December 18, 2005

Stephen Harper's speech to the National Council of Strategy

Since the National Council of Strategy's website has removed Harper's speech from their site (probably at the request of the Conservatives), I've decided to post it in its entirety here, along with the question and answer section. Just doing my part for Canadian democracy! Steven Harper - vice president, National Citizens' Coalition (Canada); former Member of Parliament, 1993-1997; former chief party officer/senior policy advisor, Reform Party of Canada; his articles have appeared in the Calgary Herald and Toronto's Globe and Mail. Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by giving you a big welcome to Canada. Let's start up with a compliment. You're here from the second greatest nation on earth. But seriously, your country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world. Now, having given you a compliment, let me also give you an insult. I was asked to speak about Canadian politics. It may not be true, but it's legendary that if you're like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians. But in any case, my speech will make that assumption. I'll talk fairly basic stuff. If it seems pedestrian to some of you who do know a lot about Canada, I apologize. I'm going to look at three things. First of all, just some basic facts about Canada that are relevant to my talk, facts about the country and its political system, its civics. Second, I want to take a look at the party system that's developed in Canada from a conventional left/right, or liberal/conservative perspective. The third thing I'm going to do is look at the political system again, because it can't be looked at in this country simply from the conventional perspective. First, facts about Canada. Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living substantially lower than yours, a massive brain drain of young professionals to your country, and double the unemployment rate of the United States. In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance. That is beginning to change. There have been some significant changes in our fiscal policies and our social welfare policies in the last three or four years. But nevertheless, they're still very generous compared to your country. Let me just make a comment on language, which is so important in this country. I want to disabuse you of misimpressions you may have. If you've read any of the official propagandas, you've come over the border and entered a bilingual country. In this particular city, Montreal, you may well get that impression. But this city is extremely atypical of this country. While it is a French-speaking city -- largely -- it has an enormous English-speaking minority and a large number of what are called ethnics: they who are largely immigrant communities, but who politically and culturally tend to identify with the English community. This is unusual, because the rest of the province of Quebec is, by and large, almost entirely French-speaking. The English minority present here in Montreal is quite exceptional. Furthermore, the fact that this province is largely French-speaking, except for Montreal, is quite exceptional with regard to the rest of the country. Outside of Quebec, the total population of Francophones, depending on how you measure it, is only three to five percent of the population. The rest of Canada is English speaking. Even more important, the French-speaking people outside of Quebec live almost exclusively in the adjacent areas, in northern New Brunswick and in Eastern Ontario. The rest of Canada is almost entirely English speaking. Where I come from, Western Canada, the population of Francophones ranges around one to two percent in some cases. So it's basically an English-speaking country, just as English-speaking as, I would guess, the northern part of the United States. But the important point is that Canada is not a bilingual country. It is a country with two languages. And there is a big difference. As you may know, historically, and especially presently, there's been a lot of political tension between these two major language groups, and between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Let me take a moment for a humorous story. Now, I tell this with some trepidation, knowing that this is a largely Christian organization. The National Citizens Coalition, by the way, is not. We're on the sort of libertarian side of the conservative spectrum. So I tell this joke with a little bit of trepidation. But nevertheless, this joke works with Canadian audiences of any kind, anywhere in Canada, both official languages, any kind of audience. It's about a constitutional lawyer who dies and goes to Heaven. There, he meets God and gets his questions answered about life. One of his questions is, "God, will this problem between Quebec and the rest of Canada ever be resolved?" And God thinks very deeply about this, as God is wont to do. God replies, "Yes, but not in my lifetime." I'm glad to see you weren't offended by that. I've had the odd religious person who's been offended. I always tell them, "Don't be offended. The joke can't be taken seriously theologically. It is, after all, about a lawyer who goes to Heaven." In any case. My apologies to Eugene Meyer of the Federalist Society. Second, the civics, Canada's civics. On the surface, you can make a comparison between our political system and yours. We have an executive, we have two legislative houses, and we have a Supreme Court. However, our executive is the Queen, who doesn't live here. Her representative is the Governor General, who is an appointed buddy of the Prime Minister. Of our two legislative houses, the Senate, our upper house, is appointed, also by the Prime Minister, where he puts buddies, fundraisers and the like. So the Senate also is not very important in our political system. And we have a Supreme Court, like yours, which, since we put a charter of rights in our constitution in 1982, is becoming increasingly arbitrary and important. It is also appointed by the Prime Minister. Unlike your Supreme Court, we have no ratification process. So if you sort of remove three of the four elements, what you see is a system of checks and balances which quickly becomes a system that's described as unpaid checks and political imbalances. What we have is the House of Commons. The House of Commons, the bastion of the Prime Minister's power, the body that selects the Prime Minister, is an elected body. I really emphasize this to you as an American group: It's not like your House of Representatives. Don't make that comparison. What the House of Commons is really like is the United States Electoral College. Imagine if the Electoral College which selects your President once every four years were to continue sitting in Washington for the next four years. And imagine its having the same vote on every issue. That is how our political system operates. In our election last Monday, the liberal party won a majority of seats. The four opposition parties divided up the rest, with some very, very rough parity.But the important thing to know is that this is how it will be until the Prime Minister calls the next election. The same majority vote on every issue. So if you ask me, "What's the vote going to be on gun control?" or on the budget, we know already. If any member of these political parties votes differently from his party on a particular issue, well, that will be national headline news. It's