Friday, September 29, 2006

Liberal Party To Volpe: Get Lost

Pay up or get lost:
The Liberal party dropped a $20,000 bomb on embattled candidate Joe Volpe on Friday just as party members began electing delegates for the Dec. 2 convention that will choose a new leader.

A party panel ruled that Volpe's campaign team broke the rules by giving membership forms to cultural groups in Quebec without ensuring that new members paid their own fees.

Volpe can either pay the $20,000 fine within 30 days or drop out of the race, the party said in a release.

Volpe immediately issued a statement suggesting he'll do neither.

Volpe is appealing, but these two options are both lose/lose scenarios. Pay the fine, and effectively admit the embarrassment or leave the race in shame. I'm glad the Party has taken such a firm stance, and I think the decision is based on a disturbing pattern, more than just this past scandal. Volpe's presence is the only negative distraction in an otherwise lively leadership race. I have no qualms with the Party trying to squeeze Volpe. Volpe has had his moment in the sun, and his support doesn't justify his continued presence. Clearly, this campaign has become a vanity exercise, at the expense of the Party.

We can all safely conclude that Volpe isn't a viable candidate. This race isn't about his personal agenda but the greater good for the Party. If Joe Volpe gives the Harper government talking points in Question Period, that prevents the Liberals from taking the moral high ground, then I'm all for tossing him, kicking and screaming. Let him play the race card, it just makes Volpe look completely and utterly ridiculous. Kudos for the firm stance, the Party can't afford Volpe on center stage.

My Leadership Endorsement

First off, all the candidates have certain attributes which I find attractive and I believe this is a relatively strong field. Endorsing one candidate doesn't translate into blind bias, nor does it mean you can't be positive about others. Deciding who to support tomorrow has been a complicated exercise, with many factors to weigh. With that in mind, I have ultimately decided that my vision of what the Liberal Party should be is best articulated by Gerard Kennedy.

I must say, I don't sense the urgency with many Liberals moving forward, as I think there should be. Make no mistake, Canadians have overwhelmingly rejected the Liberal brand and I suspect the damage would have been greater (ala Mulroney) if the alternative was more palatable. I approach this convention as though the Liberals need a radical facelift, simple tinkering woefully inadequate. Paramount to this belief, a fresh start that lacks baggage and ties to the old guard. I want someone who doesn't have to defend the old Liberal government, effectively giving Harper an unnecessary escape valve (i.e the environment). I want someone who isn't sidetracked by past experiences, so much so that it detract from the future. I want someone who is fundamentally progressive, exhibits the energy to enact real change and believes we need to do things differently. I want someone who speaks to western Canada beyond soundbites, and appreciates the fact that alienation is real and festering. I want someone who isn't afraid to make bold promises and has shown an ability to get things done. IMHO, Gerard Kennedy fits all the criteria.

Much of this debate has surrounded the idea of experience. I find it particularly partisan to paint Kennedy as some inexperienced rookie who needs seasoning. Do people forget who was the star minister, with the key portfolio, in our largest province? Do people disregard Kennedy's proven ability to bring people together, despite the institutional challenges and deliver real change? Fair point to speak to foreign affairs, but equally fair to point out that most American Presidents come to office with no experience on this file, yet are expected to essentially lead the world. The question for me, how do you gauge Kennedy's natural instincts on international matters? In my opinion, Kennedy's was quite shrewd with his accurate assessment of the Afghan mission and where we need to go moving forward. Kennedy has also demonstrated that he understands Canada's place in the world, or at least where it should be.

The candidates with the supposed experience are also the ones with the sizeable baggage that is hard to reconcile. Dion has an impressive resume in dealing with Quebec, yet that very experience is a real sore spot for many people. Dion has experience on the environment, yet as we saw yesterday, his past tenure opens him up to easy criticisms about past failures- "we were about to do something" seems incredibly weak to me. Rae's experience is equally ample, but also just as problematic. Please point to one recent article on Rae that doesn't reference his turbulent tenure as Premier. I don't want to rehash the past in the least, I want to move forward. Are these two men the best choice if this is the consideration? So, in my mind, experience, or at least how it is characterized, seems a double-edged sword, with Kennedy the best positioned to present a fresh start.

With regard to the central criticism of Kennedy, that being his French, I think this perceived weakness is overplayed and decidedly temporary. Does anyone dispute the fact that Kennedy's French hasn't improved in a relatively short time? I easily see a scenario where Kennedy's French is on par with Harper in short order. On policy, Kennedy is a natural fit with a relatively progressive Quebec. I don't buy the scaremongering that suggests Quebec is lost with Kennedy at the helm. Does Kennedy enjoy much support in Quebec within this leadership race? Clearly no, but that doesn't translate to damnation in the aftermath of this convention. If Kennedy improves his French further, and I see nothing to suggest he won't, I believe Quebecers will ultimately be open to his agenda, particularly as it is contrasted with Harper's.

I also think it important to recognize that Kennedy seems to be the only candidate that puts a premium on reaching out to Western Canada. You can sense that this reconciliation is a priority when Kennedy speaks- the fact that he starts from a position that almost defends the west, as opposed to the usual mental afterthought that is completely alienating. I have lived in western Canada recently and am convinced that the alienation is real, potential dangerous and demands an urgent understanding. The Liberal Party must re-build its image in the west and to my mind Kennedy is leaps and bounds ahead on this score. I don't even care if it immediately translates into seats, so long as there is a sense that perceptions are changing.

Another criticism of Kennedy seems to be that he is "boring" and "uninspiring". I recommend a viewing at this link, because I don't think anyone with an ounce of objectivity can't help but be impressed. Kennedy has proven that he can motivate people in the past, I don't see how that is no longer the case now.

I want to win the next election and I truly believe, when all factors are included, Kennedy presents the best opportunity. The Liberal Party house doesn't need a fresh coat of paint, it needs to be gutted and rebuilt. For anyone who embraces a fresh start, backed up with progressive ideals with an eye to the future, Kennedy seems the natural fit. Ultimately, I can support whomever wins, I just think Kennedy is our best choice.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Question About Equalization?

From everything I've read you can count on your hand how many people actually understand the equalization formula. What does seem clear, provinces with non-renewables are adamant that they not be included in the formula:
REGINA (CP) - If the Harper government backs away from its election promise to remove oil revenue from the federal equalization formula, Saskatchewan wants a deal with Ottawa outside the program, Premier Lorne Calvert said Thursday.

I must confess, I don't understand why non-renewables shouldn't be included. The suggestion that inclusion is unfair strikes me as counter-intuitive. Equalization makes sure we have common standards throughout the country. If a province is able to provide services through resources, is that not a factor in the equation. The non-renewable argument fails to recognize that when the resource runs out, it is no longer factored in the equation, which should translate into more money coming from Ottawa or less leaving to counter-balance. In fact, equalization is effectively insurance for the long-term, once the resource royalties subside. But in the interim, why should a province hoard its wealth just because the money is from a certain source. What's the difference?

It would seem the provinces with the heaviest emphasis on non-renewables want to fill the coffers unimpeded, as though other economic engines have some other benefit. Is the manufacturing sector infinite, recent trends in Ontario would suggest otherwise? Equalization is wealth is it not, why would we treat view different revenue streams differently? Non-renewables may not last, but isn't equalization fluid, changing with the differing economic states over time? Am I missing something?

Unite The Left

One of the central debates in the Liberal leadership is how well the various candidates can appeal to the "soft" left. Any criticism of Rae is invariably met with the counter that he has the ability to siphon votes from the NDP. You could also argue that Kennedy and Dion have potential appeal. The big loser in this discussion seems to be Ignatieff, mostly because of the fact that some of his positions lend themselves to the "Harper-lite" accusation.

It is intriguing to look at the possibilities of a Liberal Party with Rae at the helm. Just imagine the problems Rae would present for Layton. Can Layton really attack Rae's record as Premier effectively? The only NDP led government in Ontario's history questioned by an NDPer, that can only dream of such heights. Rae's achilles heel may be rendered unusable through sheer awkwardness. Layton will also lose his most trusted tactic, painting the Liberal Party as convenient progressives, who only play the card during election campaigns. This strategy might have worked against Martin, I doubt it will have much resonance with Rae. Therefore, if you limit your argument to the left of the spectrum, there is little doubt Rae looks problematic for the NDP.

