Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wanted: One Prime Minister, a person with ideas need not apply

I took in some of the recent Thinker's Conference on the weekend and followed it some more by reading the various blogs of folks who attended. All in all I would say it was a success.

However, to judge by the reaction in some of the media you would expect that it was an unmitigated disaster. It is an interesting reaction as the event ran smoothly and there was a good exchange of ideas on many different issues.

And therein lies the problem with this event. The media does not do ideas. They prefer to act as "political strategists" even though they are not very good at it and even though there are much greater issues they should be concerned with.

Part of the reason for this is the generation of ideas in this country as become industrialized like many other sectors of our economy and it is an industry that is dominated by corporate interests.

You only need to take a look at all of the "experts" that now weigh in on many of the issues of the day. They are from banks, various interest groups, and industry groups such as The Conference Board. Then there are the lobbyists. They are now the ones that generate most of the ideas for government but only for the highest bidder.

The idea industry reflects the general lack of innovation of the corporations it supports. Canadian corporations do not care about innovation or ideas. Their job is largely to manage their corporations in a way that contributes to the profits of their parent company, whether they be in the US, Europe or China. For them coming up with good ideas is to rock the boat, which is something they do not want to do and they want to be certain that the Canadian government supports their endeavours so it cannot rock the boat either.

The Thinker's Conference goes directly against that. Not only did the conference have a diversity of opinion it also had a diversity of the sources of that opinion. The corporate interests were not the only voices and ideas presented.

This would not be so bad except that the Liberals have had two big thinkers as successive leaders. They have had leaders that can take ideas and synthesize them into policies that could upset the status quo. It is even worse that the current Liberal leader takes every opportunity to acquire the opinions of ordinary folks. That, combined with some of the ideas expressed on the weekend, combined with a big thinker holding down the position of Leader of the Opposition is not something to make the heart of some Canadian corporate leader flutter with delight.

That is the kind of thing they would want to discourage and since all of the media is this country is owned by those same corporate leaders we see a generally negative reaction to what should be a positive idea, a politician listening to people to determine what are their priority isses and how they might resolve them.

It could be argued that after almost 20 years of having managers running our country that we could use an ideas person for the next Prime Minister to help bring us fully into the new century.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How do we overcome voter ignorance?

It seems many Liberals want to have an election on Parliamentary Supremacy. Such enthusiasm is based on the assumption that Canadians will embrace the argument Mr. Harper is defying Parliament so he needs to be kicked out of government for it.

While I agree with the sentiment it is not an argument I would consider to be a strong one.

One reason is the ignorance of Canadians with regards to the workings of their political system. The coalition argument last year should be a demonstration of that. What I would like to see is a poll asking respondents "What is the Prime Minister and the government responsible to in our system of government?"

I would bet a sizable chunk of money that a large majority of them would respond with "to the voters", instead of the right answer which is to Parliament.

Stephen Harper exploited that ignorance last year to good effect and I believe him and his people are coming up with another campaign to do it again. It will be based on lies, but it will be easy to understand and it will sound plausible. All he needs to do is neutralize this issue in the campaign but if he can turn it against the Opposition to carry him to victory that would be gravy.

The Opposition will have the much greater burden. They want to not only keep this issue front and centre in the campaign but they want to make certain that it fatally wounds the Conservatives in the process. They have the truth on their side but as I have stated in this space before progressives always have the facts on their side but they always seem to lose arguments to the right anyway because they just cannot seem to present the facts in a way that grabs the audience. We have seen that with gun control, health care and taxes to name just three issues. I have serious doubts they will be any more successful on such an esoteric concept as Parliamentary Supremacy.

A second reason, which helps explain the first one, is successive Prime Ministers have been marginalizing Parliament for the last 40 years or so. They have concentrated power more and more in the PMO and the Executive and they have reduced the average Parliamentarian to a barking seal.

Now the Opposition wants to fight an election asserting Parliamentary Supremacy?

That is what we are faced with. I have yet to see an argument put forward by Liberals, either at the official or grassroots level, that would be able to overcome voter ignorance and what will be a very concerted effort by Mr. Harper and the Conservatives to exploit that to their benefit.

