Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My favourite memories of the Royal Canadian Air Farce

My first memory of the RCAF was hearing a late night show while camping when I was about 6 years old. I didn't get all the jokes, but that prompted me to question my Dad what was funny, and I learned some things. I think the show had a skit about a radio announcer in Quebec trying to work the word "separation" into the broadcast in EVERY possible way, e.g. when talking about brassieres.

Another one I didn't get until my Dad explained, was a skit where the provincial premieres were having lunch with the PM. Peter Lougheed wanted an apple pie - the whole pie, for himself. But everyone else wanted "a piece of that pie." When my Dad said the pie was really Alberta oil revenues, I began to understand. To this day whenever pie is shared at a family get-together, I'm reminded of that.

And who can forget the election that ended in a tie between a PC/Social Credit coalition and a Lib/NDP coalition - leaving the Honourable David J. Broadfoot, MP for Kicking Horse Pass, holding the sole balance in a single vote? "I abstain!"

That first show introduced me to political satire, and I've loved it my whole life. And that love reinforces my conviction that I can question anything and to keep an open mind. But that also means living with others of different opinion. They should be equally free to question me, and justify my own opinions. Tonight I'll have a drink to a new year of conflicting opinions and remember how precious that is, that it doesn't disappear.

IMHO I loved the old radio version better than the TC version, but the new cast members have really added a lot. Rick Mercer isn't what he used to be, but 22 Minutes seems to be holding its own. I think the RCAF departure leaves room for one more troupe.

Don't forget - tonight is the last RCAF show ever! Don't miss it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Is the GG's New Year Message confusing, or is it me?

The Governor General's New Year Message left me confused. I agree with Impolitical the message seems intended for Mr. Harper to be less partisan. I also agree he probably won't pay much attention. I could interpret this message to mean Mr. Harper would not get an election call if defeated on confidence.

But what confuses me is, if the GG wants cooperation, why did she let the PM off so easily? Why no conditions on prorogation? Perhaps the message of cooperation is intended for the coalition to support Mr. Harpers' budget in January and cooperate with him. Perhaps this is a message she would call an election and not call for the coalition. I'll continue to ruminate on this, but it seems unlikely - keep reading.

"invent new ways of living together" - is a coalition a new way of living together? I'm hopeful this is what she means. Even more interesting, it is followed by "It is up to us to seize that opportunity." IMHO the opposition should wait and hear the budget... but OTOH has Flaherty or Harper given up more realistic numbers as demanded by Iggy?

"The 'fend for yourself' mentality has no place in an interdependent world" - I have no idea to what this refers. I could twist this to support my liberal view, but surely that isn't what the GG means. Comments are welcome on this one.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas power outage

The government has some precautions for life without electricity. Please take them seriously, there have already been tragedies this season.

As of Christmas eve, 4,000 homes are still without power here in NS. I'm lucky, but even still I lost power on Christmas morning from about midnight to 5am or so. I got a small generator a couple of years ago, having twice lost my fridge and freezer contents to multi-day outages. Hurricane Juan and the white Juan snowstorm produced understandable multi-day outages. But there have been a few others, including the infamous salty fog. BTW, wouldn't salty fog affect NB, PEI and NL just as much?

As of Christmas eve NB Power, a provincial crown corporation, reports zero outages here. Maritime Electric, a subsidiary of Fortis, doesn't report outages but I believe there were few or none. As of 11am on boxing day NS Power still reports 100-500 outages in Cape Breton. I can't find any meterological references that say the recent weather in NS was significantly different from PEI, NB or Maine - yet they all offered extra crews to help NS, having already handled their own problems.

NS Power has been the dominant topic of conversation for holiday get-tothers so far this season. And no one - nobody - has anything at all negative to say about the linemen crews working through the holidays in very windy conditions. Everyone (100%) knows they're doing their best and were generally tolerant or satisfied with the rate of restoration.

Complaints surrounded the question "Why did NS have so many more outages than neighboring provinces?" Honestly, I don't know. But I do wonder where there is a profit motive in building a more resiliant power grid. I'm not sure of the exact figure, but I think residential rates are fairly close between NS and NB, NB maybe 7% higher.

I'm not suggesting NS Power be re-purchased by the province, although I'd like to see a study of re-purchasing just the distribution system, which would become a power broker between producers and consumers. The distribution system is the monopoly, not the generation system. When you have the same company running both the generation and distribution, you risk unfair competition between in-house generation and competing suppliers, such as wind farms. I'm not sayin' nutin', I'm just sayin' is all ;-)

Anyway, I'm just fed up with multi-day outages. Occassional outages are to be expected of course. Surely we can do better. Monopolies must be regulated. Some of the benefit they derive from a monopoly position must be returned to the public, and not necessarily reflected in price alone. How about service guarantees?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Uncoalition revisited

As posted by Peace, Order and Good Government, Eh? the uncoalition is the idea that the Liberals could form a government without an explicit coalition with the NDP, but rather rely on NDP, BQ and even Conservative (LOL) support from vote to vote. Please go read the comments, they're interesting.

Now Accidental Deliberations posts about Michaelle Jean's decision to allow prorogation. I think AD is suggesting the GG would seek an alternative government before calling an election; if so, I agree.

But something popped into my head this morning when I recalled Iggy speaking about the coalition. "I told caucus I will vote non-confidence in this government. I am prepared to enter into a coalition government if that is what the Governor General asks me to do," he said (from CBC).

Perhaps this isn't a suggestion of an uncoalition, but rather positioning the Liberal party as being "forced" into one by the GG. If Harper plays tricks with the budget again he could be voted down. Then it is not Iggy forcing a coalition, but the GG. The most interesting (entertaining?) thing to me is how this makes the GG's role much more active than ever before. Well, except King-Byng maybe, but that was before I was born.

