Friday, February 25, 2011

You Put Your Riding Cash In, National Spending Cash Out...

Source: CBC News: 2 Tory Senators Charged Over Campaign Spending
Source: CTV News: Conservative Officials Face Elections Act Charges

Since the 2006 Election which brought the Harper Conservatives to power, there has been a few questions revolving around the nature of campaign spending on the part of the Conservatives. Elections Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada have been locked in quite a few different shows of power since Harper and his party came to office.

From attempting to get Elections Canada to accept a whopping $600,000 GST rebate (which, by the way, would have opened the door for the Conservatives to raise their own spending limits as mandated by Elections Canada), to the long going battle of the in-and-out problem.

Now, campaign treachery is not my strong suit, so I'm not 100% versed on the details of an in-and-out scheme. But, this is my understanding of how it works.

Elections in Canada have spending limits as determined by Elections Canada for the purpose of ensuring a level playing field between Canada's major political parties. After all, if one party could simply spend a million dollars on constant TV ads trashing the other guys for a full twenty-four hours, it would be highly unlikely that the party being trashed could respond.

And in a democracy, competition may play a part in helping people decide who to mark their ballots for, but ensuring that all Canadians hear the messages of each party is more important than who can buy the most airtime.

Now, spending limits exist two-fold.

There is a national spending limit, which is exactly what it sounds like. The national organization of the party (in this case The Conservative Party of Canada) has a limited amount of how much money they can spend in an election. National expenses tend to be things like commercials that air in all the provinces and territories, salaries for national campaign staff, and so forth.

Then there is a riding spending limit, which effectively limits how much money can be spent within a giving riding (so, say things like candidate expenses for traveling throughout the riding could be covered for this, as is pamphlets and other expenses.)

Now, someone, at some point realized something: Some ridings are taking in far more money than can be spent legally during an election. Furthermore, some so-called 'safe ridings' (ridings which have voted consistently for one party/candidate for X number of years) were generating income but practically didn't need to spend anything because a victory was already guaranteed.

And then the solution came.

Why not funnel the money from ridings that aren't going to spend it into national campaign expenses?

And that's exactly what seems to have happened in the 2006 election.

A campaign office was set up for the Conservatives that represented a riding constituency office; in that numerous candidates had their offices in this building and it was represented as a riding expense.

However, as people began to dig deeper and deeper into this office, it became clear that many of the candidates who had offices here during the election never even set foot in the building. And that instead, what was going on, was that money raised in those ridings was being sent through this office into national campaign spending BUT being reported to Elections Canada as regional campaign spending.

Let me repeat that.

The Conservative Party filed reports with Elections Canada that stated that the money raised by this office was used to fund the campaign in those ridings; while in reality, the money was being spent on national campaign expenses.

When the news of this first broke, the Conservative Party more or less acted like a child who was caught with their hand in the cookie jar; they simply stated that the so called in-and-out method was simple politics that had been used by every party in Ottawa at one point or another and more or less unabashedly treated it like a non-issue.

However, this non-issue has not gone away, and the Conservatives have been battling Elections Canada over it since the 2006 election.

There was a Conservative victory in the courts, which is now being appealed, but no one can say for sure whether or not it will hold up. After all, the courts initially suggested that Elections Canada needed to take the Conservatives GST rebate and that was later overturned in an appeal, so who knows if that same could happen to the Conservatives here.

Despite this being against the Elections Act, it is not a criminal charge.

There was talk of banning the so called in-and-out method, surprisingly brought about by the Martin Government, which was lost and never brought back when the House of Commons brought down the Liberals.

So, at worst, the four Tories who have been charged in being in breach of the Elections Act will get no more than a slap on the wrist; while the candidates who engaged in the practice (and undoubtedly Harper's inner circle) will get away scot-free.

Now, this is a simple question but if history has proven anything it's that the Conservatives always do poorly on simple questions and questions of moral and ethic responsibility as far as governance and respect for democracy is concerned; but was this wrong?

As I mentioned above, the true test of a democracy is the ability to start an informed debate. And this is done through a variety of ways, but a major factor is the way in which political parties are able to frame the debate and the methods they use to get their messages from the corridors of Ottawa to the people of Canada.

