By the editors - Monday, April 4, 2011 - 15 Comments
The truth is that Canada has already had a successful conservative revolution
Stephen Harper is still being a bit careful about using the M-word in public. His preferred phrase is “stable government.” But as the election campaign got rolling, the Prime Minister finally became comfortable enough to explicitly ask voters for a majority in the House of Commons. “Friends, don’t be under any illusion,” he said in Winnipeg this week. “There won’t be a Conservative minority government after this election. There’s either going to be Mr. Ignatieff put in power by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, or there will be what Canada needs to keep this economy moving forward: a strong and stable national, majority Conservative government.”
That challenge is having the desired effect: the other leaders are all saying, hey, I’m the only one who can stand in Harper’s way. The Liberals’ Michael Ignatieff: “There’s the red door and there’s the blue door; these are the only two choices.” The NDP’s Jack Layton: “The way to stop Stephen Harper from getting a majority is to take Conservative seats one by one… the only way to do that is to vote for your New Democrat candidate.” Even the BQ’s Gilles Duceppe: “A Conservative majority is a danger for Quebec. The risk of Stephen Harper obtaining a majority is very real.”
Duceppe went on to add: “If that happened, the Conservatives would have nothing holding them back. They would be free to impose without end their ideological policies, contrary to our interests and values.” It’s an old familiar tune, and not just
By John Geddes - Monday, April 4, 2011 at 9:17 AM - 23 Comments
Days into a contest of meanness, a surprisingly clear contrast on honest-to-goodness platforms has suddenly emerged
In the final days leading up to the campaign of 2011, Stephen Harper largely dropped out of sight. The Prime Minister stopped showing up for question period when his government’s fall became inevitable. After the opposition voted down his Conservative minority, he read a muted response from a podium in the ornate foyer of the House, and took no questions. There was reason to suspect he might be setting the tone for the race to come. After all, polls showed him well ahead, and a classic, minimalist front-runner’s strategy would be to do nothing to risk shaking things up. But Harper had other ideas.
From the steps of Rideau Hall after visiting the Governor General to set the campaign in motion, and at every stop after, he lashed out at his main rival, Michael Ignatieff—accusing the Liberal leader of intending to break his word and join forces with the NDP and Bloc Québécois. In return, Ignatieff indicted Harper for “a systematic pattern of falsehoods.” “He wouldn’t recognize the truth if it walked up and shook his hand,” he said.
By Martin Patriquin with Aaron Wherry and Colby Cosh - Monday, March 28, 2011 at 3:13 PM - 23 Comments
The PMO’s one-time Mr. Fixit once considered jumping ship to the Liberals
On the chilly autumn evening of Sept. 27, 2010, a gaggle of current and former Conservatives gathered at Ottawa’s Hy’s Steakhouse, the clubby respite of choice for many politicians and their hangers-on. Chief among them: Jim Prentice, then the federal environment minister, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, former Conservative cabinet minister Monte Solberg and party strategist Geoff Norquay. The next day would be all business: Stelmach was set to share the stage with Quebec Premier Jean Charest at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to deliver a steadfast defence of the Alberta oil sands development.
This night was social, and tongues loosened—a little too literally in one case, as far as some attendees were concerned. At one of the tables pulled together for the occasion sat Bruce Carson, long-time Parliament Hill fixture and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s one-time “indispensable right-hand man,” as Conservative insider Tom Flanagan recently described him. The 65-year-old was there with Michele McPherson, a 22-year-old former escort whom he had introduced as his girlfriend. It was jarring enough for several guests present that McPherson wasn’t dressed for the occasion—”the skirt a little too short and a little too tight,” said one person in attendance—or that Carson was dating a woman roughly the same age as Carson’s own daughter; worse still, the pair couldn’t keep their hands off each other throughout the meal. “People were taken aback” at the display, says the attendee.
