Tag Archives: Parliament

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

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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

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

Time to Give the Queen the Royal Wave

By Jason Menard

Victoria Day’s just past, the Queen’s kicking around the Canadian West – things have been feeling positively regal in the Great White North. But once the Windsors leave our fair country, is it not about time to give them the Royal Wave once and for all?

Canadians as a whole are divided right down the middle on the issue of keeping our ties to the Monarchy. It’s a debate that’s certain to ruffle the features of both sides, and there seems to be no common ground from which to build a consensus. But as we continue to search for our Canadian identity, maintaining artificial ties and ceding independence – even if it is only superficial – to another foreign sovereign should be a thing of the past.

We are, as a nation, Canadians. In our ever shrinking world, ties to a faded Empire mean less and less, and our ability to forge our own identity and carve a niche in this world is integral to cementing our relevance on the international stage. Yet, by continuing to hold the hand of an absentee mother, we prevent ourselves from taking the necessary steps to be our own country.

The sad fact is that the Monarchy doesn’t really do anything for us as a country, its relevancy is diminishing, and it is – in one serious manner – having a negative impact on the development and unity of our country.

England holds a special place in the hearts of our grandparents’ generation. And, for some, that tie extends to the baby boomer generation. But for many of today’s youth, pledging allegiance to the Queen rings hollow. And future generations will be even further removed. The Governor General is not respected as the Queen’s representative, but rather lambasted as an unnecessary – and expensive – ceremonial position.

Our place in the Commonwealth isn’t dependent upon our allegiance to the Queen. Nor is our national reputation buoyed by our affiliation with England. In fact, I would say we’ve gotten to the point as a country wherein the majority of the world’s population would not draw a connection between Canada and the Monarchy.

And, most importantly, allegiance to an English Queen can be perceived as an insult to our French Canadian population. And as we try to move forward as a unified nation, forcing a significant segment to recognize the authority of a foreign sovereign smacks of modern-day colonialism, especially for a people who have embraced their own form of nationalism.

We, as a nation, have a history of which we should be greatly proud. Yet even our money features an image of the Queen, as opposed to focusing on those icons that make Canada great. The Monarchy is a part of our history – but it does not define it. In a world where symbols speak volumes, this tacit deference to England prevents us from embracing our own individuality.

So how do we move from a constitutional monarchy to a representative democratic republic? To start, the position of the Governor General, largely ceremonial in itself, could be eliminated and replaced with an elected position that would represent the people of Canada – not the Queen. Obviously, the concern has been raised that eliminating the monarchy simply drives us closer to the U.S., but that’s just not the case. There’s no rule that says we have to have a President – we can choose the term that’s most palatable to the electorate. We’re already well along the way with our Parliament and Senate systems, and the existence of our Supreme Court.

The fact is that we don’t have to follow our neighbours to the south for leadership in this matter. If the U.S. form of a republic is repellent to many Canadians, then we can look to the examples set by a number of other countries, such as France, Germany, and India, for guidance.

Canadians, by and large, suffer from a national inferiority complex. And while this is often attributed to the effects of sharing a continent with the economic and social juggernaut that is the United States, much of our inferiority in fact comes from our artificial reliance on England and our absentee sovereign.

Eliminating the Monarchy is a step we, as Canadians, need to finally stand on our own and forge a strong, independent identity. Cutting our ties to the Queen doesn’t make us more American. In fact, it allows us to become what we’ve always wanted – more Canadian.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Out of the Playground, Into the Real World

By Jason Menard

It certainly has been hard to be a proud Canadian over the past few weeks, hasn’t it? With our political leaders sniping, name-calling, and generally behaving like kids in a schoolyard, maybe it’s appropriate that the Queen has arrived to settle down her wayward children.

With Thursday’s vote, we saw the Liberal minority stave off its own extinction with the help of a high-profile defection and a lower-profile – but, ultimately, just as important – independent vote. Belinda Stronach may have grabbed the headlines earlier in the week, but it was Chuck Cadman who had the biggest spotlight shined on him during the actual vote.

But now, we turn our attention back to the principles – and the minute hand slowly ticks down on Mr. Cadman’s 15 minutes in the spotlight. The problem is, as usually happens in these types of skirmishes, is that few look good coming out of it.

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Coalition now look like nothing more than opportunistic schoolyard bullies. Flexing their muscles, using intimidation, and generally behaving rather badly to get what they want. But, like bullies, when the tide turns – and with Stronach’s defection, the Conservatives lost a lot of muscle – they tucked their tail between their legs and slinked off quietly, without much fuss.

If this is truly a fight against corruption and the belief truly was that the Liberals are evil, then you fight the good fight, no matter what the odds. You continue the rhetoric, you use every available means at your disposal (including enticing some fence-sitting MPs – paging Mr. O’Brien – to jump ship). But now it’s clear that this wasn’t a battle based on political principle, but political gain – an opportunistic grab for power that leaves a bad taste in some mouths.

The NDP’s Jack Layton continues to look like the cat who ate the canary, secure in the knowledge that – as he’s been trying to convince us for a while now – that the NDP are a legitimate power in Parliament. The previous Conservative/Bloc majority left the NDPs somewhat powerless, but now that the numbers are more even, his party has even more opportunity to flex its muscle.

The BQ deftly managed to stay out of the fray – Gilles Duceppe playing puppet master while Steven Harper took all the hits in the public. By remaining aloof, the Bloc gets to claim moral superiority, which it can use in a future election. Ironically, a group that’s allegedly tampered with election results in the past now gets to run on a platform built on accountability.

And where do the Liberals go from here? Well, the Liberals have to shore up their East Coast support, hold on to its power in Ontario (and probably pick up a few extra seats here and there), and work like mad to make some inroads in the West. And they have to forget about Quebec.

