Tuesday, 31 May 2011

New media are always built on editorial content. At age 30 the web has yet to learn this.

Journalism and the World Wide Web thirty years out. Watch out for big money web entrepreneurs and their social media and search engine ideas.
by Tom Thorne
The World Wide Web is a technical form capable of supporting low cost high payback commercial journalism projects and businesses. Most of the journalism efforts on the web at the moment mirror old media forms and do not fully explore the web’s potential to provide low cost high quality journalism content from freelance stringers. 
The current web situation is falling into the trap of allowing old media ideas and large editorial firms or the newly rich social media czars to set up places where journalists can work on the web providing content in a traditional employer-employee relationship or on free blog spaces that create business for their providers. 
The nature of the web is such that journalists can own their own low cost entry points  (their computers) and can live and work on the web with the potential of creating an important editorial space or spaces that can surpass the old media worlds. They can also provide the public with excellent quality editorial content. The real trick is how journalists can make a living doing this work. That is the business plan to develop and journalists tend to be observers not doers.
Weaving the web...has become more of a spider catching content
When one re-reads Tim Berners-Lee’s useful 1999 book Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of The World Wide Web by its Inventor, the reader is chastened by the author’s original high minded vision and commitment to end users and information providers of the system he created. 
Form without substance web entrepreneurs miss the point of Berner-Lee’s ideas as they became fixated on how they can make the web theirs. Facebook, Twitter and Google have no perceptible editorial principles, history or commitment  to content but they are masters of technique and as such provide users with the form where content is someone else's responsibility. They are much like the common carriers of the cable television industry. All technique and no original content. Content providers keep them in business and they reap the rewards.
Berners-Lee’s web concept  is centred on how you can make the web yours. In some hands his concepts unfortunately provide the likes of  Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook with a platform to making a fortune from frivolous hyperlinks, gossip, chatter and egotistical self promotion. 
It is somewhat scary that Facebook is capable of building momentum in elections and political arenas. It is a type of mindless propaganda machine in its worst state and an undefined democratic entity in its best guise. However, Zuckerberg could not have created Facebook without Berners-Lee’s and others considerable software and protocol work. 
Picking up on Berners-Lee’s basic ideas and applying them to new journalism forms on the web has been an project of mine for some time. I see journalism on the web controlled by journalists. This may be a pipe dream unless a business model can be indentified to get this rolling. 
On the other hand what will journalism become if Google and Facebook and Twitter enters the business using their bloated revenues to expand into editorial content? At the moment they are content to let others create content and while they provide cross promotions and searches.  
Social media and search engine profits have to go some where...
The money made from social media will likely be reinvested into new web editorial forms or it will be used to buy out start ups that are promising or come up with a journalism formula to make money on the web. Social media will not likely do anything except live off the actions of its users . However the capital social media generates could buy out The New York Times or The Globe and Mail and certainly the Huffington Post could certainly be a target because it already integrated into social media and Google generated ads.
If social media and search engine companies do go into content production, journalists may not like the result. We are a breath away from artificial intelligence search engines that pull together data and information and turn it into content and stories. Truly this brave new world hovers on the technical horizon. This could be the result of their type of thinking. In addition, these systems would take your personal information and offer ads that match your profile when you go to your social media homepage or to one of their auto generated editorial products.
Social media money is big money and when it is put to work to build editorial content it may not have the respect for facts and editorial processes that make for first rate journalism. Zukerberg has scant regard for your personal information on Facebook so why can we expect a high standard if he was to create a search engine-based news service cross promoted to and from Google, Yahoo and Ping? How this all goes down is dependent on how passive journalists remain as the web develops further as the wealth generated by social media and search engine companies looks for opportunities. 
The other fear is without a healthy editorial viewpoint social media and search engine companies tend to roll over and play dead when anything controversial arises. Remember Google’s waltz with Chinese authorities when they wanted to tamp down their citizen’s access to unfettered information? They finally backed off from China. 
