Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mediocre Media: BBC Admission!

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The BBC finally admits it. I definitely did not see that one coming.

An earlier investigation into impropriety was brushed aside and its tough findings relegated to bureaucratic doldrums, being criticized to avoid implementation. But now:

"Andrew Marr, the former BBC political editor, recently stood before an audience and said that "the BBC is not impartial, or neutral. It's a publicly funded urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party political bias: it's better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.""

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Stephane Dion

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Other Candidates:
Michael Ignatieff
Bob Rae
Gerard Kennedy

(Cross-posted at Clear Grit)

It is obviously impossible for me to claim that I am unbiased in writing about any candidate, but this is especially true for what I write about Stephane Dion. Obviously, he is the candidate who I believe should lead the party into the next election. I believe he would be Stephen Harper's most formidable foe, in both official languages. Therefore, since this is basically going to be an exalting of Dion's better qualities, I will spare you from long-windedness.

Dion was not one of the candidates who could count on front-runner status. Unlike the other top-tier candidates, Dion had to work hard to get where he is today. Fourth place - a strong fourth - is impressive given that when he began his bid for leadership he wasn't given much of a chance by most observers.

The reason that Dion has experienced this momentum is because people realize that he is the true intellectual voice of liberalism in Canada, not Michael Ignatieff. People realize that Stephane Dion is the only candidate among the front-runners who has served in a federal cabinet, and who has paid his dues to the party.

Dion is the candidate most likely to win Quebec for the Liberals. The Liberal party can't win the next election without a strong come-back in Quebec, and Stephane Dion, I feel, is the only candidate well-positioned to defeat Stephen Harper in Quebec. The only other candidate who I feel could compete in Quebec is Michael Ignatieff, but I fear he is too gaffe-prone to win a general election.

That being said, what sort of chance does he have?

Well, history is certainly on Dion's side. Every single Liberal prime minister save for Alexander Mackenzie (the first one) has served in the cabinet of a previous Liberal prime minister. Kennedy is the only other front-runner who can claim experience in a Liberal cabinet, though provincial politicians do not historically do well federally.

But, this convention isn't about the past. In many ways, it is going to be a historic convention in its own right, which means all bets are off.

So, can Dion win? He certainly can, but it will be tough. Dion is in perhaps the hardest position of any candidate - he has to squeeze up past Gerard Kennedy, and replace Bob Rae as the not-Iggy candidate. Dion has many potential paths to the leadership; an endorsement from Ken Dryden, an endorsement from Gerard Kennedy, and an electrifying convention speech would all help, and are likely essential. Dion is in fourth; he has to wow the delegates with a powerful, passionate speech.

I don't know if he can do it. But here's hoping he does.

Gerard Kennedy

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Other Candidates:
Michael Ignatieff
Bob Rae

(Cross-posted at Clear Grit)

What can I say about Gerard Kennedy?

Scratch that. What can I say about Gerard Kennedy that won't result in his cult-like supporters attack my intellectual integrity? The answer is, not much that's all that interesting.

I don't want to knock Gerard. He's an impressive guy and I have not a word to say against him. But I do have to say right now, before I give my assessment of him, that I don't think a noticeable contingent among his supporters helped his case. Not all, not even the majority of Kennedy supporters are like that, of course, and there are many I respect among his supporters. But he has generated some strong feelings among certain members, and I have seen many unfortunate attacks by Kennedy supporters directed at their fellow Liberals that were hardly constructive. I do hope that if Kennedy loses, which is quite likely, especially now that he has taken a principled stand against the nation issue, these supporters will not go about creating divisions within the party.

It's hard to argue against Kennedy's credentials. Ten years as an elected MPP and three as a cabinet minister is certainly more political experience than Stephen Harper had when the Conservatives elected him their leader, and far more than Michael Ignatieff. Sure, he didn't graduate from university, but instead of that he started a successful food bank and ran another one. How do you run an attack ad against that?

I've warmed to Kennedy a great deal. I have been hoping for a Dion-Kennedy alliance going into the convention because if Dion can't take it, Kennedy would be a very close second choice for me. I agree with him on virtually every issue, and he has a charisma about him that is indeed Trudeau-esque. In fact, were it not for one fatal flaw, he would probably be my first choice.

