Centre of the Continent

Thoughts from the middle of North America

Archive for Jack Layton

Practical Socialism — Part Two

I wanted to continue with my thoughts on what is a new breed of socialism in Canada. The federal NDP will be voting on a resolution to remove the word socialism from the party’s constitution this weekend but in no means does that signal the end of the left. Contrarily, it will help to ensure it’s continued prosperity.

In North America, socialism is a frightening word. It’s mere mention brings up irrational connections with communism, Marxism and the totalistic Red Scare of the cold war. I have to admit that I was inspired by Monte Solberg’s commentary for the Ottawa Sun. (Who’s afraid of the NDP? Me! – June 13, 2011 — {LINK} ) The most enlightening aspect of his piece is that for all of the attempts to horrify the reader, I actually found it supportive of the causes the NDP is fighting for. This is utterly amusing.

The New Democrats want to severely limit the interest on credit card debt. This is to help reverse the trend of working people piling up more debt then they can ever pay off. In an interview on Sun TV, Mr. Solberg went so far as to say that this would prevent people getting credit in the first place. This is part of the point. Talk to any debt councillor and they will tell you that the worst issue they have to contend with is companies offering credit to those who in their current financial state, shouldn’t be approved. This is a good thing. Large interest rates on store credit cards and quick convenience store loans are there to compensate for the percentage of bad debt the lenders know they are in store for. It makes much more sense in the long term to not extend bad credit at all. These extended-period, mega-interest monies are usually for unneeded items that to the debtor offer a little short-term gratification. There are cases were this credit is being used for necessities and that is a even bigger issue altogether.

The same goes for cell phones and the fairness measures that the NDP wants to institute. Tempting customers with the latest smart phone and giving to them free for signing a 3-year contract is virtually usury and extortion. In a sensible world consumers should pay for their hardware upfront and then they can come and go as they please. For basic communication, less expensive phones can always be available. This is yet another debt trap that consumers can do without.

Bill Maher likens conservative philosophy to a religion; no matter how much damning evidence may be put in front of them, a conservative continues to have faith in their standard policies. The belief that cutting the taxes of the rich creates jobs and prosperity is just such case. The eight years G. W. Bush was in power were the least productive in the U.S.’s history. With all of the corporate tax-cutting and Wall Street pandering the economy there only netted three million jobs. At the same time, the US federal government nearly doubled it’s debt. It likely won’t happen but the American Government is but weeks away from defaulting on it’s treasury bonds. How can this policy and it’s forced continuation be seen as successful? Yet, it is the model that our own Conservative government wants to follow. Will higher tax rates lead to some corporations leaving Canada? Yes. If a corporation does not wish to be a part of our social structure then it is a taker and is welcome to leave.

Monte Solberg is taking up the cause of the big banks, big telecom and big oil. These are the most profitable sectors in our economy. Show me a major player in any of these fields that even came close to any kind of economic calamity. Can you say the same of your family and neighbours? These companies don’t need government help to make a profit.

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Practical Socialism

I have always been what I like to call a “practical socialist”. To me this is an important distinction and is one I saw the party edging towards in the past election. Those who want to vilify the NDP from both the left and the right are accusing the party of becoming more “Liberal”. Now that’s with a capital “L”. In truth the NDP has always been “liberal” and that’s with a small “l”. What is really happening is a move towards a practical centre.

As a youth I might have originally embraced the Liberal Party but long before any public sponsorship scandal I was privy to some of the nasty inner workings of that party. As I grew older I joined the NDP because I was convinced that there was a higher moral standard within the party and while not perfect, happily I was right. I am anti-Liberal not because all of their ideas are wrong but because the party is corrupt. I am anti-Conservative for the same reason AND their ideas are wrong. I don’t and never have supported every policy the NDP puts forward but I do support the core ideals, principles and priorities.

The key word is priorities. One of the most logical statements I heard Jack Layton make during the last election was when he was asked about better funding for post-secondary education. The NDP would make it a priority to help students get their education “as funds and the economy allows”. That is a practical commitment. Not a promise that may or may not be able to be kept given economic conditions. That is what I think voters started to tune in to and will continue to identify with.

Socialism is an ambiguous word — as is liberalism and conservatism. It will always be true that a party considered in the extremes of any ism is unlikely to ever gain power in a rational society. Exceptions of course made in the case in crisis or revolution and then you typically find one extreme replacing another. The Reform Party and the Alliance had to come towards the centre and become the less threatening and more familiar Conservative party. Realistically, the same will happen with the NDP. This will anger the groups like the socialist caucus within the party but (I hope) they will still be welcome and will stay.

