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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ryan Cleary - Man on a Mission

Have you ever known something terrible was about to happen to someone before they had a clue what was awaiting them? Maybe a co-worker was about to be fired and was completely oblivious while you knew the smile on their face was about to turn to tears.

It’s sort of like watching a train wreck in slow motion and it’s a highly unpleasant experience.

That’s the best way I can find to describe how I felt late last week as I watched newly elected MP, Ryan Cleary, being interviewed on the local evening news.
In a nutshell, my heart went out to the guy.

Don’t get me wrong, after many years of journalistic experience I’m sure Cleary isn’t completely blind to the ways of politics and he’s certainly no shrinking violet. Knowing something on a cerebral level and actually crawling inside the beast is not the same thing however.

During the interview Cleary answered questions about his first impressions of Ottawa. It wasn’t his answers that hit home with me but the excitement in his voice and gleam in his eye. It left such a lasting impression. One only had to listen to him speak to sense the fire in his belly for tackling the issues close to his heart and of such importance to the province.

I can’t say I know the man on a personal level but I’ve spoken with Ryan several times over the years, via email and phone (our few attempts to meet in person never having been successful). I’ve also been the recipient of his generosity when, on several occasions, he saw fit to publish some of my commentaries in the original “The Independent” newspaper (perhaps that’s what killed the publication, you never know).

First impressions often tell you a lot about a person and my first impression of Ryan Cleary was of his depth of character. Simply put, Cleary is a man who truly cares about the issues affecting Newfoundland and Labrador.

That impression hasn’t changed one iota in the ensuing years and remains strong today.

It’s a rare thing for me to believe a politician is actually on a mission, other than to feather his own nest, but in this particular case I honestly believe it.
Unfortunately, Ottawa’s political bubble has very little tolerance for anyone who hopes to change the status quo in the slightest way.

From my outsider’s perspective, but after years of nurturing a clearly unhealthy curiosity for the body politic, I see Ottawa as a place so rife with political wrangling, bureaucratic red tape, roadblocks, shady deals, hidden power brokers and political expediency that anyone unlucky enough to possess honest ambition to fight for what’s right is sure to be ostracized if not completely crushed.

I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but I expect that four years from now we’ll see a far different Ryan Cleary. In fact I believe we’ll see a man who is all but unrecognizable other than in his physical appearance.

I’m sure Cleary’s principles will remain intact, even Ottawa can’t easily destroy a lifetime of entrenched character, but I expect the spark will have died in his eyes and his passion to fight for his principles will be buried so deeply he won’t be the same man he is today.

My heart hopes he can win his battles and truly turn Ottawa upside down, rattle some cages if you like, heaven knows it needs it. My head says he’s far more likely to return as a jaded and disillusioned shell of his former self. That would be the saddest result of all, not just for the man but for the province.

Perhaps the only hope Cleary has of limiting permanent damage to his well being is to fall back on his past career and natural instincts. When his time tilting at windmills begins to leave the scars it surely will, perhaps he’ll accept that he cannot change the world alone. This may lead him to focus on a far more pragmatic calling - bringing blazing and eye popping light into the bureaucratic darkness.

As an investigative journalist with unquestioned passion, conviction and a strong sense of social justice Cleary’s time on the inside of Canada’s political system may indeed influence Ottawa in the long run, even if that influence doesn’t come in the traditional sense or in the way he expects it will today.

We can only hope.

***This article is also available in the new "Independent" online***

Footnote: An early draft of this commentary was provided to Mr. Cleary prior to publication. His response was as follows:

Thanks Myles ... interesting read.

You're right about me being on a mission. I'm up here to make a change, to make a difference, to change the NL world.

I know it won't be easy ... I know it will be a monumental undertaking ... but my shoulder will be to the wheel. And if I don't succeed ... well, at least I will have tried my damndest. At that point it would be time to change tack, but I certainly won't be defeated. If anything, I'd be more determined than ever.
I wouldn't change a word of your piece.

Keep it in your files for 2015.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Confusion Say: A mind is a terrible thing to waste on Politics

Originally published in the Independent

When Opposition Leader, Yvonne Jones, asked the Premier to support the election of senators this week I thought the request reasonable enough – if you ignore the fact that the PM still has the power to appoint (or not) anyone “pushed” forward by the voters.

Confusion hit me hard however when Premier Dunderdale refused to even entertain the idea.

I immediately began to wonder why, when her new BFF – Best Falls Friend – has been promoting that approach for years. What’s going on, I asked of nobody in particular. Isn’t the Premier seated firmly on the PM’s bandwagon, at least until the bank clears our paperwork on the Lower Churchill loan?

When I’m confused like this (it happens a lot) I tend to explore the offending situation in an often futile attempt to understand the unfathomable.

This time every fiber of my being began screaming that it’s far better to choose a representative than have one foisted upon you, especially by someone who may not have your best interests at heart. (Just Google Fabian Manning) Unfortunately that pail doesn’t hold water since it’s based in large part on the concept that the Senate represents us when it actually doesn’t.

As things stand, the Senate is a well funded dumping ground for party hacks, fundraisers and failed MPs. It has no power and doesn’t provide even token representation to the people of Canada. To put it bluntly, it’s a taxpayer funded pig’s trough filled to capacity with honey golden slop. Oh yeah, and Senators sometimes comment on legislation even though they can’t do anything about it.

There are those who advocate abolishing the Senate entirely, tearing the Senate wing off the Parliament building and salting the earth so nothing ever grows there again. As exciting as that would be to watch on the evening news, or even on the pre-evening-evening news, I’ve decided not to back that horse.

I came to this decision when, in a mad grab to make sense of the situation, I asked myself, wouldn’t abolishing the Senate leave the House of Commons (those elected bottom feeders we send to Ottawa every so often) without the slightest official oversight, not even at a symbolic level?

The answer immediately came back to me as a tepid, “maybe”.

NO! I shouted rather loudly into my empty living room. The solution must be reform not abolition!

This epiphany was immediately followed by the embarrassing realization that I was alone and acting like an idiot. As I took some time to let my red cheeks cool, my mind drifted from the subject at hand for a fleeting moment. Then, as the trees cleared, I began to see the forest once again and sadly another thought came to me.

Reform will never happen.

For the uninitiated into the dark art of politics, let me explain why.

The three keys to senate reform are often referred to as triple E – Equal, Effective and Elected.

The elected part, at least the semblance of it, is what Ms. Jones was prattling on about this week. Unfortunately electing Senators at this time make no sense at all when you look at it with cold detachment.

You see true Senate reform would require those three E’s to happen in a clearly defined sequence. You can’t simply fling them into place by choosing the easy ones first.

If the Senate is to serve anyone, other than those lucky enough to sit there, certain steps need to be followed.

First comes equality, and by this I mean allotting an equal number of seats (or votes if that makes things simpler) to each Province or Territory.

The House of Commons is elected based on population with larger provinces sitting more MPs than smaller ones, representation by population as it were. A truly equal senate would serve to balance the Commons by providing regional representation. In an equal senate each province would have the same voice regardless of population. Sadly it’s a concept places like Ontario and Quebec, with massive political clout in Ottawa, will never accept (strike one).

Until true equality exists it would be catastrophic to smaller provinces if the Senate were to actually become effective.

Effectiveness is accomplished by providing the Senate with real power including the ability to modify or kill bills and perhaps even control aspects of legislative implementation.

Consider the anguish it would bring if “Effective” came before “Equal” leaving the majority of sitting senators coming from the same province’s already wielding the lion’s share of power in the Commons.

As you can see, timing is everything.

But fear not, to enact an effective Senate would require the House of Commons, or more specifically the sitting government, to give up some of its own power, like that’s ever going to happen (strike two).

…This is where I pause for a second and ask readers to use the word “fizzle” in their comments, should they feel the need to respond online. That way I can tell if you read the entire expanse of this article or just skimmed it and went off half cocked, in which case I won’t feel as bad about ignoring you by not responding.

Now back to the issues at hand…

Finally we place the cart back behind the horse with the elected piece of the puzzle.

The reason why this one is last on the list, not first, is because there’s no point in provincial taxpayers footing the bill for senate elections just so we can pick someone to spend our tax dollars while having no power other than to attend photo ops when an elected MP can’t be bothered to show up.

