Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Farewell to the Farce

Tonight marks the official end of the Royal Canadian Air Farce's 35 year run. While I probably won't watch tonight's final episode - I've never been a big fan of the televised version - I nevertheless feel a sense of loss at the passing of what has been a national institution. Air Farce was, for better or for worse, a major part of my induction into the world of Canadian politics.

When asked, I usually tell people that my first political memory was watching the 1984 election returns with my Dad. I was seven years old at the time, and didn't really process what was going on, but I could gather from his reaction that Mulroney's election was bad news. Fast forward four years, and I'm driving about Toronto - again with my Dad - in the family Chevy Malibu on a Saturday morning in September. He turns up the volume on the CBC show that's playing on the radio - Air Farce - and the two of us laugh our way through the sketches. It was their annual back-from-summer wrap-up of the events from the previous three months. I don't remember most of the material, but I've never forgotten the short ad for "Uncle Ben's Steroid Rice", which cooks itself in 9.79 seconds - a reference to the Ben Johnson scandal at the Seoul Olympics. We sat in the driveway listening to the end of the show before heading back inside.

I was hooked. Every week, I'd set up the tape deck to record Air Farce off the radio - either at 10:30 on Saturday mornings or 1:00 on Sunday afternoons. I still have several dozen tapes stretching from 1988 to 1994 down in my basement, recordings from the weekly shows taped across the country. My Dad took my to my first Air Farce taping at Massey Hall in December of '88 - an annual tradition we kept up until the Farce switched to television. I became a member of the Air Farce Frequent Flyer club (I still have the magnet on my fridge), and have all their CDs - even the hard-to-find Green Album, for which I made a trek down to their downtown Toronto offices.

I didn't stick with Farce after they switched to television. I've always felt that they were better vocal mimics than screen actors (although Don Ferguson did a great job imitating Mulroney's walk - a great visual gag for the live audiences). But they will continue to hold a special place in my heart - particularly what I consider to be the "classic cast" of Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson, Luba Goy, John Morgan and Dave Broadfoot. My rather cynical approach to Canadian politics owes a lot to the Farce.

Ici Farce Canada!


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Sunday, December 28, 2008

1, 2, 3, 4...

... monsters walking across the floor. I like counting, counting to the number four!

Why the obscure reference to Feist's reworking of her hit single for Sesame Street? Well, gentle readers, it's because today Pample the Moose is four years old. Not exactly a milestone anniversary, but I'm still quite pleased to be around. After all, I did start this blog two provinces and two academic positions ago.

What does the next year hold in store for this oddly-named blog? It's hard to say, but I'm hoping to get another couple of book reviews up - my husband bought me John Ralston Saul's latest for Christmas, and I've been sitting on André Pratte's latest collection for a while. I imagine that there will be some more disenchantment with federal politics, some obligatory links to wise sages such as Paul Wells and Chantal Hébert, and the occasional sarcastic rant. But hey, maybe 2009 will surprise me and something will happen once in a while to make me feel optimistic. After all, George Bush and his gang of thugs are leaving town, and even Rick Warren's presence at Obama's inauguration isn't enough to make me feel completely bitter and cynical at the outset of his new administration. Maybe Canadian politics will become constructive as well! And maybe my cat will become friendly and let me sleep through the night. Anything's possible!

I hope you all have a pleasant end to 2008. I'll see you all in the new year!


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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just another reason to think Paul Martin Jr was a tool

I'm sure that someone else has pointed this out already, but it bears repeating. If Paul Martin wasn't such a dithering idiot, Stephen Harper wouldn't have a full 18 Senate seats that he could stack this month. Several of those vacancies are holdovers from the Martin years.

Yet another reason to blame Paul Martin for the current mess that is our federal politics!

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Harper and the Senate - or - The Principles of an Amoeba

Assuming that this story in the Ottawa Citizenis correct, Stephen Harper is set to appoint 18 Senators before Christmas. This is precisely the sort of act that those opposed to proroguing Parliament had feared.

It's also, in case you're keeping score, yet another instance of Harper being willing to completely ignore his stated political principles. Proroguing Parliament meant that his bill to change the Senate died on the order paper. So... rather than attempting to change the way Senators are appointed and limit their terms, he'll just appoint a large new bunch the old-fashioned way, and during a period where the confidence of the House of Commons in his government is in doubt.

Will anyone care? Probably not enough...

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Quebec Election - Three quick tidbits

I probably should have been blogging the Quebec election, but I'm glad that I didn't jinx it. Here are three quickie observations:

1) Jean Charest has made a bit of history here - he's the first Quebec premier since Maurice Duplessis to win three consecutive elections. To be fair, his record is a little less impressive in light of the minority government in between his two majorities (compared to Duplessis' four consecutive majorities), but then again, he didn't have to rely on the dead turning out to vote.

2) Mario Dumont has resigned as head of the ADQ. If he doesn't reconsider, this means the end of that party. Mario Dumont is the ADQ. It's rather like asking your body to keep functioning after the brain and heart have been removed.

3) Amir Khadir won the Mercier seat for Québec Solidaire, the new left-wing party in the province. This is even more impressive when you note that he defeated Daniel Turp - a reasonably high-profile Péquiste incumbent and the go-to constitutional expert for the separatist parties.

It's a slight silver lining after the last week of mayhem in Ottawa. At least it means that for the next four years we won't be looking at a referendum. Which is a good thing, in light of Harper's recent Quebec-bashing and politics of division.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Proroguing and Partisanship

In typical fashion for historians, I want to wait a bit before posting more on the significance of the last five days. But in the meantime, I'm trying to think about this issue beyond my own partisan leanings.

