By macleans.ca - Saturday, April 13, 2013 - 0 Comments
In the days after the death of Margaret Thatcher — the original ‘Iron Lady’…
In the days after the death of Margaret Thatcher — the original ‘Iron Lady’ — Media Action and the REPRESENT project brought together a panel of political observers and had them come up with a list of Canada’s own.
The panel included the Star’s Susan Delacourt, Nancy Peckford of Equal Voice and Shari Graydon of Informed Opinions. “Women, for too long, have been seen as the people who do the bake sales in Canadian politics,” Delacourt said of the exercise.
Top of the list? Anne McGrath: “A quiet force behind Jack Layton, president of the New Democratic Party, then chief of staff to the NDP leader, she is known as someone who gets things done, turning Layton’s charisma into electoral success and conducting herself always as a bridge between conflicting forces, inside and outside the party.”
Click here for the full list, which also includes Audrey McLaughlin, Elizabeth May and Jenni Byrne.
By Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 7:20 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – When Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the economy is his top priority,…
OTTAWA – When Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the economy is his top priority, he has the advertising spending to support his claim.
An examination by The Canadian Press reveals ad budgets geared to promoting economic success have ballooned under the Conservatives since the 2008 global downturn.
The latest blitz of “economic action plan” ads, which blanketed the airwaves on Super Bowl Sunday, comes from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada — one of the big advertising budget winners under the Harper government.
Average annual ad spending by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, or HRSDC, was up 72 per cent in the four years following the 2008 recession, compared to the five years that preceded it.
Spending by the Finance Department was up 58 per cent, while advertising by the Canada Revenue Agency almost tripled.
The numbers come from departmental breakdowns of annual advertising expenditures from 2002-03 through 2011-12, which were released last week in response to questions from Mathieu Ravignat, the NDP Treasury Board critic.
Government ad buys are “acceptable in the context of a change to a program or service, but that’s clearly not what’s going on,” Ravignat said in an interview.
He called the increased ad spending “inappropriate” and “not very respectful to taxpayers’ money.”
Whether the ads promote new government programs or services is debatable. The ads have ranged from ongoing skills training to the promotion of old tax breaks that pre-date the recession.
The common theme is economic prosperity.
“For you, for me, for all of us, the economy is still job one,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told MPs and senators last week as the TV cameras rolled at the first Conservative caucus of the winter sitting of Parliament.
His spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, said the advertising is “meant to inform Canadians of the opportunities available to them and to make sure that they have the information they need to take advantage of government programs.”
“This advertising has tended to focus on the economy in recent years owing to the impacts of the global recession, but has also included efforts on issues like health (Healthy Canadians, H1N1), veterans and services to newcomers to Canada,” MacDougall added in an email.
Health Canada and National Defence have consistently been among the government’s top advertisers over the years, and their average annual spending on either side of the 2008 recession has remained little changed.
Veterans Affairs ramped up ad spending from virtually nil to $2.5 million in 2009-10, a total it then surpassed in each of the next two years.
While critics such as Ravignat have long complained about partisan advantage in the government’s “economic action plan” campaign, a new poll doesn’t necessarily indicate much partisan gain.
The Harris-Decima telephone survey of just over 1,000 respondents found that seven per cent said the government was doing an excellent job on the economy; another 30 per cent said the government was doing a good job.
The majority of respondents were less impressed, with 43 per cent saying the government “is doing only a fair job on the economy,” and 17 per cent saying it’s doing a poor job, Harris-Decima said.
All the feel-good economic advertising “probably makes people feel a little taken for granted,” Ravignat said.
“Because truly Canadians know what their economic situation is, they’ve being hit hard at various levels. And to be told that things are going well in the present climate, it’s just not true.”
The ad spending data does not include the current fiscal year, 2012-13, for which Treasury Board last spring approved $16 million in “economic action plan” advertising.
There was also another $5 million for a “better jobs” campaign by HRSDC, $8 million for the promotion of cuts to old age security, and $5 million for Natural Resources Canada to promote “responsible resource development.”
