Monday, December 17, 2007

"Neutralized" No More

The only remaining question to come out of Bali, how much will Baird’s dog and pony show hurt the Conservatives, if at all, come election time? Speculation is rife that the Liberals will try to bring the government down before the spring budget. I believe this too be true, and have heard confirmation of this strategy from a well placed source. With this dynamic in mind, I think it fair to say the environment will be a centerpiece issue in any campaign.

Chantal Hebert takes a break from her usual criticisms, to write a column on the Conservatives fortunes:
When all is said and done, federal Environment Minister John Baird did more harm to Conservative election prospects than Brian Mulroney last week.
It amounted to ripping a scab off a wound that had barely begun to heal.
For all intents and purposes, the Bali meeting was a multi-day communications disaster for the Harper regime. It set back a year of Conservative efforts to re brand the party on climate change and confirmed the issue as the government's Achilles heel.

It is hard to think of another high-profile international venue where Canada took more of a public relations beating and did so with help from such a large array of Canadian interests.

For the Harper government, the Bali meeting could have been an opportunity to square the circle of its repositioning on the environment, by stepping in front of the upcoming American parade. Instead it locked itself in step with a moribund administration.

For as long as the debate was focused on the Kyoto Protocol, blaming the Liberals for Canada's lagging climate change record was a credible Conservative mantra. But last week, the debate shifted to the future and, with the spotlight squarely on them, the Conservatives were only too easily portrayed as climate change isolationists rather than activists.

I would argue that the Conservatives dodged a small bullet in the near term. Coverage of the events in Bali were highly critical, but the performance was largely over-shadowed by the Mulroney affair. Programs like Question Period ignored the issue entirely, pundit panels brought it up as an afterthought, columnists were clearly focused elsewhere. That said, there is plenty of ammunition available to the opposition to attack the Conservatives moving forward. The closing themes are clear, Canada the isolated, Canada the obstructionist, Canada the laggard. The Baird/Harper spin machine will have a real challenge distracting and confusing, primarily because they will be attacked from all quarters.

The knee jerk criticism of the past Liberal regime only takes the Conservatives so far, and the argument loses relevance with each passing day, in what now amounts to a two-year Tory reign. While the Conservatives have the easy retorts for the Liberal attacks, the same dodge doesn’t work when you include the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens all echoing the same. In addition, I expect a far more visible and engaged environmental community, which will be quite animated. The Conservatives may prefer to talk about other things, but given the opposition, they will not get to choose the election ground.

Last summer, I thought the Conservatives had made some progress in “neutralizing” the environment. The Conservatives were never going to carry the issue, but they had made strides in developing a few talking points to disarm many of the attacks. In other words, the propaganda was good enough to distract and confuse, all that was required really. However, what we have now is a completely different scenario, one that essentially leaves the Conservatives forever exposed and vulnerable. You can’t spin the optics coming out of Bali, you can’t spin the alliances that were formed- well you can, but not very well.

We now have a large chasm in Quebec, between the federal and provincial governments, with the Conservatives clearly on the wrong side. Duceppe will use the environment to full advantage, to demonstrate that Harper doesn’t represent Quebecers. All the Eco this, and Eco that, throwing billions around is now irrelevant, because the stench of Bali will be the focus. Does anyone even remember what Baird announced, during his carefully orchestrated press conferences in Bali? Those distraction initiatives get lost in the shuffle, it is the overriding themes that matter.

If we do have an election this spring, the Conservatives performance in Bali, will be fresh in the public consciousness. It puts the environment square in the middle of any conversation, it asks what our role in the world should be, it asks who the government allies itself with, it asks where we go in the future. The Achilles heel remains, and the Conservatives may well pay the price come the election (as they should).


Anonymous said...

Oddly, having done a six country tour in the last ten days, not one of the major newspapers in any of those countries mentioned Canada once... not even a hint.

All they spoke of was the US, negotiations, every nation chastising the US, and the US relenting on a framework for reducing greenhouse gas' over the next two years.

No mention of Canada hindering negotiations, no mention of Baird, and no mention of any Canadians whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

It's not about what other countries think - it's about what we think and we are not amused.

Besides, the other countries look at Canada as inclusive with the US. US has 300 million people and great influence around the world. Of course they're going to watch the US.

I think if Canada stood up against the US it would make news.

Anonymous said...

From the "it was bound to happen" file, Agence France-Presse reports the White House is already expressing "strong concerns" about the minimalist climate change deal reached at Bali.

Calgary Junkie said...

Harper can schedule the Opposition Days for after the budget. Much like Martin scheduled the Opposition Days for as late as possible in the Spring of 2005.

So what is the mechanism going to be for the Liberals to trigger an election ? Also, why would the BLOC and the NDP go along with any of Dion's plans ?

I don't get the sense that there has been any negotiating amongst the three Opposition Parties. In contrast, before Martin fell in Nov 2005, there were meetings between Harper, Duceppe and Layton (see Tom Flanagan's book "Team Harper")

Anonymous said...

This conference showed how clueless Baird was policy wise.

Quebec had announced an emissions plan to restore some credibility to Canada's woeful record and the pit bull proceeded to pan it before accepting it 24 hours later.

To make matters worse, his office is attacking McGuinty for failing to close the coal plants earlier when refusing to give Ontario grants for pursuing environmental friendly policies.

Not a good week for Harper when Clement and Baird started to reveal their Mike Harris ideological tendencies which cannot be muzzled when overseas or dealing with a crisis over isotopes.

Anonymous said...

Cal Junkie,

By-elections need to be called before the House resumes in January. This may give the Grits an incentive to delay, but the election will probably be closer to April.

I don't see any of the three parties voting for the budget. All three party leaders have damaged their credibility somewhat propping this government and one more confidence vote would be a bridge too far.

Oxford County Liberals said...

If the non-confidence motion is framed correctly (ie. we believe this government no longer represents Canadians views on the environment and where we need Canada to be in the world community on this issue). It would look rather bad if the other opposition parties didn't go along with the motion.

It doesn't even have to be the Liberals introducing the motion. The 1979 PC Government of Joe Clark was brought down on a no-confidence motion by then NDP MP Bob Rae, but I think from a political p.o.v, if you're bringing down the government on that issue, the Liberals would be better served doing it then letting others do it for them.

Anonymous said...

"It would look rather bad if the other opposition parties didn't go along with the motion."


I have a feeling that Layton may vote with the Cons to score points against Dion, with his "Why should we give the Grits the time of day?"
No way he would want Dion to steal his so-called environmental credibility, Nathan Cullen aside.

Steve V said...

"It would look rather bad if the other opposition parties didn't go along with the motion."

It would also end the NDP mantra of the Con/Lib majority by default. Given the posture of both the NDP and the Bloc, they would be pretty hard pressed to vote against anything that would force an election.

Calgary Junkie said...

The way I read this, no matter how Dion words a motion of non-confidence, Layton or Duceppe can credibly nit-pick some aspect of it, and vote against it.

Mushroom makes a good point about Layton not giving Dion any talking points over the environment. So co-operation from Layton is unlikely.

And Duceppe can always shrug his shoulders and say "I want to see what's in the budget first. If it's good for Quebec, we will vote for it. If it isn't good for Quebec, we will vote against it. Simple as that"

I'd say there's a 99 % chance that Flaherty will get to table his budget.

Steve V said...

"The way I read this, no matter how Dion words a motion of non-confidence, Layton or Duceppe can credibly nit-pick some aspect of it, and vote against it."

You're making the false assumption that they don't want an election, which they clearly do. Do you think they would rather have a budget vote, or take them down before, if the opportunity presents itself? Seems like a no-brainer from here.

burlivespipe said...

Cal junky is puffin on that cheap CON crap pipe again.
Layton and Duceppe have their own agendas to follow, but none of it centres on propping up Harper for another day, no matter how much it aligns them with the Liberal strategy. It will just be a different but same-as-usual framing from those #3 and 4 parties...

Anonymous said...

The Bloc wanting an election? They were the biggest losers in the Quebec by-election with seats being targeted by all the political parties. It will be a difficult to hold on to Third Party status for them the next time.

Layton is ready to go anytime but that is because it is a targeted national campaign. But I don't see him co-operating with Dion for one iota. Especially sponsoring a non-confidence motion proposed by the Grits.

My guess is that any confidence motion proposed by Dion will need Duceppe's support with the NDP voting for or not showing up for the House. Possible, but the manouvering will be exciting to watch. As I said in an earlier blogpost, we will need to see a more agressive Stephane Dion first and foremost for this to happen.

Gayle said...

Layton told CTV Newsnet that he would vote against his own legislation (senate referendum) if Harper made it a confidence vote.

Once you say that it is pretty hard to back down and vote to prop up the government. Both the NDP and the Bloc would have to vote with the liberals in order to save face.

If they vote against the liberals they simply neutralize that whole "conservative/liberal" alliance thing they keep harping on about. If they want to look like hypocritical fools that is up to them - it will only help the liberals.

PMSteve said...

Canada wins Gold in Bali

Thanks to our lean mean negotiatin' machine Canada's new government has triumphed in Bali. Read all about it at

Steve V said...

Ditto what gayle said:

"If they vote against the liberals they simply neutralize that whole "conservative/liberal" alliance thing they keep harping on about. If they want to look like hypocritical fools that is up to them - it will only help the liberals."

rabbit said...

Dion says that Harper does not represent the views of Canadians on the environment. The problem is ... he's probably wrong.

It's easy to read progressive and eco-bloggers all day long and convince yourself that Bali was a disaster for the conservatives. But the man-on-the-street doesn't read these blogs, and doesn't have much respect for what the international environmental movement has to say. The MOTS might even agree with Harper when he says that Canada's committment is meaningless when China and India go foot loose and fancy free.

It's easy to get a distorted view of the typical Canadian's attitude from the progressive blogosphere. Harper might look ripe for the picking on this issue, but it ain't necessarily so.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to see that pundits now think the environment might not be so neutralized after all.

My contention is that it was never neutralized in the first place.

You can't neutralize climate change unless it's actually dealt with, and that's going to take a long time.

Steve V said...


Might I suggest reading a poll or two, you conclusions have NO basis in fact. Your comment seems to be more your personal opinion than an accurate read of Canadians.

Calgary Junkie said...

Listen to the talking points of the Parties.

Dippers are presenting themselves as the "effective opposition". So why would Layton play a supporting role in a non-confidence motion tabled by Dion ? Layton is going to manouver for Harper falling on an NDP motion (and of course Dion won't go along with that).

Meanwhile, Duceppe and the BLOC have been going on and on about how more of the massive surpuls should be used to help Quebec manufacturing & forestry companies. Duceppe will want to give Flaherty a chance to show how much of that surplus he will allocate to Quebec, before pulling the plug on any non-confidence motion tabled by the others.

So it's a stalemate amongst the three Opps parties. Each will insist on their own talking points. The budget will almost surely get tabled.

Steve V said...


I just watched Duceppe on Newman's show. When asked, Duceppe said he expected an election early this year, they are ready to go.

Gayle said...

CJ - Layton was banking on the liberals continuing to lose traction through the "Dion is not a leader" thing, which is why Layton continuously piled it on.

The problem is the tune has changed now (despite the desperate attempts by the conservatives to go back there). Layton has taken a couple of hits as well.

So you may well be correct that Layton will not follow Dion's timetable (a power Layton handed to Dion on a silver platter), but I believe I am correct that it will make Layton look like a hypocrite. You cannot go on and on to anyone who will listen about how Harper is taking this country in the wrong direction (which he repeated on the weekend by the way) and that you will do whatever it takes to defeat them, and then not defeat them when you have a chance without looking stupid.

As for Duceppe, today on Don Newman he said he believes there will be an election this spring, though he also said he would vote to support Harper if Harper agreed to his demands in the budget...and then he laughed and said there was no way Harper was going to agree to the Bloc's demands.

So, I am guessing the only way Harper can avoid an election is to ensure Dion does not have any opposition days before the budget - which will look pretty obvious. Given how little traction his last two budgets have given him I doubt Dion would be overly concerned about that anyway, though clearly he would prefer to engineer the defeat before the budget is introduced.

Anonymous said...

"Layton is going to manouver for Harper falling on an NDP motion (and of course Dion won't go along with that)."

This is the dis/advantage of being the fourth party. Layton has no power to put forth non-confidence motions. He will just have to vote or not vote with the government.

The power is of non-confidence motions before the budget lies with Dion. As PM, Harper can respond and ensure that the House falls on a confidence motion of his own choosing. This is why the crime bill has been stalled before the Xmas break, so it is a security blanket for Harper to rally around a law and order election agenda.

Tomm said...

Its all up to Dion. Its been up to the LPC to ensure this government succeeded or fell, from the very first vote.

If Dion is ready, than February is the time to make them fall. Layton actually wants an election and Duceppe can't afford to look weak right now. Additionally, the CPC may have some weakness in Quebec (Environment as a start, social programming second).

Make the government fall in February, National election in March. CPC Minority #2. LPC Leadership Review in June. New Leadership Convention in August. Bob Rae leads LPC by the fall sitting.

Good luck with that.


Anonymous said...


Given your scenario (CPC minority), Dion stays. Dion would need to melt down severely for him to fall on his sword.

Steve V said...

"Given your scenario (CPC minority), Dion stays. Dion would need to melt down severely for him to fall on his sword."

Mushroom, do you really think so? Things have quieted down now, but if the Liberals lose the election, I think Dion is toast.

Anonymous said...

"Mushroom, do you really think so?"

I suspect that if prominent candidates such as Justin Trudeau and Gerard Kennedy win their seats despite a second Harper minority, there would be little incentive to dump Dion. In fact, Dion may win the leadership review easy.

Steve V said...


Fair enough, but I contend Dion doesn't even make it to a leadership review. If the Libs lose, it will be a bloodbath right after the election.

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

This was going to blow up in their face no matter what, since I just cannot imagine the Tories ever signing an agreement that actually does what is needed.

That doesn't mean one cannot criticize flaws with the Kyoto Protocol. I believe it was wrong to exclude developing countries and I would have chosen 1997 as opposed to 1990 as the baseline year, but with larger cuts off course, due to the simple fact 1997 was when the Kyoto Protocol was signed so this seemed most logical. My concern is that 1990 was the most optimal date for the European Union and since they are the most powerful bloc that is part of Kyoto that have the greatest influence. Now if 1997 was chosen, then the cuts would have to be even larger and certainly choosing 2006 seems silly. However, even with its problems, the Tory solution to do nothing and just try to make excuses for inaction is the wrong way to go and not working with the public. I think the public would be a lot more sympathetic if we were making progress towards Kyoto and at least trying, even if we fell short, then if we do nothing.