Carson’s involvement with McPherson—as we know now—went beyond late-night snogfests in front of well-connected Conservatives. Throughout the last two weeks, APTN News has methodically uncovered the business relationship between the pair, and how Carson allegedly used his prime contacts within the government to try to lure government contracts to H20 Global Group, the Ottawa firm where both McPherson and her mother worked.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 21, 2011 at 3:56 PM - 41 Comments
“We have not and will not comment critically on the personal or family life of anyone in public life or their families,” the Tories said Monday. “We expect all participants in public life to adhere to a similar code.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 9:15 PM - 149 Comments
In a missive this evening, apparently in response to this video, the Conservative party takes issue with Mr. Ignatieff’s family heritage and apparently seeks to debate who can rightfully claim to be an immigrant.
While the Ignatieffs have made the most of their coming to Canada in their respective fields, they have never ceased to enjoy great privilege, as a function of the financial and educational resources and social status they brought with them, and which are theirs to this day. The Ignatieff immigrant experience is one of significant wealth, first-rate educations and privilege. Very few Canadian families can claim this “immigrant experience.”
Mr. Ignatieff’s father, George, served for nearly 50 years in the Canadian civil service. The website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada describes his life story here. For whatever it is worth—assuming one wishes to engage in a debate over the exact socioeconomic status of a politician’s late father and the worthiness of such—that biography includes the observation that, upon arriving in Canada, his family had “barely enough money for basic necessities.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 12:23 PM - 20 Comments
Mendes and Attaran’s personal information is anonymously requested
Two professors at the University of Ottawa, Errol Mendes and Amir Attaran, are wondering if federal Conservatives are behind access to information requests for their employment, expense, and teaching records. Both Mendes and Attaran have in the past been vocal critics of the Conservative government and have both been accused of being Liberal sympathizers. “I started thinking, my God, this is a McCarthy-like attempt to politically intimidate both of us,” Mendes said of the request for his professional records. Attaran echoed Mendes’ concern, saying “I have a feeling it’s political.” Ontario law means the identity of the party who made the request remains anonymous. Fred DeLorey, a spokesman for the Conservative Party denied any involvement from the government.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:03 AM - 12 Comments
CTV cherry picks my remarks. Didn’t support attack ads. Said they’re not my style and don’t pay attention to them.
Attack ad aficionados needn’t fret about the disappearance of the two clips in question as a quick check of the Conservative Party of Canada’s official YouTube page shows plenty of similar adverts are still available. Indeed, of the 30 videos posted there, 22 concern the opposition parties. Nineteen of those are specific to Mr. Ignatieff.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 12:55 PM - 60 Comments
The Conservatives have launched a feature on their website called “Canada Talks.” So far the conversation one might expect from a title like that mostly involves newly minted minister of state Ted Menzies looking off camera and reading a series of exhortations to donate money to the Conservative party, while tinkly music plays in the background.
By Andrew Potter - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
It is clear that you can’t win in modern politics by having evidence or good ideas on your side
When government House leader John Baird claimed last week that Toronto-based “elites” were behind the push to save the long-gun registry, it had the desired result: Baird was loudly mocked all the way from Front Street to Eglinton Avenue, which pretty much proved his point. But it also marked the final transition of the federal Conservatives into an intellectual branch plant of the Republican party of the United States.
The storyline of the summer was the emergence of the federal Conservatives as a party committed to principled ignorance. Whatever the issue—crime, climate change, the census—the government has made it a point of pride to actively ignore facts, research, and expert opinion. Baird’s crack about “elites” is part of a strategy that believes there is little to be gained in politics by having good ideas and implementing evidence-based policies. Instead, the key to success is being able to control the meanings of words used in political discourse.
By John Geddes - Monday, May 31, 2010 at 8:59 AM - 11 Comments
PM’s chief of staff target for blame, but insiders say he gets big things right
If you couldn’t immediately place the man in this photograph as one of the most powerful in federal politics, don’t beat yourself up. When Guy Giorno, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, made a rare public appearance recently to testify before a House committee looking into government secrecy, even some veteran Parliament Hill news photographers needed to have him pointed out so they would know which way to aim their lenses.
