Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bob Rae Hits Quebec

While the story focuses on rehashed nothingness, there is something informative at the bottom of the Bob Rae article, namely the Liberals might have finally discovered this one province in Canada, think they call it Quebec:
He said the Liberals will be stumping in Quebec in early 2012 to pick up votes that now appear to be up for grabs. “I’m going to be spending quite a bit of time there in the new year and doing what I can to have an impact.”

Reads of this blog will know I've gone on and on for years imploring the Liberals to devise a more robust and AGGRESSIVE Quebec strategy. Whenever I have had an occasion to speak with anyone of substance in the Liberal Party, my first question always revolved around Quebec. Despite some fits and starts, the Liberals haven't articulated any clear outreach in Quebec, certain imperatives and festering problems rarely dealt with. There has been a certain passivity apparent within the Liberal ranks. I recall asking a core OLO francophone, with the former Leader's ear, about Quebec and received the most mundane of responses, basically not much to do until the election (this from someone with intimate knowledge of the province, seasoned and respected). I was stunned to be quite honest. Not a defeatist attitude, but almost a casual view, rather than assertive, I've never felt any URGENCY within the thought process. The NDP had that urgency, and that's how they became the default "second choice" in the province, first winning a seat, then becoming more credible, finally a leader who appealed to increasingly fertile ground. Meanwhile, Liberals seemed okay with a narrowing audience, we had our bastions, beyond that a growing irrelevance of the highest order.

I understand Liberals have had many internal issues, the Coderre fiasco, many other organizational problems, but these problems always struck me as excuses. The NDP had NO organization, proving that one should never limit themselves within a simple discussion of nuts and bolts. I want Liberals to see Quebec as "anything is possible" rather than limiting our appeal, based on outdated language and approaches. Better to try and fail, than to not try at all, and sadly, for wide swaths of Quebec, the Liberals have failed to reach out in any substantive way.

I'm encouraged to hear Bob Rae will make Quebec a key thrust for himself and the party moving forward, because whenever I run the electoral numbers, our health in Quebec is a key consideration. A hunger and urgency, armed with a fresh and inclusive presentation, we might just surprise ourselves.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Paul Summerville For National Policy Chair

In doing some research on Paul Summerville, one common thread emerged from his proposals and ideas, a distinct egalitarian flavour woven within. In running for Liberal National Policy Chair, Summerville seems to find his inspiration from the concept that policy should be driven by the membership, the rank and file should help formulate, advocate policy and this engagement evolve into more than the typical "pat on the head" manifestations of the past. Cut to the chase, the Liberals always advocate grassroots policy input, but to often it feels like appeasement, superficial outreach, rather than a true "roll up your sleeves and dig in" expression.

Summerville sees the membership driving the debate, his proposals(not all adopted, but still relevant to sense philosophy) to date attempt to remove policy power from the leader, rather than this person dictating to the membership, he/she becomes a conduit, a spokesperson for the ideas articulated and approved by ordinary Liberal activists. Summerville also offers ideas on curbing the power of Caucus, not all of which I agree with, but the overall spirit is spot on and long overdue. In reviewing the final amendments Liberals will be voting on, I note the Leader veto is on the table, as well as the Leader's capacity for amendment.

Summerville brings a lot of experience to the table, beyond that there is a revolutionary underpinning to his thoughts, concepts that will impact how the National Policy Chair interacts with the membership. The Liberals need to empower the rank and file. If Liberals are to move from an elitist entity to a true egalitarian movement, wherein membership matters, then we require people in positions of influence who understand what must occur to ensure future political relevance.

I will be voting for Paul Summerville at the coming Liberal Convention, and would encourage others to give his candidacy some consideration.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Liberals Moving From Entitlement To Enlightment

Reading Belinda Stronach's column this morning, I was struck by this passage in particular:
In the case of the Liberal Party, it has actually been liberated by circumstance to think about the state of politics and the future of the country in a way the government just can’t do. This is a time of flowing creativity, a free and humming marketplace of proposals. Not every idea from inside this incubator will come to pass, but the process is long overdue.

I don't support Stronach's term limit proposal, at least not her parameters, but that's not the point. I actually don't support many of the ideas floating around Liberal land, I'm even supporting people at the convention that I at least partially disagree with on certain key issues. What I do support is the notion put forth by Stronach, that the Liberal Party is showing signs of moving from the party of entitlement to one of enlightenment. I've been aboard this rotting carcass for almost six years now, no time approaches this current moment, in terms of true discussion, debate and constructive dialogue.

Cynicism aside, for the first time a party that actually feels as though voices matters, a proposal legitimate, no matter the source, no matter the status, we're debating merits, origins irrelevant. Stronach is like every Liberal these days, pitching an idea, throwing it out there for digestion, agreeing is secondary to this emerging culture. The question of sustainability is to be answered later, this convention lead up could be a blip, the results themselves perhaps a setback, but there is a different foundation being built moving forward and it does have a "genie out of the bottle" flavour.

Liberals numbers are smaller, we're a million miles from power, but like Stronach asserts, this predicament is actually freeing. The Liberals objectively desperate circumstance is morphing into a gift of sorts, out of our shackles, everything on the table, a sense we can just be what we want, rather than forever trying to be what we perceive our audience wants to hear. This emerging culture demonstrates the capacity to step on toes, be provocative, I even hear the word BOLD used now, without it being accompanied by "risky" or "reckless" to dial back the mere suggestion.

Not everyone agrees, there is no consensus emerging, but there is very much a debate occurring, juices are flowing and people are engaged, more now than at any time I can remember. It's healthy, it's optimistic and it's generating some substance, which hopefully is just in it's infancy. A few months ago I dialed back my commitment to the Liberals, my perspective was "show me" before I support in robotic fashion. I mention this because this optimism I project now isn't knee jerk partisanship, it's a sense that reform is on the table, real reform, something different possible, excitement is emerging from a stale and decidedly esoteric culture. It doesn't even matter is my philosophy entirely jives with whatever manifests itself, I support the spirit of the debate, moreso than the result, if that makes any sense at all.

I don't support your idea Belinda Stronach, but I love that it's being cultivated on newly found fertile ground. That healthy culture is the essence within, and it bodes well moving forward....

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Liberal Primaries: Order Matters

In reviewing the Constitutional Amendments Liberals will be voting on at the Convention, the section on the Liberal primaries is fascinating. An obscure group to be known as the "Leadership Vote Committee" deserves some attention, because their arbitary decisions have enormous impact, given the staggered nature of these primary proposals. How this Committee will be constituted:
Leadership Vote Committee consisting of:

(i) two co-chairs;

(ii) the National President;

(iii) two persons elected by the PTA Presidents from among the PTA
Presidents and the National Vice-Presidents, one of whom must be
English-speaking and one of whom must be French-speaking;

(iv) two representatives appointed by the Caucus;

(v) any number of other members of the Party appointed by the co-chairs in consultation with the National Board of Directors and respecting the principle of equal participation of men and women and the recognition of English and French as the official languages of Canada

The preamble to the leadership selection process offers a key assertion, that speaks to eventual primary order importance:
In order to raise the interest of the public and build momentum while selecting a Leader, the Party would use a modified version of the current Leadership Vote procedure that would enable entire regions to cast their vote on different days, and for the first preference results of a region to be published on the day that region holds its vote. This would also provide candidates with a better idea of how they are performing, and whether or not they wish to remain as a candidate in anticipation of the next regional vote.

After the first primary or two, candidates will get a sense of where they stand, viability, and it is true many will probably drop out as the process develops. According to the Constitution, if a candidate drops out after one vote, but prior to the next, any weighted support will be redistributed to the other candidates, based on their percentage in that primary. This stipulation could have some impact as the process moves forward. But, the true importance of a staggered vote, how this Leadership Vote Committee decideds the Primary order, the chronology for the six "regions".

Just as in the American system, wherein Iowa and New Hampshire assume disporportionate influcence, based on the calendar, how the LVC decides order will have incredibly enormous importance. Liberals would be wise to keep a close eye on who eventually joins this LVC, because certain candidates will have advantages or disadvantages based on their regional bas support. For instance, should a Quebec candidate emerge, he/she would have much at stake, depending on whether this LVC puts that regional Primary early or late in the process. If chosen first, someone with widespread Quebec support has advantage, a sense of momentum, again much like the American analogy. As well, someone who has large support in one region may never make it to that primary if that vote takes place late in the process: order may well be as important as overall support within this new system. The underlying motivation for a primary system is to build "momentum" as the votes unfold, which is an acknowledgement of an evolving process.

I'm not offering a positive or negative perspective on how these primaries will unfold, but it's important to understand that a "inside baseball" Committee will carry incredible responsibility and influence, how these votes shakeout on the calendar will impact the eventual result. It's nice if someone has great support in British Columbia, but if that primary is last on the leadership calendar, said candidate may never make it to that vote. As well, any other candidates who drop out during the process will be compelled to move to those with "early" support, again cementing the importance of order. Perhaps a relevant analogy, Rudy Giuliani's failed GOP bid, wherein he decided to virtually forego the first two contests- believing he could catch up later on- only to find lost momentum from Iowa and NH doomed his campaign before his strategy even had a chance.

Perception and momentum will drive this leadership selection process, which is why what the LVC eventually decides, the stuffy process part of the equation, may well prove to be as important as the votes themselves. Some won't be happy with the order, others will be ecstatic, we should all keep a close eye on this little Committee with very relevant powers.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

When Not To Chase A Poll

Anyone following the NDP leadership race has probably heard of this Forum Research poll, perhaps the first public gauge of the race. I'd like to look at this poll, not in the sense of insight- primarily because it provides NONE- but because it highlights an almost reckless incorporation by journalists who are supposedly trained to know better. Everyone is dying to get a read of how the race is going, perhaps this flawed release, leading to disproportionate conclusions. In response to the Forum Research poll, we get this patently ridiculous headline from the National Post, "John Ivison: NDP’s Paul Dewar upbeat despite poor polling":
Thomas Dewar, scion of the famous whisky family, once said he would never invest in a going concern until he knew which way it was going. On that basis, if you believe a new poll on the NDP leadership, you might not invest too much time helping the whisky baron’s namesake, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar.

A poll by Forum Research for the National Post asked Canadians who voted for the NDP in the last election who they preferred as the next leader of the party. Of the 300 respondents, nearly half were undecided, which suggests there is still plenty to play for. But of the 163 decided voters, 45% said they favoured Thomas Mulcair, with support coming from right across the country. Peggy Nash came second with 16%, while Mr. Dewar and perceived front-runner Brian Topp languished at 8%.

Now, in fairness, the article also provides a couple cautions on this poll, but the headline is clear, based on what I view as an entirely irrelevant beauty contest poll, the perception is actually evolving that Mulcair is way ahead, someone like Dewar trailing badly. I'm just amazed that professionally trained journalists will extrapolate anything from a patently flawed PRIMARY source, not worthy of anything except to note the power of name recognition.

The Forum Research poll doesn't ask potential delegates their opinion, it asks people who said they support the federal NDP who they prefer as leader. Half the respondents didn't even denote preference, a testament to treading carefully with the result. Further, if someone told me prior to seeing these numbers who would come out on top, I would have picked this order without hesitation. Mulcair has NATIONAL name recognition, he was the NDP deputy, he was the heir apparent, he has received a steady diet of coverage since becoming a MP. Peggy Nash has been on the federal stage for sometime, giving her a marginal advantage over a just emerging Dewar or more meaningfully a BACKROOM person like Topp. This "poll" is really nothing more than stating the obvious, a very general NDP audience really doesn't have much of an opinion yet, but when pushed, they cite who they know with more regularity. And, don't even get me started with the less than 200 sample size of mere voters for a party with almost 100000 actual MEMBERS.

It really does irk me that races become shaped based on the most dubious of sources. I expect seasoned journalists to denote red flags and precede accordingly, otherwise they WARP the reality of the situation. This poll tells me absolutely nothing that can be extrapolated to ascertain true measures of support. However, I keep hearing about this poll, it is now someone woven into our perceptions of how the race is going. Truth be told, we've yet to get a serious poll on the race, about all we can look at empirically is things such as endorsements, which speaks to organizational strength, where people are starting to move, even here very much subjective and dicey, but at least within the real playing field.

I've seen this NDP poll syndrome happen too many times, rather than giving little weight, over zealous and lazy conclusions drawn, then subsequently picked up, evolving to almost a concrete viewpoint. The problem I have is that moving forward, a particular candidate has to fight against emerging perceptions, which are based on nothing of substance, an entirely false narrative, that doesn't pass any smell test I can understand, based on my own training of what constitutes solid sourcing and evidence based thesis development.

Dewar is "upbeat" despite poor polling, seriously? After all the heavyweights lined up behind Topp, Mulcair enjoys almost SIX times the support? When you give weight to suspect relevance, you can actually begin a self fulfilling prophecy journey, you can reinforce a notion that someone is trailing badly, when really you have nothing of consequence to assert that argument.

I expect better, as we all should... Hopefully Mr. Dewar can keep his chin up, in spite of this devastating result that will apparently haunt his campaign. Goodness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Tuned In" Canadians?

If you want to read a misleading poll result, then this Ipsos Reid offering on voter engagement and attitudes is a perfect example. The methodology is fine, but the conclusions are so contradictory, the idea the people are "still tuned in" evaporates with subsequent responses:

The number of Canadians turning out to vote may be dropping, but a majority of the country appears to still be tuning into politics, according to a new poll.

The Ipsos Reid poll conducted for Postmedia News and Global National found that less than one-third of respondents [31 per cent] said they have "tuned out of any kind of political activity, including voting."

Only eight per cent strongly agreed with that statement, while 23 per cent somewhat agreed.

That leaves the majority - 69 per cent - saying they have not tuned out, with 39 per cent strongly disagreeing that they have tuned out and 30 per cent somewhat disagree."

A huge majority say NO, they haven't tuned out, they are engaged. Trouble is, when you drill down further, the electorate's behaviour contrasts with their assertion:

A Statistics Canada survey of voters from the May election found that more than one-quarter -28 per cent - of the country's 7.5 million voters who did not cast a ballot did so because they weren't interested in voting, while another 23 per cent said they were too busy to vote.

I'm sorry, but with ADVANCE polls and every effort to make voting as PAINLESS as possible, to say you are "too busy" to vote is the clearest indication of complete and utter disinterest. Truth be told, the simplest of effort required, times and dates provided to ensure being "busy" taken into account and you still can't bother to participate in the most basic democratic expression? One thing to say you don't vote because you hate the choices, but "busy" is an admission of disinterest, anything but "tuned in".

Ipsos also asks voters impression of the government, and within these results you see that despite what we say, people are very much tuned out:
A majority also believed the government was getting things accomplished on enhancing Canada's reputation in the world (60 per cent).

Seriously? The international community criticizing us on the climate file, the UN criticizing us, ample evidence that our "reputation" is eroding and yet Canadians think our stature is on the rise? To my mind this perspective tells me that no one is paying attention, because this fall has seen a steady diet of criticism, how 6 in 10 of us see improvement escapes me.

This poll tells me Canadians like to think they're engaged and participating, but a closer look reveals superficial interest, bordering on completely oblivious. I also believe this government in particular has accurately incorporated the public indifference and sleeps well within knowledge.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two Cents On Blogger Accreditation

My friend Jeff has a great post up, that covers much of my perspective on the LPC decision, so I won't rehash. Kinsella also has a succinct post on the subject. I've sort of held back blogging about this subject, just a bit of whining on twitter and lots more in private. However, I have a couple points to add, because the way this whole decision went down is instructive as to what is wrong with the Liberal Party.

I'm the one who first applied for accreditation, primarily because I wanted a power cord and a chair to plant my computer, but also because I did want access to certain things. I don't consider myself "real" media, let's get real here. However, that designation doesn't distract from relevant commentary, my opinions expressed here have value, it's up to readers to decide how much. What really bothers me is PROCESS itself, not necessarily the decision itself.

Of course the decision is money related, I know that rationale for a fact and that's understandable. Truth be told, the glitzy blogger room at the last convention was rarely used, most of us we are on the floor where the action was, it was a WASTE of money. Ditto for the Thinkers Conference, again, nice to have I suppose, but not of much practical value. As well, some did attend events using accreditation, without paying any fees, so the party didn't capture this money they otherwise would have. Never mind the PITTANCE that number would be- the actual number of bloggers insanely small- for a party desperate to trim fat, an easy candidate. In other words, some sound logic for toning down the expenditure.

Here's the RUB though. Did the LPC ask any social media types for input? NO, I found out the new world order from a request, there was no consultation or anything, just LPC types in Ottawa deciding what is best, and in so doing revealing just how out of touch they really are, HEREIN lies the problem. Had this party acted like an egalitarian entity bent on renewal and rebirth they would seek out opinion, and surprise, surprise, they would have found most involved were already PLANNING on paying, and most didn't see a need for a blogger room, cost concerns not an issue!

My immediate reaction to the decision was to say, and this VERBATIM, the LPC will create a needless optical problem, once people like Stephen Taylor get hold of this decision they will cause a stir and we'll look bad. What would it say about a party that is claiming to be inclusive, egalitarian, grassroots in focus, for the people, bent on true renewal and forward thinking, to go BACKWARDS on social media? Here we have countries like Israel formally recognizing bloggers as journalists, and the LPC moves the other way on social media types? Again, the whole thought process denotes a real disconnect, how ANYONE couldn't have foreseen the reaction escapes me, because it was obvious and predictable.

There will be no re-think, because that's not how the LPC operates, father knows best and others are unfortunately left to rationalize bad decisions. All this decision does is tell me the Liberal Party needs to cleanse itself of the elitist attitudes that pervade the entire apparatus. Bloggers were going to pay anyways, bloggers didn't need bells and whistles, the concerns of no real concern, but that knowledge would require REAL outreach and a two way conversation. I will be going as a delegate with revolutionary spirit under foot, because this baby is broken and STILL doesn't get it....

Two cents.

Japan's F-35 Cost OVER 50% Higher Than Conservative "Figures"

Canadians have a basic RIGHT to know the true cost of expenditures, particularly massive ones, like the biggest military procurement in our history. Anyone who follows the F-35 story has been frustrated with what amounts to a misinformation campaign from the Conservatives. This government simply makes up figures, experts can't verify their assertions, updated costs are never incorporated, INDEPENDENT analysis dismissed, only empty counters meant to confuse the electorate and neutralize the issue.

