Friday, March 31, 2006

Liberal Leadership Poll

New Decima Poll out that concludes the top four Ignatieff, Brison, Rae and Stronach(who decided the frontrunners?) have relatively equal chances to connect with voters. Most of this poll is essentially useless, except for this tidbit:
The survey did find some small differences among the four top contenders. For instance, Mr. Rae was the least popular among diehard Liberal voters, with only 77 per cent saying they'd stick with the party under his leadership.

That compares to 84 per cent under either Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Brison and 80 per cent under Ms. Stronach's leadership.

But the poll found Mr. Rae could lure away the most NDP voters (40 per cent) while Mr. Brison and Mr. Ignatieff could lure away the most Conservative voters (31 per cent each). At 25 per cent, Ms. Stronach was the least popular among those planning to vote Tory.

One argument I have heard to prop up Stronach's leadership bid is that she would shave off some Tory supporters. Stronach lags behind with Liberal faithful, but more importantly she has a noticeable gap with Conservatives. I think these discrepancies are a function of the fact that Stronach is a relatively "known" quantity, with the accompanying high negatives.

Rae appealing to NDP voters supports the argument that the party can afford to move to the left and still remain relevant. Rae's appeal also confronts the conventional wisdom that NDP supporters will never forgive him. Too early to say much about polls, especially one that omits Kennedy and Dryden.

The Problem With Ignatieff

Last night I watched the re-broadcast of Michael Ignatieff's "vision" speech. As usual Ignatieff was impressive, demonstrating his eloquence and forward thinking. I thought he showed a remarkable understanding of the Canadian experiment, as well as the challenges ahead. His presence in the Liberal leadership is a definite asset and I have no doubt he would be an exceptional leader. I don't agree with all of Ignatieff's stances, but it is isn't a requirement that people mirror my opinions to earn my support.

However, yesterday's speech serves as a microcosm of the potential problems for Ignatieff as he moves forward. I fear that Ignatieff's "message" may be overshadowed by his substantial paper trail. During the Q and A session after Ignatieff's speech, the questions illustrated the shortcomings. The first question surrounded the much discussed torture issue, with hooded protesters to boot. The next question concerned Ignatieff's use of the Balkans in reference to the Quebec question. Then a question on Iraq, with the usual criticisms. A question on residency, one on taking Alberta's oil revenues. All of the questions were answered, some of the rebuttal was impressive. The problem lies not in the answers, but the fact that all these issues will invariably haunt Ignatieff throughout this leadership process. It is realistic to wonder if Ignatieff will be able to effectively articulate his vision or is he destined to react to perpetual damage control.

The media loves controversy. Ignatieff's past provides easy fodder, which shows no signs of waning. Much of the criticism is unfair and represents selective editing. However, the fact remains that the baggage serves as a cloud over an otherwise amazing man. I am not saying I would not support Ignatieff because I would and may. What I am saying is I hesitate because I wonder if the Liberal interests are not best served through selecting a leader with a relative clean slate. Yesterday highlighted all that is right with Michael Ignatieff, but unfortunately it also revealed the pitfalls.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Body Bags Will Promote Canada

CTV did a story on the Harper government's new initiative to inform Americans that yes, Canada is an ally in the "war on terra". The Conservatives are spending 18 thousand dollars on a marketing campaign that places ads at strategic subway stations in America, educating people about Canada's role. Apparently, Americans have no idea that we are now the vanguard in Afghanistan, not to mention all the bi-lateral security arrangements. A small pitance to promote Canada, wouldn't you agree?

I would argue that the Conservatives are wasting money because we have an even more powerful tool at our disposal- dead soldiers. Nothing grabs headlines and brings awareness like caskets. Take yesterday for example, now that is priceless free advertising. Look at all the p u b l i c i t y from just one death. If all the predictions of a very active insurgency this summer prove true, Canada can look forward to continued coverage across the world. So my advice to Stephen Harper's propaganda campaign, don't worry the world is beginning to see that we are engaged in the war on terror. Give the 18 grand to the soldier's family instead, at least it might do some good.


Apparently, there is some misunderstanding about the point of this post. Andrew at Bound by Gravity links here with this:
Some bloggers take sick glee in the suffering of others: this article is particularly tasteless

I am not taking glee in suffering, but I do take offense at our government wasting time and resources to educate Americans. With our new role in Afghanistan, and a media pre-occupied with violence, Canada's role will become known through death- that is just a plain fact. What is really tasteless is the Harper government's need to promote our "suffering" to score political points with the Americans. I apologize if my post was hyper snarky and in turn belittled the death of someone.So there is no confusion, I supported the mission in Afghanistan and have great respect for our servicepeople.

Harper/Bush: "Cut From The Same Cloth"

Several bloggers, including myself, have detailed Harper's strategy of approaching every issue with vote potential in mind. Gerard Kennedy has called the Conservatives agenda a "marketing" strategy, offering palatable policies to curry favor from the electorate. The short-sighted goal of attaining a majority betrays the long-term best interests of the country.

With this philosophy in mind, it is curious that Harper chooses to engage in such a high-profile "outreach" with the Bush administration. In Canada, there are few things as unpopular as the government to the south:
The poll also found that 69 per cent of Canadians believe Mr. Bush's election was a bad thing, compared with 58 per cent who thought the same way right after he was given a second term. By contrast, 19 per cent think his election was positive, down seven points from November of 2004...

The survey, for example, found that in Quebec, 81 per cent of those surveyed thought Mr. Bush's re-election was a bad thing. The poll also found that 70 per cent agreed with the statement that, although they value the United States and its citizens, they disagree fundamentally with the government.

With public sentiment in mind, Harper hardly benefits from comments such as these:
The trip also sent a message to Washington, according to John Hulsman, an analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

''That was to show the cavalry is back in town, that they're not going to be anti-American,'' he said. ``Harper, like Bush, has a black-and-white, good-and-evil view of the world -- they're cut from the same cloth...''

''If George Bush can't get along with Stephen Harper, he can't get along with any world leader,'' said David Taras, a political science professor at the University of Calgary. ``They're ideological cousins, if not twins.''

Politically speaking, the last thing Stephen Harper needs is the perception that he ideologically similar to an essentially "radical" Bush regime, particularly in Quebec where anti-Bush sentiment is strongest. This policy will serve as an achilles heel that the opposition can capitalize on. Given, Harper's priority of offering political goodies to win votes, he may want to reconsider his "closer" ties with Bush. Harper's strategy is even more confusing, given the current climate in America, where elected Republicans have found it necessary to distance themselves from Bush if they hope for re-election this fall. In aligning closely with Bush, Harper reveals the mirage that he is a moderate and the opposition should exploit the contradiction.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kennedy's Run: A Function of the Blogs?

Gerard Kennedy looks certain to run for the Liberal leadership. I wonder if his campaign may represent the first time the Canadian blogosphere has made a practical impact on the political landscape. We have seen high profile bloggers call for email campaigns to court Kennedy. A litany of posts that laud Kennedy's credentials and potential. In general, a buzz is created as the mainstream media picks up on the blogs, writes articles, which in turn inspire more posts. When we hear Kennedy speak of the "groundswell" of support that is driving him to run, is this not an acknowledgment that the online community has impacted his decision.

I think it fair to say, had it not been for the blogosphere, Kennedy would probably not be running. I hesitate in overstating the importance of blogs on the "real" world, because in many cases the influence is overstated. The perfect example of this phenomenon is the American DailyKos. It was sad to watch frontpage posters fall into depression because John Roberts was approved by the Senate. People actually believed that their posts would derail his nomination, in effect there was this delusion of self-importance that went beyond reality. This is not to say that DailyKos is not influencial, only that its reach is not as extensive as the hype would suggest. However, in the case of Gerard Kennedy, I would argue that the blogs have made their mark and that influence may well drive Kennedy to success at the convention.

The one worry about Kennedy is that he is a relative unknown outside of Ontario, partially within it for that matter. However, again the internet has the capacity to usurp the traditional constraints of name recognition because the networking allows the word to spread. I firmly believe that Gerard Kennedy is the Howard Dean of Canadian politics, that bloggers can shape the landscape. Would Kennedy have run anyways? I guess we will never know, but my instincts tell me that he represents a watershed moment for the online's relevance.

Harper Faltering in Quebec?

Given Harper's obsession with winning more votes in Quebec, the latest batch of relatively bad press should give him pause:
Harper's staunch defence of Canada's offensive combat operations in Afghanistan has raised eyebrows in Quebec, as have the government's lukewarm stance on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the failure to deliver on a promise to help fund a cash-strapped public zoo in Quebec City, and the decision to scrap a daycare deal that was to bring $806 million to the province over the next five years.

And now the government's tough new communications strategy is drawing fire in a province where the Tories are desperate to make gains.

I have always believed that, despite the cynicism of "renewed" federalism, Harper would always face an uphill battle in Quebec because the Conservatives right-wing agenda is not a natural fit with the province. Delegating more power to Quebec is clearly attractive, but Quebec is generally a progressive society, naturally at odds with Harper's philosophy. It is for this reason, that the Liberal Party still enjoys an opportunity to re-emerge in the province if it gets it's act together.

