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Coalitions, Liberals and Democracy


Over the last couple of weeks there has been a resurrection of the idea of a coalition government.  Should the Conservative Party win another minority in a future election, the losing parties would form a “coalition”, with the Liberal Party at the helm, and take over control of government.

Coalition governments are quite common in the other commonwealth countries.  In fact, the UK just recently formed a coalition government between the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats.  However, they are decidedly rare in Canadian politics.  So rare, that there has been only one federal coalition in the entire history of the country.

This coalition was Robert Borden’s Unionist government of 1917.  After winning a majority government, Borden’s Conservative Party formed a coalition with the Liberal’s in order to present a united political front in response to World War 1.  It quickly fell apart after the conclusion of the war and ended completely with Borden’s retirement in 1920.

There is one common factor that I would like to point out from my two examples above:  the winning party created the coalition!

When Conservative Party leader, Stephen Harper, recently said “losers don’t get to form coalitions” he was correct.  In a coalition government, the elected party seeks an alliance with one or more of their rivals for the purpose of strengthening the democratically elected government.  This is more common with minority governments, as a coalition will usually give them a majority in parliament.  However, as we saw from Borden’s example, majority governments also employ coalitions if they feel it’s warranted.

In December 2008, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois attempted to form a “coalition” government with the Liberals at the helm.  They reasoned that while more Canadians had voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, the majority of Canadians had not.  Therefore, in their minds, they were justified in taking over leadership of the country.

There are a few glaring problems with that idea though:

1)      None of the three parties involved had been elected to power.  They were not trying to strengthen the existing government. They were trying to unseat it.

2)      The Liberal Party leader, Stephane Dion, would have become the leader of this new government.  In the recently held election, Canadians had already declared that they did not want Mr Dion to lead the country.

3)      All three parties would have veto power in this coalition government.  In real world application, the Liberals and NDP would regularly agree on policy.  The Bloc Quebecois, however, is a separatist party and often disagrees with the other parties on key issues.  Even though Liberal leader, Mr Dion, would “officially” be the leader of the opposition, in reality, Bloc leader, Gilles Duceppe would have been calling the shots.  The Liberals and the NDP would have effectively handed leadership over to a party whose primary goal is to break-up the country.

I’ll take this opportunity to remind people of a legal term that isn’t often heard in modern society:

sedition [sɪˈdɪʃən]
n
1. speech or behaviour directed against the peace of a state
2. (Law) an offence that tends to undermine the authority of a state
3. (Law) an incitement to public disorder
4. Archaic revolt
[from Latin sēditiō discord, from sēd- apart + itiō a going, from īre to go]

Dion, Duceppe and NDP leader Jack Layton were lucky not to be charged with sedition after their ill-fated coup attempt in December 2008.  Will Layton and current Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, be so fortunate if they try the same trick again?

If there is one thing that has become abundantly clear over the last several years, it’s that the Liberal Party of Canada is more interested in power than democracy.  An inability to admit their mistakes, an unwillingness to listen to the people whom they represent, and an overwhelming arrogance in their own righteousness, has led to plummeting support for the Liberals.

The party is on the verge of imploding, and these ridiculous coalition attempts are nothing more than the desperate actions of desperate politicians.  Rather than accepting the consequences for years of bad leadership and even worse legislation, they are grasping at straws for any chance to reclaim power.

It’s time for the Liberal Party to start listening to their constituents.  Maybe then, they’ll finally realize that their problem isn’t ineffective leadership or the “evil” Stephen Harper.  Their problem is a complete inability to accept that the interests of Canadians are far more important than the interests of a few elitist politicians.

Edit

I wanted to make a quick update to clear up a point of confusion in my post. 

When I said that the winning party forms a coalition, I didn’t mean to state that only the winning party can form a coalition.  Legally, any of the parties are allowed to form one.  Tradition stands that the party with the most votes has first crack at forming a government.  If they are unable to do so, then any party can step up and try.

The issue in Canada is the Bloc Quebecois.  The Liberals and NDP combined still have fewer seats than the Conservatives.  It would be very difficult for them to form a minority government without the Bloc, and Canadians won’t allow them to form a coalition with the Bloc.

So while it is perfectly legal for the losers to form a coalition government, with the number of parties in our political system and the presence of the Bloc, it’s virtually impossible.

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Prorogation and Propaganda


I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sick to death of hearing the word “prorogue”.  The lies, disinformation and manufactured hype surrounding Harper’s recent prorogation of parliament are starting to wear a bit thin.

