Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

“I didn’t know!” – the death throes of a desperate squirmer

The Conservatives are losing their favourite, time-tested tactic to reset public opinion: just say the word “sponsorship.”

For seven long years, anytime they could be criticised for ethical lapses, for cronyism and corruption, for pork and for secrecy (in a word, umm, always), they could simply refer back to “sponsorship” and be assured that the public would growl at horrific memories of Liberal sleaze, and we’d remind ourselves how grateful we should be that things are, at the very least, not that bad.

Except that they are. And you know that they are when a Prime Minister not only refutes something, not only ignores something, but says he “didn’t know about it.”

Paul Martin “didn’t know” about sponsorship. Jean Chrétien “didn’t know” either. The entire scandal was supposed to come down to the over-zealous shenanigans of backroom functionaries, whose fealty to their Party blinded them to fair play – and, in their fealty, they also knew better than to even tell their Party leaders anything about it. To protect them.

People see this as squirmery. For a leader to say he “didn’t know” about something, anything, absolutely reeks of it. Any politician volunteering that he is both ignorant and a poor manager will damage him, but he does it to protect him from the greater damage that the truth would inflict. And that missing truth is all that people see. 

No one believed that Chrétien “didn’t know,” or that Martin “didn’t know” about the actions of their own office. The Reformer/Conservatives didn’t believe it! For them, though, it’s now become nigh on impossible to trade on their old 2004 outrage, having themselves now sunk to having today’s Prime Minister, in all his micromanaging obsession, through his hawk-eyed economist’s lens, have to come out and say that he just “didn’t know.”

Outrage for sponsorship is no longer a tradeable commodity, desperate though Harper is to revert to familiar tactics. His TV address was effectively the very same speech he liked to give when he was Leader of the Opposition, eight, nine, even ten years ago: he’d like the Senate to be reformed, and believes Ottawa needs to be more transparent. 

After seven years in power, the Senate is worse, and transparency is markedly, shamefully poorer. And so, Stephen Harper’s ethical conundrum: the more he repeats his old adage about” demanding better,” the more Canadians actually will.

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The saddest days of Peter Van Loan

As a skateboard trick, it’s pretty rudimentary. As a perspective on democracy, though, Peter Van Loan’s 180 is downright sad.

It was seven years ago that the Liberals shut down debate on a budget bill and adjourned for the summer, forcing a forlorn Van Loan to his keyboard where he wrote a piece for his local Innisfil Enterprise entitled “My Saddest Day in the House of Commons So Far.”

“A major reason I became politically active was because many in my family (I’m Estonian) lost their lives, or freedom at the hands of the Soviets or Nazis. I believe our democracy is fragile, and something we must cherish and defend. Thursday, June 23, 2005 was a sad day for democracy in Canada.”

It almost makes you like the guy, until you realise he has mutated into a rancid farce of his former self, toking on the opiates of power too long, and now clouded from within by a shame he can only pray no one else notices.

We notice, Mr. Van Loan. Those saddest days just keep on coming.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

The Coyne chrysalis

‎”This isn’t about the planes, in other words, or costs, or accounting. This is about accountability. This is is about whether departments are answerable to their ministers, and whether ministers are answerable to Parliament — or whether billions of public dollars can be appropriated without the informed consent of either Parliament or the public… And it is about whether we, as citizens, are prepared to pay attention, and hold people in power to account when they lie to us.

Which is to say, it is about whether we live in a functioning Parliamentary democracy, or want to.” 

Andrew Coyne, National Post, April 11, 2012.

Thanks to EnoughHarper for highlighting this

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , ,

MacKay: We’re just as dodgy with our accounting as Sponsorship-era Liberals

Duhhhhr! Ooonnggg... errrrggg....

Out of the mouths of babes.

It’s been an awkward delight watching Conservative spinmeisters trot out Plan A through Plan W in their Catalogue of Flimsy Excuses over the F-35 affair. Blaming bureaucrats didn’t cut it, even blaming the other parties hasn’t cut it. One waits with bated breath for Harper to find a new Guergis-figure he can throw under a bus and hope to be done with it.

