Tag Archives: election

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

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Right, Privilege, or Obligation?

By Jason Menard

It’s a good thing the skies were clear across the country for Monday’s federal election – one would have hated to see how much lower voter turnout would have been with a little inclement weather. But thanks to those clear skies, it’s plain to see that if so few of us choose to vote, maybe that privilege should no longer be available.

Preliminary numbers indicate that approximately 65 per cent of registered Canadian voters exercised their democratic right to vote. But before we go patting ourselves on the back for the slight increase in voter turnout at this year’s election, we must realize that a little better than unacceptable is still unacceptable.

Less than two-thirds is just not good enough and perhaps it’s time to stop thinking of voting as a democratic right, but rather as a civic obligation.

Most tellingly, our apathy towards the electoral process shows how little appreciation we have for the lifestyle we live and how little respect we have for those who fight each and every day for the very right we take for granted. Voters in some countries brave the very real risk of casting a ballot under a hail of bullets – and yet a simple hail storm can have disastrous effects on the number of votes cast in this country.

Canada ranks an embarrassing 77 th out of 172 countries for voter turnout, according to a list published by Sweden’s International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. The list compiles statistics from all Presidential and Parliamentary elections since 1945 and finds that Canada has averaged 68.4 per cent in voter turnout – and we appear to be working hard to lower that number with each and every passing election. On the bright side, we’re better than Mali, where only 21.7 per cent of voters turn out, but we’re shamed by the Italians, who come out in droves on election day to the tune of 92.5 per cent.

Of course, the Italians have long place innocuous sanctions against those who choose not to vote. Essentially, those who choose not to vote may have a tougher time getting access to government services. In Belgium, they go a step further. With the world’s oldest compulsory voting system, which was established in 1892 for men and 1949 for women, Belgians aged 18 or old who choose not to vote may be levied with a small fine. More importantly, if they fail to cast a ballot in at least four elections, then they lose the right to vote for 10 years.

Other countries have similar formal and non-formal sanctions, and the practice is hotly debated in each and every country. That being said, according to International IDEA, 84.9 per cent of Belgians get out and vote.

So what’s the answer? Politicians and non-governmental organizations have tried every trick under the sun to engage the electorate in the process. Polling stations are set up so conveniently that people can basically crawl to the ballot box – and, of course, if you need a little help getting to the vote, the political parties will fall all over themselves trying to get you there.

But how do you cure apathy about the process? It’s clear that there’s no apathy about the government, because while only two-thirds of us vote, a much higher percentage feels free to vent our opinions. So it’s the actual process of getting to the ballot box that is the impediment.

Forcing people to go to vote with sanctions is not the right answer. You have to weigh what’s better: a smaller voter turnout with people who are engaged in the process and, hopefully, knowledgeable about who they’re casting a ballot for; or a larger cross-section of people, some of whom may spoil the ballot or cast protest votes out of spite?

Maybe the Belgians have it right. Voting is your privilege in a free society, but if you don’t use it you lose it. To maintain the right to vote, you have an obligation to exercise it.

After all, the small amount of work it takes to make and execute an informed choice in an election pales in comparison with the Herculean efforts other people in this world go through just to exercise the very right that so many of us take for granted.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Walking a Fine Line

By Jason Menard

A little Conservative thinking can go a long way to giving us the Canada we’re looking for. Politics truly is a dangerous game and with election day upon us, it’s time for Canadians to roll the dice. The only hope is that we don’t overbid and crap out.

It pains my left-leaning heart to say it, but the best situation for this country may be the rise of a Conservative minority government. Yet, in their rush to heap scorn on the Liberal Party of Canada, Canadians may go too far in their punishment and feel the karmic whiplash of getting exactly what they asked for.

In general, Canada is a fairly left-leaning country, as evidenced by three socially progressive federal parties: the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois. In fact, throw in the Green’s supporters and you have a significant segment of voters who have displayed support for socially left-wing policy in the past. So how is it that we’ve been at the cusp of a Conservative majority for the past couple of weeks leading up to today’s election?

To be honest, I still haven’t made up my mind for whom I’m going to vote. Presented with two strong left-leaning candidates in my riding I have a difficult choice.

