I Am Canadian, A Reply to Bell’s Open Letter

Read this guy’s exquisite take-down of Bell’s clueless CEO.

 

I Am Canadian, A Reply to Bell’s Open Letter.

 

If you’ve been reading me for a while, hark back to my own Bell burn here.

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The End Of McGuinty’s Marathon

If there’s been one equal reaction around the world to the global financial meltdown and its enduring fallout, it’s that the electorate of every country, state, and province – at least those who subscribe to the free market and democracy in general – has blamed the standing government.

Everybody loves their elected officials right up until those same elected officials reach the end of their budgetary ropes and start asking the people to tighten their belts as the government is forced to tighten its purse strings.

Yes, we’re all familiar with the riots in Greece as that government ushered in drastic austerity measures… the Arab Spring uprisings that stemmed from the citizens of those countries being unable to make ends meet within what the corrupt regimes had laid out… and the Occupy Wall Street/99% movement.

Other governments around the globe have dealt with the financial fallout in a more quiet fashion – at least in so much that there aren’t angry hordes of protesters filling the streets and boulevards in the seats of power.

Canada is one of those places – with the exception of the province of Quebec, which had a spring and summer filled with angry post-secondary students.

Yes, there were some tricky or tumultuous elections from coast to coast where the incumbents were either given a black eye or completely tossed from office – but for the most part, order has been maintained.

Ontario – which had been the wealthiest of provinces for the longest time before Alberta got it’s oil sands operations into full swing and took the title – was forced into a corner when the American economy collapsed, and the government at the time had to make some difficult choices.

The most visible – and the most quoted – was joining the U.S. in bailing out General Motors and Chrysler who were bankrupt from decades of bad deals with the auto worker’s union that had bled their coffers dry in a time where neither company was innovating at a level to compete with their counterparts from abroad.

Before I move on, I’d like to point out that those bail out loans have been paid off as both companies managed to pull their asses out of the fire.

As in America, the average citizen didn’t think the government had any business propping up private interests like Fortune 500 companies that had made bad choices – that it was perfectly acceptable to let those industrial giants die and take every job they created with them to the grave.

However, it was actually cheaper to prop up General Motors and Chrysler than to have all their workers (plus all the workers from companies that  manufactured parts for the auto industry) suddenly flood the nation’s unemployment benefit system – which would have crumbled under the load of 500,000 new applications since there was barely enough money to go around for the existing case load.

Plus, unlike money paid out to unemployed workers, all the money loaned to General Motors and Chrysler would come back to the government plus interest.

Anyhow, after the putting out the most immediate fires, the government of Ontario was left with a basic truth: all the smaller companies that either went bankrupt or had to radically downsize their workforces removed a sizeable chunk of tax income from the province’s spreadsheet.

Added on to that problem was the strategically leveraged investment tools that governments use to grow their bottom line – mainly investment bonds issued to raise capital – took the same kind of hit that the primary stock exchanges did… which turned billions into millions practically overnight.

People who drink the Hudak & Horwath flavor Kool-Aid fail to take that into account when they blame the Liberal government – and Premier Dalton McGuinty himself – for all the financial woes that have fallen on Ontario.

I’m not here to say that the McGuinty government hasn’t made any number of mistakes: a few programs have turned into total clusterfucks due to the lack of oversight.

Most notable are the eHealth and ORNGE debacles – and those two messes are all kinds of bad… but it’s one of those situations that make people say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Both programs were created to save the province money, and they should have… but the Liberals decided to save money on top of those savings by not appointing the number of provincial overseers that would have prevented the repeated foul-ups at eHealth and the insider kickbacks at ORNGE.

The eHealth program – which, by the way, was set in motion under the previous Progressive Conservative regime – was designed to/still has the potential for measurable savings to the province’s public healthcare system by creating a singular patient database that would eliminate layers upon layers of redundant paperwork across hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices… pointless duplication that costs millions of dollars in working hours needed to fill it out, process it, and file it.

The sort of electronic data system to store the patient information – which would include everything from your family doctor’s written notes to blood work results to x-ray images – doesn’t exist anywhere in North America… which means that it has to be built from scratch.

Information servers, remote client software, unified image/video protocols… and that’s just a fraction of the problems facing just the technology vendors – and doesn’t account for the legal teams necessary to create a framework that protects both the patients and the healthcare providers.

The very nature of public healthcare makes it even more complicated as governmental agencies aren’t really suited to the kind of R&D (research and development) that a company like IBM does routinely – so, regrettably, the staff at OHIP took a stand-off approach with the idea that the ‘professionals’ that were hired would figure things out on their own without much input from the government.

Obviously, that hasn’t worked – and it’s going to be a long, hard road before the eHealth concept comes to fruition because the province is trying to compete with the private sector for the management staff needed to make it happen.

Looking over towards ORNGE, the same hands-off policy lead to a disaster – albeit for different reasons.

Prior to the province incorporating ORNGE, the health ministry leased the aircraft it used for air ambulance services from private contractors which meant that Ontario was losing money on the service in 2 out of 3 categories: while the pilots were trained and managed by the province, the fuel costs and aircraft use/maintenance was sold to Ontario at a moderate mark-up.

ORNGE was formed so that the province would own all the aircraft – purchased directly from the manufacturer – and would be buying the fuel for those planes and helicopters at open market prices.