And yes I said Harpers' tricks not Flaherty, and I mean Harper not Flaherty. I'm joining the list of people who question why Flaherty is still around and what if any value he adds.

What are the GG's options after a Conservative loss of confidence?
(in no particular order)
  1. Disolve parliament and call and election
  2. Ask the Liberals to form a government
  3. Ask the coalition to form a government
What would Jean do?

I think 1 is unlikely, but still possible. I think it is unlikely because I believe another election would end with another Conservative minority, right back where we started in 2006 (a 3rd time). I don't think the media would celebrate this result from the GG anyway.

I'm think 2 is also unlikely because it is necessarily less stable than 3. Then if the Liberals lose confidence an election would likely be necessary... but I'm no constitutional scholar, perhaps not.

Anyway I expect the GG would chose 3 as the most stable alternative, given the background posted at AD. So in this case Iggy could say "This is the will of the GG and the Queen. I didn't grab for power before hearing the revised budget. But the Conservative government lost confidence, prorogued parliament and still failed to work effectively within a minority house given a second chance." Maybe the coalition isn't completely dead - mostly dead is also slightly alive.

If the coalition failed blame would be shifted around to all parties, the Conservatives would say "I told you so", and Dion would likely wear some of Iggy's share (i.e. that Iggy was never enthusiastic about the idea).

But it likely won't go that far, the budget will likely be acceptable. I expect the Conservatives know they're not getting a third chance.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Summary video

I agree with Rex Murphy, that Mr. Harper was either too dumb or too arrogant. But I think his arrogance was not in that he didn't care. I think he was arrogant to think the people of Canada would believe anything he spoke. I hope people will begin or continue to question what he says in 2009.

Hat tip to 90210bt for the video.

How is BQ veto of a Lib-NDP coalition possible?

This is another talking point I keep running into in discussions with Conservative-minded people: the BQ would have an effective veto over the coalition. This is usually followed by Bloq-bashing. Check out The Galloping Beaver.

How could the BQ veto anything with only 49 votes of 308?

Here's the current mix:
  • 143 Conservatives
  • 77 Liberals
  • 49 BQ
  • 37 NDP
  • 2 Independent
The veto argument only works if the Conservatives consistently vote against the government too. If they vote with the government or abstain, the coalition outnumbers the BQ (and you could neglect the 2 independents).

I believe this exposes the deeply partisan thinking in this argument. Why wouldn't the Conservatives absent enough MPs to allow such a vote to pass? If they could simply vote with the coalition to prevent a "BQ veto", why wouldn't they? Or more to the point, why would they vote with the BQ?

If the Conservatives are voting against a motion, wouldn't they welcome help from the BQ to defeat it? After all, if the BQ votes with the coalition the motion would pass.

Only the partisan assumption that the Conservatives would vote against the Lib-NDP coalition consistently without regard to the matter of the vote holds up the argument of a BQ veto. Of course everything depends on the subject matter of the vote, but that nevers appears in those Conservative-minded talking points.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Hot Potato

Hello to all the Progressive Bloggers, and my thanks to the webmasters. I feel honored in such company. Newcomers might check out some of my attempts at satire like A Stephen Harper Christmas, or A Coalition Bride (in 4 parts).

I've been saying this on a few blogs lately, I thought I'd post it here to avoid repeating myself further.

I think the upcoming budget (update, whatever) is a 'hot potato'. The Conservatives don't want to be accused of spending on stimulus which turns out to fail, or to be blamed for a deficit.

They'd like the opposition to contribute suggestions, which they accept only under threat of a coalition. They can then blame the opposition for the deficit and any failure of the stimulus to revive the economy.

Iggy can see this too, and has tossed the 'hot potato' back to Harper: how can credible suggestions be made without a coherent model from which to develop them? As evidence, Flaherty has already revised his numbers once since the update.

Iggy figures if the Conservatives don't come up with numbers, he can paint them as uncooperative. If they come back with too optimistic numbers, the same applies. If Flaherty comes back with pessimistic numbers (I think this will be the case) then Iggy will beat him over the head with them. Partisan response to a partisan tactic - right back at ya.

I expect a partisan response to future budget suggestions from Mr. Harper - "OK, I guess we're forced into this, as my only alternative is to hand over the government to an undemocratic coalition." And he'll say this even after making any partisan changes he thinks he can get away with. I've totally lost all trust in this man.

So, if Iggy makes suggestions which are just a thinly veiled attempt to buy soft Liberal votes, I won't blame him (but remember I'm a Liberal). I suggest the NDP and BQ follow suit or get trampled. I wish it weren't this way, but you can't make peace with someone who won't parlay (e.g. Mr. Harper IMHO, and the meeting between Flaherty, MacCallum and Brison doesn't count).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Suggestions for the budget

I've been commenting on some other blogs that the budget is a hot potato. Neither the Conservatives or Liberals want to contribute significant ideas, for fear of being blamed for spending which doesn't work and for any resulting deficit.

The Conservatives desperately want to take some suggestions from the opposition so they can share the blame for any future economic problems. I won't beat them up too much over what's happened so far, other than spending away the contingency buffer. Canada didn't start this mess, it wasn't the Conservatives.

The Liberals are demanding better numbers from Flaherty before responding with suggestions. This may be partisan defense against being forced to make budget suggestions. If Flaherty doesn't cough up new numbers (or too late) the Conservatives appear uncooperative. If Flaherty comes back with optimistic numbers again, he'll appear to be lying (again). So I expect he'll come back with more pessimistic numbers. Both he and Harper have being managing expectations this week.

