Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dion Had Better Blink

The deed is done, and the Tories are going to kill the public funding of political parties.

OR, at least they will if they get the chance.

The NDP, Liberals and Bloc have all indicated they won't support the economic update from the government, which is a confidence motion. Nobody reading this blog needs to be told, if a confidence motion fails, the government is close behind, and it's election-time again.

A grand Harper plot to give Kirk Schmidt another shot at Calgary West? Unlikely... but, I suppose it's possible...

The NDP and Bloc, both feeling they have momentum and room to grow at the cost of the Liberals, will vote against the economic update.

That puts the ball squarely in the court of the Liberals - hemorrhaging money, in the middle of a leadership race. In a weaker position than at any time in the history of their party. But, they DO have options... and I say "they", because anyone who thinks Stephane Dion will make this decision by himself and have the caucus follow his lead is completely out to lunch.

Option 1: Don't show up. This is a tactic they mastered in the last parliament, and it can work here as well. If a dozen or so Liberals come down with the flu the day of the vote, then the party caucus can vote against the update without bringing down the government.

Option 2: Turn over the Prime Minister's chair to Jack Layton. If they decide to bring down the government over the issue, the Liberals can propose a coalition government for the consideration of the Governor General. Since their own leader is on the way out, the Libs would have to support Jack Layton for the leadership of the coalition - because, if they didn't, then the numbers game would result in the coalition selecting the leader of the 2nd biggest party within it as Prime Minister Gilles Duceppe.

Option 3: Amend, amend, amend. The Liberals have a strong enough caucus, and enough in common with the NDP, to make enough amendments to the update to make the Tories want to kill it themselves.

Overall, I suspect the Liberals will try to go for Option 3, and eventually settle for Option 1. But they have the most to lose, and so the onus is on them to figure out what to do to keep their pride without paving the way for their party's electoral annihilation.

Harper to Opposition: Go Fund Yourselves!

Nation, word today that the Harper government may, in an effort to at least APPEAR to be taking the economic slow-down seriously, announce their intention to cut off public funding for political parties.

Other, wiser bloggers have already hit on this issue, so I won't beat it to death. I will, however, add my voice to the chorus of "good politics, horrible policy".

Of COURSE the Tories are more than happy to take this step - they've got enough money in the bank to run another election TOMORROW, while the other parties are barely able to service their debts. And if the opposition parties cry fowl, that's a campaign ad waiting to be aired:
"While you were staying up at night trying to figure out how to stretch your paycheque, Jack Layton was in Ottawa, arguing it should go to him and his NDP buddies..."

So, politically, this is a master stroke.

Revocation of public funding for political parties, though, is a dangerous and slippery slope.

And, let's keep in mind, I've repeatedly gone on the record as being philosophically opposed to then entire party system, as a whole. I know, it's the system we've got, and you have to work within it, I get that... but still, I'm no great lover of the party system. This isn't about me sticking up for them.

This act, though, sets a dangerous precedent. What if, 5 years from now, the government still hasn't fallen? None of the opposition parties have forced Harper to go back to the polls, and (unthinkably) the Governor General has refused any requests by Harper to dissolve Parliament. Can the Tories look at the books, then turn around and declare that, because we're in full-on recession and the government has no money, that we're not going to HAVE an election? It's $300 Million that should be going to social programs, and Canadians seem pretty happy with the government, so we're not going to waste the money?

We'd be up in arms over such a pronouncement, and rightly so. We should be up in arms over this one, too. Democracy is not a luxury - it's a right, just like education and health-care in this country, and needs to be funded as such.

After all, we're promised "peace, order, and good government" in our constitution... that last one requires debate and an opposition that can hold the government of the day to account. And even if you voted for the government - you've got to believe in holding them to account, right? I like Big Macs, but I feel a lot better knowing there are health inspectors checking the place for rat droppings before I go in to chow down, and I don't mind paying to make sure that's the case.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

City Hall Shenanigans

Nation, I've made no secret of my utter disdain for the job that many of our elected officials are doing in Calgary's Municipal Building. For evidence of this, take a re-read of this post, and remember it when the next big dumping of snow hits (but we've already had the annual newspaper story quoting the head of the roads department about how "the trucks are out there after the first flake hits the ground", as though that makes their inability to do the job, or council's unwillingness to fund the job fully at the cost of their pet projects okay, because, well, they're trying their best).

