The Malleability of Political Leaders

I’ve always thought that the best leaders are always just ahead of the pack. Close enough to their followers that they are not standing alone but far enough ahead that they take us places where the rest of us would have never conceived of. Leaders cannot forget the people they are leading and they can also not forget that in the end they are supposed to lead, not follow or submit.

Four primary styles of political leadership

I think there are a few models of leadership regularly used in politics and often times hybrids that combine them.

There is the maverick who is out to promote their own agenda and will take along anyone willing to follow. This leader does not take into account what the public wants but instead bases on decision making on what they alone think the public should want. Consultation is not a word in the maverick’s dictionary. In the philosophical world these leaders would be subjectivists, believing their support for any idea is enough to make it the correct option.

On the opposite end there is the populist who largely acts as some sort of messiah for the peoples’ desires. This leader exists to do exactly what the people want. They are just one voice out of millions and are the servant of those millions of voices. This leader believes the people are always right and popular support for measures means it is both the necessary and the correct action to take because of this popular support. In the philosophical world, these leaders would be relativists, arguing that so long as society agrees on something it is therefore the correct course of action.

In between is the reconciler who has their own views, recognizes the desires of the public, and leads in new directions that are extensions of the public’s desires which they may have not been aware of, based on the leader’s own ideals.  For this leader it is not about the wants of him/herself or the public but about the needs of society at large. The goal of the reconciler is to slowly bring together the needs of society with the wants of society but leading the public beyond their present-focused views. The reconciler would be considered an objectivist in the philosophical world, choosing to evaluate situations based on rational considerations and not just consensus in society or their own gut feelings.

A fourth type exists in the chameleon. The chameleon moves from one of these styles to the other fairly seamlessly without ever really settling in any of them permanently. I would argue the likelihood of a leader being this type of leader increases with power and the need to be all things to all people in order to retain it. Another word for this type of leader is opportunist.

Political leadership in Canada

Reading these descriptions, several names of political leaders likely jump into your mind. Some of those names may even be current federal leaders. You may believe one model to be the best type of leader but for me that would rule out the mavericks and the populists as they both fail at least one basic component of leadership. Mavericks fail to generate followers or at least to retain them in the long run. Populists have followers but they are not leaders, mainly existing as the mouth piece for millions of other voices who cannot possibly all agree on everything anyway.

The chameleon can be respected if only for the reason that it appears to be the most politically viable way to conduct oneself as a leader. Be as malleable as possible so that you can at least appear to be all things to all people or as many as possible. It’s impossible to actually be all things to all people but the appearance of doing so or at least trying can take some politicians far. However the chameleon stands for little other than retaining power.

The reconciler is able to generate followers but also leads them into a society they may never have known without that leadership. They may not always be popular but they certainly stand for something and that something is actually reflected to some degree in the views of society. They do not fall into the trap of power without purpose or purpose without power. How does a leader strike this magical balance?

The reconciler as a road map for political leadership

To be a reconciler you must be all the things other leaders are not. You must be authentic, a trait the chameleon lacks. The public must know who you are and what you stand for and be elected or not accordingly.

At the same time, it cannot all be about the leader, which the maverick does not understand. Leaders are fallible and the relationship a leader has with society is the best way to ensure one is on the right track. Unpopular decisions are at times required, but a leader without support will face mutiny and rightly so (just ask Mackenzie Bowell).

And while it is dangerous to lead without regard for the beliefs and concerns of the people you lead, it is equally as dangerous to sacrifice your own vision for the confusing mess of desires the public holds dear. Leaders are guides and should never take a back seat to the public. If the entire public was in the driver’s seat, society would veer off the road into fiery destruction. We need leaders to concentrate the needs of society and deliver results. The populist does not understand this need.

Ultimately, politicians should be themselves, never apologize for doing so, campaign for things they believe in, respect concerns voters may have and ultimately remember it’s not all about them or even what they believe in, it’s about creating the best society possible for all.

Advice for the current and future crops of leaders

What all politicians should remember is that the most successful leaders in our history were the ones who worked to improve society, not replace it. They had similar views to the people they represented but enough vision to bring society forward as a whole. They were upfront about their beliefs and never hid their personalities. They were honest about themselves and their intentions and voters responded well to this.

