Electoral Reform Coming But Wait Nobody Told Elections Canada

Yes that title is correct. The ruling Conservative party will present a bill to reform Canadian election laws this Thursday and while that seems like a good thing, someone forgot to run any of the proposed changes by Elections Canada.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal announced, “Our government is pleased to announce that it will introduce comprehensive legislation on Thursday to improve the integrity, accountability and administration of Canada’s election laws. The new legislation will respond to the motion passed by the House of Commons last year and a recommendation made by the chief electoral officer, the procedure and House affairs committee and others.” This announcement comes only seven months late on the March 2012 non-binding NDP motion calling for changes to election laws, which was unanimously agreed upon.

While this is not a new thing (first consulting with Elections Canada), one would think, no one would hope, that in light of the robocall affair currently before the courts that more would be done. But if the ruling party doesn’t consult Elections Canada or any other interested group just how far are they prepared to go? And that’s a very valid question considering the same Conservatives cut the budget of Elections Canada while the biggest electoral fraud investigation in Canadian history was taking place. Yes, as absurd as that sounds – that’s what they brazenly did.

The Conservatives loves to remind Canadians of Adscam, but what they always leave out is the reaction of the Liberal Party under PM Paul Martin. Martin knew full-well that the Gomery Commission would spell electoral disaster for his party but as history shows – his government did the right thing anyways. So why won’t the Conservative party under PM Harper do the same? It’s not like we are talking about Canada-wide electoral fraud or anything. And if you follow the advice of MP Vic Toews, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.

Do what’s right and needed. Don’t just fiddle with the election laws, give them teeth and back them up with a fully-funded and supported Elections Canada.

Contributed to the Federal Politics Journal by Roy Whyte.

The Great Canadian Sellout

Like those nail-biting episodes of 24 where the clock is ticking down and there is a heated race to head off disaster, the nation of Canada finds itself in such a scenario. The mass media has all but ignored or barely mentioned the looming Great Canadian Sellout to communist China courtesy of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Not content with being the party that sold Canada up the river with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1989 after which the U.S. trade representative Clayton Yeutter bluntly stated, “We’ve signed a stunning new trade pact with Canada. The Canadians don’t even know what they have signed. In twenty years they will be sucked into the U.S. economy,” they are now upping the ante and selling Canada out to China.

Clayton Yeutter was exactly right, as the U.S. government had no intentions of removing dumping and anti-subsidy laws, and this was made abundantly evident over the years with such things as softwood lumber, wheat exports, PEI potatoes and other Canadian exports. It wasn’t bad enough that the Harper Conservatives sold Canada out with softwood lumber and allowed the American timber conglomerate to essentially steal hundreds of millions of dollars from Canada, the federal Conservatives are now poised to sign away even more in an utterly one-sided trade deal with China. But wait it gets better! This deal with China, the Canada-China Investment Treaty, or FIPA, will not be discussed in the House of Commons or any committee, it will simply be ratified by default come November 1, 2012. Unfortunately for Canadians, the sunshine that is disclosure and accountability will not be allowed to disinfect this looming disaster.

What is the purpose of electing MPs and having a House of Commons if binding trade deals are constructed and negotiated behind closed doors and become binding with no public oversight? Why is this government the antithesis of its own election campaign slogans of accountability and transparency? If this deal is such a boon to Canada than prove it to Canadians via our democratic institutions – don’t conduct meetings in secret then proceed to ratify FIPA by default.

So what’s in this sweetheart deal for Chinese investors (most of whom are state controlled)? Like NAFTA there are clauses contained that allow for damages to be awarded via ‘expectation of profits’. In layman’s terms this essentially means Chinese state investors can sue Canada via a system outside of Canadian control for just about anything they deem detrimental to their profit taking. For example, this binding trade deal overrides any municipal, provincial or even federal law or regulation that in any way impedes profits for Chinese investors. Simply put, Canadian-made laws and regulations will be tossed out the window in favour of Chinese investors. And just for good measure, the arbitration method will be conducted behind closed doors in secret and only by the federal government!

