April 21, 2007
More Charter insight from Dr. Ted Morton...
What exactly ARE we celebrating?
The Charter: An Emperor With No Clothes
Written By: Matthew
Posted: April 17th, 2007
Many things could be said about the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on its 25th anniversary. Jean Chretien fawned over it earlier on CTV Newsnet, media pundits of all stripes paid it dear lipservice and various professionally ticked groups like EGALE or Planned Parenthood wept over it’s legacy. Even many Tories, mostly of the libertarian or Red Tory ilk, have bought into the sham that this document is a model for the rest of the Earth and truly great. It is not. In fact, it is downright pitiful when compared to other pieces of fundamental rights legislation around the globe and throughout history. Today, I will simply outline a few key points that no Charter defender I’ve talked to has ever explained away effectively, and are issues that need to be addressed if we ever want to live in a truly free society again…
1) The Charter Is Undemocratic - Under this document, Parliament and the provincial Legislatures are essentially powerless in any attempt to represent their constituents if a court rules against a piece of legislation or a current law. What exactly makes a judge, and in particular the nine ones that walk around dressed like Santa Claus, so special, so important, so superior to the rest of us that they are capable of deciding the difference between right and wrong? Charterists freak out at the suggestion that judges should be accountable to the public, implying that the general Canadian public is either too stupid to know this fundamental difference or too morally imperfect to be trusted with such a decision. Might I point out as a rebuke that every Canadian justice as a) human and, in most cases, b) trained as a lawyer! Now who would you rather trust to know right and wrong: a farmer or a lawyer?
On top of this, the Charter is supposed to contain fundamental rights, as in they’re so important and predominant that people should naturally cherish their place in society that we all should be capable of defending them. Ah, but what about Nazi Germany, or "1984?" Well, maybe that tells you more about human nature’s dark side than it’s virtues…
2) The Charter Is The Protector of NOTHING - I have made the hypothetical argument for a while that under our current legal framework, the Supreme Court could rule through section 29 of the Charter (which deals with separate schools in the BNA Act) that employers have to pay a “living wage” to their employees. There is nothing in that section dealing with wages, but we’ve given our courts completely free reign to rule on anything and in any way that they please. Liberals call this a “living document” scheme; I prefer to call it tyranny. After all, what the courts granteth in the department of rights, the courts can taketh away when it suits their socially re-engineering minds!
3) The Charter Is Ignorant of Legal History - In comparisons to other major rights documents, not only is our Charter weak, but it is also arrogant. The U.S. founding fathers admitted in the 18th century that their Bill of Rights was monumental, but they also conceded that it would only benefit a just and moral people. The French were a little bolder, but even they said that their legal advances after the French Revolution had to be constantly defended. Trudeaumanian Canada? We’re so delusional that we believe that this document can cure all of society’s ills and keep those evil violators of human rights at bay!
4) The Charter Is Illegitimate - So Trudeau convinced nine other men in suits to support this document’s insertion into the Constitution. This might have flown back in the nineteenth century, when most of the world’s foundational democracies were in their infancy, but by the 1980s, wouldn’t it have been more civilized and enlightened to let the people themselves decide the values they wanted their country defined by?
5) The Charter Is Incomplete - Finally, it’s important to note that the Charter is supposed to give to society. That is only one side of the coin though, since society also expects certain tenants under the social contract model. What we greatly lack today is a Charter of Responsibilities that included, among other things, a responsibility to be loyal to the nation of Canada before all other nations, actively support and participate in our democratic system and to be respectful of this country’s heritage and history, which incidentally made it such a great place to live in in the first place!
This entry was written by Matthew and posted on Tue Apr 17, 2007 at 9:46 pm
Dion is not going to be PM...
WHEN Stéphane Dion won the leadership of Canada's Liberals last December, the party faithful knew he had his faults: a poor command of English, a reputation for being inflexible and no real appetite for the cut and thrust of political battle. But with the opinion polls at that time showing the party within striking distance of Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government, Liberals were confident that even an imperfect leader could topple the Tories and restore them to their rightful place in charge of Canada, which they had run for more than a dozen years until 2006.
Almost five months after choosing their new leader, that confidence has evaporated, and many Liberals are questioning whether they picked the right man. The expected boost in voter support has not come about. Indeed, the most recent poll shows that 42% of voters deem Mr Harper the best national leader and a mere 17% back Mr Dion. The Liberals' only consolation is that the Conservatives' comfortable lead is not yet big enough to assure them a parliamentary majority in the event of a new election. But that is thin comfort. The unhappiness inside Liberal ranks burst into the open last weekend when a former prime-ministerial spokesman, Ray Heard, told the Toronto Star, Canada's bestselling newspaper, that he supported a move to dump Mr Dion "before it's too late."
That outburst was triggered by a peculiar deal Mr Dion made with Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party. He promised not to run a Liberal candidate against her in the Nova Scotia constituency where she would otherwise stand only an outside chance of winning the Greens their first seat. In return, Ms May promised not to run a Green candidate against the Liberal leader in his safe Montreal constituency. Mr Dion, a former environment minister, portrayed the deal as a non-partisan gesture designed to give the increasingly popular green agenda more prominence. But, as bewildered Liberals pointed out, their own party gained nothing, and Mr Dion had made it look as though only a fringe party was entitled to care about the environment. The deal was all the stranger given Mr Dion's own reputation as an ardent green, albeit in a party that did little for the environment during almost 13 years in power.
A few days earlier, the Liberals had lost one of their most glamorous politicians. Belinda Stronach, whose wealth, looks and romances made her the closest thing the party had to a celebrity, declared that she was leaving politics to return to Magna International, a car-parts company controlled by her father. Though derided by many as an opportunist - she left the Conservatives two years ago after unsuccessfully contesting the party leadership - Ms Stronach attracted attention, money and votes to a party in need of all three.
The Liberals' malaise seems to go deeper than one miscalculation by Mr Dion over green politics and the loss of a high-profile MP. A further 14 of the 103 Liberals who won parliamentary seats in the January 2006 federal election have likewise decided not to stand again. This comes on top of three defections: two to the Conservatives and a third who has chosen to sit as an independent. A changing of the guard is no bad thing in a political party, but when quite so many of its MPs decide to abandon national politics it suggests they do not expect imminent re-election and a job in government.
It is too early to write Mr Dion off. Jean Chrétien went through a similar rough patch when he became Liberal leader in 1990, but went on to win three successive general elections, starting with the slaughter of 1993 in which the Conservatives were scythed down to two seats. Mr Dion could still turn opinion by exploiting a reputation for integrity and intelligence. This, however, will take time that he may not have. Mr Harper is eager to convert his minority government into a majority. If his poll numbers edge higher, it will not be long before he calls a new election - whether the Liberals are ready or not.
Copyright 2007 - The Economist
Michael Moore: Hypocrite
On the Moore Watch
By: DEBBIE MELNYK - The Sunday Telegraph
April 18, 2007
We were almost finished editing Citizen Black, our documentary on the press baron and former Telegraph owner, Conrad Black, when my husband and directing partner, Rick Caine, turned to me and said, "What should we do next?"
Having just made the film about a committed Conservative, we wanted to rinse our palate and take a look at someone who shared our leftist ideals. Then it hit us: what about Michael Moore? We like his films, we like what he stands for, and we loved his Oscar speech. He has long had a soft spot for us Canadians; as fellow lefties, we were almost certain he'd participate in this film.
For better or worse, Mr. Moore has become the unofficial spokesperson of the left. Raised in the suburb of Flint, Mich., the son of car industry workers, he has crafted a remarkable career by challenging and exposing the ugly side, the hypocrisies of American society and political life, through a series of satirical documentaries.
He started with "Roger & Me" in 1989, which examined the massive layoffs in, and destruction of, his hometown by what was then the world's largest corporation, and followed it with a scathing indictment of America's gun-crazy culture in the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine," and in 2004 he attacked the Bush administration's war on terror in "Fahrenheit 9/11."
In the beginning, we thought we'd make a straightforward biography looking at Mr. Moore's life. But somewhere along the way things changed. Our film gradually became an examination of his film-making methods, and the serious political debates they provoked. As firm believers in Mr. Moore's political agenda, our decision to re-focus the film wasn't an easy one. But as we kept having to remind ourselves, you can still be an old leftie without swallowing everything Michael Moore says wholesale.
May 2004: Mr. Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" was about to premiere in Cannes. It would be the perfect time to start talking to him. We told an editor who was working on the Conrad Black film that we'd be back in four days. We weren't. The film ended up taking two-and-a-half years to finish.