Contrary to what the Liberals and their opposition cohorts would have you believe, prorogation is a legitimate, and common, parliamentary tool used in the Commonwealth Parliaments of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.  Granted, it has a history of being used in a more questionable manner in Canada than anywhere else in the world, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a legitimate parliamentary process [check out this page for more information on prorogation].

In the 142 years since Sir John A MacDonald became the first Prime Minister of Canada, our parliament has been prorogued 105 times.  That works out to roughly once every 16 months – hardly a rare event. 

During his tenure, Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau prorogued parliament 11 times in 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1983.  More recently, Liberal PM Jean Chretien prorogued parliament 4 times in 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2003.  On the provincial level, Ontario Premier Bob Rae (and federal Liberal Party leader candidate) prorogued the legislative assembly 3 times in 1991, 1992, and 1994.

I can hear the Liberal shills screaming right now, “But it’s not the same thing!  Harper is trying to dodge responsibility!”  Really?  Kind of like when Jean Chretien prorogued in 2003 to avoid the auditor general’s release of the report on AdScam, the sponsorship scandal in Quebec?

I don’t know enough about the “Afghan Detainee” controversy to say that it was a factor in Harper’s decision to prorogue parliament this winter.  I do understand basic math though.  According to the information given to the public thus far, the first reports of prisoner abuse were submitted to the government in “early” 2006.  Stephen Harper was sworn into office on Feb 2, 2006.  That means the alleged torture was already taking place before he came into office, under Paul Martin’s Liberal government.  Could Harper have done more to address the issue?  I don’t know enough to say either way, but I do know enough to say that shutting down the special committee saves the Liberal Party from public scrutiny just as much, if not more so, than the Conservatives. 

If it wasn’t Afghanistan, why did Harper prorogue? I’m not a mind reader, but I have an idea or two.  If Prime Minister Harper has shown us one thing over the last three and a half years, it’s that he is a very shrewd and adept political strategist.  From my untrained perspective I can see two issues that are of much more importance than Afghanistan to the PM right now: the Senate and the budget.

The current breakdown of the Senate is as follows:

Affiliation Senators
  Conservative Party 46
  Liberal Party 49
  Progressive Conservative Caucus 2
  Independent 2
  No Affiliation 1
  Vacant 5
 Total as of January 2, 2010 105

If Harper uses this time to fill those 5 vacant seats, the balance of power in the Senate will tip to the Conservatives.  The Liberals, of course, are protesting this, saying that the PM will now be able to “ram through” his legislation.  Kind of like the Liberals have been doing for the last 30 years then, no?

That brings us to the budget.  With the entire world teetering on the brink of economic collapse (you didn’t think the recession was over did you?) I can’t think of a single more important issue for the PM to be addressing right now.  By proroguing, the PM has timed things so that the budget will be delivered as soon as parliament reconvenes and left the opposition parties little time to mount a protest against it.  This is both good and bad: bad because some questionable items may be pushed through without proper consideration; good because it effectively limits the ability of the opposition to topple the minority government. 

I can hear the protests already, “But..but..that’s undemocratic!”  No.  That’s simply the reality of our style of government – especially minority government.  People seem to have forgotten that minority governments are not so much about running the country as they are about political survival.  This is by no means new to Stephen Harper, but the general public tends to have a short memory.

Speaking of democracy, the Liberal Party is in no position to preach on that topic.  After all, it was their attempt to stage a coup against the democratically elected government of Canada that prompted the 2008 prorogation of parliament.  In Canada’s 142 years since confederation there has only ever been one coalition government.  That government was formed in 1917 when Robert Borden’s Unionist party – who had won a clear majority – requested a coalition with the Liberal Party during World War 1.  No matter which way you try to spin it, the Liberal Party’s attempt, with the help of the NDP and the Bloc, to usurp power from the Conservative Party can be called nothing other than a coup d’etat.  So no, they are in absolutely no position to speak on the topic of democracy.

On the topic of the people voicing their opinions, there were organized protests against prorogation held in 32 communities across the country yesterday.  Only 25,000 people turned up nationwide, including a mere 3,500 in Ottawa.  In 1994, by comparison, 10,000 protesters marched on Ottawa alone in an attempt to stop the passage of C-68, now known as the Firearms Act.  The people have spoken on the issue of prorogation, and they don’t care.