really hard to believe. If any one member votes differently, it will be national headline news. I voted differently at least once from my party, and it was national headline news. It's a very different system. Our party system consists today of five parties. There was a remark made yesterday at your youth conference about the fact that parties come and go in Canada every year. This is rather deceptive. I've written considerably on this subject. We had a two-party system from the founding of our country, in 1867. That two-party system began to break up in the period from 1911 to 1935. Ever since then, five political elements have come and gone. We've always had at least three parties. But even when parties come back, they're not really new. They're just an older party reappearing under a different name and different circumstances.Let me take a conventional look at these five parties. I'll describe them in terms that fit your own party system, the left/right kind of terms. Let's take the New Democratic Party, the NDP, which won twenty-one seats. The NDP could be described as basically a party of liberal Democrats, but it's actually worse than that, I have to say. And forgive me jesting again, but the NDP is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men. This party believes not just in large government and in massive redistributive programs, it's explicitly socialist. On social value issues, it believes the opposite on just about everything that anybody in this room believes. I think that's a pretty safe bet on all social-value kinds of questions. Some people point out that there is a small element of clergy in the NDP. Yes, this is true. But these are clergy who, while very committed to the church, believe that it made a historic error in adopting Christian theology. The NDP is also explicitly a branch of the Canadian Labor Congress, which is by far our largest labor group, and explicitly radical. There are some moderate and conservative labor organizations. They don't belong to that particular organization. The second party, the Liberal Party, is by far the largest party. It won the election. It's also the only party that's competitive in all parts of the country. The Liberal Party is our dominant party today, and has been for 100 years. It's governed almost all of the last hundred years, probably about 75 percent of the time.It's not what you would call conservative Democrat; I think that's a disappearing kind of breed. But it's certainly moderate Democrat, a type of Clinton-pragmatic Democrat. It's moved in the last few years very much to the right on fiscal and economic concerns, but still believes in government intrusion in the economy where possible, and does, in its majority, believe in fairly liberal social values. In the last Parliament, it enacted comprehensive gun control, well beyond, I think, anything you have. Now we'll have a national firearms registration system, including all shotguns and rifles. Many other kinds of weapons have been banned. It believes in gay rights, although it's fairly cautious. It's put sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act and will let the courts do the rest. There is an important caveat to its liberal social values. For historic reasons that I won't get into, the Liberal Party gets the votes of most Catholics in the country, including many practicing Catholics. It does have a significant Catholic, social-conservative element which occasionally disagrees with these kinds of policy directions. Although I caution you that even this Catholic social conservative element in the Liberal Party is often quite liberal on economic issues. Then there is the Progressive Conservative Party, the PC Party, which won only twenty seats. Now, the term Progressive Conservative will immediately raise suspicions in all of your minds. It should. It's obviously kind of an oxymoron. But actually, its origin is not progressive in the modern sense. The origin of the term "progressive" in the name stems from the Progressive Movement in the 1920s, which was similar to that in your own country. But the Progressive Conservative is very definitely liberal Republican. These are people who are moderately conservative on economic matters, and in the past have been moderately liberal, even sometimes quite liberal on social policy matters. In fact, before the Reform Party really became a force in the late '80s, early '90s, the leadership of the Conservative Party was running the largest deficits in Canadian history. They were in favor of gay rights officially, officially for abortion on demand. Officially -- what else can I say about them? Officially for the entrenchment of our universal, collectivized, health-care system and multicultural policies in the constitution of the country. At the leadership level anyway, this was a pretty liberal group. This explains one of the reasons why the Reform Party has become such a power. The Reform Party is much closer to what you would call conservative Republican, which I'll get to in a minute. The Bloc Québécois, which I won't spend much time on, is a strictly Quebec party, strictly among the French-speaking people of Quebec. It is an ethnic separatist party that seeks to make Quebec an independent, sovereign nation. By and large, the Bloc Québécois is center-left in its approach. However, it is primarily an ethnic coalition. It's always had diverse elements. It does have an element that is more on the right of the political spectrum, but that's definitely a minority element. Let me say a little bit about the Reform Party because I want you to be very clear on what the Reform Party is and is not. The Reform Party, although described by many of its members, and most of the media, as conservative, and conservative in the American sense, actually describes itself as populist. And that's the term its leader, Preston Manning, uses. This term is not without significance. The Reform Party does stand for direct democracy, which of course many American conservatives do, but also it sees itself as coming from a long tradition of populist parties of Western Canada, not all of which have been conservative. It also is populist in the very real sense, if I can make American analogies to it -- populist in the sense that the term is sometimes used with Ross Perot. The Reform Party is very much a leader-driven party. It's much more a real party than Mr. Perot's party -- by the way, it existed before Mr. Perot's party. But it's very much leader-driven, very much organized as a personal political vehicle. Although it has much more of a real organization than Mr. Perot does. But the Reform Party only exists federally. It doesn't exist at the provincial level here in Canada. It really exists only because Mr. Manning is pursuing the position of Prime Minister. It doesn't have a broader political mandate than that yet. Most of its members feel it should, and, in their minds, actually it does. It also has some Buchananist tendencies. I know there are probably many admirers of Mr. Buchanan here, but I mean that in the sense that there are some anti-market elements in the Reform Party. So far, they haven't been that important, because Mr. Manning is, himself, a fairly orthodox economic conservative. The predecessor of the Reform Party, the Social Credit Party, was very much like this. Believing in funny money and control of banking, and a whole bunch of fairly non-conservative economic things. So there are some nonconservative tendencies