Election Watch 2006

by John W. Herbert

November 28, 2005: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like an Election
You’ll pardon me if I start talking politics now, but the federal government has fallen today and an election will be called tomorrow. So there won’t be just one turkey at your house over Christmas, whole flocks of turkeys will be knocking on your door and begging for your votes.
For once, I have to agree with Ralph Klein. I don’t see any outcome other than a Liberal minority. I think the Bloc will do very well in Québec, and that will pretty much put the kibosh on the chances of any party forming a majority.
And Klein’s point that Conservative leader Stephen Harper is seen by voters as too right wing to form a government is dead on. Ontario will never vote for a Western right-wing rump party, and that’s exactly what the Tories became when they joined forces with Reform, or the Alliance or whatever the hell they were calling themselves.
And if Harper can’t win running in a second election against Paul Martin’s Liberal Bozo Brigade, that will spell the end of Harper’s leadership. The long knives will be out. And a minority won’t do: Harper has to win a majority or he’s badly burnt toast. A Tory minority will not last long as Harper has no other party willing to team up with him. The Bloc might, and Harper might be dumb enough and power-hungry enough to accept a Tory-Bloc alliance, but that will backfire as much as Mulroney’s courting of Québec sovereignists did in the 1980s. Remember how well that turned out? No, if Harper’s Tories don’t get a majority, he’ll become this year’s Stockwell Day, an embarrassing reminder of how this country’s right-wing consistently shoots itself in the foot.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

December 1, 2005: Harper and the GST
Conservative leader Stephen Harper has announced the first big promise of the campaign, an immediate rollback of the GST to 6%, followed by a further 1% decrease sometime within the next 5 years.
At least Harper hasn’t said what many from the right will tell you, that tax cuts such as these will pay for themselves. (BC Premier and noted convicted drunk driver Gordon Campbell said that very thing when, as his first action upon being sworn-in, was to enact a massive tax cut for high-income earners. This was followed by the largest deficit in provincial history and massive service cutbacks. But I digress. And if tax cuts really pay for themselves, Mr. Campbell, why not cut all taxes? It’s a win-win! I don’t pay any tax and the province somehow magically raises revenue to pay for services! But I digress again.) But making your first big pledge a cut in the hated GST seems like nothing more than a popularity grab.
And that couldback firee. Let’s remember which party brought in the GST in the first place. Why, golly, it was those darn Conservatives!
Not that the Liberals are all solid ground here suddenly defending the GST. After all, they were elected in 1993 by saying they were going to repeal the GST outright. Last time I checked, I was still paying it.

December 14, 2005: The Phony Election
I’d love to comment more about the election campaign so far, but there really isn’t much to say. All the major parties are trying to bribe us again with our own money.
Yes, Harper is scoring some points with his daily policy announcements, and that has the Liberals on the defensive. But he loses points for those awful TV ads.
The NDP isn’t saying much, but they have the best ads.
The Bloc has been running their usual quiet and competent campaign, but they clearly need some help with their goaltender rankings. Have they even feard of Curtis Joseph — hello?
The Liberals are losing the initiative to the constant Tory policy announcements, going into a reactive instead a proactive mode. But I suspect none of this really matters. The Liberals are smart enough to know when the campaigning really begins.
We’re in a period I’m dubbing "the phony campaign." The parties, and the voters, are in cruise mode, not getting into the real grim and gritty electioneering until after New Years. The real campaign will start on January 2. Three weeks of hardcore vote buying. Be prepared for the mud to fly.

December 16, 2005: War of the Words
Paul Martin is scoring points in the time-honored tradition of bashing US Presidents during an election campaign.
Even Stephen Harper had to admit that the US Ambassador’s comments on our election were ill-advised.
But are Martin’s tough words mere electioneering? Remember that he couldn’t wait to have his picture taken with Bush. And Harper would have had us fighting in Iraq if he had been PM.
It’s all games and posturing.
Speaking of which, how ironic it is that the US seems to have no aversion to telling other countries how to behave, up to and including invasion to make their point, yet get very agitated should anyone dare to criticize them.

December 17, 2005: Debate #1
Caught a bit of last night’s debate.
Gilles Duceppe, as usual, was the most polished and made the most sense.
And if he didn’t have this totally bizarre fixation for breaking up a perfectly good country, he’d probably make a great Prime Minister.

