This ain’t your hippie father’s NDP

The New Democratic Party is meeting in Halifax this weekend for their federal convention where they will discuss policy, hand out literature and hit up Pizza Corner at 3am.

The NDP is looking to, among other things, rebrand itself as a more palatable alternative to the Liberal Party on the left.  It’s going to be a tough slog for the dippers (we’ll still be able to call them that if they rename themselves as the Democratic Party) and many observers note that this will be Jack’s last chance if he doesn’t deliver tangible gains during the next election. They’ve been given a gift in that the Liberals have the most right-wing leader in recent memory, so some re-configuration may be on order along with seafood this weekend. However, are they selling out in order to make their policies easier for Canadians to swallow?

First, let’s look at Jack Layton’s obvious flip-flop on sweaters.

Jack’s party has been particularly guarded on releasing draft policy resolutions from his party’s EDAs this time around.  This is likely a result of what happened last time the NDP had a convention.  But, it allows us to ask if there’s some platform sweater stuffing going on here.

Next, we can’t help but notice that the NDP is leaving those hard-working families™ behind and showing a strong nod towards those that sit around boardroom tables rather than kitchen tables as the rich fat cats in Jack’s party can pay $300 for a chance to sit in the “winner’s circle” and attend an “exclusive” (read: exclusionary) reception with Betsy Myers, the COO for Obama for America.  According to her agency, Betsy’s fee is between $15-$20k per gig.  Let’s hope that enough NDP “suits” fill the Bluenose room at the Delta (my, oh my) to pay her fee.  It is unknown why the NDP is cozying up to an American political party that is currently pushing for two-tier healthcare in the US, and one that supports increasing troops in Afghanistan.  For those outside of the “winner’s circle” (read: drum circle) there’s an alternative event for $10 where they’re be some traditional Maritime music.

If you’re thinking about lighting up some of the green stuff while you listen to another rendition of Barrett’s Privateers at the Lower Deck, think again.  Word from the convention this weekend is that the NDP has barred Dana Larsen from attending Dipperfest this year.  Some will remember that Larsen was the NDP pro-drug candidate that was dumped during the last election.

But more seriously, is the NDP shifting the the centre-left to fill a perceived vacuum left there by Michael Ignatieff? Remember, if Ignatieff supported Bush, it might as well be safe to embrace for the NDP to embrace Obama (as a majority of Canadians still do).

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.

Seen on the Hill: Jack Layton addresses the Tamil rally

From the Ottawa Citizen:

The red Tamil flag, with its tiger head and crossed rifles, had been a source of controversy during the protest, which is now in its third week. The protesters decided to leave the flags at home on Tuesday in a bid to have Canadian MPs hear their message.

Federal politicians have so far kept their distance from the protesters, nervous about the optics of being associated with protesters waving a flag identified with terrorism.

“The majority of people have made a collective decision to hold their flags in their hearts and minds, and not display them publicly,” Sentha Nada, a demonstrator from Toronto, said of Tuesday’s demonstration on the Hill.

Here’s some more background

Michael Ignatieff’s uncertain position on the civil liberties of terror suspects

“We have to chart a path somehow in which we make some hard choices, some lesser evils, that is to say I’m not sure we can keep to a pure civil libertarian position all the way, for example we might have to engage in the preventive detention of suspects on lower standards that we would use in a criminal case, we might even have to engage in certain forms of targeted assassination of terrorist enemies. These are evils in the sense that people get killed, people get hurt, we don’t keep to the fullest standards of due process, but they avoid greater evils which is that our society lays itself open to constant terrorist attack and in response we still do worse things to our constitutional fabric.” — Michael Ignatieff

“I think you can draw a relatively clear line between interrogations that subject a terror suspect to a certain kind of stress, a certain kind of sleep deprevation, a certain disorientation and you can keep that clear of torture.” — Michael Ignatieff

And in a letter he co-signed with Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP leader Jack Layton, (a lot of tri-partite letters have been signed lately) Ignatieff argues,

“It is also clear that Mr. Khadr has been subjected to conditions of confinement and interrogation that Canadian courts have found violate international prohibitions against torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.” — Michael Ignatieff

I find Ignatieff’s ambiguity on this topic to be notable.

Also, Ignatieff is calling for the repartiation of Omar Khadr whereas Khadr should instead be granted full due process and face his accusers in the United States. Let’s clear up that matter before we embrace him with open arms and “call upon Prime Minister Harper to cooperate in these efforts [to repatriate Khadr] and ensure that appropriate arrangements are made through the provincial government of Ontario and appropriate members of civil society to provide for Mr. Khadr’s supervision and reintegration into the community upon his return to Canada.”

Buy American: Canadians to become “American”?

Late breaking news from DC,

The Senate will vote on this surprisingly contentious issue tonight, after a day of vocal lobbying from corporations and other countries. Sens. Byron Dorgan and Max Baucus have an amendment to make the “Buy American” provisions consistent with international trade obligations. That’s in line with what the White House has requested. It’s not clear what the language will require; either companies would be required to use American-made steel, iron and other commodities in projects, or they won’t.

Trying to salvage the Buy American provisions late today, the Steelworkers Union urged lawmakers to include Canada in its definition of “American.”) Some Democrats have threatened to withhold support from the legislation if it doesn’t include Buy American provisions. The Senate and House versions of “Buy American” will have to be reconciled in a conference committee.

I’m not sure about how I feel about US law defining “American” as inclusive of Canada (what other legal implications might this have one wonders). However, if this goes through, this may save Jack Layton’s base (unionized steel) and infuriate his protectionist sensibilities too. Layton has been pushing a “Buy Canadian” policy, effectively reacting to protectionism with protectionism. A change in the provisions to label it a “Buy North American” policy would still be protectionist (though broader to include Canada) and one wonders what sort of concessions would be asked of our country in participating in such an arrangement. What would this mean for labour and/or commerce mobility within Canada and the US, and outside of both countries on steel manufacturing and related industries?

Canadian labour and therefore the cost of our steel is relatively expensive compared to Mexican steel. Dems are considering the competitive quotient between Canada and Mexico and are likely finding that Canada is a safe concession for their constituents.

Senator John McCain, who Canadians passed over for Obama, introduced legislation earlier today to completely strip the “Buy American” provision out of the Obama stimulus bill. Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff have hoped that the US Congress will remove the protectionist element from the stimulus package.

Michael Ignatieff taking illegal donations?

(The Liberal Party says the National Post got it wrong and they respond in the update)

That’s the conclusion one may come to if one reads Don Martin’s latest column in the National Post. However, it seems that Don doesn’t come upon the conclusion himself. The fundraising numbers for the last quarter of 2008 have come out and the story is the same, yet this provides fodder for political columnists since money is important in politics to build well-oiled political machines. The Conservatives are flush with cash rounding out 2008 with $21 million while the Liberals with about $6 million. Yesterday, I spoke with Jack Layton and the NDP leader was astonished that his party posted 90% of the Liberal total, though he sounded like he was chastizing the Liberals rather than bragging about his own party’s strength.

These particular paragraphs of Don Martin’s piece stand out,

The other glimmer of Liberal hope is political weaponry they have purchased from the Barack Obama campaign.

Specifically, they have purchased computer programs and donor-targeting technology at a discount from the friendly U. S. Democrats and plan to unleash hundreds of gigabytes at crafting a master list of donors while combing the country for new support.

It looks like the Liberals are starting to get their game in gear, or are they? Last summer, I met a member of Obama’s senior staff at a web 2.0 conference in New York City. The staffer told me that the Liberals had once contacted the campaign to adapt some of their fundraising capacity. The result? The Grits never followed up. According to Martin’s piece, Ignatieff’s team finally did and they got a discounted rate.

But it is this discounted rate which may pose a problem for the Liberal party.

What does the Elections Act say about discounts?

“commercial value” , in relation to property or a service, means the lowest amount charged at the time that it was provided for the same kind and quantity of property or service or for the same usage of property or money, by

(a) the person who provided it, if the person is in the business of providing that property or service; or

(b) another person who provides that property or service on a commercial basis in the area where it was provided, if the person who provided the property or service is not in that business.

“non-monetary contribution” means the commercial value of a service, other than volunteer labour, or of property or of the use of property or money to the extent that they are provided without charge or at less than their commercial value.

Ok, so the Democrats allegedly provided a non-monetary contribution because they sold computer programs to the Liberals at a discounted (less than commercial value) rate.

