Canadian Party Politics – An Analysis May 2013

I had a couple of complaints about my April 2013 Canadian Party Politics Analysis. There were some issues that I skipped. In one case I’d totally missed the issue. In other cases I couldn’t see how they could be immediately important, but help from a couple of readers has given me handles on them.

Let’s take a look.

The Issues

This time I’m not taking the issues in alphabetical order. That’s because one issue, the Economy actually subsumes several other issues, so it comes last.

International Affairs

Leadership

Peacekeeping

Trade Pacts

The Economy  – Includes Taxes, Debt, Deficit, and over-reliance on Natural Resources (Economic Eggs in One Basket issue)

Let’s take them one by one.

International Affairs

This one is trouble. For the last couple of years, Canada’s International Affairs (also referred to as Foreign Affairs) has been following American policies fairly closely. This isn’t something that makes a lot of Canadians happy. While we generally like our neighbour to the south, we often disagree with them on specifics.

That said, it isn’t an issue that is likely to decide an election. It could however sway certain demographics of voters towards or away from certain parties. I rather expect all four of the major parties to attempt to avoid this issue like the plague. No matter what they do, it will end up costing them votes.

Leadership

This issue has been discussed heavily in the CDNPOLI Facebook Group. When you look at the four main party leaders, an evaluation shows the following (taken in order by seats in the house, Bloc ignored since they are not a factor outside of Quebec).

  1. Stephen Harper – Skills unknown. Quite frankly the man is boring. His skills appear more a factor of his position as party leader, and ability to withhold perks than any innate abilities. Can be a polarizing presence, his attitude turns off a lot of voters.
  2. Thomas Mulcair – Appears to have good basic skills. Took a new, large, and mostly inexperienced caucus, and has gotten them through two years without major mis-steps (with the able help of Nycole Turmel, the interim leader after Jack Layton passed away). Mulcair too can be a polarizing presence. Unlike Harper he has no choice, as the worst thing that could happen to the NDP is not to be noticed.
  3. Justin Trudeau – Too new to judge. He may or may not have the skills needed. Whether he learned enough from watching his father, and interim leader Bob Rae we won’t know for another year or two. We don’t know if his presence is polarizing or not yet. In fact we don’t really know a lot about him.
  4. Elizabeth May – Unknown. While she has been effective as an MP, May is in the unenviable position of having no one to lead, being the only Green member of Parliament. She may or may not have leadership skills. Word from party insiders is that she does, that she has been heavily involved in by-election planning for the party, but this isn’t visible to Canadians.

So there’s only two party leaders whose skill sets are available for Canadians to evaluate currently.

Then there’s ageism. Justin Trudeau, if the Liberals formed the Government in 2015, would be 44. Let’s compare his age with previous Prime Ministers.

  1. Stephen Harper was 47 in 2006 (Conservative)
  2. Kim Campbell was 46 in 1993 (Progressive Conservative)
  3. Brian Mulroney was 45 in 1984 (Progressive Conservative)
  4. Joe Clark was 40 in 1979 (Progressive Conservative)
  5. Pierre Elliot Trudeau was 49 in 1968 (Liberal)
  6. William Lyon Mackenzie King was 47 in 1921 (Liberal)
  7. Arthur Meighen was 46 in 1920 (National Liberal and Conservative Party)

Of the seven previous Prime Ministers under the age of 50, five have been Conservative (Progressive Conservative and National Liberal and Conservative Party are both predecessor parties to today’s Conservative Party). They are the youngest five Prime Minsters in Canadian History, with Joe Clark holding the record as the youngest ever at the age of 40, a year younger than Justin Trudeau currently is.

It appears Conservatives worship youth, and they shouldn’t complain about Justin’s relatively young age. After all, Stephen Harper was only 3 years older…

This makes Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May, both of whom are 58, look like far better choices than Stephen Harper if age is the main criteria.

