Monday, June 28, 2004

With mere hours to go before polls open, Steve Smith endorses NDP

Or: a scientific evaluation of the various parties' merits

Or: why scientific evaluationas of the verious parties' merits are impossible.

You should all be voting on the basis of local candidate, of course, but most of you won’t.

So, on Friday the Edmonton Journal published a two page chart summarizing the positions of the five major parties on fourteen key issues, and I’ve decided to use this summary to make a scientific comparison of the five parties’ relative fitness to govern.


Basically, I ranked each of the five parties on their platforms in each of the fourteen areas. The party receiving the highest ranking got five points, the one receiving the second highest ranking received four points, and so on down to the party receiving the worst ranking receiving one point. Ties were possible – if two parties tied with the best ranking, then both would receive five points, and whichever party came next would receive three. Then, I assigned each area a relative weight, and used these weights to give each of the parties an overall ranking.

The comparison is not ideologically neutral – I don’t think any such study could be. For example, I believe that marijuana should be legalized. If a party presents a well-thought out, intelligently argued, and ideologically coherent argument in favour of the continued inclusion of marijuana possession in the Criminal Code, I am going to give that party a low score, just because I disagree with it.

Some flaws with this comparison

1. It’s limited by the source material. The Journal feature was pretty superficial, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to do the research required to make my own comparison any less so. Additionally, the source material neglected some rather important questions, such as how the parties would deal with the fact that the state called “Canada” sits on land whose original inhabitants never actually agreed to be part of it.
2. It doesn’t take into account hot button issues. For example, I would have a tremendously difficult time supporting any party that outright supported a continued prohibition on gay marriage – I consider support for gay marriage to be a bare prerequisite for my support. In other words, while supporting gay marriage won’t go far towards getting my vote, opposing it could go a long ways towards losing my support.
3. The issues are considered in isolation, rather than holistically. This means, for example, that I don’t consider the fiscal ramifications of the parties’ education plans when ranking them in the education section.
4. It doesn’t take into account any aspect of the party’s leadership beyond where that leadership stands on the relevant issues. For example, I agree with Jack Layton on a lot of issues, but I don’t like or trust him. The reverse is true of Stephen Harper. This comparison rewards Layton and punishes Harper.
5. Our panel (me), while probably smarter than you, is hardly expert.
6. The comparison fails to consider that on some issues (e.g. Marijuana) all parties might be quite good, while on others (e.g. Health Care) they might all be terrible. Instead, one party always receives five marks, no matter how undeserved, while another always receives one.
7. The weightings are pretty much arbitrary.
8. This comparison assumes that the parties would actually follow through on their promises if elected, which none of them would.

In brief, this comparison is a crock of shit. Read on. . .

Health Care (5% Weight)

Health care is an excellent place to start this comparison, because it establishes a theme that wil recur throughout this comparison: namely, that all of the parties are lying to you. The Liberals are lying when they say that there can be some sort of intergovernmental agreement that could “fix health care for a generation”. The Conservatives are lying when they pretend that “innovation” can take the place of “money” in maintaining the universality of the existing system. The New Democrats are lying when they pretend that our existing system is “publicly delivered” (my own doctor, who is incorporated as a private, for-profit, corporation that happens to have only one client, Alberta Health, would probably be quite surprised to hear this). The Green Party is lying when it pretends that “preventative health” can reduce costs (it’s a good idea, because it’s a pretty cheap way of helping people live longer – but people who live long healthy lives only to die of cancer at age ninety actually cost the system *more* than fat tubs who die of sudden heart attacks at age forty).

Unsurprisingly, the Bloc Québecois gets top marks in this one for promising to leave the issue to the provinces (note to parties other than the Bloc: see how easy this is?). The rest all commit to meddling in the issue to varying degrees, so the question of provincial interference is a wash. The question of public vs. private delivery is one over which there are few values at play, so I’m not going to rank based on that (the New Democrats and Greens support public delivery over private, while the Conservatives see a greater role for the private sector. The Liberals, characteristically, are slippery on the question). Assuming we want health care to remain free to all Canadians, and that we want new treatments to be made available to Canadians as they are approved, the only real solution to our health care woes it to throw money at the problem. The New Democrats favour throwing the most (and have a tax strategy to back that plan up – more on that later), so they’re ranked next, followed by, in descending order, the Conservatives, Greens, and Liberals. The ranking on health care:

1. Bloc Québecois
2. New Democratic Party
3. Conservative Party
4. Green Party
5. Liberal Party

Taxes (9% Weight)

Call me a little wet, but I like the Greens’ tax strategy. At its core is a pledge to tax gasoline at an extra ten cents per litre. Though this move might initially appear to affect the poor more than the rich, since fuel consumption is more weakly correlated to income than consumption of many luxury goods, the tax plan compensates for that by reducing the marginal tax rate on the lowest bracket. It also applies a good portion of the increased revenue from the fuel tax to corporate tax cuts, such that most corporations would be, at worst, neutrally affected by the move. High-income individuals are those most adversely affected by the move. Overall, the Greens strike the right balance between creative use of tax policy to achieve social goals and use of tax cuts for economic stimulation.

I like the New Democrats’ tax strategy as well, especially because it’s ballsy enough to admit that profitable corporations and wealthy individuals will be paying more, which fits with my ideology on the matter. Sadly, cold hard reality is likely to intervene – the ND plan is probably more appropriate to economic times more expansionist than those we’re presently facing.

The Liberals have no tax strategy, which is enough to get them third rank in this category, since both the Bloc and the Conservatives are advocating net decreases in taxation, which is a little disingenuous when both are also claiming to be able to increase transfers to the provinces for the purpose of fixing health care. I rank the Bloc above the Conservatives partly because their proposed cuts aren’t as deep, and partly because they’re also proposing to achieve some neat social objectives through tax policy (such as a plan, also supported by the NDP, to remove the GST from family essentials, and the proposal to allow tax deductions for public transportation).

The ranking on tax:

1. Green Party
2. New Democratic Party
3. Liberal Party
4. Bloc Québecois
5. Conservative Party

Fiscal Projections and Debt (9% Weight)

I’d like to offer an apology in advance to most of my business professors, but the reality is that the New Democrats are the only one of the three main pan-Canadian parties to have their spending plans fully and publicly costed out. They also offer the most sensible debt-repayment plan, given the economic context, in suggesting that the debt to G.D.P. ratio be made to fall not through aggressive debt payment but through gradual growth of the G.D.P.

The Liberals are similarily intelligent towards the debt, but are perhaps over-cautious in their fiscal projections (as Paul Martin was every year he spent as finance minister). Padding the budget to prevent excessive spending is an admirable quality in a finance minister, but isn’t much of a way to lead a government. The Bloc takes the Liberal plan and decides to err on the opposite side, which is much more dangerous (or would be if there was any chance of the Bloc ever being in a position to implement its plans). The Green plan is wacky, proposing a mid-term referendum to determine priorities (I could probably think of some issues more ill-suited to determination by the masses than public finances, but I really don’t feel like trying at this point – suffice it to say that there aren’t many).

My harshest scorn, however, is reserved for the Conservatives, who rely on the myth of “trimming the fat” to explain the present revenue gap in their projections. While there is government waste, it is
(a) extraordinarily difficult for elected officials to fully ferret out; and
(b) not an appreciable portion of the budget.
I mean, eliminate all of the subsidies paid to artists who work in scatological media, eliminate all of the three hundred dollar toilet seat, eliminate all of the canoe museums, and you might be able to give every Canadian an extra ten bucks come the following April.

The rankings:

1. New Democratic Party
2. Liberal Party
3. Bloc Québecois
4. Green Party
5. Conservative Party

Education (5% Weight)

Once again, the Bloc was the only party to correctly answer the trick question, promising to “transfer all federal spending on education to the provinces”. The Conservatives were nearly as good, making only a few vague promises on “working with the provinces” and “enhancing the Canada student loans program” (one concern is that the little the Conservatives do plan on doing seems geared towards allowing students to incur more debt, rather than towards reducing the front-end cost – still, though, I can scarcely fault them for not addressing tuition after I gave the Bloc top marks for exactly the same thing).

The Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens all intend on meddling in education in significant ways, so I give third ranking to the New Democrats just because I think their meddling will do students the most good (though the wisdom of seeking an outright ten percent cut in tuition fees state-wide when they already vary considerably from province to province is certainly questionable). The Liberals plan on continuing the status quo, which hasn’t served students particularily well, but is at least not completely insane, like the Greens’ plan is. They want to increase co-op programs, which isn’t even intruding on provincial jurisdiction so much as it is intruding on institutional jurisdiction. They also want to give retired people tuition-free access to University, which makes no sense since these are the people for whom a University education is a luxury, rather than the necessirty it is fast becoming for young people.


1. Bloc Québecois
2. Conservative Party
3. New Democratic Party
4. Liberal Party
5. Green Party

National Unity (5% Weight)

Is it a bad sign when the pledge by the Liberals and the Conservatives to do absolutely nothing on the national unity front still places them ahead of any of their competition? Is it worse when the New Democrats’ and Greens’ failure to even produce coherent national unity positions puts them next? Yes, the only party to propose any change to the status quo on the national unity front is the Bloc Québecois, whose proposal to break up the country along national lines gives them the lowest ranking of the five parties, due solely to my ideological opposition to the nation-state.

