Monday, January 30, 2012

It Was the Best of Times...Or Was It?

Source: CTV News Regina: Wall Warns of Austerity, Prudence in Upcoming Budget

While there is a lot to talk about federally, especially considering the OAS and pension argument that Harper seems to be provoking; I'm going to focus solely on the province in this posting.

Brad Wall took the opportunity today to address the  SUMA (Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association) conference to talk about what Saskatchewan can expect in the upcoming provincial budget. Wall did his usual song and dance routine, informing the delegates gathered that the budget would be one that would see spending and program reductions...But tried to stress that there would be no cuts.

Surprisingly, Wall admitted that low corporate income tax and potash revenues would have a negative effect on the province's bottom line.

Wait...A Conservative said what?!

These were two issues that the NDP talked a lot about during the last election, and they were also issues that the Saskatchewan Party dismissed. Wall ridiculed demands to increase potash royalty rates and flat out refused to consider raising corporate income tax rates...But now, Wall is admitting that these low rates are having a negative impact on the province's coffers.

The only non-surprising aspect of this is that Wall is announcing program and spending 'reductions', trying very hard not to mention the words 'cuts', as a means of improving the bottom line...Instead of, you know, raising these low rates.

So, Wall can identify a problem...But he refuses to address the problem directly, and instead will rely on other sources of making up this lack of income from a different area. So, the people of Saskatchewan will see reductions in services so corporations can continue to have a lower tax rate.

The real problem, however, is the fact that this message runs directly counter to the one Wall and his party presented in the election. Wall and team always talked about the strong economy and how Saskatchewan was booming...Yet, if this were the case, why would we need to be talking about 'reductions' at all?

I suggest a different tact: The economy has stopped 'booming' because Wall and company no longer have record Crown Corporation profits to plunder...Or a large rainy-day fund to make up the difference either. And to avoid that D-word that every Saskatchewanian has learned to fear (deficit, in case you were wondering) Wall is pro-actively making reductions to avoid this fate later on.

His party has plundered what they can from the public coffers to keep the budget 'balanced' and now they have no choice but to start making cuts if they want to keep their illusion of sound financial management.

The fact of the matter is that we were told one thing by his party during the election, and now they are doing something that completely negates their message. Saskatchewan is clearly not on sound economic footing if cuts are the first option to balance the books.

And hopefully, this is one of those things people will remember come the next election cycle.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Much Over Due

Source: CBC News: Layoffs at Sask. Human Rights Commission

I know, there's been some things to talk about...and I've been dark on the blog. Some life changes at the moment, which have kept me pretty busy; but I shall try to keep the blog as updated as possible.

Firstly, let's talk about the layoffs at the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC). Six people from the staff were given their walking papers today, although two were confirmed to have been retiring soon, I'm sure the other layoffs came as a surprise.

Now, the nature of the positions lost have yet to be released. Furthermore, the information on who made the decision as also yet to be released, and the reason for the layoffs have also been withheld for now. As such, we do not know whether the six were let go for misconduct or for 'good reason' or rather this was simply the SHRC clearing house.

What we do know is this: Years ago, back in the first term of the Wall Government, an announcement came out that the government was contemplating moving some of the cases away from the SHRC and moving them into the regular justice system. For example, you can read up on that from a blog post which can be found here: LINK.

At the time, Wall wanted to dismantle SHRC tribunals and move the cases and complaints into the public justice system. At the time, I countered this idea with the reminder that our current justice system is bogged down and brings justice to a crawl. Moving a human rights complaint into the public justice system is going to do two things:

1.) It will ensure that human rights complaints take years to be seen by a judge
2.) It will ensure that claimants are forced to spend more money on legal fees to keep the case alive while waiting for it to be heard before the bench.

Essentially, as I argued before, a move to the public justice system will destroy these human right cases. These tribunals may take time as well, but as they are set up to hear only these types of cases, they can at least move the cases more quickly than the justice system could.

So, we must ask ourselves...Are these layoffs the first salvo of the Wall Government dismantling the SHRC completely? It is entirely possible...Until we hear otherwise, we must assume that these layoffs come from the government benches.

And then we must ask ourselves what is the purpose of dismantling the SHRC?

Well, the marriage commission argument comes back to mind. The Wall Government was quick to defend marriage commissioners who wanted to deny their services to same-sex couples, and even asked the courts to make a ruling on some of their solutions. When those were turned down, Wall's government mused different ideas (such as establishing a tiered commissioner list, one for heterosexuals and one for homosexuals.)

