Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This is Great

In my mind, imperative number one for the Liberal Party is to use the looming leadership contest as an opportunity to present a fresh vision, with a relatively fresh face. The Party desperately needs a leader who can rise above the factionalism that has weakened and distracted. Manley, Tobin and Mckenna all brought a lot of unnecessary baggage that would invariably have opened old wounds. I think the same sentiment holds true for Dion and Cauchon, so I won't shed a tear if they bow out as well.

Is it just a coincidence that all these heavy hitters have taken a pass, or could it be that behind the scenes Liberals understand the stakes and wish to move forward? Maybe the surprising withdrawals are representative of some perceived hesitations about the old guard. Whatever the reasons, the leadership battle is now joined, with no clear frontrunner. A competitive fight, based on power of ideas as opposed to connections, will create a great deal of excitement and proved the re-generation the Liberals so desperately need.

The notion of possibility now comes to the fore. Candidates will work from the ground up, work for support and through this process Canadians outside of the inside will have a greater voice. These withdrawals are a great development for the democratic process. No preordained. No unstoppables. No coronations. These developments represent the first step on a long road to returned respectability. Take care Brain, see you round John, thanks for everything Frank.

What Would Ralph Say?

Interesting article outlines the discrepancies between the provinces when it comes to cancer drug access:

The study, which looked at more than 20 individual drugs that have become available over the past few years, found there is a marked difference in access to drugs from province to province.

"What is available to one patient in one province is not available to another patient with the same cancer in another province," Khoo said of the drugs.

"Never mind if they are provided for free or patients have to pay for them."

In its annual report card on the state of cancer care, the CACC warns that the current state of drug treatment does not honor the five guiding principles of the Canada Health Act.

Not only are these new drugs not universal in their coverage, the advocacy organization says, they are not publicly administered or funded, nor portable outside the provinces of residence, nor reasonably accessible, nor comprehensive in their integration with other treatments.

Here we have a perfect example of why national standards are required, despite "encroachment" on provincial jurisdictions. The issue of cancer drug availability also speaks to the possible consequences of two tier health care. People in Ontario, that don't have access to certain cancer drugs will be forced to provinces like B.C, that have better drug options. The uneven access means that Canadians don't have universal health care, but rather coverage is a function of location.

The recommendations of the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada:

1) Establishment of a nationwide catastrophic drug strategy to resolve access deficiencies

2) Development and implementation of Canada-wide guidelines to speed up access

3) Increased research to identify subsets of patients who would best benefit from new therapies

4) Introduction of an ongoing evaluation process for new cancer drugs

5) Incorporate patient involvement and choice into decision-making

What would Ralph say? More national strategies and guidelines would surely be greeted with complete disregard. The provinces, as well as the feds, should approach health care with complete pragmatism. On the cancer drug issue, clearly it would be beneficial to have continuity and a framework that prevents uneven access. The provinces need to recognize that issues like these demonstrate the need for a national approach. Instead of constant turf wars that are predicated on ego, we need a spirit of mutual self-interest. Of course this notion works both ways, wherein if a province has devised an effective plan(i.e Alberta's ailment specific clinics that amount to "one stop health care"), Ottawa shouldn't interfere, but possibly "promote" to other jurisdictions. Row together, in a common direction, for the benefit of all.

Layton Hedges on GST cut?

Jack Layton has refused to accept the GST cut until he sees the entire Conservative budget:

NDP Leader Jack Layton said Tuesday he wants to see the incoming Conservatives' full budget plan before deciding whether to back a Tory plan to cut the GST.

“We'll see what the proposal is with the budget,” he told reporters before heading into his party's caucus meeting in Ottawa.

“There will be all sorts of measures in the budget. We have not had the opportunity to study a budget up to now.”

Is it possible that Layton would draw a line in the sand over the massively popular GST cut? Hardly, but it looks like Layton is hedging to see if he can secure some compromises on other issues. Why give away the GST cut for nothing, if you can gain some leverage elsewhere?

The problem with this tactic, is the NDP has no real clout within this parliament. Any NDP decision to support or oppose legislation is relatively meaningless, which presents a serious challenge for Layton. Harper doesn't need NDP support to get a majority, so where is the impetus for him to compromise with Layton? The Liberals and Bloc will share the balance of power, leaving the NDP as government critic, without any real influence.

Layton must look relevant publicly, even though practically the NDP is an afterthought. With the makeup of this parliament, I would argue that the NDP has the most to lose and could get lost in the shuffle. This is a discouraging scenario for progressives because, coupled with a near term Liberal Party that is sure to be unfocused, a toothless NDP doesn't allow the necessary check on some of the more disturbing Conservative policies(i.e global climate change, health care). We may look to Duceppe to blunt the Conservatives, while the Liberals retool. Layton can only offer soundbites and hope the media doesn't mute his message because of perceived weakness.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Annan Sets Right Tone

The shocking election results in Palestine have left the world community in a precarious position. On the one hand, it is hard for anyone to argue against a free, democratic expression. However, accepting Hamas as legitimate would infuriate the Israelis and give mixed signals on the notion of terrorism.

The American government, in its typical diplomatically challenged way has essentially offered sanctions and Palestinian marginalization. The overly combative tone of the Bush administration fails to look at the root causes and instead perpetuates alienation. Rather than engage, work towards solutions, the narrow minded foreign policy of the Bush administration works in the simplistic world of black and white.

Enter Kofi Annan, who strikes the necessary balance to allow the possibility of progress. Expressing the concerns and problems, while charting a course that offers potential, as opposed to complete cessation of dialogue that only exasperates:

The group's statement, read by Mr Annan after a meeting in London, said: "All members of the future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap."

It said future aid would be reviewed in reference to these demands, but did not threaten to cut it in the short term.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, James Robbins, said the words were chosen with care. They did not demand a renunciation of violence or immediate recognition of Israel, but a commitment to these things in the future.

Annan's demands aren't particularly different from that of the Americans, but the tone is decidedly more helpful. Aid is not immediately cutoff, but offered as a carrot to force Hamas to move forward. This diplomatic tactic was first used with Arafat to get the PLO to recognize Israel and forgo terrorism. Isn't it remarkable that an organization like the PLO, once seen as a pariah, has now transformed itself into a decidedly moderate organization. This evolution was a byproduct of diplomacy, engagement and a desire to understand the dynamics of the Palestinian predicament.

Hamas presents several unique challenges, but Annan is right to not dismiss their victory out of hand. Ironic, that the Bush administration is outraged, when in fact their isolation, marginalization and outright attempts to embarrass Arafat lead to a power vacuum in Palestine, which Hamas quickly filled(this doesn't absolve the Palestinian Authority for years of mismanagement, corruption and ineffective government).

If Hamas is completely ignored, and the Palestinian people suffer as a result, extremism will not wane, but find more fuel through the perceived slights. There is no choice but to engage, despite the pitfalls, because the alternative is much more dangerous. Allow Hamas some breathing room, see how they respond and then act accordingly. The world community has leverage, which can be used to force Hamas to compromise. If these overtures fail, no one could argue against a hard line. The knee jerk, American propensity for confrontation serves no one and displays a complete lack of vision. Hopefully, Annan's voice can be heard because it offers some way out of this mess.

Tipping Point

We are entering a new phase in the debate over global climate change. Scientists are now openly debating whether or not we have crossed a threshold where cataclysmic change is now irreversible:
Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases may have more serious impacts than previously believed, a major scientific report has said.

The report, published by the UK government, says there is only a small chance of greenhouse gas emissions being kept below "dangerous" levels.

It fears the Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt, leading sea levels to rise by seven metres over 1,000 years...

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said the report's conclusions would be a shock to many people.

"The thing that is perhaps not so familiar to members of the public... is this notion that we could come to a tipping point where change could be irreversible," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

It is beyond belief that some countries are discussing the ramifications of tipping points, while others openly censor their scientists from acknowledging the existence of global warming. Clearly, time is running out and yet we live in an environment where the radical changes required aren't even debated. We are so behind the curve, that it is still an effort to get countries like the United States to accept the existence, nevermind the solutions, to global climate change.

I am not a fan of Harper for a number of reasons, but the Conservative platform on the environment is most disappointing. The Harper view puppets the backward American attitude and fails to tackle the issue with any urgency. Instead of discussing new initiatives that go beyond an inadequate Kyoto Accord, Canada is now preparing to debate the merits of this half measure. While we move like sloths, the changes move with rapid speed.

One of my favorite theories is the Gaia hypothesis, first proposed by James Lovelock. The earth is seen as a living organism, that acts and reacts in totality like other living creatures. It is such an interesting, and increasingly rational, way to view the world in which we live. James Lovelock has a new offering due out, and in it he speaks of our dire circumstances:
Our planet has kept itself healthy and fit for life, just like an animal does, for most of the more than three billion years of its existence. It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun is too hot for comfort. We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.

Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 per cent of the Earth's surface we have depleted to feed ourselves.

It really is all too depressing.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bloggers vs Democratic Establishment

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the tension between the American liberal blogs and the Washington Democratic establishment. The conflict between online party activists and the traditional Democratic power base has reached a new level over the decision on whether or not to filibuster Samuel Alito.

