Oh, yeah, these guys are chomping at the bit to merge with the left:
Last November the NDP traded off a national childcare system for their own short-term partisan gain. The Minister of Finance cannot comment on the high value of the Canadian dollar, but could he please comment on the low value of the NDP?
Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Oh, yeah, these guys are chomping at the bit to merge with the left:
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Okay, someone explain this to me. When a guy has been acting like a leadership candidate for weeks and weeks, and the media not only knows for certain that he's running, but when and where he's officially announcing it, what the heck does he still need to make the official announcement for?
If I were Brison at this point, I'd pull a rabbit out of a hat (or something even odder, like--I don't know--sing) just to keep the reporters from snoozing.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Two recent news stories--Jack Layton stating openly that the NDP doesn't want to ally themselves with the Liberals and NDP MP Pat Martin stating openly that the NDP wants to "remove the Liberals from the game board"--have many Grits in a tizzy. The latest among the tizzified is Jason Townsend from the blog The Just Society. In not joining forces with the Liberals, Townsend argues, Layton is single-handedly responsible for the "disempowerment of the progressive majority of this country." And in the comments, he states that "Jack's putting us all through a lot of misery," and we would all be better off if the NDP and the Greens would join the Liberals and form "socialist and Green caucuses" from which to fight for the things they care about. [*]
Now I'm partisan, but not blindly so. As I've said before, I think the elimination of the Liberals is a misguided goal that would result in a far more unpleasant political culture than the one we have now. I'm not opposed to the NDP joining forces with the Liberals in a real government coalition--in fact, assuming the Liberals succeed in recovering from their little corruption and entitlement problems, I'd welcome it. But I have to admit, when I see arguments like this, I see red, and it's not Liberal red. By far the biggest difference between die-hard Grits and the rest of the centre-left is that most people recognize the NDP as a full-fledged political party with its own culture, its own ideals, and its own direction. To a die-hard Grit, none of that is the case--the NDP is nothing but a fly they have to swat at, a nuisance. When Liberals try to convince NDPers to vote for them, after all, they're "uniting the left," but when NDPers try to convince Liberals to vote for them, they're "responsible for the disempowerment of progressive Canada." Mr. Townsend may suggest that the NDP would be better off as a "socialist caucus" within the Liberal Party, but why wouldn't left-wing Liberals like himself swallow their pride, join the NDP, and form a temporary "pragmatist caucus"? Liberals who find themselves scoffing at the very idea of equating those situations are the real obstacle to intraparty cooperation, far more so than Jack Layton or Pat Martin.
Some free advice for Liberals: If you want NDPers to start taking your overtures seriously, you really need to learn how to can the arrogance and approach them on equal footing. Don't say "you should all become Liberals so that we'll defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives"; say "if you help us in this way, we'll help you in this other way." Don't claim that you're all really the same underneath the party labels; recognize and respect the differences, but stress the ways in which you can work together despite them. Don't talk about how the NDP needs to compromise in order for progressive Canada to triumph; talk about how both sides need to compromise for the benefit of the whole country. You guys are so good about recognizing that Canada is best off with a real multiculturalism that allows various immigrant groups to retain their cultural identities--it's time to recognize that it's no different when it comes to our "political mosaic" than it is when it comes to our "cultural mosaic."
The die-hard Grits have to realize that they can't just swat at the fly and make it go away--not this time. If they don't realize that, the little nuisance of a fly might just end up picking at the remains of their corpse. And they can blame Jack Layton and Pat Martin all they want, but if that does happen, it won't be anyone's fault but their own.
[*] Of course, we wouldn't even be thinking about any of this if we had an electoral system that made sense. And oddly enough, that's something Mr. Townsend and I agree on. "I'm in favour of PR," he says in the comments. But rather than work from within the Liberals to convince his colleagues that proportional representation would be all-around better for Canada, he'd rather leave the dirty work of this mutual goal to the NDP and the Greens. Why? Because his party has "done very well" by the current first-past-the-post system. I think that says it all.
The English directions read:
No need to defrost. Steam for 10 minutes and serve.
The French directions read:
Ne pas besoin de décongeler. Cuire à la vapeur pour 15 minutes et servir.
