Sunday, 19 October 2008

Canadian Elections- Plus Ca Change!

(Hat-tip: Vive Le Canada).

Well, Canada's Federal Election on Tuesday was very much like the one in 2006. Stephen Harper's Conservatives increased their percentage of the vote & number of seats in Parliament, but fell short of an overall majority. I thought that, rather than trying to repeat/rehash similar points to last time, I'd repeat what I said after the last Federal Election:

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 Canadian election aftermath

Well, I would advocate UDI for Victoria/Vancouver, but apart from that...

It could have been a lot lot worse! For a start, the Cons are far short of an overall majority. They will need support from other parties, which will basically mean the Bloc Quebecois & Liberals. Stephen Harper, although a sandwich or two short of a full picnic (evangelical Christian and all that), will have to hold back the crazies further out than him (first rule of politics- there are always crazies further out than yourself!) or his government will fall, and I'm sure no-one wants to go to polls for a few years yet. So Harper is pretty much boxed in (I could say "straight jacketed" but that would be a cheap shot!).

Furthermore, they only got 36% of the vote ie almost 2/3rds of the voters didn't vote Con. That suggests to me the vast majority of people in Canada are pretty liberal. Blame the first past the post electoral system. It really is a travesty of democracy. Back in May last year Tony Blair got an overall majority of 66 in the House of Commons over here on just 36% of the vote, so count your blessings Stephen Harper didn't get the same!

In addition, I'd be encouraged by the NDP & Greens increasing their shares of the vote. Neither are perfect (this from a recently joined member of the Green Party over here) but having pressure from "the left" (I try not using such meaningless phrases) might force the Liberals to sharpen up their act.

You may also have heard the phrase coined by one-time Labour PM Harold Wilson: "A week is a long time in politics." I was in despair in 1992, when the Tories scraped in for a fourth successive overall majority (I remember staying up watching the election coverage on tv with the Sex Pistols blaring on my headphones- songs like "Anarchy in the UK", "God Save The Queen", "Liar", "Problems", "No Feelings" & "Holidays In The Sun" ["I want to go to the new Belsen..."] seemed to make a lot of sense in the circumstances). The general consensus was that the Tories would stay in power for ever. Within 6 months they were broken (£ leaving the ERM after billions were wasted on the foreign currency markets; plans to shut down our remaining coal mines caused mass protests), went on to lose the 97 election (best night of tv ever!) and only seem to be coming out of a coma in the last few months. One-time Tory PM Harold MacMillan when once asked what he feared most was "Events, dear boy, events". So wait for "events"- even Stephen Harper praying to The Lord 10 times a day can't prevent them!

However, there are positive things to do apart from waiting for the Cons to collapse. This is from Naomi Klein's website from over 5 years ago, but her proposals suggest that not a lot has happened in Canadian politics since then!

Unlabelled the Left by Naomi Klein December 20 2000

Where do we go from here? There's a big space in the political landscape for a new party, one that looks at the calls for localization and doesn't see a dire threat to national unity.

There is a very simple reason to have a left-wing alternative to the Liberal Party: People are suffering. Despite all the wealth created by deregulated markets, many Canadians are seeing no part of it.

In fishing communities from coast to coast, on family farms, on the streets of large cities, Liberal Canada's recipe for economic growth has meant people being thrown into the global market without a net.

In response, we have seen a wave of political organizing and militant protests. Students blockade trade meetings where politicians are bargaining their futures away in exchange for foreign investment. In First Nations communities, from Vancouver Island to Burnt Church, there is growing support for seizing back control of the forests and fisheries—people are tired of waiting for Ottawa to grant permission that the courts have already affirmed. In Toronto, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is occupying buildings and demanding the shelter that is the right of all Canadians.

There is no shortage of principled, radical organizing taking place, yet it is almost completely disconnected from the major political voice of the left, the NDP. Listen to the people excluded from the Liberal mainstream and you hear ideas entirely absent from the NDP platform: the deep distrust of state powers, immigration crackdowns, police harassment, punitive welfare offices, and mismanagement of community affairs.

Surveying the rage directed at Ottawa from across the country, the NDP's only response has been an action plan for better central management. In its policy book, there is no problem that can't be fixed with a stronger, top-down government.

