Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Quiet NDP Leadership Contest

In about two months, on March 24th, Canada will have a new Leader of the Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) will know his sparring partner and chief rival for the foreseeable future. The new Leader of the Opposition is also most likely to be our next Prime Minister, if Mr. Harper loses in the next election. Simple patterns of politics may suggest that when the Conservatives seek a second majority Harper, who will have been Prime Minister for ten years, may exceed Canada’s tolerance and switch to a new party. This is in no way guaranteed, just look at the Liberal reign between 1993 and 2006.

Despite the importance, the selection of the next NDP leader has received shockingly little attention. This “lack of interest” of the media is all the more baffling when contrasted to the American (and Canadian) attention being heaped upon the Republican Presidential nomination. Virtually every day CBC Newsworld has a filler piece on the Republican contest, and it often makes an appearance on the National. Comparatively, the New Democrats’ battling for the nomination struggle to receive any airtime at all.

There have been two sanctioned debates hosted by the party, both of these have been broadcast on CPAC, and the first one on CBC Newsworld. Other debates hosted by third party groups – usually riding associations – have been only available online. Virtually every story I have read about the NDP since December has concentrated on broad pieces profiling the candidates, or discussing polls and public opinion with the leadership race as a backdrop. Perhaps I am falling victim to my own criticism though, I am writing this piece and not fundamentally advancing the discussion about who should be the next Dipper leader – at least so far. That being said, I am no journalist and do not get paid to cover politics in this country.

I have heard it said that journalists are finding it difficult to cover the NDP, most of the contacts they have are proving ineffective and they need to build new in-roads. On the other hand media folk have rolodexes (I wish people still used those) full of contacts in the Liberal Party. This may explain the wash of articles on the Liberals purported “bounce” in the polls and the backroom machinations for the upcoming leadership race. I have not conducted a survey, but I wonder if there has been more written on the Liberal leadership race in recent weeks than the NDP one, the former is months away, and latter weeks.

Last Sunday’s debate in Halifax helped shape my view of the race. Much of the criticism is that most of the candidates are in “violent agreement” with one another, an expression coined by Nathan Cullen (NDP – Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC). There are not the same fiery disagreements and infighting we see in the American contest to the south. I disagree, as the convention approaches real divisions are emerging and contrasts. Where there’s no smoke, there’s no media. But as an undecided voter the media apathy in this regard is troubling. Following information directly from the eight NDP candidates is very limiting.

As we get closer to the convention I will post a breakdown on my thoughts on the candidates and why I may or may not support him or her as leader. In the coming weeks I also want to post on Bill C-11, and the return of the House of Commons. So much to do, so little time.

All that aside I have decided to attend the party’s convention in March. I probably would be content to sit at home and vote online, watching on TV, but events like these do not come along very often, and rarely in my own backyard.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Opening of Crown-First Nations Gathering

This morning in Ottawa a summit began which could have long-ranging and dramatic outcomes to Canada. A gathering of First Nations’ leaders and officials from the Government of Canada and Crown began today. The opening remarks by Governor-General David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National Chief Shawn Atleo were encouraging. Perhaps I am overburdened by low expectations. Aboriginal-Federal relations have been so dismal any progress at all offers hope.

The conference was the work of Mr. Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations. Following the revelation of the Attawapiskat crisis he continually called on Mr. Harper for a meaningful meeting to discuss the way forward for First Nations in Canada. Both Mr. Harper and Mr. Atleo expressed a desire to reform the Indian Act, which governs First Nations peoples in Canada. The Prime Minister stated he has no intent to repeal the Indian Act.

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Government may not be the ideal negotiating partner, but he is the head of government, and has the authority to make these changes. Any changes at all to Aboriginal policy will be controversial. As a Conservative Harper is happy to give Aboriginal-Canadians greater opportunity and end the crippling regulations on reserves. Whether he will be willing to commit the Federal government to helping to eliminate poverty on reserves and improving the standard of living... we shall see.

I am cautiously optimistic about the Crown-First Nations Gathering because I think, like many Canadians, I want to see these historic problems addressed, and the embarrassing conditions of some Aboriginal communities end. As citizens we can push our leaders to make the changes needed, and not allowing the dialogue to break down.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Minor Error, Major Issue

A friend requested that I do a post on the recent controversy over gay marriage in Canada. To me it seemed to be one of those stories that had the fiery passions of a thousand suns, until it imploded on itself and ended with little fanfare. To the beginning!

The Federal Justice Department released a legal opinion that a same-sex marriage may not be valid in Canada if the couple were from acountry that did not recognize same-sex marriage. The foreign aspect appears to have been lost in many press pieces, which I am sure only led to legitimate concern. I am no big city lawyer (this is where a gesture with suspenders comes in handy), but it seems to me the Justice Department was pointing out the simple issue that if a marriage is legally invalid than they cannot be divorced.

From what I remember many couples, particularly Americans, travelled to Canada in the wake of the change and got married. Essentially this legal clarification could undo all those nuptials. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae (LPC – Toronto Centre, ON) and Olivia Chow (NDP – Trinity-Spadina, ON) came out publically and denounced the report as the Conservatives’ attempt to undermine same-sex marriage. The same day Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) reassured the public that no change to the policy was forthcoming.

Despite this, a firestorm (or perhaps solar storm, returning to my earlier metaphor) erupted that Harper was on his way to eliminating gay rights. The following day Justice Minister Rob Nicholson (CPC - Niagara Falls, ON) stated that the law would be amended tocorrect the error. The mistake was in the original legislation passed by the Liberals in 2005.


There seems to be a pretty deep paranoia amongst the lefties of Canada about the Harper government, particularly the social issues. Despite repeated and emphatic statements that issues such as gay marriage, and abortion will not be addressed the liberal part of the spectrum continues to worry. Whenever anything like this happens like a person with a major allergy a major crisis ensues with only the slightest contact between the Conservative government and social issues.

As a person who can be safely called a lefty (though I don’t like it) I’m more concerned with the changes the Harper Government is making to economic policy, to foreign policy and some of the shifts the CPC has caused in Canadian political culture. Those are real, tangible changes that the Harper Team will proudly boast about. I do not want to wait for social conservatives to go bump in the night when there are bigger more tangible problems going on in the country.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Floor-Crossing and New Hampshire

I woke up this morning to discover my Twitter feed going crazy. For the record you can follow me at @Orange_Tory. After skimming a dozen tweets from pundits and journalists it became clear that rumours were flying that a NDP MP was going to cross the floor to the Liberal Party. Later in the morning Denis Coderre (LPC – Bourassa, QC) held a press conference with Lise St-Denis (LPC – St-Maurice-Champlain, QC) announcing that she left the NDP.

Unsurprisingly, a number of people immediately spoke out against St-Denis’ “traitorous” move. The NDP’s spokesperson, MP Guy Caron (NDP - Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC), expressed disappointment in St-Denis’ defection, and immediately called for a by-election. The NDP has a long-held policy that floor-crossers should hold by-elections under their new party affiliations. There is almost no chance of that happening.

The long-term impact of this shift is almost nothing. The NDP remains the Official Opposition, the Liberals remain the third party, and more importantly the Conservatives remain the government. There is a symbolic value in this change. The slipping NDP numbers in Quebec, and the (limited) resurgence of the Liberals will be reinforced by this minor shift in power.

In a way, complaining about floor-crossers is to misunderstand parliamentary democracy. I personally do not like floor-crossers, but it ignores how our democracy functions. In Canada we elect Members of Parliament that are members of political parties, we do not elect political parties. In theory and by tradition the people of St-Maurice-Champlain selected the candidate they found most qualified and best represented their values. However, it is more likely that Lise St-Denis would not have had a chance without Jack Layton’s popularity in the province of Quebec. Political parties started as temporary alliances of like-minded people, notions that they are permanent and people’s political positions immutable are silly.

Ms. St-Denis will be held accountable by voters in 2015 if she runs for re-election, or her Liberal successor. Be frustrated, and be angry, but really it’s St-Denis’ constituents are the only ones who have a right to complain.

Moving on!

Tonight is the New Hampshire Republican Primary. Most pundits and analysts are claiming that there is no surprise who will win the primary. Governor Mitt Romney is a heavy favourite, polling over 30% consistently. However, I would remind readers that Barack Obama was expected to win in New Hampshire, but was crushed by Hillary Clinton when the votes were counted.

Given that most people accept Mitt Romney will come in first the tension has transformed into who will come in second, and how narrow will Romney’s victory be. If Romney’s win is in single digits, it will be viewed as a considerable show of weakness. Likewise, he could win in a massive 20+ point landslide and start steamrolling the rest of the nomination.

Strongest contenders for second place are Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Jon Hunstman. Huntsman is depending on a strong showing here to continue. I believe he needs to win over 15% of the vote to stay alive and over 20% will show a decisive win. Congressman Paul will likely do very well, but fail to garner the media attention such a victory deserves.

The real battle is South Carolina, which is voting on January 21. This is the last shot for a number of strong conservatives left in the field. On a poor performance Governor Rick Perry is almost assuredly to drop out. However, just like with Iowa, with so many conservatives splitting the vote, Romney might win again.

So, in the results look for how well Mitt Romney does, who comes in second, and who well Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul do. New Hampshire loves surprises, and their open primary (anyone can vote in the Republican Primary – Republicans, Independents and Democrats) process really allows for it. Be sure to have your popcorn.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011: Out with the Old

I suppose if I were to describe 2011 in one word I would say it was unstable. It seemed like anyone paying attention to the news of the last twelve months spent a considerable time waiting with bated breath. As a student of history often my attention is often drawn to the long view. Historians will likely look back at the past year and look at the tremendous change that rocked the international scene and remember that. Most remarkably is that the big events that challenged major powers affected all of us in some way.

While economists declared the recession which began in 2008 long over, it did not always feel that way. The American economy, the most powerful (arguably) in the world, has continued to languish. The consumer base, also known as the American public, are still stuck in a malaise and have been mired in an economy going nowhere, with little hope of a quick recovery.

Of course the economy was only made worse by the uncertainty generated by world events. Beginning in January a Tunisian revolt toppled a long-term dictator and initiated what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. From where the Sahara meets the Atlantic to the Iranian plateau revolts broke out against their governments. Dictators fell across the Middle East. Whether or not new democracies take their places or new forms of tyranny arise there is little doubt that 2011 has dramatically changed the region.

The Arab Spring eventually pulled in NATO in Libya, where a brutal, four-decade dictator was killed. The controversial intervention, and the reality of post-Ghaddafi Libya will only be understood in time.  

Across the Mediterranean Sea Europe faces its own tribulations. The on-going and painful debt crisis has loomed over the continent and the world economy. During the summer months it seemed every week Europe was days away from a collapse. The crisis has not passed, and we will hear more about Europe in the coming year.

2011 was a year of elections in Canada, and a great year for politics. The biggest news story was the spring federal election. I often mock the phrase “a historic election” (please point out the elections that are not historic), but if one in recent memory deserves the title, it was the one this year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally triumphed and gained the majority government he had long-desired by breaking through in Ontario, and making decent gains in Atlantic Canada. The Liberals were crushed, and reduced to their smallest caucus in history, and third-party status for the first time. Jack Layton led the NDP to a tremendous victory in the province of Quebec, and even made significant gains in Ontario and elsewhere.

Sadly, Jack Layton was unable to appreciate the fruits of his victory, as he passed away this past August. The public service and the outpouring for Mr. Layton were truly remarkable, and something I will remember for a long time.

There were seven provincial and territorial elections: Prince Edward Island, Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, and Saskatchewan. Voter turnout continued to decline. All of the incumbents were re-elected, with various levels of success.

Gordon Campbell, Premier of B.C. was replaced by Christy Clark, Kathy Dunderdale was elected Premier of Newfoundland and Alison Redford became Premier of Alberta. This brings the highest number of female premiers at any one time in Canadian history.

This year has been pretty good for the Orange Tory, if I may allow a personal digression. The readership on the blog has continued to grow. In June I marked the blog’s anniversary. In September I signed on to the Toronto Star and Speak Your Mind cover of the Ontario election as a community blogger. It was really awesome to provide coverage for my community and the rest of the province. Overall, I look forward to 2012 for the blog.

Tonight is the Iowa caucus, and I look forward to providing some commentary for the Republican contest and presidential election in the coming year. It looks like my prediction will be quite off from last week. Oh well, that’s the price of prediction. I also plan to cover the federal and provincial governments and continuing to offer my ideas for policy and how to improve our democracy.

I wish you all a Happy New Year, and all the best in 2012.