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Vancouver Centre candidates are contributing to global warming with all the hot air they are spewing

This evening I went to an all candidates debate at the Gathering Place Community Centre. I decided to go very last minute, and now I am wishing that I had just gone home and had a nap like I had originally intended.

I should confess from the start that I did not stay for the entire debate. I made it through about 1 hour and 45 minutes before I could no longer stand the constant stream of nonsense coming out of everyone’s mouth. The debate was largely based around audience questions, which is an extremely poor way to run a debate if you ask me. I do not think that any candidate actually answered the question that was asked of them. It is not surprising that candidates have a tough time answering the reandom questions thrown at them. Some of the questions are so specific to the asker that there is basically no point in answering them. Some questions are so broad that it is not possible to answer them.

I was struck by how little substance was put forth from four supposed star candidates. I do not think that Hedy Fry should really count as a star candidate anymore. She was a star back in 1993, but since then she has diminished greatly. She lately seems to win because she has a very strong volunteer base and she connects well with many people in the riding. She does not have a big national profile like most start candidates do. Lorne Mayencourt is hardly a star either. He was an ineffective and rather unpopular MLA. His only real star quality for me is that he is an openly gay man running with the Conservatives. Adriane Carr is a star as far as the Green Party goes, but she is not well known outside of BC, and even in BC I would bet that most people could not tell you who she is. Michael Byers is the only one of the bunch who you might call a legitimate star candidate. He regularly writes for The Globe and Mail, he is a published and critically respected author, and has been an adviser to Jack Layton for several years now on matters of foreign policy.

While Michael Byers may be a star candidate on paper, in person he does not shine. I had heard from a friend who saw him speak a couple of weeks ago that he has a tendency to yell when he gets excited. Tonight the room for the debate was not large, it was easy to reach the entire room with a strong speaking voice, yet Michael Byers seemed to be constantly yelling at the audience. At one point Hedy Fry commented on how good rhetoric can sound, especially when you are yelling it across the room. It was a good line, but Ms. Fry mostly bandies rhetoric about herself, she just has the decency not to yell it at people.

Not surprisingly, given that I do not like the man or the party that he is running for, I thought that Lorne Mayencourt was the least effective communicator of the group. In a room that was lacking in substance, Mayencourt seemed to be trying to get through the debate without offering up any substantive discussion whatsoever. Perhaps it is a good tactic for Mayencourt. I do not think that the man is unintelligent, but he may not match up too well against Byers or Fry in a really deep policy debate. What Mayencourt appeared to be working hard at was being likable. He seems to be taking the Stephen Harper approach, just make people like you (or at least not afraid of you) and the best way to do that is not to say anything about Conservative plans or ideology because quite frankly most Canadians are not conservative.

Some people in the audience may have liked Mayencourt a little bit more after tonight, but myself, I am not taken in by any of his charms. Any openly gay man who is willing to run for Harper’s Conservatives is not someone I would trust. I cannot see how a man who is supposedly proud of who he is can run for a party that is ridden from head to toe with homophobic bigots. I would like to see how far Mayencourt would get in a caucus where almost all of the members are deeply opposed to same sex marriage.

If I had to pick a winner from the debate, for me it would be Adriane Carr. She did not present any astounding ideas or have any real good zingers for her opponents, but she was able to stress throughout the night that it is important in politics to focus on the solutions, and not whose idea is being used to get to the solution. She criticized the other parties for attacking each other’s ideas not on their merits, but simply because they come from a different party. She used the carbon tax as an example. As far as environmental policy goes, the carbon tax is a quick and effective way to begin to change consumption behaviour. She noted that the BC NDP opposes BC’s version of the carbon tax, not because it is a bad idea, but because they stand to gain politically by opposing it. The federal NDP also opposes a carbon tax, not because it is a bad idea, but because it is a major part of the Liberal platform. Carr also had a good point about how Jack Layton is in a sense responsible for killing the Kelowna Accord and a national daycare strategy. Apparently in late 2005 Elizabeth May pleaded with Jack Layton to hold off on bringing down the Martin government so that the global climate change meeting in Montreal could be allowed to finish. The Kelowna Accord could also have been implemented, and the national daycare strategy of the Liberals could have been fully implemented. Instead, alleges Carr, Layton decided to go to the polls early because the numbers were looking good for some NDP gains.

