Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Who to watch at COF...

Here are some people to watch at this week's Council of the Federation meetings in Moncton:

Ed Stelmach (AB)... Ed has the most to lose at this year's meeting. This is his first COF as Premier (he attended last year's as Alberta's IGA Minister), and he's in a tough spot. With both energy and climate change on the table, and with his personal approval numbers plummeting in Calgary, Ed has already come out swinging. He's said publicly that Alberta will not accept a national carbon-trading plan, meaning that anything approaching a pan-Canadian trading strategy will be considered a loss of face. This is a huge meeting for Ed.

"The Green Front" vs. Big Oil... Expect Gary Doer (MB) to line up with Jean Charest (PQ) and Gordon Campbell (BC) as the "Green Front". On their agenda: an East-West power grid, commitment to emissions targets, and a national carbon-trading. Stelmach is opposed, as is Lorne Calvert (SK) and Danny Williams (NL).

Gary Doer (MB).... Ralph Klein's departure and Pat Binns's replacement by 33-year-old Robert Ghiz makes Doer the longest-serving Premier in Canada. This, combined with his reputation as a conciliator, ought to draw extra media coverage.

Jean Charest (PQ)... Look for Charest to lead the charge on "The Green Front", but don't be surprised to see him trumpeting COF as a symbol of his government's achievements in promoting "open federalism." Charest's people will be looking to pump him up as a national conciliator -- an image that may be difficult to cultivate if the meeting turns into a showdown between the Greens and Big Oil. It will also be difficult to portray Charest as a defender of Quebec's interests while, at the same time, working together with the rest of the provinces. The tried and tested solution: to join with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador in calling for greater decentralization of federal power. Of note, Charest looks like he's pursuing Quebec's national identity outside COF, approaching Harper in a one-on-one venue.

Danny Williams (NL) and Lorne Calvert (SK)... These two will be the most entertaining. Watch for both to use COF's progress on energy or the environment as ammunition against a do-nothing Ottawa. But watch for the other premiers to keep Danny on a leash. Calvert has never performed particularly well on this stage, but he's facing a Fall election. If he doesn't come up with something to capture the media's attention, this will most certainly be his last COF.

Northern Premiers (YK, NW, NU)... Joe Handley (NW) appears to be positioning himself as the spokesman for northern development, linking the concept of regional transportation to federal efforts to promote Arctic sovereignty. Also, expect the usual pitch from Northern Premiers for cross-Canada support for northern devolution.

Canadian Nurses Association.... They'll be there protesting the fact that health care is not on the COF agenda this time around. If the premiers don't come up with something substantive on Day 1, the CNA could steal the headline.

Who not to watch:

Dalton McGuinty (ON)... This guy seems rudderless. Ontario's position at most premiers' meetings is difficult to pin down, and McGuinty is dropping few hints about his main priorities at this year's COF. I think he'd be happy to get his photo-op and soundbite, then get back to the campaign trail.

The Maritime Premiers -- Rodney MacDonald (NS), Shawn Graham (NB) and Robert Ghiz (PEI) have a combined two-and-a-half years experience between them. Forgive the media for confusing them with junior staffers.

Toward a True "Council of the Federation"

It's been over three decades since they first formally proposed the idea at the Victoria Charter meetings, but I suppose it's better late than never.

Founded in 2003, the Council of the Federation is taking an important first step toward being a positive, legitmate national body. For the first time since its inception, COF will have cooperation -- not fed-bashing -- at the top of its agenda as it meets this week in Moncton. Instead of using the annual get-together as a glorified PR exercise, instead of organizing itself as a national lobbying firm, and instead of bickering amongst each other over equalization, the Council is actually promising to unite provinces in pursuit of common goals. Western and Atlantic Premiers have been doing this for decades, working on such issues as harmonization and trade, energy, and the environment. But this year's COF meeting marks the first time this has happened on a national basis.

To be sure, there will be tension and debate. Getting Manitoba and Quebec to agree with Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Alberta on a national energy strategy will be challenging. (I'm waiting with baited breath to read the communique on that issue.) But at least we are starting to see the markings of true 'cooperative federalism', with Premiers united through common pursuits instead of a common enemy.

Unfortunately, that "enemy" still remains shut out of these discussions. This partly of Ottawa's own doing; Harper has yet to convene a first minister's meeting since assuming office. It is also partly out of the wishes of certain provincial leaders; Williams and Calvert are not too anxious to share the stage with the Prime Minister, and Campbell and McGuinty are wary of sharing the spotlight.

