Monday, September 22, 2008

Dion, Post-secondary Education Funding and Liberal prospects

The blogosphere is predictably abuzz today with discussion of the Liberal party's platform. For personal reasons, I'm quite fond of the promise to increase funding to each of the government's three research granting councils - including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which funds my research - by 34%.

However, what struck me while reading all of the punditry about the affordability of the platform, including whether or not it was a valid strategy to use the Conservatives' economic forecasts, is that this is the first time that I've voted in a federal election when I didn't really think that those discussions mattered in the long run. I write this not out of some deep-seated skepticism about election promises (although that would also be a fair assessment), but because I have no illusions that the Liberals will get a chance to fully implement this platform. The best that I'm hoping for is that they will help hold the Conservatives to a minority government. I would bet good money that the very best most Liberal insiders are hoping for is a minority of their own - albeit with the ensuing post-election compromises that would negate their ability to fulfill many promises.

I find the whole situation rather depressing. I'm pretty certain that I won't be voting Liberal in this election, but I find myself hoping that enough other Canadians will do so to stop a Conservative majority. The problem is that I have trouble figuring out why these "hypothetical Canadians" - the "Zoe"s of the Conservative playbook - would be convinced to do so on the basis of the Liberals' TV ads and general campaign strategy. So far, the Liberal ads look like they were made by a first year communication student's class project - even the NDP's ones are slicker! Yet if the voters of Canada are convinced, it probably won't be on the basis of the "Green Shift" and the positive aspects of the Liberal platform, but out of fear of a Harper majority. I don't think that the party is in for a massacre along the lines of the 1993 election, but it must be sobering for party members to think that a Liberal majority is completely out of the cards.

So yes, some of the elements of the Liberal platform are what I think of as good policies for Canada - but I also think that the mood of the country and its assessment of the Liberals to date is such that this amounts to some nice, hopeful, creative writing.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Greens in the debate - and the nature of Conservative "principles"

Interesting. The NDP has reversed its position on letting the Greens participate in the leaders' debate, and the Conservatives have followed suit. Incredible what looking like an anti-democratic thug in the mass media and the blogosphere can do to one's opinions on an issue.

What I find particularly choice is the Conservative party's talking point on the issue, stated here:

“It appears the NDP has changed their position. Our position has been to support the NDP on this point of principle. We are not going to be the only ones to boycott the debate,” Mr. Teneycke said."

Assuming that this is a direct quote from Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke, can we therefore infer that the Conservative position on the debate issue was completely unprincipled? Or that the Conservatives are in the habit of supporting NDP principles - unless those principles change?

Just a thought...

Update:When this issue first broke in the media, I wrote to my local NDP candidate Tom King's campaign office to ask what his position was on including the Greens in the debate. I just got a phone call back from the campaign office - after the announcement - and the campaign worker informs me that Tom King was one of the voices in the party urging the inclusion of May in the debates. Given that his campaign is focusing on environmental issues and that the Greens are such a force here in Guelph, I'm inclined to believe him. It would have been nice to hear it before the official party line changed though.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Google to digitize newspaper archives

If you'll permit me to put on my historian's hat for a moment, the announcement that Google is planning a massive project to digitize the back issues of newspapers, scanning their old microfilms and making them searchable online, is very exciting.

Having spent countless hours of my own time (and now that of my research assistants) seated in front of creaky microfilm readers scanning through uncatalogued newspaper microfilm reels in the hopes of turning up material that will be relevant to my research, I'm almost giddy with excitement. Most Canadian newspapers only have digital holdings going back to the mid-1980s, and the Canadian News Index only goes back to the late 1970s. If you want to search for articles from the mid-1970s or earlier in most Canadian newspapers (the exceptions being the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, both of which charge for the privilege), it's like hunting for a needle in a haystack - no indexes, and no digital material.

If enough newspapers partner with Google on this initiative, it could revolutionize historical research - or at least make it a lot faster!

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Palin or Harper? I know who I'll be watching on October 2!

Scott Feschuk points out that the only English-language most-of-the-leaders debate will be taking place on October 2nd, the same night as the only vice presidential debate in the US election campaign.

I'm a political junkie and a Canadian political historian, and I know which debate I'm expecting to find more interesting. I'll take a face-off between Biden and Palin any day over the snore-fest that will be wonk-versus-wonk.

Way to go, consortium!

UPDATE: I found Feschuk's comments on Andrew Coyne's blog. Between this post on why the Greens should be participating and this post on the Bloc coming forward to say that in fact they didn't threaten to boycott a debate with the Greens present, I'm reminded of how much I miss the days when Coyne posted more regularly - before the wingnuts took over the comments section of his old blog. I'm glad to see him back in form for the campaign!

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Greens should be in the debate

The Green Party will be excluded from the leaders' debates after three of the party leaders - presumably Harper, Layton and Duceppe - threatened not to participate if Elizabeth May were allowed to participate. I don't buy the "Greens are Liberals in disguise" line that Harper has been spewing. It certainly isn't the case here in Guelph, where the Greens are a major challenger to the Liberals and critics of their policies. Frankly, I don't see why Gilles Duceppe should get to participate, as a regional candidate whose party only fields 75 candidates, and polls around 8% nationally, if Elizabeth May, who presumably will field more candidates and has similar polling numbers, cannot. The Bloc got its first MPs through party defections, just as the Green party did last week.

If nothing else, I'd like May to be in the debates so that Canadians can get a chance to see what her party actually stands for, and to see it subjected to critique by the other parties. I'm getting rather tired of seeing reports of high polling numbers for the Green party, when I suspect that most Canadians only have a vague sense of what the Greens are about. Frankly, I'd prefer to have them in the debates so that Canadians can make an informed decision, lest we wake up to find out that a number of voters made a "Hail Mary" vote for the party, only to wake up and find that they split votes in dozens of ridings, despite not having a clear sense of what they were voting for.

Moreover, if the Greens are just "Liberals in disguise", wouldn't this become clear in the debates?

I realize that this is now a moot point, but I'm disappointed in the cowardice of the networks. I don't believe that the other leaders would actually have skipped a leadership debate with May there. The potential bad publicity would have been very hard to spin. It also would have made for some fascinating television!

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Election Campaign 2008 - Day One - 5 More Weeks!

Sigh... As predicted, I won't be going to the polls to vote in the Guelph by-election tomorrow. Stephen Harper has decided that it was a swell idea to waste all the efforts of the candidates in my riding for the past several weeks, only to cancel the by-election the day before we were supposed to vote.

So instead, this endless campaign will continue for yet another 5 weeks - after what has been a good 31 months of "campaigning". Sadly, I think that the best that I can hope for out of this election is that the campaigning will just continue on indefinitely into the future. I still think the Liberals haven't a hope in hell of a majority, and that their hopes for a minority are pretty darned slim. The best I'm hoping for is that it is just a Conservative minority which emerges from the campaign, rather than a full-blown majority.

My early prediction - which I reserve the right to revise at will - is that there will be another Conservative minority, but only barely short of a majority government. I figure that the Conservatives will pick up at least another 10-15 seats in Ontario, Quebec and BC. Those seats will come at the expense of all three of the other parties. Expect a bit of Liberal-NDP shuffling, as local issues or strategic voting, particularly in some urban ridings, lead to seat switches between the two parties. I'm not yet ready to make a call on the chances of the Greens, although I am hoping (although not expecting) that Elizabeth May bumps off Peter McKay to make life interesting. That said, I'll expect a few strong second-place Green showings.

As for my own riding, the campaign has been dragging on interminably. I don't expect Guelph to be a bellwether this time, largely because the by-election campaign has gone on for so long, allowing local issues to get a lot of play over the past several weeks. My early guess is a Liberal win, with the Greens barely eking out second place over the other two in a very split vote. I think that the fact that we're now into a full-on election campaign will hurt the vote percentages of both the NDP and the Green here, as the two major parties duke it out.

Finally, the only pollster whose numbers I really trust is Nanos. Allan Gregg is a Conservative hack, and his Strategic Counsel is the polling firm I trust the least. The others range between those extremes.

That's all for now. I'll try to keep posting regularly, but right now I'm feeling so disenchanted with my options that I'm not looking forward to this campaign at all. If only we had some form of proportional representation, I wouldn't be feeling quite so pessimistic!

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Oooh... Barracuda!

Last night, after watching John McCain's snore-fest of a speech, I was rather surprised by the fact that CNN didn't immediately leap into post-speech analysis, but instead chose to simply display the arena floor celebrations without commentary. I was more surprised to hear Heart's 1970s hit "Barracuda" blaring throughout the stadium. I turned to my husband and said "I'm surprised that Heart would authorize the use of their music by the Republicans." As it turns out, they didn't, and Heart has asked the Republican party to stop using their music as part of their campaign - apparently a statement that they had made before last night's speeches.

It must be rough to be a Republican, with so little popular music available for campaign spots. This isn't the first such incident either, as other artists including John Mellencamp and even ABBA have asked that their music not be used for Republican partisan purposes. I guess it's back to "Raisin' McCain" (which my husband also noted sounds eerily like "Raising Cain").

I have to say that I have a hard time imagining such a flap erupting up here in Canada - I don't think that Tina Turner cares which Canadian politician is currently using "Simply the Best". I do, however, keep expecting to hear the theme music from "Mr. Roger's Neighbourhood" cropping up in the most recent Conservative ad spots that try to cast Stephen Harper as everyone's favorite old sweater-clad uncle. The fact that his body language and facial expressions suggest that he'd devour the head of any child that sat in his lap is perhaps the only major downside of that campaign image...

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Abstinence and the Palins

I am usually quite pleased with how Canadian politics tends to leave the private lives of its politicians and their families alone as, well, a private matter. That being said, when there is an example of gross hypocrisy - an anti-gay politician being outed, an anti-drug crusader caught smoking up - I consider that to be fair game and a juicy scandal.

It was with that in mind that I was intrigued by the story floating around the internet that Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin's youngest child might not be her child, but her grandchild. Today's revelation that her daughter Bristol has not already had a child, but is five months pregnant, planning to keep the baby and marry the father deflates the potential scandal a great deal. If the Republican party could ignore the fact that the incumbent VP's daughter is a lesbian, they can certainly put a smiling face on the fact that Ms. Palin is planning on keeping her baby - a "nice" anti-abortion message to go with the social conservative mantra associated with her mother.

That being said, I do consider it to be absolutely fair game to cite the example of the young Ms. Palin if her mother decides to revive the Republican campaign for abstinence-only education, should disaster befall the Democrats, and the McCain-Palin ticket plunge the US into four more years of darkness. Clearly, this provides ample evidence that the abstinence campaign doesn't work. Rising numbers of teen pregnancy, and declining condom use (and rising HIV infection rates) provide evidence too - but sometimes a face needs to be associated with the problems of a failed policy.

Update: Queer minds think alike - Dan Savage seems to have had the same thought here.

Upperdate: And while I'm busy feeling vitriolic, clearly this will be a marriage made in heaven. After all, isn't that what the sacred state of marriage is for - covering up sexual (mis)adventures? Certainly better that it be used for that purpose, rather than allowing American gays and lesbians to get married. I was sad to learn that longtime lesbian activist Del Martin passed away last week, but glad that she did finally get to marry her partner of 55 years, despite what many American politicians (of both political stripes) might prefer.

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