31 August 2015

#29 If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...

You always know that someone has policy content and substance that they would like to discuss with you when they focus instead on attacking their opponents. Not for what they have done or the ideas they have put forth, but for their perceived weaknesses or for the things you think you can spin into weaknesses. When your pockets are deep, you can hammer away at the message until a few more people believe it.

This wasn't how politics in Canada used to work. Time and electronic media have gradually worn away the substance of the debates, yes, but it took someone mean-spirited and possibly influenced by the tenor of election campaigns south of the border, perhaps, to make things mean and nasty.

I will be the last person to defend the leadership of Justin Trudeau, but I would prefer to think that I have reasons more than the superficial for not liking him or his style or the substance of his policies and his advisors. His hair? His relative youth? Not particularly pertinent in the debate.

The barrage of attacks against his two predecessors in the Liberal Party were similarly simplistic and irrelevant to the public debate. Unfortunately, they seem to have worked and the Conservative Party is pursuing the strategy with gusto. It is kind of fun to see the Liberals shoot back at some of them with a comic mocking of the Prime Minister in a similar style, but that would be better if it actually put an end to the practice instead of leading everyone down that road.

Further reading here

I violate rights
but he's “soft on terror” and
his hair is too nice

29 August 2015

#28 Steer Me Wrong

The newest annoyance of modern communication: the robocall. You know when you answer the phone and it waits a second then a cheery voice comes on to sell you something. No, it isn't that. The robocall is when all there is at the other end is a recorded voice inflicting sharing information with you.

Apparently used by a number of political parties, form time to time, to get their message out. Also apparently used by one party to send false information to send voters in a close contest to the wrong polling station. That would be robo-voter-suppression, and you would think that a political party would want to encourage participation in the election, not discourage it. Of course, they didn't step up to take “credit” for the move until they had absolutely no choice, preferring that the voters think that it was “another” mix-up from Elections Canada (which actually doesn't do a lot of mix-ups).

For this to work, you would have to have a certain degree of doubt about how well-organized Elections Canada might be, which we could also chalk up to years of inspiring doubt in our democratic institutions. Kind of sad that we have gone there.

When finally caught, the party higher-ups gleefully pinned the blame on a minor staffer, who we are to believe concocted the whole scheme and authorized the payments to the telemarketing company all on his own with no assistance. I suppose it is some kind of twisted testimonial to loyalty that those who are being sacrificed (this one to a criminal sentence) don't turn around and take a few bosses down with them. Not sure I would be particularly proud of that one.

Will we see that again this time around, or has there been sufficient voter suppression in the “Fair” Elections Act? (More on that another time.)

Further reading here

Anonymous voice
calls to change my voting place
Seems legit. Wait, what?

28 August 2015

#27 Flying High

A little thing happened in one riding in the course of the 2011 general election. It was the riding of Labrador and the Conservative Party candidate won by a tiny margin (79 votes) and was appointed to the cabinet. The story doesn't end there, of course.

The story continues through the process of reporting donations and election spending to Elections Canada, where it gradually became clear that this particular candidate had overspent the campaign spending limit by more than 20%, that is if you count the air travel he didn't quite pay for criss-crossing the rather large riding. He wouldn't have been able to fly so much — as, in fact, his opponents weren't able to do — if it had not been for an airline “writing off” $17,000 in costs. That, of course, amounts to a corporate contribution, which is also illegal.

For once, however, the story takes an unexpected turn. Confronted with the overwhelming evidence, the candidate actually pays back $30,000 he ought not to have received from Elections Canada and does the honourable thing, resigning his seat to run again in a by-election. There is also the expected thing in this story, the blaming of an employee for the “errors” on the campaign spending.

Oh, and on the level playing field of the by-election that cost us all a bunch of money that we shouldn't have had to pay, the former MP and cabinet minister lost, probably to the opponent who would have won if everyone had played by the rules in the first place.

Further reading here

Just like Icarus
he flew too close to the sun
and had his wings melt

27 August 2015

#26 The Old In-Out In-Out

I suppose that in the history of electoral politics in Canada there have been many instances of attempts to influence the voters outside the rules of the game. I'm pretty sure that I have heard stories of alcohol for votes in the very early days of confederation. Those kinds of shenanigans led us as a country to set rules that would make them a thing of the past. It is extra disappointing, then, when we find a party scheming to act outside the rules to gain an advantage in the election.

The “In and Out Scandal” was a scheme to allow the Conservative Party to spend more money on national advertising by charging some of it to local campaigns. The expenses at the local level were questioned because they related to advertising that was clearly not local in nature.

