What Does a “Free Enterprise” Leader Look Like?

Jason Kenney promises to return Alberta to prosperity if Albertans vote for his Wildrose/PC “free enterprise” party.

Given the paucity of information around what his “free enterprise” party stands for, we are left to assume Mr Kenney will emulate corporate “free enterprise” leaders if he ends up in the premier’s office.

What does a good “free enterprise” leader (also known as a CEO) look like?

Inspirational leadership

Free enterprise CEOs have vision.

Suncor’s CEO, Steve Williams, says Suncor strives to be a trusted steward of valuable natural resources which leads “the way to deliver economic prosperity, improved social well-being and a healthy environment for today and tomorrow.”

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg acts on his vision to give back to the community.  He will donate 99% of his wealth to charities that improve health and education and build stronger communities.

Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledged he was gay so people would understand a person is not defined solely by sexuality, race or gender.

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Mr Jason Kenney prospective leader of the “Free Enterprise” Party

Mr Kenney has half a vision at best.  He promises to rid Alberta of its “accidental government” but unlike the corporate CEOs is silent on social issues.

This is a problem because an inspirational premier recognizes that he/she is responsible for the entire portfolio, not just the financial bits, and is prepared to address the challenge of managing social issues as well as economic ones.

Teamwork

Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet Inc, defines his job as ensuring everyone in the company has great opportunities, feel like they’re making a meaningful impact and contributing to the good of society.

Page strives to work with people, not against them.

Mr Kenney on the other hand has nothing but contempt for the NDP and the federal government.  His lack of respect for the Progressive Conservatives during the leadership race was “palpable”.  His willingness to “play nice” with the Wildrose will be sorely tested when he takes on Brian Jean in what will be a bruising leadership race.

A premier who understands the value of teamwork can accomplish much.  One whose path to victory starts with the destruction of one political party and the hostile takeover of another is doomed to fail.

Strategic leadership

A leader’s mettle is tested in times of hardship.

Murray Edwards, Chairman of CNRL, refused to panic in the face of low oil prices.  Instead of implementing massive layoffs, CNRL reduced costs, kept its teams together and its culture strong.  It focused on sharing knowledge so it would be ready to take advantage of future opportunities and recently acquired Shell’s oilsands assets for $12.7 billion.

Mr Kenney, on the other hand, says he’ll emulate Ralph Klein—balancing the budget by cutting staff.  This didn’t work when Klein tried it and it won’t work now because it’s impossible to deliver a balanced budget without slicing and dicing the “front lines” and creating an even deeper hole in public services.

Do the math:  The government employs 207,678 full time equivalent (FTEs) employees.  The bulk of these are in AHS (79,450), Education (62,317), Advanced Education (33,588), Justice (7,554) and Child and Community Services (5,907).*  That’s 188,816 FTEs in total.  Assume 25% of these are not front line workers and they earn $100,000/year, cutting them would save the government $4.7 billion.

That won’t balance the budget so let’s fire 50% of the remaining 18,862 FTEs.  That saves $1.9 billion.  We’re still $3.7 billion short.  And we haven’t accounted for the drop in revenue that will result from lowering income and corporate taxes.

Mr Kenney’s strategy, while consistent with that Ralph Klein, shows no imagination, no foresight and very little humanity.

Transparency/honesty

Securities laws require corporations to file documents describing how they’ve performed in the past and how they expect to perform in the future.  CEOs who riddle these documents with material misstatements or omissions violate securities laws and are punished.

Mr Kenney has not revealed his plan to bring Alberta back into prosperity but continues to describe Alberta’s economy as a disaster (it’s growing by 2.6%) and the NDP government’s policies as anti-growth policies (the climate leadership policy is responsible for two pipeline projects being approved).

Sadly, the securities laws do not apply in the political realm and politicians, even those who espouse “free enterprise” values, are free to say whatever they wish.

The “free enterprise” premier?

Challenging times require inspirational, visionary leaders who demonstrate creativity and compassion.

Mr Kenney’s promise to be the leader of the “free enterprise” party doesn’t cut it.

