Friday, March 30, 2007

Tory Tidbits

If the record is so impressive then why do the Tories need to resort to another round of unprecedented attack ads?:
The federal Tories are preparing a new series of ads attacking Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion as senior Conservative members continue debating the merits of a spring election campaign.

Sources have told The Globe and Mail that the advertisements, which have already been filmed, criticize Mr. Dion's stand on last week's budget. The Liberals voted against the deal and have been criticized by the Conservatives for doing so.

I thought this was a masterful, comprehensive budget? Why then, aren't the Tories running ads bragging to Canadians about their achievements? Harper is forever telling us about getting results, keeping promises and working for ordinary families? Afterall, this is how Stephen Harper feels about negative politics:
"I will let the Liberals descend into the gutter. They will be punished accordingly,"

Remember all the comments about the Liberal attack ads denoting desperation and providing another sign that they were morally bankrupt? I have a hunch that this round of ads will backfire, as the pattern of mean-spirited, American style politics begins to gel.

The Tory counter-argument to the revised Clean Air Act says their opposition is a product of the changes providing less than the original proposals. This begs the question, how can you have less than nothing?

Get ready for the "carbon tax" barrage, accompanied by economic ruin, as the Conservatives attempt to discredit the opposition proposals. Whenever a Tory plays this angle, simply remind them of their tax on inefficent vehicles in the budget and then ask them how that is different from discouraging other polluters? I saw one commentator take this approach with a Conservative MP, and the squirming was noteworthy.

"The Liberals haven't gone away"

I think this is an important poll, considering it's the same firm that last week gave the Tories a huge lead:
The post-budget bubble has burst for the federal Conservatives, ending a flirtation with popularity numbers that put them in majority government territory, a new national poll says.

The poll also suggests the Tories got virtually no bounce from Monday's Quebec election,

The Conservatives, after surging to the "magic" majority number of 40 per cent in the immediate aftermath of last week's budget, have dropped four points to 36 per cent - the same level of support they secured when they won a minority victory in the Jan. 23, 2006 election.

The Liberals were up two points to 31 per cent since last week's poll, the NDP was up one point to 15 per cent, the Green party was up two points to nine per cent, and the Bloc Quebecois dropped one point to eight per cent.

What is particularly relevant, Ipsos own polling proves the folly of conducting a survey right after a budget is released. There was another online poll released by Angus-Reid, showing the Conservatives well up, but I'm disregarding any finding that shows the Liberals fourth in Quebec, behind the NDP- let's keep it real people.

It would appear that the budget has actually cost the Conservatives when you do the regional breakdown. The Liberals are up 13% in Atlantic Canada, 7% in Saskatchewan, 5% in Ontario. The only regions the Grits lost ground were a 3% drop in Quebec and the always irrelevant 7% drop in Alberta.

Harper lost ground in British Columbia, with a sizable 7% drop and an 8% plunge in Ontario, despite "fixing" the fiscal imbalance. It would appear that the budget did the Conservatives no favors, a 1% rise in Quebec isn't quite what the payoff had in mind, and the backlash would appear to be pronounced.

If these numbers held on election day, the Tories would be wiped off the map in Atlantic Canada, lose seats in the Prairies and possibly B.C, with Ontario quite competitive, as well as Quebec. That doesn't translate to a majority scenario in my mind, the budget has alienated many, and any potential gains could be offset by the loss of incumbents.

It's hard to sift through all the contradictions in the various polling, but I think this Ipso-Reid poll has credibility, given the fact it was the one that Tory strategists probably kept under their pillow last week. Maybe Dion is right when he says "never has so much be done with so little". No bounce is a major failure, by any objective measure, given the favorable circumstance.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Taking My Ball And Going Home

Addition by subtraction, get lost:
The brother of former Liberal premier David Peterson has quit the provincial Liberal caucus to sit as an independent and then run for the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election...

“He’s been unhappy for a long time,” one Liberal MPP confided today.

“He sees others getting cabinet jobs and that’s hard to take.”

Sorbara said Peterson has long been frustrated by not being promoted to cabinet.

“Tim has been troubled by the prominence of his role for quite some time,” said Sorbara.

“My own sense is that not very far down the road, Tim is going to regret this decision. ”

What a principled stance, his pathetic rationale so transparent. I don't want to be a backbencher, I want to be a player and my beliefs are a distant consideration. Where can I make a donation to the local Liberals to help give this opportunistic cad his just rewards in the fall election?

Israel Has A Choice To Make

If there is any realistic chance for a comprehensive Middle East peace, then the proposals from the Arab League are essentially a given:
The Arab summit drew world and Muslim leaders who backed the Arab plan offering Israel normal ties with all Arab countries in return for its withdrawal from land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, the creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinians displaced in 1948.

The final communiqué read by Arab League chief Amr Moussa at the close of the summit affirmed "just and comprehensive peace as a strategic option for the Arab nation in accordance with the Arab peace initiative" based on the "land for peace" formula.
Rejected by Israel when it was originally proposed at a Beirut summit in 2002, the plan has key hurdles to overcome.

Israel objects to important elements, including the proposed return to 1967 borders, the inclusion of Arab East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees to homes in what is now Israel. Backed by its U.S. ally, the Jewish state has said it prefers to negotiate the terms of peace first.

"I would say this: Let's conduct negotiations. You come with your positions, and we will come with ours," Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told Israel Radio.

If Israel continues to reject the Arab proposals, it effectively endorses infinite hostility. How can expect peace if you are not prepared to withdraw from occupied terrorities? How can you expect peace if you don’t acknowledge the historical error that was perpetrated on the Palestinian people? How can you expect peace if you don’t respect the Palestinian right for self-determination?

I suppose you could argue that the Arab League position only represents one side of the argument, but if real peace is the goal, I would submit it is the only course and not unreasonable. Israelis are on land that doesn’t belong to them, many settlers are every bit the radicals so often decreed in Muslim nations. There are objective wrongs that Israel doesn’t seem to accept, and until they do so everything else is window dressing and peace an illusion.

Just imagine if Israel were to accept these proposals. What a terrific gesture that would end the cycle. I would argue that the world would be far more sympathetic to legitimate Israeli concerns if there was a good faith, bold endorsement of a real peace. There are human rights issues at the core of most of the problems, the only way to deal with them is to show Palestinians the respect they deserve. This translates into dealing with refugees in an honorable way, respecting borders and embracing the concept of Jerusalem as meeting place, a powerful symbol of a new reality. The Arab plan is not a negotiating point, it is the essence of a solution. Period.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dion's "Leadership" Gap

Partisanship aside, this poll finding suggests a major hurdle for Dion:
Other good news for Harper in the Leger poll suggests 57 per cent of respondents were satisfied with his government and 35 per cent saw him as the party leader who would make the best prime minister.
Harper was followed by NDP Leader Jack Layton at 14 per cent and Liberal Leader Stephane Dion at 12 per cent.

The Leger poll gives two party figures, hard numbers and an adjustment that factors undecideds. The bad news for Dion, even if you take the hard numbers, he is the only leader that shows a gap between party support and leadership:
Conservatives 33/Harper 35
Liberals 22/Dion 12
NDP 14/Layton 14

Almost half of the Liberal supporters don't give Dion the leadership nod, which doesn't bode well for a campaign, when the focus on the leader becomes even more acute. This isn't the first poll to find Dion lagging on leadership, and you can point to a million excuses to minimize what this actually means. However, these type of findings only confirm my opinion that Dion has a credibility problem.

I have heard some pundits say that Conservative strategists view Dion as weak, and they aren't particularly worried about any improvement in the future. I would argue that it's still to early to write Dion off as effective, but at the same time it is important to recognize the challenge.

A leader has to be relevant in parliament, whether it be in QP, scrums or press conferences. On all those scores Dion has been an objective failure to date, which the media loves to detail. Some have argued that Dion's strengths don't manifest themselves in this forum and we need to find other avenues to get the message out. However, that type of strategy amounts to a concession, a ceding of critical ground, that presents Dion as "challenged". You can't shield Dion, or attempt to shape the playing field. These are the realities of Canadian politics, and coverage will demand that you sink or swim within this lens. In my mind, Dion either gets it together in the traditional sense or we are fatally handicapped. Handlers should repeat one word over and over, leadership, leadership, leadership. That is the achilles heel, as the above clearly details, and you can't work on the margins, Dion needs to perform head on.

Polls, Polls, Polls

The Leger Marketing survey indicates the Conservatives had the support of 33 per cent of respondents, the Liberals 22 per cent and the NDP 12 per cent. The Bloc Quebecois had the backing of seven per cent of respondents while the Green Party had five per cent.

The numbers jump with the redistribution of the undecided, suggesting Conservative support was at 41 per cent, Liberals 27 per cent, the NDP 14 per cent, the Bloc nine per cent and the Greens six per cent.
The poll of 1,500 people was conducted between March 20 and 25 and has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

I would like a breakdown of how many people were polled on which days. As I've said before any results in the first couple days following the budget are suspect at best. This poll was conducted between Tuesday and Sunday, so I'm not sure how to read the results. I'm also not sure how you "redistribute" undecideds.

