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Will the NDP Pay a Price for Standing on Principle?

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Come closer children and I will tell you a tale from long, long ago.

Just under 41 years ago to be precise. In October of 1970, FLQ (Front du Liberation du Quebec) militants (terrorists?) kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and Quebec cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte (Laporte was eventually murdered by his captors). On October 16, 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, suspending civil liberties and broadening military and police powers of arrest and detention.

The imposition of the War Measures Act was broadly popular across Canada, but there was also significant and vocal opposition to the move. The new Democratic party, led by Tommy Douglas, the Greatest Canadian, gave Parliamentary voice to that opposition. The immediate reward for this principled stand was condemnation of Douglas and his party by pundits, politicians and many citizens.

Eventually however, anger cooled and the NDP gained seats in the 1972 election. Trudeau’s Liberals lost seats and only retained power thanks to NDP support – which came with a price tag. In this case the anger was fleeting.

Elected politicians everywhere are sensitive to public opinion. Smart ones don’t need polling to know how their constituents feel about an issue. They read their mail and email and phone messages. They listen to voters.

Elected politicians would rather have their constituents’ support than anger and disagreement. On the other hand, some elected politicians sometimes find it necessary to take a principled but unpopular stand, thereby risking
defeat in the next election.

The NDP federal caucus returned to Ottawa to face the Conservative government’s back to work legislation, legislating an end to the lockout imposed by Postal Service management as well as the collective bargaining process. In response, the NDP staged a filibuster, allowing each of the 103 New Democrat MPs to speak during the debate on the legislation. One poll indicates that 60% of the public welcomed the back to work legislation the Government eventually pushed through Parliament. So that means the NDP will lose votes because they defended free collective bargaining, right?

Well, maybe, but not necessarily. New Democrat MPs took a principled stand and voiced the concerns of their base voters. Sometimes there is a reward in this world for doing the right thing. It also helps that as filibusters go this was a short one.

The NDP brand is, I submit, partly based on a perception that the party will (at least sometimes) act on principle even when it is not expedient. This creates a new and welcome problem for the NDP in the newly polarized world of Canadian politics.

If there is a serious challenge to the conservatives in the next federal election, it will come from the NDP. The Liberals are too disorganized, demoralized and broke to do much more than merely survive (usual caveats of changing nature of politics apply). The New Democrats will try to expand their base of support through various tactics, including perhaps a moderation of style if not of policy. Or rather, they will try to change some Canadians’ perceptions and image of the party.

Still, if anyone asks my opinion (they won’t) i would say that it is important that the NDP remain true to itself and its principles, sometimes in the face of public opposition, or risk being lumped in with all those other, more cynical parties and politicians.

Incidentally, several provincial sections of the NDP are enjoying increased popularity since the election, at the expense of both Liberals and conservative parties. This is reflected in polling, most, but not all, of which was conducted before the filibuster began. With several provincial elections penciled in for the fall of this year, we should know soon what effect the federal realignment will have on politics in Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and PEI.

Canadian Conservatives Morphing Into Republicans

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Remember how GW Bush inherited a surplus from Bill Clinton and left behind a ginormous deficit for his Kenyan born socialist successor? The magic of the Bush tax cuts and two expensive and unpaid for wars. The U.S. GOP has apparently taught their junior partners in Canada well.

According to the Globe and Mail, one of many daily rags who favor fiscal conservatism and endorsed Harper in the recent election, the Conservatives are now confessing that they made up all that stuff about balancing the budget in four years:

The revised 2011 budget that the government will present next month will not show a surplus by 2014-15 as promised in black and white in the Conservative campaign platform, even though the government insists it still intends to deliver on the election promise.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he needs time to consult economists and to draft a clear plan to deliver the extra savings Prime Minister Harper promised during the election campaign.

“We will do the strategic and operating review and we will book [those savings] once the review is done. That will get us to balance a year earlier, but is not part of the upcoming budget,” Chisholm Pothier, Mr. Flaherty’s spokesperson, said on Wednesday.

The platform promise was surprising because just a week before the election campaign began, Mr. Flaherty released a budget that would balance the books in 2015-16. That budget forecast a tiny deficit of $300-million in 2014-15. It also promised a plan would be drawn up later this year to see if further savings of $4-billion a year could be found, but these savings were not included in the government’s projections.

Will Flaherty consider raising corporate taxes? Maybe stop the purchase of jets and jails? Pffft! Don’t be silly. That would be responsible.

Will he look for social programs to cut? Offload more of the cost of health care to the provinces? Maybe. But only if the Prairies are flat and Montreal is a culturally rich and cosmopolitan city.

In the words of someone named Thor at Driving the Porcelain Bus:

The Conservatives campaigned on a pledge to show a surplus by 2014-2015. I don’t believe they ever meant to keep this promise and here we are, less than 2 weeks since the election, and the Conservatives are already saying that won’t be able to keep that promise. The way they plan to waste money on unnecessary things (jets with no engines, mega-jails, more corporate tax cuts), they will have to make severe cuts to transfer payments to the provinces and social support programs in order to balance the budget.