Anyone who visits the big American liberal blogs like DailyKos knows how united the online community has been in objecting Alito's Supreme Court nomination. Despite the wishes of the blogs, the Alito nomination looked poised for easy confirmation. Enter Senator John Kerry, with a seismic diary entry on DailyKos, telling the online community that he would lead the charge for a filibuster, with the support of bloggers. This single diary, has shown the chasm between the insiders and the outsiders. It has also revealed a new avenue of opposition for wayward elected officials who wish to drum up support for their pet causes.

The filibuster is still destined to fail, but Kerry's gambit has changed the rules of engagement. Senators, who had already outright rejected the idea of filibuster are now under pressure from a group of well organized online activists. Those Senators that now choose to not support the idea of a filibuster are endangering their own credibility with the new power base. Today's announcement by Senator Barrack Obama that he would not support a filibuster, has caused a great deal of damage to his online, golden boy image. Senator Joe Biden, an admitted 2008 hopeful, now says he will reluctantly support the filibuster idea, primarily motivated by his own personal ambitions.

For anyone that knows the history of the American liberal blogs, John Kerry, despite his presidential bid, has never been a favorite of the bloggers- if anything he has generally been despised. This outreach on DailyKos is a stroke of political genius, as well as an admission of the new rules. John Kerry never makes a move without political calculus in mind. Kerry's 2008 aspirations are well known to everybody. Given the rising influence of blogs, both monetarily and logistically, any future Kerry bid would be wise to attempt to change his online perception. With this one diary, Kerry, the consummate insider, has gained outsider credibility that could serve him well heading into the future. Championing the online cause has essentially erased all the established hostility towards Kerry and his suspect voting record. Using the internet as a source of support to change minds and policies also reveals the new dynamic:

"John Kerry is beginning to bring the traditional Democratic leadership in Washington together with the untraditional netroots activists of the country," James Boyce wrote on the Huffington Post. "A man often accused of being the ultimate Washington insider looked outside of the beltway and saw the concern, in fact, the distress among literally millions of online Democrats."...

"The bloggers and online donors represent an important resource for the party, but they are not representative of the majority you need to win elections," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who advised Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "The trick will be to harness their energy and their money without looking like you are a captive of the activist left."

The blogs-vs.-establishment fight represents the latest version of a familiar Democratic dispute. It boils down to how much national candidates should compromise on what are considered core Democratic values -- such as abortion rights, gun control and opposition to conservative judges -- to win national elections.

Kerry's diary has cemented the progression of blogs from the fringes to a real player, that demands consultation and attention. Democracy is well served when party elites are forced to respond to the lowly peons in the hinterland, armed with an opinion and a keyboard.

Admitting You Have a Problem

If you share my opinion that the Liberal Party is hampered by factionalism, internal politics and a general disconnect, then this development offers some encouragement:
Thomas Axworthy, the one-time principal secretary to Pierre Trudeau, has confirmed the federal Liberals want him to head a "party review commission" to look at "healing the rift" in its ranks and examine how to prepare for the next election...

In the article, Axworthy wrote: "The mantra of the party must be inclusion. Before the party again flies apart into various leadership coups, Liberals of all stripes, regions and generations should once again learn to work together. The way to do this is not to engage in recrimination, but instead to look at strengthening assets ... The Liberal party now has a time-out from government; it must use this time to include, not exclude, and to think deeply rather than pointing fingers."

Axworthy seems to have a handle on what the central theme should be moving forward. The spirit of inclusiveness is paramount, if the Liberal Party is too re-establish any credibility with the Canadian public. I would hope that Axworthy realizes that an inclusive approach should extend beyond bringing together various entrenched factions and also reach outside the current power structure. Fresh blood, fresh ideas should take precedent over reconnecting the old guard.

I think Axworthy is right in attempting to move the discussion outside of any potential leadership race. Logistically, and practically, it may be wishful thinking to expect all the players to act in good faith with a leadership battle looming, but it is important to recognize that the problems run deeper than a simple leadership question.

Any attempt to go around the country and get important feedback from the "locals" can only help the Liberals in the long run. This presupposes that the exercise is a serious attempt to reform and not merely a feel good exercise with little substance. Axworthy seems to realize that the Liberals have a grassroots deficit and this represents a good first step.

I would suggest, that if the priority is policy over new leadership, it might be advantageous to delay a leadership convention for a year to give the process some breathing space, without the inevitable jockeying from the ambitious. Despite good intentions, inevitably as this process moves forward the leadership angle would increasingly distract from Axworthy's goals. The Liberal Party has plenty of time too settle the leadership question, the country is no mood for an election any time soon. In the long run, it is important to take this time now, admit you have problems and emerge with a united message.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Props and Flops

Once a week, I would like offer something called “Props and Flops”. Hardly original, it’s my take on who made news, for better or worse:

• Props to Stephen Harper for running a smooth, competent campaign that put the Conservatives back in power.

• Props to Conservative strategists who successfully muted the extremist elements within the party and projected some pretty impressive propaganda.

• Flops to the entire Liberal team, who ran an uninspiring, tired campaign with little vision, cementing the public sentiment that it was time for change.

• Props to the Canadian people for increased voter turnout.

• Flops to Jack Layton for being in the unique position of gaining more seats and simultaneously losing influence. Was it worth it Jack?

• Flops to Mike Duffy for pulling out his blackberry during election coverage to make wild claims about Martin not conceding. Mike needs a refresher in good journalism, based on substantiated facts.

• Flops to Allan Gregg, who on CTV rationalized his poll numbers by saying that first time voters tend to not show up at the polls and this skews samples. This is why we have a category called the “likely voter” Allan, see SES.

• Props to Stephen Harper, who, with parliament as the backdrop, rebuked the American ambassador’s statements on the Arctic. Nothing rises above partisan preferences and unites us all like some good ole American bashing.

• Flops to Ralph Klein for giving a speech where he first chastised the federal government for perceived incursions into provincial jurisdictions and then offered his thoughts on how Canada should approach Can/US relations. Anyone else see the hypocrisy?

• Flops to big oil companies announcing record profits, while still claiming they aren’t gouging the public.

• Flops to U.S Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for not supporting a filibuster on Samuel Alito, an extremist judge by any measure.

• Props to the Palestinian people for their democratic expression, despite the backlash from the results.

• Flops to the U.S military for another public relations disaster by jailing the wives of suspected insurgents as a leverage tool. Hearts and minds?

Feel free to add your own, or dispute mine.

Elitism Hurts Liberals

The Globe and Mail has an interesting story on the dysfunctional Liberal campaign. I have always felt that one of the main problems with the current configuration of the Liberal Party is its top-down approach, at the expense of the grassroots. The events on election night highlight the disconnect between "regular" Canadians and the elitist party apparatus:
Only a handful of Mr. Martin's most senior people there knew what their boss was about to announce. And when it came, there was disbelief, some tears in the crowd, and also anger among some senior Martin "non-board" people, who had not been given any advance warning.

The Liberal worker said such exclusionary tactics were typical of the way the campaign was run behind the scenes.

"It was all about them [the board]," the Liberal worker said. "It's not supposed to be about them. It's supposed to be about the party, and it's supposed to be about the volunteers and most of all about our leader."

As the campaign went sour, so did the view among Liberals about the effectiveness of the board members and their unwillingness, despite reducing the Liberal government to a minority in 2004, to give people from outside their circle a role in the campaign.

On election night in Montreal, the board members who were with Mr. Martin, according to sources, drew up a list of people with whom they would watch the returns, leaving out some of those who also had been travelling on the campaign plane for two months.

And two days later, the relationship was so bad that at a postelection party at a local Ottawa pub, one organizer said that he saw Liberal staffers and workers quietly pick up their coats and leave when members of the board arrived.

Obviously, leaders need a tight inner circle to run a campaign and decide on strategy. But, what has become apparent is the Liberal Party is a dysfunctional organization, wherein there is no symmetry or commonality. Clearly, the manner in which this campaign was run serves as another example of a Party who had become elitist, unresponsive and unable to reflect Canadians interests.

This leadership debate should serve as a golden opportunity to open up the Party power structure and become inclusive. If well connected Liberals insist on playing "kingmakers" and usurp the spirit of equality within democracy, then their time in the political wilderness will be prolonged. I hope the Liberal Party recognizes this window for reform and seizes the moment to project a new image that more closely resembles the average Canadian.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Palestinians Will Pay For Vote

The American administration has made it clear that the Palestinian people will pay for participating in a democracy:

If Hamas takes control of the Palestinian government, as now appears likely, all U.S. aid to the Palestinian people will be put under review, the Bush administration said Friday.

"We do not and will not give money to a terrorist organization," proclaimed White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Said opposite number Sean McCormack at the State Department: "The law and our policies state that no money goes to terrorist organizations."

This year, the U.S. government is providing $150 million in U.S. assistance for Palestinian development and other needs, McCormack said. Another $84 million is distributed through the United Nations.

