Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Liberal Election Dance

Plenty of new signals that an election is in the offing, the Liberals prepared to bring the government down. Duffy started his broadcast with details of a "secret" shadow cabinet meeting, where it was decided that the government would fall:
"Sources say, that the Liberal shadow cabinet has decided, it is time to take a stand...And, the issue that they are going to force an election, none other than the government's immigration reforms"

Well, it was never a secret meeting, but I don't necessarily doubt the theme. On the other hand, you have Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, present at the meeting, downplaying the election talk:
"My recollection of the meeting had nothing to do with lines in the sand...The idea that we are on the eve of a crisis, going to an election, simply isn't true."

On another front, Liberal MP Paul Szabo, when asked about an election:
Asked how much longer this amazing minority government of Stephen Harper's can continue to breathe, Szabo issued a sigh down the telephone line from the House of Commons this morning and said, "It's hitting a critical mass."

Szabo clearly articulates that we are at, or near, the point of no return. That sentiment tends to support my gut feeling that the mood is changing, Liberals becoming resigned to the fact that the current strategy isn't politically feasible.

What to make of the conflicting signals, coming from different sources? This is speculation on my part, but I think a decision has largely been made, the Liberals will bring the government down and there will be a June election. However, I see LeBlanc's comments as part of a concerted effort to downplay expectations, to not tip our hand, giving the Conservatives fair warning of what is to come. There is no political value in telegraphing your future moves, I suspect people have been told to be non-committal, hold the same line, nothing imminent, but something could happen. I think we are starting to see the Liberal election dance, one that will play out slowly over the next few weeks, full of conflicting signals, but ultimately leading to an election.


Scott Tribe said...

Finally (maybe?) some good news out of the leaks that the Liberal strategists may have found a few spines and backbones.

I'm presuming they want to let this immigration stuff stew in committee for awhile, hence their voting for the Budget Implementation Act today. (at least they didnt abstain).

R. said...

It may be more than speculation. Someone sent me this open letter to Dion (below). It's from an immigrant advocacy group that strongly supported Dion's leadership in the past. Apparently the letter has made the rounds inside the party. It's pretty persuasive.


The Honourable St├ęphane Dion
Leader of the Official Opposition
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Sir,

Re: The Conservative Government’s proposed changes to immigration policy in Bill C-50.

Canadian Multicultural Alliance is an organization involving members of various ethnic groups in Canada. The primary objective of the organization is to provide a forum for its members to discuss the political policies that affect the ethnic immigrants and to encourage their active participation in the Canadian political process.

Recently, the Conservative Government has proposed sweeping immigration changes as part of Bill C-50, which will gut our immigration system, politicize its processes, and grant the Minister broad and unaccountable new powers. We are writing to ask for your support in stopping this legislation.

Canada is an international leader on immigration, and the Liberal Party has been an integral part of that success. And the immigrant population also has been an integral part of the Liberal Party and has been very loyal to the Liberal Party. In contrast to the Conservatives’ past attempts to cap immigration, the Liberals have worked for progress and openness, from Trudeau’s historic Immigration Act of 1976 to Chr├ętien’s modernizing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2002. Immigration is a core Liberal and Canadian value. That is why we urge you to act on this issue.

We do recognize there are serious problems in the system. A lack of resources and massive backlog continue to delay the acceptance of new Canadians, while businesses make do without new skilled workers, and families wait years to reunite. But the Conservative bill does more than addressing these core issues by replacing a system of transparent rules with politicized discretion. The legislation is irresponsible and fundamentally unfair.

Most of us in our organization have supported you because we believe in your leadership, and we all Liberals believe in building upon Canada’s global reputation for openness. That is why we believe you have a responsibility to the Party, and the country, to preserve and enhance the openness and reputation of immigration system by opposing this bill and demanding a real debate on the issues. Any other position that Liberal Party takes would substantially erode the core grass root ethnic support of the Party.

Canada’s progressive "open arms" attitude is more than just an economic machine, but a beacon unto the hopes of millions of fine people around the world, all dreaming of the country they wish to one day call their own. The Conservatives want to assume the power to dash those hopes without notice or accountability. We hope that you will support us, as we have long supported you, in stopping this bill from becoming law.

Kind regards,

Kris Parthiban

liberazzi said...

When in June are they predicting the election will be held?

KC said...

This seems like fearmongering and pandering to me. Just because a Minister has discretion doesn't mean that they can go and make whatever decision for whatever reasons. There are limits on discretion, even Ministerial discretion, that are enforced by the courts. Want to exclude a certain racial or ethnic group? Nope can't do that as it offends the Charter.

I frankly think its a pretty legitimate state objective to want to allocate our limited immigrant-processing resources to those who have the skills most needed in the labour market.

