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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.


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%).




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.


The Canadian Election: Another Black Eye for Democracy October 16, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in About Canada, Canada.
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The results are in, and disappointing is not strong enough a word.  The Tories have increased their minority by around 20 seats and probably would have been able to form a majority government if they hadn’t been awash in a series of scandals, including bribing a dying MP for his vote and a major cabinet minister leaving secret documents at the home of his ex-girl friend, a women with biker gang and mafia associations.


I have a mantra that goes like this: genuine democracy is by nature not possible if there is only political democracy without economic democracy.  And, of course, even the degree of political democracy in some nations hardly qualifies in terms of the word’s origin, which comes from the Greek, meaning “the people.”


In Canada, the winner-take-all system (as opposed to proportional representation) gave the ruling Conservatives a near majority with only abut 38% of the popular vote.  In other words, 62% of those who voted would have preferred a different government but are stuck with one that happens to be little more than a shadow of the U.S. neocon right wing Bush/Cheney conspiracy.  In a Toronto Star poll, when asked if they were happy with the results of the election, 65% said No.  In other words, about two thirds of “the people” were in effect disenfranchised by this election.


One could argue that they played by the rules and won fairly.  But for me it is the rules that I have a problem with.  I like to cite Bob Dylan’s “money doesn’t talk, it swears.”  Given the huge concentrations of capital, including in the communications industries (radio, television, the press), the principle of “one person one vote” becomes a hollow farce.


Non Canadians may not be aware that Canada’s ruling Conservative party was, in effect, hijacked by a merger with the ultra-Right Reform Party in a matter that is somewhat parallel to the take over of the U.S. Republican Party by the Radical Christian Right.


The Liberal Party made a disastrous leadership choice in Stéphane Dion (lowest Liberal popular vote since 1867!), who had slipped through the middle between Michael Ignatieff (an academic and a Canadian who had lived for decades in the U.S. and is notorious for having flirted with the notion of justifying torture under certain circumstances) and Bob Rae a former and largely discredited Premier of the Province of Ontario who left the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) to join the Liberals.  One of these two are most likely to replace Dion and face off against Harper in four years.  Hardly anything to look forward to.


A couple of years ago, the CBC had a nation-wide poll asking Canadians to cast their vote for the person they considered the greatest Canadian of all time.  The hands down winner was Tommy Douglas, who as NDP Premier of the Province of Saskatchewan introduced universal health care in that province, which led to it being adopted by the federal government.  Canadians are not necessarily a passionate people, but don’t ever try to take their health care system away from them.


And yet, fuelled by a hostile media and the political pundit culture, Canadian voters gave only 18% of their votes to the NDP, whose leader, Jack Layton, is heads and shoulders in intelligence, compassion, and transparency above the leaders of the other parties, and whose policies are the most favourable towards lower and middle income Canadians, environmental protection, withdrawing the Canadian military from the fiasco in Afghanistan, etc.  Although the NDP picked up several seats in this election, their representation in Parliament with 18% of the vote amount to just 10%.  The Green Party, which garnered 7%, has no representation whatsoever.


Another sad irony is that, again fuelled by the corporate media and the pundit class, somehow a large percentage of voters are convinced that in the midst of a serious economic crisis, the very Conservative Party under whose watch the crisis has occurred (and which is ideologically joined at the hip with the U.S. Republicans, who are the big culprits) is consider the safest bet to handle the problem.


I hold the notion of democracy as sacred as anyone; it’s just that over a lifetime of political study and activism, it has become crystal clear to me that “formal” political democracy, with periodic elections, is a far cry from the real McCoy.  Yesterday’s Canadian election has once again confirmed this belief.

All We Are Say-ing … Is Give Jack a Chance October 1, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in About Canada, Canada.
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There is an anti-war song that begins:


Last night I had the strangest dream

I’ve never had before

I dreamed the world had all agreed

To put an end to war.


I am reminded of this because of the strange dream I have been having that the next minority government in Canada will be an NDP/Liberal/Green coalition with Jack Layton as Prime Minister.


