Thursday, March 31, 2011

Keep May out, and Bring on the One on One

There has been lots of debate about the debates these last few days. The most sensible combination of debates is to have one debate with the four parliamentary leaders, and one with Harper and Ignatieff squaring off. I am very much in favour of democracy, and it is not lightly that I say that Elizabeth May should be excluded. However, to include Elizabeth May in the debates would bring less benefit to the democratic discourse in this country than the cost of including her.

What cost is there? As many concluded from watching the 2008 debates in which May participated, 5 leaders was simply too many. All it ended up being was a 4 person gang up on Stephen Harper. And while I agreed with all of them, I think that so many people made the debate very ineffective. There was little opportunity for real debate between any of the leaders. Instead, May and the others ganged up on the outgoing Prime Minister. In fact, Elizabeth May was the one who was the most confrontational.

I like confrontation in a political debate. But I do not like confrontation masquerading as political debate. This masquerade gets aggravated by May's presence. Having 5 leaders simply makes the debate dysfunctional. The debate is virtually worthless in this format. There is little opportunity to learn anything about a party's policy amidst all the ganging up on Stephen Harper.

Now, if the debate thus becomes worthless, then that is a very big blow to democracy. I am simply not convinced that that blow is compensated by a democratic principle of free expression. We are perfectly willing to limit free expression in the debates in other cases. For instance, the Marxist-Leninists do not participate. Yet if we were striving for perfect equality of expression, they would be present, and every other small party leader. In the case of the Marxist-Leninists, we are willing to recognize that including them would render the debate worthless. A similar thing happens when May gets included.

As for the one on one debate between Harper and Ignatieff, it is important opportunity to have a presentation of the 2 alternatives for government to the Canadian people. This is all the more important if May is included in the debates. Much as Layton thinks he is running for Prime Minister, we all know he is not. He is running to increase the NDP's seat count, to position it in a position from which it might one day offer a candidate for Prime Minister.

A debate between the two front runners is necessary to allow Canadians to see their choices of government, and to escape the cacophony of the leaders' debate. In that debate, the outgoing Prime Minister is oddly at an advantage. Why? Because any gain from attacking him is shared by the opposition parties, whereas the benefits from any major blows the Prime Minister scores accrue solely to him. Also, he can curry some sympathy from some odd voters. In this way, the system actually benefits the Prime Minister and reduces effective choice between governments in waiting.

A one on one debate would vastly increase the probability of Canadians feeling they have a choice. It would make it much more obvious. It would show Canadians a viable alternative to Stephen Harper. Isn't democracy about that among other things: viable alternatives for government? Therefore, it seems that excluding May and setting up a one on one debate might actually lead to more democracy.

(I would also be favourable to a Layton, Harper, Ignatieff debate, though less so. Once you let in Layton, Duceppe will want in. After all, he has more seats than Layton)
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Harper Clearly Lies...Again

Stephen Harper brought up the coalition again today, saying that the opposition parties would move with lightning speed after an election to form a coalition if the Conservatives win a minority. When he was questioned about his clear endorsement of coalitions in the past, from his 1997 TVO interview, to a paper written with Tom Flanagan advocating "a strategic alliance of Quebec nationalists with Conservatives outside Quebec might become possible, and it might be enough to sustain a government", he maintained that he'd never tried to form government after "losing an election." Assuming losing an election means not having the most seats, this is exactly what Stephen Harper proposed in 2004 in his letter to the Governor General.

He might try to say he never actually made a concerted effort to form a government, and just reminded the Governor General that she could call on him to form a government. Unless he wants us to believe that he had taken to the habit of writing letters to the Governor General reminding them of their powers, this defense is worthless. He clearly had the intention of having a good shot of forming a government, despite having "lost" an election.

The worst lie he uttered today came when he reminded us that the "other guys" tried forming government despite having lost an election, and that "more importantly, in this election, they say they will." Someone needs to buy him hearing aids and new glasses. How could he have missed Michael Ignatieff's clear refusal of this option? Although the other parties have not ruled it out, they most certainly have not said that they WILL try to form government in a coalition.

It stands to common sense that he could not have possibly missed this. It stands to common sense that he could not legitimately believe that the other guys have said that after this election, if the Conservatives win the most seats, they will try to form government anyway. Instead, he has taken to repeating lies for the benefit of his base, and to instil some vague sentiment of fear in the Canadian electorate. Never mind that this fear is completely unfounded. As Harper himself has recognised, coalitions are legitimate forms of government under our system.

Today, Harper lied. There is no other way to put it. There is no room for such euphemisms as "he misled the people", "he didn't tell the truth", "he ommitted certain facts". If he has fallen to lying to the Canadian people to secure our support, what more reason do we need to kick him out?
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Harper Has Contempt for Democracy

Enough said
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It's Canadian Democracy, Stupid

I humbly suggest this as a potential campaign slogan for Michael Ignatieff. It is clear, concise, and memorable. It also exactly communicates what this election is about. The election was triggered by our government's contempt for democracy, and the unwillingness of the Opposition to let such behaviour continue. Therefore, it only makes sense that the Liberal Party should keep this issue in the forefront of Canadians' minds.

The protection of Canada's democracy is the most important issue in this election. A democratic nation cannot afford to have a government refuse to present full costs for its projects. It cannot afford to have leaders in government lie to the people. It certainly cannot afford to have a government that has been willing, not once but twice, to silence opposition by not allowing the people's representatives to execute their proper functions.

These are the things that Stephen Harper has done. These are the things Michael Ignatieff must hold him accountable for. These are the things that must matter to Canadians. And in the past Canadians have shown that they do care. Witness the thousands all over the country that protested in 2010 against the government's prorogation of Parliament. This is an issue that, given the right kind of stimulation and leadership, Canadians will rally around.

This is why Michael Ignatieff should make a return to democratic government the central plank of his campaign. In an odd way, he can make it a wedge issue. After all, he is the only opposition leader that can bring to fruition the opposition's desire for an end to undemocratic government. Why? Because only the Liberals can form a democratic government in the situation we find ourselves in. The Bloc, by virtue of its very nature, cannot form government. The NDP, by virtue of its low poll standings, cannot form government either. Needless to say, the same goes for the Greens. The only two parties that can form government are the Conservatives or the Liberals. The former have shown their willingness to govern undemocratically. Therefore, the ONLY way to return democratic government to Canada is a LIBERAL GOVERNMENT. A vote for any other party increases the likelihood of further undemocratic government under Stephen Harper.

Michael Ignatieff needs to communicate this message to Canadians loud and clear. No other party can afford to do so as much. Harper can hardly afford to bring attention to his own undemocratic government. The NDP and the Bloc cannot afford to make a return to democratic government their main message, because neither is able to deliver on this issue. ONLY Michael Ignatieff can.

This wedge has to be driven home. And what better way to do so than to turn to Mr. Harper, and say "It's Canadian Democracy, Stupid"
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rex Murphy You Are Wrong: This Election is About Democracy!

Rex Murphy wrote an article in today's National Post purporting to show that the Liberal claim that this election is about democracy is erroneous. However, he does not succeed.

He starts the article by showing how, according to him, the Liberals have undermined democracy in this country. That's all well and good. There are two things he misses though. Firstly, none of the actions he describes were on the same scale as those undertaken by Stephen Harper. At no time was a Liberal government found in contempt. To my knowledge, there hasn't even ever been a motion suggesting that they are. So, although neutering individual MPs might undermine democracy (and that could be debated), it is not contempt of Parliament. Therefore, the scale to which Stephen Harper has undermined the power of Parliament and our democracy is much greater. So the Liberals do have credibility on the issue, and they can claim that our government has behaved undemocratically, in contempt of Parliament and Canadians.

Secondly, Rex Murphy claims that this concern with democracy is a diversion from the central issue, the economy. While the economy is always an important issue, I would suggest that democracy will supercede it every time in importance. Why? Democracy is about the rights of all of us. These rights are more important even than the economy. Of course, that is not to say we should not have a debate around the economy during this campaign. We should. But when our democratic rights have been flouted, I am inclined to think that that issue takes precedence. It is no diversion.

This election is about democracy. That was why it was triggered: the government was found in contempt of Parliament and Canadians. Any claim to the contrary that I have seen does not stand up under scrutiny.
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Canadians Do (and SHOULD Want an Election)

After the Harper government fell today due to being found in contempt of Parliament, Stephen Harper uttered three falsehoods in his statement to reporters. Firstly, he maintained that there was nothing in the budget tabled this week that the opposition could disagree with, and that they voted him out of office anyway. This is to imply that he was ousted due to the opposition voting against the budget.

This is a barefaced lie! The government was defeated because it was FOUND IN CONTEMPT. Again, it was due to CONTEMPT. CONTEMPT for our democracy, for PARLIAMENT, for the Canadian PEOPLE. CONTEMPT because this government does not believe in the democratic IMPERATIVE that a government must present the full costs of its projects to the people and their representatives. On the F-35 fighter jet purchase, corporate tax cuts, and the building of prisons, the government did not provide full costing, to varying degrees. This government could not be clearer: it might talk about ACCOUNTABILITY, but it is anything but.

Harper is trying to create the illusion that his government fell on the budget. He is determined to convince the average Canadian voter this is the case, so that the whole issue of his government being in contempt will be obscured. He has no interest in being accountable to Canadians and telling them why he believes they and their representatives do not deserve to know where TAXPAYER money is going. Knowing the average level of political interest of Canadians, he knows this is as good a strategy as any.

Secondly, Harper and his Conservatives have kept pointing the finger at an imaginary coalition of all three opposition parties as responsible for bringing the government down. Yesterday, in the debate on the budget, Conservatives mentioned the word coalition 17 times. Does any coalition exist though? NO! A coalition would require a written agreement and commitment to vote together. No such thing exists. At the very least, this high level of COLLECTIVE HALLUCINATION should be a major cause of concern.

Finally, the third lie is that the opposition party leaders have pushed us into, and I quote, "an election that Canadians had told them clearly that they do not want." A survey on the CBC website shows that 47% want an election and 48% do not. The exaggerated claim that MOST Canadians do not want an election is simply not true.

Furthermore, Canadians definitely SHOULD want an election. This government has contempt for the people's representatives and for the PEOPLE themselves. They have contempt for democracy. They do not want to be accountable for OUR TAXPAYER DOLLARS.

That is why the opposition parties voted them in contempt of Parliament and out of office. If Canadians care about their democracy, they will realize that they SHOULD vote in a new government.
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