Over the projected service life of the aircraft, the province would save hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions – in the same way that owning a home saves money over a 20 year cycle in comparison to someone renting an apartment for that same 20 year period.

The problem was that the province picked the wrong people to manage ORNGE, people who felt they weren’t beholden to the people of Ontario – managing ORNGE like a private company instead of a subsidiary.

When you run your own company, you can arrange all the kickbacks and shmoozefests you want – but when the money you’re playing with is supplied by the public, you’re responsible to the public.

Again, the Liberals had a little too much faith in the people they chose – and it came back to bite them in the ass.

Other problems that people want to hang around Dalton McGuinty’s neck – things like the poor relations with the province’s educators for instance – aren’t really the fault of the government when you look at the bigger picture.

Remember how I said the province is taking in a lot less money than when the Liberals ousted the Progressive Conservatives due to this shitty economy?

Well, that kinda means that the Liberals – or any government for that matter – can’t make the pay scales continually rise like in days of yore.

Up until quite recently, the McGuinty Liberals were the darlings of the public employee unions because the Liberals were happy to spend money to maintain the status quo where all the nurses and teachers had their demands met.

Problem is that the province can’t spend money it doesn’t have… and that fact fails to register with the unions.

There is already too much red ink on the provinces budgetary tables, and to pay for what the teachers are asking – and what the nurses will soon also be demanding – would require adding a lot more debt… the same debt that the ignorant public wants to hang around the government’s neck.

The same kind of thinking – though modified by a lot of NIMBYism (people saying ‘not in my backyard’) – is what has caused the power generation snafu that the opposition is beating the Liberals over the head with.

By and large, the people of Ontario had given the Liberals an environmental mandate – demanding that dirty, smog-creating power generations stations be replaced by cleaner alternatives like natural gas plants and wind farms.

Problem is that nobody wants these things near their homes – regardless of the fact that they had already grown up in the shadow of the coal power smoke stacks, and that they would only be trading one for the other.

No… they demand that these new power generation facilities be built far from their homes – which would be an okay idea if it weren’t for the problem of transmitting electricity from far-off locations to the average home with 2.5 kids and an ever-growing collection of electronic devices.

Which means that on top of the costs of replacing coal with renewable/environmentally friendly alternatives, the province would be on the hook for the cost of building new transmission corridors – which, coincidentally, nobody wants in their backyards either.

The natural gas power generation facility that the Liberals cancelled was called off due to NIMBY pressure – cancelled so that the voters in that area would be happy.

Those same voters are now angry because the province now has to pay a cancellation fee – a fee incurred on their behalf.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense to be mad about getting exactly what you asked for, does it?

However, John Q. Public isn’t known for making sense – he depends on his elected officials to make sense of the world for him in the form of a sound bite that requires him to think the least amount possible.

The only time John Q. Public wants grand visions of the future is during election season – the rest of the time, he doesn’t want to be challenged.

Which is why Dalton McGuinty is stepping down as premier.

The truth is just far too complex for the average voter… which leaves them to be influenced by the more basic name-calling and finger-pointing done by the leaders of the opposition.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to blame someone than to help that same person fix the problem.

South of the border, we see that in the Romney/Obama contest.

If Romney wins, it will be because the public at large – who doesn’t follow/understand the machinations of their government – has swallowed all the bullshit that the GOP opposition has thrown out there… when the truth is that Obama didn’t meet a lot of his promised goals because the GOP/Tea Party has refused to work with the White House on just about anything.

We here in Canada like to think we’re smarter than our American neighbors – but honestly, if we’re so easily convinced by the person who yells the loudest, then that isn’t the case at all.

Dalton was never perfect… but he has always tried to do the best thing possible for the people who elected him.

Resigning now is a less-than-ideal option, but it’s what was left in his toolbox: the PCs and NDP won’t work with him as they’ve painted an image of the premier that they won’t reconcile with in the interest of the province.

No… that’s not entirely accurate.

The Progressive Conservatives sided with the Liberals on the salary freeze for the province’s teachers – which means the PC’s are capable of working with the party that the electorate chose to govern… but in larger scheme of things, they don’t want to because they want to have their own hands on the levers of power.

Mr. McGuinty made it clear that he was resigning in an effort to give the Liberal party a new face – one that doesn’t carry 8+ years of name calling with it whenever the next premier appears to the public.

Of course, the next premier and leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario won’t have that long of a grace period before the opposing politicos start flinging mud.

It’s the nature of the game – and no matter what anyone says, politics is a game that’s paid for by the public.

It’s just not a game that people keep track of – unlike something like baseball where the fan at home can cite any number of statistics for their favorite team or player.

No… the public at large has no stomach for politics and therefore has a very short memory.

They’ve clamored for McGuinty’s head on a pike – but have no idea what to replace him with.

They still remember the shit Mike Harris did, so the voters don’t trust the Progressive Conservatives.

The public service unions remember the cutbacks they received at the hands of Bob Rae and the NDP (coincidentally, this happened during the last time there was a recession even remotely like the one we have now), so they don’t really trust the current New Democrats all that much either – but it would seem to be the only option in a 3 party system.

Anyhow, I’m going to bring this blog to a close since you probably came into it with your mind already made up as to whether Dalton McGuinty has been a good premier or not.

