Infertile Ground

This week, the Conservative government in Ottawa nixed a $39 Billion takeover bid of Potash Corp by Australia-based BHP Billiton. Industry Minister Tony Clement broke his rhythm as he read a prepared statement in the foyer of the House of Commons reading his “Canada’s open for business” preamble and then taking a deep breath and then delivering his verdict against foreign investment.

Economically, this shook the faith of fiscal conservatives. The Investment Canada Act mandates compulsory review of such foreign takeovers when they exceed $299 million in assets exchanged. But as fiscal conservatives can we be surprised when our ideas don’t sprout when they have not taken root?

The blocking of the potash takeover put to shame our principle of free investment and our global reputation of being open to business. By the time Clement had finished speaking, it was front-page news on the Wall Street Journal’s site. The blackberries of Ottawa-based consultant lobbyists buzzed with bewilderment from clients in Frankfurt. However, this wasn’t a decision made in the broadest political context of global economic stimulus, it was one made in the more raw and narrow context of saving 13 Conservative seats in Saskatchewan. And by doing so, acting wholly unconservative.

Politically it was the right move, but it should not have been. More votes were saved in Saskatchewan this week than were lost on Bay street. Yet as with the stimulus, for Conservatives both in name and in principle, it ripped at our guts and gave us great pause as to what we’re doing in Ottawa if not acting to advance rational objectives and liberal free-market principles.

Back in early 2009 when other developed nations doing it and spending at least two percent of GDP on government make-work projects, this government caved to peer-pressure and took a hit of illicit economic enhancing stimulus. In order to participate in the global pork project, Canada — while best-positioned to whether the global economic downturn — conceded by jumping into the sordid business of direct economic intervention in order to keep borders open to other countries (especially the US) who were looking at stimulus out of conceived necessity rather than as a go along. Indeed, if we had eschewed stimulus, our access to markets would have been closed to government projects in other countries. That 2% of GDP was rationalized by our government in Ottawa as a small price to pay for shelter from a global wave of protectionism that lapped at our shores and border. Yet, I have never heard my government discuss this concession to fiscal conservatives so plainly. But in turn, we fiscal conservatives also fail the governments we elect.

I’ve written before that parties and governments are only principled up to a point. By definition, a government must win a majority or at least a plurality of votes or seats to act. This week the government acted according to a majority of opinion where it counted as votes — in Saskatchewan. Eighty five percent of the residents of that province were firmly against the foreign takeover. As Conservatives with populist roots we should at least take comfort that provincial rights were respected. While acted as a central planner, the plan recognized provincial autonomy.

What should shock and concern us though is that a great number of Saskatchewans either thought that their government still owned the resource or that the majority of shares in Potash Corp were actually owned by Canadians. A Conference Board of Canada report held the sobering truth. For the knee-jerk economic nationalists, it was unknown that a majority of shares of Potash Corp were foreign owned. What should shock us further is that a great number of Canadians are not passionate about the free market principles that have brought more people out of poverty than any other miracle in our history.

These past couple of years have been jarring for a town filled with reporters that cover five news beats with an inch of depth and politicos that write policy on the fly between their stints in undergraduate and business school programs. From constitutional crises, to prorogation, from censuses to potash, if Wikipedia were a publicly traded company, the government would have already nationalized it as a “strategic resource”. Hours before the announcement, many reporters were scrambling to justify their gut feeling that the government was about to go in the wrong direction on the file and approve the takeover. “Apparently potash is some kind of fertilizer made of salt,” one remarked. “‘Pawd-ash’ not ‘pot-ash’ is how its pronounced,” remarked another. When you pair understaffed newsrooms against an army of online amateur “experts” and professional rent-seekers willing to step into the void, you have a recipe for reactionary policy that grows like a weed.

The major communications challenge unmet by this government and by the movement that puts its hopes in the same is that the ground on important issues such as foreign-investment in potash has not been prepared; the studies sit on dusty shelves, the advocates recline unprepared or over-confident. In the new world of Facebook populism, where activism is made more broadly accessible, parties struggle to cultivate grassroots activism and observers sometimes fail to calibrate to measure the significance of an online uprising.

