Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

defeat the nation resolution regardless of your candidate

Time to state the obvious: It is imperative that we take the leadership race out of the "Nation" resolution. It is far too important for us to be led down the garden path by our leadership loyalties.

Is it coincidence that - despite his career's record - all of Bob Rae's supporters have turned up on the non-recognition side? Is it coincidence that all the Ignatieff supporters that flocked to him out of Trudeauvian nostalgia have landed at the Nation end of things? No - what it is is absurd.

It's absurd particularly because the issue doesn't break down along leadership lines in the way that the media has purported. There is no Chretien-Martin here, no Trudeau-Turner. What you have on the surface is a bunch of Martins arguing with eachother. But it becomes even more complicated the deeper you dig.

First is Ignatieff, the resloution's champion. But is his position as pure as it has been construed? Here is a selection of relevant quotes over the course of his recent career:

"I don't want a community of communities. I don't want tribalism. I want a kind of moral individualism."
- UK interview

"Ignatieff, who keeps a photo of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979) in his campaign office, warned that Conservative promises of more money and power for the provinces and a seat for Quebec in international circles could weaken the federation.

‘Canadians want a country. They don't want a community of communities,' Ignatieff said. 'I'm committed to the national unity of the country.’"
- AP

Some argue that Ignatieff has favoured the nation notion since Blood and Belonging. This is revisionist history. He has Quebeckers explain what Nationalism is to them, to which he writes "What can you say to such a deep myth?"

He warns of the impact of Bill 101, and how the Charter must not be compromised: "Individuals would lose this right of appeal, and the way would be open to majoritarian ethnic nationalism."

And then there's Mr Rae. Trudeau re-embodied, right? He could be, if we dismiss everything he said and did prior to mid-August. Bob on Quebec:

"The country would be in better shape if the Meech Lake Accord had passed.”

He wrote that Pierre Trudeau et al “[were] arguing in defiance of Canadian history.” Whilst many Liberals celebrate Trudeau’s achievements, Rae isolates Trudeau as the source of this federation’s ills: “…we have seen the danger of governing in the name of a theory.”

According to Bob, PM Mulroney “showed great courage and great energy in his defence of the country and I fully supported his attempts to further reform the Constitution…”

And the now famous:
"I always supported the notion that Quebec . . . is a nation, it is a distinct society, which we need to recognize in our Constitution and I have fought for that. The genius behind federalism is that we can be both a Quebecker and a Canadian."

The difference then becomes Rae's "We shouldn't open the constitution right now because it is dangerous" vs. Ignatieff's "We should open the constitution, but not until it isn't dangerous to do so."

This is an artificial dispute, manipulated by all sides. My suggestion is this: we attend the convention, we tear the resolution to shreds, and we send a message to whomever is our leader - that we don't need to pander, because we can think.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Justin Trudeau and Quebec

Justin Trudeau weighs in on 'nationhood', with a gentle spanking. I really want to hitch my wagon to this horse.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Quebec Nation Resolution - imagined by Steelcitygrit

This was a little late in coming.

WHEREAS bettering our short-term electability justifies triggering a long-term erosion of the legitimacy of the Canadian state

WHEREAS a scandal which had no inherent relation to any theoretical federalist camp cost us a close election, which has led us to adopt Separatist/Conservative revisionist history that claims the Liberal federal brand has been forever reviled in the province of Quebec

WHEREAS it is most politically expedient to ignore the small voices – James Bay Cree, Haudenosaunee, new Canadians, the old-stock Anglo minority - in Quebec

WHEREAS some cardboard groupthink intelligentsia call us bad names and it hurts our feelings

WHEREAS the French Canadian nation outside of Quebec will still be able to survive culturally, because anyone has the option of moving to Quebec

WHEREAS the Charter of Rights and Freedoms means less to us then does the purported slight 20+ years ago of a minority of Quebec’s elected representatives that belonged to a party committed to the dissolution of the Canadian state

WHEREAS Trudeau is responsible for a close referendum result in 1995, more than a decade after Canada rejected his federal approach and attempted “recognition”

WHEREAS we lack the intellectual and intestinal fortitude to confront the ideas of Separatists head-on, and instead hope that agreeing with them will scupper their legitimacy

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada recognizes Quebec as a Nation.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fortier has no excuse

First off, the appointment of Michael Fortier to the cabinet expressly contradicts Harper's position on the issue in the election. He said he would not appoint cabinet ministers, not that he would not appoint them unless he thought it a good idea later on.