The poll suggests majority terrority for the Tories, which directly contradicts yesterday's Decima findings. Conclusion, who knows.

Some internals:
The Leger poll indicates the Conservatives have yet to pass the dominant Bloc in Quebec. The poll suggested the Bloc still led with 36 per cent support compared to the Conservatives who had 26 per cent, the Liberals a hair behind at 25 per cent and the NDP trailing at 10 per cent.
The news was more encouraging in the other key electoral battleground of vote-rich Ontario, where Leger found the Conservatives polled at 44 per cent support, the Liberals at 32 per cent, the NDP 14 per cent and the Greens at eight per cent.
The margin of error for the Quebec results is five percentage points and 4.5 percentage points for Ontario.
Other good news for Harper in the Leger poll suggests 57 per cent of respondents were satisfied with his government and 35 per cent saw him as the party leader who would make the best prime minister.
Harper was followed by NDP Leader Jack Layton at 14 per cent and Liberal Leader Stephane Dion at 12 per cent.

The Quebec numbers are similar to Decima's, although the Ontario numbers show no relationship whatsoever.


Did farmers really vote against the Canadian Wheat Board today, or are the findings simply a result of manipulation? I would suggest the latter, we need a Clarity Act for barley. Despite what Chuck Strahl says, I don't see these results as anything but confirmation that the plebiscite was a joke. Is anyone surprised that the "you can have your cake and eat it too" option won the day? Three options is a ruse, because there are only two in the real world. You either have a system of supply management or you don't, there isn't a middle road and the Conservatives are mischievous to present one as credible.

If you look at the percentages of those that actually voted against the Canadian Wheat Board, they are hardly conclusive:
38 per cent said they wanted to maintain the status quo.

Of those who didn't want the status quo, about 48 per cent said they wanted to choose where to sell their barley and about 14 per cent said the wheat board should have no role in selling barley.

By province:
The plebiscite results showed that the strongest support for the single desk system to continue was in Manitoba (51 per cent) and Saskatchewan (45 per cent), while in Alberta, only 21 per cent supported the status quo.

On the other hand, Alberta farmers were the most likely to support having a choice in where to market their barley. About 63 per cent said they supported that option. In Saskatchewan, the figure for the "CWB plus marketing choice" option was 42 per cent. In Manitoba, it was 34.6 per cent.

Turning Strahl's 62% number around, you could argue that 86% of farmers don't support abandoning the Canadian Wheat Board. The middle choice isn't a choice, it was deliberately added to help Strahl justify his feverish push to kill supply management.

The good news, these results show that the Tories could pay a price if they proceed, as Strahl suggests. A full majority in Manitoba voted for the first, clear option, which means there is no stomach for Strahl's agenda. In Saskatchewan, MP's have warned the Agriculture Minister that this push could cost the Conservatives. Couple this fact with the budget fallout, and Saskatchewan can no longer be considered a firm Tory base. In an electoral discussion, the opinions of Albertan farmers are irrelevant, unless of course you get bonus seats for 70% support.

All that happened today, Chuck Strahl proved that you can muddy the waters, toy with basic democratic premises and get a misleading result. Today just adds to the confusion, gives no real direction and essentially allow an ideologue to hammer home his agenda. There is no mandate in this vote.


Accidental Deliberations has more on the triumph of democracy and clarity.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Poll

I consider this poll the first one of any consequence in the budget aftermath:
The Decima survey, provided to The Canadian Press, puts the Tories at 35 per cent support nationally, with the Liberals at 31 per cent. The Conservatives would likely need at least 40 per cent support to secure a majority. The results, gathered Thursday through Sunday, indicate no bump for the party in the wake of last week's federal budget.

In Quebec, the Tories finished ahead of the Liberals for the first time in five months with 25 per cent support.

The Liberals were at 20 per cent, while the Bloc Quebecois led with 34 per cent.

But in Ontario, the Liberals held a commanding eight-point lead, with 41 per cent backing compared to 33 per cent for the Conservatives.

The two polls that were taken in the afterglow of the budget showed a moderate Tory bounce. This poll has results up until March 25, so it provides a better read budget reaction, allowing for some digestion. Initial press coverage was decidedly favorable, but my reading was the budget reaction turned in the following days. This poll would support the argument that the budget did little for Harper.

The Quebec numbers are encouraging for Harper, but those Ontario numbers certainly rain on the parade. Whatever Harper hoped to gain with his Quebec windfall may have backfired, as the perception of unfair allotment took hold. Having said that, Ontario numbers do appear to be all over the place, depending on the poll.

Decima has the Conservatives with the same result as they did at the beginning of the month, with the Liberals up slightly. No momentum, fragile minority terrority, no bounce, according to Decima.

Advantage Harper

It wasn't the scenario Harper had envisioned, but last night's election results may turn out to be a big victory for the federal Conservatives. In fact, the prospects for a quick federal election look all the more likely, as Conservative strategists digest the landscape.

Flashback a few months ago, Charest was lagging in the polls and the natural option seemed the PQ. The Charest/Harper lovefest was the obvious option for Harper, desperate to increase his prospects in Quebec. The ADQ was a nice afterthought, ideologically similar, but certainly not a realistic alternative. The assumption, if Charest wins, Harper wins. I would suggest that dynamic doesn't necessarily apply anymore.

The fact of the matter, Charest and the Liberals do cling to power, so that hardly translates into a defeat for the Harper strategy. Again, given the prospects for Charest as early as a few months ago, last night isn't the doomsday scenario for the Quebec Liberals. The big loser, by all accounts was the PQ, which articulates the real goal of Harper's "outreach". It's hard to say Harper lost anything, if you look at the long faces of BQ members today. Harper's drive to majority has to include an erosion in BQ support, last night's result certainly represents opportunity. The BQ is on the defensive, mission accomplished.

The unknown variable, the ADQ, is a pleasant surprise for Harper. A good percentage of the ADQ support may be a "protest" vote, but that doesn't detract from the rise of a rural-based, conservative agenda, which emphasizes many of the same themes as the Harper Conservatives. There is a natural fit here that no one would deny, again, how is that a bad development for Harper? Dumont's campaign actually lays the foundation for the Harper approach in the next election. Quebecers may be far more receptive, given the ADQ legitimacy. A party that wants to move beyond the "old divisions" and produce "real results" for Quebecers meets the federal option that will invariably paint Dion and Duceppe in the same light.

Harper now has two parties that will be sympathetic in the next election. The naked hypocrisy prevents Charest from straying, and Dumont is likely to indirectly endorse the Conservative option. Where this leaves the Liberals is any one's guess, but I don't see much in last night that screams Dionmania. Advantage Harper, not in the way he planned, but possibly just as attractive.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Canada Wins?

A fragile Liberal minority, with the Premier losing his seat. The separatists relegated to third and the Quebec dynamic under seismic change. At first blush, not necessarily a bad scenario for the Canadian federation.

Generally, when the reigning Liberal party loses the confidence of the people, we engage in another round of divisive debate as the PQ takes the helm. In a way the federation has dodged a bullet in this instance. Charest has failed, Quebecers have rejected the Liberals, despite the seat totals. The pandering and political manipulation has backfired, but the beneficiary isn't the separatist cause. Instead, the ADQ is the official opposition, the Liberals will have a new leader and the cycle is broken. There is no "knife at our throat", instead we now have a PQ in philosophical disarray.

I'm not a Quebecer, so my opinion isn't informed, but I take these results to mean a few things. Quebecers, despite their disdain for Charest, don't want a referendum, and are tired of the old debates. The ADQ vote is protest in nature, and reflects a desire for change. Conservatism has found a strong voice in Quebec politics, which may actually benefit Harper after all.

What does this mean for Canada? Conventional wisdom assumed a Charest majority was the best outcome, but I would suggest tonight's results are better in the long term. The Liberals can re-tool while still in power, a unique circumstance. Dumont is an unknown, but has no appetite for referendums and division. Hardline sovereigntists have never been weaker in terms of political power. The Bloc is weakened by extension, and will now have to argue relevance.

The downside, these results may help Harper. Dumont has spoken highly of Harper in the past, and the ADQ approach is analogous to the federal Conservatives. Harper did everything in his power to help Charest, but ultimately tonight's results might still present a favorable climate in the next election. I have no idea where this leaves the Liberals, a lot will depend on Dion's election performance and how he reacts to the new landscape.

All in all, I can think of worse scenarios.

Partisans And Bias

When I did my undergrad in university, one of the more interesting courses concerned the philosophy of history. I mention this fact, because I think it relevant to the discussion of partisanship and the delusion that some people have, that they are objective.

