A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Canadian Alamo

One hundred and eighty years ago, in what is now Texas, a small group of 186 men held off an army of over 5,000 for nearly two weeks.
If that army had surrounded these men with about 1,000 soldiers, then marched its remaining battalions northeast, it would have easily conquered a flegling army of about 6 to 800 who were organizing to combat the larger army.
Instead, the larger force stopped for two weeks to fight the men at the Alamo in San Antonio. Meanwhile, Sam Houston, used the time to gather and train more recruits.
This all happened because the President of Mexico, Santa Anna, was too proud to let himself be defeated by such a small force. He was out to teach them a lesson, a lesson that wound up costing Mexico its future.
If Santa Anna had waited out the Alamo defenders, and marched on Houston, Mexico would be a superpower today. Its territory would include not only Texas, but New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California as well. All the oil in the gulf and in Texas would be Mexico’s. We’d be living in a different geopolitical world, and the USA would likely be bilingual, English and Spanish.
In the course of the two week battle at the Alamo, the defenders managed to totally embarass and make fools out of the Mexican commanders, going so far as to actually steal one of the Mexican’s larger cannon, and turn it on its owners in the end. By time the final day of the battle arrived, the Mexican troops were not only doubting their leaders, but were so psyched-out they went overboard, drawing, quartering and executing great indignities on the dead bodies of the defenders.
The day after the great battle ended, the Mexican troops woke up with a hangover and in total despair over their own savagery. They were so despondent it took Santa Anna weeks to mobilize them again, and when he did, they were demoralized.
Within a few months Santa Anna and his army were licked, and the President himself was captured by Houston’s army.

I tell this story to show what can happen when attacks are made on defenders who are willing to die for their cause.

Zoom forward to modern day Afghanistan. In the Kandahar Province a small group of Taliban have vowed to never be taken. Their fight is about two things, their way of life and the surrounding opium poppy fields.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan they set out to destroy the poppy fields, and were very proud when they succeeded in doing just that in Kandahar. Since the US-British invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent defeat of most of the Taliban forces, the poppy fields have once more gone into cultivation. Mostly because people need money and opium sells, and because the Taliban are no longer strong enough to prevent it.
The invaders have tried to stop this, but they’re outsiders, they don’t know the country and they are not trusted by the people. Just as the police in urban centers are unable to close every grow-op, so are the occupiers unable to totally prevent the opium harvest in Kandahar.
For a few years now the US and British have been fighting the holdout Taliban in Kanadahar. The Taliban have chosen this place to be their Alamo, partly because othe thier past success in the region, and the occupying forces have fallen into the trap of fighting them there. In recent times the invaders have taken to search and destroy missions against the Taliban, much the same way that Santa Anna searched out and destroyed the fighters at the Alamo.
Regardless of the outcome in Kandahar, whether the invading forces manage to snuff out the remaining Taliban or not, one thing is certain, an awful lot of people are going to get killed before the last bullets are fired.
This week Canada sent 2,000 troops to fight this battle, relieving the exhausted US and British Forces already there. Many of the troops being relieved have already gone home, in body bags. Now it is Canada’s turn, apparently.
Since Korea, Canada has not deployed this many soldiers anywhere, and since Korea Canada has remained, by and large, a peacekeeping nation. Our job has been to protect people and to make sure humanitarian relief goes to people who need it. It has not been our job to search and destroy or to attack an enemy.
Also, in those years since Korea, Canada has not funded or designed its armed forces for attack purposes. Our focus has been on self-defense, policing, relief and reconstruction. We have not built up or even modernized our weaponry, nor have we provided our armed forces with the infrastructure or the training to be an assault force.
Now we’re sending them in harm’s way, not just harm’s way, but into a situation where we know full well their are going to be casualties.
On top of that, properly outfitted or not, we are also sending them into an Alamo of their own.
President Santa Anna lost nearly one quarter of his fighting force at the Alamo, how many Canadians are going to die in this ill-conceived predicament?
I think before we allow this to go any further we need to take a step back and ask ourselves some hard questions.
First: Is there not some way we can wait these guys out?
Two: Is this really the best course of action?
Three: Are the Canadian people really ready to have thier sons and daughters coming home in body bags and wheelchairs?
Four: Is it fair to send them there when they are ill-equipped and not properly trained for this sort of endeavour?
Five: What are the long term ramifications of our participation in this action?
Six: Are we going to now have suicide bombers in Canada protesting our involvement, do we lose our international reputation as peacekeepers by getting involved in this?
Seven: What exactly is the benefit, and likelihood of success, in this mission?
Eight: Is this really what Canadians should be doing in the world?

I fear for the members of our armed forces, most of whom joined Canada’s forces out of desire to be helpful and give something back to Canadian society. They are families, mothers, daughters, brothers and sisters. They did not go there to become warriors, they went their to become peacemakers.
I fear dark, dark, days ahead for my country if we do not get ourselves out of this situation before it is too late.

