Monday, April 30, 2007

Ralph, Ralph, Ralph...

Ralph, meet me over at the escalators.


Look, Ralph... I know, you historically have a VERY good relationship with several of Alberta's First Nations. Hell, you're an honourary Chief of one, and were officially adopted by another. You even married a woman who is part Metis. You feel as though you're a member of that community. That's fantastic. It really is. You even feel comfortable enough around them to crack the occasional joke. Good.

And also incredibly, incredibly bad.

See Ralph, you and I suffer from what's commonly referred to as "the White Man's burden". Here's how it works: Your age, plus your relative level of whiteness, is inversely proportional to how many racial jokes and slang terms you can get away with. As an example: Eminem can say the "n" word a thousand times per album, because although he's tremendously white, he's also young. Leslie Neilsen can probably say it once. MAYBE.

Or to put this in another perspective: I am similarly quite close with a particular ethnic group - we're linked historically, as I grew up among them, and some of them have even married into my family. I am as close to a full-fledged member of that community as any white person could possibly be. I can even get away with some of the jokes and terminology that they tell and use amongst themselves - in small, intimate groups of friends. But even *I* know, after 28 years among them, that I cannot get in front of a large group of people and use one of those terms, or tell one of those jokes - because, at the end of the day, I'm NOT one of them, and I CAN'T say things like that in public, to people I don't know. My friends won't be offended - but a group of strangers sure as hell would be.

This is reminiscent of the whole debate after the Michael Richards incident a few months back.... "when is that word okay? Is it okay for blacks to use it, but not for anybody else? You're white, do YOU use it around your really close friends? Do they use it on each other?".

At the end of the day, it's about being sensitive to the sensibilities of others. I can call my really close friends all sorts of awful names, with a smile on my face while passing them a beer, and it's in good fun. Were I to call people by any of those same names in a different setting - say, a board meeting or press conference - I would be labelled just about the worst guy ever.

Ralph, you've never been accused of being the most sensitive guy around. I've rarely heard you referred to as the most SENSIBLE guy around, either. But whether or not you CARE, at this stage in life, that you're offending people, you should at least PRETEND that you understand they're a little touchy about certain things, and try not to poke them with a stick over it. Or you'll be remembered as a politically incorrect bully, instead of as the maverick premier who spoke like the average joe and looked out for Henry and Martha.

Because, when the lights go down, Ralph, no matter HOW close we are to other people and other groups... we're still white. That works well for us in countless ways - but also brings a burden of sensitivity. I'm as firm a believer as you'll ever find that, in the words of men far greater than I, "There is but one race... the Human race...". But when historically oppressed groups see people who look a whole lot like their oppressors, cracking jokes at their expense, is it any WONDER they're a little put off by it?

Save the "Funny Indian Stories" for your pals, Ralph. They KNOW you, and KNOW you're not a mean-spirited guy, or a racist. The public at large doesn't know you on that intimate a level... and it's far easier NOT to say it than to appear on camera afterwards, wearing the "Michael Richards Penitent" look, and try to convince a now-hostile audience that you aren't, in fact, a racist and "I have some wonderful friends who happen to be Native...".

We're Pale-faced devil, Ol-fay, honky crackers. Let's remember that before we start telling "funny racial anecdotes" in public, all right?

That is all.

- ES

Friday, April 27, 2007

On Budgets, Blogs in Politics, the Environment Plan, and Stellar Cartography

Nation, there will be a shop offering ES Nation merchandise soon. Testify as to the glory of citizenship in the Nation!

On to business...

I will be attending the PC Alberta AGM in Edmonton next week-end. Reports will be coming fast and furious, so stay tuned. Can't believe I'm paying $250 to go and work. The Hors D'oevres had better be good.

Of note is the unfortunate fact that the PC Association of Alberta has not yet fully embraced the realities of citizen journalism, and blogging. Although it's certainly a daunting task to determine to whom "Blog Press" credentials should be issued, the reality is that more and more people from ages 15 to 35 are getting their information, and forming their subsequent opinions, from Blogs rather than from traditional media sources. Not helping matters is that with the amalgamation of media outlets into a few select hands, and the subsequent editorial slants that become less and less surreptitious (see Fox News, as an example), the public at large is looking for a source of information without such an obvious bias. "Official" Party blogs are similarly unreliable, for those seeking honest and up-front analysis and coverage, as opposed to simply reading re-worded press releases. Bloggers offer this option, and it is my sincere hope that by the NEXT AGM, the party has this figured out.
The first party to truly capture the imagination of the internet is going to see a boon in votes, especially from the younger demographics.

