Thursday, November 30, 2006

Want to know the best way to convince Canadians that you take democracy seriously?

I'm not precisely sure what it is, but I know what it isn't.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The curious case of Keith Martin

There is a certain portion of the punditry that considers all floor-crossings to be betrayals. These people do not distinguish between principled floor-crossings - such as John Herron, who went to the Liberals after his P.C. Party was swept out from under him, or David Kilgour (twice) - and those that are clearly power grabs, such as Belinda Stronach's, Scott Brison's, and David Emerson's. I am curious as to how such pundits explain Keith Martin, who voted against distinct society (as a Reform Party MP) in 1995. Contrast this with the records of his fellow No voters, all Liberals except Garth Turner: of the sixteen votes cast against the Harper government's motion, ten of them besides Martin's came from MPs who had been MPs in 1995, when Raymond Chan, Hedy Fry, Jim Karygiannis, Diane Marleau, Dan McTeague, Paul Steckle, and Andrew Telegdi supported the Chrétien government's distinct society motion - absent in 1995 but voting nay in 2006 were Joe Comuzzi, Maria Minna, and Joe Volpe (incidentally, for all the hullabaloo when Gerard Kennedy and Ken Dryden announced their opposition to the Harper motion, did anybody even realize that Volpe was also against it?).

Now, this doesn't necessarily constitute a flip-flop on the part of the above-named MPs. After all, though neither "nation" nor "distinct society" means anything, the former certainly means a lot *more* nothing than does the latter; there's really no obstacle to an MP believing that Québec is every bit a distinct society while somehow falling short of nationhood.

It's somewhat harder to understand where the MPs who were unprepared to acknowledge the distinct society thing while being very happy to call it a nation. Among these are a few noteworthy ones, such as (to pick an example at random) Stephen Harper, who as a Reform MP in 1995 voted against calling Québec a distinct society. Also voting this way were Reform cum Conservative MPs Gary Breitkreuz, Diane Ablonczy, Ken Epp, Monte Solberg, Bob Mills, John Williams, Leon Benoit, Myron Thompson, Jim Abbott, and Jay Hill. Art Hanger and John Cummins, also members of Reform's Class of '93, were not in the House when the division took place, while Chuck Strahl and Dick Harris were both absent when the distinct society motion was voted on in 1995. Finally, the Bloc Québécois caucus opposed the 1995 motion but supported the 2006 motion.

Now, it's not absolutely certain that these MPs were betraying their former beliefs, either. Perhaps they felt the distinction between Québec and Québécois was somehow important (though this strikes me as especially unlikely in the case of the Bloc MPs). Perhaps they somehow felt that "nation" was more palatable than "distinct society". Perhaps their views had genuinely evolved, though it's my experience that most politicians will go through the most tortuous and unbelievable explanation available before admitting that their beliefs have changed over the course of their time in office.

The point, though, is this: Keith Martin is being at least as true to his principles on this matter as his more partisanly consistent colleagues, and likely even more so.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Who do you want? Who do you need? Who do you like? Who's gonna make a stand?

(Hey, come on - a lot of bloggers base their post titles on lyrics from their favourite songs.)

Regular readers, if the drugs have worn off, have probably noticed my conspicuous silence on the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race. This silence wasn't intentional - I fully intended to post something just as soon as some element of the race engaged me. And now I find that the first round of voting is past without my single criterion having been met.

Do you know who's either stupid or lying to you? Anybody who tells you what a surprise Saturday's results were. Elements of the results surprised me. I was surprised that Ed Stelmach won the position of second round sacrificial lamb, a title that I had anticipated going to Lyle Oberg. I was surprised that Dave Hancock beat Mark Norris. If I really tried, I could probably muster up some surprise that Victor Doerkson finished ahead of Gary McPherson. More surprise than interest, anyway.

But what happened on Saturday? Jim Dinning came in with a substantial lead. Ted Morton came in second, close enough to appear to be within striking distance of first, but really isn't because most people who are going to support Ted Morton are already supporting him (Will's posts would suggest otherwise, but Will is probably also the partisan blogger who is, among those I know who pretend not to be slavish followers of a party line, the worst at hiding it).

What did come as a bit of a surprise was Dave Hancock's immediate endorsement of Stelmach. Oberg's endorsement a little later was less surprising. I don't see either making much difference, less because those candidates lack the capacity to lead their first round supporters to another candidate and more because the electorate in the second round is going to be so different from the first. Teachers who joined to back Hancock will discover that none of the remaining candidates are to their liking. Unionists and busloads of recent Vietnamese immigrants who joined to back Oberg will behave similarly. And plenty more people will join. And then, Dinning will win, just as everybody's been predicting all along.