Today, we learn that Japan will pay 114 million per F-35 fighter jet, a FAR cry more than the 75 million figure the Conservatives have argued, based on objectively outdated estimates. Hardly surprising, in fact American experts warned Canada that the cost would be just what Japan paid, going back to last April, when this issue received sporadic attention. Faced with a mountain of evidence that the 9 billion dollar price tag the government had clung to was BOGUS, we then heard about special deals, Harper even said he had some letter which made us immune to cost overrun consideration(amazing, given the host country America had already foreseen HIGHER costs, Harper actually posited Canada had a better deal than the Americans themselves). The Conservatives simply made it up on the fly, desperate to get the issue off the front page and per usual, their fog of conflicting talking points won the day, everyone moved on, a certain deceit validated.

Last week, Fantino floated the notion that Canada might trim the number of planes we will actually purchase. Interesting, given the military have asserted the 65 plane purchase is the "bare minimum" number to defend the country. Are the Conservatives FINALLY admitting a cost overrun, which will translate to an ineffective military force? Are we actually on a path where we pay billions and billions for a plane that won't even meet "minimum" requirements? A boondoggle that doesn't even do the job?

The way this F-35 issue has been handled by the government denotes complete incompetence, as well as wilful disregard for the truth, it's that simple. That there is no evidence to date of any true accountability is disappointing, but hardly surprising given Harper's Ottawa. This plane isn't just stealth, the truth around it is also undetectable.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

State Of The Liberal Party

With the fall sitting of Parliament behind us- the first since the Conservatives won their majority- perhaps a good time to analyze where the Liberals sit, now that the election rejection dust has settled. If I could choose one word to describe the current Liberal predicament "resilient" seems appropriate, both in terms of internal spirit, as well as outside evidence. There is no suggestion whatsoever that Liberals are headed back to power anytime soon, our future very much in question, but nor does the party look poised to fall off the map either.

All in all, this has been a fairly productive fall for the Liberals. Those of us who thought Rae would make an excellent interim Leader, perform well in Parliament, get much needed "ink" for a third party, make efforts to rebuild and raise money, he's been a success, no question. Liberals have rallied, they've shown up at meetings, there has been a flurry of ideas and useful introspection, they've opened their wallets to the tune of outperforming the Official Opposition, there is a healthy appetite for real reform. Liberals have managed to stay part of the political conversation, we've been nimble and effective in getting noticed, if irrelevance is a chief concern, we've beat back the beast with a certain gravitas.

The polls have been fairly consistent in their message, Liberals remain a very relevant in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. In fact, all polls show us competitive or even leading in Ontario, a remarkable showing for the "walking dead". What the polls tell me, the Liberal still have a "base camp" or two, the entire country isn't a desert, although the challenges are obvious and daunting in many, many regions. If expectations are measured, then the landscape looks somewhat inviting, if survival is your gauge, then the polls are cautiously reassuring. Don't get me wrong, things are BAD, but I see a walk before you run scenario ahead and within this any firm underpinning is welcome indeed.

Overall, I'm a dedicated pessimist on the Liberal front, you hesitate articulating any optimism because to often this translates to shortcuts and half measures, a delusional thought that electoral rebound is just around the corner. Truth is we still live in a very precarious world and realistic perspectives incorporate multiple elections if a return to the power is even possible. However, in the short term, given the devastating election implications, the Liberals currently sit in almost optimal condition. It's as if we've survived phase one of "renewal", whether or not that matters will depend on important future decisions, the real work ahead. I prefer to look a the whole process like a steep set of stairs, within that characterization, fair to say the first step gets a CHECK. A good post-apocalypse start for the Liberals, all things considered.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where Are The NDP In Quebec?

A steady flow of polls for Quebec this week, with widely varying results, but consistent on the trend front. The Harris Decima offering earlier this week stated the NDP were in "free fall" in Quebec, which caused quite a stir. I found the result interesting, but mentioned the word "outlier" because of the steep gradient, nothing of true substance to explain such a collapse. As often happens, Harris Decima was quickly followed by a Quebec only CROP poll, as well as this morning's Leger result. Given the CROP and Leger polls come with much larger Quebec sample sizes, Harris Decima looks a bit suspect on the reliability front, although there is something instructive within their result.

Harris Decima pegs the NDP support at a lowly 26% in Quebec, tied with the Bloc, Liberals well up to 20%, Conservatives 17%. CROP shows no such thing, NDP at 36%, Bloc 22%, Conservatives 22%, Liberals 16&. Leger puts the NDP at 33%, Bloc 26%, Conservatives 18%, Liberals 17%. Again, I'm inclined to favour the Quebec only pollsters, the NDP aren't falling apart in Quebec, BUT there is consistent evidence of decline. Leger sees NDP support "eroding", slowly but surely and CROP does note a 7% drop since the election. As well, polls prior to this week have suggested a similar gentle decline for the NDP in Quebec. Harris Decima have picked up on the decline, but the amplification isn't replicated and it's only use, with confidence, would be on the trend front.

Taken in totality, it is objectively fair to say NDP fortunes are marginally on the wane in Quebec, the heights achieved during the election and afterwards have dissipated, suggesting a softness, which is hardly surprising. The NDP haven't really distinguished themselves this fall, the leadership race has been pedestrian at best, and Ottawa "bubble" logic gives the Liberals the opposition nod in terms of effectiveness. That said, even the Harris Poll poll pegs the NDP support nationally a mere 6% behind the majority Conservatives, 6% up on the Liberals, so you could argue a certain firmness in the new world order of Canadian politics.

My view for quite some time has been don't expect much in the way of poll movement until at least the NDP leadership resolution. There is some evidence we Liberals are performing well (particularly in Ontario), obviously indications that the NDP are off their dizzying heights in Quebec, the Bloc are still a factor and the Conservatives sit in their usual range. Unless we see some massive issue arise that draws the gaze of a slumbering national electorate, there is really nothing to suggest big support changes are in the offing. Perhaps the NDP continue to drop in Quebec, but until they have a new leader, any digestion is utterly meaningless to the longer perspective.

For the most part, Canadians have tucked away their majority government, just happy they don't have to listen to constant electioneering and sabre rattling. Those seaching for deeper meaning will be left embarrassed, because the interest is actually superficial and sporadic. As for the NDP in Quebec, considering their "wave" came about so quickly and spontaneously, some sober pullback is expected and only when we see a new leader in action, should we truly take measure of future prospects.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Low Road Chronicles

Susan Delacourt's offers five steps to effectively dose any and all political fires. In the context of Cotler and "reprehensible" actions on the part of the Conservatives, I suspect Delacourt's theorem will hold, once again nothing in the way of recourse or price to be paid, every week amounts to an almost fresh start, that's just the way politics work now, and have for years. These Conservatives have mastered the art of damage control, their method is deliberate and consistent, and above all MASSIVELY successful.

It truly is remarkable that the Conservatives can be found to have acted in "reprehensible" fashion, and yet there will be NO sanction forthcoming. In the absence of new information, the Cotler story lacks the requisite "legs" to stay on the front burner, so whatever action is quite irrelevant in terms of real world impact. In fact, the precedent here reinforces the idea that political parties can say whatever they desire, with little fear of formidable blow back. As well, overriding this whole discussion, the cynical idea that all parties operate this way, it's the natural order, hardly something to get all "uppity" about, par for the course. With each successive example of "reprehensible" behaviour, we cease to be surprised, outraged, reaction outside of partisan circles becomes a shrug, a passive disposition which only cultivates further indiscretions.

We live in a world with no attention span, political parties have wisely incorporated that reality into their strategies. As well, a certain jaded mature mentality takes the view that we've "seen it all" so it is very hard to truly shock the conduit, as well as their audience. Any partisan outrage is relegated to just that, a almost hypocritical selective memory, issues tend to get lost in this relative haze, objective judgement haphazard and undependable.

Almost everyone does agree that the Conservatives behaved badly in relation to Cotler. But, perhaps the fact that "political" behaviour will result in little consequence is what's really reprehensible, when you apply clarity to jaundiced eyes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is Stephen Harper a Denier?

This entire Kyoto debate is frustrating in one sense, the former Liberal government's utter failure continues to absolve the current Conservative government and their now SIX year abysmal reign on the environment. The Kyoto Protocol has been a friendly ally for these Conservatives, it runs cover for their complete inaction, people forever lay blame elsewhere and in so doing utterly miss the plot. Yes, the Liberals signed Kyoto and did little else, we can all agree on their record, I will never defend it, nor did I support it in the ballot booth. It is also true this Conservative government was "saddled" with the commitments, it was pretty clear Canada would face a herculean effort because of past inaction, so again, YES, we all digest the chronology, we all realize the 2006 starting point, we get it in relation to the Liberals, we do, we do, we do, ENOUGH already.

I would love for the discussion to begin with this Conservative government, because the blame game on Kyoto doesn't adequately incorporate the last SIX years. These Conservatives were always Kyoto sceptics, a "socialist scheme", there was a philosophical resistance, which is reasonable and worthy of some merit. Kyoto is flawed, Kyoto isn't necessarily "fair", people can disagree, people can suggest alternate plans, it is not the holy grail and we can debate the contents in this democracy. However, what is required within this Kyoto discussion, an acceptance of the problem, and within that any rejection must be accompanied by an ALTERNATIVE, otherwise motivations are dubious, true intent suspect.

