Federal Election 2008

Parliament continues to reel from the dizzying events of the past 5 days, the likes of which are virtually unprecedented in Canadian history – not to mention downright entertaining.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled what was billed as an “economic update” in Parliament last Thursday – a plan placing limitations on the public service’s ability to strike and offering little in the way of economic stimulus – that was met with loud derision and cries of disgust at Harper’s arrogance and calls for a confidence vote in the House. MPs from Canada’s other parties – Liberal, New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois – stated they would refuse to vote this update into law, forcing Harper’s Conservative government into a confidence vote that would surely defeat them.

What angered the opposition most was Harper’s – via Flaherty – blatantly partisan slam tucked inside the update that would see an end to federal funding to political parties, a Conservative Party attempt to weaken the opposition parties in light of their tenuous financial positions and render them less able to mount a strong election campaign down the road against Harper. MPs cried foul that Harper would be playing partisan politics with a piece of legislation supposedly designed to help Canada’s ailing economy.

Immediately, political and economic analysts across party lines conceded Harper had committed an egregious error in judgment at worst and a serious political misstep at best, a blunder very likely to delay much-needed economic restructuring at a time when Canada needs it most. Despite head-spinningly quick reversals by the Conservatives on many of the update’s key points – a move designed to placate the furious opposition MPs – the dye was cast and leaders Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe began talks to form a coalition government, with Dion assuming the role of Prime Minister and the parties assigning Cabinet positions weighted in favour of the Liberals and the NDP.

Fast forward to today where Governor General Michaelle Jean is flying home from a truncated European speaking tour to address the national crisis. Her role will be to weigh the options before her and determine the fate of Parliament. Experts seem to agree that one option would be to grant an anticipated request from Harper to prorogue or suspend the current seven day old sitting of Parliament, presumably so he can avoid a confidence vote and have time to prepare a budget, although this contains some problems in that there is no precedent either way for such a request under these circumstances and many believe she will not prorogue simply to allow the government to avoid a confidence motion.

The second option might be to grant a potential request from Harper to dissolve the current sitting of Parliament and call a federal election – an unlikely and unattractive alternative considering Canadians just went to the polls 7 weeks ago and voter turnout was extremely low. Jean’s third option would be to entertain the request of the Coalition members and allow them to form a government, under strict conditions, for the remainder of the term.

Canadians are understandably concerned. Conservatives who voted Harper’s people into power are furious, claiming – as Harper said himself – that the Dion-led Coalition is trying to take power without earning it. Perhaps, but the Conservatives might want to drop the smug rhetoric and accept that only 37% of voting Canadians elected the current government and a Coalition would actually represent the 63% of Canadians who voted for someone other than a Conservative MP.

Enter Gilles Duceppe. Critics of the potential Coalition are crying “deal with the devil” at the Coalition’s inclusion of Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois, convinced the pact will give too much power to a man the fear-mongering Harper believes would separate Quebec from Canada. What Canadians need to understand is that Duceppe wants sovereignty for Quebec, for it to be recognized as a distinct society and receive appropriate benefits, but there is little in his rhetoric over recent years to suggest he is for cutting all ties and looking to create the separatist nation of Quebec and become President Duceppe. Duceppe is more about left-wing activism than separation – both of which frighten Harper – and it his left wing ideologies that enable him to enter and welcome him into this Coalition.

Once again, Harper is appealing to the fear of the unknown in Canadians – first, it was fear of how a non-Conservative government would lead Canada in these tough economic times, times Harper refused to acknowledge were bad until intense media pressure forced him to. Second, Harper instilled fear of a Stephane Dion-led Canada, a very intelligent man Harper’s attack ads so thoroughly shredded the country was unable to see that this man, while lacking charisma and a slick, articulate style in English, has the smarts and love of this country to lead us through uncertain waters.

Dion has acknowledged he will not continue to lead the Liberals, but he will be the Prime Minister under this Coalition until the Liberals hold their leadership convention in June. By accepting the leadership role in this Coalition government, he obviously fully understands this is not the way he ever wanted to become Prime Minister. He knows he took a serious drubbing and he is not the leader Canadians wanted in the last election. The Liberal party itself is allowing Dion to stand as leader because the leadership candidates don’t want a rushed selection, nor a leadership candidate with a leg up heading into a leadership convention. Dion and the Liberals know Dion is going nowhere as leader and that is why he will stand for now in what is clearly a rather thankless position.

There are those who accuse the Coalition of political opportunism and putting their quest for power first above the good of the country, and at first blush, it’s an easy position to take. To them, I say this: Who would you like to lead Canada? A man with his head so deeply buried in the sand that he misjudges the needs of Canadians and Canada or a group of committed public servants willing to put their partisan policies aside and work together in a coalition to run this great country the way it should be and not according to policies based too deeply in neo-conservative ideologies?

Watch for Harper’s own party to become angrier and most mutinous by the day as they realize his mean-spirited bully tactics have amounted to throwing the whole Conservative government under a bus.


Canadians long calling for Electoral Reform may finally have some support after millions of dollars have been squandered on an election that produced another minority government, no change in Canada’s leadership and no indication of a more effective House of Commons.

Tuesday’s Federal Election proved that the winning party – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives – do not represent the will of the majority of voters. The Conservatives captured just 37% of the popular vote while the combination of Liberal, NDP and Green voters represented 51% of Canadian ballots, indicating Canada suffers from the Ralph Nader Effect: a fatal splitting of the left of centre vote that allows the right wing party to win. Ironically, many suspect Nader’s 2008 US presidential candidacy will actually help Democrat Barack Obama rather than splitting the traditional left, but historically, Nader’s runs for the presidency have hurt the left and many blame him for the 2000 and 2004 Democratic losses.

So, what are the options in democracy where diverse parties and ideologies are encouraged? Countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia adopted the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system and swear by it, but in North America, the vote counting and transfer system that sounds a little too much like a disease you might get from sleeping around at rave parties has failed to catch on. People like the concept of their vote counting even if their first choice candidate isn’t in first place, but it is complex enough that Joe Six Pack won’t be a fan, much less understand it. Check out this BC-produced video explaining how it works far better than anything else I’ve seen.


While this system makes sense and the most use of one’s vote, there is another option to consider – one that has worked pretty well for Stephen Harper: amalgamation of the left. Recognizing the potentially fatal split developing among Canada’s right wing parties in the early 2000s, in 2003, Harper manged to bring together the Reform Party of Canada faithful – who had recently morphed into the too-radical-for-even-most-right-wingers Canadian Alliance Party – to form the Conservative Party currently in power in Canada. Some of the Progressive Conservatives of old – a decidedly more centerist party than the Conservatives – came along for Harper’s ride, but many feared Harper’s neo-con agenda, choosing to either leave politics or join the Liberal Party of Canada.

Say what you want about Stephen Harper, but this was a masterstroke for him – and arguably rang the death knell for the Canada we love – enabling the right to attain governing party status in a predominantly socially progressive country. If the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens could forge such an alliance, they would be elected and free to advance an agenda of social responsibility, fiscal conservatism and environmental action.

This election carried with it more talk about leadership or the lack of it than any in recent memory. If the Stephane Dions, Jack Laytons and Elizabeth Mays of the country put aside their own egos and pride and called for a national convention of socially and environmentally progressive parties, perhaps they could forge a similar alliance and pull Canada out of the ditch Stephen Harper has pushed us into.

Time will tell, but that’s the kind of Green Shift we could all get behind.

Stephen Harper continues to chant his “stay the course, Canada needs solid leadership in times of economic crisis” mantra as the other party leaders scramble around the country in a last-ditch effort to convince Canadians Harper is a controlling, manipulative dictator responsible for the country’s demise. Reports from Alberta indicate Conservatives aren’t even attending all-candidates’ debates or forums because they’re so certain those ridings are a lock – this government continues to insult its taxpayers by restricting dialogue and limiting forums for discussion or expressing dissent. There ain’t no “Progressive” in this Conservative.

Ironically, Green Party leader Elizabeth May has emerged as a formidable leadership presence on the Canadian political scene, while Liberal leader Stephane Dion continues to face criticism for his perceived lack of leadership ability – a perception I believe firmly rooted in his English language proficiency and not any deficiency as a potential Prime Minister. Dion has impressed me increasingly over the election as an exceedingly honest man in a world seemingly devoid of honesty; he is compassionate, sensitive, – God forbid we have a leader who is compassionate and sensitive, he won’t be “tough” enough to make the hard calls – educated, intelligent and earnest. Prior to this election, I think the only time I heard him speak was when he accepted his party’s leadership nomination last year. Like most Western Canadians, I barely know the guy, but I’d trust him over Harper any day.

