The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


The English-language debate

Didn't know what to make of the format. While I do prefer leaders' debates where the competitors do address each other and mix it up, this debate tended to degenerate into people talking over each other; sometimes it was as many as three at a time with the end result being that nobody got heard until moderator Anna Maria Tremonti stepped in. It was a refreshing contrast to the utterly sterile 2001 BC election debate, where the leaders were not allowed to challenge each other; they could only answer questions posed by a panel of journalists. Rumour has it that BC Liberal leader Gordon Campbell requested that format; if he didn't get it, he wouldn't participate.

The role of Parliament and the Charter of Rights and freedoms came up over and over in the debate. The leaders to Harper's left tried to pin him down on same-sex marriage and Harper's apparent willingness to use the notwithstanding clause in order to keep marriage a heterosexual affair. Harper fired back by quoting Martin, who said last year that he'd use the clause if a court decision forced a church to perform same-sex marriages against its own teachings, a nuclear scenario if there ever was one. Harper retreated to his position of free votes on contentious issues (and it's up to you to figure out how the Conservative candidates most likely to be elected would vote), and never did answer the question, despite the fact that he introduced this motion in the house last year:
That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.
By my interpretation, the notwithstanding clause is within Parliament's jurisdiction, and the fact that this motion implied its use was cited by several Liberal MPs who voted to defeat the motion.

From there, it got down to both Martin and NDP leader Jack Layton wrapping themselves in the Charter, arguing that the whims of Parliament are ill-suited to upholding minority rights in a democracy. Martin might have found a basis for future attacks on Harper: a Canada that ignores its own constitution and overrides minority rights out of ideology or pandering is not his kind of Canada. Look for a variation of that talking point to reappear in the next two weeks.

Harper brought up child pornography as a legitimate reason to use the notwithstanding clause. In a move based on playing to anxious parents rather than an exploration of when Parliament does have grounds to override Canadians' constitutional rights, Harper claimed that recent court decisions had made "child pornography" legal based on such nebulous concepts as the public good. Now, most viewers would probably take Harper's cheap fearmongering at his word -- people tend to go apeshit at the mere mention of kiddie porn and it's often impossible to have a rational discussion on how to combat it. One problem with Harper's patter: pornography made with actual children is illegal in this country. The exemptions (artistic merit and private use) only apply to work that is purely of one's imagination, or by minors for their own use. This distinction is lost on many, and the fact that it is lost gives Harper a cheap and convenient cudgel with which to beat civil libertarians and those who seek both to protect children and freedom of expression, even really sick expression. Still, his argument was as phony as a $3 bill. (For a treatment of the subject that basically matches my views, have a look at this paper from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.)

Stephen Harper kept to the topics that have served him well: corruption, mismanagement, waste. Harper's weakest attack on Martin surely came over the Liberals' 1993 cancellation of an order of helicopters to replace the Sea Kings. It reinforced my perception that Harper is indiscriminate in whether he attacks Liberals over kept promises (axing the helicopters), broken ones (GST), program successes (debt reduction; Harper has the gall to attack the Grits of slashing program transfers -- what would he have done?) and failures alike. Quite simply, if it was a Liberal action, it was fair game for Harper, which diluted his accusations. There's enough broken promises and failed programs since '93 to attack the Grits on; why bother with anything else?

There was no massive attack on the frontrunner. Surely Layton, Harper, and Duceppe could have made mincemeat of Harper on both his vociferous support last year for the Iraq war and his attempts to disavow his support for said war in recent weeks. (Never mind Harper's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, appearance on Fox News claiming that he was speaking for the "silent majority" of Canadians who backed the war, his attendance at pro-war rallies last year, or his accusation that the war's opponents were secretly cheering Saddam Hussein. He was just misunderstood.)

