Tuesday, April 3, 2012

BC Liberals in "monumental collapse"

Okay, am I the only person who things that the term "monumental collapse" and "freefall" are a bit harsh for a 5% drop in support for a government?

The media always has a tendency to exaggerate, and we are used to a certain amount of exaggeration. But, "monumental collapse" as The Globe and Mail called it today is about as exaggerated as one can get.  Perhaps they should call it a monumental shift...as the Liberals are being tied with the upstart BC Conservatives.  Centrist and right of centre voters who've long voted for the BC Liberals are now moving toward the Conservatives which could leave the BC Liberals as little more than a 'monument' to what they once were.

These sort of movements do happen, especially in the West of Canada.  I must say that I've really been unhappy with the Globe and Mail over the past year or so.  Since it looked like the NDP were becoming a real alternative federally, as well as in major provinces like BC, the Globe has routinely ran with lines that diminish the NDP in favour of either the Conservatives or Liberals.

When the news has been very good for the NDP, the Globe minimizes it to point out something positive for the NDP, but then ends the article with a lot of qualifications. If the Liberals even look half alive, the Globe rants and raves about it.

I think this is really unfair.  The Globe's bias against the NDP is not so much based on policy differences...let's face it, none of the major parties in Canada differ all that much on essential questions of how to govern (well, the Bloc's separatist policy makes it fairly unique...and it does sorta qualify as a major party, but the rest of their policies are fairly typical) so, what is it about the NDP that the Globe doesn't like?

I think it's not so much that they don't like them, as they are just so statist and status quo(ist) that they are fearful of anyone who hasn't been in government at the federal level or in Ontario.  There not much of a national news paper in that regard.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Between the lines

I think I've always had some skill in reading between the lines and also judging body language.  So, in today's post I'd like to make some observations on topics that I haven't seen the media cover much from Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons:

Justin Trudeau

I'm not certain, as the cameras must follow the standing orders/Roberts rules or whatever and therefore can only show the official business of the Commons...not what MP's happen to be doing during the official business...but, it seems to me that an awful lot of the heckling happening in the Commons is coming from Justin Trudeau.  I also notice a little bit of swagger in his step.  I don't like it.  I find him scattered, uninteresting, arrogant and disrespectful.  He should grow up a few more years before being allowed to open his mouth again.  His colleagues seem to have a slight disapproval toward him, and the Conservatives laugh at him like he's a complete joke.

Here's an example from March 28 when Trudeau asked about the ending of the Katimavik program.

James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage stated in his response:  "...but I know that if he aims to please Canadians...Saturday night, when he goes into the ring, if he keeps his hands nice and low and keeps his chin nice and high he'll be giving Canadians the greatest show we've been waiting for".

Now, for context, Justin Trudeau is scheduled to go into a charity boxing match on Saturday night.  But yah...Moore and his laughing colleagues know that most Canadians would love to see Trudeau smacked upside the head.

Bob Rae

On March 26, the first day that Thomas Mulcair spoke in the Commons as Leader of the Official Opposition, Bob Rae was all fire and passion.  On March 28, he hardly got any applause from his own caucus when he stood up to speak.  He responded "Thank you for your interim support".  So, obviously he noticed the lack of applause as well.  And, later in QP he asked a further question.  Normally, leaders only ask their first set of questions, and then they allow the other members of their party to ask the rest of the questions.  The fact that no one clapped for him, and that he asked more than one set of questions seems to confirm that he is really having some caucus problems.

Bernard Valcourt, John Baird, Christian Paradis and others. 

Normally Bernard Valcourt, former leader of the NB Progressive Conservatives, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird nod their heads and agree, in the case of Baird, loudly agree, with whichever Conservative is speaking.  Well, I've noticed that when Christian Paradis tries to justify his violation of conflict of interest ethics, Valcourt glares at him like he's a piece of shit, and Baird averts his eyes and has a look that can only be described as repulsion.  Others are clearly looking on, and there doesn't seem to be much support.

I'm sure Harper will be ripping Paradis to shreds when he gets back to Canada

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Conservative Sound Bite Technique Effective?

Stephen Harper's government frequently relies upon high profile issues to capture the narrative on how his government is doing.  This is normally not a bad idea, but I wonder how effective is it really.  To explain what I mean, let's look at how his government has handled budgetary matters in the past.

