Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Liberals Respond to Gaza War

Here is what Michael Ignatieff had to say about the war in Gaza.

"I am greatly concerned by the deepening violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip and the fear and suffering on all sides that this mounting instability has caused.

The Liberal Party of Canada unequivocally condemns the rocket attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians and calls for an immediate end to these attacks. We affirm Israel's right to defend itself against such attacks, and also its right to exist in peace and security.

We regret the loss of life sustained on all sides of the conflict. We call on all parties to end these hostilities, mindful that a durable ceasefire will be necessary to prevent continued civilian casualties and lasting damage to essential civilian infrastructure.

The international community has a responsibility to ensure that the cost of conflict is not borne by the innocent and Canada must stand ready to assist and ensure that basic humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it.

Our thoughts are with those in Israel and the Gaza Strip whose lives are imperiled by the cycle of violence in the region. In the midst of this crisis, we continue to stand for a peaceful resolution. We firmly believe that the basis of this peace will be the mutual recognition by both Israelis and Palestinians of two states, living side by side in peace and security, with a full resolution of the issue of refugees and settlements, as well as secure and internationally recognized borders and boundaries."

Michael Ignatieff had the biggest challenge in responding to the war in Gaza. During the Lebanon War in 2006, Israel killed a Canadian Peace Keeper. Ignatieff rushed out to condemn Israel for being guilty of war crimes. It did not take long for the evidence to mount that while the death was tragic Israel had acted appropriated. The victim had even left documentation that Israel was responding to Hizzbullah using the UN compound to launch attacks on Israel.

Ignatieff spent time before the last election appologizing for his mistake and trying make ammends within the Jewish community. This was the first true litmus test to his sincerity. The statement is simple. Israel has an obligation to protect it's people. The innocent should not suffer from the conflict.

Ignatieff's comments in 2006 have left me skeptical of his ability to be a credible leader of a federal party. His statements on the current situation are refreshing and demonstrate he may have what it takes to lead Canada either on the opposition benches or as Prime Minister.

Bloc Comments on Gaza War

This is from the Bloc Quebecois press release.

"Le porte-parole du Bloc Québécois en matière d’Affaires étrangères, Paul Crête, demande au premier ministre du Canada, Stephen Harper, de faire preuve de leadership au plan diplomatique pour qu’une force d’interposition onusienne intervienne rapidement dans la bande de Gaza afin de permettre notamment l’acheminement de l’aide humanitaire.

« Le Canada ne peut se contenter de simplement reconnaître le droit d’Israël de se défendre. Il est vrai que les tirs du Hamas sur le territoire israélien qui perdurent depuis trop longtemps sont inacceptables, tout comme le refus du Hamas de reconnaître le droit d’Israël d’exister. Cependant, pour éviter d’être accusé d’avoir choisi ce moment précis, soit juste avant les élections israéliennes et l’entrée en fonction de l’administration Obama à Washington en janvier, pour riposter avec une telle vigueur, le gouvernement israélien doit permettre l’envoi des casques bleus et l’établissement d’un corridor sécuritaire pour que l’aide humanitaire puisse entrer dans la bande de Gaza » a déclaré Paul Crête.

« Les populations israélienne et palestinienne ne doivent pas être prises en otages. Le premier ministre du Canada ne peut rester les bras croisés. Stephen Harper doit multiplier les pressions pour que la force d’interposition sous l’égide de l’ONU voit le jour » a conclu Paul Crête"

The Bloc have indicated that the attacks on Israel by Hamas are unacceptable. They would like to see Peace Keepers patrolling the border and are concerned about the flow of Huminitarian aid.

Peace Keepers are very limited in how they are able to help in a conflict. They act as a buffer zone when two parties cannot trust each other to maintain the cease fire agreement. When one side chooses to attack the other the best they can do is duck. Peace Keepers would be useless in this situation.

The Bloc can not be blamed for being so concerned about humanitarian aid. They have probably been getting their news from CBC. Earlier today they reported that Israeli Navy had rammed a ship bringing humanitarian supplies to Israel. The ship was designed more as a poitical statement than bringing true relief to Gaza. The ship included reporters and politicians. Israel was concerned that it contained agents who would try to help Hamas. The fact that Israel had let about 100 trucks filled with aid, plus five new ambulances was overlooked in the original story. This correction has been made by CBC after hundreds of people commented on the original story.

Israel began letting humintarian aid to flow into Gaza on Friday. They are trying to make it clear that they are at war with Hamas and are out to get the people living in Gaza. The world needs to recognize the steps Israel is taking to minimize the loss of innocent life while protecting it's own citizens.

NDP Comment on War in Gaza

Here is the NDP take on the war.

"Canada's New Democrats condemn the unacceptable escalation of violence in the Middle East causing death and injury to so many civilians in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

It is a tragedy that hundreds of civilians have again become the victims of violence in this conflict. The continuing airstrikes by Israel on civilians in the Gaza strip and the ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli civilians are serving to compound the existing civilian disaster and further harm chances for a negotiated peace.

We call on the Government of Canada to immediately call for an end to the aerial bombing of Gaza, the blockade of aid to civilians and the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel. Indeed, the government must urge both sides to agree to end the current hostilities immediately, reinstate the ceasefire and return to the peace process.

The Government of Canada should also work to ensure that medical and food aid is provided to the civilians of Gaza through U.N. agencies.

New Democrats believe that Canada must pursue a balanced approach to the Middle East crisis, in keeping with Canadians' deep desire for peace in the Middle East and are ready to work with the new administration in the U.S. towards a lasting peace in the region. This goal cannot be achieved while citizens in such large numbers are being killed and endangered."

It is great that the NDP want peace in Israel. Israel has not been targeting civilians. They have been firing and military targets that have put Israeli lives at risk. The NDP claim they want a balanced approach. Israel waited patiently as their citizens were attacked. It is only once Israel choose to respond by force that the NDP felt the need to condemn the actions of Hamas. If the NDP really care about this situation they need to be willing to take a stand during times of quiet and not just when the battle is front page news.

Canadian Political Parties Respond to War in Gaza

On Saturday the Israeli government finally took action to defend it's citizens from the barrage of rocket attacks launched by Hamas towards civilians.

The Canadian Government was quick to respond to Israel's military action on Saturday. They said that Israel has the right to defend it's borders and it's innocent civilians that have been targets of Hamas rockets. The support from the Canadian and US Government was reassuring for those living in Israel and dealing with the consequences of Hamas aggression.

The opposition parties decided to wait until after the long weekend to respond. Press releases were sent out yesterday commenting on the situation.The next few posts will deal with their statements.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hamas gets the War they Asked for, Not the War they Expected

Hamas wanted to go to war with Israel. They have been egging Israel on, hoping to get some sort of small response. They need to justify undermining the Palestinian interests they claim to represent. Over 200 rockets were fired into Israel during the last month of the cease fire. Israel refused to retaliate and begged for the cease-fire to be extended.

In the recent celebration of Hamas' birthday they decided to play the Gilad Shalit card. They had a play with the actor playing Shalit begging to be returned to his mommy and daddy. Shalit has been a prisoner for over 900 days. Hamas has refused to act according to the Geneva Convention by allowing the Red Cross to visit. The price for his release has been set to include prisonsors serving life sentences for carrying out terrorist attacks. When the head of the PFLP last week was sentenced to 30 years in jail, Hamas responded that he was number one on the list for any trade.

Nothing positive has come out of Israel pulling out of Gaza. There are communities that still have not found permanent housing accomodations. Sderot has been a regular landing spot for target practise from Gaza. While the government was lauding the success of the ceasefire, on the ground Israeli's were asking "What ceasefire?" Hamas decided not to renew the ceasefire and increased rocket attacks as soon as the agreement expired.

Israel had to respond. Prime Minister Olmert went on Palestinian TV to speak directly to the people to tell them the rockets had to stop. On Friday Israel began allowing huminitarian aid into Gaza. Previously this had been a condition of cease to the rocket attacks. The public in Israel was told that they military would wait for better weather before launching an attack.

On Saturday the IAF hit Hamas and they hit them hard. They had used the same tactic they had used to remove Jews from their home in Hevron. They convinced Hamas that they were not going to attack yet and took out all 40 Hamas police stations. Hamas cried foul. They had not evacuated the stations because they had received assurance from Egypt a mere hours before that Israel was not ready to attack. This is why the casualty count was so high on the first day.

Israel needs to protect it's population from constant rocket attacks the same way they need to protect their citizens from suicide bombers. The security wall may attract negative attention but it works. Hopfully this war will finally bring the same result. The rockets being fired are landing in territory that would remain part of Israel. Even if Israel agreed to withdraw to the 1948 borders, Hamas has made future territory conessions impossible. It just brings their weapons and rockets closer to more heavily populated parts of the country.

There is only one permanent solution to this crisis. Palestinians living in Gaza must concede that Israel is here to say and they need to live with that reality. This means stop shooting at civilian targets and recongnizing that while Israel has made many concessions since they embarked on the peace process, it is time for them to do the same.



