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Archive for November, 2008

Only in Canada Eh? Center Left Coalition in the Great White North

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Remember how the United States had an election last November 4? And remember how Canada had an election a couple of weeks before that? No? Well, they did.

And in that election, the Conservative Party, lead by Stephen Harper, won a plurality of seats. Since the Tories were in power going into the election, their reward for this modest victory was an invitation from the Governour General (GG for short) to form a new government.

Which they did. And a few weeks ago the Conservatives succeeded in winning a confidence vote in the House of Commons. It looked at the time that the four parties (Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois) in the Canadian Parliament were ready to hunker down and deal with the worsening Canadian economy (things are not yet quite as grim in Canada as in the U.S. but there is an old saying that says when the Americans sneeze, Canada gets pneumonia).

You would think that given the seriousness of the times that the Conservatives would proactively seek cooperation with the other parties. You would be wrong. In fact, how could you be so naive?

This past Thursday, Jim Flaherty, the Conservative Finance Minister, delivered in the House of Commons a statement he called ‘an economic update”, sort of a mini budget and parliamentary agenda, intended to satisfy any demand for the public for immediate government action on the economy as well as to keep Parliament busy and out of mischief.

This update turned out to be a gigantic miscalculation that now threatens the survival of the Conservative government.

Here are the highlights:

No immediate government stimulus for troubled economy; instead, measures to be announced early next year.
-Razor-thin surplus predicted for 2009-2010, though government stimulus measures next year likely to tip finances into deficit.
-Economy projected in recession now until April 1, 2009.
-Sale of government property and Crown corporations expected to yield $2.3 billion next year, helping to stave off deficit; no details provided.
-Reductions in overall government programs next year to save $2 billion; no details provided.
-Jobless rate to peak at 6.9 per cent for 2009.
-Major reforms planned to scale back equalization program; no details provided.
-Limiting public-sector salary increases to 1.5 per cent to save $600 million next year; right-to-strike to be curtailed.
-Twenty-five per cent reduction in amount required to be withdrawn from a registered retirement income funds (RRIFs) for 2008.
-Modest relief for federally regulated pension plans, allowing them to make solvency payments over 10 years instead of five.
-“Costly and litigious” regime of pay equity to be reformed.
-Proposed elimination of taxpayer-financed subsidies to political parties next year.

The reaction from the three opposition parties was swift and unanimous; All three parties made it clear that they would not support the update statement, which the government intends to present to the House of Commons as yet another confidence vote. Most of the points above are unacceptable to one or more of the three oppo parties, in particular the threat to remove the right to strike from federal government employees (anathema to the NDP and Bloc) and the ending of subsidies to political parties (an existential threat to the Liberals). This much the Conservatives could and no doubt did predict. What they apparently could not foresee was a credible threat by the opposition parties to defeat the Government on a confidence vote in the House and then attempt to form a coalition government. This is constitutionally possible, but requires the approval of the Governor General, the Queen’s representative in Canada.

The terms of the proposed coalition would see the Liberals forming a government but with the NDP having perhaps a third of the cabinet positions. The Bloc Quebecois would provide support in the House in exchange for some part of their agenda but would not formally be in the government. This is a high level view of what the parties are negotiating now. There are a thousand devils hidden in the details.

The Update document was to come to a vote in the Commons on Monday December 1, but Harper has delayed the vote until December 8. The Liberals have drafted a non confidence motion that was to be voted on on Monday, which was to be an opposition day in the parliamentary calendar – a day on which one of the opposition parties gets to set the agenda. Harper has also delayed the opposition day, and thus the non confidence vote, by a week. Harper and the Conservatives have taken a number of other steps since last Thursday to try and avoid their downfall. The elimination of subsidies to federal parties is off the table, as is the elimination of right to strike in the federal civil service. And the Finance Minister announced today that there would be a budget tabled in late January, a month ahead of schedule, and that it would contain measures to stimulate the economy. Clearly, the Prime Minister and hi9s party are frightened and fighting for the survival of the Government, but it may be too late.