I shouldn’t be complaining, I suppose, since the more political parties discuss national unity, the more fractured the country becomes.

1. Conservative Party
1. Liberal Party
3. Green Party
3. New Democratic Party
5. Bloc Québecois

Marijuana (3% Weight)

As mentioned earlier, I support the full legalization of the growth, sale, and possession of Mexican Laughing Tobacco. So do the New Democrats and the Greens, so they take top marks. The rest all want to decriminalize possession of small amounts, though they vary on how large those amounts should be. The Liberals are the only party to name a number, at 15 grams, so they get points for specificity. The Conservatives specifically say that 15 grams is too much, without proposing an alternative, while the Bloc leaves the door open for voters to believe that 15 grams (or more, even) is fine with them. Somewhat arbitrarily, I’ve decided that, while specificity shall favour the Liberals, relative specificity in supporting a lower amount will cause the Conservatives to be ranked below the Bloc.

1. Green Party
1. New Democratic Party
3. Liberal Party
3. Bloc Québecois
5. Conservative Party

Same-Sex Marriage (5% Weight)

The New Democrats, Bloc Québecois, and Greens all, like me, support same-sex marriage, and want Parliament to legalize it as soon as possible. This results in a three-way tie for first on the issue.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are busy rather misinterpreting the role of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is supposed to be to reign in Parliament if it makes oppressive laws, not to dictate what laws it makes in the first place. References to the Supreme Court are meant to test the legality of legislation in advance, not, in this case, to test the legality of not changing legislation at all (indeed, if the Liberals are planning on changing legislation to allow same sex marriage anyway, what’s the point of the current reference at all?). To sum up, I really really really question the wisdom of people planning to vote Liberal on this issue alone.

The Conservatives, however, hide behind the mantra of “free votes on moral issues”. While free votes are wonderful ideas (though I’m still not clear on why MPs need permission from their parties’ leadership before voting their consciences), and while the New Democrats’ support for forcing MPs to toe the party line on “moral issues” is reprehensible, the Conservatives, once again, being a little disingenuous – if saying that their MPs would be free to vote as they chose on a given issue constituted an adequate position on that issue, why isn’t that the extent of their permission on Marijuana, or on other reforms to the Criminal Code? The reality is that the Conservatives say no more than “free vote” on this issue only because they’re afraid of exposing themselves as a bunch of troglodytes who want to keep marriage an exclusively heterosexual affair for no apparently good reason.

1. Bloc Québecois
1. Green Party
1. New Democratic Party
4. Liberal Party
5. Conservative Party

Environment (9% Weight)

On this issue the Greens, while strong, give the impression of a party so desparate to moderate itself that it’s forgotten its core beliefs. As a result, they’re outmanoeuvred by the New Democrats, who are proposing the most environmentally activist agenda ever proposed by a mainstream North American political party. They will invest heavily in wind turbines ($10 billion over six years), conduct extensive research into renewable resources, and fund extensive public transportation initiatives in cities (at this point, my throat is hoarse from heckling “provincial jurisdiction!”, so I’ll just stop). I’m a little dubious of their pledge to ban the bulk export of fresh water, but, within the context of the entire plan, I’ll let it slide.

The Greens propose a relatively corporate-friendly regimen focussed mostly on the aforementioned creative use of tax policy and on subisides to sustainable transportation initiatives. The Bloc environmental platform proposes wind turbines (fewer than the New Democrats), regulations to improve cars’ fuel efficiency, and a Québec-favourable tax regimen that would give breaks to hydro-electric generators while punishing consumers of Albertan fossil fuels.

The Liberals edge slightly ahead of the Conservatives mostly on the strength of their commitment to wind power (while the Liberals supported signing Kyoto and the Conservatives didn’t, neither party actually plans on reaching the emmission targets, so they’re pretty well interchangeable on that front). The most bizarre element of the Conservative plan is to fund their environmental platform through money saved by pulling out of Kyoto. Huh? How does signing an accord and not implementing it save us any money?


1. New Democratic Party
2. Green Party
3. Bloc Québecois
4. Liberal Party
5. Conservative Party

Cities (5% Weight)

Another provincial issue, and this time not even the Bloc gets it right. At any rate, I am of the mind that the greatest issue facing cities is transportation, and the New Democrats and the Greens are the ones who best address transportation. The NDs are also being the most aggressive on affordable housing, which earns them the nod over the Greens.

Aside from its relative lack of transportation initiatives, the Liberal platform on cities is not unappealing, and could best be called New Democrat Lite. Pledging to transfer the same amount of the gas tax as the New Democrats, and seeking to address affordable housing (just with less money than the New Democrats), the Liberals place a strong third. The Conservatives, whose city platform is Liberal Lite, aren’t bad either, though they do focus on crime fighting in a fashion that none of the other parties do. The Bloc doesn’t do much beyond promise a Chrétienesque infrastructure program, so it pulls up the rear.

Cities, as ballyhooed as they’ve been, just don’t work well as an election issue because there are no stark differences between the parties.

1. New Democratic Party
2. Green Party
3. Liberal Party
4. Conservative Party.
5. Bloc Québecois

Defence (9% Weight)

The Bloc doesn’t seem to have a defence platform, so they’re an easy lastplace pick. The Liberals, Conservatives, and Greens all pledge increased defence spending (with five year projections of $3 billion, $7 billion, and $5 billion, respectively), while the New Democrats don’t. For this reason alone, I really can’t rate the New Democrats better than fourth unless they’re prepared to also advocate less Canadian participation in U.N.-sanctioned peace keeping efforts, and they’re not. This is a shame, because the New Democrats are the ones calling for outright withdrawl from missile defence talks, with which I fully agree, and about a shift away from offensive weapons systems, with which I also agree.

Despite its warts – simultaneously participating in missile defence talks opposing outright the so-called “weaponization of space”, for example – the Liberal policy comes closest to striking the correct balance. While the Conservatives are too focussed on such relative unecessities as tanks and fighter planes (to say nothing of their reasonable facsimille of support for the missile system), and while the Greens focus too much on merging things (among others, they want the reserve and the coast guard merged and the departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence merged), the Liberals focus on increasing the size of our beleaguered forces and replacing obsolete equipment.

1. Liberal Party
2. Green Party
3. Conservative Party
4. New Democratic Party
5. Bloc Québecois

Foreign Affairs (9% Weight)

A major difference in foreign policy planks – and one that received no visible discussion during the campaign – is the parties’ plans for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the agreement’s eleventh chapter in particular. Chapter Eleven allows corporations to sue government for unfair subsidy of local industries, which was innovative in that it replaced a system in which only governments could challenge one another on such matters. The New Democrats and Bloc believe that Chapter Eleven stands in the way of legitimate government subsidy of services, while the Liberals and Conservatives consider it appropriate to protect private interests from government machinations. To me, the real question is not whether or not it is proper to allow corporations to sue governments (it is), but rather on what basis they can do so. Scrapping Chapter Eleven, as proposed by the New Democrats and Bloc, would effectively neuter many other provisions of the deal – which is probably the point.

On the other hand, the New Democrats and the Bloc are the two parties who most accept the principle of multilateralism on non-economic matters, which appeals to me – we’ll need to see multilateral action on the part of first world states if we are to reverse the trend of third world exploitation. On that note, the Bloc and the New Democrats are also the most vocal about increasing foreign aid. They’re pretty clearly going to be ranked one-two in my books, Chapter Eleven notwithstanding. I give the edge to the Bloc mostly because the New Democrats are proposing to play the punitive tarriffs game with the United States on the softwood lumber issue, a tactic which is obsolete by, oh, let’s say about half a century. On the other hand, the Bloc proposes to give Québec greater involvement in international affairs, which just goes to show that it’s as hypocritical on division of powers questions as any of the other parties.

Of the remaining three parties, the Greens are easy last place picks for their sparse and selectively specific foreign policy (“Suport self-governance for Tibetan and Kurdish peoples”). Their plan to, essentially, subordinate the Canadian military to the United Nations also does not meet with my approval.

I’ll take the Liberals and their poorly developed platform (basically, they say “elect us and we’ll continue working on deciding our foreign policy) over the Conservatives, to whom I am just plain ideologically opposed (revisionist history aside, the Conservatives were proposing participation in the invasion of Iraq on the sole basis that it would be good for relations with the Americans. That’s a pretty shitty basis on which to set a foreign policy.).

1. Bloc Québecois
2. New Democratic Party
3. Liberal Party
4. Conservative Party
5. Green Party

Parliamentary Reform (9% Weight)

The major issue here appears to be the question of free votes, which I will outright ignore on the basis that nobody has yet satisfactorily explained to me how existing votes are somehow not “free”. Thus, the New Democrats escape my wrath for planning on forcing their MPs to toe the line on issues like gay marriage just because there is no way that they *can* force their MPs to toe the line. In fact, as the only party (as far as know) to support outright Senate abolition, they rank first (though, for what it’s worth, the NDP would be no more able to abolish the Senate if it had a majority government than it would be able to force its MPs to vote as it saw fit – this is a blatant double standard. Deal with it).

