Friday, December 26, 2008

Who is Sinter Klaas?

Who is Sinter Klaas?

Simple - Sinter Klaas [sinterklaas] is the old Dutch name from which we get Santa Claus. You might say, the original Santa Claus. And it derived from their name for Saint Nicolas - the saint revered for marking the nativity by giving gifts around the time celebrated by the church as Christmas - or the birth of Jesus Christ.

UPDATE - Jan.9, 2009

Reuters - AP - CP: Santa is on vacation til next December... in the meantime, be nice!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Looks at Canadian Crisis

Jon Stewart - A Hilarious Take on Prime Minister Harper and Canadian Minority Politics - VIDEO CLIP

Jon Stewart did a great bit on the Canadian parliamentary non-confidence vote and subsequent closure calling it the greatest crsis since our re-invention of bacon!

The lampoon was superb, and Jon Stewart did seem truly envious that we could "make" a Prime Minister leave office (through the non-confidence vote process) because, as he said, "we've haven't had much confidence in our guy for quite some time now, and he's taking FOREVER to leave". The short video didn't mention anything about closing parliament though - from the American perspective, the prospect of a President just cancelling congress or the senate would probably just be too un-democratic to consider. Canadian, eh!!

Watch the clip - click here.

In other recent Canadian political news, the Premier of Quebec, Mr. Jean Charest (formerly a federal Conservative golden boy until his move to the Quebec Liberal leadership - won an unprecedented 3rd provincial election victory. No other Quebec premier has won three consecutive terms. It also puts to rest to a certain extent, the rest of Canada's concerns about rising sovereigntist and separatist sentiments in the "Quebecois Nation". Charest is a strong federalist and has always refused to entertain the notion of another referendum on Quebec independence.

The margin of victory was narrow though, as the Parti Quebecois saw a resurgence of support - enough to pare the Liberal majority to three seats in the Quebec National assembly. It is without a doubt, due to recent "separatist" bashing by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his televised address to Canadians last week, where he vowed never to strike a deal with the federal Bloc Quebecois, referring to them repeatedly as separatists bent on the break-up of Canada. PQ leader Pauline Marois herself has said, if Harper's blistering attacks helped anyone, they helped the PQ. Harper, a right-wing westerner, and former leader/member of the western Canada Reform Party, the precursor tio his minority Conservatives, (which itself had much to say about leaving the Canadian confederation), just does not have a handle on Quebec and that provinces legitimate aspirations. All that despite his own move to officially recognize a Quebecois nation. It is why Harper and the Conservatives have never won a majority in Canada.

Further news regarding the Coalition opposition to oust the minority Conseravtives took an interesting turn, with the appointment of Michael Ignatieff as interim party Leader for the Liberals. As Harper's bold move of locking the doors of parliament to avert being defeated by the opposition in a non-confidence vote has taken some steam out of the Liberal -NDP - Bloc Coalition - Ignatieff's appointment (he still has to win the vote at the Liberal convention) is most likely a negative move for the Coalition. Most Canadian's don't trust Ignatieff's motives for seeking Candian political power, and it's unlikely he could ever win a majority. Further, Ignatieff is distrustful of any cooperative agreements with the NDP.

Stay tuned to the Canada News Commentary blog here for developments.

Blog author - Andy C - is off for one week taking part as a team leader of a volunteer trip to Galveston County, Texas for Hurricane Ike recovery and re-building efforts, the second trip this fall.

Monday, December 8, 2008

NDP leader, Jack Layton's Response to Harper's closing of parliament

Here is the YouTube video of NDP Leader, Jack Layton's response to the unprecedented action of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in suspending or "proroguing" the Canadian parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote from the Liberal - NDP - Bloc coalition. Harper requested the Governor General suspend parliament and she agreed (the Governor General acts on advice from the Prime Minister, although she had the right to refuse and entertain requests from the opposition to form a majority coalition).

As Jack said, "Prime Minister Harper cares more about his job than the jobs of ordinary Canadians...". Harper will likely still face a non-confidence vote when parliament resumes in January, and by that time the Liberals may have a new party leader to replace the outgoing Stephane Dion.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General Michaelle Jean Suspend Parliament

Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets the Gov. Gen. at 9:30am - G.G. Announces Parliament to be suspended for sixty days two hours later -

Check the video from Youtube Canada of Harper's address AND Liberal Opposition Leader Dion's heartfelt response - just so many words now that parliament has been suspended. The legal stall tactic used by the Prime Minister is called proroguing parliament - legally the government has to meet only once to meet the electoral requirements of the mandate. So he has advised the Governor General (he can't unilaterally suspend parliament, The G.G. is the Head of State for the government - however the G.G. acts only on the "advice" of the Prime Minister) to avoid the turmoil of a non-confidence vote and the possibility of the NDP - Bloc -Liberal Coalition forming a majority. All business will be suspended - even Finance Minister Flaherty's economic update mini-budget will not be passed. Everything must now wait until the end of January when parliament resumes and the PM has promised to introduce a complete budget. Too little too late?

Just this morning, former Governor General Ed Schreyer, who was in office when P.M. Joe Clark lost a non-confidence vote, publically urged G.G. Michaelle Jean, not to bow to Prime Minister Harper's advice to prorogue the house. He said that no government should "duck a confidence vote". Well Ed, Harper's minority Conservatives just did!

View Prime Minister's address to the nation yourself right here. His strongest criticism was against the Bloc who he referred to repeatedly as Separatists, vowing he would never make a deal with such separatist factions. The political fallout of these statements regarding the Bloc Quebecois remain to be seen. Check back to the Canada News Commentary blog here for updates from NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Prime Minister Harper's Address to the Nation on TV

UPDATED 12:00 Noon, Dec 4 - Parliament suspended. Gov. Gen Michaelle Jean has approved Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s request to suspend Parliament, agreeing to put the government on hold until the end of January, the legal stall tactic used by the Prime Minister is called “proroguing parliament”.

UPDATED 9:16PM - Click the title above to link to the video feed of Prime Minister Harper's address from or HERE

or just watch the YouTube video right now.

For the full text of the speech including Dion's response click here
Harper focused his attack on the coalition by referring to "backroom deals" struck with separatists, an obvious reference to the Bloc and leader Gilles Duceppe. He did not mention that he will meet with the Governor General tomorrow at 9:30 am, nor did he say he would seek to suspend parliament. He spoke only of ongoing meetings and deliberations in advance of a full budget he wants to release in January, 2009 [Can we afford to wait?]

In a little less than two hours, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will address Canadians on a television broadcast to be carried by the major TV networks.

It is the minority Conservative Party leader's latest attempt to stave off the impending non-confidence vote and the proposed Liberal - NDP - Bloc Coalition Accord to defeat the minority government and assume majority control of Canada's parliament. It is expected that Mr. Harper may announce that parliament will be "prorogued" or temporarily suspended until January, a date he has mentioned as when the Conservative Finance Minister would be ready to submit a more complete budget to the Canadian people.

As one who is calling the Coalition an undemocratic bid to take control of the government, Prime Minister Harper should take a page from his own book. What could be more detrimental to the democratic process of government in Canada than suspending the house? While parliamentary rules allow parliament to be prorogued after a minimum of one sitting, this would be a most blatant attempt at minority control of the will of the people of Canada.

Prime Minister Harper and his minority Conservative Party have never won a majority in Canada, having garnered only 37 percent of the popular vote. The Coalition represents 62 percent of Canadians and holds 163 seats in parliament versus 143 seats for the Conservatives. Stay tuned to the Canayjun's Canada News Blog here for real time feeds of Harpers address.

The following links and previous post here on the blog will give you a good background.

Canada's PM to address nation in crisis

Text of the Coalition Accord

I'm part of the 62 percent majority

Coalition for Change - the 62 Percent Majority Petition


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Coalition: An Accord on a Cooperative Government

Conservatives on the defensive - Right-wing extremist loonies crawl out of the woodwork -

Ok, it had to happen. The National post published the accord signed by the Liberals and NDP and the cooperative agreements signed by the coalition with Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc and the crazy rants of the right wing minority electorate start to light up the comments on news feeds accross the country. Check the Link from the title bar above for the text of the Accord.