For that reason, you probably shouldn't expect to see much provincial politics coverage on here in the next little while (though evidence is beginning to suggest that the surest way to see what my blog won't look like is to read what I say it's going to look like). If provincial politics are your bag, check out The Alberta Report, an anonymous muckraker of a blog that strives to hate everybody equally among other things it's recently claimed, Liberal MLAs Bruce Miller and David Swann are allegedly unhappy with Kevin Taft's leadership. What do these two have in common? Both were considered better fits for the NDP, and at least one of them (Miller) was reportedly a member of the NDP up until just before the election.

In my next post, I might go a little into the irony of the damage the recent focus on Canadian unity doing so much to hurt the Liberal leadership candidate best qualified to talk about national unity, Stéphane Dion. I might talk a little about the results of the federal by-elections. I might go into the staggering, incomprehensible incoherence of the National Post editorial board (anybody wondering what I'm talking about should read this and then peruse the comments sections of some of my recent posts). Or I might vanish for four months or more.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Masterstroke or just Masturbation?

When I heard about the Prime Minister's motion to name Québécois (not, as is being reported fairly consistently, Québec) as a nation, my reaction was immediate: "Meh," I remarked. The truth is that this debate over what constitutes a nation is academic jiggery-pokery of the most banal variety. It is possible to make a perfectly accurate (if not all together compelling case) that Québec is a nation and Canada isn't (I think I actually made such a case a few years ago in the St. Albert Gazette, before I realized how little it mattered). It's possible to make an equally accurate case that Québec isn't a nation and Canada is, or that both are, or that there's no such thing as a nation, and vive le pays des pommes frites. Accordingly, Stephen Harper's move must be evaluated on exclusively pragmatic grounds. Frankly, I don't see many such grounds on which to base an evaluation. The separatists are still separatists, the federalists are still federalists, Michael Ignatieff's position is still barely coherent on a good day, and life goes on.

Much more interesting than the issue itself has been the coverage it's received. Paul Wells takes momentary leave of his senses to imply that Harper's move constitutes treason against some unspecified cause, Andrew Coyne does much the same, and Garth Turner, incredibly, calls the vote on the motion "the most important vote [he will] cast as MP".

Another amusing thread running through this is this sense from a number of media outlets that they have somehow caught Harper in some sort of lie. For example, apparently legal experts question the motion, claiming that it will have no legal effect! And what's this? Thanks to this fine investigative journalism, the Tories have admitted that, indeed, the motion will have no legal effect. That's right: admitted. Not "acknowledged", not "accepted the obvious fact that", not "when confronted with the comments of legal experts, pointed out that no Tory had ever stated or even implied that". Tories: backed into a corner!


Sunday, November 19, 2006

File under "strange bedfellows"

My letter to the National Post on its "Why We Need Political Parties" editorial doesn't seem to have been published, but Rick Anderson's was, and it's pretty good. More polite than mine, too.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Because being added to other people's link lists is basically the highlight of my life

I've made it on to this fellow's blogroll, where I am listed under "Partisan Political Drivel" as being "centre-left". Political drivel? Sure. Centre-left? Debatable - I've been identified as being anywhere from the extreme left to the extreme right (the latter, admittedly, mostly by one Anand Sharma in his surlier states). But partisan? That strikes me as a little bit odd, especially given my all-consuming hatred of and near obsession with the undermining of political parties.

The important thing, though, is that I'm apparently important.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Presenting: C.U.R.D.

I have an idea.

As readers of my blog will be aware, I hold a certain set of views with regard to the role of voters, Members of Parliament, cabinet, and political parties in Canadian government. In brief, and in no particular order, this belief set could be summarized as follows:
1. The link between voter and MP is the foundation of Canadian representative democracy.
2. Each MP is free to vote as he/she chooses, and is accountable only to his/her conscience and his/her constituents in how he/she exercises that freedom.
3. Accordingly, no MP should vote other than how he/she would otherwise have voted by reason of partisan affiliation.
4. During elections, Canadians are not electing a government, but a Parliament.
5. Accordingly, voters should vote only on the basis of who they want representing them in Parliament, and not on the basis of who they want as Prime Minister.
6. Government (cabinet) serves at the pleasure of Parliament and, in this capacity, is subordinate to Parliament (though it has powers that Parliament does not have the right to exercise directly).
7. This system - in which the head of government is not popularily elected, but named by an unelected head of state - is not the ideal system, but it is the system in place in Canada, and attempts to "quasi-elect" the head of government are not compatible with Westminster-stlye Parliamentary democracy.

