Saturday, 30 April 2011

Taming Stephen Harper is the name of the game in the Canadian election

What happens to Stephen Harper after the election and the potential for a NDP-Liberal coalition?
by Tom Thorne, Belleville, Saturday 30 April 2011
The polls I looked at this morning all trend the NDP as the official opposition and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives getting their usual core 37 percent popular vote on Monday. The following national numbers are a typical example of polls taken this week. I use the Angus Reid poll for 28-29 April and polling 3003 Canadians with an error of +/- 1.8 percent to indicate the base popular vote trend we can expect on 2 May.
Bloc: 6 percent
Conservatives: 37 percent
NDP: 33 percent
Liberal: 19 percent
Green: 4 percent
Many of the other polls by Nanos, Ipsos, Ekos, Decima also confirm this basic trend so what remains to be seen is how the polls play out as ridings are split and actually turn into seats for each party by Tuesday morning. The worst case scenario is we get a parliament much like 2008 but with a shift to more seats for the NDP than for the Liberals. This may mean personal change for Stephen Harper and likely for Michael Ignatieff.
NDP as official opposition
If the NDP becomes the official opposition then Stephen Harper’s worst coalition nightmare may come into play. The NDP with the help of the Liberals could control parliament. The NDP and Liberals could kiss and make up providing at least a minority bordering on majority government coalition. Their claim could be that they were endorsed by maybe as much as 52 percent of the popular vote versus 37 percent for the Conservatives. No one will want to entertain playing with the Bloc and they will have enough seats  to perhaps make a difference in who gets to form the government.
Of course the caution is that the NDP and Liberals may get fewer seats if the Conservatives come up the middle again. It will  likely be a cliffhanger minority government for Harper with the NDP likely forming the official opposition. The Governor General may be needed if the Liberals and NDP call Harper Conservatives to account with a vote of non-confidence when the House meets. Logically the opposition should do this since because that is the reason we are in this election at the moment. If the Governor General is needed watch Harper crying foul and that it is unconstitutional.
Harper will of course try to run the country with his usual 37 percent and the seats obtained by an NDP and Liberal split vote where the Conservatives gets seats with a few votes difference from both opposition parties. This is why I have been calling for a Liberal-NDP merger throughout this election.  
In one sense Harper has been repudiated at the polls for the third time because he has openly asking for a majority government and the people of Canada seem unwilling to give it to him.  Stephen Harper has been three times at bat and struck out on the majority he so much wants each time. The people are never wrong if you truly are an advocate for democracy. Harper keeps saying he will accept what ever mandate the people give him. That promise will be soon put to the test in the new parliament.
Harper’s future
If Stephen Harper gets another minority government and they are reduced in seats in vote rich Ontario and Quebec by anything like an NDP surge, then the Conservatives become a more regionalized party in Alberta (Between 60-65 percent), 42 percent from British Columbia and about 50 percent of the popular vote in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Conservatives are also weak in the Atlantic provinces.
The Canadian electorate seems to be in a mood for upsetting someone’s apple cart or at least stalling a move to the right. The nasty nature of the last parliament often fueled by the divisive style of Stephen Harper have tired out the voters. The voters want and expect something better in Ottawa and so they flirt with an NDP change. Jack Layton’s campaign  contains the usual NDP wide-eyed agenda. It sounded hopeful but it is more form than substance because it will never have to be implemented. That agenda may sober the electorate if Jack Layton ever has to form a government or a coalition with the Liberals. It will be backtracking time if the NDP has to actually run the country or convince the Liberals to let them have a shot at government. The deficit looms large and more spending is not on the agenda.
Jack Layton certainly connected with voters.  Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has not connected with the public. Why is a mystery. He is a smart, savvy and sophisticated person with an excellent international background. He has weathered the negative personal attacks of the Conservatives. Despite this his campaign is strangely deflated. The Liberal brand is washed out for the moment.  Liberals have yet to revarnish their political mojo. 

Liberal insiders may think Ignatieff is to blame and try and dump him. Can Bob Rae do any better as Liberal leader? If he is Liberal leader he will be tarred with his debacle as the NDP Premier of Ontario. Many Ontarians remember the Rae Days and other fiscal foibles from that time.  I can already visualize the Conservative attack ads if Rae becomes Liberal leader. Ignatieff doesn't have that kind of baggage and yet the Conservatives dragged his career and motives through the dirt with impunity.
The Harper record
Harper has versioned the status quo and his record spending with low taxes as evidence of his economic mastery. He claims he only wants a majority to create stability.  Harper has been forced to the centre of the political spectrum but his heart remains on the right and possibly that is the reason why Canadians have yet to trust him with a majority government. 
In the past if you couldn’t get a majority the knives came out in the Conservative and Liberal back rooms. That may happen after this election or will this Reform led Conservative party be content with compromising their views to stay in power while remaining uncomfortably at the centre? It must be tough dealing with Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff because they keep pulling Harper to the centre and perhaps even to the left. Harper would love to have the same clout as Margaret Thatcher or either of the George Bushes. That takes a majority government.
Stephen Harper to this point has shown very little inclination to work with the opposition parties and that will probably not change. I think that answers the question about whether he is comfortable with these centre political spectrum minority governments. He tolerates them because he has to.  A  Harper majority would be much more aggressively to the right of centre. Canadian voters know what they are doing when they tame Harper with three minorities.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 29 April 2011

What is nature and natural once humans get technical?

Why there is no natural place left on Earth
by Tom Thorne
After considerable thought I have come to a conclusion that there is no nature or natural place left on earth. The planet is lit up by electric technology to the point that the continent outlines can be clearly seen from space. It’s obvious where the urbanization and population centres are on this planet. In addition,  satellites orbit the earth snapping  pictures that clearly show the advances of urbanization and the terra forming of the planet. Space around the earth is also populated by hundreds of satellites and space junk. So in addition to what humans have done to the earth’s surface we can also say goodbye to “natural space” too.
Organic farming a myth
I find it simultaneously disturbing and amusing that people search for organic food sources in this environment of advanced techniques. These innocents believe that organic farming can co-exist with an advanced level of terraforming and techniques that currently go on today. They have yet to get the message that even organic farming is an advanced technique of horticulture in itself and subject to the same human-made environmental pressures as non-organic farming. Farming is not natural nor is this practice particularly good at preserving the earth’s resources.
Others believe that they can save the environment or preserve nature or engage in active ecological efforts to make a difference. My contention is this pristine notion of Nature as the Earth Mother Gaia does not exist and the best they can do is slow the degradation of the earth’s environment. In rare cases humans may be able to reverse trends that if they continue spell impending disaster for life on earth. Even this work will also use technologies that are not without their effects on the planet.
Nature...there is no natural state possible any more.
It is a bleak prospect that we all face. When I contend that there is no nature left I use the following arguments to back up this idea. Our planet is now almost fully terraformed that is the surface is transformed by human activity whether it is farming, road and city building, the cutting of major forests or canaling and daming rivers. These processes has been going on for over 10,000 years and now is reaching its peak combined with ever growing human population. 
When this process first began the human population was very small and each human’s impact on the planet was very tiny. Now with the human population reaching towards seven billion the effect of humans and their techniques on the planet is much more intense than ever before. But let’s stop and go back in time so we can consider what all this means.
The human notion to master nature probably started innocently about 7000 years ago with the invention of horticulture and farming. Before that time the small populations of humans that did exist utilized their gathering and hunting technologies to greatly stress the animal fauna but they largely left the land as they found it. 
Farming is technique
The Neolithic turn to farming created the first widespread clearing of land of pristine forest. Southern England 5000 years ago is an example of this process. In this case there is marked archaeological evidence for the destruction of forests to create farm land. Farming was an attractive change from gathering and hunting and so grew exponentially creating rich societies on the Nile and Euphrates rivers and later in Europe. In Northern Europe enough wealth was created to spend many hours erecting ceremonial centres like Stonehenge. Farming and the creation of surplus grain to trade enabled the ancient Egyptian rulers the time to build huge pyramid and temple complexes with their wealth.
The price of these advances was and continues to be the destruction of the pristine nature that had evolved without the intervention of humans. Before humans this planet actually was natural. When humans developed into sentient toolmakers the die was cast for ever developing techniques which were applied to the natural bounty of the planet’s resources. This is the legacy we inherit for being this planet’s first and perhaps only toolmaker.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Can the NDP growth in the polls translate into actual seats? Probably not.

