Archive for April, 2011

This election I endorse Anything But Conservative

Far greater pundits and commentators have submitted their endorsements for one party or another.  While opinionated I don’t regard myself as blindly partisan mostly because I have drifted all over the political spectrum.   I supported the Liberals strongly in 2004 and reluctantly in 2006.  Provincially I’ve voted for all three major parties at one time or another and in the most recent provincial election I voted for the right of center Saskatchewan Party.  As I came to grips with the reality of climate change and peak oil I put my support behind the Greens at the federal level.  I still believe that Peak Oil is the biggest issue most people have never heard of and it holds greater sway over our economy than most of issues we are debating right now.

I’m in a riding that is a horse race between incumbent Conservative Kelly Block and the NDP’s Nettie Wiebe.  Tough choices for me as they represent my two least favourite options.  I think the NDP platform is weak.  I don’t like their Cap and Trade program.  It isn’t broad enough and the assumption that we can tax big polluters and not impact consumers is short sighted.  If they implement it as is it will become NEP part two as it will pump money out of Alberta and Saskatchewan to fund all sorts of fun programs all over the country.  Just take a look at Liberal polling numbers in Alberta and you’ll see alienated westerners have long memories. 

I find some elements of their platform almost silly like capping credit card rates.    The NDP haven’t generally enjoyed the prospect of actually forming a government.  For years they have been able to get away with promising anything they want.  At lot of their promises will have to be revisited if they form government, but I believe they are honest enough to pare back where they need to.  If they listen to guys like the former premier of Saskatchewan Roy Romanow they will do just fine.

I don’t think they will increase the deficit because they are “tax and spend” social democrats not “cut taxes and spend” Conservatives.  If Jack Layton does become PM they will clearly have to work with the Liberals and that will temper their ideals with some pragmatism. 

I think the Conservatives are wrong on many issues and I find their tactics dishonest and sleazy.  Their crime and punishment agenda is a cynical vote grab that panders to people’s ignorance about crime.   The choice to drop the GST instead of income tax was another sacrifice of good policy for good politics.  They attacked Dion and Ignatieff outside an election with dishonest ads that questioned their motives and character.   Their tactics were successful politically as Canadians still have a dim view of Ignatieff, but just imagine how this tactic would destroy the relationships of people that we elected to run our country.

Their tactics have eroded our democracy with lies, fears and smears.  They were elected because Canada was willing to demand better but we haven’t received anything better.  Conservative transgressions are well documented.  The breach of parliamentary privilege resulting in the contempt of parliament ruling, proroguing parliament to avoid accountability in the house of commons over the possible torture of afghan detainees, the inclusion of a convicted fraudster in the PMO, running afoul of election laws,  pork barrel spending in Conservative ridings and the list goes on and on.  The Conservatives and many of their supporters just shrug these issues off as nitpicking and partisan bickering.  Most Canadians disagree as a recent poll revealed over 60% believe our democracy is in crisis.

The Conservatives main push this election has been their vaunted management of the economy.  Canada weathered the recession well because it was positioned well by  a decade of prudent fiscal management by the Liberals and we just happen to find a lot of things in the ground and growing on the ground that the rest of the world finds valuable.   The recession didn’t start in Canada and it didn’t end here either.  The Conservatives have done almost nothing to transition us to a more sustainable economy.  Their modest efforts at investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency must be viewed in contrast to the billions of dollars of subsidies we provide the oil industry despite record level oil prices.  The price of gasoline and home heating oil will continue to rise long term and Canada is still very vulnerable to energy price hikes.  When the rising cost of oil and increasing debt pressures force the American economy in to recession again we will feel the impact.  It is true that danger does lurk on the shores of our economy but I see very little being done to mitigate the true risks to our economy. 

