Archive for November 24th, 2012

Why Trudeau’s Alberta Comments Just Don’t Matter

- November 24th, 2012

Justin-Trudeau-handout

It was nice of Justin Trudeau to apologize for comments he made two years ago in a Quebec TV interview that “Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.”

 

Of course, he wasn’t actually apologizing to Alberta (which wouldn’t really accept an apology from a guy named Trudeau anyway). He was apologizing through Alberta to voters in B.C. and Ontario and elsewhere who were hurt that nice young Justin would show any signs of divisiveness or latent (or not-so-latent) regional bigotry.

 

So he had to apologize if only to show everybody outside Alberta that he’s really a good guy and just sorta misspoke himself, saying “Alberta” when he meant to say “those rednecks in the Harper government (and their supporters).” I know, I know — it’s just a semantic difference (a third of Albertans don’t vote Conservative), but words hurt and Justin Trudeau had to show he’s not that kind of intolerant bully, kicking oil sand in poor little Alberta’s face.

 

Ostensibly, Trudeau’s apology (made in B.C., not Alberta, of course) was supposed to recoup some of the damage done to the supposedly surging campaign of Liberal candidate Harvey Locke in the Calgary Centre byelection being held on Monday.

 

Despite the little-engine-that-could storyline being promoted, it was doubtful Liberal Locke could pull off an upset over Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt — even before Dalton McGuinty’s evil brother David put the shiv in by telling oil-sands-shilling Tory MPs they should “go back to Alberta” and stop pretending to work for the interests of all Canadians in Ottawa.

 

Such towering tempests. Such tiny teapots.

 

Look, even if Liberal Locke managed to pull off the upset, it would give the Grits a grand total of ONE MP in Alberta. Couple that with the ONE MP the Liberals currently have in Saskatchewan and the ONE MP they have in Manitoba and you understand how completely irrelevant the Canadian landscape between the Ontario and B.C. borders is to the Liberal Party’s hopes of climbing out of the parliamentary root cellar in the next federal election (tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015).

 

No matter what happens over the next three years, the Liberals will be hard pressed to win more than five or six of the 56 parliamentary seats up for grabs in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in that election. The future of the Liberal Party of Canada will be fought for and won or lost on different battlefields than on those Plains of Stephen.

UPDATE: Because of redistribution based on the 2011 census, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will have 62 seats up for grabs in the 2015 election, not the 56 in play in the last federal election. More about this a little later, but the redistribution doesn’t change the basic electoral landscape.

 

It’s pretty much the same situation faced by the federal NDP, which I described in a blog post at the beginning of the summer entitled “Why NDP Leader’s Oil Sands Attack Is Smart Political Strategy.”

Tom-Mulcair

Thomas Mulcair had come under vicious political and media attack at the time for daring to suggest that the Harper government was mollycoddling the Alberta oil sands industry, was giving it an easy ride on carrying the full financial burden tied to the environmental legacy of oil sands development and was hurting other elements of the Canadian economy with an unrealistically strong Canadian dollar caused by the Alberta oil industry’s thusly discounted production costs.

 

All those points sound like the screeching of satan’s spawn to Albertans but could well find a receptive audience in other parts of Canada if the economic benefits of the oil sands are not felt strongly enough in non-Alberta regions of the country come October 2015.

 

Did I mention that the NDP currently has a grand total of THREE MPs in all of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba? The socialists have almost as little to lose as the Grits in the Prairies.

 

Given the audiences Mulcair will actually be trying to reach during the 2015 election campaign, an all-out attack on rich, arrogant, selfish, isolationist, unneighbourly Alberta and its  swamps of oil is probably an excellent strategy. With polishing and refinement, it will certainly be some part of the NDP election arsenal.

UPDATE: Electoral district redistribution based on the 2011 census will increase the number of ridings in the 2015 election to 338 from the 309 in last year’s election. The redistribution will give Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta more seats while leaving Atlantic Canada, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the territories with the same number they currently have. Ontario gets by far the biggest upward bump; Quebec the least. B.C. and Alberta each get six more ridings. I’ll give you the new numbers — with the current numbers in brackets — but the changes don’t affect the main thrust of the next few paragraphs which use the old numbers: 1.) The Liberals and NDP would like to increase their representation in the Prairies but both could still theoretically form a majority government without a single seat from Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba, and 2.) Ontario, more than ever, will be the battleground where the 2015 federal election is won or lost.

Here are the numbers: Atlantic Canada 32 (32), Quebec 78 (75), Ontario 121 (106), Manitoba 14 (14), Saskatchewan 14 (14), Alberta 34 (28), B.C. 42 (36). The three territories will continue to have 1 MP apiece.

 

When push comes to shove, Alberta’s 28 federal ridings will have absolutely no impact on how either the Liberals and the NDP fare in the next election.

 

B.C., by comparison, has 36 seats. Even if you add Saskatchewan’s 14 seats and Manitoba’s 14 seats to Alberta’s 28, the combined Prairie total of 56 seats hardly compares to Quebec’s 75 seats and is barely half of the 106 seats in Ontario.

 

The 32 seats in Atlantic Canada will likely split much as they did in the 2011 election (14 Conservative, 12 Liberal, 6 NDP) but even a strong surge one way or another won’t make a significant difference to the final standings.

 

The real battle for control of the Canadian government and for the future of Canada (and the future of the Liberal Party of Canada, for that matter) will be fought in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.

 

So you can comfortably ignore the doomsayers proclaiming that Justin Trudeau has (perhaps) fatally wounded his Liberal leadership hopes by insulting Alberta. Alberta is meaningless to Trudeau’s fate in either the party leadership race or the general election of 2015. As I said before, he just has to make nice with people who hate his family name for the optical benefit of his real supporters elsewhere in Canada.

 

What Trudeau was actually doing in that 2010 Tele-Quebec TV interview was not Alberta bashing but sucking up to Quebec. Don’t forget: in 2010, Justin had only been an MP for two years, was still generally thought of as a green, elitist, protected boy by many political pros and voters inside Quebec and elsewhere.

 

That interview was part of Justin’s low-key, folksy campaign to prove himself a real Quebecois, a native son of Quebec and a regular guy able to joke around and take a tumble down a flight of stairs without missing a beat. Here’s another bit of that same interview on YouTube. It worked: Trudeau is now one politician most Quebecers would like to go out and share a beer and bowl of poutine with. After establishing his bona fides in Quebec, Justin took his genial charisma show on the road and has done an excellent job of charming the rest of Canada … even Alberta (or at least the third of Alberta that doesn’t vote Conservative through thick and thin).

 

The Liberal party machine is still in terrible disarray in Quebec, but Les Rouges have a much better chance of bouncing back with Justin Trudeau as their leader than with anyone else. They do have such a long way to go, though, with a sad little rump of only eight Quebec MPs now — almost as few as the Conservatives and Bloc (and the Bloc’s disastrous finish in the 2011 election just shows how quickly political fortunes can change).

 

Quebec is also going to be a major test for the NDP. It will be impossible for the socialists to hang on to the 58 Quebec seats that miraculously fell into their laps in 2011. How far they fall there will determine whether the NDP can challenge to be seen as a party capable of governing or whether they will be thrust back down to perpetual third-party status.

 

But (of course) Ontario is the greatest battleground with the greatest prizes to be won — or lost. With only 11 MPs in Ontario now, the Liberals fell the furthest but also have the most potential for making a huge rebound in 2015.

 

The real problem for both the Liberals and NDP is the vote-splitting that allowed the Conservatives to come up the middle in so many Ontario ridings.

 

So don’t worry about Justin Trudeau and his Alberta “problem.” He’ll do just fine, whatever Alberta thinks of him.

 

 

As for apologizing, I don’t recall ever hearing Stephen Harper apologize for his 2001 open letter to Ralph Klein urging the then-premier “to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.”

Stephen-Harper-Grey-Cup

The future prime minister of Canada had so many nasty things to say about the federal government back in 2001:

 

In our view, the Chretien government undertook a series of attacks not merely designed to defeat its partisan opponents, but to marginalize Alberta and Albertans within Canada’s political system.

 

If the government in Ottawa concludes that Alberta is a soft target, we will be subjected to much worse than dishonest television ads. The Prime Minister has already signaled as much by announcing his so called “tough love” campaign for the West.

 

… a misguided and increasingly hostile government in Ottawa …

 

(T)he government in Ottawa will be tempted to take advantage of Alberta’s prosperity, to redistribute income from Alberta to residents of other provinces in order to keep itself in power.

 

Now read Justin Trudeau’s 2010 comment again:

 

“Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.”

 

I really don’t see why Justin Trudeau should be apologizing for his remarks (he also said Quebecers make better prime ministers than Albertans — a funny, funny line) if Stephen Harper never apologized for his much harsher attack on All Parts Of Canada That Aren’t Alberta.