On a side note, I have noticed that the Canadian media has not reported on the Israeli casualties today. Hamas killed one and wounded 5 in a rocket attack on the city of Ashkelon. They hit a building under construction. All of the victims were Arabs with the death being of a Bedouin from a near by village. Hamas has demanded all Egyptian and Jordanians out of Israel to avoid such incidents in the future.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Annointing the Prime Minister in Waiting

Yesterday, 800 senior brass of the Liberal party unanimously appointed Michael Ignatieff as the interm-Liberal leader. Edward Blake and Stephane Dion are the only Liberal leaders since 1873 that failed to become Prime Minister. The appointment will be made permanent when he is endorsed at the next Liberal convention. The formality of a vote seems silly when there are no other options.

Under Dion's leadership the Liberal party was rudderless as it drifted to the left. Harper exploited his weaknesses at every turn. Ignatieff is looking to take his party back to the centre and focus on the best interest of Canadians and not just his party.

Ignatieff has been luke warm at the idea of toppling the government. He will read the budget before deciding how to vote. He will only topple the government if it is necessary. This is how the opposition is supposed to function in a minority government. He has offered to work with the government to come up with mutually acceptable solutions.

Harper is taking the change in leadership seriously. Plans are already been made to have a meeting to discuss the budget. Harper is also going to fill 18 empty vacant seats before the house resumes. Harper has always been reluctant to appoint senators because he wants them to be elected. The move signals that Harper is aware of the possibility of having to face the voters again or being replaced as Prime Minister.

Effective government requires a strong leadership with an effective opposition to provide a counter balance. Perhaps Canada will finally have the right balance.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Liberals turn Lemons into Lemon Juice

There was one really great commentary on the Government's attempt to end subsidies for political parties. It was like throwing a grenade in the opposition's underwear. They had to react.

Confronted with a live grenade their are two options. One is to run for safety or throwing the grenade out of harms way. The other is to try to toss the grenade back at your attacker before it explodes in your face. Dion decided to make one last ditch effort to become Prime Minister. The grenade exploded with the Liberal party taking considerable collateral damage.

The coalition forces were so weak that it could not be held together until January, the next opportunity to defeat the government. Dion could no longer hang on to the party leadership until his replacement is chosen in May. He would need to be replaced before the next confidence vote. The Liberal leader needs to be able to lead the party wherever the political landscape takes them. Dion is cannot even hold down that job.

Bob Rae took the approach that the coalition was an absolute necessity. He was to begin campaigning this week to support the coalition forming the government January. He wanted to defeat the government on the budget irrelevant of the contents. This blind partisanship approach to politics is harmful to his party and the country in general. He also showed his true colours by showing such enthusiasm for a Liberal/NDP government. Perhaps he had plans down the road to formally merge the parties to unite the left.

Michael Ignatieff played his cards right. He was reluctant to support the coalition and emerged as a centre choice versus the left leaning Rae. He was willing to read the budget before making a decision if he should support it. This was a breath of fresh air. Dion would announce his opposition to the budget before reading it. He would then sit out most of his caucus to allow the budget and other legislation a free pass. Anyone who thought there were positive aspects in the budget would be thrown out of caucus. It was clear that Ignatieff had overwhelming support to become party leader.

The Liberal party now has some technical issues to deal with. The party leader must be elected. They need to finalize who is going to be eligible to vote for the party leader. In recent days Rae has campaigned for a system where every card carrying member gets one vote. The current system has delegates vote where senior party members have as much say as a delegate representing hundreds or thousands of people. Either way there will be only one candidate to vote for. Communists countries have been holding free and fair elections for single parties or candidates for decades.

The good news is once the dust clears the Liberals will be able to set sail in a new direction. Ignatieff may still steer his party straight into a rock. At least he can shed the baggage the Dion was so quick to acquire.

Prime Minister and the Queen

The Canadian parliamentary system is rich tradition. Technically the Queen's representative, the Governor General holds a lot of power. In most cases convention dictates how the Governor General is to exercise his/her power.

Last Thursday, presented a rare opportunity for the Michelle Jean to set the course of history. Her Prime Minister was on the brink of losing a confidence motion. Canadians had elected their new representatives less then seven weeks earlier. The current session of parliament had lasted less then two weeks. She would have to decide between three options. Each one was guaranteed to be the wrong decision.

Her first option was to porogue parliament. This would end the current session of parliament and a new one would be started in January. This move would allow the government to hide from a vote of confidence, a move that has been frowned on by Governer Generals in the past. It would also render the current session of parliament useless, as there was not enough time to get anything done.

The second and third option was to deny the request. In such a situation the Prime Minister would be expected to resign. She would have to choose between calling an election or allowing the opposition form a government.

Stephane Dion had clearly demonstrated that he was able to cobble together a coalition to take over the government. The move would make Stephane Dion Prime Minister. Two months earlier, the Liberals received the lowest popular vote since confederation. The Liberals lost 22 seats and the Conservatives went from a small to large minority government. The Conservatives won more seats with 50% of the vote then the Liberals won in total. Canadians had rejected the idea of Prime Minister Dion. Even Dion intended to step down as soon as a new leader was choosen.

Calling an election would be a fair way to decide the outcome. The Liberals had just spent a year refusing to bring down the government because Canadians didn't want an election. Would having two election in three months really help? What if the election results turned out exactly the same? The potential was there for time and money wasted, at a time when Canadians want politicians working to help with the financial crisis. From a democratic view this would be a great way to let the people decide. From an administrative view it could bring the government to a complete standstill. Places like Italy and Israel are more accustomed to such embarrasing scenarios.

Jean choose the poroguement option. She has further established that her role is to listen to the Prime Minister and carry out her ceremonial duties. Hindsight has shown that she has made the right decision. The coalition has fallen apart, proving that despite the documents signed it was held together on a weak foundation. The house will reconvene at the end of January with a thrown speech and budget. By then cooler heads will prevail so that the government can get some work done.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Will Harper eat his Red Herring?

The Canadian Government announced their economic update on Thursday. It contained two main components. There was a demonstration that the government was sympathizing with the people by cutting government perks and raises. They would also eliminate the $1.95 per vote subsidy the government pays to counter act the restrictions placed by fundraising restrictions brought in by Jean Chretien. The opposition parties opposed the economic update because it did not contain any economic stiumulus package.

The elimination of the subsidy was a red herring. The Conservative Party is the only party that has been successful at adjusting to the new fundraising restrictions. The Liberals are already in financial trouble. The subsidy accounts for 83% of the Bloc's funding. The NDP would also be hurt by a loss of financial support. Harper could not have expected to get this confidence motion through parliament. I beleive the plan was to propose it with the intention of dropping it, in a show of compromise. The update would be passed. The opposition parties would be exposed for operating out of self interest rather than being upset about the lack of an economic stimulus. It would also serve as a distraction that although government perks are being eliminated, Harper has significantly increased the number of cabinets ministers he has. While the perks may be reduced there are more people receiving them.

The opposition parties are refusing to back down. The government announced that they are going to bring in an early budget, which would bring in an economic stimulus after consultations with the provinces. That should have settled all the reasons for refusing to backdown. The opposition appears to be refusing to back down.

The opposition parties are still claiming that they will bring down the government in hopes of bringing in a Liberal/NDP with BQ support coalition government. The parties are united in their hatred for the Conservatives. How are they going to govern? They are three parties that want to take Canada in different directions. The Green Shift was the key plank in the Liberal platform that the NDP opposed. Who would be Prime Minister? Dion would seem to be the only logical choice. Would being Prime Minister be enough to cancel the leadership race so he can stay on. Dion kept all of the leadership contenders out of his shadow cabinet. Would he leave his star talent out of his cabinet?

In the end this is all banter as all parties should be afraid to go to the polls only 6 weeks into their new mandate. Sometimes in a game of chicken someone forgets to blink. If everyone plays there hands correctly this issue will blow over next week, when the fiscal update is approved by Parliament.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Balance of Power

Parliament is back in session as Stephen Harper tries to steer Canada through the major economic crisis with a minority government. The Liberals are suffering financially due to the election. They are also ready to be torn apart with the in fighting as they struggle to choose a new leader. Dion made a very wise decision by keeping the contenders out of the shadow cabinet.

Some people still want to attribute the loss to the dynamics of vote splitting. They also seem to think that the minority government is in the exact same boat as before the election with the need to have one party on board to pass any legislation. A last look at the numbers shows that the Conservatives have a stronger foundation then opposition supporters would like to admit.

Basic political theory shows that each political party has a core group of support. These are people that identify so strongly with their party values that they will get their vote no matter what. This support is how the Liberals became the natural governing party of Canada. In an election each party tries to build on their base support in order to win. A pattern I have noticed that if a person is elected with more than 50% of the vote they are likely going to be reelected. Dissatisfaction with the individual may reduce their vote to the 40s% but still enough to win. Applying the same theory to the recent election results shows a strong Conservative Party.

Here are the results of seats won with more than 50% of the votes.

Conservatives 80 of 143 (55.9%) In every province from New Brunswick to British Columbia.

Liberals 17 of 77 (22%) In PEI, Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario

Bloc Quebecois 13 of 49 (26.5%)

NDP 8 of 37 (21.6%) In Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia.