This fact doesn't detract from the simple reality that Harper has made extensive gains in the province. The Conservatives have placed a premium on developing an effective Quebec organization for the next election. However, no matter the hopes, this leopard can't change its spots and for that reason there will always be a chasm. If the Liberals can develop a new approach to federalism, beyond the tired policy of largely ignoring concerns, then Quebec remains future fertile ground.

As an aside, there was one quote in the linked story from Harper that I found interesting:
"To hear the Liberals talk, you'd think they're still entitled to be in power. You'd think that the recent election in which 70 per cent of Canadian voters called for change had never occurred or if it did occur people should vote again and get it right," he said.

Harper plays with the numbers, but fails to mention the fact that 64 per cent of Canadian voters don't support his "change".

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Paul Martin Still PM?

I was watching CTV's news coverage, and they had a fascinating video clip of White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan at today's briefing. When asked about the upcoming Cancun Summit, involving Canada, the United States and Mexico, McLellan made mention of the Canadian Prime Minister. Apparently, the American administration didn't get the memo about Canada's election, McLellan twice referred to "Prime Minister Martin" attending Cancun. McLellan also referred to the "one Canadian" hostage released in Iraq- one, two, whatever, lets not split hairs.

McLellan's ignorance is particularly striking, given our new Prime Minister's fascination with all things Bush administration. How embarrassing to have a Canadian Prime Minister so enthralled with an administration that isn't aware he actually exists. McLellan's gaff was probably just a slip of the tongue, but it also reveals how Canada is largely an irrelevant player in the American lexicon. Anyways, I really hope Martin takes Bush to task over softwood lumber and the passport controversy.

Kennedy Nails It

The Toronto Star has a story, detailing Gerard Kennedy's strategy for the Liberal Party. Kennedy makes this comment about the Conservatives, which illustrates a keen understanding of the Conservatives "soft underbelly":
Kennedy, who is expected to launch his campaign next month, insisted that Harper's Tories do not have a monopoly on fresh ideas for Canada.

"My feeling is, as savvy as Mr. Harper is seeming to be following the marketing route and so on, there's a cynical part about that that leaves a very big opening for the Liberal party if it can get its act together," he said.

Kennedy correctly likens the Conservative agenda to a marketing campaign. What is particularly interesting, is the fact Kennedy recognizes that policy is not crafted from philosophy, but manipulation of the electorate. Liberals can compete with "renewed federalism" in Quebec because, despite the outreach, the policy is an attempt to appease, secure votes and not a moral imperative. Translation, the Tories don't give a rat's ass about Quebecers aspirations, but do care about securing their votes.

Kennedy sees an opening, because if the Liberals can project a ethical, coherent philosophy it will dwarf the slick, vote targeted Tory program. In essence, a real agenda always trumps smoke and mirrors. I firmly believe that Harper's agenda is a soulless concoction of calming measures, that shows no consideration for long-term consequence. The only vision- how to secure a future majority? The entire Conservative program centered around the idea of gaining power and now it is obsessed with holding and expanding it. This is why the Harper agenda is so dangerous, it will make decisions that directly relate to self-interest, rather than the greater good. Kennedy sees opportunity to exploit uber political manipulation with a real agenda.

Kennedy also demonstrates his bold approach through his refusal to cede the west to Harper:
The Manitoba-born Kennedy, who lived in Western Canada for 26 years, spent last weekend meeting with Liberal organizers in Alberta and British Columbia.

"There isn't any reason why we can't have a Liberal proposition that comes out of Alberta and comes out of B.C.," he said, warning against abandoning the West to Prime Minister Stephan Harper's Conservatives.

"They feel alienated and in some ways they should because they haven't been part of the base. They're not regions to be added on to, they are Canada — just like Ontario is."

Granted, Liberals chances in Alberta are realistically small, but the fact that Kennedy wishes to engage is the first step in re-establishing a real presence. This is leadership, this is vision and it belies a sense of country. The more I hear from Kennedy, the more I get the sense that he appreciates the situation and understands the way to counter the foe.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Harper's Biggest Blunder to Date

What are the Conservatives thinking, with this transparent assault on free media? Another day, another story outlining the new draconian measures imposed on the media, by a government bent on message control:
Security on Parliament Hill barred reporters from attending a pair of Stephen Harper photo opportunities Monday as the Prime Ministers Office flexed its media messaging muscles.

The made-for-TV confrontation between security and reporters outside Harper's office door graphically illustrated the deteriorating relations between a PMO seeking total message control and news media defending their hard-won access.

In outlining a series of new measures restricting media access, Harper is in effect digging his own grave. Instead of quiet reform, Harper seems bent on confrontation and alienation. Has the PMO heard of the word nuance? There is an underlying arrogance afoot, articulated already, in striking fashion, when Harper was challenged by Shapiro. This self-inflicted conflict brewing with the media belies an over-confidence, wherein a few men have deluded themselves into thinking they can dictate the agenda in a free country.

Many have already argued about the futility of trying to control the media. Message manipulation has been tried before, although not quite so publicly, and failed miserably. There are the comparisons to the Bush administration, where Harper clearly gets his inspiration(he is doing wonderfully in the polls isn't he?), although the Bush clampdown was far more subtle and covert. The Harper approach is unnecessarily in-your-face, to an institution that actually allows you to get your message out.

There is already lots of revisionist thinking about the last election. Harper ran a great campaign, stayed on message and spoke around the media. While there may be a some truth to the above, the media essentially enabled Harper. Harper had a relatively easy ride this past election. The media was soft on Harper, maybe as a result of the opinion that they were unnecessarily harsh during the prior election. My point, you can have all the slogans and messages you want, but you need a faciliator. You especially need the media when not in campaign mode, where paid media is even less of a factor.

Harper's director of communications Sandra Buckler demonstrates the lack of understanding, with this flippant comment about the scorned media:
"I don't think the average Canadian cares as long as they know their government is being well run."

And how does the average Canadian know anything? If the media gets its hackles up, and begins to feel the alienation as one, Harper will get bogged down no matter what the intentions. This entire issue is foolishness and in the end only hurts the Conservatives, while we undoubtedly still get the real scoop. In this age of new media, nano-second dissemination, how can you expect to manipulate the message entirely? The Conservatives were always allowed some "management" of message, simply as a function of the system. Why inflame tensions, make enemies, when you will ultimately accomplish little?

Here is an example- the Afghanistan trip. Scripted by Harper, meant to convey an air of leadership and resolve. Pretty pictures, shaking hands and instilling pride. The media responds to the Harper initiative, essentially benign, no tough questions. Mission, largely accomplished. Now, what about that visit after six months of friction and acrimony? Would the media roll over, or would they become combative and push the images? Whatever the answer, why chance negative coverage with horrible public relations. Harper has demonstrated his tin ear again, isolating himself within some warped sense that he controls all. I suggest the Conservatives will be in for a rude awakening as they deal with a media scorned. This blunder will keep on giving and giving.

Do Liberals Need "Vision"?

Ottawa Citizen's Susan Riley argues against the Liberals need for vision:
Contrary to received wisdom, the Liberal party does not need to re-invent itself, return to first principles, or articulate a clear vision. Visions are for saints, mystics and senior managers who, these days, are required to waste countless potentially productive hours drafting “mission” statements — bland expressions of good will and noble intent that are widely circulated and utterly ignored.

The Liberal party doesn’t need a “mission” statement, either. It needs to defeat the Harper Conservatives before they inflict serious damage on the economy, the nation’s social fabric, international reputation or domestic unity

I agree, the Liberals need to defeat Harper before his leaves a lasting impression. The trouble with Riley's logic is she rails against introspection, but doesn't provide an alternative. In fact, Riley actually provides the argument that makes re-inventing essential:
What Liberals must realize is that Harper is no more likely to defeat himself than he was willing to collude in his own failure in the last election. Waiting for him to self-destruct can no longer be the Liberals’ main strategy.

You have two options in a campaign, provide a clear platform or run against your opponent. Riley acknowledges that it is folly to fashion a policy that relies on Harper self-destructing. That leaves a positive platform, which necessitates a vision.

Tom Axworthy's slam on past Liberal policies is a great first salvo in the transformation. Who is kidding who, if it weren't for latent apprehension about Harper, the Liberals would have faced Kim Campbell like failure. The fact there are many Liberals left standings is irrelevant in calculating the gravity of the situation. You could argue that complete electoral annihilation would have been an even better scenario. Then, we wouldn't have the added "mending fences" angle, the entire Liberal bureaucracy would have been turfed and a new era easily attained.

The Liberals need vision in spades. Right now if someone asked, what does the Liberal Party stand for, I doubt you could give an easy answer. Could you say the same about the NDP or the Conservatives? That says it all, Riley is dead wrong.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Emerson Protests Come to Ottawa

The Emerson scandal is revealing all kinds of fascinating and creative ways to highlight dissent. This is a great idea:

David Emerson will be the target of an aerial protest over Parliament Hill next month...