It is understandable to demand realistic numbers before contributing suggestions, and it might not be a partisan response but a necessary one. However Brison and MacCallum may already have their own numbers which may be close enough.

So what could the Liberals suggest for the budget? I guess that depends on knowing more about economics than I do. I'm a layman, speculating here. But this is a blog and that's my prerogative.

I think the worry is so many people curtail spending that demand falls, followed by deflation, which reduces demand, etc. in a spiral. So how to keep people spending?

Well, people need confidence in their jobs, and in the economy. I know the latest fed rate cut gave me cause for concern - I don't think it can go any lower, literally. I'm not worried about my job, but I work for the federal government. I bet everyone else is worried.

I guess the government spending is proposed to offset the drop in non-government spending. But how can infrastructure spending substitute for consumer spending? Surely there would still be job loss as the economy shifts from producing (distributing, etc.) consumer goods to infrastructure.

Much to consider. If anyone has some good links, drop me a pointer and I'll follow them up.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Stephen Harper Christmas

The cast: Stephen Harper as Charlie Brown, Michael Ignatieff as Linus van Pelt, Gilles Duceppe as Lucy van Pelt, and Jack Layton as Sally Brown.

The scene: parliament lobby, just after the prorogation. The lobby is well decorated for Christmas.

Harper: [Yells into Commons chamber] Hello in there. [his voice echoes in an empty chamber] Rats. Nobody sent me a majority. I almost wish there weren't elections. I know nobody wants a Conservative majority. Why do we have to have elections to emphasize it?

Iggy: Stephen Harper, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Duceppe's right. Of all the Stephen Harpers in the world, you're the Stephen Harper-est.

Layton: I've been looking for you, Mr. Prime Minister. Will you please write a letter to Michael Ignatieff for me?

Harper: Well, I don't have much time. I'm supposed to cancel a Christmas party.

Layton: [dictating her letter to Ignatieff as Harper writes it for him] Dear Mr. Ignatieff, How have you been? Did you have a nice election?

[Harper looks at him]

Layton: How is your wife? I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want.

Harper: Oh brother.

Layton: Please note the department and position of each cabinet office, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about canceling the $50 billion in business tax cuts?

Harper: $50 billion? Oh, even the NDP!

Layton: All I want is what I... I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

Duceppe to Harper: I know how you feel about Noël, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid books or a portrait or wine or something like that.

Harper: What is it you want?

Duceppe: Sovereign real estate.

Harper: I guess you were right, Iggy. I shouldn't have picked this economic update for partisan tactics. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what democracy is all about. [shouting in desperation] Isn't there anyone who knows what democracy is all about?

Iggy: Sure, Stephen Harper, I can tell you what democracy is all about. Lights, please. [a spotlight shines on him] "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost." [ - quoted from Aristotle. Iggy picks up his blanket and walks back towards Harper] That's what democracy is all about, Stephen Harper.

Duceppe: Harper is a partisan bastard, definitely not a Bloq-head. Tous ensemble, together we can fix this document.

Iggy: Maybe we could live with this economic update. Maybe it just needs a little love.

Everyone gathers around the scrawny little document, and contributes something: suggestions for infrastructure spending, stimulus measures, tax breaks and employment insurance changes. Now the economic update shines, and brims with the spirit of co-operation in a minority parliament.

Harper looks at the proposed budget, and is humbled. Then he realizes he can take credit for the spending, and blame the opposition for any resulting deficit. A warm feeling melts over him, and the spirit of giving [18 senate seats] shines through.

All: Merry Christmas, Stephen Harper! [all sing Oh, Canada!]

Friday, December 12, 2008

On the other hand

Every so often I read through the Blogging Tories. Progressive Bloggers gets a little repetitive when you read it as often as I do.

I read this post: Searching for Liberty: Mr. Harper - You have an option, sir!

Well said. Indeed, he had many options.

But what I like best about this blog post, was that it was not sensationalist, distorted or disgustingly partisan. It was an honest expression of opinion.

I also found this post "Prime Minister Material" by Reading the comments showed 100% support for Mr. Harper. Again, I didn't find the article sensationalist, distorted or disgustingly partisan. But it makes me re-think an earlier post. The attitude there strikes me as "Well, you can't blame our side for trying to push through some things we wanted - what did you expect? Oh well, no harm no foul."

I must remind myself that others see public funding of political parties as a waste of tax revenue, that the people who support the parties should provide the funding, and that it is wrong for their tax money to fund opposing parties. I see it quite differently of course, and I'm not alone.

But my point is these people don't see the poison pill as a dirty, partisan trick like I do. And the ensuing crisis and coalition threat appears to them as itself a dirty, partisan trick of the opposition. A minority must feel to them like a special hell, having come to power and now denied their due (I mean this parliament, not the last).

But until the Conservatives actually deliver a majority, my sympathy ends there.

It looks like things may be backing down. But until they do the opposition must keep their guard up. coalition at the ready.

Do Conservatives really support Harper?

I'm often reminded Liberals either voted with Conservatives or abstained to allow confidence votes to pass in the last parliament, and this is used as evidence that Liberals supported the Conservatives. I believe this support was not genuine, but rather an effort to avoid an unpopular early election and (perceived) punishment for whoever caused it, or so I had thought.

The same argument applies to the Conservative party support for Mr. Harper. Currently no Conservatives speak any ill of him or question him publicly. Not even for appointing senators rather than working for an elected senate, or breaking promises of cooperation. What happened to "Promise Made, Promise Kept"? Oh yeah.