Before you consign me to the ranks of the pixie dusters, consider that with the NDP creeping up on the Liberals in the polls and with the Canadian economy on the brink of melt-down occurring on Stephen Harper’s watch, who knows?


When a Liberal candidate approaches my friend Charlie for support, Charlie tells me that he replies, “Why should I vote for you when I can vote for a real Tory?”  This at first confuses the Liberal candidate, Charlie reports, but when the light finally dawns and he realizes Charlie’s point, Liberal candidate responds with unstatesman like anger (echoes of the Phil Ochs classic, “Love me, love me, love me, I’m a Liberal).


I’ll forgive Charlie for forgetting that there are, in fact, no “real” Tories left in Canada.  Much in the same way the fundamentalist ultra-right hijacked the Republican Party in the United States, in a bloodless coup the ultra-right Reform Party has taken the reins of what was once the Progressive Conservative Party and turned it into Bush/Cheney neoCon Lite.  Just as the Nelson Rockefellers and George Romneys are Republican museum piece artefacts, the Joe Clarks and David Crombies are an extinct species in what today passes for Canada’s Conservative Party.


And just as it would be an unmitigated disaster for McCain/Palin to triumph in November, another Harper government in Canada, minority or majority, would spell catastrophe for working folks, the middle classes, our major urban centres, arts and culture, etc.  The opposite of my dream is a Harper nightmare in which social programs continue to be rolled back, the sacred Canada Health Act diluted in favour of creeping privatisation, environmental imperatives and shameful homelessness continue to be ignored, and urban infrastructures continue to deteriorate.


Unlike Stéphane Dion, who gave Harper his budget and his extension of Canada’s ill-advised and hopeless military commitment in Afghanistan, Jack Layton alone has shown strong leadership in challenging Harper and his anti-Canadian agenda head on.  There is no doubt that on October 14, at least 60% of Canadian electors will exercise their franchise in opposition to the direction the Tory government has led the country.  That they should be allowed to continue in power, only because of the Byzantine nature of our multi-party system, would be both a tragedy and an insult to the democratic process.


Just three days ago in Ecuador, where I have lived on and off for nearly fifteen years, 65% of its voters adopted a new progressive constitution that for the first time in recent history will give the country a chance to challenge the forces that have kept the majority of its people in poverty and hunger.  In January of this year I wrote in rabble.ca that Canadians would do well to follow the example of their neighbours to the south (Toronto, by the way, is a sister to Ecuador’s capital city of Quito).


I am copying that article below:


Radical reforms in Ecuador: an example for Canada?

I am witnessing, for the first time in my life, a government that has won democratic power with a promise to implement badly needed political and economic reforms actually proceeding to do so.




Rafael Correa




>by Roger Hollander
January 18, 2008 I heard it back then from my Liberal and even some of my Tory friends: “Ed Broadbent is by far the best candidate. Too bad he’s NDP. Otherwise I’d vote for him.” I am now hearing the same thing about Jack Layton.

Well, let me tell you something. Jack Layton, with his keen intelligence, his transparent honesty, his charismatic and winsome personality, his formidable drive and seemingly endless energy, his love for his country, and – above all – his commitment to social and economic justice; if Jack Layton were Ecuadorian, he’d be the country’s leader today.

Let me explain.

Ecuador, a small country with a population of about 13 million, is a country rich in natural resources: minerals and oil, bananas, fresh flowers, coffee, cocoa, rice, fish and shell fish – the list goes on and on. And yet, nearly three fourths of its people live in poverty and lack basic sanitation, health and educational resources.

It has been ruled by military dictatorships and, since the late 1970s, by democratically elected presidents who rarely are able to complete a term in office. Its Congress is made up of a plethora of political parties, most of which are beholden to entrenched economic interests. It has been commonly asserted and seldom contested that the country is simply ungovernable.