We couldn't get an interview in Cannes. Mr. Moore's publicist said he was doing "limited" press. But we did make the press conference. Most of the talk surrounded Disney's refusal to distribute "Fahrenheit 9/11" in America even though they'd given him $6 million in financing through Miramax. "Every person in the world, with the exception of Taiwan and Hong Kong — those are the only two places we don't have a distributor — everybody else in the world can see this movie but America," Mr. Moore said.
Meanwhile, he couldn't buy the press he was getting at Cannes. Mr. Moore won the Palme d'Or and "Fahrenheit 9/11" went on to gross more than $220 million worldwide. It was a non-fiction juggernaut.
Back home, this was proving to be our most difficult film. Practically everyone we spoke to was nervous. All too frequently we tried to interview people — friends, colleagues, former and current employees — who refused to talk on camera but had plenty to say on the phone. A former producer explained: "There's a great story about how he is impossible to work for and he's an impossible person. That's the story most of us would like to do. I just don't want to do it."
One woman who had worked with him positively hissed at me: "You're not going to make me say anything bad about him. Why are you doing this film?" Then she slammed down the phone. I'll say this again: we had no preconceived notions about what Mr. Moore's colleagues and friends would say.
I honestly wanted to hear good things about Mr. Moore. I wasn't out to do a hatchet job, using only right-wing pundits and detractors. But others did have preconceived notions about what our film was about, and surmised, incorrectly, that we had an agenda. We lost count of the number of times we had to say, "We're not Republicans."
Soon enough we realized we were taking on a taboo subject, a sacred cow, especially in the documentary world. You're not supposed to take on "one of our own," we were told. It's because of Mr. Moore that documentaries are so popular today, went the common refrain. It was starting to feel a little lonely out there.
Once "Fahrenheit 9/11" was released, Mr. Moore arrived in Toronto to promote the film. I asked him in person for an interview, explaining that we were doing a documentary on him. He seemed flattered, but then spoke the words that are the kiss of death for journalists: "These guys [his publicists] know how to reach me." With that, he disappeared.
Next stop: Flint, Mich., the town Mr. Moore made famous in "Roger & Me." This entertaining film shows his repeated attempts to interview General Motors' then chairman, Roger Smith, to get him to acknowledge the damage GM was causing in Flint by laying off thousands of workers even as the company posted record profits. The closest Mr. Moore gets to challenging Mr. Smith on film is a fractious seconds-long exchange at a GM Christmas party.
We arrived at the Showcase multiplex theatre the day "Fahrenheit 9/11" opened. Everyone has an opinion about Mr. Moore. Some people know him and love him. Others hate him and "what he has done to Flint." I was surprised at the rift. I thought he would be a hero in his home town, but instead, it is a microcosm of how America feels about him. He's a polarizing force. Organizer of the Flint Film Festival, Greg Fiedler, told us: "We took a big hit for that movie, economically. A lot of companies that might have located here said 'we're not going there, they eat rabbit.'"
This is a reference to a scene in "Roger & Me" in which Mr. Moore visits an impoverished local woman, Rhonda Britton, whose roadside sign reads: "Rabbits for Sale, Pets or Meat." She is seen skinning a rabbit to sell for food and the scene is meant to be emblematic of the economic problems that many Flint residents were facing. We began following Mr. Moore on his Slacker Uprising tour in the autumn, hoping to get an interview. This 30-day, 60-city tour through 20 swing states in advance of the American presidential election of November 2004 was Mr. Moore's attempt to remove President Bush from power.
Our first stop was Syracuse, N.Y., outside the arena where Mr. Moore was speaking were groups of protesters. One side was anti-Moore, with " Moore Lies" and "Moore Emboldens our Enemy" signs. The other side was carrying placards reading "Troops out of Iraq" and "Bring the Troops Home Alive." Inside the arena, Michael wound his way to the stage. He was surrounded by men he jokingly referred to as his "fitness instructors." The sell-out crowd of 10,000 hung on his every word.
Mr. Moore's ramped-up speaking style reminded me of an old-time preacher's: the crowd was practically yelling "Amen" after every point he drove home. He's a natural comic, honing his delivery with each new university he visits. He ranted to the students about Mr. Bush. "Shouldn't we be able to believe the President of the United States? Is that too much to ask for that what comes out of his mouth is the truth? Of course some people would say Clinton lied, right? Exactly … about a blow job." By the end of the night, he was urging every student to vote and dethrone Mr. Bush in the 2004 election.
During the tour I wrote to Mr. Moore's lawyer, Andrew Hurwitz, asking for an interview. Nothing. At some point during our filming of Mr. Moore's appearances, things became more difficult. In Detroit, a security team unplugged our sound equipment to keep us from recording his speech.
