Saturday, May 31, 2008

Boggles The Mind

I find this too be an amazing statement from a pollster, particularly when you've just concluded that by a 55%-39% margin, Canadians want the RCMP to investigate the Bernier matter:
I don't think it hurts the government in any way. It gives the opportunity to the Prime Minister to set a plank in a new platform that says we're going to change the Cabinet, we've got a new chief of staff in place and we can move forward," Mr. Wright said.

"If anything, this may have been the linchpin for changing the face of the government and actually getting on with the business of government."

The above reads like Conservative spin, which shows no relationship to the polls own findings. This mess doesn't hurt the government in any way? How can any credible person make that comment, given what has transpired? Did Wright see the Prime Minister, when he announced the resignation?

I'm of mixed opinion, just how much this hurts the government, primarily because it seems to me the media is largely missing the point, this issue getting lost in the tabloid angle. That said, isn't it just common sense that the Bernier affair is a negative, to some degree, for the government, on some level? Wright turns it all around, that this is actually a fresh start for the government, a positive development. Give me a freaking break, and thanks once again for revealing your horrible bias, quite alarming for a public pollster, lead by supposed neutral methodology.


No, nothing to see here.

The Emphasis On "Team"

If you were to put the Conservative and Liberal caucuses side by side, there is no question which possesses more "talent". Outside of rabid partisans, nobody views the Conservatives as particularly deep, in fact the government is largely a one man show, you could count on one hand Minister's that actually stand out in their portfolio's. Taken a step further, hardly impressive when the Conservatives are forced to lean on the mediocre likes of Van Loan and Poilievre to make the case. When you look at the "rosters", it is no surprise that the Liberals will emphasize the team in the next election.

Part of the team concept comes from a reaction to a negative, Dion so unpopular, the Liberals need to draw attention to others to look a credible alternative. I prefer to look at in this way, if you have assets you exploit them, leadership questions aside, particularly if it draws attention to your opponent's weakness. With that in mind, a radical idea prior to the next election. Heading into the campaign, what if Dion were to name his potential cabinet?

The Liberals already have the standard critics, but I think it would be a political winner to put together a theoretical cabinet this summer, allow each MP to focus on their theoretical portfolio, then announce the team when an election is called. In that way, the Liberals could present to Canadians what a Liberal government would look like. Campaigns tend to focus on the leader disproportionately, by announcing a future cabinet, it would necessitate a look beyond who is PM. As the campaign proceeds, any issues that arise would put more attention on whomever is responsible for that particular portfolio.

Imagine a scenario where the Liberals release the daily policy announcement, and Dion isn't the only voice, the only salesman. A foreign policy initiative, reporters seek out the Liberals Minister of Foreign Affairs Bob Rae, who would easily outshine Emerson, or whomever the Conservatives choose from their thin ranks. A question about carbon shifting, enter Ignatieff, the Liberal Environment Minister, a question on Justice, enter Ken Dryden or Dominic LeBlanc, Martha Hall Findlay on Immigration... you get the drift. In pre-announcing the potential cabinet, would that not draw attention to talent pool, allow Canadians to see the group the Liberals would offer. Put that, side by side, with the Conservatives, hard to find much in the way of a threat.

Such a plan would demand the media focus on people other than Dion, as events dictate which issues rise to the fore. It would also show Canadians a greater diversity with the Liberal team, as opposed to the white man blandness of the single note Conservatives. It's hard for me to see a downside in any pre-announcement, although unorthodox, it allows people to pass judgement on who is best able to govern as a whole. It says to Canadians, we are ready to go, here are the people, ready to hit the ground running. Harper vs Dion, an uphill battle, Liberals vs Conservatives, a much better presentation. The best way to dictate the message of team, put that team in place and allow them to shine.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


It's hard to find any good news for the Liberals in the latest CROP poll of Quebec, now statistically tied with the NDP for fourth in the province. First, the numbers, then a couple curious points about this poll:
The poll gave the Bloc, the only separatist party in the federal Parliament, 31 percent support, up three points in the past month. It put the Conservatives up one point at 28 percent, the New Democrats down one point at 16 percent and the Liberals down five points at 15 percent, Greens 8%

The poll also finds the Liberals fourth in Quebec City and the east, not to mention a distant third in Montreal.

What I would like someone to explain to me, because I'm not trying to make excuses, the breakdowns for this poll. Out of a total 859 polled, there were only 74"non francophones", which translates to a mere 8.6% of this poll. The last census of Quebecers, puts the francophone population at 80%, which makes me wonder why the francophone total is 91.4% of the survey. Further, despite the fact that the Quebec Metro population represents 9.2% of the population, it represents 20.6% of the poll. Now, the obvious answer is weighting, but tell me if this follows:

Francophones 785 Cons 27 Libs 13 NDP 15

Non Francophones 74 Cons 28 Libs 35 NDP 21

Without splitting hairs, the francophone vote is ten times that of the non-francophone, so let's do the following:

The Con non francophone total represents 1/11 of the overall total, the francophone 10/11. So, 27% francophone times 10 gives 270, plus 28 (only counted once) equals 298, which divided by 11 gives 27.1% total. Do the same math for the Liberals and you get 15%, for the NDP you get 15.54%. In other words, you get the same results as the overall poll totals. That would appear to be the weighting, and as I've already stated, it entirely overstates the francophone vote, while dramatically understating the non-francophone totals. I don't get it, I understand the need for regional sample sizes, but the above seems to suggest a strange final outcome.

Now that my head hurts, all this aside, this poll is just another indication of the challenges the Liberals face. Like I've said before, Dion's first, second and third priorities this summer should be Quebec.

Canadians Turning On Government

A large Harris-Decima online poll shows satisfaction with the government is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Even worse for the Conservatives, this poll was completed before the Bernier resignation:
It seems Canadians can't get no satisfaction when it comes to the Harper government.

A new poll suggests satisfaction with the performance of the Conservatives plunged 13 percentage points from December to May.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey indicates satisfaction fell to 40 per cent from 53 per cent - with majority dissatisfaction in every region of the country except Alberta.

The Mood of Canada poll also found that just 27 per cent of respondents said the Tories were doing a good job in regard to government integrity.

And 65 per cent said the government was doing a bad job on accountability.

The online poll of 3,565 Canadians was conducted May 14-23.

Only 27% think the Conservatives have "integrity", which suggests the drip, drip, drip of constant problems has had a cumulative impact. Also striking, the opinion of people on "accountability", the supposed signature rallying cry for the Conservatives.

Generally, satisfaction measures run higher than actual party support, the fact the gap has lessened so much, in such a short time, is very telling. Does anyone doubt the numbers would be worse still, had the poll been conducted this week?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"It's really not an either-or situation."

That quote, from Clare Demerse of the Pembina Institute, reacting to the NDP's cap and trade proposal announced today:

"It's really not an either-or situation."
Demerse said it's "an artificial distinction" to suggest, as Layton has done, that the NDP route would punish polluters while the Liberals' would punish consumers. She noted that a carbon price charged to big emitters will eventually end up being passed on to consumers.

And, the above is why I think the NDP have unnecessarily boxed themselves in on the environment file. On specifics, you could argue cap and trade trickles down anyways, as noted above, so you are essentially undercutting your own concerns about a carbon tax.

Layton admits as much on the NDP website today:
“We all know that the economy will be affected by any serious attempt to curb emissions,”

Which is why the NDP offers a billion dollars for "training", obviously in reaction to the lost jobs such a plan would bring. Anyways, if the NDP wishes to argue that they can focus on half the problem and get the desired result, floating themselves as the champions of the poor, while the Liberal plan is put on the backs of the "vulnerable", that is their choice, but in the end it won't fly. Why?

I don't know the Liberal plan, but if anyone wants to believe there won't be allowances to protect the people Layton champions, then they are in for a rude surprise. Layton argues the merits of cap and trade, which I don't necessarily disagree with, but in presenting such a black and white argument, the kneejerk attack on the Liberals, I think he has ultimately failed politically.

Ignatieff today:

"How to put together a revenue neutral carbon tax, leading towards, leading towards a cap and trade system. It's not an either/or situation, we might have a revenue neutral carbon tax, followed by a cap and trade system."

Exactly the point of Demerse, and a posture which will out-flank the NDP. The Liberals will offer a cap and trade component, but with some understanding, supported by experts, that it will take time to develop. A two stage approach that doesn't reject either view, but embraces them both, while the NDP have painted themselves into one corner. It may just end up that Layton loses his either/or argument, as Dion agrees on merit, but differs in approach, with an added element. I'm sure my NDP friends would vehemently disagree ;)

Liberals Will Take To The Air

I take this as a realization, of just how high the stakes, the Liberals will run ads to promote the "tax shift":
The cash-strapped Liberal party plans to spend a precious chunk of its election reserve to advertise their carbon tax when the scheme is unveiled next month.

I hope the party sends out a fundraising call, directly tied to "selling" the plan. At the very least, it's something the grassroots can get behind and I suspect the response would be good. Everyone understands this will be a tough sell, and I would recommend a Conservative-style call to action, wherein you are asked to donate to offset the attacks.