However, it is important to look at the entire political spectrum when accessing a candidate. You can make a powerful argument that Rae's strength on the left, is counter-balanced by his weakness in the middle. While Layton might have problems with Rae, Harper would seem to drool on first blush. I envision a campaign riddled with re-hash and past "experience", particularly in the battleground that will ultimately decide the election. Rae in Ontario is risky, any objective reading surely sees the potential pitfalls. I'm not suggesting Rae can't overcome, but nor do I put much stock in opinion polls from basically disinterested and disengaged people. Maybe Rae can unite the left to a degree, but maybe Ignatieff can unite the middle. An open question which is more crucial?

I now live in Ontario. My experience tells me that many people literally wince, like they are in physical pain, when you mention Rae's name. You can't spin that reality, it's real and it has a firmness to it that troubles me. Anyone reading this blog is a junkie, who knows the debate intimately. The average voter isn't engaged like the diehards, superficial appearances matter and aren't easily changed. While it sounds great to say "unite the left", it has a tinge of idealism that forgets the reality of "lose the middle". It's a double-edged sword.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Get Over It

I watched a political roundtable today involving party representatives debating various themes. MP Ruby Dhalla was the Liberal voice for the discussion. During the debate Dhalla articulated the now standard Liberal line in reference to the NDP(paraphrasing)- "The NDP criticizes the government polices, but their own actions leading up to the last election allowed the right-wing to take control". Whether or not there is merit in blaming the NDP for this government is now completely irrelevant.

Canadians won't respond positively to re-hashing the past, in a way that invariably comes across as whinny and bitter. I understand the desire for Liberals to attack the NDP, simply as a function of political survival. However, as a matter of strategy, I don't see any advantage in this tactic. Policy differentiation, an appeal to the true majority opinion, are the avenues that best serve the Liberal brand. There is a certain confidence, that is attractive, by merely making your case. Attack the Harper agenda, contrast it with your own and forget about trying to paint the NDP as faciliator. That soundbite might have worked in the early weeks of this government, but now it just looks tired, and more alarming, feeds the argument that the Liberal Party is an empty shell that lacks ideas.

I get tired of listening to Layton turn every issue into a referendum on the Liberal Party. I feel the exact same way when Liberals fail to articulate valid criticism and instead choose the blame game. Is there anyone who really thinks this is a winning agenda? If you ask me, it just confirms the reasoning that led to the downfall in the first place. Let's move on shall we.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rejecting Rae

Maclean's has an online piece about Bob Rae that highlights a now recurring theme- persona over policy. The article is titled "Bob Rae's Vision", then proceeds to articulate the idea that vision is a bit player in what is essentially a beauty contest:
In an era when just about every politician with ambition boasts of a vision, a blueprint for transformative change, a new way of doing politics, Rae dismisses all that as unimportant. "It's not a campaign about ideas," he told Maclean's. "You're electing a leader, you're not electing an agenda."

Rae is betting his experience and persona, rather than his platform, will win this for him. He's satisfied to get party members feeling comfortable with him, unlike his key rivals, who are hoping to excite them

Speak for yourself Bob, I'm electing a leader with an agenda.

Policy as appendage:
Rae's rhetoric is restrained and his policy message often comes across as an afterthought. He has a platform, of course...

Yet he's remarkably blunt in declaring that all this is really beside the real point. Choosing a leader isn't about ideas, he declares, as much as finding "a person you're comfortable with." His hope for a second political life rests on selling himself as a moderate guy who has seen it all and knows better than to make dumb mistakes.

You can't fault Rae for leaning on his experience, afterall it's his greatest asset, although controversial. Rae is magnetic, armed with charisma and eloquence that serves him well. However, I am starting to sense a cult of personality aspect to his approach that is frankly a complete turnoff. The Liberal Party desperately needs renewal, which can only be achieved by an agenda that offers relevance. Any candidate who doesn't place policy as primary essentially endorses a philosophy that puts leader over leadership. Did people elect Stephen Harper because they were "comfortable" with him? Have the NDP increased their percentages because people bond with Jack Layton? No, it's the agenda stupid.

I like Bob Rae. However, I see his campaign as increasingly paternal, decidedly insider and overwhelmingly reliant on superficial attraction to sell. Policy as an "afterthought" is a disturbing tactic. The strategy may be a function of Rae's preference to avoid his record, but if that is fact it suggests we are rightfully wary. The Rae approach is diametrically opposed to the reasoning that led me to join the Liberal Party. Chretien and Martin both had experience and charisma in spades. What ultimately unraveled both, and the party with it, a decided lack of core ideas and a coherent agenda that people could embrace. Bob Rae may be comfortable with the status quo, I'm not. The recent endorsements, the scent of the old guard, the persona preference all lead me to think Bob Rae is now the establishment candidate. Newsflash, Canadians have overwhelming rejected this Party and would have done it sooner had the Liberals not benefited from others divisions. I'm not "comfortable" with anything, Bob Rae seems all too cozy with it all.

As an aside, if anyone feels compelled to call this a partisan attack, you are welcome to read any of the glowing posts I have written about Rae in the past.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Italian Job

As someone with Italian blood running through my veins, I think it gives me the moral latitude to say this to the two Liberal "victims"- STFU and quit disgracing yourself, your nationality and the party you profess to love. Absolutely shameful to listen to two grow men blame their own failings on race and bigotry. Volpe and Gagliano have used a crutch that is so ridiculous I still can't fathom the rationale. Real leadership amounts to taking responsibility, not hiding behind some non-existent bogeyman.

Any ethnic group that is the subject of real racism should be offended at such a callous use of the term. Who knew that white Europeans where being held down by the "man". Next time I am at the back of the bus, Volpe or Gagliano better not be there. Unbelievable, and one of the most embarrassing days I can remember. Shame on two cowards who demonstrate why they are really "outsiders"- no scruples and a disturbing lack of character. And to think, this cad will speak in the convention hall. How low can you go Joe?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Play It Safe"

Peter C. Newman's column yesterday, on Michael Ignatieff, referred to Bob Rae's campaign as "play it safe". If the measure of success is bold policy, who stands out from the Liberal crowd?

In my view, only Ignatieff and Kennedy can credibly claim the "bold" title in this race- bold meaning articulating policies that are controversial and politically risky. Like him or not, Ignatieff has proposed several ideas, that at first blush, cry "don't touch that". You do have to acknowledge the risk in Ignatieff proposing a carbon tax that is sure to alienate. I'm not speaking to the merits of the policy, only the fact that such a proposal invites blowback. With some many other less overt paths, I have to hand it to Ignatieff for having the guts to be controversial. When I met Ignatieff, I actually asked him about the carbon tax and his response was great- "we can't be timid, we have to be aggressive". Right or wrong, you can't fault an approach that puts principle well ahead of political consideration.

On the constitution, Ignatieff seems the only one who makes any statements that generate discussion. You can characterize some of the statements as "gaffes", that is legitimate criticism. However, in mind Rae and Dion essentially have taken a pass for fear of any hint of controversy, while Ignatieff has at the very least put himself out there. Again, this is not a policy judgment, merely an acknowledgment of bold talk.

With regard to Kennedy, no one seems more committed to reforming the Liberal Party in a substantive way than him. I love the "party of purpose, not just a party of power" line because it shows a true understanding of real re-birth. You can say Kennedy is prone to easy platitudes, but a careful ear reveals real conviction in his voice. Kennedy has distinguished himself on this file, which may help explain his appeal to younger Liberals.

Kennedy's biggest claim to the "bold" title is his position on Afghanistan. While others were arguing from the muddled middle, articulating an overriding nothingness, Kennedy took a position that welcomed easy criticism. For a foreign policy "rookie", taking such a chance is admirable in my mind and demonstrates real leadership. There is no question that Kennedy could have hid in the bushes, but he chose a clear position, that brought inherent risks.

Campaigns are tactical, so "play it safe" is not necessarily a minus if the goal is victory. All kinds of campaigns operate with the primary goal of "don't make waves" and many of these are successful. One man's bold is another man's reckless, one man's safe is another man's seasoned. With this in mind, my opinion of the Rae and Dion campaigns as safe doesn't translate into an automatic negative. What it does say- it is hard to think of one policy or statement that is really memorable or jumps out. Rae is an amazing orator, that is able to craft a coherent vision, but much of the rhetoric is relatively benign and hardly surprising. You could argue Dion has distinguished himself on the environment, but essentially the platform is a "carbon" copy of his time as Minister. Within this discussion, the word "bold" doesn't shout out to me when I think of these two campaigns. It all boils down to approach, and it's an open question what is the best path.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Volpe To Dropout?

