Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Harper Leadership: Leading From Behind

The end of the year is an ideal time to take a look at how you’ve done in various areas of your life and where there’s room for improvement. Unfortunately, in the case of our government, I’m sure Stephen Harper puts his fingers in his ears whenever he’s reminded of his performance so that leaves it up to others to give him his year end performance review on the major issues facing Canadians. For a guy who’s campaign slogan was “Harper Leadership” (a slogan that has conveniently been banished from the website since the election), his record sure doesn’t seem to be one of a “leader”. On issue after issue, he’s content to be at the back of the pack and only doing anything positive when he’s forced to. It’s why I’m not optimistic he can really change for the better and why Canada would be better off with him gone. But on to the review…
On the Economy
- While Dion and the Liberals proposed economic solutions to get our economy rolling again in the last election, Harper offers no plan and said basically only "don't worry, be happy" when more and more experts were saying Canada had serious troubles ahead that need to be tackled. Harper STOLE the Liberals plan after realizing he was LAST to the party in realizing the economic crisis Canada faced.

- While every other western nation has put forward massive stimulus packages and are acting NOW to help their economies, Stephen Harper’s only response was to try to crush his opponents and pander to his base and then shut down Parliament for seven weeks. Stephen Harper is content to be the LAST western nation to bring in real solutions for the economic crisis.

On the Environment
- While every other western nation is focused on greening their economies and meaningfully tackling climate change, Stephen Harper has his head in the sand and prefers to obstruct than help tackle the problem. Stephen Harper is content to see Canada have the WORST record in the Western world on the environment.

On Early Learning and Child Care
- While other countries invest in early learning and child care and realize how conducive such investments are to a strong economy, Stephen Harper is content to literally have Canada be ranked DEAD LAST on our approach to this issue.

On Ethical Investigations
- When the more shady aspects of the Mulroney-Shreiber affair came to light, Harper railed against holding any real investigation before caving (but of course showed real leadership by stalling the inquiry until after the election). Stephen Harper only acted when outside voices were UNANIMOUS that he HAD TO. Hopefully he’ll be pushed in to doing the same for the In and Out and Cadman scandals.

On Foreign Affairs
- Maxime Bernier had to make a dozen mistakes before HE resigned as Harper couldn’t even bring himself to fire him. Stephen Harper is content to have incompetent ministers representing us on the world stage.

- Canada used to be a respected voice on the world stage. Under Stephen Harper we've pulled out of the race for a UN Security Council seat because Harper has made it so it's a virtual certainty Portugal would beat us. Stephen Harper is content to have us seen as being a Bush-like pariah on the world stage.

On Aboriginal Issues
- While virtually every other nation supported the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indiginous Peoples, Canada was one of the few countries opposed. While all 10 Premiers supported the Kelowna Accords, Stephen Harper tore them up. While other countries and provinces take dramatic steps to improve the lives of Aboriginals, Stephen Harper is content to leave them at the back of his priorities.

On Food Safety
- While every independent voice has called for a public inquiry into the listeriosis outbreak, Harper still insists on a private closed door one and staunchly defends his incompetent and horribly insensitive Agriculture minister (even re-appointing him after the election). Stephen Harper is content to be LAST to the party on food safety.

On Health Care
- While other provinces tackle wait times Stephen Harper has forgotten about it entirely. He promised wait time guarantees for 5 procedures and settled for one out of 5 (with a different one in each jurisdiction). For Stephen Harper, accomplishing less than 20% of what you promised is considered a major accomplishment.

On Human Rights
- As Barack Obama is about to close Guantanamo Bay and EVERY OTHER western nation has repatriated their citizens who were interned there, Stephen Harper is content to be the LAST supporter of Guantanamo. While EVERY western country that officially opposes the death penalty advocates clemency for their citizens abroad, Canada is now the ONLY country that doesn’t. Stephen Harper is on pace to see Canada have the WORST record on human rights in the western world.

On Culture
- While other countries invest in their culture industries to bolster their economies and promote their national identity Harper thought it wise to cut and censor them. Harper was eventually dragged to make an embarrassing reversal, but once again Harper was LAST to realize the importance of the cultural industry to our economy and identity.

On Gender Equality
- While other parties ran more female candidates, Harper ran less. To boot, Harper slashed funding for Status of Women Canada and weakened its mandate, his party passed resolutions removing gender equality as goal for the government, against pay equity and bring back Ken Epp’s “unborn victims of crime bill”. Harper had a chance to change course and instead brought in a fiscal update that attacks pay equity and then appointed an abysmal 4 out 18 women to the Senate in his history making patronage spree. While other countries make strides in moving towards gender equality, Harper is ALONE in having us move BACKWARD. Harper is dead LAST in his commitment to women’s issues and giving an equal voice and equal representation in the House of Commons and Senate.

On Poverty
- While an economic crisis ensues that could see poverty rise to historic levels and while our neighbour to the South is ensuring it does all it can to soften the blow for those hardest hit, the word poverty can’t even cross Stephen Harper’s mouth. Stephen Harper is content to be DEAD LAST in poverty reduction efforts.

On Plans for the Future
- While out campaigning for a majority, Stephen Harper had NO INTENTION of releasing a platform. He ONLY released one in the end when it became embarrassing for him not to. What he released has more photos than ideas and While running a campaign based on “leadership” Stephen Harper had (and in all likelihood has) NO REAL PLANS of his own to lead us into the future.
And that’s far from all the examples where Harper’s failed. We need real leadership from our government during the biggest economic crisis we’ve faced in decades and Harper has a huge mountain to climb to show he’s up to the times and deserves to govern in the year ahead.

We have to ask ourselves what kind of government do we want in 2009? One that leads from the front or from behind? We must demand much better of our government or it must go.

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Top 10 Canadian News Stories of 2008

Every year has its big stories, but this year had many that I think Canadians will still be talking about years from now. You may not agree with the top 10 Canadian stories I’ve chosen, but it’s hard to say each of these weren’t major stories when they hit and that most of these don’t still resonate. I’ve reflected on each one (some “reflections” I guess could be posts in themselves) and they are listed in rough chronological order rather than importance.

1) Chuck Cadman Scandal: You don’t hear about it as much now, but you can’t say it’s not huge news when you hear allegations (which seem to be backed up on tape) that the Conservatives tried to literally bribe an MP to vote with them. And don’t forget Harper’s libel case against the Liberals over this is still before the courts, but given how that’s fared of late I’m thinking Harper’s hoping we do forget about that one.

2) In and Out Scandal: The RCMP raiding the governing party HQ and the ensuing frantic (and failed) attempt to control the media spin over the Conservatives apparent over-spending and shady dealings with local ridings during the 2006 election was certainly a sight to see. Conservatives are STILL spending millions fighting this in court so obviously they realize how bad it will reflect on them when Elections Canada does finally rule officially AGAINST them

3) Maxime Bernier's Bungled Foreign Affairs Tenure: I’m someone who believes it’s extremely important for Canada to maintain a positive reputation in the world and so it’s big news to me that this year we came to fully realize that Stephen Harper had appointed among the worst (if not the worst) foreign affairs ministers in Canadian history. From not knowing who the President of Haiti was, to blowing private negotiations to get a troublesome Afghan governor to step down, to promising C-17s that didn’t exist for deployment, it was clear the guy was just not up to the job. Amazingly enough it took him leaving confidential documents at his girlfriend’s place to bring him down, but even then Harper wouldn’t fire him, Bernier instead resigned. This was also the first and only cabinet resignation I believe we’ve seen so far from this government. That’s not a good thing given how many of Harper’s ministers have done things that should have warranted their dismissal.

4) The Green Shift: Like it or hate it, it was the most bold policy proposal of the year. Sadly the Conservatives AND NDP smeared it with disinformation and the Liberals were unable to successfully combat the onslaught. I’ve still yet to hear one person credibly argue how a cap-and-trade system would be a superior approach to tax shifting for reducing GHG emissions over the next several years when a cap-and-trade system could easily end up being (in the words of Andrew Coyne) "just as costly...twice as complicated… and probably half as effective (as a carbon tax)" and when we know that Europe has had a terrible time getting cap-and-trade off the ground and that the Western Climate Initiative here in North America isn’t scheduled to start till 2012. Yet as of this time an exclusively cap-and-trade approach seems to be the approach all parties (except the Greens) now want us to head in.

I HOPE the Liberals show some courage again and revive the Green Shift policy in a different more saleable form down the line (certainly the Green Shift policy on the whole could stand for some tweaking). After all it was originally Michael Ignatieff’s idea when he was the only leadership candidate in 2006 arguing for it. I understand how given the results of the last election he doesn’t want to touch a tax shift with a ten foot pole and I guess I can’t blame him if he doesn’t go back to it, but to date I’ve seen ZERO evidence in polling or anything that Canadians were voting against us SOLELY BECAUSE of the Green Shift. Is there really more than 1-2% of Canadians who would have said “I definitely would have voted Liberal but didn’t only because they were proposing a carbon tax”?