The good news, from a tactical perspective, there will be a coherent plan to market the idea and make sure people understand the concepts. The key will be a clear and concise message, if we get lost in the details, it's probably a steeper climb.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why Maxime?

Not much to say, but when I saw this picture of Harper announcing Bernier's resignation, I was struck by how defeated and red eyed he looked. Like a kid who just found out his dog "Majority" was run over by a semi:

Carbon Tax Not McGuinty's "First Choice"

It will be interesting to see how the federal Liberal carbon plan is received by the Ontario Liberals. To be fair, you can't just point to proponents to support the idea of why a carbon tax could fly politically. There is potential for some "awkwardness", if the plan is rejected by McGuinty. The Toronto Star has a story, titled "McGuinty at odds with Dion over carbon tax". Not sure if it's more preference than at "odds", but it is relevant:
The tax, which is expected to be a central plank in the federal Liberal election platform, is one way to put a price on carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but his "first choice" for Ontario is a cap-and-trade system, McGuinty said today.

"It's one of the things that (Premier) Jean Charest and I are going to continue to talk about, to see if we might build the foundation for a national cap-and-trade system," he said.

"Every province has a different economic situation and we feel that from our perspective, a cap-and-trade system is the best way to go," he said.

Brother David:
David McGuinty downplayed concerns that the carbon tax plan could drive a wedge between the Ontario and federal Liberals.

He said he had a "general discussion" with his brother about the merits of one system over another, but said the premier didn't express an opinion about carbon taxes.

"It was more of an exchange of ideas around the two possibilities, the two primary market mechanisms that can be harnessed to achieve the same end, which is a price on carbon," David McGuinty said.

In fact, a federal carbon tax could complement a provincial cap-and-trade system, he said.

"I think what the premier's said is, `Look, given the here and now of the specificity of the Ontario economy, and how we would like to go forward in pricing carbon, we would rather go with a cap-and-trade system first,"' he said.

"But I doubt very much the premier's ruling out the notion of a carbon tax shift."

In the final analysis, the federal Liberals can't afford to have McGuinty completely offside, Ontario is key if the Liberals are to win the next election. That said, if the proposal does bring in a cap and trade component, as well as a tax shift, McGuinty could fall in line, or at least offer tepid approval. Nobody expects Ontario to walk in lockstep with their federal counterparts, but it is probably better that both are hashing out the details now, prior to release.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Buck Stops There

It was never really about Maxime Bernier, it was always about the Prime Minister's lack of judgement and naked political opportunism. Bernier had no resume, everyone seemed to agree, and yet Harper elevated him to a vital portfolio, within the theme of "Canada is back", a serious player on the world stage. What Harper did, is put our international reputation at risk, by offering an objective lightweight, because he only cared about domestic prospects.

Bernier, given the helm, because the Prime Minister desperately wanted high profile Quebec representation in his government. Bernier was a strategy, wherein the only considerations were the self-interest of the Conservatives. What is really the key conclusion of this entire exercise, Harper is less concerned with our international standing, as he is currying favor with a desirable electorate. Quite a contrast to the rhetoric.

Quebecers should be insulted, that Harper thinks so little of them, that he would use Bernier to curry favor. That Harper would ignore the obvious limitations, and thrust Bernier to the fore, says to Quebecers I'm trying to buy your approval. Bernier was always a marketing strategy, a line or two in a false storyline of reaching out to Quebecers. The old Reformer pimped out his token francophone, used him to try and maximize. If Bernier was able, among other candidates, you could surely argue why he gets the nod, but here, SO out of his league, it reveals a really disturbing fundamental about Harper.

The legacy of Bernier has little to do with him. As other countries wonder, just what is happening with Canada, here it home, all we need to realize is that this whole farce speaks VOLUMES about who Harper is, what are his true motivations, and why he is ultimately bad news for Canada.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sitting Pretty?

Some are worried that Dion's tax shift is being defined for him, by his opponents, before he can define it himself. Some angst, that in waiting, the Liberals are losing the public relations battle, imperative for selling a policy, which will invariably have some complexities. After watching Ignatieff on QP today, and the subsequent questioning of Layton and May, I am more convinced than ever that the Liberals are really sitting pretty, as everyone else reacts, exposing themselves, without any actual commitment.

Ignatieff stressed that the general theme was developed, the carrot and the stick, but said people are still "working on the details". Ignatieff's only real talking point was arguing that the policy would consider the poor, people on fixed incomes, rural Canadians, farmers, those in northern regions. Ignatieff volunteered this angle, and it speaks to why waiting has been beneficial. The NDP and Conservatives have already articulated their attack lines, which allows the Liberals to tinker at their leisure, to ensure that the policy's ultimate release speaks clearly to any criticisms. I fall back on what I've said before, the Liberals have the benefit of watching a national focus group, debating the merits, laying out the pitfalls, all the while not defined, not boxed in to anything, able to digest and react. As Ignatieff said, the policy is still being developed, does anyone doubt people aren't focused on shoring up any weak spots? I consider this an envious position.

What became obvious later, Layton is now on the defensive, defending his own resistance to a tax shift, forced to show he hasn't lost the high road on the environment. The NDP are now reacting to the Liberals on the environment, they are taking their cues from Liberal policy, as opposed to the usual circumstance. On center stage, the Liberal plan, everyone else speaking in reaction.

On top of that, we now have Elizabeth May, effectively having Dion's "back" on a tax shift, supporting his idea, while simultaneously trashing the NDP. You can argue the merits of any plan, but I think it pretty much indisputable that having two separate parties arguing essentially the same idea has the potential to hurt the NDP, the Dion/May supposed alliance is starting to move to the practical:
NDP Leader Jack Layton's opposition to a carbon tax shows he's more interested in hurting the Liberals than helping the environment, says Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

"Canadians are sick of politicians who don't tell them the truth," May said.

Some politicians "want to pander to prices at the pump while ignoring disappearing glaciers, persistent droughts and increased storm events," she said.

"We need to act on the climate crisis, and I'm disappointed that Mr. Layton is on the wrong side of this one."

Moving forward, there is no question that the acrimony between the NDP and Greens can, and if today was any indication, will work to the Liberals advantage. If there is one issue, that reporters will seek out May, it's on the environment, it's where she will get maximum exposure, and now, it just so happens she will argue in favor of the tax shift, while slamming the NDP. There will probably be minor points of distinction between the Green and Liberal plan, but the broad strokes create a two-pronged attack, somewhat insulating Dion. In terms of strategy, it's hard to see the downside for the Liberals in this scenario. It is actually Layton that runs the risk of being isolated, as environmentalists and economists, Greens and Liberals, argue from the same angle, and he is left to defend why cap and trade is the only way to go. Toss in the criticism, what is good for the NDP, over what is good for the planet, and you have a bad narrative developing. You can see it in British Columbia

Another poll out today, that shows growing support for a carbon tax, as well as potential problems for the NDP's resistance:
- Canadians are warming up to the prospect of paying an environmental tax on activities that cause climate change, but they don't necessarily expect to get the money back in the form of income tax cuts, a new poll has revealed.

When told that the government of British Columbia had recently introduced "a carbon tax on fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," 72 per cent of those surveyed in the poll said that this was a positive step versus 23 per cent who thought that it was a negative step. The poll surveyed 1,009 Canadian adults across the country between April 29 and May 9, 2008 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The support for B.C.'s carbon tax is fairly uniform across Canada," he said. "Six out of 10 people definitely support it when you look at the numbers."

The strongest support for a carbon tax appears to come from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces where 81 per cent and 77 per cent of respondents respectively said that the B.C. tax was a positive step.

People support cap and trade, so Layton finds support on that score, but it is really mute, since the Liberals are on board for that concept, plus:
A carbon tax and a cap-and-trade program both put a price on pollution - they're much more similar than Mr. Layton suggests," said Clare Demerse, a senior climate change policy analyst at the Pembina Institute. "Our poll does support Mr. Layton's call for investments in energy efficiency programs like home retrofits, but it also shows that Canadians want those investments to be in addition to carbon tax programs like BC's. Canadians understand the urgency of global warming and they see that we need both approaches."

Here we are today, Liberals standing back, watching everyone react, watching everyone expose themselves, flushed out of the weeds, with no details, no commitment, complete control. Allies are lining up behind, others are forced to defend, but there is no doubt who is on center stage. It is a great position, when you think about it, you can see the landscape ahead and you've yet to move, a rarity in politics.

Tax Shifting

I thought I would offer this "real" world example of how a tax shifting policy could be an attractive option. One of my neighbors is currently considering putting in a geothermal system for his home. The cost is quite high, between 25-30 thousand, a large sum for an average middle class family. My neighbor is debating the pros and cons, he would have to borrow the money to install the system, but it would result in knocking off 80% of his fuel and hot water expenses. You do the math, factor in you yearly savings, add a reasonable projection on future traditional fuel costs, to calculate how long it would take for the investment to pay for itself. It's still a fairly daunting proposition, especially when you factor in the interest on any upfront loan.

