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An Open Letter to Fellow, Patriotic Canadians

04 Dec 2008

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As a Canadian who has been privileged to travel to dozens of countries throughout the world, and to have lived in the United States for over 4 years, I take great pride in Canada’s moderate, democratic political system. Could it be better? Yes. It could also be a lot worse, and I feel it incumbent upon all Canadians to invest time and effort to protect and enhance discourse and civic engagement.

At this time of unprecedented political and economic turmoil in Canada, I intend this message to express clearly why I believe strongly that a) the Conservative government should face the full House of Commons and seek its confidence; b) govern justly if it receives said confidence, or step aside if it does not; and c) the Governor General should ask Canada’s Liberal and NDP parties to form a coalition, with agreed upon support from the Bloc Quebecois if the current government does not have the House’s confidence.

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Firstly, this course of action is in keeping with the nature and protocol of our parliamentary democracy. A minority government is ‘government’ only in so far as it maintains the confidence of the House of Commons through enough votes to secure a majority. Without this, it is but a collection of MPs, gathered under the flag of a political party. It has no mandate from the people, to govern.

In the past election, the Conservative Party gained 37% of the vote, from among the 59% of eligible voters who exercized their right to vote. While this is not the place for speculation, low voter turnout, and the minority of votes gained by the Conservative Party mean, in reality, that {quotes}only 21.8% of all eligible Canadian voters expressed their clear preference for a Conservative government.{/quotes} In the context of a turbulent environment, this does constitute a mandate to form a minority government, but is clearly a mandate to govern prudently, with compromise, and respect for the Canadians who, through their vote for opposition parties, withheld a full, majority mandate from the Conservative government.

In the context of the current economic crisis, with clear examples and counsel from economic, industry and political advisors that decisive action is required by the federal government, the Conservative minority government chose instead to focus its energies on partisan measures that were neither in keeping with clear economic stimulus imperatives of the day, nor in keeping with the stated priorities of the Conservative Party during the election period. This was not merely a careless miscalculation, as many news media outlets have commented, but a very real contravention and break from the trust and mandate given the Conservative Party; namely, to govern in the minority, and through compromise with parties of the opposition in order to gain and maintain their confidence as representatives of the people who elected them.

{quotes align=right}To characterize the opposition parties'' assertion of their right to form a governing coalition as undemocratic, or not in keeping with the will of Canadians, is a patent falsehood.{/quotes} It is the very embodiment of the will of the Canadian people, as expressed through their votes within our parliamentary system. It is not unreasonable for many Canadians to express frustration with this set of affairs, and to suggest, “well, I didn’t vote for the ‘coalition party’”. To do so, however, is to express frustration with the letter of our democratic system, and to suggest perhaps that change is required. Within that system, however, formation of a governing coalition, where the governing minority does not enjoy the confidence of the House, is the clearest expression of lawful responsibility that could be expected.

Seen in this light, it behooves Canadians—as frustrated as many of us may be with the nature of our parliamentary system—to demonstrate due respect for the opposition parties which have taken the measures expected of them within our political system. Discussions of whether we want to change this system, based on the central idea of ‘confidence’ is interesting, important and worthwhile. However, it is the conversation for another day, once we have successfully navigated through our current troubled waters. In summary, the facts are:

a) a minority government, particularly one in the context of low voter turnout, must act judiciously, and in a spirit of compromise in order to gain the confidence of the legislature—the collective of which represents the will of the people
b) should this confidence be broken, it is the responsibility of the opposition parties to either respond to the request of the Governor General to negotiate a coalition, to take action themselves in proposing a coalition, or gear up for another election
c) Since it appears that the loss of confidence by the Conservative Party minority government is a formality at this point, the lawful course of action must be for the Governor General to allow a coalition government to govern, or for Canadians to be sent back to the polls.

In light of developments over the past week, it is highly unlikely that, even with a possible postponement of the legislative session, the minority government will secure the confidence of the legislature. To further extend the current instability and distraction of parliament from the urgent business before it would be careless, irresponsible and damaging. The most appropriate courses of action, therefore, would be a vote of confidence in the House followed by either a quick return to minority Conservative government, or coalition government in the event of a non-confidence vote. A forced election, while a fuller representation of the ‘will of the people’ would overstep parliamentary protocol which dictates that formation of a coalition government be the first course of action. An election would also further prolong a distraction of attention away from the urgent social and economic business of government in a time requiring swift and deliberate policy measures.

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Secondly, on the issue of agreement between an opposition coalition government and the Bloc Quebecois, Canadians must not allow themselves to be lulled cleverly into a belief that this amounts to handing power to a party which seeks to tear apart Canada. Calm heads must predominate, and the matter of alliance with the Bloc Quebecois must be considered in context.

