Posts tagged Canada
Americans, even those who have a strong political bent and populate websites such as Logarchism, tend to be blind toward the politics of other countries.
So it was that a major Canadian political figure died a week ago today, and few on the southern side of the border marked his passing. I’m here to rectify that, at least for the corner of the world I control.
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton died Monday, August 22, at the age of 61.
Since 2006, the Canadian government (a parliamentary system) has been controlled by the minority party, the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In the 2011 elections, Canadians stirred up the House of Commons, giving the Conservatives a majority but weakening the traditional Liberal opposition. Conservatives now control 166 of a total 308 seats in the House of Commons. There are four opposition parties holding seats — the New Democrats (102 seats, with Layton’s now empty), Liberals (34), Bloc Québécois (4), and Greens (1). Traditionally, the Liberals and Conservatives have alternated governments, with the Bloc Québécois (formed as a Quebec separatist party) and New Democrats (formed from a fusion of Socialists and labour/workers parties) relegated to shouting on the sidelines. For the first time in Canadian history, the New Democrats (formed in 1961) are the official opposition party, with the Liberals and Bloc Québécois weakened considerably from their earlier powerful role. (more…)
Like practically everybody else on the planet these past couple of years, I’ve been reading The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. It is a brilliant fictional depiction of a remarkable woman who suffers a great injustice at the hands of a covert, rogue government agency in Sweden. But even more than the intricate plotting and deft characterization in Larsson’s three books, one of the things I will remember most is this passage from the final book in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest (page 219):
Swedish democracy is based on a single premise: the Right to Free Speech (RFS). This guarantees the inalienable right to say, think and believe anything whatsoever. It embraces all Swedish citizens, from the crazy neo-Nazi living in the woods to the rock-throwing anarchist—and everyone in between. Every other basic right, such as the formation of government and the right to Freedom of Organization, are simply practical extensions of the Right to Free Speech. On this law democracy stands or falls. All democracy has its limits, and the limits to the RFS are set by the Freedom of the Press regulation (FP). This defines four restrictions on democracy. It is forbidden to publish child pornography and the depiction of certain violent sexual acts, regardless of how artistic the originator believes the depiction to be. It is forbidden to incite or exhort someone to commit a crime. It is forbidden to engage in the persecution of an ethnic group.
This passage makes perfect sense to the citizens of many countries but it seems baffling and contradictory to Americans, even quite liberal ones, whose conception of free speech is that “free means free,” and any restrictions on speech mean freedom is curtailed and ceases to exist…a situation they simply cannot countenance.
Canada serves as a useful laboratory for testing innovative policies that eventually make their way south and are adopted in the Unites States. Legalized gay marriage, open-service military and universal health care are all current policies whose success in Canada has helped to support a strong push for acceptance south of the border.
It will be interesting to see if (or when) America is ready to adopt Canada’s next bit of sensible fiscal policy.
A non-binding Senate commission is expected to recommend before the end of 2010 that Canada abolish the penny. This issue has been under discussion in Canada for years and has gained momentum based on the success of similar moves in New Zealand and Australia. Both countries abolished their penny almost 20 years ago with none of the problems that opponents had predicted. An additional factor pushing Canada toward a penniless society is that fact that a penny now costs 1.5 cents to produce, making it more costly than its face value.
Australia and New Zealand still frequently use retail prices with 1 cent increments but round off to the nearest nickel, and the same procedure will likely be used in Canada. The abolition of the penny is a popular idea on Canada, and almost certain to pass though parliament after the Senate makes its final recommendation.
The difference in small currency in Canada and the United States becomes quite obvious when you spend time in both countries. Canada no longer makes dollar bills, instead using a gold-tone dollar coin called the “loonie” in reference to the image of a northern loon on the obverse. The loonie was first introduced in 1987, followed by the “toonie” (a two-dollar coin) in 1996. The Canadian mint says each coin costs about 16 cents to mint and lasts an average of 20 years. Paper currency cots 6 cents per bill and has a lifespan of 1 year.