I find it a bit hilarious that people can vividly remember the Chretien years, and yet they seemly can't recall the more recent past. I remember Rona Ambrose failing badly to bring forth a credible climate change plan, I remember it was so bad public relations wise this government pulled the hook on the Minister. I also have memory of John Baird taking up the Conservative "fight" against global warming with the catchy "Made In Canada" action plan, with much hype, THIS plan was the counter that would show a seriousness on global warming. Unfortunately, even though the 2008 election was PRIMARILY about environmental issues, Baird announced that the Conservative plan would be delayed in light of said election and produced at a later date. The Conservatives won that election, attacking the Liberal carbon plan, while simultaneously producing NOTHING to counter, then summarily SHELVED their PROMISED "Made in Canada" plan after the vote. After Baird's reign, Jim Prentice took up the lead role, so bad it was now referred to as a "career killer", people openly wondered if Harper gave him this post to hobble future leadership aspirations. Prentice spoke of intensity targets, hitched his wagon to America, in essence we gave up environmental sovereignty, and decisions for Canada would be made in America (an amazing development given the former "Made in Canada" thrust). Little in the way of noteworthy policy followed, band aids and not much else, Prentice left an objective failure, like his Conservative predecessors. Fast forward to Kent, more inaction, little effort, more "pariah" talk, rhetoric without real world applications.

This government has CUT climate change research, this government actually diverts "green" money to carbon producing ventures, this government has left a void that some provinces have tried to fill, leaving a patchwork effort, so BAD even the carbon puking industry itself wants MORE clarity. The last six years provide a very coherent strategy, this government will attach itself to anything that can lessen primary blame. The Conservatives will blame past governments, other nations, "special" requirements unique to Canada, anything that provides distraction, that creates a fog to shield the true shape of their actions. In essence, six years of propaganda, smoke and mirrors, moving goalposts, evolving excuses, hiding behind other countries.

If you review Harper's commentary on global warming just prior to taking office, you see a consistent thread, Harper was very much a sceptic, he reads like a global warming denier. Only when the issue rose to the top of public opinion, only when Harper became PM, did he suddenly start to sound committed to the idea of man made global warming, when challenged ONCE, he spewed out some flat language meant to end any suggestion he actually questioned the entire premise. However, if you take Harper at his word prior to taking office, then review the Conservative "commitments" on global warming, how we've acted on the international stage, there is really nothing to suggest that Harper has changed his beliefs, in FACT, there is a perfect symmetry.

If you're a climate change denier, massive odds you're a Conservative supporter, read some of their supporters and you can literally hear the knuckles dragging. That fact in and of itself begs some questions as to why the attraction, given public pronouncements. As well, just last week Harper's former guru Tom Flanagan took to the CBC airwaves to declare himself a proud denier, even encouraging others to come out of the woodwork. Harper was quite clear prior to becoming PM, one wonders has he really changed his mind, or does the nature of the job demand more nuanced public language? Given the record, given the public commentary history, given where we sit today- still long on massaged propaganda and public appeasement, short on actual ACTION- it is fair game to wonder if we have a climate change denier for Prime Minister? Maybe when everyone is done chasing Chretien's ghost we can get down to it, once and for all....

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stakes Are High For Liberal Convention

"Renewal", the key buzzword heading into the Liberal Convention next month. Given the current predicament, I see this gathering taking on particular importance, providing clear signals about our future direction, but it will also serve as a testament to whether Liberals have that internal reform spirit. Talk to people outside Liberal partisan circles and there is a certain clarity, within, remains to be seen if the gravity is fully incorporated.

A Tandt column states the obvious to my mind, Liberals need a "intellectual reboot":
Most importantly, there’s this: the Liberal policy kit, supposedly the reason for the party’s existence. Between Jan. 13 and 15, Liberals are to gather in Ottawa for their biennial convention. This is billed as an opportunity for renewal, for testing and discussion of a new U.S. primary-style leadership selection process, and for debating and honing new policies.

But as the Liberal party’s nifty interactive website makes painfully clear, there are few new ideas on offer. Early drafts of resolutions mainly read like re-treads of “red books” of the recent past: Bring back the Kelowna Accord; fight global climate change; restore Canada’s peacekeeping tradition, and the like.

Nowhere in the collection of resolutions on offer — except perhaps in the discussion of electoral reform, which shows promise — is there a hint that the Liberals realize they need an intellectual reboot. Underlying this is the assumption that lousy leadership explains their collapse.

When people attack, Liberals tend to act defensively, circle the wagons, stand up for the tribe and it's glorious past. That instinct is noble in one sense, as is that "rallying" spirit we've witnessed over the past few months. However, that mentality also tends to offer a comfort blanket, and in so doing doesn't quite grasp the outside reality for what it is, favours tinkering over a true revolutionary mindset. If there is one danger for Liberals moving forward, it is finding strength in each other and then erroneously projecting that fighting spirit onto an already rejected landscape.

Tandt is right, there is a certain reinvention that must take place, armed with cutting edge ideas, "everything is on the table", traditional liberal ideals updated and transformed so that ingredients together create an entirely new expression. It is here that one of the first "tests" for the Liberal Party will be this convention, not make or break, but a concrete step that will tell Canadians what we've digested and where we want to go.

I respect everyone's decisions, thought processes, in choosing whomever for the elections at this coming Convention. Whatever the outcome, Liberals will get behind and support the people chosen. However, it is also true that this Convention has a optical imperative, it must say to Canadians that a fresh approach is coming, this isn't the Liberal Party you've already decimated. A step further, when you have one candidate with NATIONAL recognition, you must choose carefully, knowing full well that the decision goes beyond "nuts and bolts" of the party, but very much a FACE consideration. Do Liberals really want to come out of Ottawa preaching renewal, rebirth, new directions, a fresh start, with a face that reminds everyone of another era? Is it really wise to continually remind people of the past, say nothing's changed, same old, same old, is that the visual we want leaving Ottawa? There will be no turning back, "controversial" the middle name and a FACE the media will continually seek out, for obvious reasons.

The Liberal Party gathers in Ottawa, with their future relevance very much unclear, in desperate need of new ideas and direction, and they look to the distant past for inspiration? That's it, that's all you could come up with, that's your prescription, that's what you want to tell Canadians, "the rat pack is back baby!". Like I said, I'll get behind whatever, but to be frank, the very idea is maddening on a host of levels, makes no sense to me whatsoever, a complete lost opportunity, and there are few of those left.

You see many columns like the Tandt one, people looking for signs of true renewal and unsure of its existence behind lofty language. This convention is very much about sending a message, it is more than clapping our hands in defiance of those who wish us dead, it's about clean slates, it's about a process that helps rehabilitate the Liberal brand. Again, for myself, this Convention will be a testament to whether a political entity is capable of correcting diagnosing it's own predicament internally, or will it understate the challenges with mutually misguided reaffirmation. The "headliner" moment within that tension will be the Party president selection, it will send the biggest and clearest signal. The canary in the coal mine so to speak....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Drive For Five

Below, a beaming and proud Inuit youth excepts the prestigious "Fossil of the Year" award in Durban on behalf of all humbled Canadians:

What is simply tremendous, Canada has now won this award FIVE TIMES IN A ROW! Think of all the nations on earth, and yet we have managed to snag this honour in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. Take that big polluters, take that America, there's a new player on the international stage and it's Canada baby!!

I walk with an extra bounce in my step today....

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Will There Be a Tipping Point?

For years now, those of us who vehemently oppose this Conservative government, and their modus operandi, have been waiting for some sort of tipping point, wherein they go to far, the offend to blatantly and in so doing pay a irrepairable price with voters. You can point to many past examples where it appeared that political damage had been done, only to see the Conservatives rebound, instead of erosion, a GROWING mandate. In many ways, these Conservatives have become the teflon government, nothing sticks, what appears problematic from time to time wanes and never reaches critical mass.

I mention the above in the context of this Bob Rae piece, where he argues that the Conservatives newfound arrogance will be their ultimate undoing:

The lack of civility and democratic debate in Parliament has become a major problem — and ultimately it will come back and bite the Conservative government, says Liberal interim leader Bob Rae.

"I think it's going to turn out to be a very, very deep Achilles heel on the part of this government," Rae said in an exclusive interview with Postmedia News on Tuesday. "I think it's going to be a quality of this government which ultimately will be to its demise."

The article comes with another warning from The Speaker on civility, the lack thereof, a theme we've heard before and frankly one that has failed to resonate beyond the "diehard" crowd. Instead of public outrage with each successive breakdown of democratic underpinning, we get more indifference, more apathy, people tune out, they don't get mad. This dynamic explains why the Conservatives operate with relative impunity, why political geeks are left scratching their heads when apparent "big deals" generate small ripples that fizzle out, time after time.

Is Bob Rae correct in his prediction, or is this latest bout of outrageous behaviour just a moment in time, with little long term damage apparent? I would argue that we are seeing a different Conservative government, that this majority has brought a newfound arrogance the previous minority configurations tended to blunt. The Conservatives have a different swagger, you see it in how they respond, you can sense it from their MP's and minions, a completely dismissive tone, that has a distinct authoritarian spirit. This pre-disposition has always been part of the Conservative makeup, but again, without the threat of election, without full control of all levers of power, it was at least muted to a tolerable level. Now, having finally achieved the ultimate goal, Canadians are starting to see the true nature state of the Harper regime and I do see potential for "achilles heels" and some blowback.

At some point, Canadians will say enough is enough, it will come without predictive signs or mounting evidence. Perceived arrogance has brought down governments of all political stripes and rarely do they see it coming and address before it's too late. Given that these Conservatives simply can't help themselves, given that I truly believe we are now witnessing the unshackled beast roaming in it's natural habitat, there is some room for optimism that a true tipping point will be achieved. I would also argue a compelling, "decent" alternative presentation can speed this process along...

Monday, December 05, 2011


Not that we need any more evidence the Conservatives have NO intention of doing ANYTHING on the climate change file, but today's development really does highlight these frauds that run our country.

If you go back to every climate conference, meeting, international discussion, since the Conservatives have taken office, they have hidden behind the "big emitter" arguments when justifying their own lack of commitment. Supporters of the Conservatives have chimed in as well, with these empirical arguments, why Kyoto is practically useless without the participation of countries like China, other emerging economies. This line of defense to deflect Conservative indifference on the file has been quite effective.

Suddenly, China has given signals that is perhaps willing to enter into BINDING agreements, a major BREAKTHROUGH by any measure:
On the weekend, China’s top negotiator signalled his country – now the world’s largest emitter – would accept binding commitments in a treaty after 2020, so long as developed countries renew their pledges under Kyoto.

The European Union is pushing for a compromise that would see current Kyoto participants accept a second round of emission-reduction targets, while the major emerging countries agree to negotiate their own binding commitments for the post-2020 period.

Asked whether Canada would reconsider its Kyoto position in the light of developments at the United Nations talks in South Africa, Mr. Kent offered a terse: “No.”

So, Canada's argument- which Moore is still bizarrely using in Parliament today- is that only a small percentage of nations are under the Kyoto umbrella, rendering it impotent in tackling the problem of carbon emissions. EXCEPT, now we have the big emitter- the country the Conservatives have CITED for years to deflect criticism- saying they might be ready for binding targets within a Kyoto-like Protocol. IF, the Conservatives were previously genuine, they would be JUMPING ALL OVER this development, but instead we get an unbending rejection, now based on flawed and dated logic.

Exposed AGAIN, and while the domestic consumption will be shrouded in wave after wave of pungent Conservative bullshit, our international partners will once again look at Canada with disgust and surprise.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Interview With Candidate For LPC President Mike Crawley

I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Crawley about his candidacy for Liberal Party president. I found his candour to be refreshing, his energy somewhat infectious and was pleased to get a real sense of depth behind convenient platitudes. Prior to this interview, I was leaning heavily towards Crawley, this conversation sealed the deal so to speak, "I like Mike" as they say and believe he is the right person, at the right time, to create a winning climate for the Liberals moving forward.

A few months ago, Crawley wrote a provocative column on the state of the Liberal Party, which was sobering, and to my mind completely accurate. I asked Crawley if he had received any "pushback" from his assertions, he said the only real resistance was his rejection of "the party of the center", many Liberals believe this is where we must plant the flag, this is where we belong on the political spectrum. A interesting logic behind Crawley, centrism in Canada is "reactive" in the sense it takes it cues from definitions of left and right provided by other parties. I think this is a spot on characterization, because it speaks to a Liberal propensity for taking positions relative to others, rather than independent and irrespective of spectral consideration.

Beyond this discussion of the political spectrum, Crawley argues that we must be a party of pragmatism, rather than "a party of orthodoxy". Without being shackled by pre-determined postures, a few core set of general principles are free to move the party, which is "liberal" in essence. Crawley also believes that "pragmatism and big ideas aren't mutually exclusive", which speaks to a perceived tension I've heard elsewhere. For Crawley, "big ideas have made Canada what it is, people with vision have always been part of the equation". I have always pushed the idea of the Liberals as the party of pragmatism, that Crawley also doesn't see a sacrifice, but an embrace of the "bold" is refreshing.

We spoke about the vast swaths of Canada that are seemingly out of reach for the Liberal Party of Canada. Within this discussion, Crawley again speaks to bold ideas as a way to get beyond old perceptions, they are a necessity if Liberals are to find new audiences. In blunt terms, Crawley says Liberals "need to shut up about the past, it doesn't matter". Crawley believes people know the "lessons of the past, they can read a history book". In the absence of compelling new ideas that challenge the status quo, many Canadians simply revert to traditional definitions of the Liberal Party and this is part of the problem. As part of this spirit of "innovation" that Crawley pushes, he wants to create an environment within the Liberal Party that seeks out think tanks, organizations, individuals that bring forward thinking vision, and in this way the party pushes ahead as a relevant entity, rather than the traditional arguments.

I think it fair to use the word "revolutionary" to describe the Crawley mindset. Given our current predicament, I believe this strong reform minded agenda should find a receptive audience. We spoke about the looming leadership contest, I asked if the party can forge ahead on policy prior to articulation from leadership hopefuls. Crawley put it in a interesting way- which speaks to a certain egalitarian flavour- leadership hopefuls can "join the ongoing conversation", rather than dictation, part of the healthy debate which is already occurring. As well, ideas, concepts, put forth by the party membership itself can be adopted by leadership, rather than a small room formulating philosophy and then consulting membership.

With regards to this "open primary" concept put forth, Crawley sees value on a riding nomination level(both "members" and "supporters"), but hesitates on the leadership front, believing membership "has to mean something", he wants some commitment from participants. Crawley would make membership free, a easy downloadable form provided, he sees no real barriers that would preclude participation. I differ on this score, but appreciate the perspective, as well as the healthy debate this idea in particular is generating.

In general, Crawley strikes me as someone who views his role as the person who creates the climate within the party for ideas and innovation to flow, a receptive canvas that allows others to imprint. His perspective strikes me as the correct one for these challenging times, his passion is obvious and we need people who aren't afraid to embrace concepts which challenge former definitions.

When the dust settles, Liberals will get behind whomever ultimately wins this race. For my money, we are much better off with a forward thinking agenda that shows no sentimentality towards formerly relevant presentations. These are daunting days for the Liberal Party, we have one chance to get it right, we have one chance to have the courage to reform ourselves in substantive ways that show Canadians a new and compelling face. I respect other choices for this particular race, but I will be supporting Mike Crawley as a delegate and I would recommend others consider his candidacy as well.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Anatomy Of A Charlatan

Another climate conference, which means a rash of criticism directed towards Canada, it's just the way of things. As well, plenty of "backing" in the press, in the sense that Kyoto can be viewed as a very flawed regime, while the spirit is correct, the practicality does allow for credible criticisms. Therefore, if one simply NARROWS their understanding to the Kyoto Protocol, the Conservatives do find "cover", there are plenty of detractors. However, when you take Canada in totality, when you put Kyoto inside the overall contributions, suggestions, undertakings, inspirations, you find an utter fraud, with no real interest in doing ANYTHING.

My working thesis, these Harper Conservatives, and their supporters for that matter, find primary motivation through what they are against, what needs to be torn down, what must be opposed and stopped, rather than any positive vision. Extrapolate that assertion to any file and a more coherent underpinning becomes apparent. Isolate yourself to the climate change file, and again you see what amounts to a total charlatan, hiding behind this and that, but whenever push comes to shove, simply AGAINST, working to stop, water down, poison and ultimately undo. This pattern is now clear, every single climate conference we hear about Canada "working behind the scenes" to scuttle agreements, we NEVER get the slightest indication of a POSITIVE contribution.

Take the Conservatives at face value on Kyoto, because again there is an intellectual argument for pulling out, we can argue, be disappointed, but it comes down to rational debate. Where the smell of the skunk becomes readily apparent, the lack of any true alternate proposal to deal with the problem of global warming. It's one thing to be against Kyoto, quite another to oppose and offer NOTHING of substance in its place, an imperative if you are TRULY engaged on the issue, if you GENUINELY believe the science. Canada has opposed, but offered nothing more than lip service language, thrown a bit of appeasing money around, but never part of the constructive dialogue. In fact, if you listen to the clear message from other country delegations, Canada isn't part of the conversation, it's an obstructive force, rather than positive participant. Given that we now have had several of these conferences during this government's reign, the pattern becomes striking, the excuses just that, the arguments HOLLOW and transparent, Canada on climate change is a ruse, plain and simple.

Apologists will point to Canada's proposals as rebuttal, but the obvious "rag the puck" flavour, the deflection of relative responsibility to others, exposes the government in clear terms. Anyone can cobble together clever sound bites to mask true intentions, but when you delve further you see it all boils down to public relations strategy, behind that the only goal is to do nothing, but deflect blame.

When the dust settles on this latest climate conference, Canada will be against initiatives, it will "pull out", it will claim to be supportive of other ideas, and in the end it will have done absolutely nothing constructive, leaving other nations scratching their heads once again...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Megaphones And Disingenious Origins

It is fascinating, and somewhat disturbing, to watch ideological zealots drive debates, using disingenuous talking points to initiate, then pass off conversation to more reputable inquiry. Take the debates about the CBC and the tar sands, and you'll find careful manipulation, worthy arguments about transparency and human rights pimped out to provide cover for true motivations. A seed is planted, under dubious rationales, then picked up in a wider sense, by those who's arguments are honest in desires.