The reaction on being called out on this by elections officials? Resistance and denial for several years, until they negotiated a settlement “to put an end to the proceedings”. An admission of guilt spun as administrative expediency, a fine paid from more funds subsidized by the public (we all subsidize dontations to political parties through the tax deductions from which the donors benefit). Maybe we need some real consequences for breaking the rules...but that is the next story.

Further reading here

That time your left hand
couldn't explain what your right
hand said it had spent

26 August 2015

#25 The Reset Button is Getting Worn

Apart from talking to the premiers on a regular basis, one of the other things we tend to expect of a government and a Prime Minister is that they will pursue their legislative agenda. Now, in the case of the outgoing Prime Minister, not all of us wanted that to roll forward without interruption, but some interruptions are more equal than others, if you'll permit me to borrow from an apt political novel.

Prorogation is a way for the government to say that it has achieved what it set out to do in its speech from the throne (in Québec, an inaugural address, for those who are not aware that we don't do the “throne” thing) at the beginning of a legislative session and it is time to map out a new path for the time ahead. It has an impact beyond the ceremonial, erasing all legislation that has not reached its final stage of approval (you would think that would be minimal, given the raison d'être of the prorogation described above, but not always).

What Mr. Harper has done with prorogation has been to run away from problems and give himself a little breathing room to regroup. I remember a particular moment in time where it looked like the government might fall and the opposition parties were ready to ask the Governor General for the chance to form a government together as a coalition. Not only did Mr. Harper demonize the idea of a coalition as being anti-democratic (quite common in many democracies, so, no...), but he prorogued parliament, taking away the possibility of a confidence vote and kicking the can down the road a few months.

In fact, it seems to be one of his favourite things to do when in a jam. I wonder if he will be wanting to prorogue the current campaign?

Further reading here

When things go awry
remember in government
“prorogue” means “reset”

25 August 2015

#24 Odd Man Out

Considering that the British North America Act, since evolved into the Constitution Act, sets forth a number of areas in which federal and provincial governments share  jurisdiction, and that there is an imbalance between the expected role of governments today and the taxation powers of the players, it is of vital importance that they talk. Apparently not Mr. Harper's opinion.

While Prime Ministers past have met regularly with their provincial counterparts to discuss all manner of issues in the interest of better responding to the needs of their respective constituents. The federal government, after all, shares constituents with each and every province and territory, so one would think it might have an interest in their being happy and satisfied. But no, this Prime Minister seems to want his way and will sabotage any attempt to go down another path. If some things have been accomplished on a collaborative level between the provinces, it has been despite this Prime Minister and not because of him.

Why has this Prime Minister been so absent from the gatherings of the thirteen others? Why does he spend his time demonizing the ones he doesn't like instead of sitting around the table and making is policy points in a healthy debate? A person might be excused for thinking that this is one guy who just does not play well with others. Maybe his shared constituents in each province and territory will put the blame for a dysfunctional federal system where it ought to lie: squarely at Mr. Harper's feet.

Further reading here

If I can't set all
the rules, I will take my toys
and play by myself

24 August 2015

#23 Not Even Transluscent

We hear so much — and have heard so much from the current government, though admittedly when they were not in power — about the importance of transparency to the democratic process and to good governance. I couldn't agree more. On the other hand, I am having a problem actually seeing it in action.

It will come as a surprise to none that certain information is kept tightly under wraps by the outgoing government (fingers crossed on the “outgoing” part). Anything that might contradict its own interpretation of reality, for example. I found myself surprised, however, by some of the things not shared openly, and there is one example I can give that left me truly perplexed as to why it might have been perceived as threatening.

Every five years for quite some time now the Public Health Agency of Canada commissions a poll on Canadians' attitudes toward HIV. It is generally published shortly after its production and those most concerned comb through it to analyze its contents and what it might mean for our work. The most recent version did not follow that path. We hadn't actually noticed its absence until we were contacted by a journalist who had obtained a copy through an access to information request and wanted to know if we would comment on it.

An access to information request was necessary to see a poll on something not particularly central to the government's program and that had been published without incident many times in the past. I can't even fathom a reason for this, except that the culture of secrecy has gone to such an extreme that no information is willingly released, unless it is spun into a beam to support the government's outlook on things.

The example below (in the further reading link) is not about this poll, but about information not being provided to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is in fact supposed to receive all the information he asks for. I've had more luck seeing through a brick wall.

Further reading here

The  “transparency”
zealots don't know that we all
can see right through them