Election’s a go

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Governor General for the dissolution of Canada’s 39th Parliament and Her Excellency will ask for the return of writs in 37 days. All five major party leaders made television appearences to either give speeches, take question or both. Here are my initial impressions.

Stephane Dion started by saying that in this election there will be “two stark differences”, that between the Liberal Party and the Conservatives. Stephane Dion is picking up right where Paul Martin left-off. No, I’m not talking about a firesale where all seats must go, but rather by trying to define the election as one of two choices. Unfortunately for Mr. Dion, this election is crowded on the left and will see attention given to NDP, Bloc and even the Liberal-proxy Greens which may end up being more trouble than benefit for the Liberals. In modern elections, Liberals have always had to strike out against their main Conservative opponents while taking time to suppress NDP gains on the left. By defining “two stark differences”, the right may be well-defined but there is a low signal-to-noise ratio on the left. Dion also made a point of saying that he “loves Canada” and took a minor tangent and regaled people on his love for our country. You’ll remember that Stephen Harper wasn’t so explicit when asked by a reporter/plant during the last campaign on this topic. It took the then-opposition leader by surprise and his answer wasn’t prepared. This may be significant because of the similar backdrops of the House of Commons; Dion gave his launch speech in exactly the same location that Harper did in December 2005. The Liberals may be trying set the scene quite literally for a contrast video piece on “loving Canada”.

A reporter asked Dion if he accepts the premise that this election is defined by leadership. Dion stumbles by accepting this directly and says that he leads on the environment, poverty and a whole list of Liberal policies. The Conservatives would like nothing better than the national media to accept leadership as the ballot box question and define the rest of the race through this lens through which the Conservatives have already focused their message for almost two years since Dion won the leadership race in late 2006. I also think that it was a disastrous mistake for the Liberals to lead with what is their de facto main policy plank months before this election. Questions have arisen even among Dion’s own MPs about the implementation, the regional differences and even the concept of the Green Shift itself. Canadians are aware of the Green Shift, so how does Dion plan to re-launch it? A reporter asked about the “carbon tax” and whether its a good policy for Canadians. Dion responds without redefining the question about the “Green Shift” and answers it instead in the context of a tax. These were two significant mistakes by Dion; to accept this election as a referendum on leadership and taxation.

Jack Layton addressed supporters from Gatineau along the banks of the Ottawa River overlooking Parliament. The speech was somewhat annoying because his crowd of supporter either wasn’t big enough, or didn’t translate on the microphone well enough to sound big. The camera shot also featured a somewhat disheveled looking lady and a guy in a bucket-hat. While his supporters applauded every speech point (which were many and frequent), Layton defined this election for himself; Jack Layton is running for the job of Prime Minister. Layton is taking a bolder and different track this time around and doing (what he may argue) Dion cannot. By echoing the same message of a choice between two visions, Layton is trying to drop the Liberals from the game. How can NDP voters go Liberal to stop Harper when Liberals gave the Prime Minister the green light during the last session? The Conservatives and NDP will attack the Green Shift on two fronts. On the right, increased taxation will be Conservatives warning to Canadians while on the left the NDP will make try their point that only the NDP has credibility on the environment (Bill C-377).

Gilles Duceppe with each passing election is becoming an anachronism in Canadian politics. The Bloc Quebecois leader’s speech had a number of hidden agenda references from George Bush to abortion to gender equality. Isn’t this 2008? We’ve heard this song before et désolé, ici ce n’est pas le Bloc. Also of note, Canada may be unique in modern western democracies in that it is a viable election strategy to inflate your opponents chances indicating that they may win a majority government.

Finally, Elizabeth May gave an impassioned speech about voter participation which should be well received by anyone watching. However, May’s passion moved into a speech about climate change that gave me the feeling that an advocacy group has not yet fully matured into a political party. If the Greens are going to debate, they need to broaden their platform and present themselves as alternative on the left rather than a pseudo-Liberal coalition. Watching CPAC coverage, I could not believe my ears that former Sierra Club senior policy adviser and now-Green Party spokesman John Bennett said that because of climate change “Stephen Harper doesn’t give a damn about his children’s future”. The Green Party is not ready for prime time. However, the fact that CPAC is putting them on panels, featuring May in the rotation may indicate that the most balanced political news outlet considers them part of the mainstream and this will have an effect on their coverage (and political gains). Will the Greens’ coverage actually harm the Liberals? Does the emergence of a fifth voice (and fourth on the left) amplify trouble for the Liberal brand especially under the weak leadership of Dion?

Elizabeth May: still not ready for prime time

Green Party release on the Manley Report:

Green Party rejects Manley Report conclusions

OTTAWA – The federal Green Party shares a vision of a stable and secure Afghanistan, but today challenged the newly-released Manley Report’s premise that Canada’s troops must remain in Khandahar beyond February of 2009 to achieve this objective.

“The Manley Report fails to consider that the recommendation of more ISAF forces from a Christian/Crusader heritage will continue to fuel an insurgency that has been framed as a ‘Jihad’. This, in turn, may feed the recruitment of suicide bombers and other insurgents,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “Better human security is certainly needed in the South but it should be provided by a different cultural mix of UN countries as well as the Afghan army and police. Even if this proves challenging to accomplish, this key objective should have been included.”