Nonetheless, the continued absence of the federal government in a "Council of the Federation" not only contradicts Harper's promises of "open federalism"; it also contravenes the spirit of the entire COF concept. If the Council is to be any more than a better-funded, renamed Annual Premiers' Conference -- a desire clearly expressed in the Quebec Liberals' original bluepirint in 2002 and the 1971 discussions in Victoria -- the next step must be to involve the federal government as an equal partner.*

This week's meeting in Moncton is an excellent start. Let's hope officials in both Ottawa and the provincial capitals build on this momentum.

*Ottawa should not be the chair or co-chair of these meetings, as we've seen in various First Minsters' Meetings and Conferences; nor should it be an invited 'guest'. All fourteen of Canada's official governments should sit as equal members of a reformed Council. (Looking further down the road, Aboriginal governments, big city mayors, and the Federation of Municipalities should be granted access as guests.) The Council, like the APC before it, should never be a formal 'voting' body; input from all members should continue to be used to forge a consensus on issues of national importance.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Global Warming Swindle?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle are a bad idea. (Just check out the growing number of recycling containers in our living room.) Any efforts to beautify and improve our environment ought to be welcomed.

But after viewing a documentary (The Great Global Warming Swindle) and reading Lorne Gunter's piece in today's National Post, I'm a little more skeptical about the ideology and political motivations behind global warming. I'm not prepared to call it a "conspiracy" quite yet, but the global warming skeptics really are starting to get their act together. The anti-consumerism, big-government tenets of the global warming movement do smack of 1960s and 1970s socialism. Food for thought, and (quite possibly) more convenient truths.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Creeping Federalism and the Power of the Schwartz

Students of Canadian politics are well-acquainted with the debate over whether federalism leads to healthy competition between provinces, or unfortunate races-to-the-bottom. From an environmental perspective, developments in recent months suggest that some provinces and US states are actually racing-to-the-top when it comes to combating climate change. The 'power of the Schwartz' is perhaps the best evidence of this trend. When Canadian premiers are not clamouring for photo-ops with the California governor, they're racing to sign onto his new environmental accords. His most recent agreement -- to cut gasoline and diesel greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2020 -- already has two Canadian signatories (BC and Ontario), with Doer, Charest, and nine Northeastern US Governors already gripping their pens. Good news for the environment, according to most.

The effect of this creeping federalism on the non-signatories remains to be seen. An article in today's Winnipeg Free Press suggests that these new emissions standards may serve as a "wake-up call" to oil-producing provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, all of whom may find difficulty in selling "unclean" fuel to a growing number of North American markets.

From a purely environmental perspective, it appears that competitive federalism has some merit.

"Following John", 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago today, on June 10, 1957, Canadians first embraced John Diefenbaker's vision of "One Canada". Of all sources, The Star waxes most eloquently on this anniversary.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Red Toryism: One Man's Definition

I don't like to recycle material on this blog, but in response to several queries, he again is one person's view of what it means to be a Red Tory:

A red tory is a compassionate conservative, driven by a concern for community over individualism, the collective well-being over personal self-interest, Burke over Mill, social responsibility over token rights, societal responsibility over state responsibility, fiscal responsibility over socialism, and responsible government over mob rule. In particular, four (4) interrelated principles underlie "red toryism" as an ideology:

1. Tradition & Incrementalism: The tory philosophy is one in which society evolves gradually, remains stable but not static, and relies on tradition as a guide for the future.

2. Organicism & the Social Fabric: Core to the red tory ideology is the belief that society is more than a sum of its parts. It was Burke who invoked the term "social fabric" as a metaphor to describe society as a collection of individuals who, when woven together like threads, produce a much stronger and grander entity.

3. Ascription & Imperfection: The very essence of toryism is rooted in the Protestant belief in human imperfection, and the existence of a ‘natural hierarchy’ in society such that only the most capable should assume positions of authority. For red tories, while the social ladder exists, it is still accessible to those with lower social status, who may climb it gradually through their lifetimes and initiative, or over the course of several generations.

4. Paternalism & Noblesse Oblige: In essence, then, toryism is a belief system that combines paternalism and collectivism through the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’. In the tory view of community, one discovers a sense of mutual obligation – of duties and privileges, rights and responsibilities – such that those in positions of privilege owe concern to those of lower social and political status, while the latter owe a certain degree of deference to elites. Labeled "tory democracy", this set of values may help to explain the ebbing of red toryism in an age of declining social and political deference.Overall, red toryism implies an easy acceptance of, but a low tolerance for, economic and social inequality, and displays a communitarian concern for the care of the less-fortunate in society.


