Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 23, 2012
The Harper government is attempting to pressure environmental groups to stop bothering Conservative donors like Big Oil. May be a bit too pointed? However, one of the aspects of government…particularly politicians…politicians are people…well, people can be vindictive.
The recently successful though partly thwarted mobilization of environmental groups to stop both the Keystone Pipeline to the US and the Northern Gateway Pipeline across northern BC has made our government a bit…well….bitchy.
In January, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued a public letter – diatribe, more like – denouncing “environmental and other radical groups” who “hijack” regulatory bodies and “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”
As part of the new budget they are trying to limit ‘foreign’ interference in Canadian politics by ramping up a crackdown on charities that do “too much” political advocacy.
According to Canada’s charity laws, a charity can only dedicate 10% of its resources to political advocacy. There are exceptions made for ‘exceptional’ events and I quote “For example, an environmental conservation charity may decide to mobilize public support in favour of an international environmental treaty by taking out a full-page advertisement in a national newspaper (thereby devoting more than 10% of its total resources that year to political activities) because it reasonably considers that ratifying the treaty would help the charity achieve its goals.”
This budget includes an additional $8,000,000 for Revenue Canada to ensure charities are being only 10% political. A lot of this money is to perform audits which not only cost the taxpayer money to perform but is also a burden on the charity which must pay for its end of the audit. I don’t think I would mind this so much if it did not seem like such cheap politics.
But then again, maybe it is not cheap politics but political opportunism. The public know this is petty but not part of some grand scheme to weaken our regulator defences? Or is it?
They are eliminating the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, originally established in the 1990s to advise the prime minister, which regularly produced reports that challenged the business and environmental policies of the government, particularly regarding climate change.
Couple this with that absence of federal criticism or even acknowledgment of the millions of dollars corporations are spending to promote their industries…corporations that are almost exclusively foreign owned. When our government goes to treaty talks we have taken up the habit of bringing along industry lobbyist. Most notably during the recent talks to limit the arms trade to troubled regions of the world; we brought a gun lobbyist. Coincidently we also took the stand that selling ‘hunting and sporting’ guns should be unregulated. No foreign influence I am sure.
Add to these the new budget eviscerated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as well as it looks like the majority of job cuts due to spending cuts in the budget are targeting scientists who study thinks like the effects of pollutants on the environment.
So, again why should we as skeptics care?
We often will accuse ‘less skeptic’ types of creating boogeymen where this is none. That there is no great conspiracy to take over the world, pollute our water or kill our children.
To make this claim though, we must have a relative confidence in our regulatory system and the machinery of democracy. If the only people allowed to talk in our democracy are the mega-corps…the only ones providing funding to research…we no longer have the certainty that there may not actually be something in the water. We may not be certain that our politicians are, mostly, working for us. We may not be certain that when the government says “this is safe” or “there is no risk to the environment” that we can trust them or even that they need worry about being truthful.
If the machinery for the public to question government…to challenge the power of the corporations…if that machinery is reduced or lost, we all lose. The changes being made to attack environmental groups will not help skepticism but merely fuel a new generation of conspiracy minded fanatics…and sadly we may not be able to honestly say they are wrong.
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, charity law, environmental groups, Harper government, Keystone Pipeline, National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Northern Gateway Pipeline, Revenue Canada | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 22, 2012
- Space X launch,
- Dangers of overselling vaccination ,
- Canada’s endangered scientist,
- Austerity: does it work (Part 1 of 3 interview with Seth Klein).
Download the episode here!
Space X Launch
Space X successfully launched the Falcon 1 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule to restock the International Space Station.
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Dangers of overselling vaccination
New research shows that overselling vaccination causes people to be less likely to get their children vaccinated.
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Canada’s endangered scientist
We discuss the Harper governments budget cuts and the extreme harm they are having on Canada’s scientific community and research. We focus on the Experimental Lakes Area.
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Austerity: does it work
Don’s sits down with Seth Klein in the Radio Free Thinker virtual studio and discusses austerity: what it is, does it work and is our governments following the austerity bandwagon.
Seth Klein is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for BC.
