29 October 2006

Same Old Story, Same Old Song & Dance

Accusations by the opposition parties of a do-nothing Government. The Government claiming that the opposition parties are obstructing their agenda and thus the democratically-expressed will of the people. Ruminations of a spring-time election. Doesn't it sound a lot like October 2005?

I haven't commented a whole lot on the proceedings of the fall parliamentary session because, frankly, there hasn't been much worthy of discussion. Plus with me working now, I don't get to see QP, the funnest part of the day. Of course I'm still keeping up with the news and I know what's going on, but I just haven't felt compelled to discuss much of what's happening. There have been, however, a couple things of note in the past week or so that I would like to mention.

The Senate's running wild. The Tories are accusing the Liberal-dominated Senate of gutting the Federal Accountability Act and removing some of its most forceful provisions. I can't recall something similar happening in history without there being major repercussions to go along with it. This is the type of thing that gets Senate-haters and Tory supporters in a real fury, because you've got an unelected body significantly altering the legislation passed by the elected House of Commons, and that unelected body happens to be packed with Liberals. Obviously the FAA was one of the cornerstone pieces of the Conservatives' election strategy and was hoped to be held up as a significant achievement heading into the next election campaign. That's in jeopardy, and a neutered version of the Act will not make the Government or many Canadians all too happy. It's the type of thing that Harper, should he get himself a good communications team (I readily agree with Jason Bo Green that he hasn't done a spectacular job of getting the message across), can exploit and suggest that this is why he needs a majority from Canadians.

The Liberals are seeking to undo one of Jean Chretien's finest achievements. On his way out, Chretien passed legislation limiting individual campaign donations to $5400 per year. In the wake of Adscam, the Conservatives are hoping to limit that even further, to $1000 per year. But the Liberal-dominated Senate wants to double that, up to $2000 annually. Chretien's original idea was a great concept, seeking to limit the extent to which large corporations and wealthy individuals could gain influence in Ottawa. It was seen as a peculiar move by many, given the Liberals' predilection for getting large amounts of money from a few wealthy donors, but also one of principle and an attempt to force all parties to be more active in seeking grassroots support from regular Joe and Jane Canadian. The Conservatives have done a fantastic job working within this new framework, building up a very large war chest relying on small donations from a large number of people. The Liberals have struggled, however, and their war chest--once a feared and vaunted element in their election campaign strategy--is much smaller and still relies on a small number of people making the maximum donation (not necessarily living people or adults, mind you). The motive behind raising the maximum contribution runs counter to the spirit of Chretien's policy, and highlights the lack of ingenuity by the party mandarins to get themselves back on track and adapt to new frameworks. If they do force the issue, it will give Harper further ammunition in an election campaign.

4 comments:

Devin said...

Richard:

Your post, insofar as it relates to campaign spending limits, makes no sense. You praise Chretien for placing the limit at $5,400 and criticize the Liberals for suggesting that number should be lowered to $2,000 -- not $1,000 as proposed by the Conservatives. Then you say that the Senate is trying to raise the maximum amount that can be spent on campaign donations. Was this a misunderstanding or an intentional attempt to mislead?

Also, I understand that the Act is being delayed (and the $1,000 limit being opposed) until after the Liberal leadership convention. In a cynical politcal move, the Conservatives have taken the position that the convention delgate fee counts as a donation to the party, which would mean that no one who has previously donated money to the party this year could be a delegate.

RGM said...

Devin,
The post makes ample sense. I praised Chretien for putting something in place--where there existed no limits hitherto; flawed, but a first step that the Tories have now sought to follow up on--that would limit the extent to which individual donors could make large donations. The legislation passed by the House of Commons, which the Conservatives campaigned on and which I support, lowered that level further to $1000. Now, an unelected body with no accountability or answerability to the Canadian public is seeking to alter that legislation to re-raise the limit to $2000. It is neither misleading nor a misunderstanding on my part to say that the Liberal Senate is seeking to raise the maximum individual campaign contribution, given that the House of Commons has already moved to lower it to $1000. You may not like to have to face up to that reality, but that's how it is. You can split hairs all you want, but the simple fact is that your party's senators are behaving in a fashion that runs counter to the spirit of what the current Government and the only successful Liberal Prime Minister in the past 20 years sought to do: get big money out of politics.

Devin said...

Richard:

The limit was never at $1,000, so how can the Senate be raising it from $5,400 to $2,000? That does not make "ample sense". Especially in light of the fact that the only reason the Conservatives want it at $1,000 is to play havoc with the Liberal leadership convention.

In case you weren't aware, legislation does not come into effect in Canada without the approval of the Senate. It has been that way for more than 130 years and is enshrined in the Constitution. Don't bitch and moan about the fact that Senators are unelecetd because the system isnn't work in your favour for the time being. Conservatives weren't complaining in 1990 when Brian Mulroney increased the size of the Senate and stacked it in order to invoke the GST. More recently, Stephen Harper didn't seem to have any trouble with the fact that Senators were unelected when he appointed Michael Fortier to his Cabinet.

One last thing... Just because you say so doesn't mean "that's how it is".

RGM said...

Oh Devin, partisan hackery is such an awful thing. Your mix of Kool-Aid and condescension wins you no friends here. I may still have a box of stuff from the Liberals' 2003 convention back home, but there aren't any opened or sealed Kool-Aid packages in them. The joy of independent thinking and the ability to think in terms larger than how [Policy X] affects one's party of choice is something incredible.

The limit *was*, in fact, at $1000 when the House of Commons passed Bill C-2 and sent it off to the Senate. The Senate has, however, exercised considerable leeway to do as it sees fit and alter provisions of the legislation so as to limit its force and diminish its impact on cleaning up the manner in which politics in Canada is conducted.

My supposed "bitching and moaning"--nice way to attempt reducing me to the level of a dog, btw--is certainly not confined to this particular situation. I've said on more than one occasion that major Senate reform is long overdue (I am such a Western boy at heart), and this is merely Exhibit 23974 of why it needs to reformed to become more accountable or abolished altogether. It was wrong for Mulroney to pack the Senate in 1990, I was not impressed with Harper's move to appoint Fortier as a member of Cabinet, and I'm even less impressed by his unwillingness to forsake his comfy environment to run in a by-election. You can try to paint in all the broadstrokes you like and thus imply that I'm a Conservative, but if you search my wallet you won't find a Conservative membership card. What works "in my favour" is common sense legislation that is good for Canadians, and right now the Senate is removing that common sense so that the Liberal Party's coffers will have some more cents in them.