in the Reform Party, but, that said, the party is clearly the most economically conservative party in the country. It's the closest thing we have to a neo-conservative party in that sense. It's also the most conservative socially, but it's not a theocon party, to use the term. The Reform Party does favor the use of referendums and free votes in Parliament on moral issues and social issues. The party is led by Preston Manning, who is a committed, evangelical Christian. And the party in recent years has made some reference to family values and to family priorities. It has some policies that are definitely social-conservative, but it's not explicitly so. Many members are not , the party officially is not, and, frankly, the party has had a great deal of trouble when it's tried to tackle those issues. Last year, when we had the Liberal government putting the protection of sexual orientation in our Human Rights Act, the Reform Party was opposed to that, but made a terrible mess of the debate. In fact, discredited itself on that issue, not just with the conventional liberal media, but even with many social conservatives by the manner in which it mishandled that. So the social conservative element exists. Mr. Manning is a Christian, as are most of the party's senior people. But it's not officially part of the party. The party hasn't quite come to terms with how that fits into it.That's the conventional analysis of the party system. Let me turn to the nonconventional analysis, because frankly, it's impossible, with just left/right terminology to explain why we would have five parties, or why we would have four parties on the conventional spectrum. Why not just two? The reason is regional division, which you'll see if you carefully look at a map. Let me draw the United States comparison, a comparison with your history. The party system that is developing here in Canada is a party system that replicates the antebellum period, the pre-Civil War period of the United States.That's not to say -- and I would never be quoted as saying -- we're headed to a civil war. But we do have a major secession crisis, obviously of a very different nature than the secession crisis you had in the 1860s. But the dynamics, the political and partisan dynamics of this, are remarkably similar. The Bloc Québécois is equivalent to your Southern secessionists, Southern Democrats, states rights activists. The Bloc Québécois, its forty-four seats, come entirely from the province of Quebec. But even more strikingly, they come from ridings, or election districts, almost entirely populated by the descendants of the original European French settlers. The Liberal Party has twenty-six seats in Quebec. Most of these come from areas where there are heavy concentrations of English, aboriginal or ethnic votes. So the Bloc Québécois is very much an ethnic party, but it's also a secession party. In the referendum two years ago, the secessionists won 49 percent of the vote, 49.5 percent. So this is a very real crisis. We're looking at another referendum before the turn of the century. The Progressive Conservative Party is very much comparable to the Whigs of the 1850s and 1860s. What is happening to them is very similar to the Whigs. A moderate conservative party, increasingly under stress because of the secession movement, on the one hand, and the reaction to that movement from harder line English Canadians on the other hand. You may recall that the Whigs, in their dying days, went through a series of metamorphoses. They ended up as what was called the Unionist movement that won some of the border states in your 1860 election. If you look at the surviving PC support, it's very much concentrated in Atlantic Canada, in the provinces to the east of Quebec. These are very much equivalent to the United States border states. They're weak economically. They have very grim prospects if Quebec separates. These people want a solution at almost any cost. And some of the solutions they propose would be exactly that. They also have a small percentage of seats in Quebec. These are French-speaking areas that are also more moderate and very concerned about what would happen in a secession crisis. The Liberal Party is very much your northern Democrat, or mainstream Democratic party, a party that is less concessionary to the secessionists than the PCs, but still somewhat concessionary. And they still occupy the mainstream of public opinion in Ontario, which is the big and powerful province, politically and economically, alongside Quebec. The Reform Party is very much a modern manifestation of the Republican movement in Western Canada; the U.S. Republicans started in the Western United States. The Reform Party is very resistant to the agenda and the demands of the secessionists, and on a very deep philosophical level. The goal of the secessionists is to transform our country into two nations, either into two explicitly sovereign countries, or in the case of weaker separatists, into some kind of federation of two equal partners. The Reform Party opposes this on all kinds of grounds, but most important, Reformers are highly resistant philosophically to the idea that we will have an open, modern, multiethnic society on one side of the line, and the other society will run on some set of ethnic-special-status principles. This is completely unacceptable, particularly to philosophical conservatives in the Reform Party. The Reform Party's strength comes almost entirely from the West. It's become the dominant political force in Western Canada. And it is getting a substantial vote in Ontario. Twenty percent of the vote in the last two elections. But it has not yet broken through in terms of the number of seats won in Ontario. This is a very real political spectrum, lining up from the Bloc to reform. You may notice I didn't mention the New Democratic Party. The NDP obviously can't be compared to anything pre-Civil War. But the NDP is not an important player on this issue. Its views are somewhere between the liberals and conservatives. Its main concern, of course, is simply the left wing agenda to basically disintegrate our society in all kinds of spectrums. So it really doesn't fit in. But I don't use this comparison of the pre-Civil War lightly. Preston Manning, the leader of the Reform Party has spent a lot of time reading about pre-Civil War politics. He compares the Reform Party himself to the Republican Party of that period. He is very well-read on Abraham Lincoln and a keen follower and admirer of Lincoln. I know Mr. Manning very well. I would say that next to his own father, who is a prominent Western Canadian politician, Abraham Lincoln has probably had more effect on Mr. Manning's political philosophy than any individual politician. Obviously, the issue here is not slavery, but the appeasement of ethnic nationalism. For years, we've had this Quebec separatist movement. For years, we elected Quebec Prime Ministers to deal with that, Quebec Prime Ministers who were committed federalists who would lead us out of the wilderness. For years, we have given concessions of various kinds of the province of Quebec, political and economic, to make them happier. This has not worked. The sovereignty movement has continued to rise in prominence. And its demands have continued to increase. It began to hit the wall when what are called the soft separatists and the conventional political establishment got together to put in the constitution something called "a distinct