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.

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.

“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.

Power, Money, & Privilege

A dangerous cocktail.

The Tories used their MP’s free-mail privileges to send flyers to households in communities with large Jewish populations in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. These flyers (see one here) were an attempt to convince voters (is there an election brewing?) that the Conservative Party is more committed to Israel – and thus, by extension, the Jewish population of Canada – than the other political parties. This is astonishing. On many levels:

1. This is an abuse of taxpayer funding. These flyers were sent for free, under postal rules allowing MPs to send mail to their constituents in the interest of public information. But this is not information being sent, it is narrow-casting propaganda that in fact misinforms (see my third point) the populous. These are essentially attack-ads being funded by public dollars. Would this be acceptable during an election?

2. This is also a fiscally unsound abuse of taxpayer funding. Could the Tories at least be economically frugal with their propaganda? A report issued this week by the Globe and Mail notes that, while MPs of every party make use of free mail privileges, the Conservatives spent $6.3-million on the mailers last year, while opposition MPs spent $3.8-million. What happened to the Tories’ self-professed “fiscal accountability”?

3. In a strange world, this might all be acceptable were the information included in the flyers in fact true. One might excuse Tory MPs for spending millions of dollars on informing the Canadian public that the Toronto Maple Leafs are having a terrible season and there should be an appropriate public response. But the accusations leveled here are just incredible. Quite literally, they are not credible. The ad argues that:

A) Canada’s presence at the Durban Conference in 2001, under the leadership of the Liberals, was an indicator that the Grits are complicit in foreign anti-semitism. In reality, the Israeli government at the time specifically asked the Canadian delegation to remain to “make its voice felt and bear witness to what was happening,” noted Liberal MP (and former Minister of Justice and current Jewish luminary) Irwin Cotler.

B) The Liberals are soft on fight terrorism, and they “opposed defunding Hamas,” and “asked that Hezbollah be delisted as a terrorist organization.” In reality, it was the Liberal party in 2002 that had Hamas and Hezbollah classified as terrorist organizations. Moreover, it was the personal musing of a Liberal MP who wondered if Hezbollah might be delisted. While reprehensible, that personal musing cannot be taken to be a party stance of the Liberals, as MP Joe Volpe argues.

C) The Liberals do not support Israel, as Michael Ignatieff accused Israel of committing war crimes in 2006. While Iggy did indeed did make this accusation once during the war against Hezbollah, he later publicly apologized. So accuse him of flip-flopping if you want, but don’t make this false corollary. Even if Israel committed war crimes, that doesn’t mean saying so lessens support of the country, it’s just an analysis of military strategy. This is just misleading and playing to people’s emotions.

At the end of the day, I’m floored that this abuse of power, money, and privilege took place. MP Cotler, eloquent in his shock, noted that “this goes beyond the pale of politics, this is an abuse of privilege and … I will call I what it is, it’s a lie … this stuff is scurrilous.”

Is there a Doctor in the House?

Do the Conservatives pledge a hypocritic oath when they take office? You might assume so, given this juicy item emerging from the dark pages of parliamentry history…

“Bloc part of secret coalition plot in 2000 with Canadian Alliance”

You might also assume that they take such an oath given what Harper had the gall to say yesterday. These were his words:

presser-62“Mr. Speaker, yesterday, as part of the culmination of the machinations of the leader of the NDP, we had these three parties together forming this agreement, signing a document, and they would not even have the Canadian flag behind them. They had to be photographed without it.

They had to be photographed without it because a member of their coalition does not even believe in the country. As Prime Minister it is not my responsibility to turn the keys of power over to a group like that.”

Those are his words. And how about that picture? Well that would be the photograph that Mr. Harper was referring to. See those things in the background? Yup. Flags. Canadian flags. Provincial flags, too.

It’s actually amazing that we can interpret anything the Tories are saying these days, given that they’ve taken to new stretches of doublespeak. The CPC is now saying one thing in English to the Anglos, and a diametrically opposite thing in French to the Francos. Do they think that there aren’t those of us who are bilingual? That line of thought would fall in line with their black and white view of the world, though.

