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?