I am not defending Hamas, but these threats from the American administration serves no one. The Palestinian people have shocked the world with their votes, but should we really be surprised? Desperation, isolation and marginalization are a potent concoction that tends to radicalize peoples view. Historically, the western world has also dealt with similar forces, so this is clearly not a "middle east" issue. Hamas has crafted a forceful message that puts Palestinian aspirations first and the people have responded.

Like it or not, the world community must find a way to accept this result in some fashion. Threatening to inflict further economic hardship on people with little hope is exactly the attitude that helped foster the rise of Hamas. Instead of scorn, we should look at the root causes of this desperation and see Hamas as the manifestation of an untenable situation.

I understand why Israelis would react with such hostility. I understand why world leaders would wish that the Palestinian Authority had triumphed. But, the reality is, in a democratic expression, the Palestinian people have selected their voice. Everyone needs too recognize this vote for what it is, a proud people who want self determination and dignity now.

What About Ken?

When we hear the list of Liberal leadership hopefuls, Ken Dryden is often mentioned as an afterthought. I find the notion of Dryden entering the race intriguing. Dryden became a prominent player in the last parliament, working effectively in his portfolio. During this election, Dryden's stature rose further with his impassioned pleas in defense of the Liberal Party. Dryden has articulated a vision that speaks to the possibilities of our society.

The main criticism of Dryden is his obvious inability to offer a concise sound bite. Dryden's careful, laborious tone is something that detractors always point too. In other words, the guy bores me to death. I would suggest that his style speaks to a recognition of the complexities within the issues of the day. This approach doesn't translate into a riveting orator, but there is no denying the man's intelligence and internal deliberation.

Dryden is a relative fresh face within the upper echelon of the Liberal Party. This allows Dryden the opportunity to rise above the internal party tensions and offer a new direction. For obvious reasons, a Dryden bid has potential in both English and French Canada. Dryden may be well placed to speak to the issues of national unity- he has concrete experience in both divides.

A star candidate, that has proven to be a star through his efforts and ability to speak with vision in mind. If you can get passed the delivery, the words are actually inspiring, stated within the context of vision. I am not saying Dryden is my pick to replace Martin, but nor am I rejecting his bid out of hand. Dryden may well prove to be a player in this leadership race.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Forget McKenna

The Liberal Party desperately needs to shed the public perception that it is a bastion of entitlement, patronage and powerful special interests. The looming leadership race offers the Liberal two opposing directions. The Party can either choose to project a fresh image that distances itself from its current baggage or it can succumb to the incestuous old boys network that rewards factional loyalties. I find these facts indicative of what is wrong with the Liberal Party and why Frank McKenna is hardly appealing:

Several companies with McKenna on their boards have donated to Martin's Liberal leadership campaign and to the Liberal Party of Canada. CanWest Global and its subsidiaries, for instance, contributed $100,000 to Martin's leadership coffers and another $329,008.96 to the Liberal Party of Canada and its candidates since 1999, the year McKenna became a director. McKenna joined the board of the BMO Financial Group in 1998; since then, the bank and its subsidiaries have contributed $533,255.53 to the federal Liberals. Since McKenna became a director of Shoppers Drug Mart Canada in 2002, the corporation has donated $14,306.47 to the federal Liberals and made another $1,000 "nonmonetary" contribution to one candidate.

McKenna is also on the board of United Parcel Service Canada Ltd., which gave $17,000 to Martin's Liberal leadership campaign and another $98,271.51 to the Liberal Party of Canada since 1998. Since McKenna joined the board of General Motors of Canada in 2001, that corporation has donated $23,662.77 to the federal Liberals. Another company with McKenna on the board, Marsh Canada Ltd., contributed $10,000 to Martin's leadership campaign and $14,486.87 to the federal Liberals in 2000 and 2001. Since McKenna became a director of Noranda in 1998, the corporation has donated $24,536.56 to the federal Liberals and $1,000 to Martin's leadership campaign. Zenon Environmental Inc. has given $19,033.79 to the federal Liberals since McKenna joined its board in 1998.

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. McKenna greased the coffers for Martin and the Party and is summarily rewarded with the plum U.S Ambassador gig. Now, with Martin gone, McKenna swoops in, telephones "important" Liberals to call in old debts, quickly resigns his post and prepares his ascendancy to the throne. McKenna will surely be rewarded for his tireless work to pad the Liberal bottomline, essentially buying influence and pull.

I am not naive, and realize that this type of politics is commonplace. But, I would suggest, that given the present circumstances, someone like McKenna, the consummate insider, is the last thing the Liberal Party needs to regain control. The McKenna of old is not the corporate, big business McKenna of today. Supporting such candidates within the typical kneejerk Liberal hierarchy projects the same image so effectively dismantled by Harper. McKenna represents the status quo, the institutionalized patterns of the Liberal Party. Canadians have rejected this circle of entitlement. The only thing that prevented complete Liberal extinction was apprehension about the alternative. I fear that the Party won't heed the message and retreat to their comfort zone where they anoint through favors, rather than ideas and the grassroots.

Opposition is Easy

Isn't it wonderful to be in a position where you can constantly criticize, second guess and never have to make a decision(sort of like blogging). Here we are, election hangover still upon us, and already Stephen Harper is learning some hard lessons. One of the few positives about a Harper led government, may well be watching with enjoyment as Harper struggles with his new reality.

Harper had been unrelenting in his criticisms of the Liberal Party for its fractured relationship with the Americans. Pure political posturing and factually ignorant, Harper tells Canadians that he understands diplomacy and will rebuild our relationship with the Americans. Purely from a ideological view, it is natural to see some affinity between Bush and Harper. However, Harper has just learned his most important lessons when it comes to the Bush administration- they don't play well with others.

The struggles to find common ground with the American administration is not unique to Canada. The list of countries and organizations that can attest to a stubborn, uncompromising and decidedly arrogant American administration is endless. You could argue that this administration will most be remembered for the speed at which it alienated the entire world community, minus a very few exceptions. Harper has ignored this reality, instead preferring political opportunism to present a flawed case that Canada is at fault.

Today, we learn that the Americans reject our claims on the Arctic, outright and unambiguous. No diplomatic nuance or declining for future reference. Nope, the response to Canada is basically don't even bother going there. Harper now has his first taste of working with a government that approaches diplomacy much like a bully in a playground. You can't have a substantive relationship with this administration, unless you puppet their policies and act subservient.

The Liberal's legacy is uneven, but their resolve in the face of American pressure is admirable. Chretien's finest hour may well be his decision to boldy reject the Iraq War, despite Canada's precarious position. Some of Martin's best moments are his impassioned pleas for the Americans to re-engage the world community. Harper sat in opposition and criticized, but opposition is easy- it is now your turn to deal with this administration. If today is any indication, Harper is quickly learning the diplomatic dynamics of dealing people who are compromise challenged, with no regard for opposing views. Good luck, and enjoy the realities of government.

What to do with Kyoto?

Harper has repeatedly said his government would scrap the Kyoto Accord, replacing it with "a made in Canada" approach. For anyone paying attention, the Harper plan would essentially leave an unregulated private sector to unilaterally determine how best to deal with global warming. No money allocated for new technologies, no incentives to change business practices, just empty, ambiguous words. Harper's approach takes its cues from Alberta's open hostility to any threat on big oil and gas interests. Klein has already stated that should Harper become PM, one of his first priorities should be Kyoto.

Given the makeup of this new parliament, I would argue that Harper may not have the political capital to effectively kill Kyoto. Essentially, Harper is surrounded on all sides, with no possibility of the necessary ally. Layton made it clear in the days prior to the vote that Kyoto was non negotiable for the NDP. Duceppe, and more importantly Quebecers, favor Kyoto. Therefore, it would be foolish for the Bloc to compromise with the Conservatives. The Liberals, no matter who the leader, are sure to present a solid roadblock to any talk of backing out of Kyoto. Where does Harper go to fulfill this central promise?

Kyoto could represent the first major disappointment for Albertans who see this government as an extension of the province. Alberta can push the issue, but this confrontational approach could very well undo the government, for little political gain. Maybe I am overly optimistic, but I don't see a scenario where Harper satisfies this commitment.

Harper must be pragmatic, or risk a Joe Clark like experience. Kyoto is untouchable in the minds of the opposition and is central in the mind of many westerners. This leaves Harper between a rock and a hard place. Despite the power brokers of the Conservative Party, I suggest that political survival is paramount and therefore Kyoto may remain in the short term. I hope so anyways.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Klein Offers Some Hypocrisy

Klein pipes in with his perspective:

"We either accept the who does what part of our Constitution or we amend the Constitution, and no one wants to start that up again," he said.

"Let's accept the roles that we were given by those who first thought of an idea called Canada."

Mr. Klein said he and other premiers agree that federal and provincial responsibilities need to be clarified and streamlined to avoid duplication of efforts.

I agree Ralph, we need to accept the roles outlined in the constitution. However, it would help if Premiers practiced what they preached. I am pretty sure that foreign affairs is a sole federal jurisdiction, which makes these comments beside the above quotes all the more hypocritical:

"The Americans are our friends," Mr. Klein told a dinner organized by the C.D. Howe Institute. "We need to fix this important relationship, while cementing our unique Canadian identity."

