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So this happened last night…

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Seriously.

Hell froze over.  Pigs flew.  The world ended.

Forty-four years of Progressive Conservative rule in Alberta came to an end.

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It all began so innocently.  Premier (soon to be former premier) Jim Prentice put forth a budget.  That budget prescribed tax increases, public sector layoffs and a $5 billion deficit.

Jimbo thought it was a good time to go to the polls – a time to get a ‘mandate’ from the people.

It sounded like a good idea.  Democratic, really.

Two hundred and thirty-three days after he became Premier, he then stood in front of a half-empty room resigning not only as leader of his party, but as an MLA.

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So what happened?

Well, some people have all the luck.

First: timing.  Since 2011, and with the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP, Albertans will have had five premiers in the span of four years.  Alberta is usually heralded as a bastion of political stability, but it became rather apparently over the past couple of years that something was rotten within the PC party, and Notley managed to ride the wave of voter discontent.

Second: a strong campaign.  Time and again we have seen seemingly vulnerable governments manage to come back from the brink of political death and somehow win majorities (see Alison Redford’s 2012 election victory).  This is usually due to a meltdown by the party threatening to take power.  Rachel Notley and the NDP managed to take the momentum built by the leaders’ debate and not only maintain it, but build it.  This was quite the feat given the inexperience of many of her party’s candidates and her political team.

Third: a weakened Wildrose party.  One of the questions that hasn’t been asked is why Albertans didn’t flock to the Wildrose party.  Given the decades of conservative rule, the Wildrose would seem like a more palatable alternative to Albertans than the NDP.  But a few months ago, a number of prominent Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to sit with Prentice’s PCs, leaving the party to have to search for a new leader.  Brian Jean only assumed the leadership of the Wildrose Party at the end of March, leaving him with little time to introduce himself to Alberta voters.  Also, the floor crossing no doubt left some voters wondering if a vote for the Wildrose was a vote for the PCs anyway given the seeming fluidity between their caucuses lately.

Fourth: fatigue.  Sometimes enough is enough and it’s time for new blood.

The bigger question, though, is what impact does this have, if any, on the upcoming federal election?

At this point, who knows.

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Results of the 2015 Alberta provincial election.     Results of the 2011 Canadian federal election.

Currently, the federal Conservative Party holds all seats in Alberta save for one NDP seat in Edmonton.  The federal boundary ridings in Alberta have been redrawn for the upcoming federal election, and more than 50% of the seats will be in urban areas.  The NDP’s complete domination of Edmonton and surge in Calgary mean that it’s within the realm of possibility for the NDP to pick up a few more seats in urban areas, but many of those same seats are held by Conservative Party veterans, including cabinet ministers.  It may be difficult for the NDP to get past the notoriety factor of many of the Conservative MPs in Edmonton and Calgary.

However, you can bet that the Conservatives will spend a lot more time in Alberta over the next few months ensuring that their stronghold is secure.

Finally, two other election-related issues of note:

1. Voter turnout in this election was the highest it’s been in Alberta since 1993 at a whopping 57%.  Remember, though, that this is Alberta, and 57% is a good number for that province.  They’re relearning democracy out there.

2. Of the 53 NDP MLAs elected last night, 45% are women.  This is a record for any Canadian government, federal or provincial.  Unfortunately, though, women will still only comprise 33% of the provincial legislature.  Of the 31 PC and Wildrose candidates elected, only four are women – two from each party.  While progress was made on this front last night, there is more work to be done.

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A few days ago, I finished reading “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” the story of the 2012 US presidential election.  My timing couldn’t have been better.

There’s something about American politics that I find fascinating.  I think it’s mostly because of the infusion of politics and religion, but probably also because of the differences between red states and blue states.  Sure we have our more conservative and more liberal regions of Canada, but the differences aren’t quite as stark as they are in the US…in my opinion.

Anyway, for the last several weeks I’ve been faithfully watching Jon Stewart tear his hair at the state of the American union.  While I must confess that I find the antics of American politicians as rather amusing, they’re also so frustrating.

For instance, Democratic candidates have tried to distance themselves as much as possible from President Barack Obama, EVEN THOUGH HE’S THE PRESIDENT.

*Sigh*

Most predict that the Republicans will not only easily maintain control of Congress (gerrymandering is still alive and well, friends) but also gain control of the Senate.

What does this mean for the President?

