Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Playing in the Political Sandbox

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty held a press conference in Toronto today to try and 'convince' the Ontario Government to reduce the corporate tax rate in tomorrow's budget. Flaherty is well aware that budget's are extremely complex calculations that take months of planning. Such a drastic change in policy could not be adopted and ready to implement in a single night. His provincial counterpart Dwight Duncan was quick to call Flaherty on his political grandstanding and pointed out that citizens rejected the tax cut philosophy "in 03 and 07". Technically the Liberal mandate endorsed tax hikes that occurred in the Liberal's first mandate and status quo on taxes for now. Nobody will argue that the Liberals got reelected on their tax policy.

With election fever peeking in early spring the feud between Ontario & Ottawa over how to structure their counterparts budget has grown. People have a tendency to place blame for the feud based on which philosophy they happen to agree with. This ignores key elements of the feud.

When McGuinty was elected in 2003 he argued as a Liberal he was the best person to work with a federal Liberal government to best serve Ontario's needs. In the end it made very little difference. During the last federal election Martin did not want to be scene anywhere near the unpopular Premier.

McGuinty has long complained about the feds not giving enough money to the country's economic engine. There was the $26 billion in taxes that we not coming back to Ontario. He joined in on 1% GST and gas tax going to municipalities. McGuinty wants the Harper to cut GHG without in any negative results for the Ontario manufacturing sector. When Toronto, the economic engine of Ontario asked the province for money, McGuinty gave them new taxing powers and told them to deal with their own problems.

This game between Queen's Park and Ottawa has gotten old fast. They each have their own responsibilities and tax payers expect them to do them. When kids can't play together nicely in a sandbox the parents need to have them removed. McGuinty already has his mandate to stay and play until 2011. Sometime in the next year and a half Harper/Flaherty will have to answer to voters. If everyone can play together nicely, we can have an effective strategy for dealing with the consequences of the United States tanking their own economy.

If only it could be that easy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Learning from wins important

The Liberals have been putting the positive spin on keeping 3 of 4 seats in the byelection. There are now two more women in Parliament and they managed to avoid the embarrassment of losing another Liberal safe seat. The Conservatives are proud to add another seat while showing strong in Vancouver Quadra. The Green Party also held strong demonstrating that parties who fail to address the environment will have to deal with Green Party vote splitting. The NDP did not show well, emphasising how crowded things are on the left side of the political spectrum.

While publicly showing pride in the victories, Dion should be taking note on applying some of the lessons from the results.

Toronto Centre - When Bob Rae was booted out of office after running Ontario into the ground the NDP brand was damaged to the point that it will still be many years before many voters would ever consider voting NDP again. Rae has shown that it is possible to learn from mistakes and rebuild a political career even as disastrous as his. With the right strategy Dion may still be able to pick up credibility on the environmental portfolio.

Willowdale - Before yesterday, Martha Hall Findlay's political career consisted of losing twice to Belinda Stronach and pretending to be a contender for the Liberal leadership. Through these losses she has managed to build her reputation up to 'star candidate' status. The experience gained from losing can be used to launch a successful political career. Both Toronto ridings prove that it is possible to make a political comeback no matter how badly you screw up. Perhaps that is why John Tory is still hanging in as Ontario Conservative leader.

Desnethé--Missinippi - Churchill River - Stephane Dion has made it a priority to get more women to Ottawa. His strategy is to use his power as party leader to appoint hand picked candidates. He has also been shifting the party to the left. It seemed logical that a female, former NDP Provincial cabinet minister, that was just reelected would be a far better choice than the male candidate chosen by local riding association. On a number of occasions Dion has shown poor judgement in choosing hand picked candidates. The voters showed their displeasure by electing male Conservative Rob Clarke. The Liberals should adopt a new strategy for getting more female candidates.

Vancouver Quadra - This was supposed to be a safe Liberal riding. Voter turnout was the highest of the 4 ridings. The Liberals managed to hold on by a mere 151 votes. On the positive side Dion recognized that the seat was in trouble and made it a point to announce his support for a carbon tax that will not be called a tax in Vancouver last Friday. This was an excellent leadership decision that probably went a long way to holding the seat. The Liberals are having trouble holding on to their safe seats. They need to figure out why they have been alienating their core voters. It could be policy or it could be the politicking antics over scandals that are getting the party nowhere. These numbers need to be examined closely.

The byelections were a tiny snapshot of how some people feel the government is doing. The important thing is for the politicians to take to heart the messages the voters have been trying to send Ottawa. This will lead to better policy and better quality campaigns when the time comes for a federal election. The better the quality of each parties policies the better the outcome for Canada as a whole.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Byelection predictions afterthought

While providing my analysis today's byelections I refrained from making any predictions to wait and see how things turned out. Early today on a LJ community, my predictions were criticized by a number of community members. I just want to share what my predictions were.


Ontario -- Liberal

Vancouver -- close vote probably Liberal. I would like to see John Turner get some votes.

Sask. -- Conservative, possibly an NDP upset.
With the voting still close in Vancouver Quadra, it looks like I will have to wait until tomorrow for my thoughts on the outcome.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Liberal Judgement Day

On Monday the Liberals will attempt to reclaim (4) seats in byelections that have been left vacant by retired Liberal MPs. Anything but a clean sweep will put another black mark on the Liberals on Stephane Dion's watch. The other parties have nothing to lose.

The two Toronto ridings should easily be retained by the Liberals. The seat in Saskatchewan has been put at the most risk by Dion's decision to choose a hand picked candidate.

At the beginning of the campaign Vancouver Quadra was considered to be a mostly safe Liberal seat. Some are now declaring this byelection as too close too call. Note on Friday Dion went to Vancouver to announce the Liberal plan to put a price on carbon without calling it a tax. This appeals to the popular carbon tax just announced in British Columbia without scaring the rest of the country by suggesting a tax increase. John Turner (not the former PM) will be running for the neorhino.ca party. It will be interesting to see if he captures any votes by people who think the former PM has returned to his old riding.

The Liberals have shown their opposition to the current government by not showing up for critical votes. Will Liberals supporters show support for their party by not showing up to vote? Will voters be reluctant to send MPs to office in order not to vote? Monday will be an interesting day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NDP take potshot at Dion Enviorment Champion Title

All three opposition parties have complained that the Conservative government is taking Canada in the wrong direction and must be stopped. The NDP & BQ have taken the approach that it is time to face the electorate to allow voters to decide for themselves. The Liberal approach has been that Canadians are not in the mood to vote right now and therefore the government can do whatever it wants until Canadians are ready. The latest green light from Dion was that Canadians "don't want to vote between a snowstorm and Easter."

The difference in approaches has caused a great deal of friction between the Liberals and the NDP. While the Liberals were trying to make progress on the Cadman scandal the NDP choose to attack the government on NAFTA-gate. The government agreed to open an investigation into NAFTA-gate. The Cadman scandal is still spinning it's wheels. Some of the Liberal facts have been proven to be inconsistent and none of the parliamentary committees are willing to investigate. In fact the NDP promised to block any attempt to have the ethics committee investigate. This is the same comitee that has devoted a great deal of time to investigating the Mulroney-Schriber affair. The Liberal amendment to the budget offered criticism for being fiscally responsible like the NDP. Only 7 Liberals showed up to back the amendment.

On Monday the government announced plans for instituting the carbon capture and store solution to reduce green house gases. This is probably the second worse strategy for dealing with pollution and the environment.

On Monday night the NDP had their chance to fire back at the Liberals. When Stephane Dion won the Liberal leadership race he wrapped himself in the flag as champion of the environment. He would be able counter act a decades worth of Liberal inaction after signing the Kyoto accord and save the environment. He has already lost some creditability by making special arrangements to try to get Green Party leader Elizabeth May elected. In order to take some more lustre off of the environment armour the NDP proposed the following confidence motion:

"That the House regrets this government’s failure to live up to Canada’s international climate change agreements, and its refusal to bring forward for debate and vote, the Clean Air and Climate Change Act, the climate change plan called for by a majority vote of the House, and that therefore the House no longer has confidence in this government."

The motion was easily defeated 121- 84 (43 BQ, 30 NDP, 10 Liberal, 1 Independent). The Liberals that showed up to give token support for the motion were:

Dion (Party Leader), Ignatieff (Deputy Leader), Goodale (House Leader), Jennings (Deputy House Leader), Proulx (Deputy Whip), McGuinty (Enviornment Critic), Scarpaleggia (Water critic), Godfrey (Chair of the Caucus Committee on Environmental Sustainability), Regan (vice-chair of the Liberal Caucus Committee on environmental sustainability), Rodriguez (vice-chair official languages committee).

Dion has tied his hands with the elections can't be held before a certain date excuse. The NDP have shown themselves to be the more effective opposition party. If the Liberals want to hold back votes to not force an election don't tip their hand months in advance and at least make the votes close. Minority governments work best when the government is would prefer not to have an election and know that parties holding the balance of power are willing to topple the government if legislation does not accommodate their demands. The Liberal green light has given Harper the ability to put forth his agenda. As long as he can move the government in the direction he wants their is no need to go to the electorate for a clearer mandate.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Widdling the budget surplus cushion

On Wednesday, parliament passed Liberal Dan McTeague private member bill C-253 158-122. Should the bill pass through the Senate it would allow RESP contributions to be tax deductible the same way as RRSP. The passage of this bill causes a number of problems for both the Conservatives and the Liberals.

When the Liberals were in power they created a $3 billion contingency fund that would go towards the deficit. This money was not counted as part of the budget surplus. The Conservatives have abandoned this practise and the only left a $2.3 billion surplus for this year. Latest estimates put the cost of the change to the RESP at $900 million.

When this bill was first introduced the government was still working with double digit surpluses. One of the Liberals complaints about the current budget was that it didn't contain enough of a buffer for the pending economic downturn. Cutting the buffer even more doesn't seem fiscally prudent. A deficit under the Conservatives watch will be a plus for the Liberals. If this legislation causes the the deficit the public backlash may be directed at the Liberal party. The plus side for the Liberals is that they now will have fiscal legislation they can take credit for from the opposition benches. This legislation will likely be popular.

There is great conflict of how the Senate should handle this legislation. Harper has asked the Senate to kill it because it could be harmful to the government finances. The Conservatives have also been attacking the Senate for ignoring the will of parliament by holding up legislation. If the Senate passes the legislation quickly it will be open to criticism that they show partisanship by prioritzing legislation that benefits the Liberal party. The only choice the Senate has is to ignore party politics, do their job of evaluating the legislation on it's own merits. Under those criteria it is impossible to guess if the legislation will recieve Royal Asscent.

The bottom line is this is a piece of legislation that addresses the long standing complaint that the federal government is ignoring the financial burden of post secondary education. The timing of passing private member bills is completly unpredicatable. This legislation was passed at the worst possible time. It would be better suited as a plank in the platform for the next federal election.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Unborn Victims of Crime Act. Bill C-484

Private members bill C-484 has passed second reading by a vote of 147-132. This legislation makes it a criminal offence to harm a fetus while committing a crime against the mother. Lawful termination of a pregnancy, attempts to preserve the life of the mother or child and any act by the mother are specifically exempt from this law.

Pro-abortion groups are concerned that this is a backhanded attempt to make abortion illegal. There would also be accusations of the Conservative 'hidden agenda' except for the fact that it was co-sponsored by a Liberal. The other major argument is that the majority of cases where a fetus is harmed is the result of domestic violence. This legislation does not help deal with this very important issue.

In cases of a wanted pregnancy the impending birth of a child is a great joy to the parents as they look forward to the future. In some cases the parents have waited many years and spent thousands of dollars in order to have this opportunity. Under Canadian law the fetus does not achieve recognition as being alive until birth. This legislation in no way changes that definition. It simply acknowledges that the loss of a pregnancy, while being the victim of a crime is not the same as simply being a victim of the same crime. Our legal system has harsher punishments for more severe crimes, it stands to reason that the courts acknowledge ending a potential life is much more difficult than simply being a victim.

If our courts acknowledge that 'potential lives' have more value then just another body part, perhaps society will become more sympathetic to the trauma both physically and emotionally a woman feels when losing a pregnancy.

NAFTA-gate blamed for Obama loss

In the lead up to this weeks primary in Ohio both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton choose to attack the NAFTA agreement for causing job losses in the largely blue collar state. Both candidates declared they would use an exit clause in the NAFTA agreement as leverage to negotiate for a better deal. The government could have easily dismissed the promisses as simple campaign rhetoric. Instead they took the threat very seriously. They emphasised the benefits the US has from NAFTA. They also acknowledged the growing protectionist factions in the US Government that tend to gain support when the economy is suffering.

Then the leaks happened. The first leak happened during the budget lock-up when it was disclosed that the government had been warned to take the NAFTA threats lightly. As Clinton has already accused Obama of being a lot of talk and wishy washy on follow through, the allegation hit the Obama camp much harder. The second leak involved a memo from an Obama advisor not to take the rhetoric too seriously.

With all the scandals surrounding Parliament Hill it was a perfect time to throw another conspiracy theory into the mix. The Conservatives have been accused of trying to sabotage Obama and giving the upper hand to John McCain, who has taken advantage of the apparent Democrat hypocracy.

Harper announced today, there will be a probe into the second leak. It was information that should not have been available to the public. It is not the government's intention to try to influence the outcome of another countries democratic election.

With such a long campaign this scandal is such a tiny blip on the radar. It is hardly conceivable that come November that for many Americans the deciding vote will be decided on news from Canada. After all some news agencies are crediting Clinton's appearance on Saturday Night Live as the spark for her comeback. Jack Layton has responded to the controversy by writing to both Obama and Clinton to express his support for improving NAFTA. "The Democrats in the U.S. can count New Democrats in Canada as allies in the vital effort to improve upon NAFTA," It seems that the NDP are trying to openly help get a Democrat into the White House.

Someone leaked a memo that should have been kept confidential with some over the top consequences. This situation should be dealt with according to internal government policy for misconduct. There is no reason to turn this into a full blown scandal.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Preparing the whips

The position of whip plays a very important role in government. They are responsible for making sure enough politicians show up to vote. A simple miscount can lead to a piece of legislation being defeated or amended. Such embarrassments have happened from time to time like in the Ontario legislature when the NDP stuck in an amendment to the city of Toronto amalgamation legislation. (3) Conservatives MPPs had become so bored with the opposition filibuster that they didn't realize it was time to vote.

These days the job is particularly difficult for Karen Redman (Liberal Whip) and Marcel Proulx (Liberal Deputy Whip). Normally in a minority government, one of the opposition parties will support the government or they will topple. The Liberals are in a situation where they want to oppose government legislation while allowing it to pass.

Today's vote on amending the budget was carefully crafted to insure that the NDP and Bloc would vote against the amendment. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 202- 7. For good measure only the seven most relevant Liberals showed up for the vote: Dion (Leader), Ignatieff (Deputy Leader), Goodale (House Leader), Jennings (Deputy Leader), McCallum (Finance Critic), Redman (Whip), Prolux (Deputy Whip)

The vote on the actual budget will be much more difficult. The Bloc and the NDP will be voting to bring down the government. The Liberals will be taken more seriously by the electorate if more than 7 MPs show up to vote. Adding more opposition votes will require careful counting from Redman and Prolux. Accidentally toppling the government would be more embarrassing than this sessions Liberal practise of showing up in order not to vote.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Was the Senate bullied?

In the last election the Conservatives championed themselves as being tough on crime and punishment. They originally planned to bring their law and order agenda into effect with five different pieces of legislation, most notably raising the age of consent and minimum sentences for gun crimes. Three of the bills died in the Senate when the government prorogued parliament to kick of the fall session. The five pieces of legislation were repackaged into omnibus bill C-2.

The Liberals are against some of the fine details of the law, however they don't want to be seen as weak on crime. Bill C-2 breezed through parliament when they choose to abstain from the vote. They could take comfort that the Senate could stall the legislation until an election.

The Conservatives wanted to make sure that their legislation made it through the Senate. They brought forth a confidence motion imposing a March 1st deadline to pass the legislation. The Liberals walked out on the vote and the motion passed easily. The demand would have passed without Liberal support because it also had support from the Bloc. The interpretation of the motion that an election could be called if the Senate did not comply was never challenged. At the very least a second confidence motion may have had to be tabled to confirm the Senate's non-compliance constituted a loss of confidence in the house.

Instead the Senate scrambled into action. Extra time was put in to make sure all of the due diligence required by the Senate took place on the relatively short time table. Last week the legislation was passed by a 19-16 vote with 31 abstentions. The yea side were all Conservative Senators. The nays consisted of a mixture of Progressive Conservatives, Independents and Liberals. Thirty Liberals abstained as well as one in-dependant.

The vote shows a very disturbing prescedent for the future of the Senate. The Senate took orders from the House of Commons on how to handle a piece of legislation. The abstention votes indicate the Senate was willing to let legislation pass that they felt needed improvements because it served the best interest interest of their party. The image of a Senate with the role of fine tuning legislation to best serve the country has forever been tarnished. Harper has produced a case to demonstrate the uselessness of the Senate. With very little objection, the argument to abolish or reform the Senate has become stronger.

Where does Harper buy life insurance?

The latest scandal to hit Stephen Harper's government is an accusation that his party tried to bribe Independent MP Chuck Cadman to bring down the Paul Martin government in May 2005. Supposedly the Conservatives offered Cadman, who was dieing of late stages of cancer a million dollar life insurance policy for his vote. Cadman died two months after the vote.

The story broke when parts of a biography on Cadman set to be released later this month were released to the media. The RCMP have already opened a criminal investigation after receiving a complaint from the Liberals. If the story is proven to be true the opposition parties should waste no time in toppling the government.

There are a number of important unanswered questions regarding this story. Where would the Conservatives obtain such a life insurance policy? Numerous actuaries, insurance agents and anecdotal evidence has been presented in the media to confirm that life insurance for someone dieing with 4th stage cancer simply does not exist. Cadman's wife who has confirmed that officials made an offer to her husband his the Conservative candidate in her late husband's riding. Chuck Cadman never made the accusation that he had been bribed.

The author of the story claims to have known about the allege bribe in September 2005. If he believed there was any wrong doing should he not have reported the incident to the RCMP, instead of waiting 2.5 years for his book to be complete? Is there any reason that the preview information on the book was released shortly before a vote on the budget, that many believed was going to trigger an election.

An election presented an extra risk to Cadman. If he lost he would be entitled to reduced benefits package from what he would receive as an MP. A minimal offset of this concern to allow Cadman to make a decision based on the interests of his constituents instead of his own financial gain would not have been a breach of ethics. It would be difficult for the Libeals to argue that such an offer was any worse than Belinda Stronach crossing the floor and taking a cabinet position.

There are far too many questions to make a fair judgement call on this scandal. Hopefully the RCMP and ethics committee will be able to get to the truth on this scandal.