Addition by subtraction:
OTTAWA (CP) - Speculation is rife that Joe Volpe will drop out of the Liberal leadership race after his scandal-plagued campaign was rocked by another controversy Saturday.

Volpe is planning to hold a news conference Monday morning in Ottawa, The Canadian Press has learned.

You have to wonder if anyone wants an endorsement from this trainwreck. I suppose Volpe could deliver some support, although that would have to weighed against the optics of the sleaze factor. Whatever, the convention will be the big winner, as centerstage won't include the negative news coverage Volpe was destined to deliver.

Coming Home

I watched CTV's complete coverage of the lastest return of dead soldiers from Afghanistan. I have always argued that the media must be allowed access to these solemn events because it illustrates the true cost of war. However, having said that, I must say I found today's extensive coverage somewhat distasteful. I believe there is a way to tell the true story without sensationalizing the event to produce good television.

I quick shot or two of the families would seem sufficient to convey the message. What I saw today was a complete fixation which seemed to betray a sense of respect. Do I need a camera following the family everywhere, extensive closeups and even some disturbing audio to make the point? The plane lands, this is the first opportunity for the families to openly grieve- is there not some way to allow a few private moments before we begin "shooting"? I felt uncomfortable watching such an intimate moment, like I was intruding. Brought to tears as you sense the gravity, but you still feel like you shouldn't be there.

Most of the families want the coverage, as a way to honor the sacrifice and show the respect deserved. However, in my mind today's two hour coverage of every moment crossed a line that is unnecessary. Let the families have a few private moments, without the added stress of feeling like they are on stage. The next time I see this "event" I'm not watching, it feels like exploitation. I think there is a more tasteful way to cover these ceremonies, that doesn't have to devolve into reality television.

Volpe Taps The Afterlife

Kudos to Joe Volpe for doing his part to expand the Liberal base beyond the living. This tactic could open up an entire new pool of potential supporters. Just go away Joe:
Dozens of people in Montreal, including the dead, have been improperly signed up as federal Liberal party members...

Sebastiano Sperduti, who has been dead for 17 years and was unlikely to have been a Liberal party member. He had a stroke the day after he arrived in Canada in 1979 and died in 1989, at 67.

I think it is clearly time for prominent Liberals to publicly demand Volpe withdraw. For a party desperate to present a new image, Volpe guarantees a steady diet of unseemly coverage that detracts from the goal. The fact that Volpe has used his impressive membership drives as evidence of support, and a counter to any suggestions of dropping out, now has NO weight. Do us all a favor Joe and dropout. The Liberal Party should revoke his membership and turf him from the party for these ridiculous manipulations of the system.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stupid Kennedy Criticisms

I just finished reading the excellent Globe and Mail piece on Gerard Kennedy. I then perused the online commentary, and I must say I'm sick to death of some of the asinine criticism that constantly enters the discussion. As someone who has graduated from university, I could care less, nor would I judge someone, based on educational pedigree. In this particular instance, I find it maddening that people call Kennedy a university dropout, when in fact he left school to do something practical and noble, namely run a food bank. Based on my experience, a great many academics could use a trip outside the esoteric bubble, to give the theoretical some context. To this day, some of the most clueless people I've ever met lived within the narrow confines of academia. Life experience has many paths, spare me the intellectual elitism that assumes college is a prerequisite for knowledge.

Kennedy decided to apply the "abstract" as he calls it, and I say we should applaud that decision, not belittle the man. I see Kennedy's French as fair game, although I quibble on degree. If you think Kennedy is bland, arrogant or just annoying, fair enough, it's all opinion afterall. However, the next time I hear someone mention education I am going to roll up my diploma, jump through the monitor and slap you silly with my sacred piece of paper (if I can find the darn thing).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who Is Best Positioned?

The question is fluid, but at this exact moment Stephane Dion looks well positioned. Hard to tell the extent of the stop Iggy movement, but also fair to say the sentiment exists, seems to have momentum and is bound to be a factor moving forward. Rae is clearly a force, but as the moment of truth arrives one has to wonder if people truly believe he can win. Despite what the polls say, I still see Kennedy as relevant, although his campaign seems plagued by perceptions. Dion isn't without his failings, but at the same time people would be remiss not to admit he has run a strong campaign, while alienating almost no one.

From day one, the argument was put forth that the eventual winner of this race would be the person least objectionable to the majority. For a myriad of reasons, Dion looks to be that candidate. The hurdle for Dion, can he enter the convention with enough initial support to emerge as the consensus Liberal. There is no question that the Strategic Counsel poll places Dion in the center of the discussion, both substantatively and maybe more importantly appearance wise. Heading into delegate selection, the notion of the "three man race" puts Dion right where he wants to be. Dion doesn't need to come out on top, only get enough support to warrant future "growth". If Kennedy falters, Dion becomes the only real option for those with reservations about Ignatieff or Rae (Dryden maybe, but the odds are too long for real consideration).

The last couple weeks of this race have sharpened the debate, as people slowly come to grips with the fallout of this decision. This weight will only intensify on the convention floor, where I could see people move to Dion for the relative safety of his selection. The least objectionable scenario seems to be playing out right on cue. I actually like Dion's chances, today anyways :)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Harper: Canada's "Back"

Speaking in New York, Harper makes this curious statement:
"Make no mistake, Canada intends to be a player...Canada's back. We're on the best economic footing of any of the G7 countries," said Harper

As an aside, if Harper says "make no mistake" one more time.. well you know. Guess what "we're back". Woohoo! Did I miss the leaving part? I guess the last decade, leading the G8 doesn't count. Lookout world, Canada is a "player". See what a few short months of Conservative rule bring. Movin on up.

Blowing In The Wind

Stephen Harper loves to make these kind of statements:
"This party will not take its position based on public opinion polls. We will not take a stand based on focus groups. We will not take a stand based on phone-in shows or householder surveys or any other vagaries of pubic opinion.."

The Conservatives are guided by principle not popularity, which assumes they act without self-interest or political considerations. The problem with the rhetoric, this government's actual actions suggest the polar opposite- everything is a political calculation and the finger is forever in the wind. Case in point, the recent relevations of the government's polling to gauge public opinion.

A couple weeks ago we learned that the Environment Minister polled Canadians to gauge which issues are most important to Canadians. Instead of formulating policy based on expert analysis and moral necessity, this government decided that their approach would be based on what policies would maximize potential votes. Saving the environment or saving their backside?

Today, we learn this tidbit about the softwood lumber deal, which establishes the trend:
The Conservative minority government appears to have been on firm political ground as it aggressively pushed for a softwood lumber agreement with the United States, a poll obtained by The Canadian Press indicates.

The poll, done May 18-20, was produced for the Department of International Trade by the firm Strategic Counsel three weeks after Ottawa and Washington initialled a framework for negotiations that led to a final text on July 1...

The poll results and a later analysis produced in June by the Privy Council Office were obtained by The Canadian Press under an Access to Information request.

A section of the analysis entitled Messaging Considerations was censored under part of the access legislation that shields advice to ministers.

Reid said the May poll gave the strategists in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office the ammunition they needed to override industry objections to a deal.

"I think that David Emerson, who's the minister in charge of this file, and people in the PMO who look at this kind of polling very closely, would have correctly assumed that, hey, we're not going to get hurt by this and in fact it may help us a bit," he said.

I don't mean to suggest other parties don't engage in polling or focus groups to test the waters. However, I do believe that on a question of degree, Canada has never seen a government so consumed with calculations. The opposition to the softwood deal, from people in the know, was ignored because the government concluded they were on the right side with the public. The government could even threaten an election, push the country into uncertainty, because this issue had no risk politically. The government was also aware that Canadians wanted a deal, which may have contributed to the sellout and the lack of concern. The best deal for Canada, or the best outcome for the Conservatives?

Harper loves to claim the moral high ground with the principled government angle. With each decision, at every turn, we see further evidence of a corporation masquerading as a government, in the ultimate pursuit of greater market share(i.e votes). This philosophy isn't about "results for Canadians", it's really the narrow view that comes from naked self interest.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Momentum Lost

Bob Rae has enjoyed a good couple months, as his campaign builds a healthy lather that suggests momentum. However, if this revelation about donating to the NDP in the last election is true, it will effectively stall his campaign. The reason- Rae has largely overcome a great deal of the criticism that he is a Liberal because of convience, rather than conviction. If Rae actively assisted the NDP to help oust sitting Liberals, then the self-interest charge finds a striking voice.

