December 23, 2008

Fleeting Curiousity on Senate Appointments

While most of the talk is focussed on 'senate reform' and 'patronage' - as it should be - or about whether or not Mike Duffy's appointment is a breach of ethics, I found something else curious.

It may be just a given but I haven't seen or heard too much on this subject. But in today's Vancouver Sun and yesterday at the Globe and Mail website there were specific comments about Wallin's and Duffy's appointments. Both papers made the comment that their appointments were made in part because of their objections to the coalition.

For many of the other people who were named this is a given but these two appointments were supposedly made because of their belief in senate reform regardless of their partisan views. Further to that, why does it really matter if any of these people sit specifically as 'Conservatives' if some were made outside of political affiliation? This is something both Wallin and Duffy, and others have agreed to do.

Many questions, indeed, surround this entire episode.

-- Sent from my mobile device

December 05, 2008

The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

The title of this post is a quote from Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the study and implementation of leadership. I used this quote as recognition of what my extremely intelligent and insightful wife had told me two nights ago; "expect status quo."

So what did she mean by this exactly? It's the underlying theme of the past, present and future of this current episode in Canadian politics. It perfectly describes the catalyst and the successive events, the prorogation and what we should expect going forward.

The catalyst was 'status quo' in the sense that is was more of the same hyper-partisan political gamesmanship. Harper and the Conservatives have shown that in almost all things they attempt they look to further erode many of the balances between parties, people and groups. Rather than govern for the good of all and in an accountable manner, they would rather divide, distort and deceive.

The catalyst of this parliamentary showdown was a combination of all these things. They made an attack on workers' rights and women's equity. Then in an attempt to distract from these issues they went after political party subsidies so they could either take their opponents out at the knees or use this as a theme in the event the opposition fought back. Their intent wasn't one based on economic concern or something equally just. Their intent was to use a crisis to justify some of their more extreme parts of their ideological and partisan proposals. These are ideas that are really attacks on democracy and that I have been referring to as 'vicious'.

What followed was much more of the same. The Coalition was deemed unconstitutional, undemocratic, and unpatriotic. Meanwhile, evidence of hypocrisy and opportunism were presented, verbal barrages against Quebecers' opinions were made and their was fleeing from the mandate set out by Canadians. All of this so Harper could appeal to the worst side of nationalism. Divide, distort and deceive.

The granting of the prorogation is status quo in the sense that our Governor General, right or wrong, played to the image of the figurative character. Arguably, too afraid to fulfill her duties as the "guarantor of responsible government" she allowed the lack of requirement of her position to influence her decision. Our Governor General, typically, is unnecessary. Most governments act responsibly in a general sense and put importance on governing and progress.

Mostly, Canadians have elected majority governments, which eliminates many gray areas within parliament. Therefore, it's easy to go decades - if not generations - without a significant requirement of the Governor General (as it should be). However, this lack of requirement has allowed for the entrenchment of the image of the antiquated and figurative role. No real lasting decision has been made by a Governor General in some time but that shouldn't mean a removed opinion from a constitutional or parliamentary debate has little value or shouldn't be weighed. This is especially true in times of minority governments where the mandate is one of compromise and consensus and an impartial mediator is warranted. Michaƫlle Jean went with status quo and we now enter a period of just the same.

The immediate future is fairly predictable at this point. Since parliament is not sitting, little progress will be made. With the granting of prorogation, our government is essentially paralyzed. No ideas will be voted on, the mandate of the people will not be fulfilled, and in the event some sector or institution should suddenly take a turn for the worse no action can be made to counter it. It's not as though Canada's government, for many years (not just the last 2.5 or so), has actually made many major decisions or worked to solve some of our greatest challenges (poverty, health care, etc.) anyway. So not responding to a crisis or an unexpected (though all too predictable) occurrence is pretty much par for the course in contemporary terms.

Even in regards to what we should expect from our current batch of parties and leaders is pretty much the same. Harper will sound conciliatory and compromising but will act just the opposite. And we'll likely see more election-like campaign leading up to the Conservative budget. A budget that rejects much of what the majority opposition proposes and is interlaced with wonderful red herrings to distract us from the more vicious ideological and partisan inclusions. I also don't expect much more from the opposition leaders than what we've already seen.

Expect 'status quo'. And my wife, after all, was right.

Why Bennis' quote as the title? Because in the end it all comes down to leadership. Last night I had the opportunity to see John Ralston Saul do a speaking engagement at the University of Toronto. He's on tour to promote his latest book, A Fair Country. He spoke mostly to the themes and the more interesting aspects of his latest offering - this included the idea that Canada has become a nation led by 'functioning elites'. These elites have become addicted to complacency. They've lost the art of and the necessity of negotiation to develop answers but rely upon complex analysis when the solution is generally simple. They've become wrapped up in action that leads to nothing when a decisive response is required. And ultimately they begin to speak in a language that differs from that of the challenge that they face and this renders all else ineffective because communication becomes impossible.

