Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Probably my only political post

My brother wrote this on Facebook a few days ago. I really enjoyed reading it and he's garnered a lot of interesting comments because of it. So... I figured I'd share it on here. I learned a lot from it and its subsequent essay (which my non-political brain understood less).

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In 2006, Stephen Harper's Conservatives introduced and passed a bill fixing election dates for every four years, unless the government was defeated in a confidence vote, in which case an election would be held by the usual rules.

In September 2008, Harper ignored his own law and called an election without his government being defeated in the House of Commons. He failed to secure a majority of seats in Parliament for his Conservatives.

Last Thursday, Stephen Harper's Conservatives presented a fiscal update which was not agreeable to the opposition parties. As every politically aware individual in Canada knows, a minority government has to tread lightly or face defeat. Harper's Conservatives, however, chose to include two very contentious issues in this update.

First, the update was to cut federal funding in a supposed effort to cut spending. For a government that was projecting a $10 billion surplus this year, cutting $30 million in political party funding is less than a drop in the bucket ( essentially 3 cents for every $10 ). The effect of this would be to hurt the opposition parties financially and reduce their ability to campaign in the next election. Sure, the Conservatives would lose more in federal funding than any other party, but as a right wing party is far more capable of independently securing funding from wealthy and corporate donors.

Second, the right of civil servants to strike was to be suspended until 2010-11. Obviously, this term alone would cause both the Bloc and the NDP to vote against the bill.

Additionally, the update failed to provide support to workers in the tougher economy ahead. Every other affected nation in the world ( including US Republicans ) is implementing a plan ( some more sensible than others ) to use government money in an attempt to reduce the impact of the financial crisis. Harper's fiscal update actually goes the opposite direction, in an attempt to reduce government spending.

So where does this leave the Liberals? Well, the Liberals don't want an election right now. The Liberals cannot agree with the terms of the fiscal update. The choice Harper presented to the Liberals was to either support this fiscal update or face an election.

The Liberals chose a third option. They negotiated a coalition with the NDP, supported by the Bloc. It must be emphasized, that in spite of Harper's lies to the contrary, that the Bloc is not part of the coalition, nor are they as threatening as Harper would have us believe. This coalition is entirely legal and constitutional, and this is the opinion of former Governor General Ed Schreyer. It is, and always has been, part of the Governor General's role to explore whether a viable government with the support of a majority of the House can be formed before calling an election in the wake of a government's defeat.

Due to Harper's heavy handed tactics, his government will fall. It is up to Michaelle Jean, therefore, to evaluate the options: - Prorogue Parliament at Harper's request ( ie. suspend it until the budget is to be tabled ), delaying the inevitable confidence vote- Allow the confidence vote, then either call for an election or for the opposition leader to form a new government. Harper's propaganda campaign would have us believe that this coalition is undemocratic. He is lying. I'd give him credit for being mistaken, but he attempted exactly the same thing in 2004, which means if he does actually believe it is democratic he's admitting that democracy is not important to him. Odd that calling him a liar is actually giving him credit.

When Canadians go to the polls, we vote for local MPs. We do not vote for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is traditionally the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons, though a Parliament composed entirely of Independents is theoretically possible. The question of Prime Minister in such a case is an interesting one.

Regardless, we did not vote for Stephen Harper to be Prime Minister. Rather, we voted for the people who would represent our individual constituencies in Parliament. The largest party happened to be Conservatives. These Conservatives tabled legislation that the majority of representeatives felt would be a betrayal of their constituents. They had 3 days ( before Harper postponed the vote ) to come up with a solution, which left no time to consult the voters. However, for those who claim the coalition is an attack on democracy, every MP who will form this government and command a majority of votes in Parliament were elected by the voters of Canada.

That being said, local MPs have been receiving letters both in support and against, according to Jean Crowder ( Nanaimo-Cowichan) those letters against coming from Chilliwack and Alberta, with similarities in the emails suggestive of an organized letter-writing campaign.

So, not only is the coalition entirely legal, it has the support of the people who elected the individual MPs who would form the coalition government. This is a very democratic process.
So what part of this crisis is undemocratic?

Harper illegally called an election, in direct violation of a fixed election date law he initiated and implemented.

Harper started his second term by attacking the funding of the other political parties, which would have artificially improved his chances of a majority. He also attacked the right of a labour union to strike regarding wages.

Regardless of whether you agree with Harper's right-wing ideals, he is a serious threat to democracy in Canada that must be removed whatever the cost. He claims that he is willing to listen to the opposition's suggestions, but he's been caught lying too many times to be believed... Fixed election dates, income trusts, accusing Dion, Layton and Duceppe of avoiding being photographed in front of a Canadian Flag when signing their agreement ( there were two Canadian flags behind them ).

As a final note:

The breakdown in percentages of registered voters ( and no this does not add up to 100% due to rounding, independents and others ):
22% voted Conservative
15 % voted Liberal
11% voted NDP
6% voted Bloc Quebecois
4% voted Green
41% did not vote

With 26% of registered voters supporting them, the parties forming the coalition still hold fewer seats than the Conservatives, hence the need for Bloc support. Harper has burned that bridge. His government will fall due to his unwillingness to cooperate with other parties.

Nathan Martin

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