Iggy skips out of economic conference to go back to Harvard?

“If I am not elected, I imagine that I will ask Harvard to let me back” — Michael Ignatieff to the Harvard Crimson published November 30th, 2005

Given Michael Ignatieff’s recent troubles in the polls it appears that he is retreating to his safety zone.

Here is the October 15th media advisory from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce listing Michael Ignatieff among the distinguished speakers to discuss “Canada’s competitive edge and economic prosperity” on October 21st. Michael Ignatieff is scheduled for the 8:10am timeslot where the Liberal leader is scheduled to discuss, “Canada on the world stage: keys to success”.

But here is today’s updated schedule for the same event:

Bob Rae is now listed in the 8:10am timeslot and Michael Ignatieff is off the schedule. Why would the Liberal leader skip out on a discussion about Canada’s future economic prosperity? The economy is the #1 issue to Canadians and Mr. Ignatieff has been trying to outline an economic agenda so that the Liberals can compete with the Conservatives in the next election, or at least outline their agenda before the next budget. So, did the Liberal leader have a better offer?

It appears that he did.

Michael Ignatieff is scheduled to speak on a panel at Harvard to some friends at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy on Wednesday October 21st. Ignatieff is scheduled to speak on a panel titled “Why Human Rights Matter: Human Rights as Public Service”.

UPDATE: Now, we learn from David Akin that “OLO calls to say organizers jumped the gun Iggy staying in ottawa”

How did “organizers [jump] the gun” when Ignatieff was scheduled to speak at a conference, but then days later he is removed and replaced by Bob Rae? It appears that the schedule change could have been deliberate to fit Iggy’s opportunity to return to Harvard to give a talk to his fellow Crimsons.

This incident is reminiscent of Michael Ignatieff’s jaunt to the UK to deliver the Isaiah Berlin lecture in the summer while some Canadians wondered why he wasn’t politicking at home.

Stephen Harper skipped out on a crazy Muammar Gaddafi speech at the U.N. to return to Canada to discuss the economy and he got an earful from concerned Liberals. Until just minutes ago, Michael Ignatieff appeared to be skipping out on a Canadian economic discussion to fly to the US to speak on a human rights panel.

Rally for Canada budget consultation survey results

On Friday, I sent out an email to the tens of thousands on the Rally for Canada email list asking them to participate in a small survey concerning the upcoming federal budget.  I asked people four questions concerning the government spending and their public policy priorities.  Over three thousand people responded on Friday and over the weekend.  I will be passing on the results to the office of the Minister of Finance as promised.

Q: On the question of Canada’s upcoming federal budget to get us through the economic crisis, which balance within the following options do you think is best for the government to implement? (n=3003)

Q: Which issues are most important to you from a government policy point of view? (n=3051)

Here is the same graph sorted in descending order (n=3051):

Q: What should be done with the Senate? (n=3007)

Q: What should be done with funding for the CBC? (n=2998)

Some notes: “n” is the number of respondents to each question.  Data was gathered from 8am Friday through midnight Sunday night.  Sample data is gathered from a population set that registered on the anti-coalition website RallyforCanada.ca between December 4th 2008 and January 9th 2009.  Answers were not randomly cycled.

That said, this data gives us insight into the priorities of Canadians who are against the concept of a Bloc-supported NDP-Liberal coalition government.  The first question was a careful balance on both sides of the spending vs. taxes debate.  On one hand, the answer set does not include an option to decrease spending and on the other, four out of five answers prompt at least some tax relief.  Most analysts believe that the federal budget will include some tax relief and stimulus in the form of government spending.  The largest group believed a balance spending/tax relief approach would be best while the second largest group favours substantial tax relief and no new spending (given the options presented).

The second question had 24 options.  Each option was a yes/no checkbox to pick public policy priorities.  There was little surprise on the distribution of public policy interests as the generally right-of-centre respondents selected jobs, economy, crime, tax cuts, healthcare choice, and military spending as priorities while passing on foreign aid, culture and arts, and native affairs.  Wheat board reform is generally a conservative priority yet this question is likely too regional for a national survey.

On the specific questions, it is of particular interest that 90% of respondents believe that the Senate in it’s current form must change.  Only 10% of respondents thought that the Senate ought to be left as it is.  On the question of spending for a particular budget item, respondents indicated that funding for the CBC should be decreased (61%) while only 6% thought it should be increased.