John Ralston Saul was speaking in terms of Canadian history and identity - it wasn't supposed to be a critique of the current showdown in parliament. However, this showdown and all of what I've been describing as status quo is essentially a physical and political manifestation of his argument. Whether it's the fear of making a lasting decision, proposing a significant solution, spending time in constant argument and deliberation, battling ideologies - all of which can be applied to what we've just witnessed - our government is addicted to complacency; to the status quo. Leadership, real leadership, is something of the past and has been replaced with managerialism in some cases, something less and worse in others. Most of our current challenges were predictable and/or avoidable. But complacency and the lack of grasping the bigger picture has brought us to a situation where little is accomplished and ultimately, the disagreements we have are over items of little significance.

And for what is the first and likely only time in my life, I'm agreeing with Ronald Regan when he said, "Status quo, you know, that is Latin for the mess we're in."

December 02, 2008

A Retooled Reflection on the Liberal-NDP Coalition and Parliament

I want to take a moment to slightly change an outlook and further develop my view on the Coalition. Don't mistake any of this as a change of heart about this - Harper went too far and can no longer be trusted on this issue or any other, we know where his intentions truly lie. However, the Coalition needs to be smart and it needs to fulfill the mandate of the election.

I don't buy into the whole notion that Harper was elected as Prime Minister- he wasn't. Too many polls during the election indicated that Canadians disliked Harper as much as any other leader, but that the supposed "steady as she goes" policies and Dion's lacking attributed to the final results. Furthermore, we do not directly elect our Prime Minister. I also don't buy that the Conservatives won the election - they didn't. Yes, they came out ahead in the end but they still only managed a minority government. In other words, the mandate that the Conservatives were handed was essentially to be at the helm of a compromise and consensus government. Harper ignored that mandate and I believe that someone else now deserves to carry that mandate.

That can happen in one of two ways. The first, which is where I am slightly backtracking, is that the Harper can show his apparent sense of remorse for being viciously ideological and partisan by making a changing of the guard. Those that were responsible for making this play (Flaherty, Giorno et al.) are removed from their positions. Harper must also publicly admit his role in making this mistake and provide an honest reflection (and possibly, but not necessarily, step down as Prime Minister and Conservative leader). Furthermore, he should reach out to the opposition and provide them a number of senior and significant roles within the cabinet. Harper will then include the opposition within all developments of and make public as soon as possible the details of the coordinated economic plan to deal with the situation. It must be done in full view of the public so that no backroom or underhanded tactics can unfold. Canadians wanted leadership and consensus to deal with the current crisis and this I feel this would achieve both.

The second method is that the Coalition takes power at the first opportunity. They then take on the mandate of a compromise and consensus government. They stick to the original agreement of shrinking the cabinet and appointing six NDP cabinet members and with six secretaries. With the last eighteen positions they will find a suitable role for a number of Conservative MPs to also be apart of this cabinet. All cabinet positions must be given to elected members of the Parliament. The idea of this Coalition is to force the mandate of multi-partisan government that was given by Canadians and therefore must also include Conservative members for this to be honoured. This cabinet cannot include non-elected members (just in case there is any truth to the Elizabeth May rumour). Again, all developments should be done under public scrutiny in order to avoid power plays or any means of trying to undermine the process - possibly through the use of an extended formal agreement. Now is not the time for further partisan gamesmanship but a renewed focus on the situation at hand.

This government needs to work and it needs to be working now. Canadians need to feel as though this entire situation can lead to something better. So far it has only made many Canadians feel much more cynical towards our politicians. There is a lot of tension and bad blood between all the parties. However, if the Bloc is able to officially put aside separatism and the Liberals are able to put aside their disgust for the Bloc and work towards a common, positive goal, then I see no reason why this Coalition cannot put their legitimate distrust for Harper and certain members of the Conservatives, and vice-versa, to also work towards dealing with this issue. The latest election did not provide any one party the mandate to govern as they wish. And while the Conservatives definitely tried, in a way that was beyond unethical and undemocratic, there is still time to get the government back on track and focused on the economic issues.

To be perfectly honest, I don't see Harper opting for being a leader in this. I don't know if he is actually capable of admitting his mistakes, seeing past his hyper-partisanship, preference for political gamesmanship over governing, and getting over his grudges. And therefore, I believe the best possible situation for Canada, at this moment, is the Coalition taking power and including, within the framework of an official agreement, members of the Conservatives.

