Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Trouble with troubleshooting

I did one of the most difficult things I can imagine today: I pressed the letter "L".

Allow me to explain, though while I could do so simply, I choose to do so in a roundabout way to leave you as confused as possible for as long as possible. (After all, haven't I pressed "L" more than a dozen times already in this paragraph alone?)

I've been having some issues with 3D rendering on my desktop computer lately. Not too big of a problem, unless I'm playing games involving 3D environments...and most half-decent games do, these days. Basically, shapes appear and fail to appear in a seemingly random pattern. Some problems occurred in The Sims 2, but I don't play that game very often, and the graphics are not really a driving feature of that game, so I could live with some glitches. However, I've been running into fairly significant graphic glitches in Oblivion, to the extent that it actually interferes with gameplay. Not to mention spoils the lovely scenery.

It could be a problem with my graphics card. I hope not. I paid quite a lot of money for that device, and not all that long ago in the scheme of things. It obviously isn't that the device isn't capable of running the software; it remains a good video card, besides which it used to be able to run Oblivion beautifully. So if it's a problem with the card itself, it's an acquired injury. (I already tried updating the drivers and playing with the settings, to no avail.)

Over the years, though, I've put this computer through a lot. I suppose there was my brief flirtation with overclocking a couple months back (though the video glitches pre-date that). I came reasonably close to filling up my total 100 GB of hard drive space, and that's without downloading significant amounts of video or music. A lot of games, a lot of other little programs here and there, a good chunk of which I never use. Looking to clear off some space, I discovered that "Temporary Files" took up an entire 5 GB. Perhaps I just don't maintain my system well enough on an ongoing basis, and so in the years since I installed my operating system, something funky might have started in there. I don't really understand enough about computers to pretend to have a solid grasp on this. The way I see it, though, there could be acquired hardware injuries, but it's also quite likely that it's a software based issue. And since I'm not good enough with computers to find and repair such a software-based issue, the solution is actually fairly simple:

Reformat my hard drive and reinstall all my software.

Easy? Not at all. The process itself is quite time-consuming, and then getting my system 'just so' is an endlessly frustrating task. That also assumes that I can locate all my software and licensing codes and that the discs are all in satisfactory condition. (When I tried uninstalling and reinstalling Oblivion, I discovered that the main game disc was damaged. However, when I stopped at Staples, I discovered that Oblivion with its expansion and other purchasable modular content was available altogether at $19.99 plus tax. [On that note, anyone interested in my now-spare copy of Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles?]) But moreover, I want to keep a good chunk of the content: Documents, photographs, and that sort of thing, but also saved games, serial characters (i.e. from Baldur's Gate and Quest for Glory), etc.

The backup process is pretty simple, actually. I have a secondary hard drive that I use simply for storage, so I can just transfer files over with ease. But even then, I know there's stuff I'm not going to remember to move over, or might not be able to access again for one reason or another. It's unnerving to say the least.

To reformat my hard drive with my Windows CD, I had to 'delete the partition', which meant hitting a key to select the option, hit another key to indicate that I actually wanted to do so, and then confirm - due to the finality of the action - that I actually wanted to delete the entire contents of my hard drive, by hitting the "L" key. Few things give me such pause.

Reinstalling Windows is largely academic. I still use XP, and it's kind of humourous in the installation process to read its ads about "brand new" features, etc. But getting it back to being 'my' system...that's going to take a while.

And I approach the possibility of reinstalling Oblivion with a bit of trepidation: If it doesn't solve the problem, then it's clearly a problem with my ridiculously-expensive-and-not-especially-old video card, which would leave me no choice but to go cry into my pillow, and then go blow my last paycheck on fancy new hardware, including the new CPU and motherboard I've been eyeing for a while now (ever since I decided I'm not up to the risk of overclocking).

That is today's Brant.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lend me your ears, or throw me your shoes

George W. Bush makes another surprise visit to Iraq, and gets assaulted. Big surprise, there. But wait a second: The weapon was a shoe? No bullets? RPGs? IEDs? Knives? Was it at least a shoe like the one the terrorist was caught trying to light on fire on that airplane some years back?