I think it’s foolish to boil down the election loss to that policy (or just who our leader was for that matter) when people could have voted against us for literally dozens of different reasons (I wouldn't be surprised if some people actually went to the polls thinking the Liberals were going to ban the bible or some other crazy nonsense perpetrated by Conservatives) and such a simplistic view allows us to learn little. I think we lost much more so due to weaker organization and GOTV efforts, the smearing of Stéphane Dion with millions of dollars in ads that we were unable to combat (due to our weaker fundraising abilities) and Harper successfully (falsely) portraying the Liberal platform as planning to spend tens of billions more than was available in the treasury (e.g., the infrastructure policy was portrayed as $70 billion over the short-term rather than over 10 years).

I hope Ignatieff thinks long and hard about what’s best for the country in the long-term, because the environment may not be top of mind for Canadians now but in 2-3 years it will definitely be back and I fear cap-and-trade alone simply won't be sufficient to make the greenhouse gas reductions we need to make and to avoid being seen as a laggard in the world eye on this issue.

Liberals ought to take a look at Norway, an oil-producing nation with HIGHER GDP per-capita (highest in the world right now), economic productivity and living standards than us and yet who have a dreaded carbon tax (though the Liberal Green Shift was actually a superior approach to what Norway put in place as I believe they had too many exemptions). We can catch up to them or we can fall further behind (the environment isn’t the only issue we can look to Norway on either).

If we KNOW the Green Shift (or an improved adaptation of it) is the best approach for the environment (combined in time with cap-and-trade), how can we as the “natural governing party” just abandon it completely just because of one election? If we used one election as the basis for whether to discard different policies then that really sets a bad precedent for any party to be bold. Trudeau discussed implementing a new Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1979 and lost, it’s a good thing we didn’t abandon it in the next election. I hope we don’t so easily discard tax shifting once and for all.

But alas, I feel this little tirade will fall on deaf ears and tax shifting will not be proposed again by any major party in Canada for a long time to come…So then on to the next news story of the year….

5) 2008 Federal Election: I honestly believe that if the election were held a week before (when polls had it at 33 Cons -30 Libs) or a week after (when Nanos again had it 32 Cons – 30 Libs) October 14 the result would have been dramatically different, but Stephen Harper called the election for when he did for a reason and it paid off. He wanted to avoid by-elections losses while having an e-day before the economic downturn he knew and before Obama could be elected in the US. Harper was clearly going to lose all 4 by-elections (and from what I heard on the ground we were on the verge of winning St. Lambert on the eve of Sept. 8) and he waited till the very last day before the by-elections so he could run ads unopposed outside the writ (to do an end run around election spending limits), wasting the maximum amount of public money possible. That he could do that AND break his promise not to call an election before October 2009 and almost not even release a platform and not be punished at the polls for any of that still bothers me.

As for the campaign itself, it started off slow for us, but I believe we did eventually hit our stride and our platform had the right priorities (I’ve still yet to hear a single Liberal state any specific policy aside from the Green Shift that we shouldn’t keep in the next platform), but perhaps we promised too much (in $ terms at least) or perhaps we didn’t communicate well enough what we were going to do. As I said above on the Green Shift, it’s simplistic to blame that for our loss or to blame just Stéphane Dion. In the debates everyone praised his performances and to me that still represents the real Dion, but in the end he could not overcome the negative caricatures (bought my an unprecedented character assasination campaign by the Cons) that even he recognized had been cemented in Canadians’ minds. That certainly hurt us, but what hurt us more was being outmatched in organizational and GOTV efforts and simply not being in play in many less ridings than the Conservatives. We have a lot of work to do to fix that in time for the next election (I’ll propose some more thoughts on how to do that in the new year). Apart from that, I think a lot of voters by the time e-day arrived were just looking for a steady hand to manage the economy and a plurality for whatever reason thought that would be Stephen Harper. I’m sure he was helped by the strong final weekend he had and the major market rallies that occurred on the final two days of the campaign.

Even so, a MAJORITY voted against Harper and if we had a system of proportional representation then the results would have translated into the Liberals, NDP and Greens having a majority of seats between them without needing any support from the Bloc to have formed a coalition. Only the Conservatives and the Bloc won a greater percentage of seats than their percent of the popular vote and that’s the second election in a row that’s happened. I hope the time will have finally come for the majority of Liberals to realize that electoral reform is not only the right thing to do but is also in our own party’s interests (I’ll also have more to say about that in the new year).

6) The Economic Crisis: It’s not quite true that no one saw an economic crisis coming (in fact I give Garth Turner credit for making dire predictions well before the bottom fell out on the market), but I think the magnitude of it has taken just about everyone by surprise. If you had said a year ago that Canada would have a $30 Billion deficit in 2009 and that all parties would agree that a fiscal stimulus package getting us to that point would be necessary (not forgetting the fact though that if it weren’t for Harper’s reckless GST cuts the prospective deficit would be MUCH smaller) you’d have been called crazy. Thankfully previous Liberal governments ensured that our banking system was one of the most solid in the world and Stephen Harper has a minority or else Canada would be in a HUGE amount of trouble that might take a decade or more to get out of. Liberals can’t let Canadians forget that the Harper Conservatives brought in 40 year mortgages and other reckless practices (before abandoning them when it was clear how damaging they were) that were the original source of the financial meltdown in the U.S. that dominoed into a global economic crisis and we can't let them forget either how recklessly Harper and Flaherty and Co. frittered away a strong surplus that would be have been enormously useful at a time like this.

These guys don’t know how to manage the economy and the evidence is overwhelming, we just have to make sure Canadians understand just how bad they have been and how disastrous it would be if they got a majority.

7) Fiscal Update/The Liberal-NDP Coalition: Stephen Harper came into Parliament enjoying the good will of the opposition parties. Many people were predicting he would likely get to govern until at least 2010. It’s his fault alone that he squandered that and now has the lowest ratings for “Best PM” than he’s ever had. The fiscal update had no solutions for the economic crisis, proposed bizarre (e.g., a firesale of public assets in a horrible market) and offensive (e.g., weakening pay equity and banning public strikes right after a collective bargaining deal was reached) policies while having the central goal of crushing the Conservatives political opposition through the elimination of the per vote subsidy.

Had the coalition not come about I have no doubt in my mind Harper would have dug in his heels on the update, as without a coalition, voting down the update would have meant an election that the opposition parties weren’t prepared to face. In all likelihood with no coalition one of the opposition parties would have been very likely to cave. Thankfully, because of the deal Dion negotiated with Layton, Stephen Harper had to shelve every negative aspect of that update. But for putting it forth in the midst of a crisis and at a time when the opposition was willing to work with him, Stephen Harper should have lost power. The coalition in turn would definitely have brought in a strong and popular budget by now instead of us having to be the last western country to bring in fiscal stimulus to revive our economy. I’m confident that even though they would have started with only about 40%-45% public support (which is still more than Stephen Harper enjoyed) their policies would have proved popular over the year ahead. Unfortunately, the Governor General was put in the unprecedented situation of being asked to allow Harper to dodge the will of Parliament. Stephen Harper’s head would have exploded if Paul Martin had tried the same thing, but I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind now that he will do anything to retain his hold on power.

Now the coalition looks unlikely to happen because Stephen Harper’s scare tactics and disinformation have knocked its popularity down to below what we would have hoped for (though I think it’s disingenuous of this Globe article to call 40%-45% support for the coalition “widely unpopular” without also calling Stephen Harper “widely unpopular” after receiving only 38% support in the last election) and because Harper now desperately wants to survive past January so he can regoup without the threat of any looming coalition (as that threat can't really exist past February).

Though I do hope that if Stephen Harper doesn’t take dramatic steps to show he’s changed (that go beyond just putting out a strong budget) that those worried about voting him down realize that we may live to regret allowing him to live another day and that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc decide to end his career right at budget time in January. If the Harper Conservatives won’t be a responsible government in the worst times our country has faced in decades then there is ample justification for the coalition taking on that role instead and every single precedent that exists would compel the Governor General to allow that.

8) Provincial elections in Alberta and Quebec: The status quo prevailed in Alberta, but it was definitely surprising and disappointing (I’m sure all the more so for any Liberals living in Alberta) just how resounding Ed Stelmach’s victory was. Now that oil is plummeting to lows not seen in years and it seems like Stelmch spent the cupboard and never planned for something like this, I wonder if Albertans will finally see that perhaps they aren’t being best served by Conservative government after all. I’m sure somehow all the problems Alberta is facing for low oil prices will be blamed in Trudeau somehow.

As for Quebec, Jean Charest completed his political comeback with a majority, but Stephen Harper’s Quebec/separatist bashing the final week of the campaign almost blew it for him and definitely has helped revive PQ fortunes. Had Charest only won a minority I think his career in Quebec would have been over (since the only reason he called an early election was to win a majority) and I wonder if he wouldn’t have tried to go back to Ottawa to end Stephen Harper’s. The things will never know since a majority is a majority and I’m guessing Charest will retire at the end of his term (has any Premier ever won 4 consecutive terms in Quebec?), but I won’t be surprised if he tries some bold initiatives in next 4 years to cement his legacy.