society clause." Nobody really knows what it would mean, but it would give the Supreme Court, where Quebec would have a tremendous role in appointment, the power to interpret Quebec's special needs and powers, undefined elsewhere. This has led to a firewall of resistance across the country. It fueled the growth of the Reform Party. I should even say that the early concessionary people, like Pierre Trudeau, have come out against this. So there's even now an element of the Quebec federalists themselves who will no longer accept this. So you see the syndrome we're in. The separatists continue to make demands. They're a powerful force. They continue to have the bulk of the Canadian political establishment on their side. The two traditional parties, the Liberals and PCs, are both led by Quebecers who favor concessionary strategies. The Reform Party is a bastion of resistance to this tendency. To give you an idea of how divided the country is, not just in Quebec but how divided the country is outside Quebec on this, we had a phenomenon five years ago. This is a real phenomenon; I don't know how much you heard about it. The establishment came down with a constitutional package which they put to a national referendum. The package included distinct society status for Quebec and some other changes, including some that would just horrify you, putting universal Medicare in our constitution, and feminist rights, and a whole bunch of other things. What was significant about this was that this constitutional proposal was supported by the entire Canadian political establishment. By all of the major media. By the three largest traditional parties, the PC, Liberal Party and NDP. At the time, the Bloc and Reform were very small. It was supported by big business, very vocally by all of the major CEOs of the country. The leading labor unions all supported it. Complete consensus. And most academics. And it was defeated. It literally lost the national referendum against a rag-tag opposition consisting of a few dissident conservatives and a few dissident socialists. This gives you some idea of the split that's taking place in the country. Canada is, however, a troubled country politically, not socially. This is a country that we like to say works in practice but not in theory. You can walk around this country without running across very many of these political controversies. I'll end there and take any of your questions. But let me conclude by saying, good luck in your own battles. Let me just remind you of something that's been talked about here. As long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in schools. QUESTION: I have Canadian roots. That's why I have my maple leaf on. Please tell me about the distinct society law. Have there been court attempts to interpret that language? That's in the federal constitution now? Excuse my ignorance.MR. HARPER: No, there have been no formal attempts by the courts to interpret it. There has been no referral of this to the court by the government. The reasons is obvious. The establishment wants to sell distinct society in Quebec as meaning everything the sovereignties want it to mean, and then tell people in the rest of the country it means absolutely nothing at all.The concerns about it are threefold.The concerns are that it would impact the division of powers asymmetrically between the provinces and the federal government. The concerns are also that it would affect minority rights, particularly in the province of Quebec. They have been under some attack. Some of you may know that there are restrictions on the use of English in some aspects of Quebec public policy.But I think the third is the one which has had the least discussion and should be the biggest concern. In putting such a phrase in the constitution, whether it has any overt legal significance sends a very clear message to the international community that Canada recognizes Quebec as a nation. Down the road this would further the claims of Quebec sovereignties to separate unilaterally if they got a mandate to do so. And I think that's the most dangerous thing about it.QUESTION: Can you tell us something about the supply side criteria in Canada? It looks so depressed here. But what about marginal tax rates, entrepreneurship, or the ability or nonability to start new companies, unemployment, welfare -- the basic supply-side criteria for analyzing a country?MR. HARPER: I can try to do that quickly. We do have high marginal tax rates. High tax rates of all kinds. We have some of the highest capital gains taxes in the OECD. We still have very generous welfare rates. And our extremely generous unemployment insurance is really, basically, a subsidy to seasonal work.So we have inflexible labor markets in large parts of the country and considerable disincentives on higher income individuals.To just give you a little of the real dark side of that, there was a survey in the Chamber of Commerce just recently. It got almost no publicity, one of those selected news items. One out of ten Canadian businesses says it will relocate its operations to the United States within the next two years unless these things change.The bright side is that, in the recent election campaign, there were several proposals for significant change in the platforms of two of the opposition parties.The Reform Party promised to reduce high marginal rates and to cut the capital gains rate in half.The Progressive Conservative Party promised to severely reduce the payroll tax burden. That's another serious disincentive we have. And also to look at reducing some of the high marginal rates as well. So these things are beginning to be questioned.QUESTION: From my own rather parochial perspective, because I'm interested in United Nations affairs. Canada's government has always seemed to be a big booster of the United Nations. And Mr. Chretien was down in Washington not too long ago, saying that if the United States wanted to kick the UN out of New York, he'd bring it up here.My question involves Maurice Strong, the Canadian who's now one of the top UN officials in charge of reforming that organization. He seems to be a rather mysterious character, worth a lot of money, sort of a global citizen. What do you know about Mr. Strong, and what is his agenda?MR. HARPER: Well, let me handle the second question first. It is a small country, but don't assume I know every other Canadian. I probably don't know much more about Mr. Strong than you do, although we have some mutual friends. But he is known privately for his far-left views on many economic issues, in particular. He was once president, I believe, of Ontario Hydro. He was considered a disaster in that function.Everything I hear about him would suggest to me, the same as you, that he is a very, very dangerous individual, and one to be watched very carefully.The first part of the question was on the United Nations. Canada has always been, at critical junctures, a supporter of NATO, NORAD, and the United States. However, a lot of public sentiment has been fairly neutralist in its philosophy. Many Canadians -- obviously not myself -- fancy themselves as some kind of a third force that's neither pro-American nor pro-Soviet or pro-Third World -- something in between.So that's where you get the strong support for the United Nations. Canada contributes a great deal to the UN relatively, and takes a great deal of pride over always being praised by UN bodies.This distresses conservatives like myself quite