The silver lining is that The Cons will pay a steep political price for this little trick. At this rate, (meaningless) polls will soon show the NDP and the Cons neck and neck.

Written by slothropia

May 12th, 2011 at 8:21 am

Canadian Federal Election: Wrap Up

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First things first: How did my predictions pan out. Let’s have a look at what I said would happen:

And what really happened (pending four recounts) was the Conservatives won with 166 seats, a majority, the NDP came second with 102 seats. Then came the Liberals with 35, the Bloc Quebecois with 4 and the Elizabeth May – oops! I mean the Green Party took 1.

I thought the NDP would do a little better in Western Canada vs. the CPC and I did not see the Liberals doing so poorly in Ontario. I had no clue the Bloc would suffer as much as it did.

I strongly predicted throughout the campaign that the CPC would fall short of a majority. I was wrong. I feel like it’s all my fault but really, it was the Blue Liberals who abandoned their own party in order to facilitate a Conservative majority.

Overall, the Harpists got the result they wanted and worked hard to get. Mind you, there were some disturbing echoes of U.S. GOP tactics here and there before and on E-Day. Robocalls at late night hours claiming to be on behalf of Liberal candidates; Robocalls on E-Day falsely telling voters that polling locations had moved; a nasty and slanderous robocall whisper campaign against Liberal Glen Pearson in London North Centre (whisper campaigns are nothing new but automated slander is a tactic new to Canadian politics).

But it doesn’t seem like any serious investigation of these tactics will occur (I could be wrong) so it’s time to move on and consider what happened and what it will mean for the immediate future of Canadian politics.

The shock of election night was of course the Orange wave that swamped the Liberals, Conservatives and BQ in Quebec. t was stunning when polls showed a post debate surge for the social democrats into first place in Quebec, but as late as a few days before the election, pundits were predicting just a small increase of seats for the NPD. They were wrong too.

In Atlantic Canada, the NDP improved, the Liberals held steady and the Conservatives exceeded expectations, except in Newfoundland and Labrador where they were only able to take the Labrador seat.

Things went pretty much as expected in the West, with the Conservatives dominating, and the NDP gaining some new seats. The Liberals were reduced to 4 MPs.

In the North, the one Liberal seat was lost to the Tories, and the NDP and Conservatives split the other two.

The Conservatives really won their majority with a dramatic improvement in their position in Ontario. Here again, the Liberals gave ground to both of the other two parties, with then Conservatives doing most of the damage. At this point it looks like this result was a product of right wing Liberal voters (not an oxymoron) voting Conservative to stop the NDP.

So that’s a brief thumbnail sketch of the election results. Tomorrow I will look at what this all means for the immediate future of Canadian politics.

Canadian Election Update 4.25.11: 100 Seats for the NDP?

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Yesterday, Pundit’s Guide posted a useful corrective to many of the seat projections that have been offered to this point in the campaign. I really recommend reading the whole thing but PG says in part:

This may surprise some people, but very few of the current amateur seat projection websites have even a single federal general election track record under their belts. And none of them has had to predict an election where so many assumptions have been upended, and so many tectonic shifts have been telegraphed in leading indicators whose full effect has yet to be seen in the horserace numbers.

Significantly, not one seat projection methodology over-predicted the Conservatives, and not one under-predicted the Liberals or Bloc Québécois, although there were predictions on either side of the NDP’s final total. Only one predicted that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would win Central Nova, NS (she didn’t), while 4 of the 9 methodologies missed predicting both Independent candidate Bill Casey’s win in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, NS and André Arthur’s win in Portneuf-Jacques Cartier, QC.

The inherent bias in seat prediction methodologies to favour previous election results means they tend to overly favour parties set to lose seats, such as the Liberals and Bloc Québécois in the last election. They also tend to miss the likelihood of parties on the rise to gain seats, such as was the case with the Conservatives in the last election. Only the NDP, whose vote intention numbers showed little gain by the end of the 2008 campaign, saw seat count predictions on both sides of its eventual total.

Another problem for the seat projection methodologies is that they are backward-looking. They’re using days-old polling data at a time of incredible movement in the polls, and laying that on top of results from the last election when incumbency was a factor for some political parties’ votes that is no longer at play.

Moreover, they can’t account for turnout, in the sense that parties with momentum, or who have strong on-the-ground organization, will experience higher turnout of their own vote, than will parties who are organizationally weak and/or whose supporters are feeling demoralized.

The above problems were underlined in’s projection/prediction for the 2010 New Brunswick general election, one that saw a one-term narrow Liberal majority turfed in favour of a massive Progressive Conservative majority government. His then-methodology over-predicted the Liberals by 10 seats (23 versus 13) out of 55.

Since then, ThreeHundredEight’s sensational projections have predicted doom and gloom for the NDP on the front page of the Hill Times (no, he’s not a “pollster” as they wrote) and the Globe and Mail. As recently as late January he claimed they would lose 13 seats, upped to 16 seats by early February, which emboldened some Liberals to predict they could gain 100 seats during an election campaign.