Should age be the main criteria? Good question. There have been persistent rumours that Ronald Reagan suffered from early stage Alzheimers during his second term in office. No cases of dementia affecting a Prime Minister have been positively chronicled in Canadian Political History, but it could have happened, and not reported. It wasn’t until the release of his diaries that most Canadians knew William Lyon Mackenzie King was a spiritualist. From Wikipedia:

Privately, he was highly eccentric, with his preference for communing with spirits, including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, his dead mother, and several of his Irish Terrier dogs, all named Pat except for one named Bob. He also claimed to commune with the spirit of the late President Roosevelt. He sought personal reassurance from the spirit world, rather than seeking political advice. Indeed, after his death, one of his mediums said that she had not realized that he was a politician. King asked whether his party would win the 1935 election, one of the few times politics came up during his seances. His occult interests were kept secret during his years in office, and only became publicized later. Historians have seen in his occult activities a penchant for forging unities from antitheses, thus having latent political import. In 1953, Time stated that he owned—and used—both an Ouija board and a crystal ball.

This isn’t to say that King wasn’t an able politician, and leader. He was. It is quite possible  that he might not have been elected to head the Liberal Party if his beliefs had been known, just as the 1857 Inspector General of Military Hospitals in Canada would not have received her position, if the British Army had known she was a woman.

So all parties need to be careful how they attack the other party leaders. Age can be a two edged sword.

Peacekeeping

Canadians enjoyed having our troops on peacekeeping deployments. The decades long Cyprus deployment, the Balkans deployment, and others, gave us a sense we were doing something positive.

Afghanistan gave us a sense we were doing something positive too, at least until the wheels came off. Canadians like peace. We’ve had it for a long time. The last action on Canadian soil was in the War of 1812. Tourists regularly visit the sites of our military victories, where we beat back the American agressors.

We think other nations should have peace too. We are even willing to help them, by getting between the waring sides, and holding them apart.

One thing we aren’t willing to put up with is crap on the ground. We want the troops to have sensible rules of engagement, and the weapons to handle anything that comes at them. Send them in, yes, but send them in armed for bear, with a ton of ammunition. Make it clear to both sides that tangling with Canadian troops is an excellent way to end up six feet under.

Of course there’s the question of whether anyone would trust us in the peacekeeping roll. See International Relations.

Trade Pacts

I ignored this issue, because the average Canadian isn’t likely to know a lot about trade negotiations. I do, but I came from the business world, and I’m very interested in politics.

Some of the current trade negotiations have the potential to backfire. Badly. Take the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership and the intended expansion, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations are in secret. When negotiations are in secret, that’s usually a good indication that the issues being discussed aren’t in the best interests of the public.

Or take ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which I covered earlier. Again, the negotiations were secret from the public, though Industry was brought in early, and invited to comment. You’ll note that Industry doesn’t vote…

But they lobby. Boy do they lobby.

The Economy  – Includes Taxes, Debt, Deficit, and over-reliance on Natural Resources (Economic Eggs in One Basket issue)

To quote the title of a classic Alice Cooper album, Welcome to My Nightmare.

The Economy is such a huge grab bag of lesser issues, that this part may appear disjointed. My apologies, but the Economy is complex.

First, let’s look at Taxes. There are several types of taxes.

  1. Point of Sale
  2. Point of Import
  3. Property Taxes
  4. Wage Taxes

Some taxes can be termed as “Progressive” in that they can be targeted to have a lesser impact on certain segments of society. Property Taxes for example only impact home owners directly, though they are passed onto renters in rental costs.

Even Point of Sale taxes can be progressive. Many provinces do not tax unprepared food, but do tax prepared (restaurant purchased) food. This makes it easier for the less well off to feed their families.

Usually when we refer to “Progressive Taxes” it is Income taxes that are being discussed. By changing the basic personal deduction, it is possible to support the poor at little or no cost. If taxes are paid on any earnings over $1,000.00 dollars, even a child with a paper route is likely to be liable. If taxes are only paid on earnings over $10,000.00, that gives a poor family more money to support their children.

There has been a huge amount of argument about tax rates over the last hundred years. Should Canadians making over X amount of money pay this rate, or that rate. How can someone be expected to live on only Y dollars a year.

This is a serious question. Unfortunately there is little or no solid academic data to support ANY of the taxation changes that have been made in the last fifty years. Or at least if there is academic data, I’ve not been able to find it. If you know about it, please post a comment with a link (or links) below this article.

We should be making taxation decisions based on evidence. Currently we appear to be making them based on everything but. This applies to all of the four types of taxes that I’ve listed. You cannot make an informed decision without evidence, and we JUST DO NOT HAVE IT.

