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, December 15, 2006

Sneak preview of the Harper election plan

In case there is anyone out there who can’t figure out what Stephen Harper is up to, let me explain.
Gay marriage, human rights in China, Quebec nationalism, Senate reform, well, that stuff is all a smoke screen designed to do two things: 1. Keep parliament from voting on any economic issue or any matter that could result in non-confidence motion; 2. To keep the electorate thinking the current government is actually doing something to fix what is wrong with Canadian society and keep our minds off the real issues of the day: healthcare, environment and our foreign affairs policy, especially where it relates to Afghanistan.
You see, all Mr. Harper really wants to do is keep his government in tact until parliament breaks for the holidays so he can come back in the spring and institute his real plan.
What’s his real plan?
Listen up kids, here it is!
In the spring, when parliament resumes, Harper will introduce a budget full of tax cuts. He’ll come up with a further cut to the GST, raise the bar on the amount people can earn before they are taxed, cut taxes to medium and high wage earners, allow for primary household wage earners to share their tax burden with their spouses, increase the child tax credit and or the GST rebate, and increase the daycare rebate, among other things. This tax cut package will be so good that even the opposition will have trouble justifying a non-confidence motion over it.
The opposition however, for their own survival, will have to introduce a non-confidence motion, and they will do so on the grounds that Harper will not explain how these tax cuts will affect government services and revenues.
Harper will counter explaining the plan will be to create a user-pay system. It will seem to make sense to people. They’ll only have to pay for government services they actually use. For example, we could see a steep rise in the cost of getting a passport, which will only affect those Canadians who require a passport. People wanting to view their files under legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act, will find themselves paying more for such services. Again, it will only affect those who wish to use those services, or so Harper and his party will claim.
This will all make sense to those Canadians whose primary concern is how much money they have left in their banks accounts at the end of the work week, and will win over a lot of voters.
It will also divert a lot of attention away from the real issues of the day, healthcare, foreign policy, and the environment, thus making tax cuts the major election issue.
This plan will in many ways echo the US Republican Party’s election platform of 2004, where the issue should have been Iraq and government integrity, but became tax cuts and gay marriage.
Will it work? Well, yes, if the Canadian people are in fact more concerned about their individual bottom lines than they are the welfare of our society!
When the election call is finally made, if all goes according to Harper’s plan, we can expect the current PM to campaign on tax cuts with a liberal smattering of the politics of fear thrown in. Harper will harp on how corrupt and bungling the Liberals were and go on and on about how he tried to introduce a budget that was good for the “average Canadian” but the opposition was against it. If he has his way there will be nary a mention of issues like the environment, and when there is, he will refer to his “Clean Air Act” and say, ‘Well folks, I tried to bring in a clean air act but the opposition made me send it back to committee.’ He’ll say, I tried to fix the fiscal imbalance but the opposition wouldn’t let me. I tried to put more money in people’s pockets but the opposition didn’t think we should do that. I tried to cut the GST but they wouldn’t let me.
Of course, Mr. Harper will say nothing about how his proposed cuts will affect government revenues, the national debt such cuts will create, or how much service fees will increase. Instead he’ll just keep hammering away at how he tried to do all these wonderful things but the other guys kept getting in the way.
In the end Mr. Harper will fight his campaign on the political theory that all you need to do to win a vote is convince the voter that he or she will have more money in their pocket at the end of the day, and if you can convince them of that they will ignore what is best for the society at large.
On the other side of the aisle the opposition will be scrambling. They will be tempted to come up with some tax cutting proposals of their own in order to steal some of the PM’s platform out from under him. If they do this, they will be falling right into Harper’s trap, because the moment they start talking about tax cuts is the moment the debate shifts in Harper’s favour. On the other hand, if the opposition ignores the tax cut issue and pounds away at the real issues; healthcare, foreign policy and environment, than all Harper has to do is adopt the mantra “At what cost?”
The only hope the opposition have of keeping all this from coming down, the way I describe, is to launch a preemptive strike of some sort. In short, they have to find a way to bring down the Conservative minority before Harper can introduce his tax cutting budget, and they have to do it over an issue that is close to the Canadian heart. I believe that issue is Afghanistan, although it could be either healthcare or the environment, but in those instances it would have to be something specific, like a clear plan to immediately end wait times in surgical wards or dramatically reduce harmful emissions in a manner that does not affect the working persons’ wallet.
Unfortunately, with parliament about to recess for the holidays, the opposition seems to have already missed the boat. Unless Harper dallies, which he is far too smart to do, the dye is already cast.
The only real question that remains is: Will the Canadian people buy it?
This will depend on several factors. Are Canadian’s really more concerned about their own personal wealth than the are the overall wealth of the society? Will they be blinded to the certain debt creation that will result from dramatic tax cuts? Do we really believe that Harper’s recent introduction of issues such as the gay marriage vote, the Chinese human rights issue, Quebec nationalism, and senate reform are for real, and not just subterfuge? Are the environment, healthcare and foreign policy only surface issues and is our real concern high taxes? Do we really buy the assertion that all the problems the current government faces are the result of previous government bungling?
One other factor that will play a large role in determining whether the Harper strategy will be successful will be voter turnout. How many people in this country are just going to walk away believing their vote doesn’t really matter? Statistics show that most people who vote are from middle to upper income tax brackets, the same people who will benefit most from tax cuts. If, as in years past, the lower income householders, the ones who benefit most from things like universal healthcare, do not show up at the polls, then the scale will most definitely tip in Harper’s favour.
Like almost every government before them, the Harper Conservative focus has shifted from serving the people of Canada to getting reelected, not that the current Conservatives were ever really interested in doing anything but gaining power. This is something the Canadian voter admonished Harper’s predecessors for, being more concerned about maintaining power than serving the people. Last year, we punished the Liberal Party for their power-hungry ways, and for the corruption that results from power. Now we’re faced with a minority government that’s only focus is gaining a majority. What are we going to do about it? That’s the million dollar question!
Personally, I would like to believe that Canadians are well enough educated, skeptical enough of their politicians, and seriously enough committed to our national interests and institutions, to vote our consciences, not our bank statements. I want to believe that, I really do, but I’m not sure, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Our next election may be fought over tax cuts. It may be fought over healthcare, environment and foreign policy. But our next election is really going to be about the kind of Canada we envision for ourselves and our grandchildren!
How’s it going to turn out?
Well, that’s a decision you and I are going to have to make for ourselves!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ten Reasons Why Harper Must Go