Clearly, the Secret Service is doing a pretty good job of vetting the folks with access to the President. And no, I'm actually not being sarcastic, for a change.

I will say one thing for Bush, though: The way he dodged those shoes was very skilled, and makes me think he's probably had lots of opportunity to practice dodging thrown objects. And I'm also impressed by the fact that he didn't stay down after dodging the first shoe; if you'd asked me what I thought his reaction would be to such a thing, I would have expected him to be tucked away safely deep in some Presidential bunker before the journalist could grab his second shoe, where he would shelter for a day or two before popping his head out, declaring an unending "War on Shoes", and naming Joe Jackson a Founding Father.

"The war is not over; it is decisively on it's way to being won." This was the message of Bush's surprise visit to Iraq. Of course, I can't imagine anyone's forgotten his surprise visit in 2003, when he displayed a banner saying "Mission Accomplished" on the U.S.S. Abraham, declaring victory in Iraq.

His ineptitude would be kind of adorable, if it wasn't so appallingly tragic.

So the journalist is now the guest of the Iraqi 'justice' system. Now, I really don't know if the allegations that he's been abused are true, but I'd suggest that the Americans, in teaching the Iraqis how to run a modern enlightened society, set a pretty interesting example at Abu Ghraib.

But outside, the journalist has become a folk hero. Groups of Iraqis have celebrated beating pictures of Bush with their shoes. That seems...I don't know...almost...Canadian. Except here when you step on an image of George Bush, you get demoted from Member of Parliament to City Councillor.

Every country seems to have its own main forum for demonstrating contempt for public figures. In the United States - not to suggest that the U.S. is unique in this way, but it's quite in line with the 2nd Amendment - the forum is firearms. Here in Canada, we like food. So Stockwell Day gets splashed with chocolate milk in Waterloo (the only time I've ever regretted not attending a right-wing political function), Jean Chretien gets a pie in the face in Charlottetown...I don't know, there's a certain charm to it, no? I think that now is actually a good time for us to export this practice south of the border, and offer some sort of "Beaver Tails for Bullets" exchange.

I could respect shoe-throwing as a good method of civil disobedience. It's not exactly peaceful protest, but let's face it: It isn't exactly particularly violent, either. If that was how they solved their problems, wouldn't things be so much more pleasant?

Really, though, the Iraqi State is being educated in waging a very brutal form of war. Not just large-scale killing, but murder, torture, arbitrary detention...I won't pretend that it's much different from the ship captained by Saddam, but you'd think we could hope for better from the Americans. The bottom line is that, all else aside, before their shoe-throwing protests can really be meaningful, they have to give those values the boot. Bring in the Aussies, I suppose.

That is today's Brant.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This is where we used to live

My better half and I have, for some time, looked forward to the day when we can call this place "the old apartment". It's not an *overly* dirty building, the neighbourhood could be worse, and the landlord is a large corporation who hasn't the slightest clue who we are beyond the fact that we always pay our rent on time - anonymity can, at times be nice. Which is about the only reason that we haven't taken the landlord to the LTB; in the 3+ years we've lived here, we have not once received an appropriate notice of entry. Not once. That's not to say they haven't entered; they've just never done it legally.

A little under a year ago, we started having problems with our downstairs neighbour. We'd met him before only briefly; he's been here longer than us, and he has the parking spot next to ours. In the past, when we'd pass him in the hall or parking lot, any polite acknowledgements were ignored or - at best - met with glares. Whatever, some folks aren't friendly. (For what it's worth, though, that is the exception around here. Not to suggest that there aren't more than a few "townies" or people lacking in that wonderful trait we call sanity, but most people will at least humour polite gestures.)

To be clear, we make a concerted effort to be good neighbours. I have a guitar, but I don't usually play after 8pm or so, figuring that there are - or there used to be; I'm not sure this is the case anymore - small children living in adjacent units, whose parents might want to get them to sleep around then or shortly afterwards. We don't make a great deal of noise generally, we don't throw parties, we don't play loud music, and on the occasions when steam from the shower or smoke from burnt food sets off the smoke detector, we make a concerted effort to get it to stop ASAP.