But is that support genuine also? For some I don't doubt it. But let me speculate (come on, this is just a blog after all ;-). Perhaps the more right-leaning Conservatives (possibly from the Reform side) may be getting impatient for more action. Some of his cabinet may be sharpening their knives, expecting his resignation upon a possible loss of confidence (assuming he follows convention, who knows). Et tu, Jim? And the Conservative party overall must certainly ask Mr. Harper "Why were you so reckless?", at least in private. No doubt the public talk will blame everyone but him. But as we've seen, there are many closed doors.

The Conservative party has chosen to wear this support for Mr. Harper, and wear it they must. Even after he resigns [if ever, OK, a BIG assumption, LOL].

Ask yourself, can this party really change its sweater so quickly?

Or should they wash out the smell first?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Coalition Bride, part 4

The scene: a cold, empty meeting room in parliament. Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and Michael Ignatieff are gathered around a slab bearing a lifeless form.

Layton: Ever since Prime Minister Harper insulted him, he has been incensed.

Duceppe: Why'd you say that name? You promised me you would never say that name! I spit when I hear that name. No wait, that's 'referendum'.

Layton: What name, Harper?

Duceppe: Aahaahh!

Layton: [taunting] Harper! Harper! Harper!

Duceppe: [covers ears] I'm not listening! [Examines lifeless body of coalition] I've seen worse. This coalition probably owes you, huh? I'll ask.

Ignatieff: It's dead. There's no talk.

Duceppe: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your coalition here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.

Ignatieff: What's that?

Duceppe: Go to the grassroots and beg for loose change.

Ignatieff: But this is democracy's last hope - If you save it, it will stop Harper's government.

Duceppe: Sonny, democracy is the greatest thing, in the world - except for a nice tourtiere, maybe with a side of poutine. [smacks his lips]

Duceppe: Wait. Wait. I support this coalition, Harper suffers?

Ignatieff: Humiliations galore!

Duceppe: That is a noble cause. Show me the media, I'm on the job.

[Duceppe makes an impassioned speech to the media, miraculously reinvigorating the coalition]

Layton: What's taking so long? Why do we have to wait for Flaherty to read the budget?

Duceppe: You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

[Enter Doug Finley and Stephen Harper]

Harper: You truly support each other and so you might have been truly democratic. Not one coalition in a century has that chance, no matter what the history books say; if they did I'd re-write them anyway. And so I think none in a century will suffer as greatly as you will.

[Doug Finley cranks up The Machine, but it backfires causing much bad PR for the Conservatives.]

Duceppe: [to coalition] Have fun stormin' parliament.

Layton: Think it'll work?

Duceppe: It would take a miracle.

CalgaryGrit: How the Grinch Prorogued Parliament

CalgaryGrit: How the Grinch Prorogued Parliament

h/t John Lang.

Great parody! I'm jealous.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A summary of sorts

Here are some other blogs I've been reading, that are more or less aligned with my own opinion.
Props to Buckdog for the great photo.

The Conservatives (at least under Mr. Harper) relentlessly game and spin. The opposition must prepare their defenses against this. Remember: (IMHO)
  1. How did this mess start? Unnecessary partisan games instead of economic action.
  2. Who started it? Apparently, Mr. Harper more so than other Conservatives.
  3. Depending on the response (e.g. assuming we hear a budget in January), Conservatives might have to share some credit for spending, and the opposition share some blame for a portion of the deficit (say, that part which exceeds the Liberal mandated surplus of $3B/yr.).
Perhaps legislating limits to pre-writ advertising should be considered. I see the alternative as falling into a never-ending election cycle a la America - perhaps that is what drives voter apathy.

I fear the historical pattern of divide-and-conquer will design the January budget to pit Liberal, NDP and BQ against each other. For example, the budget could be acceptable to Ignatieff, but not to Layton or Duceppe. The Liberals could abstain and allow the budget to pass and (maybe) avoid taking any blame for it, while still taking credit for forcing the Conservatives to act.

Also, I think I have at least enough material for a part 3 and possibly part 4 of The Coalition Bride. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Coalition Bride, part 3

The scene: a dark, dank dungeon under the Langevin Block. Michael Ignatieff has been invited to meet with the Prime Minister.

Michael Ignatieff: Where am I?

Tony Clement: [raspy voice] The Pit of Despair! Don't even think... [clears throat]... don't even think about trying to escape. The chains are far too thick, as is the rhetoric. Don't dream of being rescued, either; the only way in is secret. Only the Prime Minister, Doug Finley and I know how to get in and out.

Ignatieff: So I'm here till I die?

Clement: Until they kill you, yeah.

Ignatieff: Then why bother meeting with me?

Clement: Well, the Prince and Count always insist on everyone being given democratic choice before they're broken.

Ignatieff: So it's to be torture?

Clement: [nods enthusiastically]

Ignatieff: I can cope with torture. I know all about torture.

Clement: [shakes head enthusiastically]

Ignatieff: Don't believe me?

Clement: You survived the leadership race, so you must be very brave, but no one withstands The Machine.

Doug Finley appears.

Finley: Sorry I was delayed, I had to finish some correspondence. [admiring his torture contraption] Beautiful isn't it? It took me half a lifetime to invent it. I'm sure you've discovered my deep and abiding interest in pain. Presently I'm writing the definitive work on the subject, so I want you to be totally honest with me on how The Machine makes you feel. This being your first session, I'll use the lowest setting.

[Finley activates the spin powered torture machine. Ignatieff writhes in great pain]

Finley: [calmly] As you know, the concept of the rumor mill is centuries old. Really that's all this is except that instead of milling rumors, I'm milling truth. Conservative truth. I've just milled one year of your career away. I might one day go as high as five, but I really don't know what that would do to you. So, let's just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?

[Ignatieff cries and moans in pain]

Finley: Interesting.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Coalition Bride, part 1

The scene: outdoors on a lonely deserted tarmac.

Flaherty: "You never said anything about destroying anyone."

Harper: "I've hired you to help me start a war. It's an prestigious line of work, with a long and glorious tradition."

Flaherty: "I just don't think it's right, destroying the opposition parties."

Harper: "Am I going MAD, or did the word 'think' escape your lips? You were not hired for your brains, you hippopotamic land mass."

Giorno: "I agree with Flaherty."

Harper to Giorno: "Oh, the sot has spoken. What happens to them is not truly your concern. I will destroy them. And remember this, never forget this: when I found you, you were so slobbering drunk, you couldn't buy Brandy!"

Harper to Flaherty: "And you: friendless, brainless, helpless, hopeless! Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed in Ontario!"

Harper: "First we use the confidence motion of the economic update to strip them of their financing. They wouldn't dare defeat the government."

Flaherty: "But Dion has introduced his own motion of no confidence scheduled for Monday."

Harper: "INCONCEIVABLE! Oh, no matter. We'll win a majority in the election."

Giorno: "But there won't be any election. The Liberals and NDP have formed a coalition, and the BQ have agreed not to defeat it for 18 months."

Harper: "INCONCEIVABLE! That's undemocratic! That's unconstitutional! The people elected us!"

Flaherty: "They're right on top of us. I wonder if they are using the same constitution we are using."

Harper: "The governor general wouldn't allow a coalition without a leader, the Liberals wouldn't stand for an NDP PM and their leadership convention isn't until May. Jean must call for an election."

Giorno: "Dion would lead the coalition until they choose a new leader. And constitutional tradition demands that the GG allow the coalition if the government falls in its first sitting."


Giorno: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

The Coalition Bride, part 2

The scene: 24 Sussex Drive. Harper has granted an audience to Dion for discussion of the current crisis. The PM is holding a knife to a blindfolded Governor General.

Harper: "So. It is down to you and it is down to me."

Dion: "You are beaten! Give up and accept defeat now. C'est la guerre."

Harper: "Hardly. We're at an impasse. I can't overpower your coalition, and you're no match for my brains."

Dion: "You're that smart?"

Harper: "Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Mulroney, Diefenbaker, MacDonald?"

Dion: "Oui."

Harper: "Morons."

Dion: "This is too much for the Canadian people. I propose a battle of wits to the death."

Harper: "I accept."

Dion pours two glasses of wine, and hides them behind himself.

Dion: "I pour poisson into one of the wine. I mean poison. Can we start over? Where is the poison? The battle of wits is began. It ends when you decide and we drink, and find out who is right... and who is dead."

Harper: "But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me."

Dion: "You make your decision then?"

Harper: "Not remotely. Because iocane poison comes from Australia, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you."

Dion: "I'm sure you're familiar with Australia, from your speeches."

Harper: "Wait til I get going! Now, where was I?"

Dion: "Australia."

Harper: "Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me."

Dion: "You're just stalling now. Prorogation just delays the inevitable."

Harper: "You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? You've stood up to my partisan economic update, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put the poison in your own goblet trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you've also proposed a coalition, which means you must have studied the constitution, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me."

Dion: "You try to trick me to give away something. It won't work."


Dion: "Then make your choice."

Harper: "I will, and I choose - Is that Chantal Hebert?" While Dion is distracted and looks away, Harper switches goblets.

Dion: "What? Where? I don't see nothing."

Harper: "Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. First, let's drink. Me from my glass, and you from yours." Both drink their wine.

Dion: "You guess wrong."

Harper: "You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to two of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Afganistan, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Conservative when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha..." Harper falls over, dead. Dion removes Jean's blindfold.

Jean: "And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned."

Dion: "I poison them both. I'm dead anyway." Dion falls over dead.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

And then there were two...

The CBC reports that Dominic LeBlanc will throw his support behind Ignatieff. That would leave a 2-person race: Ignatieff and Rae. In that case, would a convention be necessary? There would only be 1 round of voting, which could be done quite quickly, albeit over the holidays. It would both democratic and timely.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Enemies or competitors?

A post on CTV writes about 2 professors who think the governor general won't call for a coalition (well, one admits it is possible).

Both are from the University of Calgary.

Why not solicit comments from other universities? I feel obliged to ask. I'd like to hear from other constitutional experts; I'm certain I will.

Predictably, many comment call the action to form a coalition partisan, not reflecting the majority. And I think this is why things come to an inevitable confrontation. Think about this: the Liberals, NDP, BQ, and Progressive Conservatives worked together for years as principled representations of different views. Scratch that - it wasn't that they worked together, but they didn't set out to destroy each other. They simply competed to further their own ends.

But it seems this Conservative party is set to destroy the opposition as one of its ends. You can't ignore someone who's out to destroy you; you can't let your guard down.

And there's another paradox: a party which claims to embrace competition of merit, doesn't want to compete on merit.

Honestly I never expected to see a coalition, and perhaps we won't. Harper has given himself another week to come up with another plan (and I don't mean only an economic or stimulus plan).

All I want to see is parties that don't want mutual assured destruction.

"Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right" - JFK, October 22nd, 1962.

Fix or replace?

I just saw tory MP Brian Murphy (Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe) on CPAC speak about selling old assets (pg. 52 of the plan he said). He cited an example of selling old infrastructure from the 1950's which might no longer be relevant - how could you expect to get fair market value for it?

Well, I hope the government would get fair market value for assets sold - it's just that fair market value has probably dropped recently. I don't want to make a blanket judgement on all potential asset sales. I want to examine each potential sale on its own merit.

The opposite position is updating old assets and making them more relevant. Wouldn't that be a constructive stimulus, pumping money into the economy?