Giorno’s spotlight-shy style makes him an unfamiliar figure, but the issues he’s intimately caught up in couldn’t be more conspicuous. In the past, critics inside the Conservative party have grumbled that his bad advice led to missteps by Stephen Harper—sparking a public backlash when the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament in January, and bringing the Tories to the brink of defeat in late 2008 when the opposition formed a coalition over the threat of losing their federal subsidies.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, May 3, 2010 at 9:58 PM - 115 Comments
I’m with the burghers of Simcoe-Grey on this: it’s up to the riding association to decide whether Helena Guergis should remain as their candidate, not party central command.
The way we choose riding nominees is one of many outstanding weaknesses in Canadian politics. On the one hand, it is unconscionable that candidates should be obliged to get the party leader to sign their nomination papers before they can stand for office. It’s a direct affront to local democracy.
On the other hand, well, local democracy is a joke. Nomination races are too often decided by busloads of instant members and other abuses, the sort of 19th century shiv-and-whiskey politics that is unique to Canada among the advanced democracies.
We’d get better candidates, and better races, if being an MP meant something — that is, if they were not so tightly controlled by the leader’s office. But the first step on cracking the leaders’ iron grip is for riding associations to stand up for themselves.
MPs with strong riding associations are better placed to challenge the leadership. In particular, a cleaner, more legitimate process for choosing candidates would give MPs the democratic standing, as legitimate representatives of the membership in their ridings, to take back the process of leadership selection — the key to righting the balance of power between caucus and leader.
In a proper Westminster system, the leader is selected by the members of the Parliamentary caucus. In our run-down, degraded version of Westminster, the leader picks the caucus.
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 8:15 PM - 144 Comments
Here we go again. The press gallery are universally scornful of the Liberals for being “divided” on a vote: that is, because three Liberal MPs voted as their consciences dictate, rather than falling in line with the party whip.
That may indeed be a concern for the party leadership, but why is the press scoring it the same way? Why are we volunteering to be the enforcers of party discipline? MPs voting their conscience, ie using their brains, is the way the system is supposed to work. We should rather be celebrating those MPs who had the courage to buck the party line on a matter of principle than decrying the “weakness” of their leader.
TALKING OF ABORTION: I don’t doubt the Liberals were playing politics with the issue, but so are the Tories. The Liberals want to provoke a debate on abortion, to smoke out the Tory pro-lifers. And the Tories want to avoid a debate on abortion, for the same reason. But even though the Liberal resolution was defeated, it was revealing in its own way.
One, it’s helpful to know that the Liberal party line is entirely amenable to abortion, albeit in Third World countries, as part of (to quote the resolution) “the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options.” Not just as an ineradicable evil that a society may choose not to restrict by law (though every civilized society but ours has), but as a value-neutral “option,” no more objectionable than birth control.
Two, it’s also helpful to be reminded that there are pro-lifers in every party: it is not just a Tory disease. Perhaps, if the press agreed to report that once in a while, Tory pro-lifers could borrow some backbone from their Liberal counterparts, and start defying their own leader. Or would we then mark the Tories down for being “divided”?
Three, it’s helpful to be reminded, notwithstanding how determined the Conservative leadership is to prevent an honest debate on the issue, how necessary it is to have this debate. More than twenty years after the Morgentaler decision, we remain in a bizarre legislative limbo: as I’ve written before, we did not choose as a nation to have no abortion law. It is not settled, nor was it ever decided, either by Parliament or the courts. Quite the opposite: the Supreme Court went out of its way to invite Parliament to draft a new law, which challenge the House of Commons duly took up, and passed it. The bill died on a tie vote of the Senate.
That’s no way for a democratic country to decide anything. But then, we aren’t really a democratic country, are we?
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 10:05 AM - 116 Comments
Fraser Institute study confirms what was already plain as day: fiscal “stimulus” had nothing to do with the recovery. Using Statistics Canada data, they find:
Of the 1.1 percentage point improvement in economic growth between the second and third quarter, government consumption and government investment each contributed only 0.1 percentage points. Business investment contributed 0.8 percentage points and was the driving force behind the improvement in economic growth.
Of the 1.0 percentage point improvement in economic growth between the third and fourth quarter, government consumption and government investment contributed nothing. Over this period, increased net exports were the primary reason for the improvement in economic growth.