When you think of the great leaders in our collective history, the ones who were most successful, Macdonald, Trudeau, Mulroney, and Chretien for example, all had huge personalities and did not apologize for that fact. Between these four men the total time spent governing was a collective 52 years.

Two current leaders are often seen as trying to evade the general public perception of them. Stephen Harper is accused of having a hidden agenda and responds by being extremely reserved in public. Yet his most likeable moments have been when, at the urging of his wife, he’s let loose and just been himself. He is a dad, a man with intense interests in music and sports, and apparently has a wicked wit. Yet publicly he’s seen as dull and mean spirited, the very opposite of the previous description.

Michael Ignatieff in contrast is seen as a stuffy Harvard professor who returned to Canada to be crowned Prime Minister. Yet all accounts by those who have actually met him describe a down to earth, warm-hearted man who will listen forever to anyone wanting to speak with him.

And at the same time as these more humble sides are hidden, the intellectual skills of both men are often derided as being out of touch with the voter. As if having intelligent leaders who understand complicated policy is a bad thing. As if Harper’s seemingly endless understanding of the details of all policies (according to his staff) and Ignatieff’s time at Harvard should be looked down on.

Politicians try to be perceived as ‘common folk’ because we couldn’t possibly respect those who strive to be more than average, which is incidentally a requirement of elected office, at least in my mind. Yet they are afraid to show their truly common sides in fear of being rejected by the voters.

Leaders, Harper and Ignatieff included,  should stop allowing themselves to be over-handled by the party machines. They should embrace their own identities and the relationship they have with the voter and leave the rest up to the electorate. They might be pleasantly surprised.

The Duty of the Parliamentarian

The organization Samara, a “charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with Canadian democracy”, conducted a research project on the role of parliamentarians in Canada by conducting what they called ‘exit interviews’ with retiring or defeated MPs.

The results of the interviews were varied but the former MPs were largely lumped into five distinct categories when questioned on their reasons for becoming Members of Parliament. The results can be found here The Accidental Citizen? .

What the study brings to light is the stunning realization that we sent MP’s to Ottawa with no real direction on what it is they should be doing. We know that they will be voting on, amending, and sometimes even creating legislation. We know that they will bring a mix of  the views of their constituents, their own views and those the party they belong to into their decision making process. We know they might sit in cabinet or on committees. But ultimately there is no one great reason or guiding principle that all MPs are there for. However, I have a suggestion.

MPs and the ‘Do No Harm’ Principle

One thing that all elected officials can or at least should be able to agree on is to do no harm to the political institutions they serve in or the overall civic environment they largely represent. In much the same way that doctors are to do no harm to their patients, politicians should be tasked with and also see themselves as being tasked with protecting democracy, its institutions, and the civic health of the nation. Considering the last election yielded the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history, I would argue that MPs are failing us in this central component of their jobs.

There are many ways in which the government (the worst offender is usually the one with the most power, regardless of party) and opposition parties have harmed the civic health of Canada, including:

  • suing one another
  • suing other parts of the government (Elections Canada)
  • abusing communications tools of MPs at irresponsibly expensive cost to taxpayers
  • ignoring election campaign spending limits
  • submitting fraudulent claims for campaign financing reimbursements
  • bringing puppets into the House of Commons to illustrate points
  • disrupting legislative committees on purpose
  • using bullying tactics to keep the voices of specific parties and movements out of national debates
  • attempting to adjust bodies of parliament without the constitutional reform that is required to do so
  • focusing political attacks on people and not policies
  • undermining the Governor General and the powers of the position
  • having a tunnel vision focus of destroying one another instead of offering up policy alternatives to the public

There are countless other examples but the recurring theme is that many of the people we send to serve in our democracy and by extension protect it, undermine it at every opportunity. This must change.

The Cult of Leadership

Canadian Federal Political Party Website Banners

Above are the headers or banners of the official websites of each of the federal political parties in Canada. Both the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) have a picture of their party leaders right on the front page banner. The CPC, the Liberals, and the NDP all have a category menu for their leader immediately after the home page button. The Greens have such category fourth in their header menu. The Bloc have no primary category for their leader as information on Gilles Duceppe can be found only once scrolling down through the team category.

At this point you may be asking yourself, so what? Parties can organize their websites however they want and it’s helpful to be able to search out information about a party leader especially since they have important roles in the House of Commons and some might even one day be or are currently the prime minister.

A Centralized Prime Minister’s Office

The way the websites or leaders are portrayed are not problematic in themselves but are runoff from a bigger political and civic problem. That problem is that Canadians increasingly do not understand their own system of government or the roles specific political actors and parties play within it. The cult of leadership, which has been growing steadily stronger since Pierre Trudeau became prime minister, has warped how our system is intended to operate and the way in which political leaders operate in that system. For the past forty years, there has been a well-documented shift towards a more centralized power structure (within the Prime Minister’s Office or PMO) and away from the legislative body of government and the representatives elected to it.

The focus on leaders instead of political teams, of prime ministers instead of cabinets, and of the executive instead of the legislative actors in government has created several misconceptions in the political understanding of the Canadian electorate. Parties first created this misunderstanding by romanticizing their leaders in the public eye. Parties have become increasingly less about grassroots development and caucus wide decision making in favour of what was intitially cabinet contolled policy development and more recently, the PMO alone. As voters grew to identify parties more with their leaders than with their teams or even policies, political parties in Canada began to put their leaders in the spotlight even more.

It is hard to come up with a list of five to ten cabinet ministers in the governments of Chretien, Martin or Harper who will be remembered in history books not for scandal but for influence approaching the level of the prime ministers they served. Finance and other high profile ministers may be remembered as may ministers who later became (or will become) party leaders themselves. But those cabinets will pale in comparison to those that Pearson, St. Laurent, and King (amongst others) surrounded themselves with. It is unlikely that the current cabinet will produce names that echo in history like Clifford Sifton, C.D. Howe, or Paul Martin Sr. As for anyone beyond cabinet in caucus or even in opposition, it is unlikely any beyond party leaders will be heard from again.

Misconceptions about the power of the Prime Minister

The centralization of power to the PMO since the 1970s has created the following misconceptions:

  • The Prime Minister is the Head of State for Canada
  • The Prime Minister is directly elected by the populace
  • The Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the most seats
  • The Prime Minister makes all government decisions
  • The Prime Minister can call an election
  • The Prime Minister can only be removed by an election
  • The Prime Minister is all-powerful

I added the last point for fun but the way things have progressed this might not be as far off the mark as one would hope. Clearly, the following is true instead:

  • The Queen is the Head of State for Canada (her federal representative is the Governor General while at the provincial level it is the Lieutenant-Governor)
  • Canadians vote for Members of Parliament at the riding level and then the Governor General selects the party which holds the confidence of the House, meaning it has enough MP support to pass legislation; it does not need to be the party with the most MPs and certainly not the party who the most individual Canadians voted for; the party the GG selects to govern only does so as long as it maintains the confidence of the House and this party general selects its party leader to lead the government ie. be prime minister
  • The prime minister is the person selected to lead by the governing party which is in turn selected by the GG after obtaining the confidence of the House
  • The prime minister directs policy decisions within his own governing cabinet (which he selects but is sworn in by the GG) and puts forward government bills to be debated by the House and eventually passed or voted down by the members of the House; opposition members may also table legislation though it cannot have monetary requirements attached to it
  • The prime minister can request an election to be held but must ask the GG who can refuse the request and ask another political party or formal coalition of parties to form a new government so long as it has the confidence of the House; if no party has confidence the GG will call an election
  • The prime minister can be removed from office by a vote of non-confidence in the House which results in the GG finding a new party to govern with confidence; the prime minister may remain in office if an election is instead called  and may remain in office after the election should his/her party receive the confidence of the House once more after the election
  • Clearly, the prime minister is not all powerful

The difference between what is popularly believed and what is actually the case in regards to prime ministerial powers is startling and worrisome. However, political parties have latched on to this idea and put their leaders front and center, offering promises to the Canadian electorate as if he/she himself/herself can adopt those measures unilaterally. They admit they will have some help from cabinet and will take some input from caucus but ultimately this strong, amazing leader will get your every desire done, mostly on their own with their super human skills.

This leads to two things: a disappointed electorate as leaders are not the super humans we want them to be, and ineffectual political representatives that are supposed to do the work of their constituencies but are either sidelined in opposition or the backbenches of government. With this cult of leadership power is increasingly concentrated in one office that houses a prime minister and his/her political staff and not where it is supposed to be, the legislature in the hands of your own representative. Party leaders themselves have frequently mirrored this power balance (or lack there of) in their own party structures to the point where even in political parties, members do not have much say. They and the electorate at large would not necessarily gain any more say if their chosen party is elected.

The role of political parties in the cult of leadership

So back to the image of the banners. All parties emphasize their team more or less but mostly the image of the party is centred on the leader. For the CPC and NDP, this means going as far as plastering their leader’s mug on the front page of the website in the banner. For all parties but the Bloc it means specific navigation on the front page that directs party members and would be voters directly to the party messiah.

Bloc Quebecois

Why is the Bloc’s website lacking in such overt cult leadership promotion? I would suggest that it is because that party is more about a movement than any specific members. There are not multiple visions for the BQ, it is only about separation from Canada. Anything else can be discussed at a later date. For the BQ, it makes sense to highlight the team instead of the leader because the party’s whole argument surrounds the idea that citizens of Quebec as a whole think they are getting a raw deal and wish to leave Canada as a unit. Parading around a single man does not convey this message as well as many party members would. This is why they list the entire team, including the leader, the shadow cabinet, and the party organization beyond the House of Commons.

Green Party

The Green party, with its placement of the link to information about Elizabeth May fourth on the menu, is also a sort of movement party. While it has grown over the years into more than just an environmental party, that is still the main focus of the Greens. That party is less about a specific leader and instead about a general view of where should society should be going.

New Democratic Party

The NDP does not lack strong members but its leader frequently polls as a strong leader that Canadians trust and therefore the party has put him under the spotlight.

Liberal Party

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are the only parties with a history of governing at the federal level and have former leaders to invoke when discussing their plans for the country. With leader-related scandals in more recent governments of each party (Mulroney, Chretien), the current leadership is more interested in going forward than looking to recent history. For the Liberals this means introducing Michael Ignatieff to Canadians and making him the focal point of their party and what it has to offer.

Conservative Party

While the current Conservative government has some able ministers, the focus is on Prime Minister Harper and government messaging is his almost solely. What disturbs me about the CPC website beyond the others is that under the leader heading it lists the prime minister but also his wife. I’m sure Laureen Harper is a fantastic human being but she was not elected by the public in any way nor even by the party apparatus. She is simply married to her husband, the prime minister. Her role in policy development and implementation is presumably as large as that of her children. Why this is disturbing is because it reflects an American viewpoint on the leadership of the country. On the CPC website, Laureen Harper, simply by being covered, is portrayed as a sort of Canadian first lady which makes the prime minister come across as some sort of Canadian president.

The President of Canada

And that is ultimately what this cult of leadership is getting to. The idea that the Canadian political leader is not just leader of the party or government but of the state itself, pushing out the Governor General and the checks on the system that have existed for nearly 150 years. The leader is becoming all there is and as Canadians do not elect this leader but do elect their representatives that are frequently sidelined, this is a problem. The prime minister, and not just the current one, increasingly takes more and more power away from the people and their representatives, concentrating it instead in his own office with only himself and his staff to consider what is important to Canadians.

We should demand strong leadership with clear vision and a road map to achieving that vision. But we should also demand that leadership mean something more than the individual. That it not be one voice silencing all others but the answering of what all the voices of the nation collectively call for.

Conservative Party of Canada Website

Liberal Party of Canada Website

New Democratic Party Website

Green Party Website

Bloc Quebecois Website

History Wars: The Royal Ontario Museum

The Monarchy is a Dangerous Relic of the Past

Thursday, January 20, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Has the idea of “The Crown” run its course in Canada? Does it reflect Canadian values? Does it weaken or strengthen the Canadian constitution or has it been the quiet reason Canada has survived as a country for nearly 150 years? Should we leave well enough alone or find a practical way to end it all?