The Conservatives have a broad based foundation that they can continue to build on. The Liberals need to appeal to a wider group of Canadians with a focus on policies that benefit the entire country. The Bloc is still showing strong which will keep a Quebec centred focus on various economic policies. The NDP also demonstrate a wide appeal that can be built on in the future. The next Liberal leader will need to show rebuild their tarnished image quickly. If not they will continue to lose ground to the other parties. In the next election a call for strategic voting against the Conservatives may no longer be a call to vote Liberal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Speaker of the House, Keeper of the Zoo.

Stephen Harper has secured his strong minority government and it is now time to get back to the legislature. It is time to get parliament up and running again. Yesterday was the day for choosing a speaker and today is the thrown speech.

Peter Milliken was able to hold of challengers for his job through 5 rounds of balloting. In his seven years presiding over the house he has transformed the job of Speaker as an unwanted position where people go to end there careers to the point where at one point there were eleven contenders for his job. He is incredibly knowledgeable and has earned a high level of respect that crosses party lines and is unusual for a politician. May he continue to hold onto his job for as long as he wants.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bet Shemesh Election Over. Now What ?

All the votes for the election have been counted and confirmed. Abutbul took the Mayoral race quite handily. Despite some people's fears the world has not ended. Abutbul will now has the challenge of forming a broadbased coalition

Some of his biggest problems may come from those who got him elected. Gimel launched a strong campaign that "all" the Gedolim hold that all Jews must vote for Abutbul and Gimmel. These people beleive that "all" and "our" are interchangable concepts. This could mean they are not will to compromise with other members. This could pose a tremendous challenge as Abutbul belongs to Shas who has their own Rabbinic council for making political decisions. Those who got him elected hold 8 seats and he needs to keep them happy.

In cases of conflict having a broader coalition is a good idea. There is no reason to think that B'Yachad will not be given a great deal of influence to make sure the council remembers to cater to the non-Haredi as well. Keeping the 3 biggest parties happy is all he needs to govern. He can also reach into the little parties on issues where his position differs from Gimmel.

Gimmel and their Rabbinic leadership put a tremendous amount of effort into railroading Tov in the hopes they would not win a seat. Tov catered to the 'American' Haredi leanings in Gimmel. One description was Haredi who don't like having their Rabbi's telling them how to vote. Tov also served as a party to cater to the issues of the Rama. They have a lot of potential without much experience. If the two parties can resolve their differences they may be effective at those who felt disenfranchised by the status quo.

The biggest loss to Bet Shemesh was Chen losing their seat. They have done a ton of good on city council over the last 5 years. There was a tremendous feeling that people should not vote for them because they would not win a seat. They only missed by 46 votes. This should be a lesson that sometimes when people over anlayze and vote strategically they end up with a worse outcome than what they were trying to avoid. Hopefully this lesson will be remembered in future elections.

In the end the city is better off with a change in leadership. The question is how much good can the new city council bring.

Abutbul 12103 or 46.72%
Lerner 7365 or 28.43%
Vaknin 6439 or 24.85%

Gimel 5
Shas 3
B'Yachad 3
Dor Acher 2
Likud 2
Mishpacha Achat 2
Avoda 1
Tov 1

Note: Rabbi Myers spoke about some issues that his congregation was upset about in context of the election.

1. In response to the complaint about the litter and noise. The election is just a giant colour war with a bigger budget.

2. Rabbi Kornfeld claims he never said that all Jews were obligated to vote for Gimmel and Abutbul. Everyone needs to consult with their own posek. When Rabbi Kornfeld was shown the letter with his name on it, he said someone took artistic license with his election endorsements.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Political Culture Shock

Municipal elections are took place across Israel today. I am used to Canadian elections under the scrutiny of Elections Canada. Voting is fair and results are available quickly. There are many steps in place to prevent voter fraud. The results are verifiable in cases where there are voting irregularities or the results are close. Such cannot be said for the Israeli electoral system.

In Canada there is no campaigning on election day. Any signs of partisanship must be kept away from the polling stations. There have been cars driving around all day with campaign signs, playing loud music and throwing garbage (campaign literature) onto the streets. Parties set up information booths across the street from polling stations in an attempt to sway last minute voters.

In Canada the polling stations are very simple and secure. The returning officer signs every ballot before giving them out. The ballot is black with white writing that includes the candidates name political party and a spot to indicate who you wish to support. Every ballot that clearly indicates who you wish to vote for and does not indicate who has no indications of who cast the ballot counts. The returning officer verifies the signature as they watch the ballot placed into the ballot box. When the ballots are being counted the returning officer must verify that they are counting the exact same number of ballots as they distributed.

In Israel voters are handed two envelopes. The yellow one is for Mayor and the white one is for the party. In the ballot box there are ballots for all of the candidates. The yellow ones have the Mayoral candidates name on them and are placed in the yellow envelope. The white ones have the party name as well as a letter designation. The white ballot is placed in the white envelope and sealed. Both envelopes are placed in the ballot box.

A ballot is spoiled if it has any markings, has been folded, two in one envelope, or altered in anyway. There are many opportunities for electoral fraud under this system. In a 3-way race one could remove ballots to make it look like a particular candidate is winning. One could remove an opponents ballots so that others are not able to vote for them. One can also tamper with another candidates ballots causing a person to unknowingly cast a spoiled ballot. Unless someone is caught red handed there is very little that can be done to undo damage caused by the fraud.

Throughout the day there have been reports of electoral fraud. There have been reports of police being called in when intimidation tactics were used to prevent some from voting. At least 3 polling stations were closed when it was discovered one candidates ballots were substituted with fake ballots where they slightly altered the candidates first name. Anyone who did not notice would have cast spoiled ballots. Some friends were locked into their voting station as police investigated tampered ballots. I saw children walking around the streets with ballots in their hands. All these incidence call into question the integrity of the final vote count.

Canadians are very lucky with the level of integrity of their electoral process that they take for granted. I sent an e-mail to Elections Canada today asking if they could teach the Israeli officails how to have a fair election.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Local Elections - Bet Shemesh

The electoral process is much more complicated then in Canadian Municipalities. Elections are held every five years. Each voter receives two ballots, one for Mayor and one for City Council. For Mayor if nobody gets 40% of the vote on the first ballot there is a run off between the top two contenders the following.

City Council is chosen by Proportional Representation. Each party has a list of candidates and voters choose the party they like. This year City Council will expanding from 17 to 19 seats. Any party that receives less than 3.95% of the vote have their votes thrown out. Then prearranged vote transfer agreements are applied between the parties. After that all the votes are divided by 19 (5.26%) to determine how many seats each party gets. It is normal for a party to have one or two seats although some of the bigger parties end up with up to three seats.

One may think that the complicated formula would deter people from being concerned about vote splitting. This is not the case. This year there is a party (Chen) that has served on city council last term. Everyone acknowledges that they did a good job and were a valuable member of city council. A new party has targeted a large percentage of their core base support. The consensus is that the party will not win a seat. Those who wish to support the party are faced with the dilemma of possibly wasting a vote or worse taking there vote to a safer candidate gaurenteeing the loss of their party of choice. Most of the party issues are too complex to delve into unless you really care about the local issues. On to the race for Mayor.

There are three candidates running for more. The unpopular incumbent Mayor is Daniel Vaknin. He is being challenged by Deputy Mayor Shalom Lerner and Moshe Abutbul. Abutbul and Lerner are close friends who are in the race to overthrow Vaknin.

Daniel Vaknin (Likud) - Vaknin has served as the Mayor of Bet Shemesh for three terms. He has a reputation of playing dirty politics and making promisses to everyone to get elected. Over the years he has halted many projects to expand and grow the city because it was not exactly what he wanted. Those who have worked hard to get him elected make themselves only accountable to him and have no fear of the consequences of not getting things done. Most of his support this time around come from fear of electing a Haredi Mayor. Abutbul complained to senior levels of Shas that Vaknin was sending out anti-Sephardic propoganda. The complaint was passed on to Netanyahu who said that he didn't really want Vaknin to win.

Moshe Abutbul (Shas) - Abutbul is dedicated to doing a good job and will be an upgrade from the current Mayor. His core support is from people who have their Rabbi instruct them how they should vote. In order to build up support he has entered into coalitions with various parties with very specific special interests. He wants to be able to reach out to all the different groups in the city. The agreements he has in place are going to keep his hands tied from achieving that goal. Some of the key players in his support are more interested in building power for themselves rather then helping the communities they claim to represent.

Abutbul wants to do a lot to help the city. He beleives it is simply a matter of cutting up the pie differently. In fact the issue may be he needs a bigger pie. On his goal to build a local hospital, he thinks the money can simply be raised outside of Israel. He has also suggested he wants a central bus station in Bet Shemesh. If he can help build the economy there may be a bigger pie to meet all of his expectations down the road. Until then he may have no choice but to focus on diverting funds to the Haredi community that could get him elected.