Natural Resources Canada also spent more than $5 million on advertising in 2011-12, following years of very modest ad budgets.
Indeed, Natural Resources provides a vivid example of how changing government priorities are reflected in ad budgets and campaigns.
The last time the department spent significant ad money was in 2002-03 under the Liberals, when it rang up $21 million in advertising — most of it on a climate change campaign.
Fast forward a decade and Natural Resources is again spending significant dollars — but this time the focus is oilsands development and pipeline construction.
By Mika Rekai - Friday, January 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM - 0 Comments
What you need to know about the six candidates, and then some
After the surprise resignation of Dalton McGuinty in October, the Ontario Liberal Party is finally ready to elect a new leader. While there are currently six candidates vying to be Ontario’s next premier, the odds are it will come down to a two-way race between Toronto’s hyper-progressive Kathleen Wynne and Windsor spitfire Sandra Pupatello. The voting process, however, may render a few surprises. Instead of allowing all party members to vote, the next premier will be selected by 2, 200 chosen delegates and “ex-officios”—former and current Liberal MPPs and MPs. The same process was used in the federal Liberal leadership contest in 2006, which saw Stéphane Dion upset front-runners Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae after Dion received overwhelming support from delegates of defeated candidate Gerard Kennedy. While the process has been criticized for being both time-consuming and elitist, watch for it to inject a little drama into the weekend’s voting.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
Samuel Kirz compares the trustworthiness of MPs to the trustworthiness of the jobs that MPs used to hold.
A few things stand out. Fewer than a third of the MPs in this sample had a pre-political profession that was deemed trustworthy by more than 50% of Canadians. On its face, that’s a pretty damning evaluation of the people in Ottawa.
However, a closer analysis of the numbers reveals that there’s one profession with a disproportionately large (and negative) effect on the sample. Lawyer is the most common pre-political profession, and 75% of Canadians consider lawyers untrustworthy. If lawyers were removed from the sample, we’d be left with 53 MPs from an untrustworthy profession and 46 MPs from a trustworthy profession. That’s almost a one-to-one ratio of liars to truth tellers. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than our current standing.
Nick Taylor-Vaisey mapped the pre-politics professions of MPs earlier this month.
By Blog of Lists - Monday, December 10, 2012 at 9:35 AM - 0 Comments
1. Robert Stanfield (Nov. 6, 1967– Feb. 21, 1976): The former Nova Scotia premier lost three elections to Pierre Trudeau between 1968 and 1974. In 1972, his Tories were three seats short of toppling the Liberals, but it was not to be.
2. George Alexander Drew (Oct. 2, 1948–Nov. 1, 1954 and Feb. 1, 1955–Aug. 1, 1956): A former Ontario premier and mayor of Guelph, Ont., Drew left provincial politics in 1948 to lead the Progres- sive Conservatives in Ottawa. He left politics for good after two election defeats and later served as the first chancellor of the University of Guelph.
3. Edward Blake (May 4, 1880– June 2, 1887): The founder of one of Toronto’s most prominent law firms, Blake served as premier of Ontario before entering federal politics. He lost elections as federal Liberal leader in 1882 and 1887. He later went on to serve in the British House of Commons as an Irish Nationalist.
4. John Bracken (June 11, 1945– July 20, 1948): Trained as an agricultural scientist, Bracken served five terms as the premier of Manitoba. Recruited to lead the Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa in 1942, he was elected to Parliament in 1945 before losing the party leadership to George Drew in 1948. He lost his own seat in the general election of 1949.
5. Preston Manning (June 2, 1997–March 26, 2000): The founder and first leader of the Reform party, Manning took over as leader of the official Opposition after the federal election of 1997. He lost the post to Stockwell Day in 2000 after the formation of the new Alliance party.
Sources: Parliament of Canada; Canadian Parliamentary Guide
Have you ever wondered which cities have the most bars, smokers, absentee workers and people searching for love? What about how Canada compares to the world in terms of the size of its military, the size of our houses and the number of cars we own? The answers to all those questions, and many more, can be found in the first ever Maclean’s Book of Lists.