December 01, 2008

On the Latest Conservative Talking Point and Leadership Issues

Conservative Talking Point: After flipping back and forth between CTV Newsnet and CBC Newsworld, it has become clear the Conservatives are going to indirectly accuse the Coalition as sell-outs to the Bloc Quebecois. All they've been saying is, "what did it cost to get the Bloc onside?"

The fact of the matter is that Quebec isn't isolated from Canada and vice-versa. What's going on in Quebec will have an impact on Canada to some degree, however, if Canada isn't healthy it's guaranteed that Quebec isn't either. Gilles Duceppe knows this and so does every other separatist. At this point, as Canada goes so does Quebec. If there is going to be a recovery, coast to coast, it is going to take all provinces, territories and regions working together.

Yes, Duceppe is a separatist running a separatist party. However, Duceppe's main job as head of the BQ, at this point in time, is to make sure Quebec's interests are listened to and addressed. Separatism is a low priority amongst Quebecers. Just ask Marois or Dumont - who have essentially dropped talk about separation. It is in Quebec's interest, who is mainly represented by the BQ, to be involved in and benefit from a Coalition that is looking to make economic progress.

I would also argue that since the BQ, in its current incarnation, is really nothing more than a regional representative - either by necessity or by concession - other Canadian regions will also benefit from BQ's involvement. The Coalition will specifically look to create equity between regions - whatever Duceppe asks for other regions will receive something comparable and/or equitable. The one thing this Coalition will try to do is alienate the West and this is one way to do it.

Let's not forget Dion's role in the Clarity Act and how much Duceppe detests it. And likewise, there is no love for Duceppe from Dion. These two men have had to put a lot aside to be able to work together for at least eighteen months. But the one thing Dion would NEVER do is make any concessions that would strengthen the separatist cause. Dion also knows the risks - and there are many, politically and federally - to working on the same side as the BQ. Neither Dion or Layton would have went into this without heavy consultation and a little on the defensive. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous.

And since we're talking about Dion...

Liberal/Coalition Leadership: I wouldn't necessarily disagree with the argument that Dion was rejected by voters. Not all voters mind you, but there is some indication that Liberal voters stayed home and that is enough to pay attention to this argument. What I think people should keep in mind is that under this Coalition it doesn't really matter who is Prime Minister. Why? Because it is a Coalition brought together under a common focus through concession and compromise (something Harper didn't attempt).

The decisions under this Coalition are being made through a group/team effort. That means the Prime Minister won't be the main or sole idea producer who is relying on his team to hash out details. Rather, the ideas are being developed in another format where one person cannot overrule the others. To try to do so would be political suicide and in violation of the agreement that was signed. This is also why when the new Liberal leader is chosen in May, the transition into the Prime Minister position will likely be smooth and have little (if any) effect on the operations of the government.

This does mean that the eventual new leader/Prime Minister, at least in the beginning, will not have the same privy afforded to them that Chretien had during his days as PM. They will, however, be front and centre of a functioning and progressive government working towards the betterment of all Canadians.

The Coalition Already has Proposed More and More Anonymous Liberal Sources

Coaltion Progress: This whole coalition thing has really taken off. If the Conservatives actually have some ideas they should probably begin talking about them immediately. If these reports are true, it shows that the opposition parties are extremely serious about going forward with the coalition in an attempt to deal with the economic crisis. For the Conservatives to do anything (e.g. ask for a prorogue, further delay confidence motions, etc.) but put out a real economic plan, that can take effect ASAP would be tantamount to admitting they either have not the willingness to do what's necessary and what Canadians have asked of them or they are devoid of any ideas of how to deal with the current situation. Unless an actual plan is immediately put forward the Conservatives will be admitting that they are incapable of governing and the proposed coalition would be necessary.

Update @ 11:38am: CBC Newsworld is reporting that the coalition has already developed a economic plan and will possibly be making it public shortly. I'll add a link when one comes available.

Ivison on Ignatieff: In regards to John Ivison's posts that keep popping up - one that mentions Ignatieff is not in agreement with the coalition and another that Ignatieff is going to be appointed leader - over at the National Post, let's keep in mind he's quoting the ever popular anonymous Liberal source. My own anonymous party contacts have told me Ivison is either writing a bunch of garbage and attaching the source tag to make it sound legit or he's talking to someone outside of Ignatieff's camp that doesn't have access to details. Booya! There you go! Anonymous Liberal sources for all is what I believe. Everyone should have one so they can print random, inane quotes on any topic with any slant they like. I wonder if I can ask my anonymous computer programmer friends to develop some type of bot that would just randomly produce anonymous Liberal insights?

Check out these links for more on Ivison and his posts:

Updated @ 4:29pm: Proof-positive that Ivison is wrong...

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)