Shalom Lerner (B'Yachad) - Lerner is the head of his own local party. It is the closest thing to having a Centre leaning candidate. He tends to see the big picture on various issues and understand that different groups have different needs. He gave an example of a swimming pool that he had arranged to be donated to Bet Shemesh. The only condition was that it would be seperate swimming. Vaknin canned the proposal in order to avoid upsetting the residents who want mixed swimming. As a result there is one swimming pool servicing 100,000 people. The point Lerner made is that if there were many swimming pools, they could have different rules to cater to the needs of the various groups. Lerner applies this type of logic to all kinds of city problems. He wants an express bus from the Ramma to the train station. It could be done very inexpensivly without involving the major bus companies and would save valuable time for those who rely on the train. He has the type of forward thinking to really make Bet Shemesh a great city.

In the end this is a two horse race between Abutbul & Lerner. Vatnin's support has dropped so drastically that it looks like it is going to be decided on the first ballot. Lerner would make the best Mayor because his background and experience make him able to cater to the different conflicting interests of the city. Abutbul would also be a good Mayor and would probably incorporate B'Yachad into a significant role in his government. By the very nature of his core support he is going to allienate people that he should be helping.

No matter what the outcome, hopefully this election will bring change that will bring prosperity to Bet Shemesh.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Celebrating Obama

There is a presumption that during the American election the Liberal party was supporting Obama while the Conservatives were supporting McCain. On pure ideology this may have been the case for many people. In Canada the Conservatives Party are the big winners in the wake of the Obama victory.

One of the most lingering complaints directed at Harper is that he makes decisions to line himself up with Bush. It was convenient way for opponents to attack the government without the bothersome task of evaluating the policy. Government policy will now need to be evaluating on it's own merit as opposed to how it alligns with US policy. The classic example is that Harper was accused of being against Kyoto because Bush was against Kyoto. Obama is also against Kyoto.

This is a major shift in Canadian political discourse. Not much has changed in how the Conservatives are going to govern. A lot has changed in how their policies will be perceived by Canadians.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Ministers Conference

Stephen Harper has arranged for a first ministers conference on November 10th. It will take place within 30 days of the federal election. When Stephane Dion suggested doing the exact same thing he fell under heavy criticisim. Is Harper just stealing from the Liberal playbook?

Harper has been the Prime Minister for over two years. He has passed three government budgets. His government has been discussing the world financial crisis with all of the important world leaders. Stephane Dion complained that a more proactive approach needed to be taken.

When Dion was asked what should have been done differently, his top idea was that a first ministers conference needed to be called to develop a plan. He was right that the meeting needed to be called and there was no doubt that Harper would have to hold one at some point in the future. The problem was Dion did not express that he had any plans before going into the meeting. As Prime Minister he would have to have some type of idea of where to lead the ship and have input on how to get there. Instead he was prepared to wait for someone else to feed him the answers.

It appears that Dion's and Harper's plan are identical. As both men were taking different approach's to prepare for the meetings they would produce different outcomes. The Harper approach is more likely to get the results Canadians are looking for.

Elections Israeli Style

Israel is set to hold municipal elections on November 11th in Israel. Elections in Israel are conducted very differently then they are in Canada. One major difference is in Canada a voter puts an X next to the person you want to win. In Israel the individual or party (depending on the position) is assigned a letter or letter combination. Voterse then choose the letter that corresponds to your choice. I will discuss the mechanics of the election more in depth after they take place.

When I arrived in Israel in August election signs were already up. There are different strategies for elections signs. Some have pictures of candidates, some have the party name. The mayor of Bet Shemesh has been running with the slogan יהיה טוב (it will be good). When his signs first went up it was not clear if it was political campaign or random anonymous holiday greetings. In the last few days the strategy has changed. Posters are up everywhere prominently displaying the letter the candidates will be running under.

At around 6:45 tonight I heard loud music followed by the sound of cars honking. It was a 50(yes, I counted) car parade including the mayor's campaign bus. The cars had baloons and the letters עד (witness) prominently displayed. I must admit that I really don't get it, but it did add 10 minutes of entertainment to my evening.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Israel Going to the Polls

Tzipi Livni has failed in her bid to form a government. Negotiations broke down when she refused to meet Shas demand for more than a billion NIS for family benefits. Shas is trying to frame this has fighting for the rights of all families. In fact they were just trying to put cash into the pocket of their supporters who have large families.

The possibilities of the next Prime Minister to not help to put a lot of faith in the system.

Bibi Netanyahu - Likud -

Bibi is washed up former Prime Minister quit the Kadimah government by opposing the Gaza pullout. This gave him the clout to reclaim the position of leader of the Likud. Conveniently the fact he voted in favour of legislation required for the Gaza pullout has been forgot.

Tzipi Livni - Kadimah -

Livni took on the role of party leader just over a month ago and failed in her first attempt to field a government. Her willingness to stand up to Shas and face the electorate rather than cave into unreasonable demands is a refreshing change. Livni heads the party that botched the Lebanon War leading to the disastrous prisoner swap. Gilad Shalit has not been released. She is refusing to agree to any demand that Jerusalem should be kept off of the negotiating table with the Palesitiains. She is expected to give Netanyahu a run for his money.

Ehud Barak - Labour -

Barak is a washed up former Prime Minister that currently serves as the Defence Minister. There are plans underway to resupply with civilian population with gas masks next year. He claimed that having a population supplied with gas masks will act as a deterrent for enemy countries from using chemical weapons against Israel. Barak is just as out of touch with reality as he was when he was Prime Minister. He is not expected to be a significant contender in this election.

Countries around the world are going to jump to conclusions over the results of these elections. Israel needs some fresh leadership choices with fresh ideas. Livni brings a breath of fresh air to the old war hero political approach. Those who do not agree with her policies do not have an equally competent opponent.

Fatwa Declared Against Arab Voters

On Saturday the Palestinian Authority arranged to have a fatwa declared against Arabs living in Jerusalem. Included is avoiding using the Israeli Court System and selling land to Jews. They also banned Arabs from voting in the upcoming Jerusalem municipal elections. Arabs have generally avoided voting in the municipal election for fear that it would weaken their claim to the land. The fatwa was issued after reports that three mayoral candidates had tried courting Arab voters.

Serving as a federal political party the Bloc Quebecois has been unable to secure their desire for soverignty. This is mostly from the lack of desire for Quebecers to follow through and leave Canada. As Canadians have just elected a third consecutive minority government the Bloc is scene as a tremendous political for for the federalist parties to overcome. In response the federal parties have had to put extra attention to make sure their platforms are attractive to Quebecers.

Every politcian knows that it is counterproductive to develope policy for those who are not going to vote. The Arabs in Jerusalem have missed out on a tremendous oppurtunity to have the city government show concern for their well being. They could have used their political will to help improve their day to day lives.

This is the typical strategy of the Arab leadership. They are willing to sell out any short term gains for fear that it would hurt their chances of total capitulation of their enemies. They are willing to allow their followers to suffer for generations in order to not give up an inch on their dreams.

On the other side Israel has taken the opposite negotiation tactic. They are willing to make painful sacrifices for short term gains. Each concession opens the door to new concessions without demanding any long term benefits in return. Rabin's vision for peace with the Palestinians was based on the mistaken assumption that the Palestinians would take a similar approach to negotiations. This difference in negotiating philosophy is the major stumbling block to a long term solution.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Missed it by that much.

The Conservatives fell 12 seats short of securing a majority government in last week's election. The question being asked is how will the Conservatives respond to the new mandate. Anti-Harper supporters fear that the Conservatives are going to act as if they have a majority government. Some have called for Harper's resignation. If Harper can't beat Dion how is he going to beat a more competent Liberal leader.

Bill Casey has been re-elected after being thrown out of the Conservative caucus last year for opposing the budget. He will likely support most Conservative bills and there is a possibility that there may be room for reconciliation in the future. The Conservatives did not field a candidate in order in a Quebec riding which helped the incumbent independent get re-elected. Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has offered reconciliation after running a successful ABC campaign to drive the Conservatives out of Newfoundland. The Conservatives lost 3 seats in the Province.

Harper learned some important lessons. Michael Fortier who was appointed to the senate in order take on a cabinet post was defeated. Wijad Khan the Liberal MP who was Harper's special advisor on the Middle East before being drawn into the Conservative caucus was also defeated. All the other MPs who faced heavy hitting from the opposition from former Environment Minister Rosa Ambrose, from Defense Minister Gordon O'Conner were re-elected as well as the rest of the current cabinet. The Conservatives also made a breakthrough by electing journalist Peter Kent in Thornhill just north of Toronto. These results send a clear message that Harper needs to stick to a more tradtional governing role.

There are a number of open cabinet positions and around 35 rookie MPs at Harper's disposal. This gives Harper a deep talent pool for improving his government. He now has enough man power to prevent opposition parties from taking over commitees to rewrite entire pieces of legislation to their own partisan views. It will be more difficult for comitees to focus on partisan witch hunts instead of focusing on preparing and reviewing legislation to benefit all Canadians.

Some people are afraid that Harper is going to use the lame duck Stephane Dion to continue to bully the oppositon parties to push through his agenda. Harper will spend the next 2-3 years focusing on capturing 12 more seats. Such an attack will not be to their benefit. This year will probably not have very much controversial legislation to allow the Liberals time to choose their new leader. They will try to offer stable fiscally responsible government to navigate through tough economic times. If they prove they can weather the storm Canadians will be ready to deliver a majority government.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What do George Brown, Edward Blake and Stephane Dion have in common?