All 186 men at the Alamo died but the Mexicans, who won the battle, lost the war.
One day, all the Taliban in Kandahar will be dead too, but will the army that defeats them win the war?

History is scattered with Alamos, most of the stories turn out the same, battle lost - war won. We need to think about that!

Harper's stated priorities

So, while he’s yet to be formally crowned King Of Canada, our new prime minister, Stephen Harper, has laid out some of his priorities.
They include: exercising Arctic sovereignty, a bill to combat corruption in the House of Commons, his childcare tax rebate and promised cut to the GST.
The bill to combat corruption should have no trouble making its way through the house. It is the one issue he has that all parties share. Although the NDP are likely to try to modify it somewhat, I wouldn’t expect them to have much luck. The Liberals aren’t likely to help the NDP out on this one, not wanting to extend them anymore legitimacy than they have to.
The Arctic sovereignty issue is all smoke and mirrors, a distraction, a made-up issue designed to do nothing more than calm fear that Harper will get too cozy with our American neighbours. He could choose to go to work on the Softwood Lumber issue, and would undoubtedly garner a lot of support from the opposition if he did, but he doesn’t want to do that. Harper prefers instead to go at Arctic sovereignty because he knows its a non-issue for the Bush administration, and he can score brownie points for apparently standing up to the US, while in reality doing nothing at all.
Watch for our new PM to avoid softwood for as long as he possibly can. He doesn’t want to engage in any real scrap with Bush. No, he just wants to appear like he’s scrapping with him. He knows that Canadians like a PM who stands up to our American cousins.
As for his childcare tax rebate plan. Expect this one to get some heat. First of all, Quebec is going to want assurance that this tax plan is not instituted in lieu of money for a childcare system. The previous government has already committed operating funds for the next year to Quebec’s widely popular and successful childcare plan. Canadians can expect that commitment to be maintained. And therein is the problem! How are the other provinces going to react if Quebec gets funds and they don’t. The opposition, particularly the NDP, are not going to like the idea. If Harper wants to pass this plan he may have to relent and beef it up to include money for some sort of public daycare system.
As for the cut to the GST. Harper may be able to pull this one out of the hat simply because the opposition are not going to want to be seen as opposing a bill that, on the surface anyway, seems like a good idea. Look for the Liberals, in particular, to fight this one. They know its a long way from another election and may be willing to take some negative press, in the short term, for resisting it. Look for the opposition to seek some sort of assurance from Harper that the cut will not be accompanied by a tax increase to cover the loss in revenue. They’ll be wanting something they can come back on Harper for later. The plan will pass, but not until Harper jumps a few hoops.
Another issue that is certain to rise on the agenda soon will be Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. This week 2000 Canadian troops were sent to the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. While there, the Canadians will be on a search and destroy mission against Taliban insurgents. While Canadians are not making much noise about this at present, it will only take a few soldiers coming home in body bags for that to change. This will be the first real hard test for the new government, even though it was the previous government who committed our troops to this action.
Look for issues related to proper funding to the armed forces to rise quickly on the national agenda. Depending on how the action in Kandahar goes, there might also be great debate about whether Canada’s armed personnel, primarily peacekeepers, should be involved in this type of exercise. If Canadian casualties mount, we can expect this to become a national crisis. Canadians will react to body bags in a manner the US public has not.
Another big challenge for Harper will come when he names his cabinet. It will be interesting to see how many of the “wingers” in his party will be named to important posts. Expect Harper to go for a middle of the road cabinet, and to exclude some of his party’s more ardent rightists. If members like Stockwell Day are given important positions, look for the opposition to get in a flurry. If they are not, then look for cracks to begin to develop within the Conservative ranks.
Another issue that will be placed on the back burner for as long a period as possible will be Harper’s promise to revisit Gay Marriage with a free vote in parliament. The longer he sits on it, the more he’ll aggravate the Christian right, and the longer he aggravates them, the closer he’ll come to a split in his party ranks. However, if he pushes this one forward, then he stands a very real chance of a serious fight from the opposition, and a short-lived honeymoon with the voters who, by and large, from every poll taken, do not to revisit the issue. If Harper does go ahead with his promise of a free vote on the issue, it will open one or two cans of worms. If it passes, the public will be furious. If it fails, his right flank will be incensed. Its a no win issue and Harper knows it. It will be interesting to see what he does.
One last issue worth watching for is Harper’s ability to deal with the divided parliament. There have been several biographies aired on national TV the past few days that clearly identify the problems Harper has had idealing with the issue of compromise. Clearly, the new PM is the sort of fellow who puts things out on paper, expects others to see its clarity, and then further expects people to fall in and abide by what he’s laid out. In a parliament where the majority of the seats are in opposition, this isn’t going to work.
Will Harper be able to deal with such adversity?
We’ll see! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Caretaker Government, Canadian Election Analysis

I’ve already had calls and messages asking for my opinion on yesterday’s Canadian Federal Election.
There is a lot to absorb and much to discuss. So here goes. I’ll do my best to put it in the following categories; 1. The Results, 2. What happened and what it means, 3. Things to look out for, and 4. What I think may happen, my predictions if you like.