Obviously, the big story as late has been the cowardly attempt by council to raise taxes by nearly 25% over 3 years, under the guise of "giving the ratepayers what they've asked the city to fund" (the cowardly part comes in when you figure that the lion's share of that increase was coming NOW, so it would be long forgotten by the time Calgarians are next asked to cast their ballots). If council feels strongly that the "we're giving you what you asked for" argument is a justifiable and tenable position, then they should show the courage of their convictions and run their re-election campaigns on a proposed rate increase.

Calgarians, against all odds, actually revolted at the proposed hikes, showed up in force, wrote letters, made phone calls, and forced council to re-consider the budget. Council instead trimmed a smidgen of the fat, and came back with a mere 19% increase over 3 years (the likelihood of my income, or yours, following suit is somewhat low). A proposal by Diane Colley-Urquhart to, quite sensibly, approve a one-year budget indexed to increase at the rate of inflation while council and city administrators worked out an acceptable long-term plan was shot down. The fact that it never should have COME to this is besides the point.


Dale Hodges, Ward 1
Gord Lowe, Ward 2
Jim Stevenson, Ward 3
Bob Hawkesworth, Ward 4
Ray Jones, Ward 5
Druh Farrell, Ward 7
John Mar, Ward 8
Joe Ceci, Ward 9
Brian Pincott, Ward 11
Linda Fox-Mellway, Ward 14
Dave Bronconnier, Mayor
Joe Connelly, Ward 6
Andre Chabot, Ward 10
Ric McIver, Ward 12
Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward 13

"Calgary has one of the lowest tax rates in the world", we're told. "If we want world-class services, we have to be prepared to bite the bullet, and see our taxes rise to be on-par with those other great cities". There's logic in that, but it avoids the inescapable reality that what OTHER cities have their citizens pay is entirely beside the point... just because we're better off than those other cities, doesn't mean we're good. "Your house is getting broken into 5 times a year, sure... but don't expect the police to do anything about it, just be grateful you're not living next door, they get broken into NINE times a year...". It's a tough sell, politically.

Council lacks leadership. A lot of people think that the Mayor runs the city - and that's simply not the case. As outlined here, the mayor of Calgary's job description essentially boils down to:
  1. swinging the gavel at council meetings, and
  2. communicating with the people of Calgary.

Anything ELSE the office-holder may choose to do (steer council debate, present white Stetsons to dictators) is of their own volition. That said, though, the job of mayor is more important for its SYMBOLIC position as head of the city than for any legislated powers it imparts: The mayor can't push things through, but s/he CAN stand up in front of the microphones and say "I don't believe this is what the people really want, it's not good enough, they deserve better governance and I'm prepared to give them an outlet and talk to them about it".

The mayor may not be a chief executive in any formal, legal sense - but the mayor can still lead.

Calgary's mayor is NOT leading. He's following. When confronted, he's combative, indignant and defensive. He talks about the "hard work of the administrators", as though the fact that they're putting in a lot of (paid) hours excuses the poor job they did on the budget. He talks about how the city always comes in on-budget, as though it's a feat to come in on budget when you can set your own income through the tax rate. If I budget for a Porsche this month, and then tell the Government of Alberta that they're going to pay me $216,990 for the month of November, I'm not a great manager of my money (although I likely have a great future as an NHL player agent). He talks about how the budget includes "what the people said they wanted", as though it's our fault for having the audacity to ASK things of our civic government.
It's an abdication of leadership to hide behind any of those arguments, but especially the last one: The leader's job, when times are tough, is to look people in the eye and tell them "I know that you WANT this, but you can't have it right now, because we can't afford it". It's what a good parent does - but then again, if parents faced a mandatory job interview every 3 years, they might be more inclined to pull out the Platinum card for the Disneyland trip. The point is, Dave Bronconnier is NOT doing it. We need leadership in the mayor's office, and we're not getting it. We need a change.

In other City Council news...

Council votes to allow mail-in ballots. Wow... we're going to party like it's 1959. Mail-in ballots? We can file our taxes on-line, but we're spending time & money debating mail-in ballots? What's next - pottery shards (shout out to Ancient Greece!)?