What I have always appreciated is that I am allowed to have a different opinion within the NDP and that opinion has been respected and valued. That doesn’t mean there aren’t rules at election time and that I would undermine a democratically chosen candidate. During a campaign it’s time to put small differences aside and fight for the common good. When that’s done I continue with the debate and discussion.

A good example of this is the fact that I believe in a reformed senate and not it’s abolishment. I agree, however, that in it’s current form it is deeply flawed and should have no say in my governance. There should be a second body of elected legislators with a different mandate from the Commons to assure certain balances. I’m allowed to feel that and if given the chance I would champion my ideas for consideration but I support decisions made by the party as a whole.

Honestly this legitimate move towards the centre while maintaining the core beliefs is a good thing. Within a global market economy it is impossible to govern any other way. A left-leaning party with a deep social conscience is an achievable and worthy goal.

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Positive Politics

HocPeople don’t change their political stripes very often. There will always be the protest votes and those who have no permanent affiliation but of those that make a consistent party choice, that choice rarely varies. Only two overall factors can affect change –one is negative and the other is positive. The latter has the ability to be much more long-lasting and should be preferred.

Major Scandal

The scandal must be big and it must be verifiable. It also must have credible connections to the upper echelon of party leadership. This is where the idea of plausible deniability comes into play coupled with overall responsibility. The Liberal sponsorship affair is just such an example. There were links to Prime Minister Chrétien and his own riding and such blatant pork-barrelling that nation and especially Quebec severely punished the Liberal party. Then finance minister Paul Martin was caught in a no win situation. Either he knew about the misappropriations and he was guilty or he didn’t and he was incompetent. We all know that those MP’s in government tend to get more attention for their ridings but this is not usually as much political as it is a result of being “in the loop”. The governing party has the resources and the clout to get things done. It just means that if you do have a non-government MP in your riding that is still accomplishing things, hang on to that MP. He or she has somehow found the respect and or the connections to get things done from outside the inner circle and that is pretty amazing. All that being said, former senator Larry Smith learned very quickly that even if this truth is the norm, we don’t want a campaign based on it. Everyone knows politics are what they are – just don’t be a jackass about it.

Back room stories of alleged visits to shady businesses don’t sway the population. Even a convicted fraudster in your staff doesn’t tend to be the weapon over-zealous pundits would want it to be. Look deep enough into the backgrounds of any group you will find something you don’t like and political parties are certainly no exception. They are large organizations and the voters are smart enough to know that the actions of one don’t necessarily represent all. Eventually a large number of smaller issues can build up but it’s only when the minor transgressions demonstrate a systematic issue with the party itself that an electorate will take any discernable action.

An Exciting Vision

Promoting fear of some calamity whether real or imagined only serves to rally the supporters you already have. Calling into question the “hidden agenda” of your opponent usually flops. In Canada, any personal attack is usually ignored. Pulling ancient quotes from YouTube, while fun doesn’t discredit any current policy statements effectively. Politics are fluid. What the media labels a “flip-flop” might be a genuine change in policy based on a new reality or in light of new information. I don’t trust a politician that speaks in absolutes.  There are certain moral and ethical exceptions but in terms of policy “never” is a dangerous word. Ignatieff learned that when he categorically ruled out the idea of a coalition. For all of the rhetoric, in the end only Conservatives feared a Liberal/NDP Coalition. Canada was likely fine with it. What voters did not like was his choice to not consider it.

What the NDP did right in the 2011 election was rise above the slop that was being slung and offered something new. Actually, just something that had not been seen in a long time. Jack Layton remained focused on his policies and his ideas. Whether a voter agreed with those ideas or not was not what made the campaign work. The story that Ignatieff had worked in the United States or Britain didn’t matter to Canadians. The debate over fighter jets didn’t matter. We need jets and they will be expensive – move on. What was important was not what New Democrats were against but what they were for. As much as the other parties wanted Canadians to believe that the NDP platform was based on fantasy, Layton was very clear on how the ideas were to be accomplished. It was about prioritizing and not about fixing everything overnight. Healthcare, education and the general wellbeing of Canadians. Positive messaging delivered by a trusted and dynamic individual. To be sure he got his legitimate shots in towards the other leaders but they were usually fact based and never about the opponents’ personalities.

