Liberals vs. Liberals

Today, the Prime Minister stated that more Canadians are working today than before the global economic crisis hit.

Dalton McGuinty’s Chief of Staff on Twitter:

Did you know Ontario has recovered 96% of the jobs lost during the recession? It’s true, and shows the plan is working.

From Global Toronto:

The NDP would scrap $850 million a year in planned corporate tax cuts of $1.4 billion this year and $1.8 billion next year to offset the lost HST revenue, said Leader Andrea Horwath.

“The HST is simply a shifting of tax burden off the corporate sector onto the backs of individuals,” she said.

“We would claw back the corporate tax cuts the government has implemented and cancel the future ones.”

Scrapping such a big slice of corporate tax cuts would hurt the fragile economic recovery by raising taxes on the struggling forestry and automotive sectors, warned Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

“It is about the most short-sighted, dumb public policy pronouncement one can envision,” said Duncan.

Dwight Duncan is the Ontario Finance Minister.

Meanwhile Michael Ignatieff suggests freezing corporate tax cuts. And Scott Brison is none too pleased about the Conservative record and believes that the federal Liberals can do better.

UPDATE: David Akin asks the question,

Alright, I admit it. When a journalist asked Liberal Finance Critic Scott Brison a devastatingly worded question there was no way to answer safely, I smiled.

Here’s the question put by Sun Media’s David Akin:

“The Liberal finance minister in Ontario was asked this week about corporate tax cuts, his program. The NDP there would like tax cuts to be cancelled and his response was, and I’m quoting now, ‘It is about the most short-sighted, dumb public policy pronouncement one can envision to cancel corporate tax cuts,’ and I wondered if he knows something you don’t.”

Frankly, any honest reporter would admit there is great pleasure in seeing a politician squirm because of your question. Upon hearing the question, Brison did squirm. Then his response went from refusing comment to repeating his line that the previous Liberal government in Ottawa cut corporate taxes when the government was in surplus and he called on the current Conservative crowd to adopt that same policy and cancel the cuts scheduled to go into effect next year. All in all, Brison made the best of a situation he couldn’t win. When your provincial cousins call your policy “short-sighted” and “dumb” what possible response can you give? Something tells me there were probably some interesting calls between Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park not long after Brison’s news conference.

July election on EI? Possible but quite improbable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve been seeing a lot of the Prime Minister as of late. Why?

The Prime Ministership of Canada, by its very nature, is an all encompassing and busy job. Some note that this Prime Minister is hands on with a number of portfolios, taking ownership of a number of issues as they arise. Yet, this Prime Minister still must see some interview lights in order to present his case to the Canadian people. After all, at the end of the day, they have been and will remain the final judge of his record.

There is some tricky balancing to be done with the job and the public perception of the office. While the Prime Minister must do his best to show a good face to Canadians, he cannot appear to eager, or rather, too available to do so. This Prime Minister is handling Canada’s stake in the shaky global economy and therefore he can’t be yukking it up with Rick Mercer too regularly or be doing too much superficial glad-handing while Canadians are concerned about their economic future. In fact, as far as busy leaders go, Barack Obama was recently criticized for over-exposure for appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (a first for any President) while the bailout package was under full debate in Washington.

Though this observer notes that we’ve been seeing a lot of the Prime Minister of late in the sense that he’s been making himself a lot more available to media for one-on-ones. Canadian reporters will scoff at this observation, noting that they’re left holding the bag (or rather the remote and the mouse) as they watch the PM do interviews on CNN and Fox and read him on the website of the Wall Street Journal. But yet, while the PM’s message comes back to Canadians across the border through the CRTC-approved cable packages of Canadians, at least to the PMO, it does so more easily than it would if it had originated and filtered through a scornful yet context-aware Canadian news outlet. Yet, despite the PM’s American news tour, we are still seeing more of the man through Canadian news avails as well.

Why is this?