Surely, the SHRC would be kept busy by same-sex couples arguing their human rights were being violated by such a system...

And we all know the standard conservative, or 'right of centre', practice is to destroy opposition rather than deal with it reasonably. So, is this the opening of the government getting ready to silence any voices of dissent that will come from future legislative policy?

Possibly, but for now, it's still a cloudy issue. I'd suggest that it is certainly possible, but until we know more about the situation, I can't say for sure. All I can say is that we need to keep our eyes open and make sure that human rights are being respected in this province; otherwise, we all may wake up one day and find ourselves missing some liberties we had the night before.

Now, let's talk a bit about some federal issues. In the recent weeks, news has come out about some questionable bureaucratic choices in Ottawa. A department that was created to oversee Employment Insurance spent millions of dollars without achieving anything (though, the news also suggests that the Harper Government tied the hands of the department so much that they couldn't do anything).

And today, news of another department or rather a secretariat spending millions of dollars also came to light. Now, the one thing these have in common (other than wasting taxpayer dollars and achieving no results) was that they were both set up directly by the Harper Government. They did not exist prior to Harper coming to power.

As such, these are questionable spending choices that are clearly the decisions of the Harper Government. There's no attempting to pass the blame to former governments; this is a decision that comes completely from the Conservatives.

Now, if this news broke under a Liberal Government...Well, there would be a rally cry throughout the country to throw the bums out. As the Sponsorship Scandal proved, we don't like when governments misuse the public purse.

So, why is the rage absent?

Is it because, as far as we can see, the people benefiting from the spending are not directly Conservative party lackies?

Or is the rage absent because the government can pass the blame onto the bureaucracy? Despite Harper setting up these departments, and in the EI department case basically tying their hands and preventing them from doing their job, can the government really succeed in ducking from the fire on this one because people will perceive it as a waste in the bureaucracy rather than the government?

Unfortunately, that might very well be the case.

However, there is one item in the federal sphere that could cause a scandal to finally stick against the Conservatives. And that's the slowly building case that Tony Clement was personally involved in deciding what projects in his own riding would receive $50 million worth of federal funding during the G-8 summit. Clement has denied his involvement; then backtracked and denied being involved in the selection process.

So, keeping in mind the Sponsorship Scandal and the misdirected funds that were spent there...Clement is accused of being involved in an appropriation of funds that completely overshadows the Sponsorship Scandal in spending and level.

But of course, the government still refuses to take any action against Clement. And Clement continues to suggest his innocence and denies his involvement. However this turns out, it will be interesting to see the impact this has on both Clement and the Conservatives as time marches on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wait, I've Changed My Mind...

Source: CTV News: Floor-Crossing MP Slammed for 'Blatant Lack of Respect'
Source: CTV News: Sask. Premier Wants Federal Cash for Health Innovation

One Federal, One Provincial story to talk about today. Let's start with the one that is garnering more news buzz, though.

I woke up today to discover that Quebec NDP MP Lise St-Denis had decided to cross the floor and join the Liberal Party of Canada. Now, since then I've seen various thoughts and musing on the subject. The traditional "She should step down and run as a Liberal in a by-election" comments have been thrown about. Surprisingly, another argument about the legitimacy of floor crossing has branched into the legitimacy of coalitions too.

Oh, internet.

So, let's first talk about why St-Denis crossed the floor...And it seems the punchline was indeed to get to the other side. Despite a press conference, no one seems to really know the reasons for the defection. She mentioned how Quebecois voted for Jack Layton, and with him no longer leading the party, she felt the need to left. I cleaned that up a little, since her version was what I'd call a bit blunt and disrespectful.

She also went on to talk about how she's watched the Liberal caucus work and admired the way they did so. So, a few blanket clauses and statements. What was truly confusing was her need to ensure people that her 'politics haven't changed'. Essentially, that rules out the idea that she was unhappy with a policy the NDP was working towards...Or something that the party stood for.

If it wasn't policy related, why did she leave?

In most cases, you would look to the leader for that question. But Nycole Turmel's tenure in the post is quickly coming to a close; and no front-runner in the leadership race has garnered enough support to be declared the 'heir apparent'...So, it is unlikely that leadership played a role in her decision.

The general consensus is this: St-Denis made the decision to cross the floor for personal, not political reasons. Furthermore, there is the argument that she never expected to be elected as a NDP candidate in Quebec. And that when she did a certain level of cognitive dissonance caused her to re-examine her positions and found her membership in the NDP lacking.