This, as I say, was obvious enough already. The recovery began at the end of Q2, long before any shovels hit the ground. Fiscal stimulus, besides ineffective, was unnecessary: the extraordinary infusion of monetary stimulus by the Bank of Canada was bound to trigger a revival in total spending. With inflation expectations knocked flat, it was to be expected that this would translate into gains in real output in the short term (though with inflation already showing signs of life, the Bank will need to be quick to withdraw the liquidity it injected).
Fiscal policy’s chief impact is on the composition of demand. It does not ultimately expand it. As was more or less the consensus in the economics profession, before the “policy panic” of 2008.
So all we got for all that federal spending was a $160-billion increase in the national debt, a pile of dubious make-work projects and a fistful of photo-ops for grinning Tory MPs. Which, after all, was always the point.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, March 22, 2010 at 7:28 PM - 115 Comments
Just so we’re clear: I don’t really care whether the Harper government conforms to one definition of conservatism or another. Neither do I carry any brief for conservatism, as such, though I might hold conservative views on specific issues. When I say that conservatism is dead in Canada, I am not mourning or despairing. I am merely stating a fact.
The reason that’s worth stating is that there is a party that continues to carry on as if it were conservative, though it conforms to no known definition of the word. And all right, yes, I’d prefer that people should be who they say they are and do what they say they will do, and that things should be called what they are and not what they are not.
So I suppose in that sense I should be delighted to find, via my friend Paul Wells, that I’ve got it all wrong: that the Conservatives are in fact robustly, unabashedly conservative, that indeed conservatism is “on the march across Canada.” Why, it’s the biggest swing to the right in “half a century.” It’s Harper’s hard right turn.
This is contrarian analysis at its finest. Under the Conservatives, spending, which conservatives once promised to cut, has been growing at a rate of 8 per cent a year. The budget, which conservatives once aimed to balance, is now in deficit to the tune of $54-billion, with literally no end in sight. Corporate subsidies, which conservatives once vowed to eliminate, continue to be doled out by the billions every year; much of the auto industry has been nationalized; the number of regional development agencies has increased by one. Conservative MPs now run around the country boasting of the pork they are bringing home to their ridings, complete with novelty-cheque signing ceremonies.
The top marginal rate of income tax remains where it was a generation ago, while the tax system has been further complicated with the addition of a slew of special credits for children’s sports, transit passes and other good causes. Employment Insurance has been larded up with supplementary payments that make a return to insurance principles more remote than ever. The Canada Pension Plan has been allowed to swell to Caisse de Depot-like dimensions. The great statist vehicles of the 20th century — Canada Post, Via Rail, the CBC — likewise continue to stalk the land, subsidies and privileges intact, while private oligopolies in air travel, finance and telecommunications remain largely protected from foreign competition. All were once the objects of conservative reform efforts. No longer.
The political reforms that were the bedrock of democratic conservatism in the age of the Reform party, aimed at giving more power to ordinary MPs and, via referendums, to the citizens at large, are now but a memory, replaced by a PMO whose all-controlling zeal exceeds even previous records. The philosophy that distinguished the conservative approach to constitutional matters — decentralizing power to the provinces, commitment to the equality of provinces and citizens — has been replaced by massive increases in transfers to the provinces generally and a raft of special concessions — powers, money, an ill-defined “national” status — to Quebec.
But that is to look at the matter through the narrow lens of fiscal, economic, democratic and constitutional conservatism. Rather than obsessing on such arcane matters — you know, the whole size and role of government thing — friend Wells encourages us to see the glass as socially full. Because even as it was giving ground on every one of all those other fronts, the government has been delivering for social conservatism. Why, “look at the victories” social conservatives have won, Wells suggests, “in just the past few months.” Yes, let’s.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 10:43 AM - 19 Comments
That was one of the more economically literate Speeches from the Throne in recent memory, even at the cost of saying rather little (and taking rather too long to say it). But what was there was at least mostly in the right direction.
Throne Speeches are tricky things. Lines that seem innocuous turn out to be freighted with meaning. Momentous-sounding announcements turn out to mean not much at all, or never make it into legislation. A pledge to “reform and strengthen education,” for example — meaningless boilerplate, or the beginnings of a national education strategy? An “aggressive” plan to “close unfair loopholes” — a couple of technicalities of interest only to accountants, or wholesale tax reform?