"It hurt us in Alberta to watch the anti-American sentiment grow within the former Liberal government. Thousands of our sons and daughters are in America and many of their sons and daughters are in Canada."

The role of the Premiers isn't to advise the federal government on issues of foreign policy. The federal government decides when it is appropriate to go to war, and this sentiment is undermined when Premiers speak out of turn. So, unless the argument about constitution is just for convenience when it best suits Ralph's needs, I suggest he pipe down and worry about his jurisdictions. Ottawa will be fine without his constant advise that sends mixed messages.

A Long Conservative Reign?

My main concern with the new parliament, is that the current makeup could afford Harper a golden opportunity for the future. We have a relatively weak minority that should act as check on the Conservative hard right agenda. Although progressives can take some solace with the fact that Harper will be forced to the center, the reality may well benefit the Conservatives long term.

Despite forming a government, I would argue that many Canadians still approach Harper with a wait and see attitude. This election wasn't an endorsement of right wing policy, but more a desire for change, within the confines of moderation. Harper must now pick and choose which policies too push and which to leave on the back burner. I would expect to see the GST cut, the child care money, a further commitment to the military, measures to improve government transparency and other relatively benign legislation. The more hot button issues are not on the table in the short term and this will serve the Harper government well.

Fast forward two years into the future, when talk of another election is brought to the fore. I would suggest that because of the nature of this minority, and the resulting need for moderate policies, Harper will be strongly positioned to forcefully argue for another mandate. It may well happen that the Conservatives force the issue and allow the circumstance for another vote. Why? Harper can present a factual case to quell any hesitations about an extreme agenda. Harper can point to his achievements within a minority as proof that Conservatives are moderate and pragmatic. Canadians may well react with the thoughts that he cut our taxes, governed effectively under the circumstances and followed a mainstream approach.

This is all speculation of course, but Harper is in the unique position where the more extreme elements within his party will be muted because of circumstance, allowing him to portray the Conservatives as reflective of most Canadians. The opposition will be in a precarious position because the demand for compromise may translate into a clean record, not easily criticized. The Canadian people may reward the Conservatives with another mandate, possibly stronger and the country will begin to really turn right. I had heard talk that some Conservative strategists were openly supporting the notion of a minority. At the time I dismissed these assertions, but the more I think about this scenario, the more it may serve the Conservative well in the long term. The opposition parties are in a position where they must work with the government and in turn risk that government using its achievements to argue for more power. Food for thought anyways.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pension Goldmine For Turfed MP's

This is rich(no pun intended):

Taxpayers needn't shed a tear for members of Parliament who were defeated in Monday's federal election or left politics before the vote: they stand to collect $74.6-million in pensions and severance.

Four of the 67 retiring MPs — all of them Liberals — could each collect more than $3-million before they turn 75, estimates calculated by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation suggest.

“Defeated and retiring members will win financially thanks to a gold-plated pension plan and rich severance payments for parliamentarians,” said federation director John Williamson.

“Shed no tears for retiring or defeated MPs. They are being well looked after by Canadian taxpayers.”

Served as an MP in parliament would look pretty good on a resume wouldn't you think? I can see some measure of compensation, but does Anne McLellan really need 100 000 a year from the Canadian taxpayers? Is she not employable? No contacts or friends with employment? What a farce, akin to Gomery when you really break it down. Who gave these guys such a sweetheart, unethical deal anyways? Oh wait... Surely Harper will fix this travesty ;)

Liberals Need to Recognize

The post-Martin era is already upon us, with rampant speculation about the possible successors. I would suggest that Liberals need to react to the new political landscape and correctly interpret what the voters have said. The Liberal Party needs to transform itself, both substantively and figuratively. The only barrier standing in the way of complete electoral annihilation was voter apprehension about the alternatives. I venture to say that very few people, outside of diehard partisans, voted Liberal with the same passion as prior votes.

Within this context, when I hear the list of entrenched names who are favored to succeed Martin, I fear that Liberals may miss the message. Canadians don't want cosmetic changes, accompanied by the old guard with a recognizable face. This is a critical moment for the Liberal Party- it must forge a new identity. This reality can only be achieved by embracing fresh ideas, articulated by fresh faces. The Manley's, the Tobin's and, yes, the McKenna's present a party of the past, with a rigid hierarchy that doesn't translate into a grassroots approach.

I really believe the Liberals may misread the electorate because of their relatively high seat count. Don't let this thin minority fool you, the Canadian people have rejected the present incarnation of the Liberal Party. If it weren't for a divided right over the years, coupled with a charismatic challenged leadership, the Liberal prospects would have been different. The Liberal Party has become a top-down entity that doesn't mirror the "street".

Electing the old guard is tantamount to institutionalizing the notion of an old boys network, with an air of entitlement. The Liberal Party is not electing a new pope, and they best heed the clear message. Now is the time for Liberals to be bold, look outside the typical route and re-energize. If Liberals fall back to the usual suspects, embrace the known and prefer the safe, I would argue that their time in opposition will become all too familiar.

Canadians need to get excited about the Liberal Party. I can't fathom how this reality is achieved by looking backwards for leadership. The Liberals need a rising star, from the margins of the establishment to look credible again. However, the early jockeying suggests a preference for rehashing old names, within the old divisions that belong in the past. The Liberals need to recognize the strong desire for reform. Half measures within the same, tired institution, will do nothing to better the party's prospects and may cement the Conservative coalition. In other words- Liberals, this is your chance, don't blow it.

The Best Case Scenario?

If you step back, look at the big picture, these election results may represent the best case scenario for Canada. Obviously, as a progressive, the thought of a Conservative government is hardly desirable. However, taken in totality, the new political landscape offers several positive developments.

First, and foremost, the Liberal Party is now forced into a re-examination phase that will morph it back to a relevant alternative. Martin's quick exit sets the tone for reform, which the Liberals must heed. The Liberals did suffer from the pitfalls that historically happen when one party rules for too long. The party can sharpen its message in opposition, free from the albatross of scandal and present a fresh start. Canadians are still generally sympathetic to Liberal policies, but rejected the present configuration. Time spent in the political wilderness could well serve as a net plus for the Liberals in the longterm.

Canada is now cleansed of the divisive forces which have plagued the national government. The Bloc has lost its reliable whipping boy, that has helped perpetuate the seperatist agenda. A Martin led Liberal Party would never recover in Quebec, and only serve to further alienate Quebecers. This election, Quebecers clearly showed that while they reject the Liberals, they do not reject the federation. The results from Quebec offer a great deal of hope as we move forward. Duceppe is weakened and defensive. Harper has a handful of MP's to bring into cabinet and give the government a much needed national character. As I watched the coverage last night, even partisan Liberals commentators had to agree that the results in Quebec were encouraging.

The sense of alienation felt in provinces like Alberta had reached a dangerous tipping point. Today, the headlines cry "the West is in!" and a new sense of inclusiveness reigns. I truly believe, that this election was a line in the sand moment regarding western alienation. Had the Liberals triumphed yet again, I doubt anything would be able to stem the overt anger and frustration. With this election result, the constant East bashing that has become required sport in Alberta will ease. The West is in, objectively if the concern is Canada, this is a healthy development.

All these positive developments attained within the framework of a relative weak minority government. There was nothing I feared more than the thought of Conservative majority. Despite the attempts by Harper to project a moderate image, anyone who follows closely knows that behind the scenes lies a hard right agenda. This present makeup of parliament doesn't lend itself to bold initiatives or aggressive agendas. We have Harper, but in many respects we have a neutered Harper. Surrounded by social progressives on all sides, Harper will be forced to appease and outright abandon. Today's buzzword amongst the pundits seems to be "on a short leash" and Canada is well served by this predicament.

We have a government that has a national identity, at a time when one is desperately needed. We have an opposition that essentially controls the agenda. We have a Liberal Party that received the required kick in the ass, without the post-Mulroney style drubbing that leaves a mere skeleton. The Liberals are well placed to re-emerge, so long as they heed the harsh advice from voters. Quebec is revisited, Alberta is finally on side, which clearly translates into a net positive for the nation.

If you accept the premise that the Liberals were going to lose, I can't think of another scenario that bests this outcome. Possibly, a parliament where the NDP holds the balance of power, but essentially we have power sharing in spades. If I must endure Stephen Harper, then these set of circumstances are the most acceptable in the short term.

Monday, January 23, 2006

It's a Good Day

As far as I'm concerned, this election has been an embarrassment for several reasons. Unsubstantiated attacks, gutter politics and a general negative vibe have dominated this entire campaign. Any hints of a vision have been articulated within the framework of other parties shortcomings. Overall, hardly inspiring and mostly disappointing.

Despite the campaign dynamics, here we are on election day, where the ideals of democracy finally come to the fore. Election day, no matter the outcome, is always a positive in my mind because it reaffirms the notions of equality, freedom of expression and civic pride. Everyone enters the voting booth with their own defining issues, concerns and agendas. You feel a sense of empowerment, no matter how fleeting. You feel a sense of community through participation. Despite the different preferences, a commonality is present.

