Sunday, March 6, 2011

A political rant

Here we go again. Another election is in the wind. The Conservatives will present a budget on March 22. So far the Liberals and Bloc have said they will vote against it, leaving the NDP holding the hidden cards. Just what we need, the fruit loop party attempting to restrain the Conservatives. The worst of it is that we're likely to get results very much like what we have now. Each election costs about $300 million.

I'm one of the few Canadians that can actually vote against Prime Minister Harper, since he is my Member of Parliament. Everybody else can only vote against his party. But that leads to several problems for me.

Harper isn't quite the right wing zealot he used to be. He's recognized that some of his more neanderthal opinions do not play well outside of a small group of the unwashed. There is a debate as to whether he has actually and truly changed his mind (ie, that he essentially grew up), or is just hiding his true feelings during his quest for majority government. A great many Canadians believe the latter.

Still, in between his generally pragmatic approach to governance, there are some very disturbing behavioural examples that I think render him unfit for re-election. There was the example of cutting funding to the other parties for partisan reasons. There is his paranoia about communications that has led him to gag all his ministers. All public communication has to go through his office. Some of his decisions are ideological based, such as cutting the GST tax rate, and cutting tax rates for corporations, regardless if it's good public policy or not.  Prorouging Parliament to escape a vote that would have almost certainly brought down the government. Then there are all the games played in committee to avoid having work done where they wouldn't like the results. They flat out broke the law during the 2006 election with regard to spending limits. This is the so called "in and out" scandal. The Conservatives call it an accounting dispute, various auditors call it illegal. The Conservatives have a fetish about getting "tough on crime", taking a page out of the Republican playbook. They don't grasp that crime rates are dropping, they don't care that putting people in jail is a counterproductive exercise for many offenses, and they don't admit that jail is much more expensive than just about any alternative. After all, jails are a provincial responsibility so the federal government doesn't have to pay for it.

One thing in the budget is that the Conservatives want to cut corporate taxes. The other parties oppose such cuts. So the Conservative attack adds say that Liberals want to raise taxes. It's this sort of lie that makes me mad, and makes most people regard politicians as lying, scheming, sleazy, no good varmints. And that's defaming varmints.

My problem is that none of the other parties will run a strong candidate against Harper. He is seen as unbeatable in this riding, which is probably true. Many of my neighbours are the perfect demographic for the Conservative party. White, well off if not actually wealthy, well educated professionals, lots retired or semi-retired, and generally suspicious of change. Still, many of them voted for Mayor Nenshi, so there is hope. 

My choices are likely to be a party hack Liberal and NDP, and some kid running for the Greens. I've voted Green the last couple Federal elections even though I didn't think the kid would be better than Harper in the House of Commons. My vote meant $1.75 per vote per year in federal funding going to the party. I'm not sure if that funding will still happen now. There might be an independent. I like to encourage independent candidates, unless they are a one issue nutbar, and usually that's what they are. 

What I really want to see on the ballot, down at the bottom, is a choice called "none of the above". If none "wins", the parties have to propose new candidates. The ones that were refused can't run again for a couple of elections. This cycle continues till a candidate is acceptable to the voters. 

A bigger change that I'd like to see is some form of proportional representation. Canda's "first past the post" electoral system leads to perverse results. A strong majority government can result from as few as 37% of the votes, and even less if you count just English Canada. Part of the problem is that Quebec sends a large contingent of separatists to Ottawa. They are a one-trick, one province party, and yet are accorded federal party status, unlike the Greens who ran candidates in every riding. They make it that much more difficult for another party to form a majority government. Last election, in 2008, the Greens got nearly a million votes, making up almost 7% of the popular vote, and yet did not receive a single seat. Fewer voters in Alberta elected 27 Conservatives. 

There's more. In the prairie provinces, Conservatives received roughly twice the votes of the Liberals and NDP combined, but took seven times as many seats. Similar to the previous election, a quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal. The NDP attracted 1.1 million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 49 seats, the NDP 37. Something is not right. 

Several parties have talked about changes to the system, till they win. The system gives a seat bonus to the winners, so they have an incentive to keep the system. There are lots of varieties of proportional representation, but there are two problems. One is that none of them produces "perfect" results either, and this is held up as a flaw that should prevent them from being enacted. In fact, there *IS NO* system that perfectly represents the voter's wishes. There are always circumstances that can give perverse results. The other is that proportional representation can be complicated to explain, and frankly, lots of people don't take the time to understand. They are afraid of change, and afraid that people representing values they don't agree with will get more say.

This is partly a product of Canada's demographic makeup. I've talked about this in the past. Canada used to be a white Christian country where most people had come from UK or France, or other European countries. It was run by old, mainly Scottish, white men. I'm old enough to remember people of my parent's generation talking about post-war Italian and German immigrants taking jobs. Then people with varying shades of brown skin, and different religions started arriving in larger numbers, to a predictable response. Now, Canada is probably the most ethnically diverse country in the world. Any random small town will have restaurants serving varying kinds of Chinese food, and probably Vietnamese or Thai, and no surprise to find Indian food. 

By and large, people are accepting of the immigration, though we get grumpy about people jumping the queue by boat, or cheating the system. We recognize most of these people want exactly the same things we do, a chance to live a peaceful life and raise children that have all the choices in the world for education and jobs. The vast majority of immigrants are honest hard working people that are a credit to our country.

Most of us love the diversity that immigration brings. In Calgary, a city of about 1 million, which is a small city by world standards, one can get restaurant food from anywhere in the world, or buy the products to make that food for yourself. Someone will be running an import business selling products from all around the world, or they will be applying those skills to make the products here. There are endless opportunities to explore other cultures through film, arts events, and cultural festivals. Talking to people coming from war-torn countries helps us appreciate how good we have it here. Immigrants bring new perspectives on how society should work.

I admit, not everybody accepts these changes. We were on vacation once in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The only reason you can find it on a map is that there's nothing else around it. The main attraction is hot springs, believe it or not. There is an old (by Canadian standards) hotel and spa to take advantage of them. The spa is on the top floor, 5 or 6 stories up, and part of it is open to the outside. Very nice! There I was, relaxing in the hot water, listening to a group of older people, maybe mid to late 60's. The shit that was coming out of their mouths! Immigrants. Gays. Jobs. Religion. Crime. I was disgusted, and was thinking about speaking up, but didn't. Nothing I could say would change their minds. These are the people that the Conservative party is pandering to. Fortunately, this is a small group, and they are quite literally dying off.

All politicians lie as naturally as breathing, but some are more subtle than others. There does have to be some recognition that the world keeps on changing, and people, even politicians, mature and develop new viewpoints. It's trivially easy now to dig up something that someone said years ago and fling it in their face. Harper's comments on building a "firewall" around Alberta, for example. Does he still hold those views? Who knows? It was a decade ago and he wasn't an elected politician then. Is there a statute of limitations on saying ill considered things?

But I remember hearing tape of a press conference with Paul Martin, then Prime Minister, saying that Belinda Stronach getting a plum cabinet post had nothing to do with her changing parties. The tape ran long enough to hear the laughter of the press corp. That sort of stuff response needs to happen more often.

One of the things that I would like to see is some real teeth put into the Auditor General's office. Right now the government can hide behind Cabinet secrecy. And there are some things that are legitimately confidential and to be kept from the public. Yet there needs to be a check on government. I think the Auditor should be able to look at any government produced paper or electronic files and review them for accuracy. Elected member's expense accounts should certainly be included. I want someone with an impeachable reputation be able to look at government stuff and say that even though can't share the details, it's all on the up and up. There should be a whole group of people looking to ensure that partisan party activities are separate from paid political actions.

I'm sick of federal and provincial politicians squabbling about how something is going to be paid for, which is a legacy of colonial era government structure. There's only one taxpayer, so figure out what needs to be done and get on with it! I'm sick of elected officials sitting in parliament and behaving like unruly school children, lying their faces off, faces that are bloated by years at the trough, posturing their fake outrage. I want to see someone drag the offenders by the ear out of the building and throw them in the nearby river. I'll settle for a long hook coming from off stage, reaching out slowly.

In fitness news, did a half hour of core, 1.5 hr of bike, and some stretching after. The bike was good. 0 minutes warm up, 20 minute time trial in second largest cog. Some spin up. 5 minutes in one gear harder, then some spin ups, then another 5 minutes. Some spin ups, and back to the second cog for another 10 minutes, all trying to spin smooth. I'm pretty pleased with the workout. My legs felt good. I even stood briefly in a moderately hard gear.

Still WTF cold here.

Weekly summary
Swim 1.25 hrs
Bike 1.75 hrs
Run 1.0 hrs
Total Cardio 4.0 hrs
Core 2.75 hrs.


5 comments:

  1. You know...one of the results of throwing all the bums in jail, is that you have to build more prisons, and then it ends up costing more to run the prisons, and you have to pay people a reasonable salary (and then some) because, really, who wants to spend a career working in a prison anyway, so you have to make it lucrative, and then the conservatives (who threw all the people in prison with their three-strikes laws, and zero tolerance approaches) will say that there isn't enough money to run the prisons, or pay the people who work there, so we'll have to cut the pay and the benefits of everyone else who works for "the state" because those people who work in the prisons are robbing "the taxpayer" of their hard earned cash...

    Oh so I hear...that's how it ends up working elsewhere...GAH!

    Rant on! It seems to be the week for it :-)

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  2. God help us if Harper ever gets a majority. As much as I hate minority government "politics", it is the only thing keeping him in check.

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  3. Too bad the get tough on crime policy doesn't extend to their own members. "Accounting disputes" in the real world end up with assets siezed by CRA, fines and jail time.

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  4. "There should be a whole group of people looking to ensure that partisan party activities are separate from paid political actions."

    Amen brotha. Also, I like your idea of the "none of the above" ballot option.

    Politics are maddening.

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  5. As a woman in Canada, I have a vested interest in seeing the Harper government turfed asap. This government has reduced the Ministry of the Status of Women to two ofices nationally (from 13, I believe, originally), given it to Rona Ambrose as one of her three part-time portfolios, and removed the word "equality" from the ministry's mandate.

    The man shows an alarming lack of respect for democratic procedures and institutions and, while I am no fan of Helena Guergis, there's something fishy going on there, too.

    The difficulty, as you have pointed out, is the dearth of leadership in Canada. Michael Ignatieff? No thank you, please. That's a disaster just waiting to happen.

    Jack Layton? I typically vote NDP, because I know there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that Canadians will make them the ruling party and the NDP excels at being the Official Opposition.

    So what to do? I don't know. But I'm really frustrated.

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Looking forward to reading your comment!

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