The NDP’s Jack Layton is slick, approachable and quite likely prepared to be PM, but despite promises of all sorts of money for children under 18 and social programs, I have yet to get a real sense of what the NDP gives me that the other parties – Green or Liberal – can’t. Either the person seems acceptable but the party isn’t or the party isn’t moving Canadians, but the person is. What to do?

So, without further delay, I present the five people who would make better Prime Ministers than Stephen Harper. Yes, several have strong American connections, but so does our PM and desperate times require desperate measures.

Here they are:

5. Ben Mulroney
Hey, he manages to keep that self-absorbed, self-inflated Canadian Idol judge Zack Werner from pushing everyone into his vat of acrid-smelling hyperbole, all the while looking every bit the shiny metrosexual we’d all like to hang with – he could probably coax a conciliatory word out of Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. He’s positive and supportive of losers and winners alike and has a hot girlfriend, proving people aside from his own parents like him.

4. Senator Larry Campbell
The real maverick, Campbell shoots from the hip and calls ’em like he sees ’em. No need for a large communications staff, he would do all his own talking and let the rest of his party talk, too. If he didn’t like what they said, he’d tell them. His track record for listening to constituents and bringing widely dissenting opinions together at the table would be a stark contrast to Steve’s House of Mirrors. He also knows Arctic Sovereignty is not important to Canadians.

3. Margaret Atwood & Anne-Marie MacDonald (co-PMs)
Both because they’re really busy and need time to write. Both because they are incredibly smart and have wicked senses of humour (have you read The Edible Woman?) We need some of that. MacDonald has been on Oprah, so we’re talking the Six Degrees of Barack Obama here.

2. Matthew Perry
This Canadian looks great in a sweater vest, talks fast AND has worked in the White House. Okay, so he was acting on The West Wing, but he had to meet with technical consultants (who’ve worked in the REAL White House), learn his lines, recite them back believably and look good doing it. Hey, wait a minute, that kinda sounds like – another day for her.

1. Janeane Garofalo
Although an American, the radio host, actor and comedian demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of Canadian politics and the issues heading into this election that would shame most Canadians during her CBC interviews with Stephen Quinn and Jian Ghomeshi last month. Also a West Wing alum, she’s preparing for a new role on 24 and we’re betting she’ll get to do more than keep an eye on Russia. Now, if we could just dispel those nasty Scientology rumours I’d email her a marriage – limited domestic partnership? – proposal….

Taking a page from George Bush’s Chicken Little public warning strategy, this week Stephen Harper portrayed his Conservative Party as the only reliable, safe, responsible choice to lead Canada through the current economic crisis. This is not true and a growing grassroots uprising of concerned Canadians is fighting against the national media monopoly to make you aware of how to make your vote count as one for anyone but Harper.

Award-winning journalist, economist and outspoken critic of globalization Naomi Klein weighed in on the Canadian election at a recent lecture given at the University of Regina and called for a coalition of Canada’s left-centre parties to thwart a re-election of Harper’s Conservative Party. As the author of the highly prescient 2007 book, “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, based on the premise that political leaders exploit moments of crisis to further their power and amend rules in favour of corporate capitalism, Klein sees the same tactics used by George Bush employed by Stephen Harper. Here’s how Klein expressed it:

In Canada, Stephen Harper fits the archetype of the father-figure type leader who steps in during crises and reassures the population that all will be well as long as he is given more power, she said.

“I think we need to be extremely wary of how a new Harper government would fit in as this (U.S.) crisis migrates to Canada.”

“It’s an important time for 800 people to gather,” she said, referring to the overflowing hall. “We can fall apart and look to leaders to save us, or we can rise to the occasion. We can regress or we can grow up – and it’s time to grow the hell up.”

Why should you, as an average Canadian, fight to save Canada?