*Alberta Fiscal Plan 2017-20, p 121

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

The Alberta Budget: Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3?

Before you let the Opposition parties scare you to death with apocalyptic warnings that Alberta is “drowning in debt”, “driving over a fiscal cliff” and “unfairly burdening future generations” read this article by U of C economics prof Trevor Tombe.

Tombe points out that the amount of debt per se is meaningless.*  The relevant metric is the debt-to-GDP ratio.  By that measure, Alberta is doing better than all the other provinces and will continue to do better right through to 2020.

In fact, Alberta could run a $6B deficit forever and assuming the economy continues to grow, we’d be just fine.

The problem with this budget and the shadow budgets offered by the Opposition parties is that they don’t address the elephant in the room:  continuing to rely on royalty revenues leaves Alberta firmly stuck on the royalty roller coaster.  Sure the ride up is exhilarating but the ride down is awful, especially when you can’t see the bottom.

Tombe says there are three ways to avoid deficits:  (1) develop new sources of revenue, (2) cut spending further or (3) a combination of the two.

Which option did the government and the Opposition parties choose?  Door # 1, door # 2 or door #3?

Door #3 with a bump

The government created new revenues by introducing progressive income taxes, increasing corporate taxes, increasing the emissions levy and introducing a new carbon levy.

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Mr Ceci Finance Minister

They cut spending by reducing executive compensation in public agencies and freezing salaries for MLAs, political staff and government and agency managers.  They reduced waste by identifying $200 million in savings.

But they also increased spending to fund job creation plans, provide a “shock absorber” for Albertans impacted by the recession, fund the Climate Leadership Plan and fill the operational and capital gaps left behind after decades of PC austerity.  The result—a $10.3 billion deficit and growing debt.

Door #2 with a twist

The Wildrose say they’ll balance the budget within three years by cutting spending and revenue and filling the revenue gap by “sustainably growing the pie of our provincial economy” (whatever that means).

They’ll cut operational spending by $2.6 billion, freeze wages and leave positions vacant if someone leaves (attrition is expected to save $312 million—assuming it’s not offset by increased overtime).

The Wildrose will eliminate the carbon levy and explore cutting personal and corporate taxes but don’t commit to do so (presumably because tax cuts will negatively impact their balanced budget target.)

Forget the doors, the party is dead  

The Progressive Conservatives promised to balance the budget in two years but offered little beyond wage freezes and holding the health budget to population growth.

But none of this matters because the PC party died over the weekend and the new guy will replace the PC budget with something more to his liking.

Door #3 in one form or another

The Alberta Party is open to exploring all options but its budget mirrored the WR and PC budgets with its focus on wage freezes, reducing taxes and continued reliance on royalty revenues.  This is surprising given Greg Clark’s earlier comments that he’s prepared to entertain a sales tax.

The Liberals did not present a shadow budget but issued a press release expressing their concern with rising debt and the continued reliance on volatile royalty revenues.  They called for “an adult conversation about spending AND revenue”.

Sales tax anyone?

Neither the government nor the opposition parties presented a way to avoid deficits in the future, no doubt because the best way to avoid a deficit would be to replace royalty revenues with a predictable sales tax and in Alberta PST stands for Political Suicide Tax.

But the political climate in Alberta is changing.  The election of Jason Kenney to lead the united right crystalized the distinction between the free enterprise conservatives and the social progressives.

It’s only a matter of time before Albertans demand a meaningful discussion about the PST so they can decide for themselves whether to run deficits to fund the services they demand but aren’t willing to pay for or join the rest of Canada and implement a sales tax.

*Prof Tombe also points out that the government’s assertion that it’s holding spending growth below the combined rate of inflation and population growth is not true. 

Posted in Economy, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

Another Day, Another Bozo Eruption

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Wildrose on Campus (WROC) issued an invitation to the screening of The Red Pill.  The invitation stated “You and I both know that feminism is cancer.  To create a dialogue on campus, we have decided to take action”.   (Apparently WROC doesn’t know the difference between a diatribe and a dialogue).