In addition, in order for any election to be truly valid (not just if the PM agrees to appoint someone the province supports) it would require setting term limits and creating legislated elections on the federal level. In other words the Senate and the governments who reward their faithful by sending them to the Red Chamber would have to be willing to stop the feeding frenzy for the sake of the greater good.

Ah…and it would also require opening the constitution and getting the Province’s to all agree. Good luck with that.

(Feel free to choose either of the last two points as your personal strike three).

So, the answer to Ms. Jones question, at least from my muddled perspective, is as follows:

There’s no point spending a fortune on fake elections in the hope the PM will appoint our chosen one, who will then be free to decide in a few years if he or she is willing to turn their back on a utopia where they have no responsibility and where money and perks flow faster than the mighty Churchill.

Get all that?

Hell, we’d be better off handing the price of a senate election over to some perk loving party hack (to be decided on by the perk giving government of the day) if he or she agrees to decline a senate seat and the PM will agree to leave that seat vacant.

At least empty seats don’t cost the taxpayers of Canada (of which we are also charter members) a king’s ransom.

In other words, after all my hand wringing and hair pulling I’ve come to the conclusion that we should not abolish the senate but instead reform it… but… since we can never actually reform it we should starve it to death.

A quick death is too good for that place. We need to make it suffer a long lingering demise.

Who knows, perhaps the same internal struggle was going on inside the Premier’s head when she refused to entertain the idea of senate elections this week. Then again, maybe her political instincts told her she simply couldn’t explain it well enough in the confines of a 20 second news clip, or maybe, just maybe, her name is already on some secret senate appointments list and she doesn’t want throw a monkey wrench into her retirement plans.

I don’t know and I don’t really care. Whatever the reasoning, the end result is the same. No elections.

Now my head hurts and I’m going to go lie down…is that burnt toast I smell?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Open Letter to Premier Dunderdale

Open Letter To: Premier Kathy Dunderdale
Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador

cc. Minister Shawn Skinner
Minister of Natural Resources

cc. Multiple media, MPs and concerned individuals

May 13, 2011

Premier Dunderdale:

In November of 2008 the provincial government, under then Premier Danny Williams, made a submission to the environmental joint review panel evaluating the Romaine Complex Hydroelectric project in Quebec.

At about that time I personally sent you an email, in your capacity as Minister of Natural Resources, asking about our province’s position on the project and on our government’s exclusion from the environmental assessment process. It was in response to my correspondence that you made me aware of the submission to the panel and, as I did at the time, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank you for your direct and timely response.

I believe the submission, which encompassed many topics including environmental concerns, discrepancies in the maps provided to the panel among other issues was the appropriate direction to take at the time. I also believe the submission addressed many of the concerns a lot of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have with the project.

2.5 years have passed since that submission and I’m sure many in the province are interested in what has happend since that time.

As I understand it, the environmental assessment process is now complete and work is advancing steadily on the Romaine project. I would like to know what the joint review panel’s responses were to the province’s 2008 submission.

Specifically I am interested in detailed information on the panel’s responses to all of the concerns expressed.

In addition I hope you can provide a clear picture of where we now stand with respect to retaining complete provincial control over the headwaters as outlined in the submission and copied here.

(Begin copy of pertinent section from original panel submission)

Finally, the Province wishes to take the opportunity to re-affirm its water rights in the portion of the Romaine River watershed on Newfoundland and Labrador lands. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and its Minister responsible for water resources, without compensation to the proponent, shall not be restricted to:

• use water of Romaine River watershed on, in, under, or flowing through or adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador – Québec boundary on Labrador lands for purposes related to management, research, protection and conservation of water resources, aquatic life and aquatic habitat;

• establish standards and measures for the protection of water resources on, in, under, or flowing through or adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador – Québec boundary on Labrador lands;

• use water or authorize the use of water on, in, under, or flowing through or adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador – Québec boundary on Labrador lands for the purpose of fighting fires;

• establish flood control measures, develop flood plain management strategies and designate flood risk zones with respect to water resources flowing on, in, through, under or adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador – Québec boundary on Labrador lands;

• carry out or authorize hydrologic data collection and hydrologic research with respect to water resources on, in, under, or flowing through or adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador – Québec boundary on Labrador lands; and

• use water or authorize the use of water on, in, under, or flowing through or adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador – Québec boundary on Labrador lands for any other beneficial purpose that is in the Government’s interest and the other residents of Labrador.

