Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To The Polls We Go!

Well folks, it has finally happened. The Liberal Government has folded like the house of cards it always was, imploding from an abundance of corruption the likes of which have only been observed in, well, most other governments.

It’s big news, too. The “Daily Show with John Stewart” led with the story last night, and dedicated a whole 5 minutes to a Bob and Doug McKenzie style Canadian roast. They called Paul Martin a hoser, and got a Canadian to say “out” and “about”. Man, that gag never gets old, does it? Even CNN had a 20 second spot on the Canadian political turmoil. They had it sandwiched between two other newsworthy topics; something about a heroic cat that helped its obese owner to escape a burning apartment, and an informative look at the upcoming season of The Apprentice (this time it’s filmed in LA!).

It’s true that the Liberals have been in power for so long that their flippancy resembles that of an African tin pot dictator dressing up as a woman to avoid being busted at a hotel, but in reality they’re no more corrupt than governments in other countries. For example, while I was working on a job in Panama during the Florida Election Scandal (round 1), the Panamanians expressed disbelief in America’s apparent shock at the shenanigans. “In Panama, we simply accept that all politicians are crooks. That way we’re never disappointed, and it’s an unending source of amusement!” They even offered to send a team of election observers to the US to ensure that true democracy was upheld.

However, there’s perhaps more to this story than just the collapse of a minority government in Canada. The pollsters are already predicting that in January Canadians will elect yet another minority government, and I think we may as well get used to it. Here’s why. We’ve got a lot of federal political parties in Canada, with four legitimate parties leading the way, a couple of potential contenders close on their heels, and scores of others trying to achieve official political party status. With the varied interests of the provinces and territories across Canada, it’s doubtful that we could all agree on one party.

Take a quick glance at the typical distribution of votes for the top four, and you’ll see what I mean. Ontario has the most seats in the nation, and they tend to vote for whatever party promises to wring lots of taxpayer dollars out of the other Provinces and build freeway extensions around Toronto and Ottawa. That party is the Liberal Party. Quebec, and their ridiculous number of seats (considering their decreasing population), will always vote for The Bloc. It’s never enough seats to win a majority, but it’s enough to occasionally be anointed as the official opposition. Imagine that, a federal political party whose only real mandate is to separate the Province of Quebec from the Country of Canada. How that is even legal is beyond me. So, the rest of Canada is forced to fend for itself and vote for whoever Ontario doesn’t, and that leaves the Conservative Party and the NDP. Those parties bicker among themselves and more or less split the votes west of Ontario. Occasionally, they even win the odd seat in Ontario. The Atlantic Provinces don’t count. Sorry.

What does this all mean? It means that I’d be amazed if we ever see a majority government in Canada again. There are other parties gaining momentum as well, such as the Green Party and the Party of Yogic Flyers. As those parties become mainstays of the Canadian political scene, the votes will become spread out even further. The chances of one party being elected with a clear majority may very well be a thing of the past.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Look at Europe, and some of the election patterns that have occurred there for many years. The Italians haven’t had a majority government for decades. The “winning” political party rarely receives more than 30% of the vote, and the governing body usually consists of a rag-tag coalition of sorts. Now, Italian politicians can hardly be help up as pillars of their vocation, but coalition governments do tend to have one thing going for them – they keep the government honest. I know, I know, calling an Italian government honest is a contradiction in terms, but just imagine if one party actually won an election in Italy. The resulting payola would make the sponsorship scandal and the gun registry look like the change jar on grandma’s bedside table.

Coalition governments can also result in strange bedfellows, like the current situation in Germany. The coalition parties may not like each other very much, but to remain in power, they have to cooperate. This often results in less extreme government.

What do all these countries, including Canada, have in common? They have more than two official federal political parties. The two party system is a topic for another day, but let me leave you with this. In the US, most of the big corporations make large campaign contributions to both parties. So, when either party is elected, and it will by definition be a majority victory, who is really calling the shots? Perhaps if the voters had more options, and the nation spent a few terms with coalitions formed by parties representing more diverse interests, the corporate stranglehold would be loosened. Perhaps.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Today's Moment of Zen

Cree Indian Chief: "If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?"
Priest: "No, not if you did not know."
Cree Indian Chief: "Then why did you tell me?"

Friday, November 11, 2005

Liberal Party Antics

Or, The Gomery Report for Americans

When people outside of Canada think of a liberal party, they think of a room full of flakey hippies smoking grass and experimenting with free love. In other words, Democrats. Fair enough. In Canada, the term liberal has taken on a whole new meaning. That’s because the federal political party that has been in power for as long as anyone can remember is called “The Liberal Party”. They aren’t so much left leaning or even right leaning, but instead tend to stay centralized, collecting huge quantities of taxpayer’s dollars while trying their best not to rock the boat.

This model has proved to be quite successful for them, that is until recently. Over the last several years, the Liberals have participated in some “back room shenanigans” that even typically apathetic Canadians are getting worked up about. The outcome may very well be that the general population decides to put down their beers, stand up and call for the resignation of the governing party! Or not. Either way, it’s made for some pretty interesting headlines, and is worth some further discussion.

But first, a little background for those readers located south of the border in the great US of A. (Readers in Canada or any other country that recognizes life beyond its own borders, feel free to skip ahead) There is a large land mass north of the 49th parallel. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe because any map of the USA that’s made in America shows nothing but a great void up north. But the land mass is real. I can prove it. I live there. The great land mass is called North America. The country that occupies that land is called Canada.

French Whine
In Canada we have both English and French speaking people. The English live pretty well everywhere, while the French are all clustered in Quebec (and Provincial capitals, but that’s a really long story to be saved for another time). The dual language system in Canada is called bilingualism, and the government tells us it works really well.