People are also suggesting that this could be something as a flashpoint for the NDP. St-Denis' crossing is raising the question as to whether fellow Quebec MPs, who found themselves surprisingly elected, might re-examine their own positions and find crossing the floor appealing. Some are saying that this is just the first of many floor crossings from the NDP Quebec caucus...While others are reassuring that this will be the only one we see.

I can't speak to that point; but I can speak to another, if compelling reason, for the floor crossing.

Over New Years, a friend and I were discussing the future of the NDP in Quebec. Essentially, we came to this conclusion: A number of the elected Quebec NDP MPs are not going to win their nomination contests before the next election.

NDP MPs in Quebec took a lot of flack for being inexperienced, and in some cases not visiting their riding prior to the election. This is a due to a strategy a lot of parties use in ridings they don't expect to win: They simply take whoever steps forward and use them as a name on the ballot. So, it was rather surprisingly when a lot of those 'names' became MPs.

But this also sets an interesting precedence. The NDP is now in play in Quebec, and that means there's going to be a lot more interest in running as a candidate for the NDP in the next election within the province. As such, a lot of these 'name' MPs are going to find themselves in nomination battles against potentially stronger candidates and many of them are going to lose out.

Whether or not these stronger candidates will be elected remains to be seen, but I think it's a safe bet to assume that after this sitting of Parliament we will not see some of these Quebec MPs again after the next election.

So, was this something that St-Denis concluded as well?

The Liberals are known for their top-down control over nomination contests, and despite some talk about changing it, it remains to be seen whether or not the Liberals will remove such controls before the next election. So, perhaps St-Denis saw a switch to the Liberals as the only chance to secure her nomination as a candidate in the next federal election?

The problem with this theory, however, is that it suggests that we will see quite a few defections from the NDP to other parties in the years before the next election. After all, if all the 'name' candidates come to the realization that they will not win a nomination contest, they're either going to jump ship to parties that can guarantee their nomination OR take one for the team and quietly bow out of public life for the time being.

As for St-Denis, this was a way to generate buzz about an MP who didn't expect to get elected, managed to win, and is likely on the way out (either due to a nomination battle or a change in electorate support) in the next election. So, perhaps the reason for her floor crossing was as simple as vanity. Who knows, only she does for sure.

Which brings me to the next part I want to talk about, now that we've gotten my theory for the crossing out of the way. Since people have crossed the floor, there has been a demand to make them accountable to the riding which elected them. Simply put, people are demanding that St-Denis step down as a MP and run in a by-election as a Liberal.

We've seen this before; perhaps most famously when David Emerson jumped from the Liberals to the Conservatives in BC (Emerson, of course, was tossed out in the next federal election). And that brings us to an interesting question, should MPs who cross the floor have to face the electorate in a by-election to maintain their seat?

There are a lot of supporters for this argument, there's also some detractors. I happen to be in favour of it and I will attempt to explain why. Let's look at some of the arguments and counter-arguments for having flor-crossing MPs face a by-election.

1.) Argument: Making MPs face a by-election gives too much power to party leaders and restricts an MPs ability to represent their riding.

Counter-Argument: MPs were elected under a certain party banner to represent their riding. Furthermore, the fact that they were nominated as their party's candidate suggests that that person was considered the strongest candidate for that party. Party leaders already have too much power, as they can lure MPs over to their side through the promise of cabinet positions, shadow cabinet positions, and other perks that they are not currently receiving.

Having a by-election is tantamount to a referendum on the MPs decision to cross the floor; and thus, more representative of what the people of the riding want. In Canada, some ridings are dominated by PARTIES over CANDIDATES. As such, people for a PARTY not a CANDIDATE. It wouldn't matter if the candidate was a cardboard cut out, so long as they identified with the correct party they would win the election.

As such, when a candidate changes their party (to one they were not elected to represent) it is a clear rejection of what the electorate voted for. As such, the electorate should have a chance to voice whether they want the CANDIDATE or the PARTY.

2.) Argument: The riding voted the person in, not the party, and asking them to step down and run again is against what the people of the riding want.

Counter-Argument: *See the last two paragraphs above, or the small summary here: People sometimes vote for PARTY over CANDIDATE; as such, the riding deserves to express, through a by-election, whether they voted for the PARTY or the CANDIDATE.

And this is an argument I saw online that I feel the need to address:

"If floor crossing is bad and must be stopped, do we also need a bill to ban coalitions? People vote for a party, not a coalition."