It took some peer review to examine his original methodology and determine that he had in fact placed a cap on the number of seats a party could be projected to win in any region (equivalent to the maximum it had even won plus those it came within 10% of winning), but put in place no comparable floor. Clearly the wrong assumption for the current election!

Apparently the methodology has since been changed, but not before it set the entire frame of coverage by the Parliamentary Press Gallery for the period leading up to and just following the federal budget vote (“NDP weakness sets up two-way race between Harper and Ignatieff”).

Indeed one could say that this one blog – without a single federal general election’s track record to its credit – was responsible for the mass failure of the Ottawa punditocracy to foresee either the NDP’s willingness to or interest in voting down the budget at the end of March, and for all we know the willingness of the Liberals to provoke an election dating from around that time.

So, what does all that mean for the current election?

It means that:

*the Liberals and Bloc are still likely being overly favoured by all these seat prediction methodologies,
*the projection methodologies are going to wind up missing NDP gains, particularly if the party continues to climb in the polls, and that
*projected seat counts for the Conservatives will likely fall on either side of their final tally.

It also means that the “strategic voting” websites, who are basing their recommendations on seat projection/seat prediction methodologies like 308’s are likely making a number of erroneous recommendations — another reason to be rid of those undemocratic and irresponsible projects once and for all — and that people voting in the Advance Polls shouldn’t put a lick of confidence in them, as a result.

On cue, there were a number of polls released today including one from Ekos who also provided a seat projection. Now I happen top like this seat projection because it gives the NDP 100 seats while the Conservatives are held to 131,far less than a majority. BTW, the Liberals and BQ get 62 1n3 14 respectively in this scenario. But just because I like the prediction, all of Pundit Guides caveats about seat projections apply to it as well.

Except that, Ekos does have a track record and not a bad one at that.

But starting tomorrow, there are there are more polls coming, including fresh ones form Ekos and Nanos and who knows who else. There will also be more seat projections until the end of the week at least. The pressure is on the pollsters and projectors in a contest to see who can be most accurate. It will be difficult for them because they are shooting at a moving target. A poll is supposed to be a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment in time. In the next week before the campaign there will be movement, how much and in what direction I cannot foresee from my little homestead in the Land of Lincoln.

I will suggest though that just as there has been bleeding of NDP votes to the Liberals in past elections, there could be movement this time from the Liberals to the NDP. It may be that the Orange Wave has not crested yet but will carry Jack Layton and his party to 30% on election day and x number of seats.

Canadian Election: Tories Attack Layton and NDP

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I was wrong. In my last post I predicted that the Conservatives would try to ignore the NDP and continue to focus their fire on the Liberals. But today, they posted anad on Youtube that took direct aim at Layton and accused him of all plotting with the Bloc to form a (gasp) coalition – before the last election.

The NDP responded quickly:

A Conservative attack ad contains misleading information and should be pulled, New Democrat candidate Paul Dewar told reporters on Friday.

The attack ad emerged on Friday afternoon, and alleges that NDP leader Jack Layton planned a coalition with the Bloc Québecois “before votes were even counted” in 2008, and that he was willing to let Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe be the “driving force” in a coalition.

Both statements are false, said Dewar.

“The entire ad is based on complete fabrications,” Dewar said during a press conference at his riding headquarters in Ottawa-Centre.

Dewar noted that last week when the Liberals misquoted Stephen Harper in an ad that attacked his credibility on health care the Conservatives asked for the ad to be pulled. This is the same situation, Dewar said.

“At least come up with stuff that is true,” Dewar said. “If you want to put ads on the airwaves that reflect the facts and issues, fine, but you have to stop making stuff up.”

I suspect that the change in Conservative tactics came as a result of internal polling showing the NDP eating into Conservative support, a development they had not planned on.

It is interesting to note that the ad was originally released in January of this year. Could it be that the Cons need ed something right away but having treated the Liberals as their main competition had nothing in the can to use against the NDP? Rest assured, there will be more and fresher attacks over the next 10 days.

Written by slothropia

April 22nd, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Canadian Election Update 4.22.11: Wow, Just…Wow!

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A flurry of new polls are out in the last couple of days showing the NDP in first place in Quebec or in the case of Nanos with continuing and rising strength in that province.
here’s a link to a Wikipedia site that provides the latest Opinion polling in the Canadian federal election, 2011. From there you can link to the individual polls to get regional breakdowns and whatever other info the pollsters publish.

West of Ontario the NDP is the main opposition to the Harpists. This is also true in Northern Ontario and increasingly in parts of Southwestern Ontario. As already mentioned, Quebec has turned upside down, with the NDP ahead of all other parties and the Liberals at the bottom, drifting slowly down into Green Party territory.

A lot of chickens are coming home to roost. The Liberal party has grown increasingly dysfunctional in recent decades. Before the laws were changed they never had to work raise money (large corporations and wealthy individuals threw donations at the Grits to gain and maintain access) and they have not been good at grass roots organizing for a long time (something the NDP continued to work at even during their nadir in the 90’s).