So when, just under a year ago, this...gentleman, for lack of a word which is both accurate and polite...shows up at our door in a rage and threatens me if I don't stop the pounding and hammering, I found it a little odd. Particularly since my better half and I had just been sitting on the couch; she was reading and I was playing PS2 (and not a game with a great deal of pounding and hammering, it should be noted). So I calmly and politely tried to explain this to the 'gentleman', that we weren't doing anything like he was describing, and whatever he was hearing must not have been us.

(I didn't mention the alternate theory running through my head, that he wasn't in fact hearing anything at all, but that the pounding was just a figment of his imagination. It wouldn't be the first time. Some years back, there was a rather disturbing incident when, for a good chunk of the day, a 60-odd-year-old woman from the floor below us who wears three inches of make-up to take out the garbage spent a large portion of the day pounding on a door down the hall and screaming "Stop hammering! Stop hammering!")

The trouble with trying to deal with angry people in a calm and rational manner is that they're typically not in a mood to be either calm or rational. It seems that he would have preferred if I'd just said "Yes sir, sorry sir, won't happen again, sir." It's just not in me. Don't get me wrong; I've got nothing against apologizing - I think I do more than my fair share - but I'll not be cowed by somebody taking an inappropriately aggressive approach, particularly not when I've done nothing wrong.

(On the other hand, when the trial co-ordinator at the courthouse, a kindly middle-aged woman, is beating me senseless with a file folder because I'm twenty minutes late filing a document, I'll apologize as many times as necessary, even notwithstanding that I had less than nothing to do with the preparation of the document or timing of its delivery. To be fair, though, when I say "beating me senseless", I actually mean "tapping me on the shoulder repeatedly". Technically a battery either way, according to my torts textbook.)

So ultimately, I stood by my guns that we weren't doing anything that he had any reason to complain about. And this just made him angrier. And when he asked "I'm not going to ask you again, do you understand me? Do you understand me?" I said yes. His meaning was relatively clear. Sizing him up, I don't really think I could take him in a fight. (To be clear, I'm not a little guy - not nearly as little as my mother would like, as least, with her views that there is nothing more degrading and humiliating than having a son who has a few extra pounds on him - and I have some martial arts background. But my physical security has always resulted primarily from my generally disarming and non-threatening manner.) Indeed, I'm a bit uneasy about being threatened by somebody about two weight classes above me.

The very next night, he came up again, this time insisting repeatedly that we needed to "Pick up your feet!" Again, we'd been sitting on the couch, so this seemed strange. Again, I attempted to explain this to him. He didn't seem receptive. And when my better half asked him to be clearer on what it was he was hearing, that perhaps we could figure out what, if anything, we might be doing that might result in such a noise, his reply was basically that he wasn't there to be talked to. He'd come up to our door, so apparently it was highly inappropriate that *we* should be asking *him* questions. He was slightly less angry than the previous night, though. At the close of this conversation, I suggested that any subsequent issues he had should be addressed through the superintendants.

A couple of encounters have occurred in the parking lot; I try to be polite, but he wears on my patience. A few days after the second visit, he actually thanked me for 'picking up my feet'. I replied that I hadn't been doing anything differently. Maybe it was a little confrontational, but there's a method to my madness: I don't want to be acceding to his allegations of noisemaking, even when he's acknowledging that it stopped, because I have no idea what was making the noise in the first place. Maybe it was somebody in another apartment (sound carries strangely in this place); maybe it was the elevator shaft, or something to do with the plumbing. Maybe it was the little gremlins inside his head. The bottom line is that I don't want to have it in his head that I've admitted having been wrong, because then when those gremlins start up again, I'll have a much harder time convincing him that I have nothing to do with it.

Of course, he didn't take my advice about approaching the supers. Before long, he was knocking on our door again. I opted not to answer it. And to call the police instead. Again, maybe it's confrontational. Which is odd, given that I'm pretty conflict-averse. But my better half was really freaked out by this guy, and at a certain point I think it's fair to say that I'd exhausted any efforts at moving forward with low-level conflict resolution. I figured that a visit from the police would send a clear message: Quit bugging us. Got a problem? Take it to the supers. Or to the police. Whatever. Just stop showing up at our door every time you hear a noise.

