Saturday, January 31, 2009

Prentice Out Of The Loop

It was on all the networks, lots of hype, seemed everybody was talking. Despite almost unprecedented global focus, it appears Jim Prentice missed the Inauguration:

"Canada, U.S. in harmony on climate change: Prentice"

Maybe it was a typo, "were" omitted or something?

It's funny to watch Bush's international tag team partner on climate change now pivot towards the Obama teet. "Change" nobody believes in.

The Right Choice

Two polls, one from Strategic Counsel, the other from Ipsos, both reach the same conclusion on the Liberals decision.

The SC poll provides the best of all worlds for the Liberals. Canadians believe the opposition deserves credit for the stimulus, Harper's conversion pure politics, and the Liberals right to let the budget pass:
72 per cent of Canadians say the government would not have introduced the stimulative budget of this week had it not been for the pressure of opposition parties.

69 per cent say they still blame Mr. Harper for causing an unnecessary political crisis late last year when he should have been focusing on the economy.

Asked whether they believe Mr. Harper has changed since the fall and is taking the country's economic troubles more seriously, 63 per cent said they perceived no change and that the budget is all about politics.

On the budget itself, overall support:
62 per cent saying they have a positive impression, compared with 38 per cent who feel the opposite

The Liberal decision:
The poll also shows that the decision of new Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to avoid bringing down the Tories may have been the right one. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents say they would be less likely to vote Liberal should the Grits defeat the budget.

“If they had done the opposite, it would have come at a political cost to them,” Mr. Donolo said.

More bad news for the NDP:
Canadians are also urging the opposition parties to back the budget, with a full two-thirds saying they should support it. Even 47 per cent of New Democratic voters feel that way. The NDP has said it will vote against the budget.
Conclusion, Harper has damaged itself, and the Liberals clearly made the right political decision, to let the budget pass.

The Ipsos poll finds Canadians largely "indifferent" to the budget. The strong majority see the budget as "neither good, nor bad." On the question of budget support, again Ignatieff's decision appears a good one:
only 39 per cent of those polled agreed with the statement "the opposition coalition would have presented a better budget for these tough economic times than the Harper government has."

That suggests Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was probably correct to kill the coalition with Jack Layton's NDP, but to have done so in a way he can be perceived as forcing the Conservatives to bend to the will of Parliament.

"I think his moves this past week were incredibly astute," Mr. Wright said. "It was a very smart strategy but what the poll, however, shows is that people really don't believe that any political party or anybody really has the answer to this," he said, referring to the economic downturn.

"Astute", "very smart strategy", from the pollster, seems to reflect the general mood we've heard elsewhere, rabid partisans aside.

It's very evident now, that Ignatieff made the right political choice, in allowing this budget to pass, while others misread the mood of the public at large. It's also abundantly clear that Harper is damaged goods, a fact which will be particularly noteworthy when we do have an election.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Lack Of A Price

It's well understood, that there was a substantive disconnect between Quebec and the "rest of Canada", relating to attitudes on the coalition. The Liberals really had nothing to lose politically, by moving away from the coalition in the majority of the country, with the clear exception being Quebec. Given Quebecers apparent clear support for the coalition, you could cobble together an argument that the Liberal cause will now be hurt with the budget passage. Recent polls show the Liberals very competitive in Quebec, but these will surely wane, now that they've turned their backs on a popular concept. I don't really see that circumstance necessarily, at best a mild blip, for a number of reasons, but I've tried to gauge what I can, in the immediate aftermath.

From everything I can gather, in a general sense, scanning the outlets, the post-budget cartoonists that are quite flattering towards Ignatieff, some punditry, there is really no sense whatsoever that the Liberals have really harmed themselves in this instance. Yesterday, I heard the following from Chantal Hebert, who generally has a good read of her province's mood (even when it articulated the stubborn resistance to Stephane), and it seems representative:
"Today in Montreal, where people liked the coalition, people on the street who wanted to talk about it, there were quite a lot of them, seemed to think that it was almost normal that Ignatieff backed the budget. So, I think he had prepared, even those who liked the coalition, and I'm not talking die hard NDP and Bloc supporter, but he had prepared the grounds for supporting the budget sufficiently to get away with it."

Others, obviously have a more intimate read, but it would appear that the Liberals did "get away with it", there is little outrage or mockery. If the Liberals can remain relatively unscathed in the one province that held any prospect for "blowback", that's an added bonus, because the danger was beyond minimal anywhere else. As a matter of fact, apart from "die hard" partisans everywhere, Ignatieff and the Liberals have emerged from this debate it very good shape, particularly when you compare it to recent history.

Of course, everything could change in time, but then again, isn't that always the case....

Tough Call

It will be interesting to see how Ignatieff reacts to Newfoundland MP's voting against the budget. You have to balance the need for party discipline, unity, with a genuine concern. I'm inclined to say that Ignatieff should let these MP's vote their conscience, because this issue supercedes the general party position and strategy. I confess, complete confusion trying to decipher all these various side deals and such, but if these MP's feel strongly that Harper is trying to "screw" them, Ignatieff might be better off letting them express their view, and pledging to undo any negative effects in the future.

The reasoning, that forces everyone to toe the line, is more a question on optics, rather than a practical threat to the official position. In the grand scheme, nothing will really change, should these MP's vote against the budget, the political reality remains in tact, while these MP's maintain their credibility with their constituents. Danny Williams isn't blaming the Liberals for their budget stance, but he clearly is pushing for a statement:
“I know they're in a tough spot,” Mr. Williams said.

But even if the Liberal MPs vote against the budget, it would pass with the support of the other Liberals.

Mr. Williams is also looking for support from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and other premiers to delay budget changes that affect revenues from the equalization formula and the Atlantic Accord.

But it remained unclear Friday whether Mr. Ignatieff would back Mr. Williams's proposal.

“This is not a matter between myself and Michael Ignatieff. Michael Ignatieff is doing his best to try and remedy a very terrible situation,” the Premier said.

“I lay this squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Harper and his cohorts.”

If the concern is one of optics, I would suggest a counter view, that has an upside. While the obvious presentation of division in the ranks isn't necessarily advantegeous, having a group of Liberals vote against the budget, also sends a clear signal that this isn't our document and we do have genuine reservations. The decision to support, is one made on balance, but that doesn't preclude criticism or pointing to problems. The simplistic, and quite silly, suggestion that letting this budget pass is tantamount to full endorsement of the Harper Conservatives, isn't necessarily a real concern, but allowing these MP's some latitude does highlight the real disconnects.

There is also the danger of precedent, and Ignatieff will surely have to field questions about a "divided" caucus. However, isn't that reality already in the public domain, everyone knows how these MP's feel, a censor or "toe the line" doesn't remove the perception? In letting these MP's vote against, it allows these people to stay true, without crippling the overall Liberal position moving forward. Everyone has problems with parts of this budget, it's really a decision made in totality. Liberal MP's showing their displeasure, is actually symbolic of a real tension, and I'm not sure it's necessarily negative to present a budget vote, which speaks to the lack of universal approval.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So Scared

Ohhhh, nooooo. The NDP, have released a series of "scathing" radio ads, "attacking" the Liberals. I caught one today, had about the same professional quality as Dion's last video appearance, but I'm sure Canadians will be moved. Hardly surprising, listening to Mulclair's petty comments yesterday (questioning where Ignatieff paid taxes), on the heels of Layton's jilted lover routine, this makes sense.

One thing to keep in mind, the timing of these ads means that while the budget was being released, and Canadians were learning the details, the NDP were huddled in a corner, planning their attack, buying up ad time. That's exactly what Canadians were looking for from political parties, during this crucial time. In addition, when was the last time the NDP ran attack ads against the government, outside of an election?? Interesting, that.

Here's the deal, the NDP are the big losers yesterday, and I know this, not because of my reaction, but because of THEIR reaction, it speaks VOLUMES. The best part, it also demonstrates why a coalition with this bunch had the real prospect of turning into a nightmare for the Liberals, one hand around your shoulder, the other with a knife at our throat. Thanks, but no thanks.

Anyways, unless "bitterness" is the new winning buzzword in Canada, these ads are about as threatening as Wade Belak on a breakaway. Consider me amused, at best.

Below, a sampling of the tremendous backlash against Ignatieff and the Liberals for their pragmatic decision:
Winnipeg Free Press – Editorial, January 29, 2009

“In fact, Mr. Ignatieff not only passed the test, he came out of it looking as if his party not only saved the nation in this time of economic crisis, but that he had vaulted himself into the captain's chair without having to endure the tedium of actually navigating the ship of state through the shoals ahead.”