In the history of the Liberal Party there have only been three leaders who have not served as Prime Minister. George Brown lost in the first ever Canadian election to John A. MacDonald and decided not to try again. He had the satisfaction of being a Father of Confederation and a strong influence on the party in an advisory role. Edward Blake also lost to MacDonald as he lead the Liberal Party from 1880-1887. He was the bridge between Alexander Mackenzie & Wilfred Laurier. With Stepahne Dion miserable showing in Tuesday's election it looks like he will be joining this exclusive club.

Every other leader of Canada's natural governing party has been Prime Minister. Here is a list by number of days served from 24 Sussex Drive:

William Lyon Mackenzie King (7826), Pierre Trudeau (5642), Wilfred Laurier (5564), Jean Chretien (3689), Louis St. Laurent (3140), Lester Pearson (1825), Alexander Mackenzie (1796), Paul Martin (787), John Turner (79).

Since taking over the Liberal Party time and again Dion has shown poor judgement. He tried using the Mulroney/Schreiber, Maxime Brenier, Chuck Cadman scandals to attack the Conservatives character. Brenier was re-elected with more then 60% of the vote, while Cadman's wife Dona was elected under the Conservative banner.

He showed poor judgement of character. His hand picked candidate in Outremont was defeated in the by-election. The NDP managed to hold onto to the riding. He allowed Garth Turner to join the Liberal caucus. Turner was thrown out of the Conservative Party for being a trouble maker and did nothing to help the Liberals. Turner was defeated in the election. Without any reservations Dion gave the spotlight to Michael Ignatieff without any fear Ignatieffwas after his job. As Dion got into more trouble the same free reign was given to Bob Rae. When a Conservative candidate was tossed Rae made a big deal of how it reflected poorly on the party leader. A few days later a Liberal candidate was tossed from the election.

Dion was weak on developing policy. He blamed the Conservatives for some of the financial problems in the US. He attacked Harper for not doing enough to protect the Canadian solution. Dion's solution was to hold a series of meetings and come up with a plan 30 days after being elected.

Dion wanted to introduce all kinds of social spending. He was going to bring in a carbon tax (the modern version of the SIN tax) in order to pay for his programs. The Liberals lost seats in British Columbia where they already have a carbon tax. Perhaps the new tax in BC is not as popular as some politicians would like the public to believe.

Dion has shown that he is not fit to be Prime Minister. Even if he does not resign, he does not have a chance of surviving the leadership review next year. All the contestants for his job last time around now have seats in Parliament. Justin Trudeau who some believe is the saviour of the party also has a seat. Hopefully, some new leaders will step forward who can bring the Liberals back to their roots.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Green Party Thrown Under the Bus

Despite claims that she wouldn't, Elizabath has suggested that in some ridings voters should vote Liberal or NDP to block a Conservative win. In other words she is calling on her supporters to vote for Stephane Dion as Prime Minister irrelevant of the effects it has on her party. It is important for voters to consider the message sent through their ballot, even if their candidate does not win. It is another for a party leader to abandon her party on the eve of the election. She has done a tremendous disservice on many levels.

Candidates are entitled to be reimbursed for some of their campaign expenses if they capture a certain percentage of the vote. Some Green candidates could take a personal financial loss from this declaration. Also all parties that capture 3% of the popular vote are entitled to $1.95/year per vote of federal funding. The Green Party has benefited from this rule in the last federal election. Strategic voting will hurt the Green Party financially.

Each party has their own distinct environment policy. A blanket Liberal endorsement sends the message from Green supporters is that there number 1 priority is to get a carbon tax. The fact that the Liberals and Greens have very different ways of spending the extra government revenue does not matter.

The Green Party has always had the problem that their polling numbers on election day are about half of what they receive before the election. It has been understood that these results show that Canadians like to say they care about the environment. When push comes to shove Canadians have more important issues at heart like the economy. A dip in Green Party support will once again reinforce this message. In 4 years from now parties will decide how important the environment is for their election platforms. Once again all the parties (including the Liberals) will put it lower on the agenda because while important it does not win votes. Elizabeth May has managed to not only undercut her own party but the entire environmental movement she claims to support.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Get the Liberals a Calendar

Last week the Liberals switched to attack mode. They accused Harper of plagiarizing two speechs he gave in parliament in 2003. A member of the Conservative campaign team took responsibility for the first speech and resigned. As party leaders do not write there own speeches they must rely on their writers to come up with quality original material.

This is a serious allegation and the Liberals claim that it makes Harper unfit to be Prime Minister. One would expect such serious charges to be brought to light as soon as it was discovered. Why did it take five years for these stories to come to light? Why were the videos the same week advance polls opened?

It is possible that the Liberal dirt digging team has had to go back 5 years to find material of any use. The most the recent Liberal criticism of Harper's foreign policy stems from statements he made in 2003 before he was Prime Minister. Another possibility is the Liberals have intentionally withheld the information in order to maximize effectiveness. The accusation in itself is going to turn off more voters when the story is fresh. The passage of time combined with more relevant facts will undo some of the damage that was done. Revealing the information just before some voters go to the polls puts the story fresh in their mind out of the greater context.

Stephane Dion needs to provide an explanation of why he choose this particular time to release the information. On the surface this appears to be political pandering and media manipulation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Forming the Government

The election debates are taking place this week. The polls are indicate Conservatives look to be heading into majority territory while the Liberal campaign continues to stall. As this will be a major turning point it should be a slow week leading up to the debate. Here is how I would like to see the various parties come out of the election.

Conservatives - While not perfect, in general I have been happy with Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. After years of surpluses cutting the tax burden is a favourable direction to take. Under Harper Canada has condemned the United Nations Human Rights Commission for spending time focusing on condemning Israel while ignoring every other countries human rights violations. Canada was the first country to pull out of Durbin II. With Iran preparing to for war, strong leadership is needed from Western leaders. Many of the blunders that his government has made is due to the limited talent pool he had to draw from. A small majority government would give him the necessary personnel to improve his cabinet.

NDP - In the last session of parliament the NDP proved to be a strong opposition party. The demonstrated an ability to take the government to task on issues that were important to Canadians and pass on issues that grabbed headlines but did not serve the public interest. They would do an excellent job as her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Liberals - A strong Liberal party is important to provide a counter balance to the Conservatives on the political spectrum. When Dion was selected the Liberal leader I thought he would accomplish that. The last year has been a complete embarrassment for Dion losing by-elections that he should have won and letting Harper walk all over him because avoiding the polls was more important than public policy. The Liberals leadership has lost touch with average Canadians. A solid trimming down (perhaps losing as many as half of their seats) is the meltdown they need to rebuild again. I would also like to see at least two members of the front bench (those who ran for the leadership) to go down in defeat. The party needs new blood and new direction.

Bloc Quebecois - The separatist parties have lost their raison d'etre in trying to appeal to the mainstream vote. They have abandoned their need for a referendum on sovereignty and now just want to have a party that complains Quebec does not get enough. Perhaps Dalton McGuinty would like to start a Ontario Party to do the same thing. They have no chance of being in power and can do very little to influence the government. It is time for them to pack their bags and go home.

Green Party - The environment is one of the major weaknesses in the Conservative platform. A handful of seats would be enough to make the government put a little more focus on the environment. Fiscally they are more ideologically based with the Conservatives. This could allow for some degree of cooperation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NDP Looking to Govern

Earlier this week Jack Layton indicated that he is willing to consider a coalition with the Liberals if it would stop another Conservative Government. The announcement produces a number of positive resluts for the NDP. It demonstrates to those considering voting strategically not to rule out the NDP. A vote other than for the Liberals is not necessarily a vote for the Conservatives. It also throws another wrench into the Liberal campaign as Dion has been left to explain the course of action he would take as a result of an election loss. This is a scenario that the Opposition Leader should not have to publicly consider during an election campaign. Harper has warned people looking to jump ship on the Liberal party that it shows how close the NDP and Liberals are. For a Liberal voter looking to park their vote elsewhere this could be seen as a plus.

Could it work? Stephane Dion has spent time explaining that the two parties are not a good match because he is in favour of taxing pollution to pay for campaign promisses. The NDP are against taxing pollution and would prefer corporate tax hikes instead. On the surface this would be an unreconsilable stalement. The only scenario that could support a Dion lead coalition would be a Conservative Minority government where the Liberals, NDP and possibly Green Party have more seats than the Conservatives and Bloc combined. Dion only has one shot at being PM before being tossed from the party leadership. He would be willing to make any concesstions that were needed to allow him to become Prime Minister. Layton would have no problem kicking him around the same way Harper has bulldozed through Liberal ideology over the last year. Dion would be PM in title only while Layton bossed him around in a desperate attempt to keep the Liberals in power. It is not a likly scenario. It would be entertaining.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Living with Terrorism

I decided that today I would take a break from writing about the Canadian election, to copy what I wrote about last night's terrorist attack in Jerusalem in my other blog.

I woke up this morning to the news of last nights terror attack in Jerusalem. A group of soldiers were walking to the Kotel to say Selichos (special prayers for forgiveness said before Rosh Hashanah leading up to Yom Kippor). A 19 year old Palestinian upset about being rejected from marrying his cousin decided it was a good idea to drive through the soldiers taking civilians down along the way. The commanding officer of the group, a 24 year old father of 2 assessed that this was a terrorist attack and shot the driver. The area was then cleared out of fear there was also a bomb in the car.