Ever notice the similarities between social democrats and red tories, these days? No, I'm not talking about Jack Layton -- I mean realistic social dems. If you cover up the byline, you may find yourself nodding at old Tony Blair, Ed Broadbent, Roy Romanow or Gary Doer speeches. It's no coincidence -- the so-called "Third Way" to which these men have committed themselves bears a striking resemblance to classic Red Toryism:

1. Fundamentally, both share an inclusive, organic view of society, including a belief in the necessity of mutual obligation to bind together members of the community. This view conflicts with the atomistic, liberal notion of society as a collection of competing individuals.

2. Both red toryism and the third way treat society and the market as separate, but interdependent. For red tories, this is embodied in the desire to put politics before economics when necessary; for social democrats, it means striving to prevent a market society from evolving out of a market economy.

3. In this vein, both ideologies also view the state as a positive instrument in society, and promote government intervention in the economy when necessary to promote the interests of the community (red toryism) or achieve social justice (the third way).

4. Yet, both are rooted in what Giddens (1998: 66) calls "philosophic conservatism," and stand opposed to revolutionary changes to society and its political institutions. Rooted in a strong distrust or dissatisfaction with the type of sweeping social plans embodied in socialism, red toryism and the third way advocate progressive, incremental reform.To say that Third Way social dems "stole" our doctrine is a little harsh. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery. It does help to explain why some of us are drawn to moderates like Doer and Broadbent, though -- especially considering the socon and neocon leanings of so many so-called "Tory" leaders.


Perhaps the simplest way to conceptualize an ideology like conservatism is to divide it into a series of functional dimensions. In this case, six seem especially pertinent (dramatic oversimplifications of each term are given in parentheses):

(1) MORAL CONSERVATISM* (a.k.a., NEO-conservatism; emphasis on traditional family values; often, but not always, tied to religious beliefs)

(2) SOCIAL CONSERVATISM*^ (opposition to social engineering, including affirmative action; emphasis on law, order and security)

(3) FISCAL CONSERVATISM^ (a.k.a., neo-liberalism; emphasis on fiscal orthodoxy, including balanced budgets, deregulation, privatization, debt repayment, and tax relief; note: there is a distinction between being fiscally conservative and fiscally responsible -- politicians of all political stripes pay lip service to the latter)

(4) POPULISM~ (a belief in grass-roots democracy, often in opposition to political partisanship and other top-down institutions like Parliament; often, but not always, mixed with libertarianism; see: Thomas Jefferson)

(5) HIGH TORYISM~ (a belief in parliamentary sovereignty, often in opposition to direct democracy and judicial activism; often accompanied by a communitarian/patriotic view of the state; see: Alexander Hamilton and Edmund Burke)

(6) LIBERTARIANISM (a belief in the sovereignty of the individual and the limitations of government in the moral, social, and economic spheres)

*The distinction between #1 and #2 is no doubt the trickiest. In every-day language, both moral and social conservatives have been lumped under the "SO-CON" label. While there is a correlation between the two sets of values, it's important to distinguish between the two. Logically, a person could be a moral conservative without being a social conservative (and vice versa).

^Both social and fiscal conservatism often favour limited state interference in the economy, and a guaranteed but limited social welfare system.

~This is where there is often a direct conflict within conservative ranks, between those who favour a grass-roots style of politics and those that favour an elite-driven version.

People do not have to conform to any one of these labels. In fact, few, if any conservatives are members of only one 'camp'. As mentioned, people with moral and social conservative tendencies are often referred to as "SO-CONS". People with moderate fiscal conservative leanings and tendencies toward "high toryism" -- without a touch of moral or social conservatism -- are often called "RED TORIES". In the United States, the "NEW RIGHT" consists of "neo-cons" and "neo-liberals". And so on. The point is not to pigeon-hole people into one class of conservatism. Quite the opposite.

The purpose of this discussion has been to highlight how not all C/conservatives are created equal. The next time you hear someone painting us all with the same brush, think twice.

Turnout in Manitoba

The Winnipeg Free Press is reporting that turnout in Tuesday's election was 58%, up from 54% in 2003, but still low by historical standards.

Graph courtesy: CBC News

Why? A combination of factors are at play: the low level of competitiveness of the two most-recent elections ; the campaign finance reforms introduced in 2000 (which have crippled the parties' ability to advertise and get out the vote); global trends in voter apathy (particularly among youth); the timing of this year's election (after May Long Weekend); and others.

Should we be worried?