Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Well, that's a relief

With the mixed results of the by-elections last night it looks like we will be saved from the inevitable wingeing, hand wringing and cringeing from Liberals, activities that had already begun to happen in some parts of the Liberal blogsphere ever before the elections results were in.

Certainly the usual suspects are going to spin this in a way that suits their interests.

Conservatives are spinning it as a big victory.

Some in the media have stated the results are a further indication that the Liberals are in trouble. Then again the MSM in this country has been writing the political obituary of the Liberal Party for more than 5 years yet it just keeps sticking around.

Then there are some Liberals who are spinning it as really bad news but invaribly they are all Liberals who have expressed great displeasure in Mr. Ignatieff as the leader of the Party and they take any setback, real or otherwise, to butress their prejudice. They remind me of Habs fans who seem to relish the idea of Carey Price having a bad season just so they could be proven "right" in their assessment that the Canadiens traded the wrong goaltender. Or in other words their dislike of Mr. Ignatieff is more important to them than finally relegating Mr. Harper and his government to the dust bin of history. Sad really.

The reality of course is these were by-elections. They do not indicate any big trends for the upcoming general election; the results of them do not change the political landscape in Parliament and the only people who really care about them are the few that voted in the by-elections, political commentators who work for free and seem to have way too much time on their hands and paid political commentators who need to keep their bosses happy. The wider Canadian public probably were not even aware that by-elections took place last night until they read about it in this morning's newspapers.

In the end these were victories for the individual candidates that won in each riding and nothing more.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What would a debate on the Afghan mission accomplish?

There has been a fair amount of negative reaction to the decision of the government to extend the Afghan mission and their assertion, with the support of the Liberals, that no debate is necessary in the House.

My original reaction was just as negative but after thinking about it for awhile I am now wondering if it is such a big deal.

Many have argued that such a debate is necessary to assert the supremacy of Parliament. While I agree with such a sentiment I would point out that Parliament began its descent into irrelevancy under Trudeau and every government since then continued its descent with the current government taking it to extremes.

Further, even if we eventually have a Parliamentary debate and a subsequent vote we all know that Stephen Harper will make certain that such a debate is in the form of a non-binding motion which they will use to reinforce their position if they win the vote and ignore if they lose. So, really the interests of Parliamentary supremacy would not be served by such a debate and vote.

I have argued before that the true test of the actual Supremacy of Parliament will come after the current paranoid government is removed from power and we see how its successor deals with Parliament. On that score the actions of the Liberals in this case have disappointed me.

Looking at the situation on the ground, not much has changed. The Taliban is still winning the war in Afghanistan. The Karzai regime is still incompetent and corrupt and they only control Kabul. The rest of the country is still ruled by warlords who are still financing themselves and their warbands with drug money.

Here at home the war is still not very popular but that unpopularity has not really been galvanized into an actual anti-war movement. Canadians do not really want to be there but at the same time they are not clamouring for the troops to be brought home either. Further, much of the chattering class is still firmly behind the war as witnessed by the claims that the agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberals was "bipartisan" and by the fact that none of the MSM have made a real effort to analyze the implications of the proposed new assignment.

So, in the end any Parliamentary debate on the new assignment would just degenerate into jingoism, false patriotism and generally useless BS just like the last "debate" we had on the Afghan mission. No really important questions would be answered or even discussed and Canadians would eventually just tune it out and have their belief that our Parliament is useless further reinforced.

Further, do not mistake the hooting of the Bloc and the NDP as a serious desire to debate this new assignment. They merely see a an opening for gaining some political advantage.

Finally, when all is said and done, the decision on whether Canada remains in Afganistan depends of Barack Obama. He is now focusing on re-election in 2012 and part of that effort will be the removal of troops from Afghanistan before November 2012. The US may not remove them all by then but they will remove a large proportion of them and when that happens the pressure from Canadians on our government to remove our troops will be irresistable, regardless of who is in power. I would expect the Obama Administration to begin making serious noises about withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan next summer with the buildup of pressure on our government to correspond to increased momentum of that withdrawal going into 2012.

All of this talk about Canadian troops remaining in Afghanistan until 2014 is bunk. The draw down of Canadian troops next summer will be the beginning of a process that will probably end no later than the summer of 2012.