I sincerely hope that this will mark the end of American style mud-slinging in Canadian politics. It serves no legitimate purpose and has poisoned Parliament itself. It is time for all Honourable Members, all parties and all Canadians to limit political debate to real issues. The tabloid editorialists can continue pandering to the lowbrow tantrums of the angry. They are free to do so and I need a good laugh every once and a while. I prefer rational and stable forums for the sensible argument of political ideas.

Now that we have seen the example of what can be it is time to demand it of all politicians and their organizations. Hold them accountable for not only what they say but for how they behave in the House of Commons. If I want to hear partisan screaming matches I’ll go to a hockey game.

NDP Rally Winnipeg 2011

NDP Rally held at the Aboriginal and Metis Friendship Centre – April 27, 2011

Youth1

NDP Youth

Happy Jack - CC

Jack Layton & Supporters

Pooh Corner Crop and Fix

The Candidate for Pooh Corner

Free Press Truck

NDP Sense of Humour ….

NDP Pride

NDP Pride

Chalk Revolution

The Revolution will be Written in Chalk

Layton & the Bawdy Politic

I’m going to begin with a twitter quote:

“@colbycosh: Layton was crusading against lap dances as a councillor; he called strip clubs “sexual assault parlours”1

Above is an example of the kind of thing that conservative tweeters have been posting and re-tweeting in reference to the Layton massage “scandal” in an effort to label him a hypocrite. (Mr. Cosh himself was not saying such a thing but this has been picked up and re-tweeted over and over.) I thought about this for a moment. At first it seems that this supports their cause and I was trying to figure out a response and then it hit me. This actually supports the NDP’s position. As of today, Jack Layton is the most trusted Leader in Canadian politics – numbers boosted since the story broke.2 That means that a good portion of Canadians just plain believe what he says and in what he stood for then.

“I went for a massage at a community clinic,” Layton told reporters after a rally in Burnaby, B.C. “The police advised it wasn’t the greatest place to be, so I left and I never went back.”3

Both Olivia Chow and Jack Layton have proclaimed Jack’s innocence. The more of the story comes out the more it makes sense. We know Jack rides his bike. We know he works out. The massage business was in his neighbourhood and on his way home. The only photo that has been produced of the location is a recent one and while it looks rough now, that’s no indication of what it looked like then. The name “Velvet Touch” is a little off but my wife is an RMT and we laugh at the names of clinics all the time. They tend to range from wishy-washy new age to mildly suggestive – and none that we know of offer anything other then legal services. (My wife just uses her name and works independently out of a chiropractor’s office.) This is the nature of the business; it requires touch and often the removal of clothing. In no way should these facts indicate anything other then legitimate therapy. There are quite a few “Velvet Touch” car washes out there – should we be concerned?

Canadians believe both Jack Layton’s statements now and that his position then was genuine. The notebook of a former vice officer just does not offer enough proof of wrongdoing for the story to continue to develop. The fact is this was never really secret. It was kept private and since there was no law broken, no charges and no arrest there was no reason for it to be otherwise. There’s a fairly anonymous reference to the story in a blog comment in 2006. People knew. And then there is this:

“@jonkay Lib muckraker gave me copy of Lib lawyers Oct 10/08 ATI request into “Project Rubdown”4

So there’s a couple of issues with this. Jonathan Kay (@jonkay) is a managing editor for the National Post and an author. The National Post is not known to be a bastion left support. If he saw no story and chose not to run with it what does that say? I’d also like to point out that the Sun story quoted the still mystery officer as being part of a “Project Cobra”. At very least this calls into question the officer’s memory. I searched for both and I can find references to “Project Rubdown” at least as far back as 2004. When I search for “Project Cobra” I can only get the recent Sun story5. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but I can find no confirmation.

I don’t believe that journalists are to be held to the same standards as the law but to be responsible shouldn’t they at least confirm the facts with more then one source?

Especially if their one source may turn out to have been illegally obtained.

Sources:

1Twitter feed of Colby Cosh – April 30, 2011 http://twitter.com/colbycosh

2NANOS Leadership Index Poll – April 30, 2011 – http://www.nanosresearch.com/main.asp

3CBC.ca, Apr 30, 2011 – http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/story/2011/04/30/cv-election-layton.html#

4Twitter feed of Jonathon Kay – May 1, 2011 – http://twitter.com/jonkay

5Toronto Sun, SAM PAZZANO – April 29, 2011 – http://www.torontosun.com/2011/04/29/suspected-bawdy-house-raided-in-project-cobra?sms_ss=facebook