Sunday, October 04, 2015

Why Conservatives Don't Need a Majority to Keep Power in 2016, and Beyond

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - "Just watch me!"
The Stephen Harper Conservatives have a clear path to stay in control, and fight another election, without Parliament ever sitting.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday September 29, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

“No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected."

Call it an unexpected doomsday scenario for New Democrats, Liberals and Greens, but the Conservatives have a clear path to stay in power after the election into 2016 -- and then fight a second election -- without Parliament ever sitting.

And with some polls putting the Conservatives in first place, or at least with the best chance of winning the most seats, the odds of them pulling a magic rabbit out of the electoral hat keep increasing.

Despite people like Green Party leader Elizabeth May being in denial -- her party issued a recent flyer claiming "the Conservatives will not form the government after this election" -- exactly the opposite is very likely.

Unwelcome news to many, but here's how it could work.

The Conservatives win the most seats in the new 338-seat Parliament on Oct. 19, but not the 170 MPs needed for a majority, followed by the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Bloc Quebecois.

The order that opposition parties finish in and their seat count are of great interest, but not a major factor in this scenario.

That means as the incumbent, Stephen Harper remains prime minister unless and until defeated in a confidence vote in Parliament.

So Harper doesn't call a session until spring -- and Canada's Constitution only requires Parliament to meet once a year.

One obvious precedent: former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark delayed calling a session for five months after winning a minority government in 1979.

This is constitutionally straightforward no matter how many times optimistic Harper haters claim otherwise. In fact, no prime minister has been dismissed by Canada's governor general in our post-Confederation history.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau both say the party with the most seats gets the first chance to form a government.

Mulcair recently said: "The party that forms the next government is the party that has the largest number of seats. That's our constitutional order."

And Harper agrees.

Harper resigns

Next, Harper announces he will resign as party leader but remain prime minister until a Conservative leadership contest occurs.

In early 2016, a new Conservative leader is chosen by the membership and becomes the new prime minister. That is tradition both federally and, with premiers, provincially.

Paul Martin and Kim Campbell, for example, became new Liberal and Conservative prime ministers respectively, after becoming their party's leader.

The new Conservative PM calls both Mulcair and Trudeau seeking their support to resume Parliament -- presumably they immediately refuse, though a careful reading of their recent statements shows they would not allow "Harper" to continue in a minority situation, not specifically "the Conservatives."

"I think that anybody who has attended a single question period over the course of the last several years would be able to tell you that there is no likelihood that the NDP would ever, under any circumstance, be able to support Mr. Harper," Mulcair told reporters last week.

Trudeau was equally clear: "There are no circumstances in which I would support Stephen Harper to continue being prime minister of this country."

But no matter.

Election, round two

The new Conservative leader makes a major policy statement thanking Harper for his great economic leadership but apologizing for some "excesses," like the draconian security Bill C-51, muzzling scientists and public sector workers, repeated confrontations with organized labour, and climate change inaction.

"It's a brand new day," the new Tory leader shouts with joy, outlining significant plans for change after seeing the light.

But because the NDP and Liberals won't give peace a chance, the new prime minister asks Governor General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament and call a new election so the Conservatives can seek a mandate.

And after Johnson agrees, citing past precedents -- debatable or deplorable -- we are into another election in May 2016!

Newly elected MPs of all parties never even get to their desks, and a weary Canada trudges off to the polls again, cursing politicians all the way but unclear which are the worst.

The Conservatives under their new leader -- is it Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay or some other worthy right-winger? -- once again use their enormous fundraising advantage to more than double the spending of the NDP and Liberals.

A re-energized base is both thrilled to see Harper finally gone and relieved their party has a fighting chance at winning the 2016 election.

And while a majority is the goal, they know a minority Tory government will last at least 18 months, since the opposition won't dare defeat them in Parliament to force a third election in 12 months.

Alternative scenarios

Outlandish? Impossible? Maybe, but Canadians keen on ending Harper's reign may be disturbed by the unexpected -- as surprising as what happened to Julius Caesar on the steps of the Senate on the Ides of March.

For those who read the polls, know the Canadian Constitution and parliamentary precedents, and understand how a desperate party can cling to power -- remember Harper proroguing the House of Commons in 2008, for example -- and it becomes an increasingly likely scenario.

Those who discount this possibility probably also disagreed with my own Ides of March warning to the NDP and Liberals in 2011 that defeating the Harper Conservative minority government would end in disaster.

"Friday's opposition vote to defeat the Conservative government for 'contempt of Parliament' was an exercise in self-delusion, testosterone and faulty logic that will surely result in Stephen Harper returning after the May 2 election as prime minister -- and likely with a majority," I wrote in The Tyee on March 29, 2011, with events unfortunately proving the point.