9) New Liberal Leader: I was I was sad to see Stephane Dion go and not got the second chance every one of our other past leaders received, but I do believe he played important positive role as our leader and even as interim leader with the creation of the coalition. I think he would have made an excellent PM and still could have grown into the job of party leader (as was evident in the last half of the campaign) , but as he recognized the Conservatives so badly tarnished him that it would been very difficult to reverse that impresssion and thus he felt the mountain would be too high to climb.

While the ensuing Liberal leadership race was much shorter than expected and cut out what likely would have been some valuable debates, Liberals are now able to turn their guns away from each other and squarely on Stephen Harper MUCH sooner than expected.

10) Senate Patronage Spree: Ordinarily Senate appointments by a PM are hardly big news, but that changes when it’s done by a man who’s spent a lifetime campaigning against Senate patronage and who just shut down Parliament to avoid a confidence vote and when it also happens to also be the largest number of appointments in a single day. There being no gender or partisan balance in these appointments and the overwhelming number of hardcore party loyalists being appointed just made all the more cringe inducing. Whether the galling nature of these appointments will turn public opinion against him remains to be seen, but it was a pretty dramatic example of Harper will abandon any principle to hold on to power and use all the perks that come along with it.

Honourable mention: The inevitable end of John Tory’s leadership of the Ontario PC Party, though it comes a lot later than I, and the poll I conducted, had predicted. But since it’s not official yet, technically it can be a story for 2009. My endorsement for their leader still has not changed though: Randy Hillier all the way! And here’s hoping Baird, Flaherty, Clement and/or Van Loan (the more of them better) also race back to try to grab the Ontario PC Party brass ring as well - they will be doing their country a HUGE favour by leaving Ottawa for Queen’s Park and going back to the opposition benches where they belong!

World News Note: Obviously the biggest worldwide story (that eclipsed all Canadian stories) was the was the 2008 Presidential Election and the election of Barack Obama as President, but Canadian politics is still where my heart is so that’s what I stuck to in this list just like I did last year.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top 10 Canadian News Stories of 2007 - Where Are They Now?

So the year is almost at its end and I’m sure we’ll see lots of blogs doing lists of the biggest stories of 2008, and I’ll be putting up a few year-end summary posts over the next few days, but I thought for a change I would take a look back at what I named as the biggest stories of 2007 (in no particular order of importance) and see where they are now.

1) The inability of the Conservatives to increase their popularity:
At the end of last year they seemed unable to ever crack 40% in the polls despite controlling the agenda. In the end they did increase their seat count, but managed only 1.5% gain in the popular vote from the last election despite spending millions more in ads than any of the other parties. While they finally got over 40% over their smear campaign on the coalition, the latest polls showed them back below 40% and I suspect that’s where they’ll stay. Maybe some day soon Conservatives will realize Stephen Harper to be the led weight on his party’s popularity that he is.

2) The UN Climate Change Conference in Bali:
I was disappointed to see the issue of the environment fall off the radar in the past several months. Of course the Green Shift figured prominently in the last election, but the misleading negative frame of it won out to the detriment of the environment. Meanwhile Harper is getting way too much of a pass for his mismanagement of this file and he’s clearly not prepared to change his ways, as at the last G8 Conference in Hokkaido the latest climate change conference in Poland just saw a repeat of the obstruction at Bali. The environment will come back as an issue, it will be up the Liberals to make sure they own the issue and can sell their approach when it does.

3) The Afghanistan detainee scandal:
This was a major disgrace for Canada on the world stage and I actually don’t remember much mention of it during the last campaign. That’s a shame because the treatment of detainees remains an ongoing issue that I don’t believe was satisfactorily resolved and that the Conservatives have badly mismanaged from the beginning. Canada and progressive parties should never let human rights abuses fall off the radar.

4) The Elizabeth May-Dion deal:
I think a lot of people would argue this ended badly for the Liberals, but it’s unclear. One could make the case that it angered some grassroots Liberals that they wouldn’t be running candidates in 308 ridings and that Dion lent more legitimacy to the Green Party than he should have. However, one could also argue that with the Green party polling still around 10% right up until days before the election and with them only scoring just over 6% on E-day that the Dion-May deal helped send a good chunk of Green voters our way that may have helped save several seats across the country. I’m sure that without such a deal you wouldn’t have seen Elizabeth May encouraging Green supporters to vote Liberal in places where the Greens weren’t competitive. Will Michael Ignatieff agree to repeat the deal in the next election? We’ll see.

5) The Quebec by-elections (Sept 17):
Despite what many said at the time this actually ended up being a pretty poor omen of how we would end up doing in Quebec in the general election. Those who were upset with Dion forecasted that the loss of Outremont was an omen of impending disaster in the province, but in the end that was the only place where we saw improvements over the last election. Meanwhile, Conservatives forecasted that their win in Roberval was a sign of Stephen Harper eventually cleaning up in Quebe. Goes to show by-elections are sometimes just that and not really omens of anything.

6) The Ontario election:
We continue to get sound, competent government from the McGuinty government since he won his second majority. Unlike Stephen Harper he has enacted policies that will be important for the LONG-TERM health of the province he represents and at that time same he has taken great strides to combat poverty and help those who will be hardest hit by the economic crisis. This is polar opposite of Stephen Harper’s short-term (whatever he thinks will get him a majority) forget about the poor (or anyone that won’t likely vote Conservative) approach.

Meanwhile, I had predicted the Ontario election would spell the end of John Tory and as 2008 wraps up it’s becoming increasingly likely that may now officially become the case.

7) The Quebec election:
Well what do you know, we’ve just had another Quebec election. The story last year was the rise of Mario Dumont’s ADQ and thankfully this year’s actually saw their dramatic downfall. Thanks to Dumont’s spectacular collapse Jean Charest now has the majority he was denied in 2007.

8) Canada’s backsliding on human rights:
Despite Stephen Harper’s support for the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg, Canada’s human rights record has fared no better in 2008 than in 2007. Harper still supports the death penalty for Canadians abroad and Canadians being detained at Guantanamo Bay, he still turns a blind eye to the abuses of Canadian mining companies in parts of the 3rd world, he still won’t support the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and he’s still all too happy to sign a free trade deal with Columbia without any regard for their human rights record.
We can’t let Canadians forget about how Harper has tarnished Canada’s once proud reputation on human rights. With Obama closing Guantanamo and insisting on a human rights review before ratifying free trade deals, we run the risk of having the worst human rights record in the Western world in 2009.

9) The scandal-plagued RCMP:
In my 2007 review I said “From the pension scandal, Air India fumblings, continuing fall-out over the O’Conner report on Maher Arar (I know that was the fall of 2006, but close enough), the appalling handling of the taser scandal and so many more embarrassing stories, this year has not been kind the Mounties. It is increasingly clear they definitely need a substantial overhaul and hopefully that starts to happen in 2008.”
The last line is just as valid today as it was then and obviously not substantial overhaul took place.

10) Mulroney-Schreiber:
This has fallen off the radar but I suspect once the public inquiry formally starts calling witnesses it will gain attention again. Past testimony in committee has in recent months been called into question and I’m sure as much as Mulroney wishes he could, I don’t think he’ll avoid the hot seat in 2009.

If you want to see what I said about these issues at the end of last year take a look at the post HERE.

So there you have it. With a year that’s passed it’s interesting to see that even though a lot has changed in Canadian politics in the past 12 months, much remains the same. At the same none of these 10 stories will be showing up in my list for 2008.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thank You, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy Holidays

This comes a bit late, but I didn’t want to forget to say thank you to all those who supported me in the Canadian Blog Awards for Best Blog Series and Best Progressive blog. I also want to give a big thanks to Laura of we move to canada. I appreciate you being a good sport during the “coalition bloggers” saga. Congratulations to you on your victory and congratulations to all the other victors in the awards. Thanks as well to Saskboy and the Canadian Blog Awards admin for putting on these awards again for another year. Some may feel they are silly, but I think it’s nice to have a forum to give recognition to blogs of all kinds at least once a year.

For those that thought the “coalition bloggers” saga with myself, Calgary Grit and Daveberta was a horrible and overly drawn out attempt at satire, well you can feel free to punish us at the polls for next year’s awards. If you thought it was great, I’ll be glad to take the credit though (if not well then it was the other two guys’ idea).

Seriously though I was especially grateful to get the kind of support I did for the Best Blog Series category for my coverage of the Conservative convention. The media gave so little coverage to what I thought was a very real portrait of what Harper would do with a majority, so I hope what happened on the floor of Winnipeg is not soon forgotten.

On a more spirited note, I will be signing off a few days, as I will be busy celebrating the holiday season with my family. I’d like to wish anyone reading this Merry Christmas and/or Happy Hanukah to all those that celebrate and hope all of you enjoy the holiday season!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Harper Leadership: Friends Before Country, Principles or Good Judgment

With the exception of a few good names on the list (e.g., Pamela Wallin I believe is well qualified), this is yet another case of Harper putting rewarding his friends ahead of doing what's good for the country and he's yet again shown his contempt for Parliament and his willingness to abandon any principles when it suits him.

