Friday, March 30, 2007

Time for a Liberal Program

With the Conservatives enjoying staggering leads in some polls - 12 to 14 points seems to be the average - it has become blatantly obvious that the Liberal Party needs a radical change of course. But what kind of change?

Stephen Harper has managed to pull off a cruel tactical maneuvre - he has cornered the Liberal Party on the left of the political spectrum, and broadened his reach across the centre. He's in majority territory now, and it would not be surprising to see him force an election some time after Easter, eagre to capitalize on Dion's perceived weakness. And, unless Dion has only been pretending to be a rather ineffective opposition leader, Harper would probably win, likely with a majority. Scary stuff. But there is an option that doesn't include simply waiting for the inevitable electoral slaughter to come.

Being cornered on the left, the time has never been better to attempt to unite the centre-left behind one party. To that end, the Liberals need a plan which will appeal to the types of people who usually mark their ballots NDP or Green. But at the same time, ceding any more ground in the centre would be foolhardy. Thus, the party must also make it clear that it is still the best choice for the middle class. The Liberals need to spread out in both directions, tapping all of four bases of the Liberal coalition - business liberals and middle class suburbanites of the centre-right, and welfare staters and social liberals of the centre-left. And of course, the hope would be to add a fifth base to that coalition - environmentalists of all political bents.

To have such a broad appeal to so many different groups, the Liberal platform will need to be fresh, dynamic and innovative - the fact that Bob Rae and Scott Brison are its co-authors is an encouraging start, as they're both very bold men. The platform should include a healthy tax cut aimed primarily at the middle class to satisfy the business community and give middle class voters a very visible incentive to vote Liberal. It should include plans to expand Canada's social safety net - the hard years of the 1990s are over, and Canada can afford to spend on its citizens' most basic needs. It should include a detailed environmental action plan - I don't want to say the Liberals should blatantly steal the Green platform, but stealing from it would be a good start - covering the major issue of global warming, but also addressing smog, and the poisons in our food, air and water. (If Dion wants to lead the green charge, he had better become very good at promoting these issues.) Finally for the social liberals, bold steps forward on drug law reform (including the legalization of harmless substances like marijuana), euthanasia, prostitution and stem cell research would give the activist crowd who usually go NDP and Green an additional reason to vote Liberal, and would have the added bonus of forcing Stephen Harper to take some pretty ridiculous and indefensible positions, most of which Canadians generally (especially the urban voters Stephen Harper needs to get his majority, and also to some extent suburban voters who are uncomfortable with knee-jerk social conservatism) would reject.

This is my prescription for the Liberal Party. I believe that this is what is necessary to win - and even if we don't win, at least we will have gone down fighting for something, instead of just pulling a John Kerry and going down fighting for nothing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tax Cuts

Why didn't Canadians get a tax cut in the 2007 budget? Easy, because Quebecers got one instead - paid for by the Rest of Canada, of course. This after Charest and other Quebec leaders constanly saying how desperately they needed more money from Ottawa to fund social programs, thus exposing the Big Lie that is the fiscal imbalance.

But what does Jim Flaherty think of taking other peoples' money and literally handing it over to the people of Quebec? He's fine with it.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Beware Autonomism"

It appears I'm not alone in my reticence. Declares Braeden - "Charest learns the hard way: Appeasement does not work."

I echo the sentiment, although I don't like the word "appeasement" because of its unfortunate connotations. Also, I don't think Mario Dumont is really that right-wing; on a global political spectrum, Harper is way to the right of Dumont (or at least, pre-2006 Harper).

But superficialities aside, Mr. Caley makes an excellent and note-worthy point:

"It is important to keep our goals in perspective. Federalism is not just about whether we have a country, but about what kind of country we have."

I couldn't agree more. As I said, I fear for federalism.


Gilles Duceppe - Now or Never

If Duceppe wants to get out while the getting is good, now may be his only shot to do it without looking like a captain abandoning his own ship, letting his crew go down instead.

Given the PQ's propensity for stabbing its leaders in the back - even the legendary and loved Levesque - Andre Boisclair's days as leader of the PQ are very likely numbered. The obvious choice to assume the mantle is Pauline Marois, the woman he defeated for the party's leadership in 2005. However, there is another name who could definitely give Marois a run for her money.

Gilles Duceppe turned down the invitation to run for the PQ leadership last time around, officially because there was a federal election around the corner and he had to lead the Bloc's charge. Unofficially, most people think that he only turned down the job of his career - remember, most sovereigntists consider Prime Minister of Quebec to be the highest political goal, not leader of the Bloc Quebecois - because the BQ's prospects in the 2006 election were looking so enormously high at the time.

