Friday (Fill)ibuster: Politics with Conviction

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Political News Friday, June 26, 2015 View Count = 2038

Friday (Fill)ibuster: Politics with Conviction


 Our weekly news roundup finds student election scandals, a brewing revolution in American foreign policy, and a historic ruling giving a former MP jail time for election fraud. Make sure to read to the end, where we’ve included some hot tips on a new Samara program, CitizenSparks.

As followers of the blog will already know, the Reform Act passed through the Senate on Tuesday, meaning that it will become law following the 2015 election. For thoughts on what the legislation will mean going forward, check out our blog post, and Campbell Clark’s thoughts in the Globe and Mail: “Mr. Chong believes, as many do, that MPs always had all these powers, but they were unwritten and unclear, so MPs were wary of trying to use them. This bill will shift that balance.”

Three American Democratic Senators wrote a fascinating article in Foreign Affairs earlier this month about the need for a new way of thinking about foreign policy that does not rely solely on military power. The spirit of the article is wrapped up nicely in this interview with one of the authors, Chris Murphy, in an article on Vox: “I think having broad views in which every conflict, every region, every fit of grievances fit into a bigger picture is incredibly dangerous today[…]Democrats need to understand that there are programs like the World Food Program that keep us just as safe as a handful of Tomahawk missiles.”

In what Rick Mercer said was perhaps “the most interesting story in #cdnpoli” this week, the CBC reported on a student in Ottawa’s Nepean High School who had been disqualified from running for student council president. His offense? Putting the word “dick” on a Powerpoint slide during candidate speeches. “Wang’s bid for president was popular among students for his anti-establishment message.”

Courtrooms in the Ontario Superior Court this week will consider arguments from groups which want to see a portion of the new Fair Elections Act suspended for the fall election. The controversial section prevents voter information cards from being used as identification, as they were used as a pilot in 2011. The government claims these cards come with a “proven risk of voter fraud,” but as Thomas Walkom reports in the Toronto Star, the source of the risk is unclear: “Indeed, a study for Elections Canada undertaken by Harry Neufeld, former chief electoral officer for British Columbia, said use of voter information cards has reduced the likelihood of voting error. He recommended they be used more widely.” Neufeld warns the elimination of voter information cards could disenfranchise “tens of thousands of voters.”

Meanwhile, a court in Peterborough, Ontario handed down a historic ruling for former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro this week. Del Mastro was convicted last fall of overspending in his 2008 campaign, breaking his own spending limit, and filing a false expenses report. His sentence this week includes a month of jail time, making him the first MP in Canada’s history to be imprisoned for violating election laws. As reported by the National Post: “Judge Lisa Cameron said Del Mastro bears a high ‘moral culpability’ for the spending and his ‘significant attempts to hide it. He was prepared to be deceitful about it,’ she said, calling the offences ‘an affront to the principles of our democratic system’ that ‘must be regarded as quite serious.’” Stephen Maher recounts the history of the charges and all the opportunities Del Mastro had to avoid the controversy here.

In other democracy news, the Tories have accused the Liberals and NDP of being undemocratic in their proposals for electoral reform, as they have proposed making their changes without use of a referendum. Both British Columbia and Ontario have seen previous referendums for more proportional representation defeated. As momentum for electoral reform grows at the federal level, the arguments over the need for referenda to inform the decision are sure to be a recurring theme.

John Milloy wrote an inspiring piece for National Newswatch this week about the tone of the federal election, and the obsession with the “middle-class”: “Is the ballot question really going to be ‘what’s in it for me?’ To the extent that this is true, we have work to do – our civic leaders, educators, the media, religious leaders and our non-governmental organizations need to help strengthen our true middle-class values.”

Andrew Potter, Managing Editor at the Ottawa Citizen, wrote on his blog this week about the distribution of political attitudes on the continuum of what he calls “naifs” and “cynics.” He suggests that with the election approaching, this framework for thinking about the campaigns can be useful. We agree, and suggest you check it out (it’s the top post). “My primary claim was that naifs believe that politics is fundamentally about devising and implementing good policy. Cynics believe that it is about acquiring and exercising power.”

We reported in last week’s Friday (Fill)ibuster that a third-party group had begun making major ad-buys to attack the Harper government. This week, conservative groups struck back, including the transparently titled “HarperPAC.” Until the writ drops, these third-party groups can advertise at will without adhering to the strict spending limits of the campaign period. Radwanski in the Globe and Mail says we should thank these groups for bringing the topic of “political action committees” so prominently to the fore while there is still an opportunity to do something about it: “By calling itself a PAC, the latest entry has done more to kickstart a debate about whether we need new rules to govern such things. And the good news is that it has done so before any of these third parties really quite have their acts together.”

(Update: The Star reports today that the HarperPAC has been disbanded, after apparently encountering Conservative top officials “furious” over the unauthorized use of Mr. Harper’s name.)

And in another thought piece on the federal election, Paul Wells wrote in MacLeans about how all three parties are using the fearmongering of “centralizing” as part of their election strategies in Quebec. This stands in sharp contrast, Wells says, to previous Prime Ministers who have advocated a strong federal government: “Stephen Harper, whose seminal 2001 ‘firewall letter’ was a manifesto against federal encroachment into provinces’ business, has now been Prime Minister for more than half of the longest-ever period of uninterrupted growth in federal transfers to the provinces. Mulcair complains Harper isn’t growing those transfers fast enough. And Trudeau says even Mulcair wants to leave too much clout at the federal level. One wonders why Gilles Duceppe wants back into federal politics, since his colleagues from other parties are competing so energetically to ensure nothing ever happens in Ottawa.”

For some weekend fun, check out this map which redraws national boundaries around the world to create 200 equally populated countries. Turns out Canada’s borders don’t change much…which puts our difference with southeast Asia into stark contrast. And on another (unrelated) note, we can’t resist including this must-watch, amazing video from NASA – for the first time in ever, a probe is just about to reach Pluto!

And in Samara news, we've launched the 2015 Everyday Political Citizen project! The snap above is from our launch party hosted at Samara HQ. Also, this week is the first week of CitizenSparks. Run in collaboration with Postmedia and Twitter Canada, Sparks will help turn some of the focus of the election campaign from political leaders back to the citizens who make democracy happen. The first Spark is “Show us your Canada!” Send us your pictures, stories or comments via Twitter or email, and you could be featured next week in papers like the Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen and Edmonton Journal. You can find out more about the program and how to get involved by visiting this page on our website, and make sure to watch our weekly Sparks as they roll out all summer and into the fall!

Finally, for those interested in youth engagement for the fall election, the Laidlaw Foundation is offering pop-up grants to help support your ideas. Check them out here, and make sure to apply soon – the deadline is July 3rd.

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