That's more like it

The N.B. Liberals have got it right. Limit the role money plays influencing democracy. Harper's constitution challenge against limits to 3rd party advertising is still more evidence that he believes money should rule, hidden under the guise of free speech. And no one is paying me to say that.

Seriouser and seriouser

According to CBC, this is getting serious. Still, you have to convince the Conservatives a coalition is really possible for them to take such a threat seriously(er).

I find the idea of a coalition (extremely) entertaining, but I wonder if it's such a good idea for the Liberals. The LPC might become the doormat of the House, with smaller parties using their contribution as leverage.

But my emotions are very, very optimistic if a coalition becomes an option. Even more so if such a coalition actually works well. Many other parliamentary systems regularly function with minorities and coalitions.

Perhaps they have no conservatives.

Off topic - number two escapes?

For fans of The Prisoner, Sir Ian escaped! I didn't think it was possible.

Be seeing you.


Just thinking aloud, analyzing some alternative scenarios. I must admit, this showdown is pretty entertaining to a guy like me, if nothing else.

What could possibly happen?

1. Conservatives back down. So then, what would they propose? IF they accept ideas from the opposition, they can always blame a failure of the stimulus on the opposition in the next election. "Hey, it's not our fault, it was their idea!" "Look at deficit resulting from their spending!" However, this would be risky for Harper to sell to his own party, which already might be losing patience with him after their convention. I doubt they'll back down unless they think a coalition is a real possibility, since I think the Conservatives have more to gain in a premature election - possibly a majority.

2. Liberals back down. Unlikely, when they could do #3 below.

3. Enough Liberals abstain to pass the update. I think this could happen, but it seems a pretty risky move to me. In the last election the BQ and NDP pushed the fact the Liberals had supported Harper so much already. And the (lack of any) plan makes so little sense. Even though the Liberals would vote again, if they don't kill it it'll be spun as support for the Conservatives.

4. The motion is amended by the opposition. Is this possible? Could the opposition hijack the bill and amend it, then pass it? If this is possible, the Conservatives are in a minority, they couldn't even kill their own bill... but they could withdraw it. The Conservatives could blame the amendments later if things go wrong.

5. The motion is defeated as a matter of confidence. Then what? This is certainly the most entertaining possibility.

5a. An election is called. Each side would blame the other for failure of the government at a time of economic crisis. I think the only people that want an election now are the Conservatives, thinking they could get a majority. They can't call an election themselves - it would be suicide. Unfortunately, I speculate such an election would end in a Conservative minority - AGAIN.

5b. A coalition forms. The Conservatives' roar of undemocratic behaviour would be deafening, completely ignoring that they were a MINORITY government. I find many Conservative arguments grounded in majority rule taken to the point of majority tyrrany. Emotionally, this appeals to me as poetic justice. There is just way too much to speculate on here, there's more than enough material here for many blog posts. Hmmm...

5c. The governer general simply refuses to call an election. I'm not sure this can happen, I don't think there is a precedent for it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm sure he means the surplus will grow.

I just love this photo. Too funny! Thanks Dr. Dawg.

Is democracy going out of style?

Minister Flaherty is rumored to be ready to cut election subsidies to political parties. Plenty of other blogs break down the numbers and explain why this hurts the Conservatives less than other parties even though they give up more money.

A common reaction to the subsidy is "Why should I pay someone to run against me, and turn my own taxes against me?" Look at the recent American presidential election and ask yourself if more money makes a difference in the election. Many Americans certainly think so. But then ask yourself, is that right? Should the election result be determined by private money? When tables turn, do you want that money used against you?

Another parallel with America is campaigning before the writ is dropped (e.g. attack ads on Dion). If this continues, we'll be forever in campaign mode. Well, I hope election weary Canadians remember who is advertising before the writ, and delivers them a message. I don't want to live in a permanent campaign and debate the merit of motions in parliament on the basis of whether I'll be re-elected - though that is probably already a hazard anyway.

Angry in the Great White North asks "Why is our democracy so fragile that it has to propped up with taxpayer money?" It's not about propping up democracy, it's about protecting it for all the people, not just the rich or best fundraisers.

Another Point of View points out (with good links) how Canada is spending more on democracy in Afghanistan than the amount of this subsidy.

Section 15 points out that the political donation tax credits are public money the Conservatives aren't complaining about. For example, if you make a $100 donation, you get a $75 tax credit - which comes from the public money. So a $100 donation only costs the donor $25 after tax. Why don't the Conservatives axe this subsidy? Because it works in their favor, of course. Just another small piece of evidence that the Conservatives are not willing to work within a minority and are constantly searching for new ways to grab more power.

Conservative MP Dave Anderson used parliamentary mailing privileges to influence the election of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. Isn't that using public money to fund election campaigning? "Hello, pot? It's me kettle."

And barring the media from the recent Conservative convention? It shows the Conservatives don't value democracy within their own party. How fair is that to those tories who couldn't make the trip to Winnipeg as delegates? I guess if they were richer, then they'd count.

Remember Harper avoiding media questions during the last election? Evidence is piling up that Harper and the Conservatives don't believe in democracy, they believe in the tyranny of the majority.

If you're on facebook, you could join the I Support Public Campaign Financing group. Or if you're really angry like me, you could donate to one of the parties.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Propaganda and sensationalism

A friend sent this link:

Forget Red vs. Blue -- It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda | Media and Technology | AlterNet

It's American but not difficult to understand in a Canadian context. IMHO, both sides (every side?) used money and propaganda for manipulation, in both recent Canadian and American federal elections.

I don't want my government decided by the rich alone, whether I agree with them or not. While it isn't always illegal or immoral, I believe trading money for political influence is undemocratic. And I'm not writing about bribes, just advertising, promotion and other marketing.

What can be done?