Now, this is tricky, as it includes my argument for why a by-election is necessary...The fact that people sometimes vote for a party specifically. As I've said before on this blog, living under a Parliamentary System can produce some interesting results in an election.

From a Parliamentary perspective, the largest group represented in the House of Commons is given the task of forming government. Whether that group is one single party, or two parties or more who have reached an agreement doesn't matter. What does matter is that the largest group in Parliament is reflecting its position and asking to form government.

Furthermore, in some cases (as we've seen in the last several elections) the opposition parties have garnered more national support combined than the Conservatives who have formed government. As such, it's pretty clear that the 60% of Canadians who didn't vote Conservative, would favour a government that wasn't made up of Conservative members.

Voter intent alone shows that the majority of Canadians wanted a government not formed by Stephen Harper and his party. Yet, because of our antiquated voting system, that's what we ended up getting.

It is true, we may not vote for a coalition...Unless two parties explicitly run on the agreement to form one after the election results come in. But, if they represent the largest voting block in Parliament, then they do indeed have the right to try and form a government.

As such, the idea that banning floor-crossing means we need to address coalitions as well is kind of a ridiculous argument. In a coalition, people still retain their MP and the MP maintains the status for the party they were elected under; the only thing that changes is that they likely go from an opposition MP to a potential cabinet minister or government member.

And of course, come the next election cycle...The parties involved will either be helped or hindered by their coalition government and either a similar situation will occur...Or one party will be able to form government on their own.

Anyways, now that we've strayed far off topic, let's switch gears to our provincial topic for the day.

Premier Brad Wall has spoken out, sort of, about Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's plan to fund the provinces with health care dollars over the next ten years.Until 2016 - 2017, the provinces will continue to receive a 6% (under a deal which was struck by the Martin Government in 2004) and then payments to the provinces will be tied to reflect nominal GDP.

Naturally, Flaherty presented this plan to the provinces without any negotiation or notice. Of course, this caused some chagrin among certain provincial representatives who were quick to denounce the plan and come out swinging against Ottawa.

Saskatchewan, however, was one of the voices that didn't step forward. And now, Wall has come out and said that the plan is 'not unreasonable', but he would like to see money for health innovation come from Ottawa as well.

On the face of it, Wall is making a valid point. The provinces do need help with spurring on new methods of delivery and decreasing wait times in hospitals. However, once you scrape away the veneer and look underneath, Wall's proposal becomes considerably darker.

Living in Saskatchewan, you learn to speak Conservative...Even if you don't consider it your natural language. But when Wall speaks to 'health innovation', we all know that he is speaking to the introduction of more private clinics and health professionals who exist outside of the public system.

Essentially, Wall is asking the federal government to pony up money for the provinces to increase privatization of aspects of the medical system.

The fact of the matter is this: There are problems with our health care system as it stands, no one will deny that. And there are different approaches to fixing it.

What I can tell you for sure is that the current system of blinding throwing money into the system isn't working. Yes, we need to ensure that provinces are receiving enough funding to keep medicare going, but at the same time we need to ensure that that money is being spent wisely. Furthermore, we need to address fundamental problems that exist outside of cost.

We need to diversify our health care system; but that does not mean privatization. Rather, it means addressing the problems in a practical way. Expanding the role of nurse practitioners, for example. Expanding pathways into medical school, and providing financial assistance with conditions to these students. Expanding palliative care and home care systems to keep senior citizens out of hospitals. And of course, expanding national health in general with a focus on preventative care rather than reactive care.

All of this can be achieved with out setting up private clinics and is worth trying before we start gutting our public system and saying it is completely broken. And yes, this will require some financial help from Ottawa to work properly. And if Flaherty has his way, the money to set these kinds of programs up will disappear and we will lose services...

And then it's only a matter of time until privatization is the only option left...And those on the right are doing everything possible to make that day come just a little bit faster. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pot, Meet Kettle

Source: CBC News: 'Radical' Groups Working Against Oilsands

I figure now that we're approaching the middle of January, the blog has been dark long enough and it is time to illuminate 2012 with that special brand of insight that I bring to the blog...Whether or not it is truly special is unimportant, what is important is that there are a few things worth talking about today.

Some house cleaning, first though: I probably will not be posting on the selection of Toronto-Danforth's new NDP representative; if only because being in Saskatchewan, I know little about the candidates vying for the role left open the wake of Jack Layton's passing.

