Critically Speaking Gets Political

And now for something a little different (I’d quote Monty Python here, but a blogger friend of mine recently used that, and I’ve stolen from him enough over the years). I usually use this blog to discuss important things, like the best comic book movies ever or the ugliest jerseys in sports. But recent events have forced me to discuss the decidedly less important matter of politics, mostly because its become the most entertaining show in town.

Some of you readers might think I’m about a month or so short on all the politics talk, and to you I say “fuck you Yankee blue jeans” or some shit like that. There’s more to the world and politics than the American presidential election after all (I kid, you Americans are alright with me. Some of you anyway).

Canadians have politics too!

Canadians have politics too!

You see, I’m Canadian, and uncharacteristically, our politics have gotten really interesting of late. I won’t bother trying to educate those who don’t understand the inner workings of our parliamentary system (that includes both Americans and a significant amount of Canadians), as I figure those who don’t know stopped reading this somewhere around “politics”, or at the least “Canadians”. But I will sum up why it’s suddenly gotten interesting for those still interested.

While the rest of the world (and, again, a significant amount of Canadians) was following the Obama/McCain/Palin stories, we Canadians went and had ourselves an election back in October when our minority government led by the Conservative party sought dissolution a month prior. This resulted in ANOTHER minority government led by the Conservative party (this time with 19 more seats), and a general growing apathy amongst Canadians wondering why we just spent over $300 million to solve nothing.

Well, here we are, 6 weeks later, and it might be time for a new government. Yes, we Canadians do things fast. The crux of it is that our Conservative government, led by Stephen Harper, suggested that his party would introduce items in next year’s budget that the three opposing parties in parliament didn’t like, so they’ve banded together in the hopes of forming a coalition government to do what they couldn’t get done six weeks ago: form the federal government.

First off, this is all perfectly legal under parliamentary politics. Governments are not directly elected through the vote of the people, who instead elect representatives (we call them MPs) that (usually) belong to parties. The party that is most likely to have the confidence of the House of Commons is then invited to form the government. When that party gets 50+1% of the seats in the Commons (155 or more), then the decision is easy. They are the majority and thus are the government. But when they don’t (as with the current government), things get a little more complicated.

By parliamentary law, the Queen’s representative (the Governor General) then decides which party is most likely to have the support of the government. The convention has been that whichever party wins the most seats (achieving a plurality of seats) becomes the government, which is what happened. But, as any left wing supporter will have happily parroted for you over the past week, getting the most votes does not guarantee you government in our system! You Conservative idiots don’t understand how Canadian politics work! We don’t vote for PM, we vote for MPs!!!

Now, few understand this more than me, as I’m one of the few people I know who considers his MP first, party second, and party leader a distant… fifth or something when deciding whom to vote for (or at least I have for the past two elections). It’s what you have to do when the leader of the party you’re thinking of voting for is a giant prick. And if you listen to the rhetoric that has come from supporters of the proposed coalition, that’s how every one of them based their votes as well (well, that and ABC… Anyone But Conservative). But I’m a more forgiving man, and somehow have sympathy for those Canadians who were fooled into thinking that just because 39 out of the past 40 federal elections ended up going to the party who won the most seats, that this might be how the latest one would turn out as well.

At this point you may be asking, “so what was this huge issue that has led to the unravelling of a government six weeks into its term and the undoing of a convention that has held for 140 of 141 years of our Dominion?” Okay, you’re probably not asking that at all, as I had to look up that info myself to get the numbers right, and who on earth says “our Dominion” anyway? More likely, you’ll asking something like “WTF?” Well, I’ll tell you WTF. The Conservative government, led by Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduced a fiscal update that, among other things, called for an end to the public subsidy that gives $1.95 of taxpayer money per vote in the federal election to every party that gets at least 5% of the vote, deny federal public-sector unions the right to strike for the next three years, and was going to wait a bit before introducing stimulus packages into an economy that is in far better shape than most of the countries around us.

Flag? What flag?

Flag? What flag?

QUELLE HORROR! Get the nooses boys, this is obviously a cause for radical changes to the traditional nature of Canadian politics. I think in other countries, if a government tried to suggest that parties need to raise their own money to run for government, they’d find themselves first against the wall when the unruly mob got to them, don’t you? After all, this pillar of our democracy has been in existence for generations decades years. Okay, it’s actually only been around since the Jean Chrétien Liberal party introduced it in 2003. Mostly in response to the outcry of that government’s practise of getting hundreds of thousands in donations from corporations and unions in exchange for hundreds of millions in federal grants and subsidies. It was also a tidy EFF YOU to Chrétien’s incoming successor and rival Paul Martin, who would now have to try and do without all that misbegotten corporate funding (because no one out-bastards Chrétien when it comes to politics. Stephen Harper isn’t even in his weight class).