A Vancouver-Kingsway resident has hired a small aircraft and pilot out of Toronto to fly over Ottawa as Parliament opens April 4, towing a banner with a message for Emerson.

That message will read "David Emerson Call Home", in 1.5-metre-high letters along a 40-metre banner.

The plane won't fly directly above the Parliament buildings, but will be close for MPs to see it as they arrive for the speech from the throne, said organizer Manuel Pereda.

Those lawn signs are a hit:
Meantime, protests continue elsewhere in the riding. Nine teams hit the streets Saturday, filling requests from homeowners for lawn signs that read De-elect David Emerson.

About 600 signs have been posted in the riding since last weekend. There is a backlog of 180 requests.

Chalmers said they are thinking of ordering additional signs to follow up on an initial order of 1,000.

No matter the outcome, what a terrific statement on the will of the people to be heard.

Least Objectionable Key to Liberal Leadership

Yesterday, Ahab's Whale had an interesting entry, arguing why Ken Dryden may emerge as the frontrunner for the Liberal leadership. The jist of the logic centers around Dryden as the consensus "second choice":
As everyone's potential second choice, Dryden will likely position himself in later ballots as the safer of the relative option, given that the other wannabe candidates all seem to be asking the party to take some measure of risk. For a party looking to emerge united from the convention, the argument will no doubt prove appealing.

Today, I read a mainstream story that puppets the Dryden angle:
Indeed, with no runaway frontrunner, victory is more likely to go to the least disliked candidate than to the most loved....

Siegel thinks the process works to the advantage of his preferred candidate, former minister and onetime hockey great Ken Dryden.

With his ponderous speaking style and imperfect French, the earnest Dryden is not every Liberal's first choice. But he's not seen as having been part of the Martin-Chretien civil war that fractured the party and he's given credit for finally delivering, in only 18 months, on a 12-year Liberal promise to create a national child care program.

"He's universally well-regarded, he's got all kinds of attractions and no negatives that would keep people from supporting him," says Siegel.

Amazing, that eight months out there is already speculation on how a second and third ballot will play out. I agree that Dryden is well placed to emerge as a consensus candidate, although I think Kennedy has equal opportunity. People like Stronach, and possibly Rae, are divisive forces that may lack the necessary room to grow at such an open convention. This convention is setting itself up to be a complicated affair, with lots of surprises.

Feingold Goes To Iraq

Senator Russ Feingold made his second visit to Iraq, alongside perpetual hawk Senator John McCain. I was curious to see what Feingold would say, because it is common practice for politicians to be overly diplomatic while abroad. Not surprisingly, Feingold didn't shy away and offered these comments to reporters:
Feingold said he believed "a large troop presence has a tendency to fuel the insurgency because they can make the incorrect and unfair claim that the U.S. is here to occupy the country."

"I think that it's very possible that the sectarian differences are inflamed by the fact that U.S. troops are here," he continued, adding that their long-term presence "may well be destabilizing, not stabilizing."

Feingold has been making this argument since late last summer, at the time he was vilified. It is important to hear Feingold make these remarks while in Iraq, with the Arab world watching. Feingold offered one other nugget to counter the Bush arguments for continued occupation:
Feingold said he was dismayed not to hear any of the military commanders he met with mention al-Qaeda as a source of the problems in Iraq. The Bush administration and U.S. officials here often point to the radical group as a major source of instability in the country.

"There seems to be a disconnect between the rhetoric in Washington about what this is all about and what we hear here," Feingold said.

Feingold accurately downplays the role of foreign fighters with Al Qaeda connections. In so doing, the emphasis is back to the main source of instability, the homegrown insurgency. I'm sure Feingold will take some heat back home for his candid comments, but someone has to push the envelope. I am so sick of watching Democrats offer timid criticisms and empty rhetoric when visiting Iraq. Finally, someone dares to challenge the administration, while in the midst of the military he commands.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Scrap GST Cut: Sales Tax Expert

Everybody hates the GST, and Stephen Harper is using this sentiment to curry favor without actually helping Canadians. Sales tax expert David Robertson weighs in and shows who really benefits from the GST cut:
According to a new study of the promised one percentage point cut to the GST, some of the biggest beneficiaries of the proposed tax break – which will total an estimated $32 billion over five years – are banks and other financial institutions ($2.6 billion); doctors, dentists and other health professionals ($650 million); and landlords ($970 million).

Other unexpected beneficiaries include hospitals, colleges and universities – nearly $1.3 billion over five years, according to the study. (Hmmm, wonder if they'll consider reducing tuition fees?)

All told, about 17 per cent of Ottawa's GST revenue comes from specific companies and public sector organizations that, unlike most businesses, are unable to pass along all their input costs for a GST exemption.

The Liberal tax cut was aimed at lower income Canadians, but the Conservatives have argued their GST cut is equally helpful. Robertson disagrees:
As he points out, cutting the lowest marginal income tax rate by one per cent and increasing the basic personal exemption, as the Liberals did, is worth $320 a year to most taxpayers.

To get the same bang for your buck with a one percentage point GST cut, you would have to spend at least $32,000 each year on goods and services other than rent or mortgage payments, groceries, prescriptions drugs, tuition, child care, insurance, loan payments and investments, all of which are GST exempt.

Another study has found that the GST cut will cost Ottawa 5.2 billion in lost revenue, substantially more than the 4.5 billion dollar Tory calculation. Are Canadians prepared to entertain deficit spending so that banks can pay less? The problem for the opposition is that the Conservative's GST cut is all about appearance, while the arguments against are more complicated to convey. It is difficult to make the case against cutting a dreaded tax without giving the Conservative's ammunition. Just like the Conservative's childcare plan, the solution is to manipulate the electorate into thinking Tories want to put more money in your pocket.

Despite the fact that the GST cut clearly favors the rich (strange how all Conservative policies tend to slant this way), this battle is one of impressions and in that regard it may be hard to stop. Personally, I have already heard several people speak highly of the GST cut, under the false impression that it is a real tax cut. It will be interesting to see if the opposition is willing to mount a strong challenge to the GST cut and risk public backlash. I would highlight the bank scenario because Canadians are well aware that these institutions are least deserving of further tax cuts.

What Was Stronach Thinking?

The Sheila Copps tribute was billed as a peace-making event for the Liberal Party. All the potential leadership hopefuls were there to work the room and take advantage of this high profile meeting. It is absolutely staggering to learn that Belinda Stronach decided her time was better spent at the Habs/Leafs game, than it was at this important event. What was Stronach thinking?

As many pundits have noted, what Stronach lacks on substance she more than makes up for in her ability to "steal a room". What a golden opportunity missed, not to mention the bad taste left from her absence. How many Liberals did she alienate by snubbing an event meant to celebrate a high profile woman? For Liberals, the King Edward Hotel was the center of the universe, not attending amounts to a self-inflicted blunder. Stronach comes off detached, disinterested and gives the appearance that she needs to get her priorities straight. Did she attend the hockey game to demonstrate to everybody how bad her French is?

I am not a fan of Stronach. I think she would be a disasterous choice for the Liberals, so from my perspective anything she does to torpedo her chances is a positive. However, attending this event is politics 101, a complete no-brainer- especially for someone "new" to the party. Huh?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Poll: Afghanistan Visit Boosts Harper

Not surprising, Harper's visit to Afghanistan boosts his numbers:
Nationally, 38 per cent of respondents said they would support the Conservatives, 26 per cent the Liberals, 19 per cent the NDP and 11 per cent the Bloc Quebecois.

Decima polled 1,012 adult Canadians. The results are considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Bruce Anderson of Decima suggested the rise in national popularity is because of Harper's widely publicized, gaffe-free visit to the troops in Afghanistan.

"They have likely gained some ground based on the coverage of the prime minister's visit to Afghanistan, although that may also have cost them a little bit of support in the province of Quebec," he said.

I have heard alot of people argue that Harper did the right thing in visiting our troops. It really is hard to disagree with that sentiment, although I am convinced the visit was more political calculation than moral imperative. A new Prime Minister who needs to solidify his position- what could be better than a feel good photo-op, oozing leadership? It worked, Harper gets a boost and confidently enters the international stage. Mission accomplished.

Parti Quebecois' Strange Logic

Parti Quebecois Leader Andre Boisclair is attacking the Charest government's budget. Boisclair compares Quebec and Ontario's recent budgets to illustrate the growing gap in education spending. The obvious retort, Quebec's relatively poor revenue performance is the logical consequence of future uncertainty. What incentive is there for investment, under the constant cloud of sovereignty? Boisclair offers this:
Boisclair insists he still wants to hold a sovereignty referendum in the PQ's first mandate if the party wins the next election, which will likely be held next year.

The PQ leader says he needs sovereignty because he wants to use it to improve education and to accelerate growth in Quebec.