Until that happens I just will not be as enthusiastic about fighting an election on this issue as many other Liberals seem to be.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Parliamentary Supremacy is not a political gambit

I know that I am in the minority but I still have many reservations with the idea of having an election where the central theme of the Liberals or any of the Opposition parties is the supremacy of Parliament.

Having an election based on that concept is not the slam dunk that many Liberals believe it would be. The result could be a serious setback for the central concept of Responsible Government.

Elections decide questions. If the next election asks Canadians to choose between Parliamentary Supremacy and something else that the Conservatives present as a rebuttal and the Conservatives win then a basic concept of Responsible Government would be seriously weakened, perhaps permanently.

We need to be careful not to let short-term political opportunity cause great harm to the future health of our institutions. Yes, the fact Mr. Harper is defying Parliament is outrageous but he is just one man and his defiance will not cause permanent harm to the institution.

That will only happen if the Opposition decides to use that defiance as a political gambit and fails.

Unless the Liberals have something else with which to combat the Conservatives so that they can use Mr. Harper's defiance as just another example of Mr. Harper's style of government ande his unsuitability to occupy the office he is currently occupying they should be very careful on this issue.

Mr. Harper does not care about our institutions. He has proven that over and over again. It is up to those of us who do to safeguard them. If that means letting a political opportunity go by then sobeit.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Opposition did some thinking this week

For a couple of weeks there have been rumblings from sources in the PMO that Stephen Harper would call an election if the Opposition attempted to invoke Parliamentary privilege in their desire to see the Afghan detainee documents.

I had serious reservations about the Liberals doing just that as indicated in my last post.

However, the actions by the three opposition parties shows that they did some thinking before taking action. They did not just react in a knee-jerk fashion they actually did some planning.

Presenting a united front on this issue is crucial. If it were just the Liberals doing this the Conservatives could have invoked National Security for not releasing the documents and accused the Liberals of just playing partisan games. As well, if all three opposition parties are singing from the same hymn book on this, at least for a little while, then it will likely carry much more weight than if just one party is invoking privilege.

As well, the questions from today have not actually set any mechanisms in motions for finding the government in contempt of Parliament. They essentially just formalize what the Opposition has been saying informally for months. They, as Parliamentarians, have the right to see the Afghan detainee documents.

Again, this is important because it takes away the government's ability to conflate a contempt charge with lack of confidence in the government. If the government wants to use an election to stop the release of these documents they will have to call it. There is nothing in today's Opposition questions that can be construed as the Opposition not having confidence in the government.

So what happens now?

In all likelihood we will see the government squirm some more. The amount of squirming is going to depend on how far ahead the Opposition Parties thought beyond today. They are going to need follow through on this and part of that follow through will be to educate Canadians on the meaning of Parliamentary Supremacy. As well, they are going to have to be ready to take the next step and introduce a motion of contempt. They cannot reverse themselves from the course they charted today.

Ultimately, I do believe we will have an election over this. There is no way Stephen Harper will allow himself to just meekly take a contempt charge from the Opposition. However, if the Opposition has the forethought to use the time between then and and now to give Canadians a crash course in the meaning of Responsible Government this issue could very well fatally damage the Conservatives' chances of re-election.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The ground is not ready

The terms of reference for the detainee document review has been released and predictably they just prove that the whole exercise is a stall tactic.

Equally predictably many in the Liberal blogsphere are demanding that the Liberals table the Contempt of Parliament motion and dare Mr. Harper to call an election over it. Of course, they assume that such an action would be political suicide so he would not do it.

Such assumptions are wrong because they are based on a false premise. It is believed that if the Conservatives call an election to prevent being held in Contempt of Parliament and to prevent the release of what could be very damaging documents that the electorate will punish the Conservatives badly.

What many are forgetting is leading up to the dissolution of Parliament the Conservatives would be screaming that they are doing so in the interests of National Security. Meanwhile, the Opposition will be screaming about Parliamentary Supremacy. Considering how the Conservatives managed to exploit Canadians' ignorance of their own political system to make the idea of a coalition government very unpopular 14 months ago Liberals should not be too confident that they will come out on the winning end of an argument between National Security and Parliamentary Supremacy.