We were talking about this option, and it really is something to wrestle with, because the bottomline for most of us, while we want to do our part, it comes within the reality of affordability. Anyways, I mentioned the tax shift policy, without knowing the details, just the general thrust. With a heavy emphasis on IF it happens, you could see how an income tax reduction, coupled with a price on carbon, would provide the last push, to make installation economically feasible, far more attractive. If my neighbor did go ahead with his plan, within a tax shift framework, then he essentially would avoid any additional taxes on his energy usage, while simultaneously gaining considerably on the income tax side. The net result of going geothermal, he would end up paying less taxes overall, more money in his pocket, making the initial cost of the system far more sensible. In other words, if this tax shift idea was in place, all of the current hand wringing would be a far easier decision, it would tip the economic consideration, it would actually make the jump far less risky.

It's just one example, but it does serve as some indication of how the carrot and stick could provide the necessary incentive for people that want to change behaviors, but struggle with the economics. IF we had a tax shifting policy, the numbers are far more attractive, the internal debate almost a no brainer.


Interesting perspective on the politics of a carbon tax.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Turner Needs To Self-Censor

I'm not sure what the point of having an MP openly muse about factions within the Liberal caucus, "weakening" Dion is, but it certainly suggests the time has come for Mr. Candid to zip it. Garth stirring up a hornet's nest, for no apparent reason:
Dion won the leadership after a year-long campaign involving 11 aspirants, recalls Turner. He says the fierce competition left its mark.

"I support the leader, but not everyone is of the same mind and there are factions within caucus who want to weaken Dion. There are people who have aspirations . . . without a doubt, who forever and a day will continue to try to promote their agendas.

"I have a problem with those who still harbour ambitions and should swallow them. I see that happening within our caucus and I don't like it."

Turner says he doesn't want to undermine any of his colleagues and prefers not to identify individuals. That said, it was clear from our conversation that he is referring to Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae who came second and third in the leadership stakes.

Turner, who has a long history of speaking candidly -- going back to his days in the Mulroney caucus -- reveals he's "in a bit of trouble right now" with some of his colleagues.

"I'm seen as a guy who is standing out there for Dion, helping the leader succeed." Those who Turner has targeted for their disloyalty have reacted by drawing their own swords against him.

I'm open to any suggestions, just how calling out your fellow MP's helps Dion? All Turner does here is reinforce the notion that Dion doesn't enjoy the support of many in his caucus, former leadership rivals aren't working together as a team, basically painting a picture which does nothing for the Liberal "presentation".

When a Liberal goes on the record criticizing Dion, then you can at least attribute it to frustration, or whatever. However, Turner is actually offering all this in defence of Dion, and in so doing actually has the opposite effect.

Is it true, what Turner says? I think that is ENTIRELY irrelevant, because going public helps no one, it just ruffles more feathers, continues a narrative which was actually starting to wane, basically tells everyone that Dion's leadership is weak. Honest candor is great, but when it serves no rational purpose, when it feeds a negative, when it just gets the media hunting for more, then it's just plain dumb. Turner takes it farther, playing the martyr, that the swords are now aimed at him. Well, I don't have a sword, but if I was standing behind Garth as he started to spew to the media, he would certainly get a poke or two.

The "Guru" Speaks

The new NANOS poll provides some good news for the Liberals. First the results, but then a word of caution in allowing these numbers to act as the leadership security blanket.

Libs 34
Cons 33
NDP 15
Bloc 11
Greens 8

Not really much difference from NANOS' last poll, small erosion for both the Libs and Cons, Bloc up, Greens up, NDP the same.

What has changed, NANOS' Ontario numbers are now more in line with other pollsters, the Liberals 18% lead is now reduced to 10%, which is far more believable. The Liberals at 50% in Ontario was nice, but that always seemed a tad high:

Libs 43%
Cons 33%
NDP 17%
Greens 7%

A bright spot for the NDP, their numbers recovering from a dangerously low 13% last month.

However, the Quebec numbers now show the NDP in a distant fifth place, using a slightly bigger sample size than the last NANOS offering:
Bloc 40%
Cons 23%
Libs 22%
Greens 9%
NDP 5%

That represents an 8% drop for the NDP, from their high water mark, and much of that erosion seems to benefit the Bloc and the Greens. The Liberal numbers tend to mirror all the other polls, while the Conservative total is somewhat less than the Quebec only polls. All I can say on that score, these national polls that understate Conservative support, relative to the bigger Quebec only polls, actually had a good predictive record in the last election, so their findings shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

In the "West", whatever that is, the Conservatives are down considerably, Liberals up, NDP to a lesser degree. I suspect some of that is related to British Columbia, but that conclusion is buried in this irrelevant "West".

So, if you do the regional breakdowns, you could actually argue the Liberals would win more seats, this tie looks slightly better on an electoral map. A stronger Bloc hurts the Conservatives, a strong lead in Ontario is obvious gold for the Liberals, and the east is positive, looks to be pockets in the west.

My friend Scott Tribe, refers to this poll as the pepto bismol of polls, helping to quell the nervousness that comes from reading other results. That sentiment seems to be fairly common, NANOS makes everyone feel better, it tends to overshadow other results that are less positive. I have a couple thoughts on this score.

I didn't really get excited about the Angus poll yesterday, in terms of the national numbers, it looked like the gap was more just margin of error noise, than any trend. Maybe this poll understates the Liberal support, but you could argue problems with other outfits, so it is more a question of their own internal trends, than objective read, relative to others. People can question the result, but I'm frankly tired of the typical "online" comment, which never brings any factual evidence to the table, ignores the concrete counter, based on real results, and just repeats the baseless bias. In other words, put up or shut up. Please :)

Where my caution lies, and I don't mean to highlight Scott, but I think his comment on the post speaks to a wider problem:
throw in leadership polls that show Dion doing poorly, and predictably, we get some Liberal bloggers getting heartburn and demanding either the leader resign or else be upended in a palace coup or else claim this shows Canadians won’t listen to Dion’s message in an election - specifically on a carbon tax. The next day, Nanos polling comes out with much more close numbers, and that usually calms the “nervous nellies”...

"As I said over here in comments, people elect political parties in Canada - they don’t elect presidents."

Scott argues that NANOS is the leadership elixir, but in reality, the opposite is true. The last NANOS leadership poll had Dion at an abysmal 11% on the competency question, completely in line with Angus, completely consistent with EVERY other poll. While you can correctly argue the national numbers, don't extrapolate NANOS as some reason to stop worrying about leadership. In fact, NANOS says the Liberals should be worried about leadership, his findings completely reinforce other findings.

I say this, because I think it a dangerous mistake moving forward to not recognize the challenge ahead, to not accurately understand just where Dion is at, and how ultimately that could make perceived strong party numbers less reliable. Yes, we elect parties, but every party has a face, and if you don't like that face, you are less likely to vote for that party, especially outside of the core brand support. Better to admit that Dion is at a worrying bottom, than console yourself in the horserace numbers. That isn't to say the numbers aren't good news for the Liberals, worrying trends for the Conservatives, only it isn't the only question, the only part of the equation.

What this poll tells me, if Dion can get his act together, nothing exceptional, just a measure of projecting confidence and leadership, the Liberals are poised to win the next election. If Dion remains at such a low leadership score, then any perceived brand strength is part mirage, or flimsy. A national campaign demands a credible leader, so I argue this to make sure everyone remains focused on the achilles heel, we don't get comfy, because a real problem still exists.

I'm somewhat optimistic, actually moreso than I have been in months, because I think this tax shift plan is a real opportunity. But, let's not forget where Dion is, because that will, in the end, in my opinion, be the make or break factor in the next election.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Interesting Roundtable

CBC's "At Issue" panel tonight, spent a good deal of time on Dion and his carbon plan. In case anyone missed it, I thought I'd post a few quotes from the various commentary, commentary which was fairly supportive. A pollster who knows the mood, a fiscal conservative and a center-left academic, all agreeing that that this might just be good politics afterall:

Andrew Coyne:

"In this case, you have a policy that is widely praised, by people that know something about the subject. It fits a narrative of him, as sort of the principled guy who take stands that aren't necessarily popular, but right for the country...It gets it off him, it gets it on to policy, it gets him on his preferred narrative. And, finally it gets a clear distinction with the Conservatives, because they will not go there, there not going to minimize their differences, as they so often do. Even the NDP has criticized this, so the Liberals will own this issue"

Peter Mansbridge:

"Is this the hail mary pass Allan?"

Allan Gregg:

"Well, it's certainly his best chance of winning the next election... By actually inviting controversy, by adopting something that is clearly going to engage a wide level of debate, he is certainly making it a ballot box issue... And, he's also trying to consolidate the center-left, which is now split. He's lost whatever advantage he had initially on the environment, so it is a high risk strategy, but I think it has the potential to have a high reward."

Christopher Waddell:

"I think there is a real opportunity for the Liberals on this issue, and frankly the public, both citizens and business, is about a hundred miles ahead of government on this issue. If you look internationally, many countries on the world already are pricing carbon in their economy somewhere...we're falling behind on this, and we are going to actually PAY for this, if we don't get our act together... The difficulty, can you explain it? But, what they might have going for them here, there seems to be a change in politics, in which ideas might have more importance."