There is some shift towards the Liberal and NDP parties and their eventual merger.
by Tom Thorne
In a previous story I suggested that a merger of the Liberal and NDP parties would be a good idea. A recent poll taken by Ekos seems to agree with this notion. As of 18-20 April when Ekos polled 2156 adult Canadians of which 1981 of them (91 percent) said they had decided who to vote for on May 2 the following results emerged.
Conservatives would get 34.4 percent. 24.7 percent would vote Liberal and 24.7 percent would vote for the NDP. The Greens would get 7.8, the Bloc 6.5 and other parties would get 1.9 percent. So combined the Liberals and NDP garner 49.4 percent of the popular vote. In our riding system these numbers never translate into seats so we must remain cautious. However what this shows once again is at the popular vote level 65.6 percent do not vote for the Conservatives.
The same poll in Quebec shows the following. The Bloc is down 3 percent (7 percent) from 10 percent the 2008 election. Similarly the Conservatives are down to 34 percent from 37.6 percent in 2008. The Green vote is up to 8 percent this time from 6.8 percent in 2008. The Liberals are down 1.2 percent from 2008 from 26.2 to the current 25 percent.  The NDP are growing in Quebec from 18.2 percent in 2008 to 25 percent as of today.
In Quebec as in the rest of the country the combined popular vote of the Liberals and NDP is 50 percent. Of course this still has to translate into won seats and with the NDP and the Liberals splitting seats everywhere the Conservatives come up the middle and rule Canada with a minority government getting 37 percent of the popular vote. No wonder the NDP seeks proportional representation as a reform of how we elect governments in this country.
If the Liberals and NDP merge then they would clean up ridings across the country. If they remain fractured then the centre party and the mild left as I call them are destined to lose seats and the same minority Conservative government will glide up the centre of all  elections results to win more seats. That can only be stopped by a Liberal NDP merger.
If we get the same results again all parties will be using the Bloc and its separatist agenda to stay in power. The people of Quebec need a reason to not vote Bloc this time and it is too late in this game plan for any sensible ideas like Liberal NDP mergers to be entertained but we can hope that Michael Ignatieff and Jack layton see the direction of the Canadian people in this election.
Also there is one other point. If Stephen Harper is denied another majority government by the people of Canada what will his personal political future be?  Certainly if there is a Liberal NDP merger for the next election in two years it is bleak. 

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Liberals and NDP need to merge and not waffle with coalition talk.