Enter Rafael Correa, a European and U.S. trained Professor of Economics who in 2005 became Finance Minister in a transition government. He had the audacity to stand up to the World Bank by demanding that excess revenues from petroleum be directed towards financing health and education programs rather than toward servicing the external debt. The now discredited ex World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, pressured the government to fire Correa, and the Minister became a hero in Ecuador overnight.

A dark-horse candidate with an organization created on the fly, Correa overwhelmed the traditional political parties and won the 2006 presidential election in a landslide. He was 43 years old, the same age as John F. Kennedy when he ascended to the presidency of the United States. Correa has no representation in the Congress, however, which continues to be dominated by three main obstructionist political parties.

Correa’s major campaign promise was to hold a popular referendum that would ask Ecuadorians if they wished to create a Constituent Assembly with plenary powers to restructure Ecuador’s political and economic system. That Referendum was held in April 2007 and the “Yes” vote was an astounding 81.7 percent. Elections for the 130-member Constituent Assembly were held in September of the same year, and Correa’s supporters (Acuerdo País) won 80 seats and another ten to fifteen seats went to progressive parties that are more or less in support of the president’s radical reform agenda. The three major traditional parties (Social Christian, PRIAN and PSP) are a small minority, winning a total of 32 seats between them, and enjoy the additional support of only a handful of delegates from other right leaning parties. How the mighty have fallen!

The Constituent Assembly began meeting in late November, and its first act was to suspend the Congress, a highly popular move.

Just before year’s end it passed its first major piece of legislation, a tax reform bill that addresses blatant omissions and closes enormous loopholes and went into effect on January 1, 2008. Its major elements include (all amounts in US dollars):

A progressive inheritance tax, excluding estates of $50 000 or less, and with a ceiling of 35 percent on estates of $600 000 or more;

A progressive income tax, excluding annual incomes of $7850 or less (the average annual salary in Ecuador is approximately $2500), with a ceiling of 35 percent;

A progressive tax on unused acreage (enormous estates owned, and in many cases confiscated, by the country’s traditional elites are sitting fallow);

An increase in “sin taxes” on cigarettes, liquor, perfume, videogames, sport rifles and ammunition, and incandescent light bulbs.

An increase in the minimum wage from $170 to $200 monthly, and increase of 17.6 percent.

The vote for these measures at the Constituent Assembly was 90 in favour, 23 against, 6 abstentions, and 11 absent. The 90 “Yes” votes represent 69.2 percent of the Constituent Assembly’s total membership and 79.6 percent of those members present and voting.

It is estimated that the new taxes will generate revenue in excess of $400 million, virtually all of it coming from the pockets of the upper and upper middle classes.

These revenues will go directly into public education, urban infrastructure, public utilities such as water purification and sanitation, economic development, and public transportation.

Needless to say, the country’s economic elite, who since time immemorial have been getting away with murder with respect to taxation, are in a state of apoplexy. Correa has been unrelenting in his criticism of the mainstream media, who have attempted to derail his reform agenda with distortions and outright lies. He is being referred to as a dictator and compared to Adolph Hitler. This in the face of unprecedented popular support as reflected in a series of landslide election victories.

I am witnessing, for the first time in my life, a government that has won democratic power with a promise to implement badly needed political and economic reforms actually proceeding to do so. I see in Ecuador, for the first time since I began my annual extended visits thirteen years ago, a glimmer of hope for genuine change. Where this will lead – once the powerful economic forces behind the opposition to these reforms come together with a unified strategy – no one can predict.

I see Correa as a Kennedy/Trudeau-esque figure, but one who, in the context of Latin American political and economic realities, has no choice but to propose more radical reforms than one would expect in the U.S. or Canada. He has made a pronouncement, for example, that “authorizes” workers to take over businesses and industries that refuse to comply with the new tax structure and minimum wage.

Canadians should take a good look at what is happening in Ecuador. In the past 25 years we have seen our social safety net eroded, the loss of decent paying jobs, an increase in underemployment, social programs cut, employee benefits reduced, urban infrastructure deteriorating, and a shameful and exponential rise in homelessness.