The Country’s Debt is another issue, and is tied to the Deficit. The Debt was going down under the previous Liberal Governments, which were running a small budgetary surplus. Under the Conservatives it is once again ballooning, as deficit spending is once again the order of the day. There are several reasons for this, not all of which are under the Conservatives control.

  1. The World Economy crashed, killing demand for our natural resources.
  2. The World Economy didn’t recover, imitating the Japanese meltdown.
  3. The World Economy is unlikely to recover under current circumstances.

Then there’s the tax cuts. There was a huge $60 Billion series of Corporate Tax cuts which was supposed to boost employment. When I checked StatsCan last year, I could find no evidence that it did, and I complained to my MP. Now the National Post has come to the same conclusion.

If you compare the Corporate Tax cuts with the Service cuts, a lot of the Service cuts only became necessary because the Government was receiving less tax revenue. This calls Conservative stewardship of the Economy into question. If they promise jobs through tax cuts, and do not deliver, they appear less than capable.

Then there’s the over-reliance on Natural Resources. Canada is the richest country in the world on a per-capita basis. The problem is that we rely so heavily on exports of our natural resources that any changes in resource pricing can cause severe dislocations.

There are real concerns in Sudbury, because the price of Nickel is unstable.

Currently the price of Oil is high, however if usage were to drop off, we have huge amounts of capacity which would be idled literally overnight.

Potash is probably the brightest, if least known resource, we have some of the largest reserves, and anyone who wants to increase agricultural capacity is probably dealing with us. But there are ways around using Potash.

Timber is another fairly bright spot, but there are places which have been over cut, and places like the area where I live which have never fully recovered from severe forest fires.

Then there are Precious Metals. My Father-In-Law worked in a Gold Mine that was closed because the price dipped to where the mine was no longer economically feasible. The town where I live was once the Silver mining capital of Canada, with peak production of 30,000,000 ounces per year.

Then there’s Alberta. I know business owners in Alberta who’ve shut their doors, because they cannot get employees. Or at least they can’t get them at competitive wages. When the local McDonalds is paying $20.00 per hour to start, it’s hard for a small manufacturer to compete.

Alberta has everything invested in Oil. If Oil prices drop, the province is in for a world of hurt. I know people who lost their houses when the bust came back in the early eighties. Alberta could be heading that way again. If Alberta gets hurt, it will hurt the rest of Canada.

In simple terms, you don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Drop it, and you’ve got nothing. Currently Canada is planning on high Natural Resource prices lasting forever. We can’t do that, because we don’t know that they will.

We need to diversify. If we drill for oil, we should refine the oil in Canada. If we cut timber, we should produce paper, boards, plywood, veneer, and everything else, in Canada. If we need software, we should be designing and producing it in Canada. If we need warplanes, we should be designing and producing them in Canada. If we need anything, it should be Canadian built and designed.

What we should be selling are valued added products, and our expertise. Our engineers are some of the best trained in the world, our workers are some of the most literate, and most well trained. We have the capabilities to do things that no one else can do.

The question is, do we have the political will?

I think that covers everything that has been brought up. If you think I’ve missed something, please feel free to mention it in a comment.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Sunday May 5, 2013

 

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One thought on “Canadian Party Politics – An Analysis May 2013

  1. A quick note:

    Someone commented to me offline that I was criticizing the Conservatives too much. Possibly this is true, however the Conservatives, since they hold a Majority in Parliament are the only party that can take meaningful action at present,

    The NDP, Liberals, Bloc, and single Green are limited to posturing. Their votes do not count unless the Conservarive caucus fractures. That is an extremely unlikely event. Stephen Harper would have to be exposed as an American spy or worse to cause a major fracture in the Conservative caucus, and I doubt even that would do it. They’d probably hold a closed door meeting, elect one of their own as replacement quietly, and tell Harper to follow orders or else.

    So the only party worth criticizing, unless someone does something spectacularly stupid in a majority Parliament is the ruling party. This also dilutes the power of the Conservative attack ads on Justin Trudeau. They literally have nothing to attack, because Trudeau has no record, and is likely to gain no meaningful record until he becomes Prime Minister. Since he’s parroting Conservative stances on most issues, attack his stance, and they are attacking their own…

    At least with Mulcair they’ve got a clear target, but they seem to have decided he’s the lesser danger at present.

    Wayne

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