December 19, 2005: A Modest Tax Proposal
There’s been a lot of talk in this campaign about cutting the GST and/or cutting Income Tax. Which is fairer? Which helps out low and middle income Canadians the most?
Let me offer my own modest tax proposal — let’s scrap income tax and raise the GST.
Now before anyone calls the looney tuner on me, consider these numbers:
Canadian Government Fiscal 2004 Revenue
GST $28,200,000,000
Income Tax $84,800,000,000
Corporate Tax $27,400,000,000
Note that the GST revenue is almost exactly one third the amount of income tax revenue. So scrapping income tax and raising the GST from 7% to 28% would be revenue neutral.
Yes, 28% is a whopping tax to spend on purchases, but on the other hand there would no income tax deductions off my paycheque. For me personally, that’s a savings of around $350 a month. Suddenly, my idea doesn’t seem so wacky now, does it?
The GST is strictly a voluntary tax. It automatically taxes an individual based on the taxpayer’s ability to pay. For instance:
- a rich person might spend $4000 on a wide-screen HD TV. That’s $1120 in tax.
- a middle-class person might spend $1500 on an LCD TV. $420 in tax.
- a lower-income person might spend $500 on the last of the tube TVs. $140 in tax.
Clearly, there are some problems with my idea. Low-income Canadians who pay little or no income tax are not going to benefit from this scheme, so some sort of equalizing payment would have to be developed.
And rich people, some of whom will do anything to avoid paying taxes, will undoubtedly try to import goods from other countries to avoid the new GST.
But in fact, higher income earners should love the new GST. The higher the income bracket, the bigger the income tax savings.
And imagine the other savings. Imagine a vastly downsized CCRA, not spending money to track, compile and check tax returns.
No more income tax audits, and no more income tax forms. No more loopholes for smart accountants to exploit.
I think there’s something here. Paul, Stephen, Jack... any comments?

January 09, 2006: Playing Your Cards Right (or Left)
Somehow I’ve gotten myself on the NDP’s emailing list. While normally I instantly delete any political email I get, I opened this latest one and lo and behold found this little gem below just in time for tonight’s debate.

(I should note for the record that no political party has tried to contact me personally, apart from a pre-recorded phone call from Dr. Keith Martin, my Liberal MP. And with the NSA probably listening in, I hung up in a hurry.)

January 12, 2006: Candidate Dump
The Tories became the first party to dump a candidate after it was revealed that a BC candidate was facing smuggling charges after allegedly smuggling a car and 112 bottles of booze across the border in 2004. Derek Zeisman will have to sit as independent should he be elected. This could be a sign of things to come as Harper and the Tories edge towards a majority in the polls. The last Tory government under Brian Mulroney was rife with corruption and resignations.
On the other hand, this is the first real glitch in the well-run Tory campaign. The Liberals are panicking; anytime a Prime Minister announces a major campaign plank like eliminating the constitutional Notwithstanding clause (and does it so suddenly that it doesn’t even make it into the party’s election platform), you know that he thinks he’s spending his last days at 24 Sussex. Clearly, Martin is trying to insinuate that Harper has a secret agenda against same-sex marriage, abortion, gay rights and other progressive issues. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Harper did, but Harper, from his perspective, has had the good sense to keep his mouth shut and the good luck that his candidates have done the same thing.
And in a bit of surprise, Mario Dumont (head of the provincial Action démocratique du Québec party) advised voters not to vote for the federal Bloc Québécois). Dumont will not recommend a federal party to vote for, but did say he will vote Conservative. The real surprise will be when Harper gives Dumont a cabinet post. Golly, yes, what a surprise that will be.
I’m sure Jack Layton said or did something this week, too. But no one’s listening.

January 17, 2006: Highly Illogical
Not that I have any burning desire to continue to poke fun at Stephen Harper, but what the heck.
A canada.com story points out that apparently Harper is a huge Trekkie.
"Like, huge," says a source. "And it has to be the classic series, from the 1960s - none of that Next Generation, Deep Space Nine crap." Okay, I’ll give Harper a point for being a fan of "real" Trek.
How true this really is I don’t know, but it readily sets up the tried and true "let’s compare the candidates to Star Trek characters" joke.
Paul Martin is Scotty. Clearly, he’s always whining about needing more power, but he’s also trying his damnedest to keep his wee bairns flying. Unfortunately for him, it seems that the good ship Liberalprise is on it’s last legs, no thanks to the evil Klingon, Commander K’Gomery.
Jack Layton is McCoy. He has a cure for everything that ails you, and most of them are just good old fashioned horse sense. He’s always muttering that the rest of the crew don’t follow his advice. He is always speaking the truth from the heart, and as always, no one listens.
Gilles Duceppe is Captain Kirk. Which makes sense in a way as Duceppe wants to fly his ship his way, damn Starfleet and its blasted regulations. He’s not going to listen to some blasted bureaucrats from across the galaxy tell him what to do. He’s going to take his ship and fly on a seperate course.
Finally, Harper is unemotional, his smile is forced, and he speaks in a monotone. His logic often fails him at critical plot points. Obviously, he is Spock. He even has the same haircut.