profoundly, but I will warn you, it's a widespread view, and I will always say, one that could only be maintained as long as you basically provide us with military protection.QUESTION: First, I want to thank you for a very interesting and highly informative presentation. It was just excellent.MR. HARPER: Thank you.QUESTION: I'd like for you to look forward a bit. I know it is difficult, and maybe in the current context even dangerous. But if you would, give us your thoughts about what might happen politically down the road in Canada.MR. HARPER: It's so difficult to do that. And that's the reason I emphasized the crisis nature. Because the very existence of the country is really uncertain in the next four to five years.Quebec will have a referendum. We don't know which way it will go. But it certainly could go either way. And we don't know what forces that will set in motion.It isn't just Quebec. The Reform Party itself represents a constitutional agenda that challenges the way our entire political system operates. And there's widespread dissatisfaction with that system.The forces that held this country together traditionally, a series of East-West economic policies, have been undermined in the last decade by free trade. Don't get me wrong. I think that's a positive thing. But they were so central to the concept of the country and how it was governed. It's just very uncertain.However, let me just make two predictions. One is that Canada will be profoundly changed in the next five to ten years. I just don't believe the confederation we have today will look the same. Whether Quebec separates or not, there are going to be very major changes.The second thing is that Canada, in spite of its ongoing social democratic, welfare-state mentality, will continue to move to the right on fiscal, economic and social policy, with minor deviations, because that's the way the world is going.When Canadians face the choice of either preserving their welfare state or adapting themselves to the world economy, they always, at times of crisis, choose to adapt themselves to the world economy.And I think that the basic decision on the free trade agreement will continue to be a dominant force for the good. We can see how these conservative values are winning in some spheres.But whether they will change the underlying drift to liberal social values, and to governments that, through new means, want to control people's lives, I severely doubt. But that's the battle we'll be fighting everywhere. QUESTION: I understood you to say that the Reform Party only operates at the federal or national level. How are the local provincial governments and the local governments organized politically in the Western provinces?MR. HARPER: That's a very good question. In the four Western provinces, the party system is very similar to what it was before the Reform Party burst onto the scene. There continue to be, in each province, three political parties -- the NDPs, the Liberals, the PCs -- with the exception of British Columbia, where there is a provincial Reform Party and there is no provincial CP Party. There are historical reasons for that.But this provincial Reform Party, while it attracts many Reformers, has no formal political affiliation with the federal party. It was created locally, and for local reasons.But I think it's fair to say that increasingly, particularly in the three Western provinces, the remnant PC party is PC only in name. It's increasingly becoming dominated by people who are Reformers federally.At the highest level, there still tend to be federal Tories. But the big thing that happened in this election, and few analysts have caught it, is essentially the federal PC party was eliminated as a significant political factor in Western Canada. In this election it didn't just simply fail to win seats; it got almost no votes west of Manitoba. It's basically gone.Increasingly, provincial PC politicians, whatever their instincts, are finding themselves having to align themselves with Reform and with its constitutional agenda.QUESTION: Two quick questions. There was recently a proposal I read about from Preston Manning that would allow the different provinces to have control over the languages and the culture of that particular province. While I guess it was met with a lot of opposition, it seems to me that that actually would go against the Reform Party's message of having the one nation of Canada, because it would further fragment Quebec from the rest of Canada.That's one question.The second is a little bit more pragmatic. In looking at where the votes, the bodies, are, it's the Ontario Province. Obviously, there's animosity between the PC and the Reform Party as far as an alliance. But obviously the hundred seats that the Liberals gained there have to be winnowed down somehow in order for the Reform Party ever to have control over Canada. What is the Reform Party doing about that?MR. HARPER: First the language question. There are some fairly obvious problems with the idea of decentralizing language, particularly in the human rights area. However, I'm a very strong believer that this, in some form, is essential.The country Canada should be modeling itself after in all kinds of ways is Switzerland. When you have a multilingual state, particularly one where, thankfully, the language groups are geographically divided, you cannot run language policy at the national level.This was Pierre Trudeau's great error. His idea was to social engineer a bilingual country from coast to coast. This has been a disaster economically. It's created all kinds of linguistic antagonisms in the country.So in some form or another, that's the route you have to go. A country like Canada will never have as strong a national identity as you do in the United States. You just have to accept that and get questions of ethnicity out of the national government. It's just a recipe for disaster otherwise.On the second question, I've written a long, long article with Dr. Flannigan at the University of Calgary on the evolution of the political right in Canada.Everybody knows that to have a stable national conservative force, you're going to have to have one political party. The split of the vote between the PCs and Reformers in Ontario is a severe problem. However, it's fundamental because it isn't just over the details of economic and social policy. This fundamental divide on the constitutional agenda isn't going to go away, as long as the Quebec question is just sitting there on the horizon, like a huge rain cloud.It's the division between the Whigs and the Republicans. It cannot be reconciled. One party is going to win out.My sense is that time is on the Reformers' side. The provincial government in Ontario is a Progressive Conservative government led by Premier Mike Harris, who's very conservative economically. And he has increasingly been distancing himself from the federal PC Party. He hasn't overtly supported Reform, but he is definitely not supporting the PC Party. In fact, there was just a news item today that apparently the federal PC leader has formally cut off communications with Mr. Harris.Ultimately if the crisis continues, Canadians are going to be asked which side they're on. And you're either on the side of these ethnic secessionists or you're against them. The Reform Party is against them. The other parties are somewhere in the middle. And Reform is not going to lose that contest in the long term, if that continues to be the battle.

