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Siddiqui: Harper acting like an elected dictator December 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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When Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien were in power, conservative commentators used to complain that both tended to be dictatorial, courtesy of our parliamentary system that made the prime minister too powerful, more so in some respects than the president of the United States.

Where are those pundits when we really need them? Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.

“When you add up all that this government has done, it’s truly scary,” says Gar Pardy, former head of the foreign ministry’s consular services. He’s the one who organized the petition that defended diplomat Richard Colvin from Tory mudslinging, and which has been signed by 133 retired ambassadors.

The extent of Harper’s misuse of power becomes clearer when you realize that the Conservatives are replicating some of the worst practices of the Republicans under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney:

Consolidating executive power; eviscerating the legislative branch; operating under extreme secrecy (by keeping an iron grip on information, through endless court challenges and censoring/redacting documents); riding the coattails of the military and questioning the patriotism of political opponents; and forcing out public servants who refused to fall in line.

Count the heads that have rolled in Ottawa:

Peter Tinsley, chair of the military police commission, who initiated the Afghan prison abuse probe – refused a second term.

Paul Kennedy, chair of the Complaints Commission for the RCMP, who criticized the use of Tasers – refused a second term.

Linda Keen, nuclear watchdog, who insisted on safety at Chalk River – fired.

Kevin Page, parliamentary budget watchdog, who rattled the Tories with several revelations – rendered ineffective with a cut of $1 million from his $2.8 million budget.

Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer, who probed Tory election spending – publicly attacked.

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who dared criticize both the U.S. and Israel – refused support for a second term and publicly rebuked.

Jean-Guy Fleury, chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, who opposed the Tory politicization of appointments to the tribunal – frustrated into quitting.

Similarly, groups that won’t toe the Tory line are being penalized.

The Canadian Arab Federation lost funding after its chair attacked Ottawa’s pro-Israeli policies. Now the same fate has befallen KAIROS, a Christian aid group, for “taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel, boasts Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the designated Tory bulldog in charge of attacking real or perceived enemies.

Ottawa is rife with rumour of another scandal in the making: Harper asking Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament, yet again, this time during the Winter Olympics (ending Feb. 28) and perhaps also the Paralympics (ending March 21).

She should flat-out refuse and not repeat her mistake from a year ago, when she got rolled by him. At that fateful meeting, she should not have let Kevin Lynch, clerk of the Privy Council, into the room. Get-togethers between the governor general and the prime minister are privileged.

She also should not have shuttled between Harper and a team of constitutional advisers she had assembled. Instead, she should have taken his request under advisement and sent him off, and summoned Stéphane Dion and perhaps also Jack Layton to brief her on their coalition agreement.

That way, she would’ve had more choices:

Advise the Prime Minister to seek a vote of confidence. Or, if he felt he didn’t have it, to ask if someone else on his front benches might. Failing both, turn to the opposition to demonstrate that they could muster the confidence of the House, as claimed.

Jean failed in her duties by deciding the fate of the government behind closed doors, rather than in an open democratic process by the elected representatives of the people.

A governor general is not obliged to take the prime minister’s advice, only that which she deems appropriate to our parliamentary system. What Jean saw as appropriate last year wasn’t. Each passing day proves it.

Haroon Siddiqui writes Thursdays and Sundays. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Coalition government still a good idea January 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition, Economic Crisis.
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When Michael Ignatieff opted yesterday to support the Conservative government and its new budget, he was making what may be the most critical decision of his career as Liberal leader, regardless of how long he holds the job.

By siding with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ignatieff was rejecting calls to join the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois in defeating the budget, thus bringing down the Tory government and paving the way for an election or a coalition government.

Ignatieff based his decision to a good extent on internal Liberal politics. Basically, the party is broke, disorganized and still licking its wounds from last fall’s disastrous election under former leader Stéphane Dion.

But rather than propping up Harper’s government, Ignatieff should have seriously considered voting down the budget and forming a coalition with the NDP, as Dion proposed last December.

Despite the earlier tepid response, especially in Western Canada, to the coalition touted by Dion, there are many reasons why a Liberal-NDP coalition, with the unofficial backing of the Bloc Québécois, is still a good idea.