The BQ's commanding lead in Quebec has since dissipated. Odds are if Duceppe leads the BQ into another election, he will be leading them to slaughter at the polls. They still stand a good chance of walking away with a majority of the seats in Quebec, but there is almost no chance they will be able to repeat their high water mark showing - 54 seats in both 1993 and 2004 - again. If Duceppe wants to get out while the getting is good, now may be his only shot to do it without looking like a captain abandoning his own ship, letting his crew go down instead. And in the process, he could become the leader and messiah-apparent of the Parti Quebecois. Duceppe is still very personally popular in Quebec - much more so than Boisclair ever was - and could at minimum save the party from being shunted aside in an election which may just see the PQ fighting to survive in a post-ADQ Quebec. Or, in a best case scenario (for Duceppe), he could lead the party to a miraculous electoral recovery and majority government, and cement himself as the unquestioned leader of the sovereigntist movement.

It's hard to imagine, quite frankly, any reason for Duceppe to remain leader of the Bloc Quebecois. By making a run for the PQ leadership, Duceppe risks losing very little, but stands to gain in ways that can only be described as historic.


I Fear For Federalism - The Third Way

"Autonomism." We may as well get used to it, because apparently, about a third of Quebeckers have chosen to park their votes with a party which essentially represents a Third Way of looking at the national question. We have federalism. We have sovereigntism. And now, we have autonomism. I think Mario Dumont's ADQ surge represents a disillusionment with both the sovereignty movement and the federalist cause.

Federalists are celebrating tonight because the PQ did so poorly - a good reason for any federalist to celebrate - but I am a bit more apprehensive. Dumont claims that he is not a sovereigntist, but an autonomist. He wants more autonomy - political, economic - for Quebec, though is uninterested in separating from Canada.

But in a way, what Dumont wants resembles separation from Canada in many respects. I fear Stephen Harper has emboldened these autonomists by playing their game - giving more money to Quebec, and also the nation resolution. This may have blunted sovereigntism, but what of autonomism, now the greatest numerical adversary of federalism in Quebec? I fear we may have only seen the beginning of a push for greater "independence" for Quebec within Canada (read: given yet more no-strings-attached money from the Rest of Canada) - despite Quebec already receiving more special favours than any other province. And I fear any attempt to resist this push could lead to a revived sovereigntist movement (maybe, just maybe, led by Mario Dumont). I fear for federalism.

Personally, I'm not a fan of any of the parties. In all likelihood, had I a vote, it would have gone to the Parti Vert. But this new paradigm - and that's exactly what this seems to be - makes me very, very wary. Dumont is neither an ally nor an enemy of federalism, which makes him unpredictable, which makes him interesting to watch. But it also makes dealing with him hazardous territory.

If Dumont eventually takes power, he could lead a push for Quebec independence within Canada, and if jilted, this could turn into a push for Quebec independence without Canada. But perhaps the more likely (and thus, more threatening) possibility is if Dumont ever takes power, and he is able to enact a centre-right program, Quebec may become less dependent on the Rest of Canada to prop up its economy. If any leader will be able to get Quebec into a position, institutionally, where it could survive as its own country, Dumont seems to be the man.

I think federalists need to take a long look at the new political climate in Quebec before coming to any conclusions about whether or not tonight was a victory of a rebuke for a united Canada.


He stays

Well, Jean Charest's political obituary has been written before. He's got a tough job ahead of him, but if he's up to the challenge, he'll come out the stronger for it.


Monday, March 26, 2007

The paint on the walls is drying

And it looks to be a very, very pale shade of red. It's hard to see how Charest can hang on as premier after a result like this, though he did hang onto his riding, so he could continue on if he wanted to. Boisclair is probably gone. Dumont is, of course, the real winner tonight. He is right where he needs to be - he is in a position to prove to Quebeckers that he is ready for power. The time between now and the next election, for Dumont, will be about proving to Quebeckers that he is ready to govern - we'll see whether he is up to the task, Dumont being a populist (more so than a right-winger, as he is often portrayed), it was a victory for the people of Quebec, who were apparently tired of the two establishment parties.

The only thing that could really shake things up at this point is if Boisclair decides he can stomach Dumont as premier over Charest, and throws his support to the ADQ. But that seems the least likely possibility at this point. Still, this election has been a huge surprise to everyone, so stranger things have happened.


Mario Dumont as premier? Even with a Liberal plurality?

It could easily happen. If Charest loses his own seat (which seems a distinct possibility at this point in the evening), he will probably resign as premier. This would leave the only logical choice for premier as Mario Dumont, even if the Liberals actually win more seats than the ADQ.