At the very least there are enough Conservative apologists in the media who would help the Conservatives muddy the waters enough to neutralize the detainee documents issue as an election issue. That would mean the election would be fought on other issues and as many in the same Liberal blogsphere have pointed out the Liberals do not seem to have many policies to campaign on at the moment.

So, putting forward the Contempt motion right now might be problematic because the Canadian people are not prepared for it. Remember, the opposition to proroguing the House in the country, earlier this winter, centred around MPs taking a "holiday". The detainee documents were barely on the radar for most ordinary Canadians.

The groundwork needs to be done before this issue can really be used to hurt the Conservatives. Unfortunately, that has not happened and it is pretty late in the game to begin doing so. The Liberals had almost three months to do just that and to develop a coherent plan of attack when Parliament resumed and they failed to do both.

As an aside I am having serious doubts about Mr. Ignatieff. He is faced with a principle opponent who is making all sorts of serious political errors. If Mr. Harper were facing someone with even half of the political instincts that Misters Chretien, Trudeau or Mulroney had he would be toast. Fortunately for him he is not facing that. Mr. Ignatieff is making it easier for him.

The Conservatives will still probably lose the next election because they are just getting old and tired and it is showing. However, it will be a rather indecisive defeat which will have us dealing with yet another weak minority government.

Finally, do not fear for Parliament. The Canadian Parliament has been in existance since before Confederation. There is very little that the current dickhead and his minions can do to really harm that institution. It will be in existance long after Stephen Harper's government is tossed into the dustbin of history.

You should only fear for Parliament if the next Liberal government, saddled with a minority government and facing a hostile House decides that Mr. Harper was on to something in his actions of the past 15 months. That is when I will begin worrying about Canada's Parliamentary Democracy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Canada's old government

The Jaffer judgement and the reactions to it shows some interesting dynamics in Canada's current political climate.

The same can be said of a recent junior minister's temper tantrum in Charlottetown and Mr. Flaherty's jaunt to a London photo-op in an airplane he may not have had a right to take.

Not too many months in the past all three incidents would have been largely ignored by the media and by Canadians. The reason is simple. They really do not amount to much.

Mr. Jaffer's sentence certainly is light but the Canadian legal is system is what it is for better or for worse. Sometimes someone will receive woefully inadequate consequences for their actions and others will receive much greater for less serious crimes. It is unfortunate but it is the nature of all systems devised by humans.

Mr. Flaherty's trip on the Citation was no big deal. Really, Canada is the only Western country where we expect senior ministers to take commercial transportation to go to events. It is silly. It was silly when the Conservatives tied themselves into knots complaining when Liberal ministers used to do this and it is silly now when the Conservatives are doing it. Although I do find it ironic that Conservative ministers are doing what they used to forcefully condemn when they were in opposition. Conservative hypocracy, I am shocked.

Ms. Guerguis' (sp) temper tantrum was a little more serious but in the grander scheme of things it was still pretty minor.

So, what do the reactions to all of these incidences say about the political dynamic in this country?

The Conservatives have hit that point in being the government where every perceived misstep by it or its supporters becomes more magnified and frankly blown out of proportion.

This usually happens to governments that have grown old in the eyes of voters and the media. It seems they just cannot do anything right and every transgression, regardless of its insignificance becomes a major issue. We saw this in the past with Mr. Dingwall's pack of gum.

As well, when a government reaches this point it is pretty much doomed. It does not take long for Canadians to believe a government is old and beyond its best-before-date to believing it is time for a change. And there is virtually nothing a government can do at that stage to reverse that belief.

The reactions to these three events demonstrates that the Conservatives days are numbered on the government side of the House. They are on a well worn path to electoral defeat, one that has been tread by governments, Liberal and Conservatives, before it and there is probably not much they can do to get off of it.