Friday, April 21, 2006
If you've ever read through my proportional representation FAQ, you've already heard about Fair Vote Canada, at least in passing. I myself stumbled upon the organization several years ago, after doing a google search to see whether there was an organization advocating for proportional representation in Canada. What I found was a multipartisan, citizen-based campaign for electoral reform on both the federal and provincial levels, run by level-headed citizens from all walks of life and all points on the political spectrum. I joined immediately, with high expectations that they've since only exceeded.
Fair Vote Canada is unique in that they don't argue for a particular electoral system that might favour one party over the others, but instead advocate for an independent, citizen-driven process that would allow Canadians to choose a voting system based on the principles that all Canadian voters are equal, and that every vote should count. When it comes to proportional representation, the devil is always in the details, and Fair Vote Canada maintains that the public good is best served when a non-partisan group of informed, randomly chosen ordinary citizens--as opposed to partisan politicians--designs an electoral system suited to each jurisdiction. This may sound like a lofty, idealistic goal, but due in large part to Fair Vote Canada's strong advocacy of this principle, a citizens' assembly was already created in British Columbia, and a similar process is presently at work in Ontario. The resulting B.C. referendum in 2005 fell just short of the 60% threshold required to change the system, but well over a majority did vote in favour of it, and as a result, another referendum is scheduled to be held in conjunction with the November 2008 municipal election. Ontario expects to hold its referendum in October of 2007, and there is a strong push now to implement the same process on the federal level.
Fair Vote Canada gets it--they know that proportional representation isn't a partisan issue, but a tool we as a democracy can use to make sure Canadians get the parliament they vote for. As a result, they bring together people from all parts of the country, all walks of life and both partisan and non-partisan advocates of a better Canadian democracy. And it works. With almost no resources and in only six years of existence, Fair Vote Canada has educated countless citizens about electoral systems and electoral reform, helped get proportional representation on the agenda of both local and national debates, and helped make things happen that naysayers had dubbed unachievable fantasies. Judging from near-daily mentions of the issue in the media, there's some impressive momentum here, and in large part we have Fair Vote Canada to thank for that. Who knows what they can achieve over the next six years.
So why am I telling you all this now? Well, they're currently holding a membership drive, and if you're someone who believes in the principles they advocate, I would strongly encourage you to join them. It only costs you ten dollars a year, and that ten dollars buys you the knowledge that you're really doing something to benefit Canadian democracy. This is an organization with almost no overhead and administrative costs, as it's entirely volunteer-run, so every one of your ten dollars will go toward their work on electoral reform. I'd say that's worth the price of a movie ticket.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Now this is a glorious headline if I ever saw one: Alberta backs away from 'Third Way' health reforms.
The Alberta government, which announced with much fanfare earlier this year that it was about to turn health care in Canada on its ear, has announced it will not proceed with its so-called "Third Way" health reforms.And just think, all it took was tossing King Ralph out on his ear and a smackdown from Stevie.
[Update: More in the Globe and Mail.]
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Just last week, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose made the announcement that it was going to be "impossible" for Canada to meet its Kyoto targets. At the time, her words only sounded defeatist. Today, in light of a leaked Cabinet document, that statement looks far more sinister:
The new Conservative government has decided to slash spending on Environment Canada programs designed to fight global warming by 80 per cent, and wants cuts of 40 per cent in the budgets devoted to climate change at other ministries, according to cabinet documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.Apparently, the federal Tories are taking a page from the slacker's playbook. If something is too hard to do perfectly the first time, then why try doing it at all? But when a government's only real goal--that elusive majority--is far more important than actually accomplishing anything of benefit to Canadians, the easiest way to get there is to cut spending to programs that nobody's going to miss until years down the road anyway.
The documents also say that the Conservatives' campaign promise of tax breaks for transit passes would cost up to $2-billion over five years, but would result in an insignificant cut in greenhouse-gas emissions because the incentives are expected to spur only a small increase in the number of people willing to trade using cars for buses and subways.
Federal funding for wind power, considered by environmentalists to be one of the cleanest new energy sources, "is also uncertain," the documents said.
Ms. Ambrose, by the way, had no comment. Hardly surprising, given that the Tory plans for the environment aren't among the things the Minister of the Environment is allowed to talk about to the media.
[Update: democraticspace points out that the programmes being cut are quite efficient and cost-effective, while the transit pass programme they are being cut to fund will be costly and won't cut greenhouse gas emissions at all.]
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week or so, you're probably already aware that the U.S. government is considering an attack on Iran. The alleged reason is to prevent it from building a nuclear bomb that it might use against Israel, but since all the experts agree that Iran's alleged nuclear capabilities fall many years short of what it would take to build a bomb, we have to turn to more pedestrian explanations. Far from being part of a simple distaste for Middle Eastern countries that begin with 'I', though, according to blogger and University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, this rather dangerous posturing is more about currying favour with extremist voters. On both sides.
What is really going on here is a ratcheting war of rhetoric. The Iranian hard liners are down to a popularity rating in Iran of about 15%. They are using their challenge to the Bush administration over their perfectly legal civilian nuclear energy research program as a way of enhancing their nationalist credentials in Iran.I think most of you know how strongly I feel about democracy. But I have to admit that every now and then, I do occasionally question whether it's wise to use a system that backs our politicians into a corner and practically begs them to do anything at all to keep their jobs. (At least when Paul Martin was in that corner, though, it was just the notwithstanding clause that ended up on the potential chopping block, rather than innocent lives.)
Likewise, Bush is trying to shore up his base, which is desperately unhappy with the Iraq situation, by rattling sabres at Iran. Bush's poll numbers are so low, often in the mid-30s, that he must have lost part of his base to produce this result. Iran is a great deus ex machina for Bush. Rally around the flag yet again.
For some additional--and incredibly depressing--U.S. voices on this matter, try Power of Narrative and Billmon.
Friday, April 07, 2006
After reading a great deal of hype about Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy all week, both on blogs and in the mainstream media, I woke up on Thursday morning with an overwhelming feeling that after a long, hard race, the guy was eventually going to win. No, he's not one of the frontrunners, and so many people are referring to him as "virtually unknown outside of Ontario" that I'm beginning to think it's part of his name, but the Canadian Press's Joan Byden made a good case that given the way the leader will be chosen, being the least unloved candidate is more important than being the most loved candidate. This could very well work in favour of a candidate like Kennedy, and he clearly has enough die-hard fans to keep a serious campaign running for as long as it takes.
Now, as an NDP supporter, I'm very much of two minds on the Liberal leadership race, and when it came to Kennedy, I was finding those two minds squabbling a bit. On the one hand, I wanted to see a candidate from the left flank of the party win, because I'd rather have a quality centre-left politician running the country than someone like, say, Belinda Stronach (or for that matter, Stephen Harper). On the other hand, I also wanted to see someone win who had less of a chance of steamrolling my actual party of choice. After pondering this conflict for a while, I finally decided that whether I should be secretly be cheering for the guy or hoping he's eliminated by someone better known depended on his positions on a few key issues that are near and dear to my heart. I then killed an hour trying and failing to find the information I wanted online, before finally realizing that I was probably going to have to track him down and ask him myself. I was resigned to waiting for at least a few months as the man worked his way across the country to Liberal-poor Alberta, but in a rather jaw-dropping coincidence, that very afternoon I read this post from Edmonton's daveberta, letting us know that Kennedy was going to be in town the very next day speaking to students at the University of Alberta's law school. Now, I'm neither a student nor a Liberal, but I did what any self-respecting political blogger would do under those fortuitous circumstances: I crashed the Party.