The Conservatives plan on appointing people elected in provincial elections to the Senate, which is a terrible idea, since it will give the body pretend legitimacy, and activate it. This will hinder efforts at abolition, which are clearly good. On the other hand, the Conservatives also propose beefing up the Auditor General’s office, which would be a very good thing.

The pickings as far as the rest of the parties go are pretty slim. The Liberals, predictably, bring nothing to the table, which is still preferable to the Bloc’s promise to let the positions of its MPs be dictated by unanimous votes in the Québec Assemblé National. The Greens take third by default, then, since they have some decent proposals – among them increasing the transparency of ministerial and deputy ministerial expense reports. Their proposed citizens registry, which would allow citizens to receive electronic updates of Parliament’s decisions on issues about which they care, is intriguing, but probably ultimately pointless (I mean, that’s why we have blogs, right?). Their proposal to subject newly elected MPs to mandatory ethics training is also dumb.

In short, real proposals for parliamentary reform are scarce in this election, which is a shame given all of the ink the cause has been given over the past months.

1. New Democratic Party
2. Conservative Party
3. Green Party
4. Liberal Party
5. Bloc Québecois

Electoral Reform (9% Weight)

As previously noted, proportional representation is a terrible idea, and both the New Democrats and the Greens support it, which costs them in my estimation. The Green Party redeems itself somewhat through its support for fixed election dates (fixed election dates are pretty incompatible with the parliamentary system, but the parliamentary system is fundamentally undemocratic, and fixed election dates mitigate this, so I support them).

The Conservatives also support fixed election dates, and do not support proportional representation, which is enough to put them ahead of both the New Democrats and the Greens. Throw in the fact that they want to end all corporate and union donations to political parties and eliminate the forced $1.75 subsidy that goes along with a vote, and they’re miles ahead of any of the competition, though I do object to their proposal to put Elections Canada in control of party nomination processes on the basis that it further legitimizes a process that we ought not to be legitimizing.

Neither the Bloc nor the Liberals bring anything to the table, making them only slightly better than the New Democrats in my estimation. The rankings, then:

1. Conservative Party
2. Green Party
3. Bloc Québecois
3. Liberal Party
5. New Democratic Party

Law and Order (9% Weight)

Nowhere, except maybe in the area of gay marriage, are my philosophical differences with the Conservative Party more on display than they are in this section. The Conservatives want to repeal the Faint Hope clause, abolish conditional sentences for serious crimes, forbid prisoners in federal institutions from voting in federal elections, and develop child pornography legislation that is fundamentally at odds with freedom of expression (and not in a fashion mitigated by the Harm Principle). The Conservatives have a detailed and comprehensive approach to law and order issues, and I hate it, so I’m ranking them last (despite the fact that they’re the only party promising to scrap the gun registry).

The Liberals, once again, have very little to say, mostly defending their past moves, such as the creation of the sex offender registry and the establishment of roadside testing to determine if drivers are under the influence of drugs. Both are good moves, but they’re also both moves that have already been made. Sadly, this complete lack of effort is still enough to put the Liberals ahead of the Bloc, which doesn’t have much beyond a suggestion that Québec be exempted from the new young offenders law.

Hippy that I am, my two favourite parties in this section are the New Democrats and the Greens, with both having essentially identical platgforms supporting restorative justice and safe injection sites. There are differences between the platforms, but this is my last decision, and I’m tired, so I’m tying them for first.

1. Green Party
1. New Democratic Party
3. Liberal Party
4. Bloc Québecois
5. Conservative Party

The Final Grades

1. New Democratic Party – 78.8% (B)
2. Green Party – 68.4% (C)
3. Bloc Québecois – 54.2% (D)
4. Conservative Party – 48.0% (F)
5. Liberal Party – 28.2% (F)

Make of that what you will. Me, I’m voting on the basis of the local candidate.

Oh good - something else on which to base my self-esteem

This is weird. But possibly also cool. Somebody with a longer attention span and faster internet connection than me should look into this and explain to me what it is.

And the horses take to the gates...
The picks:

Alex Abboud105118552811
Josh Bazin100115553401
Dane Bullerwell109116602300
M. Mustafa Hirji100130601701
Kyle Kawanami103124552600
Spencer Keys100116672410
Chris Samuel119112512510
Heather Smith115104592901
Steve Smith118110552302
Jake Troughton103121632010
Heather Wallace13097483210


Sunday, June 27, 2004


My sister has a hit from Finland and I don't.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

Vector Marketing, meet the New Democratic Party

With the election only days away, now may be a good time to predict the aftermath, especially the effects on the careers of the relevant leaders.

In two cases, the predictions are extraordinarily easy. Stephen Harper's safety as Conservative leader is assured. Many pundits, this one included, predicted that the new Conservative Party would achieve little more success than its Alliance predecessor, since the leader is the party's public face and since the new party had the same public face as the old one. Instead, he is now expected by most pundits (though not this one) to win a plurality of seats. This improved performance is mostly due to Paul Martin, but Harper deserves some credit of his own, and will get it from a grateful party. Gilles Duceppe, likewise, will remain free to choose his own retirement date, as he will lead the Bloc to its best ever electoral performance, and may even become a significant player on the national stage in the unlikely event that the next government survives its first confidence vote.

Conventional wisdom dictates that Paul Martin will be in trouble in his own party. Remember, this is the man who was originally supposed to increase the size of the Liberal majority, and who is now going to lose it. He has run the worst campaign of any sitting Prime Minister in Canadian history with the exceptions of Kim Campbell in 1993 and Louis St-Laurent 1957 and the possible exception of John Turner in 1984. However, Martin's situation is most similar to Turner's: he was the heir-apparent for years, supposed to revitalize a tired party, and blew his political capital extremely quickly (for added parallels, track down the recent picture of Martin patting his wife's bottom). And Turner, despite being a clear waste of DNA, was allowed to stay on to fight another election (in which he partially redeemed himself). I suspect that Martin will get the same opportunity, because:
(a) there will be another election very soon, and the Liberals won't have time to find a new leader;
(b) there isn't an hear apparent - this is an advantage that even Turner lacked;
(c) too many people in the Liberal Party will look too stupid if they force Martin from office mere months after hailing him as the Party's saviour. While a Liberal, by its nature, exists only for the pursuit of power, this pursuit is not aided by being made to look stupid. All Liberal eggs are presently in one basket, and it will take a while to transfer them out.
If Martin is unable to form a stable government after the 2005 election (or, as Spencer speculates, the second 2004 election), the knives will be out.

The most interesting question is what will happen to Jack Layton. Layton, while an asset to his party leading up to the election, has unquestionably been a liability of Martin-esque proportions since the writ was dropped. Canadians who are not ideologically tied to the NDP have been put off by his manner and performance. I have heard several people comment that they were closest in ideology to the NDP, but are voting Green because of Layton. While he will unquestionably register significant gains for the party, these gains will be smaller than they were supposed to be, and will all but evaporate after the next election (which will be a straight Liberals vs. Conservatives affair, as elections after minorities collapse usually are). It's quite conceivable that the Party will decide to replace him before the 2008/2009 election - in its own way, his star is falling as dramatically as Martin's.


Friday, June 25, 2004

Announcing the What is the Point of This Story? federal election pool '04

Here's how it works: you give me two bucks (or, if I consider your credit good, promise to give me two bucks) and a list of your predicted seat counts in the election. You must do both of these things by midnight - Edmonton time - Sunday (i.e. the midnight separating Sunday from Monday). Then I post all of the predictions. Then, whoever's predictions come closest to the actual results (as measured by summing the absolute differences between your predictions and the actual results for each party) wins the pot. Predictions, and promises of payment, should be e-mailed to me at steve dot smith at ualberta dot ca.

Any questions?

This just in:

"Stephen Murray Smith" is an anagram for "primate's hymen hurts".

Thanks for pointing that out, Nick.


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Why this raving socialist distrusts government regulation of the economy

The year was 1991. Or thereabouts. I needed a line to open this entry, and "The year was 1991" sounds better than "The year began with 199, or maybe 198". Besides, if your humble pundit cared about factual accuracy he never would have listed that fictitious PhD work on his resume. Anyway, my brother and I had just, within the last month or so, completed a game of Risk (for the record: I won. I assume), which means that all of the pieces were scattered over my bedroom floor.

I will pause here, for reasons that will fast become apparent to those of you stupid enough to have not yet stopped reading, to explain that the version of Risk I have is the third version. The pieces are made of plastic (not of wood, as in version one), and they're not the little cubes of version two, but neither are they the little infantrymen, horsemen, or cavalry of version four. No, the armies in the version of Risk that I have are pointy little stars - essentially, colour-coded plastic caltrops.

Anyway, so there were dozens of these little caltrops scattered about my bedroom floor, when my brother - who will probably grow up to be either the next P.T. Barnum or the next Don King - saw the potential for some amusement.