We are not an oligarchy (though some people I know may challenge that statement) where those with the most money have the most right to 'inform' Canadians about the issues; we are a democracy where each idea should be weighed on the idea of merit and all ideas should have a chance to be heard.

That is why the spending limit exists; it is supposed to frame the parties that exist in Canada into adopting a method of spreading their message fairly and equally to all Canadians. By bypassing these spending limits, the Conservatives are continuing to show their disdain for democracy and due process and their relentless ambition to do anything possible to take the title of 'Canada's Natural Governing Party' for themselves.

In order for democracy to truly work, all parties must be equal and be treated as such (provided that they have the support to back them, I mean, after all we do have the Rhinoceros Party) and that means placing parties on an equal platform where the ability to have their message heard is afforded to them.

By cutting corners and going through loopholes, the Conservatives only cheapen our democratic process.

Democracy is about the exchange of ideas, not who can spend the most money, and it's high time we Canadians made sure the Harper Conservatives get that message.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Ballad of Bev and Steve...NOT.

Source: CTV News: Harper Stands By Oda as Uproar Grows

A long, long time ago in a Parliament not far away a decision was made that saw funding to a religiously backed foreign aid group cut. At the time, no one could really understand why the funding was cut to the group, given the federal funding it had enjoyed in the past. There was the odd number of speculations, but for the most part, no one had any real solid answers.

The Minister in charge of the decision blamed the bureaucracy; the bureaucracy blamed the government; and a different Minister blamed the group's views on the Israel/Palestine situation for the reason why the funding was cut.

And now, we're not much closer to the truth than we were before, although we're slowly making head way.

A piece of paper has been floating around Ottawa for awhile now, and that piece of paper is the recommendation letter that Ottawa provide funding to the tune of around $7 million dollars to the KAIROS organization.

The letter was signed by two Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) bureaucrats, and the Minister, Bev Oda. At first glance, the paper seems to show that the three individuals who signed it were recommending that those funds be released to KAIROS.

But somewhere in between, after the two CIDA people had signed it (according to their testimony at a parliamentary committee on the issue) someone had slid a 'NOT' into the document.

Before this same committee Minister Oda claimed that she did not know who had inserted the not into the document, and that KARIOS had lost funding due to their organization no longer falling in step with the government's view of foreign aids projects.

Now, Oda has backtracked and admitted that the not was inserted into the document at her discretion.

This is significant for a number of reasons.

For started, before the document leaked in December, the main talking point over the loss of funding was that it was a departmental decision, namely involving CIDA. What this document, and Oda's admission, show is that this was not the case.

Furthermore, this altering of a document is rather disturbing.

The fact that a document was signed by two people, then altered, is either a sign of contempt for Canada's civil service or simply a political gesture to pass the blame along should any real questions be asked about the issue.

Clearly, it was certainly the latter (though it is not working as planned) although I wouldn't cross the former out of playing a role either.

Now, some people have been wondering why this is a big deal. Some people, as I've seen on comment boards, are standing behind Oda and saying that her actions saved tax payers money in the long run and that now she's in the center of a some kind of witch hunt against her because of it.

I'd like to explain why this position is wrong.

All of us have seen a sitcom with a trouble-maker child who needs to get one of their parents to sign a school document that the kid doesn't want their parents to read. As such, they go through incredible lengths to get their parents' signature on to the paper, while keeping the content as secret as possible.

I'm sure Bart Simpson has pulled this stunt a few times.

Now, the episodes usually end with the kid being caught and learning an important lesson about why telling the truth is important.

That's what has happened here, although the lesson seems to have not been imparted to Oda or the other Harper Conservatives.

Effectively, the officials at CIDA were misled and signed a document under false pretenses. And yet despite this VERY apparent case of fraud, or forgery, or whatever you choose to call it; Harper and his caucus are defending Oda in a way that has never been extended to other cabinet ministers.

Let's recap:

Lisa Raitt: Now infamous for her comments on cancer and actions involving the Chalk River plant, the Conservatives defended her for a time but eventually Raitt was shuffled to a lower profile cabinet position.

Helena Guergis: When things go wrong, they really go wrong; as we saw with Minister Guergis who had a week of embarrassing gaffes (starting with the Charlottetown airport, to editors letters written by her staff) to the still unknown details of a RCMP investigation into her...She 'resigned' from cabinet, then was dropped from caucus and dropped as a candidate.