In recent memory, the government has only once prepared the ground for a key showdown on a contentious issue: the long-gun registry. But as for other issues that matter, policy has only been jarringly announced and clumsily if not sparsely advocated. And still, the government is but one megaphone for conservative issues. If conservatives want to see their values implemented in any government (whatever its name), a government that can only a plurality of votes, we must also prepare the soil.

Globally, conservatives must entrench free-market principles as the de facto standard. If protectionists were political pariahs, parties in various countries would compete over who could make the economy freer, not who could protect and reclaim the most from foreign investment. My pride in Canada should be its openness to investment and international growth, not its stagnation for the sake of the failed practice of economic nationalism. Yet, our principles cannot exist in a vacuum; our ideals face competition from special interests. Conservatives cannot believe that government should be small and with limited influence while investing their hopes on it to make transformational change. Our challenge is greater than any government; we have a lot of soil to till because until then our ideas cannot sprout in infertile ground.

New (old) details on the Sauvé-West Block renovation story

Myth: Sauvé says that he discussed contracts with Christian Paradis. Therefore Liberals suggest Conservative political interference in granting the West Block renovation contract to Sauvé.

La Presse, August 25, 2008

Le plus récent contrat est celui de 8,9 millions pour la réfection de l’édifice de l’Ouest du parlement canadien, un contrat qui a été «obtenu par appel d’offres et sans aucune implication politique», ajoute [Sauvé]. Évidemment, il s’agit d’un nouveau client fort intéressant puisque tout le programme de restauration des édifices parlementaires à Ottawa est évalué à un milliard.

The latest contract is $ 8.9 million for the rehabilitation of the West Block of the Parliament of Canada, a contract that was “obtained through competitive bidding and without any political involvement,” [Sauvé] adds . Obviously, this is a very interesting new customer since the whole program to restore the Parliament buildings in Ottawa is valued at one billion.

Fact: La Press quotes Sauvé in 2008 that the contract was “obtained through competitive bidding and without any political involvement.” In news stories this week, the Canadian Press alleges that Sauvé hired “Tory connected” businessman Gilles Varin to obtain the contract. Sauvé’s earlier quote contradicts the latest narrative from the press and from Sauvé that the Tories had their mitts in the West Block renovation contract.

Myth: Sauvé and Varin are Conservatives. Contracts were obtained were granted because of political favouritism.

Journal de Montreal, June 18th 2009 (after that Tory fundraiser)

Selon ce que le Journal a appris, le président de l’entreprise en faillite LM Sauvé avait confié à plusieurs personnes, dont quelques ténors libéraux, qu’il songeait à se présenter à l’investiture du Parti libéral du Canada pour le comté d’Outremont.

Il a rencontré le lieutenant politique de Michael Ignatieff au Québec, Denis Coderre, pour lui faire part de ses intentions. M. Coderre, qui ignorait tout des liens de Paul Sauvé avec le crime organisé, l’aurait encouragé à vendre des cartes de membres comme d’autres candidats à l’investiture.

The Journal has learned, the president of the bankrupt company LM Sauvé had told several people, including some big liberals, he considered running for the nomination of the Liberal Party of Canada for the County of Outremont.

He met with political lieutenant in Quebec by Michael Ignatieff, Denis Coderre, to inform him of his intentions. Mr. Coderre, who knew nothing of Paul Sauvé links with organized crime, have encouraged the sale of membership cards as other candidates for the nomination.

Fact: Varin has never been an organizer for the Conservative Party of Canada nor has he ever been a member of it according to party records (confirmed by the Party in a release this week). Sauvé was a Tory to the degree that he told Liberals that he was considering running for the Liberal Party in Outremont.

Myth: Liberal hands are clean in this affair. They certainly didn’t advocate for Public Works to support Sauvé’s company and project.