Buy your copy of the Maclean’s Book of Lists at the newsstand or order online now.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Andrew Potter considers the nature of truth in politics.
Political leadership is a form of storytelling, and no amount of mere fact-checking will ever serve to counteract a narrative that a significant mass of the public feels in its bones to be true. That is why the most effective antidote to the poison politics of truthiness is ridicule.
It is no coincidence that the term truthiness was coined in 2006 by the comedian Stephen Colbert, host of the wildly popular talk show The Colbert Report. Along with Jon Stewart (host of the sister program The Daily Show) Colbert has become one of the most influential political analysts in America. Truth should always remain a regulative ideal of political life. Facts matter, and fact-checking is still an important function of the independent press. But in the age of post-truth politics, it is important to remember that the guiding light of reason is the satirist. The literary devices of irony, sarcasm, and parody are the mechanisms through which grand political narratives are exposed not as false, but as laughable, preposterous or absurd.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Ignatieff tries to draw a line between adversaries and enemies.
In his speech, Mr. Ignatieff bore down on the high price paid when politicians treat each other as enemies rather than adversaries. When you think of your opponent across the aisle as an adversary, “you reject arguments, not persons; question premises, not identities; interrogate interests, not loyalties,” Mr. Ignatieff said.
But when politicians look upon each other as enemies, “legislatures replace relevance with pure partisanship. Party discipline rules supreme, fraternization is frowned upon, negotiation and compromise are rarely practised, and debate within the chamber becomes as venomously personal as it is politically meaningless.”
I always have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that something has changed in the way politicians treat each other: that they used to treat each other in a slightly more honourable way. When was this?
Meanwhile, Glen Pearson argues the disconnect is between partisans and non-partisans.
The majority of people who I see everyday are growing increasingly hesitant to say which party they support, if in fact they do support one, because of the rabid rhetoric and practice that increasingly characterizes modern political parties. Most Canadians no longer place themselves somewhere along the political spectrum and are increasingly rejecting the dubious aims of modern hyper-partisanship. It has become extreme enough that we can pick up on Andrew’s observation by adding that Canadians are now split by who is inside and who is outside.
There’s something to this, I think. However politics was practiced in the past, for good and bad, there does seem to have been a greater connection felt between the public and the politics. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying the public is turned off by negativity, but I think you could make a case that the gap between the public and the practice of politics is growing.
If I had to pick the primary problem in Ottawa right now, I wouldn’t nominate partisanship or political combat, but the sort of rote, mind-deadening partisanship that is regularly on display. Beyond the practical fixes that need to be made—QP reform, empowering the legislature, improved access to information and open data—the greatest threat to our discourse is the talking point.
By macleans.ca - Monday, October 15, 2012 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
John Geddes, Aaron Wherry and Paul Wells review the week in Parliament. In today’s briefing: Kevin Page, would-be leaders and Canada’s foreign minister.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10:33 AM - 0 Comments
Alex Himelfarb considers democracy, income inequality, consumerism and citizenship.
The result: a marketized politics of propaganda and pandering. It’s understandable then that, increasingly, those who want something better are looking outside of conventional politics: to their communities or global causes or to the streets. It was striking how many of the participants in the Quebec student protests found a new solidarity — and expressed a new sense of the common good — in their activism. Clearly some do care about our democracy, but many, especially young Canadians, have given up on the impoverished version offered up by our politics. That is both understandable and dangerous. The new activism and rebuilding of an independent civil society are essential but not enough.
Student leaders from Quebec have launched a cross-Canada tour to promote activism and the creation of social movements that provide a richer democratic experience than offered by contemporary politics, but also to explain to those who feel disenfranchised why voting and political participation still matter. They understand the dangers of leaving any government to its own devices, unconstrained by a vigilant citizenry. But they are also looking for a new politics, tuned into community and the streets, which at least begins to offer real engagement on the issues that matter — inequality and poverty, jobs and youth unemployment, climate change and environmental degradation. They seem to have found some hope that a renewed democracy could allow us to take back our future. It is now up to our political leadership to take up the challenge.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 3:03 PM - 0 Comments
History shows us that, over time, science’s authority always undermines dogma’s legitimacy; and the persuasive power of reason will always trump ideology’s emotion. The best defence against dogma and ideology continues to be reason and science. History has also shown that tyrants can have a truncated shelf life if the citizenry enters the public forum and, armed with facts, reasoned arguments, and thoughtful ideas, engages in a loud debate. In the case of those who would stand against reason, our silence will be perceived as consent. There’s too much at stake to be silent.