The next election will likely see the end of the current Conservative government.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Going out on a limb

If the allegations of Professor Attaran become the topic of conversation for the remainder of the Spring Parliamentary session the Liberals will win a majority government in the next election, regardless of when it occurs.

Very few Canadians will support a government that appears to have been complicit in committing war crimes. Certainly, some of the more ardent Conservatives, who see the Afghan and Iraq wars as some kind of holy crusade will continue to support the Conservatives but anybody who does not believe that will find somewhere else to go on election day. If not to one of the opposition parties then the couch.

I have my doubts about the allegations and I need to see more evidence before I can conclude that the government was complicit in torture, to conclude that the government actually did commit a war crime. So far there are no facts to support these allegations.

However, I have been around politics long enough to know that facts do not count for a hill of beans in politics. You just need to look at past scandals, such as Adscam, to see that in action. If the government is perceived to have committed a war crime they are done.

If these allegations prove to be true then the Conservative Party of Canada will be destroyed. Oh it will resurrect itself as another conservative leaning party, or a couple of different conservative parties but the current incarnation of the Conservative Party will self destruct.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Did the Conservatives really think the anthem gambit would work?

Really c'mon!

They propose changes to the anthem to appease women.

Did they really think the traditionalists in this country would just say "Oh, OK".?

Did they really believe that women in this country would really be impressed by this?

Did they really believe that feminists would forgive them for all of the cuts to women's programs?

Perhaps this was just something to distract Canadians from other issues but they could not use something else?

These guys and gals are really losing it folks. The death watch has begun and do not be surprised to see some rats abandoning this sinking ship very soon.

What Now Mr. Harper?

You blew it!!

You managed to alienate Canadians enough that the best performance by Canadian athletes in the Olympics, on Canadian soil, did not cause you to even enjoy a temporary bounce in your polling numbers.

The result was a Throne Speech that was forgotten 5 minutes after the GG finished reading it and a budget, whose most positive review was it is bland, innocuous and inoffensive.

You are in a political pickle. Budgets are really the only tool you can use to pick up more support from voters and the one you just produced will be a complete failure in achieving that. You see, restraint is not cool. It does not gain votes. You need to provide something to grab the attention of voters and there is nothing in the budget to do that. Certainly there is the attack on the public service that all Conservative governments do when their fiscal incompetence forces them to deal with deficits that they create. Unfortunately, that kind of thing only appeals to your base it does not cause others outside of it to support the Conservatives. Indeed, I would argue that you will lose more votes than you will gain. The decisions in this budget are going to negatively effect over 150 thousand people in the National Capital Region and Eastern Ontario directly and indirectly effect 100s of thousands more. That is more than 25 seats that you just put in play without any counteracting benefit elsewhere.

Now the one thing that might have stuck out from that past few days, the national anthem proposal, is being withdrawn after just three days, probably because your internal polling demonstrated that Canadians recognized it for the deeply cynical move that it was and they rejected it in droves.

This was the last week where you had the opportunity to drive the agenda for the next few months. Instead, now it will be the Opposition as they hound you some more on issues that caused you to prorogue Parliament in the first place. It is ironic that you took this action to escape those issues only to be faced with them again just 10 weeks later but from a political position much weaker than it was before Christmas. A position you find yourself in because of your own actions and decisions.

I am not certain how you are going to escape this one. The once compliant media is becoming more critical and the Opposition seems content to let you twist in the wind for a few more months waiting for the negative reactions of Canadians to your government over the last few weeks to be cemented in their consciousness.

I am certain you have some things up your sleeve but will any of them be any different than we have seen from your crew before? Can you be truly innovative in your approach?

I guess we will see but if not then I suspect we are beginnning the death watch for your government and your term as the leader of the government of this great country.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Looks like John and Pierre lost the argument

A Throne speech that goes out of its way to mention reducing Public Service pensions and public service spending (read wage freezes) and this even before a budget is released.

This is not good news for John Baird and his familier to the South.

I am certain they have been trying to fend off these measures, knowing the effect they could have on their re-election prospects, but it would appear they failed.

It is certainly going to look good seeing Ottawa, West Quebec and Eastern Ontario awash in Liberal red again.