Moderator: J.L. Granatstein

Speaking for the motion will be Michael Bliss, author and historian. Bliss, born and raised in Kingsville, Ontario, is University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, the author of numerous books in Canadian and medical history, and a prominent public intellectual. He has garnered numerous honours, including membership in the Order of Canada.

Speaking against the motion will be John Fraser, Master of Massey College. Educated at Upper Canada College and Newfoundland’s Memorial University, Fraser had an outstanding career as a prize-winning journalist and foreign correspondent with The Globe and Mail before entering academic life at the top. In 2010, he was widely-rumoured to have been one of the candidates considered for Canada’s governor-generalship. He, too, is a member of the Order of Canada.

Multiculturalism has put Canada on the Wrong Course

Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Few issues are as controversial in Canada today as Multiculturalism. But where did the concept come from? How has it changed? How did it get into the Constitution? And, in an age of terrorism, reconcilable differences, and rising immigration, what does it portend for Canada’s future?

Moderator: Michael Bliss

Speaking for the motion will be J.L. Granatstein, a historian of Canadian politics, foreign policy and defence. Born in Toronto in 1939, he taught at York University for 30 years and has published extensively. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, has a number of honorary degrees, and has won prizes for his writings.

Speaking against the motion will be Haroon Siddiqui, born in India in 1942 and came to Canada in 1968. He joined the Toronto Star in 1978, serving as news editor, national editor, and editorial page editor. Since 1998 he has been a columnist. He has published books and articles on subjects ranging from 9/11 to political cartoons. He is a Member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.

Pierre Trudeau was a Disaster for Canada

Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

He was handsome, smart, loved beautiful women, and almost always won. But was Pierre Elliott Trudeau a good Prime Minister? Did he unite Canadians or divide them? Improve the country or nearly bankrupt it? Does he haunt us still as an ideal Prime Minister, or as an arrogant failure for whom we’re still paying a fearful price?

Moderator: J.L. Granatstein

Speaking for the motion will be David Frum, one of North American’s most prominent conservative journalists and commentators. A native of Toronto, Frum was educated at Yale and Harvard, has written for The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, as well as the National Post, and was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. His books include, How We Got Here, a history of the 1970s.

Speaking against the motion will be John English, author of the highly-acclaimed two-volume official biography of Trudeau. Professor of History at the University of Waterloo and general editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, English has also written the biography of Lester Pearson. He was a Liberal Member of Parliament in the 1990s and is a Member of the Order of Canada.

Louis Riel Deserved to Hang

Thursday, May 5, 2011, 6:30 – 8:00 pmNo figure in Canadian history is as controversial as Louis Riel. He led the 1869-70 rebellion and ordered the judicial murder of an opponent, but he also created Manitoba. Fifteen years later he sparked the rebellion in the Northwest that required the dispatch of an army to put down. The government sent him to trial and, when he was found guilty, refused to exercise the prerogative of mercy – right or wrong?

Moderator: J.L. Granatstein

Speaking for the motion will be Tom Flanagan who has taught political theory at the University of Calgary since 1968. Best known for his role as a key aide to Stephen Harper, Flanagan is one of Canada’s leading Riel scholars. He has written a number of books including the Donner Canadian Prize winning First Nations, Second Thoughts.

Speaking against the motion will be Pat Martin, the NDP MP since 1997 for Winnipeg Centre and author of a private member’s bill that calls for Riel’s conviction to be reversed and for the Metis leader’s recognition as a father of Confederation.

Buy Tickets:

Remembrance Day 2010

From the department of Veterans Affairs.

First World War (1914-1918)
Approximately 650,000 Canadians served, including members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served with British forces (Newfoundland was a colony of Great Britain until 1949) and merchant mariners. Of this number, nearly 69,000 gave their lives.

Second World War (1939-1945)
More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in Canada’s Armed Forces, in Allied forces or in the merchant navy; over 47,000 of them gave their lives.

Korean War (1950-1953)
26,791 Canadians served in the Canadian Army Special Force; 516 of them gave their lives.

Approximately 125,000 Canadians have served in peacekeeping missions since 1947; more than 100 Canadians have given their lives in this service.

Flanders FieldsWhile we do not always agree with the reasons for war, the outcomes of war, or the death toll and social scarring of war, it is important to remember the dead, civilian or not, and learn from what has transpired. I have spent several Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa and to be there with those veterans is quite the experience. Remembrance Day is not a glorification of war, but a solemn promise that one day the phrase ‘never again’ can be uttered during a lasting peace.

“And I have lived since – as you have – in a period of cold war, during which we have ensured by our achievements in the science and technology of destruction that a third act in this tragedy of war will result in the peace of extinction.”

“As a civilian during the Second War, I was exposed to danger in circumstances which removed any distinction between the man in and the man out of uniform.”

“As a soldier, I survived World War I when most of my comrades did not.”

“It has too often been too easy for rulers and governments to incite man to war.”

“The choice, however, is as clear now for nations as it was once for the individual: peace or extinction.”

“As to the first, I do not know that I have done very much myself to promote fraternity between nations but I do know that there can be no more important purpose for any man’s activity or interests.”

“But while we all pray for peace, we do not always, as free citizens, support the policies that make for peace or reject those which do not. We want our own kind of peace, brought about in our own way.”

“Of all our dreams today there is none more important – or so hard to realise – than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.”

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to participate in that work as a representative of my country, Canada, whose people have, I think, shown their devotion to peace.”

-Lester B. Pearson


What is a ten percenter?

The ten percenter is a parliamentary communications tool utilized by Members of Parliament across the country that in the fiscal year ending March 31st, 2010 cost Canadians $10,182,707.71.  Ten percenters are defined by parliament as:

“Printed or photocopied materials reproduced in quantities not exceeding 10% of the total number of households in a Member’s constituency. Members may print and mail an unlimited number of ten percenters per year however each ten percenter must have a 50% difference in textual content from other ten percenters produced that year and can only be distributed within the Member’s own constituency, which on average represents 4,500 copies per ten percenter.”

This is in addition to printed materials called ‘householders’ that an MP can send to their constituents about the goings on of parliament. Parliamentarians can send up to four householders per year. In the last fiscal year MPs collectively spent $4,591,399.40 on householders.

These two communication devices cost nearly $15 million and are not drawn from the budgets of MPs but are funded by the budget of the House of Commons itself.

Do we need ten percenters?

The ability to communicate with one’s constituents is integral to the democratic process as it aids accountability and transparency in government when the public is informed about what is going on. This explains householders which can act as quarterly communications between an MP and the voters they represent.

This does not explain the purpose of ten percenters. As far as I can tell, they serve no purpose other than partisan propaganda from all parties in the House. Originally ten percenters could be sent beyond one’s own riding and therefore did not have to inform one’s constituents about anything as they could be sent into opposition ridings (meaning those not held by a fellow member of the party) to influence the voters in that area. As of April 1st, 2010, the Board of Internal Economy revoked the right to send ten percenters to opposition ridings and allowed for them only to be sent to an MPs actual constituents. While this ended the onslaught of propaganda from all parties it did not require ten percenters to be about anything in particular from the party who already held the seat.

In the year surrounding the 2008 Federal election, I received well over thirty ten percenters from the Conservative Party of Canada alone. I live in what was a hotly contested riding and received ten percenters from the governing party and its official opposition. It was somewhere from 30-40 from Conservatives to 2 or so from Liberal MPs. This was of course before the rule change about outside ten percenters.

What’s in a ten percenter?

The list of ten percenters I received (at least the ones after I started collecting them due to the insane volume) are as follows:

