I became a Conservative in 1980. I was six years old and I wandered in where my parents and friends were watching Pierre Trudeau defeat Joe Clark in the general election. I asked what happened and I was told that a bad man had taken power and a good man had lost. Oh did I mention we were living in Alberta at the time. Soon after that the National Energy Policy was enacted and according to my teachers, Peter Lougheed not only saved Canada from the rising tide of socialism sweeping across Canada but fought off the villains from Kryptonite as well. I actually remember watching a documentary about Peter Lougheed climbing Mount Lougheed. It was riveting.
When we moved to Saskatchewan, Grant Devine was in power and I got involved in Conservative campaigns when I was 12. I even ran for the Bill Boyd lead Progressive Conservatives in 1995 (got my clock cleaned). I left my partisan ways behind me, became a pastor and became officially non-partisan. While we no longer featured a lawn sign in our front yard, I still voted Progressive Conservative and donated a little money when we could afford it. I bought a membership to vote for Joe Clark during his comeback and even had a Carol Skelton lawn sign in 2004.
During that time, my own political worldview had changed. During the 2003 campaign, Eric Cline knocked on my door and we had an engaging discussion about deficits, the complexity of the U.S. economy, and his residency in the riding. As he left I promised I would vote for him, the first time I have ever voted for an NDP candidate.
As I approached this election, I realized I was truly undecided. I want to like Stephen Harper. He wears sweater vests, he plays the piano, knows hockey, and heâ€™s funny when Rick Mercer drops by.
I trust him on the big things like the economy but the things that bothered me started to add up.
- Bev Oda should have just been fired.
- Centralization of power in the PMO and the constant neutering of the cabinet ministers (so much for Team Harper, there is no team, itâ€™s Steve). Dimitri Soudas steps to the microphone more frequently than most ministers which asks the question, what the ministers other than Jason Kenney (courting minorities), Jim Flaherty (finance), John Baird (getting angry at people), and Tony Clement (tweeting it live as it happens) doing?
- Heâ€™s a tactician but I want a visionary. I donâ€™t get any indication that Harper has a big picture or dream for Canada. Heâ€™s a competent manager and an excellent political thinker but I donâ€™t see a lot of vision there.
- Harper was just found in contempt of Parliament because he would not tell Canadians how much things cost. Is this not why a Parliament is so important, to hold the government responsible. Rewarding that seems wrong to me. I know bringing down the government on that was a bit of a political game but the Speakerâ€™s ruling was not. It bothers me and shows a pattern of distrust for democracy that goes back to Harperâ€™s Reform Party days.
- The idelogical war against Insite. As this excellent editorial in The StarPhoenix points out, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has promised that within 100 days of achieving a majority mandate he would present Parliament with an omnibus crime bill that would in effect revert Canada’s legal and health systems to 19th-century standards.
- I hate the level of income tax I pay as much as the next person but we need taxes. Taxes arenâ€™t evil, they are a part of being a community. We need to come together to share the costs. The rightâ€™s approach to taxes is that they are a burden on society and I despise that language. By coming together as a country, we can do a lot more than I can do as an individual and that costs money. At the same time, if you are going to bash taxes, stop spending our money like an idiot. Chretien knew this. G8/G20 summits donâ€™t need fake lakes, nor do they need the kind of costs that you spent. As PostMedia News pointed out, So the G20 summit, in Toronto, ended up costing $679 million. About $574.6 million was spent on security. Canada shelled out a lot more, however, than other countries that have hosted similar summits. The 2009 G20 summit, for example, set the United Kingdom back $20 million, with another $28.6 million spent on security, according to research out of the University of Toronto. In a July 2010 report, the U of T researchers say that between $129 million and $200 million was spent on Canada’s 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Alta.
- Where were the Conservative MPs during the potash debate? Prorogued? Held captive? Away from the newspapers, telephones, email, and all other forms of communication? Thank goodness Brad Wall or Dwain Lingenfelter didnâ€™t waste anytime lobbying them and instead went to people that make decisions because they contributed nothing to the debate.
It isnâ€™t just Harperâ€™s performance as leader that I struggle with, I have some problems with Kelly Block as a local MP. See part of me is spoiled by some great local representation. A couple of years ago Wendy emailed Darren Hill about an abandoned lot and within minutes Hill and the fire department were both looking at it. Over the next couple of days, Wendy was sent and forwarded a deluge of emails while the problem was resolved. I was impressed and we both became avid supporters of Darren Hill. In some ways if he was running in Saskatoon Rosetown Bigger, it wouldnâ€™t even be close who we would be voting for.
Cam Broten replaced Eric Cline and has been a great MLA and local representative. I think he was the first Saskatchewan politician on Twitter and alongside Pat Atkinson should be the model of how to use social media as a politician. Of Twitter doesnâ€™t make Cam a great MLA, heâ€™s approachable, helpful, and fun to talk to.