New web-based editorial forms
No medium in history has the potential for realizing new editorial forms better than the World Wide Web. Gutenberg could not have conceived of the periodical or newspaper when he invented movable type printing. He was a book man still living in a manuscript world as his 42 line Bible attests.  Very few people realize how the web is structured to never fail or be down or how it can be found through any telecommunications avenue no matter how remote the end users are is or where a content and  information suppliers are located. What kind of high quality editorial products does this suggest? Certainly something different from traditional print and broadcast media or the fluff we generally see on the web at the moment.
Some other issues...
During the Arab Spring the Egyptian Mubarak government actually tried to shut down the web within their jurisdiction. The web is inherently democratic and rattles top down dictators because they cannot hope to control it.  What dictators don't know is Egyptians and Libyans and others overseas will always break through on smart cell phones, satellite phones and simply by using something as antiquated as analogue telephone lines. Within 24 hours of the shut down journalists began to file their stories on the web and participants in the Egyptian revolution began to send phone camera images abroad. The Egyptian government gave up trying to control the web and email services a week or so later. When that failed they cracked down on local journalists and kicked out foreign correspondents. That didn’t work either. The Egyptian revolution intensified mostly through constant web coverage. 
Political dictators fall in a web environment
Every dictator that tries to shut the web down fails. Its technical form and protocols initially hammered out by Tim Berners-Lee are such that if there is a computer or phone running somewhere it can light up and create a new network entry or forwarding system once it is connected. It’s not a stretch to day to say that the nature of the web and the software protocols and the portable microelectronic systems that form these entry points into a web enable new social contracts to be forged with governments. They also offer journalists an opportunity to provide high quality editorial content.
The prospect of being a dictator who believes they can still control people in a web generated information environment are truly missing the point that this communications technique brings to human affairs and particularly those in the journalism world who cover and comment on these events. What's needed now are new web generated journalistic sites that are capable of a rapid response to events but maintain high quality content. 
The web is at a pivotal point for editorial work and opportunity because dictators fall in the world of real politics as a result of web activity. At the same time successful web entrepreneurs look for ways to invest their capital made from search engines and social media. Journalists need to be active in this world if they are to build credible editorial systems before the big money does it first with automated systems that mirror the worst excesses of tabloids. 

Take a look at: Weaving the Web: The original design and ultimate destiny of the World Wide Web by its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti, Harper Collins, San Francisco, New York, 1999, ISBN: 0-06-251586-1 http://www.harpercollins.com   Try also: http://www.harpercollins.com/searcheng/2pagesearchx.aspx?mode=search&search=Berners-Lee
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Ed Broadbent won 43 NDP seats in 1988. Deduct 59 Quebec seats from 2011 and you get 44 NDP seats.

The NDP as official opposition and the management of Quebec aspirations may prove tricky for all the Canadian federalist parties.
By Tom Thorne
Here are some basic facts about the 103 New Democrats making up the new Official Opposition. The NDP has gone from 38 seats in the old parliament to 103 in this one which gives them 68 inexperienced people to train and control. Fifty nine of their MPs come from Quebec as part of the bold experiment Quebec voters are having with a federalist party that had only one seat in that province at the last election call. Already some of the new NDP members have indicated that they are soft on federalism and have cryptic yearnings for an independent Quebec. 
Liberals got nine percent of Quebec’s 75 seats: Perhaps a dose of the NDP is just what Quebec needs at the moment. They certainly didn’t want Liberals or Conservatives in any numbers representing them this time. The seven Liberals who survived the debacle in Quebec are: Denis Coderre, Francis Scarpaleggia, Irwin Kotler, Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau, Massimo Pacetti and former leader Stéphane Dion. It is interesting that Dion the former Liberal leader largely marginalized by Liberal party insiders, was re-elected while Michael Ignatieff their star choice was defeated not only in his Toronto riding but across the Canada.
Conservatives got eight percent of Quebec’s 75 seats: The six Quebec Conservatives are: Maxime Bernier ( remember he was dumped from the Harper cabinet for losing sensitive documents at his girl friend’s apartment), Stephen Blaney, Jacques Gourde, Christian Paradis, Bernard Généreux and Denis Lebel. Only Jacques Gourde didn’t make the cabinet. Harper had very little choice but to reward the Conservative survivors in Quebec with cabinet posts. 