Still trying to decide what to make of this. A Liberal victory was what Harper thought best to his own fortunes, and a PQ victory would probably have helped Dion out, but ADQ? Hard to say whether this buggers Harper's chances, or just makes them even better.


Quebeckers have been doing some surprising voting lately, haven't they?

(First things first: 5 seats to over 40? Congrats to the ADQ, obviously.)

The Conservative beachhead in 2006. The ADQ surge in 2007. I think it's safe to say that Quebec politics is undergoing a massive sea-change at this point. However, I would hesitate to call this a right-wing surge. I think it rather reflects a desire on the part of Quebeckers to move past the federalist-separatist paradigm of the past 30 years. The nation resolution and Mario Dumont's ambivalence towards the separatist/federalist debate have certainly helped to shape this. I think Dumont really tapped into those who agree with his "autonomist" vision of Quebec - he voted "Yes" in the 1995 referendum, but he has no taste for another referendum as long as Quebec gets what it wants from the federation. Dumont represents someone the federal government can work with - not as staunch an ally as Charest, perhaps, but certainly a better result for federalism than a Boisclair victory.

Still, it's important to keep in mind that the three parties are in a statistical dead heat looking purely at the popular vote. Under a more proportional electoral system, the three parties would be almost dead-even in seat counts, as well.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Budget/Quebec 2007 (Harper's sold his Albertan soul)

If I lived in Quebec (and I could if I moved a few kilometres north), I think it's safe to say that I would be a partisan of the Quebec Liberal Party. I like its history, I like its policies, I like its leader - or that is to say, I liked its leader. Jean Charest always struck me as a bit more principled than some of his fellow politicians. He's proven this week that he is just about as opportunistic as you can get, and not coincidentally, Stephen Harper showed once again his own lack of principles.

How else can you characterize this joke of a budget? I didn't think the last one was particularly reprehensible, but this one is just beyond the pale. Leave aside the general lack of principles in the budget itself - it looks like something that Paul Martin would have sent back to the drawing board for spending too much and accomplishing too little. But this complete sell out to Charest? Stephen Harper should be ashamed. After years and years of railing against Alberta's (and Ontario's, but he didn't really care about Ontario) tax dollars financing Quebec's lavish social spending, he is essentially giving Quebec over a billion dollars - that's $1,000,000,000, in case you missed it - of other Canadians' money.

Harper was quite clearly and transparently trying to buy the current provincial election for Charest, his biggest ally and asset in the province. (He made that clear by telling Quebeckers that if they wanted more where that came from, they'd better re-elect Charest - a comment from which Charest, Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair and Action Democratique du Quebec leader Mario Dumont all quickly distanced themselves.) Harper needs a stable federalist government in Quebec if he hopes to implement his preferred election strategy there (ie: buy the votes of Quebec with the money of other Canadians). If the Liberals had delivered a budget as big-spending and lacking in tax cuts as this one, Stephen Harper would have had a conniption. If the Liberals had delivered a budget which was blatantly and openly an attempt to buy an election - and maybe two - in Quebec using the tax dollars of Albertans and Ontarians, well, Stephen Harper's head would have spun around and exploded.

Don't get me wrong - I support equalization. But giving in to this "fiscal imbalance" nonsense and then paying Quebec money it doesn't need is not something I can support. First of all, Quebec already enjoys the best social services in Canada - no other province spends so much per citizen, even despite its huge deficits. Did you know you can go to university in Quebec for $1500 per year? $1500! The government subsidizes car insurance. It has a great education system. Quebeckers are doing pretty well for themselves already.

But alright, let's pretend that Quebec actually needed this billion-some dollars to, I don't know, help pay its staggering debt and deficit? Or perhaps to further fund Quebec's social programs, for which Charest was saying his province so desperately needed more money from the federal government. What does Charest do with the money?

He turns it into an across-the-board tax cut for the people of Quebec! What? What about those programs Quebec so needed other Canadians' money to fund? What about that huge deficit that needed to be checked before it ruins the province's finances? Bugger than, there's an election to be had! This proves beyond a doubt that the fiscal imbalance (or the "fiscal balance" as the sickeningly sunny Conservative propagandists are now calling it) was a myth, is a myth, and shall remain a myth. If that money was so urgently required to fix this so-called "fiscal imbalance," why wasn't it spend, you know, fixing it, instead of handing out hundreds of millions of dollars of basically free money - courtesy of the rest of Canada - to Quebeckers? But worse, it just stinks of dishonest, disingenuous, dirty politics. Stephen "Firewall" Harper's sold his Albertan soul - to the premier of Quebec.