Well, the provincial budget has come and gone, with specific spending announcements being rolled out in the past few days, and probably in the weeks to come (yes Nation, the department that employs yours truly did just fine, thank-you). The Stelmach Government's first budget isn't going to get them elected to 80 seats next year, but it DOES answer some concerns about how engaged the government really was with the current situation. Nobody got EVERYTHING they asked for, and the cities are predictably upset because they didn't get every cent they say they needed. But when voters see number signs with a B in front of them, they don't immediately jump to the conclusion that cities are getting the short end of the stick.

The announcement of all-party committees, independent of the budget, is a good step towards democratic reform here in the one-party state that is Alberta. Fixed election dates are the next logical step, and will go a long way towards showing Albertans that the Stelmach Government not only talks the talk of accountability and transparency, but walks the walk as well. PROACTIVE governance is going to help this party recapture the hearts and imaginations of a new generation of voters... many of the voters in 2007 neither know nor care about what Peter Lougheed did as Premier, they don't remember Alberta ever being governed by someone other than the PC's, and they aren't inclined to vote a certain way just because their parents did. Proactive work on the Health portfolio, lowering income taxes, dealing with infrastructure, and the elimination of health premiums are all things that can and should be looked at in the next year, to show voters that the Stelmach government is conservative in more than just name, but also rooted in common sense and reality.

Schools, hospitals and roads need building; that takes money. Taxes need to be lowered, and premiums eliminated; THOSE cost money. But promoting healthy living, and offering tax breaks for the same while increasing sin taxes SAVES the government money in the long term. An integrated and sensible land and water use strategy shows Albertans there are things more important to Ed than the bottom line. To show the voters that they can see more than 4 years into the future will go a long way towards proving to people that the Stelmach government is more interested in good governance than in short-term political gains. And THAT will translate in SPADES at the ballot box with a jaded electorate sick of partisan bickering and idealogical dogma masquerading as policy.

Lastly, the Federal Tories released their environmental plans. Predictably, and like clockwork, the critics hit every podium in sight to protest against how "hopelessly inadequate" the plan is. "It's not going to get us anywhere NEAR Kyoto", cry the critics. "I'm ashamed to be a Canadian", cry others. "It's a shell game, they're hiding behind emission credit schemes" cry others. WHOAH. Time out. Emission Credit Schemes? Correct me if I'm wrong (it happened once, back in the 90's), but aren't emission credits PART of Kyoto? So, Harper is the devil for not adopting Kyoto lock, stock and barrel, but if he adopts PART of it, he's STILL the devil?

Come on, environmental lobby. Let's be straight here: This plan is better than the one the government of Canada had last week. It's better than the one the government of Canada had last year. 5 years ago. 10 years ago. It's the best plan we've ever had.

Is it perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Of course. But it is the BEST plan we've ever had - so for the Liberals to declare it a travesty and a sham is laughable, since it's better than anything THEY brought in. The bottom line is, if the Liberals had taken appropriate action on the environment portfolio when they had over a decade of majority governments, and could do whatever they wanted, then this plan wouldn't NEED to be introduced, and Kyoto's targets COULD be reached. Stephane Dion criticizing Harper for this plan is like Emperor Nero complaining about the City of Rome's Fire Department.

The targets are reachable. The economic impact will be noticeable, but manageable. It is, for the time being, the best we can do without killing ourselves economically. But to hear the environmental lobby talk, you get the impression of the monks who are so against taking life that they won't swat flies, step on a sidewalk, or take antibiotics for fear of damaging something living. It's a worthwhile and noble goal, but hardly practical to legislate 30 million people's actions to such a degree... If these environmentalists want to criticize someone, they should criticize the environment minister of the last majority federal government - after all, Global Warming was a concern back then, too. Why didn't HE bring in legislation to deal with emissions, and put Canada closer to meeting Kyoto targets? It's all fine and good to say "we value those targets, and we'll meet them". But that's ALL he did. Why didn't he do more to actually CURTAIL those emissions?

... Well, Mr. Dion?

Because where I'm sitting, this is a much better plan than any plan YOU ever introduced as Minister of the Environment. And you didn't need approval from anyone but your own caucus to ram a plan through Parliament. So, what's your excuse?

- ES

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Prodigal Son

Nation, I have returned from my sojourn to the barbarian land to the South - and with a pretty decent tan, to boot. ;)

I am currently reviewing the budget documents, so expect a response shortly. Also, some curiosities about the upcoming PC AGM, and a look at the leaked Federal Environment Plan.