A decade or so ago, the French people in Quebec felt unloved and tried to separate from Canada. They voted on it in a referendum, and the “let’s split” vote failed by the slimmest of margins. The French blamed the loss on non-French people living in Quebec. They have since been doing their best to make non-French people feel extra unwelcome, so that there will be fewer of them around when Quebec has its next referendum. Referendums are a fairly regular occurrence in Quebec. It’s a French thing.

Anyhow, the Government of Canada is made up of people from all over the country. However, those in the positions that have some power are primarily French speaking. It’s hard to explain why, but it’s related to bilingualism and that provincial capital phenomena I mentioned earlier - a balance of power sort of thing. So, for those in power, English is usually their second language. This explains why whenever you see a Canadian politician on American television (which only ever happens on South Park), they sound like Pepe LePew. It also explains why Canadian politicians have lots of close ties to businesses in Quebec.

At What Cost Unity?
Several years ago, the Canadian Liberal government decided that Canada really needs Quebec. As a result, the government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Quebec to try to convince them not to have another referendum. The government calls this a sponsorship program, and like bilingualism, the government tells us it works really well.

But, who does it in fact work really well for? (This is where it gets really interesting. Those readers who skipped ahead earlier should start paying attention again.) The sponsorship money goes to organizations in Quebec that are best positioned to promote Canada, organizations like consulting firms, marketing groups and brothels (they’re legal in Quebec – life’s actually not so bad there). And, of course, these organizations all happen to be run by “associates” of Liberal government officials.

So far, none of this should have raised any eyebrows (except for maybe the brothels, which have been known to raise more than eyebrows). After all, efforts to keep the country united could only have the best interests of all Canadians at heart, right? Even so, one day it occurred to some non-Liberal Party individuals that it was time to investigate this “perfectly legitimate government business” being done “strictly for the good of the country”. They began by comparing a list of those in Quebec who received government sponsorship money to a list of the biggest monetary supporters of the federal Liberal Party. The lists were practically identical. Hence, the Liberal Party was getting huge campaign contributions from groups that had first received buckets of federally collected tax dollars.

Gomery To The Rescue!
The implications were enormous. Money laundering is illegal, after all, and a government caught doing so had better be prepared for taxpayer revolt. That was the situation in Canada. It was a scandalous scenario, requiring immediate, hardnosed action. In typical Canadian fashion, when the going gets tough and we are facing a battle we form a committee, and the sponsorship scandal was no exception . In this case we appointed a committee of one – Justice John Gomery. Mr. Gomery was handed the unenviable task of getting to the bottom of all the sponsorship intrigue. His first task? He’d need to learn how to speak French. The rest would be easy.

Still, committee work is grueling, requiring long hours and many months, which is just what the Liberal Party was counting on. Another Canadian trademark in addition to forming committees is apathy, and the Liberals were counting on the Canadian public to be so distracted by the resumption of hockey that the findings of the inquiry would pass unnoticed.

Well, Mr. Gomery’s findings were released a week ago in a document aptly entitled “The Gomery Report”. Unfortunately for the Liberals, Canadians have one more trademark, that of multitasking. So, despite our fervent passion for the return of “the good old hockey game”, Canadians were equally fervent in our disdain for what the Gomery report exposed.

The Gomery inquiry had involved countless interviews with everyone from current and past Prime Ministers (for those of you in red states, the Prime Minister is the Canadian version of the President), to CEOs of Quebec corporations. The complete and utter disrespect for the Canadian public displayed by the government officials was astounding, although not completely out of character for politicians. Our past Prime Minister (OK America, fifty points to the first person who can actually name our last PM) was callous enough to ask:
“What’s a few million doll-airs ‘ere and zhair? Zee government budget is very big. ‘Ow could we possibly keep track of every few million doll-airs?”
But hey, at least he was telling the truth, sort of. The rest of our elected officials claimed with an air of Bart Simpson smugness “I didn’t do it!” This is in itself puzzling, because it suggests they all knew it was going on but claimed they didn’t know who was doing it. I call it the Bill Clinton technique - deny, deny, deny…and pray there’s no photographic evidence.

If the politicians were playing the arrogant and innocent cards, their Quebec counterparts were trying to trump them with the “stupidity” card. There was the president of a Quebec marketing firm who saw revenues jump from $85,000 one year to $1.8 million the following. The money was reputed to have come from the Government of Canada, but the paper trail was a bit fuzzy (probably because it was all in French). There was no record of where the money went. The company hadn’t hired any new employees or moved into a bigger location. They hadn’t even printed T-shirts with “Canada Allons Zee!” (Let’s Go Canada!) on them. When asked if he had any recollection of any of this, the best the president under investigation could muster was a Reagan-esque “I don’t remember…”, which is a phrase that Justice Gomery became quite familiar with while interviewing folks from Quebec.

The End Of The Liberal Era?
Stories like these abound in the Gomery report, and we Canadians are really mad at the Liberal Party. To fuel the fire, the CBC, our national news service, has posted the entire report on its Website. None of us have actually read it, but we’re mad just knowing it’s there. We’re so mad that we plan to wait around and see what the other Canadian political parties plan to do about it.

Right now, the other parties are sort of thinking of calling an election, but if they do, they don’t want it to interfere with Christmas. We Canadians love the holiday season. Why spoil it with bringing down a corrupt political party? So, if there actually is an election, it will probably occur in the Spring, an appropriate time for renewal. That’s when we’ll all head back to the polls and, yet again, vote Liberal.