First, let’s review Harper’s record. What Harper, a trained economist, fails to mention is that his Conservative government lead Canada into the current recession – Canada’s only period of negative growth in recent memory – largely due to his decision to cut the Federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) from 7% to 6% on July 1, 2006, and then further down to 5% on January 1, 2008. This was an election promise Harper kept, in stark contrast to promises to refrain from taxing Income Trusts and to increase child care options for Canadian parents. He also overturned promises previous governments have made to Canadians, such as reneging on the Kelowna Accord for our First Nations citizens, cutting Federal funding to the arts and proposing film censorship law in the form of Bill C-10.

Harper continually speaks of electing a leader you can trust, but clearly, his flip flops and broken promises aren’t to be viewed as indications of his dishonesty, only his father-knows-best desire to do what’s needed for Canada. Canadians must see through this for the good of Canada. He portrays the other leaders – Liberal Stephane Dion, Bloc Gilles Duceppe, Green Party Elizabeth May and New Democrat Jack Layton as not to be trusted, but no one has screwed up and screwed over our country like Harper has. There have been rumblings of a Green/Liberal alliance, but nothing concrete – we must call on these leaders to put their own ambitions aside for the good of the country and encourage voters to think strategically.

On the world stage, Harper and his staff have continually exhibited decidedly un-Canadian positions, voting against a United Nations declaration supporting Aboriginal rights, failing to participate in the now-defunct Kyoto Accord and helping George Bush scuttle the environment agenda at the 2008 G8 Summit in Japan.

Closer to home, Harper Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier committed a national security breach of epic proportions by leaving a classified document at his former biker-chick’s apartment – a relationship Harper knew of and did not think was a problem – for several months before anyone know it was missing.

Health Minister Tony Clement seems to be constantly asleep at the switch, stumbling his way through the Walkerton water tragedy, the listeriosis outbreak, and Canada’s position on INSITE, Vancouver’s safe injection site, as it relates to controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Harper has long appealed to the segment of the Canadian population seduced by promises of tax cuts and cash incentives and ignorant of Canada’s environmental responsibilities and poor record in the eyes of the world. His policies appeal to those less interested in responsibility and more interested in entitlement.

By voting strategically, you can help to ensure the left-centre vote is not split. There are numerous groups working to help you vote to beat Conservatives in every close riding in the country that isn’t a Conservative lock to thwart a Conservative majority. Many of them explain it better that I could, so I urge you to check them out.

Avaaz.org campaign

Facebook page: Canadians United Against Stephen Harper


Vote Pair

Anyone But Harper

The Wrecking Ball

Department of Culture

Stephen Harper thinks Canadians are stupid – really stupid. He thinks we look at him in his warm sweater vest, hugging Asian babies and huddling around immigrant kitchen tables and believe that he’s changed, that he’s just like one of us, down there in the trenches, eking out a living.

"I can't see his teeth - what does he hide?"  Moonstruck

But, he’s not one of us. He is an arrogant, hypocritical opportunist determined to tell you and I what we need in government, what we need in our lives and what we need in our country – and he will only tell us these things through carefully scripted, painstakingly researched bites screened through his office by his people. Heck, even his people can’t actually speak for their own campaigns, as we saw this week when Surrey, BC Conservative candidate Donna Cadman was muzzled by Harper staff at a function in her home town.

Are Canadians buying the fatherly schtick Harper puts on – and he doesn’t even do it well – while trying to hide his true Machiavellian, Big Brother, neo-Con mish-mash of an agenda? One wonders when poll after poll show the Conservatives in a comfortable lead – how is this possible? Harper is uber-intelligent, no one doubts that for a moment; he is a policy and process wizard. But where he falters is in trying to sell his regular guy image to a country he runs under the assumption his subjects are all far too stupid to understand the issues or manage the country themselves.

Even when he lies to us – as on October 31, 2006 when Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced new taxes on income trusts for Canadians in clear contravention of a Harper election promise not to tax the investment vehicle – he tells us we need it this new way. He flip flops his way through election promises: a Ford prop up here, stricter environmental penalties there – ooo, say five dollars per indiscretion, up from three for corporate polluters? – a “tougher” Youth Criminal Justice Act there, a jab at members of Canada’s vibrant arts community who apparently attend too many fancy galas for the liking of a PM who looks like he’s known more “tax-payer-subsidized” buffet tables than Kirstie Alley. And all for what?