More of the same, really.  He’ll probably use more of his executive authority to enact his agenda.  He doesn’t have much of a choice, really, because since 2009, Congress has thus far refused to do its job, which is to govern.  With the Senate under Republican control, the legislative branch will become even that much more intractable.

Given the paralysis at the federal level, much of the job of governing has moved to stateside.  John Oliver nails the analysis here (warning: language):

Good luck, America.  You need it.

Here’s more on the US midterms:

Nine races to watch in Tuesday’s US elections – Paul Koring

5 state ballot measures to watch

The US midterm elections will be a battle of billionaires – Luiza Ch. Savage

The other player, the US Supreme Court – Keith Boag

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I wince when I hear people refer to the events in Ottawa this past Wednesday as “Canada’s 9/11.”  And I’m glad that I’ve only seen the phrase “10/22” used once in print.

What happened on Wednesday was tragic.  Senseless.  Troubling.  An event indeed worthy of reflection.  A man opened fire in our national Parliament, and died in a place that I myself have walked by.  And it could have been so much worse.

While I’m saddened about what happened, I do not feel like Canada’s innocence has been shattered, or that the Canada I live in today is any different than the Canada that existed before Wednesday’s events.

I don’t feel the sense of terror and impending doom that I felt on September 11, 2001.  I just feel sad.

A lot has been written since Wednesday, but there are two articles that best sum up my feelings on this week’s events.

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, writes in “Canada Should Keep Calm and Carry On“:

One feels for Stephen Marche when he writes, in Esquire, “The Canada I believed to be so safe, so secure is gone. All of that was the Canada of my youth. This is Canada now.” The way he feels is understandable.

It is also irrational and needs to be understood as such.

The murder of 2 people does not mark a new era. It does not render one of the word’s safest countries unsafe. It does not make one of history’s most secure nations insecure. We cannot know the future with certainty, but everything we know about the present and recent past suggests overreacting to these attacks poses a greater threat to Canada than terrorism, much as the Iraq War killed more Americans than 9/11, cost more money than 9/11, and did more to weaken us than 9/11.

The panic that followed 9/11–that most of us felt–was at least informed by the fact that America had never suffered an attack like it. The notion that Canada has just broken with a halcyon past when it was safe from even two murders is historical amnesia.

“This was not the first time Canada’s parliament had been a target, nor was it the biggest terrorist attack in the country’s history,” The Economist notes. “An inept bomber intent on killing as many MPs as possible blew himself up in the same building in 1966, and an armed man hijacked a bus and fired shots outside parliament in 1989. The 1985 bombing of an Air India flight to London from Toronto, in which 329 people died, remains the largest terror attack originating in Canada.”

Then there was the FLQ crisis, which Americans would regard as one of the most gripping parts of Canadian history if we knew any…

More significantly, for our purposes, “Canada’s most recent major gun tragedy occurred in June, when 24-year-old Justin Bourque, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, shotgun, and crossbow, shot five Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Moncton, New Brunswick, killing three.” But there’s no suggestion that the killer was a radical Muslim, so the world was mostly oblivious.

I’ve often noted that even in 2001, the year of the most successful terrorist attack in U.S. history, Americans were orders of magnitude more likely to be killed in a car crash. Today it’s worth remembering that for the last year, five years, ten years, or 20 years, Canadians were significantly less likely to be harmed by terrorists than a car crash involving a moose. I cannot promise that the moose menace won’t be overtaken this year by the terrorist menace, but presuming as much from attacks that killed two people isn’t just irrational, it is irresponsible fear-mongering.

It’s funny that the FLQ crisis also came up when I was talking about the week’s events with a colleague of mine.  I also pointed out that the chances of any Canadian being killed by a terrorist remains about 1 in 17 million.

I’m still not even convinced that the gunman that ran into Parliament was really a terrorist.  All of the information so far seems to point to someone that was possibly mentally ill, but the fact that he recently supposedly became a Muslim convert has overshadowed the other details of his background that show a troubled young man.

While the three political parties understandably played nice in the hours after the attack, there was a notable difference in their addresses to the nation that same evening that point to the possible political ramifications of Wednesday’s events.  The Conservatives quickly grabbed on to the Islamic extremism element, while the NDP and Liberals weren’t as quick to point fingers.

While I’m interested in how this will play going into next year’s federal election, there’s lots of time to reflect on that.

