Stupid Constituional Tricks

Jack Layton's cute little motion to force the government to call an election for February sounds pragmatic and reasonable -- and clearly no politician wants to be on the campaign trail during the Christmas Holidays. Various other groups don't want it then either, and it's often painted that the Canadian public in general doesn't either, but I wonder. It might be good for the politicians to feel the pain of their retail employee-constituents who find the last 50 days the most hectic of the whole year.

Constitutional Monarchy's like Canada are governed by a combination of written and traditional rules and one of these for minority governments (as Canada currently has) is that government can dissolve parliament for specific dates and/or hand specific dates to the opposition at which the opposition can pull the trigger. But the opposition can not dissolve parliament at a particular date, much though it might like to do.

Jack Layton, whose stellar record as a city councillor in Toronto speaks for itself, still needs to go back to elementary school when it comes to running national politics. His scheme is the kind of pragmatic, creative one that there is room for at the civic level. But a country can't go changing these procedures at the whim of an albeit intelligent, creative group of people. A federal government, even one that does not have a parliamentary majority, is still about stability and the one power that the governing party in the minority has is this: choosing when a the next possible election date will be. It's a game of "I aim, you fire", but the neophyte leader of the NDP will just have to get used to it.
Will "King George" be content to be "Prince George"?

Or, more importantly, will his followers, in loyalty to the idea of a civil society in Liberia allow their allegations of fraud and pressuring to be investigated and adjudicated, be content with the result and move on? Now, after the election is the moment of truth. What does Liberia want? More civil war or rebuilding?

Western democratic institutions took a long time to build and included civil wars like those that have happened in the 20th and 21st centuries in lands where democracy has not yet taken root. The English story is held to have begun with the Magna Carta in 1215 and can be said to have become almost impossible to reverse after the reign of Queen Anne, five centuries later: She was the last monarch to over-rule the English Parliament. Subsequent monarchs had the titular right to do so but did not. If Elizabeth II or her successors were to do so, it would spark a constitutional crisis.

I applaud the restrained and conciliatory tone I have heard Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf extend to Mr. Weah and his supporters. Winners do not usually share much power with losers, but in view of Mr. Weah's first round polling numbers and the energy of Mr Weah's supporters on the street, pragmatism and commitment to a peaceful future for Liberia will drive her to seek Mr. Weah's support in rebuilding that shattered country. Now the test of the maturity of Mr. Weah and his supporters come: will they bury their differences until the next election and reciprocate?

Show yourselves adults on this score please, for your own sakes and for those of your children.


Ah, Bliss but not yet Heaven

A local co-op radio station is rebroadcasting the BBC world service in the mornings. Ah the sweet sound of news that's not just from my country, my province, my valley, or worst of all my neighbours' favourite celebrities. <ugh>

And it was there that I heard the news that with 75% of the ballots counted, Mrs. Johnston-Sirleaf is leading 58% to 42% in the vote counting in Liberia. Unfortunately Mr. Weah's party is filing a complaint that the Electoral Commission prejudiced the process against him. I hope Mr. Dyer's thoughts that it would take the soccer star to keep the poor masses from revolting in the painful period of reconstruction Liberia needs to undergo prove false but from my own friends' opinions and those of Mr. Peabody now of Pennsylvania, I have reason to hope that this will be for the best.

Peace be to those streets as well.

One of the listener comments I heard on the BBC this morning made me stop and think. Some chap was objecting to the war in Iraq on the grounds that there is no cause worth dying for. I think it would be more advisable to object on the grounds that there is no cause worth killing for. Since killing only breeds more killing (ask the residents of any war zone, from Northern Ireland to the WestBank/Gaza to Darfur), the less often we insist on resorting to killing in settling disputes and differences, the less often others will have us in the crosshairs -- and if they've already taken aim, we would die with clearer consciences.

Do you want to make your part of the earth a little more paradisical? (and who does not?) Start by looking at the things in your hands. If you are using them as instruments of violence against other people, lay them down and do not take them up again until you can be clear on what their appropriate targets and uses are.


Things changing...

Well, telus and the union have reached a second tentative agreement. It's not clear what's changed -- it sounds like there's more money, but not more job security, so will it pass? Is it enough sweeter to convince 24 more people to change to "yes" than will have changed to "no" since the 30th of October? The results will be in via mail-in vote by November 16th. The contract is for five years from November 17th.

And then there's federal politics. I honestly didn't believe that the NDP would bring down the government this fall, but it looks like the last day sitting for this government will be late next week.

Both of these stories are visible right now, here.

Tomorrow, Liberia votes. So do a bunch of places in the US, too, right?


Telus Lockout Losing Traction

Telus, which was formed from combining the old "monopoly" telecoms, Alberta Government Telephone and BC Telephone has been on strike for some time now, and on my drive to work, I pass three of their plants. Actually, the workers were locked out. The issues are mostly "flexibility", as far as Telus is concerned and freedom from worries over off-shoring as far as the union, TWU is concerned.

A couple of weeks ago, The Vancouver Sun, the most news-y local paper, ran a story that there was a tentative agreement. Only the pickets never came down, so I wondered if I had been dreaming. Finally, this week, I find out that the agreement was put to a vote and lost by a really narrow margin. From the Union's website, "Of the 9027 votes cast, 4487 – 49.7% – voted yes and 4540 – 50.3% – voted no."

Late this week, most of the overpasses I drove under on my way to work had Telus workers holding protest banners against Telus' on-going actions. The largest site I drive by was a little emptier than usual, but I knew where some of the strikers were that morning. I had seen them.