Many Canadians are unaware that the sometimes-reviled National Energy Policy has been gutted in the advance of free trade. No longer can Canada try to establish Canadian pricing for oil that is manufactured, refined and sold in Canada. Canadians ceded that ability when the ruling Liberal Party signed onto NAFTA. Canada now has little to no control over supplies and pricing. During free trade negotiations the Mexican negotiators were smart enough to balk at the American proposal to write into law that Canada and Mexico must give them a full two-thirds of all of natural gas production. This is still in place today, and what this means is that even though Canada ships over two million barrels of oil a day south, the two-thirds rule guarantees that we cede our ability for national pricing. If Canada wanted to cut back on exports of natural gas or oil, we must also cut our own national consumption by an equal amount. A staggering thought in this age of dwindling supplies and record consumption. FIPA sadly takes this to the extreme.

FIPA also contains these clauses but takes them a step further covering ALL of Canada’s natural resources. Timber, copper, uranium, rare earth elements, water, and every other natural resource is potentially subject to this deal and if Canada ever wanted to reduce Chinese access to these resources, we MUST reduce our own access to our own resources by the same order. Talk about removing national determination…

FIPA also opens up more Canadian industries to Chinese state investors, and governmental oversight is extremely limited in ensuring any such takeover is in the best interests of Canadians. So say goodbye to Canadian energy and mining industries, as everything will be fair game under FIPA. The Chinese government is sitting on nearly $3 trillion in monetary reserves, so such a deal is an invitation to a buying frenzy.

NAFTA can be abrogated with six months notice, FIPA is one year. FIPA is also binding for a total of 31 years! Yes, for 31 years Canada will be bound by this secret trade treaty where Canadian laws will be tossed aside so Chinese state investors can profit at our expense.

Concerned Canadians need to act fast as the clock is most certainly ticking and the worst trade deal Canadian’s have ever seen is looming large. The choice is simple – a Canada for Canadians, or one for made for Chinese investors.

Contributed to the Federal Politics Journal by Roy Whyte.

Further reading:

Omnibus Budget Bills – A Real Problem Unless They’re Yours

The House of Commons is once again consumed by issues of the day and none are looming larger than the current Conservative omnibus budget bill. Weighing in at over 400 pages, this grab-bag masquerading as a budget bill is a sad attempt at circumventing both the will of the Canadian people and their democratic oversight via their elected officials. I’d say it was a bad attempt, but with a majority of seats the Conservative Party will ram it through perceptions be damned.

But how can one not take exception at the perception of a two-faced Conservative Party? When in opposition the Conservative Party under PM Harper’s direction took aim at the Liberal’s own omnibus budget bills – and may I say rightly so. So if the Conservative Party found there to be a problem with omnibus budget bills of 20 pages, why do they not have any problem with their own budget bill that is 20 times larger?

You would think it would be hard to defend that situation, yet the Conservative’s are attempting to do just that. It’s as if PM Harper never said, “I just regret that we are proceeding with this omnibus approach to legislation which, because it lumps in things we support and things we do not support, unfortunately deprives us of the ability to support the government in votes where that would be appropriate.” Yes indeed, so why do they now expect the opposition and the Canadian people to swallow 20 times more in one gulp?

This situation really becomes surreal when we take under consideration the ruling party’s election campaign promises and sloganeering of transparency. Where is the transparency in an omnibus budget bill? Unless it’s so transparent it cannot be seen, something is rotten in Ottawa.

Contributed to the Federal Politics Journal by Roy Whyte.

2011 Federal Election Campaign Trail

At this point in the 2011 Canadian federal election all the parties are getting their candidates officially registered with elections Canada and pounding their signs into the ground to attract every last voter to their party. This is all part and parcel of any election campaign. Where much of the focus remains is with the party leaders and their campaign and platform announcements. They do this in small pieces in part to gauge response from voters, though surely most have already done internal polling to find out what people like or dislike about any policy announcement. So what excitement does that leave the casual follower of politics in Canada? If it is excitement you were looking for there hasn’t been much yet.

Both the Conservatives and Liberals have been faced with some embarrassment over their chosen candidates and their past histories and had to remove them before any dirt flew from them to the national campaign. This seems to happen each election cycle and could be said to be unavoidable no matter how hard a party tries. Getting 300+ candidates fielded for any party is no easy feat so some wrong candidates getting in is part of the course. It’s how the parties react that matters to voters and both parties reacted quickly and put out the fires. No advantage for any party here.