Then there are the policy betrayals, like NAFTA and the GST, which Chretien promised to do away with and then strengthened. Furthermore, and as Jack Layton never tires of repeating, the Liberal record on health care funding in the last decade (especially under Martin) is far from stellar.

Finally the sponsorship scandals in Quebec may have finished the Liberals as a national party. it is no wonder the Liberals have had leadership problems since the departure of Trudeau. Dion was a compromise that did not work out (too bad, he had a lot of good qualities) and Ignatieff was a convenient but desperate choice who has never inspired much trust, let alone affection.

Progressive Liberals may be thinking hard right now about what they can do to advance their ideals.

Having said all this, what are the various parties doing to either encourage or mitigate the latest trends?

As I have written previously, the Conservatives have for the entire campaign to this point been satisfied to play a Republican game of maximizing turnout by their base and suppressing turnout for anyone else. The rhetorical weapon the Tories have flourished has been an atempt to get Canadian voters to fear a “coalition” of Liberals and “socialists” supported by “separatists.” Had they asked me and if I had been able to answer honestly I would have advised against such a strategy, because it would have been easier to get the last few seats needed for a majority by going after soft centrist, so called “blue Liberal” voters. But they chose to listen to Karl Rove instead and now they are stuck on a questionable course.

The rise of the NDP in Quebec, largely at the expense of the Bloc, dramatizes the weakness of the conservative strategy. they’ve been demonizing the Bloc while attacking the Liberals both of whom at this point are drifting out of the picture. Should they start attacking Layton? They might as well shoot the Easter Bunny while they’re at it. don’t get me wrong, the NDP is not immune to criticism from the Right, but it wouldn’t help the Conservatives very much to talk about the “socialists” and their lovable leader at this point. So I expect them to continue going after Iggy and the Liberals, while some Tory candidates avoid all-candidates meetings and Harper refuses to answer questions.

Updatye: 4/22/2011 8:56 pm CDT: Correction: The Conservatives released an attack ad against Layton and the NDP this morning.

The Conservatives are also suddenly doing a fair bit of damage control. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, Harper’s spokesman had to call a press conference in the middle of the night to refute an incumbent’s boast that he had provoked the government into blocking funding for Planned Parenthood International. Another scandal involves a more traditional example of possible corruption:

A series of recordings posted on YouTube are raising fresh questions about the role Stephen Harper’s key spokesman and former Quebec adviser may have played – and who he was dealing with – in an unsuccessful attempt to influence in 2007 the choice of who would be the new president of the Montreal Port Authority.

Allegations that Dimitri Soudas intervened in a bid to help Montreal engineer Robert Abdallah secure the plum post took a strange twist Thursday when Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe distributed transcripts of conversations in which men identified as Montreal construction boss Tony Accurso and businessman Bernard Poulin discuss the job and who they think should have it.

Incidentally, thoughtful conservative Andrew Coyne has written a Macleans column in which he speculates about what Harper may do should he be defeated in the new House of Commons:

Indeed, so unyielding and dogmatic have his statements become, against the views of every constitutional scholar, that I have to wonder whether there is something else going on. That is, I wonder whether he is preparing the ground, not just to prevent the opposition from electing enough members to be in a position to bring his government down, but to thwart them should they make the attempt.

What he may have in mind is this: that after losing a vote of non-confidence, he would advise the Governor General to dissolve the House and call new elections — rather than call upon someone else to form a government. He would then dare the Governor General to overrule his first minister’s advice, something that Governors General are quite properly extremely reluctant to do.

He would, in short, be doing another King-Byng, provoking a constitutional crisis rather than yield power, hoping to intimidate the Governor General and/or rally public opinion to his side. If so this would be extremely disturbing, though not alas unprecedented.

If the Conservatives are a prisoner of their chosen strategy, imagine the dilemmas Liberal strategists are facing right now. The plan was,as in numerous previous elections, to move left at the beginning of the campaign, thereby marginalizing the NDP, and then to pivot and attack the Conservatives following the debates. The trouble with that plan was that the voters did not cooperate. Who could have foreseen such a thing? The plan has always worked before – except that it has been less and less effective with each succeeding election. Paul Martin in 2006 Stephane Dion in 2008 and now Ignatieff have all followed the same pattern and in each campaign’s final stages, asked NDP voters for strategic votes to stop the Conservatives.

And they would have gotten away with it this time too if it weren’t for that meddling Jack Layton who it turns out won both the French and the English debates. Never mind what the flash polls said. It was the debates that gave voters the material with which they could fashion the narrative of the campaign.

And so, the Liberals are stuck repeating what is surely a tired old line about how the NDP has no chance so why waste your vote. Today’s variation on that theme is that Liberals have that New Democrats lack. By the way, Ignatieff made these remarks in Westmount Ville Marie, a Montreal riding the Liberals have had since Noah docked on Ararat.

Montreal is where the NDP surge in Quebec has reached its high point to date. A Crop survey has the NDP at 36% in Quebec but at 40% in Montreal. No wonder Ignatieff feels compelled to defend what should be safe Liberal turf.