1. Word-of-mouth. Point out abuse of sensationalism and propaganda when you see it. In fact, the repetition of the abuse will reinforce repetition of its own exposure.

2. Volunteer to teach literacy. Help someone to learn to read for themselves. It could have a bigger impact than you imagine, if those you help set an example to their friends, family and their children that literacy is useful and empowering. Read to your own children; I do this almost every night.

3. Don't argue against obvious fallacies. Doing so helps validate the fallacies (as in, "That's what I'd expect you to say.") and fuels the fire. Don't play their game and increase the ratings and influence of sensationalists.

4. Read, don't watch. I recent read Al Gore's book The Assault on Reason, and I recommend it. It gets quite technical at times and assumes some knowledge of American politics, but it's not hard to get the gist of it. At one point he writes about the difference in how the human brain processes textual vs. visual information. Different parts of the brain are stimulated. In particular, when reading the brain must make up a mental model while parsing the text symbols into thoughts. To me that means you can't help but think a bit more about what you're reading compared to being shown on TV.

5. Understand how propaganda works. Read the entries for propaganda and inoculation theory in wikipedia. I found the description of black, white and grey propaganda quite relevant.

6. Resist creating more sensationalism. Using sensationalism to decry sensationalism doesn't work; it just reinforces that sensationalism actually does work. In this case you can't fight fire with fire.

7. Build bridges of common agreement and understanding. For example, I'm concerned that Conservatives may not be managing the economy the way I would. But I can agree that they didn't create the mess, although recent budgets might make recovery more difficult. Continuing the example, I'd be more sensationalist if I said "Harper's laissez faire attitude and policies created this mess." which is clearly not the case.

8. Tolerate other opinions. Opinions aren't facts or truth, and in a free and democratic society we should permit disagreement. But I will not tolerate incorrect facts supported by evidence, or follow my emotions before my intellect.

9. Ask for evidence (calmly). During the recent Canadian federal election I argued some points with an opponent. He made some wild, emotional claims. Rather than get angry, I asked for references and evidence. He never did come back with any. This is a simple way to expose sensationalism and at the same time tolerate other opinions (by defining them as opinions rather than misrepresented facts) and perhaps finding points of agreement.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

VirtuCon demands $100B bailout

VirtuCon (ticker symbol: EVL) owner Dr. Evil demanded a government bailout today of "O N E M I L L I O N D O L L A R S", though quickly revised this figure to $100 billion. Although VirtuCon owes its rapid growth to diversification in media and other companies, nearly every division has entered hard times. Shipping has been hit by piracy, demand for premium coffee is declining, crude oil prices are falling rapidly, environmental regulations loom for it's original volatile chemicals subsidiary and deflation is hitting sales of miniature models of factories.

Responding to its cash crunch, VirtuCon's number two man has cancelled its deep drilling project code named 'Vulcan' due to low commodity prices. Rumours are the Steamroller Testing Facility in Las Vegas, NV is up for offers. During negotiations for concessions from the henchamans' union Dr. Evil broke down saying only "Throw me a freakin' bone here."

Expectations are VirtuCon will try to push through a lucrative defence contract to develop shark-based directed energy weapons before the change of presidential power in January. Some analysts questioned VirtuCon management talent, pointing to repeated accounting errors confusing billions and millions. [editor: analyst sources could not be reached for verification]

Congress declined to offer an aid package, noting that the VirtuCon executive arrived in a private spacecraft at a time when NASA faces funding cuts. When questioned on how aid money would be spent, Dr. Evil claimed the congressmen were "insolent" and stormed out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The boundless muzzle

We've seen Harper use the muzzle, there's even a site dedicated to detailing it. But now it extends to the Conservative Party of Canada at their conference in Winnipeg. How democratic can that be?

Danielle Takacs is blogging from the floor this weekend... or at least trying. Some are surprised the media muzzle applies to the conservative media as well (such as a blogging tory, here) - but why wouldn't it? How is this blogger different from the cabinet and other Conservative MPs?

But more important: how is that blogger different from any other citizen of Canada? Where will this end? I can see only one deciding criteria: either you are Steven Harper, or you aren't.

It seems hypocritical that conservatives complain about the Canadian Human Rights Commission interfering with their free speech. Again, either you are Steven Harper, or you aren't.

Next up - the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms section 2 c) (freedom of assembly) vs. the Liberal Leadership Convention.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Advisory committee on economic strategy

Stephane Dion has announced his shadow cabinet and also an advisory committee on economic strategy (pdf). Sounds good, but I'll wait to see what comes of it. I don't think it can hurt anyway. Many of the answers may be obvious; some less so. Comparing the Liberal 5-point plan with the Conservative 6-point plan is an example of obvious similarity. Running a surplus vs. selling assets is a pretty big difference.

I believe the next decision is obviously stimulus from spending on infrastructure, coming from the recent meeting between the PM and premiers. Some disagree saying it would take too long to start new projects; maybe they're right.

My hope for this new committee is that they fight hard too prevent loss of valuable Canadian assets at fire sale prices. With the Canadian dollar and the stock markets down prices will be at the lowest (bargain hunting indeed, Mr. Harper). Now is the time to buy infrastructure, while it's cheap. And maybe let those JSS contracts too.

Excellent - everything going according to plan

redtory posted a fair comment about the Conservatives having a fire sale to avoid a deficit. Carried further, this could be seen as a planned strategy to reduce the size of government:
  1. Act outraged at surpluses (which pay down debt)
  2. Increase spending to avoid surpluses
  3. Create a deficit by cutting taxes
  4. Act surprised
  5. Sell government assets to make up the shortfall (until we run out)
  6. Cut those unnecessary social programs (because we're forced to, honest!)
I had no idea 407 ETR toll highway jumped prices by as much as 200% during peaks.