Removing the federal subsidy would take $30 million dollars off the federal budget, which isn’t chump change. But that’s not really the reason Harper did it. He did it because his party (who stands to receive the most money from the subsidy, as his party got the most votes and all) is the one who needs it the least. Those tricky right wing bastards somehow manage to fundraise by themselves, without the benefits traditionally afforded to the Liberal party before the 2003 reforms (along with creating the subsidy, a $1000-or-so-ish limit was put on any individual donor, which includes corporations). Who doesn’t do so well at getting their supporters to cough up the dough? Everyone else.

While the subsidy represents only 37 per cent of the Conservative party’s total revenues, it amounts to 63 per cent of the Liberals’ funding, 86 per cent of the Bloc’s, 57 per cent of the NDP’s and 65 per cent of the Greens’. Given that we just had an election six weeks ago, these parties are pretty hard up for cash right now, so eliminating the majority of their funding as early as next year’s budget can’t be seen as anything but a dick move… er… political manoeuvring by the PM.

And it was a dick move, no doubt about it. Dirty political manoeuvring at a time when the Canadian governments should be doing more, and Canadians deserve better. I’m guessing the fact that the other parties are in dire straits and our economy is such an issue is why Harper thought he could get away with such a brazen move even though he only has a minority government. And he was wrong.

Well, he was wrong about getting away with it, that is. As far as the issue itself? TWO THUMBS UP! Get rid of the subsidy, I says. It’s not a tonne of money, but it’s definitely money that could be better spent elsewhere (like on a stimulus package or something). Our democratic process has survived 136 years without it, so I think we’ll be okay. If nothing else, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that 86% of a party’s total revenues can come from the country it seeks to remove itself from. WE’RE PAYING FOR SEPARATISTS! This seems a little crazy to me (so crazy, my Caps Lock got stuck).

Plus, it’s not like they were spending the money wisely. Less people voted in the last election than ever before, even after all the parties spent untold sums of money on attack ads that do little but weaken the level of political discourse in our country. Maybe with less money available to them, some of that shit would go away. But, if you’re going to introduce a bill like this (and please do), it has to be part of an election platform (meaning… you should probably put together an election platform), and it has to be phased in. It can’t just be a club with which to dispatch your political enemies.

Some people think that Conservatives have a fundraising advantage because the left is split between 2-3 parties (maybe even 4, depending on how seriously you take the Greens). To which I say, bwahahahahahahaha… how rich. The NDP has been around since 1960, thus “splitting” the left for 48 years (we won’t get into other leftist parties like the Progressives because this is already more work than I originally envisioned when I started writing). In that time, the Liberals have been in power for 33 years, with the Conservatives only achieving majority governments for 9 years. So it’s more than just a little ingenious to suggest that somehow there’s now an advantage in Canada for right wing parties. Don’t worry guys, there’s plenty of left to go around here in Canada.

So Harper was being a bully, and I think he was wrong to do so (even if his policy was pretty good, the implementation of it was underhanded). Moreover, I think the opposition members were right to call him on it and do what they could to repeal this decision (along with the union one… but they’re wrong on the stimulus, which I’ll get to). I’m even cool with them threatening non-confidence. Mr. Harper is the leader of a Minority government and needed to be reminded of that.

And he was, he gave up on the elimination of the subsidy. He gave up on preventing federal public-sector unions the right to strike (during a recession, which probably would be bad, but ehn). He even promised to introduce his budget earlier than planned and to include more stimulus. Yay for democracy, the Opposition did its job.

I, for one, welcome our coalition overlords

I, for one, welcome our coalition overlords

But, and I hope you’re sitting down for this, getting the Conservatives to amend their fiscal update (not even an actual budget or bill mind you) was not the goal of the coalition. Representing the interests of the Canadian people was not their goal either. Their goal was to bring down Harper, and take that which they couldn’t through the electoral process. Much like Harper introduced the subsidy not because it was good policy but for political gain, so too do the three grey-haired guys from Quebec seek to take Parliament for political gain.

Because they are very stupid. Very, very stupid.