There was a school of thought that developed, within the historical community, called the Idealist School. The logic behind this approach to history argued that the historian was a blank canvas, hard facts were the only consideration in formulating a thesis. Any conclusions were simply the result of a careful reading of the evidence, there was the notion that a person could interpret objectively through the sheer power of facts. A reading of history was almost akin to a scientific formula, the observer was a conduit to truth.

Of course, this theory was rejected, hence the Idealist tag, because it failed to recognize the permanence of human bias. Objectivity, in the scientific sense, is illusion for any endeavor that involves human interpretation. While the facts are powerful, an individual historian must determine the weight and the relationship of the facts, which leads to different conclusions. In other words, a person can strive for objectivity, but this search always has limitation because you can't escape the lens of your own experience. Complete objectivity, absolute truth, is impossible once you accept bias as resident.

I joined the Liberal Party a few months ago. I did so, largely because I saw an opportunity to participate in a chance to reform a bloated national institution. However, in some ways I wish I had remained independent, primarily because I am occasionally disregarded as a "Liberal", "partisan", "kool-aid drinking" hack who's bias supercedes every opinion. Nevermind the fact I voted for the NDP last election, nevermind the fact I have voted Green in a prior election, nevermind the fact that I have criticized the Liberal Party on MANY occasions (in fact my first blog post argued in favor of turfing the Liberals), nevermind the fact that I written favorably about Layton and May, I am now the Liberal partisan.

I admit my biases, and they haven't really changed since I joined the Liberal Party. However, what I find annoying is the posture some people take, as a function of their apolitical orientation. Newsflash, everyone has a bias, everyone is a partisan in one fashion or another. Staying on the sidelines and pontificating from the ambigious pedestal doesn't give one more "objectivity", maybe it just makes the bias less obvious, but entirely real, nonetheless.

There are varying degrees of bias and partisanship. Some people, and we all know the examples, are so fiercely partisan that their opinion is almost irrelevant. No matter what the issue, everything is spun and that warping destroys credibility. I would hope that my opinions don't fall into that category, because I do strive for some fairness, from time to time, for balance. Everyone is a prisoner to their own bias, that fact limits our ability to "see" clearly. Those that actually believe they do "see" objectively are the worst, because that arrogance suggests a lack of self-knowledge. Deal with it, everyone is a partisan, nobody has the objective eyes, it's all just opinion in the end and I'm okay with the relativity.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kennedy Calls Harper A Bigot?

According to Second Thoughts, which was picked up by National Newswatch, Gerard Kennedy made the following charge on Question Period, as it relates to the Prime Minister:
"Why was he picking on people that wear turbans, that look different?"

The context, Kennedy was responding to the "extremist elements" accusations made by the Prime Minister and his penchant for "drive by smears":
Harper again noted the Liberals who want the special powers extended and accused Dion of "being led by extremist elements in his own caucus."

"For the first time in history we have a leader of the opposition who is soft on terrorism," the PM alleged.

"The Liberal Party opposes the change we made, which is to give the police a voice in this process," Harper said.

"I'm not surprised, given what I'm reading in the Vancouver Sun today, when I read this is how the Liberal Party makes decisions."

His MP's use the same attack lines:
"We know there is an extremist element in the Liberal party generally that has been very vocal in opposing measures that are designed to combat terrorism," Ottawa Tory MP Pierre Poilievre told a radio interviewer last week.

In the radio interview, Poilievre was asked whether he thought Bains was an extremist. Poilievre would only say that he doesn't comment on individuals.

"A lot of them are in Stéphane Dion's caucus."

Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Brampton South) and Omar Alghabra (Mississauga-Erindale) called a press conference today to denounce Poilievre and the dubious undercurrent to his references about "extremist elements."

If there is anyone who is sensitive to this issue, it's Gerard Kennedy, who is currently dealing with his own smear by a Conservative hack, masquerading as a journalist. Everyone knows the inference in Harper's comments, and everyone knows the ethnic group he points too with "extremist elements". After all, it was within the Air India debate that Harper decided to make the comments and read from the Vancouver Sun. Isn't Kennedy just doing away with the inference and asking the direct question?

Kennedy should have chosen different words, but I have no problem with the context of the comments. The Conservatives have raised the ethnic question, hurled innuendo and suggested "extremist elements". Within the realm of Harper's divisive tactics, it would appear that he is generalizing about an ethnic group, making Kennedy's comment less inflammatory than first blush might suggest. For all the Conservatives who will cry foul, you don't have a leg to stand on, with the Right Dis Honorable at the helm. Maybe the blunt talk is something Harper can understand.

Canada Is A Failed State

One thing became crystal clear this week, Canada doesn't work. Fairness is an illusion, alienation is institutionalized, appeasement trumps common sense. Canada is dysfunctional, asymmetrical, uneven. Canada has a national legislature, wherein a sizable portion of officials don't believe in the state, in fact there motivations are too destroy it.

I'm tired of reading figures like this:
all the $12.7 billion in “equalization payments” that will be transferred this year through the feds from the three “rich” provinces — Ontario, Alberta and B.C. — to the seven have-nots, Quebec will get 56% of the loot, up from 49% a year ago.

Quebec may have 25% of the population, but it will now be getting 33% of the nearly $50 billion the feds will give in total to all the provinces this year for health, education, social programs and equalization.

This year, the average Canadian taxpayer will send just under $1,000 to Quebec, money that will help pay for cheap government auto insurance, and subsidized $7-a-day child care.

Andrew Coyne, with one of the best anti-fiscal imbalance columns, that puts absurdity into context:
All the provinces are now running surpluses: In the aggregate, they took in $9-billion more than they spent last year. The average provincial debt-to-GDP ratio is less than 20%; Ottawa's debt is still 33% of GDP. Provinces pay 8? of every revenue dollar in debt interest; the feds, 15?.

Is the federal government hogging the available fiscal room? Federal spending, excluding transfers to the provinces, is now just 10% of GDP, versus the provinces' 16%. The same holds true on the revenue side. Federal revenues: 16% of GDP. Provincial revenues (including transfers): 18%. And the gap is widening.

I supported distinct society, I supported the Quebec Liberal "nation" amendment, I will always support Quebec as a unique entity within Canada. Having said that, enough is enough with the Canadian dynamic. The principles of equality, all in it together, are lost, because the reality is Canada has a constant, lingering, knife at it's throat. The rest of the country is held hostage by the desires of one sub-section.

The time has come for English Canada to get its act together, when it comes to separation. Too often, the focus is on appeasement, while the drift continues. Mention the word constitution and people scurry like rats. Everyone is focused on keeping the separatists at bay, tweaking here and there, saying the right things to secure support in a critical electoral province. The interest of the nation, in totality, is compromised as there is disproportionate focus on a one region. This fact has largely contributed to Western alienation, which presents a interesting paradox- the efforts to keep the country together, simultaneously demonstrate why the country doesn't work.

Canada is ridiculous. One province has all the leverage, through the threat of seperation. English Canada is permanently on the defensive, because of that threat, and it is forced to act accordingly, pacification is king. However, despite all the efforts, it leads nowhere, the threat remains, in fact it emboldens it. A seat at UNESCO, only raises stature, allowing for more demands and further "autonomy. Fiscal security only furthers the illusion that separation has little cost, that autonomy can be achieved without ruin. Separatist MP's are viewed as a sign of pride and strength, a permanent fixture in an institution which is supposed to bring the federation together.

The situation is untenable, when one province, by any empiricial measure, receives a great share than the rest. Canada is supposedly a collective, with the idea of equality at the core. Isn't it pathetic, that political considerations create a condition where we have classes of Canadians. That is a nation? No, that is an illusion, and it's about time people accept this fact. The kicker, if you polled Quebecers, I'll bet the majority would still see some disparity in how they are treated within Canada, some latent grips. Canada needs a therapist, or maybe a divorce, seriously.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Flaherty's Pork

If you are wondering what criteria the government used to determine the automobile rebate, all you apparently need is a riding map. Flaherty looks to subsidize local industry:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's department made a last-minute change to the budget that allows cars built at the General Motors plant next to his riding to qualify for federal climate-change incentives even though environmentalists say the cars are gas guzzlers.

Government officials privately confirmed that as recently as one week before last Monday's federal budget was finalized, the rebates for fuel-efficient cars did not include vehicles with engines capable of running on E85, a gasoline made up of 85 per cent ethanol.

The two six-cylinder vehicles, the Chevrolet Impala and the Monte Carlo, are produced at the GM plant in Oshawa, a riding narrowly won by the Conservatives in the past two elections. The plant is minutes away from Mr. Flaherty's riding of Whitby-Oshawa, where the local economy is closely linked to the GM plant, with many residents employed at GM or in spin-off jobs tied to the plant.

But officials outside of the Finance Department who saw draft versions a week before the budget was finished said E85 vehicles were not in those documents. The officials noted that E85 vehicles were inserted at the end of the process by Finance officials, rather than by officials from other departments with policy expertise in the area.