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2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest
The contest is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier visual illusion research community. Visual illusions are those perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality. Our perception of the outside world is generated indirectly by brain mechanisms, and so all visual perception is illusory to some extent. The study of visual illusions is therefore of critical importance to the understanding of the basic mechanisms of sensory perception, as well as to cure many diseases of the visual system. The visual illusion community includes visual scientists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and visual artists that use a variety of methods to help discover the neural underpinnings of visual illusory perception.
Illusions of note:
Floating Star – Where when you look at a static image of a ‘blotty’ star on a blotty background, the star appears to be moving.
TBA – When you look at two moving dots directly they move in straight lines but when you look at them with your peripheral vision, they appear to be moving an arch.
The Flashed Face Distortion Effect – When you are looking at two images of faces with a small space between them. You are to focus on the central point while the images on each side are exchanged with other faces. All the images are normal people…however the effect is ‘horrific’.
2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest
In Search of a Better World: The Utopian Imagination
Another Philosphers’ Cafe forum where Tiffany Werth of SFU asks if what we imagine can shape what is possible.
When: May 23 at 7pm
Where: Waves coffee shop at 900 Howe
Canadian Copyright Law for Composers
MusicBC’s Bob D’Eith will give a workshop on navigating Canadian copyright laws.
When: May 25 from 2-4pm
Where: CMC BC Creative Hub – 837 Davie
E-volving Democracy: Online Voting Public Dialogue
This is the first in the “E-volving Democracy” dialogue series highlighting current issues related to technology, democracy, and the theory and practice of collective decision-making. This event is designed for anyone who wants to make change happen – including democracy and social justice activists, open source coders and hackers, philosophers and academics, facilitators, convenors and skeptics.
The session will include a panel discussion featuring Andrew MacLeod (legislative reporter, The Tyee); Steve Wolfman (Computer Science, SFU) and Fathima Cadre (UBC Law and anti-online voting advocate). In small group discussions, participants will identify and prioritize conditions they believe a proposed online voting system would have to satisfy before it could be used in good conscience in a public election.
When: May 26 from 2-5pm
Where: The Hive Vancouver – 128 W. Hastings
Cost: by donation
slutTALK: The (Un)Conference
In-depth conversations about rape culture, victim-blaming, and sexual stigma. Speakers will include representatives from Women Against Violence Against Women, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, and the F Word Media Collective.
When: May 26 from 1-4pm
Where: WISE Hall – 1882 Adanac
Cost: by donation
Posted in Show notes | Tagged: AntiVax, austerity, budget cuts, Canadian scientist, Experimental Lakes Area, Harper government, Illusion of the Year, Philosphers' Cafe, Seth Klein, Space X, Vaccination | 1 Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 10, 2012
- Largest feathered dinosaur discovered,
- Donald Trump promoting the anti-vax movement,
- Passover myths,
- Cuts to the CBC and
- How budget austerity hurts skepticism.
Download the episode here!
Paleontologist get their feathers ruffled in a big way!
Ethan takes umbrage at a recent story about the discovery of the largest feathered dinosaur. We talk about how poor science reporting clouds people’s understanding of real science. We also talk about the where and what was discovered and it’s implications.
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Trump trumpets anti-vaxism
We talk about the recent verbal diarrhea from professional celebrity Donald Trump where he parrots the bad “science” of the anti-vax movement. We briefly debunk his claims and talk about the added ethical responsibilities of celebrities to ensure they do not harm their followers/fans by what they say.
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Don uses the current ‘holiday’ celebration to revisit some of the cultural myths of Passover. We talk about did slaves build the pyramids, where the Jews/Israelites enslaved as a people in Egypt and lastly was the bible god as sadistic to Pharaoh as popular culture (South Park) leads us to believe.
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CBC helps promote skepticism
We talk about how the recent budget cuts to the CBC will affect the skeptical community. We also discuss how important it is to skepticism to have a independent news/educational station in Canada.
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How austerity in the Harper budget hurts skepticism
We talk about how the recent budget cuts to health, safety and regulatory agencies will affect the skeptical community. We also discuss how important it is to skepticism to have a government…and the agencies that make it up…we can trust. How in cutting funding to things like product/nutritional labeling enforcement makes it harder to have confidence in our food as well as providing fodder to “woo” conspiracy type.
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StatsCan making more data free and online.
In February, Statistics Canada made access to most of its data free, eliminating the previous charge of $3 plus HST for every series.
To let your inner geek or outer cynic free in the data head to CanSim were the data and a tutorial on how to use the site can be found.
Tracking food fraud
Now that the government has abdicated its responsibility to police food labeling, I found a site that may help. It’s a database created by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a non-profit scientific organization that develops standards to help ensure the identity, quality and purity of food ingredients, dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals. The Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) compendium is a new database which provides baseline information to assist interested parties in assessing the risks of specific products. It includes a total of 1,305 records from scholars, media and the public. The vast majority though, 1,054, are from scholarly research.
CFI Vancouver presents Dying With Dignity debate – featuring Wanda Morrisd
Executive Director of the Dying With Dignity foundation and in opposition to the notion of dying with dignity Dr. Will Johnston, Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, BC.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
7pm at Fletcher Theatre at Harbour Centre, Simon Fraser University
Posted in Show notes | Tagged: Anti-vax, austerity, Canadian budget, CBC, Donald Trump, Harper government, Largest feathered dinosaur, mythology, Passover, pharoah, pyramids | 1 Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 20, 2012
This week Selling Canadian Science, NASA sued by ‘Intelligent’ Design, St. Patrick’s day and Don’s interview with Tony Sobrado – Part 2(of 3), conspiracy theories as political ideology.
Download the episode here!
Harper Government plan to make NRC more business friendly!
Two part talk, first it turns out in raw science Canada punched well above its weight class. Although only producing about 1/10 the papers in science as the USA or UK, our papers are cited more. We have the most influential scientist in the world based on citations…and that is everything in the world of academia.
On this topic, word has come out from Ottawa about an ongoing effort to transform the National Research Council’s directions. The NRC is a government agency that funds the majority of research in Canada. The Harper government would like to see the agency focus less on “blue sky” projects and develop a ‘concierge’ or “1-800 number” service for businesses. We take a short and balance look at how this could affect our place in the science community.
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CFI newly “Elected” board of directors
We review the new members and the slow but steady move towards democratic governance and CFI.
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NASA Sued by “Intelligent” Design
NASA is facing a lawsuit by David Coppedge. Coppedge claims religious discrimination and wrongful dismissal when he was laid off during recent NASA budget cuts. We examine his claim and its implications for NASA, the work place and the possibility of legally imposing ‘intelligent’ design.
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St. Patrick’s Day Debate?
We have an interesting discussion about the origins of St. Patrick’s Day and should we as atheist celebrate a Catholic Feast Day? Ethan also questions if the holiday as we now have perpetuating ‘racist’ stereotypes of the Irish.
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Tony Sobrado interview Part 2 – Conspiracy theory as political ideology
This week we start a three part series with Tony Sobrado. Tony Sabrado Tony is a research analyst and social scientist currently based in London. Author of the soon to be published book “Who rules the world: An analysis to conspiracy theory”. He also contributes to the Huffington Post.
Part 2 – We define what a conspiracy is, the sociological history of conspiracy theory and the frame-work Tony has developed to help analyse conspiracy theories from a social/political science perspective.
Learn more about Tony Sobrado:
It’s Wrong to Wreck the World: Climate Change and the Moral Obligation to the Future
Kathleen Dean Moore, co-founder of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word and professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, will talk on the importance of viewing climate change as a moral crisis and taking a moral response towards the issue.
<From the poster>
“In our generation, as Thomas Berry writes, we have done to the Earth what no previous generation has done, because they lacked the technological power, and what no future generation will be able to do, because the planet will never again be so beautiful or abundant. In the process, we have degraded, and perhaps changed forever, the great systems that sustain our lives. This is a scientific and technological crisis, assuredly. But it is fundamentally a moral crisis, and it calls for a moral response. Why has climate-change science elicited such stunning indifference? What calls us to act? How can we respond to the crisis in ways that honor duties of compassion, justice, and respect for human rights? How can we discuss these values across differences? How do we live, when we truly understand that we live in complete dependence on an Earth that is interconnected, interdependent, finite, resilient, and heart-breakingly beautiful?”