The toonie has always been popular but the loonie was strongly disliked by the public at first. People complained they already had enough change in their pockets, and thought the loonie would be inconvenient and bulky. That feeling has completely changed and Canadians now love their loonie. It is convenient for use in vending machines, at the car wash and the parkade, and greatly reduces the bulk in people’s wallets. Ten one-dollar bills form a substantial wad in a billfold, while ten loonies can get lost in the bottom of a pocket.
In fact, most people find the lack of bulk one of the major charms of their loonies and toonies. A brief search through your jacket pockets, your change purse and the coin dish in the kitchen can come up with forty or fifty dollars you didn’t even know you had…and that’s always a nice surprise. It’s good to find you’re richer than you thought.
Once Canadians are finally penniless, they’re going to feel even richer.
- Senate continues penny probe (canada.com)
- Senate to announce opinion on fate of penny (canada.com)
- Senate committee looks into whether to ditch unloved penny (nationalpost.com)
- Senate committee recommends killing the penny (theglobeandmail.com)
- Senate committee eyes penny’s future (cbc.ca)
We all know the difference between courtship and marriage. Courtship is an exciting, heady time, a veritable whirlwind of possibilities. It’s time consuming, expensive, exhausting and wonderful. We spend our time making and hearing big promises, presenting ourselves at our best, trying hard to please. Men hold their stomachs in, keep their living spaces tidy and pretend to enjoy foreign films. Women wear uncomfortable push-up bras, shave their legs every day and pretend to enjoy football. The future is shiny and bright, and this time it’s going to be great.
Then comes marriage, and sober reality. There are debts to pay, disappointments to endure, new families to adjust to, and eventually a throng of small people for whom we are endlessly responsible. Life changes from a series of adventures to a litany of problems. And yet within marriage lies real opportunity for growth and advancement. Managing debt teaches financial prudence, disappointments foster creative adaptation, disagreements stimulate accommodation and responsibility creates maturity. Two people learn how they can pool their efforts to build a solid, satisfying life.
I think campaigning and governing are analogous to courtship and marriage. Campaigns are exciting, treacherous, vibrant times, fraught with lies we style as “promises.” They are are mad episodes in the life story of most countries, mercifully short periods of reckless spending and wretched excess that are soon replaced by the boring necessity of responsible governance.
Except in the United States. Like a serial philanderer, America lurches from one courtship to the next with barely a pause to drink the champagne and taste the wedding cake. There’s a brief honeymoon (often spoiled by rainy weather), a few nights of crazy sex and later some bitter accusations: “You’re not at all what I thought you were…” “Oh yeah…well you said you had your student loans all paid off…” And then the country is off on its next courtship.
This is because America for some reason schedules its elections in advance, as if they were Olympic Games. I’m not a specialist in political science or comparative government…but does any other large country do this? Canada is a parliamentary democracy rather than a republic, and its system is strikingly different. During a Canadian federal election, candidates from various parties run for seats from every riding in the country. The party gaining the most seats forms the government, and the leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister. The PM and his party have a mandate for no more than five years, after which an election must be held. However, elections can be called at any time during the five-year term…if the PM feels it’s a good time because he’s up in the polls, if he wants a new mandate for a particular large policy, or if his government has been toppled by a successful vote of no-confidence.
When the PM drops the writ for an election, a date is set six weeks in the future and the campaign is on. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it’s all over in little more than a month. The new government is seated, and the business of governing begins again.
People who are opposed to the perpetual campaign that occurs in the United States have proposed various solutions. One is the single six-year presidential term…and this is one of my favorite serious discussions on the topic, dating back 30 years.
Along with the single six-year term, many propose that Senate terms become nine years, staggered at three year intervals, with Congress completely changing every three years. New campaigns would not begin as soon as the old lawn signs were taken down. Politicians would not be forced to begin fund-raising the day after they’re sworn in. The bribes of lobbyists would be somewhat less tempting. Lawmakers would have time to learn their jobs and get to know their constituents. America would exchange the wild excitement of perpetual courtship for the quieter comforts and benefits of marriage.
It’s worth thinking about. Constantly buying flowers, shaving your legs every day and wondering all the time if you’re being lied to…that’s a really exhausting way to live your life.