Monday, May 30, 2011

Bryan Hayday (1952-2011)

I'm going to be away from blogging, probably for a while. My Dad, Bryan Hayday, passed away suddenly on Thursday night, at the age of 59.

His obituaries are in the Globe and the Toronto Star.

At some point in the future, I'm hoping to be able to write up more of a tribute for him. But for now, I just want to mention that my Dad was the reason why I became engaged in politics, from a very early age. A life-long Trudeau Liberal, he was passionate about social justice causes, and worked for his whole life in the health, social services and education sectors. We used to listen to Air Farce together, and every election we'd watch the returns together, all the way back to when I was seven years old, and came down to the basement to be with him while he watched the 1984 election of Brian Mulroney - a horrifying event, in his opinion. He was even more disappointed when we spoke a few weeks ago on the night of Stephen Harper's election.

I'm going to miss him terribly.


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cabinet and Senate: Ongoing bad behaviour is stability, of a sort

I don't have much to observe about today's developments in federal politics, except to say that I am profoundly unsurprised, unlike the madly twittering press corps. Harper's favorite cabinet ministers, such as Baird and Clement, got prime posts. Harper's incompetent and contemptuous ministers who were nonetheless defended by his administration, like Oda, got to stay put. Young up-and-comers from regions where the Conservatives won lots of seats, like Alexander and Adams, were left out of cabinet, but will probably become parliamentary secretaries. And defeated Senators who ran for Parliament but were rejected by voters were tucked nicely back into their Senate sinecures, despite assurances that they had no intention of returning to the upper chamber. Oh, and the invisible minister of her day, Josee Verner, will be joining them.

I can't work up outrage over this. It's entirely consistent with Harper's approach to politics over the past 5 years. And 40% of voters (the ones who gave him a majority) don't give a care. This is stability, of a sort. It's just stability of unpleasant and blatantly partisan behaviour.

What does upset me is the thought of how many editorials might run tomorrow denouncing the Senate appointments, all from newspaper editorial boards who endorsed Harper's re-election, knowing full well that this is how he operates.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Quebec NDP: The Kids [Could Be] All Right

Monday was an exciting night for Quebec university NDP clubs, as a number of members of their executives were elected to the House of Commons, amidst a wave that elected NDP members in almost 80% of Quebec's ridings (on the strength of about 43% of the province's popular vote, although that's a subject for a different post). Since that day, news sites, Twitter and Facebook have been aflame with commentary and angry retorts regarding the issues of the youth, experience, and suitability for office of these newly-elected MPs.

To the vitriolic partisans on both sides of this issue, I say a pox on both your houses. Everybody has to start somewhere in politics, and many, many members of parliament (and indeed leaders of some major political parties) have been thrust into political office with no prior political experience. In many cases, this is what people find "fresh" about them. Many are elected at a young age, in their mid-20s, and seem to settle into the position without much difficulty. In both cases, they often stumble a bit as they get their footing, and many settle into the job quite nicely. Others don't, and our current House of Commons has many examples of "veterans" who were initially elected at a variety of ages who I'd argue are not fit to hold elected office. So this lack of experience is not necessarily a problem at all, and it's a cheap attack ploy when these individuals have not yet had a chance to prove themselves. It's particularly hollow and bitter coming from Liberal partisans, because they barely held on to less than half of their seats, electing very few rookies at all.

But to the NDP partisans who have been on their high horse about this issue, a little less self-righteous posturing would be appreciated. Many of these candidates were placeholder candidates. They knew it, Jack Layton knew it, and you know it. And they got lucky. So now the best line of argument is to make the case that they should be given a fair shot. But pretending that it is invalid to question and closely examine the credentials and political positions of people who were probably not closely scrutinized by the party when they agreed to run as the sacrificial lamb in the riding - to collect the $1.75 subsidy and reinforce claims to national party status - rings false to those on the outside. How about a bit more honesty? Admit that some of these people were not necesarily ideal picks with perfect qualifications, but make the case for their capacity to prove themselves despite their surface-level lack of experience and perceived lack of aptitude for public office.

I imagine that out of the current crop of rookie MPs, some will distinguish themselves. But at least a few others will likely be disastrous and make some serious media gaffes. It might be better to admit this earlier on in the process and perhaps earn a slight reprieve from the circling journalistic vultures when the inevitable first set of mistakes occur.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Don't blame Guelph. We voted for Kodos!