“Clearly, our leader won the debate”

You’ll hear this line from every party but the first public utterance of it that I saw was from the Liberal camp on twitter:

“Stéphane Dion won decisively! He clearly demonstrated that he is the only leader with a credible plan for Canada’s economy!”

This might be the same “credible plan” that was introduced on the floor of the NAC tonight by Dion that CTV commentators admitted reminded them of Paul Martin’s “Hail Mary” Not Withstanding Clause policy at the 2006 leader’s debate. Nobody heard about this plan until tonight. Having already released their platform, which was or wasn’t about the Green Shift depending on what polls Liberal strategists were reading in a given day, the Liberals seem to have released a second draft of their platform tonight. On the economy, is Stephane Dion making it up as he goes along?

The Liberals are stuck in a difficult place during this election. The Green Shift was a train that had already left the station and for Mr. Dion one that was already serving dinner in the dining car when Canadians suddenly became fixed upon the economy. For a serious political party that is vying for power, it is not simply enough to attack a party on an issue — especially one on which one’s rival is strong — but one must also define the path that a party’s leader would take should he or she become Prime Minister. What is astounding, is that Dion is reacting to the global economic crisis like an investor that gets the market numbers from the local TV news between the weather and sports. On the twenty-third day of the election campaign, Dion derails the train and tries to make it hop the tracks. Instead of being proactive on the economy, Dion is reactive.

For the Conservatives, this is an easy pick-up because it underlines the message they’ve been carrying as one of their main themes since this campaign started: Harper represents stability and Dion represents risk. What a disaster it was to see Mr. Dion drop his bombshell so quietly on the debate floor while the other leaders simply paused and moved on. Mr. Dion appeared but as one of four opposition voices — hardly dominant — against the Prime Minister and for Mr. Harper, representing one pole of a polar argument doesn’t exactly hurt his chances.

The most heated exchanges during the debate occurred between Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe, the two front runners of the election in Quebec. On the issues of 14/16 year-olds going to prison for serious crime and repeat offenses, Harper with rare emotion for the evening responded by backing up his plan with third party endorsements of the idea from a police union president and the head of a victim’s rights group. On the Quebec nation and Mr. Duceppe’s two day hesitation and subsequent reversal on the motion that declared Quebec a nation within a united Canada, Mr. Harper demonstrated strength. However, on most other issues such as the environment and the arts, the four-on-one atmosphere that Duceppe led for most of the evening showed the Prime Minister defending his record, the default position for any incumbent.

Will this debate move numbers in Quebec? Likely not. For Mr. Harper, this may mean that he might need a scripting change for that province in order to produce a game-changer that may light a fire under his numbers there. On the other hand, Bloc support may have firmed up on the island of Montreal and the numbers breakdown outside of the city may float Mr. Harper in the more conservative regions of la belle province in order to secure that majority.

Stephen Harper channeling US Presidents?

Stephen Harper on the economy today in the Northwest Territories:

“Somebody said a recession is when people start losing their jobs, and when your neighbour loses his job. There are job losses, but overall employment is pretty stable”

That somebody the Prime Minister refers to was former US President Ronald Reagan during the 1980 Presidential campaign:

“A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”

And remember the Conservative line?:

“The Conservative Party supports Canadians that work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules”

Thank Bill Clinton:

“My tax cut plan will give families a $500 per child tax credit. The congressional plan denies the child credit to up to 4.8 million families who make less than $30,000 a year. But these families work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules.”

Election factors

As Parliamentary break week comes to a wrap in Ottawa, politicos are watching perceived paradigm shift of sorts as suddenly the chatter has moved from Dion’s effectiveness, for the first time since his election as leader, to mounting Conservative troubles capped by the so-called In-and-Out “scandal”. As Ottawa shifts and regroups before parliamentarians return to their seats next week, let’s assess the political landscape and consider the maneuverings and motivations of the federal parties.

Ottawa observers in the press gallery have predicted that we’ll quietly move into summer as the Liberals and Conservative regroup to do battle in the fall as a few parliamentary hurdles are surpassed and Canadians have time to assess the mathematics of In-and-Out that has everyone in this town both confused and hungry for more details.

