Resolving Timeline Issues

Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives

Today, Governor General Michaelle Jean is flying back from her state visit to Europe to deal with this constitutional crisis we find ourselves in.

(Okay, I was wrong – it wasn’t the day before yesterday that the government fell; it’ll probably be this Monday. But that’s only because our ever-lovin’ Prime Minister postponed a vote on that item).

Unless you haven’t been keeping up with the news, there’s a bit of a problem in Ottawa. In the words of NDP Leader, Jack Layton, “We have a government that fails to act … the government has lost confidence. It has lost the confidence of the people of Canada, and the confidence of this parliament.”

So essentially, with the support of the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal party and the NDP could depose the Conservative minority government. Conceivably. But let’s ask a couple of questions. First, would a party that is a separatist party ever ally with federalists? More importantly, would federalists ever ally with a separatist party?

The answer, it seems, is yes. (AND OMGWTF???)

My opinion: I don’t like the Conservatives. I kind of liked Jack Layton and the NDP. I generally don’t mind the Liberals (except for Stephane Dion, who just strikes me as Another Crazy French Guy). And I certainly don’t like the Bloc.

And now, the NDP, Liberals and the Bloc have gotten into bed together. The NDP and the Liberals want to govern in a coalition, with the Bloc providing a support role (and without that support role, this coalition will fail. Fast).

I have nothing in principle against coalition governments. In fact, I think they’re kind of interesting, and properly run, can be really effective in providing checks and balances in our system. I have a problem with THIS coalition. HOW DARE YOU ally with a party that wants to tear my country apart?

The Liberals have everything to lose; the NDP are clapping their hands with glee over a power-sharing deal; and the Bloc are going straight to the bank with this one. The Bloc’s agreed to support the coalition in confidence issues (read: budget and money bills) and vote how it damn well pleases anytime else.

Now, think about this: the Bloc’s only source of political power are the votes from Quebec as they don’t run anywhere else. Presumably, most Bloc MPs want to be re-elected. What this means is that the instant a vote (confidence or otherwise) is against Quebec interests, they will vote against it. Think about it. How much do YOU trust them?

But if these three parties take down the government, and there’s no coalition, its likely that we’ll go to election. Again. Rock: get in bed with separatists; hard place: election 8 weeks after the last one.

Remember awhile back when I talked about the Canadian Alliance? And how in the 90s it captured the west with “the west wants in”? The other problem with this coalition is that it effectively alienates the west again (which votes mostly conservative – the BC interior and Alberta especially).

So what does this mean? Right now, there is no clean way out of this and it all falls to the Governor General. When she gets back to Ottawa today, she’ll have some decisions to make. It it likely that by tomorrow, she’ll receive a request from the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament (don’t let that word scare you, it just means suspend). This is her prerogative, however if she were to allow a prorogation, it makes Harper look like he’s running from a bad situation and effectively stops Parliament from being able to do anything for a couple of months.

So if there’s no prorogue, then there’s going to be a confidence vote on Monday and it is likely the government will fall. After that, the Governor General has a couple of choices:

1. Dissolve Parliament and call an election: there’s no appetite for that in Canada. Its too soon. Its also political suicide for the coalition parties.

2. Ask the Liberal/NDP/Bloc-supported coalition to govern: this one makes my skin crawl, and not because its the most likely scenario. I cannot condone a coalition that includes party that wants to tear this country apart.

I’d like door number 1, please.

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Canadians, what would you do, pray tell, if I asked if you wanted to vote for your national government, again?

Because there’s a damn good chance we’ll be heading for a January election. Minister Flaherty released a fall fiscal update, and Nation, its not good (but you knew that). One of the issues involves a fiscal matter which is automatically a confidence vote: scrapping public subsidies for political parties; this would financially cripple every party (except the Tories, of course):

“The onus now is really on Prime Minister Harper to consider his options, to consider his situation,” said Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale. “He’s put a so-called plan before Canadians this afternoon. It’s not a plan to bolster the economy. It is a plan to hide a deficit. It’s not acceptable and he should reconsider his position.”

