Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Slipping in the polls? Start a War on Porn

Apparently the "War on Terror" (TM) has been conquered. It's time to celebrate, everyone!

At least that's how water cooler talk around FBI offices is going, as noted in this Washington Post article about a new initiative announced by Alberto Gonzales to divert FBI agents into rooting out porn on the internet. To be clear, we're not talking about pornography involving or aimed at children, but rather pornography involving consenting adults.

When in doubt, raise the spectre of a threat to public morality. That'll divert attention from a failing war effort, a dismal Supreme Court nominee, a botched response to Hurricane Katrina, etc., etc.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Buying off the voters, for fun and majority governments

I'm in an equal-opportunity mood for taking shots at the two parties that I've supported in the past. While the NDP floor-crossing bill I criticize in my previous post seems irrelevant to me, the Liberal's proposed Surplus Allocation Bill is such a blatant vote-grab it sickens me.

I'm of two minds about how a government surplus should be used. The part of me that despairs at growing class sizes in universities, a tin-pot military and endless health care waits thinks that the surplus money should actually be spent to improve government-run programs. The financially prudent side of me likes spending at least part of this money on debt repayment, in the hopes that this will free up more money in future years that won't have to be allocated to interest payments.

But returning it to the taxpayer? What a farce. In Alberta, Ralph Klein can at least point to an absence of provincial debt. But throwing away billions of dollars when you are still in debt doesn't strike me as all that wise.

Perhaps it will buy some votes in ridings with narrow margins. It's not hard to see why people are disgusted with the Martin government.

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Thank goodness the NDP has important pieces of legislation to propose

Maybe I'm just in a particularly bad mood today, but Peter Stoffer's floor-crossing bill mentioned in today's Globe & Mail just makes me shake my head.

A caveat to being with - I have not read his proposed legislation, so maybe some of these criticisms aren't warranted. But let's start with a fundamental question. What possible practical outcome will this bill have?

Right now, a disaffected (or courted) MP decides that (s)he prefers the policies of another party. There are a couple of ways of responding to these feelings. The more high-profile way is to cross the floor and join another party - witness the actions of Andre Bachand, Keith Martin, Belinda Stronach, Scott Brison et al. Mr. Stoffer's bill would prevent this, as the MP would have to resign their seat, and seek re-election under the new party banner.

But an MP can also chose to vote consistently against the party line. As far as the passage of legislation is concerned, Stoffer's bill does nothing to prevent this. Indeed there is a long history of MPs breaking ranks with their own parties - even when a vote is whipped. It strikes me that the only way that Stoffer's bill could have the teeth it needs to accomplish his would be to mandate party-line votes on all issues.

This raises a related question. Do voters vote for the MP or for the party? Stoffer's bill is based on the premise that party lines are more important. If it were to pass, this would be even further reinforced, and reduce the role of the individual MP even further, making them mere parrots of their political party's line.

The fact that Stoffer has been working on this bill since 1999 is also discouraging. One would think that his Nova Scotia constituents would rather he had been involved in some more significant and relevant pet project for the past six years.

Finally, and this is entirely cynical, but does anyone think that he would be proposing this bill if any MPs were crossing the floor to sit with the NDP?

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Renegade's Return to Power?

So, Svend Robinson is planning to run for Parliament again, this time against Hedy Fry in Vancouver Centre. That could end up being one of the most interesting races in the 2006 election. Of the different ridings that Svend could have chosen to run in, this is probably his best bet, given that Burnaby-Douglas is no longer available. If I were Svend, looking about the lower mainland for an opponent, Hedy Fry would certainly be my target of choice. Not only is does the riding have a heavy concentration of NDP voters already located there, but Dr. Fry has hardly distinguished herself as a Cabinet Minister. Her claim that "crosses are burning" will haunt her long after she leaves office. Of course, I'd prefer it if Mr. Robinson ran against a beatable Conservative, but I don't think that a riding that voted for a Conservative in 2004 is going to welcome Svend with open arms.

The only other riding I would have suggested to Svend is Ottawa Centre. With the departure of Ed Broadbent, the race there is shaping up to be the battle of the party hacks. Ottawa Centre likes a dynamic representative, and Svend is nothing if not dynamic. It is a great irony that same-sex marriage passed Parliament when he was no longer in office.

Frankly, I hope he does run and win. While I have disagreed with some of his positions in the past, and he is not the best team player in Parliament, he is at least a strong personality, and willing to stick his neck out for a cause he believes in (although a less charitable observer might claim that the neck is stuck out to get the cameras to see him). The last Parliament has been dismally boring without the likes of Svend, Sheila Copps and Deb Grey to watch, particularly given the charisma-challenged cabinet. It has led to a rather navel-gazing Parliamentary press corps breathlessly covering the latest possible perceived crack in the Conservative firmament, devastatingly parodied by Paul Wells this weekend.

If the voters of Quebec can forgive Andre Boisclair for his cocaine usage while a cabinet minister, I suspect the voters of Vancouver Centre can forgive Svend for his theft, particularly if they are willing to believe that this was the result of a mental illness.

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