Do I choose the Liberal candidate who has been the co-founder and volunteer executive director of the city’s Food Bank for 19 years? The man who works to build schools and end slavery in Sudan? The man who, on top of all this, has been a firefighter and Captain for 28 years? Or do I go NDP and choose the candidate who has been a long-time advocate for social rights in the community? A woman who transitioned from a teaching job to the world of politics and has demonstrated caring and integrity? A woman who champions anti-racism and accessibility causes – and who has the experience that comes with being elected as a MPP?

For once, I don’t have to choose from the lesser of two evils! I just have to figure out which candidate walks on water better. But for the country, what I want is completely different.

Simply put, a Conservative minority government means that everyone wins. Well, almost everyone – everyone but the Conservatives and the taxpayers, in the end.

The Conservatives get power – however fleeting it may be. But their minority status ensures that once the gaffer tape has been ripped from the mouths of the far-right-wing elected representatives, they won’t have the numbers to enact any particularly damaging legislation.

The NDP will continue in its role as the social conscience of the House of Commons. Either with the same number or an increase in the number of seats, they should be able to be a strong voice in Parliament for however long this Parliament lasts.

And finally, the Liberals can begin the process of rebuilding their party. Unfortunately, Paul Martin has been forever stained with the corruption that came before him (and, admittedly, went on while he was around). Ever the good soldier, Martin was forced to fall on the sword set up by his former nemesis Jean Chrétien.

As long as Martin is in power, a significant number of people who would normally consider voting for the Liberal party will stay away, simply because they can’t get by the stink of corruption that Martin has been infused with. Whether or not he’s been involved, he’s been cast as the lead role in this production of entitlement and patronage.

The Liberals need a clean slate. Martin needs to step back to the private sector, having realized his dream if only for a little while. And the party needs to find new and dynamic leadership. Whether Frank McKenna comes back from exile (OK, Washington, but it’s the same thing) or Michael Ignatieff ever acts upon the promise that others have seen in him, the Liberals need to start fresh.

After that, the country’s ripe for their picking. After almost two decades in power, Canadians obviously are comfortable with a Liberal government. In fact, the polls indicate that Canadians, as a whole, are a little leery of the whole Reform/Alliance influence on the Conservatives. That’s why the electorate has made a sharp turn left the moment a Tory majority was predicted.

Once the leadership race is over, expect the pressure to force another election to come in waves. And, on the hook for yet another election bill, Canadians may go the route of a certain five-year majority with a party they’re comfortable with – a reborn Liberal party.

It’s a roll of the dice that sees the very future of our country at stake.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Tories a Political Trojan Horse

By Jason Menard

At the rate we’re going, this country is going to wake up with one heck of a hangover on Jan. 24 th. Of course, when you sleep with the Conservatives, don’t be surprised when you wake up with blue balls.

Canadian memories may be long, but they’re selectively so. While this orgiastic flagellation of the Liberal Party of Canada continues for the sins of its past continues, we are crossing into a dangerous new area – especially for left-leaning Canadians. In the zeal to punish the Grits we’re setting the stage for a Tory majority government.

We remember the Liberal transgressions because they’ve been thrown in our faces repeatedly by the opposition. We forget the steps the Party has taken to clean things up and the measures for greater accountability that have already been put into place. And that’s fine because, as an electorate, we have the right to feel swindled. We have the right to choose to go another way in government. But for those on the Left, is letting the Right into absolute power the right thing to do?

Since we’re on the topic of memory, let’s not forget where the Conservative Party came from – Reform. This party, just a scant few months ago, was watching its leader bleed out from the knives in his back. And the hidden right-wing agenda is not so hidden, but Stephen Harper and his handlers have done a masterful job of taming the wolf and parading him around in sheep wear.

In fact, some Canadians view the Conservatives as a gentle, moderate alternative to the ruling Liberals. They believe Canada will be the same as it ever was. But these are not your father’s Conservatives. People are forgetting the opposition they felt for the Reform and its offspring, the Alliance. Those parties were dismissed as too right wing, yet when the swallowing of the old PC party by the newer Reform/Alliance was finally complete, only the old PC guard – your father’s PC party – was upset about the merger, because they knew the moderate small-c conservative voice was silenced.

Yet, in this election campaign, another voice has been silenced – or gagged, as you may have it – in that we’ve yet to hear the annual right-wing outburst that would shed light on the truth behind the image. A friend and astute political observe recently said to me that his concern was that the right-wing hawks have had the gaffer tape stretched across their mouths for the duration of the campaign, and it’s only a matter of time after an election for the tape to come off.