Here's the bottom line for me, people like Ezra Levant don't GENUINELY care about human rights in the Middle East, it is only an argument of convenience, when really it's all about hating environmentalists, thinking global warming is a "scam", wanting nothing to interfere with oil extraction. That is the GENESIS, that is the true inspiration, which then finds other arguments to push that agenda. The government then adopts the language, it's a talking point, it provides them philosophical cover. Others then chime in, as there is a legitimate discussion to be had, but the whole conversation is driven, hatched from a disingenuous source.

Conservatives HATE the CBC, that is a fact, that is your starting point. Forget this nonsense about transparency, again this is just an argument of CONVENIENCE to MASK true intent. I suspect part of the CBC's resistance to all the information requests is a simple recognition that the pursues are on a jihad, not some noble pursuit surrounding openness and accountability. Again, however, those who do truly believe in these ideals- myself included for that matter- chime in, giving legitimacy to a thrust which is TRANSPARENT itself.

Should we debate the CBC? Absolutely. Should we discuss the pros and cons of the oil sands, no censoring, full disclosure? Absolutely. That said, what I find troubling "healthy debate" seems to find its origin from highly biased, ideological driven, entirely charlatan in nature sources. The champions of human rights, PLEASE. Just about openness and respect for taxpayers, OH PLEASE. Those with functioning fore brains understand, but what is truly unnerving, how minor noise machines receive disproportionate attention, moving marginal arguments to mainstream discussions.

Last week, both the CBC and CTV had excellent discussions on the CBC, encompassing different points of view, intellectual and productive. I have no problem with this "coverage", however it is revealing that this "debate" only occurs because of the INITIAL onslaught from the outside the mainstream ideologues, they DROVE the debate and brought it to center stage. The same chronology is true of ethical oil. Almost commendable in one sense, how a small cadre of ideologues can bastardize certain legitimate lines of inquiry for their own purpose and in so doing manufacture a truly national discussion. Perhaps it would be easier to digest if I believed for ONE nanosecond that the original proponents actually gave a rats ass about Saudi women or the public's need for transparency. I don't, nor to most outside observers, so that acknowledgement, in and of itself, deserves serious reflection, otherwise we are at the mercy of loud propagandists, astroturfers and disingenuous players.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Brian Topp Swings And Misses On Taxes

Brian Topp released his tax package today, which demonstrates why I prefer him in the NDP leadership race, FROM a Liberal perspective. This document should win rave reviews from the NDP faithful, Topp stands on proven grassroots ground, class warfare and redistribution of wealth in aggressive fashion. In terms of the NDP leadership race, a good release for Topps, but in terms of a party who will need to capture moderate Canada if it ever hopes to form government, this document casts a narrow net that will most likely alienate.

The idea of a growing gap between rich and poor, to my mind, is a fact, not an argument. Topp's initial assumptions are correct, and I do believe there is a fertile audience for the idea of fairness and more equity within our society. However, it is Topp's remedies, PARTICULARLY going after capital gains, that will turnoff many in the middle class, the group he supposedly champions with this release.

Stock options, check, Topp does make sense on this score, they've become a loophole for a small group of the wealthy insiders, an "option" which is routinely abused. Reversing some corporate taxes, a very credible argument that the current regime is out of balance, we have tilted to far, the promised investment hasn't materialized even while corporations post record profits. Another tax rate for those making 250000 or more, maybe, although I MUCH, MUCH prefer consumption taxes here, which address income indirectly and efficiently: the more you make, the more you spend, the more you pay. Where I fall completely off the Topp train is this idea of going after capital gains, and I believe this proposal will come back to haunt the NDP, should Topp win the leadership.

Topp uses RRSP's to show how capital gains are somewhat unfair. What he doesn't come close to understanding, RRSP's provide a tax shelter- as well as contributions LOWERING your taxes at time of investment- until which time you need the money, which is normally done at an optimal time, wherein this is a sole source of income, taxed accordingly. In other words, there are PLENTY of advantages to an RRSP that you don't receive with capital gains, to such an extent, singling out capital gains as unfair is just BAD MATH.

Middle class Canada understands capital gains, it isn't the domain of fat cats in ivory towers. Sure the rich benefit from capital gains, but so does anyone who invests outside of other options, so do people who have the misfortune of losing their parents, so do parents who want to leave their accumulations to their children. Many Canadians hate capital gain taxation, if Topp thinks this measure has no relevance to middle class Canada, I suspect he's in for a surprise. Just look at the overwhelming success of TFSA's- well BEYOND the government's projections- and you'll see ORDINARY people are looking for ways to get around capital gains. This measure, I predict, will go over like a lead balloon and provide EASY fodder for opponents to bludgeon the NDP.

With this package, Topp may well win the battle, but I can't see how he wins the war. The fact he doesn't embrace any consumption taxes is old thinking, which does nothing to show Canadians the NDP are widening their appeal IMHO.

Dead Man Walking

Federal polls at this moment are mostly irrelevant, but this new Nanos offering is noteworthy on a couple fronts. First off, I have been of the mindset we Liberals are relegated to third place until well after the NDP leadership race, primarily because of a belief that contest would suck all the opposition oxygen, leaving us to fight for headline scraps. However, to date, this NDP leadership race has been pure VANILLA, early days, but so far nothing terribly compelling. Add in a dose of unexpected positive Liberal press- the Rae love in- and the dynamics have changed slightly(note the polling days mostly prior to Peter C. Newman digestion).

The numbers(last NANOS in brackets):
Conservatives 35.6% (37.7%)
Liberals 28.1% (23.4%)
NDP 27.3% (30%)
Greens 3.9% (3.8%)

An outside the margin of error move for the Liberals, as it appears they take votes from the NDP and Conservatives. The above rationale, as well as a negative flavour to the Conservatives heavy handed tactics in Ottawa, might explain the Liberals solid result. Decent coverage(Rae and renewal), a mostly invisible Official Opposition and Conservatives playing the Parliamentary bully game equates to a statistical move.

The regionals show the Liberals in first within vote rich Ontario:
Liberals 38.8% (30.5%)
Conservatives 37.2% (42.4%)
NDP 19.6% (22.5%)
Greens 3.8% (4.6%)

That is a clear shot in the arm result for the Liberals, suggesting there is still fertile ground, as well as hard to define tether to provincial standing. The McGuinty Liberals are alive and well in Ontario, so it does bleed some credibility as an option to the federal counterpart? Just a theory.

Nanos also find some evidence of Quebec erosion for the NDP, I only mention it because he is alone. Again, I'm a bit surprised to see the NDP faltering a bit, at least at this stage, but it is fair to say Turmel has been an utter non-factor and voters aren't sure where the party is headed. One BIG caution here, this NDP race WILL heat up, the battle will be joined and the debate should heighten exposure, so this could well be a temporary pause/pullback during a lull period.

In two years, when both the Liberals and NDP have new leaders, then the polls start to become instructive as to future possibilities. However, for a party desperate to remain in the conversation as a viable option, results like these tend to blunt the funeral processions, so they are not completely throw aways. This poll also demonstrates why I prefer MAYBES over the unequivocal proclamations of certain authors; that stuff bites you in the ASS every time, politics never sympathetic to absolutes, to fluid for theorems.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Best Foot Forward?

When the dust settles, you'll get behind whomever, because in the grand scheme the selection of President for the Liberal party isn't a make or break factor. That said, the next President is incredibly important, given our current predicament, the role takes on unusual significance.

Toronto Star piece encapsulates for me why Sheila Copps is the wrong choice for Liberals:
I had heard from Liberals who are thrilled that Copps, once one of the best-known — and most controversial — Liberals in Canada, is in the race. They believe she is their best hope to spark interest in the party, rebuild internal operations and attract new members.

I had also heard from Liberals who feel Copps is “yesterday’s woman” and to them an unsavory reminder of the years when the party was waging bitter internal wars. They also fear she will be more interested in seeing herself on national TV than in dealing with the nuts-and-bolts of running the party.

There you have it, and the above is problematic. I will never understand the net benefit in embarking on perhaps our final stand as a party with someone who solicits such a wide array of feelings? For a party that needs all oars in the water pulling in unison, the LAST thing desired is a controversial figurehead that turns some on, others off, a confusing presentation of the past trying to pave the future.

Sheila Copps GETS ink, she always has, because she has that kind of profile, because she is opinionated and the media laps that up. Liberals must ask themselves, do they prefer a nondescript builder or someone who will be in the news, and as we've seen MAKE some news of their own? Run through the other candidates for President, do they offend anyone, do they bring passionate disagreement, are they a POLARIZING figure? Personally, I want to hear ideas, beyond that I want the next President to work tirelessly behind the scenes to rebuild the party, I have no desire to hear them on television, that is a role for others. As well, I will literally CRINGE anytime a President interjects themselves into wider debates and becomes part of the story. With this sentiment in mind, having watched Sheila Copps for decades, it will be almost IMPOSSIBLE for Copps to wade in. Canadians will see a "face" on the party, one that they will CLEARLY identify with the past, one that will be at odds with our essential "NEW" thrust, the optics are confusing, period.