With time, I might take a look at the Stephane Dion ads also.

ES is back on the job!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Asleep at the Switch

Nation, I am ashamed. I'm going to be a bad, bad pseudo-journalist.

Work is taking me out of the country until Monday afternoon, and I am (unbelievably) going to miss the unveiling of Premier Stelmach's first provincial budget on Thursday.

Fear not, though - I won't leave you in the lurch. For coverage of and reaction to the budget, I'd strongly urge you all to visit Ken Chapman's blog.

Analysis and reaction will likely also be found at daveberta.

Be good to yourselves, and I'll see you Monday. Don't burn down the province while I'm gone.

- ES

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In Memoriam

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What is a "National" Party?

Political parties are antithetical to the very nature of democracy. That being said, they ARE the reality that the Canadian voter has to deal with, so recent events (specifically, the Dion - May Accord) have thrust the question back to the forefront: What constitutes a party that is truly national in scope?

I suppose that depends entirely on how one defines the word "nation" (I can hear the collective moans from here).

The Liberal party, dating as far back as 1997, has sworn up-and-down that the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance/"Reform Alliance"/Conservative Party was not a national party, no matter HOW many candidates it ran, for several reasons:
1) It didn't represent the views of all Canadians from all regions;
2) It didn't have elected members from all provinces and territories.

The Liberals quickly abandoned reason #2 when they lost one of their "territory" seats and were flushed out of Alberta completely, since to stick to that definition of a "National Party" would, by default, also eliminate them. In fact, it would eliminate ALL of our political parties.

Which brings us to the latest, most widely accepted definition of a "National Party": A party which runs candidates in all 308 ridings in Canada. (Funny: The largest democracy in the world, India, had candidates from 38 parties elected in its most recent general election - not a SINGLE PARTY ran in every national riding. Not a single one.) Using this definition, Liberals are screaming bloody murder, some in public and most in private, about Stephane Dion's decision to not run a candidate against Elizabeth May in Central Nova. By this standard, there were 4 "National Parties" in the last federal election: The Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Green Party. Yet, oddly, one of those parties was left out of the televised debates, in favour of a party that ran only 75 candidates.


Well, because the party in question, the Bloc Quebecois, DID run candidates in every single riding in the nation - the Nation of Quebec. Which, whether they recognize it in BC or Nova Scotia, IS a nation in the eyes of BQ members, and as such, they ran candidates in every riding.

"You can't cherry pick ridings", say critics of the Dion - May accord. "You have to run 308 candidates, or you lose credibility and disenfranchise your supporters in ridings with no candidate."

It's a valid point.

Consider this, though: If the vote is split on your side of the political spectrum - if your supporters are quite likely to vote for someone else if it's suggested by you that they vote strategically - if your fundraising efforts are drawing less than terrific results - then you MIGHT be better off forming some sort of unofficial co-operative agreement with another party that appeals to your voter base. Whether it be to refrain from running a candidate only in the other leader's riding, or to split up the country into more manageable areas in which to run a campaign, the bottom line is that despite the bad optics involved, this type of coalition makes good political sense. It was toyed with, but eventually shot down, when the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties were trying to figure out how to stop vote-splitting on the right. Now the Liberals and Greens are going to use it to at least ensure that Dion and May have one fewer candidate to run against in their own riding.

The only problem with this sort of arrangement is that eventually, once it gets to the point where the Liberals aren't running candidates in Alberta, the NDP abandon BC to let the Greens run there, etc., you get governments that not only don't have any members from a certain area, they don't have any VOTES from a certain area, either - essentially, NO ONE in the area elected the ruling party. Makes for some hard feelings. Legislative coalition governments are a possible answer, but although these can work on certain issues (defence policy, environmental strategies, etc.) they seldom work across the spectrum - if these parties agreed on more than a few issues, they'd all be members of the same party. Look to Israel or India for an example of coalition governments, and how frequently they fail.

At the end of the day, this accord will ensure that Dion gets a few hundred more votes, and will help May somewhat, although why she isn't running somewhere like Vancouver Island is absolutely astonishing to me... I know you want to make a statement by taking on the ruling party's deputy leader, but come ON... it will take a LOT to beat Peter McKay, and the riding isn't exactly a Green Party powerhouse. But it leaves people asking what a "national party" really is...

And, as members of ANY party will tell you: "It's what we are, and those other guys aren't".