He didn't get the message. Or maybe he got it for a while, but forgot.

Suffice it to say that I've contemplated s.810 proceedings on numerous occasions. But there are certain practical difficulties.

We don't often run into him, anyways. At this point, it's been a while since he's come around, too. But in the last couple of weeks, we've run into him around the elevator on numerous occasions. Not sure how that works.

But on one of the recent occasions, he suggested to me that apartment living is all about "respect". Finally, something that he and I can agree on. Actually, he has a penchant for respect. It's not the first time he's used the word in our encounters. I'm not sure he understands what it means. Somehow, knocking on your neighbour's door and threatening them is respectful. Trying to explain that you haven't, in fact, done what you're being accused of having done is disrespectful.

For this reason among others, we want out of here. But the option is really moving to a new rental unit, and neither one of us can say with any certainty where we're going to be six months from now, in a market where 12-month leases are the norm. So here we stay. Maybe he'll win the lottery and get the f* out of here. (See? I can wish well to people I don't like. How enlightened of me.)

He's in his early to mid fifties, a large man who is apparently single, works in construction, has anger issues and very poor social skills. Doesn't relate well to others. He strikes me as being a very lonely person. But for the fact that he's made my Jenny cry, I might feel sorry for him.

But right now, I'm wondering if I understand the decline to his sort of insanity. Jenny went to visit her family for the holidays yesterday. I've been here alone for two evenings now. In that time, I've had a half dozen telephone conversations with Jenny, spoken at length with my sister, and gone out for drinks with some friends. And yet, somehow, at the end of it all, when I come home to an empty apartment, it feels somehow hollow. Maybe after a couple of decades of doing that, I'd be grouchy and anti-social too.

I'm certainly melodramatic enough already.

That is today's Brant.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Is it really that cold?

I've been walking to work most days for the last few weeks. Through the generousity of co-workers, I don't usually have to walk home - the one-way walk is nice, but at the end of the day, I really prefer not to have to make the trek. Besides, it's dark by the time I finish work, and as much as I enjoy walks under the's just not the same during rush hour. So I very much appreciate the rides home. Likewise, while I say that I'm perfectly willing to make the walk home (and when it comes right down to it, I am, being a stubborn type), it's about 5 clicks each way and my work shoes aren't exactly comfortable, so after walking to work in them and then working the whole day, my feet are sometimes in a great deal of pain.

One co-worker is starting to think that I am absolutely crazy, not because I walk, but because I don't dress warmer. She thinks I should be wearing a coat. She asked me if I'd worn a jacket this morning to walk. I replied in the affirmative, and indicated my suit jacket which was hanging on the back of my chair. Apparently, that wasn't quite what she meant. (Not that I had thought it was in the first place. ;-)

I don't understand coats. No, that's not precisely right; I get them in certain circumstances, but I don't see the general logic of "It's getting cold, so let's all throw on an extra garment over the part of the body least likely to get cold." I don't understand why people think I'm crazy for not wearing a coat, of all things. Gloves, I could understand. But I've got pockets, and they do the job. A hat or headband would make sense too. An extra pair of socks, perhaps. Between you, me, and cyberspace, I usually have to take measures to keep my lower body warm long before I have to start worrying about my ears.

But my co-worker thinks I'm absolutely out of my mind for not wearing a coat. Of course, this is nothing new: Read through my other posts, and you'll see that I will go around in the winter in short sleeves. It's not unusual for me to get all sorts of comments about being underdressed for the weather. My mother's been saying so for years. But this is different: I'm wearing a full suit to work every day. The same outfit that drew remarks in the summer like "You must be boiling" is now drawing remarks of the opposite nature. Not just from my co-worker, either. I passed by a stranger this morning who asked me, "Where's your coat? Aren't you cold?" To which I replied with a light-hearted grin, "No, it's a lovely morning!" (Aside from being Monday, it was indeed a lovely morning.) I kind of had to wonder if perhaps the icicles forming on my moustache and goatee had something to do with the illusion of cold.