Election Watch ’06: John’s Guide To Electoral Reform
After watching all the Tweedledums and Tweedledumbers lo these last few weeks, I’ve concluded that Canada clearly needs some electoral reforms. To wit, I humbly offer these suggestions:
1. Whoever Wants to Be Prime Minister Should Be Automatically Barred From Seeking the Office
Clearly, the power associated with the office of a national leader attracts the wrong kind of people. One has to only look at our southerly neighbor to see the ultimate example.
Anyone who actually desires the office of Prime Minister is clearly not the sort of person we want running the country. As the famous philosopher Herman once noted: "The people capable of running the country are too smart to get into politics."
(And this goes along with the mood of most voters in the country. Very few actually want any of the current party leaders to be Prime Minister; either they feel they are left with little choice and must choose the lesser of four evils, or they are not voting for one party as they are voting against another one. I think we have to go back to the heady days of Trudeaumania to find the last time the Canadian populace was genuinely moved to vote for someone.)
2. MPs Should Be Chosen at Random from the General Population
To carry things one step further, anyone wants to be an MP should be barred from office. But then how would we choose our MPs? Via lottery. One citizen would be chosen at random from each riding.
This has the immediate benefit of a House of Commons that more closely represents and reflects the views of the national population.
For example: if 85% of Canadians are against the war in Iraq, it should work out that roughly 85% of our randomly-chosen MPs would be against the war.
If 52% of our population is female, then 52% of our MPs would be female.
If 4% of Canadians are lawyers, then the new House would only have 4% lawyers (as opposed to the 80% it seems we have now).
Parliament would resemble more of a municipal council or Territorial legislature, where various groups may form alliances for specific issues and votes, and a different set of alliances for a different set of issues. All votes would be free votes; there would no parties so no reason to vote along party lines.
Much like how the position of Speaker of the House is voted on by MPs, they would now also select MPs for Cabinet positions, including Prime Minister. (A single mother with two kids would be an excellent choice for finance minister. She would know how to balance the budget, as opposed to a millionaire business man who’s so removed from real life that he’s never in his life had to account for every cent. But I digress.)

January 23, 2006: Rep by Pop vs First Past the Post
If Canada had a 100% Rep by Pop electoral system, tonight’s election results would have looked something like this:
124 seats (actual results) vs 111 seats (rep by pop)
103 seats (actual results) vs 92 seats (rep by pop)
Bloc Québécois:
51 seats (actual results) vs 32 seats (rep by pop)
29 seats (actual results) vs 59 seats (rep by pop)
0 seats (actual results) vs 14 seats (rep by pop)