Why on earth would anyone want to be in charge of a country about to head into a recession, the primary causes of which are almost completely out of the control of those in charge? The global credit crunch has been wreaking havoc on our economy of late because of decisions made in the U.S. and China (and other places) more than anything done in Ottawa. We mostly have to weather the storm and try to reduce its impact, but otherwise, it’s out of our hands. But that’s not going to change the fact that people’s savings will dwindle, jobs will be lost, and homes may foreclose. And who will Canadians blame for that? Whoever was in charge when it happened.

This is the atmosphere in which you want to try out a poorly conceived coalition between two political rivals who stated just two months ago (you know, when the Canadian people had a say in the matter), that they had no interest in forming a coalition with one another, relying on the support of a party who, by its very existence, does not have Canadian interests at heart? And to do so, you’re going to grab hold of power in a way that many Canadians suspect circumvents the very nature of democracy? Man, those guys really hate Harper.

Actually, this is only a dumb thing for the Liberals. This is as close Jack Layton and the NDP were going to get to form government, and might even get a bump from the legitimacy the Liberals have given them. As for the BQ and Gilles Duceppe, this is the best move they’ve ever made. They’ve never had more power to enact their agenda than what they’re being given, not even when they had the Conservatives kissing their ass for the past few years to get bills passed (since they could always go to the NDP or Liberals for votes, whereas the Coalition have basically written off the Conservatives as a possibility, and thus will have to go to the BQ). Say what you will about Duceppe, but dude is pimp.

But for the Liberals? They’re aiming to give Canada a prime minister that they themselves have deemed unworthy of leadership (their leader, Stéphane Dion, is a lame duck interim leader until they can elect a new leader). Under Dion’s leadership the Liberal party, Canada’s “natural ruling party”, lost 26 seats last election. 26 seats that had previously been given to a Paul Martin-led Liberal party who was in the middle of a sponsorship scandal. Forget the fact that Dion couldn’t convince Canadians to back he and his party, he couldn’t even convince his supporters to back he and his party (but, of course, no one votes for parties in Canada, so I guess he just had 26 really shitty MPs).

And now Dion, inspired leader that he is, is poised to lead an experimental coalition unlike any ever seen before in our nation’s history during a time of economic instability. I’m sure everything will work out swimmingly, ushering in an era of good times for all, and a return to Liberal prominence for ever after. I’m sure the 5,208,796 Canadians who voted Conservative will be won over by the complete reversal of their will and look to the Liberals for guidance. I’m sure the 2,515,561 Canadians who decided to vote NDP instead of Liberal will somehow change their minds now that the NDP have been deemed government worthy. And I’m sure all the nationalist Québécois who voted Liberal as an alternative to the Bloc Québécois as a bastion against separatism are thrilled that the Liberal party has deemed it prudent to form a coalition that gives those separatists a prominent role in deciding government policy. As a nice touch, when they replace Dion, a Liberal party that only had 26% of the vote will then install a leader as prime minister who didn’t even face an election at all. Canadians will love it.

What should they have done instead? Made their moves to get the Conservatives to back down (check), claim victory, then let the Conservatives run the government through a rough economic time, elect a leader that can actually push the Liberal message (Ignatieff or Rae), and then maybe bring the government down after 18 months or so, with a solid shot at a majority. But no, they had to make a principled stand over what is frankly an incredibly minor dispute.

That’s the most frustrating part of this whole thing. Talking heads on both sides of the aisle have fired all their best rhetoric about how this is the biggest, most important issue our nation’s history since Meech Lake, when it’s not even about a fucking bill of law. This was a fiscal update!!! Not a budget, not a bill. An update. An update so monumental that the left wing parties of our nation were able to do in a week what the right wing parties of our nation spent the better part of a decade trying to do: form a coalition.

Could this be because they’ve been planning this all along? And by they, I mean the NDP and BQ. Not to get too conspiracy theory here, but does it not strike anyone as odd that something so monumental could be struck up so swiftly over something so minor? Oh, I know, whither the auto industry!!! The government must act now to save the auto industry!!! You know what, fuck the auto industry.

Won't someone think of the cars?!?

Won't someone think of the cars?!?

Yes, yes, it’s a lot of Canadians livelihood and all. They have my sympathies. But the auto industry in Canada is in trouble for two reasons: one, because the American auto industry is in trouble (which is kinda out of our control), and two, because they’re really bad at their jobs (and by they, I mean those in charge of the industry, not those on the lines). Propping up crappy businesses don’t tend to make them more efficient. In fact, it only rewards mismanagement (because you have to screw up real bad to get government bailouts). I’m not necessarily saying we do nothing (well, maybe I am a little bit), cause it is a shitload of jobs, but it’s not the worst idea in the world to see what the Americans are going to do before we figure out how our funds can be best spent.