Benoît Aubin – Chroniqueur, Le Journal de Montréal, le 29 janvier 2009

« En se positionnant comme le professeur qui corrigera les devoirs du gouvernement aux trois mois, menaçant de lui coller un zéro et de déclencher des élections, M. Ignatieff s'est aussi octroyé une bonne mesure de ce que Robert Bourassa appelait «la seule chose qui compte vraiment en politique» : du temps, pour voir venir, et manœuvrer. »

« M. Ignatieff s'est sûrement valu un hochement de tête positif de la part de millions d'électeurs qui en avaient vraiment soupé du vaudeville qu'était devenu le parlement d'Ottawa - et qui apprécient la quasi-certitude offerte hier qu'il n'y aura pas. »

The Globe and Mail – Editorial, January 29, 2009

“Mr. Ignatieff made the correct decision yesterday in announcing that the Liberals will support the budget delivered on Tuesday by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Flawed though it may be, it mostly embraces the approach the Liberals advocated - and its defeat would force the country into another prolonged period of political uncertainty that it can ill afford. Even to play a tactical game of chicken by demanding major amendments in return for the budget's passage could have forced the Liberals into a corner, creating a stand-off that Mr. Ignatieff was smart to avoid.”

Jean-Marc Salvet – Éditorialiste, Le Soleil, 29 janvier 2009

« Michael Ignatieff s'est-il écrasé devant Stephen Harper? Non. Il a agi de façon responsable. »

« Le PLC et la coalition ont déjà poussé le gouvernement dans ses derniers retranchements. Ils n'auraient pas obtenu plus. Ils l'ont forcé à bouger. Ils ont modifié son code génétique. C'est un exploit. »

The Brantford Expositor – Editorial, January 29, 2009

“Ignatieff's phrase that he is putting the Conservative government "on probation" shows a strength that has been absent from the Liberals for some time.”

Waterloo Region Record - Editorial

“In Ignatieff, the Liberals appear to have found someone whose intellectual skills and political smarts are the equal of Harper's. The matchup of these two should prove productive and interesting.”

Don Martin – Columnist, National Post, January 29, 2009

“Mr. Ignatieff has given the Liberals a sense of renewed vigour and a big bounce in the polls. With this budget-expediting move, he has proven himself a shrewd strategist on par with Mr. Harper's reputation, at least before his record was soured by that fall economic update fiasco.”

The Toronto Star – Editorial, January 29, 2009

“Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is right, therefore, not to rush to the barricades with the other two opposition parties to defeat this budget and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government with it. That would mean either putting the coalition in office (which, unfortunately, many parts of the country would see as illegitimate) or forcing yet another election (which would be the fourth in five years). ‘Canadians need that like a hole in the head,’ observes Ignatieff.”

The Ottawa Citizen – Editorial, January 29, 2009

“One hopes that both Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper will carry on with the grown-up work of getting Canada out of this recession, while ignoring Mr. Layton's petulant taunting from the sidelines.”

Hang in there Michael, just ride out the maelstorm and hope the nation's fury wanes. Fingers crossed.

"The New Darling of Quebecers"

The new CROP poll shows the Liberals neck and neck with the Bloc, the Conservatives freefall confirmed. Particularly noteworthy, the Liberals have doubled their support amongst francophones, and are actually competitive outside of what was their "last stronghold" in Quebec. I know, I know, it's all going to change now, after the budget fallout (not), but allow me my real world delusions for a moment:
Bloc 34% (down 4% Oct)
Liberals 31% (up 7%)
Conservatives 16% (down 6%)
NDP 15% (up 3%)

The Liberals more than double the support of the Conservatives, clearly the appearance of the "federalist option" is supported. Better still for the Liberals, finally some evidence of decent support with francophones:
Bloc 40%
Liberals 26%
Conservatives 15%
Liberal support with francophones doubled, Conservative support halved, good news indeed.

The Liberals are also competitive in Quebec City region, while it's more bad news for the Conservatives:
Even in the Quebec City, the stronghold of the Conservatives since January 2006, the political scene is beginning to change. The Bloc Quebecois is ahead in this region with 30% followed by the Conservative Party (28%) and the Liberal Party (27)%.

The numbers are almost ridiculous on the best PM score:
Ignatieff 37%
Harper 16%

My flippant comment aside, there was some risk for the Liberals with this budget strategy, because it gives Duceppe some ammunition, and the coalition concept did enjoy support in Quebec. That said, my initial read, gauging the reaction of commentators, Ignatieff still enjoys the benefit of his "newness", so firm opinions have yet to gel, how the numbers pan out as we move forward, will very much be decided on future performance. I don't sense any lasting damage with this budget decision, and the immediate call to Charest after the announcement is evidence of a strategy beyond this one "test". I remain optimistic, and with a temporary lull on the horizon, I expect to see Ignatieff make excursions into parts of Quebec, Dion never dared contemplate. The above are excellent numbers for the Liberals, and it isn't a stretch to say the Conservatives are forever DEAD in Quebec.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Budget Poll

Angus Reid, gives us a first glimpse review of the budget. The numbers are obviously superficial, first impressions, but I think they speak to the larger desire of just wanting Parliament to get on with it.

On budget approval, solid support:
50% approve of the budget presented by the Conservative government, 31% disapprove

On Parliament passing the budget, a clear want:
53% want Parliament to pass the budget, only 20% don't, with 28% not sure

Impact of budget:
Almost two-thirds of Canadians (63%) believe the budget will have a positive impact in Canada, and almost half (47%) believe the spending plan will have a positive impact in their provinces—including 62 per cent in Ontario and 56 per cent in Alberta. Respondents in Quebec were particularly skeptical, with just 23 per cent foreseeing positive developments for their province, while 42 per cent expect a negative impact.
Still, almost half of Canadians (46%) believe the budget will have no impact at all on their household. Albertans lead the way in expressing personal satisfaction with the spending plan (43% expect a positive impact in their household) while less than one-in-ten Quebecers concur.

The Liberals are clearly on the ride side of public opinion, when it comes to budget passage. Really no sense of a political price, despite the howls from predictable sources.

Keeping The Pressure On

Some more details about the looming Liberal demands, which will effectively keep the pressure on the government, allowing plenty of opportunity for future defeat, if required:
Ignatieff will support the budget but with two conditions:

The Tories make amendments that include improvements in employment insurance and infrastructure but without adding more to the deficit.

The Tories issue an update three times a year on the types of progress being made in terms of the deficit, infrastructure, creating jobs, and regional fairness.
Fife said the first update would be in March when government estimates have to be approved by Parliament.

"He's really going to be holding the government to account here if they don't meet these requirements then the government will be defeated," Fife said.

I would categorize the "update" requirement as a stroke of political brilliance. The chief concern, if the Liberals support, then they take the economy off the table, they've lost the leverage for criticism, is completely addressed with the demand of government accountability. This requirement translates to sustained pressure on the government, the Liberals are free to scrutinze and reacess, keeping the government on the defensive. In essence, the opposition will drive the agenda, ensuring compliance, any deviation or slowness on the government's part, they will "wear" it. Rather than "propping up" the Conservatives, the Liberal role will be to ensure compliance, and make adjustments where necessary. The amendment also means, the Liberals enjoy set benchmarks for future non-confidence, as well as addressing the "trust" issue. We effectively put an ankle bracklet on the government, so we can routinely check their whereabouts, what they've been up to.

The Liberals aren't giving the Conservatives a post-budget reprieve, they will be held to account, and the intitiative remains. If Flaherty is "rosy", if his projections miss the mark, any evidence of promises unkept, there is a mechanism to reveal the failures, and react accordingly. Rather than budget support translating to endorsement, it's a wait and see attitude, and we are left to criticize and show our non-confidence in the future. This amendment basically says, we'll pass the budget, but we don't trust you guys, the Liberals will have a future accounting role. Fast forward, and you can see how this requirement can pay dividends, both politically, and the genuine interest in making sure the economy does receive the stimulus promised.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Liberals "Grumpy"

For what it's "worth":
After consulting late Tuesday with his caucus, the Liberal leader appeared poised to try to wring more concessions out of Harper before guaranteeing his party's support.

Ignatieff, who is to announce his decision Wednesday morning, did not overtly tip his hand during what was described as a "grumpy" caucus meeting. But Liberals left with the impression that he intends to propose an amendment to address some of the deficiencies his MPs identified in the budget.

A senior Liberal confirmed it's unlikely Ignatieff will choose to support the budget without any changes.

"I think it could even be a flat no or there could be an amendment," the insider said. "But those are the only two options".

Liberals privately suggested an amendment could include a proviso that municipalities receive their share of federal infrastructure funding, even if they can't afford to ante up matching funds. It could also specify that the unemployed must receive jobless benefits immediately, doing away with the two-week waiting period.

Coalition Now!

Just joking.

A few personal thoughts on the budget, which isn't a statement on optics or advice on how the Liberals should proceed.

First off, not a very "green" budget, which speaks to the larger point of creating the jobs of the future. I can't really see the grand vision in this budget, more of a hodgepodge, that a focused plan. How this budget modernizes the economy escapes me, it has a panicky feel, plugging holes, rather than using the initiatives to better position us moving forward.

The big item, that was revealed today, the tax cut regime. These cuts do address the "most vulnerable", the budget attempts to speak to the lower and working class folks, whether it's enough, another debate. 20 billion over 6 years, is quite a bit more than the 2 billion the government pushed today. I did like the renovations tax credit, as well as the first time homeowner incentive. If people know they have a limited window to benefit from the renovations credit, it does provide impetus, and most of the money spent in this sector is Canadian made.

