Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Self-Destruction of the Conservative Party

They certainly make a hash of things
As a general rule I try to write about Canadian politics when I can.  Since I spend a rather inordinate amount of poli-blogging time talking about American (and, increasingly, British) politics, forcing myself to think about the less-scandalous politics closer to home usually involves abstract musings on electoral math.

Lately, though, it hasn't been much of a challenge - a series of municipal, provincial, and federal miscalculations have injected plenty of "salt" into the usually bland repast of Canadian politics.

As a primer, since a goodly portion of my reader-base is actually American (a function of my net-presence on other media, more than anything else, I am sure), I should explain a truism of Canadian politics. As a general rule, any government we have will be at least one shade further to the social and economic right than actually reflects the view of the people. To a certain extent, this can be traced with problems in "getting out the vote", but the primary problem is that we have one right wing party, and many centre-left and fully-left parties. I know from experience that finding the right centre-left party to reflect my ideals is hard, especially since even the right-wing party plays hard toward the centre in an election year. The practical effect of this is that liberal and centrist votes get split among two major parties and a few minor parties, while the right-wing vote is consolidated in a single party.

The last few rounds of elections at federal, provincial, and municipal levels has done a pretty good job of pinning that idea down from hypothesis to Theory.

At the Federal level, we took a minority government headed by the CPC and Prime Minister Stephen Harper and turned it into a CPC majority with the same head. We've lived under CPC rule my entire adult life and for most of my time in high school, now. The senate (which is not elected, but stuffed with political appointees) has been filled with its own more-or-less-permanent conservative majority, meaning that anything the opposition manages to do by banding together (or future Liberal or New Democrat majorities) in the next handful of decades can be blocked by a senate Canadians by and large can't do a whole lot about. Unlike Governors General, who are unelected but at least have the good sense not to intervene in politics despite their role, the senate pocket-vetos things all the time.

Lots of people, particularly people raised in my generation, who went through public school with a fairly heavy steeping in our nation's political structure, have been lobbying for an elected or abolished senate - a generalized movement called Senate Reform. Personally, I couldn't tell you enough about the merits of bicameral democracy to tell you why we should keep the senate, so I'm not totally comfortable yet with the idea of saying we should abolish it wholesale. This lobbying has taken on a new fervour lately with the explosive rise of two senators in particular into page-top headlines for the last few weeks.

Firstly, we have Senator Patrick Brazeau, who is an independent after having been forced out of the Conservative Caucus. Why did he fall out of favour? In addition to being up on charges regarding sexual assault - a pretty serious crime in its own right and certainly the greater concern when dealing with his specific case - he's been embroiled in a senate living expenses controversy.

Since Senators have to spend a rather large amount of time in the capitol to conduct the business for which they are paid, they often live far away from their hometowns and nominal districts - having a district is pretty meaningless when you aren't answerable to the people who live in it - and they're able to claim their residences there as their primary residence. So long as they meet some fairly lax criteria, if these Primary Residences qualify, the senator may then claim his living expenses in Ottawa for reimbursement-in-full.

Brazeau joins Senator Mike Duffy, both in being exiled from the CPC for having his hands in the controversy, and for having been ordered by an independent audit of senate finances to repay $90,000 in living expenses.

Which he did with a cheque written to him by the Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister's Office, who had to resign in the exploding scandal. And this is just the political reality at the federal level. Have you heard about the video going around that purports Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is on film smoking crack cocaine? How about how sophmoric Ford and his brother's responses to the issue have been?

Just because they pitched precisely the same hissyfit I would have doesn't mean they're pure - it means they're just as unfit for political office as I am.

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