31 October 2005

'Twas the Day Before Gomery

Tomorrow the Gomery Report will be issued, and no doubt we will be treated to some fireworks and damning allegations. Have we heard the worst already? I'm inclined to believe so. Paul Martin will probably be exonerated from many of the barbs tossed at him by his Conservative opponents, and the people who deserve to get the book thrown at them most certainly will. There may be some findings that put Chretien-era Liberals in trouble, but I don't believe that the party itself will be found to be guilty of much of the mudslinging that it has been on the receiving end of since this whole mess began. The ad agencies and Chuck Guite, not a Liberal but a senior bureaucrat, will be the ones who are found most at fault here. Because it happened while the Liberals were in power, there will be some blowback, but not to the extent that we will wake up on Wednesday morning with polls showing the Liberals in Campbell Conservative territory.

This will be Martin's greatest test, and we will see if he's got a Teflon suit in his closet. We know that Chretien had them in every colour, it is time to find out if Martin does as well. As I said, I don't believe that Gomery will come down hard on either him or Chretien, and that should permit the Liberals to move on and move forward. With the scandals of a bygone era now revealed and resolved, Martin's time to shine is on the horizon.

22 October 2005

A Fun Litmus Test

I found an article this morning that lists a few criteria for neoconservatives. Just for kicks, I thought I'd copy and paste it here, and provide my own views....

Anti-communism -- Yes
Skepticism about the efficacy of international institutions -- Yes
A preoccupation with the concept of the “political” as producing unending conflict -- Sometimes
An endorsement of “natural right”--the notion that justice should be based on nature rather than convention--as the foundation for domestic institutions -- Not sure
The belief that “virtue,” as well as self-interest, matters in political life -- Yes
A repugnance toward the relativism in modern liberal society -- Yes
A marked skepticism about the potential for the physical and social sciences to fundamentally ameliorate the human condition -- Not sure, but it sounds good
A pronounced anti-egalitarian stance -- I'm not sure how pronounced, but yes.
And a deep wariness about utopian political projects -- Yes

Hmmm, well how about that, it looks like I'm a neoconservative.

20 October 2005

Looking Ahead to the Next Election

Following hot on the heels of Jason Cherniak, I'm going to do a little election forecasting of my own. First, no matter how hard Stephen Harper tries to convince himself, the Conservatives, and apparently now the NDP (see today's National Post), there is not going to be an election the day after we open our Christmas presents. It is unfathomable to me why a man who has conceded that the Tories will not win the next election is determined nonetheless to bring down the relatively-stable minority Parliament to force an election before the full results of the Gomery Commission are known. Strategic timing does not seem to be an issue for Harper. Why would he want an election campaign ongoing when all that people are thinking about is the holiday shopping season? Voter participation in this country is already declining, and expecting people to take notice of an unnecessary election is not the way to reverse that trend. That said, the election will happen within the 30 day window of Gomery's final report, so March it is then.

As for the actual outcome, a lot of that will of course hinge upon what is actually in the pages of the Gomery report. Like Cherniak, I'm expecting that Martin will not have the finger of blame pointed at him. As I was explaining to my father last night, the Minister of Finance doesn't sign cheques for the Public Accounts Committee, he spends his time determining Canada's fiscal balance and directing economic policy accordingly. Whether or not Martin "knew" if something inappropriate was occurring is not relevant to his accountability to Parliament. The government accountability structure incorporates the idea that ministers are accountable and answerable to all activities which take place in their departments. If a civil servant in Public Works is doing something illegal or inappropriate, the onus of responsibility falls on the Minister whether he knows of the activities or not. The centrepiece of our system of responsible government is that the government is answerable for all things to Parliament, and must be accountable for them as well. This is the purpose of Question Period: it gives the opposition parties a means to keep the government in check. For that reason, Chuck Guite and Alfonso Gagliano are going to be in a lot of trouble when we find the results of Gomery's work. As the top civil servant and the Minister of the Public Works department at the time of these wrongdoings, they will be held responsible. At that point, it falls on the Liberal campaign people to state that these 'crimes' were not endemic to the Liberal Party and were the sole actions of a handful of people in that department, and that the Prime Minister (current and past) were not involved in those activities.

