Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who's Strategy Will Work?

In a nearly unprecedented situation, federal finance minister Jim Flaherty advised the government of Ontario to cut its business taxes. This is only one of several times that the Conservative finance Minister has issued this particular advice (in a very public way) to Dwight Duncan, finance minister for Ontario's ruling Liberal party.

Duncan and his boss Premier Dalton McGuinty obviously aren't being swayed. Instead of cutting taxes to cure the looming economic troubles, they have decided to invest in infrastructure and retraining.

Perhaps neither of these strategies will be sufficient to allow Ontario's manufacturers to better weather this storm, but I have to say that the federal Conservatives vision of low business taxes likely won't be helping anyone except for corporations that are already profitable.

For the struggling manufacturers, tax breaks won't help a bit as unprofitable business already doesn't pay tax.

What's most striking here is the fact that a federal government sees fit to publicly lecture a provincial government on a provincial budget. For whatever reason, the Harper Conservatives seem to think this to be acceptable in Ontario, where the wouldn't dream of doing the same in other provinces (namely Alberta or Quebec). Imagine the firestorm that would emerge if that were to happen.

The federal strategy seems to be one where they are preemptivly blaming the government of Ontario should the economy underperform (as it is expected to do) so that they can avoid taking any responsibility themselves. I don't think many people are fooled by this strategy, and I believe it to be a strategy that Harper will soon regret.

Friday, March 21, 2008

McKenna to Seek Top Job?

Though I'm hardly one to give into hearsay or gossip, but with this one I just can't resist. Sources close to the former premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna say that he is seriously considering running for Liberal party leader if and when Stephan Dion steps (or is shoved) aside.

Recognizing that the position is not currently open, and not wanting to create further disunity in the party, McKenna's consideration would only come if Dion, for some reason were to leave the position.

Personally, I'd prefer it if the Liberals just died and the NDP took over for them but realistically, that's not going to happen any time soon. This is 2008, not 1988.

So, with that in mind I welcome the possibility of McKenna making a return. He would be, after all, the first real New Brunswicker to hold the position of Prime Minister (we can hardly count Bennet as a New Brunswicker after all).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Brenda Martin

I'm sure most of you know of the case of Brenda Martin, the woman who has been in a Mexican prison for two years awaiting trial. The length of her imprisonment already violates international laws.

Martin was employed by an Edmonton man by the name of Alyn Waage who was convicted of defrauding 15,000 victims worldwide of an amount roughly in the range of $60 million dollars.

He has been sent to the U.S to serve his sentence there.

The case against Martin suggests that she had something to do with Waage's activities, yet no case has yet to be brought against her. For his part, Waage has stated that Mrs. Martin had nothing to do with his criminal activities.

Listening to Martin recently on CTV's Question Period, the woman appears to be on the brink of a breakdown. She is currently being sedated and is on a suicide watch.

MP Dan McTeague, the Liberal consular affairs critic has made repeated calls for the government to intervene in the case, and has also visited Brenda Martin in her Mexican jail. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin (no relation to Brenda) has also recently visited her.

The Harper government recently sent a diplomatic note of protest, and is escalating the situation by sending Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for multiculturalism to speak to Mrs. Martin. The Prime Minister himself has also reportedly spoken to Mexican President Felipe Calderon on the matter.

It's disappointing to me that it took so long for the government to really take this seriously, but it is encouraging that their new found concern seems to have been prompted by public outrage. The Globe and Mail, as well as CTV have been covering the story and now other news sources are also hot on the trail.

If Mrs. Martin is guilty of some offence, she deserves a trial. If there is no evidence (and it appears that there isn't, and she is innocent) than she should be immediately released as per international law and just plain decency.

This incident seriously diminishes the image of Mexico, and the quality of its judicial system for many people, myself included. We can only hope that the Harper government's new found interest will be enough.

Monday, March 17, 2008

By-Elections Could Give Dion a Boost

Four by-elections being held today could give Stephane Dion a badly needed boost. In fact, if he retains all four of the ridings up for grabs he might actually be able to get his critics off his back for at least a few months. Alternately, if he loses one or more this could really be the end for him.

