"A Citizen"s Eye View"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

So When Will Canada Elect it's First Female Prime Minister?

Canada is slowly waking up to the fact that women can make very good politicians. And why shouldn't they? Out side of the fact that Canadian politics has been until now, seen as a combination blood sport and gentleman's club, there is absolutely no reason why a woman couldn't be every bit as effective as a man in the political arena. In fact, the lack of testosterone induced combativeness may be a decided advantage, especially when Canadians are desperately seeking a return to a more collaborative Parliamentary Democracy as opposed to the hyper-tribal Harper Autocracy we currently have. 

There are currently a record 76 women sitting as MPs in our 308 seat House of Commons. That's an average of about 25% as opposed to the United States that has 72 women currently sitting in it's 435 seat House of Representatives. That's 17% by comparison. In addition, there are  5 women Premiers in Canada, or roughly 38%. There are only 7 women Governors in the United States for an average of about 13%. It seems Canada has a slight edge in the area of gender equality in the political arena. That's not to say though that the U.S. is less open minded. America came with in a hair's breadth of nominating Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Representative in it's 2008 election and there is every reason to believe she could have won the whole damn thing. 

Kim Campbell. First Female
Prime Minister In Canada
While not elected, Canada briefly had a woman Prime Minister in 1993 when Brian Mulroney resigned. Kim Campbell was anointed leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and served as Prime Minister for six months.  Campbell was a well respected cabinet Minister in the Mulroney Government and held such posts as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Minister of Justice, Attorney General and Minister of Defense  All very high-profile positions. So Ms. Campbell was indeed, an extremely qualified and effective politician. However, taking the reins of the Progressive Conservative Party and leading them into a Federal Election, hard on the heels of the Mulroney years was tantamount to being made the captain of the Titanic after it hit the ice berg... and the band had stopped playing. So as with Ms. Clinton in the states, circumstances dictated that North America would not see it's first elected female head of state. 
Elizabeth May
Parliamentarian of
The Year

Today, there is a plethora of highly qualified and dedicated women in Canadian politics. I would have to say that first among them would be Elizabeth May who just recently was voted Parliamentarian of the year by her peers. That recognition speaks volumes. Ms. May is without a doubt, one of the hardest working MPs in Ottawa today. She is a prolific writer and researcher and as leader of her party, she has gained the reputation as being very vocal in the House (in a productive way as opposed to the usual "Rah-Rah" party rhetoric). Unlike most MPs, she attends the House almost daily. She considers it her job and her duty. 

In opposition to the destructive and anti-democratic bill C-38, May collaborated with the other parties in opposition to craft hundreds of amendments to that disastrous bill and subsequently participated in the marathon voting session that followed. And as she is the only elected member of her party, May sat through the entire affair. 

May also demonstrates her collaborative nature by openly and actively advocating for cooperation (as opposed to merger) among the parties in opposition so as to overcome the obstacle of vote splitting- there by deposing the Harper Autocracy and setting the stage for electoral reform. This plan is seen as a remedy to our "first past the post"  electoral system which Harper skillfully manipulated and was able to turn slightly more than 38% of the popular vote into a rather questionable majority government. But alas, as Ms. May is leader of the distant fourth place Green Party, she has zero hope of ever becoming Prime Minister unless she is prepared to jump ship and change her knickers from Green to either orange or red. Unless of course, Canada decides to do away with Political Parties all together, but that is another story.
Joyce Murray. A
Collaborative Strategy
For Electoral Reform.

Elizabeth May is not the only woman talking about inter-party collaboration as a means to electoral reform. Liberal Party leadership hopeful Joyce Murray is also advocating for this process which seems to be gaining some grass-roots support. Recent NDP leadership hopeful and current House leader Nathan Cullen has also advocated for opposition party cooperation in bringing about electoral reform. 
Martha Hall Findlay
Campaigned on issues
Near and Dear to
Canadian's Hearts.

But alas, Ms. Murray is a dark-horse candidate for the Liberal Leadership which seems hell-bent on bestowing the crown upon Justin Trudeau. But who knows, perhaps if Mr. Trudeau continues to shoot himself in the foot every few days, Murray and her vision might actually have a shot. But Joyce Murray is not the only woman contending for the Liberal Leadership. Successful entrepreneur and 2006 leadership hopeful Martha Hall Findlay is also  vying for the Liberal top spot. In her first quest for leadership, Hall Findlay was an ambitious campaigner who formed her platform around the environment and health care, things that are still near and dear to the heart of many Canadians, especially health care. 
Nycole Turmel
Held a rookie NDP caucus
together after Layton's passing

And leave us not forget that in the wake of Jack Layton's tragic passing, Nycole Turmel was given unanimous support by the NDP caucus as interim party leader until Layton's successor could be chosen. As such, Ms. Turmel sat as the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for seven months preceding Thomas Mulcair's election as party leader. During her brief tenure as interim leader, Turmel showed a steady hand in guiding the largely rookie NDP caucus and forming them into a coherent opposition party. She now serves as "Party Whip" in the House. 