So for that cooperative, benign and democratic document, the coalition is called " Bolsheviks, commies, thugs, and worse.

Here's my response to the rants from the National Post website:

by outreach417
Dec 02 2008
11:50 AM

You can see why the Conservatives must be replaced - by reading the bigoted and uninformed rants of their supporters. Even though they have no mandate, they cling to power through mudslinging, distortion of facts and hyperbole - Here's the facts (the truth of the matter):

1. Harper's Conservatives have never won a majority in Canada, even as leader of Reform, Harper never enjoyed a majority vote.

2. In the most recent election, only 37% of the people voted Conservative - more than 62% voted against them. That is not a mandate Mr. Harper.

3. P.M. Harper called the last election contrary to his own Fixed Election Date bill- in his own words, his parliament of minority government was "dysfunctional". He went to the polls to seek a mandate - a mandate can only be earned by winning a majority. He failed.

4. Contrary to the rants, non-confidence motions and coalitions are an integral part of Canada's democratic process. Joe Clark's Progressive Conservative minority govt fell to non-confidence. (Joe and other leading PC's by the way did not join the Reform-Alliance-Conserative merger that spawned our minority P.M. Harper). Ontario's minority conservatives were defeated by a majority Liberal-NDP Coalition. Canada's political history has many ruling democratic coalitions.

5. If Harper had a democratic majority of seats in Parliament, he wouldn't be in this mess. Harper's election = FAIL

6. The proposed coalition has the support of the majority of Canadians. Liberal-NDP-Bloc = 62% -power to the people.

7. The Bloc is Quebec's democratically chosen federal party, and my Canada includes Quebec. The coalition has included the Bloc, Harper never took any effective inclusive measures with the Bloc Quebecois.

8. If the non-confidence vote goes forward (Harper could prorogue or dissolve parliament first if he chooses to exercise Draconian rules), Harper must ask the GG to call an election - the GG is not bound to do so, if an alternative exists: that is, a coalition commanding the confidence of parliament and a majority of seats. That's a mandate.

9. I don't want to turn the poor minority Consevative's demise into a 12 step program, so I'll end here. But new election or coalition - Harper will likely never win a right wing majority in Canada. We've seen and lived through Bush's right wing policies - look what it's done to the world. Canada can survive this crisis - yes we can!

Monday, December 1, 2008

NDP - Bloc - Liberal Coalition will Give Power to the People

Minority Harper Conservatives cling to power by delaying non-confidence votes -

You read it here first: The Harper Conservatives have never won a majority government in Canada. Since their latest minority election win a few weeks ago, the Canayjun has called for a return to majority government in Canada through the tried and true democratic process of a majority coalition of the opposition parties. To quote the Green Party of Canada, who support an NDP - Bloc - Liberal coalition, "
No party should be allowed to rule this country with a 37% minority" [ the Conservatives have only thirty-seven percent of Canadian's votes ].

The mechanics of the Canadian parliamentary system with respect to minority governments and defeating them through non-confidence votes have already been outlined here on Canada News Commentary, and are part of the public record as outlined on the Governor General of Canada's website. There are always two alternatives to a minority governments' defeat following a vote of non-confidence - first, the Prime Minister could request the Governor General call a new election. The Governor General has the right to refuse this, as well they should in the current circumstances, given the most recent election was only six weeks ago, and was called by the same minority leader Harper in defiance of his own Fixed Election Dates act. The second, and equally democratic solution is for the Governor General to entertain submissions from opposition leaders proposing a coalition of elected representatives who enjoy a majority of seats in the House, to form a new government which would have the 'confidence' of the Canadian electorate.

The current debacle for the minority Conservatives was triggered by Finance Minister Flaherty's "Economic Update" bill, a thinly veiled budget equally thin on real measures to address Canada's economy and a strong response to the current world economic woes and financial market meltdowns. All opposition parties have voiced strong opposition to the bill, united in their criticism that the update does not contain definitive actions to combat recession as evidenced by other G7 partner nations recent initiatives. It also included a divisive measure to remove taxpayer subsidies, worth $1.95 per vote, to political parties following election. This measure was included at the express instructions of PM Harper, not the Finance Minister, and has been lambasted as a blatant example of partisan political gesturing.