The Results

On the strength of seats in every province the Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, with just over 36 per cent of the popular vote, and just over 124 seats in parliament, won a minority government.
The Liberals, who had been in power about 13 years, the last 18 months with a minority, came in second with just over the 35 percent of the popular vote and just over 103 seats. Their leader, Paul Martin, announced he would be resigning as leader but remaining in the house.
The Bloc Quebecois, led by Gilles Duceppe, lost ground in Quebec, mostly to the Conservatives, but still put in a strong performance winning 51 seats, netting over 40 per cent of the Quebec popular vote, over 10 per cent of the national popular vote and a majority of the seats in Quebec.
The NDP were quite successful, earning more than 17 per cent of the popular vote and increasing their number of seats by 10, to 29. They were shut out in Quebec but did well in Toronto and British Columbia.
One independent was elected, a popular radio show host from Quebec, and the Greens had the worst night of the bunch, losing a couple percentile of the popular vote and electing none.

What happened and what it means

Canadians have elected a “caretaker” government.
From some of the blogs and other nonsense I’ve been hearing and reading, especially from ex-pats in the states, right wing groups, and even the BBC! you’d think Canada had just voted in a hard right government and were about to cozy up good and tight to the Americans and start slashing and burning social programs.
That’s not what happened!
In the end this election had two overriding influences.
The first was a sincere desire amongst the Canadian voting public to pull down the collective Liberal trousers and spank their bare bums with the business end of a hockey stick. That element was there from the moment the election was called.
Later, another factor had equal influence, that was the STOP HARPER backlash, which sent large numbers of voters to both the Liberals and the NDP.
Underwriting the election were three major issues; healthcare, corruption and Canadian American relations, in that order.
Other major influences included: Canada’s armed forces, law and order, and taxes.
Harper and the Conservatives, who are clearly right of center, were handed a minority government in a parliament where the majority of sitting members are either centrist or center-left. As a result, if the Conservative hope to pass anything but the most mundane and innocuous legislation, they will have to soften their positions on many issues, especially where health care, day care, and taxation policies are concerned.

Things to look out for

Budget time will be very interesting for his government.
Harper will have to relent on his plan to chop the Liberal’s daycare program. He has stated he wants to give every family $100 a month for every child under six. This plan is meant to replace any previously legislated daycare program. It means he would be cutting funding to the wildly successful universal daycare system now operating in Quebec. There is no way the Bloc will accept that, and they will have strong support from the NDP and the Liberals, who funded the program to begin with. If the Conservatives do allow the Quebec program to continue, then they will have to deal with the other provinces who will undoubtedly be lining up for daycare systems of their own, or financial compensation of some sort. A national daycare plan is actually a possibility, remember, it was the Conservative in a minority government who made Canada’s national healthcare system a reality, although it was a CCF, the forerunner of the NDP, motion.
Another program much ballyhooed by Harper during the election was his plan to cut the GST. The Liberals oppose this idea for economic reasons, and neither the Bloc nor the NDP are likely to go along with it unless it is accompanied by some sort of break for middle and low income families. Look for his opponents to demand a raise in the personal exemption, no new taxes, and maybe even increases to federal provincial transfer payments. Healthcare issues may also be used as bargaining chips before the Harper can get a positive vote on this issue.
Some policies are going to be easy and represent what little common ground the outnumbered Conservatives have with the opposition parties.
There should be no problem passing a government corruption bill, although it may wind up more closely resembling former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent’s plan than the current Conservative plan.
Our Armed Forces should also get a good shot in the arm, but their may be some hot debate about exactly what our role should be in places like Afghanistan before Harper is provided much leeway on the issue.
Expect fast action on healthcare, particularly where wait times are concerned. It will mean quick points for the Conservatives if they can get a deal done, and the opposition is unlikely to resist any positive step on this issue.
Don’t expect Harper to cozy up too close to the Bush administration. Bush is wildly unpopular in this country and his current popularity at home isn’t so hot either. Expect Harper, superficially at least, to take a well orchestrated hardline with the Americans on the softwood lumber issue. It is possible the US administration will do something to try to resolve the issue, as an olive branch, but don’t bet on it. Watch for the opposition to take issue with any sign of buddy-buddy between Bush and the new Prime Minister. Dissing American politicians is Canada’s second national sport, Harper isn’t going to want to put the stars and stripes on just yet.
Kyoto and the environment are not going to play a big role in this next parliament, except perhaps as a bargaining chip. Look for the opposition to demand some sort of action on the Kyoto Accord, but also look for them to make deal to shut up about it.
Another area where Harper and his opponents may find common ground is education. Although the Conservatives are far apart from the other parties on the issue, they know they will have to do something in this arena if they hope to have support in the house for some of their tax ideas.
Harper’s main fight will be with his opponents. I don’t believe what some wingers are suggesting, that the Conservatives will make a deal with the Bloc. First of all the two parties are not even close when it comes to policy, and neither party really wants to, or can afford, to give the other any more limelight than they absolutely have to. The Bloc does not want to encourage the Tory break through in Quebec, and the Tories know they’ve bled as much Liberal support as they are likely going to get.
His second, and perhaps more seditious opponent, will be the factions in his own party. He’s really going to need one hundred per cent support. Any more defections to the Liberals, or anywhere else, could be fatal. Its going to be difficult to soothe the far right of his party while the rest of parliament is forcing him to bend, even contort, on issues dear to their hearts, like US-Canada relations, gun control, abortion, tax cuts, the military and gay marriage. Look for the center of his party to be prominent in his cabinet, which may also tick off his wing.
Mr. Harper has some serious stress coming into his life. Will he rise to the challenge?
We’ll see.