(End copy from original panel submission)

I trust that your office, or that of the Minister of Natural Resources, is able to provide copies of any documents issued by the review panel in reference to the province’s submission along with information on any actions the panel took on those concerns.

If no responses were forthcoming and no action was taken by the panel I would like to know what other steps the provincial government has taken or is now pursuing to ensure that our rights are protected in regard to this project and to our provincial border with Quebec.

I’m sure you will recall, though many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may not, that in 1976 the government of Newfoundland and Labrador attempted to buy back 800,000 kilowatts of Churchill Falls power at a reasonable price for use (through sub-sea cable) on the island portion of the province.

In response to this request Hydro- Quebec demanded that we sell Quebec between 7,000 & 10,000 square miles of southern Labrador or, barring that, pay 10 times the amount the utility was paying our province for that same power. By all accounts, at the time, the provincial government refused both of these less than generous offers.

The reason Hydro-Quebec and the Quebec government so desperately wanted that territory is because headwaters are located in Labrador and without complete control of those waters development on the rivers could not move forward. It’s no doubt difficult to secure investment and financing, due to the uncontrollable risk, when you don’t control all the source of the water used to generate the power.

This has me wondering what might have changed since that time.

Why, in the opinion of your government, does Quebec have enough comfort with the future of those headwaters to proceed on downstream developments in 2011 when they did not do so in 1976? What guarantees must they believe they have, from Ottawa, the province or elsewhere, in order to invest billions if they cannot control the future of those waters?

I look forward to your timely response and once again I thank-you for your many past responses to my queries on several issues of importance to everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Myles Higgins

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Plan Nord annexes southern Labrador

The news wires are buzzing today after Premier Jean Charest’s announcement of “Plan Nord”, Quebec’s vision to develop its vast natural resources and reshape the future of the Province.

According the Premier Charest, Plan Nord is “…one of the biggest economic, social and environmental projects of our time”.

The plan calls for creation of massive mining and hydro generation projects, extensive infrastructure development, sustainable forestry exploitation and the protection of vast swaths of unspoiled wilderness.

Total investment over the next 25 years is forecast in the region of $80 Billion dollars, through corporate and public sector investment. Employment is targeted at more than 20,000 jobs in the Province and the area included in the plan covers more than 1.2 million square kilometers.

The problem is the identification of that 1.2 million square kilometer area and maps of the region affected, areas that include a sizable chunk of neighboring Labrador.

Nobody in the Quebec government thought to ask the permission of the Newfoundland and Labrador people if it was OK to annex that land for its own gain.

A review of recently released Plan Nord background material identifies that 98% of Quebec’s clean energy is produced in the area covered. This claim appears odd considering that nearly 6,000 megawatts of power in use by Hydro Quebec is generated in Labrador. That power is then sold to the Province at rock bottom 1960's prices thanks to the now infamous and lopsided Churchill Falls contract.

With one claim by the Quebec government in question it didn’t take long to identify the boundary issue as well. A quick visit to the Government of Quebec website reveals a map of the region clearly showing a unilaterally “adjusted” border between Quebec and Labrador.

The actual border, legally settled in 1929 and enshrined in the Canadian Constitution through Newfoundland and Labrador’s Terms of Union with Canada, is depicted in the map by a dotted line and the word, “non-definitive”. The area covered by Plan Nord clearly extends far beyond that line.

This isn’t the first time the government of Quebec has redefined this border in an attempt to claim a part of its neighboring Province. Various maps available on the Hydro Quebec website, Provincial tourism maps and maps from multiple official sources in the Province have done the same for decades and continue to misrepresent the legally recognized boundary.

Just a few years ago it was brought to the attention of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, in another article by this writer, that the contours of the bogus maps have also been used outside of Quebec, including by Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC.

Recent examples include federal maps identifying parts of Labrador as being inside the electoral districts of Quebec and Canadian military maps revealing patrol areas supposedly within Quebec that actually extend into Labrador.

The practice of redrawing the border between the two Provinces has spread far beyond Quebec itself and it appears that very little is being done by the Provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, or the Government of Canada, to stop it.

In a recent twist on the boundary tale, the federal government signed an offshore agreement with Quebec expected to pave the way for oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The agreement will see Quebec become the sole beneficiary of oil revenues within their offshore boundaries.

Unfortunately, while the land based border has been legally defined, if not accepted by Quebec, the actual ocean border between the two provinces has never been ratified by Ottawa.

The prize, a massive hydrocarbon deposit known as “Old Harry”, expected to be worth billions and which straddles the very area where any boundary would likely be drawn.

Even mineral exploration maps issued by Quebec and used by mining companies to “stake a claim” show a number of available parcels of land inside Labrador as being under the licensing authority of Quebec.

With so much creative license being taken around the Provincial border, one has call into question how much of the vast resources Mr. Charest intends to develop actually exist inside Quebec.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Election 2011 - Did principle trump pandering in Atlantic Canada?

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find… you get what you need” – Rolling Stones

Perspectives change. Often those changes are quite dramatic.

A perfect example is the perspective of people in Newfoundland and Labrador who, like others across Canada, are parsing the structure of a vastly redefined post-election Parliament.

Before proceeding further I’d be remiss if I didn’t re-affirm my long standing and deeply held belief that adherence to principle is always far more important to the long term good than simply caving into external pressures or the temptation of seemingly self serving actions.

Principle should always trump personal gain, pandering and opportunism.

This is as true for individuals as it is for governments at any level.

When you make a promise you do everything in your power to keep it and when you believe you’re right you fight with everything you have to defend your position. End of sermon.

Those sentiments were clearly on display during the federal election as most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians once again refused to support Conservative party candidates. In fact, the only Harper candidate elected this time out was a newcomer to the political scene. One who barely eked out a win by a few hundred votes. By all accounts his victory came in spite of his party affiliation rather than because of it and was due to the stature of the man himself. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Harper government.

The actions taken by voters in the Province are something all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should take pride in today. It once again proves, regardless of what certain individuals in parts of Canada might say, that the people in Newfoundland and Labrador are fiercely principled and willing to stand by those principles, no matter the short term pain.

With that clearly said, we now must live with the choices made by a broader Canadian electorate. The odd yet somehow poetic result is that this time around, standing by a principled position may have placed the Province in a far better position than anyone could have imagined.

At the outset of the campaign nobody in Canada would have predicted the near implosion of the Bloc, that the Conservatives would win such a solid majority or that the NDP, thanks largely to Quebec frenzy, would form the official opposition with more than 100 seats in Parliament. These are the realities of Canada today and they may actually work in Newfoundland and Labrador’s favor.

With ABC remaining a factor, the election of Labrador’s Peter Penashue as the Province's single Conservative MP presents interesting possibilities going forward. Perhaps just as important is Quebec’s version of ABC that played out during the campaign. These separate actions by two long time adversaries could in fact have resulted in the best of many possible outcomes that might have developed on voting day.

Make no mistake, the history of Federal/Provincial relations hasn’t changed. Stephen Harper turned his back on a promise to exclude non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula and essentially gutted the intent of the Atlantic Accord a few years back. Both actions led to a loss of billions for Newfoundland and Labrador. Harper also failed to move on his promise to make 5 Wing Goose Bay an integral cog in the Canadian military.

Those are indisputable realities, but there might, just might mind you, be a better chance of Harper’s latest election promises being kept than there has been in the past, even after the province’s voters refused to let him to buy votes with those promises.

On the issues of a loan guarantee (or equivalent funding) for the Lower Churchill and an increased role for 5 Wing Goose Bay nothing is guaranteed but the possibilities are far brighter today than they were a few short weeks ago. In fact they have a better chance of coming to fruition now than they would if this election had resulted in a minority Parliament for either party.

With the Bloc no longer a major force in Ottawa and a majority firmly in hand, Mr. Harper will face little if any opposition to his Churchill Falls promise. Any excuse not to honor that promise will be difficult to sell.