When Stephane Dion was leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservatives did their best to define the man and then allowed that definition to shine through the Conservative-adjusted lenses of the news media and electorate. Too much of the PM on the “leader stage” would provide too much distracting glare from the well-crafted stage show of Mr. Dion, presented by the Conservative Party of Canada.

Now, the Conservatives are dealing with a new leader in Michael Ignatieff. Though Mr. Ignatieff is still prone to gaffes and debates himself in public, he is a more serious opponent. As a leader, he is not so easily discounted by the news media and electorate. And while Mr. Ignatieff may stumble at times, he does so coherently without the media finding itself trying to explain what he really meant (again, Mr. Ignatieff does this well enough on his own). With Dion, Conservatives would have been glad to buy the hapless leader his own airtime, but to Hill watchers, Mr. Harper finds more of a competitor on the same stage — a stage he blissfully occupied alone until now.

Mostly unopposed, Mr. Obama is a leader largely crafted by publicity and the peripheral glamour of politics and for the US President the Tonight Show appearence was as strategy to do what had worked in the past. For Mr. Harper, the past was a stage gleefully given to Dion. The present, however, compels him to occupy the spotlight and enunciate his plan.

Sexiest MPs? Have we lost our focus?

I note that the Hill Times today published its annual “Sexy, Savvy and Best Dressed Survey”. The global economy is melting down and this hottie headliner is on lips of Hill staff and media this week. Lest this be a curmudgeon grumble piece on the state of news today (back in my day…), but really, there’s got to be more going on. Yet, the piece does come out in the middle of two break weeks on Parliament Hill, and at least Jane Taber’s belyingly-titled Hot and Not article is about politics.

But in the same issue that we find an a republish of an article by James Travers bemoaning the declining relevance of Parliament as a democratic body — “welcome to court government” — we find out that Rona and Helena have the best hair! I’m now flipping through these pages looking for the stock article on the under-representation of women in Parliament…

Perhaps they don’t want to show up given this superficial focus.

But most of this does amount to political theatre and pollsters will show you charts (with trendlines and error bars, no less) showing that focus groups are somewhat accurate in determining that Stephen Harper wearing a sweater holding a kitten softens his image and improves electability, that Michael Ignatieff needs to shed some ivory-tower arrogance by hitting the hamburger circuit this summer and that Preston Manning needed to ditch the glasses in order to get his message out to more Canadians. Issues and policies also rank lower among concerns among Canadians, but woah, what was he/she thinking wearing that to last year’s Hill Gala?!

Speaking to friends over at Macleans.ca, I’m told that last year among the most trafficked articles were those featuring photos of Julie Couillard. In fact, Julie Couillard ranked one of the highest related search terms for Macleans in 2008. In that case, “Julie Couillard”, “Julie Couillard”, “Julie Couillard”.

That said, you won’t find photos of Justin Trudeau or Ruby Dhalla’s leaked Bollywood movie here… but if you came here from Google looking for these things, stick around… I’ll see if I can entice you with a discussion on the finer points of whether provincial- or municipal-linked federal Senate elections better afford Premiers and Prime Ministers the required political cover and feasibility to move forward on reform of our bicameral system.

Hey! Where are you going? Come back!

Oh, all right…

Hot: TMZ and eTalk
Not: New York Times and the Globe and Mail

CBC cuts

To address their $171 million budget shortfall (total budget just north of $1 Billion), CBC has made a number of cuts.

From what I’m hearing, job losses will affect Windsor, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Québec City, Moncton, St John, Sydney, Corner Brook, Labrador, Gander, and Grand Falls.  Two one-person bureaus in La Ronge, SK and the Thompson, MB bureaus will close.

Television programming will be affected as CBC cancels Steven and Chris, and Fashion File and reduces budget for 22 minutes, Little Mosque on the Prairie, The Border, Being Erica, Living In…, Fifth Estate (20% budget cut), and Marketplace.

The state broadcaster has recently faced criticism from the Minister of Heritage concerning their American programming.  The network has committed a freeze on purchasing new US television programming.