However, the facts are indisputable: the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty healed a very fractured province that was left in the wake of the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves era.

They also brought a socially responsible agenda – one that was expressed once again mere hours before Mr. McGuinty announced his plan to resign at the earliest possible convenience… a message that I’m going to leave right here instead of the usual clever graphic that I normally end my blogs with.

*

The Attawapiskat Debacle

As much as native populations get screwed, they have serious issues.

I may be politically incorrect, but natives have become professional cry-baby victims… and instead of taking steps to make their lives better, they eject the federal representative that was sent to understand their present difficulties – essentially biting the hand that feeds them.

They cry out for help, and then they take offense when the help comes.

If I’m shelling out millions of dollars that seems to be simply evaporating once it gets into the native council’s hands, you’re damn straight that I’m going to put my own guy on the ground to supervise before I hand out any more cash.

Many of you are now calling for my head… but let’s be honest with each other for a minute.

The native settlement in Ontario’s north that’s getting all kinds of news coverage – Attawapiskat – looks for all intents and purposes like a post-apocalyptic landscape like any other you’d see in a medium budget Hollywood disaster flick.

And yet… the government has handed over $90,000,000 to the Attawapiskat council in the past 5 years – to take care of 1,929 people living on the reservation.

That’s just shy of $50,000 per person… and I’m fairly certain a great deal of these people live together as couples or as extended family units – so that’s more $100,000 per household for some.

Yes… I know a significant portion also goes towards municipal affairs, but there’s still a lot of money that’s just evaporated into the cold northern air without any explanation from the local tribal council members – without any sort of accountability.

If any non-native municipality squandered away almost a hundred million dollars in five years, there’d be – at the minimum – a public inquiry… if not a criminal investigation.

But no.

Not on a reservation.

They maintain they’re above or beyond the reason and laws of white civilization – please see the problems with contraband cigarettes produced on native reservations as a prime example – but come begging to the white man when they bungle up their lives so immensely that they can’t deal with it on their own… hats or head dresses in hand, and crying “woe is us!”

I fully admitted at the top of this blog that natives have been screwed over – but this is them trying to pull a fast one on Whitey and demanding that there be no strings attached.

I completely agree that we as a white, conquering population owe them a lot more than a few worthless tracts of land and a pitiful allowance to make ourselves feel better – but they must also be accountable for their mistakes and be willing to live with the consequences of their actions.

To come to the government with demands of millions more dollars without accepting a top-down forensic examination to see why people from Attawapiskat are bankrupt is pure lunacy.

At some point, they have to be saved from themselves if they can’t straighten out their own affairs – the tax paying Canadians that foot the bill deserve to have their dollars spend wisely and not have the cash stuck in empty oil barrels to be set ablaze on a cold winter night.

Note that I haven’t accused them of spending the money on truckloads of firewater like some other people have been suggesting on various internet forums… mainly because the drunken, gas huffing Injun Joe is too much of a stereotype.

However… that money has to have gone somewhere, right?

Look at this photo:

Click me

That’s a home in Attawapiskat.

Does it look like $90,000,000 has been anywhere near it in the past five years?

Not fucking likely.

So… I demand that our government stick to it’s guns and not hand over another dime in funding until some explanation has been made of how those past millions of dollars have been spent, and gotten in writing a guarantee that all money going forward is going to go towards the people of Attawapiskat directly and not towards causes that their council prefers.

Otherwise, they’re welcome to move south and struggle for a job at Labor Ready just like the whiteman.

Tim Who ‘Dat?

Ontarians – from border to border, and from Hudson Bay to the Great lakes – are on the verge of going to the polls again.

How and who they vote for will shape the government of Ontario for the next 4-5 years, and that is no inconsequential responsibility: North America is pretty much three inches and a market fart away from falling back into an economic recession that will no doubt put further pressure on the unemployment safety net as thousands of workers are let go.

The province of Ontario is a very complex machine… and when a machine breaks down, you want the right tools in your hands to fix it, right?

Unfortunately, Tim Hudak is just a tool (in the most derogatory sense).

During the 2011 election campaign, Mr. Hudak has tried to paint himself with Mike Harris’ left over cans of Tremclad Rustoleum in the supposedly trendy colour of ChangeBlue™… but he’s failed to realize that colour has been out of style for more than a decade.

While LiberalRed™ is still the preferred colour of the Ontario electorate, they’ve also developed a hankering for Andrea Horwath’s truckload of LaytonOrange™ – at least in small doses.

Tim Hudak may be good at mugging for the cameras,  but he’s been overly terrible at public policy ideas – a failing that’s always terminal in a politicians’s case, and one that can make you a laughing-stock at what’s supposed to be your defining moment.

At the start of the campaign, everything was coming up roses for Timmy and his merry band of Harris leftovers because Ontarians thought that change would be nice after 8 years of Premiere Dad – and that’s bound to happen, no matter who’s been holding on to the province’s keys: people like change now and then.

Instead of always getting the pepperoni pizza, sometimes you go out on a limb and get the Hawaiian with extra pineapple.

After a week or so of glad handing voters around the province, Hudak firmly took his campaign off the rails by repeatedly saying the word “foreigners” – and in a province that only grows with the importing of landed immigrants from other countries around the world (because the Canadian birth rate is abysmal), that was just the wrong thing to focus on.