Yes, nothing says accelerated growth like political upheavel and uncertainty. I would argue that it is the constant cry for further referendums that cements Quebec's inability to keep up economically. The PQ can deny any economic fallout from sovereignty, but every study with a hint of independent analysis shows anything from moderate to substantial economic consequence. It is ironic that the PQ cries for a strong Quebec, when their own policies deny the circumstance. If the PQ is serious about improving the chances for robust growth, it should demand a 100 year moratorium on any subsequent referendums, reaffirm Quebec's commitment to Canada and work with the federal government to eliminate unnecessary duplication.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Issue Liberals Need To Champion: Part 2

I am curious to see if any of the Liberal leadership hopefuls offer a bold vision on federalism. The Conservatives have their "renewed federalism" agenda, which is centered around provincial appeasement as a means to curry favor and secure votes. It is imperative for the Liberals to counter the drift towards regionalism and present a workable federal model that reaffirms the idea of nation. Politically risky, the idea of constitutional reform seems to offer more pitfalls than benefits and this has led to policy paralysis, with piecemeal initiatives.

The other day I heard none other than Peter Lougheed defend a Canada first approach, in the face of provincial prosperity. Lougheed argued that Albertans shouldn't see their current fiscal windfall as a vehicle for further de-centralization. A proud Albertan, Lougheed said the nation should take precedent over province. The fact that someone like Lougheed finds it necessary to defend Canada illustrates the challenges for federalism moving forward. I don't think there is any question that Canadians are developing a stronger identity as it relates to their region, at the expense of the nation. The Liberals have two choices, avoid the obvious and play it safe politically, or open up the debate and attempt to re-invent confederation.

Harper's proposal for senate reform is a short-sighted bandaid that circumvents the constitution and makes his policy largely ineffective. The Liberals need to offer their own package that incorporates all the players and issues. Centralism for centralism's sake is not a winning strategy, but if it can address provincial concerns, while arguing for a national agenda where applicable then compromises can be found. To remain silent for fear of alienating certain sub-sections is the equivalent of placid compliance as Canada unravels.

It is time to bring the lingering problems to a head, once and for all. How can we expect federalism to prosper when we have a permanent anti-federalist party presence in the national parliament? We now have provinces where federal bashing is civic duty and identity is forged through a "us and them" mentality. The only counter to tribalism is leadership, a force that articulates a unity. I favor a constitutional summit, preferably after Klein exits, that is willing to risk the nation to save it. Yes, Canadians have constitutional fatigue and would not relish opening old wounds, but the alternative is equally unattractive. Canada is losing its soul, slowly but surely. We can either sit on the sidelines and watch it happen, or be proactive and administer to the patient. Right now there is little dialogue, no path and much denial. Let's see if any of these leadership contenders acknowledge the obvious and turn up the heat.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Issue Liberals Need To Champion

With all the talk about soul searching and rebirth, the obvious question for Liberals is what should be the cornerstone issue of the "new" party? When you look at the challenges ahead, the one issue that Liberals can embrace to convey a future relevance is the environment. The previous Liberal governments have largely failed to show any substantative vision on a myriad of environmental issues. The symbolism of Kyoto aside, the Liberal Party has failed to demonstrate leadership on the environment and offered timid remedies.

Yesterday, we saw Ontario's McGuinty government offer a refreshing glimpse into a potential future path. Canadians are increasingly realistic about the seismic changes necessary to protect our air, water and natural places. The time is ripe for a bold, visionary platform that offers tough choices and accepts the unavoidable consequences. Canadians are largely ready to accept the cost of change, if they see a coherent plan.

It is encouraging to hear candidates like Brison cite the environment as the key issue moving forward. However, all too often we have heard politicians speak to the environment, only to see half measures that don't acknowledge the real peril. Just as past governments have installed infastructure programs to kickstart sick economies, we need a massive injection of money, within a clear path, to change direction.

If you put up a solar panel, the total cost should be tax deductible, or better yet the government will pay a sizeable percentage. All the monies collected through the federal gas tax should go back into environmental initiatives. The federal government should speed up the glacial process when designating new wild places. Efforts should be made to purchase, in concert with the provinces, land from private interests to expand the "unharvested" portion of our natural landscape. Corporations that pursue aggressive environmental requirements should be rewarded with incentives, while cronic polluters with no social obligation, should be penalized. What the economy designates as profit should include the equation of social cost.

If you want vision and leadership that redefines who the Liberals are, I can't think of another issue that demands forward thinking. It will be interesting to see if we move beyond the empty lip service, and tertiary tinkering that is woefully inadequate. Who will address the elephant in the room?

Kennedy Inches Closer

Increasingly, it looks very likely that Gerard Kennedy will enter the Liberal leadership race:
Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy is expected to officially enter the federal Liberal leadership contest next month, sources say...

The Nova Scotia Liberal senator leading the draft-Kennedy movement said he is certain the bilingual education minister, who once headed food banks in Edmonton and Toronto, will run.

"I'm not a guy who likes to waste his time and I'm still making calls" to potential supporters across the country, Terry Mercer said from Ottawa.

"I haven't been this excited about politics in a long, long time."

If Kennedy does enter the fray, he seems to have a great handle of the stakes:
"I have had approaches on the federal front before, but I guess the sense that there needs to be a fundamental reform of the federal Liberal party is what has me interested to the extent that I am considering it," he said, although he admitted he's a "dark-horse candidate without even a seat (in Ottawa)."

He said he's been buoyed by the strength of support from people who say he has "a unique contribution to make" to a party badly in need of rebuilding.

"They have at least convinced me that these kind of reforms are quite essential for the progressive, practical outlook that I believe in.

"These renewals don't happen on anybody's timetable, they happen as a result of a larger circumstance.

"I guess that's why these are probably once-in-a-generation chances, particularly this particular circumstance where there is a period of confusion about direction (of the party)," he said.

What is interesting, and refreshing for that matter, is that all the potential candidates seem to recognize that fundamental reform is required. Kennedy is an unabashed progressive who can attract the soft NDP support(myself included), which should allow for a real debate on direction, with tons of policy contrast.

Before the election, I argued that a Liberal defeat may be the best thing for progressives in the longterm, as defeat would require reform. I must say, this race is shaping up to be a meaty, philosophical affair and may well be a watershed moment moving forward. Instead of stopping Conservatives, we might actually find something to get behind.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Graham Sets Right Tone

Interim Liberal leader Bill Graham sets the right tone:
It's up to New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois to see that the minority Conservative government survives its first throne speech, says Opposition leader Bill Graham...

"I did point out (that) his is a minority that is even less strong than ours and on many of these issues he knows that not only (does) he represent a minority of members of the House, but also in terms of the electorate,'' said Graham

Graham's defiant demeanor is completely appropriate given the dynamics of the new parliament. The Liberals do run the risk that they will look like belligerent obstructionists. However, it is crucial that the Liberals clearly define their role and put the Conservatives on notice. Graham sets the table for a scrappy opposition, that will not be strong armed into supporting any measure that doesn't consider their position. In laying the onus of support on the other parties, Graham effectively allows the Liberals free reign to vote against the government.

Graham's stance finds support in the words of the former opposition leader Stephen Harper:
"The Liberal party can't expect to walk in and simply propose its own program that only one-third of Canadians supported and expect that everybody's going to vote for it.''

I suspect the looming battle will revolve around the child care question. All the other parties are on record rejecting the Conservative's proposal. Harper has repeatedly placed the child care issue within his top five priorities. The Liberals have made it clear that they will not support the Conservative plan, which leaves the Bloc and NDP to decide the government's fate. Graham offers a strategy where Liberals vote with their conscious, and the question of confidence is secondary. It is as though Graham is saying "if they fall they fall, we are acting in our interest". Graham looks eager to continue the Liberal tradition of feisty opposition which should make for an interesting parliament.

Visionless Liberals?

Quite alot of debate surrounding the relatively "early" Liberal leadership convention. Some argue that the Liberals should have postponed a leadership race, and instead focused on re-inventing the party. Others argue that it is essential for the party to act soon on the leadership question to present a face for the party and prepare for an early election. Two articles highlight the varying opinions:

The positive:
Unwilling to let Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his new Conservative government dominate the political arena for an entire year, the Liberal Party of Canada has wisely chosen to compete for the attention of Canadians by speeding up the process for choosing a new Liberal leader...

The goal is to generate public interest in the contest through serious debates on the directions the country needs to follow to ensure its success on the global economic and political stage in the coming years

The negative:
At the moment, Liberals are utterly lost. After careening through two years and two elections with Paul Martin, a party that once boasted it was the western world's most successful no longer dominates the political centre, is out of fresh ideas and has no obvious leadership light to follow out of darkness.

So what's the Liberal response? It's to declare that Stephen Harper is making such a horrendous start that they must be ready to fight an election now forecast for next spring.

What self-deluding nonsense...

A short, sharp leadership contest favors style over substance, organization over personal potential, pragmatism over growth. That, and the bravado assumption that voters will consider Liberals rehabilitated by next spring, inflates the spectre of a Conservative majority.