I arrived fifteen minutes before the event started, and ended up sitting behind Gauntlet.ca's Jason Morris, who was liveblogging the event from his seat. (I'm telling you, we political bloggers are everywhere!) Kennedy's plane was late, so he didn't arrive until about a half hour into the scheduled event time, but he was in command of the room from the first moment. He looked very much at ease sitting on the desk at the front of the room--so much so that he could have been a professor if it hadn't been for the suit. He announced that he was definitely "running to be leader of the party" even though he hadn't officially declared yet. He then got into the generalities about his vision for Canada: first of all, to make sure the Liberal party has a vision, which he says it hasn't in a while; and second, to make Canada the world's "first international country" and to make that work with a "certain Canadian style" in which "every culture that's there should get to help decide what Canadian values are." He also talked about the need to take on extreme poverty, saying that "Liberals want people to have social and civil rights, but Liberals in the 21st century know those rights don't mean anything unless everyone has them." He said the Liberal party needs to become an open party, which it isn't, at the moment--and that one way of doing that is to make sure 50% of our parliamentarians are women and that Parliament also represents the diversity of the country. He talked about how he's always held a public open meeting every month in his own provincial constituency, and that that's helped him stay close to the people. He then concluded by saying the he wasn't "running to be the king leader," which he regards as a "very old model." He wants a more "distributed leadership."
He then entertained questions from the floor for the next hour and a half. Here are what I could catch of his articulated positions on the following (I apologize for all the things I missed--I'm no expert at shorthand!):
His basic position seemed to be that "we need to accept that there are two cultures in Canada and the smaller culture needs some help to survive." He then clarified that, though, by insisting that the francophone culture is spread throughout Canada, not limited only to Québec. He sees it as a difference between looking at the francophone culture as a distinct society within the borders of Québec and as a distinct society of all French speakers. This is no big surprise given that his wife is Acadian, but still good to hear. When asked about whether he would include the Chinese as another major culture in Canada, he stuck with the old model, saying that "the official idea should still be built around two cultures with a huge tolerance for other cultures," although "down the road we should be promoting the notion that all Canadians should speak three languages."
He seemed to be very much an ideologue on this issue, which pleased me, because it's one of the few issues I myself am ideological about. He opened this issue by blasting Alberta premier Ralph Klein's proposed "Third Way" reforms, saying that "the Third Way is no way," and that it's "a lazy way of going about things"--if you don't have enough doctors and you allow them to practice in a private system, that will further impoverish the public system. On the more general topic of private care, he was an unrepentant advocate of steering away from reforms in that direction: "you don't want people not delivering care because they need to make a little more money." He also said that the Canadian Institute of Health should be publishing stats about what's not working--a sort of "report card"--and that the provinces should be better at sharing information among themselves.
In response to this question from a young guy in a tie (almost certainly another crasher from the opposite end of the spectrum), he started off by saying that he "can't say he gets very worked up about the Senate" and that he's "not a big fan of changing institutions." He says he hasn't shut the door on it, but it's not a priority for him.
I was extremely disappointed by his response on this issue. I didn't really expect him to favour it--most Liberals outside of Alberta don't--but he doesn't even seem to know what it is. When asked whether he'd be interested in seeing a citizens' assembly a la Ontario on the federal level, he said he'd be happy to see that happen, and I was pleased to hear him acknowledge that citizens need to be involved because "the present system serves the people elected by it." But then he started going on about how politicians "need to be willing to give up their jobs," which isn't at all what electoral reform is about. To make matters worse, he referred to proportional representation throughout as "representation by population," which is something entirely different (and which Canada already has). And when he gave his personal opinion, he said that "representation by population" wasn't "going to do it" (to which I really wanted to ask: do what? because all we're asking for is an opportunity to make everybody's vote count, and it would definitely do that!), and that "big ridings aren't the answer." He then concluded by saying that for him, the citizens' assembly is about "getting people debating again," not so much about building a better mousetrap. All I can say is that it's a good thing his fellow Ontarians have different ideas.
Liberals in Alberta:
Another audience member asked what he would do to make people who vote for Liberals in Alberta feel connected to the party. (I almost yelled out "proportional representation!" at that point, but I held my tongue.) He said that having lived in Edmonton, he saw no reason why Alberta couldn't elect more Liberals--that there were some things to overcome with respect to the National Energy Program, but knowing Albertans, he knew they could go Liberal. I don't know--I would have found that answer very unsatisfying if I were a Liberal, given that they've been trying and failing to make inroads in this province for decades. But I suppose it's not my battle.
His ideas about this seemed very general, but it seems to be something he feels strongly about. He insists that this should be something that a truly international Canada "should be very good at." He also thinks we shoudl be finding a way to diversify in trade, not necessarily in terms of getting away from the U.S., but about reaching out to other countries and other markets.