December 11, 2005

Progress in Iraq by Iraqis

Reading through international news I came across this article, Saddam loyalists urge Sunnis to vote, on the Al-Jazeera website. Much like the headline states, many Sunni leaders are now promoting the upcoming Iraq election. After the last election, this past January, where a Sunni boycott left very little representation in the Iraqi government, Sunni leaders now want to be included so they are not left behind again. At the same time voting is being encouraged the Sunnis are also urging those that would try to disrupt the election to stay away and are also willing to provide their own security. Another major development is that many of leaders are also using a reverse-psychology campaign against the terrorist al-Zarqawi and his al-Qaida faction. They are beginning to put him on par with their traditional 'enemies' and their occupiers. "Zarqawi is an American, Israeli and Iranian agent who is trying to keep our country unstable so that the Sunnis will keep facing occupation," said a Baathist leader who would give his name only as Abu Abd Allah. According to the article, this change of position towards the election and other developments is providing some encouragement to those involved with Iraq.

December 10, 2005

Tories Learning to Bite Their Tongues

I was reading the Star this morning and came across this article: Tories shed historic language albatross. The article describes how the division of the Conservatives over Canada's bilingual rules is at an end. For some Tories it seems that this should have always been a non-issue because bilingualism was one of the "founding principles of the Progressive Conservatives". Yet for years, right up to the 2004 federal election, for members of all of Canada's conservative parties (Reform, PC, CPC) the bilingualism issue has not only divided them but also was a divisive issue with voters. This election, because of a recent change to the official party stance, it shouldn't be an issue. However, does this really mean that the Conservatives have changed their minds about bilingualism? Well, maybe yes and no. The CPC changing their stance on bilingualism could mean they have just conceded that bilingualism is a part of Canada. Bilingualism is obviously an issue that will not change in the foreseeable future. It is also an issue that has been used against them successfully for a number of years, including the election of 2004. So learning from their mistakes and accepting the inevitable, the CPC has decided their are better issues to focus their attention on. But herein lies the problem. Some may argue that I'm being over cynical or even paranoid. After all, I'm a left-leaning person and aren't we all predisposed to seeing conspiracies? However, after being through the Harris government in Ontario and both Chretien and Martin governments federally, wanting to see evidence beyond written statements on paper before declaring an issue true is a right all Canadians have earned. That is why I would argue that the Conservatives, as far as I can tell, are still the same party as they were in 2004 despite moving to a more moderate outlook, especially on an issue like bilingualism. I'm not making a claim that if the CPC were to get power that they would automatically overturn all the language laws in Canada. I just don't believe that their wouldn't be some CPC people, possibly enough even, to rehash the issue and make it a serious one at that. Just because the party has changed its outlook doesn't mean the members have and that this change and many others are nothing more than political moves to make the party look more moderate. '...privately, Conservatives acknowledge that the support came after the caucus was reminded by veteran Tory senators of the way the language issue had split the party in the past, to the benefit of the Liberals. "Don't do this to Stephen Harper," Senator Hugh Segal told the party caucus,"...Hugh Segal had an impact," a Conservative MP, who asked not to be identified, told the Star.' "Don't do this to Stephen Harper"... Don't do what? Follow your beliefs? Speak your mind on contentious issues during the election? Don't screw this one up? Maybe, all of the above. The point is, is that like any of the political parties, saying one thing doesn't mean you're not thinking about it and planning ways to address them in the event you gain control of the House. Political promises and platforms are no longer simple. Nothing in contemporary politics comes without a tagline and voters are now required to search for the fine print on every issue. ALW argued here that the CPC isn't that far-right of a party anymore because they no longer include issues such bilingualism, abortion, private healthcare and social spending reduction as major parts of their platform anymore. However, a major part of the CPC's support still comes from Western Canada, which means their base is still the same supporters that were there from 2004, and probably even from the Reform and Alliance days. According to Wikipedia, out of the 98 CPC members of the House only nine aren't trying for re-election. This is definitely not a major change of people and likely not a change in beliefs or opinions. To say that they have just accepted these issues and are now only focusing on winning the election is disingenuous on one hand and telling on the other. Now I could be wrong, but as I said, Canadians have earned the right to be skeptical. I think what the Tories are really doing is learning to bite their tongues, something the other parties, especially the Liberals, were better at in the past.

December 08, 2005

What Martin's Hand-Gun Ban Really Means...

Martin has announced that, if re-elected, he would ban hand-guns. The top question that seems to be floating around now is, 'what does that mean for Canada?'. Well, I have the answer: If Canada were to ban hand-guns, Canadians could no longer purchase hand-guns legally. That's it. This wouldn't prevent illegal purchases. It would probably prevent some gun related crime - very little - but not crime in general. This is where the problem lies if Martin wants to use crime prevention as justification to ban hand-guns. It's not concrete enough. The announcement is really along the lines of Harper's GST plan, political fluff. However, I do support the idea of banning hand-guns. Not because I think it will do anything for crime rates or anything like that. I just don't see the purpose of them being available to the general public. Beyond law enforcement and even competition use, there is no need for these guns. It's the same idea of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. What purpose do they serve in the general population? Basically, none. Get rid of the guns because of their lack of purpose. Boost law enforcement funding and tackle social poverty to deal with crime.

December 07, 2005

NDP + Electoral Reform = ?????

Two days ago, I posted about how electoral reform was a missing item from the major parties. I also said that I believed if the NDP were to introduce it as a platform piece, it would boost their number of votes. I still believe it will. And now the NDP have included electoral reform as part of an overall accountability package. I believe this to be the smartest thing the NDP can do and they should run with it as a major piece of policy. It is obvious the Liberals and the Conservatives wouldn't want this. The odds would be against them ever having a majority government again. Given the current state of public opinion towards either party - one is believed to be corrupt and the other can't get majority support despite that - electoral reform is probably the best thing that could happen to Canadian politics. Minority governments in Canada have often been very productive even if short-lived. Health-care, Canadian Pension Plan, Federal Student Loans, etc. are pieces of legislation that became part of Canadians' lives via minority governments. While they may also be unstable, this doesn't have to be the case. If minority governments were to become the norm within Canada, I have very little doubt that our parties would find ways to make it work. After all, we are Canadians and compromising is in our nature. (No, I don't consider that a weighted argument) So for now I'll be giving my vote to the NDP. As I announced in my last post, I was willing to give my vote to the party that would honestly make electoral reform a part of their platform. I also mused about the possibility of having to move to Quebec. I guess that won't happen though I'm wondering why I feel a small sense of disappointment about that... Oh, well. I do relish the idea of having continuous minority governments, as long as they don't turn out to be like Italy's.

December 05, 2005

Platforms so Far are All Disappointments (Where's the Electoral Reform?)

All of the parties so far have released some part of their platform. There is the Conservatives with day care and GST. The NDP have talked about the auto-industry. The Bloc has talked about what else…? Separation. And then there is the Liberals with... Have they really released anything beyond Ignatieff to the wolves? Even the Greens have offered little except the desire to be included.