Maxime Bernier: Simple story really; man meets woman, man falls in love with woman, man leaves confidential government and NATO related files at woman's apartment...It's an age old story really. Again, Bernier 'resigned' from cabinet after this scandal.

So, from those three alone, the Harper Conservatives are already building quite the track record for Cabinet resignations in the face of embarrassing situations coming to light. Makes you wonder what else some of these cabinet ministers are up to...Especially given the high number of staffers who have been fired or 'resigned' when some odd cases began popping up in Ottawa (from the release of budget information to lobbyists to staffers denying or editing Access to Information requests.)

To steal a phrase, and modify it, from Shakespeare: Something is rotten in the city of Ottawa.

Oda's admission of forging a document is just further proof that Canadians need to be paying more attention to what is happening in Ottawa. Either the Harper Government believes they can do anything they want and get away with it because Canadians aren't watching them closely...or the Harper Government simply doesn't care and will do anything to push through their own ideological beliefs onto Canada.

In the coming weeks, Oda is going to face intense scrutiny, which is rightly deserved. But at the same time, Harper is going to come under the spotlight as well. After all, we all know the degree of control that the Harper Government has over not just Ministers but backbench Members of Parliament.

We all know that not so much as a press release can be issued by any Conservative without some form of approval coming down from the Prime Minister's Office. And the longer questions are asked about Oda, and Harper's other disgraced Cabinet Ministers, the more likely it is going to dig closer to show a link between the PMO and all of these events, in one way or another.

Effectively, we as Canadians need to pay more attention to what is going on in Ottawa and just what our government has been doing in our name. And if they are indeed treating us with the contempt that they clearly have for our civil service, then we need to wake up and throw the blighters out.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Three Strikes, Perhaps?

Source: CTV News: Liberals 'flip-flopped' on Crime Bill: Nicholson

For a third time, the Harper Conservatives are attempting to push through their much lauded (and increasingly much maligned) 'tough on crime' legislation. Previous attempts to push through this legislation resulted in a few different outcomes:

1.) The bill passed through the House of Commons, with the support of a weakened and still 'election scared' Liberal Party, though it was gutted and rejected in the Senate.

2.) The bill died in committee when Harper prorogued Parliament.

And now it's come back, with the Liberal ability to block it in the Senate gone thanks to a new Conservative majority in the Upper House (In fact, the bill originated in the Senate this time around and now only needs to be passed through the House of Commons); but now the Liberals seem to have found a backbone and are refusing to pass this legislation through the House of Commons.

Now, there's good things and there are BAD, BAD, BAD things about this piece of legislation.

The only sole good part of this legislation revolves around the reclassification of date rape drugs; which, in all honesty, we know are a bad thing in an of themselves. As such, this is a good idea to crack down on people who are producing and supplying these types of drugs which lead to sexual crimes committed against people, namely women; though, in fairness, I have heard of the rare case of 'date rape' drugs being used against men, but they are clearly not the primary target of such drugs.

And the bad things.

The Harper Government is cracking down massively on marijuana possession, in such a way that possession of a small number of plants (in which no lawyer could argue that possession of such proves intent to sell or traffic) would lead to jail time and other punishments for those found to be in possession of these plants.

Furthermore, increasing jail time seems to be a Harper Government standard. After all, prisons are one of the few departments in Ottawa that can gloat about their budgets being increased since the Conservatives came to power. There's also been increased talk over the creation of new prisons, expansions on others, and even rumours that a 'super-max' facility could be developed at some point to house Canadian criminals.

And the Harper Conservatives want to make a minimal amount of marijuana an offence that will send more people into prisons, at a time when Canada is already facing a large amount of prison over crowdings and shortages of space.

The solution to prison over crowding is not to build more prisons, but to prevent more people from going there in the first place.

And as surprising as this may sound, one of the planks in achieving such a thing can be done through decriminalization of marijuana.

I'd like to put a preface here: Personally, I've never indulged in recreational drug use. So, before cries of 'oh, you just want to support your own habit' begin to be tossed around, keep in mind that I don't actually smoke or use marijuana in any of its forms, or any other illegal drug for that matter.