During the campaign both the Liberals and NDP made similar promises in spite of Quebec’s vocal opposition to the project. One would hope all parties will stand by their commitments but with the NDP now serving as a voice for Quebec and the Liberals looking to rebuild support there, either party could easily succumb to an urge to curry favor in Quebec at the expense of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In a minority Parliament, or if either of today’s opposition parties had formed government, that reality could have been devastating for the Province. This isn’t the case in the current configuration.

Allowing the Conservatives an opportunity to slip their oversized foot ever so slightly through the door has sent the clear message that voters most surely remember the broken promises but some are willing to offer one last chance at redemption. If Mr. Harper is to have any hope of growing his party’s fortunes in the province the onus is now squarely on his shoulders to accept the opportunity provided.

After multiple elections, any chance of widespread Conservative gains in Quebec is a long shot at best. Mr. Harper knows his party’s future, beyond the current term, depends largely on an ability to retain and grow support in other regions, including Newfoundland and Labrador.

Most of Canada, with the exception of Quebec, supports the development of the Lower Churchill thanks to a growing awareness of the mistreatment Newfoundland and Labrador has suffered at the hands of Hydro Quebec. In addition the entire Atlantic region stands to benefit greatly from the Lower Churchill project and, as the last bastion of Liberal support these days, Conservative strategists must be eyeing the area with a glint of lust in their eyes.

While an ABC hangover may continue to reveal itself from time to time as long as Stephen Harper is party leader, the Conservatives surely realize that strong support for the Lower Churchill will go far in building loyalties throughout the region and help drive a stake into the heart of a critically wounded Liberal party.

The Lower Churchill project isn’t the only issue that has a better chance of being advanced under the current federal configuration.

While Stephen Harper’s newly minted Labrador MP, Peter Penashue, is a strong advocate for that project he’s also solidly behind growing the role for the airbase at 5 Wing Goose Bay. How much influence Mr. Penashue can bring to Ottawa remains to be seen but as Newfoundland and Labrador’s lone representative on the Conservative bench he is most certainly up for consideration in the new cabinet.

His chances of gaining a cabinet position may be enhanced in light of Harper’s campaign message - in fact his message for the past 3 years - that the Province would be better served electing someone who can fill a seat at the cabinet table. Once again, the time has come for Mr. Harper to walk the walk.

Simply having the good fortune of being elected as a member of the top finishing party isn’t the only thing Mr. Penashue brings to the table. He also brings a world of experience thanks to his years as a respected native leader and pivotal role in the successful negotiation of Innu agreements on Voisey’s Bay and the Lower Churchill.

When you consider the combination of such a strong proponent for Labrador development, including 5 Wing Goose Bay, and Mr. Harper’s long stated position on protecting Arctic sovereignty, the possibilities become clearer. This may in fact be one last chance to ensure the survival of 5 Wing. Time will tell.

On May third many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, like many Canadians, awoke to an election result very few expected. In direct opposition to the feelings of true blue Tories the first reaction of many was likely despair and disillusionment, but as they say, every cloud has a silver lining.

When life gives you lemons you make lemonade.

Issues remain that find the Harper government and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador miles apart. That hasn’t changed. Marine Atlantic and Fisheries management, among many others come to mind. Never the less, both the Lower Churchill and 5 Wing Goose Bay are two very important files for Newfoundland and Labrador.

After multiple broken promises, when Danny Williams first tapped into the sentiment of the electorate and pushed ahead with the ABC campaign Canadians wondered if he could deliver the Conservative goose egg he promised. He did, yet many believed the Province was only hurting itself as a result.

After sticking to their guns once again in 2011 the Province has proven, contrary to popular belief, that the electorate does indeed have a long memory. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have provided a glimmer of opportunity for Mr. Harper to gain support in the Atlantic region at the same time offering one last gasp of life to the Liberal brand if he doesn't.

Today there isn't a politician across Canada, regardless of party stripe, who doubts for a second the Province's willingness to act on it's convictions going forward. At the end of the day that legacy may pay far bigger dividends than the previous 60 years of hat in hand politics ever did. If so ABC effect will far outweigh any short term lack of government representation the Province has experienced over the past few years.

Just as Mr. Harper forced his way into a majority government in large part due to solidly reading the possibility of wide spread Liberal/NDP vote splitting in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador may have finally turned the corner on being bought off with crumbs and has managed navigate its way into the best of many possible election outcomes.