The risks of climate change may already be upon us as the world grapples with increased droughts, floods and storms that negatively impact food production which in turn causes food inflation.  It is great for farmers in Saskatchewan, not so good for people in the developing world living off dollars a day or our grocery bills.  In the long term the most productive, business friendly and market friendly economy is one that doesn’t borrow from the future with unsustainable approaches in regards to energy and the environment.  As we continue to trash our environment and squander our limited non-renewable energy resources with gross inefficiencies we sleep walk in to economic ruin.

I appreciate the Green platform.  Their carbon tax is a simpler, fairer way to address the issue of climate change.  They have good ideas on electoral reform.  I sincerely hope Elizabeth May wins her seat and if I were in her riding I would vote for her.  A successful future for the Green political movement probably lies along two paths.  In one scenario an  NDP coalition successfully leads the country to proportional representation paving the way for Green MPs.  Another might be for the Greens to become a “Green Tea Party.”  While they hold very little in common with the American “Tea Party” they could use similar tactics to create a green political movement inside the LPC or NDP.  I agree with Green party when they say the NDP and Liberal climate change policies are weak, but the truth is we don’t have decades to wait for the Greens to gain influence in a First Past the Post system.  The sad reality is something is better than nothing.

I’m less impressed with the Liberal platform this time around. Michael Ignatieff is much better leader most people make him out to be.  He would probably be a better PM than Harper or even Layton but he is no Trudeau, Chretien or even Paul Martin.  Being outside the country for 30 years doesn’t make him less Canadian but  I think Canadians want a leader who has spent most of their lives investing in the betterment of Canadian society. 

Unfortunately the Liberals have engaged in the same kinds of tactics I’m so critical of the Conservatives for using.  Like many other Canadians I’m tired of the crap.  I want the people we elect to represent us to work together.  I think the surge in NDP support outside Quebec comes from Canadians that are just sick and tired of all the crap.  Outside of Quebec I don’t believe this new “Orange Crush” is a mandate for the NDP. It is a rejection of distasteful practices of the two main parties and attack ads that might be considered mutually assured destruction.  They both managed to spoil the public perception of each other  to point that people gave up on both of them  and shifted to the NDP.

I hope that we see a coalition government that includes a more honest party committed to democratic reform (the NDP) combined with the experience and temperament of Canada’s old natural governing party (the LPC) with Elizabeth May as the environment minister.  The Conservatives have been far too corrosive on our democracy.  While I’m comfortable with right of center parties like the Saskatchewan Party I won’t sacrifice democratic values and basic honesty and decency for lower taxes.  If we continue to allow parties to undermine our democracy we open the door to something far worse than modestly higher taxes.

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Andrew Coyne reveals who he will vote for

Here are some short snippets, the whole thing is worth reading.

On the Liberals and the economy

The Liberal platform, on the other hand, is more consistent, at least in economic policy terms: it is wrong-headed in every respect—higher spending, higher taxing, more meddlesome generally. Its saving grace is that it is only half-heartedly so. The Liberals would raise corporate taxes, but more for show than anything else: lifting rates back to the 18 per cent they were last year is the wrong way to go, but hardly the apocalypse. They aren’t going to get anything like the $6 billion in revenue they claim from these, but neither do they need it. The $5.5 billion in extra spending they propose is barely two per cent of program spending, and would not on its own threaten the country’s fiscal position.

And that’s what it would take to really worry about what the Liberals would do to the economy in the short term. When it comes to taxes or regulations, it takes a long time for even the stupidest government policy—for example, the Liberals’ proposal to shower selected “Canadian Champion Sectors” with subsidies—to really harm the economy. It’s macroeconomic policy that can really run you onto the rocks: running massive deficits, or letting inflation get out of hand. Call me naive, but I do not think the Liberals would do either—even in combination with the NDP. If anything, I suspect they would be at pains to prove their fiscal-conservative credentials, for fear of financial markets’ wrath.