The LAST thing we need is baggage attached to our "NEW" direction, why we would VOLUNTARILY handicap ourselves like that forever escapes me. I appreciate the strengths her, Copps brings much to the table, but there are negatives and that in and of itself is concerning, for my money not the "best foot forward" scenario coming out this decisive convention. Again, who we choose for President isn't the critical moment for all time, but it's not a "nothing" calculation either, it has practical and SYMBOLIC ramifications that will be apparent in the months ahead.

A fascinating Lawrence Martin column today, on a mostly unrelated topic, but interspersed with references to Copps, apparently about leadership, but also somehow about Sheila, to the point a MP's opinion is sought. Again, another reminder of the direction we may well be headed, and one that deserves careful consideration...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It is perplexing that people are perplexed by the Harper government's recent bullying and nasty behaviour. Dan Gardner does a terrific job dissecting the underlying motivations for this government, which if truly understood put recent incidents in their true perspective:

Stephen Harper doesn’t want to beat the other side; he wants to destroy them. They’re not opponents; they’re the enemy. As for the depth of his ideological feelings, the prime minister’s colleagues use the word “hatred” to describe his antipathy to liberalism.

When politics is everything, when opponents are enemies, when there’s hatred in your belly, certain things follow. Ruthlessness, for one. Personal attacks. A refusal to accept the legitimacy of different views and to work with those who hold them.

I have long argued on this blog that conservatism under Stephen Harper is as much about what they OPPOSE, as much any philosophical vision for Canada. Without a THEM, there is no positive inspiration, there must be an enemy, something to tear down, something to destroy. If you understand this psychological state, then the inability to incorporate new facts or arguments, the narrow zeal that never bends, is more fully in crisp focus.

Gardner focuses on Harper, but really the whole "movement" that emphatically supports him falls into the same category. Look at how the Conservatives choose their fundraising vehicles, almost every single one is predicated on this notion of some big bad force that threatens our sensibilities and needs to be tamed. It's never about traditional conservative principles, it is ALWAYS about some enemy and the faithful open their wallets. The need for a THEM runs through this entire expression, Harper, his minions, right down to his nasty online commentators, a true ruthless sensibility that speaks to the worst in all of us. Why anyone actually expected this majority government to "mellow" escapes me, it simply isn't in their DNA.

If you review Harper's career, how his brand of conservatism rose to power- found grassroots support- you will note it was ALWAYS about what they were against, what needed to be destroyed, what was counter to their sensibilities. Harper spent years attacking Canada, it's institutions, found it necessary to trash us abroad, just an overriding NEGATIVITY that fed all the arguments.

It is this state of mind that provides the never bending commitment, that renders traditional debate meaningless, a pre-determined state of mind that sees questioning as threat, legitimate discourse an irritant. Anyone who dares get in the way of Harper's agenda is subjected to outlandish attacks, their reputations put into question, their non partisan credentials undercut, just a pervasive mood of intimidation and low brow tactics.

Again, if you are left scratching your heads at Harper and company's recent behavior, you simply fail to understand the true makeup of your subject matter. Harper's Conservatives has been nothing if not consistent, there will always be new enemies around the corner, it's what gets them up in the morning....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"The Party That Tells It Like It Is"

Andrew Coyne presents an interesting perspective from which Liberals can approach their predicament. Rather than entirely depressing, our new found lowly status in Canadian politics provides an opportunity, relative irrelevance frees of us politically correct shackles, allows us to breathe without fixating on focus group tested politics. Viewed within the lens Coyne puts forth, there is really the possibility for exciting ideas, rather than being everything to everybody, be something to someone.

I quibble with Coyne's assessment of the recent Liberal renewal document. Truth be told, I'd didn't read the Liberal achievement tripe portion, but was solely interested in the infrastructure stuff, the "process". This document isn't supposed to be a philosophical treatise, I don't want my party hacks carving ideological direction at this point. The document, to my mind, lays out the playing field from which the "bold" Coyne speaks of can nurture itself, cultivate organically, find an inviting environment that brings healthy and open debate. Viewed in this limited sense, that road map achieves something noteworthy, it allows for someone armed with ideas to make a case without pandering to a self determined base, it allows for what Coyne argues, someone to step on some toes, offend here and there, but present a coherent "tell it like it is" platform. Opening up the process allows for someone to catch fire without pandering to a limited audience, the feedback loop of self affirmation.

Coyne correctly diagnoses the predicament, it is bleak, unprecedented and above all the sense that the Canadian public owes nothing to the Liberal brand, the starting point. I've argued forever that our own sense of lineage is a handicap, the almost sentimental reiterations of past achievements perhaps good for the "troops", but of no consequence whatsoever to the average Canadian. Rather than go back and find ourselves, rooted in past achievements, we must embrace the future, which may step all over past predispositions, some blasphemy required. Again, Coyne's use of the word "opportunity" is correct, the question becomes: can Liberals appreciate the circumstance enough to embrace what that designation requires?

We might be dead, we might not be, anything that is unequivocal at this stage doesn't seem particularly wise. However, unless we embrace a "bold" path, our fate is more predictable, merely left to languish until we finally wither away. Much, much more attractive to "go down" fighting, to dispense with the niceties in Canadian politics that turns everything into vanilla, that keeps people away, that doesn't get the blood flowing, generates messy and HEALTHY debate, something to get behind or oppose. We can't be afraid to offend, we do need to forget about "tents" and spectrum considerations, we need to take stands, hold to them, based on a vision we think is best for Canada. Third party status allows us certain freedoms, and we may just be rewarded if we demonstrate a true revolutionary spirit, not band aids and platitudes, but in your face, uncompromising politics, that says "this is me", DEAL with it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is There Anything More Useless Than A MP?

I support the Liberal seat distribution plan, if only because it is the only presentation that doesn't increase the number of MP's, an occupation which is increasingly useless, redundant and downright unnecessary.

If you're a Conservative MP, you're not allowed to speak freely, debate ideas or act in any fashion without approval from the strongman. If you're an Opposition MP, your questions are feed to you from the halls, you react with sound and fury, but you are essentially powerless, relegated to constituency work, rather than truly participating in democracy. Oh, of course, all that great work in Committee, which is essentially a pat on the head scenario, because majority rules, and those rules don't originate in those rooms.

What we really have in Canada, is a Prime Minister who more resembles a totalitarian dictator. The Prime Minister, and his team of unelected hacks, pick the Cabinet, who are really just extensions of PMO policy choices. Government MP's are feed their talking points, told their direction, should they divert in anyway they face sanction. In reality, these people just occupy seats, their true powerbase is so miniscule it doesn't deserve serious consideration. How Canada approaches the world, how Canada deals with the economy, the environment, social issues, etc, all of it resides with a small cadre of people, of which only one is a byproduct of democracy. The sad part, that is the reality for MP's elected from the government side, slap a "Opposition" label on an MP and futility takes on new meaning.

Yes, there are exceptions, a private member's bill here and there, but again there is still vote direction from the top, in many cases the true inspiration. MP's toe the party line, a line determined outside of democratic manifestations, and should they go "solo", they will be ostracized, this or that "taken away", rendered even more useless for showing any sense of independance.

Of course, MP's have more individual power in a minority, but not really, in that all decisions and emphasis is still a top down affair. With that now cemented reality in mind, any proposal which doesn't ADD more empty vessels is the preferred option. There is a certain irony today, as I read the Conservatives look to "push" through their seat distribution Bill. "Push", as in minds have been made up, the PMO has decided, so stand up Conbot MP's, get this thing passed, as for you Opposition MP's, it doesn't matter. More succinctly, a Bill to add "fairer" representation in Parliament is about to steamroll over Parliament, think about it.

The title is harsh, of COURSE MP's do many important things, particularly in their ridings, where they actually can assist people. However, when it comes to Ottawa, their supposed main emphasis, an MP in the sense of democratic representative is a intellectual farce of the highest order. Save the cash, save further dilution of already marginal influence, the Liberal plan addresses regional inequalities without the spectre of more paper tigers populating Ottawa. And, of course, the Liberal plan will receive no proper airing or debate, and isn't that the point really...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cut The Crap

If you happen to read one document on the current state of politics, Allan Gregg's expansive essay is a MUST read. Gregg articulates what we crave, what is missing and why those who exhibit the slightest AUTHENTICITY now thrive, no matter their political persuasion. I've stressed the word authenticity on this blog many times, to my mind it is now a core characteristic that must exist to truly resonate. "Victory" these days is a tricky affair, because when you factor in turnout, apathy, outright disdain, seat calculations don't always equate to a more encompassing view of "success".

A fantastic analogy by Gregg:

I was pondering this quandary the last time I was in New York, when I ventured onto Bleeker Street to catch the early sets at the seminal folk-rock venue, The Bitter End.

The opening act was a three piece alt-rock outfit, fronted by a bespectacled, baseball capped, singer-guitarist by the name of Michael W. To my surprise and delight, they were very good – not quite ready for the big stage, but certainly beyond competent. They played original material that had a Tracy Chapman/Ben Harper rhythmical, not-quite-rock-but-not-the-acoustic-singer-songwriter thing going on. The crowd responded to their first few songs with something between courtesy and enthusiasm.