Harper could do it again -- or even pull off a second, even more disturbing scenario, in which the Conservatives are just a handful of seats from a majority on Oct. 19.

In that case, Harper stays on, delays calling a session of Parliament until spring, and works the phones day and night.

"Hey, Liberal MP from New Brunswick! Would you like to join my cabinet? And what does your excellent riding need in terms of federal funding?" Harper might ask in so many words, trying to convince a few good men and women to switch parties.

After all, it took then-Liberal Vancouver Kingsway MP David Emerson mere days to become a Conservative cabinet minister back in 2006, despite repeatedly denouncing Harper -- who is to say either of these possibilities can't happen again with so much at stake?

Unless, that is, the NDP and Liberals stop the Conservatives from winning the most seats on Oct. 19.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cracking the Code Behind Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “Old Stock Canadians” Debate Comment

Stephen Harper and George W. Bush
David Frum and “Lizard of Oz” Right-wing Strategists Likely Inspired Harper's 'Old Stock' Slant - and it Was Intentional

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday September 22, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

Last month's Muslim rioting in France, this month's clashes between old-stock Australians and Muslim immigrants on the beaches of Sydney -- these may well be portents of a troubled future."

- Right-wing Republican strategist David Frum, December 2005

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made no mistake last week referring to "old stock Canadians" versus "immigrants and refugees" -- it was deliberate and calculated.

It is coded language also used by the Republican strategist who helped come up with U.S. President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" phrase to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea in 2002.

Hard-right conservative and former Bush speechwriter David Frum has repeatedly used the term "old stock" to refer to non-immigrant citizens in Australia, Germany and the United States -- and to controversially contrast primarily white voters with Muslim immigrants.

Harper's intent in using the term is clear: it appeals to a right-wing base frightened of immigrants and refugees.

The question remains as to whether the Harper Conservatives' new Australian political consultant Lynton Crosby -- critics call him the "Lizard of Oz" -- put "old stock Canadians" into Harper's talking points for The Globe and Mail debate.

Certainly Crosby is known for injecting anti-immigrant language into former Australian Liberal prime minister John Howard's campaigns and those of British Conservatives.

"During the 2005 election, he approved Conservative campaign slogans -- 'It's Not Racist to Impose Limits on Immigration,'" the Guardian newspaper reported in March.

Crosby was a key player in Prime Minister David Cameron majority win in this year's United Kingdom election, another reason Harper hired him.

Origins of 'old-stock'

But Frum -- a Harper fan and Canadian whose sister Linda is a Conservative senator appointed by the prime minister -- has been publicly using "old stock" to describe non-immigrant voters for some time.

Beyond his 2005 comments on "old-stock Australians" and Muslim immigrants, in 2010 Frum wrote: "Because of very low birth rates among old-stock Germans, the proportion of foreign-born is highest among those younger than 20s."

It's unlikely that Harper is not well acquainted with Frum's writing, since he regularly fawns over Harper, as in a 2013 CNN column:

"U.S. conservatives deeply admire Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper... Well they might. Harper has achieved more from a weaker position than any conservative leader of recent times," Frum wrote.

And Frum defended Harper vigorously when he was criticized in a New York Times article in August: "How precisely did the Canadian prime minister silence debate, suppress information, and squelch democracy?" Frum wrote, suggesting the column on Harper lacked facts when they abound, from scientists to Supreme Court justices.

So it's almost inconceivable that Harper -- a well-read, former head of the right-wing National Citizens Coalition -- would not understand the coded meaning of "old stock Canadians."

Frum is also blatant about bashing non-European Union immigrants and refugees.

"Europe is learning that today's refugees are at high risk of becoming tomorrow's high-school dropouts, tomorrow's unemployed, and tomorrow's criminals," Frum, executive editor of the Atlantic magazine, wrote in a July column ominously titled:
"Closing Europe's Harbors -- The urgent case for stopping the flow of illegal migrants across the Mediterranean."

Frum has been beating the same drum for years, writing in 2010: "This immigrant population is disproportionately connected to almost all of the social problems of modern Germany."

And in a series of tweets this month, Frum said:

"Wherever stat is calculated - e.g. UK, Germany - non-EU immigrants draw more in benefits than they pay in taxes."

"Non-EU migrants and their children hugely disproportionate in prison populations - sometimes an outright majority."

"Immigrants from outside the EU twice as likely to be unemployed as natives."
"Immigrants from non-EU countries are twice as likely as natives to drop out of secondary school."

Harper's debate comments were nowhere near as inflammatory, but seem rooted in the same basic argument -- that immigrants and refugees are trouble.