High profile, news worthy programs like Medicare have never been touched by the Harper government.  Instead, small, incremental adjustments and changes in policy have changed which have essentially loosened to position of Medicare in Canada.  The Canada Health Act is loosely, if at all, enforced which allows the provinces more leniency in going there own way on health care.  This is probably not a bad idea, but the soundbites coming out over the last number of years emphasized that Medicare spending is stable.

On privacy, the government used the profile issue of the long form census and the abolition of the gun registry to emphasize their commitment to privacy.  But, this government has all the while strengthened governing surveillance powers.

The Harper government's initial election in 2006 had a lot to do with government ethics.  They decried the centralization of power in the Prime Minister's Office, and the arrogance of the Liberal party.  Not to mention the un-elected, unaccountable, and ineffective Senate.  But, very little has really been done to change any of these, accept some very high profile sound bite support for Justice Gomery, and some largely ineffective legislation on reforming the Senate.  During this time, the powers of the PMO have reached new levels, and the Senate has been stacked with Conservative loyalists.

Right now, the Conservatives are reeling from the Robocall scandal.  They have been forced to admit that something fishy went on in Guelph...after initially trying to deny that anything happened.  Now, I think we can safely ignore some of the inflammatory language being used by all political parties, but the Conservative strategy of supporting an NDP motion calling on the investigative powers of Elections Canada to be increased are deserving of the Sound Bite Technique label.

On repeated questioning in the House on Friday, Tim Uppal, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform repeated only that the government supports the motion but would entertain no questions about what they will do about that support.

So, they will be able to say that they support the non-binding motion to untie the hands of elections Canada, and then when the issue has blown over, they can safely return advanced electioneering in time for the next federal election campaign.

They've been using the sound bite technique a lot lately.  Any time they are asked about the robocall issue, they generally revert to the script which includes Conservative compliance with all Elections Canada requests, and an accusation against the Liberals.

I do wonder how effective this will be as I think it's becoming so obvious now that the general public is starting to take notice.  In politics, whenever you start to get a reputation for anything, the media and the public tend to reinforce that reputation constantly.  This won't always have a deleterious affect on polling numbers, for example the Conservatives being aggressive and quick to attack has been old news for years now.  But, the Conservatives may be forced to come up with better lines in the near future.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Wheels of Government haven't stopped

As John Ibbitson observed in this article, the robocall scandal has taken up much of the political oxygen in Ottawa.  Now, this is serious business and it must be investigated (impersonating an Elections Canada official is a criminal offence...criminal offences can lead to imprisonment)... but, there are other important things going on right now.

First, the state of Aboriginal education in this country is a disaster.

 The average First Nation's student receives $6,000 a year less in funding than a student under a provincial system.  First Nations schools are rotting.  They are understaffed.  They lack basic equipment.  The government is now claiming to be dealing with this issue.  One of their proposals is to fund First Nations education at the average level of provincial education.  I really hope that they are serious about this.  We can't expect First Nations children to compete if we don't at least give them an equal opportunity.  Forget affirmative action...how about safe classrooms, with books, teachers, and paper?

Another big issue are changes being made to the Old Age Security pension.  The government claims that it is unsustainable...which it is not, however they are right to note that Canada is going to face some big demographic changes as I noted in an earlier entry.  In order to keep on top of these changes, we do need to be looking at ways to ensure that our pension system is sustainable.

Copyright reform.  Right now, the Copyright Modernization Act is before committee.  On the one side, we have producers (many of them small time, independent artists) who are not getting paid for their work.  One member of the committee noted yesterday that up to 90% of the content on an iPod has not been paid for.  On the other hand, should material previously purchases be subject to controls to prevent it from being copied?  Also, where does education fit into this? I haven't read the bill in depth, but I think that the Conservatives seem to be on the right track on this one.

And of course, on March 29 the government will bring down the budget.  That should make for some very lively debate as it will likely have an ounce or two of pain.

So, though it's good to pay attention to Harperland's latest egregious scandal, let's keep in mind that the wheels of government haven't simply stopped.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Robocall Scandal

The Canadian news has been full of stories covering the so called "robocall" scandal.  The allegations are that entities working for the Conservative Party have been calling voters to pose as members of another party, in order to annoy those voters, or to pose as members of Elections Canada and to misinform voters of polling stations.

According to Liberal leader Bob Rae, the Tories called Jewish voters in four constituencies during a Jewish holiday, and voters in 30 other ridings with other efforts of voter suppression.

Now, the big question here is whether or not this was a widely coordinated effort, or something done by a single person, or a handful of people with no connection to the Conservatives.

A few days ago the Conservatives claimed that a staffer was responsible, but they since have moved to claim that they have nothing to do with these automated calls.