On the Conservatives and democracy

So that’s the economy. And on democracy? Here the choice is starker—not because I invest any great hopes in the Liberals, but because the Tory record is so dreadful. To be sure, they introduced the Accountability Act on taking office: incomplete, loophole filled, but progress nonetheless. And they have made fitful efforts to reform the Senate, when not packing it with their own strategists, fundraisers and toadies.

But the long train of offences against democratic and parliamentary principle—from proroguing Parliament, twice, to evade Parliament’s reach; to withholding documents essential to parliamentary oversight, even in defiance of Parliament’s explicit demands; to intimidating parliamentary officers and politicizing the bureaucracy; to such breaches of trust as the Emerson and Fortier appointments, the taxation of income trusts, and the evisceration of their own law on fixed election dates—are simply unforgivable.

Add to that the coarse, vicious brand of politics, the mindless partisanship for which the Tories have become known: equal parts terrorizing their own MPs and demonizing their opponents. And add to that the extreme centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office, the trivialization of even cabinet posts as sources of independent authority, never mind the barracking of committees . . . Enough.

But much of this went on when the Liberals were in office, too, didn’t it? Yes. That’s just the point. To compare the Harper Tories to the Chrétien Liberals, and to the Mulroney Tories before them, and to the Trudeau Liberals before them, is hardly to excuse them: quite the opposite. The decline of democratic politics may have begun under the Liberals, but it has continued under the Tories. And it will accelerate if there is no price to be paid at the ballot box for such behaviour.

Go find out who he decides to vote for!

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Prime Minister Jack Layton

Here is a interesting scenario for you.  The latest polls have the NDP ahead of the Liberal’s nationally.  They could in fact win more seats.  If the Conservatives fail to win a majority of the seats, and refuse to compromise with the other parties they lose the confidence of the house.  The Governor General would then ask another party to form government.  If the NDP have the most seats they would have the first crack at it.

Prime Minister Leighton I mean Layton…that just sounds right Smile

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Some of my “socially Conservative” values

The issues: trade policy that exploits the developing world, over consumption of resources creating food and energy inflation

What sorrow awaits the unjust judges and those who issue unfair laws. They deprive the poor of justice and deny the rights of the needy among My people. They prey on widows and take advantage of orphans.
(Isa 10:1-2)

The issues : First Nations rights, recognition of immigrant credentials, African foreign aid

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.
(Pro 31:8-9 NLT)

The issues: false advertising, false accusations in attack ads, disingenuous political posturing

“Be sure never to charge anyone falsely with evil. Never sentence an innocent or blameless person to death, for I never declare a guilty person to be innocent.(Exo 23:7 NLT)

The issues: sustainable development and ecological responsibility

If you happen to notice a bird’s nest along the road, whether in a tree or on the ground, and there are chicks or eggs with the mother bird sitting on them, you must not take the mother from the young. You must be sure to let the mother go, but you may take the young for yourself. Do this so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.
(Deu 22:6-7 NET.)

The issues: exploitation of the developing world, consumerism, materialism, environmental responsibility, predatory business practices

There were those who said, "With our sons and daughters, we are many. We must obtain grain in order to eat and stay alive." There were others who said, "We are putting up our fields, our vineyards, and our houses as collateral in order to obtain grain during the famine." Then there were those who said, "We have borrowed money to pay our taxes to the king on our fields and our vineyards. And now, though we share the same flesh and blood as our fellow countrymen, and our children are just like their children, still we have found it necessary to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have been subjected to slavery, while we are powerless to help, since our fields and vineyards now belong to other people." I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints.
(Neh 5:2-6 NET.)

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What could happen if the Conservatives don’t get a majority

Some people seem pretty upset at the notion that Michael Ignatieff could become PM even if he only gets the 80 or so seats he is projected to get.  That isn’t set in stone, and I think a few other things could happen.

The Conservatives could make a deal with the NDP.  That is what happened in the UK.  The Conservatives won a minority and turned to the 3rd place left wing party and formed a coalition.  Who doesn’t want to see Jack Layton in cabinet with John Baird?

