"A Citizen"s Eye View"

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The "Teflon Don"

I don’t know what amazes me more, the fact that the party that supposedly represents the right-minded thinkers in Canada can’t seem to do any wrong, or that the Canadian voting public seems to buy into this myth at every turn.

Recent history I think, serves as a more than an adequate example of what I mean. Throughout the course of the summer, a number of senior civil servants who have openly disagreed with the policies of the ruling Conservative party have been handed their walking papers. Of course, in Ottawa these days, this is the “top down” method of management. It starts with the Prime Minister who insists on complete control of every facet of the government. And he controls with an iron fist. Even among the elected officials within his own party, his rule of thumb seems to be “my way or the highway”. So because this is the method of leadership espoused by the P.M., his Ministers and minions operate the same way. Any and all dissenting voices are summarily squashed.  

It doesn’t seem to matter if the senior official is a Liberal or a Conservative appointee. The Veteran’s Ombudsman, Pat Stogran was appointed by the Harper Government but because he is doing his job and doing it well, which makes the right-siders look bad, he is relieved of command. And the dissenting corpses pile up like cordwood this summer.  The fractured left raises the hue and cry at every turn, but because the lot of them can’t even agree on what day it is, The Iron Fisted men who claim the land to the right of centre, literally go unchallenged, even with a minority government.  

And the most mind boggling thing about all of this is the reaction of the Canadian voters, the people like you and me. At the beginning of the summer, the Harper led Conservatives were ahead of the Liberals by little more than a percentage point, both hovering at about 30%. But since all of this house cleaning of the Canadian Civil Service, The Conservatives now have a full 5 point lead according to the most recent poll conducted by EKOS. And my initial response to this was of course, “What the….”!!

Now before I proceed any farther here, I’d like to remind you all of the relative naïveté I had regarding Canadian politics for years and years. I mentioned this affliction in both of my first two posts. So I can’t really say if there has or hasn’t been a comparable rule of Government in Ottawa for the last 100 years or so, though I think that Quebecers may point to the Conservative government led by Robert Borden in 1917 who enacted Conscription as a means of filling up those horrific trenches in Europe that were being brutally emptied faster than volunteers could replenish them.

There is a distinct Canadian ethic about playing by the rules. It has been ingrained in our collective psyche that, how the game is played is more important than the outcome. That being seen as being honorable as well as tenacious is as much a Canadian characteristic as our penchant for saying “eh”. But more and more, the rules to the game of politics are being so bent and twisted that the democratic legitimacy of our Governments actions are genuinely in question. To create an illustrative analogy, if Politics were hockey, the Harper led Conservatives would be the Chiefs from the movie Slap shot, only not as friendly.

Yes, Canadian citizens and media cry foul repeatedly each time the Government  executes one of it’s heavy handed maneuvers. They slip a little in the polls, but inevitably, it appears that these indiscretions are soon forgotten and, dare I say forgiven, as if nothing seems to “stick” to Mr. Harper, reminiscent of the “Teflon Don” of Mafia fame. And still, he and his well trained followers hold just enough seats in Parliament to be able to form a legitimate Government, heartily endorsed by the Governor General. And the list of undemocratic actions grows and grows.  

As I said, at first blush, it is an absolute conundrum that, in a Country that prides itself on fair play as much as it’s democratic traditions and institutions, such a single-minded autocratic regime can continue to exist.  It stagers the imagination.  So there has to be some kind of reason for this. But upon closer examination, it really isn’t that big a mystery. First of all, the Conservatives rule the country while holding a mere 30% of the current popular vote (though in reality, they hold roughly 46% of the actual seats in the House of Commons). If you add up the number of seats held by legitimate left-thinking politicians, this equals roughly 40% of the seats. I exclude the Bloc Quebecois from the left as they swing from right to left as best suits their purposes. Unfortunately, this party which represents the interests of only one Canadian province, holds the swing vote which has for so long, allowed the Conservatives to remain in power, despite the ruling party’s penchant for insulting the Bloc whenever they feel the need. There’s that short memory again.

According to EKOS, the legitimate left of centre parties, the Liberals, The New Democrats and the Greens would make up about 56% of the popular vote if an election were to be held tomorrow. But because these parties spend more time arguing amongst themselves, there is no unity of any kind on the left that can feasibly hold the Conservatives to account.  And our right of centre party is oh so good at perpetuating discord on the left. And they laugh and laugh as they go out for drinks with the Bloc who have no interest what so ever in Canada as a whole aside from the millions upon millions of dollars Quebec receives in equalization payments from the federal government every year.

And let’s add to the discord on the left, the Conservatives incredible ability to reframe the truth about a given situation in such a way as to discredit everyone but themselves. As an example, take a look at the Prorogation of Parliament in 2008. The three parties in opposition, The Liberals, The New Democrats and even the chameleon like Bloc got together with their 54% of the seats in the House of Commons and decided that they had had enough of  “Harper and the Harpetts”. The first and only time the opposition was unified. While it was not public opinion that halted this highly democratic maneuvering (54% of the elected member s would have joined hands to run the county collaboratively), The “Cons” were able to paint the Coalition as undemocratic, claiming that their attempt at dethroning Mr. Harper was little more than a political coup by those who were not elected to run the Government…..yes, that’s right, he convinced the population that those 54% were not  elected to run the Government, though I’m not sure what he claimed all those people were elected to actually do. In addition, he successfully persuaded Canadians that Mr. Dion, the very honorable leader of the Liberals at the time, was a weak-kneed buffoon who had made a deal with the devil, referring to the New Democrats as “Socialists” and the Bloc as “Separatists”. And his spin doctoring worked in terms of swaying popular opinion. Whether this had any impact on the Governor General, who was the one who in fact, allowed Parliament to be prorogued before the Conservatives faced a non-confidence vote, is anybody’s guess.

And so the “Gamesmanship” in Ottawa seems to continue. The “Teflon Don” continues to unilaterally rule the country and to reshape it based on some very “Non-Canadian” values. We, as a nation seem to be powerless to change that. We can’t seem to get a handle on our political left to form a coalition that can hold the current government to account. And the Bloc, who has no interest in Canada as a whole, is allowed to continue to exist as a federal party, and are invited to all the best shindigs while the Greens, who have a vested interest in preserving the entire country, are left to eat soup.  So folks, this is our country. If you can’t abide this kind of autocratic form of governance, then let your vote do the talking for you. Pay attention to the issues, not the political “spin-doctoring” of a bunch of unelected back room boys. In the end of the day, we are responsible for who runs our country and how it’s done. If this Man keeps being elected to power, even with a minority, it’s our own fault. You get, as they say, what you pay for.

Until next time,


Saturday, August 21, 2010

And would someone please tell me where the Honour went?

See, I always felt that politics and governance of the country was a matter of ideology. Politicians, especially our Prime Ministers, took our uniquely Canadian Identity into consideration at every turn and made decisions about our country that were in our best interest, based on their interpretations of how best to honour our identity.  

To me, there was always the “Left” wing, or more Liberal ideology which, at least in Canada, is supposed to embrace our collective pride in equality for all and our belief in a society that supports each other rather than a more “all for one” kind of system of beliefs. Then there is supposed to be the “Right” wing or Conservative ideology that tends to believe that the best way to look after the “whole” is to look after the people with the money. The movers and the shakers. Their perspective being that if the natural laws of capitalism are allowed to play themselves out, a healthy wealthy business class will emerge which will in turn, create more jobs which will in turn, generate a more robust economy which is good for everyone. But whichever way you  leaned, it was always how best to serve Canada.

The debates and arguments from either side of centre were always passionate and carried out by men of honour trying to do what was right for us all. And in a free and democratic system such as ours, we were allowed to have those kinds of discussions at every level, from The Parliament Buildings in Ottawa to each and every kitchen table and pub in this vast country. Democracy played itself out in a rather sophisticated if not fiery and engaging choreography of nationwide debates and elections. And unlike our neighbors to the south, elections were tenaciously fought on the issues, not on the perceived short comings of a particular candidate….. Boy was I wrong.

As a young guy, as a young man, heck, even as middle aged man, I looked at our political world from the outside in. And boy did I ever have some rosy coloured glasses on.  I was not aware of the finer points of that game known as politics. I was proud of our leaders. Lester B. Pearson, who won the Nobel Peace Prize as the Father of Peace Keeping, Tommy Douglass as the Father of Universal Health Care and Pierre Elliot Trudeau who was a passionate and perhaps the most respected and world renown Canadian Prime minister of the 20th Century. This was a man who’s sole purpose was to see Canada as a strong and unified entity from coast to coast to coast. Even Brian Mulroney, though I strongly disagreed with his politics, everything he did, he did for what he believed to be for the betterment of a strong and unified Canada based on his definition of our unique identity as a country. To me, these were men of honour who strengthened our land and made Canada a respected presence on the world stage.  Ok, perhaps Mr. Mulroney’s “honour” is the tantalizing subject of debate, but at least he never embarrassed us on the world stage….except for maybe that time he sang “Irish Eyes” with Ronald Reagan. But I’m sure he meant well!

So I look at the political scene today, and I wonder why it doesn’t look at all Like I though it should look. Was I really that naïve regarding post war politics in Canada? Or has the whole landscape been altered by the shifting of some unseen ideological tectonic plates? The lines of demarcation still seem to be there, the right and the left that is. But only in theory. What I see is a right wing that does not honour the identity of the nation, but rather the identity of a single province and a grass roots minority of religious fundamentalists. This right wing does not seem to function in the best interest of Canada, but in the best interests of itself. It has no unifying voice and frequently drags our international reputation through the mud. Then there is the fractured left wing. Once again, there is no unifying voice to the current left wing. In fact, one party that claims a spot on the left, has the sole purpose of doing what’s in the best interest of yet another province. Heck, there’s greens, there’s reds, there’s orange and blues. Each feels they possess the real voice of the people and each stubbornly cling to this belief. They too, seem to only function for the best interest of their little corner of the left wing rather than speaking as one and working for the best interest of all Canadians.