Glad we cleared THAT up.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why Belinda Left

Ms. Stronach's statement that she left to help her father's company rings about as true as Joe Hockeycoach, whose team is dead last, announcing in a press conference that he's "stepping down to spend time with my family".

Belinda is leaving because she sees the writing on the wall. She is many things. Stupid is not one of them.

She left the Tories at the altar. There is no going back. Therefore, her entire political future rested with the Liberals.

The Liberals HAVE a leader. Stephane Dion. He'll be around long enough to blow the next election, or maybe the next 2. But then he'll be gone, barring a Balboa-esque transformation.

So then the Liberals have their leadership convention, and Belinda can, at BEST, finish second to the Dauphin - by then an MP, with backing from every Old School Liberal in the country still reminiscing about the "good old days" under his father.

Justin then runs the Liberal party for as long as he wants - at least some of that time as Prime Minister, almost surely.

We're talking at least 15 to 20 years from now before anyone has a legitimate shot at winning the Liberal leadership. Belinda will by then be 60. That's a LONG time to be a minor MP or, possibly, a minor cabinet minister.

So, she looked around, recognized what the future held, and decided to jump. She will, however, continue to represent her constituents until the next election. And, I remind the more rabid Anti-Belinda readers, she HAS been elected to represent that riding as a Liberal, so she has not only a right but a responsibility to stay on, so long as it is not a conflict of interest.

Is this the best thing for the country? Who the hell knows. But it's the best thing for Belinda Stronach. She knows that. I agree. And, in the end, isn't everyone entitled to do what they think is best?

Nation, as a post-script: Be sure to join the group "Moderate Canadians" on Facebook. Might as well get a policy think-tank going on the fastest-growing website in the ether. :)

- ES

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How Much is Good Government Worth?

The question of how much our elected representatives should be paid is always a political hot potato (no "e", Mr. Quayle). This recently came up in the MSM, and was also discussed at daveberta's blog.

There tend to be 2 schools of thought on this issue. The first is to pay well enough that you attract the "best and brightest": CEO's, Doctors, Lawyers, etc. That by paying in excess of $100,000 per year, you're a lot more likely to get people of high quality and character in the positions. Under normal circumstances, this might be true. However, this is politics. Once you start offering more and more to elected officials, you may make the position more appealing to honest people of good character who truly want to make a difference, and won't have to suffer a significant downgrade in their pay in order to do so. BUT, you may also begin to attract a less desirable element to your candidate nomination processes, in ALL parties. Case in point: Calgary West. If MP's were paid, say, $200,000 in base pay, you would have all manner of sneaky, slimy, scummy people taking every shortcut and stacking every Tory nomination meeting (IF they ever get around to having one!) trying to get named the Tory candidate - because, for all intents and purposes, it's a slam dunk. You win the nomination, you get elected (barring the Kirk Schmidt juggernaut). So, if you can find enough ways to cheat and steal the nomination, it's worth $200,000 to you.

Granted, this is an extreme example. But, it would certainly happen in a lot of ridings where one party is considered the "dominant" one. The federal Liberals are having trouble fielding candidates for the next election, but do you think they're having trouble in the ridings they are assured victory, or at least a good chance at it? No. They can't find people to run in many of these ridings, because the potential candidates know they'd be a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter of whatever party is dominant in that riding. Increasing MP pay won't make this any less frequent - it will just increase the number of people running for the dominant party's nomination in "barely contested" ridings.

Ken Chapman raises a good point - we shouldn't reward longevity with the gold-plated pensions that we do. Here's why: Because when someone is elected, their entire focus should be on serving the people of their constituency. BUT, if they know that "in 10 years, I'll be pension eligible", or "4 more years until I hit the next pension tier", their focus will NOT be on representing those who elected them - it will be on GETTING RE-ELECTED. Don't get me wrong, politicians should, as a general rule, want to keep their jobs. But by making it worth $120,000 per year for the rest of their lives, they will do or say ANYTHING to gain re-election, knowing full well that, so long as they win that seat for one more term, they never have to follow through on ANY of it, and their pension will be secure.

There has to be a better way... but I can't figure out what it should be.

Nation? Any ideas?

- ES (bitten by the Facebook bug)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Thank-you, Jack, et Merci, Stephane.

Nation, it's pretty late, and I don't know if this is going to make any sense. Bear with me.

At ceremonies today celebrating the 90th anniversary of the battle that entrenched Canada in the global consciousness as a sovereign nation, our Prime Minister bore the terrible news that 6 of our finest were killed in Afghanistan.

Some will see the parallels as fitting. Others will use this as fodder for their rabid anti-Harper agendas.

