Friday, April 29, 2011

Those Will Be The Days...

As I'm writing this, a funny thing is happening across our nation. When this election campaign started, the Conservatives held an insurmountable lead in public opinion and flirted with majority territory for a period of time. Harper even courted the majority vote, openly asking Canadians to give him and his party the majority they have long sought after since 2004; and some would argue back further when the party was still split between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform/Canadian Alliance.

And then something happened. With all the talk of the 'two great leaders' (Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff) telling Canadians that the choice was either a Liberal Government or a Conservative Government, Canadians seemed to wake up and realize that they weren't being told the whole truth.

And with that, the NDP has seen a meteoric rise in public support numbers. For the first time in history, the NDP is beating the Bloc Quebecois and the other parties as the number one choice within Quebec.

For the first time in history, the NDP is beating the Liberals by a staggering 8 percentage points and cementing themselves as the second place party.

But is it stopping there?

The Conservatives started this campaign with about 39% of the popular support, in some polls that number was even higher; but recent polls suggest that they have plummeted down as low as 33 - 36%. That's within striking distance of the NDP wave that is moving across this country that saw the NDP rise from a campaign low of around 15% to a new high of 30%.

Throughout the election speculation in Canada, people have hummed and hawed and mused over what the outcome of the looming federal election would be. Even I did this awhile back, where I outlined 3 possible outcomes.

The first outcome was a Conservative majority, before the contempt and fighter jets really began to raise their heads, but that option seems all but impossible now; rumour has it even some Tory insiders are beginning to admit this.

The second outcome was another Conservative minority, propped up yet again by a weakened Liberal Party. As the polls stand, this is still the option that seems the most likely. At least, in the beginning.

The third option was a Liberal-NDP coalition; though the poll numbers now suggest it would be a NDP-Liberal coalition.

So, what is going to happen come election day?

Right now, there is a chance that Canadians may continue their exodus from the 'major' political parties and find themselves giving the NDP a chance to change the way things work in Ottawa. As such, the possibility of a minority NDP Government being elected flat out does exist, but it is a long shot as it stands.

Even as a die-hard NDP supporter, I never foresaw myself typing that sentence in this election. Don't get me wrong, it's a sentence I am more than glad to type.

But, let's assume for a moment that the Conservatives manage to hold onto their 3 - 6 point lead over the NDP. That means another Conservative minority government will be elected, but it will be one that has LOST seats, rather than gained them.

While Conservatives are looking to pick up some seats, they're also looking to lose others. And the result will be a net loss, as opposed to a net gain, with them likely having somewhere between 130 - 135 seats. (-13 to -8 seats).

The Bloc will have the most spectacular loss out of all the parties, with estimates saying they could be decimated to just 14 seats in the House of Commons, a loss of 35 seats. While the Liberals are estimated to be in the low 60s, a loss of around 14 seats or so.

So, what does this implication mean?

There's going to be a shake up, no doubt about it. Duceppe, who briefly left the BQ to attempt a PQ leadership bid, will likely be turfed as a leader over the miserable performance of the Bloc in this election. A loss of 35 seats, or more, could not be defended and the Bloc leader will likely find himself stepping down, for real this time.

The Liberals will face this problem as well. After Dion led them to their worst electoral showing in decades, he barely survived a few months as leader before effectively stepping down and being thrown to the side at the same time. Ignatieff may face the same call to step aside, with surviving Liberal members looking around to see who is still in the House from previous leadership bids...

Or there could be the unelected factor (high profile Liberals like Frank McKenna) finally coming out of their self-imposed exile in politics to champion themselves as the next great leader of the party.

However, there's also a chance that Ignatieff could stay on a Liberal Leader. After all, a Liberal campaign against a NDP government would be to suggest that they would stay on similar social terms, but find more 'cost effective' measures of putting these programs forward. (It's a false tag line, but it's one the Liberals are using as I type this.)

Without Harper's focus of character assassination on Ignatieff come the next election, the Liberal leader will actually have a chance to spend time defining himself and his vision of Canada. As such, Ignatieff may simply survive as a leader because the party would see it as a chance to do some rebuilding while the Conservatives focus all of their vitriol against the NDP.

And then we come to the NDP.

Truth be told, I had expected a shake up in the NDP leadership after this election. But I think that's out of the cards now. Layton has achieved what many people have said was unachievable for the NDP, a complete surge in the polls that could continue until the party finds themselves in first place.

As such, Layton's not going to stand down and deliver the NDP to new hands after the hard work he's put in. And rightfully so, as he does deserve the credit and the boons for getting the NDP to these historic highs.

Now, these are the 3 scenarios:

1.) A reduced Conservative minority: The Conservatives will lose their 8 - 13 seats, and be left licking their wounds after election day. Harper may put off calling Parliament to session longer than usual as a battle plan is forged.

That battle plan will be one of two things:
1.) Harper will step down as leader and Prime Minister; this is a potential plan because we all know Harper is one of the main reasons why the Conservatives can't cede any ground or form any compromise with the other parties in the House of Commons. As such, there may be push within the party to get Harper out in order to keep the Conservatives in power.

2.) Harper will woo the Liberals into an unofficial coalition; much like he's done since 2006. The Liberals lost their backbone in 2006, and a dismal result here will likely dishearten them again. So we'll see more Liberal abstentions, approval and plain just not showing up to allow government bills to pass through the House of Commons.

Now the problems.

Situation one suggests that Harper would give up power in order for his party to stay in power, but that doesn't sound like the Harper we've come to know. This option is not likely unless the push to remove Harper comes from within his own caucus (by MPs with leadership ambitions like Peter McKay or Tony Clement). The daggers are out there, but whether or not they're ready to be pushed in is another thing.

The second situation is a problem because it would be the last death knell of the Liberal Party. With Ignatieff spending two-thirds of the campaign focusing on the contrast between Conservative and Liberal, the Liberals would lose a lot of face to turn around after election day and then throw support to a Conservative minority.

Since a deal with the devil would destroy the Liberal Party, it is unlikely that the Liberals could afford to prop up a Conservative minority.

2.) A NDP - Liberal Coalition: The NDP and Liberals could have 160+ seats between them, and a coalition could create a lasting government. Furthermore, by the decimation of the Bloc, the 'separatists' (as Harper likes to call them) would not have their hands on any of the reigns of power.

This option is likely, especially if the Harper Government falls early or fails to gain the confidence of the House of Commons with the throne speech. The main reason why its a boon is that it actually helps both parties. The Liberals have attacked the NDP as inexperienced (which is not true, but hey, let them believe what they like) and by having Liberal members in Cabinet that claim is suddenly gone.

And secondly, by having a stable government, the Liberals have more time to rebuild their party. It's a bit of a win-win for them, given that they'll have some power and also be able to take some credit for good programs under a NDP-Liberal government.

The problem with this though is sour grapes. My gut reaction to a NDP-Liberal coalition is one where the Liberals try to punch above their weight and demand more than they deserve out of a coalition deal. By which I mean, they will demand a better share or full split of Cabinet placement and demand that at least one or two high profile ministries fall under their purview.