What is the Finance Department doing inserting vehicles which qualify for rebates? Shouldn't there be some consultation with experts to detemine criteria? The fact that Flaherty inserted these vehicles, at the last minute, does suggest a motivation other than environmental concerns. Not only does Flaherty insulate a local car manufacturer from potential harm, he actually subsidizes this industry, ensuring robust sales. I view this announcemnt as indirect pork, it is no coincidence where these plants operate.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Another Poll

Another poll, showing a bounce in the budget aftermath:
Prime Minister Stephen Harpers' Conservatives have surged to 40% in popular opinion and entered majority government territory, a new poll says.

The poll, conducted exclusively by Ipsos-Reid for CanWest News Service and Global Television after the Harper government delivered its new budget, shows the Tories have opened up an 11-point lead nationally over Stéphane Dion's Liberals.

Grit support plunged to 29% from 34% in a survey conducted a week earlier.

Moreover, the poll indicates the Conservatives have opened up a 10-point lead (43% to 33%) over the Liberals in Ontario, the crown jewel of Canadian politics with 106 seats. They also are locked in a virtual tie with them in Quebec, 26%-25% for the Liberals. Quebec has 75 federal seats.

"The compelling part of this is that they have actually tied the Grits in Quebec, and they've got a 10-point lead on them in Ontario. With that 10-point lead, they can clean up." Mr. Bricker said.

The poll put NDP support at 14%, up two points from the last poll.

The Green party slipped one point to 7%.

Opinion of the budget:
found Canadians are twice as likely to give the budget "two thumbs up" than "two thumbs down." The split was 24-12. Half of those surveyed said it was neither good nor bad and opted to "symbolically shrug their shoulders."

That 40% number must have Tory strategists ITCHING. The most troubling finding of this poll, the Ontario numbers. A 10 point lead is significant, and is clearly the key to a solid majority.

Should we be worried? Call me a partisan hack, but while somewhat concerning, I'm not inclined to put a lot of stock in a poll done in the budget aftermath. As I stated prior, the initial hours of budget coverage are usually the media puppeting the government. It takes a few days for complete digestion, which is why any polling next week might be a better indicator.

Two curious parts of the poll. In Alberta, everyone seems relatively happy with the budget, yet the Conservative lose 7%. In British Columbia, with a mixed reaction, so much so Harper took to the airwaves, we see a 10% surge. Both those results make little sense.

Angus-Reid online poll with more to chew on:
Overall, do you think the proposed federal budget will be good or bad for the country / for you personally?

Country Personal

Good 52% 36%

Bad 22% 29%

Don’t know 26% 35%

Based on what you have seen, heard or read about the federal budget, are you satisfied with its provisions in these particular topics?

Offering help to Canada’s working families 55%
Restoring the fiscal balance between the federal government and the provinces 49%
Providing support to the Canadian Forces and its members 48%
Encouraging the people who use welfare to work again 46%
Safeguarding the environment and fighting global warmin 41%
Delivering authentic tax relief to Canadian 39%
Assisting Canadian students with their debt loa 36%
Eliminating waiting lists for health care treatment 35%
Developing an efficient anti-drug strateg 29%
Addressing the needs of Aboriginal Canadians 27%

Not So "New"

You have to hand it to the Conservatives, gall seems to come naturally:
The federal government is crowing about a World Trade Organization review this week that lauded Canada's trade policy.

The WTO secretariat reported Wednesday that Ottawa's "outward-looking orientation" has effectively insulated the economy from several external shocks and helps explain Canada's good economic performance. It also attributed Canada's performance to the huge demand for Canadian commodities in China.

International Trade Minister David Emerson says the findings are proof Conservative government policies are working.

What the government website fails to mention, the review takes place every 4 years, and the OVERWHELMING majority of the positive findings are based under Liberal rule. A few tidbits for context:
2. Annual average GDP growth between 2002 and 2005 was just below the economy's potential of 3%. This overall positive performance was underpinned by sound macroeconomic policies. On the fiscal front, Canada has posted federal surpluses since its last Review. The provinces have also practiced fiscal discipline, resulting in a combined provincial surplus of 1% of GDP in fiscal year 2005/06. Canada has made progress in reducing its federal debt burden, with the debt-to-GDP ratio falling to 35% in 2005/06, from almost 44% in 2002/03.

4. Trade and foreign investment are particularly important for Canada, which is the world's fifth largest merchandise trader. Goods and services trade was the equivalent of close to 72% of Canada's GDP in 2005. Although most of Canada's trade continues to take place with the United States (71% of merchandise trade in 2005), imports have diversified away from this source, reflecting primarily the growing importance of China as a supplier. The composition of merchandise trade has also changed considerably, with the share of fuels in total exports rising from 14% in 2001 to 20% in 2005. During the same period, the outward FDI stock increased by 16.5% (to Can$465 billion), while inward FDI grew by 22.1% (to Can$416 billion).

Federal corporation tax was reduced from 28% in 2000 to 21% in 2004. Various tax credits are offered at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels.

The "new" government rides the Liberal legacy and now takes the credit. To be fair, I guess Emerson can crow, given his past.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Strategic Council, with the first post-budget poll:
The federal Conservatives got the budget boost they were hoping for, putting them on the cusp of a majority if an election were to be held today, latest poll numbers suggest.

Taken between March 20 and 21 following Monday's budget address, the Strategic Counsel survey for CTV News and The Globe and Mail asked: How would Canadians vote today?

39 per cent said they would vote for a Conservative candidate.
31 per cent chose Liberal.

The Conservatives are polling three percentage-points higher compared with pre-budget numbers, while their lead over the static Liberals stretched from five to eight percentage points.

Numbers for the NDP (13% from 15%), Bloc Quebecois (8% from 9%) and the Green Party (9% from 10%) were all down slightly compared to the last Strategic Counsel poll, taken one week before the budget was unveiled.

According to the poll, the driving force behind the rising Tory fortunes is that the budget seems to have won over the most important voting block in the country: middle class voters.

And Gregg said while Tory weak spots from the 2006 campaign continue to persist today -- for instance, Conservatives still trail in support among immigrants and female voters -- they are starting to make inroads in those and other significant areas.

I'm hesitant to say this poll indicates a real bounce. The obvious, it's within the margin and error, not to mention the timing. I think we need to wait a few days before we see the true impact of the budget. Coverage tends to be benign in the initial hours, simply parroting the government angles. However, and maybe I over-state this point, I think the mood has turned and the theme emerging is hardly flattering. Are people talking about the "family" budget, or the sellout to Quebec? Characterizing the "bounce" seems pre-mature.


This story blows my mind:
A right-wing, libertarian think-tank with a long record of opposing electoral reform has been awarded a contract by the federal Conservative government to probe public perceptions of . . . electoral reform.

Opposition politicians are livid that the Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy will write the consultation report, based on discussions with what is supposed to be a representative sample of Canadians.

The Frontier Centre's website includes links to stories such as: Why I'm a Recovering Electoral Reformer, The Unintended Consequences of Electoral Reform and Canada Should Keep `First Past the Post' Voting System.

But New Democrat MP Catherine Bell, who has been trying to get answers on the consultation for weeks, said Frontier's role is shocking.

"I'm quite angry," Bell said in an interview. "I find it quite surprising that a government that constantly preaches to be so accountable . . . would do something so underhanded and manipulative."

Liberal Stephen Owen called the consultation process "a charade."

The defense:
Peter Van Loan, the Conservative cabinet minister responsible for democratic reform, has defended awarding the contract to Frontier, stating in the Commons that "this was a wide open competitive process and I do not believe anybody should be barred from participating because of their views."

Van Loan is kidding, right? I understand the "wide-open" process, but applicants with overt bias shouldn't be allowed to bid. You hire a firm that is against electoral reform to study electoral reform. Why not hire the Klan to canvas discrimination? One word, unbelievable.

23% Of Canadians Are THICK

Angus Reid:
A new poll suggests most Canadians believe climate change is a reality, but people in various regions hold widely different attitudes — with Albertans expressing the most skepticism.

The survey conducted by Angus Reid Strategies released Thursday found that almost four in five Canadians — 77 per cent — are convinced global warming is real.

"This is the biggest study that has been done on Canadians and their opinions and attitudes towards global warming," Angus Reid poll researcher Ellie Sykes told CBC News Thursday.

"People are really getting on the band wagon. They're really looking for government and corporations to take a much larger step than they have so far."

In Alberta, 69 per cent of respondents said they believed in global warming, while in Quebec, the number soared to 83 per cent.

Fifty-seven per cent of Quebecers polled said they are promoting better behaviour toward the environment, while only 36 per cent of Albertans said they are doing the same.

As an aside, of the 23% who live in an alternative reality, 22.987% give Stephen Harper high marks for leadership, just so you know.

"Mr. Speaker, the long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over. "

The above will be remembered in the same vein as "Mission Accomplished".

