Sunday, May 30, 2010

Liberals To Blame for G8/G20 Costs?

Vic Toews on Question Period today, wherein he admits political considerations were a factor in the ballooning costs of the G8/G20 Summit. You see, it's all the Liberals fault:

"Who made the decision not to use the Army, especially for rather simple security jobs like perimeter defence and things like that? They're basic salaries are dramatically lower and they don't get overtime. Why didn't you use the Army?"


"Well, we did use the Army for the Olympics. It's quite another thing when you start bring the Army into a civilian context, into a civilian setting. You know what the opposition parties would say, the Liberals would say "the Army, in the street with guns". Do you remember that advertisment? It's exactly the kind of fear that Liberals want to invoke in terms of Canadians. Canadians understand that in a democracy you have the police rather than the Army in the streets. And so, those are political decisions you make, but I think from a perception point of view it's very, very important"


"So, the fact you were worried about what the Liberals might say, could have cost Canadians a couple of hundred of millions of dollars?"

Beyond outrageous.

Oh Jack

Jack Layton stretches before his morning jog.

First off, I appreciate the partisan strategic significance of putting the "squeeze" on the Liberals. Given the polls, the circumstance, the Liberals are hardly itching for an election. In fact, I suspect we would do almost anything to avoid going to the polls at this moment in time. With the obvious, well obvious, the NDP braintrust returns to an old strategy, that requires historical amnesia, but hey why not?:
Mr. Layton argued there was “no way” Prime Minister Stephen Harper would allow his government to fall ahead of next month's G8 and G20 summits, and so would be forced to negotiate with a united opposition.

“The opposition has the opportunity to do some tough bargaining with Mr. Harper right now,” Mr. Layton told The Canadian Press.

“But for that to happen, Mr. Ignatieff has got to be a real Opposition leader.”

Mr. Layton accused the Liberal Leader of lacking “back-bone” in light of fears that defeating the bill would bring down Harper's minority Conservative government and trigger an election Canadians don't want.

Oh, the "backbone" attack. Particularly hurtful, given that Layton turned into a squid last fall, the MOMENT he lost his Liberal security blanket. It seems "backbone" is a meandering condition, when one has it, others don't, and vice versa. Again, kudos on the aggressive strategy, but nobody should delude themselves into actually arguing on principle, or citing the specifics as though a genuine manifestation.

The funniest part for me, Layton contradicts himself, telling the Liberals not to fear forcing an election, but then telling us all Harper wouldn't dare call one, given the calendar. Is that a paper tiger? Bascially, Layton himself admits the push here is predicated on no election, so the silly taunting is all the more unnecessary, not to mention a bit shallow.

I'm not sure I agree that Harper wouldn't force an election over the issue, so be careful, because we know what happened last time push REALLY came to shove:
"Fall election unlikely as NDP props up Tories"

Let's go orange!

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Showcase Canada On The International Stage"

Tony Clement, justifying the beyond ridiculous pricetag (even more obnoxious when one considers Canada will be preaching fiscal disipline at the gatherings) for the G8/G20 Summit's. A pictorical of past G8/G20 Summit's and the endearing images that are broadcast around the world, "showcasing" the host country:

Let's get this party started! Book now world, while you still can. The kicker, only a billion dollars for all this awesome exposure.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Actually, The Polls Do Matter

I tend to get a little concerned, when people dismiss the polls. Obviously, from a partisan perspective, the natural instinct is to fluff it off, cling to another result which better suits your fancy, or go for the easiest of denials wherein the future is the magic elixir. While I agree entirely, an election can turn it around, this is a fluid process, I also think it imperative to actually deal with the issues at hand. You see, if one grabs comfort blankets, they tend not to address certain realities, which ultimately leads to further, cemented problems. As a matter of fact, you could argue we find ourselves in this place, exactly because of the mindset that better days are always around the corner.

Two polls today, both with similar results, both with the same type of trendline. Actually, apart from the Ignatieff honeymoon- which really spoke to a voter desire for something new an different- the Liberals have rarely done well in a sustainable way. I am not entirely pessimistic, but that is only tempered by a hope that the Liberals understand the grave circumstance- the high probabilities rather faint hopes- and "mix it up" so to speak in a fundamental way.

The problem isn't really Ignatieff, it's an identity crisis. While the party has made strides to develop policy, which is entirely desirable, it's been done so in such a haphazard way that no positive narrative has evolved. We lack coherence, we lack the ability to react immediately and effectively, we lack focus. You come out of Montreal, inspired and renewed, seeing a process, but then it is derailed immediately as we fall into the SAME trap of chasing mostly meaningless, little upside, side issues. The end result, no traction, and more lost time addressing the fundamental identity crisis, which is the real reason we never capitalize. You can throw dirt at the government, but if you're not a credible alternative, any gains are fleeting, and the Conservatives never pay the full price for their problems. Couple this glaring fact with an electorate that is sick to death of conventional, gotcha politics, and you spin your wheels going nowhere.

I welcome the policy in spirit, but to date little has been down to define Ignatieff and the Liberal brand. Anybody who thinks a tight framed election- wherein issues change hour to hour, day to day- can change an identity in a seismic way is simply fooling themselves. Oh, you might get lucky, but in terms of sound strategy, it's almost a laughable "out".

