It's difficult to decide just who to congratulate, the Liberals for getting another vote at a crucial time, or the Conservatives for being free of Belinda Stronach. But you can't deny that her defection was 'good for the economy' - the Canadian dollar gained half a cent after the announcement.
It's always entertaining to watch an MP who spent his or her career criticizing the opposite leader (Martin "isn't fit to be Prime Minister of Canada"..."not knowing" about Adscam "is not an excuse"... the budget is "flawed and defective" and a "shell game") suddenly deciding to join his party - while the jilted leader of the Conservative Party, who had presumably thought enough of the woman to give her a major post in the shadow cabinet, is suddenly belittling her ability to grasp "complexity." (Which, if true and not simply an adolescent response to being dumped, doesn't say much about his skill in delegating responsibilities.)
Mind you, Steve's reaction, while sad, was decidedly more civil than Conservatives across the country who, for example, described her as "an attractive dipstick," and "a little rich girl basically whoring herself out" for power. The latter from evangelical Christian minister and Alberta MLA, Reverend Tony Abbot, and metaphorically backed up by Maurice Vellacott, Tory MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin with, "Some people prostitute themselves for different costs or different prices. She sold out for a cabinet position."
They really are a classy bunch.
And they had such a high opinion of her before...
And let's not forget that the once-again beaming Martin (Paul has his beam back) provided his own amusements, and got some spontaneous laughter from the press gallery, by claiming that the move and its timing weren't about the upcoming budget vote. But in the final analysis, it was badly handled all round. (Which was the only non-surprise of the day's events.)
Harper's press conference was a sad affair, and his declaration that Stronach's decision was just "ambition" was an accusation that nobody who has fought and campaigned to be leader of his party and then of his merged party (at least I don't remember Steve being twice drafted over his own objections), and is currently collaborating with a separatist party in a bid to lead the country over the objections of a nation that doesn't want an election, should level at anyone else.
The fact that Stronach didn't simply cross the floor, but crossed straight into a cabinet position certainly makes it look like there was a bribe involved. (The Liberals should have at least left a few days or weeks for Belinda's opposition seat to get cold before making the appointment. Now we're left wondering, would she have crossed purely on principle, or was the cabinet perk a pre-requisite?)
And the wayward Tory's own appearances on the news broadcasts that evening revealed that she's just as inept with live interviews and unscripted questions as she ever was. Unlike more skilled politicians who simply ignore reporters' questions and steer the answers where they want, Belinda simply came across as someone who had her cue cards mixed up.
Questions now? With polls looking even worse for the Conservatives than the vote on the floor and momentum favouring the Liberals, will the Tories engineer their own defeat in the second non-confidence vote rather than lose even more ground in an election that they forced?
Less than 48 hours, folks...
Can they sink any lower? You bet they can!
"It's time to stop playing politics with cancer patients," said a spokesman for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
As if mutual accusations of racism weren't enough, now the Conservatives (who flew two
cancer-battling members of their own party away from their doctors and into Ottawa for a pointless, purely symbolic vote) are accusing the Liberal Party of stalling the budget vote for a week in hopes that surgery or deteriorating health will prevent one or more of said members standing in the House.
(This is, of course, the same Conservative Party which called for that same symbolic "no confidence" vote at a time when Chuck Cadman, a potential Liberal-voting independent, was unable to attend due to his undergoing chemotherapy.)
Sadly, Martin didn't do what he should have immediately done -and what NDP Leader, Jack Layton did instead- offer to abstain two of his MPs, so that the Conservative members could return to home and treatment if necessary without affecting the outcome of any crucial votes. He could have done it without any risk whatsoever, looked good in the process, and taken away one of Harper's major arguments for holding the Budget vote earlier. He didn't. As we've covered before, nobody said you have to be smart to be a politician.
And credit where it's due to Layton. At its worst, it was a smart political move, at its best, a genuine and human gesture out of concern for the health of others. (And if Cadman declares support for the Liberals, will Harper or Duceppe offer to absent one of their members in return so he can stay put?)
So did Harper leap at the proposal and send his sick MPs home?...
The Conservative Party is, 'considering the offer.'
Gee, could it be that Harper is more interested in the points he might achieve by parading his cancer struck members than in their health? Or that their treatment is not as 7-day time critical as the Conservatives want us to believe? I sincerely hope not, but likely alternatives seem lacking.
The only reason Harper gives for his hesitation is a fear that Layton might 'renege' on the offer, "And we've seen a little bit of reneging going on here in the last few weeks" (said the leader of the party that wouldn't exist if his deputy leader hadn't 'reneged' his own party out of existence). But if Layton tried such a move, Harper must know that the electoral backlash would be even worse than if the Conservatives had defeated the government while members were off attending VE day celebrations. Such a deception by Layton would be a gift to the Conservatives, and possibly even translate to their election into power. So why keep the sick MPs in Ottawa?
"It's time to stop playing politics with cancer patients," said a spokesman for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
You should listen to your spokesmen, Steve.
It's become a cliche that these people act like a bunch of day care drop-outs on a full-time diet of caffeine and sugar. Now it's gotten to the point that even political reporters are saying that if they didn't have to watch the proceedings, they wouldn't.
Statements that would lead to libel and slander suits off the floor of the House of Commons, pitiful, idiotic charges of racism from both sides, the aforementioned inability to act like human beings long enough to properly honour veterans in the days leading up to VE day (thank God that at least the Dutch gave the Canadian soldiers their due), and now a yes-it-is/no-it-isn't confidence vote timed to coincide with an MP's chemotherapy treatment - to prevent him from potentially supporting the government. Let's face it, we're only days away from cries of "I'm rubber and you're glue..." and battles of, "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!" in the hallways of Parliament.
These people are an embarrassment to their constituents, they're an international embarrassment to Canada, they're probably even an embarrassment to their families - and they're about to spend 200 million dollars of your money in order to ask you to re-hire them so they can continue this infantile behaviour for a minimum annual salary of $144,300.00 and a full pension after six years.
Do you really want to be a part of rewarding these idiots?
Why are politicians viewed with a regard only slightly above that of used coffin dealers?
This week, the reasons were once again made clear, when the four party leaders only agreed to attend ceremonies commemorating the sacrifices of men and women who literally gave their lives in service of this country after public disgust over their playing politics with the situation forced them into behaving like human beings (but only for as long as absolutely necessary).
And coupled with the inexcusable slap in the face to the nations' veterans, the leaders also displayed a staggering lack of political aptitude in their original refusal to go. Harper could have been just as self-serving, but gained brownie points at the same time by promising not to try to force a non-confidence vote until after the commemoration of VE Day's anniversary was complete.
Martin could have gone to Europe without any assurances - knowing that it would make him look like he had his priorities straight, and that the electoral backlash against any party that would have caused a NC vote during such an absence would have been worth more votes than the announcement of a dozen 'works programs.'
No one said you have to be smart to be a politician. No one said you have to be human.
Someone should look into that.
Well, here we are again.
Despite the fact that the majority of Canadians don't want an election at least until after the final Gomery report is issued, good ol' Stevie has decided that he knows better than the majority of the people he claims to represent and is determined to force an election - an election where the only sure outcome will be the strengthening of the separatist holdings of the Bloc Quebecois.
The next most certain outcome? That even fewer Canadians will bother to vote in this election than in last year's record setter. And while that only solidifies the relevance of the Undecided Party (indeed, according to a recent poll, fully 68% percent of respondents believe that all parties are equally corrupt - which is pretty much our point), unlike Harper, we don't think it's worth spending 200 million dollars of your money just to find that out.
Ironically, with the Liberals edging ahead again in the polls, Harper's impatience for power might end up blowing up in his face. If he had waited until after the Gomery report or even until the next natural election date, there would have been more time to work on that whole 'moderate' mask, more time for the people to forget the Alliance heart that beats at the center of the Conservative Party, and more time for the people to simply decide that they were tired of the Liberals no matter how good or bad a job they were doing. As it stands, if Steve forces and then loses an election, you can bet your MP's pension that he won't be leader when the next election comes along - joining Stockwell Day as an ex-leader vigorously forgotten.
As an aside, visits to this site have continued at a reduced but steady pace since last year's vote, and a look at April's Search Logs -which record what search engine queries have lead surfers to this site- would seem to indicate a undercurrent of suspicion about Harper's JFK coiffure. Several visitors have arrived at the UDP's pages after querying search engines with such terms as "stephen harper wig," "wig stephen harper," and "stephen harper is bald."
Steve, you might want to consider a new look to premiere at the non-confidence vote - perhaps a nice Jeri Curl.
At least it would start the campaign on an appropriately farcical note.
Welcome back friends.
Well, after taking a well-earned three months of vacation before even starting their jobs (have you ever had a job like that?...), the MPs have completed their migration to the nation's capital, and a new season of lies, idiocy and juvenile behaviour has officially begun - but at least this version will be easier to avoid than the election campaign, since they won't actually be coming to our doors to annoy us. (Indeed, these alternately shy and forceful creatures will now be almost impossible to encounter in any sort of one-on-one context until the time of the next rut - just before the next, inevitable, election campaign.)
But in their protected Ottawa habitat, the preening, displays, and -most important- boundary marking have begun in earnest, and they've all shown -in their very first days back at 'work'- that they're exactly what kept the undecideds away from the polls in the first place.
As soon as the Speech from the Throne is delivered, the New Alliance Deputy Lia-Leader repeats the standard 'this is just a repeat of the standard stuff' stuff, the BQ declares that it won't support the Throne Speech (surprise!), Harper tries desperately, and pathetically, to make a joke about the "environmental" substance of the document, and all the opposition parties generally express their surprise and disappointment over the fact that the Liberals haven't filled the speech with their policies.
And as each party claims that they aren't interested in bringing the government down, each simultaneously hopes that the others will force a new election - causing a backlash that will give the innocent, 'we tried to make it work' party a nice clear advantage next time around.