As I mentioned in a previous article, Alberta Premier Alison Redford has demonstrated a decidedly collaborative approach in dealing with the other provinces (with the exception of B.C.s Christy Clark who is attempting to make political hay on the strength of her animosity for Redford). Thus, she is gaining supporters outside of Alberta's boundaries and could one day, restore the "P" (for progressive) to the Federal Conservative Party. It says here, Ms. Redford has a better than reasonable shot at replacing Harper once the severely  "whipped" CPC caucus has decided they have had enough of the Harper Autocracy and the Harper-Youth in the PMO. Being outside of the Federal caucus, Redford would seem a logical leader of a palace revolt. 

Alison Redford has proven the
ability to be able to stand
Toe to Toe with Harper, yet
plays well with others.
So it seems that there is quite a number of extremely strong and qualified ladies well suited to being Canada's first elected Woman Prime Minister. These are all  women who have demonstrated leadership, a collaborative approach and a strong vision for Canada, not just enthusiastic  support for the ruling elite. The only thing that seems to be standing in their way is the traditional party system which tends to favour men, and the support of the Canadian electorate. 2015 may or may not be the breakthrough year for Canadian women, but it is coming soon and it could well be a decisive factor in finally overhauling our electoral system and ultimately salvaging our devastated democratic system of government.  

Canadian Women Parliamentarians
In front of the Centre Block. In support
Of International Women's day, March 2010.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Link Between Mike Harris's Common Sense De-Evolution and the Harper Regime

Mike Harris, author of the
Common Sense De-evolution
Those of us living in Ontario remember well the Mike Harris "Common Sense Revolution". It came hard on the heals of the Bob Rae years.

 Rae was Ontario's first and only NDP Premier and is remembered only for his wildly unpopular "Rae Days" which forced thousands of public sector workers to take unpaid days off in an effort to attack the Ontario deficit. Rae was soundly criticized by his power-base- organized labour- and the millions of Ontarians who were effected by this restriction in services. I myself have terribly painful memories of it's impact when my then pregnant wife was experiencing complications and needed to get an emergency ultra-sound and couldn't because all the technicians were on a "Rae Day". But while Rae became unpopular for this move, it saved many public service jobs, in contrast to the Federal Conservatives slash and burn strategy regarding public servants. 

So when Mike Harris came along, waving his blue book that seemed to contain all of the answers to all of our problems, the majority of Ontario voters were quick to jump on board. Harris presented himself as a grass-roots kind of guy with a down to earth kind of logic that backed his 'revolution". He was the "anti-Rae", the antithesis of what was commonly believed to be the usual "entitled" political elite. (not unlike Toronto's Rob Ford today). 

But Harris's "Common Sense" approach was to attack the public services in a way that was down right blood-thirsty. He slashed Welfare and bade recipients purchase dented 69 cent cans of tuna. He cut health care, closed hospitals and John Snobelen's  "useful" artificially created crisis in Education resulted in two teacher's strikes. And Harris closed his ears, stayed his disastrous course and refused to acknowledge the growing criticism and upheaval in Ontario. He had an agenda and he intended to see it through. The horrendous impact these policies had on the province are still being felt today, ten tears after Harris has left the political stage. Despite his so-called grass-roots common sense, Harris was no friend of the common man. 

But there is a direct connection between Mike Harris's "Rule-By-Sledgehammer" government and Stephen Harper's "Shock and Awe" reign of terror. The most obvious connection occurs when we take a peek inside the Harper Cabinet. 

Flaherty's Budgets
 are "Killers"
Right off the top, there is Jim Flaherty who was Harris's Minister of Finance. Flaherty has been Harper's one and only Minister of finance during his six years as Prime Minister. It was under Flaherty's watch and as a result of Flaherty's attacks on the public service that seven people died in Walkerton of an outbreak of E-Coli. Under his guidance as the Federal Finance Minister, there has been similar out breaks of E-Coli and Listeriosis at Canadian meat packing plants. Coincidence?

Tony "The Gazebo
Under Mike Harris, Tony Clement was the Minister of Health as hospitals were being closed and  people were dying in Walkerton. With Stephen Harper, Clement took on the same cabinet position which he held until he became known as "Tony Gazebo" due to siphoning off  millions of dollars of Tax-payers money for the beautification of his riding in anticipation of a scheduled G7 summit. Clement has since become the President of the Treasury Board and is Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page's chief adversary in the PBO's quest for Government accountability and transparency. 

Bombastic Baird never learned
to use his "indoor voice"
Then there's "Bull-Dog" John Baird, perhaps one of the biggest blow-hards in the history of Canadian Politics. Baird is well known for his rabid partisan "attack-dog" style in Parliament and having never mastered the art of the "indoor voice". Baird has held several different portfolios in the Harper Government and has left bloody fingerprints on each one. But Bellicose Baird was also a "Harrisite", serving in various cabinet positions in Ontario as well, most notably as Minister of Children, Community and Social Services which saw a vicious attack on Ontario's poorest and most vulnerable citizens. 

Bob Runciman
The personification of all
that is wrong with the Senate.
Another ex-Harris accomplice  Bob Runciman, who was the Ontario Minister of Justice, couldn't win a seat in his federal riding so Harper tossed him into the Senate. He has since become a hyper-partisan "Rah-Rah" Harpercondriac in what is supposed to be the house of sober second thought. He has done little since then to advance the cause of the Red Chamber's continued existence and has in fact, been the personification of all that is wrong with the Senate. 