In my previous dealings with Carol Skelton, despite being in cabinet, she personally answered my emails and invited further conversation and comment. I really appreciated that about her. She also would periodically stop in and comment or email about something on Wendyâ€™s or mine blog which was nice. While she had constituency staff, I never dealt with them and always with Skelton, even if it was on minor issues.
A little over two years ago, a friend had a major issue that needed an MP to help with. She emailed Kelly Block and was emailed promptly back the Conservative talking points on the subject by a staffer. The staffer didnâ€™t even acknowledge the situation. I understand MPs can be busy but it was when government was prorogued and even if wasnâ€™t, what else is there for a backbench MP to do than reply to constituent concerns. At the same time, some of the Saskatchewan Party and NDP MLAâ€™s were contacted. Every MLA but one responded personally immediately and promised to work on the issue, even though it was a federal one. The one MLA who did not respond immediately was travelling and was in an area where there was no cell phone coverage. Once he was back in touch, he got involved as well.
As I watched this and read the responses, you had some MLAs working their butts off on the subject and then you MPs who had nothings else to do other than work on constituency concerns, having their staff send out talking points. I realized then that something was wrong. It happened on a couple more occasions where an inquiry into Blockâ€™s office were met with talking points from an staffers.
Speaking of staffers, itâ€™s hasnâ€™t been a strength either. In 2010 it was Kelly Blockâ€™s Ottawa aide, Russell Ullyatt who leaked some confidential memos to lobbying groups in a huge breach of confidentiality (and stupidity) and was running a direct mail company out of her Ottawa office. He was no stranger to controversy but Block defended him with this,
â€œI certainly didnâ€™t Google Russell Ullyatt,â€ Ms. Block said, adding she checked all his references before giving him a job.
Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi told reporters later the board of internal economy â€” the secretive, all-party committee that oversees the operation of the House of Commons, including MPsâ€™ offices â€” is also investigating suspicions that Ullyatt was actually running a private political printing and mailing business out of Blockâ€™s office.
Joe Preston, the Tory chair of the procedural committee, appeared to suggest the same, although Marcel Proulx, the Liberal member of the internal economy board, refused to confirm the investigation.
Opposition MPs say theyâ€™ve seen expensive printing, paper-folding and envelope-stuffing equipment delivered to Blockâ€™s office. Theyâ€™ve also seen huge stocks of brochures sitting in the hall outside her office.
A charge he denied.
Ullyatt told reporters on his way out of the committee that he operates his printing company out of his garage.
â€œI canâ€™t even park my car in my garage because itâ€™s chock full of equipment so, no, I do not operate a company out of a member of Parliamentâ€™s office,â€ he said.
Sadly the Conservative members of the committee would not let questions about the business be asked.
The Conservatives forcefully objected when opposition MPs tried to steer questions to the subject of Mr. Ullyattâ€™s private printing company, which has boasted of sending more than five million pieces of mail in the past two years as â€œCanadaâ€™s only completely political mail provider.â€
New Democrat Thomas Mulcair, who has said heâ€™s seen a â€œvery elaborate printing machineâ€ and pallets of boxes outside Ms. Blockâ€™s office, tried to ask why the Saskatchewan MP would need these materials. But Joe Preston, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said the questions were irrelevant to the leak of the budget report.
Parliamentary rules do not allow MPsâ€™ offices to be used for activities that are clearly of a private interest, and a secretive all-party Commons body called the Board of Internal Economy is investigating whether Mr. Ullyatt was running a business out of Ms. Blockâ€™s office.
Ms. Block cut short her testimony to MPs on Thursday, saying she had â€œother commitments.â€
She left after one hour, refusing to stay for a scheduled second hour of hearings and declining to answer any questions from journalists as she departed. Fellow Conservatives defended Ms. Block, noting that as an MP she is not legally required to appear before committees at all.
Speaking of mail outs, for the last couple of years we have been inundated full of Tory caucus prepared mail outs warning us of scary coalitions, sex offenders getting out of jail early, and other bad and evil things that Liberals and the Bloc does. Most ignore the NDP which is kind of ironic because that is her biggest challenger in the riding. Perhaps she may have been better served hiring Russell Ullyattâ€™s firm to do her constituency mail outs.
As I looked over them over the past year I realized that she wasnâ€™t representing me in Ottawa, she was busy trying to sell the Conservative agenda back here. Maybe that is why she had to outsource her email.
So what are my options?
The Liberals are dead in Saskatchewan. No offense to Darren Hill who is a great city councillor but the Liberal brand has been dead in Saskatchewan since the early 90s and outside of Ralph Goodale, there is no Liberal presence in the province. Early on in the campaign I couldnâ€™t even find active Liberal riding associations and the leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party goes offline for extended periods of time and only has 314 followers on Twitter and most of those are other politicians. The Liberal Party in Saskatchewan doesnâ€™t have a ground game and their fan base rivals that of the Phoenix Coyotes. While it may or may not have made a difference, their campaign platform left me thinking, â€œthis is it?â€ You have Michael Ignatieff as leader, Bob Rae in the front benches, you have that thinkers conference and this is the best you can do? A grant for college? Yes I did like the Green Renovation Credit, it can hardly be called innovative and there isnâ€™t what you would call much in the area of energy policy and while the Freshwater Strategy looked exciting, there really is nothing there.
Plus, as Chantal Hebert writes, they did this to themselves.
Liberal strategists did not factor a potentially surging NDP into their calculations because they presumed the Liberals were playing against the Conservatives in the major leagues and the NDP was not.
They approached the election with the mindset of a governing party but the physique of a third party.
When they plunged headlong in a spring campaign, the Liberals had been mired in the mid-twenties in the polls for an unprecedented length of time; they were at a historical low behind the NDP in Quebec and exhibiting little signs of life in the Prairies.
A base can only erode for so long â€” as the Liberal base has for decades â€” before it starts to disintegrate.
On a personal level, I am really disappointed in Michael Ignatieff. I get disappointed when I hear the Liberals scream for a bailout package to help hurting Canadians, complain it isnâ€™t enough and then point out the size of the deficit. Tell me again how that works? Or what about the stance against the CF-35s. Now there is a debate that needs to be had over that programme and you would assume given Ignatieffâ€™s background, he would see that? Are 60 F-35s enough? Can it compete against the new MiGs, Flanker H, PAK FA, and Chinese planes that are being designed for export (apparently not) and should Canada be purchasing air superiority planes or attack aircraft? Should be looking at an interim purchase like Australia is until the F-35s can prove themselves? Instead Ignatieff says, â€œLetâ€™s have an open competition.â€ Makes sense until you realize it would be between the F-35 and the equally over priced Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35. There are no other options unless we want to purchase Russian and that will go over well at the NATO meetings.
Layton indicated that the country has not had a defence white paper since 1994 and that a new white paper needs to be developed setting Canadian defence priorities before decisions on new fighters can be made.
â€¦for example, that while the partyâ€™s health-care ads were being run on television, Mr. Ignatieff was talking about â€œrising upâ€ and calling the Tories anti-democratic. He was repeatedly blown off message and seemed to come up with new themes almost daily, from concern-for-democracy to health care to wasted spending on the G8 and G20 summits. This confused voters.
My other option is to vote NDP federally. Whoa. I need to think this through. There is a difference in my mind between the Saskatchewan NDP and the federal NDP. Since NDP in Saskatchewan often get elected, they tend to pragmatists. Sure there is an ideology there but if the ideology doesnâ€™t fit the problem, the NDP can adapt and change. They also donâ€™t do things like promise $70 billion in new spending. They also think before speaking about credit card interest caps that would a) make it harder for the poor to get credit cards and b) encourage more consumer debt. Brilliant. Whatâ€™s next? Variable rate mortgages for the masses?
Whatâ€™s the cause of all of this?
I think part of it has been three consecutive minority governments. It turns every day into an epic struggle to either defeat or survive the next confidence vote. In many ways the campaigning non-stop since 2005 which keeps party from seeking grassroots renewal and input. It also puts all three parties into a crisis mode where all policies and ideas have to work RIGHT NOW because one misstep could either give Stephen Harper a majority or alternatively cause a government to fall. Once you get into that mode, itâ€™s hard to get out of it. The additional risk is that the next loss could end the career of Ignatieff (done like dinner), Harper (likely done) or Layton (we have a winner). Of course if a majority government is elected, the other parties can enter into a renewal process.
In the end, I am going to lend my vote to Nettie Wiebe. I donâ€™t think Jack Layton will win power and in the end the seat is probably already going to the NDP anyways. I do value strong MPs and I think that Wiebe will be that voice for the riding. I donâ€™t agree with Wiebe and everything but she has run three campaigns now with a lot of integrity and that is worth something. My hope is that by actually seeing the possibility of power for the first time, Layton and the NDP brain trust will rethink the next campaign in 2013 and put together an economic plan that is fiscally responsible. Saskatchewan and Manitoba NDP do it all of the time.
I guess the NDP have a choice. Do this interpret this as a sign that Canadians want them to spend us into bankruptcy or is it a sign that they are truly frustrated with the Conservatives, Bloc, and Liberals and want to see what they will do as a government in waiting. At the same time it may send a message to the Conservatives and the now third place Liberals that a different approach is needed. Plus it may be fun to see Bob Rae go head to head with Jack Layton in the next campaign.
Itâ€™s not a decision I am comfortable with but right now I donâ€™t see another realistic option.