The last week I have had political discussions with a vast array of people, most of whom are generally disinterested and passive about politics in their day to day lives. This engagement in the process is such a necessary and healthy exercise that further cements our democratic principles. I have an opinion, I have a voice and this is what I think. It's a great dialogue, that will sadly wane, but for the moment it is center stage. The principle of voting is something that unites us all, despite geography, despite ethnicity and all the other divisive forces.

I just voted. It feels good. It always does, probably because it represents something bigger than my little world. Tonight, I will glue myself to my television, dissect the results and probably cry foul when Harper takes control. But, for right now it sure feels like a good day.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Harper Dead Wrong On Can/U.S Relations

Stephen Harper articulated his position with regards to our relationship with the Americans:

Mr. Harper also warns that relations with the Americans will deteriorate under a Liberal leader who chastised the United States for its environmental record and lambasted the Conservatives for cozying up to the United States.

"These things have more consequences on a relationship than people understand," he says. "Americans respect a prime minister who takes a strong position on issues of interest to Canada, but they're not going to respect a guy who insults them gratuitously and misrepresents private meetings and communications for political advantage.

"We've got to get back on track with the U.S., and there's no possibility that's going to happen if this government is re-elected."

This assertion by Harper is true, relations will probably improve if the Conservatives form the government. However, to lay the blame for our deteriorating relationship at the foot of the Liberal Party is complete bunk. If you were too poll a wide cross section of diplomats across the world, the overriding sentiment would be that the American administration does not "play well with others". The speed at which the Bush administration has alienated former allies is staggering and most of his policies suggest utter disdain for internationalism. The appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations, a man who wishes to gut this international body, speaks too an administration that has no concept of diplomacy.

History has already shown that our decision not to enter the war in Iraq was morally justified. All independent observers have sided with Canada over the trade disputes with the Americans. The Bush administration has distanced itself from a litany of international agreements, preferring an isolationist approach with few allies.

For a myriad of reasons, I find the Harper posturing a complete and utter disservice to Canada. Our relationship with the Americans has fractured, not because of political posturing by our government, but the inability to find a good faith partner, that acts in the best interest of the world. Standing up to a hard right agenda, a dangerous foreign policy and a head in the sand approach to environmental concerns doesn't translate into an inability to get along with our neighbors. You can count the governments that have good relations with America on one hand. Some "allies" of American foreign policy clearly regret their complicity, so Canada is hardly unique in its difficulties dealing with the Bush administration.

We do need to get back on track with the Americans. Unfortunately, the only way to enhance relations is take a subservient role that follows the worst administration in American history. Harper is a Bush apologist, at the expense of our nation, which has always encompassed the notions of bipartisanship and international cooperation. The rift in Canadian, U.S relations is not a political question, but under the present circumstances, a moral imperative. Harper is dead wrong and I resent his implication that we are at fault for the present conditions.

People Prefer Majorities

The latest Strategic Counsel poll shows most Canadians would prefer a Conservative majority(48%), as opposed to a minority(37%). This finding is striking, in that we have a situation where more people support the notion of majority, than do the party in question. This preference speaks to the conventional wisdom that a majority government is more effective and less divisive. Minority parliaments are considered fractured affairs, unable to conduct the country's business due to uncertainty.

Are these preconceived notions about minorities true? Anyone who favors proportional representation finds some comfort in a minority parliament. While not ideal, a minority does allow for more input from the various parties. This parliamentary structure is more reflective of the country's beliefs as a whole. The Conservatives mandate doesn't translate into a nation who fully supports their policies. As we prepare to vote, I am heartened by Layton's line in the sand stances with regards to the environment and health care. The Conservative government must find common ground with other parties, and in the process their more radical policies will be modified or, better yet, completely abandoned.

A minority government can function, especially given the fact that Canadians have no stomach for another election in the short term. The parties will be forced to craft legislation in a spirit of bipartisanship. This anomaly of more support for a Conservative majority than for the Conservative party reveals the Canadian preference for stability above all else. I would suggest we need to rethink the supposed wisdom of majority rule. The more voices in the decision making processes, the better the representation across the political spectrum. Minorities keep the government honest, moderate policy through the function of compromise and prevent complacency on the part of the ruling party.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Glass is Half Full

Barring some unforeseen miracle, we are about to see a Conservative government take the helm. Assuming it is a minority government, hopefully a bare one at that, I am searching for the positives in this otherwise bleak picture.

We have all digested the pitfalls of what a Conservative mandate means for Canada and I don't wish to rehash the negatives. Instead, in the spirit of a "the glass is half full" attitude, I will try to point out some positives if we in fact see a Conservative minority( a majority is an entirely different animal):

* The growing sense of western alienation will be tempered. I have always felt that another Liberal government, under the present circumstances, would bring the Alberta seperatist sentiment to the mainstream. On my last visit to the province, the overriding sentiment seemed to be that this election was a line in the sand moment. Electing Harper would contradict the supposed "anti-western bias", which is used to bash all things eastern. We would see a renewed sense of commonality that the west desperately needs.

* The seperatists in Quebec would lose their favorite whipping boy, the federal Liberals. The Liberal government, under Chretien, and now Martin, is a lightning rod of controversy in Quebec and clearly has helped the seperatist cause. The Bloc has become a permanent fixture in Ottawa, largely a result of Quebecers having no faith in the Liberal Party. A Conservative government, in the short term, would blunt the main seperatist criticisms.

* The Liberal Party would be forced to re-invent itself, cull the old guard and get back to a grassroots approach. Political scientists often argue that what we see with the Liberal Party is a common predicament for an entity that governs too long. Parties need to redefine and the best impetus for this progression is some time spent in the political wilderness. I believe that on the issues, the Liberal Party speaks for the majority, however the party has lost the ability to articulate this to Canadians- this last campaign should serve as proof of how idea challenged they have become.

* The overt negativity that Canadians feel towards the workings of parliament would be quelled. Harper would be given a "honeymoon" period where issues such as corruption, illegalities and diversions wouldn't register. A sense of change, a new start would allow people to reinvest in their system.

* Assuming a minority, and the subsequent Liberal leadership race, the Liberal Party would be in a position to force a non-confidence vote outside of two years. A strong NDP and a renewed Liberal Party would better expose the right wing agenda. The Conservatives would have to answer questions, instead of deflecting issues onto the corrupt regime. These conditions could allow for a strong Liberal return and a possible future majority that could well unite the country. This vote is one of the desire for reform, not an endorsement of conservative philosophy.

* Bush would visit more.

The Least Objectionable

This campaign will be remembered for a lot of reasons, few of them flattering. The first, overarching theme that comes to mind is complete negativity. Instead of offering visions, concepts and hope, we are treated to daily fear mongering and threats that don't seem too have any boundaries. There was never a high road this campaign. From the outset, strategies revolved around criticisms and divisiveness.

Martin's plea yesterday asking easterners to vote Liberal to keep "Calgarians" out of government was certainly a low water mark. What a wonderful statement from a supposed national leader, who's main interest should be Canada as a whole. Proof positive that this government will stop at nothing to cling to power, no matter how offensive. Using any objective measure, surely it is time for this reeking, ideological bereft party to go, and quickly.

I wish it was this simple, but its the alternative that causes more disillusionment. No matter how disappointed I am with this farce of a Liberal campaign, I still can't embrace a Conservative party that doesn't reflect any of my values. Harper may have packaged himself as a moderate, but I'm not buying this "new" image. The entire Conservative campaign is predicated on the idea that we need change. Oh sure, Harper has offered some goodies and policy positions, but his only real theme is Liberal corruption. The Harper stump speech preys on public dissatisfaction, instead of his positive agenda. It is quite telling, and alarming, that Harper finds it necessary to keep assuring Canadians that he really won't have too much power if elected. Has anyone ever been forced to use this tactic to quell fears? People may be voting Conservative, but outside of hardcore supporters, the majority of their support draws inspiration from negativity.

What about Layton? The NDP campaign is a mixed bag of unsubstantiated scandal attacks, ridiculous debate performances, neverending attacks on the Liberals, sprinkled with a hint of optimism. I find Layton's peacock strutting and posturing to be a complete turnoff. Despite all of Layton's talk about politicians and promises, he has the ability to come off like a slick cars salesman. However, deep within the maelstrom of criticisms and bashing, we do find some measure of vision and a positive agenda. I agree with a lot of NDP ideas, although they seem completely detached from reality from time to time.

When you step back and look at this abysmal, uninspiring campaign as a whole you find few options. I was leaning Liberal, primarily because I can't buy into Harper and his right wing agenda. However, after reading the Martin comments yesterday about Calgarians, it reaffirmed my deep belief that the Liberal party is an embarrassment. I can't, in good conscience, support a party who speaks to the worst of human nature to retain power. However, I also can't support a party who uses manipulation and anger to argue they deserve your vote. So, I am going to vote for the NDP, not because of a ringing endorsement of Layton's campaign, but simply because his party is the least objectionable. In the election aftermath, there will be much talk about winners and losers, but clearly the worst casualty of this campaign is the Canadian political process.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Who Stands for Canada?

If Harper is elected Prime Minister we will witness a curious circumstance, wherein a national leader essentially conducts himself like a Premier. The Harper view contends that the federal government should stick to its sole jurisdictions and leave the provinces alone to act in their own self interest. Harper approaches federalism through the lens of a regionalist, and with that the narrow perspective that lacks an overarching philosophy.

The notion of an elected Senate, based on regional considerations, cements a fractured view of federalism. Senators will compete within a framework that rewards regional affiliation. Thoughts of the nation are secondary, and we institute another layer that supports "tribalism". You could argue an elected Senate speaks to equality and adding voices, but I think the reality is further fracturing of a national identity.

Most historians and political scientists agree that over time the provinces have become more powerful, at the expense of the federal government. Whether the measure is something as concrete as tax percentages, or less empirical measures like posturing at First Ministers conferences, it is clear that we are headed to what Trudeau referred to as "a loose collection of provinces". Within this context, it is particularly disturbing that we have a federal leader who thinks we need further dissolution of power. Harper's perspective sounds like a disgruntled Premier who wants complete control, with no interference. This view speaks to the roots of this new patchwork Conservative party. Harper's view is the old Reform view, an extension of the Klein approach, regionalism at the expense of nation. This party is not a national party in its vision, but a vehicle to counteract alienation and a sense of unfairness.

We live in a fascinating age where the terms international, multilateral and unions are commonplace. The world seems smaller, technology affords us greater interaction and the idea of a world community is in its infancy. This is why the Harper approach is so disturbing, and frankly backward. It seeks to divide us into narrow sub-groups, acting primarily from immediate self interest, with no greater sense of our commonality. Canada is the world's greatest example of mosaic, heralded for its tolerance and accepting nature. How is this ideal served with a government who believes the government of Canada shouldn't interfere with its own regions? How is that a progressive idea? How do these views unite people by highlighting similarity, instead of differences? Who stands for Canada?

Nothing To Hide

Last night, CBC brought up the issue of the Conservatives denying reporters access to some of their candidates. This affront to the notion of open and honest debate should serve as a primary example of why Canadians should view the new, kinder and gentler, Conservatives with suspicion.

Up until this point, the Conservatives have manipulated the media coverage and presented the image their strategists have crafted. Finally, the media may be assuming their role as independent check on party generated propaganda. It is a simple question, if Harper is sincere about his positions, then we should be afforded complete transparency. If you have nothing to hide, than why are you hiding your candidates? What is the fear of allowing people to express their opinions, especially when those people wish to serve? In the last days of this campaign, this is the question Stephen Harper must answer.

Harper speaks at length about how you can't trust the Liberals and a Conservative government would restore honor and dignity to the political process. Surely then, it would follow that we expect honesty and openness with respect to Conservative candidates. The hypocrisy of denying access to candidates, while trumpeting the idea of transparency is striking. The media needs to call out the Conservatives, because if they wish to govern Canadians have a right to full, unfettered access. Anything less suggests deception, manipulation and above all else clear evidence of a party not ready to lead. Harper tells us not to fear the Conservatives, I say then act in a manner that suggest we need to worry.


It looks like the Liberal strategists are picking up on this theme of hiding candidates.
Liberal Leader Paul Martin is accusing Conservative Leader Stephen Harper of keeping his socially conservative candidates in hiding.

"It's been a long time since (Stephen Harper) has allowed them to go outside, and they are getting cabin fever," Martin told a crowd of Liberal supporters in St. John's, NL.

He named Conservative hopefuls such as Cheryl Gallant, Rob Anders, Rob Merrifield and Harold Albrecht as candidates who have a hidden social agenda.

Martin said Albrecht -- known for his staunch anti-gay marriage views -- was hustled away from reporters at a recent Conservative campaign event in Kitchener, Ont.,. and put into a banquet hall kitchen.

The "cabin fever" crack is a great soundbite and should make the rounds.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The National

I just finished watching the election coverage on CBC's The National. The newscast was decidely pro-Liberal, moreso than any coverage I can remember in this campaign.

The first piece on the Conservatives served up lots of cannon fodder for the Liberal cause. The central theme was the media's denied access to certain controversial Conservative candidates. It was implied that the Conservatives are trying to hide the radical elements that doomed them last time (duh). You could sense the frustration in Terry Milewski's voice as he spoke of the denied access.

The next story was on the Liberals and it offered great soundbites, with little commentary to detract from the statements. First we have Martin referring to this Conservative incarnation as the most socially radical in our history. Next up an attack on Layton, with Martin telling him if he doesn't want to stop the Conservatives then get out of the way. The whole mood of this piece was positive for the Liberals. Martin actually looked passionate, strong and focused.

Watching CBC's coverage tonight, I found the tone striking. It looks like the questions about the Conservatives have finally sharpened, while the nightly Liberal bashfest was marginally supplanted with some positive soundbites. I may be reading too much into this one edition, but I can't recall another night where the theme was so direct. Martin received the fluff piece, while Harper received the critical eye, both conditions in short supply so far this campaign.

Time to Ban Polls?

Political junkies love polls. We relish pouring over the results, watching trends, dissecting the internals. However, watching the campaign unfold, I wonder if Canadians and the political process in general, aren't best served by a ban on polling during election campaigns.

There is a certain fickle quality to the electorate. No one would dispute the fact that external influences often times slant our voting preferences. The media has become obsessed with polling and their coverage is often times influenced by the mood the surveys reflect. I don't suggest this fact as evidence of an anti-Liberal bias, because I think the dynamic works both ways. Would a stop Harper mood develop if the polling didn't show a potential majority, and the corresponding media speculation? Would Martin's ideas be given more coverage if the media was preoccupied with talk of failure, supported by polling? Would the NDP benefit from coverage based on substance and not king maker speculation?

My point is, wouldn't we have a more organic election if we banned election polling and let events unfold naturally. The media would be forced to take their cues from things such as rally sizes, campaign energy and the debate of ideas. News coverage wouldn't begin within the framework of what polls tell us. The electorate is volatile, and above all impressionable, these polls feed momentum and also blunt rebounds. Fickle people may decide to back the winning horse because that is what they have been told. Others may vote strategically to block certain parties they fear. More people cast their votes, based on perception, than they do the issues, primarily because of how polls shape the campaign.

I really think we have reached the saturation point with polling, they now dominate the landscape, instead of acting as interesting sidebars. We have also seen some curious developments with possible polling manipulation. Is it merely coincidence that the one poll that shows the biggest Conservative lead, is also funded by the same entity that threw its support behind that party? I think we are naive to believe that pollsters self interest has no influence on this supposed objective medium. Take this one poll out of the equation, and we would hear more talk of a Liberal comeback- of course this works the other way as well.

Imagine an election with no polling, where coverage relies on our own perceptions and feelings. More time spent on the substance, the issues and less on the speculation and trends. The media always trumpets their objective approach, but clearly we have reached a stage where the tail wags the dog and media merely mirrors the pollsters mood. What is the downside of a ban on polling?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Gap is Narrowing

The latest polls offer something for everyone. Conservatives can point to the polls which show a large gap between themselves and the Liberals. Liberals point to polls which show the gap narrowing. So, apart from bias, which poll are we too believe? Too understand which polls are accurate, you may need to incorporate your own instincts and common sense.

The news of the day gives us our clues. Remember when the polls first showed movement towards the Conservatives. No coincidence that this happened while the latest potential Liberal scandal was digested. The last round of debates gave a favorable impression of Harper, while most reports gave Martin a failing grade. Again, the polling reflected the reporting and the Conservative widened their lead.

Within this context, I tend to believe the latest polls which show the race tightening. Why? Martin has had relatively favorable coverage the last few days, with lots of juicy soundbites helping him get his message out. This week, Martin has appeared on the offensive, instead of answering questions about the latest gaffe. The Harper coverage on the other hand is surrounded by talk of economists withdrawing support, checks on a potential Tory rule and some talk about "peaking too early". This is why I can't swallow the polls which still show a massive Conservative lead.

Additionally, it just seems like common sense that Canadians aren't gushing over Harper, but merely rejecting the Liberals. This condition allows for second guessing as the reality of a Harper government draws near. Voters still believe the country is headed in the right direction and this fact may offset the desire for reform. The devil you know logic may be cementing itself, especially in Ontario where suspicion still abounds.

I don't believe the widening or holding polls and maybe that is my own biased perspective. I subscribe to the notion that, yes it is tightening, as Canadians finally focus on the implications of this election. In other words, I take the view that the Globe poll is complete bunk. See you Monday.

Change, Change, Change

The most surprising development so far in this election campaign is the apparent Conservative reversal of fortunes in Quebec. How is that a left leaning, socially progressive society like Quebec could possibly consider a vote for Harper? I watch with amazement as successive polls show Harper downright surging in the province, possibly winning several seats. No one could have predicted this turnaround, it really is astounding.