Le Droit, April 15th 2009

Une faillite de L. M. Sauvé pourrait avoir un effet domino sur la trentaine d’entreprises de la région impliquées de près ou de loin dans le projet. Pour le député de Hull-Aylmer, Marcel Proulx, chacun doit mettre de l’eau dans son vin pour minimiser les pertes. « En période difficile, j’assume que Travaux publics fera tout en son possible pour empêcher qu’il y ait faillite de l’entrepreneur général, ce qui amènerait une pluie de faillites chez les sous-traitants, dit-il. J’espère que Travaux publics agira en bon père de famille. »

A bankruptcy of L. Sauvé could have a domino effect on the thirty companies in the region involved directly or indirectly in the project. The member for Hull-Aylmer, Marcel Proulx, says everyone must put water in his wine to minimize losses. “In difficult times, I assume that Public Works will do its utmost to prevent there being a general contractor’s bankruptcy, which would cause a rain of bankruptcies among subcontractors, he said. I hope that Public Works will act as a good father.”

Fact: Marcel Proulx is the Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer. Mr. Proulx went on record expressing his desire that Public Works support Sauvé’s company and its project.

Running away from the brand

In Canada, the Conservatives unapologetically spend, while in the UK, they are about to cut — but not without apology.

An email I just received from the UK Conservatives addressed to party faithful:

The legacy of Britain’s debt is Labour’s to be sure, but in an email to those that elected you, claim credit for taking action. These cuts are your cuts and you should proud to implement the plan to address the crisis.

And gosh, no money to address climate change?

Conservatives raising money off of CBC and Graves

I received an advance draft of a fundraising letter that is going out to Conservative members soon in order to raise money off of the CBC/Graves relationship. Here it is.

Here we go again.

Yes, I am writing to you about the CBC. Canada’s national public broadcaster. A Crown Corporation that receives over one billion dollars per year from taxpayers. A network with a mandate to serve all Canadians.

In recent days we have learned that the CBC’s pollster on party politics, Frank Graves, has been providing both money (at least $10,762.81 since 2001 according to Elections Canada) and strategic advice to the Liberal Party of Canada. His contributions are huge and his advice is incendiary. Graves wants the Ignatieff Liberals to wage a divisive “Culture War” that would pit East against West, young against old, and urban Canada against rural Canada. He even suggests that if people don’t like the Ignatieff Liberal vision of Canada they can move to the United States (an odd statement given Michael Ignatieff’s fondness for America).

Week after week Graves expresses opinions about Canadian politics under the guise of being the CBC’s neutral pollster on party politics. And just until recently viewers have been kept in the dark about his Liberal contributions and his Liberal advice. But the CBC continues to stand by Graves, their “neutral” pollster.

This episode demonstrates – once again – that we Conservatives are up against a powerful array of vested interests. Vested interests who want to go back to the days of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. Back to higher taxes. Back to a weakened military. Back to political correctness. And they’re willing to support a highly divisive “Culture War” to take us back.

We can’t afford to go back. We can’t afford to let Frank Graves and the Liberal “Culture War” to prevail. Because Canada, after years of drift, is once again moving forward. Our world-leading Economic Action Plan is delivering results. Our military is being re-built. And there’s a new spirit of national pride taking root across the country. These changes did not happen by accident. They are a result of strong Conservative leadership. Never before has the choice in national politics been so clear.

I am asking you to do two things.

First, write to the CBC and tell them it’s unacceptable to present Frank Graves as a neutral pollster on party politics. You can reach the CBC’s ombudsman by email at ombudsman@cbc.ca, or by phone at 1-416-205-2978.

Second, please make a contribution to the Conservative Party of $200 or $100 right now by following this link. Unlike the Liberals, we can’t count on the vested interests. We rely on donations from proud patriotic Canadians like you.

Doug Finley
Campaign Director

Significance of this week’s in-and-out decision

On Monday, the federal court decided in favour of the Conservatives against Elections Canada when the regulator’s chief electoral officer (CEO) Marc Mayrand decided to withhold reimbursements to two candidates because they similar ads used by other candidates with the “tagline” of the ads changed.

Justice Martineau decided that Mayrand was wrong to do so and ordered Elections Canada to reimburse. This litigation only involved two candidates out of dozens because it was a test case for the Conservatives. It was decided Mayrand cannot withhold from all since the judge has decided in favour of the two. Paragraph 178 of the decision explicitly states this,

[178] For the reasons below, having considered the totality of the evidence on record, the Court finds that the claimed advertising expenses were actually incurred by the applicants. That said, the amounts reported by each applicant must be corrected to have the difference between the commercial value of the claimed advertising expenses and the amount actually invoiced by the Fund reported as a non-monetary contribution. Ultimately however, the Court finds that the impugned decisions are unreasonable and must be set aside.

Most significantly, this decision should deflate any investigation by Elections Canada into Conservative Party expenses regarding the in-and-out scheme.

Also significant, Martineau decided how it is that a campaign incurs an expense. The CEO and commissioner were of the opinion that the Conservative Regional Media Buy was a sham. The CEO had argued that it didn’t see a contract for the regional media buy and therefore costs were not incurred by the campaigns. However, as the judge indicated, incurring an expense simply means to take liability upon oneself, therefore no written contract would be required. Paragraphs 121-124 of the decision reflect this. Further, Martineau decided that,

“[124] Accordingly, the Court finds that the respondent, or Elections Canada’s representatives, erred in law in requiring that there be actual written contracts between the candidates or their official agents and the supplier of the advertising services that were provided in December 2005 and January 2006. Payment for these advertising services in January 2006, by the official agents of participating candidates, is proof that these services were duly authorized. Moreover, as illustrated below, the requirement to have actual written contracts appears to be contrary to Elections Canada’s and the CEO’s past practices with regard to RMBs.”

It appears that the CEO has misinterpreted the statute.

Furthermore, the court accepts evidence provided by the party that describes how expenses are incurred in paragraph 151 as it describes the Donald Affidavit,

[151] Moreover, the evidence on record, including the practices of other registered parties as set out in the exhibits to Geoff Donald’s affidavit (a political operations officer with the Conservative Party), illustrates that there is a presumption that a candidate has incurred an advertising expense if said expense has been paid from the candidate’s campaign account.

The Chief Electoral Officer changed the Elections Handbook in 2007 for candidates and official agents. The handbook is the CEO’s interpretation of the Elections Act distilled in a more readable form. Paragraph 142 of the decision describes this concept,

[142] Over the years, the CEO has published various handbooks that articulate his interpretation of the Act. Among these publications is the “Election Handbook for Candidates, their Official Agents and Auditors” (the handbook). While this handbook provides insight as to how the CEO and Elections Canada have understood certain provisions in the Act at various points in time, it is in no way binding on the Court. Nevertheless, from a practical point of view, candidates and their official agents are strongly advised by the CEO to seek independent legal counsel if they wish to depart from the interpretation adopted by the CEO in the handbook.

A key point of contention between the Conservative Party and Elections Canada was that the CEO changed the handbook in 2007 from the 2005-2006 version and applied his interpretation as a regulator of elections despite the fact that the underlying statute had not changed.

In 2005, during the election, advertising regional media buys conformed with the 2005-2006 version of the handbook. Without any change to the statute by parliament, the CEO changed the 2007 version of the handbook with respect to how valid candidate expenses for regional media buys were defined. The Conservative Party argued that the 2007 handbook guidelines were retroactively applied to the 2006 election though the 2005-2006 handbook described expenses differently. Paragraphs 144-147 recognition by the judge that a retroactive application of the “rules” was applied,

[144] Nevertheless, a reading of all the handbooks published by Elections Canada up to, but excluding, the most recent handbook issued in March 2007 (the 2007 handbook), clearly suggests that the CEO will treat as an election expense for the purpose of reimbursement, any cost incurred by a candidate’s campaign for the purchase of an ad that is used to promote both the candidate and its affiliated party.

[145] The fact that the same ad would have been used by the party to promote itself on a different occasion would not be considered a reason for refusing to certify such an expense.

[146] This liberal interpretation of section 407 is reflected in the different versions of the handbook published by Elections Canada over time. For example, the handbook issued in December 2005 (the 2005 handbook) provides:

Election advertising
Election advertising means the transmission to the public by any means during an election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered party of the election of a candidate, including one that takes a position of an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated….

Identification of election advertising
All election advertising that promotes or opposes a registered political party or the election of a candidate, including taking position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated, must indicate that it is authorized by the official agent of the candidate.
(Emphasis added.)

[147] Indeed, the handbooks have even provided for the possible situation of a candidate and a party agreeing to share an ad. According to the handbooks, if such a scenario arose, the CEO would review the basis for allocating the cost incurred by each, to verify that it was reasonable. As mentioned in the 2005 handbook:

…The following are examples of transfers:
[404.2(2), 404.2(3)]
…a proportion of expenses incurred to promote or oppose a candidate or a party. Elections Canada will accept the basis of allocation used by the official agent, provided that it is reasonable in the opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer, and provided that the auditor agrees that the allocation is reasonable and in keeping with this handbook.

Again, regarding the handbook, the judge remarks that the CEO’s interpretation of the Elections Act is just plain wrong. The interpretation of statute by the CEO and change in interpretation is not supported by Act passed by Parliament. Paragraphs, 130 and 131 describe this,

[130] The respondent submits in his written memorandum that the object and scheme of the Act require subsection 407(1) to be read disjunctively, resulting in the following definition:

407(1) An election expense includes any costs incurred, or nonmonetary contribution received, by a [ … ] candidate, to the extent that the property or service for which the costs was incurred, or the non-monetary contribution received, is used to directly promote or oppose […] a candidate during an election period.

(Emphasis added.)

[131] According to the respondent therefore, to be an election expense for a candidate, the election expense must be used to directly promote or oppose a candidate, and not a registered party or its leader. The Court does not accept the respondent’s disjunctive interpretation outlined above. A plain reading of subsection 407(1) does not authorize the Court to discard the words used by Parliament in enacting this provision. Rather, a plain reading favours the conjunctive interpretation that was found in material published by the CEO prior to the 2006 election. Namely, an election expense for a candidate can be one that exclusively promotes a candidate, or it can be one that directly promotes both a candidate and a registered party or its leader.

Speaking to party officials close to the issue, what I get from them is that they feel that the CEO is making up the rules as he goes along, interpreting changes to the statute when no such changes have been passed into law by Parliament.

If we look at the recent victory by the Conservative Party against Elections Canada in the GST double dip litigation, we can see a pattern of this behaviour according to my sources. Paragraphs 78 and 79 of the Conservative Party Fund v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) decision suggest this,

[78] There is no basis in the statute for finding that, in the circumstances of competing policy concerns that are both directed toward furthering the policy of a “level playing field” among political parties, the interpretation that gives effect to the policy of a “level playing field” in respect of a political party’s maximum expense limit under section 422 must take precedence.

[79] Accordingly, I conclude that there is no basis in the Act, or in the Harper decision, for the CEO’s position that the policy of a “level playing field” for all political parties in Canada mandates the CEO’s interpretation of the Act in the face of the plain wording of the Act and the other considerations set out above.

Two separate court hearings before two different courts have concluded that the Chief Electoral Officer’s interpretation of statute has been flat-out wrong. In fact because of this poor interpretation of statute, the CEO has been making up rules as he goes along. This faulty interpretation of statute has impeded the Conservative Party specifically.

Troubling is the position of Elections Canada in this entire ordeal. Their role as a regulator is to apply statute passed by the will of Parliament. If they were to appeal this decision or proceed with an investigation, the regulator would then enter the arena among the partisans. Elections Canada should be educated by the court’s decision and not move to disagree because it would reflect a divergent view from that defined by statute and clarified by the Federal Court this week.

For reference, here are the two decisions discussed in this post:
Martineau decision, Federal Court – In and Out

Wilton-Siegel decision, Superior Court of Justice – GST double dip

Opposition MPs that Voted to Scrap the Gun Registry

Liberal Party of Canada – (8)
Scott Andrews (Avalon)
Larry Bagnell (Yukon)
Jean-Claude D’Amours (Madawaska—Restigouche)
Wayne Easter (Malpeque)
Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca)
Anthony Rota (Nipissing—Timiskaming)
Todd Russell (Labrador)
Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)

New Democratic Party – (12)
Malcolm Allen (Welland)
Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay)
Niki Ashton (Churchill)
Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic)
Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley)
Claude Gravelle (Nickel Belt)
Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing)
Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North)
Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona)
John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River)
Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Eastern Shore)
Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury)

Bloc Québécois – (0)

Independent – (1)
André Arthur (Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier)

and from the governing Conservatives…

Conservative Party of Canada – (143)

Read my post on how the vote went last night

Third Quarter Party financial statements out today

Conservative Party Liberal Party New Democratic Party Green Party Bloc Quebecois
Q1 $4,362,596 $1,857,728 $595,611 $215,967 $133,586
Q2 $3,957,662 $4,053,568 $711,269 $194,090 $198,858
Q3 $4,554,787 $2,010,823 $1,078,376 $265,507 $249,477
Total $12,875,044 $7,922,119 $2,385,256 $675,564 $581,921

For all of the Liberal crowing last quarter over their 2Q results (largely buoyed by a “leadership” convention where Michael Ignatieff was coronated leader) and their 1Q->2Q plus/minus, their 2Q->3Q plus/minus is that story in reverse. However, realistically this quarter’s results shows the real strength of each party’s fundraising machine.

Interestingly, the Greens are outraising the Bloc Quebecois. The Greens may argue that this is another example of why we need proportional representation, however, I’d argue that this represents Canadians that believe in something, rather than believing against another (see what I mean in this article).

The NDP is raising half of what the Liberals are raising showing that for their relative size, their numbers aren’t surprising. Further, it shows that the NDP base is still healthy enough for their smaller party. For the Liberals, their numbers are also relative to their seat count (when compared to CPC numbers) in the House of Commons. However, this may be bad news for the Liberals as they’d like everyone to believe that their seat count is rather a result of a unpopular leader in the last election rather than current Canadian (and Liberal member) attitudes about this party.

Despite the economic crisis, the numbers are still relatively healthy. My friends in the fundraising sector would suggest that if corporate donations were still legal, we’d see party fundraising take a hit this year. However, although Canada went through some tough economic times this year, personal donations are still relatively strong in all charitable sectors.

Canadian Olympic branding and competing visions of Canada

The branding for the Canadian Olympic team was unveiled yesterday by the Hudson’s Bay Company which runs retail outlets under the Bay and Zeller’s names in Canada. The company is the official outfitter for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Canadian team. Here’s their short video describing the brand and inspiration:

It’s a bit stirring isn’t it? But, as this is a political blog, let’s describe it in this context. For years, the Conservative Party in Canada has been trying to reset the image of Canada that had existed prior to a long-run of Liberal governments and the Conservatives have sought to push back against the rebranding of the Canadian image under that party.

There was criticism yesterday that the Canadian Olympic look and feel bore a striking resemblance to that of the governing party.


The Conservative Party logo (left), the Canadian Olympic logo (right)

First, it should be said that the Hudson’s Bay effort was completely independent of any government interference. This was confirmed by Gary Lunn, junior minister for Sport in the House of Commons yesterday in a response to a question by Vancouver Liberal MP Hedy Fry. After all, companies lobby government, it is unusual for government to lobby companies. You can see examples of other similar logos here, here, and here.

Despite the criticism about the branding similarities, and though in this case the government appears to be clear of any influence regarding HBC’s decision, the Conservatives in government have been working to recapture a certain sentiment among Canadians about their country.

That sentiment, stoked by Conservative branders, is pre-Trudeau(pian). Liberal branders would have you believe that this country was born after 1967, with the Montreal Expo, with a new red and white flag, healthcare and peacekeeping ingrained as our country’s greatest accomplishments.

Conservatives would remind Canadians that our country was born out of a pioneer spirit, hundreds of years ago, of brave individuals that carved out the wilderness and thrived in it. The Hudson’s Bay ad echoes this traditional vision of Canada.

Of Canada, Conservatives emphasize it’s history of fighting for King and country through early wars in Africa in the late nineteenth century and in Europe in the first great war. As Conservatives, we remember and acknowledge that we answered the call among nations to fight tyranny and totalitarianism in the second world war. Today, we recognize that the peace cannot be kept if it is not first made.

Our vision of Canada is one of individual determination and achievement over mushy collectivism. It was roughneck young explorers that mapped out the great expanse in the northwest of our country in search of new capitalist opportunities in fur, timber, ore and minerals.

The incremental rebranding of Canada by today’s government is not accidental. From the more organic maple leaf that adorns the header of every government of Canada website, replacing a more statist institutionalized version, to the rebranding of our armed forces to emphasize the role of the forces as not only the sharp end of the spear, but razorwire for troubled times rather than simply a career building opportunity, the Conservatives have made deliberate effort to remind Canadians of this more independent and rugged version of ourselves.

Under the Harper Conservatives, Canada’s image is emphasized as “the true North strong and free”, a country that defends and maintains its northern sovereignty rather than one that panders to a more European, globalized kid glove approach.

Michael Ignatieff has returned to Canada after quite some time abroad. A potential platform plank that he has been emphasizing is the regaining of Canada’s place on the world stage. In a speech to the Canadian Club of Ottawa, he spoke with a tone a wistfulness for those times when, well, the world was different:

Multilateralism was the Canadian mantra. In 1956, Lester Pearson found a way out of the Suez Crisis and made peacekeeping our vocation. When he won the Nobel Peace Prize the next year, the Nobel committee said “he’d saved the world.” We cheered.

In the post-war era, we became the world’s leading peacekeepers. Up to 1988, there was not a single mission that we didn’t join. At the same time, we went to war in Korea, the Persian Gulf and Kosovo. We went to war when we had to. We kept the peace when we could. Blue helmets became an emblem of our identity. — Michael Ignatieff

Before one can regain their footing, one must survey the new ground. Michael Ignatieff is not ignorant to the new challenges that the world has faced since Pearson. He’s done the heavy thinking on the new role of the world’s remaining superpower and its place on the world stage. However, one surmises that the former academic is in need of the same deep reflection when it comes to Canada’s maturation on the world stage since the Suez crisis, let alone 9/11. One fears that instead of deep academic and analytical reflection on the topic, his new position as a politician has driven him to a knee-jerk, easy but antiquated Liberal view of Canada. Since he left, Canada’s role on the world stage has evolved and matured from the euphemistic “honest broker” to a respected decision-making voice that is sought after for advice and respected for its decisiveness. Canada is again a country that does the heavy lifting.

Despite our history and place earned from taming our own wilderness through sharp wit instead of the welfare tit, despite our nation’s proud history of our young men and women stepping up up for King and country, in the time post-Pearson era Liberals rebranded this country. Expo 67 was promoted as “Canada’s introduction to the world”, as we were recast into the role of confident but newly innocent debutante ready to walk on the world stage if only to give a proper and elegant wave.

Today, Canada finds itself changed, but somehow familiar. Canada grew up long before Pierre Elliott Trudeau declared its birth. Though we were recast as a global ingenue by successive Liberal governments that had us play the stoically unsung middle “nuanced” power, when Canada hosts the world in Vancouver 2010, it will do so with its regained voice and identity.

You have 1 new Duffy-gram

Mike Duffy knows your name! Or at least the automated Duffy has a whole bank of names to read from in the Conservative Party’s latest innovative fundraising and voter ID widget that is scheduled to roll out later this evening.

The folks at Conservative Party HQ sent me a preview of their new product which includes the senator and former newsman outlining the Conservative record, while asking for your ranked issues, feedback, postal code and email address. The product also is customized to deliver localized content via geotargeting.

A senior Conservative explained that the the shiny new Duffy-gram is the brainchild of the party’s executive director Dan Hilton who has been moving the party to find new ways to push the envelope in the online space.

Also of note is a new slogan for the party which may yet brand a national campaign if we see one in the coming weeks. “Moving forward” suggests momentum, progress and an ongoing job. Contrast this with the Liberal Party slogan of “we can do better” which suggests failure of the incumbent, inclusion of Canadians and the Liberal Party “we” to solve a problem. Both slogans acknowledge a difficult situation and while the Conservative slogan is more punchy and complete, the Liberal slogan leaves a question open: “better than what?”. Further, the Liberal slogan opens them up to attack as a Conservative narrative is that Michael Ignatieff thought he could do better abroad rather than improve his career among Canadians looking to do the same.

Conservatives have led the Liberal party in databasing Canadians and their levels of partisan and issue-based support since at least the late days of the Alliance. The Liberals have had quite a time playing catch up as they’ve gone shopping for proven software, even approaching the Obama campaign in the Dion days. Yet, while Liberal national director Rocco Rossi is paddling up the Rideau Canal asking folks for money along the way, the Conservatives are showing that they continue to innovate.