Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Liberals Can Expect Substantive Leadership Race

With the Liberal leadership race taking shape (Marc Garneau set to announce today), it is becoming apparent, this exercise will be anything but a beauty contest.  One of the criticisms of the NDP leadership race was the "agreeable" factor, apart from Cullen's co-operation idea, there was little divergence of opinion which didn't lend itself to much spirited debate.  Not necessarily a criticism, one could argue Dippers simply know who they are, hence the general unanimity, but in terms of contrast and colour, a pretty benign affair.  However, a review of some early policy positions taken in this Liberal leadership almost guarantees conflicting directions, which should provide substantive debate.

Whether it be Trudeau's somewhat controversial stance on foreign ownership, Murray reintroducing the carbon tax into the mix, as well as the complex arguments around political co-operation, or Hall Findlay's views on supply management, it all congeals into a fairly volatile mix, with much more to come one suspects.  Anyone predicting reaffirmation debates is deluding themselves, the stage is now set for Liberals to partake in a philosophical discussion, that could lead to very divergent paths.  Candidates will be put through their paces, as ideas are challenged, "sacred cows" put up for slaugher, there is the potential to get well beyond platitudes, into the policy weeds that Liberals really need to examine on the "renewal" path. 

Garneau is a man of substance, Murray has staked out some interesting ground, Hall Findlay promises policy planks on an almost weekly basis and Trudeau has given early indications that there is vision beyond the superficial distractions.  Obviously, Justin is the hands down front runner, but the lay of the land suggests he will be put through is paces, divergent positions will demand forceful debate and compelling counters.  There is no leadership cake walk on the horizon, at least in terms of the process.

People were worried if Liberals would actually have an interesting leadership race.  Early indications are shaping up to suggest a very compelling debate about ideas and directions, formidable candidates and divergent paths.  Liberals need a substantive debate, it would appear we are about to have one....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

By-Election Breakdown

- It is up for fair debate whether or not the Trudeau/McGuinty comments cost the Liberal Party the Calgary Center seat.  There is no question Liberals had wind at their back last week, only to hit a brick wall with the damaging quotes.  We will never know the true impact, but with such a slight margin of victory- as well as evidence of a Green uptick in the wake- my opinion is that we had the opportunity and blew it.  That a Liberal victory would have been historic, potentially recalibrating potentials and assumptions, all the more hard to swallow.

-Newly minted Liberal leadership contender Joyce Murray enjoys powerful practical application to support her call for co-operation between the opposition parties.   The Conservatives held Calgary Center by 4.2%, despite the Liberals and Greens combining for 58% of the vote, a fact which should provide sober consideration.  If Stephane Dion can give a speech at a Green Party convention, one has to wonder what all the fuss is really about, once we become colour blind.  I look forward to Murray interjecting the topic into the Liberal leadership race, and hope we examine without the kneejerk reactions, because Stephen Harper is smiling, a shit kicking grin in fact.

-The Green Party are fast becoming a legitimate option in Canadian politics.  In two of the by-elections they were formidable, and came within a whisker of winning another seat.  The biggest hurdle for an upstart party is the credibility gap, the Greens should be encouraged with last night, because by any definition they were real players.  As an aside,  combining all the by-election results,  Greens averaged over 21%  support, as did the Liberals, and the NDP 23%, a testament to how well the party performed.

-Despite almost unprecedented attention, turnout continues to be an issue in Canadian politics, a fact that should be of grave concern to everyone.  Canadians are largely indifferent, apathetic and disengaged, 29% turnout in Calgary, with all the controversy and talk of razor thin results, is downright pathetic and disheartening.  Poor turnout works for the Conservatives most of all, as they do better with the dependable, older voter, which becomes more accentuated with dismal turnout.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Opposition" Needs To Get Its Shit Together

How long will the same depressing theme emerge before somebody advocates FORMAL co-operation, "merger", "non aggression pact" between the opposition?  Another Nanos poll out today reinforces the macro problem, currently manifesting itself in Calgary Center.  Vote splitting is Stephen Harper's best friend, recent polling must make the PMO simply giddy.  Why then would the "opposition" continue on with their narrow tribalism, knowing full well their chief adversary LOVES the status quo?