The fatal flaw is - I don't think he can win in Quebec. And here is why:

Kennedy is an English speaker from Ontario. Of the four front-runners, he is the weakest in French. He has only 2% of the Quebec delegates to this convention on his side, and he is unlikely to pick up more than that because of his stance on the nation question. That stance, in itself, is the final stake in the coffin.

I support Kennedy on the nation question. But the optics of him, an Ontarian with hardly any support from Quebec Liberals and hardly fluently bilingual, arguing against it could easily guarantee the Liberal party's failure in Quebec. I was hoping that Dion would oppose that motion, because frankly as the truism goes, "Only Nixon could go to China." Only Trudeau and Chretien could fight those referendums. Only Dion could introduce the Clarity Act. Kennedy would simply have no credibility to the people of Quebec arguing against a Quebec nation.

It's a tough call. If Kennedy can't win an election against Stephen Harper, though, then what is the point of electing him leader? His supporters argue that this doesn't matter. Kennedy has inspired some strong feelings in people precisely because he represents something so fresh, so hopeful, so young. Who cares if he can win?

Actually, his supporters would be done a bit of a misdeed if I didn't point out that most of them believe that he can beat Stephen Harper in an election. Fair enough; I disagree, but that's fine.

But it's a bit of a moot point, because I don't think Kennedy will take this one. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that this convention will come down to either Ignatieff v. Dion, or Ignatieff v. Rae, likely the former, because the Quebec delegates are likely to regard Kennedy as anathema. His best chance to win is to score the endorsement of Stephane Dion. If Dion can bring his Quebec delegates with him to Kennedy, Kennedy will gain both a powerful Quebec ally and a sizable contingent of Quebec delegates.

But it is thought that Dion's Quebec delegates will bleed heavily to Ignatieff if he is knocked off the ballot. That could make it hard for Kennedy to win this convention. If Dion doesn't endorse him, he will almost certainly go down, so whether or not that happens will be one of the turning points of the convention.

I wish Kennedy all the best. If he wins this convention, I will be proud to say I'm a Liberal.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bob Rae

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Other Candidates:
Michael Ignatieff

(Cross-posted to Clear Grit)

As the political veteran of this race, Bob Rae's appeal has been obvious - he is the most experienced of any candidate in the realm of public policy and governance, and at the same time, he is free from the burden of ugly sponsorship mess, at least as free as Michael Ignatieff and Gerard Kennedy. Rae is one of the four candidates with a serious chance of winning the leadership, and given that just a year ago many people dismissed him out of hand as too controversial in Ontario, he has come a long way.

Bob Rae is positioned well, about as well as could be expected. In stark contrast to Ignatieff's gaffe-ridden campaign, Rae's campaign has been absolutely flawless. This is to be expected from a 30-plus-year veteran of the political world; anything less would have been unacceptable. Rae is arguably the only other candidate besides Ignatieff who has a strong base in every region of the country; Stephane Dion has a recognizable base in every region, but not as large as Rae's. Rae is at the top of the not-Ignatieff contenders, and he and his team have been trying to get the idea out that he is the only one who can stop an Ignatieff victory.

They may be right, though many people still question the wisdom of a Rae-led Liberal Party, but many - including myself - underestimated him. Of course, people are starting to wisen up. Arrogant Tories love to dismiss Rae out of hand, citing his term as premier of Ontario as proof that he will be easy to eviscerate in an election, but a lot of Tory insiders and even the rank and file are starting to fear a Bob Rae Liberal party. Remember, the people who hate Rae's Ontario record the most tend to be conservatives and Tory partisans, not exactly the best indicators of the mood of predominantly middle-of-the-road Ontario. And a flawlessly executed campaign is nothing to sneer at.

Of course, critics are quick to point out that the reason Rae has been gaffe-free is because he hasn't actually said anything. It's not an unfair criticism. Rae has essentially been running on his experience in contrast to his main rival and former roommate, who has none. Rae has been choosing his words carefully, trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of Liberals, the latest example being that he "won't oppose" recognizing Quebec as a nation. Carefully chosen words, those are. None of this is too surprising - Rae's campaign is being managed by his brother John Rae, the architect of Jean Chretien's three middle-of-the-road-appeal victories.