But the opposition is particularly vexed at the one tiny spending cut Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced Thursday: A proposal to eliminate a taxpayer subsidy paid to each political party. Parties can receive a subsidy of $1.95 per year for each vote they receive in a general election.

Though the Conservatives receive the biggest subsidy – about $10 million a year – because they won the most votes, that subsidy only accounts for about one-third of the party’s annual revenue. For the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, the subsidy amounts to about two-thirds of their annual revenues. The subsidy makes up about half of the NDP and Green party’s annual revenue.

I’m not going to discuss it here, but suffice it to say this is dangerous ground.

There’s going to be a confidence vote on Monday. By Monday afternoon we may have no government, or if the opposition parties can suck it up, a coalition government. Or, worst-case scenario, the second-place Liberals will be given a chance to govern.

Jean Chretien is being called in to broker a deal to get rid of Stephane Dion before the May leadership convention. In order to get rid of him before then he has to resign or pass away. Really.

Jack Layton cancelled plans to come here to talk to the other oppositon parties about forming a coalition.

The longest a coalition government will last is about a month. Tops.

So, Canadians, are you ready to choose again in January?

I have spent the day surrounded by sheeples (really people, there’s a double door at the entrance to the train station – you don’t need to line up 40 deep in order to get inside and don’t yell at me for skipping the line when I go to open the other door) and my boobs hurt. A lot.

Just to let you know where I am right now.

One of the things I’ve been hearing a lot in the media is that there’s some idea of election exhaustion here in Canada. Not only are we approaching our 3rd election in 4 years, for the last year, we’ve been his with the US primaries and now the US election.

Amy over at BlogHers ACT Canada asks why we’re going to the polls – again and notes the National Post quotes the Prime Minister as saying “this Parliament at its useful end.” Yeah, the PM isn’t getting his way. I’ll agree with that.

I’d also say that the election would have happened anyways, and in short order.  I have to give some props to Stephen Harper for at least attempting to talk to the leaders of the other parties to get some sort of agreement. If Parliament had been recalled, eventually, the Conservative government would have been subjected to a confidence vote, and we’d be in the same place we are now.

Except that it’d be that much closer to Christmas – just like last time. When elections are close to major holidays, there is a decrease in the number of votes cast – which means fewer people have a say.

Amy, by the way, has an excellent synopsis on this post of the environmental standpoints of each of the parties (except the Bloc Quebecois of course).

At any rate, I’m not going to discuss the party platforms here. I linked all the parties on this post and they’re linked on Amy’s post noted above. I’ll leave it to you to read the platforms yourself and figure out how you’re going to vote on your own.

Because really, I don’t care how you vote. Just VOTE, dammit. Get out there. Your employer must give you 3 consecutive hours on election day to go vote if your hours of work do not otherwise allow it. That is time with pay.

Why don’t I care how you vote? Because of that nasty first past the post/concentration of votes in ridings thing I mentioned in an earlier post. I flip my vote all the time – I have voted Conservative, Liberal, NDP and once, even, the Marijuana Party (and then I got smart about one-issue parties. And stopped smoking pot).

So I flip my vote depending on the issues of the day. And here’s the thing: often, its the party with the most grass-roots issues that gets my vote. I guess I tend towards the grassroots side.

My dad didn’t vote for many years. He was jaded, disillusioned. And then in the last election, he registered to vote because he didn’t want the Conservatives to form a government. And that’s as good a reason as any.

The problem is, in democratic countries, we take the right to vote for granted. Ask anyone from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus or any of the other former Soviet countries – its not a given. Do not take it for granted.

Instead, see it as the blessing it is, and exercise that right, regardless of your degree of election exhaustion.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

– Sir Winston Churchill

Also posted at Wet Coast Women

Now that the election has been called, let’s get to the meat of the matter. This post is about the history of the Canadian federal parties.

