Budget 2016: Charities, consultations and clarifications

The Trudeau Liberals first budget was released yesterday.

While most coverage was over the size of the deficits and who gets what money, my attention was on a single bullet on page 206.

  • Pertaining to rules governing charities and their political activities, the CRA, in consultation with the Department of Finance, will engage with charities through discussions with stakeholder groups and an online consultation to clarify the rules governing the political activities of charities.

The Liberals had promised changes coming for Canada’s charities. But this disappointed me.

From the Liberal Party’s platform:

We will allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and will modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors. This will include clarifying the rules governing “political activity,” with an understanding that charities make an important contribution to public debate and public policy. A new legislative framework to strengthen the sector will emerge from this process.

I work for two charities, completed a non-profit management course and worked and volunteered in the charitable sector in the UK for two years. My concern with this budget proposal is that instead of achieving even this modest goal of “modernize the rules” and “a new legislative framework,” we’re being given committees and consultations with the goal to “clarify the rules.”

Let’s be clear. Canada Revenue Agency makes it quite clear what counts as political and partisan material on its own website and in its briefings. And it’s pretty restrictive. Take this advisory that was released during the 2015 election. One part states:

When a charity invites comments on its website, blogs, or on social media, it should monitor them for partisan political statements and remove, edit, or moderate such statements within a reasonable time.

The rule is pretty clear to me: Since I work for a charity, it’s now my job to police the content of people’s comments on Facebook. Even though the organization I work for is a staunch defender of free speech and open debate.

Instead of this not-even-half-measure contained in the budget, my own personal preference would be to see Canada move toward a Charities Act, similar to what was introduced in England & Wales, first in 1993 but updated most recently in 2011. Such an act would modernize the rules for what purposes constitute a charity (Canada’s rules currently date to 19th century case law), create an arms-length body to regulate charities (one free from political interference) and empower charities to lobby for change they feel necessary to achieve their mission. Given the changing landscape, it could go even further and create space for so-called social enterprises.

I’ve written my MP arguing as much and hope you will do the same.

This is an issue that could make a world of difference for the many, many charities in Canada – none of whom have the time or resources to advocate for better charitable law (since they’re spending their time fulfilling their own mission and complying with the law as it stands). Some groups, like the Broadbent Institute, the Voices-Voix Coalition and Protecting Canadian Charities, are starting to speak out on this but they’ll need our encouragement.

The Liberals should champion the Arrow

There’s a story going around that a small design group is pitching a revised design of the Avro Arrow as an alternative to the Conservative’s F35s with its skyrocketing price tag.

it’s an interesting and promising idea, although its not clear that the industry is here any longer to support such a massive enterprise.

Nevertheless, this presents a golden opportunity for an up and coming federal Liberal leadership candidate to champion the idea once more. It was a Liberal government that originally introduced the Arrow, while Diefenbaker’s Conservatives killed it.

The Liberals have been without a grand vision for Canada for a while, and while this one is far from perfect, it would give them something to point to.

(Of course I realise in an ideal world such a fighter redesign should be put through an open bidding process, where the best proposal – in terms of costs, Canadian job prospects, and performance – is awarded on its merits.)

Analysts remarks reveal underlying bias, I say

Sometimes PostMedia News goes so far as to almost parody itself. One might even think that this article from the Vancouver Sun could have been written by Fox News North Sun News.

Justin Trudeau betrays his political immaturity and narcissism in suggesting that his commitment to a united Canada is dependent on whether the Conservative government validates his personal values, say prominent political analysts.

And just who are these “prominent political analysts”?

First, we have Calgary School professor and (un)Friend of Science Barry Cooper. Ever the expert on talking about Quebec separation, in 1991 Cooper argued that Canada would be better off if Quebec separated in his book in Deconfederation: Canada without Quebec.

Second, we have Carleton philosophy professor Tom Darby. I couldn’t find much on this “prominent” analyst other than an obscure dystopian e-novel he wrote last year and another article by the journalist same person who wrote the above Sun article. In standard Conservative rhetoric, Sibley quotes Darby:

The most conservative people in this country right now are Liberals and New Democrats. Politics is all about change. Conservatives are supposed to be the ones afraid of change, but now those who fear change the most are the people who like to think of themselves as progressive.

Third, breaking the trend we have University of Ottawa political science professor Robert Asselin. His bio from an iPolitics article he wrote

Robert Asselin is the Associate Director of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. He has served as an advisor and speechwriter to the prime minister of Canada, communications director to the Leader of the Official Opposition, policy advisor to the minister of intergovernmental affairs as well as chief of staff to the associate minister of National Defence. He was a senior adviser and speechwriter for the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada for three national election campaigns.