However, this new reality isn't necessarily flattering to the Quebec voter. Yes, the hatred for the Liberals is palpable, but does that merit support for a party so at odds with the majority of Quebecers? Maybe, this circumstance is the best example out there of how alienated, disgusted and single minded the voter has become. Get the Liberals out, period, end of conversation. Forget about the ramifications or the dubious agendas, we just want change for changes sake.

This mindset is scary in the sense that it neglects to consider the state of the country. Most Canadians say the country is headed in the right direction, which is a shocking finding given the polls. Most Canadians agree with the Liberals on fiscal and social matters, yet this isn't translating into voter support. We are entering the voting booth with blood in our eyes, storming the bastille to overthrow the "culture of entitlement". I get the sentiment, it has merit, but I still wonder if two years from now we aren't lamenting our choice of passion over reason.

I pray for a minority, wherein the radical elements of the old Reform Party are neutered and the Liberals are given the chance to purge and re-tool. Then after a brief honeymoon, the moderate left re-emerges to topple the Tories and get back to a reasonable, progressive agenda. Maybe the next election we can actually have a campaign of substance, instead of simply an overriding movement for change, no matter how it manifests itself.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Martin Calls Out Layton

Paul Martin made a point of criticizing Jack Layton's campaign strategy. The Martin attack is purely political, but it does raise some valid points about the conflict between ambition and principles:

Liberal Leader Paul Martin chastised NDP Leader Jack Layton, claiming he had given up the fight against the Tory agenda to attack the Liberals.

"Jack Layton has been making some very strange comments during this campaign. He's attacked Liberals, not Conservatives. In fact, he's all but ignored Stephen Harper."

Martin said Layton would rather risk a Harper victory "than be faithful to his own party's principles"...

"Jack Layton has taken a pass" on fighting the Conservatives, who will end the Kyoto climate-change deal, cut social programs and introduce a socially conservative agenda, Martin said on Tuesday, during a tour of a solar-power company in Burnaby, B.C.

Watching the debates, I was particularly frustrated with Layton's unrelenting assaults on Martin. I understand why Layton took this approach, with regards to the political spectrum, his interests are far better served in attacking the realistic alternative. But, his tactics amounted to a ganging up on Martin from all sides, while the wolf in the hen house was left unscathed. I guess this is the harsh reality of politics, wherein self interest trumps reason, but that doesn't make this predicament any more appealing.

On most all of the major issues, the NDP is more aligned with the Liberals. This allows both parties supporters some flexibility in moving between the two. But, this reality also presents a situation where both fight for the same pie in many instances. Ironic, that after all the fractured right talk the past years, we now find a situation where the opposite exists. The right is firmly in place as a single entity, whereas the left vote is splintered.

Layton is playing the game, offering an alternative to the Liberals, but in so doing he acts the hand maiden for the Conservatives. In his heart of hearts, Layton must dread the thought of a Conservative mandate, yet his own personal fortune is contingent on blasting the lesser evil. The NDP can work with the Liberals, keeping them honest. Layton has no such affinity with Harper, yet the majority of criticisms focus on the closer ally.

Martin's comments are interesting, in that they accurately demonstrate the reality of the present political condition. But, want Martin wants is a completely counter intuitive philosophy from the NDP perspective. Layton would have to show unparalleled ethical appreciation to simply fall on his sword for the good of the country. The problem with politics is the ideals are not the absolute, but pawns to be exploited in this warped arena.


The Ekos poll out today shows the race tightening. Some are dismissing this poll as an outlier, but today's Cpac poll suggests a trend may be developing. The Conservative lead is now 7 points, which isn't a seismic shift from the previous day, but the devil is in the details.

I have always believed that the people in Ontario remain suspicious of Harper, despite their desire for change. Today's Cpac poll now has the Liberals and Conservatives in a dead heat in Ontario. This is a huge development for a myriad of reasons. The nervous voter is starting to question the consequences of Conservative rule. Martin leads Harper on the leadership index, which is supposedly a leading indicator for voter preference. Martin has also closed the gap on the question of who would be the best PM.

These numbers are relevant mostly because of perception. The last week, the media theme was dominated by talk of surging Tories, disconcerted Liberals and inevitability. Always up for some drama, I would expect the media to seize on these latest polls to suggest a turning point. Are the Liberals coming back again? Did Harper peak to early? Momentum is everything, and finally the Grits have something to point too. The resignation we have witnessed from Liberal party officals may now be tempered, with the corresponding pressure building on the Conservatives.

We may very well still be looking at a Conservative victory, I don't mean to suggest otherwise. But, the likelihood of a majority may be waning as people hesitate in giving Harper the keys. The last week of a campaign is an eternity and this race remains fluid.

Liberals Need to Talk Polls

Convention wisdom amongst election strategists, is that candidates should never comment on polls, especially when behind. The theory assumes that acknowledging a rivals success only solidifies their momentum, while distracting from your attempts to look upbeat. Politicians should always project an air of confidence.

I suggest that it is time for Paul Martin to break this taboo and talk polls, talk polls extensively. According to the Ekos poll, a full 72% of Canadians believe we are headed for a minority government. This is an important finding, in that whatever apprehension voters may have towards changing governments, it is tempered by the belief that no party will have the power to act unimpeded. As we start to see headlines now pondering a potential Conservative majority, the dynamic has changed. It may be in Martin's best interest to cite the polls that show the Conservative headed for majority.

Despite the Conservative lead, I would still argue that their increased support is more a function of the desire for change, than it is a ringing endorsement of Conservative philosophy. It is quite an anomaly to have a situation where most Canadians believe the country is headed in the right direction (48% right, 37% wrong) and yet the governing party doesn't enjoy broad support. Martin needs to talk about this discrepancy, and in so doing refocus the debate on to the Liberal record.

Martin must admit the validity of the polls and openly speak of a Conservative majority. This is risky indeed, because the media could seize upon this discussion as an admission of weakness or frame it as desperation. However, Martin needs a daring approach in the final days because anything else will surely see the Liberals defeated. Spell out what a Conservative majority means. Highlight the cast of characters that will make up a Conservative cabinet. Ask aloud if we trust these people to run the country with no parliamentary check. Acknowledge the massive desire for change that is reflected in the polls and articulate why a kneejerk desire for reform is dangerous when you elect this alternative.

A full 16% of voters admit to potentially changing their votes if a Conservative majority looked certain. You could argue that this means 84% are comfortable with this mandate. But, if 16% of people changed their minds, you would have no chance of majority and may well see a situation that resembles a draw. No clear mandate, an air of uncertainty and most importantly a condition where Conservative are forced to moderate their policy. Martin should come right out and say that he trails badly in the polls, that he has ran an awkward campaign, but view this within the specter of a majority. Voters are still wary, especially in Ontario, where Liberal fortunes are most at stake.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Environment Beware

The Conservative platform is a carefully crafted concoction of goodies, meant to appeal and appease. Go through the document, pick an issue and find the Conservative solution, articulated in dollars. Then sift through the footnote that is the Conservative environmental policy and look hard for the expenditure. Can't find it? Thats because the Conservative plan has no allocation for the environment. None. Zero. Nada.

A Conservative government will:

* develop a Clean Air Act to legislate the reduction of smog causing pollutants such as Nitrogen Oxides, Sulphur Dioxides, and particulate matter.

* Address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, with a made in Canada plan, emphasizing new technologies, developed in concert with provinces and in coordination with other major industries.

* Ensure water quality by addressing environmental issues such as the need for acquifer mapping, protection of the Great Lakes basin, banning interbasin water transfers, imposing substantial penalties for illegal bilge oil dumping, and ensure adequate watershed management and methods to ensure water quality and quantity

* Clean up federally contaminated sites and encourage the private sector to clean up brownfields

*Require 5 percent average renewable content in Canadian gasoline and diesel fuel, such as ethanol and biodiesel, by 2010.

The Conservative platform bends over backwards to throw money at every issue, which makes the omission of funds for the environment all the more revealing. Clearly, the Conservatives treat the environment as a nuisance issue. How else can you explain the promise to clean up federally contaminated sites for free? Where is the expenditure, or better yet, have you taken the time to understand the cost?

Greenhouse gas emissions require a "made in Canada" approach. Is that so? Are our emissions a unique sub-type of the other worldly emissions? This lame rhetoric is just code for massive loopholes for industry and avoiding arbitrary targets. If you want to invest in new technologies, it seems like common sense that you need an investment. At the very least you need to articulate what incentives you would offer industry to change its practices. The Conservative platform offers no details, which speaks to their lack of concern for the environment.

Mark my words, and pray for a minority, because these characters approach the environment in the same way as the American administration. Natural places are seen through the prism of economic opportunity to be exploited. Where a conflict between environment and economy exists, profit trumps all. This Conservative environmental platform is a joke, pure and simple. The punchline is this platform doesn't even attempt to hide it.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Painting Pretty Pictures

The Conservative strategists have done a masterful job re-inventing Stephen Harper as a thoughtful moderate. Harper uses the correct soundbites, meant to declaw the already benign media. The Conservative platform is carefully crafted to be all things to everyone. The fact that Harper has gone through this entire campaign without a magor gaffe is a credit to packaging and promoted appearance. Clearly, we have entered an age where media is irrelevant and campaigns merely paint pretty pictures. How else can you explain the blatant free ride the Conservatives have received this campaign?

