By-election notes

– big loss for Stephane Dion tonight. In by-elections, the number of votes for the government usually goes down. In seat +/-, we see Stephane Dion -1 and Stephen Harper +1.

– Liberals will say that three out of four by-elections is a victory. All four ridings were Liberal, so anything less than holding those four with margins as strong as before is a loss for the Liberals.

– Stephane Dion’s hand-picked candidate lost in Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River. This is, of course, the riding in which Dion put an end to David Orchard’s hopes of being a candidate there and cherry-picked an NDP MLA to run as a Liberal. Political observers will remember Dion’s hand picked candidate Jocelyn Coulon in Outremont losing to the NDP in a big by-election upset months ago.

– In contrast, the Conservatives’ weak finish in Toronto Centre is a result of a poor history of electoral success for this incarnation of the Conservative party there and the party’s decision to drop their candidate in the riding. Dion’s move in Saskatchewan was to enhance electoral success, Harper’s Toronto Centre decision was in made in order to prevent divergent messaging that could have an impact outside of this riding in which Conservatives weren’t even competitive.

– Vancouver Quadra is also turning out to be a bitter win for Dion. Liberal vote share in that riding is down and Conservative vote share is up. While Harper is finding it difficult to increase share in downtown Toronto, the Vancouver result is encouraging. It appears that Conservatives are and will be competitive in that riding for the next general election.
UPDATE: Final margin in Vancouver Quadra is 151 votes with the Liberals just barely holding this seat from going Conservative. This is a big upset for Dion. UBC is within the riding and the riding is urban and generally quite well-to-do. This seat should have been solidly Liberal. Quadra just became a target riding for the Conservatives in the next election.

– By-elections are always experimental in that we sometimes see a preview of party strategy for general elections. In the Liberals, we see more of an emphasis on the team rather than their leader. In Conservatives we see primary focus on Harper’s leadership. A general election is leadership focused, however, as debates and daily news coverage have a bias towards leadership. Many voters, in all 308 ridings, cast a ballot for Harper or Dion, rather than the their local candidate or party. Paul Martin de-emphasized the Liberal brand and put his leadership in the front window during both 2004 and 2006 general elections. Dion would be wise to downplay his leadership and emphasize the Liberal brand. Martin hid the brand because it was tainted by the Sponsorship Scandal, and the man dubbed Mr. Dithers believed he provided strong leadership. Is the Liberal brand still sufficiently tainted by scandal? Despite this consideration, Dion’s leadership could not be emphasized over the Liberal brand; whereas we saw “Team Martin” sign instead of “Liberal” signs, we won’t be seeing “Team Dion”.

– Jack Layton also had a bad night. His vote share is down. While he works with the Conservatives to carve up Liberal votes left and right, he may find that he needs more time to accomplish this goal. A general election would hasten the dispatching of Dion, and bring forward a more competitive Liberal leader in most scenarios. Therefore, Layton and Harper should figure out how to loudly oppose each other while sustaining the life of this government for the longer rather than shorter term.

– Dion is going to find his front bench increasingly crowded with alpha candidates for his job. Liberals will be start looking seriously past Dion and it will be difficult for him to catch up.

– Conservative and NDP strategy should be to establish themselves as principled ideologues on the left and the right. Conservatives should emphasize good management and strong leadership. Jack Layton should challenge Harper to a one-on-one debate. Both parties should try to keep the government alive to draw out Liberal divisions.

– Luckily for Harper and Layton, Dion’s strategy is also to survive and the only way this can happen is for the government to survive. Liberals will be chomping a the bit in order to “get back to power as soon as possible” and most realize that this is impossible under Dion and much easier when they hold a leadership race and select a more capable leader. The easiest way for the Liberals to remove Dion is via a loss in the general election. The Conservatives and the NDP would be smart not to provide them with this opportunity. If the hunger gets too strong, the Liberals may start eating their own and we may see Dion swallowed whole. This would immediately trigger a general election as the Conservatives and NDP would be willing partners in increasing their respective vote proportions as Liberal voters stay home on election day.