The Green Party also questioned the Report’s recommended indefinite exit date for the Canadian Forces from Kandahar, citing concern that an open-ended departure date could significantly prolong the training time of the Afghan military and police. The continuous availability of external personnel and logistical support in a poor country like Afghanistan risks creating a structural disincentive to rapid military preparedness, especially in an ongoing conflict situation.

Would somebody please tell Ms. May that this conflict shouldn’t be framed in the words of lunatics that strap dynamite to their chests in order to achieve paradise? This isn’t a war of Christians vs. Muslims and it is troubling to see Ms. May speak about it in the same twisted terms as do the enemies of reason.

Let’s see what Ms. May says about Darfur:


The Green Party is recommending that the Canadian government take leadership in rapidly organizing an international emergency initiative that would:

Offer new financial, political and logistical support to the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to encourage it to continue its deployment and also strengthen its capacity to protect civilians at risk;
Break the logjam in the Inter-Sudanese Peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and all rebel groups by guaranteeing a crucial $100 million to the Darfur Compensation Fund and offer Canadian expertise in governance issues related to domestic power and wealth-sharing; Take the lead in persuading other middle-power nations to contribute alongside Canada to a rapid reaction international force that would be immediately deployed to a willing host country bordering the Sudan, and ready to intervene if necessary under a legitimate “responsibility-to-protect” UN-sanctioned process and mandate;

Two Muslim countries, one in Africa and one in Asia. Canada is in Afghanistan with a U.N. mandate.

UPDATE: May retracts her statement, “In hindsight I would have phrased it differently,” the Green Party said on News 940 AM Radio in Montreal, January 24, 2008.

Lofty predictions, 5 cents apiece…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stakeholder budget interviews (videos)

On budget day, “stakeholders” gathered in the Railway room of Parliament for interviews and to give their reaction to the budget to the pool feed for the television networks. I met a few interesting people who were representing various organizations. I interviewed a few of them on camera.

Green Party:

The Greens passed on the budget even though it was the most activist in history with respect to the environment. ($1.5B to fight carbon emissions, green levy on gas guzzlers and rebates on fuel-efficient/hybrids, $2B for renewable fuels, a national water strategy of $93 million).

Canola Council of Canada:

Canadian Federation of Agriculture:

Institute of Marriage and Family Canada:

Gen. (ret) Lewis MacKenzie:

MedicAlert Canada:

Phil Fontaine, National Chief of Assembly of First Nations:

(On the Aboriginal file: $300 million for aboriginal housing, $14.5 million over two years for aboriginal justice programs, $35 million over two years to get more natives into the labour force, $20 million over two years for native fishermen in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. — source: National Post)

Canadian Institute of Actuaries:

Canadian Alliance of Student Associations:

National Anti-Poverty Organization:

Work Research Foundation:

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:

That time when I met Elizabeth May

This week I also met Elizabeth May. The leader of the Green Party was in high spirits that day despite Garth Turner’s betrayal of everyone (conservatives, constituents, May and the Greens) just a few hours earlier. Turner campaigned for May in London North Centre, teased us all by telling us that he was considering “going Green”. He even turned his back on his constituents, which during a townhall in Halton, about 1 in 4 told Garth to go Green while not one told him to go Liberal.

Anyway, this post is about Elizabeth May. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time to chat.

stephen-taylor-elizabeth-may.jpg
Click to enlarge

It would be interesting to see May in a debate with party leaders during an election. However, should a party have at least one elected (or sitting) MP in order to have such a platform? What is your opinion?

If I remember correctly, Reform was allowed to debate only after Deb Grey won a by-election. If Turner had gone Green, he would have been a sitting, yet unelected Green MP. What should the threshold be? Also, consider that the laws governing the identity of a “party” have changed since 1989 when Grey became the first Reform MP.

You’ll find Liberals advocating that May should be allowed to debate because the Green vote is thought to cut into NDP support. NDPers thus are less likely to support the idea. Since Conservatives are depending on the NDP to split the left, they’re more likely to support the NDP position.

What may be certain though, is that we ought to have clear guidelines for Green Party inclusion in a televised debate.

BUT… this brings us to another topic to consider. The national networks are largely in charge of debate format and the participants invited and their decisions are largely subjective and outside of parliamentary review and jurisdiction. If a debate were held in a different forum (and medium — say… online) who would accept an invitation to debate and on what terms? If Harper, Dion, Duceppe and May accepted an invitation, would Layton turn down the opportunity to debate?

Is there such thing as an “official” debate?

Garth the Grit

Garth Turner just switched over to the Liberals.

A few quick notes

  • He’s Dion’s problem now
  • Doesn’t change the balance of power since Garth was independent
  • Garth should have gone Green Party if he believed in action on the environment instead of Dion’s fiction.
  • Another alpha personality who has a fixation on leadership lines up behind an unlikely man who isn’t one but has that title. That dam is going to break soon.
  • No more “will he or won’t he” speculation
  • from Garth’s townhall last year when he polled his constituents on what he should do:
    1. Resign your seat – zero
    2. Negotiate back into caucus – 17
    3. Join the Liberals – zero
    4. Go Green – 17
    5. Stay independent – 31
  • PromisesKept.ca – Page not found (and never launched past the “coming soon” phase)
  • Garth is releasing a new book in a few weeks. Sure to be a hot seller!

UPDATE: Blogging Tory RepoCreepo had advanced intel of Garth’s flirtation with the Halton Liberal riding association.