The Liberals will finally prosper, when we make a concerted, firing on all cylinders, focus like a laser, assault on the status quo. Voters crave a new manifestation, a party that breaks from normal affairs. Nobody is going to embrace change, when the alternative resembles "same shit, different pile". You can sense the voter indifference, the apathy, which is why it so maddening to watch the Liberals fail to address real erosion and just carry on in almost boring, predictable fashion. If we really want to lose, then keep telling ourselves the polls don't matter, because that lack of urgent attention will ensure our ultimate defeat. Actually, the polls do matter, and right now they are sending a very clear, sober message to the Liberal Party of Canada.

Two cents.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Tale Of Two "Issues"

First off, I firmly believe MP's should let Fraser see the books, and politicians would be wise to stay ahead of this story, rather than resisting the inevitable. The issue aside, what I find entirely fascinating is the contrasting emphasis of most of the MSM, compared to another "grassroots" revolt, namely prorogation.

From the moment this audit story came to light, I sensed a rabid zeal amongst the media. Immediately, every outlet jumped on the story and gave it urgent and persistent coverage. Again, there is a genuine issue of transparency here, but I couldn't help but think part of the enthusiasm for this particular issue had a self interest component. I would also argue that part of the hesitation by politicians, is a recognition that full disclosure would result in the media swarming around the most salacious of details. I admit some concern that full disclosure would turn into a tabloid like witch hunt, rather than a sober, mature review. I'm sure there are some questionable practices, and I'm also sure that minor indiscretions would be blown up to biblical proportions. Not a stretch to think that anybody put under the microscope might reveal a wart or two- and I'm sure we could find a decadent desert on journalist expenses, if we looked hard enough. Conclusion, people aren't perfect, and some minor "abuse" is commonplace, in EVERY workplace.

We're hearing all this talk about MP's being inundated with angry phone calls from consitituents, Canadians talking about this issue in Tim Horton's across the country. We're also hearing about a grassroots revolt, akin to the prorogation question. Really? From what I've heard, a few calls to MP offices, but no evidence of a real uprising. To be fair, the facebook groups I've managed to find show PALTRY membership, comparing it to the organic, "despite the media" membership to proroguing is insulting.

When the prorogation issue began, it was largely dismissed by the MSM (with the obvious exceptions of course), as a inside the beltway, process laden issue that would never resonate. What was particularly troubling, the way our media independently passed judgement, and only when it became apparent, through a truly grassroots resistance, did any acknowledgement come- further, people remained sceptical up until the very moment that the rallies forced revision. Contrast that cynicism, with this enthusiastic embrace of the expense issue, and the immediate over blow on the grassroots front, and it's all very perplexing. I'm not intentionally belittling the reaction to date, but given the media thrust vs the media dismissal, it hardly compares to the prorogue unrest- at least to date anyways.

The reason why this particular issue has resonated with the media, and in so doing fueled any unrest in the land, is because of the DIRT, that's what you see when you peel the onion. I use the comparison with prorogue, because on that issue you had many fundamental democratic issues at play, one could argue of a far greater philosophical importance, and yet I didn't sense much in the way of media angst. Is it just that pouring over expenses is more sexy in a journalistic "story" sense? Human nature, being what it is, one can see the dog on a bone investment in this story. Is it really about transparency, or is it really about juicy details, maybe a scandal or two? Given the disconnect "reactions" within the MSM, on two issues, with entirely overlapping themes, one has to wonder what are the criteria which makes a story relevant, and why decidedly similar themes are arbitrarily and prematurely ignored.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sounds About Right

Hebert on the Liberals Quebec strategy;
Ignatieff’s failure to connect with Quebecers is emblematic of his larger failure to connect with Canadians. And unless it is reversed it may go down as the biggest squandered Quebec opportunity in recent federal Liberal history.

Couldn't agree more with the word squandered. What is particularly worrisome, since the Coderre fiasco, Ignatieff has virtually disappeared on the Quebec landscape. I believe that the last year has provided a terrific opportunity for a federalist option to seize some ground in Quebec, challenge the Bloc in an aggressive way. Couple that fact with a decidedly weak Conservative option, and the Liberals really have/had room to reinvent their brand in the province. Why the lack of high profile exposure in Quebec?

On a side note, as it relates to my decidedly pessimistic view of late, I would contend that circling the wagons, putting our hands over our ears and praying for some external gift to reverse our fate is entirely counter-productive. I also think under-estimating just how bad things are serves no one, because it validates a status quo which has already failed. I don't blame Ignatieff, nor do I blame his handlers, but if people don't reaccess the entire approach and show the pragmatism and outside the box thinking required, then blame is entirely warranted. Comfort blankets are for the delusional, Canadians don't owe the former natural governing party a darn thing, nor will old nostaglic sympathies be our savior.

I think we can turn it around. Step one, would be a provocative and engaging strategy within Quebec, one that frees Ignatieff from politicianitis- a condition that renders a once powerful thinker impotent, as he learns the safe language that tries to be everything to everybody, and in so doing ends up saying little to anybody. I see recent events as a cold shower moment for the Liberals, and the good news is you generally feel refreshed and revitalized after the initial shock is accepted. Brrrr.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In Search Of Bobby Fischer

First off, obviously a very poor result for the Liberals, so let's just absorb that now consistent reality. Rather than the usual hand wringing- because frankly nobody listens anyways and everybody sees the phantom traction just around the next issue corner- I'd like to focus on a curious new paradigm, which ultimately leaves little in the way of bragging rights for any of the main parties.

