Twitchy

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You’ve seen them. People with their faces buried in their devices as they drift down the street or grabbing their phone when if ‘bings’ – even if they are in the middle of a conversation. Their fingers drum impatiently on their desk if their computer takes a few seconds to boot up or connect. They growl when their texts or tweets or Facebook posts or Tumblr messages aren’t instantly answered. They hate waiting for anything; they don’t seem to know how to relax, even for a moment. Instant gratification gratified instantly.

You know who I’m talking about. The Twitchy generation.

Oh, not millennials or whatever generation comes next. A lot of them seem pretty laid back about everything – their love lives, their careers, the end of the world. They even read physical books. But that’s another story.

I’m talking about the forty-somethings (spreading into the fifty-somethings). They seem to think that history happened six months ago and the future had better get here pretty damn quick. And why can’t I get that show on Netflix!?

I think people under thirty actually understand that none of the programs which are supposed to connect our world really operate in quite the way they promised. At least their eye-rolls and shrugs when I ask them about it seem to suggest that.

No it’s the people who didn’t grow up with the highly connected and immediate (unmediated) world, that seem to have lost all sense of time, all sense of the slow changing nature of the world.

Take the current political world we live in. Nothing has really changed in the last fifty years. Governments have a life and elections – unless you are living in an unstable democracy or none at all – occur to a schedule. Presidents are almost never impeached; majority governments never fall before their allotted time.

Yet, to listen to the pundits, six months is an eternity. I saw a headline the other day asking if Justin Trudeau was the Teflon PM. For crying out loud, he’s been in office for less than four months – how much dirt do you think the world has generated in that time for any of it to stick? And as for delivering on his promises – why aren’t they all done right now? Why do we have to wait for consultation or debate or legislation or doing it right? If it isn’t here now it’s never coming, I tell you. Twitch.

Meanwhile in the USA people are moaning that Trump will be president and think how great/awful that will be. There won’t even be a vote for eight months. It’s not long but it’s not tomorrow. And when he gets there – if at all – all those things that he promised won’t arrive on February 1st. Twitch. Twitch.

I see this all the time. My boss – who is in his seventies – will leave a restaurant if there is a line of more than six to get in. My wife swears at her ancient computer every time it takes fifteen seconds to connect. People my age grumble whenever their favorite movie is rescheduled for a month – and heaven help George R.R. Martin if he delays his next book again.

We won’t stand for it. What do we want?  Everything and when do we want it? Now, goddamn it! Or yesterday.

Screw history. I want the future. And I want it before tomorrow.

Twitch. Twitch. Twitch.

And that’s ten minutes. Too late as usual.

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Bombs Away

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The latest controversy – of sorts – to surround the new Canadian government is the decision to bring home our 6 F-18s from the mission to combat Daesh in the Middle East. Canada will no longer drop bombs though they will provide refueling and targeting support. Instead of dropping bombs, Canada will triple the number of trainers working with front-line troops and expand humanitarian aid.

Some members of the media say they don’t understand the rationale behind this decision. The Conservative party calls it shameful, perhaps because they still can’t quite accept the reality of their recent defeat and the repudiation of most of their policies. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, which is the undisputed leader of this mission, welcomes the new Canadian approach. They even referred to it as ‘forward looking.’

The reason for ending the bombing mission is simple: it was what the new government said it would do in the election campaign. While Canadians didn’t specifically vote for that policy (or for any particular policy), they did vote for the whole package. If Trudeau had reversed himself, how long would it take the media to criticize him for a promise broken? The NDP certainly would have howled and even the Conservatives, who have recently shown themselves as masters of the hypocritical reversal, would have complained.

Canadians – according to the polls – support the fight against Daesh but they will likely support a boots on the ground mission as much as they support the current bombing one.

But there is more to the change in plans than that. Bombing is a fine holding tactic. It limits the growth and expansion of Daesh but does little to eliminate it. When errors are made, such as when hospitals, wedding parties and busy markets are ‘accidentally’ shelled, it serves as a fine recruitment video for the terrorists.