But really, I wear (a) an undershirt, (b) a long-sleeved dress shirt - yes, me, wearing long sleeves! - and (c) a suit jacket. Three layers. I can understand when people look at me funny wearing only a T-shirt, but three layers?

Cold does three things:
(1) It causes discomfort.
(2) It causes frostbite.
(3) It causes hypothermia.

The latter two can be quite problematic. However, they can also be managed (i.e. prevented) relatively easily, particularly if you're not outside for extended periods of time. #1 is all in the head. So really, when people say that I'm crazy, I suppose there is something different about my head, but if the extent of my craziness is that I don't let cold bother me, then I'd say I am in fact quite sane.

But there are varying degrees of tolerance all over the place. Compare Toronto to Ottawa. Once you get into the dry cold, Toronto just about shuts down. The media puts out dire warnings of the dangers of going outside, and are quite shocked by the fact that a handful of people make it out for the Bills game tailgate party. On the other hand, Ottawa says it's time to break out the ice sculptures and have a festival. Toronto thinks Ottawa is crazy. But what does Ottawa think about Toronto?

I walked 45 minutes this morning and barely had to even concern myself about the possibility of frostbite, not wearing anything over my ears or head. This says something about the weather, I think: It's not that cold yet. At the same time, when I was leaving the parents' place yesterday, my mother thought that I needed to put on a coat to get between the front door and the driveway.

Here's my theory: I threaten the very fabric of Canadian society. The one true Canadian pasttime is not hockey; it's complaining about the weather. If I'm not actually bothered by it, then I make their complaints seem rather empty, no? Unless I'm crazy, in which they get to not only complain about the weather, but also relate their astonishment at the crazy guy in the suit.

That is today's Brant.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

That Foreign Word, Prorogue

So to 'protect Canadian democracy' from a coalition of elected MPs who want to form a government in an unprecedented (yet clearly constitutionally permissible) move, Harper has instead decided that we don't need a Parliament at all right now, despite the economic crisis.

Let's get this straight: A few days back, Harper says we need to respond to the economic crisis quickly, so his finance minister introduces a mini-budget. The opposition agrees that we need to respond to the economic crisis, but so strongly opposes the direction of Harper's mini-budget that they're prepared to vote it down. Seeing that this is going to happen, Harper delays the vote on this urgent mini-budget, because when it gets voted down, he'll be out of a job.

He then uses the delay to ask the Governor-General to prorogue (suspend) Parliament, so that the House of Commons won't have the opportunity to express its lack of confidence in Harper's government - or do anything at all - until it sits again, likely some 7-8 weeks from now, though it could be as long as a year, depending on Mr. Harper's mood. If anything is an unprecedented challenge to the integrity of Canadian democracy, it's a Prime Minister who clearly lacks the confidence of the House closing down the House so that he can keep his office.

In the mean time...everyone agrees on one thing: Parliament needs to respond to the economic crisis. The dynamics of the necessary response is the subject of a great deal of debate outside of Parliament, and it would be the subject of a great deal of debate in Parliament too, but now that's not going to happen at all - no debates, no budget, no response at all - because Harper couldn't get the response he wanted to pass.

Make no mistakes. This, in its simplest terms, is the crux of this decision to prorogue Parliament: There were two possible economic plans facing us: Harper's plan, supported by the Conservative Party with its 143 seats, and the coalition's plan, supported by the NDP, the Liberals, and the Bloc Quebecois with their combined 163 seats. Harper was going to lose that fight, so rather than let the majority of the House of Commons legislate what it wanted to, it closed the House.

For all his rhetoric about protecting democracy, this is partisan wrangling, plain and simple. After all, how does it protect democracy for us not to have a Parliament at all until Mr. Harper chooses to bring it back?

Of course, to be fair, it was really the Governor General's call, but who knows what her motivating factors are.

You know something...I like the Monarchy. I really do. I think it's a great image, a great symbol. Images and symbols aren't supposed to actually do anything, and especially not play major roles in how political crises fall out. The right answer for a figurehead being asked to prorogue Parliament to avoid a confidence motion is this: "What the heck are you coming to me for? You folks are the elected government; this is your problem to solve."

For the G-G to step in and save the Prime Minister's job is roughly the same as a hockey referee blocking the net when the goalie's out of position.

That is today's Brant.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Coalitions and Propaganda

I'd like to elaborate on a point I made in my last Brant, because it's become such a big issue: The democratic implications of constituting a new government after a non-confidence vote without another election.

First, allow me to say that I'm not a big fan of the coalition. I'm lukewarm to the Liberals, not particularly fond of the NDP, and the Bloc...well, I value national unity, though for what it's worth I increasingly wonder about the extent to which the Bloc is actually separatist. It's nationalist, certainly, and sovereigntist on paper, but the Federal Parliament has never really been a place where a separatist agenda could effectively be promoted, and especially in recent years separation has been a non-issue. Rather, the Bloc's job has always been to get favourable treatment for Quebec from Ottawa, usually by holding the threat of separation above everyone else's head. It's about appeasement, not confrontation. Regardless, I have very little respect for the Bloc.

I very much dislike and distrust Harper, and I think that the fiscal update is sheer folly, and I see no reason to believe Harper when he says that relief will be coming in the spring. When it comes right down to it, I think that this is the right time to turn the tables a little.

Honestly, I find the fiscal update a little difficult to understand (which makes me a little more sympathetic to the coalition). It took an issue that Harper was already weak on, given his election platform regarding the economic crisis (namely, saying that there's no crisis), and put him in a position to take a lot of heat for doing exactly what the opposition had said Canadians could expect him to do - nothing. Moreover, this was after he'd acknowledged (because there's really no challenging it now) that this meltdown is the worst economic downturn since 1929. Of course, it isn't lost on anyone that he ripped into Layton for saying the exact same thing during the election campaign. So now he's acknowledging the existence of an economic crisis, but he's still refusing to take any measures to help bolster the economy. Not only that, but he *is* responding to the government's fiscal crisis in the same ridiculous way that governments did in 1929. John Maynard Keynes must be rolling in his grave.

It's like Harper was looking at the opposition parties and saying "I dare you to bring this government down." And maybe he was. After all, the other parties can't afford an election campaign right now, and Harper has a lot more to gain right now than he has to lose. If he can just pick up a few more seats - and there were a lot of really close calls in the last election - then he gets a majority government, and up to five years in power with the ability to do as he pleases. On the other hand, he could lose dozens of seats and still have a plurality, still come back as Prime Minister, and then be able to say to the opposition parties: "The Canadian electorate has spoken *again*; do you really want to put them through another election again in a hurry?"

But the prospect of another party or a coalition constituting a government wasn't so remote. Of course Dion was saying "never" in the election campaign, but Dion's in the position to gain from it, and Layton was clearly willing to do so. Yes, they needed the support of the Bloc, but they wouldn't need it for very long to put Harper in Stornaway, at least for a little while.

Who would have expected the three parties to all reach an agreement? Perhaps more importantly, why couldn't Harper have offered Gilles Duceppe a better deal? It wouldn't be the first time, and Duceppe being the opportunist he is, I can't really believe that Harper wouldn't have had an opportunity to buy the Bloc votes the same way the coalition has.

Ultimately, though I can't see Harper's endgame strategy here, I have to think that this contingency was all planned out. Either the opposition bowed again to the Harper plurality, or he had his propaganda machine ready to go.

And that's what I wanted to elaborate on here: The propaganda.

The Tories take the position that, in order to constitute a government, the Liberals and NDP should seek a mandate to govern from the people - i.e. go back to the polls.

There are several problems with this position.

(1) Representative Democracy
We don't elect a government. We vote for Members of Parliament. Ultimately, what those MPs choose to do is up to them. In the last Parliament, there were a couple of controversies because folks crossed the floor - for example, Harper offered a Liberal MP a Cabinet position, so the person who had just been elected Liberal suddenly became a Tory. Certainly, that angered the constituency, and it does have a bit of an anti-democratic scent to it, but it just demonstrates a flaw with the notion of party politics. Brian Mulroney defended party discipline with the phrase "You dance with her that brung ya." Well, that's not really true, and it would be far more appropriate for Canadians to be voting for individuals rather than parties, because that actually reflects how their will is expressed. So we elect a group of people to Parliament, and then they choose who will form the government and what the government will do. That's how it works; that's how it always worked. If the House decides that it doesn't want to be led by Mr. Harper anymore, but would rather be led by Mr. Dion, that's democracy in action.

(2) The Numbers
Harper got a plurality of the popular vote, and a plurality of the seats in the House. More of it than anyone else. True. Yet it wasn't a majority of either, and so it's difficult for him to argue from a position of authority that the Canadian people, in aggregate, gave him a mandate to govern but not to anyone else. The Tories received 5.2 million votes, or 37.6% of votes cast.

The Liberals and NDP combined, on the other hand, received over 6.1 million votes, or 44.4% of votes cast. Throw in the Bloc as well, and we're talking about 7.5 million votes and a majority of the seats in the House. These parties aren't seizing power they didn't earn; they're using the power given them by the electorate. It's that simple.

(3) The Conventions
Parliamentary convention allows it to play out the way the coalition has suggested. It's part of the constitution of our country. We haven't had many minority governments, and we've only ever had one coalition, so it's not something that comes up very often, but there's nothing inherently wrong with going down that route. The question that the Governor General has to ask is this: Can a leader maintain the confidence of the House? Right now, Mr. Dion can do so. The House was elected - and elected relatively recently, at that - and Mr. Dion has the confidence of the House, so by all rights, Mr. Dion should be Prime Minister and should have the opportunity to form a government.

(4) The Functionality of our Government
Altogether, as a practical matter, it's usually going to be impossible for parties to seriously discuss coalitions prior to elections, and therefore to campaign in contemplation of a coalition. If only the party that receives *more* seats than anyone else can form a government, and the other parties cannot do so even if they combine to hold a majority of the House, then we have the potential - as at present - to have a constitutional crisis. Where the party that gets a plurality of the seats cannot establish the confidence of a majority of the House - and Harper can't and likely won't - and nobody else can govern even with the confidence of a majority of the House, we will not have a government at all. The risk of a Parliamentary stalemate might be the catalyst for more cooperation, and yet I think that's an ultimatum that should not be held over Canadians' heads at first instance, where it can be avoided.

The only legitimate counter-argument, to my mind, is that Dion was elected while promising that there wouldn't be a coalition. Some moral force to that argument, I suppose, but the bottom line is that it is quite effectively rebutted by #1 above, and moreover that there have been bigger broken promises by pretty much every government in the history of Canada.

That is today's Brant. Don't believe everything you hear on TV.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Economic and Constitutional Falsehoods

My better half and I were watching CTV news this evening. Don't ask me why - it just happened to come on the heels of Law & Order, I guess. And it got me in a bit of a Webranting mood.

I haven't been closely following the news lately, but I've been paying enough attention to understand the dynamics of the economic meltdown in a macroeconomic sense, and I've seen enough of the ground level impact of the meltdown to have a grasp on the very real effect it's having on people around me.

Further, I'd seen Mr. Harper softening up on the idea of running a deficit, which I found somewhat heartening. Not particularly surprising from an economist, of course, that he understands that deficits are sometimes important, and that now is one of those times.

What enormously surprised me - and I suppose it shouldn't have, but I guess I'm a bit of an optimist at heart - was Mr. Flaherty coming in with the same economic policies he carried out in Ontario under Mike Harris, back in stronger economic times (which ended up making a mess of Ontario even then). They're making cuts, they're selling off assets, and they're eliminating the right to strike for public servants - and I'm prepared to put money on a bet that they're not going to engage the same kind of arbitral process available to essential services to substitute for the right to strike. This would be catastrophic for the economy.

Of course, while Mr. Harper has come around to the notion that the economic downturn is serious - which he didn't admit during the election, of course - Mr. Flaherty is downplaying the downturn. Mr. Harper, at the same time, planned this economic update as a way of being seen to respond to the economic crisis, and instead he's responding to it as a fiscal crisis, which is exactly the wrong thing to do if we're trying to fix up the economy. And he expects us to believe him when he says that he'll engage a plan to respond to the economic crisis in the spring. Doubtful enough to my mind.

Harper's been talking the talk, but it's clear that he isn't walking the walk. This is an extreme right-wing move, and if it doesn't sufficiently backfire politically and legally, Canadians will be paying for this mistake for a long time.

A little over a year ago, I made the following remark in a post:

I am quite concerned about the prospect of him getting a majority, because I'm
afraid that looking to Australia's last few years could be an image of Canada's
next few years.

This was right after John Howard lost his job as Prime Minister of Australia, who had made it his mission to disassemble labour protections across the board. Why did Howard do that? Because he saw China coming up fast and strong, and felt the need to reduce the cost of labour in Australia to compete.

It's become clear of late that Mr. Howard is a bit of a role model for Mr. Harper. Ripping off Howard's speeches is one thing, but this is another thing entirely. I think I get where he's coming from, of course: Once the dust settles, the economic superpower will no longer be an economic superpower. The influence and power of the west will have crumbled, China will become a serious economic power to be contended with globally, and if the west attempts to hold on to its beliefs that employees should be paid reasonably and treated well - i.e. that people should have rights - then we won't be able to compete anymore on the world stage. Starting down the road now to a reduced cost of labour is, from Harper's perspective, a necessary step in order to keep a competitive edge.

How ironic that the greatest threat to civil liberties in the west is arising because Chinese Communism ended. Still, perhaps I'm an idealist, but I'd like to think that we can still make something work.

And in any case, we will never get our labour costs down to where China's are. It simply will not happen, and therefore we need to find other methods of making ourselves competitive regardless.

Harper's stepping on a landmine. Legal scholars have looked at Australia as an example of what not to do for some time. The courts have recently been reading labour protections into the Charter, and even the Canadian legal scholars who oppose such a thing take the position that it's unnecessary because the Canadian legal regime so broadly grants any rights that might be guaranteed. My point is that the pendulum is on it's way out, granting constitutional protection to an increasing scope of labour activities. Just this month, the Ontario Court of Appeal released a judgment finding unconstitutional an Ontario statute that doesn't guarantee good faith bargaining for agricultural workers.

So I think there are going to be some legal problems with that part of the budget update. But those will take quite a long time to pan out.

In the mean time, the budget update is going to be catastrophic for Canada if it passes. It's that simple.

So the opposition parties are looking at forming a coalition. I can't see it lasting long, personally, and I'm not sure I like the notion of the Bloc having a hand in the government, but it's the lesser of two evils right now.

Mr. Harper, of course, is painting this as a coup d'etat, a revolution against the wishes of voters. He says that he received a mandate to govern through this economic crisis - a difficult position to maintain, really, when he denied the existence of an economic crisis up until after the election - and that Mr. Dion can't just seize power without going back to the people.

Of course he can! If he has the confidence of the House, then the fact that the party with the plurality of seats isn't on side is irrelevant. The coalition government would represent more of the votes cast than the current minority government, in any case. The constitution is fine with Dion doing this. Moreover, there's nothing undemocratic about it in the least.

Still, that's not even what bugged me most. CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief made some comment about how Layton's insistence on canceling the $50 million in corporate tax cuts would result in a great deal of unemployment, because corporations are short on cash. I'd like to know where he got that. Is it a Tory talking point? Did he make it up himself? It's something people will buy into, but it is also a complete and total falsehood. The truth is that tax cuts rarely help folks who are struggling, whether individuals or corporations. Businesses pay income tax on their profits, and when business isn't doing well, they pay little or no taxes. That's how the system works. Think the big 3 are paying a lot of tax nowadays? Not bloody likely. The businesses and industries that are really struggling are not helped by tax cuts.

Things will get worse before they get better, certainly. But cutting spending at the government level will compound the catastrophe. Selling off resources will limit our ability to rebound. And cutting into civil liberties is just a place we should not be prepared to go.

That is today's Brant.