Yes, the Conservatives have opened up a big lead against the Liberals. But, isn't it interesting, that despite the Liberals now polling below the abysmal 2008 election total, we still see the Conservatives and NDP each off around 3% from their election results? Poll vs election comparison, which addresses a wider point that has now become common:
Cons 34.4% (37.7%)
Libs 25.1% (26.3%)
NDP 15.3% (18.2%)
Greens 12% (6.9%)
Bloc 10.6% (10%)

People can quibble with the Green vote, but let's not forget that last election, as well as in the Ontario provincial election, the polling did manifest to the voter booth. I'm not saying the Greens will do this well in an election, merely this total speaks to the growing disgust amongst voters with the other parties. The fact that the Cons, Libs and NDP are all DOWN, at the same time, is a new development in Canadian politics. It used to be, that we would see the seesaw effect, or the NDP bleeding away supporters, but now you have a pathetic Liberal tally, accompanied by less than 2006 totals for the Cons, and the NDP not only failing to capitalize but bleeding as well.

This poll, and other recent ones, highlight a simple fact- no main party is capturing the imagination of voters, they are bored to tears and generally turned off by all of you. Not the partisans, the base, but the "up for grabs" voter is lost in the inspirational desert. The big Conservative lead doesn't bring the usual fear, because there is no real momentum here, voters just skimming the surface, drifting around, impressed by no one. As a matter of fact, it has become quite clear that these results are largely meaningless, only an election can possible engage people, or cement their malaise with growing no shows.

I guess the question, is it even possible for cemented institutions to pivot wildly, and realize that the only answer is a provocative, challenging, assault on the status quo? Bold or bust- or maybe more rightly bold or hope the other guy is even LESS palatable and you "win" by default. I'd take the former, because clearly the cookie cutter approach isn't paying off thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Will CBC Have The Stones To Demand Teneycke Apologize?

Not surprisingly, the CBC ombudsman has completely "exonerated" Frank Graves, if that's even the appropriate word. More like a slimy witchhunt, the ombudsman calls the Conservatives "paranoia tinged" and focuses on the cheesy call to arms from the party.

What is left out here, is that all this began with a blindside by Kory Teneycke on CBC, wherein Graves reputation was unfairly tarnished by a low brow partisan hack. What's worse, CBC actually pays this operative for his "analysis". Watching Teneycke attack Graves the way he did, is one of the most revolting episodes I've seen on the network. Given that the ombudsman has vindicated the nonsensical attacks, it is only fair that CBC employee Teneycke retract his defamation in a formal way. Why exactly should Frank Graves have to fight to regain his credibility, based on BASELESS accusations from a CBC employee, trying to score the cheapest of points? Why are taxpayers paying a rumored hefty sum to have a bottom of the barrel hack come on and try to ruin the reputation of their pollster, who is also on their payroll? Just WTF is going on here CBC?

Is there no consequence here, Teneycke just gets to do whatever he pleases, no matter how baseless or injurious? Has CBC issued an apology to Graves for Teneycke's conduct, or any impact on his business? Isn't it only fair that Teneycke be forced to respond to the ombudsman's conclusion, or does he just get to slither back in the corner until the next strike? Even better, is there an OUT clause in Kory's contract that speaks to on air conduct? Instead of bending over backwards to appease the rightwing, maybe it's time the CBC stood its ground and addressed an objective wrong in a forceful way. What Teneycke did to Graves was a disgrace, what's worse the SILENCE thereafter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Coming Soon: Harper Town Hall "The Director's Cut"

It's been a consistent contention here, the disconnect between the rhetoric of the Tim Horton's Prime Minister and the simple fact that he's NEVER taken ONE question from a voter since he took office. I remind people of the time he REFUSED to appear on CBC the last election if he had to answer ONE question from a real life voter- sadly CBC caved and Harper avoided the dreaded confrontation with his people. Recently, Harper did do a YouTube appearance, but in this instance questions were screened by the PMO, so STILL nothing to put in the populist quiver.

Today was the day, or so I thought. Never mind the hilarity of Mike Duffy as moderator, Harper was engaging the youth in a Q and A. I entertained for a brief moment, that I might have to revisit my argument, but alas the PMO didn't let me down:
PMO says it didn't rewrite youth forum questions

Youths who participated in a question-and-answer session with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday say their questions were edited by the Prime Minister's Office.

Two youths said hot-button words like "abortion" were cut from the questions in an event designed to focus on the G8 and G20 summits scheduled for next month in Ontario.

The youths, who would not give their names, said the event was scripted by the Prime Minister's Office and there was nothing spontaneous about it. The PMO said it did not rewrite any questions.

About 100 youths were gathered in front of TV cameras on Parliament Hill on Monday in an event moderated by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy and sponsored by Vision Internationale.

Most of the eight questions posed were on the economy and none addressed any subjects that could prove awkward for the government.

The most controlling, non-transparent, non-accountable, non-populist charlatan has kept his unblemished record in tact! The fact that supposed grassroots reformers can still support the antithesis of everything they supposedly stood for, might be the more remarkable development. I'm embarrassed for you.


Lots of commentary today, but this blurb by Scott Feschuk sums it up nicely:
Stage-managing events is part of any leader’s political arsenal, but come on – are we really being led by a man too chicken to answer the genuine, spontaneous queries of a few wonky kids. What a coward. Ooooo, our poor wittle Pwime Minister is soooo afwaid of what those mean wittle childwen might ask him. WE MUST PWOTECT HIM!!