The Bloc got five percent of the Quebec seats: Quebeckers neatly dumped the Bloc Québecois as a tired out passé party and installed the NDP as an exciting political experiment. They elected only four Bloc members.  The problem is, of course, knowing where this experiment leads. It’s like setting up a blind four year taste test which could swing towards separatism or federalism depending not so much on what Jack Layton does but more about what Prime Minister Harper does to keep Quebec on side. 
Quebeckers don’t like Mr. Harper, so it will be all uphill for the Conservative government.  Jack Layton and his Quebec lieutenant Thomas Mulcair will also have to play the Quebec nationalist cards they have been dealt very close to the chest if he is to manage this giant Quebec contingent effectively. 
The Bloc with all its members never had the clout of actually ever being the Official Opposition. Their approach was always whether legislation was good or not for Quebec if their support was to be wooed.  If they thought that Quebec would get something useful they were for it. Their commitment to Canada was about as strong as skim milk.  The NDP should not encourage any separatist agenda if it can remain true to its own federalist roots.  However, because of their 59 Quebec seats they will have to play some Quebec nationalist games.

Conservatives or the Liberals will be hard pressed to condemn whatever the NDP does with their Quebec representation. In short the NDP holds  the majority in Quebec and the Liberals in particular have to play carefully if they hope to restore their own prospects four years from now in both Ontario and Quebec. Both the Liberals and Conservatives are so low in the Quebec public opinion the outcome of this experiment with the NDP is critical to the fate of federalism in Quebec.
The great trial begins...
It is a time of trial in Quebec and the rest of Canada. Quebec voters are saying that they are prepared to play federalism of a sort for the next four years. All federalist parties must show that they can provide Quebec with a reason for participating in Canada. If the federalist parties are weak or vacillate on Quebec aspirations, then during the next four years the Bloc Québecois could rise again or to balance out Ottawa, Quebeckers will elect a provincial separatist government after they unload the unpopular Jean Charest Liberals . No one has put a stake through the heart of Quebec separatism. It is like a vampire waiting for the night.
Finally, of the 103 NDP members elected in 2011, 59 are from Quebec. If the NDP doesn’t play this advantage well and loses those seats four years from now, they will return to the highest numbers they got when Ed Broadbent was their leader in 1988 when none of their seats came from Quebec. In Broadbent's time and they won 43 seats in parliament. Deduct the Quebec seats from the 2011 election results and you get 44 NDP seats. Is this the natural level of NDP representation in the Canadian parliament?  That is why it is tricky having 57 percent of the NDP seats from Quebec.  The great experiment has truly begun. 
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Toronto and London stock exchanges want to merge. Let's ask why?

The real issue is who will benefit from the TSE/LSE business merger?
by Tom Thorne
When the London Stock Exchange (LSE) was founded in 1698 in a coffee house where John Castaing held court and traded stocks and speculated on commodities with his friends basic fundamentals of fair trading were developed. These casual beginnings soon became an institution by the mid 1700’s developing as the British Empire expanded around the globe. All the rest is history as London became a world financial centre during the late 18th and19th centuries. 
The Toronto Stock Exchange has a natural historic connection to the LSE. Before there was a stock market in Toronto much of the business conducted in the Canadas was through the LSE at the Empire’s centre. The first inklings of a separate stock exchange in Toronto was about 1852 but the real TSE starts in 1861 and really gets rolling by 1871 and finally incorporated by an act of the Ontario Legislature in 1878. Its growth follows the LSE patterns at the same time in history. We shouldn’t forget that there was an earlier stock exchange in Montreal before the TSE got rolling.
The TSE and LSE have a history together so this merger talk is quite natural. The contemporary merger however, is generated by the technical ability to trade 24/7 by computers. The markets round the world never asleep as they trade world wide all the time in different time zones. Stock and commodities markets are driven by program trades that act whenever their parameters are met globally so this $3.5 billion business merger will not affect anything that is happening on a global scale already. We might ask what is the point of this merger since in trading terms the computerized  systems are already merged.