The Canadian news websites had not reported the attack. We decided since our parents knew we were not going to be in Jerusalem yesterday we decided not to wake them up in the middle of the night. In the last few weeks I have become really disgusted with CBC comment section on their website. Every time they post any article having anything to do with Israel, it is used as an excuse to debate the Palestinian situation and Israel's right to exist. Every Canadian news story doesn't have some commentary about the hundreds of unresolved land claims by the Aboriginals. I have also never seen a Canadian soldier's death in Afghanistan being identified as a legitimate target for the resistance because Canada is an occupying power.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Conservatives lose candidate of Toronto Centre

The Conservative candidate in Toronto Centre has withdrawn from the election. The reasoning seems to be that he made comments on a blog stating that if everyone had a gun the Greyhound bus stabbing could have been averted. This is a insignificant event towards the outcome of the election. Incumbant Bob Rae won the riding in the last by-election with 57% of the vote. Previous incumbent Bill Grahm had won with more than 50% of the vote.

It always reflects poorly on a party when they lose or are forced to sack their candidate. Bob Rae has tried to paint this as a direct reflection of the weakness of the Harper team. Of all of the parties the Liberals are the most autocratic of all of the parties. While Dion is proud for hitting the target of female candidates he was willing to hand pick candidates to reach his goals. While the leaders of other parties have the right to refuse a selection by the local riding association, they do not activly go about hand picking candidates. The exception being a Conservative MP who the party leadership decided did not have to activly seek nomination to run for re-election.

While Rae should win his riding without too much problem. If the Conservatives are unable to field a replacement candidate it could make the riding interesting. Conservative voters tend to be willing to park their vote with the Green Party. This combined with a stong performance by Elizabeth May at the debates could put the Green Party a legitimate contender for 2nd place. If the riding looks like it will be close, Rae will have to decrease his roll as Dion's sidekick to focus on campaigning in his riding. Such a major change in campaign style would be noticed accross the country and could spell even more problems for the Liberals.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let the Swapping Begin

In 1993 the Progressive Conservative Party was nearly wiped off of the electoral map. Jean Charest and Elsie Wayne were the only two MPs left as they began to rebuild the party. To fill the rigth wing gap the Reform Party (which later became the Canadian Alliance) was born. The two right wing parties kept splitting the right wing vote allowing the Liberals to walk away with virtually uncontested majority governments. In order to stop the vote splitting Stephen Harper and Peter Mackay merged the two parties Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives to form the Conservative Party. Under the leadership of Stephen Harper the party shifted towards the centre and became Harper Prime Minister.

Under the leadership Stephane Dion the Liberals have been backing off from the centre and taking a sharp turn to the left. This has encroached on traditional NDP territory. At the same time the growing support for the Green Party has also encroached on NDP territory. The Green Party is percieved as a left wing party because of their support for the enviornment and soical programs. Their economic plans are more of a right wing nature.

In the last election a big deal was made about the scary Conservative Party and their hidden agenda. Part of the election campaign focused on how to prevent the Conservatives from taking power rather than voting for the party of choice.

The vote against the Conservatives at any cost segment of the population is out in full force again. Elections Canada has ruled that it is legal for people to agree to swap votes to legal. They have warned that there is no way to gaurentee that the agreement has been abided by. They also warned money cannot be exchanged for votes.With a greater focus on swing riding by pollsters making education decisions on strategic voting is easier than ever.

Elections Canada has made the correct decision allowing people to try influence the outcome of the election as long as they only cast one vote. It is better to vote for the party you believe in and lose rather than vote against the party you don't like and end up electing another party that you don't want. Parties set their election platforms based on what they think will get them elected. Putting the focus on negative voting takes away the need for some parties to focus on important issues and puts more stress on just being different than the part being rallied against.

The Liberals and Green Party already have an agreement to trade the ridings of their party leaders. In the stretch run will they ask more party members to engage in more vote swapping in order to stop the Conservatives. That would be really unfair for those candidates that have spent lots of time and money trying to get elected.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Following the Leader

A number of politicians have been scrambling to use their political clout to affect the outcome of the election. Some have chosen to consider what is best of thier constituents irrelevant of partisan politics and some have not.

The most active has been Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Danny Williams. Upset over changes to the Atlantic Accord, Williams has launched the ABC (Anything But Conservative) campaign. His goal is to sweep the Conservative Party out of Newfoundland. They currently hold 3 of the province's 7 seats. He has even gone so far as to register his campaign with Elections Canada. Is not having any Conservative MPs the best scenario for Newfoundland? Should the Conservatives return to power it would mean Newfoundland would join PEI in not having a voice in the governing party. Under a Liberal government Newfoudland would be hit hard by the Green Shift. Any sweetening of the Atlantic Accord would simply be cancelled out by the carbon tax.

Poll after poll has been indicating Stephane Dion has not been doing a good enough job selling the Green Shift to voters. Many voters are turned off by his challenges in mastering the English language. There have been a number of commentators that suggest Elizabeth May will need to step up to the plate to explain the concept behind a carbon tax. She is being realistic that she does not have a chance at being Prime Minister and believes that Dion will be the best Prime Minister. In the process of 'helping' Dion she is more likely to draw away Liberal supporters who are not happy with Dion.

Last year David Miller resigned his NDP membership in order to pitch Toronto's interests in the provincial election campaign. He went to hear all of the party leaders during the campaign. Reporters noted his response to Premier McGuinty was more enthusistic than the other leaders. For the federal election he has asked voters to vote for the best interest of Toronto. On a personal level he believes that the Green Party has the most to offer. There is a more important message in the Mayor's pick. If voters continue to reelect the same people time and again there is no incentive for politicians to cater to Toronto's needs. This is true at every level of government.

In the last federal election Paul Martin refused to be seen anywhere near Dalton McGuinty. It is amazing how there careers have taken different paths. This time around McGuinty seems to be taking a page from the David Miller book. He refused to endorse the Liberal platform and is urging Ontario voters to use their mass amount of seats to push the parties to take consider Ontario's needs. This may be a blessing for Dion as The Champion of Education is now faced with the possibility of a teacher's strike. In the event of a strike a McGuinty endorsement with the negative public reaction could be shifted to Dion. Is there any doubts that McGuinty would prefer a Liberal government with his brother as Enviornment Minisiter?

Jack Layton has decided to campaign to be Prime Minister. Last time he admitted the NDP had no chance to form the government and asked voters to send as many NDP candidates to office to get the job done. This change in attitude is a huge plus for the NDP. It will be even more important towards the end of the campaign when considerations of strategic voting are taken into effect.

In the big picture does a politician endorsing another politician really make a difference at the ballot box? Probably not. It is still interesting to see how politicians use the election time to promote their needs and wants.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Conservatives to help forgotten self employees

In the last election one of the central planks in their election campaign was replacing universal child care with $100/month per child under the age of six. It was a popular promise for those who would not have access to the child care due to regional demographics or not working a regular 9-5 work shift. It took until near the end of the Liberals 13 years in power to finally follow through on the long time election promise. The Liberals further bungled when an advisor suggested that Canadians were not capable of deciding the best way for the money to be spent. The Liberals have admitted defeat as they have offered to increase the amount provided by an extra $29/month.

The Conservatives have offered an equally credible election plank. They are going to allow self-employed workers to opt in to the Employment Insurance system. This will allow working from home mothers to get the same maternity benefits as everyone else. It may also take some of the sting out of applying for credit, as banks often don't treat self employment income as real income for application purposes. With 100,000 manufacturing jobs disappearing in Ontario and more job losses expected across the country, people are going to be looking at starting a business to get back on their feet. At least they have the comfort of knowing help in cases where the business does not succeed.

The best part of this promise is it will not cost the government any money. Any costs associated through the newly qualified people can be made up in insurance premiums. If successful their contributions could bring down the overall premiums for everyone else. This will be one plank that the other parties will have difficulty criticizing.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Green Party to Join Debate

With some public outcry the Green Party has now been invited to join the leaders debate. The Green Party will now have an oppurtuity to show they should be taken seriously. It will be interesting to see how people react to the Green Party platform.

Until now a lot of their support has come from people who just want to the government to pay more attention to the enviornment. The Green Party has built an accross the board complete party platform. This may surprise some people. It may also surprise people that they have 'right wing' economic policies. Will educating the public help or hurt the Green Party? Either way after the debate the Green Party will not be considered the unpredicatable wild card that was the case at the beginning of the election.

This is the Green Party's one shot at the spot lighit. If they win a seat the will prove they are a legitimate 5th Party in Canada. If they fail they once again fall to the realm of irrelevant protest vote.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Taliban Watching Canadian Election

The Taliban has announced that they are aware of the Canadian election. In hopes to influence the election they will be stepping up attacks on Canadian soldiers. They do not know a lot about Canadian politics but they know about Harper. Unlike the American elections they believe that there could be a change in policy on Afghanistan. They endorse any party that will pull Canadian troops out as soon as possible.

Canadians are split on the correct course of action the military should take. A body bag count should not be the deciding factor for against the principles that had Canada enter the war in the first place. With the Liberals and Conservatives now in agreement on keeping troops in Afghanistan until 2011, the war is unlikely to make a huge difference in Canadian policy or the election outcome. This election is about critical points in domestic policy. The Taliban would have a hard time siding with the NDP or Green Party on domestic policy.

Voting Overseas

A lot of people have been asking if I will be voting in the upcoming election.

Any Canadian citizen who has had their primary residence outside of Canada, for less than 5 years and has intention to return to Canada within the 5 years is eligible to vote. There is an exemption for those serving in the military or working for the Canadian government and their immediate family. The primary residence is the place that you consider 'home'. You can only have one primary residence. Visiting Canada does not count as an extension to the 5 year window.

In order to confirm the residency requirement Elections Canada requires a return date. Changes to elections law last year also require photo ID in order to obtain a ballot. This would probably require a trip out to Tel Aviv (possibly Jerusalem). One quick look at my passport reveals my recently acquired dual citizenship.

In order for us not to be required to repay some of our financial assistance in 3 years time we need to have intention to stay in Israel. I could tell Elections Canada that we plan on moving back after the point. Would they be able to prove that our intention is to remain here? Probably not. We like it here. It is our full intention to remain here. Therefore we will not be voting in the election.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Green Party Shafted from Debates

Once again the Green Party will not be allowed to participate in the leadership debate. The consortium of networks announced that 3 parties were in opposition to their participation. Jack Layton threatened to not attend the debate if Elizabeth May was there. It is believed that Harper made the same threat. Jack Layton has sited the Liberal/Green Party alliance and her declaration that Dion should be Prime Minister as reason to oppose their participation.

The biggest winner from the exclusion of Elizabeth May is Stephane Dion. He already has a tough job ahead with the new carbon tax as the centre plank of his election campaign. The Green Party would also like to introduce a carbon tax. The big difference between the two plans is the Green Party wants to shift into immediate tax cuts. The Liberals have a complicated formula to reimburse those hit by the carbon tax. The Green Shift also includes returning the money to Canadians through tax cuts and social initiatives. As the Liberals have recently admitted that the Green Shift is a statement of principles, Canadians will know what is being taxed without a guarantee of who will benefit from the revenue increase.

It is hard to believe that the networks fell for the threat of a debate boycott. Any party refusing to attend the debate would face a great deal of scrutiny from the public. It would be unwise to follow through with the threat. The networks need to set clear guidelines for deciding who is eligible to participate in the debates. A seat in parliament with candidates in a minimum number of ridings would be a reasonable place to start. There are enough barriers to entry for starting a new political party. The existing parties should not be able to put up more at their own discretion simply because they can.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ignoring voters when choosing election dates

September/October time is a difficult time of year balancing between religious observance and the demands of being a member of society. Over the course of just over 3 weeks there are a total of 7 religious holy days. This particular year all 7 days fall on weekdays. These days make it difficult to participate in political discourse, especially during election time.

When the Ontario government brought in fixed election dates they decided to go with early October. Concerns of the Jewish community were completely ignored. Last year, the very first fixed term election date had to be moved to accommodate the Jewish calendar. Despite knowing about the problem 4 years in advance the Ontario government had to make amendments to the original legislation to allow the date to be moved for religious accommodation.

On Sunday the Stephen Harper called an election for October 14th. Under federal law elections must be held on a Monday. The Chief Electoral Officer has the ability to push the election off until the Tuesday or the following week. As October 13th is Thanksgiving the date was pushed off to the Tuesday. It also happens to be a Jewish Holiday. Pushing the election off to the following week would have put it on October 20th, which is the eve of a Jewish holiday. This means all of the religious restrictions would kick in on sundown of that day.

When planning election strategy Stephan Harper was well aware of this conflict. As he did not want to have the results of the September 8th by-elections, he would not want to call an election any later than he did. If he called the election a week earlier it would have placed the election on October 6th which would have been fine for everyone. The problem was it meant calling an election on labour day weekend. He could have made the election campaign longer and set the date for October 27th. Long election campaigns tend to wear on voters patients. This would not have been a desirable solution.

Jewish voters will still have the opportunity to vote in advance polls or by proxy. Harper has strategic decided that alienating one community was worth the price of getting the perfectly timed election. It remains to be seen if the people he has alienated will have any affect on the election out come. Keep in mind B'nai Brith condemned the hand chosen by Dion, Liberal candidate in during the Outremont by-election. That riding went NDP after being the safest Liberal seat in the country.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Asking the Public

With the growth of technology there are more and more opportunities for people to express themselves. People are easily able to express their opinions outside of their immediate network of contacts. The mainstream media has taken a number of different approaches to make their news more user friendly an opportunities for feedback. The tough part is balancing between intelligent insightful comments that are a beneficial to all and people taking any story possible as an excuse to spout their world views. Often it is difficult to wade through the comments worth reading and the rest of the junk that clutters up the comments section.

There are 3 main Canadian news websites that I follow: CBC, CTV, The Toronto Star. Each one has taken it's own approach with different pluses and minuses.

CBC allows people to vote on which articles they like. It also allows people to vote on comments so that people can choose to read the most popular comments. They never close don't close the comment section so that some stories can reach into the hundreds and occasionally thousands of responses. The comments can be difficult to follow. They also get people bashing which ever party the story is about and condemning the CBC for their left wing bias. There was one article a few weeks ago where the comments were filled with condemnation of CBC right wing bias because the subject of the articles was not in full agreement with the Canadian perspective.

CTV allows a for limited amount of time before closing the comment section. Just like CBC they still get their biased political slander. Although their slant is slightly to the right of the CBC and so are their readers. They do not open comments on every single story. This helps avoid the moderating headache when covering extremely controversial issues.

The Toronto Star has an excellent system for allow user feedback. As a newspaper they already have an opinions section where people can write in. Either by design or amount of people commenting they have a limited number of comments. A higher rate of their comments tend to be well thought out contribute to public discourse. They also allow people to agree or disagree with the particular post. This allows people to get a better appreciation of how many people have read a comment and how people feel.

With an election call just hours away hopefully all of the different media will be able to use their services to improve the public discourse. Only an election determined on true public discourse will provide the types of results Canadians are looking for.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shifting the Green Shift

Stephane Dion has announced changes to the Green Shift in order to make it more palatable for voters. Being able to listen to voters and make policy changes is a charcheristic of good leadership. On the other hand, as is with the case with Dalton McGuinty, you may end up voting for someone because he supports a particular issue then find that he has changed his mind and does the opposite. The Green Shift is now being advertised as a statement of principles rather than a concrete plan. Voters must now be aware that if they vote Liberal for a specific aspect of the Green Shift that it may be changed or removed before implementation.

The second problem with the announcement is it will add another $900 million to the cost of the plan over the first 4 years. As the plan has been gaurenteed to be revenue neutral it would require cuts to other benefits promissed in the plan. A second option would be to place the additional funding on the books outside of the Green Shift. With a razor thin budget surplus there is no extra money for new spending innitiatives without making cuts or increasing taxes. Where are the Liberals going to find the money?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Green Party bids to be taken seriously

The only way for a political party to be taken seriously is to have a voice in Parliament. In a desperate attempt to be taken seriously Elizabeth May entered into a truce with Stephane Dion not to run a Liberal MP in her riding of Central Nova against Peter McKay. With the Liberals making their Green Shift a central plank in a pending election, the alliance could further handicap the Green Party from getting into Parliament.

The Green Party has introduced Blair Wilson as their first ever MP. He has a shaking history as he has been sitting as an independant after being forced to leave the Liberal party. His previous election results have been close, meaning it will be a tough ride for the Green Party to keep the seat.

The timing couldn't be better. The Green Party now has a legitimate claim to finally be included in the Leadership debate. Hopefully the media outlets will not try to change the rules to keep them out. Kudos to Elizabeth May. She has finally positioned her party to be taken seriously, in time for an election.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Unfixing, fixed election date

Stephen Harper has been playing all of the cards in order to force an election before the September 8th by-elections. The Governer General trip to the Bejing Paralympics has been cancelled making her available to meet with the Prime Minister. Harper has spent a great deal of time explaining the loophole that would allow him to call an election. He has also spent months campaigning that parliament is broken. Stephane Dion is trying to hold off an election before he has some positive results from a by-election win. Even if they win only one riding (for a net loss of one) he has demonstrated his ability to trump it up as a great Liberal victory.

There are two major downsides to fixed election dates. The first is that the government is still able to manipulate government spending to maximize the benefit of the election date. The second is that this session of parliament is a prime example of when the PM needs to have the power to call an election. Instead of applying the loophole Harper choose to use the situation to embarrass the Liberal party vote after vote.

With the negative consequences of fix election dates, it is ashame that the Conservatives would have an exit plan when the rules were not convenient. There are a number of very important issues at stake in this election. There is a good chance that this turns into a referendum on the Liberal Green Shift plan. If that is the case, how the election was called will be a minor factor in the final results. Should the scenario play out as expected, Harper has once again found the way to use the rules of Parliament to his advantage. He definite deserves credit for being a master strategist on both sides of the House.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I'm back, Now What?

Now that I am living outside of Israel, I plan on taking this blog a different direction. I will focus on the contrast between Canadian/Israeli political issues. There will probably be more focus on the Federal Government from an ex-pat point of view. Of course there will be focus on local Israeli politics.

I am hoping to keep things interesting for my Canadian readers. A slight change of perspective should provide some interesting new insights into the challenges facing Canadians.

Ontario election fall out

In January 2007 I wrote to Premier McGuinty. I requested that at the upcoming policy convention he adopt a position to fund non-Catholic religious schools. I used his own personal experience to emphaize the value of faith based education. I also pointed out that the Jewish Community is suffering under the financial burden of providing the same type of education, that Catholic families are able to receive without a second thought. I also warned the Premier that this unfairness is causing hard working families to leave Ontario to seek more affordable faith based education.

McGuinty responded, "Our government recognizes that there are many hard-working families who make sacrifices to send their children to faith-based schools. We have the utmost respect for your views and those of other Ontarians who disagree with our government's stance on funding for independent or religious schools. However, we remain deeply committed to restoring confidence in and stability to our public education system." He abandoned his feelings of respect during the election campaign.

10 days ago my family moved to Israel. A factor in the move was the high cost of education. To send my daughter to JK in the Jewish Day School System would be around $4000. That is for one of the cheaper schools. Instead, she can go to SK in a religous Israeli public school for $600.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Human Rights Commision doing their Job

One of the most publicized case, recently put towards the Human Rights Commission was the case against Macleans magazine. Macleans had republished a series of articles outlining growth of Muslim population and how it would influence Canadian culture. The article discussed the negative results of this demographic shift. A group of Muslim Osgoode Law students submitted a lengthy rebuttal to the articles. When the magazine refused to publish their response they took the issue to the Human Rights Commission.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed the case. Their decision demonstrates that these commissions still have the ability to balance the fine line between reasonable accommodation, discrimination and practical common sense. The decision is a victory for freedom of speech. It upholds the editor's right to have full discretion on what pieces are fit for their publication. It would be a tragedy if religious/political/ethnic groups could force an opposing sides resources to promote their own ideas.

The most disturbing part of this story is when the case was originally brought before the Ontario Human Rights Commission. While ruling that the case was out of jurisdiction Barbara Hall was clear that she would have ruled against Macleans magazine if she could. Hall demonstrated incredibly poor judgement by choosing to interfere in a case out of her hands. The fact that the CHRC disagreed with her further demonstrates that her judgement should be taken into question.

Barbara Hall needs to reevaluate her approach to cases brought before her. She needs to be objective enough not to make a decision before she has had a chance to carefully consider all of the evidence. She must also learn that her position as a Human Rights Commissioner needs to be a highly respected position with the highest level of integrity. She cannot use the OHRC as a platform to express her personal thoughts and feelings. Hall should pay careful attention to this ruling and adjust her approach to job. If she wants to be an advocate for particular groups, she should be prepared to offer her resignation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sifting through the Shift

The Liberals have unveiled the details of their proposed carbon tax. To Dion's credit it appears he has noted the lesson from Kim Campbell, John Tory and others that elections are not the time to discuss major shifts in public policy. He has the summer to educate Canadians on his Green Shift program.

It will take time to review the policy outside of the standard headlines. There is one aspect of the revenue neutral claim that needs further examination. The carbon tax will start at $10/megaton and over 4 years rise to $40/megaton. The Liberals are boasting that as the price of carbon increases the more Canadian families save through tax cuts.

Last summer in Ontario, Hydro launched a number of inititives to decrease electricity consumption. They were successful. As a result the Hydro is experiencing a revenue shortfall and has applied for a rate increase.

The purpose of the carbon tax is to reduce carbon emittions. What happens when the cost of carbon is maxed out and pollution continues to decrease? The overall revenue of the carbon fund will begin to fall. Will families have to give back their tax cuts or will the government continue to increase the cost of carbon in order to keep the tax cuts in place? Either way if this plan is successful Canadians will once again be in a position where reducing energy consumption will have a negative effect on their disposable income.

Say a little Prayer

In February, Dalton McGuinty made it a priority for his government to fix the injustice of prayers in the legislature. The Lord's Prayer did not reflect the cultural diversity of the province. He was going to be a leader in fixing this injustice even if it was unpopular. Objections from his mother would not phase him from doing the right thing. He completely ignored the fact that this was an issue very few people cared about. The Hansard doesn't even record which prayers are being recited. More than 20,000 people responded to requests public consultation. 87% requested the Government keep the Lord's Prayer.

Last week the government unanimously adopted a compromised solution. The Lord's Prayer would be recited followed by a second prayer or moment of silence at the discretion of the Speaker. To start with there will be eight prayers. Any future additions would be decided by the Speaker. The current Speaker has already said that he will refer such decisions to an all party committee. This is not a surprise considering he referred the question of coffee in parliament to be decided by committee.

The solution strikes an excellent balance. It upholds keeping traditions that built this country while recognizing the diversity of the Province. Hopefully, when Parliament returns in September they can apply this principle to other government issues. Hopefully, they will also choose to focus on matters of importance to the average citizen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

National Anthem

I grew up as a big hockey and baseball fan. Playing hockey and baseball was a way to relate to my favourite players. Skill, effort, team work and a bit of luck would be the difference between winning and losing. From a fans perspective the same rules applied to professional sport. The best players would make it to the pros. If a player wasn't pulling his weight he would be benched, sent to the minors or cut outright. Real fans would support their team no matter how bad they played.

The world of sports has changed so much. If fans don't show up, it means they are unhappy with team play or management. Fans need to know about salary caps, escrow account, ancillary revenue streams, drug testing policies, tax regulations etc. If I take public transit instead of paying for parking will my team still sign my favourite player? What if I buy a hot dog and beer instead? This past season I learned how our legal system carries out prison sentences when a Leaf was given permission to serve his DUI conviction in the off season. Decisions made on paper are just as important as play on the ice.

Last week Hockey Night in Canada announced they would not be renewing the rights to play the HNIC them song, spoiling a tradition since 1968. They are still facing a $2.5 million lawsuit for ring tone sales. They were paying $500 each time they played the song to a tune of $60,000 per year. Despite the public outrage it looked like the song might be lost forever. The Premier of Alberta took up the protest and even offered to complain to Don Cherry. The Liberal Heritage Critic suggested that the federal government had an obligation to save the song, although he never brought this view to the House of Commons. CBC responded by announcing their will be a fan voted contest with $100,000 going to the winner. Just what we need HNIC Idol to nail the coffin on a great tradition.

All is not lost. CTV has bought the rights to the song for $2.5 million. As the owner of TSN, RDS and the rights holders to coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the hockey "anthem" will remain a part of our heritage. The realities of the business world continue to erode the pure enjoyment of professional sports. At least there are some things we can always count on.

Friday, June 6, 2008

GM to cut production of 6 cylindar trucks

This week, GM announced the closing of (4) truck & SUV plants. The truck plant in Oshawa will be the Canadian victim of these cuts. The move comes in response to a drop in demand for gas guzzling vehicles. With the decline in the manufacturing sector there is plenty of finger pointed directed towards, the Union (CUPE), GM and the government.

The federal government is being blamed for not having a strategy to save the auto industry. The Liberals are blaming statements made by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that Ontario was a poor place to invest. They now claim that GM took the ministers advice. GM is a multi-billion dollar company. They are capable of doing their own cost/benefit analysis to determine the most cost effective way to meet their production needs. They would not make such decisions on political statements. Flaherty has indicated that money set aside in the budget for greening the auto industry could be used to entice a more fuel efficient car produced in it's place.

In an effort to save the auto industry the Province provided financing for GM. The plan did not work as effectively as had been hoped. The government will now need to attempt to recoup the funds.

GM is being blamed for bargaining in bad faith. They just signed a contract with the union without any mention of the pending closures. Considering CUPE made concessions to try to help GM be more competitive they have a right to be upset on this point. The price of oil has been on the rise. People are being more concerned about the environment and carbon emissions. The US economy is tanking. It does not take a PhD economist to predict that the overall trend is moving towards more fuel efficient vehicles. GM slowness to react to such market changes are why they are performing so poorly in the first place.

Unions create an environment where businesses cannot respond quickly to changing market conditions. Perhaps the reluctance of the big 3 to meet marketplace demands resulted from their inability to work with the unions for the greater good of the company.

There has not been much focus on the environment impact of this move. Less gas guzzlers means less carbon emissions. This could be taken as good news for the environment.

GM has been slow to respond to the trend away from large vehicles. Instead of being leaders they chose to be passive and have left the market of the future wide open for the foreign manufacturers. Adjusting to market forces requires retooling and in some cases job loss. If they had taken a larger share of the fuel efficient job market sooner, they may not have been popular with the workers but the longer term job losses would have been minimized. This may be the first painful but necessary step to achieving a strong financial future.

Another solution not being considered is what to do with the workers. Perhaps they can be retrained to work for another automaker or take their expertise to other areas of the economy. Relying on one company to be a lifelong employer is not realistic. Perhaps this is a point that needs to be considered before making the decision to join the ever changing auto industry.