Until then, Peter MacKay’s latest delicious position is that the $10 billion difference in Tory cost estimates and actual cost comes down to a simple “difference in accounting” between the DND and the government.

A difference in accounting. Ten. Billion. Dollars. The very act of stringing these words together with a straight face ought to be grounds for dismissal. What is gross misconduct if not forgetting to count Ten Billion Dollars? Or worse yet, remembering to, but not caring?

You just can’t square the idea that “sober stewards of the economy” can shrug off Ten Billion Dollars as a blip in accounting practices, and MacKay knew it. The argument was more than simply flimsy, it was damaging.

And, what’s the Conservatives’ default damage control strategy again? Oh yes. Blame The Liberals.

Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it leaves the Opposition enfeebled and dumbstruck. But, this time, the strategy has the ring of the truly surreal. Peter MacKay has been marched in front of national television to argue that, because the Liberals once excluded staff, maintenance and fuel costs in procurement of military equipment, the Tories are in their rights to do it too.

The Conservatives, in turn, pointed to a 2004 Liberal government announcement about military helicopters as proof that excluding salary and fuel costs has been common practice for years.

This is precisely how low the Conservatives have sunk. In the midst of ballooning scandal, Peter MacKay has had to come out and announce, with a certain air of righteousness, that his government maintains the same accounting principles as the Liberal Party. And not the Liberals of today – but the Liberals of 2004.

The Liberals of 2004 who, like the Conservatives of 2012, found themselves subject to a damning Auditor General’s report. A report that ultimately vaporised any remaining public trust in the government, liquified the Liberal Dynasty and ushered in The Republic of Harperland.

What did Sheila Fraser say in 2004 again, when the government “wasted money and showed disregard for rules, mishandling millions of dollars”?

“I think this is such a blatant misuse of public funds that it is shocking. I am actually appalled by what we’ve found.”

“I am deeply disturbed that such practices were allowed to happen in the first place. I don’t think anybody can take this lightly.”

In 2004, the Liberals’ proclivity towards subterfuge and black-box budgets were enough to fuel and fan the Conservative rise.

In 2012, though, the Liberals’ proclivity towards subterfuge and black-box budgets seems to mean there is a perfectly acceptable precedent for the Tories to do the same.

Precedents being precedents, though, it’s becoming difficult to see how Harper can ever fully reclaim the trust of a public he has taken for stupid for far too long.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blasphemy, paper tigers, and the Senate

Traditions of civil disobedience are responsible for democracy’s every last advance. This isn’t to overblow the consequence of Brigette DePape’s Senate protest, but it is to congratulate it. Canada’s going nowhere without the kind of gutsiness and strength-in-conviction she showed by stepping out like that.

I’ve been a bit amazed by some of the discourse I’ve read about it, leading me to realise that Sarah Palin and I agree profoundly on at least two things: 1) the mainstream media is, well, lame, and 2) it’s fun to ride in helicopters. Though I’ve never shot anything from one before.

Evan Solomon got the chance to interview Brigette DePape, and I found him extraordinarily defensive of the inviolable holiness of Senate and of Parliament. Democracy, that most ethereal and ungraspable of human endeavours, made real in towers of Parliamentary stone! Do not sully its grandeur with petty pranks, little Brigette! How dare you blaspheme in the very crucible of our sovereign liberty! Horrible girl!

Indeed, yes, quite. I’m less concerned about Senate having been violated by a 21-year old page with a paper stop sign, and rather more concerned about the abuses to our democratic institutions meted out by the Prime Minister himself. To use the Red Chamber, as he does, as a personal Infantry of Losers, failed MPs, sycophant journalists and barons of friendly enterprise, is to truly piss on the rug of our democracy. To politicise independent commissions, to rubbish their findings, to fire the civil servants who head them because they do not conform to the political agenda of the government – that is the proverbial Bird-Flipping in the face of institutional democracy that worries me more.