By consistently failing to speak to the hunger for local control, or to the well-deserved skepticism of centralized power, the NDP has yielded the entire anti-Ottawa vote to the right. The Alliance is the party that offers Canadians outside Quebec the opportunity to "send a message to Ottawa"—even if it is only by demanding a refund for poor service in the form of a tax cut.

A national party of the left could articulate a different vision, one founded on local democracy and sustainable economic development. But before that can happen, the left needs to come to grips with how Canadians see government. It needs to listen to the voices on native reserves and in non-native resource communities where the common ground is a rage at government—federal and provincial—for culpably mismanaging the land and the oceans from urban offices.

Government programs designed to "develop" the regions are deeply discredited across the country. Federal initiatives to get fishermen into eco-tourism, for instance, or farmers into information technologies are regarded as make-work projects, unresponsive and, at times, destructive to the real needs of communities.

Frustration with botched central planning is not just an issue in rural Canada. Urban centres across the country are being turned into mega-cities against their will, just as hospitals where cutting-edge programs once thrived are being amalgamated into inefficient medical factories. And if you listen to the teachers having standardized testing rammed down their throats, you hear the same resentment at centralized power, the same calls for local control and real democracy.

All these local battles are, at their root, about people watching power shift to points further and further away from where they live and work: to the WTO, to unaccountable multinationals, but also to more centralized national and provincial governments. What people really want are the tools, both financial and democratic, to control their destinies, to build diverse economies that are genuinely sustainable. And they have plenty of ideas.

On the west coast of Vancouver Island, they are calling for community fish-licence banks, bodies that would keep fishing rights in the community rather than selling them back to Ottawa or to corporate fleets. Native and non-native fishermen, meanwhile, are doing end runs around the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to try to save the salmon fishery by rehabilitating spawning grounds and protecting hatcheries. In other parts of British Columbia, they talk of community forest licences: taking away Crown land from multinational forestry companies that are interested in volume-based logging, and placing sustainable forest management in the hands of local communities.

Even in Newfoundland, long written off by Ottawa as Canada's welfare case, there was talk this election of renegotiating federalism to regain control over the province's rich energy reserves and what's left of the fishery. It's the same message from Inuit leaders determined to ensure that, as the oil and gas prospectors move into their territories once again, the benefits go toward regional development rather than simply enriching multinational corporations.

In many ways, these calls for sustainable economic development are the antithesis of the free-trade model pushed by the Liberals, which insists that increased foreign investment is the key to all of our prosperity, even if it means trading away democratic powers in the process. These communities want the opposite: beefed-up local control, so they can do more with less.

This is also contrary to the Alliance model of regional resentment and tax cuts—though for many, those aren't bad consolation prizes. But there is clearly a deep desire in this country to continue to act collectively, to pool resources and knowledge and build something better than any of us is capable of building as individuals.

This presents a tremendous opportunity for a left-wing party, an opportunity that has been entirely wasted by the NDP. There is a wide-open space in the political landscape for a new party, one that looks at the calls for localization and doesn't see a dire threat to national unity, but the building blocks for a unified—but diverse—nation. In these calls for self-determination, grassroots democracy, and ecological sustainability are the pieces of a national party platform, a coherent vision that includes many Canadians who have never before been represented by the so-called left.

Right now, we have federal parties that try to hold this country together against its will, and regional parties that pit the country against itself at its peril. A new party could do something else: show the country not the differences but the connections among these struggles for localization and articulate the progressive principles of economic sustainability, self-determination and participatory democracy. Rather than fighting localization, we need to spend national resources in a way that would systematically encourage creative, local solutions, making respect for the local the centrepiece of our national project.

What is needed is a federal party that would relentlessly champion the reinvention of local democracy with the same enthusiasm that the Alliance champions tax cuts. That doesn't mean abandoning strong national standards—and stable, equitable funding—for health care, education, affordable housing, and environmental protections.

But it does mean that the mantra of a political party of the left should change from "increase funding" to "empower the grassroots"—in towns, on native reserves, at schools, in resource communities, in workplaces. This project doesn't mean less government, just a different kind of government.