Bob Rae leadership campaign staffers linked to Sponsorship Scandal

Former and likely future Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae is working this weekend to get himself elected to the House of Commons in the riding of Toronto Centre. Rae is putting himself up as a fresh new ethical face for the Liberal Party, but this will ring hollow with voters Monday as he hired two campaign workers during his failed leadership bid that previously received Adscam money. Gomery described the Sponsorship Scandal as “elaborate kickback scheme” conducted by members of the Liberal party and their associates in Quebec.

When Rae was running to replace Bill Graham/Paul Martin as the new leader of the Liberal Party, he hired two staffers Franco Iacono and Gaetano Manganiello, two former employees of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Here is Rae’s expense filing with Elections Canada for these two individuals:

Franco Iacono

Click to enlarge

Gaetano Manganiello

Click to enlarge

Rae declared that $14,750 was paid to Iacono for “Salaries and Wages” while $3,000 was claimed for Manganiello in “Salaries and Wages” while $1766.26 was paid for “Miscellaneous expenses”.

What services did these two men provide for Bob Rae’s leadership campaign?

This is an important question because both Iacono and Manganiello testified before the Gomery Inquiry into the Sponsorship Scandal.

Iacono testified on May 4th, 2005 and Manganiello on May 25th, 2005.

From Iacono’s testimony before the Gomery Commission, we learn that from 1996-1997, Iacono worked for Alphonso Gagliano as a special assistant (including when Gagliano was at Public Works until September 1997. We then learn that Iacono worked for John Manley, the federal Business Development Bank and for Herb Dhaliwal before attaining employment at the Sussex Strategy Group. Prior to the 2000 election Iacono was hired by then-Liberal Party deputy director Benoit Corbeil to be the party’s regional coordinator for the island of Montreal. Iacono explained how he was paid, “I was happy to be hired for the work assigned. Mr. Corbeil simply told me to invoice COMMANDO at the address he had given me in the amount of $8,500.” According to Iacono, Corbeil told him to file an invoice for “Consulting services rendered.” We also learn that in all Iacono’s previous work for the Liberal Party he had never been paid in this way, but he didn’t question it because “In my mind, then, it was quite clear and logical, since I had a need and Mr. Corbeil had found a way to satisfy that need. It was that simple.” When Gomery said “Now, those three things [an invoice to someone other than the Liberal Party with a false description of services provided, and a payment made outside the election period] suggest to me that you may have participated in a situation that was deliberately falsified,” Iacono replied “I have to say no.”

What of COMMANDO? In Phase 1 of Gomery’s report, the Commissioner writes on p. 263,

Further contributions to the LPCQ were made by cheque, rather than in cash, but were disguised by using as an intermediary a corporation in Quebec City named Commando Communications, an inactive entity owned and controlled by one Bernard Thiboutot. Mr. Thiboutot worked for Gosselin Communications as the head of its Quebec City office, but in the year 2000, when Groupaction’s contributions were made, the assets of Gosselin Communications had already been purchased by Groupaction and Mr. Thiboutot was in effect working for Mr. Brault. He was an active supporter of the LPCQ in the eastern Quebec region.

On January 6, 2000, and again on November 1, 2000, Commando invoiced Groupaction for $10,000 for services rendered, but according to Mr. Brault, these invoices and the cheques in payment of them are evidence of political contributions that he was asked to make, to pay unexplained expenses of the LPCQ in Quebec City. Mr. Thiboutot does not deny the payments or that they were paid to Commando as political contributions.

On October 1, 2000, Mr. Thiboutot sent a further false invoice to a Groupaction subsidiary for $50,000, describing the services rendered by Commando as research and analysis. On October 13, 2000, only a short time before the federal election campaign commenced, the invoice was paid, and Mr. Thiboutot acknowledges that the proceeds were used to pay five employees of the LPCQ for their work in the forthcoming election campaign. Each of the workers sent Commando an invoice for the amount received.