I fully agree with Ms. Carr that the important thing about politics is the solutions, not really how you get to those solutions. At the same time, if you do not have any seats, or very few seats, you might not ever get anyone to take any of your ideas seriously. It is a fine line then between supporting good ideas, but playing enough political games to make sure you win enough seats so that your own ideas occasionally get heard.

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September 30, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | 1 Comment

very very interesting

A friend sent me a link to Vote for Environment, a website that suggests how to vote in each riding to elect as many MPs as possible who are not Conservatives. The website acknowledges that the sort of mass strategic voting that they are advocating is not good for democracy, but the Conservatives are potentially catastrophic for the environment and for Canada’s ability to play a leading role internationally in the fight against climate change.

Mass strategic voting could be completely unnecessary if Canadians demanded a change in the way we elect our MPs. Some sort of mixed proportional and single member plurality system would be ideal. It is important to still have representatives who represent a geographic area, but we should also work to ensure that the proportion of seats won by a party more closely reflects the proportion of the vote that the party won.

At least in 2008 progressive voters should vote for whomever stands the best chance of beating the Conservatives in their riding, then we can worry about making the necessary changes to our voting system so that people can actually vote for the party that they want and have their vote count every time.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , | 1 Comment

lock them up, throw away the key, and raise taxes to pay for it

I am always annoyed by “tough on crime” measures that are thrown about during election campaigns. Crime issues seem to resonate with a lot of voters, even though the vast majority of Canadians are not exposed to any crimes, yet alone violent crimes which seem to get all the attention. There is a perception that crime is rampant, largely I think because crime gets reported everyday on various news media. I am not saying that crime is not a problem, but I do find it odd how big of an issue it becomes during elections.

The Conservatives would like to be able to send children to prison for life terms. They also want to be able to ruin a child’s life by advertising to the world that they are criminals. I say children because the Conservatives want to be able to identify and possibly sentence to life in prison people as young as 14 years old. I understand that people who are 14 years old are capable of committing some truly heinous crimes, but I also do not think that the proper way to compensate victims or society is to completely ruin the life of the perpetrator. I think true justice would mean punishing the criminal, but also bringing them to believe that what they did was wrong, and that they should make it a part of their life to help prevent crime, to educate people heading down the wrong path.

Another popular Conservative “tough on crime” proposal is to further limit the use of conditional sentence orders (house arrest). While it does often seem like criminals are getting off easy when they are sentenced to house arrest instead of jail time, there are very good reasons why we cannot send everyone to jail. Firstly, jails cost a lot of money. Watching CBC Newsworld today the number of $87,000 per year per male prisoner in federal penitentiaries was thrown out (they never said what the source of the information was). Justice costs a lot of money, it is necessary to have prisons, some people are too dangerous to be in society, but we cannot simply lock up every criminal, it would cost too much money. When the Conservatives, and all the other parties, say they want to get tough on crime they should also let voters know that getting tough on crime costs a great deal of money, and that taxpayers are going to have to pay to get tough on crime.

The second reason why putting people in jail is not always the right choice is that it often makes a first time offender who made a terrible mistake into a life long criminal. House arrest is usually given out to first time offenders. While I am certain house arrest is a cake walk compared to time in jail, I am also sure that no one wants to be under house arrest. People always argue that tougher sentencing would mean less crime. Most crimes are not planned, they are often based on stupidity, or passion, or drunkenness, or addiction, or mental illness. People are not thinking about the sentence they might receive when they are going to commit a crime.

I think that the right approach to getting tough on crime means spending more money on police, not so that they can arrest more people, but so they can make people feel safe, so that they can deter idiots and hot heads from doing something they will regret, and to be able to go after gangs and career criminals who are committing some of the worst crimes in Canada. I think that reducing crime means spending money on social housing, drug treatment, youth programs (sports, culture, etc.), income assistance, mental hospitals, Aboriginal programs and many more things. With a strong social safety net a lot of criminals will no longer have the need to commit property crime. With something to occupy their time many youths will avoid the kind of hooliganism which comes from hanging around in large groups with nothing to do. It makes more sense to invest in social programs than to simply lock people up at a cost of $87,000 per year.

