Posts Tagged ‘Add new tag’

#33 – The challenge to liberate Canada.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

At the recent Liberal thinkers’ gathering in Montreal there seemed to be no concern for the political realities. It was a surreal event in that, while purporting to be an examination of Canada’s future, it ignored the political needs of our country.

And yet, if we had learned anything over the last four years of minority government, it is that we have to restore more than just the economy. We must restore the confidence Canadians should have in their government and in their country.

First of all and most serious, we need to change the relationship between citizens and their government. It starts with each electoral district. It starts with how we run our political parties. It is recognizing that the party headquarters in Ottawa and regional offices cannot run the party. These offices must function at the service of the party. It is in understanding that the party leader is not the chief executive. The party leader leads the parliamentary caucus. The members of that caucus must be chosen and elected solely by their electoral districts. The practice over the past years of having the party leader authorize each candidate is destroying Canada’s political parties.

In these days of immediate and unfettered communication, a top-down political structure feeds itself failure. With policies and people flowing from the ridings to the party caucus, a party is supplied with constant renewal of ideas and leadership.

The most serious failing in recent years is the lack of understanding that once elected, a Member of Parliament is required to represent all the voters in the electoral district, not just those who voted for him or her. You cannot do that if you are always sending material to the news media and sending mailings to voters that are nothing but unfettered smears of your election opponents. Canadians have got to return to civility in the process of government.

A government has to serve the needs of the citizens, not just promote an ideology. Government is not a choice between left wing or right wing but the choice of people who reflect the needs and wants of their constituents.

The voters also have to recognize that there is more to politics than party leaders. The local Member of Parliament matters. The voters cannot send the village idiot to Ottawa just because that person supports the leader who makes the biggest promises. This destroys the very essence of what the parliament should be.

Parliament is a place for debate. It is a place where needs and wants of the voters can be brought forward and discussed. It is where matters of confidence in the day’s government may be debated and voted. Parliament is not a whim of the prime minister. It is a place where the prime minister can be brought to heel. It is a place where prime ministers can be defeated. There is no divine right of prime ministers to shut down parliament.

Certainly, in the fullness of time, we must change how we are governed. Canada has reached the stage where we can no longer have an unelected head of state. The British monarchy has served us well but needs to be left to antiquity while we devolve into the twenty-first century. Canada has to either abolish or elect its senate but before we elect it, we have to define its role.

Canada needs a constitutional assembly to redefine a modern country. We must decide: what is this country called Canada? The purpose is not to appease the disgruntled but to discuss equally, with all our partners, this wonderful land we share. There is no line down the Ottawa River that separates Canada. It only divides provincial jurisdictions in an inseparable country. We Canadians share a proud past and an unlimited future.

In the process of renewal, we Canadians need to reclaim the promise of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must stop further abuse of our rights through the ‘notwithstanding’ clause. It is being used indiscriminately by lazy legislators.

In the same vein we must loudly and clearly restate the rights of men and women to their individual rights. Women must have full and unequivocal rights to control of their own bodies and their reproductive rights. We have a responsibility to ensure that all pensioners live without fear of poverty and the debasing of their standard of living. And once we have done that for pensioners, we have to turn our attention to the essential concern for a guaranteed annual income for every Canadian citizen. Only when we have taken that step will we know we are starting to achieve the promise of the land in which we live.

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#31 – Breaking the rules in a parliament without principles.

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Helena Guergis, the former tory, former cabinet minister and soon former Member of Parliament, broke the cardinal rule of Canadian politics: Thou shalt not get caught. That might sound a bit arcane but it appears to be the only rule that matters in a parliament without principles.

It was about 45 years ago that the ink-stained fingers of Toronto Star cartoonist Duncan Macpherson produced the classic cartoon comment on political skulduggery: it was a charming rendition of then Prime Minister Mike Pearson playing the piano in a saloon while a keystone-cops gaggle of mounties raided the place. The caption was something about Mr. Pearson just being the piano player and not knowing what was going on upstairs. The cartoon was stimulated by a German immigrant who might or might not have been bedding certain cabinet members and quasi diplomats. It led to Canadian political parties choosing piano players as leaders ever since.