Mr. Moore has repeatedly encouraged people to "tape anything you'd like," saying "I don't agree with the copyright law."
With this in mind, my producing partner, Rick, approached the guards for an explanation of why we were unplugged while other camera crews were not. Initially the bodyguard spoke into the microphone in his sleeve, attempting to get a serious answer, but inevitably dismissed us with a non-explanation: "I don't know the answer to that. The only thing I have the answer to is me saying no. I'm also being told if you continue to bother and harass us about it you're gonna be asked to leave." Fortunately the guard didn't see the other, smaller camera I used to tape this exchange.
We jumped in our car and drove from Toronto to Kent, Ohio, the site of one of the most notorious crackdowns on dissent in American history. In 1970, Kent State University students were protesting against the American invasion of Cambodia and four students were killed while nine others were wounded by the National Guard.
Mr. Moore's publicist for the tour, Terri Hardesty, handed out copies of his books and DVD, then announced that Mr. Moore had a "very special guest tonight." It was Roseanne Barr. The pair sat at a table at the front of the small room backstage in the university's packed auditorium. Mr. Moore began taking questions.
At one point I told him what had been happening to us while following him on the tour. He appeared genuinely surprised. I asked again for a sit-down interview. He said that it wouldn't happen now because he had only one mission between then and election day, November 2: to get Mr. Bush out of office. Perhaps after the election he would do something with us.
The press conference ended and we went into the main hall to tape his speech. A couple of minutes later, Mr. Moore's sister Anne, Terri Hardesty, and some security guards showed up. From behind, Anne reached for Rick's camera and shoved it. Another guard took our second camera off the tripod and shut it off — or so she thought. The camera actually carried on working, so in our film you get to see what happened next.
Anne said to the guards, "Escort them out of here." The guards escorted us from the building, where we were consoled by supporters of the independent presidential candidate, Ralph Nader — they had left the speech earlier.
Being kicked out of the arena was surprising. I thought that after I had talked with Mr. Moore during the press conference and let him know the problems we were having, he'd tell his people to back off. I never expected to get thrown out of Kent State.
Then, slowly, we started to discover things about his films that we never knew, the most startling being that Mr. Moore had got rather more access to Roger Smith than he let on in "Roger & Me."
We spoke to a man called Jim Musselman, a former activist for Mr. Nader, who was organizing the community of Flint to fight back against General Motors, and claims that Mr. Moore did question Mr. Smith for 15 minutes during a General Motors expo at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. "He sat there and answered questions for about 10 or 15 minutes," said Mr. Musselman, who told us that he had watched the footage himself, in the "Roger & Me" edit suite. "It was great footage because it was Smith answering questions one-on-one from Michael."
Then I found an article from a 1990 issue of Premiere magazine in which several people, including Mr. Nader, assert that Mr. Moore had also filmed an exchange with Mr. Smith at a 1987 General Motors shareholders' meeting; that was reportedly left out of the film, too.
The magazine published a transcript of the exchange, which was mostly about taxes. Indeed, Mr. Moore told Premiere that he was at the meeting representing a tax-abatement group, not as a film-maker. "Nowhere in the transcript does it say anything about me asking him to come to Flint," he said. "That's the narrative thread of the movie." This last point is open to debate: one original poster for "Roger & Me" depicts Mr. Moore pointing a microphone at an empty chair.
Though we didn't want our documentary to concentrate solely on debunking Mr. Moore's work, we did find other incidents that deserved a second look. In "Bowling for Columbine," for example, Mr. Moore comes out of a bank carrying a gun he had got after opening a bank account. The viewer was given the impression that you could open an account and the bank would give you one of the guns it had in its vault. Just like that.
But in our film, Jan Jacobson, the bank employee who had helped him to open the account, maintains that she told Mr. Moore's crew that the bank would have to do a background check and he'd have to pick up the gun from a licensed firearms dealer another day. Ms. Jacobson told us that Mr. Moore's crew insisted the gun be in the bank for him to take away the same day. Mr. Moore was told that the guns were in a vault 300 miles away, but in the film he omits to mention this point. The result is a memorable scene which has Mr. Moore walking out of the bank holding up a gun after opening an account.
Or there's "Fahrenheit 9/11," in which Mr. Moore uses the following snippet from a speech to show Mr. Bush as the moneyed, arrogant man I'd assumed him to be: "This is an impressive crowd, the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base."
I thought Mr. Moore had nailed Mr. Bush when I saw that. But Mr. Moore fails to mention that Mr. Bush is speaking at the Al Smith dinner, a Catholic fundraiser at which politicians are expected to make fun of themselves. The quote is taken out of context; at the same dinner, Al Gore jokes about having "invented the internet." When seen in its original light, the president comes off as a guy who is capable of self-mockery: surely that's surprising enough in itself.
As for the claim in "Bowling for Columbine" that people in Toronto leave their doors open at night … well, I don't, and I don't know anyone who does.
We first screened the documentary at the South By South West film festival in Austin, Texas. The crowd was full of the same kind of people who were probably cheering "Fahrenheit 9/11" a few years ago.
Having included some of the criticisms of Mr. Moore in our film, we weren't sure what the response would be. It was provocative. On the one hand, we had Mr. Moore supporters telling us we shouldn't be attacking a man who does so much good. On the other, we had leftist activists applauding us for questioning him.
Mr. Moore has been given every opportunity to respond to the questions raised by my film. Thus far he has refused to comment.
At a recent event in New York, Mr. Moore was asked about our film, which we'd decided to call "Manufacturing Dissent." "The Noam Chomsky film?" he replied, coyly referring to the Chomsky documentary "Manufacturing Consent." The journalist who had asked the question persisted: "No. ‘Manufacturing Dissent,' the film about you and your filmmaking methods." But Mr. Moore claimed he knew nothing about it.
© 2007 - Debbie Melnyk / The Sunday Telegraph
In defence of "rural values..."
Big City Elitism Will Fade Into Irrelevancy
Friday, April 13, 2007
Quebec's provincial election of two weeks ago, which saw Premier Jean Charest's Liberals diminished to 48 seats - forming Quebec's first minority government since 1878 - the Separatist Party, the PQ, suffer a resounding defeat, and moderate conservative ADQ, headed by Mario Dumont, surge from five seats to 41 to replace the PQ as the official opposition, has once again demonstrated that Canada's media juggernaut - big city nationals and dailies like the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star - are so far out of touch that they are destined to fade into irrelevancy - along with their prejudices.
No Apologies is available for you to listen to on our website (www.ecpcentre.org) for free. Every week a new broadcast of No Apologies will be uploaded to our website for your listening pleasure.
Canada's few independent newspapers hailed the event as a major paradigm shift. Lorne Gunter, columnist for The Edmonton Journal, called it a major "shift in power that may lead to interesting political times across the nation"
But on the front cover of Canada's major dailies, the vile venom of secular-liberalism, masquerading as tolerance and political correctness was pungent and raw - so raw in fact, defibulaters must have been operating at maximum capacity at both the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, which found the electoral results a cardiac catastrophe.
True to big city form, Mark Abley, one time columnist for the Montreal Gazette, but writing for the Star, interpreted the event as only a secular liberal can.
"I'm not saying that most of the people who voted for the ADQ on Monday are homophobic racists who want women to stay in the kitchen."
Abley does mean to offend. He's just offering an observation. And for Abley the observation is that "rural" Canada, a place that gives succor and comfort to racists, bigots, chauvinists and Christians, is at war with the cultured sophistication of big city life.
"We're not just bigger; we're different. In North Bay and Riviere-du-Loup, almost everybody's skin is white. Immigrants are few and far between. Gay people are equally scarce on the ground; most of them have moved to larger cities."
And that's why, for the Toronto Star, the election results can mean only one thing, rural Canada wants "revenge."
"The Quebec election forms part of a wider trend throughout Canada and beyond. Think of it as the revenge of the rural vote."
Funny, isn't it - whenever liberals lose, the reasons have to do with humanity's baser instincts like "anger" and "revenge." But whenever conservatives lose, it's about embracing "change" and "progress."
That's the kind of in-depth and sophisticated analysis one can expect from the Star.
John Ibbitson, writing for the Globe and Mail, and perhaps the most glib and elitist journalist in circulation, was opaque, and he was irate.
"Canada's rural regions continue to harbour obnoxious attitudes" he wrote, and "intolerance remains a force in Canadian politics."
Never mind that Canadian progressives like Ibbitson don't believe their own tripe about tolerance and understanding. And never mind that both papers represent the epitome of big city elitism - and offer observations that probably have contributed to liberal losses as much as anything else.
What their columns demonstrate is that, at the root of big city elitism is a very base and deep-seated hatred for anyone who holds to traditional values, even if, as is the case with the ADQ, those values are benign at best - after all Dumont, the leader of the ADQ is no poster boy for social conservatism.
Neither the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, nor John Ibbitson have held a special place in my literary world, and the two columns cited about the Quebec election serve only to demonstrate that the writers and their ilk are impervious to reason.
But I was nevertheless struck by a certain profundity in one of Ibbitson's lines.
"So, to all the ADQ backbenchers and small-town mayors who disparage the latest batch of new arrivals, this message: Go ahead. You and your prejudices will fade away, and your towns will disappear, unless you can find a way to attract the very people you love to denigrate."
His words ring with a certain prophetic foreboding - but the problem for him (and big city newspapers) is that he's really prophesying about their future.
Because the future lies with rural Canada, and those still having families - you know those people you big city secularists love to denigrate.
Yours for our culture,
Tristan Emmanuel - ECP Centre President
The Economist on the ADQ...
By: Peter Schrank
Mar 29th 2007 MONTREAL
AT FIRST sight, Quebec's provincial election altered nothing. Jean Charest, the plodding federalist who leads the Quebec Liberal Party, will remain in office as provincial premier. Yet almost everything else has changed. The separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) has suffered a possibly terminal drubbing. With that, the federalist-separatist divide that has defined the French-speaking province's politics and infected the politics of the rest of English-speaking Canada for more than a generation may become a thing of the past.
In its place there is a new party, Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), and a new demand for "autonomy" - whatever that might mean. And in the short term, at least, the rise of the ADQ may also redraw Canada's political map in favour of Stephen Harper, the federal Conservative prime minister.
In any other election in Quebec over the past century the Liberal haul of just 48 seats would have sent Mr Charest to the unemployment office. But the surge in support for the ADQ has turned a two-party system into a tripartite one. Mr Charest will head the province's first minority government since 1878.
The ADQ and its leader, Mario Dumont, were the real winners of the election. Where the Parti Québécois is social-democrat and wants independence, the ADQ is conservative and moderately nationalist. Only six months ago, it was written off as a one-man band. During the campaign Mr Dumont was plagued by the ill-chosen remarks of ill-chosen candidates. One pooh-poohed violence against women, another attacked immigrants who didn't embrace Quebec ways, a third accused Jews of starting wars as a means to enrich themselves. And Mr Dumont's party was heavily outspent by the Liberals and the Parti Québécois.
That it nevertheless pushed the PQ into third place and its worst result since its debut in 1970 was in part a personal triumph for the politically deft Mr Dumont, a former Liberal aged only 36. But he also tapped a wider desire for change.
Like an increasing number of Quebeckers, Mr Dumont refuses to define himself as either a federalist or a separatist. Instead, he and his party favour "autonomy" - that Quebec should stay in Canada but with increased powers. What he really advocates is setting aside the stale argument over Quebec's relationship with Canada and moving on to other matters.
This stance was never taken very seriously by Montreal's chattering classes. But along with Mr Dumont's conservative platform, it seems to have resonated with French-speakers elsewhere in the province, in the suburbs and farming areas and even in Quebec City. Voters in these places usually decide Quebec's elections.
In the past they have often backed the Parti Québécois, which twice held referendums on independence and came within a few thousand votes of winning one of them in 1995. This time the PQ's promise to hold another referendum if elected put many voters off, perhaps for good. The PQ's slide will continue, predicts Vincent Lemieux, a veteran political scientist: "I don't think they'll ever govern again." He says that Quebec's main nationalist parties tend to last a generation before being supplanted by another with a different vision. The PQ, which grew out of the radical post-colonial fervour of the 1960s, may just find its time is up.
It was not helped by its newish young leader, André Boisclair. His Milan suits, open homosexuality and use of cocaine while a cabinet minister turned off many traditionalists. Some of them stayed at home, while others switched to the ADQ. In defeat, Mr Boisclair said he would stay as leader and argue for the PQ to reconsider some of its policies. But the party may find it easier to change its leader than to begin a debate about its raison d'être of independence.
The rise of the ADQ also confirms a drift to the right in Quebec. The party's platform featured support for the family, slashing welfare, a greater role for private health care and vague calls that immigrants conform to local customs. Its role as the official opposition could mean, paradoxically, that Mr Charest's second term is easier than his first, despite having lost his majority. Mr Charest, a former leader of the federal Conservatives, tried to slim down government but was often frustrated by the PQ and its trade-union allies.
The election was good news, too, for Mr Harper in Ottawa. In this month's budget, his government offered extra money to Quebec in a transparent effort to show that federalism can work. With a supporter in Mr Charest and an admirer in Mr Dumont, Mr Harper may be encouraged to call an election himself. He, too, heads a minority government and believes that the road to a majority runs through Quebec.
But in the longer run, Quebec's vote may pose new questions. One is whether separatism is quite as moribund as it now seems. The other, if it is, is what "autonomy" means in practice, beyond demands for yet more cash from Ottawa.
Copyright 2007 - The Economist
Another look at the budget
Family viewing: A politically astute budget
March 22nd, 2007
AS THE finance minister of a precarious minority government, Jim Flaherty had to take as much notice of politics as of the economy in delivering his budget on March 19th. So it was no surprise that he sprinkled largesse, doled out tax breaks to "working families" and small businesses, and even tried to silence provincial whinging with extra lashings of cash. He could do all this because Canada's financial position is strong. He announced the tenth successive annual fiscal surplus.
The budget did little for the Conservative commitment to smaller government and lower taxes. But it was politically astute. The two biggest provinces, Ontario and Quebec, will get more federal cash. A few gestures on the environment - higher taxes on gas-guzzling cars - may blunt opposition criticism that the government isn't green. There was a nod to business in tax breaks for capital investment, aimed at improving sluggish productivity growth.
This year economic growth is expected to slow slightly, to 2.3%, mainly because of the knock-on effect of the deceleration across the border in the United States. So the budget's mild fiscal stimulus makes macroeconomic sense as well.
Mr Flaherty laughed off comparison with the policies of the previous Liberal government. But such jibes may resonate with Conservatives in western Canada, not least because he announced the gradual phasing out of tax breaks for investment in Alberta's oil sands. And increasing federal transfers to the provinces for shared programmes, such as health and education, runs contrary to the conservative principle of local tax accountability. Mr Flaherty said these transfers would end bickering between Ottawa and the provinces. Some hope: the money is being poured into "a bottomless pit of ingratitude", says William Robson of the C.D. Howe Institute, a business think-tank. Meanwhile, business leaders worry that business taxes are relatively high, according to a report this week by the Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister company.
Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, knows this. But he also knows that the opposition is unlikely to try to bring the government down over a popular budget. The working family with most to gain from the budget may be the one living at 24 Sussex Drive, the prime-ministerial residence.
Copyright 2007 - The Economist
And here we go again...
Flaherty biggest of the big spenders
Andrew Coyne, National Post
Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2007
OTTAWA - At various points in the course of its 477 pages, the budget pauses to declare itself "historic." As in: "Budget 2007 makes a historic investment of ..." Or: "Budget 2007 takes historic action to..." They got that right. With this budget, Jim Flaherty officially becomes the biggest spending finance minister in the history of Canada.
It's true. The $200-billion Mr. Flaherty proposes to spend this year works out to about $5,800 for every citizen. Even after you adjust for increases in prices and population, that's more than the Martin government spent at its frenetic worst, when it was almost shovelling the stuff out the door. It is more than the Mulroney government spent in its last days, when it was past caring. It is more than the Trudeau government spent in the depths of the early 1980s recession. All of these past benchmarks of over-the-top, out-of-control spending must now be retired. Jim Flaherty has outdone them all.
In two years of this "conservative" government, spending has climbed a historic $25-billion. Bear in mind: that's on top of the wild rise in spending during the Liberals' last term. The Tories have taken all of that fat, all of that waste, and all of those hundreds of priorities - and added to them.
Cast your mind back to 2000. In his budget of that year, Paul Martin, then the finance minister, pledged to hold increases in program spending to no more than what was required to keep pace with inflation and population growth, or roughly 3% per year. He didn't, of course - spending rose more than twice as fast over the next six years - but suppose he had.
Suppose subsequent ministers had followed suit. Today, program spending would be just $157-billion - $43-billion less than the current estimate.
And that's assuming Mr. Flaherty shows any greater propensity to stay within his budget than his predecessors. But then, historically, they never do. The $200-billion Mr. Flaherty proposes to spend this year is nearly $4-billion more than he projected in his last budget, just 10 months ago. The $207-billion he projects for next year, we may assume, will be similarly revised. The budget boasts of instituting "a new Expenditure Management System." And why not: That's a whole lot of new expenditures to manage.
Is this what you voted for, you loyal Conservative followers? Is this what you suffered for, through all those long years of Liberal rule, dreaming of the Conservative revolution to come? "Hiring 50% more environmental enforcement officers?" Increasing "the share of meal expenses that long-haul truck drivers can deduct?" Tax credits for lacrosse? Exactly how does this differ from any Liberal budget - other than outspending them, I mean?
And on the tax side? We had been conditioned to expect very little in the way of tax cuts by the Tories' trumpeting of their risible "tax-back guarantee," in which the interest savings from debt reduction - a whole $20 per taxpayer - were to be dedicated to tax reduction. But I had not realized quite how little it would be. Because even the "tax back guarantee," it turns out, involves no actual tax cut of any kind. Rather, "the interest savings enhance the Government's ability to deliver on new personal income tax reductions" - mark those words - "including the introduction of the Working Income Tax Benefit, the $2,000 child credit, raising the spousal amount, and increasing the age limit for converting a registered retirement savings plan."
Now, what do the items on that list have in common? They are not tax cuts, in the usual sense of a reduction in tax rates. Rather, they are spending programs, delivered through the tax system. The "$2,000 child credit" is in fact a $310 baby bonus. The Working Income Tax Benefit is an earnings supplement. These may be fine programs, but they're programs: money the government gives you, depending on whether you fit the criterion. That's why they're called tax expenditures - and why they're accounted as such on the government's books.
So even the $1-billion "tax back" - out of total revenues of $237-billion - turns out, on closer inspection, to be - zero. What was it Stephen Harper was saying the other day, about the people who didn't have the time to organize a protest or the money to hire a lobbyist? Well, they're the ones that got left out of this budget: the common, ordinary, undifferentiated taxpayers. If you perform little tricks for the government, do the things it wants you to do - ride the bus, live past 65, invest in a manufacturing company - you get a cookie. But there isn't one real, honest-to-God, across-the-board tax cut in the entire document. The government that raised personal income tax rates in 2006 cannot scrounge up enough revenues to lower them in 2007.
Of course they can't: They gave it all to the provinces. The ad hoc mess that Mr. Martin made of the equalization program - it was equalization, without the equalization - has been replaced with a carefully rationalized, formula-run, principle- based mess. Or rather four or possibly five messes: It's impossible to speak of a single equalization program any more, not when you have resource revenues that are first excluded (well, 50% of them), then included (via the dreaded "fiscal capacity cap"), only to be excluded again for two of the provinces - the cap was supposed to apply to (Newfoundland and Nova Scotia) but not the third (Saskatchewan).
But they did manage to torture the numbers, by means of various one-time payments and other instruments too hideous to mention, to show that no province would be worse off than it "would have" been had they followed some other system. This year. The upshot: equalization, at a time of shrinking disparities between the provinces, will grow by $1.5-billion. And Quebec's share? Why, all of it, of course. (More than all of it, in fact: Don't ask me how, but Quebec gets 109% of the increase.) Even Gilles Duceppe could not think of a way to find this humiliating.
It is good news, at least, that the "fiscal imbalance," the notion that Ottawa is systematically stiffing the provinces - a rank falsehood, but appealing in its simplicity - somehow wandered into the impenetrable thicket of equalization and got lost. But what a price! All told, this year the federal government will transfer $43-billion, a fifth of every dollar it collects, to other levels of government - $48-billion if you count the gas-tax giveaway to the cities. (Is it possible to make city governments even less accountable than they already are? Yes: give them billions of dollars in federal lolly every year.) Four years ago it was $29-billion.
And what did the feds get in return? Last year's budget made some encouraging noises to the effect that Ottawa would use the leverage of its largesse to make some demands of its own, insisting that the provinces get serious about the economic union, harmonize their sales taxes with the GST, accept a national securities regulator, and so on. And now that the money has been delivered? The usual bumf about "working with" our provincial partners to build upon the precedent set in the zzzzzzzzzzz. In other words, about as much co-operation as Mr. Martin got for his $41-billion health accord.
Will it at least shut them up? Don't bet on it. Quebec may be gorged, but I can hear Ontario squawking already that, while one federal money pot, the Canada Social Transfer, will now be distributed among the provinces on an equal per capita basis, the same is not true with regard to the Canada Health Transfer. It will still get billions more, you understand, than it did before: free money that, notwithstanding the careful labels, it can spend as it likes. But it doesn't get quite as much as it might have liked to have got. The new fiscal imbalance?
© National Post 2007