Harper can’t say he will play nicely from now on, but the other parties are wise not to trust him. Harper is known for being something of a bully, and tries to govern like Bush Rove did in the U.S. That is to govern only for their base and to crush and humiliate any of their political foes that might oppose them. The media narrative in Canada is that Harper’s problems are of his own making. The Libs, NDP and Bloc know that if they are to defeat Harper, it must be done now and done completely. They have nothing to lose and much to gain by forming a governing coalition.

The Conservatives are also going on the offensive. They are raising funds to pay for attack ads and calling on their supporters to pressure the opposition parties to back off. Meanwhile, the three opposition parties have another week to negotiate the details of the coalition.

As far as the U.S. and the Obama administration are concerned, a Liberal/NDP coalition government would be easier to get along with than the Conservative Neocons. Harper is not on the same economic page as Obama and shares W’s blind faith in the power of market forces top solve all problems. Though I am sure no one in the new administration would be so undiplomatic as to say so.

Here is a link to the Globe and Mail, Canada’s answer to the New York Times. A good source of Canadian political news and opinion.

And for dessert, here is Canada’s own Feist. Who doesn’t like Feist?

Written by slothropia

November 30th, 2008 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

SNL & Prop 8

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Hey, didja see SNL last Saturday night? I think it was all about prop 8. This here is what made me laugh so hard beer came out through my nose:

Weekend Update was good too.

Written by slothropia

November 17th, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Canadian Update: Preview of the New Parliament

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

Next Tuesday, Remembrance Day in Canada, will be one week from the Obama election and four weeks, 28 days or 1 lunar cycle since the Conservatives won their increased minority position in the Canadian federal election. It has been a quiet month in the Great White North. Yes, Steven Harper did name a new cabinet, who will be just as obedient to the PM as the previous one was.

But not much has happened politically, even though Canada faces many of the same economic problems as the United States. This is about to change as the House of Commons will be in session the day after Remembrance Day.

The first important event in the life of the new Parliament will be the Speech from the Throne, followed by a vote of confidence (or no confidence) in the Government. For non Canadians, the Speech from the Throne is a summary of the Government’s agenda, an outline of what the Government wants to achieve during the life of the Parliament. In Britain the Speech from the Throne is read by the Queen, but in Canada (and I presume other Commonwealth countries) it is read by the Governour General, the Queen’s viceroy.

The upcoming throne speech will carry more weight than most because it looks like hard times are just over the next hill.

At the start of the Great Depression, the Prime Minister of Canada was R.B. Bennett, like Stephen Harper a Conservative from Alberta. Bennett refused to act to stimulate the economy and provide relief to the Depressions victims until it was politically too latre for both him and his party. Harper is not stupid and he knows how to read. He will not repeat bennett’s blunders (though he ay devise some of his own).

Harper is also lucky. He did not choose his Liberal opponents, but the stupidity of both Paul Martin and Stephane Dion has been his secret weapon. Harper is also lucky in that Martin, as Finance Minister, robbed Employment Insurance and other social programs to pay down the debt left by Brian Mulroney. As a result, Harper has fiscal room to pay for some sort of economic stimulus, despite Conservative dogma about balanced budgets. Contrast the Canadian fiscal position with the monstrous debt and deficit President Obama will inherit from W, and give Harper credit for having even more good luck.

As with Obama, Harper’s first priority, which he shares with all parties in the House, is to stabilize the Canadian economy and limit the recession’s damage. It appears that Obama will try to build a consensus for whatever measures he proposes, and Harper might have to pursue a similar goal. No doubt there will be sufficient support from all corners of the house for spending on infrastructure. For over zealous fiscal restraint, not so much.

The Liberals in particular cannot afford to be seen as propping up the Tories, a perception which cost them dearly in the election. The NDP and the Bloc are much more able to support the Government when it behaves well and offer principled opposition when necessary. The Grits, on the other hand are broke and in the beginning stages of a leadership contest. An election in the near term would be very destructive for the Liberals, so they will not want to see an election forced by a vote of no confidence in the House.

