Politics


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.

Advertisements

BC’s Provincial Finance Minister Colin Hansen announced yesterday the provincial surplus has shrunk under the constraints of the global economic crisis, but he assured British Columbians he would not be running a deficit to jump start the floundering economy.

Hansen vowed to belt-tighten, examine expenses, reduce costs and mind the store, but offered absolutely no specifics when pressed to provide examples of areas where the government would cut spending in response to predicted shrinking revenues. The Liberals have spent a reported $30 million to tell BC residents we live in the best place on earth and Hansen gave no indication this type of highly discretionary spending would end immediately under his watchful recessionary eye.

What’s the plan, Colin? Sit tight? Stay the course? Hold the line? Focus on the prize? Sounds eerily reminiscent of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first lame responses to initial indication of a widening global economic crisis back in September and Harper’s government has yet to launch a real plan to stimulate the national economy other than to offer support to the major banks’ mortgage lending.

Premier Gordon Campbell has shown virtually no leadership on the issue of the economy, indeed, he seems to be sitting dumbstruck in his office and I can only imagine the kinds of conversations he and his aides are having.

Campbell, mumbling, eyes glazed over, stares out the window, his voice barely audible: “Where’d our surplus go? Kevin? Colin? Uh, uh, where are my glasses, someone get me my glasses!!”

Kevin Falcon: “You’re wearing your glasses, Gord, remember? The ones you got from my guy? So we could look smart and edgy and less geeky?”

Campbell: “I can’t feel them on my face, I can’t see, dammit, who keeps giving me these forecasts to read? I can’t read them, they make my eyes bleed! My eyes! My eyes! Where did the billion dollars go? Colin, what the fuck?”

Colin Hansen: “Uh, it was me, Gord, I, um, thought you’d want to know so we could – I dunno – make a plan, revise the budget, something like that. I wasn’t trying to upset you – what should I tell the people?”

Campbell stares silently out the window for several long beats. Suddenly, he rummages crazily through the drawers of his desk, before pulling out a glossy, full colour brochure promoting BC.

“Tell them they live in the best place on earth! Tell them – because it is, we have all these natural resources to exploit, we have water to sell to the US, we have bridges to build so we can put more cars and trucks on the roads, we have lumber to sell, we have the Olympics coming – my God, can’t they see how great this place is? Tell them that! Go! Go!”

And that must be how Hansen ended up giving his announcement yesterday. Campbell’s body double sits in the Leg for him, because the real Gordo is in his office, drooling and mumbling still.

In just over 24 hours, the Vancouver 2008 Civic Election morphed from snooze-a-thon to full-fledged mud wrestling match. Reporters, bloggers, opposition candidates and politicos scurry around asking questions like: Where is Estelle Lo? Why won’t Judy Rogers speak? Why weren’t taxpayers consulted? How big is the risk in the City’s assumption of the Millennium project? But no question is being asked more than this one: How can Peter Ladner manage a straight face when he chastises the public for wanting that consultation and warns that even the public discussion of this deal puts it in jeopardy?

Ladner’s ploy is so transparent, it makes Gregor Robertson’s TransLink flip-flop – which came across like something a seven-year-old might come up with – look like a master plan. Ladner’s assertion that he would rather lose the election that put this Olympic bailout deal in jeopardy is such a backhanded threat and election jab all in one, it’s astounding.

Let me get this straight, Peter: you will fall on your Mayoral campaign sword to defend the City’s right the negotiate in secrecy, outside the scrutiny of the taxpayers on the hook for this money, and if it somehow doesn’t work, it will be our fault, not Council’s? Hmmm, Estelle Lo seems to believe something’s rotten at Cambie and 12th, can she be wrong if she would rather maintain her professional reputation than back a process that wasn’t above-board? Actions speak louder than words, Peter and your words ring hollow and self-serving.

The Vision Vancouver councilors are all saying they were not briefed on the full extent of the City’s risk in this deal – which could be written off to political posturing if not for the missing-in-action Lo, who was also missing for the crucial meeting where the supposedly false numbers and/or points were presented to Council, the same meeting where all councilors voted unanimously to accept the terms of the deal. Vision’s assertion that they were not given full disclosure starts to look pretty plausible.

