ELECTION BLOG: A MINORITY GOVERNMENT?

Greetings,

The unthinkable is happening for the Liberal Party of Canada during this election.

No one would have guessed last December that Paul Martin and Co. would be a situation come June where his party, Canada’s “Natural Governing Party,” would be facing the distinct possibility of a minority government.

Now, it’s not just a possibility – it’s becoming increasingly likely.

Worse for the Grits lies in the surprising poll results of late that say the Conservatives could form a minority government if all things go well from here on for Stephen Harper.

Basically, this is bad, bad, bad news for the Liberals all around. This all has a distinct smell not unlike the 1984 federal election, where a new Liberal leader, John Turner, indirectly caused the Liberals’ implosion on election day and Brian Mulroney was swept into office in the largest majority government in Canadian history.

While Stephen Harper is no Brian Mulroney, Harper’s got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain in the coming weeks. Martin is on the defensive now, trying to hold off the dogs and make some gains through new policy initiatives and making more and more emphasis on “Team Martin” and less on the “Liberal” brand.

The true litmus test for a Conservative Party minority could come in a few weeks, when the French and English-language leaders’ debates are broadcast on TV. This is a vital moment for every leader in an election, for it is, more often than not, the forum that will help decide who Canadians vote for.

Right now, a Conservative minority with ad hoc partners in government (namely the Bloc Quebecois) or a Liberal-NDP coalition government is in the cards. Unless something radical happens in the next few weeks, the solid, 200+ seat majority that Paul Martin dreamed of is dead and gone.

ELECTION BLOG: YOUTH VOTING (PART 1)

Greetings,

Being Canadian usually means having a great deal of luxuries most people around the world can only dream of. The most valuable luxury of all, however, is being neglected by young people in this country: voting.

I’m writing a piece for the CBC at the moment on youth voting and why my generation – the so-called 18-35 demographic – isn’t voting anymore. It’s been discussed at length by various commentators in the media, but a truly stinging rebuke on the hypocrisy of our elders saying, “grow up and vote!” came at the hands of Antonia Zerbisias’ weekly media column in today’s Star.

She outlines in graphic detail how my age group, the most pampered demographic in Canadian history, can’t be blamed entirely for not wanting to vote. The Baby Boomers, a generation raised on social activism, has, through their efforts of civic reform and fighting for their rights, have unintentionally created a sense of social ennui among the young. Our parents have been, in the words of Zerbisias, mollycodding our age group through being spoiled, but at the same time, making us organize our lives around television.

She’s right, although it’s unfair to blame our parents’ generation for our troubles. We’re cynical for good reasons when it comes to our world, true enough, but at some point, we have to be the change we want to see in the world. We have to take on some responsibility for our actions, realizing that it’s not enough to scream at the sea tides and hope it changes direction.

There are plenty of things to fight for in this country, namely tuition fees, environmental protection and social justice. Our age group needs to take this battle on at some point, for we’re not just consumers — we are citizens first and foremost.

ELECTION BLOG: THE URBAN AGENDA

Greetings,

Today, Paul Martin spoke to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Edmonton regarding a new pledge to fund cities at an increased rate of $2.3 billion a year.

My initial reaction to this was a positive one. Martin seems to understand that cities are the economic and political engines of Canada (although our riding distributions are only beginning to reflect that – too much power is given to sparsely populated areas and not enough to very densely populated cities like Toronto and Montreal) but this simply isn’t enough money. Sure, Martin speaks in glorious platitudes about the wisdom of investing in cities, affordable housing and re-working the distribution of the gas tax to cities, but will it ever happen?

Timeframe-wise, the implementation of this new urban agenda is roughly five years. Toronto needs more money now. The TTC is in better shape now than it was at this time last year, but it remains strained under the weight of ridership demands and sparse federal funding. Public transit is the lifeblood of any major city, for it ensures the very basic element of urban life – the ability to go over large distances and sections of the city quickly and efficiently -is maintained.

This is a good start, but it’s hardly the definitive solution cities need. It’s a down payment on an agenda that’s been neglected for too long in federal politics, mostly because the way political interests are represented in Ottawa gives equal weight to both rural and urban agendas.

WESTERN STANDARD: My old friend Peter is now working as a student intern at the Western Standard. This is a new publication that arose out of the ashes of the Alberta Report, a Ted Byfield-led collection of conservatives, both economic and so-con, as well as providing a distinctly Western voice to the national debate. Apparently, this new magazine is lead by none other than Ezra Levant, a major player in the conservative movement in Canada. It’s got all the elements of the Alberta Report, only with more libertarian perspectives (which should make Peter very happy).

I don’t politically identify with the folks who lead the Western Standard (Ann Coulter’s prescence in the magazine takes it down a shade in the rational, level-headed milieu of Canadian journalism), but it is always good to have more voices on the scene in a democratic society. You can check out the magazine online here.

ELECTION BLOG: BEING JACK LAYTON & THE NDP

Greetings,

The NDP has a uphill battle ahead of it this election. While the party is enjoying its widest level of support in more than 15 years (18 per cent may not sound great, but for the NDP, it’s a vindication that the near-death experience of the party in the last few years was, indeed, premature), the party still bears the stigma of being a “tax-and-spend” party that cares little to nothing about deficits or national debt levels.