So far, it has all been disappointing. The two platform pieces by the Conservatives are faulty and full of fluff. The NDP's has been insignificant in scope. The Bloc's is par for the course and the Liberal's is just static in the air. Oh, and Green who?

Whatever happened to originality, vision, innovation? Whatever happened to effective changes and policy, not just politicking? I realize I mention this issue a lot, but so far - I know it's still early – it has been a bunch of the same and nothing. It's disheartening really, especially for me. I left the Liberals for as much to join the NDP. And now they are essentially doing the same. What disappoints me more is that the NDP probably had a real chance to grow their numbers this time, coming off positive reviews for their work in the House. They could have thrown out some real ideas and got even more attention that is positive. But so far they have only squandered their opportunities.

The real change, and one I believe many people will respond to is electoral reform. It can't come from the Liberals (they broke that promise along with many others from the last election) or the Conservatives (perceived to be similarly deceptive) but as a matter of platform policy from the NDP. I think this idea would resonate as something serious, especially if the NDP said they would use this in bargaining with whoever has the minority position. I think this would draw more people to vote for the NDP.

I realize that the Green party has this as a part of their platform. The unfortunate side is that they are still not considered strong enough to get this implemented. And it can be contrived as just an argument of self-preservation. In other words, it's easy to argue for reform when you're not in control to gain attention, but that can ultimately change when you taste power for the first time. Electoral reform, I believe, needs to come from one of the major parties and one that people feel is somewhat honest. I think that leaves only the NDP. But they aren't proposing electoral reform, at least not yet. I think at this point, if a major party wants my vote, an honest policy of electoral reform will probably get it. Hmm, I wonder if I might have to move Quebec…

Leave the Bears Alone

No, the title is not a metaphor for anything to do with the election. The title is just matter-of-fact for this post. The Star has this article, Groups want bear hunt back, and I couldn't think of anything more ridiculous then the basis of the groups' argument.

The basic argument is that Ontario needs the return of the spring bear hunt because the bear population is supposedly moving further south. This has lead to an increase in bear and people encounters. There may be some truth in this matter but I would counter that two other factors are more likely to account for this issue.

First, since the spring bear count is cancelled it is possible - likely - that the bear population has grown somewhat. Since they cannot be killed (to use a loaded word) in the numbers they once were, offspring producing bear are more likely to live longer and thus breed more. It is much like fishing. My family has a cottage on Chandos Lake in the Kawarthas. At one time, this lake was being over-fished and the fish population was dwindling. For years now, it has been a conservation lake; the fishing seasons are shorter and ice fishing is all together banned. Because of these changes, the fish population, especially for the lake trout, has bounced back quite a lot. The same idea can probably be said about the bears. Though it is not certain, it is possible.

Second, over the last few years the number of people building cottages and homes, and traveling to the areas of the Muskokas and Kawarthas - Ontario's two main cottaging areas - has grown immensely. The evidence of this is the growth of the number of residences on lakes and the cost of property in these areas. My family's own cottage that was purchased in 1997 for just over $70,000, and has had only about $10,000 put into it since, is now estimated to be almost triple that price. And it's not so much the cottage itself but the property value that has skyrocketed due to the demand for cottage property. This indicates that there is a growing number of people traveling and moving to these regions. Being that these areas are also in the southern part of bear country it is likely that the increasing number of people encountering bears is due to there being more people in the areas. It's not so much the bears are expanding their territory, it's that we as people are expanding ours.

In reality though, neither of these reasons are reason enough to allow more hunting of bears or the return of the spring bear hunt. Hunting should not be used as method of population control. If hunting is to be considered a sport of necessity, then it should be done so by those that subsidize their diets and life styles through hunting bears. Reproduction is a natural function to all living things and to fault the bears because they are only doing what they are programmed to is not a substantial argument. To take this one-step further, how do we really know if a population is healthy? How do we decide if a population is too big? As I note below, the number of encounters with people is not substantial either. Since we never really know the actual population numbers unless they are countable on our digits, then deciding a bear population is too large is not possible. It's not any different when people believed the wolf and fox populations were too large and we were allowed to hunt them. The result is now an apparent lack of these animals in the wild. What we now believe is that their demises were a result of over hunting and human expansion. We cannot allow the same to be done to the bears.

Just the same, we cannot fault the bears for the actions of people. If people are willing to move into areas, knowing that there are bears present then the responsibility lies with those people. We cannot validate bear hunting because more people choose to place themselves in that situation. This is similar to the idea of American insurance companies not providing affordable insurance to people who choose to live in tornado alley. When moving into these areas, people know that it is likely they are going to encounter a tornado at some point. You cannot blame bears for the actions of people and ignorance is not a defence.

I'll admit I don't agree with bear hunting at all. This does not mean that hunting as a whole I disagree with. However, I have to come to this belief through encounters with hunters, not bears. The most recent is with a man I got to know this past summer. He, in his younger years (he's now in his mid-70's), was an avid hunter. According to him, he was willing to hunt everything. So one day he went out on a bear hunt and he was successful. It was the last time he ever hunted bears and he also spoke against it. According to him, bear hunting wasn't a sport at all. Unlike most game, bears are generally baited rather then hunted. You essentially set the bear up in an ambush rather then trying to call it and follow it. Furthermore, the bears are generally not afraid of you. Whereas a deer, rabbit, goose, etc. are likely to run or fly away at any sign of you, a bear is more likely to get defensive. What does a bear do when it's threatened? It stands up, making itself a bigger target. Hunting bears is not the same as hunting other game.