One issue that seems to be cropping up regularly as an argument for why Michäelle Jean should not have granted Harper's request is the fact that since Parliament has been prorogued until late January, this will give Stephen Harper over six weeks to spend Conservative money on advertizing to bash the coalition partners and perhaps fragment their alliance. I don't doubt that this is true. But is this really a valid, non-partisan reason to oppose Governor General Jean's decision? If the other parties were not deeply in debt and unable to spend, would this be an issue? I doubt it. For all that I loathe the Harperites and the way that they use their money, they have proven extremely adept at grassroots fundraising. And to my mind, that's not a reason to oppose proroguing.

Now, using his position as Prime Minister for the next two months to enact policies and make government appointments when he lacks the support of the House - that's a completely different bucket of fish heads...

The Liberals may yet find that the Governor General has given them a gift. But will they take advantage of the next two months to get themselves a new leader and some post-Green Shift direction? For their own sakes, they had better hope so!

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Supporting the 62% coalition - but with tepid enthusiasm

Comment boards, blogs, news sites and talk radio are all completely abuzz with the drama on Parliament Hill. Tomorrow morning Stephen Harper will meet with the Governor General - perhaps to request that she prorogue Parliament, perhaps for some other reasons. I hope that if the request is made, it is denied, and that the three parties representing the other 62% of Canadians who cast votes in the election will have a chance to form a government - and that they will actually advance constructive policies for our country.

But to be perfectly honest, I feel a bit like I've been sleepwalking through the past five days. I have been following the debates and reading the news sites, and thinking about precedents. But I have felt little of the excitement that most people around me seem to have - history is potentially being made, and it leaves me feeling oddly empty. I suppose that ultimately what it comes down to is this - I would rather have a team of orangutans in government than the mean-spirited Stephen Harper and his team of (mostly) neo-cons (there are some notably exceptions in his caucus). But I also do not see a coalition made up of Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe as my dream team. Far from it - I voted in the last federal election with a bit of a shrug as I picked the best of some mediocre options. And while mediocrity is better than mean-spirited politicking during an economic slowdown, it also isn't the stuff that great history is made of. Our country is facing a global economic crunch, and it really needs a more constructive approach than we've been witnessing.

To be honest, when I heard that Jean Chrétien and Ed Broadbent were working on brokering the coalition deal, my reaction was "Great, now can the two of them come back into political life to actually head up this coalition?" Our political leadership is failing us right now, and there isn't much on the national scene which gives me cause for optimism. And so, while I support the coalition, I believe that they have a legitimate right to try to form a government, and that it would be within Canada's constitutional law to offer them that chance, I'm not doing the dance of excitement as I wait to see if they will pull this off. I'm just hoping that it will be better than the vindictiveness that Stephen Harper has been demonstrating for the last three years.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

King-Byng: Lessons from History

I guess it's time to break my silence on the issue of the current who-hah in Parliament. I'm amused watching pundits spin on the issue of what the Governor General can and cannot do, and even more amused at Stephen Harper's denial of his own position of a few years ago. It would have been a lot of fun for me to hash this out in my Canadian political history seminar, but we had our last meeting on Wednesday - so I guess the blogosphere will get my ruminations.

Just for a bit of fun, let's take a walk down the path of history. Picture it: Ottawa, 1925 (It's more fun if you imagine Sophia Petrillo delivering this monologue). A federal election has just returned the following results: Liberals 100, Conservatives 115, Progressives 22, Labour and other: a Few. A younger, psychic-consulting Mackenzie King's Liberals have fallen to second-place in the House of Commons. Who forms the government?

If you guessed Arthur Meighen and the Conservatives, you'd be wrong. Mackenzie King, who governed from 1921-25 with the support of the Progressive and Labour members (and more Liberal seats than the Conservatives) decided to try to make a go of a second term. Lord Byng was offended by what he saw as a lack of sportsmanship on King's part, but constitutional convention allowed King to continue governing, as long as he had the support of the House of Commons. Which he did... for several months until a scandal lost King the support of the Progressives. A vote of non-confidence was slated, and King seemed doomed to lose. At that point, he asked for dissolution of Parliament.

Byng, who thought that King should have given Meighen first crack at forming government after the 1925 election, refused and offered Meighen the opportunity to form government. However, lacking any support from the other parties, Meighen's government fell on its first significant vote. King craftily denounced British interference in Canadian politics (Byng was not a Canadian citizen), and won a majority in the 1926 election.

What lessons, if any, does King-Byng teach us? Well, first of all, it shows us that the party with the largest number of seats in the House - but not a majority - need not be the government (hello Stephen!). Second, it shows that the Governor General need not follow the current Prime Minister's advice all the time. Third, it does show that if you're going to take a shot at replacing an existing minority government, you'd better have the ability to survive a vote in the House, or you may just face some nasty political blowback from the electorate.

It is this third criteria that should be first and foremost in the minds of the Liberal-NDP-Bloc team. If they stab each other in the back too quickly, it will allow the Conservatives to cast these actions in whatever way they see fit, and probably fool the electorate into buying their version of events. However, if the alternate minority can survive for a year or so, it will allow the other parties to spin a better narrative - at least if they are able to develop some constructive policies in the meantime. The question is whether they have learned anything from Harper's last week, or whether they too will be tempted to engage in some ill-advised partisan (or inter-party) bickering and coalition blackmail.

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