Canada, Politics

It’s a cold day in hell; Brian Mulroney is here

Illustration by Anthony Jenkins | The Globe and Mail | 5.2009

“Popularity is meaningless unless you use it to do big and good things for your country and for the people of Canada.”

Wise words.

They’re from Brian Mulroney, speaking about Stephen Harper in an interview with Steve Paikin.

Yes, that Brian Mulroney.

Sure, the guy has a notoriously sleazy political record. But there’s something refreshing about a Tory who is willing to call out Stephen Harper and advance the notion that the government can be a force for greatness.

The Toronto Star’s article on Mulroney today also features off-the-record statements from Conservative staffers who lament that the Tories have few substantive accomplishments to show for their past half-decade in power.

And that’s the direction Canada appears to be heading in… great power wasted. To be sure, Tim Harper (no relation to Stephen) notes that “there is no overarching national debate over defining issues.”

I’m not wishing that Canadian politics become something akin to the political climate in the USA – with its assassinated politicians, gun-toting rallyers, and bombastic showboating – but I do feel a little jealous when confronted with the American desire to engage in national debates over issues of great substance.

That’s something we could learn from our fellow continental citizens.

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Canada, Politics

Whichever candidate says 9/11 the most wins

Remember that episode of Family Guy where Lois runs for mayor? Remember how all she had say was “9/11” to get elected? I kind of felt like I was in the middle of that episode tonight.

Yeah, I went to the Thornhill candidates’ debate tonight. To my American friends who are unfamiliar with the Canadian electoral system, here’s a primer, courtesy of our friends at Wikipedia. The debate was, for the most part, enlightening in its boredom.

I’ll have a more detailed commentary on the debate tomorrow. For now, I’ll just share two things that I’m left thinking this evening:

1. If all community debates are similar to the one I attended, it’s no wonder voter turnout is so low. For the most part (with some notable exceptions), all the candidates did was egotistically tout their qualifications, attack each other, and spit out sound-bites (including Peter Kent using 9/11 as an ominous harbinger of the dangers lapping at Canada’s shores). To her credit, Karen Mock acknowledged that this was a reality of shorter debates and directed people to her and her party’s website for more details.

2. In Thornhill, if you don’t want to see the Conservatives’ Peter Kent elected, I now believe that there’s only one party to vote for, and that is the Liberal Party. I know (painfully) that many point to this as a sign of the unfortunate state of representative democracy in this country. It is sad. It is unfortunate. But the NDP and Green candidates just aren’t up to par. Only the Liberals are in a position to defeat the Conservatives in Thornhill, and this remains true on the Federal level as well.

More to come, tomorrow.

Canada, Politics

“The middle of the road is only good for horse shit”

That’s funny. And often true. And it makes for a great headline.

More often than not, the status quo sucks, I believe.

It’s been a busy few days on the election-front, so on that note and in lieu of addressing some of the specific campaign promises being made by the parties, I want to stop and do some big-picture wondering.

I’m wondering right now as to what qualifies for middle of the road in Canada these days?

It’s a clichéd truism that governments campaign to the left and right of their party lines, but govern from the centre. To be sure, whatever governing Stephen Harper’s been doing these past few years, it has definitely at times felt to me like we’ve been dragged waist-deep through a pile of horse dung. Or is that Grade-A Canadian moose dung?

If the past five years have been reflective of Canadian centrism, then I want nothing of it.

What can we assume “Middle of the Road Canada” to be? Is there even such a thing? If there is, is it a good thing? Is it something like Middle-America? Turns out the exact middle of Canada is somewhere near Arviat, Nunavut, and my guess is that not a lot of electoral attention is being focused there. So is there an “average” Canadian that the parties are trying to appeal to?

I don’t think so. Sure, polling data suggests certain tactics, phrases, and campaign styles that resonate with the electorate, but that doesn’t mean there’s a singular typical voter.

I don’t think there’s a true “Middle of the Road Canada,” or a “Middle of the Road Canadian.” But there is a status quo and there are those that perpetuate it. I recently lamented that there’s been a dearth of inspiring Canadians as of late. I still think this is so. But we are still the country that gave the world insulin, the telephone, duct tape, walkie-talkies, Standard Time, and Superman, dammit! These things didn’t come about from embracing the status-quo or moseying on down the middle of the road (covered in shit, no less!).

The only “Middle of the Road Canada” that exists, I believe, is one where little gets done, boringness is a virtue, and apathy reigns supreme. Sound familiar? The “Middle of the Road Canadian,” then, is that apathetic voter (or non-voter, as it very well may be) that keeps this status quo churning. Little surprise, then, that the Conservatives are appealing exactly to this sentiment: Harper’s primary fear-based campaign tactic is indeed one of the necessity to “stay the course”.