(Such as demanding that a Liberal be Finance Minister and Health Minister, etc.)

This arrogance could lead to a coalition being a non-starter, especially if the Liberals think they are entitled to hold the more 'important' cabinet positions because some of their members have held those posts before and would not be happy with becoming a junior minister within the department.

And finally the third option, a NDP minority government with no coalition deal.

This is the hardest press of the options. The Liberals and Bloc are going to have some sore words for the NDP, given that their losses came at the NDP's gain. As such, there's a chance that the Liberals and Bloc will be resistant to bring down a Conservative minority simply because they want to keep the NDP from power.

But if the NDP, it could happen, actually forges ahead of the Conservatives and gets the first crack at forming government...There's a chance the opposition will defeat them in much the same way it seems the opposition would defeat a re-elected Harper Government.

In my opinion, those are the situations we're looking at. I do believe that if the Conservatives are re-elected, they will be defeated and the NDP will be asked to form the first Federal NDP Government in Canadian history, even if it relies on a coalition with the Liberals.

The Liberals could take that opportunity to rebuild and rebrand themselves, not to mention give themselves a way to weasel in on good measures passed by the NDP Government, while blaming the NDP faction for any problems of the coalition. It's a win, but also a potential loss for the Liberals, as the people may very well open up to continuing voting NDP in future elections.

These are the questions the parties are going to consider, and ultimately, this election will be decided not by the people of Canada, but by the Liberal Party. They will decide whether they lacklusterly prop up a Conservative minority, but risk destroying what is left of their party to do so. OR to prop up Canada's first NDP government, and risk showing a capable NDP at the reigns of power, firmly establishing them as the alternative to the Liberals for centrist Canadians.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Come On Up For the Rising

Source: EKOS Politics: Seat Projection April 25th, 2011
Source: Bruce Springsteen - The Rising

For a bit the media has drawn a comparison to Ignatieff's call on Canadians to rise up as being likened to Bruce Springsteen's song the Rising. I've included it at the top, make up your mind as to whether the comparison is fair.

There are few moments in politics that can be referred to as a game changer. Certainly, debates have in the past become electoral game changers, but everyone almost agrees that we did not see that in either of the leader debates of this campaign.

But we have the the 'Orange Wave' ride up and begin to sweep across the nation. I'm speaking off course about the NDP polling numbers that have been steadily on the rise. Everyone knows this kicked off in Quebec, where for the first time ever, the NDP's polling numbers were higher than the Bloc Quebecois.

But now we're seeing NDP support surging in a lot of those key 'battle grounds' that the Conservatives were looking at. Places in mainland British Columbia, places here in Saskatchewan, and more in roads in Ontario. And for the most part, it looks like those in roads are actually working as NDP candidates find themselves being boosted and coming within striking distance of a few Conservatives across the nation.

A recent EKOS poll is showing just how much of a game changer this swift is support could be if the numbers hold come May 2nd.

Here's the overview:

Conservatives: 131 (down 12 seats before dissolution)
Liberals: 62 (down 15 seats before dissolution)
Bloc: 14 (down a whopping 33 seats before dissolution)
NDP: 100 (up a whopping 64 seats before dissolution)

Those numbers are significant if only because they're showing that the NDP is the currently looking like the only party that will gain seats in this election. All the other parties stand to lose seats, as opposed to gain them.

This of course is bad news for Stephen Harper, given that his dreams of a majority government are now more or less completely tossed out the window...And his odds of being able to survive a leadership review from his party after failing to win a majority AND potentially allowing a NDP/Lib coalition to form will also be next to none.

If these numbers hold, not only will the Canadian political landscape have shifted enough to finally convince Canadians that the NDP is a viable option to form government, but it will also cut the last tethers of Stephen Harper's leadership.

Personally, that's a win-win for me.

Which brings me to the speculation.

If these numbers hold, what exactly does it mean for Canada?

Harper will get his chance to form government, there's no doubt of that, but will he be able to hold it? That's where we start to get some interesting possibilities.

The Liberals have damned Harper and his practices for years, so could they form a coalition government with the Conservatives in order to prevent an NDP led coalition? After all, Ignatieff said he'd work with any party, including Mr. Harper's, to make sure parliament could work. So, could we see a Conservative-Liberal coalition for the sole purpose of preventing an NDP one should the government be defeated on the throne speech?

Personally, I don't think this could happen.

Despite the talk of being open to working, Ignatieff has also set his party on such a complete opposition path than the Conservatives. Furthermore, after this campaign and the attacks Ignatieff leveled at Harper, there's no way he could save face by working with Harper after the election.

If Ignatieff attempted to prop up the Harper Conservatives, either through a full coalition or a similar 'loss of backbone' we saw in the last session of the House of Commons, Ignatieff is doing his party more harm than good. After all, they've painted Harper as a the boogyman; and some videos have painted him as Emperor Palpatine.

And while the idea of being Harper's Darth Vader sounds cool in theory, it would be the further death knell towards the Liberal Party I think Ignatieff is hoping to avoid.

So, could the NDP and the Conservatives work together?

This is also doubtful.

The NDP would demand massive changes to the law and order bills, the scrapping of the F-35s, and the billions for prisons; measures the Conservatives would not back down on. And the Conservatives would not go far enough in implementing programs for seniors and students and middle class families.

As such, there can be no deal here.

Which brings us to the only real possibility: the NDP-Liberal Coalition, now Bloc free. If the Bloc is diminished to 14 seats, they are taken out of the equation. Even if the Conservatives wooed the Bloc, they would only have 157 seats compared to the 162 found in the NDP-Lib Coalition.

As such, it seems clear that the major objection to the coalition: Working with 'separatists' has now been removed.

These are the options Canadians will have if polling numbers continue to stay where they are. But of course, things could change. Some parties will go up and others will go down. But a few things are clear:

1.) No party is likely to win a majority government come May 2nd.

2.) The Conservatives seem best suited to win a minority right now, but they have seen poll dropping numbers and we don't know how low they will go. It is doubtful that the NDP could pass them as the first choice party, but we just don't know.

3.) Harper's forth failure (2004 - 2006 - 2008 - 2011) to capture a majority will start the wheel of fortune spinning against his continued leadership; even if he was Prime Minister, his failure to win a majority will show that he's too polarizing a figure to ever get the magical coalition of youth, women, and moderate voters that could hand him a majority. As such, the party will have to look for someone who could pull this off, and it isn't Stephen Harper.

4.)The Liberals still have a lot of work to do, but this decimation of their party, if it continues into this election and the one that comes after it, could lead to a 'unite the left' movement like we saw with the CA - PCs. I'm not sure how successful it would be, given that a bunch of us die-hard NDPers would feel pretty uncomfortable actually merging with the Liberals, but I'm sure there may be a push to try.

But, we'll hopefully have a good last reflection post the day before the election to see which way the winds are blowing.