This is a practice not without precedent. However, the convention is clear, these appointments must run at the first available chance. Here's Graham White from the Canadian Democratic Audit (let's not forget how much Harper hates the "democratic deficit"):

"A powerful constitutional convention...ensures that once appointed to cabinet, ministers must in short order win elected office...While it is permissible to serve in cabinet without a seat it is not permissable to do so for long. Ministers appointed in this fashion must soon secure a seat."
(from "Cabinets and First Ministers")

It is not as if this convention does not allow PMs to bend the rules enough as it is. You must run, and not only if you can win! White gives the example of Liberal Pierre Juneau who was appointed, ran, lost, and resigned, end of story.

It is this convention that White cites as mitigating the undemocratic nature of such appointments. But my main problem is with the Conservative justification we are hearing, which is that Fortier said he would run in the next "general election," not by-election, so he's covered. So what? He knew his undemocratic plan from the beginning, way to go. That he said it is of no significance. He has no excuse for not running, other than pure political reasons, and this distinction is not one of any consequence. Last time I checked, unelected businessmen don't get to set constitutional convention with media statments.

On a related note, the timing of these byelections, right before the convention, is so calculated it is hard not to laugh.

*Above: Michael Fortier, star of CBS's "New Adventures of Old Christine."


Ignatieff's Indigenous Agenda

Ignatieff today released the details of his plan for Aboriginals in Canada. It's worth a read. Much of it is genuinely exciting.

The Aboriginal Nations Recognition and Reconciliation Act is as dramatic a suggestion as any that he has made this campaign. It is an opt-in formula, which recognizes the varying capacities of each First Nation at this instant. By transferring the responsibility of citizenship issues, it rights a dramatic and farcical wrong that has survived a century and a half.

The Treaty and Land Claim Agreement Commissioner is a fine addition, but not the radical overhauling of the land claims resolutions process that is badly needed. It doesn't alter the power imbalance. If it was coupled with active support - financial and otherwise - for First Nations pursuing their claims, it would make for a decent start.

Unfortunately, the ticker headline on CBC Newsworld today was (approximately) "Ignatieff promises to revitalize the Kelowna Accord" - which is the position of every single Liberal leadership candidate.

There was much good on this front from Dion recently as well. Again, he unfortunately developed no media traction.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser has just recently begun his tenure as Commissioner of Official Languages. I'll admit I'm not incredibly well-versed on the guy, but from what I've seen he seems a great fit for the job and has the potential to reinvigorate our commitment to bilingualism in Canada.

Not sure if it was more one of those slipped through the Conservative cracks deals or not, but I commend the appointment nonetheless. What's the line in those Vonage commercials? Ah yes, one smart decision among many, many stupid ones...


something in the water

Ontario Libs introduce the final element of a universally applauded clean water iniative. The same Tory MPs that sat at Queen's Park during the Walkerton crisis vote in opposition. So does the NDP. John Tory can't even show his wide crimson face.

I think we'll be OK come Fall '07.

Monday, October 16, 2006


What a bust. Not quite a million man march. I guess the white man must soldier on, and continue to bear his oppression.

Meanwhile, Gary McHale can return to Richmond Hill and start talkin' what he knows.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

debate notes - Dion is angry, etc.

Dion demonstrated today two tendencies that have quietly underrode his candidacy from the beginning.

Firstly, amongst the top 4, he is the business candidate. This is something he's made no secret about; ask him what is the most important aspect of his campaign and he will always indicate the economy. Any suggestion of new money from any of the other candidates always rises his ire. I think some people support him for precisely this reason, but I also think this tendency has simply been missed by many.