When: Wed. Mar. 21, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
SFU Continuing Studies in Science and Environment Lecture Series
Seeing the Strings: Capitalism and You
Our aim is to initiate meaningful deliberation in Vancouver around how capitalism operates, and its reliance on both visible and invisible forms of domination and exploitation in order to function.
Each event will be split into three equally important components that will work to build both personal and community-wide understanding of the topics.
First, a discussion will explore the themes of the event within a historical and theoretical context. This will create a system-wide explanation or “big picture,” demonstrating not only what the specific form of oppression addressed is, but also how it operates within capitalism.
Then, a second speaker will explore the topic in a historically present context, using examples from living communities to reveal the connections between past and present, theory and practice.
The third component of the night will be a participatory workshop, with strong facilitation, involving all attendees. There will be small group discussions with small or large group movement activities that will enable individuals to explore how the topic at hand functions in their own life, to learn about the experiences of others, and to see that oppression functions systemically, affecting everyone in different ways.
When: Fri. Mar. 23, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
Cost: By donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
Vancouver Media Co-op
University of Lethbridge new chair in Alt-Med
It was recently announced that the University of Lethbridge has received funds and is creating a chair of Complementary and Alternative Health Care.
This is more of a low-light than highlight but something to keep our eyes on. Recent moves in Canada, Australian and the USA by proponents of Alt-Med are intended to bring legitimacy by association where actually achieving scientific success as failed them.
Droog gift establishes Chair in alternative health care
Posted in Show notes | Tagged: Alternative Medicine, business, conspiracy theories, Harper government, Intelligent design, NASA, NRC, political ideology, Research chair, science, St. Patrick's day, University of Lethbridge | 2 Comments »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 5, 2012
Okay, so there are many things that I find disturbing and upsetting about the just announced decision of Caterpillar to shut down the Electro-Motive Diesel, Inc. plant in London. I could do an appropriate anti-corporate rant about how corporations see people…cities…society as meat for the grinder of profits. I could point out the underhanded and deliberate way Caterpillar uses its global position to undermine labour…to strip people of their ability to collectively bargain by creating production in different counties then pitting labour in those regions against each other to create the lowest possible standard of living…regardless, of the inequality of wealth created. It is obscene that a corporation like Caterpillar, which is experiencing record profits, feels no need to share its prosperity with those whose hands made the products that enriched the company but instead plans to strip them of what dignity they have remaining.
No, what I wish to bring to the attention of Canadians is our government…well, I say ours but I find that caricature farcical. One would expect that a body, such as government or union, would work to help its people…to ensure the prosperity, integrity and dignity of its members. The union has tried to stand up for its workers but as labour laws are, there is little they can do when confronted by a corporation that demands its work force take a 50% drop in pay or they will leave the country…”oh and by the way, leaving was our intention from the start”.
In October 2010 Caterpillar bought Electro-Motive that same month it began ‘building’ an assembly plant in Indiana which went online Oct 2011 ostensibly because of “Buy America” provisions imposed by US lawmakers. It is important to note though that Indiana is one the US states that have passed “Right to Work” legislation; laws intended to prevent unions from organizing in their state. The plant in London, for those not in the know, is one of four facilities operated by Electro-Motive around the world; although one, a maintenance plant (immune from “Buy America”), was opened in 2010 in Mexico and the other in Indiana. Caterpillar experienced a record increase in profits of 82%…but did this only on an increase sale of 52%; where did the rest of the increased profit come from? Well one possible location is the workers. The average wage in the closed Canadian plant was $32-$45/hr and those of the new Indiana plant – $12-$18/hr…that helps the shareholders, the CEO ($10.5 million in pay last year) & board members…but those who actually do the work – F@ All.
Losing unions hurts us all
Okay, I have taken a bit of a sidetrack here. It is important to know some of the detail…that this is more than just a business decision; it is an attack on Canada and the Canadian worker. Although my views on capitalism should be well known to my readers this is how the system is set up. To push back on the power of the corporation the worker has only one option – collective power. Collective power has two main manifestations; unions which are prevented to organize globally, effectively because of draconian restrictions on the movement of labour, while capital flows freely (and recklessly) across borders. This is not the first time Caterpillar has used its global reach for union busting.