And would someone please tell me where the Honour went??? Have I been mistaken all these years? Has there never been any honour in Canadian Politics?? We seem to have public inquiry after public inquiry regarding the conduct of our elected officials and their minions. One honorable man emerged from the left wing a couple of years ago. He seemed to have that united “One Canada” for all perspective as well as a unique vision of our place on the world stage. But the right wing would have none of that. So instead of proving this man wrong by legitimately challenging his ideas, they dismantled his character piece by piece throwing every insult and twisting his image into every conceivable form of speculative fiction. And to make matters worse, because the right wing succeeded in presenting this man…..(let me make this clear, they assassinated the man’s image, not his ideals or morals), as a worthless weak buffoon, his own party, instead of rallying around him because of his strong unifying left wing perspectives, crammed him down the trash compactor in favor of a more marketable candidate. And the left wing dithered and fought among themselves while the right sided guys patted each other on the back, not for doing what was in the best interest of the country, but for creating a political climate that allows for their continued existence.

So as you can see, I have some rather jaded opinions about the current state of Canadian Politics. But please keep in mind, I am just a citizen. As I said in my first post, I don’t claim to be any kind of authority regarding our political scene. Just an observer who quite possibly has just awoken from a rather long “Rip Van Winkleish” kind of blissful nap and has a lot of questions. And I will put many of those questions, as well as some observations out there in future posts.

Until next time,



Politics (from Greek πολιτικος, [politikós]: « citizen », «civilian»), is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions.

As the heading says, as well as that great gaudy logo to the right there , this blog will be to one degree or another, about politics. Canadian politics as the maple leaf suggests.

I am no politician, though I am a card carrying member of a federal political party. I am certainly no political pundit, student of politics nor any kind of recognized authority. But I do follow the Canadian scene and am interested in what goes on in good old Ottawa in the name of us Canadians everywhere. I guess you might say I’m an “arm chair quarter-back” when it comes to the Canadian Political scene. It’s real easy to criticize those in a given profession, especially when you don’t really have to walk a mile in their shoes (for the record, I have never been a real arm chair quarter-back. I could never place myself in those guys shoes and imagine what it would be like to be clobbered by a couple of 280 pound line backers…..ouch).

Over the years, I have gradually learned that politics is really far from what I always had imagined it to be, which was a group of hard working conscientious and dare I say, idealistic group of men and women who are elected by other hard working, conscientious and dare I say, idealistic voters to go to Ottawa and work collaboratively for the betterment of all Canadians. Perhaps to do a little good throughout the rest of the world also. Well I am embarrassed by the extent of my naiveté and that it took close to 50 years to find out any different.

So I’ve learned that politics really is a game. On some levels, a very childish game, and on others, a deadly serious game played out by people with an agenda, and often involving others who have no part in the electoral process what so ever. Somewhere in the middle, our country somehow manages to be run, whether you consider the running to be good, bad or indifferent.  But it functions somehow. I have also learned that there is no such thing as a collaborative approach to running the government. Well almost never. Two years ago when all the other parties joined together to overthrow  the ruling Conservative Government. In my eyes, that was democracy in action. The majority, the ACTUAL majority of sitting MPs wanted to get together to run the country “collaboratively” with an extremely honorable man to act as facilitator. It seemed like a dream. But we all know how that ended. Can you spell “Prorogation” ? Like most other Canadians, I had never heard of the word until it actually happened.

Well you can probably guess my political leanings already. But my intent with this blog is to be as unbiased and even handed as possible. If you look at the definition above, the word “Politics” comes from the Greek word “Politikos” meaning "citizen or civilian”, the process by which groups of people (presumably citizens) get together to make decisions. I am now of the opinion that this could not be farther from the truth.

Politics in Canada (and probably everywhere else in the world) seems to be quite distant from this definition. If you look at Parliament as the centre of the political universe in this country, it is not, for the most part made up of ordinary citizens or civilians. MPs, seem to come from a rather “select” strata or segment of the population: bankers, lawyers, professors, business men and mostly, business men. I doubt you would find a single “civilian” or ordinary citizen in the House of Parliament.  Most, especially the current sitting MPs would say, that it takes a select kind of expertise such as say, business men would have, to run our country. Most voters tend to buy into this notion of course, that elected officials need to have the same kind of experience as, oh say, a business man would have. So there are no ordinary citizens in Ottawa that I’m aware of. And it takes money and lots of it to run a campaign. And usually, whoever has the biggest war chest with the ability to discredit his opponents most, ends up the winner. So yes, most of our elected officials have way more access to large sums of cash than you or I would.

Anyway, folks, it is not my intention to slag the whole political system in one sitting. This will take time. But please do watch for my blogs as we go along, as the summer draws to a close and as the fall session looms. Can’t you just feel the tingle of anticipation?

Until Next time,