But with the NDP rolling this high, and to borrow a quote from Bob Dylan, it surely looks like the times they are a changin'.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Purpose of Planned Parenthood

Source: CBC News: Tories Defunding Planned Parenthood, MP says

I realize the blog has gone a bit dark as of late, in terms of posting not in terms of content, and I apologize for that. With finals over, I will have a bit more time to throw up posts on the blog. However, I will take an absence after the 2nd of May, due to being indisposed at the time. As such, if you're looking for an election recap and reflections from me, it will be some time after the election is held.

With that small bit of housekeeping taken care of, I shall now get to the purpose of this post. It was announced today that Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost announced to the Saskatchewan ProLife Association that the government was planning to strip Planned Parenthood of their $18 million dollar operating grant from the government, and that it was the petitions signed by people like them that helped make that happen.

Officially, the Conservatives haven't announced anything about funding for Planned Parenthood.

Now, I'm mentioning this topic for a number of reasons. One, since I've moved to Saskatoon, I have been 'represented' (a term I use INCREDIBLY loosely) by Mr. Trost in the House of Commons. Secondly, this is a direct contradiction to what Harper had said weeks ago about letting same-sex marriage and abortion issues lay where they are if his party wins a majority government.

As I mentioned when I talked about that, I said there were a number of backbench MPs I believed existed in the Conservative Party who would not take the leader's advice and would pursue these issues anyways. Brad Trost was my number one choice to raise this banner, given that he's more or less known for abandoning Harper's attempts to appear centrist in order to appease social conservatives.

After all, who could forget when he condemned Diane Ablonczy for funding Toronto's gay pride parade and state that this was the straw that pushed for her to lose control of the tourism and development fund that her department oversaw?

Now, I've more or less stayed out of the abortion debate for as long as I've operated this blog. I think I'm about to wade into it...for better or for worse.

I don't think I would shock anyone if I said that I was pro-choice. Frankly, I'm not a woman and I would never find myself in the situation of considering whether or not to have an abortion. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. But the truth of the matter is that there are women who find themselves in that situation every day.

And as someone who hasn't been in the situation, I feel almost hypocritical trying to tell the people who will be in this situation how it should play out. It's a sense of hypocrisy that is apparently lost on Mr. Trost, and other male Conservative MPs.

But, to tell you the truth, I don't think this is an issue over human life at all. While I do believe that there are those in the Conservative campaign who support the so-called 'sanctity of human life', I believe that there are others to whom this is not even the concern. Rather, this is an attempt to do two things:

1.) It is an attempt to reinforce classic patriarchal stereotypes in our society

2.) It is an attempt to control human behaviour

Allow me to expand on both of those points.

Conservatives always talk about the good old days. The days when men were men and 'women' were 'women'. What exactly does that mean anyways?

Well, given that I've known a few people who like the good ole' days, it means returning to a time when women knew their place. When women stayed at home, looked after the house and the children, and made damn sure that husband had a warm meal and a drink waiting for him when he came home from work.

I feel the need to point out a phrase I've heard before, though I can't remember where: The good ole' days were not that good for everyone.

Conservatives will attempt of course to tell you that they have no intention of rolling back the clock on women's liberation and the effect that feminism has had in the 21st Century...But their actions don't really suggest this.

The fact that most of the staunchest anti-abortion Conservatives are men should tell you something. Well, actually it tells you two things. Firstly, that we need more women involved in the political process. And secondly, that these are all men who are attempting to tell women what they can and can't do.

As mentioned, a few of them probably believe that they are protecting human life, but I think the bulk of them just want a return to 'normality' when a woman could be told what was in her best interest by powerful men in their lives.

The Conservatives have even attempted to claim this argument to their side, suggesting that the majority of women who have abortions are pressured into them by the father or their father or other dominant men in their lives. But by having a bunch of middle age men telling women that abortion needs to be outlawed is no better. It is restricting the choice of women to decide what is right for them and their situation.

It is another case of men forcing women into a position simply for the man to feel like the man.

Which brings us to my second point. I've already touched a bit about how Conservatives are trying to force women back into a patriarchal system where their choices are limited, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Conservatives, despite their idea that their should be social freedom to do as one pleases without the government stepping in, are hellbent on controlling the lives of Canadians. Allow me to explain.

This is a government that set the topic of women's and maternal health as a key issue during the G8/G20, and were lambasted by the international community for refusing to acknowledge contraception and abortion within these issues.

So, Conservatives are against abortion...But they're also against contraception. What does that tell us?

It tells us that what Conservatives are really against is an issue as old as time: sex as pleasure.

Another staple of them 'good ole' days' the Conservatives seem to want to return us to is a time of simpler morals and virtues. Like when Ricky Ricardo couldn't say Lucy was 'pregnant', she was 'expecting'. A time when mom and dad didn't share a bed on television, but had two beds in the same room.

Effectively, the Conservatives are against sexual expression. Their opposition to homosexuality should be enough proof of this, but apparently we need more to conclude this. So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present this as my argument:

Planned Parenthood provides more than just 'abortion services'. In fact, Planned Parenthood doesn't even provide abortions. Rather, Planned Parenthood provides information for women who are seeking abortions. They can arrange for contact with a doctor who can perform the operation, and provide counseling both before and after the procedure.

Furthermore, Planned Parenthood provides more than just these services. They provide counseling on HIV, on safe sex, on adoption, and on family planning services as well. Planned Parenthood is designed to ensure that a person, mostly young women, are ready to start a family and have the information they need to make the best choice for themselves.

But accepting Planned Parenthood as an organization seems to accept a concept that the Conservatives want to refuse: (You may want to avert your eyes) Teenagers are having sex.

Shocking, I know.

Effectively, in my humble opinion, the Conservative rejection of Planned Parenthood is an attempt to legislate the behaviour of teenagers and force them to avoid pre-marital sex. After all, even if Planned Parenthood didn't provide abortion services, the Conservatives would still attack them for providing contraception and details on how to have safe sex.

The fact of the matter is, I don't think we've ever had a world where teenagers weren't engaging in some form of sexual relations. For the better of part of a few centuries, we were marrying off women as young as 13 for the sake of political alliances after all...

The only thing that has changed is that now it is the children themselves deciding to engage in these actions. And the fact that all of us over the age of 18 have to accept is that children are going to do what they're going to do. The best thing we can do is explain the risks, provide the facts, and encourage them to do the right thing.

That's what Planned Parenthood does. They accept that we can't control what children and teenagers are going to do; but they acknowledge that we have a responsibility to arm them with information to make the right choices. Yes, it would perhaps be ideal if our children waited until they were in love before having sexual relations...But how many of us can say that that was the situation we experienced?

I'm sure less than half of those espousing these views can make that claim.

The fact of the matter is this: The Conservative war against Planned Parenthood is two-fold. One, it is an attempt to restrict the choices of women in favour of patriarchy. Two, it is an attempt to control the actions of teenagers and others throughout the nation, despite preaching about individual freedom and liberty.

By robbing today's youth of information that can prevent abortions and higher rates of STI infection, the Conservatives are choosing to ignore the root of the problem. They're not seeing the forest for the trees, if you will.

