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Debat des Chefs du Canada 13 Avril, 2011

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That’s enough French for now. I hope someone will tell me if I made any errors in the title.

So last night the four leaders met again on the same game show set and hammered each other in Canada’s other official language. Polls and opinions differ but there seems to be a consensus that Duceppe won, with Layton second. I watched and listened to the English translation so I can’t really comment on many of the nuances expressed in the debate.

Both Duceppe and Layton achieved their goals, although Layton “wins” by being taken seriously in a debate aimed primarily at Quebec. Many of Duceppe’s voters are unavailable to Layton, but many of them are. It’s those potential Bloc/NPD switchers that Layton was addressing.

Duceppe, was playing a home game with house money, if I may mix and mangle two metaphors at once. His problem is that the Bloc has been around for two decades, serving Quebec’s interests well but without achieving its supposed reason for being, Quebec sovereignty. Some Quebeckers are apparently looking for an alternative to the Bloc and neither the Liberals nor (certainly!) the Conservatives qualify.

Fortunately for the NDP/NPD, Layton is a good debater in both French and English and mostly gave as good as he got versus Duceppe. Translating his limited success in the French debate into seats on May 2 will be more difficult, but he and his party are earning a lot of admiration for their strong effort to do so.

Written by slothropia

April 14th, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Canadian Leaders Debate (English Version) Update

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Last night I wrote that I thought Layton did pretty well in the English language Leaders’ debate. Upon reflection, and upon reading some instant polling results, I have decided I was right.

Ipsos Reid
tells us that before the debate:

…a flash poll of 1,861 English-speaking Canadians conducted by Ipsos Reid exclusively for Global National has revealed that one in three (33%) English-speaking Canadians believes that Stephen Harper will win the English-language debate tonight. Fewer believe that Michael Ignatieff (24%), Jack Layton (13%) or Gilles Duceppe (2%) will win. The winner’s circle is still up for grabs, however, with three in ten (28%) Canadians unsure of who will win the debate.

And afterward?

Immediately following the English-language leaders’ debate, a flash poll of debate viewers conducted by Ipsos Reid has found that four in ten (42%) English-speaking viewers say Conservative Leader Stephen Harper won the debate, up from the 34% of Canadians who, prior to the debate, thought he would win.

But:

Following his performance in the English-leader’s debate, which gave a majority (55%) of polled viewers an improved impression of Jack Layton coming out of the debate, Francophones appear to have high expectations for Mr. Layton in tonight’s melee.

So Ipsos says that Harper won but Layton impressed a whole lot of voters.

Which is all very interesting of course, but these polls do not tell us how many voters made up their minds or switched preferences. I think it will be a few days before people have had a chance to reflect and discuss and come to some conclusions about how or if the debate influenced their vote. The media and the parties have chosen their favorite moments but voters are funny and fickle creatures. It can be difficult to predict what they find important enough to vote over.

Layton, in my view, had some very good moments, like when he suggested to Harper that he didn’t know why he (Harper) wanted to build so many prisons since all the crooks were in the Senate (Canadian that is).

Meanwhile, the French debate wrapped up about an hour ago. I’ll have some thoughts about it some time in the next 24 hours.

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.

Maybe it Should be a Layton v Harper Throwdown

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Well according to the pollsters at Ipsos, Canadians would be okay with a coalition government – but only if it is headed by NDP Leader Jack Layton.

More than half of Canadians would prefer a Liberal-NDP coalition to a Harper majority government, results of a poll for Postmedia News and Global National suggest.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched his campaign with a clear message to Canadians: coalitions are unstable and will derail the country’s economy. But Canadians don’t appear to be too nervous: Fifty-four per cent of those polled said they would favour a Liberal-NDP blend to a Harper majority.

However, when the Bloc Quebecois is thrown into the coalition mix, support for a coalition drops to 50 per cent. A Harper majority takes the other 50 per cent…

Meanwhile, another poll by the same company, also for Postmedia, suggests if Canadians find themselves being governed by a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois coalition following the May election, they want to see NDP Jack Layton become prime minister.

Only 27 per cent of the poll’s respondents said they’d want Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to be prime minister, compared to 14 per cent who support Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe and 59 per cent who said Layton.

So why not Harper and Layton, mano a mano?

Written by slothropia

April 1st, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Harper Afraid of Layton, Wants 1 on 1 with Ignatieff

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Canadian Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has suggested he and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have a one on one debate excluding both the NDP and Bloc Quebecois Leaders Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe.

Stephen Harper suggested Wednesday that the televised leaders debates could involve a two-man showdown between him and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff since the Bloc and NDP plan to form a coalition government led by Ignatieff.

When the Liberal leader was told about Harper’s one-on-one proposition, he said: “Any time, any place. . . . I don’t want to exclude anyone. It’s not up to me to choose, but I’m ready to debate directly with Mr. Harper.”

