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 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.