July election on EI? Possible but quite improbable

Is there election fever in Ottawa? This seems to be the question on Parliament Hill whenever we move through the months of May and June in a minority parliament. Of course, the most fevered example was during the late months of spring in 2005 when Stephen Harper’s newly minted Conservative Party tried an assortment of creative parliamentary procedures to take down the Paul Martin government only to be upset by former Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach when she crossed the floor to sit in cabinet.

But in June of 2009, months after an attempt by opposition parties to form a coalition government without vetting of the idea before the Canadian electorate and just months and a few weeks after that electorate returned Stephen Harper to power to deal with the global economic crisis, will we have yet another election?

From the MPs that I’ve spoken to, many believe that it is a real possibility with Michael Ignatieff tabling a confidence motion on Employment Insurance which will paint the NDP into a corner forcing them to support a vote of non-confidence in the government. For Jack Layton, leader of that fourth party in the House, his votes are critical to this government’s survival. Though Mr. Layton’s party is not poised to make any serious gains in an election held in the short-term any failure to deliver – in the context of an embarrassing collapse of the coalition game – will have the party grassroots looking to replace its leader. The next election will be Mr. Layton’s last if he does not perform. Mr. Layton needs more time to explain why he’s still fighting and build a real election plan. NDP executive director Brad Lavigne was in Washington last week meeting with senior Democrats to get a fix on both strategy and tactics. As for NDP confidence, they could easily save face if a number of their MPs had the flu on the day of Ignatieff’s confidence motion.

As for the leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Ignatieff has an important objective; the man who ran second place to Stephane Dion in a leadership race doesn’t want to go into the summer looking like his leadership predecessor. You’ll recall that when Mr. Dion was leader of the party, his MPs were shamed and embarrassed as Stephen Harper rammed his legislation through while the Liberals feably sat on their hands. While Mr. Ignatieff doesn’t face a caucus revolt over inaction, he does want to appear as though he’s given the Conservatives a rough ride and his party will claim it as a victory as they go into the summer with their heads held relatively high. Strategically, going to an election in July wouldn’t be ideal for Mr. Ignatieff as a $5-6 million Conservative pre-writ ad buy defining the Liberal leader would be much more effective if the Conservative messaging is fresh in the minds of Canadians. On the other hand, despite a $50 Billion projected deficit posted by the Conservatives recently, the Canadian economy is starting to show signs of recovery. If Michael Ignatieff wants to defeat Stephen Harper in an election which which will certainly be defined upon the Conservatives’ traditionally perceived strength (taxes/economy), his advisers are likely telling him that this may be his best chance. Yet Michael Ignatieff’s only visible policy proposal on this has been EI reform.

As for the Prime Minister, he will only precipitate an election if he believes that he can orchestrate a majority win. Many observers now agree that the dissolution of parliament previous to the last election was a defensive measure by the Prime Minister as he read the global economic indicators and found himself staring into an abyss about to rattle Canadians. If we are to have an election, it will be because the Prime Minister would have allowed it; either allowed himself to fall on a Liberal confidence motion, confident on the framing on an election on EI, or because he will orchestrate a political crisis which will upend the polls. For example, polling is moot if the Prime Minister were to frame an election on cutting public subsidy for political parties with the $50 billion deficit to back him up as to why. “If an election were to be held today” is a pointless question when elections are framed, campaigns are waged and events occur to shape electoral intent during a 36 day writ campaign.

An election based upon EI is a ruse. It’s a ruse because it splits voters into two politically inequitable camps: the employed and the unemployed – the latter won’t deliver a win for Ignatieff. It’s a ruse because most Canadian voters have paid more into EI than Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal leader filed his tax returns to British exchequers and American secretaries of the treasury for thirty four years. It’s a ruse, because the man who came second to Stephane Dion is only trying to appear that he has already bested him now after just a couple months as Liberal leader. An Liberal triggered election on EI is a ruse because the Conservatives occupy an entire side of the debate, the other parties will be fighting each other to stake out their position on the issue. Finally, the Liberals need to rebuild their party. They are still only raising money at par with the NDP and of their nominations, I’ve heard that they still have about 200 spots to fill.

An election in July? A dreadful prospect for any opposition party and not ideal for the PM unless the man best positioned to set the stage can line up a major win.

The Code of the Centre Block Schoolyard

“The Prime Minister should apologize” whines Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition in reaction to Stephen Harper’s latest attack on the sensibilities of the Liberal Party. This week in the House, in reaction to a call from Stephane Dion for the Defense Minister to resign, the Prime Minister retorted,

“I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.”

How dare he? Who does he think he is? Liberals are offended!

Of course, this brings up thoughts of the recent incident involving the Prime Minister and his quoting from a recent Kim Bolan article (which was included in Quorum that day, no less) which suggested familial ties between a Liberal MP and the Air India investigation. Outrage from the Liberal benches! How dare he? The Parliamentary Press Gallery went into a tizzy and questioned the Prime Minister’s tactics and found him to be quite rude in his reading.

Of course, baiting the Liberals is turning into a sport for Mr. Harper. The now famous attack ads on Stephane Dion famously put a spotlight on the Opposition Leader’s whine “This is unfair!” to then-opponent and fellow leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff.

The main street Canadian, as PMO strategic whiz Patrick Muttart’s psychographics must show, is not very likely to sympathize with the pain from the verbal bruises that Stephen Harper is handing out to the Liberal benches. Frankly, those of us who live outside of the Parliamentary bubble understand that tattling to the adults (the public and the press, in this case) in the face of Prime Ministerial bullying isn’t likely to earn much respect. In fact, this is a thread on which the press, by sympathizing with Dion, is finding itself out of touch with Canadians. When Peter MacKay allegedly implied that his former girlfriend Belinda Stronach was a dog, the press covered the incident for two weeks and while claiming that the public was being turned off by the degrading decorum in the House, the press felt that the story had enough traction to sell tons of newsprint. We weren’t sold on the outrage; we were tuned in because of the same reason why kids drop what they’re doing and converge whenever they hear the far off words “fight, fight, fight” during recess.

Similarly, when Stephane Dion whines that Stephen Harper is being unfair, he is not appealing to our sense of sympathy, he is unwittingly appealing to our schoolyard instincts. Nobody likes the whiner and his whiny mother in the press gallery who called our parents and the principal (besides, we’re pretty sure that our dad can beat up his dad). Instead, we all like the guy with the snappy comeback.

Too bad for Stephane, he can’t whine and take his ball home. This Parliament is Harper’s and our pal Steve is the king of the court.

LIBERAL DEBRIEF: I figured that this would be necessary. This article does not condone bullying. It is in fact a piece of creative writing that describes the parliamentary arena as if it were a schoolyard full of children. The piece describes the dramatis personae including the bullies, the victims, the other kids, the parents and even the principal. If Harper is the bully and Dion is the victim, we’re the other children and we act as such (like it or not), and we reinforce the model. As parliamentary observers, we tend to reflect the psychology of schoolyard children when it comes to observing Harper being aggressive with Dion. When Dion cries “unfair”, he doesn’t get sympathy from the rest of us.

Schoolyard analogies aside… Dion is all grown up now, and he has a job in federal politics.

UDPATE: The National Post weighs in (3/24):

“This is certainly a pattern,” Mr. Dion told Parliament, referring to the Prime Minister, “where he acts as a bully and I don’t want to follow this way, I don’t want to do that.”

Then don’t follow it, Mr. Dion. Or do. Either way, stop whining like a child whose older brother just got a bigger lollypop. Act like a leader, or at least a grownup politician. Accept that in the cut-and-thrust of political jousting your opponents are going to make allegations against you and your party every bit as outsized as the ones you make against them.

Martha’s parachute

Today, Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion handed Martha Hall Findlay the safe Liberal riding of Willowdale to replace retiring MP Jim Peterson. As I said in December, even though I disagree with her ideas, I was quite impressed with Findlay as a candidate for Liberal leader.

Saying this, I believe that she could have fought and won a contested nomination campaign and a competitive riding.

This is also good for the Tories and NDP because it removes a competitive candidate from the field.

Today, Dion said:

“Martha, through her tireless traveling of our great country, first as a leadership candidate and now in her role as Platform Outreach Chair for the Liberal Party, has come to represent Liberal renewal.”

It is unfortunate that Liberal renewal doesn’t include a departure from appointed candidates.

In fact, the Liberal democratic body in charge of holding a nomination contest abdicated its duty enthusiastically:

“Our riding association overwhelmingly passed a motion requesting that Mr. Dion appoint Martha as our candidate,” said Willowdale Federal Liberal Riding Association President Joanne Pratt.

It’s too bad she’s not challenging Stronach’s nomination in Newmarket-Aurora.

Convention leftovers

I’ve a few convention leftovers that I want to share.

Convention buttons were a big hit on the floor among Liberals. (See my previous post for the other buttons)

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Speaking of Justin vs. Belinda in Smackdown 2008, check out Macleans top story about the race to replace Stephane Dion, the Liberals’ interim leader.

I mentioned in one of Greg Staples earlier hotstove podcasts that if Bob Rae had won, the Conservatives would have spun the new Liberal leader as “potentially Canada’s first NDP Prime Minister”. I think that this button captures that spirit.

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Staying on Bob Rae, and mocking him on his record instead of resorting to vicious ad hominem attacks we have this amusing button handed out on the convention floor:

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This button was critical of the lack of french spoken at the Liberal convention in Montreal. I heard that a full 80% of delegates could not speak french (or were unilingual, I forget which).

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Finally, on the last ballot between Iggy and Dion, these buttons made their first appearance on the convention floor. These are obviously funny for a few reasons.

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Moving on from the buttons, this piece came from the Conservative war room to help Liberals feel especially good about themselves at their party.

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And… the best piece from the convention, in my opinion, was produced by the NDP war room who were kind enough to email me the PDF of their “map to the scars”, an Adscam tour of Montreal. Print it out, fold it up and hand it out to your friends (but tell them to vote Conservative!)

Download the Adscam map (PDF)

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Friday morning blogging the convention after a couple of great hospitality suites last night. Ignatieff had the big party at the Intercontinental, ironically where Ezra Levant had his Western Standard Party just two years ago at the CPC policy convention.

Activists at the Ignatieff hospitality suite were handing out buttons to delegates and they’re already a hit. I’ve heard that these edgy buttons even have asking prices.

I’ve collected them all!

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2004 Leadership race: fundraiser breakdown

The numbers are out on the fundraising front for the CPC 2004 leadership election. The documents have been released (h/t BBS) and there are some interesting numbers from the “returns” of the Harper, Stronach, and Clement campaigns.

First, the total expenses of each campaign:
Tony Clement: $826,807
Stephen Harper: $2,073,084
Belinda Stronach: $2,496,482

and now, some interesting numbers from the returns.

Belinda Stronach contributed $3,950,000 of her own money towards her own campaign. Tony Clement, while contributing $0 of his own money, $3,000 was contributed by his family. The Harper family (or at least people named Harper) contributed $3,525.

Power Corp donated $25,000 to each of the three campaigns. EnCana did the same.

John Tory donated to $8,600 to Tony Clement’s campaign.

Belinda Stronach gave $100,000 to Tony Clement’s campaign, while Stephen Harper’s campaign gave $10,000 to Mr. Clement’s leadership bid. Everyone loves Tony…

Stronach did not have any financial support from any member (on quick glance) of the Conservative caucus (House of Commons), while Harper enjoyed wide support through many MPs (or through MPs spouses).

Rex, ask your editors

rex.jpgIn a recent column concerning the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, Rex Murphy mused perplexedly over the paucity of confabulatory prose by this nation’s columnists and news writers on the topic of the race.

Rex, the leadership race is not dead. Your editors have merely found another story and they’re running with it. I’m talking, of course, about the American Democratic Party Leadership Race. Why is our nation’s news media so focused on a topic that they usually abhor? Indeed, our national news peddlers tend to give American news less attention than its worth. Yet, why does our opposition’s leadership race get so much less coverage than the American’s opposition leadership race receives? The American Democrats and the Canadian Conservatives are trying to do the same thing, in effect: change the government. However, Peter Mansbridge has spoken more about John Kerry than Belinda Stronach, and we’ve heard more about Lieberman’s Joementum (or lack thereof) than we have heard about Tony Clement.

Our leadership race is news. Rex, you should ask your editors why they’re choosing to ignore the story. Without media coverage, our leadership contenders can only be heard as far as they can shout. Mr. Murphy has declared that Belinda Stronach, Tony Clement and Stephen Harper have all climbed inside a “Trojan horse”, ready to attack the Liberal party’s stranglehold on power. It’s not that the three intend to stay within the horse, rather, it’s that nobody has told the city of Troy that the horse is waiting outside its gates.

Val Meredith joins up

meredith.jpgAdd another MP to the growing list of public endorsements of Belinda Stronach. Today Val Meredith, a founding member of the Reform Party of Canada, threw her support behind Belinda. She explained,

“I have known and worked with Stephen Harper for over 15 years, and he is a key reason why we are here today. I am friends with Tony Clement and appreciate his track record as an Ontario cabinet minister. However, Belinda not only offers proven leadership skills from her term as President and CEO of one of the largest corporations in Canada, she has demonstrated that she can capture the imagination of Canadians.”

Belinda Stronach reassured Meredith that MPs will be able to vote based upon the wishes of their constituents and not necessarily that of the leader. Belinda supports free votes for MPs: a fundamental principle of the former Canadian Alliance party.

Bill Casey endorses Belinda Stronach

casey.jpgToday, Bill Casey made it official. He is the first Tory MP to publicly endorse Belinda Stronach. Casey says that Stronach’s plan for economic growth and job creation were particularly influencing factors in his decision to support her.

Congrats Belinda.

Oh and why does Stronach’s name always have to be tagged with “millionaire former CEO”? Do we keep hearing about how rich Paul Martin is?