1. The Parties and their places on the traditional political spectrum (links on titles go to party pages)

The Conservative Party of Canada

Current leader: Stephen Harper (outgoing Prime Minister) (you can follow him on twitter)
Place on the spectrum: right of centre
Key policy categories: sovereignty, leadership, environment, health care, lower taxes, child care, tackling crime, accountability.

The Green Party

Current Leader: Elizabeth May
Place on the spectrum: probably left of centre
Key policy categories: ecological wisdom, non-violence, social justice, participatory democracy, sustainability, respect for diversity.

Author’s Note: although the Green Party has never had an elected member of Parliament, they command a significant number of votes (but not in sufficient concentration to get a seat). Recently, a member of the Liberal party joined the Greens.

The Liberal Party of Canada

Current leader: Stephane Dion
Place on the spectrum: fluctuates; slightly left or right of centre depending on leadership and the issues of the day.
Key Policy categories: vaguely: leadership, economy, green shift (I think – that’s all I could find on the website)

The New Democratic Party of Canada

Current leader: Jack Layton (you can follow him on twitter)
Place on the spectrum: left.
Key policy categories: investing in children’s early years, cleaner environment, tackling global warming, affordable education/training, forestry industry renewal, improving public health care, fair immigration, manufacturing crisis, poverty.

There are, of course, innumerable other, smaller parties, but these are the main ones that all of Canada can vote for. And then there’s one more:

Le Bloc Quebecois

(because they only campaign in Quebec, the website is in French only)

Current leader: Gilles Duceppe
Place on the spectrum: Left of centre? Generally they’re viewed as a one-issue party, but share some values with social democrats.
Key policy categories: generally put, they have  a history of wanting sovereignty/independence for the province of Quebec; they stand for defending the history, points of view, rights and interests of Quebec and its residents.

Author’s note: The BQ doesn’t matter so much in terms of actually forming a government; they only campaign in Quebec so as I noted in the previous post the highest number of seats they could get is 75. However if they won all those seats, they could become the Official Opposition. More on this later.

So wow. That’s a bit of a clusterfuck isn’t it?

2. How did we get here?

For a long time, we trundled along quite merrily with two parties: Liberal and Conservative (note, these are the only two parties who have ever formed governments). In the 1950s, a group in the praries started a merge of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation; they became The New Party. Their grassroots attitude gathered enough votes to help force Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals into a minority government situation. They moved the motion that brought down Joe Clark’s Conservative government and later on supported Trudeau in bringing the Constitution home.

And we trundled along, again quite merrily for a number of years with 3 parties.

In 1986, there was a little conference in Vancouver on Canada’s Economic and Political Future. The next year, the Reform Party was launched as a voice for Western Canada. Like the NDP, they were grassroots and populist, but sat somewhat more right of centre than the conservatives.

In 1991, the Bloc Quebecois was formed as a response to the failure of Ottawa to deal with Quebecois identity (See: Meech Lake). They run only in Quebec.

(There is a point to this)

Following the failure of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, the 1993 elections marked a turning point in Canadian politics. The Tories (Conservatives) imploded and exploded simultaneously under Kim Campbell, especially after the Chretien attack ads. They went from 169 seats down to 2.

At the same time, the Reform Party gained 52 seats, 51 of which were in the west, and the Bloc Quebecois (running only in Quebec) gained 54. The Liberals under Jean Chretien won 177 seats. 9 seats went to the NDP.

Under Canadian law, the party with the most seats after the party that forms a majority government becomes Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. But what do you do when a party that only represents one province wins the required number of seats, especially when its only 2 seats more than the third-place party?

Well, you invite the leader of the third-place party to live in Stornoway (residence of the leader of the official opposition), but you make the second-place party the official opposition (loyal is another matter entirely). This is a typically Canadian response to such a situation. By and large, the Reform party was allowed as much time during question period as the BQ and received almost similar funding.

What happened was Ottawa sat up and took notice, not only of Quebec, but of the idea that the West Wanted In. The technical term for the split is regionalism.

In 1997, Reform became the Official Opposition. In 2000, Reform was disbanded and became the Canadian Alliance; in 2003, the Canadian Alliance merged with the Conservative Party to become Canada’s New Conservatives. Stephen Harper was elected leader in 2004, and formed a minority government in 2006.