September 24, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , | 1 Comment

this election is a perfect example of why we need electoral reform

Last federal election I was having difficulty deciding who to vote for. I live in the Vancouver Centre riding so my dilemma in 2006 was whether to vote for a ring thief who was running with the party I wanted to support, or vote for a woman who I have little respect for but who has always been a strong supporter of progressive politics. In the end I decided that I would vote for the party that supported the issue most important to me. That issue was electoral reform. I think that our electoral system does not represent voters very well. It is rare in any riding for one candidate to receive 50% of the votes cast. When a party is able to win a majority government with around 39% of the vote I think there is something wrong with the system. The majority really should go to the 61% who did not vote for the governing party.

Electoral reform rarely if ever gets talked about during election campaigns. It is an issue that most citizens do not care about and few understand very well. I think that it is pretty easy to convince people that there is something wrong with our system by pointing out to them that the vast majority of votes are not cast for the winner, yet the winner governs as if everyone fully supported them. The first past the post system is designed to create majority governments. Perhaps that is a good thing, overall I would say that Canada has had pretty good government for its history, at least when compared with the rest of the world. I think that pretty good is not good enough anymore though. I think that it makes sense to require government to be made up of at least 50% of the voters in this country. I think that the nearly limitless power of a majority government should be reserved for those rare situations where one party so resonates with voters that they are able to capture 50% plus of the vote.

I know that electoral reform will not get discussed much during the campaign, and it will likely not get discussed much afterwards either, but I still think that it is important. Is it really that strange or radical to ask that the make up of the House of Commons actually reflect the intentions of voters?

Stephen Harper may end up winning a majority government on October 14th, and if he does he is not likely to win more than 40% of the vote, yet he will govern as if he won 100% of the vote. Electoral reform made little sense to the Liberals when the right was fractured and they could easily win elections with 38-40% of the vote. But now with a fractured left it is the Conservatives who stand to win repeated elections without having to convince more than 4 of 10 voters that they are the right option to lead the country.

September 22, 2008 Posted by | Politics | | 2 Comments

what it means for me to vote strategically

A while back I wrote a post about voting strategically in my riding for the upcoming election. I am planning on voting Liberal, not because voting Liberal in Vancouver Centre means that the Conservatives will not win the seat, but because if there is to be any hope of stopping Stephen Harper then Canada needs to elect as many Liberal MPs as it can. In Vancouver Centre the second place candidate is almost certainly going to be the NDP, so many people think I should just vote for who I really want to (I usually vote NDP, though not always). If Michael Byers of the NDP were to win in Vancouver Centre that would mean that the Liberals would have to win two seats somewhere else in order to have a net gain.

If a minority Parliament were a certainty than it would not really matter too much if Vancouver Centre elected a Liberal or a Dipper. It is my hope that the Liberals can still turn this campaign around. If the Liberals can pick up one or two points from the Conservatives, and another one or two from the NDP, and another one or two from the Greens then they are suddenly in a dead heat with the Conservatives. I think that it is still possible for the Liberals to win a minority government. That means that a seat like Vancouver Centre, which has been a safe Liberal seat for 15 years, needs to be won by the Liberals if they are to have any chance of winning this election.

If a seat like Vancouver Centre slips from the Liberals then they are in a great deal of trouble. While I think Michael Byers would be a good MP and would bring some great ideas to Ottawa, it is more important that the Liberal brand remain strong. Canada is not what most of us think it is without the Liberal Party. Canadians are a liberal people, sometimes we forget that and tilt slightly to the right, but we need to be careful right now as Harper is in my view not slightly to the right. Stephen Harper is a very intelligent man with a very well thought out view of what direction Canada should be heading in. Stephen Harper’s Canada is one based on small government that does not take active steps to help its citizens. Stephen Harper’s Canada is one where we would ignore our moral duty to fight climate change, where we would stand beside the USA on foreign policy issues rather than seek a broad consensus among many nations, where we would treat drug addicts and the mentally ill like criminals rather than like patients.

Stephen Harper’s Canada is not my Canada. I do not think that Stephen Harper’s vision of Canada is shared by many Canadians. Voters are buying into Harper’s image of strength, and the Conservatives depiction of Stephane Dion as too weak to lead the country. I say that Dion exhibits strength by not being unequivocal in everything he says. Dion realizes that there are many sides to every issue, he realizes that dissent can breed better ideas and solutions than simply overriding all opposition. Dion is more like ordinary Canadians than Stephen Harper is.