Vancouver Sun:

"Harper defends budget payments to Quebec"

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to the B.C. airwaves Wednesday to defend allegations that his government is using billions in tax dollars to buy Quebec votes.

The National Post:

"Don't be 'jealous' of Quebec"

PM: Harper defends 34% hike in province's share

The National Post:

"Have-not premier buys must-have votes"

Don Martin, National Post

The galling spectacle of Mr. Charest stripping $700-million for tax reduction from his $2.2- billion haul just 24 hours after receiving word of the federal handout may well bring back Quebec-bashing as a Canadian heritage sport.

The Toronto Star:

"Harper's generosity to Quebec backfires"

OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plan to mend strains in the federation appeared on the verge of backfiring after the Quebec government earmarked $700 million in new "equalization" money from Ottawa to cut Quebecers' income taxes.

The Toronto Star:

"Quebec tax break could blow up in Harper's face"

What seemed an obvious win-win for federal Conservatives and Quebec Liberals is now a potential lose-lose for Stephen Harper and Jean Charest.

Regina Leader-Post:

"Spending your money in Ottawa"

Insults fly Calvert's way as budget debate turns nasty

A Tory MP called Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert a liar Wednesday as the Harper government defended its budget against howls of outrage in some provinces.

Herald Nova Scotia:

"Federal Conservatives shaft province, once again"

THE DEVIL-or-the-deep-blue-sea equalization formula options presented to Nova Scotia in Monday’s federal budget are the most obvious way in which this province is being shafted by the federal Conservatives,

The Telegram NFLD:

"Chants of 'goose egg' rain down on Harper"

Calgary Herald:

"Harper denies pandering to Quebec"

Only a "strategic genius" could manage to alienate a good portion of the population, in a budget oozing with cash. Well done sir, peace in our times, the federation never stronger.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Low Blow

Is anyone really surprised?:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper played hardball partisan politics AGAIN, saying Liberal MPs care more about Taliban prisoners than Canadian soldiers.

"I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners," Harper said Wednesday during Parliament's question period.

"I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers."

As his MPs jeered the prime minister's remarks, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called the statement shocking and asked for an apology.

He didn't get one.

It's time Canadians ask themselves, is the behavior we want from our Prime Minister? I realize parliament has always been a rough, partisan affair, and others have pointed to historical examples to illustrate this point, but Stephen Harper is clearly a different animal. What he inferred today is shocking, revolting, unseemly, disappointing and just plan LOW. It is essentially the American neo-con rhetoric, wherein any questioning of a military mission translates into siding with the enemy, rejection of the troops. Tell me again, which government used to lower the flag on Parliament Hill, every time there was a military casualty? Which government rejected this public display of support, favoring political expediency over decency?

Stephen Harper pontificated to us all about human rights, when it related to China. Why are the questions about detainees any different? Apparently, the issue of human rights is a matter of convenience for Harper, and scoring political points knows no bounds.

On the one hand, you just can't believe that a Prime Minister would say what he did today, and then you remind yourself of the pattern and it's just another disgusting moment in the ledger. The Liberals are Taliban sympathizers, Hezbollah supporters, who have terrorists in their ranks, all the while supporting guns, gangs and child porn.

It's high time Liberals change the discussion. What has become of the office of the Prime Minister? A snake oil salesman, who plays wedge politics with every issue, constantly trying to divide and conquer, in a relentless pursuit for power. A man who campaigned on ethics and moral superiority, who in fact, is most comfortable in the gutter. Harper tries to snow us all, but he slips, when he allows himself a moment of candor. Today, was the real Stephen Harper, the "hidden" cad.

No Majority In The Budget

It usually takes a couple days before you can pass any judgement on how well a federal budget has been received. I would describe overall reaction to be mixed at best, with a lean to the negative, as people digest the fallout. The general theme, which is hardly attractive, this budget is a vote buying exercise, with a distinct bias towards Quebec. I would argue that the budget, which had the intention of moving the Conservatives toward majority, will be a failure on that score. In fact, when you balance out the winners and losers, it would appear that the Conservatives haven’t helped their electoral chances at all.

The key point, how is the budget being received across the country? Obviously, Quebec is happy and it isn’t unreasonable to conclude it will help Tory fortunes next election. That being said, no one would expect a blue wave to sweep across Quebec. If someone said the Tories could pickup 10 seats, doubling their total in the province, that would be an optimistic scenario.

The trouble for the Conservatives, this budget curries some favor, while simultaneously alienating others. This budget will cost the Conservatives in eastern Canada. I could very well see the Conservatives loss all 3 seats in Newfoundland, now that you have the Premier actively promising to work against the party. I could also see potential erosion in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where the Tories have 6 seats at stake. All the pre-budget polling showed the Tories fading in eastern Canada, this budget will only continue that slide, as the consensus seems to build. This was a bad budget for the Atlantic provinces, that’s the theme, there should be consequence.

Another potential weakness, Saskatchewan, where the Tories virtually own the playing field. The budget reception has been completely negative, a “big fat zero” as the Premier puts it. Will the hostility translate at the voter booth? I don’t think it crazy to suggest a potential lose of a couple seats.

Having lived in British Columbia, any talk of the budget favoring central Canada, at the expense of the west coast, is an electoral loser. The Campbell government has made rumblings about subsidizing Quebec, while ignoring British Columbia. I doubt this framing does the Conservatives any favors, in a province that is always competitive.

With regard to Ontario, I suppose you could argue that this budget helps the Tories, but the reaction is still mixed, so I don’t see any big momentum here. In addition, Charest’s taxbreak move has completely re-focused the debate over the budget, and only a fool would suggest that it hasn’t left a bad taste with many people. The optics, Ontario received something, but relatively less, as usual.

Alberta is apparently happy, but in terms of seats, it’s irrelevant. The Conservative maintain their seat totals, did anyone expect anything less?

I realize there is quite a lot of speculation in the above, but really the budget was crafted with electoral possibility in mind, based on current assumptions. Given the reaction, some of it vicious, for every potential gain I see, it is met with an equally plausible loss. If the goal was a move toward majority, I would say the Conservatives have failed. This budget gets them no closer to their goal, despite having billions at their disposal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Flaherty's bold proclamation of fiscal peace and strengthening the federation, increasingly shows no relationship to reality. As a matter of fact, the feel good budget looks divisive:
One day after declaring a new era in federal-provincial harmony, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was beseiged Tuesday by angry governments and voters in five provinces that claimed to have been shafted by the federal budget.

And there was rising resentment in the aggrieved provinces that they were shortchanged in order to pay for a sweetheart deal for Quebec, the biggest beneficiary of federal largesse in Monday's budget.

Budget's are about themes. Flaherty wanted this budget to be about "families". In one respect Flaherty achieved his goal, but many of the siblings aren't impressed. Daddy has a favourite.

Solving Nothing

I'm basically a Quebec fiscal imbalance denier, so I'm not particularly impressed when the federal government advocates a mirage to score political points. Certain provinces do get a disporportionate share of the pie, as a function of population. Ontario can make a strong statistical case that it receives less funding for social programs on a per-capita basis. Quebec on the other hand, and I'm not trying to make this a wedge issue, has little empirical evidence to support their thesis.

There was a great presentation made to the House of Commons on fiscal imbalance, that shows, using real information, that Quebec's complaints aren't supported by hard facts. If you have a moment, take a quick read and you will see that Quebec does very well, relative to others, thank-you very much. An idea inspired by Bernard Landry, which found a voice through the narrow interest of provincial concerns, proving the theory, the squeaky wheel gets the oil:
In summary, the evidence, whether in terms of relative debt burden, fiscal capacity, downloading, own-source revenues, or own-source revenue growth, that there is a fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces, is weak. Provinces have cut their taxes over the past few years, and presumably are equally free to raise them again if they wish to take the political heat for doing so. The fact that Ottawa has been a better fiscal manager of its resources than many of the provinces is not an argument for transferring the results of that superior fiscal discipline to the provinces, just as the fact that Ottawa’s fiscal burden may be too high is not an argument for giving some of those tax resources to the provinces. The provinces have the means to fix their fiscal problems, and we see little reason why Ottawa should do the job for them.

What bothers me today, now we have Jean Charest announcing a whole new round of taxcuts for Quebecers, in light of the federal budget:
Liberal Premier Jean Charest says he'll give Quebecers tax cuts with some of the money the province received in the federal budget.
Charest said Tuesday in Montreal the $700 million in income tax cuts will take effect next Jan. 1 and will be on top of the $250 million in reductions already announced in the Liberals' February budget.

The Center for Policy Alternatives agrees on taxes:
provincial governments themselves deserve much of the blame for their current fiscal challenges due to tax cuts over the past decade. The lost revenue to provincial treasuries from personal and corporate tax cuts is estimated to be as much as $30 billion per year, an amount that dwarfs the original loss of federal transfers in the mid-1990s.