The Harper Government is talking about getting tough on crime, especially gangs, and says that by making smaller amounts of marijuana an arrestable offense which will result in prison time they are being tough on crime.

Well, to borrow a phrase from Michael Igatieff, "they're being dumb on crime."

If Harper was serious about removing the profits of drug trafficking from gangs, the easiest way to do that is to make the very thing they sell less of a taboo.

Look to Atlantic City in the 1920s.

During the Prohibition Era in the USA, illegal alcohol flowed in the streets regardless of government attempts to prevent it from doing so. Furthermore, 'gangsters' came of age in this time period because the sale of alcohol provided an incredible source of income for them.

There will always be a market for alcohol, which is a lesson the American Government eventually realized when they turned their back on the 'Noble Experiment'.

As such, I would argue that there will always be a market for drugs like marijuana. The obvious solution, taking cues from prohibition, then is to decriminalize marijuana and establish a government monopoly around selling it.

Now, this is only a partial solution.

I'm not that naive to claim that decriminalizing marijuana will completely stem criminals from attempting to sell it as well...

But, with a government backed producer who is consistently undercutting these unsavoury individuals it is one way of restricting their income, with regards to marijuana. And yes, there will be other people, who aren't criminals, who will grow and sell their own plants but as long as those profits aren't being used to support crime, why should we be worried about it?

Now obviously, this is only one small step, given that other drugs would still be sold by these criminal groups.

I can't say I'm in favour of mass decriminalization for all drugs; after all, 'hard drugs' like crystal meth and heroin have a significant life impact on their users, much more so than I could say with my limited knowledge of marijuana.

Of course, we could approach this issue with the candour of John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle. For those unfamiliar, it's a simple concept that says as long as someone engages in an activity that does no harm to anyone else, they should not be restricted from doing it.

Drug use is a complex though; after all, if a mother is emotionally distraught that her child is doing drugs, does that count as harm?

As such, since this isn't a philosophical blog (although some days it may feel that way), we'd best leave the harm principle alone and look more at the political aspects.

The Harper crime initiatives have been reason for concern. Since they were announced, Vic Towes has been out there suggesting that all the government's bills on this matter wouldn't cost Canadians more than $2 billion dollars.

At the same time, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page (who has to have the hardest job in Ottawa) continues to question government figures by stating that just one of the bills presented will cost $5 billion dollars.

Let me restate that.

The Conservatives have a COLLECTION of bills which they claim will only cost $2 billion dollars. But the PBO says that just ONE of these bills will cost Canadians $5 billion dollars.

Given the Harper Government's track record on budgetary issues, I have to say I'm more inclined to believe Mr. Page's figures.

I'm worried I may have rambled a bit, so let me attempt to reel this back in and close this post down.

Effectively, Canadians are facing a very interesting question in regards to the the idea of being 'tough on crime' and continuing the 'war on drugs.'

History has shown that attempting to ban something will only cause criminals to profit from selling the banned substance, and that the market demand for it will not disappear. Rather than attempting to continue a failed policy that has never worked, the Canadian Government should be taking steps to change our drug policies to actually take money away from criminals.

After all, this bill seems to punish those who are indulging in marijuana use for their own pleasure, not those who are producing it to sell. As such, all this bill really does is take customers off the street, which in turn will lead to those criminals who sell the stuff to simply find new customers.

The decriminalization of marijuana is not a slippery slope; it will not, and should not, lead to the decriminalization of harder drugs, but it should be the first step in removing the 'taboo' and 'mysterious intrigue' that drug culture provides for some people.

Not to mention that marijuana sold by the state does two things: Firstly, it ensures that the drug being sold is safe and hasn't been mixed with anything or grown in conditions that can endanger the life of the user.

Secondly, it would produce a good tax revenue source for the government, much in the same way that cigarettes and alcohol do now.

Yes, we do have a commitment to make sure that drugs don't find their way to children. Yes, we have a commitment to make sure that those addicted to the stuff find the help they need to beat their addictions.

But we also have a commitment to change with the times and adapt to the lifestyles that evolve around us.

As such, it might be time for Canada's own 'noble experiment' in regards to marijuana illegality to come to an end.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rethinking The Democratic Process

I had the opportunity this evening to attend an informal discussion on the subject of Women in Politics; and while the bulk of this post will not be addressing that issue in particular, it was some of the points that were brought up there that spurred me on to write this specific post.