People are going to have sex, regardless of whether or not their parents want them to. And as I've said, the best thing we can do is promote organizations that encourage those who are engaging in sexual relations to do so in a safe and smart manner.

Given that Saskatoon's HIV rate exploded this last year, and there is still no real strategy from the Federal or Provincial Government to combat this, the dismantling of Planned Parenthood is only going to contribute to higher rates of HIV infection. And higher rates of HIV infection impact us all, if only because it increases the strain on the health care system. Therefore, it's better for us to be proactive than reactive.

And that brings me to the conclusion of this post...I'm worried I may have rambled too much and not made enough sense in the above paragraphs. I hope that isn't the case, but time will tell. Which is why I'm going to carefully choose my closing.

There was a movie released a few years ago now called Vera Drake. It dealt with England early in the 20th Century, at a time when abortions were still illegal in the UK. Despite this, a housewife named Vera Drake provided abortions to women. 'Helping girls out' she called it. Of course, one of the girls she helps dies because of the unsafe practice Mrs. Drake used in the process.

Why do I mention this?

I mention it because the outlawing of something does not make it disappear. In fact, it makes the problem that much worse. Illegal drugs have been outlawed for years, yet they continue to find their way onto the streets. In many cases, these drugs are poorly mixed or 'cut' and pose a significant health risk to the person who uses them.

The same will be true of abortion. Women who want or need an abortion are still going to find ways to get them.

Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz liked to tell me about how he introduced a bill that would be 'a right to know'; that would detail the complications abortion could have on a woman years after having one. So, Conservatives it seem admit that there's a risk in abortions. Imagine the risk when it's performed by someone with no medical knowledge in a back alley or a van or a hotel room or god knows where instead of an operating room.

Well, with Planned Parenthood gone the odds of that happening increase. And with a Conservative Majority, and the likes of Trost and Breitkreuz, a woman's right to choose will disappear; but abortions will not, and who knows what the consequences will be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Conspiracy Theories...

Now, I'm not usually the type of dwell on these types of thoughts and speculations; mainly because there's no strong proof one way or the other that will substantiate the debate. But, it's something that has been on my mind, and was recently discussed (briefly) in the main stream media, so I'll take the time to explore it here and provide my thoughts.

The issue was brought up on Powers & Politics on the CBC, by commentator Scott Reid. During a discussion on the Auditor General's report, Reid was quick to point out that Canadians will likely not get to see the report before the election. He also pointed out how this may have been planned by the sitting government.

Allow me to explain.

Reid suggested that the Harper Government, who apparently has people in the PMO and PCO who have seen the final report, orchestrated the means for the government to fall before the report would be released because of damning information against them.

Reid was also quick to point out that Paul Martin faced a similar situation when news of the Sponsorship Scandal was about to break, but he allowed the report to be released before calling an election as opposed to squashing it by calling an early one.

Now, what are the strengths in Reid's argument?

Clearly, the fact that the PMO and PCO have seen the report is blow number one in favour of such a theory. Secondly, though unrelated, this election has also cast doubt on whether documents related to the treatment of Afghan detainees will be released. Both of these issues are expected to reflect badly on the Harper Government, though there is a chance they won't, and undoubtedly Harper knew his odds of re-election would be slim to none after both of these were released.

Given that he knew the dates for the release, it would be in his favour to call an election before the release in hopes of securing a majority government to less the impact the fallout would have on him, his ministers, and his government.

But of course, Harper couldn't dissolve Parliament himself, not if he wanted to blame the opposition for the election. So, his finance minister created a budget that they knew was doomed to fail.

But that brings us to the problem of this theory.

This theory relies on the idea that Harper intentionally brought down his own government, but the fact of the matter is the government was brought down over the matter of contempt, not the budget.

However, one can argue that the budget was likely doomed to failure anyways and that even without the vote of contempt the government would have fallen anyways before the April release dates of the report and the detainee files.

That leaves us with the question: Did Harper mean to bring his own government down before these documents were released?

There is support for this idea, but the proof is mostly circumstantial and they said - we said arguments.

But it is a question that Canadians need to consider, and it cuts to the fundamental question of trust that is playing a role in this campaign. The bottom line is, the fact that we can even suppose Stephen Harper meant to bring down his own government speaks to the fact that Canadians cannot trust Stephen Harper.

And someone we can't trust, shouldn't be given the privilege to form any government, especially a majority one.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another Day, Another Scandal; & Debate Night Thoughts

Source: CTV News: Draft Report Questions Conservative G8 Spending
Source: CBC News: Conservatives Apologize in Letter to Fraser
Source: CBC News: Debate a Snooze, Students Say
Source: CBC News: Conservatives Fattened Salaries of Aides: Report
Source: CBC News: Tories Under Fire over Leaked G8 Report
Source: CTV News: AG Office Probing Leak of Draft Reports

I'm still listening to the Debate, so you'll excuse me if I don't spend too much time exploring the ins and outs of what was said during the debate. Though, as we figured, it was the opposition leaders mostly attacking the Harper Government's record, with occasional shots at each other. As for Harper, he continued to duck questions (both from the citizens asking through videos, and the opposition leaders) and rattled off party lines.

Of course, despite the debate, that big issue of the week is revolving around the draft report of the Auditor General's G8/G20 report.

For those not in the know, a draft report came out which suggested that the government 'mislead Parliament' in regards to a $50 million dollar legacy fund for projects within Tony Clement's riding prior and during the G8/G20 summit.

Numerous Conservatives, namely John Baird, have come out and announced that the phrase 'Parliament was mislead' does not exist in the final report (which cannot be released due to the election) and that rather the report is not condemning of the government's spending during the G8/G20.

Despite the problem with this alone, the plot thickened when it was announced that the Conservatives also misquoted Auditor General Shelia Fraser to a commons committee revolving around the G8/G20 spending. The quote applauded the government for their spending, commending them on a job well done in regards to the spending; but it turns out that the quote was actually spoken in regards to government spending in 2001, by the Chretien Government, in regards to security spending after 9/11.

Talk about adding fuel to the fire.

The Conservatives have since, through outgoing Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, issued an apology to Fraser for misquoting her. Furthermore, the Conservatives have also called on Fraser to release the report, along with the leaders of the other opposition parties, despite Parliament not being in session.

Two drafts of the report, one of which does not contain the idea that Parliament was misled, still suggests that the $50 million dollar spending in Clement's riding was of questionable relevance to the G8/G20 summit.

Fraser, of course, is holding her ground on the issue and refusing to release the report because she answers to Parliament, which is not sitting. Furthermore, the AG's Office is looking into the leak of the draft reports. Fraser has said that the draft report should be considered with caution, but has neither confirmed nor denied the accusations that are supposedly within the report.

Whether or not the report gets released, there's a chance that this could be the weight around Harper's neck that sinks his government. I follow comment boards and other news outlets regularly, and the common Conservative defense is that "Well, Remember ADSCAM? At least the Conservatives haven't stolen taxpayer money and given it to friends of their party."