Liberals are wisely recognizing this contest must be transparently more honest. They are foolishly ignoring that the party needs more time to find itself. A party obsessed with power is now hurtling toward nowhere.

After the election, I argued that it was essential for the Liberals to abandon a quick leadership race. The Party desperately needed to focus on internal policy matters and re-energize without the distraction of ambition and naked politics. I also felt the Harper government had a clear two year window, given the electoral mood of the country, and this allowed for a slow process.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that the Liberals are best served with a relatively early race. The lack of a clear frontrunner has opened up the race to allow for a more substantive debate. If soundbites are any indication, potential candidates clearly recognize the need for the Liberal Party to re-define itself. Brison has spoke to a desperate need for vision, so too Dryden. Ignatieff welcomed Rae into the race, saying "the more the merrier". According to Ignatieff, the leadership race is primarily an exercise in:
"A great party engaging in a full borne renewal. A really searching debate deep inside itself."

My point? From all indications, many of these contenders understand the stakes and embrace the opportunity to provide a clear vision. This leadership debate can easily morph into the debate the Liberals require to provide a new, positive agenda. Through these candidates, if they hold true to their commitment, all the questions can be addressed in a forum that allows clear distinctions. These candidates are all in consultations with local people and the grassroots. Obviously, the feedback conveys the desire for a real debate and not the usual slogans and style. I think the race, on a substantive level, is shaping up quite well- everyone is ready to engage.

In addition, I have now abandoned the "two year" window argument for the Harper government. Harper has already used up so much political capital in such order that it has no historical precedent. The early signs show a government that's own rigidity may cause more friction that anyone bargained. Harper's political tin ear and his preference for little advice suggests a disastrous miscalculation waiting to happen.

No one would argue that it isn't in the opposition's best interest to have clear, forceful leadership. If Liberals can embrace renewal through the leadership race, then it is a positive to have a leader in place as soon as possible. This is not to say an election is imminent, but why not have the ability to move if opportunity arises. Harper is already fighting the next election, as evidence by his massive offensive in Quebec. I am not sure the Liberals can essentially stay on the sidelines for a long period and hope to recover.

The early signs suggest a leadership race that recognizes the imperative of substance. If Liberals can accomplish renewal in relatively short order, it will undoubtedly provide more flexibility in dealing with the Conservatives. I must admit I am pleasantly surprised at the tone of most of the leadership hopefuls- they seem to get it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hearts And Minds

Is anybody surprised when stories like this surface:
After a roadside bomb killed a U.S. marine in western Iraq, American troops went into nearby houses and shot dead 15 members of two families, including a three-year-old-girl, residents told The Associated Press on Monday.

The military says 12 marines are under investigation for possible war crimes by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service following the Nov. 19 attack in Haditha, 225 kilometres northwest of Baghdad.

The allegations against the marines were first brought forward by Time magazine, which reported this week that it obtained a videotape two months ago taken by a Haditha journalism student that shows the dead still in their nightclothes...

"American troops immediately cordoned off the area and raided two nearby houses, shooting at everyone inside," said Mr. Rsayef, who didn't witness the events but whose 15-year-old niece says she did. "It was a massacre in every sense of the word."

I'm sure there are many other incidents like this one, that will never see the light of day. Unrealistic to expect humanity, when everything about war contradicts the premise. These American soldiers aren't unique, it happens in ever conflict- atrocities are a pre-requisite. Another night of Arab news outlets beaming the message that America is evil. Hearts and minds?

Emerson/Harper Inquiry Over, But...

Shapiro concludes:
From the preliminary inquiry is that neither Mr. Harper nor Mr. Emerson contravened any of the specific Sections of the Members’ Code. I am satisfied that no special inducement was offered by Mr. Harper to convince Mr. Emerson to join his Cabinet and his party. In addition, there is no reason, and certainly no evidence, to contradict Mr. Emerson’s own claim that accepting Mr. Harper’s offer seemed, at least to him, a way to better serve his city, province and country. I therefore find no reason to pursue these matters further.

Hardly surprising, it was technically a weak case. Although, Harper's massive over-reaction now looks incredibly foolish, given the quick end to the inquiry. What is interesting is Shapiro concludes that, while no there is no formal breach of ethics, the appointment of Emerson leaves much to be desired:
This discomfort can be partly explained simply by partisan politics. It is always a matter of some delicacy to determine whether a request for a specific inquiry arises from a genuine concern for compliance with the Members’ Code as opposed to, for example, an attempt to gain partisan advantage.

In this case, however, I believe that partisan politics – in the very best sense of that phrase – is an insufficient explanation. “Crossing the floor” in the House of Commons is not at all unusual in Canadian parliamentary history. However, the closeness in time of Mr. Harper’s offer and Mr. Emerson’s acceptance of it to the general election heightened the issues – ethical and political – that always lay beneath a decision by a Member of Parliament to cross the floor and become affiliated with a political party other than the one under whose umbrella he or she campaigned and was elected. Fairly or unfairly, this particular instance seems to have given many citizens a “sense” that their vote – the cornerstone of our democratic system – was somehow devalued, if not betrayed.

Shapiro offers the Emerson protesters some validation, by rebuking the Conservative's standard spin, that this entire affair is mere partisanship. Shapiro gives support to the idea of voter disenfranchisement. Clearly, Shapiro makes a distinction between this floor crossing and previous ones, by outlining the close timeframe between vote and crossing. While Shapiro acknowledges that his office has no formal complaint against Emerson/Harper, he advises parliament to deal with the negativity that surrounds such manoeuvers.

On the surface, the media will spin this as a win for the Prime Minister. However, if you carefully read Shapiro's conclusions, you can read it as "yes it stinks, but it ain't my pile". I don't see this decision dampening any of furor over Emerson, Shapiro is sympathetic to the outrage.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Liberal Executive Lays An Egg

The Liberal Party will pick a new leader in early December:
The leaders also took steps to reduce financial barriers for candidates, party president Mike Eizenga said.

Those steps include reducing the entry fee to $50,000 from $75,000, leaving more money in candidates' hands by eliminating the party levy on the first $500,000 raised, and tightening disclosure rules. (The levy on funds above $500,000 is 20 per cent.)

But the executive approved a $3.4-million campaign spending limit, which gives an advantage to candidates who can tap into rich backers.

Most striking, is the missed opportunity to project an appearance of equality. Despite the tinkering, the fact that the spending limit is 3.4 million sends a clear signal that money and power trump the grassroots. Instead of endorsing a 2 million limit, which apparently was on the table, the Liberals go with the high end number and basically say "nothing's changed". Eizenga can point to the cosmetic changes(any serious contender can come up with 75 thousand) as evidence of reducing financial barriers, but the bottomline is the spending allowance and in that regard it puts a barrier on certain candidates, while allowing others a distinct advantage.

This was the first test of the "new" Liberal Party and I think they failed badly. If you really are concerned about opening up the process, and it isn't just convenient politico speak, then you should make rules that level the playing field. Setting a high spending limit betrays candidates who don't have "important" friends and their organization will suffer, no matter the process. This decision allows people like Stronach to thrive, not on merit but influence. The national executive can spin all they want, but on the important matter of the day they went with the status quo and essentially revealed their disconnect. Money and power are alive and well in the "new" Liberal Party.

Liberal reaction:
"Candidates should be competing based on ideas and vision, rather than on bank accounts," Brison has said.

That could be seen as a dig against Stronach, also a former Conservative with deep pockets thanks to her multimillionaire father's business success as head of auto parts giant Magna International.

Stronach applauded the new rules, saying they will "ensure the leadership race is more open, accessible and accountable process . . . that will guarantee a level playing field for everyone who decides to run."

The fact that Stronach applauds the rules pretty much says it all really. I put in the earlier Brison quote because it speaks to the real capital that should dictate.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Liberals Need Kennedy

Cherniak has an overview of the main players for the Liberal leadership. The big six are Dion, Dryden, Brison, Stronach, Rae and Ignatieff. A brief look at each, makes it easy to conclude that the Liberals desperately need Gerard Kennedy if they hope to project a new image:

Dion: While Dion is a great intellectual, he is crippled by his close ties to old regimes. Dion has baggage which is not easily shed, in effect a new leader already tarnished. This predicament is hardly an attractive quality for those who understand the need for a fresh start. I suspect Harper would salivate at his chances in Quebec with Dion at the helm. "Renewed federalism" vs "old centrism" is a recipe for disaster.

Dryden:I like Dryden. Dryden shows a real grasp of the "big picture", approaching each issue with vision and coherence. Dryden's ideas challenge Canadians to reach for the best in themselves. However, Dryden is a boreasaurus as an orator, prone to rambly speeches that lack inflection. The message is great, but the messenger can be a turn off. Dryden's ties to the last government aren't a huge burden, but coupled with his age, Dryden may find it hard to present a new path.