Meanwhile, the Liberals had been plagued with issues of their own. Long-time leader Jean Chretien resigned from politics; his successor was Paul Martin, the former Minister of Finance – somewhat popular, but he was under pressure from the federal Sponsorship Scandal. The Liberals formed a minority government in 2004, and were forced to water down their speech from the throne in order to stay in power. On November 28, 2005, the Liberals lost key support from the NDP and the government fell. The Governor General issued election writs for January 23, 2006.

Martin resigned party leadership shortly after, and Stephane Dion became the new leader after winning against Michael Ignatieff in a run-off ballot.

Author’s Opinion: Why the minority Liberal and Conservative governments? I think its simpler than people realize. Canadians were sick of scandal and gave Martin a chance to revamp the party. All of the other parties had reworked themselves and gotten rid of the old guard. The Liberal party did not do that, and has not done that – Dion is still a member of the old guard. The Liberals would do well to have a different leadership.

Canadians will go to the polls on October 14:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulled the plug on his own minority government on Sunday, setting off a national election campaign that will send voters to the polls on Oct. 14 at a cost of about $300 million.

[insert panicky mental calculation of the number of parties vs. the number of weeks available to finish up that series of articles]

Election news update: The news services say the Prime Minister will take his symbolic walk to the Governor General’s residence and ask her to dissolve parliament on Sunday. Be ready to go to the polls on October 14.

Unless, of course, she refuses to dissolve parliament and creates a constitutional crisis.

Warning: this is quite long, so make sure you have a cup of coffee.

Before I start on this series, I should say: I’m not doing this to tell you how to vote or even influence your vote. Quite honestly, I live in BC; I don’t care how you vote. By the time we vote, the decision is already made. Also, I tend to flip my vote depending on how I feel, the issues of the day, and the alignment of the stars (KIDDING, people, KIDDING). Just vote, dammit. Have your say. I’m doing this because I think there isn’t a lot of education in Canada on How The System Actually Works. What it boils down to is this: Canadians don’t vote for people; we vote for parties. Whoever forms the government is dependent on the concentration of votes in each federal riding.

Pre-required reading: Vocabulary (definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online):

Plurality: a number greater than another b: an excess of votes over those cast for an opposing candidate c: a number of votes cast for a candidate in a contest of more than two candidates that is greater than the number cast for any other candidate but not more than half the total votes cast

Majority: the group or political party having the greater number of votes (as in a legislature)
Minority: a group having less than the number of votes necessary for control
Cabinet: a body of advisers of a head of state (2): a similar advisory council of a governor of a state or a mayor.
Prime Minister: the official head of a cabinet or ministry; especially : the chief executive of a parliamentary government.
Popular: uitable to the majority: as a: adapted to or indicative of the understanding and taste of the majority <a popular history of the war> b: suited to the means of the majority.
Power: possession of control, authority, or influence over others b: one having such power; specifically : a sovereign state c: a controlling group : establishment —often used in the phrase the powers that be
Influence: the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command b: corrupt interference with authority for personal gain4: the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways : sway5: one that exerts influence

Now, I assume most Canadians, Brits, and anyone else with a Parliamentary System of Government (as opposed to Presidential or hybrid or non-democratic), know something about this. Although, you’d be surprised. I spent today explaining to coworkers What A Minority Government Actually Means for Getting Things Done. So here you go.

The House of Commons (the main decision-making body and akin to the House of Representatives in the US) currently has 308 members; seats are assigned on the basis of population in the provinces. According to Wikipedia:

The House of Commons is composed of 308 members,[1] each of whom represents a single electoral district (also called a riding). Law requires that there be a minimum of 282 electoral districts; there are currently 308. Seats are distributed among the provinces in proportion to population, as determined by each decennial census, subject to the following exceptions made by the constitution. Firstly, the “senatorial clause” guarantees that each province will have at least as many Members of Parliament as Senators. Secondly, the “grandfather clause” guarantees each province has at least as many Members of Parliament now as it had in 1986. Finally, no province may lose more than fifteen per cent of its seats after a single decennial census.

What this means is populous provinces, specifically Ontario (106 seats), Quebec (75 seats), BC (36 seats) and to some extent Alberta (28 seats), have the largest number of seats. Between them Ontario and Quebec have a majority of the seats. By the time the election reaches the West Coast, due to the time change the election is decided. Because of this, awhile back a law was passed that news stations cannot publish vote results until the polls close in BC.

Fine and dandy, but if the polls close at 8pm in BC, at 8:00:02pm, the first results are already published from Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. Sometimes Manitoba. And if there is a majority vote, then the election is decided.

Now here’s the kicker: a Member of Parliament does not have to get a majority is his/her riding in order to win the seat. They only have to get a plurality (the most) of votes. So if 1000 votes are cast in a riding, and Candidate A gets 200 votes, Candidate B gets 301 votes, and Candidate C gets 499 votes, Candidate C wins the seat.

With me so far?

The party that forms the government (Prime Minister – or “first among equals” – and Cabinet – other Members of Parliament who get a minister portfolio or Secretary position and are appointed by the Prime Minister) is usually the party with a majority of seats in Parliament (50% plus 1 seat) or the most (a plurality) of seats. As I stated in the previous post, the Governor General can appoint another party to become the government if he/she feels the party with the most seats is unable to Get Things Done.

Here’s the hard part: because of this system, the percentage of the popular vote (percentage of votes actually cast excluding spoiled ballots) required for a majority government is around 38%. Give or take a percentage or two.

Go ahead. Get yourself a drink (or something to smoke/eat/whatever) and go and reread that. Yes, fellow Canadians, that often means our government is not elected by a majority of individuals. Its all dependent on the concentration of votes in each riding, because the party that forms the government has the most seats in Parliament.

Generally. Like I said before, the Governor General can appoint whoever he/she likes to form the government. By convention, this is only done in the case when a single party does not get a majority of seats.

For example, if the Rhino Party gets 155 seats, it forms the government. And this is where it gets kind of fucked up.

Parties in Canada tend to tow (toe?) the party line. That means if the Rhino Party is in power, all Rhinos vote in favour of the legislation proposed by Cabinet. If the Rhino Party in Canada has 155 seats (a majority), the legislation is passed by the House of Commons and sent to the Senate for approval (usually a rubber-stamp deal), and then the Governor General for Royal Assent (a technicality due to Constitutional issues).

We trundled along quite merrily for a number of years (12? 14? something like that) with majority governments, which are considered stable because the government is guaranteed to stay in power. In Canada, this means that the government of the day still has to call elections but has up to 5 years to call said election. After 5 years of being in power, its a Constitutional requirement to have an election.

A few years back, Jean Chretien resigned from politics. There was a leadership convention for the Liberals and Paul Martin (former Minister of Finance) won the vote. More information on the various parties will be in future posts, however this is the key: at the next general election, the Liberal party ended up with a minority government.

So why does this matter?

In a minority government (a government with a plurality of seats), the government of the day must work with other parties in order to have legislation passed.

Let me repeat that: THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DAY MUST WORK WITH OTHER PARTIES IN ORDER TO HAVE LEGISLATION PASSED. This means that under a minority government, the government of the day must resign if they do not receive the confidence of the Parliament – that is, the Parliament must approve the bill (usually confined only to money or rights bills, unless the government of the day wishes to call it a confidence vote). In the late 1970’s Joe Clark became Prime Minister of a minority government and the government collapsed when he couldn’t get a budget passed because he refused to work with other parties.

I’ll get more into recent history because this is way too long already, but suffice it to say that the last two governments in Ottawa have been minority governments. We’ve been trundling along quite merrily with first a Liberal minority government, and now a Conservative one. Generally, the parties will play nicely together because at the end of the day the goals are the same – its the getting there they disagree on.

There’s not a huge reason for an election right now: there hasn’t been a confidence vote, however Stephen Harper met with the other leaders to see if something could be worked out. Apparently, it can’t. So its off to the polls.

Next up: Leaders, Parties and Politics, oh my!

Everyone knows the US election is in full swing (or it will be after the Republican National Convention which may or may not occur on time depending on what Hurricane Gustav does).

North of the 49th, we’re also potentially, maybe headed for an election as well. Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks that Parliament has become dysfunctional. Over the last week or two, he’s been meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties to see what can be done. Its apparent that he hopes to call an election for the fall. Take note: the Canadian election, if its allowed, will take place before the US election. National news stations are positing October 14th.

Canwest News Services is reporting that so far:

PQ Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton met with Harper Friday and Saturday respectively. Both Duceppe and Layton came away from those meetings convinced that Harper wants a general election and was not interested in finding a compromise that would allow the House of Commons to resume sitting on Sept. 15. Liberal insiders say Dion goes in to his meeting Monday with Harper with low expectations that any agreement will be reached that would put MPs back in the Commons on Sept. 15.

So what has to happen? Here’s a bit of a history and political system lesson.*

Like most countries that are former British Colonies, Canada still has some constitutional hangovers. In this case, the Governor General (who represents the Queen in Canada) is the only one who can dissolve Parliament. Normally, when a bill fails in Parliament (and usually a money bill of some sort), the Prime Minister will make a symbolic walk to her residence and ask the Governor General (GG) to dissolve Parliament. Generally, the GG is considered a figurehead and does what the Prime Minister asks.

However, the GG plays an important role when it comes to minority governments. More often than not, the party with the majority of seats forms the government (Cabinet). Bills and laws extend from Cabinet and are approved by Parliament. With a majority government this isn’t a problem – laws are passed and we trundle along quite merrily for a few years. Parliament tows the party line (or is that toes? I always get that mixed up), bills are passed, and a bit later an election rolls around.

In a minority government situation (like now) more often than not, the party with the most seats forms government.

If the minority government falls, the GG has a couple of options. First, she can dissolve Parliament which results in a call for an election. Second, she can meet with leaders of the “opposition” parties to hear petitions on Why My Party Should Be the Government, and appoint another party to become that government.

With me so far? Alrighty, then. Here’s the history part.

Back in 1925-26, Prime Minister Mackenzie King asked the Governor General Lord Byng to dissolve Parliament. Like the current government, King was in a minority government position. The Conservatives had won the most seats but were in a minority situation. When Byng refused to dissolved Parliament, King resigned and the GG asked the opposition under Meighen to form a government.

Within a week, the new minority government lost a confidence vote and an election was called.

(you can read more about the King-Byng Crisis here)

Now, the King-Byng Crisis was important; it redefined the role of the GG and put that position more as a figurehead than an actual decision-making position. The order of the day since then has been non-interference from London on Canadian matters.

Hopefully this provides some background on the role of the GG in Canadian Politics.

Now, fast forward about 80 years, and we have almost the exact same situation again – a minority Conservative government (following a minority Liberal government). When they came in, they put in fixed election dates (I know! Amazing! Fixed election dates! Whod’a thunk?!). And now Prime Minister Harper wants an election, ostensibly because Parliament can’t function in the fall.

Well, there’s a legal question about this. Because of the fixed election date, unless the government falls in a confidence vote, its entirely possible that an election call will be illegal. But that’s one for  the lawyers.

It ultimately rests with the Governor General: in order for an election to happen, she must dissolve parliament. And you can damn well bet she’s going to ask legal advice before that occurs.

So will we be going to the polls in October? Likely, but not etched in stone. Harper always has the option of putting forth some really controversial bill, forcing a confidence vote that will fail if the GG refuses to dissolve Parliament.

Hopefully, this provides a bit of an explanation of WTF is going on in Ottawa. We’ll see later this week if there’s an election call (probably next Sunday, which sets the stage for an October 14 election).

*I’m planning a series of future posts on the various parties, current status, more detail on the system, and the leaders themselves. If anyone wants to guest post, let me know.


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