Well, that defense is now out the window as it appears that the Conservatives have taken money from taxpayers and spent it within a Conservative riding; with numerous suggestions that Clement met with the Mayor of Huntsville and a prominent business resort owner before the money was spent.

Of course, all of this is speculation until we get the final report. Which, judging by Fraser's refusal to budge, will not occur until it is tabled in the next sitting of Parliament.

In a previous post on this blog, I talked about how the Harper Government was promising to balance the budget by cutting back on the civil service (they say through 'operations costs' and not rehiring positions where people retire; though I argue this won't be the case) and now another small scandal has come out regarding the payments being given to staffers within the government.

Staffers are to have their salaries tied to the rates paid to civil servants, yet it appears that there are cases where this was not being followed.

Staffers are only to be paid more than this level in the face of extraordinary circumstances, yet it appears that the Harper Government was paying more to staffers regardless. In addition to these enhanced payments to staffers, (ranging as high as $190,000 when standard pay is around $125,000) the Harper Government increased the cap on maximum salaries for staffers and increased the amount of 'separation pay' (effectively, payments made to a staffer who loses their job on top of severance pay) from four months to six.

Let me repeat that: A staffer who loses their job will be paid their wage for six months after losing their job.

Now, I've defended the civil service in the past; and staffers, while separate from the civil service, are an integral part of our government. These people work hard, and they do deserve to be properly reimbursed for their work.

The problem is two-fold:

1.) These payments were not made across the board; a Chief of Staff in one department, despite salary restrictions, made $65,000 more than a Chief of Staff in a different department.

2.) These increases in payments were made during a time of financial austerity, when the government was talking about 'tightening belts' and reigning in spending. Furthermore, these payments were made to effectively partisan workers outside of the civil service, at a time when the rates should have remained tied to the civil service as required.

On top of that, the Treasury Board (in classic Harper Government fashion) was slow to release this information when it was requested. It took seven months, well over the legally mandated time frame for Access to Information requests, and was heavily redacted. Furthermore, of the 51 pages requested, only one page contained any type of information that was not protected under 'Cabinet Privilege'.

At a time when Harper is coming out to talk about 'operational spending shaves', how can he justify these limited increases to certain staffers within his government? The problem is not that the increases occurred, but rather that the increases were not tied to the civil service rates and that the increases were restricted to certain staffers only.

As such, given this information, how can we trust the Conservatives to reduce and defeat the federal deficit without making cuts to programs and services?

At this point in the post, the debate has wrapped up and I'm going to give my thoughts on the points that came across...Sort of.

The main thing I need to come to task with, since it was Harper's battle cry throughout the evening, was the idea of corporate tax cuts as job generators within Canada. I lost count of the times Harper reminded Canadians that the opposition leaders would fund their platforms through raising taxes...

Keep in mind, Harper never once pointed out the difference that tax increases would fall on large corporations NOT individual Canadians. I'm sure this distinction was left out for a reason...

Harper continued to suggest all evening that corporate tax cuts increase jobs in Canada...Yet history and a recent report suggest other wise. A report by the Globe & Mail (link) shows that corporations that receive the most benefit from these tax cuts are simply keeping the increased income they saved within the company as cash reserves.

To put that another way: Companies are sitting on the money they save, NOT investing it into job creation.

Furthermore, in the past couple of weeks news stories have talked about companies that are taking in massive profits while cutting jobs or moving jobs out of Canada. An example of that can be found here in my city of Saskatoon, where Shaw Media closed down a call centre and put 60 people out of work. (link)

Shaw also announced that 500 jobs would be eliminated across Western Canada, in addition to the call centre that was closed down. Shaw currently operates 18 call centres, but they plan to lower than number to 7, putting hundreds out of work.

To put this in perspective, according to Shaw's own report (link) their first quarter results for 2010 were $1.08 billion dollars, 19% higher than the profit they made in the same quarter the year before.

Yet, despite increasing their profits (which the corporate tax rate very much likely helped with), Shaw has turned to laying off employees in favour of their bottom line.

That's strike one against the idea that corporate tax cuts generate jobs for the multi-million dollar companies that receive them.

Effectively, corporate tax cuts do not generate jobs for Canadians. If the recession taught us anything, it's that those who received the most did the least to improve the lives of Canadians. Harper has touted how his government has replaced the jobs lost during the recession; what he doesn't tout is how many of the jobs lost were full time career positions that required specialized training and provided employees with benefits (health coverage, prescription coverage, pension plan, etc.). And that the jobs that took their place were part-time positions in the service industry that offer no benefits to their employees and do not match the level of pay of their former positions.

Furthermore, Statistics Canada has often come out with numbers that challenge the Harper record on job creation. Canadians need to acknowledge this: corporate tax cuts for large businesses do not generate jobs.

That's why, in my opinion, the NDP is dead on with their proposal to extend tax cuts to SMALL businesses, the corporations that actually generate GOOD jobs for average Canadians.

Effectively, Canadians need to wake up to the Stephen Harper message:

Conservatives will not do anything for Canadians, until the books are balanced; but the books won't balance when giant corporations receive tax breaks they don't need for jobs they don't create.

We need a government that is here for the Canadian people; not a government that is here for large, and often non-Canadian, corporations.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Cut and a Shave...

Source: CBC News: Harper vows 'Modest' cuts but Offers few Details
Source: CTV News: Harper say Tories can cut Costs, Keep Services

As the election continues, it seems that all the party leaders are talking about cuts to the civil service in one way or another. The Liberals have warned that the Conservatives will cut essential services (like health care) in order to pay for their programs in their platform. The NDP has said that neither the Liberals or Conservatives can be trusted to protect essential services and that both parties would make cuts to services.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, haven't spent much time attacking the others over whether they would cut programs and services; instead, Harper has openly admitted that the Conservative Party, if they form government, would make cuts to balance the budget.

Of course, Harper didn't say the word 'cuts' exactly. Much like Jim Flaherty, who called the finding of the government in contempt 'a procedural motion', Harper is telling the truth without telling the truth.

Harper has referred to the cuts as 'shave[ing] five per cent off [the $80 billion in operating costs the government spends]' and as 'operational savings'.

Of course when pressed for details by the press, Harper refused to provide any real details to the plan of his party. The only thing he has gone on the record for mentioning is that there are 80,000 civil servants expected to retire in the next few years, and that not all of them need to be replaced.

Given the Harper Government's long standing inability to see eye-to-eye with the civil service, I can't help but see this as a bad thing. After all, how many civil servants out there have stood up to the government since Harper came to power in 2006? How many have blown whistles over questionable practices, such as the flagging of access to information requests, and directly challenged the power of not only the government but the Prime Minister's Office?

The fact of the matter is, it's probably a higher number than any of us know. So to hear Harper say he's not going to replace a large number of these people makes me concerned.

After all, 80,000 people is a lot of jobs; I find it impossible to believe that you could eliminate even half or a quarter of those jobs and still have those departments deliver services as they do now. A decrease in the civil service means there will be a slow down in the delivery of government services, there's just no other way around it.