A trend is not a final result. Polls do not vote. Polls are for dogs. There are thousands of expressions that all amount to the same thing. Don’t count your chickens, etc. The election is not over and the trends and the narrative could still change. But Ignatieff and the Liberals have some difficult days ahead. Victory seems out of reach, and the best they can hope for is to drag the NDP down to their level or lower. I do not expect to see Ignatieff spend much time west of Ontario between now and May 2.

The leader who appeared to have the easiest task in the campaign was Gilles Duceppe. After all, the Bloc only runs candidates in Quebec’s 75 ridings, so Duceppe would be spared the rigors of touring facing the other leaders. Furthermore, Quebec voters seemed comfortable with both Duceppe and his party, even if many opposed his nominal goal of sovereignty for Quebec. Then he phoned in his performance in the English debate before appearing to rally and dominate the French one the following night.

Then the perfect storm struck the Bloc. The NDP had been working hard in Quebec for years and finally gained a foothold with Thomas Mulcair’s election in 2008. In the moths leading up to the election writ, the NDP had begun rising in the polls, but no one seriously saw them as a threat to anyone, and especially not the Bloc.

Then, with feisty performances in both debates, Jack Layton moved ahead of the other federalist parties in the minds of many Quebec voters. Suddenly, Duceppe had a rival who posed a serious threat to his entire project. Duceppe began attacking the NDP and Layton, so far to no apparent effect. The Bloc has little choice now but to attack the NDP while trying to limit the damage in selected priority ridings.

But does he attack the NDP for being too centralist, driving federalist social democrats into Layton’s waiting arms, or does he appeal to strategic voters whose priority is to stop a Tory majority?

So far, predictions have been fo modest NDP gains in Quebec, partly because there is not a lot of NDP organization on the ground there. We shall see how true that is or how much difference it makes on the eve ning of May2. A problem for the Bloc on election day is that if the polls arfe correct, many Bloc voters are now supporting the NDP but may not have told the Bloc. The Bloc will do their best to get their supporters to the polls, but may inadvertently be helping the NDP as they do so.

The NDP’s challenge in the last week or so of the campaign is to consolidate their new found strength in Quebec and elsewhere, while identifying this ridings where they have a real opportunity to make gains. Of course, they will need to do this while countering the suddenly vicious attacks from the other parties.

Early this week, Le Devoir, a Quebec nationalist newspaper that supports the Bloc, published a story about a New Democratic candidate, Francoise Boisvin in Gatineau, alleging she had been thrown out of the Liberal P arty for breaking House of Commons rules while serving as a Liberal MP. The allegation was that she had given a job to her lesbian partner.

This was an attack that (it appears to me) was coordinated between the Bloc and the Liberals who together agree that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, the attack came too soon and gave Boisvin and her party time to repair any damage.

But the NDP should expect attacks like this and worse in the final days of the campaign.

Canadian Election Update 4.7.11

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We are at day 13 of the Canadian Federal Election Campaign and it seems possible at this point to describe a few trends, though the parties hopes and fortunes remain ever shifting.
To begin at the to p of the food chain, I think I will depart from the conventional wisdom by asserting the Harper and the Conservatives are in a spot of trouble. The Harpists have big problems if they don’t get a majority but they act like they are satisfied with the status quo. They have done nothing to attract support from outside their base and as a result the public horse race polls are showing their support softening just a little. I invite you to check out the latest from Environics and Angus Reid.

I think its a mugs game to try and explain poll results without doing some follow up research, but her I go anyway. If the Cons are slipping a little, it may have something to do with the way they are conducting the campaign. For example kicking people out of Harper rallies (and using RCMP resources to do it) just reminds people of why they haven’t yet given Harper a majority.

At the same time maybe the Karl Rove tactics the Cons are using are causing the Liberals problems. The Conservative campaign has observed that Ignatieff’s wife is not a Canadian citizen. Conservatives have tried with some success to make a big deal out of an Alberta Liberal candidate’s observation that not all sexual assault cases are the same. Clearly this man is objectively pro rape.

The Liberals also got caught with a rural Quebec candidate with a history of racist comments (to go with the unfortunate comments by Romeo Saganashes Incumbent Bloc opponent).

The Angus Reid and Environics polls out today both showed improved numbers for the NDP but with a healthy Con lead over the Liberals. Both polls were also notable for what they found in Quebec, namely the Bloc and Liberals dropping a little and with the NDP in 2nd place. Layton has given credit for much of the NDP’s tentative success in Quebec to Thomas Mulcair, his Quebec lieutenant and MP for the Montreal riding of Outrement. Since his election to the House of Commons, Mulcair has spent much time and effort to building up the Quebec wing of his adopted the party.

In the current campaign it seems like the Bloc and NDP are circling each other warily, afraid to attack because they’re targeting a lot of the same voters, voters who like both leaders and may not respond well to negative campaigning.

To sum up, it looks to me that Layton is winning the campaign. he’s getting around well enough (despite recovering from a broken hip), staying on message, dealing in substance while the Libs and Cons scrap over side issues. The NDP platform delivery has been unfocussed, but in the valley of the blind etc.

Whatever the status of the campaign today, there is a long way to go, and well timed dirty tricks, mistakes and unforeseen events are not only possible but nearly certain to occur. Poll results are interesting, but what is happening on the ground? Also, the debates could be a game changer for somebody. If the Liberals want to do well enough to form a government Ignatieff had better have two good debates, one in each of the two languages. Harper might even show up to discuss rather than evade – one never knows.

Layton could have some real success in the debates. He has more charisma than any of the other three (except maybe Duceppe on home turf). If he can translate his popularity into seats this could be a really interesting election.

Canadian Federal Election Opening Bids: Steve and the Harpists

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Well in Canada it is E-35. Five weeks from tomorrow (on May 2) the votes will be cast and counted. The federal parties have known the election was coming for some time and so have been preparing strategy, tactics and policy platforms, as will as fund raising and recruitment of candidates, staff and volunteers.

What I will try to do in this post is provide a high level, thumbnail sketch of how to leaders and their parties have used the first few days in terms of strategy and messaging.

Disclaimer: I am rooting for the New Democrats cuz I’m a lefty. There, my bias is out there for all to see. It is always on display anyway, so now should be different why? But having a bias should not prevent me from communicating truthful, accurate and complete information. If it does, let me know, so I can self correct. I do not intend to spin, but my observations pass through a left wing filter as they are expressed.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Steve Harper and the Conservatives
The first card Harper and his band of harpists tried to play was the scary coalition threat. Back in Late 2008 and early 2009, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc talked about defeating the newly elected Cons and asking the Governour General for permission to form a coalition government. Harper used the Canadian Branch of Corporate Media International (CBCMI) to make it sound like the socialists and Separatists were trying to cheat Good Canadians out of their fairly won election result. The tactic worked apparently because public opinion became pretty negative about the coalition proposal.

Then, before the House of Commons could vote on the matter, Harper got the GG to prorogue Parliament, at which point the lame duck Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, resigned and was replaced by Michael Ignatieff – Iggy of course was appointed by the Liberal leadership rather than being chosen by the party membership. Upon becoming leader of the Opposition, Iggy renounced the coalition and that was that.

In recent months, the Harpists have been pushing the anti coalition meme, hoping to generate a wedge issue to use against the other parties. As soon as his government fell, the coalition seemed to be all the Cons were talking about. And it was all CBCMI asked Iggy about. Until Iggy said “Nuh uh. There will be no coalition.” I paraphrase.

Then Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe produced a 2004 letter signed by the two of them and – you’ll never guess – then Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, in which the three leaders agreed to maybe replace the minority Liberal government with a coalition.

Then, as the CBC’s Terry Milewski describes it:

That’s one tough coalition monkey. Here we are, barely into the first week of the campaign and it’s already been a wild ride. First, Michael Ignatieff hurls the battered monkey off his back, and it scampers onto Stephen Harper’s. Harper throws him off and … and what?

Here’s an easy prediction: the monkey will get no rest. Harper will try to re-attach him to Ignatieff, pronto.
By focusing his campaign on the demonic spectre of a coalition, Harper inevitably drew the spotlight to his own flirtation with the Bloc and the NDP, back when he was the Opposition Leader in 2004. Hadn’t he told the country that he was in “close consultation” with them and that no election was needed if Paul Martin’s Liberal minority were defeated in Parliament by the opposition majority?

Why, yes, he had. Not only did he write the letter which the Bloc leader, Gilles Duceppe, now delights in reading, but he held a press conference telling us that he would not like the Governor General or Prime Minister Paul Martin to think a new election was needed. That’s “not how our system works.”

Like Ignatieff, Harper just didn’t seem to have his answers worked out when he faced the inevitable questions. Wasn’t there hypocrisy here? What were the “options” he wanted the GG to consider if not asking Harper to form a government — in a way which he now denounces as “illegitimate?”

It’s been a long time since Harper has faced a media pack howling, “You didn’t answer the question!” But it happened in Brampton. Thank God for the guy who asked about the Toronto Maple Leafs. It could have got ugly.

Of course, the leaders of the NDP and the Bloc were quite sure that Harper did, indeed, plot to replace Martin as prime minister. So the monkey seemed to have a pretty good grip on Harper. But, just like Ignatieff, he had an overnight conversion to clarity. The “option” he wanted the GG to consider was telling Paul Martin, no, he wouldn’t get a new election, he would just have to go back and play nice with others.

Here’s Lawrence Martin’s take:

In an election the advantage goes to the party that can frame the debate. In the run-up last week, the Conservatives were the clear winners. They made it appear that the other parties provoked an election that Canadians did not want. Though Harper’s government was defeated on the contempt of parliament motion, no one was talking about that. The talk, courtesy of Ignatieff fumbling around on the question, was all about hypothetical scenarios involving coalitions.

For Harper, it was the perfect opening. But he couldn’t leave it there. He tried to up the ante and now he is the one on the defensive.

His craving for power has given rise to on-line posts such as the following from a British Columbian. “Harper’s demagogic warnings of a Liberal-NDP-BQ coalition, and his call for voters to return a “stable” Conservative majority government, show a contempt for the reality of political diversity in Canada.”

For Harper, the political opposition is not a legitimate part of governance, but an obstacle to be barely tolerated and overcome by whatever means possible. The “Harper Government”, as it calls itself, even with a minority, has governed as if it had a majority, and with a majority will likely govern as if it ruled a one-party state.

And that’s pretty much where things stand as of now. Harper thought he had a stake to drive through the hearts of the opposition parties but instead all three were able to neutralize the coalition issue.
This attempt to use coalition as a bludgeon against the other parties I think shows how desperate and empty the Conservative campaign has so far been. The first policy plank the harpists rolled out does the same.

Here’s how Global TV describes what the Harpists cal their “family tax cut”:

Conservative leader Stephen Harper is promising a tax break for two-parent families — although they’ll have to wait for it until the federal government eliminates the deficit.

The $2.5-billion scheme would allow spouses with children under the age of 18 to split household income up to $50,000 in order fall into lower tax brackets.

The plan wouldn’t begin until 2015-16 under current Conservative deficit projections.

Harper calls it a “major, structural tax reduction” that would affect 1.8 million Canadian households.

The Conservatives say the tax cut would average $1,300 dollars per family but economists say the actual dollar value varies widely.

Frances Woolley of Carleton University says the biggest beneficiaries would be higher earning, single-income households with a stay-at-home spouse.

He says someone earning more than $127,000 dollars a year with a stay-at-home spouse would save more than $6,000.

A one- or two-income family in which the highest earner makes less than $40,000 dollars would get nothing.

This is a policy U.S. Republicans might concoct. As Professor Wolley notes, it is aimed at higher income families and of little or no use to what the NDP used to call “ordinary Canadians.” In other words, with this platform plank, Harper and the Conservatives are appealing to people who are more likely to vote for them than any of the other p[arties. Harper is appealing to his base.

I’m pretty sure the harpists will do something to broaden their appeal at some point in the campaign but this policy does not do that.

Note also that it won’t even come into effect for five years and until the budget is balanced. So maybe never.

The Conservatives must have something more in their bag of tricks, but so far they seem to be running in place.

Enough. End of part the first. Next time I’ll subject the Liberals to my withering analytical powers.

Written by slothropia

March 29th, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Lib/Con Coalition in Ottawa

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

I meant to put up a reaction to the Liberal decision to support the Harper budget a few days ago, but I was abducted by aliens and they just now dropped me off. It’s OK though. My period of captivity gave me a chance to reflect on the situation in Ottawa, for the political dust to settle north of the border and for the Canadian version of the corporate media (incl the CBC) to bloviate itself into a tizzy about how wise is Ignatieff and how silly Jack Layton.

As Monk would say, here’s what happened.

1. The Conservatives won a plurality of seats in the last election. They then won a confidence vote on the Throne speech.

2. In late November, the Harper Finance Minister delivered a financial statement (a mini budget if you will) that included some mean spirited legislation but very little stimulus for an economy which was clearly going to soon be in trouble. There is an old saying; “When the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold.” The U.S. has a bad cold, and Canada can expect a case of economic pneumonia.

3. With Jack Layton as chief instigator, the three opposition parties declare themselves ready to vote against the Tories in a confidence vote and agree to form a Liberal/NDP coalition, with Bloc support (conditional upon the Governor General inviting the Leader of the Opposition to form a government after the Conservatives were defeated in the House).

4. Smelling defeat and the loss of power, Harper persuades the Governor General to prorogue (suspend) Parliament for a month while the Cons write a full budget.

5. The Liberal Caucus replaces outgoing Leader Stephane Dion with Michael Ignatieff. They did this for a number of reasons. In short it was awkward to have a lame duck leader when there was talk of forming a government and/or when there is an ongoing political and economic crisis in the land.

6. The Conservatives deliver their budget on schedule and on schedule the Liberals declare their willingness to support the budget and the Harper government.

7. The other two opposition parties, again with Layton and the NDP in the lead, attack Ignatieff and the Liberals for betraying the coalition and and all Canadians by supporting a budget that did not provide enough economic stimulus and which did not do enough to strengthen Employment Insurance (the Orwellian term for Unemployment Insurance).

8. Meanwhile, the Canadian corporate media mainly praises the budget and Ignatieff’s capitulation.

Here’s an example of the last point from Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff did the right thing in supporting the budget rather than trying to force an election or entering that ridiculous arrangement with the NDP and the separatists.

His demand as the price for his party’s support – periodic updates on how the budget is working – seems appropriate. Given the unknown ahead, chances are that six months from now, many of the budget’s assumptions, and at least some of the programs, are going to need serious adjustment.

And here is Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert:

Stephen Harper saved his job as prime minister but the Liberals are the net winners of the extraordinary parliamentary showdown that almost cost the Conservatives their minority government.

Less than four months after they were knocked down to a historical low in the popular vote in a general election, the just-concluded crisis has reset federal politics to their advantage.

Polling since the Tory budget shows little change from before. In Quebec the Libs are slightly behind the Bloc, with the NDP and Harpers in a virtual tie for third.

The Liberals may have gained in the short term, but there is time before the next election for them to regret Ignatieff’s choice. Since Ignatieff’s capitulation, the NDP has run a series of radio ads slamming the Liberal Leader for propping up the Tories as Dion had done.

The NDP’s strategy is now focused on courting progressive Liberals who had welcomed the Coalition. If that strategy works, the next election (to be held sometime this year, says the smart money) will see a strengthened Liberal Party and NDP with the Tories and Bloc dropping some seats. I would bet heavily against a Liberal majority, but a result like the one I described could lead to a Liberal/NDP working accord, if not a revived coalition that would not need Bloc support.

Canadian Update: Preview of the New Parliament

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

Next Tuesday, Remembrance Day in Canada, will be one week from the Obama election and four weeks, 28 days or 1 lunar cycle since the Conservatives won their increased minority position in the Canadian federal election. It has been a quiet month in the Great White North. Yes, Steven Harper did name a new cabinet, who will be just as obedient to the PM as the previous one was.

But not much has happened politically, even though Canada faces many of the same economic problems as the United States. This is about to change as the House of Commons will be in session the day after Remembrance Day.

The first important event in the life of the new Parliament will be the Speech from the Throne, followed by a vote of confidence (or no confidence) in the Government. For non Canadians, the Speech from the Throne is a summary of the Government’s agenda, an outline of what the Government wants to achieve during the life of the Parliament. In Britain the Speech from the Throne is read by the Queen, but in Canada (and I presume other Commonwealth countries) it is read by the Governour General, the Queen’s viceroy.

The upcoming throne speech will carry more weight than most because it looks like hard times are just over the next hill.

At the start of the Great Depression, the Prime Minister of Canada was R.B. Bennett, like Stephen Harper a Conservative from Alberta. Bennett refused to act to stimulate the economy and provide relief to the Depressions victims until it was politically too latre for both him and his party. Harper is not stupid and he knows how to read. He will not repeat bennett’s blunders (though he ay devise some of his own).

Harper is also lucky. He did not choose his Liberal opponents, but the stupidity of both Paul Martin and Stephane Dion has been his secret weapon. Harper is also lucky in that Martin, as Finance Minister, robbed Employment Insurance and other social programs to pay down the debt left by Brian Mulroney. As a result, Harper has fiscal room to pay for some sort of economic stimulus, despite Conservative dogma about balanced budgets. Contrast the Canadian fiscal position with the monstrous debt and deficit President Obama will inherit from W, and give Harper credit for having even more good luck.

As with Obama, Harper’s first priority, which he shares with all parties in the House, is to stabilize the Canadian economy and limit the recession’s damage. It appears that Obama will try to build a consensus for whatever measures he proposes, and Harper might have to pursue a similar goal. No doubt there will be sufficient support from all corners of the house for spending on infrastructure. For over zealous fiscal restraint, not so much.

The Liberals in particular cannot afford to be seen as propping up the Tories, a perception which cost them dearly in the election. The NDP and the Bloc are much more able to support the Government when it behaves well and offer principled opposition when necessary. The Grits, on the other hand are broke and in the beginning stages of a leadership contest. An election in the near term would be very destructive for the Liberals, so they will not want to see an election forced by a vote of no confidence in the House.

Regarding External Affairs, Canada’s biggest foreign policy issue is perennially and always and forever the relationship with the United States. I would single out two policy areas to watch for both the near and mid terms.

Many Americans may not know this but one of the NATO countries with a military presence in Afghanistan is Canada. Despite the Conservatives’ win in October, they are against Canadian public opinion. Harper has responded by promising to end Canadian involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, President-elect Obama has talked about increasing the military effort in that country. This is one of the reasons he offers for withdrawing from Iraq. Will there be a debate on Afghanistan within the Obama administration and among the American public? I hope the new administration at least tries to find out if there are any military options in Afghanistan before making an enhanced commitment there. IOW, leaving aside the question of whether or not the United States has goals worth pursuing in Afghanistan, someone should ask whther or not such goals can be achieved through military means.

If the decision is ultimately made to escalate in Afghanistan, will the U.S. pressure Canada and other NATO allies to join in that effort? Is there a potential repeat of the Johnson v Pearson fight over Vietnam?

The other area to watch is trade. Canada and the U.S. remain each others largest trading partners, but the relationship has a few areas of conflict, such as softwood lumber. During the Democratic primaries, there was talk from both Clinton and Obama abut renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements. The left in Canada fought free trade with the U.S. and would also like to open up NAFTA. Globalization and so called free trade have hurt the manufacturing base of both countries. Will Obama and Harper cooperate in this portfolio in an effort to mitigate such damage, or will they promote the status quo.

I was encouraged in one of the debates by Obama’s response to a question about international trade, when he questioned the value of a trade deal with Colombia while labor leaders are routinely assassinated there (which got an eye roll from McCain, of course). We will see what policies proceed from President Obama’s approach to trade issues and how Prime Minister plays whatever hand he is holding at the time.

Coming soon: a look at the options now facing Canada’s federal parties.