Cutting through all the media hype, sensationalism and fear-mongering, I think Harper’s decision had much more to do with political strategy than dodging responsibility.  Even if he did elect to prorogue because of the Afghan issue, he hasn’t prevented an inquiry, he has merely delayed it.  Regardless of his motives, his decision to prorogue was a gamble, and only time will tell if it was a mistake.

The War on Freedom


I’ve been stateside for the last week, and after spending hours in various airports listening to “Homeland Security Advisories”, dealing with airport security and watching American newscasts, I’m now more convinced than ever that the Fear Industry is very real.

For reasons that I can only speculate on, there seems to be a concerted global effort to create a culture of fear throughout the developed world.  In countries like Australia and Canada, this industry is more subtle, but in the UK and the USA, there seems to be little or no attempt to hide it. 

As I type this, I’m actually sitting in the airport and listening to the “Security Advisories” being announced.  Has anyone else noticed that since they started doing these threat level announcements 8 years ago, the level has never dropped below “Orange”?  Be vigilant, they say.  Watch for suspicious activity.  Inform the police or Transport Security officers of any perceived threats.  Oh and while you’re at it, why don’t you subject yourself to our overzealous and ineffective security screening process?  You don’t mind do you?  Sure it violates a couple of your rights, but it’s in the name of public safety in the “War on Terror”, so you really shouldn’t complain.

What really disturbs me though is the number of people who truly believe that by carrying 100mL bottles of shampoo, the world, or at least the airport, is a safer place.  They truly believe that by taking off their shoes, they are thwarting the next 9/11. 

“Most people want security in this world, not liberty” ~H.L. Mencken, Minority Report, 1956

Especially here in the United States, the people are constantly inundated with messages of violence and fear and possible terrorist attacks.  All of the major news networks flood their viewers with information.  There’s the news anchor with pictures and videos of some tragic story that they repeat ad nauseum for days on end.  There are the scrolling panels that are impossible to follow and leave the viewer feeling overwhelmed and anxious.  And my personal favourite, has been the gradual shift from reporting facts to intentionally eliciting a specific emotional response in the viewer.  “There was a motor vehicle accident on the highway this afternoon involving multiple vehicles that left one person dead and several others in hospital with minor injuries” has been replaced with “There was a horrific crash on the highway that took the life of an innocent young mother, left several others clinging to life in hospital, and left witnesses traumatized”.

The news writers carefully word the stories to guide the viewer to a precise emotional response, be it fear or grief or worry, etc. Whatever that emotion may be, it will very rarely be positive.  CNN hasn’t been dubbed “Constantly Negative News” for no reason.  This phenomenon is by no means limited to the US – it’s just far more blatant here than in other countries.

As I mentioned earlier, I could speculate endlessly on the reasons for this constant fear factor, but I think that would serve little purpose.  What’s more important, in my opinion, is being aware of what has been, and could be, done while people are in this state.  You see, when people are feeling afraid, or hopeless, or anxious, or overwhelmed, or stressed, they have a tendency to give up rational thought.  They’ll listen to anyone who claims to be able to make those uncomfortable feelings go away, and damn the consequences.

The consequences, however, are huge!  What I see happening on almost a daily basis is a gradual erosion of our rights and freedoms.  Every day we trade a little bit of freedom for the illusion of safety.  I’ll repeat that last bit: the illusion of safety.  All of the endless new laws and security screening procedures simply make us think we’re safer, while doing nothing to actually address the underlying issues. 

What many people fail to grasp, is that we live in a world of duality.  Light and dark, hot and cold, up and down, love and hate, good and evil.  You can’t have one without the other.  All the rules, regulations, laws and security procedures in the world will never, ever change that.  If someone is determined enough, they will always find a way. 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to make the world a better place.  I’m saying that we need to carefully consider the wisdom of our current path.  Do we really want to live in a world where everyone is presumed guilty?  Do we really want to live in a world where people are punished because of what they might do?  Is legislating safety really making us safer, or just making us feel like we are?

Lastly and most importantly: what’s the point of fighting for freedom, if you’re going to use that freedom to create laws that take it away?

Jumping Off the Ban Wagon


Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  So how about a little history lesson?

Prohibition

Everyone has heard about The Noble Experiment.  The banning of liquor was brought forth in 1913 in an effort to “improve society”, especially for women and African-American labourers.  The result was the Roaring Twenties, when average citizens became criminals, and the Mafia evolved from petty gambling and theft to bootlegging, racketeering and “blood in the streets”.  John D Rockefeller Jr, a supporter of prohibition, summed it up perfectly in 1932.