You may recall that the Nazis determined to bomb the fighting spirit out of the English during the Blitz. How did that work out for them? In the 60s, American generals promised to bomb the Viet Cong back to the Stone Age; a few years later they were fleeing Saigon. Even the ‘shock and awe’ campaign of the Iraq war was followed by 10 bloody years on the ground to accomplish what? A lot of dead Iraquis and Americans and the expenditure of trillions of dollars. Oh, yeah and the rise of Daesh.

Conservatives like bombing missions, especially against an enemy without an effective air defense. No body bags coming home to remind the public of the real cost of war. You may also remember how hard the Harper government tried to hide that sight from public eyes until they were forced to reverse course. No wounded or traumatized soldier either – except it turns out that the men and women who push the buttons do suffer trauma when the results are factored. Unlike some of their political bosses, they are capable of empathy and are troubled by their actions.

In the end it comes down to resources (we’ll spend even more on training and humanitarian aid than on bombing) and their effective use. If bombing isn’t going to stop Daesh, we need to find something that will. Maybe regional coalitions and a more humane face for the west is that something.

And that’s ten minutes.

Promises

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Promises are the lifeblood of politics. People want to hear them; politicians want to make them. Political platforms are full of both specifics and aspirational goals. We will do this and we want to do that as well. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between them. Parties out of power can only guess what the financial and legal situation will be after election day; the incumbent party closely guards the bad news while still trying to present an attractive platform.

Some promises are simple and easy to keep (or break). For example, in his first election, Stephen Harper promised to reduce the GST from 7% to 6%. Doing that took a single line amendment in the tax code. Of course, the consequences for public finance were huge and ultimately quite complex but fulfilling the promise was dead simple. Harper also promised massive increases in accountability. He even passed a complex and substantial bill to that effect – called the Accountability Act. However, when faced with opposition to his chosen public appointments Commissioner – an oil company executive with strong Conservative ties, Harper threw up his hands and refused to appoint an alternative. The implementation of the Act suffered and, gradually, his government became the most secretive we ever had.

You can see a similar set of promises in the current government. One of their promises was simple – cut middle class taxes and raise those on people making more than $200,000 in taxable income. Again, it was quite simple to do – a few lines of amendments to the tax code and voila, mission accomplished. The tax changes will come into effect this Friday, despite grumblings from those in higher tax brackets.

The more complicated promise was that to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of December. While some – including many in the Liberal party – may have believed this was feasible, few experts thought it was more than aspirational. When the Liberals reduced the goal to 10,000 by year’s end, the experts said maybe. As it turns out, even that goal will be difficult to make – though the government is going all out to move the process along as expeditiously as possible. Recognizing that it may be difficult to reach 25000 even by the end of March, the government has upped the ante to 50000 over the next few years. Some might say the Liberals have reneged on their promise but, at least, when faced with difficulties and opposition, they didn’t’ throw up their hands and give up. And, I suspect, most Canadians recognize that the promise was too ambitious and more complicated than most elements of the short term election platform. And in any case, the main opposition party has little really to say on the refugee issue – whatever numbers the Liberals achieve by December 31 they will exceed in 6 weeks what the previous government managed in the last twelve months or more.

Of course, the ambition of Trudeau and his cabinet are high and time will tell whether the more complicated parts of the platform – such as improved relations with indigenous people, tackling climate change in a real and substantive way and managing the fiscal framework to provide stimulus without letting debt loads rise faster than the growth of the economy – can be achieved. Plus there are a whole bunch of economic issues and social justice matters, barely mentioned in the platform, that require urgent attention.

I like to be optimistic but I expect there will be bigger stumbles ahead than the trivial issues the media is currently focusing on.

And that’s ten minutes.

Sunny Days

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Today is the real first day for the new Liberal government. Everything until now has been a prologue – an important one but none the less simply a precursor to the important work ahead. A number of milestones have been reached, it is true. The appointment of a gender equal Cabinet – because it is 2015 – was of great symbolic and practical importance. The symbolism is obvious; the practicality will be displayed in the types of decisions such a group is likely to make.

The promise to bring in 25000 Syrian refugees has been modified in terms of timing but not intent. Of course, the Conservative opposition (and some on the left) have been quick to call this an abandonment of an election promise – after insisting vociferously that the timing should be extended for security purposes. But this, my friends, is what a rational government does; modify their commitments – without abandoning them – when evidence shows a change is required. Governments who stick to promises for purely ideological purposes are soon turned into failures and are eventually defeated. Just ask Steve.

Speeches have been made – at COP 21, APEC and the Commonwealth meetings – and processes have been put in place for consultations with the provinces and for starting a national inquiry on murdered and missing indigenous women. Yesterday, some questions were answered as to the future of the Senate. While Claude Carignan – the Conservative leader in the Senate – called it weird, my own boss (also a Senator) thought it was brilliant. It makes a clear break with the former partisan obsession of some Senators on both sides of the aisle and makes sure that Canadians understand that real reform – as much as possible within the limits of the Constitution and the Supreme Court allows.

It doesn’t surprise me that Christy Clark has said she won’t play along. I expect Brad Wall will follow suit. Both – despite party labels – are Harper-like Conservatives who would rather use the Senate as a political football rather than try any real reform. If either of them had the courage of their convictions – they don’t – they would introduce a constitutional amendment into their legislature and get the reform process started. Provinces have that power, you know.

In any case, all that – along with the appointment/election of new Speakers has simply brought the government to the starting line. The real work of governing will come with a Throne Speech today (it will be short and to the point) and a ways and means motion next week to implement tax changes effective January 1st. In January, the first of the new independent Senators – including a government representative – will be appointed, a budget will be brought down and a raft of new legislation to enact Liberal campaign promises (and undo the worst of the Harper era) will be tabled and debated in the House and Senate.

As for Trudeau, the honeymoon seems to be continuing – despite the phony scandal of nannygate – and I expect that the government will be given a year before real criticism, as opposed to partisan whining, will begin to reveal any weaknesses in the Liberal plan.

And that’s ten minutes.

Aftermath

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Less than forty eight hours after the election of a Liberal majority and most people – including many in the Liberal party – are still trying to absorb the change. Stephen Harper’s term ended with a fairly decisive thunk. With more than 65 seats lost, the Conservatives have been wiped out in the east and the north and largely eliminated from major metropolitan areas – Alberta being the exception. The only bright spot for them is Quebec where they won more seats than they have since the Mulroney years.

The NDP suffered similar losses – losing nearly 60 seats and many prominent members of the party. Mulcair is staying on as least for now, mostly because it is unclear who the successor might be. Still, the losses were not as severe as it appeared on election night and the party retained some of the previous gains they made in Quebec – finishing second in terms of popular support and seats.

The Bloc Quebecois has made a comeback of sorts though they left their leader behind. It is difficult to know where they go from here. The Greens continue to struggle with fewer votes and a single seat.

It is the Liberals to whom the night belonged. The surprise majority – and it had to be a surprise, given that it only came because of serious and fortuitous vote spitting in Quebec where the party won at least twenty more seats than might have been expected given their vote totals and because of an unprecedented Red Wave in eastern Canada that swept away not only the Tories but some long-serving New Democrats as well.

Lucky or not, Trudeau has seized on the moment. He has already announced that the Cabinet will be sworn in on November 4th and that his intention will be to have gender parity for the first time ever in Canadian politics. This paves the way for the recall of Parliament as early as the second week of December. The agenda will be brief – a Throne Speech and perhaps the introduction of one or two pieces of key legislation addressing the major priorities in the election.

The demands for electoral reform will be persistent but a majority government has reduced the need to act immediately. No impact will be felt for four years so they will take their time with this one. The Senate is a more urgent matter. The Conservatives hold the majority there and the temptation will be to fill the 22 vacancies to ensure the government’s agenda is not delayed. I don’t think Trudeau will do this but he will need to establish his new process quickly if the Senate is to continue to function, as constitutionally it must do. I don’t expect the Conservatives will be excessively troublesome in any case and, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few early resignations and quite likely, a few Conservative Senators leaving the caucus to sit as independents. Idle speculation perhaps but an interesting possibility.

Trudeau’s agenda is substantial and probably high on the list is restoring relations with provincial premiers and Aboriginal leaders. Look for a First Minister’s Conference – quite likely with representatives of national Aboriginal organizations – before the end of June. And before that, the government needs to restore Canada’s reputation on the climate front at the major conference next month.

What to do with Syria, the revisions to the security and citizenship legislation, a budget, renewed foreign relations – Mr. Trudeau certainly has a busy six months ahead of him.

And that’s ten minutes.