If it feels lame to suggest that the solution about what to do next is to talk to each other more, I invite you to review history and ask yourselves what role public discourse has had in the toppling of dictators and despots. Right now, there seems to be a very one-sided conversation going on and the powers that be are leading it. We have our hands on the easiest levers the world has ever known by which to spread an idea and lead our own conversation. Let’s use them.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 4:18 PM - 0 Comments
Watch for our exclusive interview in this week’s magazine
For many observers, Justin Trudeau’s bid to lead Canada’s Liberal party was a matter of “when” not “if.”
But as his destiny plays out, the 40-year-old MP knows his biggest challenge will be to prove there is more to recommend him than his family name.
In an interview in this week’s edition of Maclean’s, Trudeau tells Maclean’s Jonathon Gatehouse that although he had been shaped by his father’s values and vision, he’s very much his own man. “This is not the ghost of my father running for the leadership of the Liberal Party. This is me.”
And to focus on what he’s not is to lose sight of what Justin Trudeau undeniably is, writes Gatehouse: the most popular politician in all of Canada. A passionate orator and effective advocate for all sorts of causes. The kind of boldface name who can draw packed crowds to Liberal fundraisers anywhere in the country, whether it’s a barbeque in Windsor, Ont., university pub nights in Vancouver, or even a Stampede breakfast in hostile Calgary.
In a feature that includes new photos of Trudeau and his young family, Gatehouse reveals a man who is finally ready to emerge from his father’s long shadow and try to engage Canadians on his own terms. “Why am I doing this? Because I can, not because I want to. Because I must,” Trudeau says.
Also on Justin Trudeau in this week’s issue:
- Leadership vacuum: Every Liberal will tell you that they don’t want a coronation of Justin Trudeau as the next leader. They want a race. That’s why Mark Carney’s name keeps coming up, whether he knows it or not. Ottawa Bureau Chief John Geddes reports.
- A life in pictures: From the very beginning, Justin Trudeau has lived in the public eye, with cameras documenting the good times and the bad. Maclean’s presents some of the most moving Trudeau images from the past 40 years.
- Western connection: Justin Trudeau’s maternal family was legendary in B.C. Liberal circles, and he spent much of his 20s there finding himself. A former ski buddy tells Vancouver bureau chief Ken MacQueen about an adventurous young man.
Maclean’s on the iPad:
- This week, veteran photographer Peter Bregg discusses 40 years of photographing the Trudeau family.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 9:16 AM - 0 Comments
After a mass email, which praised the Harper governments record on gay refugees from…
After a mass email, which praised the Harper governments record on gay refugees from Iran, was sent to members of the gay and lesbian community from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office, many in the community worried that their privacy has been compromised, the CBC reports. The most worrying issue among respondents is how Kenney’s office came to know their sexual orientation.
Many Canadians expressed anger and fear over Kenney’s email yesterday on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Randall Garrison, the NDP critic for LGBT issues, said that the targeted emails brought up a “serious privacy question.” Many who commented yesterday said that sexual orientation is a sensitive issue and should not be the subject of political targeting.
A spokeswoman for Kenney said the email was a “response to individuals who have communicated with our office about gay refugee issues,” but many who received the email say they have never communicated with the Minister’s office. The National Post reported that the email addresses were mined from an online petition protesting the deportation of a gay artist from Nicaragua, who was then facing deportation because he could not “prove” he was gay. After signing the petition, names and emails were automatically sent to Kenney’s office.