Take the choice away from the people: Chabot. Alderman Andre Chabot, who scored big points with the E.S. Nation by voting against the budget, threw them away with THIS gem: He believes that the best way to re-organize City Council is to have the people of Calgary elect 15 Aldermen, and then have those 15 go into enclave and choose one among them to be mayor. Wow... just wow. The municipal level is the ONLY level of government in which we actually directly elect the head of government - even if the job is more ceremonial than executive. Taking that franchise away from the voters and putting it in the hands of aldermen elected by, in some cases, 10% of the eligible voters in their ward, is lunacy. A LANDSLIDE in a Calgary Ward is 20% (figuring a typical 20-30% turn-out), so all it would take under Chabot's plan to elect the mayor is the support of 8/15 (53%, assuming you even need 50%+1 support of council and not just a plurality) of a council elected by, generously, 20% of the electorate. That's 10% of the voters of Calgary, choosing (through their Alderman) the mayor. Even for a ceremonial head of government, that's low (for the record, Bronconnier got about 15% popular support of all eligible voters in 2007 - just over 60% of those who bothered to vote).

Nation, the City may not run the hospitals or get to make deductions off of your paycheque every 2 weeks, but never forget that the roads, buses, police, fire department, parks, leisure centres, and virtually dozens of constructions zones
and cranes you pass every day are managed or affected directly by the people in that big building across from Olympic Plaza, with all the windows. More than any other level of government, the things you do every day are affected by these people. And more than any other level of government, your interest, support, and vote counts. If only one in 5 vote municipally, then your vote is worth 5 times what you think it is. And the people at City Hall know that, too.

Take an interest. Hold your council accountable. Tell them you want Calgary to be better. And then tell them how - because when they don't get explicit direction from us, they start to assume we all want $25 Million pedestrian bridges and don't mind 25% tax hikes.

Survey Says...

Nation, the most recent poll on this website asked for what job the Enlightened Savage should stand on a ballot. The results indicated the belief of the E.S. Nation that I can best contribute to the public good as an MLA in the province of Alberta.

The riding has yet to be determined - I'm thinking maybe of contesting a nomination in Fort Saskatchewan - Vegreville. I understand that their current MLA is on shaky ground there... Plus, I could keep the monogrammed towels. ;)

My challenge to YOU, the stead-fast, dedicated and artistically-minded members of E.S. Nation, is to come up with a campaign logo for E.S. in 2012. Keep it classy, keep it stylish, and use whatever colours you wish. Submissions can be sent to:

amishbuggyracing (at) gmail (dot) com

The winner, and notable runners-up, may be awarded prizes, including campaign buttons or t-shirts (prototypes available through the "SAVAGEwear" link on the right-hand side of this page).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shut Out!

Nation, I want everyone to remain calm.

I know that voting has started for the 2008 Canadian Blog Awards. and I know, at first blush, it appears that, inexplicably, the juggernaut that is The Enlightened Savage has failed to garner any nominations, in any category whatsoever.

I'm very sure it's just a minor oversight - perhaps a clerical error. I want it made very clear that in NO WAY am I suggesting that the millions and millions of members of the E.S. Nation should rise up and in their righteous wrath smite those responsible for this oversight...

Because, well, a) it's not "righteous wrath" if it's not righteous, and b) it's as much MY oversight as anyone else's, for not sending in any nominations. Truth be told, it caught me completely by surprise - I didn't even know nominations had been open, and I wouldn't even have known that we were already VOTING for the awards if I hadn't read it on Facebook. I guess if I'm not NOMINATED, then I can't possibly LOSE, can I? :)

So there you go - this is my triumphant return from a "Future Mrs. Savage"-induced blogging holiday, the set-up for which went something like this: "You remember all those things you said you were going to get to as soon as the election was over...?"

Well, the "Honey Do" list is done, so here I am. 3 weeks... not too shabby. :)

GO VOTE, Nation! If I can't WIN, I'll at least be a King Maker. So... let's see... vote "Alberta: Get Rich or Die Trying" for Best New Blog (you're welcome, jk and eh). And don't forget to support FOES (Friends Of Enlightened Savage) Calgary Grit, daveberta, Saskboy, and Dunkler (of Four Strong Winds) in their respective categories!

It's good to be back... and in the words of Mel Brooks' King Louis: "It's GOOD to be the King..."

- E.S.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When John McCain Surrendered, We All Lost

Nation, the dust has begun to settle on the spectacle that was the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. And while I'm not insensitive to the historic nature of the decision that was made last night, I'm afraid there's one particular aspect of this race that *could* have changed politics as we know it, if not for the capitulation of one man: John McCain.