Polls now show Conservative minority government will be the result of the Canadian election. Another Conservative minority  will be a booster shot in the arm for Quebec separatists.
by Tom Thorne
Canadians seem to be moving relentlessly like a glacier towards another minority Conservative government on 2 May. That means Stephen Harper will again govern Canada with between 37-39 percent of the popular vote. The centre and left vote will be fractured again with between 28-29 percent for the Liberals and about 20 percent for the NDP.  Added together that would be almost 50 percent. Depending on how the ridings go that could mean a majority government for a combined Liberal NDP party.
Add in the bloc vote which is basically to the left and the soft separatists may very well vote Liberal or NDP if they had a good reason to believe in Canada. They will vote Bloc when the election outcomes leans heavily towards the right or if a government in Ottawa is not sensitive to Quebec’s aspirations. They see the Harper led governments in this light. Minority governments are how Quebeckers get a say in Canada’s political direction in Ottawa when they don’t trust the major national political parties. Quebeckers need a national political party that can attract and hold their confidence.
The only good news in this tortured scenario is that the Bloc Quebecois vote in Quebec has dropped about two percent and maybe dribbling off towards the Liberals or NDP but sadly that will still give Gilles Duceppe about 45-46 seats in the new parliament. Hence another fractured parliament is re-elected and separatism gets time on the national stage. If they grow stronger both federally and provincially and if the Jean Charest Liberals loose power, the separatists will again be looking for a referendum to leave Canada. Harper will get into power again and that will affect how Quebec separatism develops.
The Canadian public is saying that they don’t trust anyone with the helm of government for too long and they are right given the performance of the last parliament and the current rhetoric of the campaign trail. Nothing has grabbed Canadians sufficiently to get them to trust any of the parties with so much as a smell of a majority.  Even when each one of these fractured elections costs the public purse over $300 million, the public still keeps the politicians on a short leash.  The $300 million seems to be seen as an  investment as the voters wait for some kind of leadership and direction for Canada to emerge from the Ottawa morass.
So what do the politicians have to do to earn a majority?  They need to get off the status quo. The Liberals and NDP need to merge as I said two weeks ago. Their platforms are almost identical and this merger would see how well Jack layton would perform as a member of the Cabinet. This would not be a coalition this would be a permanent merger of the centre and the mild left into a party with truly national representation. It would stop the vote splitting in many ridings and place the Harper Conservatives on notice that their  right wing agenda is not going to happen. Will this happen? Probably not and that is why Canadian voters wisely elect minority governments until the Liberals and NDP get the message.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 17 April 2011

If you hire part time workers then your management has to be first rate.

Retail Human Resources Issues:
Controlling the time of long term loyal part time workers.
By Tom Thorne

Issue: Long term loyal part time employees need to experience flexible humane management.  Hard nosed procedural bureaucratic management destroys morale and relationships in the part time workplace. It is better to accommodate the requests of good well established part time workers for scheduling and time off because a more enlightened management builds trust, morale and loyalty which has a direct effect on training costs and employee turnover rates. 
Many part time employees don’t want full time employment for one personal reason or another. Part time employment enables them to work for multiple employers balancing the available hours from one employer to another to build their employment up to the equivalent of a 35-40 hour full time position when such positions are scarce in the labour markets. Also employers decide consciously not to staff with full time positions. Full time employment creates a firm contractual agreement with employers that can claim to control the employee’s time. Simply stated full time employment buys employers more control over their employees. 
Balancing for flexibility
Employers who want the flexibility and cost savings of part time workers realize that the quid pro quo is that they also get less control over their labour pool and especially their time. A part time employee cannot  be fully subject to employer controls associated with full time employment . The more formal the employment contract the more control that the employer can exercise over employee availabilities and time.
However, when employers make a conscious choice to staff their stores, offices and factories with part time employees the amount of time they can set for the employees is limited by statute labour laws in most jurisdictions. As a result no part time employee can ever have equivalent hours to a full time employee so by definition the number of hours they can legally expect is always less than the maximum allowed under the law for what is considered part time. If an employer wants a part time worker for some reason to work full time hours they must at that point provide the employee with a shot term contract to do full time hours for a designated period of time.
The choice to use part time workers means less control but lower costs but likely higher turnovers and increased training costs.
These facts set up an interesting situation where the part time employees hours are not fully in control of the employer unless there is a written employment contract. In fact a part time employee can always negotiate hours of work with an employer mainly because there is no guaranteed hour employment contract with many part time employees. Part time employees are by their status, in a position to bargain or negotiate for hours and tell employers with sufficient notice their availabilities in any given future work period. In fact this happens all the time and especially when part time employees have more than one job and have to balance schedules and their availabilities with two or more employers. Another instance could be that the part time employee gives notice that he or she wants unpaid time off for personal and other reasons.
Inflexible employment policies and procedures make decisions easier for managers but they do little to build the loyalty of part time employees.
The response of some more conservative employers is to get part time employees to quit and be rehired if they want more time off than the labour statutes allow as minimums for holidays but that is not always the method used because many part time employees drop out and drop back into the work force as their needs and the employers needs dictate. In this situation enlightened employers especially with long term part time employers usually work with the employee for extra time off. Where a problem arises is when employees are irresponsible and simply expect the get time off on short  or even no notice or for frivolous reasons. 
Unrealistic expectations of part time workers creates stress.
It is unrealistic to try to impose on part time employees full time work standards or policies and procedures relating to availabilities. If a part time employee declares in reasonable time that they are unavailable to be scheduled, then they cannot and should not be scheduled for that time slot. To do so would place the employer and employee relationship in jeopardy. It takes real human management skills to manage a cadre of part time workers well. The most important skill that managers need is to realize is that workers also have their agendas from time to time and accommodating them when the time off does not jeopardize the business’s operations is often a great morale builder and an investment in loyalty and mutual respect and goes a long way to controlling high employee turnovers.  
Older loyal workers need respect
The aging population is producing productive people who are officially retired but want to keep active with a part time job. They are often highly motivated people with excellent job histories that a smart part time employer can use to build staff continuity with customers in their place of business.
Older employee’s objectives for working will be entirely different from a younger person. They may see their employment not as a need but as an interest or an activity that gives some extra money to use for vacations and trips or simply something in their lives that keeps them active. 
This means that a one size fits all personnel policies probably will create stress with these employees if it is rigidly enforced. Also having time off and holiday policies that only offer two weeks per year may be passé with this type of workforce.
Older employees expect respect in the workplace from their managers. They expect to be consulted not told and when they ask for a consideration they expect that they will be treated equitably. It is simply poor management to do anything less with older employees because they are loyal if they are treated well. Their experience over the years creates stability and if managed well a better bottom line created by high morale and low employee turnover.

