Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Vote for Layton, A Vote for Canada



I remember standing in the front row of the Coalition demonstration in December of 2008. Jack Layton came over and shook my hand, and I said to him, "I hope you become Prime Minister some day." I registered a look of surprise in his face, as though he hadn't considered it a possibility. Today, it's a possibility.

The Globe and Mail endorsed Conservative leader Stephen Harper in an editorial Friday. They point to his record, his economic stewardship, his preference for free market policies and his tempered non-doctrinaire leadership.

Had the editors of the Globe and Mail been looking more closely (and indeed, one wonders what they have been looking at these past five years under Harper) they would recognize that these are Jack Layton's accomplishments, and to a lesser extent Jean Chretien's accomplishments, and not Stephen Harper's.

The economic stability pundits laud as demonstrative of Canadian strength in difficult economic times was the result of bank regulation and stewardship. Over the objections of the Conservative policy, which would have launched us into an era of bank speculation, the Liberal government of the day rejected proposed Canadian bank mergers and upheld the regulation now lauded as the basis for Canada's ability to withstand the global recession. Unlike, say, Iceland and Ireland, both victims of the sort of 'prudence' the Globe and Mail now praises.

During five years of Harper minority governments, we have seen an unrepentant Stephen Harper champing impatiently at the bit, yearning for the majority support he would been to implement what can only politely be called a thoroughgoing conservative agenda. But, being in a minority, he required opposition support.

When it came to holding the Conservative government in check, preventing the sort of irresponsible management that would have characterized their pre-recession bank policy, it was the New Democrats who faced Harper down and made him put Canada's needs ahead of the Conservative agenda.

Yes, Michael Ignatieff supported the Conservative government on a regular basis, but with the disgraceful result of concession and caving. Through a hundred votes, no Conservative proposal was too disgraceful or too damaging to escape Liberal support. Hence the corporate tax cuts and other tax policies, mistreatment and torture of prisoners, the reversal of the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the slashing of foreign aid, the abandonment of economic development - all these and more routinely received a Liberal rubber stamp.

Harper's 'prudent' financial management, which the Globe and Mail now praises, and which received Liberal approval step by step, is one in which a surplus of $13 billion per year in 2006-07 was converted into a structural $55.6 billion deficit by 2009-10. What is more remarkable was that for months after the global financial collapse in 2008, Harper denied that there was an economic crisis at all. How quickly people forget that it was Harper's "don't worry - be happy" approach to the economy in 2008 that prompted the forming of the coalition that forced Harper to prorogue parliament and come back with a revised economic statement in 2009.

A stimulus package was approved, appropriately, with the support of the opposition partners. This is one of Layton's achievements; Harper would have simply let the economy collapse, businesses fail, and people be put out of work. The government put together a loan and guarantees package that helped save General Motors with no loss of government money. This is another of Layton's achievements. The Globe and Mail opposed the bailout. Harper would have let the company fail, as with quiescent Liberal support he allowed the star of Canada's technology sector, Northern Telecom, slip into receivership and oblivion.

While Harper was planning to enact massive and strutural corporate tax cuts with Liberal support, the New Democrats were working to help people impacted by the recession. Without Layton's urging, the Conservatives would never have passed the Employment Insurance extensions badly needed by laid off Canadian workers, reducing the number of hours a worker must have to be eligible for benefits, making EI available to the self-employed, increasing the benefits, and getting rid of the two-week waiting period.

What was Harper's economic strategy while receiving Liberal support? With the Liberal government in British Columbia, Harper supported the extension of the hated HST.  The Harper government somehow managed to spend a billion dollars on a two day meeting, an event in which the Conservatives managed to both violate basic human rights and to launch an orgy of spending on a cabinet minister's riding. Harper's government also announced a multi-billion dollar deal to purchase 65 F-35 jets, a deal Harper says will cost $15 billion but will probably be more than twice that.

What the Globe and Mail - and conservatives generally - laud as prudent economic management is nothing more that an ad hoc array of reckless spending sprees and tax cuts, a consistent record of caring nothing and doing less to help Canadians in general economic need, and a denial of the principles of sound economic management generally.

The other traits inexplicably praised by the Globe and Mail are in fact serious character flaws. When the newspaper lauds Harper's "bullheadedness", what we as Canadians are in fact experiencing, as Matthew Hays writes, "but from my daily diet of news across the ideological spectrum, Mr. Harper chooses opacity over transparency, refuses to answer questions forthrightly, if at all, and displays a downright dishonest streak." What else can we say of a national leader that allows he national media - the entire national media - only four questions a day during a federal election campaign? Or who bars people entry to campaign events because of the Facebook page?