If a department goes from having 30 employees to 10, for example, there is going to be a significant diminishing in the productivity and ability of that department to do their jobs in a timely fashion. Even if those 10 workers were the best of the best and worked around the clock, I doubt they could do the work of 20 others.

This is yet another time when Conservatives are attempting to paint the civil service as a 'boogeyman' that is a black hole of taxpayer money. I've said it many times on this blog, if we want services as a nation we have to pay for them. We can't get something for nothing, life simply doesn't work that way.

A decrease in the civil service, regardless of where the decrease occurs, will lead to decreased services. A + B = C, always has and always will. And this is a case where Harper is trying to tell Canadians that A + B = D, and he's crossing his fingers than none of us are paying close enough attention to see the lie we're being fed.

And there's the flip side to this problem. Harper has said that not everyone will be replaced when the 80,000 retire; but some of them will be.

Given that the Conservatives were caught 'considering' the niece of former PC Premier Bernard Lord, upon his recommendation, for a job at Rights & Democracy, I think we all know how the Conservative hiring process is going to work for those who will be replaced.

I'm not saying the Liberals are any better, mind you. The culture of cronyism that exists in Ottawa has existed under Liberal and Conservative governments alike. Yet Canadians always talk about how they want change in government and Ottawa. Yet Canadians always alternate between two parties which have proven that they are undeserving of the public trust.

To borrow a phrase: "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results." In that way, it appears we Canadians have been electorally crazy for years.

Until we re-examine why we vote the way we do, and whether or not the status quo is actually the best thing for Canada, we're simply going to get the same results over and over. And it would be insanity not to make a change for the better.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Contrasting Opinions

Source: CTV News: Harper Plan Would Eliminate Deficit by 2014

"Parliament hasn't voted on it, the government fell on a procedural matter."- Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister on CTV's Power Play.

When Parliament was dissolved, Stephen Harper walked outside of Rideau Hall and addressed the gathered crowd of reporters. Harper seemed angry in his address, but he was also defiant. Defiant about mentions the reason why his government had fallen from a vote of non confidence. Harper didn't mention the contempt charge against his government, and instead tried to spin a world where the opposition had voted against the budget.

Its become a standard for Conservative message bearers. Lines like "I wish the opposition parties took time to read our budget before they brought our government down" or "Well our DEFEATED budget covered that issue" or "This opposition DEFEATED out budget before they even read it." Have been thrown about by pretty much every Conservative who has given a media interview since the beginning of the election.

Furthermore, our illustrious media (whom I use for my sources constantly) have misconstrued this issue as badly as the Conservatives. CTV News, in two different articles over two days, stated that the budget was defeated; and that it was this that brought the government down.

However, that is simply not true. As we all know, I should hope, the Harper Government was brought down over a vote finding them in contempt of Parliament (the first parliamentary democracy government in commonwealth history to be found in contempt) over their refusal to release costing documents and price tags associated to a variety of bills they had put before the House of Commons.

They were not brought down over the budget, in fact there wasn't even a vote over the budget. Due to debates running over and the schedule of Parliament, a vote on the budget did not occur before the opposition could bring forward their charge of contempt in the government. As such, saying that the budget was defeated is a complete falsehood.

And now, Jim Flaherty has some what admitted to this. On CTV's Power Play, as quoted at the beginning of this post, Flaherty was defending the Conservative Party Platform...Which as many suspected, is basically a rehashed version of the budget that they put forward before the vote of non confidence.

Yet, he dances around the issue, calling it a 'procedural matter'. I guess admitting, and hence reminding Canadians, that your government was found in contempt of Parliament isn't the best vote getter during an election.

But it's one step closer to the truth than the Conservatives, and clearly some in the media, have been thus far in the election campaign.

I've said it before, and others have said this well, but re-electing or giving a majority to the only Parliamentary Democracy party in commonwealth history to be found guilty of contempt of Parliament is a down right shame. If the Harper Conservatives are re-elected, it sends a message that Canadians don't actually care about what their government is doing.

It sends a message that political parties are free to do what they want behind closed doors, to not be held accountable to the people that elect them, and that as long as they aren't caught taking money from the coffers anything else is alright.

But it's not alright.

A breach of trust, is a breach of trust, and the Harper Government was indeed found to be in breach of trust of Parliament: Which in our political system effectively means that Harper's Government was found to have breached the trust of the Canadian people.

In any other system in the world, consequences would have been handed out: Contempt is Canada's version of impeachment, yet Harper is allowed to run as an MP and is able to remain as leader of his party. And should his party win on May 2nd, he'll be allowed to become Prime Minister again.

This is unacceptable and Canadians should not stand for it; and hopefully, before May 2nd, Canadians come to their senses and realize that they can't endorse this behaviour with a vote for a party that OFFICIALLY holds nothing but contempt for the Canadian people and for the political process.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

'Charter' a Refresher Course...

Source: CTV News: Harper Criticized for 'Unfriending' Teen from Rally
Source: Department of Justice Canada: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

In keeping with our discussion of Harper's culture of control in Ottawa, news has come out that a number of people have been ejected from Conservative Rallies by members of the RCMP. As previously noted, the Conservatives have been using a screening process before rallies in order to determine who can and cannot attend.

In the two cases that have so far come out, young voters had registered to attend the Conservative rally, and were ejected shortly afterwards. For one, it was his appearance in a rally of student voters outside of the rally that led to his ejection. For the other, it was a Facebook photograph of her and a friend with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

Harper's mouthpiece, Dimitri Soudas has said he will apologize to the ejected student, though so far no apology has been reported. According to the ejected student, she had planned on attending Federal Events for all the major parties in order to make a well-informed vote come election day; though this answer seems to have fallen on deaf ears as she was still ejected from the rally.

Now, there has been some scramble over this on the Conservative side. Many Conservatives, including Harper, have denied that they have any say over the organization of events. Rather, Harper suggests that it is campaign staff who set up events and establish screening protocols.

I've worked for a few political campaigns in my time, so allow me to provide some insight.

Harper is telling the truth that campaign staff do a lot of organizing and planning for events, but he is omitting the part that explains who has the final say on decision making. That boils down to two people: the campaign manager and the candidate, or in this case, party leader.

Harper said that his staff organizes events, and this is true, but they are still directed and approved to behave in certain ways. As such, either Harper or the national Conservative campaign manager authorized selective screening for Conservative events. And given Harper's history of top down leadership, I think we clearly know who started the ball rolling on this issue.

Harper may not have ordered the teens to be removed personally, but you can bet that he's responsible for the policy that allowed them to be removed from the event in the first place.

This is just another in a long line of examples of Harper subverting Canadian democracy. Why doesn't Harper want to engage with average Canadians? Why does he want his party to restrict access to events where he will be attending? Why is his party not only forcing people to register for events, but clearly ACTIVELY running background checks (via Facebook and other social media sites) on these people?