Meanwhile, a Conservative pollster is being investigated for a smear campaign against Liberal MP, Irwin Cotler.    The allegations are that a pollster working for the Conservatives called voters to tell them that Mr. Cotler was going to resign his seat.  The idea seems to have been to caste doubt on Mr. Cotler's reliablity.

Now, normally I wouldn't think that such a series of scandals would have ever passed before the eyes of senior members of the party, especially not cabinet ministers or Harper himself, but given how Harper has consistently micro-managed his cabinet and his elections war rooms, I have trouble seeing how he could have not been at least somewhat aware of this.

I would love for someone to correct me if I'm wrong, but I do remember some news coming out from Liberals during the June campaign that their supporters were receiving calls from supposed elections Canada officials who were most likely Conservative operatives.  I'm surprised that the NDP and Liberals haven't mentioned that in their talking points.

Whatever happened, I do hope that the RCMP and Elections Canada can get to the bottom of it before the next election.  If the national Conservative campaign did not know of this kind of activity, than they need their name cleared.  If they did know of it, someone needs to be held accountable.

This kind of thing cannot be allowed to proliferate.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stephen Harper

I have believed for several years now that there is something wrong with Stephen Harper.  I know that comment can easily be dismissed as partisan rhetoric, but I think it is true.  At every turn, he has done as much as he can get away with, to shape Canada into a form that he can control.  He has taken actions which have often crossed lines of ethics, and are occasionally legally questionable.

Of the most extreme manipulations, he is the first Prime Minister in recent Westminster Parliamentary democracy to prorogue the House of Commons in order to stay in power.  Twice.  He has repeatedly shut down inquiries, forced closure, had his people disrupt committee work, fired regulators who questioned some aspect of His policy/ worldview, and centralized authority in his own office like Chretien and Trudeau could only dream of.

He is the first Prime Minister to have been found in contempt of Parliament.  He dismissed Elections Canada rulings that his party overspent in the last election as a simple disagreement.  His party likely had a connection to an advertising agency (that they have worked with before) that engaged in the most heinous voter suppression ever seen in Canada.  They, posing as Elections Canada officials, called non Conservative supporters to inform them of an incorrect poll location.  Statistics have shown that if a voter turns up to the wrong polling station, they are very unlikely to attempt to vote at the proper location.

There were earlier signs.  Far too many to list right now (but I might start working on a comprehensive list later) but some of them were particularly telling.  One little reported story, which was once mentioned to Deborah Grey in an interview, was that Harper had replaced all the pictures of former Prime Ministers in the Parliamentary Press Gallery with images of himself.  That alone says something about where his mind is.  He is totally focused on retaining power.

I know he doesn't think of himself as a would-be dictator.  I'm sure he does it for what he considers to be the greater good.  He has referred, on a number of occasions, to an entrenched Liberal bias.  He once said that this bias would prevent him, in the case of a majority government, from really being able to implement all of his ideas and indicated that that is a reason why voters shouldn't worry about handing him a majority.  If memory serves correctly, that was early in the 2006 campaign.  I think that he sees his actions as justified in light of his view that Canada has been dominated by a certain kind of central Canadian power structure that has left the west out.

He's probably right on that.  But, the consequences of his methods for achieving his goals are shocking.  When he eventually loses power, it would be very easy for whichever party replaces him to use at least some of his examples for their own goals.

Perhaps that party (Liberal, NDP or perhaps a new party) wouldn't go as far as Harper has routinely gone, but it would be very easy to at least use some of his dirty tricks.  Canadian democracy may now require more written constitutional elements to protect against what Harper has brought upon us.

Everything that is done in the dark will be exposed.  I believe that to be a universal and inescapable truth.  I just hope people will still care.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Moon to Get U.S Statehood before D.C or Puerto Rico?

Okay, so Newt Gingrich wants to build a permanent moon base.  Can anyone else picture Mr. Gingrich in some kind of control tower on this space base broadcasting angry messages to Earth?  

Anyway, that's not the weirdest part.  Gingrich once (in the 1981 National Aeronautics and Space Policy Act) outlined the proposed governing structure of the Moon including an allowance for the colony to obtain statehood.  

I wonder if he would consider such a thing for D.C and Puerto Rico. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Business of the Nation, or Tribal Loyalty?

I've come to realize over the last number of years that I am as guilty as anyone of sometimes misplacing my objectivity and opting for tribal loyalty when it comes to electoral politics.  This is a natural human tendency, but one feature of institutions of government should be to recognize the negative aspects of human tendency and to instead opt for politics which serves a greater purpose.