"Stephen," he said (my immediate family all calls me "Stephen" rather than the more popular "Steve" and "S. Murray"), "I will offer you five dollars to jump off of your bed onto the Risk pieces."

Now, I may have been nine years old (or the thereabouts), but I wasn't stupid (I didn't become stupid until about 2001, at the same time as the rest of the world became smart). I knew that landing, with my bare feet, on the Risk pieces was going to hurt - hurt more than an affront to one's legislative talents, almost. I knew that, if I accepted the offer, there would be pain exchanged for the gain. But where I come from (Peace River, Alberta), we have a saying: "No pain, no gain." (For what it's worth, this saying isn't unique to Peace River. But I'm almost sure that I heard it there at least once.) Upon evaluation, I decided that the five dollars was worth whatever pain and suffering I would inflict. I jumped. It hurt.

In a true market economy, the government's only role is to enforce contracts (actually, it probably has a few more that I haven't thought of, but my sentiment on the matter is that if God had wanted us to be thorough, She would not have given us Mustafa). In a true market economy, freedom to contract is absolute - economic players can make whatever deals they deem to be in their interest. My house, as I was soon to discover, was a very pale imitation of a market economy.

I cannot remember exactly how my parents came to find out about the little bargain made between my brother and I, though I suspect my sister (who, for the benefit of any English majors reading this, is probably a metaphor for organized labour, or something). Anyway, one parent or the other comes storming into my room, and sets out the following regulation:
i. No person shall contract another to jump off a bed onto Risk pieces.
ii. Any contract purporting to obligate one party to jump off a bed onto Risk pieces shall be null and void, even if already fulfilled.

The aim of this regulation, of course, was to "protect" me from my own stupidity. The thing is, I wasn't being stupid - even today, if you offered me five bucks to jump onto a bunch of Risk pieces with my bare feet, I'd do it. I had taken advantage of my assumed freedom to contract to make a deal that I considered advantageous to me. But my parents (English majors: the state) stepped in to prevent me from benefitting from the deal. Worse yet, they did so retroactively.

Over the longer term, I was no better protected by this regulation than I was without it. The effect that it *did* have was to shake my confidence in the state's willingness to enforce (or, at the very least, not quash) my freedom to contract, which made me more reluctant to enter into contracts. Effectively, then, all this regulation did was suppress legitimate economic activity.

And that's why I think the government should stay the hell out of the economy.

Addendum: it occurs to me that, in a true market economy, it's entirely possible that the state wouldn't even enforce contracts, and trust would become currency. Far out.

Jenna, this is Steve. Steve's really quite strange, but if you get to know him you'll find that you've grown to like him, after a couple of years

Roman Kotovych has started a blog. Hopefully, this will keep him off the streets and away from junior high schools.

Another noteworth hack has also started a blog, but she asked me not to mention it. She gave me permission to put it in my sidebar, though.

Also, those of you who have been reading this space for more than a few days will doubtlessly remember Dane and Joel, everybody's favourite zany blogstalkers from Rocky Mountain House. Well, today Joel mentioned me again (and used the phrase "to legislate [somebody] a new asshole", to boot).

The post about my distrust of government intervention in the economy will come later tonight, and it will be a good one.

Exciting News!

1. Conrad Bitangcol, my candidate of choice in Edmonton-St. Albert, apparently reads this space quasi-regularily. Who knew?

2. While I was at the Edmonton-Strathcona forum, my sister was at the Edmonton-St. Albert one. Read her review here.

The promised economic treatise is still to come.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Edmonton-Strathcona Candidates can Smell What the Hacks are Cooking

So last night I went to the Edmonton-Strathcona candidate's forum held in the U of A Students' Union Building. While I'm not resident in Edmonton-Strathcona, and while the forum in my own riding of Edmonton-St. Albert was going on at the same time, I've already voted, I was on campus anyway, and I figured that as long as I was attending a forum that wasn't going to affect my vote it might as well be the one with all the hacks at it. While there are a multitude of candidates running in Edmonton-Strathcona (eight sounds about right, though I'm too lazy to check that), the only candidates present were:

Malcolm Azania (New Democratic Party)
Debbie Carlson (Liberal Party)
Kevan Hunter (Marxist-Leninist Party)
Rahim Jaffer (Conservative Party)
Cameron Wakefield (Green Party)

Some thoughts:

1. Debbie Carlson is a human wasteland, though the wisdom of my publicly saying such things about my Dean's wife is probably questionable.

2. There seemed to be some sort of a competition to see who could reveal the most sordid past: Azania was, of course, questioned about his allegedly anti-Semitic comments, prompting Jaffer to make a reference to his having lied about an interview his aide gave while posing as him. Later on, Carlson gave an emotional speech about her having been charged with fraud in 1991 (the speech including the rather questionable, to anybody with a basic understanding of criminal law, assertion that "[she] was found innocent beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law." I was expecting Wakefield to seize the mike and confess to having killed three nuns, or something. Repentance is very fashionable in Edmonton-Strathcona these days.

3. As with my own riding, the candidate who impressed me the most was the Green candidate. I suspect that this might be because the Greens, who will not win a single seat in the upcoming election, are unable to attract the sort of prima-donna-ish opportunists that the other parties can. Instead, they get earnest people who are committed to things like "democracy" and "representing one's constituents". Almost makes me sorry that they're going to do so well this election that they'll be poised to win a couple of seats next election, and will therefore be afflicted with the same rot as every other party.

4. A partial list of the things to whose existence Hunter fundamentally objects:
- personal income taxes
- parliament
- missile defense
- political parties
- the British North America Act
- Rahim Jaffer
- elections
- oxygen
- the cosine

5. Chris Jones, as is traditional at election forums occurring inside SUB, asked the most amusing question when he questioned candidates on their understanding of the division of powers in the Canadian Constitution and how the candidates would impose their wills on matters of purely provincial jurisdiction, like health care. Wakefield gave the best answer when he admitted that his strategy on preventing two-tiered health care basically amounted to providing adequate transfer payments and politely asking the Premiers to keep Medicare.

6. Mike Hudema started off his series of questions by announcing "I have a lot of issues". This prompted moderator Alex Abboud to cut in with "In the interests of time, I'm going to ask you to confined your question to one of them." "Okay," conceded Hudema, "I promise to ask about at least two."

7. My own question to Carlson on why, if health care was truly her number one priority as she was professing, she was leaving a legislature that is responsible for health care for one that wasn't went unanswered, as she took the opportunity instead to attack Ralph Klein's record on the issue.

To come: why I'm distrustful of government intervention in the economy.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Smith's Theory of Candidate Weaselness

The weaselness of any given candidate is directly proportional to that candidate's chances of getting elected.

I can't decide which way the causal relationship goes, or which way would depress me more.

Election? I don't care about no election, let's give this wolf a lethal injection

NOTE: This post should have gone up yesterday, but I was experiencing a multitude of technical difficulties.

Some catching up. . .

Gonzo journalism

Well, I voted today, and it wasn't for the Conservative candidate, but I still feel a little righteous indignation on the party's behalf after reading today's Journal cover story. Entitled "Tory Platform a Legal Minefield", it claims that the Conservative platform "contains at least 12 items that either violate the Charter of Rights, are ripe for serious court challenges or would require amendments to the Constitution". The items mentioned in the story are:

1. Eliminating federal prisoners' voting rights
2. Banning gay marriage
3. Eliminating artistic merit as a defence for owning child pornography
4. Repealing the "faint hope" clause
5. Imposing consecutive, rather than concurrent, life sentences for criminals convicted of multiple offenses;
6. Eliminating parole for criminals convicted of life sentences
7. Declaring criminals convicted of three violent or sexual crimes dangerous offenders and jailing them indefinitely
8. Requiring violent or serious repeat offenders who are 14 or older to be tried in adult court
9. Banning partisan advertising from government departments
10. Eliminating political party contributions from corporations and unions
11. Implementing an elected senate
12. Allowing a committee of MPs to ratify appointments to the Supreme Court

Now, all of these except 9 an 10 are bad ideas. But is this truly a "legal minefield"? Let's look at them one by one:

1. On this one, the article appears to have a point. The Supreme Court ruling that gave prisoners federal voting rights was based on a section of the Charter that is not subject to the Notwithstanding Clause (which applies only to Section 2 and Sections 7 through 15). Short of amending the Constitution - which currenct Conservative Justice Critic Vic Toews suggested was a possibility - there's not much that could be done to implement this promise.

2. First of all, nowhere does the Conservative Party promise to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. The only thing the Conservatives have committed to doing if they form a government is withdrawing the reference to the Supreme Court on the question, and then having parliament vote on it. If Parliament so chose, it would be free to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to shield the law from a Charter Challenge. Certainly, there is absolutely nothing in the Conservative platform about gay marriage that would seem to constitute a "legal mine".

3. This issue is fairly clear cut, the Supreme Court having already ruled on it. However, Stephen Harper said during the leaders debate that he would support invoking the Notwithstanding Clause to accomplish this. There is nothing suddenly newsworthy about this issue that should be appearing on the front page of the Journal at this point.