These are disturbing questions, and Canadians deserve an answer to them. Access to information is a cornerstone of democracy; and the purpose of gaining information is to know the truth about our representatives and whether or not they are acting in good faith. These two people were attempting to inform themselves, an act all Canadians should undertake in an election, and they were penalized because they were willing to listen to every side before making a decision.

In closing, I'd like to refer Harper to a document that I think he's ignoring in this Election Campaign:

Fundamental Freedoms:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Culture of Control

Source: CBC News: Ignatieff Slams Harper over ex-aide's Convictions
Source: CTV News: PM Wouldn't have Hired Carson if he Knew his Past
Source: CTV News: Harper Says he won't Revisit Abortion, Gay Marriage

I'd like to take a moment today to talk about Stephen Harper; shocking, I know.

There is something that we all know about Stephen Harper, something that all of us have knowing since he became leader of the Conservative Party and since he became Prime Minister: The man does not like to be out of control.

In the 2004 and 2006 Elections, Harper is known to have placed his candidates under 'media gag-orders', but even that didn't stop a few of them from making controversial comments to media and constituents. In government, Harper took this even further, by making press releases and other statements by Conservative MPs subject to screening and approval by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

Harper has exhibited an incredible amount of control over his caucus and government, almost to an authoritarian level. There is no doubt in my mind that Harper effectively pulls the strings and holds all of them when it comes to actions undertaken by the Conservative Party of Canada.

We know Harper is a top-down leader, there is no debating that; which is why it makes it harder and harder to believe that all the scandals that have broken under his watch can't be linked back to him.

All of Canada, even some international citizens, know that Harper prefers to the run the show and ensure that he's always in control of situations. Look to this election campaign, and his '5 question limit' from the media. Look at how the media is cordoned off at Conservative campaign stops.

Look at how Harper isn't making random stops along the campaign, but carefully staged and controlled stops that are guaranteed not to produce a situation that could embarrass the Conservative Leader. After all, we all know how one of the campaign stops thus far included an 'entry list'; where if your name wasn't on the list, you weren't allowed in.

No other leader has done this, to their credit. I mean, even Ignatieff has put himself in crowds of people who have told the media later on that they had no intention of voting Liberal. But Ignatieff still took the risk of embarrassment, or finding himself disagreeing with a citizen in front of the national media. Harper doesn't.

So, how can we believe Harper when he tells us that if he knew about Bruce Carson's fraud convictions and mental health status back when he was first hired, he wouldn't have been hired in the first place?

The simple answer is that we can't.

Carson was hired by Ian Brodie, who if memory serves was a college friend of Stephen Harper in addition to being his chief of staff. Carson has since gone on the record as saying that he was upfront about his past when he was interviewed by Brodie for the job; yet Harper continues to deny that he knew anything about it.

Now, Carson was given 'secret' clearance; which, in addition to the interview, would have meant that he would have undergone a criminal background check. Having done one of these myself, I can tell you that a criminal background check will reveal any convictions or on-going investigations into a person's background.

If Carson had a pardon, there's a chance that these convictions would not be on his record, but Carson nor anyone else has stepped forward to say that he had been pardoned for his prior convictions.

So, that leaves us with two options: Either Harper is lying, or Ian Brodie kept this fact from Harper.

But given that Brodie was not only hand picked by Harper, but also a college friend, I highly doubt Brodie would have kept this information from Harper. After all, friends usually tell friends the truth when there's a chance that concealing it will lead to problems down the line...Especially when that friend is the Prime Minister of Canada.

Of course, there's always the chance that Brodie was a sycophant; a handpicked yes-man by Stephen Harper, who had been told to hire Carson by Harper regardless of what turns up in his background check. Why this would happen, I don't know, but it's a question that Harper does need to be asked.

We know that Harper is rarely not in control of his caucus and the decisions made by the Conservative Government. This is established fact. As such, Harper needs to come out with a stronger defence (namely proof of some sort) that he honestly didn't know about Carson's past; or that he was personally not informed of the past.

Frankly, Carson can jump the gun on this one personally by acknowledging whether or not he had a pardon for his convictions when he was interviewed for the job. Furthermore, anyone can jump the gun with Carson's permission to release the criminal background check form that was returned by the police service who performed it.

And if that document shows Carson's convictions, then there can be no doubt that Harper indeed knew of Carson's convictions but dismissed them and hired him anyways, for some unknown reason.

Throughout the life of the Harper Government, dozens of staffers have been thrown under the bus by numerous ministers and Conservative backbenchers for 'scandals' and so forth. Yet only one of these scandals has ever been more or less linked back to a Minister (Bev Oda VS KAIROS); and none of them have ever found their way back to Stephen Harper.

Even Doug Finley, the current embroiled Senator in the the in-and-out financing scandal, has suggested that people who suggest that Harper knew about it personally, or order for it, is an idiot.

Well, Mr. Finley, I guess I'm an idiot; but I'm an idiot with the proof and power of fact on my side. Which is more than we can say for your side.

As such, I think there is no doubt that Harper can indeed be linked back to EVERYTHING that went wrong during his time as Prime Minister; and his own controlling nature is the proof in the pudding.

Now that we've talked about Harper's controlling nature, I'd like to take a small detour to another topic: Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage.

Harper, while stumping today, announced that a re-elected Conservative Government would not go after either of these issues as government policy. However, Harper was 'mum' on whether or not he would support a private member's bill that would address either of these two issues.

I think, to borrow a phrase, Harper's silence is deafening.

I have no doubt in my mind that a Conservative Majority government would move quickly to pass legislation on these two issues; though, I will concede that they will not be government bills but private members bills.

I can, off the top of my head, name quite a few Conservative backbenchers who would introduce such legislation; but I won't go through the bother of naming them here, we all know who are the social conservatives in the Conservative Party caucus. From Saskatchewan alone, there's at least 4 names that come to mind that would draft and second a bill to repeal same-sex marriage and limit or restrict abortion.

As such, this is the scenario I imagine:

2 of the Conservative backbenchers will introduce and second a bill on these issues, and eventually it will go before a vote in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper, and a key few Cabinet Ministers, will either abstain from voting or vote against the private member's bill.

The few socially conservative members of the Liberal Party, as there are a few, will vote with the bill, and the rest of the Conservative caucus will be left to vote as they please. The bill will either pass or fail, depending on the number of Conservatives elected.

Harper himself will probably address the bill in such a manner:

"It's not a government bill, it's not something that this government supports, but it's a private member's bill. As such, members of the House will examine the bill, consult with their constituents, and decide for themselves whether or not they can support the bill."

Certainly sounds like something Harper would say.

Anyone who says a Conservative Majority would leave this issues alone is only partially right; the government may not bring the issue forward, but there a dozens of social conservatives who would see this as their only chance to roll back the clock on these issues and would take the opportunity to do so.

The only way of stopping it would be for Harper to openly reject the bill, which he might do given that he wouldn't want to alienate centrist voters in the future, but that's not a guarantee that it would happen.