January 24, 2006: Swing to the Right
Stephen Harper should enjoy his moment in the sun. For a guy who’s the next Prime Minister, his government is not in a good spot.
His minority is more tenuous than the previous Liberal government. Consider that Harper’s Conservatives won fewer seats than Martin’s Liberals won in the previous election. Clearly, Harper was hoping for a majority and major breakthroughs in Ontario and Quebec. Heck, he did worse than even I thought he would. While there was some progress for them in Quebec, the Liberals held a lot of their ground in Ontario, winning the popular vote there and denying Harper his majority.
In fact the Conservatives won no seats in the country’s three biggest urban centers, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. There’s a decidedly urban/rural split to the Conservative vote. Could this be the start of a deep American-style polarization?
The Liberals showed surprising strength considering they ran a bad campaign and were plagued by scandals. While they suffered in Quebec, they fared better than expected. And thanks to Martin’s resignation, the Liberals will have a new leader facing Harper, possibly making Harper look like yesterday’s news.
The Bloc suffered the most. Expecting to do well, they lost seats and votes. Worse for them, the Tories established themselves as a federalist alternative in Quebec, and with the defeat of the Liberals, the Bloc’s biggest campaign issues, the Liberal party scandals in Quebec, are now off the table.
Even the NDP had some bad news to go with their good showing. Despite gaining a number of seats, they fell two seats short of holding the balance of power.
Where can Harper hope to gain support in the inevitable 2007 election? He won the West; the only place he can gain support is in Ontario and Quebec, and when he starts sucking up to Central Canada, he’ll lose the West. It’s a time-honoured Tory tradition. As Hugh Segal noted on the CBC last night, "When the Liberals are in power, the West votes Conservative. When the Conservatives are in power, the West forms a new party." Both the Reform and the Bloc Québécois were born out of the self-destruction of the last Conservative government. (And let’s also remember that the last Conservative government, possibly the most corrupt government in Canadian history, ran, like Harper, on being fiscally responsible and promptly had a decade’s worth of the largest deficits in this country has ever seen. But I digress.)
Stephen Harper could be the 21st century version of Joe Clark, a brief Tory minority while the Liberals re-invent themselves. In order to win central Canada, he will have to stick to Ontario-friendly progressive issues (whatever few the Tories have) and abandon (or postpone) the more contentious right wing nut case items of his agenda. Even if Harper wins a majority next time, his days are numbered. He will continue to pander to central Canada as he must to maintain power, the West will feel alienated and the Conservative coalition will implode like it always does, setting the stage for another generation of Liberal rule. For good or ill, it is the natural order of things.
And Harper isn’t helping himself by saying things like he "will start rebuilding this country." Memo to the PM: the country isn’t broken.
If Harper thinks he has a mandate for massive social change, he is woefully mistaken. He barely has a mandate to change the stationary.
Obviously, Canadians were weary of giving Harper a full mandate. They remember that if Harper had been PM three years ago, we’d be trapped in a dumb and awful war.
Canadians wanted to spank the Liberals. And they did. They also did not want to give Harper and his neo-con cronies free reign to run the country. And they didn’t.
There’s not a lot of good news to go around after last night’s election. Perhaps the worst news of all is that Stockwell Day might actually be prime material for a cabinet post.

February 06, 2006: Denouement: Meet The New Boss, Same as The Old Boss
With his first act as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper demonstrated that he can play the political game as well as anyone, and his high-minded campaign of integrity, honest government and accountably were as worthless as Chretien’s promise to remove the GST.
In other words, he said anything to be elected, and now that’s he won, the real Harper agenda will now be revealed.
First, MP David Emerson, re-elected a scant two weeks ago as a Liberal, crossed the floor to join the Conservative cabinet as the Minister of International Trade, with responsibilities for the Vancouver Olympics. Emerson, who had vowed on election night to become the new prime minister’s "worst nightmare", does not understand what the fuss is about. His Conservative opponent finished a distant third in his riding; clearly his constituents what wanted a Liberal representing them.
And after all the Tory’s boo-hooing when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor, and the cries of anger and outrage when the Liberals were apparently caught trolling for other Tory MPs in the last house, one would have thought Harper would heeded the calls from his party and enacted legislation requiring members that cross the floor to win their seats back in a by-election, rather than trolling for Liberals who value bigger pay cheques over serving their constituents. And he want after a Liberal! You remember them, those corrupt and decadent crooks that Harper just spent the last eight weeks telling us we couldn’t trust.
Harper also appointed Michael Fortier to the position of Minister of Public Works and government Services. Fortier was the Conservative campaign co-chair in 2004 and 2006, and co-chair of Harper’s leadership campaign in 2006. He lost a bid for the Conservative leadership in the 1990s, and lost a bid to win a seat in the 2000 federal election. While the PM has the right to name anyone he wants to cabinet, traditionally it has been a sitting MP, and if the person chosen is not an MP (as in Fortier’s case), the new cabinet member usually runs in a by-election at the earliest opportunity. This will not happen this time; Fortier is being appointed to the Senate, where he will sit until the next election, when he will run.
In other words, Harper’s first political appointee is a Conservative party hack who will sit in the Senate and Cabinet. Patronage lives! Worse, Fortier won’t have to take questions in The House because he’s not a member — so much for accountability!
And finally, Stockwell Day was given the Public Safety portfolio. While giving Day any form of responsibility is a disaster waiting to happen, surely Day would have preferred some sort of Recreation portfolio. He’s clearly a man who loves water sports.

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