1. Harper does not trust his own cabinet ministers, which is evident in his insistence that all correspondence to and from member of cabinet be cleared through his office. If Harper doesn’t trust his own people, why should Canadians?

2. Harper does not believe democracy works, which is evident in his not allowing committees of parliament to chose their own chairpersons. If Mr. Harper doesn’t believe in letting parliament act under the rules of democracy, how can he believe in it working for the Canadian people?

3. Harper does not believe the Canadian people are smart enough or well enough informed to make up their own minds regarding public policy. This is best evident in his refusal to allow an open debate on the Afghan mission and his refusal to lay all the facts in front of the Canadian people. If Harper is unwilling to let the Canadian people decide what’s best for our foreign policy, then what proof do we have he will act in our best interests?

4. Harper has no intention of keeping his election promises. This is best evident in his flip flop on the Income Trust promise and the failed vote on same sex marriage. Harper knew when he made the Income Trust announcement that he would have to do the flip flop, if he didn’t he is the most incompetent Bay Streeter ever. As for the same sex marriage thing, if he really wanted to challenge it he would have invoked the notwithstanding clause.

5. Harper lies, or else he’s incompetent. Once again the Income Trust issue is the best example. Many average Canadians with investments in Income Trusts realized well over a year ago that something would have to be done to stop major corporations from converting to Income Trusts. If average Canadians knew something was afoot, Harper, as a Bay Street insider must have known too. If he didn’t, then he really is the most incompetent finance man ever to come out of Bay Street.

6. Harper cuts funding to social programs in order to quell criticism of his government. The severing of funding the status of women is the example. He is refusing to fund any agency that challenges his government. What happened to free speech?

7. Harper refuses to take responsibility. It is clear to everyone that Maher Arar was falsely accused, illegally imprisoned, slandered, and publically abused by the mounties, the Canadian government, and the Conservative party. Yet Mr. Harper continues to play a blame game and refuse to act on behalf of all Canadians and apologize, sighting Mr. Arar’s lawsuit. This is a scar on the face of Canadian civil liberties and human rights.

8. Harper is hurting Canada’s image in the world. Arar, Afghanistan, environment, Kyoto, buddying up to Bush and on and on. Canada has begun to be viewed as a henchman for George Bush, and is seen as a country that does not even protect the rights and priviledges of its own citizens.

9. Harper is a divider, not a decider. When his government came under fire for its environmental stand and its refusal to be forthright and honest about Afghanistan he chose to raise the spectre of Quebec Separation, at a time when it was a non-issue, in order to distract Canadians from the real issues before them.

10. Harper is waffling on healthcare reform and finance. Need I say more about that.

There, that’s ten good reasons why the Harper government must be brought down. But the fact is there is one good reason why Harper should go. That is: Harper does not represent the majority of Canadians and, as such, he should not be allowed to do anything that affects the long term well being or international reputation of the majority.
So I ask, do the Canadian people need more than one good reason to get rid of Harper?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Liberals go for mediocrity, same old same old

