Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

Responsible Government? Who Cares? Not Canadians

By Jason Menard

Awish Aslam booted from a local rally for Prime Minister Stephen Harper because of a Facebook photo? Who cares?

Ali Aref Hamadi asked to leave the same reception due to the presence of an NDP bumper sticker on his car? Who cares?

An election caused by the Harper government’s contempt of parliament charges? Arrogantly suggesting that Canadians don’t care about those same contempt charges? Previous elections called in a way that circumvented the very fixed-election-dates policy implemented? Partisan appointments to a Senate that he promised to make accountable? Promises to decentralize parliamentary power and an election campaign fuelled by promises of truth, accountability, and openness undone by an essential gag order on Ministers and a rationalization of power in the PMO?

Who cares? Continue reading

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

By Jason Menard

It’s almost time for the bell to ring, announcing the first round of this Parliamentary battle, and the only question that remains is whether the opposition will come out swinging or if they’re prepared to feel out the competition for a while and wait for the right time to deliver the knockout blow.

As the Conservatives and the opposition Liberals prepare to go toe-to-toe in the ring over issues like childcare and taxation it will be interesting to Canadians to see whether the Grits, still licking their wounds from the spanking they received in the recent federal election, are willing to throw down the gloves and get ugly in defense of their principles.

For the Liberals, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Allow such show-stoppers as the scrapping of the Liberal daycare plan in favour of the $100 per month per kid plan favoured by the Tories or the slashing of the GST and rollback of previous Liberal personal tax cuts, and the Liberals run the risk of being perceived as compromising their ideals. And for a party that’s reeling from the sponsorship scandal and a public that questions its integrity, this is one perception that must be shed.

Unfortunately for Canadians, the only way that can be done is for the Liberals to stand their ground, come hell or high water – or at least yet another election call.

Already, Opposition House Leader Ralph Goodale has started to hedge the Party’s bets, casting the burden of responsibility to its co-opposition members, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc. By stating that these two parties could conceivably prop up the Tories, even if the Liberal vote against these key measures, he’s effectively deflected the question of standing for one’s ideals two the smaller members of the opposition.

This will be a Parliament of perception and posturing. The NDP is on the verge of slipping from the image of being the King Maker to becoming the royal whore – hopping into bed with whomever’s in power to further their own agenda of power. If anything, the NDP should be philosophically more opposed to the Conservative agenda, especially when it comes to issues like social programs, yet they’ve been the most conciliatory speakers when it comes to consensus building in the House of Commons. The NDP runs the risk of alienating its very own traditional supporters and losing them to a newly emboldened Liberal Party – especially if Jack Layton supports a less-than-favourable Omnibus bill in order to maintain political continuity.

On the other side, Gilles Duceppe has to be a little worried about support in his own back yard. While talking the good talk about the idea of his party sweeping through la belle province, he has to be a little rocked by the fact that it was Stephen Harper who walked the walk and eroded his base of support by scoring huge gains in Quebec. Does he risk returning to the polls and testing his supporters’ patience for yet another election?

In the end, does this all embolden Stephen Harper even more? After a few missteps in the early part of his tenure, the ducks are all in a row for him to push through an aggressive first foray into this political battle. Does he gamble that the leaderless Liberals don’t have the stomach for jumping into a snap election? Does he hope that the question marks surrounding the other opposition parties mean that their preference will be to wait for a better time to act?

Harper has to decide what the more prudent strategy will be. Does he enter the House of Commons in a consensus-building manner and hope to negotiate what he wants, or does he seize the opportunity to make dramatic changes and enact a substantial – and controversial – component of his party’s political platform, trusting that the time isn’t right for his opponents to make a move. It’s a bitter pill that he’ll be forcing the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc to swallow – Harper just has to judge whether they have the stomach for it.

In the world of boxing, the boxer always has the edge on the puncher – but in the Canadian political ring, Harper has to opportunity to be both. He can come out swinging, landing the heavy blows, and out-strategize his opponents right from the opening bell. But the only way that works is if the opposition isn’t willing to step up and go toe-to-toe with the Conservatives.

The opening bell is about to ring. This is sure to be one fight to watch.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Missed Opportunity for Political Reform

By Jason Menard

That’s it?

All this cloak-and-dagger intrigue? Everything he said about revelations from the back rooms that were going to be brought forth? All he had to say about how so many would not be happy with him on Parliament Hill?

And that’s it?