Others accuse Kenney of “pink-washing” the issue of gay refugees in order to support the issue he truly cares about—criticizing Iran. Kenney, who describes himself as a strict Roman Catholic, does not have a well-publicized history of engaging in LGBT issues.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 4:11 PM - 0 Comments
Politics has gone through a transformative change in the last 40 years. Today, events move at lightning speed; issues are highly complex and interconnected; there has been an explosion of new players in the policy space, such as NGOs, lobbyists and associations; information is superabundant; social media have created a 24 hour news cycle; and public opinion research, communications and marketing have changed the way policy is made and defended.
In this new environment governments are inclined to avoid public debate on major issues. Trying to explain complex issues in 15-second clips is next to impossible, and opponents are often very skilled at turning this to their advantage. They use sophisticated communications techniques to manipulate the media and incite suspicion, doubt and anger among affected groups. As a result, opponents often punch far above their weight, stalling or even derailing major policy initiatives. Governments fear them. Yet Gregg has almost nothing to say about all this. Instead, his call for a return to reason in politics often sounds more like a lament for the kind of public debates we had when Canada was a simpler, slower, less complicated place. As an expert in public engagement, I can only say that we are not going back to this. The past is gone.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 1:54 PM - 0 Comments
William Watson rightfully mocks the “wisdom of the voters” explanation that regularly surfaces in the wake of election results.
If the federalist party couldn’t win — which after nine years in power was unlikely — and if the reformist party was too untried, then a separatist government with only a tiny plurality may have been the best outcome possible. But it wasn’t due to the “wisdom of the Quebec voter.” I was there. The ballot I cast did not actually say “What kind of government would you like?” and then let us fill in the percentages of the popular vote we would like to see each of the parties get. Maybe it should have. Maybe that would be a better system. We now have computers smart enough to count ballots split in that way, even if we may not have a population smart enough to make the different percentages add up to 100.
But in any case, that’s not what the ballot said. What it said was “Vote for one of the following people.” You only got one choice. If you had tried to vote for more than one person, your ballot would have been cast aside as spoiled. So far as we can tell from the ballots cast, each voter wanted the party he or she chose to win 100 per cent of the vote.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Allan Gregg considers the Harper government’s approach to evidence, reasoning and language in policy and our current political culture.
The thing that is disconcerting and unsettling about all this is not just the substance of these Bills, but why a government would want to disguise that substance. Maybe dismantling the Wheat Board; or pre-emptively squashing collective bargaining; or sending more potheads to jail is a good thing. But before we make those decisions, let’s look at all the facts; have a fulsome and rational debate; and make a reasoned decision of what is in the best interests of all the parties involved. For voters to determine whether these are measures they support or oppose requires that they know what is at stake and what the government is actually doing. Moreover, for the rule of law to work, the public must have respect for the law. By obfuscating the true purpose of laws under the gobbledy-gook of double speak, governments are admitting that their intentions probably lack both support and respect. Again, the lesson here is Orwellian … in the same way that reason requires consciousness, tyranny demands ignorance.
As evidence of the Harper government’s success in controlling the conversation, consider that it seems to have convinced Allan that the census that was eliminated two years ago asked about toilet ownership. It didn’t. The last census to ask about toilet ownership was the 1961 census.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 1:46 PM - 0 Comments
Ezra Klein considers truth in the American presidential campaign.
Quite simply, the Romney campaign isn’t adhering to the minimum standards required for a real policy conversation. Even if you bend over backward to be generous to them — as the Tax Policy Center did when they granted the Romney campaign a slew of essentially impossible premises in order to evaluate their tax plan — you often find yourself forced into the same conclusion: This doesn’t add up, this doesn’t have enough details to be evaluated, or this isn’t true. I don’t like that conclusion. It doesn’t look “fair” when you say that. We’ve been conditioned to want to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame, and the fact of the matter is, I would like to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame. I’d personally feel better if our coverage didn’t look so lopsided. But first the campaigns have to be relatively equal. So far in this campaign, you can look fair, or you can be fair, but you can’t be both.
Mark Leibovich goes looking for joy.