Still, the general tendency of the Speech, at least in its economic chapters, was clear: smaller government, freer trade, less intervention in markets. If hardly a major change in direction — did anyone think that’s what “recalibration” meant? — it does signal the government is turning up the volume on some conservative economic themes that had hitherto been buried in the mix. The government can read the opposition’s body language as well as anyone, and can see they are not spoiling for an election. So it has taken the opportunity to steal a few yards for conservativism, without being unduly provocative.
Indeed, it’s an achievement of sorts that so much of the reaction to the Speech seemed to be in the ho-hum, is-that-all-there-is vein. For it contains at least a couple of potentially important policy initiatives. Opening the doors to foreign investment “in key sectors,” including — but not limited to — telecoms and satellites, is the most startling, even if it was telegraphed in advance. Not long ago this would have been considered a political third rail, and yet it seemed to occasion very little response from the opposition. Good: aside from offering greater choice and competition for consumers, foreign investment will be a vital source of the capital needed if Canada is to improve its dismal productivity performance — as it must, to pay for the coming wave of baby-boom retirees.
The other potentially significant development was the pledge to freeze departmental operating budgets. Again, this seemed to escape notice, with most commentary focused on the symbolic but fiscally insignificant salary freezes imposed on ministers and MPs. But a freeze on departmental budgets, depending how long it is in force, could mean quite sharp cuts in spending in real terms — not enough, certainly, to balance the budget on their own, but perhaps a sign of what is to come in the budget.
It had better. Despite the nod to restraint, the Throne Speech maintains the government’s official line that the budget can be balanced without either raising taxes or cutting transfers to the provinces and elderly. It’s true that you can grow your way out of a deficit, if you don’t care how long it takes: give it 10 straight years of growth, and even the worst profligate can balance its books. But the more leisurely the schedule, the greater the chances of a recession or other unexpected event wrecking all those pleasing fiscal forecasts. And of course, the longer you take to stop adding to the debt, the higher it climbs.
What we need is a serious plan to balance the budget in three or four years, that is within the usual economic or political cycle, coupled with a strategy to tackle the longer-term demographic challenge. That will certainly require either significant cuts in spending or substantial tax increases. I’ve argued it can and should be done by cutting spending. But whether it’s one or the other (or both), it can’t be neither.
A couple of other important omissions from the speech. On the plus side, there were almost none of the usual giveaways to politically powerful industries. To be sure, there was the expected list of shout outs to the forestry, fishing, and farming sectors. But rather than shower them with subsidies and special treatment, the speech proposed to help them by cutting red tape and opening new markets: what might be called “small government activism.” (The glaring exceptions: shipbuilding and supply management.)
More distressing was the absence of any mention of the economic union. To be sure, there is a pledge to press ahead with the creation of a national securities regulator, in place of the current provincial hodgepodge. But until lately the government had much more ambitious plans. A previous Throne Speech, in 2007, vowed to take aggressive action to dismantle provincial trade barriers if they did not do so themselves, if necessary by use of the federal “trade and commerce” power under the Constitution. The Conservative election platform in 2008 added a deadline to this commitment: 2010. Well, here it is 2010, and in a document devoted to competition, productivity and free trade there is no mention of the economic union.
Fine words, as they say, butter no supply-managed parsnips.
FOR THE RECORD: Here’s what the October 2007 Throne Speech had to say about the economic union:
Our government will also pursue the federal government’s rightful leadership
in strengthening Canada’s economic union. Despite the globalization of
markets, Canada still has a long way to go to establish free trade among our
provinces. It is often harder to move goods and services across provincial
boundaries than across our international borders. This hurts our competitive
position but, more importantly, it is just not the way a country should
work. Our government will consider how to use the federal trade and commerce
power to make our economic union work better for Canadians.