Bah! Our electoral system has given a party that won 40% of the vote from the 61% of eligible voters who cast ballots a majority of seats in the House of Commons, and they've got control of the Senate as well. And as far as I can tell, electoral reform will not be on the agenda for the lower house for quite some time now. (The Senate, on the other hand...)

As you might imagine, I'm really disheartened by all of this (and I lost badly in my election pool). So here are my silver linings:

1) Guelph. My local riding stayed Liberal - unique for Southwestern Ontario - and Frank Valeriote substantially increased his margin over the Conservative. In large part, it looks like the Green vote collapsed here and went solidly Liberal. Many thanks to the U of G vote mobs and a great local get-out-the-vote team.

2) The Quebec NDP. Holy moly! Need I say more? I'm thrilled that the Bloc vote has collapsed (for now). Hopefully many of these MPs will grow quickly on the job. I'm somewhat optimistic that many of the university-aged or recently graduated newly-minted MPs, in particular, adapt quickly into their new positions and inject a youth perspective into our national politics. I'm a little worried about what the longer-term dynamics of this shift might look like on the national question, but that's fodder for another post.

3) Elizabeth May. Good on her for winning that seat. It's an important beachhead, and she should get a voice in the next leaders' debates, unless the consortium declares that the Greens don't have official-party status in the House.

4) Marc Garneau, Stephane Dion and Justin Trudeau. I'm pleased to see that these three Quebec Liberals, in particular, held on to their seats. I don't think that Trudeau would make a good leader, for what it's worth, but I think he deserves credit for a great ground game. Garneau has also been a really effective critic, and an intelligent voice in caucus. And I am just chuffed that Dion has stuck it out in politics, even through the hard times.

5) Dan McTeague (& probably others). I can't say I'm unhappy when socially-conservative Liberals lose their seats.

6) NDP in Scarborough?? I figured that the NDP would pick up seats in downtown Toronto, but it's nice that at least some of the weird shifts and vote-splitting around the city didn't necessarily lead to Conservative wins in all instances.

None of this overcomes my overall disappointment in the outcome of this election. There will need to be a very active civil engagement and critical media to keep this new government in line. But I'm trying to look on the bright side of life this morning - it's going to be a long 4.5 years in any case, and despair is not productive.


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Monday, May 02, 2011

Election-day shenanigans in Guelph

Like a good citizen, I headed out bright and early this morning to my local polling station to vote this morning. There was no line-up, but a steady flow of people in and out to the various booths. My partner reported the array of Conservative signs that were lying on the grass in front of the station (although not standing up) to the local officer, who had them removed before we had left the station. And then the interesting part of this story begins.

I returned home to find a message from an automated dialer on my voice mail telling me that my polling station had been switched from the one printed on the card I had received from Elections Canada, directing me to the Old Quebec Street mall. Clearly, this was a hoax. According to my caller ID, the call came from a 450 area code, and told me to call a 1-800 number if I had questions (the final four digits of which matched the number on my caller ID - not the 1-800 number on Elections Canada's website). I've reported the hoax call to Elections Canada, and initiated a call trace on the call. Hopefully that phone number will be shut down, and the perpetrator will not succeed in suppressing the vote.

This has been another ugly, ugly election here in Guelph. No reports of cut brake lines like last time, thank god, but enough nasty efforts at vote suppression and unpleasant campaign strategies that I'll be really happy when all of this is safely over.

Get out and vote everyone - and if you're not sure where to vote, check the address on your polling card or the Elections Canada website.

3:44 ETA: For more information about how this story is unfolding in Guelph, see this article in the Guelph Mercury. It appears that the local returning officer is arranging transportation for anyone who shows up at the hoax locations trying to vote.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Election Prediction? Beats Me!

Well, this election has turned into quite the roller-coaster ride, hasn't it? Depending on your pollster of choice, we're either headed for an historic NDP breakthrough or a Conservative majority. Confused? Me too. As in past years, I'm participating in a little election pool with a few friends where we each try to call the winner of each of the 308 ridings in the country. It's surprisingly difficult to do, but it does focus your mind on getting past the broad national and provincial polling numbers to try to get a sense of how this election might play out on the ground at the local level. And it looks weird, my friends!

Rather than try to make bold predictions about the overall outcome of the election, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my guiding assumptions about what might happen tomorrow:

1) Quebec: Much as the polling numbers coming out of Quebec are wildly exciting for the NDP, it's really hard to predict how all of that will shake out on a riding-by-riding basis. I honestly don't believe that the Bloc will be decimated, especially since they have the benefit of a more established local infrastructure. I do think there will be some really bizarre vote splitting and that the NDP will make gains. My gut says that those gains will be in the Outaouais, Montreal, and parts of the south shore/Eastern townships, but that's just a wild prediction. I won't be surprised if the Bloc still wins the most seats in the province (although falling short of a majority of the province's total seats). And despite the tanking Liberal and Conservative numbers, I suspect that both parties will hold on to some of their seats, especially when it comes to Liberals on the island of Montreal.

2) Incumbency: More than anything else, this is the factor that I think will make a difference for the Liberals in terms of avoiding a complete decimation scenario. I think that, particularly in Ontario, where their numbers have not fallen as dramatically, many Liberal incumbent MPs might hold on to their seats as anti-Harper voters decide to stick with the proven option rather than jumping ship to another party. (This also works in favour of NDP incumbents in the province, where Liberal voters might switch to the NDP to keep the anti-Conservative option in power.) We might even see a few surprises, like in the Kitchener ridings, where long-term Liberal MPs Karen Redman and Andrew Telegdi barely lost their seats last time around, but are running again. In ridings where the incumbent isn't running again (like Kingston), it will be harder for the Liberals to hold their vote share.

3) BC: At some point in my life, I'm going to have to spend a few years in British Columbia. The political culture out there is fascinating, and the turmoil is wild. I really have no idea how that province is going to shape up. But I think it might be safe to say that for once, the old adage of British Columbia voters turning on their televisions on election night to find out that the overall result had already been predetermined will not be the case this year!

4) Atlantic Canada: I'm going to be keeping my eye on early results from Atlantic Canada, because a part of me suspects that we might be seeing some hints of 1997 in the works. Back then, the region turned against the Liberals, electing a substantial number of Conservative and NDP MPs. That was the early sign that presaged an overall reduced Liberal majority. If the Conservative numbers slip in that region, it might be a sign that Harper's total is in trouble. Right now, my instincts tell me that the region will be split three ways, and heavilly determined by incumbency.

5) Prairies. Conservative numbers, particularly according to pollsters like Nanos, indicate that the overall levels of support for the Conservatives have remained pretty stable at the national level. But when you drill down a bit, there have been wild shifts in many provinces - and a steady uptick in Prairie support, especially in Alberta. Given this fact, I'm not expecting tons of movement here. I think that Linda Duncan will hold her Edmonton seat (hello IP!), and that Winnipeg will still elect a mix of all three parties. I'm still not certain if the orange wave will land in the CCF cradle of Saskatchewan.

What do we see at the end of all this? My instincts tell me that it won't be quite the revolution that excited pundits have predicted. I think that Harper's Conservatives will still end up in good shape - let's say their current total +/- 10 seats. I also don't think that the Bloc will completely collapse, and will probably win enough seats that the could, if they chose, prop up a Conservative minority.

I think that the NDP is probably in for a record total seat count, but that it will be less than the optimistic 100-seat predictions of some. I also don't think that the Liberals will be decimated, and they might even avoid the disastrous low of the 1984 election. Together, these two parties might even surpass the total seat count of the Conservatives.

So what happens then? Very hard to say, in my estimation. It all depends on how much Harper wants to cling to power. I wouldn't rule out the scenario where Harper makes a major Quebec-oriented promise in an effort to win over the Bloc, who might not be eager to give the NDP a chance to prove that they can deliver in government on their major promises to the province's nationalist voters. But Harper has proven unable to compromise in the past, so...

Of course, all of this is wild speculation on the future. And I'm a historian, whose expertise is in explaining the past. Twenty years from now, I might think about writing an article about this election, when I have the benefit of more data, evidence and sources. So take this for what it is - the musings of an engaged citizen, with a bit of expertise on what has occurred in Canada's political past, but a very cloudy crystal ball!

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