Former Conservative MP Garth Turner played the media like a rented fiddle and came out with the whopping announcement that he was tearing up his Conservative Party card and sitting as an independent!

OK. So he’s essentially said, you can’t fire me because I quit to Stephen Harper. And then he rattled on about sitting as an independent, how much more he’s been able to do as an independent, and a bunch of other statements, all of which were pleasant and all, but certainly nothing substantive.

The mysterious letters? Nothing more than the inner machinations of a jilted party deciding to turf one of their rowdier members. Sure, the fact that this means that they’re ignoring the will of a significant number of voters in Turner’s riding is noteworthy, but it’s not the first time it’s been done, now, has it?

No, in the end Turner missed out on a grand opportunity. He had a chance, and the forum, to call for real, substantive changes. He had a chance to rally a disenfranchised voting public around him and call for true reform to the Canadian political system. He had a chance to start the ball rolling for a future where MPs actually represent the best interests of their constituents.

And he dropped the ball.

He watered down his remarks, insisting that this was a cross-party issue. He stopped far short of calling out his own party, preferring to lob gentle accusations, the nature of which the public has known for months now.

On the bright side, Turner did announce the launching of a new Web site,www.promiseskept.ca, which at the time of this writing featured an image that looked like it was ripped from an inspirational poster – you know, the ones that say Determination or Focus – along with teaser text hearkening a new dawn for a public voice and political accountability in Canada.

But to what end? What should have been done? And if Turner’s serious about returning representation to the role of Member of Parliament, how should that be mandated?

The solutions aren’t simple and require a dramatic change in the way we look at politics in this country. Party politics are counter-productive and only serve to get parties elected. The system doesn’t actually work for representing the needs of individual groups or regions. You can vote in an MP, but if the will and intent of the riding contravenes that of the Party of which your elected representative is a member then Party trumps voters.

In fact, there’s even a role in politics that encourages this type of counterintuitive representation – the Whip. That’s the little weasel (or muscle, but I prefer to be derogatory when discussing this scourge on the political scene) who keeps the party members “in line.” It is the Whip’s role to let the party peons know what the big boys and girls – oh, sorry… I should have stuck to boys in this Old Boys’ Club… It’s up to the Whip to keep all the party members abreast of the voting preferences of the party leadership and ensure that all the members abide by that directive. And the directive of the voters, who may not agree? Not important to the Whip.

So what’s the solution? Abolishing party politics isn’t the answer. First off, the financial incentives for keeping this style around are too great, and secondly there are times when there is an advantage of having a group of similarly inclined politicians working together on common causes. So the key is to give MPs more freedom – the freedom to vote according to the will of the majority of their constituents.

Please note that I did not say they can vote on their personal beliefs, but rather any decision must be a fair representation of the constituency that the candidate represents. A plebiscite or poll on every question would be far too cumbersome, but there has to be a way for MPs to gauge the will of the people they’re supposed to represent.

The problem with this is that our system still encourages – in fact, is based upon – the notion that plurality of voters are all that’s needed to earn representation. No majority rule here, just more than the other guys. And that results, frequently, in a situation where the constituency is represented by someone for whom a majority of the constituents did not vote. How is that representative? And in that case how can any MP go to Ottawa thinking they represent the will of a constituency?

Is it not time to look at a form of proportional representation, wherein multiple representatives are sent from a region, reflective of how many votes were earned. At its simplest, a region could be large enough for 10 representatives, but instead of a winner-takes-all approach, seats would be allocated by votes. If Party A gets 60 per cent of the votes, they send six representatives. Party B earned 30 per cent and Party C got 10 per cent? Then you end up with 10 seats allocated as follows: six As, three Bs, and one C.

Every vote then truly counts. And every voice is represented. Logistically, it would take a lot of time – including re-drawing electoral maps so that our Parliament isn’t suddenly inundated with 10 times as many MPs. But it could be done.

As Turner said today, the current system – specifically party politics — doesn’t work. But what he didn’t do was go far enough. It’s time for a change in the way we’re represented in this country. And we need to ensure that every vote counts.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Turner Fiasco Shows Tories Fuzzy on Accountability

By Jason Menard

Good for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Nothing says openness and accountability in government better than censure!

Garth Turner, the Member of Parliament representing Halton, Ontario has been suspended from the Conservative caucus. The reason? Being too uppity and not toeing the party line. Funny, I thought the Tories ran their last campaign on bringing accountability back to politics. I guess that accountability doesn’t extend to an MP’s responsibility to their constituents.

