Thursday, September 27, 2012

Worth Reading - September 27, 2012

First and foremost, the Ontario Boundary Commission is accepting public submissions by October 1st. The good people at Voter Equality  have produced an excellent slideshow that explains the inequalities in the new map. I strongly encourage you to go to the Ontario Boundary Commission and write a brief one page letter explaining why you believe the Commission should enforce voter equality. I have already nagged many of my friends I felt I could convince to write.

This is a wonderful piece by Dan Gardner absolutely shredding the Tories on their ‘Carbon Tax’ strategy. It also includes a reference to Monty Python. Hard to go wrong there. 

Rick Mercer has a new book come out, so he has been doing the media circuit promoting it. He did a piece in Maclean’s on why he rants. Valuable read, to be sure. 

Say what you will about Mr. Woodworth’s motion in regards to fetal rights, the position Ms. Ashton and Ms. Boivin advocate (restricting private member bills), is not in anyway the solution. Defeat bad ideas, don’t silence them. 

With the announcement of Justin Trudeau imminent that he will run for the Liberal leadership Susan Delacourt released a challenge to the media to write about Mr. Trudeau without raising the following now-clichés. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Whither Tories?

Today I read a column by David Brooks of the New York Times. This is not unusual in and of itself, but the topic was far more philosophical than Mr. Brooks’ normal serving in terms of a piece. Brooks argues that there are two schools in American conservatism – traditional and economicand that the fiscal conservatives have come to run the show. His analysis happens to not deal with the rise of the social conservatives or libertarians, but I will put that aside for now.

Traditional conservatives are described as “intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.”

Reading Mr. Brooks’ column I thought he might be referring to a trans-Atlantic ideology at the founding of at least three nations (U.K., U.S. and Canada), and probably more – Toryism. Toryism is a distinctly difficult ideology to pin down. It was swept away later by more familiar clashes of ideas. Toryism in its inception was a protection of the status quo, and in particular a defense of the British monarchy and tradition from the English Civil War to the American Revolution

Given my own background and biases I associate Toryism with the pre-Confederation leaders of Canada and our first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Tories tend to dote quite a bit towards authority and respect the rule of law. The Canadian phrase “Peace, Order and Good Government” seem the most effective synopsis of what Canadian Toryism is. The orderly structuring of a society and peaceful commerce and livelihoods of its inhabitants are of the utmost value to Tories. The school of thought developed in opposition to liberalism, which emphasizes the individual over the collective.

Toryism is a very attractive notion even in modern times. Brooks describes traditional conservatives saying “Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.” Individuals left to their own devices cannot be trusted, which is what society is for in the first place. It’s the same reason the unregulated free market is dangerous.

In Canada and other Westminster Parliamentary democracies the right-wing parties are often called Tories, but the relationship between the Conservative Party of Canada and the traditions of Toryism is quite tenuous. Tories in Canada are probably best understood as being the Red Tories of the old Progressive Conservative and Conservative Parties, but it is more than being moderate on social issues. The libertarian and social conservative factions are actively disruptive to society. Tories see a natural and fitting role for the state which cannot be said for all those who are called Tories in today’s parlance.

It might seem strange, but I consider myself a Tory and a New Democrat and have squared those ideas together. I imagine that strain of Canadian political thought or voter who is a Tory has an awkward time in the current political dynamic. All three of the major political parties are inheritors of the Tory tradition but none really embody the values anymore. So, whither Toryism, and its proud tradition?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Worth Reading - September 20, 2012

Parliament resumed this week which resulted in two big discussions in media one, “Hey! Parliament is back!” and two, the carbon tax ‘debate’. Since I addressed both in this week’s Tuesday post I can devote some time to other topics.

Evan Solomon, CBC’s leading political journalist (or at least host) released an open letter to Premier Christy Clark and the British Columbia Liberals. The Liberals are planning to cancel the fall session and not sit until February. Correctly, in my opinion, Mr. Solomon slams Premier Clark for ignoring democracy. 

The headline says it all on this one. John Ivison argues that the NDP’s focus on the economy could reveal similarities between Prime Minister Harper and Mr. Mulcair. I don’t know if that argument holds any water, but it is an interesting idea.

In a weird blend of news from the week Don Lenihan comparesthe media reaction and history of the late Peter Lougheed to the unfortunate incident involving the paparazzi and the Duchess of Cambridge. Lenihan suggests that that a declining respect for public figures illustrates the contrast in treatment of these two people. Changes in media and society are the obvious macro-causes, but it’s an unusual contrast.

Dan Gardner illustrates the growing disconnect between facts and our politics. Perhaps worse, the disconnect between public policy and facts. Gardner holds on to the belief that we can measure policies, find the best one objectively and implement it. I applaud his optimism and hope.

This was a really interesting piece from Maclean’s. They did a profile of Tom Mulcair’s personal history. Frankly I did not know many of these details about his life. As a historian I really appreciated the author framing Mr. Mulcair within the context of Quebec’s political history, though I feel he relied on ethno-political cultures a bit much in his explanations.

Finally, Rick Mercer’s most recent rant in regards to the impending Omnibudget: Part Two. I’ll let the rant speak for itself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taxing the Truth

Unless they caught it on the radio, or watched the evening news last night Canadians probably overlooked the return of the House of Commons. If you watched a moment of coverage you probably heard at least once from Conservative MPs, or the Prime Minister himself, that the NDP and Tom Mulcair (NDP - Outremont, QC) are in favour of an “economy killing carbon tax.”

The Conservatives created this line of attack a few weeks ago when an internal memo was “accidentally” leaked to several journalists. Go figure! Not long after several Conservative MPs began to repeat the allegation. Following these criticisms Aaron Wherry of Maclean’s did a little fact checking. He found the basis of the Conservative allegations were baseless.

And then Parliament resumed. Three member statements from Conservative backbencers, Mr. Andrew Saxton (CPC – North Vancouver, BC), Ms. Shelley Glover (CPC – Saint Boniface, MB) and John Williamson (CPC – New Brunswick Southwest, NB) were dedicated to attacking the NDP for a policy they do not have. Mr. Wherry gave an excellent rundown of the multiple attacks launched by the Conservative Party yesterday on this topic yesterday, and the history of the attack here.

The NDP’s policy is for a cap-and-trade system, which we quantify the amount of carbon dioxide generated and produce permits. Companies/large emitters have to purchase these permits if they exceed their allotment. It is hoped that these permits would create a market environment and incentivize companies to cut emissions. Such a market-friendly policy is normally is not what is expected of the NDP, which is perhaps why in 2008 the Conservative Party platform also promised a cap-and-trade system.

The hypocrisy speaks for itself.

Andrew Coyne in the National Post broke down the debateand pointed out the contradictions on both sides. Coyne does an excellent job of laying out the case but I feel this is a bit too much of “they are all crooks!” angle. By Mr. Coyne’s definition any regulation can be interpreted as a tax, as anything that increases costs are ultimately passed onto the consumer. Perhaps he’s right, and the NDP (and all cap-and-trade proponents) are trying to avoid the dreaded tax label.

Beyond being insulting, the attack by the Harper Conservatives is frankly lazy. They are literally going back to their old playbook and seeing what worked in the past. Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) destroyed Liberal leader Stéphane Dion (LPC – Saint-Laurent – Cartierville, QC) over his proposed Green Shift. It appears instead of coming up with a new line of attack the brain trust behind the Prime Minister has decided the old one will work fine.

A number of journalists have been incredulous at the brazen attack given that it relies upon the stupidity of the voters to work. Aaron Wherry, Don Martin, Andrew Coyne and Chris Selley have all criticized the Harper Conservatives for their hypocritical and crass attack. As Selley puts it, “So, on the off chance you doubted that the Conservatives think you’re a slack-jawed, credulous moron, there’s your proof.” 

I cannot imagine that treating Canadian voters like a bunch of ignoramuses, or behaving in such an arrogant fashion would be rewarded. Still, we expect politicians to bend the truth and massage information to present themselves or their parties in the best light, but to outright lie is something else entirely. The Conservatives hope to repeat the attack enough times that it becomes engrained in the Canadian psyche. Media will have to do its level best to educate the public and resist simply repeating the talking points, and informed citizens will have to endeavour to make sure the truth wins out.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Worth Reading – September 13, 2012

Rex Murphy, not often well loved but always well spoken, offered his thoughts on the prospect of a Quebec referendum

Something missed in the election of Pauline Marois to lead the province of Quebec is that Canada now has five female premiers. Roughly half of Canada is governed by female Premiers. Truly an important milestone.

Earl Washburn at the Canadian Election Atlas has produced a great map of what the results of the 2011 federal election would look likewith the proposed boundaries. I think it’s important when considering these maps to keep in mind that 2011 represents a high point in Conservative support. While some ridings have questionable boundaries, it is not as though they are gerrymandered. The Conservatives won the suburbs in the last election, but they used to be a Liberal strong point. Even a minor shift in support could flip many seats.

As the Liberal leadership race gets set one journalist lays out the case for Marc Garneau as leader. While Dan Gardner breaks down the polarized reaction to Justin Trudeau. In the piece he describes critics’ view of Mr. Trudeau as such “They say Trudeau has never said or written anything insightful, or even reasonably serious, about public policy or anything else. His vision is warmed-over platitudes. His oratory is the sort of thing pretentious wankers do before the high-school debate coach tells them to knock it off. The popular excitement he is supposed to provoke is simply the celebrity that comes from almost two decades of media coverage so fawning it would embarrass Kim Jong-un.”

Today the Ontario Liberals government was found incontempt of Parliament for withholding documents related to the costs of gas plants, which were cancelled due to political considerations. 

I saw this earlier today, and tweeted about it. It caused me no shortage of anger. Joan Crockett is the new Conservative nominee to replace Lee Richardson in a by-election in Calgary Centre. In this article sheis quoted as saying that her job as an MP is to support whatever the Prime Minister thinks. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what an MP is meant to do, which is first and foremost to represent her or his constituents. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

By-Election Tea Leaves

Were political commentators and pundits wise they would stop trying to predict the course of future events. They cannot help themselves though, it remains an irresistible part of following politics. No matter how many black eyes pundits get (see Alberta PC upset, or strong Quebec Liberal finish) they will go on predicting.

A few days ago there were two by-elections in Ontario. I have mentioned the details of these by-elections in previous posts so I will move straight to the results. In the riding of Vaughan the Liberal candidate Steven Del Duca was able to keep the riding in the government’s hands. The support for the three major parties within Vaughan was roughly the same as the last provincial election.

Most attention has focused on Kitchern-Waterloo where a retiring PC MPP raised hopes for a win by the Liberals. In a complete upset ONDP candidate Catherine Fife won the race with nearly 40% of the vote.  The result was bad for both Premier Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) and Leader of the Opposition Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook). McGuinty failed to achieve the majority he so desperately sought and Hudak lost a seat. The only happy leader in Ontario after those by-elections was Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre).

The results of the by-elections were followed by speculation that this was a major blow to Tim Hudak’s leadership and that hisdays may be numbered. No definitive proof has been revealed to that point. Moving to a leadership convention would definitely weaken the PCs and their hopes to unseat the Liberals from power.

An article in the Toronto Star by Thomas Walkom suggests that the Liberals may be suffering a similar fate to their federal cousins. The NDP may be encroaching more and more on their support be moving the centre and moderating their positions. Voters understand that when they elected ONDP MPPs they are moving towards making Andrea Horwath and not Tom Mulcair or the late Jack Layton their premier, but feelings about the NDP are changing in Ontario as a result of the new federal dynamic. Hudak’s PCs may be too right-wing for the sensibilities of Ontario (or at least Kitchener-Waterloo), and the public is growing weary of Mr. McGuinty’s government. Therefore, as Walkom suggests,they are turning to the new liberals, the NDP.

But as guru of Queen’s Park, Steve Paikin, reminds us,one by-election does not make a trend. The Liberals won Vaughan handily, despite it being a swing seat that the Tories hold federally, and have held it before provincially. Likewise the NDP only pulled 11% in Vaughan, hardly a strong indication that they are truly the government-in-waiting.

In a minority government situation politicians, pundits, journalists and political geeks are trying to find concrete ways to measure what will happen next, particularly with how unstable the whole thing is. The by-elections last week may be a flash in the pan, or portends of future things to come. It depends entirely on how the narrative is constructed. If we see a Premier Horwath in 2014 observers will point to the victory in Kitchener-Waterloo as an important stepping stone. If McGuinty’s Liberals regain their majority by that time the by-election that seems so important now will seem a distant memory.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Worth Reading - September 6, 2012

This is the first edition of this new feature. I hope to pull together articles I read over the week that I would like to point to. I only write a piece once a week which cannot cover the breadth and scope of current events. I cannot provide a definitive source, but I can at least highlight interesting ideas and perspectives.

Tonight there are by-elections in Ontario that will determine the future of the McGuinty government. Eric Grenier at Three Hundred Eight breaks down the voting tonight

The next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada will bepicked on April 14, 2013. The rules have been set. The race begins.

Maclean’s Magazine takes an extensive examination of thepressures facing students in post-secondary education. Depression, anxiety and suicide is a growing problem among young people. There are not simple explanations, nor simple solutions, but there is a growing recognition of a problem.

Globe and Mail analysis suggests that the Parti Quebecois is taking lessons from other separatist parties in Scotland and Spain.Independence is out of reach, so they are turning to Plan B. It provides a great deal of insight into the thinking within the new government of Quebec.

Greg Weston of the CBC weighs the chances of a referendum in our future. 

Stephen Maher comments on the central problem of ourdemocracy in relation to the Quebec election. With roughly a third of the vote the Parti Quebecois nearly won a majority, despite most Quebecois voted against sovereigntist parties.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Beginnings, Ends and Changes

Looking at the last week and the week to come it is difficult not to feel as though we are in the middle of a transition.

Today, in Quebec, citizens are voting on the future of their province, and by extension, the country. One day I hope to see a Quebec election where the rest of the country does not have to worry about the fate of the Confederation. Sadly, this is not such an election. Despite a tense and bitter campaign the numbers have barely moved since the writ was dropped. The polls indicated the Parti Quebecois is poised to form a government, either minority or majority. The Liberals under Jean Charest will, in all likelihood be kicked out of office. The wildcard is the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Quebec). As an upstart party, contesting its first election, will it be able to form the Opposition, or like the Wild Rose Party in Alberta months ago, will its polling not reflect actual support?

So, in Quebec we will likely see an end to federalist rule in the province, and the longest serving Premier in the country will be defeated. Correspondingly, a period of tense hostility will return between Quebec and the federal government, if Pauline Marois, leader of the PQ becomes Premier and she maintains her promise to push for greater autonomy.

In Ontario the provincial by-elections in Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo will be held this Thursday. Polling and people on the ground suggest that the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election is a three-way race. This is particularly surprising given the relative position of the parties at the last election only months ago. From what I understand Vaughan is considered a safe (at least safer) seat for the Liberals and they will be expected to hold it. If the Ontario Liberals win both seats they will achieve the barest of majorities in the Legislature. Therefore the stakes are very high.

This week may signal the end of minority government in Ontario, or great a new political dynamic, depending on which parties win which ridings.

Today was the first day of school for children, educators and parents. I now have a number of friends who went off to learn, and went off to teach today. It is a bizarre straddling of life’s division I find myself in. On a personal note, August 31 was the end of my graduate program and I have completed my Master’s Degree in History. I have ended the formal education and now enter the ruthless field of employment (or more accurately, unemployment). I have also returned to my hometown of Brampton and have started to engage in local politics here. Shocking, I know.

This week I plan to add a new feature to this blog. I mentioned this a couple of months ago at the second anniversary of the Orange Tory. On Thursday I will begin posting a weekly piece aggregating interesting articles I have come across called Worth Reading. I find that since this is only a weekly blog a lot of news passes that I cannot cover. Therefore I can point my readers to some interesting thoughts I do not have time to write up. Hopefully it will add something worthwhile for current and future readers.