A huge yet random pile of election things

After 11 weeks of campaigning, Election 2015 is finally drawing to a close. And like some grueling marathon over rugged terrain, the candidates are limping to the finish line, their legs and minds turned to mush. It’s looking like it’ll be a photo finish. There’s still plenty of excitement to report. /Paul Dechene

Poll Report: The Final Countdown

Let’s talk turkey, Canada! It’s the end of a holiday weekend and it has become clear that the upcoming federal election was a hot topic at Canadian dinner tables this Thanksgiving. On top of that, more than three million Canadians took advantage of advance polls. That’s a 71 per cent increase in early voter turnout. Not bad for what was projected to be a lazy three days.

And it seems all those election debates over white meat and wine had some impact on voting intentions. The polls flipped noticeably between the start of the long weekend and its end: while most pollsters gave the Conservatives a slim lead on Friday, four days later the Liberals were out in front by six points.

Still, once you factor in error margins and the fact the Conservative machine will throw everything it can Justin Trudeau’s way, it’s still very possible we’ll wake up on Oct. 20 with Stephen Harper still in charge.

Meanwhile, here at home… Around one third of Saskatchewanians say they will be voting strategically this year, which is disconcerting since only 15 per cent of Sask voters plan to vote based on their local riding’s candidates. That means a huge chunk of voters will be voting based on national numbers — which show a battle between the Liberals and Conservatives — when they should be looking at local numbers where Harper’s team are locked in a death struggle with the NDP. This has the potential to be a huge debacle. /Ashley Rankin

Keystone Killed, Not Yet Buried

When Democratic Party presidential candidate wanna-be Hilary Clinton announced she would not support the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, the bedrock of Stephen Harper’s foreign and economic policy was cast into the same limbo of alternative history as, say, Toronto’s Olympic bids. Everyone else has moved on, including the Alberta government.

I just makes so little economic sense to proceed with Keystone XL — or any other tarsands development —in the short and medium term. Saudi Arabia is pumping out oil as fast as possible, in a U.S.-backed effort to destabilize the Russian petro-economy. With the signing of the six-nations peace accord restricting Iran’s nuclear development, the lifting of sanctions means Iran can sell oil on the market. The biggest wholesale customer for oil — the U.S. strategic reserve — is almost totally full. Oil companies need a $75 a barrel return for the tarsands and the Williston Basin to be profitably exploited, and nobody’s forecasting that for at least three years.

Harper’s, and the tarsands industry’s, remaining hope is with the Republican Party, whose dwindling core of members are pushing the party right off the political spectrum. And everything that Harper has done to advance this file, publicly and privately – from reducing environmental safeguards to nearly zero, loading up the National Energy Board with oil company executives, dismissing or destroying science-based evidence to undermining or mocking the Obama presidency – has all been for naught. Imagine how much further Canada would have been ahead – environmentally, politically, and economically – if this nation wasn’t led by short-sighted politicians sucking on the petro-teat. /Stephen LaRose

TPP: Even The Acronym Is Dull

On Oct. 5, after five years of negotiations, it was announced in Atlanta that Canada and 11 other countries that border the Pacific Ocean, including the U.S., Japan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Brunei, had reached agreement on a massive new trade and investment deal.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been a priority for the Obama administration, both to promote U.S. interests in the Pacific Rim, and counterbalance the growing influence of China in the region. In the waning days of the election campaign, the Harper Conservatives were keen to tout the agreement for the supposed benefits it will provide to Canadian corporations through access to a trade bloc of 800 million people.

Negotiations were conducted in secret, so outside of a few documents released by WikiLeaks in 2013, the TPP’s terms are still unknown. But plenty of concerns have been raised, starting with the decision by the Conservatives to continue negotiations during an election. Typically, governments switch to “caretaker” mode in recognition that their mandate is over and they no longer have the right to make major policy commitments without consulting with the Opposition first.

While some export industries, especially in the commodity and resource sector, may benefit from the TPP, others such as the supply-managed dairy and poultry industries, along with the auto industry, will be hurt. To ease the pain, the Conservatives said they would provide $4.3 billion in transition funding to farmers and $1 billion to the auto sector.

Many concerns remain, however. Previous trade agreements have seen investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms used by foreign corporations to undermine local and national sovereignty in areas such as the environment and labour standards. Should a government action taken to further the interests of citizens hinder a corporation’s business plans, it can appeal to a business tribunal and sue for the loss of projected profits.

Commentators have also expressed concerns about the loosening of privacy restrictions, enabling people’s financial, medical and other information to be shared more freely among corporations. Patent protection for pharmaceuticals is also being strengthened, which will delay the introduction of generic substitutes and drive up health care costs. Copyright laws on intellectual property are also being tightened. Again, this will benefit large corporations and impact negatively on intellectual freedom in TPP countries. /Gregory Beatty

The Bluntest Of All Elections

If these election campaigns have taught us anything, it’s one immeasurably important detail about all our leaders: how much weed they’ve smoked. Tom Mulcair has dabbled some many, many years ago [details are hazy]. Justin Trudeau, as the Conservatives would have you believe, rolls fat blunts constantly. And, in the shock of the century, Conservative leader Prime Minister Stephen Harper revealed he’s never touched the ganja.  Which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he’s made a habit of spouting some pretty ridiculous nonsense about marijuana.

His latest came in early October, he told reporters that “marijuana is infinitely worse,” than tobacco based on “growing scientific and medical evidence about the bad long-term effects of the drug.” What a dope. The statement resulted in an army of scientists and collectively issuing an: “Umm, no.”

The facts don’t really lie. Smoking results in almost 40,000 deaths in Canada per year. Marijuana? It’s never been conclusively linked to a single death from health effects.

Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, Trudeau can’t wait to legalize the drug. He recently released his pot platform, which included details on weed enforcement, a pledge to increase penalties to those who deal to minors, and harsher penalties to those who get high and drive.

Mulcair has said he’ll legalize it, too.

All of this has revived criticism of the Harper government’s strict medical marijuana laws. As BC Doctors from the Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS argued: “There could be great harm in ignoring the medical uses of marijuana.” They also questioned the necessity for federally regulated marijuana to be sent through the mail.

An entire marijuana reform is at stake come Oct. 19, with both the NDP and Liberals promising major change.

But in a unexpected turn, Harper announced that if he does indeed lose this election, the first thing he’ll do is, “Spark up a J”. Okay, that last part is a lie. /Nathan Raine

Courting The Worst Votes

In this election, the Conservative Party of Canada has all but declared war on anyone who isn’t as white, as male, and as rich as they are. When promoting the proposed ban on niqab wearing during the Canadian citizenship oath-taking, cabinet minister Jason Kenny said on October 1 that it was only of concern to one of its critics, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, and ‘people like him.’ Did Kenny mean personable Harvard-educated professors and policy wonks who occasionally ride bicycles to work and are as much at home wearing a white Stetson on the opening of the Calgary Stampede as they are dressed like the Eleventh Doctor at a Comic Con? Because that’s the Calgary mayor.

Or did he mean something… other?

And when Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced, on the same day, the tip line for Canadians to report “barbaric cultural practices,” he certainly didn’t mean the horses killed during the Calgary Stampede’s chuckwagon races or the Newfoundland seal hunt. In fact, Alexander’s proposal is eerily similar to the Barbaric Practices Act, passed by the Nazi-controlled Reichstag — the German parliament — in 1933. That also required people to spy on each other and report them to the police in cases of suspected subversion.

Watching this election campaign, I’m getting the feeling that comparisons to 1930s Germany are disturbingly apt. The ruling party has taken off the veneer of respectability, and we’re seeing it for what it is: brutal, stupid, and xenophobic. And yet, this craziness is allowed to run rampant in Canada’s body politic. A generation ago, the Progressive Conservative Party of Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney marginalized its racists, wingnuts, flat-earthers and boors because, in respectable politics, there’s just some votes that aren’t worth pursuing. In Stephen Harper’s party, they’re not only welcomed, they are the lunatics in charge of the asylum. /Stephen LaRose