Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RoboCalls: Demand a Public Inquiry

One person, one vote is the fundamental, central idea in any democracy. Voting fraud can send people into the streets, think Russia after their most recent election, and topple governments. Democratic politics has always been dirty. The idea that somehow the past was a time of high ideals and decorum is just plain false. While voters decry the character assassinations and negative ads, they have learned to live with it, and punish politicians and parties that step over the line. The recent news about the so-called robocalls is not dirty politics, it is anti-democratic tactics.

In the May 2011 federal election there were a number of reports of people calling voters and directing them to the incorrect polling locations. The result, or so the callers hoped, was to reduce effective turnout and help improve the margin of some candidates over others. Global News has compiled a map of the ridings that have reported these incidents. The colours indicate the winning party in 2011. For a local angle both the ridings of St. Catharines and Niagara Falls were victims of this harassment. All signs at this time point to the Conservative Party being implicated in someway implicated in the wrong-doing. If anything the story becomes more bizarre over time.

Andrew Coyne of the National Post published a column that really gets to the core of the issue. This issue might gain traction with Canadians because it is believable that the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Stephen Harper would do something like this. The majority government’s disregard for parliament, debate and process coupled with the negative politics makes the story all too likely. Add this that the governing Conservatives have already been caught in violation of election finance laws a pattern begins to form.

Chantal Hébert in the in Toronto Star raises other problems. She points out that the logic behind the robocalls is not clear. Some of the ridings that were targeted were safe Conservative seats. Hébert argues that the robocalls scandal is just one more sign of the negative direction Canadian politics is sliding. This may be one more sign of the declining trajectory of the public discourse.

For your consideration I shall link an article from today about the events in Question Period from Macleans’ magazine. Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his party and demanded evidence, and the NDP member for Timmins-James Bay, Ontario did just that. If these allegations are true it is a criminal violation of our democratic system.

After posting this I will be writing to my Member of Parliament to demand a full inquiry to preserve the integrity of our democratic system. If we can no longer trust that our votes count and that our candidates respect the public’s right to vote then the basis of our government dies. I strongly encourage those reading to do the same.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Facing Reality with Don Drummond

Facing Reality with Don Drummond

I try as much as possible to avoid being a total hypocrite. It is challenging when you publicly expose your opinion to scrutiny as I do. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as someone quoting you back at yourself to refute the point you are endeavouring to make (or unmake as the case might be). 

As a person who purportedly focuses on more provincial issues I would be terribly remiss to not speak to the Drummond Report released last week. 

For those not in the know Ontario is pretty much broke. The province has massive structural deficits and our debt is becoming quite monstrous. From the raw numbers Ontario’s fiscal health is not that dissimilar, so it seems to me, than European nations like the United Kingdom. To address the issues in the national finances Prime Minister David Cameron introduced a painful austerity budget, which is still reverberating back in the old Mother Country.

The scale and magnitude of the problem is quite daunting, so now it is up to our political leaders to find  solutions. Any suggestion that this particular can can be kicked down the road would be a distinct failure in leadership. As is pointed out in this Toronto Start article all of the political leaders in the Ontario Legislature has to face the stark reality of Ontario finances. Blaming Liberal spending, or corporate taxes or cherry picking the most digestible cuts is not going to suffice.

Back to why I don’t want to be a hypocrite. A few months ago I wrote on the on-going financial crisis in Europe, and, in a newfound Canadian economic smugness, advocated for the various nations of the world to get their houses in order. The Toronto Star compared Greece and Ontario to off-set the fear we are in the deep danger zone. I do not find the numbers particularly comforting. They are awfully close to Europe’s worst offender.

The most important aspect of the Drummond Report, at least from what I have read, is that it is not all about cuts. Mr. Drummond encourages the political leadership and the public to rethink how government works. It does not necessarily mean cuts, but simply how does government provide the services that it does. Healthcare and education are the obvious targets for consideration. Health spending consumes 42% of the budget. With a greying population that number will surely grow. So, we better get creative if we want to maintain the system as we like it.

It is incredibly difficult task to boil down a 668-page report to a blog post, especially given that mine rarely exceed 1000 words. There are apparently 320 recommendations in the body of the report. I am a lefty, and a member of the Ontario New Democratic Party. That being said, I also am fairly conservative fiscally. The elephantine debt Ontario amassed is unsettling to say the least, as is our chronic inability to balance the budget.

What I want most is for Ontarians to realize the dilemma we are facing and not revert to the status quo until the largest, and (formerly) richest province in Canada goes bankrupt. Other provinces are not far behind Ontario.

The worst thing that could happen is the public sour on notions of sacrifice. If we follow the example of our neighbours to the south, where fiscal sanity has long since vanished, and demand public services and no taxes, it will be the end. Our leaders have a real chance to reform Ontario and make it a stronger place. So, I will keep an open mind and shutter the demagogues as the Premier and Legislature tries to find a way to restore Ontario.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Making it Count

Last week Statistics Canada released the numbers for the 2011 census. The numbers show that Canada now has a population over 34.6 million. For the most part the news seems positive. Only two cities shrank in population – Windsor and Thunder Bay. Population growth has long been tied to economic prosperity. There are some worrying trends though, such as the greying of the population and the diminishing fertility rate, but these might be matters worth addressing later.

What caught my eye were the media reports about the implications about the rapid growth of provinces like Alberta and British Columbia and the comparatively sluggish growth of Ontario. These articles (one and two) in the Globe and Mail highlight that.  Both argue that the political, economic and social weight of Canada is moving westward. Ontario is diminished and the West is rising.

I feel this analysis overlooks some critical facts. One, Ontario is not in decline. Ontario managed to grow within the last five years, just not at the breakneck pace of the western provinces. When compared to the American Great Lake states Ontario is incredibly impressive. Two, different economies are finding their stride. Alberta as an energy economy and British Columbia as a Pacific economy are both tied to greater economic engines. Ontario is struggling, comparatively, with a declining manufacturing base. Three, since when is the West’s gain Ontario’s loss? The Canadian nation is not a zero-sum game, if Ontario grows more slowly that hurts all of Canada. Each part of the country supports all the others.

The media attention I pointed to above focuses considerably on the shift of political weight westward. That’s true, but Ontario will have 121MPs in the next House of Commons, compared to 34 in Alberta and 42 in British Columbia, after the new boundaries are set. That combines to 76 seats, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan it comes to 104. Ontario alone provides enough seats to possibly form a minority government. Add in Quebec’s 78 seats and you have an incredibly strong majority government of 199 seats of 338 in Central Canada.

The Globe and Mail, and the other newspapers I read are based out of Toronto, so their Ontario-centric view is not surprising. Population has been moving west in Canada since before Confederation, just as when Quebec and Atlantic Canada dwarfed Ontario/Upper Canada. What does concern me is what this transformation might mean for Quebec. In the twentieth century Quebec consistently held about a quarter of Canada’s population. If the relative position of Quebec declines in Canada will the Quebecois continue to find value in Confederation? Will their voices be loud enough, and their interests heard? That’s a question 34.6 million Canadians will have to consider as we continue to grapple with the machine that is Canada. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Picking the NDP Leader – Rankings Feb. 7

Last week I posted on my thoughts on media coverage for the race to become the new NDP leader. At the end I mentioned how I would give my thinking on how I might vote at the upcoming convention. There are eight candidates vying to replace the late Jack Layton, and here are my rankings. They are subject to change.

1. Nathan Cullen (NDP – Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC) – Mr. Cullen is arguably the most controversial candidate to lead the NDP, but that is not why I would vote for him. He is frequently attacked by his opponents for his proposed plan to cooperate with the Liberal and Green Parties (and perhaps others). He also promises to introduce a Mixed-Member Proportional system once the NDP forms government, making the need for this cooperation unnecessary. The cooperation will be determined on a local riding level, which likely means it’ll never happen. It’s Cullen’s approach and style that I find most appealing. His presence in the debates is humorous, snappy and effective with an endless ability to generate memorable lines/sound bites. He is also the longest-sitting MP running. His recent policy announcement on Arctic issues  is quite good, in my opinion.

2. Romeo Saganash (NDP – Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, QC) – Mr. Saganash has by far the most impressive biography of any candidate. I do not mean this as a simple appreciation of a man who has overcome hardship. Saganash’s career as a Cree leader in Quebec has been remarkable. He was my first choice for many weeks, but sadly his weak performance in debates has left me wanting more.

3. Brian Topp – NDP Party President – The so-called establishment choice, Mr. Topp, feels like the safe choice. He is relatively polished, and performs well in debates. He is also from Quebec, which might be useful in holding the province. Topp’s lack of experience in electoral politics as a candidate bothers me. I put a high value on experience.

4. Thomas Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) – Mr. Mulcair is by far the most experienced candidate to become Prime Minister. He has served in Charest’s cabinet in Quebec. I am not terribly bothered by reports of Mulcair’s prickly personality – sometimes leaders are tough. What I am concerned about is that Mulcair has said some worrying things in the past. The most prominent example is after the United States announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed that he did not believe it in an interview with Evan Solomon of CBC. Conservative and Liberal attack ads will probably pick him apart.

5. (TIED) Peggy Nash (NDP – Parkdale-High Park, ON) – Ms. Nash is a measured, reasonable politician. She acted well as a finance critic going toe-to-toe against Jim Flaherty (CPC – Whitby-Oshawa, ON). As an Ontario political leader I have seen her on TV a lot and she does well on panels. However, I have two major issues with Ms. Nash as NDP leader. First, Nash is to the left of me politically and she is very close to the union movement. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do not think the labour movement will bring the NDP into government. Second, Nash seems to cast herself as angry, angry at the injustice of the Canadian economy and the failure of Conservative policy. I know it is gendered to say, but she does not come across as angry, but shrill. Part of picking a leader is picking someone who will appeal to other Canadians, not just the base. For Ms. Nash, one of my political heroes endorsed her.

5. (TIED) Paul Dewar (NDP – Ottawa Centre, ON) – Mr. Dewar is an effective parliamentarian. He has been endorsed by MPs I respect, in particular Charlie Angus (NDP – Timmins-James Bay). What I like most about Dewar is that he is unveiling a plan to capture the next 70 seats and bring the NDP to majority government. My criticism is that Mr. Dewar is up and down in debate performances. Sometimes he is stiff and robotic, and other times he can match other top-tier candidates. Another issue is that his French is weak, and in a party that needs to preserve wins in Quebec, that’s an issue.

7. Niki Ashton (NDP – Churchill, MB) – Ms. Ashton’s concept of New Politics is attractive, there is no doubt. Ashton may also be the weakest debater in the field. She sticks to buzzwords and platitudes too often and her delivery falls flat. I am hopeful in time she will refine her skills and as a lead critic or minister in a future government she may position herself as a future leader.

8. Martin Singh – Pharmacist – Most acknowledge that Mr. Singh has been impressive in the campaign. This political outsider has managed to influence debates and sign up plenty of new members to the party. That being said, this is a race to find the Leader of the Opposition, not a local riding association. I hope one day Mr. Singh joins his fellow candidates in the House of Commons, but he is not ready to be Prime Minister by my account.