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The morning after the night before...

No knockout blows in the debate
by Tom Thorne in Belleville, Ontario at 9AM
This is going to be very short.  Stephen Harper was stodgy and boring but he stayed on message. Economy, economy, economy. Every topic led back to the economy and the need to plan, plan, plan.  He has an ability to make the others look like they are little dogs nipping at his heels. If that is what a prime minister is supposed to look like according to his Conservative handlers then he was successful. 
There were no severe body blows from anyone. Jack Layton is the master of prepared one liners and every debater got at least one from him last night. The most serious one hit Michael Ignatieff when Jack reminded us that the Liberal leader has the worst record of all Members of Parliament when it comes to attendance in the House of Commons. On the other side Jack Layton was a bit puffed up when he asked Canadians to make him prime minister. Canadians are not about to do that. He and Ignatieff need to become political allies as I said yesterday by forming a new party.
Michael Ignatieff made some in roads against the Conservatives when he touched down on the trust issues saying that the Conservatives have not yet earned a majority government. However, the luck of the draw for placement set him between Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe which marginalized him against Harper as just one of the pack. Leaders draw lots for which podium they get and Ignatieff did’t get the best position. Maybe tonight in the French debate he will get right next to Harper. 
Gilles Duceppe was his usual charming rogue self. His role in the English debate is really to do and say whatever about how Quebec is distinct and it is a wonder that he is in this debate at all. Personally I like the fact that he is there if only to dramatize the absurdity of Quebec separatism. 
Yesterday I mentioned in this blog the need for leaders to call Duceppe on the separatism card. I have to say Stephen Harper did that although mildly. Duceppe made some interesting ideas about preserving the French language in the face of federal multiculturalism policies. He did admit that Quebec needs immigration as much as the rest of Canada.
So no knock outs. Ignatieff didn’t gain much. Layton was predictable. Duceppe was mildly enjoyable as side entertainment. Harper stayed on message. None of them really did enough to change the course of the campaign nor guide us away from minority government on  2 May 2011.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Canadian Election Leaders Debate: Will there be anything newsworthy?