When an official agent receives a non-monetary contribution from a donor, the official agent must obtain complete documentation about the commercial value of the goods or services donated, and the name and address of the donor, so that the contribution may be (subject to its commercial value) reported in the Candidate’s Electoral Campaign Return (EC 20120) as a contribution and as an expense. “Gifts and other advantages” are reported separately in the Candidate’s Statement of Gifts or Other Advantages Received (EC 20053)

So, do the Liberals have to fill out some forms? No! Thankfully, they’ll save some time because the contributions themselves are ineligable.

404.(1) No person or entity other than an individual who is a citizen or permanent resident as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act shall make a contribution to a registered party, a registered association, a candidate, a leadership contestant or a nomination contestant.

The Liberals as a registered political party appear to be taking non-monetary contributions from foreigners to raise more money in Canada. If Don Martin’s account is true, the Liberals aren’t playing by the rules. This should raise some serious questions about the judgement of Michael Ignatieff.

Liberals receiving discounts from the Barack Obama campaign?

No, they can’t.

UPDATE: And they didn’t according to Liberal Party spokesman Daniel Lauzon. Daniel writes:

You should note that the Liberal Party has not, in fact, purchased software from the Obama campaign or any other supplier. Though we are currently exploring options for more powerful software – including products like those used by our friends to the south – we have not made a purchase, let alone at a discount.

The statement appears to stem from an interview granted yesterday, and I am in the process of clarifying this unfortunate misunderstanding.

I hope this clears things up. I appreciate your cooperation in clarifying this matter for your readers.

Liveblogging the PM’s address

6:59pm: PM’s address on Global delivered via Youtube!

7:00pm: Canadians selected the Conservatives on October 14th to bring Canada through the economic crisis

7:00pm: First points past intro are details of the Conservative economic measures.

7:01pm: January 27th will be a budget.  Additional measures there.

7:01pm: “We are consulting with the opposition [on the economy]”

7:02pm: “Instead of a new budget, they propose a coalition that includes a party that wants to break up the country.”

7:03pm: “This is a pivotal moment in our history”

7:04pm: “will use all legal means at our disposal to protect our democracy”

7:06pm: Media coverage: Bob Fife of CTV speculates that if the GG turns down the PM’s request to prorogue, the PM may resign creating urgency for the GG to appoint a new PM.

7:07pm: Craig Oliver upset there was no contrition in the PM’s speech.

7:15pm: Fife suggests Conservatives are actively trying to poach Liberal MPs or have them miss the confidence vote on Monday.

7:16pm: Peter Donolo slamming the PM on CTV.  CTV presents Donolo as a pollster instead of Jean Chretien’s former Director of Communications.

7:17pm: Fife complains that Dion’s hasn’t presented a tape to CTV yet.  Lloyd complains that network time is expensive.  They presumed that they’d be back to prime time television by now.  Fife reveals that Layton wanted equal time as part of the coalition.

7:25pm: CBC says that Dion’s tape delay shows poor communications by the Liberals.  Maybe Dion didn’t understand his own speech.

7:26pm: Liberal tape has a poor start.

7:27pm: Jeffrey Simpson’s global warming book on Dion’s bookshelf.

7:28pm: Dion mentions the Bloc and the Green party will support the Liberals (on issues of confidence – what?)

7:28pm: Dion: Consensus is a great Canadian value

7:29pm: “Rivals are working together elsewhere in the world.  Why not here?”

7:29pm: Dion messaging against possible prorogation.

7:30pm: Dion outlining a potential economic platform.

7:31pm: Dion moves past allotted network time.

7:32pm: Dion describes his letter to the GG.  Outlined his suggestion to her not to prorogue.  “If [Harper] is to suspend parliament, he must face a vote of confidence.”

7:32pm: Dion says he’ll work day and night on the economic crisis.

Here’s Prime Minister Harper’s speech

The role of the Bloc in the coalition government

Consider the following talking points from the Liberal Party website:

and consider this set also from the Liberal Party website:

The “Issue” from the first reads:

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe have agreed to form a cooperative government to address the impactof the global economic crisis on Canadians. The NDP will support this agreement until June 30, 2011.

and from the second, the issue reads:

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe today announced that an agreement has been reached among the
three opposition parties to support a cooperative government to address the impact of the global economic crisis on Canadians.

A subtle difference but it does concede that the Bloc Quebecois is part of this proposed coalition government.

The Liberals must be scrambling around this calming members of their own party. Yesterday, their website featured a picture of Dion, Layton and Duceppe at the signing ceremony to compliment their featured story on their homepage. The picture was quickly dropped for the image of the Canadian flag that is now displayed instead.