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Election Wrap 2014

Posted October 26th, 2014 by DSquared
Categories: The Prairies

On Wednesday October 22, Manitoba voters went to the polls. Lawyer Brian Bowman was elected the mayor of Winnipeg, while Rick Chrest defeated incumbent mayor of Brandon Shari Decter-Hirst. What factors led to the decisions that voters made? How can these results be used to advance a progressive agenda for these two cities?

Background On Winnipeg

After ten years, incumbent Mayor Sam Katz decided to leave public life. He was very unpopular by the end of his mandate, owing to such things as audits around city contracting decisions, problems with frozen pipes and snow clearing, and an unpopular decision to route rapid transit through an empty wetland following decades of delays on the project. One of Katz’ first acts of office was to cancel construction of a rapid transit line that had been approved by his popular predecessor Glen Murray.

Unfortunately, citizens of Winnipeg were not able to make a completely informed choice. The media tried to pigeonhole the candidates on a rigid left-right axis, with 2010 challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis on the left, and Brian Bowman, Gord Steeves, and Paula Havixbeck on the right. Consequently many forums did not include all candidates, which upset a few people, although a few did include all candidates. here is how they fared:

Up In Front: It’s Lonely At The Top With Nowhere To Go But Down

Judy Wasylycia-Leis was the favourite going into the race. She had name recognition from her previous run, the backing of the NDP and organized labour, and with Katz out of the race, she became the de-facto incumbent mayor. She counted on a vote split on the right and ran a cautious, don’t-rock-the-boat campaign and as the candidate with experience, although she offered a few select planks on issues of affordable housing, accountability, and active transportation. Her campaign team completely missed the surge by Brian Bowman, instead having focused its guns on former councilor Gord Steeves.

With Katz out, Steeves was the presumed standard-bearer for the right end of the spectrum, and the candidate seen as most likely to continue on with Katz’ policies. He ran a classic right-wing campaign, promising a property tax freeze, asset sales, and cancelling the unpopular rapid transit line to the University of Manitoba. The last item in particular he could have capitalized on, but his campaign went badly. He followed the right-wing strategy of avoiding debates put on by community groups. His plan for handling proposed developments sounded like what had been going on under Katz. But the most damaging thing to his campaign were racist comments made by his wife on social media. Disgusting in their own right, they struck a particularly bad note in a racially divided city hurting from mourning the death of homeless hero Faron Hall and murder of Tina Fontaine. His support dropped throughout the campaign, ending in the single digit.

Paula Havixbeck was a more marginal player on the right. A one-time Katz ally and member of his inner circle, she parted ways and became a critic, making a name for herself criticizing deals the city made. It was more a low-key affair focused on issues as infrastructure, snow removal, and 311, and was not able to gather much momentum or big endorsers, and she finished second last.

The Rising Stars

David Sanders, an NDP-affiliated former provincial bureaucrat, was a late entrant in the race. He had a history of attending city hall and asking tough questions. He opposed the rapid transit detour and focused his campaign on the issue of competent public administration. He was not able to gain much support, although he did finish higher than a sitting councilor.

Just as impressive as the mayoral face itself, aboriginal candidate and university administrator Robert Falcon-Ouelette inspired Winnipeg to come together and to dream and hope. He wrapped his campaign around the themes of hope, proposing ideas as moving rail lines outside the city to make way for light rail transit, taxing parking lots as if they were buildings to encourage downtown growth, affordable housing, and making Winnipeg a child friendly city. His personal journey, from homelessness to earning a Ph. D, also inspired people. Without having any formal experience in politics or a formal political machine behind him, he rose to a third place finish when the ballots were counted.

Despite being backed by the Chamber of Commerce (including an endorsement from Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman) Bowman was able to gain support across party lines and to paint himself as a fresh face. Tagged by many to be on the right side of the spectrum, owing in part to his proposal for a municipal sales tax, he out-flanked Wasylycia-Leis on several urban issues of concern to progressives including extend rapid transit throughout Winnipeg by 2030, ending homelessness, opening the intersection of Portage and Main to pedestrians, and funding the arts. His proposals were very heavy on dreams and optimism and light on practical steps to achieve them. This turned to his advantage, as Winnipeg voters were tired of being told no and embraced the idea of the city moving forward.

While the result of the race for mayor was not what the left had hoped for, they can take comfort in seeing hard-right councilors Thomas Steen and Grant Nordman go down to defeat. The representation of women also improved slightly, as Janice Lukes and Cindy Gillroy will join Devi Sharma and Jenny Gerbasi. A key test will be whether he follows through on his promise to allow council to elect members of his Cabinet. This cabinet composes almost half the votes in the council chamber, so if elected that removes the ability of the mayor to force votes to go a certain way. Bowman’s self-portrayal as wanting an inclusive government and governing by consensus provides a window of opportunity to advance progressive policies to make Winnipeg the viable city it can become.