Rae enjoys using terms like "we" and "team", partially as a way to endear himself to lifelong Liberals. Many Liberals were suspicious of Rae, which may account for the early leadership dismissals by many pundits. To Rae's credit he has mostly silenced the detractors, through a combination of institutional supporters and crafty rhetoric. The news of NDP donations couldn't come at a worse time, as I'm sure many Liberals are presently taking a second look at Rae. Expect rival camps to quitely whisper the charges, as ridings select delegates, killing the past weeks apparent "surge". This news is particuarly important because it speaks to Rae's loyalty, something which I am quickly learning is incredibly important in Liberal circles. This story is the equivalent of finding out that Dion drives a Hummer and dumps his old paint cans in the local tributary. The timing is horrible, let's see if this has legs, but I suspect it might.


Rae responds to the NDP donations:
In an interview Wednesday, Rae said he had no sign on his lawn. But he confirmed he did make small donations to three or four NDP candidates who were personal friends, as well as to several Liberals, including interim leader Bill Graham.

He said he even gave money once to Hugh Segal, now a Conservative senator, for his ill-fated bid to lead the now-defunct Progressive Conservatives.

"I try to give generously to charity and I try to give generously or as well as I can during political campaigns to encourage good people to get into public life. It's something that I've always done," Rae said.

A search of party donations filed with Elections Canada, shows Rae gave $250 and $300 to two NDP candidates in last winter's election. He also gave two $250 donations to NDP candidates in the 2004 election.

In the last election, Rae also gave $300 each to Liberals Pierre Pettigrew and John Godfrey. An aide said Rae also gave money to Graham in early 2006, which has not yet been reported by Elections Canada, as well as small donations over the years to provincial Liberals in Ontario.

Good answer.

Body Bags For Prestige

I watched the Harper interview with Mansbridge on the CBC last night. I found Harper's reasoning for our role in Afghanistan misguided and troubling. Harper's argument centered around this point:
"It's certainly raising Canada's leadership role, once again, in the United Nations and in the world community where we used to have an important leadership role," he said...

"It's certainly engaged our military," Harper said. "It has made it a better military."

I have already posted on the dangers of using the military to enhance our reputation, but Harper's latest comments show a real detachment that is dangerous. First off, I don't agree with Harper when he says:
"If I can be frank about this, you know, in some ways I think we can complain that only a handful of countries are carrying the bulk of the load and the bulk of the danger there," Harper told Peter Mansbridge. "But, you know, the shoe was often on the other foot. For a lot of the last 30 or 40 years, we were the ones hanging back."

Canada has consistently made substantial contributions to several United Nations peacekeeping missions, so the "hanging back" suggestion seems to differentiate between bringing people together and killing people. I am offended that Harper suggests we haven't carried our weight in the past, as though peacekeeping doesn't count.

Harper argues that the military is a better military today because of our involvement. Like a team that needs game experience, there is something wrong with the idea that active war is required to keep the troops "fresh". I see nothing wrong with an army that lacks experience, its speaks to a peaceful world.

With regard to our prestige, Harper reveals his desire to be relevant on the world stage. This government has made the military a key priority on several fronts, which suggests that the Harper view concurs with the ideal that "might is right". Apparently, we are willing to sacrifice a few "heroes" because the tradeoff is enhanced appearances. It is almost as if the higher the bodycount, the more Canada can brag to the world about our "commitment". This notion is mostly folly and shows little regard to the soldiers Harper is so quick to champion.

Afghanistan doesn't raise our "leadership role", nor should it be part of our reasoning for our involvement. I thought this was a moral fight, an ideological necessity that defines our values. Afghanistan isn't about the world pecking order, or at least it shouldn't be. Canada already enjoys a role in the world affairs. A middle power that other countries envy, Canada is seen as an inclusive collection of people that operates fairly. There is a reason American college students put Canadian flags on their backpacks when travelling abroad, let's not forget that. I don't care if Canada is noticed, especially if it requires death and destruction to draw attention. Harper has a grandiose vision of the world and seems willing to sacrifice to get the mirage of the gold star. Look at me, look at me.


In the comments knb wondered if Harper equated death with a better military. Here is the quote, you be the judge:
I can tell you its certainly engaged our military. It's made them a better military, not withstanding and maybe because of the casualties.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Michael Vs Ignatieff

Generally, I resist easy comparisons to make a broad point. However, this latest round of Ignatieff clarifications, and the subsequent criticisms, are starting to make me think he might be the Liberal John Kerry. You have to wonder if a general election, with Ignatieff at the helm, will be nothing more than an exercise in defensive politics. Clearly, there must be Conservative strategists grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of Ignatieff as target.

Harper's foreign policy is his achilles heel. The Bush II tag provides powerful symbolism and allows a forceful Liberal rebuttal. However, and I don't mean to suggest Ignatieff is Bushlite, the issue is largely a draw if Ignatieff is the candidate. Much in the way Kerry was forced to constantly defend, clarify and re-defend, I envision a campaign that is forever sidetracked by the past, ample quotes and attempts to spin that only lead to further confusion. Yesterday's leadership debate provided another example of how easily you can get Ignatieff off message. Does anyone believe the Conservatives won't press ten times as hard as fellow Liberals? When does baggage become an albatross?

Mr. Harper, are you concerned that our foreign policy is too closely akin to the Bush agenda? Thanks for the question, but I would remind voters that my opponent has shared many of the same viewpoints, allow me to quote... Foreign affairs will be relegated to a net nothing for the Liberals, while we are forced to argue style points in and amongst the same thesis. Layton will have a field day drawing the distinction, while Ignatieff remains on the defensive.

I don't for one second think Ignatieff is Harper, nor to I believe they come to their conclusions for the same reasons. However, this belief is really irrelevant within an electorate easily influenced by soundbites, sprinkled with easy evidence. You can hear the reporters, you can smell the damage control. Ignatieff's problem is the constant smoldering, that only needs a slight breeze to rekindle the flame. You have to wonder if there is enough superficial distinction for Ignatieff to effectively take the fight to Harper the way it should be, given the agenda. Especially troublesome, foreign affairs is supposed to be Ignatieff's strength in the debate. The question Liberals must ask, is Michael Ignatieff the best person to contrast against Stephen Harper? On this particular file, I can't help but catch a wiff of John Kerry, with similar results. I hope I'm wrong.

No Surprise: Tories Eye Spring Election

I don't think anyone finds this terribly surprising:
The working assumption among senior ministers in the Harper Cabinet is that the country will go to the polls after a Conservative budget; the legislative schedule that will be rolled out from today is designed to cram as much as possible into the shop window between now and then...

The Conservatives will attempt to engineer their own defeat in order to achieve Stephen Harper's stated ambition to drive a stake through the heart of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The budget should be a collection of goodies meant to buy votes. If the Tories continue to stall in the polls, I wouldn't be surprised to see them fastrack the next GST cut, due to increased revenues. Strategically, the spring budget affords the Tories their best chance to frame the election debate, on issues that they deem attractive. Also, the achilles heel of Afghanistan should be relatively quiet, as the budget will be delivered before the usual uptick in Taliban activity each summer. For a control freak like Harper, the lure of budget time will be too tempting.

However, I think the spring budget may also be great timing for the Liberals. You would expect a bounce in support after a high profile convention, as well as a honeymoon period as the new leader gets acquainted. The budget timing should weave in nicely with the "new" Liberal Party, headed by a leader who still enjoys a positive vibe. I don't think the media will turn on the new leader at such an early stage. I also think the Liberals will look relatively effective with a clear face at the helm, as opposed to the mish mash we have presently. Harper may have trouble using his standard line of the tired old Liberals, when appearances would suggest otherwise. As far as I'm concerned, Harper is dreaming if he really thinks he can "drive a stake" through the Liberals. Spring sounds good to me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Which Liberal Has "Growth"?

In a race destined for multiple ballots, the Liberal leadership comes down to a question of growth. Which candidate can build support past the first ballot and ride that momentum to victory. I think it important to acknowledge the power of psychology as the primary determining factor.

Most of Ignatieff's detractors argue that while he may well lead on the first ballot, he will stall, allowing another candidate to snatch the prize. I think this assumption falls apart if Ignatieff has a strong showing on the first ballot- a third or more. It becomes especially risky for other candidates to move to someone else, if Ignatieff looks the likely winner. The political future of a candidate may rest with who they ultimately support, a strong showing by Ignatieff may provide a powerful motivation to get on the bandwagon. Unless candidates are sure others will move to someone other than Ignatieff, their support may cancel out and give Ignatieff all he needs to get over the top. Important to remember, if Ignatieff has say 35%, he only needs to pick up less than a quarter of the remaining delegates, which isn't a stretch. Stop Iggy may be unrealistic, because it will require a herd mentality amongst delegates.