As election 2011 heated up, the parties, candidates and leaders pandered to anyone that they believed might help them win. The best part of the entire spectacle is that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador awoke to a new and potentially brighter reality without sacrificing their principles one iota in the process.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Post Election Analysis - History in the Making

Anyone who voted for the first time in Election 2011 certainly found an opportune time to exercise their democratic right.

With the election now in the books the nation is free to ponder the significance (or lack thereof) of the outcome. No matter how you slice it, this is one election that’s bound to be the talk of pundits, political science majors and arm chair politicians for decades to come.

It’s often said that history is written by the victors, but exactly what history says about Canada’s forty-first federal election remains to be seen. The conundrum this time around is how we define who the victors actually are. Different perspectives may produce different findings and the answer may not fully be understood for generations.

Clearly the Harper Conservatives are victorious. After years of planning, strategizing, campaigning (yes, years of campaigning) cajoling and practically begging the people of Canada Mr. Harper finally has the one thing he’s wanted since first elected, a majority. Never the less, for his detractors, this outcome could be seen as a tainted victory based on his limited level of cross-Canada support, his losses in Quebec and the growth of support for the center/left federalist parties (Liberal/NDP combined) after the collapse of the Bloc.

Following the election Mr. Harper, speaking to a partisan crowd, proudly said that the people of Canada had made their decision. Some might argue that with only 40% of voters supporting the Conservative party, in reality the nation actually backed into a Conservative majority accidentally rather than truly choosing it. Tomato / tomato.

Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, promoted this election as necessary to save democracy itself. He may have been fighting the wrong opponent in Mr. Harper. Perhaps the real opponent to democracy in Canada is not the Conservatives, who merely take political advantage of the rules, but Elections Canada who refuse to see that the system isn’t working in its current form.

Elections as they exist today in Canada work fine when you have a two party system. They don’t serve democracy very well at all when 3 or 4 parties are in play.

The evidence speaks for itself. If asked, most Canadians would say that democracy is when a majority of the people choose a government. Not so in Canada where a party, any party, can form a majority government when over half the population doesn’t support them.

As far as democracy is concerned it was indeed at stake in this election and, no matter who came out ahead in the seat count, we all lost on that front. In essence the Harper majority came as a result of unintentional vote splits between the NDP and Liberals in Ontario. In the end these meant a gain of 20 Ontario seats, a dozen more than the 155 needed to claim a majority.

As Thomas Jefferson quite rightly said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve”. We can read into Mr. Jefferson’s statement what we will.

Democracy itself aside, although the night clearly saw a victory for Stephen Harper, many elections have been won in the past and many will be won in the future by various parties. By itself there’s nothing of historic value to the win. Perhaps what the Harper government does with its majority will change the political landscape over time but the win itself is a less than historic event outside Conservative circles. Other outcomes are far more interesting from the historic perspective.

Nobody can argue that the rise of the NDP to official opposition status with more than 100 seats in Parliament is much more noteworthy in the grand scheme of things.

This sudden shift of support says a lot about the now massive gulf between the Right and Left in Canada as a result of the tactics employed by Conservatives over the past several years. It’s a case where 60% of voters in Canada have decided a change is in order. Most of that 60%, especially in Quebec, shrugged off the shackles of conformity and walked through a previously untested Orange door in an attempt to unseat what many see, rightly or wrongly, as a government that’s far too “Republican” for their liking.

Aside from the hard left tilt taken by Canadians, the historic impact of the NDP taking on the official opposition role are not to be ignored. This position will afford them a great deal of benefits they’ve long been denied. Their elevated status will mean an increased budget and far more media attention than the party has ever been able to capture in the past. The official opposition after all has long been considered a “government in waiting”.

In short, this election has catapulted the NDP onto the political stage like never before and, depending on what the party does with their new found status it might, over time, change Canadian politics in unforeseen ways.

If nothing else, the rise of the NDP has dealt massive blow to the aspirations of the Bloc Quebecois, leaving the nation far more united than it’s been in decades. Even if that unity comes as a result of a deep seated dislike for the Harper government.