Some of the infrastructure money comes with a catch, and I was shocked to hear Flaherty actually acknowledge the deficit could be lower, if this money wasn't spent- "use it or lose it". The pre-condition of provincial and municipal help makes sense on one level, and provides additional funds, but the practical failing, some can't afford the pre-requisite. The prospect of this money left in the federal coffers is, which Flaherty himself stated, is a red flag.

The changes to EI, if you can call them that, probably demands an amendment. The five week extension is clearly good news, so it's an improvement for sure. That said, it falls short on wait times and expanding those that qualify. The re-training money is another positive.

The issue of the deficit as a whole is a tricky proposition. I will give the government some latitude, in that projections in this climate are problematic by nature. However, it was interesting to hear many of the economists, bankers, who were asked already muse about "rosy", Flaherty optimistic. Everybody accepts short term deficits, but I don't sense Flaherty was very convincing in presenting a realistic plan to avoid structural deficits.

Using Flaherty's own numbers, the federal debt payment amount will increase by a full 10 billion at the end of the five years. Tack on the tax cuts, plus the 20 billion increase in spending (for the last two years, AFTER all the stimulus measures are off the books), and it's hard to see how we end up with a very slight surplus. Flaherty reachs a balance, but it assumes massive increases in government revenues, and I think this is why economists are sceptical.

In a general sense, the main criticism of this budget is that it "sprinkles". A little here, a little there, amounting to maybe not enough anywhere. The government clearly tried to cover all of its bases, particularly as it relates to the opposition demands, but for the amount of money being spent, it's still a question of effectiveness. In many respects, more pandering than serious, and the lack of a vision is really evident- no sense of all tenticles moving in tandem, toward a stated goal. Pretty bland, lacking any big picture imagination, more about survival than coherence.

Ignatieff As Dion

There is a point of view making the rounds, that should Ignatieff let the budget pass, he will be well on his way to suffering the same fate as Dion. The "weak" leader narrative, the sense of "cave", "rolling over", the criticisms of "real opposition", all the things that plagued Dion during his tenure, which ultimately made Harper appear much stronger, relative to his primary opponent. I respectfully disagree with that sentiment, in fact I see little in the way of revelant analogies, nor do I think Ignatieff damages himself, in any lasting way, in this instance.

Mr. Dion, for a myriad of reasons, never enjoyed a strong hold on his leadership. Not to rehash, but just as a point of fact, the "weak leader" narrative was entirely supported by the internal machinations of the Liberal Party. I think it beyond obvious at this point, that Ignatieff is, and will be, in far greater control, little prospects for divisions, camps, all the stuff that tends to undermine a leaders authority. That reality is entirely relevant, because much of the Dion frame was media generated, and the seeds of that sentiment were a reflection of party optics. When people sense weakness within, the performance in Parliament only amplifies and cements the narrative.

If, we are sitting here, this time next year, and the Ignatieff Liberals have continually avoided any challenges by the Conservatives, my opinion may change, but as of now, on this particular vote, there is nothing that suggest Ignatieff will be wounded. In fact, if you peruse the media, couple that with public sentiment, a vote for the budget contains little risk. This isn't a situation, wherein Harper "bullies" the Liberals, the suggestion really laughable. As I've already stated, this budget has left Conservatives scratching their heads, so far removed from the initial positions, so removed from the core tenets. Ignatieff never moved, not really one iota, the rhetoric of November identical to the demands of today, and those demands largely met. The universal media opinion, is that Harper has moved to appease the opposition, nobody recognizes him- no sentiment at all, of the Liberals painted into a corner, victim of Harper's strategic prowess. It is for that reason, along with the public want to see politics put aside, and something concrete delivered, that leaves little room for a backlash against Ignatieff, should we support the budget.

Ignatieff is a new leader, putting in place a new team, beginning to articulate his vision for the country. The dynamic of "new" affords Ignatieff some breathing space, no one is entirely surprised, or ready to pass definitive judgement, on a man and party retooling in the early days. "Avoiding" an election isn't a sign of weakness, it's seen as pretty reasonable, given the timing of the last election, given the new regime. Important to separate the musings of those with an agenda, who can say whatever they choose, with how the unaffiliated conduit interprets the maneuvers. With almost universal agreement, the idea that the Conservatives have moved to appease the Liberals, and the Liberals, under the new leader, rightfully want more time. That's the overarching view that I see and hear, so with that in mind, I fail to see DION II. Very different times, very different dynamics at play, very different men to be frank.

There is some sense that the Liberals are on the move under Ignatieff. How much of that is real, or just wishful thinking, remains to be seen. But, there is no question that Ignatieff is commanding a different level of respect, he is not the human pinata. Of course, that perspective can change, but it won't, as a result of this one vote, future events will dictate.

Comparing what appears to be happening, as of tomorrow, with the abstaining routine of the Dion regime, is a useless comparison. As someone who railed against the abstaining strategy last year, primarily because it further cemented Dion's "weak" position, I see little here that re-ignites my previous concern. Nobody is being bullied, Harper isn't forcing his agenda, while we run and hide behind the curtains. Ignatieff isn't under the gun to "stand up", in fact he's pretty much driven this debate, and looked very much a PM in waiting in the process. I will judge the Liberal strategy as we move forward, and it should it appear an overall liability, that hurts the brand or leader, I'll criticize. However, at this moment, on this vote, I see nothing of real substance, to support the argument that Ignatieff is following the same path as his predecessor, with similar risks and downside.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jack Layton :"Steven Harper Sounds Like A New Democrat"

In a very unintended way, I think Jack Layton delivered the rationale, as to why the budget should pass. The comment by Layton came in reaction to a question on the series of budget leaks. Layton referenced social housing, infrastructure, prior to making the above statement. Also noteworthy today, the Throne Speech referenced a few Iggyisms, verbatim phrasing, which was representative of who the true authors of this budget really are. The point- if you were given the budget releases to date, and had no knowledge of which party was delivering the announcements, what party would you think crafted these initiatives? I would argue, the LAST party chosen would be the Conservatives, much more Liberal, a healthy dose of NDP, but little that resembles the Harper government we have all come to know.

I completely agree with Jeff, on hunting dogs and power grabs. A credible argument for toppling the government is completely undercut, when said offering includes almost all the original demands made. Even if the document includes other measures which don't jive with you sensibilities, you must view it all in totality. It is entirely laughable to suggest that Ignatieff and the Liberals will be "caving" should they support this budget. Oh sure, partisans may float the characterization of "propping up", but I have a very calm confidence that the frame will resonate with virtually no one. The reason? This budget has the Liberal fingerprints all over it, the same arguments made since day one, no wavering or amending as we moved forward. Stephen Harper has moved,, I will posit, moreso than any previous government in Canadian history. The chasm between the Conservative government of today, and the proposals offered in November, or the election for that matter, is so substantial, I think people are still having trouble comprehending the movement.

This government has already caved, they lost a long time ago. The only "victory" I suppose, would be clinging to power, but it's supposed to be about the economy, so that consideration supercedes. As for the idea of "trust", completely well founded, but don't forget the opposition isn't neutered moving forward, they will have a strong role on the "accountability" front. If promises aren't fulfilled, or shell games are in operation, a minority parliament always leaves the opposition with plenty of tools. The fact of the matter, at this moment, delivery is secondary to the optics of presentation. You can question the sincerity, but that hardly justifies rejecting the spirit of the initiatives, which is surely what Canadians will look at.

Just imagine, the Liberals rise to defeat the government, when everyone agrees that their checklist was, for the most part, met. That scenario does bring back the power grab angle, Harper can use all the "compromise" to show the opposition wasn't interested in solutions, but control. Politically, Harper is well armed and I see plenty of pitfalls.

I don't "trust" Stephen Harper, nor do I believe he's changed or his recent conversion authentic. However, absent of any huge surprise tomorrow, the government has covered its bases on the substance of the budget. Again, I'm hard pressed to think of another historical example, wherein a government of the day shifted so profoundly policy wise, it's really unprecedented. I don't believe Ignatieff will suffer, should the budget pass. Canadians will exhale, they could care less about, all they want is politicians to get on with it. If anything, I think Ignatieff will come off well, putting partisanship aside, in the name of national interest. Hollow cries from other politicians aside, who is really going to support the "weak" narrative, in this instance? Nobody.

Stephen Harper does sound like a New Democrat, sounds a lot like a Liberal too, sure as shit doesn't sound like the new Conservatives. That's the underlying reality, all the other arguments for coalition, elections aside. People no longer care how we got here, all they care about is getting somewhere. We'll have to wait until tomorrow, plenty more to come, but it's pretty hard now to see a OVERALL justification for defeating the government.

The Conservative Strategy

If you review all the budget leaks to date, they not so coincidentally speak to many of the opposition demands, while simultaneously, the potential contentious initiatives are being held for tomorrow.

Today's infrastructure announcement, announced by Baird. Money for social housing, retro-fits, forestry, mining, agriculture, re-training the unemployed, aboriginals. It would appear, that the government is trying very hard to speak to the opposition demands first, merit of initiatives aside, effectively taking all the issues off the table, prior to the other shoe dropping.