Sad to say, it’s done in Quebec for an election or two. The Liberals were granted a slight reprieve when the eminently likeable Paul Martin took power from the despised Jean Chrétien. But any goodwill has been washed away in this sponsorship scandal. Quebec’s stable of soft separatists are always looking for a reason to jump ship, and the findings from the Gomery inquiry are exactly the springboard they have been looking for. Add to that the miserable job Jean Charest has been doing propping up the Provincial Liberal name, and there’s little doubt that the BQ will pick up many, if not all, seats in Quebec.

Martin and his party have survived the flurry of the opening rounds. They’ve taken the Conservatives’ best shots and are still upright – however wobbly their legs may be. Yet the political rope-a-dope strategy needs to move into the next phase. The Liberals have absorbed the punches and, instead of waiting for its opponents to catch their breath, they need to come out swinging.

The Gomery inquiry needs to result in some rolling heads. Martin needs to show the electorate that the sins of the past will not be tolerated now or in the future. He needs to regain the trust of those Canadians who may be inclined to forgive and forget. The Liberals need to make a concerted effort to move forward with an aggressive and generous policy that creates a positive impression on the electorate. The new budget is a great start, but implementing it effectively is the key to long time success.

Like a veteran boxer, The Liberals have been through a number of these ring wars, so smart money says not to count them out. The second round’s just starting.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Conservative Gambit, An Uncertain End Game

By Jason Menard

Circling the battered and bloody Liberal carcass like vultures, the Tories and the Bloc have used the trickle of information flowing from Gomery inquiry to fuel a campaign to shut down our Parliament in the hopes of riding a wave of public distrust to an election victory.

But by masking political opportunism with the façade of public concern, will their plans blow up in their respective faces? The next election may come down to how each voter answers the question, “Is the devil you know better than the devil you don’t?”

As the Bloc and Conservatives work themselves into a lather about the alleged misappropriation of funds in the Sponsorship Scandal, voters will have another number in the back of their minds — a quarter of a billion dollars. That’s approximately how much last year’s election cost Canadians, through donations and dipping into the government coffers – which are filled with our tax dollars.

Voters will have to reconcile how parties preaching from a pulpit built on fiscal responsibility can employ tactics to shut down the Parliament, prevent it from doing its duty to its constituents, force another election down our throats, and stick us with the bill. Might that cause some resentment in the electorate?

How will voters react to the potential scrapping of one of the most humane budgets we’ve seen in ages? Will voters be resentful that the so-called deal with the devil — which saw the Liberal Party plugging the holes in its political dyke with a band of New Democrats all-too happy to sell their allegiances for fiscal concessions, finally able to leverage their legislative presence for power — trampled by a stampeding conservative caucus racing towards a chance at power?

And how will those disaffected swing voters upon whom the Tories are counting, reconcile the presence of that Unholy Trinity – separatism, the alleged hidden right-wing conspiracy, and George Bush? If we thought last year’s campaign was ugly, when the Liberals went into the election somewhat confident of the outcome, how will this wounded animal, fearing its very survival, fight back during this year’s campaign?

As the Bloc enjoys the swelling bandwagon from soft-separatists just looking for a reason to jump back on board, the Liberal Party will raise the spectre of political turmoil and financial instability caused by an emboldened sovereigntist movement. And to counter the right-wing parties, will the Liberals float the rhetorical balloon invoking mass cuts to our social programs, attacks on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and any number of insidious inferences to a hidden small-c conservative agenda? As well, if there’s one thing that many Canadians will agree on is its general antipathy towards the President of our neighbour to the south. By tying Stephen Harper to Bush Jr.’s politics, the Liberals are well aware – as they were in the last election – that they can play on Canadian fears of increased Americanism in our social and financial policies.

Already we see the public’s initial venom towards the Liberal Party is dissipating. There is any number of polls showing any number of results, but as we’ve seen time and time again, polls aren’t worth the time and effort it takes to get them. Canadians will be vociferous in their opposition when it doesn’t count, but the act of marking a ballot prompts sober reflection and fear of the unknown. If the current Liberal Party is able to distance itself from these accusations – or find someone who will fall on their sword – they may be able to convince the electorate that this scandal will usher in a new era of accountability.

Most importantly, can the resurgent right fight the hardest battles of all – voter fatigue and apathy? Last election, only just over 60% of Canadians went to the polls in an election that was rife with intrigue. Indications are we may see even fewer as voters express their resentment of being called to the polls yet again. And, as the pundits like to say, poor voter turnout favours the incumbents. Can the Conservatives win over the hearts of an electorate that really doesn’t want to have an election? If not, can the right effectively translate the anger of those outraged voters into fuel for an election win?

The final question is whether or not the status quo is the best option available? The Conservatives and Bloc have shown that they wield the power in Parliament, and can demand greater concessions from the Liberal minority. By refusing to play nice now with the Liberals, does that set up a culture of retribution should they be voted in as a minority government in their own right? Is turnabout fair play? It would seem that forcing an election is an all or nothing gamble – anything less than a majority government would result in a Parliament paralyzed by Liberal and NDP opposition, and an emboldened Bloc Quebecois concerned only with its own best interests with added clout to back it up.

The pawns are in motion but will the Conservatives’ gambit eventually lead to their desired end game, or will their bold move to wrest power backfire? The Tories are banking on a nation that hates politicking but loves its politics forgiving such a brazen power grab. Yet, Canadian’s love their politics from afar, and when it comes to consummate the affair, they generally shy away from actual commitment.

Who said politics was boring? This year’s pending election stands to be one for the ages.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved