Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Green confusion

Ever since last summer's federal election, I've been hearing a charge coming from many other New Democrats that the Green Party of Canada is deliberately obfuscating its message so as to usurp some of the people that would traditionally vote NDP. I simply don't buy it. The Greens' website and their party literature are quite straightforward about what kind of party they are, and the times I've heard individual Greens speak in public, their message has been consistent there as well. After talking with some of the people who are thinking of voting Green this time around, however, it's pretty clear to me that many of them nonetheless think they're supporting a different kind of party than the one that's actually getting their vote. It's not the Greens' fault; they're making it more than apparent that their proposed policies differ strongly from the ones found in other Green movements around the world. Their supporters just aren't listening.

To some degree, this kind of confusion is perfectly understandable. Worldwide, the Greens are quite clearly identified as a left-wing movement that focuses on environmental issues. In Germany, for example, the Greens are associated both in practice and in the public consciousness with a progressive economic and social policy, and the movements in New Zealand and the U.S. have taken similar approaches. In Canada, however, things look quite different. Green Party leader Jim Harris is a former Progressive Conservative, a Red Tory. He's a management consultant and a motivational speaker to large businesses who describes himself as a green conservative and his party as eco-capitalist. Two of the major planks in the Canadian Greens' platform include corporate tax cuts and taxing resources rather than incomes. Their solution to the abuse of the environment by the business sector isn't tough new legislation and enforcement of existing legislation, but voluntary compliance. Despite the fact that same-sex marriage was a major issue in the 2004 federal election, the Greens didn't have an official stance on it until February of 2005. They have no identified stance on abortion rights, and no proposals for how to address the income gap. In August of 2004, they hired a former assistant to an Ontario conservative cabinet minister as a party advisor. Last winter, there was an advertisement on the Greens' website for a conference on "environmental conservation and economic conservatism," at which former Reform leader Preston Manning was a featured speaker. Joan Russow, a leader of the Canadian Greens in the pre-Harris days, has lamented their sharp turn to the right and states that she can no longer support them. The 2004 Greenpeace "report card" gave the NDP a better "grade" on the policies that matter to them than the Greens, and Greenpeace and the Sierra Club both endorsed the NDP over the Greens in the 2004 federal election. One of the Canadian Greens' slogans is "not left, not right, but straight ahead." This is quite clearly not a progressive party. They're not even pretending to be one.

Now, I'm certainly not trying to tell you the Greens don't deserve a voice on the federal scene. On the contrary, the merger of the right-wing Reform-Alliance and the more moderate Progressive Conservatives has left former Red Tories disenfranchised, and it seems reasonable and appropriate that these people would want to make room for themselves on the political spectrum. I'm not even going to try to convince you not to vote Green--if you read their platform and like what you see, then by all means, tick their box on election day, whenever that ends up being. But if you're planning on voting Green because you think you're voting for a fresh new progressive perspective on the Canadian political scene, then you've made the all-too-common mistake of associating them with the other parties around the world that label themselves as Green. The Canadian Greens are nothing more and nothing less than Red Tories, with Red Tory ideals and a Red Tory agenda with an environmentalist bent. They pay lip service to social justice, but their proposed policies suggest that they believe that environmental issues can and should be addressed separately from issues of social justice and consumer culture. And every last one of their potential voters should be making quite sure that's actually what they want before heading to the polls.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The best show in town

I realize that not all of you follow Canadian politics, but you might want to think about giving it a chance, 'cause at the moment it's the best show out there. You want action? It's right here. Intrigue? We've got it. Shady villains and sympathetic heroes, each marred by tragic flaws? Look no further.

Let's have a recap, shall we? Over the past year and a bit, the long-ruling Liberal party has been embroiled in the fallout from the discovery that more than $100 million of federal money has been diverted into party coffers (as well as the personal pockets of several of its supporters), via several pro-Liberal advertising agencies. We've known about this for a while, and the Liberals have even won another election since it first came out, but a few weeks ago some particularly juicy details were made public. A former ad executive testified at the public inquiry into the matter about how he was repeatedly asked to give cash donations to the party or put election workers on his payroll in exchange for lucrative sponsorship contracts. His testimony (which not only sounded like something straight out of the Sopranos, but which was also broken by occasional emotional moments where he actually cried on the stand) was shrouded in secrecy due to a brief publication ban, awakening the positively feline curiosity of everyone in the country that made absolute sure we would all know about it the moment the ban was lifted.

Since then, there have been rumblings of an early election, and as the governing Liberals are weakened by a minority of seats in parliament, it's quite within the realm of possibility that the opposition could bring them down less than a year after they assumed power. There are four parties in Ottawa these days: the centrist Liberals on the government side, and across the aisle in the opposition we've got the social democratic NDP, the right-wing Conservatives, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, the latter two of which are gunning for an early election. They're claiming the moral high ground by saying that they're shocked, shocked to find that corruption has been going on in this establishment, but it seems more likely that they're salivating over polls that show them both in mighty fine positions: the Conservatives would likely win an election if held now, and the Bloc would be poised to pick up as many seats as they've ever had. Yesterday the leader of the Conservatives made it official: he's going to take the first possible opportunity to topple the government.

In every good story, though, there's got to be an obstacle to the protagonist getting what he wants, and in this one we've got plenty of those hanging about. The first glob of mud in the Conservatives' waters is the recent marriage of convenience between the NDP and the Liberals, in which the NDP has demanded that more money in the proposed budget be spent on the environment, social housing, foreign aid, and tuition reduction, and in return they'll prop up the government. The Conservatives and the Bloc are both gnashing their teeth, but we're not to "curses, foiled again" quite yet. There are 308 seats in the House of Commons, but one riding is vacant, which means that whichever side ends up with 154 votes is the one that wins the prize. The alliance between the Conservatives and the Bloc has 153 votes, and the Liberal-NDP pseudocoalition has 150, so both sides fall short of the magic number. Enter the Independent Members of Parliament, who are easily the most colourful characters in this particular epic. At the moment there are three of them, which means that the Liberals need the support of all of them to stay in power, while the Conservatives only need one. Needless to say, they're all being heavily courted. The most popular three people in Ottawa are:

Chuck Cadman, who was elected to Parliament as a member of the far-right-wing Reform party (which has since merged into the Conservatives), but in the last election, he lost his nomination, ran as an Independent, and squarely beat the official Conservative candidate into a pulp. True to the old Reform ideals, he has said that he would vote however his constituents want him to vote. Last week he was saying he would support the government, earlier this week he changed his mind and said he'd probably side with the Conservatives, and now this morning he's saying oh, well, maybe not. He also happens to be currently undergoing chemotherapy on the other side of the country for a form of melanoma, and it's not out of the question that he might be too ill to make it to the vote at all.

Carolyn Parrish, who gained some degree of notoriety (as well as a number of fans) a couple of years back when she was overheard by an open microphone saying: "Damn Americans ... I hate those bastards," and after last year's U.S. election referred to President Bush as "a warlike man" and stated that she was "dumbfounded that he won." Her most recent stunt last fall involved tossing a George W. Bush doll on the floor and grinding it under her heel on a satirical television show, after which the current prime minister booted her out of the Liberal party and she began sitting as an Independent. Parrish has said she'll side with the Liberals on this one, but there's definitely no love lost between her and the current prime minister, and her picture also happens to be in the dictionary next to the word 'volatile.' Who knows what she'll do.

David Kilgour, who was a member of the predecessor to the Conservative party until he switched to the Liberals in 1990, is a fundamentalist Christian who has disagreed with many of his party's stances, most notably same-sex marriage. However, it was the most recent revelations in the corruption scandal that finally got him to leave the party two weeks ago, at which point he also began sitting as an Independent. Kilgour is the biggest wild card in the bunch, since his defection is so recent and his indignation so apparent. He's currently out of the country and hasn't been able to be reached for comment, but his last word was that he was considering all of his options. He's abandoned both the Liberals and the Conservatives, so he doesn't have any party loyalties, and he's said he's not running in the next election, so he's free to do whatever suits his fancy.

And I haven't even gotten into the old feud between different factions of the Liberal party, recently rekindled by testimony from a man loyal to the *previous* prime minister alleging that the *current* prime minister was once personally involved in some *other* shady dealings in the awarding of contracts. Or the courtly old gentleman knee-deep in the corruption scandal who testified that due to his advanced age, he can't possibly remember all the details anymore. Or the unprecedented address given by the current prime minister a week ago, pleading for his political life. Or the resurgence of Quebec separatism threatening to break up the country. I mean, bring out the popcorn. You can't make this shit up.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Someone's got to take the fall: Paul Wells may go on about Stars, but really, if today's federal Liberals need a theme song, it's got to be R.E.M.'s "Falls to Climb". When the movie comes out--you know, the one with Sean Connery as Jean Chrétien and Tom Selleck as Jean Brault--they're really going to have to get the rights.

To deal or not to deal: The NDP offered their support of the budget to the Liberals in exchange for the nixing of corporate tax cuts and funnelling that money into various underfunded programmes. Layton gave Martin twenty-four hours to make a decision (Paul Wells: "make a decision? you cruel, cruel man."). The first word was no, and then when everybody started talking about what a bad decision that had been, he changed his mind. (Way to make sure the Mr. Dithers label sticks *forever*.) My verdict: a big win for the NDP (though really, it would have been a win either way), a big sacrifice for the Liberals (as they've now made sure progressives will view the NDP as an alternative to the Liberals), a big annoyance for the Conservatives (as this may mean they can't call an election, depending on what the Independents decide), a possible big win for me, as I might be able to vote in this election yet. Good news all around.