Secondly, he is a sallow apologist for the most recent Liberal governments. His Environmental exchange was a small, petty, angry defence of his mediocre record. This is inexcusable. I've made the point before - now is for renewal, not deference to past 'accomplishments'. If our message next election is that we need no new measures for the environment, that we did everything right, and that we have only Canadians to blame because they cut our tenure short - then we will get laughed off the ballot.

In fact, let's leave politics alone. If we can't do better than we did controlling emissions, then life on this earth is doomed. Ignatieff-esque oratory melodrama? Perhaps, but true nonetheless.

His exchange was just extraordinarily thoughtless. His critique of Ignatieff's sustainability framework, against which all legislation will be measured, was that we don't need an act, we just need leadership. He presents this approacch simulatenously with why this approach doesn't work. If everything hinges on leadership, then Stephen Harper can come along and scupper all of Dion's hard work - as Dion so often indicates. Were an act in place, any leader could be brought to account. None could choose to ignore a fundamental commitment to sustainability. I just wish Ignatieff had pointed out this weak-as-water reason.

And has his English gotten worse? It never used to bother me.

The only positive was his closing statement, during which he delivered a few sweet spanks.

On the record - Kennedy is my clear second choice. I still don't like the "enterprise/new liberalism" meaninglessness, but he looked smart, comfortable, and self-assured. I wish I could've listened to his French, instead of a CPAC translater who sounded like he was dying.

Bob Rae reminded us that he helped bring down Joe Clark and usher in the all-imporant 1980 Trudeau government. He failed to mention the relationship he had with Trudeau: the cynicism, the philosophical opposition, the political problem-causing, the mutual detestation. I know he was largely joking, but the truth is he has quietly assumed some Trudeauvian credit for political expediency and it makes me see red.

"We one four straight." - Dryden. Very sweet.

Ignatieff has an ability to connect any question at all with Canada's greatness and our patriotic duty to build civic sharing, to breath the free air, and to achieve our potential as human stewards of the planet Earth.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Today's Ignatieff speech

Whoa. Someone's talking about social policy? Chock it up to inexperience, or a lack of political instincts. He's going to have to start pretending this is a US presidential election, like the other candidates/Liberals at large - rather than waste our time with something as petty as domestic poverty.

Apologies to Dryden and Kennedy: in fairness, both have produced social policy. They just gave it up after a while when faced with such a profoundly apathetic Liberal public.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Convention 2006 - LET IT BE THE LAST

This is a mostly recycled post about the shortcomings of the delegate convention. I think it merits reposting for two reasons:

- I have considerable bitterness welling up inside of me as it becomes increasingly clear that I won't be attending. Witness my first foray into electoral politics:
a) In the contest I had the best chance to win, I appeared on the ballot as a female. This effectively disqualified me, as far as I can reason. b) Approximately everybody I signed up to support me couldn't vote. I submitted their forms in a block (indirectly) but none of those forms were ever filed. Why not? Where did those people's cash membership fees end up? A mystery for the ages.

- It has been suggested that in one riding in rural Quebec, Bob Rae elected 14 delegates on the power of 2 votes. This is new evidence of just how absurd the delegate convention system is, and how easily it can be manipulated.

So here goes.

We all seem resigned to a leadership convention, and I'm not entirely sure why (other than that the Liberal party has a rep for hanging behind the curve). It's a hell of a fun weekend (or so I've been told *sniff - I haven't been for reasons soon to be discussed). But it is an imperfect institution for a number of reasons.The federal parties have persisted with this restricted-access model for the most part, but the tide is beginning to change.

How is it restrictive?

- priced out of the range of many (including students, retirees on fixed incomes, and others that form that voluntary backbone of the party). Entry fees, accomodation, travel - we're talking 2+ months of Steelcitygrit's rent.