The other locus of collective power is the government. It was the Harper government that gave Electro-Motive a 5 million dollar tax break to ‘save jobs’, fat lot of good that did. The conservative mantra (north and south of the border) state that give the 1%…the corporations tax breaks they will invest, employ and create better communities. This is, as a rule with few exceptions, a fallacy when applied to multinationals. Why don’t they learn!
What can the government do now? Well, then labour was ‘acting up’, Harper could not move fast enough to pass back-to-work legislation. “To save jobs and help the economy”. In this case he could seize the assets of the London plant…nationalize it (or at least collectivize it). This is not as radical or ‘petty’ as it may at first sound. Caterpillar did not resolve the continuing labour dispute; it just walked out. The government has a right and a duty to step in and ensure the community and the workers are protected and compensated. There are obligations a corporation takes on when it sets up shop; it is the role of the government to ensure those obligations are satisfied.
Second, this is an act of economic warfare. As we are all well aware of these days, corporations have in many ways become de facto states. Caterpillar took hostage a group of Canadian workers and then economically executed them…as a warning to any other union or worker in Canada, if the company says take a 50% pay cut, you do it or will kill your livelihood! It would not be the first time a government in Canada has stepped-in to protect its populous from predatory corporations. Former Premier Danny Williams did this Abitibi-Bowater in Newfoundland when it threatened the people of the province. The Harper government did not even have the business intelligence to ensure that when Canadian taxpayers gifted Electro-Motive with 5 Million dollars, strings would be attached to ensure the plant while profitable (and no one has argued it is not) would remain open with job security and integrity intact.
I am incensed at Caterpillar for what it has done. We can however ask and ask again why our government…the HARPER government sits back and insists that tax cuts for corporation help workers in the face of the obvious rebuttal of that as witnessed by Electro-Motive. Why he is so eager to stand up for corporations when unions attempt redress of grievances by instantly issuing back-to-work legislation. Why he has been absent when a foreign corporation takes economic hostages…almost 500 people have lost well-paying jobs not to mention the ripple effect in the community of London. If he is OUR Prime Minister…if it is OUR Government, why does it stand by in silence and do nothing?
Let your voice be heard…
 Of course the absence of the Ontario government is just as sad, however, they have not been as ideologically tied to the manta of “tax breaks improved corporate investment leads to more jobs” that Harper et al has chanted.
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: Abitibi-Bowater, back-to-work, Buy America, Caterpillar, economic hostage, Electro-Motive Diesel, Harper government, labour, right to work, Tax breaks, union busting, unions | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 30, 2011
Recently there has been much buzz in the media about the ‘revelation’ that Canada is sending its nuclear waste to the USA and NOT informing the public about the when-&-where of it all. Now, as most know by now I am no fan of the current Harper government. One of my biggest issues with government (any government) is its secrecy and inability to enforce basic regulations on industry. You would think then I would have a problem with this news; well surprisingly I don’t really. Why? Let me explain.
Currently we do nothing (but store) the ‘waste’. Our storage, like most of the plants in the world is ‘temporary’; temporary storage…a cooling off period of about a decade (i.e. the point where when exposed to air it would not spontaneously combust), then placed in various forms of concrete like boxes where it awaits a final home. Currently there is no real long term storage plans for our waste. In fact one of the larger expenses of a power plant is to maintain these storage facilities indefinitely with their costs to protect the environment, maintaining infrastructure and providing anti-terrorist security.
We could develop reactors that use this material in breeder reactors which would effectively reduce the waste to nothing (yes, I mean nothing relatively still there will be waste). This is done in France, Japan, Russia and the US. It is also done in India and Pakistan but largely to produce nuclear weapons not to reduce nuclear waste; so this is not a perfect solution globally but would work here. However, thanks to Fukushima, it is unlikely a nuclear power plant, breeder or otherwise, will be built in Canada this century.
As implied above, our waste could be used to make nuclear weapons via reprocessing. Thus, some could argue we are helping the US make nuclear bombs…of course this is a straw man of sorts because the USA has more nuclear waste of its own creation that it needs not more from us. They want our waste for fears that “terrorist” will attack Chalk River and carry off a kilo or so for a dirty bomb or worse.
Now, it does make sense from a Canadian perspective to let the Americans worry about what to do with all that waste. They DID (although currently don’t) have a plan to store all their waste at Yucca Mountain. In a cynical sense, it is better they spend their money trying to store it than we spend ours.
Of course things are never simple. As I mentioned the US does not currently have a plan for long term storage…well at least a place. We in Canada do have a plan; the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has a plan called Adaptive Phased Management to deal with our waste long term. However (from my research) our plan lacks a home as well.
Lastly, the secrecy around the transportation of the waste does warrant some comment. We live in a democracy where citizens are expected to be informed…especially about hazards that can have a life-threating impact on their life – I think this qualifies. That said, this is no ordinary risk like hazardous chemicals. There is the added risk of an ‘on purpose’ accident. I don’t think “terrorism” is a credible threat at storage facilities; they seem to have adequate security features (arguable I agree, but so far so good). I don’t think we needed to move it for fears of “al Qaeda” attacks regardless of how much the Americans lie awake at night worrying about that.
However, an attack en-route (more likely from environmentalist than ‘terrorist’) is very likely. It has happened in France and Germany (nothing worse than delays but could have been worse). So keeping the shipments a secret does not seem unreasonable in spite of the fact it does seem ‘undemocratic’ and more of ‘government keeping secrets from the public’. I do think that the details should be kept under wraps. We already knew (and should have known) beforehand the shipments would be made because they were part of a publicly available ‘trade’ agreement between the US and Canada. Our government should also inform us afterword about the shipment with a complete report about potential risks and the actual ‘outcome’ (i.e. were there any radioactive leaks) of the transportation.
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: Adaptive Phased Management, ‘on purpose’ accident, Canada, dirty bomb, enviromentalist, France, Harper government, Japan, nuclear power, nuclear waste, Nuclear Waste Management Organization, nuclear weapons, radioactive leak, Russia, terrorist, USA, Yucca Mountain | 1 Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 1, 2011
First the formation of a government….
After an election, the Governor General asks the leader of the party with the largest number of seats if he(/she?) believes they can secure the confidence of the parliament. Obviously in a majority situation it’s a given; however in a minority situation some negotiation may need to take place before a positive answer can be given. When the ‘major’ party believes it cannot gain this confidence, the GG will then give the ‘runner-ups’ an opportunity to meet the standard of confidence. The Confidence of the house is simply the majority of MP’s supporting government either directly in a non-confidence vote (ie. The majority reject this motion) or indirectly by the failure to pass the budget, however the recent government (not uniquely but more frequently) have declared other bill-votes to be votes of confidence in an attempt to browbeat the opposition so as to pass said legislation.
What is the difference between minority and coalition government?
A minority government is one where a party forms a government while not having a majority in parliament but maintaining the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. We have a long history of minority governments with the first occurring in 1873 and twice the ruling party changed without an election (1873: Conservative to Liberal and 1926: Liberal to Conservative). There are two kinds of minority rule – arrogant or cooperative.
The Arrogant minorities tend to have a short life span as we have seen with Arthur Meighen (who lasted about 6 months) or Diefenbaker (who lasted less than 5 months). This form attempts to implement their party platform irrespective of what the majority of parliament wishes, where they attempt to balance the opposition’s aversion for another election against aversion of the government’s legislation. In this way, Harper has proven quite adept; manipulating the electoral fears of the opposition so as to pass far more regressive conservative (neo-con?) legislation that one would think possible. Of course his domineering control of the conservative party, his totalitarian control of the ‘media message’ (helped by the absence of a pluralistic press) and his contempt for parliament (for which the government ultimately fell) and the democratic processes has helped him push his extremist agenda…sorry, for the rant however true it may be.
The Cooperative minority is one that acknowledges the opinion of the nation is mixed…that it likes policies from some most/all the parties and a responsible Prime Minister should attempt to push legislation that is supported by the majority of the population regardless of the originating party. The greatest of these PM’s probably was Lester Pearson during whose tenure as PM we saw the adoption of such great advances the current Canadian Flag, the creation of universal Health Care, Canadian Student Loans and Canada Pension Plan.
A Coalition government is one where two or more parties form a government which can maintain the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. Canada has never had a coalition government (although during WWI, some liberal members joined the Borden Government however, the Liberal party officially declined the offer of coalition). As of yet Finland has never had a majority government, Israel, India and Germany regularly rely on coalitions and currently England has a coalition government.
Recent claims by the Conservatives that the Liberals-NDP planned to form a coalition government WITH the Bloc is incorrect (a lie?). The coalition was comprised of the Liberals (who would get 18 ministries) and the NDP (who would get 6 ministries); the Bloc only offered support so that when the Lib-NDP leadership approached the GG they had a credible claim to have the confidence of the house. By this standard, the Bloc was in a coalition with Harper’s Conservatives government.
Do we elect our Prime Minister?
Yes and no…technically the Prime Minister is simply the leader of the house…the leader of the house is simple any individual who can command the confidence of the house. The office of Prime Minister is not defined in our Constitution; in fact the PM is only referenced indirectly as the person responsible for organising Constitutional Conferences (to amend the constitution). Unlike our American neighbours whose presidential powers are explicitly outlined, we rely on history and precedent to define the PM’s powers and role (there is also a large degree the willingness or acquiescence of the public/parliament to accept changes for example the recent decision of to officially refer to government projects not as “the Canadian government” but as “the Harper government”…something I find very disturbing and wrong but something that seems to disappear for the headlines due to other Conservative scandals.
In fact all ministers and their portfolios of responsibility are defined by constitutional convention or the whim of the PM themselves. By convention, the leader of the party that holds the confidence of parliament is the PM; usually this is a member of the House of Commons but on occasion are not (John Abbot and Mackenzie Bowell were senators while PM). As well; on several occasions’ ministers of the crown were not elected members of government at all, although this is seen as extreme and against convention. On occasion, governments have had ministers of the crown who only later became MPs and often senators have been ministers with portfolio.
The PM serves “At her majesties pleasure”, meaning that unless a PM resigns, dies or is dismissed by the GG (or Queen), they remain PM even if they or their party loses an election. If a PM party loses a majority, they may still remain PM if they can command the confidence of the house. They may also be dismissed by the GG who will then ask the leader of the majority party (or the leader who can command the confidence of the house) to form the government.
Why are elections called?
An election is called by three mechanisms; firstly in our constitution a government cannot hold power longer than 5 years before an election MUST be called. As well as the Canada Elections Act (CEA) states that a general election is to take place on the third Monday in October, in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, starting with October 19, 2009. The CEA however can be amended at any time so has little effective weight as our current election shows.
Under parliamentary rules, the prime minister can ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament but the Governor General can refuse the request. This precedent was set in 1926 when William Lyon McKenzie asked the GG to dissolve the parliament but Lord Byng refused and gave the Conservatives a chance. When Paul Martin was in a minority situation after the 2004 election, Harper drafted an agreement between the opposition parties (including the Bloc) to approach the GG to form a government. In 2008, the shoe was on the other foot and the NDP and Liberals signed an agreement to form a coalition; this was avoided by the unusual act of prorogation of parliament.
For those who do not know, prorogation is ending one session of parliament and starting a new one without calling an election traditionally done to allow MP’s to engage their constituency. In modern times, the length of the first ‘session’ of parliament is around 6 months to a year. Harper has the record for the both the shortest session, 17 days, and also the earliest call for Prorogation after an election… 51 days.
Lastly, an election is triggered whenever the sitting government loses the confidence of the parliament. As mentioned before, this can occur by a direct motion of non-confidence or the failure to pass a moneyed bill (such as the budget). Technically, any bill can be declared a confidence vote by the sitting government, but only a motion of non-confidence can be moved by the opposition to defeat a sitting government. It is interesting to note that a third motion may become an automatic non-confidence motion resulting in the defeat of the government; that is a motion of contempt of parliament. Technically that was the motion that caused the Harper government to dissolve parliament and request the GG to call for an election. In the future it may become constitution convention that to be found in contempt of parliament is to also be fired as government…as so it should be.
 I have excluded session a) 1873 which was only to call an election, b) only enacted the War Measures Act in 1914 c) the declaration of war on Germany in 1939, and d) 1930 for no good reason at all!
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