It was all very pleasant when something completely unplanned and unexpected happened. A few bars into about the fourth song in the set, W’s electric pick-up popped out of his hollow-bodied guitar. Rather than stop the song and repair his now obviously dysfunctional instrument, he leaned over to his piano player and whispered (the club is intimate enough that you actually can hear such things from the audience) … “we have to go acoustic”. The keyboardist turned off his instrument, the drummer avoided the skin of his snare and merely tapped out the beat on the rim of his kit and W began to sing off mic. Within a few seconds, the normal ambient din of a rock club slid into absolute silence. Stripped of all reverberation, the cadence of W’s voice seemed far more assured yet nuanced, while his guitar playing was unquestionably more dynamic and muscular. Robbed of his instrument, the keyboardist had little choice but to move closer to center stage and he and W began singing to each other and produced some of the most beautiful harmonies I have heard in a rock club. As the last chord was struck, the room literally exploded with rapturous cheering, hooting and applause.

It wasn’t at all clear that the Michael W band fully understood what they had created, because with equipment repaired, they never again even came close to connecting with the crowd in the same way for the remainder of their workman-like set. But we in the audience knew we had witnessed something very magical and rare – unscripted, unrehearsed, naked authenticity. The band had ceased to “perform music” and instead had communicated with us and among themselves with a joy and passion, without artifice.

I'd also add the word ORGANIC here, which is an extension of authenticity, instead of contrived, things just happen. Everything in modern politics is scripted, pre-planned, careful, tested, approved and manufactured. This presentation is in direct conflict with modern means of expression, wherein the audience is no longer PASSIVE, but engaged and active. No longer do corporations "sell" their products, they now put out their messaging, which we investigate ourselves, relying on the personal experience of others to guide us, the "street take". Gregg uses travel as an example, I'd add big items like purchasing an automobile to the smallest of investments, taking in a movie. You look online to see what others think about your preferred vehicle choice, you go to Rotten Tomatoes to see if a video is worth renting, you forever seek out real world FEEDBACK, beyond the traditional sales job. This development speaks to an inherent mistrust, we no longer take the word of the salesman, we require third party validation to make a more informed choice. With few exceptions, the modern political apparatus has failed to understand public sentiment in this regard, still relying on outdated, almost one way means of communication, which is viewed with outright suspicion.

It's a fairly simple and painfully obvious calculation: there is a disconnect between the messenger and the audience, the dialogue isn't viewed as a real world connection, but some foreign world that the players reside in baring no relationship to our own. As Gregg notes- across the political spectrum- voters are so desperate for an air of authenticity, they will reward those they normally wouldn't support, based solely on a sense that there is something genuine, real, honest about that person. In an age of packaging and careful sterilized discourse, the very hint of authenticity- something that pierces through the perceived snow job- is entirely attractive. The Toronto electorate didn't move right when they voted for Rob Ford, they simply responded to plain talk, within a package which oozed "Joe Average", straightforward, one of "us", no pretense or slick presentations.

If you look at the last Ontario election, one moment strikes me in support of Gregg's thesis. Only one moment, within a sea of the usual bullshit, the Dalton McGuinty "hey, I know you don't like me, but..." ad. For those few seconds, McGuinty looked human, sincere and shockingly HONEST. Political scientists can pour over that campaign, but I would point to that simple ad as the KEY turning point, that probably saved the Liberal government. There was an authenticity about that particular ad that stepped outside the usual tripe that people tune out, real is effective, honesty can resonate, self deprecation resembles real world reflection.

People no longer take politicians at their word, the entire "game" as we see it deserves complete suspicion, if not outright disdain, almost a defensive posture which demands scrutiny to sift through the misleading optics. Politicians will say anything, their promises are worthless, their message is almost trickery, rather than advocates, the whole political machine is at odds with everyday society, how we speak and interact. There is the political world and there is the one we live in, our apathy and disinterest providing powerful evidence that leadership is now rendered an esoteric world, far, far away and completely irrelevant. A dangerous development, but also a circumstance that highlights how a "cut the crap" mentality can truly capture the public mood, an air of authenticity piercing through the smoke and mirrors.

Political parties now spend incredible amounts of time trying to figure out how to communicate effectively in the modern world. Contrary to that acknowledgement, what fascinates me, how there is still this cookie cutter war room mentality, how the template is still adhered to, despite all the evidence pointing to a tired model that doesn't work, if engagement is your true guide. Outreach is almost tertiary, the models persist, despite the acknowledgement of a changed audience. When we see anyone or anything step out from the stencil, it is refreshing and yet it still remains rare. The party that figures out "authenticity", makes it the core word that surrounds and develops every strategic decision, will be rewarded. Not a theoretical prediction, we have many practical examples which demonstrate where the electorate is, they are simply waiting for the political machine to catch up...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Key Word Is "Open"

Ask Canadians which political party is least grassroots in orientation, more a backroom affair, more an organization of elites and insiders, most corrupt, least "street" in outreach, and I guarantee all day long the Liberal Party of Canada "wins" in a landslide. There is a readily apparent disconnect between how Liberals view themselves and how Canadians view Liberals. With this perspective in mind, the idea of a Liberal "OPEN" primary finds new appeal.

It is true that Liberals currently have a OMOV selection process, egalitarian and inclusive, no doubt about it. It is also true that membership fees are such they should provide NO barrier to active engagement, so minuscule to be inconsequential. However, when you factor in the very nature of partisanship, fully UNDERSTAND the wider perceptions, you can see how "joining" the Liberal Party can and IS a mental obstacle for many people. We all know people who are political, have strong opinions about issues, many right in the Liberal philosophical "pocket" and yet they shy away from partisan manifestations. This reality is all the more striking with younger Canadians, particularly with a party which so entrenched, with so much brand baggage, not only uncool, but downright offensive. If you accept the above, then you logically look for new ways to engage, reach out, OPEN up the political process and allow for gentle contributions, an appeal that appears wider than simply partisan ramblings. This is where the conversation about Liberal open primaries begins, in my estimation.

I keep hearing criticisms like "gimmicky", "hail mary pass" desperation, and while you can argue some merit in those viewpoints, the idea also looks more a 21st century progressive trend, that is proving to be of significant value in other jurisdictions. My initial reaction to open primaries was negative, for many of the reasons already articulated. However, the more I ponder the idea, the more attractive it becomes, the more I look elswhere, the more I see potential payoffs, the more I come to grips with how tarnished the Liberal brand, the more I favour measures which completely mix up the status quo. As well, when you factor in the core idea of GREATER participation, it's hard to see a downside, inclusivity is never a bad exercise.

I offer the two most recent experiments with "open" primaries, and you see very impressive results, real "sparks", lots of attention and focus, and new legitimatises with the electorate that go beyond normal "convention" flavour partisan decisions. In France, this example:

Successful primaries give French socialists momentum

Open primaries were initially suggested by a progressive think tank, Terra Nova, and encouraged by a few reformist leaders with a modernising agenda. Opening up the selection of the Party's candidate, they argued, meant fully embracing twenty-first century politics and would force the Parti Socialiste to go beyond its organisational structure and address the concerns of society as a whole...

Extensive media coverage, a high turnout of 2.7 million voters and a decisive result will give the socialist candidate greater democratic legitimacy and momentum. An incredible 6 million viewers watched the final TV debate on Sunday between Hollande and the runner-up, Martine Aubry...

In England, this example:
Tories hail high turnout in 'open primary' to select candidate

A doctor was today chosen as a Conservative parliamentary candidate after more than 16,000 voters – most of whom were not party members – took part in Britain's first full "open primary".

The Tories were delighted with the turnout of about 24%, which sets a record for the number of people involved in a parliamentary selection, and could lead to the procedure being used much more widely by the Conservatives – and possibly other parties...

After the result was announced Pickles said it had been "a great success for democracy".

He went on: "Today's turnout exceeded my wildest expectations and just shows that if you trust the people they embrace democracy.

"I hope Totnes represents a new type of politics, which rejects negative campaigning, and sees openness as a way to restore confidence in public life. I hope over time that the primary process becomes a permanent fixture in British Politics."

Real world examples, providing concrete evidence of turnout above expectations, massive attention and a sense of doing politics differently. In both instances, the general public reacted, and in so doing the eventual winner has a resonance beyond the tribe, they look much more the choice "of the people". I'm sorry, but this sounds exactly the kind of RECIPE for the Liberals, if ever a party needed mechanisms to make them appear more grassroots and democratic in nature, it is this institution.

Last week, I heard Craig Oliver make a comment about the Liberal open primary. Oliver said the media would eat up such a contest, it would receive a ton of attention. I share that viewpoint, just the novelty alone provides great intrigue, then factor in a more general appeal and coverage is all the more justified. An open primary is exciting, it's fresh, it has the potential to let a true outsider make a run, based on nothing but ideas that resonate. A open primary could provide a terrific opportunity to completely reintroduce the Liberal Party to Canadians, to say in stark terms, this is a new party, forward thinking and OPEN to all, come on in, have your say, this isn't a club but an outreach.

The more I think about open primaries, the more become a proponent. This looks the right remedy, for the right time, for all the right reasons. With "partisanship" on the decline, the party that first captures the changing dynamics stands to reap the most benefit.


A piece in the Huff Post arguing for Liberal Primaries.