It wasn't just Iraq that the others, especially Martin, could have knocked the stuffing out of Harper on. On fiscal matters, the Conservative platform is the most optimistic in how much fiscal maneuvering it anticipates the government will have over five years. Martin alluded to the fact that Harper intends to boost spending massively in some areas while simultaneously cutting taxes. B.C. voters elected a gang that promised the same in 2001 -- it led to record deficits, brutal program cuts, and the promised economic miracle never materialized. In B.C., Gordon Campbell and his clones repeatedly claimed that "tax cuts pay for themselves", which hasn't happened -- provincial income tax revenues won't match their 2001 levels until around 2008. The Conservative platform also seems to assert that tax cuts won't dent government revenues (the Conservatives' revenue projections through 2009 are the same as the Liberals' despite the Conservatives' tax-cutting pledge.) The line from Martin was a "$50-billion black hole", a reference to the difference in the cost of the Conservatives' and Liberals' five-year tax and spending projections. That's another talking point that we might hear again.

Martin could have also made reference to the last time the Conservatives got their hands on the nation's finances -- we were $300-billion deeper in debt after nine years of Conservative government. As a result of the Conservative years and the debt racked up by the Liberals, especially after about 1975, Canadians have become a deficit-phobic folk. If all else fails, it's still the economy, stupid! While the likes of Harper were screaming that Canada's economy wasn't as hot as the American one in the late-'90's tech bubble years, we also didn't have nearly the same post-bubble doldrums: employment continues to grow, so does GDP, money's cheap, and inflation is still in the Bank of Canada's target range? Why mess with a good situation by relying on some right-wing voodoo economics? (Oh, Harper may have trained as an economist -- although it was at the University of Calgary -- but Martin can point to a decade of experience as finance minister and say that he actually knows how fiscal policy works in real life, not just in a Robert Mansell paper.) That the economy, jobs, and finances had such a small place in the debate was disappointing; on the other hand, if the economy's issue number one, it's usually because said economy's in the crapper.

Jack Layton should have backed off of StarWars, which will not win him too many additional votes. Smilin' Jack was preaching to the converted on that issue. Say it one, then hammer Harper on Iraq (you can't lose on that one), clarify your position on NAFTA, explain the infamous Chapter 11 in a quick soundbite, and then get to domestic issues; you know, the kind of issues that most people base their votes on.

Ultimately, Layton spent too much time playing to the base (trying to hold soft voters who may be tempted to swing back to the Grits?) and not sticking to what Vancouver-Kingsway NDP candidate Ian Waddell calls the bread and butter issues. Take the NDP's proposal to raise the basic tax exemption to $15,000: it's a political winner that, unlike a tax cut to the middle-income bracket, benefits any Canadian working close to full-time. How can anyone argue against that? Layton could have reiterated his commitment to transfer fuel tax to municipal governments for infrastructure needs -- there's an issue that hits people right where they live, and it's one where the NDP are out in from compared to the Liberals' go-it-slow approach and the Conservatives' preference to let the provinces handle it. Layton could have played up the NDP's support for higher education; that's one that appeals both to young voters and parents who are about to send the kids off to college.

Style points: Harper was bland and subdued; appropriate, given that he was playing not to lose in this round. Martin was more confident and stammered much less than we've seen him in the past, but was lacking the fire and passion that served Jean Chretien so well. Layton's high energy bled often over into irritating sanctimoniousness; at times, he seemed to be using his campus NDP schtick instead of speaking to a general audience.

From best performance to worst: Martin, Harper and Layton, though not separated by much, followed by Duceppe -- although the latter had the least at stake and was hampered by the fact that he operates mainly in French.

In terms of doing what they needed to do, Harper came out the best. He was helped by his opponents' measured attacks and the fact that he didn't lose his cool (according to former Report staffer Kevin Michael Grace, who knows Harper far better than most webloggers, Harper gets quite nasty when under fire) or resort to bluntness. Martin needed to score some blows against Harper; they were only glancing. While Martin's position will likely not suffer from the debate, he won't gain, and so now needs help in the form of opponents' flubs in order to get back into government territory. Jack Layton probably didn't do anything to broaden his appeal and if he's to make any gains, he'll have to do it by barnstorming.
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