- A single geographic location (or two, or three) is obviously limiting. Extra travelling onus falls on those that already feel removed from the process (Northerners, Maritimers possibly, Westerners possibly). The last thing Canada needs is its federal parties exaggerating regional cleavages.- need to be elected as a delegate

- not the expression of representative democracy it purports to be. It would work, if delegate candidates received support on the basis of who they supported. But we find that this is often not the case. According to Carty et al in Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics: "Data from most recent leadership contests in the federal Liberal and Conservative parties indicate that a substantial majority of convention delegates are chosen for reasons other than their preferred leadership campaign." The most common admitted reason for electing a delegate? "how active a delegate candidate has been in party affairs" (Read: how long have I known him.)

What is the result of all this? An unrepresentative and slanted few deciding for all. This isn't just theory. Carty et al find that "delecates have typically been disproportionately male, well educated, financially well-off, and young."

The process is quietly anti-democratic. This stands alone as reason to re-evaluate conventions.But it isn't the only reason, in this Liberal case particularly. A new process would serve both to bolster flagging morale and heal over riffs. Firstly, it seems obvious to me that a more direct process is one of the best possible ways to revitalize the party membership. The on-the-ground types are given something to get excited about.

Secondly, the convention can skew results in such a way that sows ill will. Given the intense, face-to-face nature of the convention, delegates may be less willing to commit to an outside shot. The delegate is a legitimate personality, and thus has to pay a personal price for commiting herself to a losing candidate (or commiting himself against a winning candidate). While nominally a secret ballot, nothing is truly secret on the convention floor. As a result, one witnesses the Paul Martin leviathan at the last convention eviscerate all competition in a way that doesn't fully reflect the feelings of the absent rank and file. People leave feeling less than satisfied - and we've seen what that can become.

So what are our options? There are no shortage of models to draw from. A US style primary is problematic, but offers some inspiration. The provinces have forged a path such that we may comfortably break from history without risking catastrophe. Perhaps a primary to determine who appears on the convention ballot? Perhaps a pure exercise in direct democracy?This is a worthy debate, regardless of what emerges. As US political scientist (or something) Herbert Kitschelt reminds us, "the way parties conduct their internal life sends a message to voters about what kind of society its activists and leaders aspire to."

My addendum, after witnessing this current race unfold, is that a single first-past-the-post vote may not do. I can see why we don't want someone with 29% support to assume leadership without any consensus building. But why not two ballots, seperated by a couple of weeks? In France, this is how president's are elected. The first vote determines the top two candidates, the second determines the leader. This would allow for two streams of support to coalesce. It's worth a look.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

history of interloping in Afghanistan

I don't know what conclusions's Murray Dobbin intends us to draw from this argument, but he presents a very compelling reason to remain in Afghanistan. His column - "How the West Destroyed Afghanistan" - briefly casts the last 20+ years of Afghan history. He enumerates just how often America has involved itself in the affairs of the Afghan people, destabilizing a potentially democratic regime and enabling the Taliban.

This is precisely why the relativism of the NDP makes no sense. It is easy to realize the Taliban is a terrible thing, because it is a terrible thing of our making - and a very recent one at that.

When the Americans faced a short-term security threat, by way of the USSR, they imported, armed, and supported the Taliban. When they no longer saw involvement in Afghanistan as in the national interest, they promptly left their mess and went home. The Afghan people paid a very bitter price.

This is the social irresponsibility inherent in leaving Afghanistan now. We have reduced the country to utter dependency. We are now to declare that our interest lie elsewhere? That our troops would be better used to protect arctic sovereignty, as Jack Layton has suggested? That's an easy decision for us to make - we don't have to live with the ensuing civil war, nor the potential abuses of another undemocratic and illiberal regime.

Perhaps we should indeed recall, as Dobbin urges us, the words of Benjamin Franklin: 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.'

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ontario will manage

Dalton McGuinty ought to set a precedent, and cheer this car emissions iniative. Is Ontario being singled out? Of course. But the only thing more absurd than suggesting Ontario shouldn't be targeted specifically on climate change is suggesting that Alberta shouldn't be targeted specifically on climate change.

The Conservatives are being laughably soft on Alberta - that criticism is deserved many times over. But let's not follow this 'not in our backyard' pattern. As tempting as it is to play the victim for once, we are sending all the wrong messages.