With a massive drop in their per vote election subsidy as a result of such poor showing in this election and with Mr. Harper’s plan, now that he has a majority, to abolish the vote subsidy (a key funding mechanism for the Bloc) entirely, this election could signal the demise of a political force that’s shaped politics in Canada for a generation.

The Bloc, with just 4 seats and after the resignation of Gilles Duceppe as their charismatic leader has a very uncertain future to be certain.

Just as Canadians might have accidentally backed into a Harper majority, Mr. Harper himself may well have accidentally helped ensure Canadian unity. If so, he accomplished this unintended result by engendering an anti-conservative movement in Quebec that grew far stronger than the deep seated yearning for Quebec nationalism/sovereignty itself.

You can add the Liberal party’s standing to that of the Bloc when questioning the future of organized party politics in Canada. The Liberal’s election results have similarly impacted their funding possibilities and cost them a leader. Going forward they may, from necessity, be forced to consider looking at options for uniting the Left, even at the expense of the historic party brand.

It’s enough to make me wonder what color you get when you combine red and orange.

Although seen by most as a small scale victory, the Green party must also be considered a winner in this election. With Elizabeth May having finally won a seat in the House of Commons the Green Party will have a voice on the national stage for the first time.

It could be argued that a single seat doesn’t mean much but with the environment a top priority for a growing number of voters and ever more important on the world stage, the timing of Ms. May’s entry into Parliament could have far more significance than many might think.

A potential resurgence of young voters and Canada’s penchant for backing the underdog, in addition to the environmental issue itself, could lead to Ms. May’s new found voice resonating with voters over the coming years.

Certainly her approach to politics and original ideas are refreshing. Time will tell if her election is just a blip or a harbinger of things to come, but what’s seen as a minor victory today might one day be recognized as the start of a green revolution in Canadian politics. Only time and the electorate will tell.

Any way you slice it this has been an election like none other Canada has seen. We live in interesting times and they may become a lot more interesting as the days unfold. Just don’t twitter that point to any of your friends until you've cleared it with Elections Canada. You wouldn’t want to break any antiquated laws would you?

Finally, since this is Web-Talk Newfoundland and Labrador, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out the direct impacts of this election on our fair province.

From the Provincial perspective, the clear message telegraphed from Newfoundland (if not Labrador) is that even without the force of will who is Danny Williams, ABC remains a reality. While the Labrador riding elected a Conservative MP, anyone who knows the situation on the ground could easily argue that this was more of a victory for a single man who is highly respected rather than a win for the party itself.

Clearly Newfoundland & Labrador remains less than fertile hunting grounds for the Harper brand of Conservatism and with Quebec rejecting the Conservative brand as well another point comes to the fore. Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador have finally found something they can agree on, their utter dislike of Stephen Harper. Now that's historic!

On a more tangible front, the outcome couldn’t have been more interesting for the Province. Yes, we sent a clear message to the Conservatives that the people do not like Mr. Harper but by electing one Conservative MP it also ensures that the Harper government no longer has an excuse for not offering the cabinet position they’ve told everyone the province has denied itself by not electing someone on the government side.

In fact, with a member in the government caucus and with 2 representatives in the official opposition ranks as well as 4 Liberal members of Parliament, Newfoundland and Labrador has covered all the bases and positioned itself about as well as anyone could have hoped.

As an interesting side note, the message sent to Stephen Harper by the Newfoundland and Labrador electorate was accomplished in spite, rather than with the approval, of the Provincial PC government.

In an effort to shore up support for the federal Conservatives the Dunderdale government trotted out cabinet ministers and caucus members by the bus load. They even went so far as to insert themselves into the election by announcing more than $4 million in funding for one riding, announcing it on election day while the federal candidate was positioned front and center beside the provincial representatives at the media event. Thankfully the voters didn’t take a bite from that apple.

Whether or not the stunt has an impact on Dunderdale’s position going into the October provincial election is a story for another day.

Last but not least, and perhaps most important to some in the Province, is the fact that with a majority in hand, an NL Conservative MP in caucus and a clear rejection by Quebec voters as clear as the nose on his face, there can be no excuse for Mr. Harper to back out of his commitments on the Lower Churchill development.

Time will tell if he does or not.

Monday, May 02, 2011

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