Am I missing something here? I mean Im not an expert or anything but it seems that this law has a legitimate objective and there are adequate judicial safeguards against bad faith by the government. It seems to me that the Liberals are just pandering to unfounded fears here.

Steve V said...

I heard June 9th.


However big this issue is with the general public, it's bigger within the Liberal base. You can't fluff this off without potentially alienating some core constituents, and I think that reality might be tipping people.

Steve V said...

"Am I missing something here?"

Just the elephant in the room. If this immigration reform is so beneign, so sensible, why do you slip into another bill, out of nowhere, with no consultation?? Whatever your politics, that clearly gives the "pulling a fast one" impression, and given latent suspicion about the Cons on this file, the fact they went this route is curious.

LeDaro said...

Very good stuff. Time to bring down the Con government.

KC said...

It is ODD that they would slip this into a big budget bill (although the practice is quite common south of the border) but beyond that I still dont see what the big deal is. From what I can see it has a legitimate objective and adequate safeguards.

Scott Tribe said...

adequate safeguards?

Full ministerial discretion? without needing to use criteria ?

Give your head a shake KC.ccc

Steve V said...


It comes down to trust, the Minister receives discretionary powers. The fact they introduce these reforms, through the backdoor, in a way with no parliamentary precedent, brings that trust into question, makes you suspicious beyond the talking points. And, from what I can gather, some in the opposition acknowledge, or want to consider it, but the money alloted is so feeble to be laughable, and the process hasn't been open. Let's have a discussion, why is the government introducing a fundamental issue in this way? People won't support giving the government more power, unless they convince, and these tactics speak to less than forthright motivations.

IMHO, the government became arrogant, thought they could just ram this through a impotent opposition, but their two clever by half routine actually points a spotlight on their motivations, an issue which they've always been vulnerable on. Plus, when you couple these reforms with what is apparently happening with refugees, the backlog ballooning, it feeds a negative narrative that they have desperately tried to shake. There have been a couple old Reformer reminders in the past few weeks, and I doubt this is where the Conservatives wanted an election.

KC said...

Scott - It is well established in administrative law that discretionary decisions--even those by a Minister--can be reviewed by the courts to ensure that they dont offend Charter rights and other legal principles.

I've also read that nothing about these new provisions dont allow the Minister to refuse an applicant after a decision has been made by the administrative body. All it allows is the issuance of instructions which, to me, sounds a lot like the making of regulations. That isnt that controversial as most statutes allow for that type of "discretion". In fact Im surprised that the Minister doesnt have that power already.

KC said...

Steve - Im not sure that this has NO precedent although I must confess to not being aware of any.

Im happy with debate Im just not sure what the big deal is per se with this proposal. I mean some people might not like the potential for emphasizing economic class immigrants over family class immigrants but it seems like a pretty legitimate policy choice by government to me. Canada needs skilled workers. That SHOULD be a priority.

The whole approach of the Liberals on this issue seems like pandering and fearmongering.

Steve V said...

"Im not sure that this has NO precedent although I must confess to not being aware of any."

This is what the Americans do, attach unrelated matters onto another bill, it isn't the Canadian tradition.

BTW, it isn't pandering when you base raises concerns.

KC said...

Here is one pro-immigrant body's analysis of the changes:

Once again I dont see what all the fuss is about. Heaven forbid the processing of immigration applications is geared towards the "attainment of the immigration goals established by the Government of Canada”.

Their second point on refugee children who want their families to come to Canada is far more valid. But the change only seems to be from the Minister having to review their application to the Minister having a choice in the matter. When we're only talking about "reviewing" applications the difference seems mostly semantics.

Gayle said...

Maybe I missed something, but doesn't this legislation apply to people who are not already in Canada?

If I am correct then kc your comment about how the minister's decision is reviewable is true, but ineffective. Do you think someone outside Canada applying for landed immigrant status will have the means to apply for judicial review of a decision of the minister to allow someone else to jump the queue?

Steve - the liberals have to have an election over this. I believe the cons know that, and that is why they put this provision into the budget bill. This is not about sneaking in a change - it is about forcing an election on an issue the cons know will affect the liberal core support, but not the con's.

KC said...

Steve - Just because someone raises concerns--be they your "base" or anyone else--doesnt mean you need to pander to them if they are without merit.

Joe said...

Wow a June election. What year?

Steve V said...

"Their second point on refugee children who want their families to come to Canada is far more valid."

Given what is happening with refugees, this government has no credibility on that score. If you look at the record, it's abysmal.