There are enough social conservatives in the Conservative caucus that this needs to be discussed and Harper needs to address the issue of what his government would do in the face of a private member's bill designed to restrict, limit or outlaw either of these social practices. Canadians only have half of the answer to the question, which seems to be a trend with Harper, and we shouldn't give him the benefit of the doubt until we have both halves.

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow...

I had a flash of naming this post 'Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Harper Will Love Us Tomorrow..." but that seemed a little too corny, even by my standards.

On a day when the Liberals have released a full party platform, at least for two years of what they would do if elected, Stephen Harper continues to tell Canadians about the tax credits he will offer us...if elected, and once the books are balanced, which they say will happen in 2015.

Given that Harper and Company continue to offer Canadians incentives to vote for them, that won't affect anyone until the books are balanced (which according to Canadian history, suggests won't happen until the next Liberal Government), why would anyone consider voting for them?

And with these little snippets, where is the full Conservative Platform?

In the 2008 Election, the Conservatives pulled the election gun and closed down Parliament in the hopes of forming a majority government in the face of the weakened and unpopular Dion Liberals. Yet despite being the party to know that the election was coming, the party was the last to release their full platform.

Furthermore, the Conservatives released their platform with essentially days left in the election campaign. As such, are Canadians going to see a platform from the Conservatives in this election introduced the way it was in the last?

Many have speculated that the Conservatives will likely take the budget (which Conservative supporters called 'defeated' even though it never came to a vote in the House of Commons) and use that to create the Conservative platform for this election.

However, there are two significant problems with that assumption.

1.) All of the tax breaks and ideas that have been put forward by Harper thus far were not found in the budget that the Conservatives put forward before the government fell.

2.) The budget made concessions to the NDP, hoping to woo them into supporting the budget (though those concessions were barely concessions), and no doubt the Conservatives are looking for ways to roll back those concessions without chasing off the voters that would be impacted; namely seniors.

As such, in my humble opinion, I think the Conservatives are looking at the budget they created and trying to modify it but also weasel out of the programs and spending measure that they didn't want to engage in in the first place.

Conservatives have talked about the way the budget would have benefited senior citizens through guaranteed income supplement payments; but will that survive into the Conservative Party platform, given that it was one concession for the NDP?

Effectively, I think when the Conservatives do release their platform we're going to see a redacted version of the budget with a large number of social spending programs cut from it; or reduced to the point of being mostly useless.

Or else the Conservatives will take a lesson from this campaign and keep those NDP concessions but place future date tags on them, allowing them to tell seniors they will do something for them eventually, some day, maybe.

Canadians need to wake up to the actions of this government and of this party. Not all is well in Canada at the moment, and the Harper Tories have done nothing to help the situation, in fact their reckless spending have only made things worse.

Remember: The Harper Government denied the possibility of a recession; they denied a recession could happen in Canada; they balked at the idea of stimulus spending; and they bowed to pressure from the opposition to acknowledge that Canada was going through harsh economic times.

Had there been a Harper majority, who knows what state Canada's finances would be in right now.

What I'm saying, is that Canadians need to elect a government who has their best interests at heart. We need a government who will do things to improve the lives of average Canadians, and not shrug off that responsibility to a later date.

Canadians need to demand a government that deals with our concerns now; instead of being pandered to Stephen Harper and his belief that 'Tomorrow is only a day away.'

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Supporting Our Democracy

SOURCE: CBC News: Harper Vows to End Party Subsidies

Now, this news should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, Harper attempted to pass legislation to this effect but had to back down when the opposition united to oppose it and him. So of course, Harper is introducing the measure as a campaign promise. And that of course, is the scrapping of vote subsidies to political parties.

But why?

A CBC poll, as done through their Power & Politics program, found the majority opposed scrapping these subsidies. 2,609 people voted in the online poll (a fairly large sample) and a whopping 1,778 or 68% of those who voted were in favour of keeping the subsidies in place.

Allow me to explain:

Voter subsidies were brought into existence in 2004, after the Chretien Government banned corporate/union/organization donations to political parties. Effectively, the subsidies award parties who receive votes in general elections with a tax subsidy equivalent to $2 per vote.

As noted in the last post, the Green Party received almost a million votes in the 2008 Federal Election. As such, they received $2 per each vote, and received just under $2 million dollars.

Harper has attacked this system, claiming that it is an unfair subsidy in that parties are guaranteed it. To quote Dire Straits, Harper is opposed to political parties getting their 'money for nothing.'

The problem is that they are not getting money for nothing.

After all, the amount paid out is equal to the number of national votes received. As such, parties with support across the nation gain much needed funding.

Harper blames this system for the 'unstable' nature of minority governments, given that parties are able to finance themselves immediately after an election because of this subsidy. In the 2008 election, the Conservative Party received 5,209,069 votes across the nation. That means the Conservative Party received $10,418,138 dollars in per vote subsidies.

Now, as far as I know, the Conservative Party has never attempted to give back this money that they consider is an unfair advantage to parties across Canada. They did attempt to return $600,000 in other tax rebates, but we all know that the purpose of that was less about returning the money and more about forcing other parties into the same repayment.

So, if Stephen Harper is against this subsidy, why hasn't his party returned or attempted to return the $10,418,138 dollars they received from the 2008 Campaign?

The fact of the matter is, as with every policy proposed by Harper, this is less about appealing to voters and more about handicapping the opposition.

I've talked in length about democracy and the nature of democracy on this blog before; and one of the most important things about democracy is for those involved to be able to get their message across to Canadians. As such, if we want a democracy and not a periodically elected dictatorship, we need to be able to hear all sides of the political debate.

Now, that might sound hypocritical given my defense of keeping Elizabeth May out of the debates in my last post; but, as I've mentioned, I support May in the debate provided that she is there as a party leader. Since she has said she's focusing on her own riding, she is not really campaigning nationally, and as such has no place at the national debate.

The same argument could be made about the Bloc Quebecois; but that's a complicated argument that I won't even begin to attempt to get into here. Perhaps another post some day.

Getting back on topic.

Democracy is not about those with the most money setting the tone and manipulating the discussion; keeping Canadians from discussing things by framing an election around different issue is not a way to make democracy work. As such, political parties need to be reigned in and prevented from reaching a point where one party becomes dominant over all the others.

Democracy functions through the free-flowing exchange of ideas; and one party having $150,000 in the bank and another having $5 million means that the party with more money frames the debate and prevents other parties from being heard.

Political parties already exist in an unfair playing field where one party does indeed have more money than the other. As such, the one way to ensure that all parties are capable of being heard is ensuring that all parties who receive votes have the means of spreading their message to Canadians.

As such, the vote subsidy is a means of ensuring the Canadians are kept in the loop and kept informed. And that is what Stephen Harper is attempting to remove.

This is not about saving taxpayers' money, it's about stemming the flow of information and choice in Canadian democracy, and allowing those with the means to frame the discussion and the debate.

It's a battle between the haves and the have-nots; only if the haves win this battle, all Canadians will become the have-nots in regards to information, difference of opinion, and a means to help become involved in our democracy.