One of the problems that was mentioned in regards to keeping women out of politics was the nature of nomination races. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a nomination race, since I was involved in a few, let me give you a brief idea as to how they work.

Essentially, the executive of a riding/constituency announce that the party is seeking a candidate. People who are interested then fill out the appropriate paperwork, which could include a background check, and then are approved by the central party authority.

One the candidates are declared, the date for the nomination convention is set by the executive and the candidates then go about attempting to garner support.

This is a two-fold process:

1.) Reaching out to current members (phone calls, leaflet drops, door knocking, etc.)

2.) Recruiting new members

Come the day of the nomination, the candidates gather with the people of the riding/constituency and give their speeches, followed by a vote by the members gathered in which a candidate is decided.

That's more or less the process in a nutshell.

Now, it came up at this informal discussion that this process is not the friendliest process in the world and that in many respects it essentially boils down to a popularity contest. While this is somewhat true, there are other factors beyond popularity that have a major impact on the way a nomination contest unfolds.

The primary problem that I would say exists in the the nomination process is the second fold aspect I've mention, in the concept of garnering new memberships.

The reason this is a problem, in my humble opinion, is people with wide social circles are able to sell memberships to friends who do not necessarily support the party, but want to be able to support their friend's ambitions. As such, some new members are only members until the day of the nomination, at which point they don't renew memberships or make contributions to the party.

Now, I'm not saying this is the general norm. I would surely hope that no one actively enters a nomination knowing that they can get numerous people to join the party simply to sway the vote in their favour, only to have those new members then become inactive in the party and in politics in general.

But, there is the possibility that this practice is used and used well by those who are well connected either through their careers or just through their wide circle of friends.

As such, it is easier for these people to enter a nomination race and secure a victory.

Now, the opposite is also true. Some people are able to go out and sell new memberships to people who stay members and contribute both time and money to the party throughout their lifetime. Certainly, I don't want to admonish those who are able to go out and sell memberships in this way, and it is not my intention to do so. Should anyone feel that I have said that, I wish it to be known that I haven't, and I apologize if any elected official reads this and thinks I'm attacking them for building the party base, because I am not.

So, what do I mean?

What I mean is that through the selling of memberships, there already exists a significant disadvantage between candidates seeking memberships. Let's face it, some of us out there aren't exactly the kind to go out to random doorsteps and attempt to sell someone something; but some of us are. Some of us don't even feel comfortable selling things to family and friends, I know I certainly feel uncomfortable in that way.

So, how can we fix this to make a nomination race a more level playing field?

One could look to the United States for a solution.

In the USA, party membership is by declaration and not dues paid memberships. If someone says they're a Democrat, they can go to a Democratic Primary and be able to vote in it.

Now, what are the advantages to this?

To an extent, it's slightly more democratic. Since candidates go from recruiting new members, although some certainly would continue to recruit members, and instead rely on completely contacting established members it becomes less of a competition over who can recruit new members and more of a competition as to who can establish themselves as the best candidate in the eyes of the membership.

Let me try and clarify that.

As our system exists now, if Candidate A sells 100 memberships that means come the day of the nomination they should have 100 votes for them.

Now, assume that the riding/constituency the candidate is running in has a membership of 450 people, that now rises to 550 due to their recruitment. But, let's say that the candidate knows less than 30% of the membership is going to attend the nomination. That means 135 people from the established membership are going to attend the nomination.

So, entering the nomination Candidate A already has a little less than 1/2 of the vote that is attending, simply because they were able to sell more memberships than the competition.

This could devolve further to Candidate A not even contacting established membership, but rather focus solely on recruiting new members that will support them alone, further increasing the likelihood of their victory simply based on the ability to sell more memberships.

Now, some of you might be nodding your heads and thinking that this makes sense. That the person who can go out and recruit 100 or so new members deserves to win the nomination race...

But, keep in mind what I've argued above. Of that 100 people, what are the odds of all of them staying within the party? Of contributing time and donations to the party?

Practically speaking, the odds aren't good. Of those 100, maybe 50 will stay with the party, and of that 50, maybe only 20 will join their local executive. So, while Candidate A has increased the party and their own nomination chances, they have actually done little to improve the party over all.