I want to comment on this due to a few issues happening in Canada right now.  Firstly, the popular doctrine on the Alberta oil sands from those of us on the left tends to be that they are dirty, should be shut down, or at least developed more slowly.  

But, the most recent research by University of Victoria scientists Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart has shown that if all of Canada's oil sands were developed and used (which is not going to happen in the near future, if ever) would only increase the Earth's temperature by .002 to .005 degrees.  Whereas burning the world's coal would increase the worlds temperature by 15%.

Now, to put this into perspective, even small increases can be catastrophic, and this only means (according to Weaver and Swart) that we really need to stop using coal, and that the oil sands should be used toward that goal.  

Will those protesting the oil sands take this into consideration from now on?  I hope so.  To not do so would be to ignore the facts.  Now, just for the record I think that they should be heavily taxed by Ottawa with some of that money redistributed to the other provinces...but, that's a matter for another post.  

Another issue is on Old Age Security.  The government looks set to increase the eligibility age from 65 to 67 after some period of time elapses allowing for those soon to retire to collect at 65. 

Now, consider this.  The number of workers for every retiree in Canada now  stands at 4 to 1.  In two decades it will drop to 2:1.  

As the Globe and Mail observed today, it would be unfair to ask working people in two decades to work harder than what we work today, pay higher taxes and see opportunities for their children dwindle because we don't want to make changes now.  

The Conservatives have been less than honest in asserting the simplistic claim that OAS will not be sustainable...but, think about all of the services which are spent on retirees.  That includes healthcare (by far the largest provincial expense).  So, perhaps we should be having a mature debate about this issue and look for ways to ensure that we are able to provide good services for the foreseeable future.  

Personally, I think Nathan Cullen is right when he calls for a new tax bracket to be introduced for those earning more than 300,000 a year.  He didn't say exactly, but he indicated that it should be somewhere in the low 30 percentile. 

I don't think the Conservatives are handling these issues properly, but I'd also suggest that the other parties could also be a little less 'knee-jerk' in their responses as well.  

It is my personal belief, and I think many others agree that we are a bit tired of theatrics and blind loyalty.   

Monday, February 20, 2012

Academic site finally updated with a few more.

...If a testable model for explaining IR has not been created, this does not mean that it is uncreatable by a truly dispassionate person, but rather that IR has not yet created the correct model and likely never will. It is impossible to truly see outside of the metanarrative to create a truly objective question which is not a part of that metanarrative. There is no person who lives outside of human society, and every person will ask a question with his or her own cultural, historical and social context in mind. State behavior is very complex and does not follow any sort of predetermined rationalist theory, but knowledge can be gained. States may act out of self preservation, altruism or for any other reason that rationalists believe in, but they will do so through their own social construction.

Read the full essay

Sexual Orientation or Political Identity?

So, as a "gay" person there are certain beliefs I am supposed to have.  At least that's what it seems like from the constant spin coming from some gay groups.  Okay, I get the point of what they are trying to do...but, I really don't recall getting the brochure telling me about my interests and opinions the first time I had 'relations' .  Additionally,   I really dislike being told that I am supposed to vaguely associate my ideas with every idea out there which is considered to be "left".

As far as I'm concerned, a lot of gays take on a false identity because they feel that that is part of the "coming out" process.  Changing who you are to fit in, is just that.  Do we suddenly need to change our hairstyle, views on guns, and shopping habits just because we like guys?

I'm with Scott Thompson and Boy George on this issue.  In Now Magazine a few years ago, Boy George was asked about how he deals with the stereotypes of who a gay person is supposed to be.  He said a few things that I can remember:  One, was that he doesn't like the word "gay" because "gay" means happy, and he's not happy.  And, that "behind this limp wrist, there's an iron fist".

Scott Thompson, much more recently said that he thinks a lot of gay teens who are being picked on should learn how to fight.  He also talked about conformity, and the  desire to have sex on one's own terms, rather than becoming the ideal of a responsible, monogamous partner.  He blamed it on the women trying to turn their gay friends into their pets.  I wouldn't go that far, but there is certainly an element to that.

I really dislike how gay people are portrayed on television.  Shallow in knowledge, deep on navel gazing and oh so beautiful can describe almost all of them.

We are humans, and as humans we are social.  All humans conform and adapt, so it's not surprising that gays do as well.  I do with though that a bit broader of a story was shown though.  "Gays" are not a unitary entity.