If you read the NDP’s platform, which was outlined in great detail today, it’s not like that at all. Balanced budgets seem to be part of the Canadian public’s consciousness now, given that no institution – business or government – can operate indefinitely without balanced books. The NDP understands this principle very well nowadays, although there are some distinctly NDP-sounding policies in their platform, including some massive new tax increases.

Some examples of this include the party’s proposed re-introduction of the inheritance tax, which would take a sizeable portion of monies inherited through a parent’s passing back to the government. I can’t honestly think of a single person who would like this idea on paper (that’s private money, they would argue) and I’m not too thrilled on the idea either. Still, the tax could generate an astonishing $5 billion per fiscal year, which, if demonstrated in real, tangible results, could enhance health care and education transfer payments to the provinces.

This all hinges on whether people are willing to give up some of the money that they earned and planned to transfer to their children in favour of funding other people’s education plans.

While few people will probably go for this, you have to admire the fact the NDP is coming up with a policy platform that doesn’t blow the bank, but also acknowledges the reality that you can’t balance the books and pay for social programs without some sacrifices at some point. You either cut spending at the governmental level, or shift some of the burden to individual taxpayers.

Jack Layton’s definitely got a handle on the NDP and what it will take to make a dent in the Liberals this election – but can he convince the electorate of that fact? We’ll have to see.

ELECTION BLOG: THE BATTLE BEGINS

Greetings,

I’m shifting gears here on this blog for a few weeks towards the federal election, albeit with some non-election threads here and there.

It’s only the third day of this federal election and already the big, big promises are coming.

Prime Minister Paul Martin made the election promise of investing billions into health care over the next 10 years. This is a major re-investment into medicare, but more importantly, it re-affirms the Liberals pledge to keep health care public and not private.

Health care is the most pressing issue of this election campaign. If there ever was a more contentious issue in this election, it’s this one. The reasons are vast and all-encompassing to Canadian society: with the number of people approaching retirement age increasing in the next decade, the demands on health care will increase accordingly. Furthermore, can this level of medicare funding be sustained by governments already under pressure from education funding and other sectors? This is where the term “values” comes into play, for health care falls under one of those areas of society that is not cut-and-dry in terms of how people pay for it, or rather, who pays for it.

No political party would dare make health care a completely private enterprise, for Canadians cherish medicare in ways that would baffle Americans and their health insurance-driven, for-profit system.

Yet there is talk of introducing more user fees (and Ontario has done effectively just that with a health premium payment plan that, while not a “user fee” per se, is a new health tax that doesn’t violate any terms of the Canada Health Act – it is still a consumer-driven form of payment) to put more individual responsibility on health care users. I like the idea of putting more responsibility on people to not go to hospitals when they have a cold when real emergencies are pressing issues, but any form of payment that limits those with low incomes to use the health care system in any way is wrong.

ELECTION CALL ON SUNDAY

Greetings,

On Sunday morning, Prime Minister Paul Martin will be making a visit, at long last, to Governor-General Adrian Clarkson’s residence to drop the writ for a general election call.

This is going to be a bitter, nasty election campaign. The Martin Liberals are in the fight of their lives to win this contest, for while a Liberal government is most likely, what kind of Liberal government (i.e. majority or minority) will be a subject of great debate during this campaign. If Jack Layton and the NDP can put forth a message of economic frugality combined with social responsibility, or if the Conservatives under Stephen Harper can express an effective, moderate voice for conservative values in Canada (i.e. not abolishing public medicare, commercializing the CBC or lowering taxes to below U.S. levels), than the Liberals could be in serious trouble. Paul Martin’s going to need to put on a face of total party unity (even if the antagonisms between the old Chretien supporters and Martin supporters remains behind the scenes) to win this majority government.

I’m going to be involved in this little exercise in democracy again this year, through an organization called Student Vote 2004 , which is about getting youth involved in voting during elections.

THE HORRORS OF THE BACHELOR

Greetings,

It must be tough being Jesse Palmer, the newest incarnation of ABC’s inexplicable reality TV hit, The Bachelor.

Jesse, a third-stringer QB for the New York Giants of the NFL and an Ottawa native, is apparently all about depth and integrity in his ladies.

His final two choices came down to two exceptionally attractive blondes, both of whom are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Sure, they’re both well-healed young women, flattering Jesse with lots of appreciation for his good looks, athletic prowess and the fact he’s arguably the biggest boy in a man’s body that’s ever graced the TV screens of North America.

I watched this one final episode of The Bachelor last night. I saw Jesse do his manly duty and propose to this girl named Jessica, and it was a sweet, predictable ditty of a marriage proposal (just wait, the divorce lawyers are already manning the torpedos).

Watching The Bachelor is a lot like pushing a button and being sent back to Middle America, circa 1955 – all the conventions of a sometimes-dignified institution in its sexless, anti-feminist glory. It’s what “love” and “marriage” should be all about to those who appreciate their partners without messy, dirty details, or even a modicum of reality (ah, the irony is priceless).

The most surprising part of The Bachelor (and, to a lesser extent, The Bachelorette)is not so much the fact every woman looks essentially the same (slim, gorgeous, and generic to a fault)but how immediate their infatuation is for these Bachelors. Are these women that desperate for a good man? Are these men cocky enough to believe that these women genuinely believe they’re in love and not playing it up for the camera? Emotional pornography, thy name is The Bachelor.

It’s all a big come on, The Bachelor as an institution. Keep waiting – the main U.S. networks can only dream of the day when they skip the “courtship” part and go straight to the wedding night.

Now that’s going to have mad ratings.