The poorest piano player was the Liberal’s Paul Martin. How he let himself get tarred by the fallout from Jean Chrétien’s sponsorship scandal never did make sense. Maybe he realized that he would be in worse trouble if he dumped on his predecessor. The one thing you do not do in today’s politics is try to stay above the mud-slinging and let the problem fester.

Mind you, it is not clear yet whether Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff can even play the piano. You could never sell tickets to a classical piano recital by Conservative Stephen Harper but he does do a reasonable honky-tonk. You expect that the Bloc’s Gilles Duceppe can fake it at the keyboard, like he does everything else. The NDP’s Jack Layton would demur as his Toronto Musician’s union card has probably lapsed.

Obviously the parties should have a requirement of a certain level of skill with the piano. If it can be a standard requirement for kindergarten teachers, why not make it a requirement for political leaders. Mind you, on that basis, Mitchell Sharp would have defeated Pierre Trudeau for the leadership of the Liberals in 1968. Sharp was by far the better piano player.

But, we digress. We were talking about the lack of principles in Canadian politics. After an impassioned speech to a group of political people the other evening about this lack of principles, I realized that if I was going to put my money were my mouth is about this issue, I am going to have to be more political and build my case. If you are going to build a case for reform, you also have to have a constituency. That also needs to be built. Which means: I need to make nice with people.

First of all I need to make nice with more citizens of Babel. That means simply: stop making fun of Babel. That is doable, with the proviso that I can still make fun of the mayor. After all, he is really funny.

It means I have to become a joiner. The rule is, you can never change things from outside. That means I need to join the Ontario Liberal Party and stop dissing Dalton McGinty. What I can do is pretend that old friends such as Gerry Phillips and Jimmy Bradley, who are still in the Ontario cabinet, are really running the Ontario government and I can support them because they are capable politicians with a deep respect for Ontario voters.

The new me and Sancho can then gird for battle with the windmills and windbags of politics to reform the degrading system of elitist governance we have been enduring in Canada since Confederation.

More to come in The Democracy Papers: Part II.

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#31 – Learning about political twitters, tweets and twibes.

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The most trouble was from the greybeards. There was an age barrier in the hotel meeting room and the chair was ready for the jibes, jokes and jaded comments from us older attendees. We were there to learn about using the Internet’s newest social media for political parties, candidates and office holders. What the chair was not ready for was that some of the older attendees knew far more about Internet use than they were letting on.

Maybe we were the ones old enough to know that when you attend conference sessions on familiar topics, you are sure to learn at least one or two things you did not know before. I certainly do and I did again this time. I probably made the harshest comments about twits who twitter but I was also willing to admit that I really wanted to understand how Twitter can be used more effectively.

Twitter is still a newcomer among the growing list of social media and seems to have been designed for the Blackberry age. The limitation in any posting on Twitter is that you cannot exceed 140 characters and that makes it a special challenge. It grates me of course that an entirely new language is emerging to thwart this limitation. If you can use a “U” when you mean “you,” two characters have been saved. In the same way 2’s are ‘two, to’s and too’s’ which works well for the illiterate. Using the 1001 variations of smiley faces is not required.

Facebook is second only to MySpace in the social media field but is more adaptable to political needs. Both have their roots in the American university scene where the main exchange of social information previously was in noisy bars. The recent complaints and concerns about invasion of privacy by Facebook tend to work for political users as much of the data has to be able to bear close scrutiny anyway.

Other major players in social media are You Tube and flickr. Which came first, You Tube or the camera/cell phone is the question but they are certainly made for each other. Politicians have to recognize that the person in the audience holding up a cell phone as the politician is speaking is not checking the service bars on the phone.