4, 5, 6, 7, 8. The article itself essentially admits that there is no particule reason to believe that these would raise the Charter's ire. While they *could* be challenged under the Charter's cruel and unusual punishment section, the same is true of any criminal sanction. Effectively, the logic at play here is that any party that proposes stiffening criminal penalties is guilty of erecting a legal minefield.

9, 10. Again, while these measures *could* be challenged under the Charter's freedom of expression sections, the Supreme Court just upheld the much more restrictive third party gag law. If we're going to accuse the Conservatives of having a platform that's a legal minefield, shouldn't we have accused the Chrétien Liberals of the same?

11. Stephen Harper has been very forthright on exactly what this Senate would look like: it would consist of Senators appointed in the usual manner (by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister), after they had won the sort of sham provincial Senate elections that Brown and Morton have won in Alberta. There could not possibly be any legal issues at play here - once again, no minefield.

12. Once again, there is nothing at all to stop the Prime Minister from forwarding his nominees for positions on the Supreme Court to a panel of MPs, and then withdrawing them if they don't meet with the panel's approval. Once again, there is no legal mine. Once again, this is an example of partisan journalism of the worst kind.

The strategy of my enemy is my friend

So there I am out in Kananaskis, when an acquaintance of mine, knowing that I practise the art of punditry as an amateur, asks me to explain something to him.

"So the Conservatives are doing much better than expected this election, right?" he asks. I murmer my agreement.

"And the Liberals are trying to counter this surge by launching a lot of attacks against the Conservatives and Stephen Harper in particular, to make them look like maniacs, right?" Again, he's got it right.

"And this strategy isn't working, because the public doesn't view the Liberal allegations as believable, right?" Three for three, oh anonymous and possibly fictitious acquaintance o' mine.

"So how come the Conservatives, on this child porn thing, decided to make a series of far *less* believable allegations against Paul Martin and Jack Layton? Especially when they don't seem to be in the position of desparation normally associated with such attacks?"

Ah, well, maybe he'll understand when he's older. Maybe I'll understand when I'm older. Maybe, if we're all very good, politics will one day make some sense. Until then, I change the subject to the Eskimos' quarterback situation.

I got me the Western Alienation Blues (WAB)

Paul Martin has done the near impossible: he has made me, a left-leaning University educated suburbanite, feel Western alienation. The culprit? His profoundly silly comments on Ralph Klein and health reform.

Now, as regular readers of this space are no doubt aware, I am a raving socialist. I do not care for Ralph Klein, and probably won't care for his health plan either, once it's unveiled on the thirtieth. But it seems to me that if Albertans want to move to a system of health delivery/payment (matters, it's worth noting, of purely provincial jurisdiction) that is appreciably different from traditional Canadian Medicare (and it's my belief that most Albertans don't), it's none of the business of the following people/groups:
1. Paul Martin
2. Ontario voters

As an Albertan and as a member of Alberta's electorate, I object to the suggestion that I am not competent to make decisions on my own province on matters of provincial responsibility. Butt out, Paul.


Friday, June 18, 2004

I lied.

One more post before I mosy off to beautiful K-Country, this one on the subject of David Kilgour's comments on the gun registry.

First of all, let's be very clear on the fact that he's right. Gun control is good. The federal long gun registry is useless, and expensive. I'm not sure whether it should be actually scrapped - that depends on whether the registry is of any current functionality, or whether more money would have to be sunk in - but the fact that, in principle, the registry has been a failure is scarcely disputable.

The thing is that Kilgour has been representing the voters of Edmonton-Southeast since the registry was but a glimmer in Allan Rock's eye, and I don't recall him using his position as MP to do anything about this. Did he vote against the legislation establishing the registry? Against a supply motion required to keep the registry going? Nope.

David Kilgour's got the first part of being a good legislator right - the part where you make up your own mind rather than letting party leadership do it for you - but has only once demonstrated the courage of his convictions in Parliament, that being on the GST issue (said convictions, interestingly, being demonstrated at a time in which abandoning the P.C. Party on principle could easily be mistaken for shameless opportunism) when Kilgour got himself expelled from Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative caucus and subsequently joined the Liberals.

An argument could be made that as long as Kilgour was a member of the Chrétien cabinet, he couldn't oppose any government legislation. There's some truth to that (which shows why the Canadian federation needs a separation of powers even more than the S.U. does), but if Kilgour truly considered his first responsibility to be to his constituents, and if being in cabinet was an impediment to his ability to do so, he could and should have resigned.

While his comments were a masterful political move, allowing Kilgour to portray himself as a "Good Liberal" (not like all those bastards from Ontario), voters in Edmonton-Beaumont would do well to consider the man's record, and to receive a direct commitment from him to actually *vote* against giving the registry any more money (and that means showing up to the Commons on the day of the vote, David), before re-electing him on that basis.

Finally, a prediction: if Kilgour is re-elected and isn't appointed to a cabinet post (the only way he will be is if Paul Martin remains Prime Minister and Anne McLellan is defeated), he will change parties once more before the next election.

It's twelve-thirty at night, and I don't like cheese

I'm going away this weekend. This space will not be updated until Sunday, maybe Monday. Normally, I wouldn't feel the need to specify this, but the last time I went a weekend without posting (that being, well, last weekend), you ninnies apparently decided that I was never going to post again, and my hit count suffered greatly, not recovering until yesterday (even though I posted twice on Tuesday). Anyway, feel free to not use this space for anything but its links all weekend (assuming that any of you use it for more than that at the best of times), but, to quote the Beverly Hillbillies, "Y'all come back now, you hear?"


Thursday, June 17, 2004

What will it cost you? Besides your soul, I mean.

The above was Sam Power's reaction upon seeing that I was contemplating buying a New Radicals (or is that spelled "New Radicalz"?) CD at the campus Book Store's 80% off on all music sale.

Before I proceed with further details of the sale:

1. I did not wind up buying the CD in question.
2. Those of you who have considered ridiculing me for even considering it may save your e-breath - I am fully aware how despicable it is that I like the New Radical(s/z). But we all have our dirty little secrets, and I would imagine that liking the New Radical(s/z) ranks somewhere below defrauding seniors or voting Conservative on the despicableness scale. Besides, what can I say - I've got the dreamer's disease.

Anyway, I did take the opportunity to buy discs by Kansas, Tom Cochrane, and Bob Seger. I also bought the classic "No More Mr. Nice Guy", a selection of metal covers by gospel singer Pat Boone. Some Christian television network apparently kicked his show off the air after he came out with that one. On the subject of metal, I increased the size of my AC/DC record collection by [#ERROR DIV BY ZERO] percent by purchasing one of their albums. Now I will never need to purchase another one, since AC/DC only ever wrote one song, and I now own twelve copies of it on a single CD. Finally, I bought "Legendary Songs of Don McLean", mostly to see if the S at the end of the word "songs" was a typo.

There is no reason any of you should care about this. Stop reading this post right now. Read the previous one instead, as it's much better. Shorter, too.

Good lord. . .

. . .I have a following.

No pressure now, Steve.

Shouldn't this guy be on the front lines?

Courtesy of Gerry over at blorg.org comes this. Really, is the secretaryship really the most valuable contribution Rummy can make to the war effort? I think not.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children? Um, Not You, Jack

So, all leaders of federal parties suck. This suckiness was on parade on last night's English leaders' debate. It probably behooves me (whatever the hell that means) to offer some sort of comment. So, here goes nothing:

If the debate had a winner, it was Stephen Harper. Watching his performance, the charges Martin was levelling at him about his being Stockwell Mk. II didn't seem credible. Overall, Harper made a good first impression. The problem is that he might be two weeks away from becoming Canada's twenty-second post-Confederation Prime Minister: shouldn't we be past first impressions by now? Shouldn't we already have a clear understanding of where he's coming from? Also, he seemed a little, uh, non-human, by whch I means that I'm pretty sure I actually saw his tongue dart out to catch a fly at one point. Over all, he was the most invisible contender in a debate that was supposed to catapult him into our hearts and minds.

Jack Layton, at least, was a presence, where "presence" is a euphemism for "probable child molester". The moustache is creepy enough, but when combined with that big omnipresent grin of his. . . well, let's just say that if children are the nation's future, I don't want Jack handling the future. Or even coming within fifty feet of it. Also, Jack, here's a tip: the NDP is supposed to be the good guy, the principled loser. You exhibited far too much smugness and self-satisfaction to play this role, and instead played the role of that obnoxious guy nobody liked in junior high (we'll call him Steve). He easily did himself the most damage, and was the debate's clear loser.

Paul Martin came across as what he is - an indecisive demagogue afraid of answering questions. While he gets points for cracking one of the evening's two jokes, asking Layton if his handlers told him to talk all of the time (which prompted one of the crowd of hacks with whom I was watching the debate, probably Kyle Kawanami, to comment on the irony of Paul Martin admonishing anybody else for having their actions dictated by handlers). He stumbled and stammered in response to his opponents' questions, and once actually said "I'd love to answer your question, but we're out of time". He didn't get any points in against anybody but Layton, and at that debate a reasonably gifted four year old could have scored points Inadvertently, however, he may have provided Canadians with their most compelling argument yet for putting the Grits back in: a Stephen Harper government will be blessed with the least effective leader of the opposition in a long time.