Mergers are not new...but do investors benefit?
Mergers of stock exchanges are not new. The LSE merger with Borsa Italiano in 2007 is such an example. However it can be argued that the mergers do not affect the trading of stocks, bonds, or commodities that goes on between exchanges no matter who manages what stock market groups or who merges their managements and perhaps their technical systems. The real question for investors and regulators to ask is who benefits from this business and management merger?
The trading networks exist no matter who manages them and where they are. The real questions are whether the principles of stock exchanges still are maintained by  these mergers. Let’s review those principles. The roles of any stock or commodity exchange is to provide the following functions and procedures:
    1. Raise capital for businesses
    2. Mobilize savings for investment
    3. Facilitate company growth
    4. Create profit sharing
    5. Provide a healthy financial environment for corporate governance
    6. Create investment opportunities for small investors
    7. Provide government capital-raising for development projects
    8. Be a barometer of the economy
    9. Provide an environment for positive speculation
As we all know the recent world wide financial meltdown missed most of these points. So any merger needs to examined from a fundamentals point of view. Who stands to gain from this change? That question to this point has not be answered for the LSE/TSE merger.

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Web based journalism should strive to be much higher quality than instant gratification or a sound bite.

Freelance journalism may be the way to create cost effective new high quality web based editorial publications that have no relationships with the old print and broadcasting worlds.
The web enables journalists to inexpensively own the means of production and work from their home offices. They may be out of town but never out of touch.  The point is how does this fact translate into building new editorial forms on the web?  As the web develops its inherent cross promotional nature can be used to build editorial networks of freelancers who in turn cover issues and stories in depth. In turn they could create a daily or weekly virtual publications that they contribute to and with no old media parent medium as a base. 
The Huffington Post:  The Internet Newspaper is in some way the first publication of this type that has built a name for itself completely on the web. As it stands now as the form of a new medium  it lacks an impeccable reputation for accuracy and is it a web publication of record?  It is a strange combination of print, TV and social media hyperlinks. It has the tone of a trashy tabloid on its home page level. As you click on any story the user/reader goes deeper until you get the entire story is provided about the third level down. All the way to the full story you encounter advertising and promotions for products and services that pay the Huffington bills and also provide links to more Huffington stories both related and unrelated. It’s hyperlink heaven if you enjoy hyperlinks.  Take a look: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
At the moment most innovation still remains in the realm of experimentation utilizing the web’s natural affinity for cross promote though social media sites and by imbedded links in the stories. However, most stories on blogs, and other sites vying for your attention are largely taken on faith as to their veracity.  Other journalism sites spawned from existing print or broadcasting entities resemble their parent print publications or are ancillary services to broadcast journalism that flesh out radio and TV news or regurgitate news and programs 24/7 rather than be stuck with one time broadcasting or publication date. 
Their reputations are derived from their parent media. These broadcast sites enable further narrow cast markets to be reached by using downloading especially MP3 radio, video of recent broadcasts.  These sites started as  an ancillary place to cross promote the old parent medium and vice versa. An example with some innovation that is emerging is: http://www.cbc.ca/
New media always mirror old media
Mirroring the old media forms is not new. As new media are devised they carry the lore and forms of the old medium.  500 hundred years ago this old media mirroring phenomenon happened when movable type printing was invented. Printer-publishers did everything they could to make the new medium reflect the world of the hand lettered manuscript. The web forms are currently like that. Web sites mostly still look like print newspapers and magazines with the benefit that they can offer readers/users more  information than a story in the old medium. 
However there is another potential for using the web which might be much more interesting. That would get us past the mirroring of old media and into the development of completely new forms based entirely on the web. Here is one way to think about this situation.  Suppose a group of freelance journalists decided to provide a daily or weekly e-publication. Each contributor works from where ever they are located. Editorial control is maintained by email, social media, chat software or systems like Skype. This publication is a high quality web site executed at least the level of the Globe and Mail or National Post but has no antecedent in old media forms. It assembles each day (or week to begin with) and each contributor deals with a single topic such as the Canadian election from many directions.