It is no accident, that we still have heard very little on the tax cut front, the issue with the greatest potential for conflict. In many ways, we are getting the finishes touches on the opposition budget today, and tomorrow will be more of the Conservative variety. I admit a little trepidation, that something unforeseen (rumors of a GST holiday making the rounds) is coming, because this strategy is clearly aimed at appeasing the opposition first, which suggest less palatable items are purposely being held back. Funny, that on a host of issues we have some specificity, while the only musing on tax cuts have been beyond vague. There is plenty of money still on the table (remember, today's infrastructure expenditure is over TWO years), if the math is accurate, and one has to wonder if tomorrow will bring a few surprises, any tax cuts larger than assumed. The Conservative strategy to date, seems to be about building support in the lead up, addressing demands, but it's the omissions that are particularly intriguing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where We Left Off

Interesting clip of the initial reaction to the fiscal update. Ignatieff's scrum, the demands. Mulclair, a gleem in his eye, as he immediately floats alternatives. Fast forward Flaherty, unless you've had recent trouble with insomnia:

So Far, Real Good

Remember the Lawrence Martin column "Where's Iggy?", which wondered why we hadn't seen more of the Liberal leader? Many of us pointed out the futile nature of promoting yourself over the holidays, better to wait and see, before making any declarations. Well, since that column, I've been entirely impressed with the way the Ignatieff team has conducted itself on the "sales job" front.

Everyday, Ignatieff has managed to keep himself in the news, on a host of issues, positioned entirely at the center of the debate. To be honest, part of the attention is merely a question of circumstance, given the dynamics of the budget debate, much of what happens moving forward rests on Ignatieff's shoulders, so every one of his musings are relevant. However, it isn't only a question of circumstance, much has been written because Ignatieff has created a mini-buzz around his ideas. The "listening" tour was entirely successful, creating a sense that the Liberals were on the move. Pumping Alberta in Quebec was surely something that would garner attention, and it provided a sense of Ignatieff's vision on the federation. Announcements on the "team", the talent assembled, another opportunity to convey a sense of competence and seriousness. Several high-profile interviews (today 3:30pm EST, Newsworld with Mansbridge, another example- good exchanges too). Everything has congealed, and Ignatieff has benefited from a host of free media.

I was speaking with a friend, and she noted the extensive coverage that Ignatieff's speech to the Coverage Club received the other day. I had noticed it as well, full live quotes on the radio, extensive bits on television, much more coverage than Liberals had come to expect under Dion, no matter the issue, forever challenged to get face time. I believe there was a study done, that showed Layton received as much coverage as Dion, and Dion was light years behind Harper. With Ignatieff, I get a very real sense that the media is much more curious, respectful and this bodes well moving forward. Even from unlikely sources, we hear certain praise about the team, the professionalism, the prowess, the optics of which creates the impression that Ignatieff is a serious challenger for Harper, his "equal" heard over and over, music to the ears of Liberals, particularly with recent past in mind. People dismiss the pundits and media class, but last time I checked, they are still the conduit for the vast majority of the population, their opinions and frames are entirely relevant. For a party still challenged financially, the free media narratives are important, getting Ignatieff in the news key.

"Where's Iggy?" Everywhere it seems, and almost all of it is positive. Ignatieff is a blank slate to many Canadians, and the big test will surely be the budget reaction, he will have the country's attention. However, in the preamble, Ignatieff has been quite successful in framing himself as a serious, careful thinker, that is more concerned with merit than posturing, a healthy contrast to Harper, and an initial impression that will serve him well. If we are judging the early days of Ignatieff's reign, the looming moment notwithstanding, I'd have to say Liberals should be entirely pleased.

Here is clip from Ignatieff's recent appearance at the Canadian Club:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Full Force Nature

I've always had this thing for waves (don't ask). There was a great movie released a few years ago called Riding Giants, which is beyond compelling, even if you have little interest in surfing. Anyways, I saw this old clip of American big wave surfer Mike Parsons tangling with a massive wave at a place called Pe'ahi (Jaws), on the north shore of Maui. The drama is fantastic, particularly as the camera pans back to reveal how insignificant a man looks riding one of the bigger waves ever recorded:

Harper "Wears" Deficit

Latest Angus Reid poll, shows Canadians aren't prepared to solely blame our deficit on the global recession. The poll also asks the "coalition" question, possibly the last offering prior to this week's crescendo.

While an overwhelming majority of Canadians think the recession in the United States and global financial crisis are responsible for the deficit, the Conservative government is also on the hook, with 2/3rds of Canadians placing blame:

Canadians accept the global circumstance, but that situation doesn't provide the cover the government hoped. A large majority will accept the "wear it" narrative, a decidedly bad number for the government.

The poll also samples coalition opinion. On the question of a coalition government or an election (If the House of Commons votes against the budget, the Conservative minority government would fall. All things considered, which of these options would you prefer if the Conservative minority government is defeated?), the numbers favor an election- 48% would prefer an election, 38% a coalition, 14% unsure. The regional breakdowns show strong coalition support in Quebec, but all other regions decidedly against, including Ontario (50%-31%).

One interesting finding, despite this gap between a coalition and election, when the question turns to economic management, a coalition led by Ignatieff is much closer to the Conservatives. Harper only holds a 3 point lead over an Ignatieff led coalition on the question of boosting the economy (36-33%). The gap is only 5% on the question of getting us out of recession. These numbers are particularly bad for the Conservative, because the question specifically asks "a coalition government headed by Michael Ignatieff", and the findings are tight, despite the overall opinion of a coalition. Another indication that Harper is losing the battle of perceptions on the economy.

Harper's Truth Deficit

It's simply amazing to listen to Harper's revisionism, when it comes to the economic downturn. More stunning, Harper tends to go unchallenged, as though he speaks of a time so long ago, nobody could dare question his argument. Yesterday, during an interview with La Presse, Harper responded to a question on the recession:
Q During the last election campaign, you said that Canada could avoid recession, there would be no deficit. Today, the economic situation has deteriorated still fast enough to the point where your opponents accuse you of having hidden the truth to Canadians.

R You should first look at the private-sector forecasts. Last October, national and international organizations were not predicting a recession in Canada.

Nobody was predicting a recession last October, private-sector forecasts support the government's view. Is that so?

Monday October 6th, we have the following, from some of our leading "forecasters", under the title "Canada Heading For Recession":
Canada is headed into a worse recession than anyone expected, one that could last until almost 2010, said the country's top economists on Monday.

I think we're looking at a much more serious downturn than a mild recession that most of us are talking about," said Doug Porter, with BMO Capital Markets, at a meeting of senior economists in Toronto...

TD Bank's Don Drummond said he sees the economy shrinking until late 2009 and then only gradually recovering.

"[We're] forecasting Canadian and U.S. recessions, plus 100 basis points of [Bank of Canada] and Fed cuts that could come at any time. This is not just made-in-U.S.A. weakness as Canada faces its own home-grown recession signals," Scotiabank economists Derek Holt and Karen Cordes

Okay, I "looked at the private forecasts", as Harper suggested. I've concluded, you're FULL OF SHIT Prime Minister.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama, Ignatieff And Israel

There is a curious dynamic at play, that is see regularly on the blogs. When I look at Barack Obama and Michael Ignatieff, I see two leaders with much in common. In fact, single issue diversions aside, in totality, the two men sit reasonably close on the political spectrum. Obama a center-left Democrat in American is very much the equivalent of a centrist Liberal in Canada. With that simple fact in mind, I find it strange that some regularly slam Ignatieff, but also elevate Obama to near sainthood.

I would like to use Israel an example of duplicity, when it comes to criticism and praise. I believe people were right to criticize Ignatieff for his timid position on Gaza, and I did a few posts of my own, highlighting the problems I had with the "official" Liberal position. Serious people acknowledge the complex political dynamics, the past problems for Ignatieff during the Lebanon conflict, but our position was still utterly disappointing. I still see the Liberal position as entirely dedicated to a two-state solution, a resolution on settlements and refugees, a sense of the human suffering, the potential for an even handed perspective. We "blew it" on the Gaza offensive, but that doesn't translate to complete failure on the peace process as a whole- I have faith that Ignatieff and the Liberals will articulate a comprehensive compromise position in the end, this adventure aside.

If one looks at Obama's statements on Gaza yesterday, and couple them with his past statements on Israel, you will find NARY a difference between what he argued and the position of the Ignatieff Liberals. In fact, reviewing the Liberal press release on Gaza, and comparing it with the text of Obama's presentation, the two views are mirror images. And yet, nobody is criticizing Obama, in fact we hear accolades, which is bizarre, given the reaction to Ignatieff.

Barack Obama, on the justification for the Israeli offensive into Gaza:
Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats.

For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.

Michael Ignatieff on the justification for the Israeli offensive in Gaza:
The Liberal Party of Canada unequivocally condemns the rocket attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians and calls for an immediate end to these attacks. We affirm Israel's right to defend itself against such attacks, and also its right to exist in peace and security.
Both leaders firmly support Israeli action against these rocket attacks, the offensive was valid.

Obama did recognize the suffering of Palestinians:
I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who've faced suffocating poverty for far too long.

We regret the loss of life sustained on all sides of the conflict. We call on all parties to end these hostilities, mindful that a durable ceasefire will be necessary to prevent continued civilian casualties and lasting damage to essential civilian infrastructure.

The international community has a responsibility to ensure that the cost of conflict is not borne by the innocent and Canada must stand ready to assist and ensure that basic humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it.
Loss of life, on both sides. The need for humanitarian assistance. Our thoughts, our hearts.

This comment from CBC's Neil MacDonald, reviewing Obama's speech yesterday:
"Obama also made it clear, that the United States stands first and foremost behind Israel and it's security needs. Where that conflict is concerned at least, the new President positions are strikingly similar to those of his predecessor."

Neil MacDonald CBC

MacDonald is probably also drawing on Obama's past speeches, including one in June, wherein he took Jerusalem off the table, widely criticized by Palestinians. The very pro-Israeli rhetoric was praised by Prime Minister Olmert. The democratically elected Hamas nothing more than a "terrorist organization". As for yesterday's speech, it was slammed by Hamas, lauded in the Israeli press.

My point? Obama is no different than Ignatieff on the latest conflict, if anything a historical review of past statements, the American President maybe to the right (oh, the horror). Barack Obama is bending over backwards to appease the pro-Israel crowd in America, he's been doing it for quite some time, if you're paying attention. Yes, Obama is ready to send envoys and I don't doubt for one second his Presidency will be considerably more effective in helping to achieve a lasting peace. However, that long term view is exactly the same as that of Ignatieff, there is no difference in philosophy. The position of both men, on this current over-reaction in Gaza is decidedly disappointing, so if one is to vilify Ignatieff, then surely Obama deserves some fire.

You can't give Obama a pass, and then attack Ignatieff, for holding the same view. If one is going to be intellectually consistent, then Obama deserves criticism, maybe we can call him "Obama the bloody" for the ridiculous posters amongst us. The sad reality, all of our leaders are to careful, the language so vetted, it's rendered useless, when it comes to Israel. Obama failed to call out Israel for the Gaza operation, in fact he used the rocket attacks for justification. No talk of war crimes, no talk of the United Nations, no talk of disproportionate response, only the rationale for the operation.

I will continue to watch, as future events unfold, the great disconnect in perspective, between two men who are far more similar than some are prepared to accept. The uneven reactions to the Gaza conflict, a terrific example of double standards, based on personal bias, rather than an even reading of black and white facts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Works Against Harper

A under-reported nugget from the latest EKOS poll, it would appear that Harper has some Bush baggage, Canadians see Ignatieff as far more compatible to the new American administration:

Quite a gap, in favor of the Liberals, another intangible that should concern the Conservatives. Ignatieff would be wise to continually reference his personal ties with many in Obama's adminstration, any connection is a positive.

I have to admit, I've had a smile on my face, listening and watching government officials fall all over themselves trying to forge strong ties with the new administration. I smile, because the pivot from "Steve" to Obama's best friend is rife with transparent motivations. This government will desperately attempt to capitalize on any Obama popularity, his visit will be a brown nose spectacle of biblical proportions. With that said, it's nice to see Canadians see a disconnect, the Liberals look the more natural "partner".

Ignatieff Roundup

A few different items from the Liberal leader, which I thought I would put into one post.

First off, a rather interesting presentation from Ignatieff to a Quebec audience, regarding the tar sands. It's one thing to try and curry favor during appearances in Alberta, quite another to make the same argument, where your electoral prospects don't benefit, if anything a possible negative:
"The stupidest thing you can do (is) to run against an industry that is providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and not just in Alberta, but right across the country," Ignatieff told an audience largely of business graduate students at HEC Montreal, a management school affiliated with the University of Montreal.

Aware that the tar sands, one of the biggest oil deposits in the world, and also one of the dirtiest, is a controversial subject in Quebec, Ignatieff told the audience that "all questions of energy policy are a question of national unity."

Ignatieff repudiated that kind of rhetoric. "Alberta is a valued treasured part of our federation," he said. "Never pit one region of the country against the other when you develop economic policy."

Ignatieff tempered his comments by saying tar sands development must be made more sustainable – environmentally and socially. He said waterways must be protected.

"We've got to understand this isn't the Klondike," he said. "We're going to have this thing developing for a century. Let's do it right."

There is really no upside for Ignatieff to defend Alberta in Quebec, in fact, he could easily just avoid the issue entirely. That Ignatieff voluntarily muses about the tar sands in Quebec, speaks to a consistent message, which is pretty refreshing, relative to past behavior. Framing the debate as a question of national unity is spot on, because whatever your position on this resource, there is no question that how it is handled affects the federation. A concerted effort by Ignatieff to not demonize a particular region, replaced with a new understanding, sends a clear signal that this man wants to lead Canada, not subsets therein. Nothing Ignatieff offers absolves tough decisions down the road, merely a recognition that we are in this "together". Anyone who believes Ignatieff is just pandering, finds little evidence with the latest statements- there is simply no political gain, defending western interests to a Quebec audience, which means the desire is genuine. As someone who thinks the federation has been drifting apart for quite some time, the new direction under Ignatieff is very exciting, he may just turn out to be a great uniter.


We've seen some angst to date, about the people Ignatieff has selected to surround himself with. One or two appointments aside, I find nothing particularly noteworthy, or terribly troubling, about any leader leaning on people he trusts, people he has a long relationship with, people he knows well. That dynamic doesn't preclude a sense of accomodation, engaging all Liberals, not just supporters, but it's simply human nature, historically consistent, for a new leader to reward those loyal to him. In other words, the criticisms of Ignatieff "people" is a non-starter in mind, because it ignores simple realities of relationships. That aside, it is important that Ignatieff does "reach out" to former rival camps, ensuring that everybody is on board, a sense of inclusion. It would appear Ignatieff is poised to address any optical challenges:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will name his shadow cabinet this week, giving senior portfolios to his leadership rivals, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc...

There is growing speculation that Mr. Rae could be reappointed to the Foreign Affairs position that he occupied when Mr. Dion was leader. Mr. LeBlanc is said to be very pleased with his new job, which has not been announced.

The article also reveals a recent appearance by Ignatieff at a Bob Rae fundraiser, another clear signal of unity moving forward. I would argue, complete unanimity aside (a Liberal impossibility it seems), that the Liberal Party is poised for it's most united phase in decades, "camps" and back biting, left to the margins, clearly not part of general thought. This quote sums it up for me:
“It was quite something,” the long-time Liberal said about Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Rae's efforts to remain united after so many years of Liberal infighting. “There is an unbelievable urgency for people to move forward … we have to get going.”

Rehashing the past is a complete and utter useless exercise, and it's good to see our party leaders recognize this fact and are looking "forward".


One thing that infuriates many Liberals, the lack of party discipline. Certain MP's or party officials freelancing on policy, or leaking items which only undermine our positions and empower the opposition. I've already had the sense that Ignatieff will clamp down on this front, but this sentence provides more support:
He also stressed discipline, impressing upon his MPs and senators the need not to leak information to reporters and to remain united.

If anyone has paid particular attention, you may have noticed that surrogates are now routinely parroting the exact same lines as the leader, in consistent fashion. The idea of repetitive message is key in a soundbite world, and I've been really impressed with how quickly the Ignatieff team has hit it's stride, understanding the importance of everyone in the same key. Not only does repetition allow concepts to better seep into any narrative, it also cuts down on the potential for public contradictions, which has plagued us in the past. Iron Iggy is fine by me, that's what's required within a "gotcha" climate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Perfect Timing

Kevin Page is turning into a political nightmare for the Conservatives. The latest unbiased assessment comes at the worst possible time for the government, because it establishes a huge deficit, that can't be hidden within the buzzword of "stimulus". There is no doubt, the government was hoping to table a budget and frame any deficit as simply a result of proactive measures to help the economy. That Page comes out a few days before the budget release, and announces a massive deficit prior to any initiatives essentially means the opposition has powerful ammunition on the "wear it" front:
The pre-budget economic and fiscal briefing released by Mr. Page's office yesterday said Canada will run a budget deficit of $13-billion next fiscal year even before the Harper government spends a cent of stimulus money.

And, let's not forget that Kevin Page first warned of this shortfall on November 20th, just prior to Jim Flaherty laughably suggesting a slim surplus:
Parliament's budget watchdog warned yesterday Canada is at risk of recording deficits starting this fiscal year, and the annual shortfall could reach nearly $14-billion next year as it believes its worst-case scenario represents a "more likely" outcome.

The report takes some of the drama out of next week's fiscal update, which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will deliver next Thursday in the House of Commons.

Page's latest report provides worse news looking forward, the prospect of all the progress, paying down the national debt, evaporating in a matter of years, is a sobering reality. Worse still, Page reaches this conclusion without factoring in any stimulus, again providing a powerful argument for Conservative responsibility.