Suddenly, Tim Hudak was all about white guys – despite him looking out over Toronto sidewalks that skewed a bit more towards yellow and brown.

On top of that, the Progressive Conservative party – that’s led by Mr. Hudak – has always been the champion of big business.

So… Tim Hudak is all about rich white guys.

And yes… I’m using white guys on purpose since the PC party has never really been on board the women’s rights train – paying lip service to it when necessary, but always mumbling quietly about finding ways to outlaw abortions.

The funny thing about the “Foreigner” debacle is that, by and large, the immigrant population are the people most likely to agree with the PC platform since most of them have come from moderately- to radically conservative countries… which makes them more likely to drink the HarriBerry Blue™ Kool-Aid.

The idiocy of Hudak’s derailment is based on one glaring fact: they have no serious issues to grab the undecided voter’s attention.

Television advertisements paid for by the PC party have only harped on about taxes: Dalton McGuinty and his Fiberals are supposedly raising taxes every other week and twice on Christmas.

While it is true that taxes have gone up in Ontario, they’re not disproportionate to the rate of inflation… and there’s been a concrete need for any taxes implemented by the Liberal government over their past two mandates.

Evil Tax Number One a.k.a. The Health Care Premium: Do you have any idea how much money is needed to care for the rapidly aging Baby Boom generation?  To care for the existing senior citizens?  To battle health concerns like SARS and swine flu?  Billions of dollars… billions of dollars that can’t be completely extracted from the amount of money brought into public coffers through various levels of personal and retail taxation – so the government needed a way to continue paying for our universal health care without digging itself further into debt.

Evil Tax Number Two a.k.a. The Eco-Tax: More than a million metric tons of used electronics used to go into landfills across the province before the turn of the century, and many still do… but that’s changing under the auspices of the Ontario Stewardship (a program that was itself set in motion by the previous PC government as a way to boost their environmental credentials) – and the money that’s required to start complex recycling programs province-wide has to come from somewhere… and where better to get that money than at the point of sale for the widescreen LCD television that you will discard in the next 5 years? That way, you’ve already paid for it’s recycling long before it’s necessary… instead of the government having to dip into it’s already strained and tattered pocketbook.

Evil Tax Number Three a.k.a. The HST: I’ve already explained why the HST is a necessary evil in previous blogs, so there’s not much I can add here. At the end of the day, Ontario needed to have the HST so it’s businesses could compete with other business entities around the world in our Global Economy because other jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, the U.S., Mexico, and South America already had in place single-point or so-called “value added” tax systems that made paying corporate taxes easier and more streamlined… and therefore cheaper over the long run.

With that Evil Tax Trifecta, surely Hudak could have made a better case for lowering taxes for the masses, right?

No… he couldn’t – and didn’t.

The HST couldn’t be revoked without activating a ‘poison pill’ scenario that was inserted by Hudak’s Conservative cousins in the federal government: if the province of Ontario were to revoke the HST, it would have to pay back $4 billion dollars in equalization money that’s already been sent to majority of Ontario citizens by those four special cheques you found in your mailbox over the past year – which would immediately be added to the province’s debt load and sinking the S.S. Ontario further into the Sea Of Red Ink… and would necessitate a rise in income taxes.

The best Hudak could promise on the HST front (and to be fair, Horwath has said the same things) was a modification of items that were included on the list of items taxable under HST – mainly removing the federal portion of the taxes on heating oil and electricity bills.

I suppose that would be nice, but hardly practical since it would cause a headache for the taxation department – a department that would eventually find a way to make up the difference from some other way of taxing you.

Onto the Health Care Premium.

Has Mr. Hudak said he would do away with those?

Nope. In fact, he’s said – very quietly and far away from voters waving little blue flags – that he will keep those in place because they do what I said they did a few paragraphs upwards from this one.

At the end of the day, the only one of those three Evil Taxes that Mr. Hudak and the PCs could tamper with in any meaningful way – and the meaning wouldn’t be necessarily good – would be the Eco-Tax.

However, as I hopefully made it clear up above, that would simply be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul – letting you off the hook at the point of purchase and then raising your personal taxes to maintain funding for the recycling facilities for your disposable iPods, Blackberries, flat screen televisions, and laptops… and to also pay for the water purification plants that remove the chemicals you put down the drain every day.

Outside of he Evil Tax Trifecta, Hudak doesn’t have a platform.

Healthcare? It can be argued that Ontario’s health care system is in the best shape it’s ever been in.

Yes… there are still crowded emergency rooms at hospitals across the province, but the wait times are getting better on the whole – especially for surgeries that can change people’s lives… or let them continue their lives as whole persons.

A few years ago, I was in serious bicycle accident and I snapped my leg in three places – something that would have been seriously debilitating in decades and centuries past…. even so bad that amputation would have been considered in more primitive times.

Guess what? The accident happened just after 1 o’clock in the afternoon… and I was in surgery to have a titanium rod permanently inserted down the middle of my tibia with attending screws and other hardware required to regain structural integrity – allowing me to walk on it again within several months – at 6 o’clock in the evening on the very same day.

So, I went from mangled to mostly fixed in five hours… and I didn’t have to pay a single cent – not even for the ambulance ride.