In fact, what we see from Harper are the politics of control. All communication from his office is directed solely toward the election of a Conservative majority. Any organization that opposes him in any way is defended and silenced. Thus we see the unceremonious - and high-handed - refusal to renew funding for the respected Kairos organization. The politicization of stimulus and science funding (to the point that health and safety are compromised) and the NRC.

This is not prudent management. If it does not reach the outright levels of corruption alleged to have taken place in the previous Conservative majority government, it is only, it seems, because it is restrained by the opposition, not because of any inherent economic management.

To the NDP, then. A party that historically has an excellent record of fiscal management, bringing stability to a Saskatchewan government brought to the brink of ruin by Grant Devine's Conservatives, Manitoba's NDP government continues its record of pudent management, and Nova Scotia's NDP is the only government in the country to be reporting a surplus. Indeed, the one case of NDP financial mismanagement everybody likes to cite is Bob Rae's failure to deal with the Mulroney made-in-Canada recession in the 1980s. Rae would have made a good Liberal leader. And both Rae and the NDP learned form the experience, as more recent evidence demonstrates clearly.

On health care, the NDP record is unassailable. The party that founded health care in Canada continues to defend the single-payer system as a source of national pride. The Liberals are prepared to sacrifice health care funding for other priorities, as past performance demonstrates, with a record so poor even the Conservatives can attack it. Stephen Harper, meanwhile, would prefer to privatize the system, destroying one of Canada's major economic advantages for the sake of ideology.

Across the board on social issues - on women's rights, on aboriginal issues, on poverty, on education, even on things like copyright and usage-based billing, the NDP stands squarely on the side of the average Canadian. While Harper is weak on environmental issues and notoriously supportive of major polluters, the NDP promotes alternative energy and an end to oil company subsidies. Indeed,under Harper, Canada - which has had a sterling reputation internationally - has become something of a pariah.

It has been a sad, disappointing and careless five years under Harper, a government so marked by partisan politics and mismanagement that the Globe and Mail's lauding of it as "prudent" itself looks suspect. Canada's Liberal party as been ineffective in opposition, more compliant than defiant, hoping, it would appear, to appease those same corporate interests now filling the Conservative Party coffers. the only bright lights of the last five years have been those provided by Jack Layton's New Democrats, a fouth-ranked party whose small caucus punched well above its weight, kept in check the George Bush of Canadian politics, and which now rightfully deserves a chance to lead.

In this election, as in many previous, I am supporting the New Democratic Party, and am urging those who see the same sort of things that I do to see as well the possibilty of a Prime Minister Jack Layton and the election of a new vision for Canada, the sort of Canada we want for ourselves, and for the world.

10 comments:

  1. The "party that founded healthcare in Canada"? As in the federal NDP? Oh, please. You need to spend some time exploring the complicated history of social medicine in Canada.

    Layton, like Ignatieff and Harper, is a farce. He's as firmly in the brace of corporatism as the others and his environmental proposals are laughable to all but the hopelessly naive.

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  2. Nice post Stephen -- with you all the way.

    Also would like to raise a side point -- the rarity with which those of us who blog professionally (in this case on approaches to ed/learning technologies) feel comfortable about blogging openly on our personal politics (when the post does not relate directly to our professional fields) -- particularly those who may work for governmental institutions.

    Another sign of the (self) imposed split between the personal and the professional in the era of social media?

    Thanks for being a model by crossing these boundaries.

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  3. Well in the case of Canada's civil service, there are very clear conflict-of-interest regulations, especially (and unsurprisingly) when it comes to politics.

    The rule is basically this: we cannot use our office, government supplies and services, or government influence in general, in support of a political candidate or party.

    That's why I posted in Half an Hour - which is very clearly labeled as a blog 'just for me'. And why, generally, I pay for my own online activities, even my OLDaily website.

    Personally, I have always taken the attitude that when I'm employed, I have contracted with my employer for certain services. My employer does not own me, does not own my political (or other) views, does not override my rights and freedoms.

    I think most people in Canada have similar attitudes, and it's this approach to things that allows people of very different politics (and faiths, and cultures, etc) to work together. I don't have to give up who I am in order to work for the government, and the government doesn't need to indoctrinate me in order to get useful work out of me.

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  4. Agreed in theory, but in practice I see some gray areas.

    If I could be a fly in the ointment:

    1) How much of your notoriety comes from your work -- and how many readers of Half an Hour found themselves there because of that?

    2) Generally when a public servant draws negative attention for their personal political views, it isn't articulated as such -- other reasons and means of making their work uncomfortable are found.

    3) There is a lot of ambiguity within the system itself about worker bees blogging about issues that may be construed as even tangentially reflecting negatively on the way the system operates -- this despite the current push for a tech-savvy workforce.

    4) Not quite in the realm of PS, but I'm sure you came across the recent story about a student weeded out of a Harper rally because of a seemingly pro-Ignatieff image on her facebook page -- social media are trolled for potential boat-rockers, and this happens within the PS itself.

    The group of PS bloggers is small, strategic and occasionally harassed. The personal and the professional are hard to keep apart, both for the blogger and the PS.

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  5. Well...

    > 1) How much of your notoriety comes from your work...

    I earned my current position because of my 'notoriety', and built on it not by doing what I was told but by doing what I believed was right. But that's beside the point...

    My employers contract for my work, not for my reputation. They own (a part of) what I produce, not the good name and whatever respect my work earns me.


    > 2) Generally when a public servant draws negative attention for their personal political views...

    One person's 'negative' is another person's positive. I think it's to my employer's credit that they have a workplace where staff are free to express their own convictions, and would reflect very poorly on them if they could not operate in anything other than a totalitarian workplace.

    > it isn't articulated as such -- other reasons and means of making their work uncomfortable are found

    Agreed. Nobody said that what I do isn't without risk, nor reprisal. I am certain there have been reprisals, not just in my current position, but from my days as a student newspaper editor, my days as Graduate Student president, my days as a union representative at Athabasca, and so on. I choose not to let them matter.

    > 3) There is a lot of ambiguity within the system itself about worker bees blogging...

    Quite so.

    I consider it a major part of what I am doing to be setting an example to empower others. I reject outright the idea of work as servitude. I hope my example casts some light on the discussion being conducted in other quarters.

    > 4) ... social media are trolled for potential boat-rockers, and this happens within the PS itself.

    Agreed. But such conduct on the part of political leaders is to be resisted. It is not appropriate to bar someone from political discussion based on their Facebook page - and nor would it it be appropriate to troll social media to 'weed out' dissent within the public service. Such conduct is totally contrary to Canadian values and principles.

    That doesn't mean there's no risk. It means I accept the risk because the principle is more important.

    > The group of PS bloggers is small, strategic and occasionally harassed. The personal and the professional are hard to keep apart, both for the blogger and the PS.

    Part of what it is with me, I think, is that I've never tried to separate the two. What I am personally is what creates what it is that I sell professionally. This is probably true for most people.

    If I weren't committed, passionate, etc., about my work, I would never have developed the expertise that makes me valuable to my employer.

    What I give to my employer - the work that I do, the products that I create - are the *result* of my personal life (after all, it was I, not they, that paid form, and went through, my education & personal life leading up to my employment).

    It is in the face of harassment that it is even more important to maintain the integrity of my personal interests. Should I lose my position, it is my personal self-development, and not what I did on the job, that will ensure my continued employment elsewhere,

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  6. p.s. Finally - I am ALLOWED to do this, it is a right earned through some very difficult negotiations in the past, & to desist on some vague possibility of reprisal is a very poor way to treat the legacy of those before me who worked very hard to ensure I had this right.

    Those who do not exercise their rights, lose them.

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  7. Jack Layton sold out Canada to Steve Harper

    Prime Minister Martin had promised to call the election within thirty days of the release of retired justice John Gomery’s final report on the Liberal sponsorship scandal, which was delivered as planned on February 1, 2006.

    Either way, therefore, a trip to the polls was imminent. But ndp strategists thought it dangerous to allow the government to set the terms of debate, and were concerned that on the key issue of political ethics the party would be caught in a squeeze between the Liberals and the Conservatives.

    They believed that the Liberals would accept virtually all of Justice Gomery’s recommendations and that a chastened Liberal Party could win a majority government.

    http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2006.05-politics-jack-layton-ndp-fake-left-go-right/

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  8. @Nadine, from my perspective both Martin and Harper lead right wing pro-big-business parties (so does Ignatieff, for that matter).

    So it doesn't make sense to say that Layton somehow 'sold out to the right' by defeating Martin's Liberals. The NDP has long complained about Tweedledum-Tweedledee elections pitting the clone Liberals and Tories against each other.

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  9. Thanks for your responses Stephen.

    > Should I lose my position, it is my personal self-development, and not what I did on the job, that will ensure my continued employment elsewhere,

    A great argument for the PLE -- and nicely ties the knot on the personal AS the professional.

    Let's go Lay-ton! (chanted in hockey playoff style :-)

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  10. In light of last night's results, I think much of the nation agrees with you...31% of it, actually, as opposed to the 39% of the drones who voted conservative because they see themselves as conservative people. Someone in my riding said they were voting for Rhona Ambrose because she was a nice lady, and very pretty. I think Quebec spoke for Canada last night by electing our official opposition almost unanimously, despite the fact that many of the NDP candidates were young, green, and lacking in life experience (not to mention political experience). Maybe after four years of PC mis-management, you'll get your wish for Layton to become PM.

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