CBC.ca is receiving more funding as more content as more audience goes online for content.  More bandwidth will be purchased for audio/video streaming and a focus will be placed on user-generated content.

CBC radio will cut The Inside Track, Out Front, In the Key of Charles, The Point, and The Signal (weekend edition).  The Current will have its budget reduced by 10%.

On the French language side, Téléjournal‘s show will go from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, Windsor morning programming will be replaced by Toronto content.  Saturday’s programming is also cut.  Ottawa’s noon news program will also be axed.

The cuts are focused more on television than radio.  CBC still will not sell advertising on radio although they are cutting 121 total jobs in that department.  In the Maritimes, 26 jobs are cut from CBC Radio.

CBC Sports will cut 313 jobs while CBC News (English) will cut 80 and will face a budget cut by $7 million.  The CBC will drop showing Toronto Blue Jays baseball, will reduce coverage of figure skating, soccer and world aquatics and will significantly reduce coverage of amateur sports.  Also, 20 communications jobs and 12 marketing have been cut.

More cuts will be announced soon as CEO Lacroix has deemed that the network will shrink by 800 jobs total (out of 10,200 total).

Liberals first to go neg via proxy?

In the dark world of politicking, political gamemanship and attacks on political opponents, the new Liberals are a bit more sophisticated that their purged Dionista bretheren.  With the backdrop of a global economic crisis, governments working together to “rescue” (that’s another debate) the worldwide economy through spending and bailouts, political parties in Canada are somewhat reluctant to play partisan games to avoid being cast in a bad light themselves among the voting public that does not have an appetite for attacks.

For this reason, the Conservatives post-Dion have been relatively quiet on defining the new Leader of the Opposition.  Every opposition leader from Manning to Day to Harper and yes, Mr. Dion, has been ruthlessly defined by the governing party of the time.  We have yet to see the Conservatives unload on Mr. Ignatieff with even a hint of the fire they rained down on the hapless Stephane Dion.

No party can been seen to have initiated a wave of negativity during this time so perhaps the Conservatives have strategically been holding off on firing the first volley.

Though, as I’m coming to realize, the Liberals may have been sniping at the Conservatives for a few weeks now though as insurgents that have shed their Liberal uniforms.

Take, for example, this video by “theGritGirl”:

theGritGirl joined YouTube on March 10, 2009 but is already cranking out broadcast quality vignette’s attacking the Conservative government.  Surely skill doesn’t automatically mean that a big P partisan professionalism is at play here.  But go to 9 seconds into the video to committee testimony by Minister Jim Flaherty.  If you exist off of the Hill, you might have seen this testimony on CPAC and if you exist on the Hill, you may have seen it on that same channel or through the internal House of Commons feed.  Note that this TV-quality feed lacks “CPAC” designation meaning that this video capture likely occurred on the Hill from the House of Commons feed.  This professional video (with titles produced with a professional video suite like After Effects) was also first seen on Warren Kinsella’s blog.  The lack of CPAC designation and Warren Kinsella’s distribution may mean that the Liberals produced the video and are the first to “go neg” during this time of economic crisis.  If the Conservatives are looking for an opening to unleash a barrage against Ignatieff and the Liberals this may be it as their actions would appear to be defensive rather than offensive.

Further to more Liberal attack, we see this entry by Liberal war room chief Kinsella on March 2 featuring a letter from James Turk, the head of the Canadian Association of University Teachers complaining to Minister Goodyear that a staffer told Turk and his colleagues them to “shut up” during a meeting.  After looking into this incident, I learned that Turk and his associates had given the Minister a brow-beating for about an hour without bringing up new business (ie. that he hadn’t already read in published op-eds by Turk et al).  The letter is carbon copied to Marc Garneau (Liberal S&T critic) Stephen Harper, Tony Clement, and Jim Maloway (NDP S&T critic).  The document on Kinsella’s site is a scanned copy of the fax sent to one of those individuals (let’s say Garneau) and then passed onto Kinsella.

