Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Giant Exits

Peter Milliken, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has announced that he will not being seeking re-election in the next election. The MP from Kingston and the Islands has seen his margins fall as the Liberal tide has ebbed in Eastern Ontario but in all likelihood Milliken has just decided to retire. Milliken is the longest serving speaker of the house in Canadian history. He has been a speaker who has found himself in the spotlight, having to cast an historic vote to save the Martin government in 2005 and more recently being at the centre of the Afghan Detainee storm. The speaker is a parliamentarian in the best sense of the word. He is respected by all parties and his depth of knowledge on parliamentary procedure is unmatched. I had the pleasure of helping out on Mr. Milliken's 2006 campaign. Milliken ran a different sort of campaign in one respect: no signs. He always tried to make an agreement with his opponents (or just the Conservative) that campaign signs would not blight Kingston's landscape. That was more important. Mr. Speaker, Ottawa will be a lot worse off without you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Electoral System Isn't the Issue

A combination of things including an internet outage has scuttled the blog for the past few days. The rest of my world cup preview would now be horribly out of date. On to more political things. For those of you who didn't notice, Belgium had an election a little while back. The result wasn't all that surprising for Belgium but that doesn't mean it was any less complicated. Canadian talking heads *cough* Andrew Coyne *cough* often cite our "antiquated electoral system" as the primary reason that the Bloc Québecois has been able to maintain a presence in our parliament. Well, over in Belgium the results of the latest election in that PR based country have given the Flemish nationalists a plurality of seats in the Belgian parliament. Granted it is a small plurality, about 27 out of 150 seats, or about an identical ratio to the current Bloc presence in the Canadian parliament. So next time Andrew Coyne or some other pundit complains about the Bloc, just thank your lucky stars we don't live in a PR based country like Belgium.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

World Cup Preview: Group C

On to Group C:

England (1st in group 6 in UEFA Qualifying): No country faces the pressure quite like the English. Other countries have must win attitudes, but most of those countries have more recent glories to remember. The English World Cup drought is legendary. This year's side has the talent to break it. They have the players. They have the coach. The goaltending is a question mark. Wayne Rooney may be the most on-form out and out striker on the planet. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are excellent midfielders. The loss of Rio Ferdinand will hurt. The English are good enough to win. Are they strong enough to handle the pressure? Time will tell.

Player to watch: Wayne Rooney (ST)

Prediction: 1st in Group C, Out in the Semi-finals.

USA (1st in CONCACAF): The US had an uneventful run through qualifying. They were far from perfect, but they were good enough to grab top spot and not have to worry about their last couple of matches. The Americans will rely on the positive experience gained from the Confederations Cup last year when they shocked Spain in the semi-finals and had a lead on Brazil in the finals. The US enters the tournament with more questions than answers. Tim Howard is one of the best keepers in the tournament but the men in front of him are riddles. Oguchi Onweyu is coming back from a major injury. Landon Donovan is an enigma at the best of times. Charlie Davies absence in the wake of a car crash that left his companion dead, has left a major hole up top. The Americans have a nasty habit of playing to the level of their opponents. Remember in 06 they played eventual champs Italy to a gritty draw before bowing out of the group stage at the hands of lesser opponents. Slovenia and Algeria may be the key games for the US.

Player to Watch: Oguchi Onweyu (DF)

Prediction: 3rd in Group C

Algeria (Tie for 1st in Group C in African Qualifying; Defeated Egypt in playoff): Few teams can match Algeria's qualifying story, beating arch-rivals Egypt in a sudden death playoff in Khartoum. However, on the pitch Algeria is probably over-matched in this group. Their qualifying group was a two horse race the whole way and one has to wonder if beating Egypt is more than enough to satisfy the Algerians. A relatively unheralded roster will have their hands full in a tough Group C.

Prediction: 4th in Group C

Slovenia (2nd in Group 3 in UEFA qualifying; Defeated Russia in playoff): No one gave tiny Slovenia any hope against Euro powerhouse Russia in a two game playoff. After all, Slovenia had come out of group 3 notable not for its winner (Slovakia) but for the poor performances of its expected powers (Czech Republic, Poland and to a lesser extent Belgium). The Slovenes however, shocked the Russians and won't be afraid of anyone in South Africa. With giants England in the group to distract their opponents, expect the Slovenes to take some scalps.

Prediction: 2nd in Group C, out in the round of 16.

The Low Countries Vote 2010

A busy election year in Europe continues with neighbours the Netherlands and Belgium voting mere days apart. We await results from the elections in the Netherlands where it appears the results will be clear as mud. I can't wait to see how that coalition gets built. Do you work around the anti-immigrant party or with it? At any rate, Europe's flirtation with the far right does not appear to be over. Whatever happens in the Netherlands will look downright organized compared to the ongoing chaos that is Belgium. FiveThirtyEight gives a much better run down than I ever could. Go read it. Coalition building is an ugly process in a lot of countries. It's a near impossible exercise in Belgium. Some countries have an easy time building coalitions, but there are no guarantees that a proportional electoral system will ensure quick and orderly coalition building. You could end up like Belgium did: without a government for months on end. I've said this before, but it bears repeating, how you count the votes has very little impact on what kind of government you get.