As I was about to read the following Scott Gilmore article from Maclean’s, excerpts of which are posted below, I thought about Norway’s reaction to the murder of more than seventy of its citizens, many teenagers, and what Canada could learn from it.  My thoughts turned out to be somewhat prescient:

The morning after the horrific Oslo terrorist attack three years ago, the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg declared that the only proper response was “more democracy, more openness, but not naivety.” That is what Canada needs now. That is what has made Canada great. It is not the height of our walls nor the impregnability of our buildings, it is our openness. As Paul Wells poetically wrote,  “you can’t keep a country in lockdown, not while preserving the things that made the country worth having in the first place. Much like its capital precinct, Canada is a big open field, too.”

Before we demand that all the other potential terrorist suspects are rounded up, let us remember that it was the very issue of individual freedoms and the arbitrary seizure of “freemen” that led England’s barons to rise up and demand the Magna Carta, the beginning of the constitutional system that Canada cherishes so much. Ironically, by trying to safeguard our parliament, we would be undermining the ideals upon which it was founded.

Our leaders, and those who are charged with protecting us and our institutions should take down the police tape. Continue to be vigilant and prepared and, yes, be less naïve. But be more open. Remove the barriers.

Return the honour guard to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Lower the fences so we can better see the Peace Tower. Invite Canadians back into its Parliament. Make Oct. 22 an annual open house. A day when all Canadians can walk through the House of Commons, to appreciate the carved stone and oak, to touch the now bullet-pocked walls of the Hall of Honour and to meditate on what it means to be both strong and free.

Maintaining freedom requires strength.  May we as Canadians demand that our politicians remain strong and determined to keep our nation’s openness.

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By now you’ve no doubt heard that Canada’s Parliament voted to send CF-18s to Iraq to bomb ISIS strongholds.

Aside from the discussion about royal prerogative and whether the government really really needed Parliament’s consent to send those planes to Iraq (although if you want to know, the answer is no), I wonder what the point of all of this really is.

I can’t help but be suspicious of the motives of Western leaders.  Syria has been mired in a brutal civil war for more than three years.  It’s estimated that nearly 200,000 people have died in that conflict.  Yet the deaths of less than a handful of Westerners has prompted a concerted military response in that region that has more support than the last war in Iraq had in 2001.

I’m not oblivious to the obvious cruelty and depravity of ISIS.  As a woman that is allowed to live and move about freely, the details of the horrors experienced by women and young girls in ISIS-controlled territory is wrenching.

But I have to ask the question: why THIS enemy?  Why THIS territory?  Why THIS time?

A headline in Maclean’s says, “In the fight against ISIS, it’s worth getting our hands dirty.”  Yes, ISIS is cruel.  Yes, ISIS is deadly.  Yes, ISIS is a threat to the territories around it.

But is the idea that it’s a threat to us, as Westerners, really the reason why this enemy needs to be defeated?

I can’t remember where and when I heard it, but I recently heard someone say something along the lines of one Israeli live is worth more than a Palestinan life.  I get the same feeling here.  By only taking military action after the deaths of a few Westerns when hundreds of thousands of Syrians have already died is basically saying that Western lives are more important than Syrian lives, not?

I’m not necessarily against military action here.  I believe in the principles of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), as problematic as they are in terms of their implications for state sovereignty and the difficulties inherent in determining a threshold for intervention.  However, I believe it is incumbent on us as citizens to really drill down into the political motivations for military action and to question what compels such action in this instance as opposed to others.  Is it simply because people are being brutally murdered for being different, i.e., are we intervening to stop a form of genocide?  Is it Western machismo and/or pride?  Is it guilt in not being able to uphold what that ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner promised many years ago?  Hell, is it oil?  I suspect it’s a combination of all of these things, with a dash of fear of future terrorist attacks thrown in for good measure.

Regardless, we’re now involved in a military imbroglio with no exit strategy and, in my opinion, with no clear, definitive reason as to why this specific case warrants intervention over other similar cases.  While frustrating, unfortunately it’s not all that surprising.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve linked to a Chris Christie ad.  Well, it’s because of this one key phrase buried in the middle of the ad:

“Compromise isn’t a dirty word.”

See what he did there?

For far too long now, the old adage of “you’re either with us or against us” has laid waste to our discussion of policy issues.  Complex issues have been reduced to black or white, yes or no, with an inability to find common ground.