His government currently enjoys no legitimacy with a majority of MPs having expressed in writing that they lack confidence in his government. He could have waited till the budget vote and done the right thing, but he refused he had to rush all these partisan cronies in the door. He's once again broken trust with the opposition parties who hold his fate in the balance and I hope they don't forget this slap in the face.

The illegitimacy of these appointments were bad enough but when I saw the names of who actually got appointed it showed clearly once and for all that Harper puts rewarding cronies ahead of what's good for the country. When I look at these appointments the main things that stick out to me are:
- NO partisan balance, unlike Paul Martin's appointments in a similar minority government context. As I understand ALL of these appointments will sit in the Conservative caucus.
- Only FOUR out of 18 are women, absolutely appalling. There is zero excuse for that and it is particularly unfortunate since it sets the Senate far backward in terms of gender equality in its composition.
- Harper rails about the Liberal-NDP coalition as being in bed with the separatists and he appoints someone who was in Parizeau's caucus during the last referendum. He also continues to cozy up to the badly broken ADQ with an appointment of one of their loyalists.
- Even though Pamela Wallin is well-qualified, Saskatchewan is the one province with a vacancy that was planning on holding Senate elections, so I would say this appointment shows his supposed commitment to a elected Senate was just a token promise for his base that he's obviously given up on. Now in power, Harper prefers to wield the powers of appointments much more than leaving it up to the people or to a more independent objective appointments process.
- With the exception of a few well-qualified people, most of these people are as Adam Radwanski said just b-list party bagmen, backroom boys, and defeated candidates. If Harper had to appoint Conservatives there were a lot more qualified men and women out there. Why do these appointments deserve $135,000 a year until they are 75? I don't buy that these people will voluntarily resign in 8 years because nothing legally binds them to that and I think once the Conservatives lose office (which will be in much less than 8 years) these appointees will dig in their heels and hold these posts as long as they are entitled to under the law.

To boot Stephen Harper has spit in the face of any claims of caring about gender equality and abandoned a lifetime of campaigning against using the Senate as a tool for patronage. It's clear for all to see, Stephen Harper doesn't really care about good government, he doesn't care about what's best for the people he's supposed to serve, he only cares above all else about power and rewarding those who have helped him keep it.

UPDATE: Apparently Pamela Wallin has said she will resign and put her name forward for Sask. Senate elections if/when they ever take place. I suspect almost all the rest of the others will not be nearly so courageous as to make this vow, what with many of them being defeated in the last election and Michael Fortier's experiences and all.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Value of Progressive Blogger Coalition Still Hotly Debated

Sunday, December 20, 2009

With the 2009 Canadian Blog Awards now in the history books it seems fitting to look back on one of the biggest stories that came out of last year's awards in 2008. For those that don't remember, 3 attention deprived bloggers, Dave Cournoyer (Daveberta), Danielle Takacs (Galloping Around the Golden Horseshoe), and Dan Arnold (Dan Arnold) decided to form a coalition using their combined vote totals to try to overthrow the first place finisher 'we move to canada' in the Best Progressive Blogger category. It was officially a coalition between defending champion Dave Cournoyer and Danielle Takacs, but was supported from the outside by the separatist leaning Dan Arnold.

While these kinds of coalitions are very common in blogging awards in Europe, this was a first for our country. However, the reaction from across the country was fierce. Polls showed massive nation-wide opposition, everywhere except Western Canada, the home of two of the members of the coalition. In fact, the snubbing of the two Alberta based blogs, Daveberta and Calgary Grit, had a major impact on the separatist movement in their home province.

But what started out as a coalition merely trying to get some extra recognition for Calgary Grit who 'we move to canada' refused to acknowledge (at least that's their official story) spawned a whirlwind week in Canadian progressive blogging the likes of which was never seen. Rallies happened all over the country for and against the coalition, with each side seeing themselves as the true champions of democracy. Even Prime Ministers and Premiers got involved. Then came a late poor quality video aggress by the coalition leader Mr. Cournoyer that inflamed the media and many believe was responsible for his overthrow as leader of the coalition by his old nemesis Premier Ed Stelmach.

When Stelmach took over many coalition supporters were still optimistic of they would take power and Stelmach and Takacs would get to share the 1st place progrssive blog award button as outlined in their accord. However, the Canadian Blog Awards administration refused to cede them power immediately and, with time, the coalition began to fall apart. When it came time for a final showdown just before a deadline set by the Canadian Blog Awards Administration, Premier Stelmach had turned on his coalition partners and decided to prop up we move to canada. It's rumoured Premier Stelmach was given a jet ski and a wet suit in return for his support. Feeling betrayed and demoralized, the coalition fell apart and 'we move to canada' retained her title to defend in the next election.

Unfortunately for the coalition, 'we move to canada' went back to her old ways following their collapse, running smear campaigns against Mr. Cournoyer (who re-assumed his control of his blog after Stelmach lost interest in it). Daveberta's former coalition partners did likewise against Mr. Cournoyer, holding him responsible for the betrayal they experienced.

Premier Stelmach was also punished in his home province. At his first press conference after propping up 'we move to canada' he was pelted with a shoe which he apparently lacked the ability to dodge. It remains the defining moment of his Premiership. At the time of this writing the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party are at an all-time low in polling in Alberta and the Western separatist party is in lead and may in fact win a majority in the next provincial election. Albertans won't forget Mr. Stelmach's betrayal any time soon.

Could the coalition have done anything different to be successful? Some of their supporters believe if they had just held firm and continued their resolve to seize power than the Canadian Blog Awards administration would have been compelled to give them power based on precedent and we move to canada's own statements in favour of government by proportional representation. We'll never know how Canadians would have responded had that come to be, but supporters insist a coalition would have been popular with time. And many do credit the coalition with garnering more respect for Western Canada than we had seen before.

What we do know now though is how Canadians responded to the coalition bloggers in this year's 2009 Canadian Blog Awards. As many of you now know 'we move to canada' won a sizable majority of votes in the Best Progressive Blog category. Coalition leader Daveberta failed to make the finals, while Takacs fell back from second to fourth place. The only one that seemed to benefit was Calgary Grit who moved up to second.

Howevver, all 3 bloggers faced their own forms of punishment for their behavior. Daveberta's readership steadily declined to the point of where he was only getting 20 hits a day. Ms. Takacs saw a similar decline in her readership, while both her and Mr. Arnold were kicked off Liblogs for "failing to follow the party line" during this affair. However, Mr. Arnold became somewhat of a hero in his home province and was showered with praise upon his return at Christmas time in the immediate aftermath of the coalition's collapse. It's believed that it was a freeping effort from Alberta that helped him bring home the number two prize this year.

Perhaps Canadians just weren't ready for a coalition or perhaps this coalition just didn't have what it took to be successful in such a cut-throat place as the Canadian blogosphere.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Ed Stelmach Takes over Blogging Coalition; Future of Coalition Uncertain

Friday, December 19, 2008

The story of the fledgling coalition of bumbling progressive bloggers has taken yet more dramatic turns. After a day of rallies Wednesday, the leader of the coalition, Dave Cournoyer was to address the nation to make his case for why his coalition is best suited to hold the best Progressive Blog prize in these troubled times; however, Mr. Cournoyer's address never arrived. He sent a note to the networks saying "Super busy at work today, so I didn't get a chance to record the vid, sorry, maybe tomorrow or the next day." The video eventually surfaced (apparently filmed on a low quality webcam) but the networks were so furious that have vowed to give no further airtime to Mr. Cournoyer at all.

CTV News reporter Mike Duffy was livid, "The single most important test in leadership is delivering a video in high quality and on time. I don't really care what you have to say, but there are no higher values than punctuality and cinematography skills in politics and these guys obviously just aren't cut out for the job."

A spokesperson for first place winner 'we move to canada' could hardly contain her glee, "If these guys can't do v-blogging right they are clearly not worth the risk of being handed the prize of top progressive blogger."

Though this was just the beginning of what will go down as one of the most surreal days in Canadian blogging. The morning after Mr. Cournoyer's video SNAFU, he found himself locked out of his blog, Daveberta. To his dismay he discovered through a breaking news report in the Toronto Sun that Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach had bought the domain name for Daveberta's blog and formally taken it over.

Premier Stelmach was defiant at the ensuing press conference, "Payback's a bitch isn't it Dave?" The comment was clearly in reference to the legal squabbles Premier Stelmach had with Mr. Cournoyer when Dave angered the Premier by purchasing the domain without his permission.

Despite Premier Stelmach's apparent disdain for Mr. Cournoyer, he made it clear that as the new proud owner of the Daveberta blog (which the Premier promptly renamed Edberta) he was entitled to lead the coalition of progressive bloggers and would respect the terms of the deal signed by Mr. Cournoyer with Danielle Takacs (Galloping Around the Horseshoe) and Dan Arnold (Calgary Grit). However, Premier Stelmach did leave the door open for a compromise with 'we move to canada', "Coalition if…umm…necessary, but we need…umm…a coalition…some of the time…uhh…unless it's needed," said the Premier.

Mr. Stelmach's coalition partners appeared unfazed by the change in the leadership of their coalition. "I could care less who leads the coalition as long as I get the 1st place progressive blog banner on my blog for a quarter of the year like I was promised in the accord," said Ms. Takacs.

