Entries from April 2008 ↓

Fog


Bank of Canada boss Mark Carney: Reassuring, kinda.

Time is running out on a Spring election. Despite my best efforts to whip Stephane Dion into an orgiastic, hormonal electoral frenzy, he remains his cool Gallic self. The man clings to his mantra that he’ll bring Mr. Harper down at the moment of his choosing. He says that with calm conviction and determination, in a manner that has even his closest advisors unsure of what comes next.

As you are aware, I believe there are many reasons to unleash the voters. If you are feeling financial stress, or had hoped for an ethical prime minister, or had income trusts, or care about climate change or don’t like government setting your morals, or believe MPs should actually be able to speak, you know.

A few more reasons came as I sat in the finance committee today and listened to Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney answer my questions. He did nothing but reinforce my sinking feeling the economic news is about to get a lot worse. Oh, his words were guarded and measured, but they were also devoid of steady confidence, especially with respect to housing.

In QP, Stephen Harper – a recognized expert of election financing – was asked eight times when he knew his party was cheating taxpayers, and if he approved it. He refused to answer. Instead, the defense is to insist all parties do the same thing, sort of. It’s enough to accomplish the goal – confusing voters, so they’re pissed at all of us.

Polls seem to confirm that. Neck-and-neck results from two more in the past two days, suggesting nobody would ‘win’ an election right now. Meanwhile, the Harper Conservatives give as good as they get, accusing Dion of wanting to “massively boost” gas taxes, at a time when fuel costs are shocking a nation. That it’s false hardly seems to matter any more. Coming on the heels of Tory claims Libs would raise the GST and put the country $62 billion into new debt, well, what’s another flamer?

It adds to the fog of voter mistrust. Overstated allegations, over-the-top responses, overarching accusers, overzealous attacks and overblown rehetoric – all cloaking the reality of an underachieving Parliament. In reality, most MPs jet in each week just to fight with each other. The House, committees, the foyer, the scrums are now partisan battlegrounds. Civility seems to rear its unfamiliar head only on the little green bus, or in the can. Hard to make good laws there.

In this context, maybe Dion’s right. Would an election next month change anything, or just take the eye-gouging spectacle on tour for 36 days?

We’ll know this time next week. But I’d say right now the summer looks like it’ll be all about weenies. Maybe some BBQ stuff, too.

Until this day

My older brother was an advance man for Robert Stanfield. My older sister stood to be a federal candidate. My mother was constituency officer manager for an MP. My father had an award pinned on his chest by a prime minister for duty to democracy. My grandmother’s first husband was a member of Parliament in the House of Commons when Canada was created in 1867. As you may know, I’ve been elected to Parliament twice.

In my family’s history, in my country’s history, a governing party has never turned its back on the fair and open democratic process. Until this day.

In a vote Tuesday night, every one of the 117 Conservative members in the House stood, indicating they have no confidence in the regulatory body overseeing Canadian elections. Despite the fact Elections Canada is viewed around the world as the arbitrar of law, a non-partisan beacon of impartiality, it was censored by the very men and women who now run the country. The democracy of Canada, that would be.

The vote was on a motion floored by the Bloc Quebecois asking that Parliament reaffirm, in the midst of the ongoing electoral scandal, that we all have faith in the elections cops.

No group of people in the country should be more qualified to do so. We all went through an election to get here, in which every dollar earned and spent had to be accounted for, in which we appointed official agents to track our spending and auditors to verify it, in which strict rules governed our candidacies and our behaviour, and in which the playing field was as level for our competitors as it was for ourselves. We all know any infraction of the rules, however insignificant or whenever discovered, could lead to the loss of our seat.

The very essence of Elections Canada, as we have experienced, is the fair and even application of the voting laws on every person standing for office, and the parties they form. I am told no other country is as scrupulous, vigilant or thorough in making sure citizens are protected from political groups who would trade ethics for power.

All MPs know that. They’re proud to have made the grade. Even those 117 Conservatives. Unfortunately, they were instructed by their party leadership to vote against this motion as part of the Conservatives’ sinking attempt to save themselves from being charged with electoral abuse and fraud.

Recently, Mr. Harper’s party has sued Elections Canada. It’s claimed the regulator has unfairly and unjustly targeted it for action. It has trivialized an RCMP raid on its headquarters. And now it has voted no confidence in the law agency itself.

But none of that will disguise the fact the Harper Conservatives, self-avowed party of law and order, constantly exhorting citizens to ‘play by the rules’, itself demands to be above the law.

I am sure Sir John is spinning. My forefather, Ebenezer Bodwell, too. And my parents, and brother.

But I’m still here. And 151 other men and women who, this night, put principle above party.

The story

Mortgage broker spills the facts on our ‘Canadian subprimes’, here.

Wizened Hill reporters were surprised Monday when MPs came back to work, and started talking about the economy. The first minutes of QP rang out in a chorus of gas prices, jobs, food inflation and deficit worries. Well down the list were the sandals the scribes had been expecting – the RCMP raid on the Tory bunker, electoral fraud, Cadman, locusts and venal sin.

It actually seemed newsworthy to a few cameras that the voters of Halton were more concerned about their own finances than the Statements of Electoral Campaign Expenses (Part 3a). Of course, it shouldn’t have been. This is the story. When Canadians come to vote, likely the only story.

It wasn’t lost on Stephane Dion as he presided over his shadow cabinet Monday morning, nor on Ralph Goodale as he organized the QP roster, nor on John McCallum as he stood and fired, nor – most importantly – on the minister of finance, now uncomfortable and angry in the crosshairs. It certainly is not lost on my colleagues, a growing number of whom openly yearn for a brawl.

A week back in the riding, after all, concentrates the mind and pierces the bubble surrounding Parliament. If more of the national media tagged along, they’d see a changing economic landscape way out there beyond Sparks Street. In Calgary, home sales are down a stunning 35.9%, while in Edmonton this year 6,354 houses have sold (a 28% drop) and 16,000 more have been listed.

Walking through the foyer this afternoon, I looked at my Berry and saw a note from a blog visitor outside Hamilton telling me of 84 homes listed for sale in one neighbourhood in recent weeks and just five inquiries. Not sales, just five phone calls. Oil prices touched $120 in the past few hours, and gas prices have risen by three cents a litre. In the Okanagan Valley, there are 1,450 condos for sale. On Monday, 900 more jobs – good ones – disappeared at the giant GM complex in Oshawa, near Mr. Flaherty’s home. And forty minutes out of Kitchener, 400 people heard their jobs are vanishing as Campbell’s pulls out of Listowel after 58 years.

Do you know what four hundred jobs means in a town like that? Does the finance minister, with his two government pensions, his politician MPP wife, their law degrees and their unbridled personal success? I sure hope so. I guess we’ll know soon.

In Halton, financial stress is mounting faster than the spring temperatures. As the cost of living – gas, heating, food – rises, so does anxiety that home equity could soon be falling. It’s a death spiral for wealth. Cash flow sucked off to fill the van. Savings at zero. And real estate falling while mortgages do not.

It’s at moments like these that Mr. Flaherty’s decision to cut taxes on spending instead of income looks more than questionable. It’s when every family could have used income-splitting, or when seniors lament the assault on their savings when the minister attacked income trusts. Families losing wage-earners must question a high-dollar policy which helped make our country uncompetitive. And, soon I’d say, we’ll all be asking why the government learned nothing from the US real estate disaster – why Mr. Flaherty allowed 40-year mortgages just when the market there was blowing up.

Families have a right to ask what their leaders were thinking when they did such things. They deserve a chance to respond.

And I didn’t become an MP to watch the middle class unwind.