Things to Look Out For - Predictions

Uncommon Ground!
For the first few months this parliament will resemble an evening out in polite company. A few bills will float through the house and much ado will be made about “cooperation” and “parliament working.”
It won’t last long.
The Liberals, once they get settled in their new seats, will begin to exploit the differences in vision between the Conservatives and the rest of parliament. Once they elect a new leader, and get their boat fixed, look for them to grow steadily more antagonistic. They’re also unlikely to get all that friendly with the other opposition parties, who largely benefitted from the aforementioned spanking.
Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals are going to want to be seen cooperating to closely with either the NDP or the Bloc. In turn, those parties are going to be looking to secure their support among their constituencies. If they are seen to be laying down and letting the Conservatives or the Liberals do all the talking, they’re going to lose support. On the flip side, to start, all the parties are going to try to look cooperative, but it won’t be long before the knives will have to be unsheathed. The problem for the NDP and Bloc will be a multi-front fight for air time.
Things will be pleasant for three to six months and then the threads will begin to fray. By time the Liberals hold their leadership convention in the Fall the rhetoric will have changed. The peace bond will likely be broken shortly after that.
Watch for the Liberal convention, it will be a good one. Expect Belinda Stronach to come out the winner, for several reasons. First, the party will be looking for a fresh face, one not tainted by the scandals of the two previous parliaments under Chretien then Martin. Expect disaffected former Conservatives Scott Bryson and Kieth Martin to play prominent roles. Rule out the old guard, John Manning et all. The party is looking to move on. Stronach strongest challenge will come from old guard like Newfoundlander Chuck Tobin, and current US Ambassador, will be seen as too closely tied to the old guard. Stronach, a Conservative refugee, will be seen as having no ties to the past. She also has good US relations, mostly tied to the Clinton era, so she’s not seen as to pro-Bush but US friendly, which is something the Liberals are going to need if they hope to take the middle ground. Stronach also has a war chest the other candidates will be unlikely to equal. Fact is, she’s rich enough to finance a campaign from her own piggy bank. She’s also a woman, and that may well be her biggest ace in the hole when it comes to battling Harper, who is not seen as all that “woman-friendly.”
Electing Stronach as their leader would put the Liberal party right square in the middle of the road, with their wing tips sticking far enough to the right to actually take a gash out of the Conservatives. Her left wing may be a little weak, but she’ll cure that if she can draw a few prominent left leaners to her side.
The NDP are going to struggle in this parliament, depending on how successful the Liberals are at drawing a clear line between their platform and Conservative policy. If the Liberals succeed in that endeavour, watch for NDP fortunes to sag. They won’t be destroyed but they’re on the crest of their wave right now. Barring a major fiasco, or a complete breakdown in the social safety net, the NDP are on a down shift.
Fortunes for the Bloc Quebecois will depend entirely one how much Harper bends. If he axes the daycare funding the Bloc will become the kings of Quebec. On the flip side, if Harper manages to bail out Healthcare and give Quebec most of what it asks for, then the Bloc will begin a slow march back into political obscurity.
Watch for slow bleeding of Conservative unity as factions begin to battle for position. Those fractures may begin as early as the cabinet is announced, but its unlikely they’ll manifest until the opposition turns up the heat.
The Greens are in trouble. Yes, they’ll eventually get back the votes they lost to the “STOP HARPER” backlash, but in the meantime their piggy bank has been shrunk. They will have to do serious work on their social and economic policies and begin to base them on the hard realities of our current socio-economic reality, rather than the Utopian model currently in use. They will also have to move left. A real big natural disaster might help them but they are years from electing anyone, unless proportional representation becomes a reality.
Look for Proportional Representation to get a good debate. Harper will likely try to circumvent it with his elected senate proposal, but Pro-Rep will be a hot topic for both the NDP and the Bloc who stand to benefit big time from it. Unfortunately, neither the Tories or the Grits are going to be too hot to trot on this issue. Pro-Rep would make majority rule very difficult to achieve, for any party.
As for the elected senate idea, its complicated. There will be all sorts of questions and concerns. Does the seat plan remain, with Quebec having special consideration. Will the provinces argue for equal proportions for each province. Will the Pro-Rep idea be applied to senate votes. Don’t look for the senate to change anytime soon, unless it happens as a result of some other deal, perhaps involving Pro-Rep. If, by the time the fighting really gets vicious, it appears the Liberals are going to make a big comeback, then you might see the Tories move on Pro-Rep.