Joan Crockatt has run a brutal campaign in this by-election.  The only saving grace for the Conservatives in Calgary Center is that opposition remains divided, this reality blunting full impact.  What we are witnessing in this riding is another glaring example of the opposition to Harper voluntarily handicapping itself in the name of tribal pursuit.  Of course there are differences between the various opposition parties, but put side by side with the chasm between themselves and the Conservatives, the inability to find some common understanding is philosophically suspect.

The majority of Canadians don't care about your team, they aren't invested in partisan pissing matches, in fact partisanship is waning within the greater society.   What is true, what we call the "center" in Canadian politics is nothing more than a recognition of where society sits, it shifts, partisans react to it, and truth be told no party can achieve power without mirroring it. 

With full knowledge that moderation is the only path to power, pure ideology is irrelevant, a domain largely reserved to the faithful.  Compromise is a must, and it provides curious bastardizations for partisans, in that they can call still themselves "left wing" and support a center right Gary Doer, just because he carries an orange banner.  You can slag a Dalton McGuinty, yet cheer a Darrell Dexter, even though the policies are largely similar, simply because of the tribal considerations.  You can bash a former NDP Premier, yet support a former Liberal cabinet minister- who places himself inside a boardroom, akin to a CEO, in his first advertisement- just because he's YOUR guy.  You can bash the Liberals on takeovers, yet turn a blind eye to changing opposition to trade deals, because it's your team and that's all that matters.  What is also true, the greater populous could care less about the philosophical pretzels partisans turn ourselves into to, they just want solutions and visions.

The polling is clear, in the absence of a complete Liberal meltdown, the NDP will be hard pressed to defeat the Conservatives.  The polls also show that under optimal conditions the Liberals actually have a chance, but put into the realm of probabilities, you are right back at another probable Harper mandate. 

The Conservatives have a 30-35% base of support that is unwavering, dependable and committed to vote.  Within the current political makeup, this government need not appeal to much beyond this base, secure in the knowledge two thirds of us are relatively irrelevant to their personal fortunes.  This reality creates a narrowly focused government, one that fails to achieve consensus, or even cares for that matter.  A divided opposition not only secures power, it also dictates how that power is yielded and notions of true democracy suffer as a result.

Liberals and the NDP, as well as Greens, can dream about ideal scenarios that bring them to power.  There are real avenues to power, but there are also many more practical outcomes that deliver nothing to either, except another mandate for this government, despite a vast majority wishing their ouster.  There is something fundamentally wrong with the current state of Canadian politics, and once we dispense with ego and sporting interests, understand that the path to power for all opposition parties is staking moderate ground, the notions of co-operation become not just desirable but entirely logical.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Calgary By-Election Has National Consequence

What is currently happening in Calgary Center is nothing new, in fact we are simply witnessing a tried and true Conservative election tactic.  Joan Crockatt is skipping debates, just like pretty much every Conservative candidate has in recent elections.  Perhaps the only difference, FINALLY someone- namely the popular mayor of Calgary- has cried foul and drawn much needed attention to an issue which truly impacts our democratic process.  The resulting controversy has morphed a sleepy by-election in the strongest of Conservative strongholds into a referendum on accountability and our political debate.

This by-election will have profound national implications.  One could argue, even a close result could reset certain assumptions.   But, an outright upset in fortress Calgary, would rewrite the Conservative political playbook, to the betterment of democracy.  Should we see Crockatt lose or win by a whisker, the Conservatives will be forced to rethink the standard practice of having their candidates shun most debates, participating in the bare minimum, secure in the knowledge that the practice has little real impact on voting preference.  If Crockatt wins handily, cynical Conservatives will fall back on the idea that controversy is inflated, social media kerfuffle doesn't equate to real world consequence.

Debates are a primary vehicle to put candidates through their paces, articulate their philosophy and see how they perform relative to their opponents.  Having attended many of these local debates- particularly ones with specific focus- you realize the inherent substance, people are forced to go beyond platitudes and talking points, at least if they wish to be effective in swaying voters.  Whether these debates have real impact- outside of mostly engaged voters who actually attend- is debatable, and herein lies the potential importance of the Calgary Center result.  Voters there have the opportunity to reject a playbook which actually gives the finger to accountability, further computes relative apathy and assumes the process can be manipulated with little impact. 