Motivating the base

Harper used the phrase "old stock Canadians" in response to a question about changes to health care available to immigrants and refugees.

"The fact of the matter is we have not taken away health care from immigrants and refugees. On the contrary, the only time we've removed it is when we have clearly bogus refugee claimants who have been refused and turned down.

"We do not offer them a better health care plan than the ordinary Canadian receives. I think that's something that new and existing and old stock Canadians agree with," Harper concluded.

When asked the next day what he meant, Harper carefully avoided repeating the phrase -- and was less-than-clear in explaining why he used it or what it meant.

"I know that that is a position supported widely through the Canadian population, it's supported by Canadians who are themselves immigrants and also supported by the rest of us, by Canadians who have been the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations," he said.

Not convincing -- nor is it likely someone using coded language would then explain what the code actually meant.

Harper's comments are a pale version of Frum's foaming invective, but the intent of his "old stock Canadians" is clear -- to appeal to a right-wing base frightened of immigrants and refugees, to motivate them to vote in this election.

And it's an approach that's reason enough for voters to reject Conservative politics of fear.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Liberals' History of Broken Progressive Promises Shows They Can't Be Trusted

Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau
If elected, Justin Trudeau's pledge to amend C-51 may be the latest of many party reversals by pretend progressives.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday September 15, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"When the Liberal party shifts to the right that we lose elections. The Liberal party wins when it is most liberal."

There are actually three -- not two -- things you can always count on: death, taxes and Liberals breaking progressive promises after an election campaign.

That's a long political tradition for the federal Liberal Party over many decades -- just like Lucy pulling away the football just before Charlie Brown can kick it in the classic Peanuts comic strip.

Former Liberal prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien were masters of punting their progressive pledges as soon as safely elected to government.

They both followed a classic Liberal dictum often attributed to veteran operative Davey: campaign from the left -- but govern from the right.

So certainly there's reason to doubt current Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will keep his word on key planks in his platform -- like amending the repressive Bill C-51 security legislation -- after Oct. 19 should he be in a position of power. Because it's just not the Liberal way.

Pierre Trudeau ridiculed Conservative plans to implement wage and price controls during the 1974 election -- but then imposed them himself afterwards.

And Chretien solemnly promised before the 1993 election that on the hated GST: "I say we will replace the tax. This is a commitment."

But the Liberals did nothing.

It was actually Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper who reduced the regressive tax by two per cent years later.

Empty C-51 pledge

So will Justin Trudeau really "move as quickly as possible" to amend the Conservatives' draconian "anti-terrorism" Bill C-51 if he is prime minister?

After all, Trudeau claimed he didn't like C-51 but then the Liberals voted for it in Parliament along with the Conservatives and against the New Democrats, who strongly opposed it.

The bill was also condemned by Amnesty International, Canada's independent privacy commissioner, Human Rights Watch and even the National Firearms Association.

Why support it then? Speaking to University of British Columbia students in March, Trudeau actually said Liberal MPs voted for the legislation because:

"I do not want this government making political hay out of an issue... or trying to, out of an issue as important as security for Canadians. This conversation might be different if we weren't months from an election campaign, but we are," Trudeau said.

So in summary: Trudeau and the Liberals voted for bad legislation they disagreed with just so the Conservatives couldn't criticize them -- but don't worry -- they'll fix it after the election's safely over?

As far from a principled decision as you can get -- and it gives no reason to be convinced that post-election Liberals could be trusted to do anything on C-51.

More Trudeau reversals

And Trudeau may have even perfected the Liberal pledge breaking practice even further -- by flip-flopping on multiple important issues before the election is even over.

Trudeau repeatedly said as late as July that Liberals support balanced budgets.

"I've committed to continuing to run balanced budgets. In fact, it is Conservatives who run deficits; Liberals balance budgets. That's what history has shown," Trudeau said in Markham, Ontario.

But in late August Trudeau changed his tune, promising to run deficits of up to $10 billion a year for three budgets and finally balance it in 2019.

And while Trudeau is campaigning now on a promise to legalize marijuana, he voted along with the Conservatives in 2009 to actually impose mandatory sentences for marijuana possession -- a position that earned him the wrath of pot activist Marc Emery.

Fortunately that legislation died on the order paper before being implemented but Trudeau's vote in favour is clearly on the record.

He went along with the Conservatives on marijuana in 2009 for the same reasons he supported Stephen Harper in 2015 -- because it was seen as politically convenient at the time.

And that raises a bigger concern -- if the Trudeau Liberals will take positions based solely on political advantage instead of using a moral compass, like on C-51, what other promises will they abandon after the election?

For progressive voters troubled by Trudeau's opportunistic support for repressive legislation, what else he might do may be the biggest challenge of all for the Liberals in this election.