I think that the time is ripe for advancing these viewpoints, especially as they apply to independent MPs. Chuck Cadman was likely to the most respected member of the last Parliament, the balance of power in a confidence vote was recently held by four independent MPs, and, of course, Garth Turner is getting ready to take names, kick ass, and introduce private members bills. Moreover, the threat of proportional representation (the kind in which MPs are selected from party lists, as opposed to the kind recommended by the B.C. citizens' assembly, which I quite like) is looming on the horizon, with no lobby organizations of which I am aware fighting it and no politicians of whom I am aware willing to pay the political cost of coming out firmly against it.

I propose to fill that vacuum through the creation of a new group: Canadians United for Representative Democracy. As I envision it, here are a few of the activities in which C.U.R.D. could engage:
1. Issuing media statements every time some element of representative democracy is in the media - for example, during the Garth Turner saga or once the Ontario citizens' assembly reports.
2. Releasing an annual report card of MPs, compiled on the basis of such objective critera as whether they respond to e-mails from constituents, whether their websites feature any interactive component, whether they schedule and advertise forums in their ridings, and whether their websites include content about their work as distinct from their party's.
3. Engaging in letter-writing campaigns and such-like on any relevant legislation to come before the House of Commons.

Since I had this idea last night, I've become rather excited about it and have arguably gone overboard. I conducted a NUANS name search, registered a domain, and written a draft set of bylaws. Some things that I still need, and which any interested people would be welcome to help me with:

1. In order to incorporate, I will need three people (including me) and $200. I have the latter, (though anybody willing to contribute to this cause would be warmly embraced - I've already shelled out for the name search and the domain registration) but I still need the former.
2. I need web hosting - preferably cheap web hosting.
3. I need somebody to design a website - nothing elaborate, but something more elaborate than what's there now.
4. I need somebody whose French has eroded less than mine has to provide a French version of the name - the best I've come up with is Canadiens Soutenants la Démocratie Représentative, but I'm really not sure of my choice of verb, and I also have the distinct impression that that S shouldn't be there (though intellectually is appears to me that it should).

If anybody wants to help with any of this, please send me an e-mail.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"More importantly, though, I have realized that party politics - not just this party - is the problem."

In keeping with my recent (but not *that* recent - sorry about the prolonged absence) role as head of the Edmonton chapter of the Garth Turner Fan Club, I have to say that his announcement today is significant, for the following reasons:

1. It marks the first time at least in my lifetime that an independent MP has committed to exploiting his/her role to the maximum of his/her ability. Chuck Cadman, admirable character though he was, only ever wanted to continue as an Alliance/Conservative MP, a privelege of which he was robbed by a meeting hall full of insta-Conservatives. Carolyn Parrish continued to behave as a Liberal (that's capital L) even after being kicked out of caucus. Pat O'Brien's move to independent status represented nothing more than a protest against the Martin government's policy (if a policy it can be called) on gay marriage. John Nunziata searched around quietly for a new home after leaving the Liberals. David Kilgour was close, but he only took up life as an independent once he'd already decided to retire from public life. And I'm still not clear on what, exactly, André Arthur hopes to accomplish in Ottawa. But Garth Turner's aiming to show that, contrary to popular opinion, independent MPs can matter every bit as much as partisan backbenchers (this is known as "damnation by faint praise").

2. It marks the first time in recent memory that an MP has taken it upon himself to make a serious attempt to strengthen the role of MPs vis-à-vis the party, by moving a private members bill to give independents places on Parliamentary committees and to broaden their capacity to fund raise. The mini-revolt staged by Liberal MPs during the waning days of the Chrétien era (when Parliament voted to have committee chairs elected by secret ballot, effectively breaking party leadership's control over such matters) was nice, but this is far more substantial.

3. It is, so far as I can tell, the first time I've seen an MP argue that democratic reform is not exactly synonymous with proportional representation. By suggesting that what matters are individual MPs and their relationships with their constituents, Garth Turner is implicitly arguing (correctly) that PR as generally conceived would be hurtful to democracy. I'm forced to believe that many of his colleagues agree with him, or we'd have seen some sort of movement towards PR, but this is the most seriously PR has been challenged on the federal scene for as long as I can remember. I may yet live to see the day that a candidate saying nasty things about PR can expect the same sort of cheering section at election forums as those saying nice things about it now receive.

After Turner was kicked out of caucus, I found myself quietly speculating that he might wind up as this decade's most important backbench MP. If he pushes this as hard as he can, I think that title will be assured (especially if his private member's bill's number is drawn - I'd like to hear the parties' arguments against it).

Garth Turner's still wrong on tax reform, on the environment (though not *as* wrong as his former colleagues are), and on a host of other issues. But it's about damned time that at least one of our democratically-elected representatives was right about democracy.

Give 'em grief, Garth.


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