The Conservatives could gain the confidence of the house through compromise.  The Liberals aren’t stupid politically, and they know that they risk alienating people for years by doing something that is legally acceptable but politically sketchy. 

If the Conservatives soften to 33 or 34% and only get 120 seats and the Liberals get up to 100 this equation changes.  If the Liberals + NDP have significantly more seats than the Conservatives I think that gives them a mandate to govern together.  Even today most polls have Liberals + NDP at about 47% of the popular vote.  If we had proportional representation we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

The fly in the ointment here is Harper because nobody trusts him.  It isn’t just political posturing, the opposition  really doesn’t like him, and don’t believe him.  That makes it hard to see how the NDP would do a deal with him.

If Harper were to announce he is quitting then that just might change the mood.

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I feel a great disturbance in the force…the NDP

Obi-Wan KenIggy: I a feel a great disturbance in the force.  It’s as if a thousand Liberal voices cried out on Twitter and were suddenly silenced.

Han Donolo: Well, your can forget about our troubles with a Tory majority.  I told our attack ads on health care would outsmart them.  Anyway, we should arrive at some new polling numbers soon.

Two hours later.

Han Donolo:  It looks like we are coming up on the Angus-Reid poll results
What the…? Aw. we’ve come out of the 3rd week, some kind of poll anomaly, It’s not on any of our projected numbers.  The results are correct but there is no Liberal lead over the NDP.

Bob Raewalker: What’s going on?

Han Donolo: That’s what I’m trying to tell you kid, the Liberal lead on second place.  It ain’t their, it’s been totally blown away.

Bob Raewalker: What? How?

Obi-Wan KenIggy: Destroyed by the NDP?

Han Donolo: The entire NDP campaign couldn’t destroy the whole lead.  It’d take a thousand attack ads with more fire power than I’ve…

 
 

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What this whole contempt of Parliament thing was about

For a little while everyone was talking about this contempt of Parliament thing and I wanted to know what it was all about. I found very little analysis on the events that led to this ruling. I did however find the text of Speaker Milliken’s ruling. The story goes like this:

Step 1: In the fall of 2010 the Finance committee ordered the government to product documents relating to the corporate tax and justice bills.

Step 2: The government refused citing “cabinet confidence.”

Step 3: The finance committee asked why these documents are a matter of Cabinet confidence but did not receive a reasonable explanation. The government refused a couple times to produce the documents.

Step 4: Months later in Feb 2011 the government tables more documents but not all the ones requested.

Step 5: The House of Commons passes a motion ordering the government to produce the documents with a deadline. It isn’t clear in the ruling but I’m assuming the documents were not produced.

In his ruling the Speaker reminded the House of the rules which state that there are no restrictions on what documents the House can order. A rule everyone in government would have been well aware of because it was brought up over the whole fight over the Afghan detainee documents just about a year ago.

I have yet to find the Conservative explanation for the choices it made in the whole affair. Harper has said that they thought they complied with the motion to produce the documents. It is hard to believe as they had multiple chances to produce the documents and they didn’t do it.

The speaker didn’t rule the government was in “contempt of Parliament” but that he did find that the government breached parliamentary privilege. The matter was referred back to the finance committee which then found the government in contempt.

Some have maintained the whole contempt ruling was a partisan witch hunt but without a very good explanation for the decisions made by the government it looks very much like the government refused to give parliament the documents the parliament had every authority to order them to produce.

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Debate thoughts: the economy

On the policy front nobody impressed me.  We all have issues that we care about the most.  I deeply care about the economy but I don’t see that as Harper’s strength.  In 2008 when the credit crunch was collapsing stock markets around the world the Harper government seemed completely asleep at the switch.  For all Harper’s rhetoric about how important it is to keep parliament focused on the economy it really doesn’t jive with the reality that in the midst of the market crash and the recession he prorogued parliament in 2008/2009.