As for the prediction most pundits are expected to make; How long will this government last?
I give it two years on the outside, more likely 18 months.
What’s going to happen in that time? Not much, this is a caretaker government!
What happens next?
The Liberals will be back. They’re the middle of the road and this is a nation of fence sitters!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Election Second Update - 7:45PM

The vote percentiles have changed marginally and the national networks have declared a minority Conservative government. No real suprise.
At present, 8 pm, the Conservatives have 109, Liberal 88, Bloc 51, NDP 23 , with one independent.
The mariginal percentiles are apparent in the popular vote. This is a Conservative government that has only 35 per cent of the popular vote.
Herein is the problem as I see it. The Conservative platform is far different from the platforms of the other three parties. They will have to bend like gymnasts in order to move anything through parliament.
Say goodbye to Harper’s plan to give every family $100 a month towards childcare (in lieu of a childcare program) and hello to some sort of national daycare system. There is no way the Bloc will support having its renowned Childcare system cut, and if Quebec gets it, you can bet the other provinces will want something similar.
If Harper cannot bend, no, contort, we will be looking at a lame duck parliament.
Depending what sort of budget the Harper government produces, and how they deal with the other parties in parliament, in particular the NDP and the Bloc, this could be a short-lived government.
There is also a slim chance, if Martin, Layton and Duceppe can form a coalition, that they could act as a majority and petition the Governor General to allow them to form the government.
The chances of this are remote, but it could happen, especially considering no party, and no voter, is ready for another election.
This will be an interesting government.

Here in British Columba Southern Interior, with very few polls in, the NDP lead by a 30 per cent margin.

More later.

Election Day Update from Kaslo BC - 5 PM

Well, its 5 pm and I’ve been to the polls. Here’s what I know.

Of the 1,000 plus voters eligible to vote in the three polls at Kaslo, BC , about half had cast their ballots as of 4 pm. It is difficult to say whether or not this is a high turnout. Elections Canada officials at the polling place, in the local Legion Hall, did say they expected a heavier turnout once people came home from work and their kids get out of school.

While attending the polls, for about a 20 minute period, I did notice a steadily growing stream of voters. When I left, there were about 100 people in and around the polling place, and traffic in the area was beginning to thicken.

From my home, on the mountainside above the town, I can see the downtown area. There seems to be a lot more traffic than usual down there for this time of day.

Some interesting things I noticed:

More than two out of three persons in the polling area were women.

The only scrutineers present were from the NDP.

Large numbers of people were accompanied by their children.

Several people mentioned to me that they were still undecided walking through the door with their Elections Canada cards in hand!

There was distinct sense of excitement and joviality at the poll. People were upbeat, laughing and joking.

Only a few people were willing to openly discuss who they were voting for. One person said he was voting “NDGreen”.

If I were to base a prediction on the polls here in Kaslo I’d have to call a moderately high turnout with the majority clearly going to the NDP. I’d temper that by saying the Greens are going to do extremely well in this area.

More later. I’m going to tune into some of our local media and let you know in a while what I’m hearing.