Canadians – even those who might vote Conservative and could be considered politically stupid or unsophisticated – wonder what Harper really stands for, or, more accurately, will he ever reveal his true agenda? He says – like most politicians – what he has to in order to get elected, then disregards it all and gets down to serving up the real Conservative menu of law and order, militarization, globalization, and – oh yes, let us not forget – bowing and scraping at the feet of the American neo-Con movement and its unfortunate government of the moment.

The American cruise missile, whose tail to which Harper has so firmly attached Canada’a fortunes, is about to crash, as evidenced by John McCain’s numerous blunders this week culminating with his latest announcement that he will suspend his campaigning in order to go to Washington and help George Bush sell his woefully misguided economic bail out plan to increasingly dubious taxpayers. McCain apparently thinks Americans are stupid, too and that might not be working for him.

Many believe this is McCain’s way to avoid or postpone looming presidential and vice-presidential debates at a time when his leadership and decision-making are under fire and the physical manifestation of his worst decision – the choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential running mate – sits marinading for what would be the worst wolf attack since maybe somethin’ that happened in Alaska one time. (Gosh, I’m startin’ to sound like her!)

There are choices, Canada – Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May don’t seem to think we’re stupid. Now, if we can just work out a way to join forces to beat Harper’s machine, we can move on to the business of fixing our economy, our environment and our arts and social programs. Are we smart enough to do it, Canada?

Green Party leader Elizabeth May comes out swinging as national broadcasters deny her a seat at the nationally televised October 1 & 2 Federal leadership debate.

A consortium of television networks claimed Stephen Harper and Jack Layton threatened to boycott the debates if May was included, citing Harper’s concern that May was acting in support of the Liberals – an accusation that sounds eerily reminiscent of Layton’s New Democrats propping up Harper’s minority government for the past year. Apparently, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe did not threaten to boycott, but did express his desire that the debate include only leaders of the four major parties. Stephane Dion stated he supported May’s participation, but would not take part in a debate if Harper were absent. Perhaps the broadcasters should have called Harper’s bluff – do they really think Mr. Bully would sit out a “leaders'” debate? This is a guy that wouldn’t miss a board meeting of the Calgary minor hockey association. If no one showed, who would that look the worst on?

The sheer lunacy of May’s exclusion at best makes very clear the priority national media and the Conservative government place on environmental issues and the imminent crisis that is global warming – at worst, it points to the very real existence of a deeply-rooted intent to back-burner the environment indefinitely in favour of protecting the oil and gas industry and Canada’s other manufacturing interests.

While May seeks legal counsel, the national broadcasters will no doubt scramble to come up with a more palatable, less actionable reason for the Green exclusion, mindful of the fact that in the last Federal election, May was excluded from the leadership debate because the Greens did not hold a seat in the House – a situation rectified when former Liberal and Independent MP Blair Wilson crossed the floor to join the Green Party as its first member of Parliament.

That May should be allowed to participate is undeniable, but beyond the obvious democratic, sexist and free speech implications, the issue raises a serious concern about whether the responsibility for the survival of the planet should be entrusted to our elected officials. The future of the earth should not be a mere politcal football to be tossed around, carbon taxes initiated, then withdrawn at the whims of parties trying to win favour with the loud SUV-driving, me-first, world-second lobby.

The newly-formed non-partisan group Canadians for Climate Leadership brings together high profile leaders from the environment, business, science and academia to demand the federal government do far more than pay lip service to climate change. This group includes former Prime Ministers Kim Campbell, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and John Turner, as well as respected Forest Ethics activist and spokesperson Tzeporah Berman and Nova Scotia businessman John Roy, a long-time supporter of green business practices and sustainable development. The groups draws deeply from a large number of people committed to change.

Canadians for Climate Leadership is the first group in Canada to being together power players from sectors that could actually effect change and lobby the government in meaningful and powerful ways. They will be launching a timely campaign tomorrow called PowerUP Canada, designed to enact tough domestic laws and provide Canadian leadership in the drawing up of international agreements on controlling green house gas emissions.

Regardless of who moves into 24 Sussex Drive, the first order of business in Parliament for the new government should be to sign over every decision regarding the environment and the regulation of green house gas emissions to the Canadians for Climate Leadership. They are far better-suited to make the tough choices and accept the fallout than any of our political leaders who really, really, really want to do something for the environment, but people just get so mad at carbon taxes. Enough lip service.