In today’s Globe and Mail, we read that Jim Turk has an immediate comment available regarding the balancing of one’s job as Minister of S&T and one’s own personal faith.  Here’s Turk,

“The traditions of science and the reliance on testable and provable knowledge has served us well for several hundred years and have been the basis for most of our advancement. It is inconceivable that a government would have a minister of science that rejects the basis of scientific discovery and traditions,”

Outside of Goodyear’s tangential though unwise hedging on evolution, we see this Globe and Mail piece write up Turk on Goodyear without the context of their previous run-in.  Turk is presented as an unbiased voice on Goodyear.  Also, Turk and Goodyear didn’t spar over Goodyear’s unknown views of a particular field of science or how public policy is or is not informed by those views.  Further, this Globe piece is timed perfectly for those that would gain from a Conservative stumble on Goodyear as the government held a high profile event last night honouring NSERC award winners.  In communications, that was supposed to be the story that Conservatives wanted whereas, the Liberals got quite a gift today.

Finally, if we check out Kinsella today, we find him going along the same attack as that unleashed against Stockwell Day.  Kinsella will be dusting off his Barney doll to chase away religious constituents that Ignatieff is said to be courting.

Have the Conservatives used proxies to level attacks agaist their opponents in the past? Of course.  This is nothing new; every political party does it.  But in this latest post-Dion, post-economic collapse round of the war where everyone is supposed to rise above, if the Conservatives are holding their fire so they won’t be blamed for playing politics during this economic crisis, the Liberals and their proxies have just given them the green light and the media wouldn’t hold much credibility if they said the Tories fired first.

Leaked CBC memo shows Mother Corp will ask for more cash

According to my source that sent me this unsent internal CBC memo, this was intended to hit the inboxes of CBC employees tomorrow:

(emphasis mine)

Of course, as noted, this occurs within the context of the global economic crisis. Despite this, CBC received $1.1 Billion from the taxpayer last year. According to the CRTC, CBC employs 10,200 people paying out $771,074,000 in salaries and benefits. This means that the average payout per employee at the CBC is $75,595.

Comparatively, the total numbers of employees at private broadcasters in this country is 7,402 with total salaries and benefits of $576,900,000. The average payout per employee is $77,938.

Is the CBC trimming the fat, or do they need some central planning from the government to help them do so? Months ago, it was reported that the executive VP for French-services expensed over $80,000 for travel, meals, and theatre tickets.

If any of this is making you sick, the next fact won’t make you feel any better. The CBC lost $15 million in 2006-2007 paying for 68,000 sick days for its employees.

In any self-respecting story about taxpayer abuse, there’s a no-expense-spared trip to Paris. The CBC doesn’t disappoint as that same executive VP that billed $80,000 in expenses also bought a $6,000 plane ticket to the French capital and billed over $2,000 in hotel, meal and cab expenses. Nice work if you can get it.

This lagresse is offensive when private news outlets such as Canwest and CTVGlobemedia are slashing jobs, dropping bureaus and cutting expenses. For example, CTV opted out of the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner this year while Canwest has cut 5% of their workforce and even asked reporters and staffers to voluntarily return their cellphones because the company can’t afford to equip everyone that needs one. Jobs have also been cut at the Globe and Mail. The news business is hurting across Canada and CBC asks the government for “financial flexibility”.

So, we’re conservatives and we didn’t like the budget. What are we going to do about it?

“Well, what the hell else do you expect us to do with a gun to our head” remarked one ministerial staffer at Hy’s last night when I delivered the verdict of conservative ideologues to a budget which increased special project spending, established an ugly deficit, and indicated that hopes of small government would be shelved, at least for the foreseeable future.

A minority government is like a constant job interview, and the employer right now is a glutton. Pass the antacid and bring more pork; 62% of Canadians voted for those without a predisposition to sound economic sense, while the rest voted for those that know better.

