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2015 Canadian politics preview

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This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

The primary focus on Canadian politics in 2015 will be the much-awaited federal election, scheduled for October 19.

Students of Canadian politics might be puzzled at a fixed date, but the Harper Government changed the rules to be on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election.

The election could be called before this date, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated so far that the date will not change.

Stephen Harper is now the sixth longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history. On November 13, Harper marked his 3,203rd day on the job. The prime minister went past the last elected Tory PM Brian Mulroney and Robert Borden, who led Canada through World War I.

Harper’s run will be longer than the Mulroney/Campbell term, but 9 years is often a breaking point for the electorate. The Conservatives haven’t had a majority all those 9 years, but Harper has been visible in that role all this time. Even if somehow Harper were to abdicate in the role to a fellow conservative, there isn’t an obvious successor.

We are seeing signs of an election year from the Harper Government. After over a year without a meeting and many questions about why Harper wouldn’t visit with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Harper finally visited with Wynne in Toronto before going to the World Juniors final.

Julian Fantino was a disaster as Veteran Affairs minister. So Harper dumped him from the post but kept him in the cabinet as an associate minister on Defense (current, not former troops).

In 2 on-camera incidents, Fantino is arguing with a veteran and brazenly ignoring a veteran’s pleading and angry wife.

Both moves were to shore up Ontario support, specifically ridings in the Toronto suburbs — the 905 area code.

In an non-Ontario move, Harper appointed House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers the new ambassador to Ireland. Vickers will likely do a fine job but the timing feels really political.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau as well as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Bloc Quebecois Leader Mario Beaulieu, and Forces et Démocratie Party Leader Jean-François Fortin all want to take advantage of the anti-Harper movement. Quebec, the Toronto suburbs, and scattered seats in the West are the best path to victory in 2015.

The Forces et Démocratie is brand new. This is a new political party formed last fall as MP Jean-François Fortin (Bloc Québécois) and Jean-François Larose (NDP) left their parties to form a new party. The party’s ideology, according to Wikipedia, is social democracy, Quebec nationalism, and regionalism.

Of the current 308 seats, the Conservatives have 163 seats. the NDP, as the official opposition, has 95 seats. The Liberals have 35 seats.

The parliament has 7 independents with 2 seats each for the Green Party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Forces et Démocratie as well as 2 vacant seats.

The NDP losses since the 2011 federal election is a pattern to watch for 2015. Those seats that were mostly Bloc Quebecois in 2011 that went NDP in the last election are seats that the Liberals and NDP will be fighting for in 2015. The Liberals won’t come close to getting a majority without those Quebec seats.

One of those lost NDP seats came when Olivia Chow resigned from Parliament to run for mayor of Toronto. The Liberal candidate won the Trinity-Spadina riding in a byelection.

Even with the federal election in 2015, we know there will be some stirring in the provinces, though 2015 would have a difficult time topping 2014.

Last month, Danielle Smith and 8 other Wildrose Party MLAs in Alberta jumped to the reigning Progressive Conservative Party. You might remember Smith from the infamous bus picture video when she ran for premier back in 2013.

Though more than ½ of the party jumped, the Wildrose Party is still the opposition party in Alberta. Heather Forsyth is the interim party leader. Smith had been the Wildrose Party leader since 2009.

Jim Prentice is the relatively new premier and his presence made the move easier for Smith and the other MLAs. Prentice has made hints that a provincial election could be called in 2015; he was named the new party leader following the departure of Alison Redford. Calling an election is an act that newly appointed premiers often do.

Manitoba should be the loudest province when 2015 is over. Premier Greg Selinger had several NDP cabinet members leave the cabinet in protest in part over a provincial sales tax increase. Selinger will be defending his leader role against Theresa Oswald and Steve Ashton in March.

Current polls have the PC Party far ahead in Manitoba.

Manitoba might call for an earlier election, depending on how the NDP Party leadership race goes.

Of the 57 seats in the Manitoba legislature, the reigning NDP has 35 seats. The PC Party, as the opposition, has 19 seats. The Liberal Party has 1 seat.

Manitoba — along with Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories — all have provincial elections scheduled for the fall of 2015. Since the federal election will also be in the fall, the provinces and territory are making plans to postpone their elections to not coincide with the federal election.

The Newfoundland and Labrador election is scheduled for no later than September 26, but there isn’t a contingency right now to move the election to spring 2016.

The province had 3 premiers in 2014, starting with Kathy Dunderdale followed by Tom Marshall and finally Paul Davis. This doesn’t even count Frank Coleman, who would have won (as the only candidate) the PC leadership if he had not withdrawn due to a “significant and challenging family matter.”

The PCs have 29 seats versus 16 for the Liberals and 3 for the NDP. Unlike other provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador has an even number of seats. The Liberals are leading strongly in the polls.

Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island are not in danger of flipping. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall of the Saskatchewan Party has 49 of the 61 seats. The NDP Party is the opposition party with 9 seats. In Prince Edward Island, Premier Robert Ghiz of the Liberal Party has 23 of the 27 seats. The PC Party is the opposition party with 3 seats.

The quiet provinces in 2015, barring unexpected news, will be Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. The first 3 provinces on that list had 2014 elections while the last 2 had 2013 elections.

Speaking of quiet, we’ll have a lot less Rob Ford coverage in 2015. A lot less.

Stephen Harper, Pauline Marois import GOP dirty tricks to reduce voting

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This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

Stephen Harper and Pauline Marois rarely have something in common, but that something is a trend that has been sweeping throughout the United States.

Though using different methods, Harper and Marois are trying to deny the right to vote to people who are eligible. We’ve seen these “voter ID” laws in several U.S. states designed to prevent those likely to vote against Republicans a chance to cast their ballot, even though they are registered to vote.

While the target audience for Harper and Marois are different, the target audience for both is those who aren’t likely to vote for their party.

Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, is working its way through Parliament.

Canadians have voter identification cards, which help identify them, and Elections Canada has allowed their use with another form of ID as proof of being able to vote. Bill C-23 would take away voter identification cards as a proof of ID. The bill also disallows vouching, where someone in the precinct of the riding can vouch for that person.

Bill C-23 allows bans Elections Canada from encouraging turnout, especially among groups that aren’t as likely to vote: youths under 30, ethnic minorities, Aboriginals and the disabled.

The legislation also removes the Commissioner of Canada Elections (investigators) from Elections Canada to be a separate office. The Conservatives have been the target of numerous allegations from overspending their budget to robocalls telling voters their voting spot had changed when it hadn’t. The change reduces the impact they can make on parties that violate election laws.

Previous coverage:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper copies Bush tactic of ejecting people from campaign stops

Like their U.S. counterparts, conservatives in Canada don’t have actual examples of voter fraud. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, conservatives have the power to change the law nationwide.

In Quebec, university students who are otherwise eligible to vote are being told that they aren’t eligible. The requirements for voting in Quebec is to be a “Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old, be domiciled in Quebec for six months.”

The key word is domiciled. The stories are pretty consistent. Even if people have been living in Quebec for longer than 6 months, and can prove those facts, they are still denied registration.

The Civil Code of Quebec states that “change of domicile is affected by actual residence in another place, coupled with the intention of the person to make it the seat of his principal establishment.”

In other words, you can be a student in Quebec, but if you no intention of living in Quebec after university, you can’t vote. And since that can’t be proven, those who aren’t francophones are being targeted as not likely to stay in Quebec.

These students are primarily living in Montréal, where anglophones and allophones are much more likely to be found.

Previous coverage:

2014 Quebec election preview; election set for April 7

Marois was also vocal about those outside Quebec (i.e., Ontario) were trying to pull the election away from the Parti Quebecois. The premier said there was an influx of illegal anglophone voters in 5 ridings. However, Chief Electoral Officer Jacques Drouin said that there was no abnormal rise in registrations.

Vote fraud would be if these students or anyone else were voting in Quebec and in the province where their parents live. There is no proof or accusations of that happening. In fact, if a student from Quebec were going to school in Ontario or New Brunswick, by Quebec standards, they wouldn’t be eligible to vote where they go to school and would also be legally barred from voting in Quebec.

The students can’t vote in two places, but legally have to be able to vote in one place.

Reading the mind of the voter is literally an impossible task. As to whether graduates will stay in the province, this would depending on being able to find work. Quebec’s jobless rate is not good, yet the campaign has been more about sovereignty and language than the economy or infrastructure.

Residency is where you live. College students in the U.S. run into similar troubles, especially with the new anti-democracy “voter ID” laws since these states “magically” won’t take a college ID as proof of identity.

Voting is a civic duty that comes with being a citizen. The voting process is about opportunity and choice. Political parties — Republican, Conservative, and Parti Quebecois — that take away opportunity and choice from citizens are no better than the Third World dictatorships that the First World likes to admonish.

Canada has done a much better job in running elections than its southern neighbor in great part because a non-partisan group such as Elections Canada works to open up voting to citizens and fights back against rampant partisanship. The Harper Government wants to make elections more like the United States in the spirit of their cousins, the Republican Party.

Politics is supposed to be about ideas. When you run out of ideas, you try cheap, undemocratic stunts such as these. These tactics go against being a democracy. The best way to punish them is to respond at the ballot box.

2014 Three Amigos preview

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Three Amigos summits are rare and brief, not a combination you want from three side-by-side countries that have a lot to say.

