Federal election 2015: Fight their money

The bell has rung, the gates have opened, the flag has waved, and they’re off! Four federal political parties running neck and neck towards the grand prize, a four-year mandate to govern this country we call home (well, three running neck and neck and one trailing behind in a really heartbreaking underdog story, and technically the Bloc also running but more for the sake of biting the other parties’ ankles and stirring shit up). It’s time for Canada’s longest (and most expensive) election campaign in over a century. Time for our parties’ leaders to dust off their folksy sweaters, firm up their “meeting the average voter” handshakes, and let the attack ads and photo ops fly. Feel the excitement! Feel the thrill!

I’ve never made a secret of my disdain for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government, and I simply could not suppress a cynical snort when I read our incumbent PM’s rationale for calling an election campaign so far ahead of the fixed October 19 election date:

I feel very strongly…that those campaigns need to be conducted under the rules of the law. That the money come from the parties themselves, not from government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources.

Harper was ostensibly talking about the opposition parties, however, given that his is really the only party with access to government resources for partisan advertising (which the Conservatives have continually made use of for years under the guise of keeping Canadians “informed” about government activities, like their boondoggling Economic Action Plan), he is certainly well aware that HIS party was the problem. It’s also pretty brazen to invoke the rule of law, given that members of the Conservative party have been found guilty of breaching election spending rules in 2006 and 2008, as well as committing straight-up electoral fraud in the 2011 federal election (voter suppression via the now-infamous “robocalls”). Almost everything the Conservatives have told us about what is happening in our country in the last few years and about their own actions and intentions is so blatantly and purposefully false that I’d be tempted to call it some sick kind of joke, except I’m pretty sure Stephen Harper is not in possession of a sense of humour, just as I’m sure the many Canadians whose lives are negatively affected by the Conservative’s various ill-supported policies are not feeling too hilarious right now either.

As for the claim that parties should be spending their own money on their election campaigns, that much is true, and Harper knows his party can easily outspend any of their rivals (it’s not too hard to raise donations when your supporters are typically well-to-do corporate elites; it’s a little harder when your party is trying to appeal to the working poor and struggling middle class families). Far from ensuring a fair fight, Harper’s early election call ensures he can control as many angles of the game as possible, and ensures that his party’s particular strength (garnering donations, if not actual popular support) will be a key factor in the campaign (as it stands right now, none of the opposition parties can afford to run an election campaign for this long; Harper can). Former head of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, was quick to call out Harper for “gaming the system” and for saddling the Canadian taxpayer with additional costs (a 37-day election period, the usual minimum, costs Elections Canada approximately $375 million to administer; the election campaign we are now in will last 11 weeks).

Increasing the campaign length isn’t the only trick Harper has up his sleeve. Bill C-23, the shockingly-named “Fair Elections Act”, has made it harder for thousands of Canadians to vote, and has prohibited Elections Canada from encouraging voting. Again, not a joke. The federal body responsible for administering elections in Canada is no longer allowed to encourage Canadians to vote. They can tell you where the polling stations are, they can tell you how to register as a voter in your riding, but actually saying, “Hey Canadians, please consider exercising the democratic freedom many people worldwide continue to die for and cast your ballot for your preferred candidate at the next election”? Not allowed.

harper-not-careSo what can you do, if you don’t want the Harper Conservatives to win the next election? They have the money, they’ve controlled the message for years, and they’ve had the power to change Canadian election laws in their favour, so what can you possibly do?

For starters, you can fight their money with your money. Though the Conservatives have a bigger war chest than the other federal parties, all parties are bound by campaign spending limits. The Tories could have all the money in the world but after a certain point, they can’t do much with it during the election. This means that anything you can do to help the opposition party of your choice close the funding gap not only helps that party get their message out, but also weakens the comparative power Harper’s sizable piggy bank gives him. And every little bit, even $5 if you have it, helps. [Another nice thing about donations to political parties is that they qualify for a pretty generous tax credit–up to 75%–so a donation of $100 would usually only end up costing you $25 after you file your taxes.] You can donate to the NDP here, to the Green Party here, and to the Liberal Party here (and in case you’re wondering, yes, I listed these links in the order in which I personally like the parties).

If donating to a particular party isn’t your thing, but you do want to support a cherished political cause in its fight against the current regime, that is certainly an option. For example, if you don’t want oil tankers navigating coastal waters in BC and just want to make sure that whoever wins the election isn’t in favour of more of them, you might want to support the activities of the Dogwood Initiative. If your main concern is the Harper government’s erosion of Canadian democracy, you could consider a donation to Leadnow. The Internet has allowed concerned Canadians from coast to coast to come together in unprecedented ways. A Google search should help you find the activist community deserving of your dollars. [Note: sadly, these activist organizations usually do not qualify as registered charities for the purposes of tax credits, but you’ll probably get some good karma.]

Can’t stomach the thought of another four years of the Harper Conservatives but can’t afford to make any political donations? That’s okay too. You can fight their money with your time. Both political parties and non-party political activist groups like Leadnow rely on dedicated armies of volunteers to get the message out. Donations can buy a lot of advertising, and a lot of annoying phone calls from strangers, but there really is no replacement for people power, especially the power of local people to stand up for their own communities (remember last April when Enbridge had an unlimited budget to spend on promoting a “yes” vote in a Kitimat plebiscite on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, and the “no” side still won with 58%? People power!). No riding should ever be considered “safe” of course, but your time might be best-spent in areas that usually vote Conservative or where the current non-Conservative incumbent is not popular. If you live in a non-Conservative stronghold and you are able to travel, consider volunteering for the party at large, or for a riding association where you still have some roots or connection to the community where you’ll be canvassing (your old home town, for example).

If you have neither time nor money, fight their money with your voice. The Internet makes this ridiculously easy to do. If you have a blog, blog about the issues. If you’re on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Tumblr, or whatever you crazy kids are into these days, share articles, share memes, share information, share your opinions. Challenge political comments you don’t agree with, politely and with facts. Read up on the issues. Get into discussions at parties. Your opinion matters. YOU are a “regular Canadian”. YOU are jointly responsible for what happens to this country, and YOU are jointly in charge.

And then of course, most importantly, fight their money with your vote, and convince others to do the same. Unlike Elections Canada, we’re allowed to encourage our fellow Canadians to exercise their democratic freedom and civic responsibility, and none of our money, time, or voices will make a difference unless Canadians register with Elections Canada and show up at the ballot box to demand change. Not sure if you’re registered to vote? You can easily check right now on the Elections Canada website.

Canadian Democracy Round-Up Fall 2013

Parliament_Hill_Front_EntranceIt’s been a long year for this lil’ blog o’ mine, and a long year for democracy in Canada. Considering we’ve now passed the half-way mark between the 2011 federal election and the next one, I wanted to take stock, in a general sense, of what’s been going on around me while I was busy thinking (and writing) about other things.

So, in no particular order, I give you my Canadian Democracy Round-Up for Fall 2013:


I’ve learned so much more about the history of First Nations people in Canada and the disastrous legacy of Residential schools in the past year than I’d learned in the whole of the rest of my life (and I even grew up near a reserve, so I really don’t have much of an excuse except that the issues weren’t much taught in my school). And I truly believe that Canada as a whole can only benefit from the success of this movement–culturally, environmentally, and morally–and from real, concrete acts of reconciliation with First Nations people. I also believe the legal challenges several First Nations have filed against the Canadian government’s proposed pipeline projects are maybe the best chance we have of escaping a massive spill in this province.

[One of my favourite pieces written about this movement is called An open letter to all my relations: On Idle No More, Chief Spence and non-violence by Anishinaabe lawyer and excellent writer Aaron James Mills. Please read it if you haven’t already.]


harper-620-9847209Stephen Harper wants you to think that a stable majority government for the Conservatives is necessary to steer Canada through dark economic times, but I honestly can’t see how Canada would be any worse off under any other government’s management than it is now. If Harper really wanted to improve Canada and make it a better place to live for Canadians (including First Nations people and new immigrants), he’d make policy decisions based on sound scientific and statistical evidence. Instead, he’s prorogued Parliament, again, so that he can focus on trying to coerce BC First Nations into agreeing to various oil pipeline projects that would destroy BC’s pristine landscape (and the tourism industry it supports, not to mention an entire way of life for First Nations people) and bring in very few permanent jobs. Oh, and Harper and his message are stompin’ around the BC countryside right about the same time as BC’s Reconciliation Week. Sound (or tactful) policy this ain’t.

Generally speaking, Harper’s been spending his time making sure he’ll be reelected. Most of his decisions do not benefit Canada, but they do benefit his party, the corporations that support it, and those who share his conservative ideology. The Canadian government’s muzzling of scientists, for example. Why would you want to keep scientists from making their research public? Surely the public, who pay for the research with their tax dollars, have a right to the information required to make sound decisions about the future of their country. The Canadian government, after all, is merely meant to represent the will of the Canadian people, not effectively decide what their will is by withholding information from them. But, of course, much of this research could jeopardize the Harper Government’s claims that they take the environment seriously (as they essentially copy-paste oil lobbyists’ requests into legislation), so it must be controlled. Ho hum. So much for science.

But surely the Parliamentary Budget Officer, whose mandate, according to the PBO’s published literature, “is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy; and upon request from a committee or parliamentarian, to estimate the financial cost of any proposal for matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction”, would meet with no resistance to his requests for information? Well, no. Unfortunately, the PBO kept asking questions the government didn’t like, so they made it as difficult as possible to find the answers. Answers which, as it turned out, Canadians desperately needed to keep us from doing stupid things like paying for outlandishly expensive F-35 fighter jets. Thank you PBO!