And here’s that 2008 platform commitment:
A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will work to eliminate barriers that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility between provinces and territories by 2010. In 2007, the government announced that it was prepared to use the federal trade and commerce power to strengthen the Canadian economic union. Since that time, we have seen progress among the provinces and territories in strengthening the existing Agreement on Internal Trade. We hope to see further progress, but are prepared to intervene by exercising federal authority if barriers to trade, investment and mobility remain by 2010.
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 3:39 PM - 41 Comments
Well, that didn’t take long.
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NDP
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FEBRUARY 10, 2010
REALITY CHECK: Would the real Harper Conservatives please stand up?
In a recent speech in Calgary, former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier put his ideology ahead of economic common sense. In doing so, he also exposed sharp divisions in Conservative ranks on whether to help the 1.6 million Canadians left jobless by the recession.
Speaking to Conservative Party faithful, Mr. Bernier disparaged public services as a “burden,” labeled government support of the ailing economy and its citizens as “intervention,” boasted about using his ministerial prerogative to put hundreds of his own constituents out of work in the name of laissez-faire capitalism, and proposed a Darwinian path forward. Among the highlights:
“To paraphrase John F. Kennedy.don’t ask what your government can do for you; ask your government to get out of the way, so that you can be free to take responsibility for yourself, for your family, and for everyone else that you care about.”
“Last year, the federal government’s total expenses were about 250 billion dollars. You can do a lot of things with [that]!…What if we decided that this is more than enough? That expenses are not going to grow anymore? And I’m not saying zero growth adjusted for inflation and population or GDP increase. Just zero growth. Every new government program, or increase in an existing program, has to be balanced by a decrease somewhere else.”
The full text of the speech can be found here: http://www.maximebernier.com/en/2010/01/vision
While Mr. Bernier’s “zero-growth strategy” places him at odds with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his counterparts in the G7 who endorsed a continued economic stimulus plan last week in Iqaluit, his comments raise some interesting questions for the Harper Conservatives:
* Was this the kind of advice Mr. Harper had in mind when he prorogued Parliament to “recalibrate” his economic agenda?
* How does Mr. Harper square his stimulus package – and record $56-billion dollar deficit – with the views of an MP who thinks the entire process is a sham?
* Are Mr. Bernier’s comments a trial balloon for announcements Canadians can expect to hear in March’s budget?
Apparently there are others besides me who’d like to see a debate amongst Conservatives.
By Andrew Coyne - Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:16 AM - 111 Comments
That was a remarkable speech Maxime Bernier delivered the other day in Calgary. That is, it was an entirely unremarkable speech, the kind you would hear every other day in any normal democracy: a fairly pedestrian restatement of conservative principles by a leading conservative politician.
But in the Conservative Party of Canada, in its present moribund state, it counts as Luther’s 95 Theses. It must surely rule out any return to cabinet, if it does not lead to his outright expulsion from caucus, since it contradicts every line of current Conservative — well, I was going to say “policy,” but that’s not quite right, is it? Policy, after all, tends to proceed from some sort of underlying ideas or philosophy, and as we know today’s Conservatives have worked very hard to expunge those from their thoughts. Say “positioning,” then.
But back to Bernier. Consider, in particular, this passage:
One way to change the terms of the debate would be to announce that the government is not going to grow any more.
I know that we are going through some very difficult economic circumstances and that this is not a realistic proposal for the coming budget. But let’s try a thought experiment.
Last year, the federal government’s total expenses were about 250 billion dollars. You can do a lot of things with 250 billion dollars! From a historical perspective, it’s a gigantic amount of resources.
What if we decided that this is more than enough? That expenses are not going to grow anymore?
And I’m not saying zero growth adjusted for inflation and population or GDP increase. Just zero growth.
The overall budget is frozen at 250 billion. From now on, any government decision has to be taken within this budgetary constraint.
Every new government program, or increase in an existing program, has to be balanced by a decrease somewhere else.
We no longer have debates about how much more generous the government can be with this or that group, as if the money belonged to the government instead of taxpayers. The silent majority’s interests are always being protected.
The focus of the debate is shifting to a determination of priorities: what are the most important tasks for government to achieve with the money we have? Is this government function really important and should we have more of it? Then what should we do less or stop doing and leave in the hands of the free market, voluntary organisations and individual citizens?