For starters, unless the dynamics of Quebec nationalism change, the Bloc Quebecois will remain a potent and very real part of our political landscape as a country. Personally, I believe firmly in a strong, unified and inclusive Canada—one that includes Quebec. I say this as a bilingual Canadian, and one who respects the desire of Francophone Canadians and Quebecois to preserve their culture and heritage, and for Canada as a whole to be informed by the experience of the French heritage as an integral part of the national mosaic. This cannot be any less for Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. I believe strongly that Canadians from all backgrounds stand to benefit from a unified country, but one which is strong and confident enough to protect minority and diverse opinions, to find inclusive provisions to protect and support this diversity and which places onus on all Canadians to actively seek accommodation and foster and pursue compromise.

While my calculation and description of the Bloc Quebecois may offend some Quebecois, I hope that the expression of my empathy and my respect for the French Canadian heritage and its significance to me personally and to Canada will be embraced.

That said, I believe—and I believe that all parties outside of the Bloc Quebecois believe—that the Bloc Quebecois exists to leverage from the federal government whatever is possible for its constituents in the province of Quebec. With the constitutional right to seek secession from Canada as its spark plug, the Bloc will continue to very cleverly play its niche role to represent the minority voice/desires of Quebec within a political context in which it is otherwise likely to receive far less attention. And so, the Bloc sits in the position of deal maker, or deal breaker on many federal issues so long as the people of Quebec give the party a mandate to act on their behalf.

This is simply a reality of our current Canadian political landscape, and all political parties recognize this. The Liberal Party and NDP are acutely aware of this in the context of their proposed coalition government, and Conservative Party was no less aware of this prior to 2006 when it sought to align itself with the Bloc Quebecois to overpower the minority Liberal government. So, Canadians who are frustrated over the role of the Bloc Quebecois do themselves a disservice by misdirecting this anger toward the current Liberal Party and NDP. They are only undertaking the very real step of doing this peculiar dance that any federal party/government must do in Canada if it does not enjoy a majority.

In the context of the Conservative Party’s minority government, it is helpful to consider that for any legislation to pass, if Liberal and NDP MPs were not in favour, the government would require the support of Bloc Quebecois MPs. I sincerely ask Canadians to consider: would Conservative and many other Canadians be up in arms, furious over ‘deals with the devil’, ‘alliances with those separatists’ if a minority government was allowed to govern due to the support of the Bloc Quebecois. No. So, Canadians should really take a deep breath, a calm step backward, and recognize the support of the Bloc Quebecois for a Liberal-NDP coalition for what it is…a reality of the current political system, and no different from any action that the Conservative Party would take if it required the support of the Bloc Quebecois to have the confidence of the House of Commons. In the event that the current Conservative government survives, remember this and don’t forget it. Ask the Conservative Party and members of the public who support the Conservatives this question: will they accept the support in the House of the Bloc…a party whose single goal is to tear Canada apart, to ‘destroy Canada as we know it’?

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Thirdly, it may be helpful to employ an analogy to enable us to better assess the real threat that the Bloc Quebecois poses to Canada as we know it, versus the threat that the Conservative Party poses to Canada.

Here’s the analogy.

Imagine twelve friends decide to purchase a home together and to jointly pay for and manage the home as a means of mutual benefit, comfort and security (confederation). Imagine now that one of these friends (Quebec) secures a provision that, for special circumstances, it will occupy the guesthouse at the back of the property, with full rights to use of the entire property, but with the right, under special circumstances, to subdivide the guesthouse from the property and to go it alone. The catch is that the guesthouse, while cozy, is intimately connected to the main house, and if it were to be separated off, it would need to be rewired for electricity, require new, separate plumbing, and the friend who lives there would have his/her space and personal options for growth significantly constrained.

Nevertheless, the remaining 11 friends in the main house (it’s a big house, just like Canada is a big country) have agreed to this. They also know that, as unlikely as the friend in the guesthouse is to actually separate, they know that property will diminish significantly in value without the guesthouse and, it actually separates them from the driveway, at the back of the house. So, the threat of a separated guesthouse means a loss in value, a disconnection from another part of the property (the driveway) and a major amount of disruption and inconvenience.