So, with that said, what is the benefit of the American system?

Well, given that the system exists independently of selling memberships, it creates a better system of ensuring that the candidates need to reach out to the membership that exist.

Again, a point of clarification.

By preventing a candidate from winning simply by recruiting more memberships to join the party, the candidates then have to reach out to the party membership that exists and be able to articulate their positions and policy ideas while introducing themselves to the members and making an impression on them.

This creates a system where candidates have to position themselves among the membership to garner support, as opposed to simply getting new members to swell their support artificially.

Now, effectively, this creates a system that is inherently more democratic by ensuring that a candidate cannot win by bringing in their own numbers alone and instead has to rely on making the best impression among the members and actually gaining the support of the members of their constituency/riding.

This is probably one thing about the American political system which works well, and would serve well in changing the way that Canadian politicians are selected.

Effectively, we need to ask ourselves whether or not the system that we have serves Canadians the best in ensuring that candidates are selected based on merit and ability, as opposed to 'popularity' or other quantifies that have nothing to do with political acumen.

Only then can we have a democracy that we can be truly proud of.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What's at Stake?

With the chances of a federal election coming this spring looking more and more inevitable, I'm going to be dedicating more time to posting on Federal Issues; with exceptions for major provincial stories that will arise.

It seems to me that the next election will be an election in which there is a lot at stake for the parties and for the people of our nation. These are terms which are thrown around a lot by politicians to hopefully scare us into voting for their party, but I'm saying this in all seriousness.

There are a number of potential outcomes when the writ is dropped and the last ballots are counted in the next election, some more favourable than others. I would like, if you'll indulge me, to explore what some of those outcomes are.

1.) A Conservative Majority

This option, as of this writing, appears the least possible. Canadians still haven't warmed up to the Conservative Party en masse, and as such the Conservatives have been unable to punch above their higher 30% approval ratings in opinion polls. Given that the Liberals have remained in the mid to higher 20% range, even in their darkest days, it seems highly unlikely that a mass shift will occur to give the Conservatives access to the voting pool they need to form a majority government.

Now, I could stand here on my soap box and talk about all the consequences that would come from a Conservative majority government. The implications to social minorities, the cuts that would come to social programs and artistic spending, and the untold numerous financial consequences that come from Conservatives taxing less while still attempting to improve programs and avoid cuts which in turn leads to massive deficit spending...

But I'm not going to spend a great deal of time doing that, as we already know the potential problems. But I am going to say this much:

Canadians: If we want to pay for health care, pension plans, and other social programs we need to pay taxes. We may not like it, but the alternative is to take those programs on ourselves and the cost we'd pay in those situations would far outweigh the potential tax increases needed to properly fund them. As long as we're taxed fairly, and the services we receive are worth the taxes paid, how could we possibly have a problem?

2.) A Conservative Minority

This is the most likely option, given Canadian's penchant for electing minority governments over the past couple of years. As mentioned above, the Conservatives have failed to hit above their polling numbers for the past few years; one would have expected some kind of movement in either direction, but the Harper Conservatives continue to remain in their bubble of 30 - 35% support.

Since it's unlikely that the Conservatives are going to find enough of a voter base to pull their totals ahead, the most likely outcome would be the re-election of a minority government. There is an implication here that has dire consequences for the Conservatives, which I will talk about later on in this post.

However, it's still possible that there could be movement forward for one of the opposition parties, which could result in a minority government of a different political stripe; though this does not seem likely.

3.) A Coalition Government

That's right, I used the C Word: Coalition.

Stephen Harper did everything in his power to discredit the Dion-Layton-Duceppe Coalition, calling it just a few notches short of treason. He did a relatively good job of kicking up a Canadian distaste for the concept, and even the word, and rumblings suggest that some Conservatives (ex. John Baird) are invoking it as a means of fund raising already.

But, there has a been a substantial paradigm shift since the failed Canadian Coalition: Two coalition governments have been formed in other Parliamentary Democracies. That's right, the United Kingdom and Australia both have coalition governments in the wake of elections which failed to produce a majority government.