Furthermore, there is the discussion of several new Senators being appointed...I've talked about senate reform en masse before on the blog, and the appointment of Harper cronies to the Upper Chamber, so you all know my opinion on that matter...However, I may have something to say about reforming the Senate at the end of this post.

So, let's begin with the quote I saw today that spurred me to get back to writing the blog.

Radicals, are: "a group of people who don’t take into account the facts but are driven by an ideological imperative." - Conservative MP, and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

Excuse me, did you honestly just say that? If so, you might want to tell Justice Minister Rob Nicholson that he's a radical. After all, in his defense of Bill C-10 (the Omnibus Crime Bill) Nicholson rejected statistics that crime was dropping and that they were pushing the bill forward due to their mandate over facts.

Hence the title of this post; Conservatives yet again show their hypocrisy by denouncing those who speak out against their plans and aspirations as radicals and ideological blowhards...Yet, these are methods that they themselves use. As noted, Bill C-10 was introduced as a bill that was driven by ideological ideals and election promise over fact.

Harper's continued push to buy F-35 fighter jets, despite mounting costs and daily reports of new problems (anyone else see the report of them being unable to land on aircraft carriers due to an engineering fault with the hook designed to catch cords on the deck of the carrier? No, read about it here: LINK) shows another ideological tactic taking precedence over fact.

Even in the backbenches of the Conservative caucus you see this ideological drive. Kitchener Centre MP Steven Woodworth is said Canadian law treats the unborn as 'sub-human' and wants to see debate on the issue in the House of Commons. Despite the fact that most Canadians are content to leave the abortion debate alone, and Harper even campaigned on the fact of letting it be if re-elected, there are ideological drives to push for these arguments and to create laws around them...Despite the facts.

Essentially, what we're getting at is that any Conservative who proclaims to be a champion for facts and reasons over ideological drive and motivation needs to give their head a good long shake. Since coming to power, we've seen nothing but ideological drive from this government and this political party. Every action they make and every bill they bring forward is just another means to achieving a part of their political ideology.

In Harper's Canada, facts are irrelevant and relying on them makes you some kind of enemy of the state...Especially when those facts directly contradict what the government is trying to achieve with their agenda.

To change gears a little, I want to talk about Senate Reform briefly.

I had a chance to meet Brian Topp over the weekend, and found the discussion fairly enlightening. I've still yet to decide who I will support in the Leadership Race, but Topp got onto the topic of the Senate during the discussion.

Topp supports abolishing the Senate outright, as a number of NDPers do. I must be one of the few who still sees a use for the Upper Chamber, as I favour reform over abolishing it. Now, I came up with a plan for Senate Reform on this blog, however, I've decided to make a few changes to that formula. So, here's my newly minted Senate Reform plan:

1.) Tie Senate seats proportionally to the amount of votes each party receives in the province they are to represent. For example, Saskatchewan has 6 Senate seats. If the NDP receives 25% of the total vote in Saskatchewan during a federal election, the NDP becomes entitled to 25% of the Senate seats for Saskatchewan. There would be an electable threshold of 10% that a party would need in order to qualify for a seat in the first place. So, any party garnishing less than 10% of the provincial vote would not receive a Senate seat.

2.) Remove the appointment process from the Prime Minister's hands. For awhile, I thought that Opposition leaders should nominate the Senators to represent their parties. I've since decided that this system is ineffective, and propose that we use the following method instead.

Federal Party leaders would discuss potential Senators with the Premiers of the Provinces that their Senators are to represent. As such, the leader of the Liberals would have to propose candidates for Saskatchewan Liberal Senators to the Premier of Saskatchewan. The Premier would then either confirm or deny the choices made, but work with the party leader to ensure representation.

Let me clarify that last bit: The Premier is not given carte blanche over the appointment of Senators for their province. They must appoint individuals who reflect the proportional vote share and they reach an agreement with the Party Leaders over appointments, it cannot be a unilateral decision.

3.) Once in agreement, the nominees are made Senators and will serve a term that is tied to the House of Commons. During an election, all Senators lose their status and must be re-nominated to serve in the Senate.

I think that about sums it up. I know some of you are probably asking why the Premiers should be involved at all...Well, the Senate was originally meant to be an arm of the provinces in the Federal Government. I don't think it ever successfully filled that role thanks to partisan politics in Ottawa; but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be given the chance.

There's also a few smaller details to consider with this reform...But, I did say I was going to be brief on this topic; so, I shall let it alone for now.