Of the four ridings up for grabs (Vancouver Quadra, Toronto Centre, Willowdale and Saskatchewan's sprawling rural riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River), only one, Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River appears to be a tough battleground for Dion. He is however aided by the comments that the local Conservative candidate, RCMP officer Rob Clarke, that he didn't believe that he would win. It will be difficult for some people to vote for a guy who just said he doesn't think he's really in the race.

This could be a chance for the NDP's candidate, Brian Morin to take the only NDP seat in the province that birthed universal healthcare and the likes of Tommy Douglas.

Though it appears that Liberal Joan Beatty ( a former provincial NDP cabinet Minister ) will win the seat, pollsters have been admitting that it is extremely difficult to figure out what will happen in this riding of over 350,000 square kilometres.

The other ridings are Liberal strongholds in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver and are not likely to switch, but the same was said about Outremont before it fell to Thomas Mulcair of the NDP.

If Dion is able to win all four of these ridings, and it looks like he has a good chance of doing just that, he'll be able to take some of the pressure off. At least for the short term. If he loses the Saskatchewan riding, or even another, I wouldn't expect him to last out the year as Liberal party boss.

( I can't figure out how to make a caption under photos, so I thought I'd just point out that the Photo here is of Brian Morin, NDP candidate).

Commons In a State of Anarchy?

Peter Milliken issued a rare appeal for order in House of Commons committees. Stating that there is an"anarchy that appears to be serially afflicting committees in recent weeks." The speaker of the House of Commons also stated:

"Frankly speaking, I do not think it is overly dramatic to say that many of our committees are suffering from a dysfunctional virus that, if allowed to propagate unchecked, risks preventing members from fulfilling the mandate given them by their constituents," Milliken told the Commons.

Every minority parliament in Canada has been a sort of side-show, but perhaps things have not been this bad in many years or if ever. Committees can barely get any work done without a coalition of some group of parties overthrowing the chairmen, or the chairmen himself getting up and walking out to avoid opposition scrutiny and recommendations to the committee.

Though it is darkly interesting to watch, this could also be a very dangerous trend that is developing. Governments need to be able to govern, and opposition parties need to be able to hold the government to account. It's difficult to do that when both stonewall the other, and both would rather catch a good buzz from the media than actually do what Canadians pay them to do.

I find myself increasingly annoyed at the way our Parliamentarians conduct themselves. They think they are smart and witty, but really they look like a bunch of morons. They are not stupid people (most of them at least) so why do they behave like stupid people? Who do they think they are fooling?

Canadians are not oblivious to this, and recent voting trends seem to show that Canadians either can't be bothered to vote, or change their support frequently based on who seems to be acting the least like a clown that weak.

Imagine how things would be turned on their heads if Parliament returned to the more cordial days of yore, when opposition members and government members could actually sit in the same bar together after hours, when gentle prodding and teasing trumped overly partisan antics. Peter Van Loan, Scott Brison and the others who've been doing a lot of the talking for their various parties seem more concerned with "gotcha" politics than in actually working constructively.

No wonder good people like Louise Arbour seem to have no interest in seeking public office.

Monday, March 10, 2008

U.S Prison Population Soars

I was talking about Conrad Black's convictions and sentencing with a friend the other day, and the topic shifted to a short discussion regarding the difference between low security prisons in the U.S and in Canada.

In Canada, low security prisons are not locked, allow prisoners to move about relatively freely on day passes and even provide private bedrooms. U.S low security prisons are actually prisons. No day passes, dormitory style rooms, and wire fences. Conrad Black will be serving his sentence in one of these.

Today, I was reading an article on the topic from when I noticed the latest figures from Pew Research Centre. The numbers were always shocking, but the breakdown is even more so.

The United States has 2.3 million prisoners as of January 2008. That is more than any country in the world, including China and India which have much greater populations.

One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is in prison while the figure is 1 out of every 9 for black men.

Does anyone else find this to be highly alarming? Regardless of how tough one believes a society should be on criminals, what sort of society do we live in when one out of 30 men have to be locked up? Whether or not some of them shouldn't be locked up, or all of them should be locked up is really beside the point, 2.3 million people are in prison.