  • What does Stephane Dion’s permanent new tax on EVERYTHING mean for you? – Sponsored by Stephen Harper, MP
  • The Conservative Government is protecting children from unsafe products by proposing: – Compliments of Stephen Harper, MP
  • What are Canadians saying about Stephane Dion’s tax on EVERYTHING? – Compliments of Stephen Harper, MP
  • After nearly 2 years of Liberal delay, the Conservative Government’s tough new anti-crime laws have passed – Compliments of Stephen Harper, MP
  • OUR CHILDREN SHOULD BE SAFE – Compliments of Helena Guergis, MP
  • Will you be TRICKED into paying Stephane Dion’s tax on EVERYTHING? – Compliments of Helena Guergis, MP
  • Junkies and drug pushers don’t belong near children and families – Compliments of Helena Guergis, MP
  • Just imagine how much Stephane Dion’s carbon tax will raise the price of gas, electricity and everything else – Compliments of Peter Van Loan, MP
  • Not on our watch – Compliments of Rod Bruinooge, MP
  • Age is no excuse – Compliments of Maurice Vellacott, MP
  • Breathe a little easier – Compliments of Joe Preston, MP
  • Why should thugs, drug dealers and sexual offenders serve their sentences at home watching TV, playing video games, and surfing “websites” on the internet? – Compliments of James Bezan, MP
  • During these challenging times, we must all work together to ensure Canada’s success – Stephen Harper, MP
  • During these challenging times, we must all work together to ensure Canada’s success – Stephen Harper, MP (repeated)
  • We prepared in good times by: – Lois Brown, MP
  • In these times of global economic uncertainty – Lois Brown, MP
  • Universal Child Care Benefit – Lois Brown, MP
  • Canada’s Economic Action Plan – Lois Brown, MP
  • Reducing taxes is part of the Conservative government’s plan to stimulate the economy and deliver for Canadians – Lois Brown, MP
  • He’s too dangerous for bail – Lois Brown, MP
  • The Conservative government is creating jobs and improving rail service for Canadian families, tourists and commuters by: – Lois Brown, MP
  • Conservatives help you pay less tax – Lois Brown, MP (this was a full booklet and not just a sheet of paper)
  • This economic crisis is about real people – John McKay, MP (this was the only Liberal ten percenter)

It is quite an impressive list. I remember reading up on the policy for ten percenters at the time of the 2008 election because my riding was being blanketed by these things, primarily by conservative MPs. MPs of all stripes were allowed to send out ten percenters to other ridings provided they did not exceed the 10% rule and did not send to the same riding (if it was not theirs) more than three times in one year. As shown in the list above, it was clear careful attention was paid to the no more than three times rule. The exception being Lois Brown’s mailings, however those only occurred after the election in 2008 when she became the MP for my riding.

Regardless of the sender or the party the sender represents, ten percenters provide no real information to constituents. They make broad statements that are frequently untrue and almost always slam the other parties instead of talking about the real efforts MPs are (hopefully) making to serve the public.

One of the most outrageously pointless of the ten percenters I received was one supposedly from Helena Guergis that provided two check boxes for constituents to check and mail back to the Member on the dime of the parliamentary budget. The two options were ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the statement ‘yes, it is about time we put in protections for our children against predators’. Is such a ten percenter really necessary?

The cost of ten percenters

In the last fiscal year, MPs received a base budget for their Member’s Office of $284,700 plus an additional $25,468 for accommodation and per diem expenses. Additional funds are supplied for issues like MPs covering geographically larger ridings (Geographic Supplement, worth from $4,810 to $52,900).  The Member’s Office Budget is used to pay employees, fund advertising, pay for office leases, operating costs, etc. It may seem like a lot of money but there are a lot of reasonable and necessary areas it is used for. Ten percenters are not included in this budget.

MPs spent almost $99 million in their Member’s Budgets last year while the House provided resources to MPs to the tune of nearly $44 million. Householders cost just over $4.5 million in the latter category of expenditures while ten percenters were responsible for just over $10 million of House resources. Ten percenters alone made up over 23% of the total House resources provided to MPs. If you include the householders which serve the same purpose, the share of resources climbs to 34%.

At a cost of over $10 million, ten percenters sent over the last year average out to around $33,061 per Member of Parliament. Ms. Brown spent $62,728.09 alone on them.

MPs require budgets that reflect the needs of their jobs and their jurisdictions. The reality of a country as large as Canada is that most MPs will require two offices, two homes and a variety of other things in order to do their jobs. They should not have to pay out of their own pockets. But they should also not rack up massive amounts of money on things that do nothing for the electorate. Ten percenters are such an item. All parties are guilty of using them, though some more than others. Ten percenters are essentially to the political process what spam is to the internet. They clutter everything up without being of any real use.