I’m tired of staying the course. Staying the course means we get to keep on trudging through a pile of steaming horse shit. Staying the course means it’s less likely we’ll come up with the next insulin, the next duct tape, or the next Superman. Props do go to Jim Balsillie for proving the exception when it comes to the next telephone. But it’s a boring phone, and is still number five…

So right now, I’m interesting in finding which political party is doing its best to keep us out of the shit-covered middle of the road:

Harper’s Tories (sans platform) are running a locked-down, uninspiring campaign that has not yet presented any bold new ideas for Canada or Canadians.

Ignatieff’s Liberals, in their platform launched today (more on that, soon), have indeed presented some bold new ideas and governing policies.

And Layton’s NDP (no platform from them yet) are maintaining their own internal status quo.

It’s only a week and a half into the election and I haven’t cast my vote yet. I haven’t yet evaluated the parties on fully equal ground, since it’s only the Libs who have put out a platform (which says something in and of itself).

But if you’re planning your trip down the not so metaphorical Trans-Canada Highway, it’s often beneficial to take a look at a map before you leave. And right now, the Conservatives’ map is just going to get Canadians dragged through a whole load of horse shit again. The NDP’s map – as spiffy and Web 2.0 as it may be – has a tendency to malfunction, and I don’t particularly want to get lost in Biggar, Saskatchewan.

Right now – at this point in the campaign – if you’re judging by how much shit you want to avoid on your journey – which seems as good a reason as any to pass judgement – it’s the Liberals that have the best roadmap for Canada.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. These guys do. And so do these. And hey, even these guys kind of do (but probably not for long).

As an aside, a wise musician friend of mine once laid some wisdom on me with a charge to remember that “what you think is the status quo is always changing.”

So I will not be so myopic as to mark my ballot yet. Lord knows the Grits have been covered in their share of horse shit over the years. But at this point, it is getting easier to see where my big “X” might go.

Canada, Judaism - General, Judaism - Pluralism, Politics

Steven Harper could learn a lot at Yeshiva

To those who, in the upcoming election, might be compelled to base their vote on their religious affiliation:  If you are intent again to use a theo-political issue to trump your vote. (certainly, the Tories have done and are doing everything they can to convince you that this is a good idea), perhaps, first study some Midrash:

“Moses said: ‘I know that the Israelites are malcontents. Therefore, I will audit the entire construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)’. He began making an accounting: ‘These are the records of the Mishkan’ and he began reporting everything, the gold, silver and bronze, and the silver of the public census… He continued reckoning each item in the Mishkan in order, but forgot 1575 shekels from which the hooks on the pillars were fashioned, but which were not generally visible. He stood bewildered and said: ‘Now they will lay their hands on me, saying that I took it’, and he went back to recalculate. Immediately, God opened Moses’ eyes and showed him that the silver was used in the hooks on the pillars. He began to reply to them, saying: ‘and 1575 were fashioned into pillar hooks’ and the Israelites were immediately appeased. What enabled this? The fact that he sat and made an accounting…

…But why did he make an accounting?… It is only because he heard the cynics talking behind his back, as it says ‘And when Moshe left…they looked back at Moshe’. What did they say? R. Yitzhak said that people spoke positively. Then others would chime in: ‘Imbecile! He’s the one who controlled the entire enterprise of the Mishkan… gold and silver that were not counted, weighed, or numbered! Wouldn’t you expect that he be rich?’ When Moshe heard this, he said: ‘My word! When the Mishkan is completed, I will make an accounting’, as it says ‘These are the records of the Mishkan.’”

-Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 7

What’s going on here?

In short, the Midrash is teaching us that the fiscal cost of the Tabernacle – as a public project funded by the taxes of the Israelites – must be entirely accounted for in an open, transparent, and accessible way.

It’s also teaching us that Moses – as leader of the people – is answerable to the people. Even Moses, who speaks to God face-to-face in a way that no others do, must still face the people.

In a broader sense, it speaks about the virtue of transparency among leaders and the need to be open and answerable to the public.

Stephen Harper could learn a lot from Moses.

An egregious lack of transparency and accountability related to the purchase of military aircraft is exactly what led the Conservatives to be censured for Contempt of Parliament this past week. Of course, anyone with their finger on the pulse of Canadian politics knows that this specific issue is part and parcel of a greater patten of behaviour on part of the Tories; one that paved the way to the landmark ruling by (famed non-partisan) Speaker of the House Peter Milliken.

Certainly if we Jews acknowledge that Moses was expected to be held accountable to the people and to act transparently, we should bestow the same criteria upon Mr. Harper. Certainly if our Midrash teaches us the virtues of un-opaque leadership, we should value that in our national leader as well.

It is challenging for me to view how Harper and the Conservatives can be painted as an honest, transparent, accountable, and open government. Sure, there have been individual instances when they acted reasonable on these grounds. But the story of the Tories – as any learned political observer will tell you – is one of secrecy, opacity, avoidance of responsibility, centralized power, and tight-lipped relations with the Canadian people.

So to the Jews who will likely vote for the Conservatives on the grounds of their supposed dominance of the “support for Israel” (whatever that means) issue: if you value our rabbinic instructions as much as you value the Conservative’s platform (which, remember, didn’t exist when you voted last time…), perhaps you should reconsider the value of your vote.

P.S.: Not convinced that the Tories have a national Jewish-vote buying strategy in place? It isn’t just happening in Thornhill, it’s also taking place down the 401 in Montreal’s Mount-Royal riding.

Canada, Politics

You’re invited to join the Jesse Party

While I’m a paying member of a certain Canadian political party, and while my personal political ideology is firmly grounded, I think it’s appropriate and responsible to not just blindly vote from the gut. As the election starts, I’m going to lay out the issues upon which I will evaluate the candidates and parties to decide my vote. Call it the political platform of the Jesse Party. I’m also including detrimental political tactics that I don’t want the parties to engage in. As election day approaches, I’ll do some sort of formal evaluation here, which will help determine which party I’m going to vote for.

And here we go:

1. Integrity and Ethics
Transparency. Respect for the institution of Parliament. Aversion to proroguing. Strong leadership skills among MPs. Respect for truth and justice.

2. Environmental & Energy Policy
Formulating a strong and reasonable policy on reducing carbon emissions. Instituting a carbon tax. Transitioning to renewable and low emission energy sources.

3. Health Care
Investing in new medical facilities, attracting doctors and health professionals to Canada, reducing wait times. Not privatizing the system.

4. Domestic Economic Policy
Combating poverty. Tax-cuts for the lowest income earners. Reasonably and proportionally increasing taxes for the wealthiest earners and businesses.

5. Investment in Education
Funding universities and colleges. Reducing tuition fees. Investing in curricular materials in public schools. Creating a National Day Care program.

6. Investment in Arts & Culture
See here, here, and here.

7. Foreign Policy
A mediated and strategic end to combat duty in Afghanistan. Fostering bipartisan peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, including encouraging an end to settlement building by Israel and a strong dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and enforcement of civil law by the Palestinians. Strict standards as to who we ally ourself with and when we interfere in foreign domestic conflicts.

* * *

And these are the tactics I hope not to see. If a party engages in them, it will make it harder for me to vote for them:

1. Labeling a potential coalition as an evil, illegal, or otherwise bad thing

2. Ethnic vote buying

3. Ad-hominem attacks where inappropriate (sometimes it’s absolutely legitimate to call into question a candidate’s character when it comes to leadership skills, but I am put-off by otherwise personal attacks on a candidate)

4. Referring to the NDP pejoratively as “socialists,” as if we’re living in 1950s America

5. Pretending that the economy is Canadians’ #1 issue, when polling clearly indicates it is not

6. Ignoring or hiding from the fact that the Conservatives are the first government to be found in contempt of Parliament

Canada, Politics

Contempt

Right now, as I watch live on tv, the Canadian Government is falling. It is the first time in Canadian history that a sitting government has been found in contempt of Parliament, to be toppled during the vote of non-confidence that is taking place now.

Votes of non-confidence are themselves extremely rare. But in a few moments, Canadian history will be made when the Conservative’s minority government will be the first ever found to have contemptuously flouted the will of Parliament.

Right now, as I watch, the majority of elected Members of Parliament are rising to vote their non-confidence in the minority government.

This is historical in its uniqueness.
This is exciting in its reinforcement of the democratic process.
This is serious in its implications.

Flowing under all of the political machinations are the public statements of the parties’ leaders, most notably the leader of the party in power – Stephen Harper.

Harper and the Tories have tried to spin this event, accusing the Grits of contemptuously flouting the will of Canadians (?), labeling the opposition parties as being members of an evil coalition (?), and making light of the entire situation (?).

I am left wondering what is more troubling – that the Conservative government has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the majority of Canadians and has now been found in contempt of Parliament, or that they do not recognize the extreme seriousness of this.

This has never happened before. It is not a political game. It is not a minor inconvenience. Yet the cheering and jeering in the House of Commons and  snide remarks during scrums are treating this like it’s no big deal.

It is a big deal. It’s a very big deal.