The flickr website adds something like 7000 pictures to its albums every minute of every day. The dirty old men who used to open their raincoats for the unsuspecting now have unfettered competition as people expose their bad photography to world-wide scrutiny. Quality is forgiven though if the pictures are of your grandchildren. To a politician, the ability to be linked through artful tags and the linkages to blogs makes flickr a very handy tool to improve exposure.

And that leaves blogs. Please do not say you do not read blogs: this is a blog. One of the most important points made at the conference was that people who are elected or hope to be elected write blogs at their peril. The reason is simple: nothing that appears on the Internet can ever be truly erased. There are too many repeaters, nodes and people storing for the supposed big brother to correct history for us. And while the original material might be erroneous or designed to mislead, the anarchy of the Internet will soon correct the situation on our behalf.

It should not disillusion you to learn that elected people do not write their own blogs, send tweets, add pics or clips, comment or otherwise expose themselves to the bruising elements of the Internet. When a professional on their staff does them for the politician, they are usually much better reasoned, often more interesting and, most important, deniable. And while Stephen Harper might have 30,000 crazed Conservatives avidly following his tweets, you know that the paid staffer who does them will be fired the minute he or she makes an error in judgement that reflects negatively on the boss.


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#11 – Flaherty’s floundering financial fix.

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

There are no more passing report cards for Jim Flaherty. Harper’s finance minister is toast. On November 27 last year, he brought the Harper government to its knees with an ill-conceived economic statement that ignored reality. Given a reprieve by the Governor General, he brought in a budget at the end of January that made everybody choke. All it did was ensure our federal government would fall deeper in debt. He produced a budget that lacked planning and focus and did no measureable good for anybody.

In fact, the budget did more wrong than right. It trivialized the serious flaws in Canada’s employment insurance and, in doing so, kept funds from the people in the most desperate need. All his tax cuts could do was put the country deeper into debt. They did nothing to solve the immediate problems: the need for job creation and financial stimulus.

The budget made much of a tax credit amounting to 15 per cent of the costs of some limited home improvements that homeowners carry out this year. You get the tax credit next year. Home Depot or Rona can beat that deal any time with just some sharp marketing and give you money back at the same time.

The municipal infrastructure support plan has been a bad political joke. It is not enough and Flaherty failed to solve the basic problems of how to get the money moving immediately to where needed. Besides, infrastructure programs do not receive funding until announced in the community at least six times, by the local Conservative politician. If you do not have one of those people representing your riding, you can hardly expect very much largess from Ottawa.

The only hope for Flaherty’s foolishness was that President Obama’s rescue plan for America would cover all of North America. It did not as Americans, once again, proved that their idea of free trade is not fair trade. We have to work hard on the Americans to convince them that we are all in the same boat. We also have to cheer on Obama’s recovery program because when he gets the U.S. out of the deep doo-doo, it will pull our economy with it. And that is reality.

Meanwhile, Flaherty has missed every opportunity to soften the short-term recession hit for Canadians. We need to get cash money into the hands of people who are going to spend it immediately. Any program that can do that is worthwhile. All the rest are lies. While watching details on that January budget on television, Canadians were seeing commercials touting the Conservative’s tax-free savings plan. Our taxes (or deficit) pay for those television commercials that encouraged Canadians to do what is the most harmful thing in our current economic situation: put their money in banks. And they have been doing it in record numbers.

What Flaherty’s budget did accomplish was to wash out the proposed coalition of the Liberals and NDP supported by the Bloc Québécois. It was hardly that the budget was too persuasive. If anything, it was because the budget was so bad. The Liberal’s Michael Ignatieff saw that he did not need the coalition. Without the threat to political funding that was in the earlier economic statement, Ignatieff could let the Conservatives destroy themselves. Over the summer, Canadians will continue to get ample evidence that Harper’s government has no answers. This fall or, at the latest, early next year, everybody will be ready for an election. It is hardly the best solution for Canadians but Ignatieff needed the time to get his party organized and, at the same time, let the voters see the ineptness of the Conservatives.

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