His transgressions? Turner voiced displeasure with his party’s apparent about-face on party hopping when it because convenient for them in the form of David Emerson, seemingly swallowing the outrage that overwhelmed them when Belinda Stronach’s defection compelled Conservative MPs Helena Guergis and Joe Preston to bring forth legislation to prevent this sort of then-nefarious activity.

Turner also voiced opposition to the party’s fiscal and environmental policies. And, perish the thought, Turner regularly kept his constituents abreast of the inner workings of the political scene via his blog.

What it all boils down to is that Turner has been suspended for one simple reason – representing the will and interest of his constituents, and not making party politics a priority even if it swims against the tide of his electorate.

I suppose Mr. Harper can be excused for thinking that the voters of the Halton region were choosing a party, not a representative. But what we do through the very act of casting our ballot – whether municipally, provincially, or federally – is voting for someone who can go and represent our interests. Not the interest of the party necessarily, although those will sometime march in time, but more importantly the interests of the region.

So by suspending Turner for using the voice that his constituency gave him, he’s essentially silenced an entire group of voters. More despicably, he’s shown that he doesn’t value their opinions.

A representative is supposed to represent. Not just the few who drink the party Kool-Aid, but the entire constituency – even those who didn’t vote for him or her. They are commissioned, through the electoral process, to work diligently to ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear, and that everything is done to ensure that the needs and desires of our communities are heard on the national stage.

Of course, by forcing Turner to exit Stage Left, the residents of Halton no longer even have a voice in the chorus – they’re forced to watch this production from afar.

How exactly is that accountability? How is that more responsible government? In essence, we need more Garth Turners in Ottawa – and at all levels of government! We need more people who are willing to speak out for the interests of those who voted them into power, even if it means at times not toeing the party line.

And by suspending him from the Conservative caucus, Harper effectively has told Conservative voters in the region that they were wrong during the last election. These are people who voted for Turner, partly because of his Conservative affiliation – and now their voices, which they lend to Turner, will be forced to sing a different tune, whether that’s Green or Liberal, it’s not the same song that they originally requested to hear. And there better not be a peep out of one single Conservative if Turner jumps to another party – they’ve lost that right with Mr. Emerson. Of course, Turner himself may demand a by-election so that the constituents in Halton have an opportunity to have their true voices heard – not one that’s been distorted by the political machine.

Turner was duly elected as a representative first and foremost. Ideally, constituents are voting for the person they feel best represents them, regardless of party affiliation. Usually, a particular party will attract a particular candidate who appeals to the morals, values, and intents of those predisposed to vote a certain way. However, there are no absolutes. No matter what political party you support, chances are you’re hard-pressed to find any one candidate or party that perfectly embodies all your beliefs. There’s give and take.

Unfortunately, by getting the gift of accountability and responsible representation from the candidate for whom they’ve voted, the people of Halton have had their voice in Parliament taken away from them. For a party that preaches accountability, how do you account for that?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Looking for Skeletons in Harper’s Closet

By Jason Menard

Could this be it? Could this be the moment we’ve all been waiting for? Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced that a free vote on same-sex unions will be held in the fall. But by opening that particular closet, will this be the time that a few right-wing skeletons come tumbling out?

Remember, this ain’t your father’s Conservative Party. The Conservative Party of Canada, as helmed by Mr. Harper, is the (some would say unholy) union of the Progressive Conservative and Alliance Party – the old Reform. And let’s just say the past has been peppered with some interesting comments.

For example:

  • Garry Breitkreutz, MP for Yorkton-Melville was quoted in a press release saying, “ In the 1950s, buggery was a criminal offence, now it’s a requirement to receive benefits from the federal government.”
  • Art Hanger, MP for Calgary Northeast uttered these bon mots, “Homosexuality, to anyone who has not been brainwashed by the last decade of effective propaganda by the gay lobby, is unnatural. It is a repudiation of nature. … Homosexuality is nihilistic. It protects nothing, it defends nothing, it continues nothing, and it sustains nothing.” Now, admittedly, that was back in 1995 – so maybe a decade has tempered his views. You think?
  • And how about Mr. Stockwell Day, who followed the natural train of thought when discussing why the protection from discrimination from religion, ethnic origin, and gender should not extend to same-sex couples… “What about the next step? Those who lobby for sex with children?”

