Monthly Archives: April 2012

Wildrose Modernization of Democracy

The majority of Albertans are finding themselves dissatisfied with a Redford government they see as wasteful and bulky, and are savouring the opportunity for change. The last time citizens were upset to this degree with the Progressive Conservatives, they seriously considered a Liberal government in 1993, boosting the Grit seat count from eight to thirty-two, and the vote share from 28% to 40%.

Smith is Looking at a Big Win | Source: Chris Bolin, Globe and Mail

Instead of looking left, this year Albertan conservatives have found an alternative to the right of Redford’s PCs: The Wildrose Party. In most ways the two parties have the markings of the Steven Harper center-right populist package. In other ways, however, the Wildrose pose a serious threat to the social welfare net in the province. Danielle Smith recently asserted that climate change may not actually be occurring, she has candidates alleging that homosexuals will be burning in hell for eternity, and has flirted with pulling out of the Canadian public pension plan.

I would rather see an Alberta Party or Alberta Liberal government, but the reality is that Alberta is likely to welcome Danielle Smith as their next premier. Aside from the negative baggage she will bring with her to Edmonton, there are certain benefits that accompany a fresh breath in politics, and I think four are especially worth noting:

  • First, Smith is campaigning on allowing her caucus to vote however they please on apparently everything, including confidence motions that could topple her government. If there is anything I hate more than blind partisanship, it is forced partisanship. At every political level in Canada, an elected official either votes with their party or no longer belongs to the party. Smith is seemingly open to allowing her caucus vote as an Albertan, rather than as a Wildrose caucus member.
  • Second, Smith has called for fixed election dates. As it stands now, the Government of the day can decide when to call an election. This gives an unfair edge to the Government, allowing them to decide when the most advantageous time to call an election is. This evens the playing field, granting equal preparation time for every party in advance of an election, while making sure the Government doesn’t stall until more fortuitous poll numbers come their way.
  • Third, and most controversial, citizen referendum. In order to force a referendum on any issue, the sponsors would need half a million Albertans to sign a petition, then find half the province willing to vote in favour. Most worries about the referendum center around divisive issues like invalidating gay marriage and delisting abortion. Both are protected by the charter, but even if they somehow were not, I have faith at least half of Alberta supports gay marriages and a woman’s right to choose. The Wildrose leader, I might add, is on record as favouring both. What this does is allow citizens to recall measures (or MLAs) they do not agree with, and I am behind the intention of increasing democratic participation.
  • Finally, Smith has pledged to cut salaries of all elected members, and eliminate the bulk of the severance plan. The new plan would give retiring members exactly one-year of full pay, no more or less, ending the tradition of bloated severance packages, including $1-million that went to Ken Kowalski and Ed Stelmach. The Alberta Liberals, Alberta Party and NDP have also vowed to roll back pay, the Liberals going so far to argue for the elimination of some of the 87 MLA posts, something I would call “a no brainer”.

Smith is likely to be the next premier, and if she is, Albertans must keep her honest in regards to improving their democracy. I hope the Wildrose serves as a model to other provinces as to how proper politics works. The emphasis, of course, is on hope.

A blooming wildrose | Source: http://www.pictureworldbd.com

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The Youth’s Rejection of Politics

I have always known that generally, Canadians do not share my interest in Canadian politics. Since 1963, when voter turnout stood at 79.2%, Canadians have been increasingly willing to stay home. In this past Federal election in May 2011, turnout was a meager 61.1%

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Too much ink has been spilled explaining why Canadians are so uninterested in politics. I will not attempt to summarize the opinions of several scholars, but the general consensus is that there is no one reason for a low voter turnout, which I agree with.

The past three days I have spent in Calgary has been an incredible eye-opener. Working with predominantly non-University educated men, including some not even holding a high school diploma, I’ve asked many of my co-workers what they think of the upcoming Alberta election. Almost all of them are aware the election is transpiring, but hardly any have well-formed opinions, and very few are even thinking about voting.

Most people I’ve met are disinterested with the world outside of their personal lives. They want a stable income, reliable infrastructure, and low taxes. The rest is simply not considered. Sadly, I believe my small sample is indicative of how many Canadians have started to feel. Canadians are increasingly living in their own private bubbles, not self-centered but self-interested, making voting an obscure, unnecessary chore.