Despite all the talk about who is everyone's "second choice", the only person who will have any chance will be the second place person on the first ballot. If someone like Dion finishes third or fourth, it's unlikely that sympathetic delegates will move on masse to a risky perch. The battle to be the anti-Ignatieff will be won on the first ballot, unless of course the numbers are so close as to be meaningless. Anything around 20% would be a strong showing, and provide a reasonable alternative to Ignatieff, especially if he comes in at 30% or slightly higher. Delegates won't see any hint of "inevitability", but will be tempted to move to the second place candidate. It is for this reason that I disagree with people who argue that Kennedy has less potential than Dion. If Kennedy finishes second, I think Dion is essentially dead. Afterall, despite the spin, it's not as if people hate Kennedy. The momentum of a strong first ballot percentage will be the determining factor for Kennedy's growth.

Third place only matters if the numbers are essentially the same as second place. Any gap of say 3% should be enough to get the momentum required. A small percentage, but in a crowded field where people are shopping, a powerful indicator. I don't see how anything less than second is possible for Rae, who must show his baggage isn't an albatross. If Rae were to finish second, I think people would be surprised at his ability to grow. Likely to have an impressive speech, the moment and charm may override the concerns.

It's all speculation of course, but I see where Ignatieff sits and who finishes second as the only factors that matter when we speak of growth.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Stevie Stalin

Interesting article in The National Post that reveals where Harper gets his inspiration for governing style:
But Harper's choice of reading material has disturbed even some of his own party members.

The senior Tory recounted being told Harper had "read and mastered" the biography and leadership style of Russia's Communist dictator Josef Stalin, and said the prime minister has adopted some of the same tactics.

"He plays people off against one another, he attempts to inspire fear rather than respect, he is unpredictable and he is 100 per cent focused on eliminating the opposition," the senior Conservative explained...

"You can either say he's a good leader and decisive or you can say he's a bully, but it amounts to the same thing," he said. "He knows what he wants to do and he makes people do it, or tells them that if you don't like it then vote against it, or lump it, and that's fair enough."

Quite the contradiction for a man who's Reform roots suggest a grassroots, representative approach to government. Emulating a totalitarian, repressive leadership style should be quite alarming, but hardly surprising, given the record to date. Harper is a bully, that demands rigid compliance from surrogates and shows a complete paranoia on message control. Free media is scorned and manipulated to be mere propaganda faciliators.

The Stalin angle might help explain Harper's unprecedented obsession with obtaining a majority. Unchecked power is the ultimate goal, and only when this condition is achieved will we see the true character revealed. Policy is a means to an end, not a moral discussion, but one that gets its impetus from a lust for power. It really is staggering that the man who leads a democratic Canada has the same mentor as the likes of Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Elephant In The Room

Ignatieff is taking alot of heat for his willingness to re-open constitutional talks. I'm not sure I agree with Ignatieff's opinions on substance, but I do applaud the desire. Bob Rae and Stephane Dion both bring ample experience on constitutional matters, but their positions are essentially copouts. Dion cited Switzerland to argue you don't need full constitutional participation for a country to operate. Rae argued that it's just too hard to bring all the parties together and simply not worth the risk. What both men fail to acknowledge, working around the margins and avoiding the elephant in the room isn't a solution.

Avoidance allows a constant smoldering, that is equally as dangerous as attempting to deal with the problem, once and for all. Allowing Quebec to drift outside of the constitution guarantees perpetual uncertainty. The risks that surround re-opening constitutional talks are real, but the opposite view is equally problematic. I would view the next round of constitutional talks as the moment of truth, either there is some agreement or we accept the reality that sovereignty may be the best option- for both sides. The rest of Canada is held hostage, the federation operates on pins and needles, honest debate is stifled to appease and the whole thing is woefully dysfunctional. Bring the issue to a head, and come to a definitive conclusion, one way or the other.

I would argue that conditions have changed since the last round of talks. The language that is acceptable now is far more progressive than what was debated in Meech or Charlottetown. Distinct society is pretty much a given term, and the idea of "nation" gains increasing acceptance. The discussion has moved forward, maybe the constitution is ready to accept the rhetoric. The situation now has devolved into a federalist argument that is largely based on fears and checks to stifle independence, because there is no real policy to defend. The Bloc is now a permanent fixture in our Parliament and will remain as long as malaise is king. Canada is drifting apart as we sit idly by, why not be proactive and see if we can salvage the federation.

I'm prepared to accept the risk of opening up the constitution, primarily because I don't think we have a choice. Politicans can argue about practical measures to strenghten the federation that don't involve the constitution, but again I don't see at as a real substitute, merely plugging holes on a sinking boat. Of course it's "hard", of course it's "risky" and it could very well fail given the precedents. However, choosing to ignore just fuels the elements that want to divide Canada. I see the re-opening of talks as a moral necessity, not an option, if the goal is a healthy federation moving forward. To use a crude reference, it's time to shit or get off the pot. Do nothing, and you reach the dreaded condition anyways, it's just a more tortured and gentle slope.


Another take.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Advantage To The Liberal "Division"

I have read several MSM articles on the NDP's decision to forcefully back an Afghanistan withdrawal. Several musings on how, politically, the NDP is now the only "anti-war" party, with the Liberals chronically divided. The suggestion seems to be that clarity is advantageous, while any sense of discord is a liability. The Conservatives are staunch supporters, the NDP are now equally rigid opposers, while the Liberals don't know where to turn. In my mind, this condition actually benefits the Liberals if it is framed properly.

I accept the premise that most Canadians are conflicted on Afghanistan. There is a general sense that this is not Iraq, there are in fact logical and moral arguments that support our participation. However, there is also a growing belief that the mission is unbalanced, directionless and trending badly. This tension makes the question a complicated one that needs to be debated. It would seem that the only place for this debate is now squarely within the Liberal Party. The other parties can call it division, as though a weakness, but the Liberals would now seem the only party able to navigate the complexities.

I think most Canadians would fall somewhere in between the idea of immediate withdrawal and open-ended commitment. The moderate view has one home, the Liberal Party. If the question becomes which party best reflects the view of average Canadians, then the idea of division becomes desirable. I don't think this mission is cut and dry for most people, why shouldn't a political party reflect that internal debate? On this issue, rigidity is tantamount to marginalization, whereas pragmatism allows for movement. If the Liberals need to stake out a dominate policy on Afghanistan, I think politically Kennedy's has the most to offer. A firm stance, which allows for differing paths, contingent on the circumstances. The Kennedy position has the room required that best reflects the debate in the hinterlands. Replace "division" with "debate" and the Liberals come off fine.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Breaking: Afghanistan Update

It's okay if you are confused. First we are winning militarily in Afghanistan, then we need more troops to win and then we can't win. The great thing about Afghanistan, each day brings a new reality, decidedly different from the previous one. Good news, we're kicking Taliban ass again:
Insurgent forces in this Taliban hotbed are on the verge of collapse in the face of an onslaught by NATO forces, according to the commander of Canadian forces on the ground in Afghanistan...

"There's good indication that they are on the brink of collapse in a number of different areas," Lavoie said in an interview, giving few details on how he arrived at the conclusion.

I just hope today's trend continues tomorrow and the day after that is consistent with the previous assessments.

Afghanistan Helps Our "Reputation"

When you do the mental math to justify our presence in Afghanistan, one concept shouldn't enter the equation, that being the idea of prestige. The Toronto Star has an excellent piece detailing the birth of our mission in Afghanistan. What is particularly disturbing in the piece is the way in which Afghanistan was seen as an opportunity to bolster our international reputation and provide an opportunity for an eager military to flex its muscles. The warped logic that if Canadians were on the frontlines, getting bloodied, this would heighten our international profile:
But Hillier and planners in the defence department were fixed on one thing and one thing only: Afghanistan.

The meeting was the perfect opportunity to win confirmation for an idea they'd been planning for months, one that had the potential to transform Canada's military and embolden its reputation worldwide.

I think it important for any civilian government to look at the military leadership as simply a special interest group, that represents a narrow, biased agenda. It is natural that the military wants to "prove" itself, the trick for the government is to not be seduced by the rhetoric. Tell me we are in Afghanistan to re-construct a troubled region. Tell me we are in Afghanistan because of human rights and moral commitment. Don't tell me we are in Afghanistan so we can look good in front of the class:
There was a fairly strong trail of orthodoxy," that ran through the foreign affairs bureaucracy, Reid says, "that was based on an evaluation of strategic interests in terms of our relationship with the United States. A lot of times policy was put to us based on, `This matters to this White House. And things that matter to this White House can't be taken lightly, because these guys take it personally ... So, we really have to evaluate the importance of making a decision that runs counter to this White House.'"