Mr. Arnold who has been critical of Premier Stelmach in the past seemed willing to accept him this time around, "Sure I've campaigned against him, but everyone I've ever supported has always ended up losing so what do I know about winning? It's time I start doing the opposite of what my instincts tell me."

The coalition's efforts will now be bolstered by Preston Manning and Ralph Klein who will be launching a national tour to promote the coalition as the sort of democracy in action they've always championed. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now come out in support, "We move to canada is playing the biggest political game of her life! Let me be very clear, if this coalition of bloggers is not allowed to take power, I think it's time for Alberta to seriously consider building firewalls around itself and start running these awards under their own legitimate jurisdiction. There's nothing more important in this country than blogging and mark my words, Westerners shall not take this lying down," said the Prime Minister.

Though despite the new heavyweights lining up to support them, there were the first signs from the coalition leaders themselves that perhaps they won't succeed in their ultimate goal, "We'll see what happens, but the coalition has definitely made a positive impact. Before the coalition existed we move to canada was refusing to acknowledge my existence, and lo and behold within 24 hours of our accord she was saying I had an "excellent blog". That kind of respect for Western Canada didn't come easy and we have to make sure to hold we move to canada's feet to the fire. But the ball is her court now, maybe we'll get a miracle," said Mr. Arnold.

The new tone in rhetoric may be due to the massive public opposition reflected in the latest polls. Even so, the coalition's efforts to take power have been put on hold for several days as the Canadian Blog Awards (CBA) administration have been refusing to answer e-mails or take calls from any of the coalition members wishing to discuss this matter. The members of the CBA administration pronounced that a "time out" was needed and they expressed hope that the warring parties would sit down and resolve this matter on the weekend and if extremely unethical or borderline illegal (e.g., offering life insurance policies) deal making was required to end this once and for all, so be it. A final decision shall be made following the weekend, should it prove necessary, the Administration said.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Tradition Worth Following

Good to see Charest has gone from "precedent to tradition" in once again having a gender-equal cabinet. I was very pleased when Stéphane Dion pledged to appoint women to 50% of cabinet, Senate and Crown corporation positions should he ever become Prime Minister. I hope we will soon see Michael Ignatieff pledge to continue this tradition. I expect he will and I look forward to the day when we have gender equality in the executive branch of our federal government (with women in some of the highest positions) when the Conservatives are finally thrown from office.

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Canadians Take to the Streets over Blogging Coalition

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This week's showdown between 2008 Best Progressive Blogger and the fledgling Progressive Blogger coalition has galvanized thousands of ordinary Canadians, who took to the streets yesterday in massive political demonstrations.

In Toronto, about 4,500 coalition supporters flooded Nathan Phillips Square to hear bloggers Dave Cournoyer and Danielle Takacs explain why their united progressive blogging front, which is backed by well-known Western Separatist Calgary Grit, is better for Canada than We Move to Canada.

"we move to canada has done enough for progressive blogging and that is why she has lost our confidence as 2008 Best Progressive Blog," Takacs told supporters.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, about 3,500 people converged on Parliament Hill to protest the possibility that a coalition of the progressive bloggers could try to unseat the 2008 winner without another vote.

"Canadians voted for we move to canada, and I believe that Daveberta and Takacs are trying to overthrow the legitimate winner," said 39-year-old truck operator Chuck Branson, attending his first demonstration. "I don't believe Canadians are used to a system of a coalition, and we have to stick to what we know . . . and Canadians should know that the current system is functioning well."

Angry though it was, the Parliament Hill protest was civil. Shortly before the kickoff, organizers asked one anti-coalition demonstrator to tone down the rhetoric of his sign, which read "Calgary Grit scum."

In Red Deer, an estimated 8,000 people gathered for a demonstration of solidarity with the coalition. Retired MP Myron Thompson, speaking at the rally, said holding another election would be too much exercise, so he proposed a different solution.

"Pistols at dawn. Let's settle this the old fashioned way," he said, adding that if any good has come from the turmoil, it's that citizens seem to be more interested in blogging.

In Vancouver, about 1,500 people gathered in the rain on the steps of city hall, where they heard rally organizer and former MP Svend Robinson argue that the coalition was wrong to try to steal something as valuable as the top progressive blog award.

In Edmonton, demonstrators gathered at West Edmonton Mall for what they called an anti-coalition "Canada rally."

"We love Canada," said rally co-ordinator Josiah Martin, 19.

Even though Canadian Blog Award Administrator Jonathan Kleiman has denounced the coalition, Martin warned that the coalition remains a threat.

"We love Canada," he said. "A lot of people feel the same."

Newly appointed Senator John Tory, one of the headline speakers at a rally in Toronto, said he hoped the rally underlined the need to work together to resolve the situation.

"Canadians have had enough of all kinds of political games-playing everywhere. They're saying if you're a blogger, there's an important responsibility we've given to you and we're scared and we're uncertain and we're worried," he said. "Let's see some adult behaviour and get back to regular blogging."

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not So Small After All

Ontario will finally get rep by pop in the House. This should mean an additional 21 seats for Ontario, to go along with more seats for British Columbia and Alberta. Kudos to Dalton McGuinty and all the federal MPs who stood against Harper’s previous version of this legislation that would have given rep by pop to BC and Alberta but NOT Ontario. It would be nice to see Peter Van Loan and Pierre Poilievre carted out now to apologize for their small-minded comments directed towards McGuinty, but we know this government never takes responsibility or apologizes for anything so I know that won’t happen.

I don’t think it’s too cynical to believe that the only reason Harper gave in now is because he now believes he could win the bulk of new seats in Ontario (after doing much better there in the last election) and didn’t believe that before. Thankfully here in Canada we don’t have politicians setting electoral boundaries and instead the job is left to Elections Canada. I imagine the boundaries will be similar to what they were for provincial ridings before Mike Harris’ "Fewer Politicians Act" cut out about 20 ridings at the provincial level in the 90s, but I recognize the demographics of the province have changed a lot since that time. Though according to the same act does that now mean Ontario will get another 21 ridings provincially as well?

Either way, regardless of the motivations of Harper’s late conversion to electoral fairness and who it benefits, I’m glad to see the right approach won out in the end.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Motivations of Blogger Power Grab Revealed; Public Widely Opposed

December 16, 2008

TORONTO/EDMONTON/GUELPH - There has been wild speculation across the blogosphere about what the Sun chain has dubbed "the coalition of the idiot bloggers" – an accord between three power thirsty bloggers which could potential wrestle the "Best Progressive Blog" title away from We Move to Canada. Our sources have the inside story on how the plot was hatched.

Liberal insiders close to Dave Cournoyer paint a picture of a man desperate to stay in the spotlight following his high profile dispute with the Premier over earlier this year. These anonymous sources say that upon learning of his 6th place finish, Cournoyer quickly concocted the plan to let him keep the title of "best progressive blog" for another year.

Cournoyer contacted Takacs who, according to blogging insiders, jumped at the opportunity. High profile strategists close to Takacs confirm that ever since the departure of Cherniak on Politics, she has been maneuvering to replace him as the pre-eminent Liblogger – "Danielle aspires to be not only as influential as the mainstream media, but more influential than the mainstream media" say well-connected anonymous bloggers. Takacs briefly consulted with Liberal elder and UFO enthusiast Paul Hellyer, as she does before making all major life decisions, and then signed on.

From there, Takacs and Cournoyer recognized they would need a third blogger, a blogger desperate for attention, with an unquenchable thirst for power so strong that he would abandon all principles to become their patsy. "After supporting yet another losing candidate, it was obvious that CG would jump at the opportunity for power." Said well-connected bloggers who asked not to be identified. "Plus, he figured it would play well into the 'Canada's Greatest Temporary Ad Hoc Rainbow Coalition' contest he had planned for his blog next summer." Many feel WMTC's dirty "not a Calgary blog" smear campaign prompted CG's involvement.

From there, an MSN 3-way was set up, where leaked transcripts reveal Cournoyer promising to make his blog a "warm comfy splash page with lots of fur" for the coalition. The deal was signed and made public yesterday, mere hours after John Ivison reported that a coalition led by Dr. Dawg would be taking power.

The first poll out on the matter indicates that the Canadian public is uneasy with the coalition. A nation-wide poll by Ipsos-Reid showed that 75% of Canadians are opposed to the coalition and 64% believe the three bloggers who make it up should be banned from blogging ever again. Close to half of Canadians (43%) agree with the statement "Dave Cournoyer, Danielle Takacs, and Dan Arnold should be hanged, drawn and quartered for their treasonous efforts."

However, the coalition has found some strong support out West, where a majority were in favour of the 3 bloggers taking power away from We Move to Canada. Even Mr. Cournoyer's old nemesis Alberta Premier Ed Stemach has come out in support, "I support the...uhh....coalition accord because it...ummm....promotes responsible blogging...errr....Albertans need to blog...uhh...the NEP destroyed Alberta..."

Tomorrow looks to be a crucial day for the coalition with rallies scheduled across the country. As well, Mr. Cournoyer has asked for air time tomorrow night to address the nation in response to the Canadian Blog Awards Administration's address, and make his case for why the Canadian people shouldn't fear him and his blogging coalition taking the reins of power.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Coalition of Progressive Bloggers Lose Confidence in "2008 Best Progressive Blog"

Monday, December 15, 2008

TORONTO/EDMONTON/GUELPH — Bloggers Dave Cournoyer (Daveberta), Danielle Takacs (Galloping Around the Golden Horseshoe), and Dan Arnold (Calgary Grit) announced today that an agreement has been reached among the three bloggers to support a coalition of Best Progressive Blogs in the 2008 Canadian Blog Awards.

"Since the recent election of We Move to Canada (WMTC) as 2008 Best Progressive Blog, it has become clear that the WMTC has no plan, no competence and, no will to effectively address the crisis faced by Canadian Progressive bloggers," the three bloggers wrote in an open blog post to all Canadians.

"As 77% of voters in this category voted against the 1st place winner in the last election, we have resolved to form a new Best Progressive Blog winner who will effectively, prudently, promptly and competently address these critical times," said Ms. Takacs.

"Passing over Alberta blogs in favour of WMTC is sure to fire up the embers of western alienation. And WMTC didn't even acknowledge my existence in her post bragging about her win. We're tired of being treated like second class citizens! This is the biggest middle finger to Alberta since the NEP!" said Mr. Arnold.

Mr. Cournoyer informed Canadian Blog Awards administrator Saskboy of the agreement and requested that he exercise his webmaster authority to call on Daveberta, as the past 2007 Best Progressive Blog to form a new collaborative Best Progressive Blog coalition supported by nominees CalgaryGrit and Danielle Takacs.

Should Saskboy comply, then the defending champion in the progressive blogs category, Daveberta, will be named "Best Progressive Blog of 2008." However Takacs will have the privilege of posting the victory button on her blog for three months out of the year. This coalition will function thanks to Calgary Grit who, while not recognizing the legitimacy of these awards, agreed to support it.

"Although we all have very different opinions on the issue of colour schemes, and Danielle called me "an obscure frat boy with a sticky-up haircut" during the past campaign, we have managed to find common ground on the issues of Google analytics, RSS feeds, and Stephen Harper's blue sweaters," said Cournoyer.

Takacs has agreed to support the collaborative victory until next year's awards and Calgary Grit has agreed to support it until June 30, 2009.

A spokesperson expressed outrage on behalf of We Move to Canada, "This is nothing less that an undemocratic coup that will destroy the fabric of the blogosphere! Daveberta wants to take power after being resoundingly rejected in the last election in his worst showing ever. Canadians didn't vote for this! Worst of all Dave and Danielle have cut a deal with Calgary Grit, a well known Western separatist who doesn't even want these awards to function!"

Ms. Takacs expressed the hope that this matter could be resolved peacefully and without delay, "We're calling on We Move to Canada to accept this defeat gracefully. It's time to realize that you are going to be defeated at the next available opportunity, it's too late to make amends. The sooner you relinquish power the sooner we can get back to blogging for all progressive Canadians."

These events have set off a firestorm across the blogosphere, with large scale rallies being scheduled on in the week ahead. However, barring any unforeseen events it would seem a virtual certainty that the coalition will come to power next week in an arrangement that would be the first of its kind in our country's history.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Good Child Care Policies Are Good Economic Policies: Time for Stephen Harper to Wake Up

While everyone is most focused on how to get us immediately out of the current economic/financial crisis, it's important for government to be focused on medium and long term goals as well. This government has proved itself completely incapable of taking the long view on anything. The environment is one example of that, but another is child care. Good early learning and child care policies are good economic policies. When you invest in early learning and child care you allow more parents to enter the work force, as right now some are unable due to lack of affordable or available care for their young children. At the same time, quality early learning centres allow children to enter formal school better able to meet their full potential. But as Scott noted, a recent UN report comparing the approaches to child care of 25 developed countries, ranked us dead last, even behind the United States. It's time for our government to wake up and get serious on this issue. No one can dispute that changing our approach wouldn't be good for our economy in the medium and long term.

And it is affordable to take action now. Harper's "universal child care benefit" costs TWICE the amount of the original Liberal child care program. I was glad to see that the coalition agreement included a commitment to increased investments in child care before its term is up (as the first priority business will still remain addressing the current economic crisis). But Harper still has a chance to get on board. Given that investments made now matter for where our country stands economically a few years from now I still think the next budget should have increased revenue devoted to rebuilding a national child care program. Why not have the $100 a month cheques be means-tested (say a family with a dual income above $150,000 or $200,000 a year does not receive them anymore) and use the savings to go towards rebuilding a national child care program again? Does anyone dispute that wouldn't be more sensible policy? On what basis would such a policy be opposed? The monthly child care cheques would only be taken away from those who never needed them to provide child care in the first place and the savings can be used to actually create more quality and available child care spaces for those who desperately need them.

The opposition parties hold the cards here and Harper has lost their confidence through his own incompetence and gamesmanship, so there's no reason Harper should get away with doing what he was planning to do anyway. We should get him to commit to doing this and I know we would find support among the general public for doing so. 62% of people voted for parties that support a national child care program and polls have consistently shown that Canadians preferred the Liberal plan to the Conservative one. We have an opportunity to force Harper to do what's right, let's make use of that because we might not get another opportunity if the budget ends up passing (for if it does pass with few concessions and commitments on Harper's part, then within a matter of months he could easily be back to his old ways of reckless repeated confidence votes with the coalition threat then gone). If Harper's not willing to budge then he is clearly taking our support for granted. As of now Blogging Tories and Conservative pundits alike are all gleefully musing that the Liberals will support the budget no matter what's in it. We should send a clear message then we won't just accept a few token concessions. I see that message has started to be spread by Liberals but I think perhaps we should lay down some non-negotiables for what has to be in the budget in order to earn our support.

Our economy and international competitiveness, not to mention families across the country, will undoubtedly be better off with a real universal child care program that the dead last approach we have now. If Harper won't listen then he clearly hasn't heard the voices of the electorate, he clearly doesn't understand the economy. And someone who doesn't understand the economy clearly won't be the best person to get us out of this economic crisis. If Harper's not willing to change his approaches to governing on not just this issue, but on fiscal stimulus, helping those most hard hit by the economic crisis, abandoning his brazen abuse of confidence votes, showing us the the real state of the nation's finances, amongst many others, then he clearly hasn't realized he's in a minority and he deserves to be brought down and replaced.

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Canada's International Reputation Takes Another Beating

And again on the environment. Was our stalling and the daily condemnations being rained down upon us at Bali not enough? Apparently we needed a replay in Poland. Not only is every Western nation taking action on the economy while we are not, they all seem to be much more serious about tackling climate change while we have our heads in the sand. The economy may be top of mind for most people these days but that doesn't mean what we decide NOW on the environment won't have dramatic consequences for the economy and our way of life in the future. Good economic policy is good environmental policy and this is yet another area the Harper government should change if it is to prove itself worthy of survival in January. And it seems Jim Prentice has serious trouble taking hints from international leaders that he's failing at his job. Jim when you are told that Canada has "historically" played a strong role in international affairs and human rights, that's not exactly a complement of what you're doing right now. Meanwhile, Chuck Strahl is being blasted by Native groups for his government's stance in Poland that fails to adequately to take into account the rights of Aboriginal groups. It seems we won't be going back to our historically strong roles unless we have a change of a government.

Galling Senate appointments, obstruction on a fundamental issue on the world stage, neglect of Native rights, stalling on economic stimulus, all of this since the poroguing of Parliament. The onus is on Stephen Harper to prove why he deserves to survive in January and so far his actions are really not a good sign.

Prentice defends Tory position at climate talks

Despite facing heated criticism from international delegates trying to negotiate a pact to deal with global warming at the UN climate conference in Poland, Canada's environment minister insists Ottawa is being "constructive" at the talks.

Environmental groups have called Canada's position at the talks "shameful," saying the Canadian delegates are acting like spoilers at a time when other world leaders are trying to cope with a serious problem.

During a short telephone interview from the conference, Environment Minister Jim Prentice thrice said Canada wants to be "constructive."

"We very much want the world community to arrive at a final binding agreement in Copenhagen in 2009," he told CTV's Canada AM on Friday.

Prentice went on to note how UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told him that Canada has played an important role "historically" in international affairs.

However, international leaders have said the current Canadian government appears to be thwarting negotiations, with one world leader going so far as to say Canada is "blocking progress."

"I think they're definitely disappointed," Megan McKeen, a 17-year-old youth delegate at the conference, told Canada AM on Friday about the international community's reaction to Canada's unpopular stand.

"Canada should be in a position where we are stepping up and showing leadership. That's what developed nations are expected to do in a situation like this."

European countries are calling for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. While the Canadians have said they would go along with the target, they won't set target levels to 1990 figures, which many developed nations say are needed for an effective agreement to curb global warming.

Even here at home, Harper's Conservative government is facing a backlash from the native community. Canada was only one of four countries in the world not to include language recognizing the rights of native peoples in a conference plan to deal with deforestation.