Yes, is there any wonder why Mr. Harper’s running the government like an Orwellian Ministry of Truth? Now, to be fair, these quotes – and others like them – are compiled on the official Web site of Egale, a national organization which aims to advance equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-identified people and their families across Canada. But we these quotes out there, Harper, when considering his own political future, must be thinking, ‘With friends like these who need enemies?’

And that’s the problem with this debate. The Conservatives know it too, which is why some members of Harper’s own party have come out recently with concerns about not letting sleeping dogs lie – even if they choose to lie together despite having the same genitalia.

You’ve got to have the feeling that the more right-wing members of Harper’s Caucus (is that too homoerotic for them?) have been patiently sitting on their hands, allowing the Prime Minister to go his way knowing that their position as a minority government is precarious at best. But will the bait be too tempting for them not to slip up? Harper, like a frantic plate spinner, has been taking on all the responsibilities himself to ensure that nothing leaks from the back benches. He’s running ragged, desperately trying to ensure that not one plate falls, shattering the silence, by assuming the brunt of the public responsibility himself.

This will be the test. There are many out in Canada believing that old habits truly do die hard. And they’ve been waiting for any sign of the sheep’s clothing to slide off these presumed wolves. The gay marriage debate may just be the issue that does it.

One has to wonder if Harper even has an interest in fighting this battle, knowing that he’s probably going to lose. The NDP and Bloc are certain to vote against rescinding the existing legislation that permits same-sex marriage. And the majority of Liberals will probably do the same. But in an attempt to showcase his good points – the willingness to live up to his promises, he’s running the risk of showering his party with negativity.

In provinces such as Ontario and Quebec, where the Conservatives are desperately trying to show their compassionate Conservatism can mesh with the left-leaning tendencies of these provinces and their major, vote-rich, urban areas, Harper can’t come across as a discriminatory Redneck.

In the end, even if he loses, he can come out better than when he went in. If Harper’s willing to engage in a respectful debate, avoid name calling or downright offensive behaviour, and keep the chatter from the back benches to a dull whisper, he can come out of this debate as a better facilitator. Harper can stand up and say that he’s a willing representative of the will of the people, and that he was able to keep his promises.

But that’s only if those skeletons stay in the closet. And right now, the door’s wide open.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Sky Still Hasn’t Fallen

By Jason Menard

Recently at a hospital clinic the specialist greeted my wife and I with a simple, but telling, comment. He said, “Well, one week into a new government and the sky still hasn’t fallen.”

If that doesn’t sum it all up, I don’t know what would. We’re in a national wait and see position. The left-leaning among us are watching and waiting for that other shoe to drop – some would say in a goose-stepping fashion – and the expected Conservative deluge to come forth.

Most importantly, all of us on both sides of the electorate, are waiting to see what Stephen Harper’s going to do. He’s waved the saber at the Americans over the Arctic waters – partly because it’s the right thing to do, and partly to distance himself from the U.S.-based conservatives who threaten to stain Harper’s Conservatives with a little Bushian Republicanism. The Prime Minister-designate has also committed to continuing Canada’s role in supporting international initiatives, such as overseeing the elections in Haiti.

Most of us don’t know what he’s going to do first — and we’re waiting with bated breath.

As the medical specialist said, the sky isn’t falling. But most of us aren’t ready to tear down the scaffolding just yet, because we’re worried about the shaky foundations that our country’s future is built on.

Really, you have to feel bad for Harper. He can’t even field a congratulatory phone call from George Bush without some looking at it as validation of the U.S. right-wing’s glee over a new, conservative-minded regime running things north of the 49 th. If Bush called Martin after a victory, no one would have blinked an eye, but the allure of a Bush/Harper marriage is too much to resist.

So where does Harper go? Knowing that this minority probably won’t fare much better than its predecessors, he has two options before him. He can go conservative, which ironically means that he’ll have to be a softer, more-Liberal, Stephen. Or he can go all out and push the limits and resilience of his opposition. And somewhere, in the back of his mind, that option has to look appealing.

Knowing that the Liberals are in full-scale rebuilding mode and with several of their supposed leadership candidates eschewing the allures of the top post, Harper knows that the Liberals don’t want another election any time soon – especially if it means that Paul Martin and his baggage is back for another kick at the can.