How sad it must be as Prime Minister to live in constant fear of being exposed to a query that hasn’t been massaged by Dimitri Soudas or bought a drink and tongue-kissed by Mike Duffy

Shrewd Move

Personally, I think the Liberal advocating more seats for Quebec is a shrewd move:
The Liberal Party wants Quebec to get two or three extra seats if the House of Commons passes legislation to increase representation in three other provinces.

The Liberals’ Quebec caucus is pushing to increase seats in their province, and are gaining traction within the party. Their goal is to ensure that Quebec’s share of the seats in the House reflects the fact that the province has 23.1 per cent of the Canadian population. Quebec would be left with 75 seats under the Conservative plan.

“The principle for us is that it can’t be below the province’s share of the population,” the official said of the party’s position on Quebec.

He added the party is in favour of adding seats in other provinces, too.

It is factually correct, that Quebec will be slightly under represented under the government's new seat allocation plan. With this dynamic in mind, the Liberal pledge goes beyond simply pandering, because it addresses the simple concept of fair representation. For this reason, when you couple the seat gains elsewhere, I see little potential for resentment in other parts of the country, while the Liberals position themselves as protecting Quebec's interest.

We are only talking about about a couple of seats, which looks decidedly paltry compared with the large seat gains elsewhere in the country. If the Conservative plan still under-represents other provinces, then really the solution they've offered isn't a fair fix, a fact reasonable people will understand. The Liberals are really offering a simple premise, rep by pop, which plays no favorites. I would submit the only areas of the country that would resent the Liberal pledge are beyond realistic electoral considerations, so any "blow back" potential is truly minimal.

I don't assume the Liberals defending Quebec's status in Parliament is a game changer in the province, but it does send a practical signal that the Liberals will defend Quebec's place in the federation. This policy position could help the party in Quebec, particularly if they are the only federalist option pushing the issue. The Liberals also neutralize the Bloc's hysterics somewhat, undercutting their sole defender arguments.

I think this a shrewd move, because the position is based on the fair and factual. Any small increase for Quebec is offset by much larger gains in other provinces, which lessens the favoritism political risk. Any reward remains to be seen, but it could well prove an important symbolic presentation in Quebec, that the Liberals have volunteered these changes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

No Political Payoff

One issue that gets lost in the Harper abortion funding debate, is how he boarded this train in the first place. Let's remember, when Harper turned into Bob Geldof, the Conservatives were in complete disarray, even trailing the Libs in some polls, prorogation was on the front burner, they desperately needed to change the channel. This "found Jesus" moment, wherein Harper suddenly championed issues that he never articulated in the past (at the time I challenged Conservatives to cite ONE example, in Harper's entire career, where he spoke passionately about maternal health in the developing world- NOTHING came), was nothing more than crass political opportunism hatched by the PMO to soften his image. Don't ever forget the circumstances that led to the whole debate, because this always was a total snowjob.

I actually don't think the PMO even bothered to think through this initiative. In fact, the Conservatives didn't seem to realize where other nations stood on the issue, and that their ideological bent would completely derail the intended benefit. I can't fault the Liberals for using wedge politics, because frankly the prospects of Harper actually pulling off this makeover attempt was offensive- women and children used as pawns to soften the edges of a politician desperate to look somewhat sympathetic. The PMO saw the Haiti situation, then used these issues to cobble together a new narrative- again, if I'm wrong, someone give me some chronology to show the pre-Bono evolution.

The anti-choice forces feel emboldened, for some strange reason. I take great solace in the fact that Harper is getting ZERO traction on this issue, beyond his borg-like base:
Stephen Harper's much-vaunted maternal health initiative that was meant to galvanize next month's G8 summit is now causing some queasiness — among Canadians and internationally.

A new poll suggests that a majority of Canadians opposes the Prime Minister's refusal to fund safer abortions in developing countries, even as international concern grows about the state of his G8 maternal health initiative.

The Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll found that 58 per cent of respondents oppose Harper's exclusion of abortion funding in his drive to improve maternal and child health in poor countries.

That's up from about 46 per cent in March, when a similar question about aid for abortion access was asked. The increase suggests people are taking their time to think through the complex pros and cons before making up their minds, said Megan Tam, vice-president at Harris-Decima.

"It appears that the general sentiment of most Canadians is to have a maternal health policy that includes funding for abortion," she said.

Only 30 per cent of respondents said they would support the government's decision, down from about 48 per cent in March.

Fantastic. Harper was never a pure advocate, and his pro-life base has forced a further politicization, alientating Canada from its partners, and now casting a poor light at home. It's just right that this issue blow up in the PMO's faces, because it was never sincere, it was just convenient. If the Conservatives actually did improve their standing with Canadians, that would just be wrong, wrong, wrong. The great humanitarian was always a charlatan, and I'm glad his narrow base has exposed the fraud for everyone to see. Let's just hope they is some red faced moments at the G8 summit as well, because a more deserving fraud is hard to fathom. Harsh, but OHHH so true.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Nothing Settled

First off, it's a victory for the opposition, in the sense that MP's will view the detainee documents in their uncensored form. This deal is also a victory for Parliamentary supremacy, in the most general sense. BUT, in reality, there is still much to be determined, and given past government stalling tactics, nobody should see today's agreement as a conclusion- in fact, this is just the beginning of a long, contentious process.