Stronach:Is there a more divisive figure in the Liberal Party? As Cherniak said, you either love her or hate her- clearly a polarizing force is the last thing Liberals need. Stronach has grown since she became an MP, but she is still relatively lacking in the substance department. Stronach, rightly or wrongly, represents all that is wrong with federal politics. Star power, whatever that means, can't mask the deficiencies.

Brison:I caught Brison doing the rounds the other day. When he wasn't deflecting the email criticism, Brison again showed that he is a crafted speaker, heavy on philosophy. However, the recent admissions have tarnished Brison, whether Liberals choose to believe it or not. Again, Brison has the stain of the old regime, which puts him in conflict with the fresh approach.

Rae:What a great speaker and statesman. Rae is a true intellectual, who shows a masterful understanding on every issue. However, talk about baggage! NDP canvassers in Ontario still hear voters who refuse to vote NDP because of Rae. Rae was unfairly saddled with a massive recession, but his legacy is written in stone. While I welcome a Rae candidacy, his appeal may be limited and ultimately any success would probably bring more questions than answers. Do Liberals want such a controversial figure at the helm?

Ignatieff:Another intellectual, with a great pedigree. On the surface, hard to argue with someone who draws comparison to Trudeau. Again though, Ignatieff comes with issues that distract from his credentials. The residency angle portrays a sense of opportunism which Ignatieff will not easily shake. Ignatieff's age, the Martin factor also betray any sense of a new direction.

Which brings us to Kennedy. When you see the above landscape, and I am probably overly harsh, you conclude that the Liberal Party are setting themselves up for failure. The common theme I have heard since the election is the Liberals need to re-invent themselves and break away from the shackles of the past. Gerard Kennedy is the wildcard who has unique appeal when considering a new vision. Kennedy is relatively young, articulate, placed outside of the Ottawa hierarchy and has potential appeal over several regions. The stakes are high for the Liberals, this is not a time for half measures and cautious transitions. None of the above candidates can be packaged to convey a freshness the way Kennedy can. The Liberal Party needs Kennedy in this race, if for nothing more than appearance.

I like some of the above candidates, plus a couple more not mentioned. But, if you view this campaign tactically, I don't see a calculus of pluses and minuses that doesn't put Kennedy at the top. Everyone one of these candidates has a downside, what is Kennedy's?

Bush: Environmental Nightmare

Pretty sad, when the courts have to intervene to stop the Bush administration's assault on all things environment:
A federal appeals court blocked the Bush administration's four-year effort to loosen emission rules for aging coal-fired power plants, unanimously ruling yesterday that the changes violated the Clean Air Act and that only Congress could authorize such revisions.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with officials from 14 states, including New York, California and Maryland, who contended that the rule changes -- allowing older power plants, refineries and factories to upgrade their facilities without having to install the most advanced pollution controls -- were illegal and could increase the amount of health-threatening pollution in the atmosphere.

The fact that 14 states were part of litigation speaks to the Bush administration's disconnect from the people it claims to represent. Obviously, this is good news for eastern Canada, given the massive amount of U.S emissions that drift into the region. In an age where the world struggles to reduce emissions, the Bush administration offers the stone age mentality, actually arguing for looser restrictions. Huh?

However, for every positive development, the Bush administration moves on other environmental targets. Clearly, unable to take repeated NO's for an answer, we find this sad attempt to re-start the ANWR issue:
A last-minute deal to secure the vote of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on a $2.8 trillion budget plan has given new life to the Republican drive to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

The budget blueprint for fiscal 2007, which will begin in October, includes a $10 billion Gulf Coast restoration fund that would be financed from the leasing of arctic refuge drilling rights, revenue from new drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico and further sales of the broadcast spectrum. With that provision in hand, Landrieu cast the only Democratic vote for the budget resolution, which squeaked through Thursday night, 51 to 49.

It remains a longshot, given the past vote rejections, but the simple fact that this issue has re-emerged speaks to a single-minded, industry driven philosophy that has no regard for anything but potential profits. If only the American Senate were allowed to vote on the Iraq war over and over and over. Is it 2008 yet?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Buzz Makes A Point

I'm not a huge fan of Buzz Hargrove, but I think he makes a valid point regarding labour's affiliation:
"Union members are no more likely to support the NDP than other Canadians. And union leaders who position themselves as automatic spokespersons for the party are wasting their political credibility with their own members."

"We need an active, demanding independent labour movement to push the envelope and hold government accountable — whatever party is in power. Second, our members are far more sophisticated and independent- minded in their politics today. They do not want to be told how to vote."

Organized labour should not be in the business of directing their membership's voting preference. The NDP should not be beholden to organized labour, as the primary consideration on any policy decision that relates to the economy. I don't think organized labour, or the NDP, are best served by such a formal alliance. Labour loses the appearance of independence, as well as credibility with members who don't vote NDP. The NDP is viewed as primarily a labour run party, which narrows its appeal to the wider electorate.

If labour is perceived to be a free agent in the political realm, they would in fact have more leverage and influence as parties jockey for their support- we see this development with the American primary system. Politicians would speak directly to the membership, instead of the translation through the organization. Labour would also benefit from the appearance that it is not a goosestep enterprise, that operates like a vanguard. You could argue that labour gets it relevance through mass organization, but political openness doesn't threaten this ideal.

There is no question that the NDP suffers from the stigma that it is tool for organized labour. If the party has any hopes to gain a greater political relevance, any move that alleviates the labour party appearance would be a plus. Labour will always be a part of any left-center party, but more informal understanding would benefit both parties.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Decima Poll's Curious Omission

The newly released Decima Poll compares the results with those on election night. Conclusion: the Conservative's hold steady, while the Grits lose and the NDP has marginal improvement. It is hard to dispute these numbers, however it is curious that Decima fails to compare the results to a poll they did exactly one month ago. The data is presented as though this is the first post-election poll, which it clearly isn't. If you look at the February Decima Poll and use those results to compare today's release the conclusions are altered slightly.

The February poll showed the Conservatives at 35%, while the latest one is 37%. The Liberals are actually up three points to 28%, compared to the earlier 25%. The NDP falls from 24% to 19%, representing a marked drop. Conclusion: Tories have slight rebound, Liberals return from post-election hangover and the NDP are the big losers. Obviously the election results are a far more reliable backdrop for this poll, especially given Decima's record, but no reference to their own methodology is odd. Anyways, food for thought.

How Does Klein Do It?

Ralph Klein has decreed that all potential replacements resign from cabinet by June. Couple this fact, with Klein's announcement that he will stay on until 2008 and you have a situation that betrays the public good. Albertan's now have a lame duck Premier, with bizarre priorities, as well as a government deprived of it's best and brightest.

Flashback to Jean Chretien's "long goodbye" and you will find the same people who reacted with contempt now strangely silent on King Ralph. It is simply staggering to watch the Klein "cult of personality" operate with impunity. In effect, there is now a two-year leadership campaign which will invariably distract the government, or what's left of the government. How are Albertan's served by this scenario? Clearly, Klein can do whatever he wants, with little accountability which reveals an inherent hypocrisy in Alberta. Oil revenues seem to mask the arrogance and sense of entitlement so often vilified in the federal realm.

On the surface, asking cabinet minister's to resign makes sense to avoid conflicts and jockeying. However, the timeframe betrays the "ideal", leaving the government in a perpetual holding pattern, that intensifies as the months pass. Klein has already made it clear he lacks any vision for the future, as evidenced by his lazy attitude in the last election. Now, Ralph can just sit on his throne, awash in revenue, while the people are largely silent and the peons fight to replace the annointed one. I don't get it, I didn't get when I lived out west- it's almost laughable. Everytime I raised a issue about Klein, I inevitably received the "oh that's just Ralph". A province of apologists(I'm generalizing of course), who offer no criticism so long as the checks come in and the coffers are full.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Elected Senate: "I Don't Think Harper Knows What He's Up To"

Anyone who has reservations about the possible implications of an elected Senate should give this article a read. Harper seems determined to forge ahead with his plan, mainly as a way to appease his base, despite the pitfalls. Instead of democratizing the process, the Harper plan puts accountability into question:
It is unclear what is gained through elections if the victorious senators are still allowed to remain in office until age 75 or until their resignation, as the Constitution dictates...

"Once elected, the senators are there until 75. What have you accomplished?" ask Mr. Franks, who has written pieces defending the work of the current upper chamber. "In Canada, you elect people and then they are accountable for their acts in a succeeding election. The senators are appointed until 75, so that opportunity doesn't exist."

Harper plans to go ahead with an elected Senate, without provincial consultation, which means the Senate would essentially lack accountability. After election, Senators are free to do as they wish, without the voter check that democracy demands. In a sense, the Senator's would have greater latitude than MP's because they are not subject to electoral reprisals. How is this reform an advancement on democracy?

Once engaged, the newly elected Senator's would wake from their "effective" slumber and become a player:
Regardless, once the elected senators are in the upper chamber they may feel empowered to flex their muscles, Mr. Behiels warns. The Senate does have the power to block legislation and send it back to the House of Commons, but that power is rarely deployed because Senators are viewed as lacking the degree of legitimacy enjoyed by elected MPs in the House of Commons.