The John McCain of 2000 was the true maverick of the Republican Party - with young George W. Bush all-but anointed, McCain still chose to run against him for the party nomination, in a fight he had to know he wasn't going to win. But fight he did nevertheless... he criticised Bush's inexperience, his ties to organized religion ("agents of intolerance", he called them), his very credentials... McCain offered instead a moderate, middle-of-the-road approach heavy on experience and light on political dogma.

The Bush machine, led by Karl Rove, crushed McCain handily.

I liked that John McCain. I'm a moderate by Canadian standards (so, a leftist by American standards), and I would have voted for that John McCain, over the AlGore-tron 3000.

Fast forward to 2008. McCain, having been judged to have "behaved himself" over the past 8 years, gets the nod from the back-room GOP strategists. He's already taken his best shot in 2000, and he's down on his luck in this nomination race. He's broken, and hemorrhaging money, but has name recognition, a compelling life's story and has lost most of his maverick tendencies. He's a "manageable candidate", who will do what he's told. So, the deal is struck: John, you'll be our nominee, but you follow OUR lead. Clearly, your way didn't work in 2000, and it's not working now.

McCain capitulates. And we all lose.

Nation, if Barack Obama had been running against the John McCain of 2000, the results of this election likely wouldn't have been all that different, on paper. Barack Obama would still have won, and possibly by an even larger margin (as McCain would almost certainly have alienated the religious right). He was going to lose, either way. But he sold himself out to win the party nomination.

If the John McCain of 2000 had been running, he would have picked a running mate who could actually hold a candle to Joe Biden. If the John McCain of 2000 had been running, he would have looked down from his podium last night and scolded, in the harshest tone possible, the idiots who were booing and screaming party slogans when he invoked the name of their next President. And if the John McCain of 2000 had been running, he would have elevated the debate.

We would have spent the past months listening to McCain and Obama debate policy. Talking about things that matter. Discussing how to fix the problems that America faces, and how to avoid more problems like them in the future. Maybe even our own "Santos/Vinick" debate. Instead, we got innuendo about William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, an aunt in the country illegally, and Obama's middle name. We got shouts of "terrorist!" and "kill him!" at Republican rallies when Obama's name was mentioned.

John McCain could have raised the bar for political discourse in this campaign, and in so doing, he could have changed politics forever. He could have been remembered as the man who went toe-to-toe with Barack Obama, always respectful and thoughtful, debating ideas and not personalities, and went down swinging. He could have run a clean campaign, free of the innuendo and half-truths that we in the west have come to just accept as an inevitability of the political process. And if anyone on his campaign, from his VP pick to local poll captains, had done or said anything to contradict McCain's message of inclusion and respectful discourse, he could have sent them packing. He could have done all that, and restored America's faith, indeed all of Western Civilization's faith, in the capacity of politics to be about something other than the avaricious pursuit of power for power's sake, by any means necessary. He could have done it.

But John McCain surrendered. He gave up the moral high ground, and control of his own brand, in an effort to win power, and failed spectacularly.

John McCain let us all down not by losing, but in HOW he lost.

We saw flashes of the old John over the course of this campaign... flashes that were, no doubt, stamped down as soon as he got behind closed doors with the party strategists. Had he "gone maverick", gone off-script, and reasserted himself, he could have pulled off a brilliant reversal - still ultimately losing, but doing so with honour and absolute dignity.

But, ultimately, McCain won't be remembered as the man who helped save politics by fighting valiantly and losing. He won't have his "Alamo" moment. He laid down with dogs, and got whipped like one. When he looks in the mirror today, I firmly believe that will be his greatest regret: Not that he lost, but that he did so only after first giving up on himself. He sold out his own legacy to appeal to the party's base. THAT is how John McCain will be remembered in the history books.

You let us down, John. And it breaks my heart to say it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Presidential Prediction?

Well, Nation, the day has come... the Yanks are lining up to cast their votes as we speak. The mainstream media has declared the race to essentially be over - however, the MSM is also responsible for "Dewey Wins!" and "NBC is ready to declare that Al Gore has won the state of Florida".

What I want to know from you all, is what do you predict will be the outcome of today's election? Specifically, I mean. How many electoral college votes will each candidate receive? The total number of points is 538 - it takes 270 to be elected President.

As a bonus, if you're inclined, take a stab at the balance in the Senate (100 seats) and the House (435 seats).

The pundits have had their say - now it's YOUR turn! Sound off!