In the meantime, as noted on our home page, we will probably be only making occasional changes to this site over the next few months. Let's face it, almost anything that can be added to these pages will largely consist of repeats of previous political idiocies with perhaps an intermittent change of names (a phenomenon that allows many political humorists to recycle the same jokes on a never-ending four-year cycle), and since the crack team behind our no-budget operation will (unlike the newly elected MPs) actually be having to work for a living, time for updates and insights will, by necessity, be limited.
...of course, if they were to do something really ridiculous...
See you soon.
Well folks, it's all over but the shouting - and that will start as soon as Parliament resumes.
The commercials are over (for now) the door to door harassment has ceased (for now) and the lawn signs will be coming down (for now). But all the pre-election polls pointed to a minority government, so we may all be getting sucked into the same four weeks of aggravation and idiocy much sooner than can be considered humane.
Deja vu, anyone?
Good Luck Canada.
Hang on folks. Just one more week and it'll all be over...
Interesting to see the reasons voters are giving for their choices, and for the changes in those choices as the election date draws closer. Early on, large segments of voters planning to support Conservative, Bloc and NDP candidates were doing so not because they liked those parties and their policies, but out of a desire to 'punish' the Liberals. Now, as a trend seems to be indicating a swing back to the Liberals, it's not because voters have decided that they like the Liberal's vision for the future after all, but because they're afraid that their 'disciplinary action' might result in a Conservative government - and thereby punish the punisher.
All these voters, perhaps the majority of voters, not voting for a party or leader, but against what they deem to be the even more repugnant alternatives in the complete absence of any attractive choices. Pretty much the conditions that brought the Undecided Party into existence in the first place.
(Also interesting to note, at least for the nation's right wing, that if the 'New Conservative' Party had been a united Progressive Conservative Party under the leadership of a Joe Clark, instead of a united Alliance Party under the leadership of a Stephen Harper, Paul Martin would be TOAST right now.)
Harper, meanwhile continues to show 'the measure of the man' -to use the phrase in his current campaign ad- by refusing to apologize for a Conservative "Reality Check" -to use the party's term for the piece- that contained the headline, "Paul Martin supports child pornography?" Note especially the cowardly use of the question mark to make a direct statement without having to defend it - "I'm not sayin', I'm just askin'!" ("Stephen Harper is a bald alien hiding his antennae under a bad wig....?")
At least the Ontario Conservatives didn't hide behind a question mark when they called McGuinty an evil reptilian kitten eater. (Though, as far as I know, they weren't able to prove those allegations.)
Even more, Harper and his entire party should be apologizing for exploiting the convenient timing of revelations in the Holly Jones tragedy - a move that even shocked seasoned political reporters on the Harper campaign bus.
The measure of a man...
Okay, so can we retire the phrase "knockout punch" now?
Q: Why do people watch political debates?
A: For the same reason that they bang their heads against brick walls - it feels so good when they stop.
How can someone watch such an embarrassment of 'democracy' and still wonder why so many Canadians are unable to get enthusiastic about these people leading the country? More to the point, why would anyone want to make any of the three options on display last night the leader of the nation?
Ironically enough, without the previous night's translators adding to the overall voice count -allowing the candidates' speeches to be heard more clearly- the result was even more annoying. (And people, if you're going to insist on spending the night preforming duets, at least set it to some music.) Of course, as we already knew, none of the party leaders have the wit or eloquence to have made any moving or even memorable points - so we simply got a concentrated rehash of the last few weeks' campaign speeches and attack ads.
And Jack...Jack of the infomercial smile...the following suggestion applies to all the candidates last night, but you so far outstripped the others in this particular category, that your performance deserves special recognition. Jack, when you ask a question, could you please SHUT UP and allow an answer? You're not only showing yourself to be ignorant and intellectually immature, you're leaving viewers with the distinct impression that you're terrified that the opponent might actually have an answer. Failing that, perhaps next time you can at least drop the pretence of adult behaviour, and simply cover your ears and yell, "La la la la la la la la la can't hear you la la la la la la la la..."
Meanwhile, we at the Undecided Party of Canada renew our suggestions to improve the next set of debates - destined to take place as soon as the minority government falls.
Well, they didn't take the advice of the UDP about the sound-proof booths and moderator-controlled microphones this evening, so, between speakers and translation, we had eight speakers interrupting each other in two languages for two hours. Add the sets of voices of the moderator trying to cut off the candidates when their time was up, and the most important tool that the TV viewer had tonight was the Mute button. (And those smart enough to use it wouldn't have missed a thing.)
It's still not too late for the sound-proof booths for the english debate...
What with attending D-Day commemorations and other international events, Paul Martin will be effectively absenting himself from the election campaign for a full week.
I think we should all applaud this innovative and altruistic strategy in giving the Canadian people a break from the aggravation of at least one week of choreographed public appearances. We should encourage Martin to extend this hiatus, and demand that Harper and Layton follow suit.
Just imagine what the next federal campaign would look like if Paul's absence resulted in a significant improvement in his poll numbers. Leaders would be climbing over each other to get out of the country.
'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished...'
Once again, the week saw the New Alliance Party having to exercise the 'comments of our candidates do not necessarily reflect those of the party' clause, as Health Care critic Rob Merrifield voiced some 'unofficial' views about abortion, likely to cost the party some votes. (Even though those views seem perfectly consistent with the Old Alliance Party values - not to mention previous comments by Harper himself.)
Of course, at least the corrected critics had been giving straight answers and honest opinions to their interviewers (death, as we all know, in politics), while Harper himself has been dodging questions about such matters as using the notwithstanding clause to ban same-sex marriages by using the politician's favourite nonsensical non-response, that he doesn't answer "hypothetical" questions.
Steve, Paul, Jack...all of you - we hate to break it to you, but every question is a hypothetical question.
And when a gay rights activist tried to ask one of the dreaded hypotheticals at a Harper appearance in Guelph, the offender was shoved, shouted down by Harper supporters with such pithy comments as, "Get outa here ya bum," struck with campaign signs, and forcibly ejected from the premises. (From this we can learn that the Conservatives' "Big Tent" still has security at the front door.)
But these poor NA candidates just can't seem to master the concept of keeping the unpopular stuff quiet until after getting into power. (Seriously, do you think Mulroney would have campaigned on a platform of "we need a new tax, let's call it the GST," instead of "Jobs, jobs, jobs?") And it can be difficult for a candidate to keep his or her stories straight when the party itself still doesn't have any 'official' policies. You may not have actually noticed the lack of any policy debate at the NA Leadership Convention (if you were lucky, you missed the convention entirely), but even as Harper et. al. are calling on Martin to let the voters know all the facts about the sponsorship scandal before going to the polls, their own party isn't even slated to decide on its own official policies until months after the election.
Talk about carte blanche.
Meanwhile, after months of probably wishing he had let Chretien leave on his own schedule (and be the one to take the hit for the sponsorship scandal), Paul Martin is probably also wishing he hadn't called the federal election just at the particular time he did. Perhaps the most obvious sign of the party's desperation is the use of Cabinet Ministers to ambush Harper on the streets. Now, we know that the "Honourable" Cabinet Ministers are no more honourable than (if, indeed as honourable as) the average yahoo on the street, but for a ruling federal political party to drop the standard 'best and brightest' propaganda, and publicly use Cabinet Ministers in place of the average yahoo on the street...
Well, it's just a matter of time before the Prime Ministerial Dunk Tank.
(Of course, that might interest the disaffected voter.)
Jack and Steve have been continuing to dwell on the whole 'a Liberal's a Liberal' angle, saying that Dalton McGuinty's broken election promises are a herald of the broken Martin promises that are to come. Granted, the broken promises part of that equation will doubtless come true, but while trying to make direct and unflattering connections between provincial and federal governments, Layton and Harper should pause and take a look around at their all-glass abodes.
We don't even have to leave the boundaries of Ontario to find the legendary Bob Rae administration - which reneged on a promise of public auto insurance after being elected, implemented government cutbacks, imposed a wage freeze and "Rae Days" (a mandatory ten unpaid days off per year) on civil servants, and whose cabinet seemed to be deliberately trying to break a single-term record for scandal.
So, Jack, if federal Liberals are like provincial Liberals, I guess that means that federal New Democrats are like provincial New Democrats, yes?
And don't be looking smug Steve. Remember the Conservative government before McGuinty's? Ernie Eves and Mike Harris? Walkerton? Cancelled Hydro privatization that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars? The 'Magna Budget'? A cabinet minister using public money to pay for a family trip to Europe? A 6.2 billion dollar deficit? And we STILL haven't even left Ontario.
Steve, same question.
None of you are going to be safe if you go around equating federal and provincial parties (you'll just remind us that you're all the same), so perhaps you should try to come up with another line of attack. Perhaps...let's see...well, you could spend the time talking about your policies.
Nah. Just kidding.
Jack Layton makes a comment about a 'rapid rise' in the death rates of homeless, linked to the affordable housing program cuts of Paul Martin. (A claim that a CBC report could find no evidence to support - though it did have an amusing clip of then-opposition MP Paul Martin decrying the Brian Mulroney government for making cuts to affordable housing programs.) Paul Martin responds by saying that he disapproves of personal attacks and would rather talk issues.
Apparently the PM has already forgotten http://www.stephenharpersaid.ca/.
Speaking of Stevio, he agreed with Paul that Jack's attempt to link Martin to homeless deaths was out of line, and promptly went on to imply that the Liberal government would be responsible for any Sea King helicopter crew who might die, ..."when you put people in the sky in dangerous equipment."
I guess one's concept of acceptability all hinges on who actually profits from the dead people.
Oops! Well it seems that Scott Reid, Ottawa-area MP and official Languages Critic of the New Alliance Party, suggested overhauling the Official Languages Act, saying that the government should consider ending the obligation to provide bilingual services across the country, and no longer require senior civil servants to be able to speak both official languages.
This is not a good move for a party trying to win seats in Quebec.
Stephen Harper knows this (even if his MP doesn't), and he quickly told reporters that the party would maintain the Official Languages Act, adding about Reid's comments, "They're his views. But, as I said, they are not party policy."