Charest prefers to win over voters with cash, as opposed to investing in all the programs that Quebecers often complain are under-funded by Ottawa. If the provincial governments want to constantly reduce taxes, relative to other jurisdications, then it counters the argument that they desperately need more money. The federal government is effectively subsidizing bad fiscal management on the part of provinces, and Charest proves this fact in spades today.

Let us all remember this taxcut, because we surely will hear new cries in a few months about federal surpluses and disparity. The federal Liberals were guilty of cutting transfers, but this was a function of MASSIVE debt, and the situation was objectively resolved in the last years. If the federal government still enjoys a large surplus that doesn't translate into an imbalance, it just means the wrong level of government is giving tax relief in my view.

Next year, when Jean Charest, if re-elected, posts a meager surplus or minor deficit, faces a critical shortage in an area of provincial jurisdiction, he better not put his hand out and pick the easy target, what he should do is look in the mirror.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tories Endorse "Carrot And Stick"

My favorite item in the budget, something which I had previously endorsed, offers the dreaded "carrot and stick" approach to reducing automobile emissions:
Gas guzzlers will be dinged with a new tax of up to $4,000, fuel-efficient cars will get a rebate worth up to $2,000 and old wrecks will be offered a short-cut to the junkyard, under today's federal budget.

The boldest initiative is probably the system of car rebates and taxes, which unabashedly uses the tax system to influence consumer behaviour, something that environmentalists have long advocated.

Although most provinces have rebate programs for fuel-efficient cars, only Ontario has a tax on gas guzzlers. The federal Liberals never dared to implement such a system although it was carefully considered. It will likely meet fierce disapproval from the Ontario-based auto industry.

Finance Department officials say the rebates and levies will basically cancel each other out, leaving the government with the same amount of revenue as before. But they acknowledge there are no studies to prove that the tax changes will actually influence buying patterns.

A revenue neutral, tax and rebate system, to entice compliance and reduce emissions- where have I heard this philosophy before? This is a great idea, partisanship aside. When you couple these rebates with provincial ones, like the proposed 2000 dollar PST cut for hybrids in British Columbia, you have a very attractive incentive. You also have a powerful deterent, with sizable TAXES for polluting behavior.

The fact the Conservatives have endorsed the carrot and stick approach, which will impact industry, particularly domestic automakers, is a complete departure from all the rhetoric. Flaherty's announcement endorses the tenet of cost attached to pollution. This sort of initiative is exactly the kind of logic that environmentalists have long argued. It begs the question, if the Conservative endorse this philosophy as it relates to consumers, why all the resistence to the same approach with industry?

Interesting Quebec Poll

Given the party polling numbers, this finding by SES is somewhat surprising:
Liberal leader Jean Charest inspires the most confidence among Quebecers and is seen as the best person to defend Quebec's interests in Ottawa, an SES Research poll shows. Results show 41 per cent of Quebecers feel Charest would best ensure Quebec receives its fair share from the federal government, compared with 28 per cent for Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair and 13 per cent for Action democratique leader Mario Dumont.

Charest enjoys quite a gap, on a crucial question, which might translate into some last minute sway towards the Liberals. The sovereignists always lay claim to defending Quebec's interests, and Dumont has even poked fun at Charest's popularity outside Quebec. The fact that Dumont is well behind on this measure reaffirms the soft support argument.

You could speculate the budget will play into this apparent Charest strength. With the PQ on board, Charest faces little criticism on Harper delivering. Charest now has a powerful argument for federalism, and I hope he makes the point that the PQ's combative stance would have never delivered. A spirit of co-operation doesn't sell out Quebec's interests and Charest should take some comfort that Quebec's see this as strength.


Partisanship aside, is it too much to ask to be able to listen to the Finance Minister deliver the budget?? The only network to carry the speech is the CBC (plus the underline "Liberals and NDP don't support budget", while CTV is off on the "breaking news" angle, as well as Global. Why can't we carry the budget, then speculate? What is happening makes the actual budget a sideshow, I can't even digest what is offered through all the noise. This coverage is embarrassing.

I realize we live in nano-second world, but is it possible for the Liberals, NDP and Bloc to wait with there verdict until Canadians know what they are rejecting. What is the hurry, can't we listen and then the REJECTION might make some sense? I'm not even sure what we are rejecting, because I HAVEN'T HEARD THE BUDGET. Cool your jets everyone!

Maybe next time, the government can just do a press release with the budget details and forget anything formal in the House of Commons. Apparently Flaherty's speech is irrelevant, minds are decided, the election looms. Every player, the media, should be ashamed at all this hyper-politicism of an important announcement. Let Flaherty make his speech, allow us to process for a second, then on with the show. Geez.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Fairweather Friends"

I believe this at my core, Stephen Harper is clueless when it comes to Canada's role in the world, and suffers from delusions of grandeur. Listening to his speech last night, I literally cringed when the subject turned to foreign affairs. Harper has this warped sense that Canada was a nobody on the world stage, and he has made it a priority to assert Canadian influence- "bring back credibility". What is Harper talking about?

Reality check, Canada is a marginal middle power, who best leverages influence through diplomacy. What is interesting about Harper, he directly ties Canada's international role to military power. Beefing up the military somehow leads to increased stature in the world. Pleeeze! For arguments sake, let's say Canada tripled it's military expenditure, do you really think the rest of the world would notice? Canada will never be a military power, relative to others, so don't even bother in my estimation. That doesn't equate to no military, or an ineffective force, but don't kid yourself into thinking we will have any increased stature through force. As a matter of fact, you could argue the more pro-active our military, the more damage we do to Canada's legitimate reputation as an honest broker. I honestly think Harper would love to have one of those military parades, where he stands on Parliament Hill, as the missiles and tanks roll by, to demonstrate some warped sense of purpose.

What is particularly offensive about the Harper rhetoric, his continued veil reference to "fairweather friends". Clearly a shot at the former government's tensions with Washington, Harper acts as though the cool relationship was Canada's fault, and he will atone. Someone should call Harper when makes this point, because it essentially boils down to Iraq. Canada didn't stand by its friend in need, Canada took a pass. I'm sure the vast majority of Canadians don't see it that way, and I would argue Chretien's refusal was his proudest moment. If you want to see "fairweather", do a timeline of the Harper commentary on Iraq as the years have passed.

If relationships with Washington were frosty, it was mainly a function of a arrogant, doesn't play well with others, American regime, the most unpopular administration in history. Standing up to unfair trade practices, misguided wars and a general unilateral approach isn't something Canada needs to correct. Harper uses wedge rhetoric to paint a dishonest account, or alternatively, he reveals the fact that he is Bush's ideological twin. An inability to find common ground with American neocons is a badge of honor in my view, and I'm sure most Canadians are sympathetic to the challenges of dealing with bent ideologues.

The more Harper speaks, the more convinced I am that Harper doesn't understand Canada's role in the world. The more Harper speaks, the more Canadians should see how disasterous a Conservative government would have been in the aftermath of 9/11. Just imagine where Canada would be, had Harper been at the helm in the spring of 2002, just imagine. Stephen Harper has a simplistic view of the world, that shows no relationship to reality, and is frankly dangerous.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"Hard Working People"

Sweating like a spent sumo wrestler, Prime Minister Harper made the following comment:
"Never lose sight of what we are and who we serve: Canadian families and Canadian taxpayers," he told them in Toronto on Saturday.

He described them as "hard-working people who didn't have the time to stage protests"

I agree, real people don't have time for protests, only the lazy fringe:

Don't you have crops to sow?:

Look at this group of slackers, speaking up for democracy in Vancouver/Kingsway:

Slacking knows no bounds, look at this group of teachers out front of Alberta's legislation. Recess is over hippies:

It's our land now, get over it and get a job:

The other side, doesn't anyone work in Caledonia?:

Notice the tie, get back to the office and be productive:

Conservative MP Jason Kenney speaking at a National Council of Resistance of Iran rally:

Stephen Harper, champion of the passive indifferent.

MacKay Vs May

You can't say Elizabeth May isn't gutsy:
Green party Leader Elizabeth May will run against Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay in his Nova Scotia riding in the next federal election, the CBC has learned.

May is expected to make her official announcement on Sunday in Antigonish, N.S.

There has been speculation in the last two or three weeks that the Greens have been talking to the Liberals on ways to unseat the Conservatives in Central Nova.

CBC Parliamentary Bureau Chief Keith Boag said the Liberals he talked to are neither confirming nor denying the reports.

A tall order to unseat a high-profile minister, considering the almost non-existent Green vote in the last election. Also interesting, the Liberals finished a distant third in the riding, which means any agreement to work with the Greens isn't an easy sell.

I love May's decision for a number of reasons. First, it shows that May isn't afraid to earn a seat in the House, in fact her odds are long. This move will force MacKay to fiercely defend his seat, and the Conservatives may have to spend resources and time on what had to be considered an easy hold riding. We now have a high-profile battle, which the media will key in on, assuring a pointed discussion on the environment.