Stephane Dion and Jack Layton, for today at least, will not. And I applaud them for that.

There is a time and a place to have this argument. Now, whilst figuratively standing over the bodies of the fallen, is neither. Mr. Layton and Monsieur Dion are to be commended for their restraint and respect.

Perhaps decency in politics isn't completely dead after all.

- ES

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Voter's Declaration of Independence

What took Thomas Jefferson 17 days, took me about 4 hours. Though, in fairness, I *did* borrow a lot of his original work, and had I been writing by hand, the typos alone would have caused me to kill myself at the thought of starting over each time. :)

- ES

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Party loyalty, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such an arcane system, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Canadians; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former “party-centric” system of politics. The history of the present political parties within this Dominion is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny of Dogma over these citizens. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have refused to Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good, in favour of inferior legislation based on dogmatic political views, so that they can then trumpet themselves as “champions of the people”, more intelligent, compassionate, or educated than their opposing parties.

They have governed not to provide us with good government, but rather to ensure that they secure re-election. In this way and many others, then, they serve not the people whom have elected them, but rather themselves and their own personal goals.

They have opposed not on the grounds that they have better ideas and legislation to present, but only because they fear the result of admitting a governing party’s ideas as valid and worthy of approval.

They have run campaigns not on issues and their own party’s stance on the issues of the day, but rather on the youthful indiscretions, habits, sexual preference, religion, or personal choices of their opponent. In this way they ensure both that they themselves will be elected at the expense of the other, and that the citizens will instead of the best representative be given a representative for whom scruples and honesty are foreign.

They have caused elections to happen not for the purpose of improving the lives of the citizens of this nation, but rather to seize more power for themselves, at the cost of others.

They have insisted, for the retention of power and prestige, that elected party members represent the views of the party rather than the views of those whom have elected the representative in the first place. As result, instead of loosely-affiliated groups of representatives with similar views whose votes reflect the will of their constituents, instead we have parties who demand loyalty to the views of a small group of strategists, to the detriment of the citizen and his or her franchise.

They have introduced issues most controversial and divisive not for public discussion, but rather for partisan means.

They have obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing their Assent to Laws most sensible, again on the basis of “losing face” with the public.

They have put the people who contribute time and, especially, funding to their campaigns ahead of the average citizen, to whom their loyalty should and must lie without regard for that citizen’s voting preference.

They have spent monies taxed from the people to lie to the people, in hopes that the people will reward them with further mandates for power.

They have risked the lives of our soldiers, both through action and inaction, for partisan purposes.

They have made the citizen whom wishes to run independent from them, on his own merits, waver in his intent due to lack of funding, lack of organization, and insidious threats of mischaracterization.

They have forgotten that the 308 votes in the House of Commons, or however many votes are cast among those elected in Provincial Parliaments, are the sacred franchises of those men and women whom elected them in the first place – rather, they consider them to be votes belonging to the party, to spend as political capital however it wishes, for whatever means.

They have conspired against proposals to improve our democratic process, for fear that their hold on personal power might be thus diminished.

They have abdicated their responsibility to the average citizen, in favour of donors or groups that add to their power and prestige.

They have ignored their responsibility to the First Nations of this land, using them as pawns in a political chess match instead of honouring them as victims of a terrible injustice.

They have served, rather than as the greatest example of our civilized debate, as the poorest. Rather than the greatest example of our civilized discourse, as the poorest. And rather than as the best model for our children’s behaviour, as some of the worst.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A band of Princes, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a band of Tyrants, is unfit to be rulers of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our elected representatives. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislatures to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our values and quality of life. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common citizenship to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity, unable to hear over the incessant voices of the political party: power, and avarice.

We, therefore, the citizens of Canada, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of this Nation, solemnly publish and declare, That these united people are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent with their political allegiance and with their franchise, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the political parties which are destroying our trust in government, and that all political connection between the people and the parties, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent voters, they have full Power to elect people of good conscience and character, to the ends of freeing the voters of this land from the dictatorship of the leadership of those parties that have so transgressed as described above. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


We Canadians are a naval-gazing people. We're always second-guessing ourselves. In a way, this is a good thing: It ensures that our institutions tend not to be completely static. In another way, though, it underlies a natural, national insecurity. Not altogether unexpected, mind you, considering who we live next to. This insecurity manifests itself most often through American-bashing. To listen to some Canadians, the United States has never done anything good, except possibly by accident.

Our near-constant gnashing of teeth over the NHL is another example of this naval-gazing. "Why don't more people watch it?" "Why aren't all the best players Canadian?" "Why don't Canadian teams win the Stanley Cup more often?"