I'm not sure if this can be regarded as a breakdown in society, or a breakdown in how criminals are handled (or both). Law and order can only be maintained if enough people agree with the laws. Sooner or later those who believe serious laws can be broken from time to time will make up a number where the country can no longer afford (or no longer be able) to imprison them.

Regardless of your politics, I think we can all agree that the situation is becoming critical.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Senate and Democracy

I recognize that as a supporter of the NDP, I am supposed to be against the Senate and in favour of its abolition but I'm not sold on that argument.

My undecided position on this issue is not simply due to the ongoing situation between Stephen Harper and the Liberal dominated Senate but is really due to a whole host of situations.

While I think our sort of democracy has worked out reasonably well in a number of ways as compared to other systems, too much democracy really can be a bad thing.

I know that is a very unpopular thing to say these days but one only has to look at California to see an example of excessive democracy. In California, ballot questions have tied the hands of the State legislature to the point that it might as well not even exist.

Furthermore, how many of us would truly want our personal rights to be subject to the whim of the majority?

In a few classes that I have taught, I've given the students a lesson in democracy without limits by getting them to vote for one student who they believe should become the class clown. I allow them to introduce ballot measures to call upon any student to do anything. Example: "How many people think Jill should be required to sing and dance for five minutes at the end of each lesson?" 25 yeas, 3 Nays. While that might be fun for most of the class, it is terrible for Jill.

In much the same way, democracy can be taken too far. Rights must exist outside of democracy. In the same way, leader's cannot be overly beholden to every whim of the majority. People hire a government to look after the country, and a good Prime Minister should be appointing Senators that he or she feels will protect the interests of Canadians.

Perhaps some degree of Senate reform would be better than no change, but any change risks upsetting the balance, or increasing the power of the Senate risking gridlock. So, in my mind there is no clear answer but this does not believe that abolition is the best.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dion's Reprive

Stephane Dion maybe finally take a quick breath before the criticism starts again. With the Cadman controversy still taking up much of the media's political coverage, Dion could possibly avoid what recently appeared to be something slightly past the beginning of the end for him.

The question is whether or not he will be able to hold up this ever so slight bit of momentum until the upcoming set of by-elections to be held on March 17. These ridings are primarily safe for the Liberals, but after the NDP's victory in Outremont...nothing is really safe for the Liberals at this moment. If Dion wins these, he'll be safe for at least a little while. If he loses even a few, you can be sure he will be gone at the earliest possible time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

End of Big Social Spending?

If the Liberals already didn't have reason enough to not support the Harper government (Prime Minister Harper attempting to bribe the incorruptible Chuck Cadman shortly before his death) they very well might now.

According to Conservative guru Tom Flannagan, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are tightening the screws on the federal government, leaving more money in taxpayers' pockets and making it harder for Ottawa to spend.

How did they do it? With three consecutive budgets that have gradually eaten away at the budgetary surplus and have made it nearly impossible for any government to afford big ticket items without either driving the country back into the days of deficit spending, or by increasing taxes.

Neither of these are likely to happen in today's political climate.

More money in the pocket is never a bad thing but tax cuts are not always the best way of doing that. Take for example Canada's Universal Health care. This program costs the federal and provincial governments mega bucks and forces us to have higher levels of taxation than the United States, but in reality it is far more cost effective than the U.S system.

It wasn't long ago that Chrysler sold for a mere $7.4 billion dollars. A sale that amounts to pocket change for a company that in 2007 alone sold $62.2 billion worth of cares and has been selling similar numbers for much of it's history.

Why did it sell for so cheap? Well, a big part of that is the health care dues that the companies owes ($17.5 billion dollars owed) increase the cost of business by so much.

I would bet that the executives at Chrysler would far rather be in a situation where the government funds the health care needs of its workers, rather than the company. That alone would take care of a great chunk of their operating loss.

Now, turning to the future of Canada's social programs, there would simply be no money today to pay for programs like universal day care. Another issue that eats up corporate and personal wealth and makes our economy less competitive. Where did the money go? Nickel and dime corporate tax cuts that these companies will spend in the same way that the people at Chrysler spent it...providing the social programs that their employees require but the government won't provide leadership on.

Make no mistake about it, Stephan Harper's mark on Canada will last a good many years indeed. It will certainly take a great deal of leadership from the left to begin undoing what he has already done.