Brandon: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Brandon has a history of electing business-friendly mayors, and the election of Chrest returned to that tradition. The NDP-backed incumbent, Shari Decter Hirst, had swept into office in 2010 on the sentiment that Brandon was an “old boy’s club” that wasn’t inclusive of the general citizenry. The overall record of Decter-Hirst’s administration was mixed. There were some worthwhile accomplishments, such as an affordable housing strategy, introducing Sunday bus service, successfully fighting major flooding in 2011 and 2014, and the arrival of regular air service to Brandon’s airport. She was also the subject of several controversies, including an accusation of conflict of interest, threatening a sitting councilor, scandals around failure to pay taxes on businesses she owned, a labour dispute with Brandon firefighters, and a failure to respond to criticisms from increasing property taxes. Even though property taxes were rising in other cities, the raises proved perfect fodder for her critics who wanted to paint her as a “tax-and-spend” NDPer, which hurt her at a time when the NDP government was losing popularity in Manitoba. As she took over from several generations of councils that had held tax increases to the bare minimum, she did not have political cover needed to raise taxes, unlike in Winnipeg where Katz broke a promise not to raise taxes in his last term. Chrest had an uninspiring platform, instead running on a back-to-basics approach, and on his reputation as a popular businessman. It worked for Chrest. Decter-Hirst ran an ambitious campaign, but Chrest’s popularity combined with her controversies cost her dearly, and she was handily defeated in all corners of Brandon.

Brandon council is a different story. Incumbent councilor Jan Chaboyer was joined by newcomers Vanessa Hamilton and Lonnie Patterson to elect a total of 3 women in an 11-member chamber, one of the best results for woman representation in recent history. Chrest spoke often of the need for teamwork, and has expressed a desire to speak with each councilor to help set priorities for the next session. This allows a window of opportunity for progressive issues to be addressed by a business-friendly council, and if taken advantage of, can leave this mayor and council with many worthwhile accomplishments beyond what the mayor-elect campaigned on.

Election Wrap 2014

Posted October 26th, 2014 by DSquared
Categories: The Prairies

On Wednesday October 22, Manitoba voters went to the polls. Lawyer Brian Bowman was elected the mayor of Winnipeg, while Rick Chrest defeated incumbent mayor of Brandon Shari Decter-Hirst. What factors led to the decisions that voters made? How can these results be used to advance a progressive agenda for these two cities?

Background On Winnipeg

After ten years, incumbent Mayor Sam Katz decided to leave public life. He was very unpopular by the end of his mandate, owing to such things as audits around city contracting decisions, problems with frozen pipes and snow clearing, and an unpopular decision to route rapid transit through an empty wetland following decades of delays on the project. One of Katz’ first acts of office was to cancel construction of a rapid transit line that had been approved by his popular predecessor Glen Murray.

Unfortunately, citizens of Winnipeg were not able to make a completely informed choice. The media tried to pigeonhole the candidates on a rigid left-right axis, with 2010 challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis on the left, and Brian Bowman, Gord Steeves, and Paula Havixbeck on the right. Consequently many forums did not include all candidates, which upset a few people, although a few did include all candidates. here is how they fared:

Up In Front: It’s Lonely At The Top With Nowhere To Go But Down

Judy Wasylycia-Leis was the favourite going into the race. She had name recognition from her previous run, the backing of the NDP and organized labour, and with Katz out of the race, she became the de-facto incumbent mayor. She counted on a vote split on the right and ran a cautious, don’t-rock-the-boat campaign and as the candidate with experience, although she offered a few select planks on issues of affordable housing, accountability, and active transportation. Her campaign team completely missed the surge by Brian Bowman, instead having focused its guns on former councilor Gord Steeves.

With Katz out, Steeves was the presumed standard-bearer for the right end of the spectrum, and the candidate seen as most likely to continue on with Katz’ policies. He ran a classic right-wing campaign, promising a property tax freeze, asset sales, and cancelling the unpopular rapid transit line to the University of Manitoba. The last item in particular he could have capitalized on, but his campaign went badly. He followed the right-wing strategy of avoiding debates put on by community groups. His plan for handling proposed developments sounded like what had been going on under Katz. But the most damaging thing to his campaign were racist comments made by his wife on social media. Disgusting in their own right, they struck a particularly bad note in a racially divided city hurting from mourning the death of homeless hero Faron Hall and murder of Tina Fontaine. His support dropped throughout the campaign, ending in the single digit.

Paula Havixbeck was a more marginal player on the right. A one-time Katz ally and member of his inner circle, she parted ways and became a critic, making a name for herself criticizing deals the city made. It was more a low-key affair focused on issues as infrastructure, snow removal, and 311, and was not able to gather much momentum or big endorsers, and she finished second last.

The Rising Stars

David Sanders, an NDP-affiliated former provincial bureaucrat, was a late entrant in the race. He had a history of attending city hall and asking tough questions. He opposed the rapid transit detour and focused his campaign on the issue of competent public administration. He was not able to gain much support, although he did finish higher than a sitting councilor.

Just as impressive as the mayoral face itself, aboriginal candidate and university administrator Robert Falcon-Ouelette inspired Winnipeg to come together and to dream and hope. He wrapped his campaign around the themes of hope, proposing ideas as moving rail lines outside the city to make way for light rail transit, taxing parking lots as if they were buildings to encourage downtown growth, affordable housing, and making Winnipeg a child friendly city. His personal journey, from homelessness to earning a Ph. D, also inspired people. Without having any formal experience in politics or a formal political machine behind him, he rose to a third place finish when the ballots were counted.

Despite being backed by the Chamber of Commerce (including an endorsement from Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman) Bowman was able to gain support across party lines and to paint himself as a fresh face. Tagged by many to be on the right side of the spectrum, owing in part to his proposal for a municipal sales tax, he out-flanked Wasylycia-Leis on several urban issues of concern to progressives including extend rapid transit throughout Winnipeg by 2030, ending homelessness, opening the intersection of Portage and Main to pedestrians, and funding the arts. His proposals were very heavy on dreams and optimism and light on practical steps to achieve them. This turned to his advantage, as Winnipeg voters were tired of being told no and embraced the idea of the city moving forward.