I suppose the central question is, should Canadians care about anyone other than themselves and their families? Should we use government funds to help others, even if it lends little or no benefit to ourselves? I I personally think that Canadians ought to be interested in their fellow citizen and fellow human, Albertan, Canadian or from any other country. Everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed. With so many people having trouble in our own country, the unemployed, impoverished, abused, it seems backwards to look at our own tiny, private bubbles and claim that everything is in order. Rather, those of us who are in a strong-footed position should be willing to help our fellow human to gain the chance to succeed in society. Another question is what this “chance” means, and how far we should go to give it to them.

At its core, this is a philosophical debate, and if we care about these kinds of questions, we ought to exercise our right to vote.

There is one final point I want to make. No matter what election was occurring at what level of government, someone has claimed it is “one of the most important in history”. They have gone on to claim that it is “your duty to vote”, guilting readers into thinking about the scores of soldiers that have died for our democratic rights.

This cliché is as absurd as it is overused. I believe you ought to vote because you care about the issues. Vote because you see an option improving the way things run. Don’t vote for who your parents voted for, don’t vote for the party that has the best chance to win. Vote for the party you think is right. And while you’re at it, do a little bit of research, it is easier than you think to get informed.

The Alberta election is on April 23rd

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Why the F-35 Scandal Matters

If the 65 F-35 fighter jets are purchased by the Canadian Government, they will cost Canadians $25 billion dollars over a span of 20 years. Minister of Defense Peter Mackay has argued the jets price tag is closer to $9 billion, contrary to the findings of government watchdogs. What he has apparently forgotten, whether purposely or not, is that $16 billion is required for fuel, maintenance, and the overall operations of the jets. Those are funds provided by the taxpayer for a contract that did not seem to follow any established policy, but was streamlined by officials with vested interests in the F-35’s purchase.

$25 billion dollars over 20 years is a hefty fee; however, as Andrew Coyne points out, that assumed sum of money is actually on the low end of the spectrum. The projected life of the F-35 is 36 years. Even if it was only in operation for 33 years, the total cost to the tax payer would be $40 billion. As a frame of reference, the Conservatives accounted for $40 billion for all Canadian healthcare and social programs in their budget, while the Nation’s overall deficit stands at $21.1 billion.

A Rough Outline of the 2012 Budget | Graphic From http://www.theglobeandmail.com

When you spend billions of taxpayer dollars, you need to do the deal right. The Conservatives have hacked and slashed social programs in Canada, and as I’ve stated before, I would be more sympathetic to cutting programs, like one that provides internet access to libraries and community centers costing $15 million. By abusing the trust of Canadians, the Conservatives have taken that benefit of the doubt away. There can be no streamlining contracts, no hiding $10 billion in accounting measures, and no hiding from the public when you decide to undertake a project as colossal as these 65 jets.

This Government proceeded with acquiring these jets haphazardly, either arrogantly or ignorantly. While Mr. Mackay backtracks and claims the $10 billion disparagement is the result of different accounting procedures Canadians ought to demand more of the Government. If our country considers this contract a theft or fraud, and we don’t want to see it happen again, then as Canadians, we ought to do something about it. We need to put Governments on notice that this kind of abuse will cost them more than their jobs, but their integrity and public image. Canadians need to pay attention, and voice their displeasure at the ballot box. If we want Ottawa to treat Canadians differently, then we need to notice.

To put it simply, if someone took your money under false pretenses, you would seek punishment. Why should a government that does the same be treated any differently? This Government is prepared to spend $40 billion without proper procedure. Are you comfortable with that?

Getting Robbed Can be This Comfortable


Bob Rae’s Steep Climb

A Leger Marketing poll was conducted between April 2nd and 4th,  and showed the NDP on top of the pack, with 33%, leading the Conservatives by 1%. The Liberals were far behind at 19%, the same level of support given in May 2011. Leger’s information confirms another poll done earlier in the week by Harris-Decema with nearly identical numbers.

