Tag Archives: politics

Trudeau and the need for leadership

With news of Justin Trudeau’s candidacy for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, some polls are suggesting that Trudeaumania is about to descend on the country, enabling the Liberals to regain control of the government, draining support from the NDP.

Justin Trudeau in 2010
Photo copyright Adam Scotti http://flic.kr/p/7z9YZt
Licensed under Creative Commons

How likely is a Liberal government now? Do they really stand a chance of winning back the support of voters who chose orange instead of red? The NDP had a strong showing in the last election, in no small part due to the efforts of the late Jack Layton. While Layton was clearly the catalyst for the so-called Orange Crush, I suspect the move towards the NDP was also due to a long-term frustration with the lack of credible Liberal policies. I’m not convinced that Trudeau can swing support back from orange to red.

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Contempt of Parliament

I’ve got two major essays that I’m trying to write, so I’ll try and keep this somewhat brief. Today, the Canadian Government (or should that be the Harper Government?) fell, after a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons about the recent committee findings of a contempt of Parliament issue.

I am cautiously optimistic. I’m actually quite surprised that the 40th Parliament lasted the 2.5 years that it has. Traditionally, minority governments in Canada have been extremely short lived.

Whether things will turn out any different than what we have right now, or if Canada falls deeper into Harperland will be seen over the next several weeks. Sadly, I expect the political vitriol to fly, and have serious doubts about cooler heads prevailing.

Some of the issues I would like to see brought to the forefront of the election campaigns include some of the following:

  • Public accountability. Sadly, Harper ran on this in the 2004 election, but his government has been more secretive and restrictive than other recent governments.
  • Reform for health transfer taxes. Our healthcare system is hurting, and the provincial governments are unable to bear the costs on their own.
  • A strong focus on debating actual issues, rather than a descent into the madness of attack ads.

Unfortunately, I believe the Conservatives will continue their tactics of demonizing the opposition parties. The Liberals and NDP will likely follow suit. It’s been proven that attack ads are effective.

It would have been nice to have seen the opposition parties vote in solemn silence to topple the government, rather than express their glee at finally forcing an election. This was a historic vote, and I think it would have sent a strong message to Canadians if they could keep their emotions in check. Their behaviour during the vote just fuels the claims that they’re opportunistically seeking power.

In the meantime, we wait for Stephen Harper to meet with Governor General David Johnston tomorrow morning, in order to receive our election date. At least Harper didn’t ask to prorogue Parliament again.

GG David Johnston

I recently reviewed the book Harperland, which others might find informative in understanding some of the changes made in Canadian politics in the past several years.  Also, leading up to the toppling of the Government was the Bev Oda/Kairos affair, which in my opinion, shows the lack of respect the Conservatives have for Parliament, and for Canadians.

The Conservatives and Kairos

In the news today were reports of a “doctored” document, by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which was used to deny over $7 million in funding to KAIROS, an organization dedicated to “respect for the earth and justice for its people”. Yes, this is a faith-based organization. Many international aid agencies have a basis in religious faith.

There are a number of things which I find troubling about this document. The document, as originally printed, allows the signees to approve federal funding over four years for KAIROS. There is however, an undated, and un-initialed amendment, adding the word “NOT” to the recommendation. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was signing back and forth on offers on my home, we had to initial any amendments to the purchase agreement made by both parties. That was for just little things, like “window coverings in the master bedroom are not included in the sale” kind of thing. Not anything worth $7 million.

KAIROS Defunding by CIDA

When you’re dealing with money like that, if there really and truly was a misprint, you shouldn’t just be adding stuff in by hand. Get a new copy printed, with the proper amendments. If it’s another day or so until the signatures happen, so be it. After all, the signatures on the paper already span over a month apart.

This only adds to the concern that the Conservative government is cutting off aid from groups which it does not agree with. KAIROS has been vocal about Israel’s treatment of Palestine, while the Conservative government has been unwavering in their support for Israel.