First, a coalition that guarantees two years of continuing government, as the Liberals and NDP did in their accord signed in December, would be a stabilizing element for the country during this financial crisis. Stable governments are essential for businesses and financial markets to start recovering.

Without a coalition, Canada will be under constant threat of another election. That vote likely would result in another minority government and more instability.

Second, coalitions are appropriate in a time of national crisis, such as Canada is experiencing.

In Canada, the only federal coalition was the Union government of World War I, which saw the Conservatives led by Robert Borden join with some Liberals and independents to deal with the controversial issue of conscription.

In other countries, similar coalitions have been formed during a national crisis, such as in Britain during the Great Depression when Labour and Conservatives joined forces to tackle the economy.

Third, a coalition of Liberals and the NDP could bring a combination of fiscal responsibility and an economic stimulus package that could better address the needs of Canada than the Harper budget.

Last December, the proposed coalition promised to pump much-needed money into infrastructure projects, such as housing, roads and public transit. It also vowed to improve social benefits and provide help to troubled industries.

The program was so good that Harper stole many of the ideas and put them into Tuesday’s budget.

Fourth, Harper has shown himself to be unqualified to deal with the economic mess. The best example of that was the mini-budget last November, which was devoid of any sense of the crisis the country was in, despite massive job layoffs, a weakening dollar and rising bankruptcies.

Also, top economists are criticizing Harper for pushing massive tax cuts. They argue it is folly to slash taxes while increasing government spending by record levels.

Fifth, and most important for Ignatieff, the Liberals will reinforce their image established under Dion as a party of wimps afraid to face Harper in an election.

By forming a coalition, Ignatieff would signal he is ready to govern.

By refusing, he ends up being outmanoeuvred politically by Harper, who in a year or two will claim credit for what will then be an improving Canadian economy.

That would be a powerful campaign theme that could ensure Harper wins the next election and bring an abrupt end to Ignatieff’s reign as Liberal leader.

Bob Hepburn’s column appears Thursdays. bhepburn@thestar.ca

SHAME! December 4, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in A: Roger's Original Essays, About Canada, Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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The Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, has made a grave and inexcusable mistake in caving in to the pleading of Conservative leader Stephen Harper and suspending Parliament until the end of January.

It is not for a Governor General to interfere in the parliamentary procedures of the House of Commons, rather to protect the process.  She has violated her mandate.  The Governor General has the power to suspend the working of parliament in the event of emergency.  In this case, somehow she was convinced by Harper that saving his political neck was a national emergency.  The Tories and the media may have exerted enormous pressures on the Governor General, but it is her sworn duty to uphold parliamentary rules and procedures.  It his she as failed and shown a grevious lack of character.

SHAME.

Coalition Deserves a Chance December 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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Toronto Star Editorial
Dec 02, 2008 04:30 AM

The Conservatives’ reaction was fast and furious to news that the opposition parties have signed off on a historic deal to kick them out of office and replace them with a coalition government.

His voice dripping with scorn, Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday accused Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion of playing “the biggest political game in Canadian history” and of relying on “socialists” (New Democrats) and “separatists” (Bloc Québécois) to vault himself into power. Harper’s ministers and MPs used language like “deal with the devil” and “secret cabal” to describe the arrangement.

The suggestion was that the coalition deal was illegitimate and undemocratic, a coup d’etat.

It is nothing of the sort. It is the way our parliamentary system works, especially in the immediate aftermath of the election of a minority Parliament. Furthermore, the Harper government created an opening for the opposition parties last week by tabling a provocative “economic statement” that failed to address the economic crisis but contained poison pills it must have known they could not swallow.

Harper and his government took some steps away from those toxic measures last weekend, but it was too late. The opposition had made up its collective mind that Harper could not be trusted.

With their demise perhaps less than a week away (a non-confidence vote is scheduled for next Monday evening), the Conservatives are arguing that a change of government at this moment would be “very destabilizing” for the economy. As if to underscore that point, the markets plunged yesterday (although most analysts attributed the bulk of the losses to bad economic news from the U.S.).

But consider the alternatives to a change in government: either there would be another election (which would leave the affairs of state suspended for the duration) or Harper would remain in office with the opposition ready to pounce and defeat his government at every opportunity. That is as unstable as it gets.

The coalition, meanwhile, has agreed to hold off elections until at least June 30, 2011 – 2 1/2 years from now. (The Bloc, which would not have a cabinet seat, has signed on until June 30, 2010.) That should provide the stability needed for the government to grapple with the economic challenges facing Canada.

And grapple they promise to do in their accord, which features an economic stimulus package that includes “substantial new investments” in infrastructure and housing, support for the forestry and auto sectors, and enhancements in Employment Insurance. All this should have been included in last week’s economic statement.

To be sure, there are questions to be answered about the coalition. Canadians will want to know whether there are any worrisome side deals with the Bloc. (Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said yesterday there is no agreement on “concrete” measures to enhance Quebec sovereignty.) And what about the coalition’s foreign policy, notably on Afghanistan, where the Liberals and New Democrats have differed sharply in the past?

Also problematic is the fact that, under the deal, Dion, the Liberals’ lame-duck leader, would serve as prime minister, at least until the new party leader is chosen next spring. In the Oct. 14 election, Canadians resoundingly rejected Dion, who finished a poor third behind both Harper and Layton as “best prime minister” in all the opinion polls. A wiser choice for interim prime minister might have been a Liberal stalwart like former finance minister Ralph Goodale.

It is also unclear whether the Liberal leadership candidates – Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc – would be given cabinet posts. Again, it would be wise to keep them out, as they are going to be busy campaigning for the next five months.

Issues like these could still derail the coalition before the crucial vote next Monday.

That being said, a coalition government of Liberals and New Democrats is preferable at this time to a Conservative regime led by Harper, who has demonstrated that ideology and partisanship are more important to him than providing good government.

Canada: Do the Math; Look at the Abject Tory Failure; Support the Coalition December 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in A: Roger's Original Essays, About Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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© Roger Hollander 2008

 

Let’s begin by looking at the numbers in the October election:

 

(Elections Canada: http://enr.elections.ca)

 

Conservatives:     5,205,334   37.6%    143 seats (46.4%)

 

Liberals:               3,629,990   26.2%    76 seats (24.7%)

 

NDP:                    2,517,075   18.2%    37 seats (12.0%)

 

Bloc:                     1,379,565   10.0%    50 seats (16.2%)

 

(Note: there are 2 Independents elected)

 

The first thing to note is that, taking into account the overall popular vote,  the Conservatives and the Bloc are somewhat over-represented in Parliament and the NDP greatly under-represented.

 

But with respect to the question of “democracy” as it arises in connection with the proposed Liberal/NDP Coalition (the Bloc being something of a silent partner), what is noteworthy and unquestionable is the following:

 

The combined Liberal/NDP popular vote percentages are 44.4% versus the Conservatives 37.6%.  When the Bloc vote is added to the Liberal and NDP vote, the comparison with the Conservatives is 54.4% versus 37.6%.  With respect to seats in the House of Commons, the three Parties that are proposing the Coalition have a combined total of 163 (52.9%) versus the Conservatives 143 (46.4%).

 

STATISTICALY SPEAKING IT IS THE COALITON, NOT THE CONSERVATIVES THAT REPRESENTS A DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY.

 

Now let’s look beyond the statistics.  Following the October election, the Conservative Party formed a legitimate minority government.  However, it has operated as if it were a majority in failing to consult or take into account the policy positions of the other parties, who combined represent a majority of Canadian voters.

 

This Conservative minority government, however, appears now to have lost the confidence of the majority of the House of Commons as a result of a response to the economic crisis that not only is inadequate, but also an insult to Canadians.  The measures proposed by Finance Minister James Flaherty included no initiatives to deal with the crisis, but instead lashed out at the Party’s ideological opponents by proposing measures that are anti-woman, anti-labor and anti-democratic.

 

It is altogether fitting that the majority of the members of the House of Commons should petition the Governor General to recognize said loss of confidence and recognize as the new government of Canada the proposed Coalition.  The Coalition not only represents a majority of Canadian voters, but it has put together a concrete policy agenda that in fact does begin to meet the economic crisis from which the country now suffers.

 

While the Governor General also has the option of calling a new election, she should take into account that the country spoke loud and clear in October; and that it is only the vicissitude of the fragmentation of political parties in Canada that have allowed the Conservative Party to rule.  Given that a new and coherent and unified majority has arisen, it makes much more sense to give that Coalition an opportunity to govern.

 

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