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama for the latest Three Amigos summit in Toluca, Mexico.

Technically, the name is the North American Leaders Summit but the Three Amigos nickname has stuck for this event.

Despite what you might think based on the U.S. media, agenda items other than the Keystone XL pipeline will come up in the discussions.

For more on what we might see during the brief summit, check out our analysis from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Canada cuts back on food safety, even if it is still ahead of the United States

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The Harper government is taking a teabagger type look at the federal budget in its significant cuts. Ares important to liberals, NDP supporters, and Green members suffer disproportionally. Even in Canada, food safety is a political issue by conservatives.

The irony, if you want to call it that, is that in the last Canadian federal election, the Conservatives promised $100 million more in spending over a 5-year period for food safety. Guess that didn’t work out.

At least Canada has a federal agency — Canadian Food Inspection Agency — devoted to food safety. The U.S. can’t even spare that as a concept, real or weak.

While Canada doesn’t have the scares of eggs, spinach, and tomatoes that Americans have recently had, the country to the North did suffer from a listeriosis outbreak in 2008 from tainted deli meat that led to 22 deaths. And yes, the Harper government was in charge.

For more on this story, check out our perspective from our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com. And you can keep up on Canada and its politics (and more) at CanadianCrossing.com.

Canada’s Harper government robocalls scandal similar to tactics from the George W. Bush days

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If in this political season you are feeling forlorn for the “good ol’ days” of George W. Bush, you might enjoy the latest political scandal of Canada.

The Conservative Party is being accused of incorporating one of the Bush’s team classic tactic of steering people away from voting, this time using robocalls to misinform where people are supposed to vote in the last federal election in 2011. The Conservatives in Canada are also accused of making calls pretending to be Liberal candidates (unethical) and Elections Canada representatives (illegal).

The Conservatives aren’t taking this lying down, accusing the Liberal Party of being behind the calls. A Conservative backbencher from Saskatchewan puts the blame on Elections Canada.

Robocalls are nothing new in U.S. politics, but they are geared mostly toward slamming fellow candidates. These robocall accusations go much further, dipping into pure deception. Elections Canada is now reviewing more than 31,000 reports of robocalls.

U.S. conservative tactics have involved flyers in minority neighborhoods, telling them that Election Day has changed to a later date or intimating threats of deportation for Hispanics who go to vote.

Elections Canada has more power than the U.S. Federal Election Commission, but is running into a problem of not having enough people to investigate the extensive number of complaints.

If my friends in Michigan are any indicator, robocalls are alive and well. But when they try to throw people off from their democratic (small d) voting rights, then someone should have to pay substantially. These are tactics that First World democracies write off as happening in Third World dictatorships. We have plenty of examples that this is and has been going on in the United States and Canada. The only question is what we’re going to do about it.

Harper government’s legal opinion endangers same-sex marriages by Americans in Canada

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Canada has been a refuge in the last few years for gays and lesbians in the United States who wanted to get married. Couples would travel to Canada, investing time and money into vacations centered around a ceremony where two people in a loving commitment promise to be true to one another.

Now, with one legal opinion in the Harper government, Canada’s refuge status is in serious danger. In a Toronto divorce case, the federal government argues that those binding marriages aren’t if the people involved don’t live where same-sex marriages is legal. Then why would they have gone to Canada if they had known that?

They went to Canada because the marriages were legal in Canada, and many of those couples have received benefits in the United States, public and private, as a result of those marriages. Stephen Harper has a lot of explaining to do, and until he gives a resolute, definitive answer on this subject, Canada’s marriage travel industry is in trouble.

For more on this, check out our take from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Canada in good shape debt wise, but worried about what might happen south of the border

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Canada has very little debt and deficit, and created more jobs in June than the United States despite having only 11% of the population. But the Harper government is seriously worried about what might happen if the U.S. defaults on its debt. For more, check out the link from CanadianCrossing.com.

Paul Simon once taught us that “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” And the Canadian economy is worried about the potential damage to its floor after tomorrow.

If the United States does default on its debt by not extending the debt ceiling (get it, ceiling), the Canadian economy will suffer from the suffering of the American economy.

The two economies are tied together in many ways, like being each other’s largest trading partner. And the Harper government is understandably more than a little nervous about what might happen after August 2.

The Canadian dollar has been trading high, around the $1.06 mark versus the U.S. dollar, the highest levels in almost 4 years. And Moody’s has renewed Canada’s triple-A credit rating.

Today is a civic holiday in one form or another in the vast majority of the Canadian provinces and territories, so they will return to the potential financial impact on Tuesday.

Americans aren’t the only ones hoping the debt default is thwarted.

Editor’s note: At press time, a tentative agreement has been reached, but this didn’t detract from legitimate concern north of the border.