Now, once per year, the friend in the guesthouse gets together with his co-owners and they go over a renovation, maintenance and expenses plan as a group. Each year, knowing what his cards look like and how disruptive it is going to be if he hires a lawyer to formally threaten separation from the property, he ends up getting a few extra pieces in the annual house plan tacked on for the guesthouse…some sugar to sweeten the pot. Last year it was new eaves troughs, this year it may be a new door. Nonetheless, the group of twelve does this dance each year, and while tempers may flair from time to time, in the end everyone is happy enough, and they all continue to enjoy mutual profit as the value of their property increases. On occasion, some of their neighbours (the U.S.) take a particular interest and concern when the voices start to rise at these annual planning events, but more than anything, they find the whole dance and routine a bit bizarre and keeping asking the 11 people in the main house why they don’t just send in the biggest one among them (the military) to really scare the guy in the guesthouse into acting differently.

Crudely as I may have described it, that’s the threat from the Bloc Quebecois, in essence.

Now, consider the same arrangement, 12 friends owning a property, with the same guy out back in the special guesthouse. Now imagine that one of the 11 owners inside the house (the Conservative Party) connects with his neighbour (A major corporation), who has a lot of experience in property management and they come to an agreement. In return for special privileges in the house, and some compensation, he’ll convince the rest of the owners to allow the neighbour to manage the house with exclusive rights. The two of them agree, and in turn, the rest of the co-owners are convinced that they should go for this deal, largely becuase they have grown a bit tired of washing dishes, raking the lawn, shoveling snow and other chores. They like the way the deal sounds, and they jump in, signing the agreement with the neighbour.

Things start off OK, as the neighbour gets to know the ins and outs of the property, its costs, etc. But soon enough, he sees that water consumption is a bit high, inquires, and finds out that each of the owners is taking a shower EVERY day. This doesn’t seem reasonable since it doesn’t allow him to maximize his returns through the agreement, so, soon enough, showers are limited to three a week. The co-owners are allowed to pay the neighbour $15 for every extra shower though, if they wish. He also sees that while there are perfectly functioning washing machine and dryer in the house, they’re white and don’t look very shiny. He figures that if he can trade them in, at cost, for a shiny red pair, he could install a coin meter and charge everyone in the house $1.50 for each load of laundry.

He also learns that three times per year, as co-owners, the twelve friends contribute to a neighbourhood BBQ and clean-up project. They’ve established quite a reputation, which has worked out pretty well because the community has taken a strong interest in making sure the household and everyone in it is OK…they would hate to lose this community partner. But the neighbour-property manager sees that expenses for these community events are taking away from household revenue, and might be dipping into his potential profit margin...he has a few projects to implement around the house that he''s going to change the co-owners for. Besides, a lot of the folks in the community support zoning in the neighbourhood only for small businesses, and this has been getting in the way of his own main business: a major dry-goods chain which has identified the neighbourhood as a perfect site for expansion. So, there’s a connection here for him. Contributing to the community events is drawing from his profit line, plus the group it’s contributing to is also standing in the way of his main enterprise. Before they know it, the neighbour has invoked his rights under a contractual clause to withhold household resources for any and all non-household specific items. After some protest, he agrees that any new revenue streams that come into the household can be dedicated to outside activities. The 12 co-owners plan a meeting to discuss which of them will take on a second job.

While these analogies are suggested in jest and may be a bit crude, they help illustrate the distinct threats posed to the household (Canada) by the Bloc Quebecois vs. the Conservative Party. Is the threat posed by the Bloc real? Yes. But is it likely to happen if all co-owners of the house do the dance each year and play the game? No. As infuriating as this may be to many, if we understand it and act accordingly, it really does not pose a great risk to Canada as we know it. In fact, by agreeing to the dance and certain concessions for the co-owner in the guesthouse, all 12 co-owners have more time to invest in actually figuring out what’s in the best interest of the collective, even if each year the guy in the guesthouse comes out with a few extra goodies. Besides, he often feels alone, and hesitates to come over to the main house sometimes when things go bump in the night because it feels a bit awkward. So, the 11 co-owners are fairly hopeful that at some point in the near future he’s going to tire of the annual dance and become more fully a part of the collective.

On the other hand, in return for the opportunity to garner some special advantages from the neighbour-property manager (the corporation) and because he also has some special interest in seeing the dynamics of the community change, the one co-owner (Conservative Party) has brokered a deal to have an outside party manage the household. He drew on the frustraitions of the 11 co-owners who hated raking the lawn, doing dishes, shoveling snow and other homeownerly tasks and presented what appeared a simple solution: outsource! But what the co-owners didn’t think about was that the neighbour had little to no investment in the actual functioning and comfort of the household except to the extent that it either draws from or contributes to his profit. When the 11 co-owners signed up for this, they thought they would be getting a hard working guy who would have the house in spic and span condition, leaving them extra leisure time and energy to focus on the fun stuff in life. What they didn’t realize is that the neighbour had his own house to keep him satisfied. He didn’t care whether the house improved…unless of course it got to a state where it was going to affect the health of the co-owners, and thus their ability to keep their jobs and pay him under the terms of their agreement. He''s proposing a re-zoning of the neighbourhood, and many of the shopkeepers who live in the neighbourhood, are going to get pushed out by a new chain store. The co-owners of the house are still figuring out who can get a second job quickest so that they have some spare cash to help the community fight this incursion.