"We've talked before, how the Conservatives have been so adept at luring the Liberals into a trap, Afghanistan, citing Quebec as a nation... This may be an instance where the Liberals are luring the Conservatives, they want to make it a ballot issue... if they can get the Conservatives to come out and fight on their terrain, it will become a ballot issue and they will become competitive."

Food for thought.

New Poll

I'd be remiss, if I didn't mention the new Angus-Reid online poll, which shows a growing gap between the two principle parties, more signs of the "mountain" Dion needs to climb, to look credible with Canadians.

The horserace:
Overall, 34 per cent of respondents said they would vote Conservative if an election were held tomorrow, compared to 27 per cent who would vote Liberal. The New Democrats were in third place with 18 per cent support.

Last month's poll had the Conservatives at 33%, Liberals 30% and the NDP at 20%, Greens 8%. For context, the month prior had it 36-26% in favor of the Conservatives. Much of this looks to be simple bouncing around the margin of error, but Angus offers Dion's poor leadership numbers as partial reason:
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's approval rating has sunk to its lowest level yet, with nine of 10 Canadians saying they disapprove or are not sure of his performance as the head of the party, according to the latest Toronto Star/Angus Reid opinion poll.

I'm not sure if "sunk" is the right word, given last month's poll had Dion at 11%, which is essentially the same. That said, you can't put lipstick on a pig, pretty much horrific numbers for Dion, as the article points out, lower that John Turner. One caveat here, Harper isn't exactly setting the world ablaze with his 32% approval, down 1% from last month, unmoved if you will. Harper looks good, but that is only in a relative sense, and his score merely matches the Conservative numbers.

None of this is surprising, Dion was never about to raise his leadership score, within the atmosphere of abstaining, that environment just cements "weak", "ineffectual". Before anyone brings up the "online" angle, every poll published mirrors the same challenges for Dion, so I take the numbers seriously.

What intrigues me, if Dion can move these numbers over the summer as he starts to flesh out his environmental plan. At the very least, the ideas should address some of the leadership question, astute policy aside. Time will tell. It sure can't hurt!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Attending The Conservative Convention/with Poll

Many of my fellow bloggers are encouraging people to apply for blogger credentials at the coming Conservative National Convention. Obviously, I understand the reasoning, so take this lightly, but I don't think I could stomach a couple days of listening to it all, the idea lacks a certain attraction. With that in mind, a fun poll:

Feel free to add you own.

British Columbia GHG Emissions Poll

Interesting survey of British Columbians opinions on the environment and the need to "pay more" to reduce GHG emissions. The Decima poll also found British Columbian's reject the Baird copout that Canada can't act "unilaterally":
Most British Columbians now believe they have an individual responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if other people don't do the same, according to a new poll on environmental attitudes.

The survey by Harris/Decima also found that British Columbians want Canada to do what it can to reduce climate change, regardless of whether other countries take similar action.

On cost:
The survey found 75 per cent of British Columbians say they are prepared to alter their behaviour significantly to fight climate change. And that 66 per cent are prepared to pay more money for many products designed to address environmental problems.

The Baird argument, that any action must include India and China:
A strong majority of respondents -- 90 per cent -- disagree with the argument that Canada should do nothing to reduce emissions unless big emitting countries such as China and India do as well.

People are prepared to lead.

The most relevant finding, primarily because British Columbians already have the practical when it comes to "paying more" for harmful practices, is that 2/3 are prepared to accept a hit to their wallet. You could argue, this type of finding supports Dion's looming tax shift policy.

That said, there are conflicting signals. A poll released after the carbon tax was rolled out in British Columbia, found solid rejection of the idea:
Some 61 per cent of people surveyed called the carbon tax "bad," while only 25 per cent said they approve of the impending tax.

That would seem a pretty convincing warning sign for Dion, but that number is inflated, when you consider the framing of the question:
At issue is the structure of the central poll question, which asks people to select a reason why they support or oppose the tax, as opposed to just having respondents answer yes or no.

For example, of the people who oppose the carbon tax, 33 per cent said they did so because carbon fuels are already heavily taxed. Another 26 per cent said they oppose the tax because they believe the federal and provincial governments should work together on a solution. And two per cent rejected the tax because they don't believe carbon fuels cause climate change.

"It looks to me like 51 per cent support the idea, with the variation being that there is a chunk that disagree on the timing," said Taylor.

"They think we should wait until everyone is doing it at the same time. I think we could read this in a way that says the ones that say 'out-and-out, no carbon tax,' are about 35 per cent."

Factor in the portion who rejected because they wanted both levels of government to work together, and you are left with 1/3 outright rejecting, the rest a function of circumstances. That actually jives with the Decima poll, 1/3 who didn't believe they should "pay more" to fight climate change.

Another factor to consider, if Dion's proposals don't include a further direct tax on gasoline, it will be somewhat different than the B.C. plan, the potential to be more popular.

Changing gears, one of the chief criticisms, the looming tax shift will unfairly target the "poor", putting them further behind, introducing a new burden. According to one economist, who studied the B.C. tax shift, the opposite is true:
Poorer families 'slightly ahead'

Marc Lee, senior economist with the CCPA, said Tuesday the budget seems to have done a reasonably good job of considering economic fairness.

On the face of it, he said, "It looks pretty good."

The budget promises to give back the revenues raised by its new carbon tax by giving tax breaks to businesses and individuals, as well as a one-time $100 payout to everyone in the province.

The plan "pretty much would equalize the situation for lower-income families, if not put them slightly ahead," Lee said. "If you were able to make some purchases that increase your energy efficiency, you could save money on balance."

"Slightly ahead" is a far cry from the fear mongering that any tax shift will be placed on the backs of the poor. At the very least, the above conclusions serve to counter these blanket criticisms.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Minister Of Family Values"

Normally, you don't want to speak about the private lives of people, but I make exceptions when the revelation speaks to hypocrisy of the highest order. Vic Toews, the self righteous defender of the family, the man who said homosexuality would lead to polygamy, the man who has received awards for his "moral" stance, would appear to be fraud. Looks like Vic is practicing some informal polygamy:

An MP dubbed the "minister of family values" by Liberals is embroiled in a messy divorce after fathering a child last fall with a much younger woman.

Vic, who breathed the rarified air of the morally superior, can't seem to practice what he preaches, in reality a mere mortal, with his own flaws, certainly not one to JUDGE. Quite a fall, from the self-anointed heights.

Appealing To Greens

Yesterday, I made the point that Dion has the potential to expand Liberal support by targeting current Green supporters. As a point of clarification, I didn't mean that in the "arrogant Liberal" sense, I have tremendous respect for many in the Green fold. It was mentioned by this Green member, and in the comments, that the Greens are far from a "one trick pony", the platform includes a host of ideas, the environment is not the only focal point. Obviously true, no matter if any affinity develops on carbon policy, there are many areas where considerable distinction exists, too simplistic to view one issue as the only consideration in voter choice.

My only point here, from the Liberal prospective, and I think all parties calculate this way, quantifying where appeal may come from through policy development. If the Liberals essentially adopt the Green position on carbon, then it is natural to think that could provide some sway at the voter booth. When Jim Elve lists all the policy planks of the Greens in his post, it speaks to the depth of the party, but my point, outside of the core Green voter, what is the primary issue that resonates?

The comment section mentions a Globe and Mail poll, wherein the Greens were easily the top choice on the question of who was best able to deal with the environment and climate change:
Greens 30%
Liberals 17%
Conservatives 16%
NDP 10%

A very impressive total, considering overall voter intention, but also quite telling. If you look at the other issues mentioned in the poll, you see that the Greens don't fair near as well. In other words, the environment is the signature issue, voters don't have much identification with the party, apart from this issue. Further, it is no coincidence that Green support has surged in tandem with heightened awareness on the environment, the co-relation is solid. What findings such as the above real tell us, despite the solid platform of the Greens, the draw is the environment for many.

When I say the Liberals could "siphon off" soft Green support, it doesn't show a lack of respect, but it simply recognizes that by mirroring Green policy on the core identification issue, the Liberals have opportunity. If the Liberals are successful in showing leadership on the environment, if Dion presents a credible case, that draws on diverse expert support, then it presents a challenge for the Greens to get the message out on other issues, it negates the environment in a certain sense, or at the least has the potential to cut into any perceived advantage. You have the prospects of May agreeing with Dion on policy, which means the distinctions must come from elsewhere.

Many Green supporters will just ignore the Liberal plan, it won't sway them, and rightly so. However, it is also true that the casual voter isn't so invested, and that voter which has shown preference for the Greens can be moved. That is what I mean by soft, that is the target.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Piece To The Puzzle

I wonder if the Liberals have given consideration to the recent report from CIBC economist Jeff Rubin, who argues that carbon tariffs are the next phase, once a country claims the high ground, with their own domestic plan. If Dion wants another tool to sell his tax shifting plan, then any action must entertain what to do about competitiveness. Adding cost to our domestic production, while certain importers operate without the same standards, creates an uneven playing field. There is a way for Dion to shield the Liberal plan from attacks that it will hurt Canadian industry, in fact what Rubin proposes creates a scenario where action allows for a climate that not only stops outsourcing, but bring manufacturing jobs back home.

I think it's a great concept, hopefully the Liberals will put this out as part of the package:
With some advanced countries enacting carbon taxes, carbon trading systems and other measures to lower emissions, CIBC believes the growing pollution from developing countries will provoke penalties against their exports.

That would benefit the environment, and will also bring certain jobs back to North America, since carbon emission taxes and high oil prices would offset the benefit of cheap labour, Rubin says.

"Chinese goods will have to pay for the carbon that they emitted and they'll pay for that when they enter our market place by paying that tariff," Rubin said in an interview.

"Once we impose the tariff on Chinese goods, some of those industries will be coming home, because . . . energy and carbon efficiency is going to matter more than labour costs."

The political optics of a carbon tariff are a no-brainer. The idea also tells Canadians that if we do actually do "lead", then we have the leverage to demand the same of others, or they will face penalties:
But Rubin sees a shift in sentiment.

"What I'm suggesting is that the minute that we start putting a price on our own domestic emissions, then our tolerance of those who do not is going to fade very quickly," he said.

"What we're going to say is that if you don't play by the same carbon rules, that's an unfair trade subsidy that we're gong to countervail against."

The beauty of endorsing a carbon tariff, once we implement our own plan, is it silences the Baird logic, that Canada can't act "unilaterally", equating such action as economic suicide. It lays out a clear path, it shows Canadians that if we choose a "tough" plan, then others fall in line, which negates any disadvantage, or Canada takes action to ensure our industry remains competitive. On top of that, as Rubin suggests, you have the prospect of returning industry, something that would surely find appeal in vote rich central Canada.

At the very least, I hope the Liberal plan speaks to a carbon tariff, because it will help to ease some concerns, it will demonstrate that leadership doesn't handicap, it allows Canadians to see that our approach will help force other nations to follow. I don't see a downside in endorsing the idea.

McCain On The Democrats

This is pretty funny:

The Dion Coalition

One thing to keep in mind, as people weigh in on Dion's yet to be released tax shift plan, is the idea of a building a winning coalition. People point to a poll that shows 61% support a carbon tax, the numbers are higher for a carrot and stick approach, all kinds of empirical data to suggest a good portion of Canadians are ready to address the issue, in a serious manner. Others will say, it's easy to answer YES on a poll question, quite a different matter, when the theoretical actually impacts the wallet. That sentiment may well be correct, but the core calculation for Dion, can his plan appeal to a small percentage of people outside of the Liberal base. When you breakdown the numbers, Dion's task is far less daunting, he really only needs to sway a small group of the electorate to win an election.

You start by immediately knocking off the base Conservative support. For argument's sake, that number is probably around 30% nationally, plus another 5% that could lean Conservative, probably will in a "tax grab" scenario. That leaves a solid 65% of the electorate available to Dion, which represents the low end of the potential pool. We can also remove the Bloc voter, although completely dismissing that entire subset isn't necessarily the case, those voters are much "greener" in general, Dion may actually have some appeal. To be realistic though, we will take another 9% of the national vote off the table, Bloc voters are unmoved. Dion starts with 56% of the population that will consider his proposals.

What is the core NDP number? I would argue 10% seems a fair number, the rest could be described as soft support, possible to shake lose. Dion is down to a pool of 46%. The wild card is the Green support, and I would argue, this group represents the best opportunity to expand the Dion coalition. Currently, the Greens sit at 9% nationally. Dion endorsing, what amounts to the key plank for the Green Party, the environment clearly the main draw at this point, outside of the activist base, is a powerful lure. Let's just say Dion could appeal to half of those voters, which is entirely possible, given the lack of history, given the source of the current rise in support. Dion sits at 41%, and I believe these calculations have been conservative throughout.

Dion only needs to appeal to 35% of the electorate to win a minority, high 30`s, touching 40% to win a majority. The Liberals start with 30% as their core support, all Dion needs to do is convince another 5-10% of the electorate to get behind his proposals and he could form the next government. When you frame the argument within this lens, bold becomes possible, risky becomes reasonable.

If you do a regional breakdown of support, the opportunities are that much more pronounced. If you go further and accept the rural vs urban argument, you see again how that works to the Liberals traditional strengths, how the supposed erosion occurs where there was never any opportunity in the first place.

I think it`s important to keep focused moving forward, don`t get distracted by all the noise, all the doom and gloom commentary, because it really is all about building the Dion coalition, a coalition of voters that only needs to peck away at the soft perimeter of other support to get over the hump. In the end, it all boils down to a pretty simple argument, Dion is really only interested in a fraction of the electorate, he doesn`t have to convince the entire nation, he doesn`t even need anywhere near majority support, he only needs to convince a small percentage outside of his base to win the day.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Powerful Ally

If anyone thinks the Liberals will be standing alone, as they absorb criticism from all quarters on their tax shift (hey JB) proposal, they better think again. I've argued before, Dion needs to bring out economists and environmentalists alike, to rally support behind his ideas, to blunt the smear machine we all know is coming.

People can say what they want about David Suzuki, but the fact of the matter, he is Canada's most widely respected scientist, with tremendous popularity. You don't make the Top 10 list of greatest Canadians unless you have mass appeal, which I mention to counter the fringe view of the man as some crazy extremist that shouldn't be taken seriously. David Suzuki has clout, stature that is unrivaled on this file. When Baird decided to go head to head with Suzuki he lost badly, Canadians overwhelming sided with Suzuki. With that said, his blessing and/or rejection matters, especially if he doesn't stay on the sidelines, especially if he is vocal.

Suzuki made an appearance on Question Period today, wherein he endorsed Dion's approach to climate change. Within this support, some biting criticism of the NDP:

"I'm really shocked at the NDP on this, because I had thought the NDP had a very progressive outlook on this, and that astounds me. We have the same thing in British Columbia, a government that has proposed a carbon tax, and I take my hat off to them. Economists have been telling us that this is the most effective way to get people to change their behavior, and to have the NDP in British Columbia attacking this just astounds me, because there is just no question, this is the way to go. It's revenue neutral, it's not a tax grab, governments can use the revenue to help people, tax rebates for lower income. To oppose, this because of ideology or something is just nonsense. This is something that has got to come."

If Dion is able to enlist the support of people like Suzuki, directly or indirectly, it will serve him well moving forward. If you want to discount Suzuki, I think his opinion should be framed in this way- do 35-40% of Canadians have a favorable opinion of the man, do they take his advice seriously? Dion's plan doesn't need to win over everyone, he only needs to appeal to 35% of the electorate to win a minority, near 40% to reach the majority threshold. If this proposal becomes the central plank in an election campaign, many voters will make up their minds with this debate at the fore. Having someone like Suzuki in your corner will certainly be a lure to soft supporters of other parties. The stakes will be high, people will be vocal, it will be seen as "the" moment.

I voted NDP in the last election, primarily because I thought they had a very progressive platform on the environment, I'm sure I wasn't alone. I mention this because, if this election becomes a battle over the environment, Dion will benefit from having the environmental community endorsing his plan, it could sway people similar to myself, it could appeal to the "free agent" voter, it could help on the vote-splitting front. If I was a Liberal strategist, I would do my best to quietly ensure that Mr. Suzuki has a high profile this summer, encourage him to offer his non-partisan convictions in response to criticisms. There is no question, David Suzuki is a powerful ally, he is the defacto voice of the environmental community.

One Thing Is Clear

As everyone digests the merits of Dion's yet to be determined carbon emissions plan, there is no debating the "leader" question. If one were to pinpoint the greatest challenges the Liberals face, if they are to win the next election, at the top of the list would surely be Dion and his perceived weakness. Rightly, or wrongly, Dion is considered a drag on the Liberal brand, a check on further Conservative erosion, a reason why voters look elsewhere. In that sense, it is hardly a bad development to have Dion championing a risky proposition.

The most common term used so far, to describe Dion's plan is "bold", we've also heard reference to terms like "courageous" from unlikely sources like Mike Duffy. Others would argue the first words that come to mind are "silly", "suicidal", "ill-conceived", etc, but these are all tactical considerations, that don't necessarily undercut the fact that what Dion is poised to do, represents everything that leaders should embody. The fact any tax shift comes with risk, is actually a testament that Dion is acting on principle first, pandering an afterthought.

Nuts and bolts aside, it is refreshing to see a measure of conviction, a calculation that starts with a belief in good policy, then entertains ways to make that policy fly. Contrast that approach, with the retail politics obsession of the Conservatives, and Dion starts to emerge from the shadows. No one can claim, for or against, critic or proponent, that Dion isn't demonstrating leadership on this file, is anything but cautious, or dithering. In many respects, this policy stands as a direct contradiction to the Dion narrative to date, it is the anti-Dion caricature.

In a way, the good policy first approach, may actually be a way to leverage political advantage. There is certainly an appetite with voters, for politicans who tell them like it is, instead of what they want to hear, who show the capacity for honesty, based on passion, rather than marketing. If, at the end of the day, certain quarters dismiss Dion's proposals, no one can argue a lack of "guts", it is an inherent quality within these proposals. Granted, the Conservatives will frame Dion as out of touch, heaps of bombastic language, but where it matters, with the soft supporter, the swing vote, it should say something about leadership.