The Conservatives are desperately trying to paint any deficit as simply a function of realities outside of our control, coupled with the need to intervene in the economy. Page reveals the disconnect between Flaherty's "rosy" projections and reality, which establishes one of two things, dishonesty or incompetence. When Flaherty rises, and he tries to wash his hands of the deficit, everyone will know the starting point. The Liberals have already pounced, and I suspect we will hear more references to Page's sombre analysis in the lead up to the budget. The timing is absolutely perfect, unless you're a Conservative of course. A fundamental OUCH, which confirms a negative legacy, that no amount of spin can overcome.

Election Option Off The Table

This statement from Ignatieff today, is the clearest signal yet that the election option is off the table for the Liberals:
"We need an election in February like a hole in the head. It is not the preferred choice of Canadians. We're in a recession (and) Canadians all know that an election is expensive," Ignatieff told a televised news conference in Montreal.

Ignatieff also said:
"[Public] opinion is asking us to give the government a chance to regain the House's confidence."

I read the above to mean allowing the budget to pass or a coalition, "hole in the head" isn't exactly coy language.

The Right Stimulus

Apart from investing in infastructure, I see reforms to EI as the most compelling form of stimulus. When you consider many economists only expect a 10% return on the dollar, when it comes to tax cuts (Don Drummond for example), it seems a pretty inefficient way to stimulate the economy.

If the budget really wants to address the "vulnerable", it seems the best way is to help those hurt by the economic downturn, enable them to ride out the recession and put them in a position to prosper once the economy turns around. There is universal agreement, that when Canada emerges from the recession, we will still see a labor shortage in many "skilled" categories. Why not expand EI benefits, make it more "lucrative" in the short term, so laid off workers have the capacity to keep spending? On top of that, expand benefits to include provisions for re-training, in targeted professions, so those workers have the skills to find future employment. You collect benefits for a longer period, and apart from that, the government will pay for additional training. If an employer hires a new "apprentice" for example, the government would pay that salary for a period of time, making it attractive to bring new people on board, "we" absorb that short term cost. That sort of investment keeps people spending, while also giving them the skills to find future work, once any program ends.

When people lose their jobs, they effectively are removed from the economy, apart from spending on the most basic of needs. Giving laid off workers more money through EI, allows people to continue to be "consumers", which means the economy as a whole doesn't suffer from a contracted work force. Extending benefits, while people "re-train", in specific areas where the future need is great, means we emerge from a downturn with workers ready to fill the known voids. To me, that seems like both a short term recipe to keep the economy moving, as well as longer strategy to make any recovery more sound and modern. When you compare the cost of ramping up EI benefits and training with the cost of tax cuts, I see the latter as decidedly inefficient.

People with jobs don't necessarily need a break, particularly in this climate where any small tax cut will likely be hoarded or spent on foreign goods. It's the people without work, the people that don't have the skills to succeed in the modern economy, that should be the primary focus. We can turn adversity into opportunity, and at the same time address future labor shortages, in critical fields. Increase the spending capacity of those who have lost their job, that in and of itself is a "stimulus", and continue that "stimulus" by paying for those laid off workers, as they acquire the skills we know the Canadian economy will need.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Coalition Supporters, Here's Your Poll

A new EKOS poll that provides bad news for Harper, but finally gives coalition supporters a positive finding. Actually, this poll may be an extension of a trend seen in the last two releases, which did show signs the coalition was gaining some acceptance. There seems to be a a co-relation between sagging confidence in Harper and acceptance of the alternative:
Polls conducted late last year showed a high level of opposition, especially outside Quebec, to a proposed Liberal-NDP coalition in the event the minority Harper government is defeated in the House. The new poll suggests Canadians' feelings have evolved, with 50 per cent of respondents favouring a coalition government, while 43 per cent are happier with the current Conservative government.

“This is a huge change from the period right after the coalition agreement was struck in Stéphane Dion's last days as Liberal leader, when the Tories took an apparently unassailable 20-point lead,” Mr. Graves said. “Clearly much of the recoil against the idea of a coalition really had to do with alarm at the idea of Stéphane Dion becoming prime minister so quickly after having been rejected so decisively at the polls.”

This is the first time any pollster has provided a coalition number which starts to reflect voter intention. It's always troubled me that 62% of voters didn't want the Conservatives, but a full third or more of those opposed a coalition. This result is good news for coalition supporters, the first time a majority has supported the concept. One caveat:
In addition, the poll suggests that 49 per cent of Canadians want to see Governor-General Michaëlle Jean send the country to the polls if the Harper government is defeated on its budget, instead of allowing a coalition government.

Canadians don't want an election, in fact they loathe the very suggestion. The fact they prefer one over a coalition is still reason for concern. That said, overall, it does appear that resistence to the coalition is lessening.

On party support, EKOS shows a tight race, Liberals on the rise, Conservatives down:
Conservative Party continues to lead in overall voting intentions in Canada, with the support of 36.2 per cent of respondents, compared with the Liberals at 32.6 per cent and the NDP at 14.3 per cent.

Even worse for the Conservatives, the pollster actually compares Harper to Bush, as his popularity wanes badly:
The Ekos/Globe and Mail poll suggests the Liberal Party is gaining momentum as economic concerns grow, with a majority of Canadians now holding a negative view of Conservative Leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Of the 1,000 respondents, 55 per cent disapproved of Mr. Harper's handling of his responsibilities, while 35 per cent offered their approval.

“That is a very bad number,” Ekos president Frank Graves said of the disapproval rating. “That is getting up into [former U.S. president] George W. Bush numbers. Not quite, but 10 more points, and you're up to as bad as it gets for elected leaders.”

Opinions of Ignatieff were quite favorable, although people have a limited opinion at this point.

These are the type of findings which speak to a sense of "legitimacy" for a coalition, imperative in my mind. A positive result, no question.

Favorite Moment

The moving speech, full of eloquence and poetic phrasing. The hand on the bible, as the crowd roared in approval, Obama sworn in. Obama walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, at one with the American people. So hard to pick a favorite moment from today, but for myself this particular one tops them all:

It really doesn't get any better than that.

Harper Playing Footsie

Stephen Harper is trying really hard to find political cover, at the expense of the Liberals. His recent musings on the budget remind me of the exact same tone we heard during the Afghanistan debate. Effectively overlapping his position with the Liberal one, with the main impetus, negate the issue. It is very, very critical that the Liberals get this debate right, and not be lulled by Harper the friendly. It is quite transparent, Harper is trying to share responsibility and neuter any future criticism.

I don't want to rehash the coalition debate, this post assumes the option is off the table, only a narrow focus on how the Liberals should proceed, if the Conservative budget is allowed to pass. It is imperative that the Liberals don't allow Harper to take the economy off the table, by leaving him a powerful argument on mutual agreement. It is already well known that this budget will include many of the demands made by opposition parties, the details notwithstanding. The centerpiece being the stimulus, more defined, infrastructure spending and bailouts. On this "big" issue, Harper has moved towards the opposition, but that fact doesn't mean the government can point to the Liberals for validation.

It pains me to say this, because the word is now synonymous with weak opposition, but the best course for the Liberals may be the abstaining route. If the Liberals vote for the budget, even if it is in the name of "the country's best interests", some pledge of nobility, that vote will allow Harper to wiggle off the hook. While the Liberals will argue that they've put partisanship aside for the immediate needs of the economy, it will be countered, and any support for the Conservative budget will be used by Harper in the future. Again, all we need do is review the Afghanistan debate, the issue barely raised, once mutual agreement was reached. Because the Liberals had a hand in reaching that agreement, the subsequent criticisms have been muted, and any revision of policy is superceded by the initial support.

There is a real danger of Harper using the Liberals to share in the economic responsibility. No matter how bad things get in the future, when it comes time for an election, Harper can say his chief opponent supported the same measures, what sense does it make then to replace him with a party that made the same calculations. The Liberals will be forced to argue the details, but Harper would have the quick soundbite, the broad stroke rationale, which just might suffice with a disinterested audience.

The Liberals can vote against, but then that means another election (yes, I know, the OTHER option), and given that we've JUST had one, only three months ago, it really isn't a favorable option, given public sentiment and/or simple logistics. Because of the just concluded election, coupled with the prospects of ultimate responsibility, abstaining or some other novel way of showing disapproval, without forcing an election, is probably the best option available.

There are many risks with abstaining, primarily because it re-introduces a decidedly negative narrative for the Liberals. However, every decision in this dance comes with inherent risks, and when you way the potential positives, abstaining looks more attractive. The Liberals can still use the for "good of country" angle, arguing they won't force another election, create more uncertainty, just when people demand clarity. The Liberals can use this frame, but also point to the policy differences in the budget, the measures they wanted, the failings of the Conservative offering, and say, with good conscience, they cannot support such a budget. The Liberals, understanding the present circumstance, will abstain, to show their displeasure, but in so doing, allow certain items they endorse to proceed and don't plunge the country into another crisis. I believe Ignatieff will not be ridiculed in the media class for this position, it is an entirely different dynamic than the painful 2008 routine we saw from the Liberals. I believe the Liberals would be cut some slack for abstaining, posturing of other parties aside.

Whatever your view, it is becoming more and more obvious to me, in listening to Harper, that the Liberals SHOULD NOT vote FOR this budget, under any circumstances. There are smart people surrounding Ignatieff, so I seriously doubt anyone is seduced by Harper's footsie routine, the kind rhetoric, the commonality of it all. That said, the entire debate for the next year, possibly beyond, will revolve around this budget vote. If the Liberals vote for the budget, the Conservatives have already tipped their hand, how they will manipulate that "support" to absolve their own actions. Clearly, Harper is angling for Liberal support, and that fact tells me EVERYTHING I need to know about what is the worst possible course of action for the party.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Groundhog Day

Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke, after today's meeting between Ignatieff and Harper:
Kory Teneycke, Mr. Harper's communication director, said the meeting at the Prime Minister's Langevin office was "cordial and business-like," but he declined to offer any further details.

Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke, after last meeting between Ignatieff and Harper:
Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke declined to offer additional details, saying only that the meeting was "cordial and businesslike."

Time for some new material Kory.

A Sound Strategy

I'm sure this post will be about as popular as a mess of ribs at a vegan conference, but I completely agree with the logic of "liberal sources":
Liberal insiders say Michael Ignatieff would prefer more time to rebuild the party and prepare for an election, rather than possibly topple the government next week by refusing to support the budget.

Liberal strategists see little upside to Ignatieff taking the reins of government at the start of what is promising to be a deep, severe recession.

They'd rather let Prime Minister Stephen Harper take the blame for the economic pain.

We just had an election, which gave Harper a strengthened mandate, although a minority. The Liberals were reduced, and the task at hand is considerable, on every front. The Liberals have a new leader, who has barely had time to get his team together, never mind the required policy work, fundraising, finding new, compelling candidates- rebuilding the Liberal brand. Within that reality, to feel any surprise that people in the party are preaching patience, is well, surprising.

There was nothing worse, than watching the Liberals continual abstain, time after time, during the previous regime. I believe that this routine greatly damaged our electoral chances, it created an atmosphere of weakness and an ineffective alternative. With that in mind, how can one now argue the opposite, the Liberals should bide their time in the short term, wait and pounce when optimal opportunity arises?

For the reasons stated above, the fact we just had an election and the party has a new leader, the dynamics have clearly changed. Couple the challenges of rebuilding the party, with a desire by the public to see politicians "get on with it", and in many respects it makes sense to allow a semi-acceptable budget to pass. If the goal is to rid Canada of the Harper Conservatives, you can make a pretty compelling case that conditions will be more favorable in a few months. I see nothing crass, or an abdication of responsible opposition, to take some time to get our house in order, while simultaneously watching Harper's crumble, as the economic bottoms out. In a practical sense, the economic road ahead is already paved, regardless of any government initiatives in the coming months, so it is a false frame to argue Ignatieff's short term decisions will really matter. Longer term, I completely agree, but government is simply powerless in the immediate, to offset our course. With that knowledge in mind, it is easier to "justify" any political consideration.

I don't want the Liberals to simply forget strategy and just plow ahead, guided only by our idealist want. Politics is necessarily a tension between core convictions and cold calculation- always has been, always will, with every party, every day of the week. To simply scoff at the "gameplan" is perfectly fine, it just shows no relationship to the real world.

One of the main reasons I argued against the Liberals abstaining, wasn't just a policy consideration, but the simple fact that the weakness projected was hurting our fortunes, it was reducing Dion's stature, it allowed other parties to pounce on themes of "real opposition", it made Harper look strong in contrast. I saw the abstaining strategy as a political loser, counter-productive to the ultimate goal of toppling Harper. The wanted "conditions" would never really occur, because the strategy undercut the chances of realizing those "conditions". In this new case, the dynamics are completely different, the landscape decidedly changed, which makes a temporary dodge and weave the best course.

I don't want an budget that meets all the Liberal demands, because then Harper receives a partial pass, through collective responsibility. I don't want to force an election, wherein the Liberals are forced to re-assemble a slate of recently rejected candidates, armed with a thin and hasty platform, lacking the proper planning to make a campaign hum. If conditions demand, then so much for the "best laid plans", but sitting here today, you can see better scenarios.

It is completely reasonable to give the new party leader time, when you look at the challenges, they aren't immediately remedied. Let the team put forth an agenda, let Ignatieff attract some new blood, let the party rebuild where it has too, let all the various parts begin the work, until there is a sense we can reasonably achieve our goal. Maybe we're better prepared in late spring, maybe the fall, maybe next budget, but if you detach yourself from personal want, focus solely on "when" constitutes the optimal opportunity to send Harper packing, next week isn't top of the list.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The "Wear It" Narrative

There is a real danger, that the Conservatives successfully use this economic crisis to cover their own fiscal mismanagement. Two themes provide cover for the government, and it is the job of the Liberals to make sure the Conservatives "wear" the deficit.

The idea of a imported recession, not of Canada's doing, is the primary way the government can deflect responsibility. Couple the economic origins with the argument of relative fiscal strength, any deficit we incur, much less than other jurisdictions, and it softens the impact of running in the red. We've already heard many government Minister's reference the American deficit, to show things could be much worse. It's a fairly persuasive argument, because economists and pundits will support the notion of relative fiscal health. Canadians see deficits everywhere, the global reality more cause than our government's actions, we're still relatively well off.

The other theme, potentially problematic for the Liberals, the Conservatives can argue that we too support a massive stimulus, which makes a large deficit inevitable. How can you blame the government, when your own party supports a massive injection into the economy? You argued for a stimulus, now you blame us for a deficit, which your policies demanded? That domestic fact, in concert with all other countries providing stimulus, allows the government to argue deficits are just the reality of the situation, not a reflection of competence or management.

It is imperative, that the Liberals argue forcefully, from all quarters, repeated ad nauseum, until it's imprinted in our brains, the following:
Next week (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper presents his financial budget after a decade of Liberal surpluses," he said. "Where are we? We are facing a deficit of $40 billion and this deficit is squarely Mr. Harper's responsibility. He spent us down to the red line in the good times and so we face the hard times as citizens of this great country with the cupboard bare."

Michael Ignatieff

This government spent wildly, in the lead up to this recession, further eroding our fiscal room. This government embarked on a series of tax cuts, universally rejected from the same economic people that are now supposed driving the budget thought process. This government abandoned the contingency fund, which was put in place for exactly these sort of extraordinary circumstances. This government claimed to have prepared us for the coming economic storm, and yet they rendered the government impotent, destroying any fiscal room to act, without plunging us into deficit. YOUR children are on the hook for the Conservatives fiscal mismanagement, and structural deficits have returned.

Whatever the size of the deficit, the Liberals need to argue that it didn't necessarily have to be this way. It is true, that we do need to go into deficit, during this economic downturn, but the SIZE is entirely a function of Conservative blunders. If the government moves on more tax cuts for the middle class, the Liberals have a counter- we simply can't afford it, given the way the government squandered our fiscal health. The "cupboard bare", that is the legacy and we will all pay a dear price in the future, for that reckless management.

There will be an epic battle of "frames" in the coming weeks and months. It is beyond crucial that the "wear it" narrative takes hold, otherwise, in many respects, this government receives a pass for their past actions. This tug of war is the first real test for the new era Liberal Party, can it be heard against the sharp messaging campaign of the government? The words of our leader today suggests we understand the importance...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Collateral Damage

Israel is poised to announce a unilateral ceasefire, primarily because all of it's "goals" have been met. Watching and reading, I'm not sure what those goals were, but I'm sure they were very, very important to Israeli security. I was just pouring over some of Israel's achievements, impressive indeed:

410 dead children (not sure if it includes these two unlucky little terrorists today)

1630 children wounded

1201 Palestinians killed (taking out the children and the women, plus civilian men, I'm guessing militants make up an embarrassing percentage of the dead- strategic, compassionate INDEED)

5300 Palestinians wounded

Now to be fair, we also have Israeli casualties:

3 civilians from rocket fire

10 Israeli soldiers (half of which were killed by fellow Israeli soldiers in friendly fire)

Remind me to GAG when the Israeli government declares "victory". Apologists should be ASHAMED of this farcical adventure, that has achieved squat in the grand scheme (unless of course a more united Gaza population behind Hamas was a stated goal).


Mixed Bag

The new Angus Reid poll shows a 9% lead for the government, up from a 6% spread, but well short of the 20% gap AR had in December. The poll is sort of a mixed bag for the Liberals, but we still see positive internals.

Angus Reid's last poll had shown Ignatieff actually one point ahead of Harper on the "best PM" score, a result which was quite surprising. A sitting PM should always lead, and historically always does, because, well, he/she IS the PM, leader of the opposition generally doesn't enjoy the same consideration. In this poll, we see Harper taking a slight lead on this measure:
A Toronto Star/Angus Reid survey shows 27 per cent of Canadians think Harper is the best choice for prime minister, with 24 per cent preferring Ignatieff.

Last month, the two leaders were in a virtual tie, with Ignatieff slightly ahead at 28 per cent compared with Harper at 27 per cent nationally.

New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton was the choice of 12 per cent of respondents, up two percentage points from last month.