 

But then Justin Trudeau is a genuinely nice guy  — and knows some fights are just a complete waste of time and energy. Trudeau, me’thinks, has bigger fish to fry.

 

 

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

 

Here is the full text of the open letter Stephen Harper and five other Alberta academics and policy wonks sent to Ralph Klein demanding “firewalls” to protect Alberta from the heathen hordes of Other Canadians at the gate. I’ve boldfaced the sections from which I took the previously used quotes

“An Open Letter To Ralph Klein”

(published in The National Post on Jan. 24, 2001)

 

Dear Premier Klein:

 

During and since the recent federal election (Ed.: Jean Chretien won his third majority in the Nov. 27, 2000 election), we have been among a large number of Albertans

discussing the future of our province. We are not dismayed by the outcome of the election so much as by the strategy employed by the current federal government to secure its re-election. In our view, the Chretien government undertook a series of attacks not merely designed to defeat its partisan opponents, but to marginalize Alberta and Albertans within Canada’s political system.

One well-documented incident was the attack against Alberta’s health care system. To your credit, you vehemently protested the unprecedented attack ads that the federal government launched against Alberta’s policies – policies the Prime Minister had previously found no fault with.

However, while your protest was necessary and appreciated by Albertans, we believe that it is not enough to respond only with protests. If the government in Ottawa concludes that Alberta is a soft target, we will be subjected to much worse than dishonest television ads. The Prime Minister has already signaled as much by announcing his so called “tough love” campaign for the West.

We believe the time has come for Albertans to take greater charge of our own future. This means resuming control of the powers that we possess under the constitution of Canada but that we have allowed the federal government to exercise. Intelligent use of these powers will help Alberta build a prosperous future in spite of a misguided and increasingly hostile government in Ottawa.

Under the heading of the “Alberta Agenda,” we propose that our province move forward on the following fronts:

• Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Pension Plan offering the same benefits at lower cost while giving Alberta control over the investment fund. Pensions are a provincial responsibility under section 94A of the Constitution Act. 1867; and the legislation setting up the Canada Pension Plan permits a province to run its own plan, as Quebec has done from the beginning. If Quebec can do it, why not Alberta?

• Collect our own revenue from personal income tax, as we already do for corporate income tax. Now that your government has made the historic innovation of the single-rate personal income tax, there is no reason to have Ottawa collect our revenue. Any incremental cost of collecting our own personal income tax would be far outweighed by the policy flexibility that Alberta would gain, as Quebec’s experience has shown.

• Start preparing now to let the contract with the RCMP run out in 2012 and create an Alberta Provincial Police Force. Alberta is a major province. Like the other major provinces of Ontario and Quebec, we should have our own provincial police force. We have no doubt that Alberta can run a more efficient and effective police force than Ottawa can – one that will not be misused as a laboratory for experiments in social engineering.

• Resume provincial responsibility for health-care policy. If Ottawa objects to provincial policy, fight in the courts. If we lose, we can afford the financial penalties that Ottawa may try to impose under the Canada Health Act. Albertans deserve better than the long waiting periods and technological backwardness that are rapidly coming to characterize Canadian medicine. Alberta should also argue that each province should raise its own revenue for health care – i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points as Quebec has argued for many years. Poorer provinces would continue to rely on Equalization to ensure they have adequate revenues.

• Use section 88 of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Quebec Secession Reference to force Senate reform back onto the national agenda. Our reading of that decision is that the federal government and other provinces must seriously consider a proposal for constitutional reform endorsed by “a clear majority on a clear question” in a provincial referendum. You acted decisively once before to hold a senatorial election. Now is the time to drive the issue further. All of these steps can be taken using the constitutional powers that Alberta now possesses. In addition, we believe it is imperative for you to take all possible political and legal measures to reduce the financial drain on Alberta caused by Canada’s tax-and-transfer system. The most recent Alberta Treasury estimates are that Albertans transfer $2,600 per capita annually to other Canadians, for a total outflow from our province approaching $8 billion a year. The same federal politicians who accuse us of not sharing their “Canadian values” have no compunction about appropriating our Canadian dollars to buy votes elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Premier, we acknowledge the constructive reforms that your government made in the 1990s – balancing the budget, paying down the provincial debt, privatizing government services, getting Albertans off welfare and into jobs, introducing a single-rate tax, pulling government out of the business of subsidizing business, and many other beneficial changes. But no government can rest on its laurels. An economic slowdown, and perhaps even recession, threatens North America, the government in Ottawa will be tempted to take advantage of Alberta’s prosperity, to redistribute income from Alberta to residents of other provinces in order to keep itself in power. It is imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.

Once Alberta’s position is secured, only our imagination will limit the prospects for extending the reform agenda that your government undertook eight years ago. To cite only a few examples, lower taxes will unleash the energies of the private sector, easing conditions for Charter Schools will help individual freedom and improve public education, and greater use of the referendum and initiative will bring Albertans into closer touch with their own government.

The precondition for the success of this Alberta Agenda is the exercise of all our legitimate provincial jurisdictions under the constitution of Canada. Starting to act now will secure the future for all Albertans.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen HARPER, President, National Citizens’ Coalition;

Tom FLANAGAN, professor of political science and former Director of Research, Reform

Party of Canada;

Ted MORTON, professor of political science and Alberta Senator-elect; Rainer KNOPFF, professor of political science;

Andrew CROOKS, chairman, Canadian Taxpayers Federation;

Ken BOESSENKOOL, former policy adviser to Stockwell Day, Treasurer of Alberta.

 

* This letter represents the personal views of its authors and not those of any organizations with which they are or have been connected.

Cycle It Up Your Ask

- November 24th, 2012

 

I said ask, you dumb ask.

 

So right now you’re wondering where this is going. It’s going right up your ask, you dumb ask.

 

I’m so pissed off I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll begin at the beginning.

 

I’ll begin with the freaking, fracking, motherfricking Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

 

Here’s what it has to say — at least as far as the Ontario government is concerned, even if you aren’t, you dumb ask:

 

“A bicycle is a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA). This means that, as a bicyclist, you have the same rights and responsibilities to obey all traffic laws as other road users.”

 

That’s the first thing that pops into view when you Google “ontario highway traffic act bicycle.”  It’s from the website for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and it goes on to list all the fines and punishments a cyclist is subject to for doing such things as not signalling a turn ($85 fine) or stopping for a school bus ($400 fine).

 

That’s what it does. It goes on endlessly with the fines and penalties a cyclist faces for fracturing various infractions. And then it ends. It just talks about the “responsibilities” — threatened punishments which have nothing to do with real responsibility — and says nothing at all about the “rights” — the legal, God-is-my-witness, don’t-tread-on-me rights – of people who pedal in this province.

 

But yet it started out saying “A bicycle is a vehicle … you have the same rights … as other road users.”

 

Do you understand that, you dumb asks? A bicycle has the same rights on the roads and highways (apart from the 400 series) of Ontario as every other freaking, fracking, motherfricking vehicle. Yep. Same as an Amish buggy. Same as a Honda Civic. Same as a Cadillac. Same as a Humvee. Same as a Ford pickup. Same as a Mack truck.

 

So the bicycle in front of you is not an obstacle impeding your passage, you dumb ask. It is a freaking, fracking, mother fricking VEHICLE occupying the lane in front of you, you dumb ask. You DON’T get to ride over it. You DON’T get to sideswipe it. You DON’T get to “give it a message.” You DO get to pass it like any other vehicle — by doing so safely and responsibly, usually by changing lanes. You dumb ask.

 

And if you don’t, ass yourself this, you dumb ask: Why doesn’t the Mack truck have the same “right” to run over you or run you into the ditch simply because your puny little compact or SUV is in front of it, you dumb ask?

 

Look, I’ve got speeding tickets coming out my ying-yang. I’m no saint when it comes to obeying (sometimes seemingly stupid) traffic laws. But I respect human life and I respect the right of other people to carry on their lives within the law.

 

Bicycles are not only ALLOWED to be on the highways and roads of Ontario, they are REQUIRED to be on said highways and roads. And you, as the driver of a two-tonne vehicle, have some kind of human, moral, motherly, fatherly, sisterly, brotherly, freaking, fracking, motherfricking HUGE responsibility to STAY CLEAR of other fragile, important, impossible-to-replicate human beings wobbling around on little bits of bicycle weighing only ounces and pounds, centigrams and kilos.

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re late. It doesn’t matter if traffic is clogged. It doesn’t matter if the askhole on the bicycle in front of you gives you the finger when you honk your horn.

 

The next time you’re in that situation, just think this thought: “That’s my kid on the bike in front of me. What am I going to do?”

Oh, did I mention that another Toronto cyclist — Tom Samson, a Grade 2 teacher at Swansea Public School — was killed by a hit-and-run driver  on Friday?