There would be a synthesist on a topic through the eyes of perhaps 10 individual feature and opinion writers. The journalists would provide intense content on a topic getting past the sound bite and the simple reporting of what someone said. The objective would be to build trending events into an in-depth analysis. The site would also connect its stories to all its sources where they have a web presence or where documents used are published or can be obtained.   
An example of the type of story to cover.
An example of this type of web site could take on what has become a rather hoary topic larded with misinformation and propaganda such as Bill 393 an Act of the Canadian Parliament and a private members bill that enabled if passed HIV/AIDS drugs to be distributed to third world countries. This bill died on the order paper because of the election but it also died in the Senate of Canada after it was passed by the House of Commons. This story has a lot of tortured facts and emotion to sort through to really get at the truth.  The journalists committed to this web site would dig into a story like this in depth covering every aspect of the issue and what happened to it over the last three parliaments.
Done properly this proposed web site could become a site of record on any topics it covers. Its issues would become archives on the topic and always being updated.  It could also become an excellent teaching tool for training journalism students especially when all sources are intimately documented. Students could do some of the digging for documents and finding materials.  Readers examine the full story within one click of a mouse and the background information used to write the story is at the second level with hyperlinks to the original sources with an original document or  an unedited MP3 or video interview. Content on a site like this would always be the last word when it is published.   A site like this would master the web and its connecting systems. What do you think?
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

One thing the Liberals hate is being out of power. It's been too long for the Grit strategists to bear.

More on the Liberal NDP merger. Watch for moves by Jean Chretien to reconstitute the Liberals. Who will make it to the Liberal leader’s chair?
 by Tom Thorne
It is interesting how this merger topic remains in the Canadian political wind. Both the NDP and Liberal parties deny that this will ever happen calling on those with these views to examine the differences between the Liberal and NDP platforms. There are differences and that added to the negative weekend musings of Jack Layton may put this issue now on simmer or even on the back burner. However, to this point the merger issue is not off the stove yet. 
Former Liberal leader, prime minister, and party éminence grise Jean Chretien stated several days ago that the best interim leader for the party at the moment would be Bob Rae. Interestingly enough Bob Rae may be proposed for this caretaker job by Chretien to truncate the merger of the Liberals and the NDP. Bob Rae says he has an open mind to the merger discussions and that could be his undoing when the Liberal back room boys begin the rebuilding process. 
Rae also smelled the merger- no merger winds on the past weekend and is now rethinking his position and so is Jean Chretien. If he becomes interim leader  he would have to play the strict Liberal line and so the issue may come off the stove in the Liberal camp so they have a harder think about the future.
Jean Chretien is in my view is the master politician of the centre maintaining constant  majority governments during his time a Liberal leader. Chretien is pragmatic. He knows from past experience that Liberals can rebuild, although this time the financing will be much harder with a reduced parliamentary staffing budget and when Harper passes the revised election act bill which is now a certainty.  Liberal finances will become a key issue during this survival period and later during the regeneration of the Liberal brand with Canadians.  
Time is on Liberal side...
However, given four years of Harper majority government Liberals have time to devise another policy book and head hard again for the Canadian political centre. Also Quebec is now more open since the Bloc Quebecois has been gutted and the NDP must take on the responsibilities of managing Quebec interests with an inexperienced group of MPs.  Quebec is now an accident looking for a place to happen so the NDP will have to be extra astute to build on what they won on 2 May. The Liberals have bounced back before from as few as 43 seats. This 34 seat situation is the worst scenario they have had to deal with but it would be foolish to count them out. 
Chretien is always several steps ahead in strategy so one must look deeper to discover the reason for this Rae endorsement. Perhaps he really wants Ralph Goodale currently Deputy Leader of the Liberal party, to be leader although he is largely unilingual and that could be a liability in Quebec and other French speaking parts of Canada. He holds the Regina seat of  Wascana in Saskatchewan a province where Liberals are as scarce as hen’s teeth. So starting the rebuild in the West would be a bold move if it happens.