“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”

War on Drugs

This “war” has been waged in one form or another since 1969.  Obviously use of illicit drugs has fallen since the 60s and 70s, but rates of use have been climbing steadily since the late 80s.   In Canada, since 1997, cannabis use has remained stable, while cocaine and other illicit drug use continues to climb steadily.  According to a 2007 study, from 1994 to 2004 use of illicit drugs in Canada jumped from 28.5% to 45%.  As for the USA, after spending billions of dollars over a 6 year period in Colombia, the DEA has seen an increase in coca production in remote areas of Colombia and neighbouring countries.  In fact from 1980 to 1990 Peru saw a 10-fold increase in coca production in the region (Source: “Drug Policy in Andes Called Failure,” Washington Post, March 27, 1993)

I could quote facts and statistics on this one until I’m blue in the face, but I think everyone knows for themselves just how dismal a failure this “war” has been.

Gun Ban

I never love statistics more than when I’m discussing gun bans.  Why?  Because there isn’t a single statistic that shows gun control of any kind to be a success.  Australia instituted strict gun control laws in 1997, and over the last 10 years, they’ve seen assault increase by 49%, robbery increase by 6%, sexual assault increase 30%, and violent crime increase by 42%.  The UK brought in their strict gun laws in 1988 and have since seen a 500% increase in their violent crime rates.  In Canada our violent crime rate has also continued to increase.  And despite our handgun registration laws (in place since 1934), handguns are still used in approximately 30% of homicides every year.

Hey all you Ban Wagon folks!  What were you saying about gun control lowering crime rates again?

Pointy-Knife Ban

Nope, I’m not joking.  For the last several years, Emergency Room doctors in the UK have been calling for a ban on pointed kitchen knives in a bid to reduce deaths from stabbings.  Do a google search for the thousands of news articles on this topic.  What’s next?  A knitting needle ban?  Or how about selling only plastic baseball and cricket bats from now on?  Or maybe we should just amputate our opposable thumbs at birth so that we can’t grip any weapons?   Seriously, when I read stories like these I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

 

So what do the above issues all have in common?  Well they all involve attempts to solve problems by focussing on the symptoms rather than the disease.  Rather than educating people or properly punishing those who commit crimes, our “leaders” choose to take out their frustrations on inanimate objects instead.  What’s my point, you ask?  I’d just like to know when the I’m-scared-of-my-shadow-so-let’s-ban-sunshine crowd is going to wake up and realize that bans do not work.  In every instance I’ve mentioned above, bans have either had no measurable effect or they have made worse the issue they were meant to solve.

As a gun owner I’m often accused of being “paranoid”.  That always makes me laugh – pot this is kettle calling.  It’s the Ban Wagon, after all, that’s so afraid of inanimate objects that they seek to eradicate them from society. 

“Be Prepared”.  Everyone knows the Boy Scout motto.  But here’s my question to the Ban Wagon: what do those two words mean to you?  You see, to me, being prepared is not an action, it’s a mindset.  It’s about being aware of the realities of this world and planning for all possible eventualities, both good and bad.  More importantly, it’s about personal responsibility.

Yeah, I said it again.  I don’t care if you’re sick of hearing it, I’m gonna keep saying it.  Personal responsibility.  Being prepared means realizing that in the event of a disaster, I can rely only on my own resources.  Being prepared means understanding that if I’m attacked, I am the key to my survival.  Being prepared means comprehending the fact that by their very nature, all governments are corrupt, some just moreso than others. Being prepared means recognizing that no amount of laws, rules, regulations, restrictions, bans or good intentions will ever erase human nature.

For any members of the Ban Wagon who may be reading this post, did you notice how in the previous three paragraphs, there were a lot of I‘s in there?  That’s because I don’t presume to speak for all gun owners, or all women, or all people, even though it’s a fact that many think and believe the same things I do. 

You see, I give people credit for a certain degree of intelligence.  And I don’t insult that intelligence by suggesting that an inanimate object is the cause of all the ills in our world.  I give people credit for being human and accept all the good and bad that being human entails.

People are always going to make bad choices.  I’m afraid, that comes part and parcel with the free will thing.  So how about we all jump off team Ban Wagon?  And instead of passing laws that infringe on the rights of people who might make a bad decision (Thoughtcrime, anyone?), let’s just pass laws that punish people who actually do make a bad decision.  Gee, that sounds suspiciously like people taking responsibility (yup, there’s that word again) for the decisions they make and dealing with all the consequences that come with that choice.  We can’t possibly have that…