As such, for any Canadians who pay attention to political news outside of Canada, the concept of a coalition as 'treason' should be worn off and proven as a falsehood; rather, these two countries have helped codify the idea as a virtue in Parliamentary Democracies. (Though granted, the UK Coalition is not without its faults.)

As such, Canadians could very well see a new coalition agreement formed in the wake of the next election. If the Liberals are able to regain some of the seats lost to the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois; and the NDP is able to avoid losing the gains they've made (in Alberta, Quebec) and add to those gains in places like Saskatchewan (We're looking at you, Nettie Wiebe) the possibility to form a coalition government without the involvement of the Bloc Quebecois becomes possible.

I mention this, because by taking the Bloc out of the coalition, the Conservatives lose their talking point of 'getting in bed with the separatists', which was one of the major points that reflected very poorly on the first coalition idea.

As such, a Liberal - NDP coalition could form government, knowing that the Conservatives would never dare attempt to create their own coalition with the Bloc Quebecois.

Now, I mentioned a dire consequence for the Conservatives when I discussed the idea of another minority government. Perhaps I painted with broad strokes on that phrase, because the consequences are not really to the Conservative Party but rather to the leadership of Stephen Harper.

Since 2004, Stephen Harper has been struggling with the Canadian electorate to grant his party a majority government. Harper has undergone numerous elections as leader of his party, resulting in one loss, one less than substantial win, and one 'it was slightly better than last time' win.

Party leadership is a tumultuous thing; given that the successors are always waiting in the wings, sometimes with the knives out and waiting (Think Paul Martin to Jean Chretien), and there are always murmurs over the quality of the leadership being provided. And of course, every action is scrutinized under an electronic microscope.

In the 2008 Election, Harper was running an election campaign that for lack of a better phrase was his to lose. Stephane Dion was proving an ineffective Liberal Leader, and the election reflected this with the Liberals receiving their worst electoral result in decades...

And yet, the Harper Conservatives failed to form a majority government.

So, what does this mean for the next election?

It means, effectively, that Stephen Harper has the most riding on the next election and he is probably well aware of this. If the Conservatives fail to form a majority government, which is looking likely, Harper is going to face some difficult questions from his caucus and from his party.

This will be Harper's 4th attempt to form a majority government since 2004; as noted, he's had one loss in 2004, which was surprising in itself given the extent of the Sponsorship Scandal at this time. One less than impressive victory in 2006, where the Liberals still held on to a 103 seats in the House of Commons compared to the Conservative's 124.

This led to a better victory in 2008, over the Dion Liberals, where the Liberals dropped to 77 seats compared to the Conservatives' 143...But, this was not the defeat that the Liberals were supposed to be heading for. Of course, it was the worst Liberal result in decades as noted before, but they were not completely crushed and the Conservatives were not able to form a majority.

And that is why there is much to be gained, and lost, for Harper in the next election.

If Harper fails to win a majority, even if the Conservatives form a minority without losing or gaining too many seats, Harper is going to face direct challenges to his leadership. After all, with two electoral victories already under his belt, a loss now or the failure to gain a majority is going to bring down Harper's leadership.

There are no doubt contenders waiting in the wings (Peter McKay, Tony Clement, and probably numerous others) who will use the opportunity of another Conservative failure to gain a majority as proof that Harper is unable to gain the trust of Canadians and unable to connect their party with Canadians.

As such, for the good of the party, a new leader will be needed.

So, why risk an election if Harper's time in the sun is riding on it? One could take it as proof that there is clamouring in Harper's party over his leadership, and the only way to silence it would be to risk an election and hope against hope for a majority, silencing his dissenters in an instant. Of course, this looks highly unlikely, so perhaps it is not a good example.

Either way, the coming election does mean a lot to Canadians as it could have a fundamental impact on the way our country is governed; but I guarantee you, it has a lot more meaning to Stephen Harper.

Per-Usage Internet Problems

First things first, if you've come here for awhile you'll notice that things look a bit different. I've been toying with the display settings and such, and hope to find something I think gives the blog a sleeker look. I like this new format, but I have a few problems with it, so don't be too alarmed if the blog undergoes some major format changes...Or if I can't find anything I like better, don't be too alarmed if it stays as it is now.

CTV News: Tony Clement Reviewing CRTC's Internet Billing Rulling

When I woke up this morning, I didn't really expect to find something as technologically based as this in today's political news; especially given the huffing and puffing over the budget, which I presumed would take up most of our political posturing until March, when the Finance Minister brings the budget down to the House.