NDP MLA Sandra Jansen responded to the WROC invitation by pointing out:

  • The Red Pill is a movie about the men’s rights movement
  • It was supported by “forward thinkers” like Breitbart News and Milo Yiannopoulos
  • Men’s rights advocates denigrate the advancement of women and promote hatred and violence
  • They advocate legalized rape to teach women how to protect their virtue
  • They viciously attack women online
  • This demonstrates who the Wildrose really are (PCs take note).

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It’s true.  The Wildrose party did support WROC.  It allowed WROC to use the Wildrose name and logo, Wildrose MLAs (including leader Brian Jean) attended WROC events and an email from Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon notes that as executive director of the Wildrose Party he should be involved with “our Wildrose on Campus group”.

Nathan Cooper, House Leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition, said the Wildrose caucus has not and would never make a statement like that made by members of an association no longer connected to the Wildrose.

That’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s not enough.

The Wildrose had a second kick at the can.  It could have stopped “feminism is cancer” from becoming the next bozo eruption with a bold ministerial statement in support of International Women’s Day.

It failed to do so.

Ministerial Statements

To put the Wildrose failure into context let’s review the ministerial statements of the other political parties.

Stephanie Maclean, Status of Women minister, outlined the ND government’s actions to advance gender equality, including partnering with the city of Edmonton to reduce sexual violence, supporting Ready For Her to encourage women to run in municipal elections and creating the first gender balanced cabinet in Canadian history.

Rick Fraser, Progressive Conservative MLA, focused his comments on the misogynistic abuse of women in public life.  He said he was “truly sorry” women experienced such abuse and pledged to take “bold action” to advance the goal of equality.

Liberal leader Dr Swann took the opportunity to celebrate what had been accomplished thus far.  He praised the Ask Her campaign which encourages Calgarians to seek out strong women and ask them to run for leadership positions.

He referred to the Be Bold for Change theme of International Women’s Day, saying women with “the full support of real men” would create “real change”.

But it was Greg Clark, the leader of the Alberta Party, who really nailed it.

He was the only politician to address the “reprehensible” Red Pill ideology, admitting he was shocked by the sexism experienced by women every day.

He said he was a feminist and that given feminism’s focus on eliminating sexual assault and domestic violence, and creating equal access to opportunity the real question was: who is not a feminist.

The Wildrose statement

Mrs Aheer may be a member of the Wildrose Opposition but her statement seemed to reflect her own not her party’s perspective.

She talked about people who use words that rub her the wrong way, and India’s female prime ministers, and her mother-in-law who came to Canada at the tender age of 18 to escape male oppression back home.

She circled back to the topic of words that had been used to attack her “in horrible and distasteful ways” and said she would not stand for it because words “are an expression, and they’ve been used throughout history in poetry, music, to express, no matter how pretty or profane.”

She said “as women we provide the humble template for that which we want to see: our hopes for future women and our desire to encourage and protect them as they make their way on their terms into careers where they are needed, where they belong and where they are honoured.”

She called for an end to discrimination and violence and concluded by saying that despite the “insults, the condemnation, the platitudes, the nonsense” she would not hide and would not be shamed because she was a woman.

Another bozo eruption

The Wildrose shadow minister for the Status of Women had an opportunity to lay our minds to rest by being bold and declaring herself to be a feminist who would fight fiercely for Alberta women should the Wildrose ever form government.  Instead she rambled on about words “pretty and profane” and offered “a humble template” for women under Wildrose rule.

This is not enough to erase words that express a vicious anti-feminist ideology.

Albertans didn’t forget the Wildrose’s lack of response to its “lake of fire” candidate in 2015 election.

They will not forget the Wildrose’s flaccid response to “feminism is cancer” in 2019.

References: Hansard, May 7, 2017, p 58 and May 8, pp 116, 117, 128.

Posted in Feminism, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The “Common Man” According to Andre Chabot

Conservative politicians across the country are “standing up” for the Common Man.

This is his year.

Great, but who is he?  Why are conservatives concerned about his plight and taken up his fight?

Many politicians have offered answers to these questions, but few have been as clear as Andre Chabot, Calgary councillor and the newest entrant to the Calgary mayoral race.