Also, because the Conservatives have done such a poor job of holding the government to account and been so focused on dissolving Parliament, they have essentially short-circuited themselves. They have not worked dilligently on building a base in Quebec, leaving that seat-rich province largely in the hands of the Bloc and the Liberals (I think that the hostility in Quebec vis-a-vis the Liberals will abate somewhat after Gomery, but the Bloc will still put on a strong performance, maybe 40-45 seats). They also haven't really developed themselves as a strong, national alternative to the Liberals, and on many occasions in recent months when they were on the losing end of decisions their commentaries had a tinge of anti-Canadianism to them, as opposed to their prescribed anti-Liberal sentiments. Referring to the country as a "banana republic without the banana" is not the way to endear a party to the public. I can't see them picking up too many more seats from the last election, and possibly even losing a few in the more hotly-contested regions. I'll give them 90-95 for right now.

That brings us to the NDP. Jack Layton has done a great job in this minority Parliament of using the NDP's 19 (now 18) seats as leverage to get his agenda across in exchange for supporting the Liberals. He's taking a bit of flak for booting out an MP who voted against SSM, but that aside he's had a very good run. I'm going to predict a small downturn for the NDP and allot them 12 seats. There is a political current in this country that favours majority governments, and though they like Layton, quite a few people on the left are going to hold their noses and vote Liberal this time around.

As I do the numbers, on the high end for the Bloc and the Conservatives there are 140 (130 at the low), plus the NDP's dozen, that does provide a recipe for a Liberal majority. It will not be the comfortable majority that Chretien enjoyed, but it will be a majority nonetheless. Martin has demonstrated that he is capable of governing, and though there are some deficiencies in his democratic parliamentary reform agenda (by all means, feel free to ask me for a copy of my term paper), he has done an effective job of leading Parliament in a difficult situation. Should the Gomery Report exonerate him, as I believe it will, he will be rewarded with his first majority mandate.

17 October 2005

Every now and again something has to fall under the axe. I really like this part of my paper but alas it had to fall under the axe. Because I'd hate to see something fall into the dustbin of history, here it is, call it an "exclusive" I guess.

The Chretien-Martin Rivalry
During the years which Chretien served as Prime Minister, there were frequent reports of tension between him and his popular Finance Minister, Martin. Relations had begun acrimoniously, when Chretien defeated Martin at the Liberal Party’s 1990 leadership convention in a particularly nasty campaign. Nonetheless, they were an effective duo in government. As a reward (or bone of appeasement) for his efforts in creating the Liberals’ election strategy for the 1993 campaign, Martin, not the leader, was the one selected to unveil the platform, the famous “Red Book.”[i] After the election, however, Chretien moved to ensure that Martin was under close watch. Even though Finance is at the centre of the centre of power, and Martin had (and still has) a reputation as a “hands-on” leader, he still found himself at odds with Chretien’s style of leadership that often saw the Prime Minister relying “heavily on his coterie of advisers at the centre of government, especially in the PMO and PCO, to govern from the centre via the command mode of cabinet government.”[ii] The growing power in the PMO has been described as a “hierarchical political system” which makes a mockery of “the trappings of egalitarianism” in Parliament.[iii] That concentration of power would become a major foundation for Martin’s agenda to reduce the democratic deficit which Chretien had helped to propagate while in power. Thus, long before the tensions between Chretien and Martin exploded in 2002, when Martin was relegated to the backbenches, there were clear signs that the relationship was destined to end in bitterness.
The rift first became glaringly evident during the 2000 election campaign. By this time, Martin’s star was dramatically rising as a result of consecutive balanced budgets, while many in the Liberal Party were speculating Chretien had become tired and was stagnating the party and the government. Though Chretien had profited politically from Martin’s work in Finance, he remained weary of Martin’s ambitions and thus sought to publicly air the notion that while appreciative, he still held the dominant position of influencing Martin’s career in a decisive fashion as long as he remained the Prime Minister.[iv] The television images of Chretien and Martin walking together, discussing their shared vision of Canada, was political cynicism at its finest. Less publicly, Chretien began to discuss his great concerns surrounding Martin, fearing that he would be “soft on separatists and too eager to grant concessions to the provinces.”[v]
The situation would continue to get progressively worse. Chretien’s open talk of running for a fourth term to solidify his legacy as the only modern prime minister to win four consecutive majorities was the final straw for the Martin camp. The considerable power Martin had come to wield in the Liberal Party essentially forced Chretien to capitulate and announce his retirement, to take effect in February 2004, in the summer of 2002.[vi] There has been ex post facto speculation amongst Liberal insiders that the date is very significant, as though Chretien had been anticipating the outbreak of the sponsorship scandal, and whether he was in essence offering to weather the storm of that scandal before turning over leadership to Martin. To this day, members of Martin’s staff refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments of “the previous administration,” a break from the Liberal tradition of celebrating the past great deeds of party leaders and prime ministers.[vii]
[i] Warren Kinsella, Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics, (Toronto: Random House, 2001), 116.
[ii] Peter Aucoin, “Prime Minister and Cabinet: Power at the Apex,” James Bickerton and Alain G. Gagnon, eds., Canadian Politics, 3rd ed., (Peterborough: Broadview, 1999), 126.
[iii] Jeffery Simpson, “Canadian Politics and One-Party Government,” Policy Options 22.1 (2001), 19. Simpson would follow up this article with a book entitled The Friendly Dictatorship, a penetrating view of the extent to which Chretien was a hands-on leader.
[iv] Robert J. Jackson et al., North American Politics: Canada, USA, and Mexico in a Comparative Perspective, (Toronto: Prentice-Hall, 2004), 90.
[v] Susan Delacourt, Juggernaut: Paul Martin’s Campaign for Chretien’s Crown, (Toronto: McClellandand Stewart, 2003), 98.
[vi] Anne McIlroy, “Revenge of ousted Chretien,” The Guardian 26 Aug. 2002. 7 Oct. 2005.
[vii] Delacourt, Juggernaut, 307. The comments regarding “the previous administration” have been experienced first-had repeatedly in discussions of policy between the author and people from the Martin PMO.
I Still Know How to Write a Term Paper!