"The elected senators might say, 'We have nothing to stop us. We have these powers. We're going to use them.' That will immediately cause a clash with the House of Commons, because all of this hasn't been worked out in advance," says Mr. Behiels.

His warning is echoed by Ronald Watts, a former director of Queen's University's Institute of Intergovernmental Relations. In the book Protecting Canadian Democracy, he writes that leaving the powers of the Senate as is while introducing direct elections represents a recipe for disaster.

"Doing this while leaving the powers unchanged and without introducing a deadlock resolution process ... might open the way to serious problems in the operation of responsible government."

Historically, the Senate has been weary of serious challenges to Commons legislation because they lacked democratic legitimacy. Harper's simplistic, superficial remedy allows for a legislature that becomes increasingly partisan, prone to pork barrel haggling and a general inability to function smoothly. Adding another layer of bureaucracy, without additional constitutional tinkering serves no one, apart from the appeasing appearance of "elected".

I am not against Senate reform per se, although I think you can make a strong argument that abolishing it is the most seasonable. Harper's approach doesn't show much depth, a mere bandaid solution that opens up an entire different set of problems that will have to be addressed. I think this quote sums up the initiative quite nicely:
"I don't think Harper knows what he's up to," says Michael Behiels, a professor of Canadian political history at the University of Ottawa. "Harper is being led by his wishes to satisfy the Reform-Alliance wing of the Conservative party, rather than any real understanding of what this will entail."

Such is the case with kneejerk agendas, meant to garner votes, without a careful consideration of consequence.

Harper Gives Mixed Signals

Harper made a point of declaring our firm resolve in Afghanistan with the "we will not cut and run" argument. Harper was attempting to show that Canada is committed longterm, that our support would not be dictated by day to day events or setbacks. The message was intended to boost the troop morale, present a united front and appease any Afghan concerns about our longterm presence. It is within this context, that Harper's later comments with Karzai seem contradictory:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday that Canada's desire to keep troops in Afghanistan cannot be guaranteed if opposition parties at home resist...

"As I said to the President, we have a parliamentary system and I don't control the majority and I don't control the other parties, but I would hope that if in the future we reduce our military presence, it's because we've achieved two of our objectives," he said after the two men met in the presidential palace in Kabul.

We will not "cut and run", but I really don't have the longterm authority, or present power, to back up my pledge. These mixed messages offer more confusion to Afghans than if Harper said nothing at all. Karzai is left with the impression that the Harper government is a weak entity, in a volatile environment.

Stephane Dion chastised the Prime Minister for politizing his visit with talk of internal troubles and he was right to do so. Internationally you want to project strength, no matter what the issue. Instead, Harper talks tough one day, then absolves himself of any longterm relevance the next. I guess you can chalk this inconsistency to lack of experience, but given the stakes in Afghanistan it serves as a bad blunder. Harper's purpose in visiting Afghanistan was supposed to clarify our commitment on many levels, to different audiences. Instead, there is still confusion because political uncertainty is now part of the equation, undercutting any appearance of unity.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Conservatives Commit To Kyoto

I guess this new stance is a good sign:
Despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper's public misgivings about the Kyoto protocol on climate change, the federal environment minister says Canada will not opt out of the accord.

Rona Ambrose said Tuesday the Conservative government will work within the protocol, but she said there is a need for a separate, made-in-Canada solution to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution...

We are going to be working within Kyoto," Ambrose said, clarifying lingering uncertainties about the federal government's plans.

Ambrose still holds the view that we need a "made in Canada" approach to emissions. I don't necessarily disagree with that sentiment, the Kyoto Accord is far from perfect. However, I think we should remain sceptical of what the Conservative plan really entails. Will Ambrose distance herself from the oil and gas interests she has previously defended? If we are serious about emissions, any arrangements that don't have specific legislation is a toothless exercise. Simply arguing that the private sector will be the one's to come up with solutions, defies the logic of a capitalistic enterprise, where profit trumps all.

That being said, the fact that Ambrose, and by extension Harper, have finally recognized the Kyoto Accord serves as a positive. I am curious to see how practical the much anticipated Tory "Clean Air Act" turns out to be. That initiative will show if the Conservatives have really evolved on the environment, or prefer useless propaganda akin to the Bush "Health Forests" nonsense.

Bob Rae Advocates Liberal/NDP Merger?

Bob Rae's speech yesterday highlighted the need for progressive unity:
Former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae cast his first public -- but unofficial -- pitch for the federal Liberal leadership yesterday, suggesting that Canada's progressives must consider joining together to win a majority in the Commons...

But he told reporters he is worried about "what a Harper majority government would do" and suggested that it is time to unite the left in Canada to win power.

"I think it's important for people who call themselves progressive to really think about the situation.

"There's a progressive record that's shared by a majority of Canadians, but so far, we have not succeeded in becoming a majority in the House of Commons, so we must think a bit about how that can happen."

The obvious implication of the need to unite progressives is to do so under one party banner. Rae accurately assesses the current political makeup, wherein conservatives are a distinct minority, yet are able to thrive because of a divided center-left. This problem wasn't a serious concern until recently, when the conservatives recognized there own need for a merger to enhance their relevance. I hope Rae does decide to run for the Liberal leadership, because I think he is uniquely positioned to articulate the need for a formal rethinking of the political system.

Unquestionable, by any measure, Canada is decidedly a center-left electorate. Unlike the American political system, social conservatives don't have the numbers clout to dictate policy, except in a scenario where the center-left remains divided and they can exploit the split. Rae doesn't come right out and argue for a merger of the NDP and Liberal Parties, but he sure implies it and this idea deserves serious consideration.

I can see how many NDP supporters would resist any blending with a Liberal Party that is prone to stray and only exhibits progressive tendencies during election campaigns. However, any synthesis would necessiate a shift to the left, simply as a result of bringing a strong progressive voice into the fold. The centrists, and the marginal moderate conservatives, who inhabit the present Liberal Party would be marginalized in any formal policy planks. The left-wing of the Liberal Party, coupled with the mainstream NDP would essentially rule the roost and progressive ideals would become the party mantra.

You could argue that the Liberal Party could lose the soft centrist vote to the conservatives with any formal alliance with the NDP, but I would suggest the political landscape still allows for some erosion, while still maintaining enough support to govern. If you did a detailed analysis of each riding in the last election, you would find a circumstance, wherein even if you were to slice 5% of the Liberal tally and give it to the Conservatives, you would still have electoral success. Another by-product of a NDP/Liberal merger would be a Conservative Party which would be forced to completely abandon their extremist tendencies if it were to have any chance at success.

I haven't addressed the idea of proportional representation, although it could be another avenue to get us to the same place, without the formal blending. The more I think about it, the more I would like to see Rae jump into the race, if for no other reason than to bring the issue of divided progressives to the forefront. Canada can't afford to let a minority dictate policy simply as a function of a splintered majority.

Monday, March 13, 2006

New Afghanistan Poll

A new Strategic Counsel poll offers some insight into Canadians thoughts on Afghanistan:
The poll found 78 per cent of Canadians surveyed think that the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan will improve the lives of people there, while 14 per cent don't.

Fifty-nine per cent of respondents think that casualties are an acceptable price to pay while 39 per cent disagree.

Seventy-three per cent of respondents said they are emotionally attached to their troops, while 26 per cent are not.

Of those who are emotionally attached, the vast majority, 83 per cent, are proud of them, while 13 per cent are not.

Overall, 55 per cent of Canadians support sending troops to Afghanistan, while 41 per cent do not.

On the surface, you would conclude that Canadians are largely supportive of the mission in Afghanistan. However, this finding suggests why the numbers are skewed towards support:
70 per cent of respondents think Canadian troops are in Afghanistan as peacekeepers, rather than in a combat role.

This result may explain why an overwhelming number of Canadians think we will improve the lives of the people. The fact that people view our role as "peacekeeping" is a combination of our traditional role internationally, coupled with a lack of understanding. When Canadians are asked a more realistic question pertaining to our actual role in Afghanistan the numbers are different:
47 per cent of respondents think Canadians should not be involved in a combat role in international conflicts, compared to 51 per cent who think they should.

The poll also finds that, despite the perceived support, an overwhelming 69% think we should debate a prolonged engagement. The main conclusion I take away from this poll is that Canadians support our troops, but are certainly not clear as to the true nature of our mission. The shift in support when the mission changes from peacekeeping to a combat role should worry the Harper government, because invariably we will see combat casualties and the sober reality of our role will crystallize in Canadians minds. I'm not convinced Canadians really understand the nature of the mission, that being Canada is now the military vanguard.