Well, we'll see if that's true should the NA ever get into power (certainly Reid's position seems more consistent with the OA's views), but in the meantime, we've learned an important rule to remember during political campaigns, to wit;
"The statements of Conservative(*) Party of Canada candidates -even official party critics on the subject they're addressing, and even during an election campaign- do not necessarily reflect those of the Conservative Party of Canada."
Good to know.
(*) And all the others - just give it time.
(So, how many papers began their coverage today -or will open it tomorrow- with, "And They're Off!"?)
Much has been made today of the wisdom -or lack thereof- in the timing of the election call. And one of the primary factors arguing for a delay was the recent release of the Ontario provincial Liberal's promise-breaking budget - and it's potential impact on the federal Liberal's credibility.
Critics are expressing shock (wake up people) and outrage (fair enough) that Dalton McGuinty would sign a document promising no new taxes, and then turn around and break that signed commitment. 'Liberals are Liberals,' has become a catchphrase for opposition campaigners wanting to tar the feds with McGuinty's brush, and yet, they ignore an even more direct connection between their own deputy leader and his breach of a signed contract - an act which was a prerequisite for the very existence of the New Alliance Party. (And at least the broken Liberal contract was the work of a provincial leader.)
Liberals are Liberals? Probably so, but Conservatives are Conservatives too - and the point that these events really illustrate is that Politicians are Politicians.
And that's what we've been saying all along.
Some of the New Alliance election platform was leaked today - which included personal tax cuts, increased child benefits, and a gas-tax rebate to provinces, while matching the Liberal plan of 37 billion for Health Care spending.
Anyone care to bet on how many days after (the unlikely event of) getting elected it would take the N.A. to make the, "the old party left the books in worse shape than we thought, so forget everything we promised" statement?
Captain Credibility strikes again!
Peter MacKay, the New Alliance Deputy Leader who still lacks the self-awareness to see the irony in criticizing other politicians for not keeping their promises, refused this week to reveal just who bailed him out of the debt he got himself into while winning the leadership of the party that he promptly handed over to Stephen Harper et. al.
Perhaps it's a faulty memory on my part, but I seem to remember MacKay joining in the chorus demanding that Paul Martin reveal all of his financial backers in the lead up to the Liberal leadership race - and considering Pete's actions immediately following his election to the head of the PC Party, this reluctance may just be seen as an attempt to hide evidence of a payment for services rendered.
Now, we're not saying that this is the case, but some suspicious minds might wonder why he's so bound and determined to keep his bail-out buddies a secret -unless it's to avoid uncomplimentary comparisons to '30 pieces of silver.'
And even there, 30 pieces of silver is hardly an accurate analogy, since MacKay's debt removal price tag was much higher than that - although he also refuses to reveal how much higher. After the campaign, MacKay himself claimed a half-million dollars, but now he's saying it was nowhere near as high as the total "reported." "Reported" in this case by simply quoting the source, as he gave his reasons for not running for the New Alliance leadership. So was he lying -sorry, mistaken- then, or is he ly- mistaken now? If the former, why would he exaggerate so much? Could it be to give a credible excuse for not running against Harper?
Regardless, Pete is keeping the books shut and stating that he "complied with all the reporting regulations." (A declaration that was always met with derision from the PC/NA side of the floor whenever a Liberal used it.) But let's face it, he's just being a politician, and part of that career of hypocrisy goes along the lines of, "Everybody should be required to disclose everything because if they've got nothing to hide what are they afraid of...except me."
And on a related note, if you're asking for a job that involves accepting the responsibility to help run a country, is it really setting a good example to not take responsibility for the debts you chose to accept, and allow anyone to bail you out when you're making a base salary of $139,000? I mean, it's not like you're on Welfare, is it?
Or is this just a different kind of Welfare?...
More money announcements (including shiny, happy changes to Employment Insurance and extra Olympic funding), the likelyhood of Ken Dryden being added to the list of candidates appointed rather than elected by their own riding associations, the federal government trying to kill a judicial review into its performance in defending the Canada Health Act...
Remember when Paul Martin said that he was going to change the way Ottawa does politics? Did he ever mention when that was supposed to start?...
Though Liberal planners probably thought this would be a black/white, slam dunk election issue, the whole Health Care situation doesn't seem to be going well for "Team Martin" lately. Days after the Health Minister had to 'clarify' a statement which 'seemed' to indicate the opinion that the Canada Health Act permitted private services, Paul Martin was accused of taking advantage of the private option himself. And, while he denied this was the case (and we have no reason to doubt him, do we?), it was revealed that the doctor he goes to operates a chain of private, for profit, MRI clinics.
So, while the PM insists that he opposes private health care ("There really is no place for cheque-book medicare..."), and will no doubt make it a major factor in the election campaign (you may have received his friendly little Health Care note in your mailbox), his personal doctor practices private health care. Perhaps someone should tell Paul that, even if he doesn't partake in those private services himself, the situation is not unlike a 'get tough on organized crime' candidate whose personal lawyer also represents Mafiosi and motorcycle gangs.
"Our government is committed to providing the best possible health care system to all Canadians."
"...of the highest standards - for all Canadians, regardless of income or where we live..."
The story also revealed that when Medicare doesn't cover a specific service, Martin sometimes uses his "parliamentarian health benefit plan," which raises the practical question, how motivated can our elected representatives be to improve Medicare coverage when they already have broader coverage alternatives of their own? Perhaps if they were restricted to the same access as the rest of us, they might actually feel a stronger incentive to improve things.
After all, a politician's first interest is self interest.
Tis the season for pre-election spending, and for future candidates to say that the upcoming campaign has nothing to do with the timing of the cashflow or the sudden accessibility of previously cloistered members.
A recent CBC report estimated that the feds have been making 12 to 15 funding announcements per day recently, with Industry Canada alone averaging 6 million dollars of new spending every 24 hours - and yet the governing party clings to the claim that this outpouring of 5 billion dollars overall since the beginning of April is all just an uncanny coincidence. Are they stupid enough to think that we're that stupid?, or, in the twisted, hermetically sealed ficto-verse that is political life, do they really believe what they're saying - in the way that a child can actually believe he or she didn't draw all those animal pictures on the living room wall?
A question deserving detailed longitudinal study. Probably worth a federal research grant somewhere. Perhaps they could announce it before the election.
As for where I have been for the last month, I only wish I could give you specifics. Suffice it to say that I spent time deep within the most Machiavellian, behind-the-scenes workings of all three mainstream political parties, and I'm sorry to report that the view isn't any better from the inside. Anything more specific might jeopardize contacts working within these three organizations, and increase the odds of my discovery should I wish to go back 'undercover' at a future date, so let's talk about what's been happening while I've been gone.
For the most part, it was more of the same. Will Paul or won't Paul? Will he continue to address the 'democratic deficit' by appointing nominees over the wishes of riding voters? Will any member of the committee investigating the sponsorship scandal have the integrity to ask a question without a political agenda behind it? Will any of the witness actually take responsibility for doing anything wrong. Will the Chretien and Martin Liberals ever learn to get along? Will anyone in the New Alliance learn to accept ex-PC members' criticisms without resorting to Bush-style (which is to say, 6th grade) attacks on the critic's character?
It's like I never left.
There were a few new developments though. Early in the month, Statistics Canada reported that the rich -a category which includes your local MP- continue to get richer, while the poor -a category which may well include you- get poorer. (Not much of a reaction from the government or opposition about changing that.) An internal Liberal 'election manual' was leaked, complete with a model speech which concentrated on praising Martin as "...the standard-bearer for change," as the party seems less and less inclined to call itself "The Liberal Party," in favour of "Team Martin." (It can't be a good sign when you're trying to distance yourself from your own name.)
And even though the Liberals aren't good enough for the Liberals, they're apparently good enough (at least in the context of "the devil we know") for former PC leader, Joe Clark. And when Clark said it would be "dangerous" to let Stephen Harper run the country, who rose up from the ex-PC ranks to counter Clark's claims? Brian Mulroney. Really, with friends like that...
Anyway, the election is almost certain to be called in the next few days or weeks, and the verbal incontinence will be reaching hitherto unimagined heights. (Perhaps not the most visually attractive metaphor - even if accurate.) Fasten your seat belts - you don't want to fall out of your chair as you're throwing things at the TV.
Shelia Copps dropped her appeal of her unsuccessful federal nomination contest this week - not because she changed her mind about the accusations, not because one side or the other decided to settle things 'out of court,' but because she wouldn't agree to the secrecy conditions demanded by the Liberal Party. You know, the 'open government,' 'get rid of the democratic deficit,' Liberal Party.
Seems that any person taking part in such a hearing has to agree to say nothing to the press or public about what takes place during the event - and sign a document to that effect. Of course, we know from past events that Copps doesn't necessarily feel bound to honour signed agreements (Peter MacKay's not the only one you know), but perhaps breaking this contract might have carried the possibility of legal repercussions, so she decided to drop out.
But whatever her reasons were, and whatever the validity of her original claims, these considerations have been suddenly eclipsed by the fact that these proceedings are held in secret. A political party insists that an investigation into whether one of its votes was completely botched, or worse, won fraudulently, is held without any guarantee that the voters will ever know if they were robbed.
And yet, Martin and the Liberals say they want to battle voter cynicism.
Perhaps somebody should explain to them how to do that.
Alright, so we're all wondering if Myriam Bedard's enchanted little world bears any relation at all to the one that the rest of us inhabit. An ad agency moonlighting as drug trafficker. Jacques Villeneuve paid 12 million dollars (his salary from the BAR Racing Team was only 14 million) to wear a flag on his uniform in a manner that every F1 driver has to wear anyway. Jean Chretien deciding not to join the invasion of Iraq on the advice of...her boyfriend. (Good thing she's not still playing with guns, what?)
Of course, since these 'facts' were told to Bedard by third parties, she may simply be a staggeringly gullible ex-biathlete, and completely taken in by hearsay, but where was the committee during all this? No questions to challenge the assertions? No requests for corroboration or some other sort of proof?