I am not surprised by the decision to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan after 2011. Anyone who really believed that Canada would pull its troops out of that country next summer, as promised, is naive in the extreme. While I am disappointed that the Liberals have decided to go along with this decision that disappointment is the result of what the decision might mean about how a future Liberal government treats Parliament. I am not really disappointed that there will be no Parliamentary debate because I do not believe such a debate would really accomplish anything useful.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Blah, blah, blah

The mid-term elections in the United States were quite unremarkable. What was expected to happen, happened.

What I found funny and fascinating was the reaction of the commentariat in the US and to a lesser extent here in Canada. The arguments put forward by these folks were quite amusing in how overblown and breathless they were. You would almost think that something profound happened in the US during the elections.

They made several arguments that I found really overblown.

1) The election was going to bring about change in the United States.

They certainly caused some changes in who occupy seats in Congress and in some governors' mansions but other than that not much is going to change in the US as a result of these elections.

The founding fathers of the United States were all movers and shakers in the American colonies in the 18th century. After they threw out the English king they knew that any danger of another king rising up to take his place would come from within their ranks. So they created a form of government that would prevent any of them from acquiring ultimate power with the now famous check-and-balances. It was a wonderful system for preventing the rise of a king but a by-product of it was it caused change in the United States to be slowed to a crawl. This was true when there was a general consensus in the United States on the direction of the country, with the only disagreement being on how to get there. That consensus broke down decades ago and we now see different segments of US society trying to pull the country in different directions. Their objectives for the country are not the same. In that kind of atmosphere the very design of the US political system has put American society and its politics into a kind of stasis. Not much is changing in the US and certainly not much is changing for the better for the citizens of the United States. This election did not change that dynamic. If anything it just made it worse.

In addition, the US Congress is now divided into five major factions. Liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers. (Note the Republicans are fractured into three.) None of these factions have a majority in either chamber and party discipline is a foreign concept to members of Congress so we have a recipe for mayhem even without any intervention of the President, who if he is smart, will take advantage of these divisions, particularly within Republican ranks.

2) President Obama is in trouble and there is a real question as to whether he will win another term.

No one can really predict the future so such an outcome is certainly possible but I would not say it is very probable. Mid-term elections in the US are similar to by-elections in this country. They tend to attract the protest vote while others who have no real problem with how things are going in the country stay home. The big prize in the US has always been the presidency so when it is not up for grabs during an election there is not much incentive amongst most of the electorate to get out and vote.

As well, the President drives the political agenda in the United States not the Congress. The Tea Partiers might think they are in a position to harm the President but he can keep throwing bombs at them to keep them off track. Indeed, the President has a little more freedom to act. He can now propose and if the Congress balks he and his supporters can claim it is just the Republicans playing partisan games instead of looking out for the best interests of the American people. And like I said in point number 1 he can begin throwing legislative bombs at the Republicans in Congress to force them to actually take potentially unpopular positions on important issues.

The President has two years to work with this new reality and if he uses his time wisely he should be able win another term.

3) The Tea Partiers are now a force in US politics.

Let's wait to see the results of another election or two before coming to such conclusions.

Much more was said about the mid-term elections but most of it was nothing more than newsies and their employers trying to justify their existance. They were certainly interesting to politicos in both the US and Canada but the sad reality is they will not have a profound impact on the US or on the well-being of its citizens.

Potash and politics

I had a chuckle at the Conservative decision not to allow the takeover of the Canadian potash industry by the Australians.

Of course the simple reason was the Conservatives did not want to put those 13 seats in Saskatchewan in play during the next election.

This is a sharp contrast to three years ago when the Conservative government shafted the Saskatchewan government out of equalization payments. At the time there was much complaining from the people and the media in that province but the Conservatives did it anyway. Back then they knew that they would suffer no political damage as a result of that decision.

Now they know the opposite is true and they also know that they will be hard pressed to win the next election as it is without risking seats in what they consider to be safe Conservative areas of the country.

I noticed that a few commentators have characterized this move as "pragmatic" on the part of Stephen Harper but I think the more accurate characterization of this move is "being scared".

Jim Who?

I was impressed with the amount of ink and time that was spent on the story about Mr. Prentice's resignation but I was also wondering why so much time was spent on it.

Really, except for politicos, few Canadians would have been able to pick him out of a lineup two days ago and the same will be true again is a week or two after his picture disappears from the news sites.

All of that speculation as to why he made the decision and its implications for the leadership of the Conservative Party, who cares? This is just another example of how out of touch the professional political class is in relation to ordinary Canadians. A simple announcement would have sufficed.