The Greens are finding themselves outright excluded from the Leader’s Debate and have filed – or tried to file – a court challenge. The courts said they could not hear the case before the debates take place – so in other words – too darn bad. The Green Party has also drawn the ire of the small parties because they turned down a proposal to have a small party debate. The Greens don’t want to be seen any longer as a ‘small party’ but instead as a party on the verge of breaking through. The whole issue is a drain on their resources though and extra efforts had to be made to raise the funds to the legal challenge and subsequent media advertising over this issue. The Greens report that donations have been flying in and they are covering these costs themselves – a problem some thought might fall to the taxpayers which is false.

The NDP under Jack Layton are so far staying out of any troubles and have made some policy announcements that have gone over rather well. Layton is also showing great resilience health-wise considering where he was just a few short months ago. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up the pace for another three weeks. The NDP have been consistent throughout this campaign and much of their push policy-wise was seen in the recent budget negotiations.

The Bloc Quebecois are finding ways to make waves on the national scene and not only Quebec with repeated challenges to the Stephen Harper and the Conservatives over the issue of coalitions. The Conservatives have claimed many times that they did not seek a coalition with the ‘separatists’ but a document saying otherwise and the adamant rebuttal by the Bloc would suggest otherwise. Yet this hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from banging on the anti-coalition drum which resonates well with their core voters.

The biggest anchor which could slow a party would be the issue around the F-35 purchase. Just before the election broke there were rumblings that the Conservatives were vastly understating the total amount it would cost. Then this week comes news from the United States that the cost per plane is nearly double what the Conservatives have been stating. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page noted that the prices between what he could see and the numbers from the Conservatives were out of line and Winslow Wheeler of the Centre for Defence Information in Washington says each plane could cost as much as $148 million each with no guarantee that cost won’t increase further. It’s hard to push such a major expenditure when there is such a debt weighing on government and Canadian voters may not want to pony up the cash and may vote accordingly if this issue is a hot topic one for them.

Good news for the Conservatives comes in the In and Out scheme has disappeared from the mainstream media. They must be glad to have the election underway before any further information comes out about that. Timing was good for them there. And speaking of election matters and the Conservatives, in an effort to shore up more support amongst their traditional voters, they have announced that they will do away with the party vote subsidy if they get a majority. This is one announcement that the FPJ doesn’t like one iota. There was a distinct and very valid reason Canada undertook electoral reform and the subsidy is really the only tax Canadians can directly apportion. If you don’t vote – there is nothing generated and if you do vote, only money for the party voted for is generated. This simple issue has seemingly confused many Conservative voters who state that they don’t want “subsidize the Bloc” or some other rationale for supporting their party on this issue. Maybe they just don’t get it, and their party certainly isn’t helping.

2011 Federal Election Voter Turnout

The 2011 federal election is just over a month away and it will be interesting to see if Canadians are more apt to vote this election than they did in elections of the recent past. Voter turnout in Canada has been slowly eroding away except the minor uptick in the 2006 election. Will that upward trend continue?

One thing is for sure, those who follow politics sure seem to want an election. Conservative supporters want a majority for their party so that they don’t have to weave their way through a sometimes hostile opposition to push through their agenda. The opposition parties are looking to push the Conservatives down in numbers with the possible aim of setting the stage for a coalition, or for them a more advantageous minority government. The Liberal Party has already stated a coalition is not in the cards, but early polls don’t show much hope for them to grab the lead away from the Conservative party. But that’s some of the thoughts of those more connected to Canadian politics on the federal level – the average uncaring or jaded Canadian it seems is not so keen on voting again so soon. There doesn’t seem to be a push from any group or corner to rally non-voters to actually vote and if they don’t start early this campaign they might not succeed even if they try.

With 14,908,703 Canadians out of the possible 23,054,615 eligible to vote actually having done so last election, one thing is clear – that isn’t great. Some 35% are not exercising their right to vote. There is of course a myriad of reasons for why this occurs but it does have consequences. The biggest losers may be the Green Party who attract many younger voters. But it is this same group that doesn’t vote in large numbers. Seniors who vote more often than not are supporting the old-line parties on the whole and those two together translates into a direct effect on the outcome of the elections.

Some say electoral change may be the way forward but where it has been pushed to the fore it has failed, such as in British Columbia where the voting public voiced their displeasure of the idea. Mandatory voting is another possible solution. This too would have some game changing ramifications if it were used in Canada. If given the chance – none of the above might just win. And doesn’t that sum up much of the problem to begin with?