No… our healthcare system may not be perfect, but it’s still pretty damn amazing when you consider how much it has to struggle when it comes to finances.

The Progressive Conservatives, during their last stint as the province’s controls had taken a slash n’ burn approach to healthcare – firing doctors and nurses, and closing nearly twenty hospitals across the province… which caused such systemic damage that Ontario’s healthcare system was amongst the worst in the country, and it’s only now (2011) that it’s gotten back to the top.

Hudak & Pals don’t have any where to go with education, either.

The Liberals under Dalton McGuinty have made some radical improvements to public education in Ontario.

More students are sticking it out all the way through high school, graduating with marks that they can be proud of.

Smaller class sizes have helped students get the attention they need from their teachers, which means they get the help they need if they need it – either in that same classroom, or in more specialized learning environments.

The biggest change, of course, was the implementation of full-day kindergarten for all youngsters – which had two effects: the first being that children started experiencing a constructive learning environment sooner than most other children in North America… and it eased the financial burdens of working families that would have otherwise had to pay for daycare or babysitting services.

There’s very little to complain about when it comes to Ontario’s public schools.

In fact, there’s very little for Ontarians to complain about on the whole as the province simply works.

Compared to the Mike Harris years – an era where nearly every public sector union in Ontario was on strike – that Tim Hudak clearly yearns for deeply, Ontario is firmly planted in the Garden Of Prosperity.

Yes… there are many people across the province who are out of work because of the current global financial climate that isn’t particular to Ontario.

However, there are many people who’ve either regained or retained their employment because of programs that the current Liberal government forced into being with their majority… programs that cost many billions of dollars, but had very clear and tangible results.

Sure – the bailing out of General Motors and Chrysler (now owned by Fiat) was a popularly unpopular move… but it kept those two massive companies who employed thousands of Ontarians (either directly or through companies G.M. and Chrysler depended on to build their cars and trucks) alive.

The manufacturing sector in Ontario – and the world at large – has taken a beating as money becomes tight for consumers.

Companies that face certain peril if they don’t downsize their workforce have no choice to let employees go… and this is not the fault of the Ontario government.

It’s the fault of American banks and financial institutions who squandered and pissed away more than a trillion dollars in crooked investments and other equally worthless endeavors – actions that had a ripple effect across the entire world of stock exchanges and investment banking from New York to Tokyo.

The current hard financial times facing Ontario are not something that was caused in Ontario, and is most definitely not the fault of the McGuinty Liberals.

However, Tim Hudak has done his best to blame Dalton McGuinty for it… and in the end, the blame hasn’t stuck.

Maybe because the average Ontario voter is smarter than that… and I would really hope that’s the case.

However, I think the Ontarian electorate is sticking with the Liberals because Ontario is in a better place than a lot of jurisdictions in North America – and even the world.

Dalton McGuinty goes on television and shows you all the  good things the Liberals have done over the time they’ve been in charge – most of which I’ve discussed here.

…And Tim Hudak challenges McGuinty and Horwath to a BBQ cook-off.

If that wasn’t a sign of non-existent political platform, I really don’t know what is.

No, Timmy.

No you can’t.

Send In The Clowns: Death Of The Last Politician

Jack Layton is dead.

There is very little doubt that the 2011 federal election killed him.

Yes… I know that it was his last duel with cancer that actually took his life from him, but do you honestly think that flying/driving/riding/walking around this vast country of ours didn’t wear him down so much that the cancer made easy prey of him in it’s last, great push?

Perhaps it’s morbid to speculate at this early juncture, but when it comes down to the brass tacks, I’ll stand by my statement.

Anyhow… the country has lost it’s last great politician, and we should all feel the worse for it.

Jack Layton had a podium presence that none of the other federal leaders could touch – he was bold, brash, sure of his convictions, and had no traces of the wishy-washy/flip-floppy attitudes of the Conservative and Liberal leaders… who’s stances changed as often as the wind changed speed or direction.

It’s no wonder at all that he was able to do what no other NDP leader had ever done before: take his Big Orange Surfboard and ride the wave right into the Official Opposition’s seats… even if he had to vacate his chair barely months later and leave the NDP in care of The Fates.

The reasons for this were simple and best explained in the diagram below:

As you see, Canadians who wanted an actual leader had no option other than to jump on that Big Orange Surfboard and leave the rest of the country to vote for policy… which is why Stephen Harper is Prime Minister.

We’re on the eve of a state funeral for the most popular of the federal leaders – even if you won’t see any foreign heads of state attending… but this is more than made up with the thousands of ordinary Canadians who will travel from all corners of the nation to pay their respects to a man who managed to capture the public desire for hope.

However, I really think that Canada as a whole should mourn Mr. Layton’s passing – not just the NDP party faithful that made The Orange Wave possible.

As I’ve said, Jack was the last politician in the truest sense – he was the barn storming type of politico from days of yore… the type that would shake hands, kiss babies, address the masses from atop the biggest stump you could find .

When he was dealing with the public, Mr. Layton had the bravado of Don Cherry and a silver tongue to rival Sean Connery (well… maybe not, but it was close).

In comparison, Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff spent most of their campaigns on the bus or in hotel back rooms pouring over statistics and telephone polling results so they could change their speeches at the last minute in hopes of sounding less like a deflating balloon.

I’m not a foolish romantic – I’m sure the Layton team also did their fair share of electorate research as they toured the cities/towns/provinces of this great land, but Jack kept up the same tone throughout the campaign.

It may have not led to an ultimate victory, but there’s no shame in second best – and Jack proved that when he took the stage at the end of election night and brandished his cane like a mighty sword.

I salute you, Mr. Layton.

May you rest in peace.

Election 2011: Now That The Dust Has Settled…

The Big Election is over and done… quickly disappearing in Canada’s rear-view mirror.

Conservatives won the day, which was written in the sand from the outset – but they made out like bandits and secured themselves four years of (what they hope to be) uninterrupted rule in which they can sell the country out to American interests and continue to ignore the real social issues like poverty and the environment.

What’s that? I was on their side during my last political blog?

Yes… I was – but that was in the face of a floundering Liberal leader who couldn’t have won a butt-kicking contest with his own two feet in field of one-legged contestants.

I also came to the conclusion that the NDP would pick up seats in the vacuum that the Liberals were leaving in their wake – but I wasn’t in any way ready for The Big Orange Machine that steamrolled Iggy’s Grits and made it all the way to a 100+ seat Opposition… though I was quite happily surprised since it turns our venerable parliament on it’s head.

As the news outlets have said over and over, the New Democratic Party has never been the official opposition in the history of Canada – always an ‘also ran’ behind the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc Quebecois… playing the role of spoiler/king-maker during the times we’ve had minority governments by placing their votes on bills and motions up for grabs in return for concessions from the ruling party.

However, on May 3rd, Jack Layton and his Merry Orange Band of NDPers woke up after the election and realized they were now Her Majesty’s Royal Opposition – which had turned out to be a both a boon and a curse: while they had gone from fourth place to second and boosted their national profile considerably, they had also lost any and all sway they had over the levers of power.

You see… being the Official Opposition comes with a set number of powers, and the only one that really matters is that they get the right to be the first ones to put the Government Of Canada (in this case, the Conservatives) on the hot seat during Question Period after Prime Minister Harper and his cronies prattle on about any given issue of the day.

While that may seem like a nice thing on paper, the fact that it means very little in practice is something that the inexperienced NDP caucus failed to calculate in their campaign: that they’ve gone from a place where the Harper minority government would listen to them and occasionally put items from the NDP wish list into the budget – to a position where they can scream/shout/bolster themselves up and needle the Conservatives all day long… only to have Harper blithely ignore them on all issues due to the Conservative’s 160+ seat majority that doesn’t need cooperative votes to pass legislation.

At the end of the day on May 2nd, it was clear that vote splitting had given the Conservatives their longed-for majority.

In a large number of ridings across the 9,984,670 square kilometers of Canadian territory, NDP and Liberal candidates were neck and neck in the polls – which would be exciting if it was a 2-player horse race, but effectively canceled each other out… leaving the inside lane free and clear for the Conservatives to storm their way to a commanding 1st place.

The fact that Michael Ignatieff – then leader of the Liberal party that had surged to power in 1993 and held on until 2005 – had failed to win even in his own riding was a bitter, bitter pill… one that the Liberal party executive council is still choking on this very minute.

Yet, even in his concession speech, Ignatieff seemed to be certain that he’d continue to lead the Liberals after he had torpedoed the party – clearly maintaining his lack of connection with reality that had hounded him and his closest lieutenant from the time he was named party leader in August of 2009 – before coming out the next day and telling the press that he was resigning the leadership effective immediately.

Since the Liberals have been mostly silent in the 6 days since the election, I’m forced to presume that as soon as Ignatieff had come down from the podium at party campaign headquarters in the early hours of May 3rd, he was promptly taken to a room far from the press’ omnipresent eyes and ears before being flogged/kicked/beaten by the Liberal executive for  killing “the natural ruling party” (a title foisted on the Liberals by opposing parties due to the arrogance that a string of back-to-back majorities had brought – and mostly assimilated by Liberal members over the years) and lacking the common decency to promptly fall on his sword during his concession.

Hell… even the leader of the Bloc Quebecois – a party determined to separate Quebec from Canada no matter what happened – had the sense to resign his post after securing only 4 seats out of 308, of which 75 are in Quebec.

As it is, only the Liberal party’s presumptive interim leader Bob Rae (himself once a provincial NDP member and 21st Premier Of Ontario before abandoning politics for a number of years in advance of joining the federal Liberals) has come out of seclusion to tell the party faithful that the party will rebuild and refocus in efforts to win the next election.

In fact, a strong case can be made for Rae to become the Liberal’s official leader come the next leadership convention – mainly because he’s the only guy in the Liberal camp who’s had political party leadership experience, and because Rae’s pretty much the only Liberal seat holder who has any sort of public persona that people could get behind – a born politician who can command a crowd with his oratory skills and an actual personality that can engage the Canadian population at large… which is precisely where Ignatieff failed since he was about as lively as watching grass grow.

The only problem with Bob Rae is optics… specifically how he’s seen in the province of Ontario – which is generally the area of the country that makes or breaks the Liberal campaign.