Still, there's no denying that Bedard is a quick study, as a Friday night interview on CBC's The National, when she was asked to defend her accusations, showed her to be as evasive and non-committal as a veteran politician.
Perhaps she should run for public office.
It's a shocker. The government has come down with the new budget, and the opposition parties don't like it.
Various opposition members' attempts to be quotable in the post-presentation scrums were, as always, sad, hackneyed, and embarrassing, and served as reminders that we have no leaders of eloquence in today's politics (although I have no doubt that the speakers themselves were pleased with their off the cuff, unrehearsed, and totally spontaneous oration). But the most, shall we say, 'memorable,' response about the budget, and the winner of the least politically correct comment from a politician award, issued forth from Alberta Finance Minister, Pat Nelson (gee, insensitivity from an Alberta Conservative - who'd a thunk it?), who referred to Martin's plans as, and I'm not kidding here, "booga booga accounting." These are supposed to be our best and brightest folks, isn't that depressing?
And amazingly, in all the post-speech posturing, not a single MP touched upon the most obvious symbol of extravagance revealed in Tuesday's presentation - specifically, the floral monstrosities that the PM and Finance Minister wore in their lapels on Budget Day.
Seriously, what were these people thinking? While a bit of foliage in the lapel can be a tasteful accent to a wardrobe when executed with restraint (as with Trudeau and his roses), the size of the flower should generally be smaller than the wearer's head, and probably shouldn't extend beyond his or her shoulders. These things looked like stand-ins from Little Shop of Horrors.
Frankly, we at the Undecided Party believe that such florid displays of frontal flora have no place in a frugal budget (not to mention the safety hazard that comes with top-heavy Ministers falling over from the weight of unwieldy pistils), and the UDP pledges that after our election, unless our budgets are released on Mardi Gras or Halloween, we will exercise proper restraint regarding any buttonhole blossoms, and not rub the taxpayer's noses in our oversized stamens.
You may have missed it in all the hubbub this week about the budget, the sponsorship scandal, and Myriam Bedard's unique view of the world, but we did see another example of the staggering efficiency that the House of Commons is capable of, and the inspiring ability of sworn enemies to pull together as one big happy family - when the incentive is right. A few days ago, our elected civic servants spent only 15 minutes -that's 15 minutes!- passing a bill that increased medical and hospital benefits for retired...wait for it...Members of Parliament.
Yes, now as soon as they hit 50 (5 years before even receiving their legendary pensions),'retired' MPs (which, of course, also means 'defeated,' 'disgraced,' and 'denounced') will have health benefits that the rest of us -the ones who have to make due with a Medicare system gutted by the same MPs that will benefit from this plan- can only dream of.
15 MINUTES! It takes three years and 10 photo ops to get a pothole filled - yet in this case; no first and second reading of the bill, no Parliamentary committees, no opposition from the Opposition*, and perhaps most telling, no publicity.
Our Members of Parliament. Working tirelessly for the good of all Canadians.
(*Ask your Opposition candidates, when they come looking for re-election, why they didn't fight this extravagance while they were complaining about money wasted on sponsorship or criticizing the Liberals' inadequate healthcare funding. Seriously. ASK them. And close the door if you don't like the answer.)
Well, the Alliance takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party is complete, and to compliment Harper's position as party leader, the eastern, ex-PC interim House leader, Loyola Herne has been replaced by western, ex-Alliance MP, John Reynolds. (We also have the forced departure of ex-PC Tom Jarmyn -who was good for 'bridge building' optics during the leadership run- as Harper's senior adviser.) So, as was predicted long ago when all this merging began, the old Alliance controls the New Alliance, though the powerless, figurehead role of Deputy Leader does go to a PC alum - albeit a PC that handed his party over to the Alliance. (So what's the salary for a Deputy Leader of the Opposition? 30 pieces of silver?)
Note to Stephen Harper: If your Deputy Leader offers to prove his sincerity by signing anything, just tell him not to bother.
But speaking of Mr. Credibility, MacKay recently commented on the upcoming election by stating that Canadians are "fed up" with the Liberals' "arrogance and corruption." Presumably, he thinks the voters want to return to the Conservative arrogance and corruption so well represented by the Mulroney years. They say a change is as good as a rest.
Meanwhile, while the New Alliance had been decidedly less vocal about the whole 'no election till fall' position in the wake of the sponsorship scandal and resulting improvement in the polls, Harper reaffirmed the policy after his own election on the weekend - perhaps because his party has only chosen candidates for half of the nation's 308 ridings to date. Regardless of the motives, one has to wonder who (other than a Canadian who'd rather be an American) would seriously want to duplicate the system from south of the border - where the entire 4th year of every term, 25% of a leader's mandate, is wasted in fighting a fixed-date vote.
At least when you only have one or two months' warning of an election, you only have to put up with one or two months of concentrated political effluent.
Wow...no wonder no one watches political conventions.
Note to Belinda Stronach: When your handlers spend the day saying your speech will be "from the heart," and you begin the speech yourself with a declaration that your speech will be "from the heart," you probably shouldn't be consulting your talking points notes (even if held discretely below camera frame) at every break for applause. Or perhaps "heart" is some new political slang for "prepared notes."
Interesting to hear her agreeing with Harper's call for American-style four year elections and two term 'presidencies' - apparently deciding that Canadians aren't smart enough to decide for themselves if a PM who has served two terms is still the best choice for the job. Interesting to hear reporters and commentators saying how much the stiff, "from the heart" address, delivered with the cadence of a piece of text-to-speech software, demonstrated how far she had come since the start of her campaign. Frightening thought.
Note to Stephen Harper: Filling the stage with supporters might have a reassuring effect when facing the crowd, but delivering your speech with a background of nodding political groupies and sycophants paints a tableau unfortunately reminiscent of orations given by most totalitarian leaders of the past century or so...unless that's what you were going for.
Summary of the Harper speech? "I will do (insert good thing from list here), I will not do (insert bad thing from list here)!" Repeat.
Again, comments that this was the best speech Harper has ever given. Again, yikes!"
Final comment from Harper? "Mark my words, we will win the next federal election." Let's see.
Note to Tony Clement: When the news is carrying accusations of municipal and provincial negligence related to the second SARS outbreak in April of 2003, you might not want to keep bringing up the fact that you were Ontario Health Minister at the time.
Standing on the floor, 'amongst' his people, Clement at least delivered something that sounded like a speech, with a flow and a feeling that the speaker was actually going somewhere - rather than the other two candidates' shopping list of talking points. It wasn't Kennedy by a long shot, it wasn't Trudeau, it wasn't even Bush, but it was a speech - which put him miles ahead of Harper and Stronach. (I wonder if there are actually any real speakers left in politics, or if wit and eloquence has been entirely supplanted by money and connections.)
One thought for Tony, though. While there's nothing wrong with using teleprompters out of camera shot to feed you your words, if you're trying to make the speech look spontaneous, read ahead a bit and use the mental buffer to occasionally look somewhere other than from one screen to the other. With the right sound effects, the world would have thought you were at Center Court Wimbledon as you went from left screen to right screen, to left screen to right screen, to left screen to right screen...etc.
-41 million for the upkeep of an ex-CBC personality who is Canada's face for an obsolete, irrelevant, and
-160 million for HP and the DND. (Ottawa wants its money back. Let's hope they kept the receipt.)
-Kickbacks, blown budgets, and the government breaking its own rules to hand out a million flags.
(And for desert, a former president of B.C.'s federal Liberal party admitting on the CBC that her flag selling business got one of those kickbacks during the promotion.)
-And of course, the continuing entertainment of the sponsorship scandal.
One wonders, if Paul Martin wonders, if Chretien would like to come back long enough to serve out his original term.
Governor General Adrienne Clarkson says that, "Canadians deserve the best." Setting aside for the moment, the question of whether Clarkson is the "best" person for the job, there is no doubt that she's the most expensive - at more than 41 million dollars spent on the office last year. (One wonders how she'll adjust when her term is over, having to put up with such workaday tasks as hiring the servants herself, rather than having someone do it for her.)
Considering the infinitesimal number of Canadians that get to benefit from the G.G.'s best, as opposed to the number that could be accommodated at food banks and shelters for even half that money, perhaps it's more important to remember that Canadians -all Canadians- deserve to eat, and suggest, for example, that Clarkson pay for her own charted flights to her cottage. (As for the rationale that the G.G. is a prime terrorist target in the wake of 9/11...please!)
Belinda Stronach and Sheila Copps. Soul sisters. The Thelma and Louise of nomination politics.
Belinda wants the leadership vote put off long enough to straighten out a voter's list that allegedly excludes 7000 Stronach memberships, while Sheila has no fewer than 15 charges -not to mention a request for a criminal investigation- lined up against the organizers of her nomination vote.
Amusing to hear Copps' claim that her challenge is not motivated by ego or self-interest, but out of concern for, "the voters." (All together now, "How stupid do you think I am?") Interesting to hear other Liberal MPs seeming to voice the opinion that she should clam up for the good of the party that just finished flushing her, regardless of whether she was beaten fairly or robbed blind. In the words of MP, Joe Volpe, "I think that all those that engage in the process (should) accept the outcome." (Even if that outcome is a fraud, Joe?)
So are Sheila and Belinda blowing smoke, or are their complaints legitimate? Who knows? In either case, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of democracy going on.
You may have noticed that the New Alliance Party isn't making any noises about delaying the election till Fall anymore. A mere month ago when Harper et. al. were wailing long and loud about the evil of calling a Spring vote, a few commentators (this one included) theorized that they wouldn't be holding so tight to their declared electoral principles if they thought they could profit from an early trip to the polls. Not long after, the sponsorship scandal gave the party a bump in popularity, and guess what?...
The silence has been deafening, and now the few noises that are emanating from the party ranks about the subject are of a decidedly shifted nature - to quote MP John Reynolds' declaration about Martin's timing, "I'd love to have it as soon as he wants to call it."
Way to stick to those principles, guys!
And speaking of principles, Sheila Copps -who publicly declared that she wouldn't feel obligated to honour a document she would have to sign before entering the Liberal nomination race- has lost that nomination to Martin-favoured Tony Valeri. It is now likely that Copps will not sit in the House of Commons after the next election, but since she said she'd resign all those years ago if the GST was enacted, you could say that her promise finally caught up with her. (Would that we could hope every politicians' promises would eventually catch up with them.)
And speaking of promises, the NDP has apparently rescinded its promise to welcome Copps into their arms if she didn't get the Liberal nod. Granted, the entire concept of advertising your desire to be a candidate's second choice was somewhat demeaning to the party, but the offer was made ("I don't know what Sheila Copps will decide, but to Liberals who share Sheila's values and mourn the death of the party of Pearson and Trudeau, I say you belong with us."), and now we're reminded that the NDP is just as adept at ignoring its own words as any other political party.
Oh, if only there was somewhere else that a citizen could park his or her vote...
Well, we can be pretty sure that if Belinda Stronach wins the leadership race, her campaign ads won't be harping on Paul Martin's various upper income and corporate tax breaks, or the shelter in Barbados. As the National Post pointed out today, Stronach's father has saved himself Canadian income tax on about 200 million dollars of salary in the past 10 years - by shifting his 'principal' place of residence, and paying himself through out-of-country branches of his company. Meanwhile, Belinda's brother is taking advantage of Paul's Barbados tax haven for an online gambling operation.
Nope, there won't be much mention of tax havens and CSL if Belinda wins. Yet another reason the Liberals are probably pulling for her in the March vote.
While in Nova Scotia, Stronach also addressed the perceived need to 'repair' Canada's relationship with the United States - which in the conservative context translates into putting us back in Washington's pocket as deeply as we were during the Mulroney years.
Spake the candidate, "By rebuilding a working relationship with Washington, we will have a greater opportunity to INFLUENCE (my capitals), and to work side by side with the United States while maintaining an independent voice on the world stage."
One can only assume that in all the excitement of being a politician, Stronach hasn't had a chance to brush up on her recent history, since those who do watch the news occasionally can tell her how well that very strategy has worked for Tony Blair in the last few years.
Of course, she begins -as Blair did- with the nonsensical premise that the Bush White House would ever agree that another country's "independent voice" could be compatible with a "working relationship" with Washington. But again, if she had even casually followed the imperial decrees handed down by Paul Cellucci over the last few years (a man who evidently considers his position to be more that of an occupying Governor than ambassador), she would have known that her sentiment holds about as much water as a spaghetti strainer.
On the bright side, if the New Alliance does attain power and achieves its closer relationship, we won't have to waste time and money coming up with our own foreign policies anymore.
Note to Stephen Harper: March 1st is Saint David's Day, dedicated to the patron saint of Wales. Do not send any congratulatory notes to Sea World.
Well, members of the New Alliance Party can finally claim a defection in their direction.
John Bryden, who left the Liberal Party last week, finished his migration on Wednesday and settled into the right wing - and the reaction of the welcoming party was very educational. When Scott Brison and other PC/Alliance members moved to the Liberals, ex-colleagues condemned them with all the fervour and vitriol of a lover scorned, while Stephen Harper used terms like "turncoat politicians," and declared that, "We are going to have people of principle and Paul Martin is going to have every traitor and defector in the country."
Well, it now seems that the New Alliance will have at least one traitor heading into the federal election, and if you saw the video of Bryden's arrival at his new caucus, you might have been bemused by the sight of the N.A. members almost elbowing each other out of the way for a chance to shake his hand.
But that's not hypocrisy. That's, you know...politics.
Meanwhile, the party of the far right has been preparing some radio spots which move straight to the 'negative/attack campaigning' end of the spectrum before the election's even been called. (A new record perhaps?) The ads in question personally attack the Prime Minister (we all remember how well that worked for the Kim Campbell Conservatives) and have already angered the nation's Caribbean community by presenting a stereotyped Barbadian character - with the wrong accent. (But really, all those Caribbeans sound alike, don't they?)
The ad in question, which attacks Martin's actions in keeping a tax haven in operation for major corporations, even manages to sideswipe Belinda Stronach's family in the process - since an online gambling operation owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., is registered in Barbados.
The ad ends with, "If Paul Martin is leading by example, what exactly is he trying to tell us?" We could ask the same question of the sponsors of the ad.
Of course, if the New Alliance can't come up with a compelling reason that we should vote for them, perhaps the best they can do is list reasons (reasons that we already know anyway) why we should vote against the other guys.
All in all, not terribly reassuring - and a nice argument in favour of not voting at all.
When the producers of a movie know that it's really going to stink up the theatres, they don't allow reviewers to see advance screenings - in hopes that, on the opening weekend at least, they might make a few bucks before the truth gets out. Now, after the weekend's leadership debate, we know why the Stronach team has been so set against exposing its leader to repeated national exposure in a, if not unscripted, certainly not nearly as scripted as they would like, format. Considering how tame an all-conservative debate is compared to the all-party free-for-all down the road, a Stronach leadership should at least bring some entertainment value to the federal election.
The weekend's event did have its amusements, however - such as the desperately enthusiastic responses of each leaders' 'posse' to every statement that dripped from his or her mouth. (Perhaps audience members at the next debate should be subjected to drug testing.) Then there was Belinda's gem, that she was the "only candidate who can see things from a citizen's perspective."
Seriously. As a multi-national CEO who made more than 10 million dollars last year - Belinda is best suited to empathize with the average Joe and Jane Canuck and their day-to-day concerns. She's right down here in the citizen trenches with the rest of us - why, I'd wager she tracks the price of Kraft Dinner just like you and me.
There are a statistically insignificant number of Canadians who are further removed from the life of the average Canadian than Stephen Harper - but Belinda Stronach is definitely one of them.
And then there was Harper's dismissal of a Tony Clement challenge about his record, with the declaration that he (Harper) was "the only one on the stage that's won an election in the last two years." (Of course, neither the Liberals nor Conservatives were running candidates in Harper's riding on the day he was elected, but why nit pick about the value of a victory.)
For his part, Clement has actually worked in a functioning (depending on your definition of the term) government, while Harper's experience is limited to complaining from the wrong side of the floor - but apparently, winning a virtually uncontested seat is more important to a politician's "record" than actual work experience.
Funny business, politics.
Note to Deputy PM Anne McLellan: When, during a single session of Question Period, you say "We have nothing to hide," ten times, people might start to think you have something to hide. (Shakespeare fans can feel free to quote Hamlet at this point.)
Note to Belinda Stronach: To avoid answering direct questions about such things as Medicare is standard policy for a candidate who knows that most of the public won't like the real answer. But endlessly parroting hollow, meaningless phrases like 'innovative solutions,' without any hint of what those solutions might be, may give viewers the impression that you don't have positions so much as flash cards.
Now that the opposition parties smell blood in the water, leadership candidates for the New Alliance seem to be taking themselves even more seriously than before - and at the same time, finding new ways to show that they're just more of the same...
Stephen Harper recently dismissed Tony Clement (Steve can be very dismissive, have you noticed?) as a serious leadership candidate by saying that he doesn't have sufficient resources (read; money) to win. From the horse's mouth folks - we all knew this before (and it's already been touched upon in these pages), but now we have the politicians themselves admitting the big secret - no democracy without cash. (Which, if I'm not mistaken, translates to "Plutocracy" - but try to get Steve to cop to that definition.)
Of course, anyone who doubts the money over merit reality of politics need only look south of the border to that big, lovable, globally dangerous, "moron," George W. - a man with the biggest fundraising machine in American history, and all the intellectual qualifications of a banana peel. (All the easier to be controlled by those around him.)
Which brings us to Belinda Stronach. (I had been puzzled as to why so many Conservative power brokers were backing the political vacuum from Magna, but the Bush model fits the circumstances quite nicely.) Fresh from triumphantly ducking her first debate, Stronach and her 'team' have had to face up to a few uncomfortable revelations of their own this week - including that a private reception in support of Stronach was being hosted by a lawyer convicted on conspiracy and falsifying documents charges in a 17 million dollar stock manipulation scheme, and the fact that 2 of the 5 Quebec MPs who endorsed Stronach include Gabriel Fontaine (convicted of defrauding taxpayers of $100,000) and Michel Cote (fired by Mulroney for breaking conflict of interest rules).
Stronach handlers responded that the candidate "didn't know" about the MPs' histories. Didn't know?... Is it possible that a leadership candidate wouldn't know about such important matters about her own campaign? So I guess then, that the Stronach team considers it feasible that Martin didn't know about the activities behind the sponsorship scandal. (After all, fair's fair.)
Meanwhile, interim New Alliance leader, Grant Hill stated in the House this week that his party is ready to offer "an alternative to the corrupt (we can assume he means, Liberal) culture," "a competent Cabinet untouched by scandal," and "a party that treats taxpayers' money as a sacred trust." (Show of hands. Does anyone believe that one?...anyone....?)
All in all, interesting claims given the past history of the PC Party while in power, and the record of the PCs, Reform, Alliance, and New Alliance since 1993. A party that can't even run an opposition without scandal is apparently confident that they can run a scandal-free government. (Show of hands... anyone?...)
Lots of competition for this week's Holy Hyperbole! award, as the sponsorship scandal carries on...
Mr Credibility, Peter MacKay referred to Martin's appearance on CBC's Cross Country Checkup as, "...a spectacle of shame..." and, "...one of the greatest embarrassments we have seen in this country by a Prime Minister..."
"...one of the greatest embarrassments we have seen in this country by a Prime Minister..."
Now, just why MacKay feels that it's a shame and an embarrassment for a Prime Minister to actually take a few hours, listen to the nation's citizens, and even receive their criticisms, is beyond me. Perhaps the Conservative policy is that (outside election time) party members and leaders should never lower themselves to the level of interacting with ...mere people (you know, some of them don't even wear suits), but making yourself available for 2 hours of national catharsis when you know that very few calls will be complimentary ones actually seems to display the kind of guts that might have helped MacKay stick to his word about not merging with the Alliance. (Really, Petey, there are so many things you can criticize about the other side of the floor, but when you jump on something he did right, you just lose all your...oh, right...that horse has already sailed.)
Anyway, against Canadian political history's 'greatest embarrassment,' we have Paul Martin's assertion that "Every single Liberal right across this country wants to find the answer to this. Every single Liberal right across this country is sick about this."
Every single Liberal right across the country...
Let's be clear, now - every single one. Seriously. There's not a single Liberal between Cape Spear and Vancouver Island who might be hoping that the whole truth doesn't come out. Not a single Liberal between the North Pole and the 49th parallel who doesn't wish this had never happened (and who wouldn't do it again in a second if they didn't think they'd get caught). Not one!!!
Which all begs the question, 'Then, how did it happen in the first place?' Unless...every single participant has since left the Liberal Party, returning it to its pure and virginal state.
Or...the perpetrators were all plants from the opposition parties - That's it!...sneaking into the offices of honest Liberals by night and transferring millions of dollars into the accounts of simple but trusting friends of the party. Of course! It's so obvious now!
Farfetched? Any more farfetched than, "...every single liberal..."?
Belinda Stronach ducked out of her first debate last night, stating that, "I have a goal to meet as many Canadians as possible" - but apparently not to let them learn anything about her. That's the only logic that would explain how few dozen handshakes and rehearsed platitudes in a hotel conference room would be a more desirable way to reach Canadians than a nationwide television audience.
As Kim Campbell said, an election is, "no time to discuss serious issues."
Where oh where to begin?
- Budgeting a quarter of a billion dollars to try and buy the affections of a partially estranged province? (Perhaps next time, we should say it with flowers.)
- Redirecting 100 million of that sum into laundered kickbacks for a few corporate friends of the party - delivered with all the stealth and subtlety of a Mardi Gras parade in a coma ward?
- The finance minister and senior Quebec MP at the time claiming he knew nothing about any of it? (Come on Paul, it might not have come to you through official channels, but you didn't hear any little whispers about anything? Some say liar, some say clueless - it's difficult to decide which is the more disturbing alternative.)
- The spectacular irony that if the Martin camp hadn't pushed Chretien out of the office before he was ready, this mess would be in his lap right now?
- Trying to pass off your basic, garden variety, government graft as, "a very sophisticated coverup...by a small group of people?" (Again, Paul, MPs?... Bureaucrats?... sophisticated?!...)
- The fact hat the nation's police force won't be able to investigate the kickbacks because it took part in them, and received payments through a separate, non-government account? (Where's Dudley Do-Right when we need him?)
- Paying a 15% commission to move money from one government account to another?
- The Foreign Affairs Minister's claim that Gagliano couldn't have been fired any earlier because, "we didn't have the information we have today" - despite the fact that the government has had the Auditor General's report for two months?
- Revenue Minister Stan Keye's assertion that, "People are sitting back at home saying, 'They're doing everything they possibly can?'" (He must be just talking about his home.)
- And let's not overlook the theatrical self-righteousness indignation of the opposition parties, burning with the heat of a thousand suns, and with the full -but unspoken- knowledge that their only secret of staying out of such scandals is staying out of power. (If you doubt the assertion, simply look at the past federal, and past -and some present- non-Liberal provincial governments.)
And providing a special irony from the other side of the floor, the especially spirited attacks made by Peter MacKay - delivered with the credibility that can only come from a leader who lost an entire party, and broke the only significant political commitment he ever made.
But those political pudits just can't fiqure out why fewer and fewer people are bothering to vote...
Former Mulroney cabinet minister and father of the final PC leader, Elmer MacKay, had some interesting comments about Belinda Stronach's current race for the leadership - the first being that he personally encouraged her to run with the reasoning that, "It may not be in your personal interest to do it, but it's very important for the country."
Uhmmm, okay. Granted, it's a nice bit of ego stroking, but I can't see why it's important for the country to have a blank slate running for the leadership of a party aiming squarely at second place. But that's just me.
Still, things got more interesting when MacKay addressed Stronach's lack of political experience with this gem, "It certainly wasn't a detriment to Brian Mulroney. If we look across the border, it wasn't a detriment to Arnold Schwarzenegger."
A pause to digest.
To be fair, if getting elected is the only criteria MacKay has for political success, then both examples pass scrutiny. If on the other hand, he's putting them up as reasons for the electorate to take Stronach seriously...well, we have the man who started what MacKay's own son finished (the destruction of the PC Party), and a bad actor and repeat sexual molester who's very election was not only a world wide laughing stock, but tangible proof of the bankruptcy of the system that put him in power.
And these are the examples MacKay chose to reassure us?
I wonder what colour the sky is in Elmer's world?
And as we continue the countdown to the pre-election trading deadline, word has come across the desk that former N.B. Tory, John Herron, will run for a Liberal riding nomination in preparation for this spring's vote. So just in case you don't have a programme...
John Herron and Scott Brison - from the PCs to Liberals.
Keith Martin - from Alliance to Liberals.
Joe Clark and Andre Bachand - from PCs to the showers.
Martin Cauchon, Robert Nault, Alan Rock, David Collennete and Herb Dhaliwal - from Liberals to the showers.
Larry Spencer - turfed for anti-gay comments from the New Alliance. (Turfed by a party under the interim leadership of Grant Hill, who has said that homosexuality can be, "unhealthy in the same way smoking is.")
Jean Lapierre - from Liberals, to Bloc Québécois, and back to Liberals again.
Shelia Copps...maybe Liberals, maybe NDP - proving better than anyone that a politician's principles depend on opportunity.
Stay tuned for more trades, retirements, defections and possibly a few late-round draft picks.
An interesting and rare phenomenon has manifested itself with the ascension of Paul Martin to the office of Prime Minister. Usually, when a sitting government elects a new leader, opposition parties instantly begin calls for a new election, preaching (with all the fervour of an appropriately church and state separated John the Baptist) that the new leader has no mandate from the people - that he must go out into the wilderness of the campaign trail and see if the people call him back. In fact, why hasn't he already called the election?!
On most occasions.
If, however, your particular opposition party is in disarray, leaderless, and so far down in the polls that you're in danger of looking up to the NDP, you 'convert' to the belief that there's no rush. In fact you propose that the only true way to practice democracy is to hold national elections in the American tradition...which is to say, every four years...which is to say, November. Which is to say, after another 6 months or so to get our act together.
Back in November '03, Stephen Harper claimed that his call for four year terms had nothing to do with the New Alliance not being ready for a spring vote. (Even though it would make more sense for a shift to a 4-year system to begin with the next election, rather than date retroactively back to the last one.) And I'm sure that he was being perfectly sincere - and that he would have the same opinion if the New Alliance was ahead in the polls right now.
No, seriously...I mean it.
And, while the party as a whole is ducking the election, Belinda Stronach, she of the non-practiced non answer, the personification of unintentional inscrutability, is ducking the traditional national televised debates in the run-up to the vote for party leadership.
Granted, we all know that these pre-election dog and pony shows have no informational value for the voter, and judging by her performance to date before a largely bemused press corps, one can easily understand why her handlers wouldn't want her being subjected to actual, specific, aggressive questions in a forum where her inability to answer would be impossible to overlook. But, nationally televised debates are all part of the process now for the mainstream parties, and if you're afraid to publicly square off against members of your own party, what are you going to do in debates against rival national leaders, on the floor of the House of Commons, or -God forbid- on the international stage.
(Of course it won't matter too much if, given the New Alliance's assured defeat, Belinda is simply being groomed for the role of sacrificial lamb for an unwinnable election. Perhaps she should have a talk with Kim Campbell...)
So, you're an M.P., and someone you don't like wins the leadership of your party - what do you do? Well, you go out and co-create a new party, dedicated to the break-up of your nation. A bit of an overreaction, some might say, but it made sense to Jean Lapierre in 1990, when Jean Chretien beat Paul Martin to the leadership of the Liberal Party.
But now that J.C is gone, J.L. is coming back to the Liberals and his good buddy, P.M.-squared - while calling the co-founding of the Bloc Québécois a 'flirtation' with sovereignty. (Hate to think what he would have done if he had been serious.)
And even before winning a seat, Lapierre has also been 'promoted' to the rank of Martin's Quebec lieutenant - over members like Stephane Dion, who; has never left the party in a snit, actually does have a seat in the House of Commons, and has fought for years to keep the country together rather than work towards its separation.
Politics is funny, no?
Meanwhile on the other side of the coin...now that Martin's in power, Chretien loyalists Martin Cauchon and Robert Nault have joined Alan Rock, David Collennete and Herb Dhaliwal in deciding that if they can't sit on the front benches, they'd rather sit at home. (Apparently, the honour of serving one's country and constituents isn't enough of an honour if you're just another M.P.)
With so many departures, let's just hope that they all don't go out and start their own little separatist parties.
Ladies and gentlemen, a moment of sympathy for Stephen Harper.
After successfully annexing the Progressive Conservative Party, and no doubt imagining himself in a cakewalk to the combined leadership, Harper found himself in an 18% tie with Barbara Stronach in a recent national survey question about who was best suited to helm the New Alliance. (A poll that began a mere two days after Stronach announced her candidacy, and during the time that she was making her most awkward public appearances (so far) - and still, just as many people could picture this political pre-schooler leading the party as poor, poor, Stephen.)
Of course, polls change, and this one wasn't even limited to N.A. party members, but in a more concrete threat to Harper's dreams of glory (or at least, 'permanent opposition glory'), Stronach's team appears to have locked up ("bought" some opponents say) Quebec's 75 voting ridings. An accomplishment which effectively cancels out Harper's advantage in the western provinces.
(Every riding in Quebec...completely behind a unilingual anglophone who has never held public office. No!...money has nothing to do with that!...)
Gord Haugh, organizer for Tony Clement (the other guy), was quoted as saying that buying up 'whatever they want' is "not what politics is about." Apparently, Mr Haugh has been in a coma for the last few years (or decades), and has missed such illuminating events as last year's merger vote - when Alliance faithful were buying up PC memberships like earplugs at a Michael Bolton concert.
And perhaps he was naively unaware of earlier Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney organization membership drives that trolled homeless shelters to buy votes. Or Alliance leadership candidate Tom Long's people literally bringing voters back from the dead, as they collected names from Quebec cemeteries.
Sorry Gordo, you may not want the voting public to realize it, but the secret's out - that is what politics is about. And that's why so many potential voters want nothing to do with the people who made it that way.
And in this corner...
So, so far the New Alliance leadership campaign has; an incumbent with all the charisma of an oil painting of a rock (a really boring rock - not just a slightly boring rock), an ex-CEO who can't be bothered with being an MP before being a party leader, and who apparently has a few opinions, but no policies (and gets as much press about her appearance as her leadership potential), that guy who can't seem to get press coverage about anything he does...
And now, former Saskatchewan premier, Grant Devine, has thrown his hat into the pit.
Some of you might be saying, "Gee, that name sounds familiar," and well it should - Grant Devine presided over what was, if not the most corrupt (who can say what's yet to be discovered), then surely the most scandal happy government in modern Canadian politics. To be fair, Devine wasn't ever indicted in the stream of fraud and breech of trust charges that related to the second half of his time in office, but even so, the best that can be said is that he was merely staggeringly oblivious to corruption of a historic scale going on all around him.
Wouldn't you want someone like that running the country someday?
Devine's election to the leadership could be good news for the other parties, though. The scandals under his premiership eventually led to the end of the PC Party in Saskatchewan. No doubt, Martin and Layton would love to see him work the same magic with the New Alliance.
Devine's run does raise another question, though - albeit one that could arise from an examination of most incumbents and hopefuls. Politicians and other apologists for their high salaries and obscene pension plans argue that such perks are necessary to attract the highest quality applicants into the public service.
So, when exactly is that supposed to start happening?
It just keeps getting better, folks.
With Peter MacKay receiving nationwide ridicule for breaking a signed commitment not to merge his party with the Alliance mere weeks after signing that commitment, the 'Honourable' Sheila Copps has publicly declared, before signing a commitment, that she won't feel any obligation to 'honour' it.
Told that Liberal hopefuls will have to autograph a document agreeing not to run for another party if they don't get the Liberal nod in their own ridings, Copps said that she'd sign, but won't consider herself bound to do what she'll pledge to do via the act of signing.
A few quotes:
"I don't believe the form is worth the paper it's printed on."
Probably true in this case, since, as with any contract or promise, it's only worth -and exactly worth- the person making the promise.
"But I will sign it, because I have no choice."
Now, granted, the photo accompanying the article is a fairly tight shot, so it's possible that the gun pointed at her head was out of frame - but short of that, "no choice"?. How about refusing to sign, Sheila? How about telling the party to take the form and insert it sideways? How about trying to disprove instead of reinforce the stereotype about self-interested politicians who will break promises at the drop of a hat if it suits their mood?
How about showing some integrity?
Sorry, I forgot who I was talking about for a second there - the one who promised to quit if the GST was implemented, and then squirmed, stalled, and avoided, and only finally 'resigned' when she knew she had no chance of losing the ensuing by-election. That's not quitting, Sheila, that's a vacation.
Now, is it hypocritical of the Liberals to welcome Scott Brison with open arms while trying to suppress free movement in the other direction? Absolutely. Would I be amused if the defeated Copps ran for the NDP and beat Liberal Tony Valeri? Absolutely. But Copps' inevitable move to the NDP 'if she has no choice' (remember, the NDP is only good enough for her if the Liberals dump her), is simply more evidence that principles, policies, parties and promises mean nothing to most politicians when stacked up against getting or keeping a job.
(And what does all this say about the NDP, which seems perfectly content to be the 'rebound' party - 'We know you'd REALLY rather be a Liberal, but if you can't, we'd just LOVE it if you'd be OUR friend!" Please, Mr. Layton, a little dignity.)
Funny, though...all these years, I had been brought up to believe that if you knew you couldn't -or wouldn't- keep a promise, you didn't make the promise. Clearly I was misinformed, since these are our representatives, the nation's best and brightest, our leaders.
Fair enough. Personally, I'm going to call my bank and tell them that I won't be keeping that promise about repaying the loan - and if they've got a problem with that, they can take it up with Sheila.
Belinda Stronach has announced her candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada - apparently with the support of Mike Harris, Brian Mulroney, and possibly even Ralph Klein. (My condolences on all three counts.)
Almost immediately, opponents were criticizing her about such irrelevancies as lack of political experience and defined policies. We, of course, know that she has the only qualification that is absolutely required in order to run for national leadership - money and lots of it. This multi-, multi-millionaire could probably buy the leadership out of her own pocket - and if she does, it will be a very nice demonstration of what's relevant and what's irrelevant in seeking national political office.
Paul Martin had his first face-to-face with Dubya today. It must be an interesting experience, trying to have a conversation with a vacuum. (If you're alone in a room talking to George Bush, can anybody hear?) The Canadian delegation was embarrassingly pleased that the meeting went over schedule, lasting an entire 75 minutes (it would have been a longer date if they had gone to a movie), while the photo-op revealed the two leaders each in their favourite poses - Martin beaming (have you ever noticed how much Paul beams?), and Bush in the knees-apart, intimidate-the-viewer-by-displaying-my-genitals position.
Meanwhile, the reality of the right-wing 'merger' as a simple Alliance takeover has been further reinforced by Peter MacKay's decision not to run for the leadership of the new party. (Just another example, to use Stephen Harper's words, of 'Eastern Canadian defeatism.') Of course, this means that there are still more members who have left the new party than there are willing to lead it - not the most encouraging development for the New Alliance.
In a sense, MacKay's decision is a shame - as he was the walking, talking, personification of the fact that voters should never believe anything that comes out of the mouth of a politician. History's last PC leader claims that the backlash from ex-PC members (depressingly small that it was) did not affect his decision not to run - instead citing lack of funds as the deciding factor. So remember kiddies, if anyone ever tells you that anyone can grow up to be Prime Minister, kick them in the shin and call them a liar. Anyone who grows up to be a millionaire, and/or with millionaire friends can be PM, but if you're driving a bus or serving burgers at a drive-thru window for a living, forget it. Hell, right-wing hopefuls will have to pony up $100,000 each to merely run as a candidate for the Conservative leadership.
Inhale deeply, my children - that's the smell of Democracy!
It didn't take long to see direct evidence of Paul Martin's priorities and get an idea of how he sees the world. After putting a freeze on spending programs initiated under the Chretien government (in order to 'ensure' 2 billion dollars for health care), Martin refused to kill a 4.4 billion dollar tax cut to corporations - presumably because it's just too much hassle for the corporations to use those Caribbean tax havens that Martin kept open for them as finance minister.
Then, as if throwing away twice the health care target, and freezing salary increases for civil servants, wasn't enough, Martin gave 29 ministerial aides raises of up to 32,000 dollars. 32,000 dollars!...in raises! Some of us don't make $32,000 in a year...in three years...but now the aides will be making as much as $147,000 per year. (Which is even more than the base MP salary - which itself is already enough to put the recipients in the top 2% of income earners in Canada.)
Got the annual, waste of paper and my money, calendar from my local MP today. Embarrassing photo ops, politically correct holidays, self-congratulation and platitudes. And, considering that 99.9% of these little propaganda annuals will be going straight in to the trash, and keeping in mind how this opposition member criticizes the government waste of taxpayers' money, I wonder just how much of my money this cost.
So, the party that owes its existence to members who left the Progressive Conservative Party will join forces with the Progressive Conservative Party - a party which was itself brought to the union under the control of a leader who swore -and signed a document saying- that he would not allow a merger with the party that he almost immediately sought a merger with...
(Can anyone really be surprised when voters give up on the process entirely?)
And now we ask ourselves, are there any higher principles of policy or ideology revealed in this unparalleled example of the 'marriage of convenience?' Well, no. As is usually the case in politics, the only factor that seems to matter in these deliberations is, "what actions will most likely secure for me a cushy job and fat pension?"
(On the PC side, the merger was promoted by such 'luminaries' as Brian Mulroney and Don Mazankowski - people whose policies led to the massacre of 1993 and three Liberal majorities, and just the sort of advisors you want to have guiding your decisions at a time like this.)
The bald-faced hypocrisy on the part of PC leader MacKay has been impressive, though - all the more so as he stood up in Parliament after the announcement of the proposed merger, and attacked Chretien for his record of broken promises.
And for pundits who worry that the merger will result in a lack of choice for Canadian voters, rest easy. With the ascension of Paul Martin to the office of Prime Minister, there will still be two conservative parties to vote for in the next federal election.
Alliance MP Larry Spencer has apologized for stating in a Vancouver Sun interview that, among other things...
-gay sex should be recriminalized
-there is a homosexual conspiracy to seduce and recruit young boys in playgrounds and locker rooms
-there is a deliberate campaign to infiltrate the North American judiciary, schools, religious community and entertainment industry by homosexuals
24 hours later, Spencer now says...
-he does not think that homosexual behaviour should be criminalized
-he apologizes for linking the homosexual community with pedophilia
And while his apology doesn't actually retract the infiltration theory, this is still a staggering overnight reversal of what were presumably deeply- and long-held views on Spencer's part. But whatever could have caused such a revelation on this MP's 'Road to Damascus?' Or, more to the point, how can he possibly expect anyone with an IQ above that of a wet sponge to swallow this official apology as a sincere and legitimate disavowal of his own day-old pronouncements. (Pronouncements which could easily be interpreted as 'promoting hatred.')
To quote one of the Undecided Party's earliest slogans, "How stupid do you think I am?"
On hearing about the verbal incontinence of his 'Family Issues' critic, Alliance leader Harper acted instantly to remove Spencer. Not from the party, per se, but from his critic's post (not a huge adjustment since there's no Family Issues minister to criticize anyway), and from the caucus...temporarily.
One is left wondering what an Alliance member would have to do to actually be expelled from the party.
Meanwhile Peter MacKay, determined to safeguard his role of the last leader of the PC Party, has been claiming that the incident would not impact the upcoming merger vote. Perhaps the saddest fact of this entire affair is that he's probably right.
Peter MacKay was on the news again last night, repeating what looks like will become his mantra about his merger flip flop; 'only a donkey never changes his mind.' I was noting that he seemed to be specifically avoiding naming the source this time, even as campaign manager, Bud Rooney, suggested a variation, 'Only a jackass breaks a signed agreement before the ink is even dry.'
Apparently, ex-N.B. premier, Frank McKenna (who some say may be angling for a Paul Martin cabinet position after the next election) has come out in defence of all these free weekend-or-longer retreats with the Irvings at their fishing lodge. As I understand it, McKenna thinks these visits serve as valuable 'education' time, during which the ministers can learn in detail about the concerns and hardships facing the Irving family industries from the Irvings themselves - while staying at the Irving's home, eating the Irving's food, being waited on by the Irving's servants, and flying to and from school on the Irving's plane.
Now, while most of us have to pay for any post-secondary education, we can hardly blame these MPs for having found a clever way to avoid such an expense - in fact, one could almost say that they're getting paid for their education. But let's be clear, it's not anything like the 'teachers' actually putting money into the Members' pockets!.. Well, alright, it is something like putting money into their pockets...kind of like putting gift certificates into their pockets. But not gift certificates that can be redeemed just anywhere. No no, that would be like cash - these can only be redeemed by...well, staying at the Irving's home, eating the Irving's food, being waited on by the Irving's servants, and flying to and from school on the Irving's plane
Somehow, such a situation doesn't seem to raise any conflict of interest difficulties in the mind of the ex-premier, at least none that wouldn't be outweighed by the fabulous and invaluable education they receive. (Perhaps the only other person in the country with such a 'Liberal' interpretation of the situation would be ethics counsellor Howard Wilson - who exists in his very own conflict of interest by being answerable to the boss of the people he keeps clearing of any conflict of interest.)
It's interesting, though, that while MPs have been positively falling over each other in their rush to be educated by the Irvings (and presumably, other teachers who just happen to have 7-or-more-figure annual incomes), none seem interested in an education from the other end of the economic and influence spectrum. Perhaps to ensure a fully rounded education, any MP who spends time with the Irvings et. al. should be required to spend an equal amount of time -be that a weekend or a week- sleeping in a homeless shelter, waiting in an understaffed emergency room, or working in a food bank. If they really want an education, that's where they'll find it - and it will be an education relevant to a much larger portion of their electorate than the ones taught by the select few who make even more money than the MPs themselves.
And, even though he's never done the Irving educational tour personally, it seems appropriate that Mr. McKenna -who brought the education motive to light- could set an example, get the ball rolling, and show those MPs in Ottawa how a politician can get a balanced education from their constituents.
Alliance leader Harper got himself a bit of camera time this week by suggesting that the Canadian electoral system should become more...American - by holding votes on a fixed four-year schedule rather than at the discretion of the party in power.
Personally, I think it's a fine idea. I mean, we all want to be more American, don't we? (Or is that just Mr. Harper et. al.?)
Even those against such a change must admit that the American system has at least one significant advantage - in that elected officials do absolutely nothing in the fourth year of their terms other than campaign for the upcoming election. While at first glance it may not seem like an advantage that they're actually only doing the job they've been elected to do for three of the four years that they've been elected to do it, remember that they're usually not doing any significant damage to the country during that time either - something that can't be said for the first three years of each term.
Significantly, though, Harper doesn't want his proposed four-year clock to begin when Martin calls the next election (probably this Spring) - he'd rather that it be set retroactively to the November 2000 election. And while some may say this surprising preference is an indication that he knows his soon-to-be-renamed Alliance Party won't be ready in time for a Spring launch, Harper denies the charge....
"It would actually benefit me if the election was held earlier. It is hard for me to see how any other contestant in the leadership race could possibly run the party in the next federal election for an election held in April."
Hmmm...I wonder how Peter MacKay feels about that?
One thing that the two leaders have in common is their unwillingness to reveal who gave how much to their respective campaign funds until after this whole merger thing is settled and, well, irreversible. Of course, Paul Martin was roundly -and justly- criticized for keeping his contributions under wraps, and now Harper and MacKay are doing exactly the same thing - but in this case, I'm sure it's only for the purest and most righteous of reasons. Perhaps all the donors are in the witness protection program, or painfully shy. Perhaps all the contributions came from their mothers, and they're too embarrassed to admit it. Perhaps they're being supported by right-wing extra-terrestrials, and the world just isn't ready to learn about life on other planets. (Especially of the right-wing variety.)
Whatever the reason, I feel confident that it has nothing to do with the optics that might arise if many of the same contributors eventually appear on both lists - a purely coincidental happenstance which jaded, cynical, conspiracy mongers might interpret as evidence that even before the PC leadership convention, MacKay was -and knew he was- the backroom choice as the best...well, let's just say 'cyanide,' for the PC Party. Certainly, that would be an obvious reason for keeping the lists secret until after the merger vote and the 'lobsters' were safely in the pot, but I'm sure there's another perfectly logical and valid reason for this unseemly secrecy.
I'm sure there is.
I just can't imagine what it might be...
Seven years after the Baltimore Stallions won the title as champions of the Canadian Football League, Larry Smith, architect of the debacle and one of the worst things to ever happen to the CFL, is considering a run for the leadership of the merged Conservative Party of Canada. Considering what he did to the CFL, the mess he left it in, and his level of popularity by the time he left, I'm sure Paul Martin and the Liberal Party will be wishing him the best of luck.
I must admit to being surprised by a feeling of nostalgia during this week's Liberal convention - though at first, I couldn't imagine why. I have never attended a political convention of any kind, nor was the feeling related to the hackneyed rewriting and performance of an old pop song by an old pop singer. (A singer, who apparently once lived in Canada - though must have been a very long time ago.)
Then it struck me - it was the promises that had that familiar feeling. Promises made, in writing, in 1993, in the form of the infamous Liberal "Red Book."
A few points from Martin's acceptance speech...
-backbenchers to be given more power in Parliament, 'telling the government what the people want, rather than dictating to the people what the government wants.'
-"Make no mistake, I will keep the promise of high-quality and universal health care."
-renewed dedication to social programs (in fact, much was made of the Liberal's 'rich social legacy' and future responsibilities throughout the convention)
and now from the Liberals' 1993 Red Book...
-p.92 - more Free Votes in Parliament (the fundamental method of making MPs more accountable to their constituents)
-p.74 - preserving and protecting universal medicare
-Chapter 5 - "The Liberal legacy remains the basis of our system of social support, through which we pool our resources to create programs that benefit all Canadians and help to sustain people through difficult times."
Between these two sets of promises? Despite some recent, and by comparison, minor, increases in funding, Health Care payments since the Red Book have been cut to the point that the system is in a chronic state of crisis. Free votes are such a rarity on final government bills that they qualify as headline news. And the nation's social programs? Cuts by Ottawa in social transfers (as pointed out by now-Martin-booster, Sheila Copps, during the leadership debates). Cuts made to Employment Insurance payments (coverage fell from 57% of the unemployed in 1993 to 38% in 2002) - even as huge E.I. surpluses (being collected at a rate three times that considered necessary by the government's own actuaries) are being pilfered to make the deficit/surplus balances look better. A 43% increase in child poverty between 1989 and 2002. Twice as many people using food banks as in 1989, and the nation ranks 12th out of 17 OECD countries in the United Nation's Human Poverty Index.
But come on, it's not like it's all bad news. While things may be getting worse for the nation's poor, the government does continue to allow access to a friendly Caribbean tax haven to help major Canadian corporations avoid paying their fair share of the nation's taxes. And while the promise for an ethics watchdog has taken 13 years to not quite get kept, and will probably die with the current session, Parliament can be inspiringly efficient - as when a June 2000 bill to increase MP's severance benefits flew through the House in two days. (The MPs just need the right motivation...)
And we can't blame the new leader for the fact that all these promises weren't kept the first time - after all, he wasn't the Prime Minister during all those years, he was just...well...the Finance Minister...who, implemented, all those policies... (But, to be fair, it must be difficult to keep your campaign promises when hamstrung by, uhmm...three...successive...majority governments.)
Still, perhaps, just perhaps, Paul Martin will finally keep some of the promises that we've been hearing for more than a decade. If so, he'll truly be making history. We can almost certainly look forward to a flurry of spending and new promises over the next few months, but if, after the next election, these promises are set aside in favour of more 'practical' matters (after all, somebody's taxes have to pay more than three dollars for every one dollar an MP puts into his or her pension plan), we can at least look forward to the warm familiar feeling of hearing the same list again in four or five years' time.
Rock star, Bono, opened his speech at the Liberal convention by declaring that he was not a member of any political party. An internationally famous 'undecided' headlines the Martin coronation.
MacKay says in a Newsworld interview that abandoning his promise and signed commitment not to seek a merger with the Alliance Party was the result of a 'change in conditions.' A change that must have eluded the rest of the nation, since the relative positions and potentials of the PC and Alliance parties have been the same for months, if not years.
He then quotes -believe it or not- Rene Levesque, to the effect that "only donkeys never change their minds." Personally, if we're going to use separatist leaders for insight into national party politics, I couldn't help but think that Jacques Parizeau's line, when he likened voters in the 1995 referendum to 'lobsters in a pot' (that once in, wouldn't be able to get out again), might be a more accurate reflection of MacKay's thoughts before, during, and after the PC leadership convention.
Of course, "Fuddle Duddle" comes to mind as well.