I suppose the move could backfire if there appears to be overt co-operation with the Liberals, but the risk is offset if it means a possible upset victory. You have to admire May's fearless decision, and voters may reward her for taking the challenge, when easier options were available.


H/T Scott Tribe

It what classifies for the, "most misleading headline category", this beauty from NP: "Good-news budget could push Tories into majority territory". The funny part, the headline isn't based on speculation but polling:
Bricker said with the Conservatives at 36 per cent in national support in the latest poll, all Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Tories require are six additional percentage points to put them into a majority government situation.

Since the Liberals hold 34 per cent in the same survey, up two points from the beginning of the month, attracting one-third of their vote with the budget would give the Tories 46 per cent and a landslide victory.

The poll, which was conducted between March 13-15 with a random sample of 1,000 adults via telephone interviews, also showed the NDP at 12 per cent in national support, the Greens at eight per cent and the Bloc Quebecois at nine per cent.

In Quebec, which is embroiled in a tight three-party provincial election race, the Liberals, at 27 per cent, remain the federalist alternative to the Bloc, at 33 percent, while the Conservatives are up one percentage point to 22 per cent.

In Ontario, the Grits and the Tories are in a virtual tie, with 39 per cent and 38 per cent support respectively, while the NDP has 12 per cent and the Greens hold nine per cent.

Bricker said the worst news for the Conservatives in the poll is the Liberal lead in coastline provinces, jumping up 10 points to 35 per cent in British Columbia, and eight points to 47 per cent in Atlantic Canada. The Tories, meanwhile, are down four points to 34 per cent support in B.C. and nine points in Atlantic Canada to 39 per cent.

Big gains in British Columbia, the Liberals up nationally since the last Ipsos poll, while the Conservatives remain where they were. Sounds like a majority too me?? The poll is a deadheat, but if you want to use the last election as backdrop, Harper is still in fragile minority terrority, while the Liberals are up. How anyone can use this poll as pretext to majority, despite the budget, is an exercise in seismic spin. Nice try.


The Tories are HOWLING, but the cries ring hollow. We now have a situation where all three opposition parties, plus the Green Party, essentially agree on the right path to reduce emissions. The experts are on board, the only dissent seems to come from big oil and their caretakers. Let's talk taxes.

The government receives revenue through taxing its citizens. By extension, any government initiative is supported through those taxes. You could argue the Tory santa claus routine on the environment essentially puts the tax burden on ordinary Canadians- classic big government. The public sector bailing out the private sector, and a very profitable one at that. Why should taxpayers pay for the reckless approach of industry? The Tories seem to rail against the idea of responsibility.

Critics argue that any "tax" on industry will simply be transferred to the consumer price, and invariably we pay anyways. The problem with this logic, Dion's clever plan is more a savings account, than an actual tax grab. The rules are clear, clean up your act and you can make a withdrawal, do nothing and the nest egg grows. Industry has options, industry can react with full knowledge that effort will be rewarded. The Conservatives give little credit to industry, their HOWLS suggest an inability to be pro-active and evolve. The private sector is constantly forced to react to a changing marketplace, and rarely does the government intercede. What is wrong with a system that rewards innovation?

Despite the HOWLs from the oil industry, we already know that the initial price tag will only be approximately 1 dollar per barrel, which at present represents less than 2% of the price. How that translates into "the biggest tax grab" in history is curious at best. Even if the cost is passed on, it seems a reasonable sum in the grand scheme- after all, everyone must take responsibility. It is simply counter-intuitive to argue you can reduce emissions substantially at no cost. Please find one example where this logic applies to the real world.

Dion has offered a serious plan, if there is a tax, its permanence is at the discretion of industry. Options exist, but the onus is where it should be, with those responsible. The Conservative response, Canadians should foot the bill, while profits continue to soar. Let's keep it real, these aren't marginal players we are talking about, these are the fattest cats in the global economy. If, as a result, of this scheme, "investment" in Canada is slowed, as is argued, that is hardly apocalyptic, given the untenable expansion at present. Is it really disaster if the oil patch only doubles output in the next ten years, as opposed to the three or four fold commitments? Isn't that a situation that still provides substantial growth, which will keep the economy humming? People should stop with the inflammatory scenarios, because the bottomline remains, others still need the oil- it's not a luxury.

A temporary tax, with a full rebate available, pushing innovation and technological advances, all the while curbing our emissions and dealing with the problem. It's all good from here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

We Have A Pulse

For the first time since Dion was elected leader, we are starting to get some sense of cohesion and direction. Fair to absolve much of the initial confusion as simply a function of newness, but that reality has clearly come at a cost. Liberals needed a week, that in some ways suggests a turning point.

I have read some disagreement on the merits of delivering policy prior to an election. I think it important to be pragmatic, and not fall back on the conventional wisdom of holding your cards for maximum input. Objectively, Dion was in some serious trouble, and the immediate concerns should outweigh the more strategic approach. In other words, Dion desperately needed to put his stamp on a few issues, in a substantive way. An election is not a certainty, it is important to deal with the known, and we already know the attack lines.

Dion's crime proposals received generally favorable coverage. Apart from the actual policy, it allowed for something else to digest besides broken english and weak leadership, which had almost become obsessive. Banter between Harper and Dion puts the focus on the issue, and I would argue Dion garnered some credibility that was lacking.

Today's announcement illustrated that the Liberal strategists are thinking. Overall, today's environmental plan was ambitious, aggressive and allows for some contrast with the looming Conservative legislation. Pure speculation, but I think this announcement was predicated on some knowledge of what exactly the Tories will be proposing. Delivering the Liberal position first, prior to the budget, is sound in my view, because now we have a situation where we can do more than criticize. The Conservative plan will be received, as it relates to the Liberal plan, which allows us to possibly steal any momentum. Harper will have a harder time with intensity targets, when there is another plan for environmentalists to rally around. In addition, and I think this a stroke of genius, the Liberal plan relies on the private sector to foot the bill, while the Conservatives so far have used taxpayer money. Big government vs the market, interesting where both parties may fall.

Within the context of the policy initiatives, Liberals have the added bonus of confirmation that poll slippage has ended, which helps generate a new news cycle. The stabilizing landscape allows for some optimism, while simultaneously blunting the perceived Harper momentum. A lot of people debate the importance of polls, but I think they shape the media mindset, which trickles through our newscasts. The level at which people pay attention is a valid debate, but most people do pick up things here and there, which is why constant the tone of coverage has a general effect.

It's only one week, but this week was the first time that it appeared someone was minding the store, there was the appearance of thoughtful strategy, with the requisite meat on bones.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Poll

The bleeding has stopped:
When respondents were asked who they would vote for today, the results showed little difference from about a month ago (percentage-point change from a Feb. 15-18 poll in brackets):

Liberals: 31 per cent (+ 2)
Conservatives: 36 per cent (+ 2)
NDP: 15 per cent (+ 1)
Bloc Quebecois: 9 (- 2)
Green Party: 10 (- 2)

Liberals: 22 per cent (none)
Conservatives: 26 per cent (+ 8 per cent)
NDP: 9 per cent (+ 1)
Bloc Quebecois: 36 per cent (- 7)
Green Party: 7 per cent (- 2)

Liberals: 41 per cent (+ 2)
Conservatives: 34 per cent (none)
NDP: 15 per cent (+ 1)
Bloc Quebecois: N/A
Green Party: 10 per cent (- 3)

The Quebec numbers are concerning, but Gregg admits a high margin of error. This may be based on bias, but I'm not trusting any results while the election is taking place- these results may simply be a function of the volatile provincial situation.

The good news for Liberals, Strategic Counsel has a healthy lead in Ontario, which is critical, for obvious reasons.

It would appear the polling numbers have calmed down, which is relevant in terms of perception. No more stories about Dion plummeting, these stabilized results should allow for reasonable analysis, maybe, dare I say it, some EVEN coverage.

You would expect Harper to receive some benefit from the santa claus routine, the fact that the numbers are largely stagnant is a net negative for the Conservative. Gregg spins these results as tempting for Harper to call an election:
"If I was Stephen Harper looking at this, I'd say, 'I still have some work to do, but you know what? I can't do worse than 2006,'" said Gregg.

"He's recovered the ground he's lost post-Afghanistan, same-sex-marriage, I-won't-do-Kyoto, in the province of Quebec. All those seats we'd anticipated he might lose are now back in the win column."

I don't see the optimism in these numbers, it looks like Dion has weathered the storm and the Tories aren't moving. The numbers are too close for anyone to be particularly optimistic.

Easy Mr. Baird

You can't fault John Baird for his ambition:
Ahead of a three-day summit of G8 countries on climate change, Environment Minister John Baird says he hopes Canada will help spearhead a number of environmental initiatives that go beyond the scope of the Kyoto Protocol.

"Canada is taking significant action in a variety of areas to tackle greenhouse gas emissions," he told CBC News before the summit, which begins Friday in Potsdam, Germany.

"We want to be part of, and provide leadership around the world for, negotiation of a new pact that will go farther than Kyoto in the years ahead."

Let's start with repairing our damaged reputation on the international stage, before we have the audacity to lecture the world. Establish some credibility, go beyond the embarrassing sideshow on display in Nairobi and elsewhere, and I would be happy. If no one shakes their head while Baird speaks, consider his visit a success.

Maybe when our emissions targets match many of the aggressive measures coming from other countries, then Mr. Baird can lead the charge to fight global warming. However, at the moment, Baird would appear like a drunk pontificating about moderation and self-control. Easy Mr. Baird, baby steps- dig yourself out of the hole before you climb the moral mountain.

Harper Outwit's Himself?

Conventional wisdom assumes Stephen Harper is a strategic master. I don’t disagree with the assessment on some levels, although I do think Harper’s “two moves ahead” mentality has a tendency to backfire. Case in point, Harper’s desire to divide the political left.

There is no question that Harper has gone to great lengths to paint the NDP in a different light than the Liberals. You can find numerous comments, wherein Harper admonishes the Liberals on a particular issue, while concurrently praising the NDP for their constructive input. The Liberals have no desire to get things done, constantly playing partisan politics, while the NDP makes concrete contributions.

This differentiation is clearly by design. Harper attempts to prop up the NDP with his comments, and in effect, make them look relevant. A strong NDP serves Harper’s interests, because theoretically that divides the anti-Harper vote. However, given the NDP’s poor showing in the polls, you would have to conclude that Harper’s strategy has been a failure, in fact, his tactics may have hurt the NDP. Harper’s approach has given the appearance of co-operation, which is a risky proposition for the NDP. You could argue that Harper’s indirect courting of Layton has actually hurt his chances come election time. A weakened NDP is a dangerous part of the majority equation.

Another area where Harper may have out strategized himself is in the area of the environment. Harper’s recent green binge has been effective in neutralizing the environment as a partisan issue. This is just a theory, but let’s say the environment is on the back-burner come the election, as a result of the Harper greenery. Does this fact potentially weaken the Green Party? If the environment isn’t a red hot issue, it stands to reason that soft Green supporters might not be compelled to vote for the party. Again, I would assume that a strong Green vote actually helps Harper, in further dividing the center-left pie, allowing him to win seats with marginal support. If the Greens are less of a factor, as a result of Harper’s recent moves, is he in fact hurting his electoral chances? I think it reasonable to assume that this is a possibility.

The great strategist might be missing some other factors as he fixates on his primary goal.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Another day, another announcement, all part of the Harper environmental blitz. Who is this guy?

Don't get me wrong, much of the blitz is objectively good news. Okay, Harper has stole every idea available, but it's hard to argue the substance. What next? I'm half expecting to read in tomorrow's paper that Harper has chained himself to a tree, to prevent the logging of an environmentally sensitive tract of land. Will the Prime Minister be biking to the House of Commons when parliament reconvenes?

There is no historical precedent for the apparent Harper epiphany. When has a politician gone from such complete indifference, to tossing around massive expenditures as though driven by a passionate cause? You almost believe the guy, almost.

Here's the problem? Despite some solid announcements, and more to come, like the rumored rebate on hybrid cars, it's really hard to give Harper credit. I suppose if political calculation is your measure, you have to tip your hand to the onslaught, but that is hardly a worthy motivation. What we are witnessing is sensory overkill. Harper is dazzling us with announcement after announcement, from every geographical location imaginable, to paint the sky green. All the right moves, for all the wrong reasons.

I can't wait for the next photo-op, wherein Harper enters upstream, gently navigating his cedar canoe down a shallow riffle, whilst singing to a lonely woodchuck in the canopy.

Dion Enters The Playing Field

Dion gets into the game, with sound policy on crime:
• More money for provinces to hire municipal police officers.

• An extra $200 million for the RCMP to hire 400 officers as part of a new "rapid enforcement team" to fight gangs and gun activity, organized crime and drug trafficking.

• Reverse-onus bail hearings for people arrested on gun crime, which would require the arrested to justify their release on bail.

• Tougher laws to protect children from being lured by Internet-based predators and to make it harder for criminals to commit identity theft.

• Setting up a fund to help improve security at places of worship for "at-risk communities."

These policy announcements send a clear signal that the Liberals recognize the need to address gun violence, which is a hot button issue that Harper has wedged to great effect. On this particular file, Liberals don’t need to own the issue, they only need to negate it as a Harper attack line.

It is nice to see Dion release some specifics, because it helps put some definition to his reign, which has been a weakness to date. These are serious proposals, particularly the endorsement of the Conservatives reverse-onus idea- is shows some level of co-operation and adds a non-partisan flavor to the Liberal policy.

I know there has been much discussion about whether or not Dion should release policy now, or wait until the election. I would argue for the middle-ground, don’t release a full platform, but throw out some positions now, as a function of Dion’s perceived weaknesses. You can’t allow the Conservatives to define Dion without some response, and policy is one way to articulate vision. Pragmatism demands the Liberals address the now, because this is critical in setting up Dion’s chances come the election. Having said that, there must be a balance and Dion should have lots of announcements at his disposal come the campaign.

I would characterize Dion’s announcement today as exactly what the doctor ordered. Address a sore spot, show leadership and put the ball back in the Conservative’s court.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Is The NDP In Big Trouble?

Any objective reading of the current political landscape suggests BIG problems for the NDP. I've noticed recently that Layton and the NDP are almost invisible on the national stage, it's as though they aren't part of the conversation. This predicament is especially relevant, given the current minority parliament, which effectively gives the NDP the balance of power. You would think Layton would be front and center, enjoying a great deal of face time. Instead, Layton seems lost in the political wilderness, an afterthought. A major announcement, in the heart of NDP friendly Toronto, to announce his budget demands reveals the following:
the assembled media horde in its entirety included the following: one (1) TV cameraman; one (1) girl from a local radio station; and one (1) reporter from a national magazine...

Not unreasonably, it was decided that Layton would wait a little longer before speaking - the time allowing, hopefully, for more cameras and microphones to arrive.

Finally, about 20 minutes past 11:00, the media contingent steady at three, Layton decided to get this over with...

These sorts of orchestrated events are awkward at the best of times. But there is perhaps nothing more uncomfortable than watching a man of conviction plead a seemingly important message to an audience of three (most of whom aren't all that interested in what he has to say to begin with). On this ugly morning it seemed almost dehumanizing. One had to fight the urge to give Layton a hug.

A pathetic turnout, by any one's definition and clearly disheartening. Incidents like the above may explain why Layton has looked decidedly sullen and down in recent interviews.

Lost in the "Dion is falling" poll-inspired talk, are the abysmal, consistent, NDP numbers. Those results are in the official party status realm, a thought almost unthinkable just a few months ago. What went wrong, and is it temporary?

There is no question the NDP has suffered during the environment debate. Despite the most progressive environmental agenda, the NDP has failed to benefit from rise of the issue. In fact, the environment has been a setback, as other parties steal the NDP thunder, while the Greens siphon votes. The environment has always been a central NDP plank, and frankly it was the main reason why I voted for them last election, so any permanent erosion on this file is a major blow.

I really believe the NDP is at a historic crossroads, and I think party insiders recognize this fact. If the NDP fails to rally, the next election could be an ugly affair. I'm not suggesting extinction, but real relevance lost. It will be hard for Layton to make the important distinctions, that normally give the NDP political room, now that we have a left-leaning Liberal leader and a feisty May.

Down in the polls, squeezed from all sides, and nobody seems to care.


NDP MP Pat Martin expressing concern:.
NDP MP Pat Martin says his party must make significant gains in the next federal election or be forced to admit it may never be anything more than a fringe player and end its 46-year existence. Despite a recent rise in fortunes for the NDP, the Winnipeg MP admitted his party has led a tenuous existence, allowing bold policies -- such as calling for free first degrees for college and university students -- to be hidden behind timid language. "So, the result has been to bore people into some kind of a stupor where nobody has any idea what we stand for anymore." A poor electoral result could leave the NDP with few options, Mr. Martin said, including, in the case of a minority government, a merger or coalition with the Liberals.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Are you sure you don't want to run for President?:
Support for potential 2008 Democratic presidential nominees, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote.

Mar. Feb. Jan.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
36% 40% 29%

Barack Obama
22% 21% 18%

Al Gore
18% 14% 11%

John Edwards
9% 13% 13%

That is some serious mo for Gore, which will only intensify the draft Gore movement. Hillary looks anything but a sure thing, and Obama is a wildcard at this point. Just imagine if Gore were to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Those are impressive numbers, by any measure, given the current scenario. You would have to think there is some temptation, despite the consistent NO's.