If they know better, something else holds them back. “You have no idea how much I bled for this budget… this made me sick” another staffer told me. It was certainly a policy delivered in the context of a deficit pushing $1 trillion in the US, where every other government in the industrialized world is running deficits and whereas Canada is a rare exception in that we’re one of those jurisdictions that is receiving permanent tax relief. But for ideologues who moonlight as paid partisans in government, this budget policy is as much dyspeptic for their stomachs as it read dyslexic to their instincts.

A political party’s first and last job is to get elected. If you thought that the Conservative Party should have held its ground, flipped off the opposition, delivered $30 billion in tax cuts and went out in a blaze of glory then you have the benefit of layering fantasy on a wholly incongruent political landscape where the pragmatists thrive. A political party, in practice, is not much more than a marketing machine to sell ideas to an electorate looking to buy them. However, elections span a meager 36 days and unless a voter is conditioned to think conservatively, they won’t vote Conservative. If a Conservative party does form government — especially a minority government — the long term goal is the same: keep the upper hand, survive when strategically beneficial, and win elections.

Let’s be clear. A majority Conservative government would implement a conservative agenda that would satiate the conservative base. In such fortunate circumstances, government action would unreservedly reflect conservative principles because this government would act comfortably without violating objective #1 — re-election from a plurality of conservative-minded voters. The underlying ideology would fortuitously overlap with winnable conditions.

How is a sustainable conservative majority-government-electing voter base in Canada achieved? While the party is focused on doing their job to win elections and form policies that are within Canada’s (ie. its electorate’s) interests, those of us who aren’t pre-occupied by such distractions must look at change as a long-term goal rather than a short-term fix. If the Conservative party is the election-winning machine, the conservative movement must be the one to give it a meaningful mandate.

By all means, we need a strong Conservative party because it is our vehicle. Do not punish the party for doing its job. However, we must also have a strong conservative movement. It is foolish to depend on an organization to change the ideological culture of Canada when its current success is inextricably bound to it as it presently exists. The political party that wins the election will always reflect the plurality of Canadian voter intent. Whether the blue team or red team wins, success is simply a jersey switched by the same central swing voters. In every election, the ideological and purist cynic bemoans the pragmatic and victory-focused party strategist that moves to capture the centre. Leave the party to appeal to the most voters and win elections, it is the job of the conservative movement to move the centre to the right.

We can lament the budget delivered by our Conservative Party and complain that it goes against our instincts as conservatives. But yesterday, the Conservative government did its job, it presented a survivable budget in the current political climate. However, the conservative movement failed because it was unsuccessful in creating the conditions of ideological survivability for what should have been a sincerely conservative budget.

So what are we going to do about it?

UPDATE: Some are reading this as a condemnation of the conservative movement. It is rather a call to action. The Conservative party is what we make of it; our model is bottom-up, not top-down. Let’s get to work at making more Canadians conservative.

Name the budget!

The annual federal budget in previous years has had bland, generic corp- gov-speak titles applied to their card stock-bound covers. In 2006, scoring another shot at Paul Martin post-election and seeking to underscore their main election theme (those 5 priorities), the Conservatives named the budget (drumroll) “Focusing on Priorities” and in 2007 the budget plan was titled “A stronger, safer, better Canada“, which the Liberals promptly paraphrased in their messaging by labeling their campaign “a richer, fairer, greener Canada.” In 2008, the budget was called “Responsible Leadership“.

With President Obama plunging the US deficit into the range of a trillion dollars, and Canada being dragged along the same path by the elephant projecting a 64 billion deficit over two years, what should we name this budget? Here are a few proposals:

– Yes We Can (Too)
– Welcome to the economic Obamalypse
– For God’s sake, give us a majority already
– Canada’s doomed, we couldn’t even cut $1.95
– Turning the corner… into your livingroom
– Stimulate this
– If you think this is budget’s bad, imagine a Liberal-NDP one

Post yours in the comments.