Rae had the unfortunate luck of being premier of Ontario during the early 90’s recession – an event not of his or his party’s making that bankrupted the province and forced Rae to create the unpopular “Rae Days” for employees of various governmental institutions that equaled forced, unpaid furloughs every so often… which was an act that greatly angered the public service unions and eventually led to Rae and his party being booted from office in the next election in favor of the provincial Progressive Conservatives who were promising the moon (and delivered deep public service cuts instead).

An acquaintance of mine says Rae could never be prime minister because he bankrupted Ontario – which is simply not true… and is something the Rae leadership camp needs to get out ahead of in the coming weeks and months: turning a generalist public opinion in Ontario from something unfairly negative into the actual reality that Rae did the best he could given the circumstances.

Once that problem is resolved, I seriously think the Liberals have a strong chance of rebuilding with Rae at the helm… or even one of the other candidates that are being bandied about like former federal finance minister Ralph Goodale – though I have to say the man lacks subtlety when interacting with the public, but that could in the end be a strength when running against the likes of Stephen Harper who never seems to get excited about anything.

But, for now anyway, we as Canadians are saddled with a brand-spanking-new parliament that – for better or for worse – we chose for ourselves.

It’s really hard to determine where the Government Of Canada is going to go from here on out since we haven’t seen an unconstrained Conservative party in power since the early 1990’s… and even back then, it was an entirely different party under the leadership of Brian Mulroney – a kinder, gentler group of politicians that was still known as the Progressive Conservative Party Of Canada which – by it’s very name –  seemed to imply an openness to outside ideas.

When Stephen Harper led the charge to reform the Conservatives (and in the process swallowing the Reform Party), he tossed out the “Progressive” name and moved the party from the right-of-center brand of politics to firm right wing entrenchment similar to their American Republican cousins – big on crime & punishment and friendly to big business interests through aggressive cuts to corporate taxes.

Since the Conservatives came to power in the 2006, they’ve always been kept in check due to their continual minority government status – having to rely on the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc Quebecois to achieve the number of votes necessary to pass legislation in the House Of Commons, which has kept the right wing agenda from dominating the Canadian landscape by continually adding more socially-minded items to budgets and other major governmental positions.

Now, heading into the middle of 2011, Harper & Co. have been given free rein to pass any legislation that tickles their fancy without any interference from other parties – a political blank cheque that will allow the Conservatives to implement laws, regulations, and spending cuts while swinging their arms akimbo if it suits them.

And while Prime Minister Harper came out fairly quickly after the election to say that he and his party weren’t going to change the way they did business from how they conducted themselves during minority government times, the average Canadian would have to be completely stupid/naïve to believe one word out of Harper’s mouth.

Harper has continually said his party has been chomping at the bit to implement the Conservative agenda since the 2006 campaign began… so how can we be expected to believe that, all of a sudden, Harper & Co. are going to learn the art of self constraint?

But… that’s how the war of politics is waged in a democratic system: the hopeful dependence on society’s short memory from election to election.

A democracy that we as Canadians just took part in… a democracy that we all voted for (well, at least more than 60% of eligible voters according to Elections Canada).

A democracy the Michael Ignatieff campaigned hard on – saying that it was time to fix democracy in Canada by voting Liberal and chasing the Conservatives from office that had been found to be in Contempt Of Parliament by the Speaker Of The House.

A democracy that turned on it’s supposed champions and made the Liberals a laughing stock.

Ah, well.

Democracy is great, isn’t it?

It's great!

The Canadian Crossroads

So… here we are in 2011, and us Canadians are faced with a dilemma that couldn’t have been foreseen even 3 months ago.

Great swaths of Liberal voters – who had never even thought it possible – are heading to the polls in the early summer heat of May… ready to vote for more Stephen Harper.

How the hell did this happen?

Where did the Liberal party go so wrong that those who had vowed to die fighting the Blue Meanies would willingly put an ‘X’ next to the name of their local Conservative candidate – desperately trying not to vomit while doing so?

In a word? Iggy.

Michael Ignatieff has turned out to be a blunder of almost Biblical proportions… a goddamn Greek tragedy in motion.

You see… the Liberal body of voters (especially the card-carrying party members that attended the last Grit leadership convention) were duped into thinking Iggy was the next Great White Hope – someone who could embody the intellect and flare of great Prime Ministers of times past, and to be more specific, Pierre Trudeau.

On paper, Ignatieff had a lot going for him: international experience, academic fortitude, and lots of time doing public speaking engagements – which are all good ingredients when you want to promote yourself as being the central figure of Canadian politics.

However, the Iggy Experiment has failed.

Despite endless opportunities provided by the Harper Regime, and chances to interact directly with the Canadian people through much ballyhooed Liberal Express road trips, Michael Ignatieff has never come across as anything other than a stiff, awkward presence that seemed more apt to be a university professor than a man who would be king.

Worst of all to the Liberal faithful – and much to the delight of Conservative election engineers – Iggy has settled into a routine filled with arbitrary whining, pompous airbaggery, and snide opportunism… none of which are pleasant to behold and all are contrary to endearing yourself to a Canadian public who are just getting used to more prominent place in the global community after years of mismanagement by previous Harper rosters.

As much as the recent recession sucked for the world’s citizens on the whole, the economic meltdown played exactly to the Conservative’s business acumen: spend yourself out of it wisely (by surging money to public infrastructure projects that both put people to work and took financial stresses off municipalities), and then make Canada a very attractive place to set up your business by lowering corporate taxes to a rate that’s extremely appetizing when compared to other jurisdictions.