Southern British Columbia Election Day Report

Its a sunny spring like morning here in the riding of Southern British Columbia. The snow of the past few days drips from the trees, and the brilliant morning sunshine makes it difficult to see my computer screen.
We’ve had a fun election run-up in this riding. Our long-time MP, Jim Gouk, Conservative, has retired, throwing the door wide open. Then his successor, Derek Zeisman, or something like that, got himself in big trouble. First he crashed his car, then it was revealed he’d failed to notify his party that he was facing smuggling charges. That latest revelation, accentuated by Stephen Harper’s announcement that the candidate will not be able to sit as a Conservative if he wins, has basically sunk the Tory ship in this riding, or at least it appears that way.
The major contender here is the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko, who was nearly elected last time, loosing by a slim margin. That margin went to the Greens, who have run a relatively strong campaign with their new candidate, Scott Leyland.
Bill Prolifi is the Liberal candidate. He’s run a clean campaign but it is unlikely he’ll be successful in a riding where the Liberals have not won in many years, if ever. Some folks say the Conservative nightmare may be Prolifi’s dreamboat, but its unclear if its a big enough boat to weather the storm.
Others believe the Conservative fiasco will do wonders for the Green vote, and dissatisfied Tories are likely to vote Green in protest, before they’ll support the Martin Liberals or the “red” NDP.
I’ve not been down to the polls yet this morning, but I can report that turnout to the advance polls was heavy. In this particular polling district, Kaslo, about 20 per cent of the eligible voters turned out. In an area that has recorded up to 80 per cent voter turnout in past elections, this one is shaping up to be a record breaker.
Historically, the riding, which stretches from Princeton in the west to Kootenay Lake in the east, has shifted between the NDP and the Tories. It is a pattern that persists not only federally, but provincially and municipally as well. Elections are most often hotly contested and the winners do so by the narrowest of margins.
Much of the riding is rural. The largest city in the riding has a population of less than 30,000. Agriculture and forestry are the major industries, followed closely by tourism. The western half of the riding encompasses the southern end of the Okanagan Valley, which has a strong Indo-Canadian population and is famous for its right wingers. Oliver, one of the medium sized towns in the region, is noted for its white supremacists.
On the western-most tip of the riding is the town of Princeton, a predominately blue collar hamlet, with a big mine and a fair bit of logging.
The central portion of the riding stretches along Highway 3 through a number of towns, Midway, Greenwood, Grand Forks, all of which have seen better days. They are towns built during the silver mining heyday of the last century. Today they are retirement communities with no major industry, except perhaps Grand Forks, which has a strong agri-community and is known as the Hemp capital of BC, not the smokable hemp, these guys grow for the textile industry.
The western portion of the riding is perhaps the most populated outside of the southern Okanagan. It too is made up predominately of blue collar workers, especially in places like Castlegar, and Trail where the major employer is Cominco. It also has strong arts-based communities in towns like Nelson, and the Slocan Valley. Tourism is the main industry in this part of the riding.
There is no dot com industry to speak of, no big business, very little manufacturing, and very little production agriculture. It is one of those areas where the young are forced to go elsewhere to find employment and post secondary education. It is a working class riding, which would explain the success both the Tories and NDP have had here in the past.
The major issues here are healthcare, government integrity, childcare, post secondary education, seniors, and government services. While there is a strong tourism industry, there is also a virulent antiwar contingent thus, and because of its location along the Canada-US border, Canadian-American relations are also a serious concern.
If I was a betting man I’d select the NDP to take the riding, with the Liberal coming a close second, and the Greens upstaging the incumbent Tories. That said, all bets are off. If ever there was a riding that could go Green, this one could, and I wouldn’t count out the Liberals, Prolifi has run a spotless campaign and the disaffected Tory vote has to go somewhere. It is even possible for the dismembered Tory to pull a rabbit out of the electoral hat. It could be close.
With the good weather and blue skies I would expect voter turnout to be very high. The more voters who turn out the closer this race is likely to be.
As for the run up to the actual election, there have been all-candidate debates in most of the cities, town and villages. All the candidates have participated fully, except Zeisman, who was covered by Okanagan MP Stockwell Day and Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain, until revelations of his smuggling charges were revealed. Those meetings have been lively, with the consensus that the Greens and NDP have done best by them.
Traditionally this riding sends an opposition member to parliament. In the Chretien era it voted Conservative. In the Mulroney era, NDP. That trend is likely to continue.
As for media, the choices are decent. CBC radio is probably the most predominate. A close second would go to the numerous private radio stations in the region, most of which are owned by larger media companies. Daily newspapers follow closely on the tails of the radio outlets, most of those Newspapers, until recently, were owned by Conrad Black. There is no homegrown TV station in the riding, but there are several small independent newspapers and a co-op radio station out of Nelson. Many folks get their information from the TV, CBC, CTV and Global, who have reporters working in the region but offer only limited local coverage. The internet also plays a role here, but the number of bloggers and discussion forms are limited when compared to other ridings. Word of mouth may well be the most vital of information sources.
So, that’s the lowdown, from my perspective anyway, as voting day begins.
I plan to take a trip down to the local polling station at some point this afternoon. I’ll see what I can find out down there and report later with any new info I’m able to gather. Then, this evening, when the vote tallies start to come in, I’ll plug into some of out local media and let you know how its all unfolding.
Until then, have a good day, and get out there and vote.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A brawl, not a boxing match

Here’s a scenario we’re not hearing from the big league media.
The rising Conservative popularity in Quebec manages to split the federalist vote. As a result the Bloc Quebecois take all the seats in Quebec.
Then a “Stop Harper” backlash splits the centrist vote in English Canada and large numbers of New Democrats are elected by very thin margins.
In the end, the Bloc take Quebec, while the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats take about one third of English Canada each. When all the votes are counted it turns out the Grits and Tories are tied and the NDP take one extra seat.
Think about it, it could happen.

Regardless which mainstream media outlet you read or tune into, you will hear or read the New Democratic Party referred to as “having no chance of forming a national government.” Most often, when that statement is made, the speaker offers no logical or reasonable support, other than the fact the NDP have never done it before.