That's why, if I lived in Quebec, I could simply not bring myself to stomach voting for Charest. I don't support separatism, but I could help but consider the PQ - at least they probably believe the lies they're telling regarding the fiscal imbalance. (Not a huge stretch, considering most of them believe their own lies regarding Quebec's economic prospects after separation.) And I don't really lean to the right, but I would simply have to consider the ADQ - at least they've got a dynamic leader.

With a tight three-way race, I'll certainly be glued to the TV Monday night - it's been a very long time since politics in Canada was this interesting. I'm quite excited to see the outcome - I just hope it's not Charest.

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Could the Budget Have Exposed the Tories' Right Flank?

If there's one thing everyone can agree on regarding the federal budget, it's that it was rather unexpected. Jim Flaherty, the right-wing neo-conservative Finance minister under Mike Harris, delivered a budget for Stephen Harper that is, quite unbelievably, the highest spending budget in Canadian history. Paul Martin under Jean Chretien was actually more, well, conservative than the Conservatives. Hard to believe, but numbers don't lie.

Stephen Harper, being the long game strategist that he has shown himself to be, probably has a few more tricks up his sleeve, but by and large, I think this budget tipped the Tories' election hand. Their plan: to spend more liberally than the Liberals. It is true that most observers were predicting a big-spending budget, I don't think anybody was expecting a big-spending budget that didn't include large tax cuts, targetted specifically at the middle class. That these cuts were not included means that the Tories are probably planning to promise them to voters in the next election. But the problem this creates is - why should fiscal conservatives trust the Harper government to implement their program when the Liberals under Martin and Chretien were doing a much better job of that?

This raises the question - are the Conservatives at risk of losing their right flank? Not the social conservatives - the Tories have them in a bag at the moment, because they have nowhere else to go. Maybe if the Tories fail to do anything substantive on the big social conservative issues, they will lose those voters to a splinter party, however not for many years yet. But the tax cut craving supply-side conservatives could possibly be wooed - by the Liberals.

I'm aware that it is probably crazy to be speculating about the Conservative Party of Canada losing its right flank to the Liberals; nothing like that has ever happened before in Canadian politics. Well, unless you count the PC/Reform split in 1993. But certainly neither major party has ever defeated the other by cutting into its base. Well, unless you count the Diefenbaker Progressive Conservatives' two victories in 1957 and 1958 - victories achieved in large part because Diefenbaker campaigned to the left of the Liberals. Hmm. Well, alright, maybe there is precedent for that happening.

Fiscal conservatives can't be happy with this budget. I'm not really a fiscal conservative myself - not in the sense of people like Mike Harris and Ralph Klein - but Coyne is, and he makes an excellent barometer of the eco-con mood. And he is not happy with this budget. Really not happy. (Incidentally, he also explains why the Tories are being dishonest when they say this budget actually does have tax cuts.)

The appeal the Liberal Party could make to voters with an eye for the deductions portion of their paycheque is simple: look at the 90s and early 00s. A decade of fiscal discipline, spending cuts, and tax cuts. Compare to the last two Conservative budgets - one of which saw a tax increase, and one of which saw large spending increases, but no real tax relief. "Why bother going with those guys when we've already proven that we're better for you?"

It's an appeal they might be able to sell. Or it may flop - but it's certainly a move worth considering. After all, with polls showing Harper in majority territory recently, it's clear the Liberals need a radical change in direction if they hope to end up anywhere after the next election except the Opposition benches across the aisle from a majority government. If Harper wants to fish in our pond, fine - let's fish in his.


In "Well, duh" news, yet another scientific study - this one with participation from and agreement from police, fyi "law and order" types - concludes what most intelligent people already know: alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than marijuana.

"The researchers asked two groups of experts — psychiatrists specializing in addiction and legal or police officials with scientific or medical expertise — to assign scores to 20 different drugs, including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, and LSD.

Nutt and his colleagues then calculated the drugs' overall rankings. In the end, the experts agreed with each other, but not with the existing British classification of dangerous substances.

Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was ecstasy...

Tobacco causes 40 per cent of all hospital illnesses, while alcohol is blamed for more than half of all visits to hospital emergency rooms. The substances also harm society in other ways, damaging families and occupying police services...

While experts agreed that criminalizing alcohol and tobacco would be challenging, they said that governments should review the penalties imposed for drug abuse and try to make them more reflective of the actual risks and damages involved."