The Conservatives have done a masterful job of defining the media coverage. Their policy-a-day platform has kept the media interested on what’s next, without leaving the time to delve into backstory. The campaign promises of a GST tax cut have been well received by those who will be most negatively affected by it – the poorer members of society. And, finally, when all else fails, they’ve effectively rallied the public against the concept of Liberal corruption.

But what are we forgetting? Are we forgetting that Harper eagerly swallowed Bush’s weapons of mass destruction claims in Iraq and would have sent Canadian troops into a questionable war with no definable exit strategy? Are we forgetting that Harper has gone on record supporting a continental economic and security integration with the U.S. that would include a broadened continental energy strategy? Are we ready for that?

Consider what appear to be the issues facing this world in the next few years. The back-burner flames that are Iran’s nuclear issues appear to be on the verge of raging. With his support of the U.S. stance on Iraq, do we expect any different when and if the U.S. unilaterally decides to take proactive measures against Iran? What about our richest natural resource – water? Already the U.S. is looking for additional supplies of fresh water and we have more than we can imagine. Water is going to be the new oil in a few years, but do we want someone so eager to cede control of our natural resources in charge? Gay rights? Abortion? Social programs? Do you really know what you’re getting, or is this “at least it’s not the Liberals” conviction enough to base your vote upon?

You don’t want the Liberals in, fine. But don’t go thinking that the Conservatives are a moderate, closer-to-centre alternative. A Conservative minority may not be a bad thing, as long as there’s a solid NDP/Liberal presence to hold them in check. But are we ready for a full-scale paradigm shift in the House of Commons to the right? Remember, a majority means five years – FIVE YEARS – of right-wing leadership with limited opposition.

Thanks Jack Layton for being Harper’s most effective campaign tool. You’ve been so effective in bashing the Liberals that the Conservatives are now on their way to a majority. And your decision now to target the front runner may be a case of too little, too late.

So what is a left-leaning Canadian to do? Do you hold your nose and vote for the Liberals because they’ve at least proven that they can effectively manage a country? Do you cast your ballot for the NDP, which has never had an opportunity to show what it can do at a federal level? By splitting the left-wing vote are we allowing the Conservatives to pass in the far-right lane?

The Conservative Party is a political Trojan Horse for Canada. The Tories appear to be a gift for those voters disenchanted with the Liberals – but we all know how that gift worked out for the Trojans.

We have to choose the Canada we want, but when it comes to who will rule ad mare usque ad mare, we have to keep in mind another Latin phrase – caveat emptor, buyer beware. Personally, I’ll choose to live in Soviet Canuckistan over America North any day.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Latest Poll a Test of Lefty Faith

By Jason Menard

While some may look at the latest Decima Research poll as the final nail in a long-delayed Liberal coffin, it may in fact be the defibrillating jolt that the Grits need to breathe new life into their campaign.

It’s serious now for many Canadians. The debates are out of the way, the holidays are past, and the dull grey January weather is the perfect background for playing out this political drama. And with the latest poll results showing the resurgent Conservative Party enjoying a nine-point lead amongst decided voters and those who are leaning in one direction, we’ve come to the time when the left-leaning voters have to make their choice.

It’s a test of faith that will decide the outcome of the next election.

Nine points is nothing to laugh about. At 39 per cent of the decided voters, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are sniffing a majority government. Alone on the right, they’re not only enjoying voters’ lack of trust in the Liberals, but also their apparent belief in the power of Jack Layton’s New Democratic Party. Even in Quebec, the Conservatives appear to be working their way back from the brink of extinction to become an actual viable alternative, as evidenced by their six point increase of support that comes courtesy of the Bloc’s precipitous drop of 11 per cent support.

So the path of the current election is clear. If voters hold true to their stated intentions, the Conservatives will ride to a majority and the Liberals will be swept from power. But in this majority scenario, so too does the left-of-centre influence find itself on the outside looking in.

That’s where those left-leaning voters have to do a gut check and see where their priorities lie. And it’s the only hope the Liberals have to retain any semblance of power.