The minority Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been reported as calling coalition plans an attempt to, "take power, not earn it". The PM would do well to remember that he and his party have never enjoyed a democratically earned majority in this country. Harper himself has repeatedly stated that the Conservatives have a "clear mandate" from the electorate - which is pure double-speak ( a la 1984) - a mandate requires a majority, something the Conservatives will likely never win in Canada. Remember the new Conservative Party is not the historical Progressive Conservatives of Canadian politics, it is an aggressive right-wing merger of the Canadian Alliance - Reform Party of Canada, a reactionary opposition also ran who attempted to "unite the right" in partisan politics. It polarized the real Progressive Conservatives, and former leader Joe Clark and other mainline left of centre Red Tories with more liberal views never supported them. Conservative minority governments in Canada under Harper have mirrored the extreme right wing policies of the American Bush administration, which has also fallen in the wake of a more sensible and liberal Democratic victory by U. S. President Elect Barack Obama.

NDP Leader Jack Layton sparked the current coalition formation by requesting that the elder stateman, Ed Broadent have discussions with former Liberal PM Jean Chretien. Including the Bloc Quebecois seats in Parliament, the NDP - Bloc - Liberal coalition would enjoy the electoral support of more than 62% of Canadians. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe has announced he would support an NDP - Liberal coalition without taking a formal role in it. It is hoped that the Bloc position could be formalized to guarantee a degree of stability in government for the near future and return to Canadian national politics the strong positive role Quebec has traditionally played in the formation and exercise of Canada's domestic policies.

The message to Prime Minister Harper is clear: Canadians have had enough of your self-absorbed posturings. You, Mr. Harper, wear the P.M.'s mantle like the Emperor's New Clothes. The will of the people demand majority rule to guide us through difficult times. The NDP - Bloc - Liberal proposal is truly a "coalition for Canada".

Perhaps we should call it the Canayjun Coalition?

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Finance Minister's Economic Update Could Trigger Non-Confidence Vote

Opposition Parties Will Oppose the Minority Conservative's Economic Update Proposals and Form New Coalition Majority:

The minority government Conservative's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's Economic "update" package introduced today falls far short of what Canada needs in the form of economic stimulus according to opposition parties. Leaders of the NDP, BLOC and Liberals have voiced their dissatisfaction with the bill, which they say does not go far enough to aid Canada's slumping economy in the face of the looming world wide recession.

As this bill, the first of the new minority government's session in parliament since edging into power on a slim minority, is an economic and finance package, the opposition could trigger a non-confidence vote and defeat the government. Fears of this resulting in a new election, just weeks after the last, are unfounded - the most sensible option is for the opposition parties to propose a coalition government, representing the majority of voters in the country.

Having missed their chance to defeat the throne speech earlier this month, the opposition is now considering this best of all alternatives and an end to minority representation in Canada. The CBC reports that NDP leader Jack Layton has asked the Honourable Mr. Ed Broadbent, to meet with Liberal leader Stephane Dion to discuss the feasability of forming a coalition government. They would still need the support of the BLOC, but BLOC leader Gilles Duceppe is also said to be fuming about the inadequate economic package and will oppose it.

Harper's Conservatives have never won a majority in Canada - in fact during the last election more than 62 percent of Canadians voted against the Conservative Party.

The proposed coalition would benefit Canada greatly. It would finally unite the liberal left and small 'c' conservative majority and represent a real mandate from the Canadian people. It would promote unity by including the BLOC Quebecois in the governance of Canada for the first time. And it would put an end to the high-jacking of Canadian policy and the trampling of ordinary Canadian's rights by the reactionary right-wing Conservative minority.

Coalition now! - defeat the government - restore majority government to Canada. We call on the loyal opposition parties to perform their duty.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Majority Coalition Government for Canada?

Defeat the Throne Speech Next Week!
There is still time to rescue the disenfranchised Canadian electorate. Once again, the Conservatives have come through an election with yet another minority government. Harper's Conservatives have never won a majority in Canada. Yet, Harper continually prattles on about having a mandate from the people. Mandates are based on majority representation - something the Conservatives do not have. The opposition parties - the NDP, The Liberals and the Bloc - have an opportunity to respect the mandate by showing non-confidence in key parliamentary votes and create a new government.

The first opportunity to spurn minority government in Canada arrives next week in the form of the Throne Speech delivered by the Governor General.

" What is the Speech from the Throne? [adapted from the official Canada website ]

The Speech from the Throne officially opens every new session of Parliament. The Speech sets out the broad goals and directions of the government and its strategy to accomplish those goals. The Speech this year will be given by the Governor General, Michaelle Jean. It's called the Speech from the Throne because the Governor General reads it while sitting in the seat in the Senate Chamber reserved for the Head of State or their representative, as the head of Canada’s system of executive government. The Governor General reads the speech to Members of the House of Commons, Senators and others. The speech's actual content is written by the Prime Minister, his cabinet and advisors. The Governor General may contribute introductory material dealing with their own activities and with royal visits.

The Senate and House of Commons cannot open a session by their own authority (hence the Throne Speech) and a number of formalities must accompany the opening of Parliament. After the Speech from the Throne is read, Standing Orders and the rules of the House of Commons require six days of additional debate after the speech is given: Following the speech, two MPs selected by the Prime Minister move and second respectively an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne given by the PM. Then the debate on the Address in Reply continues on the day following the Speech. It is the first of the six additional days.

The Leader of the Opposition makes a speech regarding the government's intentions and moves an amendment to the Address in Reply. The Prime Minister makes a speech elaborating on certain aspects of the Speech from the Throne. The Speech from the Throne and the Prime Minister's speech, therefore, provide the foundation for the government's legislative priorities and agenda for the current session of Parliament. The other opposition parties then enter the debate which continues and closes with votes at end of second, fourth and sixth days of debate, to determine the House's confidence in the government and the programs set out in the Speech".

These votes - of confidence or non-confidence - are the opportunity for the opposition parties to unseat Harper's Conservative minority government. Other traditional "confidence" votes are bills dealing with national defense or finance, but at the occasion of the throne speech, the opposition need not wait for the ruling government to conduct further business. With only a minority of seats in parliament, the Conservatives need the votes of opposition members to gain majority, open this session of parliament and resume power as the ruling government of the day.

Contrary to commonly held belief, a new election is not the only alternative. Harper, minority leader that he always has been, is fond of using the threat of an election call to bolster support for unpopular minority measures. However, rather than an election, representation can also be made to the Governor General by a coalition of elected parliamentarians that represent a majority of seats to form a new government. This is exactly what happened in Ontario on June 18, 1985 to defeat the minority Progressive Conservatives and replace them with a Liberal - NDP coalition under party leaders Peterson and Rae at the request of then Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Scott Baird. (interestingly, it was also Bob Rae, as the NDP Finance critic, who proposed the non-confidence vote that defeated PM Joe Clark's minority Progressive Conservative government in December, 1979 - and Rae now sits as a Liberal member and is a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party).

Here's how the seats in Canada's parliament are apportioned following the election:

Party__________Party standing_____%________Popular vote____%




Bloc Québécois___50______________16.2_________1,379,565_____10.0


It can be seen that, far from having a mandate from the people, more than 62 percent of Canadian voters actually voted against a Conservative government. The opposition parties have a responsibility to the Canadian people to ensure that the majority rules the country. A coalition would satisfy the expectations of the electorate. An NDP-Liberal-Bloc coalition would command 163 seats in the house which would be a majority over the Conservatives 143. (of course the Conservatives could try to strike an accord with any of the opposition parties to gain majority, but that is not likely given Harper's record of disdain for accords and promises - eg. his election call in spite of his own Fixed Election Day Act).

It could well be beneficial to the country as a whole that the proposed coalition would include the Bloc and involve the national interests of Quebec alongside the rest of Canada for the first time in over a decade. In addition, the NDP-Liberal component would unite Canada's left. Ever since the fall of the Progressive Conservative majority in the nineties, Canada has never elected a conservative majority, reflecting a national liberal-left political ideology. The successive minority Conservative governments have ignored the hearts and minds of the Canadian people, even the left of centre "red tories" in their own party.