September 21, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Liberal team flying into action

is that Ace and Gary or Bob and Michael

I wrote the other day about how the Liberals have a much stronger team that the Conservatives and how they needed to stress this if they hoped to turn their fortunes around. Apparently people smarter than me were thinking the same thing as Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff have started appearing with Dion at various campaign events. Tonight on the National Rex Murphy talked at length about how odd it is to have Dion’s two main rivals now essentially burdened with the task of turning the Liberal campaign around. What I think is more strange is just how dominant party leaders have become in Canadian politics. Our system of government requires not just strong leaders, but also strong MPs to fill the cabinet ranks. Harper’s lack of strong MPs has highlighted just how important it is to have a strong team.

I think that if Stephane Dion plays it right he can make showcasing his team a sign of strength. Honestly I think it is necessary to use members of the Liberal team because Dion does not match up well to Harper one on one, but that cannot be the message that the Liberals put out. What Dion needs to talk up is that it is a sign of strong leadership to trust your colleagues. Harper cannot trust his caucus, they are too inexperienced, and in many cases too radical to allow them to run around saying whatever they please. The Liberal caucus on the other hand has a number of very talented, very likable, and very sensible MPs.

Aside from Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff who are already taking starring roles I think the Liberals need to utilize Ken Dryden, Martha Hall Findlay, Ujjal Dosanjh, Marlene Jennings, Scott Brison, David McGuinty, Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau, and many others (I cannot find a good list of Liberal candidates to work off of so I have to utilize my poor memory instead). A lot of people do not like Stephane Dion, he rates very poorly on his personal numbers, but if he is pictured with other members of his team maybe people will start to remember why the Liberals have been the governing party of Canada for most of its history. The Liberal party has always attracted an enormous array of talent, and this Liberal caucus, and Liberal slate of candidates is really no different.

September 18, 2008 Posted by | Politics | | Leave a comment

voting for the gay candidate

I read an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about the changing nature of black politics in America which led me to reflect on the nature of gay politics. In Canada it is now possible for openly gay candidates to win elected office at any level. I have had the option of voting for many gay candidates at all levels of government, largely because I reside in Vancouver’s West End. I think that sexuality often plays a lot like race. Gay people will often vote for a gay candidate simply because they are gay, not irregardless of their political views, but they will overlook a great deal that they disagree with in order to support a gay candidate.

Voting for the gay candidate based solely on their sexuality has its limits. In the federal riding that I live in, Vancouver Centre, there is one openly gay candidate running under a major party banner and surprisingly that is Lorne Mayencourt running as a Conservative. Despite the fact that he is gay, I think that Mayencourt fails to connect with gay people in Vancouver Centre. I cannot see how a gay person could stomach voting for the Conservatives, even if the local candidate is gay and professes to support gay rights and issues.

This is not the first time that the Conservatives have run a gay candidate in Vancouver Centre. In 2004, Gary Mitchell ran under the Conservative banner, but apparently his sexuality was not significant as he placed a very distant third. I hope that despite his name recognition, Lorne Mayencourt again finishes a distant third (or maybe even in fourth place if Adrianne Carr can pull a lot of votes). The Conservatives may be the only party running an openly gay candidate in Vancouver Centre, but it is the Liberals who are running the candidate most dedicated to gay rights, and the candidate that has done the most for the gay community.

Hedy Fry has been such a strong ally of the gay community for so long that she may as well be considered gay for political purposes. She gave a very passionate speech during the debate on same sex marriage in the House of Commons. Hedy is always a big presence at the Pride Parade, and always receives an enthusiastic response from the crowd. If voting for the gay candidate is important for you in Vancouver Centre, then you best vote for Hedy Fry.

September 18, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Liberals paying the price for waiting so long to take on Harper

The Liberals continue to trail badly in the polls and Stephane Dion is now being criticized by anonymous MPs within his own party. Clearly Dion is not going to be able to out campaign Harper. It seems that the only real hope that the Liberals have of pulling out a victory is if Harper, or a top cabinet minister, makes a horrible blunder. Best case scenario for the Liberals now seems to be a minority government where they have maybe picked up a few seats.

If the Liberals had gone to the polls earlier they may have had more traction with voters. There were opportunities to bring the government down over their immigration proposals, before that on their budget that did nothing for the environment. Both of those issues would have had at least some traction with Canadians. The timing of this election was at least partly decided by Harper, and the tone and substance of the campaign has so far been very dull, much to Harper’s advantage.