Every night we see another story about the bumbling Liberal campaign, most of it justified, some of it questionable with regard to balance. However, the Conservatives coverage resembles paid advertising, merely repeating the propaganda of the day. Where are the hard questions? It is almost as if the media has turned on the Liberals(with cause for sure), without an equally critical eye on the opposition.

Has the Conservative Party morphed into a moderate alternative, or is it still a bastion of extremist, intolerant wingers? Canadians need a media that investigates the reality behind the stump speeches. I don't think Canadians have a full understanding of what a Conservative government would mean, and I blame this directly on a neutered media. What about missile defense? What about the environment? What about fiscal responsibility? Someone do the math please, it doesn't add up. Instead, we hear nightly coverage of the looming Conservative victory and basic fluff pieces.

If you listen closely, you can hear the strategists in the Conservative campaign bunker. The sound you hear is a mischievous laugh, akin to someone who has masterfully pulled the rug over everyone's eyes. Liberal media? For myself, it looks as if the honeymoon started before the wedding.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Tide May Be Changing

The latest polling shows the Conservative maintaining their substantial lead over the Liberals. However, a close look at the numbers may reveal some hope for Martin. First we need to take this statement as fact:

Darrell Bricker of Ipsos recently noted that leadership indicators are independent variables that can cause a shift in the dependent variable, better known as party support.

He highlighted Martin's slide in these indicators in December: "Vote is a trailing indicator, not a leading indicator. The fundamentals started going downhill some time ago, vote is only now catching up."

If leadership indicators give us a window into the future, then it could be that the Liberal attack ads are having an effect. Harper now trails Martin by 6 points in the overall leadership numbers. Particularly striking is that Martin leads Harper by 7% with regards to the issue of competence. Harper has also dropped a full 9% on his vision for Canada.

It should give the Conservatives pause that despite leading in the polls, Harper still can't best the battered, scandal ridden Martin. These results also lend credence to the notion that people are not voting Conservative, but anti-Liberal.

People remain apprehensive about the Conservatives and I would suggest these feeling will magnify as we draw closer to the reality of Harper as PM. We need to see a seismic shift in the polls, which may not be realistic, but we could easily have enough erosion to blunt any talk of majority.

It is debatable whether or not the attack ads have been effective. I have always believed that, regardless of ads, Canadians would likely rethink their support as we draw close to the vote. No one disputes the fact that support is particularly soft this election and with that volatility is to be expected. If leadership indicators are generally ahead of the voter curve, we may be at a stage where things begin to change. We still have an eternity to go.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Anti-Kyoto Summit: Will Harper Sign On?

Alot of conservative opinion bothers me, but on the environment their backward approaches make me livid. The Anti-Kyoto Summit is underway and it scares me to think that our PM in waiting may be at the same table. The basic tenet of the Anti-Kyoto crowd:

"Speaking before the opening session in Sydney, Samuel Bodman, the US energy secretary, said it was better for industry to devise more efficient technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than impose binding targets that hamper economic development.

"I believe that the people who run the private sector, who run these companies, they do have children, they do have grandchildren, they do live and breathe in the world," Mr Bodman declared.

"Those of us in government believe it is the job of government to create an environment such that the private sector can really do its work. It's really going to be the private sector, the companies ... that are ultimately going to be the solvers of this problem."

Yes, our global future should rest in the hands of amoral corporations, who's only concern is profit and expediency. The government should allow free enterprise to self-police and develop its own regulatory policies. Targets that cause economic hardship are unnecessary, CEO's will do the right thing, while maintaining the economy.

This entire argument is beyond counter-intuitive. If you don't have third party regulatory bodies to make laws and requirements, then you expect an entity to act against its own self interest. It is equivalent to leaving an alcoholic alone in a liquor store and telling him to stay sober because it is better for him. Huh?? You can't expect industry to do the right thing for society, their focus is too narrow and there is no sense of the greater good. It is imperative that government enact legislation to force compliance, this mechanism is a cornerstone philosophy for a myriad of issues.

But, when a government is beholden to special interests, primarily powerful energy companies, it prefers to let the free market operate unimpeded. I am afraid the indications from the Harper Conservatives suggest a Canadian approach similar to the Americans. If this Anti-Kyoto Summit is any indication, god help us all.

Do you want it or not?

Watching Martin perform during this campaign, especially since the Conservatives haves forged ahead, I am left with the impression that his disposition reveals a tired, spent politican. The passion seems forced, the ideas crafted, but lacking geniune desire, and an almost general disinterest that is palpable.

This is Martin's last hurrah, his political career on the line, as well as his place in history. If you asked Martin if he was giving it his all, surely he would say yes with conviction, but his body language defies him. I expected Martin to ramp it up for the debates, and while he showed glimmers of passion, overall he looked unsure and apprehensive.

Election campaigns are like sport. It could be that Martin is fading due to the grind and maybe his age robs him of his zeal. Whatever the reason, this Paul Martin shows little resemblence to the Paul Martin that challenged Chretien, or ably took the helm when finance minister. Martin doesn't portray the same self confidence or competence for that matter. Harper on the other hand looks more relaxed and confident with each passing day, reinvigorated by the process.

Martin's poor performance thus far does give credence to the notion that it really is time for the Liberals to go into opposition, clean house and morph back into a party with passion. As we get closer to the vote, the reality of what a Conservative mandate may mean is all the more frightening. I want nothing to do with their policies, their masquerade of moderation and I think we will all suffer in having extremists at the helm. However, Martin is offering little to counter the notion that his time is past. Faced with electoral elimination, Martin hasn't really mustered the heart to fight like he needs too. You could almost ask the question, do you want it or not?

I keep waiting for the Liberals to turn it around, I still believe voters could return. But, the electorate needs a reason to counter the obvious shortcomings, and sadly the Liberals under Martin look like a broken government. Tick, tock.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What if?

As we draw near to the vote, there are a lot of questions as to what a Conservative majority would mean for the country. No one can predict the future, but a brief look at the recent past gives some indication, and none of it flattering. Lets pretend Harper came to power five years ago. What would the country look like? Some rampant speculation:

1) parliamentary committees would still be grappling with our misguided involvement in the Iraq war. The images of dead Canadian soldiers would haunt the national collective. Law enforcement agencies would work under the cloud of mass paranoia. The continued cost of protracted war would put a strain on our monetary policies.

2) Canada would be criticized by the world community for failing to show international leadership with regard to the Kyoto Accord. The government would propose "different" methods to curb emissions, but our attitude would be similar to the Americans.

3) First Ministers meeting would have given the provinces increased powers over previous federal jurisdiction. An elected Senate would slow effective policies as another layer of government, with differing agendas begins to share concrete power. Aboriginal leaders would see a society that further marginalizes their predicament.

4) With the tax cuts, new corporate loopholes and the increased expenditures for the Conservative promises, the country records a deficit which threatens the confidence in the financial community. Interest rates float toward dangerous terrority and the economic future is uncertain.

5) The gap between rich and poor widens as the social safety net is undermined. The "welfare state" is threatened and big business is rewarded. The rights of the gay community are rejected and the notion of tolerance is weakened.

6) More money is allocated for "superjails", as the entire legal system moves toward the American model of punishment first, reintregation second. The Canadian example, which is admired around the world is undermined.

etc, etc

7) The opposition Liberals currently hold a 23 point lead in the polls leading up to the next election :)

Did I miss anything?

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Polling May Hurt Harper

On the surface, the new polling suggests that the Conservatives are surging and look to form the next government. Given the volatility of the electorate, coupled with spectre of a possible Conservative majority, I would suggest these latest numbers may represent a turning point. Harper is now the clear frontrunner, and with that comes the renewed, pointed scrutiny. The focus of the media now shifts from the awkward Liberal campaign to the man who would be king.

A terrific percentage of voters still say they may change their preference. These findings suggest very soft support, tertiary interest and above all open minds. Up until now, all the talk has centered around minority governments, with the general consensus being no party would have enough support to govern freely. As the consequences of this latest polling begin to set, I would expect the mushy electorate to think through a Conservative majority. Yes, the Conservatives have made progress portraying Harper as moderate, not to be feared. However, this gradual acceptance still doesn't translate into strong positive impressions of Harper, merely a belief that "he ain't so bad".

The threat of majority raises the stakes, with the voter, with the media focus and with the opposition critiques. Layton will lay off the Liberals and train his sights on Harper, painting him as dangerous and extreme. The Bloc will protect its turf and try to quell the Conservatives Quebec support. Martin is now given the opportunity to ramp up the rhetoric, with a receptive media. I contend that this campaign has just started, and Harper is now exposed in the open for the first time. The questions asked to voters are now singular and clear. These polls may not bring electoral success, but a renewed sense of fear and doubts. These last two weeks are an eternity, Harper beware.