While the result of the race for mayor was not what the left had hoped for, they can take comfort in seeing hard-right councilors Thomas Steen and Grant Nordman go down to defeat. The representation of women also improved slightly, as Janice Lukes and Cindy Gillroy will join Devi Sharma and Jenny Gerbasi. A key test will be whether he follows through on his promise to allow council to elect members of his Cabinet. This cabinet composes almost half the votes in the council chamber, so if elected that removes the ability of the mayor to force votes to go a certain way. Bowman’s self-portrayal as wanting an inclusive government and governing by consensus provides a window of opportunity to advance progressive policies to make Winnipeg the viable city it can become.

Brandon: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Brandon has a history of electing business-friendly mayors, and the election of Chrest returned to that tradition. The NDP-backed incumbent, Shari Decter Hirst, had swept into office in 2010 on the sentiment that Brandon was an “old boy’s club” that wasn’t inclusive of the general citizenry. The overall record of Decter-Hirst’s administration was mixed. There were some worthwhile accomplishments, such as an affordable housing strategy, introducing Sunday bus service, and the arrival of regular air service to Brandon’s airport. She was also the subject of several controversies, including an accusation of conflict of interest, threatening a sitting councilor, scandals around failure to pay taxes on businesses she owned, a labour dispute with Brandon firefighters, and a failure to respond to criticisms from increasing property taxes. Even though property taxes were rising in other cities, the raises proved perfect fodder for her critics who wanted to paint her as a “tax-and-spend” NDPer, which hurt her at a time when the NDP government was losing popularity in Manitoba. As she took over from several generations of councils that had held tax increases to the bare minimum, she did not have political cover needed to raise taxes, unlike in Winnipeg where Katz broke a promise not to raise taxes in his last term. Chrest had an uninspiring platform, instead running on a back-to-basics approach, and on his reputation as a popular businessman. It worked for Chrest. Decter-Hirst ran an ambitious campaign, but Chrest’s popularity combined with her controversies cost her dearly, and she was handily defeated in all corners of Brandon.

Brandon council is a different story. Incumbent councilor Jan Chaboyer was joined by newcomers Vanessa Hamilton and Lonnie Patterson to elect a total of 3 women in an 11-member chamber, one of the best results for woman representation in recent history. Chrest spoke often of the need for teamwork, and has expressed a desire to speak with each councilor to help set priorities for the next session. This allows a window of opportunity for progressive issues to be addressed by a business-friendly council, and if taken advantage of, can leave this mayor and council with many worthwhile accomplishments beyond what the mayor-elect campaigned on.

Election Wrap 2014

Posted October 25th, 2014 by DSquared
Categories: The Prairies

On Wednesday October 22, Manitoba voters went to the polls. Lawyer Brian Bowman was elected the mayor of Winnipeg, while Rick Chrest defeated incumbent mayor of Brandon Shari Decter-Hirst. What factors led to the decisions that voters made? How can these results be used to advance a progressive agenda for these two cities?

Background On Winnipeg

After ten years, incumbent Mayor Sam Katz decided to leave public life. He was very unpopular by the end of his mandate, owing to such things as audits around city contracting decisions, problems with frozen pipes and snow clearing, and an unpopular decision to route rapid transit through an empty wetland following decades of delays on the project. One of Katz’ first acts of office was to cancel construction of a rapid transit line that had been approved by his popular predecessor Glen Murray.

Unfortunately, citizens of Winnipeg were not able to make a completely informed choice. The media tried to pigeonhole the candidates on a rigid left-right axis, with 2010 challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis on the left, and Brian Bowman, Gord Steeves, and Paula Havixbeck on the right. Consequently many forums did not include all candidates, which upset a few people, although a few did include all candidates. here is how they fared:

Up In Front: It’s Lonely At The Top With Nowhere To Go But Down

Judy Wasylycia-Leis was the favourite going into the race. She had name recognition from her previous run, the backing of the NDP and organized labour, and with Katz out of the race, she became the de-facto incumbent mayor. She counted on a vote split on the right and ran a cautious, don’t-rock-the-boat campaign and as the candidate with experience, although she offered a few select planks on issues of affordable housing, accountability, and active transportation. Her campaign team completely missed the surge by Brian Bowman, instead having focused its guns on former councilor Gord Steeves.

With Katz out, Steeves was the presumed standard-bearer for the right end of the spectrum, and the candidate seen as most likely to continue on with Katz’ policies. He ran a classic right-wing campaign, promising a property tax freeze, asset sales, and cancelling the unpopular rapid transit line to the University of Manitoba. The last item in particular he could have capitalized on, but his campaign went badly. He followed the right-wing strategy of avoiding debates put on by community groups. His plan for handling proposed developments sounded like what had been going on under Katz. But the most damaging thing to his campaign were racist comments made by his wife on social media. Disgusting in their own right, they struck a particularly bad note in a racially divided city hurting from mourning the death of homeless hero Faron Hall and murder of Tina Fontaine. His support dropped throughout the campaign, ending in the single digit.