The birth of the Common Man

The Common Man became a political ideal in 1828 when Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams to become the seventh president of the United States.  Jackson was the first self-made politician to oust an aristocratic incumbent by arguing an education was unnecessary for political leadership.

Politicians have courted the Common Man ever since.

The characteristics of the Common Man  

Mr Chabot says his platform will appeal to the Common Man.  He promises to hold property tax increases to the consumer price index and questions the efficacy of “handouts” for the poor.

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Mr Andre Chabot

But an analysis of Mr Chabot’s rationale reveals some alarming things about the Common Man:

Policy:  Mr Chabot says the government should focus on fiscal responsibility not social spending.

Apparently, the Common Man wants nothing but the basics from his government—police, firefighters, teachers, doctors, nurses, and buildings to house them and roads, tunnels, and bridges to get to them.  The Common Man is a taxpayer, not a citizen; as such he’s prepared to pay taxes but only if they’re tied to the consumer price index.

Analysis:  the Common Man is self-reliant but naïve.  If his taxes don’t cover the cost of policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc he’d rather be unprotected, uneducated, unhealthy, and stuck in his driveway than pay another red cent in taxes. 

Mr Chabot says “hand-outs” kill initiative (but “hand-ups” might be okay).  He says if someone told him to go “on pogie” when he was supporting his family and working his way through DeVry he’d have stopped working, kicked back, and enjoyed a few beers.

Analysis:  the Common Man is both hardworking and prepared to ditch it all.

World view:  Mr Chabot grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan.  He moved to Calgary in 1971, took a job in construction and worked his way through DeVry while raising three kids with his wife who also worked part-time.  He says he didn’t need anyone to help him out and the struggle made him a better person.

Analysis:  The Common Man’s world view is based on n=1.  His sample size is one (himself).  His personal experience informs his opinion on everything.

The Common Man does not consider how he would have fared if he’d been a single mother, a member of a visible minority or physically or mentally challenged.  He doesn’t wonder whether he would have survived today, 46 years after the conservatives squandered each and every energy boom and failed to create a revenue structure capable of weathering the busts.               

He doesn’t realize that if he had to do it all over again in 2017 he would be struggling to support his family on $42,000/year which is the average annual income for DeVry graduates.

Interestingly, Calgary households earning less than $45,000/year are eligible for subsidized programs.  One wonders whether the Common Man would applaud such subsidies as a “hand-up” or condemn them as a “hand-out”.

Analysis:  The Common Man may have initiative, but he’s also tremendously lucky—he was born at a certain time and equipped with certain chromosomes that gave him an advantage not available to many others.               

Social Issues

Mr Chabot says he understands “there’s a social need out there”, but points out it’s not the City’s responsibility to address those needs because Calgarians need to “hold the government who’s responsible to account and get them to step up to the plate.”

Presumably the responsible government is the provincial government.

Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, both of whom aspire to be the leader of Alberta’s conservatives, say social issues are not their concern.  They attack the NDP government for policies aimed at addressing social issues (see the rhetoric around Bill 1 which will reduce mandatory school fees).

Analysis: social issues are hot potatoes tossed back and forth from one conservative to another until they land in the Common Man’s lap, sadly there’s nothing he can do about them.           

Conservatives love the Common Man

It’s no surprise conservative politicians love the Common Man.

He doesn’t ask for much and has been suckered into believing that the market place will solve everything. When it fails to do so, he can be convinced that the responsibility for providing even the frailest social safety net falls on somebody else.

Silly little common man.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

When Old White Guys Discover Memes

Ms Soapbox recently received a series of memes from an old white guy justifying his support of Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, anti-refugee, anti-everything policies.

She’s been seething ever since.

Not because of their content (bad) but because of their appalling lack of critical thinking and digital fluency (the ability to find and critically evaluate online information).

Here are some examples:

On RefugeesNot taking refugees and closing our borders doesn’t mean we’re “heartless” or “mean”.  I lock my doors every night.  I don’t lock them because I “hate” the people outside. I lock them because I LOVE the people INSIDE! Yes Good job Mr. President! 