Its slogan: "Protect the Local, Nationally."

Although they hardly registered on the electoral map, I think the Canadian Action Party have some good ideas, at the national level anyway. Perhaps if I was Canadian I wouldn't have voted for them this time around, but if they got involved with the NDP and Greens they may be the catalyst for challenging the two main parties over the question of true patriotism and what it means to be Canadian.

Top Ten Reasons to Vote For CAP on January 23!

1-Freedom for all in a sovereign strong nation. Despite no taxpayer funding, CAP is the only party exposing the unaccountable, unelected rulers of Canada(that is the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, former government officials, business leaders, and academics). MP's are irrelevant, emasculated, and subject to corruption so long as they submit to that influence. As such they are no good to the citizenry.

2-Put your Money to work for You-Reinstate full use of the Bank of Canada-fund infrastructure and enable universal healthcare, education, environmental protection, full employment, and an end to the GST

3-Restore our civil rights and liberty-rescind all liberty stripping legislation including the anti-terrorism law, Public Safety and Preparedness Act. Prevent new laws that spy on law abiding citizens, such as surveillance legislation, tracking devices, biometric identifiers. Remove legislation that imprisons law abiding citizens in our own country, such as no fly lists, no passport lists, security certificates.

4-Restore Canada's Military Peace-Keeping role-Canada to stay out of Northcom, Star Wars, and to withdraw from the Binational Military Planning Group

5-Take Canada out of international agreements that are anti-Canadian, anti-democratic, anti-free trade, anti-environment, anti-universal healthcare-cancel NAFTA, FTA, the Smart Border Declaration,(signed in December 2001 by John Manley Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and Tom Ridge, Director of the United States Homeland Security Department); Withdraw from the Security and Prosperity Partnership Agreement, signed in March 2005 by Fox, Martin, Bush.

6-Electoral Reform-Restore democracy-revoke Section 550 of the Canada Election Act, that prohibits election promises to be accountable to the electorate-bring in proportional representation, recall legislation, direct democracy, all to provide transparent accountability to the people of Canada

7-Reinstate and enforce the four pillars of the Canada Health Act-including universality, portability, accessibility, fully funded public health programs with a ban on private healthcare(Bank of Canada)

8-Universal access to publicly funded education from pre-school through post-secondary including low interest student loans (Bank of Canada)

9-Providing and investing in alternative energy, research and development (Bank of Canada)

10-strong Voice of opposition- standing for peace, not WAR, and promoting real security and prosperity for the people not for corporate exploitation

Finally, some advice to the NDP in BC from Larry Gambone. I'm not sure when this was written but as BC is currently run by Liberals at Provincial level it must have some applicability! I'm sure it would be of use to NDPers/Greens/CAPers etc elsewhere in Canada as well.


The recent events in BC with the Liberal government are only the latest events in a 120 year history of mis-management, corruption and downright stupidity. One might well say that the present cut-backs are the fruit of this sordid mess. We, or more correctly they, since I languish in Siberian exile, did have 3 (or was it 4?) NDP governments and the situation could have been turned around. But the NDP didn’t. Now it shouldn’t be up to me to lay out a political program for social democrats, after all, I ain’t one ’o them, but the fact that an outsider can show them a thing or two, only points out what a bunch of unimaginative losers they must be.

What can a po’ provincial govt. do? Now we might bitch a lot about Ottawa and all its powers, and rightly so, BUT, the provinces do have a lot of power – at least 75% of the powers of an independent state. Look at Quebec. These are residual powers granted to each province by the British North America Act of 1867 and expanded on since. What are these residual powers? First off, the province can organize the lower level of government as it sees fit – as we have seen to our great displeasure here in Quebec with forced municipal mergers. Secondly, the provincial government itself, as long as it remains within the tradition of parliamentary democracy and does not overstep its constitutional limits visa-vis the Feds, can also organize itself as it pleases. A provincial police force, provincial pension fund and provincial banks are also constitutional. Once again, check-out them there Queebecers. Now you’d think wouldn’t ya, that anyone with an IQ a bit larger than their shoe size, could do a lot with all these powers – a lot of things to make life in BC pleasant.