The gigantic unknown, what exactly will be the composition of this "panel of arbitrators". It seems fair to believe the government MP will fight tooth and nail, which means any agreement within the MP review is unlikely. This assumption dictates that almost every sentence will move to this panel of jurists, and they will have final say, their verdict CAN'T be appealed. I note Nicholson has already stated that the redacted portions have already been reviewed by a third party, and he seemed quietly confident that much will remain hidden.

I see stalling tactics, no true resolution for months and months. In fact, this process doesn't even begin until this Parliamentary session is almost over, then we have summer break, leaving the real debate until the fall. If you believe an election is probable by the next budget, it's entirely reasonable to suggest the government has effectively buried this issue until after the next vote. It's for this reason, that I find it hard to get terribly excited about this agreement- and it also helps to explain why the government agreed.

In essence, while the opposition MP's have won the right to view, they are still under the control of a panel, which will have a subjective component. WHO these people are is paramount. For example, Iacobucci has a paper trail on these issues, and has shown himself to be sympathetic to redactions. It's imperative that we have full public disclosure of the "candidates" prior to their appointment, so we can be sure of impartiality. There is a great unknown here, and for that reason nobody can say anything with certainty.

The sheer mass of material, coupled with entirely available stall tactics for the government MP, mean that in the short term, the government is satisfied. We may get to the truth here, but one wonders if the delays will succeed in distracting, or that any political price will be paid. The opposition didn't sell out, certain rights confirmed, but the more I think about this deal, the more it tells me that nothing is settled.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don't Forget The Plot

Let's not forget how we got here, and WHO has the onus to comply. I'm a bit worried, that in the end, the opposition will accept a less than acceptable agreement on the detainees. All of the opposition parties have their own reasons for not wanting to force an election, but in this one instance, any political consideration can't be part of the equation. The Speaker has ruled, and withheld Parliament's supremacy, with obvious caveats acknowledged.

There are certain "moments" that come, that go beyond the normal jockeying and gamesmanship. This detainee issue, while still about the subject matter, has morphed into a FUNDAMENTAL question about our democracy- the stakes are enormous, the precedents far reaching. For this reason, there can be no half measures, the opposition can't appease the government, it MUST stand firm, no matter the consequence. Anything less, and Harper "wins", not in the sport sense, but by default, because the people's representatives have lost.

On the political front, despite some pretty shallow bravado, I don't think the Conservatives really want an election that is forced under the guise of secrecy, lack of transparency and thwarting the right of Parliament, supported by the impartial ruling. It's all just to risky, and if waving the flag and troop talk is all the Conservatives can must, I'd say blowback is distinct possibility. So, if you want to go to the chess board, I'd say we're still white, and this might lessen the hyper fears that tend to turn tail at the slightest suggestion of real consequence. In other words, if the Conservatives don't provide a reasonable solution, than be prepared to go wherever we MUST, our resolve must be unwavering.

Funny thing about SPINE, when you show it, you're rewarded. The inverse is also true for the weak, and I'll be questioning my partisan leanings, should any cave occur. I don't see the value in investing, engaging, within an apparatus that can't afford to find a hill to die on. In fact, it's that mentality that has us here in the first place, paralyzed by our own calculations. Yes, it's a "moment", this is a microcosm of the entire problem with this government, our current system, all that's wrong with today's reality. Don't forget the plot, we're on the right side and that simple fact should win the day EVERYTIME.

Conservatives Have Lost Their Boogeyman

The signature attack line, that Conservatives are counting on in the next election has evaporated. The Conservatives were counting on putting the Liberals on the defensive, the mere mention of coalition would re-capture the 2008 blowback. Personally, I believed that line was tired and wouldn't be nearly as effective, but recent developments in Britain have rendered the fearmongering mute. I suppose we still have the "separatist" line, but with a practical recent example on full display, the Harper boogeyman is effectively gone.

Canadians want the parties to work together, and the Liberals should revise their kneejerk defensive posture, at the mere mention of coalition. Harper has been a complete and utter failure on the co-operation front, and the Liberals can position themselves as the only alternative that can break the combative Parliamentary logjam. Not just an outreach to other opposition parties, but even future overtures to a Harperless Conservative party. Harper is the problem, he doesn't deserve another mandate, this unseemly culture in Ottawa is his doing. With the UK reference in the background, the public will be less fearful of a coalition- in fact they may well welcome it. This belief is particularly true, when one considers the next election will probably occur while the British honeymoon is still in tact, it will look somewhat attractive in the near term.

We can work with the NDP, on certain issues we can work with Bloc and with new leadership, we can work with the Conservatives. Formal or informal, you can dance around, but the main point is the Liberals are perfectly positioned to best bring certain consensus. If the left and right can unite in the UK, then all the silly accusatory language of the Conservatives looks decidedly alarmist and disingenious.