Interesting to note, Harper's stuck at 27%, the difference a very slight erosion for Ignatieff, but nothing that raises any alarms from here. In fact, if note for the past exceptional result, I would categorize these numbers as quite bad for Harper and encouraging for Ignatieff. You don't need to best Harper, just lurk in the same ballpark, a score of 27% is hardly indicative of Harper popularity.

On the critical question of the economy, Harper now enjoys a 14% lead, up from 9%, but this larger gap is a result of a lower score for Ignatieff, Harper remains at the same level. Still, the gap is a relatively good one for Harper, although other outfits have it closer.

On the horserace numbers, some statistical noise:
The Conservatives are at 39 per cent support nationally, compared with 30 per cent for the Liberals, 17 per cent for the NDP, 9 per cent for the Bloc and 5 per cent for the Greens.

Liberals virtually unchanged (down 1), Conservatives up 2%, ditto for the NDP. Green support seems to be waning, across the board. As the pollster points out, the Conservative lead isn't as strong as the national numbers suggest:
"(The Tories) might be at 39 per cent (nationally) and that might suggest that they're on the verge of forming a majority government. However, when we look at the findings from the specific areas, it's not as easy as it seems," said Mario Canseco, vice-president of the polling company Angus Reid Strategies.

In fact, the Liberals are up in Ontario, to 40%(plus 4%), while the Conservatives are unchanged at 42%. I floated a theory the other day, that with the debate narrowing around the economy, and Ontario being ground zero, there is a danger that the NDP could get squeezed, the issue not necessarily their strong suit, particulary in this region. Some support for that view, because this is the first poll that shows the two principles at the 40% threshold in Ontario, while the NDP slumps to a mere 12% (down 3), 6% drop since the election. The Greens are also down.

The Liberals are up in British Columbia (the MOE is high), which is another positive. A slight downtick in Quebec, but given some other findings, I'll chalk it up to statistical noise at this point. It would seem, that the slight Conservative rise is primarily a function of more support in the prairie provinces. If you actually do the regional breakdowns, this particular AR poll is a mixed bag, rather than the perception of a widening gap, it's pretty much an electoral wash.

As an aside, I conducted my own poll this morning. Two voting age adults were sampled, and 100% agreed with the statement "Harper is a weiner". Results accurate 19 times out of 20.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Attack Ads

CTV reports that the Conservatives are running radio ads today, attacking the coalition, while pumping budget passage. The timing is curious, and probably not by accident.

The huge bounce the government received, in the aftermath of the coalition threat, has clearly waned, with every polling outfit confirming a significant shift from the soaring heights of early December. Within that reality, I assume the Conservatives polling reveals the same, there might be some nervousness which probably led to another round of attack ads. A tightening race, coupled with some evidence that the coalition concept is marginally more acceptable, and you can see why the Conservatives might want to attack.

Running radio ads is probably the smart move, because they get less attention than the television variety. The Conservatives can't afford to look to partisan or hostile, because that feeds all the cementing negative narratives. That said, the fact the Conservatives feel the need to run any ad, and risk looking partisan, is probably a statement that they have some genuine fear, that demands addressing.

Oh Well

I thought this story off the wire, was representative of this entire SAD misadventure:
Israel kills militant's family in Gaza tank fire

GAZA (Reuters) - An Israeli tank shelling the home of a Hamas militant killed his wife and five children on Friday in the central Gaza Strip, medical officials said.

The officials said Israel had apparently targeted the home of a Hamas militant near al-Bureij refugee camp. He was not there at the time, they said.

Maybe next time. Try his mother's shack, might be holed up there, worth a try.

Below is the latest Liberal press release on the Gaza conflict:

Liberal Party Of Canada

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Harper Losing His Edge

Comprehensive Strategic Council poll that shows Harper losing his edge on the economy. NANOS also had numbers out today that showed lukewarm support for Harper's competence on the economy. Ignatieff is statistically tied with Harper on "managing the economy", the first time the Conservative leader hasn't held a decided advantage over the Liberals:
The Strategic Counsel poll found the Liberals under Mr. Ignatieff closing the gap with the Tories on the issue of who is best to deal with the economy, with 38 per cent picking them as best managers, compared with 40 per cent for the Tories. The Tories held a 12-point edge in the area in a poll taken during the 2008 election.
You can't understate the implications of a leader of the opposition now running neck and neck with a sitting PM, on the crucial issue. That number represents the first signs of serious erosion for Harper, it should give the war room shivers.

On the horserace front, another poll showing Harper returning to earth, from the false coalition bounce. A 21% lead in December is now down to 7%:
The Tories still lead the Liberals in voter intention – 36 to 29...The poll saw no change for the NDP, at 18 per cent. In Quebec, the Liberals surged well ahead of the Tories, with 29 per cent, compared with 17 per cent. The Bloc continued to lead in Quebec with 36 per cent.

The numbers indicate the Tories have failed to hold on to the increase in popularity they gained after the announcement last year of a Liberal-NDP coalition supported by the Bloc. Within days of the coalition announcement, the Tories had a 21-percentage-point lead over the Liberals.

We see different gaps, depending on the poll, but all the trends are similar.

This poll also asked questions on an election and the coalition. For coalition backers, a ray of hope:
Of those surveyed, 49 per cent said they would prefer an election over a coalition government if the budget failed and the government was defeated. However, 44 per cent preferred a Liberal-NDP coalition government, with 66 per cent of Quebeckers liking the idea.

The closest breakdown we've seen, and the first one you can credibly claim any degree of public support. One caveat, voters would rather the Liberals vote for the budget, EVEN if they "don't like what they see":
The poll found 49 per cent said the Liberals should hold their noses and vote for the government even if they are not satisfied with the budget. Forty-three per cent, however, advised the Liberals to bring down the government if they don't like what they see.

A slight majority want Liberal support, no matter, rather than a vote against, but if there is a vote against we'd rather have an election than a coalition. That's the way it translates, so when you factor in the want for budget support, even with the not satisfactory label, then the want for an election, it's still quite a stretch to argue high support for the coaltion. That said, the coalition stench seems less pungent than it did in early days, others have shown a similar narrowing, so it's clearly somewhat positive.

Waiting Out The Economy

Last week, I laid out a possible theory to explain the "new" Harper, this latest installment conciliatory and non-confrontational. Harper's latest statement reaffirms my belief, that the Conservative strategy is to avoid an election, essentially wait out the economy:
Ivison: Talking about a more bi-partisan Parliament, what steps are you personally going to take to ensure that? For example, during the election, the idea that the justice package was a matter of confidence — are you in a position now to say that only money bills are measures of confidence, given your focus on the economy?

Harper: I wouldn’t go that far. Obviously the economy is everyone’s number one priority. It would be unwise for a prime minister to say he would narrow the range of confidence measures unilaterally, if the opposition parties would not be prepared to do exactly the same thing. I don’t want to be in a position where I would say only one or two or three things would be confidence while they would get up and say: “we reserve the right to bring forward a motion of confidence on every thing.” I think if we could get together and agree that a narrow range of things would be confidence — that would be useful to the functioning of this Parliament. I haven’t had that kind of discussion with Mr. Ignatieff and that would be a judgment he would have to make. But I do think that Canadians want to see Parliament work. We’ve had three elections in four years.

Not only is Harper offering to stop the flurry of confidence votes, Harper goes further this time, asking for assurance from the opposition. Why? Some believe it's all a ruse, Harper is just trying to look "bi-partisan", but will strike at the first opportunity. I believe that to be true in the long term, but clearly the Conservatives have decided they need to avoid an election until the economy starts to turn around. It really is pretty simple and stark when you think about it- no sitting government wants to go to the people, while the economic news is disasterous, a utter recipe for potential disaster, you don't control the agenda, you're vulnerable. The snap election call last fall supports the same rationale, head to the polls before it gets worse and you pay a political price. This latest "offer" to the opposition is completely consistent, Harper now wants to ride out the economic storm and is prepared to play "nice", if it achieves his goal.

Operating on the assumption that the government doesn't want an election, it provides the opposition with full knowledge. The Liberals SHOULD NOT agree to Harper's declared set of possible confidence matters, they should REFUSE any overture which boxes them in. Let Harper make "unilateral" declarations, the onus is on the government to make Parliament work, they're the one's who have failed, almost universal sentiment of their unseemly role in dysfunction. The Liberals should state clearly that we reserve the right to bring forth a confidence motion whenever we see fit, if the government wants to avoid that development, all they need to do is act responsibly, no need for "formal" declarations. Harper is merely trying to take the hammer away, once the budget passes, remove any opportunity to upset his plans.

The above quote from Harper is entirely transparent, no need to prescribe the hidden meanings or alterior motives. The Conservatives desperately don't want an election, and they will do what is required to avoid one. Not making legislation a matter of confidence isn't a way to show Canadians you have a desire to work together, it's a tactic to run out the economic clock. Lay low, don't piss in the pool, and see what happens. When old Harper returns, you know the economy is turning the corner. The trick for the Liberals, quickly get into readiness mode, then take Harper out at the knees, before the economic numbers improve. Above that, NEVER agree to a narrow range of confidence motions, keep the hammer.