I would hope that the Ontario government does not reinstate the spring bear hunt, not that it there's any indication they will. There does not seem, to me at least, to be a substantial argument for its return. Most modern studies of animal populations argue, as I learned while doing environmental science at York University, that natural systems are top to bottom driven. That is the systems are kept in check and function most efficiently and effectively starting with the dominant animals. In Ontario, bears are considered a dominant animal.

December 03, 2005

My dream election outcome

This is more of a frivolous post expressing my dream outcome of the election; NDP Majority!!!

But I should be somewhat realistic I guess. Personally I would like to see only a minority government. At this point I think that a Conservative minority would be optimal with the NDP holding the balance.

In my own personal opinion it would serve several big purposes if this were the case. First, it would probably mean the end of Paul Martin's reign as Liberal leader. I won't deny that this is a scenario I have wanted to see since before it began. I was a member of the Liberals when it all took place and I was open about my opinion then.

Martin didn't have a real vision for the party, all he had was a tagline. All he and his followers ever said was 'Renewal'. He used this word to refer to party support, the party platform, the party itself, etc. However, it meant nothing. The party platform was only slightly better then the Conservatives', which is generally non-existent, and it was geared towards getting votes rather then setting out a real vision of change. After Martin took over everyone saw the renewal of the party first hand. He booted out or demoted the majority of people that were not supporters of his leadership. Many people saw candidates parachuted into their ridings over popular and supported candidates. Even general members, like myself, were treated with disdain for not being Martin supporters at social functions. And obviously the renewal of party support didn't happen seeing as Martin hasn't been able to buy votes like he was hoping. A Conservative minority would most likely mean the end of Martin's jaded and cynical run as party leader and hopefully a true visionary and refreshed leader will step in to take the reigns (though that doesn't mean I'd be willing to rejoin).

The second reason I would like to see a Conservative minority with the NDP holding the balance is that it would undermine the Conservatives. It is no secret that the CPC is much more right-wing then the PCs ever were. This is especially true concerning social issues. So how would its base feel if Harper and his goons were having to make compromises with the NDP just to hold onto power? Probably they wouldn't be very happy. The idea of the CPC having internal strife is a welcome one. Furthermore, especially on social issues, some of the former PC members that are still hanging around may actually agree with the NDP and that alone will be enough to widen the divisions of the party.

Thirdly, the minority status will allow Harper to hang around even longer without having any real power to cause damage. Harper will probably at some point expose himself, as will the other members of his party. It is then we will likely see the real extent of how far gone the real CPC is from mainstream Canada. In such an event it may be a long time before the public will truly ever want to see a far-right wing CPC in power. It will also spell the end of Harper who is just as jaded and cynical as Martin is.

Lastly, though this is more a derivative of all the above (and partially wishful thinking), with a Conservative minority and the fallout of such an event, the NDP will get a great deal more exposure. Hopefully, it is all positive. What this means is that it is possible that the NDP will get the publicity needed to be considered a true rival to both the Conservatives and especially the Liberals. That voting for the NDP will seem like a real alternative rather then the so-called indirect Conservative vote. The NDP gained a lot of good opinions when bargaining with the Liberals and the same may happen with them bargaining with the Conservatives. With any luck it will work out to give them more hope and more seats in the future.

And that's it... while this may seem all a bit crazy and far-fetched to some, its still my vision and my prediction!!

December 01, 2005

Early Thoughts on Harper and CPC Pledges

Harper calls for special prosecutor to watch gov't Harper wants to create a new position so that someone can go after crooked politicians and be completely non-partisan in the process. He cites that the current problem is that politicians deal with politicians and that leads to a problem of not enough impartiality. It's an interesting concept and one that I wouldn't oppose. However, let's consider how Harper wants to appoint this new federal prosecutor...

Harper said he would only appoint that official after consulting opposition parties In other words after 'consulting' the other parties he would then ignore anything he heard and appoint who he wanted? Or are we really to believe he wouldn't use any voting power he had in the House to appoint his very own crony? On the surface this sounds good, but in the end it is still just another political ploy and excuse to have a friend and ally on the public payroll. Tory tax cut promise dominates campaign day 3 Years ago when I believed in a little known party known as the Liberal Party of Canada, I once heard a promise to abolish the GST. 12 years later I'm still paying it on every little thing I purchase. Do I believe the Conservatives will reduce it like they promised? I do... just the first time though. What concerns me more is where are they going to make up the money they will no longer be receiving... probably through cuts to health care, the environment, education or another important social program. It's interesting however about how Harper is presenting this idea. He argues that the amount of money that the GST is brining in to the government has at least doubled since its introduction. Yet in the same breath he'll mention that the GST reduction is needed to kick start consumer confidence. Does anyone else see the conflict? If the GST income has doubled in the past decade then wouldn't that mean consumer spending is strong? Since GST is only placed on sales then a doubling of GST income would indicate stronger spending habits which also means there must be a strong economic situation in Canada. What also bothers me is being that the CPC are generally Neo-Conservatives, which in the present time also indicates small-minded, blind, number-fudging economists. If anyone in Ontario can recall the Neo-CONS under Harris definitely played some of this game. They borrowed money to make tax cuts (adding to our deficit), they sold money-making crown corporations (407) and lands to balance the budget and in the end they fudged numbers so they could continue to deceive Ontarians. All of this really was just so they could say they were cutting taxes and giving more of our own money back... but it came with a cost that Ontarians now have to deal with and has to some degree hand-cuffed our current government (this isn't an excuse for them). And while some people will say I shouldn't paint all neo-cons with the same brush my reply is simply that many of the same people float between provincial and federal parties so while I paint them here I guarantee they haven't cleaned themselves off when going up to the next level. A cut to the GST won't come without a cost to the public and the integrity of social system. A better plan is one that the Bloc has and hopefully soon the NDP will introduce and that is GST relief on items such as children's' clothing, books and other important and basic necessities. That would make more sense and be more useful for everyone.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)