The only institution we tend to want to tinker with more often than hockey is our system of governance. Institutes, Blue Ribbon Panels, Think-Tanks from the right AND the left, and all manner of groups and individuals chime in with their own 2 cents on how to, among other things:

  • Lessen the power of special interest groups
  • Increase the ability of not-for-profits to lobby government
  • Decrease the power of the PMO (funny how most people only list this as a concern when "their guy" is in Opposition, instead of IN the PMO...)
  • Increase power to the provinces
  • Take back powers FROM the provinces
  • Equalize the tax system
  • Reform the senate
  • Change how we elect our politicians
  • Change or eliminate the party system
  • Set term limits
  • Set election dates
  • Move to proportional representation
  • Eliminate the "first past the post" electoral system
  • Change how judges are appointed

And the list goes on and on and on... to some, the constitution is sacred and static and must never be changed. The Charter is the be all and end all, and all good things flow from it. To others, the Charter must be malleable to allow for a changing world, much like the U.S. constitution has changed over its nearly 231 years - and the constitution hasn't even been ratified by Quebec, so why not change it anyhow?

Hold on, ES... The Americans (or "evil Americans", as many of my so-called "progressive" readers would no doubt prefer I call them) amended their constitution 18 times over 201 years, and our constitution is still unsigned, and the Charter has only been around for 25 years.
True. But, when something's as fresh in your mind as 1982, you tend to realize "whoops, that's not what I meant" or "oops, loophole there" or "oopsies, typo...". I mean, come ON, the NHLPA can find loopholes to exploit in a CBA less than 2 years old, and we want ourselves to think that over the past 25 years criminals and their lawyers haven't found a way to get around their just rewards? And, just for the record: Those "evil Americans", who can't get anything right? In the first 30 years they were independent from Britain, they changed their constitution 3 times, for a total of 12 amendments - INCLUDING the Bill of Rights. So maybe Trudeau's Charter is a good document, but isn't perfect. We likewise have areas in which we can improve how we're governed.

One of my pet ideas, which I came up with independent of outside influence but certainly must have been thought of by someone before *I* did it, was to make the Governor General an elected position. No constitutional changes, nothing. But you've added accountability to the "supervisor" of the House and Senate, and by so doing, made it MUCH more difficult for the "bad guys" (whomever you consider them to be) to run all 3 branches of government (Executive, Legislative, Judicial). More on that in a later post.

I will shortly be posting something that will make my position on how, and why, we should proceed as an electorate very clear. It will be heavy reading, and the format will surely infuriate some of you (again, calling yourself "progressive" while building an effigy of George W. Bush is questionable, at best), but take heart: I've never much cared about the opinions of people who get pissed off the second they read the words "We The People"...

- ES

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Long Live the Independent Candidate!

Frequent Readers of this blog are aware of my general distaste for the triumph of party politics over the common good. That being said, I recently had the honour of speaking with the Independent candidate for Calgary West, Mr. Kirk Schmidt.

Some people are going to love what Kirk stands for. Some people are not going to like his policies. That's politics. I'd encourage everyone to go and take a look, though: His website is here.

The Independent candidate has several disadvantages right out of the gate. Firstly, fundraising is MUCH more difficult. No funds means no signs. No commercials. No newspaper ads. Et cetera. The second big disadvantage can be countered, SOMEWHAT, by Blogs like this one: Indie candidates don't get the press attention that the mainstream candidates do. They also, as a general rule, don't make it into debates - those spots are saved for candidates from the "Big 3" parties. Now, the blogosphere and other alternative media can counter this effect somewhat, but the reality is that in order to win in a riding like Calgary West, a candidate would need to get in the ballpark of 30,000 votes or more. I have serious doubts that this blog has even had that many hits since its inception in December - so, although blogs can cast light on a candidate, he or she needs to get their name and policy in the consciousness of the general public to have a shot at the polling booth, and blogs by themselves can't do it.

For this reason, a well thought-out media strategy is crucial. I'm not privy to the Schmidt Inner Circle, and as such don't know what Kirk's strategy will be in getting (free) media time, but I DO know that if he can get himself in the public eye, Kirk's vision for what a Member of Parliament SHOULD be will appeal to a lot of voters, whether or not they're inclined to support his policies.

If more people showed the courage that Kirk Schmidt has, in putting his name into the ring and taking his chances against some well-oiled political machines, I think our electoral system would be in much better shape.