Committed and concerned as they may be, the Conservative Party is committed to outsourcing management of the Canadian household, trading in Medicare to private interests, private health corporations and insurance companies, which will give the Party special privileges through financial support, and an ongoing pact to make the whole community (Canada) more ripe for its interests. What appears on the surface like a good deal, and draws on Canadians’ frustrations, translates into a scenario where Canadians (the actual owners of the house) are slowly, and incrementally marginalized out of the picture. From decision-making, to ability to actually use and benefit from the shared goods of this collective ownership (the laundry, the shower, etc.), the co-owners are gradually pushed to the margins. There is only one way, under this state of affairs, that any of the co-owners can get ahead: sign up with the neighbour and the first co-owner to become part of this scheme. If they go this route, what has happened to their happy household, build through collective action and investment in the common good and mutual benefit?

Is this the Canada that we honour and devote such overflowing patriotism to when, in the current context of political and economic turmoil, we express our unreserved support for the minority Conservative government? And, are we really THAT outraged at the opposition coalition (remember, those 11 co-owners of the house) for agreeing to cooperate with the Bloc Quebecois (the guy in the guesthouse)? Remember, the same co-owner of the house who is busy working on an agreement with the neighbour to slowly push the other co-owners out of the deal, and to change the face of the community, is the same guy who understands that if you really want to work on maintaining the house, and do some shared planning, you have to do the dance with the guy in the guesthouse. Do not believe for a split second that the Conservative Party has not, does not, and will not continue to do this dance, working with the Bloc Quebecois when it must.

Here’s a suggestion. If you support the Conservative Party, and are furious that the coalition of Liberal and NDP parties is making ''''a deal with the devil", do the following: call up or write to your Conservative MP, or to Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. Get them to agree, and send back to you in writing their solemn promise that, if given the opportunity to continue as a minority government, they will not accept the support of the Bloc Quebecois on any of their proposed legislation as a means of securing the confidence of the House of Commons. Ask them to put in writing, with their signatures attached, that they will not do business with “those separatists” because it dishonours Canada and is not what the Party supports.

If enough Canadian supporters of the Conservative Party do this, and Conservative MPs and the Conservative Party respond, with signed agreements, I will publicly eat this letter, and I imagine scores of others would agree to stand beside me to do the same.

As a patriotic Canadian, who believes whole-heartedly in the promise and potential of this country, I ask fellow Canadians to take a calm step back from the cliff of raw emotion, from the zing of current PR messages and platitudes (NDP/Liberals are giving Canada to the separatists, being a prime example), and give this some clear thought.

The Conservative Party was given an opportunity to govern. It was given ample opportunity to observe the current economic crisis take root and sink in, further and further, before presenting a plan to Canadians. It acknowledged publicly, and multiple times, that it recognized the need to run a deficit if necessary. Still, it chose the solemn occasion of a fiscal update, not to provide assurances to Canadians, but to introduce measures that would instill greater uncertainty and provoke and ideological battle. None of its announcements, furthermore, was in line with the key policy priorities which the Conservative Party presented to voters during the recent election. This was irresponsible, a sign of disregard and disrespect for Canadians, and an act of sheer contempt for our political process.

The opposition parties have, to the contrary, acted in accordance with their democratically mandated responsibilities and found common ground on which to propose government. The fact that it did not take the request of the Governor General to prompt this measure, and that opposition parties were able to come to accord of their own volition, should actually inspire tremendous confidence in the promise and potential of our parliamentary democracy and what may be in store should the Governor General ultimately ask this governing coalition to take effect.

Through agreed upon composition, and with the written support of the Bloc Quebecois and the moral support of Canada’s fifth party—the Green Party—there is tremendous likelihood that not only would this coalition government, of limited duration, prove a first for Canada, it could prove surprisingly fresh, inspiring and effective.

I encourage Canadians to support calls for a vote in the House of Commons on December 8, 2008, and as a result, for either the Conservative Party to swiftly resume its minority government in the case of a positive confidence vote, or for the opposition coalition to receive quick approval from the Governor General to assume the role of government, in the event of a non-confidence vote. Please show your disagreement with a call to suspend parliament...an act that has little ground, and has been opposed by at least one former Governor General. Let parliamentary action, and DEMOCRACY take their course!

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