Paula Havixbeck was a more marginal player on the right. A one-time Katz ally and member of his inner circle, she parted ways and became a critic, making a name for herself criticizing deals the city made. It was more a low-key affair focused on issues as infrastructure, snow removal, and 311, and was not able to gather much momentum or big endorsers, and she finished second last.

The Rising Stars

David Sanders, an NDP-affiliated former provincial bureaucrat, was a late entrant in the race. He had a history of attending city hall and asking tough questions. He opposed the rapid transit detour and focused his campaign on the issue of competent public administration. He was not able to gain much support, although he did finish higher than a sitting councilor.

Just as impressive as the mayoral face itself, aboriginal candidate and university administrator Robert Falcon-Ouelette inspired Winnipeg to come together and to dream and hope. He wrapped his campaign around the themes of hope, proposing ideas as moving rail lines outside the city to make way for light rail transit, taxing parking lots as if they were buildings to encourage downtown growth, affordable housing, and making Winnipeg a child friendly city. His personal journey, from homelessness to earning a Ph. D, also inspired people. Without having any formal experience in politics or a formal political machine behind him, he rose to a third place finish when the ballots were counted.

Despite being backed by the Chamber of Commerce (including an endorsement from Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman) Bowman was able to gain support across party lines and to paint himself as a fresh face. Tagged by many to be on the right side of the spectrum, owing in part to his proposal for a municipal sales tax, he out-flanked Wasylycia-Leis on several urban issues of concern to progressives including extend rapid transit throughout Winnipeg by 2030, ending homelessness, opening the intersection of Portage and Main to pedestrians, and funding the arts. His proposals were very heavy on dreams and optimism and light on practical steps to achieve them. This turned to his advantage, as Winnipeg voters were tired of being told no and embraced the idea of the city moving forward.

While the result of the race for mayor was not what the left had hoped for, they can take comfort in seeing hard-right councilors Thomas Steen and Grant Nordman go down to defeat. The representation of women also improved slightly, as Janice Lukes and Cindy Gillroy will join Devi Sharma and Jenny Gerbasi. A key test will be whether he follows through on his promise to allow council to elect members of his Cabinet. This cabinet composes almost half the votes in the council chamber, so if elected that removes the ability of the mayor to force votes to go a certain way. Bowman’s self-portrayal as wanting an inclusive government and governing by consensus provides a window of opportunity to advance progressive policies to make Winnipeg the viable city it can become.

Brandon: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Brandon has a history of electing business-friendly mayors, and the election of Chrest returned to that tradition. The NDP-backed incumbent, Shari Decter Hirst, had swept into office in 2010 on the sentiment that Brandon was an “old boy’s club” that wasn’t inclusive of the general citizenry. The overall record of Decter-Hirst’s administration was mixed. There were some worthwhile accomplishments, such as an affordable housing strategy, introducing Sunday bus service, and the arrival of regular air service to Brandon’s airport. She was also the subject of several controversies, including an accusation of conflict of interest, threatening a sitting councilor, scandals around failure to pay taxes on businesses she owned, and a failure to respond to criticisms from increasing property taxes. Even though property taxes were rising in other cities, the raises proved perfect fodder for her critics who wanted to paint her as a “tax-and-spend” NDPer, which hurt her at a time when the NDP government was losing popularity in Manitoba. As she took over from several generations of councils that had held tax increases to the bare minimum, she did not have political cover needed to raise taxes, unlike in Winnipeg where Katz broke a promise not to raise taxes in his last term. Chrest had an uninspiring platform, instead running on a back-to-basics approach, and on his reputation as a popular businessman. It worked for Chrest. Decter-Hirst ran an ambitious campaign, but Chrest’s popularity combined with her controversies cost her dearly, and she was handily defeated in all corners of Brandon.

Brandon council is a different story. Incumbent councilor Jan Chaboyer was joined by newcomers Vanessa Hamilton and Lonnie Patterson to elect a total of 3 women in an 11-member chamber, one of the best results for woman representation in recent history. Chrest spoke often of the need for teamwork, and has expressed a desire to speak with each councilor to help set priorities for the next session. This allows a window of opportunity for progressive issues to be addressed by a business-friendly council, and if taken advantage of, can leave this mayor and council with many worthwhile accomplishments beyond what the mayor-elect campaigned on.

Balanced Perspectives: Why Public Finances Matter

Posted November 21st, 2011 by DSquared
Categories: Economics

With governments running deficits and austerity being pushed as a means to deal with the shortfall, the issue of public finances has gained attention. Are these deficits necessary? What should the left-wing response be? When a left-of-centre party comes out in favour of balanced budgets, some have accused these parties of selling out. Yet I believe that short of severe economic downturns and severe national emergencies, for example a natural disaster, that the left should actually embrace balanced budgets. Why?

Balanced Budgets Or Social Spending? Pick One

People have to budget in their daily lives, and make choices about what’s important to them. Often, people sacrifice things they want but feel they cannot afford, for example going on vacation. The right understands this, and connects it to public finances. This works because even though increased program spending advocated by the left is popular, people think of the government having to live within its means, and that you can’t always spend on the “nice to haves.” Furthermore, when the right talks about the need to balance the budget and the left says, “we have to spend more on social programs,” it only serves to reinforce the dichotomy, to reinforce that you have to choose either balanced budgets or social spending. This is a false choice.
Allan Blakeny in Saskatchewan balanced budgets while expanding programs. Grant Devine cut these programs and still ran up deficits.

“Spending Problem?”

The left is always accused of having a “spending problem,” especially when there is a shortfall in revenue. What they conveniently forget is that reducing spending is but one way to deal with this. Another way to deal with a budget shortfall is to bring in more money. Conversely, cuts in taxes are every bit of an expense as if you spent the money, even though parties like to pretend it doesn’t cost anything. This is how the NDP can offer the most in program spending yet claim that their platform is the cheapest, because the NDP doesn’t offer as many tax cuts as other parties.

Who Is Better At It?

Anyone who pays casual attention to the media can be forgiven for thinking that the left has trouble balancing budgets. The reality is the opposite. When in power provincially, it is actually the NDP which has the best record on balancing the books. Fiscal conservatives should be especially unhappy with how the Harper government has racked up high deficits, with little to show for it.

Balanced budgets are the one area where the right-wing claims credibility, and it is on this one issue that they manage to trump the popular ideas of the left. Yet the facts do not support this claim, and if the left can shift the debate on balanced budgets, it will have dealt with a major obstacle it faces in the eyes of the common voter.

The Legacy Of Jack Layton

Posted August 28th, 2011 by DSquared
Categories: Politics

Like many Canadians, I was horrified to hear the news that federal NDP leader Jack Layton had passed away from cancer on the morning of August 22nd. As the outpouring of emotion continues throughout the week, and his absence begins to sink in, I found myself thinking about the amazing legacy he left Canada, and how things changed in his 8 year stint as leader of the federal NDP.

His accomplishment is remarkable considering the shape the NDP was in during the early 2000s. Barely at official party status, it was marginalized by being the fourth party, and between the larger narratives of the Liberal-Reform/Alliance horse race, or the horse race between the Liberals and the Bloc in Quebec. Nobody gave the NDP much chance. In the summer of 2002 Layton, then a Toronto city councilor without much of a national profile, jumped into the race to replace Alexa McDonnough. Not having a seat in the House of Commons would prove to be an asset, as being on the outside allowed him to mobilize support and bring in the people who would lay the groundwork for big change at a time when the party craved fresh energy and ideas.

Layton’s hard work would pay off, as he won convincingly on the first ballot, despite not having a seat and Bill Blaikie having overwhelming support from the Caucus. And even though the NDP would remain small numerically, Layton was able to force the spotlight onto the NDP, first when the Liberals were predicted to win big under Paul Martin, then later on as the dynamic moved towards a Liberal-Conservative polarization federally, and his breakthrough in Quebec.

How did Layton pull this off? He put the tired cliché of “doing politics differently” into practice. He focused on the core issues that Canadians constantly tell opinion pollsters are important to them, but never implemented federally, bringing the “results oriented” approach to the federal scene, and to work with other parties to push forward the agenda, as is done at the civic level where formal partisan arrangements are often absent. When Harper and Ignatieff were asking for majority governments in the 2011 election, Layton knew that an NDP majority was not in the cards, was fine with that, and said so, and this earned him respect.

I argue that the seeds for the Orange Crush phenomenon were planted on April 21, 2005. The Sponsorship Scandal had engulfed Parliament Hill and was threatening the Paul Martin minority government. Martin took to the public airwaves to plead his case, and all the opposition leaders demanded responses. While Martin, Duceppe, and Harper all focused on the scandal, Layton touched on it but lamented that Parliamentarians were not working on the serious issues facing the country, and calling out the other parties for digging in their heels in their partisan trenches. I remember my respect and admiration for Layton going up, and Canadians were relieved by this breath of fresh air. Layton would go on to extract concessions from Liberal and Conservative governments. When the intransigence of the Harper government reached a head following the 2008 election, he played a key role in the coalition negotiations that proved unsuccessful at removing Harper. The inclusion of the Bloc showed Quebeckers that the federal Parliament was capable of putting their social democratic values into action, and that they could be part of the federal system to make that happen.

The road forward was a long, difficult slog, but Layton was very patient and committed. He pushed forward in the face of great odds, even when it didn’t apparently make sense at the time and the NDP remained stuck at the 15-20% range in the polls. His first test was how he would respond to not having a seat in the House of Commons. Rather than muscle aside an incumbent in a safe seat, he followed through on his commitment to his home community by waiting for the general election to run in his home seat. As this was held by Dennis Mills of the Liberals, there was a great risk, but he won in 2004, and was able to put a positive spin on a campaign that hadn’t netted as many seats as he had hoped. He was ridiculed for opening the 2008 campaign by asking Canadians to elect him Prime Minister, but came out of that election with MPs in 8 provinces, effectively cementing the NDP as a national party. Locally, I appreciate that this commitment took him to the staunchly Conservative rural Manitoba riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette in the November 2010 round of by-elections. It never made a dent in the Conservative vote, but did vault the NDP as the clear alternatives to the Conservatives in that riding, and I can only hope that these efforts will bear fruit somewhere down the road.

Above all else, he reminded us of what was important, and taught us to dream, and encouraged us to break old habits.. I can think of no better summary for Layton’s legacy than his own words which concluded his final press conference:

“If I have tried to bring anything to federal politics, it is the idea that hope and optimism should be at their heart. We CAN look after each other better than we do today. We CAN have a fiscally responsible government. We CAN have a strong economy; greater equality; a clean environment. We CAN be a force for peace in the world.”

Yes Jack, you did. Thank you. Rest in peace.

(photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/ndpcanada/sets/72157626401269185/?share=mail)

The Consent of the Governed

Posted June 28th, 2011 by thwap
Categories: Politics

I’ve take some criticism for describing the harpercon majority government as “illegitimate.” This criticism tends to come from empty-headed morons whose opinions I have as much regard for as I would a huge, steaming piece of dog-shit on my front steps.

There seems to be some inexplicable confusion regarding the justification for my categorization of stephen harper’s government.

I arrived at my conclusions about harper from my positive reaction to Brigette DePape’s protest in the Senate Chamber during the Speech From the Throne. You see, while I endorse the use of extra-Parliamentary tactics and occasional law-breaking, I’m actually very much a Parliament-respectin’ kinda guy. As flawed and compromised as our democracy is, it’s all we have, and we should work to improve it rather than tear it down.

So, why then, do I have an unvarnished sympathy for Ms. DePape’s action? She renounced her oath of non-partisan professionalism, took advantage of her privileged place at the centre of our political system, and expressed her partisan views before a national audience. What sort of democracy would we have if our Parliament was to be opened to everyone who wanted to storm out onto the floor and protest or pontificate?

What sort of democracy would that be?

Well, what sort of democracy do we have now? Let’s leave aside the capitalist class’s domination of our democracy for a second. Let’s focus on the kind of democracy stephen harper would give us:

Government power requires maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons. However, if the majority of the people’s representatives have lost confidence in your government, what you do is you turn to the anachronism of the Crown and ask it to shut-down Parliament before the people’s representatives can vote you out. You can do this whenever necessary.

We are governed by the Rule of Law and inspired by our respect for human rights. However, if you find yourself in a war, and you’re too cheap to provide proper prisons for your detainees, and you hand them over to the US-Americans until they’re found to have tortured and killed too many of their prisoners, forcing you to turn them over to another band of torturers, you must do the following:

- Accept no responsibility for as many prisoners as is possible. If you take some prisoners, make sure there is a representative of the torturing home government standing nearby and IMMEDIATELY hand them over to that person. No paperwork = No legal responsibilities!!! (Hopefully.)

- When you’re not able to do that, hand the prisoners over to the torturing home government and then delay, delay, delay, telling the International Committee of the Red Cross about them, so that they’re unable to keep tabs on their treatment. No evidence = No legal responsibilities!!! (Hopefully.)

- If you have pesky oversight bodies like the Military Police Complaints Commission, frustrate them at every turn and refuse to renew the mandates of chairpersons determined to do their job.

- If the fucking legislature of the pain-in-the-ass representatives of the people try to investigate this issue, call up the Crown and tell Him or Her to shut-down Parliament again, and then give the country some bullshit excuse for killing a year’s worth of legislation.

The US-Americans fought their revolution to a great degree based on the idea that there should be no taxation without political representation under the British Constitution. Members of the British Parliament at the time said that they were correct in that assertion. But here in Canada, we have a prime minister who believes that we can have representation, but it should be powerless when it comes to controlling what the government does with the taxation! Parliament should be a rubber-stamp for the government’s spending initiatives. If you find yourself with a pesky Speaker of House, who believes that it is Parliament that is the source of power in our democracy, and not the Prime Minister and Cabinet, shrug your shoulders and hope for a more compliant Speaker in the future. Then you can have your “Supreme Soviet” or your “Reichstag.” Rely on your shit-head supporters and a large bulk of the rest of the population to regard these essential fundamentals of democratic accountability to be arcane and “boring” details that only political geeks need to care about.

True democracy requires honest and transparent government. (Especially since promising that sort of Accountability was a huge part of your initial rise to power!) However, if the mood strikes you, you should tamper with official government documents to make them say whatever you want them to say, in order to justify whatever it is you want to do. If a Cabinet Minister deliberately lies to Parliament about this, well, that’s okay too. This time it was Bev Oda pretending that her staff recommended that KAIROS not be funded. Tomorrow it could be Vic Toews saying that violent crime is shooting through the roof and that the experts recommend the death penalty as the only effective deterrent. Whatever is necessary, once the principle of forgery and lying has been established.

So, that’s stephen harper’s idea of democracy in Canada. And, thanks to the apathy of almost 40% of the electorate who didn’t vote at all, and 26% of the electorate who either thought that such assaults on democracy were either cool, or boring, or who had no idea that any of that stuff happened at all, but like their parents always voted Conservative and whatever, … stephen harper has won a majority government. (Obviously, with the power of a majority government, harper won’t have to resort to such blatant abuses to get his way. On the other hand, with the power of a majority government, we’ll simply never know about his lies and abuses. It will all be a fait accompli.)

But, again, here’s the rub: If the guy who presumes to write the rules for the rest of us doesn’t respect the rules himself, why should we meekly acquiesce to his nonsense? If he was elected by people who don’t give a shit about our rights in a minority parliament, why should we give a shit about their rights in a majority parliament? If he was elected by people who had no idea what they were doing, and the results of their choice are going to be a disaster for us (to say nothing of conveying a patina of legitimacy to these assaults on the basics of our democratic system), why should we be bound to respect their ignorant choice?

This is not about sour grapes people. I despised the Chretien and Martin Liberals, and, even when they’d help destroy democracy in Haiti, I did not call their power illegitimate. I despised stephen harper’s minority government but I even said on this blog that we have to respect the legitimacy of his minority. It is stephen harper who has made himself unfit to govern us. It was stephen harper who trammelled all over the core of our democratic system. And a vote for such a despot is either a vote for despotism which can then make no claim on our respect, or it is a vote out of ignorance, which, given the stakes, likewise has no claim on our respect.

Justified Civil Disobedience and Illegitimate Governments

Posted June 11th, 2011 by thwap
Categories: Environmental Justice

I’ve said before that the environment isn’t my main focus. I hate camping. I hate flies and mosquitoes. I like cities, books, bars, … that sort of thing. Then there’s the science. It’s all I’ve got to grasp political-economy, … were someone to come up with some scholarly paper about soil depletion, global warming, ocean stocks, or whatever, I wouldn’t really know how to respond.

At the same time, I realize that without the planet’s life-sustaining properties, the human race, with its cities, books, bars, art, etc., would soon dwindle into oblivion.

So, given the fact that 99.9% of the scientists who have the right to an opinion say that global warming is real and that it’s caused by human activity, and that if the human activity that causes global warming isn’t left unchecked, civilization itself is threatened, I take it seriously.

And given the fact that the deniers of human-caused global warming are generally oil-industry shills and complete shit-heads, I take the crisis more seriously and treat the doubters with the massive contempt that they deserve.

And, therefore, given the news about temperature change and carbon emissions just released, and the increased calls for civil disobedience to try to save humanity (regardless of whether a festering pustule like Ezra Levant thinks it’s all a crock) is more than called for.

And, in this context of necessary civil disobedience, we, as Canadians, have an obligation given the fact that our country (besides being complicit in torture in Afghanistan, besides being a terrorist state that tortures its own citizens, besides being a racist, colonialist country that forces its unconquered First Nations to live in squalor and criminalizes them when they enter our cities, besides being a cruel, oppressive, squalid country that destroyed democracy in Haiti and forced the Haitians to live in grinding misery and starvation) is one of the worst offenders in creating this disaster.

Thankfully, the task of civil disobedience in this country is even more justified because the government that is going whole-hog to help destroy civilization is completely illegitimate. Our prime minister is a despot and he won his position as a result of an archaic electoral system, but, more importantly, he was elected by people who were either ignorant of the reality that they were voting for the party of despotism or they simply didn’t give a shit.

It’s those voters who didn’t give a shit that I’m interested in. These people viewed harper’s serial assaults on Canadian democracy and Canadian democratic institutions, because, in their warped minds, all of this helped their party maintain power while leaving the opposition to plead impotently by the sidelines yet again. It’s the mentality of the bully. When adults get together to work on some project, or, what the hell, play a board game together at a table at the cottage, if one party cheats their way to victory, the other participants will probably complain, but it’s not likely that they’ll take the offender and smash his head through the window. In a more serious context (like, say, a business arrangement), cheaters are taken to court. If the courts rule in the plaintiff’s favour and the cheater ignores it, with impunity, sometimes the plaintiff will complain about the courts and the injustice of it all. But here, we’re talking about the people who make the laws, and appoint the judges, and who write the rules.

The whole system is debased because of our toleration of this monster. The longer we endure his revolting, disgusting presence, the more will our political culture slide into total irrelevance and sick comedy, as in the United States of America.

We must unite, and we must plan, and we must organize, environmentalists, unions, intellectuals, teachers, students, voters, citizens, philanthropists, parents, children, workers, the unemployed, judges, lawyers, we must hit them hard, we must hit them everywhere, we must force this government to resign.

And the swine who voted for this piece of shit government, the bullies who were so happily contemptuous of democracy when it is their party which benefits by ripping up the rule book and all standards of decency? They have no right to be listened to. They have renounced their claims to fairness, to due process, to everything.

And, if they, a minority of the population, really want to get physical to try to protect their despotic government, they are more than welcome to try. Because that is what it has come to. That’s the significance of harper’s tearing-up the rule book. That book of rules existed so that power could be exchanged peacefully and that said power would act within certain constitutional-democratic limits.

It has come to this: We have an illegitimate government which the very existence of continues to debase our claims to be a constitutional democracy. The harpercons have beaten Canadian democracy to the ground (or did we all help them?) and now they’re pissing on its unconscious form.

Drifting Towards Oblivion

Posted June 11th, 2011 by thwap
Categories: Politics

I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Humanity (coerced or duped by our elites) is determined to continue along the path to ecological Armageddon. One of the worst offenders was Canada’s stephen harper government. And now he’s got a majority government. Extra-parliamentary protest is a sad joke. Tiny bands of the already converted unite to shout something for an afternoon and if the numbers get anywhere serious, highly-paid pigs are available to smash their skulls in.

The political awareness in this country is a joke. Except for the fact that the NDP, under the radar, appears to be gaining strength. The desperate economic climate, the naked amount of class warfare in this country (instigated by those at the top) must be having some sort of impact on the attitudes of Canadians, far from the editorial boards of the mainstream media, where whole departments are dedicated to providing “Lifestyle” news to the most affluent 30% of the population, besides blathering yet again for Canadians to be “patient” as the “progress” continues in Afghanistan.

Of course, the NDP, being what it is, will probably reinvent itself into some version of the Liberal Party. (Indeed, some people are arguing that this “pragmatism” is just what the NDP needs, and that those fools who made it a “religion” are going to be disappointed as the party leadership “matures.” The possibility that we might have to thank those “fools” and their struggling to keep the NDP as true to their principles as it remains, for attracting voters away from the unprincipled Liberals doesn’t even occur to them.)

I’m simply at a loss. In the 3-d world, I have, over the past month or so, tried to reach out to other groups to come together and discuss possibilities for resistance, only to be met with silence. (Or derision, as “left-wing” political groups turn out to be anti-union, anti-protester, pro-business, middle class dweebs.) I haven’t bothered with my local NDP riding association since two e-mails asking for a group meeting or online discussion in order to send a message to the party leadership have been met with silence. I’m not surprised that I’m expected to be a source of funds for the party and not so much a source of ideas. I am surprised at the depths of irrelevance of party membership though.

The reason I spend time in politics is because our present path is the path to species suicide, with social-economic meltdown as the appetizer. I have no illusions that had I dedicated my life to earning money (within the limits of my patience) that I would have amassed enough to insulate me from the uncertainty of late capitalism. If things are going to be made stable and whole for ordinary people, it is going to have to come from politics, not the capitalist marketplace.

Right now though, politics seems as barren a field as the job market.

The Liberals and the Centre

Posted June 1st, 2011 by thwap
Categories: Politics

I think it was in the Martin or the Dion years, when, on Canadian Cynic, I told Ti-Guy that I wanted the Liberal Party of Canada to die, because they deceived progressive-minded Canadians and made them believe that they could have their cake and eat it too.

Ti-Guy replied something to the effect that by giving the centrist majority of Canadians a compromise between the extremist Conservatives and the loopy NDP. Without the Liberals, the majority of Liberal supporters would stupidly migrate over to the Conservatives (with whom they feel more comfortable).

At the time, I wasn’t sure that the thesis was worth the explosion in homelessness, in poverty, in the massive decline in our manufacturing sector, the occupation of Afghanistan and the subsequent war crimes, the increase in inequality, the creeping privatization of health care, the dallying with missile defence, and on and on and everything that Liberal governance represented.

And what if it’s the case that “centre cannot hold”? I realize that for a long time I predicted economic collapse, sincerely believing that the debt-crisis, or the dot-com bubble’s bursting, or something else meant that our economic system had run out of steam, only to be proved wrong. But this latest crisis, I’ve waited, and hedged my bets, but there’s enough weakness, enough elite stupidity, enough hopelessness, that it looks like a collapse is inevitable. About a month ago, some dude was on a business news program, saying with all the confidence in the world “Demand will come back.” I could only wonder where it was supposed to come back from. Seriously, check out those links and ask yourself where demand is supposed to come from? And then, remember that “demand” as he’s talking about it, means “effective demand” to consume more and more useless junk, the production of which will plunder the world’s resources and destroy the environment. Their system fails on its own terms and in the bigger picture it’s going to kill us all.

If that’s the case, what do we need with some mewling bunch of neo-liberal, arrogant, elite dumb-fucks who helped bring us to this sorry pass?

There is going to be a reckoning. We have the worst possible political party in Canada in power to meet it with a majority government. Let’s make the choice for Canadians as stark as possible: the intellectual bankruptcy of capitalism versus the humanity of social democracy. The last thing we want is a political party lying to Canadians that they can “rise up” to the challenge with rhetoric and lies.

Drifting Towards Oblivion

Posted May 31st, 2011 by thwap
Categories: Politics

I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Humanity (coerced or duped by our elites) is determined to continue along the path to ecological Armageddon. One of the worst offenders was Canada’s stephen harper government. And now he’s got a majority government. Extra-parliamentary protest is a sad joke. Tiny bands of the already converted unite to shout something for an afternoon and if the numbers get anywhere serious, highly-paid pigs are available to smash their skulls in.

The political awareness in this country is a joke. Except for the fact that the NDP, under the radar, appears to be gaining strength. The desperate economic climate, the naked amount of class warfare in this country (instigated by those at the top) must be having some sort of impact on the attitudes of Canadians, far from the editorial boards of the mainstream media, where whole departments are dedicated to providing “Lifestyle” news to the most affluent 30% of the population, besides blathering yet again for Canadians to be “patient” as the “progress” continues in Afghanistan.

Of course, the NDP, being what it is, will probably reinvent itself into some version of the Liberal Party. (Indeed, some people are arguing that this “pragmatism” is just what the NDP needs, and that those fools who made it a “religion” are going to be disappointed as the party leadership “matures.” The possibility that we might have to thank those “fools” and their struggling to keep the NDP as true to their principles as it remains, for attracting voters away from the unprincipled Liberals doesn’t even occur to them.)

I’m simply at a loss. In the 3-d world, I have, over the past month or so, tried to reach out to other groups to come together and discuss possibilities for resistance, only to be met with silence. (Or derision, as “left-wing” political groups turn out to be anti-union, anti-protester, pro-business, middle class dweebs.) I haven’t bothered with my local NDP riding association since two e-mails asking for a group meeting or online discussion in order to send a message to the party leadership have been met with silence. I’m not surprised that I’m expected to be a source of funds for the party and not so much a source of ideas. I am surprised at the depths of irrelevance of party membership though.

The reason I spend time in politics is because our present path is the path to species suicide, with social-economic meltdown as the appetizer. I have no illusions that had I dedicated my life to earning money (within the limits of my patience) that I would have amassed enough to insulate me from the uncertainty of late capitalism. If things are going to be made stable and whole for ordinary people, it is going to have to come from politics, not the capitalist marketplace.

Right now though, politics seems as barren a field as the job market.