What makes the problem worse these days is that political parties intuit votes against certain motions or legislation as indicative of the opposing party’s views when the true story is much more complicated.

Take this past fall’s that passed.  It was 425 pages long and affected 64 different pieces of legislation.  64.  So if you were against the changes made in only one piece of legislation, you’d be forced to vote against the bill in its entirety.  That makes it difficult to defend yourself, doesn’t it, as your voting record only shows a ‘nay’ vote.

Conservatives love exploiting this tactic in Question Period.  How many times over the past weeks has the Opposition brought up changes to Canada’s student summer jobs program with the Government responding that the Opposition should simply vote with the Government and support Canadian young people?

Far too many times to count.

It’s not that the NDP opposes jobs for Canadian young people (I assume).  What the NDP opposes is how the Government is going about creating those jobs.  But that’s far too complicated an argument for a 6 second sound bite, so it’s easiest to just say that the NDP is obviously against supporting Canadian young people because they voted against the Government’s initiatives in this area.  There’s no mention of the larger policy debate at play.

What infuriates me more, though, is when political parties exploit these situations to try and paint the Opposition as somewhat less patriotic than other Canadians, as if not supporting the government was tantamount to treason.  Remember Taliban Jack?  NDP Leader Jack Layton was pilloried for suggesting that ending the war in Afghanistan might require negotiating with the Taliban.  Many, including journalists, thought Layton was not only off-his-rocker-crazy, but that this line of thought obviously meant he wasn’t patriotic and didn’t support Canadian troops.  The same thing occurred in the US during the war in Iraq; those who were against the war were branded unpatriotic.

*Sigh.*

It’d be nice to have a grown-up conversation about these issues instead of reverting to a political version of ‘Did not!’ ‘Did too!’ that kids play in elementary school.  But that won’t happen unless we demand more of our politicians.

Unfortunately, we’re all more enamoured with the NHL playoffs and ‘American Idol’ than we are with politics.  But based on the above, I really can’t blame you.

It’s AUDITOR WEEK in Canadian politics!  This is the week when the independent federal and provincial auditors release damning reports that basically tell us that our governments are incompetent and that our taxpayer dollars are being wasted, as per usual.

So let’s begin with Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor…

Ms. Lysyk tells us that the “Saskatchewan Government’s financial budgeting and reporting practices are inconsistent with the rest of Canada and cause public confusion.”  Well then.  But here’s the best part: 9 out of the last 10 budgets tabled by our provincial government have been DEFICIT budgets, not the balanced budgets we’ve been led to believe:

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Of course the NDP pounced on this bit of news and derided the Saskatchewan Party’s (SP) sleight of hand in taking money from the Crowns and rainy day fund in order to pronounce balanced budgets.  But the fact is that the NDP did the exact same thing when it was in office.  This is an ongoing problem, regardless of the party in power.  The irritating response from the SP was that people “like two sets of books.”  Really?  I’d like to see some evidence of that.

As Ms. Lysyk says,

“The fact is that it shouldn’t be that hard for citizens to figure out what the bottom line is on the budget, what the bottom line is on the results and what the correct debt number is…It isn’t appropriate to have two sets of numbers that you can pick depending on what message you want to send.”

WORD.

Let’s now turn to the federal Auditor General’s report…

Seems the Conservatives have misplaced/lost over $3 BILLION earmarked for anti-terror initiatives.  They’re not sure where it is.

Then there’s $29 BILLION hidden in tax havens that Canada Revenue should be looking for.

Need I go on?

The most amazing thing about any of this, though, is that both of these governments are largely viewed as fiscally responsible.  Remember those ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan’ ads that are STILL airing?  Apparently they’re working.  And then there are those ‘Saskatchewan Advantage’ fliers that keep landing in our mailboxes.  Yet where’s the advantage if you’re adding to your debt when you’ve got more money than you’ve ever had?

I find the economic messaging by both of these parties as more than a little disingenuous.  But unfortunately that’s just politics these days.

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Yes, it has been a good week for those who believe in the supremacy of Parliament.

Monday saw a win for now-departed Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Kevin Page, who basically won his reference to Federal Court regarding whether or not the Conservative government would have to provide him with the information needed to satisfy an opposition request relating to last year’s budget.

While the Federal Court’s ruling did not demand that the Conservatives provide the PBO with the documents immediately, as the PBO did not actually make such a request, it clarified the PBO’s mandate and reiterated the long-standing rule that if you create a law, you have to abide by it (imagine that).

The fun part is about to begin as the Interim PBO plans to ask the government for the documents requested by Thomas Mulcair and the NDP.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is no fan of the PBO, even though he created it and appointed Page. During Question Period yesterday, Harper referred to Page as a partisan. I’m not sure what Harper thinks he can gain from this fight. It continues to reinforce the image of his government as a bully and that it has something to hide.

The fact is that MPs have very little information about how our taxpayer dollars are being spent. We need a PBO to help our MPs dig through the partisan nonsense and figure out where our money is going. I guarantee that if the Conservatives were the opposition and the NDP were the government, they’d be crowing about the need for transparency and accountability.

Funny what happens when you hold the reigns of power…

That leads us to Speaker Andrew Scheer’s ruling yesterday on Conservative MP Mark Wawara’s question of privilege. Here’s a quick rundown of what was at stake:

“The Chair [Speaker] is being asked by the Member for Langley [Warawa],” the Speaker explained, “whether the practice of whips providing the Speaker with the names of members who are to be recognized to speak during Statements by Members represents an unjust limitation on his freedom to speak, to the extent that such opportunities are not afforded to him on an equitable basis.”

The 15 minutes set aside each day for MPs to stand and speak about any matter of local, national or international concern is governed by lists: lists determined and provided by the party whips for the purposes of guiding the Speaker as to who should be called on to stand and speak during those 15 minutes. There are lists as well for Question Period. If your party whip does not wish you to be there, you are not on the list. And if you are not the list, you do not stand to make a statement or ask a question.

It has been this way, more or less, since 1982. “Even if not enshrined in the Standing Orders, generally the House has been well served by this collaboration and the lists have helped the Chair to preside over this portion of each sitting day in an orderly fashion,” the Speaker offered.

At this point, I rolled my eyes and thought that was the end of it. Scheer basically concluded that because the Speaker’s authority is based on rules created by Parliament itself, he couldn’t go beyond that unless Parliament changes the rules.

Then came this bit:

It is, in the Speaker’s estimation, still he who possesses the authority to determine who will speak next. And it is, in all cases, for the members of this place to, as they say, catch the Speaker’s eye.

“Members are free, for instance, to seek the floor under ‘questions and comments’ at any time to make their views known. They are also free at any time to seek the floor to intervene in debate itself on a bill or motion before the House,” the Speaker noted, reminding members of how the rest of each day’s proceedings are conducted. “Ultimately, it is up to each individual Member to decide how frequently he or she wishes to seek the floor, knowing that being recognized by the Speaker is not always a guaranteed proposition.”

And here the one sentence of these 2,700 words Andrew Scheer spoke that mattered most.

“The right to seek the floor at any time is the right of each individual Member of Parliament,” he said, “and is not dependent on any other Member of Parliament.”

Here is the principle—the unalienable right—that trumps both the list and the list-maker.

In other words, I (the Speaker) abide by the list because that’s what you fools give me. If you’d get off your asses and stand up, I could recognize you. Until then, I’ll go by the list because that’s the order in which you get on your feet.

SO STAND UP, PARLIAMENTARIANS. STAND UP AND MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD.

I find it inexplicable that MPs have been operating under the assumption that they are beholden to those lists provided by party whips. Once again, as an MP, you do not represent your party; YOU REPRESENT YOUR CONSTITUENCY. You are a free agent, of sorts, able to do whatever it is you need to do to represent your fellow citizens. Parties are simply a means of organizing MPs in order to get Parliament’s business done. Parties do not rule Parliament; MPs do.

While I am flabbergasted that things had to go this far in order for MPs to learn what the hell their job actually is, at least the matter was settled.

So what happened in QP? Green Party Leader Elizabeth May got on her feet after every question/answer series in order to try and get a chance to ask a question. Unfortunately she didn’t get a chance to speak. Question Period has its own rules in that each party is to be given a certain number of questions. As for Warawa, he got on his feet during Members’ Statements and was recognized, although it seemed kind of planned. And his statement was about a Langley talent show. You’d think that after all that, he’d use the occasion for something a little more profound (no offence to the Langley talent show contestants).

So there you have it. Two important rulings which demonstrate that Parliament isn’t dead yet. It’s up to MPs now to take these rules and run with them. If they don’t, things will remain as is, and I think we can all agree that that’s unacceptable.

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