There was a time when that statement was quite true. It was former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who first made it. Back in the mid 1960’s, he was asked why he was running for the Liberal Party, when his sympathies were best suited to the NDP. At the time there was no Bloc Quebecois and the NDP had no base in Quebec while both the Liberals and Conservatives had strong bases in La Belle Province.
That is not so today!

The Conservatives do not have a single seat in Quebec, and the Liberals once powerful stranglehold on that province has been reduced to a handful of seats. While the NDP have failed to grow any stronger, their opponents haven’t fared so well either. And because it is unlikely that any of the national parties will take more than a few seats in Quebec, the NDP can no longer be counted out nationally.

With most, if not all the seats in Quebec likely to go to the Bloc, whichever nationalist party forms the next government will have to do so by taking the majority of seats in the rest of Canada.

The latest polls put the Conservatives and about 36 per cent, not enough to form a majority. The Liberals are at 28 and the NDP down around 20, and those poll numbers are based on popular vote, not ridings. The real interesting stat will be the percentage of votes for each party in every different riding, and there are many ridings where the vote will be close. It is conceivable that a third party, as the NDP are so often referred to, might steal a few seats.

When its all over but the crying, the winner of Monday’s election will likely take a minority government to power. Whoever wins will have to make some sort of deal with the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP, or both. The party least likely to be able to pull off such a minority is the Conservatives. Remember now, both the Bloc and NDP are left leaning centrist parties. The Tories are hard right, their policies are not even close to those of the Bloc and NDP.

That’s all speculation at this point, especially since the majority of Canadians buy the argument that the NDP are an also-ran party, despite the change in political physics that state otherwise. And therein is the problem.
Our national media have covered this election based on outdated and outmoded political realities. They’ve played the Tories and Liberals off on one another like it was a rematch between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman. Fact is: the current federal election in Canada has more in common with a World Wrestling Federation free-for-all than it does with a boxing match. And because of this, our media has failed miserably to provide Canadians with fair and unbiased reporting through this election. They’ve done this, not on purpose, but because they’re using outdates road maps to find their way around a bit of geography that has been totally renovated and re-landscaped.

We can only hope the outcome of Monday’s election does something to wake our media from its slumber. Personally, I hope it knocks a few of them right out of their chairs. I’d get an awful good chuckle sitting down and hearing some of these “experts” say things like, “what a surprise” or “who would have thought it?”

The word I’ve heard most throughout this campaign is “change”. In my view the change has already occured. Problem is, neither our national media nor our politicians have caught up to it yet.

Maybe Monday they will.

Stephen Harper’s Change

I have a news flash for Stephen Harper.
The "change" he keeps going on about happened back in 2004, when the Canadian people decisively tossed out the long line of majority governments that had ruled Canada since the Trudeau era.
It was these majorities, under Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien, that gave us the staggering national debt, the GST, NAFTA, the crises in health care and a myriad of other problems.
The people, in their wisdom, and with the aid of the burgeoning Bloc Quebecois, decided it was time to end the tyranny and arrogance of majority governments, whether they be Grit, Tory or otherwise, and they did just that.
To listen to Mr. Harper, one would think he wants the Canadian people to change that decision and go back to majority government, in his case a Conservative majority. His idea of change is to go back to the same old - same old.
It isn't going to happen! We don't want one party pushing through whatever legislation they bloody well want, despite what the people have to say, as happened with both NAFTA and the GST. We're tired of going hard one way for four to eight years, then going hard back the other way for the next four to eight years. We're tired of Prime Ministers who act like kings and despots. We don't trust our politicians, and it is highly unlikely we're ever going to give one party, or another, carte blanche, to do whatever they want, ever again.
Besides, we're not stupid! We know all the real good stuff in this country came about as the result of minority governments, health care, the charter, our national education system, peacekeeping, the flag, and on and on.
Canadians like minority governments, and will likely continue to elect them until our politicians finally get the message, and start changing the structure of our government to reflect the diverse population and far-flung regions, by introducing programs like proportional representation and and an elected senate (Harper's one good idea).
Mr. Harper, we've already made our change, and when this election is all said and done, there is going to be another minority government. My suggestion to you, and to the leaders of the other parties, is: get used to it! Learn how to work with other factions and parties, deal with consensus building, and learn to co-operate, and most of all, forget about any hope you have of "governing" and learn how to "serve," which, in a democracy, is supposed to be what getting elected is all about.
It's not enough to talk about changing our government. We want our government to change, and that includes you Mr. Harper!

Why believe either the Cons or Grits?

Two years ago Stephen Harper was adamant that Canada should send troops to Iraq.
Now he says he would not.

Prime Minister Martin claims to be pro-health care, but his government has failed to restore full transfer payments to the provinces, so they can restore health care to its pre-Mulroney well being.

These are just two examples of double speak from our politicians.