When you consider the idea of a Liberal majority almost lunacy, it is more prudent to embrace the realist scenarios as your own initiative. In that way, when voters are faced with the probabilities, there will be no shocking opportunism or silly denials, it will be a mature debate, with us as advocate. Ignatieff as the conciliator that can finally make Parliament work, a non-career politician that can bring people together once and for all. You position yourself as different, and in so doing you render a harsh indictment of the current government. Coalitions are somewhat sexy, and we have little to fear from the Conservative hysterics. In fact, the reactions highlight themselves as impediment to progress. If you look closely at voter apathy, at the heart of the turnoff is this constant hyper partisanship. The party that appeals beyond the present realities, will ultimately get some traction.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Obama As Honest Broker

I'd didn't sense much confidence in Obama, coming from Israelis. In fact, the word suspicious seems entirely applicable. Biden's comments on the Israeli settlements, neighborhoods, whatever your view, really did seem to raise the ire of Israelis, to the point of dumbfounded. In light of that emerging sense, I found this poll noteworthy. When asked what is Obama's view towards Israelis and Palestinians, you can see evidence that his role as "honest broker" is questioned:

When he first took power, Obama made a deliberate overture to the Arab world (his Egypt speech the high profile example), which I took as a necessary step in distancing himself from the Bush legacy. I found it fascinating how this outreach was perceived in Israel- while I saw it as a positive moving forward, some Israelis viewed it as the start of a fractured relationship. I've never bought in to the direct co-relation, namely that any move towards one side, necessarily means a slight to the other, or evidence of developing distance. In fact, if Obama can improve relations with the Arab world, then one could argue this will benefit Israeli security in the long run. That's how I see the philosophy, but there seems some resistance from Israelis.

The above findings do support the view that Israelis see Obama as more friendly towards the Palestinian side. Not terribly surprising, because Biden's recent comments were on the tip of almost every Israeli tongue that we met. The perception, the Americans had put areas on the table that were previously seen as accepted Jewish terrority- reference to past maps and agreements that never put these areas highlighted by Biden within any future state of Palestine. That said, these areas are beyond the 1967 "green line", so it isn't quite as cut and dry as presented from the Israeli perspective. But, when you see the size and entrenched nature of these neighborhoods, one can see that it really isn't reasonable to think Israel would simply walk away, present day reality much different from 1967. A land swap does seem the only tenable solution.

One evening of discussion with speakers, led to some heated exchange, as I took the Obama defence stance. I think it is ultimately dangerous if Israelis start to write off Obama, and I got the sense that this view was hardening. One has to develop trust from all sides, and while this may be a tortous road, it's the only way to bear ultimate fruit. While Israelis may view Bush in a more positive light, I would argue many of his policies actually put Israel in a more longterm, precarious position. Such a one sided support, while heartening, also tends to alienate more and more, fuels radicalism.

It's not a tertiary issue, that a full 20% more Israelis see Obama as favoring the Palestinian side. Not a question of fair philosophy, but it's crucial that both sides feel represented, if the peace process has any chance at all. I remain confident, that in the end, Israelis will find they have a friend in Obama, his approach looks to the horizon, rather than immediate comforts. A forced peace can't work, but it's imperative that Obama establish trust from both sides, simply parroting the Israeli perspective, ultimately serves no one and the obvious failures of the Bush administration speak loudly to this inherent fact.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shake The Tree

Yes, it's true that Harper would have loosened bank regulations in the past, he didn't support Liberal initiatives. Yes, it's true that the Conservatives have weathered this current economic downturn, largely because of past Liberal policies and fiscal management. Yes, it's true that Canada was better off with the past Liberal government. It's also entirely true that Canadians don't give a rats ass and references to the past are counter productive, the rearview mirror offers no future electoral reward.

Canadians booted the Liberals years ago, there is no room for revisionism- what that brand now stands for, permanently cemented in our minds. For that reason, the pre-occupation with past glory, the effort to remind Canadians of Harper's past failings, does nothing for a party that truly needs to re-position and re-invent itself. The focus is particularly non-productive, when you consider our current leader has NO ties to the past legacy- why he would want to carry the weathered flag escapes me.

John Manley offers some "advice" today, namely that the Liberals need self-examination a "new generation to reinvigorate the party". Nevermind the irony of an old war horse championing the need for new leadership, it's a valid perspective. Some time ago I posited the idea that we needed some new faces on the MP front- this was met with much resistance, everybody loves their democratically elected fiefdoms in the Liberal Party. A inward looking party, that sometimes fails to see the situation beyond the institutional circle jerk. A simple fact, until the Liberals present something revolutionary, they will remain within the confines of the tired brand, that continues to erode.

To Ignatieff's credit, and his team, you do see a concerted effort to rebrand the party on the policy front. However, that outward expression must be accompanied by inward reform, which might require stepping on some toes. Forget the pecking orders, I've been here longer, surround Ignatieff with the fresh blood we already have in place, and augment it with further, aggressive recruitment- present a spry, energetic picture, rather than something that resembles the Vatican.

The Liberals have been hand wringing for years now, and our current state demonstrates little progress. I submit part of the problem is all the tinkering around the edges, that lacks the political courage to violently shake the Liberal identity and suffer a few casualties along the way. One way or another, the Liberals will turn the page, I'd just like to skip a few painful chapters and get to the inevitable climax.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Back Home

I thought this bullet ridden wall in the Old City of Jerusalem simply symbolized a country rich in culture, scarred by conflict, a small microcosm of national identity.

I was thoroughly impressed by the passion and genuine character of the people we met, their universal vigor entirely infectious. What a marvelous experience, that easily outweighed my high expectations.

I always knew that Israel was a complicated place, but proximity only elevates that sense. In many respects, the place is a "mess", and any fleeting sense I had of a near term peace now seems a bit naive. When you see the various "neighborhoods" and towns in the West Bank and Jerusalem, you see how close people live together, even though miles apart in so many other respects. From the Jewish side, an overall pessimism seemed the theme, those evoking "hope" were clearly in the minority. Israeli and Israeli referenced Oslo and the second Intifida, the assassination of Rabin, watershed moments, that clearly demand a before and after denotation. The looming proximity talks not taken particularly seriously, Obama viewed with suspicion, the kumbaya moment clearly elusive.