No one is going to argue that cannabis is good for you, but to say that it is so bad for you that it needs to be illegal, and that people who use it ought to go to jail and/or have criminal records, in the face of so much credible scientific evidence, is not only patently absurd, but utterly totalitarian in its implications.

It's a bit surprising that the study concludes LSD and ecstasy are less harmful than cannabis, but I could see why this would be the case - neither cause damage to the lungs the way cannabis can, and while the negative effects of, say, LSD (flashbacks, anyone?) can be worse, they occur far less often.

The complete list of drugs, and how harmful they are, can be found here, along with some invaluable commentary. And of course, I found the study here, along with this useful tidbit:

"The results seem pretty self evident to me. As someone who has done his fair share of drinking and smoking marijuana, I know which one had significant negative effects if I did too much of it. In short, smoking too much pot just made me sleepy. It never made me emotionally volatile, or had me doing things I regretted the next day. It never caused me to spend hours in the bathroom vomiting. It never left me incapacitated with a terrible hangover the next day. All of my worst party-related experiences in college were the result of too much booze, not too much pot.

As for gateway drugs, I did cocaine once in my life, over a decade after I smoked my first joint, and, interestingly enough, at the end of a night of heavy drinking. I never felt the urge to do stronger drugs after smoking marijuana."

When are people going to realize that marijuana is not the demon seed, and it's not any of the government's business whether or not informed adults use it?

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Some Friendly Advice (AKA: Why Harper is Nixon)

Really? Really?? Isn't this a little creepy?

Let's concentrate on the best part of that article - the opening sentence:

"A Conservative staffer is being paid through the House of Commons budget to shadow Liberal leader Stephane Dion."

Brilliant! So let me get this straight - it's an unforgivable sin if taxpayer dollars are used to fund Liberal political activities, but it's just fine for Conservatives to do it. I do just want to make sure we're all on the same page here - this is the standard being set by the government of Canada, after all. We should be perfectly clear on what they think is okay and not okay. Okay?

Well, after all he was doing "opposition research." You know who else was doing "opposition research" when he was arrested? G. Gordon Liddy. Now, I'm not saying that this is Watergate and that Harper is Nixon (well, Harper may be Nixon...) but what I am saying is that this isn't too many steps away from Watergate.

So just some friendly advice to the Conservative Party, unsolicited, 'cause I'm giving that way:

1) If you are going to recreate the scandal for which all scandals since have been named, get a better spy. Maybe whoever the mole in the Liberal camp was/is; that guy's pretty clever, and I'm sure someone inside the Big Blue Machine knows who it is.

2) Avoid recording audio evidence of your involvement in the scandal. (The question here is, is Harper as paranoid as Nixon? Well, given that he doesn't allow his MPs to go to the bathroom without his permission, I'm gonna guess that he's pretty damn paranoid.)

3) Regardless of point 1, don't hire a psycho like G. Gordon Liddy. (Seriously, Harper and Nixon are both uncharismatic, incredibly secretive old-fashioned conservatives with massive chips on their shoulders who pretend to care about the environment because it's the fashionable thing at the time but they really don't give a shit about it at all, or as Nixon put it, "I'm so sick of the goddamn environment I could die." Harper is Nixon.)

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I saw "Ghostrider" a while back. It sucked. It was basically, so far as I could tell, an allegory about a manly, red-blooded redneck beating the shit out of some poseur gothfags, which is not nearly as satisfying as it sounds.

As for "The Queen," Helen Mirren absolutely deserved that Oscar.

Then there's "300." While I haven't seen it yet - gayest movie ever?

Are the knives out already?

I hate to contribute to the life of this story by repeating it, but it's not exactly a secret that there are already whispers in the corridors of power about knives being sharpened. The common thinking goes that Stephane Dion only has one election in him, not by his choice, but instead because the leadership camps of his former rivals are already preparing to topple him in the event of an election loss. Now, I could certainly imagine some dissension in the ranks - the Liberal party isn't as unified today as it has been historically - but an outright coup? I highly doubt it.

Still, this email I received gave me pause for thought. It was entitled "Bob Rae Launches Liberal Leadership Bid," though I'm still not sure who sent it:

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Friday, March 02, 2007

A Crazy Idea

In light of the recent poll putting the Liberals 9 points behind the Tories, and the Green Party at 13% support, I couldn't help but suggest...

Stephane Dion should try to make a deal with Elizabeth May; if she runs as a Liberal and wins, she will be the next Liberal Environment Minister, and promise to implement the Green Party's (surprisingly sane) environmental platform. It has its disadvantages, but its potential advantages are obvious - it would give Dion more credibility on the environment, and it would siphon away a lot of Green support.