And Gaetano Manganiello? Before the Commission, Manganiello testified that he worked in the PMO as a Press Office Assistant until August 2002 and then went to work for Maurizio Bevilacqua. Manganiello went back to PMO in December 2003 where he later took up a job as Media Advance Officer in May 2004. Manganiello goes on to describe that he worked for the municipal campaign of Benoit Corbeil in 1993. Later, in 1997, Corbeil had Manganiello do logistical work for the Liberal Party in Quebec. Manganiello testified that Corbeil then put him on the Pluri Design payroll,

“I would say late — early fall — early fall 1998, Mr. Corbeil walked into my office and informed me that the Liberal Party was in dire straits financially and he wasn’t sure if they would able to continue paying my salary. However, he also assured me that — not to worry, that he would do everything possible to keep me on the payroll and to keep me working at the Liberal Party because my job was required — was essential for all the administration. … I would say maybe several days later or a week later, I was informed by Mr. Corbeil that Pluri Design would assume my salary. They would be paying my salary, but I would continue working at the Liberal Party. … I did not find anything bizarre. I was happy that someone had assumed my salary because I thought I was going to loose my job at the Liberal Party. But, again, he was my superior. So when he approached me and told me that Monsieur Corriveau of Pluri Design would pay my salary, I just assumed everything is okay and I knew Monsieur Corriveau was being someone involved with the Liberal Party. I met him in 1997 in my role in logistics. So I didn’t think anything of it.”

Manganiello went on to testify that he was paid $32,000 more via Pluri Design for what he described as basically the same duties as before.

On page 300 of his phase 1 report, Judge Gomery writes,

The combination of Mr. Brault’s testimony, which I find to be credible, about payments made by Groupaction to PluriDesign for no consideration other than Mr. Corriveau’s political influence, with the admission made by Mr. Corriveau to Mr. Dezainde, leaves me with no alternative but to conclude that Mr. Corriveau was at the heart of an elaborate kickback scheme, according to which at least some of the sums of money paid by Groupaction to PluriDesign, on the strength of false invoices, were used by Mr. Corriveau to the advantage of the LPCQ, by salaries paid to its employees, by services rendered by PluriDesign employees to the LPCQ , or otherwise. The consideration for these payments was the influence of Mr. Corriveau in obtaining sponsorship contracts for Mr. Lemay’s companies which were, at Mr. Corriveau’s request, managed by Groupaction.

One of the ways in which Mr. Corriveau used the sums received from Groupaction for the advantage of the LPCQ was in putting LPCQ employees on the PluriDesign payroll. Documentary evidence forced Mr. Corriveau to admit that three full-time LPCQ workers, Gaetano Manganiello, Philippe Zrihen and Jean Brisebois, were remunerated a total of $82,812.27 by PluriDesign in the years 1998 to 2000, inclusively. Messrs. Manganiello and Zrihen were on the PluriDesign payroll starting November 1, 1998, and Mr. Brisebois was added on October 4, 1999. None of these people worked in fact for PluriDesign.

Of course, this raises some important questions for Bob Rae.

Why did he think to hire these Liberal party operatives? Did he know that these men gave testimony before the Gomery inquiry? Iacono and Manganiello went on to work for Bob Rae’s leadership campaign.

After going through the drama of the Sponsorship Scandal and having an electorate focused upon ethics, why would Rae’s campaign involve these two in his leadership bid?

What should our perception be of a Liberal who hires campaign workers, after testimony given at the Gomery inquiry describing either false invoices or payment made by a third party for political work done?

What does this say about Bob Rae’s judgment?

Would Rae say that it’s dishonest for a campaign worker to submit an invoice for campaign services to someone other than the campaign with a false description of services provided?