There are some significant knocks against Bob Rae. Unlike Ignatieff, Rae was actually scouted to run for the party in 2006 and 2004, and he refused both opportunities. If Rae had run in 2004, he almost certainly would have served in cabinet, thus giving him the Liberal credentials he would have needed to mount a more credible bid. I have no doubt that if Rae had run in 2004, he would be the front-runner today. The fact that he refused two opportunities to run for the party he wants to lead is a bit of a sore point for many Liberals, and understandably so.

What Bob Rae's candidacy comes down to is this: he's an experienced and formidable political veteran who ironically is the least Liberal candidate of the field. Say what you will about Ignatieff, he didn't donate money to NDP candidates in the last election. These are the two factors delegates considering him will have to weigh. How well Rae does will depend on how many delegates are willing to overlook his past, both recent and from the last century.

Michael Ignatieff

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(Cross-posted at Clear Grit)

Hailed just last year as possibly the next Pierre Trudeau, it has been quite the year for Michael Ignatieff. In its span, he has gone from being an acclaimed international academic, to a Member of the Canadian House of Commons, to the front-runner in the race to lead one of the the most electorally successful political parties in history and just a hair's breadth away from a position which would almost guarantee him a spot in history as either Canada's 23rd or 24th prime minister.

The stakes couldn't be higher for Ignatieff. At 58 years of age, he very likely isn't going to get another chance at this. Oh sure, he could run again six, eight, ten years from now. But it just won't be the same. He'd be yesterday's news. Ignatieff's candidacy is built on a wellspring of hope for a new direction in the party that is particular to this moment in history.

It was supposed to be different. Paul Martin was supposed to eke out another minority government in this year's election, and Ignatieff was supposed to receive the requisite experience in government. Conservatives have occassionally opted to choose an outsider for leader (most notably Brian Mulroney), but the Liberal Party has historically not been kind to leadership candidates who haven't spent time in cabinet. Every Liberal prime minister in history (save for Mackenzie, the first one) has served in the cabinet of a previous Liberal prime minister. That the outsider Ignatieff is even the front-runner in this race is phenomenal.

Ignatieff has certainly shown himself to be an impressive personality, and agree or disagree with him on particular issues - and there are many, chief among them Quebec's status within Canada, a carbon tax, Canada's role in the world - he must at least be credited for taking clear positions on controversial issues. Is that not what politicians are, ideally, supposed to do?

He's had some gaffes. Not surprising, as rookie politicians tend to make them when they are put in the spotlight. Brian Mulroney's famous "no whore like an old whore" quip was actually a gaffe of its own, as he was basically flipantly excusing patronage. Some say these gaffes have been too frequent and too damaging, and they prove that Ignatieff is not ready to face Stephen Harper in an election. Some make a good point; if a couple of these stumbles had come during a general election, they would have sunk him. (Most notably, Michael saying that he did not lose any sleep over the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians.)

There are those who say that Ignatieff is too much an honest academic to compete in the world of politics. His positions are not informed by political calculations, but rather by intellectual whimsy, and they make him vulnerable to attack. Others contend that these are precisely the qualities that make a leader - he does not back down from controversial positions.

The thirty-something members of parliament hoping to occupy positions in an Ignatieff cabinet have probably, more than the MPs who support any other candidate, chosen Ignatieff because they sensed he was the front-runner, and they wanted to be on the winning side. Many of them are also supporting him on principle, of course, but the number of MPs who declared their support for him so early on does raise my eyebrow.

So what are his chances? Going into the convention, Ignatieff is in a very enviable position: first place. However, one has to question his growth potential on later ballots. There are a lot of anybody-but-Iggy delegates, and they will certainly unite behind one of Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy or Stephane Dion before the end of the convention. How many of these delegates there are is hard to say, but judging from Ignatieff's reception in the Liblogosphere, there are probably a healthy number of them. Then again, it has been pointed out that all he has to do is pick up about 1/4 of the bleedoff delegates from the candidates who drop off in order to win. He could theoretically win the convention without a single endorsement from any other candidate - endorsements he is not likely to get.