Prentice said his government is concerned about the "drafting of the text" as it relates to aboriginal issues. He said Canada "fully expressed the ability of aboriginal peoples to be consulted in these issues."

McKeen said Prentice needs to do less talking and provide effective action.

"I can't say we're pleased with the talks," McKeen said, noting Prentice acknowledged the importance of the youth delegates at the conference.

"The best way for him to acknowledge us is to commit to the targets and help us," she said.

The conference in Poznan, Poland, is expected to wrap up Friday with an aid package for poor countries to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The international community is trying to come up with a binding comprehensive environmental deal by next year to replace the Kyoto Accord.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Might Want to Regain the Confidence of the House Before You Try That Mr. Harper

The majority of MPs have expressed non confidence in Stephen Harper. He hasn't apologized or accepted responsibility for instigating a parliamentary, constitutional crisis when Canadians expected much better. But yet somehow he thinks that's still a license to go and make 18 patronage appointments to the Senate as Christmas presents to his party loyalists. What's the rush Mr. Harper? Stephen Harper's government doesn't have the legitimacy to make Senate appointments until he formally shows he has the confidence of the House. I think the opposition parties should make that clear and ask him to back down. If Harper is serious about governing in a responsible manner and working constructively with the opposition parties like he claims, then last minute partisan appointments seems a pretty strange way to show it.

Stephen Harper has a LONG way to go to get back the confidence of the House and if he goes through with these Senate appointments before the budget vote (which to boot would represent another in a seemingly endless line of broken promises) then he'll have made it clear that he's not at all prepared to change his ways. Stephen Harper has a choice here and this seems pretty brazen of someone who actually needs to turn a new leaf in order to survive in January. I think the opposition should make it abundantly clear that Harper has abused the powers of the Prime Minister's office far enough and we won't tolerate it any further. If he won't listen on this, then he won't likely listen on the budget either. This could be a good first test of whether Stephen Harper realizes that he doesn't have a majority.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thank You Stéphane Dion

It’s definitely been the craziest two weeks in Canadian politics I’ve seen in my lifetime. But lost in all the recent developments is that were Stephen Harper not such a coward and suspended Parliament in the middle of an economic crisis simply because he had no ideas on how to solve it (except for beating up his opponents and pandering to his base), Stéphane Dion would have become Prime Minister earlier today due to Stephen Harper losing the confidence of the House the day before. With Stéphane officially relinquishing the leadership shortly I thought it appropriate to give him the appropriate due as he goes. He's certainly had a formidable career.

Stéphane Dion didn’t choose to go to Ottawa, but when he was called I don’t think anyone could deny that he gave everything he could to his country and his party.

As Intergovernmental Affairs Minister he put Lucien Bouchard in his place, beat back the separatists, advanced federalism, and drafted the clarity act so that should the PQ hold another referendum they’ll have to fight it fairly. Yet despite Dion’s now universally approved performance he was dropped from the Paul Martin cabinet. But he never complained, he remained a party stalwart through and through and in the end he was credited with saving several Quebec ridings from defeat in the dying days of the 2004 election. Dion got another chance to prove himself as Environment Minister and again he didn’t disappoint. He brought forward a plan to meet our Kyoto targets (much of which the Conservatives scrapped and later re-instituted after wasting a year) and brought together over 180 countries at the Montreal conference to come to a consensus agreement on a way forward post-Kyoto. As Elizabeth May has said, "anyone who says he was anything other than an excellent Environment Minister is simply making it up".

In his race for Liberal leader he managed to go from getting snide remarks like “even Stéphane Dion has entered the race” to coming out on top in the end, which considering who he was up against was no small feat. As Liberal leader he made lots of mistakes (as every leader does), almost of all of which he has owned up to (something it seems we'll never see from Stephen Harper) but many other problems were beyond his control (such as being heavily outmatched financially as the Conservative attack ads flooded the airwaves). I'll leave it for others to dwell on his mistakes though. Less often talked about is how despite not getting the electoral results we hoped for, we enhanced the Liberal brand on 3 issues that we were not exceptionally known for before: infrastructure, poverty, and the environment. While in the midst of the economic crisis everyone is talking about the first as a way of helping us out of it, no one can doubt the Liberals put forth the strongest plan in the last election. While we aren’t hearing as much about fighting poverty and combating climate change these days Stéphane Dion’s championing of these issues has ensured that no Liberal leader will possibly do anything other that keep them central in our future platforms. When the environment comes back to the fore again as it surely will thanks at least in part to Dion’s efforts the Liberals will no doubt have a strong environmental platform that puts other parties to shame.

Dion also stood up strongly for human rights in a way that will set the bar high for all future leaders. It wasn’t popular but he defended Omar Khadr’s right to fair trial. He also spoke out strongly against the death penalty, for ratifying the UN Treaty on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples, and he put in his platform a vow in implement a Corporate Social Responsibility Framework for Canadian mining companies operating overseas (an issue I had championed in the past). These issues may not be in the forefront of Canadians minds but I’ll always respect any leader willing to stand up for them as strongly as Stéphane has.

We all know how the election turned out, but I do think in the debates he put all the caricatures of him to shame. It’s too bad Canadians couldn’t see the real Stéphane more often, but such is the political game.

Since the election I think he performed well in the House and I believe ALL Liberals should be incredibly thankful that he stopped Stephen Harper’s attempt to remove public financing dead in its tracks. Had he not negotiated the coalition Harper may not have backed down and we could have been right back into another election or been forced to support his fiscal update . I’m really not sure if anyone else could have pulled off the kind of agreement Stéphane did that didn’t really sacrifice ANY Liberal policies or principles whatsoever in the coalition accord with the exception of the Green Shift (that it was clear could not be implemented when the two parties that supported did not receive more than 1/3 of the votes in the last campaign). If he had stepped down after the campaign then I think the Liberal Party and its future might be in much greater jeopardy today. Instead, with the coalition in place we actually have a possibility to form government should Stephen Harper continue his reckless approach to the economy and fail to substantially reach out to the opposition parties in the presentation of his budget. I do hope the coalition holds and since I don’t think Stephen Harper has it in him to actually meaningfully compromise and govern based on the policies a majority of Canadians voted for, I hope the coalition does vote him down and take power on Jan. 28. If that comes to pass then I think Stéphane Dion would be pleased to know that one of his last acts as leader was to put together an agreement that did in the end bring Liberals back to power. I'm sorry that Stephane couldn't lead the coalition in government for even a few months, but he stepped down in order to better ensure the coalition could be successful and accepted both by the Governor General and the general public. Once again Dion put the interests of the country ahead of his own.

If the coalition doesn't take power and Stephen Harper is able to continue governing we can at least know that because of Stephane’s efforts with the coalition, Stephen Harper has been chastened and finally forced in govern in the interests of a majority of Canadians.

But unfortunately despite all the good I feel Stéphane Dion did, I really think there are few politicians who’ve taken as many hits as he has. He's admitedly not the best retail politician but I question how many others could successfuly withstand the onslaught he's faced. First from the separatists and the Quebec media who literally did everything they could to savage his reputation and then the Harper Conservatives who tried the same but this time unfortunately with millions of dollars to be able to do it more effectively and in some ways with help from the media who never missed an opportunity to savage Dion when they could. Dion took the bullet on the Green Shift, a policy that would have likely been our policy in the last election even if Stephane wasn’t our leader. I still believe in that policy, but I guess we found out there’s still much work to be done to convince Canadians of it. Stéphane Dion took a beating form the Con and the media though because of it. But through it all, no matter what was thrown at him, Dion never wavered in his commitment to his country and his party and retained his honesty and integrity until the end of his leadership.

Right now most of the pundits and even many Liberals may look poorly on Stéphane’s time as leader, but I’ll leave any of those criticisms to others. Regardless, I do think (and hope) history will in the end see him much better and come to see the positive contributions he made in a much better light. It was nice to see such a positive acknowledgement from Jack Layton, I guess it was too much to expect the same from someone with as little class as Stephen Harper.

I hope we won’t have seen the last of Stéphane Dion as a prominent figure in Canadian politics, I believe he still could make great contributions, but if he decides in the next several months to retire from political life I do think he leaves with a lot to be proud of. Politics is so often a thankless job and I’m sure Stéphane has come to that realization as well, but I know I’m far from alone in being proud of what he accomplished. People of his character are definitely a rarity in politics.

So thus ends one chapter and begins a new one. Very shortly we will have a new leader in Michael Ignatieff and we can all turn our focus back where it belongs: on the appalling government Stephen Harper leads and on rebuilding our party together in the ways it needs to in order to be the strongest national party again. Canadians expect and desire no less.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

New Historic Poll! Liberal Leadership Edition!

It's time for another earth shattering Galloping Around the Golden Horseshoe Poll! Always a big fan of democracy I like to give my readers their say. In past votes you voted on the future of John Tory (he's lasted a lot longer than you predicted) and made the ground breaking choice of a new colour scheme for this blog! Now you can make your voices heard on what I just proposed: "The FAIREST Approach for Liberal Leadership". This approach would see a leadership race till the 3rd or 4th week of January with public debates between Ignatieff and Rae, platforms released, and giving all members a online/phone consultative vote BEFORE caucus selects the leader so that the choice reflects the will of the membership in all ridings. Is it the best idea ever or something so horrible I should be shouted at for even suggesting it? (no there is no room for in between here). You can vote away in the top right corner. Voting ends 10 AM on Wednesday. Get to it!

UPDATE: I was unaware it was possible to move up the DSMs for Super Weekend to mid January and appoint an interim leader then based on the results but if it is possible to do that and still have a bit of flexibility on membership cut-offs (for the reasons I outlined in my post, ideally it should be a week before the voting) then I think that would be a fair solution as well since all members get to vote as DSMs and the voices of women, youth, seniors and Aboriginals would be protected just as well as in my proposal since the winner would be based on eleted delegates through the formula we've used in the past. I still think what I proposed is in line with the constitution but moving up DSMs would be more consistent I suppose. If you agree with that option OR the one I proposed in the past post, vote Yes for the poll in the top right corner.

UPDATE 2: The poll saw 65% vote in favour of my proposed solution, but as is well known to anyone who wasn't living under a rock my ideas were not adopted by the National Executive and the leadership race is now effectively over and Michael Ignatieff will be the next Liberal leader. Bob Rae clearly deserves kudos for showing to all how committed he is to this party and uniting it behind the Liberal leader against Stephen Harper. So now it's time to move forward and put the focus where it belongs on Stephen Harper's appalling government and at the same time on rebuilding the Liberal Party of Canada together.

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The FAIREST approach for Liberal leadership

My expert solution that surely everyone would agree with is laid out below. So with LeBlanc’s exit the possibilities for the way forward have narrowed. Let me first say that I’m disappointed to see a race with only two contenders, I think we could have benefited from more, not less voices in this race (I think 4 or 5 would have been a good number). But I guess Dominic LeBlanc has become the John Edwards of this race (absent the torrid affair), bowing to the reality that he couldn’t win so dropped out early in the race. Has he been promised a jet ski by Rae or Ignatieff in order to get his endorsement? I’m sure we’ll know for sure quite soon.

But this leaves us with two key issues to resolve going forward:
- What should be the future of Stephane Dion’s leadership?
- How do we select the leader in time for the Jan. 26 return of Parliament as both Rae and Ignatieff seem to want?

Here is my gold 4 point solution that should satisfy EVERYONE.

1) Stéphane Dion stays on as interim leader until the permanent leader is selected in 3rd or 4th week of January when a permanent leader is elected.

The man has made many mistakes (which he has admitted to), but he has given the past decade of his life to this party and his whole life has fought hard for this country. He deserves some respect for what he has done. One could certainly make the case that anyone else might not have been able to put together the coalition that ultimately caused Harper to back down on public financing and leaves us with a chance to form government at the end of January. If we are going to elect a permanent leader in January anyway it seems unnecessarily cruel, not to mention ineffective to push him out sooner and replace him with an interim leader for a matter of 5-7 weeks. Parliament is not in session at this time and the organizational hassles involved in switching leaders for such a short amount of time simply because many people are upset right now just doesn’t make sense. I hope caucus can take the more rational and respectful approach here.

2) Hold at least 4 nationally televised debates between Ignatieff and Rae. Hopefully the major networks will cover them (the times and dates should be arranged for maximum coverage and ratings) and this will be an excellent way to get coverage for our party while Parliament is not in session (which is always a tough time to get the media to pay attention to the opposition)

3) Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff both release full platforms very early in the new year. I hope these platforms detail what they would do in their first 100 days as Prime Minister since that still remains a possibility should the coalition take power at the end of January or if we get an election should the government fall at that time where either will be running to be PM.

I will note that neither have answers my questions yet though! I have gotten assurances from the Rae camp that the answers will be coming soon and the Ignatieff contact said he “is trying to get answers to your(my) questions” so hopefully both will be up here soon.

4) Electing the leader through a One Member One Vote procedure that protects smaller ridings and the voices of youth, seniors, women and Aboriginals.

Here is how I envision this working:
- A date (or it can even last a whole weekend) is set in the 3rd or 4th week of January for when voting will take place by ALL Liberal members who have signed up ONE WEEK before the vote. Given that the dynamics of the leadership race have radically changed it seems unfair to set an earlier cut off. Everyone was under the impression the membership cut off was going to be February 6th so setting it for mid January seems pretty fair.
- Voting is done online, by phone or in person (I think we should follow whatever is done by other parties who use OMOV)
- Each riding is apportioned 100 points based on the percentage of votes received for each candidate in each riding. 50 points in each riding go to male members’ votes, 50 points go to female members, 33 for youth, 7 for Aboriginals, etc…. so that it matches EXACTLY the proportions that WOULD HAVE been given delegate spots to vote at the convention in Vancouver.
- Whoever has the most points “wins” and the other agrees to drop off the ballot for Super Weekend so the other is acclaimed in Vancouver at the leadership convention as per our constitution.
- That winner is appointed interim leader by the national executive as Stephane Dion steps down follwing the vote of the membership.

When we change the rules mid-stream I think it’s important that no groups voices are weakened as a result and this ensures that doesn’t happen. Some people may have problems with this arrangement for allocating votes (and in fact I’d hazard to guess it won’t even happen), but if this isn’t what happens I imagine it will end up the case that a smaller percentage of women, Aboriginals and youth will have a say in the leader than would have happened under the originals rules. This could in turn upset the Commissions. For instance, I recall the YLC opposed OMOV vote last time unless there was an agreement to apportion a certain percentage of votes for youth.

So this proposal doesn’t favour any camp over the other, and important to me, doesn’t weaken the voices of women, Aboriginals, seniors, or youth compared to the representation they would have had if we elected the leader in Vancouver as originally planned. I hope many others would agree with this modest, fair proposal.

It’s essential this be done right. This party needs unity which means having a procedure where EVERYONE accepts the results as an entirely fair way to decide the leader and so that Liberals can get behind the leader without any supporter of the other candidate or neutral Liberals having misgivings about how the race was done.

UPDATE 10:10 PM: Rumour is Ignatieff gave the jet ski to LeBlanc up front (as yet unconfirmed). Also, it appears that Jeff (BC'er in Toronto) would agree with my proposal

UPDATE 2: I was unaware it was possible to move up the DSMs for Super Weekend to mid January and appoint an interim leader then based on the results, but if it is possible to do that and still have a bit of flexibility on membership cut-offs (for the reasons I outlined above, ideally it should be a week before the voting) then I think that would be a fair solution as well since all members get to vote as DSMs. I still think what I proposed here is fully in line with the constitution but moving up DSMs would be more consistent I suppose. If you agree with that option OR the one I proposed in this post, vote Yes for the poll in the top right corner.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

"When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern"

Wise words, spoken by none other than Stephen Harper on April 18, 2005. Can a single Conservative really say that if there was a Liberal PM today under similiar circumstances that you would be applauding the Governor General's decision to allow the porogation of the House of Commons? Thanks to the Harper-Jean precedent (which Harper is SOLELY responsible for and never should have forced the GG to choose between two troubling precedent setting choices) that day is much more likely to come under a future PM who doesn't wish to test the confidence of the House. At least I will remain consistent should that day come, but I trust the Conservatives will be about as consitent with their statements and past positions as Stephen Harper has been throughout this whole crisis. In the end for Conservatives it's all about putting Stephen Harper and the Conservative cabinet minister's jobs before everyone else's.

Stephen Harper still doesn't enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons. These petitions signed by every MP from the opposition parties delivered TODAY to the Governor General clearly demonstrate that. These MPs must hold together. If there was no coalition waiting in place then Harper would never have backed down on his fiscal update. If divisions start to form Harper will make NO or very minimal concessions on his budget. And in the end if his budget doesn't reflect the policies that 62% of Canadians voted for and represent a DRAMATIC departure from what was in his fiscal update then he should be brought down and replaced. I don't expect him to do that because it's not in his character and Harper has completely betrayed the trust of all opposition MPs. But Harper is gambling that this opposition will crumble or cower away.

For all the talk of "belt tightening" a large sum of taxpayer money was spent on this past session of Parliament to be the least productive in Canadian history and accomplish absolutely NOTHING. I imagine Conservatives are proud of how they "put the opposition in a corner" on this one though and are hoping that millions spent on ads over the next few weeks will help Canadians forget how much they are interested in preserving their own power than doing what Parliamentarians are supposed to do.

But we shouldn't give in to his strong arm tactics, the man has shown a complete lack of respect for the Parliament Canada elected and to let his get away with it all and come back stronger to laugh at the success of his gamesmanship later (which will happen if he passes a budget with very minimal concessions) is not in the best interests of this country and nor is it the best solution for this economic crisis that Canadians most want their Parliamentarians to deal with right now.

Canadians could have had a budget and response to the fiscal crisis before the end of this month. Harper instead wants them to wait two months when people need help NOW.

Canadians could have had a government that brought in common and economically sound policies 62% of Canadians voted for. It appears they won't get that before the New Year, but it is my hope they still will.

This is justice delayed, let it not be justice denied.

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