It's funny, over two years since having to do my last term papers, I still manage to get myself into the same position as I once did as an undergraduate. Upon seeing the size of the task spelled out in front of me I initially wonder just how I am going to fulfill the required word count while still producing X number of important words. Every one of them "should" count for something, whether setting the stage or being at the heart of the argument. When I first saw the requirements of my Advanced Seminar in Canadian Politics paper, I must admit that I gulped. 7500 words is a lot of writing, 25% more than I'd ever done before. Plus, theories of responsible government and Paul Martin's "democratic deficit"-reducing agenda were not at the top of my list. Still fairly high, but not the top. So, as usual, I drafted up my outline, stuck to it, and now I find myself having done 1500 additional words. After some quick cutting of repetitive sections it's down to 8400-ish. I'm tempted to leave it as is, but there are probably a couple of sections which can be cut down or chopped out entirely. This always used to happen. Start out wondering how the heck I'm supposed to get that much written, and finish by cutting many excellent passages out of the text. It's reassuring to know that my research skills are still in good shape, and that I still enjoy writing term papers. This was a fun project, and if I find a way, I'll put a .pdf up on the 'Net for all to read. Or you can request it and I'll just email to you. Anyways, back to the reading & writing.

13 October 2005

Good Riddance!

The word is out: Carolyn Parrish, the "maverick" (as if it's a badge of honour, and I'm sure that Tom Cruise's "Top Gun" character would hate seeing his codename usurped by the likes of Parrish) former Liberal MP, has announced she will not be running for re-election whenever Parliament ends up dissolving. You know that when Kinsella and the PMO can agree that this is a wonderful thing it is a consensus that the country is better off without her involved in our political process. Long-time readers of this space will know that I am by no means a fan of hers, and I once publicly mused that Paul Martin should muzzle her/she should just shut up. In the long run, I guess this means I won yes?

12 October 2005

Why Don't the Harper Conservatives Realize the Importance of Quebec?

I didn't make much of a big deal of the handful of former Conservative candidates in Quebec who demanded Stephen Harper's resignation, on the grounds that they were essentially token candidates who had very little chance of being elected in a province that has only two strong political organizations, the Bloc Quebecois and the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party. A small number of voices in the wilderness calling for the head of a leader who still remains very popular with his base doesn't exactly foster a coup mentality.
However, an article that I read at the Globe & Mail today really makes me wonder if Harper truly desires the brass ring of the prime minister. The party does not even have a provincial wing in Quebec and does not appear to be in any rush to establish one. In this age of minority government and a multi-party system, is it really sound strategy to just forsake 75 seats in Parliament and expect to form a government? Further, given the strength of the Bloc Quebecois at this time, does it make any sense at all to attempt forming a government that has no representatives from Canada's second-largest province? This would give the Bloc an enormous amount of leverage in Parliament; the Liberals, even with their decreased standing in the province, still have enough people from Quebec to be able to act effectively with the Bloc and its constituents to soothe the needs of Quebeckers. A Tory government would have to work as a coalition with the separatists, giving the Liberals numerous fusillades for a future election, and the Bloc's agenda would become highly prominent in Parliament's business.
Harper must realize at some point that he is impinging on his party's efforts to be viewed as more than the old Reform Party. Obviously it is very important to him and his party's electoral fortunes to retain their base in the West and continue their breakthrough efforts in Ontario. However, without a legitimate appeal to Quebec the party simply will not be perceived as a true national alternative to the Liberal Party.