Now, imagine my surprise to find out that the issue revolves around a usage-based fee for internet bandwidth.

I'm going to confess a few things here: Regardless as it may appear, I'm not a technical expert. I understand broad concepts and ideas, and I can usually hand my own computer problems, but I'm by no means a master of technology.

Recently, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission made a decision that says major internet service providers (ISPs) can charge smaller internet service providers for the amount of bandwidth that their customers, and as a result they, use.

So, in the least technical terms possible, what exactly does this mean?

Let's say Company A is a major ISP (like Rogers); they sell access to their network to Company B, who in turn provides internet service to customers. Company B makes money off of their customers, while Company A makes money off of Company B.

What this ruling will do will allow Company A to charge Company B more money if their customers use more bandwidth, aka if they access higher amounts of data/information on the internet.

Now, why is this a problem?

This is a problem on a few fronts, both for smaller companies but also for consumers.

For companies, especially smaller ones, there is the problem of increased fees for access to a larger ISP. This in turn is going to lead to the smaller ISPs raising their prices to cover for the increase in fees, which in turn will push customers away to other ISPs.

Effectively, a motion like this would be a death knell for smaller ISPs, who would either have to raise their prices to cover their fees and still make a profit or would be forced to place bandwidth restrictions on their networks. Larger ISPs use a form of this by allotting bandwidth and charging for any bandwidth gone over; though, I would imagine that smaller ISPs could perhaps be forced by the larger ISPs to enforce a bandwidth block, in that after meeting your monthly limit the ISP could block your access to the internet.

The other option, is to do what we've seen done with cell phones. Text messaging used to be one of those features that cost an extra amount of money and you were given so many messages a month. Cell phone companies made who knows how many thousands, if not millions, of dollars off of people with limited text messaging capabilities who went over their allowed texts per month.

As such, unlimited text messaging is now a common feature in most cell phone plans and is built into the contract price.

The point I'm trying to make here is this:

Right now ISPs more or less allow unlimited access to the internet for so-much money a month. If a motion like this is approved, we will not see per month prices for access to internet disappear. Rather, I believe that we would see a per usage based system coupled with a newer, expensive per month rate.

By adding the threat of per usage billing, major ISPs could then turn around and take unlimited high speed access from say $60 a month, to $120 a month to cover the idea of unlimited bandwidth.

What I'm saying, if I can be so bold, is that what this effectively constitutes is nothing more than a cash grab by ISPs. By introducing the idea of per use billing, Canadians would much rather jump on board with a higher charged monthly rate to avoid paying surprise fees later on. And don't say it won't happen, because if there's on thing I've come to trust on in life, it's the unscrupulous nature some companies operate on to make an extra dollar.

And now for the impact on consumers, some of which I've already mentioned.

In the technological era we live in, per usage billing is not a good idea. There are many types of people who use the internet that would be affected by per use billing:

1.) Students: We live in an era we having the internet is not an option for secondary and post-secondary students. Downloading readings (PDF. files, word documents), maps, and other course materials are sometimes essential to doing well in a course. As such, students are already using more bandwidth because of needing to download and upload files accordingly.

2.) Businesses: Obviously, this is a big one. Do any small business not have at least one computer in their buildings? The uses for these business computers are unlimited, from online advertising and again to uploading and downloading presentations, spreadsheets, and numerous other documents.

3.) 'The Tech Savvy': This is my 'big-tent' category. Technology is changing and as such the ways we use technology are changing with it. A common example is Netflix; where for about $8 a month, a person has access to a rather massive online collection of television shows and movies, which can be streamed to computers and most modern video game consoles. Obviously, this is a high bandwidth activity.

Add to that the legion of internet gamers, in which I include myself, who regularly play video games either on computer or on video game consoles with other people. How much bandwidth does spending one or two hours a day playing games with friends and family eat up?

As I've noted before, this entire idea of per usage billing sounds like one big cash grab to me. And in the end, it will do more to hurt Canada's already weak technological infrastructure by pushing more people away from it because of the cost. In a day and age where the internet is becoming a necessity, we should be finding ways to improve access, not restrict it.