I could care less if the world "notices" Canada. War shouldn't be a vanity campaign, nor are we engaged in some sport where we can brag to the team about our sacrifices on the field. Afghanistan isn't about "heroes" and romantic views of the noble soldier, or at least it shouldn't be. Martin failed Canadians, because he allowed himself to make a decision based on the misguided combination of appeasing the Americans and wanting to make a "statement", as forcefully argued by Hillier.

The Harper government takes the error a step further, operating like a branch of the military, which suggests even more biased logic and dangerous trends. We don't just appease the Bush administration, we now mirror its policies as though we want approval from big brother. Unfortunately, for all the talk about re-construction and humanitarian need, the real reasonings for this mission were ego and appearances. We should all be proud- cough.

Friday, September 08, 2006

More Troops To Afghanistan

Is there any coherence to what we hear coming from Canadian officals on Afghanistan? Earlier in the week, our NATO commander said you could "smell defeat" when speaking of the latest offensive. The very next day, the NATO commander in Brussels said he was "surprised" at the resistence and argued for more troops. O'Connor pipes in, admitting we "can't defeat the Taliban militarily". We're winning, they are doomed to defeat, but we need more troops and it likely won't lead to victory. Huh?

The confusion doesn't stop there, and in fact it takes a dangerous turn. The Defense Minister responded to the call for more troops with "Canada has more than met our commitment", acknowledging our disporportionate contribution. However, a quick scan of these comments suggest we are already laying the groundwork for more troops:
The Canadian military is keeping tight-lipped on the extent of the potential deployment and when it may take place, but it is understood that, if government approval is given, it would happen as soon as possible.

"As part of prudent contingency planning, the army is conducting staff checks to determine what additional personnel and equipment could be made available for augmentation of ongoing missions or commitment to new operations depending on the government of Canada's direction," said Canadian Forces spokesman Maj. Daryl Morrell. "We're not going to discuss further details of this planning at this time."

"Augmentation" is the key term and suggests military officials have determined we need more troops. Does anyone believe Harper will deny the military request? I suspect our military will play the same game the American military played, wherein they mask the numbers within the cloud of tour overlap and logistics. What are we doing here?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Kennedy Has A Wide Berth

I just watched a political roundtable on Newsworld, wherein two Liberal strategists agreed that Gerard Kennedy had shrewdly positioned himself on Afghanistan. Earlier, Don Newman interviewed Bob Rae and the conclusion was that Rae seemed "wishy-washy" with regard to his Afghanistan stance. There was some surprise that Rae and Dion had ceded so much terrain to Kennedy, effectively allowing him to stand alone as the only strong critic of the mission, while everyone else remained in the "muddy middle".

Everyone agrees that the country is divided on Afghanistan, with a downward support trend. The natural extension of this sentiment would seem to suggest a majority of Liberals question the mission. When you look at the various stances of the candidates there is some divergence, no question. However, the Kennedy viewpoint seems decidedly unique and articulates a bottomline clarity. As the roundtable suggested, Kennedy enjoys a wide berth on the issue- partially through his own bold stance and simply through relative default. If you are a strong supporter of Afghanistan, then Ignatieff is clearly your choice. If, however, you have doubts or are firmly against, Kennedy's position looks attractive.

Kennedy doesn't go as far as Layton, even though the intellectually lazy lump them together. What Kennedy does do is offer a refuge for the wary, without the appearance of "radical". If's and when's allow for movement, and don't box Kennedy into a black and white proposition. I have to agree with the roundtable conclusion, Kennedy is smartly positioned to appeal to a good percentage of Liberals.

Ignatieff Finds Balance

I have to admit, I find Ignatieff’s strong federalist stance quite attractive. While Harper speaks of “firewalls” and shows a preference for further de-centralization, Ignatieff is unapologetic in his view that the nation needs a strong central voice:
Although his new platform states that Quebec should be recognized as a "nation," as should aboriginal nations, in a Canada that is a "multinational state," Mr. Ignatieff made it clear that he believes Ottawa's power cannot be eroded.
"What you see is that Quebec has all the powers necessary to make its society flourish and grow," he said…

"I think we have to have an honest dialogue with Quebecers. I think it's important to have a federalism of recognition and respect. Recognition of what is specific to the Quebec people. I speak for all of those who say that Quebec is my nation but Canada is my country…"

". . . If the federal government transfers further fiscal power to the provinces, the capacity of the national government to promote and sustain the equality of citizenship will be damaged," his platform states.

Instead of the Harper appeasement, Ignatieff puts principle above political expediency. On the surface, Ignatieff’s view is risky, in that it could alienate soft nationalists in Quebec. However, if you look beyond the headline, Ignatieff shows great respect for Quebecers, while at the same time arguing for the larger nation. I like the balance and you have to appreciate the honesty on a subject that is full of potential landmines.

The role of the Prime Minister is to provide the federalist check to the natural regional aspirations of the Premiers. Ignatieff seems to understand his constitutional responsibility in a way that doesn’t try to pacify, which isn’t easy given the current climate. Say what you will about Ignatieff, the man expresses his views in unedited fashion, which is a refreshing break from the usual political rhetoric.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Golden Opportunity

Another poll, more confirmation that anything is possible in the next election:
A Decima poll over the holiday weekend and released to The Canadian Press on Wednesday said support for the Conservatives was at 34 per cent among decided voters, or two points lower than the level reached on election day. Nationally the Liberals were at 30 per cent, the NDP at 14 per cent and the Bloc at 11 per cent...

In Ontario, the leaderless Liberals held 41 per cent compared with 35 per cent for the Tories.

"The real point of concern for some number of Canadians seems to be whether Canada was articulating a point of view that was significantly independent from that of the (U.S. President George W.) Bush administration," Anderson said.

The idea that Harper is Bush is cementing itself in the Canadian psyche, largely because it's true. Remember in the spring when pundits were suggesting that the Liberal leadership was a race for longterm opposition leader? The truth has always been that this government has an ideological ceiling, they don't represent the majority of Canadians, and as their policies become clear this reality finds ample evidence.

When parliament reconvenes, I hope the opposition is more forceful in countering Harper's strong arm tactics. This government can't force an election with these trends. The next window for the Conservatives is the spring budget, where they can hope to buy votes with goodies. It should now be required text for any opposition MP to use the word Bush at least twice in any reference to Harper.

The Rae Factor

Many people are strongly dismissive of Rae’s chances to win the Liberal leadership race. For arguments sake, accept the premise that Rae can’t win. The question then becomes, what impact will Rae have on this race and the eventual outcome. My answer, Rae might just be the most important person on the convention floor.

Calgary Grit did a detailed projection of the various candidates support heading into the convention. You can quibble with the results, but I think it fair to say that Rae will enter the convention with decent first-ballot support. When the question turns to which candidate others will move too on subsequent ballots, I would assume Michael Ignatieff has an ace up his sleeve. Given Rae’s long time friendship with Ignatieff, it’s hard to see a scenario where Rae doesn’t support him on the convention floor. If we believe that Rae enters the hall with around 15% of the delegates, this move could make Rae the kingmaker.

One the criticisms of Ignatieff is that, despite his apparent front-runner status, he won’t be able to “grow” at the convention. The Rae factor could prove this assumption wrong and provide the momentum to make Ignatieff look inevitable. Rae doesn’t have to deliver all his delegates, because it would be psychologically powerful to watch him walk over to Ignatieff’s perch. In a convention that looks to go beyond a first or second ballot, Rae might be able to give Ignatieff everything he requires- momentum. If Rae concludes he can't win, why wouldn't he support his "lifelong" friend.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Canadians: Massive Support for Kyoto

New poll released that shows Canadians overwhelming support Kyoto's objectives:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rejected the Kyoto Protocol, an international pact to cut greenhouse emissions that cause global warming, and federal officials suggest their top priority is air and water quality, not climate.

McAllister's poll suggests that the great majority of Canadians don't agree with that stance. It found that 77 per cent believe Canada should meet or exceed its Kyoto targets for cutting emissions.

More than 90 per cent of Canadians said climate change will be a serious problem if not addressed, and 75 per cent believe that a "good amount" or a "great deal" can be done to fight the problem.