Also, the governmental officials that were responsible made sure they kept their hands firmly on the rudder… steering our economy in the opposite direction of many of our G8 neighbors who ended up drowning in boiling red ink.

The final part of the public’s redefinition of Conservative cronies is that Harper & Co. have been much more reactive to the concerns of the electorate: intervening in headline-making business deals like the Potash debacle… enabling Canadians to have more choice in the cellphone market by allowing Wind Mobile to set up shop in spite of questionable ownership… and taking the CRTC on directly over the ‘usage based billing’ decision that would have drastically altered the Canadian internet experience for the worse.

All of these things look very good for Harper & Co. when you string them together… portraying them as people who care about Canadian national identity issues, and what we feel like as citizens that are being raped at every juncture by money-hungry corporations that could honestly not care less about us.

Yes, it’s true that the Conservative Party Of Canada feels entitled to do whatever the hell it likes – regardless of rules, regulations, and political mandates.

If the Harper government doesn’t fall on the 2011 Budget text alone, it definitely will fall on the current Contempt Of Parliament issue that it can not shake… because, honestly, the opposition parties are practically foaming at the mouth in their hurry to throw an election party – even as non-governmental polling suggests that the Conservatives could possibly squeak by into majority-rule territory.

Why Iggy and Layton are so eager to get egg in the face is beyond me.

Well, maybe I can understand Jack Layton’s view: the floundering Liberals could mean a bolstering of NDP seats come the May election since they could position themselves as the least whiny alternative – providing that Layton can shake his socialist image (and it wouldn’t take the greatest Photoshop artist to manipulate Layton’s head back and forth with Lenin’s).

Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois never really need a reason to support a federal election as they’re Canada’s more civilized answer to the IRA (minus the bombings of course – at least not in 30 or 40 years) and whose sole function is to break apart federalism at the seams so Quebec can go it’s own way to whatever future they’re deluded into thinking exists.

But… this all rolls back to Iggy.

He’s the one who aches to be the guy standing before the world leaders gathered at the United Nations… to be the Prime Minister who puts the gallery to sleep by finding 1,000 ways to iterate how civilized Canadians are (it’s true – not saying otherwise), and how we disagree with violence and want to give half our clothes to strangers on the streets.

Sure, Iggy, those are all nice things to say about us… and we wish somebody who had actual lectern presence could get up and reaffirm our place in the world… but that’s not and never will be you.

We’ve all had time to watch you flop around, flailing at just about any issue you think you might be able to get some traction on – going on long-winded diatribes about things that, in all honesty, aren’t on the average Canadian citizen’s radar.

In fact, the biggest issue that Michael Ignatieff has been able to attach himself to is the future purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – which is somewhat an issue due to the $16,000,000,000 – $30,000,000,000 price tag – to replace our 30-year-old batch of CF-18 fighters that are starting to fall out of the sky for no particular reason other than they’re quickly reaching their Best Before dates.

To counter any argument that the Liberals might make on the F-35 purchase program, let me put forward two things:

1. The F-35 Lightning II is the most technologically advanced fighter available to the open market i.e. not limited to purchase by the U.S. military like the F-22 Raptor – and is designed for multiple roles in the combat and patrol missions that our Armed Forces take on (please see current mission over Libya, or semi-frequent intercepts of Russian bombers that test our defenses periodically).

2. The last time the Liberals canceled a military aviation purchase, it took nearly 20 years to find another suitable aircraft: in fact, the replacement of  50-year-old Sea King helicopters aboard our navy ships is still ongoing – leaving Canadian sailor-aviators at the mercy of 700 worn-thin spare parts flying in unison. WE DO NOT HAVE 20 YEARS TO REPLACE THE CF-18.

In the end, the Liberal election platform is going to be based on the notion that we’re sick and tired of paying so much money to the government in taxes when Big Business pays so little.

It would be a good platform in the 80’s or 90’s – maybe even in the 2000’s – but this is more and more a society that deals with information in a point-blank fashion: the internet and other forms of media has made the average Canadian more insightful (you’re reading a blog after all) as to what is working and not working from coast to coast.

And, right now, we’re all very aware of basic facts: our dollar is strong enough to top the mighty U.S. greenback… our banking system is the healthiest among all G8 (maybe even G20) nations… our employers are healthy enough to generate jobs at a rate higher than our southern neighbors… and however cynical it may be by design, our federal government seems to be interested in helping us in the face of Big Business.

Those things are all tangible indications of progress (but not of progressiveness, naturally – they are Conservatives) that has made our lives a bit better when compared to peoples in other countries, and even to ourselves when compared to a few years ago.

I fear that we as Canadians have no other option than to give Harper & Co. another mandate since they are doing what’s in our overall best interests… while overlooking their institutional inclination to be dicks.

The best we can hope for is another minority government that will be held in check by the Opposition – an Opposition that will finally wise up and take care of their Iggy problem after a trouncing.

So… sit back for the next 45 days or so and watch the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP duke it out over our airwaves in endless TV attack ads and televised debates.

It should at least be entertaining.

Me?

I might actually vote Green… as I can’t stand the local Conservative candidate.