Another little known connection between the two regimes, is that from 1997 to 2002, which was the majority of the Harris years, Stephen Harper was president of the uber-right leaning and highly secretive National Citizens Coalition. The Ontario arm of the NCC, Ontarians for Responsible Government were major backers of the Common Sense Revolution. But due to their highly secretive nature, it is impossible to know to what extent Harper and his connections had in funding and influencing Harris's agenda. 

Harris the Fraser Fellow
Since leaving politics, Harris, along with former Harper accomplice Preston Manning, have both become Senior Fellows at the Fraser Institute, the right-leaning think-tank that has major influence on current federal Government policy. So Harris might be gone from Government, but he is still influencing events in our country. 

Harper won his recent Majority on the strength of heavy campaigning in key Ontario swing ridings. In 2015, he will likely duplicate this strategy. He needs Ontario to win.  So when Canada goes to the polls in the next federal election, Ontarians would do well to remember the painful legacy of Mike Harris because he and Stephen Harper are not only cut from the same cloth, they are also well connected and Stephen the Terrible is merely duplicating Harris's agenda only on a national level. 

Yes, and little "Timmy the Terrible"
was also there.

Harper and Harris. 
A 2008 meeting of the 
criminal minds.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's Time For De-Unification of the Right

It is clear that since the merger of the Canadian Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservative Party in 2003, there has been one voice and only one voice in Canada for those  who tend to inhabit the territory to the right of the political centre. That voice is Stephen Harper's. 

Actually, the transaction that brought the two right-leaning parties together was less of a merger and more of a hostile take-over. It was a carefully orchestrated maneuver that involved equal amounts of manipulation and treachery. The main goal was not so much a meeting of Conservative minds but the acquisition of the Conservative name. You see, the only way Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan and their cadre of Straussian ideologues could gain credibility east of Manitoba and hence, any hope of ever forming a government was through the annexation of an existing political party.  The Progressive Conservative Party was severely wounded and directionless since the Mulroney years and thus, ripe for plunder. 

Once he had his hands on the Conservative name, Harper wasted no time in dropping the "progressive" label. For the first few years of this shot-gun marriage, Harper had to keep the old progressives happy in order to continue the existence of his new creation. This included keeping co-conspirator Peter MacKay well placed in the Conservative hierarchy. Despite having become a political liability as a result of his numerous blunders, MacKay remains as deputy leader of the party. But as time passed and his core of hard-right disciples became stronger and stronger, the old P.C.s in the Harper caucus have had less and less of a voice in managing party or governmental affairs. In fact, all power with in the party rests with Harper himself and his collection of Harper-Youth within the PMO. 

No room for Red-Tories in Harper's Caucus
At first, this "new Conservative deal" seemed like a good idea. Harper had the grit, the smarts and the ruthlessness to finally lead right-leaning Canadians out of the shadows and into government, thus supplanting the age old Liberal party and their attitude of entitlement. The problem that has eventually come to light though, is that while Harper has finally formed a majority government (however credible it may be), he has stepped on a lot of toes along the way and forced the majority of his caucus into the rather embarrassing role of cheerleader. No one dares contradict "His Harperness". Any MP who inadvertently expresses an independent thought is quickly swarmed by the Harper-Youth and immediately "reprogrammed". As a result, all the old "progressive" voices with in the party have been effectively neutered, cut off by the hard-right cohort who sit at Harper's right hand. 

Many of the old P.C.s saw the hand writing on the wall from the outset. Ex-Prime Minister Joe Clark would have nothing to do with Harper's Hooligans and sat out his remaining days in Parliament as a P.C. Some Senators continued to do likewise. Former Mulroney Cabinet Minister Sinclair Stevens went so far as to form a new political entity, the Progressive Canadian Party (thereby retaining the old P.C. moniker). But Canadians, as Harper had calculated, are traditionalists by nature and have stuck with the party that still retains the Conservative name. Slowly however- ever so slowly - voters are beginning to wake up to the fact that the CPC is NOT the Conservative Party of Joe Clark, Robert Stanfield, John Diefenbaker or their grand daddies. Harper's party (and make no mistake about it, it is most definitely HIS party)is nothing more than the Tea Party on steroids. It has no room for "Red-Tories" or progressives. Various Harper minions such as Jim Prentice awoke to this fact and have since "retired" from politics. 

History will show that Richardson
backed the right horse.
One of the most telling departures from Harper's caucus of late was Lee Richardson from Calgary Centre who took his leave round about the time Parliament was having C-38 shoved down it's throat and various glassy-eyed CPC MPs were forced to applaud and shake their blue pom-poms on cue. While the timing of his departure is certainly suspect, the most interesting aspect of it is that he left the Harper-fold to work for Provincial P.C. leader Alison Redford. It's no secret that The Government of Harper supported the radically ideological Wildrose Party over the Progressive Conservative Party in the last Alberta election. This made Richardson's move all the more interesting, and telling.

 Harper likes to think of himself as overlord of the Provincial P.C. parties, simply because he stole the Federal Party out from underneath everyone's noses, but the Alberta scenario has proven that the Machiavellian Harper will squash any P.C. who disagrees with him and he'll prop up any Premier, regardless of Party, who he can manipulate. Harper is no friend of nor has he any loyalty to any provincial Progressive Conservative Party anywhere in the Country. Just ask Danny Williams. 

So moderate right-leaning voters are presented with very few options. Either support the radical ideologues who have stolen their party or look to the fractured left of the political spectrum. Not an easy choice. One that probably leaves many Canadian voters shaking their heads and deeply regretting the "Unite The Right" movement that at one time, shone like a beacon of hope and now burns them like an interrogator's lamp. It is time then according to this writer, for all good Red-Tories (and some disgruntled Blue Liberals) to reclaim their turf - to "Take Back the Right" from the autocratic Harper. To do this, they must undo the mischief wrought by Harper's Henchmen. They must untie the knot that bound their fortunes to a second rate Banana Republic dictator. The marriage born of treachery must be annulled.  It is time for the Re-birth of the Federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. 

Could Redford be the one to lead a
reserected Progressive Conservatve Party?
It says here that in the end, Lee Richardson has backed the right horse. If anyone is to lead the New Progressive Conservative Party, Alison Redford is a good fit for the job. She is proving to be a skilled tactician, in overcoming the manipulation of the CPC in the last Provincial election, certainly Harper's equal. But she is also a good politician who has demonstrated the willingness and ability to work with the other Premiers all for the greater good of the Federation. And in standing firm with the show-boating Christie Clark, she demonstrates the  ability to make the "tough decisions" when necessary.   And Redford's collaborative approach is gaining her supporters outside of Alberta's borders as well. So she is well equipped to lead the re-birth of a proud Canadian tradition. Hence, she is well placed to restore the Progressive voice to Canadian democracy and to pull the rug out from underneath his Harperness. 

It's Time For the Rebirth of the Federal Progressive Conservative Party.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Amanda Todd, "Generation Text" and Our Humanoid Society

Amanda Todd
A beautiful young soul took her own life this past week. To label it a "tragedy" simply fails to adequately express the pain, the sorrow or the suffering Amanda Todd felt. It can never fully articulate the horrible agonizing torture that her family is feeling. The loss of a child leaves a bullet hole in the heart. You can learn to live with the pain, but it never goes away. 

Amanda was exploited, bullied and beaten. She told her story here in this video. It did no good though because now she's dead. And the RCMP have launched a full investigation and hundreds of tips are pouring in.  A case of the barn door closing long after the horse has gotten out. People are looking for blood now. We demand retribution. But where were we when Amanda's soul was bleeding?

There are oh so many who knew all too well what was happening to this tortured teen. Those who knew a little of what was going on, her family, did all they could. But others, perhaps hundreds of others, did nothing. Or worse, they perpetuated the hatred and the torture of Amanda. They cut her with words the way Amanda cut herself with knives. And the many didn't seem to care. They watched, they let it happen, they encouraged it. It "titillated" them. Her abuse and exploitation was grist for the gossip mill. It was facebook content. It was something to text and to IM about. Amanda's suffering had entertainment value. In this regard she was exploited by far more than just those who had sexual intentions for her. 

But the exploitation doesn't stop there. Amanda tried hard to get help. She was placed on anti-depressants. Most anti-depressants have, for many people, the curious side effect of increasing the risk of suicide. The drug companies, God damn their hateful souls, know this. But there is profit to be made in depression. So in this way, Amanda and the hundreds of thousands of other depressed/suicidal children like her are exploited for profit. And the medical professionals who prescribe these blood-tainted snake-oils, also know the risks of what they prescribe. They also exploited Amanda.

And what about the creators of facebook and smart-phones. The ones who hard-market to our kids. They provide the vehicles through which most of Amanda's suffering occurred. Should we be assigning a portion of the blame to them as well? Their products make it far easier for our kids to communicate, but far harder for them to socialize in a meaningful way. In this regard, human suffering is reduced to a few mega-bites of text, devoid of all meaning and human connection. Is Apple responsible for turning "Generation-Text" into desensitized, unfeeling humanoids- creatures who vaguely resemble humans? We've all seen them, groups of teens sitting in the food-court at the mall, each with their noses glued to their iPhones as their thumbs furiously dance over the touch-screens, seemingly oblivious to the presence of those around them. 
Who is sexualizing our kids?

And what about the media? Who is responsible for "sexualizing" our children? The fashion industry? The cosmetics industry? Movies? TV? Who are their role models? The Kardashians? Britney Spears? The list goes on and on. The fact is, we let Amanda down. All of us, myself included. We bitch and gripe and complain, but in the end, we do very little to improve the human condition. 

But is assigning blame going to stop the pain and suffering of others? Amanda's torture and subsequent suicide is a symptom. It is a reflection of our society and we have found it far too easy to hate or to simply feel nothing at all. It is a black and creeping, cancerous-blight. As such, the human collective requires healing. It requires education. It requires understanding and love, which in turn, requires courage, leadership and collective will.  Retributive justice is great for closing barn doors, but it's based on the ancient concept of an "eye for an eye" and  as Gandhi observed: "That makes the whole world blind". Rather than blinding each other, we should be learning how to take better care of each other.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

308 Independent MPs -Canada Needs More Than Just Electoral Reform

Much has been written about the need for electoral reform in Canada. I first started hearing about it during the Chretien years when the Liberal Party won successive majority governments while achieving less than 50% of the popular vote. But the notion has really come to a head with The Conservative Party of Canada having won it's recent majority government with slightly less than 38% of the popular vote. 

The skillful use of Smoke and Mirrors:
First Past the Post

Stephen Harper and the CPC were able to use skillful campaigning, a tightly controlled message aimed at a targeted number of "swing-ridings" in vote rich Ontario as well as ethically questionable tactics borrowed from the well financed Republican Party in the States to manipulate our "First Past the Post" electoral system into it's first majority government. And the CPC are using their majority of seats like a blunt force object to hammer away at Canada and it's socially and democratically responsible system of governance. All of which has left the 62% (+/-) of us who did not ask for this majority, wringing our hands and feeling quite helpless in the face of the Harper Juggernaut. We look to tomorrow and see a Canada that is considerably less kind and gentle while appearing to be much poorer (both financially as well as morally) and increasingly careless and callous with our environment. 

So as a result, many Canadians are now organizing and advocating for a fairer electoral system, one that is less likely to be manipulated by overenthusiastic, pimple-faced, morally bankrupt, backroom, political zealots.... and their object of worship. A system in which each vote counts and our Parliament is more reflective of the will of the majority of people rather than the will of the well connected and the bamboozled minority.  This is referred to as "Proportional Representation"  and such high-profile politicians as Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May are adding their voices to the growing number of advocates. "Fair Vote Canada" has been one of the most vocal and well organized groups promoting Proportional Representation. 

The Complications of Proportional Representation:

The Honorable
Stephane Dion
Now there have been a number of "Proportional Representation" Models devised by people much wiser than myself. On the surface of it, one would think that this would not be such a complicated task. But alas, this is not the case. Fair Vote Canada advocates for three such systems: List Systems, Mixed Member Proportional Systems and Single Transferable Vote.  The Honorable Stephane Dion has devised a fourth system referred to as "P3". With out going into great detail (readers can check out the links for themselves) it seems that each system requires such things as multiple lists of candidates from competing parties, prioritizing and ranking of candidates and complicated "formulas"  (for the mathematically challenged among us like myself) . Mr. Dion proposes having more than one MP, perhaps as many as five in each riding. Needless to say, compared to our relatively "easy" First-Past-The-Post system, these alternatives can seem rather confusing and complicated. 

Despite the apparent complication of these Proportional systems, several countries in the world, such s Brazil, Australia, Israel and Russia already employ such systems. Their effectiveness however, is open to conjecture. Canada has dabbled with introducing these systems at the the Provincial level (British Columbia and Ontario) but they have been met with reluctance from the electorate. 

One possible benefit of these systems is the elimination of majority governments (again, whether or not this is seen as a benefit is a matter of opinion). This possibility would certainly eliminate heavy-handed governments such as the CPC in the future.  But as we saw when Harper had a minority Government, he simply stacked the Senate with Conservative Cronies, there-by ensuring his "will would be done" anyway. 

Is Electoral Reform Alone the Answer?

Canadian MPs  Influenced More By the Party Whip
Than By their Constituents.
It would seem then, that what ails our democracy here in Canada the most, is not so much our electoral system but the rabid partisanship of our political parties. It is becoming increasingly apparent that genuine political debate is becoming a thing of the past and that rhetoric and character assassination have become the order of the day. And it would seem that, as displayed by the number of "whipped" votes that occur in Parliament, MPs are no longer free to vote their conscience and that back-benchers, as seen in the C-38 fiasco, have been reduced to nothing but cheerleaders. The best interests of parties seems to be more important in Ottawa now than the best interest of the country. This may have been the case to a certain extent for quite some time, but this rabid partisanship seems to have been personified by the CPC. 

What I therefore suggest; and I realize that in this current political climate, it is a "pie in the sky" scenario, is that for the sake of democracy and the sake of the country, political parties be eliminated. We could then keep our rather simplistic "First Past The Post" system but each of the 308 ridings in Canada would elect a 100% independent Member of Parliament, each one free to vote his or her's conscience and/or according to the will of the people in their respective ridings. 

A Partyless Democracy:

Hyper-Partisan Rhetoric
There are no major democratic countries in the world that operate with out political parties and some observers might suggest that a country that functions with out political parties might be more open to degenerating into a totalitarian state or one that is influenced more by other external forces rather than the will of the people. I would argue however that this would be less likely to happen in a country with a strong democratic tradition and an engaged electorate. 

But democracies can and do operate on smaller scales without parties, including right here in Canada. In most Canadian municipalities, party affiliation is largely non-existent (unless you happen to live in Toronto where the current mayor is known to go fishing with the Prime Minister). In cities such as my home town of Hamilton Ontario, Councillors and the Mayor are elected on their individual merits rather than on party affiliations. While there might be "voting blocks" in Council from time to time, they usually arise as a result of individual issues and have nothing what so ever to do with party affiliations or allegiances. 

In the Canadian Territories of Nunavut and the North-West Territory, these governments, unlike the governments of the 10 Provinces, function completely with out political parties. The Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are elected in each of the ridings and they in turn, chose first the Speaker of the House, then the Premier and then the  Cabinet Ministers. The remaining MLAs are then seen as the "opposition".  

So while there are no large scale examples of a "Partyless Democracy" there is no reason why it couldn't work in a country the size of Canada. It is acknowledged that it would certainly take several years to "wean" current politicians off of their respective party allegiances and that unofficial "voting blocks" could be formed in the House. But as with politics at the municipal level, they would most likely arise on a situation by situation basis rather than on an ongoing, permanent  basis. 

How it Might Work:

Whether The Prime Minister and Cabinet are selected in the same manner as in the Territorial models, by the individual members of the House, or the Prime Minister is elected on the same ballot as the MPs in each riding as with the municipal model, depends on how much direct say  the electorate wishes to have in the selection process. If the PM were selected by the House, he/she would constantly be subject to the confidence of the House as with minority governments today.If Parliament selects the Prime Minister and he or she fails to maintain the confidence of the House, they could be replaced by Parliament with out having to consult with the Governor General or going to the Polls. A single four or five year Parliamentary cycle then, could see more than one Prime Minister. As such,the Prime Minister and Cabinet are wholly accountable to Parliament rather than the opposite such as we have today and their continuation in their elected capacities would depend entirely on their performance. 

I would also suggest that selection of Cabinet Ministers and the Speaker would be best left up to the Members of the House as it would be far too complicated and unwieldy a task for each to be chosen by the electorate. And I would suggest that, rather than being chosen by the Prime Minister, having the Cabinet Ministers chosen by the House would be more efficient and would make each Minister more accountable to his peers. It would keep the Cabinet more balanced and eliminate the  possibility of the PM selecting his own cronies. 
Elizabeth May

Another added bonus of a "Partyless" system would be that single hard working MPs would have an equal opportunity of becoming Prime Minister. For example, one of the hardest working Parliamentarians in the House today is Elizabeth May. But because she is not the leader of one of the three main party's, it is virtually impossible for her to become Prime Minister under our current system of Government unless she jumps ship and joins a "winning team". In a Parliament with out parties, Ms. May would have as good an opportunity to become Prime Minister as any other skilled MP.

Oh, and since the Senate was formed primarily as a "House of Sober Second Thought" to offset possible partisanship attached to any legislation passed by the Lower House, There would no longer be any need for the Red Chamber. Party Partisanship would be eliminated and each and every MP would then be equally important and have a voice in the House. And each would ultimately be accountable to their constituents rather than to the party or to the "Non Elected" muscle of the PMO. 

Democratic Reform will not be just Handed to us:

We cannot count on our current politicians to willingly give up the system we have now. It is up to Canadian citizens to demand this kind of change. We must be the ones to pressure our elected officials to give up the "Old Boy's Clubs" that currently inhabits Parliament Hill. But if the pressure is hard enough and sustained enough at the constituency level and enough candidates choose to run as Independents, Canada may yet come to see the birth of a democracy that could well  be the envy of the world. 

308 Independent MPs, Each one equal,
Each one Accountable

Friday, August 3, 2012

Could Harper be the World's Worst Economist?

Jim Flaherty
"I Spend, therefore I am"
First of all, lets get something out of the way. Jim Flaherty might be the Finance Minister, But Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls the shots. This is not a scenario peculiar to Flaherty. It is the same with every other cabinet portfolio in the government. The Ministers might be the front men, but the policies are the Prime Minister's. This is how Harper does business. Those who work with him know this. Those who challenge him are no longer with the government. 

Harper Fancies Himself an Economist:

Harper fancies himself an economist. He has a degree in economics from the University of Calgary.- A word here about the Calgary School of Economics. The name is meant to be a take-off of the Chicago School of Economics who's most famous and influential participant was Milton Friedman, the God Father of Disaster Capitalism and the guy who helped Augusto Pinochet rebuild Chile's economy after his brutal Coup d'etat in 1973. Both the Chicago and Calgary schools can be called "schools of Neoliberal thought"  (economic Liberalism as opposed to social Liberalism) in that they believe in economic Liberalization and deregulation, free trade and completely open markets.  In addition, these schools are vehemently anti-union in that they feel:

(1)"People are "egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic". Being egoistic, people are motivated solely by pain and pleasure. Being calculating, they make decisions intended to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. If there are no opportunities to increase pleasure or reduce pain, they will become inert. Therefore, the only motivation for labor is either the possibility of great reward or fear of hunger. This belief led classical liberal politicians to pass the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which limited the provision of social assistance. On the other hand, classical liberals believe that men of higher rank are motivated by ambition. Seeing society as atomistic, they believed that society was no more than the sum of its individual members. These views departed from earlier views of society as a family and, therefore, greater than the sum of its members". 

So as a result, "Neoliberal adherents are also completely anti-social safety-net as well, believing that these programs are "demotivators" to the work force who should be spurred on by the "fear of hunger" or the possibility of "great reward".

Harper the Man and Harper the Economist:

So this gives us a glimpse into Harper's values as an economist. They are cold, pragmatic and ruthless, which, for the most part, is a reflection of the man himself.  It should be noted however, that Mr. H was never, ever a "practicing" economist. He went straight from post secondary studies into the waiting arms of the Reform Party, a group of social-hooligans who's modus operandi seemed to suit young Stephen's economic and political theories. And that is the key word here: "theories".

Harper's knowledge of Economics is purely theoretical. With the exception of his years as Prime Minister, he has no real-world experience in the field. With this in mind, lets take a brief look at Harper's track record as an economist.

- In 2006, Stephen Harper became the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada. He inherited from Paul Martin, his predecessor,  a $16 billion government surplus. By the time of the Great Financial Melt-Down of 2008, that surplus was completely squandered. This is in part, due to  decreasing the Governments revenue stream that was generated by the GST from 7% to 5% at a cost of $19 billion from 2007 to 2009 alone. 