Goodale took his riding this time with only a 2,000 vote lead down from 4,000 in 2008. He has been a former cabinet minister and knows how the Chretien team ran this country until the Paul Martin era (Chretien’s anathema), was followed by the Stéphane Dion short interregnum and finally slipped into the Michael Ignatieff period with the sad results we now know. With Ignatieff back in private life the door is open to bring up Ralph Goodale and his experience. The new Liberal constitution now makes getting a permanent leader a quicker process than ever before so decisions will have to be made. 
Why Ralph Goodale? Well the first step of the regeneration of the Liberal party would then come from the West. It would give notice to the western voters that the Liberals are intending to be a truly national party again. Ralph Goodale is also well known to be cool to any NDP-Liberal mergers. That means the hard core Liberals in the Chretien camp  can rely on him. It is time to settle down in the minds of hard core Grit strategists. There has been too much leadership experimentation.
New blood...
Of course some analysts look to other younger Liberal MPs such as Justin Trudeau, Dominic LeBlanc or Scott Brison to find a new Liberal leader.  Trudeau is only a two time winner in his Montreal riding and carries the big name and also carries too much ammunition for the Conservative negative advertising team to work with. Dominic LeBlanc on the other hand has been an MP since 2000 in Beauséjour a riding in Franco New Brunswick. Before that he was a Liberal staffer in Ottawa. His education profile is also stellar covering University of Toronto, University of New Brunswick and Harvard.
Scott Brison is the member of parliament for Kings-Hants, Nova Scotia.  he has been re-elected each time since 1997 He is a business graduate with a University of New Brunswick and Harvard background and is the Liberal finance critic.
My bet however would be on the depth that Dominic LeBlanc would bring to the Liberal leader’s job. In addition, he is a francophone, but not a Quebecker with feet in English Canada and the USA although that didn’t help Michael Ignatieff much.  A francophone from outside Quebec dramatizes the nature of the French speaking fact of this country covering News Brunswick, Quebec, Northern Ontario and parts of Manitoba. We can only wait as the Grit wheels grind fine for a new leader that can beat Harper and return the NDP back to third place.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 5 May 2011

As bishops go to jail the root problem may be much deeper.

Is the Vatican Catholic Church capable of change and flexibility?
by Tom Thorne
I now regularly argue that currently there are really two Catholic churches. First there is what I call the Vatican Catholic Church (VCC) and its hierarchical structures headquartered in Rome. Second there is the Catholic Church throughout the world consisting of dioceses, parishes, parishioners and their pastors. 
The VCC finds it very difficult to change and respond well to the needs of the faithful at the diocese and parish levels. They function in a bureaucratized world of rules, pronouncements, apologies and ritualized blessings. In good faith they solidly believe that their work is relevant to faithful Catholics throughout the world. They may be misguided in this basic assumption.
Twisted respect
The Church of parishioners and their pastors is often capable of embracing change and addressing the spiritual and moral needs of the people. However their local message is often couched but in a type of twisted respect for the VCC and as a result they live disciplined lives of frustration and quiet desperation as many issues remain unresolved and are more often bureaucratized into lengthy processes by the head office in Rome or worse yet they are swept under a rug and ignored. 
That’s why I ask how can a bureaucratic top down highly centralized VCC organization deal adequately with the issues of contemporary life across the world? It is my view that current hierarchical structure is so passé that it has little hope of functioning well in contemporary times. In fact this style of management is largely passé for secular structures as well.
An old problem
Even in earlier times when the Church was concentrated in Europe and around the Mediterranean there was a chance that this system could function but even then the Vatican centre was often unable to exercise control to the point that there was a Schism and later a Reformation started from its own regional dioceses and parishes. 
The VCC’s lack of control and authority is not a new phenomenon of our times. There is a pretence that there is a central Catholic authority. I argue that even historically that has never been the case.
Please note that these comments are made in no particular context or with no particular issue front and centre or with no particular ax to grind. 
Out of step
It is my contention that the Vatican structure itself as it is constituted even over its lengthy history is unable to deal with the affairs of the people of the Church, the faithful Catholics who live their lives each day and wrestle with the moral issues of contemporary life. In short the Vatican hierarchy is out of step with needs at the parish and individual Catholics and  may well be irrelevant to their needs. The plurality  and diversity of the Church in the world today may spell the final end to the VCC’s authority.