I hate to break it to you Old White Guy, but that’s a faulty analogy.  Refugees are not like burglars.  Refugees are people your government said have the legal right to enter your country.  The correct analogy would be this:  you gave refugees the KEY to your door and then changed the locks and told them to get lost when they arrived on the doorstep.

This is not the act of a sensible Old White Guy who loves his family but a paranoid who can’t be trusted to keep his word.

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Two Old White Guys

An Old White Guy with a dollop of digital fluency would have tested his analogy by googling “refugee vetting USA” and perusing a few of the 465,000 articles on the vetting process, including a Time article that says Syrian refugees are subjected to the most intensive vetting process of any group entering the United States.

On Cabinet appointments:   Rob O’Neill is the man who killed Bin Laden.  When asked what he thinks about General Mattis being Secretary of Defense, O’Neill said:  “General Mattis has a bear rug in his home, but it’s not dead; it’s just afraid to move.”  IN GOD WE TRUST!

Presumably, the purpose of this meme is to support Trump’s choice of James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense by citing Rob O’Neill’s endorsement.

Not only is this a fallacious appeal to authority (O’Neill may have shot Bin Laden, but this doesn’t make him an expert on national security and foreign affairs), a google search would have revealed that the SEALs are not happy that Rob O’Neill has taken credit for killing Bin Laden.  He violated the cardinal rule that a SEAL does not advertise the nature of his work or seek recognition for his actions.

If the SEALs disapprove of O’Neill’s actions Old White Guys shouldn’t be citing him as a credible authority.

Poor Old White Guy (this is a longer diatribe, bear with me):  I used to think I was just a regular guy, but…I was born white, which now, whether I like it or not, makes me a racist.  And yet I have & know many black friends who are truly wonderful people and have friends of other races as well.  I am a fiscal and moral conservative, which by today’s standards, makes me a fascist.  I am heterosexual, which according to gay folks, now makes me a homophobic.  I am a Christian, which now labels me as an infidel.  I believe in the 2nd Amendment, which now makes me a member of the vast gun lobby.  I am older than 65, which makes me a useless old man.  I think and I reason, therefore I doubt much that the main stream media tells me, which must make me a reactionary.  I am proud of my heritage (I belong to the Sons of the American Revolution, the Society of the War of 1812 and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War) and our inclusive American culture, which makes me a xenophobe.  I value my safety and that of my family and I appreciate the police and the legal system, which makes me a right-wing extremist.  I believe in hard work, fair play, and fair compensation according to each individual’s merits, which today makes me an anti-socialist.  I believe in the defense and protection of the homeland for and by all citizens, which now makes me a militant.  Now, a woman said me and my friends are a basket of deplorables.  Please help me come to terms with the new me…because I’m just not sure who I am anymore!  I would like to thank all my friends for sticking with me through these abrupt, new found changes in my life and my thinking!  I just can’t imagine or understand what’s happened to me so quickly!  Funny…it’s all just taken place over the last 7 or 8 years!  As if all this change wasn’t enough to deal with, I’m now afraid to go into either restroom!      

Wow.  False dilemmas, faulty analogies, slippery slopes, hasty generalizations and an atrocious misuse of exclamation marks—this meme was intended to show that Democrats have gone completely off the rails but it sounds like the ramblings of a pathetic old man who sits on the porch yelling at the neighbour kids to get off his lawn.

But…

Having said that, the Old White Guy’s memes play well in the Old White Guy echo chamber and demonstrate once again that critical thinking, augmented by digital fluency (look it up for god’s sake!) is no match for group polarization and the political meme.

PS:  If you’re a mature white male who knows the difference between a meme and rational thought, rest assured Ms Soapbox was not talking to you. 

Posted in Culture, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Islamophobia: The Word Matters

Wouldn’t it be lovely if the Conservatives, who pride themselves on their ability to run the federal government like a corporation, would issue a corporate-style FAQ to explain why their anti-discrimination motion is superior to the anti-Islamophobia motion recently tabled by the Liberals.

If they did, it might look something like this…okay, you’re right, it would look nothing like this.* 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What problem is your motion intended to address?

A:  We want to address “the climate of hate and fear exemplified by the recent and senseless violent acts at a Quebec City mosque” by condemning “all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities”.

Q: You mention “the violent acts at a Quebec City mosque”.  Are you trying to address Islamophobia?

A:  Umm….no.  Conservatives don’t use the word “Islamophobia”.  We’re talking about *all* forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities”.

Q:  Oh, so you’re worried that the recent attack against the Hutterites is breeding a climate of hate and fear, right?

A:  Hutterites were murdered at worship…?

Q: No, neither were Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Druids.

A:  Thank god!

Q:  The only members of a religious group who were slaughtered while at worship were Muslims.  That’s why the Liberal motion condemns Islamophobia as well as “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”.  Why doesn’t the Conservative motion mention “Islamophobia”?

A:  Because Kellie Leitch says “no religion should be enjoying any special privileges.”

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Kellie Leitch CPC Leadership Canadidate

Q:  How does the reference to “Islamophobia” confer “special privileges” on Muslims?   You’re aware that being able to walk into a store and not have your clothing ripped off or being able to pray in a mosque without being killed is not a “privilege,” it’s a Charter right.    

A:  (pause…wheels turning….) Maybe “special privileges” is putting it too strongly; let’s try this:  Chris Alexander says the Liberal motion is “senseless and ill-worded”.

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Chris Alexander CPC Leadership Candidate

Q:  I see.  The Liberals want a study on “reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia”.  The Conservatives want a study on reducing or eliminating “all types of discrimination in Canada”. 

You do realize that reducing or eliminating *all* types of discrimination means reducing or eliminating sexism, ageism and homophobia (to name a few) in addition to Islamophobia, right?

A:  Wow, did it really say that? 

Q:  Yes.  Care to comment on Mr Alexander’s criticism that the Liberal motion is “senseless and ill-worded”? 

A:  Nope.

Q:  The Conservatives could have avoided tabling an “ill-worded” motion by replacing the reference to violence at the Quebec City mosque with the word “Islamophobia”.  Why didn’t they do that?

A:  Because “Islamophobia” is a confusing word, no one knows what it means. 

Q:  Really?  Cast your minds back to October 2016.  Remember Petition e-411?  It said: “We, the undersigned, Citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to join us in recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.”  The petition was supported in a unanimous (that means you) vote of the House.  The word “Islamophobia” didn’t bother you then… 

A:  Yes but back then the CPC leadership race was just getting started.  No one but Kelly Leitch understood that an opportunistic politician could ride the wave of Islamophobia in Canada as effectively as Donald Trump did in the US.  Kellie opened that door and now most CPC leadership candidates are trampling over her to snag those bigoted voters before she brings them home.                

Q: Aren’t the Conservatives standing on the side of the bigots by failing to condemn Islamophobia?

A: Sure they are, but as long as they cloak their bigotry with the same obfuscation we saw in the Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter debate, they think they’ll get away with it.  They’ll give lip service to fighting religious discrimination while at the same time currying favour with the white supremacists.  It’s a win-win situation. 

Q:  How can it be a win-win if the Conservatives’ refusal to condemn Islamophobia results in the growth of Islamophobia?     

A: No need to worry your pretty little head about that.  Once the Conservatives are back in power, they’ll put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Q:  And if they can’t….?

A:  Who cares, we won.    

Q:  *Heavy sigh*

A: ???

*The words used in describing the motions are taken verbatim from the motions themselves.  See http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=hansard&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=42&Ses=1&DocId=8769411&File=0

http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=hansard&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=42&Ses=1&DocId=8775243&File=0  

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

How to Get Rid of an Autocrat

Donald Trump isn’t the first Western politician to attack the judiciary, muzzle scientists, erode evidence-based decision making by making up alternate facts, disenfranchise voters, create two-tiered citizenship, push a corporate agenda, insult the very government leaders he needs to help him achieve his vision, and wage a divisive Islamophobic campaign to shore up core support.

Stephen Harper has been there and done that and would have continued to “do that” but for the election cycle which forced him to go to the people to refresh his mandate.

We dodged a bullet in 2015, but we may not be so lucky the next time around, particularly if a mini-Trump becomes the leader of the CPC and (god forbid) slides into power with a majority.

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Kellie Leitch Conservative Leadership Candidate

What can we do to stop the erosion of democracy if this happens?

Checks and balances?  

Our democracy rests on a balance of power exercised by the three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

If a maniacal über conservative prime minister comes to power with a majority government, the executive branch will be eating out of his hand.  He’ll appoint loyalists and sycophants to Cabinet posts and the instinct for self-preservation will override any desire on their part to derail the PM’s agenda.

The legislative branch is made up of the House of Commons and the Senate.  The MPs who form the PM’s majority government will be reluctant to thwart the man who brought them back into power.

The Senate on the other hand is a wild card.

Senators are appointed by the prime minister.  Presently the Senate is composed of 40 Conservative appointees, 37 independents, and 21 “Liberals” (they called themselves the Liberal Caucus notwithstanding the fact they were expelled from the party by Justin Trudeau).  If Trudeau appoints another seven independents, the total number of Liberal/independent senators climbs to 65.  This majority could veto any piece of legislation sent to them by the House of Commons, although the Senate hasn’t used its veto power since 1939.

The third branch of government is the judiciary.  The Supreme Court will not hesitate to kill any piece of legislation that violates the Charter.  Harper lost five cases in six weeks just before he attacked the integrity of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.  No wonder he was cranky.

In a nutshell, our democracy rests in the hands majority MPs who likely lack the courage to buck an all-powerful PM, a bunch of independent (quasi Liberal) senators we’ve never heard of and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Given that it takes time and money to launch a lawsuit and wait for the Supreme Court to render a decision, our best bet is to re-engage with our elected MPs and the Senate to stop undemocratic policies before they become the law.

This is where the American experience becomes relevant.

Resist!

Americans are resisting Donald Trump’s agenda by protesting in the streets and, more importantly, re-engaging in the democratic process at the local level.

One of the best advocacy guidebooks I’ve come across is the Indivisible GuidebookIt’s the brainchild of a group of former progressive congressional staffers who are using the tools developed by the Tea Party to fight Trump’s “racist, authoritarian, corrupt agenda.”

Indivisible starts with the premise that activists should focus on their local representatives and that all politicians want to be re-elected (even those in safe seats fear a challenger).  Politicians want their constituents to like them and the press to flatter them.  They hate to look weak or vulnerable.

Indivisible dissects politicians.  Politicians care about disgruntled constituents, not outsiders; an interest group’s endorsement, not one person’s analysis of a proposed bill; personal emails, phone calls and office visits, not form letters or Facebook comments; and a “concrete ask” not a laundry list of all the issues that bother you.  They want good local press not a town hall meeting or photo op turned gong show.

The tactics for effective advocacy at a town hall meeting or photo op are straight forward:  engage with a small group of like-minded constituents; meet up in advance of the town hall or photo op to determine who is going to ask what (keep questions simple, no long rambling diatribes); spread out in the crowd and don’t carry a sign if you’re going to ask a question because you won’t be called on by the meeting organizer; video the entire exchange, post it on social media and send it to the local press (who are easy to contact through social media).

“Indivisible” in Canada

Indivisible sets out some simple tactics for effective advocacy.  These can be applied in the Canadian context to ensure that Canadians won’t be taking to the streets in four years to save themselves from far-right conservatives who are emboldened by Trump’s victory.

kevin-o-leary

Kevin O’Leary Conservative Leadership Candidate

So here’s a suggestion.

Ask your local Conservative MP whether they support federal Conservative leadership candidates who profess to “unite” us by dividing us based on our Canadian identity or those who intend to “fix” the federal government by privatizing most of it and running what’s left like a CEO answerable to no one.

Then keep asking these questions so you’ll be ready when these conservative politicians pop up at town hall meetings in your riding seeking your vote in the next election.

The best way to get rid of an autocrat is not to elect him in the first place, but if he (or she) has a shot at getting into power, the best way to thwart an autocrat is to influence the people they’ll need to make their agendas a reality.

 

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