Throne Speech and Fall Election

The Parliamentary break is effectively over as Ottawa Hillites are speculating about the future of the government, of Stephane Dion’s career and, of course, about a future election which would significantly affect both.

The traffic levels at Blogging Tories shook off the relatively low summer numbers on the night of the Quebec by-elections and traffic patterns are back up to normal as they were prior to the break. While Parliament has not yet resumed, everyone is hungry for politics.

Everyone, that is, except for the Canadian electorate. Just as I laughed when the Liberals said it back when they had a minority government, the other day I had to chuckle when a heard a Conservative tell a reporter on TV that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”. For people that watch politics, an election is like the Olympics; an election only happens every two years and it’s what the political junkie lives for, and what their “heroes” train for. Politicians and reporters can easily find themselves out of touch with the Canadian reality as they try and match Wellington st. with Main st. Do Canadians want an election right now? It’s pure speculation.

However, we can be sure about a few things concerning this fall in politics. First, the Liberal leader Stephane Dion and the Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe came from quite a beating in those Quebec by-elections a couple of weeks ago. Despite this, Duceppe has released his demands for the throne speech including some particularly difficult requests for the government to meet including the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and the cessation of federal spending powers in Quebec. Some say that Duceppe is staking his priorities against Harper to show that the Bloc is the real champion of Quebec’s interests when the Prime Minister inevitably turns him down.

As for Stephane Dion, it is pretty much assured that the professor doesn’t want to fight the Prime Minister at the moment. The Liberal party lacks momentum, especially in Quebec, a traditional stronghold. Dion has also made some lofty demands of the Prime Minister including a similar demand for withdrawal from Afghanistan after February 2009, and a promise to keep the Liberals’ controversial private members bill on Kyoto alive. If the Prime Minister balks at a clear position on both, the Liberals for their sake will at least have two wedge issues to run a campaign on.

Despite this, Dion must not be particularly excited about his prospects. If anyone around him is telling him privately that they are excited about an imminent election, he should fire them now. Dion still has a lot of building (and recovering) to do if he is to even crack Harper’s incumbent seat total, not to mention score a weak minority. As opposition leader, Dion will not vote for the throne speech, but it will be difficult to abstain from it as well as such a move plays towards the “not a leader” narrative and the Conservatives will capitalize on this. Likely, the plan for Dion is to show up, make a symbolic vote against the government but ensure enough of his MPs “have the flu” as would be needed to allow the renewed mandate of the government to pass, but allow him to save face with Canadians. However, if we see too many Liberals show up to defeat the government’s throne speech, it may be a sign of Ignatieff and Rae supporters showing up to eject Dion via election. Pundits will say that Dion couldn’t count that day, however, it may be indicative of some Liberals ready to push Dion on their own sword.

We haven’t been hearing too much from the NDP regarding their demands for the throne speech and I think that this is indicative of their intent to support the government. Layton may have realized that with newly acquired momentum from Outremont, there’s more wedging to be done with the Conservatives to gut the ambiguous Liberal middle both left and right.

Thoughts about the by-elections

Repeating my bit from Macleans.ca, just for the record:

“Earthquake in Quebec.

“Stephane Dion fails his first electoral test as Liberal leader as the Grits lose a safe Quebec seat.

“Stephen Harper becomes the buffer against separatism in Quebec, a role traditionally attributed to the Liberals. Where dominoes fall in Quebec, vote-rich Ontario takes notice.

“The NDP picks up only their second seat in Quebec history. Does this represent a realignment on federalism in Quebec along the lines of left and right as we saw in the Quebec provincial election?”

Further to that point, Jack Layton’s leadership is secure for at least another two years. The man from Montreal promised to deliver seats in Quebec. He delivered one, but he’s got momentum. This Mulcair fellow may however be the MP that replaces Layton as leader.

From most accounts, Stephane Dion is a nice guy. From the couple of times we’ve crossed paths and from what I’ve been able to observe, the man is a class act. However, if what is being reported in Outremont is true and there’s a movement afoot to undermine his leadership, it’s time to either bring down the hammer Chretien/Martin-style, fade away or, or… something. Unfortunately for him, with party unity still a real issue, and no easy option presents itself. Before the ballots were even counted, the truth came out last night: in the Quebec by-elections, this nice guy finished “last”.

This certainly plays well for Stephen Harper and he is ahead on two majority elements today: Dion’s failing leadership and the redefinition of federalism in Quebec. While Quebeckers are rejecting Mr. Dion’s strong centralizing vision of the federation (even though he denied this characterization of Liberal federalism last night), nationals from la belle province are embracing Mr. Harper’s respect for regional identity and power. Further indication of this can be seen in the falling Bloc numbers. As I stated above, we may see a reconfiguration of Quebec politics along left and right rather than federalist/separatist as in the past. Progressive-minded Quebeckers that voted for the left-wing Bloc are realizing a real option in Jack Layton’s NDP, while the rest are electing to choose Conservative government MPs and a new respect for Quebec’s place in a united Canada. The end-game of this in the rest of Canada is of course to cut the ballot left and right, between the policy-principled NDP and Conservative parties, wedging the Liberals out.

Liberal candidate of record is a Conservative on the books

Meet Louise Boulanger, the Liberal candidate for the Quebec by-election in the riding of Roberval–Lac-St-Jean.

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Here is a picture of Jean-Pierre Blackburn, the Conservative federal government’s minister of labour:

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Here is a picture of Denis Lebel, the Conservative candidate for the same by-election for the riding of Roberval–Lac-St-Jean:

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Here is a picture of Louise Boulanger, Denis Lebel, and Jean-Pierre Blackburn from the photo gallery of Denis Lebel’s website.

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The photo shows Lebel and Boulanger embracing with Blackburn in the foreground. Nothing too out of the ordinary, no?

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of friendly exchange between Conservative and a Liberal, of course. However, Boulanger is actually a Conservative Party member as suggested by the cover of La Presse this morning which contains the headline “ELECTION PARTIELLE: Louise Belanger, la candidate libéale dans Roberval est membre en règle du Parti… conservateur (By-election: Louise Belanger, the Liberal candidate in Roberval is technically a member of the Conservative Party)”

If true, Boulanger would have signed a form that includes the statement that she “actively support[s] the founding principles of the CPC” which are listed here.

However, Stephane Dion later “nominated” Boulanger to contest the riding of Roberval–Lac-St-Jean for the upcoming by-election, as a Liberal!.

Consider this quote from Boulanger concerning the Liberal Party having its affairs in order:

Je suis contente d’arriver à ce moment-ci parce que le ménage a été fait. Le parti est plus rigoureux sur la sélection des candidats. Notre chef Stéphane Dion est exigeant envers lui-même et exigeant envers les autres. Il désire s’entourer de gens fonceurs. Le Parti libeacute;ral est à son meilleur pour servir la population

(I am happy to have come to this moment here because the cleanup has been done. The party is more rigorous in the selection of candidates. Our leader Stephane Dion is demanding of himself and of others. He wants to be surrounded by go-getters. The Liberal Party is at its best to serve the population.)

If Boulanger is a member of the Conservative Party, that rigorous selection process must be in need of review.

Does the Liberal Party Constitution forbid members of other parties from contesting elections for the Liberal Party?

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)

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.