I don’t attribute Canada’s economic stability with anything Harper has done.  He started in 2006 with a huge budget surplus which he squandered through increased spending and lower taxes.  The reason we are in deficit is because of poor economic management.  Some think it was the recession but that is over and we are still in deficit. 

The recession didn’t start in Canada nor did we pull ourselves out of it.  The “Economic Action Plan” is just a fancy word for stimulus spending which the Harper government didn’t want to do.  It was the threat of the coalition that forced his hand to bring out stimulus spending in the 2009 budget.  As much as I might hate to admit it, I’m not convinced Harper was wrong on his initial instinct on this.  It does get surreal when I consider that Harper is taking credit for managing the economy well because of surplus spending he didn’t want to do that probably didn’t make that much of a difference anyway.

The bank of Canada did introduce a lot of “monetary stimulus” in the form of really low interest rates and other measures to keep the credit markets fluid.  This certainly propped up the value of our homes but I fear we will pay a terrible cost for this.  The price of Canadian housing is unsustainable.  Canadians have taken on an incredible amount of debt and when interest rates come back up we will see the housing bubble burst and some serious hardship.  In all fairness the Bank of Canada is independent of the government and I don’t link these issues too Harper.  However the government is responsible for mortgage rules.   They just started to tighten up some very lax lending standards but I think it will be too little too late.

Jeff Rubin maintains that high oil prices are what caused the world to tip over to recession.  Oil is now over $110 / barrel in the North American markets and over $120 / barrel in Europe.  Different agencies are issuing warnings that if the price goes any higher it is going to seriously impact the economy again. 
In Canada we produce much more oil than we use so high prices do benefit us in some ways.  The impact on the American economy is much more negative.  When we sell 70% of our stuff to a country that is hurtling itself towards bankruptcy that doesn’t bode well for us.  The Harper government has successfully negotiated more avenues of trade with other countries which I will say is a positive.  When the US government maxes out its credit card and the debt financing that is keeping the US economy afloat ceases, we will find out in a hurry that we can’t avoid the impact of the economic realities of our neighbour to the south. 

What I would have loved to see are concrete measures to transition towards a sustainable economy.  Our system assumes that we can have infinite growth in a world with finite resources.  This assumption is going to hurt us sooner or later.  The only party that really tackles this is the Green Party. 

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Broken politics in Canada

Last night I watched this episode of The Agenda.  It is an excellent discussion about the state of politics in this country.

I am deeply concerned about the direction of politics in this country. While politics has always been something of dirty game I’ve observed the Conservatives use tactics that are truly offensive and corrosive on our democracy. They however aren’t the only guilty party.

Take for instance the use of attack ads outside of elections. The Conservatives effectively smeared Dion and Ignatieff. The ads worked but what are the long term ramifications of this tactic? How many quality people will want to ever become the leader of the opposition if they know the ruling party will immediately look for any dirt they can find and smear them with it on television coast to coast?

If the government doesn’t provide honest and accurate assessments of their programs to parliament who would want to be an MP? Say I’m fired up and I want to go make a difference in Ottawa. I get there and I can’t speak freely in the House of Commons and I can’t even know the real numbers behind programs? How will I be able to make any difference?

If I come to parliament and there is very little co-operation or dialogue just rabid partisanship how would I make any difference at all? If I come to parliament and the government simply shuts it down when it doesn’t want to be held accountable I would definitely wonder why I am there.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why some prominent MP’s from across the political spectrum have packed it in and given up. As we drift towards tactics that reduce the role of MP’s as attack dogs for rabid partisan agendas we will continually find our governments filled with second rate people. The quality of our leadership will diminish.

The decline of parliament is a much bigger issue to me than 1.5 points on the business tax rate or funding for students. We need a political environment that attracts bright innovative people with a sincere passion for our country. We need great people to come up with great ideas. Without great people will not be able to meet the challenges we face as a nation.

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Should American’s "Eat the rich"

The sooner America can admit where they are really at the sooner they can move forward. As it stands things aren’t progressing well on this front.

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