Numbers, numbers: There's been a new poll since Martin's speech. Some high points: the majority of Canadians want to wait until the Gomery report for an election, the who-would-vote-for-whom data is unchanged, though the swell of Conservative support may have been stopped. Nothing too exciting here unless you're a polling geek like me.

Prescient idealistic pragmatists: This
is what I wrote the day after the federal election last summer. Sometimes I scare myself.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I am not a crook

Any thoughts on what Paul Martin is likely to say tomorrow night?

I'm thinking it's got to be something like: "My fellow citizens, I make you a solemn promise to dissolve Parliament at the very moment that the last Gomery witness leaves the stand later this year. But until then, the inquiry must continue, and so must this government."

Or maybe it's: "These are difficult times, and in difficult times, difficult compromises must be made. For this reason, I am hereby recommending that this government propose a bill introducing radical reforms to our parliamentary system, including the proportional representation so strongly embraced by my colleagues across the aisle in the Conservatives and the NDP
so that the Liberals won't be reduced to a mere two seats in the upcoming election."

(What? Come on, a girl can dream.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Nice chewy data

A new EKOS poll is out. Some tidbits:

If a federal election were held today in Canada, the leader of the Conservative Party would become Prime Minister. If people were to change their minds, the second choice among most Canadians would be the NDP (social democrats). Fifty percent of Quebeckers would vote for the separatists, and the NDP is in first place in B.C. and the Prairies. Among Canadians who make less than $20K a year, the NDP is the first choice, and among Canadians who make $100K a year or more, the Liberals are the first choice.

Sixty-two percent of Canadians surveyed think an election call should wait until after the inquiry is complete.

Sixty percent of Canadians surveyed think the current Prime Minister was involved in the sponsorship scandal.

Social issues remain at the top of the list of important issues in the next election (even before "ethics and accountability").

Sixteen percent of Canadians surveyed have still not heard of the sponsorship scandal. (???)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Respectful of Beavers

A certain cuddly marine mammal of my intimate acquaintance has written about the latest developments in the Gomery inquiry in her well-traveled blog. It's everything that was needed to counteract the ill-informed conservative American voices strutting around the blogosphere as if they'd even heard of Canada before last Saturday. And in addition to that, you get her inimitable wit, which I wouldn't dare try to match, publication ban or no publication ban.

Of course, now that the ban has been lifted and the Canadian media has juicier things to write about, she's not likely to get quite as much of a hit count jump as Captain Ed did. Or a mention on CTV News, or articles about her in the Globe and Mail, or ...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

What I *can* say about the Gomery rumours

The ban was a stupid idea. That much is clear now, even if it wasn't when it was put in place. But the puffed-up, American-neocon bravado of the only people who have been writing about it (and the U.S.-specific ethos that's been driving that writing minus any sense of the Canadian context) has been driving me batshit. In so many ways, it would have been better for everybody had these American bloggers just gone on being ignorant of Canada, especially since the ban is likely to be lifted imminently anyway. If I were a conservative Canadian, I'd be embarrassed; as it is, I'm just disgusted. I'll just add that it's not the desire for a ban (I understand and mostly agree with the reasoning) that has made me think less of Judge Gomery; it's the fact that he actually thought it would *work*. This man actually thought a short-term publication ban would be possible in the digital age, which only proves how out-of-touch this man is. And that, if nothing else, concerns me a great deal.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I'm sorry for not providing more context; as a resident of Canada, it seems that I'm probably not allowed to link to the sites in question even from a blog, and I'd rather not get deported, thankyouverymuch. But this news story at least alludes to some of the more interesting aspects. Note particularly this part: In an interview with The Gazette, the blogger, who cannot be identified for fear of violating the publication ban, said he had no idea the sponsorship scandal even existed before being contacted by someone who was present for Brault's testimony. "Somebody contacted me and said, 'I've got some information on this story.' It took about 24 hours for me to do some research on the issue at hand before I could make sense of the information that I was being given."

I have little doubt at this point that the information the blogger was given was accurate. I also have little doubt that he was manipulated by someone--probably someone in the Canadian Conservative party--with an agenda that reaches far beyond the supposed question of "free speech". The fact that this American blogger didn't know anything at all about the scandal until twenty-four hours before writing about it only made him an easier mark for a certain kind of spin on the story: a la "Stick with me, baby, and I'll make you a star." After all, the "currency" in blogging is your hit count. It was an ingenious way for a very clever someone to manipulate the tone of the only stories Canadians read about the testimony, at least while the ban is in effect. And all that at absolutely no cost, political or financial.

If nothing else, though, it sure makes for an exciting case study in how the Internet, and more specifically blogs, can force entire governments to stand up and take notice. We'll be analyzing this one for years to come.