Ignatieff's easiest chance for victory, of course, would be the surprise endorsement of one of the other big four. Such an endorsement would almost certainly put him over the top. Will it happen? Not likely. But then again, David Orchard endorsed Peter MacKay at the last PC convention. It could happen, but I wouldn't count on it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Private Health Clinics - What's the big deal

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Recently a private emergency room, I mean "urgent care center" opened in Vancouver at the Fraser Health Clinic. The facility offers many services that one can receive at a public hospital for free for a price.

Let me think.

a) Nobody is forced to use the private health center, everyone can use the public system for free.
b) The system will relieve pressure off of the public system. It's like getting a new hospital of capacity at no cost to taxpayers.

And yet, the TURKEYS in Ottawa and almost everywhere oppose our "two tier" health care system.

What is the BIG DEAL?

It's lowering waiting times in the public system. That's a good thing. People can still get the health care.

Canada needs to get a clue on health care. The Canada Health Act is a massive step backwards for Canada and needs to be scrapped ASAP.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Promote Your Politics Blog! Blogroll Spots Available

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I was going through my blogroll recently and I've dropped one fellow Canadian who stopped writing in favour of another job, and two moderates who left the sphere/are redirecting their blogs to someone already on my blogroll.
So if any of you have a good blog on Canadian Politics, let me know: email me a blogroll request to shplarz at hotmail, and include blogroll in the subject line. Or just leave a comment below with your blog's address

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Canadian Constitution Quiz: Increase Your Constitutional Knowledge 64%!

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Constitutional law can be a real bore sometimes, so to spice up the topic for myself and others, I created a Canadian Constitution Quiz! Besides, with Iggy sounding the separatist clarion and going on about recognizing the Quebec nation, it might be time to re-examine our good old Constitution's contents.
Much thanks goes to the late Senator Eugene Forsey's text, How Canadians Govern themselves, freely available from the Library of Parliament.
This also relates to this old boring text I wrote on our Canadian Parliamentary System, for those of you who want some background reading...

Answers to the quiz are at the end. It's late and I haven't proofread this thoroughly, so if you see any direct quotes from the Forsey text that are uncredited, please let me know and I'll correct the error.

Question 1) If a minority government is defeated on a motion of censure, the Cabinet then has the following option:
a) ask for a motion of confidence b) attempt to defeat the motion in the Senate c) resign in favour of the opposition d) Sunbathe in the buff at 24 Sussex drive

2) The Constitution Act, 1867 (aka the British North America Act, 1867 or BNA Act), guaranteed separate schools for:
a) Atheist minorities throughout Canada b) the Protestant minority in Acadia c) Protestant and Roman Catholic minorities in Ontario and Quebec d) Atheist minorities in Ontario and Quebec

3) The Constitution Act, 1867 did which of the following with regards to French-Canadian law?
a) Guaranteed the Civil Code of Quebec b) Imported the Napoleonic code to bring French Canadian law up to date c) Guaranteed Quebec could maintain its civil law d) Agreed to long-standing requests to incorporate Roman Catholic dogma into the civil law

4) The Canadian Constitution is composed of, amongst others:
a) the BNA Act and the Clarity Act, 1996 b) the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms c) the Constitution Act 1982 and the Act Respecting Canadian Prime Ministers and the Privy Council of Her Majesty, the Queen in Right of the United Kingdom, the Dominion of Canada, the Dependancy of Gibraltar and of the British Commonwealth d) the Constitution Act, 1982, the Charter, the CCQ, plus other texts and unwritten conventions

5) True or False:
a) The Prime Minister's position was created by the Constitution Act, 1867
b) the Federal Parliament can legislate to enforce an international treaty on education
c) Canada's Constitution recognizes two types of aboriginal people: Indian and Metis

6) The main formula to modify the Constitution requires:
a) Parliament to spend at least 6 months debating the proposed amendments b) the Queen to be present during at least 51% of the debates in the Senate c) 50% of the Provinces to agree to the amendment, and these provinces must account for at least 70% of Canadians d) 70% of the Provinces to agree and these provinces mst represent 50% of Canadians

7) The reason why Canada originally chose to have a Senate was:
a) to give an equal voice in Parliament to less populous provinces b) to placate Quebec, which wanted something similar to the Chambre Haute the French had instituted c) John MacDonald was caught drunk with George Cartier's wife and had to make amends d) to placate Upper Canada

8) The ex-Attorney General of Canada whose signature is on the repatriated Constitution Act is:
a) Sir Denning b) Jean Chretien c) Claude Ryan d) Irwin Cotler

9) Our Constitution guarantees that a certain number of Supreme Court Justices will be from Quebec. How many?
a) 3 b) 2 c) 1 d) None, that's not actually part of the Canadian Constitution

10) "Certain limited rights," to use a phrase from Forsey's text, are guaranteed equally to the:
a) English and French procedural systems in Parliament b) English and language and Roman Catholic Sistine civil tradition c) English and Garlic languages in Parliament and the courts d)
English and French languages in Parliament and the courts

Answers: 1) c 2) c 3) c 4) d 5) F It's really a sort of convention F this sort of thing has been ruled beyond the scope of its powers, or in fancy constitional legalese, ultra vires F (Indians, Inuit and Metis are recognized) 6) d 7)a 8) b Yes, Jean Chretien was our Attorney General at one point, believe it or not 9) a 10) d

For those of you who paid attention to the introduction, I'd like to point out just how strongly our Constitution already defends Quebec's particular nature. There are provisions on religious rights, language rights, education powers for the provinces, protection of the civil law tradition. Recognition of Quebec's distinct character is definitely there in our Canadian Constitution. It's just being outside of the country for 30 years doesn't give you the chance to really appreciate it...
As to the 64%, well, I didn't make any claims as to my math skills! (64% is an arbitrary number I picked.)

Edit: Anyone else notice an FLQ cell sending a communique to the newspapers that it would act on February 15th? Quebec's leading separatist magazine says it gets them twice a year and dismissed it, according to La Presse, but it seems a little worrisome to me personally. Probably 'cause I'm what Jacques Parizeau's dirty "ethnic voters." (The 15th is important to Quebec separatists in commemoration of the Patriote rebellions in 1838-39

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Friday, November 10, 2006

In Darfur's Fields

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In Darfur’s fields, Red blood does flow
Irrigating stones row on row,
That mark black deaths in blackest night
Children and wives shot by white light
Unheard cries emerge from afros

We are the Dead. Some years ago
We lived, let live and were left alone,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Darfur’s fields.

Northern Lights, give no rest to our foe;
Illuminate their nights with the torch!
Who knows? Some of us may yet survive.
If ye break faith with us who die
What worth your War memorials?
- Darfur’s fields

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Understanding the Income Trust Move

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In the wake of Finance Minister Flaherty's income trusts move and also as a result hearing about real estate income trusts, I decided to get a professional's appraisal of what just happened on the federal financial scene. Here's another fine piece by Concordia University and Dawson College Economics professor Phil Ghayad. Prof Ghayad addresses which income trusts are really affected and why Flaherty had to move. This is an excerpt of an email he authorized me to publish here.

The move last week by Flaherty was quite reasonable and predictable. Income Trusts are mostly mature firms that pay practically no tax on their profits, contrary to other firms that also have shareholders. This permits the Income Trusts to give higher dividends to their shareholders (by the way I was one of them!). The shareholders will of course have to be taxed on these dividends. These large dividends, however, make the Trusts more interesting than regular firms to potential investors.

What the government realized was that these Trusts created a loss in terms of Government revenue. Mainly for two reasons: 1) there was a loss that stemmed from the non-taxation of profits, and 2) investors receiving these large dividends were not necessarily in Canada (e.g. international investors who obviously do not have pay Canadian taxes). These losses for the Government were assumed to be between 500-1000 million a year.

In the end, this was a good decision because it creates greater taxation equity between firms that have shareholders. This might even be a good thing for the Trusts since instead of passing their profits to shareholders they might decide to reinvest part of them in capital or research and development. The Trusts were simply too focused on short term gains, attracting investors with their large dividends, and sacrificing long run profits, by reinvesting part of their profits in projects that would make them more productive.

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