Plus, the only reason why this coalition is trying to make this about the auto industry is because that’s where their votes come from. The economic downtown has lead to the cancellation of a lot of oil patch projects, and thus the negation of many potential high paying jobs. How much of this stimulus do you think the Liberals, NDPs, and BQs will pour into Alberta to get these jobs back? I’m guessing somewhere between none and negative a few million. The same government who wanted to put a tax on carbon is now the saviour of the industry who has been producing little but carbon-chugging trucks. Excellent.

So what would I like to see happen? Well, since the whole “get the Cons to back down and see what happens” thing is off the books, my next choice would be another election. Sure, we really shouldn’t be spending another $300 million on another election, but would another one this fast cost as much? A lot of the apparatus has to still be in place (again, we just did this). They can use the same signs and ads, just with new voice overs (and, of course, the Cons will have to use footage of the Liberal party giving Duceppe a standing ovation, but they can afford the changes). I’m sure Harper even still has the sweater vest. So now that the cards are on the table, the Cons can ask the Canadian people if we should stop funding elections, while the Liberals and NDP can say that they won’t mind a coalition with one another (unlike last time). Plus, they each can call the other side betrayers of Canada. Maybe people are fine with this coalition and love the idea of the NDP and Liberals in government together. I’d like to find out. And, really, voting is easy. It took me about a minute, so I don’t really think it’s that much of a burden to do all over again.

But on a spiteful level, I say let the coalition happen. It’ll be an unmitigated disaster, and I get to be all “I told you so”. In fact, that may be the only reason why I wrote this waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overlong tract. So I can point to it when I say “I told you so”. (Don’t worry, when that day comes, I’ll point you to the end of this post, as I can’t imagine anyone would be bothered to read all of this).

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9 thoughts on “Critically Speaking Gets Political

  1. Some comments…

    Even in Canadian politics, 30 million is chump change.

    What is the Bloc’s interest? Yeah they’re the “seperatist” party, but they have MPs in the house who have been there longer than most. What do they actually do to further seperatist aims? Grafitti in the House of Commons toilet stalls?

    Proportional Representation I say. For one natural majorities are really hard to accomplish nowadays. The Bloc takes 50 seats out of contention right there and everyone else fights for the rest.
    As you point out NDP, the Liberals have no interest in Albertan interests, but it’s not like they don’t get votes here. Ontario gets all the interest because they have most of the votes. 1/3 of Canadians are from Ontario and nothing is going to change that.
    Proportional representation would at least give Alberta Liberal, NDP, and even Green MPs. We’ll have minority governments until the end of time, but at least we can end the fiction that only the Conservatives represent Albertan interests and that only the Liberals and the Bloc can represent Quebec. Proportional will give us truly national parties, rather than a bunch of regional parties playing at national politics.

    The Coalition takeover doesn’t really bother me too much, to a point anyway, because I can’t really argue against a government that will actually have the popular vote on their side. Yeah the Bloc are seperatists but the nice thing about a Coaltion like this is anyone can pull the plug.

  2. I may have oversold the separatist angle, but it is the BQ’s raison d’être, and the main reason why they haven’t been pushing that angle of late is that it’s been a political non-starter. The added legitimacy they get by being a necessary vote on all bills could change that quickly. The PQ is already talking like this will be the case, but that could just be politiking by a party in the middle of a tough provincial election battle.

    As for what they actually do to further seperatist aims… how bout taking down not one, but possibly two federal governments? I’m partially hoping that if this Coalition goes down, the BQ breaks it word and then brings it down a few months after it. That would make Duceppe three for three in terms of political parties whose governments he defeated. That’s a pretty good job of causing political instability and making the case that Canada is not a good place for Quebec.

    As for PR, it has some merit, especially if we’re looking at minority governments being the rule, instead of the exception. My biggest problem with PR is how it can encourage situations like this one, where loser parties decide to form post-election coalitions that go against the public’s intentions when they vote. This Coalition does not have the popular vote on its side, because not a single person voted with the idea that it would lead to an Liberal-NDP government supported by the BQ. In fact, they were told explicitly by their party leaders that it was not an option. Had the possibility of a coalition been floated prior to the election, then you could make the case for them having the support of the popular vote, but it wasn’t. This coalition doesn’t have the most votes, it has zero votes.

    As for the possibility that anyone can the pull the plug on this coalition at any time, this is very true. Which illustrates why it might not be the best thing for Canada at this time, or a better solution than the minority government that we just elected. It also illustrates why I think it will be a collossal failure.

  3. Oh, and on the matter of $30 million. We don’t know how insignificant a figure that we be until we start to hear the numbers the parties are going to start throwing around for bailouts. What if a proposed bailout for GM is at or around $30 million? Wouldn’t it then sound disingenious of the opposition to pretend that their actions are all about saving the auto industry when they were unwilling to sacrifice their own dough to do it?

    That said, I don’t believe for a moment that the primary (or even secondary) goal of the Cons was to be more fiscally responsible. It was a political move, pure and simple. It doesn’t mean that the $30 million couldn’t be better spent elsewhere, especially if you believe (as I do), that it shouldn’t be spent on the parties at all. Hell, I’d be cool if that $30 million went to the arts, not that I think the Cons would ever propose such a thing.

  4. An autobailout has to be in the billions otherwise its just pissing money away. For some perspective the City of Calgary put out a contract in September for someone to supply plastic recycling boxes. That is what about 15 million gets you. The city of Calgary plays around with over 2 billion in their budget. The Federal government has what, 150 billion?

    As for what kind of government people were supposedly angling for, we got a Conservative minority propped up by whomever. Canadians clearly got a government that could be sent down the toilet on short notice. Harper is clearly not being trusted with a majority government, so I guess Canadians got what they wanted.

    The Pre-election parliament was essentially a grand coalition of the Cons and Libs, that not one Canadian explicitly voted for. Now its gone the other way. Either way I’m still going with popular vote is popular vote.

  5. I think a better point that I’m working to is that in these minority government situations we have to be flexible if we don’t want to end up at the polls Italian style. If that includes sending the government into opposition and letting the oppos takeover, so be it.

    It would also be nice if the parties would actually campaigned on platforms (the Conservatives were particularly bad on this point, Look it’s Stephen Harper not being creepy, Let’s vote for that guy). Rather than this expectation that whoever gets the government gets a blank cheque on government policy. At least with the LIberals Canadians definitely did not fall in love with their Green Shift. Maybe, as you suggested, if the subisidy goes away they will have to campaign on platforms in stead of TV ads showing how cuddly they are, and how demonic the opposition is.

  6. Yeah, you’re right on the $30 million. I guess I’m just being hopeful in that $30 million is about how much I’m willing to give the Canadian auto industry at this point (yes, I say “I’m willing” because I have $30 million stashed away for just this sort of an occassion). But to put it in a different perspective, a large reason why the Cons came up short of a majority in the last election was that Quebecers were upset over a mere $60 million dollar cut to the arts. So, yeah, it’s small… but I guess it matters.

    But on your other point you’re absolutely right, the Canadian people decided against a Conservative majority government, and Harper was wrong to act as though he had one. The opposition was right to chastise him. As a result, he has reversed his policies. Why isn’t this enough? And what does this grand coalition have to offer instead? Maybe the extra month they’ve now been given will be enough time for them to give us some proposals other than “No Harper”. Or maybe it’ll give them enough time to realise that this probably isn’t the best means to achieve their ultimate goals.

  7. “because no one out-bastards Chrétien when it comes to politics.”

    I didn’t notice it the first time but awesome. Though it helped Chretien only had to deal with losers while in opposition.

    Stalling is a good idea in most political situations. A month on the sidelines might simply mean the opposition coalition falls apart. Weird, got a call from the Conservative Party today. What really gets me is Harper wrapping himself in the flag in this situation. I just hate it when governments equates their fate with the fate of the country.

  8. Oh sure, Chrétien had it easy when it came to opposition, which is why he made sure to fuck with his fellow Liberals too. And, if necessary, choke a bitch.

    As for proragation… on principle, it’s not a good thing for a PM who clearly doesn’t have the confidence of the House to get to call a timeout. But in this particular incidence, I think everyone could use one. If this coalition is truly strong and united, they can go ahead and remove him in January. This time it’ll be over an actual budget, which I prefer. If nothing else, it’ll give them sometime to get their shit together, and maybe come up with better PR materials. If the coalition isn’t strong enough to wait a six weeks, then it’s best we find out now, rather than after they’re installed as government.

  9. Pingback: The End of Canadian Democracy « Critically Speaking

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