Afghanistan and the military:
He thinks there's a lack of clarity on the current mission in Afghanistan, and as a result there needs to be a debate: "Are we going to be peacemakers there or just peacekeepers? Are we going to be there for a long time?" He also seemed to be cautious about joining forces with the U.S.: "We're good friends with the U.S., we can take things on with them, but we need to make sure we only do that when it fits our values." He believes that it's important to support the military that we have, though, regardless of whether we stay in Afghanistan or not.
Stem cell research:
The question from the floor was about Canada having one of the most restrictive policies about stem cell research and whether he would "bring us in line with other countries." He impressed me on this one by saying that he didn't know enough about this to answer, but that it was his impression from what he did know that we were actually well ahead of the U.S. on this. He said that "he'd need to know more" in order to address it properly, and then added that "biotech is one of the areas we can grow in."
Business and the environment:
My notetaking hand was getting tired by this point, but I did catch him saying that while this kind of thinking is "heresy for Liberals," he thinks that "individual businesses that take on some social responsibility are a good thing." He later added that "social responsibility is something to talk to the businessperson about, not the business." And in terms of Kyoto, he thinks it may be possible to meet our targets by looking at certain environmental technologies like carbon sequestering and peat moss. He also added that the numbers aren't as bad as the Conservatives claim they are, but that they're not as good as they should be.
So what did I learn? I suppose the big thing I learned is that I'm really not a Liberal. Yes, I realize that this isn't actually news, but it was really driven home for me this afternoon. As I said, I went to hear Kennedy speak in the hopes of finding out for myself whether I should be secretly rooting for him or hoping he got knocked off by someone better known, but I came out feeling like doing neither one. What I found was a perfectly fine man with mostly decent ideas about what should be done with the country, and he was being both sincere and informal, which is a combination I eat up. But the sum total of my reaction, both positive and negative, was a shrug. And this is really not what he wants to hear from people like me--idealistic pragmatists are the core constituency of the Gerard Kennedies of this world.
Would I be happy to see him as the Prime Minister of Canada? Sure. Do I think he's the best choice of the lot? Probably, yeah. Do I think he'd win over the "soft" NDP voters who fled the Liberals in this past election? Almost certainly a few. Do I think he can win over enough of us to give the Liberals a majority government without also cutting substantially into the existing Conservative support? Absolutely not.
[Update: For a more, um, Liberal perspective, try gauntlet.ca's rundown of the same event. Poor Kennedy, ended up speaking to not just one but two political bloggers. You can't take us anywhere.]
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
For a while there, it looked as if the Conservatives might end up being even less interested in cooperation with the opposition parties than the Liberals were. In today's Throne Speech, though, there were some indications that there are a few places where Harper is willing to put forth bits of someone else's agenda to gain stronger support for bits of his. As this NDP press release points out, Layton was consulted beforehand, which resulted in the following wording being included:
In collaboration with the provinces and territories, employers and community non-profit organizations, [this government] will also encourage the creation of new child care spaces.On health care:
The Government will support and enable innovative approaches to health care delivery consistent with the principles of a universally accessible and equitable public health care system embodied in the Canada Health Act.On electoral reform:
Building on the work begun in the last Parliament, this Government will seek to involve parliamentarians and citizens in examining the challenges facing Canada's electoral system and democratic institutions.On support for seniors and the environment:
[This government] will work to improve the security of seniors. It will take measures to achieve tangible improvements in our environment, including reductions in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.Some of the wording is wimpy, but it's telling what was included and what was entirely left out (employment insurance reform and First Nations issues, which Layton also negotiated with Harper about). This may well be an indication of what's on the table and what's not. It looks like the Bloc Québécois may have gotten a few carrots, too--the most noteworthy being the line about the role for Quebec in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
I'm still not expecting anything good to come out of this Parliament apart from a timeout for the Liberals, but I'm not displeased.
Last week, Declan of Crawl Across the Ocean wrote a terrific post detailing how Newfoundland rejected joining Confederation back in 1948. I was reminded of this as I read CTV's online coverage of Ralph Klein's announcement that he plans to call a leadership convention for his party by September. In a quote, Klein contrasts his poor showing (55%) among the party faithful at the Alberta Progressive Conservatives' annual convention this past weekend with the "resounding majority mandate" (47%) his government received in the last provincial election, saying that this conflict makes it increasingly difficult to do his job.