The only other source they quote is a Conservative back bencher decrying the situation.

I wonder how many professors Sibley called before he got enough trash-talking Trudeau to fill an article or if he just has the same guys on speed dial.

Brand politics

Dan Gardner’s latest article compares the success of the Conservatives and failure of the Liberals in terms of their basic branding message.

He argues that one of the keys to the success of the Conservatives is that they have identified and sold their brand as “small government and individual liberty.” He rightly notes that their actions often contradict their own brand, but in marketing beliefs matter more than reality (this is why people still equate fiscally conservative with fiscally responsible).

He goes on to note that the only brand the Liberals have been holding onto is “the party that governs.” This worked fine when the Liberals were in power, or even in Official Opposition, since they were the natural alternative. Now, as a third-place party, though, the Liberals continue to look arrogant and like they stand for nothing.

He finishes by arguing that the Liberals should adopt a core theme of being “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” to differentiate themselves from both the Conservatives and the NDP. Gardner otherwise ignores the NDP in this piece, so it’s up to us to come up with what their key message is, perhaps “progress through cooperation” or more cheekily “The party that Jack built.” Going through the NDP’s preamble leaves it a bit ambiguous what the key message should be.

And here’s where the first chip in Gardner’s article appears.

While the idea of branding is pushed hard by marketing execs and gurus, it remains unclear if the evidence actually supports the notion that having a solid brand will improve your sales or whether the converse is the case.

In Hard Facts…, the evidence-based management book I recently reviewed, the authors are quite sceptical of claims that establishing a concrete strategy will lead to organizational success. Instead, they declare it a dangerous half-truth, noting that while strategy is important, leadership and effective implementation is often far more critical.

This point can be demonstrated in the Liberals where Bob Rae’s (interim) leadership has generally been seen as quite successful so far in revitalizing the party, including recent spikes in poll numbers.

Gardner somewhat acknowledges this point near the end of his article when he says

But it takes more than grassroots gab sessions to cultivate an identity and craft it into a brand. It takes calculated leadership of the sort that Stephen Harper deployed to make “small government and individual liberty” the Conservative standard.

I generally like Gardner’s work, and while there is some to like in this piece, it comes off as a weak argument to me, since he failed to really bring in any evidence for his assertion. He cites one example of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives as where effective messaging has worked, but with so many confounding variables (fundraising ability, willingness to smear and lie, increasing the vitriol, never-ending campaigning, centralizing all messaging, etc.) it’s a really weak case. If anything, the Conservative example shows us that strong leaders are more important than simple messages, perhaps the Liberals should keep looking for their next messiah leader (i.e. someone who can communicate).

Youth ostracism in Canadian politics

Elections in recent history have told the same story again and again: Young people aren’t voting.

Sure, some of us are. Many others are attempting to bring in more of their peers through vote mobs and other social media pressures, yet to date the evidence is that these efforts have been a disappointing flop.

The occupy movements were a brief glimmer of hope, but it remains unclear whether these protests have truly engaged the disaffected youth or just tapped into those who were already involved.

Progressive parties know that the next generations shares their values of equality and inclusiveness, yet they have failed to date to truly connect.

Two recent stories only further the disenfranchisement.

This weekend the Liberal Party of Canada held their Renewal conference in Ottawa. The conference is meant to reverse the tide of bad luck that has befallen the party over the past decade.

While some big ideas were put forward to revolutionize the internal structure of the party, the policy resolutions mostly avoided discussing real issues in favour of commitments to form committees to study issues. As an example, the environment was absent from the proposed resolutions, while a plan to develop a national food strategy was passed.

One of the failed resolutions was to study whether Canada should seek to abolish the monarchy and replace it with an elected Canadian head of state. This motion was put forward by the party’s youth wing and Liberal Youth Vice-President Sean Southerland argued vociferously in support of the motion

“No Canadian can ever aspire to hold the position,” argued Liberal youth vice-president Sean Sutherland, who presented the motion. He urged delegates to be bold as they were Saturday night when they adopted opening up the party to a new class of “supporters”.

“Instead it has been historically held by an unelected monarch who lives an ocean away,” said Mr. Sutherland.

He noted that Liberals are not strangers to controversial positions, saying that in the 1990s their debates about legalizing same-sex marriage were dismissed as not important as this monarchy resolution is being today.

“That didn’t stop young Liberals then. This won’t stop us now,” vowed Mr. Sutherland.

62 per cent of delegates ended up voting against the youth-led initiative. While many argued either in favour of Canada’s historical ties or that the issue was too divisive, the most worrying issue was the following:

But what received the most applause and support were the delegate’s statements, who accused Liberal youth leaders of betraying the trust of other young Liberals.