That would be quite a change, don’t you think? A commitment to Zero Budget Growth could become a powerful symbol of fiscal conservatism, just like the “No Deficit” consensus was, to some extent, until the advent of the global economic crisis. But the consequences would be much deeper.
It would mean that every year, the relative size of government would be smaller. It would force politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and everybody else to stop thinking that your salaries are just there to grab for their own benefit. And because of the budgetary constraints, Canadians would have a lot more confidence that we’re not wasting their money.
We have to convince people that we’re not simply aiming to be better managers of a bigger government; we are aiming to be better managers of a smaller government.
Smaller government?? What party does this guy belong to? Surely not the gang that increased spending by nearly 40% in four years? I can hear the opposition parties already: Does the PM believe in Zero Budget Growth? When will he repudiate these remarks?
UPDATE: And what’s this? Pierre Poilievre calling it a “brilliant speech”? So: the last four years, then. They’ve just been a bad dream?
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, January 8, 2010 at 4:58 PM - 61 Comments
Colleague Wherry has been faithfully documenting some of the lamer justifications Tory MPs have been offering for their government’s decision to shutter Parliament for two months rather than obey Parliament’s demand to surrender the Afghan-prisoner documents: we need the time away from Parliament to come up with an economic plan; we can be just as productive working in our constituencies; and — my personal favourite — let’s all watch the Olympics!
This last is so mind-numbingly stupid, so staggeringly beside the point, that I can only assume it is part of some sort of fiendish plot. I think it is intended to act as a kind of electromagnetic pulse, aimed at knocking out the entire country’s brain waves and making it impossible for anyone to think straight. It is not just totally devoid of sense: it is an assault on the very concept of sense — like that old joke about the surrealists. (How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? A fish.) It is as if the Conservatives were bent on proroguing, not just Parliament, but intelligent discussion of any kind.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, January 8, 2010 at 2:06 PM - 247 Comments
Well, now. The Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament facebook page now has over
108,000 115,000 127,000 146,000 150,000 178,000 190,000205,000 signatories. An Angus Reid poll shows 53 per cent of Canadians opposed to prorogation, while an Ekos poll shows 58% opposed — 40% “strongly” so. The government’s overall numbers are on the slide, even before the demonstrations planned for across the country later this month.
Conservative supporters, meanwhile, have either gone quiet or are openly attacking the move. (Also a Western Standard writer who wants it known he is not a Conservative supporter.) The Reid poll has 35% of Conservative voters opposed. Even the Liberals show signs of something vaguely resembling backbone.
Could it be that Canadians are not so apathetic as I made out? That somewhere in this nation’s consciousness there lies half-buried a memory of a time when Parliament actually mattered?
Could it be, in other words, that I was, um, you know, what I mean to say is, er … wrong?
By Andrew Coyne - Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 3:45 PM - 225 Comments
So: Parliament has been prorogued. What is to be done about it? Answer: not bloody much.
Certainly there’s no evidence the public is up in arms about it, notwithstanding the Star’s typically tendentious headline. Smug Tory types whose response to every principled objection is “nobody cares” are, unfortunately, right: the 38,000 plus who have subscribed to that facebook page are indicative of very little: most, I would bet, are opposition partisans. Were their situations reversed, they would be saying the same things the Tories are.
Neither can we expect much from the opposition leaders: neither Ignatieff nor Layton could apparently be arsed to postpone their vacations — though Iggy at least managed to release a wan op-ed piece denouncing the government in the series of sentence fragments (“Messy. Inconvenient. Frustrating. Democracy is all those things.”) that are the preferred idiom of the contemporary politician. “Last week’s shutting down of Parliament was a key moment,” he writes. “It was one of those moments of supreme clarity. The audacity. The epic scale of the cynicism. The arrogance of a regime that thinks it can get away with just about anything.”
But that’s all going to change now. The opposition leader isn’t going to take this lying down. Nosir. No, to protest this outrage, he’s going to … go on a listening tour. “Mr. Harper may not want to face the public, but we will get out there and meet Canadians in universities, in town hall meetings and other public events from coast to coast to coast. We will seek their views and exchange ideas.” That’ll show ‘em. Just wait till he gets back from the south of France.
In a way, I can’t blame them. You can only rouse the public to defend something if the thing is generally considered worth defending. But so degraded is Parliament’s condition already — the consequence of many previous such assaults on parliamentary rights, each of which was thought too trivial on its own to be worth making a fuss — that it’s hard for the public to see what is being lost. It’s only Parliament, after all. It’s not as if it’s something important.
This is the problem. It’s not prorogation, on its own, that puts us on the path to despotism. It’s the cumulative weakening of our democratic defenses, and more important, of our democratic instincts. Each new precedent conditions us to accept the next, and the next, to the point that if we ever do arrive at the end of the Tyranny line, no one will even know, let alone care: we will have nothing left to compare it to. (We scoff at such overheated rhetoric now, but if Canadians in the 1950s had been presented with the package of changes that have occurred since then in the way we are governed, they would have risen up in revolt.) And if the public doesn’t care, neither will the opposition. You might think it was the job of a political leader to get out in front of the public on this — to, you know, lead — but if so, you don’t know Canadian politics.
In any case, the party leaders are in something of a conflict of interest. For one day they will be in government, or hope to be, and the powers and prerogatives the Harper conservatives have arrogated to themselves will be powers and prerogatives they may wish to enjoy. As, if experience is any guide, they almost certainly will. If there is one sure lesson of Canadian history, it is that no political principle long survives its first encounter with power. What most provokes a party leader in opposition is what he is most likely to practice once in government.
This isn’t really a contest, in other words, between the parties. It is between Parliament and government — present or prospective. If anyone is to defend the rights and privileges of Parliament, it will not be the party leaders. It will have to be ordinary members of Parliament.
But how likely is that? If MPs had the kind of backbone that would induce them to come to Parliament’s defense, they would have done so long before this. But of course they don’t. Any MP who showed the slightest tendency in that direction would find himself unable to get his nomination papers signed, and without the party’s backing could not hope to be elected. Independence of mind has been bred out of our MPs, much as dogs are bred not to bite.
So nothing is going to come of this, I’m afraid. It might, if Parliament mattered much, but as Parliament does not matter, it won’t.
UPDATE: In the interest of equal time, I should point out that there is also a facebook page for Canadians FOR Proroguing Parliament. So far they have 19 members, but one of them is Ezra.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, October 26, 2009 at 8:40 AM - 37 Comments
The underlying premise, writes Andrew Coyne, is that it is MPs’ business to bring home the bacon
It was as predictable as the tides. Could anyone have imagined otherwise—that billions of dollars could be pushed out the door in such fantastic haste, to no plan or purpose, without being turned into a politicized slush fund? Can anyone really claim to be surprised? When did any government, given control of a honey pot of this size, not abuse it?
We should be precise about just what is the scandal here. The scandal is not that Conservative MPs attached the party logo to the giant novelty cheques that have become the standard prop in government spending announcements. Though it is surely scandalous to pretend the public’s money is the party’s (the reverse is more nearly true), the logo only serves to make explicit what is implicit in all such exercises: that the flow of public funds to a given riding, province, industry or cause is owing entirely to the personal muniﬁcence of local MPs, who salute themselves for their generosity and compassion in the hope that their beneficiaries will be moved to do the same. That would have been the message even had there been no Conservative logos on the cheques, or no such cheques to bear them. Continue…
By Andrew Potter - Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 9:20 AM - 10 Comments
The Liberals have benefited hugely from the confusion of the ‘Liberal’ and ‘Canada’ brands, both proudly red and white
The craziest thing I learned from the coverage last month of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China was that the People’s Liberation Army still belongs to the Communist party. Six decades after Mao’s victory in Beijing, the army is still under the command of the party, not the state, and the Ministry of National Defence exercises no authority over it.
That’s as sure a sign as any, I figure, that China has a long way to go before it joins the civilized world. After all, here in the multi-party democracy that is Canada, we make a clear distinction between the private interests of a political party and the public interests of the state, especially when a party happens to find itself temporarily in power. Continue…