Stephane Dion welcomed Marc Andre Cote back to the Liberal Party. Cote was originally banned from the party for receiving sponsorship funds. Dion flip-flopped on Cote, are we to conclude that the receipt of sponsorship funds does not disqualify one from being a party operative in Stephane Dion’s Liberal party? The Cote and Iacono/Manganiello examples just raise further questions.

Is anyone working on Bob Rae’s current campaign tainted by the sponsorship scandal?

Conservatives demand answers on Liberal fundraising scheme

In response to a story broken here three days ago, the Conservatives are demanding answers from Elections Canada on the Grit fundraising auction being held among the 8 Ottawa ridings, where according to the Liberals, “the sky is the limit” and successful bids do not count as donations.

From: Poilievre, Pierre – M.P. [mailto:PoiliP@parl.gc.ca]
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 3:08 PM
To: commissionersoffice@elections.ca
Subject: “Liberal Party of Canada Cocktail Event” – Investigate

Commissioner of Canada Elections
c/o Elections Canada
257 Slater Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0M6

February 12, 2008

Dear Sir,

I have become aware of a Liberal Party of Canada Cocktail Event scheduled for February 13th boasts that “the sky is the limit for this auction. A successful bid is not a political contribution…as such individuals, partnerships, corporations and associations are free to bid as high as they want.” The event boasts auction items including:

* Golf with former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin.
* Attending a hockey game with senior Liberal Member of Parliament
and former Liberal leadership contender, Ken Dryden.
* Tennis with Liberal star candidate Bob Rae and his brother Liberal campaign Co-Chair, John Rae.
* Lunch with Liberal Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff.
* Lunch with former Liberal Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau’s son, Justin.
* Lunch with former Liberal Leadership candidate, Scott Brison

…..and more!

This event raises serious questions surrounding the legality of the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party of Canada. I respectfully ask that you investigate whether or not this event complies with the sprit of the Federal Accountability Act and other federal political party fundraising legislation.

If you allow the Liberal Party to use these methods, you will have unilaterally repealed all of the campaign finance legislation passed over the last five years, and you will be reintroducing big money and corporate cash into our political process.

With the possibly of a federal election happening in the near future I hope that this matter can be dealt with great expediency.

Sincerely,

Pierre Poilievre
Member of Parliament
Nepean-Carlton

McKenna in Ottawa

Frank McKenna is in Ottawa today for an informal and intimate dinner at a small Centretown restaurant. He’ll be meeting with political staffers from all four parties, journalists, civil servants, lobbyists and intellectuals, all of which are Atlantic Canadians.

Given SES’s recent poll showing Dion’s Prime Ministerial potential at rock bottom, is McKenna in the first stages of testing the waters for a future bid at Liberal leadership?

The former New Brunswick Premier was smart to sit out for the last contest. But would McKenna steamroll Rae and Ignatieff in the next race?

Insiders say that McKenna would be a strong contender for the Liberal Party if he should ever become leader, however, it has also been said that the former Canadian ambassador to the US would rather be the clear favourite in such a race rather than getting down into the mud to slug it out with others that aspire to lead Trudeau’s party.

Thoughts about the Ontario election

Well that was quite a night. I went out with some friends in downtown Ottawa just to relax and follow results as they came in via Blackberry. I didn’t care to watch much of it on television, because for me (and most) the contest was a forgone conclusion.

Prior to election night, a reporter from Macleans had emailed me to ask for my thoughts on why Tory ran from the record of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves and the Common Sense Revolution. Here was my reply:

Of course, my perspective is that at the time of the Common Sense Revolution, such waves were positive for much needed change. In fact, Harris received a decisive second mandate from the people of Ontario for following through on his promises. The people of Ontario respected and appreciated Harris’ focused vision for government and the province needed new direction. Ontario was left adrift by Bob Rae and the NDP and it needed to get some wind back in its sails.

In this current election, with Dalton McGuinty at the helm, it seemed that the good ship Ontario wasn’t necessarily looking to change course, but rather would have preferred to simply turf the captain overboard. There wasn’t a desperate need to chart course out of rough waters and instead of focusing on the simpler task of dispatching McGuinty, Tory gave the wheel a hard spin into the storm…

Nobody needs a degree in punditry to know that it was the issue of faith-based education and the public funding of religious schools that lost John Tory the election. However, it was surprising that Tory didn’t appreciate this before he decided to drop it on us in the middle of an election campaign. If one takes the time and effort, one can understand what Tory was proposing with respect to public eduction and realize that the Conservative leader’s proposal was inclusive and a move towards public education rather than exclusionary and privatizing as the Liberals had framed it. The issue was too complicated for some passive electors and was easily misinterpreted if not studied for more than a minute. The fact that Tory mused that “evolution is just a theory” when defending his policy didn’t exactly help communicate the issue in defensible terms. Tory couldn’t have given the Liberals a bigger opening.

There is also an important lesson to be learned here for future elections. Kim Campbell famously remarked that “an election is no time to discuss serious issues.” Ironically, John Tory managed Campbell’s ill-fated election campaign. Further, to the people of Ontario who have generally been reluctant towards Conservatives talking about “faith” and issues related to “faith” in the past, Tory should have realized that he was walking into a minefield. For a Conservative, juggling public policy in one hand and religion in the other can be disastrous if not done properly. Earlier, I wondered how faith-based public funding of eduction might have been perceived differently if the Liberals had proposed it instead. Here’s what I wrote on Macleans.ca on October 2nd:

“One wonders if in hypothetical terms if McGuinty had proposed Tory’s policy instead.

“One wonders if it would have been embraced as an “astute measure to recognize and embrace the growing multicultural diversity in the province of Ontario”.

“An Ontario politician wanted to increase the breadth of public education, you say?

“Poor Tory shouldn’t have led with “faith-based” as this can be a red flag to swing voters in Ontario, especially when it comes from a conservative. Tory should have rather communicated with the de facto parlance of our times: “multiculturalism, diversity, fairness, and equality” if he wanted to sell his policy.

“And… he should have made this about other special schools including French immersion schools, technical schools and arts schools. It appears that he tried instead to handle religion as a wedge and it is religion that wedged him out of the running.

“Finally, this election should have never been about John Tory. Canadians tend to de-elect their leaders rather than elect them. McGuinty had a perfect target on his back with respect to his record on the truth. Tory should have kept striking at it until October 10th.

In fact, this brings up an important strategy that I believed Tory missed. Concerning “changing the channel” mid-campaign, the Conservative leader should have called McGuinty a liar in various contexts during the debate in order to grab headlines and push the theme around McGuinty for the rest of the writ period.

“You lied to the people of Ontario…”

“Your promise that you wouldn’t raise our taxes was a lie”

“How can the people of Ontario trust you when you have a record of lying”

This manner may have been uncharacteristic for Tory but it would have done much to change to shift the focus back on the incumbent. News shows would have clipped the debate on every mention and would have created a montage of Tory on the attack, and newspapers would have headlined the summary of the exchanges: “Tory to McGuinty: You Lied!”

Some people commenting on the election blame John Tory’s red-toryism for being his downfall. However, these observers fail to recognize that it was Ontario’s recoil at the mix of the concepts of religiosity and education — hardly familiar territory for a “red tory” — that sunk the Progressive Conservative leader. In fact, if Tory’s red-toryism could be to blame for anything in his electoral demise, given his presumed initial strategy of not wanting to be an agitator, it was for what must have appeared to be a confusing departure at best and an insincerity at worst for taking what was interpreted to be a socially conservative issue and making it central to the platform of this self-declared “progressive” of conservatives.

This election wasn’t supposed to be about making waves, and thus an ideologically conservative and Harris-like track (though it would have been nice) wasn’t required to win Ontario. John Tory would have had a better shot than he did if he had instead shown up, introduced himself and simply stated that he wasn’t going to lie to us.

If there’s any hope that can come from the results of this election for conservatives, it is that PCs in Ontario will rebuild around offering Ontario clear and articulated conservative policies just in time for what may be a strong desire for change after four more years of McGuinty.

Decoding Harper’s Political Strategy on Afghanistan

This article by Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail describing Defense Minister Peter MacKay’s comments on Afghanistan on CTV’s Question Period this past Sunday, left me a bit unsettled and confused.

OTTAWA — Canada has made it clear to its NATO allies that they cannot count on our troops to fight on the deadly battlefields of southern Afghanistan after February of 2009, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday.

“The signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February, 2009,” Mr. MacKay said in an interview on the CTV television program Question Period.

“Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that. The Afghan compact itself goes until 2011,” he said. “But the way the mission is currently configured, with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set.”

This is a clear step forward from the Prime Minister’s earlier assertion that a consensus in Parliament would be needed to extend the mission – in it’s current state – past February 2009.

So, what is going on here? Is this what it seems? Is this surrender by the Conservative government on a key conservative principle?

The more I thought about it, the more I started to think about this announcement in a strategic way.

So, here’s my prediction:

Afghanistan is going to be the wedge issue during the next election to take place when the government puts the mission to a vote in Parliament. The vote will fail, the opposition will indicate its majority intention to withdrawal from Kandahar and the government will fall, because Harper will make it a confidence vote.

Why? Numbers.

As it stands, 50% of Canadians support the current mission in Afghanistan while 50% of Canadians do not. Harper needs about 40% of the vote to get a majority government.

MacKay’s announcement on Sunday does a few things. First of all, it indicates an utmost respect for Parliament as the mission and extension will still go to a vote (as indicated in Clark’s article). Secondly, it makes the opposition put down their guns on the Afghanistan issue for a while (continuous shelling of the mission puts it in a weak position in the forum of Canadian opinion). The opposition looks foolish when continuing to whine about the issue when the government has indicated that the mission (in the current parliamentary climate) cannot continue past February 2009. Third, it allows the government to prepare behind the scenes to sell the mission. The governing party has an advantage over the opposition parties in that it has two forums to spread its message, the House and outside of it. By indicating that the government recognizes that it is unlikely to win the Afghanistan mission vote, this disarms the opposition from consistently bringing it up in the House. Meanwhile, the government (the Conservatives) aim to sell it as an issue campaign across the country.

While the government recognizes it is unlikely to win an extension in Afghanistan, the Conservative Party will still maintain the position that an extension is in Canada’s interests and will advance that position up to the vote. There is a bit of a dichotomy here: Minister MacKay concedes the realities of the government’s minority position on the policy, while the politics of Conservatives will continue to lobby for an extension. By playing government minister, MacKay disarms the House (because the House checks the government, not the Conservative Party).

The Afghanistan extension is a perfect wedge issue for Harper. Only the Conservatives and the NDP have a clear position on the issue and only one can form government. The Liberals are bitterly divided on the issue. Ignatieff supports the mission in Afghanistan and Rae has indicated a tough on terror position in the past. Dion’s position is weak, somewhat against but certainly not for the mission. In fact, he has flip-flopped so many times in the past on the issue of Afghanistan. Of course, this plays into the Conservative narrative of weak leadership regarding Dion. Both Ignatieff and Rae are looking to topple Dion after an election, but concerning an extension as far away as 2009, this might be a wide enough window for both Rae and Ignatieff to act sooner rather than later. Harper’s strategy is to both create both a stronger NDP and a Liberal Party bitterly divided.

What other issue creates these winning conditions?

Afghanistan is a perfect issue to rally the conservative base, a reluctant group that has become angry over income trusts and only came out to vote in their champions in the wake of the biggest corruption scandal in Canadian history.

Regarding Quebec, I’m starting to think that the media’s read on Quebec voting intention regarding Afghanistan are overblown. I think that more Quebeckers would get out to vote for the mission than get out and vote against it come election day. Quebec remains a puzzle though despite Harper’s continuous attention to that province.

Speaking of which, Harper has also taken hits among the base for increased spending. Where, however, has this government spent? Childcare cheques, the military and transfer payments (fiscal imbalance) have been the shifted spending priorities of Canada’s New Government. The latter of which should help buffer some of that anti-military sentiment that the Toronto press believes that exists so pervasively in la belle province.

Back to leadership, this issue favours Harper in an electoral footing. Because he has a better control of the timing of an election, he will obviously define a ballot issue that favours his government and personal leadership. Afghanistan is a red meat issue while the environment is assorted mixed greens. Defining the election on Afghanistan favours Harper’s strong grizzle-laden leadership style, while the weaker Dion will be left sitting in vinaigrette. Harper is not going to willingly contrast himself in an election on any other issue. The only thing green that the Conservative Prime Minister hopes to talk about during the election is Dion’s leadership and that Dion “doesn’t have what it takes”, “isn’t a leader” etc.

Conservatives will also ask, “If Dion is a weak leader with an ambiguous stance on Afghanistan, is he ready to be Prime Minister?”

I believe that Conservative strategists are counting on a majority coming from NDP gains (hoping to catch that unambiguous 50% against the mission) and the bottom falling out on the Liberal party on Afghanistan and Dion’s leadership.

Ontario by-elections

Two by-elections are upcoming this fall in Ontario and I’ve got a bit of info on these individuals and the timing of the contest to be called by the Prime Minister.

Maureen Harquail will be taking on Martha Hall Finley from the Liberals in Willowdale and Mark Warner will be appealing for votes in Toronto-Centre as he battles against former Liberal leadership contender and NDP Premier of Ontario Bob Rae.

Harquail has completed reserve duty with the Canadian armed forces and was an environmental prosecutor. She also happens to be the cousin of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. The cousin connection has already come in handy as the Tories are said to be packing their war-chest for the riding pre-writ by bringing in some highly visible cabinet minsters for fundraisers. Peter MacKay has already been seen in the riding pitching for Harquail, and besides cousin Jim, environmental minister John Baird is also expected to raise some funds for the Tories in Willowdale. Willowdale consists of significant jewish, korean, persian and japanese communities among others. Retiring Liberal MP Jim Peterson won the riding last time for the Grits by 14,000 votes, however, a significant portion of that support rested in Peterson’s popular personality rather than the Liberal Party. Yet, Willowdale should be a challenging riding for the Tories to pick up. At this point, the NDP have yet to forward a candidate and Harquail would only benefit from a strong NDP effort in that riding against the Grits.

Mark Warner will be challenging for Toronto Centre. Warner is a lawyer will some impressive credentials that include lecturing in law and practicing for the OECD internationally. In the riding, Warner will have a bit of work to do as the Tories only secured 18% of the vote in the last election. We may, however, see some split with the “progressive” side of the spectrum with NDP voters showing up to vote against Rae, and a relatively stronger Green presence there. Plus as Warner is running for the incumbent government, this may produce a small boost. Warner was acclaimed February 9th and has already hosted a couple of successful fundraisers including one with justice minister Rob Nicholson and popular Ontario candidate Tim Hudak. Despite the good fundraising start, Warner is still a bit of a long shot in this realist’s opinion.

I’ve heard from a couple of senior Tories that the by-elections will be called after the provincial election. Former Toronto city councillor David Shiner, the provincial challenger in Willowdale is likely to be a bellwether for Harquail’s success in that same riding federally. The Tories may be angling to hold the federal contests after the provincial election in order not to be seen as interfering in provincial politics and to tap into the mood of the electorate after the provincial contest (whether to balance a McGuinty win, or buttress a breakthrough by John Tory)

Lofty predictions, 5 cents apiece…

I’ve been passing this one around for awhile amongst friends so I really ought to write it down.

I think that Jack Layton will have to prove himself as a leader within the next year. The Green Party is eating Jack’s porridge, especially on the environment and big labour is knocking down his attempts at carving out any discernible green platform. Labour, itself, has always been a fickle ally of the New Democrats and Layton hasn’t been able to depend on them. Further, union members have been drawn in by Harper’s targeted family-friendly tax-cuts in the past and may continue to trend in that direction. Identifying the NDP’s base, is at present, as much of a challenge as it has ever been.

Couple these troubles with low polling numbers, a desire to keep the Conservatives in power due to these low polling numbers and a dwindling and growing angry base upset about this capitulation and we may see developing conditions for a crisis within the New Democratic Party.

Jack may as well be in trouble unless he figures out what it is that defines the NDP. It’s certainly not the environment. Unfortunately, it will probably be Afghanistan. But, this may not last for long as the Liberals are finding an opportunistic voice against the mission.

I believe that Dion will continue to abandon the centre to go to the left as he goes to meet the aggregate challenge to his leadership that is forming around Bob Rae. Given this, Layton and the NDP are about to be squeezed hard on the left and the casualty may be Jack’s leadership.

If that’s the case, I’ll make the lofty prediction that we may see David Miller take a shot at the job within the next year following a grassroots leadership challenge rooted within the rank-and-file of the party. Given the failing fortunes of Canada’s social democratic party, we may not see many other “top-tier” candidates go for the job. We may even see Layton run in the same leadership race in such a scenario.

Or, given the shallow pockets of the Liberals, and the thinning platform of the NDP, we may see a merger of necessity on the left. If Elizabeth May’s end-game is to sell-out the Green Party movement to the Liberals, we may see this unfold sooner.

Liberal vs. Conservative narratives

in 2007 and post Liberal leadership, we’re seeing two narratives emerge on the federal political landscape. The Conservatives are telling us that Stephane Dion is not leadership material and the Liberals are pushing the idea that the Conservatives are weak on the environment and the Liberals will save the day.

Today, it’s about -21C (much colder with the windchill) and a friend of mine emailed to say that he counted just 56 Liberal MPs in attendance. Who can blame them, it is really cold out. But, that’s just part of the problem for the Liberals when it comes to their message. The environment as an issue became much less of an important issue for Canadians when they finally started to chip ice off of their windshields. The Liberals didn’t have enough dedicated members to carry Dion’s singular message: that Stephen Harper isn’t doing enough to keep the Earth from warming.

That brings us to the Conservative narrative: that Stephane Dion is not a leader. I believe that this narrative will be much more effective than the dual-citizenship of the Liberal leader. On the surface, Dion does not instill confidence. Back during the leadership convention, I met the man who would become Liberal leader and found him to be a very nice guy however, at the time I wrote that he’s not the kind of commander to lead his troops over the hill. Pundits at the time gushed that the two Steve’s would bring policy to the fore, leaving politics behind. Well, the honeymoon is over and politics is always a constant in this town.

Dion’s full investment in a single issue also makes his leadership a liability to the Liberal party. If the Conservatives are able to make progress on some green issues, show that the Liberals would be just as bad, or accomplish some from column A and some from column B, they will disarm this Liberal iteration and in my opinion, they will accomplish this soon.

Former Liberal leadership contenders are still passively organizing behind the scenes? Bob Rae just announced that he’ll be running as a candidate in the next election; the former Ontario NDP premier doesn’t want to miss the second act of the Liberal leadership contest. It is clear to anyone paying attention that leadership runner-up Michael Ignatieff doesn’t have much confidence in Dion. He almost looked ill after having to stand up and parrot Dion’s environmental attack on the Conservatives. Clearly, there’s much more that the former Harvard professor wants to discuss than how Stephane didn’t get it done and how Stephen won’t get it done.

The Conservative narrative is more likely to resonate with Canadians while polling shows that Canadians believe that the Liberals are just as bad as the Conservatives on the environment. The difference, Harper is in a position and appears so much more capable of getting it done.