I just hope that Canada doesn’t have to fall to the level of poverty and disintegration that has characterized Ecuador before we find a way to elect a genuine leader – I think you might know who I mean – with the vision and courage to address with conviction and vigour the inequalities and injustices that are anathema to the vast majority of Canadians.

Roger Hollander is a former Toronto Metro Councillor (1987-1995) who has lived much of the past 12 years in Ecuador.








Elections in the U.S., Canada and Ecuador, and the Influence of Karl Rove September 24, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in About Canada, About Ecuador, About Repubicans, Canada, U.S. Election 2008.
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I have ties with three countries, the United States, Canada and Ecuador, which happen to be — all three– in the midst of election campaigns.


A single word comes to mind: Rove.  As in Karl Rove.  In the States Rove and his protégés are firmly in control of the McCain campaign.  And it’s all about Sarah Palin, who combines the characteristics of motherhood and apple pie at the same time as she comes across, as one commentator described her, as a toned down porn star.  Issues be damned.  It’s about Sarah, right to life (for the foetus if not for American soldiers and Iraqi and Afghani civilians), gay marriage, flexing American muscle in the face of terrorism, taking advantage of every vestige of racism that remains strong in the American psyche, and, of course, playing the religion card.  It’s a form of triumphalism that would make Joseph Goebbels proud.


In Canada, where a former Prime Minister, once famously said elections are no place to discuss issues, Conservative PM Stephen Harper has not forgotten the infamous Willie Horton commercial that sunk Michael Dukakis in the 1988 U.S. presidential election.  He is promoting life sentences for 14 year old gang members (with parole eligibility after 25 years – let no one ever say that Harper doesn’t have a heart).  In an attempt to paint his opponents as latte drinking, quiche eating elites, he has justified his cutting of funding to arts and culture because ordinary folks don’t care about the arts.  He went on to add: “average Canadians have no sympathy for ‘rich’ artists who gather at galas to whine about their grants.”


But it is in Ecuador, which is in the midst of a referendum to approve or reject a new progressive Constitution, that even Karl Rove could learn a thing or two.  The “No” campaign has stooped to lows that the master of lies, distortion and spin might not dare to descend.  The Ecuadorian right, along with its conservative allies in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, are shouting at the top of their collective voice (with the support of most Ecuadorian media) that the under the proposed new Constitution, the State will promote abortion, homosexuality, dictatorship, poverty and hunger (including the latter two is bitterly ironic in that those who for generation have held power and are desperate not to relinquish it, are the very ones responsible for the high degree of poverty and hunger that exist in the country in the first place).


Riding through the streets of Guayaquil, the nations largest city and principal seaport, I saw scores of humble apparently home-made “No” signs.  I said to myself that the “No” campaign must be somehow getting to ordinary people.  On closer look, however, I discovered that the signs, which appeared to be clumsily made with ball point pens, were in fact mass produced lithographs.  You might try that one some day, Karl.


No here is what for me is the most interesting irony.  In the U.S. and Canada, the Rovite candidates are poised to celebrate victory.  In Canada, Conservative PM Stephen Harper seems to be on the verge of converting his minority government into a majority one.  In the States, McCain still holds a slight edge over Obama, despite the fact that the popularity of the Republican Party is at an all-time low.  These campaigns are far from over, and could still turn around in favor of more moderate parties.


In Ecuador, however, despite the heavily financed campaign for the “No” vote coming from the traditional rightist parties and their corporate sponsors, and despite the backing of most of the media and political pundits for a “No” vote; the “Yes” campaign appears to hold a solid majority.  The majority of Ecuadorians, who live in a country where the levels of illiteracy and under education far exceed those of the United States and Canada, somehow have found a way to see through the lies and manipulations and have continued to support the Alianza País Party (which has created the proposed new Constitution) and its President, Rafael Correa, who have maintained high degrees of popularity despite constant attacks from the right and the media.


There is a powerful slogan that is often used at political rallies: “El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido” (“the people, united, will never be defeated”).  In Ecuador, this seems to be developing into reality.  I have hopes for the same in the two North American alleged democracies.