I know Harper has been trying to find ways to force an election, I just don't think this little manoeuver was part of that push. I think these reforms have been on the table for months, and they held back because they didn't want to introduce them, and possibly undo the "outreach". When the Liberals supported the budget, compromised on Afghanistan, I think they saw an opportunity to slip this in, get it through and move on. I honestly think their opinion of the Liberals is so low at the moment, they honestly didn't see this as a trigger. If anyone on the Con team thinks this is the issue they want to start a campaign on, then I hope they have a key role moving forward, this isn't smart, you're not playing to your strengths at all, in fact you are giving the Libs a chance to motivate. Seems a strange want.

Gayle said...

kc - I am not sure what you see is without merit here. Immigration based on policy rather than discretion is a valid objective.

Steve V said...


You're about as deep as a bird bath :)

Anonymous said...

"the liberals have to have an election over this."

Not sure if Dion can count on his backbench to abstain. It is a vote loser to many, especially in Grit safe seats.

Dion can buy some time, but this means that he needs to declare the throne speech in the fall dead on arrival. Harper will use the throne speech as a campaign platform irregardless.

Steve V said...


All you have to do is look at the expenditure, the money Finlay is offering to deal with the problem. It's an objective joke, which speaks to real sincerity. Look at the money, and go from there, because even if you conclude it's valid, it is toothless, it can't deal with the problem.

Anonymous said...

"If anyone on the Con team thinks this is the issue they want to start a campaign on, then I hope they have a key role moving forward,"

Note the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation is due as C-50 is stuck on committee. Immigration will play a major role. Harper is calculating that he will use this issue to poison Dion's credibility once and for all. Give Quebec the right to demand which immigrants they want to accept within its nationalist framework.

Steve V said...


I see your point, but I honestly don't see how immigration is used to hurt the Liberals, if anything it fires up some core voters, and will engage them in any election. Pretty risky for Harper, certainly not a clear "plus" issue for the Cons, with some potential to blowup in their faces.

Greg said...

Steve, if the Liberal Party was serious about an election on this, why not just defeat the government on this vote? Or if they didn't want to vote on an NDP motion, why didn't they come up with a similar motion of their own? I think you are just engaging in wishful thinking. By voting again for the government, the Liberals have just handed the NDP another campaign ad, in about 100 different languages.

Jim said...

Yes please, lets have an election so that the Libs can be pared down to 20 or so seats.

Be careful what you wish for...go outside your little Lib circles and ask average people what they think...the Libs under Dion are doomed out here in the West. I suspect the sentiment is national. Average folk are pretty happy with the Harper government.

BTW, in my opinion, C-50 is good law. Canada needs more doctors, engineers and skilled craftsmen...not cab drivers and chambermaids. Unskilled workers should certainly be welcome but only after those with serious credentials.

Scott Tribe said...

Nice try Jim, but the Tories are down in Ontario and the Maritimes, and would lose seats according to polls - enough to lose power, according to some pollsters.

Glad to see you got your Tory talking points along with your Con Kool-Aid though.

KC said...

Jim if you actually lived in the West you would know that in many places we need unskilled labour as bad as we need skilled labour.

I wonder why the government isnt focusing on trying to get immigrants to settle where they are most needed--in the West--rather than congregating in Ontario which is in an economic slump and presumably doesnt need much more labour. Is that even possible?

Jim said...

Why do you folks always have to throw in a jab at the end? IMO it does not add to your credibility. Your barb begs the question though, are your talking points supplied by the Power Corp.?

Anyhow Scott, the only poll that counts is on election day...bring it on. Watching and listening to the joke that is the official opposition is getting painful.

I would love to see the Libs grow some cajones and bring down the government. At least then they would be seen to take a stand on SOMETHING. Would someone please bring me up to speed on the current Liberal policies and platform...oh thats right, they don't have any.

I have to any of you actually believe that the Libs can WIN an election?

Jim said...

KC, I do live in the Lower Mainland and yes there are labour shortages at all levels, but the trades are absolutely desperate. I know this first hand. There are lots of labourers and few technicians.

Anonymous said...

Bringing down the government when the teachers will be too busy to help out the Liberals, and university students are on the move and not concentrated in winnable ridings, is one of the stupidest things Dion could possibly do.

A mid to late June election will guarentee a Tory Majority.

I already believe that Harper will call Guelph for the third week in June regardless; but for Dion to call the whole country then, is political suicide.

Steve V said...

"Bringing down the government when the teachers will be too busy to help out the Liberals, and university students are on the move and not concentrated in winnable ridings, is one of the stupidest things Dion could possibly do."

Actually, that is some of the stupidest reasoning to avoid an election I've heard.

Steve V said...

"go outside your little Lib circles and ask average people what they think"

Jim, and you chide others for potshots. At least the hypocrisy is consistent.