Dion is now on center stage, for the first time people will debate his ideas, attacks start with his premise, support rallies behind him. Dion will be the one fiercely defending his vision, all his surrogates will line up behind that vision, a good portion of a lazy summer will have Dion in focus. At the end of the day, fail or succeed, it will be hard for anyone to say Dion is "not a leader", that one thing is clear.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"My sense is that things are coming together.""

The above, is the real story for the Liberals, but it gets lost in Ivison's perpetual leadership race story, which apparently means a more attractive front bench is somehow bad news for the Liberals. Iggy usurped by Rae, the "polished" one, with everyone jockeying behind Dion the temporary:
The apparent disenchantment with Mr. Ignatieff on the part of a number of MPs I spoke with, coincides with the arrival in the Liberal caucus of Bob Rae -- and it is perhaps no coincidence that the stock of the deputy leader is falling as that of the former Ontario premier is rising.

Ivison posits the usual scenarios, but then offers this quote, which completely undercuts the idea of large rifts:
He's working hard doing a lot of fund-raisers for candidates at the leaders' request," he said. "My sense is that things are coming together." Even so, the impression remains that...

No need for "even so", I think we can stop at coming together. I have no real evidence or reference to support my gut feeling, but I have sensed a change in the aftermath of last Quebec Liberal blowups. It seems as though there is a more coherent strategy moving forward, and people are much more focused on getting ready for an election, energized for whatever reason, developing policy and replacing this government. I would argue that Dion is probably at his most secure, right now, than at any time since the convention afterglow. Again, no "source", but I've come to my own independent belief that things do seem to be coming together. There's a gameplan, and that is where the attention lies.

What Ivison does, and I seriously doubt he has the ear of many Liberals, given his own bias, is continue with an old storyline, even if it has clearly waned. I would also add, with a busy summer planned, Quebec MP's "blanketing" every riding, Dion and company out selling the "plan", the last thing I see manifesting itself, outside of the fringe, is anyone elbowing to be a successor. Actually, for the first time I can remember, it seems Liberals are truly focused on the tasks at hand, a sense of real direction.

Friday, May 16, 2008

So Much For That Running Mate Gig


Will NDP Move On Cadman Now?

The NDP position, let the RCMP investigate Cadman, any committee action would be counter-productive to that investigation. Well, the investigation has reached its expected conclusion:
The RCMP have ended their probe into the Chuck Cadman affair and say no charges will be laid.

When this controversy first arose, the defence of the NDP position, "let the RCMP investigate first", because if the issue went to the Ethics Committee, according to Pat Martin, parliamentary privilege could be used, hindering the legal process, undercutting the RCMP investigation:
Martin had initially pushed for the parliamentary group to examine the matter but now raised concerns that any testimony heard there couldn't be used for future criminal prosecutions due to parliamentary privilege.

I've never bought the NDP position on Cadman, at least that it isn't political. I suppose a matter of opinion, but now that the RCMP has concluded its probe, with no charges to be laid, much of the past NDP rationale is mute. NDP supporters have argued that we must let the RCMP do their job, then we can discuss other avenues. Today, we have reached the next stage.

There are only a few relevant questions here for the NDP. Are they content with the response of the government on the issue of Cadman? Has Harper answered questions, to the satisfaction of the NDP? Does the NDP believe that what happened demands further review? There is no longer a conflict, there is no longer a legal route, there is no longer anywhere to hide. Will the NDP now join the other opposition parties and work together to get answers?

Speaking of Delusions

National Newswatch is easily the best Canadian online news source. The only problem I have with the site, it exposes me to columnists that I would never bother to seek out on my own. Such is the case today, when I saw the Michael Harris Ottawa Sun column "It's just more Liberal delusions". The thesis, on Liberal elections prospects:
No they can't win an election.

Granted, this turd column was penned in a rag, wherein the only way somebody stumbles upon this enlightened opinion, is if they can't find the baseball box scores, revealing cleavage, or part of puppy training. Real journalistic want aside, it just amazes me that people can be so dismissive, so absolute, when any objective measure clearly says, YES, the Liberals can win an election. We can all debate the odds, but only a fierce partisan would offer such unequivocal rejection.

The last detailed analysis of the current polling, which doesn't input the most recent results, a further narrowing, further Tory erosion shows a nail biter, by any measure:

National (9 Apr - 1 May, +/- 1.2%)
Conservative — 34.5% (120)
Liberal — 31.1% (115)
NDP — 15.7% (26)
Green — 9.1% (0)
Bloc — 8.5% (45)
Other — 1.0% (2)

Projected seat totals in brackets

Again, we can debate the conclusions, but nobody can dispute the fact that nobody has anything in the "bag", if an election were held now. The above is another empirical measure, something I put more stock in than the musings of some crank.

But, but, Dion is weak, Harper towers above him, this will be the difference. Crystal balls aside, it is just astounding to me, that Dion is already defeated, by a man who can't beat "none of the above" when people are asked who would make the best PM. Are we talking about Ronald Reagan here, or Stephen Harper, because it is really DELUSIONAL to look at this man, his inability to connect, his inability to make any inroads, his "spinning his wheels" routine, and conclude he is unbeatable. Dion's problems aside, Harper is hardly a dynasty, hardly a figure which strikes fear in Liberals everywhere. In many respects, relative to past leaders and their appeal, the guy is a political gift.

But, but, the Liberals are broke, the Conservatives will destroy them in an election campaign. Hello in there, hello. The Liberals will spend the MAXIMUM in a campaign, this has been articulated time after time. Yes, there are problems with fundraising, but you don't extrapolate that to a completely unfounded argument for the election, it will be a level playing field. I suppose you could make the argument about organization, fundraising is a reflection of motivated party workers, volunteers, and on that score, I would give the Conservatives the advantage (outside of Quebec, where evidence of the Con machine is still sketchy at best). An edge, but nothing that rises to any absolute conclusions.

But, but, the "war room", the slick campaign, the master strategists, they will wipe the floor with the hapless Liberals. Just what exactly are you on, are you so arrogant and guilty of tunnel vision, that you forget who your opponents are? The Liberal Party of Canada, bereft of experienced and seasoned strategists, intellectually deficient, unable to run a campaign, a house full of novices with no clue about Canadian elections. Let's keep it real please. I would also add on that score, the "legend" of the great Conservative campaign of 2006, was primarily a case of right place at the right time, just stay out of the way, and sail the wind of change. Seems to me a real juggernaut would have won a convincing majority, under similar circumstance, rather than needing a convenient RCMP probe to instantly give 10 points in the polls. What I'm saying, both sides have their strategists, both sides have able men, who can run a campaign, to discount the Liberals on this score is simply nonsensical.

Would the Conservatives have the advantage if an election were held? You could offer a timid yes, all things considered. Does that translate to certain victory? Absolutely not, and for anyone to suggest it in those terms, is more an indication of their own DELUSIONAL bias, than any fair read of the terrain. Yes, the Liberals can win, and I say that with a critical eye.

Another one for the bird cage Michael.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Testing The Waters

Kinsella has a pretty frank rejection of Dion's "carbon tax" policy:
Forget about the fact that, with fuel prices having gone up a billion per cent in recent months, we already have a driver-deterring carbon tax. Forget about the fact that it is unfair to people on fixed incomes (like the elderly) and the poor (who have to heat their homes and buy food, too), and is therefore profoundly un-Liberal. Forget about the fact that it neglects to tax other dangerous greenhouse gases. Forget about the fact that we would all like to see political parties investing in things like electric cars, instead of continuing to invest in internal combustion engines (and not just lunging at our wallets all the time). Forget about the fact that not a single voter - not one - will ever be convinced that a government will apply the resulting mountains of revenue to helping the environment and not, say, paving a road in someone's riding. Forget about all of that.

It's bad politics. It is already confusing voters. It therefore gives the Tories a Hell of an opening to swift boat the Liberals on the environment - again (a six-year-old could write the attack spots). It reinforces the impression that federal Libs are utterly disconnected from the day-to-day lives of real Canadians, sipping lattés at Starbucks and listening to CBC Two, while the Tories are down at Tim's with 30 million other regular folks, talking hockey.

Here's my point: if you want to advocate a policy that will contribute to you losing, then you will not get an opportunity to enact that policy. And, if your loss is a big one - say, September 4, 1984 big - then you render your policy Kryptonite, and ensure (à la John Tory, with his funding of private religious schools thing) no political party will ever go near it again.

I'm not saying no to a carbon tax. I'm saying no to a carbon tax now.

Fair points, this type of policy is rife with risk, potentially a disaster, nobody disputes that. I don't necessarily agree that Dion's plan would be "bad politics", it depends on the packaging, the delivery and having the necessary time and space to engage. Add Warren's voice to a growing list of opinions on the theoretical, which is really the point after all.

The most curious part about this debate, there is nothing concrete, there is no plan, there are no initiatives. Everyone has run in different directions, implying this, it will hurt them, it will help that, and yet, we know NOTHING. The Liberals haven't released their policy, it's really all speculation, so the fuss is really a constructed mirage.