Global warming has become a key issue:
In the poll, the most frequently named environmental issues were air quality (35 per cent), global warming (20 per cent), water quality (12 per cent) and nature conservation (six per cent).

In July 2005, only seven per cent of those interviewed named global warming as the top environmental issue, putting it in fourth place after air quality (35 per cent), water quality (17 per cent) and nature conservation (13 per cent).

Given the natural link with air quality, and you have a sobering realization that we need immediate action. This poll shows an appetite for "radical" measures to tackle emissions, because afterall acceptance is half the battle. The "ambitious" proposals from the NDP, Green Party and various Liberal candidates find a receptive audience and makes the Conservatives stance the real fringe. Whatever Ambrose concocts, we all know it will lack real targets on emissions, ala Kyoto, which makes this issue the achilles heel of the government.

No longer an afterthought in the minds of Canadians:
He said environment is now at the top of the list in Quebec while in the rest of Canada it is third place after health and governance, but rapidly moving into second place.

Let's hope the momentum is real and this becomes the cornerstone issue next election. The politicians are moving in step with average Canadians, which makes for a positive landscape to actually do something effective. All we need to do is send the dinosaurs back to Alberta.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Negotiating With "Terrorists" On All Fronts

It is almost comical, the way in which governments present a formal stance, while concurrently pursuing the exact opposite behind the scenes. The "we will never negotiate with terrorists" meme took another blow today with Annan's announcement that he would mediate talks in Lebanon:
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has agreed to mediate in efforts for the release of two abducted Israeli soldiers after requests from both Hezbollah and Israel, his spokesman said Monday.

It would be the first time that Israel has publicly agreed to indirect contacts with the Lebanese guerrilla group over winning the release of the two soldiers, snatched in a cross-border raid on July 12. Their capture sparked a massive Israeli offensive against Hezbollah that lasted 34 days until a UN-arranged ceasefire.

“The Secretary-General has accepted to play a role as mediator in the matter of the abducted soldiers,” Mr. Fawzi told Associated Press. “They have both requested mediation,” he said, referring to Hezbollah and Israel.

The Israeli government is also using Egypt to negotiate with the Palestinians, for release of the kidnapped soldier in Gaza:
An Egyptian diplomat familiar with the negotiations said a deal was unlikely in the coming days because Israel and the Palestinians have not agreed on the number or names of prisoners to be released.

The Americans have negotiated with Iraqi insurgents. NATO is said to have talked to the Taliban militants, in the hopes that they will lay down their arms. Clearly a matter of appearances, western nations regularly negotiate with organizations that they publicly spurn. The nuance of "indirect" or "intermediary" creates a buffer to maintain the mirage, but it really is just the equivalent of passing notes in high school.

If you admit that these talks take place, it diminishes the legitimacy of the outrage, whenever anyone suggests formal diplomacy. A mature policy embraces the benefit of actual "direct" contact. If Israel were to "talk" to Hezbollah, face to face, instead of these disjointed missions, it might be more fruitful and exercise. Maybe if Nasrallah actually had to speak to Jews, it might humanize the negotiations and in some small way confront his bigotry and soften his perception. Nothing is lost, because you are already negotiating, so why not have direct contact. I see that approach as far more productive than clandestine meetings and shuttle diplomacy to maintain the appearance of detachment. Mediation should involve both parties at a common table.

Federalist Vacuum In Quebec

I think it fair to say Quebecers flirtation with the Harper Conservatives has ended. Another poll confirms that, despite the overtures, Quebecers just don't agree with this government, on anything:
The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for CanWest News Service and Global National, found 54 per cent of Canadians disapproved of Harper's decision not to attend the AIDS conference and delay a planned funding announcement because the issue had become "too politicized." Forty-three per cent supported the prime minister.

Resentment was highest in Quebec, where 61 per cent of those surveyed characterized Harper's actions as "the wrong thing to do."

The Quebec numbers come as bad news for the Tories, who need to improve their fortunes there to have a shot at majority government in the next election.

The last hope for Harper, tackle fiscal imbalance in such a way that Quebec is the clear beneficiary. Given the political and practical reality, it would appear Harper is destined to fail in delivering this promise. Therefore, we now have an opportunity for the Liberal Party to fill the federalist vacuum, in a way that didn't seem possible only a few months ago. The simple fact, despite the stain of recent scandals, the Liberal Party is far more reflective of Quebecer's core values, which makes a comeback entirely possible. The Conservatives can pour all the money and energy they want into the province, but the simple counter is the laundry list of issues that put the Conservatives at odds with the majority of Quebecers. You could argue that this benefits Duceppe, and it may, but it also affords the Liberals an unexpected gift.

The situation in Quebec makes the Liberal leadership choice all the more important. I don't claim to have intimate knowledge of Quebecers feelings, but it would appear that Stephane Dion has been somewhat successful in rehabilitating his image and discarding some of the baggage. Do Liberals favor Dion as their best chance to re-take Quebec, or is this a simple pipedream? Rae and Ignatieff also seem to enjoy support in Quebec, Rae in particular has a resume that shows a commitment to Quebecers. Ignatieff has draw sizeable crowds in Quebec, his French is exceptional and he does have roots in the province. If Liberals decide to emphasize a return to prominence in Quebec, then maybe Kennedy is the big loser, given his relatively bad French and negative coverage from the Quebec media.

Harper's numbers are also slipping in Ontario, which opens up the possiblity that the Liberals could return to power by appealing to their old powerbases. I think Kennedy has the best chance to make gains in the West, which is something the Liberals, and the country, desperately needs. But tactically, Harper's stumble in Quebec may present the Liberals with their best chance to re-take power.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ambrose Wasting Taxpayer Money

Two different stories, in recent days, reveal some questionable conduct from our Environment Minister. A paid holiday for aides?:
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose's office is mum on why it took four political staffers to tag along with her to a trade conference in Vancouver at a cost of $14,345...

Ambrose flew into Vancouver on March 30, delivered her speech and flew out on March 31, the conference's last day.

Ambrose's senior policy advisor, director of communications and assistant director of communications also flew into Vancouver on March 30, but appear to have stayed in the city until April 2, according to expense records on Environment Canada's website.

An assistant to Ambrose's parliamentary secretary Mark Warawa flew to Vancouver for the conference on March 28 and also appears have to stayed until April 2.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director John Williamson said Ambrose's office owes it to the public to explain why four political aides were needed on the trip.

"I'd love to see what was so important about this meeting that so many people needed to be involved," said Williamson.

Vancouver is quite beautiful in the springtime, who can blame these hard-working civil servants. I wonder if they tried the crab? Mmmm.

The cynical manipulation of voters, at taxpayer expense:
A polling firm recruited by the federal government is advising Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he can use a major environmental policy announcement in the coming weeks as a ''wedge issue'' to sway voter opinion in the next election.

Following a series of in-depth interviews with Canadians in six different cities, the Strategic Counsel concluded the government should deliver a plan that would appeal directly to voters who are worried about air pollution and water quality, but confused about climate change...

Ryan Sparrow, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, refused to comment on the reasons for the study or its cost to taxpayers.

Why do you need polling to tell you what to do on the environment? Are you interested in what's best, or what maximizes your potential vote count? It would appear the notion of "accountability" doesn't apply to the Minister of the Environment. Not only is Ambrose wasting time, but she also appears to be wasting our money as well.

Layton's Mistake

Pardon my cynicism, but I can't help but see Layton's call for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan as anything but politically motivated. At first blush, Layton's stance looks like a blatant attempt to out-flank the Liberals, who are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition for an open-ended engagement. Is Layton trying to get out front of the other parties?

The problem with the Layton view, it has a reckless quality that lacks practicality. Does anyone really see a scenario where Canadians begin immediate withdrawal? Whether you agree or disagree with the mission, it is simply logistically and diplomatically impossible to extract ourselves immediately. Layton denies reality and in turn makes his view look more a stunt, than a careful policy position.

The NDP generally does an excellent job in presenting a united front, but in this instance Layton is faced with a fellow NDP MP quoting Liberals in disagreement:
The Nova Scotia MP represents a military riding and says his own views are more in line with those expressed by Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh, who said the mission should be refocused but Canadian troops should remain.

“To be honest with you, Mr. Dosanjh got it right the other day when he said just to extend the mission for two years without a proper debate and a plan is wrong, but to do an immediate pullout, or a very quick pullout, is also wrong,” said Mr. Stoffer, his party's veterans affairs critic.

“Without a comprehensive plan, what are you pulling out for? What are you leaving behind?”