I'm never gonna master this new Canadian math.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Rob Cottingham is one of the distinguished veterans of Canada's fledgling blogging scene, with posts that date all the way back to April of 2001. Now, together with his partner in work and in life, Alexandra Samuel, he's offering a blogging workshop out at the Hollyhock Centre on British Columbia's Cortes Island. (Alex is hardly a novice at these things, either--she's a renowned expert in online communication and politics with a Ph.D. in the area from Harvard University.)
The workshop-cum-retreat lasts a full four days, and means not just a chance to learn about blogging and hang out with a bunch of other bloggers, it also means doing all that in front of landscapes like this. If I weren't going to be spending the month of May out in good old Waterloo, Ontario for work, I'd go.
My adopted province, as many of you will know, has a history of political dynasties. In the early years of the 20th century it was the Liberals and then the United Farmers of Alberta, Social Credit ruled from the start of the Second World War through to 1971, and the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party has been nailed to the throne ever since. Though the Alberta Liberals entertain dreams of pushing them off, realistically that's not happening anytime soon. So when King Ralph all but retired in front of a bunch of cameras yesterday, non-Tory Albertans knew not to get too excited about the prospect of real change. Buried in that National Post article, though, is this little gem: Preston Manning, founder and former leader of the federal Reform party, said he'd need to be persuaded that entering a Progressive Conservative leadership race would be best for the party, the province and him. Manning also said he would have to be convinced there would be enough people willing to do the "heavy lifting" required to sell enough memberships for him to win.
The screams among Alberta's left were audible when that news broke yesterday--didn't we finally get rid of the Manning-man once and for all when he lost his position as leader of the Reform party? On the surface of things, it sure looks as if there's reason for concern: the guy's a die-hard social conservative, he was a proponent of two-tiered medicine back when it was still a sacred cow, and he hates the very idea of arts and culture funding. But he's also been a supporter of electoral reform for decades who went so far as to openly endorse British Columbia's reform proposal from a year ago. More importantly, he's proven that he's not one of those fair-weather friends of proportional representation who like it when their guys are doing poorly and shun it when they start doing well, as he demonstrated by joining forces with the NDP's Ed Broadbent on the electoral reform edition of CBC Radio's The House earlier this year.
No, rubbing noses with Ed Broadbent doesn't mean Manning has been sprinkled with NDP fairy dust. There's no reason to think Manning wouldn't be yet another premier for Alberta's left to endure rather than endorse. But given that the current front-runner in the leadership race openly maintains ties to the private health care industry, this particular Fair Vote Albertan is thinking Manning might not look so bad by comparison. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd much rather have a premier I disagree with but can respect than one who's entirely loathesome. And he's still got enough fans in this province that he just might be able to swing it, too.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
Many of you will already know from personal experience that if you have a blog that's been around for any amount of time, you'll occasionally get a note from a reader asking you to help them with some cause or another, or help them gang up on another blogger, or somesuch. Occasionally it's someone you know, and that's fine, but more often it's someone who claims to have read your blog when they've actually just collected emails through one of the blog aggregators you belong to.
Since I'm a member of the "big-tent" Progressive Bloggers, this has led to a couple of pretty amusing examples of this. The most recent one, and the best one yet, was from someone asking for my help in promoting Ken Dryden's campaign for the Liberal leadership, including a plea for help from "people who care about the Party" (capitalization not mine).
The possibilities are endless, no? And on April Fools' Day, no less.
[Update: This post was immediately voted to the top of the Progressive Bloggers page. Hee! I love you guys!]
The Edmonton Journal and the Globe and Mail (as well as newspapers across the country, no doubt, and countless Alberta bloggers) are reporting that Ralph Klein received only 55% of the vote last night at the Alberta provincial convention for his party. He'd intended to stay premier until 2007 or even 2008, but since this result, he likely has other plans.
Assuming that this isn't some rather elaborately concocted collective April Fool's joke, the provincial political scene in Alberta just got a little more interesting.