How relevant can the VCC be?
The test of relevance is how well the VCC hierarchy deals with issues. Their approach from my viewpoint is the same as bureaucrats everywhere. They focus issues into well intentioned processes and the processes lead to more and more form without substance posturing all done in the name of good. If we trace their response to almost any issue the issue disappears into VCC processes and emerges when it does as an infallible rule book for the faithful to follow or worse it remains unresolved and remains in a moral limbo. 
The VCC system very often generates unreasonable viewpoints and expectations that instead of building resolutions to problems often builds stress for the diocese and parish and individual Catholics to deal with. The test of the VCC’s influence is whether or not what they say is what they do and also whether the faithful accept VCC viewpoints, apologies and pronouncements  as valid
moral guidance in their lives.
© Copyright 2011 Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The potential for misuse of power by Harper's new majority government is a real threat.

A majority from a minority of voters. Harper needs to prove that he will not run roughshod over parliament and those who oppose him this time.
by Tom Thorne
Two distinct types of change emerged from the recent Canadian federal election.  A minority of voters (40 percent) produced a majority for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Then the majority of voters attempted to break the old rancorous patterns of the parliamentary impasse by giving the NDP the official opposition in parliament leaving the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois reeling in shattering defeats. 
The problem is the NDP has less clout than it had when the Liberals and the Bloc had more seats in the previous parliament. The majority given by 40 percent of voters to Harper means that we are now embarking on a tenuous experiment where we can only hope that  the Conservatives can be disciplined enough to listen to Canadians and realize that their majority is not a fully popular one when 60 percent of voters didn’t vote for them. 
Hopefully we won’t see the worst excesses from the Harper Conservatives of Lord Acton’s well known dictum that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It may be wise to suspend any judgement until we see where Harper goes in the reintroduction of the budget. That will set the tone for the next session before the Summer recess.
Previous performance was not encouraging
However, given Harper’s performance in the past using his office as a presidential all-knowing centre there is a real need to keep a close watch on the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the party apparatchiks who manage it, as we venture into the world of a majority mandate created largely by vote splitting. 
Even in a minority situation Harper or his PMO minions dispatched Helena Guergis from cabinet and the Conservative caucus on trumped up charges later shown by the RCMP to be groundless. Although Guergis was not re-elected as an Independent Conservative this time, her case nevertheless, demonstrates how far the PMO will go even without a majority.
We all have seen for as long as Harper has been prime minister a style from the Prime Minister’s Office that is more presidential than parliamentary. This was especially true when he prorogued parliament twice to avoid meeting opposition concerns. Then there have been tight controls on the cabinet and what they can say to the press and to the public. It does not demonstrate an open dialogue or a transparency that should be a prerequisite in a democracy doing the public’s business using public funds. 
Finally there is the calculated destruction of political opponents besides those in Harper’s own caucus and cabinet. Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was the brunt of vicious personal attacks for over two years and throughout the election by Harper’s propaganda machine. The attack ads unfortunately worked to destroy the public’s confidence in a Canadian of consequence. 
In addition, the Harper machine chopped up Stéphane Dion, the previous Liberal leader. During the election the Conservative tried to stem Jack Layton’s rise by dredging up some 15 year old story about Jack’s visit to a massage therapist that the police were watching as a site of a bawdy house.
The lesson here is to watch what happens as the Harper Conservatives enjoy their victory and keep a close eye on the PMO types as they wallow in the power that comes with a majority. Hopefully they are aware that they need to be extra responsible and accountable to the majority that didn’t vote for them.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Stephen Harper's Dream comes true. His test will be can he keep to the centre or will be be tempted to be a shade of Mrs. Thatcher?

The Canadian Election: The morning after the night before. 
by Tom Thorne, Belleville, 3 May 2011
Conservative majority: four years to find out just how much Canada can polarize and evolve into a left-right two party system. Serious talk about a NDP-Liberal merger is now in the wind. 