But what’s been completely missing this year has been, for lack of a better word, joy. Yes, it’s always kind of fun to follow Joe Biden around and wait to hear what will come out of his mouth next, and who knows what Paul Ryan has hidden under his oversize jacket. But the principals don’t seem to be experiencing much joy as they go through their market-tested paces. A kind of faux-ness permeates everything this year in a way that it hasn’t been quite so consuming in the past. The effect has been anesthetizing and made it difficult to take any of the day’s supposed gaffes, game-changers and false umbrages seriously. The campaigns appeared locked in a paradigm of terrified superpowers’ spending blindly on redundant warfare. How many times do they have to blow up Vladivostok? Where were the surprises, the pleasures of discovery and the true emotion of the newly vitalized? The volunteers who decided to get involved because so-and-so inspired them, not because the other guy (the socialist or the plutocrat) scared them? They seemed in such short supply. This might or might not be the most important election of our lifetime — as we are told it is every four years — but it really did feel like the most joyless.
Sasha Issenberg says campaign reporters can’t see the campaign.
Over the last decade, almost entirely out of view, campaigns have modernized their techniques in such a way that nearly every member of the political press now lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what’s going on. Campaign professionals have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding what moves votes. It’s as if restaurant critics remained oblivious to a generation’s worth of new chefs’ tools and techniques and persisted in describing every dish that came out of the kitchen as either “grilled” or “broiled.” “When I went to work for my first campaign, in 1994, I was actually surprised at how journalists tended to think one step ahead where campaigns are four steps ahead,” says Joel Benenson, a former newspaper reporter who now serves as President Obama’s chief pollster. “Think of it as a level-five player in chess and a level-eight player in chess. You had people covering campaigns who are at the mercy of the grandmasters of politics.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 10:12 AM - 0 Comments
Former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra proposes an association of politicians dedicated to accountability.
An independent, non-partisan, non-governmental association — let’s call it the Canadian Association of Accountable Politicians (CAAP) — is established for all politicians to join. The association would require members to sign on to a code of conduct that includes commitments to always tell the truth, avoid inappropriate language, reject personal insults, pledge honest public service and to always behave according to highest ethical standards. The association would also have an independent Ombudsman where alleged violation of the code of conduct and other complaints would be investigated. CAAP could also offer its members professional development courses on campaigning, policy development, human resources management, communication, public speaking, campaign financing and provide legal advice.
Politicians, which include political candidates and workers, would be eligible to join CAAP. The only membership requirements would be to sign the pledge and to accept the Ombudsman jurisdiction. If a member is found to have contravened the pledge, they can be censured, suspended or have their membership revoked. A political candidate will not be required to join the association in order to run for office. Membership is optional. The public, however, will have the right to ask why a candidate is refusing to join the association and take up the pledge.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 23, 2012 at 11:52 AM - 0 Comments
Voter turnout for referendums and elections hovers around 45-55 per cent, comparable to our own elections — but there, voting happens constantly. Not just voting, but weighing and debating. “The whole society is in a constant state of discussion,” says Nik Nuspliger, North American correspondent for Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It’s built into Swiss life, like the legal system itself. Every law passed by parliament that affects the constitution must go to a referendum. Laws not affecting the constitution can also be sent to a referendum if 50,000 people sign a petition — out of population of 8 million. Votes can be based on “popular initiatives” if they’re supported by 100,000 names. That’s how minarets got on.
Parliament then debates and formulates a question and it can also put its own alternative on the ballot. Foreign treaties automatically get referendums. There are provisions for double majorities — both nationally and in cantons — in some cases, and time limits depending on issues. This is the sign of deep integration into normal political life: loads of rules.
The counter to any pro-referendum argument is, of course, California, which at least demonstrates the need to be very careful in designing any such system of direct democracy.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 23, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Max Read dismisses those who fret about “politicizing” a tragedy.
It’s easy to understand the impulse to decry “politicization”: politics is necessarily antagonistic, and in the aftermath of a violent tragedy confrontation seems distasteful and disrespectful. No one wants to be accused of using a tragedy for “political ends.” But you don’t really get to escape. The insistence that no one talk about politics is itself a political act. Politics is how we effect change in the systems and structures that govern our lives. To take the stance that tragedies are or should remain “apolitical” or “depoliticized” is to say, essentially, that everything is fine and nothing needs to be fixed; that such an act was random and unpreventable. (In a country with rates of violent crime that far exceed our economic and cultural peers, such a sentiment seems misguided at best.) To demand politics be left out of the conversation is only to hide them.
Similarly, there is part of Dave Weigel’s early response to the shooting in Colorado.
I see Chris Cillizza’s getting criticized for writing a well-researched story about whether gun tragedies affect public opinion of guns.(Short version: There are vastly different KINDS of tragedies, but, no.) Lay off! The only time Americans ever talk about gun laws or the effects of gun laws is after tragedies.
There are probably some distinctions that need to be made. Holding a raucous political rally on the day of a prominent tragedy would have been poor form, but no more so than going through with a gala red carpet opening in Paris for the movie linked to the shooting. Erroneously linking the perpetrator to a particular political cause or party isn’t “politicizing” the tragedy, it’s bad journalism. And to say we shouldn’t be afraid of political debate and discussion isn’t the same as excusing politicians who offer rash, poorly conceived responses in the wake of tragedies.
But, with all that said, the idea that we shouldn’t “politicize” a major event is vaguely puerile. We should respect the loss and the grief, but we can’t suspend reality: specifically, the reality that everything of any significance is political. Not “political” in the way that word has become a slur, but political in that it relates to how we govern our society and relate to and interact with each other. The idea of “politicizing” suggests there’s a difference between “politics” and “real life.” Worse, it would also seem to suggest that we find our politics to be generally distasteful.
But that should be an argument against how our politics is conducted. Not with the very idea of democratic governance. We should be able to talk about the very serious matters of policy that are raised by tragedies such as the shootings in Scarborough and Colorado. To suggest we shouldn’t is to suggest we can’t. That we can’t handle a very serious discussion about a very serious issue. For sure, we should respect the very real tragedies that have occurred and our thoughts should be with those affected. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that anything is made better by declining to engage with the questions of public policy that are raised by these events.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 9, 2012 at 5:44 PM - 0 Comments
Alex Himelfarb is both hopeful of and concerned for the next generation.
We have much to learn from young Canadians who bring new experiences, new tools and new ways of thinking to the table. They seem less ready to trade democracy for a super-leader or saviour. Most are not looking for a tough boss or someone with all the answers. They may share the general disdain for government, but for different reasons: it is too opaque, too remote, too hard to penetrate and seemingly impossible to influence – too undemocratic. They don’t want less democracy, they want more.
Yes, many have opted out of conventional politics, including voting, but they are also finding new ways to engage in public life, in their communities or internationally, and some have taken to the streets, standing outside all our conventional institutions and conventional wisdom to find something new. They are the digital generation that can make those of us stuck in the industrial age so uncomfortable. How the semi-leaderless Occupy Movement or the students in the streets of Montreal drove so many of us crazy. Their leadership was emergent, fragile, shifting, in a word, democratic. Networks and communities replaced hierarchies. And the generational divide is exposed. This is not the hyper-individualism or entitlement thinking that detractors claimed. It is about rebuilding civil society from the ground up, about a new kind of solidarity and a different kind of leadership.
Finding new ways to engage and contribute, rejecting government as parent or nanny, refusing to see the state as the answer to everything – that is all part of a better future. But to the extent that the young ignore conventional political institutions, including voting, to the extent that they do not engage with the state and try to make it better, we risk an ever-wider gap between civil society and state and a continuing erosion of our democracy.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 9, 2012 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
A whopping 95 per cent of Canadians feel politicians in Ottawa have nothing in common (44 per cent) or only a little in common (51 per cent) with average Canadians, while only five per cent believe members of Parliament and senators have a lot in common with them.