However, there are a few factors which indicate that both the Conservatives and Liberals are moving towards preparing for a summer election.

Sources of mine close to Liberal preparations have quietly passed on that Grit organizers in southern Ontario have activated their volunteer base in at least 15 ridings. In fact, Stephane Dion had a campaign photo shoot within the past week in order to get, among other things, his visage wrapped around Liberals buses. The Liberals may be moving ahead for a June election for a variety of reasons including the fact that Stephane Dion’s leadership debt – a staggering $800,000 owed to creditors – comes due at the end of June. What will Elections Canada have to say about this, if anything? If the government body acts to rebuke Dion, this will take some punch out of Liberal scandal-mongering on In-and-Out.

Conservatives on the other hand are making a few preparations. On the party side, a handful of Conservative nominations have been released in order to secure candidates as soon as possible. When it comes to the Prime Minister’s office and recent messaging, Mr. Harper at a rally last night in Montreal tested a few lines on Stephane Dion’s countless opportunities to bring down the government. One assumes that if the Liberal leader feels an urgency to send Canadians to the polls that the Conservatives will underscore this as opportunism instead. On the policy front, in the past week Stephen Harper has been messaging on what will likely be the key message of an upcoming campaign: the economy. Canadians are uncertain about the future economic climate as the US goes into recession and as the Canadian economy bellies up to the same line. In the past week, the Prime Minister has linked immigration to improving Canada’s skilled worker capacity, has emphasized stronger trade relations with India, spoken about targeting economic spending to bolster strategic Quebec industries such as aerospace and space and health sciences, and has had a tri-lateral meeting with US and Mexican leaders on SPP as a compliment to NAFTA.

In a future election campaign, Liberals in Dion’s office have told me that they will run on a theme of “wrong direction” meaning that in the climate of scandal that has been constructed, the Liberals will suggest to Canadians that the Prime Minister is taking the country along the wrong path and that the policy of this government just emphasizes this. Of course, this will be problematic for Liberals as they’ve been effectively rubber-stamping every Conservative policy that has moved through the House by abstaining from votes.

Emphasizing scandal can be risky for the Liberal campaign as it leaves campaign scripting vulnerable to unforeseen events such as the RCMP’s warning that more Liberal charges are coming with respect to the sponsorship scandal. Such a development would be uncomfortable for Dion as Canadians are reminded of Liberals stealing other people’s money to fight elections (rather than spend their own as Conservatives have done with In-and-Out).

If the Liberal intend to go to an election this summer, the knee-capping factor may be the NDP. Jack Layton’s party would not want to see the writ dropped on perceived Liberal momentum as any narrative that has Dion within arms reach of Stephen Harper would cause the “Think Twice” coalition of pseudo-socialists to reconvene and urge Canadians to vote Liberal. The ideal election scenario for Layton is a ballot question that splits Canadians left and right on an issue that leaves Liberals without any semblance of cohesion. The NDP can rest assured that Harper, the strategic chess player that he is, has crafted such a scenario. The NDP knows that going to an election on Liberal terms would be a disasterous scenario for their party as their seat count would diminish and their $1.83 per vote lost would decrease the party’s war chest by millions over the period of a future Conservative or Liberal government. The NDP has been working quietly to give a soft-landing where they can for Conservatives (the Lukiwski scandal was relatively easy on the Tories and handled much better than the freelancing done by Irene Mathyssen on James Moore) and aggravating Liberal planning where they can.

Observers that think that the Prime Minister is looking for an opportunity to orchestrate an election should take stock of a few factors. On the partisan side, Conservatives are looking forward to a policy convention scheduled for the fall. Not having had a convention since 2005, the party is preparing for the event and would rather avoid an election that would jeopardize the gathering. Most importantly however, while everyone else is distracted by the narrow scope of the daily street battle of Ottawa politics, the Prime Minister is reconfiguring the broader electoral and political landscape for sustained decades-long effect. The more time that the Prime Minister has to restructure the Canadian state, its identity and political brands, the more permanence his agenda will have. Whenever the election, of the men that will seek a mandate from the exercise, one seeks the Prime Ministership as a means to an end, while the other aimlessly covets it for no other reason than to remedy the dissonance of a desanguinated party that stands for nothing else.