As well, he has to be aware of voter fatigue. We’ve gone through two federal elections in under two years. We’ve borne a great expense for our dedication to democracy, and Harper would be wise to warn his opponents that any action that brings down the government will be presented to the public as a waste of taxpayer money. Nothing frightens an opposition more than the idea of being blamed for forcing us to spend another 150 million plus on yet another election.

So why not go for it? Why not be bold and put most or all of his eggs in one basket? Commit to the drastic tax cuts, the increased spending, and the social changes that he ran on in the first year of power. Force the opposition to make the choice between swallowing a bitter mandate pill or face an angry electorate.

Playing it safe and appealing to the middle-of-the-road voters would only anger the hawks in his own party and lead to inter-party squabbling down the road. The best offence is a good defense – and with three left-leaning parties in opposition and no apparent common ground to stand upon, the Conservatives’ best strategy may be to engage in an aggressive establishment of his platform.

That would mean that the sky would truly be falling for all the left-wingers out there – but the skies would be clear and sunny for all those right-wingers who have been waiting 12 years for their moment in the sun.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Be Careful for What You Wish

By Jason Menard

The smile is there and all the right words were said, but somewhere deep inside one has to think that Stephen Harper realizes that just about the worst outcome came to bear on Monday night.

Sure, his name will go on the list of Canadian Prime Ministers, but things are set up in such a way that he may join Joe Clark as nothing more than a footnote in the leadership history of this country. He has the power, but in name only.

Conversely, another man destined to be a Prime Ministerial footnote goes out the same way he spent his entire Liberal tenure – as the good soldier. For years, Martin’s been the solid backbone of the Liberal party, biding his time, and playing second-fiddle to the more extravagant Jean Chrétien. And, once the reins of power were finally turned over, Chrétien and the political culture he fostered again rose up to stab his old nemesis in the back.

Today is a new day for Canada – and the beginning of the end of the Conservatives.

Harper’s House is stacked with enemies around every corner. While the Liberal minority was buffered by socially similar allies in both the NDP and Bloc, the Conservatives find themselves alone on the right. There’s no way that the left-leaning parties are going to support any of the Tories’ more aggressive platforms, so the Conservatives will find it increasingly difficult to get anything done in this Parliament. And that alone spells doom for Harper.

Think back just a few months ago to when many in the Tory camp weren’t just ready for Harper to fall on his sword – they were lining up to give him a little push! Faced with a stiff opposition to his minority rule, his ineffectiveness will no doubt rankle the Hawks in his party who have had enough of playing the patient game. Now that the tape is off their collective mouths, what’s to stop them from flying off the handle very early into the mandate?

Now that the Conservatives are in power, they have the responsibility for cleaning up Parliament – as they’ve promised. But with the final Gomery report on its way, what happens if the systemic corruption to which the Tories have alluded never actually materializes. They’ve used the spectre of greater improprieties much in the same way as the Republicans used the treat of Weapons of Mass Destruction – so what happens if the Tories’ search ends up as “fruitful”?

So we turn to the Liberals, who now are searching for a leader in the wake of Martin’s decision to step down. What better way to wipe the slate clean of the sponsorship scandal than to usher in fresh, new leadership? One gets the impression that this election was more a referendum on Martin’s leadership than a coronation of Harper. And, in the end, the Liberals showed much stronger than expected. What does that say about the Canadian voters’ interests?

A new leader, a renewed focus on the social issues that matter to Canadians, buffered by the financial strength displayed over years of government make the Liberals an attractive option for people looking for long-term stability. A Liberal party that many Canadians already support headed by a new leader without all of Martin’s baggage? That’s a recipe for victory.

So what is Harper to do? He can’t call a snap election in the midst of a Liberal leadership race hoping to capitalize on the leadership fallout (much as the Liberals tried to do with the questions about Harper hanging over his head). If he does that, two things happen: Martin pulls a Trudeau and comes riding back on his white horse to rally the troops back to battle; and the electorate – already frustrated with two elections in two years – fights back against the opportunism and ineffective governance that the Conservatives will have provided.

In the end, Harper can only sit and wait. The Liberals will rise, his government will be handcuffed by its minority status, and it will only be a matter of time until the Conservatives are calling for his head. And the Conservatives going into another election with a lame duck candidate, reeling from the arrows in his back, and an electorate looking for the stability and five-year security of a majority government all spells a Liberal resurgence sooner rather than later.

But at least, until that time, Harper will have a nice place on Sussex Drive to fiddle from as his party slowly burns.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved