1.17.2006

undecideds

I read two good columns in today's Globe And Mail, both against Harper and the Conservatives. I realize I am mostly speaking to the converted and convinced, but you may know some undecided voters - and perhaps they'd like to read these, too. Paid subscription is required, so I'm copying them here.

The first, from Jeffrey Simpson:
"Ah, nothing like a little Conservative overkill"

Accountability is the Conservative Party's trump card.

Everywhere he travels, Stephen Harper promises more accountability in Ottawa. Accountability is literally Chapter 1 of the Conservatives' "Stand up for Canada" platform.

More accountability sounds so good. Who can be against it? Certainly, the sponsorship program and the resulting Gomery inquiry pointed to mega-problems with accountability in Ottawa. And it's the perception of inadequate accountability and widespread corruption that propels the Conservatives' fortunes more than anything else.

Did the sponsorship program and the Gomery inquiry really point to systemic flaws? On the surface, yes; in practice, no. As Auditor-General Sheila Fraser said, and as Mr. Justice John Gomery explained, the problem with the sponsorship program was not the lack of rules, regulations and procedures, but that this program was deliberately placed outside them. That politically driven decision, more than anything else, explained why it misfired, not the lack of systems of accountability.

Logically, the answer to the problems that the sponsorship scandal revealed is not to bring in new rules but to ensure that all government programs follow the existing rules. But that logic would run afoul of the Conservatives' political imperative, so that, in the interests of greater accountability, the Conservatives are about to make the federal government even more administratively cumbersome.

Put another way, the federal government is already consumed -- some would say overwhelmed -- by processes and procedures. It is a vast, unwieldy bureaucracy that spends a lot of its time on co-ordination and accountability.

The volume of paper is staggering. The federal government has just been put through the wringer of changes by the Martin administration, everything from creating Service Canada (the granddaddy of all bureaucracies) to appointing 300 new auditors. But these changes pale by comparison to what the Conservatives have in mind. And if anyone who ever dealt with the government before and found it cautious, inefficient and process-driven, just wait until the Conservatives finish with it.

The Conservative overkill, in the name of accountability, envisages new institutions to watch over the other ones. There will be a director of public prosecutions, a post that even deputy leader Peter MacKay, a former prosecutor himself, wondered about.

There will also be a new procurement auditor, a public appointment commission, two new public inquiries and the possibility of a third (into polling contracts), and a new parliamentary budget office.

The Conservatives won't stop there. The following institutions will have their budgets and powers enlarged: the Auditor-General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Comptroller-General, the Information Commission, the Ethics Commissioner, the Public Service Integrity Commissioner, and the Registrar of Lobbyists.

Parliament will be reviewing prospective appointments to the Supreme Court. It will be voting in secret ballot for the Ethics Commissioner, the Auditor-General, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner and the Registrar of Lobbyists.

If the secret-ballot election for the Speaker of the House of Commons is any guide, candidates for these posts can be expected to campaign privately before the vote. Is that really what we want for the Auditor-General of Canada?

Anyone who comes to work in Ottawa won't be able, after his or her career, to "lobby" the government for five years, instead of one, as now. Since lobbying can be loosely defined, that's going to be quite a deterrent to anyone who once held a prominent position in government from even dealing with the government later.

Retrospection will be the order of the day, since the Chief Electoral Officer and the Registrar of Lobbyists will be able to investigate possible violations going back a decade. Whistle-blowing will be encouraged.

There will be new Criminal Code provisions for public-sector fraud. The Information Commissioner will be able to look into the files of anyone or any groups that "spend taxpayers' money."

The Harper Conservatives view the government as a corrupt, venal, wasteful place riddled with shady deals, political favouritism, rampant conflicts of interest and posterior-protecting bureaucrats -- a view that mirrors that of the Canadian people.

That Conservative antidotes to what actually ails Ottawa will be worse than the cure is beside the political point.

It's too bad that Mr. Harper has pledged a Federal Accountability Act as his first piece of legislation. It would be much better to wait for a year, learn how government works, and then produce sensible reforms instead of gross overkill.
The second, a strong condemnation by Margaret Wente:
"Still deep blue on the inside"

No doubt you've noticed that Stephen Harper has undergone a dramatic product improvement. In version 2.0, the angry white guy has been upgraded to a mellow hockey dad. This upgrade is much more user-friendly -- so much so that Mr. Harper now handles press scrums (which he loathes) as if he's ingested high doses of Valium.

These days, he's doing a not-bad imitation of Bill Davis -- the genial, Central Canadian Red Tory who maintained his grip on power in Ontario by appearing to be both soporific and safe. "How red?" asked the Toronto Star on the weekend, preposterously suggesting that Mr. Harper might be morphing into Brampton Billy.

You can be excused for being confused. Yesterday, Harper 2.0 was schmoozing in Atlantic Canada, pretending he hasn't spent the past two decades plotting to kill off "sacred trusts" such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. ACOA, after all, stands for everything he hates -- federal subsidies directed by bureaucrats to dubious make-work projects, a disproportionate number of which wind up in the ridings of federal cabinet ministers. But now he has promised to keep ACOA -- even though ACOA is part of what he had in mind a while back when he made that gaffe about the local "culture of defeatism." Usually a gaffe is what you really think, and Mr. Harper has been apologizing for it ever since. "I said things that were wrongly interpreted and that's my fault," he said again yesterday.

So, what else does Mr. Harper really think? That it's good policy to hand out a sack of goodies to every girl and boy, especially if they live in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Nfld., or other places that might cough up a seat or three? That the GST is something other than a nakedly populist appeal for votes that would have made the obsolete Stephen Harper cringe?

I don't think so.

Mr. Harper says he has evolved, but he also says he hasn't changed his fundamental beliefs. Both of these things are true. He has evolved in his understanding of what it takes to unite the right, appeal to a broad spectrum of Canadians, and get elected. But the Red Tory gloss is nothing but political necessity.

Deep down, Mr. Harper believes what he believed when he helped found Reform in 1987. At its founding convention, he declared that "centralized handout economics" is part of the rot that's eating away at Confederation. "It is critical to understand how such centralized handout economics works," he said. "On the one hand, its inevitable drain during boom times continually hampers any attempts to put resources into the kind of productive investment which could diversify the western economy. On the other hand, the trickle-down of bureaucratic enterprise aids a peripheral region only when, like Atlantic Canada, Confederation has reduced it to a state of permanent dependency."

Make no mistake. Beneath that newly genial demeanour beats the heart of a deep-blue conservative, whose dream is to shrink the central government, dramatically reduce its role in public life, privatize as much as he can get away with, and hack away at the incomprehensible system of income transfers that sucks money from the haves to the have-nots. As for regional development programs such as ACOA -- to the guillotine! Mr. Harper is posing as an incrementalist, which, in many ways, he is. But if he has his way, his incrementalism will eventually reshape Canada as profoundly as did the creation of the welfare state.

If you think that legacy of entitlements, subsidies and big government is indeed a sacred trust, you should not vote for Mr. Harper. If you believe high taxes are fundamental to a caring society, you should not vote for him. If you don't want a reversal of aboriginal policy, don't vote for him. If you don't want 10 provinces and three territories experimenting with health care, don't vote for him.

Because Paul Martin is right. Mr. Harper could be the most radical leader in a generation. He would, so long as he can persuade the public, change the face of Canada as we know it. But whether that is good or bad is up to you.

15 comments:

Expat Traveler said...

Seeing that I can't vote, I'm not following everything 100% but I still always ask this question no matter what.

If you don't want Paul Martin in there, and want to make sure that your vote doesn't get counted for Steven Harper, who should you vote for so you are dissappointed? I think it's a rather hard call.

Expat Traveler said...

Sorry ment to say are not dissappointed

M@ said...

A lot of people in the quandary you describe are voting for the NDP, I gather. In this election they look poised to pick up some votes from dissatisfied voters in the centre and on the left, whose vote would formerly have gone Liberal.

The NDP will get far more votes from its actual base of support -- I'm not suggesting they're gaining only because other parties are losing. But they're a safe place to put a progressive vote these days, I think.

L-girl said...

If I could vote in this election, I'd vote Liberal to block the Conservatives - although I'm certainly an NDP voter at heart. Allan and I were just laughing grimly at the irony: my first election, and I'd already be strategizing / selling out.

I can't vote yet, so it's only theoretical. But I wouldn't have much of a problem voting for Paul Martin.

Wrye said...

If I could vote in this election, I'd vote Liberal to block the Conservatives

oookay, that's a common misconception. Remember, if you are voting to prevent a party gaining a majority, then simply voting Liberal isn't necessarily what you want to do. Total votes cast across the country don't matter, it's all about the individual riding. So, here we go:

1)Look up your riding's results in the last election (or several) at www.elections.ca

2) Note who the number one and two candidates were. Bear in mind that what you want to do is support the strongest non-Conservative candidate. In races where the top two candidates were Liberal/NDP or Conservative/NDP, (quite common out west) voting NDP is in fact the best "blocking" option.

3) Last elections, some conservative candidates won three-way races where the combined Lib/NDP vote was greater than the conservative. But here too, what's key is to break the tie and slosh the anti-Conservative vote to one candidate or the other.

Now, this isn't what you'd be doing if you wanted a Liberal government. But this is what you do when you want to elect anybody but Conservatives.

Here, have a look at my last two ridings Ignoring the Communist, CHP, and other fringe parties:

Richmond:

Liberal 18204 votes 44.48%
Con 14457 votes 35.52%
NDP 6142 votes 15.00%
Green 1743 votes 4.25%

So in Richmond, voting NDP clearly isn't going to help stop a Harper Majority. Now look at Vancouver Centre, where I lived in 2004.
Here, Conservatives are a non-factor, so voting NDP is perfectly safe. In fact, if you are a Conservative and your only aim is to defeat the Liberals, then voting NDP is your best option--note that doing so does not, however, do anything to make a Conservative government more likely.

Liberal 21 280 votes 40.30%
NDP 17 050 votes 32.29%
Con 10 139 votes 19.20%
Green 3.580 votes 6.78%


Now, let's look at Mississauga South, which is probably LG's home riding, in 2004:

NDP 5,004 10.5
Con 16,027 33.6
Green 1,899 4.0
Liberal 24,628 51.7

So here it's pretty clear: the NDP is a lost cause. Note that the Conservatives and NDP combined are also not enough to defeat the Liberal Candidate, so you could probably vote NDP anyway without delivering the seat to Harper. The flipside can be seen in Calgary West, home of Rob Anders, the worst Parlimentarian in history:

Con 31,322 55.9
NDP 3,632 6.5
Green 4,274 7.6
Liberal 16,402 29.3

Again, Liberals and NDP combined can't make a dent in Anders' lead.

So, it all depends on where you are. Not all ridings are in play, and for those that are, often only one of either the Liberals/NDP will be your best anti-Conservative choice. Or Anti-Liberal, if that's how you're leaning. I do think that the days of PMPM are probably finished, though, so Rob doesn't need to worry too much. It's now a question of Minority versus Majority.

L-girl said...

So, it all depends on where you are. Not all ridings are in play

I know. I was speaking in generalities. I would vote Liberal if that's what my riding needed to block the Conservative.

Thanks for the info, though. I've been wondering about it!

Expat Traveler said...

That helps me also. :) Although I'm still with Laura on the "not able to vote list".

RobfromAlberta said...

I do think that the days of PMPM are probably finished, though, so Rob doesn't need to worry too much. It's now a question of Minority versus Majority.

The Conservatives will not win this election. Current opinion polls are projecting the Tories to win over 50 seats in Ontario, which is absolutely absurd. I predict about 30. The Tories also need to win some seats in Quebec, but Conservative support in Quebec is inefficient. Even at 30%, they probably won't win more than one or two. This means they will need to gain about 15 seats in the West and Atlantic Canada to squeak out a minority and the numbers just aren't there. They already hold nearly every seat they have a shot at.

L-girl said...

Current opinion polls are projecting the Tories to win over 50 seats in Ontario, which is absolutely absurd.

I thought it was absurd, too, but couldn't say, given my lack of experience. Glad to hear my thoughts confirmed.

nataleo said...

I wish I was as confident as robfromalberta that the conservatives will not win :(

L-girl said...

Rob is a smart guy. He's giving me hope. :)

Wrye said...

Rob, I love ya, but I just don't know. We'll see. Surely there's more than a few out there like Landslide Anne who'll be moving along.

Via CalgaryGrit, here's Andrew Coyne's Roundup of seat projections:

UBC Election Market (latest): Fascists 135 Crooks 88 Commies 31 Traitors 53

LISPOP (Jan 7-10): 139-84-25-60

DemocraticSpace (Jan 15): 135-82-32-59

jord.ca (Jan 10-12 Ipsos): 144-67-37-59

Trendlines (Jan 16): 141-75-31-60

ElectionPrediction.org (Jan 15): 97-77-17-51 Too close to call: 66

Loblaw Federal Election Pool (average): 130-97-22-59


I like that "too close to call" dodge. Especially since 20 seats either way will make or break the winner.

Wrye said...

Here is a more direct round-up. Coyne may be a little out of date, but even the new figures don't have anyone predicting a Harpy majority, though Jord.ca predicts a tie. heh. Interesting. Imma gonna read more, now.

RobfromAlberta said...

Surely there's more than a few out there like Landslide Anne who'll be moving along.

Yeah, McLellan is history. AB will be a sweep for the Tories. Ralph Goodale will be hard-pressed, so SK might go all blue too. I don't see a whole lot of movement in BC, MN or Atlantic Canada, though. I'd be tickled pink to see 6-8 QC seats go Tory, but it won't happen and it wouldn't make enough of a difference anyway. The Conservatives need a big push in Ontario and I just don't see it.

Echo Mouse said...

I saw that Globe issue with Margaret Wente's article mentioned on the front page. It sounded (to me) as if she was in favour of Harper so I didn't dare buy the paper! LOL I didn't want anymore disappointment.

But I'm so glad I hit your blog tonight. I tell ya Laura, for a new Canuck, you're the best source of info I've seen in terms of your commenters and your posts! Way to go :)

And Rob, I am so glad to see your thoughts on this. I too agree you're a smart guy and pray that you're right. I know you would prefer Harper, but it means a lot that you would offer your opinion when it's not turning out the way you want.

This is such a great blog! :)