And then there's Gilles "Smiley" Duceppe, who came off rather well, mostly by default. Certainly, he's the only one of the four that I trust. On the other hand, allowances need to be made for the fact that he has nothing to defend, and is free to spend all of his time on the attack. He also had the best line of the evening: "Me too," in response to Stephen Harper's assertion that he wanted a sovereign nation.

No, actually, Alex Abboud had the best line of the night: "When [Paul Martin] talks about a woman's right to choose, is he talking about suffrage?"

Last word, as always, to Paul Wells: "What a bunch of braying jackasses. The lot of them."


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

So a priest, a rabbi, and an MP walk into a Safeway. . .

So there I was, pushing a bunch of shopping carts around the Safeway parking lot (making, as I always am when dealing with shopping carts, a "vvvvvrrrrooooommmm" noise under my breath), when who should enter but John Williams, incumbent Member of Parliament for St. Albert, Conservative candidate for Edmonton-St. Albert, and Spencer's hero. I make some jovial remark about how he should have campaign volunteers doing this for him, and he responds with some jovial comment about how I should leave his personal space before he calls the police, and we go our separate ways.

But the more I think about it later on, the gladder I become that MPs do their own grocery shopping, even (especially?) during the election. Can you imagine Congressfolk doing the same?

I'm no patriot, but Canada has its advantages.

Financially speaking, I guess I'm a washout

As you are aware, I have been canvassing on behalf of Edmonton-Strathcona NDP candidate and purported anti-Semite Malcolm Azania. I assumed that this would provide me with countless humourous anecdotes to relate over my blog. Tragically, I was wrong. The only two experiences worth recounting are the following:

1. I was attacked by a raven. Or possibly a crow. It was quite scary. Stop laughing.

2. I got to say "Sir, I should advise you that if you do not allow me entry to this building, you will be contravening Section 81 of the Canada Elections Act." He still didn't let me in.

In other news:

1. I have been spending every free moment since Friday sleeping, hence the lack of bloggery. I promise I'll straighten up my priorities soon.

2. The following conversation actually occurred at work yesterday:

Customer: Here's some garbage.
Me [In what is, for me, a fairly perky and sincere tone of voice]: Thank you!

I wish I was dead.

3. I watched most of the French language leaders debate yesterday, until I fell asleep a little after seven. I may post some thoughts on that at some point. Until then, let me just say that my favourite parts where all those during which Duceppe and Layton went head to head, because they basically climbed all over each other (figuratively, though literally would have been fun, too) to see who could attack Martin more. Do you *think* the NDs know that the odds of them winning seats in Québec are the same as the odds of the Bloc winning seats outside of it?

To work. . .


Friday, June 11, 2004

Why can't you be more like that nice boy Kail Ross?

I've come to the conclusion that, since no Vice President (Student Life) will ever accomplish anything, they can be judged against each other based solely on how much they spent accomplishing said nothing. Hrere, then, is the case for Kail Ross as the greatest Vice President (Student Life) ever:

Money spent by the Student Life portfolio (in constant 2004 dollars)

1999-2000 (Clark): $ 47 930
2000-2001 (Wanke): $ 49 300
2001-2002 (Wanke): $ 61 052
2002-2003 (Ross): $ 42 842
2003-2004 (Mah): $ 49 568

If we look only at the "Volunteer PR" line of the budget, the most discretionary and therefore most oft-abused portion of the VPSL's budget, the results are even more striking:

1999-2000 (Clark): $ 4 951
2000-2001 (Wanke): $ 4 317
2001-2002 (Wanke): $ 4 743
2002-2003 (Ross): $ 1 797
2003-2004 (Mah): $ 4 749

A similar case could be made for Chris Samuel as the greatest Vice President (External) of all time, but I don't feel like making it.

And now: poker.


Thursday, June 10, 2004

A Quiz

The Liberals have been in power for more than a decade.
The Prime Minister is a Québecer equally at home in either official language.
On the eve of the election, the Conservatives, led by a decidedly un-Prime Ministerial Westerner, appear poised to win a minority - a prospect unthinkable mere months ago.

What year is it?

(a) 1957
(b) 1979
(c) 2004

I guess the real question is whether the 2005 election will more closely mimic 1958's or 1980's. . .

Election Content of this Post Exceeds 80%

For some reason, after (relatively) ignoring election talk for the past few weeks in this space, today's paper inspired me. Go!

Much Ado About Judaism

Future political opponents of mine, take note. Save the content of this blog, lest it not be up in ten years' time. Brand me with the Black Mark (er, so to speak), worthy adversaries, for I am about to agree with Malcom Azania.

(Disclosure: I was supposed to be campaigning for Mr. Azania last night for ten bucks and hour, but that fell through when my mother passed along a relevant phone message while I was sleeping. She really should have known better - just because I'm replying, doesn't mean I'm awake, as I am quite capable of making conversation while asleep. Which is more than you can say about me when I'm awake. I digress.)

Azania, for the unenlightened, is the NDP candidate for Edmonton-Strathcona whose 1994 comments on Jews and whitesupremacy (I have no idea why it's one word - must be a leftist thing) have caused a furor since being identified on Colby Cosh's website (which regular readers of this space will recall as a key component of my link bridge with the incomparable Paul Wells. The most oft-quoted portion of Azania's comments is "The group that is defined as "Jews" in the USA is most notable for their relations to us, IMHO, in that they are WHITE."

Now, I do not know Malcolm Azania per se, but I've certainly met him. Hell, give that I've been following the advocacy efforts of the U of A Students' Union over the past years, I sometimes think I've heard his voice more than me own mammy's. And never once have I been given reason to believe that he was anti-semetic - a prima dona, sure, and a little too given to pseudo-intellectual rhetoricizing (though I trust that none of you, oh regular readers of this space, object to that?), but no anti-semite. So, responsible and underemployed pundit that I am, I elected to read his entire 1994 post. The entire thing - once you get past the too abundant (and characteristically pompous) poli sci-speak - boils down to the following chain of logic.

1. Whites are supreme in our society.
2. Most White people, consciously or unconsciously, propogate this system out of self-interest.
3. Most Jews are White people.
4. Therefore, most Jews propogate White supremacy.

That's it. That's all there was. Even the above comment (re: Jews being WHITE) was immediately preceded by "Anyone who asserts that ALL Jews at ALL times are either our friends or our enemies in ALL THAT THEY DO is obviously wrong.", which frames it in rather a more reasonable context.

The post *is* stupid, of course, its "us vs. them" tone hardly conducive to the racial harmony that its author purports to seek, but anti-semitic? I've read Leon Uris books that were more so.

And, as long as I'm heaping scorn and derision in random directions, let's save a heaping for those who have suggested that Azania "resign" - resign from what? The man does not hold any office. Surely people aren't suggesting that he should "resign" (or, more correctly, "withdraw") his candidacy on the basis of this? A squeaky-clean past is not a requirement to present one's self for election in a democracy.

The CBC's Al Ray on the NDP: "We've got Ed Broadbent rapping, Jack Layton calling everybody "Brother", and now allegations of anti-semitism. How long before we start seeing Nation of Islam bodyguards?"

Strange Bedfellows

Why is reddest of Tories, Joe Clark, endorsing Blue Tory turned Blue Liberal Scott Brison?

Strange Bedfellows, Part 2

Why is committed socialist and former Alberta Tory education minister Dave King endorsing Anne McLellan?


Why is The Journal, an entity which ought to be looking out for the public interest over the interests of political parties, urging Stephen Harper to "control" his MPs? Is not a varied and engaging public discourse my our parliamentarians more in the public interest than party leaders commanding automotons?

Bah! Part 2

This talk of "free votes" continues to vex me. First of all, of course, as I hasten to point out at every opportunity, *all* votes in parliament are free votes, until party leaders wield a weapon more potent than caucus expulsion.

Beyond that, however, comes the way that party leaders seem to be using the concept of a "free vote" to weasel out of taking commitments. The impression seems to be that by declaring a vote on something a "free vote", nobody has to take a public position until after the election campaign. The opposite should occur - as soon as MPs know that they will be voting their consciences (or whatever MPs have in lieu of), whether they like it or not, we should see debate during the election campaign become *more* engaging, as candidates for MP in local ridings are suddenly forced to take their own decisions. Instead, they refuse to talk about anything on which the party lacks a platform. Bah, indeed.

Meanwhile, back in provincial politics. . .

Lest we forget that Ralph Klein is still crazy, he has speculated about calling an election, for no apparent reason, in the Fall. I assume he's just jealous of all of the attention the federal leasers are getting right now.

Amusing e-mails received by Steve today

First, I received an e-mail that thought that it was June 20, which means that it will be at the top of my inbox until then. This would not be so bad if the subject line was not "Re: Orgasms". And no, it's not spam.