As Layton has expressed repeatedly through the campaign, he feels the Conservatives are just wrong on the issue and he appears to be angling for a stronger role for his NDP candidates in the next House of Commons. This campaign strategy is all fine and dandy when we’re looking at a minority government because, as he’s shown, a smaller party can have a disproportionate impact on the fortunes of the government. But in a Conservative majority, how much influence will those powerless MPs really have? In essence, Layton could find himself with more NDPs in the House of Commons, but with less power than he enjoyed in the last House with fewer representatives.

In last year’s election, polls pointed to a dead heat between the Conservatives and Liberals as voting day approached. Apparently, once voters got to the polls, they chose to vote strategically and not with their heart as NDP support migrated to the Liberal camp in order to keep the Tories and their alleged right-wing agenda out of power.

If lefties were scared last year when the polls showed a neck-in-neck race, they must be quaking in their boots now at the prospect of a Conservative majority.

Best of all, for the Liberals, is that the numbers are so striking the average Canadian can easily do the math and draw their own conclusions. There’s no need for the Grits to unleash the smear-and-fear strategy – the writing’s already on the wall and the voters don’t need anyone to spell it out.

Unfortunately for Layton, it appears that most Canadians view the NDP as a wonderful party to act as the country’s conscience, but not one to actually take Canada’s reigns and guide it in the next House in a leadership role. So that leaves the tried-and-tested Liberals.

Those soft-NDP voters, and even those disgruntled right-wing Liberals who have drifted to the Conservatives, have to take a look at the strength of their convictions. The reality of a government dominated by a right-of-centre party is upon us and they have to choose what they want their Canada to look like.

Much like Quebec, where elections are less about parties than ideologies, this federal election is shaping up to be a battle not between individual candidates, but rather a contest pitting right versus left. The battle is at hand and the right has their champion. The leftist camp has to decide whether to continue to split its forces, or consolidate their power into one front.

Voting with their hearts or their minds – it’s a test of faith for the left in which the country’s future rests.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Time for Greens to Think Big!

By Jason Menard

Many of out there would dream of supporting a political party that’s fiscally conservative, socially progressive, and committed to improving our environment. Yet, even though one party professes to have those issues at the forefront of its platform, they are no more than an afterthought for Canadian voters.

And while the Green Party of Canada can blame voter apathy and the tendency to fall back to the tried and tested when push comes to shove, the fact remains that they have only themselves to blame. In the words of the immortal Elvis Gratton, it’s time for the party – and prospective voters – to “Think Big, ‘sti!”

For many Canadian voters, the Green Party is thought of as nothing more than a novelty act – akin to the old Rhino Party. And, while they’re not advocating the concept of flying naked to reduce the risk of terrorism or turning Montreal’s Rue Ste-Catherine into the world’s longest bowling alley, they get lumped into the same fringe candidate stew as the Marxist-Leninist, Marijuana, and Communist Parties of Canada.

Yet, last election, over four per cent of Canadians cast a ballot for this party’s candidates. Despite being lumped in with the so-called fringe, they did, in fact, receive over three times as many votes as the seven other registered fringe parties, independents, and non-affiliated candidates combined!

In fact, the New Democratic Party of Canada received just 3.7 times as many votes, and the Bloc only garnered 2.9 times as many votes, yet they’re recognized as legitimate contenders, earning 19 and 54 seats in the House of Commons respectively. Yet, this is not intended to be an argument for a more representative democracy – that’s another argument for another day. But it does bring up the question as to why are some parties regarded as legitimate contenders to the throne, while others are amusing afterthoughts.

The answer? Credibility, and the Green Party to date has blown it. In fact, one could suggest that their one true chance to make a mark on the Canadian political landscape is in serious danger of being wasted.

In the last federal election, the Green Party of Canada was able to win the votes of over four per cent of the Canadian population, which entitled them to federal funding as a party. They received $1.1 million from the feds but what have they done with it?

I’m sure they’ve put the money to good use, but they’ve failed to penetrate into the social conscious. Forget being in the leaders’ debates, how about having a significant number of Canadians knowing who your party leader is?

In a recent e-mail conversation with a local Green representative, this person apologized for their lack of polish, as they are a volunteer-driven, grass roots organization. But the time is now to reach for the sky. As they say, one must strike while the iron is hot, and with the funding received from their impressive showing, the Green Party needs to get the message out to the voters.

The perception remains that the Green Party is a one-issue party. Even worse, there is still the perception that these people are nothing more than raving tree-huggers chucking their fair-trade hats into the political ring only to further their own far-left-wing causes.