Belleville, Ontario at 5:30PM EST
Form without substance: The Canadian Federal Election debate
The debate tonight will be all about looking and sounding good, it should be much more than that but will the leaders dare to lead Canadians?
by Tom Thorne
The main point of these political debates tonight is to do two things. First, which leader will score the knockout punch? A knockout is probably unlikely in two hours of fencing and waffling which is probably how it will go.  Two, who will badly screw up their chances with unscripted gaffes or temper tantrums? Do not look for potential leaders or directions for Canada from this debate. Issues? Don’t look for them either. We will see a lot of form without substance.  
However, if the debate was really a debate then some scenarios might emerge to make a difference. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for a breakthrough leading to a more substantial political life for Canada.
The two leaders who have nothing to loose tonight are of course Gilles Duceppe for the Bloc Quebecois and Jack Layton for the NDP. Duceppe can do no wrong. If he plays the Quebec interest card throughout the debate and gets ways with it unopposed then he will have done his job. However, there is a way to really get this debate rolling and get votes in Quebec for federalist parties. 
Every time Duceppe tries to play the what’s best for Quebec game the others should always take him back to his real ambition which is to split up Canada. Quebeckers love to keep the federal government on edge. When that edge is separatism then the dallying they do with the Bloc becomes more serious. What's at stake here is 50 Quebec seats in the federal parliament now controlled by separatists, so the other leaders need to be tough and unrelenting.  
The Bloc waffles on a separate Quebec
Duceppe can only waffle on the separate Quebec card if it is played and played hard. It should be done as if the shade of Pierre Trudeau is present.  Many Quebeckers support the Parti Quebecois because they know they will never really have to face separatism from Canada. Duceppe is weaker when federalist politicians of all stripes call him on separatism. Canadians don’t have to suffer separatists gladly but our politicians do so all the time giving valuable seats in Quebec to the Bloc. 
What can the federalist parties loose by attacking separatism? It’s not politically dangerous to promote Canada. If Canada is to be worth anything in Quebec it must be presented positively. The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP need to gain respect again in Quebec. Waffling and a lot of political correctness about separatism is not the answer. 
Layton weak on implementation
Jack Layton is weak on being called on whether he will ever have to really implement his programs and promises. Layton can say anything and even if he is criticized by Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper his glibness ensures there is a layer of political teflon all over him. So he needs a test of his resolve.
Michael Ignatieff should tackle the coalition criticisms of Stephen Harper head on if they emerge tonight. He should ask Layton to join with him to defeat the Harper government by forming a coalition and go further by proposing a new political party. That is worth headlines and would redefine the election.  That would also take real intestinal fortitude but it would get the debate and the election off centre and into the real problem of this country of the regional concentrations in the West and in Quebec. Ignatieff should invite the entire country to join a National Coalition to make parliament work.
Harper on the other hand as the incumbent  government has only his edgy record to fall back on. What is he going to say if Ignatieff calls for a National Coalition or the formation of a new party? He did it himself by uniting the right  by welding the Reform Party to the old Conservative Party. Ignatieff can make the argument that a Centre Left Coalition allows Canadians to have a distinct choice between two political parties that have the potential to form a majority government. Voters get a clear choice from the right wing policies of the Harper Governments. 
Will there be anything as exciting as this scenario tonight? There will be a lot of ducking and weaving to avoid direct hits or gaffes. No one will challenge or rock the boat and we will go forward for the last three weeks of the campaign investing in another round of minority government and a lack of leadership. The voter turnout will be low as usual and no one will have moved a centimeter nearer to getting the politics in this country focused on agendas that most Canadians can support.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Personalities of Canada's party leaders