I keep hearing concerns that the Tories have already out-flanked the Liberals, framed them into a corner, because Dion has mused without delivering, dithered while he gets tattooed. I think that is absolute nonsense, how can you be attacked and defined, when you don't even know what were talking about here? What we see now is all just background noise, as everyone test drives their lines and spin. And, therein lies the beauty of the present state.

As I commented at Kinsella's, we should look at this period as if the Liberals are conducting a free national focus group. All the various columns and reaction are within the prism of the theoretical, it allows the Liberals to test the waters, gauge the appetite, see the hurdles, map the challenges, without actually diving in. In many respects the Liberals are on the sidelines, as everyone else digests the merits and pitfalls of a carbon tax, using various models. What I'm saying, the Liberals have the benefit to change the policy before it is actually released. Having ideas floated about, isn't necessarily a bad development in the long view, because the Liberals still ultimately control, they have the power of pragmatism, the ability to react, without actually having committed. Rarely does a political party enjoy such latitude. Let's just hope that Dion and company are watching intently, and react accordingly.

Who's Afraid?

A common retort from Conservatives, is if the polls point to a deadheat, if the government is supposedly weakened, why then don’t the Liberals force an election? I’ve heard it mentioned numerous times that party internal polling must point to defeat, Liberals should take little comfort in public polls. Nevermind that unsubstantiated assumption, I think it really is pretty simple, why despite apparent opportunity, the Liberals have chosen to wait.

I am of the belief that we should go now, should have gone already, so my understanding of the rationale is more admission of another point of view, rather than complete agreement. It seems clear to me, that people do see the potential for victory now, but feel it is best to keep our powder dry until the result looks more certain. The feeling is that time is the Liberal friend, both in terms of heightened “readiness” and potential for further Conservative erosion. You only get one chance, better to roll the dice with maximum odds.

I understand the apprehension in this sense, a 50/50 proposition now has the potential to be a 60/40 scenario in the fall. I’m not debating whether that potential is real or wishful thinking, but it is true that the Liberals are in the drivers seat on election timing, Harper has largely given up control with his fixed election date pledge. The Liberals have the power to choose the issue, choose the moment when the landscape offers the best opportunity.

David Herle writes an interesting column, with a great headline –“Yes, They Can Win An Election”. It offers advice on ways the Liberals can improve their fortunes, particularly how Dion can use his lack of natural political instincts to his advantage, namely that is fine to be different, maybe even attractive to not be a seasoned spinster, a partisan pitbull. Herle also offers advice on Quebec, correctly arguing that it is key if Liberals are to acquire better odds for victory:
”The Liberal party with its current problems in Quebec could likely not beat the old Progressive Conservative party, but it can beat the Harper Conservative party.
In particular, this needs to happen in Quebec. Savagely caricatured by the media and political elites of Quebec, he has essentially been the victim of an ongoing negative ad campaign with no response. As a native son of Quebec City, somebody who has travelled the road from separatist to federalist yet remains a stout defender of Quebec's jurisdiction, and with a strong record of achievement, he has a biography that needs to be told in Quebec. Right now, he is considered a liability for the Liberals in Quebec. He needs to be, and can be, a strength. Liberal fortunes in Quebec will largely rise or fall on the basis of Dion, and the Liberal party should respond by reintroducing him to the Quebec electorate.”

Herle echoes what I’ve argued, if we are to wait, then Dion’s focus should be Quebec, Quebec and then some more Quebec. If hesitation has been “internalized” by Liberals, most of the apprehension stems from perceived organizational and popular weakness in Quebec. The readiness question is largely a regional problem, it could go a long to improving morale, if there was a sense of movement in Quebec. Last week’s successful fundraiser can’t be understated, an influx of money into the provincial coffers acts like a shot in the arm, lays the foundation for the idea of some improvement. A good first step for suggesting the Liberals could come off the mat, sometimes a possibility is all that is required to change psychology.

When Conservatives argue the Liberals are scared, that is why they wait, I think it should be dismissed. I’m not afraid of Stephen Harper in the least, and there is nothing to suggest that he has made any inroads with Canadians. My only beef with waiting, has always been about what that does to Dion, what that does to the Liberals, how Canadians react to perceived “weakness”, it was never about worrying about the big blue machine. I think we would have a good chance of beating them now, but I also understand why some might think the odds are better with time. If people want to think its “fear” that’s their prerogative, I think it more a debate about when best to pounce, what scenario offers the best case scenario. Tactical consideration, rather than any sense of seeing a juggernaut across the aisle. Waiting is just a strategy, a strategy we can debate, it isn’t about scary internal polls, or inability to spend the maximum in an election campaign, or no ideas, or fear of Harper’s merry band of misfits, it’s just a gameplan, with the ultimate goal of forming the next government.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bad Day For Deniers

What will Rush Limbaugh and KKKate talk about today? Pretty devastating, when you have the deadbeat Bush administration admitting the polar bear is trouble, on top of a new scientific study which "piles on" the evidence of man-made global warming. I thought this quote telling, regarding the phony "debate" that the fringe clings too:
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne

"The fact is that sea ice is receding in the arctic," said Kempthorne at a news conference. "My hope is that the projections from these models are wrong and that sea ice doesn't further recede. But the BEST SCIENCE available to me currently says that is not likely to happen over the next 45 years."

That's right, not a rogue study, but the BEST SCIENCE AVAILABLE, a fact which doesn't penetrate those who discount with religious fevor. I'm sure there is some NOT SO BEST SCIENCE available to wrap around the denier brain, like a sheath which keeps out any light. Plenty of debate about the effects, the timelines, variations, as we learn more, but those that question the concept are quite simply irrelevant fools.

A new comprehensive study released today, which builds upon past findings, something I'm sure Lorrie Goldstein will fail to do a column on:
A vast array of physical and biological systems - from polar bears in the Arctic to tiny krill in the Southern Ocean - are showing the effect of the world's rising temperature, say scientists who analyzed more than 30,000 sets of data stretching back to 1970.

The study builds on the work of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year concluded that human-induced climate warming is "likely" - within 66 to 90 per cent probability - having a "discernible" effect on physical and biological systems.

The new study mined even more data and concludes human-influenced climate change is the main driver of the changes being observed, outstripping the more modest effects of deforestation and other land-use changes.

"Anthropogenic climate change is having a significant impact on physical and biological systems globally," says the team, led by Cynthia Rosenzweig of The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York.

The team analyzed data from of hundreds of studies published in peer-reviewed journals since 1970 and is the first to "formally" link observed global changes in physical and biological systems to human-induced climate change and greenhouse, says Francis Zwiers, director of climate research at Environment Canada.

Did you know, that as I write this, someone else is blogging about how 2008 will become known as the year global warming was revealed as a fraud? Seriously.

Tread Carefully

Dion, taking advice from Hebert, is a risky proposition, but her latest column accurately maps the political landscape:
Under the lush green grass of a promising election harvest on climate change is a carbon tax minefield that could cost Stéphane Dion the next federal campaign if it is not navigated carefully.

First the good news: There is a wide audience that crosses party, age, gender and regional lines for the concept of punishing poor environmental behaviour while rewarding sound practices. Even in Alberta, where there is bad history associated with energy-related taxes, there is solid majority support for the full range of carbon tax options.

But the fine print of the poll also hints at potential trouble to come.

Hebert points to British Columbia, where support for the carbon tax scenarios is below the national average, a fact which is noteworthy, given the province's practical application.

There is opportunity on the environmental front, but it is true, Dion must walk a fine line for it too pay dividends, failure to accurately read the electorate, could cause more harm than good. However, I view it as a positive, that everyone is debating the Liberal "plan" before it is even articulated, because it provides more feedback, allowing for "tweaking", without the burden of total commitment. Dion has been vague enough to date, that nothing is written in stone, there is time to ensure the policy is sound. Once you jump, there is no going back.

A further tax on gasoline, or home heating, does bring the risk of political suicide. With the increase in gasoline, coupled with the just announced 20% increase in natural gas, the appetite for more "add-on" just isn't there. However, I think there is a way around this, a way to ensure we reduce emissions, without a universal tax.

Hebert mentions that 61% show some approval for a carbon tax, but she doesn't mention that on the question of a surcharge on over-consumption, the number jumps into the seventies. Canadians approve of the concept, wherein those that contribute more than the "average" are penalized, while those that demonstrate greater efficiency are rewarded. This ideal should be at the heart of the Liberal framework, the classic carrot and stick, punishing gluttony, celebrating responsibility.

I've heard mention of a system where everyone is alloted a certain threshold, based on a reading of what is required for normal household operation, what is considered reasonable fuel mileage, water usage. A system that offers an electrical rate for pre-determined "average" need, but then rises incrementally for excess use, is something that could easily fly. There could also be a "bonus" rate, for those that are able to trim their usage a certain percent. Such a system maintains an element of free choice, it doesn't disallow any behavior, but it puts a price on excess, it rewards constraint. Such a system is also less likely to hit lower income people hard, as well as the middle class, a criticism we have heard on the carbon tax front. If your usage is below average, or at average, you could benefit or maintain, there is little punishment, merely incentive. If you want to live in a 4000 square foot home, with an air conditioner the size of a garden shed, then you can do so, but the rest of society frowns on your disporportionate contribution to the problem, and that comes at a cost, which is re-introduced to offset your lavish lifestyle. Same should apply to the Hummer driver, or the person who waters their lawn for two hours everyday. This type of approach gives the individual the power of choice, and the consequence is entirely their doing, any additional "tax" is voluntary.