I don’t know who was handling the federal Liberal Party this afternoon but they sure blew it!
After days of hardknuckle campaigning the Liberals elected an apparent outsider, one who looks like he might just be the sort of character the Canadian people are looking for, and then they blow it all by letting Paul Martin introduce him, with Jean Chretien himself, posed in behind the two!
Guess all the real good spin doctors are working for Harper, or sitting alone in a snowy mountain landscapes far away from it all!
I can see the Conservative attack ads now; The picture of Dion, Chretien and Martin all holding hands with the caption: The Same Old Gang! Canada’s New Government or The Same Old Gang? Harper won’t have to release a single policy plank!
Yep Liberals, that’s what Canada wants, another rather odd looking fellow who speaks fluent Franglais and was a cabinet minister in a government remembered by most Canadians for boondogles and bribes.
Whoever was running the show in Montreal these past few days should of put Martin and Chretien on a bus to Beirut. Letting them onstage was a game a of Russian Roulette and this time the gun went off!
Party tonight at the Harper’s on Sussex Drive!
Meanwhile, over on the left side of the rink, sit the rest of the opposition. This is good news for them too. Well, mostly, and it depends a lot on their attitudes.
A Francophone, Dion speaks the Quebec language. He’ll win some votes just because he’s from there. He opposed Iraq, and seems to be concerned about Afghanistan, that will help too. His other ace is the environment. However, Quebeckers, overall, are going to see Dion as a weak choice, unable to win a majority. Much will depend on how he does in the rest of the country, but Quebeckers will go to the Bloc before they vote for a party that can’t win the big house.
Over at Jack Layton’s house everyone has loosened the top button of their blue shirts. Bob Rae winning would have hurt them bad. The fact a former New Democrat was even a contender in the race makes all NDPers seem a little more palatable. Now, if they can only get Rae to go study in Europe for a year or so! The NDP too must make use of the Dion, Chretien, Martin photo. They’d also be well advised to start reminding the public that it was their Grandaddy, Tommy Douglas, who introduced the idea of balanced budgets. If ever there was a time for the NDP to just talk economics and the environment, its now. But its also time to go medeival on the Conservative history of leaving gross debt in their wake. If they play it right, the NDP could be headed for the same postion Gerard Kennedy played at the Liberal convention, king makers.
To have any chance at all, it is in the interest of both the NDP and the Liberals to bring down the Harper government right away. The question is, will the Bloc will go along with it. Expect the Conservatives to deal with the Bloc. They’re not ready yet. They want a chance to bring down a budget.
Because Dion is a former environment minister, his selection is not good news for the Greens, although they may do well simply stealing disaffected Conservative voters.
Apart from how it affects the parties, the selection of a weak federal Liberal leader should be good news for the independent movement in this country. It most certainly enhances the chances of another minority government in Ottawa, no matter when the election is called. The presence of both Martin and Chretien onstage with the new Liberal leader is going to send many voters further from the party. Some of those votes will go to other parties. Who knows where the rest will go. A few independents could well wind up holding the balance of power.
To be fair, Dion was obviously trying to show party unity, and to heal whatever rifts had developed over the campaign. To that end, having his opponents on stage was a good idea. But Canadians, outside the Liberal party, were looking to see if the Liberals would come out of this convention with new vigor, new ideas, and new leadership. Unfortunately, that is not the message they are going to intitially get. It will take the new leader some time to change that public perception. A quick election might not give him the opportunity.

If I was a spin doctor, here’s what I would suggest in the way of strategy for each of the campaigns.

Liberals: Put Chretien, Martin, Goodale, Hedy Fry, and anyone else from that era, on a desert island somewhere, preferably where the North Koreans are planning a nuclear test. Leave them there. Offer Ignatief the foreign affairs file, if he refuses it, pretend he doesn’t exist. Trot Dryden out with a national daycare program, Bryson with an environmental plan, and the young Mr. Trudeau with a Quebec plan. Send Kennedy to Alberta to head up the western flank, and have Dion visit him frequently. Trot Bob Rae out with a national healthcare plan and have Martha Findlay take the point of the Status of Women. Let Belinda Stronach take on the negative fire against Harper and his cronnies. Put Dion in intensive conversational English classes and make him join Toastmasters. Find a way to take out the Conservatives asap.

Conservatives: Stay the course. Use the photo. Promise the moon. Fire the current US Ambassador and offer the job to Michael Ignatief.

NDP: Talk economy, environment and healthcare, with an emphasis on historical Conservative mismanagement of same. Use the photo. Call the Liberals, The Same Old Gang. Find three good canidates in Quebec. There must be three! Talk about secondary industry (value added) and education. Don’t react to everything that comes up. Get punchier. The election, afterall, will be about social policy, environment, healthcare and foreign affairs, all NDP strongpoints.

Greens: Ignore the current opposition. Develop a reasonable and realistic economic policy and communicate it. Target dissaffected Tories. Point often to the inaction of both Liberals and Conservatives.

Bloc: Stay the course. Talk about Quebec. Stay out of the rest of it. Use the photo on the Liberals. Always use the words “Afghanistan and Iraq when talking about the Conservatives.

Independents: Run on the sick and tired of being sick and tired of the same old gang platform. Talk straight. Point to the possibility of another minority. Tell the voters to send a message to the parties, elect someone who isn’t in one!