I feel for these folks. It's not that long ago they were a crown-corporation monopoly but the communications boom of the 90s happened and now Telus has to deliver, not to Cabinet (two cabinets, actually) but to shareholders. And they don't understand that most of the other workers in the market they serve have never enjoyed the kind of pensions and job security they enjoyed before the 90s -- I've never had them. They're dedicated to their picket line, but this is a fight that Telus can wait them out on, I'm afraid.

On the other hand, a call-in radio comment I heard, from someone who had switched their high-speed internet from Telus to Shaw and was so thankful to be "dealing with a non-Union company" seemed wrong-headed in another direction. The Winnipeg General Strike was only 86 years ago. The need for unions in the coal mines of southwestern Alberta was a hot issue then, too. Since then, unions have often been more interested in gathering more and more power without much concern for the welfare of the worker, but it would be a shame if the protection for the little guys that unions have provided disappeared with the willing and eager acceptance of other little guys.

I can't help comparing this strike with the hockey strike that resulted in no 2004/05 NHL hockey season. At the beginning, the players didn't want to accept a $54 million per team salary cap. The hiatus in play has led to a depression of their market value and they've had to accept a cap of $39 million. At this point, it looks to me like the longer the Telus workers are out, the less value they'll be to their employer. I suspect they need to cut their losses now, settle and get back to work. There're Christmas presents to buy, not to mention meals, clothes, heat and electricity.


The National Blood-letting -- November 2005

So, the latest chapter in the sponsorship scandal in Canada has gotten to a public milestone: the preliminary Gomery report. Since most of this testimony was conducted live on television (sort of like the OJ Simpson trial), there aren't a whole lot of surprises here. The surprises came six to twenty months ago as lurid tales of suitcases full of money, implications of mob connections, outrageous commissions for little or no work followed by kickbacks to civil servants who allocated the work, and significant portions of the commissions ending up in the coffers of the ruling Liberal Party, all wrapped up in end-justifies-the-means excuses: the Separatists nearly broke up our country -- we just had to do something to save Canada.

(None of this is news to my Canadian readers)

So all we have now that we didn't before, are Judge Gomery's notes, laid out in an orderly fashion showing how money flowed from here to there and back -- ultimately the facts and allegations go like this:

  • Money flowed from the federal government of Canada into ad agencies (and other "structural companies" like Canada Post and VIA)

  • The purpose of the money was ostensibly to "raise the profile of Canada" in Québec after the nearly-won sovereignty referendum of 1995.

  • Firms receiving the money/advertising contracts were hand-picked, not chosen through any kind of bidding process.

  • More money was paid than value received by the federal government and some of the money was paid in kickbacks to certain civil servants, especially Chuck Guité

  • The most visible result of the money at the time was big "Canada" signs showing up at all kinds of festivals, conferences, conventions and shows in Québec between 1995 and 2001.

  • The firms receiving the contracts were typically run by Liberals, who as well as having paid kick-backs to civil servants, also contributed significant percentages of their fees to the Liberal Party of Canada.

  • Sheila Fraser, our Auditor-General (sort of like the GAO in the US gave some hints of the problem in 2002 and a full-blown report of her findings.

The end result seems to be a big fizzle. The Liberal Party of Canada
* is exposed as the most venal in the country
* is perceived in Québec as having tried to buy Québec's loyalty in the late 90s (outrage, votes for the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois follow -- no version in English)
* is viewed as being shrewd operators who were only trying to save the country in Ontario and by half the folks east of there, and
* is viewed as reprehensible and bereft of the moral authority to govern: scoundrels who ought to be drummed out of office by most of those living west of Ontario -- except for urbanites who are scared to vote for anyone else.

Quite likely we will have another federal election (what I called a "National Shout" last time) in the next six weeks to three months and I don't see the result being significantly different than it was 16 months ago. As I stated earlier here, I still don't have a real, viable place to park my vote and anyway, I live in a riding where a toothpick could run for a particular party and win, so my vote doesn't mean very much.

Do I sound cynical and disillusioned? I'm afraid so. But hey -- my kids aren't going hungry, we have no shortage of food, fuel or potable water out here in BC and I have the freedom to complain about this kind of thing out loud when it happens. Life's not all that bad, on balance, really. But I wonder how long this kind of meretricious behaviour in our political leaders can go on before all those other things are threatened.

Is that a real Canadian?

Has a tourist ever come through your town, with Canadian flags plastered over his or her luggage and you wondered, "Is that really a Canadian?" Saying "eh?" at the end of ordinary statements has become so stereotypical that you may be fooled initially.

One of the things I want to do here, is help to give little hints to help you figure out who is a Canadian and who is an impostor.

Really Canadian #1: Most Canadians (at least Anglophones) will not pronounce "roof" so that the "oo" rhymes with "hoof" or "book". On the contrary so that it rhymes with "blue" or "scooby doo". French Canadians will pronounce it "twa" or "twat" -- at least when they're speaking French.


All the best, but not just to King George

Gwynne Dyer's latest commentary focuses on Liberia, a place where I have some friends. At first I thought it referred to King George II of America. When I saw instead that it was about George Weah in Liberia, I was curious to hear the opinion of another outsider (besides me) on the situation there.

It happens that Mr. Dyer disagrees with my friends' political opinion (he's Liberian, she's white, born in Canada -- they are working in Johnson-Sirleaf's campaign) but I'm sure he and they (and I as well) would agree that it would be a good thing for Liberia to escape from the cycle of violence it has been trapped in for the last few years.

Until next Tuesday...