08 October 2005

That's a Road Trip!!!

3-0 to start out the season, on the road, against Original Six teams. Boston, NY Rangers, and Toronto. All have gone down in successive order. What great games too! There's been a lot of anxious moments and Theodore hasn't been at the top of his game yet, but these guys are finding ways to win. It makes for great excitement and I can't wait to watch this season unfold. Also, the tickets for Super Bowl weekend showed up the other day. Mega-stoked for the February trip.

06 October 2005

Hockey's back!

Ahh it's so nice to see hockey again. The Habs won and the Leafs lost, so the season is off to a great start!

Liberals Giving Us Free Money!

I'm a fan of free money, especially when it's my money anyways. The Liberals are going to be introducing legislation that will give all Canadians a share of the federal budget surplus. This is excess money that they tax us for but did not use this past year. Thank the soaring costs of gasoline and budgetary cuts for all of this. So hopefully by the end of the year there will be a nice cheque in the mail from the federal government.
Now for the part that I'm not such a big fan of. We still have a large debt, the Canadian Forces are still a mess, the Foreign Service is depleted, and there are bigger fish to fry than giving a tax rebate of a couple hundred bucks. This is an election ploy, pure and simple.

John McCain is awesome

With issues such as Abu Ghraib and other tales of torture and abuse by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan fresh in mind, Republican Senator John McCain led the initiative for a law that would make it illegal for any American soldier in any region of the world to utilize tactics that could be construed as torture. This will see the Geneva Convention more rigidly enforced by the US. And this morning that legislation passed through the Senate by a margin of 90-9. The copy of McCain's highly elegant speech after this law passed can be found here at Andrew Sullivan's site.

George Bush Delivers Major Speech

As I'm typing this I'm listening to GWB deliver a major speech regarding the war on terrorism. It sounds to me like somebody very intelligent has written this speech and drawn from a number of excellent sources that are certainly familiar to me. He's dropped the "they hate us for our freedom" bit and is talking very candidly about "Why They Hate Us." It's actually a brilliant speech and he's definitely hitting one out of the park. He hasn't done any of the smirking or the usual swagger; this is the President Bush that we saw right after 9/11 and in the immediate run-up to the war in Iraq. He's serious, he's focused, and he's delivering the same message that many people in the academic field have been saying for years now. Thumbs up to Bush today. The links will be all over the 'Net later, you don't need me to help out.

03 October 2005

Happy October

Hard to believe it's already been more than a month since I jumped on a plane for Halifax. How quickly the time flies by. In two days I'll be watching the Habs play for real. And with sound, as it seems a CBC deal has been reached. I'm already ankle-deep in term paper stuff (give it a week and it'll be waist-), trying to find good articles about neoconservatism and find out more info on how good Martin has done in his job of remedying the "democratic deficit" that supposedly plagues this country.

One newsbite that I'd like to talk about. It was just announced that one of Bush's top aides has been nominated to the Supreme Court to fill the role left by Sandra Day O'Connor. This woman has no formal judicial experience. She's a fierce Bush loyalist, compared by Andrew Sullivan to be a female version of Alberto Gonzalez. Now, I'm a pretty well-known Bush supporter when it comes to foreign policy; my capacity to care much about his domestic policy is limited due to the fact that I'm a Canadian living in Canada. But, here we are, just a month after Katrina and the fury and outrage over a non-experienced, Bush loyalist in the capacity of an emergency preparedness and disaster response co-ordinator having spectacularly dropped the ball, and we get another Bush "family friend" getting a very high-profile position. This one has an incredible amount of power to render decisions affecting the Constitution of the United States. My prediction is that Harriet Miers is going to have a very difficult time making it past the confirmation process. If I'm a Democrat, I'm salivating wildly because Bush has just served up a hanging curveball and I've been dying to hit one of his pitches out of the park for a very long time now.
I don't like cronyism in Canada, and I see no reason why I would like it in the United States either. It breeds corruption, and given the volume of accusations lobbied by the anti-Bush camp regarding corruption in his administration, does he really need to be giving his opponents more arsenal? I think even his staunch supporters will have a hard time justifying this one and agreeing that she was the best choice for the position. She has zero experience as a judge, and she's more qualified to be a Supreme Court judge than someone who has been serving in a federal court for 20 or 30 years? George, you're without me on this one. Let's talk seriously about Iran or North Korea, but I won't follow you down this path.