Polling Info Puts Conservatives and NDP in Statistical Tie | This Graph Copied From http://www.harrisdecima.com

With the next general election coming three years away, these results certainly should not fill Conservatives or Liberals with immanent fear. That said I think this poll provides two implicit pieces of information:

  1. Ordinary Canadians can see the NDP as a possible Federal Government option for the first time, well, ever
  2. Bob Rae is running out of time to instill confidence in Liberal members and supporters that he is capable of transcending these poor poll numbers

I believe Mr. Rae has the Liberal leadership locked up. Even though Dominic Leblanc is assumed by many to be the strongest (not to mention the most likely) challenger to a Bob Rae acclimation, the decision to move to a one-member-one-vote, has crowned the lone gentleman with an overwhelming amount of daily media attention (and thus unparalleled name recognition) the inevitable winner.

Only two people could pose a reasonable threat to Mr. Rae’s permanent leadership aspirations. First, Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty, who would risk Ontario’s provincial political stability if he were to run, and second, MP Justin Trudeau who has not only publicly rejected notions of running for leadership, but is likely going to wait to run for leadership until his chances of becoming Prime Minister are assured.

If the odds play out and Bob Rae becomes the next Liberal Leader he will be competing against two men void of charisma and character in Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. Bob Rae a personality in his own right is not from Quebec, like the NDP leader, nor is he Prime Minister, like the Liberal Leader: two distinct disadvantages. Additionally, I’m not sure he shares the political shrewdness the other leaders share, nor the willingness to push the envelope when it comes to campaigning.

He faces a steep uphill climb from the 19% he currently stands at, and fights on both flanks. The Liberal Party cannot afford to wait until the “honeymoon period” for Mr. Mulcair is over, since some leaders – Justin Trudeau’s father for example – never see their honeymoon period expire. In my opinion, if you will not cooperate with progressive forces, you must force the NDP to the left, by outflanking them on progressive issues like recreational drugs, while forcing the Conservatives right by appealing to Canadians’ anger on the mismanagement of taxpayer funds.

Bob Rae needs to be more fiscally responsible than the Conservatives, while demonstrating that the Liberals have better progressive policies than the New Democrats. With both parties sprinting to the center, Bob Rae must stretch around them, making Canadians consider embracing a government that includes the best parts of both the political left and right. It will take smart policies and strong leadership, but Mr. Rae, might just be able to pull it off.

Rae and Mulcair Won't Work Together, So They'll Eat Eachother | Image Stolen From news.nationalpost.com


Mulcair’s Center Squeeze

Most New Democrats – probably all New Democrats – genuinely dislike Steven Harper. With good reason, he’s muzzled scientists, bullied unions, abandoned the impoverished, given tax breaks to the largest corporations, all things that stir up democratic socialists. Yet, their newly minted leader was not only represented the Quebec Liberal Party in the Quebec National Assembly, but he widely reported to have been courted by those same federal Conservatives that many NDP members despise.

Mulcair Rolls Up His Sleeves| Image Stolen From http://www.theglobeandmail.com

I say this because I want to prove that Thomas Mulcair represents an entirely novel brand of politics to the New Democratic Party. To me, Mr. Mulcair’s leadership has already proved to be three things: prudent, calculated and aggressive.

During the NDP Leadership campaign, Mr. Mulcair was quick to reference the lack of successful campaigns between Winnipeg to Vancouver. If the Party continued to do the same things, Mr. Mulcair reasoned, there would be no change. When he said that New Democrats have to bring the center to themselves, what he meant was “we have to shuffle to the right”, otherwise they will retain their altruistic values Ed Brodbent held, and find themselves where Ed always was: on the periphery of Canadian politics.

In the two weeks since his election, Thomas Mulcair has tried to swing the Liberals to the periphery, denied any cooperative merger, left non-NDP opposition members 20 minutes (out of a possible fifteen hours) to abhor the budget on the Commons floor, and called Liberal Leader Bob Rae anxious over recent polling showing an NDP surge in Canada.

Mr. Mulcair has demonstrated his calculative, prudent approach to politics, something Steven Harper has exemplified during his tenure. The current Leader of the Official Opposition understands the only chance of an NDP government is with a marginalized Liberal Party, one polling in the mid-teens, as their own party used to. The prescription is to make Liberals irrelevant, and eliminate any other diversions that stand between himself and the Prime Minister.

Additionally, Mr. Mulcair has selected a flat personality as his Deputy Leader. Not only does this decision hide the spotlight from a potential future challenger, it also makes Mr. Mulcair look like an even stronger leader in contrast, while smoothing over possible tensions from the election by picking an “establishment” MP. It’s smart and calculated.

I believe Mr. Mulcair has the leadership capable of winning a government because it matches Mr. Harper’s brand of leadership, and I sincerely mean that as a compliment. Both men seem to know what it takes to win: hard work, willingness to get dirty, and a “eat-or-be-eaten” disposition. If Thomas Mulcair can successfully chart a course to the political center while keeping the grassroots happy, he will have literally mirrored Mr. Harper’s accomplishment, and this is worthy of respect. What he needs to do is go from an alternative to the alternative, and that, in my opinion can only happen by suffocating the other leftist party between themselves and the government so that there is no unique message they can make.

With the right kind of messaging and debate performances, Tomas Mulcair might be able to prove to Canadians that he can be Prime Minister. I have two questions: First, will the eventual Liberal leader be able to stand up from a political threat greater than Stephen Harper? Second, can the Prime Minister label the NDP Leader the same way he labeled Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff?

Dion, Ignatieff, Rae | Image Stolen From http://www.hilltimes.com


Fergueson Names, Doesn’t Blame

I asserted in my post yesterday that Auditor General Michael Fergueson had stopped short of publicly shaming those responsible for the stupidity behind the F-35 controversy. While this is technically true, what I did not know is that Mr. Fergueson had named senior bureaucrats and ministers involved with the ill-fated pursuit of the fighter jets.

Bureaucrats involved include:

  • Dan Ross, assistant deputy minister of materiel at the Department of National Defense
  • Michael Slack, F-35 project manager and director of continental materiel co-operation at the Department of National Defense
  • Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force
  • Col. Dave Burt, director of the Next Generation Fighter Capability Office, Department of National Defense
  • Tom Ring, assistant deputy minister of acquisitions, Public Works and Government Services Canada

Responsible ministers include:

  • Defense Minister Peter MacKay
  • Associate Defense Minister Julian Fantino
  • Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose

For in depth information on these officials and their relation to the F-35s, you can read the Vancouver Sun article on the subject by Lee Berthiaume.


$30 Billion Worth of Inept Bureaucrats

The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility. They were supposed to be scrutinizing every dollar spent by the government, and reducing its size wherever possible. They are cutting jobs, volunteer programs and funding to the CBC all in the name of balanced budgets. If that is their policy, then perhaps some things need to be sacrificed in the name of a stable economy.

Minister of Defense, Peter Mackay, With His Jet | This image was stolen from thestar.com.

However, if Mr. Harper’s latest budget cuts the entire $15 million of Katimavik volunteer program, then I patiently await his arguments as to why paying between $15 billion and $30 billion dollars for 65 fighter jets (almost $500 million per jet) is a worthwhile investment.

I understand that national security is important, and defending our country costs money, but the national scandal is not about security being too rich for the taxpayer, but the circus surrounding the potential purchase of the fighter jets. Auditor General Michael Fergueson’s report revealed that the Department of Defense completely ignored established policies, avoiding a bidding process, omitting relevant information, selecting a favorable cost-estimate to accelerate the contract among numerous other serious faults committed by the Department.

Not only did the Department of Defense deny an open, transparent process, it did what was in the best interests of the Department of Defense, as opposed to considering the interests of the Canadian people: the ones paying for the aircraft, and of course, their salaries. I join the Auditor General, and millions of Canadians in condemning the department.

Sadly, Fergueson refused to name anyone in his report, and I’d like to know why. After being brave enough to attack the entire department, calling them out for their stupidity on this issue, why did he stop at shaming the responsible parties? The F-35s had never been tested in combat, had never been compared to other planes, and had never been subject to a rigorous cost analysis. Someone needs to be held accountable for this unacceptable mess, that is, if the Department of Defense is expected to retain any public credibility.

Additionally, I’d like to know where was the Prime Minister during this process. I hardly doubt someone as prudent as Mr. Harper was oblivious to the rush to procure a contract. Now that the truth has come out, it would be nice to know on what level Prime Minister Harper lied to Canadians about the costs and the process behind acquiring the jets.

In the mean time one can only hope the Conservatives stay true to their word and conduct a complete, public review of the program. Simultaneously it might be a good idea to complete a public review of those responsible for this mess they are struggling with, starting with a sober look inside their own ranks.

Harper Lectures | This image was stolen from http://www.ctv.ca