The big news after the election is of course that Stephen Harper got his big prize. Now he has 167 seat majority government obtained by 39.62 percent of the national popular vote. This happened mainly because of the vote splitting of Liberals and NDP candidates where Conservatives came up the middle yet again. In 2008 Harper got almost 38 percent of the popular vote. Less than two percent more this time yielded this majority because of intense vote splitting.  Preston Manning, the former Reform Party leader, made all of the above points last night in Calgary at Stephen Harper’s victory celebration. He seemed pleased with this situation where the will of 60 percent of Canadian voter’s views were swept aside. 
Because of this situation the issue of a NDP-Liberal merger has taken on new life and the polarization of Canadian politics is now seriously underway. As Bob Rae discussed his win with CBC last night he left this issue wide open for debate. His role in the new parliament may be interesting since as I write this story Michael Ignatieff  just resigned as Liberal leader. This resignation is a sad commentary about how personal attacks has become the norm in Canadian politics and especially the crude relentless three year onslaught from the Harper Conservatives about Ignatieff’s commitment to Canada. Truly tragic. 
Majorities can be intoxicating
This new majority situation will force some Liberals with more right  wing sentiments to perhaps join the Harper tent. However a more likely scenario is a move by the NDP more to the centre to either sweep up more Liberals the next time around or during the four year life of this parliament. Whatever happens we are gravitating towards a two party system and as that evolution unfolds we are polarizing more distinctly into right and left camps. Both the NDP and Conservatives will be mildly more left and right so they can also attract  and retain the the centres of all political persuasions. The closer a party gets to power the more centre is its policy orientation and how it presents itself to the voters.
Harper’s victory speech at almost 1:30 AM in Eastern Canada was quite moderate and reassuring. He said that he would “stand on guard for all regions of the country”. However, who was watching Harper’s victory speech in vote rich Ontario and Quebec at that time of night in Eastern Canada? He said he realizes the trust of the Canadian people have given him. Then almost in the same breath he reviewed his right wing agenda of lower taxes for business, law and order issues, gun registry elimination and management of the economy with minimum government interference and some vague comments about Senate reform. 
This grand experiment will go on until 2015 when we will have the next election. It remains an open question of where it all shakes out. For the record here are the main results of yesterday’s election exercise.
Conservatives: 167 seats drawing 39.62 percent of the popular vote. NDP: 102 seats drawing 30.62 percent of the popular vote. 59 of their seats or 58 percent of their members are from Quebec. Liberals: 34 seats drawing 18.91 percent of the popular vote. More on that later. The Bloc Quebecois held onto four seats for 6.05 percent of the popular vote and lost party status in the new parliament. The other news is that Green Party leader  Elizabeth May won her seat in British Columbia dumping a Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn in the process. 
Jack Layton needs to tolerate Quebec nationalists...he doesn’t have to tolerate separatism. He will walk a fine line in a potential political minefield.
Jack Layton is the big winner at least on the surface. The downside of his win is he must now be the voice for Quebec in parliament or watch his support slip away. Since Layton was brought up in Quebec he may very well understand the needs of that province. He should realize that Quebeckers have given him a big trust since  his own riding is in the core of Metro Toronto.  
Also we need to see who actually makes up the 59 members of Jack Layton’s NDP Quebec caucus. There are a lot of untried people in their ranks so party discipline and steep learning curves could be a problem for the new Leader of the Opposition. It the ball is dropped by the NDP in Quebec we can all look for another rise in soft nationalist and hard core separatism in Quebec. This experiment is crucial for Canadian unity and must not fail.
Stephen Harper could if he is cavalier enough, govern as he sees fit. He will be tempted. We’ve all seen his central control PMO style and how his will must be done. Hopefully he is smart enough to know that Canadians always want to gravitate to the centre despite the party labels they support. He would be wise to govern with a fair, firm and friendly style and realize that other parties in parliament represent 60 percent of Canadians. If he runs roughshod over Canadians and parliament, his government will be held accountable at the next election in 2015. By then the merger of the NDP and Liberals may very well herald his departure.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved