In Canada we’re about to enter our fifth year of Conservative (AKA “Tory”) minority government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They’ve been uninspiring and not terribly likable, but reasonably competent; enough to stay out of real trouble with the voters. I’m no Tory but I’ve mostly been “well, whatever”. No longer; it’s time to bounce these bozos and see if we can do better.

Harper’s posse have pushed my hot buttons four separate times in the last few weeks; any one of these might’ve been enough to flip me into toss-the-turkeys mode. First, at the recent Copenhagen summit, we were clearly Part Of The Problem not the solution. Even at the symbolic level; apparently Canada missed the opening plenary. What kind of amateurish BS is that?

Second, when the “Yes Men” took a satiric cheap shot at Canada’s Copenhagen underperformance, the Tories reacted with image control as in censorship. This is low-rent bullying pure and simple, which as a side-effect nuked 4,500 innocent Web sites. Is this the kind of country I want to be a citizen of?

Third, when things started getting a little hot in Parliament around year-end, the Tories decided to run not fight, as in shutting the House of Commons down till March. A good place to catch up on this issue is, oddly enough, over on Facebook, where the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament group will have over 100,000 members by the time you read this, and is growing fast.

Fourth, they recently spent fifty grand on PR expenses in Washington DC. This is a perfectly reasonable thing for Canada to do, except for, they spent it on Republican hack Ari Fleischer, Dubya’s spokesman, who organized dinner with Harper for a collection of prominent Washington right-wingers: Charles Krauthammer, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, Anne Applebaum, Fred Barnes, William Kristol, and Laura Ingraham. This was in March 2009, maybe six weeks after the inauguration of Barack Obama, who, you know, won the election in the face of ferocious opposition from precisely this cabal of Iraq war cheerleaders, Palin boosters, Fox News bobbleheads, and fundamentalist Bible-thumpers.

Think the Democrats noticed? Me too. Way to burn taxpayers’ money on cultivating the losers and blowing off the winners, guys.

What’s Next? · The problem with being pissed at the Tories is that the alternatives aren’t that great. The Liberals, Canada’s party of the great squishy center, are exciting approximately nobody with the leadership of Michael Ignatieff, who seems like a bright guy in theory but smarmy and predictable in practice.

There’s been some talk of dumping him in favor of Bob Rae and I’m actually sort of friendly to that idea because Rae seems like a Good Person. And as @BobRaeMP, he occasionally skips political posturing and exhibits what seems like a human voice.

The NDP are our Social Democrats (Americans: You’d say “Commies”) and have gotten my vote a few times over the years, but Jack Layton panders inexcusably and just gets up my nose; also their performance on Green issues is pretty weak.

The Green Party is probably my vote’s natural home these days, but they’ve fumbled tactically and in a complex three-party election, I might end up voting tactically.

Speaking Of Green · Canadian politics is boring. This is by and large a good thing, a symptom of a lack of existential problems and serious threats to the nation. But I bet things are going to be less boring soon, and it’s the environmental issues that make me think so.

Canadians tend to be vaguely green in principle, wastefully profligate of energy in practice. And there is no policy move which, if it can possibly be portrayed as a “tax”, won’t flip at least one opposition party into full-on pander mode.

Then there are the Alberta Tar Sands, which they are furiously trying to rebrand as “oil” sands. Even the Wikipedia entry says “also known colloquially as the Athabasca Tar Sands, although there is no actual tar” which is bogus; I’ve seen that shit and you’d call it “tar” if you saw it. And most people who aren’t actually in the pay of the petroleum business think it’s an environmental disaster.

This is white-hot politically; a large majority of the 3.6 million citizens of Alberta have historically felt that their rights to exploit the fossil-fuel resources, earned by the sweat of their brows and the fact that they live between 110°W longitude and the Rocky Mountains, are sacred. Thus any meddling from elsewhere in the country is a declaration of war.

It’s really hard to see any meaningful progress on carbon-emissions control that’s compatible with the current tar-sands development strategy; thus political nastiness can safely be predicted.

But I Digress · I’m actually pretty mainstream by the standards of Canadian politics. I bet that there are a lot of people out there who, like me, have moved their view of the Tories from mostly-harmless to national-embarrassment.