Even Elizabeth May tutted DePape, saying it was a protest in the wrong place and time. This is Elizabeth May we’re talking about, whose Green Party only ever achieved anything like mainstream status by standing on the shoulders of unpopular and untactful movements that came before it, which helped to slowly raise and then normalise public discussion around the environment, which slowly led to where they are today. Ordinary people, no matter how subservient they “ought” to be, speaking truth to power, fully cognizant of the personal sacrifice that involves. And the Green Party is tutting?

Anyone tutting and complaining that DePape showed a tactless contempt for Senate should slap themselves (with my eager assistance) until they sort out the none-too-subtle difference between contempt, and CONTEMPT.

Tragedy being, while she got fired for her “contemptuous” display, Harper got an expanded mandate and more power over our democratic institutions after his.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Arithmetic shocker: Majority oppose Conservatives

Smack my gob. A revealing CBC investigation has exposed an electoral arithmetical travesty, hitherto unseen. Apparently, only two-fifths of Canadians support key CPC policies, whilst a clear majority of people oppose them and don’t want them implemented.

Key Conservative policies lack clear support

A majority of Canadians don’t support corporate tax cuts and are opposed to buying the F-35 fighter jets, two major pieces of the Conservative government’s plan for the country, a new poll suggests.

In a new poll conducted for CBC News following the May 2 federal election, 53 per cent of people surveyed said they were opposed to dropping the corporate tax rate from 16.5 per cent to 15 per cent. About two-fifths — 39 per cent — agreed with the cut and eight per cent weren’t sure.

Just more than half — 52 per cent — said Canada should not go ahead with the purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets, while 37 per cent polled said the government should buy the planes. Twelve per cent said they didn’t know.

So, roughly the same number of people who voted Conservative support Conservative policies. While roughly the same number of people who didn’t vote Conservative don’t support Conservative policies.

The mystery clearly doesn’t lie here. Indeed, there’s a weird relief in seeing that, in the absence of a sitting parliament, voters’ views haven’t done a lot of capricious shifting.

No, the mystery is why we tolerate a voting system that generates majority governments with less than 2/5 popular support.

I’d like to “blame Canada” and say, well, you got what you voted for. But you didn’t, did you?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Julian Fantino’s surprising day

Conservative heavyweight superstar Julian Fantino today expresses his surprise and offense at the fact the Bloc Québécois don’t sing O Canada in the House of Commons.

I sympathize with Fantino. I do. Why, just the other day I started my new job at a supermarket. I was very surprised to see they sell *meat* in the supermarket. Meat! I was frankly offended and surprised. I wish I’d been in a supermarket at some point in my life before – I might have expected it. At least someone might have warned me what supermarkets were like before I got the job there. I’m not used to knowing about what’s in supermarkets. It was very surprising.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

Battle Royale, Twitter style

I smile when people call this the Twitter Election. It has the air of revolution about it, doesn’t it? As though the normal political condition of the Canadian citizen is ashen-minded apathy – but now, with Twitter, we will magically become transformed into eager and fearless critics of an oppressive double-helix state-media establishment! Just like in Egypt!

Perhaps a blogger should watch his trap when it comes to balking at citizen-generated comment. But, at least for me, it seems difficult to use 140 characters to say anything more useful than “Here’s a link to something much longer and more interesting.”

I can’t guarantee this is more interesting, but it certainly is longer. I’ve decided to draw up a second instalment of an experiment last week, with 140-word reviews of each party’s performance to date. It’s like Twitter, but Mega.

Conservatives: I honestly wonder how often senior Conservatives look each other in the eye, shrug, laugh, and admit: “I have absolutely no idea how we’re staying ahead.” Indeed, enjoying a 14% lead, according to Nanos? It absolutely beggars belief. Harper does himself no favours. Antagonising the press with “five-questions-a-day” is needless and feeds into the control-freak narrative. Criminals in the employ of the PMO should be a scandal: that Harper shrugs it off is just a scandal further. They’ve been reactive and uninspired, trotting out old chestnuts on gun freedom, and dispensing with billions in dubious spending promises. Ontarians seem especially enthusiastic, which may be a consequence of the departure of Day and Strahl, and the pronounced Mike-Harrisification of Harper’s senior team? I’d like to threaten to leave the country if Harper wins a majority, but, dang it, I’m already gone.