Yet, when you look at the platform, you realize that, despite an overriding goal of social and environmental responsibility, there is no clear definition of “sides.” They are neither left-wing nor right-wing, but rather searching for the right answers to each and every topic as it arises.

While other parties, such as the Marijuana and Christian Heritage parties, are defined and motivated by one issue, one would be hard-pressed to look at today’s Greens and think the same thing. Perhaps in the past the accusations were fair, but the party appears to have grown up and may, in fact, be a legitimate voice for a number of Canadians. The only problem is that they don’t seem to be getting their message heard.

And that’s a pity, because it’s a message that many Canadians would take to heart. Unfortunately, the game of politics isn’t won on ideas alone – reputation, consistency, and proven ability to lead all factor into the decision, and the Green Party has yet to prove that it’s ready to make the jump from the minor leagues.

So should anybody vote Green? Well, that’s a decision we all have to make based upon policy, the local candidate, and your personal beliefs. But at least they should be in consideration as a legitimate option – not just left on the fringe, stuck on the outside looking in.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Swinging for the Fences on a Decentralized Canada

By Jason Menard

Generally, in an election campaign, you win by promising to do more. However, Conservative leader Stephen Harper may have finally connected by, of all things, promising to do less as Prime Minister of Canada.

Of course, instead of hitting a home run, his blast went just to the outside of the foul pole – but at least he was swinging for the fences. The idea of provincial autonomy is good. The idea of Quebec representing itself in international organizations, like UNESCO, is not.

Decentralized government has been the buzz word in federal-provincial relations for the past few years. The idea of provinces having more autonomy on spending and resource management is a great deal for certain areas. Alberta, for example, would have no trouble with the idea of federal hands being removed from their pocketbooks.

And on a national unity level, increased provincial autonomy over matters of state would go a long way towards quelling separatist movement in the province of Quebec. That’s the whole basis behind the much-ballyhooed distinct society clause – recognizing Quebec and its predominantly French population as unique and worth preserving.

But how much is too much? Individual provinces representing themselves at International organizations, trade functions, and the like only serves to marginalize the country as a whole and reduce our ability to bargain from any position of leverage. Would the have and have not provinces sit around the same table, undercutting each other for the right to new contracts, simply because they only have their own interests at heart?

There still needs to be a strong federal presence in the global marketplace. The power of one clear voice outweighs that of 10 separate voices all clamouring to be heard over one another.

So if not on the global stage, where should the provinces earn the right to do more? Where it counts most – in their own backyards. Once upon a time, the federal government allocated lump sums of money to the provinces in the form of transfer payments, with which the provinces could do as they pleased. Need a little extra in health care this year? Fine. How about taking some of that public works pot and balancing out the education budget? Great!

But that transfer payment pot has been steadily shrinking. An increase in no-strings-attached transfer payments from the feds to the provinces would allow the provinces to meet the region’s priorities on a local level – not dictated by a federal overseer.

This country needs to be run like a business, with the provinces acting as franchises. A decentralized government at its best would oversee the national social programs, national trade, and the laws of the land, while leaving the more administrative duties to the provinces. As managers of their own regions, the provincial leaders would be able to take their federal funds and channel them towards the programs and issues of most demand for their constituents.

Overall, the various franchises will continue to work together to ensure that that brand as a whole – Canada – is stronger than the sum of its parts! You won’t see one McDonald’s bad-mouthing another franchise down the road, just to boost its own sales, so why would we want to encourage that type of behaviour in inter-provincial relations?

We need that federal presence to ensure we remain a country. All this talk from provinces such as Ontario and Quebec who complain that they’re either paying too much or receiving too little from the federal-provincial relationship miss the point that confederation isn’t an equal-in, equal-out proposition. If we decentralize to the point of provincial autonomy, we will lose this national support network and focus on Canada. We will become little enclaves, standing up for only our own best interests instead of that of other Canadians.

That’s not a Canada in which I want to live. If my overtaxed Ontario dollars are going to subsidize a less fortunate Atlantic region, then I can live with that. In the grand scheme of things, we want to make this country stronger as a whole – not just select regions of prosperity.

So while Mr. Harper’s first swing at a renewed concept of federalism may have resulted in a foul ball, a few adjustments in his stance and keeping his eye on the big picture may see him hit a home run with an idea for a new Canada.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved