November 30, 2008

It's Time For, "Who's Playing Politics and Who's Trying to Govern?"

One of these two are playing politics and another is trying to govern and lead Canada through harsh economic times. Can you guess which is doing what?


Recently while in Peru meeting with other international leaders, Stephen Harper, Prime Manager of Canada, talked openly about the need to implement a plan that would create fiscal stimulus, protect jobs and workers' pensions. These measures would be comparable to other industrial nations' plans. Upon his return to Canada, the Conservatives proposed their 'Ways and Means' fiscal update that presented ideological and partisan proposals. These proposals offered little for the economy but much to their base support. The proposals were meant to subvert workers' rights, women's equality, and the finances of the opposition parties but framed them as necessary in a time of economic crisis. It was also proposed to sell of Crown assets in an attempt to artificially and temporarily balance future budgets. When the opposition did their job and held the Conservatives accountable, the governing party balked and has now begun crying foul even though Stephen Harper supported similar actions when he was in opposition. Furthermore, in a complete act of desperation the Conservatives unethically (and possibly, illegally)taped at least one NDP caucus meeting and released it to the media with completely inane and hypocritical talking points attached. Lastly, to boot, the Conservatives have considered shutting down parliament in order to avoid having to deal with the concerns of the opposition and Canadians over the economy.

Opposition Parties (Liberals, NDP, Bloc Quebecois):

The opposition have remembered that they are the majority. Combined they hold more elected seats and received more votes than the Conservatives. In the face of a brutally poor proposal that didn't address the economic crisis or the needs of Canadians, the opposition got together and have begun the process of hashing out a coalition. This coalition would see, at least in the near future, the opposition parties drop partisan agendas and past arguments to work together and attempt to put out a meaningful plan that would aid Canadians and help alleviate some of the impact of this crisis.

November 29, 2008

For Harper, the Corruption of Power (or the Want of it) is Absolute

Politics - Ideology - Power

For Harper, only those three things hold any interest. The recent fiscal update/mini-budget proposal thingy exposed that. Harper and Flaherty proposed to bankrupt the opposition parties, override any recent and ongoing contract negotiations with federal civil service employees while taking away their right to strike, and didn't propose any measures to help stimulate the economy. Harper's ideology, joy of political games, and want of power has put him into a position where he confuses management with leadership, has a narrow vision of Canada and has no idea how to actually govern (even if he wanted to, which he doesn't). And this is more painfully obvious than ever.

The way I see, Harper believed he would get the best of the opposition by trying put them into a corner. He proposed a completely unreasonable and undemocratic budget with the subsidy-removal proposal (a red herring) in hopes of being able to paint the opposition parties as only self-interested if or when they voted against it. He would then go into an election with a money advantage and a nice little theme too boot. Or maybe at least one party would support it to avoid an election and in the end the opposition parties would be technically broke for quite some time.

Unfortunately for Harper, the opposition focused on the lack of stimulus and the public didn't seem to buy his red herring, either. The opposition began openly talking about a coalition and I think Harper got somewhat concerned. So this morning the Conservatives removed the subsidy-removal piece - claimed it was in there by accident - and waited for talks of a coalition to fade away, get the support of at least one opposition party, and still claim the opposition were only interested in themselves when the economic update passed.

Unfortunately for Harper, the opposition only seemed more determined to form a coalition. This was made clear with the Liberals preparing to make a non-confidence motion this coming Monday. Now suddenly Harper is scrambling to figure out where he went wrong. I think it's pretty obvious that Harper didn't plan for this outcome. He must have believed that somewhere along the way at least one of the opposition would have faltered. But they didn't. And now Harper's only response is, "I need more time." He underestimated the resolve of the opposition parties to see something done about the economy - likely a plan that somewhat follows the lead of every other western nation and the advice of respected economists - and now he's unsure as to what to do.

Out of his three interests, one holds a great more sway than the other two; power. His breaking of his own fixed-date legislation, breaking election financing laws and so forth, attest to this. So Harper and Flaherty put out their economic update chock-full of ideological and political postures hoping to use the economic crisis as justification. Ultimately though it was about getting more power - through bankrupting the opposition or holding another election with a stronger financial position and newly minted theme. Harper has never been this close to a majority before and he wants it so much and so he seems willing to do whatever it takes.

When this didn't work out and Harper saw that he might lose power, he balked. There is no way he is just going to hand over power. Harper knows he's on a tight leash with his base. He hasn't been able to win a majority through three elections. The last election especially hurt him. In spit of pandering to Quebec and other groups, playing the role of moderate centrist, wasting $300m in the face of a deficit, etc. It didn't pay off and he's still stuck not being able to fulfill the wishes of those that have been waiting for ages for an opportunity to inflict the rest of Canada. Since he hasn't been able to get the right to the promised land, he's been relying on little bits of ideology and politics to keep himself propped up. These will only get you so far, however. For him to simply pass power over to the opposition would likely be his proverbial death knell as leader of the Conservatives.

Harper, like some have speculated, may have considered passing power to the opposition to let the economic crisis take them down rather than him. However, there are too many risk factors involved with this. For example, what happens if all the stimulus pumped out by other nations has a positive effect? Then the opposition parties will get credit. What if the coalition proposes a package combined with new regulations and jobs are saved and Canada shows some strength? Then the opposition gets credit. What if the opposition does their due diligence and hires independent audits of the government's budget? Well, just take a trip back to Ontario, 2003? What if...? What if...? And therein lies the problem for Harper. Giving up power is likely too much for him but the prospect of never getting it back? Well, maybe if Hell froze over, but even then...

As for what Harper is going to do now? I'm not certain. Maybe he will take the risk of letting the opposition coalition get buried by the economic crisis, though I seriously doubt it. Will he make a considered and reasonable proposal to deal with the economic situation? I doubt that as well. Being on short leash may let you speak like a Keynesian convert but it doesn't mean you actually get to act like one without some repercussions. I suspect they've delayed the idea of using a stimulus package until it's absolutely necessary in hopes that Canada will reap the benefits of other countries'. They want to play the role of bench warmer in this situation. So while the US, England, Germany and others are out on the field sacrificing themselves to win the title, Canada still gets the championship ring for just being on the team. No work, but all the glory. And with that in mind, I figure that Harper and his crew are going to use the extra week to come up with some proposal ideas that look like something but amount to doing little or nothing (i.e. The Clean Air Act). That way they can look the part of concerned and active government but still hold face with their base support. And in the end, Canada is still left devoid of a governing party with any vision or leadership when it comes to governing.

November 25, 2008

Michael Ignatieff, Liberal Leader

I figure it's time that I throw my support behind one of the Liberal leadership candidates. Can anyone guess who it's going to be? Well if you read the heading and then applied some form of reason, you would be correct; I'm backing Michael Ignatieff.

This wasn't an easy decision for me. In the past I have looked at Ignatieff as an outsider who was brought in by party insiders with the sole purpose of taking over. He was to be a pawn. His speeches back in '06 made me cringe because he seemed to say a lot of the right things (despite a few gaffes) without any genuine understanding of what the party truly needed. In many ways he and his campaign very much reminded me of Paul Martin when he was running for leadership and during his two elections - and trust me, I haven't ever been a fan of Paul Martin (even to the point I once mused at the prospect of him being trounced at the polls so he would be removed as leader). There was a lot of rhetoric from Ignatieff, as there was with Martin, but nothing substantial to back it up. And with all of this tagged onto Ignatieff, he obviously didn't represent the next generation of Liberals, the Liberals that are looking for relevance to their views and lives.

However, I have always had some admiration for Ignatieff. During my undergraduate years at Waterloo, I had the opportunity to see him speak on human rights and I was extremely impressed. I then read his book "The Rights Revolution" and was impressed even more. Both of these accounts presented a man with passion, belief and understanding. These exposed him as someone that envisioned something greater for the world. In those moments he was a leader with a vision. So when he came back home and was propped-up as the next leader and spoke without any of those things, I wondered what had happened to the person I admired just a few years earlier?

No one is perfect and between those two periods of time Ignatieff had made some mistakes of sort, such as supporting the war on Iraq. He has been called on them over and over, and somewhat brow-beaten over some of these mistakes. And from that maybe his saying all the right things and acting the right way was an attempt to avoid providing more material to his critics. Don't take this as my attempt of creating an excuse for the man. If anything it's another shot. One thing I believe leaders need to be able to do is to reflect on their mistakes, admit when they were wrong and correct themselves. They need to be able to continually learn and evolve. And this is something Ignatieff has begun to do.

The last few times I have seen Ignatieff speak, both in person and through the media, I have seen a return to the passionate academic I admired. Along with it has come a renewed sense of confidence that has allowed him to admit his mistakes and genuinely learn from them. He no longer is the pawn to a group of Liberal insiders as he has come into his own as a politician on his own terms. He truly is showing his leadership qualities, beginning with honest attempts at party unity. Already he has shown the ability to unite Liberals along the left/right divide, and from the old Martin/Chretien sides. He represents an honest return to (small-l) liberal ideals and along with it a return to the political centre.

For the next few years the Liberal Party has a lot of rebuilding to do. It has to reconnect with grassroot members and re-prove its relevancy to ordinary Canadians. It has to change the way it develops policy and fundraise. It needs to re-establish itself as the 'big tent' party that balances the needs and concerns of all Canadians, not just central Canada or urban Canada. It needs to make a generational transition. Will Ignatieff be able to do all these things? I don't know. The task is so large it may take more time than one leader has to do it all. However, I do believe that Ignatieff understands how daunting the task is and is willing to begin the process of renewal. And at the same time I believe he is our best option to stand-up for Canada against the focus on power and ideology of Harper and the Conservatives. Ignatieff has proved he can do this during the last few years as Deputy Leader within the House.

Do I think Ignatieff is the saviour of the party as many seem to believe we need? No. But then again, I think a saviour is the last thing we need right now. An omnipotent leader would make us forget about all that is broken within the party and when that leader faded away we would still be left dealing with the mess of pieces. What we need is someone that can competently fill the gap between the present and the next generation. Ignatieff does this. While I think Dominic LeBlanc is qualified, he is better suited to be that next generation leader at this point and with some more experience he will be well positioned to be just that. Bob Rae is more than qualified and competent to be the Liberal leader he does come with 'baggage' (as cliche as that has become). If Rae were chosen I still believe the Liberal Party could succeed but it would come at a greater cost of resources, finances and time. All of which the party has little of these days. Ignatieff has a lifetime of varying experiences and without being a life-long politician and therefore comes much more baggage-free. Ignatieff will make an amazing leader combining world experiences, academic knowledge, journalistic curiousity, etc. He is displaying qualities that no other leader in Canadian politics has. He still is that outsider but that is exactly what we need right now.

And with that I am officially endorsing Michael Ignatieff for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

November 14, 2008

Harper Preaches "Be pragmatic, not ideological" and Exposes Himself

...and why would that be, Mr. Harper?

If you have to ask your supporters, caucus or whomever to put aside ideology in tough times, that should indicate a problem. Either the ideology is 'too scary' and not likely going to be acceptable to the general public. Or the ideology doesn't work. In this case it's one of those 'a little from column A and a little from column B' scenarios.

The problem with column A is that the right-wing ideology isn't acceptable to the majority of Canadians. There's a reason why Harper still can't win a majority despite the Liberals pushing a good plan at the wrong time and having one of their weakest showings ever. Voters would rather not vote at all than vote for Harper. And with Harper's only focus being the elusive majority, he needs a more pragmatic, faux-centrist appearance to get it. Unfortunately, these people looking for the hard, right turn have been waiting very patiently to get their way. They handed the reigns to Harper to lead them to the promised land where they could ravage social and economic policies, but he has yet to deliver. That doesn't mean the faithful are willing to wait any longer.

The problem with column B is that it is partially the fault of the right-wing ideology that the world is in the economic crisis in the first place. However, there are still those - many that support the Conservatives - that still cling to the pure free market, libertarian (neo- or not), Chicago-school or Calgary-school ideologies that pose a risk to stability. Harper is one of them. Leading up to, during and even shortly afterward, Harper still clung to those right-wing views. Not until other nations realized they had no choice but to switch gears did Harper follow suit and now is singing a different tune. How could he, while every other right-wing government around the globe had to concede defeat still push the agenda? He couldn't. To do so would have seen him look like the strange loner as there is also the pressure of image weighing on him. The last thing he doesn't want to be seen as is the Prime Minister that oversaw the loss of millions of jobs and entire industries by sticking to his guns while everyone else attempted to save them.

Therein lays the real Harper. Out of both columns A and B, the common denominator is image or electability. Since he is in a minority situation, Harper is all about looking good in hopes he can one day capture his desired majority. He preaches pragmatism for no other reason than to make himself more appealing. This isn't a man with real concerns about the situation or the average Canadian. This is about a man with a vision of a more conservative Canada that has greater appeal to him and those around him. This is ultimately about creating his vision of Canada, not accepting Canada as it is. To do get there he needs to win more seats, he needs more power. And so, he puts on his centrist mask, begs for more time from his core and preaches about pragmatism over ideology - for now.

Flaherty Must Be Getting Dizzy From All His Turning Around

What it all really comes down to is that Flaherty really isn't qualified for the job of Minister of Finance. The biggest issue is that he's a politician first and foremost. He's a politician that also happens to have some knowledge of financing - too bad knowing isn't the same as understanding. But who am I to say anything? I'm not an economist or an accountant. Though I do understand the poor economics of rushing to cut the GST rather than cutting income taxes. I also understand his reasoning and solution, for breaking his promise on taxing income trusts, was flawed and so forth.

When Flaherty starts talking about his 'plans', I just cringe. Selling off items such as the CN Tower is a short term fix that is tantamount to Harris (with Flaherty) selling off the 407. It's a short-term political posture that has no benefit in the long term. There's nothing to gain except Flaherty being able to say he balanced the budget - this year. Which is the point, for him.

This is why he's spinning around like a top with his comments. Though that also seems to be a problem with him since he seems to like blurting out comments without thinking. Which really means he's just as poor at being a politician.


Flaherty on running a deficit (Oct.08/08):

In responding to the worsening global financial crisis that has slowed economic growth in Canada and elsewhere, “we'll do what we have to do, so long as we remain economically prudent. We're sure not going to run a deficit ... We will maintain a surplus in Canada and we will continue to pay down debt.”

Asked if running even a small deficit would be bad in these difficult times, Mr. Flaherty said flatly: “Yes, it would be.”

Flaherty on running a deficit (Oct.22/08):
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is leaving the door open to the possibility that the Conservative government could run a budget deficit in future years as a result of the current economic crunch...But in an interview with CBC-TV yesterday, Flaherty was less certain about balancing the budget in the 2009-10 fiscal year or thereafter.


Flaherty on reaching a balanced budget (Oct.29/08):

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the federal government will do what it can in this challenging economic time to keep the budget balanced, but it won't do so at any price.

"We're not going to engineer a surplus on the backs of Canadian families and Canadian businesses for the sake of being able to say we have a surplus," Flaherty told CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live on Wednesday.

Flaherty on reaching a balanced budget (Nov.13/08):
The federal government is looking to sell capital assets to help balance the books, a sale that could include the CN Tower, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said today.

November 06, 2008

Optimism - the Deciding Factor in Obama's Historic Win

The concept that people only vote these days 'against' something rather than 'for' has become rather cliché. The three most recent Canadian federal elections were apparently all won by those who weren't what voters were running from. The same argument has been applied to several of the more recent provincial elections. This isn't to say that there isn't merit in these claims as I've even been known to toss it out there. However, I have my serious doubts that it has become the norm as so many bloggers, pundits and other politicos would make it appear to seem.

For me, the first evidence of this is Obama's historic win this past Tuesday. While so many have talked about this being a win based on the anti-Bush vote, I believe it was a win based on the change and optimism that Obama represents.

Why did I emphasize 'optimism'? Because that is what really separated Obama from McCain. Both of these candidates represented change. Obama represented greater change but McCain really is the Republican maverick who often did things his own way and without the blessing of his party. McCain would have surely run the government differently from Bush Jr.

With Obama's focus on optimism, unity and hope, American's were provided with a message that has been lacking for almost a decade and they voted for that as much as they voted for change and/or voting against the legacy of the Bush/Cheney Republicans. Though it does go beyond this as well. As Obama had to overcome the racial barriers that still exist in America.

Leading up to election day, Obama was touted as having anywhere from an 8-15 point lead in the polls and yet, he only won by 4 points in the popular vote. This in part can be attributed to those Americans that will pledge support for an ethnic candidate in public but in private do the opposite. As well, identity politics is alive and well in the US and this wouldn't be possible or it wouldn't matter if those barriers didn't exist.

I am always blown away by how many 'groups' the campaigns focus on in the US. During election night I heard about Hispanics and sub-groups such non-Cuban Hispanics and Cuban Hispanics within Florida or elsewhere, working-class whites, middle-class whites, middle-class females, African Americans and all of its sub-groups, etc. Canadian political analysis usually focuses on males, females, French, Anglophone, urban, rural, etc. Race is hardly at hand whereas race seemingly makes up the majority of groups identified within the US. And this is because the barriers between races are still ever-present.

Let's not also forget that Obama had to win the support with those that don't share his views. Obama supports civil unions for LGBTs, a partial firearm ban, stem-cell research, etc. These and other positions that he holds aren't very popular with many of the groups that supported him. However, Obama was able to overcome these differences of opinion and still gain support of the people.

For Obama to be able to achieve his historic win he had to be much more than just a candidate for change. As McCain himself represented change as well. If it wasn't for McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate, this race would likely have been much closer (though I still think Obama could have pulled it off). With the economy in bad shape, Iraq going poorly, and so forth, things were up for grabs and change was what people were after and both candidates offered. However, McCain makes this difficult for Obama because he has credibility that crosses party lines.

However, Obama also offers hope and unity. He offers optimism. His campaign focuses on these themes just as much as he does change. McCain on the other hand, knowing he needs all the support he can get, chooses the socially conservative Palin to guarantee he gets the far-right votes of the republican base. Palin also serves as another potentially historic (first female vice-president) and generational-shift candidate, the things that Obama himself represent. Instead, McCain's selection of Palin was really a cynical, political move and takes some of his 'change' credibility away. Worse than that, Palin's views are intricately woven with the type of positions that Bush Jr. and Co. have been championing for the last eight years. The type of views that is now synonymous with fear, division and distrust. And thus, Americans were left with a choice between change (McCain) or change-plus (Obama). We now know the outcome.

Obama's win wasn't won simply by not being Bush Jr., there was too much for him to overcome if that were the case. If it were only change that American's were looking, McCain offered that as well. American's wanted something to look forward to. For too long they have been told to be afraid of everything and everyone around them. They have their own concerns these days, they shouldn't have to worry that their government is adding to that pressure. While McCain offered a change in approach to almost all facets of America, Obama went further. And so Americans voted for optimism - the premise of Obama's campaign - and what allowed him to overcome so much, whether it be race, difference of social view, age, party, and achieve his historic win.

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)