To round off today’s vomit-inducing news, I prescribe reading the Toronto Star’s Q&A’s about Coalition governments. Here’s an excerpt of extreme importance to my fellow (temporary) ex-pats:

Is this a coup d’état?
That’s the way the Harper government would like to portray it. But it’s fundamentally confusing a Republican system with a Parliamentary system. In essence, we have an indirect election of government – rather than a direct election. In a Republican system, voters in the U.S. got to decide, `Do I want McCain or Obama.’ And then secondarily: `Who do I want as my local rep or my state rep?’ Whereas in the Canadian parliamentary system, like the British parliamentary system, you only get to vote for whoever your local rep is, and then the majority of members of that legislature then get to decide who forms that government. And they’re free to change their minds over the course of a parliament…

Until tomorrow night…

It’s Demo-crazy!

bron1180lMy, my, my how things have changed up North. There are indeed moments when I long to be back in Canada. This is one of them. Things are heating up in the true north strong and free, although I imagine that Stephen Harper would argue that things are a little too strong and too free for his liking.

In case you’re living under a rock (read: If you’re an American and don’t get any news beyond the borders of your country), you can enjoy a sampling of Canadian news here, here, here, and here.

I imagine that I’ll have much to say over the next week as this coalition comes to fruition and our “strengthened” government (Stephen Harper’s words) collapses. What I’d like to focus on is not the news itself… there are enough people getting paid to rant and rave about all that. Instead, I’ll direct my own rants at the inevitable hypocrisy that will emerge from the Conservative camp as they attempt to quash any attempt at upholding the notion of checks and balances in our parliament.

To get the ball rolling, let’s put to rest a few of the lies that have already emerged from the Conservative party:

LIE: The coalition is an “undemocratic,” attempt at seizing “unearned” power.

TRUTH: If the ruling party in parliament loses its majority support in the House of Commons, the Governor General will either call for a new election, or if the viable option exists for a coalition government to be formed, can allow them the opportunity to govern. More on that here, for you non-believers. This is a minority government, folks. It’s constitutional. It’s the very definition of democracy. It’s called checks and balances, people.

LIE:This is a “backroom deal that would usurp the elected government without the people’s consent.”

TRUTH: See above. Also note that anything that happens on the floor of parliament (where the no-confidence motion will take place) is hardly in a “backroom.” And also note that almost everything the Harper government has done has been in the “backrooms” and boardrooms of the country, without the people’s consent. Moreover, both the Grits and the NDP have been undeniably public and transparent with regards to their “deal”. Anyone with access to Google can tell you that.

LIE: “Voters certainly offered no mandate for the Liberals and NDP to form a formal coalition with the separatist Bloc Quebecois”

TRUTH: There is no “formal” coalition with the Bloc. They will receive no seats, no cabinet positions, and no change of status in parliament. They are no more in a formal coalition with the Libs and the NDP than they are with the Conservatives. The Bloc will continue to decide on their own what to support and what not to. If it happens that they disagree with the current Conservative agenda and agree to a progressive coalition between the Liberals and the NDP – that’s hardly a formal coalition.

AND, let us not forget that IF the Bloc were included in a formal coalition – as the Tories suggest – that would negate the Tory statement that they were not offered a mandate. Anyone with a calculator can tell you that the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc hold more seats together than the Tories. Sounds like a mandate to me…

So folks, please remember the following. What is transpiring in the Canadian Parliament is:
1. Legal.
2. Democratic.
3. Representative of the majority of the Canadian electorate.
4. Not a separatist government.

And just to round things off with an additional dose of Conservative propaganda, check out what John Ivison at the National Post has to say about the state of affairs back home:

…the most likely scenario will see Mr. Dion become Prime Minister at the head of an alliance so unholy it would have been burned at the stake for heresy in the Middle Ages.

Ivison’s statement is the definitive representation of the ideological abuse of power that pervades Harper’s Conservative party – anyone who disagrees with Harper’s view of Canada is a heretic who deserves to be consumed by fire. On that note, let me be blunt. If you are a politically and socially conservative person – I have no fight with you. We may disagree on policy, but hopefully we can agree on the foundational principles of Canadian democracy. But Harper and his Tories are trying to run government by their own rules and are trying to shut down anyone who gets in the way. Ivison’s suggestion of an unholy alliance smells as though it were lifted from the pages of the Spanish Inquisition, not a modern Canadian newspaper. Let’s try and move past that, folks.

Until the next juicy tidbit emerges…