Consider also (jeez, I’m starting to use “also” like Sarah Palin, I promise I won’t end sentences with it) the seeming lack of political guidance surrounding Robertson’s TransLink gaffe of last week – does anyone really believe that Vision crafted this strategy where they were duped into voting for a Millennium deal by being fed false information as an election scheme? It certainly runs counter to the bumbling and missteps that have plagued their election to date and I just don’t believe they are capable of it. Face it, folks: the Vision councilors were frozen out as they claim, there’s no other reasonable explanation.

David Berner has it right – Peter Ladner’s mayoral bid is finished, and not because this deal is necessarily a bad one. He is done because of the cloak of secrecy and the arrogant Big Brother spiel preaching that excluding the public from knowing the details of these negotiations was the only way to get the deal done. Seems to me the Millennium group must understand that the City acts for the taxpayers and decisions must be subject to their consultation. We never got the chance.

Ladner made an analogy on CBC of a couple negotiating a mortgage and not letting the bank in on what their issues were – while I would agree that we taxpayers are definitely the bank in this scenario, unlike Ladner’s example, there is no other game in town and no other group of taxpayers to shop this deal to, unlike the couple who can go to another bank if they aren’t approved or don’t like the deal – we are it, Peter, and we are entitled to a say. Vancouver taxpayers should be very wary of voting in another Mayor who is a pawn of Gordon Campbell and the VANOC gang and who doesn’t believe the people have any say over this money.

The people might have actually approved this deal if it had been presented and sold to them in a democratic manner. It’s Ladner’s sleazy ways that are doing him in, he can’t be trusted and his indignant blaming of people asking questions and his petulant insistence this scrutiny might sink the deal is ludicrous. Can you say “deflection”?

Gregor, Gregor, Gregor…we really want to vote for you, but you’re making it damn hard.

Robertson’s Vancouver mayoral campaign needs a platform, it needs an issue, maybe two, that defines his candidacy and tells us who he is and what he would do and how he would be different from Peter Ladner. His missteps, although minor in essence, expose a deeply concerning lack of focus and conviction. First, he floats the idea – one largely regarded as legally impossible – to force landlords to rent out vacant strata condo units to help house the homeless, then flip flops when it becomes apparent the concept isn’t feasible.

Which brings us to the 2-fare SkyTrain boner Robertson pulled this week: Robertson received a $173 ticket for mistakenly buying an inadequate fare ticket and, when it became public, announced he was outraged at the amount he called an affront to the poor and vowed he would be taking the matter to court in December to bring attention to the injustice. Immediately, critics pounced on the story, charging Robertson was only making fighting the ticket a political issue because he was caught with an unpaid fine. For several days, his campaign veered dangerously off-track and the debate raged over whether he should have just paid the fine and moved on. It appeared Robertson’s campaign was so lacking a foundation that he tossed this line out in the water to see if maybe this could or would be the soapbox he’d been searching for.

Enter someone with some PR or political savvy to inject some sense into Robertson’s floundering run for mayor and the befuddled candidate paid the fine, decided against the court fight, apologized and cited the need to move on. Could Gregor not have worked this all out in his own head when he got the ticket – the receipt of which is not, as many seem wont to suggest, some sort of indication of low moral substance or underlying criminality on par with, say, giving an addict money to buy drugs and driving them to do it? Come on, people.

He has also come out with several half-baked ideas intended to solve homelessness and other local problems, but can’t give specifics on the cost and how the city would fund them – an ominous thread that seems to run through his presentation of new initiatives each time he raises one. Vancouver taxpayers still remembering the long garbage strike of 2007 and recent tax hikes wonder how the City will fund Robertson’s plans if he doesn’t even know – this does not exactly inspire the voters’ confidence when choosing a new mayor. We want to elect the good-looking, bike-riding, soccer-playing, business-building, socially-progressive, stick-up-for-Cambie-Street father of four, but is he up for the job?