As for you, Harper Government, what the hell do you want to keep running Canada for? You clearly don’t like our country all that much.


Gasp. Big deal. Trudeau used to work in Whistler, after all. The only thing newsworthy about this is the hoopla everyone, Trudeau included, is making about it. And that Trudeau was stupid enough keep talking about it when he should be trying to prove to people that he’s not too young or inexperienced (or stoned) to head up our economy.


This one should have been obvious after the federal Conservatives were found to be in contempt of Parliament in 2011 and Canadian voters still handed them a majority. But alas, the BC NDP seemed to have forgotten this entirely during our last provincial election. They chose a leader (Adrian Dix) who definitely had the best intentions but about as much charisma as a soggy umbrella, and expected that the BC Liberal’s various scandals and fumbles (HST, the ethnic vote scandal, their wishy-washiness over oil pipelines) would convince voters that he should be premier. BC Liberal leader (and current premier) Christy Clark is definitely not my favourite person in the province, but you gotta admit the lady knows a thing or two about public presentation. While Dix and his BC NDP seemed content to play the “aw shucks, I’m a nice guy” card and let the Lib’s past offenses speak for themselves, Christy Clark was doing her best to make sure that people who wanted jobs, security, and economic prosperity would choose her. Turns out, a lot of BCers really like jobs. As of yesterday, Adrian Dix has stepped down as BC NDP party leader, which is a decision I certainly respect, but I really wish that he’d decided to leave the job before the provincial election.

Federally, the Opposition parties need to understand that for better or worse, the Harper Government controls the message (did you enjoy those taxpayer funded attack ads this spring?) and they are going to define the terms of the debate. Want to get all huffy and puffy about Senate reform, Mulcair? That’s fine, but just so you know, Stephen Harper is doing everything he can to convince Canadians that their livelihood, financial security, and family’s future depends upon him. So, you know, you might want to spend some time on that (i.e. the economy), instead of whatever it is you’re doing. By all means, remind Canadians how shitty the Prime Minister is (and remind them again during the actual election), but don’t forget they can’t eat your self-righteousness for dinner.

We want solutions guys. Solutions not based in some kind of pie-in-the-sky socialist utopia where there’s enough money to pay for everything and cars run on happy thoughts. We want evidenced-backed solutions that demonstrate how implementing X, Y, or Z will be good for Canadians AND the economy. Obviously, it would help if the long-form census hadn’t been scrapped, but try to work with what you’ve got. Please? Okay.


This means the BC Legislature will have sat for only 36 days in all of 2013. Pretty damn pathetic, isn’t it? Guess Premier Clark is a lot like Prime Minister Harper that way–really love to have power, do anything they can to keep it, don’t seem interested in doing much good with it, or even, you know, going into the place where they work. Fantastic.


Feb. 16 Cullen_0_0I really really wish Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cullen had become the leader of the federal NDP. I followed the NDP leadership race and I thought he was fantastic–serious and well-versed in the issues while at the same time totally relaxed and personable. He seems to have that “Jack Layton” spark, unlike Mulcair, who is certainly a worthy opponent for Harper but sometimes reminds me of an angry uncle at a Thanksgiving dinner. I’m hoping Cullen will become a more visible presence as we move towards the next federal election–his personality and BC roots would certainly be an asset in scooping up some more western ridings.

ey336bahz9dtfsm9ungrAs for Elizabeth May, she just rocks. As the leader of the Green Party, she was so determined to become an MP she moved all over the country. Now that she’s an MP (the only one of her party), she refuses to behave as though her lone voice doesn’t matter and takes great care crafting proposals, questioning the government, and attending all votes. She is very very good at keeping the public up to speed about all this (I know this because I receive her e-newsletter and follow her on Twitter even though she is not my MP) and by all accounts, she is one of the most hardworking politicians in Ottawa (unlike certain dubious expense-claiming Senators, cough cough).

Basically, if I lived in May’s riding, there’s a pretty good chance I’d break from my usual commitment to voting NDP and vote for this woman. She’s the politician all politicians should try to be.


This has been a big one, hasn’t it? Everything to do with the Senate has become so effed up I can see why people are calling for its abolition, which is a real shame because if the Senators actually did their job they could be really really good for Canadian democracy. They may even have prevented some of these horrible omnibus bills from being passed in the last couple of years. Instead, the Senators who were appointed by the ruling party just rubber-stamp whatever legislation the government sees fit to inflict upon the nation and then make us pay for their dubious travel and living expenses. Even when they quit in disgrace they still receive the kind of pensions most of us can only dream about. Democracy at work!

011sen-chamber2So…..that’s kinda what’s been happening in Canadian democracy. There’s more, of course, there’s always more, but this is what has struck me and this is what has stuck. Time to look forward to the next couple years, I guess, and hope things don’t have to get any worse before they start getting better.

[If there’s anything important you think I missed please mention it in the comments section, I’d be interested in knowing what’s important to people who AREN’T me.]