Layton's view that the mission is flawed and failing has validity, but his call for withdrawal creates a vacuum that he doesn't reconcile. Layton's view has the ironic effect of ceding the "sensible" path to the Liberals. What conditions can we put in place, what initiatives can we take and what emphasis should we have that will allow Canadian forces to leave? These are the questions many Liberals are asking, while Layton leaves a clear hole for opponents to claim abandonment. The harsh reality, we did commit to Afghanistan, so getting out requires some balance. While Canadians are split over the mission, Layton's view comes across as extreme and I doubt it finds much widespread support.

Layton's inaccurate reading of the landscape puts him on the fringe of this debate and positions the Liberals right in the middle. The Tories are steadfast and stubborn, now the NDP is equally rigid in its view. The real debate about goals, objectives and timeframes resides in the Liberal Party. I don't think Layton thought his postion out, it reeks of kneejerk politics and it cements the NDP position. Politically motivated, I think Layton has miscalculated the general view of Canadians and opened the NDP up for easy criticisms. I say this as someone who agrees that the mission is massively flawed, and in its present form, destined to fail.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Admit The Obvious

The Pentagon released a new report on Iraq that clearly shows the country in the midst of civil war. However, in a bizarre twist, the Pentagon offers the disturbing data, but still can't admit the obvious:
"Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq," it said, while maintaining that civil war can still be prevented

From the Pentagon's own report:
Executions, kidnappings and other sectarian attacks targeting Iraqi civilians have soared over the past three months, contributing to a 51 percent rise in casualties among the population and Iraqi security forces, the report said. More than 3,000 Iraqis are killed or wounded each month, and by July, 2,000 of the casualties were the result of sectarian incidents, it showed...

Overall, the number of weekly attacks in Iraq escalated to nearly 800, the highest level since the Pentagon began gathering the statistics in April 2004...

In a grim revelation, the report cited the Baghdad coroner's office stating that it received 1,600 bodies in June and more than 1,800 in July, of which 90 percent were assessed to be the result of executions.

Moreover, the report said, the revenge killings perpetrated by Sunni and Shiite death squads are spreading outside the Iraqi capital into the far reaches of the country, from Basra in the south to Mosul and Kirkuk in the north...

What would you call it?

This Is Democracy?

The first time I joined the Liberal Party, many years ago, it was done at the behest of my father, who was encouraged to signup as many people as possible to get a desired candidate the nomination in my riding. An "instant Liberal" if you will, the process always struck me as more an exercise in gaming the system than true participation in democracy. Now, many years later I have re-joined the party on my own accord, in the hopes of having a small voice in the democratic process. Let's just say, I'm hardly impressed at the way this party apparently operates.

I was offered a seat for the local provincial party executive, primarily to help support the person who originally came to the house to fill out the forms. Fair enough, although I found it quite odd that a new party member could sit on the executive so soon. What I found particularly distasteful was a conversation I had with a local member, wherein I was trying to find out about a Ignatieff appearance in my riding. I was essentially told that if I did attend this brunch to "make sure you mention you are on the executive because Ignatieff will be more likely to talk to you", implying that a mere party member is the equivalent of a serf in the eyes of the elite. BTW, I did speak with Ignatieff, but failed to mention my "credentials"- he was quite engaging.

Fast forward to yesterday, wherein I received a call from another party member concerning my desire to become a delegate at the convention. I asked about the voting process to determine delegates and I must say I was shocked at the response. "Well, Ignatieff already has quite a few delegates, and the problem with our riding is most of the power resides elsewhere, so we don't know how it will all play out". Huh? I don't recall a vote yet, how is it that Ignatieff has already secured delegates? I know the riding head supports Ignatieff, but why does that translate into automatic support? The person also mentioned some of the other candidates had committed delegates, including herself who intended to represent Dryden.

Pardon my ignorance, but I assumed we would have a meeting, wherein everyone votes on preference and delegates are alloted based on percentages. It would appear that "one person, one vote" is a mirage in this instance, as the local powerbrokers are already pulling strings to support their preference. My impression is that you secure the local party leadership and you guarantee support- period. My sense of democracy doesn't quite work this way, nor do I wish to try and manipulate to help my choice (whomever that may be). So, I intend to be present at the "vote", and if it reeks of anti-democratic, insider advantage politics I will make my opinion known. Clearly, it is time for online or mailed voting, with a detached voice to ensure representative democracy. I'm not naive enough to suggest all the parties don't work on the margins, but nor have I found my dealings with this party to be a shining example of equality and open debate. Time to burn down the backroom :)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rubber Meet Road

Whenever someone questions the wisdom of our mission in Afghanistan, it is invariably met with the moral necessity argument, references to terror and the idea of abandonment. The way people have twisted, and frankly lied, about Kennedy's position serves as proof that the believers refuse to acknowledge a simple fact- we aren't winning, by whatever measure you choose, and the notion of quagmire is real. Do you blindly follow a failed path, or show some pragmatism and argue for something different?

A quick scan reveals the danger of stubborn refusal to re-access and ignore the trends:
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Pakistani military is striking truces with Islamic separatists along the country's border with Afghanistan, freeing Pakistani militants and al-Qaida fighters to join Taliban insurgents battling U.S.-led troops and government forces in Afghanistan.

Western and Afghan officials said the new infiltration came as the United States, its NATO allies and the Afghan government were struggling to stem a resurgence of the Taliban across large swaths of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

A lack of balance, from a source who should know:
Kabul- Five years since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the beginning of the war on terrorism, Afghanistan has accused the international community of failure in that fight. The international community has "concentrated too much on the military components in the fights against terrorism," its foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, said in an interview in Kabul with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "The fight against terrorism is not only a military, but also a development and social, mission."

"The problem is, is that the non-governmental organizations and the reconstruction teams have completely pulled out of the south and east," Spanta said.

Pockets of resistence or spreading threat?:
Militant supporters of the Islamist militia have stepped up attacks, rendering much of the south and east of the country a no-go zone for civilians. Insecurity has also spread to new provinces, such as Ghazni, where Taliban-led fighters are more active than in the past.

On Friday, suspected Taliban ambushed the chief of the central province's Muqur district, Habibullah Jan, as he traveled by car to the provincial capital, said Abdul Ali Faqari, the Ghazni governor's spokesman. Four of his bodyguards were wounded in the attack.

In the east, a homemade bomb believed planted by Islamic extremists badly damaged a newly built coed school in Paktika province on Friday, a U.S.-led coalition statement said. At the time, no one was inside the school, which was due to open next week

Some nations are now re-thinking:
In Germany, the idea of sending troops to the south is controversial and the issue could become a serious one when the German parliament discusses extending the Bundestag's mandate in Afghanistan in mid-September. The Bundestag must approve all German troop deployments abroad and the mandate for the current 2,700 German soldiers stationed in Afghanistan expires in October.

The war on drugs:
WASHINGTON - The illicit Afghan narcotics trade is taking a sharp turn for the worse despite major efforts by U.S. and Afghan forces over the past year, continuing to fuel an insurgency that is increasingly killing American soldiers and destabilizing the country.

In light of dramatic figures expected to be announced in Saturday by the United Nations, U.S. officials plan a shift in policy including getting tougher with regional Afghan officials who fail to meet new goals for destroying poppy fields in their areas...

"We know the numbers are bad, and that we need to do better," said Tom Schweich, the State Department's point man on the Afghan narcotics trade. "I don't know the exact number but it'll be high, very high."

At the same time, Schweich contends it is too soon to call the U.S. effort a failure.

Conclusion, for myself anyways, anybody who isn't at the very least questioning this mission has her/his head up their ass :) And remember, wanting to change gears doesn't equate to abandoning Afghanistan forever.

Kennedy Shows Class

Ignatieff has made another apparent “gaffe’, in using the term “civil war” with reference to Quebec. I found this quote from Gerard Kennedy quite telling and a good measure of the man:
About Mr. Ignatieff's frank statements of late, Mr. Kennedy said, "Each of us has to find a way to express ourselves.
"Maybe certain weeks we'll all have challenges. I prefer not to see it as a characteristic, per se. . . “

A golden opportunity to take a shot at the perceived frontrunner, and yet Kennedy takes the high road and essentially defends Ignatieff. Obviously the question was asked in the hopes Kennedy would take the bait and slam Ignatieff. The fact Kennedy resisted demonstrates integrity, that he wouldn’t use the opportunity for personal gain. It is refreshing to see Kennedy isn’t so political that his first instinct is a calculation. Kudos for keeping the debate high signal.