Harper’s comments put a new twist on the issue of whether Green Party leader Elizabeth May should be included in the TV debates, as she was in the 2008 election. The consortium of broadcasters that runs the debate said this week May hadn’t been invited, noting the Greens don’t hold a seat in the House of Commons.

Asked whether May should be included, Harper said that was up to the consortium to decide. But he added another dig at the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, whom he has accused of wanting to form a “reckless” coalition under the Liberals.

“We’re open to any number of possibilities. We can have a traditional debate of parliamentary leaders. We can have a debate that includes . . . May in such a format,” Harper told reporters at a campaign stop in Brampton, Ont. “We can have a debate that includes every party that’s on the ballot. We could also have a debate between Mr. Ignatieff and myself. After all, the real choice in this election is a choice between a Conservative government or an Ignatieff-led government that all of these other parties will support.”

I’m sure Harper would like such a setup to provide a nice contrast between himself and the least popular federal leader. Not gonna happen. But talking about it allows him to sneak in the coalition smear through the backdoor.

The question he should be asked is why is he so afraid of Jack Layton.

P.S. still working on Liberals early’ campaign. Should be ready tonight or tomorrow am.

Written by slothropia

March 30th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

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.
SNIP
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 Budget: Its Deficit Time in Ottawa

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Cross Posted at Daily Kos

Here are the highlight of today’s Canadian Federal budget (thanks CTV) :

* $85 billion deficit over the nest five years
* Personal taxes down $20 billion over six years
* Business taxes cut by $2 billion over six years
* $12 billion for infrastructure spending towards roads, sewers and universities, $1 billion for “green” infrastructure, and $1 billion for clean-energy research.
* $1.5 billion for job training programs
* $7.8 billion for social housing and home renovation, including a one-year only Home Renovation Tax Credit of up to $1,350 per household.
* $2.7 billion in short-term loans to the auto industry.
* More than $1.4 billion for aboriginal schools, health, water, housing, community services and training.
* About $325 million for arts and culture.

This is the Canadian version of a stimulus package and resembles in some way the legislation now working its way through the U.S. Congress.

Prime Minister Harper insisted during last fall’s election campaign that there was no need for the Canadian government to run a deficit because the Canadian economy was stronger than the American one. Was he mistaken or did he lie? That’s right, he made stuff up, Conservatives can’t help themselves I guess.

The NDP and the Bloc have made it clear that they will vote against the budget, so all eyes turn to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. He will announce his decision Wednesday morning.

I have two toonies and a loonie that says the Libs will back the Tories, just as they regularly did in the last parliament. Any takers?

I’ll be back tomorrow with more on the budget debate and upcoming confidence votes.

Written by slothropia

January 27th, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Political Heat in Canada: Throne Speech Today, Budget to Follow

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

Long ago, in December of 2008 (when George Bush was still President – THAT long ago), Canada found itself embroiled in an almost unprecedented parliamentary crisis.

Here’s The Daily show’s crack news team (by which I mean I think they are on crack) doing their best to explicate said crisis for American viewers.

Ha ha. Good times.

To briefly review, the Conservative Government of Canada presented to Parliament legislation that the opposition parties found unacceptable. In response, the opposition parties in Parliament formed a coalition. The left wing (sort of) New Democrats would join a government lead by the centrist Liberals, with the nominally separatist Bloq Quebecois promising support for a year and a half.

Sensing danger, and to avoid losing a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper persuaded the Governour General to suspend Parliament until today.

This afternoon, Parliament reopened with a Throne Speech or summary of the Government’s agenda, delivered by the Governour General. Tomorrow, the Minister of Finance tables a budget, but in the run up to tomorrow, Government ministers have been leaking like rusty tub, trying to kick start support for the Tories and their budget. They are scared so it looks like the budget will owe more to Obama than to Bush.

Meanwhile, among the opposition parties, there have been a few developments.

When the coalition deal was struck, the Liberal were lead by Stephane Dion. Dion had already resigned as Liberal Leader, though he planned to stay in place until May when his successor was to be named. Instead, all the candidates for the Liberal Leadership withdrew in favor of Michael Ignatieff, who is now in place as Liberal Leader and Leader of the Official Opposition.

Since becoming Liberal Leader, Ignatieff has been sending mixed signals about the future of the coalition. On paper, there is still an agreement between the liberals and NDP to defeat the Tories in a confidence vote and ask the Governour General to allow the Coalition to form a government. However, Ignatieff has refused to say if the Liberals will vote against the budget, while NDP Leader Jack Layton has consistently insisted that Harper cannot be trusted and the Conservative government must go.

Right now, my gut feeling is that the Liberals will support the government, with the Bloq and NDP voting nay.

Again, tomorrow the Conservatives introduce their budget. Tomorrow evening I will post something about its contents of the budget and when the first vote on it will occur. I’ll also speculate more about how the vote will go.

Maintenant
, I’m gonna wash down some poutine with a couple of bottles of Moosehead while I watch a replay of the NHL All Star Game.

Written by slothropia

January 26th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

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.