Instead of talking about what is important to them and what truly affects their lives – “shrinking jobs,” post-secondary education and increase of aboriginal Canadians in jail – they chose this motion that can “only bring harm and ridicule to our party,” [delegate Ryan] Barber said.

There is nothing quite like the party elders talking down to the younger generation. Clearly the young Liberals are mistaken about what issues their supposed to be representing.

Imagine the controversy if people applauded when the chair of a women’s or First Nation’s caucus was chastised for not properly representing their constituents. If young people in the Liberal Party are dissatisfied with their current leadership or the resolutions put forward, I’m assuming the party has democratic means for them to be replaced.

But by approving of this attitude that young people should know their place, the Liberal delegates have shown their hands as intolerant and untrusting of younger people and their ideas.

The next story comes from Alberta NDP member Denny Holmwood who has accused the federal NDP of discriminating against young and unwaged party members.

The controversy comes from the registration process for the coming leadership convention. While all members will be able to vote for the next leader, many will want to attend the conference in person. The fees are set at $299 until the end of January and $349 afterward. These costs are prohibitive to many and the NDP has a long history of offering discounts to those who can’t afford them – typically the young and unemployed.

However, to reduce the number of potentially fraudulent registrations, the party is requiring youth and unwaged delegates to call a 1-866 number, which may only be available during Ontario business hours (9am  to 5pm in Ontario is 6am to 2pm Vancouver).

With today’s connected youth, do we really want to be adding additional hurdles to their full participation? Conventions are a great chance to build connections and to rally new members into the party. The NDP should be seeking to encourage more young people to be attending the conference, not impeding their ability.

Please sign Denny’s petition to get the NDP to change their position.

I would rather see more people sneak in at a discounted rate than anyone be turned away by difficulties.

Why I oppose strategic voting

Canadian politics are plagued by an archaic electoral system where whoever gets one more vote than second place gets sole command over their constituency. This practice is known formally as “single-member plurality” or first-past-the-post voting and remains in use only in Canada, the UK, and the USA.

When Canada was founded, and only 2 major parties existed, the system made sense. However, once a third candidate enters the race, the system breaks down and screams of “vote-splitting” are rallied from every party in an attempt to sway voters to their camp.

The right-wing in Canada argued, successfully, to their base that the split between the Canadian Alliance (formerly Reform) and the Progressive Conservatives was costing them elections. After merging, they soon won a minority government (although have still failed to break 38% in an election.

In 2008, and again this year, there are cries of vote-splitting on the left, and many projects attempting to rally voters behind “progressive” candidates (meaning primarily Liberal, occasionally NDP, and one Green) in swing ridings, in an attempt to take down the Conservative government.

While good-spirited, these motivations are flawed by design for several reasons.

Continue reading Why I oppose strategic voting

2 votes, 2 weeks

May 11th.

Just over one week after the federal election, myself and voters of Vancouver-Point Grey will be going back to the polls to vote for/against Christy Clark in the byelection she just announced.

Perhaps she’s hoping that since the NDP don’t even have a leader yet (not till Sunday) and are likely busy fighting the good fight in a number of local ridings (including the too-close-to-call Burnaby-Douglas) to mount a strong defense. Or maybe she just wants to get in before the HST mail-in vote begins and people start to remember how much they dislike it.

Regardless, this is much sooner than I expected.

Iggy inspires Canada via Facebook

I must admit that I really like the new Liberal ads CalgaryGrit showed. What I liked most about them is the positive framing of government as something that’s there to help rather than the Libertarian-Conservative negative government that always gets in the way and needs to be done away with.

And after seeing a little Google Ad for Jack, I get this on my Facebook:


I’m still waiting to see if I’m “inspired” enough to hold my nose and vote for Joyce Murray (supporter of naturopathy) in my riding, but we’ll see.

Iggy said two good things

Well this is a change from last year’s embarrassment of a caucus retreat for the Liberals (when Ignatieff said he would defeat Harper ASAP then got whipped by his party and retreated back to the vote or abstain with Harper at every opportunity bit).

Today we have Ignatieff blasting Harper for reckless spending (exactly what needs to be said), and also adding a little bit about “playing nice with others.” This is a great contrast to Harper’s scaremongering with coalition talk again.

In the red and orange corner we have talk of cooperation and nation-building. Defence of health care and the environment are priorities, along with sound economic management.

In the blue corner we have talk of boogeymen and the continued denigration of our welfare state.

My new theory is that Libertarians like Harper just never learned to share as children.