Remember the Federal Election? Substitute “Anyone But Harper” for “Anyone But Ladner” and you sum up the feeling of many Vancouverites uneasy with the idea of electing a candidate who supported the vast majority of soon-to-be-sunset-riding Mayor Sam Sullivan’s wide-ranging and often bizarre initiatives, but only long enough to put himself in position to stab Sullivan in the back and deep six any future in politics (we hope). One can argue we don’t know or haven’t seen who Ladner is, either – is he the conservative, BC Liberal-linked, Olympic bedfellow, Machiavellian Sullivan-ite or the new and improved politico willing to revisit the Burrard Street bike lanes and achieve a homelessness solution that is respectful and supportive to all stakeholders? We just don’t know. All we do know is Ladner has proposed a tax freeze and many voters vote with their wallets, often to their detriment.

Gregor, here’s some advice: you will win if you get on Ladner about his knowledge of the City’s Property Endowment Fund and the use of that money to prop up the floundering Olympic Village project without public knowledge. Ask how this got approved and what likely scapegoat and fall girl Estelle Lo’s resignation means. Stay off TransLink or you’ll have the likes of venomous bullies such as Porvincial Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon on your back, making sure you don’t step on his carefully guarded turf. You obviously struck a nerve with him, but leave that dragon to sleep for now.

Use the gift you’ve been given today because we really want to vote for you.

This seemingly harmless little news piece found its way into several mainstream news media publications this week.

It appeared innocuous enough at first blush: a story about a farming New York State mom concerned enough about her family’s carbon footprint that she chose not to enroll her child in a hockey program that required them to drive long distances to practices and games. Read further and a tale of a man relieving himself on the family lawn to save a flush and a couple reusing the same Zip Loc bag for a year emerge in a bizarre game of If-You-Think-That’s-Weird-Listen-to-This.

The story talks about the newly-coined “Carborexics” – the supposed seven per cent of the population considered “dark green” – who are determined by the vaguely-referenced “mental health experts” to be hardcore recyclers and carbon footprint fanatics. Read about the family that huddles together in sleep to share body warmth – isn’t that also known as co-sleeping, another previously taboo child-rearing philosophy now universally practiced by millions of families and embraced by pediatricians and child psychologists as healthy for children and families? If it saves a few bucks on the heating bill and eliminates of a few tonnes of CO2 from reaching the atmosphere, does that make it a bad thing?

The media is the ultimate enabler in a society nursing a massive oil addiction; make those committed to change out to be wacko survivalist nut jobs and just drill, baby, drill. Even the psychiatrist cited in this story said behaviour only qualifies as a disorder if it begins to take precedence over everything else in one’s life and this article fails to produce any real evidence of that in the people it chronicles – but if you’re the average news paper reader, you skimmed, and you took away that people trying to reduce their carbon footprints in new and novel ways are mentally ill fringe-dwellers to be dismissed. No wonder we’re making no headway on climate change.

Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of food Life details her family’s efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and eat only locally-produced foods for one year. Somehow, this excellent book was embraced and few deemed it fanatical or crazy.

Consider the book Little House on a Small Planet which showcases some very interesting homes and addresses our North American obsession with huge dwellings. Neither of these “movements” is new, nor radically fringe.

So, what’s the reason for this little seed of a story tucked into your daily paper this week? Fear. Fear that Al Gore and David Suzuki and Kyoto and Greenpeace and the polar bears are starting to get through to us. Consider this quote near the end of the piece:

David Zucker, a sustainability specialist at Porter Novelli, a PR company which has studied America’s “dark greens”, said they were inordinately influential over other people’s behaviour.

He said the “deepest dark greens” were “bordering on the fanatic”, adding: “They’re pushing towards a lifestyle of zero consumption”.

He added: “You know Americans. We take everything to an extreme.”

And therein, my friends, lies the real story. Zero consumption would bring the oil industry – and, indeed, capitalism – to its knees. Make them sound crazy and maybe the masses won’t follow.

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.

bc-stv-full.swf

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….

Next Page »