Monday, October 13, 2008

A Better Strategic Vote

For much of my adult life, I have been a reluctant "strategic voter." Indeed, I was voting strategically before I ever heard the term used in the popular media. You see, I live in a neighbourhood where the progressive choice in federal elections has usually been the Liberal candidate, while the progressive choice in provincial elections has been the New Democratic Party candidate. So while my natural political affinity has been for the NDP, and while I have almost always voted NDP provincially, I have cast several Liberal ballots in federal elections, especially when John Harvard was the member of parliament for the western part of Winnipeg.

That changed when John Harvard retired from parliament upon his appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba. In the ensuing three elections, the Liberal party decided to run parachute candidates who had little or nothing to do with this part of Winnipeg before they decided to seek to represent it in parliament. First there was Glen Murray, whom I had supported as mayor of Winnipeg but who proved to be less progressive in office than I had hoped and who seemed ambivalent towards the suburbs, where I happen to live. Then there was John Loewen, who resigned as a Conservative member of the provincial legislature to seek the federal seat as a Liberal. I thought to myself, "If we really want a Conservative MP, why wouldn't people just vote for the Conservative candidate?" This election, the Liberals nominated Bob Friesen, who has found this urban constituency a more promising field as a Liberal than the rural riding from which he comes. So, for three elections now, I have voted for the NDP candidate in a constituency where the Liberals were once contenders.

The Liberals could have seduced a vote from me, though, since I cannot fathom the thought of another Conservative government under Stephen Harper. Nor do I relish the thought of once again being represented in Ottawa by the reactionary Steven Fletcher. Now, I'll confess that I belonged briefly to the Progressive Conservative party when I was a teenager, in the days when the party was led federally by Robert Stanfield and provincially by Sidney Spivak, two of the most decent persons ever to serve as leaders of any party. In those days, the Progressive Conservatives were so genuinely progressive, it seems, that Stephen Harper belonged to his high school's Young Liberals Club! (Hmmm, maybe we could appear together on Trading Places!) I gave up on the Progressive Conservative party during my first year at university, when it became clear that the Red Tory tradition had been displaced by American-style neoconservative economics and a reactionary social agenda.

I'm so anxious to replace the Harper government that I might have loaned my vote to the Liberal candidate this time if St├ęphane Dion and his party hadn't sent me so many signals that they weren't interested in having it. Dion has stuck doggedly to the platform he and his party crafted before the current global financial crisis, blissfully indifferent to rapidly changing conditions and stubbornly resistent to modifying their plans in response. Then there was Dion's embarrassing CTV interview, which he has tried to spin as a simple misunderstanding of the question, although it seems more likely that it was a very public illustration of his own impatience, anxiety and stubbornness. But the one thing that has made me glad, in hindsight, that I didn't cast a Liberal vote was Dion's insistance that he would not enter into a coalition with the NDP in the event that a progressive coalition could replace the Conservative government. In other words, St├ęphane Dion effectively declared that, short of a Liberal majority, a vote for the Liberals would serve to maintain the Conservatives in office. The Liberal caucus has already voted with the Conservative government too often and I don't care to encourage them to continue the pattern.

So I voted strategically in the advance poll, but my strategy has changed! This year, I committed myself to a longer-term strategy, which stands to produce positive results in future years, if not necessarily in 2008. I cast my vote entusiastically for the local NDP candidate, Fiona Shiells, a personable, intelligent and articulate young women who would make a wonderful member of parliament. I am confident that Fiona has a long and promising political career before her. As significantly, though, I've decided that the only feasible strategy for the future is to contribute to the NDP's national strength, so that the day will come when New Democrats replace the Liberals as the official opposition and, from that base, go on to form the government. The time has come for a fundamental political realignment in Canada, since the Liberals have seemingly abdicated governing to their Conservative rivals.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Retire Stephen Harper Now!