If I must, I’ll spell it out simply. Government in BC is highly centralized, more so than in the East. Government is also highly undemocratic, virtually every govt. is a govt. supported by a minority, not a majority. Once in power, a party can do what it wants. Centralization and lack of democracy means less control by the people. Less control by the people means the government is free to reward its friends from public lands and taxes, ignore the environment, grab your property, impose expensive and useless mega projects, etc., etc. and etc. Furthermore, a govt. can introduce a reform, but the next party in power can undo it. What Our Lord the State giveth, Our Lord the State can also taketh away.

What COULD have been done is this: BC could be given a proper level of local government – counties and municipalities – which would be largely autonomous. These govts. would be based on real existing communities and not be artificial creations like at present. Much of what the prov. govt. does could be handed over to these local govts. Hospitals and schools could be de-nationalized (more correctly de-provincialized) and become the property of the community. Development, provincial lands and environment could also be the right of the community. Rather than govt. revenue being concentrated in the hands of the province – and therefore much of it getting wasted by bureaucracy and pet projects – it would be disbursed immediately to the lower levels of govt. to pay – at least in part – for the hospitals, schools, streets etc.

In order to minimize corruption at the lower levels of govt., the provincial govt. would maximize democracy at these levels. Small communities would replace the mayor and council with New England style direct democracy. All issues deemed controversial – by a simple petition of say 10% of eligible voters – would require a referendum which would need 66% of all eligible voters to pass. Large cities would be broken up into Neighborhood Councils, based on real neighborhoods, and elected locally. The Neighborhood Council would elect a recallable DELEGATE to the City Council. The position of Mayor would be abolished, instead a rotating Spokesperson. The Referendum Law would also apply at the Neighborhood Council and City Council levels.

The provincial govt. would undergo the following changes: A limited proportional ballot would be introduced. Any party with more than 5% of the vote would be given a seat. However, the vast majority would represent communities. These would no longer be artificial electoral districts (or ridings as they are quaintly referred to in Canada) but would be based upon real existing municipalities and counties. Each of these – as close as possible to rep by pop. - would elect a recallable DELEGATE to Victoria. Once again, the Referendum Law would apply. A Cabinet would be elected from the Legislature and the position of Premier stripped of any powers. The Premier would become an annually rotated spokesperson. The Prov. Govt. would engage in only those areas that the lower levels of govt. desired, such as collecting and disbursing revenue, provincial parks, highways, ferries, and the maintenance of standards, health and water inspection etc. (*)

These changes in government would be incorporated within a Provincial Constitution. To tie the hands of any future government who might try to destroy these freedoms any changes to the Constitution would require the approval of BOTH 90% of the lower governments and 90% of the eligible voters.

BC would withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and set up its own Plan like Quebec. Within no time this would become the largest investor in the province. A Ministry of Cooperative Affairs would be set up to encourage mutual aid, cooperatives and the general social economy. Rather than introducing private health care and privatizing auto insurance and BC Hydro, they would be mutualized, i.e., turned into client-owned and controlled cooperatives. With the Pension Fund, mutualism and community ownership, each person would come to own a share in the economy. In time, the bulk of the economy would be in the hands of the ordinary person.

The results? Government would be cheaper and more efficient. The environment would be better protected – who want’s to dirty their own nest? There would be less dissension since government would actually reflect the will of the people and not a minority. The economy would thrive since it would be owned by those who work it. Community would be re-inforced and rebuilt, resulting in less alienation and therefore less social problems. Voluntarism and mutualism would thrive as large, centralized institutions got broken down to human scale.

Like I said before, I’m not a social democrat, if any of you reading this are, well here’s your program. Take it, it’s yours. You don’t even need mention my name. In fact, please don’t or I’ll be forced to turn in my anarchist membership card. Claim it as your idea, for all I care.

*) Anybody thinking that I must be smoking something when writing this should be aware that a place governed on similar lines exists – It’s called Switzerland and happens to be the wealthiest nation on earth.

For what it's worth, if I was Canadian I would have voted either Green or NDP, not least as they are both opposed to the Security and Prosperity Partnership, the stepping stone from NAFTA to North American Union.

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