The PCs privatized Nova Scotia Power in 1992. In the last few years we've had some pretty bad weather which lead to multi-day outages. The weather may sound like an excuse (hurricane Juan is legitimate), but it seems suspicious at other times when the only company using the weather as an excuse is NSP... times when there were no collapsed roofs, bridges, etc. Why would the weather single out NSP?

Maybe because there is no profit in making more reliable or robust infrastructure, or maybe more profit in using the cheapest material regardless of quality. In case of disaster, wouldn't they expect a bailout? Certainly these losses shouldn't affect profit.

I try not to reject either privatization or nationalization without learning the details. But it seems odd that other countries are nationalizing banks, insurance companies, etc. and Canada is proceeding in the opposite direction. Is this sell low, buy high? Or is it that the companies are too restricted under government ownership, and need less regulation?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The End of Wall Streets Boom

This is a pretty good article explaining the chronology of the Wall Street mess.

You can't tell people what to do, you can only tell them what they can't. Over time people will push any system and exploit it until something gives.

But given all of this mess, capitalism is in principle still a very good system, and we shouldn't make wild changes yet. So I guess I agree in principle with Flaherty's position, though I reserve final opinion until I've seen details. I expect Dion would've suggested something similar.

Obviously what is missing from capitalism is responsibility [to shareholders]. Why are company leaders irresponsible? I propose that those leaders aren't held accountable, and that their decisions aren't transparent.

How can you punish an executive who ruined a company, but no longer works there? He's committed no crime save bad judgment, which isn't enforceable - and he knows it! How can you even know the decision might not be sound if the process isn't transparent? I admit introducing transparency is a difficult problem, and I have no ideas yet.

Companies which have decried regulation in the past now demand government help, holding the shareholders, employees and other stakeholders as hostages.

Shareholders have not demanded company leadership be responsible, they assumed it. However, recent events show at least some company leadership put themselves before shareholders and the longer term interests of the company. In fact, many shareholders themselves might be corporate-like entities such as mutual funds, pensions, etc. which might not demand responsible leadership.

So who should encourage company leadership to behave more responsibly, and how? Simply giving in to demands (for money, loans, etc.) may only guarantee the safety of the hostages temporarily.

Shareholders must return to valuing a company including its leadership and the market risks, and demand at least enough transparency to make a reasonable valuation. Perhaps too many have turned to technical analysis and ignored fundamentals? Not that technical analysis is wrong - but ignoring fundamentals might be.

As long as bailouts continue, then company management and shareholders have indeed shouldered no risk and will continue their behaviour.

Although the current problems seems made-in-America, don't forget the commercial paper crisis repercussions in Canadian Banks, or the tech bubble. We have the benefit of learning from American mistakes.

Monday, November 10, 2008


(somewhat) Funny video on capitalism.

What I think is funny here, is the sense of humour of the video creators. Personally I don't know anyone who is anti-capitalism, but I know plenty of people who are getting tired of unrestrained capitalism. Sure, we all need capitalism and capitalism is great, especially if it's your capital. But the idea that people need to promote capitalism (by mocking anti-capitalism) is worth a laugh.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Welcome! This is my first post on a difficult journey. A path toward humour, a path beaten by many great men and women which I admire and to which I aspire. Public speaking and writing often inspires fear of laughter (born of ridicule). When you seek to create humour the fear is lack of laughter.

Did anyone else mistake the Canadian federal election for Hallowe'en?

People canvassing houses offering treats in exchange for support. Lots of nasty tricks, too. I'm not sure the carpet of campaign signs was more attractive than toilet paper in the trees.

The costumed hordes included clowns, knights and few costumes too subtle or confusing to figure out unless you're also a 43rd level paladin in world of warcraft. You just have to be polite and nod.

Some of the visiting kids wouldn't speak, not wanting to give away their disguises. Or perhaps they were scared of the bully. You know, that one kid you could tell was waiting to steal their candy; his blue sweater wasn't much of a costume. He liked to tease the other kids and throw eggs at houses. Still, even he had some tender words about his mother... or perhaps he was really Norman Bates?

Sometimes you come across a house that only offers healthy, nutritious, organically grown treats. They even have a fancy home-made wrap to make them look attractive. But we know the kids get wise to that fast, put a chalk mark in front of the house and avoid it just like the graveyard.

Another house had lots of big, bright orange pumpkins outside. They were giving away full-size chocolate bars, the real good stuff. And they had a bigger turn out than they've had in years.

Then there was the house of horrors that one really enthusiastic house sets up. This year they really outdid themselves. It was over on the corner of Wall St. and Bay St. Truly scary, apocalyptic end-of-the-world-as-we-know it stuff. Vampires and werewolves wanted to take a bite from my RRSP. I expected to see legions of zombies searching for "brains", but they starved to death (undeath?).

When you get home and dump the haul on the kitchen table, you look it over. Your parents throw away anything that's not in store-bought packages (and anything with a Maple Leaf logo, too). Same candy as usual. Still, the pile is bigger than last year - 38 treats of sugary junk to rot your teeth and lower your IQ. And no nutrition facts displayed on the side either.

Well, I must go now. I'm getting a headache as I come down off a $300 million sugar rush.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Welcome to my new blog - The Rational Number.

I dedicate this blog to the rational examination of ideas and current events, especially politics. It is intended to provide discussion, analysis and references to relevant facts, such that readers might make more informed decisions.

I draw motivation from the recent federal election, where I felt emotions and misrepresentation were given more weight than facts. Logical arguments were equated by some with 'losers whining'. If you sympathize with that, save yourself the bother and leave now - I would just be another loser, whining. I will not play your game.