Bloc: Duceppe’s biggest problem (if there is such a thing as a problem for the Bloc, who certainly enjoy milking our broken electoral system for every last drop) is deciding how to define the threshold of his outrage. He can turn red and scream bloody murder about Lower Churchill. He can rage that Ottawa is an anti-Quebec, imperialist, nefarious hell-spawned engine of neverending betrayal that shackles the potential of all Quebeckers. But he can not go so far as to get deep into sovereignty talk anymore. That just alienates his soft base. How do you escalate the outrage far enough to suck in wavering federalists, without scaring off wavering nationalists? He doesn’t really know. And maybe he doesn’t care. He could spend the whole campaign peeing in the road and shoplifting from corner shops, and still vacuum up 50-odd seats. Sigh.

Liberals: Still super impressed with the performance, but slightly anxious they’ve peaked too soon. Releasing the platform early is good, but it kind of gets lost in the noise of the fact they had a surprisingly solid week previous, and had introduced the heaviest-hitting policy points already. I’m sensing one of two things: either Canada is drunk, or pollsters are drunk. Why aren’t the Liberals winning? The LPC have reached dizzying highs of 32% but, as a natural consequence of their left-leaning strategy, none of this has hurt the Conservatives. There isn’t much more of the soft-left vote for them to poach, which is where LPC emphasising ethical scandal is important. They need to say “Fraud and contempt are not conservative values. Conservative voters, like all Canadians, need to punish Harper for abusing our trust and taking the country for granted.”

Greens: The biggest coverage the Greens have had so far has been through the Debate Debate, which, however bad the news is for them, it’s been an opportunity for them to feature in a fair amount of press. It’s a great shame that they’re excluded, and also that a broadcast consortium has such power to determine the format of the debate (not that any of the HoC leaders protested very hard). It’s an arbitrary logic – the GPC have no seats in the HoC, but then, the Bloc don’t have any candidates anywhere in the RoC, and have zero capacity to produce a new Prime Minister. The Greens have an opportunity to use this to their advantage. Turn the campaign into one of “the status quo,” implicating every other party as complicit in an Establishment Massive, versus the suppressed, undervalued, solitary change-makers.

NDP: I’m feeling for the NDP. Their policy points have underwhelmed, and it seems the Liberals’ collective verve has taken wind out of their sails. Jack Layton has responded as well as he could to a range of questions, but he’s stuck watching the perennial NDP nightmare unfold – Liberals campaigning like the NDP, but with the added barb of “No one can stop Conservatives but Liberals.” It happens every election, but as Harper is a particularly nasty form of Conservative, perhaps the ABC vote is a bigger factor than normal – and, in more cases, it’s gravitating to the Liberals. Ridings where NDP have been second to CPC, Layton’s employing Liberal approaches: “Only NDP can beat Harper here.” O.K. But it muddles their overall message of “strategic voting is for dupes. Vote with your heart for the Canada you want.” Oh dear.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s hard being a swinger

My girlfriend would insist that I elaborate on that.

Elections force decisions. For those in a “base” of any description, it’s not so much the case – and part of me envies it. Loyal partisans can dedicate their considerable energies to converting wavering voters to the cause, to plugging their predetermined messiahs, and they don’t have to spend quite as much time wondering to themselves who it is they want to vote for. It’s called loyalty for a reason.

I’m afraid I’m a fiercely disloyal, oscillating left-wing cruiser, who’s voted for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the UK, and for the NDP, Greens, and Liberals in Canada over a range of elections. It’s nice to come into a new campaign with fresh eyes. But there’s a struggle as well – perhaps I’m less disloyal, and more multiloyal. Every potential choice feels like a betrayal to the consequent non-choice. Hence a deep loathing for FPTP!