Wanted: Prime Minister

It seems we have elected a Prime Minister with a Premier's mentality. Harper doesn't seem to understand that the role of the federal government is to provide leadership, act as a check on ambitious regional agendas and offer a sense of uniformity that gels the nation. Instead, Harper has articulated his contempt for the federal government's "incursions" into provincial terrorities. Harper has offered a "renewed" federalism which translates into fractured regionalism, within a loose federation. The current situation in Alberta, where Klein is clearly on a path that threatens the Canada Health Act serves as a frightening example of a Prime Minister more concerned with not making waves than upholding his constitutional role. Where is the counter voice to reign in the belligerent bull?:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears to be backing away from a confrontation with Alberta over its Third Way health proposals...

"I think the (Third Way) health policy framework, for all its vagueness, is pretty clear about where it wants to go," said Harvey Voogd of Alberta-based Friends of Medicare.

Voogd said the lack of response from Ottawa has raised questions about ,"what the heck he (Harper) meant when he said during the federal election he would stand up and abide by the Canada Health Act and protect it."

Many critics say a simple statement by the prime minister that Alberta is violating the rules of medicare could have a major political impact - perhaps more impact, in this case, than a cut in federal transfer payments to the province.

Tom Noseworthy, director of the Centre for Health and Policy Studies at the University of Calgary, said Ottawa should speak now or risk losing any ability to influence the outcome.

"We'd better be careful, or the federal government may be looking at a fait accompli - and then trying to make a change is going to be very difficult."

Harper seems more interested in not alienating his Alberta base than he does in doing his job. You can argue about the threats to public health care with regards to the Quebec's and British Columbia's plans. However, there is no doubt that the Klein government proposals are in clear violation of the Canada Health Act requirements. This isn't a "wait and see" proposition, the discussion demands a clear rebuke and sadly Harper is silent. Who provides the check on Klein? If not Harper, then nobody for all intent and purposes.

Harper promised to protect the Canada Health Act, clearly his words were hollow. I'm sure, when the issue reaches a head, Harper will do the symbolic dance and garner some meaningless concessions to look relevant, all the while the system crumbles. Votes trump vision.

Harper's Dodge and Weave On Afghanistan

Instead of defending our mission in Afghanistan, Stephen Harper takes no responsibility:
"The previous government made an important decision to help the people of Afghanistan and to support our troops in a very dangerous mission, and this government has no intention of questioning this mission while our troops are in danger," Mr. Harper said last week. "In such a debate, such a lack of strength by any Canadian party would weaken our troops, and possibly place our troops in more danger."

Honoring the commitments of the previous government, that's all. Okay, assuming that logic is valid, then how can Harper scrap the previous government's commitment to daycare? Doesn't that commitment deserve Harper's support too? Harper is just using a convenient argument to dodge and weave so as to not implicate his own government, should the mission go astray. I expect to see Harper fall back on this argument everytime there is a question about Afghanistan.

When the daycare debate comes back to the forefront, I hope the opposition parties, particularly the Liberals, use Harper's own justification on Afghanistan to show the hypocrisy. If you honor commitments, you honor commitments. Period.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Harper Offers Bad Reasoning On Afghanistan

I was reading a online piece, which outlines Harper's defense of the Afghanistan mission. Now, I realize Harper was probably tired from his long and extensive trip to Afghanistan, but surely our mission in Afghanistan is more than this:
Harper said the Canadian force in Afghanistan serves the national interest because:

1)International terrorism is rooted in the country. "It was in Afghanistan that Sept. 11 started."

2)The country is a major source of narcotics, which have a terrible impact on Canada.

3)It shows Canada providing international leadership and humanitarian aid.

Harper points to stopping terrorism, which is valid and completely justifiable. However, fighting the drug trade?? Can we expect to invade Colombia soon? How about a joint mission with the Americans into British Columbia to stop the evil weed that is corrupting our youth. Harper trivializes the mission by pointing to the heroine trade as some validation. I seriously doubt that Canadians would support a "war on drugs" argument to justify the bodybags. In Bush lingo, that is tantamount to "stop the drugs over there before we have addicts over here".

Harper also mischaracterizes the present mission, by falling back on the standard "humanitarian" angle. Interesting that Harper makes these comments, while at a base where hundreds of soldiers are absent because they have launched a major military offensive in the Afghan countryside. We are at war, this is not the UN dropping food rations. Our primary role is not about building schools and safe water, it is about ridding the insurgents from the landscape. The Americans are also involved in "humanitarian" efforts in Iraq, but no one would suggest they are not at war. Don't sugar coat it, don't introduce nonsensical arguments, just the facts please- Canadians can take it.

A Dangerous Sign in Afghanistan

Canadian troops returned today to the site of last week's axe attack in Afghanistan. I think it important to look at this one village as a microcosm of why our mission may ultimately fail. Canada had entered this phase with lofty goals, a combination of military objectives against insurgents, coupled with a outreach to Afghan tribes to gain trust and bring stability. The issue of trust is the key element, if Afghans come to view the Canadians as occupiers then the insurgency finds greater relevance and the resistance grows. Despite the Canadian military's best intentions, incidents like last week place a wedge between the forces and the people out of necessity:
Armoured columns of edgy Canadian troops rumbled Sunday into the town where an axe-wielding teenager nearly killed a Canadian soldier.

The soldiers first sealed off the mountain town, cutting off all exit routes and sending scouts high into the mountains to prevent the potential escape of any insurgents.

Along with the Afghan National army, the troops made a house-to-house search that yielded only two shotguns and ended with the brief interrogation of a suspect who was carrying Pakistani cash...

The show of force was a markedly different operation from the meeting a week ago when Capt. Trevor Greene sat down for a friendly gathering of townsmen...

The village elders were gathered together when Croucher told them their town was about to be searched inside-and-out.

"It was a little tense," said Capt. John Croucher, the platoon commander who led troops into the village.

"That's the second time I went to that village. I'll be honest, the
first time I went in there it was a laissez-faire attitude.
When I went back this time Trevor's incident was in the back of my mind. It was there, I was worried about my guys."

Is the military justified in conducting house to house raids, coupled with an intimidating show of force? No doubt it is under the circumstances, but the signal it sends is counter-productive and will only cultivate hostility. The villagers have essentially been violated by the foreign army, while the Canadians are suspicious of the villagers true allegiance. This distrust is inevitable, as shown in every military operation over history that attempts to suppress a homegrown insurgency. The problem is, despite the diplomatic overtures, your mission is too kill Afghans and that has consequences.

With each attack, Canadian troops will inevitably become more paranoid and suspicious of the people they are supposed to engage. With each search, detainment, firefight the people begin to turn on the "foreigners", in effect developing sympathy for the insurgency that didn't exist previously. Today's return to the same village is a minor development in the grand scheme. But, if you look at the changed dynamic in such short order, you are justified in wondering if this isn't a precursor of things to come.

New Liberal Leadership Hopeful?

Why not? He needs a job, has name recognition and is uniquely Canadian. While some might argue his annoying character would work against him, I would suggest a quick review of our last few Prime Ministers- annoying seems a prerequisite. He has massive charisma and a disarming sex appeal that would project well. The Canadian Tire guy has shown a natural propensity for problem solving and quick decision making, which are essential in today's political environment. He is a tireless(no pun intended) community servant, always willing to lend a hand to a person in need.

Just imagine Stephen Harper in debate with the Canadian Tire Guy. Harper wouldn't stand a chance against this industrious thinker, quick with rebuttal and alternative viewpoints. So, with that in mind, I think a draft the Canadian Tire guy grassroots effort should be initiated. Canadian television's loss, may well be federalism's gain. Think about it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

NDP Makes A Mistake On Stronach

I think the NDP has badly miscalculated by drawing Stronach into the ethics investigation. The obvious motivation appears to be an attempt to eliminate the partisan aspect of the story, using Stronach to portray an even standard. If New Democrat MP Pat Martin's desire for a joint investigation is simply a personal view, without political consideration, then he is entitled to his opinion. However, if the NDP has done the political calculation on this issue, and I suspect they have, then they have made a mistake.

First off, the timing is terrible. Why distract from Emerson by introducing the media darling Stronach, in effect clouding the waters and letting Harper off the hook? I don't think the case against Emerson is particularly strong, but Harper has turned this inquiry into a question of accountability and adherence to law. Introducing Stronach changes the channel, which is stupid politically. The first rule of politics is if your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, get out of the way.

The NDP also opens themselves up on the ethical front. Why wasn't this matter engaged at the time of Stronach's crossing? It would seem the importance of this defection has a direct co-relation to the NDP's own political reality. There is no formal alliance with the Grits now so Stronach is fair game, but during the last parliament the NDP was protecting their own interests, first and foremost. Introducing Stronach well beyond any reasonable timeframe makes the NDP look opportunistic and adds a cynicism to the entire inquiry. If the NDP is banking on portraying themselves as the only "pure" party on ethics, the dynamics of the Stronach angle suggest otherwise.

There are certain aspects to the Emerson affair that are unique, with no resemblance to the Stronach matter. What the NDP has done is blend the two so that any discussion of one necessitates the comparison. On substance, the NDP may be right on Stronach, but politically I don't see the benefits to offset the obvious negatives.