when Lingenfelter encompassed both and Wall was stuck looking inexperienced and at a loss.

Whether or not this translates into a bump for the NDP remains to be seen, but tonight was the night when Dwain Lingenfelter went from Leader of the Opposition to Premier of Saskatchewan.