Time to roll the dice.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Walter (Jan 07 2010, at 23:43)

I'm with you on this one. Harper bugs me to no end and I think his controlling ways need to stoped. Dump the Tories muy pronto


From: J. King (Jan 08 2010, at 04:46)

I'd disagree with you about the Tories being reasonably competent, Tim: they've been caught up in some kind of bungle or scandal nearly -every day-. That's not the behaviour of a competent government by any measure. Only the ineptness of Ignatieff and the corruption of our national media has allowed this situation to go on as long as it has.

Remember when we had that coalition going and Harper left the spirit of our Constitution in tatters by proroguing Parliament for the sole reason of avoiding -certain- defeat on a confidence motion? That's competence? I think not.

In any case, I obviously agree Harper has to go (I've been saying so since the very day he took office), and I also agree Bob Rae is still the man to do it (I supported his leadership candidacy, for what that's worth). Iggy is a lame duck, little more sincere than the fascist wannabe dictator currently residing at 24 Sussex, and while I'm fairly certain Ignatieff would slow or possibly even halt the erosion of our international reputation and political institutions, any kind of reversal would have to come from another man (or woman), if you ask me.

Depressing times... :(


From: SPW (Jan 08 2010, at 04:52)

did a cycle across Canada a few years back - great people/country - what really p****d me off though were the endless streams in both directions of big lorries carrying chopped trees - day in and day out and so visible for everyone to see.


From: David Megginson (Jan 08 2010, at 04:57)

Last year's proroguing was the bad one — Prime Minister Harper did it specifically to avoid a confidence vote — and our Governor General failed her only real constitutional responsibility by letting him do it.

This year's proroguing shows up a government that's clearly too cowardly to face the Afghan torture issue (especially under the international media spotlight of the Winter Olympics), but I don't think it's any more unconstitutional than the times Prime Minister Chrétien prorogued parliament. When there's no confidence question, proroguing parliament is one of the Prime Minister's standard weapons, along with the timing of elections, throne speeches, and budgets. We'll have our say at the polls.


From: Robert Young (Jan 08 2010, at 06:03)

The Tory machinations sound a lot like our beloved Right Wingnuts. The hypocrisy quite striking: when they lost the Congress it was a continual "we want an up or down vote". Now, it's "we'll filibuster anything that doesn't look like it came from us".

Bipartisanship died with Nixon. Arguably Johnson; civil rights and voting rights enraged the south and the stupid.

By the way, check the NY Times from early this week, Brooks' column was about the rise of the stupid in the Republican party. Amazing that he would admit it.


From: Matthew Laird (Jan 08 2010, at 07:29)

Depending where you live, Green might be the strategic vote.

It's quite interesting to see the Greens are now ahead of the NDP in Quebec and Ontario, but not overly surprising because of the lacking leadership on the environmental portfolio lately by them.

However in you particular riding, I know your MP as a family friend, despite the unexciting leadership of his party, he is a very good guy and dedicated representative, definitely worthy of your consideration. It's the disconnect between the strong NDP MPs we have in Metro Vancouver and the pandering, politicking leadership of the party out of Ontario.

I was impressed with both Elizebeth May and Bob Rae when I met them. It's a hard choice, too bad we don't have a voting system which allows us to express our desires without having strategic thoughts pop in to our heads.


From: Rob (Jan 08 2010, at 16:51)

Well, living here in the PC heartland of Calgary, a couple of observations.

Tim missed one particular piece of odiousness: the repeated Conservative (Liberal abetted) attempt to introduce what amounts to the DMCA (except worse) into Canada. And their latest immigration reforms, a matter I care about deeply, have been horrible. And not only is our Minister of Immigration a political attack-dog, he is given to punishing organizations that say things he doesn't like (even non immigration related things) by withdrawing their funding for things like teaching adult ESL. Like the Canadian Arab Federation.

Proroguing isn't entirely bad; it killed the copyright 'reform' effort and a large number of truly noxious bills (especially the crime related ones that were unjust, unnecessary, and unproductive), and the Conservatives and their Liberal chickenshit allies killed most of the pending good legislation already anyway.

Before anybody waxes too enthusiastic about the Canadian Greens, check them out thoroughly, they may be right on environmental issues, but in the 90s they were essentially captured by some extreme right wing types and the taint remains. Their positions on social policy and taxation etc. can verge on the disturbing.

Speaking of things environmental, the tar sands are not all the well understood and there are a lot of misconceptions. To be sure, they are a local environmental disaster (though getting a little better), but nothing compared to the harm inflicted by logging in this country, as they are pretty localized in the big picture. The greenhouse gasses harm they do is pretty minor, it is the greenhouse gas damage perpetrated by the (usually US) end-user of the product that is the biggie. Petro-chemicals are petro-chemicals.

The big greenhouse gas footprint in Alberta is the fact that the vast majority of our electricity is generated by coal. The carbon footprint of this dwarfs the tar sands by several orders of magnitude. Get this: Alberta caps the number of wind-farms, to keep the coal fired electrical generating industry healthy. I kid you not.

There is really only one Canadian political party I really actually feel a little positive about: the Bloc. Aside from the separatism stuff, they tend to take the right position on just about every single issue. I'd vote for them in a heartbeat if I could.

Canadian political parties: the Fascists, the Crooks, the Commies, and the Traitors. Oh, and the Loonies. Appetizing selection.


From: Tim (Jan 08 2010, at 17:15)

Hey Rob, Wikipedia - - says that production at the tar sands uses "around 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, around 40% of Alberta's total usage". Can it really be true that coal-burning power generation dwarfs that by "several orders of magnitude"?


From: Rob (Jan 08 2010, at 19:10)

I did some cursory searching and didn't find the exact source on this (listening to CBC a week or two ago, some expert from Alberta commenting on Copenhagen). But I did find some stuff.

Check out this: These are reputable green folks. 23% of AB greenhouse gasses come from coal; when you consider all the natural gas heated houses and gasoline and diesel vehicles and so on, it is a pretty impressive share.

"Oil sands make up about five per cent of Canada’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and less than one-tenth of one per cent of the world’s emissions." from, as a gov of AB site, should be taken with a grain of salt, but then it is gov so there should be some justification for it.

All of this is not to say that the tar sands aren't a catastrophe and aren't emitting a ton of carbon, I suppose the dirty crack cocaine of the world's petrochemical addiction. But like cute baby seals (as opposed to ugly cod which we actually have pretty much eliminated but get no press or protests), they are over-played for propaganda purposes.

The nasty little secret, not just in Alberta, but generally in North America, and especially in the US as Obama publicly recognized (and China too for that matter), is coal. Aging, inefficient, horribly out-dated, coal plants. The world still basically runs on coal, we just don't admit it. (The internet and computers and all electrically powered things, mostly run on coal. Lovely.)

And Alberta, because we have a lot of coal in addition to the oil & gas, burns a lot of coal, by deliberate government policy. So we can keep selling the lovely lovely oil and gas south, and rake in the government royalties that allow our conservative politicians to regularly roll back taxes because they are so frugal and conservative and all. (Well, we do ship a fair amount of coal to China too. Our coal is apparently high quality.)

Check out go down to the coal section, and also, Alberta is burning nearly half of the coal consumed in Canada, and almost double the amount Ontario burns.


From: Bill (Jan 10 2010, at 17:42)

A growing concern I have is that Harper is - as far as I can see - actively working on increasing and consolidating his power. What I don't know is to what use this power is intended. My sense is that, other than Harper himself and a few close to him, no one knows what his real agenda is.

Even if Harper suddenly started explaining his vision for Canada I would be skeptical. This is the man who muzzles the members of his party when they are running for election, and only allows them to speak to his script. This is also the man who, in his days as a staffer for Preston Manning, sent a memo to Manning laying out a strategy of lying to the public in order to get elected - hide your real agenda and do what you want once elected. To his credit Manning did not agree with the tactic.

It has been argued by various people that Trudeau's actions significantly increased the power of the prime minister's office. I suspect that that is true. However Trudeau had a vision for Canada which he kept in front of the public.


From: Rick Sanchez (Jan 10 2010, at 19:35)

I'll never understand why you leftists want the state to be so intrusive in our lives.

I guess the only explanation is that most of you are so weak-minded that you think it's hip and cool to be a leftist.


From: Derek K. Miller (Jan 10 2010, at 23:01)

There's no need to understand us leftists, really. :)

I don't think Harper has much of a secret agenda. He's made his positions on many issues clear, and I disagree with many of them. However, he runs a minority government, and he can't actually implement many of the things he advocated when he was further from power (he was against same-sex marriage and partner benefits, for instance, but he is not as much of an ideologue on other issues as many of his former Reform Party cohorts).

Even if he had a majority, I'm not sure he could anyway. We're still Canada, mid-lefty nation that we are.


From: Eric (Jan 15 2010, at 07:29)

Thanks, Tim, for one of the best explanations of current Canadian politics I've seen in a long time.


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