I was asked a few times what "surprised" me during the trip. One thing that was striking, how often Israelis mentioned Iran, the country interwoven into every conversation. Iran itself, but also their influence in Lebanon, Gaza and some villages in the West Bank that border Israeli populations. The word that comes to mind is paranoia, but maybe that characterization doesn't correctly justify the hard facts. People are genuinely worried about Iran, worried about their support of Hamas in the occupied terrorities and their relationship with Syria and Lebanon. The anti-Semitic and holocaust denying Iranian regime evokes all the historic concerns, the country clearly pre-occupied with the thoughts of this mentality having advanced arms and close alliances. Given the past, it was hard to argue with the obsessive concerns, a cozy Canadian has no right to question the learned sensitivities.

It was nice that we were able to travel much of the country, with the exception being the south. Israel isn't a small country, it's "tiny" as I was reminded many times. While our exposure to "Palestine" was limited, we did get to visit a couple of West Bank towns, speak with Palestinians, as well as tour Arab villages. I would describe the trip as fairly balanced, given the limitations, we were exposed to a wide array of perspectives. Some of my own views were challenged, and if anything some of my flippant ideals need re-assessment. I still believe in a two state solution, still criticize certain Israeli reactions, still support the Palestinian plight, but it is fair to say I've developed a more sympathetic view for the Israeli perspective- there are no easy answers, complication reigns supreme. I also feel lucky to be Canadian, which provides the intellectual luxury that relative stability and security provides.

What a fantastic, rich and tortured country. Maybe someday....


Jeff has a great detailed rundown of daily events here.


Here's a quick clip of a UN helicopter flying over Lebanon:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Last Day

I guess there has been a few days missing, but due to the schedule and travel, posting has been difficult. I'm sitting outside, overlooking the Sea of Galilee on the Golan Heights. Today is our last full day, then we fly early tomorrow morning. We will visit some of the old Christian sites in the north, head down along the Syrian border, then back to Jerusalem. The landscape in the north is amazing, quite mountainous, the closest analogy would be the Fraser Valley in British Columbia I suppose.

We've seen many things in the last few days. Not to bore people with every detail, but the most recent highlight was visiting the Lebanese border. Our hilltop vantage was positioned beside a United Nations outpost on the Lebanese side, and we saw helicopters patrolling the border. The border is divided by a somewhat non descript fence, with a Lebanese village in the valley below. This village was quite eerie, the windows had no glass and activity seemed minimal. We were told by our Kibbutz member guide that Hezbollah were active in the village, but nobody wore overt military garb. We were also told that there was a high probability that we were being filmed where we stood, because of the strategic significance- which in and of itself was quite impacting- much different feeling than a security camera at The Gap.

Getting a first hand view of the Golan Heights, you can see why Israel believes it has a huge strategic significance. The high hills provide easy access to the Jewish towns on the other side of the Sea, towns which were attacked during previous conflicts. Right now, I sit in what is considered occupied terrority by the Syrians.

We've had many fantastic conversations, with people across the spectrum, leaving much to process. I think I'll wait until I return to see how this trip has altered my perspective, if any, but clearly my view is richer from the experience.

See you when I return :)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Israel Day Two

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet Khaled Abu Aker, a Palestinian journalist who runs Amin Blogs. Khaled began this site, as a way for ordinary Palestinians to express themselves. The blogging community also serves as a potential unifying force to overcome the challenging geographic barriers- to say the least- that currently exist. While the site serves as place to speak about the occupation, it also has become a place for Palestinians to speak on internal political matters, which Khaled believes a refreshing development. According to Khaled, 52% of Palestinians have access to the internet. Khaled sees these expressions as an important facet in bringing about a more egalitarian view within the Palestinian community, in addition to giving voice to those under occupation. I found it fascinating, maybe somewhat more of a fundamental purpose relative to the Canadian online experience.


We also met with Sara Miller, who is the online editor for the Haaretz, Israel's most influential "left" publication. Sara offered a rare glimmer of hope on the peace front. Overwhelming, most of our conversations to date have centered around this idea that Israel has moved philosophically, but Sara argues that the right have come to the former left position. It was an interesting perspective, using Netanyahu to show an evolution of thought, in that even Likud now accepts a two state solution, whereas in prior manifestations, the mere idea was considered outlandish. The obvious apprehension about how far Netanyahu would go, but Sara contends that a solution is only a matter of time, once the process is started an arrangement will come. Sara also thinks this dialogue could take 50-100 years, so it's not unbridled optimism.


I guess the shocking moment of the day, or more rightly my own ignorance crystallized, came as we met with Dr. Einat Wilf, member of the Knesset for the Labor Party. The Labor Party is considered the traditional center-left party, but it was clear from listening to Dr. Wilf that this is an outdated perspective- at least in terms of foreign policy leanings. As part of the coalition government, it was amazing to listen to a Labor politician speak of Netanyahu in such a positive light. If you didn't know the orientation of the speaker, you would have swore you were listening to a hardcore Likud loyalist, clearly the political lines are blurred. What Dr. Wilf's commentary really demonstrated to me was Israelis have virtually united behind a common front, when it comes to the peace process. Everyone we meet references Oslo and the second intifada, clearly this is where a evolution in thought has occurred, many former peace supporters re-examined their position and a more hard line sentiment developed. Dr. Wilf had a curious analogy, that of a jaded lover, who now views any future relationships with a jaundiced eye.