Not In My Name

If this story is at all accurate, shame on all parties involved. This is a disgrace. Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson, Louis St. Laurent, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Wilfred Laurier, Edward Blake, Alexander Mackenzie, George Brown, Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine must be rolling in their graves. We've been in worse shape. Mulroney wiped the floor with Turner. Diefenbaker destroyed Pearson. Mackenzie King lost office twice including in the wake of the 1929 crash. Laurier's Grits were in tatters after 1911. Before Laurier we held power for 5 out of 29 years. Brown was almost never in government. Lafontaine had to run in Ontario for fear of his safety in Québec.

The Liberal Party has survived in basically one incarnation for the past 150 years not solely as its critics would tell you because it lusts for power but because it stands for Canadian progress. In its earliest incarnations it stood for democracy. It stood against the corruption of Sir John A. It stood for Laurier's dream of a great nation leading the world into the 2oth century. It stood for Pearson and Trudeau's vision of responsible action abroad and justice and equality at home. It still stands for balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility. Bad poll numbers, even bad elections do not give any party insider the right to negotiate away that history. At very least, a full consultation with the party membership should have been undertaken to ask their opinion.

On Monday evening, the Toronto-Danforth Federal Liberal Association will conduct its Annual General Meeting in its continued efforts to unseat the leader of the NDP. My riding association exists for a reason. My party exists for a reason. May history condemn any person who would sell out their party for the feint hope of power.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

World Cup Preview: Group B

On to Group B:

Argentina (4th in CONMEBOL): Argentina's struggles through qualifying provided one of the most compelling story lines to watch. In the end, the side led by Lionel Messi and coached by Diego Maradona was able to qualify comfortably in fourth. Argentina will not lack for talent. Lionel Messi leads a potent attack which features Manchester City's Carlos Tevez and Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero. The most frequently asked question about Argentina is whether or not they can overcome Maradona's coaching to secure glory. Group B shouldn't pose much of a problem for Argentina and a weak Group A should provide knock out round fodder.

Player to Watch: Lionel Messi (ST)

Prediction: 1st in Group B, Semi-Finals

Republic of Korea (1st in Group 2 in Asian Qualifying): If the future lies in Asia, the football world isn't paying attention. Indeed, eight years after Korea and Japan hosted the event, Asia seems to be a forgotten continent. Africa has had an unusually bright spotlight, Europe is always king and South America always draws attention. Asia has been ignored. This probably suits the South Koreans just fine. A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the unexpected qualification of the DPRK, but South Korea, which finished 4 points ahead of their northern cousins has been ignored. Do so at your own peril. The team is led by one of Alex Ferguson's favourite players the always dangerous Park Ji Sung and could well be a nuisance to a bigger country.

Player to Watch: Lee Chung Yong

Prediction: 2nd in Group B. Eliminated in the round of 16.

Nigeria (1st in Group B of African Qualifying): The superpower of Africa boasts no shortage of big names. John Obi Mikel, Obafemi Martins, Dickson Etuhu and the ageless Kanu headline a strong team. The problem for Nigeria has been putting the pieces together. Last day heroics allowed Nigeria to qualify for this tournament and the team looked pedestrian against what was a not particularly difficult qualifying group. Yes, they could get their act together on African soil, but they will need to do so in short order. There are no soft marks in Group B and Nigeria may find it difficult to break down the Koreans and Greeks. Nigeria will probably be a lot of people's choice to move on here. Not mine.

Player to Watch: John Obi Mikel

Prediction: 3rd in Group B

Greece (2nd in Group 2; Defeated Ukraine 1-0 on aggregate): Euro 2004 seems like a long time ago for the Greeks. Yes, they've qualified for their first world cup since 1994, but hopes cannot be high for this team. Then again, hopes are never high for Greece, they weren't in 2004. If their defensive shell is cracked early, it could get ugly for the Greeks who faced little real competition from a weak qualifying group. 2004 was a once in a lifetime achievement for Greece. It's only been six years.

Player to Watch: Georgios Karagounis

Prediction: Last in Group B

Sunday, June 06, 2010

World Cup Preview: Group A

Politics are important. I'll get back to politics. First, a series offering my two cents on the World Cup. Starting with Group A:

South Africa (Hosts): The tournament hosts are, by some accounts, the worst side ever to host a world cup. Then again, the same was probably said about either South Korea or Japan eight years ago and both sides had long deep runs into the tournament. South Africa are led by Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar. Pienaar and the few other non-South African based players will have to be excellent if this team is going to avoid embarrassing itself on home soil. Home turf is important in football, but one has to wonder if South Africa has the wherewithal to overcome the obstacles ahead of them.