I believe the above is the best path to navigate Hebert's "minefield". Toss in a grace period to allow for changed habits, rebates to encourage the proper route, and the "minefield" might look like a a sea of electoral roses for the Liberals.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Down, Down, Down

A new Strategic Counsel poll, which follows the same trends as others, Conservatives down:
The results of a new wide-ranging poll for The Globe and Mail-CTV News finds Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives a scant three percentage points ahead of Stéphane Dion's Liberals, 34 to 31. Mr. Harper's government has fallen from a height of 39 per cent in February, when the party was inching into majority government territory. NDP 16%, Greens 10%

Last month's Strategic Counsel poll had a gap of 6:
Cons 36
Libs 30
NDP 15
Greens 10

The month before that, the gap was 11 points, before that 12. The last national poll that constituted the Conservatives high water mark has fallen in line.

In Ontario, the "life is good, be happy" approach is a decided loser:
The survey found that 64 per cent of Ontarians agree that the federal government hasn't done enough to help the province through its current downturn. More important, Mr. Lyle said, only 22 per cent of those surveyed said they disagreed. The figure is a concern because it suggests that a good portion of Tory supporters in Ontario either believe the government has not done enough or are neutral on the issue.

In Canada's most populous province, the Liberals lead with 40-per-cent support, compared with 35 per cent for the Conservatives.

In Quebec, more bad news:
In Quebec, the Tories have seen their support drop to 20 per cent from 25 per cent, which is five points below the 2006 election. The Liberals are up five points to 25 per cent. Bloc 38%

The disparity between the national polls and the Quebec only polls remains, but as I've said before, in the last election, this pollsters were fairly close on Quebec, so the results are noteworthy. ADQ? One note, the pollster says the Tories dropped 5% in Quebec, but there last offering was actually 27%, so the drop is 7%. The good news for the Liberals, the Tory drop comes with a Liberal rise, which might suggest they really are the "second" choice for some.

The article, for some reason, throws in the findings from another pollster (Innovative Research) on the environment. I thought this a telling quote, considering all the recent Liberal debate on the environment:
will provide an opportunity for a party that wants to address it.

“It's an agenda waiting to happen for someone wanting to grab it,” Mr. Lyle said. “It will hit a responsive chord.”

This poll, and the trend, is nothing but bad news for the Conservatives, and while they can take comfort in a statistical tie, slight lead, depending on your bias, the breakdown actually points to a possible Liberal government. With the numbers now down to almost core Conservative support, the key for the Liberals to come up further, winning back the soft center-left voter. If, the Liberals can get their environmental policy right, that release might just be a catalyst.

Liberal Libel Case Proceeds

When the dust settles on Harper's libel suit against the Liberals, it may well be one of his "biggest mistakes". Today, the court action proceeded, with the Liberals asking for the case to be heard by a jury:
In a statement of defence filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Tuesday, the Liberal Party of Canada says Harper's claim should be dismissed, arguing his legal action is a "fundamental attack on the freedom of political expression."

They also ask that "this action be tried by a jury."

In their statement of claim, the Liberals defend the articles, saying they were published without malice, are of public interest and that criticism of the government is protected under the Charter.

"The reports were published in good faith and in accordance with the Defendants' legal, moral, social and profession duties to engage legitimate public debate," the statement of claim says.

According to the statement of claim, the Liberals "expressly" deny that the words are defamatory of Harper, but if they are, then they are "true or substantially true."

As well, the Liberals deny Harper has suffered damage to his reputation and reject the damages he's seeking as "excessive, exaggerated, remote."

But they add that if Harper's reputation was damaged, then he brought it upon himself for refusing to answer questions about the controversy.

This suit just keeps the story in the news, every item involves a rehash of Cadman, leaving open questions. On top of that, Harper's suit has virtually no support, outside of the Conservative base, it's a loser politically:
Only three in 10 Canadians think Prime Minster Stephen Harper would be right to sue Stephane Dion and other Liberals for publishing the allegations on the party's official website.

On the question of how to deal with the allegations, a solid majority of those polled - 62 per cent - said "these matters should be kept out of the courts."

Source Ipsos Reid

In going to court, while simultaneously refusing to answer questions, Harper loses a measure of credibility. The Liberal defence asks a good question, if Harper is so concerned about his integrity, why isn't he forthcoming? Conservatives would argue that Harper has every right to sue, this isn't a political consideration. I would argue that this move was entirely political, the bully tactic, employed to "chill" the Liberals. It fits very nicely with standard policy.

In reality, outside of the partisans, this case just makes Harper look like a baby, who can dish it out, but apparently can't take it. Don't expect the public to endorse a process which unnecessarily bleeds taxpayer money, on a question which Harper has failed to publicly settle. I have a feeling, if the Conservatives could turn back time, they would never have chosen this particular path. Just wait until we start seeing "witnesses".

Once An A-Hole, Always An A-Hole

What a freakshow:

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Feel Good Headline

This headline is nice to see, on many levels:

"Stephane Dion attracts more than 800 supporters to Montreal fundraiser"

Sounds like about $400000 raised:
Dion delivered a speech to more than 800 Liberal supporters who attended a $500-a-plate dinner at a downtown hotel.

The fundraiser's turnout brought a welcome influx to party coffers, which Liberals have struggled to fill in recent months.

Flexing some muscle, where it's needed. That's probably the best story to come out of Quebec for the Liberals in a couple of years.

"Leadership Is Always Politically Risky"

If there is a complex issue that finds 100% agreement amongst Liberals, it's an oddity. An inherent dynamic of a big tent party is internal policy tension, different viewpoints, different approaches. The media, and opponents, love to seize upon Liberal "divisions", but for the most part I've always attributed most of it too healthy debate, an asset in practice, if not necessarily helpful in perceptions.

With that in mind, nobody should be surprised to read "Some MPs uneasy about Dion's plan for carbon tax". It's important to vet any idea, particularly one that could have major ramifications. The weary should express their view, highlight any potential pitfalls, to ensure no one is surprised moving forward. In the end, when all opinion is considered, then the leader decides, and at this point, people should fall in line.

The above link, points to findings from a Liberal Party pollster, which highlights the political risk for Dion, should he go ahead with a carbon tax. I don't think Dion should move forward because "he sees a bold environmental approach as needed to rescue both the environment and his reputation", he should move forward because he believes the policy is sound. Obviously, the idea is bold by definition, but that characterization shouldn't be the motivation, just an added benefit to good policy. Public appetite is part of the equation, but Dion's personal stake should really be a side issue in the final analysis.

The pollster found the following:
According to the insider, the poll found Ontarians are overwhelmingly concerned about climate change and support slashing greenhouse gas emissions to meet Canada's commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

Nevertheless, when respondents were given details of British Columbia's recent carbon tax plan as one way to tackle the problem, support dropped dramatically. According to the insider, the poll found 30 per cent strongly opposed to the idea and 12 per cent somewhat opposed, compared to 23 per cent strongly supportive and 25 per cent somewhat supportive.

A tough sell? If you actually add up the supportive vs opposed numbers, you see 42% strongly or somewhat oppose, but 48% strongly or somewhat support. The majority are open to the idea, to varying degrees.

One thing people must consider, when they view these type of findings, the built-in "denier" vote. In one of the more extension polls, a full 23% of Canadians said they don't believe global warming is real. What that means, any question on climate change policy will automatically be rejected by a quarter of the population, slightly higher when you consider the "man-made" argument. There is nothing the Liberals could propose that would be accepted by this subsection, so any policy should essentially eliminate their potential opinion.

If you believe that the Conservative base support level in Canada is somewhere around 25-30%, and that 99% of global warming deniers are under their umbrella, the above numbers look a lot better politically. If the Liberals did nothing on the environment, would those voters leave the Conservatives to support Dion? ABSOLUTELY NOT, which is why Liberals needn't concern themselves with developing policy which "appeals" to everyone.

I would look at the above poll finding in this way. You are starting with a majority that are open to the concept, what you need to do is move the soft "resistance" into the soft "support" camp. Forget about wasting time on the 30% who are strongly opposed, that will never be a potential Liberal audience, but present a forceful argument to allay the fears of the 12% somewhat opposed. In that way, you enter the arena with a fair concept, if you can sell the idea, it will have appeal, if you fail, then you take your lumps. That comes down to politics and strategy, that is the "risk" and it is true, leaders must take that risk.

If the Liberals are to do the proper calculations moving forward, I would start with the premise that no matter what you do, your decisions should ignore people who are really irrelevant, they don't believe the premise, how could they possibly support a solution, they will NEVER vote Liberal anyways. Knock off the core Conservative supporter, within that the "deniers", and start from there, when deciding if you can effectively "sell" the plan.