We call on the loyal opposition parties to unite Canada and Canadians. We appeal to the Governor General to hear the will of the people.
Defeat the Throne Speech Now!

Related Links:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama - U.S. President Elect

The Canayjun perspective of the historical Presidential election win by Senator Barack Obama...

First, I was interested in the National Post commentary that Obabma's win is not, in fact, an "historic" event. Nov.8,2008 - "...A historic first, a newly minted coin, would be an election in which a candidate’s skin colour is as unremarkable as his or her hair colour. When a candidate’s skin colour passes unnoticed, that will be a historic first for America". I see the reasoning, but still - most would agree that it does pass for what we consider to be a moment that will go down in history. My goal here is to comment on the Canadian perspective and perhaps one of the most remarked differences is the political correctness of headlines in the U.S. as opposed to Canada. Browsing news feeds online on election night, at the first declaration by major news agencies, NBC quickly changed their headline from first black president to first African American president. Whereas most Canadian and international reports refer to the new black president elect. I understand the U.S. media's motivation, where race relation issues run deep, but they sometimes go to extremes: in a recent posting the headline reads "African-American Canadians versus Americans..." and garnered a wave of comments ridiculing the political correctitude - just what is an "African-American Canadian"? American journalists reporting on world news often identify foreign nationals in countries like Europe and elsewhere as "African-American" to indicate their race. Oh well... back to the canayjun view.

What does it mean to Canadians? How will it affect Canada as a nation and people?

The left liberal view in Canada has long been that our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has long cozyed up a little to comfortably to President Geo W Bush's fiscal and foreign policy. It remains to be seen, how the still minority PM, so comfortable with U.S. Republican right wing policies, will adapt to Obama and the Democrats. Small 'l' liberals in Canada including the NDP, Liberals, Greens and surviving Red Tories have historically opposed right wing U.S. politics, often conjuring up that old bogeyman, the religious right, as dangerous and un-democratic. A recent Toronto Star article from Saturday, November 8th, 2008, trumpets the demise of the evangelicals thought to hold too much sway in American government. Similar criticisms have often been aimed at Harper's new Conservative Party of Canada. (although Harper himself went on an anti-religious witch-hunt when he ran against Stockwell Day as the leader of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, referring mysteriously to Day's "meetings in church basements" and outspoken evangelical world view).

The real issues though are a select few, as evidenced by the recent Canadian election issues.

  • Economy & Trade
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Defense & Foreign Policy

You would assume that our Conservatives would get along better with Republicans and the Liberals with Democrats, but if we look at recent history between the two nations, supposedly the best of neighbours, the lines aren't as clearly drawn.

On the economic front, and long before the recent worldwide economic crisis triggered by the U.S. financial meltdown, both Obama and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, made comments about revamping NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement. Initially the recent democratic nomination race comments were seen as a faux pas, as they came at Harper out of left field with no prior discussion. NAFTA is certainly the worst thing to happen to Canada on the economic and trade front. Who negotiated for it and signed it here in Canada? That would be Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (PC) and President George Bush Sr. (Rep), in 1992, a sure case of right meets right. But it survived successive Liberal and Democrat governments. Do we even want it re-negotiated? That remains to be seen and if we are friends, would we have been embroiled in the softwood lumber disputes? The whole Reagan-omics "trickle down" travesty began with Liberals in power here, but strongly influenced succeeding PC policy both federally and provincially (such as the Harris Common Sense Revolution).

What about President Reagan and the Canadian Liberals? On matters of defence, we had the cruise missile issue. The first cruise missile agreement for ten years was signed Feb. 1983 between Pierre Trudeau and Ronald Reagan. Then in 1993 Mulroney and Clinton renegotiated the new 10 year agreement, ( but negotiations had begun under under Geo Bush Sr - see Just Dummies: Cruise Missile Testing in Canada
By John Clearwater ).

On other current defense and foreign policy issues, Obama was on record as far back as the summer of 2007 for having a troop build up in Afghanistan and continued with the same message in the run-up to the election this summer past. This is certainly in line with minority leader Harper's plans, even though the majority of Canadians want to see a withdrawal from the Afghan War. It remains to be seen just how President elect Obama will approach the wars the U.S. has become mired in under Geo W. Bush's War on Terror. Here in Canada, it is not often clear how the Liberal - Democrat - Conservative - Republican relationships will play out. For the second Iraq War, our leaders were Jean Chretien (Lib) and Geo W. Bush (Rep). Chretien's decision not to participate in the Iraq war was popular with a majority of Canadians at the time and garnered sharp criticism from right wing Conservatives. Inexplicably, Chretien sent four times the number of troops to Afghanistan as recommended by the Canadian military staff, setting the stage for Harper's troop build-up and change in mission objectives from peace keeping to active offensive engagement.

There is the issue of Canadian Arctic sovereignty - when it arose back in the 80's (pre-global warming awareness), U.S. icebreakers were traversing the Canadian Arctic Northwest Passage without informing Canadian authorities. That lead to the Arctic Co-operation Agreement signed in 1988 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The document states that the U.S. would refrain from sending icebreakers through the Northwest Passage without Canada's consent; in turn, Canada would always give consent. ( foreign submarine traffic including American and Russian, continues unmolested). However, the issue of whether the waters were international or Canadian was again left unresolved (if international rules are followed, the waters are all within Canadian coastal control). Harper has been criticized, primarily by NDP leader Jack Layton, as being soft on Arctic sovereignty, but Harper did announce some changes to Canadian oversight and increased military presence in the region recently. Now with the recognition of the true impact of global warming and the environmental sensitivity of the Arctic, we need to know where Obama stands. The only thing we know so far is that Obama is against Arctic drilling, but no specifics on the Northwest Passage as an important trade route. And important it is with the marked reduction of pack ice - The Northwest Passage, for the London - Tokyo trip is 7,000 kilometres shorter than the current shipping route through the Panama Canal and even 5,000 km less than the Suez Canal. Canada needs to take firm action to protect our Arctic territory.

Barack Obama has stated his intentions of revamping health care in the US, including a National Health Care Plan. Canada will no doubt be affected by any changes in the USA, as each country looks at the other's successes, failures and best practices. Harper has already shown disdain for universal health care in Canada and although Obama brings a fresh perspective, remember that the first US investigations were instituted by President Clinton who started the Task Force on National Health Care Reform in 1993 and appointed then First Lady Hillary Clinton. Obama may well call on her to play a similar role now.

The election of Barack Obama will certainly impact Canada and her people. This week Harper has already made overtures to Obama regarding a Canada - US Energy and Climate Change Pact. We must remember, however, that relations between the two countries can not be modelled along simple partisan or idealogical lines. Democrats are not Liberals and Republicans are not Conservatives. We also must be aware and sensitive to the fact that policies which may seem good to the US are not always good for Canada. Canadians are not high on the list of American priorities. After all, we're just neighbors.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss...

Another Conservative minority government, JUST what we needed, eh?
The Conservatives have never won a majority in Canada. Maybe you'd like to challenge that assertion, but first remember that these Conservatives under Stephen Harper are not the true Progressive Conservatives of yesteryear - the likes of Diefenbaker or Mulroney. They are the former Reform Party, or Alliance, or Conservative Alliance remade and re-branded. And the idea of a real "alliance" died when old line Tory Progressive Conservatives refused to join during the transformation. This "new" Conservative Party claims that they are legally successors because they struck the deal with then PC leader Peter Mackay and assumed the assets and liabilities of the Progressive Conservative Party.

We still remember the machinations of the Reform Party of Canada, like an Albertan version of the Bloc Quebecois, and the polarization of the votes as they tried to re-invent themselves to defeat the Liberals and gain national parity with other parties. The Progressive Conservatives were ripe for the pickings, the Mulroney years were long gone, overshadowed by Jean Chretien's majority Liberal machine. The federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada had almost faced extinction under the leadership of Prime Minister Kim Campbell, Canada's first woman Prime Minister. Just before the merger the PC's held only 15 of 301 seats in the Canadian House of Commons and never held more than 20 seats in Parliament between 1994 and 2003. The Reform Party selected an alliance with the PC's, a coalition of the right, supposedly to unite Canada's small "c" right wing conservative voters.

Canadian politics had become split by the creation of the new western-based protest party, Reform Party of Canada under Preston Manning. The party was very controversial in Canadian politics. It advocated deep decentralization of government power, abolishing official bilingualism and multiculturalism, democratization of the Canadian Senate, opposed abortion, opposed extending rights to homosexuals and suggested a potential return to capital punishment, and advocated significant privatization of public services. There were several news reports at the time of rabid racists within it's ranks and links to white supremacists and neo-nazis. So the vote in Canada became divided regionally. The Liberal Party took Ontario, the Maritimes and the territories, the separatist Bloc Québécois took Quebec, while the Reform Party took Western Canada and became the dominant right wing party in Canada.

The merger of Reform and PC was the culmination of the Canadian "Unite the Right" movement, driven by the desire to present an effective right-wing opposition to the Liberal Party of Canada, to create a new party that would draw support from all parts of Canada and would not split the right-wing vote (which was devastating to the PC's in Ontario especially). The splitting of the right-wing vote contributed to Liberal victories in the 1993 federal election(pc's only 2 of the 295 setas), 1997 federal election and the 2000 election. Chretien was able to undermine the Reform party's inroads with his remark that the Reform Party had a dangerous, "hidden agenda" for Canada.

The merger process was controversial. The federal PC Party under Joe Clark rebuffed the initiative to "unite the right". David Orchard had a written agreement from Peter MacKay at the 2003 Progressive Conservative Leadership convention excluding any such merger and led an unsuccessful legal challenge to it. At the time of the merger four sitting Progressive Conservative Members of Parliament — André Bachand, John Herron, former Tory leadership candidate Scott Brison, and former Prime Minister Joe Clark — decided not to join the new Conservative Party caucus, as did retiring PC Party president Bruck Easton. Clark and Brison argued that the party's merger with the Canadian Alliance drove it too far to the right, and away from its historical position in Canadian politics. Bachand and Clark both retired from Parliament at the end of the session. A Group of dissenting Tories were blocked from using the PC name and became the Progressive Canadian Party. However a rump caucus of true Progressive Conservatives still sits in the Canadian Senate.

As proof that the Reform hidden agenda survived under the new Conservative Party, recall these 2004 generall election news items: Early on in the campaign, Ontario MP Scott Reid indicated his feelings as Tory language critic that the policy of official bilingualism was unrealistic and needed to be reformed. Alberta MP Rob Merrifield suggested as Tory health critic that women ought to have mandatory family counseling before they choose to have an abortion. BC MP Randy White indicated his willingness near the end of the campaign to use the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to override the Charter of Rights on the issue of same-sex marriage, and Cheryl Gallant, another Ontario MP, compared abortion to terrorism. The party was also criticized for issuing press releases accusing both Paul Martin and Jack Layton of supporting child pornography, although both releases were recalled within a few hours.

So there you have it - history is a good teacher. Have you lost count of how many elections we've had in the last five years? I almost have. (perhaps that is the Conservative strategy to distance themselves from their Reform roots) And in each of them the Conservatives have yet to win a majority government - but continue to govern as a dysfunctional minority. The Bloc Quebecois' regional hold over Quebec continues to stymie any concerted effort by progressive voters who support the NDP, Liberals or any effort at reviving Red Tory politics in Canada.

The throne speech is upon us following the most recent election - now is the time for the opposition parties, including the Bloc to do their duty. The Conservatives have no mandate. The majority of Canadians actively voted against them. Defeat the throne speech now. Not to trigger another abortive election - but to form a true coalition which represents the majority of Canada and give us the government we deserve. The opposition has the right to approach the Governor General floowing a non-confidence vote and propose a majority representative coalition. Save us from the failure of our electoral process to support multiple political parties and end the stranglehold partisan politics has upon our lives, our country, our freedoms.