Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taxpayer-funded Conservative Campaign Flyers make the national media

Apparently Liberal MP Mark Holland is willing to challenge the Conservative Party's blatant campaigning under the guise of "informational pamphlets" which get free printing and mailing privileges.

For more on this issue, see my post from yesterday, and Scott Tribe's more in-depth treatment of the issue and links to what other bloggers have had to say.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guelph By-election - With a little help from Kovach's friends

I realize that it's standard practice for political parties to bring in volunteers from outside the riding to help out with a campaign. But there is something that smells rancid about how the Conservative party takes advantage of rules that allow for free use of Canada Post for letters to MPs. As Scott Tribe has pointed out, there has been a flurry of flyers being sent by Conservative MPs to non-Conservative ridings under the guise of "polls". I seriously doubt it's coincidental that I received my third such mailing in under a month today (out of probably a dozen over the past six months), given I live in the riding of Guelph, which is in the midst of a by-election campaign. Scott has more on his blog, and it's worth clicking through to learn more about how this particular system is being exploited.

The dubiously selected Conservative candidate Gloria Kovach must be awfully greatful to have such support from her presumptive future seat-mates, and largely at the taxpayer's expense.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Hillside - Of politics and festivals

I had a very enjoyable weekend at the Hillside festival in Guelph. Not even a brief spate of torrential rain could dampen the spirits of the huge crowd gathered for a Vinyl Cafe recording. I discovered a number of new artists that I enjoyed. And yet, I left the festival somewhat discomfited by its politics.

Guelph's by-election was called on Friday morning, but the unofficial campaign has long been in swing. Thus, festival organizers were faced with the decision of whether or not to allow the candidates to campaign at the festival. Ultimately, they chose to tell the candidates that they were welcome as participants (like Tom King, who read at the Sun Tent), as volunteers (like Mike Nagy, who ran the water tent) or as attendees, but that actual campaigning was off-limits, even in the "neighbourhood tent" where interest groups like the Council for Canadians were set up. A number of the candidates took this in stride, and deferred to the organizers' wishes.

NDP candidate Tom King objected to this policy, arguing that it is important, in a successful political system, that it be integrated into the community. Initially, I had mixed feelings about this. Part of me wanted to just enjoy a relaxing music festival without the stresses of the campaign. But after three days at the festival, I was won over to King's position, if only because of how extensively politics were part of the festival. On multiple occasions, MCs exhorted patrons to take advantage of the free water, usually taking the opportunity to decry the Nestle bottled water plant. The Tibetan monks not only performed three times and had their own tent, but MCs pleaded with the audience to make donations to their cause, and to make contributions towards the building of their monastery. Halfway through Hayden's set, a parade led by the monks noisily wended its way around the pathway surrounding the main stage. On several occasions, volunteers asked for donations to the green campaign for environmental initiatives at Hillside. A number of environmental and left-leaning groups were set up in the neighbourhood tent.

With so many political causes present at the festival, and not even discretely tucked into one of the tents, I was left wondering what the harm would have been in letting political parties have a presence in one of the tents. It strikes me that the politics of Hillside are part of what is ailing our political system. There was much engagement in international politics and in local interest groups, but the local politicians who can actually enact policy decisions were not even allowed to be there. It is this disconnect between the issues and the decision-makers which really irked me. I don't think that the candidates should have been permitted to wander the grounds with packs of T-shirt clad supporters hitting up the patrons. But to exclude them from the festival entirely when so much politicking was going on strikes me as short-sighted and detrimental to reforming the politics of the society we have to live in from day to day. Ignoring the current Canadian political system, with all of its flaws, is not going to make it go away or any less powerful. It will simply allow other people to hold power.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

By-election news - Hillside watch edition

I had my first election sighting this evening at the Hillside Music Festival. Green Party candidate Mike Nagy was indeed manning the free water station.

True to his website statement, he was not in campaign mode, and was not even wearing a campaign button. I'll say this for him - he was an awfully good sport to holler out "Water!" at the appropriate juncture in the Arrogant Worms' sing-a-long to "Rocks and Trees", even after the Worms had been (gently) mocking the anti-water bottle stance of the festival.

NDP candidate Tom King is on the program for tomorrow. We'll see if any of the other candidates show up - in campaign mode or otherwise...

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Guelph By-election called

The state of "apprehended campaigning" is over - bring on the full assault!

The Guelph by-election has been called for September 8th. Alas, this is too early for me to urge my new crop of undergraduate students to get out and vote - which is perhaps the point of the call. An early election call is not great for the left-leaning parties in Guelph, who would benefit from having the university in full swing during the campaign.

From my current vantage point, I think it's far too early to call what should be a very interesting election. The Conservatives are clearly hoping that their candidate, city councillor Gloria Kovach, has had enough time to overcome the stigma of the party turfing their initial candidate. Her team has been hitting the phones hard - we've had two phone calls already asking if we'd vote for her.

The Liberals are running Frank Valeriote, a long standing school board member. I suspect that the party is hoping to duplicate Brenda Chamberlain's winning formula by running to the centre-right to win the suburbs and the Italian-Canadian community. I've seen many an ad for Valeriote.

The "third parties" are clearly going to be a major factor here. NDP candidate Tom King is a high profile CBC personality, author and university professor. We've already recieved no less than four pieces of literature at our door, a visit from the candidate, and a pre-recorded message that Ed Broadbent supports him. According to his campaign literature, so does children's author Robert Munsch!

The Greens could play an interesting spoiler role in this community. I don't think that Mike Nagy is likely to have a real shot at winning, but he could throw a major wrinkle into the campaign, much like Ben Polley did in the last provincial election, where he finished in third place.

And so, after my brief hiatus, I'm back in blogging form. Keep tuned for more updates on the campaign! I'm off to the Hillside festival this weekend, and expect to see at least three of the candidates. I'll be curious to see whether they are in full campaign mode, or if they keep a lower-key profile.

Updated to get the correct election date - thanks Scott!

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