The images of Harper, Ignatieff and Layton: The politics of obscurity nastiness and lack of direction for Canada.
Harper’s image is akin to an iceberg. There is a whole lot below the surface that you don’t want to know about.  A kind of smart shiftiness. You are glad that what you see never turns too negative before your eyes. When he plays the piano and sings it is a relief that some nasty thing didn’t happen.  This image may be his strength. There is always the possibility that his real personality may surface and that creates an environment pregnant with potential drama. 
Ignatieff on the other hand always looks as if he is about to give us a lecture. He has a professorial veneer that borders on snooty.  His persona as a man of the people hovers alongside his aristocratic demeanor where he may at any moment start dispensing noblesse oblige to the less fortunate. He isn’t clearly defined. He has no edge or bite and people know that nice guys finish last at least in the politics of the current Ottawa run by the Harper government.
Then we have the truly unctuous morality of Jack Layton who always knows that he will never have implement anything he says on the campaign trail. He sounds so plausible and can do as he  wishes as he simplifies the national debate into a series of sunny simple cartoon panels. 
So why does Harper collect more support in the polls? I think it is because his image is so problematic and potentially dangerous. It is a branding something akin to his attack ads on TV. Contrasted against this situation Ignatieff looks like Mr. Nice Guy sadly decent and out of his depth in the dirty world of Canadian minority government politics. It’s the same reason why negative campaign ads work. It’s a grubby world and only the fittest survive. 
Layton can glad hand the electorate because he has nothing to loose. He knows he will be third in English Canada and have no influence of any consequence in French Canada. He also knows that he can get hold of the balance of power in any minority parliament. When Jack Layton says he is running for prime minister every one knows that notion is an unrealistic fairy tale. It sends voters to Harper who has become the Master of Minority Governments.  If Jack Layton really thought Canada needs a strong majority government then he would become a Liberal. He likes holding the balance of power for the Conservatives it makes the NDP and Jack Layton a player on the status quo stage in Ottawa.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Canadian Election: Predicting a Status Quo Parliament

Canada’s election a ho-hum
To this point in time the election is a giant ho-hum and according to the polls a repeat of the conditions that got us a minority government the last time seems to be in the cards again. It seems that we cannot manage to get ourselves out of the ho-hum patterns we have created in Ottawa. So despite a big yawn here’s some modest advice for our politicians and voters. 
Prime Minister Harper attacks coalitions of other political parties. How can he say this when his own party was cobbled together from the old Conservative Party and the Reform Party? If that hadn’t happened then the right wing in this country would have been fragmented and they would not even have a minority government they have at the moment.
How can Harper criticize what he himself did on a few years ago to unite the right. Sure he can and will do so relying on Canadians short memory spans concerning his own 2004 coalition plans with the NDP and the Bloc to defeat the Liberals. 

So what’s wrong with entertaining the joining of the Liberal Party and the NDP? To make politics in this country more interesting and useful we need to unite the middle and the modestly middle left into the New Liberal Party or perhaps it could be called the Liberal Democratic Party. This change would go a long way to chase away the ho-humness of the current status quo Canadian political scene.
Rolling up Quebec
If this was done then we would have a fight for government in this country. The only problem would be if each party split the vote almost evenly then the Bloc Quebecois may be the balance of power. The secret is rolling up Quebec  with an agenda that Quebeckers  can vote for.  In some ho-hum political minds that may mean playing with the old formulas like Meech Lake or some kind of special status for Quebec.
Personally I am opposed to any province or people getting a special status to remain in the Canadian confederation and I think its time that Canadians grow up on that issue. It’s time for the political parties to build a consensus in all provinces and clearly state that is their objective for Canada. Parties like the Bloc Quebecois are the product of old Canadian thinking by Quebeckers and the rest of us. Separate: what a passé idea that is and we need to state this clearly in all federalist Canadian political party platforms.
A mental Bloc
The Bloc represents all the angst of a divided Canada where the alleged hurts of history and culture are perpetuated through ho-hum election after ho-hum election. The result? We elect constant minority governments that have to play silly games in Ottawa to stay in power. It won’t matter whose minority is in power the same silliness and pettiness will go on and on. Worst yet if the current mood continues in Ottawa to stay in power parties will have to flirt with separatists.
The result? Canada gets no direction that has more than a two year planning horizon. It destroys any real building of the country and any real direction that we can all be proud of. And are we headed for the same thing? Well check these poll results below from yesterday. Most polls tell this sorry tale.

Over the rest of campaign, what will happen to the Conservatives' lead in the polls?

It will decrease a lot. 26.3%
It will increase a little. 25.6%
It will decrease a little. 20.9%
It will increase a lot. 19.2%
It will stay the same. 8.0%                       

Total Votes: n=1469
And examining polls today the following minority Parliament will be the result again. Conservatives 37%; Liberals 28.2 %; NDP 18.2%; Bloc 10%, Green 6% and others .9%That will yield a minority Conservative led parliament with the following seats per party. Conservatives: 143, Liberals 77, Bloc Quebecois 49, NDP 37, Others including the Green Party with maybe two seats. Truly a giant $300 million ho-hum that the taxpayers pick up for the cost of this election. 
Obviously if the Liberals and NDP formed a coalition it would provide that new entity with 114 seats using this scenario. The key is cracking the Bloc vote in Quebec if anyone is to get a majority. By the way a majority can be had in this parliament with 155 seats. If you examine the little poll above about whether the Conservatives will maintain a lead in the polls the 1469 people polled so far amount to 47.2% who see a decrease in Harper’s lead and 45.2% see an increase. Canadians are obviously not seeing any great swings at the moment for any party. However, the bottom line is  you can run this country with the approval of only 37 percent of Canadians voting for your political party and that’s sad.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 1 April 2011

What was your first personal computer?

It changed how we did work and taught us how to “learn a living”.
By Tom Thorne
The first  computer I bought with discretionary budget in 1977was an Apple II. At that time I worked for TVOntario. One day a Computerland store opened in our building. We were all surprised that anyone would expect to make a living actually selling personal computers.  
Naturally we all went to see what they were offering and we discovered the Apple II. We listened to a sales pitch and after one short meeting we bought one and had it delivered to our office. It had two 5.25” floppy disk drives, and it also sported a 16 Kb RAM card inside. It was the most memory you could get and we had it. And with the eight Kb on the motherboard we had a whopping 24 Kb of RAM to play with. It didn’t have a hard drive. All applications were run from floppy disk into memory.  We also bought a printer a great clunky thing that had a footprint of a small refrigerator.
Spreadsheets are discovered
The machine came with a word processor and we had a copy  on floppy disk of the delightfully elegant VisiCalc one of the early spread sheets. We immediately put our budget numbers up on VisiCalc. This meant we didn’t have to send in our numbers for data entry to the Information Processing Department. If we had to do a report we simply printed it out and sent to my boss. Life was simple and fun without the Information Services Department and my boss thought our reports were “very timely and useful”.
Next we started to do word processing and since we were an editorial office we could see the virtue of “capturing our own keystrokes” because we now could take a floppy disk down to Monolino and get them to print off a perfectly edited version of our typesetting to paste up. We saved time and big bucks having to endlessly proof typesetting galleys for all the publications we were doing. We soon realized that our typewriters were passé. Our innovation pleased Monolino who lionized us as the “perfect customer already well advanced into the Information Age.” 
Trouble looms...turf wars
One day we had a visit from the Information Processing Department’s manager who was quite annoyed with us.”You don’t send us any work to enter into the computer system?” he whined. We explained that we now did it ourselves on the Apple II. He was not amused. “We are the processors of company can’t do our work on that thing”, (indicating our Apple II with an accusing finger). We tried to reason with him. His answer: “I’ll have to take this up with higher authority”.
He did take it up with a higher authority. The chief accountant was equally unamused with us. My boss came to our defence but the advocates for centralized authority of data finally won. The compromise: we could keep the word processing part of our “personal computing” but numbers for budgets and sales had to still go to the Information Systems Department. 
Learning a living1
However the rot had set in.We still did our spreadsheets for our daily use. Other managers came to see our innovation and before long more personal computers began to be seen everywhere in the office. We advanced our editorial systems with another Apple II and very soon our IBM Selectric typewriters began to gather dust.
Before we moved to even more advanced systems from Apple in 1980 we had begun to work with HyperText and Educational Authoring software packages as part of our commitment to developing our personal computing skills. This took us into exploring early videotext and teletext services at BBC and by 1982 we were deep into the experimental application of Canada’s Telidon technology which of course led us ultimately to on-line experiments which led us on a very intriguing trail towards the World Wide Web. Truly we were “learning a living”.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved
  1. “Learning a living”: Marshall McLuhan used this term for the first time in 1964 in his seminal book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man as the title of his chapter on education in an Information age.