In the same vein, 84 per cent of those polled either strongly agree (38 per cent) or somewhat agree (46 per cent) the political elite in Ottawa isn’t tuned in to what’s really important to average Canadians.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 6, 2012 at 5:26 PM - 0 Comments
Among its concerns, identified from databases of official statistics and public surveys, were that Britain’s constitutional arrangements are “increasingly unstable” owing to changes such as devolution; public faith in democratic institutions “decaying”; a widening gap in the participation rates of different social classes of voters; and an “unprecedented” growth in corporate power, which the study’s authors warn “threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making”. In an interview with the Guardian, Stuart Wilks-Heeg, the report’s lead author, warned that Britons could soon have to ask themselves “whether it’s really representative democracy any more?”
“The reality is that representative democracy, at the core, has to be about people voting, has to be about people engaging in political parties, has to be about people having contact with elected representatives, and having faith and trust in elected representatives, as well as those representatives demonstrating they can exercise political power effectively and make decisions that tend to be approved of,” said Wilks-Heeg. ”All of that is pretty catastrophically in decline. How low would turnout have to be before we question whether it’s really representative democracy at all?” The UK’s democratic institutions were strong enough to keep operating with low public input, but the longer people avoided voting and remained disillusioned, the worse the problem would get, said Wilks-Heeg.
Some of the data involved is explained here and comparisons to the Canadian situation do not particularly flatter our democracy. The average turnout for British parliamentary elections in the 2000s is 60%. In Canada, the average is 61.3%. Twenty-two percent of MPs in Britain are women. Here it’s 25%. In 2011, Canada and the United Kingdom both ranked 26th in press freedom according to the Freedom House Index (in the latest rankings we’ve moved up to 25th and the UK has fallen back to 31st). Only on the corruption perceptions index does Canada fair markedly better: sixth compared to 20th for the UK in 2010.
As noted earlier today, the Canadian Election Study’s survey results on politics and government in Canada are here. The CES also asked respondents about their political involvement and activities. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 6, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
In its post-campaign survey and its mail-back survey, the Canadian Election Study tested several ideas about government and politicians.
The government does not care much about what people like me think.
Strongly agree 26.9%
Somewhat agree 38.0%
Somewhat disagree 24.9%
Strongly disagree 8.1%
Don’t know 2.0%
Politicians are ready to lie to get elected.
Strongly agree 44.1%
Somewhat agree 38.9%
Somewhat disagree 10.3%
Strongly disagree 3.7%
Don’t know 2.6%
Those elected to Parliament soon lose touch with the people.
Strongly Agree 14.8%
Strongly disagree 1.8%
Not Sure 4.4%
So while a majority of respondents were at least fairly satisfied with our democracy, large majorities at least somewhat agree that the government doesn’t care, that politicians are ready to lie and that MPs soon lose touch with their constituents. Furthermore, 56% say the “people in government … waste a lot of the money we pay in taxes.”
At the same time, there are other findings that chip away at this presented cynicism. Just less than 61% disagreed with the idea that “People like me don’t have any say about what the government does” and 65% disagree with the suggestion that “most politicians are corrupt.”
And for all the general displeasure, we still apparently take voting quite seriously: 70.4% said voting is a duty, 70.6% said they’d feel very or somewhat guilty if they failed to vote, 60.8% said they felt entirely or mostly positive about the vote they cast and 98.1% agree that “it is important that people vote in elections.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
The political purse strings have officially been tightened.
According to figures released by Elections…
The political purse strings have officially been tightened.
The elimination of public subsidies for federal political parties was a key plank in the Conservative party’s 2011 election platform. While the government plans to eventually get rid of the subsidies entirely, a 25 per cent reduction was introduced on April 1, 2012.
Eliminating the full subsidy is expected to save $27 million a year, and Stephen Harper says it will change the culture in Ottawa away from “constant campaigning.” The Conservatives are the most successful private fundraisers in the House of Commons, and while they will lose the most money from the subsidies removal, they have the most to gain politically.
The taxpayer funded per-vote subsidies were introduced by the Martin government in 2004, shortly after corporate and union donations were banned. Opposition members largely support the subsidy. In 2011, the late Jack Layton told the Globe and Mail that its removal will put political power back in the hands of the rich, and that the “mixed approach of public and private money” is ultimately better for democracy.