- In 2008, the great recession enveloped the world. Even though Canada was in a better position to weather the storm than our neighbours to the south, largely as a result of banking and economic regulations implemented by previous governments, it was an election year so Harper needed to be seen to be doing something about it. He was failing miserably on the environmental front so the recession provided him with the opportunity to play on his perceived strengths - the economy and "fear" - and to divert the national consciousness away from the environment which was, and remains, nothing but a nuisance to him anyway. So what did dear old Stephen do? He emulated the U.S. strategy which was largely unnecessary in Canada. In direct contravention of his Neoliberal roots, Harper got all Keynesian and spent truck loads of money the country didn't have. In a matter of three short years, Harper, the great economist, spent us from a $16 billion surplus to a $53 billion deficit. 

- Even while he was being Keynesian in his spending, Harper continued to be Neoliberal in other ways, as though he couldn't make up his mind how best to handle the nations purse strings. He decided to make good on campaign promises he had made to big business by reducing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 16.5% which is even lower than the US which is the self-proclaimed world capital of capitalism. This has greatly reduced yet another revenue stream  and cost Canada $22 billion in income since 2006. 

- So now that Harper has unnecessarily spent like a drunken sailor, accumulating the largest debt in Canadian history while slashing major sources of revenue, Harper's Neoliberal strategy is to make the poorest people in the country pay for his spending habits. He is doing this by slashing social programs,  laying off thousands of federal employees, changing qualification criteria for Employment Insurance, making people on EI accept lower paying jobs farther from home, upping the age for old age security from 65 to 67 (despite information from various real economists that this was a completely unnecessary move) and making immigrant workers work for 15% less than their Canadian counterparts. 

Stephen Lectures the World:

OK STEVE! Stop begging you're embarrassing yourself
You can sit at the BIG KIDS table this one time
But only if you promise to keep your trap SHUT!
Harper, especially of late, is prone to lecturing the leaders of the G20 and the European Union about how to handle their respective economies, saying they should emulate Canada (and of course, Stephen himself) He sites fiscal restraint and deregulation as the way to beat the global crisis. However, he fails to mention that economic regulations from previous governments are a major reason for Canada fairing better than many countries and that, rather than being fiscally responsible, he has spent Canada into a record breaking debt. I wonder then, at what point the other world leaders are going tell Stephen to "take a long walk off  a short pier"? It's no wonder he had to beg to be allowed to "observe" the Trans Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership talks recently. I wouldn't be surprised if Barack Obama told Stephen he could come along for the ride on the condition he kept his mouth shut!

(1) From the Wikipedia article on Classical Liberalism

Friday, July 27, 2012

MacKay Has Become a Political Liability

"Et-Tu MacKay"?
When the Reform/Alliance party and Progressive Conservatives decided to cohabitate in 2003, Peter MacKay had only just been crowned Lord of the PCs. He had won that leadership race by promising David Orchard, another PC leadership hopeful that he would never, ever, ever, ever, in a million years negotiate amalgamation with Stephen Harper and the dreaded Western radicals. Based on this promise, Orchard threw his weight behind MacKay and the added numbers pushed  him to victory. The problem is, MacKay lied. 

The after-glow from his victory had barely faded when MacKay entered into negotiations with Harper and the stage was thusly set for the weak and withering PCs to be cannibalized by the predatory Reformites. MacKay, declining to vie for the captaincy of the new team, paved the way for Steve the Evangelical Christian Fundamentalist to become the Once and Future King. But Savvy Steve realized from the get-go that even though his Reformites were the alpha-dogs in the New Conservative Party, MacKay carried some weight in that he still represented the minority PCs - those unfortunate individuals who suffered under the delusion that Harper was an equal opportunity employer. The Reverend Steve needed the old PCs to continue to be deluded until such time that he could collar and neuter them. To that end, he gave MacKay positions of power and influence first in his shadow cabinet and later in his actual cabinet when the Reform-Conservative conglomerate won it's first minority government in 2006. 

Belinda Stronach
Given the Machiavellian way in which MacKay betrayed his old party, Harper - himself an adherent of The Prince- probably felt it best to keep one so capable of treachery content and close at hand- likely remembering the old adage about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer. To Harper, anyone not in his inner circle was an enemy. But Harper should have noticed something was amiss as far back as 2004 when MacKay was dating the lovely automobile heiress and co-Conservative, Belinda Stronach. Stronach had figured out pretty early in the game that there was only room for one voice in the New Conservative Party and that was Harper's. She subsequently crossed the floor into the open arms of Paul Martin's Liberal party and into an instant cabinet position. MacKay's reaction was, to say the least, embarrassing

A Boy and His Neighbor's Dog
Upon hearing of his girlfriend's defection to the Liberals, MacKay reportedly flew in to a frenzied rage. Then, like a jilted school-boy, he returned to his home riding to mope. Heart rendering, staged pictures surfaced of a long-faced, broken hearted MacKay being consoled by his ever faithful dog. Problem is, MacKay doesn't own a dog. Back in Parliament, when MacKay was asked about the pooch by opposition members, he pointed to Stronach's empty seat and said: "you already have her". MacKay never owned up to, nor apologized for the derogatorily childish remark. His behaviour was nothing less than an embarrassment to the new Reform-a-Con party. 