There are indications that this decision was based on policy. In 2009, the Toronto Star reported Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told some Israelis that KAIROS was cut off due to KAIROS’ “leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel. In their response, KAIROS executive director Mary Corkery said that “If any group that criticizes an action by the government of Israel is called anti-Semitic by the government of Canada, that’s very serious.”

Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation, said at the time that the defunding was due to changing priorities of the agency, and that KAIROS no longer matched their priorities. With the release of this document, the appearance is that senior officials approved funding, before someone else amended the document to change the meaning.

What I find particularly troubling is that Minister Oda did not answer questions about who altered the document. I’m sorry, but it matters a great deal to know who altered it, and what their motivations were. Was this something done by a senior civil servant, or by an elected official? Who determined that this was what should be done? Did this come down from the Prime Minister’s Office? After reading Harperland, I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer was yes.

Harperland: The Politics of Control

While my selection of non-fiction is usually restricted to science-fiction, or philosophical literary texts, Lawrence Martin’s book Harperland: The Politics of Control
was far too intriguing to pass up, especially since I took a media theory course last term.

One thing made clear in the text: as Stephen Harper doesn’t like positive books, written by close colleagues, Martin’s critical text would clearly have drawn the ire of the Prime Minister’s Office. This text also doesn’t pull any punches. While Martin is newspaper columnist, this is not an impartial book. The language is slightly coloured at times, in describing Harper’s actions. That said, everything is well documented, and Martin relies heavily on interviews with former insiders.

Harperland does take a clear stance: a great deal of Harper’s success in Parliament is due to the strict control of information put in place when the Conservative minority government was formed. Despite having campaigned in terms of government reform and transparency, Martin shows how Harper’s Conservative government has gone to greater lengths than any previous Canadian government, or even American governments, in controlling and restricting the flow of information, and controlling the flow of government committees.

In particular, Martin shows how Harper’s form of leadership is particularly divisive. Through a numerous string of specific examples, Martin shows how Stephen Harper’s inner circle attacked not only those in the Liberal Party, but any member of their own party who showed dissent. While promising Canadians parliamentary reform, Martin instead presents us with a prime minister who threatens Canada’s democratic traditions, dividing and conquering.

These wedge politics were crucial in the 2008 elections. As Martin notes, Harper used the election to directly attack the leadership of Stephane Dion. Throughout the campaign, the Conservatives spent more time and energy attacking the policies of the other parties, then announcing any significant new policies of their own. The manner in which cuts to arts and culture was announced was seen as a direct attack against Quebec’s language and culture, leading to serious drops in the polls in Quebec.

Martin also explains how Harper used wedge politics during the coalition crisis, painting it as an alliance between the Liberals, the socialists (NDP) and the separatists (Bloc Québécois). While this succeeded in buying Harper the time needed to defeat the coalition, it also seems to have caused future setbacks in Quebec. Wedge politics are aptly named. Rather than bridging together the differences between Quebec and western Canada, Harper has driven a further wedge between them. Whether this will continue in the future remains to be seen.

Martin’s book suggests that Stephen Harper has a “dark, vindictive side of his character–a side that at times he could not subdue, and that on several occasions, such as the government’s budget update in November 2008, threatened to bring him down” (175). This book is frightening in it’s implications. While many Canadians may be aware of some of the broader elements in the book, especially those who keep a wary eye on our politicians, the depth and breadth of the secrecy implemented by the Harper government, and the scope of the changes occurring in the government bureaucracy is surprising even to those who already suspected as much. That Harper has made this many changes in a mere four years, while in control of a fragile minority government is telling, and leads this reader to wonder what further changes will occur if Harper receives the majority government he so clearly desires.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in politics, from either side of the political spectrum. While Martin’s book does not present Stephen Harper in the best light, it clearly shows how Harper has been so effective during a minority government situation.