Regarding External Affairs, Canada’s biggest foreign policy issue is perennially and always and forever the relationship with the United States. I would single out two policy areas to watch for both the near and mid terms.

Many Americans may not know this but one of the NATO countries with a military presence in Afghanistan is Canada. Despite the Conservatives’ win in October, they are against Canadian public opinion. Harper has responded by promising to end Canadian involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, President-elect Obama has talked about increasing the military effort in that country. This is one of the reasons he offers for withdrawing from Iraq. Will there be a debate on Afghanistan within the Obama administration and among the American public? I hope the new administration at least tries to find out if there are any military options in Afghanistan before making an enhanced commitment there. IOW, leaving aside the question of whether or not the United States has goals worth pursuing in Afghanistan, someone should ask whther or not such goals can be achieved through military means.

If the decision is ultimately made to escalate in Afghanistan, will the U.S. pressure Canada and other NATO allies to join in that effort? Is there a potential repeat of the Johnson v Pearson fight over Vietnam?

The other area to watch is trade. Canada and the U.S. remain each others largest trading partners, but the relationship has a few areas of conflict, such as softwood lumber. During the Democratic primaries, there was talk from both Clinton and Obama abut renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements. The left in Canada fought free trade with the U.S. and would also like to open up NAFTA. Globalization and so called free trade have hurt the manufacturing base of both countries. Will Obama and Harper cooperate in this portfolio in an effort to mitigate such damage, or will they promote the status quo.

I was encouraged in one of the debates by Obama’s response to a question about international trade, when he questioned the value of a trade deal with Colombia while labor leaders are routinely assassinated there (which got an eye roll from McCain, of course). We will see what policies proceed from President Obama’s approach to trade issues and how Prime Minister plays whatever hand he is holding at the time.

Coming soon: a look at the options now facing Canada’s federal parties.

2008 U.S. Election Predictions

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And now, the prognostications absolutely no one has been waiting for. Here are my predictions for tomorrow’s exercise in democracy (or as Republics would say, democrac).

For President, Obama gets 53% of the popular vote and 386 electoral votes. McCain gets 152. Nader and Barr (and McKinney and even Ron Paul on the Constitution ticket somewhere in the Rockies) get nuttin, honey.

In the Senate, the Democrats pick up 9 seats. This includes Georgia, Minnesota and Kentucky because the incumbents are all under 50% in those states and I think the Obama ground game will be worth a couple of percentage points in each one. I predict a runoff in Georgia, thanks to the Bob Barr influence. I wish I could give myself some wiggle room about Franken, because I think that will be the toughest one for the Dems to win, but no I’ll stick with Franken because doggone it, people like him.

In the House, I predict 23 Democratic pickups. I would like to predict that Illinois 18, in which I dwell, would be one of those pickups for Colleen Callahan. Especially so since I find the GOP candidate, Aaron Shock, to be such a slimy little opportunist. But it is a strong enough Republican district to make an upset extremely unlikely. But not impossible.

Sheldon Schafer, the Green candidate has run a respectable race too. Might be worth 5% or so. I’m just guessing here.

In general, in most states I expect Democrats at every level to do well. I don’t know where specifically, but I think there will be more Democratic governors and state legislators after tomorrow. Some prediction huh? Talk about betting the favorite to show.

I will be attending the Democratic election night party at the Gateway building in Peoria. I might pop into the Rhythm Kitchen to say hi to the Greens as well.

In other news, I have been working on something about the state of Canadian politics post election. Should have it ready to post by the end of the week.

Speaking of Canada, here’s one of my favorite Band songs:

And here is the Paul Simon song currently being used in a really effective Obama ad:

Written by slothropia

November 3rd, 2008 at 9:01 pm

All Your Prescription Drugs Are Belong to Us

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Written by slothropia

November 1st, 2008 at 12:02 pm