It is becoming very clear now that Stephane Dion is not clear enough a communicator, at least in English, to be able to win an election campaign. I think that the Liberals could still pull out a victory, but it will be the Liberal team, the Liberal brand, and very of a Harper majority, not Dion himself, that would lead them to victory. I thought that the Liberals should have brought down the government a long time ago. Dion was continually saying that he could perform well in a campaign. It would have made more sense to take him up on his offer, watch him sink or swim, and either deal with another Conservative government or reap the rewards of Dion’s awesome campaigning skills. If the Liberals had lost earlier, they could already be rid of Dion and well on their way to selecting a leader who can effectively communicate in both official languages.

With all this said I still hope that Dion can turn things around. I hope that other Liberals are given important speaking roles by the party. Hope only gets you so far though. As much as I dislike Stephen Harper, he has to be given some credit for sticking to simple messages and making sure that the more radical elements of his party keep their mouths shut. Dion lacks the luxury of making his campaign all about himself, he simply cannot communicate his message well enough to inspire voters.

September 16, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , | 1 Comment

people need to ask themselves whether one person can run a country

I am a little surprised to see so many polls showing the Conservatives with a strong lead, and a lead that seems to be holding quite well over the first week of the campaign. The latest Harris/Decima poll has the Conservatives at 41%, a number that would probably give them a majority. I do not think that Stephen Harper is a radical conservative who would destroy Canada, but I do think that his values are not in tune with the majority of Canadians. I think that a Conservative majority would do great damage to Canada’s cultural institutions, to the justice system, to the rights of women and minorities, and most importantly would mean no action on climate change that has any hope of having any real impact.

One question that no one seems to be asking is how would the Conservatives manage to run a majority government when they are so thin on reasonable cabinet talent. Harper has pretty much run his government as a one man show, and I think that the results have been poor for Canadians. With a majority, Harper could essentially do whatever he wants. Not even his cabinet would have much of a say in the direction that the government takes the country. The strongest performer in Harper’s cabinet was arguably David Emerson, and he is not seeking re-election. Jim Flaherty has been terrible at finance. Peter McKay seems to be all but ignored these days. The only strong cabinet minister left appears to be David Prentice.

The Liberals provide stark contrast to the Conservatives’ lack of cabinet talent. Stephane Dion himself has occupied several to cabinet posts. Bob Rae was premier of Ontario, Ujjal Dosanjh was premier of BC and a federal cabinet minister. Many of Chretien and Martin’s cabinet ministers are still members of the Liberal caucus. Martha Hall Findlay, though lacking in any government experience, is one of the most articulate and well respected women in Canadian politics today.

The largest liability facing the Liberals in this campaign, and over the past two years, has been their leader. Stephane Dion is an ineffective communicator in the English language (I unfortunately do not speak French so I cannot comment on how effective he is in his native tongue). What the Liberals have failed to do effectively so far in this campaign is highlight their team. Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall Findlay, Ujjal Dosanjh, Justin Trudeau, Ralph Goodale, just to list the names that I can think of off the top of my head, are all valuable assets for the Liberals. Show me one person in the Conservative ranks who has the depth of knowledge about foreign policy that Michael Ignatieff has. Dion’s personal numbers have been poor, and seem to be getting worse as he gets more and more media exposure during the campaign. I think it is time for the Liberals to give up on pumping up their leader, and focus on their team, a team that is lead by Stephane Dion for sure, but one that starkly contrasts to Harper and his weak ban of cohorLs.

September 14, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

sad, we all say we care, but do we really?

A message from someone I know, someone I respect, and someone who I think who has though deeply about the issue, cares deeply about the issue, and is probably deeply hurt that nothing gets done about it

The issue is homelessness/poverty. The two usually go hand in hand, but there are also plenty of people who have homes but are living in poverty. There are many things for Canadians to be proud of, but many to be ashamed of as well. Interesting and sad that we consider Canada to be the best place to live in the world, yet we cannot adequately care for thousands, perhaps even millions, of Canadians.

It is up to all of us, every voter who gives a damn, to make housing and poverty issues a priority in the federal campaign. Talk about how important housing is, ask your local candidates about it, ask about it at all candidates meetings, write about it, talk to your friends and neighbours about it. Political parties only respond to what gets them votes, so let your candidates know that your vote depends on what they and their parties will do to eliminate homelessness and poverty in Canada.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , | Leave a comment