Rules, and the Knuckleheads Who Break Them

Well, the Grit has certainly hit the fan...

Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Bharat Agnihotri was turfed by Speaker Ken Kowalski for refusing to apologize for impugning the integrity of the premier and leadership contenders in his cabinet.

Nation, I don't need to tell you that impugning the integrity of politicians is a national past-time. However, there are rules about what you can and can't say (ON the record, at least) in one of the Provincial Assemblies, Ontario's Provincial Parliament, the National Assembly of Quebec, and in the House of Commons.

We all have rules to follow at our job, or we risk disciplinary action. You can't photocopy your buttocks. You can't send off-colour jokes around the office. You can't answer the phone with a yelled "Leave Me Alone!!!" and hang-up. Likewise, politicians have a line they can't cross, and it is made CRYSTAL CLEAR to them where that line is, on their very first day on the job. They are sat down in a classroom and Parliamentary Procedure and Decorum is explained in precise detail by the Speaker or one of his staffer's. "You must address the Speaker, never the other members directly." Or, "You must use parliamentary language" (no calling other members "Douchebags").

We recently saw how fine the line is with a federal flap over allegations that Prime Minister Harper made in the House of Commons that the Federal Liberals were trying to protect the father of one of their MP's from having to testify about the Air India bombing.

Note: Harper's statement was VERY carefully worded. He did NOT say the man was a terrorist. He did not say the Liberals were trying to protect terrorists, or were terrorist sympathizers. Because he knew he would be held to task and more or less EMBARRASSED by the Speaker for unparliamentary behaviour. So, he left the insinuation at just that... an insinuation. Dirty? Absolutely. Allowed, under the rules of his workplace? Yes.

Back to Bharat Agnihotri and his statement. What, EXACTLY, did Agnihotri say? Because suggesting that something untoward is going on within the government is nothing new, and hardly rounds for punishment - it happens every Question Period. As with so many things, the Devil is in the Details... According to Hansard, the exchange went like this:

Mr. Agnihotri: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The community initiatives program, CIP, application guideline states very clearly that if a group cannot raise matching funds up to $ 10,000, it will be considered on a nonmatching basis. However, documents tabled in this Assembly show that this government is breaking its own rules. To the Minister of Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture: why has this government in three years awarded not one, not 10, not 20, but 43 nonmatching CIP grants over $ 10,000, totalling over $ 2 million? Why?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

The Enlightened Savage: So far, so good. A legitimate question that, clearly, the Speaker has no issue with, as he forwarded it right on to this Minister to whom it was posed.

Mr. Goudreau: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Certainly, with CIP we try as much as possible to provide equitable funding to all towns and all villages and rural areas, including the urban centres across Alberta. We recognize that at times there are some organizations out there that are providing a great service that are having some financial difficulties. CIP has been built to respond to our volunteers to provide a one-time, nonmatchable funding of up to $ 10,000 if the need is there, and that need comes across through our staff.
The Enlightened Savage (aside): Reading the question, and then reading the Minister's response, makes it perfectly clear why people lose confidence in our politicians. The answer had virtually NOTHING to do with the question, and yet if you write a letter to the Minister asking the same question, you'll get a response letter with the same answer. "Question about CIP, what should I do?" "Send 'em the form letter marked "CIP Inquiry". "That just tells them what it is, and how to apply!" "So what? You actually expect the MINISTER to read a letter from a voter, and respond directly to an inquiry? You must be new here..."

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Mr. Agnihotri: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Premier, Minister of Finance, Minister of Health, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development all have secret donors to their leadership campaign. Can this minister assure this House that groups receiving this special treatment are not secret friends of top Tories?

The Speaker: We have a point of order that we’ll deal with at the conclusion of the Routine.

The Enlightened Savage: Oh-oh. That's the equivalent of YOUR boss telling you "see me in my office at the end of the day."

This bit of fun and frivolity comes from later in Hansard, when dealing with the Point of Order.

The Speaker: Well, you know, hon. members, we were actually making pretty good progress till today. The question from the hon. Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie, the first one, which wasn’t dealt with, basically says, “ If a group cannot raise matching funds up to $ 10,000, it will be considered on a nonmatching basis. However, documents tabled in this Assembly show that this government is breaking its own rules.” Well, that wasn’t even contested. There were no rules that were broken. This chair is very familiar with the rules of the community initiatives program and was an author of some of them in years gone by. It very clearly states that if a group does not have the matching portion, the $ 10,000 can be allocated, so that’s just a bunch of nonsense, hon. member.
Okay, so the Speaker has answered the question in clearer terms than the Minister. AND called the Minister on it, too. "The first one, which wasn't dealt with...". How's THAT taste, Hec? A little concerning, not all that shocking - but you know you're in for a rough ride when your supervisor tells you your point is "just a bunch of nonsense".