MacKay believes he is treating "Condi"
to a unique Canadian dining experience. But
unbeknownst to Peter, there are over 600
Timmies outlets in the States
When the Reformites finally won an election in 2006, albeit with a minority, MacKay was dubbed "Minister of Foreign Affairs", a position of reasonable responsibility in the Harper Government. To say that MacKay was, for the most part, ineffectual in this position, is an understatement. His major accomplishment while in Foreign Affairs was to treat U.S Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to Coffee at a Nova Scotia Tim Horton's. But the relative comfort the two seemed to have in each other's company led many rumor-mongers to suggest that MacKay and Rice had a "thing" for each other. Given his track record with women, the story might not be too far from the truth. 

In 2007, MacKay was shuffled to the Ministry of Defense, a position which better suited his "manly" image. MacKay liked to dress up in camouflaged out-fits, hang out with soldiers and take helicopter rides, even if it was just to go fishing. 

In 2010, MacKay attempted to renegotiate the free lease for Camp Mirage, Canada's "secret" military base in The United Arab Emirates. The folks in the UAE were more than willing to let Canadian troops continue to use the base free of charge as they had done since 2001. But in return, they wanted their national airlines to have increased access to Canadian airspace. To MacKay, this seemed like not such a bad deal. But it was promptly nixed by Harper who apparently has a thing about doing business with Arabs ( though he apparently has no qualms about doing business with various other totalitarian states. Maybe it's just that he can relate to them better). But Harper subsequently pulled some outlandish numbers out of his magic hat saying that a deal with the Emirates airlines would cost Canadians tens of thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars. He never accounted for those bizarre figures.

But with MacKay's bomb-shell of a deal effectively nuked by Harper, he returned to Ottawa in a particularly petulant mood. In yet another embarrassing display of immaturity unbecoming a Minister of State, MacKay was seen wearing a "Fly Emirates" baseball cap, an obvious "screw you" message to his boss.

"So Peter, does this thing come with engines"?
So MacKay set to work on what had become a government priority, namely upgrading the Canadian Armed Forces into a modern fighting force (as opposed to it's more traditional Peace Keeping role). To this end, MacKay set about procuring more and more up to date military technology and machinery for every arm of the Canadian Forces. The sum total of all of these procurements, from trucks to ships to stealth fighters was to cost Canadian tax payers billions upon billions of dollars. And in every instance, MacKay has either screwed up, misrepresented or outright lied about the true cost of each of his "deals". The most notable was his underestimating the cost of Canada's new Stealth Fighters by $10 billion. And not only did he lie about this snafu, he concealed his foul up, even as the country was heading into an election in May of 2011. During the campaign, the Harperites continued to push the original estimate of $14 billion for the cost of the 65 war-birds, even though they knew the estimate was off by almost half. 

But this was not the first time MacKay had lied or conspired to withhold the truth....aside from his betrayal of the PCs that is. In 2007, it had come to light that Canadian Forces were handing over captured Afghan detainees to local authorities, knowing they would likely be tortured. Harper of course, ranted in Parliament and damned anyone who questioned our men and women in uniform as being un Canadian and of siding with the Taliban. Of course, the more information that was revealed, the more likely it became that Harper and MacKay were both complicit in the torture of detainees because they knew it was happening and did nothing about it. So it is now possible that the International Court of Justice may seek charges against MacKay and Harper as war criminals, much as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are considered as war criminals by many in the international community. 

And as it seems that every day that goes by reveals yet another botched military procurement, lets not forget MacKay's  "St. Jean Baptiste Day" speech at the French Embassy in Ottawa where he proudly proclaimed that the French and English had fought side by side against the Americans in 1812. Not only was this un-true, but the fact was, England was at war with France in 1812 and if anything, the French supported the American war effort. So it seems that not only is MacKay not very good at buying things, he is not too up on his Canadian History, especially on facts that are commonly known to most grade seven students in this country. 

Ms. Afshin-Jam MacKay, a vocal critic of the 
Governments position on Omar Khadr
Oh, and MacKay's woman trouble seems to have continued as well. He fell for and subsequently married Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a former Iranian Beauty Queen and model earlier this year. Recently, the outspoken wife of the Defense Minister publically stated, contrary to the Government of Harper's position, that Omar Khadr, the Canadian Citizen being detained in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, should be repatriated immediately. One wonders how the petulant MacKay will reconcile that public relations faux-pas with his Boss. Perhaps he has a "Free Omar" ball cap he can wear to the next caucus meeting. 

When one looks at MacKay's track record of failures, miscues, misdeeds, cover-ups and out-right lies since becoming a Minister of the State, not to mention his immature, juvenile behaviour, it is now well past the time for Harper to cut his losses with this national embarrassment. The Prime Minister had no difficulties showing Bev Oda the door earlier this summer for making the party look bad and costing tax payers thousands of dollars. By comparison, MacKay is costing Canada billions in un-accounted for dollars and is continually making the Government look ridiculous both at home and on the world stage. What ever political advantage Harper had in Keeping MacKay around is now lost as even die-hard Red Tories and old school PCs would not be upset to see the screen door hit him in the back-side as he's ushered from cabinet. Regardless of old loyalties (something of which MacKay knows nothing), when a long standing member of the party is seen to be doing it more harm than good, it's time for those loyalties to be put aside and ties to be severed.  MacKay the Machiavellian would have no trouble with this. Neither should Harper.

"Throw in cigarette lighters and AM/FM radios
 and I'll take 65 of these babies".