My question is: Why should we believe anything these people have to say?

Canadian Assault Forces in Afghanastan

There are Canadians coming home from Afghanistan in wheelchairs and body
Now we're sending 2000 troops on a search and destroy mission in
Khandahar province!
When exactly did the Canadian people consent to having our peacekeepers
deployed as an attack force?
Since when is it a Canadian responsibility to relieve British and
American fighters?
Someone has us in a real bad mess. Are we really ready for more
wheelchairs and body bags?
Shame on our "leaders" for getting us involved in this!
Double shame on each and every one of us if we permit it to continue!

CBC coverage of Canadian Federal Election

I'm concerned about the CBC's election coverage. Reporters, in particular CBC Ottawa Bureay chief Keith Boag, it seems to me, continually refer to the NDP and Greens as also-ran, and to base coverage on the polls. It is not up to the CBC to decide which parties are or are not real contenders. It is the job of the CBC to give equal time and space to all persons and parties running in the election.

Clearly, some of the other national media are firmly in the pockets of the two big parties, based partly on the fact their "mother" companies are owned by millionaires who support the big parties. But the CBC is owned by the people of Canada and, as a result, has an obligation to present the news in as unbiased form as possible. We expect more of the CBC than we do from Global or CTV, whose coverage reflects the bias of their parent companies. Your parent company is the people of Canada!

When reporters like Boag go out before a national audience and refer to parties like the NDP and Greens as having no chance to win, which Boag frequently does, we're left with the impression the CBC actually supports the political imbalance, and the combined Liberal and Conservative positions, that they are the only two parties that really count.

My other concern is the frequent sessions with chief anchorman Peter Mansbridge and reporters from the big newspapers in Ontario and Quebec. These reporters work for companies that are owned by millionaires. Their views, intentional or not, reflect the positions of these big media barons. I have yet to hear a single one of these reporters refer to either the NDP or Greens as being anything but also rans. This helps to perpetuate the myth that Canadians only have a choice between the two big parties, which simply is not true. There are other choices and I think its high time the people-owned national broadcaster begins to recognize this.

As a former reporter, I recognize the entire election has been phrased in terms of a sporting event, like boxing, where one opponent battles another. The reality is quite different. The current election has more in common with a WWF free-for-all than it does with an Ali-Foreman rematch. This occurs, I think, because of a lack of imagination and ability to adapt on behalf of the reporters and thier editors. They simply do not seem to know how to cover an election that involves more than two contenders. The CBC, like Global and CTV, seem to be stuck with the old road map and guide. They either don't know how, or are too lazy to, wrap the coverage in modern context, and revert to using the same old boxing match analogies used back in the days when Canadian politics was a fight between just two contenders.

Personally, and this is nothing against Boag as a person, but he's been the Ottawa bureau chief for far too long. He's stuck and seems incapable of bringing any new perspective to the table. You might say he's a little like the Liberal party. I think you need to change him up. Also, I think if Mansbridge is going to talk with people, it should be everyday people, plumbers, nurses, school teachers, bus drivers, single moms, et al, instead of these talking heads who work for the media giants. At very least, he should switch these people up from time to time. Every week its the same old tired faces with the same old outdated perspective. Nothing against Chantel and Alan and the rest but, find someone else to talk to!

I think the worse thing about the CBC's dependence on big league reporters from national papers is the reporters themselves. They've been so long in the scrum, so long behind their desks writing about national politics, that they've lost touch with the people. These reporters hang out with other reporters, they move around in the same scrums, they have expense accounts and obligations to their parent companies. They seldom ever speak to, let alone socialize, with everyday people who are not somehow connected to either the parties or the media. Their perspectives are those of people who have not been outside their own social circles in a very long time. Thus, their bias is that of the people who they meet and speak with most often, other reporters and editors. They do not reflect the common working people in this country. Sadly, this fact, leaves the common folk with the impression that the media are in the back pockets of the two big parties. True or not, that's the impression people are left with.

Throughout this election I have been very disappointed with the way the CBC has pandered to the Liberals and Conservatives. Every night, when the election news segment begins, it is always either a clip on the Liberals, or a clip on the Conservatives. I know it is justified by the belief that most Canadians will vote for either one or the other, but I wonder if that would be so if our media was to stop reinforcing the myth that these two parties are the only ones that really count.

I've always turned to the CBC when I wanted to get a real Canadian perspective. Sadly, in recent years, all I'm hearing from the CBC is the same stuff I can get on the other channels. This is less so with CBC Radio than CBC TV, but it is nontheless, and very sadly, true.

Short of performing a major house cleaning, and getting rid of people like Boag and Mansbridge, who are so steeped in the Ottawa and Toronto press gang club they are like institutions unto themselves, I think the least the CBC can do is stop relying on other reporters, from other media companies, and start talking to people who jobs are not connected to the media. We want Canadian perspective, not the perspective of Canadian reporters.