However addled I may be by indecision at this early stage, I thought I’d like to review the parties and leaders so far. Rather than Twitter’s 140 character shackles, let’s nonetheless be brief – 140 words per party! A few ruminations on how the campaign appears so far…

Greens: A funny place to start, since there’s nothing of import I’ve been able to glean about the Greens so far. Nor am I especially likely to vote for them. I feel for the party’s struggle to be heard on the national stage – a party that can command around 10% support deserves coverage. But, as they command around 0% of the seats, they just don’t get it. I fear for May’s prospects in Saanich – Gulf Islands. The hippyish Gulf Islands part I get, but Saanich? Wealthy retirees with monster homes do not strike me as fertile territory. It’s frankly a disaster of a riding for anyone. I do want to see May in the debates again, though; if she can’t demand the national stage normally, she can at least get the chance to hold her own in front of her rivals.

Liberals: I know I’m living abroad, but what I can tell, Ignatieff is actually doing brilliantly – as is the party write large. No gaffes yet. Quick, sharp rebuttals to dumb Harper policies like a “tax break for families, maybe, in five years.” He’s pouncing on Harper’s reference to “ethnics” as “you people.” He’s drumming away at key ethics slogans, and chipping away at the “prudent economic steward” garbage that Tories try to own. Liberals seem organised, serious, competitive, believeable, innovative and frank. The university grants scheme is smart. Would like to see it promote cross-provincial study, frankly. It blows my freaking mind that they aren’t yet 10 points ahead. Despair a bit at Ignatieff ruling out a coalition, but recognise his rationale. It’s just toxic in poor Canadia. If an election were held in five seconds, I’d vote for Iggy.

NDP: Layton’s the best leader of the lot, and the nicest, classiest, and most natural by far. I’m pleased he’s campaigning in Edmonton and Saskatchewan, and they need to keep it up. Would like to see other prominent NDPers taking up some campaign work too (are they?). Mulcair, Martin, Davies all out there, illustrating the “team” dynamic to contrast against Harper-authoritarianism. I feel “Jack Layton” branding on everything over-eggs his charm, and is slightly offensive to the depth/breadth of the party. Like many, I want NDP to grow, but not at expense of Liberals! Painful. Where’s it likely? Prairie urban centres, the Far North, much of B.C., and Quebec. I want them going whole hog in those areas. “CPC taking prairie voters for granted” is brilliant. Policy so far a bit middling. Credit card limits? What’s this about?

Conservatives: Regardless of Ibbitson’s praise, I honestly find the Harper campaign so far to be an embarrassment. I’m trying to see it from the perspective of loyal, or potential, CPC voters. Does yammering on about coalitions, like some sort of dysfunctional 1970s robot, when Ignatieff has gone so far as to rule it out explicitly, not reek of desperation? It’s not only dishonest, it’s pathetic. They seem to have no Plan B narrative to coalition-fear-mongering. “Ageist” and “you ethnic people” optics are nasty little bumps in the road for them. “Family tax breaks if you’re lucky in 2016” is a joke, and they know it. No convincing defense of their record so far – I thought CPC was a well-oiled machine? Doesn’t seem at ease, and will fail badly in debates, I reckon. What will “real Canadians” think, eh?

Bloc: Sigh. Ballsy and clever to trot out the 2004 coalition letter. Nice way to put Harper on the back foot. Otherwise, what can you say? No sovereigntist talk, just “Quebec is great” talk. Am frankly glad Parizeau emerged from sarcophagus to call for big separate Quebec state, as it flummoxes Duceppe plans to morph BQ into a fuzzy regionalist social democrat party without any serious separation leanings. I think he’s been a useful thorn in Harper’s Quebec ambitions, but that’s perhaps a bit of spiteful glee on my part. What I’d love to see is Duceppe campaigning cross-Canada trying to explain his vision of the universe and, specifically, the Canadian federation. Wouldn’t that be in Quebec’s interests too? To show the softer, gentler, cuddlier side of Quebec nationalism? Oh well, perhaps he is not ballsy after all. Ha ha.

O.K., the “ha ha” may not be the cleverest way to get to 140 words on the Bloc, but anyhoo, it’s no less clever than some of the analysis we’ve seen on the Globe and Mail so far.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beautiful day

Happy Friday, Canada – here’s the soundtrack to a collapsing Conservative government 🙂

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