I also received an e-mail from Kail Ross, which is always a pleasure. For those of you who don't know Kail, he makes me look like a starry-eyed idealist. Anyway, he was writing, as a Valued Constituent of mine, to let me know his thoughts on the motion before Students' Council to allocate $14 030 to hold an open air concert to celebrate PSE. Some of the better excerpts:

"If all we're looking for his media attention, here is what I propose: for $7.50 we could get Anand drunk (assuming Bacardi Breezes still cost ~$2.50), strip him down and get him to dance with a 'support PSE' cock ring on."

"Although I'm in favor of a number of [the proposed bands], I am also ~50 years older than the mean student age. You want kids to come? Bring them kids bands."

"I find it interesting that Blatz is taking this motion so early in the year, something I should have done with VIDS oh so long ago when Council was more retarded than usual."

And finally, a word from my hit tracker

I seem to have a regular-ish reader from the University of New South Wales. I cannot imagine why.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Three mildly amusing e-mails received by Steve today

1. I received an e-mail from Dr. Charles McVety (hereinafter "Chuck", since his e-mail began "Dear Stephen,"), President of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, who directed me towards the website for Common Sense Voters. Chuck was kind enough to inform me that "Common sense tells us. . . marriage is between one man and one woman." He urges me to "protect the family".

That's wonderful, Chuck, but like all secular liberals, I hate families. Also, given the political beliefs that are ascribed to "common sense" on the CSV website, I apparently also hate common sense. And probably puppies as well.

2. As some of you may be aware, the National Campus and Community Radio Association is holding its annual conference in Edmonton at the end of this month, and I have been asked to chair its plenary sessions (presumably on the basis that I'm the second most qualified person on campus after Greg Harlow, and that CJSR has never been crazy about Greg ever since he tried to shut them down a few years ago). Anyway, details are being worked out, which led to an e-mail from my CJSR contact that concluded with:

"Tiff [CJSR News Director and conference organizational honcho Tiffany Brown Olsen] also has requested you not cut your hair before the plenaries. She says it's a Samson thing. Thanks."

Will do, Tiffany.

(Side note that is related only insofar as it is further evidence of my awesomeness: I've also been asked to chair the Canadian University Press plenary sessions when it holds its national conference here in January 2005. Hopefully, I'll be more successful than the last U of A S.U. VP to attempt to attend CUP's plenary sessions - hack rim shot.)

3. Close personal arch-nemesis of mine Nicholas Alexander Steinke sent me the following e-mail from Sundre, where he's working a co-op term:

"Ok Steve, so here's my problem : I have no idea which candidate is the least stupid in St. Albert. I believe I'm an absentee voter... Please tell me which you favour, and also which you think I should favour based on my brand of pro-public health, pro environment, fascism.

I'm much obliged.


Well, Herr Steinke, that's precisely why I post these long, boring summaries of my interactions with the local candidates here. Read this blog, and you'll know what you need to. And if you don't, I'll happily give you all of the relevant e-mail addresses.

In other news, I'm supposed to be campaigning for the New Democrats right now (for ten dollars an hour) but nobody has told me where to go. So, instead, I'm blogging for zero dollars an hour.

Don't do anything Pierre Trudeau wouldn't do,



Tuesday, June 08, 2004

My conversation with John Williams

John Williams called this morning (ha! Wish you were me now, Spencer?), at the ungodly hour of ten-thirty. He was calling in lieu of responding to the e-mail I sent him a couple of weeks ago (the e-mail whose text is available in the May portion of this blog's archive). He explained that he's a bit of a luddite, and prefers phone contact to e-mail contact. The following is, roughly, how he responded to each of my questions:

1. What is the role of a Member of Parliament, in your view?

Mr. Williams decided to instead explain the role of Parliament. In his view, Parliament exists for three reasons:
1. To debate legislation put forward by the government and to make the public aware of this legislation's effects.
2. To pass supply motions.
3. To receive reports from government.

Had I had my wits about me, I would have asked him about his perception of the representative's role, with regards to populism or lack thereof, but, as I mentioned earlier, his phone call woke me up, so I wasn't totally conscious until later in the conversation.

2. What value do you ascribe to sitting as a member of a caucus? To what extent are you prepared to compromise your personal beliefs or your perception of your constituents' beliefs to maintain the unity of your party's caucus? Under what circumstances would you leave your party's caucus to either sit as an independent or join a different caucus?

Mr. Williams indicated that politics is a team sport, and that, in order to get anything done, you need to be part of a coalition. For this reason, he ascribes great value to sitting as part of a caucus, and believes in bloc-voting, after the caucus has adopted a consensus on a given issue. In his view, this does not mean that he has to yield to the majority, but rather that the majority in the caucus must accomodate minority viewpoints, to allow for the development of a true consensus. He declined to answer the final question, describing it, correctly, as "hypothetical".

3. What action, if any, should Parliament take on recognizing same-sex marriages?

Mr. Williams believes that Parliament should have a free vote on the issue, and that the Supreme Court reference should be withdrawn, on the basis that the question of the definition of marriage ought to be a political question rather than a legal one. When I asked him how he would vote in such a free vote, he indicated that he is on the record opposing same-sex marriage, but supporting extension of full spousal benefits. He did not seem interested in delegislating marriage all together, as some members of his caucus have suggested.

When I asked why the vote on this question should be a free vote when he just told me that caucuses should develop consensus and then vote in a bloc, he told me that this, like capital punishment, was a "moral issue", which he defined as one that Canadians considered to be closely tied to personal ethics and morality rather than the minutae of policy development.

4. What action, if any, should Parliament take on marijuana?

Mr. Williams supports decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana, though he thinks the thirty gram limit put forward in Martin Cauchon's bill was too high, saying that his understanding is that that's enough for a "weekend party" (while emphasizing that he's not speaking from personal experience). He expressed an understanding that a large proportion of young people do use marijuana at one time or another, and that, in his view, this is not appreciably more damaging than using alcohol. He considers it a waste of police resources to charge people for simple possession, and is also concerned about the arbitrary nature of such charges, given that only a very small percentage of the people who commit the crime in question are actually charged.

He believes that possessing marijuana for trafficing purposes should be punishable harshly, and thinks that legislation should stipulate a quantity of marijuana as being the dividing line between possession for personal use and possession for trafficing purposes. He admitted that he does not presently know where that line should be.

When I asked him whether the status of marijuana as a criminal substance is a "moral issue", and therefore whether it ought to be subject to a free vote, Mr. Williams replied that it was not, and that it would therefore be subject to caucus consensus. He declined to speculate as to what consensus a post-election Conservative caucus would reach.

5. What action, if any, should Parliament take on meeting Canada's Kyoto commitments?

Mr. Williams began by pointing out that Kyoto is dead, which brought the score to John Williams 1, Steve Smith 0. I hastily reworded the question to ask what he thought Parliament should do about climate change in general. He indicated that he favoured reducing emissions, but that he considered the Kyoto targets to be unrealistic. When pressed for specific actions that Parliament should take in reducing emissions, he identified tax incentives for technological research, and then proceeded to talk about a number of private sector innovations in emmission reduction. He also noted that his understanding was that the United States is making significant efforts to reduce CO2 emmissions.

Finally, Mr. Williams commented that Kyoto was only intended to address greenhouse gasses, and not "pollution", which I took to mean things like Sulpher Dioxyde and particulate matter. I asked him if he believed that emmissions of greenhouse gasses and particulate matter was correlated, and he answered in the negative.

6. What action, if any, should Parliament take on structural reform to government, such as Senate reform or electoral reform?

In keeping with what he earlier identified as being the roles of Parliament, Mr. Williams described such matters as these as being "the froth on the beer" - not the core of Parliament's function. He favours fixed election dates and an elected Senate. When questioned on what exactly the latter should look like, he said that he felt that previous attempts at re-opening the Constitution had proven that consensus on such matters was impossible, and that the best approach would be the one that Stephen Harper has advocated - "getting the ball rolling" by appointing Ted Morton and Bert Brown to the next Alberta Senate vacancies. When I pointed out that this would not actually involve action by Parliament, he agreed, but noted that his election as MP would make it more likely that Stephen Harper would become Prime Minister, and therefore that this ball might be made to roll.

He also suggested that the problem was not that changes needed to made to Parliament so much as that changes needed to be made to parliamentarians, such that they, especially backbenchers from the governing party, be more diligent in fulfilling the requirements of effective government oversight. He was not able to explain clearly to me how this viewpoint was consistent with his belief in caucus solidarity.

Because my wits were not about me, I neglected to ask him about his views on proportional representation.

7. If you are elected and are sitting as a backbencher, is there any legislation that you would try to introduce in the form of a private member's bill?

Again in keeping with his perception of the role of Parliament, Mr. Williams felt that the only legislation backbenchers should be introducing was legislation to help it perform its three tasks (So," I asked, "you won't be seeking to make Ammolite the official Canadian gemstone?" Mr. Williams - a Scottish born accountant, and therefore, one would presume, a fun guy, answered in the negative without giving any indication that he found the question amusing). He said that, since his election as MP in 1993, he had been pursuing something called "program review", in which each government program would have to be subjected to a review once every ten years in which Parliament (or a committee thereof) would have the opportunity to examine each program's purpose, how effectively each program was meeting its purpose, and whether its purpose could be met more cheaply. According to Mr. Williams, Paul Martin recently agreed to implement this program review, and he (Williams) will have to find a new bill to pursue.

8. Assuming that the present Liberal government remains in office after the election, under what circumstances, if any, would you support it on a confidence motion such as a budget?

Mr. Williams indicated that, as a member of the opposition, it is extremely unlikely that he would agree with a large enough majority of a Liberal budget to justify voting for it. He added that, in the event of a minority Liberal government, the Conservative caucus would examine how closely the proposed budget reflected the party's principles and then decide how to vote accordingly. He admitted that strategic considerations would likely play a role in this decision, but insisted that it would be a relatively minor one compared to the role played by the party's principles.

The conversation concluded with some niceties about the U of A Business program, me wishing him the best of luck, and him inviting me to call him if I had any further questions. All in all, while I disagreed with much of what he said, I found him far less patronizing than I remember him being during out last conversation. He clearly had a very strong understanding of the issues, and came across as having a great deal of professional integrity. To my surprise, our conversation brought me to the conclusion that if there were no other good candidates running in my riding, I would vote for Mr. Williams before spoilint my ballot.

To come: are there any other good candidates running in my riding?


Sunday, June 06, 2004

The tired warrior aims a little higher

The above quote is from one of the weirder songs Neil Young ever wrote, that being 1992's "War of Man", which appears to be about how wars hurt animals. Or something. I bring this up because "War of Man" (along with what must be the worst song Young ever wrote, "Old King" - written in tribute to his late dog, Elvis - which contains the brilliant couplet "Old King sure meant a lot to me/But that hound dog is history") is from the "Harvest Moon" album, which I had been avoiding listening to for a couple of months. Finally bringing myself volume to ear with it today, it occurs to me that I shouldn't have waited so long.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I haven't posted anything about my job on here since getting it, and for an excellent reason: my job is stupid. Oh, I suppose, living as I do in Yuppie Central, the work I do is important, and I've met some very nice people - Justin, Stephanie, Peggy, Arlene, and Hag-Ra, Bitch Queen of Aisle Seven - but, by and large, it's pretty unblogworthy. A few things that do perhaps rate a mention:

1. I have developed a propensity for meat theft. This is because meat must be bagged separately to avoid cross-contamination, so, when meat comes through, I always bag it to my right, and leave it in the bag until more meat of the same kind comes along. Other groceries get bagged to the left. Sometimes, I cheerfully give people their groceries, and then, when the next customer tries to buy meat and I once again look to my right, there will be the previous customer's meat. So I return it to the shelves without telling anybody.

2. I hated my first customer last week. This would be the customer who showed up with two carts of groceries at eleven o'clock, after the announcement that goes over the store saying "Good evening, customers, it is now eleven o'clock and the store is closed. Please bring your purchases to the cashiers and pay for them, assuming that there is a reasonable number of them. If you have more than one cart full, please return your groceries to the shelves, exit the store, and go die just off of store property. We hate you. Have a nice night." To her credit, she didn't request parcel pickup.

3. It has come as a revelation to me how many people put their bananas in those little produce bags.

On Minorities

The next government will be a minority government - there seems to be general agreement on this point. The trouble is that the minority scenario that people have been forecasting from the beginning of the campaign - Liberal government with NDP support on confidence motions - is no longer feasible, if only because the New Democrats are unlikely to win enough seats to cover the gaping chasm between either of the two biggest parties and a majority. As much as sagging Liberal fortunes have hurt Paul Martin, they may have hurt Jack Layton even more, since even if his party performs relatively well (winning in the vicinity of twenty-five seats) the Liberals will likely fall so far short of a majority that he will be unable to play Ed Broadbent to Martin's Pierre Trudeau.

This means, essentially, that any finance minister wishing to pass a budget will require the support of any two of the three biggest parties - Liberal, Conservative, and Bloc Québecois. Budgets, perhaps more so than most legislation, can be reasonably measured on the left-right spectrum. On that spectrum, the Bloc is easily the most left-wing of the three largest parties, the Liberals the centrists, and the Conservatives, obviously, the most right-wing. A Conservative government would require either the support of the Liberals (which one has to consider to be unlikely - no minority in Canadian federal history has ever received the support of the official opposition), or the Bloc Québecois. On budgetary matters, the Conservatives and the Bloc are so distant ideologically that any partnership will require major compromise on the part of one or both parties.

Conceivably, the Bloc could be placed in a situation where they want to avoid another election, fearing that it would become a vote on which party should form government - a vote in which most Québecois would favour the Liberals over the Conservatives. In that event, however, it seems likely that the Bloc would first attempt partnership with the more ideologically malleable Liberals, who will be prepared to put such measures in the budget as may be necessary to retain power. Therefore, the only way the Conservatives will be able to form a government is if they capitulate on much of what they ran on, in order to receive Bloc support. At this point, Stephen Harper can probably ill-afford to be seen to abandon principle so soon after taking office. For this reason, a Conservative government remains substantially less likely than a Conservative plurality.

Fun fact: since Confederation, Canada has had nine minority governments. Each of the five Liberal attempts (King X 2, Pearson X 2, Trudeau) has lasted longer than any of the four Conservative attempts (Meighen, Diefenbaker X 2, Clark).

And now, my revised seat predictions

Liberal: 125
Conservative: 111
Bloc Québecois: 52
New Democrats: 24
Greens: 0
Independent: 0
Other: 0


Saturday, June 05, 2004

Mushroom, Mushroom

Yesterday, I had a peculiar urge to replace all of the links on this page with links to badgerbadgerbadger, but I now think that this would be better - every bit as mesmerizing, and more topical to boot.

Also, I regret to report that my sister rejected http://uglylesbiannunwithaboyfriend.blogspot.com as a url for her blog, and also shot down dozens of my other suggestions, including http://pluralofmongoose.blogspot.com, http://tennisrabbitconnection.blogspot.com, and http://flipperthepriest.blogspot.com. She finally accepted one of my suggestions, http://openmindsurgery.blogspot.com (get it? it's like open heart surgery, but on your mind, and it incorporates the phrase "open mind", so there's, like, a double entendre or something). Anybody's guess as to whether posts subsequent to her first two will be any more coherent.


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

All alone, that captain stands;
Hasn't heard from his deckhands. . .

Before we move on to the federal election, there are a few other points that need addressing. . .

Democracy gets sucker-punched

Tragically, the U of C's Webboard is no more, as their Students' Legislative Council approved the motion to take it down by a vote of 10-5, with the five Executive officers making the difference.

Meannwhile, back in U-Hall. . .

I was attending what may have been the finest Council meeting of my career. Attendance requirements abolished (after what I think it is fair to say was the best Council debate ever to occur before June 2), omnibus committee referral motion trounced (admittedly, mostly because the motion's mover admitted that he really wasn't married to it), and the battle lines drawn for a battle over a supply motion. A supply motion endorsed by the Executive. A supply motion to fund an initiative that the victorious President talked about during the election campaign. And it's only June 2. Did I mention how great the Council meeting was?

Christ, people, I'm fine

People sometimes have bad days. I am a person. Therefore, I sometimes have bad days. And when I do, I sometimes choose to write about them. Perhaps my writing style is overly melodramatic, but writing about a bad day does not equate to going through a life crisis, okay? But thanks for your concern.

News from my tracker

1. It failed to record a single hit between ten am and three pm last Friday - now *that* was a life crisis.
2. To the person searching for ' "Stephen Harper" "Man Brests" ': yes, he has them. I'm hoping that's all you wanted to know. Please tell me you weren't seeking pictures.
3. Ditto for the guy trying to find ' "Jack Layton" speedo '.
4. To the two people who (or the one person who twice) found this site via a search for "http://carlosthejackass.blogspot.com" - what, could you not remember the url, or something?
5. To the person who found this by searching for 'cold-fx review opinion', here's mine: it's a big waste of money that doesn't work. I'd suggest drinking two bottles of Buckley's instead.
6. To the person who found this site by searching for 'safeway cashier test': bah. That is all.

The federal election, finally

1. In a last ditch effort to appeal to the Steve Smith vote, Paul Martin has identified "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as the greatest song ever written. That this is the most overrated song in Paul Simon's repertoire is scarcely relevant - I like a Prime Minister who likes Paul Simon. Sadly (for Martin), my vote will still be based on which of my local candidates likes Paul Simon the best.

2. Martin also identified "Achy Breaky Heart" as the worst song ever written. It seems to me that the good folks down at Blender Magazine could learn something from our Prime Minister - "We Built This City" indeed.

3. A Liberal minority is still, by far, the most likely outcome of this election. But a Conservative minority has now passed a Liberfal majority as the second most likely outcome.

4. I note with some satisfaction that Paul Martin is now trying to convince Canadians that a Conservative victory is possible - I predicted this strategy immediately after the write was dropped, because I rule.

More to come after my 4:45 to 11:30 shift. Whee!


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