If Crockatt actually manages to blow Calgary Center, voters will have fundamentally altered what is acceptable and expected from our political candidates.  Not only will Calgary Center voters do their riding a favour, but impact the entire democratic process in this country, in a way that is clearly positive, if you actually believe accountability SHOULD be a given.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trudeau Brings Liberals Up To Speed

If Justin Trudeau becomes Liberal leader, the party will finally return to sensibility on marijuana.  Further, Liberals will actually offer a truly progressive vision of ultimate legalization, never mind decriminalization.  Fact is, the Canadian public is way ahead of the politicians on marijuana, so both on liberal principles AND electoral upside, Trudeau makes complete sense:
“I think we have to recognize first and foremost that the war on drugs, as it exists right now, doesn’t work,” said Trudeau, adding that the current system puts criminal records on Canadians who consume the drug, while also allowing criminal organizations to profit from the prohibition.
“So I am a huge supporter of decriminalization.”
However, Trudeau added that the next step to look at would be legalization. This would take marijuana profits away from criminal organizations and allow the government to tax and regulate the drug.

Trudeau added that regulating the drug would mean keeping it away from children, since individuals would have to demonstrate ID before purchasing marijuana.

“(Because) you guys aren’t allowed to buy cigarettes or booze either. Because it’s not good for you,” he added.

The last national poll on marijuana found two thirds of Canadians support decriminalization of marijuana, highlighting that we are ready for the political conversation.  As well, when you consider where the Liberals need to "grow" to become relevant again, the fact that 75% of British Columbians support outright legalization, the same direction alluded to by Trudeau, you have a political home run.  Cynics will scoff that people won't vote based on marijuana, and while that may be true, a progressive stance does help give the Liberal Party shape, identity, not to mention ink.  Factor in a NDP lead Mulcair and their tentative position, I see opportunity, beyond the simple practicalities.

The public is ready, there is an economic/tax argument to be made, Trudeau's stance brings the Liberals up to speed.  With recent votes in the United States, there is the additional legitimacy that counters the usual fears of American reprisals.  It is nice to see Trudeau not only supporting decriminalization, but go further and make the argument that outright legalization is the practical end game.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Real Deal

If anyone doubts Barack Obama is a politician for all the right reasons, this video should clear that up.  The real deal:

You're lucky to have him America.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Voters Are Superficial

Every election, there is the requisite story wherein the journalist speaks to voters to ascertain what issues are important to them.  Normally this exercise confirms that we voters are sophisticated, this perception furthered by the other election novelty staple, the "focus group" segment.  While it is true that many of us do vote based on a series of issue based considerations, the SAD reality is political consideration just isn't that deep, in fact it's painfully superficial and fickle.

The latest federal polls are stunning in one sense, not so much when one considers the political landscape.  With the addition of one prominent face to the brand, the Liberals go from afterthought, a media death watch, to juggernaut, even the absurd prospect of a majority government.  Nobody knows a single real policy, nobody has crunched any numbers, nobody knows anything but lineage and hair, and yet....  

In reality, not particularly surprising the latest batch of polls.  After all, this is a country that just saw the "orange wave" roll across a province despite candidates not even in their bloody ridings, despite no real digestion of anything beyond the proverbial CHANGE mantra.  Everyone else has screwed it up, this guy with the mustache is likable, lets give him the keys.  Sad, overly simplistic, but almost entirely true.

Policy is important, but really it is just some concrete backdrop to basic appeal and resonance.  Liberals have confronted the perception wall with past leaders, no matter what we were armed with, it mattered not without a compelling figurehead.   One important caveat, if the electorate is so fed up with the current regime then a stiff can lead his party to power (you do the math).

This Trudeau wave may well be temporary, but it is still quite instructive in understanding just how easily wide swaths of voters can move, given the most basic of considerations.  The results also suggest that should Trudeau manage to stay within the lines, develop some basic slogan talking points on a host of issues, the Liberals can benefit from a largely shallow electorate.  Factor in a conduit that lacks focus and sustained depth on any issue, it all congeals into a pretty pedestrian political landscape that caters and rewards buzzwords, soundbites and photogenic appeal.

The latest "seismic" change in Canadian politic is further illustration that those of us politically engaged forever over analyze, which prevents a true understanding of the "real world" as it stands.  Fact is voters are pretty darn superficial, let us proceed with that knowledge.