Player to Watch: Stephen Pienaar (MF)

Prediction: 4th in Group A

France (2nd in Group 7; Defeated Ireland on aggregate 2-1 in playoff): One of the most controversial qualifiers, the French qualified on the strength of a Thierry Henry handball assist to eke out the Irish for a spot in South Africa. They were forced into the playoff after Raymond Dominic's side limped their way through group 7 posting a shocking opening day loss in Austria, draws at Serbia and Romania and again at home to the Romanians. Serbia beat out the French by a point to win the group. French football is rebuilding but the current squad looks awfully familiar. The 2006 finalists bring six out-field players over the age of 30 to the tournament. Age may be less of a factor in a short tournament like the world cup and there is no doubt that this team is loaded with talent. The question is whether or not the stars will align and France will make a run at this year's competition.

Player to Watch: Franck Ribery (MF)

Prediction: First in Group A, Out in the quarter-finals.

Mexico (Second in CONCACAF): Mexico's qualifying campaign started abysmally. The first group stage saw the Mexicans advance on a tiebreaker after poor results including a draw in Edmonton against a dysfunctional Canadian side. The Hex didn't start much better but after Sven Göran Eriksson was replaced by Javier Aguire, El Tri rounded into form and qualified comfortably in the second automatic spot. Of concern is Mexico's road record. El Tri were 5-0-0 at home but managed just a win and a draw away from the friendly confines of the Azteca. While South Africa's stadiums may be as loud as the Azteca courtesy of the vuvuzelas, odds are the fans won't all be cheering for Mexico. CONCACAF needs the US and Mexico to do well to gain respectability. I don't see it for Mexico.

Player to Watch: Cuauthemoc Blanco (MF/ST)

Prediction: Third in Group A

Uruguay (5th in South America; defeated Costa Rica 2-1 in a playoff): Uruguay famously won the first World Cup but those glories are long gone. The current squad boasts a lot of talent including dynamic Atletica Madrid forward Diego Forlan and are certainly not anybody's first choice of opponents. However, the Uruguayans struggled to even make the playoff with Costa Rica and managed only a 2-1 win over Costa Rica in spite being heavy favourites in the match. Like Mexico, Uruguay struggled away from home in the difficult South American qualifying tournament posting just two wins in 9 matches outside of Montevideo. A weak group will help Uruguay, but after that they're toast.

Player to Watch: Diego Forlan (ST)

Prediction: Second in Group A, Out in round of 16.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Japan has lost yet another Prime Minister. Junichiro Koizumi's 5 and a half year tenure as Prime Minister is looking more and more like a miracle. Koiziumi quit in September of 2006. Since then, Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fakuda, Taro Aso and now Yukio Hatoyama have failed to hold on to the reins of power for more than 365 days. Notably, Hatoyama is of course from the Democratic Party who replaced the long serving LDP in last year's elections. With elections for the Japanese upper house this summer threatening the Democratic Party's bicameral majority, Hatoyama has stepped aside over the Okinawa base issue. I guess the Americans aren't interested in doing any favours for Japanese politicians while Kim Jong Il is sinking South Korean naval vessels.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Tories Squeeze Private Political Loans

Okay, so this isn't really news but it hasn't received a ton of coverage so I'm going to talk about it. On April 28th the Tories introduced bill C-19 which would, if passed, tighten the grip on one of the few easy ways left to finance a political campaign: private loans. The bill permits candidates to get any loan they want from a bank but makes the rule a lot tougher if they want to get the money privately. Loans would be limited to the annual donation restrictions and the lenders information would be made public. The bill also mandates that all loans be paid back within 3 years (this applies to leadership races, Liberal Leadership '06 candidates). After that the loans are counted as donations. The bill would essentially just extend current rules to apply to loans. The only strange part of the bill is continuing to allow bank loans. If loans are donations, aren't bank loans corporate donations? I suppose the logic is that a lot of the private loans are done at virtually no interest by family, friends and supporters.

This bill, like the earlier attempt to kill public political financing, is political through and through. The Tories fundraise far more effectively than their opponents and therefore rely less heavily on loans. Debt has become a fairly standard operating procedure for modern political candidates, this bill could change that. It's a bill that may be more important than it appears. Of course, it may never be passed. I for one will keep an eye on it.

Harper Turns Off Hose, Turns on Sprinkler

Sometimes reality has a nasty habit of getting in the way of a good idea. Stephen Harper has a good idea: stop the stimulus spending and get started on tackling the deficit he created (remember we were in deficit BEFORE the recession). Reality is though that it's going to cost a ridiculous amount of money, $1 billion dollars, to provide security for the G8 and G20 meeting in Ontario this month. The good news for Canadians is that the money should be spent mostly in Canada employing police officers, soldiers and security specialists. Many of these fine people will be traveling to Toronto and Huntsville and will have to find accommodation in the local area. They may also decide to spend a little of their hard earned cash where they earn it. The $1 billion security budget is not technically stimulus spending but it should provide some stimulus to Southern Ontario nonetheless.
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