Dr. Wilf also expressed some disappointment with the Obama administration, contending that the recent controversies over Biden's visit, represented a true philosophical departure from the American perspective. I think it fair to say, that Israelis have reacted with a certain dismay, that the Americans have put settlements on the table, which are assumed to be part of Israel in any future agreement. We later toured Ramat Shlomo, the center of the recent debate, and it represents a massive, modern orthodox neighbourhood. Beyond the 1967 green line, but not considered part of any land transfer by the Israelis, it is clear the American position has met with much astonishment.


We visited the Israeli Supreme Court, which gave a better sense of the important role it plays within the country. The SC is a very controversial organ, seen by many as entirely to activist, challenging the elected government in ways that go beyond its intended purpose. Israel has no formal constitution, which allows for certain conflicts, and it is reasonable to say the court is viewed as "liberal". Within Israeli society, there is a tension between the orthodox community and the more secular Israelis, with some elements of the former ignoring the SC decisions, which are leading to serious confidence issues, as you can well imagine. One particularly fascinating aspect of the SC, all ordinary citizens can petition the court to challenge almost anything. This freedom results in a massive barrage of petitions, quite daunting for the court to deal with all matters in a way that allows the SC to function.


The visit to the Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs centered around a talk from David Taub, who has served as an important legal advisor during most of the peace talks. Again, this issue of a divided Palestinian leadership was discussed, as well as past failures.


All in all, I can say with confidence that we are being exposed to a wide cross section of opinion to date WITHIN Israel, with the obvious caveat being no visit to the occupied territories. The key word that comes to mind, which almost every conversation acknowledges is "complicated".

Wither The Israeli Left?

Just getting ready for day 2 of my Israeli trip. First, a couple of overall observations and then some thoughts on what is already becoming a rather depressing theme, as the title indicates.

It was quite fascinating to see East Jerusalem first hand, particularly from a vantage point that captured various disputed regions, including the imposing wall. We spent considerable time in Old Jerusalem, visited all four quarters, a truly amazing experience. It's hard to articulate just how "heavy" the vibe, because in the span of a few hours, we visited the holiest site for Christianity, the holiest site for the Jews, as well as one of the holiest sites for Islam. Religious or not, seeing all the pilgrims, the insanely rich sites, it was hard to not be moved. An experience I'll never forget.

During the evening, we had dinner with Yossi Klein Halevi, a leading Israeli thinker, who among other things writes for the New Republic. A very candid assessment of the "mess", useful beyond one man's opinion because Yossi provided wider facts about Israeli society that provided a taste of the mood. I should add, we have the most incredible and gracious "guide" Lior Zagury, who is also quite articulate and knowlegable in his own right. I mention this, because it contributes to the general sense I'm getting- mainly that the Israeli left now bears no resemblence to it's pre 2000 failed peace talk self. I am sensing a certain defeatism in the tone. Apparently 70% of Israelis endorse a two state solution, but 70% also don't think it possible, given the current state of affairs. Yossi characterized it as such- after the second intifada and the wave of terrorist attacks, the Israeli left was transformed and many people abandoned the "hope". To put this in context, while Yossi considers himself centrist at the moment, he voted Likud in the last election because "I want my son of a bitch, dealing with their son of a bitch", a reference to Hamas and the perceived failure of the Palestinian leadership. I won't comment on the opinion, this is merely to give some sense of the mentality at the moment.

There seems to be a rigidity here, that leaves a small gap for eventual peace, but expects nothing. Today we meet with a member of the Dr. Einat Wolf, at the Knesset, from the Labor Party, and I plan to ask about the moving "left" in Israel. We will also meet with Khaled Abu Aker who runs Amin blogs, and perhaps he can offer some counter perspective.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Israel Trip

I've been invited to go on a week long trip to Israel. The trip is being organized to give "progressive" bloggers an opportunity to see Israel, and grapple with some of the issues that plague the region. The entire trip is paid for by a private donor, with the assistance of the CIC. I've accepted the invitation, and we leave tomorrow. There will be five bloggers on the trip, including Jeff Jedras. I'm also told some NDP representation, looking forward to meeting the other participants.

As for the philosophical considerations, I'm approaching this trip with an open mind, although conscience of some underlying motivations. I'll give people a brief rundown of the itinerary. We will be travelling to Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, meeting with people from across the spectrum, including Palestinians. Some fairly heavyweight journalists, Israeli bloggers, tours of the Western Wall,etc.

We will also visit the Knesset, meet with a representative from Foreign Affairs, as well as Einat Wilf from the Labor Party(served as foreign policy advisor to Shimon Peres). We will also meet with the Canadian Ambassador, among other things.

In addition, will travel to the north, visit the Golan Heights, and receive a military briefing from Mt. Bental. We will also visit an observation point, overlooking Southern Lebanon.

The last day looks to be less intense, with a visit to Massada(really excited about that) and the Dead Sea.

There is more, but you get the gist, a very busy schedule, which should be enriching and informative, not to mention fascinating. I go with eyes wide open, no reminders required. People who have followed this blog know my views on certain issues, and I am well aware that the total picture will not be presented in an entirely balanced way. That said, I do look forward to understanding the view from Israel and I suspect it will impact my views somewhat.

On the blogging front, if you saw the itinerary, you'd see that posting might be light to virtually non-existent. I'll try to post, and maybe throw in some shaky, alternative feel video, if able.

Wish me luck, and I'll certainly debrief upon return at the very least :)