In recent weeks, I have watched the value of my retirement savings plan decline by 22% and I know that many of you find yourselves in a similar position. In a society where the self-indulgent have been driven by conspicuous consumption, many of us have saved for our future well-being while investing with confidence in the health of the Canadian economy. We are the real "conservatives," in a sense, irrespective of the different political parties we may support. I'm not complaining, nor do I despair, since I know I'm in good company -- we are all in this together.

But I was incensed to read about a flip comment that was recently uttered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is asking us to let him keep the job at which he has been failing for nearly three years. According to a Bloomberg news report by Greg Quinn, "Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a recent decline in stock prices may present good buying opportunities. "I expect some good buying opportunities may be opening up," Harper said today in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., prompting interviewer Peter Mansbridge to ask if he really meant to have made such a comment. Harper also said he hasn't looked closely at his retirement savings account since he was elected."

Of course the prime minister hasn't looked closely at his retirement account since he'll be the beneficiary of a generous parliamentary pension -- a benefit I don't begrudge to those MPs who work diligently for the greater good of the country, something that cannot be said about the current prime minister and his cavalier colleagues. Unlike most of the rest of us, Harper doesn't need to worry too much about his retirement, between this undeserved pension and the corporate directorships he'll likely receive from his big business friends! The rest of us can work an extra decade, take a second job, or perhaps beg from our children in retirement, but Prime Minister Harper seems to think he'll do fine when the time comes. So I say let's retire him and his self-serving partisans now!

I've had it with this prime minister's smug indifference to the needs of everyday people, his patronizing and condescending attitude towards those with whom he differs, and his evident fetish for controlling his cabinet and caucus. The Conservatives failed to release their platform until the last week of the campaign, so there would be little time for public scrutiny or critique. With the Canadian economy teetering on the brink, Harper and his colleagues ask us to trust their ideologically-driven economic policy while making light of the losses that Canadian investors have suffered. They just don't care! If Canadians have any collective self-respect, they will vote to retire Stephen Harper from office along with the gaggle of right-wing extremists he leads in parliament.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sinking My Teeth into the Election

Earlier this evening, I was invited to participate in a public opinion survey related to the federal election on October 14. After half a dozen questions which had nothing at all to do with the election, I stopped the interview and decided to write to the president of the polling company instead. This experience only serves to confirm my suspicion that most public opinion surveys today are meant to mould public opinion rather than reveal it. In this, polling companies have become propaganda machines rather than reliable sources of information. Here's my message ...

Bruce Anderson, President

Harris/Decima Research

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I just finished hanging up on one of your company's representatives, who professed to be conducting a survey on the current Canadian general election but whose initial questions all seemed to be about dentistry. The questions were surprisingly invasive in nature, especially since your firm and I hardly know one another well enough to be on such a mouth-to-mouth basis. This leads me to wonder who was paying for the survey, why the survey was really being conducted, and what possible connection there could be between my dental hygiene and the federal election, unless it's somehow related to the stupid grin the prime minister has been wearing lately.

More significantly, though, the construction of this particular survey leads me to have grave doubts about the statistical integrity and reliability of surveys conducted by your firm. I cannot help but think that the skewed nature of your survey questions will produce skewed results, so that when I see Harris/Decima's name attached to a public opinion poll, I should likely dismiss it out of hand. After all, it can only represent the opinions of those lacking in personal dignity and healthy boundaries, which would have led an emotionally healthy person to hang up on your representative. Frankly, I don't care what such people might think about politics or dentistry.

In the future, when I see competing public opinion surveys reporting wildly different results, I will think of Harris/Decima and its tooth fetish. Obviously, either your firm's management or one of your clients believes there must be a correlation between dental hygiene and voting preferences but I cannot imagine what that might be, unless it's somehow related to the damage that candidates do to their teeth by so often putting their feet in their mouths.

Hmmm ... maybe I should have stayed on the line.


Rev. Stefan M. Jonasson