Contact your MP and let them know that while transparency and accountability are nice concepts and detailing expenses serves both, spending the money properly and in the interest of the public is just as important.

To check out your MP’s spending habits, follow this link:

The Reverberations of Voting

“Voting is and always should be an act of conscience. But our consciences must weigh many things: which candidate best represents our views, yes, but also the overall political landscape and the potential effects of each candidate’s victory or defeat. It is naive and simplistic to say that the only thing that matters, the only thing that should matter, is getting to vote for the person you like best, as though your relationship to the election ended as soon as your ballot was cast. It doesn’t. We live with the results of our voting for years.” – Torontoist, October 22nd, 2010

I haven’t been able to address this quote yet on this blog until now. The quote is pulled from a half-hearted endorsement by the Torontoist of Toronto Mayoral candidate George Smitherman who was defeated this evening by Mayor-elect Rob Ford. While the arguments for support were interesting and valuable, the thing that struck me most about the post was this quote.

I long ago decided (although I am only twenty-four years old so perhaps not that long ago) the framework I would use each time I cast a ballot. Elections provide voters with a lot of options. Not just between parties and candidates but also between abstract ideas and concrete promises. Some of these issues will address my own concerns and interests while others will not. This does not sway my vote.

The reason my vote is cast without thought to personal issues is because I believe in a concept of government where it and the people in it are there to bring good to society. I feel that the job of government is to bring about positive change in society, to help those in need, and to do what individuals and other groups alone cannot accomplish on behalf of the citizenry.

what does this have to do with my vote? Because of the type of government I believe in, I cannot ethically cast my ballot with my personal interests as my guide. Society is too big and government’s real purpose too noble for me to attempt to influence it for my own gain. I feel that my vote is put to better use if I cast it with the interests of all of society as my guide. Thus when I fill out a ballot, I think of what would be best for Canada, Ontario, or my home city as a whole and not just what would benefit me most.

It can be argued that if everyone bases their vote on their own concerns then everyone is taken care of. This does not reflect the government I believe in and in my opinion, goes against the very nature of societal organization. We formed societies in the first place because of the benefits we gained by splitting up tasks and responsibilities. Government formed for the very same reasons. To vote with concern for only my own interests goes against both of these facts of human nature. We need one another and because of that we need to look out for one another and our collective needs.

I am all for supporting your beliefs and sticking to your principles, especially when filling out a ballot. But when the values you feel would best serve society at large are put in jeopardy by a strong candidate who opposes everything you believe is right in your city, province, country or the world… sometimes it is best to see what you can salvage.

I do not advocate strategic voting as there are far too many variables in play to really know who your vote will help. I do believe in finding a candidate you can reasonably support, that you can approve of if not outright get excited about. Some of the most progressive and needed changes we have enjoyed as a country came incrementally by those who had the foresight to see the big picture instead of dwelling on ideas society could not yet stomach.

So while I support people having convictions, I also support those who have the courage to see that their convictions will not be granted immediate gratification. That they must work harder and longer to achieve the change they really want. Change is not carried in by those who are left on the sidelines because they could not understand theirs was just one voice of many. It arrives with those patient few who are willing to wait for society to gradually catch up.

I like to call this approach social incrementalism because social change is not an event but a process and the people who bring it about are those who gently push society along with them instead of leaving the majority bitterly in their dust. It is the welcoming of evolution in social thought and the rejection of revolutions that would lead to half-formed ideas forced on an ill-prepared citizenry.

While radicals and fringe candidates have their place, it is centrists and moderates that govern with the most fairness. They do not swing too far in either direction and while they can’t please every voter, they can appeal to the needs and interests of most voters to some degree. In a system where we all have a right to our opinions and get to have our say at the ballot box, the moderates are the ones that best address our societal needs at a communal level.

I want to encourage voters in future elections to think about society as a whole when they cast their ballots. I want voters to remember that in the aftermath of an election the issues we personally care about may change or drop off the radar entirely, but the general direction of our collective vote, the reverberations of our collective decision, will shape our entire society for years to come.