The Speaker: Secondly, we come to the brunt of the whole business. “ The . . . Minister of Finance” named, “ minister of health” named, “ Minister of Sustainable Resource Development” named, not part of a group as far as one can read this, named individually, “ all have secret donors to their leadership campaign.” Well, the chair has already pointed out that what that has to do with government business, the chair does not understand. Beauchesne clearly points out that political party matters are not the subject of the question period. Then the question: “ Can this minister assure this House that groups receiving this special treatment” – now, the question is: what special treatment? – “ are not secret friends of top Tories?” Boy, if that isn’t innuendo, you know, I must have just arrived. I’ve been here 28 years, and this is blatant innuendo. This is a point of order. This is not dealing with the integrity of members of this Assembly. The hon. Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie can do better, and I expect him to do better, and I ask him to withdraw his words, please.

The Enlightened Savage: Doesn't get much clearer than that. "We're not discussion political parties, you can't smear individual members, take it back."

Mr. Agnihotri: Sorry, Mr. Speaker. I don’t want to apologize.

The Enlightened Savage: Oh-oh.

The Speaker: Well, hon. member, I’m going to point out the consequences of you not abiding by my request, and the consequences are not very nice. So I’m going to do this three times just so there’s no misunderstanding, and the third time the hon. member will be named. Now, this has happened before in the history of this Assembly when people have tried to make a point. Once they’re named, they lose salary and everything else. Please remember that. People have done that to showboat in the past. This has happened. I was here once with one hon. member. So I’m going to ask the hon. member to accept the ruling of the chair and withdraw his comments. That’s my first request. I’m going to ask the hon. member to accept the ruling of the chair and withdraw his comments. First time.

Mr. Agnihotri: Mr. Speaker, as you said, the rules were not broken. If you read the guidelines . . .

The Enlightened Savage: OH boy. Big mistake.

The Speaker: Hon. member, please sit down. I asked a few minutes ago if any other hon. member wanted to participate. I looked around. I waited. The hon. member did not move. The member was given a chance to participate. We’ve had under our process a submission provided by one, a submission provided by another. A ruling is then given. The chair has given the ruling. Now, for the second time the chair is going to ask the hon. member to withdraw his comments. The hon. member can either withdraw his comments or not. If he would just put on the record that he doesn’t want to, that’s fine.

Mr. Agnihotri: I didn’t do anything wrong, Mr. Speaker. I don’t want to withdraw my comments.

The Speaker: Fine. The hon. member was given an opportunity to participate; the hon. member chose not to take an opportunity to participate. For the third time: will the hon. member withdraw his comments?

Mr. Agnihotri: Mr. Speaker, no.

The Speaker: That’s perfectly fine, hon. member. I will now name you. This is the first time in nine years that I’ve actually done this. This is not a good day. It’s not a good day for the member. I’m sorry, hon. member. Please leave. Hon. members, the hon. member cannot return to the House until approval is given by the House.
So, there we have it. The MLA in question was booted from the House until he formally apologizes for 2 things: Firstly, for wasting the Legislature's time in very OBVIOUSLY discussing political party matters, rather than government or opposition matters. Secondly, for naming members and suggesting that they had "secret donors" who were funnelled money through the CIP. Whether they had leadership donors who didn't come forward or whose names we don't know is irrelevant to the issue - you can't go there on the dime of the People of Alberta. The Legislature is there, all those people are getting paid, to run the machine of government, not to bicker in an obvious way about partisan issues with no relevance to the government's operation, and CERTAINLY not outside the established rules of decorum. You can suggest a minister is incompetent. You can NOT suggest he's stealing. Agnihotri knew this, and chose to go forward anyway. He had 3 chances to apologize, and he didn't. And he's been suspended from the House.

Look at it this way: If you waste your supervisor's time complaining to him in the Monday morning meeting with all the staff that you think the guy in cubicle 4-C is running a swinger's club in his basement, and photocopying the fliers on the office copier, you probably aren't going to get 3 chances to apologize.

Now, if only our elected members could be held to this kind of code of civility for their OFF the record remarks, shouted across the chamber during other member's statements... hard to tell your kids not to interrupt when they watch the elected leaders of our nation, the BEST that we have to offer, behaving like impertinent 3 year-olds in a sandbox.

- ES